Thursday, April 26, 2018

Big Beautiful Wall

Todd Miller over at Tomdispatch has a decent little discussion about the backstory to the "OMFG! The beaners are revolting! Send in the Army!" tales we've been reading about ARNG troopers being dispatched to help fortify La Frontera, seeing as how the traitorous Dhimmicrats won't vote for Trump's Big Beautiful Wall.

I've been thinking about this, and ended up posting a long piece over at GFT discussing how I think that the problem goes much deeper, into the way we frame this as an "immigration" or "border control" problem.

It's not. It's a "capitalism" problem, and to even have any remote hope of solving it - and as Miller points out that when the Chinese climate change hoax really kicks in it's likely to mean massive population shifts from the tropics on a scale that will make the current situation look like a country club weenie roast - would mean a seriously unsparing look at how We the People have set up our economic system to lure the very people We then have the sort of hissyfit about that leads to us doing dumbass things like the election of an orange-colored real estate grifter to national office.
"The bottom line is that to keep meat cheap the business had to cut costs, and worker's pay is typically the single biggest cost of any business.

The same is true of nearly any business you look at that employs significant numbers of undocumented people. Construction, landscaping, agriculture, "hospitality" (meaning hotels and restaurants). This isn't anyone's "fault", or, if it is, it's Our fault, We the People. We've forgotten that it's the nature of capitalism; you can hope to charge everyone a premium and go broke, or you can skin your costs down to the bone and make them affordable to Joe and Molly. It's why commercial aviation sucks. It's why WalMart. It's why the guy running that leaf-blower snuck in from Michoacan.

So unless we plan to start paying what we'd need to pay to give all those legal citizen busboys, maids, drywallers, chicken-gutters, and tomato-pickers a living wage the reality of people coming here outside the legal process is going to continue."
Read the whole thing, as the kidz say.

Missile Trivia

1] Mazkirovka:

Soon after Trump made his magic missile tweet on 11 April, a former CinC of the Russian Navy, Admiral Masorin, stated the USS Donald Cook could easily be taken out by torpedos if they launched missiles on Syria.  The Cook, and many other US, French and Brit ships were operating in the Eastern Mediterranean at the time not far off the coast of Syria..  Not sure why he focused on the Cook, but that ship has had many run-ins with Russian ships and aircraft in the past especially in the Black Sea when on FON Operations.   Plus there were stories in the US and British media that the Cook was on station and as an Arleigh Burke class destroyer was capable of launching Tomahawks on Assad's purported chemical weapon sites.  I believe there were similar reports in Turkish newspapers.  In the lead-up to the 14 April missile strike the Cook was shadowed closely by the Russian Navy and buzzed repeatedly by Russian air.  The same thing happened to the British submarine HMS Astute armed with Tomahawks.  She was followed closely by one (or two?) Russian Kilo-class submarines, two frigates and antisubmarine aircraft.

Neither was involved in the missile strike.  That strike was launched by aircraft from Cyprus, France and Qatar;  and by ships in the Red Sea, the northern Persian Gulf, and from an unwatched French Frigate and US submarine in the Med. 

The Cook media stories were plants.  Hmmm?  Sounds like SecDef Mattis is finally returning to our Revolutionary War roots of 240 years ago to mislead the enemy as to our force disposition and plans.  Or did the deception idea come from our allies, the wily Sassenachs in Whitehall, instead of the Pentagon?

BTW, nice hat. 

2] Dezinformatsia

Lots of discussion going on throughout the web about the 14 April missile strike on Barzah and Him-Shinsar in Syria.  Aficianados of RU, RT, Sputnik, TASS and other Russian newsites have bought into the meme that 71 of the missiles never made it to their intended targets either by being shot down by Syrian AD.  Or by Russian Electronic Counter Measures or magic wand Cyberwarfare tricks that deflected the missiles.  Or by plain old  missile malfunction.  The Pentagon claimed all missiles made it through.  Perhaps one side is lying?  Or perhaps both sides are employing a wee bit of dezinformatsia.   For me I don't really care which.  But I think those rooting for the Russian point of view are missing the main point. 

105 cruise missiles (66 TLAM, 19 JASSM-A, nine SCALP, eight Storm Shadow, and three MdCN), each with a 1000 pound warhead is pure overkill for three targets.   It appears 'swarm tactics' were used.   Definitely not one of the autonomous, cooperative robotic swarm dreams of DARPA or AFRL.  But still a swarm launched by 20 separate platforms from six or seven widely dispersed locations.   The Russian General Staff freely admits only 71 missiles or just under 70% did not make it to the target.  So it seems to me that if the Russian claim is correct (and I am not conceding that point) then 34 did get through, therefore validating the tactic.  If we get in a major conflict, would we do any better defending an aircraft carrier against 100 plus anti-ship missiles?  Just one hit out of 100 with a 1000 pound warhead would at the least cripple her with massive casualties, and at the worst could send her to the bottom.  I know we are working on anti-swarm tactics, but would surmise we are far from perfecting them.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

If the United States HAD a sane Syria policy...what would it be..?

I had a bit of a laugh this morning reading Matt Taibbi's rant about Trump and Syria. Taibbi writes well even when I don't agree with what he says, and it was worth the popcorn for stuff like this:
"The fate of humanity now rests in the hands of this Twitter-obsessed dingbat executive and his new national security adviser, John Bolton – one of the most deranged people to have ever served in the United States government, a man who makes Jeane Kirkpatrick look like Florence Nightingale.

With these two at the helm, we are now facing the imminent possibility of direct military conflict with a nuclear enemy. No one in the popular press is saying it, but there could easily be Russian casualties in Trump’s inevitable bombing campaign. Which will then put the onus on a third lunatic, Vladimir Putin, to respond with appropriate restraint."
But as I read Taibbi's polemic, I kept thinking...OK, very stable genius, if you were NSA and you had the chance to whisper into Orange Foolius' tangerine-hued ear, what would you advise? What would you suggest as an approach to the Syrian civil war that might be genuinely productive?
Option 1: A Grand Concert of the Middle East In which Trump is Metternich (which would make Pompeo Tallyrand or something I hesitate to speculate about) and through a combination of persuasion, bribery, discrete threats, and veiled force manages to pull all the stakeholders in the Levant region to a conference where the issues behind the current wave of instability are wrestled to the mat and choked out. This is something Pat Lang used to promote a lot (although even he seems to have given up on the idea more recently). The intended result would be some sort of "Treaty of Beirut" in which everybody agrees to some things they don't like - like co-existing with groups of people they'd rather exterminate - in return for a Great-Power-backed enforcement of some things they DO like, like peace and economic well-being.

Is it sane? Would it work? It's eminently sane. Making it work would would be fiendishly difficult for the REAL Metternich, let alone the sort of mooks and bozos that infest the Trump Administration. I think the single biggest problems would be that 1) SO many Middle Eastern wells are poisoned; just trying to get the Muslim residents of Gaza and the West Bank to forgive and forget 40 years of violent apartheid, or trying to get Israel to pony up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to expose and condemn the architects of that apartheid fills me with existential dread, and 2) SO many groups and polities in the Middle East are unwilling to abandon their hopes of maximal outcomes. Just in Syria alone can you imagine the difficulty of trying to get a former Assad government, a former congeries of salafi jihadis, and former Kurdish YPP fighters to trust each other enough to work out a functional government? The whole point of the civil war was they they couldn't, and they all wanted to either defeat the others outright or, in the case of the Kurds, win independence.

In particular, to be seen as an honest broker of this concert, the United States would have to renounce its unreserved support for the State of Israel and treat it was just another party to the conflict, and I don't see that as possible domestically. This is one of those ideas that would seem possible but that founders on too much reality. I'd love to see a U.S. Administration actually commit to trying this, but I can't see a way this overcomes the structural issues now embedded in the Middle East as well as global geopolitical conflicts. I'd love for someone to argue me wrong.

Option 2: Operation Desert Stormy Working off the premise that doing the same thing and expecting a different result is not the definition of insanity, the U.S. gins up a coalition of the willing-ish, invades Syria and occupies the place, installs a pliant government, and hangs about bashing wogs until the new "government" is firmly in the saddle.

Is it sane? Would it work? Hell, no. Ohfuckno. What didn't work in Afghanistan (due to social and political dysfunction largely produced by a generation of war, as well as choosing proxies poorly that included smaller tribes like the Hazaras that were traditionally booted around by the Pashtun that included a lot of the Talibs) and Iraq (due to a failure to understand the toxicity of the Sunni-Shia divide that had been suppressed by Tikriti despotism as well as a series of boneheaded mistakes like deBaathification and the disbanding of the Army) would work worse in Syria, where the sectarian and tribal toxicity is already an order of magnitude worse and the existing government rules only by a combination of brute force and the loathing of much of the Syrian population for the fanaticism of the jihadi rebels.

An invasion would probably work militarily - although likely with more losses than the 2003 invasion of Iraq simply because of the already-treacherously-chaotic environment in Syria - but an occupation would be horrific militarily, politically, and socially. Any "occupation" that had any hope of working - i.e. one that included a massively-larger-then-post-WW2-European-level infusion of civil government, economic, social, and political rebuilding, and straightforward cash injection - would inevitably founder on the damage inflicted on Syrian society. Post WW2 Europe was, at least, socially and politically intact. Syria is hopelessly shattered. As Lord Chesterfield is supposed to said about keeping a mistress, the pleasure would be transient, the position ridiculous, and the expense damnable.
So, no. This one is right out.

Option 3: Same Shit Different Day Keep on doing what the U.S. has been doing; inject small troop units and airpower, use proxies like the Syrian or Iraqi Kurds as footsoldiers, use political pressure on regional and local powers whenever possible. Attempt to "influence" events with aerial high explosive.

Is it sane? Would it work? Fuck, it's not working now.

Option 4: Just Walk Away, Renee Conclude that there are no national interests in the Middle East worth spilling blood - American or anyone else's - and treasure on. Pull the military missions out, cut off the arms supplies, reduce the American footprint to a minimal scattering of embassies and consulates, and let the occupants of the region go their own way to the degree that they don't directly impinge on the U.S. or U.S. allies.

Is it sane? Would it work? This seems to me to be eminently sane, largely because I don't think that the U.S. has a ton of "national interests" in the Middle East. I've said this before, but IMO the U.S. has three major "interests" in that troubled region; a regular supply of petroleum products, passage through the Suez/Red Sea chokepoint, and a relative degree of regional calm that will dampen the production of violent people with a grudge against the United States.

With the current prognosis for anthropogenic global warming I'd even kick loose the first "interest". I think that the United States should be committed to reducing, not securing, its need for petroleum. Let the Iraqis and Saudis sell the stuff to the Philippines. The sooner the U.S. becomes independent of the need for fossil fuels, the better.

But would it work? I'm not sure it would "work" completely. For one thing, the United States has spent much of the last half-century fucking up and pissing people off in the Middle East - see the timeline at the top of the page - going back to the Mossadegh coup in the Fifties. There's a lot of deeply-ingrained hatred (and a lot of that pretty well justified, I'm ashamed to admit...) there.

But old grudges do eventually die, and I think there's a hope that a United States that transitions to a genuinely neutrally disinterested party might eventually benefit from a lack of animus in the region.

I think the real problem with this would be U.S. domestic politics. For one thing, the American "conservative" (i.e. radical reactionary) movement is entirely committed to an unquestioning embrace of Israel and a reflexive hate and fear of political Islam. No contemporary Republican, and even some right-leaning Democrats, would forego Islamophobia, and tongue-bathing Israel is a bipartisan reflex. I don't think there is a Republican that could convince his or her party to abandon the former, and both parties seem incapable of releasing the latter.

One 9/11-type incident and the rage and fear that created the current disasters that are Afghanistan and the Fertile Crescent would come roaring back.

Add to that all but the furthest fringes of the U.S. political Left retain a Cold War sort of fear of Great Power insignificance in the global hustings. To put it bluntly, few Americans - politicians or ordinary citizens - would be able to sit back and accept "We're NOT Number One!" in the less-paved parts of the globe. Were Russian or Chinese - or both - influence begin to grow in a post-U.S.-involved Middle East I find it highly likely that the cries to return to the region in force would be irresistible. I think the instincts of American hegemony are too strong; otherwise the PNAC "New American Century" nonsense would have collapsed from pure derision and scorn, instead of, as it has, finding one of the most strident America-Firsters elevated to the point of advising on "national security".

My unfortunate conclusion is that the domestically-do-able policies for Syria - and, by inference, the greater Middle East - are neither sane nor workable, and the sane-and-workable policies are not politically do-able...without a massive and thoroughgoing reconstruction of the United States political order.

In other words, the problem here isn't the Middle East, as troubled as that region may be. The problem is that the current political (and social) tenor of the United States won't allow a U.S. government to make a sensibly sane and workable policy towards the Middle East.

To change our skies, then, we would have to change ourselves. Are We the People capable of doing that?
I'd like to believe so. But having observed American political life for forty years...I am not optimistic.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Doing the Right Thing the Wrong Way, or the Wrong Thing the Right Way, or Something - (Now With More Explosions!!)

So the latest foreign policy surprise from the Fraudulency Administration - if you can call anything a "surprise" when it emerges as some sort of mouth- or brain-fart from a man whose cognitive functions appear to work in a similar fashion to the human colon - is the supposedly-soon and supposedly-total withdrawal of all U.S. armed forces from within the Syrian borders. know my opinion on the whole "Hillary the Hawk, Donald the Dove" nonsense. So I think the thing to look at isn't the "why". The "why" is the same "why" Trump does anything; because he heard it on "Fox and Friends", because he thinks it'll bump the audience share (if you haven't figured out that this is the first Reality Show Presidency, hello), because it has to do with smelly foreigners and Trump hates smelly foreigners. I doubt very much whether Trump knows, or cares, about anything in Syria, including the GIs there.

No. The thing to look at is the "what happens now" and "how is this a potentially positive development?"

And I think the linked articles cover the possibilities pretty well.

First, the single "positive" thing I can think of off the top of my head is that the guys in the special operations outfits can un-ass that chaotic AO. That is good thing, in that if they don't, sooner or later the American guys in Manbij are going to have to fight Turks, our supposed NATO allies, and that won't be good for anyone. Add to that the simple reality that Syria is a dog's breakfast right now. Nothing, including the nonsensical plan to form some sort of Kurdish "Ever Victorious Army" to keep a boot on the neck of the Sunni salafis who signed up for the Islamic State, probably for the retirement benefits, is going to make the place logical and comprehensible. It's a goddamn mess, a Hobbsean war of all against all, and the only thing a GI is going to get out of it, if he's unlucky enough, is dead.

Adnd from there everything pretty much goes downhill.

The Kurds, poor suffering bastards, get hung out to dry like they have by every foreign (and most domestic) adventurers since Saladin. Between the Assad regime and the Turks and the Saudi-bankrolled salafi jihadis the Kurds are going to be tossed into the shark tank. That sucks, to me, anyway, because the Kurds seems like a decent bunch in general, and I have a soft sport for the underdogs. But, like most underdogs, they're gonna find what the smallest dog in the dog pound always finds out; if you stand still they fuck you, and if you run they bite you on the ass.

The other thing I see is that this is unlikely to do anything to lessen the troubles that the Middle East is likely to bring to the United States. That well has been so long and so deeply poisoned that it is too late for the US to simply pull every swinging richard out and hope that the locals will forget the ferenghi and start killing each other. Well, they WILL kill each other, but they will also have time and energy to figure out how to kill the Yankees, if they can. The legacy of the US in the Middle East is a long and disastrous one, going back well into the Fifties. If you're interested, I wrote a lighthearted summation over at Graphic Firing Table in four parts; here, here, here, and here (with a rumination on the potentially ruinous consequence of prolonged war with the Muslim peoples of the Middle East here).

Cole points out that the worst possible outcome of this will be the Saudis' move into the power vacuum with more support for their loathsome fundamentalist proxies. Ugh. Just what the Middle East needs; MORE religious nuts.

The bottom line is that the Middle East is a nearly impossible problem for a U.S. government to solve due to a number of fixed points in history that constrain the government's actions today. To change that would mean trying to change both history and an inertial mass of special interests that are completely unwilling to allow that change to happen.

For my Army brothers I hope Trump's government does manage to yank them out of Syria.

For the rest of us? Let's not kid ourselves. That won't help the cesspit of ambition, distraction, uglification, and derision that is the modern Middle East. And it doesn't mean that the Orange King thinks of himself as a Prince of Peace. Greg Jaffe at the Post has a good piece that limns the sort of viciousness that is at the heart of Trump's character. He's a bully. He likes to hurt and kill people if it doesn't mean he has to risk himself. When he talks about ending wars he's talking about a Roman ending; making a wasteland.

So if Trump is "getting out" of Syria, don't fool yourself; this simply means that he will take his vicious egotism somewhere else.

We are so, so, SO fucked.

Update 4/12: Maybe more fucked that we thought. Here's Fred Kaplan on what now appears to be an inescapable attack on Syria:
"...Russia and Iran, not wanting to lose their most valued ally and foothold in the region, would come to Assad’s rescue, repairing the damage, replacing the planes, and possibly escalating the conflict. (Trump) can’t launch an all-out attack on Syria’s air force without also attacking Russia, and he can’t do that without risking a very dangerous new war."
Will Le Roi L'Orange be willing to begin that war? Are We the People willing to do nothing if he does?

It seems that we are about to find out.

Update 4/14: And so we have.

The "Western allies" - the U.S., Great Britain, and France - delivered some munitions to Syria late Friday night. The attack was described as "limited", and is supposed to have been directed specifically at Assad's checmical munitions capabilities.

Fred Kaplan claims the the bombing was primarily a "win" for SecDef Mattis and CJCS Dunford, whose main concern was to 1) not get the U.S. mired deeper in yet another hopeless Middle Eastern civil war, while 2) not gin up a shooting war with Russia.

Supposedly Carpenter Trump and his Walrus pal Bolton wanted to go in chocks-away and take those chances.

The frustrating thing about this - for me, anyway - is the degree to which it shows how hopeless the United States "national security" edifice has become at actually thinking about "national security".

Technically you can "make a case" for using lethal force against the Assad regime in Syria on the grounds of its use of chemical munitions. Chemicals are in the group of especially "horrible weapons" that are routinely banned by treaty and condemned in public. And the Assad regime is certainly among the genuinely loathsome of the Earth, a pure semi-Stalinist dictatorship that has long lost any pretension of governing rather than simply reigning.

But this reality-show violence is worthless, and shows the degree to which the U.S. government, in particular, has lost any genuine capacity to think outside the narrow range of kinetic action it has limited itself.

The Assad regime is playing the Game of Thrones, where to lose is to die. It will happily absorb whatever death and destruction this attack will cause in return for successfully using chemicals to crush the Army of Islam rebels in East Ghouta. The cost is well worth it, for Assad, and that the Trump Administration can't think of a better way to get him to reconsider that calculation...well, it will be no surprise to know that the Trumpkins aren't the nicest, newest, or smartest cruise missile in the launcher.

But in the broader view, how much more handless are the minions of Orange Foolius than those of Obama, who was likewise unable to "solve" the problem of sending U.S. armed force haring off across the globe chasing raggedy local rebels and wannabe jihadi franchisees? Or Dubya, who broke the despotic bottle that contained Iraq and was unable to deal with the chaos? Or Clinton, whose random spasms of intervention ranged from laughable to - as in the case of Somalia - tragic? Or Poppy Bush, who sent his military careering around Eurasia and Central America "solving" problems his predecessor Reagan had largely created? Or Reagan himself, whose Charley Wilsons helped create the mujaheddin monster that struck it's creator decades later?

Our friend seydlitz, when he forayed here, used to complain bitterly about the United States' utter inability to think strategically, to define clear national geopolitical interests and then make rational choices about how to address them.

What ultimately so pathetic about this latest round of let's-bomb-something-because-we-have-to-"send-a-message" is how it starkly illustrates how right seydlitz is; how completely and utterly captive to its own incapacity, delusion, sterility, and hubris the American political and military establishment is.

As one of my former recruit privates would have described it, "That's fuckin' magically delicious, man!"