Category Archives: National Defence

War or Peace


Currently there is a lot of talk about #US, #NATO, #Russia, and #Ukraine. It is interesting to see the divergence of opinions and in some cases the reversal of Democrat and Republican views. Most show political ideology and others show a serious lack of understanding history. Is it prudent to ignore the Russian attempt to coerce Ukraine and the west rather than go to war? What is then the reaction when Russia attacks in order to compel the world to accepts it demands? Why are we facing a situation that could affect the world in a most dangerous manner?

One side sees it as a way to prove the current administration is willing to face up to a bully and protect democracy while the other side sees it as pay back for all the attacks on the past administration over Russia. The Obama administration presented the Iran deal as “This or War.” In her book “The March to Folly” writer and historian Barbra Tuchman pointed out the many times in history nations went to war for all the wrong reasons. In a follow-on book “The Guns of August” Tuchman recounted how Europe fell into WWI for the most transient of reasons. What Tuchman did not talk about was the reasons nations go to war when it becomes necessary to protect itself and its political system.

Today the west is faced with the question of diplomacy vs war. All of course wish to see diplomacy win out but at what cost. The Trump administration took a lot of criticism for being nationalistic. We heard how he was destroying the liberal world order.  Does Russia need to bargain with the west? The threat of sanctions is real and could impact Russia in the long term. In the short term however using force can achieve all of Russia’s aims.

Russia does not fear any repercussions since it has done much the same thing in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Again, following the annexation of Crimea and the Russian supported breakaway of the Donbas region of Ukraine we see no real action by the west. The fighting in Ukraine only slowed down when the Trump administration began to supply Ukraine with military with equipment. Where have we seen this before, Germany and the Sudetenland, Italy and Ethiopia and Japan and Manchuria.

Diplomacy was tried in all three instances and failed in the end, resulting in war. Could a different type of diplomacy have worked, more robust, more threatening? Carl von Clausewitz told us “War is a continuation of Politics by other means.”  In his book “Arms and Influence” Thomas Schelling tells us of the two types of use of the military in diplomacy, to coerce an outcome by threat, which is what Russia is doing right now, or to compel with the use of force. How to avoid either without going to war is to have a military option that is sufficient and believed that will make traditional diplomacy a viable option. The concept of mutually assured destruction kept the world safe during the cold war. The closest the world came to nuclear war was the Cuban missile crisis when cooler more mature heads prevailed.

Like the 1930’s many are saying this is not our concern, it’s a European problem. Just as in the 1930’s allowing the problem to fester and explode it will eventually return to us. Also, to those who say we should take care of our own problems like the southern border, we can do both if we act as a united country and leave the politics behind.

Biden and Ukraine


Not being a fan of Joe Biden, this is difficult to say but, he has made the correct call on sending 5000 troops to Ukraine if he really does it. Can 5000 troops stop a Russian invasion, of course not. During the cold war the Berlin brigade could not have stopped a Soviet invasion, but US troops would have been engaged so it would be war with the US. The problem is at that time our leadership was perceived by our enemies as strong enough to go to war. After the Afghanistan debacle and decades in government that showed he was a dove will Russia take him seriously. Seeing his weakness will our allies be willing to follow. Time will tell.

Ukraine and the Future of Western Europe.


Recently President Joe Biden remarked that the US has no legal obligation to defend Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion. This may or may-not be true. In 1994 the US along with Russia and the UK signed what is known as “The Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances.” In this memorandum the signatories spelled out that the territorial integrity as well as political independence of Ukraine was guaranteed. These assurances were tested in 2014 with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, support to rebel forces and annexation of Crimea, and were found wanting.

The agreement is not a Treaty, it provisions are void of any legal provisions. Following the Russian invasion the Obama administration did very little more then raise diplomatic concerns. The Trump administration increased support to Kyiv through the transferal of Javelin anti-tank missiles and other military equipment. While fighting continues in the heavily Russian region known as Donbas the world ahs lost interest, until now.

Today few in the west believe there can be a new Pan-European war, however history tells us otherwise. Russia has been testing western resolve for years not only in Ukraine but in Georgia and by pushing the cyber envelope. The west has become complacent in its ways and more concentrated on its ideological differences. Russia on the other hand has been busy laying the groundwork for a new Russian empire. Putin himself declared the fall of the Soviet Union a mistake.

How long can we ignore Russian and Chinese aggression before we realize it is to late. Had we called Hitler prior to the Sudetenland debacle. Had we faced up to Japanize actions in China and elsewhere, would history be different or a little less bloody. Had we stood up to despots in the past would we have learned. Can we stop Putin by publicly threatening him with economic sanctions? The clear answer is no. Sanctions have almost never worked on any country and they certainly will not work on Russian leadership.

The Fact is by calling Putin out like Biden did it is more likely Russia will invade Ukraine. While militarily strong the west has shown no true desire or will to use that military. Activity in the Middle East never raised to the level that would impress Putin or his generals. The exact opposite is true, what we have shown is, pushed hard and we leave.

We may learn from the cold war days, the Berlin Brigade was out in place as a trip wire. Could the same thing work in Ukraine? A small contingent of US forces placed on the ground opposite of the Russian forces would mean to invade would require a direct confrontation with the US and NATO. It might if Putin can be convinced that the West would respond militarily. Unfortunately, that is a big if.

Why US Foreign Policy Continues to Fail in Afghanistan


Now that lives have been lost and we have withdrawn, this ill-conceived operation once again highlights the lack of US Foreign policy capabilities or our understanding of what is needed to protect American interests. Since the end of the Korean War the US has slowly lost the will to build influence and continue to lead the world. The Cold War was the last hoorah for what was left of US influence mostly based on the nuclear stand off with the Soviet Union. Much of the problem stems from the United States inability to adjust to a different world. Most of US foreign involvement since the cold war has been in Asia and the Middle East, cultures that most in Washington do not understand. This should not be the case as it is not in many other western countries and the US foreign service should be able to accept the different cultures but has always ended up trying to impose US values on the nations we get engaged with. 

In 1648 the Treaty of Westphalia helped establish the countries we know today that make up Europe. There were tweaks along the way, but it established the customs of international relations we know today. It was established within the bounds of European customs and cultures and of course held little sway as countries pushed out of Europe to colonize the world. At the end of the First World War the victorious nations sliced and diced the world up to their economic and political advantage. Ignoring the wants and desires of the indigenous population they put in motion decades of violence.  Many countries put together by colonial powers were countries in name only. Following the Second World War and then the Cold War many of these countries broke apart or fell under ruthless regimes that held them together at gun point.     

After the creation of Israel, the US seems to have locked out any further changes, no new countries. This of course left the made-up countries like Iraq to fend for themselves. We refused to acknowledge the different ethnic, religious, and even linguistic differences. The United States has the distinct advantage/disadvantage of being one of the most heterogeneous nations in the world. Regardless of all our knowledge we refuse to accept that not all countries and people will accept our values or adhere to our customs. We are seeing this play out today in Afghanistan. A tribal nation that many have tried to forge into a single country. It will not work. We needed to arm and train tribal forces not a national army. If it was ever to change it would take generations a century or more to make it whole. The United States unfortunately maintains a five second view of the world and has no idea of second and third order effect of its decisions. We look to deal with problems on a country-by-country basis while the countries we are dealing with are acting in regional or overarching religious aspects. In the case of the Taliban, they see their version of Islam as the only correct interpretation.

Biden said that after 20 years it was time for the Afghans to take charge, but who are the Afghans? As a single entity they do not exist. Our presence did begin to push a lot of the country forward. At a minimum woman were being educated. We are now talking to a group that holds a world view front he 7th century and act as if they have changed in 20 years and are now willing to become a part of the world. But all that will end simple because our foreign policy professional has failed once more.    

Is it time to abandon Afghanistan?


In his January 20th, 1961, inaugural address President Kennedy said, “we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty.” Over the years these words have rung hollow for our friends and allies. Vietnam, Lebanon, Somalia, and others, now Afghanistan.  A saying I heard long ago says, “Insurgents don’t have to win they only have to wait.” Today we once again see the truth of this statement. We have been in Afghanistan for 20 years and have in fact done good things. An entire generation of woman have grown up in a society that has allowed for growth. It is not complete, but we had a start. We are now hearing stories of girls being given to Taliban fighters as war prizes. The people know what is coming as evidenced by them hanging on the wheels of departing aircraft and handing their children over to waiting Marines, so they have a chance to escape. People are bring dragged out of their homes and executed. There will be more horror stories, but we will not hear them as we withdraw and there is no information or press coverage.

The new narrative is that most people wanted us out of Afghanistan but are opposed to the way it is being handled. I am willing to bet that most people did not know or care that we were still there. But we were and had set expectations of many Afghans. This went beyond the early mission of defeating Al Qaida and removing the Taliban from power. Was that the end of it? Where we expected to then just pack up and leave, as many have said? The question of whether we should have done nation building is now being asked and the answer is clearly yes. We had a moral obligation to replace what we broke, their government. What happened is, as is often the case with the west, we tried to impose western style democracy in a non-western culture.  

As we have seen in Iraq, tribal and regional loyalties out strip the concept of national identity. We had a good plan in place in Iraq that armed and trained the Sunni tribes call the Sons of Iraq. When the Shia dominated government pulled the plug on that we saw the rise of ISIS. Instead of trying to build a national army in Afghanistan, a country of little to no national identity, we should have trained and armed the tribes and worked on regional ethnic pride.

Was it time to leave Afghanistan, no it was time to reassess and change our tactics. Biden has said there was no longer a national security threat in Afghanistan, he is wrong. The Taliban control will give terrorist a safe area to grow and plot and attack the west. Make no mistake we will have to return in one way or another.  

Arms and influence, Trump and Biden


1 THE DIPLOMACY OF VIOLENCE

The usual distinction between diplomacy and force is not merely in the instruments, words or bullets, but in the relation between adversaries—in the interplay of motives and the role of communication, understandings, compromise, and restraint. Diplomacy is bargaining; it seeks outcomes that, though not ideal for either party, are better for both than some of the alternatives. In diplomacy each party somewhat controls what the other wants, and can get more by compromise, exchange, or collaboration than by taking things in his own hands and ignoring the other’s wishes. The bargaining can be polite or rude, entail threats as well as offers, assume a status quo or ignore all rights and privileges, and assume mistrust rather than trust. But whether polite or impolite, constructive or aggressive, respectful or vicious, whether it occurs among friends or antagonists and whether or not there is a basis for trust and goodwill, there must be some common interest, if only in the avoidance of mutual damage, and an awareness of the need to make the other party prefer an outcome acceptable to oneself. With enough military force a country may not need to bargain. Some things a country wants it can take, and some things it has it can keep, by sheer strength, skill and ingenuity. It can do this forcibly, accommodating only to opposing strength, skill, and ingenuity and without trying to appeal to an enemy’s wishes. Forcibly a country can repel and expel, penetrate and occupy, seize, exterminate, disarm and disable, confine, deny access, and directly frustrate intrusion or attack. It can, that is, if it has enough strength. “Enough” depends on how much an opponent has. There is something else, though, that force can do. It is less military, less heroic, less impersonal, and less unilateral; it is uglier, and has received less attention in Western military strategy. In addition to seizing and holding, disarming and confining, penetrating and obstructing, and all that, military force can be used to hurt. In addition to taking and protecting things of value it can destroy value. In addition to weakening an enemy militarily it can cause an enemy plain suffering.

Schelling, Thomas C.. Arms and Influence (The Henry L. Stimson Lectures Series) (pp. 1-2). Yale University Press.

It has been asked many times in the last few days, weeks, and months, why are we in Afghanistan and what is the American National Interest. The Presidents last news conference touched on this as have some of his last announcements on his decision to withdrew and news outlets have stated that polls on the American people stated that they wanted to get out of Afghanistan. Biden has also on several occasions said that our goals have been met and we should not continue to put US forces in harm’s way. I started off with the opening paragraph from Thomas Shelling’s book “Arms and Influence.” It is interesting to note that the first chapter is titled “The Diplomacy of Violence.”  I could have as easily quoted George Santayana “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” Afghanistan is a wild and virtually ungovernable country. It was used by Al Qaeda to plan and launch the 9/11 attacks. Would we ever be able to work with the Taliban to bring them into the government, no. President Biden seemed to think so, as did President Trump. Both were determined to end US military presence in Afghanistan. Trump understood how difficult it would be to corral the Taliban so he placed conditions on our exit and while using diplomacy added the threat of military intervention should the Taliban not meet the conditions. Biden on the other hand Using the deal Trump hammed out as the excuse that we had to get out, regardless of conditions. As we have learned from Schelling, diplomacy with out the threat of force is useless. Carl von Clausewitz in his work “On War” declared that “war is a continuation of policy by other means.” Does all this mean that the US or any other country must engage in “Forever Wars’ of course not. What we need to understand is that when dealing with foreign adversaries diplomatically there is always going to be the knowledge of a military in the background. This is not a horrible, brutal, bulling way of existence, but a matter of human nature. Without such a threat Hitler went on a rampage that nearly destroyed the world. With the threat of “Mutually Assured Destruction” the US and the Soviet Union existed side by side in peace. Biden and his government are living in a world of Ideology not reality. With Afghanistan in the hands of the Taliban terrorist once again have a base of operations. Why did this not happen before as we wound down our force commitment? Trumps threats were believed. Currently Biden is seen as weak and ineffectual. Why is Afghanistan important? To keep the knowledge alive that the US will support its allies. What now will keep Turkey from attacking Iraq and eliminating the Kurds. What will keep Israel safe? What is going to keep China from attacking Taiwan. Second and Third order of effect must be considered in any decision that is made, not just feel good ideological rea

Afghanistain lesson not learned


There will be much finger pointing and recriminations following the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban. There will be Congressional hearings and white papers from think tanks, and none will address the root cause of this and other problems that face the government and the people. The culture within the decision-making process sucks.  

Much of what I am going to say can be summed up by a saying attributed to Sam Rayburn, Speaker of the House in the mid 1950s to early ‘60s. When speaking to young congressmen who told him of their ambitions his reply was, “to get along you have to go along.” This is the basic philosophy that drives career government and military leaders as they advance, don’t rock the boat.

This is not to say that there are not those who do indeed rock the boat, but they are few and do not last long. Those in the Intelligence Community are known as Cassandras, from the Greek woman in mythology who was given the gift of prophecy and the curse of never being believed.  While there should be a place for different analysis, and in fact has doctrinal support, it is seldom if ever used. Those who go the route of “Red Team,” or Devils Advocate,” rarely survive, it’s a career ender.   

While this mentality is less evident in the military it begins to rear its ugly head as people advance. To that end those that reach the higher command levels tend to be more politician than warrior. This was not always the case. There is an old story about a Soviet officer saying that the difficulty in planning against the Americans is that they rarely read their regulations or feel an obligation to follow it. Today strict adherence to doctrine is the road to success. George Patton would likely not have made it past captain.

I am not sure this problem will be, or can be, address. Those who write reports for the decision makers have their own form and language. If they are certain of the results, their superior wants they can structure the report to fit the desire. If not, which is more often the case, they can structure the report to be interpreted as needed. An absurd example would be a report that should read, “it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and sounds like a duck, we conclude it is a duck” would conclude more like “… we conclude with a high degree of probability that it is some form of waterfowl.”

Many have touted the results of a recent final report to congress from the Afghanistan Study Group that had listed several courses of action and the resulting consequences. Today most zero in on courses of action from the chapter of Alternative Pathways. The recommended pathway was to maximize existing US leverage to achieve an acceptable negotiated peace agreement. The most risky pathway was called a Washing of Hands and warned of the results, which we have now seen. The conclusion of the report stated that

“With the launch of peace negotiations, the conflict in Afghanistan has entered a new phase. This new phase requires a new understanding. Afghans must take primary responsibility for their own future. The United States must orient its efforts and resources toward shaping the conditions around the peace process—resetting and reframing it in ways recommended in this report—in order to give it the best chance to succeed. It should be reiterated, however, that our troop presence is a key point of leverage. U.S. troops play a vital role in ensuring the continuity of state structures, and thus their presence is essential to brokering a lasting peace. Success, it should be acknowledged, is not guaranteed. But there is a clear path forward. There is now a real possibility of the conflict winding down and Afghanistan becoming a country that needs far less help from the United States. If this happens, the United States can bring its troops home and both countries can move forward as sovereign nations with friendly relations based on shared values and sacrifices.”

 The answers were given to the decision makers, not from the IC or DoD but a select group empowered by Congress. This groups membership consisted of retired politicians and retired military as well as former diplomats and academics. In other words, this group consisted of people who could speak their minds without fear of professional recriminations, and they got it right.  This also shows that the information was out there for anyone willing to see it and think.

This failure of allowing the unpopular analysis to get through to the decision makers needs to be corrected and the culture of fear over being out of step with the mainstream needs to end. This needs to be a major lesson leaned or this problem will just continue.

BIden response to Iranian attack on U.s. bases


Is it to little to late

Yesterday President Biden finally acted regarding the recent attacks on US interests in Iraq by Iranian backed militias in SYRIA. While I congratulate the President for acting, I question the what and wherefore of the attack. According to reports there were several options presented to the president and the one chosen was the smallest target. This would not be a problem provided there was a political or military reason for the target selection. The only political reason seems to be domestic consumption. The other reason for target selection is the impact it will make and the message it will send.

The stated purpose was to launch a measured and proportional attack that would send a message but not lead to any escalation. This explanation shows that the new administration knows nothing about the politics or culture of the region. The hatred for the west is deep and profound.  There are conflicting reports as to the results of the attack. They go from only infrastructure was attacked up to 17 people killed. In any case attacking these militias will always result in retaliation and escalation.

In 1993 then President Clinton ordered retaliatory attacks into Baghdad aimed at punishing Iraqi intelligence for their part in a plot to assassinate former President Bush, and Afghanistan and Sudan in response to the bombing if US Embassies in Africa. For the most part the buildings attacked in Baghdad were damaged but since it was done in the early morning. In Afghanistan and Sudan mush the same, in Afghanistan the camps targeted were empty. The reasons given were once again, to send a message. The effect of these messages was stepped up terror attacks in Europe and the US with the 9/11 grand finally.

Internally prominent republicans have applauded the move while several democrat law makers called it an illegal move. Internationally the Russians complained they were not informed in time to deconflict the battle space, Syria called it a violation of their sovereignty. Iraq was informed as well prior to the mission and likely informed the militias in time for them to vacate the area, at least most.

It is unlikely that this attack will do more than heighten tensions in the region and Iran will likely put Biden on notice that this will only delay the process to reestablishing the Iran deal. As said, I am happy Biden did something and hope it is successful but feel it will not be. It was the wrong action in the wrong area. Biden will learn it will take more force to impact terrorist.

Dr. Pelosi or: How I Learned to Start Worrying and Take Control of the Bomb


After the January 6th riots House Speaker Pelosi asked the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to have the nuclear launch codes removed from President Trump. To his great credit General Milley explained to her that it could not be done but that there were safeguards in place to ensure that any lunch could not be ordered on a whim. To let everyone, know the president does not have a launch button on his desk that he can push anytime he would like. He has access to the launch codes that will authorize the military to attack preset targets. Should he call for the codes there will be a number of people that will follow the “football” in, and they will have the authority to not follow the president’s orders if they feel it to be capricious or unlawful.

Recently 30 democrat members of congress authored a letter with the intent of changing the system that would remove the president from being the sole authority in issuing the launch codes.  What could cause these members of congress to take up this request in unknown. They either have no idea has the system works or do know and are trying to make political hay. I do not believe that this would ever get far but if it were to, we need to understand the second and third order effect this would have on national security.

Should a counterstrike, or even a first strike, ever become necessary the current chain of command contains cool heads and experience in what would be required and to what degree. Compare this with a partisan congressional committee trying to make a split-second decision. So far congress has not been able to come up with a budget or a workable plan to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. One of the accepted doctrines of the time that kept the cold war cold was MAD “Mutually Assured Destruction.” The doctrine held that if any one side launched an attack the other would respond immediately assure both sides would be destroyed. Now imagine that a future enemy, say Iran or North Korea, developed the capacity to launch a nuclear strike on the US or more likely in the short-term China. If they assessed that a US counterstrike would be delayed or maybe never happen then there is no deterrence. All because a partisan group made a power grab owing to their political philosophy that all power resides in the collective rather than the individual.

When next we get a chance to vote PLEASEThink about the individual candidate, regardless of party, and vote for that person’s ability to represent you not some ideology.

Iran vs. Biden


Welcome to our brave new world, which is starting to look like the bad old world. In the last week Iranian backed militias have launched three rocket attacks at American forces and positions including the American embassy, killing a US contractor, and injuring US service personnel. The reaction of the Biden administration has been to label the attacks an “Outrage” but that the US will not lash out, but consider options, Come on man. Iran has in the past tested the resolve of the United States, recently under Trump. The result with Trump was withdrawal from the JCPOA, the Iran deal, which cost them billions due to renewed sanctions. When they attempted to force their point once again by staging an attack on our embassy in Baghdad, their lead terrorist was killed by a drone strike. In June of 2019 Iran shoot down a US Drone over international waters in the Strait of Hormuz. The US responded by a cyber attack which shut down the Iranian Air Defense Grid. Last year the number of attacks increased but the number of rockets fired in each attack decreased.  The attacks also were of very little effect since they mostly missed hitting anything of value with no US casualties.

Today we see death and casualty causing impacts as well as an increase in accuracy. The good news is they are not using their more sophisticated weapons and not using the mass barrage technique of the past. How long will it be before they use larger more sophisticated missiles and aim to cause mass death. If there is no response, it will not be too long. Our allies I am sure are cautioning against the cowboy diplomacy of the past and the Biden administration is more then happy to oblige. While claiming to be assessing and contemplating they can continue to just sit back and do nothing. How will this work out?

In the past, during the cold war there was a military doctrine known as Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) that was thought to keep the US and the Soviet Union from using nuclear force. We may not be talking about stopping a nuclear war (yet), but the concept of deterrence is valid. An excellent book from those days is “Arms and Influence” by Thomas C. Schelling. The first chapter in his book is titled “The Diplomacy of Violence.” Schelling speaks of the difference between compelling a foe or coercing them. Joe Biden is familiar with compelling someone as we saw with his threat to Ukraine to fire a prosecutor or lose US aid. Coercion is different, since it is making someone do what they do not want to do under threat of violence. Compelling Iran to stop supporting militias in Iran or to stop exporting terrorism in the region is a futile quest. Coercing them with threats of violence has limited effect but can still be effective if the amount of hurt inflected or perceived to be coming is sufficient to slow down an action. Claiming they were in Iranian waters the boats and crew were taken captive. Secretary of State Kerry apologized for the incident and thanked Iran for releasing the crew. Obama pointe the incident out as a success for diplomacy. Iran continued to size tankers in the gulf and demanding ransom. Most recently they sized a Korean tanker in January claiming it was polluting the gulf. Iran just announced it was releasing the tanker after South Korea released 1 Billion dollars in assets frozen by US sanctions.

The Biden administration must learn how to deal with terrorist regimes, or the violence will increase and consume the region and the world. One teaching of life comes from William F. Buckley who said, “Idealism is fine but as it approaches reality the cost becomes prohibitive.”  No government or political institution can stand if it is based solely on ideology that makes no room for change.