Standing with friends

Standing with friends who have staunchly stood up for themselves is rarely a popular thing to do, but it is the right thing to do. A case in point, the Kurdish militias in Syria. These may well be the closest thing to the good guys in that mess, and they have long since made plain their loyalty as American allies. From Turkey threatens to strike U.S. forces partnered with Kurdish militias in Syria – Washington Times:

The war of words between Washington and Ankara over the U.S. military’s partnership with Kurdish paramilitaries in Syria escalated Wednesday, when a senior aide to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested American troops could be targeted alongside their Kurdish allies in the country’s ongoing air war against the militias.

Senior presidential aide Ilnur Cevik said U.S. forces who are teamed up with members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, were in danger of being hit by Turkish fighters patrolling the volatile border region with Syria.

If YPG units and their American military advisers “go too far, our forces would not care if American armor is there, whether armored carriers are there,” Mr. Cevik said during an interview on Turkish radio station CRI TURK Wednesday. “All of a sudden, by accident, a few rockets can hit them,” he added, referring to partnered U.S. forces.

When asked to clarify that U.S. advisers or artillery positions would be in danger from Turkish warplanes, if they continued to support YPG operations in northern Syria, Mr. Cevik replied bluntly that they would.

His comments come days after U.S. forces moved into the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Rojava, in a dramatic show of solidarity amid Turkish airstrikes targeting those U.S.-backed forces there. The strikes were part of an ongoing counterterrorism operation targeting members of the YPG, which Turkey has condemned as a terrorist organization.

Syrian Kurds, some of which are members of or allied with the YPG, make up half of the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF — the 50,000-man strong constellation of Arab and Kurdish militias backed by the U.S., who are preparing for the final, large-scale assault on Raqqa, the self-styled capital of the Islamic State terror group also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Keep reading. Well, I can’t say I have any desire to have any form of hostility with Turkey, but there comes a point where one has to simply stand up and say, “Bring it on”. Or have the whole world know you stand for nothing. This may well be that point.

Advertisements

Ancient Laws, Modern Wars

Victor Davis Hanson reminds us of some ancient learning, and helps us apply it to the present day.

After eight years of withdrawal, what rules should the U.S. follow to effectively reassert itself in world affairs? The most dangerous moments in foreign affairs often come after a major power seeks to reassert its lost deterrence. The United States may be entering just such a perilous transitional period.

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/446471/military-deterrence-trumps-leadership-abroad-principles-foreign-policy […]

1. Avoid making verbal threats that are not serious and backed up by force. After eight years of pseudo-red lines, step-over lines, deadlines, and “game changers,” American ultimatums without consequences have no currency and will only invite further aggression.
2. The unlikely is not impossible. Weaker powers can and do start wars. Japan in December 1941 attacked the world’s two largest navies based on the false impression that great powers which sought to avoid war did so because they were weak. That current American military power is overwhelming does not mean delusional nations will always agree that it is so — or that it will be used.
3. Big wars can start from small beginnings. No one thought an obscure Austrian archduke’s assassination in 1914 would lead to some 18 million dead by 1918. Consider any possible military engagement a precursor to far more. Have a backup plan — and another backup plan for the backup plan.
4. Do not confuse tactics with strategy. Successfully shooting down a rogue airplane, blowing up an incoming speedboat, or taking an ISIS-held Syrian city is not the same as finding a way to win and end a war. Strategic victory is time-consuming and usually involves drawing on economic, political, and cultural superiority as well as military success to ensure that a defeated opponent stays defeated — and agrees that further aggression is counterproductive.

via Military Deterrence & Trump’s Leadership Abroad: Principles for Foreign Policy | National Review Read the whole thing.™

There’s more there and they are all true, useful, and important. One that we Americans are very prone to is number four above. It’s always a problem, where is the dividing line. There is a murky area in there as well that some theorists coming after Clausewitz refer to as the ‘operational’. While I see their point, which is valid, these theories are already too complex, so it is best to do our best to maintain a sharp clear line.

If they are doing their job, the TLAM strike in Syria in Syria was strategic. It may or may not deter Hasan, although that is certainly desirable, but it depends on his calculus of survival. If he thinks he is more likely to survive by doing such things, he will. He is, after all, a man of weak morals, caught in a corner. He will do his best to survive, just as Saddam did.

But the point of that strike, which occurred while the President was having dinner with the Chinese Premier, was not Syria. It was Iran and North Korea, and it was notice to their sponsor states, Russia and China, that we were quite unhappy, and that the eagle just might scream in other parts of the world.

It’s important to realize that the United States, while it may be possible to destroy it, it can only be destroyed by what is essentially a nation level suicide-bombing, and only Russia (and maybe China) can do it. America’s only real enemies are internal. And that too has precedent, especially with Rome. Are we there? I don’t think so, but there are troubling signs.

My reading is that the first signs of decline are corruption, venality, and a deterioration of will. I do see these signs in abundance, and we would be wise to check our course. Or maybe we did, and that why we have Trump.

Unpredictability, and Stability

My friend, Dan Miller over A Sclerotic Goes to War notes that

Kim Jong-un has been deemed “crazy” because he is unpredictable. Trump is far from crazy, but can be unpredictable when he wants to be. China does not know what Trump might do about North Korean nukes and missiles, and that is a good thing.

It is, in fact, a very good thing. The article continues

NBC News is reporting that the possible moves include not only assassinating Kim Jong-un, but moving nukes back into South Korea for the first time since the end of the cold war.

The National Security Council has presented President Trump with options to respond to North Korea’s nuclear program — including putting American nukes in South Korea or killing dictator Kim Jong-un, multiple top-ranking intelligence and military officials told NBC News.

Both scenarios are part of an accelerated review of North Korea policy prepared in advance of President Donald Trump’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping this week.

The White House hopes the Chinese will do more to influence Pyongyang through diplomacy and enhanced sanctions. But if that fails, and North Korea continues its development of nuclear weapons, there are other options on the table that would significantly alter U.S. policy.

Well, that’s a couple of options we wouldn’t have heard in the last eight years, when as that article states Obama’s policy was to, “speak softly and never even pick up the stick”.

According to The Washington Examiner, The Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson said

Chinese President Xi Jinping has agreed to boost cooperation with the U.S. on trying to persuade North Korea to abandon its pursuit of long-range nuclear weapons, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday.

In an off-camera briefing with reporters on the second and final day of President Trump’s summit with his Chinese counterpart, Tillerson said the two leaders recognized the imminent threat North Korea poses and agreed to respond accordingly.

That’s a good thing, as we talked about a bit last week. But you know, I know, even your crazy Aunt Madge knows, the Chinese don’t give any more of a damn about the crazy little man/boy and his Norks than they did last week. What’s changed? Their perception of what Uncle Sam may do about it. Specifically that we might actually do something.

Putting Nukes back in South Korea has to give them nightmares of the same magnitude that the Sovs putting them in Cuba did us a couple of generations ago. China has always wanted buffer areas. That why they came in against us in the Korean War, and they had telegraphed that they would. That is why we didn’t approach their border in Vietnam. It’s also why the western Europeans were so desirous of expanding NATO eastwards.

Where the rubber meets the road for me is that as the superpower sheriff, America must have guidelines. If you do something, and using chemical weapons is one of those things, America will act. But you will not know what America will do, it might call on the UN to sanction you, it might destroy an airfield or two, then again, it might take your country apart, and arrange a meeting with your god for you. You have no need to know what the sheriff will do. You just need to know that he will do something, and so it is in your best interest to not call attention to yourself by doing things that Sheriff Sam has said are not acceptable behavior. If you don’t, he’ll mostly leave you alone.

I also noticed that almost everybody thought that the Syrian strike was a good idea, except the usual suspects.

via Did the Syria strike push China toward action on North Korea? |

And speaking of the usual suspects, the headlines from Iranian FARS News (more or less official) are interesting.

* ‘Emergency’ Protests across US Demand ‘Hands off Syria’

* Swedish Medical Associations Says White Helmets Murdered Kids for Fake Gas Attack Videos

* Syrian Army Chief Visits Airbase Hit by US Missiles before Resumption of Operation

* Anti-War Group Protests against US Strike in Syria

* Russia: US Fails to Prove Existence of Chemical Weapons at Syrian Airfield

* Top Iranian, Russian Security Officials Discuss US Missile Strike on Syria

* Hezbollah Condemns US Blatant, Foolish Attack on Syria

* Russian Ground Force to Take Part in Anti-Terrorism Operation in Syria’s Hama

* Blustering Toward Armageddon: How Trump Is Upsetting China While Antagonizing Russia

* Top Iranian, Russian Security Officials Discuss US Missile Strike on Syria

* Arab Analyst: US Attack against Syria Not to Topple Assad

* Syrian Fighter Jets Restart Combat Flights over Terrorists’ Centers from Shayrat Airbase in Homs

Sounds a bit hysterical to me, and I suspect if they challenge another US vessel in international waters, it will get worse.

Sometimes we can be like Ransom Stoddard and bring our lawbooks, but sometimes we simply have to be Tom Doniphan, using the old ways to advance civilization. The key is doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way. It’s also very helpful to keep the cards close to our chest so that only we know what we are going to do.

Big Stick, Swinging

USS Porter
Photo by: DDG-78

Well, events made me look pretty smart, yesterday, although in the wrong theater. Even as I was writing about taking the North Korean nuclear program apart, the USN was destroying a Syrian air base, that had been used to mount the latest chemical attack on his own civilians. Not surprisingly, I have no problem with that.

It was quite the strike, with upwards of 50 Tomahawk TLAMS launched from the USS Porter, and the USS Ross. The TLAM has about a 1000 lb payload, so it’s a serious weapon. I do read there were problems, and strike results weren’t that good. Mostly because it was necessary to notify Russia, before the strike, and air assets are, by definition, quite mobile. Still, our point was made.

Here’s the video from the Porter.

I do find it interesting that after the last eight years of do-nothingism, the strike was greeted with near unanimous approval, only, Russia, Iran, and Syria objecting. Actually, it’s likely that North Korea does as well, but perhaps it wasn’t the day of the week that the internet is turned on there.

There’s an old saying that a man is known by the enemies he makes. If so, being enemies with the lot mentioned above is hardly the worst thing that could happen to America.

Scott Johnson makes a few points, including that at his press conference with King Abdullah, when asked about the gas attack, the President said this.

It crossed a lot of lines for me. When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal, people were shocked to hear what gas it was, that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line. Many, many lines.

There are a couple of messages in that, one there is a new sheriff in town, who is not amenable to such stuff, and secondly, he may just do something about it. And he did.

Scott also writes this,

[…]

2. Like President Reagan when he fired the striking air traffic controllers in 1981, President Trump sent several messages with the action taken last night. Here are three of them. The Obama era in American foreign policy is over. He doesn’t issue empty threats.

3. President Obama sought to tie the United States down in the world like the Lilliputians did Gulliver. Among the instruments employed by Obama to restrain the United States was the United Nations. President Trump gave the United Nations the opportunity to weigh in yesterday. When it failed to act, Trump proceeded. Again, the Obama era in foreign policy is over.

4. Trump acted with decisive force to achieve a limited objective. He could have gone further to remove more of Assad’s assets. If the goal was limited to deter Assad from doing what he did again, however, I think it highly likely that the mission was accomplished.

Yup.

Mollie Hemingway also wrote about the strike, saying this:

However, there is a national interest case for striking Syria this week that is easier to make than the case for full-fledged war with Syria, which requires much more discussion and for which congressional approval should be sought. Some would argue that congressional approval should have been sought even for the limited strikes, and a representative case was made here in 2013 when the issue last flared.

That Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used sarin gas against civilians is significant in multiple ways. Yes, al-Assad has been brutally killing people for years, but the use of chemical weapons is a violation of a treaty Syria has signed, and a violation of a norm that Americans have an interest in upholding.

I agree with her, the strike is fully justified, as a repeat would be. Ground operations may be, but they should be only considered after consulting Congress, and the people. Too many times have we gone off on operations without a clear idea of what our objectives are, let alone what a victory looks like. Even for the United States, military hardware, and especially our people are limited in number and should be husbanded, not expended in sideshows.

All in all, and exemplary operation. BZ to all hands.

Engineering Club Sensible

electoral-smallBy outlook, if not degree, I’m an engineer. My basic question is always, “Will it work, as designed, and can we build and run it on budget (or below)?” As far as I’m concerned, it’s what built the world we live in. It has nothing whatsoever to do with good intentions, it has much indeed to do with elegance. Maybe this is our year because it’s overwhelmingly a real world philosophy. It’s also overtly American, because America epitomizes the practical, yes, Americans are a very idealistic people, but down at bedrock, almost every American asks, “Does it work?”

Catherine Priestley wrote something about this the other day in The Spectator. Here’s some of it.

If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it is that the times are changing. When news of the Trump victory unfolded across the world, we watched from Sydney University’s Manning Bar. Never had it been so packed. Students piled in to watch history, all-consumed by the bright red map of America flashing on the screen.

My engineering friends bought me a beer and together we observed the room. On one side were slumped shoulders, ashen faces and tears from tragic left-wing students, whose world-view had suffered the rejection of the ballot box. The other side was a sea of red caps and raucous applause with each Trump gain; the unmistakable ecstasy of a formerly ostracised group, finally on the ascent.

The engineers are sensible people and don’t really belong to either extreme. Instead, they drink to democracy and are glad that a blow has at last been struck against political correctness. They talk excitedly of how they’d improve the data analysis of flawed polling and have a purely factual discussion about how the construction of the wall might be done. The upending of the status quo means the engineers, typically outsiders who stick to an isolated building on campus far away from frenzied student politics, are now invigorated to participate.

Leading up to Trump’s victory, one could sense change in the air. Doomsday articles threatening stock market crashes, polls that placed Trump firmly behind; all had a Brexit parallel about them. When Joe Hockey addressed the US Studies Centre the week before Trump’s election, he said that 70 per cent of Americans felt the country was heading in the wrong direction. ‘This is normally a game changer in politics,’ he remarked. […]

Although uncertainty is trending, one thing we can be sure of is that Outsiders everywhere are on the rise. In general, they are a broad alignment of people across all parties and factions who share a love of common sense and find themselves more consequential to politics now than they have been for some time. Perhaps they find themselves on the Left, but feel isolated due to the dogma of political correctness and identity politics. Or they are of the Right and have become angry with the authoritarian Insiders who appear to restrict personal freedoms. Either way, they are all members of what the late Christopher Pearson might have termed ‘Club Sensible’. While major parties appear to fragment and shrink in these changing times, Club Sensible’s membership base steadily grows.

via Engineering Club Sensible | The Spectator

I think she’s on to something here. That map at the top of the page, is about as red as I’ve ever seen, and overwhelmingly, the red parts are where people deal with the real world, you know the one where reality rules and good intentions don’t cut it.

Will Trump fix the world? No. But he may well drain at least some of the swamp, although that might anger some of the alligators that are up to our ass. We all know it out here, “No good deed goes unpunished,” we say. That’s all right, we also say, “What must be done, will be done.”

And so far, from the quality of the people he is picking, well, I’m very encouraged. It looks to me like he is picking some of the best of America, and that is the mark of the first-rate leader. That’s something that every grunt on a job site or enlisted soldier knows, but a whole lot of officers forget when they get stars in their eyes. But not all of them.

There’s a reason why 3d US Army had the fewest casualties while conquering the most ground back there in 1944. It was called “Lucky”. If I was an opponent of America’s, I would be praying very hard, because I think its new name may well be ‘Chaos’.

We’ve also been known to say with Jim Lovell, “There are people who make things happen, there are people who
watch things happen, and there are people who wonder what happened. To be successful, you need to be a person who makes things happen.”

bad-decisions

Who should rule Syria? Nobody

Here’s a bit of common sense:

The long civil war in Syria is still far from conclusion. Any real possibility of rebel victory ended with the entry of Russian forces last autumn — but while the initiative is now with the Assad regime, the government’s forces are also far from a decisive breakthrough. So who, if anyone, should the UK be backing in the Syrian slaughterhouse, and what might constitute progress in this broken and burning land?

It ought to be fairly obvious why a victory for the Assad regime would be a disaster for the West. Assad, an enthusiastic user of chemical weapons against his own people, is aligned with the most powerful anti–western coalition in the Middle East. This is the alliance dominated by the Islamic Republic of Iran.[…]

Not a friend of Western Freedom, then.

In November last year, David Cameron claimed to have identified 70,000 ‘moderate’ rebels ready to challenge Islamic State in the east of Syria. That figure was a myth. Yours truly was among the very first western journalists to spend time in Syria with the rebels. I recently returned from a trip to southern Turkey, where I interviewed fighters and commanders of the main rebel coalitions. With no particular joy but a good deal of confidence, I can report that the Syrian rebellion today is dominated in its entirety by Sunni Islamist forces. And the most powerful of these are the most radical.

The most potent rebel coalition in Syria today is called Jaish al-Fatah (Army of Conquest). It has three main component parts: Ahrar al-Sham (Free Men of the Levant), a Salafist jihadi group; Jabhat al-Nusra, until recently the official franchise of al–Qaeda in Syria, now renamed Jabhat Fatah al-Sham; and Faylaq al-Sham (Legion of the Levant), whose ideology derives from the Muslim Brotherhood branch of Sunni political Islam.

Nor here, either. I fail to see any reason we should not root for both of these bunches to lose. Nothing in either their belief systems or their actions leads me to believe they have anything in common with anybody concerned with freedom.

Like the author, I see no chance of Syria emerging from this mess as a unified state, that gone with the hot wind of war. Two of the contenders, one backed by Russia and Iran, the other by Saudi Arabia (and others) offer no chance of freedom to Syrians, or even much chance of living really. But there is a third choice, and amazingly, the US and the UK stumbled into them.

The West, too, has established a successful and effective patron-client relationship — with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. Dominated by the Kurdish YPG, but including also Arab tribal forces such as the Sanadid militia, this is the force which is reducing the dominions of the Islamic State in eastern Syria, in partnership with western air power and special forces.

In contrast to the sometimes farcical attempts to identify partners among the Syrian Sunni rebels, the partnership with the Syrian Democratic Forces works. Weaponry does not get passed on to or taken by radical jihadi groups, because the SDF is at war with such groups. Training and assistance produces a united force with a single chain of command. And this force captures ground and frees Syrians living under the vicious rule of Isis.

I learned long ago, when I first read von Clausewitz, not to mention Liddell Hart, that one is wise to reinforce success and starve failure. This would appear to be a very good example of this, And so we should.

What matters is that three outcomes be avoided: the Assad regime should not be permitted to reunite Syria under its rule, the Islamist rebels should similarly not be allowed to establish a jihadi state in the country, and the Islamic State should not be permitted to remain in existence. By strengthening the alliance with the SDF, utilising it and its allies to take Raqqa and destroy Isis in the east, and then allowing its component parts to establish their rule in eastern and northern Syria, these objectives can be attained. For a change, the US and its allies have found an unambiguously anti-Islamist and anti-jihadi force in the Middle East which has a habit of winning its battles. This is a success which should be reinforced.

via Who should rule Syria? Nobody

Indeed it should. And you know the other thing, as long as the SDF fights and holds their own (or wins) the other sides can not even start to get complacent. Liddell Hart famously said this

Helplessness induces hopelessness, and history attests that loss of hope and not loss of lives is what decides the issue of war.

And that has a goodly bit to do with keeping the common people’s hope alive.

%d bloggers like this: