Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve 1942

and the Battle of the Barents Sea

Here's hoping that you all are enjoying a happier, healthier, and, above, all, WARMER runup to 2013 than the guys were at the fringe of the Arctic on this day seventy years ago!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Defining the Problem


We at Milpub recently had a 134-comment thread on the Newtown shooting tragedy; after 134 comments it is clear that we are neither able to define the problem nor are we even able to agree if there is a problem.

Ranger hearkens back to 1973, when he commanded the 3rd Army Marksmanship Training Unit. It became apparent to him at that time that the leadership of the National Rifle Association (NRA) was transforming itself and its magazine, The Rifleman, into a Right-wing mouthpiece for the Republican party.  The magazine shifted its focus in the 1970's from the shooting sports and gun collecting to political matters.  Soon, the agenda became aligned with the Christian Right, an affiliation which has been maintained through today.

This far-Right stance was adopted after Nixon's 1968 Presidential election politicized and radicalized a fraught nation with his law enforcement emphasis.  This focus was a thinly-veiled racial agenda since being tough on crime meant being tough on black criminals.  The nation was riven, Right and Left; the divisiveness continues today, hence the problem agreeing upon the "gun issue".

Ranger will try for a definition by asking the questions:

  • Do we have a gun problem?  Of the 300 million guns estimated to be in private hands, perhaps 30 million are "kill your neighbor" guns.  Let us assume that the 270 million collector and curio firearms are not the problem. (These guns are still regulated the same as the neighbor-killing guns.)  Therefore, is the problem with the weapon itself, or its maintenance? 
  • Do we actually have a "gun storage" problem?  Should we require legally-acquired firearms and ammunition to be properly secured away from casual contact?  Would this reduce the number of tragic random shooting episodes?
  • Should we allow firearms in households where a member is adjudicated criminally insane, or even mentally defective?  Should these homes be subjected to special regulations?  Who will define the status of the mentally defective?  Can a person be a head case yet still adjudicated non-violent and not a danger to himself or others?
  • What sorts of mental disability would invalidate one's gun rights?  Should soldiers suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) be denied gun ownership?  What about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD)?
  • Should safe handling courses and hunter safety courses be required before firearm possession?  If so, who will teach the courses and create the program?  

Well, it is a start. These are the sorts of issues that we should discuss, and probably even enact into law before considering more Draconian measures like weapons bans, magazine restrictions and all of the other initiatives being bandied about by the anti-gun lobby.

If we pass laws that require education and safe handling, to include safe storage and this does not work to mitigate the spree killings that have our public up in arms, then it will be time to consider tightening up the requirements of ownership even further.  But short of these initial efforts it seems injudicious to pass by the simplest controls which have proven effective in countries like Canada and Germany.

Doing other than this is similar to starting a presumptive war without first exhausting all diplomatic possibilities in order to avoid the ultimate conflict.

We should contemplate all possible solutions before jumping headlong into a needless battle.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Gunning for It

They're talking about things of which
they don't have the slightest understanding, anyway.
It's only because of their stupidity
that they're able to be so sure of themselves 
--The Trial, Kafka 

We didn't love freedom enough 
--The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

The Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©) has spawned myths that have been sewn into our gun culture.

We were told that being alert would alleviate our fear and neutralize the threat, a threat left largely undefined.  The first reaction to the 9-11-01 attacks was to place National Guard riflemen in the airports of America to create a simulacrum safety net against the "bad guys".

From this image issued a cornucopia of terrorist TV and movie depictions of terrorists bearing old fashioned AK's and semi-auto pistols being ferreted out from behind every bush by brave Jack Bauers.  The problem with this media-driven bravado was that it did not address the actual threat.

The closest we came to suffering this sort of threat was the inside the wire shooting by Major Nidal Hasan at Ft. Hood, an event which was entirely predictable and avoidable (as were the World Trade Center attacks themselves if anyone had connected the dots.)  Terrorism was not the problem, but rather a failure of leadership.

The collective insanity of our national reaction to a containable terror threat has led to a warped perception that our safety is enhanced by firearms, a hyperbolic idea beaten into our consciousness at all levels.

The United States has not seen a significant firearms-related terrorist event and we will not because such an attack would lack the drama demanded by the terrorists.  Terror must be significant and, well, terrifying.  It is unlikely that terrorists will ever engage in shootouts in the Homeland.

We confuse the low-intensity conflict in far-flung reaches of the earth like Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza, Israel, Philippines, Mexico, Columbia, et. al. with U.S. concerns at home, leading us to the false conclusion that this will happen in America.  Being so misled allows the proliferation of government security excesses and the militarization of our civilian security and law enforcement agencies.  While this does not make us safer, it does make us less free.

Imagine what our unemployment rates would look like if the people employed by the current U.S. security apparatus, including the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) -- as though we were Britain during the Blitz -- were not padding about in para-pornographic airport pursuits.  How many people are employed in nebulous security functions that provide no protection from any actual threat.  Security and Prisons are the only growth industries in America.

The entire system is like a metastasized cancer -- it is systemic, but we do not see it because we are in the tumor.

We fail to see the fiscal cliff that is based upon security, defense and intelligence activities that have little or any rational basis for their existence.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Whatever You Celebrate

Warmest Holiday Wishes from me and the Mrs for whatever you and yours may observe at this time of the year.  An old year is coming to a close, and a new one will begin.  While that has happened millions (or only thousands, if you are so disposed) of times before, the camaraderie we share is precious, and may it grow in the years to come.  And may each of you and your families and friends see good health and good fortune every day.



Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tragedy in America

I think that the behavior of America in the wake of the massacre/tragedy/terrorist attack/mass shooting has been utterly disgraceful.  Without batting an eye, America has turned a very sad personal event for a school community into a national three-ring media circus.  Complete with commander-in-chief pronouncement and hand-wringing snake-oil salesmen.  

In the past week, I have heard that America needs to ban assault rifles, ban expanded magazines, ban .223 rifles that look like assault rifles, expand mental health services, lock up crazies, treat crazies, deal with crazies, and a bunch of other pronouncements.  You know what?  I'm sick of this exploitation.  The fact is that NONE of these things would have prevented this incident.  Only a complete change in American society, the likes of which should not be engaged in during a terrible trauma, could change this scenario in anything like a predictable way.  

None of what's currently being discussed would have a reasonable chance of preventing an adult from killing another adult, stealing that person's guns and attacking a seemingly randomly chosen school.  No ticky-tac gun law would affect these events.  Additionally, no amount of attention from school counselors or mental health professionals can reasonably assure us that bad things or crazy people will not happen in America.  Only a complete change in the society and culture could do so, and no matter how interesting it might be to seize on this moment to affect a profound change, it would be unwise to do so like this.  Just consider the evil that has been wrought by the tragedy of 9/11.  Can we be assured that our immediate plans to make changes to make us all 'more secure' will not end up causing different/worse problems?  

Just for a second, let's actually look at ways we, as a society could handle this.  Knowing the events that transpired, could we have kept some or more of those kids alive?  Absolutely.  Schools could revisit the 'Duck and Cover' days and perhaps work in drills to help improve safety.  Are there ways to improve the physical security of schools?  Can we plan for these events and prepare defenses?  I'm not talking, suspending kids for twitter threats or butter knifes, but actual planning on how to defend a school from a mass murderer.  What are the cops going to do?  What about the teachers/teachers union?  We don't need all teachers carrying, but one who is trained and capable (think air marshall for schools) of handling such a dangerous eventuality might decrease the dangers posed by a mass murderer.  I'm just spitballing here, but I've heard exactly 0 about any sorts of solutions that would prevent the actual occurrence of this event.  I'd like to hear more.

What happened was wrong and its sickening to think that it'd happen in America, but what's happening now, where the media is feasting on this carcass and all the gun-control and mental health nuts are out in force is making me sick.  It's not right.  Let these parents and community grieve in peace.  Don't turn their personal tragedy into a way to rally support for your personal cause.  It's basic ethics.  I'm also pretty sure that the last political figure to try that was Mitt Romney when an Ambassador got killed in some dubious setting.  It was wrong then and its wrong now.  I don't care how right you think you are, if you are using pictures of crying children fleeing a building to rally support for anything other than helping those kids and their families and community, it's not appropriate.  

I support laws that will keep guns out of the hands of crazy or criminally inclined people.  I think keeping certain types of guns out of the conventional market makes sense, but let's not confuse these issues.  Gun control would not save these kids.
I think America has a duty to take care of the mentally handicapped and provide for services that reduce their harm to themselves and others.  But in the same way, greater spending on mental health would not have saved these kids.
I also think that America's culture glorifies violence in a way that makes some individuals believe that an orgy of violence is an acceptable and cool way to go out.  That should change, but it cannot be that this would save these kids.
And this event is about the kids that died.

Wait a while, let's make decisions like adults when the pain subsides and we can act responsibly and with longer term goals and horizons in mind.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Not Very Pret-y

Let me qualify this post in several ways; first, I am not a huge Tom Ricks fan - I find that his default setting is way too often "stenographer for guys with cool guns" - and, second, that Ricks himself states in the article that his information appears preliminary and fragmentary.

That said, back in November Ricks posted this article to his blog, his lead being that the 2nd Cavalry Regiment (Stryker) was reamed in an Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) collection report for its performance at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC) in October 2012.
I am also not familiar with JMRC, but I am guessing from both its designation as a Readiness Center, and the exercise that the 2CR participated in, that it is the USAEUR equivalent of the National Training Center (NTC), where maneuver units are evaluated for their ability to perform their core tasks to Army standard.

The original CALL document is worth a glimpse for the unsurprising conclusion that 2CR's conventional warfighting skills have...shall we say, slipped a trifle in the past decade they've spent chasing raggedy-assed muj around the less-paved parts of southwest Asia?
What is most dispiriting to me as a sergeant, though, are some of the first observations that CALL team made of 2CR. This wasn't some sort of minor slippage of high-speed mad supertrooper skilz we're talking about here. Some of total fails on the 10- and 20- level tasks the evaluators dinged 2CR elements for included:

- Priorities of work for occupying a position are not established or adhered to.
- Sleeping areas established prior to preparation of fighting positions.
- Vehicles, fighting positions, CP’s, and tents not camouflaged.
- Field sanitation standards not enforced, Soldiers defecating randomly on top of the ground in unit positions.
- Range cards not prepared or inaccurate.
- Lack of uniform and personal hygiene standards.
- A lack of small unit leadership and on the spot corrections.

Read the CALL document; trust me, things get worse at the higher levels. It sounds like resupply, troop discipline, planning and training, medevac, commo, and TOC operations (among others) were fucked up like a football bat. These guys sound completely ate up, and if you read the whole thing it sounds like the 2ACR is a really effed-up unit.

But what it's NOT?

What if the problem with the higher-level tasks isn't the unit but, rather, what it's been training to do and doing for the past decade.

Here's the commander of the JMRC as quoted by Ricks:
"...the actions reflective of Soldiers who have operated in a COIN only environment over the past several years, and a training environment designed to challenge leaders at multiple levels."
Emphasis mine.


I'm willing to cut these guys some slack on the higher-level tasks. I can well understand that going from being coiffed in a FOB for a 12-month rotation to having to figure out how to work a jump TOC and retrans sites and ambulance transfer points doesn't happen overnight.

But, c'mon; stuff like priorities of work? Camo? Laying out the fartsacks before digging ranger graves? Casually shitting all over your positions like a herd of cows?

That ain't rocket science. That's a bunch of sergeants not doing their fucking jobs.

You've all heard me lament the damage done to my branch, the Field Artillery, by these pestiferous little wars we've been enjoying over the past ten years. Now this little bit of bad news makes me wonder - what ELSE the Army has been doing to itself while the Nation has been out Shopping for Victory and Supporting the Troops?

Shitting at random inside your own positions, boys?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Speaking Loudly and Carrying Nothing

A recent article in the New York Times, encapsulated quite nicely, my personal concern and confusion over the actions of President Obama.  In this article, the press noted the way in which the President's claims in the past had given way in the face of current events.  A previous declaration of that simply 'moving' chemical weapons was grounds for intervention has given way to 'using' chemical weapons as a pretext for intervention.

While the NYT seems to see this changing stance as an isolated incident of changing priorities, I believe that this represents an increasingly apparent flaw in President Obama's foreign policy.  Namely, his administration talks.  A lot.  About a lot of stuff that they have no control over.

His administration has issued a lot of opinions about a lot of things but acted only rarely.  Or rather, they rarely act in a decisive manner that will actually settle a matter.

In some ways, it represents, to me, the opposite of "Speak softly and carry a big stick."

Obama's doctrine, especially in the Middle East, is heavy on lecture, heavy on speaking and light on stick.  For me, this is a lot better than him committing troops to another war, but it worries me in two ways.

Firstly, I don't actually know what Obama is doing for/in the name of our country.  Despite his rhetoric, I cannot seem to understand his moves/methods and he doesn't seem interested in explaining it to us.  I've seen a lot of liberals explaining what he's doing and a lot of conservatives complain about it, but apart from "we're going to focus more on Asia soon" I really don't know what America is planning to do next.  Intervene in Syria?  Who the hell knows?  There is a lot of tea leaf reading going on, but I fail to see how the ambiguity improves American interests or security.  That's on Obama.  If he feels he needs to take the country in certain direction foreign policywise, he should at least have the decency to explain what and why.  There are too many people explaining it for him these days; I don't want an interpretation of an opinion, I'd like to hear from his what the plan is.

I think the closest we got was when he committed the 'surge' to Afghanistan, but that was very heavy on ideals and tactics, and very light on 'what the hell are we doing?'  The President really needs to make it more clear.

Secondly, the more his red lines shift, the less anyone knows what to make of his pronouncements.  Its why you don't talk shit in ambiguous circumstances.  It amounts to a bluff.  And the more you talk about "I don't bluff," the more it can prod people to see if that's the case.  I'm worried that, like everyone else, President Obama does have red lines that will invite retaliation, but his tough talk makes it more and more ambiguous and increases the chance that those lines get crossed.  There is way too much speculation that his tough foreign policy is merely a reflection of a domestic political agenda for him to make legitimate use of force threats.  This is a problem that President Obama's administration has not addressed, and it is actually a very serious one.

So since everyone else seems interested in giving their two cents.  I don't think the President is interested in intervening in the Middle East at all, barring a nuclear explosion.  That's not likely to happen, so stay tuned for more of the same for the next couple of years.  Hopefully, the Syria mess will peter out of its own accord and the damage caused by the revolution there will moderate some of the Arab street so that the revolutions become more reform than actual revolution.

Here's the thing, though.  If things do not get better, but in fact become crazier or far worse, I have no idea what to expect from Obama.  That's bad.  And in my worst case forecasting, neither does he.

PF Khans

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Speaking of seapower...

Brief article in The Diplomat regarding differences between the USN and USAF regarding the employment of their respective forces outside of shooting war. The author's nut graf reads:
"The Navy has devoted substantial intellectual and material energy to developing “smart” and “soft” power tools for engaging with diplomatic partners, and has indeed made such engagement a critical element of its overall approach to maritime security. The Air Force has yet to develop a conception of “soft power” more complex than “friends make the exercise of hard power easier.”
But here's my thought; given the by-its-nature-ephemeral quality of airpower is there really any way for the USAF to develop an approach similar to that of the USN?

An armed vessel, like an armed man may on land, may physically occupy a space of ocean (and from there over the nearby land) and, through its sensors and weaponry, control access to and through that space. It may loiter there for long periods, providing a continuous presence and a potential deterrent to action merely BY that presence. This is, in a very real sense, the essence of "gunboat diplomacy"; the sight and the knowledge of an armed ship presents a dilemma to anyone who might need to dispute with that ship to accomplish their ends, whatever those ends might be.

This is true even if the warship is on a "soft" mission. It's simple physical present is impossible to ignore. What's big, gray, and dominates the harbor? A USN guided missile frigate delivering humanitarian supplies.

An aircraft - by the transitory nature of flight - is less intimidating. It's hard to imagine aircraft enforcing a physical restriction short of actually attacking something on the ground. And many potential recipients of the sort of warning the air assets are meant to convey lack the sensors to track the aircraft when not in sight, so the "gunboat" effect is markedly less.

A C-17 "raisin bomber" is smaller, less imposing, and its presence is easier to overlook. And add to that it is easier to destroy and located in a threat environment less amenable to characterization and control than the sea. So I suspect that the USAF sees a smaller upside and higher downside to such missions than the USN does to its "soft power" cruises.

So I'm not sure that this difference doesn't reflect on a difference in USAF/USN outlook so much as the physical difference between airpower and seapower, a difference that will perforce produce very different ways of thinking about force.

Update 12/6: Sven of the blog Defence & Freedom provides correction to my original post in his comment; "soft power" is supposed to be less about the "gunboat effect" than about using the capabilities of a military force to attract rather than deter people outside the force's own nation, and he provides some good examples.

But I would opine that, again, the nature of airpower still makes this a tricky problem. Warships are complex, expensive, and many nations or peoples don't have the wherewithal to construct or maintain them. So a navy may find that they can provide non-kinetic services to foreign states or groups that those groups both desperately need and can't afford, as well as being a more visible example of soft power and one that is less vulnerable to random threats.

Meanwhile there isn't all that much that a military aircraft can do that a civil one cannot, and the physical fact of flight means that the aircraft tend to come and go rather than loiter making an impression on people. It's the difference between the clouds and the sea; the sea remains, the clouds change, pass over, and are gone.

But Sven's points are good ones. Anyone - Andy, in particular, you are our USAF "insider" - have any insight into why this interservice mismatch?

Monday, December 3, 2012

What's Mandarin for "Avast, ye scurvy dogs"..?

Fallows has been doing some spadework on geopolitics in the South China Sea and the People's Republic of China/Hainan Island People's Congress' latest statements regarding what they see as their rights in the littoral they consider their "near abroad".

And this "abroad" is at least to my eye pretty broad:
Look at the size of the East-is-Red line on the map above: I don't see any real way that historical claim, international, or maritime law could be twisted to support that reach of "territorial waters". That seems to me to be a hell of an over-reach.

Much as I don't agree with the commonly-heard U.S. conservative trope that places the PRC in the military cross-hairs as "our next enemy" this announcement does seem to me to be an unpleasant sort of geopolitical overreach from the Hainan government and makes me wonder what the hell the PRC was thinking to let this leak out. If "hard cases make bad law" then "making broad statements potentially applicable to nearly-impossible-to-enforce-maritime-territorial-claims makes dangerous foreign policy".

IF taken to the territorial extreme this claim would seem to give any ambitious, aggressive, or just-plain-batshit-crazy PLAN commander a ready made casus belli.
Mind you, there does seem to be a strong strain of opinion that this announcement is NOT intended to genuinely apply to the areas around the Spratley Islands, for example, that while notionally under Hainan Island's "adminstration" are well outside the PRC's 12 or even it's 200-mile limit. The linked article above says conclusively:
"...the actions outlined above are all concern with Chinese territory or territorial waters – not the much larger maritime areas that press accounts have suggested."
In other words, using the map above to conclude that the PRC is saying it has the right to "...inspect, detain or expel foreign ships illegally entering waters..." less than 50 miles off the coast of Brunei, say, would be taking counsel from fear.

But I am watching to see what, if any, further explication of this statement comes from Hainan. Interesting times, perhaps?