Saturday, March 31, 2007

How badly have you screwed up...

if Iran can kidnap 15 British soldiers, and still have the moral high ground?

Here's the thing: releasing those letters of confession, videotaped apologies, etc. is a war crime. Prisoners of war aren't supposed to be used for publicity, as instruments of propaganda etc. etc.

So why aren't the British (or the US) screaming "War Crimes!" to high heaven? Because the Iranians would laugh, and would compare, say, three letters from soldiers who say they've been well-treated for a week to show trials of people who were held in secret prisons and tortured for five years.

And the US and its allies can't really look good in that comparison.
That, by the way, is a pizza ad.

Thursday, March 29, 2007


The modern soldier is now gaining another upgrade. Not a weapons system or computers but actual physical augmentation.

It will be interesting to see what the soldier twenty years from now will look like. Personally, I can't wait to see this move to private sector. Can you imagine the damage a middle linebacker could do to a runningback?!?!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Britain’s Trident: Will the sun never set?

Two weeks ago, the British House of Commons agreed to acquire a new generation of nuclear submarines in order to maintain their current deterrent. The Trident proposal met with considerable dissonance within the Labor ranks, and a total of 95 Labor MPs voted against the Prime Minister and a gaggle of Conservative representatives.

Given the historical position of the Labor party, it is hardly surprising that nearly two-thirds of their members voted against the scheme. For, since the 1960s, the Labor party has advocated for unilateral nuclear disarmament, and indeed, both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were at one point stanch supporters of this policy.

But times change. Now, it seems that the majority of the Labor party is unlikely to have their way even when Tony Blair steps down and Gordon Brown most likely assumes power. Thus, it appears that in the near future, the sun is not likely to set on Britain’s thriving nuclear program. However, according to most Labor MPs, that future may not be so bright….

Monday, March 26, 2007

Iraq from a Different Point of View

Much has been said and written about why America is having trouble in Iraq---not enough commitment, not enough troops, not enough money, not giving the Iraqi army jobs ASAP, or too much de-baathification. One argument that has not seen as much print is the comparison of Iraq to the former nation of Yugoslavia.

Both Iraq and Yugoslavia are/were ethnically/religiously divided nations that were held together by brutal, but capable, dictators (Saddam Hussein and Josip Broz Tito respectively.) When these dictators were removed/died power struggles amongst ethnic groups ensued; which is the case for Iraq today and was the case for over twenty years.

Unlike Yugoslavia, where there were a myriad of ethnic groups, Iraq only has three: Shia, Sunni, and Kurd. The major issue in the Iraqi ethnic violence, at least for Shia-Sunni violence, is the fact that ever since the time of the Ottoman Empire (founded 1453) is that this Shia majority country has been ruled by the minority Sunnis! When the minority controls the majority it rarely turns out well (the India-Pakistan and Sri Lankaian conflicts jump to mind at the moment.)

Currently if I was Shia very little could be done to quell my internal fires as seeing this “American Occupation” as my people’s chance to be in power for the first time. On the other hand if I was Sunni I would see it as my historical right to control Iraq and want things to go back to the way they were prior to American intervention. As for the Kurdish nation they are on a militaristic precipice with Turkey.

This is the wasp’s nest America has gotten itself into.

A recent poll conducted by D3 systems in Iraq for the BBC, ABC, and other news agencies supports the idea the nation is almost irrevocably torn. Some of the more glaring facts are that seventy-eight percent of Sunnis said it was absolutely wrong for America to have invaded Iraq while seventy percent of Shia felt that it was the correct thing to do. Iraq is expectedly totally divided on the way Saddam Hussein’s execution was held. Optimistically fifty-three percent of Iraqi’s think that in five years Iraq will be a democracy. Pessimistically they blame just about all of Iraq’s woes on the United States and Coalition Forces; seventy-six percent feel that United States and Coalition Forces have done “quite a bad job or a very bad job” since the war, and sixty-nine percent feel that US forces are making Iraq worse.

With that last statistic in mind I want to make one thing very clear: the only time in the past four hundred years the religious and ethnic factions of Iraq could work together on anything was in 1920 during “The Great Iraq Revolution”; an attempt to dislodge the occupying British during the post World One I British occupation of Iraq. The only thing agreed upon in hundreds of years was they did not like foreigners!

I think it is very clear that no matter what type of counterinsurgency the US Army comes up with (short of all out genocide or a massive troop deployment) the only people who will ever be able to stop the violence in Iraq are Iraqis. I have no malice towards the Iraqi people but I think the Iraqi people have “hate” for one and other. Until that ethnic discrimination is eliminated stability and democracy is just a dream.

Currently the United States is trapped---if we leave the nation collapses, if we stay our budget deficit grows larger, and more brave American troops die. The quickest solution, I feel, is to create strong autonomous regions cut, as best they can, along ethnic lines. This Combined with strong revenue sharing across regions could create a stable Iraq; if not Iraq will eventually disintegrate like Yugoslavia or end up in another dictatorial situation with ethnic suppression.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Class Cancelled Thursday

The bloody listserv is defying me, so I hope people are reading this: Class Thursday (March 22) is cancelled in favor of preparation for the simulation. The presentation scheduled for Thursday will be rescheduled for next week.

If you read this, pass it on.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Prepping for War?

As tensions escalate between the United States and Iran an interesting article has been getting press overseas but has not really been reported in the United States. Recently, a former Iranian defense minister, Asgari, was kidnapped in Turkey. Not only did this person most likely have information about Ron Arad, missing in action since a 1986 mission over Sidon, Lebanon but also had intimate knowledge in the inner workings of ran's nuclear and military projects.

What makes this story interesting is the supposed CIA or Mossad connection. Furthermore, according to the New York Post, it is believed that Asgari took part, or has links to, the armed group that stormed a U.S.-Iraqi command center in the holy city of Karbala on Jan. 20 and killed five U.S. troops. A Middle East intelligence source said the United States could not let the outrage stand and had been hunting the general ever since. Any information that is gained from this kidnapped general if he was in fact kidnapped by Mossad or the CIA could go a long way in creating a “strong argument” for a war against Iran.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

"Lack of Effective Air Power in The Gulf War"

Cyrus, I can somewhat see where you are going but I think you may still be hedging a bet that in the next conflict, the air power will “get them bad guys”. I agree that, yes air power did a good bit. They hit a lot of deep targets within Iraq, they quite possibly demoralized forces and they knocked out 40%, (according to Press) of Iraq’s armored forces.

But Cyrus, your giving air power too much credit. Let’s take a closer look on air power’s effectiveness.

First, there were clear indications that air power’s strategy of decapitation for six weeks prior to major ground operations did not accomplish its goal. This goal, the death of Iraqi leadership and/or the complete breakdown of Iraqi military communications, command and control. We know that key leadership made it out unscathed. Press clearly shows that the Iraqi’s were able to mount a retreat and additionally reposition defensive forces to meet the Coalition left hook. Even over a six week period we must begin to question the value spent in launching sorties, both in time spent and dollar cost, as compared to launching ground forces forward. It could be argued that the air campaign had reached its likely full potential over that six weeks and more time would not necessarily lead to much more progress.

Second, Press explains that many of the forward positioned stocks of supplies (XVIII Corps finds) and the defensively positioned armor of Iraqi forces were largely undisturbed by air power (Amazingly even in open desert!). Majority of the Iraqi armored forces eliminated were on the move, in retreat, on open road. Kind of reminds us of the similar experience we recently had in Afghanistan. Stephen Biddle provides us the vivid examples of a small, small area where concentrated air power still rendered not nearly the destructive effectiveness they sold us on. Imaging taking that air power and diluting it over a much larger theater of Iraq and Kuwait!

Third, if air power failed in any of its missions overall it was the mission to protect the land forces’ penetrating advance through the enemy lines. Robert Pape is clear that this is where air power can earn its money in Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War. Pape predicts just what Press shows, air power is less effective against defensive forces. Pape goes further and says that air power should be used to protect the flanks of an attacking force by concentrating its firepower against the repositioning defensive forces maneuvering to meet the attacker. Air power missed this completely in the first engagement in the Gulf. The attacking forces ended up eliminating this counterattacking force itself. What if the Iraqi’s were armed with better armor? What if they had longer ranged fire power? I bet we may not be gloating over the small number of soldiers killed in that conflict now if the Iraqi’s were better equipped. It is clear that air power failed miserably in neutralizing that counterattack and covering the attacking force’s flank.

Cyrus, I’m baffled too. Maybe it was intelligence that failed to point the airpower in the right direction. Maybe it was that they were occupied on other targets. I don’t know. But I know that, had our ground forces not been better equipped, I think they would have had a tough and bloody slog through that attack and that air power, or lack thereof, would be shouldering a large blame for it.

Try this on Cyrus, for an interesting read:

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Airpower in the Gulf War

In The Myth of Air Power in the Persian Gulf War and the Future of Warfare Daryl Press says that the role of airpower was insignificant in defeating the Iraqis. He challenges conventional interpretations of the Gulf War by contending that the six week pre-invasion air campaign did not seriously weaken Iraq’s warfighting capabilities. His evidence, however, is inconclusive.

Press writes that the air campaign failed to impair Iraqi forces in five key aspects: it did not critically damage or restrict maneuver, C3I, supply lines, or Iraqi morale, nor did it critically attrite Iraqi forces. If the Iraq military retained all these capabilities up to the beginning of ground operations, Press argues, the Coalition victory cannot be attributed to the air campaign. This conclusion leads Press to downplay the importance of airpower. However, the evidence he cites is questionable and can support contrary interpretations.

First, consider the attrition of Iraqi forces. About forty percent of Iraqi armored vehicles were damaged during the air war. Press asserts this says little about air effectiveness: Iraqi defensive forces still had favorable force ratios when they were routed by Coalition forces. This is true, but losing forty percent of ones armor (well over one out of every three vehicles), especially when ones military is already outclassed, is still a crucial diminution in warfighting and logistical abilities. Furthermore, Press notes that Coalition commanders missed key air strike opportunities, such as against redeploying Republican Guard divisions during the “left hook” invasion. A well executed air assault on these divisions could have yielded results on par with al-Khafji and the Highway of Death. Thus, rather than demonstrating the inherent limits of airpower, the Gulf War shows both its utility (forty percent attrition is big) and even a greater potential for lethality through improved battlefield awareness.

In addition to forty percent attrition, the six week air strike discombobulated Iraqi forces. Press argues that the Republican Guard and the regular army gave no indication of low morale but fought bravely. However, what appears to be feats of bravery—individual surprise attacks, hopeless forays, etc.—can also be the actions of a befuddled, desperate enemy. The Republican Guard and the regular army may have been quite fazed by the air campaign and simply kept fighting because it was the best alternative option to surrender.

The Front Line Iraqi forces at least were clearly demoralized. They likely caught the worst of the air campaign in terms of supply disruption and attrition, and it was they who in mass either turned tail or surrendered to the (decoy) Marine invasion. At the close of the second day of ground operations, before any major battles had been fought in the “left hook” invasion, Baghdad announced its withdrawal from Kuwait. Thus the Coalition in a sense achieved its primary goal through the complete disintegration of the Iraqi Front Line--the place where the prewar air campaign had been most intense.

In sum, Press is correct to eschew overconfidence in airpower and assert the enduring importance of ground force deployment. However, his argument that the prewar air campaign contributed only slightly to the Coalition’s stunning success rests on inconclusive evidence and may, in fact, be wrong.