Something Important to Consider

Earlier this evening, in the comments to my post about the concerns being expressed about the US at the Munich Security Conference, a couple of commenters expressed their views that the US has wasted tons of money interfering all over the world, ignoring international law, and basically doing terrible things. And as a result the US is poorer and the world is worse off than if we had just not done any of it. I’m not some pollyanna who is unaware of the fraught and conflicting history of the US’s international activities post World War II – and in some cases before WW II. However, it is one thing to recognize that we often fall short of our ideals or compromise them because of the domestic politics or failure of leadership or short term fears and simply throwing the baby out with the bathwater of US involvement in international affairs post WW II. The point of the earlier post is that our partners’ and allies’ view of the US, warts and all (and I wrote warts and all in the original post) under the current Administration is beginning to sharply diverge from how most Americans, and American leaders, continue to view the US as being a force for good in the world.

So how have others viewed the US? Here’s one example:

What is described above is just one example of the good that comes from America using its national power – diplomatic, information, military, and economic – within the global system. There are many others. For instance, US Army – Japan’s, as well as other Pacific Command elements’ and US government agencies’ assistance after the tsunami and Fukeshima Daiichi meltdown. There is no one else on the planet, no one, that has the strategic lift capabilities, or the expeditionary forward deployed personnel, to conduct over the horizon, global humanitarian assistance, disaster management, and emergency response. While many countries may contribute when something like the Fukeshima Daiichi disaster happens they rely on the US to get their assets and aid on site. And they rely on the US to have personnel close enough to provide immediate response until everyone else can get moving.

In case it was unclear in the earlier post, or any of my other posts, I’m not arguing that the US is perfect. That we never screw up or that we’re always able to align our values and ideals and our strategic objectives. We do screw up and we quite often fail to align our values and ideals and our strategic objectives. Even worse we elect leaders with feet of clay or who’s personal ambitions outweigh the public good. This doesn’t make us evil. It makes us human.

Rather, my intention in the earlier post, and one’s similar to it, has been to argue that we largely established the post WW II order. And that it has benefited us immensely even as we often didn’t always get it right. But until or unless someone can coherently explain who is going to ensure that the Ground Lines of Commerce and Communication (GLOCCs), Sea Lines of Commerce and Communication (SLOCCs), and Air Lines of Commerce and Communication (ALOCCs) if the US doesn’t. Or how a post US driven international order would work, what it would look like, how it would be more stable, then simply either throwing it all out in pursuit of national populism or badmouthing the US for its failings without recognizing its successes, you’re not constructively moving the conversation forward. You’re just picking nits.

We’re not perfect. We screw up. But if you think Vladimir Putin is going to provide strategic lift and take the lead in doing humanitarian assistance, disaster management, and emergency response if the US pulls back or that the People’s Republic of China will, then you are deluding yourself. One day the PRC may be ready and willing and able to do so, but they aren’t now. And even if they reach the point where they have those capabilities, they may not have the desire or will to do so.

What do you think is going to happen if/when the Kim regime fails/falls in North Korea? Sure, the People’s Republic of China is going to have to play a huge role in the response, as will South Korea. Especially for the political, social, and economic responses. But a great deal of that response is going to be humanitarian and the US will be in the lead for that. Not just because its in our best interest to quickly secure North Korea’s nuclear stockpile, but because it is in our interest, as well as in line with our national values, to prevent millions of impoverished North Koreans from over running the Peoples Republic of China, South Korea, and possibly Japan as refugees. This would destabilize the Asia-Pacific region quickly overwhelming the states and societies there, throwing the regional, and possibly the global, economy into chaos. And leading to untold amounts of suffering.

As for Russia, as long as Vladimir Putin runs Russia in order to benefit himself and his select group of oligarchs and agents, it will never have the capabilities, let alone the intentions to pick up the slack. The US is not an indispensable Nation because over the long course of history no Nation-state or person is indispensable. But until or unless someone else demonstrates they have the will and the capability to step up, the US’s role in the global system is as close to indispensable as can be.

And with that I wish you all a goodnight.

Early Morning Open Thread: Trumpstuntin’, Middle Eastern Edition

(Or at the very least, Qassim al-Rimi’s pr0n stash… remember the hunt for Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction? Or the very nasty filthy videos said to be found at bin Laden’s compound?)

Late Night Horrorshow Open Thread: Rules of Engagement

“Look, it’s not like we bombed the little terrorist. That’s strictly a foreign-soil tactic… for now.”

This story hasn’t (yet) gotten much attention from the center-left media / blogs that I read… not least, I suspect, because the immediate ‘rebuttal’ from the usual Trump-supporting sources has been But President Obama! Even back in the dead past, some of us thought But President Obama! was a less-than-irreproachable defense, because Obama wouldn’t be President forever, and we couldn’t blithely assume his successors would be as wise and well-informed…

The NYTimes, today — “Questions Cloud U.S. Raid on Qaeda Branch in Yemen“:

As it turned out, almost everything that could go wrong did. And on Wednesday, Mr. Trump flew to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to be present as the body of the American commando killed in the raid was returned home, the first military death on the new commander in chief’s watch.

The death of Chief Petty Officer William Owens came after a chain of mishaps and misjudgments that plunged the elite commandos into a ferocious 50-minute firefight that also left three others wounded and a $75 million aircraft deliberately destroyed. There are allegations — which the Pentagon acknowledged on Wednesday night are most likely correct — that the mission also killed several civilians, including some children. The dead include, by the account of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born Qaeda leader who was killed in a targeted drone strike in 2011…

In this case, the assault force of several dozen commandos, which also included elite soldiers from the United Arab Emirates, was jinxed from the start. Qaeda fighters were somehow tipped off to the stealthy advance toward the village — perhaps by the whine of American drones that local tribal leaders said were flying lower and louder than usual.

With the crucial element of surprise lost, the Americans and Emiratis found themselves in a gun battle with Qaeda fighters who took up positions in other houses, a clinic, a school and a mosque, often using women and children as cover, American military officials said in interviews this week.

The commandos were taken aback when some of the women grabbed weapons and started firing, multiplying the militant firepower beyond what they had expected. The Americans called in airstrikes from helicopter gunships and fighter aircraft that helped kill some 14 Qaeda fighters, but not before an MV-22 Osprey aircraft involved in the operation experienced a “hard landing,” injuring three more American personnel on board. The Osprey, which the Marine Corps said cost $75 million, was badly damaged and had to be destroyed by an airstrike.

With the crucial element of surprise lost, the Americans and Emiratis found themselves in a gun battle with Qaeda fighters who took up positions in other houses, a clinic, a school and a mosque, often using women and children as cover, American military officials said in interviews this week.

The commandos were taken aback when some of the women grabbed weapons and started firing, multiplying the militant firepower beyond what they had expected. The Americans called in airstrikes from helicopter gunships and fighter aircraft that helped kill some 14 Qaeda fighters, but not before an MV-22 Osprey aircraft involved in the operation experienced a “hard landing,” injuring three more American personnel on board. The Osprey, which the Marine Corps said cost $75 million, was badly damaged and had to be destroyed by an airstrike.

The raid, some details of which were first reported by The Washington Post, also destroyed much of the village of Yakla, and left senior Yemeni government officials seething. Yemen’s foreign minister, Abdul Malik Al Mekhlafi, condemned the raid on Monday in a post on his official Twitter account as “extrajudicial killings.”…

After initially denying there were any civilian casualties, Pentagon officials backtracked somewhat on Sunday after reports from the Yemeni authorities begin trickling in and grisly photographs of bloody children purportedly killed in the attack appeared on social media sites affiliated with Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen…

On a “postive” note, the President-Asterisk’s visit to Dover Air Base may have been the least globally embarrassing / potentially disastrous thing he did Wednesday… at least until he decides to tell us all about it…

A Long Night in Ukraine


While everything else has been going on it is important to remember that events elsewhere in the world have not paused. Ukraine has been under sustained attacked from Russian backed/Russia’s Little Green Men for several days.

The deadliest flare-up in fighting in eastern Ukraine in 1 1/2 months stretched into a third day as the European Union labeled the violence a “blatant” breach of the stalled 2015 peace accord aimed at resolving the almost three-year-old conflict.

The military said Tuesday that Russian-backed insurgents pounded the town of Avdiivka, 20 kilometers (13 miles) from the conflict zone’s biggest city, separatist-held Donetsk, using rockets and artillery. Rebels blamed the shelling on the army. President Petro Poroshenko broke off a visit Monday to Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced concern at the security situation.


Ceasefire monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, tallied 2,260 “ceasefire violations” on Sunday.

And early Monday morning, combined Russian-separatist forces launched a predawn artillery attack and follow-on ground assault on the Ukrainian-held front-line town of Avdiivka.

Ukrainian officials claimed the attacks were an attempt by combined Russian forces to derail the ceasefire by effectively baiting Ukraine into retaliatory actions, which could be used as an excuse for further escalations, or for propaganda.

By Monday afternoon, Ukrainian forces announced they had repelled the attack on Avdiivka, but combat was ongoing.

“The enemy continues to fire at our positions with heavy artillery and mortars,” Ukrainian military spokesman Colonel Oleksandr Motuzyanyk told reporters in Kiev Monday.

The BBC reports that an evacuation is being planned:

Ukrainian officials are preparing for a possible evacuation of the eastern frontline town of Avdiivka amid renewed fighting with pro-Russian rebels.

If evacuation takes place, officials say up to 8,000 people could be removed each day from the government-held town, which has no water or electricity.

Shelling and the deaths of several more people were reported by both sides on Tuesday.

Each blames the other for the upsurge in violence.

It erupted despite an attempt to renew a ceasefire last month.

Ukrainian forces say the outbreak began when rebels launched an attack on Avdiivka, which borders land controlled by the separatists.

Seven soldiers and a number of rebels have been killed in recent days, and there have been civilian casualties on both sides but precise numbers are unclear.

The US’s official response is:

Cease-Fire Violations in Eastern Ukraine

Press Statement

Mark C. Toner
Acting Spokesperson
Washington, DC
January 31, 2017

The United States is deeply concerned with the recent spike in violence in eastern Ukraine around Avdiivka-Yasynuvata. Since January 28, the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission has reported a dramatic increase in fighting, including with heavy artillery and other weapons proscribed by the Minsk agreements. The fighting has caused dozens of Ukrainian military casualties and 10 civilian casualties. It has also left 17,000 civilians, including 2,500 children, without water, heat, or electricity. To avert a larger humanitarian crisis, we call for an immediate, sustained ceasefire and full and unfettered access for OSCE monitors. We also reaffirm U.S. support for full implementation of the Minsk agreements.



Open Thread: Move Fast, Break Stuff, Don’t Care…

If President-Asterisk Bannon Trump hadn’t been in such a hurry to get his bigly ‘He-Man Muslim-Haters’ Club’ proclamation out, maybe this could’ve been done in advance.

But then, if the grownups at the Pentagon had been given any warning, they’d probably have gone all boringly OMG WORST IDEA EVER, and who needs that hassle?

ETA: From Buzzfeed:

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who was not consulted before the executive order, defense officials said, asked that the list be compiled. It was immediately unclear how many categories would be in the request or whether it applies to those who worked alongside US troops during the 2003–11 Iraq War or only those currently part of the US–Iraqi campaign against ISIS.

US troops are currently fighting side by side with Iraqi troops in the ISIS-controlled Iraqi city of Mosul. There also are hundreds of US Special Forces in Syria, whose citizens also are now banned from entering the United States.

Navy Captain Jeff Davis later clarified to reporters the list will include individual names as well as broad categories and would include Iraqis who aided US forces during the Iraq War. The White House offered the Pentagon the chance to make exemptions “sometime over the weekend,” Davis said, after the order was signed…

Mattis had no obligation as defense secretary to comment about the order. But as a Marine veteran and one one-time general who worked alongside interpreters during the war, and whose troops depended on Iraqis to stay alive during the wars, his silence on the issue was notable.

I’d been wondering if Rep. Moulton’s comments this weekend might’ve been intended as a challenge…


Excellent Read: “Back on the Mekong Delta… “

From the Washington Post:

CA MAU, Vietnam — It could have been 1969 again as Secretary of State John F. Kerry stood on the bow of the small boat chugging up the Bay Hap River on Saturday, the wind billowing his sleeves and his eyes darting left and right toward banks shrouded in dark foliage.

As a young Navy lieutenant, Kerry commanded a Swift boat along this stretch of churning brown waters in the middle of a free-fire zone. Here, he earned a Silver Star for his heroics when he leapt ashore after an ambush to pursue a fleeing Viet Cong with a grenade launcher and shot him dead.

Now, some 48 years later and with the rapid approach of sunset on a political career spanning almost four decades, Kerry was about to be yanked back to that time, and come face-to-face with a Viet Cong soldier who had taken part in the ambush.

Aides escorted Vo Ban Tam to greet Kerry on the dock, beside a row of blue tourist boats. Tam at 70 is three years younger than Kerry. He was Viet Cong in the communist stronghold of Ca Mau, one of the enemy lying in the tall grasses waiting to entrap unprotected, thin-skinned river patrol boats like Kerry’s.

Tam apparently had been tracked down by U.S. consulate officials and invited to meet the U.S. secretary of state he once tried to kill.

Speaking through a translator, Tam said that he had known the man whom Kerry had chased and killed in the firefight of Feb. 28, 1969.

His name was Ba Thanh, and he was 24 years old.

“He was a good soldier,” Tam told Kerry, explaining the training and skill required to handle an R-40 grenade launcher…

Kerry’s encounter with Tam was the emotional peak of his two-day stop in Vietnam on ­Kerry’s final trip as secretary of state. His office in Foggy Bottom is packed and ready to be shipped to Boston.

It is doubtful the longtime senator from Massachusetts will ever run for public office again, but he will continue to work on climate change and ­environmental issues, and he is particularly concerned about the effect of rising sea levels and hydroelectric dams on the rivers in the lower Mekong Delta. When he wasn’t looking at the ­riverbank for some familiar marker from long ago, he was engrossed in conversation with a local ­scientist who said the effect of rising salinity and dams upstream brought once-in-100-year drought last year and threatened livelihoods…

Its Funny Because it Could Actually Be True

The Duffel Blog, a site the provides satirical takes on the US military, has posted a life could imitate satirical art post entitled: “Troops Sour on Mattis Nomination After He Releases 6,000-Book Reading List“.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A large number of active-duty troops once enthusiastic about the choice of James Mattis for Defense Secretary have since soured on the pick after the retired general released a 6000-book reading list he plans to implement for the entire DoD after he is confirmed, Duffel Blog has learned.

Referred to by some as the “Warrior Monk,” the 66-year-old sent his reading list to the military’s entire email distribution list over the weekend. Most service members who received the 200-page email reported they were still in the process of reading it well into Monday morning.

Almost every senior commander issues a reading list. Its sort of become the in thing to do and Foreign Policy writer Tom Ricks (full disclosure: I know Tom and have written guest posts for him) collects and publishes them or links to them at his Best Defense blog. Gen. Mattis’s preferred nickname, or, at least, the one he doesn’t seem to dislike  – he does not like being referred to as Mad Dog – is The Warrior Monk. The sobriquet is derived from a couple of the realities of Gen. Mattis’s life and career. The first is he is considered by many to be an outstanding warfighter. The second, that like many military senior leaders, he aspired to become what the Army refers to as a Soldier-Scholar. This means that as a Soldier’s career progresses they try to move beyond just being warfighters, increase the breadth and scope of their understanding of operational and then strategic matters through both Professional Military Education and civilian higher education, and become thoughtful, reflective, and (hopefully) strategic thinkers. The third basis for the nickname is because Gen. Mattis, unlike most career US military personnel, is not married. As in never married, hence the other root cause for the Monk.

The Duffel Blog also did a good job accurately capturing just how a lot of personnel would respond to receiving such a reading list – long or short:

Marines, however, were only assigned four coloring books.

“Four? Good Lord, that’s unfair,” said Lance Cpl. Anderson Malcolm, a Marine infantryman who proudly displays his “good enough degree” on his barracks room wall.

A number of troops expressed reservations about the nomination of Mattis to the Pentagon’s highest post after they read the email. While some expected a reading list of some sort, most did not realize just how many books they would be required to get through.

“How are we going to go out and kill the enemy if we have to sit around reading all this shit?” asked Sgt. James Fritter, an Army squad leader.

Its funny, because it could be true!!!!

PS: Last week the Duffel Blog lampooned the US Army’s insistence on having personnel forward deployed on its bases wear reflective safety belts at night (so they don’t get run over when going for chow in the dark, no I am not making this part up, yes I did have to follow this as a member of my BCT’s special staff in Iraq in 2008, and yes, I still have the thing – mine’s the orange one). They did this by picking on a former student of mine, who is the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve Spokesman and colonel in the US Air Force. John was an excellent student, is a sharp strategic thinker, and an excellent public affairs officer. And the satire is funny, because it could be true!