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Friday, August 29, 2014

A Spy is Dead

John Walker who led the greatest espionage penetration in US Navy history, died yesterday in federal prison.  Your room is ready now, Ed Snowden! 

Walker did a lot of damage.  Just one example: After he started spying for the Russians, in 1968, the North Koreans seized the USS Pueblo, an intelligence gathering ship.  The NKs killed at least one crew member and imprisoned and tortured the rest.  They wanted Pueblo so they could take advantage of the secrets Walker provided for them. 

No ideological reasons for Walker's treason, just money.  For years, we've assumed that Americans just committed treason for pecuniary reasons, but lately our spies, like Ana Montes and Snowden, seem more ideological. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Home-grown Jihadists

Americans are joining Jihad, Inc.  I thought this article offered a telling portrait of two of them. Americans die fighting .  Notice the neck tattoos, and the different last names between mother and son.  (I love the name of one of them Douglas McAurthur ! McCain.)  Looking for some kind of certainty in their meaningless lives? 

Well, better they do it over there than over here, right? 

So many young men today with no fathers in their lives to provide guidance and moral stability.  But you'll hear nothing from our sage commentators about that! 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

ISIS Just Gave Us a Reason

James Foley, the American photojournalist brutally executed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham (ISIS), did not die in vain.  His death finally caused Washington to wake up and realize ISIS cannot be dealt with by half measures.  SecDef Hagel (who hated the Iraq War) has pledged more airstrikes.  CJCS Martin Dempsey publicly suggested the fight needs to extend into Syria to attack the ISIS base.  These are welcome developments.  ISIS, you just gave us a cause to believe in.

David Ignatius gives a good account of the change in thinking here: The Fight against Evil

Even the Brits are getting it.  Recent news about how many of British citizens are participating in ISIS (hundreds) shook them up.  Some ISIS members will be returning to the UK.  Kill them over there, before they kill over here.

ISIS may be well financed and well organized.  But they cannot hold the territory they grabbed in a power vacuum.  They have no realistic political program that can inspire mass loyalty.  Their objective to form a state is self-contradictory.  In the end, they are a mafia of nihilistic killers.  And strategically, they made a mistake by trying to fight a conventional war. Best estimate is that they number 15,000 fighters.  In the desert, they have few places to hide. Although highly mobile, they can be denied the use of roads by constant aircraft and drone sorties.  

Strick isolationists who fear another "mission creep" and return to Iraq scenario are misguided. This anti-ISIS mission can be accomplished with air power, special forces, and military advisers.  Aircraft are being launched from the USS George H.W. Bush and from Incilik Air Base in Turkey.  Best estimate is that ISIS numbers 15,000 fighters.  The Kurdish peshmerga and decent units in the Iraqi Army (they have M-1 tanks) will do the ground fighting.

Already the US has conducted nearly 60 air missions against ISIS target.  Watch that increase by an order of magnitude.  The Kurds have taken back all the territory lost to ISIS two weeks ago, and are said to be massing for another push into Ninawa province.   The Iraqi Army, very slow to get moving, is starting to pound ISIS around Tikrit. 

As for Iraq: Will the congentially stupid Shia leaders in Baghdad now realize they must make a permanent alliance with Iraq's Sunni tribes and moderate leaders?  Will they stop pointlessly antagonizing the Kurds?  Our military aid should be leveraged to force them to make a deal.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Crossing the Political Divide

Part of our mission here is to discuss new thinking on inequality and the plight of the middle class.  Republicans have just ceded these issues to the Democrats.   In my opinion, the Republican party fails to understand that a lot of "traditional" America is just not making it.  They are doing all the right things--working and trying to raise their families--but they just can't get by.   A piece worth reading by Arthur Brooks of American Enterprise Institute: Thinking out of the box on poverty  Good for Cong. Ryan and Sen. Rubio for at least trying to address the issues.

In contrast, I heard a political talk by our local Tea Party congressman this week.  At least as phrased by this distinguished gentleman, it really is an "I've-got-mine-Jack" ideology.

The only Republican plan seems to be that if it wins back the Senate, it will repeal Obamacare.  Then what? 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Our Latin Americanized Legal System

There is an old political adage in Latin America:  For my friends, everything; for my enemies, the law!

The latest news from Texas is that Governor Rick Perry has been indicted by a grand jury for abuse of office.  His crime?  Using his constitutional veto power to deny funds to a district attorney's office whose head had refused to step down after being convicted of--and jailed for--drunk driving.  The liberal writer Jon Chait describes the case here:  Unbelievably Ridiculous  The motive: to torpedo Perry's presidential bid.  This seems obvious enough; it doesn't really matter if the charge is ridiculous.  Some people will buy into it.

Some years back, a Venezuelan friend described to me how the Carlos Andres Perez (CAP) administration had indicted his father on a phony drug charge.  The whole point was not to get a conviction, but to the keep his father under a legal cloud and to tie him up with lawyer fees for years.  It was just how the political game was played. 

(Later, this tactic would come back to haunt Venezuela.  Spurred by opposition forces within his own party, CAP was impeached on charges that in 1990 he used funds illegally to aid Violeta Chamorro's movement to unseat the Sandanistas.  Helping Violeta wasn't the problem; they just wanted to oust CAP on some charge because they hated his privatization policy.  (CAP was corrupt too, but never mind.)  In the end, this gravely weakened the political system when the wolf, Lt. Col. Hugo Chavez was right at the door.) 

In the US we've been seeing this more and more.  Perhaps the best recent case was how a special prosecutor went after Vice President Cheney's chief of staff Scooter Libby, ostensibly for revealing the identity of an undercover agent.  Libby was convicted, but not for the original charge, which was baseless.  The prosecutor kept going even after it was clear another individual in the adminstration, who was never charged, had in fact uncovered the agent.  But, the prosecutor had to convict Libby on something! 

General Rule:  if it isn't obvious what the crime is, it is purely a political charge.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Ferguson Fracas and the Militarization of the Police

For years to come, the urban rioting in Ferguson, MO and the local police's handling of the event will stand as a case study on how NOT to do public relations.  Everything the local police leadership has done has made the situation worse.  The cop shooting a jaywalker--presumably after a physical encounter--deserves a thorough investigation and a reappraisal of policies nationwide.  You don't have to be a crazy civil libertarian to wonder, "why did this incident lead to bullets flying in the first place?"

The local police's decision to release a store video showing a huge guy intimidating a shop owner and stealing some stuff, only antagonized the rioters. What were they going to say, oh you're right, Michael Brown really had it coming?

Mark Steyn writes here about the militarization of the police nationwide and how this probably hasn't made us safer.  See Cigars, But Not Close  Steyn is right that there should have been a dashcam on the patrol car that recorded the incident. The Ferguson PO must be the only one in the country that doesn't have dashcams. 

The militarization of the police has been going on for a long time, but it got a lot of wind in its sails after 9/11, when new equipment was justified on anti-terrorism grounds.  All police departments seem to have SWAT teams, which they call out at the drop of a hat.  I attended a local Crimestoppers banquet last year in which one of the speakers discussed her role in making sure all community police had K-9 units.  No one asked, why do they need them?  At the same event, one cop was getting an award for shooting down a guy for robbing an cell phone store in a mall.  He fired about six bullets.  In a mall.

As the philosopher Bertrand de Jouvenel wrote years ago in On Power, the decline in authority has led inevitably to the rise in police.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Wired Embellishes the Snowden Story

One would expect Wired magazine would run a puff piece on traitor Edward Snowden.  See Most Wanted Man here.  But maybe we can expect more of NSA "expert" James Bamford, who comes off like a useful idiot as his interviewer.  Snowden has simply abandoned the Americans to work for the Russians.  Anyway, Bamford wants to get to the bottom of it all:  Why did Snowden steal top secret intelligence from NSA?  The answer: 
On March 13, 2013, sitting at his desk in the “tunnel” surrounded by computer screens, Snowden read a news story that convinced him that the time had come to act. It was an account of director of national intelligence James Clapper telling a Senate committee that the NSA does “not wittingly” collect information on millions of Americans. “I think I was reading it in the paper the next day, talking to coworkers, saying, can you believe this shit?” 
Snowden and his colleagues had discussed the routine deception around the breadth of the NSA’s spying many times, so it wasn’t surprising to him when they had little reaction to Clapper’s testimony. “It was more of just acceptance,” he says, calling it “the banality of evil”—a reference to Hannah Arendt’s study of bureaucrats in Nazi Germany.
I guess Ed thinks none of us can read, or have a functioning memory. Snowden started downloading NSA secrets when he worked at Dell in 2012.  See Reuters:  Snowden at Dell

But this all works with some people.   Saw this blog string on The American Conservative yesterday, which offered more proof that some folks will believe anything that disparages the US government. Snowden hero or traitor  [Warning: Reading might result in lose of IQ points.]

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The "War for Oil" Canard

Back in the Gulf War in 1991, we heard how oil motivated US intervention.  Certainly it was part of it; we didn't want Saddam Hussein to dominate Kuwait and intimidate Saud Arabia.  But US policymakers care less about oil supplies than the press and regular folks seem to think they do. 

Columnist Holman Jenkins response here to those, like the New Yorker's Steven Coll, that we are currently intervening to defend the Kurds to protect their oil production.  In fact, the State Department has discouraged US oil producers from making deals with the Kurds, and greatly prefers they do it though Baghdad. 

Whether the Kurds produce oil or not is of little concern to Washington.  Keeping Iraq together, and avoiding a Middle East conflagration, is the principal motivation.  (Although that horse is out of the barn now!)

We fought several years in Iraq, only to see oil concessions go to Chinese, Brazilian, Malaysian, and other state firms.  And we're totally okay with that, because they produce for a world oil market. 

A telling anecdote:  before our 2003 intervention in Iraq, Venezuelan oil production was totally shut down.  An opposition-led general strike succeeded in stopping all oil production for two months.  At the time, Venezuela supplied the US with about 14 percent of its oil.  Meanwhile, in early 2003, the WH was planning a Middle East invasion.  Think it was concerned about futher disruptions to oil supplies?  Think again.  There is no evidence US policymakers saw the Venezuelan crisis as a strategic threat that needed to be resolved.  But the logic of the "war for oil" crowd, Venezuela should have been a priority, but it wasn't. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Take that, ISIS

This week Obama authorized attacks on the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS), which is threatening Iraqi Kurdistan and ethnic minorities. Navy jets from the carrier USS George H.W. Bush CVN-77 website in the Persion Gulf are now battering ISIS targets.

No surprise that the Navy is first on the scene, ready to go.  Carriers are still our best means of power projection.

ISIS has already lost some heavy equipment captured from the Iraqi Army.   If it continues trying to wage conventional war, it will find its deployments both exciting, and brief.

Here's what a F/A 18 Super Hornet brings to the table:
The F/A-18's armaments

Friday, August 8, 2014

Will Putin Invade the Ukraine?

Ukraine seems like so three weeks ago. (Remember MH-17?) First came Gaza, then Iraq, and we stopped paying attention to it.   But, steadily, the Ukranian military has made gains against the overmatched separatists backed by the Russian intelligence services.  Kiev is winning the war.  Now Moscow apparently has 20,000 troops nearby, poised to invade to bail them out.

Will Putin play this last card?  It would be the final, brutal, miscalculation after a series of blunders on his part.  Evans-Pritchard in the Telegraph argues that Putin acted out of an obsolete Cold War mentality and had no chance of standing up to the West's financial power. See Russia's misplayed gambit.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

US foreign policy losses like "a bank run."

Check out this piece by Jackson Diehl in WaPo:   Diehl often criticizes the administration for soft-peddling democracy and human rights.  But this piece has deeper meaning: we don't even have influence over Bahrain (home of  US Naval Forces Central Command) and Aruba.

Eyeless in Gaza

Only with great effort have I forced myself to think about the current conflict in Gaza.  (Here's a useful backgrounder on the conflict since 1948 by WaPo:  Gaza conflict )

Do you even remember why it started four weeks ago?  In June, three Israeli hitchhikers were kidnapped on the West Bank.  PM Bibi Netanyahu blamed Hamas; Hamas denied it.  Israel then launched its current punitive war against Hamas positions in Gaza. (Not the West Bank.)

Was this punitive invasion Bibi's only option?   Was the threat from Gaza growing?  Seems hard to believe.

Some have speculated Bibi wanted to block a unity Palestinian government between Hamas and Fatah.  No way to know if this is true.

In retaliation, Hamas fired its useless missiles at Israel.  They didn't kill anyone.  Probably because many of them are homemade, and because Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile defense system works pretty well.  Why do they still do this?  Just an act of defiance, probably .

But the Israeli Defense Force has killed 1,800 Palestinian civilians so far.  So much for just war theory's condition of proportionality!   The American public (and Congress) doesn't seem too moved by this, certainly not as much as it was by the accidental shootdown of the Malaysian Airliner over Ukraine.

Much of the bombing campaign has destroyed civil infrastructure in Gaza, from what little I have read.  (That was how Israel waged the 2006 war against Hizballah too, but destroying Lebanese infrastructure to punish Lebanon as a whole.)

Many Hamas tunnels have been destroyed.  (Egypt destroys these too.) These are used for smuggling since the Israeli blockade has been in effect.  I think these are mostly to circumvent the blockade, although some say they are used to infiltrate Hamas terrorists into Israel.  (Does Israel have a domestic terrorism problem?  I haven't heard of much lately.  Checked ADL website: last incident mentioned was in 2011.

If I were an Israeli, I'd back the government's crackdown on Hamas.  Sure.  But do these heavy handed tactics lead to better security in the long run?  Israelis are asking these questions, too, if their media is any guide.

Since the 1983 invasion of Lebanon, might we say that Israel's security problem have been exacerbated by its own policies?