“I Have Not Made a Decision”

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So says President Obama in reference to US military action in Syria.    Problem is, he has.  Two of them, actually.  Whether he acknowledges so or not.  Both of them are exceedingly poor ones.  The first was Obama’s August 2012 ill-conceived bluster about use of chemical weapons being a “red line” for the United States.  Tough talk that sounded good, at least to the untrained ear.

When it seemed that the Assad regime used chemical weapons on rebel forces, in April of 2013, Obama was caught bluffing like a teenager in a grown-up poker game.   So, his second decision was to do nothing after promising “serious consequences” for such use.

Now, the rather predictably beholden news media, led by ABC News, is attempting to tell us that Obama really did not say

“…a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.”

Or, if he did, that he didn’t mean to imply what his words meant.

And now, he is stuck.  The Administration has “concluded” that the chemical weapons, likely Sarin (GB), which is not a gas but a liquid nerve agent, were fired by elements of the Assad regime.  What evidence?  Not very much.  None, in fact, that would stand up to the scrutiny of 2004.

“We have concluded,” the president said, that Assad’s regime “in fact carried these out. And if that’s so, there needs to be international consequences.

“…We have looked at all the evidence and we don’t believe the opposition possessed… chemical weapons of that sort,” he continued. “We do not believe given the delivery system using rockets, that the opposition could have carried out these attacks.”

Anyone with much intelligence background would acknowledge immediately that such an assertion is utter nonsense.  Following a statement from that icon of Foreign Policy, Joe Biden, that there was “no doubt” the attacks came from the Assad regime, the President uses the phrase “we don’t believe” twice in making his assertion.

In truth, neither Biden nor Obama has any way of knowing.  The delivery system?  Such is easy enough to acquire.  In Iraq, the enemy captured or fabricated rail fairings for 122mm rockets, and for the Chinese-made 107mm variety, routinely.   The capability most certainly exists in Syria.  In fact, there are videos of anti-regime elements firing 122mm rockets from captured BM-21 launchers and improvised systems all over YouTube.   Here are two.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=FtgKC4hccNg#t=25]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=wPJs5ewh1CY]

So much for the Administration’s assertion on that point.

As for Assad’s chemical stockpiles, my guess is that they have been divided among dozens or even hundreds of caches, with varying levels of security around them, in order to keep Western forces from being able to secure them with special operations forces.   Have the “rebels” (which include Al Qaeda in strength, and other radical Islamists) lain their hands on one or more of those stockpiles?  There is no way for the US to tell.  And it isn’t as if the Assad regime would volunteer the information, even if they knew.

The major point, however, is the question of why the Assad regime would resort to chemical attacks at this juncture.  Regime elements are no longer hard-pressed, the Assad regime is winning.  What would be the strategic purpose of facing international condemnation and risking the alienation of a very powerful ally (Putin’s Russia) to launch a chemical attack that doesn’t even accomplish a tactical objective?   Assad is not a fool.  He understands survival.

This is not to say conclusively that the Syrian government did NOT launch such an attack.  A miscalculation borne of the weakness and vacillation of the US response the first time, a thumb in the eye of America on the heels of the empty “tough talk” of Obama, may have played into the decision.  But I find that eventuality rather unlikely.  Could a junior commander have fired the chemical barrage without authorization?  Also a possibility, and perhaps more likely.  Though I find hard-pressed and increasingly desperate anti-government forces using such weapons with the hope of being saved by outside intervention just as likely.  Especially if they are egged on by an Al Qaeda presence that understands the import of the fall of Assad for the advent of yet another Radical Islamist state in a strategic region.

There are no good options, and thanks to Obama’s indiscretions regarding his “red line” comments, there now are not even neutral options, only bad ones.   Yet another head-on collision with the real world for the arrogant, naive, incompetent, bumbling, indecisive ideologues in the White House and at Foggy Bottom.

And the newly-minted US Ambassador to the UN?  Where was she when the emergency UN session on Syria was held?  On vacation in Ireland.  She did, however, “tweet” on the subject.  Perhaps she even used a frowny-face icon when discussing the chemical attacks.  Not yet a month on the job.  Gotta wonder, how many Corporals have been recalled or had leave canceled in the last two days because of this crisis?  At least Malik was absent in protest, and not in a pub in Belfast.

Our foreign policy is in shambles.   Absolute shambles.

GPS Hacking

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Our military leadership at all levels seemingly has a very difficult time understanding the ramifications of intrusions into our critical information networks.   What the nature of those intrusions will be, how and whether they can be detected, what effects they will have (if any), and the interconnection of vulnerabilities that come with the 21st Century lapis philosophorum of being “networked”.

By feeding counterfeit radio signals to the yacht, the UT team was able to drive the ship far off course, steer it left and right, potentially take it into treacherous waters, even put it on a collision course with another ship. All the time, the ship’s GPS system reported the vessel was calmly moving in a straight line, along its intended course. No alarms, no indication that anything was amiss.

Military leaders lack a nuanced understanding of what they so clumsily label the “cyber domain”.  Discussions almost always center around denial or disruption of service.  Very rarely do they address what is a far more serious, more difficult to detect, and potentially much more paralyzing in effect; the compromise of trusted information sources and networks.   When such issues come to the fore in the exercises and wargames of which I am a part, I do try to let people know that being “shut down” at an inconvenient time is serious, but in the pantheon of bad stuff our enemies can do to us, it is relatively low on the list.  And that we should be bracing for far more difficult and widespread problems from those intrusions.

The instance of GPS hacking, as reported by Fox News, is a peek into how serious things can be.  Anything that is remotely accessed and controlled is vulnerable to intrusion.   Often, there is not a Human in the Loop (HITL) until well downstream of any such intrusion.   SCADA systems remain notoriously vulnerable, and attribution nearly impossible.   In addition, many of the exploits to be leveraged by our enemies are likely already IN our networks.  Small bits of code that allow for override of authentication, turn off IDS, firewall permissions, domain name server settings, any and all of the security measures on which our critical infrastructure relies so heavily.

Our understanding at all levels of war needs to be reflected in realistic and demanding training for conducting operations without our massive technological advantage, or with many of those systems compromised or suspect.  We did so for many years in the Cold War, where the Soviets could potentially mount a significant challenge in the electronic spectrum.  And we need to learn anew to do it again, and to be disciplined in doing so.  The acronyms MIJI (meaconing, intrusion, jamming, and interference) and PACE (primary, alternate, contingency, emergency) used to be common to everyone in leadership from the tactical level on up.   The first was the adversary threat to our operations, the second, the methodology by which we could communicate and operate with loss of capability due to those threats.

The longer we talk about the “cyber domain”, the longer we display a simplistic and unimaginative understanding of the threat, the less time we will have and more difficult will be the task of understanding how we can fight and win wars when our enemies can deny us a spectrum we have dominated for decades.

“Hoss” Cartwright Subject of Stuxnet Leak Probe

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NBC has the story.

This is hardly the first time General Cartwright has spoken out of turn.  At the 2010 USNI/AFCEA West conference, then- DCJCS Cartwright spoke openly of Constitutional barriers to Military authority as “obstacles to mission accomplishment”.    I’d also heard him a couple times discussing information I was not aware was public knowledge on the subject of private-sector/government cooperation regarding network security, and pontificating on private-sector capabilities to essentially launch cyber “counterattacks”.   I do imagine there were some important people less than pleased to hear such things on C-Span.

While Cartwright may have been the one who conceptualized the idea of introducing the Stuxnet virus to Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, and though the tactic appears to have worked well enough as a temporary setback for Iran, I would hope he would have been professional enough to have understood that his recognition must necessarily be out of the public eye.  If he is found to have been the source of the Stuxnet leak, it stinks like grandstanding of the worst kind.

Hell, he had STRATCOM, he was Defense Executive of the Year at GCN Magazine.  He should be smart enough to know when to keep his mouth shut.  Though, going by previous commentary, I am not so sure.

As the REAL Hoss would say, “Dadburnit!”

New National Security Adviser is Susan Rice

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Waaaay back in 2009, when Barack Obama was first elected President, he appointed my old Division Commander, General James Jones, USMC (Ret.) to the post of National Security Adviser.    Within a group perceived largely as ideological rather than practical thinkers, a group sorely lacking in foreign policy experience, Jones was considered “adult supervision”.

Jones lasted fewer than 24 months, and his dislike of the Obama team, Axelrod, Emanuel, and his Deputy NSA Tom Donilon was well known.   Donilon was perceived almost universally by uniformed leadership as an amateur incompetent, a political animal in way over his head in matters of national security.   Jones’ opinion of Donilon was similarly low,  and the Administration’s dismissiveness of Jones’ views and embracing of Donilon’s led Jones to the door well short of the two years promised when he was appointed.

Indeed, US foreign policy during Donilon’s tenure has been a catastrophe.   US reaction to the “Arab Spring”, to a resurgent Russia, the precipitous withdrawal from Iraq, the Benghazi fiasco, and DPRK sabre-rattling, can only be described as befuddled and reactive.   Our “Pacific Pivot” has thus far been purely symbolic, as Chinese influence and power continues to grow while America’s recedes.  The National Security Council has been adrift, knocked loose of its “smart power” and “reset button” ideological pinnings by a head-on collision with power politics by expert practitioners of the craft.   To make matters worse, Donilon is strongly suspected of leaking classified information, the very kind which endangers US servicemen and women and diplomatic personnel, for the Administration’s political gain.

So now, after thirty months, Donilon is out as National Security Adviser.   His replacement is UN Ambassador Susan Rice.   Rice’s resumė includes time on the periphery of national security affairs, but little by way of actual decision-making and meaningful policy formulation.  And where she has, as Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, her decisions have been highly questionable.  Such was the case with the Sudan during the Clinton Administration, when the US had an opportunity to glean intelligence on Osama bin Laden, but Rice declined to do so.

Rice’s visible dislike of the late Richard Holbrooke, the veteran diplomat whose foreign service began before Rice was born, typifies the arrogance and hubris so often found in those in key posts of the Obama Administration.  For Holbrooke’s part, his opinion of Susan Rice was that she was incompetent lightweight who refused counsel from an experienced hand.   Rice was considered for the National Security Adviser position in 2009, but that went to Jones.  Rice was made Ambassador to the United Nations.  She was mentioned again recently to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, but John Kerry was selected instead.

Now, Rice is to be NSA after all.   Her less than impressive track record before 2012 has now been immeasurably darkened by her demonstrated lack of integrity.  Quite simply, Susan Rice knowingly lied to the American people regarding the self-inflicted diplomatic calamity that was the Benghazi incident and the murder of a US Ambassador and three other Americans.   Rice went before the television cameras many days after learning the truth about the nature and target of the terrorist attack against the US Benghazi Consulate, and perpetuated the falsehood that the attack was the result of a spontaneous demonstration against a youtube video turned violent.   Susan Rice lacks both integrity and judgment.  Not at all a combination to inspire confidence.  The most that can be said for her replacing Donilon as National Security Adviser is that the move may be a step sideways for a scandal-ridden Administration whose foreign policy team has shown itself naive, inexperienced, and amateurish in the extreme.

The round of musical chairs being played by the Obama Administration offers little real promise to improve the effectiveness of US foreign affairs since 2009.  Recycling the same tainted and ill-qualified ideologues who not only do not understand power politics, but seemingly refuse to recognize that such a concept even exists, will further erode America’s ability to defend its interests and influence both our enemies and our allies.   This is not a student union protest.  This Administration needs to grow up.  It takes an adult to deal with the Putins of the world.   Susan Rice, as National Security Adviser, hardly qualifies.

Obama to Israelis: “Put Yourselves in Their Shoes”

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President Obama’s remarks urging Israeli empathy with Palestinians is yet another indication that his (and his Administration’s) understanding of the world around him is woefully lacking, and remains, after four years,  not the slightest bit grounded in reality.   A nation whose founders were survivors of mass extermination attempts, a nation that sees mortal ideological and religious enemies in every direction, enemies that have openly vowed that nation’s destruction, is being lectured by America’s President as to where their sympathies should lie.

The President’s remarks reflect an astonishing arrogance.  Worse, they reveal a startling ignorance (and lack of propriety) that reflects the amateurish and muddled character of US foreign policy under this Administration.  President Obama is making no friends among our Israeli allies, which is reflected by his barely civil relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu and his low regarding among the Israeli public.

When prodded in the early 1970s about Israel’s hyper-vigilant posture, Golda Meir remarked, “If the Arabs lay down their weapons, there would be no more war.  If the Israelis lay down their weapons, there would be no more Israel.”

In the forty years since she made those comments, little has changed for the good for Israel.  Israel’s neighbors are as fanatical as ever about her destruction, with one of those neighbors possibly less than a year away from being a nuclear power.  Her closest ally has a President whose lack of understanding of the Middle East and barely concealed hostility toward Israel is cause for real alarm.   Despite the platitudes of solidarity this week, the US-Israel relationship remains decidedly cool.  Remarks like today’s certainly won’t help.  Israel’s enemies are taking notice, to be sure.

If President Obama really wants to talk about people putting themselves in someone else’s shoes, here is what he can do.  His wife Michelle and his two daughters can take up residence in Beersheba for one year.  No special protection, no armored cars.  The girls can wait on the street corner with the other children for the school bus, and Michelle can shop at the mall and the grocery other places, like the other parents.  Perhaps then, as three thousand rockets and mortar rounds are fired into Israel from Gaza (with the blessing and encouragement of the leadership of the very people Obama believes deserve nationhood),  President Obama can better put himself in the shoes of Israelis who live day to day with the spectre of violent death of loved ones at the hands of Palestinian terrorists.   Doubtless, news reports of dead and wounded from bombings and rocket/mortar attacks emanating from Gaza may tend to get his attention just that much more.

Perhaps then, also, President Obama will be less prone to lecture Israelis about empathy for Palestinians, and a little more willing to understand that of which he speaks.

Perhaps.

Op-For: Mattis Being Pushed Out?

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A network of ruggedly handsome Marine Artillerists keeping an eye on the world is an invaluable commodity.  LTCOL P over at Op-For alerted me to Tom Ricks’ post this morning over at FP regarding near-legendary Marine General James N. Mattis.  Some telling statements from Ricks, an avowed Obama supporter.

CIVIL-MILITARY SIGNALS: The message the Obama Administration is sending, intentionally or not, is that it doesn’t like tough, smart, skeptical generals who speak candidly to their civilian superiors. In fact, that is exactly what it (and every administration) should want.

And:

SERVICE RELATIONS: The Obamites might not recognize it, but they now have dissed the two Marine generals who are culture heroes in today’s Corps: Mattis and Anthony Zinni. The Marines have long memories. I know some who are still mad at the Navy for steaming away from the Marines left on Guadalcanal.

If Ricks is finally admitting to Obama’s “smartest man in the room” act precluding his desire for informed advice, things have gotten damned bad.

…I am at the point where I don’t trust his national security team. They strike me as politicized, defensive and narrow. These are people who will not recognize it when they screw up, and will treat as enemies anyone who tells them they are doing that. And that is how things like Vietnam get repeated. Harsh words, I know. But I am worried.

The rest of us have been for a while, Tom.  “Three bags full” has been the standard answer from senior military leadership regarding the social experimentation, group punishment knee-jerk overreactions to perceived discipline problems, and US Pol-Mil actions (or non-actions) in Libya.  Casey with Fort Hood, Dempsey in any number of situations.  Mabus bankrupting the Navy for a green-fuel pat on the head.  Why would he think such would not bleed over into strategic decision-making?

I don’t know if military action against Iran is the right course or not, but casting away men like Mattis and Zinni (and driving off Jim Jones) won’t do much to get him informed advice.  Coupled with the amateur-hour soup sandwich that is Foggy Bottom, the ship of state is running without charts into the shoals.   They may make Johnson-McNamara-Bundy look like a well-oiled machine, and George W. Bush look positively like Metternich.

Symbolic

And on this day of days.   This is the same Cairo in which our President apologized to Muslim the world on behalf of America.

As if there was any doubt, here is our “reset”.    It is to weep.

Come November, we have some decisions to make.

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An update on our “reset” with the “religion of peace”.    From Benghazi.

And then there is how we are treating the only democracy in the Middle East.

Also symbolic:

More from Benghazi:   Apparently the “religion of peace” has killed another American in protest.

A Beautiful Late-Summer Tuesday in September

That is the weather forecast for tomorrow.  Brilliant sunshine, mid-70s, warm and dry.  An absolutely perfect day.  As was another Tuesday, on the 11th of September.   I remember walking into work on that terrible day at around 7 am, thinking what a glorious day it was, a wonderful day to be alive.    Until men filled with the hate of their beliefs killed three thousand of our countrymen in the name of their religion.

May those hate-filled men burn for eternity in their own special hell.   And may there be a hell also for those around the world who cheered and celebrated the murder of the innocent on that day.    The anger I feel in my heart has not much subsided.   I doubt it will.    I have become as tolerant of Islam as Islam is of me.  If one who professes that faith wishes to live peaceably next to me, then we shall live in peace.  If any who profess that faith demand either my conversion to their faith or death as an infidel, then death is what they deserve.   Not because of their religion, but because of their desire to punish me or forbid me mine.  As Marine General Kelly so eloquently stated,

It is not about the god you worship, if you worship any god at all; but you will respect the right of your neighbor to respect the god he or she damn well pleases.

Warrior Transition

Leaving active duty to become a part of the civilian workforce is a confusing and sometimes frightening prospect, even for many who have faced death in foreign lands on a daily basis.    Writing resumès, dressing for interviews, all of that is new and different to our brave men and women when they decide to rejoin the civilian world.

Thankfully, Duffel Blog tells us, there’s help.

“I went to a mock interview in my best t-shirt that says something like ‘Ranger the F*ck Up.’ The civilians that were hired to do this mock interview told me that I should consider something more classy, like maybe a button up shirt at the least. My shirt collection includes a ‘Beards Save Lives‘ shirt, but I don’t even own a button up. Who knew that was important?”

The panel of civilians also recommended a long sleeve shirt to cover up SGT Bourne’s tattoos of skulls on his forearms that he says represent “how many towel heads I put in the f*cking ground.”

 

 

US vessel fires on boat in Gulf, killing one and injuring three

It seems that USNS Rappahannock has fired on a small craft that ignored warnings and closed with her in the Persian Gulf.  From the NBC News article:

The crew aboard the Navy ship sent out repeated warnings, including radio calls, flashing lights, lasers and ultimately warning shots from a 50-caliber machine gun.  When the boat failed to heed the warnings, the crew was ordered to open fire with the 50-caliber gun.

It will be critically important that US civilian and military leadership emphasizes the above, and plasters images and accounts of USS Cole all over the news immediately and persistently for the next several weeks.  We should be very proactive in letting the world know that there is a terror threat to US warships and auxiliaries posed by small craft, and any such vessel that ignores the warnings as were summarized above will be fired upon and destroyed.

We mustn’t begin the oh-so familiar course of meekly apologizing for having to kill those who threaten us.   If we do, we will see many more actions such as this, likely designed to cause us to fit ourselves for ever-tighter handcuffs and more restrictive rules of engagement in combat on land and sea, which the enemy will use to increasing advantage to exploit his strengths and our weaknesses.  On the contrary, we must be firm and aggressive with our reaction to the incident.  Actions without strong narrative are subject to interpretation.

If the United States, and in particular the United States Navy, has any sense of true ‘strategic messaging”, we will let the rest of the world know that, should another small craft ignore similar warnings, it, too, will be fired upon.  And any death or injury that results from such incidents is the responsibility of those who willfully ignore the warnings, and on those who likely have sent them.

Cross-postation at USNI Blog