Monday, December 4, 2017

Is a nuclear attack imminent?

News cycles are driven by whatever generates the most views.  No new revelation there, however since the Trump campaign introduced us to "fake news" the major news sites have to increasingly must forsake news for scandal.  Hence, the constant bombardment of whoever the latest victim of sexual assault gets more views than say North Korea's missile program.

As we've all heard by now, North Korea successfully launched a missile that can strike to the Continental US.  Trump's top generals are sounding alarms that war could be imminent.  Yet most people are going about their business without regard to the imposing threat.  Having grown up doing the Cold War, I remember most people being very concerned that the Soviets could strike without warning.

The sociological and psychological factors are different in 2017 that say in 1967 or even 1987. People were acutely aware of the threat of a nuclear attack.  Perhaps 9-11 and the subsequent unending threat from terrorism has dulled their senses to new threats.  Or perhaps Mr. Trumps predilection for calling Kim Jung Un "Little Rocket Man" has smugly convinced the public that North Korea is a joke rather than a threat.

Why then hasn't Mr. Trump ordered a preemptive strike (as he has strongly hinted at in the past) to take out North Korea's missiles or manufacturing sites?

Mr. Trump has always been about the bluster more so than the action.  He may now realize that even with three carrier strike groups in the region, there is no way to take out North Korea's ballistic missile capabilities BEFORE North Korea retaliates by lobbing thousands of 175mm shells and 240mm rockets into Seoul.  Ten of thousands of South Koreans would be killed before US and ROK forces could even respond.

The other scenario is that North Korea has no intention of actually using ballistic missiles to strike at the US.  It would much easier to place a nuclear device in a shipping container destined for a US port and then detonating the weapon upon arrival.  Detecting such a device in time my not be possible unlike the scenarios we see in TV shows and movies.

Another and more alarming scenario could see North Korea retaliate by using biological weapons in the US.  Detecting these in time is extremely difficult and may result in hundreds of America dying of exposure (with hundreds of thousands panicking).

Mr. Trump may also be distracted by the flipping of Michael Flynn to Mueller's investigation.  Even if Mr. Trump isn't worried, his cabinet has to been feeling the pressure and are not focused as much on North Korea was we would like.

Insults via Twitter won't be enough to bring North Korea to the table.  The rumors of Secretary Tillerson soon being fired don't help.  Neither does leaving multiple diplomatic positions vacant.

We should also be concerned about the US Navy which will take the lead should an attack on North Korea occur.  There has been several warships damaged this year along with at least one aircraft loss which all seem to point to an overworked, under resourced service.  The Navy had to re-shuffle its entire fleet of F/A-18 fighters just to be able to deploy all three carriers to the region.  Sailors are not re-upping meaning the Navy has to rely more and more on the newest sailors to operate their systems.

I had a Navy vet recently hare with me that sonar and radar operators on US Navy ships often receive no training PRIOR to arriving on the ship.  Basic seamanship skills are also no longer taught in boot camp and follow schools.  If this is true then it goes a long way in explaining what happened with the USS Fitzgerald and USS McCain.

Can the US prevail against North Korea?  Sure, why not but the big question is what happens to the people of South Korea and the US in the process?

Friday, November 10, 2017

North Korea and Saudi Arabia

Since we last chatted, Mr. Trump has assemble three carrier strike groups (USS Theodore Roosevelt, USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz) off the coast of the Korean peninsula.  For the first time since 2007, three US aircraft carriers will conduct drills as a foot stomp to Mr. Trump's assertion that the US will not back down from North Korea.

Given the accidents involving two US Navy destroyers back in summer, the carrier strike groups are at risk not only from retaliation by the North Koreans but by whatever navigational glitches plagued the USS McCain and USS Fitzgerald.  Some have argued that the navigational systems on the US Navy vessels had been hacked.  To  me, it seems hacking into the civilian cargo ship systems would be easier but whatever the case the fleet is still at risk.

Perhaps to avoid the investigations of Robert Mueller (who looks posed to hand out an indictment on former White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn), Mr. Trump has traveled to Asia in a rather heavy-handed, grandiose gesture to stare-down the North Koreans and Chinese. 

The question Mr. Trump and his White House have not answered, and probably don't want to think about, is what happens should foreign policy via Twitter fail?  There are 51 million South Koreans and around 30,000 US troops stationed in South Korea that are vulnerable to any attack from the North.  It is only 120 miles roughly between Seoul and Pyongyang.  There is no time to evacuate or even shelter.  Hundreds of thousands of lives could be lost if North Korea retaliates.

Of course that does not include Japan or Guam.  So far North Korea seems focused on ballistic missiles rather than a conventional attack.  Japan and Guam therefore become the most likely targets as they are well within range of North Korean ballistic missiles.

How then would the US respond?  Any strikes to North Korea risk those living in South Korea.  The North Korean dictator is not going to lose face so his reactions to Mr. Trump's statements and Tweets will only worsen.  We should be concerned that few in the White House have the experience necessary to restore calm to US/North Korea relations.  If that were not concerning enough, Mr Trump has more or less said that he doesn't see his chief diplomat, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, being around for all four years!

It may be nothing more that the 21st Century way of bluster and posturing but doing so with a country determined to have nuclear weapons is dangerous.  One wrong step, one too many Tweets and a nuke gets launched. 

And now it appears matters have gotten worse.  Not because of anything Mr. Trump has done but because now Saudi Arabia and Lebanon may declare war with one another which could bring Israel and Iran into the conflict.  I truly hope Mr. Trump stays off of Twitter for this one.  There is too much history, too much bloodshed, too much intrigue to be handled by a few terse Tweets.

All of this seems an appropriate reminder why we celebrate Veteran's Day.  Regardless how the situation with North Korea or Middle East resolve, US troops will be called upon once again.  Happy Veteran's Day to all of my fellow vets!

Friday, May 12, 2017

So far, so good

It seems to be the consensus of national security mavens that the US and North Korea are closer to war now more than ever.  Kim Jung Un is the petulant child-dictator of a rogue nuclear powered nation.  The US President is a New York businessman with a penchant for hyperbole and vitriol, who also happens to command the largest military in the world with the most nuclear weapons.  What could go wrong?

Under the Obama Administration, North Korea was most ignored and allowed to hold its breath until it passed out.  North Korea could shot off the occasional missile and make all manner of anti-US rhetoric but in the end, Kim Jun Un seemed to lose interest.  Now the Trump administration has determined that North Korea will no longer be tolerated and the each subsequent temper tantrum by North Korea is cause for escalation.

In the last few months, the Trump administration has deployed the THADD missile system to South Korea meant to intercept potential ballistic missiles from the North.  Then the USS Carl Vinson was sent to be on station.  Another carrier group was rumored to be heading to the vicinity as well.  Then the USS Michigan, a guided missile sub, made a port call in South Korea. 

North Korea attempted to respond to the increasing US firepower by launching more missiles.  The results have been less than impressive with both blowing up shortly after take-off.  A subsequent live-fire demonstration of North Korean artillery and torpedoes seemed to show North Korea's resolve to remain unapologetic.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to judge how much Mr. Trump and his administration are blustering or are fully committed to a conflict with North Korea.  The inept and much maligned Press Sean Spicer makes matters worse through his clumsy delivery and increasing absence.  The Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has also been largely silent on the matter.

The problem for Mr. Trump, and perhaps why Mr. Obama avoided the issue, is that North Korea can strike South Korea with no warning inflicting tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of casualties with simple artillery strikes and non-nuclear missiles.  There isn't much the US will be able to do to prevent it.  Retaliation by US and South Korean forces will lead to huge devastation on the Korean peninsula and it will take decades to recover.

The US attention has been diverted by the firing of FBI Director Comey leading some to compared Trump to Nixon when the latter fired Archibald Cox.  The one difference being that Nixon had not put North Korea on notice!

Let's we not forget, Mr. Trump plans on increasing the defense budget by $54 billion dollars and adding another 5,000 troops to Afghanistan.  Even if the showdown with North Korea does not end in a shooting conflict, Mr. Trump seems to be very willing to send more US troops into harm's way. 


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Coincidence? The 100th anniversary of the US in WWI was April 6th

The former President infamously drew a "red line" that would be crossed should President Assad ever use chemical weapons.  Mr. Assad obliged by crossing that red line like a big dog.  Mr. Obama had no stomach for getting involved further with the civil war in Syria (after his unproductive campaign against ISIS) and now it is coming to light  may have recruited Russia to keep the Assad regime from using more chemical weapons.

Then just over a week ago, Syrian dropped more chemical weapons followed by images of "beautiful babies" who had died as a result of the latest attack.  It was too much for our social media savvy President how sent 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles in to prevent further atrocities by the Syrian government.

However, several hours after the Tomahawks struck the Syrians were able to launch aircraft out of the same facility.  This raised many questions such as; did the Syrians know in time to move their aircraft?...did the Russians somehow or other tip off the Syrians?...why did some reports have the Tomahawks orbiting overhead for nearly an hour before attacking?

Europe and NATO applauded the attack (especially Turkey which has no use for Assad) as well as many of the Democrat hawks (such as Mrs. Pelosi).  But the usual suspects (Russia, China, North Korea and Iran) condemned the attacks against a sovereign nation.

The attacks have cooled US/Russian relations with Mr. Putin now suspecting that the US and Russia may be heading to some type of conflict.  Mr. Trump then decided to lean on China (which holds most of the paper on US debt) to bring North Korea in line (hey wait, weren't we just trying to avenge the deaths of beautiful Syrian children?).  China played the card of "Well, we trade with North Korea but we don't control them."  Of course this set off Kim Jong Un who vowed to attack the US if Mr. Trump doesn't back off on the rhetoric.

China did quietly cut off buying coal from North Korea to give Kim Jung Un a wake up call.  His response was to shoot off a ballistic missile that missed its target.  Mr. Trump, who doesn't seem to be able to just relax sometimes, responded by sending a second carried to the region.

Now people on the west coast of North American, including the Canadians, are getting nervous because US and Canadian anti-submarine aircraft have been seen conducting low orbits.  North Korea has been suspected of trying to send a nuclear weapon on a cargo ship or using mini-subs to attack US warships in harbor. 

Finally Japan had to send some of their fighters to intercept some Russian Tu-95 and Il-38 aircraft that were heading towards Japanese airspace.

All of this has happened within the last few weeks.  I haven't even touched on the attacks in Spain and Sweden.  It's as though everything is being thrown open at once to keep all of the players guessing as to which move is next.  Will Russia attack using cyber (as they stand accused of doing over the elections)?  Will North Korea launch and attack on South Korea?  Will Iran or China back another 9/11 attack somewhere else?  Amidst all of this, two aircraft carrier battle groups are in the region of China and North Korea as the US sends more troops into Syria to battle ISIS.

For now, the diplomatic option seems remote as the State Department has been decimated by the departures of so many mid-level and senior-level diplomats.  The White House itself is in deep turmoil as Mr Trump keep shifting around advisors in and out of roles.  On top of that, it appears Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump's son-in-law, is a shadow Secretary of State undercutting his real Secretary of State (Rex Tillerson) authority in the eyes of the world.

Perhaps at no other time in recent history has the stage been set for one misstep or mistake to set off a war.  Ironically, April 6th was the 100th anniversary of the United States entering World War I. 

Our short attention spans and market-driven media (which seeks to tailor web searches to your particular tastes and opinions) insures we only see a small fraction of what is going one.  Even then, we only see events through those media sites that agree with our politics (just compare how Fox News or CNN covers events compared to Al Jazeera or RT). 

The left has been in meltdown since November.  Now the right is going into meltdown since Mr. Trump isn't delivering on things as quickly as he promised.  What a great way to keep the masses in the dark!

Stop calling the other guy names and take a deep breath, we are all being played here. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Syrian Question

As I'm writing this, the US Navy has launched 50 Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets in Syria.  The strikes were conducted in retaliation for the use of chemical weapons (Sarin gas) by the Syrian government against their own people.

The hawks and pro-Trump camps are no doubt busy hi-fiving each other.  The doves and anti-Trump camps are no doubt aghast and wondering how we got here.

Unfortunately in all of this, no one is asking the most important question.  What is the right answer for the people of Syria?  No matter what we as Americans may think of Assad, he is the legally elected leader of Syria.  Deposing him (as the Obama Administration planned) or bombing him (as the Trump Administration is doing) fails the Syrian people.  Should Assad be ousted or killed, then what?

The US has a piss poor record when it comes to "who's next?" after eliminating an unpopular leader.  All you have to do is see how well we managed Iraq after getting rid of Hussein to know the challenges we are facing with Syria.

And what exactly qualifies the US, a nation the loves bragging about its Judeo-Christian roots, to figure out how an Arabic, Muslim nation should be run? 

Meantime, let's not forget the huge exodus of professional diplomats from the State Department means we have even fewer experts to answer that question than normal.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Anarchy?

More bombings, this time in Russia and Spain.  Let's take a moment though before condemning immigrants and Muslims (the usual suspects in the 21st Century) and remember that terrorism first and foremost is about an agenda.  Philosophies and motivations are secondary.

What do I mean?  Back in the Cold War days, any number of terrorist groups operated espousing some Marxist philosophy (European and South American groups) or Maoist philosophy (Asian groups).  Often though most were primarily anarchists. 

Despite their philosophical rhetoric, no one really believed that being a Marxist or Maoist automatically made you a terrorist.  Terrorists of the 20th Century were motivated to commit their acts of violence by those who funded their activities.  In the examples above, this usually meant Soviet Union, Communist China, or Cuba.  The US funded right-wing groups opposed to the left0wing groups and trained many of their leaders through the US Army School of the Americas (now known as The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, WHINSEC).

20th Century terrorists were therefore third party operatives of either the Western or Eastern governments that funded their activities.  Then two terrorist attacks occurred to reshape this thinking.

The first was the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988 by Libyan terrorists.  The second was the bombing of the Word Trade Center bombing in 1993.  These attacks targeted the US and were not backed by the Soviet Union but rather but and Muslim nation (Libya) and Muslim terrorists (Khalid Sheikh Muhammed, from Pakistan, planned the attack).  Now with the Soviet Union out of the picture, Islam became the new reason du jour.

Intelligence agencies and the military especially went batshit crazy because it meant you would never have to prove a clear line back the the organizers, the way you would say with the former Soviet Union.  Now you had to merely point out that the suspects were Muslim, better if you could also add "radicalized" into the narrative, and presto!  Instant threat that was easy to explain to the public and media.

But in the post-information age that we also call the 21st Century, we have gotten more complacent and less willing to understand events in a larger contexts.  Sure the the perpetrators of the attacks on 9/11 were dark-skinned (always a plus for the racist tendencies of the West) Muslims but who funded them (Saudi Arabia?) and what was their real motives?  Too many people today are willing to just go down the road that Muslims want to kill Christians and that's why we have terrorists.  No one seems to ask if the 21st Century terrorists aren't the same third party operatives as their 20th Century counterparts, just with different actors from central casting?

If we accept that there may be motivations beyond the obvious theological or political labels of a given terrorist, then we should become much more concerned about what is really going on.  For instance, the average American thinks all Muslims are the same (not realizing how many different factions of Islam exist) and there is some kind of one over-arching organization that controls Islam (no more than there isn't one group that controls all of Judaism or for that matter, Christiantinty).

If no one council exists that holds equal sway over Shiites and Sunnis, then why do we paint all attacks in the 21st Century with the same brush?  The attacks in France, London, Spain and Russia may all turn out to be conducted by "radicalized Muslims" but to what end?  If in fact that are all working towards a common end, say total anarchy in Europe, who then is actually making the calls?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Things keep getting more distressing

So as London recovers from yet another terrorist attack, the flames of anti-Islamic fervor are being stoked again by a culpable media.  Repeated air strikes though by a combination of US-led forces and Russian forces against ISIS has done little to quell terrorism in the West.  Despite the lack of of success of eliminating, or at least reducing, the threat from radical Muslim terrorists the latest attack in London is sure to have the hawks ready for more blood.

The terrorist attack in London comes amidst the go ahead for Brexit, along the French getting ready to elect a new president (and for now it still looks like it will be Le Pen) and an increasingly tumultuous White House administration.  The attack will give even more ammunition towards the isolationist tendencies of the three nations.

But even if terrorism is no longer the incentive du jour, Mr. Trump continues to agitate North Korea, China and Iran. 

North Korea threatens US with "Merciless Attacks"

US Bomber warned by Chinese officials

US Carrier on station in Persian Gulf, first time in 3 months!

Unlike the Global War on Terror, which is dragging nearly into its second decade, these nations not possess conventional militaries but in the case of North Korea and China, nuclear weapons as well!   

Mr. Trump in particular but many of his advisors in general seem to be hellbent on showing their strength by attacking some foreign power.  Compounding this pugilistic attitude is the defection of pretty much all of the senior and middle level diplomats at the State Department upon the election of Mr. Trump.  The current Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has no former experience as a diplomat.  He has been remarkably silent on matters and seems to be content with allowing Mr. Trump to set the tone of international affairs via the President's Twitter account.

Even as a young officer during the Reagan build-up, it never felt like we were as close to a nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union as we do now with either North Korea or China.  It does not seem the White House is going to settle down any time soon and Trump haters are becoming more desperate each day (not to mention their numbers are increasing).  At this point, if we can make it through the summer without starting a war with someone, that may be the most we can hope for.