January 25, 2009

Guantanamo and the death penalty

One of the things that has gone under remarked in the Guantanamo saga is the eligibility of so many of those prisoners for the death penalty. A key anti-death penalty argument is crumbling before our eyes and few, if any, are taking note.

The argument is that in modern penal systems, killers are simply not going to kill again. Supermax facilities and their like are supposed to bring us an era where the death penalty is unnecessary to protect society. But what is happening in the military context of the death penalty at Guantanamo?

As the AFP notes we have the spectacle of "Two ex-Guantanamo inmates appear in Al-Qaeda video" announcing to the world that after committing a death penalty crime (fighting without uniform) they're very likely going to do it again. In fact, we've got 11% of released detainees going back to kill again as a fact of our forbearance to apply the full extent of US military justice. How many more will join them to kill and maim again is a very open question now that Guantanamo is going to be quickly shut down.

Death penalty opponents who oppose the penalty in all cases on ideological or moral grounds have a bit of a problem here, if anybody's going to take them to task for their false claims. I'm not holding my breath.

Posted by TMLutas at 04:41 PM

August 28, 2008

Russian Lawfare

Russia is attempting to bring up old treaties regarding Black Sea naval forces:

"Can NATO - which is not a state located in the Black Sea - continuously increase its group of forces and systems there? It turns out that it cannot," Nogovitsyn was quoted as saying Wednesday by the Interfax news agency.

Actually, NATO can, and for several reasons. The first is that a majority of the Black Sea coast is made up of NATO members (Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria) or nations that do not object to the current mission (Ukraine, Georgia). None of the military restrictions on naval forces apply to these three NATO countries.
The Montreux Convention of 1936 lets small military vessels from outside the Black Sea zone transit without restriction so long as they do not displace more than 10,000 tons. The USCGC Dallas which is currently visiting Georgia for humanitarian purposes displaces 3,250 tons.

There is a further problem with the Montreux Convention regarding the US. We never signed it. We were invited to the negotiations, but declined to even send an observer to the conference. So long as our allies in Turkey keep letting our ships in, and Turkey has the right to waive restrictions, we're not obligated to observe any limits.

Turkey's ability to waive has served different powers at different times, including the USSR/Russia. Aircraft carriers are not supposed to transit the Dardanelles but the Soviets were permitted to do so in 1976 and 1979. And when the PRC acquired a former Soviet aircraft carrier it was, eventually, permitted to transit the straits as well in 2001.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:39 AM

April 29, 2008

Imagine You're an Iranian Revolutionary Guard

Imagine you're in the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. It's a pretty lonely thing to be. If your family looks like Iran, only 3/10ths of your relatives is happy with your career choice. And you've got all sorts of people calling you a criminal. Mostly that happens while you're putting a beat down on some uppity ethnic minority or long-haired hippie westernized college kids. But recently, you got called a criminal for doing your job for your country. You do a bit of non-uniformed work in Iraq, striking direct blows at the Great Satan, prepping the way for a full blown insurrection so that those bastard Iraqis can't get off the mat and ever come back and invade again and it all goes to hell. The operation is a failure and your own ambassador to Iraq is calling you and yours a bunch of criminals that needed to be put down like a rabid dog in the street.

What does that IRGC soldier think? And the next time that they need an insurrection put down, will he still enthusiastically answer the call?

Posted by TMLutas at 10:14 PM

April 11, 2008

Reducing Deployment Terms

I heard on the radio yesterday that President Bush is reducing deployment terms back down to 12 months. That's a good step to reduce the strain on our military, one that I've been hoping to hear about for awhile. The 15 month terms were scraping the barrel.

We may get out of this without breaking the army after all.

Posted by TMLutas at 06:20 AM

April 01, 2008

Hitting the Wall

I support the war, have from the beginning. Unfortunately, we've gone past the line as to what we're trying to do with the resources we have. So far as I understand matters, we just don't have enough of a handle on PTSD cases to let them get back into combat. We seem to be sending them to Iraq and Afghanistan anyway. That's too much to demand. If we need a greater force structure to carry the day, we need to raise the force levels and not scrape this deep into our national reserves.

It's too much.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:16 AM

May 06, 2007

Signs for Winning Iraq

Irrespective of what your opinion is on the current state of affairs in Iraq, there should be no difference on what the signs are that we are on the road to victory. The ultimate end-state is that Iraq has built up a set of organizations that are sufficient to handle its political, economic, and security needs.

Let's take the easy ones first. Politically, they need their own constitution (check) with sufficient buy-in from the populace (referendum, check) and politicians that have a measure of legitimacy (elections, check) that can form a durable political class that does not resort to violence (needs work but better than two years ago). The sorting mechanism of time and political maneuvering will supply Iraq with a steady stream of better politicians and there's no way to advance more rapidly up the experience curve than 1 second per second.

Economically, the economy's booming so it is prima facie obvious that despite the crumbling infrastructure of Saddam and the blown up infrastructure of present security difficulties, something's going right. Aside from dividing up petroleum so that it does not curse the political system (which seems to be progressing smartly in the form of a new petroleum law) the major impediment to economic progress is security. This brings us to the most controversial of the signs, the security situation

Iraq's security situation is complex, to say the least. But any fair minded observer should agree that if the locals at any level (district, town, province or the entire country) can handle the security challenge, this is a sign of victory. Another sign would be if we are only needed as a tripwire force, such as we supply in Sinai, S. Korea, and lots of other places. In 4 entire provinces in the Shia dominated south and innumerable subdivisions there and elsewhere, we've turned over the security situation over to the locals. In 3 other provinces in the Kurdish north, their greatest security worry is foreign incursion from Iran and Turkey (but mostly Turkey). Those 3 provinces are nothing to worry about either.

Another sign of victory is where local institutions that had been hostile to us turn friendly (such as Anbar's tribes who are now fighting Al Queda instead of helping it and funneling in their own young men into the local police and army). A related sign is the creation of new institutions such as the new joint Sunni-Shia Bolster Dialah organization.

Is there a map out there of all the jurisdictions that have been turned over to local control? A time sequence of hand-overs nationwide would be a powerful objective indicator of the true security situation in Iraq. It's dumbfounding to me that there doesn't seem to be an easily accessible one around.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:53 AM

April 02, 2007

Change the Time

Strategy Page notes time is on Iran's side when it comes to the hostage situation. This is a familiar metaphor that I've always found best answered by changing the timing and pacing of the crisis.

If a slow bleed is in Iran's interest, the UK might be best served by simply announcing a date by which they would be marked down as KIA and proceeding with a response on that basis. Do not negotiate for the hostages release after that deadline with the current regime. Yes, it's really cold, awful to just write them off as dead but it radically alters the timing and changes their execution date from something Iran controls to something the UK controls from a geopolitic/diplomatic perspective. It ruins Iran's strategy and thus paradoxically makes it less likely that they will actually be physically executed. After all, what's the point? Somebody else might come to power later in the UK that would negotiate for their release so why kill them?

The US could best serve its ally by releasing a statement the same day honoring the UK's decision and acting on that basis, asking all other allies to keep to the same line. Win or lose the entire dynamic of islamist attempts to humiliate the West change. Hostages lose their death value when we "kill" them first. The only value they have left is being returned alive and in good shape and that is exactly as we should want it.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:47 AM

March 20, 2007

Defeating Them Wasn't the Point

Michael Williams' Because We Didn't Defeat Them misses the point by a mile. The Iraqi people were doomed to many years of strife and violence back in the 1950s when the royal family was ousted in 1958. The misalignment between what the people of Iraq wanted and the hard men with guns delivered got worse and worse, culminating in Saddam's Republic of Fear.

Even if we had run as picture perfect a post-invasion as could be managed, we still would have ended up with major troubles because when violent change in politics is all that's been on offer for 45 years and more then you've got a society that's primed and ready for running multiple violent resistence movements. Throw in some not-so-friendly neighbors ready and willing to stoke the fires of violence and you have a nasty time in Iraq for at least a few years.

That isn't to say that we couldn't have run the post-invasion better but I would argue that the invasion itself was run very, very well. We put in the maximum force we could sustain and achieved the Big Bang we needed.

I still believe that we're planting liberty trees in Iraq, and over the long haul that's going to remake the region. But had we flattened them down as Michael Williams advocates, we'd have ended up with another FRG, practically useless for the next stage of the fight. These Iraqis have shed their own blood, and will win their own freedom, and for their own reasons will spread liberty to their neighbors. In the process they will begin to reverse several centuries of Islamic civilizational decline and provide a way out of the toxic mess that Islam has put the Middle East into.

At the beginning of the conflict, I marked a free ME and Islam pulling out of its death spiral down as worth 10K dead americans. Compared to the alternatives, it's a small price to pay. I still believe so. But being more savage in the invasion wouldn't have helped us get where we need to go. It would have changed the post invasion narrative for the worse.

Posted by TMLutas at 04:13 PM

March 19, 2007


I do believe that the only way the US will suffer defeat is if it picks up and goes home before securing victory. If I'm right, the job of shoring up the patience, combatting the lies of our enemies and the cowardice of too many of our friends is the critical point at which the wars for Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the wider war will be won or lost. Here is a grand entry, a strong effort on that front.

Four years in. An inch of time. Four years in and the foolish and credulous among us yearn to get out. Their feelings require it. The power of their Holy Gospel of "Imagine" compels them. Their overflowing pools of compassion for the enslavers of women, the killers of homosexuals, the beheaders of reporters, and the incinerators of men and women working quietly at their desks, rise and flood their minds until their eyes flow with crocodile tears while their mouths emit slogans made of cardboard. They believe the world is run on wishes and that they will always have three more.

That's got to smart.

Posted by TMLutas at 04:02 PM

August 12, 2006

The Case for 10,000 American Dead in Iraq

Imagine for a moment, that you heard a military man, a former general on CNN argue that with chemical weapons attacks, the upcoming invasion of Iraq could see 3,000 americans die in the invasion. It's 2003, you have no idea what's going to face america when it invades. You do know a bit of history and that even the direst predictions tend to be light on the carnage that will accompany any decently sized war. So you up the ante and ask, will this war be worth 10,000 american dead? The answer from your conscience comes back yes. Breaking a downward civilizational cycle for over a billion muslims that's lasted centuries, getting them off the table as far as radical terrorism and other toxic movements is concerned is worth 10,000 dead. So you say it and shock your friends.

But it's true. The muslim world will inevitably cause a lot more than that in civilian casualties unless its present trajectory is altered. Something has to change and it's a huge task. Creating a free Iraq will change that trajectory. If Iraq can remain unitary and free without violence, its positive influence throughout the whole muslim world will be huge and influence many other governments to ditch their autocratic policies for a sustainable freedom strategy.

But fast forward to 2006. We haven't hit 40% of your initial casualty estimate and for you, the war, though not nearly as front-loaded on the carnage as you thought it would be, is going pretty well on the casualty front. For those who were estimating a thousand dead though, we're well over triple their initial estimates and so many have either jumped ship or are wavering in support of the war, willing to take a loss on the war and make meaningless all those deaths rather than add more lives to the tally.

We're paying a large price for not estimating the casualties heavy early on. Our enemies see our wavering and are encouraged to keep fighting, dreaming of another political victory by disheartening the american people. The big question in the minds of all our allies is whether the US public has the stomach to adjust its tolerance for casualty figures upwards. All that could have been avoided by setting them high in the first place.

Welcome to my world.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:43 AM

August 04, 2006

Logistics Rules

Reading this story on returning Israeli soldiers coming back from Lebanon, I picked up one fact that seems crucial.

Another soldier said that serving in the Palestinian militant stronghold of Jenin in the West Bank, as he had, was nothing compared with fighting Hezbollah’s guerrillas. “It was horrible,” he said. “You don’t know what it’s like, with every second a rocket- propelled grenade shooting over your head.”
A third soldier said: “All the time, they fired missiles at us. They never come face to face, just missiles. When we find them we kill them. It’s just not right, the way we are doing it. Our air force can just bomb villages and not risk our lives fighting over there.”

Missiles are an awfully inefficient and unsustainable way to conduct an infantry battle. We don't do it in the US for exactly that reason, that we can't afford to be that wasteful and our war machine is infinitely better financed and supplied than Hezbollah's. It's also why it's so valuable to put infantry on the ground in Lebanon. It makes Hezbollah use up its stocks of munitions. If the IAF can interdict enough of that supply, those fighters that survive the fighting to that point end up with nothing left to shoot, at which point, they're done for.

Fire discipline and logistics are tough lessons to learn, the sort of discipline that is also very difficult to maintain in combat. Hezbollah has stocks accumulated for years. Israel is depleting those stocks by bombing the arsenals it can find and by prompting Hezbollah to use them on it instead of on the Lebanese Army when it comes down to take control of its territory. And that's the heart of why Israel isn't going to cease-fire short of its own stocks of weapons being drawn down to nothing due to an arms cutoff from the US. Israel's expense of soldiers to draw down those Hezbollah stocks is only moral if it's carried through to the end. A cease-fire that allows Hezbollah to restock means that those soldiers truly died for nothing.

Iran is bleeding cash for those weapons and they're likely losing a large chunk of them to IAF interdiction strikes before they even arrive. Iran is in such dire financial straights that it can't even maintain its regime of bread and circuses in the form of plentiful, subsidized gasoline. Fall will see Iranians forced into using rationing coupons while Iranian cash goes to purchase weapons and munitions (likely from Russia) to resupply Hezbollah. That's quite dangerous for regime stability. It brings into question what else is Iran going to run short of if it continues to pour money into its Lebanon front and Hezbollah.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:07 PM

July 13, 2006

Digging up Tet

For a Catholic, there's a two part test for an awful lot of things (not necessarily in this order).

1. is it legal
2. is it right

Mark Shea's Catholic and Enjoying It! blog is currently doing a very bad job of applying that test to the point where I and a bunch of others are regularly censored if we provide alternative perspectives hinging on the question of whether certain military acts are wrong merely 99.999% of the time or 100% of the time. My own perspective is that a lot of strange things happen out in the field and it's essential to actually listen before judging. Below is the comment I would have posted. The Mark Shea post is regarding the famous street execution photo of a general shooting a captured VC.

The problem of this famous incident is that it's always about the emotion. For this to have been a righteous shooting, the VC would have had to:

1. have committed war crimes subject to the death penalty...
CHECK! According to commentary up above, he apparently killed a bunch of women and children and hid them in a ditch. You die for that, and justly so.

2. the situation would have had to have been fluid, threatening, and manpower would need to be too short to safely devote resources to guarding the prisoner until a more formal judicial hearing could be convened
CHECK! This execution/slaughter was done in the middle of the Tet Offensive when things were very confusing and a number of positions were barely holding under assault. Pulling people away from safeguarding innocents to keep this guy alive wasn't likely practical.

3. have been subject to some sort of judgment by a military officer acting in his capacity of a judicial officer.
BZZZT?? Did the general have the legal right to convene a drumhead court martial, judge the man, and immediately execute sentence according to the relevant law of the time? I really don't know. Since he was never judged for this very famous execution, I suspect that he did but am unsure.

Of significant importance for catholics, what are the details of due process that a prisoner of this type is due as a minimal baseline inherent in the natural law? Is a single judge (with no jury) trial inherently unjust? That would be rather sticky because a large number of trials in the US are conducted under exactly those circumstances. There is judicial review here, and obviously not there but you need to be exact as to what the procedural problem is and why they are inherently against the natural law.

Posted by TMLutas at 05:47 PM

April 30, 2006

The Troop Fairy

I was looking over this article where Colin Powell knocked Secretary Rice off message by publicly airing his doubts that there were enough troops for Iraqi operations. In the same article is Paul Bremer quoted as saying that we should have had 500,000 troops in Iraq. From what I can tell, there really aren't any more troops to be had in today's military (the same was just as true on the eve of Afghanistan and Iraq).

500,000 troops on the ground means 1.5M troops in the rotation to sustain that troop level for as long as is needed. We don't have a 1.5M army. We have a 500,000 person army and some of it has to stay in Korea to be a tripwire. Some of it needed to be in Afghanistan. There are other commitments that could not be stripped bare.

As far as I can tell, to say that we needed 1.5M in troop rotation and 500k on the ground is a fancy way of saying that we have to go to selective service and reinstate the draft. There is no troop fairy and we're not going to triple the Army in size as a volunteer force. Even we can't afford that. Yet the more troops dissenters never seem to get called on this. It's like the media can't do basic mathematics or haven't taken the couple of hours in research time to do the math on troop logistics.

I really do wish that we'd have that debate, that the press would get up and do their jobs asking these "more troops" advocates how, exactly, the US was going to come up with those troops. Does more troops mean Saddam Hussein's still in power? Does more troops mean there's a draft? What, exactly, were they advocating? What were the consequences?

Posted by TMLutas at 05:36 PM

April 21, 2006

Civilian Control

I pride myself on being fairly sure footed on most issues. I read, think through a position, and don't very often have to change my mind much. Very rarely do I find myself whipsawed into taking a different stand.

Charles Krauthammer's Washington Post article is a remarkable exception. I admit it freely. I was asleep at the switch and didn't much see how dangerous the generals' revolt is. Throughout the world, generals are saying "oh, the US military is not so different after all". The consequences of this are likely never going to be tabulated. They are real, though, and tragic.

Posted by TMLutas at 07:38 AM

March 11, 2006

The Firm Kill III

This is third in a series on options between the invasion now! crowd and TPMB's soft kill for Iran scenarios.

The thought occurs that there might be other firm kill options short of invasion. How about delivering Ayatollah Montazeri out of house arrest and to freedom in Najaf where he can preach openly in return to Iran as he chooses? This is not smile and convert via connectivity unless you think that connectivity at the barrel of an HRT member is a "soft kill".

The regime has an entire cast of religious figures under house arrest that are too important/influential to kill but do not support the regime. I can't imagine why their continued unjust imprisonment has to be a constant, an untouchable factor of safety for the current regime in Iran.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:15 AM

January 03, 2006

How to Make Things Not Go to Hell in Peacetime

StrategyPage has a very informative list of items showing how military preparadness will inevitably backslide once peace breaks out. I can see why they've been true in the past but I don't see why all of them have to be true in the future. Out of five items, I think that two are solvable.

@ Make sure all troops have their basic infantry skills down cold. This means making sure that, during Basic Training, the civilian recruits get that necessary mental adjustment needed to deal with stress and combat. But Basic tends to get watered down in peacetime, mainly for political reasons. Too many (or just any) injuries during training can get the media and politicians in an uproar. During the 1990s, there was a major flap over the problems female trainees had keeping up with males. It wasn’t fair. For the moment, everyone is getting pretty strenuous Basic, but that will change one peacetime returns.

Why not make it a requirement to calculate the likely increased battle deaths that will be incurred by reducing training in infantry skills? By making the blood for money tradeoffs explicit, backsliding can be minimized.

@ Let the troops fire their weapons a lot, with real ammo. Marksmanship is a perishable skill, so you have to find the time, and money (for the ammo and building enough firing ranges) to do this. Gunfire is unpopular in peacetime, no matter how important it is. In wartime, it’s easier to get this done. Which is why the U.S. Department of Defense has, since September 11, 2001, been buying three times as much rifle and machine-gun ammo for training. Come peacetime, the amount of ammo bought will shrink, as will all that damn (to the increasing number of civilians building homes near military bases) noise.
There are two cures for this. First, privatize the training bullet budget by creating a trust that will make up for congressional shortfalls in peacetime. If you manage the trust well enough, the skinflints in Congress aren't going to have their usual deleterious effects. The second half of the cure (noise issues) can be mitigated or entirely eliminated by sound cancellation.
Posted by TMLutas at 03:27 PM

December 27, 2005

Bad News in Iraq

The Poles are staying. It was clear earlier this year that Poland was going to pull out if things were going well in Iraq. The deployment was large and burdensome for Poland and if things were going well, they were out of there in order to tend to their own troubles. As a good member of the Coalition of the Willing, they're going through the process of sticking around. The anti-war left won't be reporting this too much because it undermines their "we're all alone" narrative. The pro-war side should be more honest. There's trouble brewing in Iraq, enough for Poland to stay. We need to be ready for the coming bad news so that we can fight through it to eventual victory.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:16 PM

December 01, 2005

How Long Does it Take to Fix an Army?

It's the oddest thing that Rep Murtha claims that the US Army is broken and this is viewed with great alarm and as the end of the discussion. It is no such thing. Rather, it's the beginning of one. Let's assume that Rep. Murtha is correct, how broken is broken (ie how much less capable are we now than before) and how much time and money will it take to fix it? You'd think that at a press conference, somebody would ask those very relevant questions but it seems no reporter did.

Now Rep. Murtha is an appropriator with many year's experience. He should know the answers to these questions in more detail than just about anybody in Washington, much less the rest of the country. Why wasn't he more specific? Why weren't the reporters more diligent?

It is a mystery.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:41 PM

November 29, 2005

Rebutting Odom X

Finally got a link to Gen. Odom's recent column on Iraq. Gen. Odom is a serious man and deserves to have his views addressed seriously. I completely disagree with them.

Here are some of the arguments against pulling out:

9) Talk of deadlines would undercut the morale of our troops.

9) On not supporting our troops by debating an early pullout. Many US officers in Iraq, especially at company and field grade levels, know that while they are winning every tactical battle, they are losing strategically. And according to the New York Times last week, they are beginning to voice complaints about Americans at home bearing none of the pains of the war. One can only guess about the enlisted ranks, but those on a second tour – probably the majority today – are probably anxious for an early pullout. It is also noteworthy that US generals in Iraq are not bubbling over with optimistic reports they way they were during the first few years of the war in Vietnam. Their careful statements and caution probably reflect serious doubts that they do not, and should not, express publicly. The more important question is whether or not the repressive and vindictive behavior by the secretary of defense and his deputy against the senior military -- especially the Army leadership, which is the critical component in the war -- has made it impossible for field commanders to make the political leaders see the facts.

Most surprising to me is that no American political leader today has tried to unmask the absurdity of the administration's case that to question the strategic wisdom of the war is unpatriotic and a failure to support our troops. Most officers and probably most troops don't see it that way. They are angry at the deficiencies in materiel support they get from the Department of Defense, and especially about the irresponsibly long deployments they must now endure because Mr. Rumsfeld and his staff have refused to enlarge the ground forces to provide shorter tours. In the meantime, they know that the defense budget shovels money out the door to maritime forces, SDI, etc., while refusing to increase dramatically the size of the Army.

As I wrote several years ago, "the Pentagon's post-Cold War force structure is so maritime heavy and land force weak that it is firmly in charge of the porpoises and whales while leaving the land to tyrants." The Army, some of the Air Force, the National Guard, and the reserves are now the victims of this gross mismatch between military missions and force structure. Neither the Bush nor the Clinton administration has properly "supported the troops." The media could ask the president why he fails to support our troops by not firing his secretary of defense.

It's just not true that one can only guess about the enlisted ranks, or even about the officer corps anymore. The blogging revolution has created a rich cadre of military bloggers of all ranks (though the generals tend to blog on restricted access .mil sites so far). We know what they believe because they write it for us to see and comment on each other's work. It is that work that informs and encourages civilians like me to raise my own voice.

While not every military voice is united in optimism, the vast majority are and you can read them in all their glory on the Internet. But not all milbloggers are currently serving. Some could resign or retire at any time and do a sharp about face the moment that they are no longer covered by the UCMJ. I watch for such about faces because I'm fully aware of the possibility of feeding disinformation through the milblog channel. If we start finding fake or pressured milbloggers it would be right to discredit this source but until then, named military officers who write on the record beat out anonymous claimed officers who won't sign their names to their supposed opinions. These people come to the end of their careers too. Why aren't they writing, speaking out, putting their name to their opinions? The discussion might actually improve public discourse

If Newt Gingrich is right that this is a Long War, a war of multiple generations, then pacing our sacrifice and involvement is key to our ultimate victory. If we're less than 10% into this war, I'm not sure what the appropriate pace of civilian sacrifice is. What I am sure of is that it shouldn't be a huge effort that will leave society burned out long before ultimate victory is in sight. It's a legitimate request to increase societal sacrifice but we've got to make sure that it's on a pacing that is sustainable.

Massive personnel increases combined with rapid pullout of Iraq do seem to be an odd policy combination. Personnel are the most expensive part of fielding an army. If we aren't to stick around to the finish in Iraq, what are all those soldiers supposed to be doing? We're closing down the FRG bases, moving to new basing structures that have far fewer troops at them, and flooding Afghanistan with US troops was never a bright idea because it might give the Afghans the wrong idea that we wanted to actually stay on a permanent basis.

Posted by TMLutas at 05:18 PM

Rebutting Odom IX

Finally got a link to Gen. Odom's recent column on Iraq. Gen. Odom is a serious man and deserves to have his views addressed seriously. I completely disagree with them.

Here are some of the arguments against pulling out:

8) We haven’t fully trained the Iraqi military and police forces yet.

8) On training the Iraq military and police. The insurgents are fighting very effectively without US or European military advisors to train them. Why don't the soldiers and police in the present Iraqi regime's service do their duty as well? Because they are uncertain about committing their lives to this regime. They are being asked to take a political stand, just as the insurgents are. Political consolidation, not military-technical consolidation, is the issue.

The issue is not military training; it is institutional loyalty. We trained the Vietnamese military effectively. Its generals took power and proved to be lousy politicians and poor fighters in the final showdown. In many battles over a decade or more, South Vietnamese military units fought very well, defeating VC and NVA units. But South Vietnam's political leaders lost the war.

Even if we were able to successfully train an Iraqi military and police force, the likely result, after all that, would be another military dictatorship. Experience around the world teaches us that military dictatorships arise when the military’s institutional modernization gets ahead of political consolidation.

I challenge the idea that the insurgents have been fighting effectively. They have absorbed brutal levels of losses. They are losing leadership and trained cadre faster than any military organization can absorb. They are losing the money men that have financed their allied "rent a gang" mercenaries. The position of the insurgency in November, 2005 has to be viewed as precarious.

What little we know for sure about the insurgency's position is from captured correspondence that is released by Coalition forces. From that we know that they fear the establishment of a democratically elected Iraqi government. They fear the arrival of an Iraqi military and the loss of the visible presence of US forces on Iraqi streets. They fear that they will have to pack up and move on because they are running out of places to move on to.

This does not sound like an insurgency that is fighting effectively and winning in Iraq. This sounds like an insurgency that prays that figures in the US, figures such as Gen. Odom, will win in the fight domestically and force a pullout of critical US forces before the Iraqi armed forces are ready to fully take over the task of Iraq's security. These Iraqi forces are already shouldering part of the burden and their part grows greater every month.

The idea that Iraqi forces are tentative about their loyalty to their government is an unfair broad brush. Iraqis are individuals and will have varying commitments to their government as we have varying commitments to our own. It's unrealistic and insulting to make negative categoric statements about all Iraqi soldiers and policemen as lacking loyalty to and belief in their government. Surely some lack conviction and some lack loyalty. It's also a sure thing that such things come out in combat and that such people are washed out when they desert, run from a fight, or just don't run their patrol routes but hide in a building for the requisite amount of time and go home.

All measures of Iraqi troop and police effectiveness are improving over the past year. Iraqi police stations don't get overrun anymore (the insurgents gave up on that after losing too many battles) Iraqi troops no longer suffer from massive desertions in combat situations (training is improved and there are experienced troops with them that stiffen their resolve). Iraqi troops are successfully holding what US and Iraqi forces are successfully clearing.

It is true that Iraq's political leadership is going to win or lose things in the end. That's true for every country in every war. Here, General Odom assumes incompetence instead of bothering to demonstrate it. The Iraqi political class is not made up of one party, one faction. Judgements about their ability to lead the country are extremely premature at this point.

Posted by TMLutas at 04:33 PM

Rebutting Odom VIII

Finally got a link to Gen. Odom's recent column on Iraq. Gen. Odom is a serious man and deserves to have his views addressed seriously. I completely disagree with them.

Here are some of the arguments against pulling out:

7) Shiite-Sunni clashes would worsen.

7) On Shiite-Sunni conflict. The US presence is not preventing Shiite-Sunni conflict; it merely delays it. Iran is preventing it today, and it will probably encourage it once the Shiites dominate the new government, an outcome US policy virtually ensures.

Unless Gen. Odom thinks that Sistani is Iran's agent, this is a curiously flat analysis of what's going on. Sistani, by all I've read, has had a major influence in holding back the Shia. Pegging Sistani as Iran's agent is rather odd as Sistani has written that Iran is ruled by heretics. Sistani's rejection of Khomeinism is the key missing piece to most defeatist analyses of Iraq that I've seen. An Iraq in civil war is an Iraq that is in danger of falling to the heretical Khomeinism Sistani fears.

It's much better to make peace with the Sunni in a pluralistic government and get about the religiously vital business of cleaning up the mess of mullah run Iran. Najaf's scholars do not want Tehran's domination and thus will resist sectarian fighting. The US presence aids that fight and our service will be fondly remembered. The US presence need not be permanent. It only has to last long enough for a peace to be worked out despite Iranian and Syrian meddling.

Posted by TMLutas at 04:06 PM

Rebutting Odom VII

Finally got a link to Gen. Odom's recent column on Iraq. Gen. Odom is a serious man and deserves to have his views addressed seriously. I completely disagree with them.

Here are some of the arguments against pulling out:

6) Unrest might spread in the region and/or draw in Iraq's neighbors

6) On Iraq’s neighbors. The civil war we leave behind may well draw in Syria, Turkey and Iran. But already today each of those states is deeply involved in support for or opposition to factions in the ongoing Iraqi civil war. The very act of invading Iraq almost insured that violence would involve the larger region. And so it has and will continue, with, or without, US forces in Iraq.

I don't think that Syria's current position in Lebanon, where it has to support its proxies covertly, is better for Syria than its position two years ago when it could do so overtly with a strong and open Syrian presence. I'm sure that Syria would prefer to be open about its support for certain factions in Iraq too but that would lead to a US response that would decapitate the Syrian regime.

So is Lebanon today better for the US than Lebanon two years ago? It certainly is better for Lebanon itself and I think it is better for the US too. Would open Syrian intervention in Anbar and surrounding provinces be a preferred US outcome? Only if Syria having troops in the Bekaa was a preferred outcome for us.

Posted by TMLutas at 04:03 PM

Rebutting Odom VI

Finally got a link to Gen. Odom's recent column on Iraq. Gen. Odom is a serious man and deserves to have his views addressed seriously. I completely disagree with them.

Here are some of the arguments against pulling out:

5) Iranian influence in Iraq would increase

5) On Iranian influence. Iranian leaders see US policy in Iraq as being so much in Teheran's interests that they have been advising Iraqi Shiite leaders to do exactly what the Americans ask them to do. Elections will allow the Shiites to take power legally. Once in charge, they can settle scores with the Baathists and Sunnis. If US policy in Iraq begins to undercut Iran's interests, then Teheran can use its growing influence among Iraqi Shiites to stir up trouble, possibly committing Shiite militias to an insurgency against US forces there. The US invasion has vastly increased Iran's influence in Iraq, not sealed it out.

Questions for the administration: "Why do the Iranians support our presence in Iraq today? Why do they tell the Shiite leaders to avoid a sectarian clash between Sunnis and Shiites? Given all the money and weapons they provide Shiite groups, why are they not stirring up more trouble for the US? Will Iranian policy change once a Shiite majority has the reins of government? Would it not be better to pull out now rather than to continue our present course of weakening the Sunnis and Baathists, opening the way for a Shiite dictatorship?"

Since Iran seems to be shipping in sophisticated explosive devices to kill our soldiers, they do seem to have a funny way of saying they support our presence. Perhaps they believe that "nothing says I love you like Semtex"?

If they're supposed to be waiting to settle scores with the Baathists until we leave, those torture rooms some Shiites have been running are showing a little bit of eagerness and independence, no? Allawi has been making an issue of the provisional government's mishandling of Sunni prisoners. His share of the Shiite vote on December 15th is a good sign whether the bulk of the Shia are going along with this scenario.

Iraq and Iran have been fighting each other for centuries. The idea that they will become lasting best buddies because of a short-term US occupation is just not serious. These are traditional regional rivals. Any alliance between the two will be fleeting. The best we can hope for is to sublimate the rivalry into a bloodless economic competition instead of a bloody battlefield one.

Posted by TMLutas at 03:19 PM

Rebutting Odom V

Finally got a link to Gen. Odom's recent column on Iraq. Gen. Odom is a serious man and deserves to have his views addressed seriously. I completely disagree with them.

Here are some of the arguments against pulling out:

4) Iraq would become a haven for terrorists.

4) On terrorists. Iraq is already a training ground for terrorists. In fact, the CIA has pointed out to the administration and congress that Iraq is spawning so many terrorists that they are returning home to many other countries to further practice their skills there. The quicker a new dictator wins the political power in Iraq and imposes order, the sooner the country will stop producing well-experienced terrorists.

Why not ask: "Mr. President, since you and the vice president insisted that Saddam's Iraq supported al Qaeda -- which we now know it did not -- isn't your policy in Iraq today strengthening al Qaeda's position in that country?"

Any training ground with this high a fatality rate would be shut down and its operators would be arrested and quickly convicted on multiple counts of felony murder. But notice that there's a nice bit of sleight of hand here. Even if you accept that Iraq is a terrorist training ground (perhaps run by the Marquis de Sade?), that doesn't make it a terrorist haven. A terrorist haven is where you can sit, relax, plan, and recover from your strenous labors elsewhere. Iraq, for terrorists today, is all about 24x7 stress.

Is that guy there with the cell phone turning me in? Is that buzzing overhead a UAV, or even worse a UCAV? Has my cell been penetrated by the local intelligence forces? Is a marine sniper looking at my head through a scope? Am I going to be the next "emir of the week" to get promoted and quickly killed?

Iraq is not a terrorist haven. If we pull out the wrong way, it could become one and some future Richard Clarke will once again worry about terrorists doing the boogie to Baghdad.

Saddam offered bin Laden asylum in Iraq. He was turned down because the Taliban gave bin Laden a better deal, not for any other reason. It's just not true that Saddam didn't support Al Queda.

Posted by TMLutas at 03:06 PM

Rebutting Odom IV

Finally got a link to Gen. Odom's recent column on Iraq. Gen. Odom is a serious man and deserves to have his views addressed seriously. I completely disagree with them.

Here are some of the arguments against pulling out:

3) It would embolden the insurgency and cripple the move toward democracy.

3) On the insurgency and democracy. There is no question the insurgents and other anti-American parties will take over the government once we leave. But that will happen no matter how long we stay. Any government capable of holding power in Iraq will be anti-American, because the Iraqi people are increasingly becoming anti-American.

Also, the U.S. will not leave behind a liberal, constitutional democracy in Iraq no matter how long it stays. Holding elections is easy. It is impossible to make it a constitutional democracy in a hurry.

President Bush’s statements about progress in Iraq are increasingly resembling LBJ's statements during the Vietnam War. For instance, Johnson’s comments about the 1968 election are very similar to what Bush said in February 2005 after the election of a provisional parliament.

Ask the president: Why should we expect a different outcome in Iraq than in Vietnam?

Ask the president if he intends to leave a pro-American liberal regime in place. Because that’s just impossible. Postwar Germany and Japan are not models for Iraq. Each had mature (at least a full generation old) constitutional orders by the end of the 19th century. They both endured as constitutional orders until the 1930s. Thus General Clay and General MacArthur were merely reversing a decade and a half totalitarianism -- returning to nearly a century of liberal political change in Japan and a much longer period in Germany.

Imposing a liberal constitutional order in Iraq would be to accomplish something that has never been done before. Of all the world's political cultures, an Arab-Muslim one may be the most resistant to such a change of any in the world. Even the Muslim society in Turkey (an anti-Arab society) stands out for being the only example of a constitutional order in an Islamic society, and even it backslides occasionally.

The anti-american nature of the Iraqi people is very much up for debate. I believe that the nature of our departure is crucial. If the Iraqi government has an army and police force that is capable of fighting and winning and we pull out and continue to provide advice and support, that exit will turn Iraqi opinion in a markedly pro-american direction. If we leave a mess, a bad civil war, and abandon our allies to the not-so-tender mercies of our enemies then our exit will create a much more anti-american Iraqi populace.

It's absolutely false that if we pull out of Iraq, we will not leave behind a liberal, constitutional democracy. We've already established one and its first election is December 15 of this year. Denigrating this achievement, pretending it never happened, is just not right.

The only question is whether this new Iraqi order is self-sustaining. Is the political savvy that defanged Sadr, is pulling in the Sunnis tribe by tribe, in from the cold, the very talents that formed the INC itself all just a series of flukes or are the Iraqi people blessed with a series of secular and religious leaders in this generation that have the critical mass necessary to sustain the constitution that they have already adopted? Is all this political talent just a mirage? I don't think it is. I don't think that the Iraqi leadership is just a bunch of US puppets. They have their own leadership, their own talents, and, objectively, it looks pretty good. If we stay long enough so that they have a decent army and police force and continue to support them with air cover until they get a decent air force, they're very likely to continue the political system that has already been established.

As for the supposed arab incapacity to have a liberal democracy, if they're so bad, shouldn't they be barred the vote here? Of course that would be plain lunacy to even suggest it but it's the logical conclusion of the idea that arabs are incapable of governing themselves in a free, democratic society.

The US has done innumerable things that have never been done before. Being the midwife to Iraqi democracy is no more astounding than digging the Panama Canal or landing a man on the moon.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:54 PM

Rebutting Odom III

Finally got a link to Gen. Odom's recent column on Iraq. Gen. Odom is a serious man and deserves to have his views addressed seriously. I completely disagree with them.

Here are some of the arguments against pulling out:

2) We would lose credibility on the world stage.

2) On credibility. If we were Russia or some other insecure nation, we might have to worry about credibility. A hyperpower need not worry about credibility. That’s one of the great advantages of being a hyperpower: When we have made a big strategic mistake, we can reverse it. And it may even enhance our credibility. Staying there damages our credibility more than leaving.

Ask the president if he really worries about US credibility. Or, what will happen to our credibility if the course he is pursuing proves to be a major strategic disaster? Would it not be better for our long-term credibility to withdraw earlier than later in this event?

I have to say that this is the weakest of all of Odom's points. Were we weakened when we abandoned South Vietnam by suddenly cutting off funding for the South Vietnamese military? Were we weakened when Iran took our embassy and held hostages during the Carter administration? Were we weakened when we cut and ran in Beirut and Somalia?

It's just absurd to say that we're not weakened by abandoning allies. Odom can't or won't concede that we might actually make this project work. Seeing the inevitability of credibility destruction, which course would have the least of it. That's a legitimate point to make and debate but dressing it up with the idea that our hyperpower status makes it impossible for us to lose our credibility because we're not insecure is just a nonstarter.

I do see ways that this could end up being a win for the US so I see the whole point as being an exercise in making false choices. Trapping ourselves in a false strategic viewpoint is bad. There I agree with Odom. It's actually worse, though, to trap yourself into a false strategic viewpoint and pull defeat from the jaws of victory than it is to fight the good fight and go down in a moral campign to spread freedom. The question remains, what's the correct strategic viewpoint? This analysis point doesn't do a thing to help answer that.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:31 PM

Rebutting Odom II

Finally got a link to Gen. Odom's recent column on Iraq. Gen. Odom is a serious man and deserves to have his views addressed seriously. I completely disagree with them.

Here are some of the arguments against pulling out:

1) We would leave behind a civil war.

1) On civil war. Iraqis are already fighting Iraqis. Insurgents have killed far more Iraqis than Americans. That’s civil war. We created the civil war when we invaded; we can’t prevent a civil war by staying.

For those who really worry about destabilizing the region, the sensible policy is not to stay the course in Iraq. It is rapid withdrawal, re-establishing strong relations with our allies in Europe, showing confidence in the UN Security Council, and trying to knit together a large coalition including the major states of Europe, Japan, South Korea, China, and India to back a strategy for stabilizing the area from the eastern Mediterranean to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Until the United States withdraws from Iraq and admits its strategic error, no such coalition can be formed.

Thus those who fear leaving a mess are actually helping make things worse while preventing a new strategic approach with some promise of success.

Since the explicit purpose of the US enterprise in Iraq is to destabilize the region into a controlled reform movement that replaces autocracies with indigenous free societies in the broad democratic camp, what Odom is talking about here is not civil war per se but rather a paean to authoritarianism. But is authoritarianism stable?

I would say that authoritarianism is not stable in a modern world of super-empowered individuals like Osama bin Laden or even on a more minor scale, like Mohammad Atta. Authoritarian regimes are not very good at controlling small groups of individuals. They traditionally have let minor irritants go unaddressed, waiting for them to grow to convenient size before they are suppressed brutally. To get down to the fine grain control of the individual level, the repressive machinery really has to be totalitarian, not authoritarian in nature.

We have abandoned our support for authoritarian regimes, in part, because authoritarian regimes are breaking down in their effectiveness. To our credit, there is a moral component as well and we should be proud of raising the banner of freedom as a moral enterprise but even just looking at things in a utilitarian way, authoritarianism is dying as a practical control vehicle. Something new must come and that something new should be the least-worst alternative possible. Reasserting the status quo is just not acceptable, even in a purely realism based foreign policy perspective.

But I don't think that civil war is necessarily a bad thing. There are certainly a lot of bad actors in Iraq. If the decen citizenry (which you can find across ethnic and religious lines) unites to bring those bad actors to justice in a civil war, this is not a failure. If, on the other hand, the civil war occurs on ethno-religious grounds and results in a tripartite partition of Iraq and a regional war fighting over the scraps left of that country, this would be a bad sort of civil war. I submit that with our presence, the former type is much more likely than the latter. Without us, the probabilities worsen for a bad type of civil war.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:19 PM

Rebutting Odom I

Finally got a link to Gen. Odom's recent column on Iraq. Gen. Odom is a serious man and deserves to have his views addressed seriously. I completely disagree with them.

If I were a journalist, I would list all the arguments that you hear against pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, the horrible things that people say would happen, and then ask: Aren’t they happening already? Would a pullout really make things worse? Maybe it would make things better.

Here are some of the arguments against pulling out:

1) We would leave behind a civil war.
2) We would lose credibility on the world stage.
3) It would embolden the insurgency and cripple the move toward democracy.
4) Iraq would become a haven for terrorists.
5) Iranian influence in Iraq would increase.
6) Unrest might spread in the region and/or draw in Iraq's neighbors.
7) Shiite-Sunni clashes would worsen.
8) We haven’t fully trained the Iraqi military and police forces yet.
9) Talk of deadlines would undercut the morale of our troops.

The list itself is biased to his arguments and frames the debate in a manner that favors his argument. That's not a mortal sin but it's certainly not a fair minded analysis of the situation by somebody with no axe to grind.

The big unlisted elephant is, of course, national partition along ethno-religious lines with a tripartite division with Shiite Arab, Sunni Kurd, and Sunni Arab successor states emerging. This doesn't match the Odom narrative so is unmentioned.

A corollary to that would be the precedent in the region of creating such ethno-religous sub-states would become popular in a region that is full of artificial lines and weak authoritarian governments. The regionalization of that precedent would be a separate bad outcome from the original partition.

One of the crucial (and very underanalyzed) outcomes necessary for a victory on the War on Terror is the emergence of a muslim theological corpus of judicial decisions that delegitimizes terrorism. Iraq is very much in the forefront of that developing body of anti-terror theology. A US pullout would free imams to shut up anti-terror theologians by violence in a way that they are constrained from doing today.

No doubt there's others but it's a fundamental flaw of the article that no inconvenient pro-stay the course rationale that doesn't fit the preconceived narrative is included. Wasn't that supposed to be the major Bush administration sin on pre-war intelligence? Here we see the effect in full flower without the least excuse for it.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:55 PM

October 09, 2005

Arab Special Forces go to War

It seems that arab opportunists are smelling a shift in the wind and supporting Iraqi and Afghan governments by secretly sending special forces in support. This spells doom for the insurgencies as unofficial support routes for them largely depend on those same governments. Nobody's amused if their secret aid to rebels chews up their secret deployments of their most capable troops. The money will slow and stop as financial controls will against the rebels follow troop deployments.

It's one more in a growing list of signs that we're winning in these two fronts of the GWOT.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:19 AM

August 13, 2005

America's Gangster Auxiliaries

From the important StrategyPage comes an intriguing August 12th tidbit on US homeland defense:

The Intel agencies have spread the word around the criminal underground that pursuit will be relentless, and punishment harsh and certain for anyone who gets too cozy with Islamic terrorists. It's understood that the criminal gangs will do business with just about anyone (including intel agencies from just about anywhere). But even in this amoral atmosphere, the Western intel agencies have drawn a line of death for the players. At the other extreme, the word is out that valuable favors can be had for any gangsters who pass on valuable info about terrorist operations. Such deals are fairly common, although not given much publicity for obvious reasons (the resulting headlines cause major political headaches.)

This explains a major mystery. Why hasn't Al Queda been going through notoriously corrupt Mexico with their well established illegal immigration system and launched attacks on the US? Such an obvious attack route has led to calls on the right for the militarization of our southern border. The militarization didn't happen but the attacks didn't come either. Al Queda didn't show other evidence of being that kind of stupid so why not exploit a gaping hole in US defenses?

Now the mystery is solved. The coyotes and drug barons who carry on illegal cross border trade have been warned in a manner that has scared them into being US allies on the issue of US homeland defense in much the same way that the Mafia was recruited into our forces for WW II duty as black hat auxiliaries.

The safety of the US southern border is thus now under indirect, and not direct, US control. This is tenable, for now, but we might not understand impending failure of the arrangement until two late. Two important failure modes come to mind. First, that Al Queda could inspire greater terror and flip these forces to become their auxiliaries. Second, our own tales of unendurable retribution could no longer be believed and commercial avarice could carry the day.

The first seems unlikely, though tales of Al Queda going after latin american people smugglers and drug kingpins should be watched for and sound an important alarm if they happen. The second threat is much more likely. Every change in the executive will lead to a reassessment by our forced southern auxiliaries. Will this new president have the guts to enforce those grisly promises of retribution? The first president that we elect that is generally viewed by mexican gangsters as light in the cojones will undo a major component of our domestic safety and force a pull back of our world-wide commitments in order to militarize our border as the only reasonable plan B alternative security arrangement. Plan C is to absorb a major attack and reshuffle the deck.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:20 PM

August 06, 2005

Using Nukes

Recently, we passed the 60th anniversary of the use of the atomic bomb in WW II. I've been thinking about that usage and today's situation where people do talk about "nuking Mecca" and other nuclear weapons uses.

It's become clear that the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki was largely based on communications intercepts which demonstrated that Japan would not surrender and were prepared to fight to the finish. That fight would have created huge casualties and might well have caused a repeat of Germany's WW I situation, where the war was ended in a negotiated settlement with the loser in control of their own territory. That would have been a terrible and bloody solution and set us up for WW III around 1970 as the cycle of war and peace repeated again. The decision to drop the bomb was justified.

I would expect that, at a bare minimum, if the jihadists were to gain the power to create mass casualty events that exceeded the death toll of small nuclear weapons that nuclear warfare would once again be on the list of realistic policy responses. We're a long way away from that but I expect that within my lifetime we'll get there. I just hope that we have a significant gene pool off this planet when we do.

Posted by TMLutas at 04:08 PM

July 06, 2005

War Crime Reporting

In an otherwise entirely admirable article, Christopher Hitchens misses a stitch:

I call your attention to a report in the London Independent from Patrick Cockburn, published on Dec. 1, 2004. I should say that Cockburn is an old friend of mine, an extremely brave veteran of Iraqi reportage for three decades, and no admirer—to say the very least—of the war or the occupation. He reprinted a letter from Naji Sabri, Saddam Hussein's foreign minister, to his supreme leader. It is dated five days before the fall of Baghdad. In the letter, Sabri expresses concern that world opinion is receiving an impression of too much fraternization between Iraqis and American forces. A cure for this, he argues, is "to target their vehicle checkpoints with suicide operations by civilian vehicles in order to make the savage Americans realize that their contact with Iraqi civilians is as dangerous as facing them on the battlefield."

The missed stitch in talking about Sabri's letter is that the tactic described is a war crime. It's as damning a piece of evidence as anything that ever came out of the Nazi archives. The consequence of such crimes are morally and legally assigned to the side that intentionally mingles with civilians, that fights without uniform, and that does its best to ensure that civilians do not have the sanctuary that the rules of land warfare were developed to create.

It bears repeating, time after time after time, that these actions are war crimes. It also bears repeating that the customary penalty for these sorts of crimes is death. The perpetrators of these crimes are equivalent to the worst of mass murderers.

It is a propaganda action of the enemy to make us forget that these are war crimes. It is psychological war against the population of Iraq and the populations of the coalition forces fighting for Iraq to take on the guilt for these civilian deaths. It is the plain duty of the media to give context to these reports and ensure that we do not forget the truth. The laws of war that create sanctuary for civilians by requiring soldiers to wear uniforms are there to save civilian lives. When those laws of civilian sanctuary are violated, the side that violates them bears the blame for subsequent civilian deaths. Force protection measures that lead to extra civilian lives lost due to war crime actions of our enemy are the fault of the enemy.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:47 AM

June 24, 2005

Traffic Analysis

The insurgents are giving themselves away:

There have been cases where terrorist gangs have tried to seize all the cell phones used in a neighborhood where their hideout was.

A computer run can quickly find a gang that is doing this. If a neighborhood all of a sudden drops down to nothing or near nothing in terms of their cell phone conversations, it would show up in tower usage reports and other cell phone company records. Giving each cell phone company software that can be used to detect this sort of hostage situation and you have a pretty good idea where the neighborhood hideout is without violating customer privacy. Then again, if they don't take the cell phones away, the neighborhood rats them out by calling the police or military. It's a lose-lose for the insurgents.

I'm linking to Instapundit instead of just to Strategypage because the latter has no permalinks.

Posted by TMLutas at 07:12 AM

June 16, 2005

Measuring Militias

Thomas Friedman wants to talk about Iraq but it's pretty much a content free column. The one real issue he raises seems to be whether the factions are going to start investing in their own militias so much that national institutions are going to start to whither.

Well, we need to talk about Iraq. This is no time to give up - this is still winnable - but it is time to ask: What is our strategy? This question is urgent because Iraq is inching toward a dangerous tipping point - the point where the key communities begin to invest more energy in preparing their own militias for a scramble for power - when everything falls apart, rather than investing their energies in making the hard compromises within and between their communities to build a unified, democratizing Iraq.

There's no there there, though as there's no data demonstrating that Iraqi militia not under government control are on an upswing. It's just a bald assertion without any evidence backing it up. A more measured and data filled piece was recently put out by CFR and lays out the challenges and the use of the militias. The militias are not exclusively made of loose cannons as Thomas Friedman seems to think but are a complex web of loose cannons, privateers who do the government's bidding, and anti-government operators. It's quite likely that a good number of the militia that Friedman worries about are already under government control but are doing the hard, dirty jobs that the formal army either isn't trained to do yet or that the government doesn't want its fingerprints on. In either case, the world of Iraqi militias is not as clear cut as Thomas Friedman makes out.

What would be needed would be a list of active militias, their activate strength and an estimate of their loyalties. No doubt such a loyalty chart exists but it's no doubt highly classified. We just have to trust that US troops are not sleeping on the job in keeping an eye on these groups.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:45 PM

May 02, 2005

Israeli's Proposed Bunker Buster Bombs

Brian Dunne speculates on why Israel is ordering 100 bunker buster bombs. Common speculation is that they're for Iran's nuclear program. He thinks that this is not correct but doesn't come up with an alternate use for them.

Any reasonable speculation on Israel's US defense purchases really needs to have a use for new weaponry. The US is restricting Israeli technology transfer because we've found Israel selling on tech in violation of agreed upon restrictions a few times too often. So not only is it interesting why is Israel buying such weapons but why are we selling them the Israel?

I think that those bombs are for deep tunnels into Gaza used by Hamas and others to run arms from Sinai. Instead of having to invade Gaza, find the surface point, battle your way through the tunnel, and collapse it from inside with explosives, you simply launch a plane, bomb it, collapse it without any warning and no surface casualties.

Such strikes would be a politically superior solution both raising the risk for palestinian use of such tunnels and also lowering Israeli risk. Depending on the cost of the munitions, this solution might actually be cheaper in strict dollar terms as well.

Posted by TMLutas at 06:21 AM

February 12, 2005

Slow Joe Biden Strikes

Building up an armed force from scratch can take a generation. For basic soldiers it's much shorter, of course. But NCOs take longer than privates, officers still longer and ultimately, your generals can take that generation to grow and mature into their roles. Most people understand that. But even green troops that are inadequately trained can stand and fight. As a statistical matter, they're just less likely to do so. Most people understand that too. Apparently not Joe Biden. He believes that

The guard has taken heavy casualties, been plagued by high absenteeism -- the result of an effective intimidation campaign -- and been infiltrated by insurgents. At best, the guard can handle fixed-point security -- as it did with the police and army for last week's elections -- but only if it has heavy U.S. combat and logistical support.

The police and guard make up 94,000 of the 136,000 "trained and equipped" Iraqis. The army, border enforcement units and specialized forces make up the rest. Yet despite their courage few can operate independently against the insurgency. Their ability to take on other key missions, such as providing basic law and order, is unproven.

After more than a year of drift, the administration took a critical step in the right direction: It put Gen. David Petraeus in charge of the security training. He has added counterinsurgency to the police curriculum, emphasized leadership skills and building cohesive units, and developed special forces with much longer training times. As a result some Iraqis are starting to get the equipment, training and leadership skills they need to fight the insurgency. They include police commandos (about 5,000), special intervention forces (about 9,000), SWAT teams and other specialized forces (about 4,000). These forces total some 18,000 men.

But that is far short of the administration's 136,000 estimate. And of those 18,000, many are rookies with little experience. Indeed, in testimony Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, senior administration officials couldn't say how many Iraqi forces can operate independently against the insurgency. That's why I believe the number of Iraqis prepared to take on the insurgency is somewhere between 4,000 and 18,000.

I did a long quote to provide full context but the bolded section is the money quote. The reason that administration officials couldn't say how many Iraqi forces can operate independently is that they, quite rightly, did not want to impugn the courage or honor of those Iraqi troops that would stand and fight and could stand and fight without the training wheels of US backup. We know this because in the past, the blogosphere has celebrated instances of Iraqi units calling in for US support in the form of more ammunition and asking the US military to stand back otherwise.

Senator Biden is apparently comfortable calling the vast bulk of the Iraqi armed forces incompetent and hinting at cowardice. That sort of confidence sapping analysis is simply not acceptable for a person in a position of power and responsibility. Shame on him.

Donald Rumsfeld gets it right

Many thousands of Iraqi security personnel are performing exceptionally, and a few examples are worth mentioning. On Election Day, Iraqi security forces stopped a total of eight suicide bombers across Iraq who were hoping to upset the democratic process and kill innocent people. As was widely reported, one Iraqi policeman tackled and drove a suicide bomber back 50 feet from a polling station screaming, "Let me save the people!" before the bomber's belt exploded, killing them both. In the lead-up to the elections, Kirkuk police and the 207th Iraqi Army Battalion raided eight terrorist safe houses, capturing more than 30 extremists. The 205th Iraqi Army Battalion independently planned and executed an operation in the town of Miqdadiyah, capturing six extremists. Three days later, after receiving tips from local citizens, the 205th captured another 70 extremists, a large cache of weapons and bomb-making material.

Many observers have focused critically on setbacks with respect to the Iraqi security forces. And over time, the performance of units has been somewhat mixed. Early on, in particular, some forces did not perform as well as hoped. But this is not without historical precedent. George Washington repeatedly expressed frustration with poorly trained troops, many of whom fled from battles. At one point, Washington threw down his hat, whipped fleeing soldiers with his riding crop, and muttered: "Are these the men with which I am to defend America?" They were; and he did. Americans won their battle for liberty because they were willing to take the risks and make the sacrifices that freedom requires. The Iraqis' performance last Sunday shows that they are ready to do the same. They deserve our respect for their courage, and not criticism from the safety of thousands of miles away.

Again, the bold is the money quote. Shame on Sen. Biden.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:23 PM

February 03, 2005

Retarded Suicide Bombers

When I say retarded suicide bombers, I don't mean they're rhetorically mentally deficient, I mean literally. The technique seems to be to take up (by force) the mentally impaired and put remote control bomb vests on them, point them towards their targets and simply tell them to go walk towards it.

This is sick, disgusting, and utterly beyond any legitimate military tactic in any code. Unfortunately, I've got no doubt that there are fatwas out there in support of this. I'm looking forward to the unified roar of condemnation from all mental health professionals, all muslim scholars and every decent person out there of whatever faith (or none at all).

The hard part is in figuring out what the proper punishment is when you catch somebody who does this kind of thing. Treating them the same as military POWs can't be it though.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:14 AM

January 31, 2005

Malaria Medicine Thoughts

As usual, I wish StrategyPage had permalinks. They don't:

January 26, 2005: The U.S. Army has found that troops going to countries where malaria is common, are not taking the medicines meant to prevent them from coming down with the disease. In one study, a battalion of U.S. Army Rangers, after spending four months in Afghanistan, had 5.2 percent of the troops coming down with malaria. This was because only 52 percent of the troops took the medicine (to prevent them from getting malaria) while they were in Afghanistan, and only 41 percent continued taking the meds when they got back (to make sure no one developed a case). Worse yet, only 29 percent of the troops used insect repellant while in Afghanistan. On the bright side, the strain of malaria in Afghanistan is not fatal. But it can really knock you on your butt if you come down with it. Malaria is the all time killer disease, although rarely the number one cause of death. But each year, it kills several million people, and debilitates many more. As far back as World War II, there were problems with getting the troops to take their anti-malaria medicine. If the local strain of malaria was not particularly nasty, the troops had no ever-present incentive to take their meds. It’s an old problem, and the only solution that works is some kind of medicine that need only be taken once.

Why can't the guys who invented Norplant come up with a similar version that dispenses anti-malarial medicine? You get a small, under the skin, medicine distribution of all the pills you'd normally have to supply through your logistical tail to the front lines. As long as the medicine lasts longer than your deployment, you can either get topped off or have the delivery system popped out when you get back home.

If it's small, sturdy, and non-toxic if it releases everything at once, the surgical costs are likely to be outweighed by the cost of malaria. Then again, why not simply mandate it for soldiers who are caught not taking their meds?

Posted by TMLutas at 01:38 AM

January 10, 2005

Defining Torture

A major problem in any discussion on the use of torture is the problem of definition. The idea and practice of a zero tolerance policy is all well and good in theory but the problem of discouraging our enemies' explicit policies of military perfidy and other war crimes such as body desecration. A zero tolerance policy eliminates any grey area and colors it black. The practical effect is to enshrine in our laws a "perfidy bonus" in combat operations undertaken by our enemies. It will end up with our own and allied troops and civilians dying in greater numbers due to inexistent fear of retribution. Why not attack civilians when there is no penalty? You might as well legalize murder and seek to disclaim any responsibility for the increased traffic at the coroner's office. .

That being said, there is good reason to color the grey areas grey. Negotiating the slippery slope is difficult but if we're to stay entirely out of that sort of transaction, we have to come up with modern responses to eliminate the perfidy bonus unless we prefer the unjust blood on our hands to be that of us and our allies rather than our enemies. That sort of preference is something that I simply do not understand.

When speaking of torture, there is an obligation on both sides to responsibly pair the moral problems of torture and perfidy. Unfortunately neither side seems to be strongly raising the connection.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:37 AM

December 29, 2004

Constant Casualties

Phil Carter's Slate article (as well as on his blog) on equalizing casualties across wars really bothers me. He explicitly links it to constant dollars, taking out inflation. You do this by equalizing what you can buy across time.

So what do you "buy" with one casualty and how does that change? What is the purpose of equalization? Why are better technologies, better tactics, and better medical care factors that can legitimately be taken out of the system?

I have a gut feel that this concept is ripe for politically motivated abuse. When you get the idea of fake casualties pumping up actual funerals that are being attended by flesh and blood casualties, two effects seem to be inevitable. The first reaction is an increase in negative feelings toward current military operations, the second is very much a backlash reaction that casualties, being partially fake, will reduce the impact of the actual casualties that are real tragedies. What the good effects of creating the "constant" casualty are, I can't really see.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:35 AM

December 02, 2004

Syrian War Making

According to the Telegraph, Syrian NGOs are raising an army and sending it piecemeal over the border to Iraq to fight for a Baathist restoration.

A network of Syrian mosques is sending men, money and weapons to Iraq, fuelling the insurgency.

An investigation by the Telegraph has shown that Arab volunteers are streaming across the border despite Damascus government claims that it is curbing cross-border terrorism.

Much of the traffic is financed by former members of Saddam Hussein's regime living in the Syrian capital and has the backing of prominent tribal leaders.

If the Syrian government were doing this, it would be an act of war. Since private groups are doing it, they are protected from the consequences of their actions by international law in accordance with the westphalian framework. The traditional westphalian response is to declare war on Syria, replace the Syrian government with one that is capable of restraining this private NGO war network, and move on.

In today's sad political reality, this doesn't seem to be in the cards. So if westphalian solutions are out, what would pre and post westphalian solutions offer us.

Pre-westphalianism would have H. Ross Perot, or some other corporate titan, rent a mercenary company to enter Syria, hang Assad in a public square with a message pinned on him for his successor to do better at controlling the jihadists and go home. This is a solution that would have all sorts of difficulties attached to it in the form of poor coordination, a marked increase in the chance of reprisals and other mayhem on US soil, and all sorts of unpredictable consequences that could spin the world political situation out of control.

That's the past. But what about a future, post-westphalian response?

Unfortunately, post-westphalianism, at least to the extent that it's developed, doesn't yet offer much better than plain jane westphalianism at this juncture. Sure, when Iraq dies down, Syria really has to worry that it's next for a makeover and that makeover will likely have a higher probability of success but there is currently no material advantage in this particular situation of post-westphalianism over westphalianism and a distinct disadvantage in the ability to marshall supplementary forces relative to pre-westphalian practices.

Is there a way to increase our ability to raise ad-hoc forces? I think that we're stumbling our way to it. Private military contractors are increasingly used and we're trying to reign in the bad effects by making their actions subject to the UCMJ. The system's by no means complete but I can see a future where present trends continue into a de-facto or even de-jure invigoration of the letters of marquee and reprisals clause of the Constitution. Close integration with US C4I systems would reduce the amount of trouble that an out of control unit might get into.

So why depend on such irregulars at all? I suspect that there is a pool of manpower out there that would be willing to participate in military operations of a specific duration and type as long as they could be sure that they go home at the end of what they signed up for. This is something that no army really every promises, certainly not the US Armed Forces. Dipping into that sort of pool of manpower, or renting mercenary forces would fit into Dr. Barnett's idea of a plug in military force, though he was thinking of it in terms of the back-end Sys admin force instead of ad-hoc improvements to the Leviathan force.

I think the Leviathan force is just as much in need of plug-ins as the Sys Admin force because of the strategy of parallelization. Al Queda clearly has been trying to stretch forces thin. If we can successfully demonstrate the capability of incorporating temporary units, parallelization becomes much less practical. We're no longer trapped between bulking up and crippling our economy with a massive military infrastructure and running so lean we can't stop our enemies from winning.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:05 PM

November 30, 2004

Homage to a Blue State Hero

Dimitrios Gavriel will be buried two days from today at Arlington National Cemetary, a Marine Corps casualty of the Iraq war and proof positive that the blue states provide their own heros, their own contribution to the defense of this country. A New York Wall Street banker, he turned down financial opportunity to put on the uniform, to serve his country. He did his job and more, and for that we should all remember that our men in uniform are neither red nor blue but come from all of us.

Where do we find such men?

Posted by TMLutas at 10:08 AM

November 26, 2004

Measuring Progress in Iraq

Jason Van Steenwyk sets out what progress means in Iraq in the final section of an interesting post on Fallujah:

I do take exception to the reporter's statement that "the victory over the insurgency isn't neccessarily any closer."

You don't kill more than a thousand screaming muj and not get closer to victory. Really, the reporter misses the point, entirely:

Every day we get closer to an election in Iraq, every day another police trainee gets trained, every day another Iraqi National Guard unit confronts the enemy and doesn't flinch, we get closer to victory over the insurgency.

And there's nothing Zarqawi can do about it.

He's doomed.

Iraq is bigger than a counterinsurgency war. A few thousand radicals cannot overcome the impulses of a nation.

Amen. Past a certain point, Iraq is going to wake up with a government they've elected, with a constitution written by Iraqis, and with an army big enough to secure their borders and well enough trained and led that they won't break when called into combat. After that, the US is just the big security guarantee that Iran won't go nuts and cross the border, useful, but not psychologically overbearing.

Zarqawi is doomed. He's just hoping to break us psychologically before it becomes to obvious to the media and governing elites in the West.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:04 PM

November 19, 2004

Thomas Friedman Still Misses the Point on Iraq

His column from Fallujah has all the elements necessary to figure out what's going on but Friedman still misses the point. He sees that we're at a tipping point. He sees that Iraqi leaders are starting to emerge. He sees that US troops are not enough to do the job alone. He just never asks the (to me) obvious question. Would more Iraqi leaders emerge if there were sufficient US troops in Iraq to do the job without risk to Iraqis? The obvious answer is no, that Iraqis would, if they could, be like everybody else and let somebody else do it for them if that's an option. An insufficient military force to do the job alone in Iraq isn't a bug in US strategy, it's a necessary feature of US strategy to win.

The day that Thomas Friedman understands that and explains it to the rest of blue state america is the day that our victory in spreading democracy is assured. It's that simple. Strikes at our psychological will are no longer going to have any realistic chance to succeed once we gain consensus that we want to grow local patriots by making it clear to them that only they can win their own freedom, that the best the US can do is to give them a fighting chance. That consensus is going to save a great many lives, may it come soon.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:28 PM

November 01, 2004

Vote For Bush? Get Attacked

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy they're discussing OBL's threat to use the 2004 electoral map as an Al Queda targeting list. I don't know that there is that much to talk about. It's just not true. In reality, every state that does not follow sharia is on the target list. What is being discussed is the timing list, who goes first. Everything else is hudna, temporary, deceptive truce until Al Queda or successor recovers enough strength.

Since our security since 9/11 seems to have improved sufficiently to prevent new spectacular attacks, we are also getting a hint as to the type of attack. Let's say that they pick Alabama for a red state first target. No offense to that state but they don't exactly have a Pentagon or a WTC there. So if they do end up on the top of the list, what are the targets in the state? We're more likely going to see non-arabic terror snipers with an Al Queda seal of approval than planes going into buiildings. In short, we're going to see operations that are incredibly cheap, effective, and entirely out of character with traditional Al Queda operations of spectacular targets and spectacular attacks.

Instead, look for a lot of "ghost" attacks that do not use up agents but instead become impressive because they are repeated across a wide area. Take two cars, steal license plates, wire up one car with dynamite. Drive both cars to a gas station and evacuate the bomb driver with the other car. blow up the bomb as you're leaving. It's low cost, almost impossible to defend against, you can do it a hundred times all over the country simultaneously, and it's effective.

Hopefully Al Queda's still slow, still stupid but we can't count on that forever. Eventually, they will adopt such tactics, count on it. The question is whether we have the stones to keep putting ourselves at the head of the target list because living our lives as we please in freedom is going to end up doing just that. This time it's vote for Bush. Next time it might be a sharia referendum. The specifics of the vote don't matter, violently threatening to act depending on the outcome does.

Update: Here's the MEMRI translation of Bin Laden's tape. It's much better than what I've been working off of and specifically speaks to the issue.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:24 AM

October 14, 2004

Battlefield 'Net IX

In past editions of this series I hypothesized that it would become incredibly important to get a robust network up in order to enhance communications with locals so that information flow could be quick and relatively risk free. Cheap simputer style multilingual machines would speak the local language and not require literacy in order to access information on curfews, job availability, Internet connectivity, and give the ability to provide intelligence reports without having to risk physically going to US troops. Simputers are already being worked on in India but the networking backbone looked to be a more difficult problem.

I thought that the idea of such information nodes would take awhile to 'catch fire' inside the Pentagon but apparently, they're not only not that far away, they're getting deployed as part of a more conventional battlefield network backbone that carries combat information between US troops called SuperCrumbs which are hardened 802.11b nodes, a component of a larger system called Pathfinder. [Note: I'm linking to Google cache copies so the links will expire]

The only thing really left on this story is the technical specs of the Supercrumb (if they aren't classified) and I have a message into the people who are building the things to find that out. Ideally, they would have power generation systems on board (solar cells most likely) that could keep them live without maintenance but even if batteries have to get changed, if it's infrequently enough, it would still be worth it.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:56 PM

October 03, 2004

Scoring Iraq

Phillip Carter's Intel Dump misses the point in the recent analysis on the offensive in Samarra. Here's the money graph.

So why does it matter that we're back at war? Well, if you're the type who likes to keep score, it matters. If you're going to judge this president on his wartime record, it matters. This administration, though a series of major miscalculations, has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Our best hope in Iraq is to leave some sort of lasting democratic government there and to set up the Iraqis as best we can to manage their own security mess. But hope is not a method, and this will be a gamble. Nonetheless, I do not see any way for the U.S. to impose order on Iraq, short of committing 2-4 times as many troops as we have there now and imposing absolute U.S.-controlled martial law on the country. And even then, we would continue to bleed slowly from IED attacks and ambushes on a regular basis. There aren't a lot of good options out there — just varying degrees of bad ones. The tough part is picking the least bad option that will not lead to a failed state of Iraq that we must come back to again in 5 or 10 years.

Samarra is not all of Iraq, nor is Fallujah. In 14-15 of Iraq's 18 provinces, we successfully executed a strategy of takeover, handoff to local Iraqis, and support while they gain the experience necessary to take over on their own. In 3-4 provinces, the strategy was not completely successful with some towns working and others not. So much for plan A. Is there a plan B?

There is a plan B and we're seeing it in Samarra and are likely to see it in the rest of the insurgency hotbeds prior to polling in January. The plan is simple, adjust and experiment in different ways to do the handover to different groups of local leadership until, town by town, a formula is discovered that succeeds in defeating efforts by the insurgency to drive out the legitimate local government and security services.

The fact that we've not had 100% success with plan A but merely 80% does not mean that we've "snatched defeat from the jaws of victory". A solid B does not a defeat make. If we continue our present strategy, we're going to go through another 2-3 rounds of this cycle with more towns and cities successfully resisting insurgent efforts to take them over each time the US pulls back into "support the locals" mode. The only possible way we can lose this fight is to renege on the promise of launching as many cycles as it takes, something that is a real possibility with the election of John Kerry to the White House.

Victory is not going to be, and never was going to be, US troops in the streets. It always was going to be freely elected Iraqi governments running the show with their own police and troops keeping order. Even in the US, under conditions vastly more favorable to order than pertain to Iraq, municipalities sometimes go bad and need intervention to bring them back to a civilized, lawful state. How long did it take to eliminate Tammany Hall? How long did it take to fix the corruption of Cicero, IL? You can't answer because the corrupt practices law enforcement has been fighting for decades still aren't over yet.

If corrupt municipal pols in the US thought they could realistically resist anti-corruption action militarily, there's no reason to believe they would be any more peaceful than their ideological twins in Fallujah. The difference is that our military is so good as to make armed resistance unrealistic and nobody is pumping in arms and money to corrupt pols in the US to fund an insurrection.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:48 AM

September 21, 2004

Novak's Bad Iraqi Troop Math

Robert Novak's missing an important option in his recent analysis of the next president's Iraq options. The key paragraph follows:

Whether Bush or Kerry is elected, the president or president-elect will have to sit down immediately with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The military will tell the election winner there are insufficient U.S. forces in Iraq to wage effective war. That leaves three realistic options: Increase overall U.S. military strength to reinforce Iraq, stay with the present strength to continue the war, or get out.

The effective military strength in Iraq increases day to day and week to week as more Iraqi troops come on line and gain experience fighting the present foreign supported insurgency. This means that staying at present strength (from a combat perspective) would require constant troop withdrawals to balance out the increases in Iraqi troop strength (these increases coming both as new units come out of training and as green troops gain experience).

Even if Novak's assertion is correct that we cannot fight an effective war at current troop strength, it is insufficient to justify bugging out early. In fact it would be a horrible betrayal to leave before sufficient Iraqi forces exist to secure a free Iraq. All we need do is to maintain our strength in country and simply use the positive trend line of more and more good guy forces to turn the tide and beat the insurgency. Novak's entire story makes no sense unless he's either ignoring Iraqi troops as effective combat forces or ignoring the increases in troop strength that are constantly coming on line. In either case, it's bad military math for Novak.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:46 PM

September 13, 2004

Breaking Al Queda

A recent article entitled Catching Al Queda completely misses the significance of killing and capturing Al Queda's leadership. Perhaps looking at how another longstanding illegal organization system died might help make things clear.

The Mafia has largely died in the US. It is a death by a thousand cuts that was administered, is still being administered to the sad remnants of that once fearsome organization. The formula was and remains simple. Catch low level organization men, turn them states evidence, and climb up the chain of command until you take out a family's head. The dead and arrested will be replaced but the disruption and replacement of seasoned leaders by immature, green talent means that repeating the cycle of bringing down the family boss is easier next time.

The exact same mechanism is applicable to Al Queda. The more senior level people are caught or killed, the more people get promoted too fast, get too much responsibility for their talents and maturity, and make beginners mistakes, further eroding the organization.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:08 AM

September 08, 2004

Ordering the Unorganized Militia III

Froggy Ruminations provides some expert opinion on why we're dangerously vulnerable to a Beslan style attack. I left the following in comments:

One of the things that I remarked about Beslan was that men resisted the takeover, and were shot for it straight off. A school hostage situation here is going to have people trying to defend their kids (either literally or figuratively) and they're going to get killed for it. The problem is that we've got legislation that ensures that their resistance will be as ineffective as possible because they will not be armed even if they normally have the right to concealed carry in the local jurisdiction.

Essentially, all you can do is resist, make the terrorists bleed straight off, allow the maximum amount of time possible for the kids to run before the terrorists have control and thin out their perimeter so they cannot effectively control the building, perhaps allowing even more to escape. Bleeding them enough so that they break and flee is a possibility but probably a remote one.

The very good guys with guns are on our extended national perimeter. I agree that they're going to be too late. Even the medium-high quality SWAT/HRT guys are likely to have difficulty dealing with the post-Beslan world, at least the first time around.

The one advantage that we have as a nation over most of our 1st world compatriots in hardening all our soft targets is the concept of the unorganized militia (look the term up in your state military code, all 50 states have one). In short, the unorganized militia is the whole of the people and the that original legacy embodied in state and federal law as a consequence of the 2nd amendment gives us an edge if we are willing to dust it off and use it.

Again, I've got no illusions that 9 times out of 10 in place defenders will do no more than allow for more people to escape and bleed the terrorists before they can set up their intended blood baths. For those who would resist anyway, making instruction available and permitting them to carry arms hardens the whole of society.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:20 PM

September 06, 2004

Ordering the Unorganized Militia II

Zef Chafets gets his main point right that the point of Islamist action is empire, not terrorism for its own sake. He gets two details desperately wrong though. The most important is that there is a method to harden a Beslan, and all the shopping centers and other purely civilian targets out there. It is as old as the republic, the unorganized militia.

Improving the readiness of the unorganized militia would increase the numbers needed to take over any target, achieve any goal further than blowing themselves up in inconvenient places, a form of terrorism that depends on the maintenance of a profoundly unislamic societal matrix extolling the false gods of the death cult. Defeating the death cult in their midst should be something that even the most hard core islamists have to worry about theologically.

Chafet's second error is that while the super-empowerment of subnational groups is being taken advantage of most by islamists, the tools are there for any group to take advantage of and it's quite likely that others will make a name for themselves doing the same thing. A trio of domestic threats, Timothy McVeigh with his right-wing militia ties, the ALF with their bombing and arson campaign, and ELF with its strikes against loggers and other imagined corporate demons all have the potential to pick up right where the Islamists leave off.

All these threats, foreign and domestic, rely on the existence of undefended soft targets. The unorganized militia is all about raising the generalized level of "hardness" everywhere, and doing it in random, secret distribution patterns that are not susceptible to any intelligence analysis by our enemies. XYZ neighborhood might look innocent and easy meat for an attack but the percentage of people with guns, of alert people who have the means to foil an attack, are unknown and it's an uncertain and deadly crap-shoot to go and find out.

This pushes targets more towards empty buildings and isolated pockets with few people. It's a distinct improvement to push the enemy target list out of major population centers, an effort that we need to gear up, and soon.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:50 AM

September 05, 2004

Not Giving the Jihadists Credit

After reading this Rocky Mountain News opinion piece it struck me that the writer seemed absolutely clueless regarding asymmetric warfare and how it's supposed to look when the side using it is winning. Nobody's ever tried to climb up as steep a hill of asymmetry as the Islamists v. the USA. When the odds are not so lopsided, you get Beslan writ a hundred times over, repeated at will until the "stronger" power gives up. This is the jihadist war plan, for us as well as Russia. Such school takedowns will be coming to our shores soon enough. The test run was a success.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:27 PM

Ordering the Unorganized Militia I

If you've ever cracked open a US state law military code, you find the funny sounding term, the unorganized militia. It's there in the federal code as well. This term dates back to the founding of our republic (and probably beyond) to mean the whole of the people (with minor exceptions for those incapable of bearing arms). By definition, the unorganized militia has no units and no officers. But I wonder if it might not begin to have some order.

These thoughts are prompted by the tragedy of the poor account Russia's unorganized militia (the parents and teachers present) at the Beslan school terrorist takeover. There were plenty of failed heroes. One account I read remarked that 20 men were shot for resisting the terrorists. If those 20 had been armed the tragedy might have played out differently. With their ranks thinned by those 20 (who would likely have died, armed or no) more might have escaped without being shot in the back. Russian special forces might have had better options with a thinner terrorist perimeter and fewer might have died in the ultimate mad scramble when everything went wrong.

In some sense, Russia's unorganized militia is somewhat better off than the US as their conscription system (even though it's brutal and dysfunctional) creates widespread familiarity with firearms and with basic military concepts. Their material poverty and withered civilian gun culture put them right back at square one though.

In a sense, I shouldn't be writing this post. Somebody with military experience, a former officer who knows both how to soldier and how to lead should be writing this. But what I do know are systems and information and these two are critical to the question of ordering an unorganized body and practically creating a functional group without the normal (and expensive) coordination of a formal structure. This means I have a vision in my head but I don't necessarily have the tools to get things down in one draft as I do where I've been thinking about such things for much longer.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:26 AM

August 12, 2004

So What's our Excuse?

Lots of people have been hyperventilating about Russia and loose nuclear weapons material for over a decade. So what's our excuse? We've been spending a great deal of money in assisting the Russians in securing their nuclear material via the Nunn-Lugar Act. If we heard about 1,375 kilos of plutonium gone missing, the commentariat would be out for blood with every paper in the country running tabloid headlines and panic would grip Washington and probably far beyond.

So we've got that much missing and it's a minor mention in a few little sites. What logical reason do we have to differentiate the two?

Posted by TMLutas at 05:49 PM

July 30, 2004

Making the World Love Us

After a night's sleep and a bit of reading, I think I know what the price will be for a Kerry success in making our traditional allies love us again. As I've noted in the past one of the major player factions on the global stage is a group of people who thrive on monopoly/monopsony profits, providing the spider thin controlled connectivity that most Gap states have to the Core in order to supply the elite's whims for expensive cars, jet setting travel, and PS2s.

The US has played along with this game in the past but the major unforgivable sin of this Bush administration in old Europe has been threatening all these sweet, cosy deals by wanting to open connectivity wide and bring in all the world's major players into these countries, bringing prosperity and freedom to the Gap while costing the established players their ultra-fat profits.

This is the heart of France and Germany's beef with us, the reason why they are so implacable in their enmity. Major contracts are threatened, established relationships would largely be rendered worthless, and a high amount of unpredictability would ensue with US firms winning an awful lot of those new opportunities. The problem is that Bush wants to bring too much competition, too much free market, too much rule of law into the Gap. Pace, Dr. Barnett this is not a neo-marxist critique but rather a very capitalist one.

Kerry has an opportunity to reestablish peaceful relations with Germany and France, Russia and the PRC by letting them maintain and expand their network of spider-thin connectivity webs, by running the GWOT as a war without Gap shrinking. Satisfy these established powers, don't force rule set resets in the Gap, and all will be right with the world. We will have glowing press releases. The UN will bless our military endeavors. All we have to give up is any hope of ending the war by appeasing the implicit villains.

We would end up in an Orwellian nightmare, 1984 writ more complex with a kaleidoscope of ever shifting enemies in the Gap, reaching out and striking us in unpredictable, bloody ways but with us unable to do much more than we did in the Clinton administration. The major difference is that the tents will not be empty, individual terrorists will be killed. The only problem is that we will be accelerating their creation with every strike.

If the opposition we're encountering in old Europe is truly centered around the hidden villains, Kerry's boxed himself into authorizing a perpetual war. It'll be containment v. rollback all over again with GWB being the early rollback guy and Kerry accepting aggressive containment as the best we can do without losing France and Germany again.

Do we really need another four decades of continuous cool war before another heir to Reagan comes along and rolls back the Gap? I certainly hope not.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:12 PM

July 24, 2004

One in the Ground

The first modern US ABM interceptor has now been deployed. We're not quite there yet but we're likely to soon reach the point where poor state nuclear blackmail will lose its threat. It's not the entire solution to the problem by any means but it is a necessary step to getting a sufficient solution.

HT: The Corner

Posted by TMLutas at 12:07 PM

July 22, 2004

Are Enough Recruits Entering the Armed Forces?

IraqNow has an article on troop recruitment where Jason Van Steenwyk ends up with "My baloney detectors are singing these days." Mine are too but I'm not quite sure who's dishing out the baloney or is everybody doing it.

The Washington Post article on the Army's Delayed Entry program notes that we're at a 3 year low with 23%. The 2001 number was 22% and the 2000 number was 19%. The Army's goal is 35%. Would it have killed the Post to put in a graph showing the historical numbers since the system was started (most likely with the volunteer Army in the 70s)? How common is it to have a 23% number or lower? We don't know from the story and I have no idea where to find such information.

This is the kind of grunt work that makes professional reporting a real job that will survive blogging. It's worth paying for that information because with the data, you can judge how bad things are. If we were hitting 35% for most of the 80s and the first half of the 90s, that says one thing. If we've hit 35% once or twice in the entire history of the program with low-to-mid 20% levels being the norm, I'm a whole lot less excited about our impending manpower crisis.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:54 PM

July 16, 2004

Al Queda Nukes II

Greg Burch just resurrected one of those stories that will just not go away, the Al Queda suitcase nuke story.

The reality is that GB should be deeply skeptical. From all accounts, these things had to get taken apart and rebuilt every couple of years in order to continue functioning. Their high maintenance costs were what led the USSR/Russia to abandon them. It was only after they were well past their "explode by" date that the Russians sold them if, in fact, they ever did sell them. So the question really is whether bin Laden did or did not get taken by a russian military con game and got stung for millions for a lot of worthless junk, not whether we are actually at risk. It's still an interesting question but not something that I'll stay awake at night worrying over.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:37 PM

July 11, 2004

How to Tell the Russians Are Our Friends

One way to tell that the Cold War is really over is to look at the Russian military industrial complex. During the Cold War years, they intentionally made their stuff to not be compatible with NATO. Now they sell NATO standard systems. You want to keep your stuff the same as your friends, you might want to share in a pinch, but always incompatible with your enemies, to hold down the utility of captured stock.

Posted by TMLutas at 07:35 PM

July 07, 2004

Technologizing the Sys Admin Force

Thomas Barnett's blog is back but comments are not enabled (their reworking the thing on the fly). I have a great deal of respect for his work on rule sets and the Core/Gap but sometimes I just flat out disagree with him. A recent article on military reform is a case in point.

He's right that big changes are coming in the military in order to enhance the ability of the US military to do occupations. It's pretty clear that nobody is happy with our current abilities. Where he goes wrong is in saying that "you cannot technologize your way out of that problem set: it simply requires significant numbers of well-trained troops." It is not an either/or situation. In fact, the problem of occupation is, to a great extent, a problem of information. Who are the bad guys, who are the good guys, who are the waverers, the persuadable who have to be both courted and monitored? These are all questions that need answers in any occupation. They are also questions that can be answered better/quicker/cheaper with better technology.

More boots on the ground also don't necessarily mean american boots. Cheap technology also enhances the ability to interoperate by enabling foreign soldiers to be on the same systems, whether they buy them before they come to the operation or they are loaned them and learn them on the fly. The PRC has made an art form of substituting men for machines. But men and machines are better still and Moore's law keeps grinding down the entry price to equip even huge amounts of soldiers with effective, efficient technology.

Technology won't do everything but it's a false dichotomy to set it in opposition to boots on the ground as if the two cannot go hand in hand.

Update: nevermind Whether he wrote it wrong or I misunderstood what he wrote, I'll leave to the grammer nazis. Consider the above message, not reflective of Dr. Barnett's ideas and follow the update link for more details.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:04 PM

May 27, 2004

Can Military Women be Disciplined?

An article over at Master of None brings up an alarming question. Can women be disciplined as men are in today's US armed forces? If female soldiers have a built in disciplinary shield marked sexual harassment this would be a very dangerous long-term situation for both the effectiveness of the armed forces themselves and the safety of the armed forces to the larger civil society that created them. The military must be utterly disciplined or we risk falling into the problems that so many other nations have had, military coups. Discipline always slips in minor ways at first but once the culture of equally disciplined soldiers sharing a common rule book has been cast away, it is inevitable that other groups will want to carve out their own protected fiefs, and almost inevitable that one of those protected fiefs will eventually go bad.

The time process is very long on such things but if female soldiers are being held to a different disciplinary standard, the process is well underway.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:51 AM

Can Military Women be Disciplined?

An article over at Master of None brings up an alarming question. Can women be disciplined as men are in today's US armed forces? If female soldiers have a built in disciplinary shield marked sexual harassment this would be a very dangerous long-term situation for both the effectiveness of the armed forces themselves and the safety of the armed forces to the larger civil society that created them. The military must be utterly disciplined or we risk falling into the problems that so many other nations have had, military coups. Discipline always slips in minor ways at first but once the culture of equally disciplined soldiers sharing a common rule book has been cast away, it is inevitable that other groups will want to carve out their own protected fiefs, and almost inevitable that one of those protected fiefs will eventually go bad.

The time process is very long on such things but if female soldiers are being held to a different disciplinary standard, the process is well underway.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:43 AM

May 23, 2004

Protecting Oil Infrastructure

There is an awful lot of oil infrastructure out there in the world and a great deal of it (as insurgents in Iraq prove frequently) that can be destroyed at acceptable risk. There are two ways of protecting the infrastructure. One is the brute force approach, station a man with a gun to guard every 25 yards of pipeline and oil refinery in the world. That's not practical. Another way is to make sure that there aren't any pieces of infrastructure that are high value targets. Sure, you can take out some oil port facilities, and that will reduce the amount of oil that the US can import but such a disruption only matters if our strategic oil reserves can't make up the difference and the reserves will run out before the repairs can be finished.

This is the real reason why Kerry's election year calls to drop gasoline prices by tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) are so fundamentally irresponsible. The more the SPR is filled, the fewer attacks on oil importation facilities make sense. The emptier it is, the more tempting the facilities are and the more likely we will have our oil import terminals bombed. The economic and environmental catastrophe that would ensue is bad enough no matter the level of the SPR. If you live near such a facility, you might quietly ask your local police and fire officials about how bad it could get. Be prepared to be shocked by the answer.

A few cents on the price of a gallon of gas are a small price to pay to keep such vulnerable targets low value for the jihad brigade.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:13 AM

May 17, 2004

Alright, Who's Making Sarin

We all know that there were no WMD in Iraq, right? I mean all the papers have told us that so it must be true. So this means that somebody's making chemical shells and importing them into Iraq. But not Saddam. No, he destroyed all those shells before the Gulf War. We have reams of UN paperwork to prove it.

Nope, no chem weapons here.

OK, sarcasm mode turned off.

From what I understand, we've got our first minor military casualties (2 bomb disposal techs) from chemical warfare since WW I. That ticks me off. The normal caveats apply to the story. It could be a false alarm. There have been a few false positives already. But the drugs they use to treat exposure to chemical weapons are a witches brew of nasty stuff that you do not want to have running around your system unless you absolutely have to. This story bears close watching because if Saddam did bury/export the stuff and we're starting to see it emerge it is both incredibly worrying and incredibly heartening.

The reason to worry is the health and safety of the troops both Coalition and Iraqi (and whatever unlucky civilians get caught downwind of the stuff). This is nasty stuff and rightly outlawed decades ago. But the encouraging thing is that the burial/export scenario was always predicated on the idea that getting caught with the stuff was politically more dangerous than it was worth against protected troops. If this scenario is right and they're digging it up now, it's a desperation tactic and the other side has made the judgment that if the US doesn't funk out and very soon but instead stays the course, they cannot win and any political viability issues for them become moot.

Pulling the WMD out and using them has always been the nightmare scenario of a dying regime. This is why nobody seriously models invading a nuclear power. The end game is depressingly familiar. When the loser is pushed into the corner sufficiently he'll unload all his weapons, nukes, chem, bio, the works because he's got nothing to lose. If that's where we are at, we are likely to have a spike in WMD casualties and soon after, a final victory.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:11 PM

Abuse Reporting Channels

In a longer post regarding Abu Ghraib, the following bothered me:

If a Colonel Flagg from MI wanders in wearing mirror sunglasses and orders the PFCs to help maltreat prisoners, who is going to disobey? Especially if the MP Company Commander is 20 miles away?

This, essentially, is an information systems problem. I can reasonably see a poorly trained low ranking enlisted giving an officer, even one from a different branch, the benefit of the doubt on issues that are grey. What I can't see is not having some sort of communication channel where said badly trained MP can't have access to good legal advice. These people were in rear areas. I find it highly unlikely that they didn't have a way to get ahold of higher ups to sort things out.

The tools are there. E-mail, FAQ lists, distance learning systems, all stuff that could be borrowed from corporate america just as IM actually was borrowed during this conflict. If there really weren't tools to communicate, this doesn't absolve the Army of guilt. It just shifts things around to command and to Army IS.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:49 AM

May 14, 2004


One of the things about the Nick Berg beheading that doesn't seem to have gotten much coverage is that it's not unique and not even unprecedented for islamist fighters to film. I saw a video of Islamists beheading a russian in Chechnya and that was years ago. He didn't even get the cursory mainstream media coverage that Nick Berg is getting.

I think that it is important to start paying attention to Islamist actions against other countries. No matter what they are doing there, if it is viewed as successful, we'll eventually be the target of it.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:33 AM

May 09, 2004

But Will They Submit to Lawful Authority

Clayton Cramer points out more news on the Thulfiqar Army which apparently is being bankrolled by local businessmen. It's a genuine resistance movement, but like all militias formed in a time of turmoil there is one, bottom line question. When the Iraqis take over sovereignty and start to reclaim the state's monopoly on violence will the Thulfiqar Army follow orders and incorporate into the Iraqi armed forces or disband?

Nobody knows the answer to that question. We should learn it before sovereignty handover.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:09 PM

May 01, 2004

Al Queda Strategy Change

One of the things that Osama Bin Laden decreed early on in his campaign against the royal family was that the oil infrastructure of the country was a priceless jewel and not to be attacked. It looks like that has now changed. So has Bin Laden changed his mind? Have his successors? Or is the attack on a refinery in SA a sign that the central command has completely lost control of the situation and people are acting without control and without thinking through the consequences?

I'm sure this is one of the great questions the counter-intelligence interrogators are going after as a top priority.

Posted by TMLutas at 06:05 PM

April 30, 2004

Why You Should Never Mess With the US (and the rest of the 1st world)

Because the US is chock full of people who amuse themselves like this. Good Morning Silicon Valley always has a quirky or humerous link at the bottom nder the label "Off topic" which is something that will amuse the geeks that are its normal audience. Today they thought it would be fun to link to a couple of enterprising geeks who decided to make a taser out of a $5 disposable camera.

Like probably half the geeks that read the article my first, instinctive impulse was to start asking how you could improve the thing, possibly by using two disposable cameras. I know that I'm not that abnormal for the technical minded. We're just like that, many of us and we're relatively harmless in that we limit our weaponeering impulses to intellectual exercises and web pages instructing how to make catapults, tasers, and other esoterica out of readily available items. We do this, not because we are incapable of violence, but because you have to generally have a long time horizon to absorb much geeky knowledge or culture and we're generally content with our political and social arrangements.

Free, inventive people with technical knowledge are best left alone with their amusements.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:58 AM

April 29, 2004

Fallujah Urban Warfare Update

Wretchard has an excellent article detailing the military situation in Fallujah. It seems like his previous articles speculating on marine strategy were right on. The insurgents are now trapped in a slum and vulnerable to airborne fire whenever they can be identified.

Apparently there is a lot of moonlight in Iraq right now. The siege will probably last until the waning moon gives less illumination to our opponents eyes so look to see this wrapped up by month's end at the latest and more likely by mid-month. With an area 2000 meters on a side still under their control, there isn't a lot of retreating they can still do.

Update: One single instead of double quotation missed and it swallows the rest of the note. Sorry about that.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:53 AM

April 27, 2004

Hamas Leader Not Anonymous After All?

I had earlier talked about Hamas' leadership practices taking a page from papal instances of naming anonymous leadership. Apparently, the secret might be out of the bag. The new Hamas leader's name seems to be Mahmoud A-Zahar. I'm sure he'll be just as missile proof as the previous holder of the title (ie not very). Israel, I'm sure, is keeping a close watch on such things and barring a Labor resurgence there seems to be no end in sight for the policy of targeting leadership in their war against Hamas.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:46 AM

April 23, 2004

Expanding the Army Responsibly

From Strategy Page:

U.S. Army should be expanded! It takes several years to recruit new troops, train them and organize them into new units. By then, the army leadership feels they won’t be needed. But the army will still have to pay for them. This will mean less money for training and new weapons and equipment. To the army leadership, that strategy will get more soldiers killed in combat in the long run. The basic problem is that you cannot expand the army quickly and still have the same highly effective professional troops.

This is part of a long list of Iraq myths. But one of the things that could be done would be to add skeleton units for W. Europe and other spots that are not likely to see combat, staff them with people that you're now refusing to let reenlist, fill them out with new soldiers and deploy the freed up units to hotter spots. Let's face it, there's still a bunch of places that the US military has forces that aren't likely to see combat anytime soon. Letting the soldiers who man those posts be understaffed skeleton crews you pull from the pool of people who normally wouldn't be permitted to reenlist. Add your new, less well trained recruits there, two track the army so that more of the well-trained soldiers are on the pointy end of the spear and the support functions that absolutely demand soldiers are more recent entrants and marginal performers. After you've bulked up, you can back fill your training and bring the new units up to snuff.

You can't be firing already trained soldiers and simultaneously complain that you can't train new soldiers fast enough to do any good.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:28 PM

April 22, 2004

The Fundamental Unseriousness of Democrats

Donald Sensing's excellent demolition of the draft is a must read but it makes me think, why now? Charlie Rangel has been advocating this for years but I don't think his advocacy ever prompted such an excellent response. Then, it hit me, the detailed response was unnecessary because Charlie Rangel is fundamentally recognized as an unserious person a priori while Chuck Hegel is not and his similar proposal must be treated more seriously. This is little reflection on the race of the two proposers and much more on their party affiliation.

The Democrats still have their Vietnam induced affliction as being unserious about national defense. This is not universally true, Thomas Barnett is a Democrat and probably the best national security grand strategist of our time, but it shocked me to find out his party affiliation. Activists inside the Democrat party do work hard to make it so, driving out "Scoop Jackson Democrats" and turning them into the dreaded neoconservatives that they continue to vilify and attack. When they were Democrats, they didn't receive much better treatment.

This is a fundamental problem, not only for Democrats, but for all patriotic US citizens. We need two healthy parties when it comes to national defense and security. We don't have them today. The left has an obligation to fix that.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:23 AM

The Fundamental Unseriousness of Democrats

Donald Sensing's excellent demolition of the draft is a must read but it makes me think, why now? Charlie Rangel has been advocating this for years but I don't think his advocacy ever prompted such an excellent response. Then, it hit me, the detailed response was unnecessary because Charlie Rangel is fundamentally recognized as an unserious person a priori while Chuck Hegel is not and his similar proposal must be treated more seriously. This is little reflection on the race of the two proposers and much more on their party affiliation.

The Democrats still have their Vietnam induced affliction as being unserious about national defense. This is not universally true, Thomas Barnett is a Democrat and probably the best national security grand strategist of our time, but it shocked me to find out his party affiliation. Activists inside the Democrat party do work hard to make it so, driving out "Scoop Jackson Democrats" and turning them into the dreaded neoconservatives that they continue to vilify and attack. When they were Democrats, they didn't receive much better treatment.

This is a fundamental problem, not only for Democrats, but for all patriotic US citizens. We need two healthy parties when it comes to national defense and security. We don't have them today. The left has an obligation to fix that.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:22 AM

April 20, 2004

Idiotic Draft Ideas

Count Chuck Hegel among the idiots who wish to reinstate a draft absent any sort of manpower shortage in the US armed forces. Senator Hegel should know full well that the manpower strength of the volunteer force is capped by law. If he wants more troops, he should introduce a bill raising the caps and finding funds to pay for them. Instead, he wants conscription reinstated absent even one reporting period of recruiters failing to make their numbers. The truth is that the armed forces, absent a couple of specialties where they are getting outbid by private industry, is turning people away and refusing to accept people who want to reenlist to do so.

This simply makes no sense whatsoever. Chuck Hegel should be ashamed of himself. The draft is the closest thing we've got to indentured servitude. In the case of national emergency where we have military manpower needs that cannot be met by a volunteer army, sure, it beats having our society fall to tyrants or barbarians. But we're not there, not by a long shot.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:51 PM

Man in the Middle

Donald Sensing's useful primer on coded speech is marred by one small fact. The Western Union example is readily replicable with email. In fact, it's probably very easy to do.

E-mail is what is known as 'store and forward' technology and is usually sent in plain text. What the FBI did to the Western Union telegram, substituting deceased for dead in the original, is called a man-in-the-middle attack and is a well known method of assaulting a communication. If you suspect coded speech is being used, creating a program that takes messages and changes a few words here and there using a thesaurus and synonyms would not be too difficult a technical task. And the nature of e-mail over the Internet is that it's not instantaneous or even timed transmission. A delay of a few seconds wouldn't be noticed.

No, Rev. Sensing isn't right when he says such attacks are mostly historical and that we wouldn't have much opportunity to replicate them in today's counter-intelligence environment. In fact, there's probably more opportunity today than any other time in history for the man-in-the-middle to make a muddle of codes and one time pads.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:38 PM

April 19, 2004

Talk to the Human Shields

Wretchard points to an important attack launched by insurgents (300 is a pretty large unit action and they were wearing uniforms)

According to Marine snipers reporting to their commanders by radio, some of the insurgents fired at Marines and then hid behind children.

"We're trying to get the snipers in position for a shot," Major George Schreffler told the other commanders through tactical radio communications. "They're looking at guys in blue uniforms and others with black clothes and black masks. Some are using children to shield themselves. We will not take shots in which we could possibly hit children."

I've seen lots of reports of this sort of thing happening. What I've never seen is anybody going out and trying to find these children afterward and interviewing them. Why aren't journalists getting the story out of this happening and putting a human face on these modern day human shields. What do the children's parents think? What is the legal situation of combatants doing this? What are the religious scholars saying about it. Really, this is a huge story begging to be covered in depth and at all angles.

It's certainly not a good news story where you can be accused of happy talk, nothing to make people happy about Iraq here. And I'm very sure that Al Jazeera and co. are not covering this at all. What's the rationale for our media not filing gripping human interest stories about these children? There's no physical danger in reporting such a story. It's all after the fact interviews. You don't have to use their real names. I'm sure you won't find any security concerns blocking reporting and the military press officers will trip over themselves to help you out. Finally, you'll steal a march on the arab media and their claims of massive casualties among children.

The only answers that I can come up with are simply not very complimentary about our news gathering professionals. I'd like to think there are other reasons. Anybody care to supply some?

Posted by TMLutas at 09:23 AM

April 12, 2004

Irresponsible Draft

Ken Bode, in this piece, calls for a restoration of the draft. The article, titled "Sharing the sacrifices of war", starts by assuming that our military has trouble rounding up soldiers for the volunteer force. He also seems to be under the mistaken idea that a draft, in and of itself, would increase troop strength.

In fact, Congress has put a ceiling on the number of troops. If they would raise the ceiling and fund that increase so the military isn't hollowed out by reducing per soldier funding, we could have a larger level of armed forces without a draft.

The writer, a professor at DePauw gives the game away towards the end:

A nationwide poll taken by Harvard University late last year showed that college students generally approve of Bush by 61 percent and 59 percent strongly or somewhat support what he is doing in Iraq.

Students may not like disrupting their college experience, but surely when they realize that they are only being asked to do their share to extend democracy in this very dangerous world, they will set aside their doubts and heed the call to patriotism.
Professor Charles Moskos, a military sociologist at Northwestern University, says, "When I was drafted, Elvis Presley was my contemporary draftee. Can you imagine Eminem being drafted today?"

So long as the legitimacy of this war is measured only by pollsters, we will never have a true measure of public support.

Bring back the draft, Mr. President. Then we'll see.

I found the idea of imposing a draft, our only legal form of involuntary servitude outside of the penal system, to be offensive as something to be done as a better way of polling. I wrote:

Your call for a new draft makes no sense to me. As I understand things, we don't have a manpower shortage in the volunteer army. Our troop strength is limited legislatively, not by a lack of recruits. The short time draftee doesn't have the time to absorb all the lessons necessary for our modern high training/low casualties combat style which is why, I understand, the Pentagon is against a return to the draft.

The most disgusting way to put in a draft is to have one when we don't need one and to create a class of soldiers who are going to die in larger numbers for a faux political point of "social solidarity". Would you come to the excess funerals?

The good professor replied. Here is his response in toto:

No, Mr Bush and Mr Cheney can go to the funerals.

There is no polite language that is available in response to that. He didn't even attempt to deny that more would die if his proposal were to be adopted. He just insists on his lack of responsibility for the excess casualties over what a professional military force would have suffered.

The article has the professor's email listed.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:09 PM

April 05, 2004

Letter to the Paper XV

Fran Poretto is a very smart man who I normally agree with and was a personal inspiration in my transition from conservatism to libertarianism. I think of him as my friend but even friends can disagree. His proposal for a cordon and ultimatum (now a two part essay) around Fallujah is one of the most wrong-headed things I've ever heard or seen come out of him. Of course, I responded:

I don't think that there is a city in Iraq that is currently monolithic either for or against the US. It's all preponderance and tendency. Now sometimes that tilts far enough to one side that it looks like unity but no society as highly split along tribal, religious, and ethnic lines as Iraq is likely to see unanimity except in highly limited circumstances.

Fran, you have proposed one of the few ways it is possible to unite Iraq against the US and that's why I questioned whether you'd temporarily gone off the deep end in a fit of anger (which, I agree, would be very uncharacteristic for you but everybody snaps at some level of outrage, myself included).

The major long-term strategic purpose of Iraq is to create a society from which we can launch follow on attacks on the non-integrated gap. This requires that Iraq be connected and preferably free, though the actual victory conditions would allow for a peculiarly limited transition authoritarianism that would last until a rising middle class grows tired of a lack of political freedom and tosses the bums out, a la S. Korea. This latter option is a distinctly inferior plan B but it would allow the strategic goal of extending the borders of the non-integrated gap and create more "seam states".

I happen to know a fair bit about Romania and it went through a transition between being deep in the non-integrated gap to being a seam state. I can tell you that it's an awful lot easier to argue for sanity with countrymen who are bordered by functioning, free societies than it is when the same people are surrounded by various grades and shades of dictatorship. As Romania's neighbors progressed, their living example showed that Romania could do better and it has done better as well. A decade ago, political violence in the streets was on the table as a viable tactic. Those days have now passed.

With Iraq as an example, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, even Jordan will all face an improved reform picture. And it is these reforms which will make us able to go after the madrassas that create the next generation of terrorists and suicide bombers.

An ultimatum that threatens an entire city is counterproductive to the larger enterprise and deeply counterproductive at that. We're in a race with nihilistic death cultists. We have to kill their ideologies off as the British killed off thuggee before the general empowerment of first world individuals rises to the level where it is possible for us to individually produce WMDs.

The solution to Fallujah is force, but it is force that is surgically applied and affects only the guilty. Why did we bother building smart bombs if we don't believe in the consistent principle of precise application of force? The doctrine of precision has not failed us yet. There is no cause for us to abandon it.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:54 AM

April 03, 2004


There's been some loose talk about the people who were killed in Falluja being mercenaries. My understanding of the term is that it covers a soldier who is fighting for a government or rebel cause for pay instead of God and Country. By any stretch of the imagination, does this cover the four who died? The official story is that they were working for a private contractor, safeguarding food convoys. If they were mercenaries then every former military man with a security guard job is a mercenary.

But generally we've kept a separation between security guards (who are often former police or military) and mercenaries. But what if the story is just a front? If they were just pretending to be security guards, they were most likely really working for... the US government. Again, working an undercover job for your own government is not mercenary activity. So what's really going on?

The title mercenary is one of disrepute in today's world. Calling someone a mercenary is a way to put them one down and to lower their value. So when they're killed, burned, and hung from a bridge, it's not quite as bad because, after all they're only mercenaries. Is that morally acceptable?

Posted by TMLutas at 06:39 PM

April 02, 2004

Letter to the Paper XIV

Fran Poretto usually writes well in his Curmudgeon Emeritus page but the Falluja attack seems to have temporarily unhinged him (and he is personally one of the nicest guys I've met). His tantrum advocating Rome's solution to Carthage merited a decent response so I put one in comments. Here it is for you, below:

I'd like my military response to be effective, not merely viscerally satisfying on the lowest animalistic level. We're trying to create a new FRG without having to deal with the memories of a new Dresden firebombing. We want to move to Iraqi control of their territory as fast as possible and maintain a relationship that allows us significant facilities in Iraq for the follow-on campaigns we will need to do against Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.

Looking past the first week, all of these goals will be set back or made impossible. We're playing a bigger game. I want the military to go in, get the guilty, spare the innocent, and continue the excellent job they have been doing up to now.

I expect death sentences for the war crimes of body desecration and purposefully attacking civilians. I would not be averse for sentence to be carried out at the infamous bridge over the Euphrates or at the site of the attack.

I expect justice to be carried out, swift, sure, relentless, with little pity but justice. Reprisals which will lead to increased US casualties in the long run are simply off the table. This is not for their sake, but for ours.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:03 AM

March 31, 2004

War Crimes II

The attack in Falluja today practically begs for a legal analysis of the status of such acts. Was it a mob, a legitimate armed attack, a scene of mass murder, or a war crime? Phil Carter believes this to be a military operation, designed to test american resolve. In that case, it's a war crime, and I await the stirring condemnations from the entire military justice community.

Wait, that's not going to happen. And I'm foolish to even think that it would. This would require the laws of land warfare to actually mean something anymore, other than something to wave around as a cudgel to intimidate and beat on western militaries. Nobody of consequence seems to give the least bit of attention to the problem of what to do when a movementt purposefully, and continually commits war crimes. We've been overwhelmed and desensitized to the point where we've given up in defending these rules of warfare. As a practical matter, it does not pay to violate the rules of war in a small way. You get criticized and penalized for that. But audacious, breathtaking, and common violations, what punishment awaits the side that does this?

One sided violations of the rules will not remain unanswered forever. But unless we're going to return to the barbarity of total war, we have to come up with a better enforcement mechanism.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:01 PM

March 30, 2004

Civilian Support For the Military II

Phil Carter has a good post up on how civilians can support the military. The reaction style, I suspect, will be pretty universal, with civilians both inside and outside the legislature being perfectly willing to do what it takes to better support the troops, if their spouses and family just let us know what the problem is.

It's somewhat problematic for actual serving troops to agitate politically. There's a lot to be said for soldiers shutting up and soldiering. There is a bright line between the military and political activism for a reason. But spouses serve under no such disability and there are an awful lot of civilians out there who would make sure that problems are taken care of if you'd just mobilize us on issues that are not partisan but deal with the important issues that make the volunteer armed forces possible.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:36 AM

March 29, 2004

Civilian Support For the Military

There's a very good article by Phil Carter over at Intel Dump on how the army is handling family support. The one bit about things that concerns me is the civilian/military gap that seems to be growing.

And even though they feel at least somewhat supported by their nonmilitary countrymen, the spouses do not feel particularly well understood by them -- not even by their own extended families. With the community of wives living on and around Army bases offering an attractive alternative, this generation has broken the long-established pattern of going back home for the duration of a husband's deployment. ... military wives see a gap between themselves and the civilian world. About 90 percent of spouses said they were satisfied with the respect the American public shows soldiers. But Davis, wife of the 101st Airborne Division lieutenant, spoke for many when she said: "The farther away you get from post, the less understanding there is."

Often, the spouses see good intentions thwarted by a lack of comprehension. Desaree Venema, whose husband has been gone for a year as a senior sergeant in the 4th Infantry Division, said that in her nonmilitary neighborhood, residents have been supportive, shoveling snow and babysitting her daughters "when I have a bad day." But when they complain about a spouse having to go on a week-long business trip, she said, "I just about have to draw blood from my tongue" to stop from shouting at them.

"It's wonderful to put the red, white and blue Dixie Cups in the chain-link fence to show patriotism, but you need specific tools," said McConnell, the Fort Carson youth services coordinator. Civilians sometimes will say things such as, "It's good your dad can e-mail you because it shows he's alive," unaware of how scary it will sound to a child -- especially when the e-mail breaks down, said Mary M. Keller, executive director of Military Child Education Coalition, a nonprofit group.

I can just imagine the benefits of a "how to support the military" FAQ list. Civilians need to know how to properly commiserate with a military spouse about that one week separation. It's unnatural not to mention it, but remembering the other side of the conversation is in the middle of an even longer separation, I would think, would be vital.

I think that the military families understand that we mean well but somebody from that side of the fence should be clueing us in on how not to be so ham handed and foolish in our expressions of support. Taking the small amount of time to learn such things is one important way that we civilians could contribute. It wouldn't be some central, heroic thing but if it saves a few marriages along the way (and helps ease soldiers back to US life), it's certainly worth the expenditure of time and effort.

Military people, we're willing to be educated on this stuff but we don't have a clue. You don't expect a raw recruit to know how to blow his nose, why are you expecting us to know how to stand with you without telling us?

Posted by TMLutas at 11:59 AM

March 26, 2004

Battlefield 'Net IV

Winds of Change has a good article on the networked military. The section on adoption highlighted a related point, the difference between intellectual knowledge of the value of such systems (which probably every military in the world has by this point) and acceptance of the system:

"What I should have spent the entire time focusing on was the small screen attached to my door," Charlton said after the war. "It had been accurately tracking my location as well as the location of my key leaders and adjacent units the whole time."

But four days into battle, amid the Iraqi sandstorms, the Bradley crew finally turned on Blue Force Tracking. The computer's imagery and Global Positioning System capabilities let them use Blue Force Tracking similar to how pilots use instruments to fly in bad weather.

"The experience of being forced to use and rely on Blue Force Tracking during a combat mission under impossible weather conditions completed my conversion to digital battle command," said Charlton, commander of 1-15 Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division, in Army documents."

The US has the money to waste massively deploying unused IT systems. That's the fundamental difference between it and most of the rest of the world's militaries. The others, even if an elite truly understands and wants to deploy such systems, have such stringent material limitations imposed on them by circumstances, economic and political, that they simply do not engage in the front-end expense necessary to saturate the military with technology attempts at the next generation battlefield network. Many militaries, even first world ones, don't even keep up with the US on a 'bullets fired, miles driven' basis and that's an even more central measure of maintaining troop readiness.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:50 AM

March 24, 2004

Battlefield 'Net III

Winds of Change has a good article on the current and future battlefield net. The ability to communicate with each other has achieved critical mass and people understand how much more lethal they can be, and with how much fewer casualties, if they are pervasively networked and digitized.

One extremely important implication is that it is quite dangerous for allies to fight alongside US forces and not be integrated into US information systems. But other militaries don't seem to be getting it, either intellectually, with spending authority, or both. As the difference grows in the effectiveness of a networked soldier versus a non-networked one, the rough logistical equality of supporting both means that the military value of allied troops who don't climb on board to the new network centric warfare is dropping and likely will continue to drop. This creates a deep political problem in nations that are still mired in the idea of a large conscription based force.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:40 AM

March 11, 2004

France/Spain Connection?

I haven't seen any news speculation about it yet but it does seem strange that France would have a train bombing blackmail plot one week and Spain would have a huge set of train bombings the next week. Synchronicity is possible but I do hope that the police are at least considering a connection. If there is a connection, it's hard to see what sort of national groups would do both deeds.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:29 PM

March 10, 2004

Russia's Chechnya Victory

StrategyPage is noting Russian progress in Chechnya. No permalink and its short so here's the item below:

March 9, 2004: In Chechnya, rebel leader Magomed Khambiyev and an aide surrendered to Russian forces. Khambiyev was the right hand man to senior Chechen rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov. The war in Chechnya has turned into a civil war, with more and more Chechens backing the pro-Russian government. Most of the police are now Chechen, although Russian commandoes do most of the patrolling and raiding (of rebel camps) up in the mountains. 

Turning this from an outsider v. local conflict to a civil war is a major step forward for Russia. It becomes progressively more difficult for rebels to rail against the nasty foreigners when they're shooting at more and more chechens and there are fewer and fewer visibly russian faces in the administration. Retaining the loyalty of that chechen administration will require a somewhat hands off policy and significant material support from Moscow but that's likely all that the great mass of chechens ever wanted in the first place.

There seems to be a way out of this for Russia with an unambiguous win. For the US, the big opportunity is to learn whether there were any Russian innovations which we could pick up in standing up a friendly local government and offer some advice in exchange on some ways we would do (and are doing) things better. The main benefit is the military to military connectivity though, not any mutual incremental benefit in solving such problems.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:05 AM

February 15, 2004

Kerry's Heroics, Kerry's Shame

I would offer the following up to those who might be a little confused about what is the proper way to treat a military figure such as John F. Kerry. The US has had heroes who flew higher than Kerry, and subsequently fell further than he did too. The figure I have in mind is General Benedict Arnold.

Kerry is not a traitor (unless Kerry has some heretofore undisclosed scandal rattling around in his closet) but his prior heroism should give him as much a pass on his subsequent perfidy as Gen. Benedict Arnold's. Now, it's a little known fact that in upstate NY there are plaques and memorials to Gen. Arnold. He's remembered much more fondly there than in any other part of the country because his heroics were largely there and largely affected that part of the country (then again, so did his treason) so here is my offer.

Those who were affected by Kerry's heroics should feel perfectly fine in supporting him, even crossing party lines to do so. Those affected by his perfidious flacking for the N. Vietnamese side (with false charges of massive war crimes) after his military service should feel perfectly justified in opposing him on those grounds as well. Either side should feel free to get as hot under the collar about it as they please but no blows, please.

The electoral balance of such a fair judgment, I suspect, will not sit well with the Kerry campaign. Tough.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:46 PM

February 11, 2004

Bush's Military Service

I find the entire discussion of George W. Bush's military service to be somewhat bizarre. After all, GWB has been Commander in Chief for three years and change now. You would think that he would be judged mostly on his most recent term of service, but no. Instead 30+ year old service records (which end up largely bearing out the President's story) are more important to decide whether he is fit to continue the job he's been doing for coming on four years now.

Would you retain somebody in a company with years of experience doing a job based on their college transcript or would you evaluate their actual job performance? The man was in the Guard, he did his hours and got an honorable discharge at the end. It's becoming more and more clear that for some in the partisan press, this is a witch hunt. But who dares stop it?

HT: Phil Carter's Intel Dump that provoked this rant

Posted by TMLutas at 12:59 PM

February 09, 2004

Al Queda Nukes

Don't worry, be happy. The suitcase nukes story has been around for awhile (at least since 1997). It gets trotted out every once in awhile to make people nervous but the Russians, along the way, have already spilled the beans on the reality of these weapons. They are highly complicated pieces of machinery that needed highly specialized and difficult maintenance done to them each year or they became inert and each of them has a remarkably small amount of fissionable material in them. The only people who could maintain them were the old USSR military and the US, (and only maybe the US).

What Al Queda did was pay far beyond the going price for fissionable material for a worthless system. They would have spent their money better by buying up a medical waste firm and diverting nuclear material from there for radiological bombs because that's all they have if there is any truth to the piece at all.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:43 AM

February 07, 2004

Gun Grabbers, I Dare You

In the interpretation of some gun control organizations, if you are not a member of the militia, you don't have the right to bear arms. But who is a member of the militia?

The state codes generally have a military section. Many moons ago, a research assignment had me go through the NY State military code. Art I Sec 2.2 states:

The unorganized militia shall consist of all able-bodied male residents of the state between the ages of seventeen and forty-five who are not serving in any force of the organized militia or who are not on the state reserve list or the state retired list and who are or who have declared their intention to become citizens of the United States, subject, however, to such exemptions from military duty as are created by the laws of the United States.

Now compare and contrast with the text of the 2nd amendment:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

By the NY State military code, women who are not in the organized militia (they're covered separately), are not in the militia at all and you can make the argument under that interpretation that they have no right to bear arms.

I would love to see somebody try to enforce that interpretation. I really would. Then again, I'd also love to see somebody try to revoke all gun NY gun permits where the holder is older than 45.

Other states have better language. Indiana Code IC 10-16-6-1 states:

Sec. 1. Under Article 12, Section 1 of the Constitution of the State of Indiana, the militia consists of all persons who are at least eighteen (18) years of age except those persons who are exempted by the laws of the United States or of Indiana.

Who would have thought that in a comparison of NY State and Indiana that NY's military code would be the more sexist and ageist of the two?

Posted by TMLutas at 09:59 PM

February 05, 2004

Missing Aluminum Tubes

More on Tenet's speech:

Regarding prohibited aluminum tubes, a debate laid out extensively in the estimate and one that experts still argue over, were they for uranium enrichment or conventional weapons? We have additional data to collect and more sources to question. 

Moreover, none of the tubes found in Iraq so far match the high- specification tubes Baghdad sought and may never have received the amounts needed. Our aggressive interdiction efforts may have prevented Iraq from receiving all but a few of these prohibited items. 

If the tubes were for conventional munitions that were legal, why have they not been found? On the one hand, they could be in the parts of Iraq's conventional military arsenal and not inventoried yet. But if that were true, there could be a great many other sanctions prohibited things hidden there and waiting to be found. On the other hand, these tubes could have been spirited away as part of Iraq's emergency exit plan in case of imminent invasion in accordance with Soviet doctrine (let's not forget that Iraq was a Soviet client state and generally followed Soviet military doctrine).

So which is it? Who knows yet. Eventually we'll figure it out.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:00 PM

Biological Delivery System But No Biological Weapons?

George Tenet has made a significant speech on the intelligence. Here are two paragraphs that should be headline material all around the world:

The question of intent, especially regarding the smaller unmanned aerial vehicle, is still out there. But we should remember that the Iraqis flight tested an aerial biological weapons spray system intended for a large unmanned aerial vehicle. 

A senior Iraqi official has now admit that their two large unmanned vehicles, one developed in the early '90s and the other under development in late 2000, were intended for the delivery of biological weapons.

Does it make any sense at all to have a biological weapons delivery system but no biological weapons? Think about it for a minute. I've said previously that we should be waiting for final reports. This sort of item is a great reason why.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:51 PM

So Where's the Program?

It's an old phrase "you can't tell the players without a program". IraqNow has a post up that shows this applies to Iraqi insurgencies, in spades. The news media are making a fatal error by lumping all the insurgent forces into one movement.

They are not one movement. Thus you have military men, who do make the distinction, who refer to one particular insurgency as being crushed and the media cries gotcha because the aggregate activity of all insurgencies has not gone down.

Somebody needs to write a program naming the players so the media can keep proper score. Wait, isn't that the media's job in the first place?

Posted by TMLutas at 09:21 AM

Bush Guard Attendence Checking

There seem to be a great many people on the left side of the ideological spectrum who are all hot and bothered by the issue of GWB's National Guard attendance or non attendance. As many former guardsmen have attested, record keeping is and has never been the Guard's strong suit. But how bad is that record keeping? Nobody's bothered to find out. If there exists some actual disinterested researchers out there instead of partisan spinners in white lab coats, here's one method.

Do a randomized study of the quality level of record keeping. Find 300-500 randomly picked guardsmen of that era and geographic region who did some of their duty in other units and figure out how much of their paperwork is still available after all these decades. If you can't verify a good sized chunk of them, it's a good bet that GWB's guard records are just one in a long line of casualties of military clerk foul ups. If everybody else checks out, the stories of lost records would look a lot less credible.

Anybody want to lay odds nobody ever bothers to do the study?

Posted by TMLutas at 08:03 AM

February 04, 2004

Terrorists Looking to Thermobarics?

Apparently thermobaric munitions are becoming popular with terrorists in Russia and there is speculation that they will start cropping up in terrorist attacks in the US according to an expert at Battelle.

I read that sort of thing in your inbox and all I can think is that it's not about the weapons used. Weapons don't do anything but improve success rates and efficiency. Modernity will always supply more effective and efficient ways of accomplishing our goals, no matter what our goals are. The battle is and has always been about goal setting and convincing others to abandon goals that require the use of such weapons.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:52 PM

February 03, 2004

Private Nukes

ESR has an article on his concern for legislation banning private nuclear weapons.


Even taking the most expansive view of the 2nd amendment, there are certain restrictions on weapons ownership that should be in place. I wouldn't mind a short sighted man with a shotgun for home defense. I would mind somebody short sighted driving a tank around the neighborhood without corrective lenses. He would not be "well regulated".

The more powerful the weapon, the more dangerous you can be with it if you aren't careful, the more restrictive ownership of that weapon can be in a legitimate pro-liberty reading of the 2nd amendment (discussions like this are the reason why I'm not an anarcho-capitalist). There is no more powerful weapon than a WMD and a nuke is in the first rank of risky weapons.

The policy of the United States is that there are only a few states that are stable and trustworthy enough that their possession of nukes doesn't scare the pants off us. Our policy with the NPT treaty is that even a stable, free nation like Canada shouldn't have nukes. With this reality, private nukes are off the table. When you have an individual who is more trustworthy and competent than a national political system filled with checks and balances and who actually wants a private nuke actually exists, wake me up. Until then, talking about private nukes is just libertarian bait to make libertarians look extremist and foolish.

ESR fell for the bait, hook, line, and sinker.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:11 PM

January 26, 2004

Battlefield 'Net

The battlefield data network has often been highlighted in military science fiction such as David Drake's Hammer's Slammers series. But now this seems to be transitioning into current military science fact. The essential (but stubbornly not permalinked) StrategyPage provides a good description of the Small Tactical Arms Recognition Equipment (STARE) system that is moving into the US arsenal. A good STARE data sheet is available in PDF as well (this time from SMDC).

Eventually, Chief Wiggles is going to get his turn in the "how do we do this electronically" development cycle and I suspect that instead of meeting informants at a gate in future, the US will seed occupied zones with wireless internet access devices and airborne network points. Such devices will be distributed with FAQs of curfews and other occupation orders, occupation etiquette such as what to do if you're stopped for a search and how to make the process the quickest and least unpleasant it can be, and various programs for receiving food and other necessities. But the same devices also give the ability to report illness and injury, request compensation for US military damage, and do occupation currency transfers to help restart the local economy. From a military intelligence perspective, it will allow established informants to report in without leaving their homes and will cause no shortage of worries for insurgents because these things will be cheap and will be everywhere.

I've written about this stuff before under the heading occupation tech and it's likely the most neglected part of military transformation. The US is barely starting to wake up to the need to reconfigure and focus on occupation operations in destroyed or failed states. The IT implications of this are large and they have both strictly civilian and dual use implications.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:57 PM

January 23, 2004

The Downside to Being Organized Like the Internet

Everybody marvels at the survivability of the Internet. Al Queda's organizational resemblance to same is providing a lot of business for the ulcer medication people. Here's a relevant part of a recent post on StrategyPage:

Al Qaeda was organized, unintentionally, like the Internet. Al Qaeda has no central headquarters or base. It’s members are scattered in cells all over the planet. You can destroy many parts of al Qaeda, and the organization will reconfigure itself. Al Qaeda members are still trying to pull off spectacular attacks against the "enemies of Islam" (which basically includes everyone who isn't a Moslem.) It will probably take a generation for al Qaeda to fade into utter impotence. In the meantime, the War on Terror will be a low level war that always has the potential to show up in any Americans home town.

I think this overestimates Al Queda qua Al Queda's strength and fixes our attention too strongly on an organization that suffers from an unexamined weakness. Al Queda is not just a network. Al Queda is a community and the rules for community survivability derived from the Internet are far less friendly to Al Queda than the rules on network survivability derived from the Internet.

Below a certain magic point, usually called 'critical mass' any Internet forum will start shrinking and inevitably die out. Often, only a dysfunctional shell remains containing some bitter enders who wonder where everybody else went. The same is likely to happen to Al Queda.

The network of nodes will reconfigure but it will not necessarily reconfigure into the same network or even into the same kind of network. After all, are there any ARPANet nodes around? No, there are not even though I would guess that all or most of the institutions that made up ARPANet are still with us and even some of the physical infrastructure that housed ARPANet (racks, cable conduits, copper in the wall) might still be around but ARPANet's dead and has been for a long time (though it survived as a mostly irrelevant zombie for far longer than most people noticed).

So, you're a cut off Al Queda node. Your link to the mother ship is sitting at Gitmo along with 35% of your membership. Do you want to stick your hand into the meat grinder and reconnect to Al Queda? Or would you rather connect to Hizb ut Tahir which doesn't seem to be attracting so much unwelcome attention?

Obviously local response will differ but you can guess that some people will go back to Al Queda, as the conventional view fears, others will join other groups or maintain isolated independence. This choice is a wave of opportunity. More moderate, actually islamic groups can work to bring these isolated nodes out in from the cold. Radical, ineffective front groups can be created to siphon away support and sucker these isolated nodes into total compromise. The opportunities for counter-intelligence/counter-terrorism work are there but only if you have the right intellectual model.

Al Queda's point of critical mass needs to be discovered and the organization needs to be driven below that point and kept there so it will wither. At the same time there needs to be a cleanup crew to deal with the isolated leftovers and not let them contribute to a new organization's growth and race towards its own appointment with terrorist network critical mass.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:41 PM

January 22, 2004

Stay Away From the Flypaper

The US' much maligned flypaper strategy seems to have finally wised up the flies. "Don't Go to Iraq" advises Al Queda's biweekly "Sawt al-Jihad" magazine. Apparently, even mass murdering butchers can eventually figure out that killing a lot of muslims is a bad public relations move. Unfortunately, these wiser flies are likely to pick up their efforts elsewhere. Oh well, no good strategy ever works forever.

HT: James Taranto's Best of the Web via email.

Posted by TMLutas at 04:18 PM

January 21, 2004

No Respect

I'm not even Canadian and I want to toss a few bucks their way. Canadian forces video

HT: One Hand Clapping

Posted by TMLutas at 10:03 PM

December 19, 2003

The Baathist Rout

The Belmont Club has a great post on the military consequences of Saddam's capture with substantial documentation regarding revanchist forces he lead.

The most important concept was that right now the limits of the US haul of fighters and backers will be limited by the speed at which they can exploit the embarrassment of intelligence riches they have. These items have a very short shelf life and it is quite likely that US and Iraqi forces are very busy right now and will continue to be so for the near future.


Posted by TMLutas at 03:32 PM

December 11, 2003

Iraq Anti-Terror March

Zayed calls it A great day for Iraq (HT to Donald Sensing). One of the pictures stood out for me. It's in arabic but the link to it labelled it "Terrorism is humanity's shame" which I'm guessing is the english translation of the arabic sign.

Imagine this sign in Chechnya, in Gaza, in the West Bank. If we can succeed in Iraq, we won't have to imagine, we'll see it.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:37 PM

December 10, 2003

The Need For More Troops

The Washington Post editorializes that President Bush kowtowed to the PRC when he declared that Taiwan was being provocative. Is this a policy error or a necessary tactical retreat caused by having too small a military?

If the latter, The Washington Post has effectively come out for a larger US armed forces. After all, if you wish the end (protection of Taiwan's democracy) you wish the means (a large enough military to do so without going nuclear). But while this implicit truth is undeniable, it would be awfully nice if the Washington Post said so explicitly. It would be a highly patriotic expression of a loyal opposition and a welcome rebuttal to my fears in A Hypothetical Scenario.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:31 AM

December 07, 2003

US Military Future Development

Donald Sensing's One Hand Clapping has a long linkagery item. In part it refers to a great Powerpoint presentation that outlines what's been cooking in the Army now. Unfortunately, I disagree with Donald Sensing's conclusion that Rumsfeld and his current Army Chief of Staff are not on the same page. Perhaps Sensing didn't read the entire presentation before he wrote some of his remarks. That's a rare slip for him but we all have our off days. He points to the following passage:

CSA’s strategic vision for the Army: – Changing primary focus away from Transformation to the Objective Force to near term support of the Current Force, which is at war.

What he seems to miss was the very next sub bullet

- Plans to reorganize Army combat forces now vs. over a 30 year period

Rumsfeld's been after the Army to change more rapidly. That second bullet point seems to put the Army and Rumsfeld in accord.

I wrote in A Hypothetical Scenario that we might be in a rough patch where the administration believes we need a larger army but isn't confident of congressional approval and the current job of DoD is to hold on for 2005 when a new, more military friendly Congress is sworn in. On looking at the DS article, I thought that perhaps there might be some early signs of prep work in the document. And on looking through the presentation, I see where hints might be showing up.

CSA plans to fix the situation by taking the existing pool of Soldiers and dividing them into 48 brigades instead of the current 33

There's an old retail commerce trick of changing prices by changing packaging. Don't lower prices, make the can larger and offer special "now with 20% more" labeling. On the other side of the coin, don't raise prices and anger your customers just shrink the can and the inattentive ones won't even notice.

If in 2005 you had 48 smaller brigades where there were previously 33, it might just be easier politically to increase brigade personnel so each brigade was "back up to strength" rather than make new divisions. You'd end up with slightly more than 13 old size divisions stuffed in a 10 division organizational structure. The first reorganized groups will be the 101st and the 3rd ID and their target dates are ambitious, January of 2004. The beauty of the scheme is that divisions will no longer be deployment units, brigades will. Divisions will likely not cycle in and out of theater but rather 1/3 of a division will be in theater and rotate out within its division (or at least that's how I'm interpreting the following "Improve the deployment ratio so that there can be two brigades at home for every one deployed overseas")

In some ways this is truly depressing. I really want A Hypothetical Scenario to be disproven. It would make me sleep better at night to know that patriotic americans had an unquestioned majority in today's Congress. But nobody's taken on the task of debunking it (Steven Den Beste tangentially disagreed but only in that my scenario didn't fit what's going on in Taiwan). Such a scenario should have caused angry emails, shock and dismay. The fact that it's not drawn a right quick competent fisking worries me that I might be right.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:12 PM

December 02, 2003

Lessons Learned Lessons I

Strategypage has a story on misidentifying lessons learned on the battlefield. A key point is how services do not want to accept any lessons that will reduce their chances at getting fat budgets in future funding fights.

What no one really wants is a totally dispassionate look at the lessons learned. No one wants the chips to fall where they may. Too much collateral damage that way. Yet, in the end, truth and logic will have their way. The true meaning of each lesson learned will be there on the next battlefield, whether you have come up with the best implementation of the lesson or not.

This simple fact of life is one of the key reasons why civilians need to be included in the process of 'lessons learned'. We don't have any dogs in the fight of whether the army gets more money or the airforce. We just want the maximum number of our countrymen to come back safe after the next war period with victory achieved in the most efficient manner possible.

Of course the problem with including civilians is that too many of us want to play gotcha games in an effort to hold down military spending period. There is no perfect solution but we could all do a lot better.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:50 PM

November 30, 2003

A Hypothetical Scenario

Let's say that the Army came to Donald Rumsfeld and stated that we are able to maintain our present commitments but if something breaks loose, the cupboard will be bare. We'd be forced into a win-hold-win situation that would be risky and bloody. We need to grow two new divisions and shake loose a third from present duties.

Now let's say that Secretary Rumsfeld, true to his word that if the generals came to him and said they needed more troops he'd give it to them. He runs over to the White House and presents the request and is believed. The immediate question is whether this can get past Congress. The second question is if the request is made and gets bogged down, or worse, turned down, what does it do to the national security situation?

I think the vote counters would say that Congressional passage authorizing two extra divisions would be iffy and everybody would say that getting turned down would seriously increase the threat to US national security as every thug and bandit world-wide would get the idea that the US couldn't counter whatever they did due to military over-extension.

The political operation would ask, can we hold 'till 2005 and we have a more Republican Congress? The answer to that would be yes, but we'll bleed for it if somebody starts getting adventurous.

So out goes Colin Powell to sign some delaying agreements, out goes Donald Rumsfeld to smile, tell the literal truth, but never let the media know which shell has the pea or even that there is a shell without a pea. Out goes the President to play the highest stakes poker hand of this short century, and we all hold our breath and pray that they make it.

Steven Den Beste recently was asked "Could we fight a six front or ten front war?" His answer was "we can fight a ten front war, but we'd have to fight at least eight of them with nuclear weapons." Would George Bush push the button rather than let the tyrants win? That's where even my crystal ball refuses to go. I suspect that the scenarios where we would go nuclear have recently multiplied. That should give our opponents nightmares. I know that the possibility gives me some.

Somebody please shoot holes in my hypothetical, if you can. Unfortunately, it seems to line up with the generally known facts of the situation on the ground.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:41 PM

November 28, 2003

Iraq Mortars Proposed Solution

Strategy Page (which would be perfect if it had permalinks) talks about how Iraqi mortars use shoot and scoot tactics to neutralize much of the US' technical superiority. Every time they fire from a built up civilian area it's a war crime but the US has decided not to take advantage of the fact and immediately return fire (by the laws of war, the resulting civilian casualties are the rebel's fault).

The U.S. has a Firefinder radar which, when it spots an incoming shell, calculates where it came from and transmits the location to a nearby artillery unit, which then fires on where the mortar is (or was). This process takes 3-4 minutes (or less, for experienced troops.) But there are rules of engagement to deal with. You cannot fire your artillery into a populated area. And this is where the Iraqis usually fire their mortar from; some civilians back yard.

The problem is that world and arab media would likely not report the laws of war correctly. If your source of news isn't letting you know that most of these mortar attacks are war crimes, they are likely to mislead on a US response.

One solution to this manipulation of the laws of war presents itself from the financial arena. Bank robbers often get apparently cooperative tellers shoveling money into their bags but they also get a surprise, a special die marker slipped in with the money that explodes and marks the bank robber with an ink that will take over a day to scrub off. It's generally harmless but greatly assists the police in picking out bank robbers, just look for the guy with the green dye and you have your bad guy.

I suspect that appropriate artillery loads to replicate this feature do not exist in the modern military arsenal but until they do, (or we get a better worldwide media that doesn't routinely let irregulars get away with war crimes as regular actions) this will become a widespread tactic of forces fighting against the US. Compensating the civilians for making their house and yard glow in the dark pink is probably a small price to pay in comparison.

Posted by TMLutas at 11:14 AM

November 10, 2003

Al Queda's Death Clock Just Started Ticking

Logistically, everybody is convinced that the Saudis have been a major source of funds for Al Queda. The common wisdom has been that the Saudis have been paying Danegeld to Osama Bin Laden with the bargain being, we pay you, you stick to actions outside the borders of Saudi Arabia. This danegeld, it's been generally assumed is a major portion of Al Queda's income.

It's growing increasingly obvious that this agreement no longer holds true. It isn't a far leap to assume that Al Queda has recently taken a major hit in its logistical shorts. No doubt they have plenty of resources in their current pipeline but that's going to get exhausted eventually and Al Queda's operational tempo will become even more resource restrained than it might have been up to now.

The specifics of Al Queda's finances are, of course, something that is generally not talked about. Al Queda doesn't want to talk about it because it knows the West has lots of forensic accountants looking to shut their finances down. Of course, Al Queda's hungry for information on what's compromised so current activities aren't as publicized as those original seizures of 2001.

James Lileks notes

And it makes me wonder: They stick the shiv in the ribs of their richest and most enthusiastic backers.

What makes them this confident?

It seems obvious that they think that they can get their hands directly on Saudi money before the pain of the funding cutoff cripples them. Who knows, they might be right if we don't watch it.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:32 AM

November 05, 2003

A Transformative Poison Pill

Hat tip to Real Clear Politics for a pointer to The Art of War over at The New Criterion. Go read the article first.

It's an interesting and useful critique of US current military posture but does suffer one weakness that this civilian could spot. It doesn't really account for how much military culture would have to adjust for our true enemies to adopt our military innovations, especially net centric warfare.

France, no matter how much she may annoy the United States, will not turn into the same sort of threat as a Pakistan could even though, in objective terms, she is, and likely will remain, the stronger military power (yes, yes, this does assume here that demographic trends don't functionally turn France into Pakistan). The reason for this is that France and the US share some baseline culture that both makes them a greater military threat while at the same time undermines the arguments for full, all out conflict.

In general, the kind of countries the US is truly worried about are the kind of countries that have governments that need to worry about coups. Net centric warfare is high communication warfare. To adopt it when you have any doubts whatsoever about your own military's loyalty is tantamount to slitting your own throat. Steganography and all sorts of other hidden cipher methods would be easy to piggy back onto military traffic once the high amounts of computing power necessary for net centric warfare are distributed throughout the national force structure. Coup plotting along with regular military planning would be made much, much easier. The measures necessary to guard against one, cripple the utility of the systems for their stated purpose. The end result is a persistent US advantage against the states we truly care about militarily countering.

Net centric warfare not only increases your vulnerability to military coup but also your vulnerability to psychological operations by opposing forces. Again, it is an unexamined assumption that you have a military that is profoundly loyal to the current government. This is something that is bedrock in the US and in most of the free world but again, not in the non-integrating gap nations that are our major national security threats.

Yes, the military tactics and strategy race has often had competitors adopt innovations as soon as they could but not always. And adopting innovations from your opponents is not always successful as the Ottoman Empire could tell Mr. Kagan if it were still around. Ultimately, inter-civilizational conflicts bear an extra risk for military mimics in that the weapons built inside a particular culture may need certain cultural assumptions to function effectively. Those culture transfers that come along with the communications gear, the weapons, and the tactics can be an internal assault on the military mimic culture. This is the case with net centric warfare. It would be no defeat for the US if, by adopting its innovations, the cultures of its opponents shifted enough that conflict moved from the battlefield to the negotiating table.

Update: The tendency for the Ottoman Empire to imitate western military innovation is ably described in Bernard Lewis' excellent What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East

Posted by TMLutas at 11:03 AM

July 11, 2003

Al-Qaeda fire bugs?

According to prisoner information western US forests have been on the Al Queda target list. The thought is to set timed incendiary devices and create such a huge conflagration that US resources would be stretched thin. In the past, large fire seasons have seen National Guard and even regular armed forces pulled in as emergency fire fighters.

There's no word on whether Canadian forests were similarly threatened or whether Canada's extensive forestry sector is aware of the potential hazard.

Posted by TMLutas at 06:24 PM