Let’s Nip This Bullshit in the Bud

While the folks in the MSM are all getting their war face on (fucking christ, everyone on MSNBC was more hopped up and giddy than a butter bar in his first live fire exercise), let’s nip this pernicious, jingoistic bullshit in the bud. No, US troops everywhere are not in harms way tonight, or at least no more than they were last night or the night before last or the night before that. In fact, the overwhelming majority of them are probably safer than you, asleep in their bunks or base housing on a secure military facility guarded by gates and checkpoints and in areas where open carry by unqualified shitbirds isn’t fucking allowed.

Yes, a few troops are in harms way tonight, but you don’t even know who they are or where they are. But it isn’t the folks on the ships who were firing Tomahawks at empty airbases. Hell, even the Marine artillery that was quietly deployed last month to Syria aren’t in that much danger, because if they were, they would have infantry and armor deployed as well to protect them. You don’t just dump a a portion of a MEF in the middle of nowhere and say “game on and good luck.” Even fucking marines aren’t that stupid. Well, Marine leadership isn’t that stupid. I think.

BTW- this attack accomplished nothing but sending the proverbial message. It didn’t hit any Russians, and more than likely didn’t hit any Syrians, because we told the Russians ahead of time and they of course told the Syrians. Hell, the Joint Chiefs told every fucking body yesterday:

The Pentagon has developed plans for an airstrike against Syrian government targets in response to this week’s apparent chemical attack by Syrian government forces, according to two U.S. military officials.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis will present the proposals to Donald Trump later today at the president’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

One of the proposals drawn up is a “saturation strike” using dozens of cruise missiles designed to hit Syrian military targets — including military air fields — in an effort to limit future Syrian Air Force attacks on rebel positions, according to the two U.S. military officials.

The officials asked for anonymity to discuss classified plans.

RE: the bolded portion of that paragraph

They didn’t develop the plans yesterday, they dusted them off. In addition, I’m sure they requested anonymity, but I’m willing to bet you could reach them here AT THIS WEBSITE and they will tell you anything you want to hear. Off the record, of course. *WINK WINK*

Oh, ffs. Just go watch the proportional response episode of the West Wing. It’s Season 1, I think.

Meanwhile, we could actually help by tasking refugees, but, you know, gotta pump some money to the defense industry, justify the increased military budget, jack up Trump’s poll numbers, and boost the price of gas to stabilize the finances of our buddies in the House of Saud. They need the money so we can keep selling the munitions to dump on Yemen.

Also, I got 3/4 of the way to the airport for my flight this morning before discovering I left my wallet and phone at home. So now I have to fucking fly up tomorrow, a day light and who knows how many hundreds of dollars shorter. I’m in a crankier mood than usual. Send lawyers, guns and money.

6 April 1917 and 6 April 2017

As others have remarked, today is the 100th anniversary of the US’s entry into World War I. I recently began reading Robert Gerwarth’s The Vanquished. Gerwarth’s book focuses on how and why WW I never really ended, especially for those on the losing end of the war. Which led to almost 2 decades of civil wars, ethnic cleansing, revolutions, and acts of what we would now call terrorism. These events set the conditions for the rise of fascism, its racist offshoot of NAZIsm, and the spread of Bolshevism contributing to WW II.

I came across a reference to Gerwarth’s book in a post by Josh Marshall. Marshall’s referencing of The Vanquished spoke to me as I had just begun thinking through a report I’m working on in regard to how to set the conditions in Iraq and Syria to win the peace, not just the war, against ISIL. The President’s change of position in regard to Assad, including tonight’s limited strike on a Syrian military airfield, makes thinking of such things even more important.

Marshall highlighted one passage from Gerwarth’s book:

“Nazi Germany and its overtly exterminationist imperial project of the later 1930s and and early 1940s owed much to the logic of ethnic conflict and irredentism created by the Great War and the redrawing of borders in 1918-19.”


Marshall applied Gerwarth’s analysis to make this important point:

Cataclysmic and sustained violence is brutalizing and traumatizing to whole societies as much as it is to individuals. The victorious states at least had victory to justify what had happened. The defeated states not only lacked ‘victory’; the end of the conflict saw something approaching complete societal collapse. There was the collapse of states, recurrent revolutions, often followed by reaction and new rounds of violence. More than anything else there was a search to find some way to justify or create some value to justify the scale of loss. After a brief window of time where leaders tried to create democracies out of the collapsed states and thus become ‘victors’ against destroyed autocracies, the two most obvious channels were to build up cults of revenge or to strive to create new, ethnically pure states. In many cases, the two drives were combined.

One persistent theme of this story was that each ‘ethnicity’ had a state somewhere or was trying to create one that would vindicate and protect it and brutalize those communities which stood in the way of creating ethnically homogenous states. So Magyars were the brutalizers in one place and the brutalized in another – the same could be said for virtually every national group, albeit with the groups with new states generally having the whip hand. This story is most discussed in the arc of German history but Gerwarth places it in a broader, pan-European (at least all-East and Central European) context.

What connects WW I and today is that the US and its allies at the time failed to properly secure the peace at the end of WW I. The real strategic challenge facing the US led Coalition in the fight against ISIL in Iraq and Syria, as well as the actions of the Assad government, is not how to conduct the fight. We are very good at this. With a lot of hard won knowledge accumulated over the past sixteen years. Rather the real strategic challenge is how do we, working by, with, and through our local partners set the conditions, as part of these campaigns, to win the peace and ensure that the people of Iraq and Syria post ISIL and of Syria post civil war have the opportunity and security to move forward in a peaceful manner. Rather than devolving once again into sectarian violence and/or civil war.

One of the most difficult pieces of the Syrian problem set is that no one in Syria on the ground, or among the exile Syrian groups involved with the Syrian Civil War, can articulate what happens after the Civil War ends. There is nothing even close to a consensus on who controls what. There is nothing even close to a consensus on who would replace Assad if he should go. There is nothing even close to a consensus on what to do if Assad doesn’t go. There is nothing even close to a consensus as to who gets to consider themselves Syrian or what that will even mean post Civil War. And there is almost no discussion about the on the ground reality that this is not simply Russian and Iranian backed Assad and the Alawite minority versus all the other Syrians. Assad has support from a cross section of Syrians, not just the Alawites. But Syriac Christians, Syrian Druze, those portions of the Syrian Sunni community that have benefited from his family’s rule and/or been coopted by the Assads through patronage. The Syrian Civil War, despite the best efforts of almost everyone, cannot simply be reduced to: Assad and the Alawites with the backing of Russia and Iran against everyone else. This is simply not true. To borrow Gerwath’s formulation, or Marshall’s interpretation of Gerwath: there are brutalizers and brutalized on each side of the Syrian Civil War. Breaking that dynamic, or, at least, working by, with, and through our local partners to set the conditions to do so, will be necessary to not just win the war, but to win and secure the peace.

Syrian Arab Armed Forces Chemical Weapons Attack at Idlib

It is being reported that earlier today Bashar al Assad’s Syrian Arab Armed Forces conducted a chemical weapons attack against targets in the city of Idlib. Here is video footage from inside a hospital at the moment of the attack:

The BBC is reporting:

At least 58 people have been killed and dozens wounded in a suspected chemical attack on a rebel-held town in north-western Syria, a monitoring group says.

Reuters reports:

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack killed at least 58 people and was believed to have been carried out by Syrian government jets. It caused many people to choke, and some to foam at the mouth.

Director Rami Abdulrahman told Reuters the assessment that Syrian government warplanes were to blame was based on several factors such as the type of aircraft, including Sukhoi 22 jets, that carried out the raid.

“We deny completely the use of any chemical or toxic material in Khan Sheikhoun town today and the army has not used nor will use in any place or time neither in past or in future,” the Syrian army command said in a statement.

The Russian Defence Ministry said its aircraft had not carried out the attack. The U.N. Security Council was expected to meet on Wednesday to discuss the incident.

The official US response at this time is:

On Tuesday, the White House blamed the Syrian government for the attack, which it called a “reprehensible” act “that cannot be ignored by the civilized world.”

Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, further told reporters that “these heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the last administration’s weakness and irresolution.”

Mr. Spicer declined to respond to questions about Mr. Trump’s declaration that his administration’s policy in Syria is not regime change.

“He is not here to telegraph what we are going to do, but rest assured he has been speaking with his national security team this morning,” Mr. Spicer said, adding later: “The statement speaks for itself.”

As of now (1430 EDT) there is still no statement on the Department of State’s website, nothing on the Department of State’s twitter feed, and nothing on Ambassador Haley’s twitter feed about the attack. Regardless, this morning’s chemical attack in Syria points to the complexity of the real strategic wicked problem on the Syrian side of the US led Coalition’s fight against ISIL. What happens after ISIL is defeated? How does the Coalition begin to set the conditions now to secure post conflict success in a Syria that has been liberated from ISIL? What does the Coalition do with the areas that it liberates from ISIL as the counter-ISIL operations in Syria are being conducted without the support and without an invitation from the Syrian government. These are the real strategic issues and concerns and they are brought back into the foreground by today’s chemical weapons attack and the denials from the government of Bashar al Assad and his Russian patron.

None of This is Normal

I have no idea why the Joint Chiefs would invite him:

Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, landed in Iraq on Monday, military officials said, visiting the country as the American military is aiding Iraqi forces in their brutal fight to retake Mosul from the Islamic State.

It was unclear what Mr. Kushner, who has been expanding his reach in his father-in-law’s administration, planned to gain from the trip. Mr. Kushner, 36, who serves as a senior adviser to Mr. Trump, was invited by Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Navy Capt. Greg Hicks, a spokesman for the chairman, said early Monday that the general had arrived in Iraq for meetings, including with coalition officials, accompanied by Mr. Kushner and Thomas P. Bossert, the president’s homeland security adviser.

The general invited Mr. Kushner and Mr. Bossert to accompany him “to receive an update on the status of the counter-ISIS campaign in Iraq and Syria,” Captain Hicks said.

First things first- imagine what would happen if in the first few months of President Hillary Clinton’s term if her son-in-law Marc Mezvinsky flew to Baghdad in her stead.


Second, what are the Joint Chiefs thinking? That maybe Kushner is more stable than POTUS? Regardless, this is nepotistic insanity that smacks of Uday and Qsay.

The Dearth of Expertise: My Concerns with the Recent Actions by the North Korean Government

The Kim government’s recent activities – increasing missile testing, increasing the developmental process for assembling, fielding, and potentially deploying a nuclear weapon has most people concerned. As has the recent, official US statements in regard to these actions. At Foxtrot Alpha, Terrell Jermaine Starr makes an excellent argument for why there is no good military option for dealing with the Kim government’s recent actions. Starr specifically references an excellent post at Lawfare by Jacob Stokes and Alexander Sullivan. Stokes and Sullivan make very well thought out points- about how the US should engage with China in regard to this problem set.

And here’s where we get to the real problem and my real concern: we have precious few actual subject matter experts regarding North Korea. There is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this: the Kim family has kept North Korea essentially closed to everyone and everything outside of North Korea while at the same time heavily indoctrinating their own population. A population that is, by the measures we’re aware of, is incredibly impoverished. There are a few Americans that have gotten permission to spend extended periods in North Korea. Two of them have written books/parts of books about this, which are, of course, partially opposed to the other’s theses (h/t: The XX Committee). And there are also defectors to South Korea and other East Asian states. And, of course, the South Koreans have a significant portion of their Intelligence Community focused on their northern neighbor.

But, the real problem here is that we don’t have the ability to know about North Korea the way we do other places. Even when Iran and Cuba were under full US sanctions, we still had some Americans, as well as citizens of other countries traveling to them. Despite the sanctions both countries tried to be engaged with the rest of the world, albeit on their own terms As a result people did advanced academic/scholarly study of both countries, their politics, culture, religion, economics, etc. And because the leadership of each country had not tried to establish complete isolation from the outside world, subject matter expertise, from many different disciplines and approaches, and from many different people in different places developed.

This dearth of expertise – the lack of a significant number of professionals with deep subject matter expertise into the politics, culture, religion/spirituality, economics, kinship dynamics, etc – in regard to North Korea is a significant shortfall that the US, its allies, and partners will have to overcome in regard to adapting existing and developing new policies and strategies, and the contingency planning in regard to the Kim government’s actions. Moreover, this dearth of expertise is, right now, compounded by the new Administration’s falling behind in staffing the critical political appointments at our National Security departments, agencies, and offices. And the folks that are in place holding stopgap positions, and some who are in more permanent ones, do not exactly inspire confidence that they actually have the credentials, knowledge, skills, abilities, and expertise to help overcome this low information gap.

Trying to work through the North Korean problem set of the Kim family government is, itself, a wicked problem. This dearth of expertise comes at a particularly bad time for the US as we’ve moved into what Tom Nichols*, Professor of National Security Affairs at US Naval War College, calls the death of expertise. The Death of Expertise, is, in fact, the title of Nichol’s recent book. And we can see, in the North Korean problem set, the combination of both dearth and depth. For instance, should the US, its allies, and its partners, most likely working in conjunction with the People’s Republic of China, have to respond with military power to either a military provocation ordered by the Kim government or using all elements of National power (diplomatic, information, military, and economic/DIME) to a humanitarian crisis the lack of significant subject matter expertise in regard to North Korea combined with what seems to be key, senior officials’ within the new Administration antagonism towards expertise will make an effective response very difficult to almost impossible.

Lets just take one, technical military concern. And it would be a concern for both a military intervention and a whole of government approach, utilizing all elements of National power response, to a humanitarian crisis: setting the theater. Setting the theater is an Army doctrinal term defined in ADRP 4-0 as:

… all activities directed at establishing favorable conditions for conducting military operations in the theater, generally driven by the support requirements of specific operation plans and other requirements established in the geographic combatant commander’s (GCC) theater campaign plan. Setting the theater includes whole-of-government initiatives such as bilateral or multilateral diplomatic agreements to allow U.S. forces to have access to ports, terminals, airfields, and bases within the area of responsibility (AOR) to support future military contingency operations. Setting the joint operations area (JOA) includes activities such as theater opening, establishing port and terminal operations, conducting reception, staging, onward movement, and integration, force modernization and theater-specific training, and providing Army support to other Services and common-user logistics to Army, joint, and multinational forces operating in the JOA (FM 3-93).

After over a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan we now know, though current doctrine does not reflect it, that there are some other important things to consider when setting the theater. Specifically the broadly defined socio-cultural* context of the host country population among whom we will be operating – regardless of type of operation. Given the dearth of expertise about North Korean society, culture, religion, politics – other than what little we know of the Kim family, their retainers, and their understanding of government and governance, economics, etc we have significant gaps in the contextual knowledge we need to properly set the theater. For instance, if Myers is correct that the Kim family and their retainers have heavily propagandized the North Korean population for going on four or five generations, then simply being concerned with where to put phase lines and base troops and establish MSRs and logistics routes and/or emplace artillery is going to be insufficient as we will be operating among a population that has been acculturated and socialized to despise and distrust everyone but their own government and people. No matter how good our planners and logisticians are, without subject matter experts with deep expertise into North Korea’s different socio-cultural components, any operation – military or humanitarian – to provide inputs on how North Koreans are going to respond as people, is going to be fraught with more danger than normally accompanies such operations. To use Clausewitzian terms: responding to provocation by the Kim government or to the humanitarian needs of the North Koreans themselves, will be a response plagued by significantly more fog and friction than we have ever encountered before. And that means developing effective strategies to respond to the Kim government’s actions is going to be very, very, very difficult.

* I have never met Professor Nichols. I did correspond with him once by email, to send him a report I had done in 2011 on a topic he’d just written a column on and managed to send him a corrupted file – as in the file name was right, the title on the first page was right, but something not germane (and largely not coherent) had been saved as the document. And I didn’t bother to open the file and check it before emailing it across as an attachment to an email introducing myself. 10/10, big win, would do it again!

**  The only official doctrine/concept definition that we have of culture comes to us from CJCSI 1800.01E, the Officers Professional Military Education Policy (OPMEP). The definition is also mirrored in the Enlisted Professional Military Education Policy (EPMEP). No two doctrinal publications within the Army have the same definition for culture, hence the need to defer to this default joint definition. This definition is:

An interconnected set of ideas; all the information passed on between generations through language, writing, mathematics, and behavior. The distinctive and deeply rooted beliefs, values, ideology, historic traditions, social forms, perceptual predispositions, and behavioral patterns of a group, organization, or society that is learned, evolves and adapts over time, and is transmitted to succeeding generations.

Late Night Open Thread: Nazi Pajama Games

The Repubs have soooo much respect for our military, they want to use it as a dumpster for all the fantasists and grifters who aren’t sharp enough for the business grifts:

Mattis was widely embraced on both sides of the aisle when President Donald Trump nominated him. Republicans and Democrats alike expressed hope that the retired four-star general would be a moderating force on the volatile commander in chief.

But Republican lawmakers and senior congressional aides said in recent interviews they’re running out of patience with Mattis’ staffing decisions, which have disappointed Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee hoping to see their ideological allies elevated to senior levels in the Defense Department. Others are grumbling about Mattis’ refusal to advocate a bigger increase in the defense budget, which defense hawks believe was gutted disastrously under President Barack Obama.

“He certainly has got a tough job, but it sometimes feels like he forgets that we won the election,” said one aide to a GOP senator on the Armed Services Committee, who declined to speak on the record for fear of publicly alienating the defense secretary.

“We’ve waited eight years for this, to be able to fill these posts with Republicans,” said another top GOP Hill staffer. “We know Trump isn’t part of the establishment and that it’s going to be a bit different, but it should go without saying that a Republican administration is expected to staff federal agencies with Republicans.”…

Defense Department veterans say the White House has put Mattis in a nearly impossible position given that a large swath of the Republican foreign-policy establishment was openly critical of Trump during the campaign. Some say that has left Mattis with little choice but to turn to Democrats and to those without a political background to fill senior posts.

“In picking Mattis, the president got someone who had bipartisan credibility and was seen as a tough national security official who wasn’t going to toe the White House or the GOP line,” said Jeremy Bash, a former Pentagon spokesman under Secretary Leon Panetta. “Independence is an important attribute in a SecDef. But when you get that, you get frustration from the political folks. When you’re not coming out of the establishment, you have the credibility to do bipartisan things. You’re just going to take incoming from Democrats and from Republicans from time to time.”…

There’s also a longwinded story about Mattis paying insufficient attention to Senators Cotton and Cruz and their Very Serious Military Theorists cosplay, and a sidebar that he’s not sympathetic to re-introducing GOP grifters into Pentagon budget planning.

… Others said it’s crucial that Mattis embrace the reality of navigating the Hill. “Everybody thinks very highly of him, but he doesn’t have any political sense, and he doesn’t think he needs any political sense,” said one former Bush administration Defense Department official. “But it’s quintessentially a political job.”

We don’t want capable people with experience! We want cushy berths for our grifters and ideologues!

Bonus watching, another Trump ‘terrorism expert’ gets Bee-burned..

This is One Important Reason Why We are Still Militarily Engaged in Iraq

I keep meaning to do a post on what is going on with the ongoing operations in Iraq and Syria – honest, but so much is going on I keep getting sidetracked.

Regardless, I just saw this and I think it is important to highlight it:

We in the US bear an incredibly large amount of the moral responsibility for what is going on in Iraq and Syria. It was the failure of American strategy, and in some cases just the actual lack of American strategy, in the post invasion phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom that set the conditions for the rise of al Qaeda in Iraq and its ultimate transformation into ISIL. Right now the US led coalition is pursuing a by, with, and through strategy with our Iraqi partners to drive ISIL from Mosul, and ultimately Iraq. By, with, and through is one of the key operational concepts of the US Army’s Green Berets, which has been borrowed and adapted by Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve. The Iraqi soldier who is saving that young Iraqi boy’s life in the video above is at the tip of the spear in the fight against ISIL. The US and our coalition partners are in support. Some of that support is training. Some of it is logistics. Some of it is air support. And some of it is direct and indirect fires. But day in and day out the Iraqi regular and irregular forces are at the forefront of fixing a problem created by the strategic malpractice of the US over the past fourteen years.

If you ever wonder what we’re still doing over there, that video is your answer. We’re providing support to the Iraqis that are risking their lives to protect each other in order to clean up a mess of our making.

We’re doing penance.