… and We are Here to Help You

The horrendously political “Stimulus Bill” has done us a left-handed favor (pun intended), if we are only smart enough to actually examine what Congress has done to us in the name of “saving” us.  People who know me have heard me say often that government doesn’t solve problems, it manages them – well, this whole sordid process showed us how this happens. Congress doesn’t solve problems, it merely uses them to shovel money toward cronies.

Any Keynesian will tell you that government forces a correction onto a slumping economy by carefully applying funds to entities with the shortest lead-times to producing legitimate economic activity.  Keynesian spending, in other words, must be targeted, timely and temporary.  The abomination that passed Congress is almost miraculous in its ability to fill 1,100+ pages of incomprehensible legalese without once addressing economic reality.  It ignores targeting in favor of everything the American political left has failed to pass on merit for the past 30 years; any timeliness dissolves in the face of the 70% of funding that won’t materialize for 18 or more months from passage; and hope of “temporary” evaporates under the weight of mandates that outlive their funding.

I bring this up as something to remember as the Executive and Legislative gear up to impress upon us the necessity and desirability of establishing a national energy policy in order to wean us from Devil Petroleum, reverse Global Warming, prevent earthquakes and bring a World Series title to Wrigley Field.  What we will get is a mish-mash of grants and programs favoring people and companies as weighted by whose district they are in rather than even a passing relevance to the perceived problem.  God help us if a Rhode Island Independent comes up with a cure for cancer, it will end up in a vault at NSA with CRYPTO – EYES ONLY stamped all over the cover sheet.

If you ask Congress to solve the problem “2+2=?”, you will get back an eloquently articulated and arduously defended answer of “grapefruit”.  The larger the problem you give Congress to solve, the more they will screw up life as we know it.  Give serious thought to asking them to “fix” where the world’s most complex society gets its energy, or to “fix” our planetary atmosphere.

Just sayin’.

Memo from the Twilight Zone

NASCAR dropped by central Alabama last weekend to stage two points races at Talladega Superspeedway, a high-banked tri-oval where 700hp cars run wide-open for 500 miles.  It’s an orgy of 8,000rpm engines screaming inside garishly painted rolling billboards as they bump, draft, sideswipe and jockey to pass (or block) at 180+mph.  Between Saturday’s Aaron’s 499 race and Sunday’s Sprint 500, KFC sponsored an attempt to stage Guinness Book of Records’ largest Chicken Dance.

Well, of course, PETA objected – they insist that KFC mistreats chickens.

No … KFC has missed the opportunity to mistreat chickens, they cook dead chicken parts.

I’ve always said that nothing is all bad – I, too, prefer that Charleze Theron “wear nothing at all rather than wear fur” – but these people have some chips in the wrong sockets.  Every time I see a PETA spokesman about to speak, I’m reminded of what Winston Churchill said when asked what he thought of his successor, “an empty taxi pulled up to 10 Downing and Mr Atlee got out.”

the Middle Kingdom

Two Senior Colonels in Mainland China’s (PRC’s) Air Force (PLAAF) wrote a Chinese reaction to their observations of Desert Storm[1]. It is a stunning revelation of Chinese shock at the overwhelming effectiveness of American military capacity. Baghdad (using roughly the same Soviet/Russian equipment and tactics as the Chinese) watched as their divisions were being systematically destroyed in situ by American airpower; was routinely being hit by sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs) they couldn’t find to engage; watched as American Abrams main battle tanks, on the fly, one-shot-killed dug-in T-72s (the same main battle tank that PRC uses); suffered from the totally integrated use of precision guided munitions (PGM) and the networking that allows the squad-level shooter to task them.

This was at a time when PRC was buying all the new weapons systems that Russia would sell them, but also was led by a walking-infantry military doctrine inherited from Mao Zedong – relying on the sheer size of PRC’s army to “absorb any threat”. This is the maximization of Clausewitz’s[2] war by attrition – mount an army that cannot be overwhelmed, rendering the enemy’s technological sophistication outcome-irrelevant. What they saw in Desert Storm, however, was a blitzkrieg of air and armor that rendered the enemy’s walking-infantry outcome-irrelevant.

The Chinese watched in horror as after 10 days the Americans had air superiority, as after 100 days the Iraqi Republican Guards – their elite units – were destroyed, and as the Iraqi leaders abandon control of Iraq after just 100 hours of land war. It was the early chapters of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds. The Iraqis couldn’t detect most of the attacks pre facto, and had no answer for the American weapons and tactics they could actually see. To Chinese military theorists this was an epiphany. PRC had to completely reconfigure its forces, and simultaneously completely re-task those forces. The whole Chinese way of thinking about war was strikingly obsolete. This was in 1991.

Unrestricted Warfare represents a rejection of Mao Zedong’s strategic thinking, and a return to Sun Tzu’s[3]. They began by observing that all wars are asymmetric, and that they are won by the most dedicated. If they can engage an enemy (rather than be overwhelmed at the outset), then their political will can outlast that of their enemy, rendering specific assets and tactics irrelevant. And for how to do that, they return to Sun Tzu, who counsels that warfare is an all-of-government exercise, and that force-on-force contact is but one of many forms of engagement. Chinese national security strategy is being rewritten to employ or deny the use of orbital, electronic, information, economic, political and military assets. The implications for our thinking about PRC are profound.

The Chinese navy is building toward a strategic force-projection capability, to include aircraft carriers and ballistic missile submarines. Their stated goal is to dominate the Pacific at least out to the Hawaiis. Beijing was set to have Israel fit an Ilyushin Il-76 with AFP-991107 battle-management radars, converting it into an AWAC platform until, after consultation between Jerusalem and Washington, Israel declined the deal (interestingly, so far Russia won’t AWAC them either). PRC demonstrated (to the consternation of the world) an ASAT capability when they shot down one of their aged weather satellites, and had previously targeted Western orbital assets (to include an American space shuttle) with ground-fired lasers. They have openly discussed the access-denial of Japanese and South Korean ports and the quarantining (to foreign forces) of the Taiwan Strait. They hold a trillion dollars of our debt.

The point of all this is, the “peaceful rise” of China has ulterior motives, and that, without exception, their military doctrinal writings project the United States as the adversary to defeat. This is not to say that we shouldn’t engage them in diplomacy and trade, only that we keep our eyes open and not discard our conventional and nuclear superiority in a tunnel-visioned rush to counterinsurgency organization and staffing. It’s not an either/or question, rather a both/and proposition.

[1] Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, Unrestricted Warfare, PLA Literature and Arts Publishing House [Beijing], February 1999.

[2] General Carl von Clausewitz, Vom Krieg (On War ), Colonel JJ Graham, trans, London, 1874.

[3] See Sun Tzu (544-496BC), The Art of War [Annotated], Chinese classic literature, 512BC, Lionel Giles trans, May 1910.

Self Hypnosis

Barack Obama is enthralled with the power of his own rhetoric to point of narcissism, but why not – he rose to the presidency of the United States while being entirely unblemished by accomplishments (that one is on us, the voters).  He took a bath dealing with our allies in Europe for all of his groveling (he got none of the items on his wish-list).  And now, dealing with people who make our hard-liners look warm and fuzzy, he was punked by Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and excoriated by Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega while he sat smiling in the room.  Stalin had a term for Obama-like sycophants – “useful idiots”.

Too harsh?  Well, let’s take him at his word.  By being humble (Blame America First Syndrome) and declaring (the fiction) that there are no senior partners in our international relationships, previously hostile states may be more willing to engage us in serious dialog.  Two things: first, does he really think that his eloquence can persuade a nation to act against its own interest?; and second, I’ll ask the now famous Democrat question of George Bush – what’s the Exit Strategy?  How will we know when the effort has failed?

The former is sophomorically naïve and the latter is the curse of chattering class – dialog never fails.  Both are indistinguishable from what our enemies would have us do: they buy time to continue objectionable behavior, provide domestic cover (i.e., propaganda), and elevate asymmetric actors to respectable parity.  Useful idiot.

Example: DPRK launched an ICMB test and then re-opened its heavy water reactor in response to the UN’s do-nothing protestations.  Why?  So they can start the “negotiations” all over again, getting concessions all over again (plus buying time to work on their missile and nuclear programs).

Example: Iran created a crisis (convicting an Iranian-American journalist of espionage) so they can later “solve” it and claim a unilateral “good will” gesture for which Obama will thank them (or not).  Net effect: two to six months of diplomatic activity not centered on Iran’s nuclear activity (read: two to six months of unimpeded progress).

Something to watch: Russia does not want Turkey to delve any further into the West for fear that Ankara will provide an alternate route for Caspian and Central Asian gas and oil to Europe, negating Moscow’s stranglehold on European energy.  They will do something to sandbag the Washington-Ankara rapprochement started during Obama’s European mea culpa tour.

Something to watch: Hizbollah and/or Hamas will commit some atrocity against Israelis basing it on some perceived slight of political correctness (toward “Palestinians”) in an attempt to deepen the schism between America and Israel.  The isolation of the Netanyahu government is a no-loss situation for the mullahs.  If Israel blusters but does nothing (the reigning Islamist view of the West), Netanyahu is discredited; if Israel strikes Iran, the mullahs are more than willing to sacrifice a thousand or so of its citizens for world condemnation of Israel (which would surely follow).

the Obama Triangle

The Washington-Jerusalem-Tehran balance of wills is a zero-sum game of epochal importance that, so far, President Obama sees only through his parochial “I am not George Bush” lens.

The Sunday Times of London reports that “The Israeli military is preparing itself to launch a massive aerial assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities within days of being given the go-ahead by its new government[1],” and within hours, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told his nation that “no country in the region threatens Iran[2].”  Ho-hum.  Except there is a new equation in play – the American-Israeli alliance is being dismantled by the American president.

Among the steps taken to ready Israeli forces for what would be a risky raid requiring pinpoint aerial strikes are:

· the acquisition of three Gulfstream G550 airframes which they converted to AWAC battle-management platforms with the addition of their Phalcon phased-array steered-beam long range radars and extensive communications capabilities;

· last summer’s hysterically reported upon long range missions over the Mediterranean to simulate the attack;

· two nationwide civil defense drills will help to prepare the public for the retaliation that Israel could face.

Officials believe that Israel could be required to hit more than a dozen targets, including moving convoys.  The sites include Natanz, where thousands of centrifuges produce enriched uranium; Esfahan, where 250 tons of gas is stored in tunnels; and Arak, where a heavy water reactor produces plutonium.  And herein lies part of the problem with leaving this situation to Israel.  A strike package for Iran would include over 300 aim-points which would cover naval assets in the Gulf, finding and destroying Iranian submarines, the cratering of runways, and neutralizing Iranian missile sites.  All of this to preempt inevitable retaliatory actions.  The IDF just doesn’t have this capability, as they are a true self-defense force, as opposed to a power-projection force.

President Obama is painting Israel into a corner and either doesn’t realize it or doesn’t care.

Insisting on a two-state solution for Israel would be like insisting that Iran be installed in Canada and Mexico … this is not a recipe for peace. I srael has time-and-again yielded “land for peace”, only to see violence ramp up with each concession.  Why should Hamas sacrifice anything for peace if Israel is going to slowly give itself to them anyway?  To consider today’s Hamas and Hizbollah activities as being separate from Iran is naïve.

The ruling mullahs may have no desire to instigate a nuclear exchange with Israel, but as long as they front their government with the virulently anti-Semitic Ahmadinejad, and allow him to promise a second Holocaust (while following a path that unambiguously leads to the ability to build nuclear weapons), leaves any prudent person to consider Iran an existential threat to Israel.  President Bush vowed to not permit a nuclear Iran and did nothing.  President Obama has insisted that he will not allow permit a nuclear Iran, but is seen as appeasing the Islamic world.

The kowtowing of America to the mantle of popularity leaves Israel as the world’s only assertive democracy, and the absence of America as a stalwart ally leaves Israel alone in a sea of hate.  Mr Netanyahu is exactly the right person to keep the standoff with Iran from going kinetic; Mr Obama may be exactly the wrong person to keep it from doing so.

[1] Sheera Frenkel [Jerusalem], Israel stands ready to bomb Iran‘s nuclear sites, in Sunday Times [London], April 19 2009.

[2] Post staff, Ahmadinejad: No one will dare attack us, in Jerusalem Post, April 19 2009.

Troubling Patterns at DHS

Since the appointment of Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano as head of the Department of Homeland Security, there has been a troubling reshaping of the agency and its apparent mission.  Der Spiegel quoted Ms Napolitano’s famous rebranding of “terrorism” as “man-made disasters”, and our shooting wars as “overseas contingency operations”.  After presiding over the world’s second most kidnapped population [Phoenix], she testified before Congress that Mexican drug violence hasn’t yet migrated north into the United States.  And now a disturbing document has surfaced that attempts to set state and local law enforcement policy based on shoddy, at best, and biased, at worst, analysis.

A 9-page report by the Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis, entitled Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment, was sent to police and sheriff’s departments across the country on April 7.  This was an unclassified summary of the full report, and has been getting fairly wide commentary in the media.

A few things.

First, I’ve dealt with both classified and unclassified versions of reports (I’ve written a couple them), and these unclassified summaries typically represent ~1/10 the page-count of the summarized document and are generally devoid of references and specific exemplars (i.e., the classified parts).  This aspect is a given, not a deficiency.

Having said that, what is included must be carefully worded so as not to mislead or confuse the recipient of the summary.  An example that can only be confusing is a page 2 footnote that defines “rightwing extremism in the United States” as including not just racist or hate groups, but also groups that “reject federal authority in favor of state or local authority”, which, of course, would target the authors of the Articles of Confederation, the Northwest Ordnance, the Constitution the Federalist Papers and the 10th Amendment as being potential terrorists.  In absentia of supporting documentation or rationale, this statement exhibits a sophomoric understanding of the Constitution they all swore to protect and defend (I assume that’s still part of the oath taken by federal public servants).

The report cited a 2008 FBI report that noted that a small number of returning military veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have joined extremist groups.  Specifically, the FBI report said that “from October 2001 through May 2008 a minuscule number of veterans, 203 out of some 23,000, had joined groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, the National Socialist Movement, the Creativity Movement, the National Alliance and some skinhead groups.”  Eight-tenths of one percent, or a smaller portion than the current number of Cabinet officers who evaded paying their income taxes.  The report names Timothy McVey as a shining example of this “danger”, yet the report on Left-Wing terrorism makes no mention of Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber), whose rage against capitalism and technology raised no concerns about socialists, Luddites, nor the dangers posed by those graduating from Harvard (from where he received an undergraduate degree), Michigan (from where he received a PhD), or UCal-Berkeley (where he went on to teach).  Same ill-logic.

Homeland Security spokeswoman Sara Kuban said the report is one in an ongoing series of assessments by the department to “facilitate a greater understanding of the phenomenon of violent radicalization in the United States,” yet there is nowhere mentioned [in either report] the Somali nationals being radicalized in Minnesota mosques, spirited off to training camps in Pakistan and Somalia and returned to the US.  A curious exemption of a demonstrable problem.

The report warns against groups and individuals that may be dedicated to a single-issue, such as opposition to abortion (Catholics) or immigration (no differentiation between legal and illegal).  Yes, there are those who bomb clinics, and we know who they are, and they are already under surveillance, and they should be.  There is, however, no mention in the Left-Wing report of “groups or individuals” that may be dedicated to single-issues such as favoring abortion or illegal immigration.

I could go on (for example, TVNews’s gun issue is raised in the report), but the point is made.  This is a very sloppy report that will probably have the net effect of having local police departments profile those in the community who have risked all to “protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.”

No wonder it contains a footnote on page 1 warning that the report “is not to be released to the public, the media, or other personnel who do not have a valid need-to-know without prior approval of an authorized DHS official.”

Act II, Scene 2

We’re about to get everybody’s idea of how best to cure modern piracy, from “nuke Somalia” to “the pirates are just misunderstood”, to some variation in between.  There are some things to keep in mind.

According to the Sunday Telegraph’s Colin Freeman[1], these pirates are Islamic but not Islamists, and that is an important difference.  They seek profit not martyrdom.  This makes them for more amenable to threats of force than to threats of arrest[2].  Piracy is currently Somalia’s only real booming industry.  Up to 2,000 pirates are now believed to be sailing forth from its lawless coastline, carrying out anything up to half a dozen attacks per week and earning ~$30 million in ransoms last year alone.  They operate mainly along a traditional clan basis – the system of close family loyalties that has made Somalia all but ungovernable as a nation, but which provides a perfect social template for crime Mafias.  As a bitter Somali joke puts it, the warlords only went into robbing foreigners at sea because there was nothing left to rob from their own people on land.  And here is the important lesson from Mr Freeman, being arrested and caught by any international piracy force is little deterrent.  At least they will get three square meals a day.  If really lucky, they may get taken to a European or American jail, where they will have a chance of applying for asylum upon release.  Treating piracy as a law enforcement problem will make defense lawyers happy the world over, but as long as Western jails are better than Somali streets, it won’t be a deterrent to pirates.

As long as Somalia is ungoverned, it will have a predatory economy, making crime as legitimate a career option as any other.  Al Qaeda does have some shipping, but they are far more interested in using it for smuggling than piracy, and at present, aren’t a factor.  They have sold weapons, technology and explosives to pirates, but that’s about it.  Somalia hasn’t had a functional government for 16 years, and the clans, gangs and warlords are well established and well organized.  Solving piracy by “fixing” Somalia is not an option – it will take too long (this will be one of the do-nothing choices the politicians will talk about).

There a dozen or so ships and 237 hostages in Somali hands right now, so “cleaning out” the strongholds presents dangers that only a massive human intelligence program can guide, and while something like that is possible, it also would take too long to establish and mature.  The shipping and cargo assets are collateral to the problem, but the hostages are not. If a series of kinetic operations could stop the piracy, the insurance losses would be tolerable, but killing non-Somali nationals would not.

Some grand coalition of navies is probably the only thing that would take longer to mount than fixing Somalia (the world is still fumbling around with its “swift, serious consequences” for last month’s DPRK missile launch).  Because of the great photo ops and the utter lack of having actually to do anything other than schedule an endless train of “important” conferences, this is probably the route the politicians will take.

The shippers and insurers can get together and solve this thing before the politicians get involved.

“Billions of dollars of goods move through the Gulf of Aden each year,” says Bill Mathews[3], and North Carolina-based Blackwater announced last October that its 183-foot ship, the McArthur[4], stands ready to assist the shipping industry as it struggles with the increasing problem of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and elsewhere[5].  “We have been contacted by ship owners,” Mr Mathews continued, “who say they need our help in making sure those goods get to their destination safely.  The McArthur can help us accomplish that.”  Blackwater could also place armed personnel on board ships transiting troubled waters.  It wouldn’t take much – most of these gangs use Zodiacs or some cheaper copy, which are inflatable and extremely vulnerable to well-placed gunfire.  As are the pirates sitting in them.  The biggest barrier is the number of ports that do not allow armed commercial vessels, but this can be circumvented by boarding and de-boarding the security teams at sea, where necessary.

This situation has nothing to do with America “taking the lead in fighting piracy”, it has everything to do with Americans protecting American shipping and lives.  How the rest of the world deals with their nationals being kidnapped for ransom is the rest of the world’s business.  Having the Untied States held up by four thugs in a rubber boat would be the final straw in the Europeanization of America, and shouldn’t be stood for by any of us.

The remedy to piracy is no different that it was in the 18th century, it isn’t arresting them, it’s killing them.

[1] A former hostage victim, Mr Freeman was kidnapped in Somalia and held for six weeks.

[2] See Colin Freeman, Why Somali piracy is booming, in Sunday Telegraph [London], April 12 2009.

[3] Executive Vice President, Blackwater Worldwide. Founded in 1997 by former US Navy SEALs Erik Prince and Al Clark, the company has a 50,000-person database of former military and law enforcement professionals, and has recently focused on expanding operations and services.

[4] A refurbished National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research vessel, she has what the company has described as state-of-the-art navigation systems, full Global Maritime Distress and Safety System communications, SEATEL broadband satellite communications, dedicated command and control battle-management air support, helicopter decks, a hospital, multiple support vessel capabilities, and a crew of 45 highly trained personnel. Blackwater’s aviation affiliate can provide the helicopters, pilots and maintenance required to support escort missions.

[5] See Jerry Seper, Blackwater joins fight against sea piracy, in Washington Times, December 4 2008.

Since He Mentioned It …

“Being the only nation to have used nuclear weapons,” Obama told his French audience, “we should lead in their elimination.”   This is the standard Neoliberal-guilt line – we invented them, we used them, and we should undo this horrible thing.  Well, apparently they don’t teach history at Columbia or Harvard either.

In mid-1944, when Manhattan scientists assured Brigadier General Leslie Groves that “the device” would work, he reported this to the White House, and President Roosevelt told him to build two deliverable weapons – one for Germany and one for Japan.  The Manhattan team immediately began engineering a uranium technology demonstrator to test, which was ready barely a month after Germany had capitulated in May of 1945.  The “Shiva” test device was mounted on a tower in the Alamogordo desert and detonated.  They then produced two deliverable weapons – “Little Boy” (a linear-accelerated uranium bomb) and “Fat Man” (an implosion accelerated plutonium bomb), and sent them off to Tinian Island, where the 509th Bomb Group was trained and waiting.

We were down to the Japanese homeland, and they were not going to surrender (Congress wanted to explore a conditional surrender, but Eisenhower, Marshall, MacArthur and Truman all favored unconditional terms).  The nominal estimates of a land invasion involved up to a million allied deaths and upwards of two million Japanese deaths.  The only available alternative was to sacrifice a city in hopes that Tokyo would see the futility of further resistance and capitulate.  Hiroshima, Kobe, and Nagasaki had been spared from bombing raids for just this purpose.

On August 6th, Little Boy incinerated Hiroshima, and we waited to hear from Imperial Japanese Headquarters.  Japanese High Command heard tales of a single B-29 dropping a single bomb, and all communication from the city ceasing.  Not trusting these reports, High Command sent a party to investigate, and travel through war-torn Japan just took too long.  When we had no response for three days, on August 9th, Fat Man was targeted for Kobe, but it was weathered-in, and the secondary target of Nagasaki was destroyed.  Word from the Hiroshima party and reports of Nagasaki’s sudden incommunicado status arrived in Tokyo almost simultaneously, and (not knowing how many of these things we had), they immediately agreed to an unconditional surrender, thus saving around three million souls at less cost than a typical incendiary raid on Tokyo.

That was our dastardly use of nuclear weapons.

Act II, Scene 1

History may not repeat, to paraphrase Mark Twain, but it rhymes.  By late 1793, the Barbary pirates had captured a dozen American ships, goods stripped and everyone enslaved.  American merchants needed an armed American presence to sail near Europe[1], and by 1801, President Jefferson, like Washington and Adams before him, was unable get Europe to join America in engaging the pirates, so he sent the Marines to stop the practice of having to pay tribute to the Muslims in lieu of their raiding American shipping for goods and slaves.  The Marines gained a phrase for their hymn (“ … to the shores of Tripoli”:) and a nickname (“Leathernecks”), and we were free of Islamic pirates for two centuries.

Last Wednesday, it happened again. Four armed terrorists boarded the Maersk Alabama, an American-flagged transport crewed by 21 Americans, with an eye toward holding the ship and crew for ransom.  After the crew regained control of the ship, and to prevent possible shooting, Captain Richard Phillips offered himself as a hostage, joining the terrorists in one of the Alabama’s life boats. The Aegis destroyer Bainbridge steamed around from the Gulf of Aden, deployed armed guards to assure the Alabama’s completion of its humanitarian mission to Kenya, and is watching the (out of fuel) boat as the situation develops.

Now we find out if Obama is Thomas Jefferson or Jimmy Carter.

[1] After some serious debate, the United States Navy was born in March 1794. Six frigates were authorized, and so began the construction of the United States, the Constellation, the Constitution and three other frigates.