Rudy Guliani & The Penguin

As time goes by, Rudy Giuliani, mayor of Gotham from 1994-2001, is developing a visual resemblance to Gotham’s greatest nemesis, The Penguin. And both are politicians. Compare:

Rudy (image) versus The Penguin (image).

Quoting from the Wikipedia character “book”,

The Penguin’s wealth gives him access to better resources than most other Batman villains, and he is able to mix with Gotham’s elite, especially those he plans to target in his future crimes. He is also capable of returning to his luxurious lifestyle very easily despite his violent criminal history and prison record. He has even attempted multiple times to enter the political world, even launching expensive election campaigns.

As mayor, Rudy cleaned up the city, ridding it of nuisances such as  turnstile jumpers and street musicians. Although, I confess, I liked street musicians, and just about anybody you wouldn’t pay to stop blowing. So let’s hope Time doesn’t carry this too far. For the sake of justice, should Rudy end up in court, potential jurors should be disqualified if they’ve ever seen a Batman flick.

(YouTube) Running for mayor, the same office Rudy held, Penguin meets his political consultants.

Danger: Will China Deploy Troops in Hong Kong?

Will China Deploy Troops in Hong Kong ? posits  criteria for deployment of the hammer. Two of them have now been met:

    • Organizing efforts by civil servants, bringing political form to an amorphous movement.
    • Absent overt indications such as the above, concessions by Carrie Lam, that instead of diminishing the protests, result in escalated demands, contain the implied trigger for intervention.

(Reuters) Hong Kong official chides civil servants joining protests, satisfies the first element. In Beijing’s eyes, it risks establishment of a shadow government. A single concession was made,  the scrapping of the extradition bill, to no apparent effect.  The protestors have coalesced around the Five Demands. From (youngpost) Hong Kong protests: What are the ‘five demands’? What do protesters want?,

  • Full withdrawal of the extradition bill.
  • A commission of inquiry into alleged police brutality.
  • Retracting the classification of protesters as “rioters”.
  • Amnesty for arrested protesters.
  • Dual universal suffrage, meaning for both the Legislative Council and the Chief Executive.

Other inducements run true to the China foreign policy tradition of a millennia, soft power. Had economic betterment of this highly educated and highly stressed population already occurred,  they might have been too complaisant  to risk their lives. Beijing may now have reasoned that for economic inducements to be effective, Hong Kong must have conducive public order.

To Beijing, events imply, If we wait, it will get worse, with the defection of civil servants risking a colour revolution. Hence, preparation: (Reuters) China quietly doubles troop levels in Hong Kong, envoys say.

There is one holdup: the plan. How can an action be surgical, when the protestors have themselves applied fairly sophisticated strategies to minimize the concept of “leadership” and replace predictability with randomness? The protestors wear masks, but this is effective only against a normal police state with limited manpower. China has, practically speaking, unlimited manpower.

Somewhere on the mainland, there are rooms with thousands of watchers, staring at video feeds, correlating appearances of masked figures the old way, attempting what AI probably cannot yet do.  With infinite patience, they catalog what they watch, aided by custom database programming and a little AI spice.

An historical example illuminates. In 1939, Ukraine harbored a pro-West and rather fascist insurgency led by Stepan Bandera.  Like Hezbollah today, the insurgency had its own counterintelligence operation. It  successfully identified Soviet  NKVD safe houses, where informants to the NKVD could meet with their handlers. How did they do it?

There were no surveillance cameras back then. Soviet NKVD agents wore standard issue high boots when in uniform. Western Ukrainians wore short boots. The Soviets forgot to change into short boots when they donned plain clothes. Sudoplatov, page 105.

They were given away by their shoes. Cataloging shoes and other articles of clothing, matching these to other biometrics and places of residence, reducing errors by cross-correlation — all this takes time. But Beijing figures they have only one chance to do it right. Space for the detained is not a problem. There is plenty of that in Xinjiang.

I feel sorry for the protestors. With so much idealism, dignity, and intelligence, they would honor the Athens of Pericles.



Revision: U.S. withholding $105 million in security aid for Lebanon

Reuters: U.S. withholding $105 million in security aid for Lebanon; Night Vision Goggles; Vox Populi concludes:

So we have a plausible explanation for the decision to deny aid, a conflict between State and the Pentagon. A short argument suggests that the aid is insufficient to prevent the intrusion of Russian influence.

(NY Times) White House Freezes Military Aid to Lebanon, Against Wishes of Congress, State Dept. and Pentagon contradicts this with factual authority. The NSC decision process that resulted in Lebanon aid cancellation, with  apparent objection by State and Defense, remains unexplained. The article echoes widespread suspicion of something like the Ukraine holdup. Quoting,

Though the president has denied it, senior administration officials have testified that there was indeed a quid pro quo, and the top American diplomat in Ukraine said he sent a cable telling Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that it was “folly” to withhold the aid.

This has become an open-source question of more than average interest.  The question of the hour is whether the  Lebanon aid cutoff is the result of

  • Improper intrusion of politics, or something illicit.
  • Proper, but ill advised decision making.
  • A process that takes due measure of the concerns of the principals, though lacking broad consensus. With the opposition of State and Defense, it can’t be broad.

The NSC principals with the most at stake are the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Homeland Security,  the Director of National Intelligence, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Homeland Security Advisor. But the White House Chief of Staff, who is not a direct stakeholder, and the Homeland Security Advisor are most susceptible to pressure external to the deliberations of the NSC.

It is not impossible that Trump, acting through the White House Chief of Staff, dictated the cutoff. There is a significant and influential minority opinion,  prioritizing the danger of indirect aid to Hezbollah.  This would explain a decision that seems to lack consensus from the majority of stakeholders.

Receipt of new information is also possible. Such information could be in powerful opposition to personal links that have been established by State and Defense with their peers in Lebanon.

I’m not going to spell this one out. Those who have read this blog for a while, and have taken a shine to the craft of open source intelligence, may independently derive it. It will remain unstated, for reasons more important than writing an interesting article.





Reuters: U.S. withholding $105 million in security aid for Lebanon; Night Vision Goggles; Vox Populi

This article is written as a mystery. Did the authors meditate on the vanishingly small percentage of readers who could interpret?

(Reuters) U.S. withholding $105 million in security aid for Lebanon. Quoting,

The administration had sought approval for the assistance starting in May, arguing that it was crucial for Lebanon, an important U.S. partner in the volatile Middle East, to be able to protect its borders. The aid included night vision goggles and weapons used in border security.

The circumstances, which are not explained to the article authors, have superficial resemblance to the blocking of Ukraine aid:

The officials did not say why the aid was blocked. One of the sources said the State Department did not give Congress a reason for the decision….The State Department declined to comment.

But it’s nothing of the kind. The issue of aid is caught between:

  • Diplomatic and strategic benefits of military aid.
  • Risk of appropriation of U.S. military equipment by hostile parties, primarily Hezbollah.

Lebanon is divided by ethnicity and religion. But other than the size of the groupings, the workings of society are quite similar to  tribal Iraq. In both countries, the primacy of the tribes and religious groupings are challenged by protests that have more resemblance to the European revolutions of 1848 than Arab Spring. More than uprisings against tyrants, these are protests against systems.

A detailed analysis of Lebanon’s alliances show only the groupings of the moment. Without troubling to identify the exact moment Michael Aoun, the Maronite Christian president, became a Hezbollah ally, we have the handshake of March 7, 2019. (AP) Lebanon’s president says Hezbollah part of Lebanese people.

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned three days ago. (CNN) Lebanon’s Hariri resigns after nearly two weeks of nationwide protests.  In 2017, Hariri, who is also a Saudi citizen, was held hostage in Saudi Arabia, in an apparent attempt to pressure Hariri not to conciliate with Hezbollah. That strategy has failed.

This is the picture of the moment. It has an infinity of details to get lost in. The vox populi is doubtless being manipulated by unseen hands. We’ve seen enough of that domestically to understand how it works. The situation is fluid, so fluid that the attempt to foster pro-U.S. sentiment, even in limited sectors, is like building a castle out of quicksand.

Fearing further expansion of Russian influence, it is natural to look to the Lebanese Army. Historically, it is no Rock of Gibraltar. While back in the day, it reflected the primacy of Maronite power, it is divided by ethnic composition. It looks good only by comparison to Hezbollah.  (CNN) A New Jersey man scouted US landmarks for potential Hezbollah attacks, charges allege.

Perhaps the country’s preservative gift is the  beauty of Lebanon’s geography, with an open business climate that formerly bridged the West and the Middle East. This is now mostly a memory, but perhaps the persistence of it staves off complete chaos. The Lebanese share a dream.

Let us return to military aid. The question centers around a curious gadget, a vacuum tube. If you’re old enough, you may remember the soft glow of these tubes from the backs of TV sets and radios. Vacuum tubes have been completely replaced by solid state devices, with a few isolated exceptions. Sensor technology is one of them.

Night vision goggles contain a special kind of tube, with two ends. One end is a cold cathode, which releases electrons in response to very small amounts of light, such as that provided by a moonless night. The electrons are accelerated to the other end of the tube, where they hit a phosphor, which glows in response to each hit. The result is the grainy image.  I used a slightly obsolete Generation 2.5 intensifier to examine my back yard on a moonless night, and found a herd of deer.

For stationary surveillance, there are even more sensitive imagers, which require no visible light at all, responding to the long-IR “heat” given off by the human body. This is sensor technology.

The vacuum tubes and other parts in these systems are not off-the-shelf. Even if an adversary acquires samples, manufacturing the duplicate is a challenge. The U.S. possesses a technological lock on the most advanced sensor technology.  more so than even MANPADs such as the Stinger.

Treated well, goggles have a long lifetime.  Unlike other military technologies, they require no infrastructure, networking, or support. Goggles augment the sensory capabilities of the individual soldier. To detect, see, and engage in total darkness is a capability we would like to deny all but our closest allies.

For the future, the Pentagon’s concerns can be mitigated. It is highly feasible to build in a short lifetime for the intensifier tube, the central device of the goggles. The shorter the leash, the better.

So we have a plausible explanation for the decision to deny aid,  a conflict between  State and the Pentagon. A short argument suggests that the aid is insufficient to prevent the intrusion of Russian influence:

  • Hezbollah, a terror organization and Iran proxy, has no collaborative points with the U.S.
  • Hezbollah has collaborative value to Russia with the security of southern Syria.
  • Saudi Arabia, whose interests coincide with the U.S., and with some shared culture, failed to project into Lebanon. Their man, Hariri, has just been  booted.
  • Aoun’s alliance with Hezbollah  prefers Hezbollah as genuinely Lebanese. Hariri is not.

I’m reminded of the remark of one rueful Russian, who compared the U.S. and Russian interventions in Afghanistan. He said, paraphrasing, “Maybe the richest country in the world can buy the poorest [Afghanistan]”.

If State wants influence in Lebanon, try bank bailouts. Soft power beats hard. See Pivot to Asia; Soft Power, 1 of many, which is also relevant to (Reuters) China cites ‘early harvest’ benefits in Guadalcanal deal.












Baghdadi Dead; the Role Looking for an Actor

(CNN) ISIS leader al-Baghdadi believed to have been killed in a US military raid, sources say.

Baghdadi had to be neutralized for the same reason a serial killer is taken off the street. We feel elation, even when the FBI estimates that between 25 and 50 serial killers are currently active in the U.S. It’s elation, yet absent the boon of finality. What kind of person was he?

Quoting the (Daily Telegraph) How a talented footballer became world’s most wanted man, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, an early impression of Baghdadi is of an unimpressive character:

“I was with Baghdadi at the Islamic University. We studied the same course, but he wasn’t a friend. He was quiet, and retiring. He spent time alone … I used to know all the leaders (of the insurgency) personally. Zarqawi (the former leader of al-Qaeda) was closer than a brother to me … But I didn’t know Baghdadi. He was insignificant. He used to lead prayer in a mosque near my area. No one really noticed him.”

(Cairo Review of Global Affairs) A Portrait of Caliph Ibrahim says otherwise. Quoting,

“…He said Al-Baghdadi always had a serene smile on his face and was “calm and self-possessed.” This person, who had also been in Osama Bin Laden’s coterie, said that Al-Baghdadi reminded him of the late Al-Qaeda leader. The same source told me that Al-Baghdadi is extremely charismatic and that, sitting in a room with him and listening to him talking, “it is very difficult not to be influenced by him, his ideas, and his beliefs.”

Paradoxical? Are we discussing the same person? Was this a person of

  • Unrecognized charisma, until fate thrust him to the fore?
  • Insignificant personality, yet with seeds of “greatness”, whose personality dramatically altered, after maturity, to become charismatic?
  • Artificially acquired charisma, obtained by donning a mantle, or role?

This double vision has precedent. Descriptions of Osama Bin Laden include the same metamorphosis, the nobody who becomes the charismatic leader.

We don’t have to conclude that both Baghdadi and Bin Laden contained the suppressed seeds of twisted “greatness.” Anyone who’s seen good Shakespeare has seen the alternative, artifice. The great actor who was “half a man” off the stage is no myth. And if you aren’t into Shakespeare, there’s (People)  Peter Sellers, a great actor who was, at best, one sixteenth  a man in real life. But on stage, a good actor assumes the greatness of the role.

The alternative: Baghdadi and Bin Laden were good actors. The Salafist and Wahhabi sects are  a case of convergent evolution, with different origins and similar-to-identical practices. Physical emulation is a core principle — how to eat, eliminate, clean, groom, dress,  etc. It’s   analogous to the costuming of the stage actor, and the copying of mannerisms with accomplished acting.  Combined with the elaborate  social  functions of a religious  leader, this is a complete Method Acting description of a part.

The elaborate prescriptions of fundamentalist Islamic sects have created enduring roles for lethal actors.  The elimination of Baghdadi is a job well done, worthy of  congratulation. But before we get too happy at the death of an actor, consider this:

It’s hard enough to kill the actor. But how do you kill off a role? Auditions are already scheduled.





Genocide in Northern Syria

The history of Turkey augurs genocide in northern Syria.

Prior to World War I, the Ottoman Empire was a true multicultural state. In a hardly modern arrangement, the tribes and ethnic groups were co-opted in a representational scheme. There is some similarity in the relationship between the Kremlin and Chechnya, though Ramzan Kadyrov would be a lot harder to replace than an Ottoman governor.

But the center, Istanbul, was weak. In World War I, the actual rulers of Turkey, the Three Pashas, allied with the Triple Alliance, which lost.  The empire fell prey to centrifugal forces exploited by Britain and France. It was dissected into artificial, unstable  states, deliberately incorporating antagonistic ethnic groups. This is the face of the modern Middle East.

The center of the former empire, modern Turkey, contained mostly ethnic Turks, but included Armenians and Kurds. The Three Pashas decided that having lost 90% of the real estate, the remainder would be exclusively Turkish. Armenians were a significant minority in the Turkish heartland, Anatolia.  Preceding the birth of modern Turkey under Kemal Ataturk, Turkey was in violent political flux. At the same time, a tide of dispossessed Muslim refugees from the north strained resources of the preindustrial state, when the primary asset was land. The Armenians lived vulnerably in the midst of this unstable society.

Three factors combined:

  • Ethnic hatred, or the desire for a mono-culture in what remained of Turkey.
  • Overcrowding by Muslim refugees.
  • Political expediency, as seen by the Three Pashas.

In, 1915, in a rehearsal for the Holocaust, the Armenians were rounded up and marched south into the Syrian Desert, to die without food or water at 35°20′00″N 40°9′00″E, the location of modern Deir ez Zor.

It wasn’t hard for the Turks to commit the Armenian Genocide, which today they still do not admit. There were no protests. T. E. Lawrence was the British leader of the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans. In  Seven Pillars of Wisdom, the basis of Lawrence of Arabia, he remarks on the passivity and obedience of Turkish soldiers. If directed to be friendly to an Arab village, they were remarkably obedient. If directed to slaughter the inhabitants, their obedience was thorough.

To understand what is yet to come, consider the geography. Most of the area is typical of the Syrian desert, which can support only sparse populations of nomads and livestock. This is why, in 1915, 150,000 Armenians perished at Deir ez Zor. It wasn’t land to colonize; it was land to die in.

The Turks will tell you they need a buffer zone because of cross-border support for the PKK in Turkey. There is something to this. But it should be remembered that the PKK was created by extreme oppression of Kurdish culture, which included the banning of Kurdish dress, language, and even the identity of “Kurd.”

The conflict was well on the way to solution, in the form of cultural accommodation, by Prime Minister Turgut Özal, when he died in 1993. Based on exhumation in 2012,  he was poisoned. The Three Pashas remain alive in the Turkish State.

These similarities with the Armenian Genocide suggest a repetition:

  • Turkey is overloaded with refugees.
  • The secular, inclusive state of Kemal Ataturk has receded, while the observations of T.E. Lawrence remain pertinent.
  • The state is still devoted to Turkish monoculture, with both covert and overt manifestations. Turkey continues to deny the  Armenian Genocide.

So the region is primed for genocide. How will it come off? According to (Reuters) Explainer: Turkey set to redraw map of Syrian war once more,  the initial military target lies between Tel Abayad and Ras al-Ain. This is desert, with two cross-border cities. By itself, this is of little concern.

The northeast corner of Syria is historically part of the Kurdish region that spans Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. The 20 mile zone would obliterate it. But as this area is mountainous and not very rewarding, Turkey will first deprive the Kurdish proto-state of its primary natural resources: the fertile, watered river valley of the Euphrates, and  the  oil fields around Deir ez Zor.

Then they will drive the Kurds into the desert to die, as they did with the Armenians in 1915.

(Reuters) Trump threatens to ‘obliterate’ Turkish economy over Syria incursion plan. The threat of U.S. economic pressure  will mean nothing to the Turks.

The history books of the future will have something to say about this. Betrayal and genocide are terrible things to have your name  on.

I’m feeling some shame myself.



North Korea breaks off nuclear talks with U.S. in Sweden; The End of a Road

(Reuters) North Korea breaks off nuclear talks with U.S. in Sweden. Quoting,

The North’s chief nuclear negotiator, Kim Myong Gil, who spent much of the day in talks with an American delegation, cast the blame on what he portrayed as U.S. inflexibility, saying the other side’s negotiators would not “give up their old viewpoint and attitude.”

This walk-out on working level talks should put the nail in the coffin of wishful thinking, heavily promoted early on by 38North, and some academicians in South Korea. In June 2018, at a  Tokyo panel discussion on North Korea, South Korea’s National Security Advisor, Moon Jae-in, said,

“Now is the time to set aside all those things. Let us see whether North Korea can deliver what the U.S. wants and the entire world wants,” Moon said….“Therefore past behavior should not be the yardstick to judge current or future behavior of North Korea.”

Bad advice, which I rebuked in North Korea’s past no indication, South Korea adviser; The Past is Prologue. These “respected authorities”, and others, failed to deliver the goods when tasked with going beyond academic compilation to the dynamic of prediction.

The media covered the summit circus with handshake photos, floral arrangements, the back seat of Trump’s limo., and a focus that made it look like a PR game. Was this a harmless diversion, or a misdirection of the public’s limited attention? Perhaps it was harmless, but one message was missing: This doesn’t mean anything.

The floral arrangements  have decayed to dust. The shallow scoring of the pundits-of-the-day, about who had better moves on the dance floor, had no relevance beyond a month of collective euphoria. We are back to vile, poisonous, hollow plutonium spheres in the hands of a man who murdered his brother. Even 38North has gone back to chronicling North Korea’s march to become a strategic nuclear power.

I would have none of it. I gave my estimate in Reuters: Trump says ‘major, major’ conflict with North Korea possible. It is identical with the CIA estimate. Quoting,

The bullet list has tight linkages, implying that the object of regime change is identical as a goal with nuclear disarmament of North Korea.

From the above, you might think I’m a hawk. Wrong! It’s a common mental error to conflate intelligence with strategy. Let’s keep them separate here.  The fact that North Korea is a threat does not imply a military solution. The problem of North Korea is  no more or less solvable than the problem of Iran.

In the next two paragraphs, I’ll lay out why betting on horses is a surer enterprise than wars of prevention.

World War I was the “war to end wars.”  The end to war didn’t happen, so the next time war threatened, in 1938, then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain tried to buy peace with Hitler at the expense of Czechoslovakia with the Munich Agreement. That didn’t work either. While  the Korean War was forced upon us, the Domino Theory from the 50’s on fostered another preventive war, in Vietnam.

The Gulf War of 1991, an unqualified military victory, was questioned as a success, since it left in power a ruthless dictator. The follow-up corrective, the 2003 Iraq Invasion, may have been justified. But  the civil decisions that ensued are the direct cause of an Iraq which cannot resist Iran’s expansionism. Viewed as one conflict, these military actions failed the geopolitical goals.

So up to the present, with all the supposed wisdom immanent the think tanks and NSC, one thing is elusive. Paraphrasing Liddell Hart, how can war create a better peace?

If I were to pick the brain of General Mattis, he might be thinking: Instead of looking for the next war, let it find you. So where does this leave the Trump Administration?

  • John Bolton’s opinion, in common with the CIA, and my opinion, is that Kim will never give up nuclear weapons. But because his office was in the White House, and understood by outsiders to be intimately connected with the Presidency, he should have been discrete with that opinion. And Bolton does not seem to have internalized the history of wars of prevention.
  • Trump, in common with FDR’s approach to Joseph Stalin at Yalta,  attempted to establish a personal relationship with Kim. This doesn’t work, because Stalin and Kim were/are not regular guys. They’re out for themselves. Since we cut FDR some slack, we could do the same for Trump.
  • So in view of the difficult alternatives, do I blame Trump for cozying up to Kim? It depends, not upon his public attitude, but what he really believes.  Schmoozing is what you do with someone you need to work with but don’t really like.
  • The CIA got this right from the get-go. Nevertheless, our culture makes negotiation obligatory before conflict.

Schmoozing is OK. Believing is not.





Uprising Grips Iraq, 65 Killed

(Reuters) Uprising grips Iraq, 65 killed in protests against government corruption.

(Al Jazeera) Iraq protests: All the latest updates spotlights a key player:

Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, whose coalition had won the largest number of seats in last year’s elections, urged legislators to suspend their parliamentary membership and boycott sessions until the government responds to the protesters’ demands.

“Hurry to suspend your membership without delay,” he said in a statement issued before a parliamentary session on Saturday.

This is the same  individual whose minions were one of the backbones of the insurgency that gripped Iraq between 2004 and 2008. Post that interval, he became the most adroit politician in Iraq, positioning as the “conscience of the nation” without being tarred by political office. His positions have gyrated between violence and conciliation. He has resided in Iran for indeterminate periods. The Iranian and Iraqi religious establishments have close ties, divided mainly by the issue of Velâyat-e Faqih, a very new invention which may in the near future be no issue at all. See Iran history II: two societies.

So I have long harbored the suspicion, which I cannot substantiate, that Muqtada al-Sadr is an Iranian mole, or with more grayness, a buyable personage. He’s not an ayatollah; he may lack the brainpower for the horrific memorization and declamation, but in return for delivering Iraq to Iran, Qom might judge more favorably than Najaf.  Or he might enjoy  being the ruler of a satrap. These are personal suspicions, unsubstantiated by anything in open source.

With Iraq on the verge of disintegration, a triangle of three forces provides a simple visualization. The corners of the triangle are patriotism, grievance, and oppression. The state of practically any nation can be represented by a dot inside the triangle, nearest to the forces most in play. In Iraq today, the dot is almost on the line connecting patriotism and grievance. If the dot moves all the way over to grievance, Iraq explodes.

Sadr is helping this along  by riding the tide of grievance, and promoting the dissolution of the parliament. The fact of corruption characteristic to a tribal society is a boon to his machinations. He doesn’t have to manufacture anything.

If Sadr succeeds in disenfranchising Iraq’s civil administration, Iran may decide to lend a helping hand. Basra looks particularly juicy. It’s near Iran, the residents are well ahead of the curve of discontent. It provides a choke point on the Shatt al-Arab, extending influence well inland, to the entire drainage basin of the Tigris and Euphrates.

Iran’s strategic planners are at least gaming this out. An alternative, or adjunct, would be further strikes against Saudi facilities. At some level, oil starvation becomes less tolerable than compliance with U.S. sanctions. The result could be a general, willful disregard of U.S. sanctions, together with widespread dollar substitution, and weakening of the dollar as the primary reserve currency.

I’ve written about various ways the cookie can crumble. See:

The takeaway: In this region, we don’t have a winning hand, but:

  • Stick tight with Saudi Arabia.
  • Yemen has possibilities, which I won’t discuss here.
  • Have a contingency plan for deployment of ground forces.

Houthis Claim Saudi Territory in Big Battle

(CNN) Houthi rebels show video of alleged attack on Saudi and Yemeni forces. Quoting,

Saree, who made the claims during a televised address Sunday, said rebels had “liberated” a 350 square kilometer (135 square mile) area while also capturing scores of enemy vehicles and thousands of soldiers who surrendered.

This has a decent chance of truth. In 2017, I wrote Saudi Arabia Versus Iran; Battle for the Middle East Part 3. Quoting,

Saudi Arabia doesn’t have any infantry divisions, with a possible exception of a “Guards” unit. Since even the U.S. Army has a sizeable infantry, there must be a reason other than utility for the absence of an infantry. In Saudi Arabia, the attractions of the list don’t work for infantry. No Saudi in his right mind wants to hump a pack and a rifle…. Our Gordian knot-clipper points to the existence of a sizeable Iranian infantry component as a sign of potency absent in Saudi Arabia.

Yet the U.S. is also a comfortable place to live, and it fields the world’s finest infantry. It comes down to national motivation. Nationalism is the frequently erroneous belief that one’s country has characteristics endearing enough to sacrifice one’s life. These could be:

  • Some form of exceptionalism, as in American Exceptionalism.
  • Cultural affinities, such as Russia’s pan-slavism.
  • All your friends and family live there.

Nationalism can be  a curse or a blessing. It figures prominently in world history, as a characteristic of the nation, which is the largest tribal unit. Let’s skirt these issues, to note that the psychology of nationalism may be weak or absent in Saudi Arabia. It may have too recently been a bunch of tribes, their affinities focused on a supranational idea, Islam.

Further reading: Saudi Arabia Versus Iran; the Saudi Decision Process; Part 1, and Saudi Arabia Versus Iran; the Saudi Decision Process; Part 2.

The practical takeaway:  A U.S. policy to confront Iran should have a contingency backup of large ground force deployments.


Why the New Arms Race?

I originally wrote this as a preface to Preface to Hypersonic Strategies, Part 6. Then I thought the better of it. The current readership prefers the concrete and technical to soft ice-cream humanist. I just thought again. With the current distractions of domestic politics, only the most widely ranging readers will bother with Intel9.  So now’s the time.

It began,  “Forthcoming Part 6 has a decidedly Strangelovian air, so this is both a disclaimer and a warning.” It continues:

The resumption of the arms race is a pox on humanity. Is it due to particular individuals, or is it a case of historical inevitability? There is a natural tendency to simplify by concentration of blame, producing theories that tend to be wrongly simple and simply wrong.

Bringing all the factors together permits even those whose world views tend towards simplicity the opportunity to consider history as an infernal machine of reactions, rebounds, and ricochets, and possibly hybridize their views. The menu items:

  • Historical inevitability.
  • Economic protectionism.
  • Historical causes/grudges
  • Cultural differences.
  • Personalities.
  • Domestic politics of states involved in this conflict.
  • Accidents of history.
  • Hidden motives.

Any particular flowchart  of genesis could be rejected, just from disagreement  about proportions of factors, not the factors themselves. Skipping the proportions, we may find a common core. It begins with the fall of the Soviet Union.

In the immediate aftermath, Russia under Yeltsin, and “early Putin”, looked to the West for inspiration, wanted to become part of the West, and aspired to join NATO.  Two rejections ensued:

  • Rather than accept Russia as a NATO member or associate, NATO expanded eastward, as a “purely defensive alliance” against only one possible adversary, Russia.
  • The EEC, and later EU refused to open their markets to Russia.

Historical inevitability,  fear driven reaction to the Iron Curtain, lays a big claim to the above. Economic protectionism ratified these fears. Europeans feared cheap Russian labor and the absence of business law.

European memories of the Iron Curtain, an historical cause, were fresh.  Among Russians, there was a personal sense of rejection, which may be partly responsible for a regression to the past, but with a twist. Instead of ideology, the new-old Russia is feared by  the West in the same way and for the same reasons described by Joseph Conrad before the Bolsheviks; see Trump-Putin Summit; An Executive Summary; The Oldest Russia Analyst. From his 1905 essay, Autocracy and War:

...From the very first ghastly dawn of her existence as a state, she had to breathe the atmosphere of despotism, she found nothing but the arbitrary will of an obscure Autocrat at the beginning and end of her organization. Hence arises her impenetrability to whatever is true in Western thought. Western thought when it crosses her frontier falls under the spell of her Autocracy and becomes a noxious parody of itself. Hence the contradictions, the riddles, of her national life which are looked upon with such curiosity by the rest of the world. The curse had entered her very soul; Autocracy and nothing else  in the world has moulded her institutions, and with the poison of slavery drugged the national temperament into the apathy of a hopeless fatalism...

Conrad describes cultural differences, illuminated by visceral fear, inspired by geography and history. It would be hard to overstate Polish fear of Russia, which is why Poland has vigorously promoted U.S. military presence.

Personalities and domestic politics combined in Russia to devise a new/old conception of the State to fill the vacuum. Many observed that Russians seemed incredibly unpatriotic, leaving the world’s longest land border crucially vulnerable.  Putin’s conception of the new state was Slavic nationalism with a weakly authoritarian core, and a foreign policy with notes of 1914. Contrary to those who run the “most powerful man in the world” contest, Putin’s autocracy is  limited. With a power base of Slavic nationalism, he can’t back up. Hence, frozen conflict Ukraine.

The Russians hoped to join the West; we rejected them for the reasons of Conrad and protectionism, so they went back to the only ways they knew, intimidation, interventions, subversion, deception,  and poisons. The old ways. Could we have pulled Russia into the future? Is the monster in part our careless creation?

This is a description of fertile ground for an arms race, but missing a catalyst. This came in the form of rogue state nuclear ambitions, the given reason for withdrawal of the U.S. from the ABM treaty in 2002. In response to choice of Poland to site an ABM radar complex, Russia offered a technically better one, rejected for the reasons best described by Conrad.

Although hypersonic missiles present many opportunities for asymmetric warfare, Russia’s conclusion that the U.S. ABM system is intended to negate  her strategic deterrent is a major driver. It was strengthened by on-off development of the Multiple Kill Vehicle, MKV,  proposed to close the gap between the cost per shot of ICBMs and defense against them. It is obscured by the irritations of every-day, of Russia’s tactics seeking every marginal advantage, verging on low intensity warfare. But while Putin may be the most important parent of  Russia’s rebirth-via-return to the past,  the child has the genes of many.

Does this dissection of the infernal machine of recent history suggest an opportunity to reverse it? Possibly, but one obstacle has nothing to do with the U.S. In Russia, many more things are hidden than proclaimed, so a hidden motive is possible. The hypothesis:

  • Russia fears China much more than the U.S.
  • Putin’s Russia must be galvanized by tension, to become a modern Sparta.
  • Elevation of tensions with China is dangerous; the U.S. becomes the  safe substitute.
  • Confounding simplicity, this could be part of a mix.

In an open society, such schemes do not get very far in silence. But this is Joseph Conrad’s Russia.










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