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?

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?