Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What If They Gave a War and Nobody Wore a Uniform?

Anybody who thinks we are not at war with Libya just does not understand how we wage war. 

The  911 Commission recommended that covert operations be moved from the CIA to the US military.  Rumsfeld wanted this, wanted CIA resources to report to him, and set up a special intel division of the Pentagon to run the lash up.  My best guess is that he was going to give the mission to Joint Special Ops and have them report directly to him, maybe or maybe not informing the CJCS.  But the CIA won this fight and has enlarged its clandestine services.  Every time I am in DC I am struck by how many radio ads I hear encouraging people to apply for these jobs. Yet the CIA has very limited major weapons systems, so my guess (and remember, I am just an interested guy watching open source stuff) is that the 911 Commission's recommendation has been inverted.  Military assets are now supporting CIA ops rather than the other way round.

Again this is my best guess about what we are seeing in press reports about Libya.  If the Prez in fact signed a finding to send the CIA to Libya on the ground, and if AC-130s are conducting coordinated strikes, and if CIA operatives helped rescue the down F-15 pilots, etc etc etc . . . then there is no question that we have "troops" on the ground.  The only question is whether or not they are wearing uniforms.

I guess the uniform question matters in that even if we have a lot of people on the ground (I think the Woodward book said there were several hundred CIA ops and about the same specops on the ground in Astan in 2001) we can pretend that it is not a war as long as they are wearing LL Bean boots and not GI boots.  The prestige of the US is not really at stake until a guy with a shoulder patch shows up.

But the Libyans know we are at war.  And so do all our other friends and enemies and undecideds around the globe.  And here is the problem with war -- you can't afford to lose.  If you commit yourself and have to back off, then your opponents smell blood in the water.  Always attack weakness.

And so here we are.  The President has committed us to war with boots on the ground in Libya.  And as a smart guy said on TV tonight, "You can't deliver weapons by UPS.  And the rebels can't train themselves to use the new stuff.  Especially if it requires ground to air coordination."

We had better figure out how to win it, or at least how to pretend it is a win. Because we are in it now, for better or for worse.

CIA Sends Teams to Libya; US Considers Rebel Aid
Mar 30, 2011 – 8:45 PM

Friday, March 18, 2011

Before the US Picks Up the Libyan Burden

Now that representatives to the United Nations have courageously voted for somebody else to go do something about Gaddafi’s murderous treatment of his own people, they can return to their snug apartments in New York City and leave it to members of some nation’s military forces to do the dangerous part. But whose husbands, wives, children and parents should go in harm’s way to solve this problem?
Well one solution would be for the nations that sold this lunatic the aircraft, air defense systems, tanks, artillery and ammunition that he has been using to put down the democratic revolution. It would certainly be just for Russia to spend its money and risk its forces to clean up the mess it created. And the prospect of watching the decrepit Bear with its fantasies of international relevance struggle across the Mediterranean to put down the monster it created is enticing.  But in this case it is probably wise to leave the lid firmly in place in the ash can of history.
But somebody has to fly multiple bombing missions through hostile air defenses, destroy the missile and radar sites, intimidate the ground forces into a cease fire and withdrawal, and roll them back if they resist.  Once engaged, somebody has to provide additional forces if Gaddafi calls their bluff or raises the ante.  Somebody has to be prepared to fight and win at the cost of blood and treasure.  Who should it be?
Here is my pick for the “Final Four” to play the bloody game:  #1 Italy #2 Malta #3 France #4 Spain. These are the nations that intervened to save the dictator 25 years ago when President Reagan sent American aircraft and crews to “send a message” in response to a Libyan terror attack in Berlin.
Just to remind us all of the behavior of this international outlaw – Gaddafi actively supported the Red Brigade, Red Army Faction, and other terrorist groups around the world.  In 1986 Libyan agents operating out of East Germany attacked a disco frequented by US troops in Berlin. In response to this and numerous previous attacks, President Reagan ordered Operation Eldorado Canyon.  More than 40 aircraft from carriers and bases in Great Britain mounted the attack against multiple targets. Bombs narrowly missed Gaddafi himself.
This miss is not surprising since a senior Italian politician warned Gaddafi of the impending attack, and the Prime Minister of Malta called to advise him when aircraft were on the way.  France and Spain refused to allow the US to cross their airspace, adding 1300 miles and several hours to the raid each way, and requiring additional mid-air refueling.  Two US Air Force pilots were killed by the waiting air defenses.
While it would be great to see these representatives of the UN’s moral authority spring into action, many are already calling for the US to be involved.  My answer is “not so fast.”
After our attack in 1986, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 41/38 which condemned the US action as “a violation of the Charter of the United Nations and of international law." Our current President has been big on issuing American apologies to many others in the world.  Here is a great opportunity for him to extract an apology from the UN – and an admission of mistake from the four “friends” who betrayed us 25 years ago -- before committing any US personnel to this endeavor.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

When Somebody Else's Chickens Come Home to Roost

Randy Larsen (see  )    has long observed that natural disasters actually seem to stimulate the economy, as people replace homes, businesses, etc.  Well here is his observation played out on a global scale.
Turns out that a record earthquake, terrible tsunami, and multiple nuclear disasters have driven the value of the Japanese currency UP dramatically -- so high that their economic recovery may be hampered because their exports will cost so much.  Why would the value of the Yen go UP after such disasters?
Answer:  Because investors all over the world have confidence that Japan will rebuild. In the process they will cash out bonds around the globe (especially in the US) and received huge payouts from insurance.  So there will be a lot of cash flowing toward Japan, and a lot of economic activity as they rebuild.  (Good time to own cement or wood production, by the way.)
And as a result, the value of the US dollar is down, as people anticipate that we will have to pay higher interest to fund the debt instruments that Japan will cash in. 
Turns out it is hard to avoid the consequences of irresponsible behavior on our part.  see
And by the way - the destruction and human loss in Japan are beyond words.  But from a strategic perspective, expect them to come back stronger than before, as old means of production are replaced with state of the art equipment and processes.  Their human losses cannot be replaced.  But their responsible behavior will be rewarded in the long run.
To donate to Japan relief see 

Monday, March 14, 2011

30 min Interview on US Global Strategic Situation

In February 2011 Dr Dave McIntyre had a 30 min interview with Bill Oliver of WTAW on the turmoil in the Mideast, and the global security situation as a whole.  Copy and paste

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Complex and Uncertain Story: The Importance of the Japanese Reactors

In trying to decipher the conflicting reports over the Japanese reactors, the most important single point to understand is this:  nuclear issues are complex and uncertain – they defy short simple explanations.  For example, the outcome of an event in a reactor built over a water table 50 feet deep might be entirely different  if the same reactor were built over a water table 350 feet deep.  Radioactive particles that can be brushed from your skin without danger might cause a horrible death if you swallowed them. Different people might react quite differently to the same dosage of radiation. What gives one cancer might not affect the second at all – and might cause a genetic defect in the children of a third. The situation is ripe for dueling 60 second messages on TV, and is likely to leave audiences confused and skeptical.
Additionally, despite official pronouncements, we do not know the actual status of the reactors in question.  Is the sea water used for emergency cooling being contained, or running back to the ocean with its load of radioactive materials?  We just don’t know.  But here are some things we do know.
First – how the reactors in question work.  Left to itself, the specially blended radioactive “fuel” in reactors gets very hot. Water cools this heat and in the process is converted to steam which spins turbines with its high pressure. The turbines spin generators that make electricity. In the process the steam is cooled back into water that goes back into the reactor to cool it again, and again be converted into steam for the turbine.
This system is quite clean and quite safe. 
·         As long as the decayed fuel “waste” is disposed of.
·         And as long as the closed loop of fuel and radioactive water is not breeched by attack or accident.
Concerning Waste:  At nuclear power plants waste is held underwater in a “cooling pond” until it can be collected and buried deep in a safe location. In the US, one location (Yucca Mountain in Nevada) has been certified and prepared for such waste storage at a huge taxpayer cost. But Senator Harry Reid of Nevada has blocked use of the facility.  So waste is building up in cooling ponds nationwide. In Japan, the status of the cooling ponds at the damaged reactors is unknown. 
Concerning Accidents:  Western designed nuclear power plants have multiple redundant safety features.  In a crisis, “control rods” that absorb energy and reduce heat and power are quickly and automatically inserted. Additional pumps driven by special back up systems kick on automatically to provide additional cooling water. A double walled “containment faculty” keeps pressure in check around the hot core. Multiple other highly reliable systems surround the critical parts of the reactor.
Concerning Attack:  All the critical elements that protect against accident receive double security against attack.  The famous containment “domes” that mark many plants are safe against any but the most direct attack by penetrating bombs available only to nation states.  Pipes, pumps, etc. are protected from ground attack by platoons of specially trained security forces.  Drills are conducted frequently. No defense is foolproof, but the defense of nuclear power plants comes pretty close.
HOWEVER – Human error is always a concern. It cannot be completely eliminated. For example, at Three Mile Island, faulty sensors caused operators to react inappropriately and override the automatic safety systems.  And at Chernobyl operators made even greater mistakes, shutting off safety systems to “test” them, without the robust protective measures of Western reactors.
The problems of accident and error may be compounded when multiple crises cause multiple failures. Measures adequate for even the strongest earthquake (like back up pumps, communications, and generating systems) may fail in the face of a tsunami. And plans for a tsunami may count on outside experts and supplies not available when an earthquake (or a storm, or a volcano, etc.) isolate the site of the disaster. When cascading failures raise unanticipated problems, spur of the moment solutions (like pumping in seawater) may turn out to be errors that cause unanticipated consequences of their own.
And an attack can be worse because an adaptive enemy may be working as hard to frustrate your emergency plans as you are to put them in place.  For example, they might ambush experts coming to help, delaying response and  destroying irreplaceable  expertise.
Well what is the range of problems experts are dealing with in Japan?  How bad can it get?  Please see paragraph two  above:  nuclear issues are complex and uncertain – they defy short simple explanations.” 
The good news is that even in the worst case, this is not likely to look like Hiroshima – that’s not what a meltdown does.  The bad news is that in the best case some radiation is going to hurt somebody, impact life in other countries, and cause an intense, scary and emotional debate about the future of nuclear power .  Advocates are likely to lose. The price of oil, gas and coal will jump as a result.
To provide a bit more detail:
·         In the best case, some radioactive vapor has already escaped into the atmosphere, ash from a containment explosion has drifted downwind, and seawater is washing over a radioactive core to cool it.  Where to you think radioactive vapor, particles and seawater are going? Nobody is going to be producing food, drinking milk, or eating fish from impacted areas for a while.  After Chernobyl, “impacted areas” included many far away countries.
·         In the worst case, the core will be exposed, burn at 5000 degrees Fahrenheit, pass through the cement building holding it, the rock below, and eventually hit ground water where a flash steam explosion might distribute it for thousands of miles (if particles are picked up in the upper atmosphere).
At least for now everyone (including the press and even anti-nuclear groups) is holding off on hysterical pronouncements, because they also know that  nuclear issues are complex and uncertain – they defy short simple explanations.”    But make no mistake, despite being wrong, the short simple explanations will be coming from both sides.  Unless pronuclear forces launch a very clever and convincing campaign, the scary “it could happen here” pitch is likely to win.  And that means a big reduction in power available in the US and elsewhere, along with a big price increase for all other energy.
No matter how this story turns out for Japan, the strategic implications for the US are expensive.
To donate to disaster assistance contact .

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The More Things Change . . .

The more things change, the more they stay the same
When I enter the Army (back during the Indian Fighting days of 1967), the PT test as i recall it had 5 items:  push ups, grenade throw, overhead rungs, run dodge and jump, and 1 mile run. 
Over the next several years items were added and subtracted for various reasons.  The grenade throw gave way to the low crawl, which gave way to the crab walk (who thought that one up?). The run dodge and jump was replaced by the 150 yard man carry.  (wow - big hump - especially for little guys carrying a member of the football team)  The one mile run became the two mile run.  Sometimes other events came and went -- like the standing broad jump.  Or pull ups for the airborne.  Or the 600 meter shuttle run for staff officers. (I am cramming 20 years into one paragraph here - but the overall story is correct.)
When the war was over the Army had more time to focus on physical fitness. One thing they quickly learned was that in some of the many locations scattered around the world, requiring any facilities at all (like overhead rungs, lanes for low crawl, etc.), was counter productive. If commanders did not have the facilities to do the test right, sometimes they skipped it completely. So over time, senior leaders finally reached the conclusion that a standard test anybody could administer anywhere was better than a tougher test that some people could not or would not do.  And the eventual solution was a 3 event test: push ups, sit ups, and 2 mile run.  Rejiggering the standards for age and sex has continued for years, but the events have been standardized Army wide for a long time.
Along the way the Armor School at Ft Knox (where tank and armored warfare were once taught) had the interesting idea of refocusing the physical test on tasks more related to those expected of armored crews in combat - like breaking track or carrying heavy parts. With the post-Vietnam (which means up to Desert Storm) Army more focused on instilling discipline than uniformity, junior leaders actually had quite a bit of flexibility. And in our armored cavalry unit in Germany we took the idea of combat related physical training much farther. We introduced the two man stretcher-carry, the three man machine-gun-and-ammo-carry-and- set-up, and the road wheel dash. Eventually standardization won out, of course. And it has been push ups, sit ups, and 2 mile run for decades now. 
Or perhaps "until now," since according to an AP report the Army is instituting new tests including a 180 pound drag (simulating a wounded soldier) and a combination shuttle run and broad jump, (simulating a combination shuttle run and broad jump).   See
Breaking the tradition of old soldiers, I have no complaints about this change. Hey if it works, great.  If not, change it again.  But I can't help observe that all old ideas eventually seem new again. I thought of this last week when Sec Def Gates announced that after this war, the US will not put troops on the ground in Asia or the Mideast again. So we won't really need a traditional army in the future. 
Like the shuttle run and the wounded soldier carry, seems like I have seen that one before.