Friday, May 30, 2014

The impact of ISR on "multilateral partnerships"

The President's speech at West Point on Wednesday should have been a no-brainer.  A military audience, by regulation, can't express negativity to elected leaders so it was a very safe environment for Obama to trout out his international vision for the remaining days of his presidency.  But alas, our for the President this was not to be the case.  The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has been called up out of the bullpen to pitch since the leading pitcher has failed to strike out his critics (sorry, it is baseball season and the analogy was just too easy).

First up, Gen Dempsey had to reassure allies in the Middle East that the US was not politically exhausted even though the US has already announced troop withdrawals for Afghanistan after 13 years.  He tried to persuade his audience that its because al-Qaeda was a "shadow of its former self" as reasons for the drawdown.  But then he does right on to say that al-Qaeda has adapted and now they are a threat elsewhere.  Given that logic, should the troops then be sent "elsewhere" to deal with al-Qaeda if the US truly isn't exhausted?

While Dempsey was trying to calm fears in the United Arab Emirates, our allies in Asia and Europe were also less than impressed with President Obama's speech.  Since Dempsey can't be at two places at once, he sent in his own relief pitcher Adm. James “Sandy” Winnefeld, vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Besides reiterating America’s “iron-clad” commitment to the European Phased Adaptive Approach — designed to stop a handful of Iranian missiles, not hundreds of Russian ones — the admiral also put in good words for Japan, South Korea, Israel, and the Gulf Cooperation Council. (Breaking Defense).  Basically pulling out of Afghanistan (and Iraq previously) doesn't mean we are going to let Iran off the hook.

But in order to do so, the Gulf nations have to share information that would allow that type of missile defense system to be created need to thwart Iran.  The first problem is the lack of trust amongst the Gulf nations.  Just getting the various reps from those countries to sit down has proven impossible.  The second problem is once they do and asked for US technology, the Washington political system slows things down to a crawl.

A similar situation exists in Asia, who feels especially slighted by the President's speech on Wednesday which made no mention of them.  To keep North Korea at bay, the US needs its partners in Asia to work together which perhaps shows a bias on the part of Washington.  President Obama, and to be fair other US Presidents as well, tend to treat Asia with a broad bush.  To them, it is easier to think of Asia as one amalgamation of culture.  This simplistic view misses the long history of war and exploitation amongst countries such as China and Japan.

Japan, now our biggest Pacific ally, was once our enemy when the Japanese Empire threatened to take over the entire Pacific Rim.  Amongst many atrocities, Japan invaded Korea and cut down all its trees for the Imperial Army.  But we need Japan and South Korea to forget about all of that nasty stuff that happened during the war and pretend like they trust each other long enough to keep North Korea in check.  At best Japan and South Korea are indifferent to one another.  Sharing intelligence between the two nations is difficult at best.  Now with Japan squabbling with China over islands to the north, it is becoming even more difficult to get South Korea to believe Imperial Japan is not start to arise from the ashes.

The gap in trust amongst our Middle Eastern and Pacific allies is reflective of the gap between Obama's promise to do more to more to assist our partners in fighting al-Qaeda.  That promise means the US will have to increase intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) efforts, which is going to be damn near impossible since Obama has cut funding for ISR.  Those same partners that Obama wants to build partnerships with depend, no expect, to provide the ISR resources need for dealing with al-Qaeda or Iran and North Korea.

"Decisions already made in the president’s fiscal year 2015 budget request will cut available ISR. In particular, the Air Force justified decisions to reduce its medium-altitude long-endurance ISR (MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers) in order to prepare for future wars (namely, the growing threat of anti-access environments). Should budget pressures continue, the Air Force has threatened deeper cuts in these systems, along with reductions in high-altitude long-endurance RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 40—the very aircraft that is supposed to fill the shoes of the U-2, which the Air Force also decided to retire in this budget."--Defense One

Let's not forget that we are not just lacking what is needed for the known, but we are also lacking ISR resources for the new areas of responsibility such as Africa;

"Gen. David Rodriguez at U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), who in March told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he had only 11 percent of his ISRneeds met. Whether Mali, Somalia, the regional hunt for Joseph Kony, or missing schoolgirls in Nigeria, the need forISR to find “needles in the haystack” is significant on the continent. In AFRICOM’s area of responsibility, ISR has been a key part of U.S. counterterrorism support efforts Obama cited as models in this next phase of the war, such as support to French-led efforts in the trans-Sahel."--Defense One

President Obama's father is African, not African-American.  The distinction is none of his father's ancestors were ever slaves in the US. It should also mean that Africa was a priority for President Obama which it has not.  When he finally did become involved, it was due to a faction of al-Qaeda which his previous Secretary of State (Hillary Clinton) would not designate as a terrorist group.  The current Secretary of State, John Kerry, had to step in to try to mitigate the damage.

"When Secretary of State John F. Kerry announced early this month that the Obama administration was rushing a team of experts to help Nigerian officials rescue 276 abducted schoolgirls, the hope in Washington was that Nigerians would react with gratitude and energetic cooperation."--Reuters

The first chance to step in and aid, not invade, a sovereign African nation and you can guess what is going to happen.

"Instead, the U.S. assistance mission here — cloaked in secrecy and producing only vague hints of progress after six weeks of joint efforts to find and free the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants — has produced a more ambivalent and critical response.

One reason is the strong patriotic pride among citizens of this independent, oil-rich nation with a large professional security force that President Goodluck Jonathan said Thursday he had ordered to carry out a “full-scale operation” against the militants. While there is appreciation for the U.S. help, there is also resentment of what some Ni­ger­ian commentators call “neocolonial” meddling."--Reuters

"Neocolonial meddling" that might be the best term for how US foreign policy is viewed by Nigeria and other nations.    Meddling, not assisting or aiding.  And now we can't even offer our ISR resources a token for meddling.

p.s. As I was composing this, it was announced the Shinseki resigned.  Almost immediately afterwards Press Secretary Jay Carney announced his retirement.  Shinseki resignation is of course more symbolic than meaningful since the Veterans Administration didn't break overnight.  It also means that it will take many years to fix and most likely it will be left to the next administration to deal with in a meaningful way.  Carney's resignation is overdue.  Typically press secretaries leave after the first term in office if the President is re-elected.  He overstayed his welcome.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Could World I and World War III be 100 years apart?

“In Ukraine, Russia’s recent actions recall the days when Soviet tanks rolled into Eastern Europe,” Obama said. “But this isn’t the Cold War. Our ability to shape world opinion helped isolate Russia right away.” Speaking to cadets and top Army leaders, Obama said the U.S.-led “mobilization of world opinion and international institutions served as a counterweight to Russian propaganda and Russian troops on the border and armed militias in ski masks.” President Obama in The Washington Post

I'm sorry Mr. President but your statements are too easily refuted.  World opinion has not been shaped in the manner which you claim.  Elections throughout Europe show people are fed-up with the notion of the European Union and are voting in far-right politicians at an unprecedented pace.  These nations are not planning to follow you or this country anywhere any time soon.  France sold 3 warships to Russia even though both former Sec Def Gates and current Sec Def Hagel begged them not to.  China signed a huge energy deal with Russia enabling Putin to continue on his quest.

If the President truly believes his attempts to mobilize world opinion have worked, he must not have read this account;

"Pro-Russian rebels downed a military helicopter in eastern Ukraine, killing 13 troops and a general, as an aide to President Vladimir Putin accused the U.S. of pushing the world toward war through proxies in Kiev."  Bloomberg

Two can play the propaganda game and what Mr. Obama forgets is the US doesn't have the reputation to being able to pull of the "good-guy" role anymore.  Many in countries ranging from Iraq and Iran to lesser known countries like Mali see the US as a hostile nation.  Putin is portraying his actions as protecting Russian speaking people, not invading sovereign nations or even attacking terrorists.

And while Mr. Obama claims that he is working through "multilateral actions" to thwart Russia's presence in Ukraine, the new Ukrainian president has a different interpretation of what that means;

"Poroshenko, 48, a billionaire who won the May 25 presidential election in the first round, said in an interview with Germany’s Bild newspaper that he intended to call on the United States for military supplies and training."  The Washington Post

While drawing parallels from the past is always fraught with error and faulty conclusions, one thing about Russia annexing Crimea is eerily reminiscent of something from exactly a hundred years ago next month.  The Great War or World War I started on July 28, 1914.  That was the date Archduke Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated serving as the trigger but the underlying problem was neo-imperialism.  Neo-imperialism was a period of unprecedented pursuit of overseas territorial acquisitions.  At this time, countries focused on building their empire with new technological advances and developments, making their country bigger through conquest, and exploiting their resources.

Obviously Russia fits the parallel but let's not forget the United States.  US overseas bases have been quietly built-up during the war on terror in Qatar, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, UAE, Djibouti, and Diego Garcia to name a few.  US drones can now be deployed through the most of the Middle East and the Horn of Africa.

Don't think the rest of the world might resent this presence?  Here is listing of all of the countries the US State Department has issued travel warnings for:  Iran, North Korea, Philippines, Kenya, Central African Republic, Ukraine, Nigeria, Syria, El Salvador, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of South Sudan, Chad, Colombia, Sudan, Burundi, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Algeria, Pakistan, Israel, Lebanon, Yemen, Mexico, Honduras, Venezuela, and Eritrea. (US State Department)

I did not include alerts which would have added Egypt, Thailand and Russia.  Brazil likely gets added once the World Cup starts and if there are clashes between protestors and police that make the news.

Humans like numbers and anniversaries.  The 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War may be a more than a coincidence.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Photo:  Daily Mail

The headline for this story is "I'm NOT WEAK: Obama answers critics in West Point speech and insists the US must lead the world by example – 'If we don't, no one else will'

If one must state they are not weak, then you've already lost all chance of convincing people otherwise. If you state that the US must lead the way, you can't then hide behind "partnerships" and "multilateral actions" otherwise you just confirm that you are weak.  If you claim American exceptionalism, you can't then delegate the work to international coalitions without confirming your weakness.  You can't say your critics downplay the effectiveness of international coalitions without showing at least one example where it has worked during your administration.  You can't talk tough, as you did with Syria and Russia, and then do nothing without your enemies and allies calling you weak.

But most of all Mr President, if you are the Commander-In-Chief, then when a someone in uniform renders a salute….RETURN IT!!

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Power of Narrative

Lies, lies and damn statistics.  I was thinking about how much of what now passes for news is really just a bunch of "experts" trying to explain what has already happened (and usually getting even that wrong).  Each expert or pundit will thread the facts into some type of narrative to fit their talking points.    We have a spoiled brat in California that goes on a killing spree.  Instead of looking at how many kids don't end up like him, we are inundated with narratives about this spoiled, little rich brat that went on a killing spree as a means of expression.  We see facts but construct the wrong narrative.  Then I had a revelation.

President Obama's real problem is a lack of narrative.

nar-ra-tive, noun, 1. a story or account of events, experiences, or the like, whether true of fictitious

On Memorial Day, I see a lot of postings of Ronald Reagan's soldier speech.  Reagan has assumed an almost mythological level of reverence in the minds of conservative Americans.  What allowed Reagan to achieve this status was his narrative.

The narrative Reagan told has only improved over the years to where many believe he was the greatest modern President.  I don't know about that but what I do know is his narrative was successful.  He believed the Soviet Union was an evil empire and cast his narrative to frame his actions towards that end.

In contrast, Obama's narrative thus far has been about "hope and change".  "Hope" is what is left when you have no options left so the use of the word in his narrative is indeed an odd one.  The use of "change"begs anyone who paid attention, "change from what?" or "change to what?".  He is thus left with an empty campaign sound byte and no narrative.

President Obama lacking a narrative effects how his actions, or inactions, are perceived.  He does not know how to frame his actions in a narrative that supports his role as President of the United States.  For example, he decided to "re-start" relations with Russia but without a narrative to explain his intentions, it meant nothing to Putin or the American public.  In comparison, Putin annexed Crimea as part of his narrative and remains resolute in his commitment to regain the supremacy of Russia.  Now Putin is seen as a world-class badass and Obama is a wimp.

Obama unveiled Obama-care but when criticisms mounted, his lack of narrative prevented him from sacrificing former Secretary of Health Sebelius as a scapegoat.  She resigned before Obama could bring himself to fire her.  Good for him except it made him look indecisive.  He lacked the ability to craft a narrative to frame his inaction so he also seemed incompetent.

Then the Veterans Administration scandal broke and instead of canning Shinseki, he stands around idly not realizing a narrative is being written for him.  If he can so ineffectively run the VA, which deals with a much smaller segment of the population, then how did he imagine he could implement the Affordable Healthcare Act?

He also seems to be unable to read the narrative of others.  I've already talked about Russia but Obama has misread Asad and Morsi as well.  They do not see the US as the brokers of "hope and change".  They are both trying to preserve their national identity in the midst of chaos brought about by internal revolutions.  Whatever narrative Mr. Obama has in mind does not register in their minds.  They don't recognize him as either savior or sinner.  He is irrelevant.

Perhaps most disappointing is the first American President to have clear African heritage has been spectacularly absent from dealing with matters in Nigeria, Mali,  and Libya.  He has not made any attempt to bring about reforms or peace to Somalia.  Here was a potential legacy he could have crafted that would have rivaled Reagan's vision of a world without the Soviet Union.  Bringing Africa to parity with so called First World countries would not happen overnight but he should have been the one to start.  Instead, he is bumbling his way through his final years as President.

Lacking his own narrative is perhaps why he is also missing the next big problem.  Brazil is set to host the World Cup this year and then the 2016 Olympics.  The corruption of the Brazilian government and the oppressive life of the Brazilians living in the favelas are about to be laid bear on the international media.  The potential is extremely high for hostage taking, assault, or murder of our athletes, their families or members of the media who will be at these games.  Obama and his White House will be caught off guard (again) when catastrophe strikes.  They will have no means of responding to the crisis.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

"Plata o Plombo"

On October 26, 2001 Congress signed the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism, better known as the USA PATRIOT Act.  

Title IV amends the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 to give more law enforcement and investigative power to the United States Attorney General and to theImmigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The Attorney General was authorized to waive any cap on the number of full-time employees (FTEs) assigned to the INS on the Northern border of the United States.

Under subtitle C, various definitions relating to terrorism were altered and expanded. The INA was retroactively amended to disallow aliens who are part of or representatives of a foreign organization or any group who endorses acts of terrorism from entering the U.S. This restriction also included the family of such aliens. The definition of "terrorist activity" was strengthened to include actions involving the use of any dangerous device (and not just explosives and firearms). To "engage in terrorist activity" is defined as committing, inciting to commit or planning and preparing to undertake an act of terrorism. Included in this definition is the gathering of intelligence information on potential terrorist targets, the solicitation of funds for a terrorist organization or the solicitation of others to undertake acts of terrorism.--Wikipedia

Okay, sounds good.  We need our borders protected from terrorists that want to enter our country (most likely illegally) and do bad things.  So what the hell happened here??

(Photo: Daily Mail)

"Two frightening incidents of vandalism in El Paso near the Mexican border in Texas have been interpreted as warnings from drug cartels.

In both instances, a mannequin wearing a suit and tie was tied to a billboard with a noose and messages were scrawled over the placards.

Local station KHOU reports that one of the signs reads 'Plata o Plombo' which translates to 'silver or lead', a threat used commonly against police officers effectively warning that if they do not accept the cartel's bribes then they will be shot." --
Daily Mail

Take the bribes or be killed?  That's not terrorism?  Our borders are not as safe as we think they are and we have ignored the drug cartels in fear of offending proponents of immigration reform.  After all, whenever the White House talks about immigration they only show tend to show Hispanics.  The implication is that we only have immigration problems with Mexico and Central America.  To then have to admit we have Mexican drug lords threatening our police and citizens is not something the White House wants to deal with.

I guess if we can't protect our own borders, what can we do to help the Ukraine?

Here is an older story I didn't get around to using, "The US missile cruiser Vella Gulf is expected to arrive in the Black Sea on May 23, a military source told a Russian news agency. Another NATO vessel is already in the area, while the French Navy’s stealth frigate will reportedly be there by late May." RT.Com  Based on this story, the cruise should be in the Black Sea today.  However, the Daily Mail is reporting that 21 have already dead in a clash between 500 pro-Russian separatists and troops loyal to Kiev.  

The US was unable to stop Russia from annexing Crimea.  It was unable to remove Asad from power in Syria.  Now the US is unable or unwilling to do anything about drug cartels threatening its police and citizens on THIS side of the border.  At this rate, we may not end up in World War III but neither will we be any safer.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Of acquisitions and drawdowns

If you want to learn how to be lean and lethal, look no further than USSOCOM;

"After three of AFSOC’s Ospreys were shot up over Juba, South Sudan in December, resulting in the injuries of four Marines on board, the command realized that the birds needed better armor.

DiSebastian said that “we’re looking to put armor protection on those aircraft in under 140 days” and they’re about a third of the way through that.

SOCOM leadership is also working on beefing up the firepower on the aircraft, testing new forward-firing weapons that it wants to put in place by the end of this year.

If that seems like a pretty quick schedule to those who are used to the years-long process of getting things done in the Pentagon bureaucracy, Lt. Col. DiSebastian said that’s the whole point.

The gun program “is something that if we went to big Air Force or big Navy acquisitions it would have been a five-year program,” he said, but since the command is doing the research and development itself, “companies are looking to put a capability on this aircraft and shoot it by the end of this year.”  Defense News

So why hasn't the rest of DOD learned from the Special Ops community?  Do things in house, get things turned around sooner rather than later, and do it on a lean budget.  The Marines have this figured out as well.  They train their own armorers to build and maintain sniper rifles and when the M-9 wasn't cutting it, reintroduced the M-1911A1 for close quarter combat.  Of course if you are the USAF, you tend to live up to your criticism of being more of a corporation than a branch of the military.

This is what happens when the fighter mafia of the USAF is scared of getting fewer F-35s;

"The service’s top leaders say the vast majority of so-called “close air support” missions conducted in Afghanistan since 2006 have been flown by a variety of aircraft that are not A-10s. Specifically, the leaders say that the 80 percent of these missions conducted by aircraft other than the Warthog shows that a variety of aircraft can do the critical mission of reinforcing ground forces with firepower from the air.

However, a number of observers challenge the Air Force’s claim that 80 percent of close air support missions are really conducted by non-A-10 planes. These observers assert that the service has deliberately manipulated the data to support its case.

The plan to retire the A-10 has sparked a firestorm of criticism from members of Congress, A-10 pilots and airmen whose job is to embed with ground forces and call in air strikes."  PBS News Hour

What the USAF should have done a while back is give the A-10 and Close Air Support (CAS) mission to the Army.  The fighter mafia can't let go of any fixed mission to the ground-pounders, even one that doesn't involve supersonic, sexy fighters that have thin skin and can't really fly in all weather (such as the F-35 or even B-2).  At the same time, the fighter mafia refuse the acknowledge the importance of providing a dedicated CAS platform and wants to half-ass it with multi-role fighters and drones.  It won't work people.  Soldiers and Marines need dedicated, fixed wing CAS.  That's why the Marines have their own organic fixed wing aircraft, they don't wan to compete with needs of the fleet for carrier based fixed wing aircraft.  The Army relies on rotary winged aircraft but helicopters just don't have the duration of an A-10.  Oh and A-10s invented the concept of armed Search and Rescue (SAR), they can remain on station to protect a down pilot.  Helicopters just don't have the range and duration to perform that mission.

Things I don't understand;

"Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) offered an amendment, rejected 191-233, that would end the authorization for use of military force (AUMF) against those responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks within a year. The California Democrat said the authorization was no longer necessary 13 years later."  The Hill

I thought we just sent in troops to Nigeria to assist with the al Qaeda backed Boko Haram?  Isn't al Qaeda, by assessments from the White House, now more of a threat than before?  I'm not advocating for more military action, just some consistency from the messages our leaders are sending out.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Russia's Latest Way to Check Washington

When Russia was threatening to first take over Crimea, President Obama and his administration mistook the troop movements as the southern front of a larger military exercise.  The miscalculation left the United States unable to counter the Russians even if Washington had wanted to send troops.  Time, distance and space were all in Russia's favor.  They were closer, with more troops and knew what they wanted to do and when they were going to do it.

Being out maneuvered, President Obama then falls back to the old, but largely unsuccessful, method of economic sanctions.  He would isolate Russia from the rest of the world economically.  But that tactic takes time and has had a remarkably low success rate.  Iran and Iraq have faced years of economic sanctions.  Iran remains prosperous and had the Bushes not invaded Iraq, the Iraqi people would equally be prosperous.

Sanctions are tricky things.  Too harsh and you risk starving the very people you want to pressure their leaders.  Too little and the citizens aren't compelled to seek change.  And sometimes those that you are imposing sanctions on have ways of making your life difficult.

The Atlas V rockets that the US and NASA depend on for launching heavy payloads into orbit are powered by Russian RD-180 engines.  With Atlas slated to assume 56% of the launches through 2020, an RD-180 shortage would cause payload delivery delays despite options existing today to mitigate them (Aviation Week).  The immediate thorny issue is that Altas V has 38 launches on the manifest with only 16 RD-180s in the U.S. inventory, and supply is in question.  A shift of 22 missions would call for an increase in Delta IV production and even in doing so the backlog for this rocket would not be met until fiscal 2019, according to the Aviation Week article.

But Russia's real trump card is energy.  Europe needs Russian gas and oil.  Enforcing too restrictive of a sanction against Russia means a very cold Europe.  Russia needs to sell its energy and Putin is a far better statesman than Obama, especially when it comes to protecting national interests.  It should come as no surprised that Reuters is reporting the following;  " China and Russia signed a $400-billion gas supply deal on Wednesday, securing the world's top energy user a major source of cleaner fuel and opening up a new market for Moscow as it risks losing European customers over the Ukraine crisis."

Russia isn't cutting off Europe but the deal with China insures and departures by European countries will not have a great an impact on the Russian economy.  Europe will be hard-pressed to find alternative sources for gas and oil at the same price point as Russia.  We all love cheap energy.

China may have entered into a this deal in part to further complicate matters for the US.  Attorney General Holder has decided to indict five officers of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) on cyber-warfare charges.  It is doubtful that the officers will ever stand trial but Holder's actions have the US Navy more than a little concerned.  The Navy feels this will lead to a backlash from China that may be expressed on the waters of the Pacific.    Another potential miscalculation by Holder and his boss the President.

The lack of synchronization between the DOJ and DOD is jus the latest example of riffs between Obama and his administration.  In 2012, the Obama administration produced a draft National Intelligence Estimate that reached a surprising conclusion: al Qaeda was no longer a direct threat to America (The Daily Beast).  Senior intelligence officials would not go along with that assessment.  Obama used this assassination of bin Laden and the al Qaeda assessment to run on in 2012.  The White House continues to use these talking despite the information showing al Qaeda has increased operations, notably Libya (Benghazi), Nigeria (Boko Haram) and very likely Mali.

Not having access to those assessments, it's hard to know how much is fact and how much is bluster.  What is distressing is how the intelligence community and military under the Obama administration lack a focus.  They are being spread to thin with their attention diverted from everything including drawing down in Afghanistan to searching for the kidnapped girls in Nigeria.  All the while Russia and China continue to move forward with their agenda.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Future Shock

Jan 12, 2010…a magnitude 7 earthquake hits Haiti causing mass death and destruction.  The shanty houses collapsed on one another trapping and killing thousands.  Haiti is still recovering from that earthquake since its non-existent infrastructure and corrupt government made receiving and distributing aid nearly impossible.  What though is most memorable is that much of the financial aid collected was gathered through social media.

We've seen videos of flash mobs and received emails from friends asking us to sign petitions.  These seem like novelties but what is often lost is the power of social media and the Internet to change world politics.  Information and disinformation can be shared instantaneously.  Putin really didn't need an intelligence network to know what was going on in Ukraine, he merely had to have his advisors follow social media.

The advent of social media is nothing new and has been talked about for many years, yet the US continues to pursue foreign policy that ignores the compressed timeframe the Internet has introduced.  Like-minded individuals can recruit and solicit funds without ever having to leave their country.  Opposition groups can now reach much larger audiences faster and get the word out about the corruption of their government leaders.

For the US, the problem is now clandestine operations to overthrow unpopular leaders can be rapidly exposed via the Internet.  Atrocities committed by US backed governments are quick recorded via smart devices and posted to the Internet before the CIA or State Department can formulate a plausible excuse.  Given this reality, why does the US continue to talk about foreign policy as though it were still the 1950s?

Another technology that we have not begun to understand is 3D printing.  A father uses a 3D printer he purchased at home to make a bionic hand for his son who had lost his hand in an accident.  A musician uses a 3D printer to make an acoustic guitar that rivals ones made out of wood.  And of course 3D printers are capable of making firearms.  No longer will opposition groups have to "depend on the kindness of strangers" to arm themselves against oppressive governments.  It also means the traditional role of the US as the world's policeman is rapidly becoming irrelevant.

Biotechnology is another development that reduces US influence on world events.  Super-crops that can be grown in poor soil and requiring little irrigation are already being sold.  Biotechnology can be used to help combat illnesses in ways that don't depend on Western pharmaceutical corporations.  And of course biotechnology can be used to produce weapons that the US does not have antidotes for.

Robots and drones are becoming the next force equalizer.  You won't need to spend years and millions of dollars to produce fighter pilots and elite special forces troops.  You will very quickly be able to buy off the shelf ground robots, unmanned aerial vehicles, ships and even submarines at a fraction of the cost of building the equivalent of a conventional military force.  Just today there was an article about a self-aiming rifle that will allow snipers to engage targets beyond 1 mile.  Nations that used to be considered Third World will have the ability to pose serious threats to Second and First World nations unlike anything that has been seen before.

Of course the biggest expansion area is still in cyber warfare.  We read about it all the time but really the gravity of cyber warfare is almost too much to comprehend.  A successful cyber attack could shutdown the entire Eastern Seaboard power grid.  Nuclear power plants could be sent into critical states by shutting down their cooling systems.  Our air traffic control systems could be shutdown or aircraft could be turned into one another by sending them false course corrections.  Our trucking systems could be sabotage having trucks sent their loads to the wrong destinations.  Food on those trucks would spoil causing food costs to soar.  Hospitals could have their power and HVAC systems shutdown.

All of this means the US has to rethink how it will engage other nations in the future.  Will it only engage those governments or will it also have to engage the opposition groups as well?

To meet these challenges, the US government really has to change how it acquires new technology.  Kristina Harrington, director of the signals intelligence directorate at the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), said acquisition programs typically take about two years to initiate and execute, but rapidly changing threats in the cyber domain require a different approach.

"The current acquisition process is not fast enough to keep up with the speed (of the threat)," Harrington said at a space and cyber conference hosted by the Space Foundation. "Two years after we started is too late in the cyber industry."  Kristina Harrington, quoted in Reuters

"We need to be looking at a different way of doing things," Harrington said during her panel discussion, adding that private industry was increasingly driving change in the cyber realm.  And yet, we still are doing things the same old way.

The cuts to the military have been making new for some time.  Everyone agrees there is no money but no one can agree on what should be cut.  I read an interesting article that almost half of the defense budget goes towards personnel costs (recruiting, training, medical, payroll).  Washington politicians have long ago figured out that troops vote so cutting the military too much in the wrong sectors means no more trips to Congress or Senate.  But cutting new weapons programs is equally fraught with political risk since most major weapons systems like the F-35 bring thousands of unionized jobs to a Congressmen or Senators district.  All of those employees vote as well.

That leaves only one other way to cut spending by closing bases.  The last Base Re-Alignment and Closure (BRAC) was in 2005.  These are sneaky little ways of eliminating weapon systems and personnel without really looking like it.  Furthermore, it gives politicians and their civilian lackeys in DoD the ability to say they've saved money without having cut troop strength.

Apparently even this shell game has run its course as the Senate Armed Services Committee is rejecting about round of BRAC.   Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said "government studies have shown that the 2005 base realignment and closure (BRAC) round cost $35 million, instead of the estimated $21 million." (The Hill).  No wonder the "savings" of the 2005 BRAC disappeared almost as soon as the bases were listed.  It costs millions just for studies, testimony and hearings to close these bases.

“Now is not the time to spend millions of upfront dollars on another BRAC round, especially as DOD has been forced to ground combat aircraft, cancel ship deployments and furlough workers,” she said.

To make matters worse, SecDef Hagel has not developed any relationship with the SASC.  Is it a wonder why the various branches have identified what systems they are willing to cut, only to be contradicted by Congressional recommendations?  He picked Shinseki to lead the VA despite Shinseki's unimpressive tenure as the Army's Chief of Staff.  No the VA finds itself embroiled in controversy over wait-lists for veterans.  All the while, we forget that they still haven't done anything to get the vets the care they need.

Albert Einstein perhaps said it best, "insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result".  

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Kalama Sutta

After I wrote my blog, I came across this and it seems more appropriate now than ever.

The Kalama Sutta 
Do not believe anything on mere hearsay.
Do not believe in traditions merely because they are old and have been handed down for many generations and in many places.
Do not believe anything on account of rumors or because people talk a a great deal about it.
Do not believe anything because you are shown the written testimony of some ancient sage.
Do not believe in what you have fancied, thinking that, because it is extraordinary, it must have been inspired by a god or other wonderful being.
Do not believe anything merely because presumption is in its favor, or because the custom of many years inclines you to take it as true.
Do not believe anything merely on the authority of your teachers and priests.
But, whatever, after thorough investigation and reflection, you find to agree with reason and experience, as conducive to the good and benefit of one and all and of the world at large, accept only that as true, and shape your life in accordance with it.
The same text, said the Buddha, must be applied to his own teachings.

Do not accept any doctrine from reverence, but first try it as gold is tried by fire.

"Agile and Entrepreneurial"

The link below is to a Defense News Interview with Stephen Hadley

Stephen Hadley, chairman U.S. Institute of Peace

His conclusion is that the are many new "actors" on the world front and there is a faster pace of change going on.  In short, there is nothing new.  What is new is that someone like Hadley would come out with a recommendation to have a more "agile and entrepreneurial response" to events like Crimea.

"Agile and entrepreneurial" is just another way of saying we need more contractors.  Hadley laments on one hand the failings of our budgetary and procurement systems but then really doesn't address how to fix those systems other than by going outside the system (he doesn't say that final part but by omitting any recommendations to fix the existing structure he certainly implies it).

Hadley then goes on to say how we really aren't going to see career civil servants and military professionals in the future.  What is needed, according to Hadley, is the ability to bring on the talented people when needed and then release them when they are no longer needed.  Sounds like either a call for a draft or more contractors, I'm still not certain which he has in mind.

What he misses is the need to develop career experts who have served for many years and understand the nature of their profession.  Picking and choosing when needed may make a good sound byte but one only need look at professional sports to see why this doesn't work.  The NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball have all star games where the best players of the year are assembled on a dream team.  The games are boring because these players, despite their superior abilities, have never played together as a team.  Worse, you can't have a bunch of all high caliber players and expect egos not to get in the way.  Leaders are only as good as the people willing to follow them.

Hadley also sounds like a throw back to the 50s and 60s when the US was at its height of wanting to install "democratic governments that aren't corrupt".  Other than post WWII Germany and Japan, can you please show me one case where US involvement in installing a democratic government has actually worked?

The problem is the United States is still a relatively new country dealing with other nations that often have existed for hundreds of years.  We don't have an appreciating for long standing feuds between different tribes.  We also change our political leaders too often to keep up with requirements of helping nations develop new leaders.  Look at Iraq.  We ousted Saddam Hussein, got him a speedy trial followed by a quick execution.  Now what do we have to show for it?

What is most concerning though is Hadley's mindset is not unique.  It permeates the beltway and there are many who support such nonsense because it is profitable.  What defense contractor is really going to tell the government there are too many requirements or that the mission won't really result in regime-change so long as their fees are being paid?

While the US is wringing its hands over a grossly large deficit and huge cuts to defense, our European allies seem to be taking a different approach.

NATO is also wanting to be more agile but in this case, they want to be "fitter and quicker".

"NATO planners are "considering the longer-term implications of Russia's actions" in Ukraine for the alliance's strategy and force posture, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said, according to an alliance release. "More than ever we need to be ready, prepared, and flexible," he said on May 15 during his keynote address at the Bratislava Global Security Forum, where he announced NATO's plans to buttress its quick reaction and special forces capabilities to enhance deterrence. "We already have more planes in the air, more ships at sea, and more exercises on the ground. They are all defensive measures … in line with our international obligations and in line with a changed security landscape," he added. Rasmussen said that Russian defense spending has grown 10 percent in five years, while alliance members in Central and Eastern Europe have cut spending by "more than 20 percent,"--Reuters

Here again is opportunity for Russia.  The US is out of synch with our European allies that get Russia has just built up its military as a bluff.  Russia very much intends to use their military might to expand their territory.  The US thinks diplomacy alone will work since the use of military force in Iraq and Afghanistan failed.  Perhaps resorting to a military response to terrorism was the problem, not the military itself.  Russia is different.  It has a standing military and it is very modern and very large.  The US needs to stop cutting defense spending just to cut it.  It needs to also stop wasting money on huge procurement plans such as the F-35 and KC-46 that will take years to complete while incurring huge cost overruns.

A quick fix of resorting to contractors may seem tempting but it is fraught with diplomatic and political peril.  A case from history bears this out.

The French Foreign Legion is a military service wing of the French Army established in 1831, unique because it was exclusively created for foreign nationals willing to serve in the French Armed Forces.  The intent was the Legion gave the French government a way to send troops into foreign lands yet not risk political intrigue should the operation fail.  The French government would simply deny any knowledge since the Legionaires weren't French citizens.  

Contractors, such as Blackwater and KBR, function much the same way.  They are not US military therefore they can be sent into areas without risk to political or diplomatic efforts.  They are not part of the procurement and budgetary oversight.  They simply are paid for services rendered.  The problem is you really don't know who you are getting, there is no accountability to the US taxpayer, and often the presence of contractors (read, mercenaries) exacerbates internal turmoil rather than solves it.

Russia continues to exert its power while China continues to buy up what's left.  The "pivot" has done nothing to quell China's growing economic influence and increased spending on defense.  Our ability to influence Russia has dropped to a low not seen since the Soviet Union.  We continue to antagonize Iran and seem to have forgotten about Syria and Egypt.  Then in less than 2 years, a completely new administration takes over and who knows what that will mean.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Dilettantes posing in the media

There really is nothing more useless or pathetic than an apologist.  It doesn't matter which political party or even country you are speaking of, the are these professional propagandists that try to excuse the inexcusable.  All White House Press Secretaries fall into this category but at least you know what you are getting into with them.  It's when you read articles written by "journalists" that try to justify the action (or inaction) of their favorite politician that it gets a bit thick.

Case in point, "No, America is not in retreat" wants to persuade its readers that the Obama administration has increased US engagement on the world front, not retreated from it.

"Obama has sought to re-orient our foreign policy away from a military-first approach, and toward a more comprehensive approach that leans more on diplomatic and economic tools."  And what has that achieved in Syria?  At least 150,000 more casualties since Assad crossed the "red line".  It has allowed Russia to annex Crimea and place at least 40,000 well-armed troops in Ukraine.

Apparently Usha Sahay takes umbrage at Sen McCain's use of the word "feckless" to refer Mr. Obama's foreign policy.  Here is her attempt to disprove McCain's claim of "feckless";

"Consider the case of Iran’s nuclear program. If you ask the naysayers, this is just another example of U.S. fecklessness: It has become an article of faith on the right that the weak, irresolute Obama has “given up” on pressuring Tehran and even that he “conceded the bomb to Iran.”

But the facts tell a different story. Not only has Obama aggressively pursued the Iranian nuclear issue, he has also produced concrete results. The administration’s groundbreaking diplomatic efforts to reach an agreement with Iran have meaningfully and verifiably limited the country’s nuclear program for the first time in a decade.

After I got done reading that statement and trying to understand how she drew her conclusion, I read this from the BBC;

"Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has insisted that reaching a final nuclear deal with world powers is still within reach.

His comments came after Iran and six world powers - Britain, China, France, Russia, the US and Germany - ended a fourth round of nuclear talks in Vienna with little progress to report."  
BBC News

So Iran isn't feeling diplomacy is working and then I read the following in the Washington Times;

"A top Iranian naval commander said that he is prepared to order suicide attacks, drone strikes, and missile technology to “destroy the U.S. Navy” in any upcoming confrontation, according to an interview printed in Iran’s state-run media." The Washington Times

My conclusion is the the Obama Administration has pushed us closer to a conflict with Iran instead of softening relations with Tehran.  Given US involvement in the past with Iran, the US has to abandoned its cavalier attitude towards Iran. Remember the US supported Iraq against Iran and everyone in the Middle East saw how that turned out for Saddam Hussein.

I don't mind reading someone who shares a different or even conflicting opinion from my own.  I just hate sloppy, lightweight arguments that are used to explain away the shortcomings of a world leader.  It was also though a reminder of why we have to remain vigilant in what we read and hear and see on the news.  More and more of what is supposed to be journalism is merely packaged propaganda for the intended market.  Liberals and conservatives both fall victim to this and place to much on party affiliations instead of on well reasoned arguments based on facts.

We are facing an unprecedented time where there are more nuclear weapons in the hands of more nations than ever before.  Conversely, we are more dependent on each financially than ever before.  A regional conflict in war part of the world will have dire consequences on stock markets and the flow of oil.  While military might is not always the answer, you have to not be seen as someone lacking the willingness to use it.  Unfortunately, Mr. Obama and his administration are seen as extremely lacking in their resolve to back up what they threaten.  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Alliance is fracturing

In response to the situation in Nigeria, the Obama administration has sent 16 Special Forces troops (my guess?  Green Berets since they are there to "advise and train") plus they are going to use drones to help locate the missing school girls.  I fear its too little and too late.

"In recent days, the world has watched in horror as the Nigerian terror group Boko Haram kidnapped more than 250 schoolgirls and threatened to sell them into slavery. The U.S. military has discreetly sent aircraft over Nigeria, and dispatched 16 troops to the country, to try to find the girls."  Time

Hardly a response at all in Nigeria.  In the meantime, US/European solidarity in criticizing Russia's annexation of Crimea is beginning to show signs of fractures.

Exhibit A:  Two weeks ago, three Russian navy ships - the 6,900-tonne destroyer Vice Admiral Kulakov and tankers Duban and Sergey Osipov - docked at Ceuta, less than 50miles across the Mediterranean from Gibraltar.  Spain is a NATO member nation which implies a support against the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine.  However, Spain has had a beef with the UK using the straights of Gibraltar which the British have controlled since 1713.  Old rivalries die hard.  (Read more here)

Exhibit B:  France (which is not a NATO member) is proceeding with the sale of two military ships to Russia despite the US calling the sale "ill-advised". "To critics, the 1.2 billion euro, or more than $1.6 billion, deal that France struck with Russia has emerged as a classic instance in which a European nation has elevated its business dealings with Moscow over exhortations by the United States to take a firm line on Russian meddling in Ukraine."  N.Y. Times

Exhibit C:  The Spanish and French aren't the only ones who are letting money compromise their resiliency.  Apparently, the US (which is a big NATO member) is interested on only enforcing certain sanctions against Russia.  "The U.S. State Department has issued shipping licenses for two commercial telecommunications satellites preparing for launch this year aboard Russian Proton rockets from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome, industry officials said." Space News

What happened to the great NATO alliance?

After Word War II, Europe was divided between west and east.  The West of course were the free European countries, the East were occupied by the Soviet Union.  To prevent further western advancement by the Soviet Union, NATO was created.  It could never really stop the Soviet Union, mainly delay it until the US could mobilize all of its forces.  When the Soviet Union fell, NATO's future began to get questioned.  NATO found a new role in the war on terror running things in Afghanistan as well as directing the air campaign over Libya during the Arab Spring.  However, these actions made it even more apparent that a self-proteciont alliance had probably outlived its usefulness.

Most of the NATO member nations are spending less and less on their militaries.  In the meantime, Russia has increased its spending and is now more on parity with NATO then it has been in years.

Europe is also facing a financial crisis that the European Union has exacerbated rather than solve.  The US is no longer seen as the financial superpower that can help Europe so more countries are turning to Russia and China.  Like the old European courts, today's governments may say one thing but are busy doing quite the opposite.  In this case, public support for economic sanctions against Russia while privately cutting deals to make money.  No wonder Putin looks so smug!

According to an article in the Moscow Times, "A number of European countries are heavily dependent on Russia for their energy needs, and others simply want to continue business-as-usual and not let the events in Ukraine get in the way of making profits." Moscow Times   Which is exactly why the call for crippling sanctions in the same article is not going to happen.

Firs Syria, then Crimea and now Nigeria.  Where happened?

Mark Thompson of Time wrote, "In recent weeks, Russian President Vladimir Putin has unilaterally redrawn Europe’s post-World War II borders by snatching Crimea from Ukraine. Since that deft move, he has acted as a Slavic Geppetto in eastern Ukraine, sowing enough discord in the former Soviet state to keep it off balance, unable to puncture Moscow’s sphere of influence. Beyond dispatching small, tripwire forces to nearby NATO nations, the U.S. military has remained at parade rest."  

Many say after 10 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans are tired and don't want to get involved anymore.  I doubt that is the case since the American public was never asked to sacrifice anything during the war.  A more likely answer can be found in this quote from President Obama, “Why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force after we’ve just gone through a decade of war at enormous costs to our troops and to our budget?” (Time)  If he truly believes that, then why did he declare the use of chemical weapons in Syria to be a "red line" and then proceeded to do nothing about it?  The President appears afraid to confront anyone, especially Putin, and tries to use rhetoric about budgets to disguise his fears.

Not to be outdone, General Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was quoted as saying, "As I look forward and think about the need to rebalance the use of military power, I think we will need less direct action because it is the most costly, disruptive and controversial use of American power,” (Time)  That might sound better if Russia didn't just place 40,000 troops into Crimea while the President sat and watched.  And not to diminish one iota the plight of the Nigerian school children but President Asad has massacred 150,000 people since he crossed Mr. Obama's "red line" and suffered not a scratch.

The United States is rapidly turning into an isolationist state once again.  The US did not want to get involved in either World War I or World War II.  The public want the US to stay out.  Both times, isolationist policies prevented the US from becoming involved until it was almost too late.  In neither case did the US suffer any casualties on the homeland (remember Hawaii was not part of the United States when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor).  The short term decision not to become involved in Syria or Crimea may be expedient to the current White House but what about long-term?  Will the next administration but forced into a conflict because we appear not to be willing to do so today?

Monday, May 12, 2014

A brief history of Africa and US Involvement

I wrote my previous blog in response to the Boko Haram kidnapping and focused my analysis on that particular group and Nigeria.  However, it is becoming apparent to me the more that  I read that this is much more than just about oil and Washington power games.  What is happening in Nigeria is a microcosm of African history.

The modern map of Africa is the legacy of European colonization beginning in the 15th Century by the Spanish and Portuguese.  Both of these European colonial powers started with the coastal areas of the African continent looking to expand their trade routes.

War with the English and French weakened the Spanish and Portuguese empires.  By the 17th Century, the Dutch, English and French had increased the colonization of Africa.  The Ottomans, Germans and Belgians would also colonize parts of Africa as each European power sought to have a stake in Africa's natural resources and slave trade.

World War I disrupted much of the European power base that had colonized the African continent.  After World War II, the European empires had been replaced by the United States and Soviet Union.  The new superpowers were even more dependent on the natural resources of Africa (strategic minerals were even more rarer and valuable than diamonds and gold).  Unlike the European empires though, the United States and Soviet Union used their allies (proxies) to protect their interests in Africa.  As African nations "won" independence from their European colonial powers, the governments were often puppets of either the US or Soviet Union.  Often though the emancipation of a particular African country meant little as a European corporation (such as Royal Dutch Shell) continue to own or control all of the mineral rights of the former colony.

More recently, the so-called "Arab Spring" was widely supported by the United States and Europe and saw many long-standing governments overthrown by pro-Western (or at least that's what the West hoped) opposition governments.  Let's look at just two examples.

Libya was ruled by Muammar Qaddafi for 41 years.  By all accounts, he was an absolute tyrant, mass murderer, rapist and terrorist.  Yet even a broken clock is right twice a day.  Libya was a former Italian colony and under Qaddafi the country became wealthy.  At its height, it produced over 2% of the worlds oil production (which Qaddafi insured no outside powers controlled).  He used to wealth from nationalized oil to improve social programs in Libya.  We hear about the negatives from the Western press but to many in Libya and North Africans, Qaddafi was the epitome of an anti-imperialist throwing off the shackles of the European colonial powers.  This last point is particularly important as the military operation against Libya was carried out by Europe (!) with France (?) taking the lead.  Former French President Sarkozy was not about to be left without France having a cut of Libya's vast oil.

The other case to look at is Egypt.  Former Egyptian President Mubarak became president after the assassination of Anwar Sadat.  In a sense, he was the legacy of the Camp David Peace Accords.  As such, he maintained the peace between Israel and Egypt and was a stabilizing force in the region.  As Sadat's heir, he was also a great ally of the United States making him of of the few pro-West Arab leaders.

Mubarak though also had his dark side and like Qaddafi, committed many atrocities (torture, rape, murder) on any Egyptian that opposed him or his policies.  The US turned a blind eye to these abuses because Mubarak was pro-West at a time when the US was becoming more actively involved (Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom although Mubarak was against the latter).  The State Security Investigations Service (SSI) or secret police, were perhaps what the US found most valuable in the war on terror.  Egypt was were the US sent suspected terrorists under the "extraordinary rendition" practice of the Bush and Obama administration.  As the American public grew increasingly uncomfortable with US "interrogation techniques", the Bush Administration decided to basically use a third-party to carry our interrogations.  The same techniques the the SSI used on terrorists are what ultimately caused the Arab Spring to spread to Egypt.

Although neither Qaddafi or Mubarak were saints, they did represent stability in their respective countries.  Once they were ousted, both countries were plunged into civil chaos.  In North Africa and the Middle East, the answer to civil chaos is almost always more atrocities and human rights abuses.

Africans view US and European involvement as part of the problem, not the solution.  Take Somalia as an example.

In 1992, the US lead United Task Force (UNITAF) was charged with carrying out United Nations Security Council Resolution 794 to create a protected environment for conducting humanitarian operations in the southern half of the country.  This was followed in March 1993 by UN Security Council Resolution 819 (United Nations Operation in Somalia II  or UNOSOM II) to extend intervention in Somalia.  UNOSOM II was supposed to, as did UNOSOM I, were to create a secure environment in an increasingly lawless area so that humanitarian operations could be conducted.

Mohamed Farrah Aidid, along with other armed opposition groups, drove out former President Mohamed Siad Barre's regime from Somalia's capital Mogadishu during the Somali Civil War that broke out in the early 1990s.  Thus was launched Operation Gothic Serpent was an operation conducted by the US Army Rangers and Delta Force with the primary mission of capturing Aidid and two of his lieutenants.  This would lead to the Battle of Mogadishu, also know as Blackhawk Down.

Some 20 plus years afterwards, Somalia is still run by warlords and has no government.  To Africans, this is the result of failed European colonial policies as well as US intervention.  Critics of the US involvement in Somalia say it was more about protecting corporate interests in the region than about promoting humanitarian relief.  

I think it shows more how the US and Europe fail to grasp the long-term consequences of their actions. But it has also underlined the limits of U.S. influence and fed the narrative, common in Africa, that Washington only cares about Africa in times of crisis or insecurity.

Most know that the Global War on Terror was primarily focused on Iraq and Afghanistan.  What many don't realize is the US also has based Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) out of Camp Lemonnier (home to around 4,000 troops), Djibouti since 2003.  After negotiations between March and May 2001, the Djiboutian government allowed for the base's use by the U.S., providing for demining, humanitarian, and counter-terrorism efforts, and it now serves as the location from which U.S. and Coalition forces are operating in the Horn of Africa. On May 5th it was announced that the United States and Djibouti have signed a new 10-year lease on "a U.S. military base in the Horn of Africa nation" (Camp Lemonnier) that the White House called a critical part in fighting terrorism. (Voice of America)

In the event the US were to conduct major operations in African, it would need a theater command to direct its military forces.  In 2006, US Africa Command (USAFRICOM) was established.  It is headquartered at Kelley Barracks, Stuttgart, Germany. It is responsible for U.S. military operations and military relations with 53 African nations – an area of responsibility (AOR) covering all of Africa except Egypt, which is within the area of responsibility of theUnited States Central Command.  Yes, a major command responsible for Africa based out of Europe and one of the former colonial powers.  You can't make this stuff up.

In a Twitter discussion, Secretary of State John Kerry was admonished that “In choosing security over democracy in Ethiopia, U.S. will get neither”.  That perhaps best sums ups the US involvement in Africa.  The Washington Post goes on further;

"There is little doubt that America is increasingly concerned about the security climate in Africa. Two decades after Osama bin Laden left Sudan, ethnic conflicts and security vacuums are multiplying
in the region. Insurrections in Mali, Libya, Algeria and the Central African Republic, among other places, have sown worry that al-Qaeda affiliates or others bent on harm to Americans will be able to use Africa as a base.

In response, the Obama administration has greatly expanded its counterterrorism operations and partnerships over the past six years. In the process, it has often joined forces with anti-democratic or authoritarian regimes
."--WP.  Oops, the same mistakes previous administrations have made in Central and South America is now being repeated by the nation's first Black President in his father's homeland.

Now this admittedly abridged history of the colonization of Africa and US involvement was to lead to a conclusion on my part.  Allow me to thread together everything I've written thus far.

Africa is the richest continent on the planet when it comes to natural resources.  Its huge population also represents a cheap labor force which has historically exploited as slaves but now as people displaced by war.  If Europe is no longer the colonial empire in control, and the end of the Soviet Union, who is left in control?  Certainly not any Africans.  Certainly not the United States as its recent actions seem to be in reaction to another power being in control.  

For the answer, one needs to travel to Egypt.  A very good friend of mine recently travelled to Egypt and discovered that all of the lands there have been bought by the Chinese.  He also noted a huge population of Chinese now living and working in Egypt.  Why?  Because China is buying all of Egypt's debt from the United States, which is why President Mohamed Morsi travelled to Beijing and not Washington on his first official visit outside Egypt (sorry Barack!).  

Our relations with China will increase, because our new government has some doubts about the West,” said Mohamed Kadry Said, military analyst at the Cairo-based Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies--Global Post.  

In November 2010, an opinion poll released by the Pew Research Center showed 52 percent of Egyptians held a favorable view of China, while just 17 percent of Egyptians held a favorable view of the United States.  Just this week China has signed on to build a power station, a water desalination plant and a high-speed train line between Cairo and Egypt’s second city, Alexandria totaling around $500 million worth of investments.

It explains why former Secretary Clinton and President Obama wanted to "pivot" towards Asia.  China has the wealth to outbid the US in Africa and thus control its resources.  The only hope was to try to keep China in check with increasing US military presence in Asia and the creation of USAFRICOM.  The latter was created, in non-specific terms, to deal with threats in Africa.  Right now the only real threat is China.

This explains why Hillary Clinton didn't label Boko Haram a terrorist group.  They really didn't pose a threat to US interests and even now, the White House is stumbling over how to work the kidnapping in as a prelude to increased military actions in Nigeria.  It won't be a death knell for Hillary 2016 unless some other damaging information comes out.  Most likely this will be used as a way to openly increase US influence in Nigeria and prevent further expansion of China's influence on the African continent.

And perhaps this is the real reason the Obama Administration is seemingly unable to stop Russia.  It has decided China is the bigger threat and has diverted too many resources towards that end making it unfeasible to also engage Russia.  And Russia knows it.

Saturday, May 10, 2014


We all have our biases and I'm certainly have mine.  I have studied Russia and the Soviet Union since my undergraduate days.  The Soviet Union was what the US military was focused on for the first 6 years of my career until the fall of the Soviet Union.  Hence the events in the Ukraine have been of particular interest to me but have diverted my attention from another major story.

Allow me to share it in the way that it first came to my attention.  About two weeks ago, a female friend posted on her page a request for prayers for the girls held hostage by Boko Haram.  The plea did not make any connections for me and I went on researching Russia's actions in the Ukraine.  A few days later, a different female friend posted a link about female veterans supporting the girls taken by Boko Haram.  Not recognizing the reference, I was looking over how many time Russian aircraft and subs had been caught new the US.

More postings on social media about Boko Haram still did not get my attention.  I peruse multiple news sites daily but Boko Haram just hadn't caught my attention.  Then I came across this article.  According to the article, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the U.S. State Department repeatedly refused to add the Nigerian al-Qaeda affiliate group Boko Haram – the organization responsible for the recent kidnapping of more than 300 young girls – to its official list of terrorist organizations.  Oops.  The article goes on, "in 2011, after the group's mass-murderers bombed the United Nations building in Abuja, Nigeria, Obama administration agencies and more than a dozen members of Congress begged Clinton to add it to its official list of designated terror organizations – but the State Department fought it and did nothing." --Daily Beast

Ah, now things are becoming clearer.  Hillary Clinton has avoided entanglements over the Benghazi incident thus far.  The kidnapping in Nigeria by a group that Hillary and the State Department failed to list as a terrorist group is not something she wants to deal with.  Hillary of course is the de facto Democratic presidential nominee in 2016.  To have deal with these latest allegations, plus Monica Lewinsky coming out with her memoir at the same time, is not what Hillary wants.

So first back to Boko Haram for a moment, what are they about?

Boko Haram promotes a version of Islam which makes it "haram", or forbidden, for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society. This includes voting in elections, wearing shirts and trousers or receiving a secular education. Boko Haram regards the Nigerian state as being run by non-believers, even when the country had a Muslim president.--BBC News

Okay, no brainer.  Sounds like a Nigerian version of the Taliban.  So why weren't they labelled a terrorist group?  Well that seems to be the question and perhaps why the American media has been rather silent on the matter thus far.

Details on the kidnapping are also elusive.  Somewhere between 180-300 school girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram but the Nigerian government has not been able to produce names.  I'm no Hillary Clinton fan but the timing of this kidnapping, the lack of consistent details coinciding with the release of Lewinsky's book just seems suspect.

Boko Haram has the track record to prove they are every bit deserving of the title "radical terrorist group" and are responsible for over 900 murders.  But the Nigerian government isn't helping the. According to Voice of America, Nigerian authorities have said 276 are still missing but have not provided a list of names or other identifying details. For the most part, the girls' families have not released the names, either due to the social stigma of the girls being potential raped and thus being viewed by Nigerian society as "dirty".  At least some of the girls are Christian which is how this story eked out despite being ignored by the American media.

After weeks of silence, Michelle Obama finally spoke on record about this atrocity.  Interesting given that Mr. Obama father is African.

Something doesn't feel right here but I can't put my finger on it.  But I suspect it has to do with oil.

In 1958, Shell discovered oil around the delta of the Niger River.  As of 2013 figures, Nigeria is ranked 13th in oil production.  Royal Dutch Shell owns the oil and the Nigerian people only get a fraction of the wealth.  But even that small fraction comes at a cost.

Amnesty International, in its report, said the hundreds of oil spills reported in Nigeria every year are ruining the environment and putting human lives at risk. It said spills in the Niger Delta are the result of pipeline corrosion, maintenance issues, equipment failure, sabotage and theft. (CS Monitor)

Remember how freaked out everyone was when the Deep Water Horizon rig started spewing tens of thousands of barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico?  Nigeria has been facing that magnitude of ecological catastrophe every year for decades.

The oil companies don't want diffuse blame but also don't want their oil production interrupted by by Boko Haram.  It is very likely that some of these oil interests persuaded the State Department not to label Boko Haram a terrorist group just to keep oil flowing.

Now we have missing school girls kidnapped by a group that big oil would rather appease than try to get rid of.  We have a government that is too poor and corrupt to deal with the terrorists.  And we have a weakened US government that is trying to pretend like it gives a damn about an African country that it has been happy to ignore until now.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Of Russia and the United States

I read something the other day that said the war in Afghanistan was the longest war in modern history.  How is it possible for a modern war, using modern technology, to have lasted twice as long as the US involvement with World War II?  How is it that the war in Afghanistan has lasted longer than the Vietnam War?

The answer is that most American citizens don't perceive that we are at war.  Think about that for a minute, unless you or someone you know has served what effect has the war in Afghanistan or Iraq had on you?  Have you experience any attacks or than some random individuals detonating the occasional bomb?  Unless you fly commercial airlines, what inconveniences have you experienced as a result of the war?

Americans during World War II were subject to being drafted.  Even if you did not serve, material goods (such as fuel, food, cars, tires, etc) were all subject to rationing for the war effort.  Those living on the West Coast were very much worried about an attack by the Japanese.  U-boats were seen off the East Coast and around Florida.  Everyone felt the stress of being at war.

Vietnam did not have rationing but otherwise Americans felt the stress of the war.  The draft would take any able bodied male who could pass the physical exam for entrance into military service.  Those who did not want to go to war fled to Canada or found ways to avoid the draft.  It was also the first war that was covered on TV.  Everyone felt the stress of being at war.  But how times have changed.

When George W. Bush invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, he made a conscience decision NOT to involve American citizens.  There is no draft and no rationing of materials.  There is no shortage of supplies and for the most part, life after the invasion is much the same as before the invasion (unless of course you or someone you knew served).  Even the Boston Marathon bombing last year seemed far removed from the reality of being at war.  Compared to World War II and Vietnam, few felt the stress of being at war.

The lack of stress, or perhaps consequences is a better word, to being at "war" has lulled planners and citizens alike into a sense of a world where ware is fought "over there" at not at home.  US planners are  using the drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan to make cuts in answer to budgetary constraints.  With no clear and present danger, war time dollars are drying up quickly.  As typically happens, the pendulum is beginning to swing too far in the opposite direction jeopardizing much needed modernization to our forces.  These are seen as necessary and planners smugly assume our military is still a match for China and Russia.

In the face of drawing down military forces, the Obama Administration grandly announced its infamous "pivot" towards Asia.  Somehow or other, Washington was convinced the "pivot" from the Middle East to Asia would help calm the fears of Western allies in the region over China's increasing economic and military dominance.

The first problem of course were the matters in the Middle East that were far from settled.  The after shocks of the Arab Spring still rebounded throughout North Africana and the Middle East with the most notable epicenter being Syria.  Mr. Obama's failed "red line" regarding the use of chemical weapons by Syria raised questions about the actual viability of the pivot to Asia.  But other matters would soon overtake Syria and even China. (read "America's Pivot Paradox")

In late February, Mr. Putin began to reclaim Russia's position as a world superpower by moving forces to reclaim the Crimea from Ukraine.  Again Mr. Obama tried to sound tough and prevent the Russians from invading.  Once again, Mr. Obama failed to persuade a world leader to heed his words.  But this only touches on a much more alarming issue.  Why did Mr. Putin feel he could pursue his own goals without consequence from the US?

To understand that, we have to look back over the last few years.  First, Russia realized as result of their invasion of Georgia in 2008 that their forces were woefully out of date.  Putin started efforts immediately to modernize the Russian military at the same time Obama started to talk about drawdowns and cuts.  Thus began a series of under-reported events by Russia;

1. In 2009, the first sightings of Russian subs operating near US occurred

"A pair of nuclear-powered Russian attack submarines has been patrolling off the eastern seaboard of the United States in recent days, a rare mission that has raised concerns inside the Pentagon and intelligence agencies about a more assertive stance by the Russian military." N.Y. Times

2. In June and July 2012,  Russian bombers violated US airspace

There was a single out-of-area patrol by two Russian
long range bombers which entered the Alaska ADIZ that were visually
identified by NORAD fighters,” John Cornelio, chief spokesman for Northcom, said in an email response to questions about the recent war games.--Free Republic

3. In August 2012, an Akula class submarine had been operating in the Gulf of Mexico for "several weeks" (Business Insider).

4. In Sep 2012, the Viktor Leonov CCB-175, an armed intelligence-gathering vessel built for the Soviet navy in the late 1980s, quietly arrived in Havana. (USA Today)

5. In November 2012, for the second time in three months a Russian sub was spotted operating in the Gulf of Mexico:

"This would be the first time a Sierra-2 class attack submarine has been detected near a U.S. coastline and if the report is true, shows Russia is determined to regain its naval projection power. The Russian vessel is said to have been conducting anti-submarine exercises near the U.S. submarine base Kings Bay in Georgia, but did not threaten a nearby U.S. aircraft carrier strike group." Business Insider

6.  In Feb 2014, the Viktor Leonov intelligence-gather vessel returns to Havana.

"The port call came the same day Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that Russia would establish permanent bases in Cuba, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Singapore, the Seychelle islands off Africa. The Russian navy also plans to visit other friendly countries, and Moscow is negotiating to open refueling stations for its strategic bombers."--USA Today

7.  In May 2014, PACAF confirms the increase activity of long-range Russian bombers

I wrote about earlier LAX being shut-down by a U-2 flying through its airspace and overwhelming it's flight route system.  But now comes another theory that after reviewing the above incidents, has me wondering as well.  The Commander of PACAF was quoted in an Associated Press article on Monday "a significant increase in the activities of Russian long-range aircraft flying along the California Coast" (

Note: What if the U-2 was merely propaganda to prevent Americans from panicking or letting Russia know how effective their electronic countermeasures (ECM) really are?

That might sound alarmist but on Wednesday, the US Senate Armed Services Committee called on US national security officials to report back on threats posed by Russian satellite monitoring stations (Defense News).  The concern is if the Russian stations could shutdown our GPS and reconnaissance satellites.

The US Senate isn't the only ones recognizing the threat posed by today's Russian forces.
Russia’s military engagement in Ukraine has triggered a swift response by Sweden to shore up its military readiness and capability, with more spending expected on big-ticket fighter aircraft and submarine acquisition, and modernization programs (Defense News).  Many think Sweden's only claim to a violent past where the Vikings but in reality, Sweden and Russia have had several major wars;

Russo-Swedish War 1495-97
Russo-Swedish War 1554-57
Livonian War 1558-1582
Russo-Swedish War 1590-95
Russo-Swedish War 1656-58
Great Northern War 1700-1721
Russo-Swedish War 1741-1743
Russo-Swedish War 1788-1790
Finnish War 1808-1809

Hence the significance of this quote from Peter Hultqvist, a Social Democratic MP and chairman of the Swedish Parliament’s Committee On Defense:

This defense reinforcement initiative is long overdue. It will go some way to restoring Sweden’s position, lost in recent years because of low spending on defense, as the Nordic region’s strongest military power. It will also improve our capacity to better police the Baltic Sea area"--Defense News

Russia has been testing the US for at least the last two years (that we know of).  Nothing the Obama administration has done has curtailed these increasingly bold moves by Russia (both domestically as well as in the Crimea).   The Russian military has rapidly become quite modern while the US military continues to drawdown and cut modernization programs.  US nuclear forces in particular have come under scrutiny for not being prepared.

Taken all of this into account, Russia has no fear of Washington.  Any sanctions that Obama gets against Russia for invading Crimea will not deter Putin.  In fact, it may very well embolden him.  The US has never faced military action on its soil since the Civil War.  The Russian military is quite capable of attacking the CONUS via cyber or electronic warfare.  We see what happens when acts of nature cripple our cities and infrastructure, imagine what a concerted effort could do!  And this is exactly what Russia is banking on, that Americans won't want to have their way of life disrupted or destroyed.  Mr. Putin may have already won by simply proving his unwavering determination to win Russia's place back as a superpower.  And the US may have proved it is no longer relevant.