Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The blurring of current events

As 2014 winds down, the events of the world seem to be moving faster.  When things move faster, we sometimes see things as blurred rather than clearly.

Take for example all of the electrons that were needlessly during the Sony hacking story.  At first, Americans did not understand they were supposed to be upset that North Korea had hacked a the entertainment division of a Japanese corporation.  Americans were far more entertained by the scandalous content of the leaked emails rather than by how these emails had been obtained.  The likely culprit was North Korea since their president was insulted by his fictional assassination in the movie "The Interview".  The connection did not seem to resonant at first with the media and public.

Sony's Amy Pascal was far more fascinating to Americans.  She came off looking like a backstabbing phony insulting the very people who were making money for her division.  Things were looking bad so Sony Pictures had to lawyer-up in an attempt to stop the media from sharing everything the hackers had leaked.  At the same time, the FBI was the first government agency to announce that yes indeed, North Korea was to blame (albeit a week late).

But things began to take an interesting turn.  North Korea is not known for having a sophisticated cyber-warfare ability, even more telling was the fact that the servers used to hack Sony Pictures were not in North Korea at all but China.  When the White House asked China for their help in tracking down the hackers, they received a non-answer from Beijing.  A fair question is, why wasn't China a suspect especially given the number of cyber-attacks launched against the US (and the former "pivot towards Asia" strategy by the US)?

Strangely, had this been say China or Russia the calls for taking action would have been much louder.  If this were somehow or other a ruse to get the US and North Korea into some sort of a conflict, it has fizzled thus far (despite North Korea's threat to attack any theater showing "The Interview" in a 9/11 style attack).  Sony did pull "The Interview" at first but when their stars started to grouse, Sony released the movie via the Internet (from the reviews, probably just as well).

The story became blurs though as US headlines were grabbed by the assassination of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu by a gunmen allegedly set on killing officers in retaliation for Eric Garner (who had been choked to death by a NYPD officer who was not indicted).  The situation between NYPD and Mayor de Blasio has deteriorated to the point where the officers attending the funeral for Officers Ramos and Liu turned their backs en masse on their mayor.  NYPD officers are now allegedly ignoring petty crimes for fear this might be a set-up for another assassination attempt.

Meanwhile other officers have been slain in Florida and an unsuccessful attempt in Durham, NC.  Police had already been vilified by shooting of Michael Brown (Ferguson, MO) and Tamir Rice (Cleveland, OH).  Distrust between the public and those sworn to protect them hasn't been this low since probably the Civil Rights era.

As I've said before, wouldn't this though be a very interesting way to manipulate the US for if matters continue as they seem to be headed, martial law for at least New York is not inconceivable.  If martial law ends-up getting imposed, then it will escalate as more and more Americans become concerned of the probability of martial law being imposed across the nation.  What an awesome way to take our mind off of foreign matters.

While your mind gets blurred by that thought, an interesting thing happened on the way to the Christmas break.  Mr. Obama took the first steps to normalizing relations with Cuba.  (It has always puzzled me why once the Soviet Union fell that the US did not reach out to Cuba.)  At first, this looked like an excellent move to trump Russia's increased military activity in this hemisphere.  But then Mr. Obama announces that Iran has the opportunity to become "a successful regional power"?  WTF?

After the history the US has had with Iran (not to mention the US citizens being held hostage by Iran), now Mr. Obama wants to make nice and is even talking about a US embassy in Tehran?  Well if normalizing relations with Cuba was to be some kind of check on Russia, the overture to Iran has had just the opposite reaction from Moscow.  Russia may halt any bilateral cooperation in regards to Syria and Iran's nuclear program.

If you haven't started scratching you head and rubbing your eyes, then ponder for a moment that while Mr. Obama "celebrates" the end of the war in Afghanistan, the US has quietly been increasing troops in Eastern Europe (as part of the NATO rapid reaction force) and Western Africa (to deal with the ebola outbreak).  Russia has not pulled any of their forces out of Ukraine and are now fielding ballistic missiles mounted on rail cars.

My conclusion is we are being manipulated by information overload to avoid a clear understanding of what is going on.  We can't worry about things overseas if we are worried that our own police force may is out to get us (or vice versa).  We can't worry about a potential war with Russia if our minds are being occupied by salacious tales of our favorite celebrities by sent by movie studio executives.  And just in case you may still think we are going to war, then you won't be once you pay less than $2.00 per gallon at the pump (thanks to Saudi Arabia wanting to stick it to Russia's oil production).  Yes, speed does blur everything.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Torture and protests, what does this mean for the future of the US?

The problem with any information obtained through torture has always been it's reliability.  On one hand, the victim may just give the answers the interrogator wants in order to stop the torture.  The validity of the information still then has to be checked so the torture may have been for nothing should the information prove to be false.  On the other hand, should the victim give up accurate information that we know to be true then the torture was pointless (although supporters will say this is why it is effective, to help validate other information).

Now the Democrat Senators of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA have combined to put torture back in the headlines amidst on-going demonstrations protests in support of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice.  To an enemy, the US must appear to be in absolute chaos and treats its citizens as badly as it treats its hostages.  What an opportune time to exploit these raw emotions and truly set the US into complete chaos!  Far-fetched?  Think about how this is exactly what the Obama White House has tried to do in both Libya and Syria, exploit internal divisions to create regime change (to be fair, this is not the first White House administration to try this tactic.  They are merely the most recent).

The information from the CIA contained in the Senate investigation of course has been heavily redacted and while that practice may protect the names of sources, it also makes the CIA look even more incompetent and culpable.  The Republican Senators are nowhere to be found on this matter and their charter won only last month to take on the President has already evaporated thanks in large part to Congress. The Republicans are proving to be gutless and the Democrats are lame ducks.

Syria, Jordan and Libya have been identified as likely collaborators in detaining and torturing suspected terrorists on behalf of the US (Daily Beast).  If true, it makes US led hostilities against Syria and Libya look hypocritical and may further elicit additional support for groups such as Daish, Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

The release of the report also has put countless operatives and sources at risk.  Anyone even remotely suspected of working with the US may be killed, tortured or arrested.  It also just made the job of US operatives abroad damn near impossible.  Who in their right mind now wants to risk being found out as an ally of the US?

Ever since the war on terror as framed as "asymmetrical", this has given license to pursuing and targeting suspected terrorists in a wild free-for-all.  Under President Bush, we first learned of water-boarding which was supposed to be a legal means of obtaining information from a suspected terrorist under extreme duress.  Bush and Cheney assured the public this was only used in the rarely and only for the most dire cases.

It now appears the CIA withheld how often torture was actually being used from the Bush White House.  Worse, the CIA (even through the heavily redacted reports) did not find any major intelligence through these means and appears especially incompetent at keeping track of who that had in custody.  Slopping bookkeeping makes any intelligence from the CIA suspect as well.  How do we know it came from reliable sources when the CIA doesn't seem to have accurate rosters of who they have detained?

A very serious concern for the US should be the ability of Daish and other terrorist groups to successfully recruit US citizens over to their facilities.  Given the recent racial tensions ignited by incidents in Ferguson, New York and Cleveland it would seem likely that groups such as Daish will have even greater success in the future.  Those Americans that go and get killed aren't the ones we need to worry about.  The ones we should be worried about are the ones that go over, get radicalized and trained, and slip back into the US.  Imagine what just a few of these operatives could do amongst the protestors?

The current protests here in the US may have been ignited along racial lines but the result has also been to turn more citizens against law enforcement.  If this pattern continues with more and more citizens becoming suspicions or actively hostile towards law enforcement, anarchy will surely result.  The response to anarchy is of course martial law which will fulfill every paranoids worst fears and a revolt would seem inevitable.

Meanwhile as we sort through our feelings about the protests and use of torture by the CIA, the US military is going through a morale crisis.  Thirteen years of rotations into combat zones, along with dealing with sexual assault scandals and the ability of gays and lesbians to now openly serve in the military has put the troops through major paradigm shifts while still waiting to see if they will even have jobs in the near future.  And while the White House and press attempt to convince the public that now new troops will be put into Iraq, it now appears we have 300 troops in Poland as part of the NATO rapid response.  We have also quietly added 2 Aegis class frigates at Rota, Spain (Sputnik News) ostensibly to be closer to the Black Sea and respond to additional aggression by Russia.

Perhaps all of this is why Putin feels no pressure to handle Ukraine as he sees fit.  The state of the US has to be appealing to him and his advisors cannot have missed the reports about morale amongst US troops which thanks to sequestering may be even thinner in the near future.  There are also many signs that US legacy weapon systems (such as the A-10) are too old and the replacement systems won't be brought on-line in time.

A colleague of mine wrote a rather long response as to why the A-10 needs to be retired (too many years of 2.5G turns stressing the airframe beyond its life-cycle).  What his reply did not address is that the F-35 is never going to have the numbers and performance characteristics of the A-10.  The F-35, even if we assume that it meets the need of future wars, has a horrible ratio of flight-time to maintenance time.  Reports are that for ever 1 hour of flight time, the F-35 requires 27 hours of maintenance time.  Compound that with fewer aircraft to begin with and will see sortie rates plummet.

But there is another problem for both the F-35 and F-22 (as well as the legacy F-15, F-16 and FA/18).  The US tends to development the big dollar weapon system first (i.e. fighter aircraft) but only later do they upgrade the weapons.  Several articles have come out recently pointing out the the main air-to-air missile carried by US and allied fighters, the AIM-120 (AMRAAM), can now be jammed by Russian counter-measure (Daily Beast).  If the reports are correct, this mean at best case it will require multiple shots to down an aircraft armed with Russian made countermeasures.  At worst, the AIM-120 becomes useless.  Along with the news of a Su-24 being able to completely shut-down the electronics on-board an Aegis class destroyer would seem to mean Russia has prepared to confront  US technology either in a limited engagement or in an all out war.

Given all of this, community leaders and police need to start having dialog on how to improve relations.  Compare how police chiefs and community leaders reacted to a shooting in Iceland last year to our own.  The police AND community came together to grieve the death of a citizen.  No, I don't expect US police chiefs to accept blame or throw their officers under the bus but they should show some compassion whenever someone loses their life.  Police need to become more of the community and NOT be seen as separate by those they are sworn to protect.

Our elected officials, especially at the federal level, need to stop meddling in local politics and focus on protecting the country.  We all need to remember that no matter how transparent and fair our favorite news outlet claims to be, they are in the business of selling copy.  That means we only see stories that are guaranteed to sell copy or increase viewership so only the most scandalous stuff goes on the air.  As the character Herb Tarlik on WKRP in Cincinnati once quipped, "Tasteless sells!  The more tasteless the ad, the better it sells!"

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Divide and Conquer

When Obama used his executive power to push his immigration reform, it appeared the President and Republicans were headed toward a major confrontation.  What promised to be a tempest, however, turned out to be something akin to a mere sprinkle.  John Boehner, Speaker of the House and fellow Buckeye, seems unable to deal with a lame duck president and now his own party may go rogue.

The tepid Republican response has been to create a "cromnibus" (Beltway-speak for a combination Continuing Resolution and Omnibus bill).  The "cromnibus" insures the government is funded through the fiscal year, however it puts the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under a continuing resolution authority.  A mealymouthed attempt at limiting the President's decision by limiting the funding of the agency responsible for immigration (ICE which is under DHS).  Somehow the Republicans seem to have forgotten that the Secret Service, which has come under scrutiny for its lax protection of the President, is also part of DHS.  Under-funding them could be seen by the Democrats as a way of exposing the President to additional peril.

The Republicans have also masterfully exposed themselves to criticisms of being now soft on terrorism.  The US has conducted over 80% of the airstrikes against Daish (the Iraqi term for "ISIS") and now Ron Paul wants to sign a declaration of war officially recognizing actions against Daish.  Given these developments, threatening the funding of the agency established by former President Bush to prevent further attacks by terrorists seems stupid.  The FBI has warned military troops to be careful about their posts on social media that might attract the attention of terrorist groups.

Of course this assumes DHS is the right agency to deal with terrorism.  If we go back to 2001, we see that what everyone was criticizing was the intelligence failure that allowed the terrorists to be successful.  This was the impetus that lead to the creation of DHS which crammed together some 20 plus agencies and over 180,000 federal employees (who as a result lost their union rights).  But a two very important agencies were left out of this mess; the FBI and CIA which just happen to be two agencies that had the most intelligence regarding the potential terrorist attack on 9/11.

The history of the FBI and CIA and their lack of cooperation goes back to their respective founding.  The FBI of course was founded by J. Edgar Hoover who kept extensive files on any and all that he perceived as a threat.  William "Wild Bill" Donovan founded the CIA out of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to counter Hoover's agency.  The two agencies have no love lost between them but over time, it developed that the FBI dealt with domestic terrorism (since it was a criminal activity) and the CIA dealt with foreign terrorism.  Despite their doctrines however, they were notably exempt from formation of DHS.  Without the vast intelligence resources of the CIA and FBI, there really is no way for DHS ever to be truly successful (and when one remembers that each branch of the military has its own intelligence branch, not to mention the Defense Intelligence Agency, DHS has even less of a chance).

Daish is still functioning and Secretary of State Kerry has said while the airstrikes have been successful it may still take many years before we finally defeat them.  In the midst of all this, Chuck Hagel resigned as SecDef.  He was so frustrated with the Obama White House that he didn't even wait for a successor to be named.  He basically packed his stuff and left (and earned some well deserved kudos in my opinion).  Obama's first pick was Michelle Flournoy who quickly said, "Thanks but no thanks".  Speculation is she is banking on the next President being Hillary Clinton.  Now Obama has to go with his second pick, Ashton Carter who appears to be even less complacent than Hagel.

If approved, Carter will become Obama's fourth Secdef.  Gates and Panetta both bristled at being micromanaged by the White House.  Hagel was brought in to be a less tempestuous SecDef but even he could not stand the Obama approach to foreign policy, publicly criticizing the President for his handling of Syria and Daish.

All of this turmoil comes at a time when Russia is becoming more aggressive in Ukraine and elsewhere.  The economic sanctions and devalued Ruble are driving much of this aggression along with an increase in oil production by Saudi Arabia (some are speculating we may see gas prices drop below $2 by next week).  The increase in Saudi oil production means reduced demand for Russian oil.  Putin's response seems to be to protect Mother Russia by re-establishing its preeminence via military action.  Notably Russian is dusting off rail mounted ballistic missiles, something we haven't seen since the Soviet Union.     Russian aircraft and naval vessels continue to harass NATO and US assets.  But all of that may just be a smoke screen to make world leaders look for the wrong thing.

Over the last several weeks, the US has found itself divided over the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO back in August.  The grand jury did not find evidence to indict former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.  Based just on my own perusal of FB from my friends, comments were divided along racial lines.  Whites tend to believe all would have be find had Brown simply obeyed orders.  They failed to see the greater implication of yet another black person being killed by a white officer.  Blacks tend to believe that Michael Brown was trying to obey yet an over aggressive white officer still shot him dead.  The criminal history of the victim and the fact that the grand jury did not find evidence to indict does nothing to persuade the black community that they are unjust targeted by law enforcement.

I'm not saying either side is right or wrong.  I'm not even looking for some middle ground.  What is of interest to me is why did this particular case jump out?  You see there was another shooting in St Louis involving a black suspect and white officer back in October yet there is hardly a mention in the media.  Perhaps because in this case the suspect was armed but given how closely this occurred to the Ferguson shooting, you would think this would have been used to add more fuel to the fire.  But it didn't yet we get the "Hands up, don't shoot" mantra even though there is no evidence that this is in fact what Michael Brown said.

What if the situation in Ferguson is being manipulated by psychological warfare operatives from outside the US?  Far-fetched perhaps but bear with me.  Let's look at what Ferguson presents from the standpoint of internal unrest.

We have a country that still has racial tensions, a legacy of slavery of blacks and the subsequent national policy of segregation implemented by whites.  Whites, even though increasingly a minority, still control the majority of power over blacks (look at Ferguson city council and the Ferguson PD which almost exclusively white even though Ferguson is mostly black).  Ferguson PD did not help matters when the they responded fully armed in military body armor and armored vehicles to the first round of protests back in August.  Governor Nixon of Missouri further exacerbated matters by calling out the National Guard in anticipation of the violence in response to the grand jury announcing its decision last month.

So now we have black Americans believing that nothing much has changed since the end of slavery and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 receiving confirmation in their beliefs by seeing their streets flooded with armed soldiers.  What white Americans do not understand is this isn't as simple as merely law and order issue, this is a deeply ingrained belief by black Americans that they are perceived as a threat to be dealt with military force.  The police officers seeing angry mobs of protestors (mostly black) that are a threat to their own safety so their natural recourse is to "gear-up".

Stop for a moment and instead of "black and white" substitute "Sunni and Shia" or even "Catholic and Protestant", would you still have a problem seeing that this goes beyond the bounds of merely being a law and order issue?  I just read a headline now that Obama calls "killer cops an American problem".  Ah yes, how to further divide a country already divided by race is to make those responsible for maintaining the peace part of the problem.

Psychological warfare is not overt, in fact often it merely goads existing issues of alienation and disenfranchisement into action (see Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, etc).  A friend of mine from St Louis informed me that during the week the grand jury verdict was expected, you could not get a hotel room in downtown St Louis.  While some of the rooms were obviously booked by the media, most were booked by protestors from outside the area.  How were these "protestors" recruited and coordinated?  The obvious answer is social media but take a look at this graphic from the Huffington Post;

It shows all of the protests that were scheduled throughout the US.  In Cincinnati, protestors shut down northbound I-75 by kneeling down in the interstate.  That's not just some random sympathizers, that's a coordinated effort to wreck chaos on a widespread level.  With so many involved, isn't it possible that at least some were being manipulated by Daish, Russia, China or some other foreign intelligence agency?  It's a low risk, high return venture to foment this type of dissent and it will keep US resources from being brought fully to bear against Russia, China or Daish.

So the next time you want to label all cops as killers or Ferguson protestors as idiots, stop and think about the bigger issues at work here and how we all may be turned against one another by outsiders for their own gain.  Divide and conquer.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

While our attention was diverted

The mid-term elections took most of the American media's attention away from the air strikes in Iraq and Syria.  The Republican win has some serious changes coming for the Armed Services Committee which means a potential end to defense cuts.  For example, the A-10 may finally be spared and its continuation means ground troops will continue to have the best close air support platform available.

After the elections, attention has continued to be focused on how the Republican controlled Congress and Senate intend to deal with a lame duck President who intends to pass the most drastic and radical immigration reforms ever.  Obama may be playing on fears that he will try to use executive power to push it through to manage an extremely hostile legislative branch (one in which he has no friends even within his own party).  The problem is becomes a game of chicken and if he blinks, it will be over.  If on the other hand if does push through immigration then there will be calls for the legislative branch to impeach the President.  If that happens, there will be no winners.

Meanwhile, while the media and pundits await this political stand-off our attention gets diverted to yet another potential flare-up in Ferguson, MO.  The grand jury will announce its decision any day and now seems more and more like no indictment.  The press has done a marvelous job of allowing this tragedy to turn into a racially divisive issue.  If no indictment is handed out, rioting is expected and the Missouri governor has already called out the National Guard to assist police.

Somehow the similarity to having armed troops called out (again) to the earlier response by the Ferguson PD (and how its response fueled rather than dampened tensions) has escaped the governor.  To make matters worse, a Navy veteran was fired from his job at Drury Suites in Chesterfield, MO when he posted photos of dozens of Department of Homeland Security SUVs parked in the hotel garage.  Chesterfield is 25 southwest of Ferguson.  It's as if matters are being deliberated handled to make matters worse. (source: Daily Mail)

Ebola continues to burn through Liberia and the Army is sending more units according to the Army Times;

•16th Engineer Brigade headquarters, Ohio National Guard

•223rd Military Intelligence Battalion (Linguist Detachment), California National Guard

•272nd Engineer Company (Vertical Construction), Texas National Guard

•294th Area Support Medical Company, Iowa National Guard

•891st Engineer Battalion, Kansas National Guard.

The Reserve units deploying are:

•96th Sustainment Brigade, of Salt Lake City, Utah, and Denver, Colorado

•313th Movement Control Battalion, Baltimore, Maryland

•324th Fire Fighting Detachment, East Point, Georgia

•324th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, Granite City, Illinois

•329th Survey and Design Team, St. Joseph, Minnesota

•387th Medical Logistics Company, Miami, Florida

•398th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, Rockville, Maryland

•452nd Preventative Medicine Team, Miami, Florida

•996th Horizontal Engineer Company, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

•B Company, 412th Civil Affairs Battalion, Columbus, Ohio

The interesting thing is how even ebola has become a divisive issue here in the US.  Take barring passenger flights originating from ebola infected countries when the outbreak first started.  The White House claimed to cut-off those countries would do more harm then good, yet other African countries have take exactly that stance and have remained outbreak free.  Healthcare providers expected infected patients and family members to follow that they then seem to ignore themselves once they return home.

All of this takes attention away from a question that should have been bothering us for some time.  How did ISIS/ISIL/IS not only become so formidable but manage to maintain its gains even in the face of US led airstrikes?  War takes troops and weapons but most of all it takes money.  Where is ISIS/ISIL/IS getting theirs?  According to a story yesterday on RT.com, "Dozens of vehicles carrying oil leave Syria’s petroleum capital, Raqqa, currently under IS control, every hour, earning the extremist group a million dollars daily, according to an oil refinery employee in the occupied city".  The story goes on to conclude that the Islamic State has an estimated wealth of nearly $2 billion making it the richest terrorist organization in the world.  If the RT story is accurate, this means for the first time since the Cold War the US is fighting an enemy that is a financial match.

The US faces a very tough road ahead.  On one hand, the US could lose a war of attrition by simply being unable to afford enough replacement munitions and equipment (not to mention troops!) to fight IS for the long haul.  IS does not rely on expensive weapon systems such as F-22s so it is a distinct possibility.  On the other hand, should the US go after the refineries it will make others in the Muslim believe this war was only an excuse to take over resources from Syria.  We could either end-up losing a war by going bankrupt or win a war and confirm Muslim fears of US lead imperialism (and still end-up bankrupt).

One last thought to kind of tie things together, since IS has deep pocket books wouldn't a simple strategy be to recruit operatives from hotbed areas such as Ferguson and destabilize matters without ever mentioning IS?  Or IS could follow the Colombian drug cartel model of paying a third party to commit acts of terror for you?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Absentee Leadership

In the past month, we have experienced the run-up to the midterm elections, Halloween, and the Democrats lose the mid-term elections and finally Veterans Day.  I've struggled with analyzing the impact of the elections beyond the partisan lines that we have been inundated with for nearly the last two weeks.  This is going to be a long essay as I try to broach elections, national security and what is going on in the USAF (sorry, I haven't figure out how to include Halloween in this entry) so bear with me.

My conclusion in short is that the United States has produced the greatest crop of mediocre leaders that has ever held office, Democrats and Republicans alike.  One nearly needs to know that most likely candidates to run for President in 2016 have the last names of Clinton and (perhaps) Bush to realize we have no hope for change in the future.  Anyone who has not been battered about in the media by political pundits has zero chance of getting nominated, much less elected.  The modern vetting process has the secondary effect of making any candidate so middle of the road as to be completely uninteresting and mediocre.  Hence when a new candidate that does manage to surface, there is a buzz and excitement that he/she will do something.  This was the phenomenon that helped get Obama elected (a mediocre Senator from Illinois) and explains the landslide Republican victories in this year's election.  Americans are tired of mediocrity but we don't know what to do about it.

You can analyze this further but what happens is the closer you look, the greater the tendency to start forming theories along partisan lines, regardless of your political affiliation.  Democrats see that elections as a failure to mobilize their base (really?  How many incumbents fought tooth & nail but still lost?), Republicans see it as a repudiation of the Democrat agenda (whatever in the hell that means).  They are both right and both wrong.  Americans are quite frankly looking for leaders and they aren't finding any in either party (no Republicans, you haven't proven yourselves yet).  If the newly elected Republicans don't produce leaders, the 2016 elections will see Democrats winning in a wild hope that they are secretly the leaders the Republicans didn't turn out to be.

The mediocrity of American leadership, and I'm not just speaking now of elected officials, has been in the making for quite a while.  My compass on this epiphany is my alma mater, the United States Air Force.  The military has always been a microcosm of what is happening on a larger scale in the rest of American society because that's where the troops come from.  Two recent articles reinforced my opinion of this theory and it explains the state of affairs in the military as well as to why the Democrats lost the election (and in-turn what that means for our national security).  More on those articles in a moment but first a little background as to why those articles resounded with me.

A retired chief master sergeant that I worked with and still am good friends with likes to point to how the USAF started down the path of mediocrity when it went ape-shit over total quality management (TQM) back in the early 90s.  I was still in the active duty back then and remember how we were told TQM would help give the lowly airmen in a back shop the means to let the commander know why the aircraft weren't operating at peak efficiency.  Sounds awesome except even after we went full-blown down the TQM road, aircraft still were late or didn't take off the same way the did as before the implementation of TQM.  We may have been better able at identifying problems but we weren't any better at solving them.  By adopting TQM (and later many other quality improvement techniques), the USAF was admitting without realizing it that their leaders didn't know what was going on.

The USAF tends to function much more like a corporation at times rather than as a branch of the military.  Perhaps this should not be too surprising given that number of commissioned officers that are engineers (at one time this number was over 90 percent).  We have a tendency in the USAF to believe process improvement will overcome anything (including poor leadership).  Engineers are taught from their first classes in college to dismiss anything that does not lead to an improvement in efficiency.

The effect is compounded by the commanding officers who are also pilots of single seat aircraft.  These officers spend their formative years learning to fly ever more efficiently to defeat the enemy.  Compare that to how junior officers in the Army or Marines spend their time learning how to lead their troops into battle.  Rated officers in the USAF may not directly supervise troops until they become a squadron commander (usually a major so that's around 8 years commissioned time assuming the officer has not been passed over).

The culture of efficiency then is hard-wired into many USAF officers and when faced with a leadership problem, the tendency is to look for a way to improve efficiency rather than lead.  What this means in overly simplistic terms is the best way to improve efficiency is to look for components (people) that are not performing at optimal levels.  To efficiency experts (management consultants fall into this category as well), leadership can be quantified into how the individual components are performing.  To these experts, a poor performing component must be the problem thus improving the perforce of said component (or removing it) means increased efficiency.  Simple, none confrontational and easy to package and sell.

So what has a quarter century of process improvement vetted against the longest war in modern history produced?  On Nov 7, Col Donald Grannan (88th Communications Group Commander) wrote an essay on the Wright-Patteron Base webpage entitled "How did we lose this young Airmen?".  If you haven't already read this piece, take the time now and read it.  I applaud Col Grannan for taking the very bold step of not only recognizing what is wrong with the USAF leadership culture and having the courage to write about it.  I guarantee he isn't be popular with senior leaders but from the comments you can see how many airmen agree with his assessment.

The article has gone viral amongst USAF airmen and anyone with an interest in military leadership.  John Q. Public, a extremely well written blog on the USAF, also analyzed Col Grannan's essay on "Boiling Point: Colonel's Commentary Exposes Deep Frustration Amongst Airmen".  It is an extremely insightful piece that mirror much of my own experiences and observations about the Air Force.  His conclusion, "It (Col Grannan's essay) casts a light on a profoundly broken service culture more concerned with identifying and punishing imperfection than championing excellence, training and developing people, or building teams to fight and win wars," is extremely alarming but is the result of a service that wants to hide behind management techniques rather than fostering real leaders.

The essay takes points raised by Col Grannan further by pointing out the issues caused by the constant deployments faced by airmen.  It creates absentee leaders yet deployments have become one of the core missions of the USAF (basic training now has airmen going through a simulated deployment as part of their training).  The pursuit of efficiency (the USAF would say excellence but the preponderance of evidence is to the contrary) is why the Air Force adopted the concept of the "air expeditionary force" in the first place.  To better understand this, a little history is in order first.

Back when I was serving in the 39th Special Operations Wing (39 SOW) in the early 90s, it was the only special ops wing in the region (Europe and Africa) so we often were tasked with both air rescue missions as well as special ops missions.  At this time however, the first President Bush had decided to draw down the Cold War legacy infrastructure in Europe to save money (overseas bases don't have elected officials who will bitch if you try to close them).  Granted, there were a surplus of facilities but the Bush drawdown started while US forces were still fighting in Desert Storm!  Soldiers rotated back to their European bases to find them closed and their families moved back stateside.

In 1992, I remember having to rotate 3 times down range in support of Operation Provide Comfort (the cease fire of Desert Storm).  Upon returning from my 3rd rotation, I found out our unit was not only tasked with continuing to support Provide Comfort, but also the Olympic Games in Spain (the IOC in its infinite wisdom decided to house the athletes on ships.  A more perfect hostage scenario could not have been imagined), and a new contingency in a little place called Somalia.  Oh and it was the 39th SOW who would be flying US citizens out of places like Liberia whenever their governments decided to implode. At the same time, the Bush drawdowns also introduced "reduction in force" (RIF) or involuntary separations.  Officers who were commissioned between 1980-85 stood a 90% chance of being involuntarily separated (except for pilots, although rotary wing pilots were not exempt).  Guess where I fell?  Class of 1985 thank you very much!  In frustration, I asked my boss how we were supposed to meet all of these requirements with fewer people and that's when I heard the words that caused me to leave the active duty, "We will have to do more with less".

I didn't realize how prescient his words would turn out to be.  Most military scholars would say the legacy of Desert Storm was to prove the supremacy of airpower.  The dirty little secret though was Desert Storm was done in a bass-akwards way.  Troops and equipment were assembled piecemeal from stateside and European units and sent forward as deployed elements (contrary to all of the doctrine).  Part of this was out of fear that if whole units were sent, then the Soviet Union (which had not yet fallen) might try to attack a vulnerable Europe.  A more cynical view is this was a way for the Bush Administration to circumnavigate the War Powers Resolution (often erroneously called the"War Powers Act").  Desert Storm also gave more momentum towards the "more with less" mentality as the USAF would have to maintain two no-fly zones over Iraq with fewer aircraft and troops than in the months during the war.

It gave birth to the "air expeditionary force" or AEF concept which is still used today.  From an efficiency model, it is lovely as you only deploy what you need in the quantities need (sort of a just-in-time production model for airpower).  Combat ready troops and equipment are sent into the area of operations and when their time is up or they break (people as well as planes), they are rotated back to home station for maintenance and repair.  Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, the originator of the systems approach to warfare, could scarcely have imagined the state of things in the 21st Century USAF!  Airmen no longer fight alongside the people they train with day in and day out, instead they are sent forward to an AEW (air expeditionary wing) as part of a package to become an amalgamation of their home units.  Compound this with the need to draw extensively from Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units and it becomes no wonder that Col Grannan's airmen felt like she wasn't part of anything.  

But the AEF also adversely effects leaders since your performance evaluations are not based on your deployed unit but on your home-station unit's performance. The efficiency experts will say how successful the AEF is by spouting the mantra "Total Force!" but only now, 13 years into the war on terror, are people beginning to see the fallacy.  Commanders are bounced back and forth just as much as their airmen but these are supposed to be the leaders.  When do the leaders actually have time to lead the units and people they are responsible for leading?

John Q. Public makes reference to absentee leaders and how that creates a situation where airmen feel their commanders aren't invested in them.  You may only work your real commander a fraction of your assignment, most often airmen are working for an acting commander.  Likewise when you deploy, your AEW commander is not the one who is going to recommend you for promotion or your next assignment.  The USAF quest for efficiency and quantifiable data has led them down this primrose path and only now are some beginning to see it.  Imagine airpower leaders such as Maj Gen Billy Mitchell, Gen Curtis LeMay or Gen Jimmy Doolittle of mistaking process improvement for leadership.  They could never have achieved their accomplishments in today's Air Force.

Or take for example Brig Gen Robin Olds.  He was a "Triple Ace" scoring 16 aerial kills during WWII and Vietnam.  By all accounts, he was a charismatic leader who lead the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing "Wolf Pack" during the Vietnam War (including flying 100 missions himself) to achieve air superiority in face of the superior MiG fighters and relentless barrage of North Vietnamese .  He was a brilliant pilot who know how to teach other pilots who to thrive in combat.  Yet Brig Gen Olds would never have made it in today's USAF due to his drinking, womanizing and his flagrant disregard for senior leaders.  His case demonstrates an inherent problem with the Air Force, its greatest heroes were also flawed yet they continue to expect today's airmen not to have any flaws.  The Air Force believes by abandoning human relations and focusing on the mission and efficiency, inspirational leaders like Olds will be born minus the human frailty. The quest for efficiency has produce a zero-tolerance mentality for anything that might adversely effect mission readiness.  

Instead of giving officers and NCOs the chance to fail (and learn from their mistakes), these failures are seen as "areas for improvement" to be summarily dealt with.  The result has been to produce leaders who don't rock the boat.  For officers, it has always been a case of "up or out"but now it is the details that will end your career.  How many PT failure did your squadron have has quickly replaced ORI and UCI scores to evaluate your effectiveness as a future leader and potential for career advancement.

As both Col Grannan and John Q. Public point out, the USAF has found a quick-fix in emphasizing PT scores to the point of absurdity.  In addition to losing a quality airmen, the USAF is its quest for efficiency just lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in training that it will have to spend again in training a replacement.  Madness!

Now as the Air Force and the rest of the US military deal with the enviable post-conflict drawdown, the likelihood of this pattern continuing increases.  The drawdowns are to save money that we no longer need to spend since we are "no longer conducting operations"...except of course in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.  This means more, not less, rotations for airmen which will compound the issues Col Grannan and John Q. Public articulated.

Taking the points articulated by John Q. Public and Col Grannan one step further absentee, mediocre leadership is exactly why we have seen a increase in sexual assaults in the Air Force.  Let's go back to Col Brannan's airmen for a moment and her car crash.  No one saw themselves as "owning" responsibility for insuring the airmen saw justice.  Everyone involved thought (or worse, hoped) someone else would deal with it accordingly.  No one bothered to check up on her situation to insure she was getting the help she deserved.  They didn't because few in today's Air Force truly see themselves as "airmen" who are responsible for the well being of every other "airmen".  The whole wingman concept sounds great in theory but is not really being practiced for if it were, the loss of Col Grannan's airmen should have been a loss to be grieved and her colleagues (superiors as well as peers) called to account for why they had failed her and the USAF.  Reversing this sense of ownership is the only way the USAF will ever produce real leaders.  I consider myself a real leader and have had my butt chewed more than once whenever I took on a cause of defending someone that I thought was not being treated fairly, I don't hold my breath for this to happen.  Damn regulations and policies, sometimes we lose sight of the forest because of the tree!  Losing airmen because she did feel like anyone cared means there are scores of others that feel exactly the same way.

Apparently, the USAF isn't the only branch suffering from absentee leadership.  Voltaire Net, which is a Russian website published an article, "What frightened the USS Donald Cook so much in the Black Sea?"  It alleges that a Russian Su-24 was able to shut-down all of the systems on board the USS Donald Cook, an Aegis class destroyer.  If true, it would seem to explain the US reluctance to confront Russian forces engaged in Ukraine in a head-on manner.  It would also mean that like airmen, the expertise of the Navy NCOs and Petty Officers have been ignored.  Should the allegations of the Voltaire piece prove even be half-true, it means Navy senior leaders bought off on a high tech solution that the Russians figured out how to beat with a low tech weapon (most likely, lots of high-power energy to overwhelm all of the Aegis systems simultaneously).

Any salty sailor who has manned a radar or maintenance tech could have told the higher ups that their precious, high value system was vulnerable to a good old-fashioned virtual, high-powered sledge hammer.  I've actually seen this happen.  When I was in Ground TACS (mobile radar), we were in a large-scale exercise.  We went up against an EF-111 (Raven) that tried to jam us.  We used all of countermeasures to make the back-seater earn his paycheck but he got of tired of playing with us and showed us what a pissed off Raven could really do.  He turned up the power and shut-us completely, and I do mean completely, down.  I'm inclined to believe the Su-24 did not make the USS Donald Cook sailors life any easier.

During the Cold War days, the US became increasingly concerned about reducing the amount of collateral damage and looked to create ever more accurate weapons (which in part gave birth to GPS).  In contrast, the Soviets didn't worry about accuracy.  If they wanted to take out a bunker they multiplied the tonnage of a given warhead by a factor of "p" for plenty!  They would build multiple copies of this system so that even if some went astray, eventually one would find its target.  It appears the modern day Russians have not forgotten this brute force approach to defeating US high tech.  Where are the Navy leaders who should have said, "But our adversaries don't fight like us!  What if they simply put more electrons down our pipe than it can handle?  Will our systems handle it or will it create a complete shut-down of all systems?"

Unfortunately, this leadership problem is not just endemic to the US military.  It is a reflection of what is happening in the private sector as well.  Many of our current politicians boast advanced degrees from the same Ivy League institutions that produce the latest theories on performance improvement.  Worse, we now view failure as a detriment.  If you had to file for bankruptcy or lost a business, you are more noted for that than any successes you may have had.  The one-failure mentality in the private sector is little different from the "up or out" mentality of the USAF.  You are supposed to be born with the wisdom to lead, we don't recognize the value of someone who has tried and failed.

Obama is just the latest, most obvious example that was taught all manner of management theory and then given the reigns to the country without having had to vet his theoretical knowledge against the harshness of reality.  He never had to try and fail at anything before and was elected because this vacuum was not held against, in fact it was why the US public voted for his "hope and change" promise.  The US in desperation has now elected a whole new crop of unproven officials in the hopes that they may still be able to lead us somewhere despite a lack of evidence that they are any better than the people the have replaced.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

World Economies

Less we forget, while the headlines keep our minds and behavior focused on ebola and ISIS, the rest of the world continues.  Christine Lagarde, managing director for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), announced a cut to their projections citing "uneven recovery" of the financial markets.

Ukraine hasn't found any resolution to their conflict since the world has been worrying about ISIS and viruses.  Pro-Russian separatists and the Ukraine government aren't any closer to signing an agreement and this keeps financial markets worried a war could still erupt there.

The US has try to turn Russia into a pariah and levied economic sanctions against them.  While it has done nothing to improve the situation in Ukraine, it has made the Russian economy weaker.  Russia is depending more on China and less on Europe as a result.  What Obama has forgotten though is Europe's dependence on Russian natural gas.  The result has been a weakening German economy (which drives the economy of continental Europe) as investors grow nervous over Russian exports to Europe.

ISIS and Khorosan have replaced our attention but over the summer the US was all worried about Boko Haram, the Nigerian based group that kidnapped 200 school girls.  Those girls still have not been released (at least not that has been announced in the news).  As of Sep 20th, CNN was reporting negotiations for their release were still on-going.  Boko Haram was another group ignored by the Obama administration until their actions could no longer be ignored.  The US response to this crisis was especially anemic.

According to CNBC, "Standing at the new total of $510 billion, Nigeria's economic output exceeds that of South Africa, making it Africa's largest economy with approximately a fifth of the continent's entire GDP."  With Boko Haram remaining unchecked, the economy of Nigeria is at risk as well.

We already know of the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.  Those airstrikes that Obama has authorized is not going anything to help markets feel better about that part of the world.  Don't forget, the violence in Gaza has only stopped after nearly seven weeks of violence.

China and Japan continue to squabble over the Senkaku (Japan)/Daiyo (China) islands.  The increased aggression of the Chinese economy and increased military spending, along with increased aggression towards US ally Japan, was the reason for the "pivot towards Asia" doctrine that all but a footnote now.

The protests for universal suffrage in Hong Kong continues for a second week without any signs of an end in sight.  Business and tourism in Hong Kong have begun to suffer and older residents fear civil unrest if the protests continue.  Retail sales plunged during the protests.

The ongoing protests, even if they end shortly, are likely to have a more visible impact on the city’s fourth-quarter growth, especially on retail and tourism,” Mole Hau, an economist with BNP Paribas SA, wrote in a note to investors. (Bloomberg)

The news has already forgotten about the political unrest in Egypt caused by first the overthrow of Mubarak.  Investors are still wary of Egypt's economy.

Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela all are undergoing recessions.  Cash injections by the Federal Reserve between 2009-13 have been halted. The effect has been to induce recessions.  Argentina defaulted on its loans back in July.  Argentine President Kirchner tried export levies on beef to protect consumers from higher prices.  It hasn't worked and only managed to take Argentine beef off the market.

Is it any wonder that we would rather be focused on a possible outbreak or dropping bombs on a renamed al-Qaeda group than trying to focus on much larger problems?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Information Drives Behavior

In the course of reading a variety of articles over the last few weeks, I kept running into the name "Edward Barnays".  What was unusual is that I was not doing any research on Barnays nor any topics directly related to his work, yet things are not always what they seem.  I soon discovered that my reason for encountering his name and work was because I was pursuing a line of thought that today's headlines are driving our perceptions and behaviors regarding Islam, terrorists, infectious diseases, immigration and the Middle East.

First, a little about Edward Barnays.  You may not have heard of him but you and I encounter his work on a daily basis.  Barnays was 'the father of public relations" (the quote is from his own obituary) and also the nephew of Sigmund Freud.  His work during World War I on the Committee for Public focused on "bringing democracy all over Europe" and lead him to conclude that propaganda could be used to sway the public during peacetime.

Propaganda has a negative connotation due its use by the Germans during WWI and later by the Nazis during WWII.  Barnays came up with the term "public relations" which had a positive connotation as well as being nebulous in its meaning.  He used theories of social psychology (such as crowd psychology, how crowds act differently from the individuals in it) combined with his uncle's theories on psychoanalysis to persuade public opinion.  He was the first to realize the power of the press release and used it successfully to change public opinion in favor of his clients.

For example, women smoking was very much a social taboo up until the 1920s.  The cigarette industry realized there market share would be greatly increased if more women smoked but social norm were against it.  Barnays created a campaign showing women smoking not cigarettes but "Torches of Freedom" symbolizing women's new independence through suffrage as being expressed by a cigarette.  It worked.

His other major campaign changed what we eat for breakfast in the United States.  Up until the 1930s, Americans pretty much had with either tea of coffee for breakfast.  Barnays created a campaign showing a large breakfast consisting of bacon and eggs was far more filling and nutritional (on behalf of course of the meat and dairy industry).  He spliced in expert testimony from doctors showing the importance of eating a filling breakfast and the results was to this day, Americans think of breakfast as being a large meal consisting of bacon and eggs.

Bernays used the "Freudian theory" to deal with the public's conception of communism, as he believed that we should not be easing the public's fear of communism, but rather promote that fear and play with the public's emotions of it. This theory was so powerful that it became a weapon of its own during the Cold War. (Wikipedia)

Barnays the man and his work deserver your further reading and research.  I've merely summarized here the points that caused my research to lead to Barnays.

For example, how did ISIS and now the previously unheard of Khorosan Group go from a bunch of Asad opponents to the greatest threat facing the US today?  Shortly before the airstrikes began, the press began sounding the alarm bells of the dangers of ISIS.  Almost on queue, a fired employee (and "recent" convert to Islam) beheaded a former co-worker RIGHT HERE IN THE US!  Oh my but the hawks (both on the right and left) came out for the call to take action now!  The threat was so big even the FBI had to add their seal of approval to the scope of the threat posed by ISIS.

The question all of the headlines fail to answer is how did this ragtag group of of militants (many recruited from outside Syria or Iraq) suddenly have the where with all to become such a major force?  Not only can ISIS attack and occupy land in Syria but they are at the same time able to devote time and resources to attack the US.  It seems unlikely and the news continues to only repeat one another.

Islam and Muslims have become the new Communism and Communists of the 21st Century.  Imagine if we would have seen nearly as much converge of the beheading had the perpetrator been merely suffering a mental health episode rather than a conversing to Islam?  Same crime, same loss of life but one is a major headline, the other is a second page story.

Say CNN breaks a story involving a "radical Islamist" shooting up a school.  All of the other media outlets will follow with the story, not because of a master agenda but because they see their numbers drop.  As the story develops, more and more use of the term "radical Islamist" turns up and viewers become convinced that the shooting is due to the perpetrators belief in Islam.  As the days and weeks go on, the term gets repeated convincing everyone the there is a threat of radical Islam to our schools.  Much later, after the news cycle has moved on to the next crisis, do we learn that while the shooter was Muslim it was due to his termination by the school and not his religious beliefs that led to the school shooting.  Our minds only hear the reverberations of "radicalized Muslim".

That's the power of what Barnays discovered and how ISIS and now Khorosan have become such unbridle threat.  They have no more or less ability than they did a year ago but the constant barrage of reports by the media, "experts", pundits and social media have everyone building the group into 9 foot giants.  And the media has played a huge part in this.

Two things have led to the media becoming an unwitting accomplice (perhaps) to the propaganda, sorry public relations, scheme.  The first was creation of the 24 hour new cycle.  Editors now can't afford to sit on a story until reporters complete their fact-checking.  The deadline is now minutes, not days.  The corollary problem is even when there is time, there simply may not be the staff as news bureaus have shrunk or become almost now existent.  Look at your own daily newspaper, the beat reporters are non-existent except in the largest markets.  One news bureau may produce content for several regional dailies.

Those two factors have led to the creation of the impact of first bloggers and now social media.  The information pouring out of Syria or China via Instagram and Twitter are far more voluminous than even the Associated Press or Reuters could produce.  In turn, the mainstream press has learned how to re-package this free information into their by-lines.  Fact-checking?  We don't need no stinking fact-checking.

Social media is a mechanism which Edward Barnays would have loved.  Repeat a certain key message amongst the most influential social media sites and press-to!  You have manipulated public opinion or even changed behavior at a fraction of the cost and time of the old way of doing things.  Marx didn't know what he was talking about when he termed religion "the opiate of the masses".  Information, or more correctly disinformation, has become the new opiate.  Barnays and the Nazi propaganda machine both found that the bigger the lie, the more readily it will be believed by the masses.

Ebola presents us with another case of Barnays principles at work.  How did an African blood borne virus suddenly become the biggest epidemic to face the United States?  Even in Africa, ebola rarely spread beyond its initial flare-up, only to then go dormant.  Yet this disease has now become so virulent that it threatens the US which has state-of-the-art medical and sanitation systems?  Something doesn't add up.

Conflicting information about the virus is keeping it in the headlines and thus causing people to panic at the thought that this disease is going to wipe us out.  To be sure, ebola is a very dangerous organism and our lax approach thus far here in the United Staes makes us susceptible to an outbreak but what does that mean?  A few dozen cases or a hundred thousand?  Is the disease an incurable harbinger of death or is it curable?  Answers to those questions won't be found in the headlines as they race to keep up with the latest case of a patient exhibiting signs of ebola infection.

Our behaviors going into the polls next month will be greatly shaped by how these and other events are being played out in the media.  The one thing that alludes me is the rationale behind Obama's sacking of the Secret Service director and condemnation of his own intelligence agencies while there is a media blitz of beheadings and ebola infections.  His actions do not dissuade the fears being whipped up over terrorism, ebola and immigration and may drive "safety moms" away from Democrat candidates (see the governor race in Texas or Kentucky as examples).  In short, he is not helping his party win more seats in the mid-term elections.

Unless this is all part of a larger strategy to create such paranoia that even the most hardened Libertarians will accept even more intrusive government controls to insure our safety.  Take quarantine for example.

Most people are not familiar with the draconian nature of quarantine laws.  In a reverse to our normal jurisprudence, you are presumed guilty until proven innocent (infected until proven otherwise).  Under quarantine protocols, you can and will be locked up for nothing more that the SUSPICION that you may have come into contact with an infected person.  And you thought the USA PATRIOT Act was Orwellian!  

If ebola or enterovirus becomes widespread, the right to travel wherever you want in the US, along with right to not having to share your travel plans with anyone, will got out the window. Law enforcement and health officials will be able to isolate your family members on the chance they may have been exposed.  And many will go along with this overreaction because of the behavioral changes the headlines have helped to create.  Employers may not hire you if you have travelled to somewhere where there is a known outbreak or your employer may not allow you to return to work until you can prove you aren't infected.

Parents are already starting to pull their children from schools where there has been an outbreak of enterovirus.  The government may become involved for the 'sake of the children' and force the students back to school.  The parents may be fined or arrested as a result.  Don't believe it?  A teacher was arrested for bringing in a plastic, toy sword as part of Pirate Day.  The accepted behavior, after years of headlines about school shootings, is to arrest anyone for bringing a weapon, even a toy on to school grounds.

Our national strategies for terrorism and infectious disease are reactions to PR releases and social media.  Obama and his team swing glacially into action after prolonged bouts of silence.  It would be one thing if this were to craft some grand strategy but too often its as though he is waiting for the story to go away.  When it doesn't, Obama and his team take the quickest action possible without regard to long term consequences.  In other words, they don't seem to realize they reacting to the very same PR mechanism that they should have mastered.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Expect the Unexpected, unless you are Obama

"If you do not expect the unexpected you will not find it, for it is not to be reached by search or trail"--Heraclitus, ancient Greek philosopher

From warriors and competitive athletes to scientists and stockbrokers, everyone at some point is admonished to "expect the unexpected".  

Two weeks ago, the Tennessee Titans did not expect a reverse pass to Bengals QB Andy Dalton.  He scored and the Titans went on to lose the game.

The Secret Service did not expect a soldier with PTSD would jump the fence at the White House.  They also did not expect an armed person to ride up on the same elevator as the President of the United States.  NPR just announced the resignation of Secret Service Director Pierson.

A hospital did not expect someone to show up in their ER who had travelled to West Africa.  Despite showing symptoms of having been exposed to ebola he was sent home.  It was only when he came back was he guaranteed.  This happened because only certain people knew what to look for and this person did not get the word of the patient's first visit.  We may now ebola breaking out in Texas.

Of course the most famous case of not expecting the unexpected was the rise of ISIS.  The President was quick to throw all of the intelligence agencies under the bus on 60 Minutes, saying that "they" had underestimated the threat posed by ISIS.  The President of course immediately came under fire for missing 60 percent of the intelligence briefings.

"How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?"--Sherlock Holmes, The Sign of the Four

It appears President Obama's complacency or smugness that he is so much smarter than everyone caused him to not to expect the unexpected, therefore his staff (including the Secret Service and Secretary of Health) aren't looking for the unexpected either.  Otherwise why did Mr. Obama give the ebola virus 3,000  chances to get over here (as it turns out, it may not have needed his assistance)?

The Secret Service has become lax because their Commander In Chief is lax.  He is too quick to dismiss threats so of course his security detail is likely to follow suit.  When his lax assessment of ISIS came back to bite him, he cobble together a sort of "Rebel Alliance" to strike at ISIS.  Unfortunately when you are forced to react, you tend to overlook things.  In this case, we aren't certain the effectiveness of the airstrikes since there is a dearth of intelligence assets on the ground in Syria.

The airstrikes are supposed to be hitting things like the oil refineries in Syria that are being controlled by ISIS.  So far, reports are that they only refineries being hit are the mobile ones that are easily replaced.

What unexpected, improbable things is Mr. Obama missing?  Ebola is high contagious and has never had the opportunity before to come into contact with lots of healthy, young people who have not been exposed to it before in their entire history.  As a result, it may burn out quickly or may rage like an inferno.  The CDC is just not big enough to handle something like this.  He needs to start acting like this could explode instead of firing his Secret Service director.

Next unexpected, improbable thing he is missing is ISIS and Syria may become united as a result of the airstrikes.  This could become an even larger threat.  Even if that doesn't happen, what happens if the airstrikes are successful and the Iraqi Army defeats ISIS in Iraq?  Do they all head back to Syria and overthrow Asad?  What happens then?

Obama's desire to allow all of the immigrants in without medical screening means now there are over 400,000 undocumented aliens each with the potential to set off a pandemic (flu, tuberculosis, SARS, hepatitis, etc).

There has been one beheading and an attempted second here in the US by recently converted Muslims (although in keeping with ignoring the improbable, these cases are not being referred to as acts of terrorism).  Increased airstrikes will mean more attempts at beheading but of course, these are not acts of terrorism so there is no connection.

How will Obama continue to miss these unexpected, improbable things?  He threw the entire US intelligence service under the bus blaming them for underestimating ISIS.  Congratulations, now no one wants to be the messenger who has to tell the emperor that he isn't wearing any clothes.  They will all be here after Obama leaves office, his final two years will be absolutely miserable.

Unfortunately, this also means troops will be placed into harm's way without any though to long term objectives.  Regular citizens may not be exposed to deadly, contagious diseases.  Or they simply be the victim of a beheading.  ISIS or al-Qaeda may finally get the momentum to launch the next 9/11 and with the intelligence agencies playing ostrich (just like their boss), who is going to say anything?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The New Boogeyman

What is the boogeyman?  According to Wikipedia, the boogeyman "is a common allusion to a mythical creature in many cultures used by adults or older children to frighten bad children into good behavior. This monster has no specific appearance, and conceptions about it can vary drastically from household to household within the same community; in many cases, he has no set appearance in the mind of an adult or child, but is simply a non-specific embodiment of terror. Parents may tell their children that if they misbehave, the bogeyman will get them. Bogeymen may target a specific mischief—for instance, a bogeyman that punishes children who suck their thumbs—or general misbehaviour, depending on what purpose needs serving. In some cases, the bogeyman is a nickname for the Devil."

Today, the boogeyman is the radical Islamic terrorist.  Like the boogeyman, Islamic terrorists are non-specific and ever.  First it was al-Qaeda, then the Taliban and now ISIS (or ISIL or Islamic State).  ISIS went from being a non-threat to now a major threat to the US (Iraq now warning of an ISIS attack using home grown militants to attack New York and Paris).  The new boogeyman even cuts off the heads of journalists.

Some say the new boogeyman was given life when President Obama pulled out the troops from Iraq and failed to provide support to Asad protestors.  This is too simplistic as it misses the history of Iraq (consisting of Shia, Sunni and Kurdish regions controlled by the former Baath party), the fact that the US supported al-Maliki (whose anti-Sunni policies were ignored), and the fact that ISIS consists of more than just pissed-off Syrian Sunnis (many of the militants have been recruited from Europe, Asia and even the US).

Just like the boogeyman, the Iraqi government was scared into behaving but it was too late.  The Iraqi government had lost territory and now needed the US military to force ISIS out of Iraq.  The incursion of ISIS into Iraq and the requisite land-grab meant ISIS would be less focused on causing trouble for Asad and the Syrian government.

The boogeyman next jumped out of Obama's closet in the form of opinion polls.  He appeared indifferent an unprepared for sudden change in the abilities of ISIS and his popularity, along with the Democrats, dropped.  Not a great thing heading into the mid-term elections so a plan was unveiled to use airpower but avoided putting boots on the ground (even though at least 1,600 troops are already back on the ground in Iraq).

The airstrikes in Iraq were not going to be enough to take out the boogeyman so the Obama administration decided it was time to let everyone know how scary the boogeyman really was.  Assessments started to materialize showing how dangerous ISIS was to the US (umm, where were these before hand when the President called them a "junior variety team'?).  The only way to protect the US from this boogeyman was to go after them in Syria.

To lessen the appearance that these assessments were just created to allow the US to strike Syria, the Obama administration recruited UAE, Qatar, Jordan and Saudi Arabia into conducting strikes as well.  Eyebrows should by raising as the UAE is the only nation to have flown counter-terrorist airstrikes AND why would sovereign Arab nations be inclined to strike another sovereign Arab nation at the behest of a Christian nation that one could argue was the cause of the whole mess in the first place?

The photos and videos of the airstrikes, a mainstay of the media since Desert Storm, show the precision of the strikes.  Of course one has to wonder how many of those targets may have been also important to the Asad regime and not just the boogeyman.

ISIS is the perfect boogeyman as pictures of its militants show some are Caucasian, meaning "Holy Smokes, Batman!" anyone, even your next door neighbor, could be an ISIS militant!  In response, DHS has tried to recruit retailers to report "suspicious" activity (a bit Orwellian but given DHS present doesn't have a cyber-warfare chief, there may be no one there do anything with the data).

Now comes another boogeyman, the one that the US has historically gotten wrong.  By striking targets in Syria, ISIS and Asad may find more in common and decide to unite.  Or ISIS may grow as more Sunnis are displaced by the bombings.  Regardless, what the US tends to always get wrong is what happens next?

We've drug Jordan, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar into a conflict with Syria (I know, we are only striking ISIS in Syria but bear with me).  What are the histories amongst these countries and could we have started to destabilize the region as a result of this?

Will other nations now take sides with Syria and strike back at our allies?  Could this move embolden Hezbollah to strike Israel?

If we force Asad out (which has been a goal of the Obama administration for years), who is going to take his place?

While Obama fights the ISIS boogeyman, it takes the attention away from the ebola outbreak that isn't getting any better.  He sent 3,000 troops to Liberia but it remains to be seen exactly what they are expected to do.  We really need to be asking what happens when ebola breaks out here?

Obama has already stopped talking about the annexation of Crimea but apparently Putin doesn't lose focus as quickly.  Russian Bear bombers and now fighters have been increasing their activities along our airspace.  Combine this with some very suspicious drills the bombers were practicing a few weeks ago (flying profiles that would be same if they were to launch cruise missiles) and you wonder if Russia isn't the real threat and ISIS is just to divert our attention.

The boogeyman is a story told to children by parents to frighten them.  Unfortunately, too often kids find out that instead of just being a scary story, there really are such things as monsters.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Book review, "Sleeping with the Crawfish"

Writing a blog has led to some interesting experiences.  In the past, I’ve been invited to attend a local bloggers convention, asked to be a panelist at another, and receive numerous emails from public relations firms offering to set-up interviews with their clients.  I’ve corresponded with other bloggers, authors and professors over the years on a wide range of topics.  Now I’ve been approached to review a mystery novel.

The offer came at a good time.  My head hurts.  World events are making me more cynical about our President and his administration.  We are using our best weapons to take out a so-called threat to the US that only a few months ago, even the President was referring to as “a junior varsity” team.   Suddenly the junior varsity team is now the biggest threat to the United States.  Doing the review offered me a mental-health break.

The title of the book is “Sleeping with the Crawfish” by D.J. Donaldson.  Here is a synopsis of the plot from the publisher;

“Andy Broussard, the plump and proud New Orleans medical examiner, obviously loves food.  Less apparent to the casual observer is his hatred of murderers. Together with his gorgeous sidekick, psychologist Kit Franklyn, the two make a powerful, although improbable, mystery solving duo.

Strange lesions found in the brain of a dead man have forensic pathologist Broussard stumped.  Even more baffling are the corpse’s fingerprints.  They belong to Ronald Cicero, a lifer at Angola State Prison… an inmate the warden insists is still there.  Broussard sends psychologist Kit Franklyn to find out who is locked up in Cicero’s cell.  But an astonishing discovery at the jail and an attempt on her life almost has Kit sleeping with the crawfish in a bayou swamp. And Broussard, making a brilliant deduction about another murder, may soon be digging his own grave.”

“Sleeping with the Crawfish” is a fast paced thriller.  The author, D.J. Donaldson, is a retired professor of anatomy and neurobiology and not surprisingly, the science used in the story is very detailed but easy to understand.  He imbues the character of Kit Franklyn with a similar impressive scientific skill set that she uses to infiltrate a mysterious biotech firm. 

Dr. Broussard, the medical examiner, is by far the most interesting character with a rich background of interests.  He is worldly as well as scientific but manages not to take himself too seriously.  He is not a ladies man but this very characteristic almost causes his downfall.  When not noshing on his favorite lemon ball candies, he is most at home hanging out at Grandma O’s with his cronies playing practical jokes on one another.  He has an affinity for Louis L’Amour novels as well as antebellum architecture.

Together he and Kit try to solve Cicero's murder which only leads them to a much more complicated plot involving corrupt officials and a mysterious biotech firm.  Throughout "Sleeping with the Crawfish" is Broussard's hope that Kit will find back the self-confidence that made her such an invaluable part of his office.  Kit is quite certain that her previous self-confidence was unfounded. The two try to navigate an eclectic cast of characters as they try to solve the murders.  The story is well paced and offers the reader a good feel for New Orleans and Memphis culture.

My only complaint is that it wasn’t clear to me if the characters exist in today’s world or some prior time.  Donaldson seems to have set his characters in a technological anachronism.  While they have computers, they don’t have cell phones (much less smart phones).  That would be okay but one character refers to the Internet although no one seems to actually use it.  Documents are still stored on “computer disks”.  Characters are always offering to “reverse the charges” on long-distance phone calls, a courtesy younger readers may not even understand. 

The lack of modern technology creates some situations that frankly would be very hard to explain given today’s digital reality.  The characters may exist in some earlier timeframe or the author may have chosen to de-emphasize digital technology for the sake of creating some added tension. (Note: the publisher just informed me that this story was written back in the mid-90s, hence the lack of digital technology.  The author felt that adding smart phones and such to the story would drastically change the way the events occurred. I agree but I'll leave my review as written.)

The references to an earlier case that traumatized Kit Franklyn, makes me wonder if this anachronism wasn't explained in a previous book.  Still as someone who uses the Internet and digital technology on a daily basis, I found this a bit distracting.

Despite this, I would still recommend “Sleeping with the Crawfish” if for no other reason than the chance to get know Dr. Broussard.  He is someone you wouldn’t mind sitting down to a bowl of shrimp etouffee with and hearing him wax nostalgic about New Orleans architecture.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Fatal Flaw of Obama's plan and how it impacts other allies

Two things are going that will have a profound impact on the US ISIS strategy.

The first was yesterday's hedge by Gen Dempsey, "if that fails to be true (if a new international coalition fails to defeat IS), and there are threats to the United States, then I of course would go back to the president and make a recommendation that may include the use of US military ground forces". (BBC).  There are already 1,600 US troops on the ground in Iraq acting as military advisors.  It is interesting to note the following recent description of the role of military advisors;

"The Combat Advisor Mission Defined. The combat advisor mission requires US officers and NCOs to teach, coach and mentor host nation (HN) security force counterparts. This enables the rapid development of our counterparts' leadership capabilities; helps develop command and control (C2) and operational capabilities at every echelon; allows direct access to Coalition Forces (CF) enablers to enhance HN security force counterinsurgency (COIN) operations; and incorporates CF lethal and nonlethal effects on the battlefield", CPT Corry Scott, Army Times

Military advisors live and fight with the host nation.  Obviously our troops will be shooting ISIS bad guys but it also means they could be engaged against Syrian troops as well.  And that's not a good thing…the US isn't the only nation to use military advisors.  During the Vietnam war, the Soviet Union and China provided advisors and training to the North Vietnamese. In 2014 this means Syria, Russia, Iran, North Korea and even China could become involved providing training and advisors to ISIS as well.

Thus far, the coalition Gen Dempsey refers to currently consists of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, France, Australia and the United Kingdom (more about the UK in moment).

Saudi Arabia is not interested in drawing the attention of any outside influences to their people so their support will mainly consist of funding and basing rights.

Qatar has a very small military but has provided tremendous support through basing rights (Al Udeid air base and As Saylitah army base).

While Jordan has announced its support, internally Jordanians overall don't support the US strategy.  Therefore, don't expect much in the way of military support.

The United Arab Emirates has a sizable military and has already conducted airstrikes against Libya.  Along with the basing rights at Al Dahfra air base, the UAE will be an important part of the coalition.

Australia is already sending F-18 fighters and 600 troops.  Australia continues to be an important part of US coalition missions.  They are a very modern, effective and professional force.

The French remain an enigma.  They are capable but their politics keep them from really being a major partner such as the Australians, British and Emirates.  France is not part of NATO and often the other coalition partners have a disdain for the French (at least from my experience in Qatar in 2004).  France has had numerous internal clashes with the Muslims living in their country.  Any involvement of French forces will have to be tempered against the potential for mass rioting in France.

The British are of course the No. 1 ally for the US but this brings us to my second point.  The vote for Scottish independence could seriously cause the level of support by the UK to be curtailed this time.  The British military was starting to drawdown but should Scotland become independent, they will have to rethink these plans (costing millions of pounds they may no longer have with the loss of Scottish tax revenue).  Should Scotland become independent, look for the Basque to make similar demands (causing the French to perhaps reduce their commitment to the coalition).

But if you look, this is the same cast of coalition partners as before.  No new partners have been added and this is the flaw with the Obama plan and why Gen Dempsey had to make his hedging comment about troops on the ground.  The Arab nations are not much in favor of going after other Arabs and Secretary Kerry is about the last person you have try and build more coalitions amongst the Arab states.  Example, two notable tepid reactions were from Egypt and Turkey.  The former being a major partner of the US was on terror and the later being a NATO member.  This quote from the NY Times pretty much sums that up;

“As a student of terrorism for the last 30 years, I am afraid of that formula of ‘supporting the American effort,’ ” said Diaa Rashwan, a scholar at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a government-funded policy organization in Cairo. “It is very dangerous.”  NY Times

In 2010, Gen. Austin advised President Obama against withdrawing all U.S. forces from Iraq, recommending that the president instead leave 24,000 U.S. troops (down from 45,000) to secure the military gains made in the surge and prevent a terrorist resurgence (Washington Post).  Had this advice been followed, it may have prevented ISIS from gaining territory in Iraq in the first place.  The interesting question will be to see how troops remain after this latest operation concludes (and when it does).

Meanwhile, if you are a Pacific Rim ally you have to be asking yourself what has happened to the pivot to Asia?   If you are Mexico, you may be asking yourself what happened to border relations and immigration reform?  If you are South America, especially Argentina, you just go ahead and form UANSUR (Union of South American Nations) and have dialog with Russia and China since your neighbor to the North continues to ignore you and treat you like a bunch of peasants.

3,000 troops are heading into harm's way of a different kind in Liberia.  US troops are the most highly trained, best equipped and most professional forces out there BUT they are no less susceptible to contagious diseases than anyone else.  All it will take is one slip-up, one failure to completely follow protocol and US troops will come down with ebola (and/or any other contagious disease that may also be raging over there at the same time).  Worse case scenario is this happens towards the end of the troops rotation when they have not shown any symptoms and come back home.