North Korea Poses a Problem for Trump, Bigly

The Daily Escape:

(Key West flower by Denise M. Riggs)

CNN reported that on Monday, North Korea (NK) fired four ballistic missiles into the Japan Sea. CNN was told by a US official that a fifth missile failed to launch. More from CNN:

Later on Monday, two US officials told CNN that US intelligence is closely monitoring the underground nuclear test site via satellite amid signs the regime could be preparing for another underground test…A US official also said that Washington is continuing to see activity including missile engine tests at another North Korean launch site, that signal potential additional launches — which the US widely expects.

This creates a strategic problem for the Trump administration. Trump has already signaled his preference to respond aggressively to NK’s missile program. In a Twitter post after Kim Jong-un issued a warning on New Year’s Day, Trump tweeted “It won’t happen!

Obama used a different approach:

Three years ago, President Barack Obama ordered Pentagon officials to step up their cyber and electronic strikes against North Korea’s missile program in hopes of sabotaging test launches in their opening seconds.

Soon a large number of the North’s military rockets began to explode, veer off course, disintegrate in midair and plunge into the sea. Advocates of such efforts say they believe that targeted attacks have given American antimissile defenses a new edge and delayed by several years the day when North Korea will be able to threaten American cities with nuclear weapons launched atop intercontinental ballistic missiles.

But other experts have grown increasingly skeptical of the new approach…Over the past eight months, they note, the North has managed to successfully launch three medium-range rockets. And…North [Korea] is in “the final stage in preparations” for the inaugural test of its intercontinental missiles — perhaps a bluff, perhaps not.

The US lacks the ability to fully counter the NK nuclear and missile programs. The NYT’s reporting indicates that the NK danger was great enough that as Obama left office, he warned Trump it was likely to be the most urgent problem he [Trump] would confront.

As a presidential candidate, Trump said “we’re obsolete in cyber”. Now, one of the immediate questions he faces is whether to accelerate, or scale back existing cyber efforts. The US is also looking at ways to freeze the Kim family’s assets, some of which are held in Chinese banks. The Chinese have opposed the US deployment of the US high-altitude missile defense system known as THAAD in South Korea; but the Trump team may also deploy THADD systems in Japan.

A Trump administration official told the NYT that they are looking at pre-emptive military strike options, although the challenge is huge, given the country’s mountainous terrain, deep tunnels and bunkers. This is complicated. NK missiles are fired from multiple launch sites and are moved about on mobile launchers in an elaborate shell game meant to deceive adversaries.

Putting American tactical nukes back in South Korea (they were withdrawn 25 years ago) is also under consideration, even though that could accelerate a regional nuclear arms race.

Trump could re-open negotiations with NK to again freeze its nuclear and missile programs, but that would leave the current threat in place. He could prepare for direct missile strikes on the launch sites, but there is little chance of hitting all targets. He could press the Chinese to cut off trade and support for NK, but Beijing has always stopped short of steps that could lead to the regime’s collapse. The NYT said:

In two meetings of Mr. Trump’s national security deputies in the Situation Room, the most recent on Tuesday, all those options were discussed, along with the possibility of reintroducing nuclear weapons to South Korea as a dramatic warning. Administration officials say those issues will soon go to Mr. Trump and his top national security aides.

Dealing with NK requires a steady hand, and an ability to sort through complex relationships. Rash decisions will not work, while well thought-out tactics might.

Sadly, Trump has not convinced us that he has the temperament to deal with a complex situation like NK presents.

Here is the Moranbong Band, an all-female North Korean group whose members were personally selected by Kim Jong-un. Here they are performing “My Country Is The Best!”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fL7-7shibkw

Everyone thinks their country is the best.

This has a decidedly Euro pop flavor. One wag said all that is missing is Robert Palmer standing in the foreground singing “Addicted to Love”. Check out the woman playing lead guitar at 2:34.

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

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Trump’s Defense Budget

(The Wrongologist is heading to Florida today. The next column will be Sunday’s Cartoons)

The Daily Escape:

(Water Buffalo at night – Zimanga Private Game Reserve, South Africa)

Wrongo did not watch Donald Trump’s latest reality show. Many are giving him some credit, saying that “it’s the most presidential he’s ever been”. What a low bar.

We should ignore the tone, and focus on the content. Today let’s discuss Trump’s aspirations regarding defense spending, cuts in non-defense discretionary spending and Trump’s tax reduction plans. In his speech, Trump repeated his commitment to increasing defense spending by $54 billion.

The Budget Control Act caps military spending at $549 billion for 2018. Trump’s proposed increase would bring military spending to $603 billion. He indicated that would mean getting rid of the Sequester spending cap agreement. But, he didn’t address how the spending caps would be overturned (it requires 60 Senate votes). And there was also nothing said about the rest of the budget, including the subject of what programs will be cut to fund the defense increase.

The problem is math. Trump’s plans require solving simultaneous equations: It may be impossible to cut discretionary spending by enough to fund the defense increase. It will be difficult to give a big personal and corporate tax cut while spending $1 Trillion on infrastructure. As Bryce Covert at Bloomberg said:

To increase defense spending, cut taxes, spend money on infrastructure and the border, protect entitlements, and balance the budget, almost everything else must go.

Neither Trump nor Congressional Republicans had a better idea about how to accomplish that after the speech than they had before it.

Trump in particular, has no idea. In a Fox interview on Tuesday, Trump argued that his increase in defense spending could be covered not by severe spending cuts elsewhere, but by an increase in economic growth. He said:

I think the money is going to come from a revved up economy…

He promised on TV to grow GDP by 3% or more each year, not something that is all that easy to do. The economic concept behind his thinking is the Laffer curve, which says that an optimal level of taxation will assure high economic growth. It’s a discredited theory.

If Trump and Congress can’t get Sequestration eliminated and they still want to spend the $54 billion, non-defense spending would be 25% below what it used to be, bringing spending on these programs to the lowest level ever recorded. The historical low point of Discretionary non-defense spending was 3.09% of GDP in 1962; Trump’s proposal could bring it below 3%.

Military spending increases are never justified to Americans by what the money will be used for. Instead, we hear vague arguments about how we need to be “stronger”, or laundry lists of the various kinds of new hardware we need to buy, without any focus on the strategic rationale for the new hardware. For example, how do new aircraft carriers help defeat ISIS?

More military spending has an opportunity cost: If we spend on defense, that’s money we can’t spend on education, healthcare, or rudimentary things, like the State Department.

It can’t be enough to say that larger numbers will make us safer.

We need a geopolitical rationale for why additional defense spending is necessary. Trump hasn’t offered that argument. He and the GOP say that President Obama “neglected” the military, but in truth, Obama left our military stronger than it was under Reagan: If we look at total military spending by China, Russia and the US in 2015, the US accounted for 68% of that total, while Russia accounted for 8% and China for 24%

Under Reagan the totals were: US, 62%, Russia, 36% and China 2%. So we are up from 62% to 68% under the Kenyan Muslim.

We should be thinking about cutting defense spending, not increasing it.

Take a break and listen to guitar hero Joe Bonamassa playing “Further on Up the Road” live in 2009 at Royal Albert Hall with his hero, Eric Clapton:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0u03h73ClZ8

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

 

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February 17, 2017

The Daily Escape:

(National Library of Ireland)

The NATO Defense Ministers are meeting this week, and a big issue is the financial support provided by the member nations. The US spends more of its GDP on NATO than any other member, 3.6%, or $664 billion in 2016. NATO countries have committed to spending 2% of their GDP on the military, but the only countries currently meeting that target are Britain, Poland, Estonia and Greece. At a preliminary meeting, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the ministers would “stress the importance of fair burden-sharing and higher defence spending,”

New US Defense Secretary, Gen. Jim Mattis, warned that continued American support for NATO could depend on other NATO countries meeting their spending commitments:

Americans cannot care more for your children’s future security than you do…I owe it to you to give you clarity on the political reality in the US and to state the fair demand from my country’s people in concrete terms…If your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to this alliance, each of your capitals needs to show support for our common defense…

Europe is reluctant to pay for its own defense. The GDP of the EU approximates that of the US, but its military budget is less than half of ours. Trump is correct to question why Europe doesn’t pay its fair share. Of course, he isn’t the first US president to make that point.

This issue is well known, but a Win/Gallup survey provides a disturbing portrait of the will of people in Europe to defend themselves. The survey shows that 61% of people polled across 64 countries would be willing to fight for their country. However, there are significant differences in willingness to fight by region. It is highest in the Middle East (83%), but, it is lowest in Western Europe (25%).

Win/Gallup surveyed a total of 62,398 persons globally, and developed a representative sample of around 1000 men and women in each country. This is somewhat old data, the field work was conducted during September 2014 – December 2014.

In Europe, the highest number willing to fight was Finland at 74%. The Netherlands was at 15%, Germany was at 18%, Belgium, 19%, Italy, 20%, UK, 27%, France, 29%.  Except for Turkey at 73%, Greece at 54%, and Sweden at 55%, a clear minority of people in the NATO countries said they would be willing to fight for their country.

Only 44% of Americans surveyed said that they would fight for our country.

We should remember that like us, most European armies have professional militaries, and that is probably reflected in the survey results. Neutral Finland still has a draft, and trained reserve of about 900 000. They also have an 830 mile border with Russia.

It is also possible that there was confusion, with some respondents thinking about fighting an offensive war, while some could have been thinking of a defensive war. Another difference could be due to whether the respondents think an offensive or defensive war is more likely for their country.

Europeans have become used to having the US foot much of the NATO bill. The bigger question is raised by the Gallup survey: What would they do if we had a real fight?

BTW, would most Americans fight for America? Survey says “no”.

 

With the Trump administration’s moves to deport Mexicans, let’s remember a plane crash in Los Gatos Canyon in January 1948 that resulted in 32 dead. The news reported it as four Americans and 28 migrant workers whose names were not recorded. They were simply called “deportees” in news reports, because they were being deported back to Mexico. Woody Guthrie wrote “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)” to remember them. Here is Judy Collins with “Deportee”:

On Labor Day, 2013, a monument was unveiled listing the names of the 28 who perished in the crash. After 65 years, the names of the 28 were finally known.

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

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Winter Reading List

The following are books that Wrongo hopes to finish by spring. They are all supposed to be good for you, like vitamins, or exercise. A few more may be added to the pile, but it is already an ambitious list to get through in the next quarter:

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. Harari asks how Homo sapiens evolved from an unexceptional savannah-dwelling primate to become the dominant force on the planet.

The Sympathizer by Viet Trang Nguyen won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It describes a Viet Cong agent undercover with the Republic of Vietnam forces and the US military. He is bi-racial, with a Vietnamese mother and a French GI father, making him a “man of two minds”. He escapes after the Fall of Saigon, and lives in the Vietnamese refugee community in LA, while secretly reporting back to his communist superiors in Vietnam.

The First Congress by Fergus M. Bordewitch. America’s beginnings have been enjoying new popularity. The play “Hamilton” shows that better than any book. This interest has been sparked by a recognition that the American Revolution was a beginning, not an ending, of the story of our nation. And today, we need big ideas and role models more than ever.

The Populist Explosion by John Judis. Did an unstoppable wave of Populism give us Donald Trump? This is a 184 page book that may tell us.

The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis. Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky changed our assumptions about decision-making. Their work created the field of behavioral economics, for which Kahneman was awarded the Nobel Prize (Tversky had already died). The book is about their work, their incredibly close relationship, and how it went sideways.

The General vs. The President by HW Brands.

Wrongo just finished this highly readable book. In 1950, South Korea was invaded by the North, and our troops were nearly forced to abandon the peninsula.

Harry Truman was president. After WWII, America was not interested, or able to fight another war. We had demobilized our troops, and had limited numbers of planes, ships and equipment that were combat ready, but the thinking was that holding Korea was necessary to protect Japan from invasion by the Soviets and the Chinese.

General MacArthur was the greatest military hero of his time, and was in charge of America’s interests in Asia. In the Korean conflict, he had an early brilliant success, launching a counter-attack against the North Koreans at Inchon that led to the North Koreans being completely routed. MacArthur pursued them into North Korea, all the way to the Chinese border. China saw MacArthur on their border as an existential threat, and joined the conflict in huge numbers, pushing the allied forces back again into the south.

MacArthur had constantly lobbied (and actually took steps) to extend the war into China. He based that on advising Truman that the Chinese would never enter the war. He further insisted that the battle against communism should be fought in Asia, while Truman and the administration felt certain that the real trouble spot was Europe. We had already engaged Russia in the Berlin airlift in 1948. In fact, the CIA had warned that:

The Soviet Union may seize upon the present crisis [Korea] to precipitate general war with the United States.

MacArthur offered an unauthorized ceasefire to the North Koreans while threatening the alternative of nuclear war with China. He wanted to use Taiwan’s military to help defeat China’s troops in Korea, which would have left Taiwan unprotected, and would have re-started the war between the mainland and Taiwan that had just ended in 1949. He also wrote an inflammatory letter to a Republican congressman, contradicting his Commander in Chief’s strategy for Korea.

His actions caused his firing in April, 1951. Afterward, Truman came under withering attack from Republicans. MacArthur was hailed as a hero. He addressed a joint session of Congress, and had ticker tape parades all across the US. But, at Congressional hearings called to justify Truman’s strategy, the tide gradually turned against MacArthur.

The author does a fantastic job sourcing now de-classified portions of the hearings to demonstrate the danger in MacArthur’s ideas. Because of the hearings, all in Congress finally understood what America was facing globally, how ill-prepared we were at the time, and the folly of MacArthur’s plans.

MacArthur flirted with running for president, and Truman was weakened after his 1948 election. So MacArthur moved to kill the king. He called Truman an appeaser, someone who did not understand the global threat of communism. Truman did not run for reelection.

Eisenhower became president in 1952, having pledged to bring peace on the Korean peninsula.

Today, Truman is vindicated, and is considered a near-great president, while MacArthur is viewed as a brilliant military man who let politics ruin him.

Read the book!

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – December 4, 2016

Quite the week. Trump makes Cabinet appointments, he tweets about taking citizenship away from US flag burners exercising freedom of speech, he takes a call from the president of Taiwan, and gets a formal protest from China.

That wasn’t all. You missed it, but Congress passed HR 5732, the “Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act”. The bill sets the stage for the implementation of a no-fly zone (NFZ) over Syria. It requires the administration to submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report:

That assesses the potential effectiveness, risks and operational requirements of the establishment and maintenance of a no-fly zone over part of all of Syria.

These Congressional chicken hawks may not realize that NFZs are a form of limited war. Politicians are usually the first to forget that limited wars only stay limited by mutual agreement. The military will tell you to never declare an NFZ unless you are entirely willing to fight a real air and ground war to enforce it. In the case of Syria, a No-Fly Zone would require the destruction of Syrian aircraft and missile systems from Day 1, probably leading to the death of Russians shortly thereafter. We could have a shooting war with Russia by the end of the first week.

Syria has over 130 air defense systems. A dozen or so are in the Aleppo area. Syria also has over 4,000 air defense artillery pieces and a few thousand portable infrared-guided missile systems. Russia has also located its advanced S-400 anti-aircraft missiles into Syria to protect their bases in Latakia Province. Those missile systems effectively give Russia control over Syria’s airspace, and for the US to impose a no-fly zone would require an air battle with Russia, which would all but guarantee the loss of a large number of US warplanes.

Over the last 25 years, there has been an evolving political infatuation with two pillars of “political airpower”: airstrikes and no-fly zones. Did we get the results our politicians promised?

Onward to cartoons. Trump goes to Indiana, gives Carrier tax breaks:

cow-carrier

It was great political theater, but it is a standard “socialize the losses” GOP play: tax breaks for jobs. The taxes earned from keeping the jobs never pay the cost of the tax credits.

Paul Krugman had a good observation:

cow-krugman-on-carrier

Fidel Castro dies:

cow-fidel-hell

Free speech isn’t well understood by the Orange Overlord:

cow-burn-this

Nancy Pelosi is reelected as Minority Leader. Many are pleased:

cow-pelosi

Mitt wants work, will say anything:

cow-mitt-agrees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump still has lots of posts to fill. Word is that former vice presidential candidate and Tina Fey impersonator Sarah Palin is on the list of possible Cabinet appointments.

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China is the Enemy Trump Wants

Rudy Giuliani, the presumptive secretary of state in the Trump administration, said that Trump intends to prioritize building a “gigantic” military force to blunt China’s ambitions in the Pacific.

Speaking to business leaders in Washington on Tuesday, Giuliani said the US would increase its number of troops to 550,000, instead of shrinking it to 420,000. He also said they intended to take the navy up to 350 ships. It currently has around 280, but the plan is to decrease to 247: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

At 350, [ships] China can’t match us in the Pacific. At 247 ships, we can’t fight a two-ocean war; we gave up the Pacific. If you face them with a military that is modern, gigantic, overwhelming and unbelievably good at conventional and asymmetric warfare, they may challenge it, but I doubt it

Out of the probable Clinton/Nuland frying pan, into the reality of the Trump/Giuliani dumpster fire.

The Trump plan is to build up the Navy in order to fight a “two-ocean war”. It’s going to be difficult to build that size fleet in four years. A 350 ship Navy will be prohibitively expensive – the Navy’s new DD(X) destroyers cost $4 billion each; 70 new ships @ $4 billion each is $2.8 trillion, (and it might be more like 100 ships). But the DD(X) is not yet proven to work very well in rough seas, which seems a bit of a problem.

Giuliani thinks that China wouldn’t challenge 350 ships. He may be correct. That will stretch our economy, and it would certainly stretch China’s. China of course, is likely to respond with a military build-up of its own: They can probably build 350 (or more) anti-ship missiles with nuclear warheads in four years, and have the ability to blow up quite a number of the Giuliani-class navy vessels if necessary.

Want to see a few more Pacific reefs? A US/China military contest could deliver them.

Trump ran to the left of Clinton regarding Russia and the Middle East. He spoke about normalizing relations with Russia and lately, he has said Russia and the US should cooperate on defeating ISIS in Syria. What is the point of seeking decent relations with Russia, the other nuclear super-power, if you are going to press a military bet with the third largest nuclear weapons state?

We thought that Trump wanted a trade war with China, but we were only half right. He’s going to re-engage with battleship diplomacy, in true Ronald Reagan Cold War fashion.

Trump wouldn’t bother augmenting the Pacific fleet unless his objective was to try to out-gun, out-spend, out-trade and outright suppress the rise of China.

That strategy will lead to a sharp Chinese response. It isn’t at all clear that Russia would stay neutral in this power game. Russia might support China, like they did in the 1950s. Forbes says this: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Although the Chinese and Russians may not be natural economic allies due to historical grievances…and alleged xenophobia of Russians toward Chinese businessmen, an expanded alliance between the two countries could unfold if either presidential hopeful, particularly Donald Trump, acts on promises to get tough on China…A Chinese-Russian economic relationship that develops naturally, rather than out of security fears on both ends, is one that is more favorable to the US.

There has always been some sense in a muscular China policy. That was why Obama’s plan was to “pivot” toward Asia.

China shows every intention of expanding its influence outward. Containment has always been our best option with them, unless you believe in military confrontation. We should continue the current strategy of promoting/supporting resistance by China’s neighbors, supporting a regional arms buildup by South Korea, Japan, India, Vietnam and others. We can hope that this strategy will, over time, convince the Chinese to give up their imperial dream of dominating the South China Sea and its contiguous states.

Trump got elected on a more isolationist premise than Clinton’s or Obama’s. He led people to believe that he’d be far more focused on domestic policy and domestic security, including things like terrorism and immigration.

But since GOP controlled Congress will move quickly to end the Sequester, which could add $500 billion in defense spending over the next decade, now it seems that his administration will be more hawkish, possibly even more than what Hillary Clinton would have wanted.

Can’t we put these war-mongering dinosaurs out to pasture? Then they can dress up like WWII Generals and play out their global dominance fantasies whenever they want.

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The Pant Suit’s Scary Foreign Policy

There may be reasons not to vote for Hillary Clinton, but there are no reasons at all to vote for Donald Trump — except for pure nihilism. For the Trumpets, there is little coherence about why he is their choice. Two threads emerge: First, that Trump will shake things up, that DC is its own bubble that must be burst. The current two party system is fraudulent and corrupt. Second, that rage against Hillary is sufficient reason to vote for the Donald. Neither idea, nor are both ideas, sufficient reason to elect the Pant Load.

So, Hillary has to be the choice for this election. She has a track record, and the only things you have to go by with respect to Trump are his mostly appalling business practices, and his appalling character, neither of which should inspire voter confidence.

However, Clinton’s track record and policies are not without concern. In particular, her foreign policy positions are frightening. It is clear that Clinton proposes to pursue a more militaristic version of the policies that have brought us where we are in the world. She would:

  • Enforce a “no-fly” zone inside Syria, with or without Syrian and Russian agreement
  • Issue an even larger blank check to Israel
  • Treat Russia as a military problem rather than a factor in the European balance to be managed
  • Try to tie China down in East Asia

We have little idea about what would she would do differently in Afghanistan or Iraq. What would she do differently about North Korea, Iran, or Turkey? We don’t know, but this should be frightening:

In the rarefied world of the Washington foreign policy establishment, President Obama’s departure from the White House — and the possible return of a more conventional and hawkish Hillary Clinton — is being met with quiet relief. The Republicans and Democrats who make up the foreign policy elite are laying the groundwork for a more assertive American foreign policy…

And there is more: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The studies, which reflect Clinton’s stated views, break most forcefully with Obama on Syria. Virtually all these efforts…call for stepped-up military action to deter President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and Russian forces in Syria.

The proposed military measures include…safe zones to protect moderate rebels from Syrian and Russian forces. Most of the studies propose limited American airstrikes with cruise missiles to punish Assad if he continues to attack civilians with barrel bombs…

Obama has staunchly resisted any military action against the Assad regime.

Apparently, the Iraq war was such a success that these policy experts want to repeat it in Syria. But, we are not as popular as we used to be, what with our drones droning all over the Middle East.

It is important to remember that when the Arab Spring erupted in 2010, the total Arab ME population was 348 million (World Bank data); today, it is 400 million. In the past six years, 52 million new Arab citizens were born in the ME, few of whom know a world without war, many who have limited education, schooling and economic prospects.

Should our next president be making new enemies in the ME?

We have a yuuge problem if our so-called foreign policy “elites” think the most “dovish” policy available is Obama’s current foreign policy. If this is the best that our serious policy thinkers can come up with, maybe we should just burn down the Kennedy School and Georgetown.

Wrongo thinks that 2016 is reminiscent of 1964, when LBJ ran against Goldwater. We had an anti-communist foreign policy elite looking for a fight with the USSR, and Goldwater was their man. America chose LBJ, because it was impossible to conceive of Goldwater having his finger on the nuclear button. LBJ was solid on domestic policy, but he listened to the elites, and launched us into Vietnam for no good reason, and with little public enthusiasm.

Today our anti-Russian foreign policy elites have Hillary’s ear, and there is a potential that she will mirror LBJ, getting us into another calamitous foreign policy adventure.

Wrongo will vote for her despite these concerns, as there is no alternative.

Bush’s policy should not be the starting point, with Obama’s foreign policy being the end point in terms of Hillary Clinton’s possible foreign policy options. If Bush’s policy was a complete failure, why on earth would she rely on a variant of it as the basis for our foreign policy?

Sadly, we are having this discussion less than two weeks before the election.

We have to hope that Hillary Clinton can be a good listener to options other than what the Neo-Cons are proposing.

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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.

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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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obAtn6I5rbY

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

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September 11, 2016

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

wtc-idealized

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.

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