Monday, July 16, 2018

Trump is wrong.

First Mr. Trump goes to the G-7 conference and insults of the US allies to illustrate "the unfairness" of the terms of the trade deals.  In his now familiar smug way, he leaves early declaring "victory".  The real results was of course more tariffs against US goods.

He next sojourns to meet and insult NATO, calling Germany a puppet of Russia and demanding that NATO up their spending to at least 2% to as much as 4% of their respective GDP.  He again departs early and smugly Tweets that he has show them (NATO) and has addressed the "unfair" NATO agreement that has the US paying more that other allies.  He somehow or other neglected mentioning that NATO had already agreed to increasing their spending under President Obama. 

Mr. Trump then makes his first visit to long time US ally the United Kingdom.  After insulting the British Prime Minister in an exclusive interview with the tabloid Sun, he then attempts to deny that he ever insulted Theresa May nor called her strategy for Brexit "failed".  He also insulted the mayor of London accusing him of failed policies leading to more crime (and what has the President down about US crime rates?).  After facing tens of thousands of British protestors, Mr. Trump leaves for his private golf course in Scotland.

If you perceive the above events differently, so be it.  But Mr. Trump's latest foreign excursion is very disconcerting and some are even calling treasonous.  Mr. Trump agreed to meet Russian President Vladmir Putin in Helsinki.  This even AFTER the 16 indictments against Russian nationals for interfering with the 2016 elections were handed out this week!  But wait is gets worse, not were the indictments handed out but the FBI as well as US intelligence agencies (the CIA and NSA) all concluded that Russia absolutely hacked into our elections Mr. Trump still agreed to meet with Mr. Putin.  Mr. Trump allegedly asked Mr. Putin is Russia was involved and Mr. Putin of course said "no" which was good enough for our President.  He further insulted his own intelligence agencies and FBI by adding "well why would Russian do it?"

I don't care who you voted for, nothing I write will likely change your opinion one or the other.  But if this latest has not gotten you to to write your member of Congress and demand that they do something about this imbecile, then you have fallen victim to very type of propaganda the old Soviet Union used to excel in doing.

The US Air Force spent large sums of money and time training me to become an intelligence analyst.  Our number one adversary was the Soviet Union.  Even when the Soviet Union fell, I used to admonish my fellow analysts not to fall for the line, "oh they're our friends now!".  The Soviet Union at its core was about the downfall of the United States.  Every good Soviet citizen was a part of trying to make that happen.  When the Soviet Union collapsed (as a result of US policies let's not forget), there was no sudden epiphany to start loving the United States that swept the lands.  Mr. Putin especially spent most of his life as a trained KGB agent.

Given all of this, how in the hell can a sitting US President take the word of a foreign leader over his own intelligence agencies and FBI?!  Mr. Trump in his narcissistic, bombastic need to be the center of everything has weakened the US almost beyond repair in the last few weeks.  Congress and the Senate need to reign Mr. Trump in now or we may never recover.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Mr. Trump continues to "win"

Back on June 12th, Trump and Kim Jong Un had a summit.  Mr. Trump loudly declared that we could all sleep better since the threat of a nuclear North Korea was over.  Trump and his supporters were giddy from all of this "winning!".  Except it didn't take long to see there wasn't much more to the summit than a photo-op.

No means of verifying nuclear disarmament were discussed at the summit.  Perhaps details such as verification are best left to others but still it was very it was a very concerning omission.  Trump than wasted no time in announcing that those "silly war games" the US conducts with the South Koreans would cease (news of which took the South Korean government quite by surprise).  As though all of this weren't convoluted enough, Mr. Trump then upon returning to the US leaves the sanctions against North Korea (which drove their nuclear armament program into high gear) in place!

South Korea isn't the only ally left scratching their heads thanks to the President.  Prior to his trip to Singapore, Mr. Trump got into a tiff with Mr. Trudeau and now has a trade war with Canada (one of the staunchest allies of the US.  Don't believe it?  Canadian snipers have been the deadliest in Afghanistan, supporting the US war on terror).  France, England and Germany all are going about their business without their long-time ally as Mr. Trump's foreign policy moves are just too fickle to understand.

Mr. Trump has since forgotten all about the above and has redoubled his efforts on stemming the tide of MS-13 "animals" from illegally "infesting" the United States.  Mara Salvatrucha 13 or MS-13 has been operating in the US since at least the mid-1980s so they hardly represent a new threat.  The US is also responsible for the creation of MS-13 which formed in East Los Angeles in response to El Salvadorian refugees being attacked and abused by local Mexican gangs.  The US government thought the best way to deal with El Salvadorians fleeing war in their own country was to slam in the middle of the Mexican suburbs of East LA.  Nobody remembered to ask the citizens of East LA or the El Salvadorians how they felt about this.

Meanwhile, NATO has moved forward with increasing spending (something Mr. Trump feels they should have been doing all along) in response to their perception of an increased threat from Russia.  Even Sweden, a non-NATO nation, that has historically kept their military spending to a minimum is having to increase their military readiness in response to increased Russian military presence.  Yet despite this, Mr. Trump continues to make overtures to Mr. Putin.  Regardless of what your perceptions of Russian intent may be, you have to at least acknowledge that our Allies are worried and Mr. Trump seems completely tone-deaf to their concerns.

Unfortunately, people are less and less tuning into the news or reading newspapers.  American citizens of all political persuasions are simply tuning out.  If what they read doesn't agree with their point of view, it is "fake news" and is ignored.  Meaning the majority of the public are uninterested in what is going on and therefore tends to be passive politically.  Perhaps a jaded assessment on my part but the mid-terms will be a bellwether on how invested voters are in effecting change or remaining status quo.

Friday, April 20, 2018

What can we learn from the missile strikes in Syria

Mr. Trump convinces France and the UK to shoot cruise missiles at targets in Syria.  This was in response to Assad attacking his people with chemical weapons.  The response was exactly what Mr. Trump had criticized Mr. Obama for doing.  Amazing how times have changed.

But now a week after the missile strikes, the effectiveness of this attack remains unknown.  If Assad did use chemicals against Syrians, then we still don't know if he used Sarin (which required the type of facilities that were struck) or more common chemicals such as chlorine or mustard (both of which are easily available as industrial chemicals).

Reading some of the foreign news sites, it isn't even clear if France launched any of their missiles or cancelled at the last minute.  In comparison, US news sites are declaring a smashing victory of the combined attack with no losses.  However, Russian and non-US sites paint a picture of some of the cruise missiles being intercepted by Russian anti-missile systems.

The truth is likely somewhere in the middle.  The US and allies struck targets in Syria more a show of force rather than any actual degradation of Assad's ability to use chemical weapons.  Even at the best of times, some of the missiles probably failed to hit their targets allowing the claim of Russia and Syria that the attacks failed.  More troubling is the potential that Russian military technology can intercept US cruise missiles, even if it's only a small percentage of the total launched it still would be troubling for the US military.

The missile attacks also support the notion that the SecDef is the only adult influencing Trump's national security policy.  Perhaps this also signals that Mattis can keep the war-mongering Bolton in check.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Lookings at problems differently

When you step away from the keyboard, sometimes it is a matter of other things taking precedence.  Other times it is to step outside and get some fresh air.  But for me it has lately been because just too many things are happening and before I can start writing about them, something new has already taken over my attention.  So pardon some of the rambling and jump cuts in this blog, there is just so much going on.

Let's begin with North Korea.  Most of the national security experts on the Trump administration have been expressing some level of concern that war could break out with North Korea.  Until recently, I also shared that some concern but reading an article last month has me re-thinking the matter.

North Korea's nuclear weapons program has always been assumed to be developed specifically to attack the United States.  However, this would almost guarantee North Korea's extinction by US retaliatory strike by either nuclear or conventional forces.  Why then does North Korea continue on a path of sheer suicide?

The assumptions have always centered on the US, i.e. the only possible reason for North Korea to have nuclear weapons is to launch an attack first.  However, a new line of thinking throws the US focused assumptions out and refocuses on North Korea.  North Korea's military does not exist to fight the US (at least not directly).  It exists to attack South Korea with the intent of reunifying the Korean peninsula.  Looking at the North Korean nuclear program in this light shows us the the nuclear weapons are not intended as a first strike but rather a way of holding the US at bay while North Korea launches its attack to the south.

And the evidence thus far says North Korea's policy is working.  The US has NOT launched and an attack on their nuclear facilities.  This may change in the future and it still may prove wrong but for now it is a different way of looking at this problem.

Here are two different looks at the same problem facing society today (and why we may not want to jump into more wars, especially with North Korea or Iran);

Low Recruit Discipline Prompts Army to Redesign Basic Training--Army commanders are complaining that too many brand new soldiers, right out of the training pipeline are showing-up at the units sloppy, undisciplined, asking too many questions instead of following orders and feel "entitled".  After nearly 20 years of constant combat operations, the Army realizes that Basic Training got too far away from the tenets of good order and discipline.  Contrast this with what the Air Force did

Air Force Reprimands First Sergeant For Telling Cadets to Dress Properly--I don't know what the hell to make of the USAF these days.  Apparently the senior officers of the Air Force Academy, the epitome of the Air Force officer corps, are too squeamish when it comes to maintaining good order and discipline at the "Zoo" (Air Force Academy).  Rather than re-evaluate standards or speaking to the superintendent privately, they took him to task for doing his job (so much for thinking outside the box!).  But apparently AFA cadets are no more immune from the same problems as the Army. 

The US military needs to stop pretending that we are in the business of anything other than killing people and breaking things (or in more polite parlance, "management of violence").  Get back to training enlisted and officers to be responsible for themselves and their unit.  Be sharp, be on time, don't be sloppy.  And most of all, shut-up and just might learn something.

But alas this may be beyond even pipe-line training in the military.  Go outside right now and watch the people walking on the sidewalk.  What are they doing?  They either have their noses in their smart phone or are rupturing their eardrums with their music.  In either way, those people are no longer interacting with real people.  They don't get how their actions effect other people because there is no requirement to develop empathy when interacting in the digital world.

In the digital era. we can go Amazon and order whatever consumer pleases our little capitalistic heart and have is delivered the same day!  Who the hell wants to spend years then learning to become an aircraft mechanic or transport pilot?  The millennial generations and those coming after have no concept of waiting for something or the feeling of satisfaction by earning something that took years, not minutes, to earn.

Unfortunately, this is the same reason why the younger people are not interested in the politics of the world and are only persuaded by whatever hashtag is flashed on their social media accounts.  On April 20th (420, ha!), high school students are organizing a walk-out to protest the shootings in Florida.  I'm glad to see young people are actually doing some active rather than passively posting non-sense memes and hashtags on social media.  However, my real interest will be peaked when something meaningful occurs AFTER the walk-out.  Oh wait, you mean I have to wait for results?

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Shithole countries

Before the government shutdown, Mr. Trump referred to Haiti and African nations as "shitholes".  Trump supporters were quick to point out images such as this;

Yes, that's Haiti. The first black nation in the Western Hemisphere (after kicking the slave-owning French out) who were ignored by the United States and Europe.  Neither the US nor Europe offer the fledgling nation a chance to develop a modern, democratic government.  Even when the US finally did reach out to Haiti in the 1960s, it was to use Francois "Popa Doc" Duvalier (who founded the Tonton Macoute) as a hedge against the threat of expanding Communism (read Soviet Union) in the region. 

In 2011, Haiti suffered an earthquake and is still trying to recover.  To those who would point out that this is just more proof of what a shithole country really is, remember that Haiti had no infrastructure to speak of before the earthquake.  Aid and recovery efforts found it difficult, if not impossible, to restore to country over the last 7 years. 

And of course there is this;

This shows Haiti on the left and the Dominican Republic on the right.  The deforestation of Haiti started back when it was still controlled by the French in the 19th Century.  The photo was taken in 2012.

My point today is not to defend Haiti as much as to point out the hypocrisy of Trump and his supporters.  Let's look at another picture.

(credit: Craig Wilson)

This is an abandoned part of Detroit from 2012.  How does this not qualify as a "shithole"?  Or how about this one;

(credit:  Huffington Post)

That's Flint, Michigan drinking water as of 2016.  The water had been looking like that for over 3 years!  And while the EPA will say the water now is at "acceptable levels" of pollutants, the residents still can't drink the water in 2018.

My point is Trump haters got mad but let him and the media get a pass on hypocritical is was to called out other countries for being "shitholes" when the most modern nation in the world can't even provide clean drinking water for all of its citizens.

If something this patently obvious is avoided by the media and public, imagine the consequences of misrepresentations of issues that actually require research to debunk!

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?