Wednesday, July 12, 2017

What's Pashto for "conditto"?

Here's a great fucking idea; since there are no real American "interests" left in Afghanistan, let's not send American forces there.

Let's send mercenaries!
"Erik D. Prince, a founder of the private security firm Blackwater Worldwide, and Stephen A. Feinberg, a billionaire financier who owns the giant military contractor DynCorp International, have developed proposals to rely on contractors instead of American troops in Afghanistan at the behest of Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump's chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, his senior adviser and son-in-law, according to people briefed on the conversations."
Gee, I can't see how that could possibly go wrong...

What is truly sad is that this suggestion comes from a guy who you would think would be all in favor of the fictitious-Trump "who kept us out of war" that seemed to dominate the "Trump-is-better-than-Killary-Klintoon" cartoons that kept appearing before the election:
"Mr. Bannon has told colleagues that sending more troops to Afghanistan is a slippery slope to the nation building that Mr. Trump ran against during the campaign. Mr. Bannon has also questioned what the United States has gotten for the $850 billion in nonmilitary spending it has poured into the country, noting that Afghanistan confounded the neoconservatives in the George W. Bush administration and the progressives in the Obama administration."
No shit, Sherlock; that's why the sucker is called the "grave of empires". NObody can figure out how to hustle this particular part of the East; not the Brits, who tried for over a century, not the Soviets, not us. The only way to win this particular Game of Thrones is not to play.

But in the sort of "logic" that has already made the Fraudulency Administration a standing joke this gomer is thinking that the "best" way to skin this cat is to import the kind of guys whose signature move is to panic and have a fucking mad minute in the middle of a busy public street in a country that their employer is trying to keep friendly and pacified.

Jesus wept. Does anybody here know how to play this game..?

Friday, July 7, 2017

NORK Nukes

In what may well be the most NORK-y Fourth of July fireworks display ever, the Pyongyang regime appears to have successfully tested a nuclear-capable missile with the range to reach the western portions of North America; by definition an intercontinental ballistic missile.


The linked article does a good job discussing the strategic implications of this success, but the tl:dr version is "there are no good military options".

Simply put, the DPRK appears to have obtained what Stalin's Soviet Union did in the 1940s; a successful defense against U.S. military strongarming. Never a particularly good idea, given the NORK capabilities for inflicting nasty mayhem to American-aligned nations in northeast Asia, if the NORKs have the capability to directly threaten the U.S. mainland this option goes from "barely conceivable" to "off the table".

What's more, the strategic calculus of potentially-holding-U.S.-population-centers-hostage changes the relationship between the U.S. and Asian allies such as Japan and South Korea. If Trump wanted the Japanese government to start building its own nukes Pyongyang may well have given it the same push that the Soviets gave the British and French governments during the Cold War - the worry that the Land of the Big PX would be hesitant to risk its own civilians in the face of a possible nuclear exchange.

Where does the Tangerine Toddler fit into all this? Swinging the Big Stupid bat, of course. The King of the Deal is discovering what diplomats and potentates throughout history have discovered, albeit at his own, short-bus-slow-reader speed; that polities with interests that conflict with your own can't always - and often won't ever - be coaxed, swayed, or bullied into acting against their own interests. China fears a NORK collapse more than anything the U.S. can threaten. Figuring out a way to adjust U.S. geopolitical approaches to the new northeast Asian realities will require a hell of a lot more patience, creativity, and intelligence than either the current Chief Executive - who seems more interested in ginning up a "Blut und Ehre" white nationalist agenda - or his people have shown to date.

Nukes are funny things. Technically they are "weapons of war"...but they work well only as potential, not kinetic, energy. When the first nuke is thrown at a nuclear-armed adversary they have effectively lost much of their usefulness. If war is the "continuation of politics by other means" the problem with nuclear war is that, unlike politics, there is no real way to plan or predict or strategize what happens after the fallout settles. A single warhead getting through to a single city will mean that even the "winner" will suffer. There is little consolation for the "winning" public knowing that the northern portion of the Korean peninsula is a glassy wasteland.

Maintaining the nuclear balance was a difficult task for U.S. leaders like Truman and Eisenhower. What happens when the launch codes are clutched in the stubby fingers of a man whose primary education in conflict was as a WWF wrestling heel is something that I'm not sure I want to find out.

Update 8:30am: And speaking of the Hermit Kingdom, this little piece is intriguing in its' suggestion that the NORKs may present a "World War Z"-type problem, too; the primitive medical capabilities of the Pyongyang regime offers terrific possibilities for the incubation and spread of nasty epidemic diseases. North Korea! It's like a Disneyland of Death!

Friday, June 9, 2017

De-confliction Zone?

 USAF F-15E shoots down Shahed-129 drone in Syria.   It had reportedly dropped ordnance in close proximity to CJTF-OIR Special Ops troops near al-Tanf in what has been called a Russian/American de-confliction zone.   Although obviously Russia's allies in Syria do not recognize that zone.  Shahed-129 is Iranian built, but unclear whether this UAV was remotely flown by the IRGC, or the SAAF, or by Hezbollah, or by Iraqi Hashd al-Shaabi.  Also unclear whether the Special Ops personnel were American or British - both are reportedly at al-Tanf training and advising anti-Daesh guerrilla forces.

The -E version of the F-15 is reportedly dual-role, both air-to-air and air-to-ground.  But has only been used as a ground attack aircraft except for one other air-to-air incident in Iraq in 1991 when it took out an Iraqi MI-24 helicopter, but that was done with air to ground ordnance, GBU-10.  Unclear so far as to whether the Shahed-129 was taken out by 20mm gun, AIM-9 or AIM-120.  The F-15 design is over 30 years old now.  There have been upgrades, but the average age is 26 years and the average airframe had 6000 hours flying time five years ago, probably closer to 7000 hours now.

https://theaviationist.com/2017/06/09/u-s-f-15e-downs-iranian-built-syrian-drone-after-airstrike-on-u-s-led-forces/


http://www.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/104499/f-15e-strike-eagle/

https://theaviationist.com/2016/02/14/f-15e-shot-down-iraqi-mi-24/


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Under Fire

Didn't post anything yesterday on observed Memorial Day.  But the 31st is the true day, isn't it?   Spent most of the day on a couch reading Henri Barbusse's horrific novel of a French squad of soldiers in the trenches of WW1.   Titled "Under Fire" in the English version, in the original French it was titled "Le Feu: jounal d'une escouade".   Written in December 1916 based on the authors trench diaries.  Hard-boiled anecdotes of the trenches at the squad level.  Only speaks of privates and the corporal squad leader, hardly never of sergeants and officers.  Author was 41 in 1914 when the war started yet still served.

But despite my negligence in posting, both FDChief and Ranger Jim had good Memorial Day posts.  Worth reading, both of them, if you haven't seen them already.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Byzantine Longevity



From the founding in AD 330 by Constantine I the Great up to the death in battle of Constantine XI Palaiologos in 1453 on the day Constantinople fell to the Turk.  Well over 12 centuries! 

It wasn't a stable millennium.  Their borders swelled and ebbed.  There were sixteen different dynasties and several periods of internal instability.  Their capital city was sacked and occupied for 50 years by Western crusaders supported by and urged on by Venice during the Fourth Crusade.  The invaders were aided by internal dissension.  But even then Byzantines survived in three successor states east and west of Constantinople and eventually liberated it. 

How did they survive so long?

Edward Luttwak’s book “The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire”  touches on some of the reasons why.  Interesting read if you are fascinated by the duration of empires, dynasties, republics, institutions and such.  Luttwak elaborates on seven major facets pf Byzantine strategy that may answer some of the reasons why they survived so long:

I.                 Avoid war by every possible means in all possible circumstances, but always act as if it might start at any time.

II.               Gather intelligence on the enemy and his mentality, and monitor his movements continuously.

III.            Campaign vigorously, both offensively and defensively, but attack mostly with small units; emphasize patrolling, raiding, and skirmishing rather than all-out attacks.

IV.             Replace the battle of attrition with the “nonbattle” of maneuver.

V.               Strive to end wars successfully by recruiting allies to change the overall balance of power.

VI.            Subversion is the best path to victory.

VII.          When diplomacy and subversion are not enough and there must be fighting, it should be done with “relational” operational methods and tactics that circumvent the most pronounced enemy strengths and exploit weaknesses.

Don't know much about Luttwak and have no idea if he knows what he is talking about.  His companion book on the grand strategy of Rome was criticized by many historians.  And he was seen by some as a neocon, although he was reportedly against the invasion of Iraq and against bombing Iran. 

In any case numbers one, five, and six are critical IMHO, two and four are also key.  Three and seven sound like a good game, but I am not 100% on board.  The emphasis on small unit tactics in the offense outlined in number three sounds much like our current use of SOF.  In number seven Luttwak seems to channel Sun Tzu which is good some of the time - but what would CVC say?

Several other reasons that the Byzantines lasted so long.  Most included in Luttwak's book, some in detail, some briefly.  Others are speculation on my part (or perhaps I remembered them vaguely from FDChief's excellent blogpost on the fall Constantinople two years ago?).
  • geography - They sat astride the trade routes, both the East/West routes and the North/South routes.  This made them a commercial powerhouse.  A treasury full with gold buys a lot of friends and allies, buys off a lot of potential adversaries, and pays a lot of soldiers and sailors (and provides for their equipment).
  • navy  - They dominated the Black Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean for more than five hundred years, and even the Western Mediterranean early on.  Their fleets managed to hold off the Arab fleets in the Seventh and Eighth centuries.  Eventually they lost naval dominance to Venice and Genoa and later to the Turks resulting in disaster.
  • legacy - They had a military legacy from ancient Greece and the earlier western roman empire.  Not strategy, but they took a lot from their forebears on military organization, training, tactics, operational methods, and in the means of evaluation of different strategies
  • engineering - This was another inheritance passed down from Rome.  They carried on with the advice of Domitius Corbulo: that the dolabra (a combination pickaxe tool) “was the weapon with which to beat the enemy".  The walls of Constantine and of Theodosius are testimony to that, and the hundreds of cisterns they built for when the aqueducts failed during a siege.
  • tax revenues – Tax collection was rigidly organized and sophisticated.   It was a very effective system.  No other contemporary powers could compete.  It filled their treasuries and gave them a huge advantage.
  • bureaucracy - They had a capable and enduring bureaucratic class.  It was they who administered the empire, guided diplomacy, counted beans in the treasury, organized and oversaw military logistics and training.  They provided the continuity and institutional memory needed through those sixteen different dynasties and 96 emperors/empresses. Without them - chaos with each change of crown.
  •  land for service in the army - This put tens of thousands of veterans on the frontiers of the empire.  Their family's safety gave them incentive to band together into ad hoc militia units.  They retained their weapons.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Your daily "hmmm..." (Middle East edition)

Fred Kaplan over at Slate has a take on the endgame playing out in Mosul, and how a lot of it revolves around not military strategy but political strategy:
"This is the biggest thing that Trump doesn’t understand and that few Western leaders grasp until they look at this conflict up close. “To everybody but us,” one senior military officer told me, “the defeat of ISIS is the least important goal.”

This is why, as the defeat of ISIS draws near, the lack of a coherent U.S. strategy — or, more precisely, Trump’s hesitation or refusal to accept, adapt, or do something with Mattis’ plan — is such a source of anxiety."
I wish I thought that this was another Tangerine-Toddler-specific problem. But IMO the entire history of the U.S. involvement in the Middle East, going practically all the way back to the hasty recognition of Israel in '48, is a litany of "what the fuck are we doing and why..?"

Back when he used to post and comment here Seydlitz used to insist that the U.S. political establishment doesn't really "do" geopolitical strategy, that there's no actual strategy or strategic thinking involved. This seems to be just a piece with everything else we've seen, all the way back to 2002 and beyond.

Mind you...given the unique incompetence of the Trump Griftministration I wouldn't be surprised to see things get MORE effed up!

But I see this not so much as a Trump Bug but as a U.S. Middle East Policy Feature.