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.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Objectives without a plan

If you were only to read the NY Times, you might think "The End Times" have arrived.

First Roger Cohen's op-ed piece, "The Great Unraveling", paints an even gloomier view of events than most.  He threads the beheadings of the two American journalists (James Foley and Steven Sotloff) and British aid worker, the US air strikes in ISIS (objectives with no plan according to Cohen), the breakout up of the United Kingdom over Scotland's independence, the "fear" of Putin losing more to the West (hence the annexation of Crimea).  The modern world has started to devolve in Cohen's opinion and no one is really in a position to do much about it.

Next is a piece on the Obama administration sending 3,000 troops to fight Ebola in Liberia.  Along with news that the spread of the disease has the CDC so worried they have ordered 5,000 body and 160,000 hazmat suits, it seems only a matter of time before we see people bleeding out on the streets of New York and Atlanta.

The NY Times follows those two gems with another alarm, this time a story that tends contradict itself stating the "threat" of ISIS coming through our "porous" border with Mexico.  The NY Times piece is actually based on report from Judicial Watch (which both the FBI and DHS refute) that there has been "chatter" indicating ISIS cells in Mexico plans to drive vehicles loaded with explosives across the border and ram then into targets throughout the Southwest (I guess they have seen the new Mad Max trailer).

Wow, seems like time to start heading towards your bug-out site!

Cohen's piece did the best job of looking at things from a global perspective.  The Obama strategy for dealing with ISIS is only looking at it from the perspective of eradicating a terrorist group.  Going after targets in Syria is almost assuredly going to result in conflict with Syria.  What Cohen seems to miss is the potential for Russia to become involved in what happens between Syria and the US.  The beheadings are horrifying but that's just the point, terrorism as performance art.  Its working too as Obama is now on the defense from his own citizens.

Instead of worrying about getting Jihad Johnny, go rescue the other hostages first.  That shuts down the theater for Jihad Johnny, then let the spooks find him and put several 9mm or 5.56mm rounds into his face.  Make sure his face getting smashed by bullets makes it out on to social media unlike when they killed bin Laden.  The announcement that US has stuck ISIS targets near Baghdad just doesn't have the same impact as seeing the hostages rescued and the knife-wielding terrorist getting his.

But as Cohen points out, that would a plan behind the objectives.  Somehow hunting for a terrorist who likes to behead civilians is supposed to make the other problems go away.  What if going after ISIS in Syria turns Asad and ISIS into partners?  Minimally it will extend US efforts, at worst make ISIS striking the US a far more realistic possibility (perhaps even armed with chemical weapons).

Washington is bragging because Jordan has joined the fight.  Truth of the matter is King Abdullah had no choice as his regime was next for the Shiites.  It remains to be seen if this announcement is a true compensation for the withdrawal of Iran's support.

To Cohen's point about the "unraveling" of the UK, Scotland independence is not the end of the United Kingdom.  However, Scottish independence does raise some questions about the future of the military in the UK.  Scottish regiments have traditionally been a major part of the British military.  Their loss means an automatic reduction in the size of the British military.  This comes at an especially bad time with NATO now trying to stand-up its Rapid Reaction force.  Even if Scotland remains, the cost to help maintain the Rapid Reaction force will come close to 2% of the GDP.

The other problem for the British military is if Scotland becomes independent, there goes their nuclear bases.  Where will the British Navy park their boomer subs?  All of this coming at a time when NATO nuclear forces may need to provide a greater level of deterrence to Russia than ever before.

Now we come to the other problem the NY Times points out.  The ebola outbreak is now beyond the control of West African medical personnel so now the West must once again save the "Dark Continent".  The problem is that US forces really aren't set up to deal with something like this.  Don't be fooled, the real reason for troops on the ground is to make sure that West African resources don't fall into the hands of Russia or China.  There is money to be mad in a widespread outbreak and contractors such as Kellog, Brown and Root (KGB) and its former parent corporation Haliburton are sure to be there in force.  Food, medicine and supplies will be the reason given for their presence but watch how these companies will remain in place once the outbreak burns out.  Nothing breaks down red-tape like an outbreak of a deadly virus.

ISIS attacking out of Mexico does not make a lot of sense.  There are Border Patrol agents, DEA agents, Customs agents, plus Texas National Guard, Texas Rangers and Arizona Rangers already patrolling the "porous border".  Not to mention some unknown number of trigger-happy American citizens (referred to a militia in the media) also patrolling the border.  Any attack launched from that border has a low probability of success and a very high probability of ISIS operatives being shot repeatedly by grinning American citizens.  ISIS is about theater in which the are the stars, they would not want to risk becoming the victims.

That is not to say ISIS will not use all of the commotion on the Mexican border to their advantage.  While we look to the Southwest, we forget that there is 4,000 miles of almost uncontested border to the north.  The likelihood of success is far greater if the try to sneak in from the North.  Chicago and New York City are much easier to reach from the Canadian side.  Canada is not a densely populated land mass making it far easier to hide and wait for orders.

Either way, that assumes ISIS needs to get in.  From the composition of ISIS, they seem adept at recruiting from a cross-section of different nations.  Why risk failure in trying to sneak in when they could just recruit from people already here?

Car bombs are certainly effective and difficult to detect.  But what if ISIS, or another group for that matter, decided to take a page from the US?  Drones are readily available and could deliver a decent payload into say something like a power station.  Drones can fly below radars and our fighter interceptors would be particular challenged to take out a drone as it flew over a populated city or suburb.

All of this gloom and doom will give DHS and FBI additional reasons to watch everyone even more closely than they do now.  Whether or not they have gotten any better at figuring out the terrorist from the ordinary criminal or disgruntled citizen remains to be seen.

So no Mr. Cohen, its not an unraveling as much as a quickening of events.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thoughts on Obama's four-point strategy

Somehow the United States was able to tear itself away from the Ray Rice/Roger Goodell debacle long enough to hear President Obama's speech last night.

In a four-point plan that he laid out, the Commander-in-Chief announced coming airstrikes in both countries, additional support for Iraqi army units, counter-terrorism activities to hamstring ISIS, and renewed humanitarian aid for victims of ISIS militants.  (Daily Mail)

Obama, reeling politically from the beheadings of two American journalists, had to come out with a more intense plan than he originally wanted.  His airstrikes in Iraq have not produced results that he can use to righten his sinking presidency.  He now has to go after targets in Syria as well (which begs the first most obvious question, why didn't he do that when Asad used chemical weapons? We get to to that in a moment).

Obama's timidness in not wanting to take a more aggressive stance has set him up to fail into this quagmire.  Had he supported Syrian rebels early on, he may very well have avoided the crisis in Iraq.  Had he reacted more quickly to the threat in Iraq, instead of dismissing them as a "junior varsity team", he could have prevented ISIS from occupying territory.  Now by promising to destroy ISIS, he opens himself up to mission creep.  Yes, he has promised no boots on the ground, but that is the truth as we know it today.  Should his four-point plan fail to produce tangible results, there will be pressure to do more.

Obama's approach is fraught with peril for both his presidency as well as that of the next US president.  Quote, "That means I will not hesitate to take action against [ISIS] in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”  (The Hill)

Attacking in ISIS presented no political peril as the Iraqi government and Washington shared the same views.  However, attacking ISIS in Syria crosses over into a much different political reality.  The US and Syrian government have been at odds for several years yet ISIS is our enemy even though they were formed out of the rebels opposing Asad.  In short, who exactly do we strike in Syria…Asad or ISIS or both?

The US is able to work with Iraqi army, Kurdish Army (Peshmerga), as well as even the Iranians to help deal with ISIS in Iraq.  This type of synergy does not exist in Syria.  The US, and the UN at Washington's insistence, have called for President Asad to step down.  Although ISIS stands in opposition to Asad, I don't see where the Washington and Damascus share any common goals.  The US wants to strike ISIS in Syria because of actions they have taken in Iraq.  Asad has no interest in matters in Iraq.

Obama has formulated a plan that relies on the formation of partnerships to wage counter-terrorism against ISIS.  In a sense, he is trying to create a brand to compete with the ISIS brand. Therein lies the problem, ISIS is about forming an Islamic state.  A successful competing brand would have to be the creation of some state that is opposed to an Islamic state.  Given that this is to be accomplished with the help of Islamic nations, it would appear the Obama brand is doomed not to succeed.

Earlier I posed a question about why Obama did not strike when Asad used chemical weapons against Syrians.  The reasons may be varied but one of the biggest was assuredly the presence of a ten Russian warships in the port of Tartus.  Those ships included cruisers armed with surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) that could have threatened US fighters.  Russian Marines were on the ground in Syria and Washington couldn't risk hitting a Russian troop by accident.

There are no current reports of how many Russian navy ships are docked in Tartus but since it is a Russia facility, we can assume there are some.  Unlike the situation in Iraq, attacking targets in Syria is surely to draw the criticisms of Moscow.  Also unlike Iraq, Russian forces are based in Syria.

US Department of Homeland security and other agencies are quite concerned that ISIS will attack targets here in the US. But the fixation is on ISIS operatives trying to come over here (at least in the press).  What is missed in these assessments is that ISIS is NOT made up of just Sunnis from Syria and Iraq.  ISIS has managed to recruit rebels from Saudi Arabia, Europe and even the US.  ISIS does need to try to infiltrate an operative, they seem to be able to recruit them from abroad quite easily.

Even by Obama's own admission, his strategy is a long-term process.  The campaign against ISIS could turn into a Vietnam type situation where slowly more and more ground troops are poured into the region.  If special operations troops are already operating in Iraq, it stands to reason given last night's speech that there will special operations conducted against targets in Syria.  Russia is unlikely to support such escapades are may other increase actives in the Ukraine or increase their presence in Syria.  

Either way, Obama has set a course for an untenable future.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Russians are coming

Last week, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen issued a warning: "Should you even think of attacking one ally, you will be facing the whole alliance."  Good stuff, right?!  Surely this bold warning coinciding with the annoucement of NATO's Rapid Reaction Force will give President Putin cause to rethink his actions in Ukraine.   He would most certainly not go into any other country, say like Estonia, right?  Of course, this announcement may have come after Russia captured an Estonian police officer who they now claim is a spy.

The announcement was so powerful even President Obama had to eschew his anti-war, cut-the-military tendencies and agreed that the US would be right there with NATO.  But Russian forces have been on the border or in Ukraine for some time.  What caused NATO, especially the US, decide that something more drastic was needed?

According to the news site, Russian Tu-95 bombers have been practicing drills against targets on the Labrador Islands.  The profiles being flown by the bombers would indicate they are practicing a launch profile against targets in the United States.

The bombers are capable of carrying AS-15 Kent nuclear cruise missiles.   The nuclear warhead carried by the AS-15 Kent has a 200 kiloton yield (that's 10 times the yield of the Fat Man bomb dropped on Nagasaki).

Of course militaries conduct training drills all of the time, what has NATO and the US so worried is the following, "The latest report (of bombers conducting drills) comes days after Russia’s own recent decision to revise a 2010 military doctrine to identify the US and NATO members as enemies, which “clearly outline[s] the conditions of a preemptive nuclear strike” against partner countries"

Russian bombers have been bumping up against US fighters in the Pacific for the last year.  The RT repot is the first of bombers operating near US forces over the Atlantic (not counting the Russian subs that keep appearing in the Gulf of Mexico).   The maneuvers over Labrador were outside the NORAD area so no interceptors were scrambled.

A change in Russian doctrine, increase activity of nuclear-capable bombers, and a decided shift by NATO which was wondering what life was going to be like after Afghanistan…perhaps this is the reasoning behind the tepid plan for dealing with ISIS.

The Obama Doctrine

According to the Weekly Standard, the Obama doctrine for ISIS has 3 components;

1.  An air campaign to soften targets on the ground and support Iraqi Army forces

2. An intensified effort to train, advise or equip the Iraqi military, Kurdish fighters and possibly members of Sunni tribes

3. And, finally, the “toughest and most politically controversial phase of the operation — destroying the terrorist army in its sanctuary inside Syria.  Which… might not be completed until the next administration. Indeed, some Pentagon planners envision a military campaign lasting at least 36 month

The premise is "The White House is counting on an effort by American, Iraqi and Gulf Arab officials to persuade Sunni tribesman in western Iraq, now aligned with ISIS, to break their ties after chafing under the harsh Shariah law the group has imposed." Weekly Standard

There are more airstrikes going on then is being reported on most of the news outlets.  There are reports of over 500 strikes by US Navy F-18s.  What are they targeting?  The US is going after logistic hubs and supply lines (Wall Street Journal).

Obama is loathe to send in ground troops (both for political as well as practical reasons).  Air strikes have on supply lines and logistic hubs has a limited shelf-life.  Eventually the enemy relocates, shifts supply lines and they continue to operate.  A light, guerrilla force like ISIS is not as encumbered by its supply lines as say a conventional army.  They can re-equip on the fly.  Once struck, there is nothing that says a light force can't go back to an old logistics hub or even build underground facilities.  That's why ground troops are still relevant in this day and age of unmanned aerial drones.

Equip the Iraqi military, Kurds (Peshmerga) and Sunnis means putting at least some ground troops into Iraq (special forces, most likely Green Berets).  Even acting only as "advisors", the presence of any ground troops has the potential for escalation.  Military Assistance Command-Vietnam (MAC-V) was created for exactly the same reasons and eventually lead to the US going into a full-scale war in Vietnam.  There is a very real potential for the US to end-up in a war with Syria or others in the region over this doctrine.

The third and final objective is the one fraught with the most uncertainty.  First, we are going to try to destroy an entity in one sovereign nation by going after it in another.  In effect, we are sending Iraqis in to fight the Syrians.  Can you say "colonialism"?

Another challenge, how can a Western/Christian power like the US expect  Sunni Muslims to be persuaded by our goals?  Had the US not invaded Iraq in the first place, it is reasonable to assume the situation in Iraq would not exist.  A Sunni fighter might ask "What makes the US think it understands us any better now than it did 11 years ago?"  Meanwhile, should Russia amp things up in Ukraine or start making a move towards Estonia, will the Obama administration be able to keep its focus on ISIS?

Obama's strategy cannot be realized in the time he has left in office and that plays right into the hands of ISIS.  They are already on the ground and can easily wait out the time left for the Obama administration.  Worse, ISIS can now control things politically here in the US.  For example, as long as they continue to be newsworthy it will be a major factor in deciding who becomes the next President.  Should it look like the US is starting to gain advantage, all ISIS has to do is make some kind of attack on the homeland.  Chaos and panic will ensue.

From Obama's first admission that he did not have a strategy for Iraq the other week, it took his team almost 10 days to come up with this mess of a doctrine.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The real reason there will be no boots on the ground

The hawks criticize Obama for not taking more decisive action against ISIS and Syria.  Obama defenders race to his side and point out that he is not looking to engage the US in another war.  But this is the same President that had no problems giving the go-ahead to kill al-Awlaki (an Islamic militant, cleric and US citizen) and Bin Laden (only the most wanted terrorist who was sanctioned for killing instead of capture).  What has changed in the Obama administration?  The following two quotes, one from Secretary of State Kerry and one from former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, point to the same phenomena through the eyes of political media-speak.

From Secretary Kerry:  'We need to attack them in ways that prevent them from taking over territory, to bolster the Iraqi security forces and others in the region who are prepared to take them on, without committing troops of our own,' U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a meeting of 10 nations. Obviously I think that's a red line for everybody here: no boots on the ground.'  The Daily Mail

From Mitt Romney, ever hopeful Presidential candidate;  "The Republican Party's 2012 presidential candidate opened up with both barrels on the White House, warning that 'bullying, invasion and regional wars' will ultimately become the norm if the U.S. withdraws from its historical role as the sole superpower capable of knitting together the world's fragile detente."  The Daily Mail

It may not look like it but they have both said something important, unfortunately it gets lost in the translation of political double-speak.  Now watch this video from the Ohio National Guard. If you can't watch the video, t basically announces for the first time ever all of the unit training assemblies (drills) for Ohio Army National Guard in September are being postponed until the end of the month.  Why?  Because there is no money!  This is not the fault of the Ohio National Guard or even the National Guard Bureau, this is the effects of the Obama administration.

Obama set out to cut the military from the very beginning.  His promise to bring the troops home was not about ending the war but about ending the justification for having a large standing military.  It was no coincidence that sequestration occurred during his watch.  By implementing sequestration, Obama forced the military to cancel programs and reduce end-strength.  He may or may not have understood sequestration would also effect readiness by reducing things such as flight hours, training hours, and drills.  Obama also fired a record number of general officers (very likely, this were officers that would not have gone along with budgetary cuts quietly).

Sexual assaults and cheating scandals of the nuclear launch officers became hot button issues highlighting an unhealthy culture of the military.  Sexual assaults and cheating are not new phenomenons to the military (nor the rest of our society) and they cannot be tolerated.  However, one wonders if Obama's new found passion for righting these matters is not in part spurred but the desire to remove the heroic images of the military.  It is easier to cut the budgets of sexual predators and cheaters than it is to cut funding for war heroes.

The nuclear launch officers cheating also provide fuel for another Obama goal.  Obama has wanted to reduce nuclear weapons but met with resistance from those in Congress who still see a need to deter Russian and Chinese nuclear attacks.  To Obama, the cheating scandals provide ammunition for reducing/eliminating an obsolete part of the military.  Again, this is not to excuse the cheating of those officers but rather to point out how this works into a grander strategy for Obama.

The real reason then for no boots on the ground is Obama knows his cuts have finally started to take effect in the military.  It is perhaps why he also has been espousing the virtues of multi-lateral partnerships.  It is all designed to build the case for a much smaller military.  You don't need a large standing military if you can get your friends to help you out.  Perhaps this analysis is wrong and it merely a series of coincidences that appear related.  However, if the analysis is correct it means future Presidents will face even more challenges as world leaders begin to realize the US military is only a fraction of what it once was.

Perhaps this is why Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf got quoted saying, "Completing the mission" is a term – I don't even know what that means when you're talking about terrorist organizations" The Daily Mail

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Fighting the last war

The screen shot is from the Drudge Report this morning.  The four headlines show a US President that is facing a crisis with no clue how to react.  Even Obama supporters are giving him tepid words of encouragement such as, "he doesn't want to get us involved in another war".  Perhaps but that's not really a strategy after two American journalists have been beheaded.  The last I checked, Obama ended the "war" (more correctly, occupation) in Iraq and Afghanistan but he did not end the war against al Qaeda.  ISIS and al Qaeda see US forces still quite engaged against them and are using some of their best weapons against us.

A common mistake military generals and their staffs make is to fight the last war.  The huge number of casualties of the First World War was due largely to a general staff that fought using Napoleonic style tactics (let's all line up side by side and march forward) without realizing the machine gun made that style of warfare obsolete and suicidal!  Those same general staffs had no Plan B so they dug in and trench warfare ensued.  No one wins under such circumstances and your troops rot from exposure.

In Vietnam, military forces trained and equipped to fight the Soviet military didn't know what to do with the guerrilla tactics of the Vietcong.  A long, protracted war ensued again with no Plan B.  The North Vietnamese correctly assumed a protracted, bloody war would turn the hearts and minds of the American public back home against the government.

When the US went into Desert Storm, it was trained and equipped to fight another Vietnam (many troops first arriving in the desert still wore woodland BDU patterns).  A massive air bombardment took our most of the Iraqi air force and softened the Iraqi Army to the point the war was over quickly.  US military planners have been trying to do that again ever since.

The challenge for George W. Bush was after 9/11, he needed to wage another Desert Storm against al Qaeda.  In Afghanistan, there was no large standing Taliban military to take down so massive airpower wasn't an answer.  When Bush became convinced Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, he saw the opportunity to wage another Desert Storm in retaliation for the attack on US soil.

Let's ignore the issue of whether or not the there were weapons of mass destruction and simply focus on the way Bush decided to go after al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.  Nineteen terrorists killed 2,996 (Wikipedia) on 9/11.  Bush then leveraged the entire US military, plus those of allied nations, to achieve 176,000 combat deaths in Iraq (Iraq Body Count project) and 21,000 in Afghanistan (Cost of War).  What Bush, and now Obama, fail to see is how our actions are being perceived by the Arab and Muslim world.  We are inflicting many more casualties than died on 9/11.  We may be winning the battles but we are losing the war.

Obama is facing a much different type of warfare and he is unfortunately proving ill-equipped to handle it.  Social media is what the Cold War era mind-control experts of the CIA and KGB could only have dreamed about.

Social media rapidly creates perceptions and shapes opinions amongst divergent groups that only a few years ago, would never have connected.  Look at the events in Ferguson, MO just a few weeks ago.  Social media turned the shooting into an international situation.  Social media helped fan the flames of the protestors.  It rallied people who may not have otherwise heard of the shooting to take action.  Terrorists groups already know all of this.

In the past, if you wanted to recruit people to your terrorist group you had to first find the right people.  If you are say based in Yemen and want to recruit in London, you first have to travel and then establish some type of network.  Very risky and dangerous not to mention expensive.

Now with social media, you can create websites, chatrooms, Twitter accounts, etc that are designed to attract a certain type of personality.  Often these take the form of political or theological discussion groups (I also wonder if gamers aren't being handled via the content of some video games).  Handlers mine the chat rooms for those personalities that seem most pliable.  Those people are then recruited for additional training.  A low cost, low risk platform for finding the right people.

Now Obama is facing an attack over social media where American journalists are being beheaded.  The perpetrator is almost sticking his tongue out saying, "Ha!  You can't catch me and I'm gonna do it again!".  Obama looks powerless.  For all we know, these videos could have been shot days or weeks ago making it that much difficult to pinpoint where the terrorists are at so direct some type of military action is return is almost impossible.

Obama has another social media problem.  Each time another crisis occurs, he other gives a glib speech about his concern and promise to take only to then be whisked away from the cameras.  He is then seen playing golf.  The real reasons for this are elusive but the effect is it renders him at best disengaged and worst, incompetent.  His statement last week that he did not have a strategy for Syria left many gobsmacked.

Putin, being a former KGB operative, knows a thing or two about waging psychological warfare (which is what really social media was pre-made for).  He has always shown himself as a steely eyed warrior, riding horses bare chested or flinging opponents around on the judo mat.  He should no signs of weakening his resolve annexing Crimea or sending troops into Ukraine.  Juxtapose that with Obama's image and your see a slightly built man with a clipped manner of talking like a fop who has just been offended.  Point, set, match Putin on the social media front.

This is just about Americans cringing over their President.  By waging an image war on social media, terrorist groups may feel that are under less threat from this US President and are emboldened to take action.

What can Obama do?  His brand is already damaged but he could turn that into an advantage (although I fear he is a very vain man he may be too hurt to realize it).  He know has nothing to lose on the image department so why not do something unexpected?  Whining about sanctions and building long term solutions is a snooze-fest when your citizens and being butchered.  Now would be the time for find out just who Jihad-Johnny is and send a Hellfire missile right into his living room window.  Make sure hackers "illegally access" that video and share over social media.  It won't stop the terrorists but it will sure slow things down.

One last closing thought, all of the concern about ISIS sneaking into the US to launch an attack?  Social media makes that notion obsolete.  Operatives can be recruited, indoctrinated and even trained virtually.  No need to sneak anyone in, they are already here.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

When in doubt, play a round of golf

The events of Ferguson, MO had inspired a much longer blog entry but world events have postponed that one.  Those events are a significant commentary on race and the state of policing in the United States.  Fortunately for Team Obama, world events have shifted and prevented a look at how ineffective the first "Black" President was at dealing with the racial issues.

The world is watching as a President continues to flail ineffectually at both foreign and domestic events.  It seems when the going gets tough, the Commander-In-Chief goes golfing.

Syria and Iraq are proving to be a kind of Waterloo for Obama.  He famously declared that the use of chemical weapons by Assad represented a "red-line"may be the more well-known example of Obama talking more than acting, but it now appears that by not providing aid to Syrian rebels Obama probably gave ISIS the boost it needed.  ISIS began in Syria but is having its greatest success in Iraq.  It will be interesting to see how this gets played up during the upcoming Presidential elections in 2016.

Obama promised to bring the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan when he was campaigning.  He tried to make good on that promise (which was more of a sound byte rather than a real foreign policy goal), unfortunately Team Obama lack any real understanding of foreign policy.  Supporting an oppressive al-Maliki government set the stage for a successful effort by ISIS to further fracture Iraq.

For a while, it looked like Obama would have to depend on Tehran for help but that has not quite worked out the way he and his staff had hoped.  Attention drew away from Tehran when Netanyahu decided to put an end to Hamas.  Netanyahu did not hesitate in using the "Iron Dome" to defeat Hamas launched missiles, however he did not go so far as to expend Iron Dome missiles in the north for fear that Hezbollah (which has much more sophisticated missiles) might decided to attack northern Israel.

All of this of course was going on with a back-drop of Russia first annexing Crimea and now launching a full scale invasion into Ukraine.  Obama, noting his dropping approval numbers, decided to go the route of economic sanctions and "multi-lateral partnerships".  Unfortunately for Obama, Putin took steps to weather any economic sanctions and created his own "multi-lateral partnerships" (BRICS).

While Obama and his staff looked on without a viable option, Pakistan and China decided to to have their own internal strife (something Obama really has no answers for after Ferguson).  Even his humanitarian efforts are beginning to backfire with Western doctors contracting Ebola in West Africa.  It doesn't look good that somehow Western doctors with an incurable disease are being "cured" once they get back to the United States.   Either the docs were misdiagnosed (so are the people of West Africa) or there is a cure for Ebola (which the US isn't sharing).

The beheading of an American Journalist left Obama with no choice.  He begrudgingly agreed to authorize airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq.  For the umpteenth time, airstrikes alone do not work!  ISIS is a guerrilla force and since as far back as the Vietnam War, airpower alone has proven ineffective at dealing with guerrilla warfare.  Obama painted himself into a box when he jumped in front of a microphone and promised "no troops on the ground in Iraq".

Now reports are coming out that Kurdish fighters in the North and being supported by US Navy SEALS.  Interesting, the last I checked US Navy SEALS tend to fight on the ground or on ships.  At the same time, reports are coming out that there are US forces striking Al Qaeda cells in Somalia.  The pundits have been atwitter (sorry, I've been wanting to use that word today) with fears that ISIS will strike targets here on the good ole USA.  These same experts believe ISIS will travel here, crossing the border in Mexico to launch their attacks.  Yet history has shown that operatives are slipped into years before an attacked is launched.

Which gets back around to Ferguson.  Ferguson demonstrates that in many communities, the police are seen more as the problem rather than the solution.  If ISIS or some other group decides to attack the US, it may be far more expedient to incite riots in large cities than to detonate some type of weapon of mass destruction.