Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Landmark!


The fall of the primary ISIS stronghold in Mosul in Iraq represents a turning point strategically, politically, ideologically and even religiously in the Muslim world. Mosul has been the largest symbolic center of the ISIS “Caliphate” over which the ISIS “Caliph” ‘Abd-al-Rahman al-Baghdadi presided.

The fall of the ISIS “capital” of Raqqa in Syria will not be far behind. That puts an end to ISIS’ claim that it had begun the physical elimination of all colonial borders starting with that between Iraq and Syria. In short, It will mark the end of the territoriality of ISIS, perhaps the “Caliphate’s” most striking claim-to-fame.

The institution of the Caliphate has been one of the important historical and symbolic features of Muslim history, embodying the ideal of a universal Islamic state—even though such a thing has never quite fully existed. The Caliphate is roughly the equivalent of the Papacy—once a major territorial concept, and still today a concept of the living religious community of Catholicism. Both Caliphate and Papacy symbolize a vision—the religiously-founded state as an ideal.

Unlike its caricatured image in the West, in the eyes of most Muslims the concept of the Caliphate is quite positive—a symbol of  the Muslim world’s historic power, culture, civilization, and geographical reach. Today, however, few Muslims believe that a Caliphate could ever again be practically reconstituted. Yet the idea of having a single seat of religious authority makes just as much sense for Islam as it does for other religions. But today an effort to recreate a meaningful and responsible Caliphate raises near-insoluble questions: where would it be located, who would the Caliph be, how would he be elected, what qualifications would be required, what would his authorities be, what political power he would exercise if any, and what issues could he address authoritatively. And finally, how binding would his pronouncements be. (The  Pope still faces some similar problems).

Contemporary schemes for the reestablishment of a modern-day Caliphate go back to the abolition of the office of Caliphate by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in Turkey in 1924. (Turkey had a right to expel the Caliph but not to abolish the office, any more than an Italian prime minister can decide to abolish the Papacy; it is an issue for global Catholics to decide).

The unique feature of ISIS was not so much that it declared a contemporary Caliphate but that it provided  it territoriality—the closest thing in a century to establishing a meaningful Caliphate possessed of political, administrative and military power. Tragically it was established by individuals brutally intolerant in their vision, violent and cruel in their administration, and willing to employ terrorism against opponents. Yet all these ugly features did not necessarily have to come with the turf—any more than all Popes necessarily had to be brutal. But unspeakable acts became the hallmark of the ISIS brand—and its primary victims were overwhelmingly Muslim—both Shi’a and Sunni.

Equally baleful was the ISIS practice of takfir, declaring individuals—even Muslims—to be non-Muslims or “infidel.” For ISIS the penalty was usually death. But the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia also practice theological takfir, as do many other Salafis or ultra-traditonalist Islamists, even if not necessarily calling for the death penalty. Indeed, Saudi Wahhabism is not directly terrorist —but indirectly its preachings and massive financing have led to the propagation of large numbers of intolerant and extreme movements and individuals around the world, many of whom are indeed violent or even terrorist.

For most Muslims, as well as for the West, the fall of ISIS will be welcome. Yet we should not believe that terrorism conducted in the name of Islam will automatically come to an end. Such terrorism is widely recognized by specialists as basically stemming not from theology—but rather the product of politics, sociology, disadvantaged minorities, or even troubled individuals seeking ideological justification to express the rage of their personal pathology.

But a sober reality remains: the virtually non-stop wars promulgated primarily by the US in the last two decades across large parts of the Middle East, have decimated the region, with upwards of one million Muslims being killed in the wars and resulting anarchy. Vast  material devastation and social and psychological dislocation have occurred whose effects are far from over; they still arise daily in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria among other places. Such violent conditions are hotbeds for the emergence of rage, hatred, despair and psychological derangement. If American soldiers suffer in large numbers post-stress traumatic disorder—leading to high suicide rates—why should the PSTD among Muslims not be one hundred times greater?

Thus as long as radical conditions exist the conditions for further terrorism will also continue to exist. Even in the West there will always be a handful of psychologically and socially alienated Muslim youths ripe for recruitment into acts of terrorism. In most cases it comes down to cases of abnormal psychology then dressed up and dignified as a religious act. One wonders how such cases will ever completely cease. Nor is psychotic violence limited to Muslims in the West by any means.

But the destruction of ISIS in Iraq and Syria is still of major importance. The once dramatic claim to have established a Caliphate on physical territory is no longer there to dazzle and tempt many. For most the bloom is off the rose. Revelations about the brutality of life in ISIS territories are well known in the Muslim world and the overwhelming majority of Muslims are horrified by it. They do not condemn the concept of a Caliphate in Islamic history, but they certainly condemn this vicious expression of it.

Thus today, if some aspiring Muslim radical says “I have a great historical vision, how about creating a Caliphate?” there will likely to be very few takers willing to resuscitate such conditions of violence. By now most Muslims have “been there and done that.” The idea of a Caliphate as a shining new idea ready to attract angry, adventuristic, or idealistic youth has lost its gloss. Others may yet try to proclaim some ramshackle Caliphate in one remote area or another, but it will likely have little attraction except through brute force.

Parallels in the communist movement are instructive. The theoretical foundation of communism—a high degree of state socialism—will never die. But the experiment with communism in the Soviet Union created a fairly miserable society that even Russia’s admirers could no longer accept. Many doctrinaire leftists will still make the case that Russia simply carried out the communist experiment exceptionally badly, that it did not have to be like that, and that the Swedish model of society and governance is closer to the communist ideal.

Still, the present iteration of ISIS as “Caliphate” is now drawing to a close. There will inevitably be some who will try to exploit the power of the idea again—as with authoritarian state socialism— but it becomes mostly an exercise in brutal imposition of power, not an exercise in Islamic political thought. The US can help by sharply curtailing its campaigns of military destruction in the region; they gave birth to ISIS in the first place and remain a key wellspring of radicalization.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Russia's New Big Warships

Russia is likely to build larger surface combatants in the coming years—with larger corvettes and frigates in the works. However, Moscow is not likely to spend large sums of money to build massive new vessels such as the gargantuan 14,000-ton Leader-class nuclear-powered destroyers or 100,000-ton Storm aircraft carriers. Instead, Russia will likely build scaled up versions of existing warship designs.

Indeed, the Leader-class is unlikely to ever be built. Moscow will more likely build a smaller and more cost effective vessel based on its Project 22350 Admiral Gorshkov-class frigates. The new “Super Gorshkovs” are likely to displace about 8,000-tons, which is about size of a normal destroyer.

At 8000-tons, the new Super Gorshkovs would be larger than most frigates such as the 6,700-ton French-Italian FREMMs or 6,400-ton Spanish Álvaro de Bazán class (F100)—and would thus be more appropriately categorized as destroyers. Indeed, the new Russian vessels would be comparable to the 7000-ton Australian Hobart-class or 8,500-ton British Type 45 destroyers in terms of size if not capability.

In addition to the new super-sized Gorshkov-based frigate/destroyer, the Russians are likely to focus on up-sized corvettes.

There is a debate in Russia as to whether their navy needs additional smaller green water surface combatants. If Kofman is correct, the Russians are now leaning towards building larger vessels.

Overall, the Russian fleet will grow and recapitalize at measured pace. Moscow is unlikely to embark on any fantastical projects like the Leader anytime soon. Modern Russia is not the Soviet Union and simply doesn’t have the kind of resources it once did during the Cold War. Thus, current day Russian navy modernization is more measured than was the case prior to the Soviet collapse.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Prokhorovka

"It. Must. Not. Fail"

Elefants, Tigers and Panthers, oh my!

By spring time 1943 das Dritten Reiches was in a hexen kessel of scary dimensions. In the last year Great Satan and Great Britain had driven the vaunted Afrika Korps into extinction, sortee'd several "Thousand Bomber Raids" that carpetly xformed ancient Deutsch cities into flaming craters, Battle for the Atlantic was looking kinda iffy and worst of all - the encirclement, destruction and ultimate surrender of wehrmacht's nearly 1 million (550K to 900K - depending on the source) combat truppen of vPaulus' 6th army at Stalingrad.

Despite the ferociously fearful mauling wehrmacht took on the Volga, Deutschland recovered and thanks to savage fighting hooked up with vManstein's famous back hand b slap, the ultimate Aryans retook Kharkov and inflicted amazingly horrific losses on the best Red Army could juggernaut.

As spring's thawing muddy rasputitsa sunk in - both sides frantically roused themselves out of exhaustion and prepped for the coming summer campaign.

The forced reinstatement of the forced retired "Klotzen, nicht kleckern" cat - the newly minted Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen tripped out on a ruthlessly relentless reinvigoration of the panzer franchise by blitzing factories, design firms, unit creation/rebuilding ubungsplatzes and shooting ranges in a new blitz of genius born of desperation.

Even Luftwaffe got all panzer happy - sexing up something something sturzkampfflugzeug Stuka
with dual 37mm rapid fire cannons and deploying Henschelicious Hs-129

STAVKA knew their bulging bulge in the lines around Kursk would prob be the spot the hated NSDAPers would schwerpunkt in the coming months and conscripted anyone they could get their hands on to erect a formidable deep defensive belt - 500 miles of barb wire, over a million anti ppl and anti panzer mines remixed in a web of of ditches, scarps, counter-scarps, hedgehogs, roadblocks, minefields, fixed artillery impact areas, bunkers and a myriad of panzer obstructions, traps and general purpose nastiness on a colossal scale. Plus Comrade Stalin had spy sources at the highest levels of enemy command.

Sev months of infighting at OKH/OKW bout doing another Kharkov backhand - allowing Red Army to attack first, roll with flow and launch a crushing counter attack - or doing the fourplay forehand pre emptive attack - conterminously coalesced with quality control/production probs with the Panther (her 1st production engines enjoyed bursting into flames at the most inopportune moments), stubborn refusal of the sturmgeschutz to die on the vine and manpower in general held up Operation Zitadelle for months.

Purveyors of pre emption won out and on 5 July Germany attacked. The southern front of Zitadelle featured a combat rock star line up of 3rd Reich's finest panzerteers - all rebuilt, rearmed and reconstituted to Generalinspekteur specs - Großdeutschland, 3rd, 6th, 7th, 9th and 11th Panzer divisions and the newly created II Waffen Ss Panzer Korps

Featuring the lavishly equipped and fully crunk Ss Panzer Grenadier divisions of Liebstandarte, Das Reich and Totenkopf - vManstein formed 'Panzerkeil" - an uparmored wedge with Tigers at the tip, Panthers and Mk IV's fanning out behind with a creamy centre of inf armed with automatic weapons, mortar mounted or SP gunned SdKfz looking thingies with the base built of heavily armed panzergrenadiers in tracked vehics.

In contrast Zitadelle's northern commander Model used Montgomery's El Alamein idea of using inf to poke holes for the panzers to exploit - with disastrous results for his 9th Army.

These panzerkeil wedges were designed to crack open tender, sensitive portions of the southern defensive perimeters, break free and fan out for a fun fast trek like France 1940.

And they did. Chopping through an immense junkyard of trashed Soviet material, General Hausser's Feldpolizei Po Po hauled off columns of dazed and defeated Russian POWs, the final breakthrough was at hand on the morning of 12 July when II Ss breached Psel river - the last obstacle to Kursk - and collided with the Russian armored reserves at a place called Prokhorovka.

For over 8 hours this enormous armored brawl raged unabated, slashing the orchards and churning the lush, green cornfields of a few square miles of upper Donetz river valley into a blackened inferno of exploding armor, wrecked burning vehicles and charred corpses - drenched intermittantly by downpours from violent thunderstorms.


The controversial climax of Zitadelle involving over 2K panzers - as the largest panzer battle in history - has acquired mythic stats - heroic Russian stories of Russians ramming Deutsch Tigers, the 3 premier Waffen Ss fighting shoulder to shoulder, death ride of the panzers and a glorious Soviet victory suffer from hard facts as Prokhorovka gets re examined.

"...Closer study of the losses of each type of tank reveals that the corps lost about 70 tanks on July 12. In contrast, Soviet tank losses, long assumed to be moderate, were actually catastrophic.

"...In 1984, a history of the Fifth Guards Tank Army written by Rotmistrov himself revealed that on July 13 the army lost 400 tanks to repairable damage. He gave no figure for tanks that were destroyed or not available for salvage.

"...Evidence suggests that there were hundreds of additional Soviet tanks lost. Several German accounts mention that Hausser had to use chalk to mark and count the huge jumble of 93 knocked-out Soviet tanks in the Leibstandarte sector alone. Soviet sources say the tank strength of the army on July 13 was 150 to 200, a loss of about 650 tanks.

Germany's Lost Victories indeed, nicht wahr?

Regardless of appearance - Deutschland lost the initiative and despite desperate counters like Zhitomer, Totenkopf's amazingly tenacious blunting blow outside Warzawa or Unternehmen Frühlingserwachen, never again held the initiative. Red Army did. And they never let it go until 3rd Reich died kicking and screaming.

And it happened today - at Prokhorovka.

Pic - "Backhand or the forehand?"courtesy of Uncle Theo

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Syrian Ceasefire


What does the ceasefire in Syria mean on the ground? Which areas will observe it and which areas will not?

In theory, the ceasefire should apply to all of Syria. However, Russia has insisted that, along with its allied forces, it reserve the right to attack the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group and al-Nusra Front forces as these two groups are outside the framework of the ceasefire, as are other groups labelled as 'terrorist' by the UN.

This means that the ceasefire is not geographically demarcated. This exception to the ceasefire is very problematic, however, because Russian forces have attacked many rebel groups and civilian areas under the justification of attacking ISIL and Nusra.

These two groups have become convenient scapegoats for Russian attacks throughout Syria. Russia has essentially reserved the right to militarily engage any armed groups in Syria under the pretext of fighting ISIL and Nusra.

The United States has been working with Russia in an attempt to designate whether certain areas are ceasefire-abiding areas or not, but they have yet to agree on the specific geographic contours of the agreement. The absence of such contours will give Russia greater military latitude.

Practically speaking, this means that large swaths of Syrian territory in which these groups are present, particularly in the eastern and northwestern parts of the country, will remain active conflict zones. 

Groups outside of the ceasefire, such as Ahrar al-Sham and others labelled as terrorist groups, remain present in parts of Homs and Hama provinces, as well as near Damascus, meaning these areas also potentially lie outside of the ceasefire zones.



What are the chances of the ceasefire holding and for how long? What could it hold and why might it not?

The ceasefire is unlikely to hold for three main reasons: First, Russia and its allies have reserved the right to attack forces outside of the ceasefire. This means that any violence on the ground that is committed by Russia or regime-led forces can be justified within the framework of the Munich agreement and the ceasefire under the pretence of fighting ISIL.

As such, Russia can have its cake and eat it, too; it has reserved the right to militarily engage armed groups while demanding that they cease all hostilities. Second, there are simply thousands of small, organised brigades in Syria that have little interest in a cessation of hostilities.

There is a network of armed groups who have benefitted handsomely from the conflict and for whom a ceasefire may threaten them and their activities.

It is counterintuitive; however, it is important to note that not all of the violence in Syria is driven by metapolitical issues, such as trying to overthrow the regime, and that there are micropolitical issues, such as security and smuggling, that also motivate armed groups.

With little incentive aside from the possible reprieve from Russian bombing, it is unlikely that many of these groups will be motivated to observe the ceasefire.

Third, most of the rebel groups inside of Syria cooperate with other groups on the battlefield. This cooperation has as much to do with their political or ideological affinities as it does their relative strengths and weaknesses and need to build alliances to make military gains.

Thus, very few armed groups inside Syria operate independently of other groups, blurring the distinctions between them. Isolating a few groups as outside of the ceasefire betrays the organisational structure of violence on the ground and the reality that most groups cooperate on the battlefield.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Unhappy Adversaries

When your adversaries are unhappy - rejoice!

There was no pressing reason for Xi Jinping to stop off in Moscow for a summit meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin. There have already been two recent high-level contacts where critical issues in the Russia-China relationship were discussed. 

The Chinese leader had already met with Putin at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Astana a month ago, and the Russian head of state had traveled to Beijing in May for the “One Belt, One Road” conclave. And both leaders, of course, were already scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Germany later this week.

No, the decision for Xi to travel to Moscow first and for Putin to host him in the Kremlin is meant as a direct and clear message to the United States and to the administration before the President leaves for Europe: we aren't pleased with the direction of U.S. policy, and we have options.

One must also assume that Xi is giving Putin the benefit of his experiences during his face to face meetings with 45 at Mar-A-Lago earlier this year, as well as his “read” of the American president, prior to Putin's own first direct encounter at Hamburg.

This could prove to be very critical in how that meeting unfolds. Xi, of course, was honored with a meeting with 45 in the more intimate setting of 45's Florida hideaway, but was also “interrupted” by the decision to launch an American cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack in Idlib.

Will Xi convey a sense that 45 employs a bit of  37's “madman” approach and that one must be cautious in dealing with the U.S. president? Will he advise Putin that  45 talks a good game but then can't seem to get his preferences through the U.S. policy process? (A precedent Putin has already experienced with 44 and 43.) And does Xi still believe it is possible to do business with the administration, or will he counsel the Russian president that expectations about 45 the deal maker were overrated? Or, given the political turmoil in Washington, it is time for both Moscow and Beijing to forge ahead and create more “facts on the ground” whether in Ukraine, Syria or the maritime zones of the Pacific?

Of course, China and Russia remain cautious in defining the limits of their strategic embrace. Both will complain about U.S. actions and promise verbal and moral support, but neither Moscow nor Beijing has been pushed—yet—to consummate any sort of Eurasian entente. Neither side has completely foreclosed on the hope that, at some point in the future, 45 the deal maker will gain bureaucratic control of the U.S. national security apparatus and be prepared to sit down to negotiate.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Born On The 4th Of July

4 July 1776 fired off a crazy rocking rolling ride that hasn't stopped 'stirring things up' on a global scale.

Advancing arrogance into an art form with a remarkable relentless risque commitment to liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, and laissez-faire values. 

America differs qualitatively from all other nations, because of her unique origins, nat'l credo, historical evolution, and distinctive political and religious institutions.

Great Satan is magically especial because she was a country of immigrants and the first modern democracy. 

Loud, proud and rowdy - early America forecast future stuff with a provocative lingo that still fits today. "Don't Tread On Me!" "Liberty Or Death", "Live Free Or Die" 

Great Satan's superiority of the American xperiment is reflected in the perception among Americans of America’s role in the world. That American foreign policy is based on moral principles is a consistent theme in the American hot diplopolititary gossip – a phenomenon recognized even by those who are skeptic of such an assessment. 

This inclination to do right has been virtually unique among the nations of the world - and for this very reason - America has been totally misunderstood. How could a nation so rich, so successful actually, really be so unselfish and so caring?

Unconvincing (and either historically igno - or deceitfully dishonest - either term will do) critics cry Great Satan must have darker motives! America must be seeking imperium - to dominate everyone else, suck up all the oil, to trade and rob blind for America's selfish purposes. 

People from more grasping, less idealistic societies find it nigh impossible to accept that America honestly believes that giving everyone opportunity is the real roadmap for abundance and happiness everywhere - not merely in the magical Great Satan.

Americans honestly believe that securing other people's freedom is actually like the best guarantee that America can keep her own.

Great Satan does not want to dominate the world. Americans want to live in peace and hope other people will too.

Great Satan will go out into the world, redress errors, stop uncool unacceptable behaviour, to first challenge, then annihilate threats to our liberty.

Creative destruction is Great Satan's middle name. It is her natural function, for she is the one truly revolutionary country in the world for more than 2 centuries. 

She does it automatically, and that is precisely why creeps and tyrants hate her guts, and are driven to attack her. An enormous advantage, despots fear her, and oppressed peoples want what she offers: freedom. 

Amazingly, some suspect states, illegit leaders and some people have not yet comprehended that America's primary intention is to preserve and keep our own land and liberty and all it's prosperity and that America will do anything and go anywhere to make it happen.

Great Satan built the modern world.

And She knows her way around.

Joyeuex Anniversarie America!