Monday, January 15, 2018

War without end

Over the last few months, a few items have been in the news that might have missed your attention;

Item:  The USAF has a pilot shortage, so much that they've been talking about recalling retired pilots to help train new pilots.

Item:  The US Navy waived the PT scores of over 48,000 sailors that would have been discharged for failing to pass their annual PT assessment.

Item:  A US Army Special Forces soldier alleged in an open letter that the Special Forces Qualification Course (or "Q" Course) is passing people who are not being held to the same physical fitness standards as in the pass.

Item:  The US Marine Corps was found by the General Accounting Office (GAO) to have fallen short (along with the US Navy) in providing adequate amphibious ship training.

These items may individually not make much headlines but collectively it speaks to the effects of a US military that has been at war since 2002.  Except of course that is the deception.  Starting with Bush then Obama and now Trump, no US President has asked Congress to declare war.  If Congress were to declare war on Al-Qaeda, ISIS, or the Taliban then there would also have to be an end date.

No end date means operations can continue unabated and can be conducted in multiple locations.  As a result, the US military has been in a constant state of war for 16 years.  The stress and strain to personnel and equipment is why we see the problems I listed above.

So to some it was great news when Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act last month.  In addition to its $634 million in spending, it also has the first manpower increase authorization in seven years.  But looks are deceiving.

If we have been at war for 16 years (the longest in US history), then rather than celebrating more money and personnel to keep fighting shouldn't we be asking when will it end?   Oh and yes Russia, North Korea and Iran are threats but wouldn't the better strategy be to reduce our footprint in other theaters and focus on resetting our troops and equipment?

As a final thought, this weekend Hawaii was sent into panic as a false alarm went out about a missile launch.  After months of threats from North Korea, we find that our system for warning our citizen can send out a false alarm simply by someone pushing the wrong button?  We need to focus more on our training and re-assessing our systems and not spend more money on operations with no end-date in sight.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Welcome to 2018

As we begin the new year, let us reflect on nuclear weapons for a moment.  The Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War had in excess of 4,000 nuclear warheads.  The US wasn't too far behind with right around 4,000.  Today, Russia and the US have 1,950 warheads.  The smallest of these warheads are many times more powerful than those dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki. 

Somehow, despite some close calls, we all survived two major superpowers point nuclear weapons (not to mention conventional forces as well) at each other.  Oh and during this time, China, India, Pakistan, England, France and most likely Israel and South Africa developed nuclear weapons.  Yet none of these developments have fanned the flames of fear like North Korea.

Perhaps it's in part because Kim Jong Un seems disconnected from the reality of what a nuclear exchange with the US would mean.  Perhaps it's because Mr. Trump takes umbrage easily and retaliates via social media insults.  We have never seen two such petulant world leaders, even during the Cold War.

Mr. Obama and his predecessors chose not to engage with directly with the North Korean leader and preferred diplomatic measures to try to reign in Pyoanyang's nuclear program.  It is debatable how effective this was at stopping allowing North Korea to develop nuclear weapons technology, however it did keep Kim Jong Un's rhetoric down to a dull roar.

So is North Korea really more dangerous than a nuclear armed Russia or China?  From a strictly technological view (i.e. number of warheads) the short answer is no.  However, what makes North Korea or any nuclear power dangerous is the people in charge of those weapons.   And this is where things get interesting.

Mr. Trump successfully ran an election by being the very in-your-face kind of candidate he portrayed on his TV show.  While that made for good ratings and an inauguration, the same tactics don't work as well on the foreign policy front (and yes, it leaves much to be desired on the domestic front as well).  When does bluster stop and the shooting start?

Kim Jong Un is unfortunately even more unpredictable and dangerous.  From most accounts, he appears to have a volatile temper which may in part be fueled by nearly debilitating bouts of gout.  Those who disagree with him tend to be executed.  Two temperamental leaders with their fingers on the launch button that don't like each other, sounds like something out of an episode of 24. 

Thus far, Mr. Trump's rhetoric to not tolerate any further tests by North Korea have remained just talk.  However, with an increase of US forces in the region in the form of 3 carrier strike groups there is an increasing possibility of an incident between US and North Korean forces.  Or Mr. Trump could authorize some type of preemptive strike on North Korea.

With such little patience on social media these days to hear out anyone with a differing opinion, will we even realize we've declared war until it is too late?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Moving the Embassy

As the country breathes a sigh of relief over the loss of Roy Moore, the collective consciousness of the American public has already forgotten about Mr. Trump's decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Mr. Trump was able to do this without any prior notice thanks to the Jerusalem Embassy Act which was passed in 1995.  It more or less authorized the acquisition of buildings and materials necessary to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the capitol of Israel according to the Israelis but not recognized by the majority of countries. 

Clinton, Bush and Obama all avoided implementing the Jerusalem Embassy Act.  Perhaps all three saw little to be gained by unilaterally declaring Jerusalem as the undivided capitol of Israel, something the Palestinians and most Middle Eastern countries disagree with.

Mr. Trump, as far as I can tell, did not implement his decision on any foreign policy or national security basis.  Instead, he needed a victory back home to after failing to repeal Obamacare and lack of progress on tax reform.  It was essentially a middle finger to the Republicans and a reminder to the Trump-faithful that he was still shaking things up.

Most foreign policy experts predicted outbreaks of violence in the Middle East which have occurred but the real issue is US has now seemingly allied itself with Israel to the exclusion (and perhaps detriment) to it is relationship with the rest of the Middle East.

It was this type of thing that resulted in the 1973 Energy Crisis.  For those too young to remember, the US provided arms and support to Israel during the Yom Kippur War.  In retaliation, OPEC proclaimed and oil embargo.  The price of oil shot up from $3 to $12 a barrel.  Lines at gas stations wrapped around for blocks as people waited for gas.

Something like that could happen as well as an increase in further terrorist attacks.  One lone bomber detonated a pipe bomb in New York city, fortunately injuring mainly himself.  The United Kingdom is bracing for more terrorist attacks as well.

Hardcore Trump fans feel moving the embassy was long overdue.  I'm not persuaded that it does anything to further US interests in the region.  Israel was already a long standing ally.  So why now?

I began with Roy Moore and it seems fitting to finish with his failed election.  Mr. Trump originally had asked Moore to step down.  When he didn't, Mr. Trump switched his position and backed Moore.  These two decisions, backing Moore and moving the embassy, have resulted in Mr. Trump having only 32 percent approval rating. 

Hopefully lead Mr. Trump to take some other action as a means of regaining popularity.  North Korea remains extremely volatile and now China is making noise that will not remain on the fence in the event of an attack by the US.  With our attention so diverted, Russia has now started to build back up its nuclear arsenal as well as building bunkers.  Making it to the end of Mr. Trump's first term without a war is increasingly unlikely.

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.