Free Markets, Free People

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Trying to rewrite history … again

Even the Washington Post has a problem swallowing the latest Obama attempt at rewriting history (with the usual motive of passing off the blame to someone or something else).  As usual, Obama is trying to have it both ways while waving away his culpability in the problems and deaths now taking place in Iraq:

President Obama surprised a few people during a news conference Thursday by claiming that the 2011 decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq, a politically popular move on the eve of an election year, was made entirely by his Iraqi counterpart. The implication ran counter to a number of claims that Obama has made in the past, most notably during a tight campaign season two years ago, when he suggested that it was his decision to leave Iraq and end an unpopular war.

His remarks, coming as an Islamist insurgency seizes territory across northern Iraq and threatens the central government, recalled key moments in his reelection race when he called his opponent hopelessly out of step with Middle East realities for wanting to keep U.S. forces in the still-fragile country America had invaded nearly a decade earlier.

In the 2012 campaign’s stretch, Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney met inside the performing arts center of Lynn University for the last of three presidential debates. The race remained close, and in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission and CIA-run annex in Benghazi, Libya, the Romney team saw foreign policy as an area of potential vulnerability for the incumbent. The debate focused on the issue.

For much of that election year, Obama had included a line of celebration in his standard stump speech, one that among an electorate exhausted by more than a decade of war always drew a rousing applause: “Four years ago, I promised to end the war in Iraq,” Obama proclaimed in Bowling Green, Ohio, in September 2012, and did nearly every day after until the election. “We did.”

For Obama, who four years earlier had distinguished himself from Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton through his opposition to the war in Iraq, the fact he had withdrawn all U.S. forces from the country was a problem solved and a political chip to be cashed in come November.

It was also a way to once again draw contrasts with Romney, who criticized Obama for failing to secure a so-called status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government. The agreement would have granted immunity from Iraqi prosecution to all U.S. troops in country after 2011. Reaching such a deal — a political risk for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — would have allowed a contingent of several thousand U.S. troops to remain, largely to help with training and specific counter-terrorism operations.

“With regards to Iraq, you and I agreed, I believe, that there should be a status of forces agreement,” Romney told Obama as the two convened on the Lynn University campus in Boca Raton, Fla., that October evening. “That’s not true,” Obama interjected. “Oh, you didn’t want a status of forces agreement?” Romney asked as an argument ensued. “No,” Obama said. “What I would not have done is left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down. That certainly would not help us in the Middle East.”

On Thursday, Obama addressed reporters in the White House Briefing Room about Iraq’s latest crisis. “Do you wish you had left a residual force in Iraq? Any regrets about that decision in 2011?” a reporter asked. “Well, keep in mind that wasn’t a decision made by me,” Obama said. “That was a decision made by the Iraqi government.”

While the last statement is technically true, it’s because the Obama administration had engineered it to be that way.  They knew full well how all of our other Status of Forces Agreements were done and deliberately included conditions and a step that was unnecessary that all but guaranteed rejection by the Iraqi government.

Here’s a little history of the time (written in October of 2011):

Quite simply it was a matter of will: President Bush really wanted to get a deal done, whereas Mr. Obama did not. Mr. Bush spoke weekly with Mr. Maliki by video teleconference. Mr. Obama had not spoken with Mr. Maliki for months before calling him in late October to announce the end of negotiations. Mr. Obama and his senior aides did not even bother to meet with Iraqi officials at the United Nations General Assembly in September.

The administration didn’t even open talks on renewing the Status of Forces Agreement until this summer, a few months before U.S. troops would have to start shuttering their remaining bases to pull out by Dec. 31. The previous agreement, in 2008, took a year to negotiate.

The recent negotiations were jinxed from the start by the insistence of State Department and Pentagon lawyers that any immunity provisions be ratified by the Iraqi parliament—something that the U.S. hadn’t insisted on in 2008 and that would be almost impossible to get today. In many other countries, including throughout the Arab world, U.S. personnel operate under a Memorandum of Understanding that doesn’t require parliamentary ratification. Why not in Iraq? Mr. Obama could have chosen to override the lawyers’ excessive demands, but he didn’t.

He also undercut his own negotiating team by regularly bragging—in political speeches delivered while talks were ongoing—of his plans to “end” the “war in Iraq.” Even more damaging was his August decision to commit only 3,000 to 5,000 troops to a possible mission in Iraq post-2011. This was far below the number judged necessary by our military commanders. They had asked for nearly 20,000 personnel to carry out counterterrorist operations, support American diplomats, and provide training and support to the Iraqi security forces. That figure was whittled down by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to 10,000, which they judged to be the absolute minimum needed.

The Iraqis knew about these estimates: U.S. military commanders had communicated them directly to Iraqi leaders. Prime Minister Maliki was said (by those who had talked to him) to privately support such a troop commitment, and almost all Iraqi political leaders—representing every major faction except for the rabidly anti-American Sadrists—assented on Aug. 2 to opening negotiations on that basis.

When the White House then said it would consent to no more than 5,000 troops—a number that may not even have been able to adequately defend itself, much less carry out other missions—the Iraqis understandably figured that the U.S. wasn’t serious about a continued commitment. Iraqi political leaders may have been willing to risk a domestic backlash to support a substantial commitment of 10,000 or more troops. They were not willing to stick their necks out for such a puny force. Hence the breakdown of talks.

So the talks on SOFA broke down giving Obama a reason to “end the war” and to blame the breakdown on Iraq and Iraq’s government.  Perfect.

And now we see the result.  He has someone to blame the problem on even as the history of how and why what happened happened seems to be lost in the mist.  This was a deliberately staged and engineered outcome.  By making an unacceptable offer and requiring other than the leadership of Iraq to endorse the deal, they knew it would fail.  And that means the usual … another of our allies thrown under the bus.  Yes, Maliki isn’t any bargain.  And yes, he’s done as poor a job with Iraq as Obama has done in America.  But there are two people that should be under the bus, and we all know who the second one is.

Don’t let him rewrite this bit of history to his advantage.

~McQ

So many debacles, so little time

With the relase of the 5 Taliban leaders for a deserter, we’ve been mostly assured, by the usual suspects, that they won’t go back to war with us and anyone who thinks they will, well that’s “baloney” per John Kerry.  That there has been a “deal” made and we were “promised” that wouldn’t happen.  That’s sort of like believing gun control laws will keep guns out of the hands of criminals … it strains credulity.

And, frankly, we’re apparently pretty good at reseeding terrorist ranks as it turns out.  Take the terrorist organization ISIS which is now brutalizing Iraq:

The United States once had Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi in custody at a detention facility in Iraq, but president Barack Obama let him go, it was revealed on Friday.

Al Baghdadi was among the prisoners released in 2009 from the U.S.’s now-closed Camp Bucca near Umm Qasr in Iraq.

But now five years later he is leading the army of ruthless extremists bearing down on Baghdad who want to turn the country into an Islamist state by blazing a bloody trail through towns and cities, executing Iraqi soldiers, beheading police officers and gunning down innocent civilians.

Even I remember al Baghdadi’s name and the massive hunt to bring him to ground.  He was murderous scum then, and he’s murderous scum now.  How in the world  we ever let someone like that go is, well, something the Obama administration would have to explain.

Don’t bother asking … the answer is “it’s Bushes fault, you racist”.

~McQ

A few things to note

I don’t mind at all saying “I told you so” when it comes to the alarmists and “climate change”.  You’ll remember a few weeks ago when the alarmists began screeching about the collapse of an ice shelf in Antarctica and how that was going to raise sea levels by feet, not inches and that there was nothing we could do about it?  Oh, and it was because of man-made global warming?

We found out subsequently, that the “rise in sea levels” might occur with this melting of the ice shelf, but that it would likely take a 1,000 years.  And, at that time, I put forward an article I’d written for QandO in 2009 where I noted that volcanic activity (aka geothermal activity) was responsible for an ice melt then.  I further posited that it was entirely possible it was responsible for the most recent ice shelf melt (since it is very close to the shelf itself) and had nothing to do with man.

Vindication:

Thwaites Glacier, the large, rapidly changing outlet of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, is not only being eroded by the ocean, it’s being melted from below by geothermal heat, researchers at the Institute for Geophysics at The University of Texas at Austin (UTIG) report in the current edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The findings significantly change the understanding of conditions beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet where accurate information has previously been unobtainable.

The Thwaites Glacier has been the focus of considerable attention in recent weeks as other groups of researchers found the glacier is on the way to collapse, but more data and computer modeling are needed to determine when the collapse will begin in earnest and at what rate the sea level will increase as it proceeds. The new observations by UTIG will greatly inform these ice sheet modeling efforts.

Using radar techniques to map how water flows under ice sheets, UTIG researchers were able to estimate ice melting rates and thus identify significant sources of geothermal heat under Thwaites Glacier. They found these sources are distributed over a wider area and are much hotter than previously assumed.

The geothermal heat contributed significantly to melting of the underside of the glacier, and it might be a key factor in allowing the ice sheet to slide, affecting the ice sheet’s stability and its contribution to future sea level rise.

Oh my.  Who knew?  Uh, we did. Or at least we were able to apply facts and logic to the event and give a credible hypothesis as to why what was happening was happening.  Nice.

On another subject, the Bergdahl fiasco, it appears that Mr. Obama, who was perfectly fine about taking all the credit for his release when it appeared it would be to his political advantage (thus the Rose Garden announcement with the family), has now found someone he can throw under the bus since it has all gone wrong.  It’s Hagel’s fault:

FInal approval for the prisoner exchange that freed Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was made by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, members of Congress learned on Monday from administration officials.

‘They indicated (it was) Secretary Hagel (who made the final call),’ Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) said after a classified briefing, ABC points out.

‘It was the president of the United States that came out (in the Rose Garden) with the Bergdahls and took all the credit and now that there’s been a little pushback he’s moving away from it and it’s Secretary Hagel?’

Yup … I’ve lost count of all those who’ve found themselves looking at the underside of the Obama bus.  And for those who don’t think that this was an attempt to divert attention from the VA scandal, check this little tidbit out:

The final agreement was brokered in a week by Qatar and dovetailed with Obama’s announcement of a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2017. Engulfed in a scandal over hospital care for veterans, it also provided him an opportunity to demonstrate he was helping those who had served.

So it was Hagel’s final call?  Yeah, right. Again, the administration insults our intelligence.

Meanwhile we find more and more neglect and corruption in the VA, an agency that Mr. Obama criticized when his predecessor was in charge and vowed to clean up:

The agency said more than 57,000 new patients have waited at least 90 days for their first appointments and that about 13 percent of VA schedulers indicated they were told to falsify appointment-request dates to give the impression that wait times were shorter than they really were.

Remember, this is pure government run health care aimed at a very small population, relatively speaking.  And it is a disaster.

The agency also found evidence that in the past 10 years, nearly 64,000 veterans who sought VA care were simply never seen by a doctor.

“Simply”.  Not simply at all. This is mind numbing incompetence and corruption.  This was Ezra Klein’s ideal example for touting the benefits of government run (single payer) health care back when he was shilling so hard for the ACA.  Obama has done nothing to change the situation.  Congress, as usual has simply thrown money at it assuming that would fix it.  But its not just Obama’s problem.  This is a decades old institutional problem driven by a corrupt and incompetent bureaucracy that has given short shrift to the care of our veteran population.  This is the face of “government run healthcare”.

~McQ

Apparently we do negotiate with terrorists

I know Americans are torn by the Bergdahl story.  Face it, given how poorly things are going, they desperately want a “feel good” story.  The Bergdahl repatriation is one where you want to celebrate it, but as the facts come out, you can’t find it in yourself to do so.  The guy wasn’t a POW, he deserted and sought out the enemy with the apparent desire to join them.

The administration just as desperately wanted a distraction from all it’s ongoing failures and scandals.  But this story and its ending are anything but that.  In fact, it stinks to high heaven.

First there’s the way it was done by the administration, which strongly supports the hypothesis that this was done in haste to change the subject and redirect the focus of the news cycle.  The subject they were trying to change was their abject failure with the VA.  How better to distract from that than repatriating an American soldier and rescuing him from the clutches of the Taliban?  Paint him as a hero and take a bow.  Let a sympathetic media take it from there.

Except this guy isn’t a hero.  He wasn’t “captured”, he deliberately set out to find those who eventually grabbed him and kept him.  Since 2010 the Army has determined that this guy deserted his post in time of war.  But of course that didn’t stop the Baghdad Bob of this administration, Susan Rice, from heading out to the talk shows soon after the deal was made, and telling us how this deserter had served with “honor and distinction”.

What the administration hadn’t counted on was former soldiers from his unit coming forward and telling the real story. They apparently didn’t know about the 6 soldiers killed in attempts to find and rescue him.  The backlash from their attempt to whitewash who this guy was has been overwhelming. And, as usual, points to a clueless administration again bungling it’s attempt at distraction.

But that’s only one part of the story.  How about the trade itself?  What did it accomplish?

Well for the US, another in a long line of stupid failures.  Why “stupid”. Because, as usual, it was ill-conceived plan and a self-inflicted wound.  We got back a PFC that deserted (yeah, I know he was promoted while in captivity, but in reality he’s a PFC) and they got this:

  • A senior Taliban military commander
  • Their deputy minister of intelligence
  • Their army chief of staff
  • Their governor of the Herat province and former interior minister
  • and a senior Taliban figure and security official.

Not only that, the Taliban (aka “the enemy”) got a propaganda coup of unrivaled proportion as “NightWatch” lays it out for us:

The mainstream media have covered the increased risk of hostage-taking as the direct and foreseeable result of the hostage exchange. This was not a prisoner of war exchange.

Two points not mentioned in most mainstream commentary are noteworthy. This exchange invests Omar and his Islamic Emirate with stature that neither had when the Taliban ruled in Afghanistan. It negotiated as an equal with the US and got the better deal. That sets a precedent for potential deals with other NATO members. It is a powerful disincentive for Pakistan to rein in Omar and his cohorts.

The second point is the release of the five Taliban leaders will boost Taliban morale; help improve their organizational and fighting skills and enhance their operations. It might have a ripple effect on the now divided Pakistani Taliban.

The timing could hardly be worse for Allied forces. As NATO draws down its forces, the Taliban get an influx of experienced leaders, undermining years of effort to degrade the leadership. These were men Mullah Omar trusted in the early days of Taliban rule. He now has a seasoned core around which to build a reinvigorated administration and movement.

We, as a nation, have constantly stressed the Taliban is a terror organization.  Both Democrats and Republicans. And we’ve also made it a firm rule that we don’t negotiate with them because it does exactly what NightWatch notes this has done.  If the Taliban want to empty Guantanamo, they now know how to do it – capture American soldiers. The price and precedent have been set.  One can imagine all sorts of scenarios where enterprising Afghans will try to kidnap American soldiers for money from the Taliban. And the Taliban will then expect to trade them for more terrorists.  5 for 1 seems to be the going rate.  But with this crew, they’re likely to be able to get an even better deal.

Yes, Afghanistan, which is a deeply hostile place to our soldiers now, just got more dangerous for them.  Meanwhile, troop levels will be drawn down to all time lows.  Yup, nothing could go wrong with that.  Thanks Mr. “Commander-in-Chief”.

I’d like to say the American people are terribly ill served by this abomination of an administration, but that’s just not the case.  The majority of them have elected this boob twice.  What you see is what you get.  You wanted it, you got it – how do you like what you elected?

For the adults in the room who saw through this empty suit and the propaganda machine behind him from the beginning, you will also recognize the terrible damage this man and his administration have done to our national security and foreign relations.  It will take decades to recover from this debacle of a White House.

And then there’s the economy, and VA, and Benghazi, and the IRS scandal and the NSA, Fast and Furious, executive orders, EPA …

~McQ

Redefining incompetence

I remember well the liberal Democrat echo chamber calling G W Bush “incompetent”.  It was their mantra.  Their rehearsed talking point.  And the went on the weekend shows and in front of every camera they could find to repeat it.  Over and over and over.

If Bush was incompetent, what in the world does that make Obama?  This inept and incompetent White House just outed their own CIA station chief in Afghanistan in a picture of the Obama trip there over the Memorial Day weekend.  A trip clearly designed to distract from the growing VA scandal goes south in a heartbeat because of  … gross incompetence.

Anyone remember Valerie Plame?  That pales in comparison to this idiocy. Pales? It doesn’t even get on the radar screen in comparision.

And don’t get me started about the VA.

But speaking of VA, it does indeed again make the point that the government  - and especially under this particular administration – can’t run health care … period.  And no, I’m not saying a more competent administration could.  The VA has been plagued by problems for decades.  The fact that they’ve gotten worse under this President doesn’t at all surprise me.  But what may surprise you is this:

Since 9/11, the VA budget has increased by 235%, from FY2001′s $45 billion annual budget to FY2014′s $150.7 billion. On a percentage basis, the only Cabinet agencies that had larger budget increases over that arc have been State (271%) and Homeland Security (245%), the latter of which barely existed at the start of that period. In the Bush era, comparing the final budget with his signature (FY08) to the final Clinton budget (FY01), VA spending rose 88.3% to $84.7 billion. Defense spending rose 104% in the same period.

Barack Obama ran in 2007-8 on failures at the VA, promising more resources and better management. In comparison to that final Bush budget — don’t forget that Obama signed the FY2009 budget in March 2009 with the omnibus spending bill after a Democrat-controlled Congress refused to deal with Bush — VA spending has risen dramatically as well. The annual budget rose 78% in six budget cycles, with double-digit increases in four of the six years — while Defense spending was flat. No other Cabinet agency had a larger budget increase by percentage during Obama’s tenure. The closest was Agriculture (64%), followed by State (59%, which tends to discredit the canard about the Benghazi failure being caused by a lack of resources). Only HHS had a larger annual budget increase in terms of dollars spent, but it amounts to a 37% increase in spending from the FY2008 baseline. The amount of increase in the VA’s budget in the Obama era, $65.9 billion, exceeds the entire VA budget in the FY2004 budget.

So it wasn’t money.  As usual it was leadership.  How many freakin’ times do we have to hear this incompetent who is President say he learned about the latest scandal from television news?  For 6 years it has been all his and he has no idea what is going on in his own executive departments.  For that matter, neither do his secretaries.  The Health and Human Services absolutely blew the launch of the health care website.  Something that is done successfully everyday in the commercial world.  And where did Mr. Obama learn about it?  TV.  He certainly had no idea that it was a bust before then.

Why?  Because he didn’t bother to check.  Didn’t bother to ask hard questions or require a demonstration.  He didn’t lead.  He had already waved his magic hand and told them to get it done.  Words equal action in his world.

Same with the VA.  After lambasting the former administration for its failures in reference to the VA, he, in 6 years and billions of dollars, hasn’t improved it on iota.  And more grating than anything is he didn’t care enough to check.  He didn’t KNOW!  His secretary didn’t know!   An pattern of failure repeated in this administration since the beginning.  Instead the usual liberal panacea was applied: throw money at it and the problems will go away.  Just check out public education to see how well that’s worked – or the “War on Poverty”, etc.

Nope, this was a culture problem and a leadship problem.  The culture still survives and thrives and the leaders are nowhere to be found.  Oh the guys who are supposed to be in charge are still kicking, but they’re sitting in front of their television sets to see if there have been any new developments.  Meanwhile, this is going on and has been going on:

The VA department has been directly providing health care to millions of veterans for decades and evidence is growing that relying on the system can literally be a fatal decision. The Washington Examiner’s Mark Flatten reported May 12 that a Texas VA clinic implemented a cost-cutting measure in 2010 that required a patient to undergo three positive bloody stool screens before the government would approve a colonoscopy. Dr. Paul Krugman, who protested the policy while serving in the VA facility, told Flatten that “by the time that you do the colonoscopies on these patients, you went from a stage 1 to a stage 4 [colorectal cancer], which is basically inoperable.”

As many as 15,000 vets were subjected to this treatment. There is no way of knowing how many died because they spent their final days at home or in a private facility. Suffering and dying in obscurity due to a cost-cutting measure by a government-run health care system is the ultimate SNAFU, and nobody can guarantee it won’t be an commonplace under Obamacare.

Hell of a way to treat our veterans, isn’t it – but then when its all about bureaucrats and budgets, the focus isn’t on patients is it?  That’s government run health care in a nutshell.

Silver lining?  The VA, with a population of 9 million to serve, can’t get the job done competently and has, for the most part never been able to do so. THAT is the story of government run health care.  And all you need to cement that fact firmly in your head is to read the open letter one of our veteran triple-amputees penned this past week:

I remember candidate Obama promising to overhaul the VA and reduce the backlog.  You claimed that America’s support for its veterans is obvious by the way we treat our vets. You really nailed that one didn’t you?

Just like you were going to fix Detroit or fix foreign policy.  Your high school like approach to solving complex issues can’t be fixed by tweeting hashtags with propaganda to people who want to kill us. Anyone with an ounce of common sense can see you’re unfit to lead our nation, let alone act as our Commander In Chief.  What our country needs now, more than ever is real leadership, someone who doesn’t wait for a crisis, but is able to foresee an issue and deal with it before it happens. Unfortunately for America, you’ve been too busy campaigning and don’t have time to deal with the health care crisis of our veterans. The only thing you seem to care about is your own radical agenda, and now our vets are paying for your negligence with their lives.

As I sit here typing this out I’m dealing with my own VA nightmare which involves the Phoenix VA.  I have given 3 limbs for this country, but apparently that is not enough.  A “clerical error” made by a VA employee has resulted in nearly a year of abuse and mismanagement of my case. In other words, the VA is stealing over $7000 from my disability compensation that I earned when I lost 3 of my limbs for our country.

On this Memorial Day, as I battle your incompetent bureaucrats my family would like to thank you for once again failing our veterans. We can’t help but wonder about the disastrous socialized medicine program that we will surely be dealing with if Obamacare is allowed to be fully implemented. If our incompetent VA cannot handle government healthcare for a fraction of our population, who would be foolish enough to believe a massive health care system designed to provide health care for all American’s would be any different?  You can’t even find someone to build a competent website to work for your socialized medicine program when you had your name attached to it, so why would you care about our veterans when you could so easily push the blame off on someone else?

And the irony of it all?

The Department of Veterans Affairs says it will let more veterans obtain health care at private hospitals, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki announced Saturday.

That’s right … just like Canada used US private hospitals to bail its government run system out when it came to wait times, the VA is planning the same thing.  To anyone with an IQ above a donkey, that ought to tell you something.

~McQ

The Crimea (and beyond)

When the Russians more or less militarily annexed the Crimea a couple of days ago , it was pretty obvious the West wasn’t going to go to war over it, any previously mumbled promises to Ukraine that implied we might aside.  It’s still obvious, not that avoiding a war is a bad thing and all.

Who can blame Europe for not wanting another war? They’ve hosted so many, and I’m reliably told if you wander about you can still find nostalgic bits of wreckage to prove it.   There are parts left over from wars everywhere. Castles, forts, the Kaiser Wilhelm church (what’s left of it) in Berlin.  Graves….lots and lots of graves.  Graves of local men, and graves of men who came from across the world, and graves of civilians.

In January of this year, in Euskirchen Germany, a bulldozer operator was killed by a bomb from WWII, and it’s not uncommon for unexploded ordnance to be found, some dating back to the big fandango they held 100 years ago this year.   The Europeans have done a super job of cleaning up the place, and I’m 100% certain they aren’t interested in having to do it again anytime soon.

This is why, no one, not even the allegedly crazy Russians, really wants to die for real-estate to get it back into Russia.  Maybe some Ukrainians are willing to die out of pride for Ukraine, but the Russians prefer it be done with the bare minimum of shooting, explosions and death.   Even ‘crazy’ ‘evil’ people understand that upsets folks, and the shooting, explosions and death get out of control, and pretty soon it’s happening everywhere in sight.   The Russians don’t want a war either, but they’re not averse to picking up (re-acquiring) some real-estate on the cheap.

For my entire life we, Americans, helped keep the Russians from taking over the joint by being in places they wanted to be before they could be there. Kudos to NATO and all for asking us to stay.  But everybody knew when we parked Americans in their path all across Europe and the Russians did drive tanks through Fulda Gap…if they did it over American bodies; America was likely to take a war-like exception to it.  Geo-politics and military science is brutally practical about things like that, and the Russians understood.  America was across the ocean and much harder for Soviet tank division to blitzkrieg than a quick push to the east bank of the Rhine.  We made it difficult for them by being where they wanted to be in ways that only war, or government over throw, could clear us out of.  We stood in Western Europe and they stood in Eastern Europe and we glared at each other.  The Europeans understood where the fight was going to happen if it happened.  If some were nicer to the Soviets (now the Russians) than we liked, it was probably out of practicality.   At times they glared at both us and the Russians.

The ‘other’ people further east, in the Russian zone, just had to live with the Russians because clearing them out would wreck the joint, and everybody knew that too.  They didn’t glare at anybody because they didn’t dare.  Then the Soviet Union/Eastern Bloc collapsed, they became Russians again and Ukrainians and Latvians and Estonians and Lithuanians and Moldovans and Serbs and you get the idea.

The Europeans don’t want a war, the Russians don’t want a war, we don’t want a war.  Having so much experience in wars, and cleaning up after wars, one can understand the reluctance to do the centennial anniversary reenactment of 1914 this year with live rounds.

Still, Russian occupation of the Crimea should never have happened if the West was sincere about helping the Ukrainians keep their lands (especially after the Russians vs Georgia take-down in 2008).   I have mixed emotions about our policing the world, and our commitments to far flung places. But our word has to mean something too, and if we bother to give it, we ought to keep it.  Not keeping it leads to where we are, drawing red lines and erasing them just as quickly, making threats on an international basis and then barring a couple people from Disney World to show how much we mean it.   There’s a whole set of posts that could be written on why we let down our guard in Europe.  A quick hit list, military use fatigue, the cost, the simple hope that the not Soviet Russians weren’t going to start up the ‘let’s take over a country’ club again, resurgent Russian pride, feckless American policy, and a new world order.

The biggest one we hear about is this inane belief in some new order that has taken hold.  A magic set of rules for countries came into being when we hit the millennium.  Who knew?   It’s not clear, to me anyway, why that is, must be a side effect of climate change or something because I don’t recall any burning bushes or Jewish prophets with stone tablets making the news recently.   I do know our Secretary of State thinks they exist ( I mentioned feckless American policy); Angela Merkel seems to think they exist.  But maybe no one forwarded the memos to Vladimir Putin, because all in all he seems pretty proud of using the old rules, and so are his constituents.

No, there is no magic set of new rules.  I can’t even say it would be nice, because not only is it not real, it’s not even clearly laid out what it means internationally.  Furthermore the old rules still work and still apply.  Power and vacuums of power.  In fact these new rules already seem remarkably ineffective against people who still use the old rules. As a result there aren’t any new magic formulas or methods for getting the Russians to give Crimea back now either.    They certainly aren’t going to do it because we in the West tell each other that Russia is naked in the eyes of the world.  They aren’t going to do it no matter how many times some idiot calls them ‘evil’.   They aren’t going to do it because they suddenly understand they’re violating the 21st century rules.

Just because the West doesn’t want to apply power doesn’t mean the Russians can’t and won’t.   When a country can take over a chunk of another country in a week, there really isn’t much threats that will take months to show effect are going to do to stop them.   Done deals.  Because people don’t want to wait that long for results (especially the Ukrainians in this case), and life, and business, and in Europe’s case, the need to heat their houses, goes on.

If the West is serious, and worried about the Russians moving into Kiev, park ‘non-threatening’ NATO forces in Kiev.  Not just visiting, full time. Park a ‘non-threatening’ contingent of ground troops in Estonia (note the date of that article, last year…). See if the other Baltic countries would like to have permanent physical NATO contingents with troops who are not local. Go beyond ‘air policing’. Put the equivalent of a guard contingent on the equivalent of the Rhine bridges before the Russians do the equivalent of occupying the Rhineland.

And hit our own damn power reset button. Drill like hell for natural gas and oil here in the US and export it to Europe to cut their dependence on Russia.  The Russians will understand, they’ll bitch, but they’ll stop because they really don’t want the same war we don’t want.  There can’t be a whole lot in Estonia the Russians want to die for.

Project POWER back into the vacuum we’ve created before Putin again proves the old rules, the same ones Hitler used so well, still work just fine.   Do it before Chamberlain calls to say he wants his ‘new’ rules back.

Not gonna happen, I realize.  We have ‘smart’ diplomacy now, we lead from behind.  We’re going to jaw about the new international rules the millennium brought us, and threaten the Russians with our economic power even while we struggle to keep that power turned on for ourselves.

As usual, Obama tries to pass the buck

President Pass-the-Buck is at it again.  This time he wanders out of the country to do it. In Stockholm he tells the world:

“My credibility’s not on the line. The international community’s credibility is on the line, and America and Congress’ credibility is on the line because we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important,” Mr. Obama said, referring to international laws against the use of chemical weapons.

America and Congress is it?  Is it America and Congress who shot their mouth off?  Nope.  It was Mr. Obama.  It is indeed his credibility (what’s left of it) that’s on the line.  And, as I pointed out yesterday about how he was going to try to find someone or something to blame all this on, this is simply him validating my point.

He shoots his mouth off, he then goes to Congress and now it’s Congress whose credibility is on the line?  I don’t think so.

Oh, and apparently, the crediblity of Congress (and one supposes America) is only on the line if they vote “no”.  And if they do, who cares, he doesn’t need them anyhow:

President Barack Obama said he retains the right to order strikes against Syria even if Congress doesn’t authorize them, but he is seeking approval from U.S. lawmakers because he thinks it will strengthen America’s response.

*cough* BS *cough* This weasel we’ve elected president, who is so far in over his head he doesn’t know which way is up, is looking for political cover – period. He’s only going to Congress to strengthen his hand, even as pathetically weak as it is.  The “I/me” president has put himself out on a limb and sawed it most of the way through.  Now he just want’s some one to share it with him (and as usual Lindsey McCain – er, John McCain and Lindsey Graham are amenable to the idea).

This is raw politics at its worse.  Obama goes out of the country to take a swing at Congress and the American people after finally asking for their approval.

This is what some of you elected.

Thanks.

~McQ

Will Obama go “solo” on Syria?

The likely answer is “yes” since it appears the administration is of the opinion that if it doesn’t act, it will appear weak and ineffective  (yes, France has said it too will strike, but in essence this will still be mostly a solo venture in the region’s eyes).  Demagoguery and ego have combined to get us to this point. However, the question remains how effective any strike on Syria will be in reality if it is, as the President has said, short, limited and tailored (just muscular enough not to be mocked).

After leaking the proposed plan all over the place it is unsurprising that what most of us knew would happen has begun to happen in Syria:

In recent days, U.S. intelligence agencies and the Pentagon have watched with alarm as Mr. Assad has taken advantage of the Western deliberations to spread out his forces, complicating U.S. planning for strikes.

“We know [Assad] has been dispersing assets,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on the intelligence.

U.S. officials said Mr. Assad has moved assets such as military helicopters and artillery pieces around the country, forcing a U.S. recalibration of the possible military response.

If Mr. Obama sticks with what originally was a finite set of prospective military and intelligence targets, officials said, then cruise-missile strikes would cause less damage than originally intended because at least some of the targets have been taken out of the line of fire.

Officials said Mr. Obama could adjust to Mr. Assad’s tactics by expanding the number of strikes to hit more targets, but doing so could increase the risk that U.S. cruise missiles will cause unintended damage, including civilian casualties, officials said.

Another senior official said the dispersal of Mr. Assad’s military assets was “certainly detrimental” to target planning.

Funny how that works, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, US military officers have deep concerns over a strike on Syria:

The recently retired head of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. James Mattis, said last month at a security conference that the United States has “no moral obligation to do the impossible” in Syria. “If Americans take ownership of this, this is going to be a full-throated, very, very serious war,” said Mattis, who as Centcom chief oversaw planning for a range of U.S. military responses in Syria.

The potential consequences of a U.S. strike include a retaliatory attack by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah — which supports Assad — on Israel, as well as cyberattacks on U.S. targets and infrastructure, U.S. military officials said.

And it also stirs the possibility of terror attacks on US embassies, interests abroad and even the homeland.  Gen. Mattis is correct.  If the US strikes Syria, then the US takes ownership of this war.  By that I mean if Assad then uses chemical weapons again, we’re in a position of having no choice but to address their use again.

Marine Lt. Col. Gordon Miller, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, warned this week of “potentially devastating consequences, including a fresh round of chemical weapons attacks and a military response by Israel.”

“If President Asadwere to absorb the strikes and use chemical weapons again, this would be a significant blow to the United States’ credibility and it would be compelled to escalate the assault on Syria to achieve the original objectives,” Miller wrote in a commentary for the think tank.

An acceptable risk?

Even the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (a highly political job) has tried to warn the administration off of this path:

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has warned in great detail about the risks and pitfalls of U.S. military intervention in Syria.

“As we weigh our options, we should be able to conclude with some confidence that use of force will move us toward the intended outcome,” Dempsey wrote last month in a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Once we take action, we should be prepared for what comes next. Deeper involvement is hard to avoid.”

Dempsey has not spoken publicly about the administration’s planned strike on Syria, and it is unclear to what extent his position shifted after last week’s alleged chemical weapons attack. Dempsey said this month in an interview with ABC News that the lessons of Iraq weigh heavily on his calculations regarding Syria.

“It has branded in me the idea that the use of military power must be part of an overall strategic solution that includes international partners and a whole of government,” he said in the Aug. 4 interview. “The application of force rarely produces and, in fact, maybe never produces the outcome we seek.”

But the application of force seems to be the only tool in the Obama bag at the moment.  And Dempsey is correct.  It isn’t particularly difficult for the US to reach out and swat someone.  But what is and always has been difficult is to predict what will follow such an application of force.  The law of unintended consequences has a terrible history of rearing its ugly head each and every time force is applied in this manner.

As for the critical question, the question that all military operational planners ask first and then tailor a plan to achieve … well there is no obvious answer.  That’s likely because the administration hasn’t an answer and has provided no guidance to those planning this misadventure:

“What is the political end state we’re trying to achieve?” said a retired senior officer involved in Middle East operational planning who said his concerns are widely shared by active-duty military leaders. “I don’t know what it is. We say it’s not regime change. If it’s punishment, there are other ways to punish.” The former senior officer said that those who are expressing alarm at the risks inherent in the plan “are not being heard other than in a pro-forma manner.”

Going through the motions of “listening to all sides” when, in fact, the decision to act militarily has been decided.  It is down to how big or how small the strike will be.  And, as we see above, Assad is doing everything he can to make Obama’s deliberations and decision making as difficult as he can.

~McQ

UK and France backing away from Syria strike?

The shaky coalition of Western nations promising to strike Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons is getting even shakier.  In the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron is reconsidering:

David Cameron backed down and agreed to delay a military attack on Syria following a growing revolt over the UK’s rushed response to the crisis on Wednesday night.

The Prime Minister has now said he will wait for a report by United Nations weapons inspectors before seeking the approval of MPs for “direct British involvement” in the Syrian intervention.

Oh look … Cameron plans on getting the approval of Parliament before committing British troops to war.

That’s because opposition British politicians apparently play hardball while ours … well they talk and complain a lot:

Senior sources had previously suggested that Britain would take part in strikes as soon as this weekend which meant an emergency recall of Parliament was necessary on Thursday.

However, following Labour threatening not to support the action and senior military figures expressing concerns over the wisdom of the mission, the Prime Minister on Wednesday night agreed to put British involvement on hold.

The climbdown is likely to be seen as an embarrassment for Mr Cameron as he was determined to play a leading role in British military strikes, which had been expected this weekend.

France too is showing signs of waffling:

French President Francois Hollande said on Thursday that Syria needed a political solution, but that could only happen if the international community could halt killings like last week’s chemical attack and better support the opposition.

Hollande sounded a more cautious note than earlier in the week, when he said France stood ready to punish those behind the apparent poison gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians in Damascus.

He indicated that France was looking to Gulf Arab countries to step up their military support to the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad, after Paris said this week it would do so.

Not exactly the saber rattling that was going on a few days ago.  It appears a “political solution” may be code words for “yeah, we’re climbing down too.”

Don’t expect a climbdown here.  At least not anytime soon. Not only has President Obama said he doesn’t need Congress’s approval, he’s also decided he doesn’t need to inform the American people of his decision via a televised Oval Office announcement.  However he would like the cover of a coalition (my, the shadenfreude here is delicious, isn’t it?).

If one had to guess, however, any strike this week would be sans the British and the French.  And that may be enough to delay an American strike (don’t forget, President Obama claims he hasn’t made a decision yet).

Meanwhile in the Med, tensions spiral up as Russia decides to flex a little naval muscle in the area:

Russia will “over the next few days” be sending an anti-submarine ship and a missile cruiser to the Mediterranean as the West prepares for possible strikes against Syria, the Interfax news agency said on Thursday.

“The well-known situation shaping up in the eastern Mediterranean called for certain corrections to the make-up of the naval forces,” a source in the Russian General Staff told Interfax.

Interesting.  And, if the strikes don’t happen now, who will claim to have helped call the coalition’s bluff?

As with most things concerning foreign affairs that this administration involves itself, this is turning into a debacle of major proportion.

Stay tuned.

~McQ

An attack destined to fail

One of the first things any military commander must do is define the mission clearly and succinctly. It must have a goal and that goal must be achievable with the assets the commander is willing or able to commit to the mission.

What it shouldn’t be is some nebulous one-over-the-world hand wave of a mission driven by politics and open to interpretation. Unfortunately, it appears that’s precisely the type mission the Obama administration is ginning up for Syria according to the NY Times:

President Obama is considering military action against Syria that is intended to “deter and degrade” President Bashar al-Assad’s government’s ability to launch chemical weapons, but is not aimed at ousting Mr. Assad from power or forcing him to the negotiating table, administration officials said Tuesday.

“Deter and degrade” are open to interpretation and Syria could and likely would initiate another chemical attack after the US attacks just to point out that they’re neither deterred or degraded.

Here’s the problem:

The strikes would instead be aimed at military units that have carried out chemical attacks, the headquarters overseeing the effort and the rockets and artillery that have launched the attacks, according to the options being reviewed within the administration.

An American official said that the initial target lists included fewer than 50 sites, including air bases where Syria’s Russian-made attack helicopters are deployed. The list includes command and control centers as well as a variety of conventional military targets.

A) We’ve told them where we’ll strike.  Since it is a limited strike and it is going to be against specific units, Syria has the option of dispersing them, an option I’m sure they’ll take.  They’ll also likely disperse them in to highly populated urban areas where they can.

B) We’ve told them what we’re going to strike.  Since they have thousands of artillery pieces capable of firing chemical shells, it is unlikely a limited strike is going to even seriously dent that capability.  Moving artillery into the cities would likely deter the US more than the US would deter Syria.  Helicopters can be moved as well.  They don’t need long runways. Other aircraft will be dispersed  And finally, command and control are easily moved and dispersed.

C) We’ve told them how we’re going to strike.  It is clear that if an attack does happen it is not something that is supported by the majority of the American people for various reasons.  Couple that with a seemingly risk averse commander and you can pretty well define how this will happen – missiles.  Specifically Tomahawk missiles.  Given our history of their use, you can pretty much guess at what and where they’ll be aimed.

D) We’ve pretty well told them it won’t be much of a strike.

Perhaps two to three missiles would be aimed at each site, a far more limited unleashing of American military power than past air campaigns over Kosovo or Libya.

Result?

Well even the administration knows this is a recipe for failure so they immediately engage is a classic attempt to lower expectations:

Some of the targets would be “dual use” systems, like artillery that is capable of firing chemical weapons as well as conventional rounds. Taking out those artillery batteries would degrade to some extent the government’s conventional force — but would hardly cripple Mr. Assad’s sizable military infrastructure and forces unless the air campaign went on for days or even weeks.

The goal of the operation is “not about regime change,” a State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, said Tuesday. Seeking to reassure the public that the United States would not be drawn into a civil war in the Middle East, and perhaps to lower expectations of what the attack might accomplish, Obama administration officials acknowledged that their action would not accomplish Mr. Obama’s repeated demand that Mr. Assad step down.

And what would we accomplish?  Well likely the opposite of what we hoped would happen – deterrence and degradation.  Assad would be invited to prove the US wasn’t successful in either by doing what?  Using chemical weapons once again.  His reasoning would be that since he’s being accused of doing so, and supposedly punished for doing so, there’s no reason not to do it again.

Then what?

~McQ

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