Syria: Should We Stay or Should We Go?

I haven’t picked up on this before because it requires some thinking, so not a bad time for a discussion of it on New Year’s Eve, when we are thinking about the future anyway.

Around 18 months ago, Sean Davis had some thoughts on the matter, which remain relevant.

There’s a pattern here, this is what we did in (and are doing) in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Syria, arguably even in Vietnam. We started something that for whatever reason we are not willing to finish.

Everybody, even Islamists, respects people who are willing to see the job through, but not those who come in rattle around for a while and hunker down, taking casualties for no purpose whatsoever, except perhaps the self-glory of politicians, military and civilian.

I think the most apt analogy may well be the British in India. It took them about 300 years to turn most of India from a feudal country into a semi-democratic democracy, note that time frame, 300 years, and they were only semi-successful. Afghanistan was part of the Raj, as well. We’ve been in Germany for 70 years, but we started there with a country that was not dissimilar from ours, and I don’t think the job is done there either.

Who succeeded in what is now Afghanistan? Not Alexander the Great, not the British, not the Russians. Who succeeded was Ghengis Kahn, and he did it by killing a large proportion of the population.

I wrote a series on Afghanistan back in 2012, you can find it here, here, and here. Nothing whatever has changed, except we’re doing the same thing in Syria, the applicable quote from the series comes from Mark Steyn:

In the last couple of months, two prominent politicians of different nations visiting their troops on the ground have used the same image to me for Western military bases: crusader forts. Behind the fortifications, a mini-West has been built in a cheerless land: There are Coke machines and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Safely back within the gates, a man can climb out of the full RoboCop and stop pretending he enjoys three cups of tea with the duplicitous warlords, drug barons, and pederasts who pass for Afghanistan’s ruling class. The visiting Western dignitary is cautiously shuttled through outer and inner perimeters, and reminded that even here there are areas he would be ill-advised to venture unaccompanied, and tries to banish memories of his first tour all those years ago when aides still twittered optimistically about the possibility of a photo op at a girls’ schoolroom in Jalalabad or an Internet start-up in Kabul.

The last crusader fort I visited was Kerak Castle in Jordan a few years ago. It was built in the 1140s, and still impresses today. I doubt there will be any remains of our latter-day fortresses a millennium hence. Six weeks after the last NATO soldier leaves Afghanistan, it will be as if we were never there. Before the election in 2010, the New York Post carried a picture of women registering to vote in Herat, all in identical top-to-toe bright blue burkas, just as they would have looked on September 10, 2001. We came, we saw, we left no trace. America’s longest war will leave nothing behind.

That’s what I saw then, and its what I see now. I’m not sure who exactly benefits from wasting these brave young Americans (and Britons and Aussies too) but I have my suspicions and suspect you do as well, and they probably match well.

Later that year I wrote another piece on the way General Sheridan pacified the Shenandoah, under General Grant’s orders, remember this was a war by Americans on Americans. We knew how to win once upon a time.

[…] so Grant gave Sheridan some famous orders, amongst other things he told him to take the valley apart so thoroughly that “a crow flying across it will have to carry rations” which Sheridan did, even as Sherman was about to do to Georgia. He also dealt quite sternly with partisans, what we call guerrillas today.

So eventually the war ended and in 1870 Sheridan was in Europe observing the Franco-Prussian war. For some reason he and Otto von Bismarck struck up a friendship and von Bismarck asked Sheridan how to deal with the French guerrillas behind German lines. This was Sheridan’s answer:

 “The people must be left nothing but their eyes to weep with after the war.” He advised that the insurgents be hanged, their villages burned and their lands laid waste until they begged for peace.

We simply are not going to win hearts and minds, either in Afghanistan or Syria, so it comes down to win or lose, and losing includes bleeding casualties for ‘a forever war’ that there is no profit (material or otherwise) in winning.

“In war, there is no substitute for victory.” There wasn’t when MacArthur said it, there wasn’t when his father won the Medal of Honor fighting for the Union, there isn’t now, and there never will be. Sadly, endless war can be profitable for some people, and those people put their profit ahead of America’s best interests.



Let’s do a bit of not so long ago history. If you were paying attention in the sixties and seventies you may have heard the word SIOP. Well, not really a word, it’s an acronym for Single Integrated Operating Plan. Sounds pretty innocuous really, like how New Tork intended how to coordinate 5 bus companies or something.

It’s not, It was the cookbook for the end of the world, at least as we know it. It was the United States plan for nuclear war (and to win that war) against the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China.

The most fearsome plan in man’s long history of military plans, except perhaps the mirror image plan written in the Kremlin Within a day, it would have turned the Soviet Union into a smoking radiating ruin, and perhaps the US and Canada as well.

But it wasn’t all bombers and submarines and ICBMs. It was a real military plan, made by some of the smartest officers that the US Air Force and Navy could find, not to mention brilliant civilians.

One of the perhaps important things was reconnaissance, both before the strikes and battle damage assessment. That was the job of the Blackbird, the SR 71. The plane that flew so high, it’s pilots wore astronaut wings, so fast that it really was faster than a speeding bullet. So amazing that its performance records, now decades after it went to the boneyard, are still classified.

Here, from The Thin Pinstriped Line is what part of its job was.

Striking the Soviets – the role of the SR71 in the SIOP

SIOP – a simple acronym whose four letters referred to the innocuous sounding ‘Single Integrated Operational Plan’ (LINK). Had this plan ever been delivered then it would have heralded the most violent conflict in human history, as the United States delivered a nuclear attack onto an opponent. A masterpiece of analysis and data, crunching numbers, images and assessments to produce a coherent war plan that enabled the USA to overwhelm an opponent.

The plan began in the 1950s as the US sought ways to fight a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, and represented a coherent effort to work out the best manner to employ the nuclear arsenal appropriately. Simply put it identified which targets needed to be hit by what type of weapon, and in what sequencing order to overwhelm the Soviet Union, China and other allies in a single strike. In its initial format it would have seen over 3200 weapons delivered across Eurasia, and had it gone to plan, the attack would likely have killed over 285 million people in a single day.

This initial overwhelming brute force attack was quickly revised in 1962 into a more nuanced strategy of nuclear escalation, allowing the President to approve a variety of strikes against different targets from the Soviets own missile fields to command centres to finally all out general war. In various forms and policy evolution the SIOP continued until 2002 when it was replaced by a different plan.

This grim introduction is necessary to consider the role of the SR71 Blackbird and A12 reconnaissance aircraft in providing timely warning to policy makers during the build up to a general war. As was discussed in Part 1 of this series, these aircraft were to play a vital part in informing military planners about the state of the world.

Documents held on the US national archives (LINK) to the history of the CIA Office of Special Activities have cast light on this critical role, and how for a considerable period the SR71/A12 force played a critical part in informing the US authorities. This second article is about this role, the challenges it faced and the problems policy makers had with it.

Wartime Role

During the mid 1960s as the US introduced the SR71 platform to service, a considerable amount of planning work was done to work out how many aircraft would have been needed to meet the various requirements its users had. This work was carried out to ensure that sufficient aircraft were purchased to meet any conceivable need throughout the service life of the aircraft.

This work was complicated by the fact that there were two entirely separate platforms to consider -the SR71 and the A12. The A12 was a civilian (e.g. CIA) manned airframe funded and operated by the CIA specialising in photography and also employing supporting unmanned drones. The SR71 was a military manned aircraft intended to collect intelligence across a variety of spectrums and firmly under USAF control.

As budget cuts hit in this period, considerable work was done to assess how to rationalise two very similar airframe types and deliver continuing capability. The CIA files show how options papers were staffed, incredibly similar to those familiar to many long suffering staff officers today, looking at different options, costs and capabilities for the force.

Officials concluded that there were four main roles for the force:

  • Strategic Reconnaissance in Peacetime – general targets across the globe
  • Force Mobilisation Reconnaissance  -general targets in China and India
  • Reconnaissance for a general war crisis – against Soviet / Chinese
  • SIOP Reconnaissance – against Soviet Union ahead of delivery of the SIOP.

Keep reading Striking the Soviets – the role of the SR71 in the SIOP. Lot’s more fascinating stuff and very well presented.

Trump, OODA Loops, and Chaos

Michael Walsh wrote a column in The New York Post last week. It’s a good one. A couple excerpts.

And yet, the economy is humming, hosts of regulations have been rolled back, the unemployment rate is down, job openings are soaring, taxes have been cut and black joblessness is at an all-time low. Prototypes for the wall along the Mexican border are being tested, raids by ICE are rounding up dangerous illegal aliens and the “travel ban” against several Muslim nations was argued last month before the Supreme Court, where the president’s authority over immigration will be upheld.

In foreign affairs, the two Koreas are talking to each other, with a summit between Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un slated for June in Singapore, the ISIS “caliphate” has been effectively destroyed and just last week Trump yanked the carpets out from under the Iranian mullahs and canceled the nuclear deal negotiated — but never submitted to the Senate for ratification — by the Obama administration.

Indeed so. As I said in a comment last week, when you write with your finger on the beach, you have to hold back the tide.

The truth is, as much as they hate Trump’s policies, the president’s enemies hate the man even more. Donald Trump offends the establishment on a personal, visceral level. His opponents are the same folks who idolized Adlai Stevenson and thought Ike was just a dolt who somehow won World War II. Who worshipped John F. Kennedy (but were repelled by LBJ), hated Nixon, thought Reagan was an amiable dunce and erected shrines to Obama. They are the Ivy Leaguers, the credentialists, the Georgetown establishment for whom there is only one right way to conduct a presidency, and that is the Harvard-Democratic-groupthink way.

What Trump understands, however, is what many great leaders have understood: that “chaos,” not consensus, is the way ideas are tried and tested. That if someone or something isn’t working, scrap it and try something else. Results are what count, not consistency: Trump’s ability to morph from saber-rattling lunatic to charming glad-hander infuriates them because they see it as phony.

To me, this isn’t so much chaos, as it is the president’s learning curve and getting the right people in the right slots to make his vision work. George Marshall all through the thirties kept lists of officers he thought could lead American armies in war. Of the men on that list – well only Fredenhall who lost at El Guettar didn’t work out. The rest, well, you know the names as well as I do, Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley, Hodges, MacArthur, and many more, thanks to Marshall’s superb planning. Trump didn’t have that opportunity.

Nor was he especially familiar with international diplomacy, any more than you and I are, so there has been a steep learning curve for him, not helped by the hostility here and abroad, which he shares with Eisenhower and Reagan. Pretty good company, I’d say.

Over the course of my life, I picked up the concept of the OODA Loop. It was developed by an Air Force officer, Colonel John Boyd, and it defines the lifeblood of competition, not only in the furball of aerial combat, that was COL Boyd’s milieu but in American business. I wrote about it here, but here are some of the basics.

  • Observe: This means mostly that you’ve been paying attention to all sorts of things. You know what’s going on in the world and what your opponent might be up to.
  • Orientation: This is your background, specialized knowledge and genetic make up and all sorts of other things that your mind uses to filter information. For instance, if you tell me on the phone that the light in your kitchen doesn’t work and that there is a burning smell; I’d tell you to turn off your electricity , and if the smoke smell persists, call the fire department. And since that’s my business, I’ll be there as soon as I can. If my specialty was something else, I’d likely tell you something else. A lot of orientation is experience. To use the Air Force again, if memory serves during WW II they found that if you survived 5 missions you were far more likely that the gross statistics showed, to finish your tour.
  • Decide: Make a decision, define the mission or whatever you choose to call it. This is where a lot of problems happen. It seems that it rarely happens that we get to make a decision on our own anymore. We have so much support infrastructure and it cost so damned much, that we think we always need more information or to consult or whatever. In my Doolittle example above; that’s the message to Pearl or Washington or a council of war. Any of these slow you down. One of the problems our opponent’s have (either big businesses or in the military realm) is that they usually have to get permission to act; often at a ridiculously high level.
  • Action: Do it and do it fast and then do something else. Keep doing things so fast that the opposition can’t ever keep up.

If you read that article, and the ones referred in it, you’ll know that is why America is so formidable, in business and in war, it’s the reaction time, multiple things going on so close together that they all run into each other. In other words, from outside, when done well, it looks like chaos. It also looks like Donald Trump’s America.

What is the Washington way? Well, Jessica once wrote about The Council of Florence, which was attempting to heal the Great Schism between the East and the West. That post made me fall off my chair laughing because for us it was about something else, something contemporary. It also describes ‘the Washington Way’ very well. This is too long already, but I’ll give you a taste.

There was a crisis, that was why they were meeting. Unless action was taken, then something unpleasant, and possibly worse would happen. It had taken time to get to this point. Those present were, of course, only protecting the dignity of their offices, and no one should think that any asperity in their conversational ripostes was anything to do with personal pride or arrogance, these men were, they all agreed, humble men, servants of the servants of God – and as such it behoved them to guard fiercely the dignity of the office of which they were but stewards.

So, talks about talks had produced a meeting in which there would now be an opportunity for all those present to talk.  As one might have expected from such educated and even intellectual men, the talk was of high quality; had there been an olympiad for such things, giving out the gold would have been a very difficult task; it would certainly have involved more talks to ensure that the criteria established were so finely tuned that they would be able to pick up the echo the nuance of the inference which would surely bring the prize. Still, there was not, so at least there was one less thing to discuss.

Do read it all, and see if it sounds familiar to you. How did that council work out? Well…

In this way, seven months passed most pleasantly in the Italian city of Ferrara. Unfortunately, money was running out to pay for all these hungry thinkers, and there was plague in the area. So they decamped to the even more pleasant city of Florence in January, and seven months later came to an agreement on a formula of union between Rome and Constantinople. But when the Easterners got home, they were reminded that no one voice, indeed not even so many learned theologians and bishops, spoke for the Orthodox, so after all that, there was no union. Still that was fine, as the Westerners deposed their Pope anyway.

Fourteen years later the Ottomans massacred thousands of inhabitants of Constantinople and sold thousands more into slavery. A century later Western Christendom began to splinter into many fragments.

It’s the American (although not the Washington) Way

Lead, Follow, or get the Hell out of the Way

Peace Means Not Wimping Out

From the Colonel, Kurt Schlichter:

Maybe Kim Il Whatever won’t denuclearize, but then again the roly-poly dictator has seemed to come around to our way of thinking. Maybe it’s the lingering awesomeness of Barack Obama that led him to acts of unprecedented good behavior. Maybe it’s just that he’s decided to be a nice guy. Or maybe it’s because, under Donald Trump, the United States stopped acting like a simpering wuss.

Wusses and wimps…why, those are playground words, unfit for a discussion of foreign relations and international diplomacy! Except that’s entirely wrong. Human nature plays out in the playgrounds – the lessons taught by run-ins with bullies and fisticuffs under the jungle gym are, in many ways, far more important than the hoary discourses about “realism” and “soft power” taught in the very best schools and think tanks.

If someone gets in your face, and you break their nose, they don’t get in your face anymore. You don’t need to go to Georgetown to learn that. In fact, going to Georgetown is more likely to make you unlearn what is the most important lesson of all.

He’s right of course, the world is more like an unsupervised playground than it is anything else. It’s a lesson most of us learned in elementary school, which is appropriate because it is elementary: If you let them, everybody will bully you. It’s a lesson I learned when my sixth-grade teacher got out the gloves, never again was I bullied – because I did not allow it. But:

Our bestest and brightest are often taught the DIME paradigm – that the components of national power are Diplomatic (talking and cajoling), Information (messaging and propaganda), Military (boom!) and Economic (writing a check). DIE is okay, but DIE is what you will do if you don’t have a powerful M.

But they didn’t put M third merely because putting it first would screw up the acronym. Our transnational elite does not want to acknowledge the indisputable fact that, at the end of the day, the guy who can kill you and is willing to do so is going to win. Power is an infantryman standing on a piece of ground owning it – and the ability to keep him there. Sure, terrorists can pull off a one-time strike, but they can’t hold ground. Just ask ISIS. You’ll need a medium though, because they tried to hold ground and they all died.

Oh, the elitists who used to control our foreign policy are not anti-war. They are just anti- any war that serves American interests. We can get into a fight in Libya, with all the attendant appalling consequences from Benghazi to the flood of refugees, but only because they know that doing so will do nothing to help our own country. That way, their collective conscience is clear. In their minds, the only good war is one where Americans die for nothing.

Donald Trump has his priorities straight. He has resurrected and embodied the Jacksonian model that fell out of fashion with the foreign policy establishment but not with the folks expected to pick up rifles and deploy. Andrew Jackson, who Democrats used to appreciate back when they represented the Normals who go fight our wars – their new preferred constituencies of fussy SJWs and virtue-signaling hipsters would never be caught dead in uniform – was not afraid of righteous conflict. Nor are most Americans. Remember the Alamo! Remember Pearl Harbor! Never forget 9/11! You SOBs might get one punch in, but then Americans are going to get up, brush off, and kill you all.

You see, Americans are happy to fight if they get a good answer to the perfectly reasonable question that the foreign policy elite hates: “Why is this particular war worth me or my kid’s life and a whole bunch of our money?”

That’s ground truth, as far as I can see. Normals have no problem at all putting our asses or even our kids on the line – for America, been doing it since 1776 at least. But not to march around between two factions taking hits from both and looking stupid. There’s nothing complicated about it. Give us a cause, and rules loose enough to let us find a way to win. There’s that dirty word – Win – again, and we will.

It won’t be pretty, wars are not fought by rules the Marquis of Queensberry would recognize. Things will be broken and people will die – experience says mostly the other guy’s people and things. Why? We are still who we always were, 400 years ago there were a couple of settlements clinging on the Atlantic coast, we’ve never looked back.

In the end, Kim Il Whatever is so tractable today for only one reason, around his starving kingdom (about half again larger than England (not Britain) is deployed enough naval power to control most of the oceans, backed by almost 30,000 troops, across the border. Think England, with their warrior tradition, would be nervous with that condition? Yeah, me too. It’s far more dire than they faced in 1940.

You and I know what the Chinese told him in Beijing the other week, don’t we? “You made this mess, now fix it.” The last time the Norks tried this on, in 1950, they ended up on the Yalu, and the Chinese that rescued them took 1 million (more or less) casualties including Mao’s son. Really think they Chinese are going to try it again when the US is ready to rock? They can’t, they have too much to lose now.

It’s all about not wimping out, those missiles that exploded in Syria just might give us peace in Korea – at least for a while. It won’t solve our China problems, but it’s a start.

Netanyahu and Kennedy

I’m guessing that you have heard about this. You may have seen it, but it bears watching again, so let’s.

So, I can hear your questions. Would Netanyahu lie for Israel? Undoubtedly, but like this and in this detail, after sharing the data with the United States? I doubt it strongly. Why? It’s too big a lie, and too easily disproved. The US is considering continuing the nuclear deal and giving Europe a bit more time to get it improved. Is that possible, after this? If US analysis corroborates the Prime Minister, the answer almost has to be “No”. Come what may, a nuclear Iran, is simply unacceptable, perhaps more so than a nuclear North Korea.

The ballistic missiles, I’ve seen other data that confirms what he said, 1950 km, depending on where in Iran, and these are likely to be mobile launchers, that takes in from Poland to central India, all of Egypt, and everything in that circle. And don’t forget, Poland and several other countries in range are members of NATO, whom we are pledged to support. Those of you old enough to remember will recall it being said that the eastern border of the United States, for military purposes was the Elbe River. That border has moved east since 1990

Long ago, I learned a bit about building atomic weapons, for a school project, it’s all open source material, on the general principles. This design is a rough copy of Fat Man, the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, and the timing of the explosive charges imploding the core is very critical, which is why Bibi talked about that. This is where the informal unit of time, a ‘shake’ as in a shake of a lamb’s tail originated.

In other words, this is very serious stuff, for Israel, for KSA, for Egypt, for India, and yes, for the United States as well.

How serious? I think just as serious as this, from back when the world was young

I was nine years old, and I remember this like it was yesterday. That was reinforced when I went to college and started meeting military people (mostly Air Force) who were all in the southeast United States, expecting a war that would most likely kill just about everyone. It was that close.

Here’s a video from the 1980s, made for school use by the BBC, that explains it quite well.

A crisis as bad as any that ever faced the United States, and the world. It was very, very close. And that is why we cannot allow it to get that close again. The Soviets were rational opponents, who wanted to live, I’m not very sure we can say the same for the rulers of Iran. Better not to find out.

The upside is that this was the fortnight that foretold victory in the cold war, never again would the Soviet Union directly challenge the United States, because it was fairly obvious that we would in the last analysis fight any war we had to. I suspect this too will be in the president’s mind as he considers this, for he too lived through this nightmare.

600 Ships – The Path to Victory started on the 711

I started this clean back in 2012, when my friend Mac wrote it. For some reason I never published it. But, you know, it is just as timely now as it was then, and just as important. To us and to the UK as well, as we both struggle to find the money needed to defend our interests. Here’s Mac:

After the upheavals in the Navy caused by the end of the Vietnam conflict, you can imagine how discouraged many people who wore the uniform were by the time the Carter years were at the three and a half year point. Blend in the miserable economy, high unemployment, interest rates never before seen and you can understand that the country in general was ready for a long stretch of misery.

The fleet was limping along with limited growth and some of the key programs that were in progress (Trident and the Los Angeles Class submarines) were behind schedule, over budget and on the congressional radar for supposed savings. The entire military was in a sorry state and maintenance and upkeep programs on all types of equipment were falling away.

Any hopes that the Navy would gain support by having the first Naval Academy graduate as President were swiftly dashed as the nation realized that Carter did not agree that communism was our greatest chief enemy. His policies were really directed to the arms race and support of NATO policies. The real vision for the Navy was to become nothing more than a bus service to troops that would be sent to Europe in case of an event in the central European countries.  According to Nathan Miller, noted historian and writer “ Naval strategists charged with this plan meant the surrender of the Pacific to the Soviets without a fight. “The Naval equivalent of the Maginot Line has been constructed,” declared Navy Secretary Graham Claytor, Jr.” From Nathan Miller’s The US Navy, A History.

History is not kind to the remaining part of the Carter administration as the Middle east proved to be too surprising and too confusing for the hapless administration to deal with. The fall of the Shah in Iran, the rise of fundamentalist Muslim groups in his place, the invasion of Afghanistan and perceived weakness of the US in almost ever corner of the world destroyed most of the remaining credibility the United States had on the world stage. Much too late in the game, the affects of cutting the fleets growth was being felt all around the world.

600 Ships – The Path to Victory started on the 711.

And once again we are in that spot, with a fleet smaller than it ever was in the twentieth century, and potential conflicts (all legacies of the inept (at best) Obama administration) ranging from Syria and Iran, through Russia, to North Korea and China itself.

Our forces are trying very hard, and they are stretched very thin because the problem areas are all across the world. As I write this it looks like we are gaining control, but there is a long way to go. always we seem to forget:

Si vis pacem, para bellum

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