Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Taking Off The Gloves

A fusion of U.S. special operations forces and local militia are about to bloody the so-called Islamic State, and just possibly drive them out of their de facto capital.
But no one expects a decisive victory against ISIS. The commanders of those forces met in Tampa this past week near U.S. Special Operations Command headquarters to share lessons learned, and lament that the more they learn about ISIS, the longer and harder they think this fight will be.
Only a year ago, this conference floor was full of laments over being held back by a timid White House. The administration has since ratcheted up its campaign on ISIS, with an eye to legacy and a tacit acknowledgement that the previous strategy wasn’t working. The Pentagon has deployed fifty U.S. special operators to Syria to train and advise local forces, and authorized up to 250 more, and also sent several hundred special operators to a base in northern Iraq to target ISIS by air and by ground, as well as roughly 4,000 conventional U.S. troops to help the Iraqi and Kurdish forces.
The JSOC-run “expeditionary targeting force” as it’s known has already taken out some 40 ISIS operatives linked to planning and facilitating overseas attacks, less than half of the ISIS fighters JSOC has removed from the battlefield. Strikes inside Iraq are done with the government of Iraq’s permission.
The light U.S. footprint has meant an evolution of the teams fighting ISIS. In previous campaigns like Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. counterterrorist forces worked mostly separately from units like the Green Berets that train locals. The teams fighting ISIS are mixed together, according to Special Operations Command’s Thomas.
“It is absolutely blended. I just came back from overseas. I had to ask people who are you with. Who’s who in the zoo here, because it was that well blended, that well orchestrated, which is a good thing,” he said. 
Some of those troops were caught on camera, patrolling alongside their Kurdish fighting partners and sporting Kurdish combat patches on their uniform – a sign of cooperation with their brothers in arms, but one that sent Turkey into a diplomatic tailspin Friday. Ankara believes those Kurdish fighting units have ties to separatists who Turkey considers to be terrorists.
In Africa, which faces an alphabet soup of dangerous extremists, local troops are willing if not always able to fight. That helps to explain why there are 96 special operations missions in some 22 African countries, according to Army Green Beret Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc, who heads Special Operations Command Africa.
“ISIL is the most dominant violent extremist organization on the continent,” Bolduc told the crowd, using the government’s preferred acronym for the so-called Islamic State. “AQIM [al Qaeda in the Magreb] is the most enduring. Boko Haram, the most deadly. Al Shabab is in our opinion the most unpredictable, and demonstrates resiliency.”
He pointed to the weakened state of the Ugandan-spawned Lord’s Resistance Army after four years hunted by local troops backed by foreign assistance as proof of what 100 U.S. special operations advisors could accomplish.
“They bump up against our partners, and our partners take it to them,” Bolduc said.

The need to work through partners is changing how some special operations forces recruit, according to Navy SEAL Rear Adm. Brian Losey, who heads the SEALs in Coronado, Calif. 
Losey spoke of recruiting “warrior statesmen” capable of negotiating with locals, and working with humanitarian groups to bring aid, as well as they raid on the battlefield. He even welcomed women SEALs to the force, should they make it through the selective training that was just opened to all, as he said they would help communicate with more of the population in conflict zones.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day

Today is the day we put aside to remember fallen heroes and to pray that no heroes will ever have to die for us again. It’s a day of thanks for the valor of others, a day to remember the splendor of America and those of her children who rest in this cemetery and others. It’s a day to be with the family and remember.

I was thinking this morning that across the country, children and their parents will be going to the town parade, and the young ones will sit on the sidewalks and wave their flags as the band goes by. Later, maybe, they’ll have a cookout or a day at the beach. And that’s good, because today is a day to be with the family and to remember.

Arlington, this place of so many memories, is a fitting place for some remembering. So many wonderful men and women rest here, men and women who led colorful, vivid and passionate lives. … All of these men were different, but they shared this in common: They loved America very much. There was nothing they wouldn’t do for her. And they loved with the sureness of the young. It’s hard not to think of the young in a place like this, for it’s the young who do the fighting and dying when a peace fails and a war begins.

And we owe them something, those boys. We owe them first a promise: That just as they did not forget their missing comrades, neither, ever, will we. And there are other promises. We must always remember that peace is a fragile thing that needs constant vigilance. We owe them a promise to look at the world with a steady gaze and, perhaps, a resigned toughness, knowing that we have adversaries in the world and challenges and the only way to meet them and maintain the peace is by staying strong. 

If we really care about peace, we must stay strong. If we really care about peace, we must, through our strength, demonstrate our unwillingness to accept an ending of the peace. We must be strong enough to create peace where it does not exist and strong enough to protect it where it does. 

40 at Arlington

Sunday, May 29, 2016


WoW - the Watchers Council- it's the oldest, longest running cyber comte d'guere ensembe in existence - started online in 1912 by Sirs Jacky Fisher and Winston Churchill themselves - an eclective collective of cats both cruel and benign with their ability to put steel on target (figuratively - natch) on a wide variety of topictry across American, Allied, Frenemy and Enemy concerns, memes, delights and discourse.

Every week these cats hook up each other with hot hits and big phazed cookies to peruse and then vote on their individual fancy catchers.

Thusly sans further adieu (or a don"t)

Council Winners

Non-Council Winners

See you next week!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Examining America’s Role in the World


The world is currently characterized by an unusually large number of unstable and volatile situations. The current high levels of instability are rooted in four broad trends:

  • The first is the systematic breakdown of state authority in the Arab Middle East.
  • The second broad trend we face is the reemergence of great power competition
  • A third current source of global volatility is the global reaction to profound economic and political transitions taking place in China.
  • The last trend is the geopolitical impact of sustained low oil prices since mid-2014.

The idea that America is in decline does not stand up to a rigorous analysis of our national balance sheet of strategic assets and liabilities. The truth is that no nation can match our comprehensive set of enduring strengths—a resilient, strong, and diverse economy; bountiful resources, both human and material; a unique global network of alliances; unmatched military strength; a powerful culture of entrepreneurship and innovation; best-in-class universities and research institutions; a dynamic demographic future (unique among the great powers); a promising energy future; a well-established legal system; and a long and powerful record of international leadership.

The next president must work to address four primary challenges in order to bolster our security and national well-being:

  • The principal national security challenge for any nation is to maintain its economic growth and vitality.
  • The overall terrorist threat has evolved and metastasized, and we have entered a new and dangerous phase.
  • The nation’s vulnerability to cyber-attacks has become one of the most pressing challenges confronting our government, our economy, and the American public.
  • Finally, the next president should build on 44's efforts to enhance stability and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Battle of Fallujah Part III

Iraqi forces have begun their assault on Islamic State in Fallujah, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said late Sunday, an operation that aims to evict the extremists from one of their last major territorial holdings in Iraq.

The operation follows months of planning and preparation in coordination with a U.S.-led military coalition that is backing Iraqi forces with airstrikes.

Iraqi forces have long had the city surrounded, but a major buildup of forces became evident in recent days as Shiite militias working alongside the Iraqi army moved military equipment to the area and officials suggested an operation was imminent.

Before the start of operations Sunday, the Iraqi government appealed to residents of Fallujah to prepare to leave, even urging them to raise white flags at their houses if they couldn’t.

The military’s Joint Operations Command said that civilian families would be allowed to leave the city through designated safe passages, though it didn’t specify how departures from the city would be arranged.

The Iraqi army, counterterrorism forces, police, tribal fighters and Shiite militias were taking part in the operation, according to the military.

Eissa al-Issawi, the exiled mayor of Fallujah, said Islamic State militants were retreating from the outskirts to the center of the city Sunday as the operation drew nearer

Civilians inside were eager for any relief from isolation, 74-year-old resident Mohessen Hossam said. Many people have died of starvation in the city since Iraqi forces imposed a blockade last year, residents have said, although the precise toll is impossible to measure.

If successful, the recapture of Fallujah would leave Mosul as Islamic State’s only major foothold in Iraq. Iraqi forces have long been gearing up for Mosul’s recapture, which is expected to be complex in part because of its size: Mosul has a population of around 1 million, about three times the size of Fallujah’s before Islamic State took the city.

Despite its smaller size, the Fallujah battle isn’t expected to be easy. The city is inhabited mostly by Sunni Muslims, many of whom resent any incursion by Iran-backed Shiite militias that form a significant part of the force fighting for control. To avoid triggering sectarian bloodshed, Shiite militias aren’t expected to be part of the forces that retake the city center.

Nonetheless, Ibrahim al-Jumaili, a Fallujah native who left three months ago and is now living just outside the city, said he had spoken to people inside Sunday who were concerned about being targeted by Shiite militias.

Fallujah has also been a difficult objective for invading armies before, including for the U.S., which took it in 2004 and held it for two years before handing control to the Iraqi government. The city became a focal point for Sunni discord after a Shiite-led government took power in Baghdad after the U.S.-led invasion.

Islamic State took control of Fallujah in December 2013, making it one of the group’s first big territorial gains, preceding its establishment of a base in Raqqa in Syria. Mosul only fell under its control in summer 2014.

As Iraqi forces turned the tide since last year, Islamic State has switched tactics, focusing more on terrorist attacks in populated areas than it had previously. A wave of Islamic State attacks in and near Baghdad earlier this month—most of them suicide bombings—killed almost 200 people.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Drones Gone Wild!

The recent vaporization of Taliban leader Mullah Mansur brings up a quiz or two...

Mansur’s potential death provides a real-world, real-time ability to test two hypotheses about the policy of killing terrorist leaders. These are based upon the objectives of the strike, according to the Pentagon press release, as well as subsequent statements by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.

Hypothesis one: Mansur’s death will reduce Taliban attacks and fatalities against Afghanistan national security forces, U.S. and coalition troops, and Afghan civilians.

Hypothesis two: Mansur’s replacement will be more likely to participate in the long-stalled peace and reconciliation negotiations with the Afghan government.

There has been a tremendous amount of social science research on these challenging policy puzzles. These policy-evaluative publications have reached somewhat conflicting conclusions, and are often contested by U.S. military and intelligence staffers who I speak with. However, those staffers never publish their research findings for public scrutiny, and are unable—given they would be referring to classified information—to clearly articulate their problems with the existing research.

On whether killing terrorists leaders and lower-level militants reduces violence, Max Abrahms and Phillip Potter assessed that when leaders of militant groups are killed or targeted, lower-level members have to assume tactical responsibility, and they increase the proportion of the group’s violence against civilian targets. Patrick Johnston and Anoop Sarbahi determined, “We find no statistically significant evidence of a positive relationship between drone strikes and terrorism.”  Meanwhile, Vincent Bauer, Keven Ruby, and Robert Pape found that “drone strikes are only marginally effective at reducing militant violence in the short term, and that the effect dissipates over time.”

On leadership targeting and the strength and durability of terrorist groups: In 2009, Jenna Jordan examined 298 leadership targeting incidents from 1945 through 2004, and concluded that “decapitation is not an effective counterterrorism strategy,” and oftentimes prolongs the life of a terrorist group. On the other hand, Bryan C. Price concluded, by analyzing the effect of leadership decapitation on 207 terrorist groups from 1970 to 2008, the killing or capturing leaders significantly increases the mortality rate of the group. In 2014, Jordan reviewed the impact of 109 attacks on Al Qaeda leadership from 2001 to 2011, and did not find a “significant degradation of organizational capacity or a marked disruption in al-Qaida’s activities,” measured in the number of attacks and their lethality.

There is also a CIA “Best Practices in Counterinsurgency” report from July 2009 examined nine cases of high-value targeting and found that five failed outright, two succeeded, and two had mixed results. The report specifically warned: “The Taliban’s military structure blends a top-down command system with an egalitarian Afghan tribal structure that rules by consensus, making the group more able to withstand HVT operations, according to clandestine and U.S. military reporting.”

How might someone determine if hypothesis one has been achieved? United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reports on the protection of civilians, which have been produced since 2007. Fortunately, for determining causal effect, UNAMA began releasing its reports bi-annually in 2009, and just last month releasing them quarterly. So, when the third quarter UNAMA report is released in November, look for an increase or decrease in attacks by “anti-government elements,” meaning the Taliban. (It is worth noting that Taliban attacks are decreasing relative to other perpetrators: In 2015, the group was responsible for 62 percent of all civilian fatalities, a decrease from 78 percent in 2013.)

There is also the Global Terrorism Database, which produces its excellent summary of terrorist attacks for all countries by date, perpetrator group, fatalities or casualties, and target type. The 2016 data for Afghanistan will probably be posted online sometime in mid-2017.

There has been no new data for total attacks on U.S. or coalition forces since 2013, but U.S. troop fatalities are constantly updated at the Pentagon’s casualty status website, and military contractors working for the Department of Defense at a Department of Labor website. As for Afghanistan security forces, the Ministries of Defense and Interior apparently prepare an annual total of military fatalities, which has previously been provided to western journalists.

How might one determine if hypothesis two has been achieved? This simply requires determining if Mansur’s replacement, or a council of recognized Taliban leaders, decide to negotiate directly and faithfully with the government of Afghanistan. One member of the government-appointed High Peace Council stated, “Mansour’s death doesn’t necessarily mean that peace is closer than it was yesterday.”
We will soon find out if this is true, and if targeting Taliban leadership succeeds at achieving the objectives as articulated by the administration.

Monday, May 23, 2016

USS Zumwalt


In October, the Navy will commission the Zumwalt in Baltimore. Between now and then, the ship’s crew will use the next four months to train with their new vessel, under the command of no-kidding Captain James Kirk.

From Sam LaGrone of U.S. Naval Institute news:

Zumwalt is the first hull delivered in the $22 billion three-ship class. The second and third ships — Michael Moonsor (DDG-1001) and Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG-1002) – are currently under construction at BIW.
The ships are built around a first-ever electric drive system in which the main engines power an electrical grid instead a direct link to the ship’s props allowing more margin to add additional systems to the ships.The ships’ main weapons are twin 155mm BAE Systems Advanced Gun Systems (AGS) designed to fire a specialized rocket assisted guided round to attack land targets – Lockheed Martin’s Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP).
The Zumwalt, and the two other ships of its class, are designed to have about half the crew of existing destroyers in the U.S. Navy. Major automation of the ship makes this possible, as does the ship’s tremendous amount of on-board electrical power. In fact, while it’s equipped with missiles and guns now, in the future it could have laser weapons or rail guns.

Assuming, that is, that it doesn’t tip over first. The ship’s unique body shape is known as a “tumblehome” design, and one reason they’re particularly rare is because they sometimes flip over in stormy seas. That hasn’t happened yet, and it’s possible the Zumwalt is better equipped than ships a century ago for rough conditions. Let’s hope it’s smooth sailing until October’s commissioning.

Saturday, May 21, 2016


WoW - the Watchers Council- it's the oldest, longest running cyber comte d'guere ensembe in existence - started online in 1912 by Sirs Jacky Fisher and Winston Churchill themselves - an eclective collective of cats both cruel and benign with their ability to put steel on target (figuratively - natch) on a wide variety of topictry across American, Allied, Frenemy and Enemy concerns, memes, delights and discourse.

Every week these cats hook up each other with hot hits and big phazed cookies to peruse and then vote on their individual fancy catchers.

Thusly sans further adieu (or a don"t)

Council Winners

Non-Council Winners

See you next week!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Middle East's Next War

Middle East wars generally don't happen by accident. And since 2006, both Little Satan and Hizb'allah have been prepping for the next round.

The death in Syria last week of Mustafa Badriddine, Hezbollah's top operational commander in Syria, automatically and inevitably raised the fear of another confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah. After all, Lebanese media close to Hezbollah had been quick to accuse the Israelis of killing its storied terror operative.
Hezbollah soon suggested that Israel was not, after all, responsible. Instead, it announced that its man was killed by insurgent groups that the Lebanese Shia militia has been fighting in Syria. Yet while we may never find out the exact circumstances of Badriddine's death, and while the potential for a new and deadly war in the Middle East has, for the time being, been averted, the truth is that an Israeli-Lebanese war that could plunge the Middle East into even greater chaos remains a genuine possibility.
On the surface, this might seem a strange time to sound so pessimistic. After all, this July marks the 10th anniversary of the last major Israeli-Hezbollah conflict. And despite significant escalations, the two sides have managed to avoid a sustained large-scale conflict.
Overstretched in Syria, Hezbollah doesn't want a big fight. And even though Russian intervention has backstopped the Bashar al-Assad regime -- Hezbollah's key ally -- the Syrian campaign has been costly and controversial for the Lebanese Shia organization.
In short. Hezbollah can't afford to open up what could prove to be an even more costly second front, and it cannot be certain that Israel might not strike the al-Assad regime, weakening its stake in Syria.
It's also hard to see how Iran, Hezbollah's key political and religious patron and its key arms supplier would benefit from a war now.
Iran is looking to build on the nuclear agreement with the United States and other powers to strengthen its economy and attract foreign investment. And having to rally publicly and loudly to the side of an organization that the Europeans, Americans and Gulf states regard as a terrorist entity wouldn't seem to further Iran's interests.
Since 2006, Israel and its other non-state adversary, Hamas, have engaged in three serious confrontations -- in 2008-2009; 2012; and 2014
In contrast, Israel and Hezbollah have been much more careful and disciplined in dealing with one another. Hezbollah was surprised that Israel was prepared to launch a massive air campaign in response to the kidnapping of two of its soldiers in 2006, while Israel was stunned by Hezbollah's capacity to rain thousands of rockets down on Israel and shut a good portion of the country down for a month.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah has expanded its rocket and missile arsenal to 150,000, weapons, according to Israeli officials, including precision-guided systems that would put within range Haifa's heavy industries; the Israeli Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv; Israel's Parliament; and its nuclear reactors at Dimona.
Indeed, earlier this year, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened Haifa's ammonia storage tanks with his missiles, an attack he claimed -- quoting an Israeli official -- could lead to the deaths of thousands of Israelis.
Clearly, the next war would be potentially devastating for both sides. But that does not mean it can't or won't occur.
For example, Hezbollah is battle hardened, tested and trained in offensive operations in the Syrian civil war. The group is thought by some to be planning incursions across the border with a view to holding territory, even attacking Israeli towns.
And if Hiz'b'Allah plans to change the next war's paradigm, so does Little Satan.
Frustrated with the duration and stalemated outcome of the 2006 Lebanon campaign, the Israelis promise to hit harder and bring the war to a quicker and more decisive end.
How? They won't say. But it would surely involve the massive use of air power against Hezbollah positions, even if they were located in civilian areas, In addition, unlike in 2006, Israel might be more likely to make use of significant numbers of ground forces and elite units, coordinated with air power.
So, while another war between Israel and Hezbollah may not be inevitable, Hezbollah's growing arsenal, combined with its conviction that fighting Israel is part of its identity and legitimacy, means that outright conflict is a genuine possibility. If it comes, it will be devastating -- especially for the civilians on both sides caught in the middle.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

2017 War With Russia

Russian T 14 panzers make a wide right turn on cobblestone streets in a small town in Latvia - heading for the Baltic sea.

Russia, in order to escape what she believes to be encirclement by Nato, will seize territory in eastern Ukraine, open up a land corridor to Crimea and invade the Baltic states.

And do it next year in 2017.

Sound crazy?

Hold up!

Former deputy commander of Nato, the former British general Sir Alexander Richard Shirreff predicts it'll happen in a new shocker called 2017 War With Russia: An urgent warning from senior military command

His scenario is specific, naming Latvia as the first of the Baltic countries to be invaded, in May next year.

At the book launch at London’s Royal United Services Institute, he heavily caveated the scenario by saying it was still avoidable provided Nato took the necessary steps to pre-position forces in large enough numbers in the Baltic states. Nato is planning to make a start on just such a move at a Nato summit in Warsaw in July.

Faced with scepticism from journalists at the book launch – the Baltic states, unlike Ukraine, are members of Nato, and Russian action against any of them would in theory trigger a response – Shirreff said history was full of irrational decisions by leaders.

He said Putin could invade the Baltic states and then threaten nuclear action if Nato threatened to intervene.

Shirreff’s warning about the danger posed by Russia is echoed in the foreword by US admiral James Stavridis, former supreme allied commander Europe, who writes: “Under President Putin, Russia has charted a dangerous course that, if it is allowed to continue, may lead inexorably to a clash with Nato. And that will mean a war that could so easily go nuclear.”

Shirreff insists that retention of a nuclear deterrent is essential. “Be under no illusion whatsoever – Russian use of nuclear weapons is hardwired into Moscow’s military strategy,” he writes.

He describes Russia as now the west’s most dangerous adversary and says Putin’s course can only be stopped if the west wakes up to the real possibility of war and takes urgent action.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Future Air Force Drones

Using a Wild Blue Yonder Ouija board...
The Air Force, which is planning on developing unmanned aerial systems that can work autonomously and in teams, is looking for the next generation of machine-to-machine teaming software, which could enable UAS to operate in “swarms.”

The service has issued a request for information looking for possible sources of machine-to-machine, or M2M, software in preparation of the Air Force Special Operations Command’s increment III Capabilities Development Document, which the service expects to validate in the fourth quarter of this year

According to the RFI, the Air Force is seeking a suite that can meet requirements in a minimum of five areas:

Air superiority, allowing combat controllers to maintain positive control of the aviation environment during operations and direct air/ground operations within an assault zone, while also operating in harsh weather conditions to “collect, analyze, predict, tailor, and integrate critical hydrographic, geological, and meteorological information.”

Rapid global mobility, supporting combat controllers and special operations weather teams in a variety of operations and meteorological assessments.

Global persistent attack, supporting tactical air control parties in planning and coordinating attacks and delivering close air support.

Global integrated intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, including deep strike capability in addition to ISR.

Personnel recovery, supporting search and recovery; emergency trauma care; casualty collection, treatment and evacuation; confined space/collapsed structure/technical extrication; team medicine; and high/low angle rescue.
The Air Force, noting that it’s looking for information but not proposals, is soliciting fairly brief (no more than 10-page) responses by June 30.

Monday, May 16, 2016

44 @Hiroshima

44 will be the first U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, a prospect that has set off arguments about whether he should apologize for our use of nuclear bombs to end World War II. The White House says he will not. While the case that he should is strong, the case that he shouldn’t is stronger.

Most Americans, from 1945 to the present, have believed that President Harry Truman was justified in bombing Japan. Most supporters of that decision say the bombs saved lives by breaking Japan’s will to continue fighting. The alternative, they add, was a ground invasion that would have caused much more blood, Allied and Japanese, to be shed.

But there are others who dispute the claim that the bombs were necessary to bring about Japan’s unconditional surrender. An official U.S. government report in 1946 concluded that “it seems clear that, even without the atomic bombing attacks, air supremacy over Japan could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring about unconditional surrender and obviate the need for invasion.”

The core conviction of the opponents, though, is that it is always wrong to take actions intended to kill noncombatants, even on the hope the killing will bring about very desirable effects. That principle forms part of the Western tradition of thinking about the ethics of war. This tradition is not pacifist: It accepts that wars can be just, and that in a just war the military can justly take actions it knows will cause civilian deaths. But this view insists that the killing of noncombatants, including children, cannot be the goal of a just military act, either as an end in itself or as the means toward some other end (like breaking the enemy’s will so as to yield peace).

We have largely adhered to this tradition, before 1945 and after. We have sometimes debated whether our use of drones is causing too many civilian deaths. But we do not deliberately target civilians for killing whenever we think the consequences would be beneficial. When Donald Trump suggested deterring terrorists by killing their family members, he was recommending a highly controversial change in our practices.

Dropping atom bombs on Japan is hard to reconcile with the honorable tradition. This doesn’t call into question the essential justice of the Allied cause. It doesn’t mean 33 deserves all the connotations of a “war criminal” or “murderer,” terms some of his critics have been willing to employ. But it does suggest he chose wrongly.

Most Americans don’t view Hiroshima and Nagasaki similarly. They think we were justified.

44 therefore cannot legitimately apologize on behalf of the American people. He can regret the loss of life while staying silent on the morality of the bombings. Any apology should be left to a future president -- and issued only if America reaches a new consensus on this issue.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Sykes - Picot Illusion

Thanks to history’s cunning, this month marks the centenary of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the invariably credited source of this particular fiction.

The nation-states that are neither nations nor states -- as we now see with Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon -- were the offspring of two mid-level government representatives, the Englishman Mark Sykes and Frenchman Georges Picot. They made for an odd couple. Sykes was a dashing, ne’er-do-well aristocrat who, before entering politics, published accounts of his travels across the Ottoman Empire. Picot, on the other hand, hailed from a family of professional colonialists, dedicated to France’s “civilizing mission” to the world’s benighted peoples. Behind closed doors, the two men redrew a map of the region to reflect their nations’ imperial ambitions.

Much has been written about the historical consequences of the map annotated and, in the lower right-hand corner, signed by Sykes and Picot. A single sheet of paper, covered by a web of continuous and dotted lines enclosing the pastel-colored British and French zones, has borne a tremendous burden. Nearly everything that has since gone wrong in the Middle East has been laid at the feet of the map’s creators.

But the meaning of this map -- or, for that matter, any map -- runs deeper than we suspect. Of course, we tend to think of maps as mirrors of nature, faithful renderings of land and water, mountains and plains, as objective as an MRI of our digestive tract. Unlike a cigar, however, a map can never be just a map. Over the last few decades, a new generation of geographers has, in effect, remapped their profession. They argue that cartography, notwithstanding its use of calipers and computers, is less a science than it is an art, one that projects our collective fears and hopes, aspirations and anxieties onto paper or screen. The grids and colors, legends and dimensions are rhetoric by other means, a particular representation of reality designed to persuade or seduce the viewer.

This has tremendous implications for the ways in which we might think of the legacy of Sykes-Picot. “To those who have strength in the world,” Harley once observed, “shall be added strength in the map.” At the most superficial level  -- maps are profound in their superficiality -- we see this demonstration of strength in the lines etched by Sykes and Picot. The diplomats diced and sliced the carcass of the Ottoman Empire according to their governments’ geopolitical aims, while dismissing the religious and historical realities on the ground. As David Fromkin notes in his definitive study “A Peace to End all Peace,” France no less than England was deluded in its belief that the Muslim population wished to be ruled by them.

As a result, by 1915, when Sykes convened a governmental committee to map Britain’s aims in the Middle East, he was simply joining a long tradition. Not surprisingly, his committee erased the borders and place names established by the Ottoman rulers. Turning to the ancient Greek and Latin texts they had swotted as students, they cobbled together words from Greek and Latin, baptizing the newly-created regions as “Mesopotamia,” “Syria,” and “Palestine.” (A corruption of “Philistia,” the swath of land once occupied by the Philistines.) It was as if Britain’s battle for the Middle East was lost in the classrooms of Eton.

The Sykes-Picot map conveys another cartographic illusion: the etching of lines and coloring of regions seem to suppress the agency, or freedom, of the human beings living in those demarcated places. Yet, the imposition of the Sykes-Picot map inspired the rise of nationalist movements, as well as pan-Arabism, across the region. As early as 1917, even Sykes recognized that his map was an artifact of a bygone era.

Moreover, even today we tend to assume the Middle East settlement of 1922, for which Sykes-Picot is a cornerstone, was entirely the work of the Western powers. We came, we mapped, and we conquered. Yet as revisionist historians persuasively argue, local actors -- Muslim and Christian, Arab and Turkish and Persian -- all played pivotal roles in these events. The maps were indeed drawn up in the smoke-filled rooms of Paris and London, but acting upon them were those whose lives they pretended to determine.

When you next gaze at a map of the Middle East, the trick is to glimpse not just a portrait of Sykes and Picot, or those of their descendants. Instead, it is to see the countless faces of those whose lives will always resist the abstractions of lines and hues.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Indo Pak Nuclear War

The armies of Pakistan and India are practicing for nuclear war on the battlefield:

Pakistan is rehearsing the use of nuclear weapons, while India trains to fight on despite such use and subsequently escalate. What were once mere ideas and scenarios dreamed up by hawkish military planners and nuclear strategists have become starkly visible capabilities and commitments. When the time comes, policy makers and people on both sides will expect—and perhaps demand—that the Bomb be used.

Pakistan has long been explicit about its plans to use nuclear weapons to counter Indian conventional forces. Pakistan has developed “a variety of short range, low yield nuclear weapons,” claimed retired General Khalid Kidwai in March 2015. Kidwai is the founder—and from 2000 until 2014 ran—Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division, which is responsible for managing the country’s nuclear weapons production complex and arsenal. These weapons, Kidwai said, have closed the “space for conventional war.” Echoing this message, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry declared in October 2015 that his country might use these tactical nuclear weapons in a conflict with India. There already have been four wars between the two countries—in 1947, 1965, 1971, and 1999—as well as many war scares.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest explained in April 2016 that “we’re concerned by the increased security challenges that accompany growing stockpiles, particularly tactical nuclear weapons that are designed for use on the battlefield. And these systems are a source of concern because they’re susceptible to theft due to their size and mode of employment. Essentially, by having these smaller weapons, the threshold for their use is lowered, and the[re is] risk that a conventional conflict between India and Pakistan could escalate to include the use of nuclear weapons.”

Responding to US concerns, Kidwai has said that “Pakistan would not cap or curb its nuclear weapons programme or accept any restrictions.” The New York Times reported last year that so far, “an unknown number of the tactical weapons were built, but not deployed” by Pakistan.

India is making its own preparations for nuclear war. The Indian Army conducted a massive military exercise in April 2016 in the Rajasthan desert bordering Pakistan, involving tanks, artillery, armored personnel carriers, and 30,000 soldiers, to practice what to do if it is attacked with nuclear weapons on the battlefield. An Indian Army spokesman told the media, “our policy has been always that we will never use nuclear weapons first. But if we are attacked, we need to gather ourselves and fight through it. The simulation is about doing exactly that.”

This is not the first such Indian exercise. As long ago as May 2001, the Indian military conducted an exercise based on the possibility that Pakistan would use nuclear weapons on Indian armed forces. Indian generals and planners have anticipated such battlefield nuclear use by Pakistan since at least the 1990s.

Driving the current set of Indian strategies and capabilities is the army’s search for a way to use military force to retaliate against Pakistan for harboring terrorists who, from time to time, have launched devastating attacks inside India.

It could come to pass that Pakistan’s army uses nuclear weapons on its own territory to repel invading Indian tanks and troops. Pakistan’s planners may intend this first use of nuclear weapons as a warning shot, hoping to cause the Indians to stop and withdraw rather than risk worse. But while withdrawal would be one possible outcome, there would also be others. It is more likely, for instance, that the use of one—or even a few—Pakistani battlefield nuclear weapons would fail to dent Indian forces. While even a small nuclear weapon would be devastating in an urban environment, many such weapons may be required to have a decisive military impact on columns of well-dispersed battle tanks and soldiers who have practiced warfighting under nuclear attack.

India’s nuclear doctrine, meanwhile, is built on massive retaliation.

According to Admiral Vijay Shankar, a former head of Indian strategic nuclear forces, such retaliation would involve nuclear attacks on Pakistan’s cities. Kidwai describes such Indian threats as “bluster and blunder,” since they “are not taking into account the balance of nuclear weapons of Pakistan, which hopefully not, but has the potential to go back and give the same kind of dose to the other side.” For nuclear planners in both countries, threatening the slaughter of millions and mutual destruction seems to be the order of the day.

There are also risks short of war, of course. Nuclear weapon units integrated with conventional forces and ready to be dispersed on a battlefield pose critical command-and-control issues.

The implication is that communications between the nuclear headquarters and deployed units in the field will be perfectly reliable and secure even in wartime, and that commanders of individual units will not seek—or have the capability to launch—a nuclear strike unless authorized.
It is difficult to believe these claims. Peering through the fog of war, dizzied by developments on a rapidly evolving battlefield, confronting possible defeat, and fuelled by generations of animosity towards India as well as a thirst for revenge from previous wars, it cannot be guaranteed that a Pakistani nuclear commander will follow the rules.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Short Term

Little Satan's short term goals on her Near Abroad...

Israel’s strategic goal in dealing with Hamas is to constrain the group’s military capabilities. Partly motivated by the aforementioned domestic controversy over Hamas’s infiltration tunnels in 2014, Netanyahu also wants to ensure that they cannot launch a surprise attack on Israeli civilians. Such an attack would cost innocent lives, and, more important, it would embolden Israeli adversaries at a time of growing regional instability.

And that leads us to Iran. With President Bashar al-Assad of Syria now buoyed by Russia, Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) and Iran sense an opportunity to re-commit their energies toward Israel’s northern border. The Syrian Civil War has imposed a heavy military and political toll on Iran and LH, but their existential fetish for Jewish blood is unrelenting. As the Middle East sinks into unrestrained violence, the Obama administration has sat idly by, dancing to Vladimir Putin’s tune at every turn. And without any confidence that Obama would come to its aid in a time of need, Israel is now aligning with the Sunni-Arab monarchies against Iran.
 Netanyahu’s recent assurance of Israel’s continued claim to the Golan Heights was a physical metaphor for Israel’s evolving security strategy: Israel wants Iran to know that it will not replicate America’s strategy of acquiescence and will role the military dice to preserve its deterrent posture if it must.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Zukunft Europa

Seems only fair to follow up VE Day with a look at Future Europe...

"A large Mohammedist minority is in Europe to stay. Persisting with the establishment’s approach makes a certain sense: keep a lid on prejudice, tamp down extremism, and hope that time will transform the zealous Mohammedism of recent immigrants into a more liberal form of faith, and make the conflict go away.

Or least keep it manageable … The most likely scenario for Europe isn’t dhimmitude; it’s a long period of tension, punctuated by spasms of violence, that makes the Continent a more unpleasant place without fundamentally transforming it."

Skippy Lipchitz's happy happy version not so long ago.

Between the financial crisis and the migration of a million combat age males from Mohammedist world, Europa will face an ever scary future of uprisings, successions, unification battles, independence battles a probably a few wars

Start with continuing concerns about the finances of so-called southern peripheral countries. The Greek bailout of 2015 created strong and lingering resentments in Germany and other creditor nations of northern Europe. This bailout was the third in five years, and it will not be the last. Some are now forecasting a new Greek default early this summer. Portugal’s sinking economy may also need rescue soon. The Portuguese and Greek governments united recently to denounce what they view as the European Union’s relentless, draconian austerity measures. Meanwhile, Italy struggles to manage its own excessive debt, low growthhigh unemployment, and severe banking crisis. Spain is on the verge of breaching its deficit targets  for the ninth consecutive year. A familiar refrain in Germany goes, “We shovel money south, while they pretend to reform, and we pretend to believe them.”

The refugee crisis may well become a serious threat to Europe’s cohesion and security. Amid the hundreds of thousands of displaced and suffering, there are jihadist infiltrators, with the number of suspects now so large they are nearly impossible for authorities to track. German authorities have confirmed that roughly 3,800 blank Syrian passports are in the possession of Islamic State. The probability of fresh attacks in the next few years will remain high.

But there’s another daunting problem: how to integrate such large numbers of Mohammedist refugees? Germany alone has already taken in roughly 1.1 million homeless from Syria and elsewhere since the summer of 2015. While it’s difficult to obtain precise data, a decent number of refugees are apparently poorly educated; by some estimates, as many as 20 percent may be illiterate. Even if most are able to join the workforce over time, can they become part of European society?
It’s foolish and dangerous to deny the fact that many Europeans will not welcome these newcomers, just as it is obvious that many of these newcomers — largely from socially conservative and in some instances militantly illiberal backgrounds — will have little enthusiasm for joining life in liberal, progressive Europe. 
So far, Europe’s success in integrating Mohammedists has been mixed at best. A senior Central European politician LOL'd the current problem in a semi private communique as, “the land of full mosques invading the continent of empty churches.”

Also there is the the enduring strategic problem of Mitteleuropa, a fragmented region suspended between larger powers by virtue of geography, language, and culture. As it emerged from the last age of empire, Woodrow Wilson sought to re-anchor the region through self determination, a short experiment as weak states were preyed upon by more capable neighbors. A perpetual source of instability at best, Tim Snyder described it as the “Bloodlands” at its worst. Robert Kaplan, quoting Josef Pilsudski, founder of the second Polish Republic, refers to the need for an “Intermarium” group of unaffiliated democratic states between the Baltic and Black Seas.

While it is obviously desirable if these countries are also democracies, it would mark an important step towards a sustainable security system if they had a reasonable ability to defend themselves and were at least not constantly in play between larger alliances. At a minimum, this could buy time, giving Russian strategic culture an opportunity to mellow, grow beyond its post-imperial ambitions, and learn to live within the boundaries of a modern nation state.

Saturday, May 7, 2016


WoW - the Watchers Council- it's the oldest, longest running cyber comte d'guere ensembe in existence - started online in 1912 by Sirs Jacky Fisher and Winston Churchill themselves - an eclective collective of cats both cruel and benign with their ability to put steel on target (figuratively - natch) on a wide variety of topictry across American, Allied, Frenemy and Enemy concerns, memes, delights and discourse.

Every week these cats hook up each other with hot hits and big phazed cookies to peruse and then vote on their individual fancy catchers.

Thusly sans further adieu (or a don"t)

Council Winners

Non-Council Winners

See you next week!