Thursday, July 31, 2014

Germany's Secret Deal with Russia

This just was posted on the Daily Mail.  Wow!

Germany and Russia are working on a secret peace deal to end the conflict in Ukraine that would see Moscow's controversial annexation of Crimea officially recognised in exchange for a $1billion compensation package, it was claimed today.

Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin have reportedly been locked in talks that will primarily seek to ensure the Kremlin withdraws its support for rebels fighting for independence in eastern Ukraine.

Putin would also have to agree not to interfere with Ukraine's new trade relations with the European Union and offer Kiev a long-term contract for future gas supplies with Russian firm Gazprom.

The problem with silver bullets



The lure of having the latest high-tech weapon is like having a silver bullet.  You know that when the werewolf comes, you will be able to blow them to smithereens.  But what happens should there be more werewolves than you have silver bullets?

Apparently Israel is trying to figure the answer out to this question right now.  According to a Defense News article, The Senate earlier today began debating a $3.5 billion supplemental spending measure that would send $225 million in emergency dollars to Israel for its Iron Dome missile defense program.  Therein lies another problem with high-tech weapons and silver bullets, they tend to cost a lot of money.

Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile defense system has been doing a yeoman's job of protecting the Israeli citizens from Hamas rockets and missiles.  Unfortunately, Israel has been using the equivalent of Porsches to knock down Ford Fiestas.  Now Iron Dome is running out of missiles.

The other problem with high-tech weapons are they are pretty.  You keep thinking about how awesome they are and how invincible it makes you in comparison to your enemies pathetic, old fashioned weapons.  The mindset gets you to imagine envy on the part of your enemy as they race to foolishly match the exquisiteness of your silver bullet.  Yet you keep upgrading your hardware and countermeasures so that they can never catch.  How you pity the fool!

Of course the more your focus on your silver bullet, the less likely you are to remember werewolves don't use silver bullets themselves.

Hamas lobbed 2,000 missiles so far at Israel but that may have been a feint.  Instead of trying to get a silver bullet, Hamas simply began to dig.  As of today, 32 tunnels have been found.  Taking a note straight from the Viet Cong, Hamas realized the most effective way of striking at Israeli military targets was to dig tunnels into Israel.

When the US Air Force decided to carpet bomb North Viet Nam, the Viet Cong didn't look for a silver bullet to shoot down the B-52s.  Instead, they used a tried and true technique of tunneling.  The tunnels of Cu Chi gave the Viet Cong an extensive underground network of armories and make-shift hospitals.

Hamas didn't take it to that extreme but the pictures in this article show the sophistication of the tunnels.  Israel became too confident in their Iron Dome to remember to look for the threat to come elsewhere (sort of like Ripley and the Space Marines when they forgot to look for the aliens in the air ducts).

The US is guilty of loving silver bullets as well.  Take the F-35.  It is supposed to be able out-fight and out-fly any other jet fighter in the world.  As a USAF general admitted recently though, there aren't enough F-35s to really be a silver bullet.  Yes, the F-35 can fly into hostile territory such as Syria and deliver devastating firepower from above, but each F-35 can only take out a max of 8 other fighters.  A limited number of F-35s means that you could see an enemy keep lobbing older fighters at the Lightning II until it runs out of missiles.

Or they enemy might be someone like the Russian Spetznaz.  Amongst the different weapons they carry, each Spetznaz soldiers carries a shovel.



It's about 20"long and the edges are sharpened.  Cold Steel makes a copy.  Why would modern special forces troops carry such an item?  The Spetznaz doctrine imagines them walking into an area under the cover of darkness.  They stop and lie flat on the ground and begin digging.  In a few minutes they have dug up enough where if they lie flat, they are below the line of the earth.  Give them about an hour and they will have dug a foxhole.  Give them a day and they will have connected all of their foxholes into a tunnel network.

Oh and it is also a weapon.  Spetznaz soldiers can throw their shovels with lethal accuracy.  A shovel flying throw the air also has a psychological effect on the target.  They don't try to block it, they tend to duck giving the Spetznaz soldier time to attack or flee.  They also learn how to wield these things with such dexterity they can split matchsticks.

Sounds primitive yet Hamas just proved that you don't have to rely on state-of-the art weapons to be effective.  Israel is still likely to be victorious but it is taken them much longer and costing them much more than they thought it should.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.  I was reminded of that phrase when I was reading some of today's headlines.  Much of what is going on now was the result of good intentions but without regard to their long-term result.

Let's begin with George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States who was on duty that fateful day of Sep 11, 2001.  Bush 43 appears by all accounts to be a linear thinker, meaning he sees things as black and white.  He saw the attack as reason to go after those who would do evil to the United States.

He would coin the phrase "Axis of Evil"to refer to three specific nations that he felt posed the greatest threat to the United States.  The three countries were of course Iraq, Iran and North Korea.  By extension, that made their leaders "enemy number one".  Osama bin Laden still had a starring role in the "Axis of Evil" even though he was not the leader of a nation.  Bush's phrase was a way of stating that "the United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons." (Time)  Good intentions but without regard to long-term consequences (despite Colin Powell's continued warnings) created what we are dealing with today.

Iraq was the first on the list to be targeted with Saddam Hussein being chased out of Baghdad, captured and hung.  Mission accomplished, except now 11 years after his capture and almost 3 years after the US troop pullout, Iraq has spiraled out of control with ISIL ready to create the first Islamic State.  The shortfall of linear thinking is you tend not to think beyond the immediate result.

Hussein was an evil dictator who brutalized anyone who was not Baath party.  A unintended consequence of his brutality was it stabilized relations amongst the Kurd, Shiite and Sunni populations. Once Hussein was removed, there was no one to stop old rivalries to flare up.  But Bush wasn't concerned about what would happen after the war, he was convinced the threat posed by Iraq warranted any actions to take out Hussein.  Iraq is broke and may never quite get back together without further bloodshed.  But fear not for we are no longer under the Bush Administration.  Or are we?

Obama ran on a platform that he would not follow in Bush's footsteps.  Had people thought about that a little more, that platform simply meant he was going to be more ruthless.

Obama promised he would get the troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan.  He did pull the troops out of Iraq, which actually exacerbated the situation created by his predecessor.  He also increased the number of troops in Afghanistan to help what he termed "the forgotten war".    The "surge" actually did do anything towards finding Osama bin Laden or making America safer (Cincinnati has such a heroing epidemic that it is now issuing police and EMS personnel with Narcan, an antidote for heroin overdose).

Obama has proven to have an even itchier trigger finger than Bush 43.  Obama authorized the killing of Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki (who was still a US citizen when a missile found him).  Even Bush 43 couldn't get either of those guys.  With those two notches under his belt, a Obama and his right-hand gal Hillary set their sights on another "Axis of Evil" member; Iran.

I've written much about Iran already.  For the purposes of this entry, Iran has enjoyed a rich history as the Persian Empire.  They have a great history of science, mathematics and art.  Oil has given Iran tremendous wealth and prosperity.  Despite these achievements, Iran doesn't have a place at the table so to speak (as do China, Russia, India and Israel).  The one missing piece?  Nuclear weapons.

Obama and Hillary Clinton tried every imaginable way to pressure Iran into giving up its pursuit of nuclear weapons.  Of course, this misses the point of why Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons in the first place.  They need those weapons if they ever hope to be respected as an international power.  Come on you might say, look at Germany and Japan.  They don't have nuclear weapons but they are world powers.  True, but the better comparison is India and North Korea.  India is still a very poor country overall and North Korea is ridiculously backwards.  Yet both are countries the West has to reckon with since they have nuclear weapons.  Iran is not poor nor backwards by any stretch of the imagination, yet they lack respect as they are a Muslim nation.  Attaining a nuclear capability is the only way to achieve respect in their minds.

Of course there is the whole Tehran Embassy thing from 1979.  The US and Iran have never been warm towards one another since.  It seemed for a brief moment that Iraq would allow both sides to move past that, alas Israel's massacre of Hamas seems to have close the cracked in the door.

Obama and Hillary went looking for another dictator to shoot and found one in Muhammar Qaddafi.  The Arab Spring had shown how vulnerable Qaddafi has become after 41 years of viciously oppressing any opposition to his rule.

Even though Libya's Muhammar Qaddafi avoided being on the original "Axis of Evil" list, it did not stop Obama and Hillary Clinton from sanctioning his execution as well.  Qaddafi's execution was done though via proxy of NATO but of course what is NATO without the US?  Obama solemnly intoned about the death of Qaddafi that "One of the world's longest-serving dictators is no more," he said. "The dark shadow of tyranny has been lifted" (Huffington Post)

Perhaps but the aftermath of Qaddafi's death hardly seems worth it.  Thousands of Libyans have died and the US lost an ambassador.  Libya is worse than it has been in some time and the world is no safer without Qaddafi.  The press has vilified Qaddafi and he certainly was no Sister Theresa.  Nevertheless, Libya enjoyed an immense level of wealth thanks to producing nearly 2% percent of the world's oil.  The Libyans are some of the most literate people on the planet and built a huge water pipeline into the Benghazi region.  It was Qaddafi's plan to turn Libya into a self-sufficient, giant oasis.  Good intentions by the US without thought to the long-term implications.

Good intentions are without thought to long-term implications are why we are very likely to see an outbreak of Ebola.  By racing into to "help" the people of Africa, who are after all unable to handle this crisis in the eyes of the West, the virus is getting a chance to do something it has never done before.  Instead of a localized epidemic, Ebola may finally get the chance to become pandemic.

The African people, as did the Native Americans and other first people, understood the need to keep their settlements small and far away from one another.  It prevented outbreaks from spreading.  A flu or other virus would burn itself out in one village and be done.  Western cultures embraced large settlements to maximize commerce and agriculture opportunities.  The downside of the Western model is an outbreak has a much greater opportunity to spread as was the case with the plague.

The West, full of good intentions, has rushed into Africa with the intent of curing the incurable.  The attitude that Western medicine knows best has caused the doctors to forget the basic knowledge of how diseases spread and bring ALL of the infected patients together into hospitals.  Yes, this is where they can get the best care but it is also the best place for Ebola to spread.  Healthy people such as family, friends and health workers now are exposed to an intensive level of the disease.  One slip up means death and risks the spread of the disease.

No wonder the Africans think the doctors are trying to kill them.  In a way, they are.  In their quest to save lives, the doctors are actually killing more people (including themselves).  No, there is no good solution to the problem but bringing everyone together in the same hospitals is a recipe for disaster.  Good intentions without thought to long-term implications.  All it will take is one person getting ready to leave to be exposed, board an aircraft, and infect the entire aircraft.  It may take days before health officials even catch what is going on but then it will be too late.

Good intentions to make the world safer are fine but we need to be smarter about the effects of pursuing this course of action.  The Western (read US) view of the world is not the only legitimate view.  We need to recognize that other views may be just as relevant for different parts of the world.  Now if we can just the folks in the White House to read this stuff and actually think about it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Mr, Kerry's failure at diplomacy

Mr. Kerry was unable to negotiate a long-term cease fire between Israel and Hamas.  It's not surprising since Netanyahu sees this opportunity to break Hamas once and for all.  The casualties he is racking up is not by accident.  It is an attempt to destroy both Hamas members as well as their support infrastructure.  Mr. Kerry truly does not seem capable of understanding what the parties involved are doing nor their motivations.

Mr. Kerry performance while conducting negotiations is more of the topic today than the ongoing war.  Israel is the latest country to bristle at the US meddling in their affairs.  Obama, Rice and Kerry all mistook the US/Israeli relationship to mean Tel Aviv would take follow orders from the White House.  Israel may be an ally of the US but it has never been its puppet.  One only needs to look at the history of Israel to see how often they've acted unilaterally without waiting for US approval.

Here are some of the things the Israeli press had to say about the Secretary of State;

Maariv columnist Ben Caspit called Kerry 'an ongoing embarrassment, with the characteristics of a snowball.'

'The further he rolls, the greater the embarrassment,' Caspit said.

Israeli TV reporter Udi Segal ran a report citing government officials who framed Kerry as 'incapable of handling the most basic matters.'--
Daily Mail

Obama has a vain streak in him that causes him to become enamored of blue-bloods with pedigrees.  His picks people from Ivy League schools thinking, as he possible does of himself, that they can master any task before them.  Unfortunately, the people he has picked tend to have that same snobby aloofness that does not get lost in translation.  Both Hillary and Kerry tend to lecture world leaders as though they are the only ones who have the intellect to understand the situation.  Unfortunately for them, almost always those they've face have intellects that were mored than a match for theirs.

The US invaded Iraq and Afghanistan to prevent al Qaeda from further attacking America.  Thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis (along with thousands of Americans and allies) died as a result of those wars.  Yet Kerry tried to lecture Israel on their excessive use of force against Hamas.  The hypocrisy of this elitist attitude is a big enough hurdle to overcome but then there is Kerry's bumbling demeanor.  He just is not up to the the task and the only one who could have done worse is Biden.  Kerry has not only failed to broker a cease fire, he has shown the world that the US has no control over Israel.

US hypocrisy is on full view this week.  In addition to the ham-fisted attempt at trying reach a ceasefire, apparently for all of the anti-Russian sentiment the US has been fanning sales to Russia are actually INCREASING.  According to an article appearing on McClatchy's website, U.S. Census Bureau foreign trade data show that exports rose 17 percent from March through May _ the most recent months for which the data is available _ compared with the previous three months, before sanctions were imposed.  Wait, what?  Isn't the US hellbent on forcing Russia to withdraw its troops via economic sanctions?  Did Hillary Clinton just get done telling the European Union to stop purchasing fuel from Gazprom?  

It appears the Russians may be stockpiling good in anticipation of eventually being cut-off from US suppliers.  Of course, Russia could cut-off the US from receiving rocket motors in the future (which powers all of the US launch vehicles now).  And Russia is in a position to cut the US completely off from accessing the international space station.  

More and more it seems the Obama administration is nothing but a paper tiger.

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/07/28/234647/us-sales-to-russia-have-only-risen.html?sp=/99/117/#storylink=cpy

Monday, July 28, 2014

What does Egypt and Libya mean for US foreign policy?

One of the lesser covered issues of the Israeli war with Hamas is the reverberations it is having in Egypt.  Secretary of State Kerry has been in Cairo ostensibly to help broker a peace in the Gaza Strip via the Egyptians.  The recent cease fire not withstanding, matters with Egypt could be more concerning than in the Gaza Strip.

First, Kerry has to deal with President Sisi who came to power by overthrowing the democratically elected Morsi (and then throwing him in prison).  Overthrowing a duly elected president, even on who is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and widely unpopular, is not something many leaders find appealing.  One of the most vocal Sisi critics is Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan who has called Sisi a "tyrant" and has equated Netanyahu's actions to that of Hitler.  Now the Turks are sending the Mavi Marmara flotilla to aid the Palestinians on the Gaza Strip.  The Mavi Marmara attempted this before in 2010 but failed when it was boarded by Israeli Commandos who killed nine activists.  This time, the Mavi Marmara is being escorted by the Turkish Army.

The other problem for Kerry and Sisi is what to do with all the Palestinians that are fleeing Gaza for Egypt.  The political situation in Egypt has been volatile since the Arab Spring in 2011.  A huge influx of refugees could be destabilizing.  Or Sisi could be driven to try to retake Gaza and repatriate the refugees.  An odd three-way war between Turkey, Israel and Egypt could erupt.

Even if Kerry is successful in keeping Egypt calm, a conflict between Turkey and Israel could still occur.  Israel is the most powerful US ally in the region.  It is also the only Jewish state in the worlds surrounded by Muslim states.  Turkey is also a powerful US ally and is the only Muslim nation in NATO.  Trying to navigate any kind of peace between the two will be beyond the current White House team.

The White House has been jumping from one situation to another before getting resolution.  The latest example is Libya.  Libya was an early entrant into the Arab Spring of 2011.  On Sep 11, 2012, somewhere between 120-150 armed gunmen attacked the US Embassy Mission in Benghazi killing US Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Foreign Service Information Officer Sean Smith, and CIA contractors and former Navy SEALS Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.  The White House team, especially Hillary Clinton, were widely seen as accountable for the deaths since they are alleged to have withheld vital intelligence from the embassy.

Now once again, the US has had to evacuate its embassy in Libya.  While the attention has been on other countries (or even the debacle of US immigration), the central government in Libya has continued to crumble.

"The administration sort of took its focus off of Libya and things have been getting worse for quite some considerable time now," Ed Royce, chairman of the U.S. House foreign relations committee, told CNN on Saturday after news of the U.S. diplomats' departure.--Reuters

It appears the US is now be played more than ever.  As it begins to focus on one event, something else pops up.  Whether those events are random or planned out, it is showing an inherent weakness in the White House.  It can only focus on one thing at a time and cannot stay focused long enough to bring matters to a conclusion.

UPDATE:  Forgot to mention Iran.  The deputy commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (Brig Gen Hossein Salami) vowed revenge against Israel for its ongoing military incursion into Gaza, which has already killed hundreds of Palestinians and dozens of Israelis.  “We will chase you house to house and will take revenge for every drop of blood of our martyrs in Palestine,” Salami said. “and this is the beginning point of Islamic nations awakening for your defeat.”.  So much for whatever good will was brokered between Washington and Tehran over Iraq.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Reasons not to impeach

Obamacare, Operation Fast & Furious, immigration, wiretapping the New York Times, the NSA spying on Americans, etc, etc.  Seems like a great time to impeach a President, at least some Republicans see it that way.  There is a love affair with impeaching Presidents by the opposing party but a little history lesson is all it takes to show impeachment doesn't work.

Most Americans over 50 would incorrectly answer that Richard Nixon was impeached for Watergate.  While he was certainly GOING to be impeached, he in fact resigned before he could face impeachment.  Bill Clinton was impeached but was acquitted by the Senate.  Before Nixon and Clinton, you have to go all the way back to find Andrew Johnson who was also impeached (and like Clinton, acquitted by the Senate).

Impeachment is a fool's paradise.  It sounds good to the electorate faithful but to actually bring a sitting President is practically impossible.  Obama may helm one of the most inept and aloof administration's in modern times but with 53 Democrats holding seats in the Senate to the Republicans 45, the success of an impeachment seems remote.

To the Republican faithful, a weak, elitist fop like Obama is a prime candidate for impeachment and a way to win back the White House and Senate.  At best, this view is myopic.

Love him or hate him, Obama is the man in the White House.  To take out him, or any sitting President for that matter, would send a signal to the rest of the world that the US has finally come apart.  It would also be seen as a white minority taking out the first elected Black President.  The US would be divided along racial and political lines like never before.  Russia, China and every terrorist group you could name would see it as a green light to go forward with their agenda.  The Middle East would devolve even further into chaos and Israel might be forced to use nuclear weapons.

Everyone talking impeachment needs to take a deep breath and relax.  Team Obama is on the ropes and is getting pummeled by Russia, Iraq, Syria, and Israel.  Central American leaders came to Washington to be lectured by Obama about sending their children here but they turned the tables on him and took him out behind the woodshed.

Taking the President out now would risk a true global war.  The only thing keepings things from becoming more chaotic is the realization that in less than two years a new President takes office (who more and more may not be named Hillary Clinton).  The American military (of which I am a proud veteran) is tired and broke after fighting non-stop for 12 years and our potential adversaries know this.

This is not to support or excuse the lackluster performance our current President has demonstrated in the last 6-8 months.  It is just to say that we need to keep our criticisms in house and not give an already emboldened world more reason to challenge us.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

BRICS

The BRICS development bank would seem to be about dumping the dollar and creating an alternative to the IMF, European Union and Federal Reserve.  However, upon further examination BRICS is something far more interesting.

First let's look at the membership.  

Brazil has the seventh largest economy in the world and its economic reforms has the country on par with some of the fastest growing economies in the world.  Brazil has a huge supply of natural resources and contrary to what Juan Valdez would have you believe, is the world's largest producer of coffee.

Russia is the country with the largest land mass in the world.  The Russian economy is the ninth largest in the world.  Russia is one of the largest producers in the world of oil and natural gas.  Russia also has tremendous mineral and other natural resource reserves.

India is the tenth largest economy and like Brazil, has one of the fastest growing economies in the world.  Considered a newly industrialized country, much of India's wealth is based on hi-tech.  India has the second largest population in the world.

China is the second largest country (by land area) in the world.  China has the world's second largest economy both by gross domestic product (GDP) and purchasing power parity (PPP).  China's economy is primarily based on manufacturing and exporting goods but they are also a major importer.

South Africa is the smallest member of the BRICS.  South Africa is the 25th largest country by land area as well as the 25th largest by population.  Like India, South Africa is considered a newly industrialized country and has the world's 28th largest economy (but has the 2nd largest economy in Africa).  Most of South Africa's wealth comes from diamonds and gold but like Russia, it also has vast resources of other strategic minerals.

Given this first list, it would appear that BRICS is merely a collection of countries with fast growing economies.  Most has large land masses and large populations meaning a good supply of resources and large workforce.  But that's how things look through the eyes of an economist.  

The BRICS share one other thing in common, something that trumps even their economic power.  Russia has the second largest inventory of nuclear weapons.  China has the third.  India has the fourth.  While South Africa currently doesn't have any nuclear weapons, it is the only African nation to have successfully developed nuclear weapons.  Brazil is only BRICS member not to have nuclear weapons.  All of the nuclear weapons combined under BRICS outnumbers all of the nuclear weapons of the US, UK and France combined.

Conventional forces are not to be ignored either.  China has the world's largest standing army (funded by the second largest military budget).  Russia has the second largest combined military.  India has the fourth largest combined military.  According to Global Firepower.com, Brazil has the 14th largest military in the world.  South Africa has the 14th.

Granted the comparisons are not apples to apples since there are cast differences in technologies between countries.  But technology can only compensate so far over numerical advantages.  For example, regardless of the F-35 advantages in technology, there are only so many copies of it to go around.  The F-35 demonstrates an inherent weakness of advanced technology; when things break it takes longer to fix.  According to Defense-Aerospace.com, the F-35A experiences a critical failure after 4.5 flight hours requiring 12.1 hours to repair.  

Obama is determined to reduce the size of the US military.  He began with reducing the number of nuclear warheads and the followed by instituting sequestration.  The US military has been at war for 12 years without and opportunity to reset.  Readiness is diminishing and there is little in the way of budgets to update legacy systems.  The US is not alone.  The UK, France, Australia and New Zealand are also beginning to drawdown their militaries.

The conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine continue to make the US look unable and unwilling to back up political rhetoric.  BRICS then stands as an unspoken threat to the former might of Western economic and military power.