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So, people are bombing Iraq again. You might remember this from several previous incidents. We're doing the whole thing again.

As usual, it's not going to work. Or rather it's better to say that all it's going to do is provide some minor assistance to the folks on the ground. For an example, I turn to the BBC.

To summarize, two GR4 Tornado aircraft (each costing about $15 million by past accounts) flew about 920 km one way (you don't want to know what the gas bill is for that), piloted by pilots who need hundreds of hours of training in expensive simulators, cruised around a target zone for a time, hit a "heavy weapons" station (capabilities unknown), and then spotted an enemy technical (also known as a pickup truck with a gun on the back). They fired at least one Brimstone missile (estimated cost $240,000), and hit and destroyed a truck (probably a couple of thousand dollars even in the US) mounting what was probably something similar to a ZPU (a dual purpose anti-aircraft gun first manufactured by the Soviet Union back in 1949, and probably about the same cost as the truck).

The point is not that this didn't do anything. It probably killed someone if they didn't bail out. If there were Kurdish or Iraqi troops around, it reduced the immediate threat to them. If it was in the middle of a fierce battle, it opened a hole in a position and allowed the shape of combat to change rapidly. Soldiers pinned down could advance, perhaps catching ISIL off-guard. At the least they weren't being shot at quite as much, and that's always a good thing.

But if the truck was just sitting near a command post, it does very little. ISIL will get a new truck and a new gun (both readily available on the black market), and replace the driver. The coalition will run out of missiles due to budgetary concerns and aircraft from the wear and tear long before ISIL runs out of second-hand Toyota trucks.

So if the RAF drops a state-of-the-art missile on a truck in the middle of Iraq and no friendly troops are around to take advantage of the situation, does anybody care? Probably not.
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So, first, a rant. I know it's a little Victim Blamey - but can't people at least think for a change? I know that you can go wherever you are legally allowed to be, but come on! You flew a giant passenger plane through an active combat zone. An active combat zone where not one, but several, planes were shot down during the preceding weeks. Yes, it still may have technically been an approved route, but why take chances? And yes, they shouldn't have shot down your plane, but why take that risk in the beginning?

That being over, here are the answers that I've come up with to some of the most popular questions regarding the crash - because I'm annoyed at the internet, as usual:

Questions and Answers )
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As befits the actual nature of the situation, it's now been several weeks and there's been no sign of war in Ukraine. In fact, things have gotten a little calmer, with the Russians deciding to withdraw a battalion of the 15th Motor Rifle brigade back to its home base.

The BBC article and every analyst in the world will tell you that this doesn't mean much. The Russians have about 40,000 troops surrounding Ukraine, and the withdrawal of the 500 or so troops in a motor rifle battalion isn't going to seriously affect the balance of combat power. It could just be that this was a group that was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and hence got roped into standing guard while only half-ready for war. It could be just a standard bureaucratic shuffle given significance only by coincidence.

But it adds strength to the narrative - the threat of war is over. At least in Ukraine the standoff is getting less and less tense. Despite a lot of posturing, Crimea was an easy sell, and a place Russia already controlled. The early idea of a Russian army marching lengthwise across Ukraine, laying waste to the countryside and returning the country to Soviet rule, just hasn't been panning out. Nobody seems to want WWIII today. Of course the pundits will spin it all sorts of different ways, US strength, European weakness, Russian weakness, whatever, but the truth is probably closer to inertia. It takes a lot of effort to rock the boat in this day and age - and the Russians don't seem to want to expend that effort. Neither does anyone else. Easier to pretend it never happened.

Don't worry though, I'm sure the Koreans or the Nigerians will soon provide a new place for those who missed out on their war to be all worried about.
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There are a lot of myths flying around about Syria, from both sides, which annoys me. Everyone seems to believe things that I find false. I’m not an expert, but even I get annoyed by some of the myths I’ve seen floating around. Here are some I find especially false:

Myths and Confusions )
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So, just something I’ve noticed over the years. When someone tells you that there’s no time to consider something, that we have to make a decision right now, chances are that what they’re asking you to make is a bad decision. Maybe it’s buying something you don’t need, or succumbing to some kind of peer pressure, but when someone wants you to make up your mind about something without taking time to consider it, chances are that they’re afraid that if you take your time to consider it you’ll find good reason to do what they don’t want. If they need to shout at you to get you to make up your mind, chances are what they want is a bad idea.

This goes double when they’re asking you to bomb someone else’s country.

Now, sometimes you have to make up your mind in a hurry. Sometimes there’s a rock falling towards your head, or you need to decide whether to brake or swerve, or fight or flight. But that implies a window that is going to snap shut on you, that if you don’t do something your ability to do something will be taken away.

In Syria there doesn’t seem to be a deadline looming. Yes, it will be much harder to do something about chemical weapon attacks after the Civil War is over, but the war has been raging for over two years. It’s not like if we don’t bomb someone by Sunday the war will be over. Media hype aside, there hasn’t been a decisive change in the flow of the war for over a year. You can wait for the UN inspectors before bombing. You can wait for more information before bombing. You can wait to be sure that you have to bomb before bombing. It’ll just increase the time the Syrians have to be nervous.

And it’s not like the Syrian opposition is going to roll over because of a chemical attack. Yes, the death of possibly more than a thousand civilians is a terrible affair - but the war has killed over a hundred thousand people already. A hundred thousand. This isn’t a tragedy, it’s one percent of a tragedy, a horrible punctuation in a background of continual killing. The opposition didn’t fold for any of that, they’re not likely to fold now. We’re not going to end the killing, we’re not going to end the war, we’re just going to punish people for one little part of it that is probably lost in the morass and in the end will barely even matter.

So there’s no real downside to waiting. Which leads to the question of why certain people are pushing this decision so hard and so fast. What are they afraid we’re going to realize if we wait? Are we going to come to our senses? No, this is fundamentally a bad decision, and we should be smart enough not to let the hucksters take us for a ride.
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So I'm sort of in-hiding from the internet and I haven't been around much lately. Probably will be that way for a bit more.

But, from my corner of the electronic universe, here's something of interest (also about two weeks old). I'm not into it myself, but Game of Thrones seems to be the fandom of choice among many of my friends at the moment.

So Spencer Ackerman, who runs Wired's Danger Room military blog, posted a fairly detailed critique of Robb Stark's attempt to win his war, accusing Stark of a lack of strategic depth. Of course, such accusations do not necessarily hold water with fandom and there's already been one sophisticated counterargument.

This isn't Ackerman's first instance of poking an active fandom. His detailed critique of the Battle of Hoth was so hotly contested that Danger Room ended up hosting an entire symposium on the subject (and that doesn't cover nearly half the people who retaliated).

So I guess the lesson here is that if you poke a nerd you should be ready for a very detailed response on the subject. With footnotes.
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It wasn't exactly a peaceful 2012, and 2013 doesn't look a whole lot better. Oh, that Afghanistan thing is still going on, but in other parts of the world there's a whole lot of other civil conflict that looks like it could spill over across borders and into the international playing field at any moment.

So here is a quick list of all the powder kegs currently burning today.

Who's shooting at who )
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I've been reading a lot of the early commentary from the international relations wonks about the remake of Red Dawn and I've found that some of it mirrors some very perceptive comments made about some video games, like Homefront and Modern Warfare 3. It's a recognition of a trend that I find disturbing in a way that's hard to quantify.

Namely, America really, really, really wants to be the Taliban.

We want to be the ones wearing the ski masks and hefting AK-47s as we fight foreign occupiers from the ruins of our own towns. It matches our view of heroism, of the plucky little guy fighting insurmountable odds though skill, guile, and the willingness to take risks. We don't want to be on the side with all the firepower, or all the people, or all the rules, because that takes the fun out of it. We want to feel the exhilaration of taking incredible risk, of the adrenaline rush of danger after danger. We want to be the perpetual victims, so that our righteousness covers all possible actions and is rarely dimmed. We want to be the ones avenging a family wantonly slaughtered by foreign bombs. We want to sit, huddled beneath an outcropping of rock near our shattered house, and laugh at our latest narrow escape, because that's what heroism is for us, that's the kind of person we want to be. Who wants to be the foreign occupier who has to trudge back to home base and fill out paperwork? Given a fight between an outnumbered band of locals and a well-organized foreign army, we instinctively go for the locals every time.

You could talk about a lot of things here. You could talk about the inherent sexism - righteous revenge requires atrocity, atrocity requires victims, and in American media victims often require women. You could talk about modern racism - the most recent versions of this trope tend to make the enemies uniform in race, and non-white at that. You could talk about the almost pathological need Americans have to be a victim, as it's the only way we can safely dim our moral hazard lights, to ignore that voice of our consciousness. You could even point out that all you would have to do is change some names and digitally add American flags to the occupying, foreign forces and you would turn a Hollywood movie into a Taliban recruitment video.

But it's difficult to talk about the final lesson. This isn't the US. This isn't us. This is not the America that exists in this world. This is no longer what we are. For the foreseeable future America will remain on the other side. And it bothers me to see us continue operations on foreign soil, often in the role of occupiers, when at home we yearn to be the ragtag bunch of civilians, waiting in ambush for the foreign troops to walk by.


Nov. 4th, 2011 10:49 am
danalwyn: (Default)
From the BBC:
Kenya's military spokesman has said large groups of donkeys in Somalia will be considered "al-Shabab activity" following reports the militants are using the animals to transport weapons.

I'm normally against cruelty to animals, but the idea of some uniformed Kenyan officer standing on a platform in front of a "Global War On Donkeys" poster, with a map of Somalia with little cut-out donkeys velcroed onto it, waving a swagger stick at a television monitor showing gun camera footage of airplanes going after donkey herds just strikes me as inately hilarious.

Yes, there will be very real consequences for this. It's still hilarious.
danalwyn: (Default)
In other news that you might have missed, what with Gaddafi getting killed, Turkey getting hit by an earthquake, Kenya invading Somalia, and everything else that's happened this month, Michel Martelly, current president of the battered nation of Haiti, is considering rebuilding Haiti's military.

Haiti hasn't had a military since their last military went spectacularly insane some time ago, but they have two problems: they have a lot of veterans from that era who are owed a pension, and they have a lot of people without jobs. Martelly clearly thinks that he can kill two birds with one stone, and is budgeting US $95 million for the project (Fr), $15 million for pensions, $30 million for the joint civil service, and about $50 million over two years for paying for this new 3500 man force.

The first thought a lot of people have when seeing this is that $50 million is a lot of money, especially for Haiti where manpower is dirt cheap. I mean, in a country where a lot of the populace lives on $1 a day, it seems like you could spend a lot less on what is basically hiring 3500 men to go drive back and forth along a border in jeeps, and still have a lot left over to pay people to do something useful, like try to put the capital back together. I mean, if I just stick to the basics and avoid any frills, even I, who knows nothing about anything involved, could plan a military budget better then this, couldn't I?

No, but I can fail spectacularly in the process.

This Stuff Is Surprisingly Expensive )
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News Summary Time:

I've been avoiding the Middle East like the plague ever since it became impossible to get anything concrete out of it, but there's a bunch of other things (some outdated since it took me so long to write this) that have been running around the headlines. So here they are:

But First, Here's Johnny With the News )
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More Libya, because that's what I'm watching these days.

Looks like the war in Libya has finally started in earnest. No sooner had I sat down to pen about how things really did not seem to be starting (leading to some puzzled head-scratching on the behalf of international observers) and things kick off. Supporters of Gaddafi (whom I shall refer to as loyalists) have finally launched a massive attack on Ras Lunaf, apparently driving the rebels from the city (I refer to them as rebels because I find opposition members to be too unwieldy; we need a better word for that). This could signal the start of a major shift in the war in Libya, or it could be the last gasp of Gaddafi's loyalists in the face of popular revolt. One thing is pretty sure, in ten years or so we'll all be sitting around saying, “Oh yes, it should have been obvious that things would turn out this way”. Of course, it isn't. It never is.

What Next? )
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Well, predictably, the neo-cons realized that they finally had a chance to do something. After all, Egypt and Bahrain (and Saudi Arabia when it goes) are all US allies, so you can't sell them out for something as transient or useless as freedom or democracy or some other things like that which we don't really care about. But nobody likes Gaddafi. So that gives us a chance to call out the troops and get some primo photo ops.

(Not to say that the liberal interventionists and anti-genocide people haven't gotten their share).

Fortunately, a bunch of people have showed up to throw cold water on people. First it was CENTCOM's James Mattis throwing water on John McCain. Now it's escalated to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

In fact, out of the people I normally respect, I haven't seen much enthusiasm for the whole "let's go save Libya" crowd. This is in contravention to a lot of calls from inside Libya - Twitter and Facebook are filled with calls for the world to watch and for someone to do something about the fact that Gaddafi is firing on his own people. But even among those who really like democracy and really want to help Libya don't seem to have much enthusiasm for it.

Nobody Wants to Risk a No-Fly Zone )

Nobody wants to take responsibility for bombing Tripoli on their own. The Americans and the Europeans may be sending more and more ships, but for now all they'll do is stand off the coast. Unless Gadaffi forces their hand, the US will wait for the UN to approve, and with the Russians threatening to veto it's a good thing Libya is doing a good job of freeing itself without our intervention, because they'll be waiting for us for a long time.
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I never answer Writer's Blocks, but in this case I think I might.

I'm interested in this question because I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out what is an appropriate level of defense spending for various countries, and assembling sort of bands where countries should be.  Some countries I think spend too little for the responsibilities they've decided to take on, others too much.  It's all my opinion of course; I can't even come up with hard numbers.

Defense Spending Bands )
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Kind of glad I'm not British right now; the hand-wringing and whine-fest over Falklands War 2010 is beginning to annoy me, and I'm on the other side of the Atlantic. I can't even imagine the volume that the amateur circuit is exuding on that side of the world. I suppose it's the British equivalent of what last year's Honduras testosterone fest was in the United States, loud, annoying, and ultimately run by people who don't know what they're talking about. The experts are being much more sedate, but what's the fun in listening to people who know what they're talking about?
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All right, that's Mullen and Gates on board. The only question is how much support they'll get from the rest of the services. Where the head leads, the body may follow, but in this case the body's been very good at foot-dragging. We'll know more once we see what the other Joint Chiefs do and how they structure the review, but this is about as good of a start as you can get in the Pentagon.

Maybe they're finally tired of losing people to a stupid policy. Keep an eye on how this develops.
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Another news item of interest: Saudi Arabia has finally started bombing Yemen.

If you haven't been keeping up with the convoluted mess of Middle Eastern politics, an over-simplified explanation is this: Saudi Arabia (a rich country largely populated by and supportive of Sunni Muslims), and Iran (a large country mostly populated by and supportive of Shi'a Muslims) are the two largest powers in the "central" Middle East, and each of them is trying to make themselves the only power in the region. Yemen, a small country bordering Saudi Arabia, has a government dominated by Sunnis currently being challenged by a tribal rebellion, from Shi'a tribes, and makes a convenient battleground. There have long been rumors that Iran was backing the Shi'a groups, and that Saudi Arabia was backing the government, and with their proxies in Iraq temporarily busy rearming, it appears that the Saudi-Iranian feud has erupted here instead. Hopefully Saudi Arabia will content themselves with the occasional airstrike, but if not we may have a repeat of Israel vs. Hezbollah to look forward to in the Yemeni desert, with the Saudis starring as the Israelis, and Yemen playing the unfortunate role of Lebanon.

(I don't know why I post so many news things, I don't think anyone reads them).
danalwyn: (Default)
So, if you've been following the news, you know that two European men in Africa have been sentenced to death for murdering their driver and, among other charges, spying for Norway.


Norway's Problem, Our Warning )
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In light of recent events I feel that I should point out that the US has spent billions of dollars (that's billions with a B) learning how to get the pro-Choice movement to beat the combined anti-abortion movements. Of course, don't tell them about it; the government for the most part hasn't got a clue that's what they spent the money on, but the US has been spending a lot of money learning how to deal with the sophisticated, multi-level propaganda attack that they got hit with by the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. And nobody runs a fourth generation insurgency media campaign quite like the religious right. For years, they've been milking the same imagery, the idea of a group of brave, morally concerned freedom fighters doing the right thing, underfunded but with lots of willpower, in the face of determined attacks by the evil establishment. Well, the US has spent a lot of time and effort working a way to deal with that, and maybe the pro-Choice movement should take advantage of it.

What follows is a list of extremely amateurish suggestions that are the matter of personal opinion of a complete amateur, go on for a long 12 pages, and may have no real bearing on reality. Consider yourself warned.

Extremely, extremely long, tedious, and boring personal opinion follows. Seriously. I warned you. )

Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] mergle for reading this once already.


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