Thursday, July 31, 2014

Germany's Secret Deal with Russia

This just was posted on the Daily Mail.  Wow!

Germany and Russia are working on a secret peace deal to end the conflict in Ukraine that would see Moscow's controversial annexation of Crimea officially recognised in exchange for a $1billion compensation package, it was claimed today.

Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin have reportedly been locked in talks that will primarily seek to ensure the Kremlin withdraws its support for rebels fighting for independence in eastern Ukraine.

Putin would also have to agree not to interfere with Ukraine's new trade relations with the European Union and offer Kiev a long-term contract for future gas supplies with Russian firm Gazprom.

The problem with silver bullets

The lure of having the latest high-tech weapon is like having a silver bullet.  You know that when the werewolf comes, you will be able to blow them to smithereens.  But what happens should there be more werewolves than you have silver bullets?

Apparently Israel is trying to figure the answer out to this question right now.  According to a Defense News article, The Senate earlier today began debating a $3.5 billion supplemental spending measure that would send $225 million in emergency dollars to Israel for its Iron Dome missile defense program.  Therein lies another problem with high-tech weapons and silver bullets, they tend to cost a lot of money.

Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile defense system has been doing a yeoman's job of protecting the Israeli citizens from Hamas rockets and missiles.  Unfortunately, Israel has been using the equivalent of Porsches to knock down Ford Fiestas.  Now Iron Dome is running out of missiles.

The other problem with high-tech weapons are they are pretty.  You keep thinking about how awesome they are and how invincible it makes you in comparison to your enemies pathetic, old fashioned weapons.  The mindset gets you to imagine envy on the part of your enemy as they race to foolishly match the exquisiteness of your silver bullet.  Yet you keep upgrading your hardware and countermeasures so that they can never catch.  How you pity the fool!

Of course the more your focus on your silver bullet, the less likely you are to remember werewolves don't use silver bullets themselves.

Hamas lobbed 2,000 missiles so far at Israel but that may have been a feint.  Instead of trying to get a silver bullet, Hamas simply began to dig.  As of today, 32 tunnels have been found.  Taking a note straight from the Viet Cong, Hamas realized the most effective way of striking at Israeli military targets was to dig tunnels into Israel.

When the US Air Force decided to carpet bomb North Viet Nam, the Viet Cong didn't look for a silver bullet to shoot down the B-52s.  Instead, they used a tried and true technique of tunneling.  The tunnels of Cu Chi gave the Viet Cong an extensive underground network of armories and make-shift hospitals.

Hamas didn't take it to that extreme but the pictures in this article show the sophistication of the tunnels.  Israel became too confident in their Iron Dome to remember to look for the threat to come elsewhere (sort of like Ripley and the Space Marines when they forgot to look for the aliens in the air ducts).

The US is guilty of loving silver bullets as well.  Take the F-35.  It is supposed to be able out-fight and out-fly any other jet fighter in the world.  As a USAF general admitted recently though, there aren't enough F-35s to really be a silver bullet.  Yes, the F-35 can fly into hostile territory such as Syria and deliver devastating firepower from above, but each F-35 can only take out a max of 8 other fighters.  A limited number of F-35s means that you could see an enemy keep lobbing older fighters at the Lightning II until it runs out of missiles.

Or they enemy might be someone like the Russian Spetznaz.  Amongst the different weapons they carry, each Spetznaz soldiers carries a shovel.

It's about 20"long and the edges are sharpened.  Cold Steel makes a copy.  Why would modern special forces troops carry such an item?  The Spetznaz doctrine imagines them walking into an area under the cover of darkness.  They stop and lie flat on the ground and begin digging.  In a few minutes they have dug up enough where if they lie flat, they are below the line of the earth.  Give them about an hour and they will have dug a foxhole.  Give them a day and they will have connected all of their foxholes into a tunnel network.

Oh and it is also a weapon.  Spetznaz soldiers can throw their shovels with lethal accuracy.  A shovel flying throw the air also has a psychological effect on the target.  They don't try to block it, they tend to duck giving the Spetznaz soldier time to attack or flee.  They also learn how to wield these things with such dexterity they can split matchsticks.

Sounds primitive yet Hamas just proved that you don't have to rely on state-of-the art weapons to be effective.  Israel is still likely to be victorious but it is taken them much longer and costing them much more than they thought it should.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.  I was reminded of that phrase when I was reading some of today's headlines.  Much of what is going on now was the result of good intentions but without regard to their long-term result.

Let's begin with George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States who was on duty that fateful day of Sep 11, 2001.  Bush 43 appears by all accounts to be a linear thinker, meaning he sees things as black and white.  He saw the attack as reason to go after those who would do evil to the United States.

He would coin the phrase "Axis of Evil"to refer to three specific nations that he felt posed the greatest threat to the United States.  The three countries were of course Iraq, Iran and North Korea.  By extension, that made their leaders "enemy number one".  Osama bin Laden still had a starring role in the "Axis of Evil" even though he was not the leader of a nation.  Bush's phrase was a way of stating that "the United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons." (Time)  Good intentions but without regard to long-term consequences (despite Colin Powell's continued warnings) created what we are dealing with today.

Iraq was the first on the list to be targeted with Saddam Hussein being chased out of Baghdad, captured and hung.  Mission accomplished, except now 11 years after his capture and almost 3 years after the US troop pullout, Iraq has spiraled out of control with ISIL ready to create the first Islamic State.  The shortfall of linear thinking is you tend not to think beyond the immediate result.

Hussein was an evil dictator who brutalized anyone who was not Baath party.  A unintended consequence of his brutality was it stabilized relations amongst the Kurd, Shiite and Sunni populations. Once Hussein was removed, there was no one to stop old rivalries to flare up.  But Bush wasn't concerned about what would happen after the war, he was convinced the threat posed by Iraq warranted any actions to take out Hussein.  Iraq is broke and may never quite get back together without further bloodshed.  But fear not for we are no longer under the Bush Administration.  Or are we?

Obama ran on a platform that he would not follow in Bush's footsteps.  Had people thought about that a little more, that platform simply meant he was going to be more ruthless.

Obama promised he would get the troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan.  He did pull the troops out of Iraq, which actually exacerbated the situation created by his predecessor.  He also increased the number of troops in Afghanistan to help what he termed "the forgotten war".    The "surge" actually did do anything towards finding Osama bin Laden or making America safer (Cincinnati has such a heroing epidemic that it is now issuing police and EMS personnel with Narcan, an antidote for heroin overdose).

Obama has proven to have an even itchier trigger finger than Bush 43.  Obama authorized the killing of Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki (who was still a US citizen when a missile found him).  Even Bush 43 couldn't get either of those guys.  With those two notches under his belt, a Obama and his right-hand gal Hillary set their sights on another "Axis of Evil" member; Iran.

I've written much about Iran already.  For the purposes of this entry, Iran has enjoyed a rich history as the Persian Empire.  They have a great history of science, mathematics and art.  Oil has given Iran tremendous wealth and prosperity.  Despite these achievements, Iran doesn't have a place at the table so to speak (as do China, Russia, India and Israel).  The one missing piece?  Nuclear weapons.

Obama and Hillary Clinton tried every imaginable way to pressure Iran into giving up its pursuit of nuclear weapons.  Of course, this misses the point of why Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons in the first place.  They need those weapons if they ever hope to be respected as an international power.  Come on you might say, look at Germany and Japan.  They don't have nuclear weapons but they are world powers.  True, but the better comparison is India and North Korea.  India is still a very poor country overall and North Korea is ridiculously backwards.  Yet both are countries the West has to reckon with since they have nuclear weapons.  Iran is not poor nor backwards by any stretch of the imagination, yet they lack respect as they are a Muslim nation.  Attaining a nuclear capability is the only way to achieve respect in their minds.

Of course there is the whole Tehran Embassy thing from 1979.  The US and Iran have never been warm towards one another since.  It seemed for a brief moment that Iraq would allow both sides to move past that, alas Israel's massacre of Hamas seems to have close the cracked in the door.

Obama and Hillary went looking for another dictator to shoot and found one in Muhammar Qaddafi.  The Arab Spring had shown how vulnerable Qaddafi has become after 41 years of viciously oppressing any opposition to his rule.

Even though Libya's Muhammar Qaddafi avoided being on the original "Axis of Evil" list, it did not stop Obama and Hillary Clinton from sanctioning his execution as well.  Qaddafi's execution was done though via proxy of NATO but of course what is NATO without the US?  Obama solemnly intoned about the death of Qaddafi that "One of the world's longest-serving dictators is no more," he said. "The dark shadow of tyranny has been lifted" (Huffington Post)

Perhaps but the aftermath of Qaddafi's death hardly seems worth it.  Thousands of Libyans have died and the US lost an ambassador.  Libya is worse than it has been in some time and the world is no safer without Qaddafi.  The press has vilified Qaddafi and he certainly was no Sister Theresa.  Nevertheless, Libya enjoyed an immense level of wealth thanks to producing nearly 2% percent of the world's oil.  The Libyans are some of the most literate people on the planet and built a huge water pipeline into the Benghazi region.  It was Qaddafi's plan to turn Libya into a self-sufficient, giant oasis.  Good intentions by the US without thought to the long-term implications.

Good intentions are without thought to long-term implications are why we are very likely to see an outbreak of Ebola.  By racing into to "help" the people of Africa, who are after all unable to handle this crisis in the eyes of the West, the virus is getting a chance to do something it has never done before.  Instead of a localized epidemic, Ebola may finally get the chance to become pandemic.

The African people, as did the Native Americans and other first people, understood the need to keep their settlements small and far away from one another.  It prevented outbreaks from spreading.  A flu or other virus would burn itself out in one village and be done.  Western cultures embraced large settlements to maximize commerce and agriculture opportunities.  The downside of the Western model is an outbreak has a much greater opportunity to spread as was the case with the plague.

The West, full of good intentions, has rushed into Africa with the intent of curing the incurable.  The attitude that Western medicine knows best has caused the doctors to forget the basic knowledge of how diseases spread and bring ALL of the infected patients together into hospitals.  Yes, this is where they can get the best care but it is also the best place for Ebola to spread.  Healthy people such as family, friends and health workers now are exposed to an intensive level of the disease.  One slip up means death and risks the spread of the disease.

No wonder the Africans think the doctors are trying to kill them.  In a way, they are.  In their quest to save lives, the doctors are actually killing more people (including themselves).  No, there is no good solution to the problem but bringing everyone together in the same hospitals is a recipe for disaster.  Good intentions without thought to long-term implications.  All it will take is one person getting ready to leave to be exposed, board an aircraft, and infect the entire aircraft.  It may take days before health officials even catch what is going on but then it will be too late.

Good intentions to make the world safer are fine but we need to be smarter about the effects of pursuing this course of action.  The Western (read US) view of the world is not the only legitimate view.  We need to recognize that other views may be just as relevant for different parts of the world.  Now if we can just the folks in the White House to read this stuff and actually think about it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Mr, Kerry's failure at diplomacy

Mr. Kerry was unable to negotiate a long-term cease fire between Israel and Hamas.  It's not surprising since Netanyahu sees this opportunity to break Hamas once and for all.  The casualties he is racking up is not by accident.  It is an attempt to destroy both Hamas members as well as their support infrastructure.  Mr. Kerry truly does not seem capable of understanding what the parties involved are doing nor their motivations.

Mr. Kerry performance while conducting negotiations is more of the topic today than the ongoing war.  Israel is the latest country to bristle at the US meddling in their affairs.  Obama, Rice and Kerry all mistook the US/Israeli relationship to mean Tel Aviv would take follow orders from the White House.  Israel may be an ally of the US but it has never been its puppet.  One only needs to look at the history of Israel to see how often they've acted unilaterally without waiting for US approval.

Here are some of the things the Israeli press had to say about the Secretary of State;

Maariv columnist Ben Caspit called Kerry 'an ongoing embarrassment, with the characteristics of a snowball.'

'The further he rolls, the greater the embarrassment,' Caspit said.

Israeli TV reporter Udi Segal ran a report citing government officials who framed Kerry as 'incapable of handling the most basic matters.'--
Daily Mail

Obama has a vain streak in him that causes him to become enamored of blue-bloods with pedigrees.  His picks people from Ivy League schools thinking, as he possible does of himself, that they can master any task before them.  Unfortunately, the people he has picked tend to have that same snobby aloofness that does not get lost in translation.  Both Hillary and Kerry tend to lecture world leaders as though they are the only ones who have the intellect to understand the situation.  Unfortunately for them, almost always those they've face have intellects that were mored than a match for theirs.

The US invaded Iraq and Afghanistan to prevent al Qaeda from further attacking America.  Thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis (along with thousands of Americans and allies) died as a result of those wars.  Yet Kerry tried to lecture Israel on their excessive use of force against Hamas.  The hypocrisy of this elitist attitude is a big enough hurdle to overcome but then there is Kerry's bumbling demeanor.  He just is not up to the the task and the only one who could have done worse is Biden.  Kerry has not only failed to broker a cease fire, he has shown the world that the US has no control over Israel.

US hypocrisy is on full view this week.  In addition to the ham-fisted attempt at trying reach a ceasefire, apparently for all of the anti-Russian sentiment the US has been fanning sales to Russia are actually INCREASING.  According to an article appearing on McClatchy's website, U.S. Census Bureau foreign trade data show that exports rose 17 percent from March through May _ the most recent months for which the data is available _ compared with the previous three months, before sanctions were imposed.  Wait, what?  Isn't the US hellbent on forcing Russia to withdraw its troops via economic sanctions?  Did Hillary Clinton just get done telling the European Union to stop purchasing fuel from Gazprom?  

It appears the Russians may be stockpiling good in anticipation of eventually being cut-off from US suppliers.  Of course, Russia could cut-off the US from receiving rocket motors in the future (which powers all of the US launch vehicles now).  And Russia is in a position to cut the US completely off from accessing the international space station.  

More and more it seems the Obama administration is nothing but a paper tiger.

Read more here:

Monday, July 28, 2014

What does Egypt and Libya mean for US foreign policy?

One of the lesser covered issues of the Israeli war with Hamas is the reverberations it is having in Egypt.  Secretary of State Kerry has been in Cairo ostensibly to help broker a peace in the Gaza Strip via the Egyptians.  The recent cease fire not withstanding, matters with Egypt could be more concerning than in the Gaza Strip.

First, Kerry has to deal with President Sisi who came to power by overthrowing the democratically elected Morsi (and then throwing him in prison).  Overthrowing a duly elected president, even on who is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and widely unpopular, is not something many leaders find appealing.  One of the most vocal Sisi critics is Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan who has called Sisi a "tyrant" and has equated Netanyahu's actions to that of Hitler.  Now the Turks are sending the Mavi Marmara flotilla to aid the Palestinians on the Gaza Strip.  The Mavi Marmara attempted this before in 2010 but failed when it was boarded by Israeli Commandos who killed nine activists.  This time, the Mavi Marmara is being escorted by the Turkish Army.

The other problem for Kerry and Sisi is what to do with all the Palestinians that are fleeing Gaza for Egypt.  The political situation in Egypt has been volatile since the Arab Spring in 2011.  A huge influx of refugees could be destabilizing.  Or Sisi could be driven to try to retake Gaza and repatriate the refugees.  An odd three-way war between Turkey, Israel and Egypt could erupt.

Even if Kerry is successful in keeping Egypt calm, a conflict between Turkey and Israel could still occur.  Israel is the most powerful US ally in the region.  It is also the only Jewish state in the worlds surrounded by Muslim states.  Turkey is also a powerful US ally and is the only Muslim nation in NATO.  Trying to navigate any kind of peace between the two will be beyond the current White House team.

The White House has been jumping from one situation to another before getting resolution.  The latest example is Libya.  Libya was an early entrant into the Arab Spring of 2011.  On Sep 11, 2012, somewhere between 120-150 armed gunmen attacked the US Embassy Mission in Benghazi killing US Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Foreign Service Information Officer Sean Smith, and CIA contractors and former Navy SEALS Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.  The White House team, especially Hillary Clinton, were widely seen as accountable for the deaths since they are alleged to have withheld vital intelligence from the embassy.

Now once again, the US has had to evacuate its embassy in Libya.  While the attention has been on other countries (or even the debacle of US immigration), the central government in Libya has continued to crumble.

"The administration sort of took its focus off of Libya and things have been getting worse for quite some considerable time now," Ed Royce, chairman of the U.S. House foreign relations committee, told CNN on Saturday after news of the U.S. diplomats' departure.--Reuters

It appears the US is now be played more than ever.  As it begins to focus on one event, something else pops up.  Whether those events are random or planned out, it is showing an inherent weakness in the White House.  It can only focus on one thing at a time and cannot stay focused long enough to bring matters to a conclusion.

UPDATE:  Forgot to mention Iran.  The deputy commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (Brig Gen Hossein Salami) vowed revenge against Israel for its ongoing military incursion into Gaza, which has already killed hundreds of Palestinians and dozens of Israelis.  “We will chase you house to house and will take revenge for every drop of blood of our martyrs in Palestine,” Salami said. “and this is the beginning point of Islamic nations awakening for your defeat.”.  So much for whatever good will was brokered between Washington and Tehran over Iraq.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Reasons not to impeach

Obamacare, Operation Fast & Furious, immigration, wiretapping the New York Times, the NSA spying on Americans, etc, etc.  Seems like a great time to impeach a President, at least some Republicans see it that way.  There is a love affair with impeaching Presidents by the opposing party but a little history lesson is all it takes to show impeachment doesn't work.

Most Americans over 50 would incorrectly answer that Richard Nixon was impeached for Watergate.  While he was certainly GOING to be impeached, he in fact resigned before he could face impeachment.  Bill Clinton was impeached but was acquitted by the Senate.  Before Nixon and Clinton, you have to go all the way back to find Andrew Johnson who was also impeached (and like Clinton, acquitted by the Senate).

Impeachment is a fool's paradise.  It sounds good to the electorate faithful but to actually bring a sitting President is practically impossible.  Obama may helm one of the most inept and aloof administration's in modern times but with 53 Democrats holding seats in the Senate to the Republicans 45, the success of an impeachment seems remote.

To the Republican faithful, a weak, elitist fop like Obama is a prime candidate for impeachment and a way to win back the White House and Senate.  At best, this view is myopic.

Love him or hate him, Obama is the man in the White House.  To take out him, or any sitting President for that matter, would send a signal to the rest of the world that the US has finally come apart.  It would also be seen as a white minority taking out the first elected Black President.  The US would be divided along racial and political lines like never before.  Russia, China and every terrorist group you could name would see it as a green light to go forward with their agenda.  The Middle East would devolve even further into chaos and Israel might be forced to use nuclear weapons.

Everyone talking impeachment needs to take a deep breath and relax.  Team Obama is on the ropes and is getting pummeled by Russia, Iraq, Syria, and Israel.  Central American leaders came to Washington to be lectured by Obama about sending their children here but they turned the tables on him and took him out behind the woodshed.

Taking the President out now would risk a true global war.  The only thing keepings things from becoming more chaotic is the realization that in less than two years a new President takes office (who more and more may not be named Hillary Clinton).  The American military (of which I am a proud veteran) is tired and broke after fighting non-stop for 12 years and our potential adversaries know this.

This is not to support or excuse the lackluster performance our current President has demonstrated in the last 6-8 months.  It is just to say that we need to keep our criticisms in house and not give an already emboldened world more reason to challenge us.

Thursday, July 24, 2014


The BRICS development bank would seem to be about dumping the dollar and creating an alternative to the IMF, European Union and Federal Reserve.  However, upon further examination BRICS is something far more interesting.

First let's look at the membership.  

Brazil has the seventh largest economy in the world and its economic reforms has the country on par with some of the fastest growing economies in the world.  Brazil has a huge supply of natural resources and contrary to what Juan Valdez would have you believe, is the world's largest producer of coffee.

Russia is the country with the largest land mass in the world.  The Russian economy is the ninth largest in the world.  Russia is one of the largest producers in the world of oil and natural gas.  Russia also has tremendous mineral and other natural resource reserves.

India is the tenth largest economy and like Brazil, has one of the fastest growing economies in the world.  Considered a newly industrialized country, much of India's wealth is based on hi-tech.  India has the second largest population in the world.

China is the second largest country (by land area) in the world.  China has the world's second largest economy both by gross domestic product (GDP) and purchasing power parity (PPP).  China's economy is primarily based on manufacturing and exporting goods but they are also a major importer.

South Africa is the smallest member of the BRICS.  South Africa is the 25th largest country by land area as well as the 25th largest by population.  Like India, South Africa is considered a newly industrialized country and has the world's 28th largest economy (but has the 2nd largest economy in Africa).  Most of South Africa's wealth comes from diamonds and gold but like Russia, it also has vast resources of other strategic minerals.

Given this first list, it would appear that BRICS is merely a collection of countries with fast growing economies.  Most has large land masses and large populations meaning a good supply of resources and large workforce.  But that's how things look through the eyes of an economist.  

The BRICS share one other thing in common, something that trumps even their economic power.  Russia has the second largest inventory of nuclear weapons.  China has the third.  India has the fourth.  While South Africa currently doesn't have any nuclear weapons, it is the only African nation to have successfully developed nuclear weapons.  Brazil is only BRICS member not to have nuclear weapons.  All of the nuclear weapons combined under BRICS outnumbers all of the nuclear weapons of the US, UK and France combined.

Conventional forces are not to be ignored either.  China has the world's largest standing army (funded by the second largest military budget).  Russia has the second largest combined military.  India has the fourth largest combined military.  According to Global, Brazil has the 14th largest military in the world.  South Africa has the 14th.

Granted the comparisons are not apples to apples since there are cast differences in technologies between countries.  But technology can only compensate so far over numerical advantages.  For example, regardless of the F-35 advantages in technology, there are only so many copies of it to go around.  The F-35 demonstrates an inherent weakness of advanced technology; when things break it takes longer to fix.  According to, the F-35A experiences a critical failure after 4.5 flight hours requiring 12.1 hours to repair.  

Obama is determined to reduce the size of the US military.  He began with reducing the number of nuclear warheads and the followed by instituting sequestration.  The US military has been at war for 12 years without and opportunity to reset.  Readiness is diminishing and there is little in the way of budgets to update legacy systems.  The US is not alone.  The UK, France, Australia and New Zealand are also beginning to drawdown their militaries.

The conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine continue to make the US look unable and unwilling to back up political rhetoric.  BRICS then stands as an unspoken threat to the former might of Western economic and military power. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Fallacy of Blaming the Russians

After Malaysia Flight 17 was shot down, the world swung its finger of blame around and pointed it squarely at Russia and Vladmir Putin.  Led by the US, the blame game started with the notion that Flight 17 had been shotdown by a Russian SA-11.  Given the altitude and speed of the Boeing 777 at the time, the SA-11 made the most sense and is in the possession of the rebels in Ukraine.  The SA-11 is made in Russia and due the complexity of the guidance system, the rebels must've been trained by the Russians.  Ipso facto, it was Russia's fault.

But wait, has anyone actually seen pictures or videos of a SA-11 firing a missile?  Has a person, much less a location, been identified as the person responsible for launching the missile?  The Associated Press today released a story about the lack of evidence, so far, presented by the US in their case against Russia.

In countries like the US and UK, surveillance cameras are a constant part of our lives.  Therefore, we tend to think of the whole world as being constantly under surveillance.  Perceptions though can be misleading as was demonstrated yesterday when a US flag flying on the Brooklyn Bridge was taken down and replaced with a white flag by unknown person or persons.  Yes, in New York City on a major bridge and landmark an operation requiring specialized skill was executed without any a single image being captured.  The Brooklyn Bridge is under constant surveillance but apparently the unknown person or persons had already defeated the lens on the camera.  As I said, this required great skill and coordination.

My point in bringing up the white flag on the Brooklyn Bridge was to illustrate just how faulty our perception of constant surveillance can be.  The human minds looks to fit bits of divergent information into some type of coherent story.  Hence stage magicians are able to trick our eyes into believing they have somehow sawed a girl in half or made a skyscraper disappear.  Our minds have only certain pieces of information and as it races to make a conclusion, the trick works.

Perhaps as our pro-Western, anti-Russian mindset swings into action we are looking to blame Russia and are not looking for answers that contradict that mindset.  The SA-11 remains the most likely suspect, however we are basing that assumption without having actually seen the wreckage.  Another possibility is that instead of a SA-11 a fighter jet could have shot down Flight 17.  It seems unlikely that air defense radars would not have seen a fighter firing on a civilian airliner but that assumes they were looking.  We have already seen limitations in radar coverage with the still missing Malaysian Flight 370.

One nagging question remains unanswered, why shoot down a civilian airliner at all?  If the SA-11 was involved, it has a radar that is quite capable of identifying the flight path, altitude and transponder code (key components in aircraft identification by air defense units).  Flight 17 was flying at 33,000 feet which is well within the parameters of the SA-11 radars.  It is unlikely that Malaysian Flight 17 was mistaken for a military aircraft that had veered off course.

A fighter interceptor has the same ability to identify aircraft as an air defense unit with one noted addition.  Fighters can visually identify aircraft by flying close to the aircraft for a positive ID.  It is thus unlikely that Malaysian Flight 17 was shot down accident or even randomly.

If whoever shot down the airliner intended to hit that specific aircraft, the nagging question is why?  At any given time, there are dozens of airliners and smaller aircraft flying overhead.  If someone wanted to escalate war between Russian and the US or Europe, why fire on a Malaysian airliner?

An answer may lie in a bizarre story that keeps popping up.  The pro-Russian rebel commander was quoted by the press as saying "not all of the bodies were fresh".  He added that many of the bodies were drained of blood and reeked of decomposition.  Far-fetched and sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie but sometimes the most bizarre things cause people to do the unthinkable.  If the story is true, perhaps Malaysian Flight 17 was thought to be carrying some type of bio-weapon?  The Ukraine conflict serves as plausible deniability for the real group behind the shoot down.  Blame the Russians and get the US in a lather and no one looks for answers elsewhere.

Hilary Clinton (the as yet unannounced Presidential candidate for 2016) has jumped on the blame Russia bandwagon and encouraged the European Union to find alternatives to the dollar-dumping Russian natural gas firm Gazprom.  Her plea is supposedly based on the downing of Malaysian Flight 17 but the timing seems much more in line with the announcement by the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) of the creation of their own development bank based on the Chinese Yen.  The one-two punch of the creation of the BRICS development bank and the Russian-Chinese energy deal has pretty much nullified the effects of Western economic sanctions.

Winston Churchill once said, "I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest."  His quote may not just apply to Russia anymore.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Has the White House's attention been turned once again?

SA-11 "Gadfly" (credit: Air Power Australia)

The SA-11 is the most likely suspect of the downing of the Malaysian 777 airliner as well as a AN-26.  The "Gadfly" or "Buk" in Russia, is a medium range surface-to-air (SAM) mobile system.  The Malaysian airliner was flying at an altitude of around 33,000 feet.  The AN-26 was flying around 22,000 feet.  Aircraft at those altitudes can only be brought down with radar guided, medium or long range systems.

The SA-11 has a built in radar which is normally used to guide the missile to the target, however the radar can also be used to acquire a target.  Typically they work in batteries with one radar serving as the target acquisition radar feeding coordinates to the other launchers that have their radars in stand-by mode.  The tactic gives aircraft less time to engage countermeasures.  Civilian airliners stand no chance against this system.

It seems fairly certain that the airliner was shot down intentionally, why still remains elusive.  It does make one wonder if Malaysian Flight 370 didn't meet a similar fate.

Taking a page from his old running mate, Senator McCain was quick to make an inflammatory statement.  Promising, "There will be Hell to pay" McCain seemed to be talking to no one but himself.  It has forced the State Department to remain silent on how many Americans were on board the Malaysian airliner.  For a retired Naval officer, especially one that go shot down, he should recognize a trap more than others.  Shooting down that airliner was calculated to elicit a response.  Team Obama has miscalculated foreign leaders too many times already to rush in as McCain would like.

Whether it is world events or just how the media likes to focus on the latest crisis, the White House seems squarely in reaction mode these days.  It was only two years ago that Mr. Obama and then Secretary of State Clinton formulated their China Containment Policy otherwise know as the "Pivot to Asia".  The policy recognize the growth of China and that if left unchecked, it could pose a major power imbalance in the region.

Obama and Clinton based their policy on the three-legged stool; Seoul, Tokyo and Washington.  Herein lies the biggest inherent weakness of the policy, Seoul and Tokyo don't like each other.  There is also much animosity between Tokyo and Beijing.  If the Washing becomes distracted, as it has in the last few months with Iraq, the three-legged stool topples over.

As I wrote about yesterday, China and Russia make a very powerful bloc (Brazil, India and South Africa see it and want in).  Russia needs China's economic power but China needs Russia's military might (at least for now).  Putin is ready-made to antagonize the United States and can keep a lightweight like Obama off-balance.  That's all China needs to grow and expand throughout Asia without the US meddling in their affairs.  Seoul and Tokyo pose no real threat as without the US, they will squabble amongst themselves.

Throw into all of this Netanyahu who is hellbent on wiping out Hamas and launching ground forces.  This could drag Egypt and Syria into the conflict as well, especially now the White House has seemingly turned their attentions (again!) elsewhere to Ukraine.  Iraq seems to be a lost cause that the US no longer is interested in.  Syria and Iran could end up squabbling over who gets what to rule which parts of Iraq.

So to Senator McCain, I politely say shut-up!  The United States is in a high stake poker match against Russia and our President looks like he can't even win at checkers.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Russia, BRICS and Disease

A Malaysian airliner carrying 295 people has crashed in east Ukraine on a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, amid allegations it was shot down.--BBC News
Now comes the real question, if it was shot down then who did it? According to the BBC, the likely suspects are the pro-Russian separatists. However, it could just as easily have been the Ukrainians attempting to discredit Moscow.

While the US turned its myopic eyes to Iraq, the situation in Ukraine continued to escalate despite Mr. Obama's reliance on economic sanctions. Russia may no longer care about sanctions because of recent energy deal with China as well as the news about BRICS;

"The leaders of the Brics countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – have signed a treaty in the Brazilian city of Fortaleza to launch a Brics development bank.

The bank will rival the US- and European-led World Bank and its private lending affiliate, the International Finance Corporation, which have dominated development finance since the second world war. The Brics bank is positioned as a financial institution that will provide developing countries with alternative funding minus the punishing strings attached to World Bank lending, which strip recipient countries of the power to make their own policies. It also promises to make lending processes for developing countries faster, simpler and cheaper."--The Guardian

Russia has solidly partnered with China and though the other BRICS members may be small, Russia might be able to stem the effects of US imposed economic sanctions.  At least until a new US President gets elected.

News isn't looking much better elsewhere for Team Obama.  Reports are coming in that the US advisors in Iraq haven't really been able to do much and the violence there continues. Less we forget, the same thing is happening in Nigeria were many of the school girls that were kidnapped are still missing. US advisors have discovered that the Nigerians really don't have a system for receiving and disseminating intelligence that might help locate the missing girls.

And of course matters are really getting our of hand in the Gaza Strip. Many experts now see a ground war breaking out.

Finally there was the news that Assad was re-elected for another 7-year term even though there is much evidence that he used chemical weapons on his own troops.  So much for infamous "red-line".

But Mr. Obama may not have to worry too much about matters overseas as there is a major catastrophe brewing right here in the US.  Unlike the situations abroad, this one is silent yet has the potential of wiping out ten of thousands of Americans.

The illegal immigrants that have been flooding the southwest border from Central America and Mexico are all being housed tightly together, many on US military bases.  As fans of "The Walking Dead" already know, when you house a large group of strangers together (who are already suffering malnutrition, stress and undiagnosed illnesses) you run the risk of an epidemic.

The number of immigrants (mostly young kids) crossing the border is overwhelming the medical personnel's ability to screen the incoming.  Children are showing up and being housed before medical personnel get to see them, allowing the potential for communicable diseases to be introduced into the general population.  In turn, staff and visitors will also face exposure.  The diseases run the gamut antibiotic resistant TB to the more mundane (but equally deadly) flu.  As an example, the 1918 Flu Pandemic killed 3-5 percent of the world's population.

What makes the situation on the border so dangerous is the huge population.  Any outbreak would spread faster than medical personnel could diagnose and treat.  Anyone coming into contact with an infectious person, especially one that has not been diagnosed, could spread the disease beyond just the immigrant population.  We also need to think about all of the children that are being sent back.  What diseases had they been exposed to?  Will we create a pandemic back in their home country?

Events are overwhelming Team Obama and are happening faster than they can spin the story.  War is going to break out somewhere, be it Ukraine and Russia or Israel and Hamas and there is nothing this White House can do about it.  They may not even have any troops to send if a pandemic occurs.  Our military may be too sick to fight.

Update:  After I posted this the Twitter-verse was reporting that Israeli ground troops had been sent into Gaza.  And just for good measure, the White House was locked down due to a suspicious package.

Friday, July 11, 2014

What doe Netanyahu know that Obama doesn't?

Netanyahu has reaffirmed his/Israel's resolve to continue to bomb Hamas in the Gaza Strip despite President Obama's assurance (and one would assume Secretary of State Kerry) to help negotiate things.        Obviously the lack of diplomatic success by Obama and his team in Syria and Iraq (as well as the border situation in the United States) probably has left Tel Aviv impressed to say the least.

The real answer as to why Israel has taken matters into their own hands lies not in Washington nor even Tel Aviv but in Cairo.  The area known as the Gaza Strip borders Egypt (for about 7 miles) and Israel for around 32 miles.  Control of the Gaza Strip was first by Palestine (under Egyptian military authority) in 1948.  Israel then captured the Gaza Strip in Six Day War (1967).  Pursuant to the Oslo Accords signed in 1993, the Palestinian Authority became the administrative body that governed Palestinian population centers while Israel maintained control of the airspace, territorial waters and border crossings with the exception of the land border with Egypt. In 2005, Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip under their unilateral disengagement plan.  Hamas became de-facto government of the Gaza Strip in 2007.

But for further answers we need to go all the way back to 1979 and the Camp David Accords.  Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt signed the famous peace agreement (with much assistance from President Jimmy Carter).  Just two years later, Sadat would be assassinated allowing Hosni Mubarak to become President of Egypt.  Mubarak, like Sadat, kept the peace between Egypt and Israel.  Egypt was one of the main players in keeping the Sunnis of the Middle East happy even though the US made no pretenses in favoring Israel over Muslims.

Mubarak, like so many that remain in power for too long, started to use his secret police and torture as a way of keeping in power.  Although contrary to the beliefs and values of the United States, Mubarak's expertise in this area would prove beneficial after 9-11.  Suspected terrorists caught under rendition would be sent to Egypt to be interrogated (tortured).  Mubarak and his cronies didn't perfect their art by watching videos, they of course learned by torturing Egyptians.  This lead to Mubarak's ouster as part of the Arab Spring.

While it was easy to see the connection between the Sadat and Anwar regimes to the US, what gets lost in translation is the relationship Morsi (Mubarak's successor) had with the US.  Hillary Clinton recognized Morsi's value as a Sunni but could not quite spin his membership in the Muslim Brotherhood as a positive so she kept the relationship from being publicized.  As long as Morsi remained in office, the US had a means of keeping the Sunnis from trying to usurp Maliki in Iraq. Once Morsi was replaced with Sisi, the US no longer had any means for communicating with the Sunnis.  Hence the ISIL moved into Iraq, Maliki is on the ropes and the US had to turn to their old enemy, Iran. Hence Netanyahu's realization that Obama doesn't have any means of communicating with the Sunnis so his promise to help broker a peace was hollow.

One other thing, none of this should be come as a surprise if you pay attention to the flags.  First, here is the flag of Gaza Strip (Palestine);

Next up is Syria;

Next is Iraq;


And Iran;

Notice the similarities, those colors are not by accident.  The colors in all of these flags are of the Pan-Arab colors (black, white, green, red), each representing a different Caliphate.  The black was the color of the banner of Muhammad; white was used by the Umayyad Caliphate; green was used by the Fatimid Caliphate; and red was the flag held by the Khawarij.  These are also the colors of the Arab Revolt of 1916.

Israel has always understood the game and knows they are surrounded.  Netanyahu gets the US doesn't have clue and is taking steps to stop Hamas from lobbing missiles.  Hamas, which gets its support from Syria, sees the situation in Iraq being an excellent opportunity to split the attention of a weak White House that no longer has a way of reaching the Sunnis (other than through Iran, and who's side do we really think they are on?).

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Obama's War of Words

Words are an interesting thing.  In religion, words bind you to your faith.  In law, words bind you to legal commitments.  In politics, words are used to invoke emotions to persuade people to follow their political leaders.

Last month, President Obama said the following words "no boots on the ground" to promise no troops would be sent into Iraq.  Those words weren't chosen haphazardly.  The words were meant to invoke emotions of trust that no more troops would be sent into harms way.  The words also made no sense.

After failing to keep their word to the Iraqi people, the White House pulled out the US troops (the only thing keeping stability in a traditionally unstable area) leaving Maliki high and dry.  Once ISIS troops entered Iraq, it took away the ability of the White House to keep their "words".  Contrary to what the Col Chuck Horner fanboys would have you believe, you can't win wars or conflicts by airpower alone.  The only way to stop troops from occupying territory is by having other troops kick them out and taking over that same territory.  It is a basic principle of warfare dating back to the most ancient times yet one that modern war planners and politicians pretend is no longer applicable.  ISIS put boots on the ground and they only way to stop them is by having different boots on the ground to either push them or at least re-occupy territory ISIS took over.

The troop pull-out in Iraq greatly exacerbated, if not outright created, the situations were ISIS (now the Islamic State or ISIL) saw an opportunity to come in and topple an already unpopular Maliki.   In theory, the boots to counter ISIL should belong to the Iraqi Army but they have been unable to handle the job.  The US and Maliki have been trying to coax Iran into providing those needed boots on the ground.  Iran has an interest in not seeing the separatist movement in Iraq spread, however they are even more interested in not having their military forces involved in a full blown war.

So now if you are the National Security Council and want to keep your options open in Iraq but not contradict the President's words of "no boots on the ground", what do you do?  Well you can position nine (9) US Navy warships in the Persian Gulf.  The USS George H. W. Bush is on-station accompanied by one cruiser and five destroyers (carrier strike group), the USS Gunston Hall (LSD-44) and the USS Mesa Verde (LPC-19).  Now add the USS Bataan (LHD-5) with 1,000 Marines and you see that the White House has many options for striking targets in Iraq without "boots on the ground." (Source:  USNI)  But nothing is ever easy, especially for this White House.

Having all of that firepower on-station in the Persian Gulf does not mean the White House has a strategy.  Republicans as well as Democrats are bemoaning the lack of a strategy for Iraq.  The lack of strategy is perhaps why Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has come out on video as the leader of ISIL.  He may end-up stopping a Hellfire missile at some point but for now he is leading a very popular movement.  His words carry more weight than the President right now.  Why do I say that?

The success of ISIL in Iraq has rekindled fears of another al-Qaeda led attack on the United States.  In response to this "impending threat", the TSA has instituted a ban on all uncharged mobile devices.  The paranoia has gone global.  Uncharged mobile devices are now what liquid explosives were just a few years ago.  The problem is not with what is perceived as a viable threat, rather the "one-size fits all" way that the ban has been instituted.  Security agencies around the world are now more concerned with the potential weapon versus the behavior.

TSA especially has always taken the approach of everyone is a potential threat until proven otherwise.  Such an approach has a number of weaknesses.  First, all of the emphasis is placed on passengers boarding.  Little to none is placed on airport employees who could be compromised into hiding a weapon or explosive device on the aircraft.  Second, the TSA approach is a public relations nightmare. By summarily treating every passenger to increasingly more invasive screenings, you are in effect going against the most basic tenet of American law that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty.  This is why whenever a screener abuses their position of authority it results in a maelstrom of public outcry.  TSA basically has yet to find the words to create belief amongst Americans.  Even if they finally do, TSA is still is only looking at a small part of the problem.

If ISIL or some other al-Qaeda cell is activated, I submit they won't have to travel here (a basic premise of TSA is that potential terrorists will use the airlines to travel or as weapons).  More than likely, there are cells already in place and may not need to move by commercial airliners.  TSA may be thwarting the use of airliners as weapons but what about other potential weapons?  For example, according to a Cincinnati Enquirer article Ohio leads the country in hazardous materials transportation spills with over 25 percent of the spills in Ohio occurring in the Greater Cincinnati area.  Our railroad infrastructure is outdated and crumbling before our eyes, it would not take much for a terrorist cell cause a train hauling hazardous waste (to include spent nuclear fuel) to crash in a major metropolitan area.

Thanks to Micheal Bay and J.J. Abrahams (pictures instead of words), we tend to think of a terrorist attack as involving massive explosions resulting in huge numbers of casualties.  But who is to say that the next terrorist attack needs to look like something out of summer blockbuster movie?  Our power grids are extremely vulnerable to malware attacks and it would not take much to bring the Eastern Seaboard down.  Just imagine what few weeks without power to run refrigerators would do to the price of food and medicine!

Reports are coming out of West Africa that Ebola is spreading rapidly.  All it will take is one case of that to get on a plane and land here in the US.  How hard would it be for an al-Qaeda operative to arrange something like while we are busy making sure all mobile devices are charged?  Of course it is easier to use words to create a threat (uncharged mobile devices) which can then be portrayed as being neutralized by other words.

Words by the President who calls the situation on the Southwest border a "humanitarian issue" even though anywhere else illegal border crossings would constitute a state of emergency.  And words we don't hear, such as where are those immigrants being housed? (Answer, on military bases.  Out of sight, out of mind don't you know)

Words by a former President declaring a "war on drugs".  We still have troops and other clandestine operatives deployed throughout Colombia yet the flow of cocaine and now heroin are as strong as ever.  The war on drugs did produce some tangible results by increasing the number of Americans in prison for drug related crimes.  So many are in prison that Louisiana (of all places) is looking at reforming drug conviction laws (such as mandatory sentencing for possession) to address prison overcrowding.  The sale of illegal drugs produce such huge profits that the drug cartels are able to out-pay and out-finance most governments (even the US).  Terrorist groups need funding and what has always been obvious, but not spoken of much, is the relationship between the two groups.  Afghani poppy growers produce the raw materials for heroin.  Colombian and Mexican drug cartels have the infrastructure to move the heroin along with cocaine and marijuana.  If you can smuggle drugs, you can smuggle weapons.  Apparently, we don't have words for this potential threat.

President Obama lost a war of words with Syria, then Crimea and now Iraq.  He also lost a war of words with Central Americans seeking amnesty in the United States.  Now he has lost a war of words with the American people.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Arms Dealing

There is money to be made in war or at least in sale of arms.  The US has pledged not to put boots on the ground in Iraq, however there are already 650 of the 770 troop authorization already in-country forcing the Pentagon to deny charges of mission-creep.  Those troops are going to need weapons and ammunition, plus food and other supplies.  The price of those troops pales in comparison to big ticket items like missiles and aircraft.

Those troops in Iraq are there to protect US personnel and act as advisors.  Hardly enough to begging to turn back ISIS.  What the Iraqis need though is better air support and the US had promised to sell them more F-16s and drones.  The aircraft are tied up in bureaucratic nonsense which allowed Russia to once again beat the US to the punch.

On Monday, Russian television trumpeted the arrival of the first five of 12 promised Sukhoi Su-25 combat fighter jets to the Iraqi government, saying it had also sent “trainers” to help the Iraqis use them. Gen. Anwar Hama Ameen,the commander of the Iraqi Air Force, told The New York Times the fighter jets would enter the battle against ISIS within a few days, after which the Russian trainers would leave Iraq. He said Iraq had plenty of pilots with “long experience” flying the Su-25. The Russian ambassador to Iraq also said Russian pilots would not fly missions inside Iraq.--The Daily Beast

Given that Iraqi pilots don't know how to fly the Su-25 yet, I doubt that Russian pilots won't end up flying at least some initial sorties.  The last time Su-25s were flown by Iraq was back in 2002.  The Su-25 was the Soviet Unions answer to the A-10 Warthog.  It is a subsonic jet designed especially for close-air support (CAS) missions exactly what is needed in dealing with ISIS (now the Islamic State).  

According to the Christian Science Monitor, the sale of the Su-25s were in the works prior to the breakout of the crisis but Russia may now have accelerated the delivery of the aircraft in part to trump the United States.  Russia has successfully draw a distinction between itself and the United States which in comparison has been slow to provide minimal support.

Perhaps in an attempt to save face, the State Department announced the sale of 4,000 Hellfire missiles to Iraq;

The State Department has told lawmakers informally that the Obama administration wants to sell Iraq more than 4,000 additional Hellfire missiles for the government’s fight against Islamic insurgents, according to people familiar with the plan.--Bloomberg

Each Hellfire missile costs around $70K, so the sale is worth $280 million.  The Lockheed plant in Bethesda where the Hellfire is made has put on two shifts of workers putting the plant at full capacity.  Nothing like "Gears of War" to stimulate the economy.  

There is a small problem though for Iraq.  Hellfire missiles can't be carried on Su-25s.  Hellfire missiles are typically carried by Predators (MQ-1B) or Reapers (MQ-9) which I cannot find any mention of being sold to Iraq.  The only drones sales I can find mentioned in open-source materials are the 48 Ravens identified in the Marine Times back in December.  The RQ-11 are small hand-held drones which are obviously not capable of carrying Hellfire missiles.  

So what does Iraq have or has purchased to carry all those Hellfire missiles?  Back in January, the US agreed to the sale of six Apache helicopters with an option to buy another 24 (source:  Foreign Policy), the total price including training is $6.2 billion.  That is addition to the $1.9 billion for 36 F-16 fighters that was initiated in 2011 (source: CS Monitor).

With dollar signs like this, Russia is interested in getting their share of Iraqi oil money even more than embarrassing an already weak White House.