Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Some random thoughts and observations as January comes to a close.

- Mr. Obama sure has his priorities in order.  He blows off the largest gathering of world leaders in Paris to honor those killed during the Charlie Hebdo attacks, yet makes a beeline for Saudi Arabia to honor there new king.  At first, this seemed like some more Obama Administration miscalculations until I went to the gas pump on Sunday and filled up at $1.85.  I'm unconvinced Saudi Arabia is an active partner in combatting terrorism in the way that say the UK or even France are but by keeping their oil production up and prices low, they are helping to keep the Obama war machine turning.

-  Mr.  Obama then makes another speedy to trip to recognize the new PM of India.  Unlike events in Saudi Arabia, this actually does represent a paradigm shift for the US which has been at odds with New Delhi since the Cold War (and professing our continued support of Pakistan).  Alas it seems too little, too late as Russia has been involved with India since the days of the Soviet Union.  India has benefitted from Russian nuclear technology and now is on the cusp of receiving cheap Russian oil to help fuel an ever growing Indian economy.

- The challenge with deconstructing a given conspiracy theory is there is almost always a little truth to them.  Case in point, the conspiracy theorists have been labeling the Charlie Hebdo attacks as a "false flag" attack, meaning it was set deliberately to justify actions by other states usually leading towards war.  In this case, France had committed to sell two warships to Russia and was reducing their military which would mean fewer French troops and equipment would be available to support US led actions.  Now France is rethinking its drawdown.

- Speaking of the Charlie Hebdo attack, a renewed debate on guns has erupted on cyberspace.  The pro-gun side believes a well armed civilian populace would have prevented the massacre in Paris.  The gun-control side believes just the opposite that access to guns increases the likelihood for an even higher body county.  Now Interpol, the police agency consisting of countries with some of the most restrictive gun-control policies, has come out with a Hobson's choice; you either arm your citizens or impose martial law.  "Societies have to think about how they’re going to approach the problem. One is to say we want an armed citizenry; you can see the reason for that. Another is to say the enclaves are so secure that in order to get into the soft target you’re going to have to pass through extraordinary security,” stated Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble.

- The US may need to figure which side of the argument it is on soon.  Our friends at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have in another demonstration of short-term thinking are shutting down 20 percent of the US coal-burning power plants.  Hooray!  Clean-air and less carbon emissions for all!  Except with coal accounting for 40 percent of US power production, and no new EPA approved plants coming on-line, this means our power grid is being constrained even more.  It won't take make much for either a physical or cyber attack on our power grids to put us down for the count.  But we will have cleaner air.

- The US poster-child for waging asymmetrical warfare (read, killing terrorists) is the aerial unmanned vehicle or simply drone.  These remotely piloted aircraft allow for the hunting and killing of terrorists in real-time.  They also present the illusion of conducting air warfare for less than using manned aircraft and without risking the lives of American pilots.  But time marches on and what was true just 10 years ago has greatly changed.  According to Gen. Mike Hostage, chief of the air service’s Air Combat Command, "Predators and Reapers are useless in a contested environment."  Whoops, isn't that exactly the kind of environment we DON'T want our pilots to fly in?  He goes on, "Today … I couldn’t put [a Predator or Reaper] into the Strait of Hormuz without having to put airplanes there to protect it."  Wait, you need to protect you unmanned aircraft with an manned aircraft?  Why yes, according to Gen Welsh who revealed that an F-22 — the planet’s most sophisticated stealth fighter — intercepted Iranian F-4 Phantom jets that were closing in on a U.S. Predator drone over the strait last March. In November 2012, Iranian Su-25 ground attack jets fired on, and missed, an American Predator over the strait. (Source:  Foreign Policy)

- Mr. Obama has instituted several changes to the US military during his tenure; allowing women in combat, allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly, and an increased focus on reducing sexual assault.  Any one of these would have be a major cultural shift for the US military, implementing all three while the US is still deploying troops to hostile areas has led to the lowest morale of the US military since Vietnam.  This is not to argue the merits of any of the decisions but to point out that in chasing the political side of the issue, the morale of the troops has suffered.  None of these issues are easy to implement, one need only look back on the history of race in the military.  To ask the military to sort through three major issues, while facing continued deployments as well as troop reductions, is just foolhardy.  If you are serious about these issues, then give the troops the time and support to change the culture.  Otherwise this is just politics and not about the troops.

- January is the month that US President's give their State of the Union address.  Mr. Obama said the U.S. was upholding 'the principle that bigger nations can't bully the small' by opposing what he called Russian president Vladimir Putin's aggression and supporting democracy in Ukraine (Source: Daily Mail).  Strong words from a president who has a military that  has been at war for 13 years, facing a drawdown, is going through major cultural changes, and flat out doesn't like their Commander-In-Chief (CINC). But now, according to the Daily Mail,  the Russians have claimed the speech showed how the United States believes it is 'number one' and is unable to be an equal.  The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Levrov reacted by saying, "Yesterday's speech by the president shows that at the centre of the U.S. philosophy is only one thing: "We are number one and everybody else has to respect that."

- The warmongering former POW and Senator, John McCain, now is pressuring Obama to increase troop presence, "American boots on the ground are necessary to defeat [the group] in Iraq and Syria." (Defense News).  Even McCain admits there is no coherent strategy for dealing with Daesh but he wants to add more troops?  A especially egregious recommendation from a Vietnam veteran, a war the defined the ridiculousness of quantifying military victory.

- The whole GOP/North Korea/Sony Pictures attack seems to have been forgotten.  However, now that the US is ramping up for the 2016 Presidential election, Iran is back on the front burner.  Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman (Calif.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is expressing support for legislation that would impose new sanctions on Iran if talks fail to reach a deal curbing its nuclear program (The Hill).  More troops for McCain plus more sanctions for Sherman seems to equal a future conflict with Iran?

- Finally, who will next lead the US through this chaos as the 45th President?  We've already heard enough about Hillary and Jeb, now we get other retreads such as Romeny, Biden, Christie and Rubio.  Elizabeth Warren is staying pat so far and as such, no other big name Democrats (other than Biden) are really coming out.  It is the Republicans to lose, I say that due to the sense of many people have had enough of Hillary.  She is tired and not nimble on her feet like her husband.  A prolonged campaign will invite too many opportunities for her to stumble and fall.  But if the Republicans front Jeb, the country may just turn off their electronic devices for the next election.

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