Sunday, May 5, 2024

Commo check

 It's been so long I'd almost forgotten this place, but what seems deeply ironic is that just as I thought we had nothing more to talk about - the Forever Wars in SW Asia were winding down - the Putin government of Russia decided to re-imagine the last years of WW2 by attacking westwards into the plains of Ukraine.


Plus the Netanyahu government of Israel decided to respond to a bloody provocation raid by going from apartheid to active ethnic cleansing.

Let's say that I didn't have this stuff on my foreign policy bingo card.

Is there any enthusiasm for discussion of any of this?

Not sure what I myself can add; I don't see anything hopeful coming out of either conflict. Instead it seems increasingly likely that all the parties involved will end up worse off, proving that the destructive nature of modern warfare has gone a long way to reducing its utility as "politics by other means". 

But if there IS any interest feel free to leave a suggestion in the comments.


  1. This blog won't ever be removed from my feed, so if there are posts here, I will likely see them.

    I think the two wars are interesting in a number of dimensions, not least of which is that finally they are wars we aren't (directly) fighting in. A few quick thoughts:

    - Both wars have exposed (or further exposed) a lot of the same kind of insular groupthing among inside-the-beltway types that only starts to reverse after lots and lots of people die.

    -For Russia/Ukraine it was the delusion that Russia was a paper tiger and giving them superior weapons and knowhow would allow them to roll the Russians back to the pre-2014 borders and wind a decisive victory. It's only now that reality is starting to set in, but many are still parroting total victor wargoals.

    - In the Israel/Hamas conflict there's a different kind of magical thinking, a belief in immaculate retaliation that imagines it's possible to conduct operations in Gaza and defeat Hamas in the current circumstances without killing a lot of civilians.

    - The weird thing about the Gaza conflict is that almost everyone is ignoring the well-understood experience of urban warfare - urban warfare when civilians are present, especially when one party to the conflict uses civilians for tactical and strategic advatange, inevitably kills lots of civilians. There has never been a historical case when this has been avoided. The only times when it's not avoided is when civilians are either evacuated from the battlespace or are allowed to flee. And here is what is weird about this conflict - every party to the conflict does not want Palestianians to leave Gaza. Every party to the conflict does not want Palestinians to have the choice to be allowed to leave. Even the people who nominally claim to be on the side of Palestinians. This is such a consensus that no one even talks about it. And so that just guarantees that the urban battlespace will have lots of civilians anytime there is a war between Hamas and Israel, and everyone will lament the loss of life, offer magical solutions like more precsion or just maybe responding to Hamas at all, instead of the much more obvious solution of getting civilians out of the conflict zone with international guarantess that they will come back (perhaps even if they don't want to) once the war is over.

    - Another major themes is how the Ukraine war especially has exposed the soft-underbelly of US and European defense industrial production and the various bean-counting and cost-saving Just In Time processes to wring efficiency out of low volume steady-state production lines. This is optimized under the assumption that the US will come in, have a couple of months of major combat operations that use but don't expend stockpiles, and then the drip, drip of low-volume production with, perhaps, a few top-up orders will bring things back to the status quo ante. The attritional warfare in Ukraine has broken that model.

    - Ukraine seems to have finally done what no US President has been able to do for the last couple of decades, which is get Europe to consider not free-riding so much on American military power. Sad that it's taken the threat of a cretin like Trump getting reelected and the neo-isolationism of the MAGA-right to finally get them to get serious about rebalancing.

    There are lots of other things, Iran conducting the largest ballistic missile attack since WW2 and failing badly, the continuing clusterfuck that is Syria and our continuing dubious presensce there, the Houthis and how they've shown you can still be technologically inferior and be able to project limited power into a strategic chokepoint, tying up a US battlegroup and a host of multinational surface ships.

  2. Holy crap, there are a lot of typos and fat-fingering in that - I should have edited it, but blogger gives this teeny tiny hard to scroll window. Hopefully what I was trying to say is clear from the context.

  3. So this is weird; this damn site won't let me comment as "me". But this is FDChief, and I can't really add much to what you've said, other than:
    1) The one other thing I think Ukraine-Russia did was spike the notion that "mechanized war" between peer militaries was over, and that it was going to be all-COIN all the time. Turns out that, yeah, if you have tanks and artillery you're gonna use them, and it'll take other tanks and artillery and the whole combined arms suite to deal with that. And
    2) I'm not so sure that the Iranians WANTED their attack to "succeed" (if you define that as "kill people and wreck shit". My suspicion is that it was designed to fail noisily, so they could assure their proxies they were "doing something"...but not enough to really piss the Israelis off and convince them to put more hurt on Tehran.


  4. My comments are more about the technology that is being successfully used. The Chief is right that high intensity warfare with unrestricted weapons use has turned out to still be viable if you have very large quantities of ammunition.

    But I'm not certain that "mechanized warfare" is a viable concept between opponents with equal access to large quantities of drone equipment. The Ukraine front has most reverted to WWI style tactics primarily because heavy drone use allows the one side to identify and neutralize an armored force before it achieves the strength necessary to breach the front line without suffering too many losses.

    Unfortunately, the US DoD seems to be determined to avoid learning the lessons of the Ukraine war and is still emphasizing the central role of big heavy (expensive, gold-plated) armored units in modern warfare.

    The situation is similar at sea, with the Houthis being able to tie up a US naval battle group for months with cheap 1950's technology. So far the US is "winning" using expensive equipment to defend the sea lane but I can't help but wonder what comparative cost in dollars and the US expending munitions that can't be easily replaced would be.

    The other question is who is learning faster from this incident. The US Navy doesn't seem to be inclined to start buying cheap long-range drones instead of really expensive fighter aircraft. It's hard to say what the Chinese PLAN is thinking but they have been emphasizing their pretty (and expensive) new conventional fleet so they don't seem to be learning from this yet either. I wonder about Taiwan, where a lot of the electronics used by the drones are manufactured...


    1. The Houthis use more modern technology than the USN's standard ship-to-ship missile, actually.

  5. Russia in itself is not much of a trouble to NATO. Our immune systems will eventually keep its influence campaign in check. Russia is trouble for the non-NATO former USSR states.

    Russia+China is an issue where I say we should avoid Europe being drawn into East Asian conflict with military power. Then the Chinese won't come to Europe through Russia, but if they do, we need to have large-enough army reserves and industrial mobilisation plans ready to go.

    I'm concerned that the U.S: will become a threat to Europe (and Europe would not be able to save Canada).

    So I see geostrategic potential for catastrophe where the dominant narrative sees none. Disconcerting; I saw potential for catastrophe in Eastern Europe when the dominant narrative was still obsessed with wars of occupation.

    1. The vote in favor of Trump seems to be largely a protest vote against Biden. Same thing for Kennedy's supporters. The public would quickly swing hard against Trump if he actually got elected but the Republican party is likely to stay loyal to him so impeachment is going to be out of the question.

      A bigger problem is that the US is actually doing pretty well right now and the public doesn't see most of it. This seems to be mostly due to fake and/or heavily slanted news sites where there the news has only a vague connection with reality. Which leads to things like this:

      I hate to think what will happen when AI really gets going.

      I agree with S O about the potential for catastrophe, but it seems to me like it can happen to all sides of a conflict. The Russians and Chinese are not exactly paying attention to reality either.


  6. It appears that I was seriously overoptimistic about the beliefs of the average American per this poll from the Guardian:

    For those who don't want to climb over the paywall, here are the 4 most serious findings:
    - 56% of Americans think we are currently in a recession. Quite the opposite, the US economy is really doing pretty well.
    - 49% believe that the US unemployment rate is at a 50 year high. The opposite is true, unemployment is at a 50 year low. This is due in part to the good economy and the large numbers of boomers who are retiring (although some of them are not as well off as they thought and are working at least part time).
    - 72% believe that the inflation rate is still going up. The inflation rate isn't wonderful, but it is better than last year.
    - 49% believe the stock market has fallen for the year. This is the most surprising piece of news given how much the news outlets have been covering the rise to an all-time high.

    The author of the study believes that Americans were badly shaken by last year's sudden 10% price jump. That seems reasonable, but I suspect it is only part of the problem. The rest of it is that Americans don't fact-check their news sources and are getting too much fake news, which they share with the rest of the world.

    The above statistics are extremely bad news for Biden's re-election hopes. Trump won't do any better if he wins the White House (given his fondness for tariffs, he could do worse). The average American has far too much confidence in the power of the President over the economy.


    1. I saw that, and I suppose the figures are too bad to be explained by disinformation.
      The people are probably interpreting these technical terms differently than the textbook definition. Particularly so in regard to inflation.

      Then again, many people have clearly drifted off into fantasyland.

      The hard core of the German proto-fascist party AfD is deeply rooted in fantasyland as well, but the protest voters are abandoning it because the AfD looks increasingly like unpatriotic traitors with its pro-Russia stance and Russian bribery scandals (they did not drop the candidates who were apparently bribed).