What’s JOE – 2035?

Haven’t heard of JOE- 35? Not surprising, since it is very difficult to find any mention of it in any major media news outlet. Google JOE- 35, and you get a series of links for a cast stone fire pit that is 35” in diameter.

Wrong. It refers to the “Joint Operating Environment 2035” [pdf] (JOE – 35), issued in July by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It lays out the environment that the military and the nation will be facing 20 years from now. It is written as a guide to how the Defense Department should be spending resources today in order to protect against tomorrow’s threats. They identify six broad geopolitical challenges the US Military will have to deal with in 20 years:

  • Violent Ideological Competition: irreconcilable ideas communicated and promoted by identity networks through violence. That is, states and non-state actors alike will pursue their goals by spreading ideologies hostile to US interests and encouraging violent acts to promote those ideologies.
  • Threatened US Territory and Sovereignty: encroachment, erosion, or disregard of US sovereignty and the freedom of its citizens.
  • Antagonistic Geopolitical Balancing: increasingly ambitious adversaries maximizing their own influence while actively limiting US influence. That is, rival powers will pursue their own interests in conflict with those of the United States. Think China in the Philippines.
  • Disrupted Global Commons: denial or compulsion in spaces and places available to all but owned by none. Think that the US will no longer be able to count on unimpeded access to the oceans, the air, space, or the electromagnetic spectrum in the pursuit of its interests.
  • A Contest for Cyberspace: a struggle to define and credibly protect sovereignty in cyberspace. That is, US cyberwarfare measures will increasingly face effective defenses and US cyberspace assets will increasingly face effective hostile incursions.
  • Shattered and Reordered Regions: states increasingly unable to cope with internal political fractures, environmental stress, or deliberate external interference. That means states will continue to be threatened by increasingly harsh pressures on national survival, and the failed states and stateless zones will continue to spawn insurgencies and non-state actors hostile to the US.

The report also warns that the rise of non-state actors such as ISIS, described in the report as “privatized violence“, will continue, as will the rapidity by which those groups form and adapt. The spread of 3D-printing technologies and readily available commercial technology such as drones, means those groups can be increasingly effective against a fully equipped and highly technological US military.

The study says:

Transnational criminal organizations, terrorist groups, and other irregular threats are likely to exploit the rapid spread of advanced technologies to design, resource, and execute complex attacks and combine many complex attacks into larger, more sustained campaigns…

John Michael Greer has a review of JOE-35 that is worth reading in its entirety. His criticism of the report is that:

Apparently nobody at the Pentagon noticed one distinctly odd thing about this outline of the future context of American military operations: it’s not an outline of the future at all. It’s an outline of the present. Every one of these trends is a major factor shaping political and military action around the world right now.

Like so many things in our current politics, the JOE projections are mostly about justifying current procurement/pork barreling by a linear extrapolation of today’s threats. That, and the institutional blindness that sets in when there have been no real challenges to the established groupthink, and the professional consequences of failure in the military are near-zero.

The JOE list may not be imaginative or fully predictive, but that doesn’t make it wrong. None of the problems they forecast are going away. For instance, the use of ideology to win and shore up support from potential fighters and allies is as old as ancient times, so why would ideological conflict NOT be an issue in 2035?

Threats to US sovereignty and territory go along with the Joint Chiefs’ recognition that the US is an empire most likely on a downward curve, unless there is great change in our policies, domestic and foreign.

In this sense, the report is quietly critical of our politicians.

The admission in the JOE report that we will be actively required to defend our home ground by 2035 is a mark of just how much our geopolitical environment has changed since 9/11.

It is indeed worth your time to read both the JOE report, and that of John Michael Greer very carefully.

Both will make you smarter than reading about the latest Trump outrage.


Monday Wake Up Call – October 24, 2016

The US government had a program to pay bonuses to recruits at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as an incentive to get soldiers to reenlist. Now the Pentagon wants the money back from 10,000 soldiers in California. The California National Guard used the program to entice thousands of soldiers with bonuses of $15,000 or more to reenlist and go to war, more than a decade ago.

It turns out that government audits have revealed widespread overpayments by the California Guard, who handed out the money more liberally than other state Guards. As a result, nearly 10,000 soldiers, many who served multiple combat tours, have been ordered to repay their enlistment bonuses, and if they refuse, they are slapped with interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens.

Are we missing something? These soldiers signed a legal contract with the government in order to get the re-enlistment bonuses. The soldiers certainly delivered on their end of the contract; the time they spent in the service was honorably served. So why shouldn’t the CA National Guard have to give the money back, rather than individual soldiers? They caused the problem.

Isn’t the correct pressure point Gov. Brown and the CA state legislature, rather than individual soldiers?

This is way beyond wrong. Not the soldiers’ mistake, and it shouldn’t be their problem.

The forced repayment by veterans of their enlistment bonuses to the government a decade after they were given the bonuses specifically to re-enlist is unconscionable. As a veteran of an earlier era, it makes Wrongo’s blood boil to read this piece.

Monday’s Links:

A Twitter account tracks dictators’ planes to and from Geneva. The planes are registered to or used by despots when they fly into and out of Geneva, Switzerland. The 80 or so planes being tracked, are registered to governments, or known to be used by royal families or leaders. Only 80 planes? Shouldn’t that list be expanded?

This is what work-life balance looks like at a company with 100% retention of moms. For 33 years Patagonia has had an on-site child care center that bears little resemblance to what anyone might imagine corporate on-site child care looks like. It is run by teachers, some of whom are bilingual and trained in child development. Learning takes place outdoors as much as in. Parents often eat lunch with their kids, take them to the farmer’s market or pick vegetables with them in the “secret” garden. And the worst is that this is not all that hard to do.

The White House hosts South by South Lawn (SXSL), the Obama administration’s riff on Austin’s annual multimedia showcase, South by Southwest. From poking fun at Kanye West, to curating playlists, to singing with Willie Nelson, to hosting this SXSL festival, President Obama has taken advantage of his musical know-how in ways that we will surely miss. On the mainstage, Common makes an unannounced appearance, rapping about the racial injustices of the prison system; he’s later spotted chatting with Obama senior advisor Valerie Jarrett. At sunset, the Lumineers played “Stubborn Love”—which Obama included on his 2015 summer playlist.

Feral cats are being deployed in NYC war on rats. There are a lotta rats in NYC, some of whom are in suits and office suites. The feral cat is designed to help address the brazen denizens of NYC garbage. However, in the book Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History by Dan Flores, we learn that there are over 5,000 coyotes living “underground” in NY City that are already on rat patrol.

Time for our Monday Wake up, and it’s the Pentagon’s turn. They should wake up and rescind those re-payments, and refund any money that they have collected from GIs who paid the price to get their enlistment bonuses.

To help the Pentagon get back on track, here are the Talking Heads with “Life During Wartime” from their 1979 album, Fear of Music. This live version comes from the 1984 movie “Stop Making Sense”, a Talking Heads concert:


Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Sample Lyrics:

Heard of a van that is loaded with weapons,
Packed up and ready to go
Heard of some grave sites, out by the highway,
A place where nobody knows

The sound of gunfire, off in the distance,
I’m getting used to it now
Lived in a brownstone, lived in a ghetto,
I’ve lived all over this town

 This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco,
This ain’t no fooling around
No time for dancing, or lovey dovey,
I ain’t got time for that now


September 11, 2016

(There will be no cartoons today. Instead, Sunday cartoon blogging will be tomorrow, Monday 9/12.)


After 15 years, some of the sharp pain of the events of 9/11 have faded, and an idealized view of the towers like this one, is all we need to take us back to that point in time when American invincibility ended. We remember the tragedy, but perhaps we now have enough distance from it to begin to put 9/11/2001 in a context for today.

Tom Englehardt makes the point that on 9/11, al-Qaeda launched a four-plane air force against the US, and now, 15 years later, the air war still has not ended. Englehardt states that the costs have been staggering. Pentagon figures show that just since 2014, the cost of the air war to the taxpayers has been $8.4 billion.

The point behind these numbers is that America’s air war in the Greater Middle East and Africa has become institutionalized, and is now a part of our politics. No future president will end our drone programs. In fact, both The Pant Suit and The Pant Load are essentially committed to continuing the US air war for at least their first term in office.

Mohammad Atta, the kingpin hijacker, pursued a master’s degree in city planning at the Hamburg University of Technology, where he wrote his thesis on urban planning in Aleppo, Syria. Slate’s Daniel Brooks traveled to Hamburg in 2009 to read the thesis and try to get a sense for how Atta saw the world:

The subject of the thesis is a section of Aleppo…Atta describes decades of meddling by Western urban planners, who rammed highways through the neighborhood’s historic urban fabric and replaced many of its once ubiquitous courtyard houses with modernist high-rises. Atta calls for rebuilding the area along traditional lines, all tiny shops and odd-angled cul-de-sacs. The highways and high-rises are to be removed —in [Atta’s] meticulous color-coded maps, they are all slated for demolition. Traditional courtyard homes and market stalls are to be rebuilt.

We see Atta’s commitment to the culture of Islam:

For Atta, the rebuilding of Aleppo’s traditional cityscape was part of a larger project to restore the Islamic culture of the neighborhood, a culture he sees as threatened by the West…In Atta’s Aleppo, women wouldn’t leave the house, and policies would be carefully crafted so as not to “engender emancipatory thoughts of any kind,” which he sees as “out of place in Islamic society.”

As a student, Atta called for demolishing the western-style high rise buildings in Aleppo. He then got the assignment to crash a plane into America’s tallest and most famous high-rise.

The circularity is striking. The decision to attack America led to the US decision to invade Iraq. That led to the Shia takeover of Iraq, which led to a Sunni exodus into Syria. The Sunni exodus, along with the Arab Spring, led to the on-going anti-Assad revolution in Syria, which led in time to the destruction of the rebel-held parts of today’s Aleppo.

Atta’s demolition plans have been wildly successful.

Finally, we have spent $1 trillion since 9/11 to protect the homeland from terrorists. Are we safer? On the positive side of the ledger, the 9/11 attack killed almost 3,000 people, while the total deaths by jihadists on US soil since 9/11 is 94 people. On the negative side, it remains questionable if we are safe from future terrorist attacks.

We are safer from the 9/11-style orchestrated attack. It’s harder for terrorists to get into the country, and harder for them to pull off something spectacular. But, as the Orlando massacre reminds us, the world is populated by lone wolves, and those living among us can easily obtain military-grade weapons. This makes their attacks much more lethal, and harder to detect in advance.

Our defenses are stronger, but we are trying to defend against more and different threats.

Again, focus on the political: We live in an America where one terrorist slipping through the armor is deemed to be total failure politically. Sooner or later, we must accept that we can’t continue a “zero terrorist events” policy, and Congress can’t use “zero events” as an excuse to make everything a top priority.

Politicians won’t prioritize among the programs for anti-terrorist funding, because they fear looking weak on terror. They also want to keep getting PAC funds from defense contractors. That means our political leaders will declare everything a top priority. In fact, 119 Congressional committees or subcommittees assert some kind of jurisdiction over the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Everybody has a finger in the pie.

We need to start making better decisions and fewer enemies. Let’s start by asking the presidential candidates:

  • What have you learned from our 15 years of unsuccessful wars in the Middle East, and how would you apply those lessons in your administration?
  • Do you agree with the Obama administration’s plan to spend a trillion dollars modernizing our nuclear weapons?
  • What is your strategy to protect against cyber warfare?
  • How will you address the on-the-ground complexities of the Syrian civil war and of the Greater Middle East?
  • Is China, Russia, or ISIS our greatest threat?

At 15 years post-9/11, these questions should be answerable by ANY prospective US Commander-in-Chief. (Sorry, Gary Johnson)

Insist on better answers.


Pentagon Can’t Account for $6.5 Trillion

Let’s take another break from the cacophony of the presidential campaign to provide some insight into a Pentagon report that the mainstream media barely covered.

The Inspector General (IG) of the US Department of Defense (DoD) issued an audit report on July 26, stating that the DoD cannot account for $6.5 trillion in total funds, of which, $2.8 trillion is “missing” from the last fiscal quarter. According to the IG’s report: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

Army and Defense Finance and Accounting Service [DFAS] Indianapolis personnel did not adequately support $2.8 trillion in third quarter adjustments and $6.5 trillion in year-end adjustments made to Army General Fund [AGF] data during FY 2015 financial statement compilation…We conducted this audit in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.

The IG also said that the DoD agrees they received these funds, agrees the funds are gone, and claims not to have records of where the money went. This doesn’t mean that the money (or equipment and supplies) was embezzled, but without accounting records, the Pentagon just doesn’t know what happened to it.

This isn’t a new problem. On September 10, 2001, then Sec Def Donald Rumsfeld reported that the DoD could not find $2.3 trillion of our tax dollars. After the next day’s al Qaeda attack, the Pentagon and the Congress lost focus on this problem. From the Fiscal Times:

Starting in 1996, federal agencies were mandated by law to conduct regular financial audits. However, the Pentagon has NEVER complied with that federal law. In 20 years, it has never been able to account for the trillions of dollars in taxpayer funds it has spent. An increasingly impatient Congress has demanded that the Army achieve “audit readiness” for the first time by Sept. 30, 2017, so that lawmakers can get a better handle on military spending.

But the IG report says (pg. 21), that they are not likely to comply:

Until the Army and DFAS Indianapolis correct these control deficiencies, there is considerable risk that the AGF financial statements will be materially misstated and the Army will not achieve audit readiness by the congressionally mandated September 30, 2017, deadline.

If this was your bank, and they agreed that they had received a large deposit from you, agreed that they had no idea where it was, and had no plans to refund it, you would sue and move to another bank.

Since this is the Pentagon, you can’t do either. Congress has been allowing the Pentagon to get away with this travesty for decades. Heads should roll at the Pentagon, but where is the Congressional oversight?

Sorry, this is gross negligence, and it isn’t excused because it is done by our “warrior” class who are only trying to keep us safe.

Think about it, $6.5 trillion lost is the equivalent of embezzling $1 billion a day for 18 years. Another way to look at the issue, is that the Pentagon can’t account for around $86 million in our tax dollars per hour. That means the Pentagon misplaces enough of your tax dollars every day to deliver every American free health care.

Now, they almost certainly didn’t lose or steal that much, but they shouldn’t have so much dough to play with until they learn how to account for what they get.

The people deserve whatever regime they endure.

This should be unendurable.


How Not to Cut the Deficit

Congress returned from the Independence Day break on Monday. They will leave again on Friday, and won’t return until after Labor Day. From The Hill:

Congress is poised to leave Washington…without passing funding to combat the Zika virus or completing work on spending bills to avoid a government shutdown.

One bill that might get passed is the re-authorization for Federal Aviation Administration programs that expire on Friday. Since Congress likes to fly, most think they will pass an extension that will last through September 2017.

If you’ve taken a flight this summer, you’ve likely been tied up in long TSA security lines. But you may not have focused on the real reason: Funding for the TSA has been sliced by 8.5% over the past five years, leading to a 5.5% drop in the number of screeners.

Yet, in the same period, the number of air travelers has increased by more than 15%. And those business wizards in Congress should be forced to tell the rest of us how a labor-intensive business can successfully process increasing numbers of customers with a smaller work force.

Steven Rattner in the NYT:

This year, discretionary spending — which encompasses airport security, infrastructure, education, research and development and much more — will be lower than it was in 2005. (Adjusted for inflation.

The discretionary portion of the federal budget, including education, research, infrastructure and other programs, has been falling, while spending on mandatory programs (including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) has been going up. Rattner reports that total government spending is up by 23% since 2005, while mandatory spending is up 45% in the same period, and discretionary spending is down 3%.

Here are some examples:

  • Since 2003, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), have seen their funding fall by 23%, forcing an 8% reduction in grants to researchers even as grant applications were rising by 50%.
  • In the past 10 years, spending on all education has fallen by 11% percent.
  • Since 2010, the IRS’s budget has been slashed by about 18%, even as the IRS was given new duties in connection with the passage of the Affordable Care Act. The result: The enforcement staff has shrunk by 23%, leading to a similar reduction in the number of audits. Fewer audits have meant additional uncollected taxes, estimated at $14 billion over the past two years. And almost a million pieces of unanswered correspondence from taxpayers need responses.
  • The EPA’s budget has been cut by an enormous 27% — about $3 billion since 2010. As a result, the agency had to eliminate more than 2,000 workers, bringing its staffing to the lowest level since 1989.

Last fall, a bi-partisan group added $80 billion in new discretionary spending over the next two years. Then, Congress doubled the cost of the deal by giving more money to the military and to Medicare, taking the deal to $154 billion while paying for about half the tab with legitimate savings.

A few months later, Congress retroactively extended a raft of expired tax provisions — without even a pretense of paying for them.

As a result of Congress’s fudging, the projected 2017 deficit rose to $561 billion, from the $416 billion that was estimated just six months earlier.

We shouldn’t expect that Congress will make any big decisions involving taxes or spending in an election year. But at the least Republicans need to stop using the appropriations tool to take aim at agencies such as the IRS and the EPA, whose missions they reject.

In the case of the TSA, Republicans want it privatized. Not because privatizing will save any money or make the TSA more effective, but to help a few of their corporate sponsors have another feed at the government trough. Republicans want to see schools, prisons, and the postal service privatized. The people who are employed by these private, profit-making companies will not be paid as well, and will not receive benefits they have today.

This is what you get when you believe that government should be “run like a business.” Certainly, we need a more efficient, better managed bureaucracy, but the deficit-cutting value of their fix is peanuts compared with the simple act of generating revenue.

You know, that would be raising taxes sufficient to pay for the critical tasks we require of the government.

The GOP would like you to think that Donald Trump represents a threat to Republican tax and deficit-cutting orthodoxy. To the extent Trump has revealed his thinking on tax policy, it looks consistent with the Republican Party. Trump’s grand accomplishment is to create an alliance between the true economic interests of the Republican Party and that segment of the American electorate largely marginalized and displaced by the actions of that same elite.

Welcome to the Republican paradise.



Monday Wake-up Call – May 23, 2016

The subject of the day is the continued saber-rattling by our military. Recently, two retiring US Generals made goodbye speeches indicating that Russia is the biggest threat facing America. As Crooked Timber said:

Russia? Really? I guess there ain’t no money in ISIS and Al Qaeda. You don’t need strategic bombers, huge mechanized armies and aircraft carriers to fight them.

Equally disturbing are the concurrent mind games being played in the military strategy establishment. Take the RAND Corporation. RAND has run numerous war games which pit Russia against NATO in the Balkans. Their conclusion is always the same: If Russian tanks and troops rolled into the Balkans tomorrow, outgunned and outnumbered NATO forces would be overrun in under three days. Scary!

RAND argues that NATO has been caught napping by a resurgent and unpredictable Russia, which has begun to boost defense spending after having seized the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine and intervened in support of pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine. In their report RAND said:

The games’ findings are unambiguous: As currently postured, NATO cannot successfully defend the territory of its most exposed members…

Underlying this, is the insanity of the geopolitical outlook that dominates the national security lobby in Washington. The same day as the RAND report was released, Defense Secretary Ash Carter unveiled plans to add more weapons and armored vehicles to pre-positioned stocks in Eastern Europe. The new $3.4 billion plan (that’s the annual cost folks) adds another brigade to the mix, but the soldiers would be based in the US, rotating in to Europe for a few months at a time. So, that’s politically acceptable, assuming the next president can find the money.

But, Carter’s commander in Europe, Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of US European Command, released on his blog that there is no:

Substitute for an enduring forward deployed presence that is tangible and real. Virtual presence means actual absence.

Lots of agreement between these boys.

And, in an article in Politico Mark Perry discussed the testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee of a panel of senior Army officers, in which they claimed that the Army is now in danger of being “out-ranged and outgunned” in the next war that the Army is in danger of becoming “too small to secure the nation”. Yikes!

While their testimony made headlines in the major media, Politico reported that a large number of former senior Army officers, rolled their eyes:

That’s news to me…Swarms of unmanned aerial vehicles? Surprisingly lethal tanks? How come this is the first we’ve heard of it?

The unnamed General went on: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

These guys want us to believe the Russians are 10 feet tall. There’s a simpler explanation: The Army is looking for a purpose, and a bigger chunk of the budget. And the best way to get that is to paint the Russians as being able to land in our rear and on both of our flanks at the same time…What a crock.

All of this is political fodder for Obama’s critics in Congress who complain that the President isn’t taking us into the next war fast enough.

So it’s time we all wake up to this maneuvering behind our backs. Maneuvering that is designed to have us spend waaay more money on defense, because, Putin.

To help you wake up, give a listen to a rarely-heard tune by Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger, “Ye Playboys & Ye Playgirls Ain’t a Gonna Change My World”, recorded live in 1963 at the Newport Folk Festival, when Dlyan was still a folk singer, two years before he would be booed off the main stage at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival:

Put in context of the times: Dylan was being called the “Voice of a Generation”. Seeger adds an endorsement of the fed-up young artist who was already one of the key singers of topical songs in the sixties. For those who read the Wrongologist in email, you can listen to the tune here.

Sample Lyrics:

You insane tongues of war talk
Ain’t a-gonna guide my road,
Ain’t a-gonna guide my road,
Ain’t a-gonna guide my road.
You insane tongues of war talk
Ain’t a-gonna guide my road,
Not now or no other time.

Please remember what Voltaire said:

 Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

THAT has always been the strategy of the military-industrial complex. Arguing over defense budgets, equipment procurement, force strength, is pointless.

Today, the money is just not there to do much more for the military.

The critical debate must be how to fix the economy, which drives the size and strength of our military.

And ultimately, our national security.


Inside The Rock of Gibraltar

Wrongo and Ms. Right visited Gibraltar yesterday. You are familiar with the Rock that is part of the Prudential logo. Gibraltar is a tax haven. And while it isn’t in the Panama Papers, Gibraltar has a branch of the Panamanian law firm, Mossack & Fonseca, whose leaked documents have focused all of us on tax havens and possible tax evasion.

Gibraltar has 33,000 residents and 1.5% unemployment. About 11,000 Spanish citizens cross the border daily for work, since there is about 40% unemployment in Spain.

It’s hard to imagine when you look at it from the outside, but the Rock of Gibraltar actually has more than 32 miles of tunnels inside. Most were built during WWII. In 1940, Britain, who controlled Gibraltar, was at war with Germany and Italy. The future for Gibraltar was uncertain, since it was surrounded by the enemy. Churchill and the British military believed that an attack on Gibraltar was imminent, so they decided to construct a network of tunnels, building a military fortress inside the Rock.

The tunnels eventually accommodated an underground city. They were built to house 16,000 soldiers along with enough food to last for 16 months. Within the tunnels there was a power generating station, huge fuel storage tanks, 3 hospital units, ammunition magazines, and a vehicle maintenance workshop.

Gibraltar never came under siege, and the need to accommodate thousands of troops never came to pass. But Churchill, Eisenhower, De Gaulle and others toiled inside the Rock at various times during the war. General Eisenhower used the tunnels as his headquarters for the invasion of North Africa. He later wrote:

At Gibraltar our headquarters were established in the most dismal setting we occupied during the war…. Damp, cold air in block-long passages was heavy with a stagnation that did not noticeably respond to the clattering efforts of electric fans. Through the arched ceilings came a constant drip, drip, drip of surface water that faithfully but drearily ticked off the seconds of the interminable, almost unendurable, wait which occurs between completion of a military plan and the moment action begins.

Here is an old photo of the tunnels:

Gibraltar Tunnels

The humidity is high, in excess of 90%. The walls and ceiling are Jurassic limestone. These tunnels make you reflect on how often the military plans for something that never comes to pass.

Beyond the planning is execution, at a huge cost in human capital and materiel, often accompanied by heroic effort, and loss of lives.

We saw the same in Iraq and Afghanistan. NPR reported that the US Army abandoned more than $7 billion of equipment, about 20% of what the Army brought into Afghanistan. At the time of our wind-down, we realized that we had no way to move our equipment out via land, so it would have to be flown out, at ruinous expense.

Apparently, we failed to plan for some obvious outcomes.

We did the same thing in Iraq, bequeathing to the Iraqi government more than $580 million of equipment that supposedly saved us more than $1 billion in shipping costs. We want and need our military to plan for exigencies, even some which may seem remote. Otherwise, we can get caught with our pants down.

But how many times have we heard that “No one could have foreseen” some event or problem that causes us to lose money, people or prestige on the global stage? We leave $8 billion of equipment in the Middle East because we didn’t plan effectively? We can’t connect the dots between Saudi immigrants taking jet pilot lessons and Osama bin Laden’s rumored plans to attack the US?

How come it’s not too expensive to take our military equipment into a country, but it’s too expensive to take it back out?

The threat to Gibraltar was genuine. With 70+ years of hindsight, it is easy to second-guess the British tunnel building as excessive. But, at the time, there were enemy bombing raids that led to the evacuation of most civilians.

Those tunnels are an artifact of the military history of a piece of strategic ground. It was the Allies’ gateway to what was at the time, a hostile Mediterranean. Controlling Gibraltar allowed the Allies to mount the campaign in North Africa, and later, in Italy.

Maybe we plan properly in our wars of necessity, but plan poorly in our wars of choice.


Preparing for a New Land War in Europe

From 1970-1973, Wrongo ran a US Army nuclear missile unit in Germany. It was during the Cold War, and also during America’s involvement in Vietnam. Wrongo got lucky, spending his entire service in a cold war zone, not in a hot war zone.

The stated purpose of his unit was to provide air defense of the skies over Western Europe (WE). The enemy was the Soviet Union. In the 1950s, NATO’s strategy to defend W. Europe changed from reliance on conventional weapons to what was called “flexible response,” which included the first use of tactical nuclear weapons, like the type Wrongo’s unit had.

The doctrine of first use of nuclear weapons came about because NATO was vastly outnumbered in weapons and soldiers in WE. For example, the Warsaw Pact had more than 5 million soldiers and 72,000 tanks on the ground in Eastern Europe arrayed against NATO’s 32,000 tanks. And at its peak, the Soviet Union could deploy 10,000 aircraft against NATO’s 2,000.

Wrongo’s unit was part of a trip wire: If the Soviet Union launched an attack on WE, Wrongo’s job was to turn his air defense unit into a very accurate surface-to-surface nuclear weapon, taking out as much of the Soviet Union’s advancing tank forces as possible.

Fast forward to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Its tanks, soldiers and planes were moved back to Russia from the satellite states. Much of that equipment was decommissioned, and most of the tank outfits were disbanded in 1998.

Now, 45 years after Wrongo served as part of the NATO tripwire, Moscow has reactivated the First Guards Tank Army. During the Cold War, the First Guards Tank Army was stationed in East Germany as part of the vanguard of a possible Warsaw Pact drive into Western Europe. According to Patrick Armstrong at Sic Semper Tyrannis: (parenthesis by the Wrongologist)

The 1st Guards Tank Army will be stationed in the Western Military District to defend Russia against NATO. It is very likely that it will be the first to receive the new Armata family of AFVs (newest generation of Russian tank) and be staffed with professional soldiers and all the very latest and best of Russia’s formidable defence industry. It will not be a paper headquarters; it will be the real thing: commanded, manned, staffed, integrated, exercised and ready to go.

Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu has named the activation of the new tank army one of Russia’s top priorities for 2016.

Why is Russia doing this? Well, under Clinton, we added Poland and three Baltic republics to NATO. Under GW Bush, we said we would deploy medium-range nuclear missiles to Poland, supposedly as a defense against Iran. That decision was later reversed by Obama. Under Obama, we threatened to add Ukraine to NATO.

Armstrong says the decision to re-create the tank army is an indication that Russia really does fear attack from the West and is preparing to defend itself against it. And why do they fear the West? Armstrong says it is about NATO’s continued expansion eastward. He points out that the Russians: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

[Russia had]…planned for small wars, but NATO kept expanding; they argued, but NATO kept expanding; they [Russia] protested, but NATO kept expanding. They [Russia] took no action for years.

Until now. The defense site Southfront.org writes about the Russian military. They suggest that these moves reflect a change in Russian military doctrine:

The fighting in Ukraine demonstrated the advantage of having large and permanently established maneuver formations…Independently operating battalions, regiments, and brigades lacked the ability to deliver a knock-out punch, and coordinating a large number of such units was difficult for higher headquarters.

Could this be Putin’s “Star Wars” moment? Ronald Reagan got the Soviets to spend heavily to counter the apparent threat of Star Wars, America’s not-quite-real anti-ballistic missile technology.

Putin is now laying out a Russian military strategy for Europe that no NATO country wants to match, financially or militarily. He sees that NATO and the US are now committed to smaller, special operations forces, drones and cruise missiles when conducting military operations.

Maybe Putin recognizes and understands that the one thing NATO won’t do is field a real army.

And our wars of choice in the Middle East have gutted the US economy, and our warrior spirit. We have fought wars we couldn’t win, and we plunged entire regions of the world into chaos and terrorism.

Now, Putin confronts us with the need to make a strategic choice in Europe.

Any bets this will be discussed by our presidential candidates?


Preparing for Trump

Yesterday was Super Tuesday. The results will tell us lots about the state of the Democratic Party, but despite the outcome on Tuesday, Democrats have a variety of issues worth thinking about heading into the general election this November. In this primary cycle, Democratic primary voters just aren’t showing up. Democrats in 2016 primaries are only voting at two-thirds of the rate that they did eight years ago. All told, about 1.18 million Democrats across those first four states went to the polls in 2008. Just under 870,000 showed up this time. That’s 26% fewer voters engaged.

But, you’d think that Sanders, who’s message is a political revolution, could energize the disaffected in great numbers, but it just hasn’t happened. Perhaps it is the right message, but the wrong messenger. And no evidence of a “political revolution.”

Yet Trump is doing just that. GOP turnout in primaries is up 24% over 2008. It is a safe bet that if The Donald is the GOP nominee, there will be a big Republican turnout in November.

There are other concerns: With the Sanders vs. Clinton contest, the Democratic Party is also at risk of imploding, right along with the GOP in its tussle with Trump.

Sanders is seen as unusually honest for someone who’s been a politician for much of his life, and he advocates a refreshingly anti-establishment view on core issues that matter to an increasing number of Americans. These include American militarism, Wall Street bailouts, a two-tiered justice system, the prohibitive cost of college education, healthcare insecurity and a “rigged economy.”

OTOH, Hillary is committed to a third Obama term and incremental change. She has been forced by Sanders to move left, and is paying lip service to some of his issues. Once the general election season begins, it is likely that Hillary will be the candidate for America’s political status quo, vs. the radical alternative of Donald Trump.

Bernie’s supporters understand this, and may or may not go compliantly into the voting booth to elect Hillary, despite the terrifying prospects of a Trump presidency.

Tea Party Republicans understand that the GOP Establishment offers them little. And more and more rank and file Republicans have come to the same conclusion, which is precisely why the GOP nomination is now Trump’s to lose.

Democrats are teetering on the same precipice. The Dem Establishment, this time represented by Hillary, offers weak tea. The Sanders wing could easily sit this one out, and by late summer, when polls show that Hillary is in a death struggle with a political novice, political pundits will be tripping over each other to write about the death of the Democratic Party.

Democrats are in a bind. They want progressive politics, but offered by an Establishment leader.

Dems are always looking for that. In 2008, they selected Obama because he represented change and empowerment for average people over Hillary, the Democratic Establishment candidate. People wanted something new and different. Obama’s presidency wasn’t a failure, unless Democrats accept nothing less than ideological purity from their presidents.

Or, look back at recent presidential elections. Oh the glee among Democrats in 2001 when GWB won the nomination. It was gonna be a cakewalk for Mr. Democratic Establishment Al Gore. Gore did win the popular vote, but lacked an influential brother in Florida. With Establishment candidate John Kerry in 2004, his vote for the Iraq war was his downfall. How do you run successfully against an incumbent when you agreed with the incumbent’s major disaster? Saying you were “for it before you were against it” was an epic fail. Kerry never figured that out, and lost.

The 2008 election was easy for not-quite Establishment Obama, since the GOP was badly wounded by the GWB administration and GOP Establishment McCain lacked the personal horsepower to defeat him.

If 2016 is an Establishment Clinton v. an anti-establishment Trump, some of the Establishment GOP may choose sit it out. There is a small possibility they could go full anti-McGovern, as Establishment Dems did in 1972. If anti-establishment Sanders is the nominee, the GOP Establishment will find a way to make a deal with Trump, and the Dem Establishment probably won’t do enough to prevent Sanders from losing.

If the US economy hits a rough patch before November (and there are several reasons to expect that), Clinton as the Establishment nominee could be dead meat. Sanders, OTOH, could end up a stronger candidate because of it. We also need to remember that Donald Trump is not an ideologue. He brings no core convictions to the table, other than ego, so he will continue to say whatever works with his fans.

Will a Trump win kill America? That depends on whether our country’s immune system, that body of informed citizens who are engaged, and who bother to vote, can effectively fight the infection.


What NH Should Teach Us

The popular vote in NH was about 521,000. Of that number, 278k went to Republican candidates, and 243k went to Democrats. Bernie led all candidates with 145,700 votes, with Trump second at 97,300 votes. Hillary was third at 92,530.

For the record, the 2008 turnout was: 287,342 for the Democrats and 238,979 for the Republicans.

The media is all over the demographics of the NH primary, and how Bernie won all segments except for people over 65 years old, and those who make more than $200k, both of which went to Hillary.

But one headline from NH ought to be that the Dems performed 15% worse than eight years ago, while the GOP performed 14% better than they did when a NH resident (Romney) was on the ballot!

In Hillary’s post-primary speech, she said that there isn’t a huge difference between the two Democratic candidates. Bernie talked about how the party had to come together down the road to prevent a White House take-over by the GOP.

But are these candidates that similar?

Let’s hear from Benjamin Studebaker, who says that Sanders and Clinton represent two very different ideologies, a neo-liberal view represented by Ms. Clinton and an FDR big government program viewpoint represented by Mr. Sanders:

Each of these ideologies wants control of the Democratic Party so that its resources can be used to advance a different conception of what a good society looks like…This is not a matter of taste and these are not flavors of popcorn.

Studebaker thinks that Hillary is ideologically similar to Barack Obama, describing that in 2008: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The most prominent difference between them was the vote on the Iraq War. On economic policy, there never was a substantive difference. The major economic legislation passed under Obama (Dodd-Frank and the Affordable Care Act) did not address the structural inequality problem that the Democratic Party of the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s…existed to confront.

In fact, while inequality decreased under FDR, Truman, JFK, and LBJ, it has increased under 3 Democrats: Carter, Clinton, and Obama. It also increased under 3 Republicans: Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II.

Now comes the Hill & Bernie show. Sanders is not running to try to implement a set of idealistic policies that a Republican-controlled Congress will block; he is running to take the Democratic Party away from its current leadership that is unwilling to deal with the systemic economic problems that have led to wage stagnation and the shrinking of the middle class in America.

But can he be successful? David Brooks said in the NYT:

Bernie Sanders…has been so blinded by his values that the reality of the situation does not seem to penetrate his mind.

OK, that must mean that Sanders has no shot. The conventional wisdom is that the Democratic Party cannot be reclaimed by the FDR/LBJ types, or that if it is reclaimed, it will lose in 2016.

But, in the 1968 and 1976 Republican primaries, a guy named Ronald Reagan ran to take the Republican Party back from the Richard Nixon types who went along with the Democrats on welfare and regulation. He was bidding to return the Republicans to their 1920’s Conservative roots. Everyone in the 60’s and 70’s knew that Reagan couldn’t pull that off. But he did.

How? Yesterday, we spoke of Movement Conservatism, where Republicans built a conceptual base, a popular base, a business base, and an institutional infrastructure of think tanks, and by the 2000s, Conservatives again controlled the Republican Party.

So, one lesson from the NH primary is that the contest for the 2016 presidential nomination is not just a contest to see who will lead the Democrats, it’s a contest to see what kind of party the Democrats are going to be in the coming decades, what ideology and what interests, causes, and issues the Democratic Party will prioritize.

The Republican Party faces exactly the same problem in 2016.

And these facts make the 2016 primaries far more important than in any other recent election.

This is about whether the Democratic Party is going to care about inequality for the next decade. We are making a historical decision between two distinct ideological paradigms, not a choice between flavors of popcorn.

Choose carefully.