Friday, June 26, 2015

No Good Options
     News about ISIS, the self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate occupying large parts of Iraq and Syria, has been reported on a daily basis in US news media for the past year.  Pundits, politicians, and various national security "experts" have offered opinions regarding the effectiveness of a US strategy to disrupt and destroy ISIS and whether a US strategy exists.  That strategy began with a bombing campaign last August with little effect to date on ISIS's ability to take and hold territory.
     In February President Obama sent to congress a request for the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against ISIS.  Many of the abovementioned critics of the strategy are among the 535 members of congress to whom the request was sent.  For six months congress has ignored the request for the full committee hearings, no floor debates, no votes.  I suspect it may be because they would have to acknowledge in the debate several uncomfortable facts:
1)  The moderate Free Syrian Army is a myth
2)  The Iraqi army is a tragic failure despite ten plus years of "training" by US forces and billions of dollars in arms and equipment provided by the US and subsequently surrendered to ISIS when Iraqi forces deserted
3)  Iraq is a country but not a nation and many Iraqi leaders in Bagdad distrust the US
4)  Iraqi Sunnis in ISIS held territory do not trust the Shia government in Bagdad and see ISIS as the lesser of two evils
5)  If ISIS is defeated in Syria, it is still a civil-war torn mess with Assad in place
6)  It would probably take 120-150,000 US troops occupying Iraq and Syria for ten years at a cost of two trillion dollars to destroy ISIS there
     Given these facts, which allow for no good options, it is little wonder that congress is reluctant to publicly debate the AUMF request.  It is much easier and politically less risky to criticize from the sidelines.  Unfortunately, that is not what congress was elected to do.

Friday, March 6, 2015

It's All About Us
     The speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a joint session of congress has produced a great deal of commentary by politicians, policy makers, and pundits in the United States.  Virtually all of this commentary has focused on a triangle of Israel, Iran, and the United States.  The fact is that the negotiations on Iran's nuclear program in a structure referred to as P5+1.  Sitting across the table from Iran is not only the United States but also Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China.  All of these sovereign nations have their own perceptions, interests, and motivations which are not necessarily fully aligned with those of the United States.
     None of these politicians, pundits, and policy makers have raised the possibility of these other nations embracing the negotiated framework agreement and the United States declining to do so.  Only Britain among them has consistently supported American positions.  France and Germany have differed with the United States on several important issues in this century.  Russia and China have obvious reasons to disagree with American positions.  Russia is currently the subject of economic sanctions imposed by the United States and China seeks to exert its position as a diplomatic peer of the United States.  It is possible that America and Israel (and likely Britain) could find themselves isolated from the rest of the community of nations on this issue.
     When the myth of the "exceptional nation" collides with realpolitik and the interests of other sovereign nations.....myth loses.

Monday, March 2, 2015

     In a 19 January blog entry I noted that the United States planned to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels to fight ISIS.  The US has already given weapons such as TOW missiles to the Syrian rebel group Harakat Hazm.  Unfortunately, yesterday Hazam was pushed from its headquarters in Aleppo by an al-Qaeda affiliate after having been pushed from its former headquarters in Idlib.  As a result of these defeats Hazam has decided to dissolve and the al-Qaeda backed al-Nusra group that defeated them has taken possession of the US provided TOW missiles.  If military planners developing the strategy to "disrupt, dismantle, and destroy" ISIS are not alarmed by this development they are overwhelmed by wishful thinking.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Arithmetic and Radical Jihadism
     If you choose to engage the question of whether we are winning the Global War on Terrorism you may want to consider the fact that there are approximately 1.6 billion Muslims in the world.  Sixty two percent of them are under the age of thirty.  Many of these young Muslims are disenfranchised, unemployed, repressed and angry or frustrated by totalitarian governments and bleak futures.  Sixty two percent of 1.6 billion is about one billion.  Half of these are men; 500 million men.  Assuming that just one percent of these angry young men might be inclined toward radical jihadism, that gives five million potential jihadists.  The US military response to organized radical jihadism is to attempt to disrupt, degrade , and destroy these organizations.  Executing this military response requires killing, capturing, or seriously wounding individual jihadists.  The US government estimates that the air campaign against ISIS has killed three to five thousand ISIS fighters and that ISIS is recruiting new fighters at a faster rate than we are killing them.
     Do the math.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

That Costs Extra
     I own two seat licenses at Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  On the open market they are worth about twenty thousand dollars.  That fact alone does not gain admission to a single game for me.  The Steelers say that if I want to attend games for a single season I have to send them several thousand dollars more.  That costs extra.  Thus, I have "skin in the game"financially as I watch my favorite team live.
     Many people believe that the complex American defense budget is too large.  In fact, it is larger than that of the next fourteen countries in the world COMBINED.  Many of those same people are also concerned with a widening civil-military gap and rising US militarism.  Two elements of the proposed 2016 US defense budget are the $534 billion base budget and the additional $50 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO); totaling $585 billion.  The OCO budget funds the war in Afghanistan and other counter terrorism operations.  So we have a Pentagon seat license costing $534 billion per year.  If we want the Pentagon to actually do something they tell Congress that's going to cost you another $50 billion.  That costs extra.  Congress usually approves (aka, buys the season tickets) with taxpayer dollars.  Most taxpayers are unaware of the fact that they have been charged extra.
     In order to address the concern of the widening civil-military gap and rising militarism, we might consider a small change in the way we fund the OCO budget.  We could add the proportionate cost of the OCO to every American's individual tax return as a separate war surtax.  This would amount to approximately $1,000 per year for each taxpayer.....creating "skin in the game" for both the average citizen and Congress. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Who Owns These "Boots on the Ground"?
     Pentagon spokesperson Rear Admiral John Kirby announced last week that approximately 1,000 American service members would soon be deploying to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar to train "moderate" Syrian rebels to fight against ISIS.  He said that the training will begin in the early spring and that if training goes well, trainees will return to fight in Syria by the end of the year.  He added that 15,000 trained Syrian rebels will be required to reclaim parts of eastern Syria now controlled by ISIS and that about 5,000 can be trained per year.
     He did not address three points that I believe are important.  First, who will pay these "moderate" rebels during their training and upon their return to the Syrian battlefield?  Second, does this cohort of fighters represent an extra-governmental militia or is this militia part of the US military: what is its status under international law and the Geneva Conventions?  Third, is this militia subject to the Geneva Convention and is the US responsible for the militia's actions under the Geneva Conventions?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Our "Not-Enough" Volunteer Military
     Air Force spokesman Ray Alves recently confirmed that Gen. Herbert Carlisle, commander of Air Combat Command, recently wrote to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh that "ACC believes that we are about to see a perfect storm of increased demand, accessions reductions, and outflow increases that will damage readiness and combat capability of the MQ-1/9 (Predator drone) enterprise for years to come".  Gen. Carlisle added, "I am extremely concerned".  The combination of increased demand for drone sorties, not enough "volunteers" to operate them, and an exodus of qualified operators from the service is creating a 'perfect storm" that jeopardizes one of the cornerstones of the US "global war on terrorism".
     Although it is remarkable that this military occupational specialty would be the one that raises "extreme concern" to our All-Volunteer Force given the operator's working conditions and low personal risk, the Air Force response is equally remarkable.  Col. Alves indicated that monetary bonuses (bribes) would be the most likely response.  Is ours, in fact, an All-Volunteer Force if we have to bribe someone to join it?  Is the All-Volunteer Force model fair, efficient, and sustainable?