How Putin could break NATO, or, ready for “Great Northern War II?”

March 26, 2015
Target: Gotland?

Target: Gotland?

The Great Northern War was a conflict in the early 18th century launched by a coalition headed by Russia that broke the power of the Swedish empire in the Baltic Sea region. The war also saw the establishment of Russia as a Continental power and its annexation of the region we know today as the “Baltic states.”

Today, 300 years later, Russia’s ruler might again use an attack on Sweden (1) to reestablish his nation as a world power and cover his re-annexation of the Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania:

Over the past 12 months Russia’s air force flew a series of aggressive combat patrols over the Baltic Sea, including mock nuclear strikes against Sweden’s capital Stockholm, to assess the reaction time and preparedness of Sweden’s air force. Since October 2014 Russia’s Navy has sent submarines into Swedish territorial waters to assess the capabilities and preparedness of Sweden’s Navy. The results: Sweden is defenseless.

Last week Russia’s air force progressed from testing military preparedness to dry runs for a major air assault. A combination of transport planes and fighter jets flew from Russia over the entire Baltic Sea to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. While Sweden didn’t even manage to get a plane in the air, Italian air force jets flying out from Šiauliai air base in Lithuania intercepted and identified the Russian jets. The Italian fighters were outnumbered 4 to 1.

The obvious targets of Russian aggression along the Baltic Sea, namely Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, all share a land border with Russia, so there is no need to mount a large scale air assault to overrun these tiny states. But to keep these three nations occupied and oppressed, Putin must keep the US air force and the US Navy out of the Baltic Sea. This is why Russia is preparing to assault, occupy and fortify Sweden’s Gotland Island.

And why is Gotland (highlighted in red in the map above) needed to keep us from resisting a Russian assault on the Baltics?

If Russia controls Gotland and bases S-300 or S-400 long range air-defense missile systems and K-300P Bastion-P long range anti-ship missile systems on the island, then US air force planes cannot reach the Baltic States and US Navy ships cannot pass the Danish Straits to enter the Baltic Sea. Russia has already S-300 and K-300P stationed in Kaliningrad along with tactical nuclear 9K720 Iskander missiles, but as Poland’s military could overrun Kaliningrad and destroy Russia’s anti-ship and air-defense systems there, Russia will occupy Gotland a few hours before the attack on Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania begins.

The author is a writer living in the Ukraine . You can read the rest of the article, which presents an extended scenario in which Russia presents the NATO with a fait accompli and dares it to do something about it. Some of NATO –the US, Poland, Great Britain, and others NATO states as well as non-NATO Sweden– try to mount a counterattack, but are hobbled by Germany’s refusal join or to even allow their territory to be used or crossed by NATO forces, as well as Russian threats to use nuclear weapons against the smaller nations’ cities, which leads Sweden to concede. In Thomas Theiner’s scenario, a Polish refusal to concede leads to a Russian nuclear strike against a Polish city, which in turn brings about the  the end of the war when NATO’s nuclear powers (the US, Great Britain, and France) decline to retaliate. Poland surrenders, NATO breaks up in defeat, and Russia regains its “lost provinces.”

While Theiner’s scenario goes deeper into speculative territory the further he develops his scenario, the initial situation –a surprise Russian attack on Gotland to block relief of the Baltics– is frighteningly plausible:

  • Russia carved off provinces from Georgia in 2008, claiming it was protecting Russian minorities.
  • We have the ongoing dismemberment of Ukraine, another former Russian possession, which began with Russian complaints about mistreatment of Russian speaking minorities there.
  • Russia has also complained about the supposed mistreatment of Russian minorities in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Setting the stage? Russia is already acting aggressively in the Baltic region.

And Sweden has indeed become a target:

Putin is, in my estimation, a predatory aggressive bully who perceives conciliation in others as a sign of weakness, something to be exploited

What a coincidence: Sweden is weak. Its military spending has declined severely on a per capita (2) basis over the last 25 years, and its military is correspondingly small and lacking key capabilities to defend against Russia. While moving to station troops on Gotland and announcing plans to spend more on defense, it is currently vulnerable to rapid exploitation in the event of a Russian attack.

American leadership (meaning President Obama), which would be crucial to any effort to resist Russia and rally NATO, is feckless, appeasement-oriented, and incompetent. And while Theiner assumes the US will try to defend Sweden and the Baltics, I have to wonder just how strenuous an effort President Lead-From-Behind would make, considering he refuses even to meet with the head of NATO. Putin sees this and may well think that now is his best chance to take a huge gamble.

Is a second Great Northern War at all likely to happen? Who knows, but, as I said, I find it all too plausible given the recent past. It’s a possibility that cannot be responsibly ignored.

We have a little less than two years until (we hope) an American president takes office who is interested in foreign affairs and recognizes what needs to be done to protect our interests and the free world’s from predators such as Vladimir Putin.

Until then, sleep well!

(1) Link courtesy of Jim Geraghty’s Morning Jolt newsletter of March 24th. And I want to thank Jim for the nightmares that gave me.
(2) Data from the SIPRI milex database.

Bill Whittle: mythbusting Bush, bin Laden, and Obama

May 13, 2011

Ideas that seem to rise from nowhere and take on a life of their own are often called “memes.” They’re those things that “everyone knows,” but they often fall apart when looked at critically. Anthropogenic global warming is one such false meme, but that’s not the topic for today.

Instead, Bill Whittle looks at several memes associated with the The Long War(1) –“mission accomplished,” and “Iraq was a distraction,” among others– and then smashes them to bits with the Hammer of Facts:

It’s like a current-affairs version of MythBusters.

There’s an old saying that, while we are entitled to our own beliefs, we are not entitled to our own facts, and Bill does a great job using fact to skewer false belief.

(1) My preferred name for this conflict, or maybe “Jihadi War.” “War on Terror” just never sounded accurate.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)

If it was a secret meeting, why is Lindsey Graham blabbing?

March 18, 2011

I think it was Ben Franklin who once said “Three people can keep a secret if two are dead.” After reading this news in Foreign Policy regarding a secret strategy meeting, we may have to coin another: “Telegraph, telephone, tell Lindsey:”

Several senators emerged from the briefing convinced that the administration was intent on beginning military action against the forces of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi within the next few days and that such action would include both a no-fly zone as well as a “no-drive zone” to prevent Qaddafi from crushing the rebel forces, especially those now concentrated in Benghazi.

“It looks like we have Arab countries ready to participate in a no-fly and no-drive endeavor,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters after the briefing.

Asked what he learned from the briefing, Graham said, “I learned that it’s not too late, that the opposition forces are under siege but they are holding, and that with a timely intervention, a no-fly zone and no-drive zone, we can turn this thing around.”

Asked exactly what the first wave of attacks would look like, Graham said, “We ground his aircraft and some tanks start getting blown up that are headed toward the opposition forces.”

As for when the attacks would start, he said “We’re talking days, not weeks, and I’m hoping hours, not days,” adding that he was told the U.N. Security Council resolution would be crafted to give the international community the authority to be “outcome determinant” and “do whatever’s necessary.”

I’m surprised he didn’t live-Tweet it.

Of course, he wasn’t the only “Ooh! Ooh! Guess what I know!” senator seeking to impress the press. Freshman Mark Kirk (R-IL) also apparently never heard that other wise aphorism, “Shut the Hell up.”


via Real Clear World

Obama’s new national security strategy: unicorns and rainbows

May 25, 2010

Good news! In his speech at West Point, the President of the United States outlined his plans to keep our country safe. Key to his strategy? Hope, change, and constitutional rights for terrorists:

President Obama’s speech at West Point Saturday is the most sweeping statement yet of his plan to create a national security policy emphasizing education, clean energy, green jobs, anti-climate change measures, the granting of full American constitutional rights to accused terrorists, and “engagement” with America’s enemies.

Yeah, I bet al Qaeda, Moscow, and Beijing are quaking in their boots even now. From laughter.

We are so dead.  Doh

Afghan offensive begins

February 12, 2010

Following up on the last post, the joint US-UK-Afghan Army offensive to clear the city of Marja and Helmand province of Taliban has begun:

Thousands of U.S., British and Afghan troops moved to seize the Taliban stronghold of Marja early Saturday in what the Marine general leading the assault called a “big, strong and fast” offensive aimed at challenging the insurgency’s grip on a key southern Afghan province.

Rounds of tracer fire lighted up a starry, predawn sky as waves of troops, ferried in by helicopters, descended on the farming districts that surround the town. Transport and Cobra attack helicopters also dropped rounds to illuminate the ground.

Troops initially met only modest return fire from inside of Marja.

Sporadic firefights had broken out throughout the day Friday on the periphery of Marja as Marine units probed Taliban defenses.

The commander, Marine Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, had for weeks telegraphed the military’s plans for the offensive, one of the largest since the war began in 2001.

The United States and its allies hope the assault, the biggest joint operation by Western and Afghan troops to date, will prove a turning point in the conflict with the Taliban and other militants that have carved out swaths of territory in Afghanistan.

Military leaders expected about 7,500 coalition troops to occupy Marja by nightfall, with 7,500 more supporting the mission from elsewhere in the Nad Ali district of Helmand province.

The allied command had been prepping the battlefield for months, clearing the Taliban from villages in Helmand and then staying behind to make sure they don’t come back, thus giving the local residents the security they need to start cooperating with our side. Previously, the brave, brave jihadis of the Taliban would come back after we left, and the punishment meted out to those who collaborated with us would be horrific. In this way, Operation Moshtarek (Operation “Together”) resembles the plan used at the outset of the “surge” offensive in Afghanistan in 2007, when US and Iraqi forces began clear-and-hold operations against al Qaeda. In this case, Marja substitutes for Iraq’s Baquba as a key target: a town that had become a central base and depot for the enemy and, our side hopes, a trap where they can be caught and brought to battle.

The Taliban may not be as stupid as al Qaeda in Iraq, however. The offensive had been announced weeks in advance and publicized widely to give civilians a chance to leave. With them, of course, may have gone the Taliban; it’s unclear how many have stayed behind in Marja. What is clear, however, is that they had plenty of time to prepare traps of their own: extensive IED-laden minefields and booby-trapped buildings. Hence the big debut of the Assault Breacher Vehicles.

But it may not necessary to kill thousands of Taliban, much as they need it. The purpose of this counterinsurgency strategy is to deny the enemy access to the population whom he can then hide among and dominate. It was very effective in Vietnam under General Abrams (History later showed that, when we walked away, we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.), it worked better than expected in Iraq under General Petraeus, and now one hopes for similar success under General McChrystal. Less committed elements of the Taliban and their allies may be encouraged to quit, once they realize they’re cut off from the people they preyed on. As the article points out, it’s also a chance for the ill-regarded Afghan Army to show its people that it can protect them, even after we eventually leave.

I’m usually highly critical of President Obama, and I do wish he had made up his mind about an Afghan strategy earlier and sent more troops than he authorized, but I’m grateful he is at least taking the fight to the enemy. It’s been nearly a decade, but let’s not forget that these are the same salafis who abetted and protected al Qaeda before and after 9-11, and still do.

Good hunting, gentlemen.

LINKS: Max Boot. Ed Morrissey with a good observation about the departure of Canadian troops in a year or so and the closing window of opportunity.

The Afghanistan speech Obama wanted to give

December 4, 2009

Iowahawk finds the first draft:

I Am Proud to Lead You Men to the Nearest Off-Ramp

general minivan

Brigadier General Barack H. Obama
Supreme Allied Commander-in-Chief, Operation Minivan Pool

At ease, men.

As your battalion commanders and General Axelrod have already briefed you, you embark today on an important mission to the Af-Pak Theater. The success of this mission will not only insure the future of democracy and human civilization, but also my Gallup net favorable index. I have every confidence that you will succeed in this great educational field trip, because you represent the finest right-sized, nonviolent time killing force ever assembled.

Arrayed behind me are the mighty Minivans of Democracy that you will soon be loading. These are America’s great 5-star crash rating arsenal of multilateral understanding. And as your supreme commander-in-chief, it is my great honor, privilege, and turn to serve as your pool driver, because Michelle has her Pilates class this afternoon. Now, as our rendezvous with destiny approaches, let me say that I am every bit as proud of you fine young soldiers and Marines as I am when I take Malia and Sasha to gymnastics. Okay, let’s all pair up with a buddy and line up double file for the vans.

Read the rest if, like me, you’re in need of a good laugh these days.  Rolling on the floor

In other words, they were lying

December 1, 2009

Byron York looks at the Democratic discomfort over President Obama’s (grudging) decision to sent 30-34,000 more troops to Afghanistan and comes to a conclusion: when they all said during the campaign that the war in Afghanistan was the good war they could support, they lied:

Other top Democrats adopted the get-tough approach, at least when it came time to campaign.  In September 2006, as she was leading the effort that would result in Democrats taking over the House and her becoming speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi said George W. Bush “took his eye off the ball” in Afghanistan. “We had a presence over there the past few years, but not to the extent that we needed to get the job done,” Pelosi said. The phrase “took his eye off the ball” became a Democratic mantra about the supposed neglect of Afghanistan — a situation that would be remedied by electing ready-to-fight Democrats.

But now, with Democrats in charge of the entire U.S. government and George Bush nowhere to be found, Pelosi and others in her party are suddenly very, very worried about U.S. escalation in Afghanistan.  “There is serious unrest in our caucus,” the speaker said recently.  There is so much unrest that Democrats who show little concern about the tripling of already-large budget deficits say they’re worried about the rising cost of the war.

It is in that atmosphere that Obama makes his West Point speech.  He had to make certain promises to get elected.  Unlike some of his supporters, he has to remember those promises now that he is in office.  So he is sending more troops.  But he still can’t tell the truth about so many Democratic pledges to support the war in Afghanistan: They didn’t mean it.

And then they wonder why so many people don’t take the Democrats seriously when it comes to national security.

Palin: Winning the White House the Wal-mart way?

November 16, 2009

Is Sarah Palin’s tour to promote her new book part of a canny strategy for 2012, a plan of which Sam Walton would have approved? J. Robert Smith at American Thinker believes it may be so, as her tour takes her to those places the elites ignore:

What’s notable about Sarah Palin’s book tour, which starts midweek, is where she’s not going.  She’s not going to L.A. or New York, Boston or San Francisco.  She’s going smack dab to the middle of the country. Fly-over country, liberals call it.  And it’s a shrewd move, not only in selling books, but positioning herself for a presidential run in 2012, if she chooses.

It’s a strategy right out of the late Sam Walton’s playbook: go where there’s demand and the competition ain’t.  Walton, who could have run and won political campaigns, built Walmart into the behemoth it is today by opening his discount stores in small towns in the heartland, towns that the eight-hundred pound gorilla K-Mart ignored.

Walton conquered the discount retail category from the heartland out.  He didn’t so much as clobber K-Mart as steal a march on it.  Palin may just prove that a heartland strategy does more than sell blenders and books.  It’s the foundation for winning a national election.

And it isn’t just a political version of the Sam Walton Way: Smith points out the places she will visit are home to large numbers of Jacksonians, traditional Democrats who tend to be culturally conservative and aggressive about national security. This same group, also known as “Reagan Democrats,” formed a large part of the winning coalition in 1980 and the subsequent Republican dominance. Palin resonates with this group, and her tour and media appearances give her a chance also to repair her reputation (savaged by the major media, which acted as a propaganda arm for the DNC) with politically independent affluent suburbanites who, polls show, are deserting the Democrats and Obama in droves – witness the recent election results in New Jersey and Virginia.

Can a “from the heartland out” strategy win in 2012? Perhaps. Politics is the art of coalition-building, and right now there are large segments of the nation who do not feel their needs are being served or are actively being harmed by the political elites. Sarah Palin already has shown she can run an effective “anti-insiders” campaign, though it remains to be seen if can work on a national level as it did for Reagan – or if she’ll even decide to run in the first place.

Regardless, ignoring the big cities and staking your claim in “flyover country” is a strategy that would have made Sam Walton smile.

Boot on boots on the ground

October 23, 2009

Afghanistan – what should we do? That’s the question that bedevils the Obama administration, even though the alleged Commander in Chief announced his decision for a counterinsurgency back in March to great fanfare, declaring the world’s safety was “at stake.” Then, having appointed a general to determine how that strategy would best be implemented, the President had a WTF moment when General McChrystal made it known he was going to ask for 40-50,000 more troops to implement that strategy. Now the White House has apparently decided to un-decide its March decision so it can again conduct a “top to bottom” review of Afghan policy in order to decide (again) on a strategy. (Much to the annoyance of Darth Vader Dick Cheney.)

Voices on the Right have supported an aggressive Afghan strategy to defeat al Qaeda and its Taliban allies (who are these days almost indistinguishable), but have differed sharply over how to do it. Some argue for a counterterrorism strategy, narrowly targeting al Qaeda with Special Forces and missile strikes and worrying far less about what they deride as “nation-building.” Others argue for a counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy that concentrates on protecting the Afghan population from the depredations of the Taliban, gaining their trust and cooperation, which would isolate the enemy and allow aggressive operations against them. Again, General McChrystal has recommended COIN.

Max Boot, a foreign policy and strategy analyst and former advisor to the McCain presidential campaign, argues for the COIN approach and believes in giving McChrystal all he wants and more. As part of his case, he cites the success already reached in small areas of Afghanistan with a limited COIN approach. There’s No Substitute for Troops on the Ground:

“I HOPE people who say this war is unwinnable see stories like this. This is what winning in a counterinsurgency looks like.”
Lt. Col. William F. McCollough, commander of the First Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, is walking me around the center of Nawa, a poor, rural district in southern Afghanistan’s strategically vital Helmand River Valley. His Marines, who now number more than 1,000, arrived in June to clear out the Taliban stronghold. Two weeks of hard fighting killed two Marines and wounded 70 more but drove out the insurgents. Since then the colonel’s men, working with 400 Afghan soldiers and 100 policemen, have established a “security bubble” around Nawa.
Colonel McCollough recalls that when they first arrived the bazaar was mostly shuttered and the streets empty. “This town was strangled by the Taliban,” he says. “Anyone who was still here was beaten, taxed or intimidated.”
Today, Nawa is flourishing. Seventy stores are open, according to the colonel, and the streets are full of trucks and pedestrians. Security is so good we were able to walk around without body armor — unthinkable in most of Helmand, the country’s most dangerous province. The Marines are spending much of their time not in firefights but in clearing canals and building bridges and schools. On those rare occasions when the Taliban try to sneak back in to plant roadside bombs, the locals notify the Marines.
The key to success in Nawa — and in other key districts from Garmsir in the south to Baraki Barak in the center — has been the infusion of additional United States troops. The overall American force in Afghanistan has grown to 68,000 from 32,000 in 2008. That has made it possible to garrison parts of the country where few if any soldiers had been stationed before. Before the Marines arrived in Nawa, for instance, there were just 40 embattled British soldiers there.

“I HOPE people who say this war is unwinnable see stories like this. This is what winning in a counterinsurgency looks like.”

Lt. Col. William F. McCollough, commander of the First Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, is walking me around the center of Nawa, a poor, rural district in southern Afghanistan’s strategically vital Helmand River Valley. His Marines, who now number more than 1,000, arrived in June to clear out the Taliban stronghold. Two weeks of hard fighting killed two Marines and wounded 70 more but drove out the insurgents. Since then the colonel’s men, working with 400 Afghan soldiers and 100 policemen, have established a “security bubble” around Nawa.

Colonel McCollough recalls that when they first arrived the bazaar was mostly shuttered and the streets empty. “This town was strangled by the Taliban,” he says. “Anyone who was still here was beaten, taxed or intimidated.”

Today, Nawa is flourishing. Seventy stores are open, according to the colonel, and the streets are full of trucks and pedestrians. Security is so good we were able to walk around without body armor — unthinkable in most of Helmand, the country’s most dangerous province. The Marines are spending much of their time not in firefights but in clearing canals and building bridges and schools. On those rare occasions when the Taliban try to sneak back in to plant roadside bombs, the locals notify the Marines.

The key to success in Nawa — and in other key districts from Garmsir in the south to Baraki Barak in the center — has been the infusion of additional United States troops. The overall American force in Afghanistan has grown to 68,000 from 32,000 in 2008. That has made it possible to garrison parts of the country where few if any soldiers had been stationed before. Before the Marines arrived in Nawa, for instance, there were just 40 embattled British soldiers there.

This mirrors the Coalition experience in Afghanistan, where small examples of counterinsurgency’s effectiveness foreshadowed the immense success of the “surge” strategy in 2007-08. And while it’s foolhardy to apply a program as a one-size-fits-all template without considering local conditions, the Marines’ experience at Nawa and elsewhere indicates that COIN could work in Afghanistan, too, if given enough time and resources.

But there are serious questions, largely revolving around the hold of Islam on the population: Can a COIN strategy genuinely separate the population from the Taliban and al Qaeda, who claim to be mujahideen, “holy warriors?” Or will they only claim to be on our side, but instead practice taqiyya (religiously sanctioned deception), taking the goodies we offer but helping their Muslim brethren, fellow members of the Ummah? (Which I suspect would be the argument of Robert Spencer, an expert on Islam who grants great weight to its hold on the believer.) If the latter, then COIN would be a waste. I suspect the answer lies somewhere in the middle and that it will come down to “how many are there of each.” How many will genuinely back us, as opposed to those playing us for infidel suckers?

Based on our experiences in Iraq and the success of small COIN projects in Afghanistan, such as at Nawa, and given the expertise of Generals McChrystal and Petraeus (Servator Respublicae Iraqi!), I’m inclined to support the COIN strategy as “not guaranteed, but well-worth trying.” Afghanistan is the land from which the attacks of September 11th, 2001, were launched, and we can ill-afford to let the Taliban and al Qaeda come to dominate it again.

You decided on counterinsurgency once already, Mr. President. Now, act like a commander-in-chief and stick to it.

Related Reading: As I said, there’s been an argument on the Right about counterinsurgency versus counterterrorism.  Following are links to five articles that I think capture this debate and are well-worth your time to read. All these authors are top-notch:

  • Andy McCarthy writes against COIN, arguing that it’s folly to attempt “…the unlikeliest of social-engineering experiments: bringing big, modern, collectivist, secular government to a segmented, corrupt, tribal Islamic society”
  • Ralph Peters contends angrily that COIN is crazy, and it’s getting our troops murdered.
  • Max Boot has his own angry answer to McCarthy, and says McChrystal’s COIN strategy is the only way to win in Afghanistan and that the last eight years prove it.
  • Frederick Kagan makes his own persuasive argument that counterinsurgency is the way to go and that counterterrorism’s kill-and-capture methods have been shown not to work in the long run.
  • Finally, McCarthy replies to his critics to say that, if you don’t understand Islamic ideology, you don’t understand the problem in Afghanistan.

The articles are best read in the order presented, I think.

Palin on Afghanistan

October 6, 2009

From her Facebook account:

For two years as a candidate, Senator Obama called for more resources for the war in Afghanistan and warned about the consequences of failure. As President, he announced a comprehensive new counterinsurgency strategy and handpicked the right general to execute it. Now General McChrystal is asking for additional troops to implement the strategy announced by President Obama in March. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers in harm’s way in Afghanistan right now. We owe it to all those brave Americans serving in uniform to give them the tools they need to complete their mission.

We can win in Afghanistan by helping the Afghans build a stable representative state able to defend itself. And we must do what it takes to prevail. The stakes are very high. The 9/11 attacks were planned in Afghanistan, and if we are not successful there, al Qaeda will once again find a safe haven, the Taliban will impose its cruelty on the Afghan people, and Pakistan will be less stable.

Our allies and our adversaries are watching to see if we have the staying power to protect our interests in Afghanistan. I recently joined a group of Americans in urging President Obama to devote the resources necessary in Afghanistan and pledged to support him if he made the right decision. Now is not the time for cold feet, second thoughts, or indecision — it is the time to act as commander-in-chief and approve the troops so clearly needed in Afghanistan.

– Sarah Palin

Obama’s FDR moment

September 22, 2009

Churchill once said to President Roosevelt, “Give us the tools and we will finish the job.” It appears that President Obama has reached or is fast approaching that moment in Afghanistan, the war he has declared a war of necessity, for what else could one call it than a “crisis” when the nation’s top field commander threatens to resign if he doesn’t get the support he needs?

Within 24 hours of the leak of the Afghanistan assessment to The Washington Post, General Stanley McChrystal’s team fired its second shot across the bow of the Obama administration. According to McClatchy, military officers close to General McChrystal said he is prepared to resign if he isn’t given sufficient resources (read “troops”) to implement a change of direction in Afghanistan


In Kabul, some members of McChrystal’s staff said they don’t understand why Obama called Afghanistan a “war of necessity” but still hasn’t given them the resources they need to turn things around quickly.

Three officers at the Pentagon and in Kabul told McClatchy that the McChrystal they know would resign before he’d stand behind a faltering policy that he thought would endanger his forces or the strategy.

“Yes, he’ll be a good soldier, but he will only go so far,” a senior official in Kabul said. “He’ll hold his ground. He’s not going to bend to political pressure.”

I was going to write a long post analyzing and criticizing the White House’s unconscionable vacillation in our commitment to victory in Afghanistan (though that vacillation in any recent conflict seems to be a feature, not a bug, of the Democratic Party), but I really cannot do better than this piece by Baseball Crank, which I urge you to read.

Presidents have often had trouble with generals, of course. Truman famously had to fire MacArthur for insubordination, but found a superb (and superior) replacement in Ridgway. Lincoln ran through generals like a man changes socks until he found a group that was not only competent, but would actually fight.

But President Obama doesn’t have President Lincoln’s problem. General McChrystal is highly regarded and quite willing to fight. But, to implement the counterinsurgency strategy he recommends (and which is supported by his boss, General Petraeus, the guy who saved Iraq), he needs more troops, the request for which the article at Baseball Crank reminds us generated shocking warnings of a WTF moment at the White House.

The question then becomes “How committed is the White House to victory in the war it declared a ‘necessity?'” Or was this, as a prominent liberal blogger declared, “…a political strategy, not a serious foreign policy?” To turn Churchill’s statement into a question and ask it for General McChrystal, “Will you give us the tools to finish the job, Mr. President?”

Or will Americans be left asking “WTF?”

LINKS: Allahpundit; Ed Morrissey; PoliGazette.

Obama getting it right in Afghanistan?

May 15, 2009

During the 2008 campaign, candidate Obama promised to focus our war efforts on Afghanistan, claiming that was where the real fight lay and that the Bush Administration had made a grave mistake by liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein. It was, in essence, the "good war," as opposed to the Republicans' "bad war" in Iraq. We'll ignore the strategic reality right now, which was just about the opposite of the Democrats' claims. Since then, however, Iraq has dramatically improved with al Qaeda being almost annihilated there and a functioning democracy taking root, while Afghanistan seems to be growing worse by the day: the Taliban and al Qaeda are operating from safe havens in Pakistan and their reach is spreading throughout Afghanistan; the Afghan Army is too small for the job; many of our NATO allies are mostly useless, with the exception of the Brits, French, Canadians, Danes, Lithuanians, and a few others; the central government is weak; and its legislators at times seem little better than the Taliban themselves.

Given the foreign weakness President Obama has shown since taking office, one might expect him to be equally feeble facing the challenges posed in Afghanistan. One apparently would be wrong. As Max Boot reports, the President has ordered a change in command there. With these changes, in Boot's opinion, PBO is right on target:

McKiernan, an armored officer, was not able to articulate and impose such a counterinsurgency strategy on his command. McChrystal, a Special Forces officer, is more likely to succeed. He spent an unusually long time (2003-2008) heading the Joint Special Operations Command, which is responsible for "black" counter-terrorism operations using elite units such as Delta Force. His longevity in that difficult job at a critical time after 9/11 was a testament to his effectiveness. He did a particularly impressive job at his forward headquarters in Iraq of integrating intelligence with operations to take down high-value targets such as Abu Musab Zarqawi.

I would not go as far as to claim, as Bob Woodward did in "The War Within," that it was the special operators rather than the "surge" that turned around Iraq. Victory in a counter- insurgency depends more on securing the populace than on targeting enemy leaders. I am told that McChrystal realizes that, even if Woodward does not.

McChrystal also apparently grasps what McKiernan did not: Running the Afghanistan war cannot be a one-man show. There is a need to replicate the Iraq model with a four-star general focusing on strategic issues while a three-star deputy overseas daily operations. That role was filled in Iraq by Army Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, but McKiernan resisted such a setup in Afghanistan. Now McChrystal is expected to make Rodriguez the Odierno of Afghanistan.

Lest we forget that counterinsurgency is as much a political as a military undertaking, on the very day of McChrystal's appointment, a new U.S. ambassador arrived in Kabul. Karl Eikenberry, himself a retired general and former commander in Afghanistan, will have to coordinate the civilian side of the war effort, as Ambassador Ryan Crocker did so ably in Iraq.

While Afghanistan isn't in the dire straits that Iraq was in 2005-06, it is getting worse and poses its own unique problems, not the least of which will be bringing to heel a large number of obstreperous allies.

I've been critical of Obama's approach to the war with jihadist Islam –in my opinion, he still thinks it's September 10th– and I'm willing to bet that this move to strengthen the Afghan theater is motivated more by ensuring his domestic agenda isn't derailed by a foreign defeat than by any desire to just win the war. Regardless, Boot's is a voice I respect in foreign and military affairs, and if he sees Hope in these Changes, then that's good enough for me and I'll congratulate the President for a good move.

Now, let's win this thing.

RELATED: Two excellent sources on Afghanistan and Pakistan are the writings of Michael Yon, who often embeds with the soldiers in the field (and who also is impressed with this new team), and The Long War Journal, Bill Roggio's blog. It keeps up to date with developments in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other fronts of this war, and is an invaluable resource. You should bookmark both.

Twenty questions? Try forty-seven.

January 12, 2009

Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government blog has a list of questions for Senator Clinton in her hearings to be confirmed as Secretary of State. Will anyone on the Foreign Relations committee have the nerve to pose them? I’d pay to have someone ask her this:

23. When General Petraeus testified in September 2007, you said: "I think that the reports that you provide to us really require the willing suspension of disbelief." Do you now believe your assessment was wrong?  If so, why? – if not, why not?

I’d break out extra popcorn for this. popcorn


How to lose in Afghanistan

January 8, 2009

Just do what the Soviets did.


Israel pushes into Gaza

January 6, 2009

Bill Roggio provides must-read analysis of the Israeli ground offensive at The Long War Journal. Apparently, the IDF has learned from its mistakes in Lebanon in 2006:

The Israeli Defense Force was able to negate Hamas’ prepared anti-tank defenses by moving infantry ahead of its armored units to clear the tank traps. Hamas is said to have prepared anti-tank bunkers and mine fields to blunt an armored spearhead as it moved through the densely populated urban areas of the Gaza strip.

The deployment of infantry ahead of the Israeli armor also prevented Hamas forces from laying ambushes. On the first day, Hamas was relegated to lobbing mortars at Israeli forces during the initial ground assault.

Israeli troops have trained for urban combat in Gaza for over the past year, The Jerusalem Post reported. All of the units in the Gaza operation have cycled through the IDF’s Ground Forces Command Urban Training Center. "There, the IDF has built a mock-Palestinian city where the forces train on operating in populated areas," the Israeli paper reported.

The urban warfare training will be needed. Fighting has intensified over the past 24 hours, according to reports from Gaza. Heavy, close-quarters street fighting has been reported in Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza. To the west, Gaza City is partially surrounded.

The Israelis have publicly said their goal is to stop Hamas from firing missiles into Israel and destroy terrorist infrastructure, but the emphasis on urban warfare makes me wonder if there isn’t another, largely unspoken goal: to force Hamas into a standup fight in order to kill as many Hamas fighters as possible. Dead terrorists can’t fire rockets, after all.

Longer-term, something will have to be done about the Islamic fear society that dominates Gaza (and elsewhere) but, for now, beating Hamas to a bloody pulp in order to protect her own people might be the best Israel can do.


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Well, he is smarter than the rest of us

September 8, 2008

According to Joe Biden (remember him?), the success of the surge is due to … listening to Joe Biden.




I’m sure General Petraeus will dedicate his memoirs to him, too.




There can be only one

June 10, 2008

Commander in Chief, that is. Both John McCain and Barack Obama want the job. If, like me, you regard national security as the President’s top priority, then I think you’d agree that it’s crucial we pick the right guy. But, how to choose? It’s not as if one can ask either man "What past experience have you had commanding the armed forces of the world’s sole remaining superpower? How did you handle your last nuclear crisis?"

Frederick Kagan, writing in The Weekly Standard, argues that we nonetheless do have a good yardstick by which to measure the candidates: one of the authors of the new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq (the "surge"), Kagan says we should compare how each candidate’s assessed the situation in Iraq before the surge took place, what they recommended the US do, and how the situation has evolved since then.

McCain argued that providing more troops and engaging in an active strategy of population protection would allow the Iraqis the time and security needed to stand up their own armed forces and take measures toward political reconciliation. Obama, on the other hand, argued that Iraq was a failure, that adding more troops would only make a civil war worse, and that our only course was to withdraw. Kagan provides the details, but that’s the essence.

The verdict? McCain took an unpopular decision and was proved right, while Obama took the politically safe course and was proved dead wrong. After an initial spike in US casualties at the opening of combat with al Qaeda in the summer of 2007, US and Iraqi casualties have dropped to levels not seen since 2003. Al Qaeda has been driven out of Anbar province and Baghdad and reduced to just a foothold in the city of Mosul and, with the reconstituted Iraqi armed forces in the lead, are being suppressed there, too. In fact, the Iraqi military has improved so much that, the defeatist narrative of The New York Times notwithstanding, they planned, undertook, and won their own operations to recover Basra and Sadr City from Shiite militias.

McCain was also right that the breathing space provided by increased security would enable the Iraqis to achieve some measure of political progress: in recent months, the government in Baghdad has either passed or will soon pass a formal budget, an oil-revenue sharing law, a provincial elections law to enable a federal system, and a law determining the status of former members of the Baath Party. All of these were demands of the Democrats; all have been or are being met.

Kagan concludes by considering what might have happened had Obama’s strategy prevailed, instead. It’s worth quoting in full:

What would have happened if Obama’s bill had passed? There is no way to know for sure, but it seems likely that, facing less resistance, Al Qaeda in Iraq would have continued to gain strength, the fragile Iraqi Security Forces would have collapsed, as would the fragile Iraqi government, militias would have flourished–and the United States would have departed under fire, accepting a humiliating defeat in the war against al Qaeda that would have reverberated globally.

For any voter trying to choose between the two candidates for commander in chief, there is no better test than this: When American strategy in a critical theater was up for grabs, John McCain proposed a highly unpopular and risky path, which he accurately predicted could lead to success. Barack Obama proposed a popular and politically safe route that would have led to an unnecessary and debilitating American defeat at the hands of al Qaeda.

The two men brought different backgrounds to the test, of course. In January 2007, McCain had been a senator for 20 years and had served in the military for 23 years. Obama had been a senator for 2 years and before that was a state legislator, lawyer, and community organizer. But neither presidential candidates nor the commander in chief gets to choose the tests that history brings. Once in office, the one elected must perform.

As I wrote above, national security is the primary duty of anyone holding the office of president. I consider the war against the renewed jihad to be the overriding issue of our age, and Iraq to be a crucial theater in that struggle. On assessing that theater in its moment of crisis, John McCain was right and Barack Obama was wrong, dangerously wrong. There is no other way to put it.

In a election in which one candidate has made a particular selling point of his superior judgement, therefore, I know which one I want calling the shots

UPDATE: Kagan and his wife have an article in today’s Wall St. Journal detailing the political and military improvement of the Iraqis.

Check the temperature in Hell

May 30, 2008

Even the Washington Post admits that we’re winning in Iraq:

Less than a year after his agency warned of new threats from a resurgent al-Qaeda, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden now portrays the terrorist movement as essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and on the defensive throughout much of the rest of the world, including in its presumed haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

In a strikingly upbeat assessment, the CIA chief cited major gains against al-Qaeda’s allies in the Middle East and an increasingly successful campaign to destabilize the group’s core leadership.

While cautioning that al-Qaeda remains a serious threat, Hayden said Osama bin Laden is losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world and has largely forfeited his ability to exploit the Iraq war to recruit adherents. Two years ago, a CIA study concluded that the U.S.-led war had become a propaganda and marketing bonanza for al-Qaeda, generating cash donations and legions of volunteers.

All that has changed, Hayden said in an interview with The Washington Post this week that coincided with the start of his third year at the helm of the CIA.

"On balance, we are doing pretty well," he said, ticking down a list of accomplishments: "Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I’m going to use the word ‘ideologically’ — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam," he said.

The sense of shifting tides in the terrorism fight is shared by a number of terrorism experts, though some caution that it is too early to tell whether the gains are permanent. Some credit Hayden and other U.S. intelligence leaders for going on the offensive against al-Qaeda in the area along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where the tempo of Predator strikes has dramatically increased from previous years. But analysts say the United States has caught some breaks in the past year, benefiting from improved conditions in Iraq, as well as strategic blunders by al-Qaeda that have cut into its support base.

Read the whole thing. It’s clear the vastly improved situation is Iraq puts the Democrats in a very tight spot, wedded as they are to the narrative of defeat they’ve been selling since 2004. They’re desperate to avoid talking about it, unless it’s to chant the Harry Reid mantra. What’s worse, the situation improved in large part because of the strategy backed by the likely Republican nominee.

Consider the facts: from nearly controlling western Iraq and swathes of Baghdad, al Qaeda has been reduced  to a presence in Mosul — even their own people are admitting they’re facing strategic defeat in Iraq. The Shiite militia of Muqtada al Sadr, who, with Iranian help, tried to create an Iraqi Hizbullah, has been defeated in Basra and Baghdad, and their leader is bravely hiding in Iran. Iran itself has been thwarted in its efforts to dominate Iraq.

The Iraqi security forces have made a quantum leap in competence and can mostly operate on their own: the operations in Basra, Mosul, and Sadr City were largely theirs. This has allowed General Petraeus to schedule the first withdrawals of US forces. The elected government has made great strides toward becoming effective: Prime Minister al-Maliki, once thought of as a tool and a cipher, has shown real leadership in facilitating a reconciliation with the Sunnis and Kurds and uniting them behind the efforts of the Iraqi security forces. Laws governing the sharing of the nation’s oil wealth, the status of former Baath Party members, and provincial elections have been passed or are about to pass.

All these were demands of the Democrats in Congress, yet now they and their likely standard bearer steadfastly ignore the elephant in the living room and pretend it hasn’t happened. It’s as if time froze for them in 2004-2006. They still call for withdrawal regardless of the consequences. They still pin their electoral hopes on their own nation’s defeat

Trouble is, it’s becoming too evident even for their allies in the mainstream media to ignore. And the American public as a whole will catch on, too. Arguing for retreat and defeat, especially when we’re finally winning, does not win elections. Yet abandoning their cherished dogma will make them look like cynical idiots for advocating losing over changing to a better strategy — one that the other guy had long been backing. Iraq is simply not a winning issue for the Democrats, who look to be making the same mistakes regarding the war that they made in 2004.

I wonder how long it will be before Obama declares it a "distraction from the real issues?"

LINKS: Peter Wehner at Commentary writes about Director Hayden’s testimony and provides a needed caution that near victory, like near defeat, can be reversed. Ed Morrissey at Hot Air notices the same article and discusses the broader context, including Pakistan. Jennifer Rubin notes that good news isn’t good news for everyone.

Has the surge failed already?

July 11, 2007

Max Boot relates facts contained in a letter from an officer serving in Iraq, facts that may not be welcomed by Copperhead Democratic defeatists and the Republican geldings allied with them.

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America’s key weakness

May 24, 2007

Austin Bay looks zeroes in on what he sees as the United States’ key vulnerability — our four-year election cycle vs. the Salafists’ multi-generational plan: From Surge to Sustain.

In February, I speculated it would take at least eight to 12 months before we’d know if Petraeus’ approach will significantly accelerate the process. Petraeus promises an evaluation in September, so he is a month ahead of my low estimate. The year 2012 is probably a better time to evaluate it.

Yes, 2012, which is not one but two U.S. elections away. To pay off, "the surge" requires a lot of "sustain." This leads to a crucial point: A truly grievous American strategic weakness (which the surge does not address) is our own political cycle. Al-Qaida’s jihadists plotted a multigenerational war. That means we must fight a multi-administration war, which entails bridging the whipsaw of the U.S. political cycle.

The Bush administration has not prepared the nation for that — at least, not in any focused manner. And that omission constitutes negligence. Bush critics who advocate withdrawal are even more negligent, however, for withdrawal without ensuring Iraqi stability is a self-inflicted defeat leading to extremely dire consequences.


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