Retaliation to Iran’s Strike

Some things cannot be included in this public statement.  If my thoughts happen to be convergent with the NSC, and I were to state them here,  it could be semi-equivalent to a tipoff to the adversary.

As an attempt to change the behavior of an adversary, the trade war with China has been carried out much more adroitly than the analogous attempt at behavior modification of Iran. To be sure, the ingrained behavior of a fanatical quasi-religious state is a much tougher nut than  China’s pragmatic economists. But certain general principles still apply.

One principle is setting the stakes at an appropriate level. If they’re too high, it pushes the adversary into desperate measures. If the the right amount of pressure is applied, which may never be known except after the fact, the adversary’s calculations are likely to be more fluid.

The gray beards of Iran might give a point or two, but they won’t change their minds. But every year, they shrink away a little, while the new blood grows. The natural time scale is generations. Maybe the time scale can be accelerated a little, but with too much pressure, the graybeards react. They are reactionary.

So we should aim for bearable misery. If Iran were a fish, you’d want to let it run, play the line. This is why I was in favor of letting Iran sell a little oil, jerking them around. Unpredictable is good. As it is, the U.S. program is completely predictable, and they are jerking us around.

While Iran’s high tech military assets can be neutralized, the current U.S. force posture cannot prevent Iran from carving into Iraq. Quoting (Financial Times) Iraq’s desperate struggle to stay out of Iran-US feud,

“[Iraq] is a success that is emerging after four decades of conflict,” says President Barham Salih. “We don’t have the stamina, we don’t have the energy, we don’t have the resources, or the willingness, to become victim to yet another proxy conflict.”

Iraq could become a victim to the extent of an actual occupation of Basra, and other areas where Shiite militia verge on de facto control. Retaliation must be crafted to  include a disincentive to the above.

Iran’s strike damaged Saudi Arabia to an almost intolerable degree. The strike may have been too heavy. Had Iran taken out a single GSOP, as a demonstration of future risk, we might not be talking retaliation. We don’t have to make the same mistake.

An ideal target would be an industrial facility, a type  of which:

  • Iran has multiples.
  • Loss of one or two is tolerable.
  • Most must function.
  • Loss of most would be intolerable.

A strike against one plant is a demonstration, not of dollars lost but dollars-at-risk. If it is apparent to Iran that it cannot defend the remainder, it is a disincentive for Iran to retaliate. The point can be driven home through the back channel: “You strike cost Saudi $1B (Or whatever the hit to the IPO). We just took out your $500M  facility. We’re going easy on you.”

Don’t make us play hardball.

 

 

 

 

 

(CNN) US has assessed that the attack on Saudi oil facilities originated inside Iran

(CNN) Sources: The US has assessed that the attack on Saudi oil facilities originated inside Iran. Quoting,

The US has told at least one US ally in the Middle East, that they have intelligence showing that the launch was “likely” coming from staging grounds in Iran, but they have not shared that intelligence yet. “It is one thing to tell us, it is another thing to show us,” said a diplomat from the region.

The intelligence may have been obtained via cutting edge technology, epitomizing the ultimate in abilities of technical collection.

The question: To share or not to share? For the sake of preserving secrecy of the methods, it might be best not to.

Iran, Iraq, Yemen? Act of War? Note to Reuters, Factual Error

This is a time to get the facts straight.

(Reuters) Attack on Saudi oil facility came from direction of Iran, not Yemen: U.S. official. Quoting,

The U.S. official, who asked not to be named, said there were 19 points of impact in the attack on Saudi facilities and that evidence showed the launch area was west-northwest of the targets – the direction of Iran – not south from Yemen.

However, the map bearing of Iran from Abqaiq GOSP 5 to the westernmost Iran border is 347 degrees. So if the attack originated in Iran, it would be more correct to give the direction as almost due NORTH. On the other hand, southwestern Iraq is west-north-west of Abqaiq. One way or the other, Reuters has it wrong, the wrong country or the wrong direction.

Regardless of the launch point, Yemen, Iraq, or Iran, I’m easily persuaded that Iran is responsible. The forensics must be daunting, because the drone or cruise missile debris was incinerated by the intense petroleum fires. If just one had failed to make the target, there would be more substantial indicators.

The details of Iranian innovation in drone guidance are not available to open source, because of the sensitivity of HUMINT. If we assume radio control,  the maximum control distance has been publicly stated by Iran for some drones. If the limit is 210 miles (?), this becomes the strongest indication for Iranian launch and control. It’s only 191 miles from the Iran coast to Abqaiq GOSP 5, the shortest distance of the three countries. It is mostly over water, which improves the range.

Quoting from US official: Iran has moved missiles to Persian Gulf,

Is there something more we can tease out of open source? A template based on the recent past gives insight into Iranian tactics, which emphasize surprise, asymmetry, and deniability. Against the background of comparatively moderate posturing by the secular government, attacks against U.S. forces have occurred in a deniable manner.

Whether the attack is regarded as an act of war is the option of the injured party. Iran has considerately made another deniable attack.

So we could just look the other way.

 

Houthi Drone Raid on Abqaiq, Time to Restart

Saudi estimates on time to restart will be available in a few days. so this estimate is an exercise.  A 1960 article from “Aramco World”, titled Sweetening Up the Crude, is relevant. When we think of a refinery, the “cracking unit” comes to mind, as it is most central to producing refined petroleum products. But crackers are not central to the main job of Abqaiq, which is removing sulfur, and dissolved flammable gases under high pressure. Quoting,

All the crude produced in Saudi Arabia—except for that of the offshore Safaniya Field in the Persian Gulf—is "sour." At ground level the pressure may be as high as 1,000 pounds per square inch (or "1,000 psi," as the engineers say). It must be reduced considerably before it reaches the stabilizer, so it's sent first to a gas-oil separator plant, or "GOSP." There are eleven of these in the Abqaiq area.

Now, the gas can't be allowed to "blow off" all at once. If it did, a considerable amount of liquid would also be lost—something like shaking a bottle of soda pop before uncapping it.

The gas is released in stages in a series of drums or columns, known as separators, before it reaches a spheroid where the pressure is cut down to about 2 psi. By now, most of the light hydrocarbon gases have been removed, but the gas is still "sour." The next step is to pump it to the sour-crude storage tanks at the stabilizer to await processing.

If water and sulfur are both present in crude, sulfuric acid forms, which eats through low alloy steels in common use.

The  inlet pressure of the (as of 1960) 11 GOSPs  is about 1000 psi, 10X the operating pressure of a typical “cracker” The GSOP’s at Abqaiq are made of heavy gauge stainless steel to resist both pressure and corrosion by sulfuric acid.   This is required because there is no control over the  composition of the oil as it comes out of the ground. Later in processing, combinations of stabilizing chemicals, and removal of water, make possible (Science Direct) transport of some sour crudes  in HSLA steel pipelines.  But at Abqaiq, Aramco actually transforms sour into sweet, with a resulting price premium.

  • The drone warheads are small, too small to destroy a substantial building. But if a drone hit a GOSP, the high operating pressures and  abundance of flammable gases would multiply the effect, resulting in total destruction.
  • The requirements of replacement: thick stainless steel, custom fabrication, and flawless welding. These days, stainless production and fabrication is principally done in China, a supply chain risk.
  • Other infrastructure, such as pumps and automation, are potentially serviceable with spare parts. This is not the case of the GOSPs.
  • This is not a simple Shukhov thermal cracker, of the kind the massive WWII Allied bombing raids on Ploiești found so hard to flatten. High technology and large scale exact the penalty of long lead times.

The estimate,  purely as an exercise, is 120 days for partial resumption of lost production.

To say there is no defense against this level of attack is incorrect. The AN/SEQ-3 Laser Weapon System is a good fit, though study of saturation attack is a requirement. Since,

  • The targets are large, high value infrastructure,
  • Large areas of Houthi control, and all of Iran, enjoy a shield from direct combat conditions,

Saturation attacks are more likely than if the origin is  a combat zone.

 

 

Choosing a National Security Advisor; Beware of the Chinese Menu; Part 2

Let’s continue our study of Brzezinski and Kissinger. While both had personal politics, neither had political aspiration. Each had a patron, someone within the political structure who circumvented the political and social barriers to the corridors of power. Kissinger’s patron was Nelson Rockefeller; Brzezinski’s was David Rockefeller.

The Rockefellers compensated for a defect of our system. Without them, the choices were lesser men (yes, in those days, men), maybe hacks, who knew how to work the system (suck up, kiss down), but little else. They might be lawyers, not a great asset. Lawyers tend to think like lawyers.  They might be politicians, not so great either. Politicians spend so much of their mental energy trying to understand the electorate, it gets in the way of understanding totally alien cultures and their murderous inclinations.

Brzezinski and Kissinger were both college professors. Brzezinski was a people person. His own “pollster”, he spent years traveling around Eastern Europe, talking to ordinary people, getting their ideas for a better world. In retirement, his NPR interviews displayed a genuinely humble person. In the Forecasting World Events program, when a prediction was requested for a minor European election, he suggested instead a question about tennis. He was a tennis enthusiast.

  • Takeaway #1`: Neither spent their lives seeking this job. Unintentionally, they spent their lives in preparation.

The Carter Administration was humiliated by the Iran hostage crisis. Little known, Brzezinski  responded with the start of rapid deployment forces and  Special Missions Units, later publicized as Delta Force, SEAL 6, etc. The initiative has been of lasting value in projection of American power, yet others typically get the credit.

A harder edged personality, Kissinger was a networker, organizer, and negotiator. Some of the hard edge is softened by the critical self evaluation of his autobiography. Kissinger’s ties were mostly with the elite, but he carried on a personal dialog with the anti-war movement. Inner humanity is best revealed by the need to be understood.

  • Takeaway #2: They had expansive job approaches, going beyond definition.

You can have an advisor who is smaller than the job, or one who is bigger. There is no “just right.” Distinguish between personal presence and depth. Some personal presence is necessary to get the attention of the bureaucracy, but it’s useless if the ideas are NFG. Above all, look out for “power for power’s sake.” The job title tends to attract it.

Both Brzezinski and Kissinger were refugees from Hitler’s Nazism. They shared, like many others of this background, a professional cynicism, a large part of what the international relations people call “realpolitik” and “realism.” I’m not getting academic here. People use these words, and this is where it comes from.

  • Takeaway #3: Their inclinations were forged in the crucible of life.

These persons managed to cut away from the common herd. There aren’t a bunch of copies walking around; these men were originals. What were their secrets?

If each man had been handed the other’s problems, would the same solutions result? That’s where luck comes in.  With Kissinger’s comfort moving among elites, he  juggled,operated and resolved conflicts between the Western Bloc, the Eastern Bloc, and  Third World clients of the same.  Brzezinski, primed by his one-on-one interactions with residents of Eastern Europe,   sensed ripeness for change. In response, he replaced Kissinger’s détente with a policy of peaceful confrontation.

  • Takeaway #4: Lefty Gomez again. They were right for the times.

Replacing détente was not a partisan move.  Cyrus Vance, secretary of state under Carter, preferred the continuation of Détente. Foreign policy is used as a political football, but since World War II, the relationship with the issues of domestic politics has been weak and occasional.  This is changing, with major conflict between the “internationalists”, and the “nationalists.” Is there a compromise?

Next: Retrospective.  To be continued shortly.

 

 

 

 

Choosing a National Security Advisor; Beware of the Chinese Menu; Part 1

A new national security advisor offers the opportunities of same-old-same-old, incremental improvement, ideological certainty, or out-of-the-box thinking. Two prior office holders are particularly noteworthy: Zbigniew Brzezinski and Henry Kissinger. (I had the pleasure of competing against Brzezinski in the “Forecasting World Events” competition, when I beat his score at forecasting.) Brzezinski’s achievements  exceed those of any other save Kissinger.

With Kissinger in a class of his own, others of high ability are not marked by achievement for the reason stated by Lefty Gomez: “I’d rather be lucky than good.” Kissinger and Brzezinski  served when world order was in the process of transition,  full of opportunity. But since Louis Pasteur said “Chance favors the prepared mind” , I’d rather be lucky and good. Of the 27 who have filled this role, there are doubtless some whose brilliance was shadowed by the problems of their times.

We had a recent lesson about believing versus adapting, and of being a slave to an idea.  Our power structures — universities and think tanks — are set up to favor the student whose mind can be blueprinted by his Ph.D advisor, and those who want to advance within the power structure. It’s a valuable leg up to have mentors, and hard to have them if you insist on going your own way.

Things to figure out about the applicant:

  • Is the applicant’s mind a xerox copy of one of the famous think tanks, or the intellectual establishment, or the “party line?”
  • Does he have any ideas of his own? Small, like greasing the wheels, big, like an architect? Or does he quote policy to you?
  • Give the guy a simple problem, and ask for a sketch of a solution, on the spot. Is it idealistic, realistic, cynical? Is it a Chinese menu of choices everybody knows?
  • You  don’t like the idea. Does he fold up, try to sell it to you, or start a dialog?
  • If the applicant is “respected”, try to figure out why. The applicant may be an excellent xerox copy, be a good administrator, have winning ways, and be useless for the job.
  • If you find someone who is a brilliant, out-of-the box thinker, and copacetic, bend over backwards to excuse the things you thought were important, like “Nobody ever heard of him.” This is a battle of the brains.

I’ll continue shortly.

If you want the Best of the Best of the Best, this test will get you started.

 

The Intractables: Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen, Syria

Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen, and Syria, the unwanted leftovers of Western colonialism, are  situations of intractable engagement with U.S. forces. . Contrary to the Western powers that abandoned their empires, we’re stuck. A relatively new factor, Islamic terrorism, prohibits the summary exits forced on the UK, Netherlands, France, and Belgium.

(MT) Trump calls off secret Camp David meeting with Taliban, Afghan leaders.There has been criticism of Trump’s attempt of a secret meeting with Taliban leaders at Camp David. Since this is not a political blog, I will not join the criticism. While I  privately anticipated  failure of the negotiations with the Taliban, I felt that a public assertion would be more irritating than helpful.

If diplomacy is unrivaled by alternatives, there is no reason to criticize the form it takes.  Where talks are held, and whether there is byzantine secrecy, are not central. Diplomacy has been going on as long as palaver. It seems to be something humans do. To deny the role of diplomacy, as a wasted step before inevitable conflict, is like the assertion of (Minority Report) future crime. In the West, post World War II, diplomacy is regarded as a requirement of a moral foreign policy.

In earlier times, and in other regions, the object of diplomacy has been manipulation. An historical quote, perhaps due to Richelieu or Talleyrand, is close to “God gave the diplomat a tongue so he could say what he does not mean.”  Every student of foreign policy becomes familiar with six teaching examples:

  • Munich Agreement of 1938, which enforced on Czechoslovakia the cession of the predominantly German Sudetenland to Nazi Germany. Hitler proclaimed it was his last territorial demand. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced (YouTube)“I have brought peace for our time”  From this stems the thought: Never appease a dictator.
  • Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of 1939. Unique in this list, it involves two dictators. Adolph Hitler deceived Joseph Stalin  to believe that, with Germany pacified by  delivery of raw materials from Russia, invasion was not imminent.  The illusion was shattered in the early morning hours of Sunday, 22 June 1941, with Operation Barbarossa.
  • Yalta Conference, when FDR sought to curry  Stalin’s favor both on a personal level, and by accession to most of Stalin’s demands. In search of a personal bond with “Uncle Joe”, FDR sidelined Winston Churchill, and the latter’s efforts to stop the annexation of Eastern Europe as satellites of the Soviet Union, with what became known as the Iron Curtain.
  • Paris Peace Accords, resulting from secret talks,1970-73, between  Lê Đức Thọ and Henry Kissinger.  Of note, there were also parallel, public negotiations, valued only as propaganda by North Vietnam. The secret talks were repetitious, empty, and according to Kissinger, a form of torture. Yet the result was an agreement. We’ll dissect this.
  • Shuttle diplomacy, practiced by Kissinger during the Nixon and Ford administrations, which ended hostilities in the wake of the Yom Kippur War,  setting the stage for the Camp David Accords during Jimmy Carter’s presidency.
  • SALT(s) and START(s), begun by Kissinger and continued by others.  Generally positive outcomes, with and without treaty ratification.

Three successes, two failures, and one great deception. Munich and Yalta are infamous. While the Paris  Peace Accords were completely undone  when South Vietnam collapsed in 1975, this result has been cited as a hardly inevitable self-inflicted wound.  Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy remains durable to present.

In the West, it is a moral requirement to precede the use of force with diplomacy. Alternatives to diplomacy exist with some situations, as   nonviolent opportunities to shape the future.  It is then a boon if the chance of successful negotiations can be determined in advance.  Is this possible?

Yes!  To be continued shortly.

 

Violence in America Part 2; Two Degrees of Anonymity

We continue from  Violence in America Part 1.

(CNN) A shooting rampage that left 5 dead in West Texas started with a traffic stop.

Many attempts have been made to discover the causes of violent crime, and the reasons some societies are comparatively safe. It is hard for many to absorb that there is no one or two things that decide. It seems likely that there are many mixtures that produce one or the other.

There will be more stringent gun laws.  Mass murder is now a political issue, with greater stage presence than the NRA. Mass shootings will persist.  (MST) Mass Shootings Tracker counts 340 this year to date. Gun Violence Archive counts 280. If gun laws are enacted to the degree held tolerable by the red states, there will be almost as many shootings the following year. In five years, if we’re lucky, the incidence might be halved.

A small minority young U.S. men with vague and barely noticeable mental health issues have been energized by a deadly meme. Contrary to our expectations,  the meme is viable without connection to any ideology at all. The susceptible population of young men may be as high as 2.5%, corresponding to the prevalence of psychotics in the general population.

Our society has evolved in a direction that is a gift to the world’s totalitarian states. They now say, “Look at you. We’re not giving our people freedom to imitate that.”

We must look to the unsavory past, a past that did not respect civil rights, when by our modern standards, the “different” were persecuted, racial equality was denied, women were inferior, and allegiance  was required to false gods, both in the village and in the sky. Injustice was rife and crime was (comparatively) rare. Since then, the Republic has taken a long journey, towards anonymity.

The first degree of anonymity came after World War II. Americans became mobile, relocating in mass migrations; from South to North, East to West. With migration came a cosmopolitan anonymity. Those who relocated were immersed in megalopolises, now surrounded by people who did not know them. For the most part, they never would. The village bigots would not be replaced.

Freedom to live one’s own, distinctly individual life, within the law, but free of the pressure of conformity from unwanted peers, is a treasure of our modern liberal society. The dark side: in the postwar period, crime surged. The same odious peer pressure to conform, to live and act exactly like one’s peers, had  discouraged crime.

The desire of the criminal to commit crime while avoiding apprehension requires anonymity. As police tactics and technology improved, the veil of  anonymity was partially pierced. Crime went down. Other factors doubtless played a part.  Female empowerment, Oprah Winfrey, and TV courts may have substituted for the village bigots, reaching those disinterested in organized religion.

The second degree of anonymity came with the avatar of social media, and the fictional identity that usually accompanies it. Since law enforcement can easily discover the identity of a particular social media user, it may seem ridiculous to identify this as as crucial influence. But it is easy to overestimate human intelligence.

In  Lake Woebegon, all the children are above average. Every where else, half the children and adults are below average. This means dumb. They are not readers of this blog, but social media is very popular. Many are kind, polite, and productive. With limited ability to understand complex issues, many have considerable ability to divine the basic character of other persons, which could explain why our democracy functions as well as it does.

The bulk of criminals come from the below-average and just-average. Quoting from (Criminal Justice Research) Intelligence and Crime, Part V,

The majority of studies have found IQ differences between offenders and nonoffenders (e.g., Ellis &Walsh, 2003). On average, the IQ for chronic juvenile offenders is 92, about half a standard deviation below the population mean. For chronic adult offenders, however, the average IQ is 85, 1 standard deviation below the population mean. A study of Texas inmates who entered the prison system in 2002 indicated that approximately 23% of the inmates scored below 80, almost 69% scored between 80 and 109, and only 9.6% scored above 110 (Ellis & Walsh, 2003).

The avatar is an abstraction combined with a fiction. To the intellectually gifted, it is a pleasant fiction. To those who are intellectually challenged, the reality of the avatar as a true identity is variable. In a person consumed with ideation of violence, the delusion of the avatar may supersede the fiction. It gives the ideator freedom to act.

To save our society, to extinguish the meme of killing, something has to be sacrificed. It’s unthinkable to sacrifice our constitutional freedoms. Gun control by itself will not do away with the meme. We cherish our right to live in anonymous freedom. We don’t want the return of the village bigots.

We cannot rely on our better natures. Something has to change.

I nominate the avatar/fictional identity, to be replaced by something that every intellectually challenged, meme-consumed young male will, in every moment of his online existence, be reminded  is no shield for ideation of mass murder.