A worthwhile New Years resolution

…would be for the United States to admit we’ve achieved everything we’re likely to in Afghanistan (i.e. not much), and end the operation:

No other country in the world symbolizes the decline of the American empire as much as Afghanistan. There is virtually no possibility of a military victory over the Taliban and little chance of leaving behind a self-sustaining democracy — facts that Washington’s policy community has mostly been unable to accept…

Indeed, Afghanistan represents the triumph of the deterministic forces of geography, history, culture, and ethnic and sectarian awareness, with Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras and other groups competing for patches of ground. Tribes, warlords and mafia-style networks that control the drug trade rule huge segments of the country…

The United States’ special adviser to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, is trying to broker a diplomatic solution that allows the United States to draw down its forces without the political foundation in Kabul disintegrating immediately.

That may be the real reason the United States keeps spending so heavily in Afghanistan. The Pentagon is terrified of a repeat of 1975, when panicked South Vietnamese fled Saigon as Americans pulled out and North Vietnamese forces advanced on the city. The United States military did not truly begin to recover from that humiliation until its victory in the Persian Gulf war of 1991. An abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan could conceivably provide a new symbol of the decline in American hard power.

There is also the fear that an Afghanistan in chaos could once again provide a haven for an international terrorist group determined to perpetrate another Sept. 11-scale attack. Of course, Yemen, Somalia and a number of other places could also provide the setting for that.  The point is, we remain in Afghanistan out of fear of even worse outcomes, rather than in the expectation of better ones.

Afghanistan has become America’s “tar baby.”  The more we try to do there, the more we seem “stuck” with no vision or endgame in sight.  The writer of the linked article is correct that our misadventures there are likely to signal to our adversaries we aren’t the power we used to be.  But what is far worse is that our indecision and inability to know “when to fold them” demonstrates poor strategic judgment as well.  Nothing encourages aggression like thinking your potential opponent is both weak AND a fool.

(Chinese) Rear Admiral Lou Yuan has told an audience in Shenzhen that the ongoing disputes over the ownership of the East and South China Seas could be resolved by sinking two US super carriers.

His speech, delivered on December 20 to the 2018 Military Industry List summit, declared that China’s new and highly capable anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles were more than capable of hitting US carriers, despite them being at the centre of a ‘bubble’ of defensive escorts.

“What the United States fears the most is taking casualties,” Admiral Lou declared.
He said the loss of one super carrier would cost the US the lives of 5000 service men and women. Sinking two would double that toll.

Our extended presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan underscored our country’s emphasis upon what the military calls “force protection.”  It’s natural for any military to seek to limit casualties, but when it becomes apparent that even a few deaths are enough to change national policy, outside observers begin to doubt one’s resolve.  The thoughts expressed by Admiral Lou Yuan echo those of the Japanese militarists in 1940: the U.S. is a paper tiger, and will acquiesce to its rivals if smacked hard enough on the nose.  Japan’s miscalculation led to a brutal Pacific War that ended in atomic fireballs over two of its cities.  To see the line of thought being resurrected by the Chinese, whose potential to oppose the U.S. dwarfs that of Russia, should give plenty of people pause.

Afghanistan is known as “the graveyard of empires” for a reason.  The sooner we recognize that, and take steps to restore the deterrent credibility we’ve lost there, the better.  The misguided 17-year (and counting) occupation may have sought to avoid another 9/11.  But at this point, it risks far worse outcomes by emboldening rivals who believe they’ve taken our measure by watching us there.  Perhaps America in 2019 lacks the ability to muster the resolve shown after Pearl Harbor in 1941.  Then again, perhaps not.

The only certain thing is it’s better to ensure we never have to find out.

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Time and place… Time. And. Place.

Donald Trump will never win an award for being a silver-tongued orator.  It’s his willingness to say what he thinks, however, that endears him to many of his supporters.  In Monday’s press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump disappointed many when he declined to press Putin publicly on the accusation of cyberspace meddling in the 2016 election.  This resulted in shrieks of “treason” from his detractors in the U.S. (note to these: take a tranquilizer and calm down; your constant Chicken Little hysterics are embarrassing).  Being civil with Putin, however, doesn’t mean being in his pocket:

[Trump] is, as Greg Gutfeld noted on The Five, his own good cop and bad cop all rolled into one.  The good cop part is what we saw with Kim Jong-un and now with Putin — complimenting tyrants to an almost uncomfortable degree.  It’s oddly a Christian love-the-sinner-but-hate-the-sin kind of thing.

The bad cop part is what Trump actually does concretely — and, as Putin certainly knows, this is far more important than photo ops and press conferences with all the attendant words.  Trump’s actions vis-a-vis Russia have been considerably more stringent than his predecessor’s — opening the energy spigots, increasing sanctions, arming the Ukrainians, ejecting 60 Russian agents, etc.  As Walter Russell Mead pointed out, if Trump is in Putin’s pocket, he’s doing a terrible job of it.

Barack Obama — although the New York Times would burn down its own building rather than admit it — did an abysmal job with Putin and was indeed the one who was truly “owned” by the Russian.  And it wasn’t just the silly reset button and the embarrassing video of Barack whispering into Medvedev’s ear to tell Vlad he — Barack — would be more flexible on missiles after the election.  (What a toady!)  Even worse, in his Chamberlainesque ardor to make a deal with Iran’s mullahs, Obama let Putin play him in Syria, agreeing not to honor his redline against Assad’s use of chemical weapons in order not to endanger the  deal.  Trump never did anything nearly that pathetic.

Too many in our government find purpose only in confronting adversaries, whether it’s Russia, Iran, Syria or North Korea (or for warmonger John McCain — who still hasn’t resigned his Senate seat despite terminal cancer that allegedly prevents his being in D.C. — all of the above).  If things are too calm they’ll create the next Hitler of convenience (see: Slobodan Milosevic, Muammar Ghaddafi).  Keeping these pots on a low boil is useful to the ruling class; when people start catching on to Uncle Sam’s misdeeds, they simply turn up the heat on one of the burners as a “rally ’round the flag” distraction.

If the various “Q”-related rumors are true, the administration is about to unmask considerable — possibly unprecedented — malfeasance within our own country’s leadership.  In such a case it would be prudent to wall off any potential foreign distractions, which may underpin Trump’s focused efforts with North Korea and Russia these days.  Putin’s revelation that Hillary Clinton received $400 million in questionable campaign funds from Russian sources, and Trump’s comments at the press conference about the missing DNC computer server and other unresolved scandals serve to underscore what fights our president has chosen to pursue at this time.  Regardless what success he has on that front, Trump is absolutely right in responding to those who urged him to cross swords with Putin or refuse to meet him at all:

“I would rather take a political risk in pursuit of peace, than to risk peace in pursuit of politics.”

Trump’s foes have consistently underestimated both him and his base of support.  This tends to downplay in my mind all the pundits who claim Trump is either coopted or naïve about Putin.  They may find he was simply ensuring a fight on only one front at a time, fully aware that he still needs to keep Putin under a watchful eye.  “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” as the saying goes.

Such wisdom is to be desired in a chief executive.

Sounding a Mayday

A new memoir by retired Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz revisits the decision by then-Secretary Robert Gates to shut down the F-22 Raptor production line well short of the service’s calculated minimum operational requirement.  The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been tremendously expensive for the United States, both in lives and money.  As time goes on, we may find the largest cost of those conflicts was to cause such an intense focus on counterinsurgency warfare that our higher-end capabilities were allowed to atrophy.  Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States has considered Russia and China “near peer competitors” — in short, not quite the superpower America is.  That situation is changing more rapidly than many planners anticipated even a decade ago.  China fielded its first operational stealth aircraft years before expected.  While they are still having some growing pains, this development invalidated some of the reasoning behind shutting down the F-22 — that the U.S. Air Force was largely untouchable.

…Schwartz’s predecessor General Mike Moseley “never gave up in his principled attempts to get those 381 F-22s” the book states. That push ended up getting Moseley fired along with his civilian counterpart, Air Force Secretary Mike Wynn. After the culling, the brass thought that the new bomber was simply too important and that the chances of winning both the F-22 and bomber arguments with Gates, who was staunchly averse to building high-priced weapons that couldn’t be used in Iraq or Afghanistan, was next to zero.

Schwartz, in an attempt to see if a reduced F-22 production number would be palatable to the Defense Secretary, executed an independent assessment that ended up stating 243 F-22s was the absolute minimum the force could get by with. But Gates balked at that number as well.

In the end, the production line was shut down after only 188 Raptors were built.  The F-22 is designed to ensure air supremacy by sweeping adversaries’ aircraft from the skies.  For context, it is assuming that role from the 1970s-vintage F-15 Eagle, of which the Air Force procured nearly 900 over the decades since its debut.  That number does not include the 225 F-15E “Strike Eagles” specially designed with more focus on ground attack missions than air-to-air operations.  The F-15 production line continues to operate today, fielding orders from major U.S. allies more than a dozen years after the United States bought its last Eagle.

In short, the U.S. bought far too few Raptors, and now has no option to build more (the production line having been dismantled).  The Air Force was able to replenish its F-15 fleet over the years, purchasing newer aircraft and retiring older airframes.  This will not be an option for the F-22 design, as reopening production is cost-prohibitive.  As a result of this shortfall, the Air Force has kept a large number of F-15s in service as teammates to the Raptor.  But this generates the cost of maintaining four distinct fighter platforms: the F-22, the F-15, the smaller F-16 (most known for its use by the Thunderbird Demonstration Team), and the new F-35 attack aircraft.  The F-15 and F-16 were built concurrently as a “high-low” mix: a smaller number of highly capable F-15s to defeat enemy air forces, and considerably more of the less capable (and less expensive) F-16s to operate in a mostly “permissive” environment.  The same approach was intended for the F-22 and F-35.  With the premature closure of the F-22 line, the Air Force has to choose between keeping the F-15s around longer (adding to budget strain), or shifting some of their air superiority mission to the larger (but less capable) F-16 fleet until sufficient numbers of stealthy F-35s are flying.

This was not the first time the U.S. shot itself in the foot while buying a major aircraft system.  The B-2 bomber, which critics love to point out cost more per unit than any aircraft in history, was originally supposed to be a fleet of 100 aircraft.  Rattled by the program cost at a time the Cold War was winding down, Congress funding the Air Force for only 21 (of which only 19 are in operation today).  After 9/11 the system proved far more versatile than its original mission of nuclear combat with the Soviet Union, flying incredibly long missions non-stop from the U.S. to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere.  Instead of 16 nuclear weapons, the aircraft can carry up to 80 satellite-guided 500-pound bombs, accurately hitting scores of targets on each mission.  Such capability creates high demand, but with such a small fleet these demands have worn out the B-2 force and the Air Force is scrambling to produce a replacement system as mentioned in the book excerpt above.  It’s arguable an original fleet of 100 aircraft would have reduced or eliminated the need for another design procurement this soon.

But such is the “penny-wise, pound-foolish” ways of government acquisition.  The F-22 and B-2 are arguably the most advanced and capable aircraft ever built — and no more of either can be produced because the facilities have shut down.  It has been 65 years since an American soldier was lost to enemy airpower — in 1953, during the Korean War.  Three generations of military planners have been able to reasonably assume the U.S. would control the skies in any conflict they foresaw.

Our investment decisions in recent years may soon call that assumption into serious question.  Penny-wise, pound-foolish is bad, but not nearly as bad as penny-wise, blood-foolish.

The last peaceful option?

The current polarization in this country is unique in our history.  There is little (if any) common ground between viewpoints, and both “left” and “right” (increasingly nebulous terms) see the other as completely illegitimate and a threat.  Thus the “culture wars” of the 1980s/1990s have become much, much more, and are being played for complete national dominance.  Twitter, like Facebook, Google/YouTube, etc, is clearly putting its technological thumb on the scale of public debate, finding various ways to mute nationalist/conservative voices.  So it was no surprise to see Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, recommend this article extolling the perceived virtue of California’s one-party rule.

The next time you call for bipartisan cooperation in America and long for Republicans and Democrats to work side by side, stop it. Remember the great lesson of California, the harbinger of America’s political future, and realize that today such bipartisan cooperation simply can’t get done.

And as voices including that of a former Supreme Court justice clamor to rescind the 2nd Amendment, those who value freedom are having to consider their options:

South Carolina Republicans have introduced a bill that would give the state capital the power to secede from the United States if the federal government violates the Second Amendment and begins seizing legally purchased guns.

With passions running high on both sides, firearms are just one of many different triggers (pardon the pun) that could turn our current cold civil war into a hot one.  The continuing politicized effort to overturn the 2016 presidential election through a farcical investigation could spark partisan violence at any time.  One side is convinced beyond persuasion that Trump is an illegitimate president, while the other is equally convinced our government has become corrupted to partisan purposes.  Those of us who hope the election of Trump might harbinger a restoration of sorts still have to be concerned that roughly half our fellow citizens would overturn any progress in the very next election if they can.  That’s why it might be better for all concerned if we found a peaceful way to divide the country so that each group can live as they choose (and reap the consequences and benefits thereof):

It is long past time for an amicable divorce of the United States of America. There is simply no common ground with the Left anymore. We are now the couple screaming at each other all night, every night as the kids hide in their room…  ((an apt metaphor… Jemison))

The history of the world is nations breaking up and redrawing their borders. If we want to avoid this political divide turning into a deadly one, we should do likewise.
Stop clinging to the past and acknowledge where we are as a country, not where you want us to be, not where things were when your grandpa was storming the beaches of Normandy. Where we truly are

The GOP has many problems, but the Democratic Party has turned into something completely un-American. The United States was founded on two things: Judeo-Christian values and a limited federal government. The entire platform of modern Democrats stands completely opposite both of those…

This idea of breaking up the country may seem a bit outlandish now, but you won’t think so once real domestic unrest comes to your town. Our political disagreements have become a powder keg, one that already would have blown if conservatives had liberals’ emotional instability.

Nobody is expected to cheer for this split. Cheering is not a normal reaction when couples get a divorce. We cheer for old married people on their fiftieth wedding anniversary.

But life is imperfect. Life is hard. We both now agree that living under the other side’s value system is wholly unacceptable. The most peaceful solution we Americans can hope for now is to go our separate ways. So let us come together one last time and agree on one thing: Irreconcilable differences.

I spent 24 years wearing a uniform on behalf of this nation.  No one would be sadder than me to see it disbanded into successor states.  The diminution of the United States would be a global disaster.  But it is still preferable to the carnage that will result if we have two incompatible worldviews continue to vie for dominance over a divided population.  A substantial portion of our people now neither understands nor desires true freedom.  As Sam Adams said, may history forget they were our countrymen.

It is far better that part of our nation remains free to continue the vision of limited, Constitutional governance in accordance with Christian principles than to see the whole of it subsumed by both alien populations and alien ideas.   

Two words for the United Nations

…and they ain’t “Merry Christmas.”  The UN General Assembly today voted 128-9 to condemn the U.S. decision to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.  Some of those 128 countries don’t have a lot of room for criticizing anybody, as Jake Tapper admirably points out:

It’s time these folks were sent packing. Ironically, though, by ignoring Nikki Halley’s warning two days ago, the UN may have given Americans an unintended Christmas gift:

DRlu-MBXcAA7FLL

These are the top 10 recipients of U.S. foreign aid.  Israel (as expected) did not support the UN resolution against the U.S.  Of the others, Nigeria abstained, and the rest voted literally to bite the hand that feeds them!

Here’s what I find interesting about this: If you add up all the assistance aside from Israel’s, it comes to $10.2 billion dollars.  In 2016, the United States also gave the United Nations about $10 billion in total contributions.

Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security publicly estimated construction of Trump’s promised enhanced border with Mexico (“the wall”) would cost around $21 billion.

Ditch the ingrates, and the wall is paid for without adding a penny to the deficit.  Thanks, UN!

THIS is what an American-first administration looks like.  Let’s see what President Trump does with Ambassador Haley’s “list of names.”  The “bully pulpit” could make continued Congressional funding of these international leeches a lot less palatable than has been the case in the past.

Making a list, checking it twice

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations plans to note who’s naughty or nice:

America First

This is long overdue in our international relations, and should be a key plank of the new National Security Strategy to put American interests first (see pages 19 and 40 here).  Much of the foreign aid we give out yields dubious returns for America.  And unlike other nations (*cough* China *cough*), we aren’t exactly smart in our use of “soft power.”  Much of the “aid” we supply all too often ends up in the hands of local thugs in power, while China’s efforts produce visible changes and local goodwill.  No doubt if the locals balk, China is not reluctant to tighten the purse strings.

So why do we not do the same with our spending overseas?  At its most blatant, foreign aid is about “winning friends and influencing people.”  But how much influence do you really wield if the recipients of your largesse habitually spit in your eye, knowing they can get away with it?

We are not in the financial position we were after World War II, where America accounted for nearly one-quarter of the global economy.  The Marshall Plan of the late 1940s was unprecedented in scale for American foreign policy, but it also seemed a relatively small price to pay to stabilize Europe and inoculate it against further communist encroachment.  Today, advocates of foreign aid like to point out that it makes up “about one percent of the federal budget” — but that still amounts to billions of dollars that produce scant results compared to the Marshall Plan.

Here’s hoping those countries put on Nikki Haley’s “naughty list” Thursday feel the choking off of unappreciated American dollars.  Since the Federal Government currently borrows nearly 1 in every 5 dollars it spends, those dollars are more appropriately spent at home.

The Empire strikes back

Many people will be distracted the next few days over the release of the latest Star Wars film.  But recent revelations seem to confirm the “dark side” is already hard at work, and not “in a galaxy far, far away.”  Instead of pouring over the backstory of Luke Skywalker and his compadres, Americans would do well to look at the timeline of the backstory to the 2016 election:

August 6, 2016:

In one exchange from August 2016, the FBI’s Lisa Page forwarded a Donald Trump-related article to Peter Strzok, writing: “And maybe you’re meant to stay where you are because you’re meant to protect the country from that menace.”

He responded: “Thanks. It’s absolutely true that we’re both very fortunate. And of course I’ll try and approach it that way. I just know it will be tough at times. I can protect our country at many levels, not sure if that helps.’”

This seems clear. Strzok was going to protect the country from Trump.

August 15, 2016

But an Aug. 15, 2016 message has come under more serious scrutiny.

“I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office — that there’s no way [Trump] gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk,” Strzok wrote to Page.

Andy is believed to be Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe.

“It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40,” Strzok added.

The dossier was the insurance policy

Strzok was at least part of the editing of the Comey statement:

The FBI agent who was removed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia — because he sent anti-Trump messages to a colleague — oversaw the bureau’s interviews with ousted National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, Fox News confirmed on Monday.

Peter Strzok, a former deputy to the assistant director for counterintelligence at the FBI, also was confirmed to have changed former FBI Director James Comey’s early draft language about Hillary Clinton’s actions regarding her private email server from “grossly negligent” to “extremely careless.”

Strzok interviewed Cheryl Mills, Heather Samuelson and Hillary Clinton

The FBI agent who was fired from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation team for sending anti-Donald Trump text messages conducted the interviews with two Hillary Clinton aides accused of giving false statements about what they knew of the former secretary of state’s private email server.

Yet somehow they escaped prosecution for lying to the FBI because Strzok wasn’t going to jeopardize Clinton’s campaign.

The FBI agreed to destroy evidence on behalf of Clinton aides…

Read the entire timeline, with linked documentation, here.  The leniency of the “investigation” into Her Hillariness’ unauthorized email server and mishandling of classified information does not contrast well with the fishing expedition that is the Mueller probe.  At least at the higher levels, the FBI has been as politicized as the IRS before it, and appears engaged in an unprecedented effort to overturn the results of a presidential election.  Americans should be aghast at a federal agent talking about “insurance policies” prior to that election, especially when that agent was heavily involved in the two most prominent–and politically charged–investigations of the past two years.

Trump’s nationalist agenda does not go over well with the transnational ruling elite encamped in the five wealthiest counties in America.  That invisible empire will use every lever at its disposal to thwart his agenda.

If Americans allow it.