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No Plan Survives Contact With The Enemy: Military Strikes And The Strategic Complications At The Heart Of The Syrian Problem Set

This morning the President warned Russia and its Syrian and Iranian clients that we had the nice, new missiles all ready to go as a response to both the chemical attack on Eastern Ghouta, as well as Russia’s attempts to warn the US and its potential allies – from both the existing US led coalition that is Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve or from a new, smaller coalition of the US, Britain, and France designed to just punish the Assad government for the chemical attacks – off of responding.

Always a good choice to avoid the pre-owned missiles. Sometimes they’re owned by little old ladies who only use them to get to and from church on Sunday. But sometimes they’re used by folks that just abuse them, don’t give them regular maintenance, and run up the mileage on them…

There are already reports of the Syrian military relocating its personnel and equipment to the Russian bases in Syria to protect them.

This makes anything more than a demonstration strike, which is what was done last year, much, much more dangerous and problematic. The reason for this is that in order to actually reduce Syria’s capability to make war, and specifically try to deter the future use of chemical weapons, means that the US and its partners would have to target Syrian personnel and equipment that are now within Russian lines, for lack of a better term. This is one of the major strategic complications as it would create a de facto reality that the US and its partners have just attacked Russian military sites in order to get at the Syrian assets we want to degrade, attrit, and reduce.

Another part of this strategic complication is that the Russian navy has both sortied its Mediterranean fleet to get it out of port where these ships would be easy targets and has conducted a live fire exercise.

The lone Russian air craft carrier is back in port in Russia – it is actually in dry dock for the better part of the next four years or so undergoing a refit. As a result this eleven vessel fleet has limited capability.

More worrisome is that the Russian’s have begun electronically jamming US intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance (ISR) drones.

The Russian military has deployed jamming tactics against US drones that have affected the US military’s ability to operate in the region, NBC News reports.

US officials told NBC News that the Russian military has been jamming smaller US drones. The jamming is focused on the GPS systems of drones, which can result in things like the operators not knowing where the drone currently is, to more extreme results like crashes.

Department of Defense officials speaking to NBC News did not confirm if they lost any of the drones to crashes as a result of the jamming, but one official did say that the jamming is having an operational impact on military operations in Syria.

The drones that have been targeted are smaller surveillance drones, and not the larger ones with strike capability like the MQ-1 Predator or the MQ-9 Reaper, according to NBC News. US military drones are encrypted and are supposed to have defenses against electronic counter measures, suggesting that Russian capabilities are more advanced than previously thought.

Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, then the commanding general for US Army Europe, said in in 2016 that he has seen Russian “electronic warfare capability at a tactical level that we absolutely don’t have.”

Russia’s ally in Syria, Iran, also reportedly has hacking capabilities. In 2011 it claimed that it hacked into a US RQ-170 Sentinel and forced it to land after it gained access to its GPS.

Russian jamming of our ISR drones is intended to communicate to US and allied military commanders that they will not have a friendly electronic environment if they go with an application of strategic air strikes. This complicates not only targeting, but any potential search and rescue operations that might need to be conducted if something went wrong.

There is another set of strategic complications I want to focus on, which is where Russia has moved its military assets over the past 6 months or so. Russia has begun building out its Western Military District. This is the Russian version of a geographic combatant command that borders the Baltics, Scandinavia, Ukraine, and Belarus.

This includes ramping up exercises and mobilizations under cover of wildfire season preparedness:

Here’s how Russia’s military is deployed in their military districts:

(Map 1: Russian Military Units)

And here’s how NATO and Russia’s military stack up right now:

(Figure 1: NATO Assets Vs. Russian Assets as of 2017)


(Figure 2: NATO and Russian Deployments as of 2016)

This second strategic complication should be of great concern. The Russian military, despite being much smaller than the US’s and much degraded by Russian economic realities from the vaunted Soviet military, has been deployed and positioned to threaten the US’s NATO and other allies in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. Sweden and Finland have been moving towards a war footing, while our Baltic allies have also increased their readiness. Moreover, the Russians have been sniffing around the undersea transatlantic cables that connect the US and Europe for communications purposes. And we now know that Russia’s cyberwarfare capabilities means they don’t have to actually do anything military to retaliate. Russia could just take down parts or all of the US power grid. Russia has also been able to both penetrate for manipulation and penetrate to take down emergency communication systems, as well as planting false stories about natural disasters and terrorist attacks via social media penetrationImagine what happens should Putin decide to retaliate by turning parts of the US power grid off and interfering with 911 and emergency communications systems, while at the same time spreading disinformation made to look like actual news reports or official municipal, state, and/or Federal responses to the disaster he’s created.

Either a military response against US forces in Syria and Iraq, our NATO allies and partners in Europe, and/or a cyberwarfare response within the US are all potential Russian responses to a US led coalition military response to the chemical weapons attack in Eastern Ghouta last week. These are the strategic complications that the US and its potential allies face in developing their plans and sequels to them. These are the strategic complications faced by the President’s senior military, national security, and foreign policy advisors.

The final strategic complication is the one we started with, the one the President created for himself this morning. By threatening Russian and its Syrian and Iranian proxies with the nice, new, and smart missiles he’s tweeted himself into a corner. He either has to actually do something in response to the chemical weapons attack in Eastern Ghouta or he will have destroyed any credibility on this type of matter in the future, as well as weakened America’s strategic communication capabilities. Regardless of the strategic complications on the ground in Syria, in Europe, or within the cyber domain, the President has boxed himself in. The President has finally tweeted himself into trouble that he can’t tweet himself out of. Either he orders a response and risks an escalation or he backs down and loses what little face he had.

Stay frosty!

Open thread.

A Quick Housekeeping Note On The Michael Cohen News: This Is A Federal, Not A New York State, Investigation

Just a quick housekeeping note to clarify something important regarding the FBI executing a Federal search warrant on Michael Cohen’s office, home, and hotel room today. This is a Federal investigation. It is being conducted by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, also known as the Southern District of New York or SDNY. According to reporting by Bloomberg, Special Counsel Mueller brought his investigatory concerns to Deputy AG Rosenstein who then determined that this should be handled by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, not the Office of the Special Counsel.

Mueller brought information involving Cohen to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who decided that the inquiry should be handled by federal prosecutors in New York, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Under Justice Department regulations, Mueller is required to consult with Rosenstein about how to handle evidence and matters that may fall outside his jurisdiction and authority. Mueller is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, whether anyone close to Trump engaged in collusion and whether Trump sought to obstruct justice.

This is a Federal investigation. Michael Cohen is the target of this Federal investigation. It is not, based on reporting, as of now, a joint Federal/NY State investigation. I would expect that the NY state Attorney General Schneiderman will be asked to be read on in case there are parallel charges that would be more appropriately brought in NY state or, in case parts or all of the Federal investigation does not go forward, that could then be brought in NY state.

So just to reiterate: this is currently a Federal investigation being supervised/undertaken by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York as a result of guidance/instructions from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The current US Attorney for the Southern District of New York is Geoffrey S. Berman, who was appointed on an interim basis by Attorney General Sessions on behalf of the current President and assumed his current office in January 2018.

My guess is that in addition to all the other news that broke today, this story is going to continue to develop through the evening and into tomorrow.

Stay frosty!

Open thread.

Sunday Night Popcorn Open Thread


Gotta admit — as a 21-year-old hardcore Trekkie, I loathed the first Star Wars movie, because it seemed designed to evoke every cheap, witless, strutting, shopworn emotion that I most despised in my fellow nerds. Still not a Star Wars fan, but forty-plus years later, I’m old enough to have learned that even the most evolved humans sometimes want the comfort and joy of expensively produced, predictable variations on familiar themes the entire family can appreciate. Once upon a time…

Williamson Booted from The Atlantic

Valued commenter LAO passed along the best news I’ve heard all day in the thread downstairs: Kevin Williamson, the former National Review columnist who notoriously advocated hanging women who have abortions (along with their clinicians), has been fired from The Atlantic. Here’s a tweet containing Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg’s statement to his staff:

I’m skeptical of Goldberg’s explanation. He says hearing a recently surfaced podcast in which Williamson elaborates on the Handmaid’s Tale fantasy he expressed on Twitter convinced him (Goldberg) that the “violent” and “callous” views Williamson expressed on Twitter actually are his considered opinions. But whatever — the podcast gave Goldberg an opportunity to walk back his awful decision to hire Williamson, and for that I’m grateful.

For good or ill, The Atlantic is an influential magazine. It should be disqualifying for a person to publicly propose the execution of approximately one in four American women — by hanging, since it’s more violent than lethal injection, as Williamson explained. That it wasn’t disqualifying for such a prestigious job sent a message, and it reinforced the earlier message sent when a violence-exalting, sexist creep was elected president.

Goldberg’s bad decision to hire Williamson should follow him around for the rest of his career. Pundits who don’t seem to be completely awful people, such as MoJo’s Kevin Drum, should be ashamed for defending that awful hire. I expect we’ll get a renewed round of “censorship” screeching from wingnuts, and The Times’ Bret Stephens probably hopes everyone will forget his stupid “open letter” column welcoming Williamson to a lofty media perch. I won’t forget.

I hope the Williamson flame-out serves as a cautionary tale for the other men who make the hiring decisions that frame our social and political narratives. The takeaway from the election of a racist, sexist, dick-swinging demagogue as president of the United States should not be that we need more exposure to reactionaries and crackpots. Quite the opposite.

Thursday Morning Open Thread: Princess Garnet Goldman

Something cheerful for the morning crew, from beloved crankypants commentor EFGoldman:

BJ has been clamoring for pix for four+ years since she was born.

These are from this weekend’s Awesome Con in DC.

She is Princess Garnet (her choice).

(Black hair is a party store wig.)

I didn’t know either, but Princess Garnet Til Alexandros XVII, alias Dagger, is a key character from the online role-playing game Final Fantasy IX. And probably a better role model for a small child than the Disney Cinderellas and Sleeping Beauties us old people grew up with.

And since I cosplayed (although we didn’t have that word for it) at multiple conventions back when I was in college in the early 1970s, I find it rather heartening that it’s now a widely enjoyed performance/sport for the whole family, not just “a handful of geeks being even weirder than usual.”

My Dream Has Turned Into A Nightmare: We Leave The Last Word Today To The Reverend Martin Luther King

In May 1967, MLK did an interview with NBC’s Sander Vanocur.

In an extraordinary, wide-ranging conversation, King acknowledged the “soul searching,” and “agonizing moments” he’d gone through since his most famous speech. He told Vanocur the “old optimism” of the civil rights movement was “a little superficial” and now needed to be tempered with “a solid realism.” And just 11 months before his death, he spoke bluntly about what he called the “difficult days ahead.”

The full interview is below courtesy of lamh, who sent me the link.

Open thread!

I Have Been To The Mountaintop

I meant to post this last night, but there were enough other posts. Last night was the 50th anniversary of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr’s last speech. He was, of course, assassinated 50 years ago today. Before I post the video of the speech, as well as the transcript, I wanted to highlight LBJ’s response to the news of MLK’s assassination. President Johnson’s initial response was to immediately try to do something substantive for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was to head off potential violence.

During a meeting the following day, LBJ acknowledged the feelings of the protestors. “If I were a kid in Harlem. I know what I’d be thinking right now: I’d be thinking that the whites have declared open season on my people, and they’re going to pick us off one by one unless I get a gun and pick them off first.”

Just think about that statement for a moment. Fifty years ago, President Johnson was able to clearly, succinctly, and accurately enunciate the reality of race relations in the US. What is even more astounding is that for all the progress that has been made, we’re right back to a place where this statement could be made given how the current administration approaches these issues and in light of both the explosive growth of domestic white Christian extremist movements and the stark differences in how law enforcement relates to and treats white Americans versus Americans of color.

Here’s the full speech. The transcript is below the fold.

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