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Andy
USA
Father, Husband, Analyst
Interests: Intelligence analysis, history, homebrewing, hiking, camping, politics, nuclear nonproliferation, video games, epistemology, economics, climate science and just about everything else except college sports.
Recent Activity
Yes, we wuz robbed, but there is certainly a big benefit to certain elites from this deal - they can walk away "clean" having washed their hands of any responsibility. This will be a big domestic political "win" for them, since they will avoid the domestic political cost of "losing" a war. Conditions on the ground burst "victory" bubble and withdrawal is finally the consensus elite opinion now that they are all safe from political repercussions of supporting withdrawal. Once it's all done, I'm sure they'll write retrospective books telling us and future generations about how their grand ideas would have succeeded if it weren't bad execution, the opposition of political enemies, or the failings of the uncivilized wogs themselves.
No, the Congress can declare war independently, but as a practical matter the President, as the CIC, could theoretically choose not to act on a Congressional war declaration.
Toggle Commented Sep 17, 2012 on Declaration of War at Sic Semper Tyrannis
Defense "strategy" seems to get more and more aspirational every year. This time around, the "strategic pivot" to Asia was not matched by changes in the defense budget. I guess Congress didn't get the memo? And when I hear that the force is going to be "small and more agile" I know how that story ends. "Agility" will be achieved by even greater reliance on the reserve forces. The days of a "strategic reserve" have been gone for a log time now, but it seems to me the reserve component will be even more burdened as the pentagon downsizes the active force while maintaining commitments. This promise of "agility" is a bunch of hooey in my opinion. And then there is procurement. The Pentagon, with few exceptions, can't procure its way out of a paper bag. How is the force going to achieve "agility" when it takes decades to field new equipment which then costs several times what was originally promised? In my opinion, the SECDEF needs to clean house before he can worry about a pivot to Asia or any other "strategy."
The Stein article is very misleading. He makes it appear as if State were held in the dark about planned ship deployments to the gulf. That is nonsense. It was, after all, announced in Jan. 2007 that more ships, including a second carrier, would be sent to the Gulf by none other than Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns. There were many press releases signalling the deployments and announcing the planned exercises off Iran's coast. There is simply no way that the Department of State would be unaware of these plans. Furthermore, the presence of two carriers and an amphib in the Gulf at once isn't that unusual and occurs with some regularity. The article made absolutely no sense until I got to the end and it mentioned the "maneuver" on May 23, 2007. This is the "incident" Mr. Steins article is actually talking about, but which he doesn't directly mention or even describe: The decision to conduct a simultaneous strait of Hormuz transit for all three "large deck" ships and their escorts. That did occur on May 23rd, 2007 and was something that hadn't occurred before. You wouldn't know that from Stein's article though, since he never mentions it. Ms. Todd apparently disagreed with the timing of the simultaneous transit, or the fact that it was simultaneous, or that there were three vessels that were going to the Gulf, or something. Stein's vague allegations make it difficult to determine. However, knowing what was going on at that time in the Gulf, I infer that Ms. Todd was upset because Vice Admiral Cosgriff allegedly didn't inform Adm Fallon about the simultaneous nature of the transit, or didn't inform the DoS, or something. Again, it's not really clear what the dispute was precisely, thanks to Stein's confusing article. Instead, Stein editorializes and makes it sound as if Ms. Todd prevented another Gulf of Tonkin. Well, the transit actually did take place, it did not get "turned off" as the article claims, and it's not even clear if Ms. Todd's phone call to her DoS friend had any effect at all on the timing. Even here, Stein gets the facts wrong, saying Ms. Todd's phone call got the "maneuver" delayed until after a "critical" conference with the Iranians. In reality, the conference five days later, on May 28th. Stein also fails completely to add any context about what was going on in the Gulf at the time. For example, the article depicts idea of sending a US Navy ship up the Shatt al Arab is as radical, but this was discussed right after the Iranians captured 15 British sailors in Iraqi waters right outside the Shatt and followed months of aggressive IRGC actions within the Shatt. Additionally, the article fails to mention the expiring UN deadline on Iran's nuclear program that came and went in 2007, which was the main driver of the various shows-of-force in the Gulf during the first half of the year. Also missing is the fact that none other than VP Dick Cheney flew out to the Stennis and gave a bellicose speech aimed at the Iranians also in May 2007, nor any of the other things going on at the time. And the end of the day, Ms. Todd probably disagreed with US actions at the time, opposed the idea of a simultaneous transit of three capital ships, and I have little doubt there were substantive differences about contingency planning and potential responses 5th Fleet would recommend given the tense situation at the time. But the allegation here is that Ms. Todd, acting the role of whistleblower, prevented another Gulf of Tonkin is, at best, a stretch. Unlike what is alleged in the article, the deployment of the carriers and amphibs were coordinated at the highest levels and were part of a larger strategy to put pressure on Iran as well as respond to the capture of the British military personnel in late March. Instead, this article appears to mainly be about a tactical decision regarding a SoH transit. But you wouldn't know that from reading the article.
By framework I mean the values, principles and interests which guide policymaking toward some end. A framework shouldn't be strictly determinative and inflexible. In practice our "commies, bad" framework during the Cold War had it's pragmatic elements (rapprochement with China, for instance). Who can answer a couple of fundamental questions - What is the purpose of our foreign policy? What is our foreign policy trying to achieve that is in the long-term interest of the United States and its citizens? I don't think we in the US have a collective answer beyond some vague notion of maintaining the status quo with America at the top. There's a reason strategy documents from the national security establishment (both in government and think tanks) read more like bureaucratic protection programs than actual strategy linking ends-ways-means. So we stumble around from one crisis to the next considering each largely in isolation. We appear erratic because we are. We can get away with it for a while (and we have), but it can't last forever. Budgetary reality will enforce some real choices sooner or later.
All the regulations in the world won't solve two, more fundamental problems: First is actual enforcement of existing regulations. Second, is the conflict-of-interest caused by the revolving door between industry and regulators.
I think the biggest problem is with US foreign policy more generally. It lacks a framing vision to guide actual policies and goals as well as priorities when policies and goals come into conflict. During the cold war the strategic frame was opposition to communism, access to strategic resources, and military support to allies. What is our strategic framework today? I honestly have no idea. It is a meandering mess, a strategy of tactics, what Mark Safranski called "tactical geopolitics."
Great book. The various movie knockoffs don't do it justice. Off Topic: Wanted to bring the recent comments of Israeli Lt. General Gantz on Iran's nuclear program. Looks like at least one person in Israel agrees with the US IC.
I'm not sure I follow. If one withdrawals from a peace treaty, is that not tantamount to declaring war? What could we expect to see if this happens - a tossing of ambassadors, withdrawal of recognition and a cold war between the two states? Something else?
Mr. Sale, First of all, to make it clear, I am questioning the knowledge of some of your sources and did not intend to impugn you as a journalist. I hope that much is clear. Secondly, I used to be an air defense analyst in the US Navy. I supported real-world and contingency planning of air campaigns against Iraq's air defense system as well as others. I'm very familiar with how these systems operate and what their capabilities and vulnerabilities are. Indeed these system have been well understood by air defense analysts and have been defeated for decades without the need for any modern advanced hacking or computer intrusion. The units I supported were spoofing these systems before the raid on Syria's al kibar reactor. I realize that's an appeal to authority argument, but I think it's important to note where I'm coming from. But one doesn't have to be an expert to understand that anyone who suggests Syrian radars or Syrian SAMs are "state of the art" simply doesn't know what they are talking about. Pointing that out doesn't make one an infantile and "facile scoffer." Secondly, I never suggested that computer attacks, hacking, etc. is "the rankest nonsense." Indeed many of the items mentioned in your article are at least plausible. But the specific claims I pointed out strain credibility for the reasons I've already stated. I also think it's both strange and suspicious that so much is written about how technically sophisticated the al kibar attack was while the 2003 strike on the outskirts of Damascus goes unmentioned. You can look at the SAM and radar coverage for yourself in the link I provided, compare Damascus with al kibar and decide for yourself. Finally, I do not dismiss as nonsense everything in the article. Much of what's presented is either completely credible or at least plausible. Perhaps I should have pointed that out at the outset. Regardless, exercising a little bit of skepticism and critical thinking and pointing out obviously incorrect facts made my anonymous sources in press reporting is not, in my view, at all equivalent to making sweeping, dismissive remarks off the top of one's head.
I used to think Israel's openness about its attack plans was simply part of a propaganda campaign to get the US to do Israel's dirty work. At this point, however, that argument seems a stretch since it's clear the US isn't going to initiate an attack. So what is the purpose behind statements and articles (such as the one linked above) at this point in time? I see two possibilities at present which aren't mutually exclusive: 1. Give negotiators some leverage in the current talks with Iran. 2. Prepare the Israeli public for war. For many years now I've been a consistent skeptic on the frequent and repeated predictions that an Israeli strike was imminent. This time, however, I think it's a real possibility. Israeli rhetoric has escalated to a point where it hasn't left itself room for a face-saving alternative to an attack.
Denigration of intel troops isn't confined to the Army, sadly. I saw it myself in the Navy and Air Force on multiple occasions. In one egregious example, a Navy pilot who violated another nation's airspace tried to blame the intel people for not including such information in his pre-flight briefing. Unfortunately for him, we recorded all our briefings and he was shown to be a liar (but not punished). The reason we recorded our briefings was CYA against such bogus accusations.
Mr. Sale, It seems to me some of your sources are not very well informed or are passing you propaganda. For example: The chief question after the raid was why the failure of Syrian radar – supposedly state-of-the-art – hadn’t warned the Syrian military of the incoming assault. It wasn’t long before military and technology bloggers concluded this was an incident of electronic warfare – and not just any kind. First of all, I'm not sure how anyone could describe Syria's radar systems as "state of the art" since they are primarily composed of 40 year old Soviet systems. It's not exactly rocket science to spoof very old radars with known vulnerabilities - the US did it twice in Iraq and again in Serbia and Libya. The Israelis were flying against some of these same systems in the 1973 war! Additionally, radar coverage wasn't all that great to begin with given the location of al kibar in eastern Syria, which is not very well defended. Perhaps Israel used all the electronic warfare techniques described, but it seems to me they were mostly unnecessary. The descriptions of this strike as some sort of great feat of technical prowess and daring are without merit, especially compared with the 2003 airstrike against a Palestinian camp outside of Damascus. In that operation Israeli aircraft penetrated the heart of Syria's air defenses to include the super-MEZ around Damascus. It was, from a tactical standpoint, a much more dangerous and impressive operation than al kibar. The discussion of "hacking" Syria's air defense network brings up images of the Matrix, but no one should be particularly impressed that a 21st century air force can defeat a mid-20th century air defense system. Another major problem with the article is these supposed attacks on Iran's electrical grid. The article describes more than two-dozen sites which could be attacked with spools of carbon fiber to short-circuit the grid. The article also says Israel got this idea from a 1996 US blackout. I doubt that's true considering the US used spooled carbon-fiber to attack Iraq's electrical grid in 1991. Such obvious oversights regarding elementary points-of-fact doesn't speak well for the credibility of whatever source(s) provided you this information. Additionally, according to several credible open-source analyses on Israeli attack options, Israel barely has enough aircraft to attack the primary facilities in Iran's nuclear program. If this plan to attack more than two-dozen points in Iran's electrical grid is true then where will Israel get a few dozen (at least) more aircraft to conduct these attacks? I could see, perhaps, attacks on a couple of critical nodes in the grid to isolate specific portions, but the Israelis are stretched thin as it is and they do not have the forces for what's described in the article. All-in-all much of what's described strains credulity.
PL, The Clinton administration negotiated with the Taliban for four years about UBL. Most of the diplomatic cables related to those negotiations are now in the public record. If there was a serious and credible offer it doesn't appear in the diplomatic correspondence (though it's been a couple of years since I examined the documents in detail). I don't know how to reconcile the discrepancy between your sources and what the State Department reported of their negotiations with the Taliban leadership.
Toggle Commented Apr 5, 2012 on Unintended Consequences at Sic Semper Tyrannis
PL, The Taliban never offered to hand UBL over the US. The most they ever offered to do was hand him over to another Islamic country for trial, but those offers were contingent on the US presenting evidence to convince the Taliban of his guilt. In January 2000 US officials presented the Taliban with detailed point-by-point evidence of UBL's involvement in the African Embassy bombings. The Taliban rejected the evidence and refused to expel UBL. Up until October 2001, they continuously insisted there was no evidence that UBL was responsible for any terrorism, denied UBL had issued a fatwa on attacking the US, and repeatedly told US officials he was a guest and would not be turned over to the US, turned over to a third country, or otherwise expelled from Afghanistan. They also continually insisted that UBL was under Taliban "control" and therefore could not participate in any terrorist activities. A declassified summary of US government talks with the Taliban prior to 9/11 can be found here: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB97/tal40.pdf As for Bacha Bazi boys, well I guess I have a hard time cutting the Taliban any slack for that considering their history of using rape as a weapon, among other evils.
Toggle Commented Apr 5, 2012 on Unintended Consequences at Sic Semper Tyrannis
PL, I'm the Andy that's been commenting here, off and on, for about six years. As for the FCC, here's what they say on their website: The Communications Act prohibits the FCC from censoring broadcast material. Additionally, the Communications Act and the First Amendment to the Constitution prohibit any action by the FCC that would interfere with free speech in broadcasting. For example, the FCC cannot interfere with a broadcaster’s selection and presentation of material for the news and/or its commentary. The FCC does, however, regulate content in some narrow areas. For example, federal law prohibits or limits the broadcast of obscene, indecent or profane language. But the FCC must be guided by decisions of the courts in determining whether specific material may be prohibited under this law. Similarly, the FCC may penalize licensees for knowingly broadcasting false information. I had thought that the indecency regulations only applies to broadcast programming, but that is no longer the case. You are correct that the FCC can censor cable programs. Here's what they say:: Do the FCC's rules apply to cable and satellite programming? In the past, the FCC has enforced the indecency and profanity prohibitions only against conventional broadcast services, not against subscription programming services such as cable and satellite. However, the prohibition against obscene programming applies to subscription programming services at all times.
Toggle Commented Mar 28, 2012 on MSNBC, the anti-Fox News at Sic Semper Tyrannis
I don't think the FCC can do much because MSNBC runs on cable, not the regulated airwaves. Not that I think they should or could since I'm a free speech purist. The sad reality, however, is that there is a market for left-wing demagoguery. If MSNBC doesn't fill that market, someone else will. The easiest way to deal with them is to not watch, which is exactly what I do with them and Fox and most of what constitutes the "MSM."
Toggle Commented Mar 28, 2012 on MSNBC, the anti-Fox News at Sic Semper Tyrannis
Few seem to remember that at the start of this war a decision was made to keep troop levels low in Afghanistan to prevent Afghan "xenophobia" (a word used often to describe Afghanistan back then) from creating the kind of resistance that the Soviets faced. It was for this reason that the ground forces in the first couple of years were low and came predominately from Army SF and light infantry. The idea of sending a stryker brigade to Afghanistan would have been viewed as a bit crazy back in 2002, much less sending 100k conventional troops to do COIN. For the COINdinista's, the war in Afghanistan didn't really begin until 2008 when they brought all their grand ideas over from their "success" in Iraq. Many Afghan "hands" who had experience and knowledge of Afghanistan warned that the methods employed in Iraq would not work in Afghanistan and sadly they've been proven correct.
Phil, Why do you think a firm public statement would stop Bibi? It could have the opposite effect because it would demonstrate to many Israeli's that the US, despite the rhetoric, doesn't intend to do anything about Iran. Consequently, the Israeli leadership could see that they have no choice but to go it alone.
Toggle Commented Mar 5, 2012 on Obama and Dempsey today at Sic Semper Tyrannis
Mo, Putting Iranian nuclear development back by a few years is probably good enough for the Israeli's. The risk for them in an attack is to fail to achieve even that. An attack that fails would be very, very bad for Israel. I think that's a big part of why they want the US to do it for them.
PL, My apologies. I read too much into the first sentence of your comment.
Fred, I stated the repercussions explicitly in my comment - war, possibly nuclear, with Iran.
In this case I think your analysis is incorrect. Whatever his reasons and intentions I think the President is making the correct war-avoidance policy choices. So far the administration has made it clear that the US is not going to attack Iran under the present circumstances (ie. No evidence Iran is pursing weapons at this time). In addition, we also warned Israel against attempting to draw us into war through unilateral military action. That's all well and good. We shouldn't, however, take those warnings to Israel too far. Restraining Israel needs to be subtle and balanced against Israeli paranoia. In short, the surest way to a war with Iran is to give Israel the impression that it's been strategically abandoned. The US is the only country with any significant strategic influence on Israeli action against Iran - If Israel believes the US is no longer in its corner, then I think Israel would see no alternative to independent military action. Additionally, I think it would also increase the odds Israel would use nukes against Iran. Israel is not a typical client state and should not be treated as such - at least for now. While I know many in the comments here would like nothing better than to see Israel "put in its place" we should not ignore the likely repercussions of doing so. It's better, IMO, to play for time and try to placate Israel's paranoia while continuing to make our red lines clear, namely that we will not go to war against Iran without incontrovertible evidence they are actually producing nuclear weapons.
Talk of an intervention in Syria is beginning to sound serious and there are a non-trivial number of influential people advocating for an intervention. The stated purpose would be to protect certain members of the Syrian population from their government - an extension of the R2P doctrine that's popular with... Continue reading
Posted Feb 16, 2012 at Organizing Entropy
Tim, Let me explain the IC's assessment and how it differs from Israels. First some explanation of terms: In order to develop a nuclear weapons capability, a country needs three things: A delivery platform (generally ballistic missiles), a source of fissile material, and a working warhead design. Knock out one of those legs, the chair falls and there isn't a credible capability. The IC assessment is that Iran is progressing on the first two items (missiles and fissile material) but ceased work on the third (a warhead) in 2003. Not coincidentally, the first two involve dual-use technologies so overt work can continue in those areas. There is no credible non-nuclear weapon use for a nuclear warhead, obviously. Iran cannot continue work on this leg and credibly claim it is not pursuing nuclear weapons. At present the IC is not sure exactly why Iran stopped warhead development work, nor does it know what Iran's intentions are for the future. There are several possibilities for both of those questions and I won't belabor them here. The important point from the IC's perspective is that Iran isn't going to have a viable nuclear weapon without a warhead design, and one they can actually use on one of their missiles. Consequently, there is no imminent threat of Iran possessing an actual nuclear weapons capability. Nor is there a significant threat that Iran could create such a capability in the near term or even in the medium-term (~5 years). It will be very difficult for Iran to do all the necessary work in secret and present the world with a fait accompli'. Given the same information, the Israeli's view things differently and always have. For them work on any of those three legs constitutes a threat, particularly fissile material development. Secondly, for them even a latent capability constitutes a threat. That's a major reason why their analysis so often differs from ours.
Toggle Commented Feb 16, 2012 on "Brewed by Starbucks" at Sic Semper Tyrannis