Northam’s High-Value Target List Team

Virginia’s Governor Northam, perhaps in response to so many Virginia counties passing a resolution stating country police forces and sheriff departments will not enforce any laws related to unconstitutional gun confiscation has taken a lesson from the War on Terror and brought it home.

He is asking for the formation of an 18 man team, and $4.8 million dollars (see page 23 for the funding of the team) to equip and fund said team for the purpose of enforcing state laws related to gun confiscation. (Washington Examiner)

Let me explain why this is a problem. Regular folks assume that there are some good people in law enforcement, and based upon the number of sheriffs across Virginia and other states that have publically stood up lately to say they would not violate the constitution, this seems true. Most Americans believe the National Guard would not be a good option to enforce gun confiscation, many Soldiers and leaders would resist, and this is probably also true.

To get this done, Northam would need people he could trust to do it, ‘special’ people that are treated special, given special equipment, special perks, allowed to grow facial hair, all that – getting an idea of what I am talking about yet? He wants to build a small special operations force, essentially soldiers instead of law enforcement officers, that will do his will without concern for morality or legality.

You say an 18 person team could never confiscate all the weapons Northam wants to ban. Sure, not all at once. They do not need to. All of the ‘offenders’ would be placed on a ‘target list’, intelligence packets created, hasty planning conducted on the evening’s targets and after say midnight or so the team would launch in a geographic area, hitting perhaps six homes a night. It would be all very efficient, fast, and as violent as the team thought they needed to make it in order to quickly hit all the targets on the list before dawn. This would go on night after night…

Most ordinary people would get the message pretty quickly – you cannot stop these guys from entering your home, shooting your dogs, pushing around your wife and trashing your house – try and they will shoot you and move on. I do not care who you are, one guy or four guys cannot stop a well-trained and efficient team practiced in forced entry and clearance procedures. They pick the time, they have the tactical advantage and they have the numbers and firepower. Try and stop them and you die.

The target list would organically shrink pretty quickly. Ordinary people would get the picture and reevaluate their life choices and give up the banned guns. Those few that decided to hold out would remain on the list until their time in the lottery came up one evening. When I was around guys that did this sort of work we called those sorts “deadenders”. Get it? The target was basically dead before the door was breached.

Look, this is dangerous for a bunch of reasons. Recruiting young fellows that want to be ‘heroic’ and are willing to do nasty and unconstitutional things in order to be special is flawed from the beginning. Once teams like this get rolling, night after night of kicking in doors, they begin to believe they are special, and their targets, become just that “targets”- not humans, with families, lives and rights.

There are just too many wolves out there pretending to be sheepdogs, guys that would jump at the chance to join Northam’s new kill squad if it meant they got to be special, wear tacticool stuff and call themselves an elite ‘operator’. Throw enough money and perks at trash and the trash will form a long line to join up.

Here is the thing, the people that advised Northam on this brilliant plan already know what I just said above. They learned this in a warzone, and they know the implications, yet, it is on the table for use in the US. There is no mistake or oversight here, this is intentional and it shows intent. Northam is literally willing to form a small army and invade and quarter them in Virginian’s homes to achieve his desires. Yes quarter, this squad of soldiers will occupy a home as long as they see fit to find justification for being there.

If this is the way he and those around him think I worry about what might occur come Monday.

Nobody anywhere is really “anti-gun”. Anyone that claims they do really means they believe that guns should only be held by the nice, trustable, and moral government. After all, the government would need those guns to actually take everyone else’s guns and to keep everyone in line. Elites and powerful people would ‘need’ those guns for their protective staff to keep the rabble away. When a person says they are anti-gun or for gun control they are saying they think the government is moral, ethical and trustable and everyone else is not to be trusted.

That sort of thinking did not work in the Soviet Union, Germany, Venezuala or the Ameican Plains.

Northam is not anti-gun. He needs the guns and his special HVT ‘kill squad’ to enforce policy. He simply expects everyone to trust him and government.

See also: Second Amendment and From Progressivism to Authoritarianism

Iran: The Long-Term

As we await POTUS’ speech to the nation this morning I think there are some things we can know, and others we can reasonably suspect.

First, looking at the general reaction on social media, for and against, statist and haters, there seems to be few that understand what this conflict really is. It is asymmetric, it is not WWIII and cannot be (unless some vastly remote and unlikely set of circumstances play out and that is as likely as snow in Miami).

Asymmetric warfare can describe a conflict in which the resources of two belligerents differ in essence and, in the struggle, interact and attempt to exploit each other’s characteristic weaknesses. In asymmetric warfare, the smaller opponent picks targets, measures action by cost versus gain and above all else crafts operations to ensure it remains in the fight. It requires realism and rationalism and patience. Iran has demonstrated again and again, and specifically last night, that it is capable and willing to play the long game.

Image

For instance, the satellite imagery above from the al-Assad airbase shows that Iranian missiles clearly missed the areas that look to be CHUs (containerized housing units). We now know that the Iranians informed the Iraqis before the attack, knowing full well the Iraqis would tell the Americans. In this way, Iran was fairly certain that troops would have time to seek shelter. We can conclude that this was a saving face response for Iran, they reacted, they were able to claim heavy casualties in their national media, satisfying their populace. They did not kill US soldiers, and apparently not even any Iraqis, therefore it was only a minor escalation.

For Iran, this was strategic, patient and measured. They acted, saved face and put the ball in the US court. This does not mean in the Iranian mind this conflict is over, it simply means that the leadership in Iran is smart enough not to escalate so much as to force a decisive engagement that they cannot win. They will live to fight another day.

Their next actions will be just as measured, whether through proxies or direct action.

If Iran now awaits a US response what might that be?

As reported yesterday, the US has repositioned B-52s to Diego Garcia

By my assessment 5th FLeet has at a minimum seven platforms afloat capable of launching Tomahawk missiles. Certainly, the US could launch a robust cruise missile response, but that would likely be overkill in the optics of international affairs at this point. It would also certainly not be enough to destroy Iranian capability, it would be, just like the Iranian attack a message.

A message will not change the perspective of Iran. They believe, rather firmly, that concession or weakness will lead to regime change efforts. They likely see no option to pull back, a message will not deter them at this point. For the first time in centuries, the Persians are poised to regain ascendancy in the region, this is a do or die time for them. A message will not deter them.

I suspect if Trump is determined to force the issue he will use patience and build forces and force Iran to act next, and only strike when he has sufficient power in the region. We will likely hear Trump proclaim that we are willing to leave but we are showing force in the short-term and that Iran should not act. We shall see.

Update: 11:42 am

based upon the content of POTUS’ speech this seems to have been predictable last evening.

Social media and the MSM will bash him, left and right, but this seemed to me to be perhaps his greatest moment, and I am neither a fan nor a hater. Knee-jerk launching a bunch of missiles would have been the easy answer, this path took patience and wisdom.

The Conflict with Iran in the Short-Term

Update:

https://twitter.com/onlyBarryLClark/status/1214700684907552769

My assessment below still stands despite this. The US is still in a predicament vis-a-vis Iraq, leave and allow Iran unfettered influence or stay and become an occupier. Obviously, within the Iranian calculus, they saw enough popular support in the region to press a rocket attack sooner rather than later to force the US hand.

I suspect this has increased the risk of escalation. No US president ever ignores an attack on US troops, and to properly attack Iranian sites the US needs to beef up airpower and bases in Afghanistan and perhaps Uzbekistan and secure permission to conduct operations from perhaps Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. I suspect the next move will be a US strike with cruise missiles while the big brains come up with a name for the operation and begin plans to forward position more air power. It really comes down to how many Americans were/are killed in this attack tonight.

In the roll-up of troops below, I missed the deployment of 2 or 6 B-52s to Diego Garcia yesterday. These are primary delivery systems for cruise missiles in this scenario.

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Last evening I received inquiries from a young man that occasionally asks my opinion on matters such as this concerning the potential that something bigger may occur related to Iran. He has a wedding planned this spring and his bride to be is obviously concerned he may not actually be here.

I told him I suspect there is at worst a 33% chance of anything ‘real’ occurring and even in the worst-case scenario, it would not involve a Desert Storm style ground invasion. At most, all that is realistic is a pre-Desert Storm build-up and air campaign. Even that scenario requires many more iterations of additional events.

Upon consideration, if I were in charge of Iranian strategy, and if they react and act rationally and in a calculated manner that leverages their advantages, I think that 33% assessment is perhaps too high, much too high for the coming months.

So what do we know?

Khamenei Wants to Put Iran’s Stamp on Reprisal for U.S. Killing of Top General (reported by NYT). In the previous years Iranian direct action has been conducted through proxies, and in almost all cases included plausible deniability. Based upon the passions at home and the positive sentiment Iran enjoys at present in the region after the assassination of Suleimani they must and likely will act directly and overtly. This is not the same as acting stupidly or bluntly. I believe their next action will come soon but it will be measured and focused toward a specifically American target, not a GCC, European or even Isreali target. Perhaps the easy and vulnerable target of al-Assad airbase in Iraq with a limited missile attack. They will use strategic patience to wait for the right target at the right time that just affects the US. It will be proportional, so as not to cast them into the terroristic narrative. So yes, they will act but it will not involve anything like closing the Straits of Hormuz or hitting Saudi oil fields.

The Iraq Parliament passed a resolution calling for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraqi soil. If and when the US leaves this is a tremendous victory for Iran. The US is now in a quandary, stay as unwelcome occupiers or leave and allow Iran unlimited influence. The Pentagon has confused the issue by releasing a statement that US forces will leave followed by a statement by SECDEF that no decision has been made. Iran will pace its next move after all this gets sorted out, so as to not influence the Iraqis to change their minds. Iran will act once the US begins to leave or decides to stay against the will of the Iraqi government.

The deployments to the middle east of ground troops by the US does not indicate that the big brains in the Pentagon believe there is an imminent threat of Iranian massive action. Since May the US has sent approximately 14,000 additional troops to the region. Since the current events began the US has sent(T&P):

  • 3,500 paratroopers in the 82nd Airborne Division, who were sent to Kuwait.
  • A “contingent” of Army Rangers with the 75th Ranger Regiment.
  • Around 2,200 Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit that are embarked aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan.
  • About 100 Marines from 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, who deployed to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad as part of the Special Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Crisis Response – Central Command.

This really comprises a “speed-bump”, deterrence, rapid reaction and force protection deployment, not really the sort of thing that can conduct or withstand sustained offensive or defensive operations. Trump in his most wise statement of military doctrine I have ever heard him utter told a reporter a couple of months ago, if he wanted to fight Iran he would send a lot more troops.

Sending the light forces, the Marines and paratroopers first pays homage to centuries of gunboat/saber diplomacy. It tells the other side that you are serious and gives them the option for the next move.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly. These recent deployments do not have a name. Military folks love to give operations a name. Once you give it a name, it is real, game on. This is perhaps the best proof that things are not really serious yet. Once some iron major comes up with a name, that makes it past a council of colonels for approval but a group of generals, then you should worry.

I think Iran will be patient, they will probably leverage their newfound sympathy in a place like Afghanistan, overcoming centuries of animosity toward the Persians, to work with groups there to affect their direct action strike Khamenei wants.

Wars and Rumors of Wars

Iran

The United States has been in a proxy war with Iran for years. It has been fought with hard and soft power, in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere. Iranian special forces have been conducting unconventional warfare (UW) operations in Iraq while US forces have conducted foreign internal defense (FID). This is all certainly not new.

I suppose one of the most interesting and ironic things to come out of the death of Qassem Soleimani was the mad rush of youngsters checking the Selective Service website to see if they would be drafted. There was such a panic the website was overwhelmed. No worries little girly boys, the military is not going to pull you out of your Gender Studies college program. You are not needed.

In terms of the morality of killing a man as an individual, well that is something else to consider. Ever since Sherman and Lincoln made it fashionable in the Western mind to ignore centuries of jus ad bellum principles, the gateway to assassination was opened wide. It began with burning cities, progressed to firebombing and now to outright assassination – we have devolved far but that is another topic.

The middle east is something of a pickle. It has been such since the 1920s and the attempts by the major powers to carve up countries where none previously existed. It persisted through the 20th Century with governments supported by the West that were often totalitarian. Perhaps the very best thing we could have done is let it all work itself out in the early 1990s. To allow a stong Shiite and a strong Sunni duality to check one another. Perhaps right after the Cold War was the time to walk away and let them work it all out. Alas, that is not the nature of power, it never seems to just back away.

Here we are, thirty years on. The Sunnis in Iraq are impotent, Iran is unchecked, in the Islamic world only Saudi Arabia can stand against them and despite all the money the Saudis spend on defense they are a paper tiger, inept and inefficient. What to do?

On principle, it seems that stepping away is the wisest and most moral option. Practically I am not certain that is possible, or perhaps better stated, realistic. Americans are too concerned with their own comfort. Folks left and right, would not long tolerate a situation where Iran was able to dictate oil prices and availability. I may be a man that detests war while realizing the necessity to fight when forced to but I also understand the mindset of those in the world around me. The most fervent statists will call for escalation, the most radical liberals will call for appeasement but neither will suggest pulling away. Therefore, if there are only two realistic options on the table, engagement through appeasement and stalwart willingness toward aggression, I begrudgingly and sadly must side with the later (with caveats and perhaps, in the end, I retreat back to a position of principle that says let it be).

Let us just state something right away. The US is not going to invade Iran. I am aware of no plan in existence to invade Iran. I am aware of plans that involve conflict, even ground conflict with Iran in various places and in certain scenarios, but if a plan to actually invade Iran exists, it is theoretical and perhaps more of an exercise of the mind rather than something any professional takes seriously.

Iran is large, much larger than Iraq. It is more capable militarily than Iraq. To be certain its military is nothing close to a peer competitor but they are not incompetent. Iran benefits for the lessons of the US’s previous attempts at regime change. They would not simply dig in their 523,000 man military, (583,000 if you count the paramilitary MOI), and await shock and awe. Geographically, Iran occupies strategic high ground in the Straits of Hormuz. They have intra-theater assets that can cripple the oil supply of Saudia Arabia and punish Isreal. They are much more capable of bringing the mother of battles to the middle east than Saddam ever was, and all thinking people know this. Threatening to hit 52 critical sites in Iran may give them pause, maybe. Then again, maybe not, if the US hit four times as many sites it would not eliminate Iran. I suspect the immediate Iranian response will be subterfuge and something more subtle, activities focused on making the US take more overt action. They have all the advantages through that strategy. Events like the September attacks on Saudi oil fields, which Iran conducted with plausible deniability and impunity are likely future response.

Iran is the honey-badger in this fight, and they just don’t care. This is a tough nut to crack, perhaps too tough.

When The People see the Government as Illegitimate

There have been several news articles of late quoting a Trump supporter as saying something like “there will be a Civil War if Trump is impeached”. These are click-bait pieces, intended to rile up a certain segment of the population with images of white men in their 50s or 60s with MAGA red hats and shotguns storming the steps of Congress.

On the face of it, this is simply preposterous. On a deeper level, there is something to this idea. No, not that Trump supporters would take to the streets in violence if the Senate actually impeached him and actually try and overthrow the government. That is not the real danger. The real danger is the government itself already looks pretty illegitimate to a lot of folks right and left. Impeaching a president, now, in this great divide, with clowns in office, right and left, could only serve to further delegitimize the government itself.

The far left sees the government as oppressive, its police forces unchecked and the government as a tool of inequity. The far-right sees the government as the champion of the destruction of traditional America and inalienable rights to life, liberty, and property. Everybody left, right and middle sees the federal government as incompetent and mired in silliness. It is not a far jump from thinking something an incompetent joke to actually seeing it as illegitimate.

No there will not be a Civil War if Trump were to be impeached but the pendulum does swing, and it is swinging harder with each iteration. Trump was a logical counter-reaction to Obama, the Alt-Right to Antifa, one party’s witch hunt is a reaction to the others when they were in power. The witch hunts will not stop, the pendulum will not stop swinging and the government will not suddenly start appearing more legitimate or competent. Ineptitude, investigations, chaos, and pettiness are now the very best Congress can provide America, no matter which party is in charge.

Somebody, one side, will eventually grow tired of the pendulum and violence will ensue someday. It is likely now, not just theoretical. It could take a year, or twenty, but a government cannot rule without violence once it becomes illegitimate – the Federal government has either crossed that line or is rapidly approaching it, it all depends upon your perspective. The apathy demonstrated by most is an absolute sign of this illegitimacy, a testimony equal to the anger and agitation on the far right and left.

An illegitimate government either crumbles, the least likely outcome, or resorts to violence to combat violence, to shore up its power in a vacuum of legitimacy. Authoritarianism often follows illegitimacy.

The cultural war has devastated a lot more than American traditions, it has polarized politics to such a degree that the government can no longer actually function to fulfill its purpose.

We elect guys with nicknames like “Tricky Dick” and “Slick Willie” and wonder why those men have scandal. We elect a guy that is first generation with a middle name of Hussain and investigate his ties to Kenya. We elect a fellow that demonstrates amorality in his personal life and we are shocked by his audacious tweets. But Americans elected these men, and perhaps as Hans Herman Hoppe pointed out in Democracy, The God that Failed that is the problem, the voters or more specifically democracy is the problem. Hoppe was echoing Alexis de Tocqueville’s sentiments about great requiring good. Americans elected these people, and despite the flaws of their choices, they expected the government to get to work. And perhaps that is the problem.

If the government is illegitimate and there are clowns running the halls of congress and bafoons regularly occupying the White House, whose fault is it? This is not a right or left issue, Trump cannot be the best and the brightest that conservatives might have found, he does not even qualify as a conservative in my mind. But have you taken a gander at the debate stage of the left recently? Are those people the best and the brightest from that side? Some of the Democratic offerings even propose eliminating the last “check on stupid” the Founder’s placed in the Constitution, the Electoral College. That is a brilliant idea!

If the government is illegitimate, it is because the electorate is at fault. We elect these people. We are the clowns.

Humpty Dumpty has taken a fall and no amount of effort can put him back together again. Things fall apart, the center cannot hold.

Confusion on Syria

On the 16th of October, I went out on a limb and postulated that perhaps there was a bigger strategy and significant goings-on behind the scenes in the apparent sudden US withdrawal from Northern Syria. As facts have become clearer I believe I was wrong.

First, we learn that the troops leaving Syria that the US initially stated would move to Western Iraq, to be “in the neighborhood”, are not welcomed. US troops relocating from Syria have four weeks to stay in Iraq (Military Times, 23 October). Some news agencies report that Iraq went so far as to prepare official complaints to the UN regarding the movement of US troops into its territory. This demonstrates, pretty clearly, that there was no strategy, or plan and no coordination with Iraq. Perhaps at best there was an assumption but assumptions are bad planning.

If the plan all along was to keep an eye on a resurgence of ISIS from Iraq, one would think that coordination with Iraq would be a key element to work out before announcing a departure from Northern Syria. However, three days ago we read, US military struggles to find a strategy amid sudden policy changes in CENTCOM region (Military Times, 22 October).

Finally, yesterday the US announced, After American troop withdrawal, Trump shifts focus to Syria oil fields (Military Times, 24 October).

Let’s use a first principle to analyze this:

The same thing cannot be affirmed and denied at the same time

We cannot say;

“they fight over there all the time, it is not our fight”

AND

“We need to be close to keep things under control” (Western Iraq) and when that fails, “we need to send troops back to Syria.”

Either it is true that we have no compelling strategic interest in Syria that requires us to risk blood and treasure, OR, we do. In either case, the manner in which we have executed this honestly makes no reasoned sense. We cannot claim that both are at the same time true and false.

Is this all a result of the “Military-Industrial Complex” pushing back to keep the status quo?

Is it a result of what Ann Coulter called in a recent Frontline interview a phenomenon where Trump acts on the last piece of advice he gets and more hawkish voices got to him?

Is this the “3D Chess” that some apologists suggest?

Was this a result of the Intelligence and Military community’s propensity to see the boogeyman behind every rock and pushing to get back in the fight?

Only time will tell.

VP Pence China Speech

Hours after VP Pence spoke today about China, Foreign Policy published a piece that laying out five takeaways.[1]

“Linking Hong Kong and trade talks”

“Hong Kong is a living example of what can happen when China embraces liberty,” Pence said, before offering an unusual note of support for an official in an administration that has often been reluctant to embrace protest movements. “We are inspired by you,” he added. “Know that you have the prayers and the admiration of millions of Americans.”

Pence

“China is becoming a great cudgel in the culture wars”

“Some of the NBA’s biggest players and owners, who routinely exercise their freedom to criticize this country, lose their voices when it comes to the freedom and rights of the people of China,” Pence said on Thursday. “In siding with the Chinese Communist Party and silencing free speech, the NBA is acting like a wholly owned subsidiary of the authoritarian regime.”

Pence

“Settling the great ‘decoupling’ debate”

“People sometimes ask whether the Trump administration seeks to ‘decouple’ from China,” Pence said on Thursday. “The answer is a resounding ‘no.’”Rather than isolate Beijing, Pence said the United States seeks “engagement with China and China’s engagement with the wider world but engagement in a manner consistent with fairness, mutual respect, and the international rules of commerce.”

Pence

“Emphasizing the intellectual property theft debate”

“American enterprises continue to lose hundreds of billions of dollars each year in intellectual property theft.”

Pence

“The political meddling bugaboo”

“Beijing’s economic and strategic actions, its attempts to shape American public opinion, prove out what I said a year ago, and it’s just as true today: China wants a different American president.”

Pence

Obviously none of this is real news, it is really more of a slow reveal. The 2017 National Security Strategy mentioned China 33 times by name, twice as much as Obamas’s last version. [2] Trump’s NSS specifically called out China and identified mounting threats where Obama’s focused on engagement. Trump’s document, in short, called on all the domains of US power to compete and combat China in every area of importance. This was a nuanced but direct shift in US policy. VP Pence’s words today are merely part of a progressively elaborating articulation of this strategy.

Trump’s next NSS document is due out in 2020 and I suspect it will be less nuanced and more direct in relation to China.

If you are like me years ago you may not grasp the importance of the NSS document. I took public policy classes in college where it was discussed but I garnered it was merely another piece of government paperwork, perhaps more political than anything. It was really not until Command and General Staff College that I realized how important the document is. The moment it is released all the machinery of government stops, reads it, and shifts gears to operationalize the strategy. Every word, every sentence, the choice of words, all are important, nuanced and have great meaning. All the nations of the world read it too and plan and react accordingly. There is perhaps no piece of paper of greater importance released by a US president in the modern era. Before the 2017 document hit the streets parties internal and external to the government began lobbying for their version fo what the 2020 document should say.

For decades, U.S. policy was rooted in the belief that support for China’s rise and for its integration into the post-war international order would liberalize China. Contrary to our hopes, China expanded its power at the expense of the sovereignty of others. China gathers and exploits data on an unrivaled scale and spreads features of its authoritarian system, including corruption and the use of surveillance. It is building the most capable and well-funded military in the world, after our own. Its nuclear arsenal is growing and diversi ing. Part of China’s military modernization and economic expansion is due to its access to the U.S. innovation economy, including America’s world-class universities.

2017 US NSS

In early 2018 the DoD released its National Defense Strategy one of the dozens of such documents that follow the release of the NSS and implement the strategy within various domains.

In June 2019, the DoD established a separate office to focus exclusively on China.

“The inward part [is] to help us drive alignment on China across the department as we carry out our National Defense Strategy and its implementation. … A lot of that is to help us internally, with the Joint Staff and the services, to make their respective decisions”

Randall Schriver, the assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs [3]

This is the only such office at the DoD level focused exclusively on one country. Trump absolutely meant what he said in his NSS that China is his focus.

Trump’s 2020 budget reflects his focus on China.

To a remarkable degree, the 2020 Pentagon budget proposal is shaped by national security threats that acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has summarized in three words: “China, China, China.”

AP [4]

The South China Morning Post reports that the US conducted four separate training operations in August and September focused on China. [5]

  • A sealift exercise designed to move heavy Army divisions
  • Joint land-to-ship missle exercises with Japan
  • US-Asean naval exercise with 10 pacific nations, Four of which – Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam – have territorial disputes with Beijing over the South China Sea.
  • Finally, US Marines conducted airfield- and island-seizure drills in the East and South China seas, near the Philippines and around the Japanese island of Okinawa

I have personally argued for years that we were spending blood and treasure in the wrong places and focusing on the wrong goals strategically. If I were to be a hawk, I am not, I would have been hawkish on China for years. Whether this course is right or wrong, and I believe it is certainly part of what we should refocus on, only time will tell.

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  1. Foreign Policy, BY ELIAS GROLL | OCTOBER 24, 2019, 5:15 PM https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/10/24/mike-pence-hawkish-china-speech-hong-kong/
  2. US National Security Strategy, 2017, https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905.pdf
  3. Defense News 1 OCT 2019, https://www.defensenews.com/pentagon/2019/10/01/the-pentagon-has-created-a-new-office-solely-focused-on-china-is-that-a-good-idea/
  4. PBS NewsHour Weekend, Nation Mar 16, 2019 1:19 PM EDT https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/new-us-military-budget-focused-on-china-despite-border-talk
  5. South China Morning Post, Published: 6:00pm, 21 Sep, 2019 https://www.scmp.com/news/china/military/article/3029774/growing-rivalry-between-china-and-us-plays-out-military-war

China: The Rising Dragon

Herein I will argue points that many know as facts but seldom are the implications of these facts, taken together holistically, discussed for their wider meaning. China is a great power, historically and currently, and it is increasing in economic, diplomatic and military strength at a rapid pace. China benefits from a centralized system of governance that seems to be exercising realpolitik on the global stage in a masterful way. The country benefits from a homogeneous population, and in the case where homogeneity does not exists, such as the Uyghurs, China is currently undertaking drastic and brutal steps to stamp out nonconformity. Furthermore, China leads the world in the application of the use of technology to suppress dissent and disagreement, both within its borders and abroad.

These facts combine to make China a deadly enemy to the West, western culture and the idea of liberal democracy. The threat does not manifest directly through military action, the application of economic and soft-power is proving perfectly suited to the expansionary goals at the moment. If and when direct military conflict becomes a reality with the West it will simply be too late for western democracies to oppose it.

Let me state upfront I am certainly not an advocate of the methods and style of China. I state that their advantage of a centralized government and extensive social controls is such only because the West has failed to actually adhere to the principles of good governance and culture that would otherwise decide this growing conflict long before it began. The West lost its way long ago. We have toyed with progressivism and socialism but have not perfected it the way China has, thus we have a defective hybrid system – not quite the City on the Hill and not quite a socialist dystopia. We have dismissed the homogeneity of culture enforced by the Chinese in favor of a sort of diversity that creates pockets of dissent and disagreement at all levels – we simply cannot agree enough to compete with a monolith. In essence, all of the great ideas of Western Civilization regarding good governance based upon first principles have been abandoned for an ineffective hybrid system.

Chinese history begins perhaps around 2070 BC. This is an important fact from an analysis of current geopolitics because that long history informs and shapes the narrative of the Chinese people, as crafted by the Chinese government. It provides context, lessons, pride and patience. Throughout the history of China there have been ebbs and flows in terms of power, in the last century great embarrassment; in prior centuries moments of great invention in the arts and sciences. This feeds a narrative that builds a sense of expectation. The Chinese know they are a great people with great potential and the government makes full use of this.

Lessons from the Ming Dynasty and the Treasure Fleet

Between 1405 and 1433 China dispatched seven great treasure fleets to ports throughout the Indian Ocean. This merchant navy was unrivaled in the world, no other nation could conceive of building ships of the size and complexity contained within these seven fleets. The largest of these ships had a displacement of about 1/2 of a modern US aircraft carrier. The mission of these fleets was essentially shock and awe, they did not need to go get trade, anyone and everyone came to China to trade. This was a statement of great power. In 1433 the Ming Dynasty suddenly stopped sending the fleets and either burned the ships or allowed them to rot in harbor.

China then vastly expanded the Great Wall, passed laws to forbid further foreign trade via the sea and entered an internal period for almost 500 years. During this period China culturally became the China we recognize, Han, and it was still powerful. However, relative to the West, that power, in terms of technology wained. By the late 1800’s European powers were threatening China on the mainland. By the 1900’s the Chinese were being humiliated at home.

Two lessons derive from this.

First, from a Chinese perspective, the notion that soft-power must be pushed forward, throughout the world is important. No matter how many internal resources, no matter what program of internal improvements China must control or influence centers of power else it will be dominated again.

Perhaps a lesson Americans should take from this is similar. Building walls and disengaging will have long term consequences. Perhaps America needs a long period like the Chinese Qing Dynasty to get culture right. These are questions for another discussion. However, Chinese retraction in 1433 certainly had long-term, positive and negative consequences for the Chinese. (Building walls may be important to maintain order and respect the rule of law, the lesson to be taken is perhaps not against physical walls but rather against isolationism.)

The Way Ahead

I do not intend to overburden my arguments with the inclusion of multiple data points related to the Chinese economy. I would refer you to this Congressional Research Service report from Morch 2019. I would note that the numbers are grim but the assessment less grim, although not bright. The report writers see challenges for China in terms of local debt, I predict the centralized system and expanding economy will easily overcome these.

Areas of Chinese Advantage

The Road and Belt Initiative will continue to give China inroads and access to trade and resources throughout central Asia.

BRICs, the accumulation of physical gold and US dollars will threaten the current economic system and set the stage for a new one.

Industrial espionage, state-sponsored, will close the remaining technological gaps.

Parity and potential advantages in the Cyber domain will threaten to destabilize economies and societies.

Growing Chinese power and influence will – without a doubt – alter the nature of free speech, rights and the flow of information. This is already occurring and will only increase. China will rule, by default, areas of our life without ever firing a shot.

Lastly, the Chinese seem to have mastered two concepts that bode poorly for the ordinary man; state-supported capitalism and a strong central government. They have taken what was good of the Soviet Union and dispensed with the bad and taken from the West the engine that makes an economy grow while avoiding any of the political philosophies that might protect the citizen. If their model works, if their system wins, 1984 is conceivably within the future of mankind.

Addendum (other points to consider):

Some experts assess current Chinese cyber capabilities as lagging compared to the West and the US, I suspect this is true only by a slight margin. (read “What Are China’s Cyber Capabilities and Intentions?” for an overview of the standard assessment.)

Two considerations are particularly worrying.

First, China’s stated strategic goals coupled with a marshaling of state resources to achieve that goal will close the current gap quickly.

Second, and more worrying. China will likely develop quantum computing first. Quantum computing will change everything. The playing field that exists prior to the first quantum computer going online will simply not matter. The first nation to develop this technology wins. Developing one second or third may actually not matter so much – as soon as a quantum computer comes online all secrets, industrial, military and others are vulnerable.

Syria, The Kurds and Russia

Over the course of my Army career, I had numerous opportunities to live with, train, fight beside and become friends with Kurds.  I am not unlike many others that had the same experiences over the last two decades in that my interactions with the Kurds left me with a sense of respect, admiration and affection for them. 

Naturally, I felt an initial sense of bewilderment and some anger last week at what seemed a sudden US policy shift relative to the Kurds.  We have had many foreign partners and extra-national compatriots over the years but in my and many other’s experiences, none match the overall worthiness and decency of the Kurds.  Also, considering this is not the first, but rather the third, major policy betrayal of the Kurds by the US in the last 30 years this all just felt wrong.  I made real friends among Kurdish soldiers, this all touched me on a personal level.

However, once I put emotions aside and began to analyze what has occurred critically, I have come to suspect that something much bigger has occurred.  The narrative spun by “national security experts” and parroted by hyperbolic media is an inaccurate picture of these events because none of these folks seems to be taking into account actual facts.

Facts

Despite the Kurds being one of the largest ethnic groups in the world without a country of their own it has never been a US policy tenet to support the formation of such – our partnership with the Kurds in Syria was always within the context of a restored Syria.

The “moderate” elements so often touted by liberal pundits and neoconic warhawks, were never really that moderate.  Many of those elements are now threatening genocide on the Kurds in support of Turkey (and by extension Saudi Arabia).  The Kurds were and are the only moderates in Syria.  

Turkey itself has a pretty dismal history.  There is, of course, the Armenian genocide in the early 20th Century, persecution of religious and ethnic minorities and growing repression of the rule of law and political dissent inside the regime.  The failed 2016 coup was perhaps the last best effort to set Turkey on a different path, but the resulting purge removed all remaining moderate and sane voices.  Their policies and action since have proven they are no ally and not within the Western sphere of thought and action.

By any objective measure, Bashar al-Assad was and is not that bad, relatively speaking, when compared to other outcomes in the Middle East.  The Muslim world works best, politically, with a strong government that keeps the passions of the people in check.  Assad was no better or worse than any other leader in the region in this regard.  In fact, pre-civil war Syria respected the rights of ethnic and religious minorities far better than many countries in the region – Turkey and Saudi Arabia as prime examples of “allies” that have much worse records in that regard. By international law and custom, Assad is the legitimate leader of Syria – objectively it was never correct to interject in the internal affairs of another sovereign nation without their invitation.

Many in the media bemoan the fact that a US disengagement from Syria empowers Russia and Iran.  The standard narrative conflates the interest of those two countries into an “axis of evil” but that is not a correct view.  Their interest have been conjoined only insofar as the recent geopolitical environment has made them bedfellows.  The other part of this flawed narrative is that Russia is an enemy to be feared which, when evaluated based upon real facts is ridiculous.  They are at worst a protagonist and adversary in terms of some strategic goals but Russia is a glass cannon, a shade of its former self.  The true peer competitive enemy of the US is China – focus on Russia “getting a small win” distracts from the real threat.

Assad is Russia’s ally.  Syria has invited Russia into Syria to assist with its internal conflict.  This complies with international law.  The US was never invited and short of declaring war in Syria, we were always wrong for being there.

Considering those facts, recent events make more sense.  Russia is not a threat to us.  The US was expending blood and treasure in a place, not in our strategic interest.  Syria is within Russia’s strategic interest and a stable Syria would control ISIS. 

Conclusion

Why would a rational person not see this as an acceptable outcome?

Consider this.  Less than 24 hours after the “infamous” tweet last Thursday the Kurds struck a deal with the Syria Army.  Is it reasonable to assume that enemies suddenly become allies following a tweet?  Is it more reasonable to assume a lot more went on behind the scenes prior to the announcement via tweet that facilitated this arrangement?  It is highly unlikely the US would announce that we brokered a deal like that but looking at the situation rationally it seems the most likely possibility.  If so, we really did not abandon the Kurds as is so readily portrayed in the media. 

Such an outcome is essentially a strategic win for the US.  We get out of Syria, the Syrian government can reestablish control of its territory and return to the status quo that existed prior to the civil war (and no matter what political grievances some people had then the situation was much better than the last several years, that is inarguable).  Russia bears the responsibility to see all this through, via financial and military support.  We can retract and refocus on our true threats in the world – China.

The only fly in the ointment is Turkey and their invasion of Syria.     

The Day I Became Involved in Local Politics

Tip O’Neil famously said, all politics are local. I have spent much of my life being interested in national and international politics and geopolitics but have never paid much attention to local events.

Very recently I realized that my little city of North Augusta, SC is in something of the order of 120 million dollars in debt. Apparently approximately 70 million of that on account of the construction of SRP Park.

My wife and I bought a home here in 2016, I was deployed, we actually purchased the home while I was on leave. We knew she had a good job at the University and this is where I should retire. I could not imagine living in the debacle that is Richmond County and Columbia County was too far. Besides, I was born and bred in South Carolina, I am a proud son of the State. North Augusta seemed perfect.

I recall in an off-hand conversation my wife and I discussing how the ballpark had been funded. I assumed that surely there must have been a referendum for such an expenditure. Surely, right? How could a small town council possibly spend so much of their neighbor’s money without asking them? I supposed my assumption was correct and moved on with life, happily ignorant.

In the last couple of years my wife has occasionally mentioned to me something like, “man, there is some drama going on at North Augusta 20 20”. I would generally mumble in acknowledgement and continue on with what I was doing. I long ago stopped paying much attention to Facebook. I have seen too many people with drama there. I never stopped to wonder if there was really fire associated with the smoke she was seeing.

Apparently, there has been a real fire raging beneath the smoke of Facebook drama. Contentiousness has been the norm in council chambers and outside for some time it seems. However, I do not know all the facts or personalities or details involved up to this point.

I know one thing for certain. My original assumption concerning the state of good governance in my little city were all wrong. Based upon one fact alone I am prepared to say something is amiss and things must change.

The council saddled the citizens of the city with enormous debt, almost $70 million, without a referendum. Nobody elects part-time city officials to make decisions of that magnitude – it is plain and simple irresponsible, unconscionable and immoral. It is theft of property no matter how you state it. In local government one just generally assumes that everyone knows that the right thing to do when such a large matter is in question is to allow the people to decide – after all it is their money.

image via Ken Powell

Based upon this one simple fact, this one simple callous immoral act of hubris I have become interested in and involved in local politics.

Last night I contacted the Constitution Party of North Augusta and asked them to place a sign in my front yard. I offered to help in any way possible and next week I will break bread with one of their officers to discuss what that means and figure out where I can help.

The list of absurdities could go on – perhaps the passage this past Monday of an ordinance allowing open air consumption of alcohol in Riverside Village (mind you there are what two bars there at present). That seems a rather silly thing to be worried about considering almost none of the magnificent storefronts, shops and entertainment that was promised in the artist depictions have actually materialized. When I recently visited the area I wondered where there might actually be space for any of the grand things we were promised. The hotel is not grand and the ball park is archetecturally out of place.

Then perhaps one could point to the utterly brilliant idea to install parking meters down there. You people build a field of dreams with our money, sold a bill of goods with wonderful pictures and delivered a much less grandiose reality with already frustrating and limited parking and now you want to discourage further patronage with parking meters. Simply brilliant. These folks must go.

Finally, we read our city administration is coordinating with Augusta and Georgia to construct a pedestrian/bike path on a future 13th Street bridge. I suppose all North Augusta needs is folks walking over from Broad Street in Augusta to ask me money when the wife and I go out to eat. This is a large reason I do not often go to Broad Street! Again – brilliant.

North Augusta is not Augusta – that place elects fools and those fools mismanage funds and the potential of the city and county. We do not need to be like Augusta. We should progress, but keep the culture and nature of our city intact. We also should expect elected officials that know the moral limits of the power vested in the positions they hold. Placing every resident of the city in debt without the common decency to ask – that is wrong. This is what got me interested and involved in local politics.