Saturday, August 30, 2014

Domestic Terrorism – Words Matter

Sometimes the government is not as stupid as it seems.  It just seems to be as stupid as it seems.   A number of (mostly conservative – example ) media sources have objected to the just released National Threat Assessment for Domestic Extremism because it does not list Muslim radicals as a threat. They are wrong. The omission is not as grave as it seems.
Domestic Terrorism is an act of terrorism conducted by a domestic resident over a domestic issue.  White separatists, Black Power advocates, animal rights extremists, some work place attackers -- all are domestic actors upset about purely domestic issues. This was the subject of the disputed report.
            International Terrorism is an act of terrorism by an international actor over an international issue. The 9/11 attackers were foreign nationals unhappy about US actions overseas.
            Homegrown Terrorism is an act of terrorism by a domestic resident over an international issue. The Boston Bombing was an act of Homegrown Terrorism. 
            So the FBI report is correct -- I do not know of any Muslim radicals or Muslim groups who are threatening to mount terrorist attacks in the US over purely domestic issues.
            Is there a reason to make such distinctions?  Yes.  If the motivations and capabilities are different, then the analysis and counter actions must be different. The Cosa Nostra’s deliberate murder of a judge, and an individual’s impulsive of murder a spouse are both murders, but should be approached quite differently.  The same is true of terrorism.
            Are the definitions really as clear as I have suggested?  No.  The Department of State  and Department of Justice are still using different definitions of terrorism in their programs, so it is no surprise that there is confusion even among experts.
            And by the way -- this distinction is going to get sticky in the near future.  What should we call the crime in England where a radical Muslim murdered a member of the British Army band in the street?  The attacker was a domestic resident. But was he motivated by unhappiness about Britain's involvement overseas, or the role of Muslims in British society at home?  That's not clear, maybe even to him. So was he a homegrown terrorist or domestic terrorist? 
            Here is one final question. It should have been clear to anyone who works these issues that the American press and the American people would be confused by the new report. Why not explain this distinction up front?
Great question.  I have no answer.  But this seems to be in the tradition of saying and doing things destined to alarm the public, then refusing to explain the action.  Like buying billions of rounds of hollow point ammunition, then claiming it is to protect post offices. Seems pretty stupid.  Maybe it's not. But it sure seems that way.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Pilot Error

Now that a few air strikes seem to have blunted the ISIS appetite for continuing the attack on refugees in Kurdistan, the even bigger problem emerges.
The refugees (in what numbers? reports range from 50,000 to 1+ million) cannot continue to live in the wilderness where they now squat.  There is no food, water or shelter. A representative from the Department of State said, “We are looking at every possible solution.” Truth is, there are really only four.
1) Avoid the problem. Get somebody else (Iraq, the Kurds, the French, anybody) to belly up to the problem, while the US "leads from behind."  Or more precisely, leads from Martha’s Vineyard.
2) Continue to supply the refugees by air where they are, indefinitely. This might be technically possible, but it is not really sustainable in the long run. Imagine moving 100,000 city-dwellers (complete with children, pregnant women, hospital patients, and their elderly) to a scorching desert mountain without any food, shelter or medicine. Now imagine supplying everything they need by air, when the nearest friendly runway is a five hour flight away.
3) Return them to their homes.  Perfect solution. Except it would require eliminating a hostile army, one pickup truck at a time, while that army mixes in with a civilian population.   This would require a ground offensive. And someone would have to do the actual fighting – suffer casualties against  the ISIS army and their US provided equipment, in order to regain somebody else’s homeland. Good luck with that. 
4) Evacuate the refugees to somewhere else.  Just finding and collecting the refugees  would be a massive operation – maybe 5000 aircraft sorties of many hours each, through hostile airspace. The logistical tail (fuel, maintenance, medical help, etc.)  would be enormous, as would the security umbrella.  And movement to where? Who would take perhaps as many as a quarter million refugees?
Breaking news reports suggest that US “State Department officials and USAID” are working to find such a location.
Hum-m-m-m-.  DOS and USAID.  I am reminded that the recent plan to send Department of State officials to Honduras to screen potential illegal immigrants was called a “pilot  program." The idea was to "pre-qualify" selected people as legal immigrants, and grant them access by Executive Order.  Once they were granted formal refugees status, they would be guaranteed admission.  And the US would help to transport them. 
What is a "pilot program?"  It is an experiment to sort out the kinks for a larger program later. 
            Well, now it is later.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Fire on the Mountain, Run Boys Run

The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Or maybe the Ukraine.

I am worried.  Really worried.  Here is what the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff just said:

“If I have a fear about this,” General Dempsey told the Aspen Security Forum over the weekend, “it’s that Putin may actually light a fire that he loses control of.”  

            I agree – this is a dangerous situation -- but for a different reason.  WE lit the fire and are stoking it. 

            Putin is a KGB thug. I wish him a short life and unhappy death.  But he did not create this crisis.  We did – over loans the Ukraine could not repay to Western banks. We engineered a removal of an elected president by a mob, and arranged to pay the bankers with money borrowed from the US and European governments. And in the process laid the groundwork for replacing Russian gas with US oil making some US companies very happy. AND we talked about pulling Ukraine into NATO, after we promised we would not, back when the USSR broke up.

Putin has not talked about marching into Europe or reestablishing the Soviet Union.  That has come from our officials, speculating about what he “might” do. 

Putin took the Crimea without a shot and from people who wanted to be incorporated. He secured the bases RUSSIA BUILT, and the ships RUSSIA PAID FOR.  The big mistake here was the US Dept of State (and western bankers) thinking Russia was too weak to respond.   Of course they did – we threatened a vital interest.

Our media reports Russia is firing artillery into the Ukraine.  If true, that means at targets 20 MILES FROM THEIR BORDER. Meanwhile, NATO  is talking about operations in the Ukraine, 700 miles from the old NATO borders. And about 5,000 miles from Washington, DC. Who sounds like the aggressor?

Two months ago the Ukrainian army could not find its helmet and both boots.  Now it is conducting a double envelopment of two Separatist cities by well supplied mechanized forces. The Ukrainian air force, which could not land in a cross wind, is providing precision close air support.  And the US CJCS is saying “an ‘active process’ is underway to determine what help the US could provide Ukraine.”  (See Dempsey link above.)

Last time we saw something like this it was in Croatia and coordinated by retired US military advisers, contracted by the US from MPRI  (a DC based body shop for military retires). When the going got tough later in Kosovo, the US effort was backed up by strikes from the USAF – all coordinated by former NATO Commander, US General Wesley Clark.

I suspect something similar is happening in the Ukraine.  Right on the Russian border.  Closer than the 90 miles that drove JFK to risk nuclear war in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Oh yes – and the Dept of State is openly speculating that new sanctions might push the Russian rich guys to oust Putin – something Dick Cheney used to call regime change.  Wonder how Putin will react to that?

Again, I a no fan of Putin, and no supporter of Russia in world affairs.  But the first question any strategist should ask is, “If I pursue my current strategy, what will happen next?”

What do you think will happen if we back Putin and Russia into a corner, ultimately placing NATO troops right on their border, astride the invasion route the Nazis took on the way to Mother Russia?

Yeah -- somebody has definitely lit a fire that might burn out of control.  But I don’t think the arsonist was Vladimir Putin.