Quota Met

Today’s BBC anti-Trump front page quota is met by this story:

The father of a US Navy Seal killed in a raid on a suspected al-Qaeda compound in Yemen last month has said that he refused to meet US President Donald Trump when his son’s body arrived home.

“I’m sorry, I don’t want to see him,” he said he told a chaplain at the time.

The raid on 28 January was the first such operation authorised by Mr Trump.

Bill Owens, whose son William “Ryan” Owens was killed, told the Miami Herald that “the government owes my son an investigation”.

“Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn’t even barely a week into his administration? Why?” he said in an interview with the newspaper published on Sunday.

“For two years prior, there were no boots on the ground in Yemen – everything was missiles and drones – because there was not a target worth one American life. Now, all of a sudden we had to make this grand display?”

A father who has recently lost a son in a military operation has every right to grieve and to be angry. Such a reaction is expected and one can’t blame him for the words he’s chosen, and I hope he finds comfort somehow. That doesn’t mean that he is right, though. This article is a good demonstration of why quoting people who are in states of high-emotion is neither informative or good journalism.

It is a certainty that the raid in question would have been planned before Trump’s inauguration, including an assessment of the risks versus its benefits. This would have been done (one would hope) in a manner which is independent of who sits in the White House or politics in general. Yes, Trump authorised the raid – as Commander-in-Chief he has to – but this was about as much as he’d have had to do with it. Trump cannot be expected to second-guess the military planners on issues like this so soon into his tenure, and if he would have done so he would (rightly) have been accused of interfering in things he didn’t yet understand. It is perfectly normal that things like military operations are carried out with the expectation of continuity between different administrations, and that was surely the case here.

The rights and wrongs of this raid, and the reasons why the US is carrying out such operations in Yemen, are important and worthy of investigation, but the failings associated with it cannot be pinned on Trump. But this being the mainstream media, such an opportunity to bash Trump can’t be passed up. The SEAL’s father seems to be convinced that Trump changed policy in order to make a “grand display” and this got his son killed. This is demonstrable bollocks, but as I said we can forgive him for pretty much anything right now. The behaviour of the media in exploiting him in this way is less forgiveable.

And of course:

The raid – approved by President Trump just six days after he took office – is believed to have killed several civilians, including children.

The BBC just had to make sure the words “approved by President Trump” appeared in a sentence about the killing of children. And they wonder why Trump’s administration is excluding them from briefings.

Russians Upset Over Distant Events

It’s good to see Cold War paranoia is back in 2017:

Russia says it views the arrival of more than 3,000 US soldiers in Poland as a threat to its own security.

The troops are part of President Barack Obama’s response to reassure Nato allies concerned about a more aggressive Russia.

It is the largest US military reinforcement of Europe in decades.

Here is a map of Poland and its surrounds:

The distance between the eastern Polish border and the western Russian border is about 500km.  There are entire nations lying between Russia proper and Poland; they might as well complain about the troops in Germany as Poland.

Of course, they may be talking about the Russian enclave around Kaliningrad, in which case it is necessary to note that:

Last October, Russia sent nuclear-capable Iskander missiles to its exclave of Kaliningrad, sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania, followed a month later by Bastion anti-ship missile launchers.

Which presumably don’t threaten anyone, oh no.  They’re for defensive purposes, you see.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the BBC that the move “threatens our interests and our security”.

Perhaps if the Russians would state clearly what their “interests” in Poland and its neighbours were, such agonising would be unnecessary.  And this is just bollocks:

“It’s a third country that is building up its military presence on our borders in Europe,” [Peskov] said. “It isn’t even a European country.”

Poland’s not in Europe?  Where is it then, Africa?

Poland’s Undersecretary of State for Defence Tomasz Szatkowski said the deployment was necessary because of Russia’s “large exercises” next to its border and its “aggressive actions in our vicinity – I mean Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea”.

Ah, finally somebody who is speaking sensibly.

Mr Trump’s nomination for defence secretary – Gen James Mattis – is likely to be asked about the new administration’s attitude to Russia in his Senate confirmation hearing later on Thursday.

Leaving aside Obama’s last-minute posturing, a thousand quid says Mattis fully approves of the troops being in Poland and sees preventing Russia from attempting to annex more of Eastern Europe as being a top US strategic priority in the way that confronting them over Syria most certainly is not.  I can well imagine Trump pushing the Europeans to start paying more for their own defense and rightly so, but I think Putin will be making a very big mistake if he thinks the US is about to abandon Eastern Europe to Russian control.

UPDATE

And whaddya know?

President-elect Donald Trump’s nominees for defence secretary and spy chief have been taking aim at Russia during their Senate confirmation hearings.

General James Mattis, defence secretary nominee, warned Nato was under its biggest attack since World War Two.

Mr Mattis, a retired general and Mr Trump’s pick for Pentagon chief, said Russian President Vladimir Putin was trying to divide Nato nations.

“I think right now the most important thing is that we recognise the reality of what we deal with with Mr Putin,” he told the Armed Services Committee.

“And we recognise that he is trying to break the North Atlantic Alliance and that we take the steps… to defend ourselves where we must.

“I think it’s under the biggest attack since World War II, sir, and that’s from Russia, from terrorist groups and with what China is doing in the South China Sea.”

I think we might get to find out fairly soon just how much of a Russian puppet Trump is.  My guess, as I hinted at earlier, is the stance of his administration will be “You can have Syria, but if you start rattling sabres in Eastern Europe, we’ll arm them to the teeth”.

Picking Sides

In an effort to understand what is happening in the Middle East, I recalled the introduction to Part III of this excellent book: Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II, by Keith Lowe.

The Second World War was never merely a conflict over territory. It was also a war of race and ethnicity. Some of the defining events of the war had nothing to do with winning and maintaining physical ground, but with imposing one’s own ethnic stamp on ground already held.

The problem for those pursuing this racial war was that it was not always easy to define a person’s race or ethnicity, particularly in eastern Europe where different communities were often inextricably intermingled. Jews who happened to have blond hair and blue eyes could slip through the net because they did not fit the Nazis’ preconceived racial stereotype. Gypsies could and did disguise themselves as members of other ethnic groups just by changing their clothes and their behaviour –as did Slovaks in Hungary, Bosniaks in Serbia, Romanians in Ukraine, and so on. The most common way of identifying one’s ethnic friends or enemies –the language they spoke –was not always an accurate guide either. Those who had grown up in mixed communities spoke several languages, and could switch between one and the next depending on whom they were speaking to –a skill that would save many lives during the darkest days of the war and its aftermath. In an effort to categorize the population of Europe, the Nazis insisted on issuing everyone with identity cards, coloured according to ethnicity. They created vast bureaucracies to classify entire populations by race.

Those who did not have their ethnicity chosen for them had to make the decision for themselves. This was not always easy. Many people had multiple options, either because they had mixed-race parents or grandparents or because they saw no contradiction in being simultaneously, say, Polish by birth, Lithuanian by nationality and German by ethnicity. When forced to make a choice, their decision was often naively random at best, perhaps inspired by a parent, a spouse, or even a friend. The more calculating chose an identity according to what benefits it might offer. Claiming German ethnicity, for example, could confer exemption from labour round-ups and eligibility for special rations and tax breaks. On the other hand, it could also mean liability for military conscription: the decision sometimes boiled down to whether the Russian front was preferable to a slave-labour camp. The choices that people made regarding their ethnicity would have implications far beyond the end of the war.

The fascist obsession with racial purity, not only in those areas occupied by Germany but elsewhere too, had a huge impact on European attitudes. It made people aware of race in a way they never had been before. It obliged people to take sides, whether they wanted to or not. And, in communities that had lived side by side more or less peacefully for centuries, it made race into a problem –indeed, it elevated it to the problem –that needed solving.

In previous years, Arab nationalism was the big thing.  Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan defined themselves firstly by their nationality and only perhaps as a secondary concern did they bring ethnicity or religious affiliation into play (with the exception being they were absolutely opposed to the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Israel).  Nasser’s Egypt didn’t promote itself on the basis of religion or ethnicity, but as a regional power allied to the Soviet Union.  Colonel Gaddafi spent years trying to set up and lead some sort of African Union grounded in nationalism and anti-colonialism, not a common religion or ethnicity.  I am told in Syria people were Syrians first and Muslims and Christians second.  Despite his growing a beard and waving the Koran around once he’d been captured, Saddam Hussein ran a largely secular regime based on nationalism and (in theory) socialism via the Ba’ath party, which they shared with Syria.  These countries were based on political doctrines, not on religious or ethnic ones.

That’s not to say that Christians didn’t face discrimination in Egypt, the majority Shia were not oppressed in Iraq by the minority Sunnis, and the Kurds didn’t get gassed by Saddam Hussein.  And one must also look at Saudi Arabia – a nation whose foundations are religious – and the Lebanese Civil War which saw all the different religions and sects fighting one another.  My point is not that one’s religion or ethnicity didn’t matter at all, but that they were considered of secondary importance to the political entity that was the nation state (or, more accurately, the guy in charge).  Provided you were prepared to pledge your loyalty to the political regime, you stood a good chance of being left alone.  Saddam Hussein didn’t gas the Kurds because he objected to their religious beliefs, he did so because they were not sufficiently loyal and didn’t want to live under his rule.  One must remember that Tariq Aziz, a long-serving minister in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, was Catholic.

Since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the sectarian fighting that followed, and then the Arab Spring, all of that has gone out of the window.  The Muslim Brotherhood popped up in Egypt and promptly won an election; jihadists ran rampage in Libya once Gaddafil was removed; ISIS tore through Iraq and Syria, ethnically cleansing any territory they captured as they fought a religious war for control of the Levant.  The two regional superpowers – Saudi Arabi and Iran – are fighting a proxy war in Yemen and fuelling the conflicts elsewhere with money and weapons as each backs their own religious brethren.  No longer are Iraqis, Syrians, Egyptians, and Libyans allowed to state they are nationalists first and foremost and want only what’s best for the country: they must pick a side and in a lot of cases fight for that side.  Within a relatively short time ethnicity and religion has become the determining factor in one’s identity across swathes of the Middle East, taking over from nationality.

Perhaps more worrying is the degree to which this might be happening in Turkey.  The Kurds always had a rough time of it, and Armenians would probably have a few rather blunt words to say were any to read this (and justifiably so), but under Ataturk’s secular republic people were Turks first and committed to a Turkish identity and Turkish nationalism – be they Muslim or Christian, conservative, moderate, or secular.  Sure, some of the more conservative Turks might have gotten a bit hot under the collar over pretty girls wandering the beaches at Izmir in pink bikinis, just as the educated, Westernised Turks in Istanbul thought the rural folk in the north and east were ignorant, backward, and best ignored.  Whatever one’s affiliation or religious fervor, everyone was a Turk and the country came first.

The election of Recep Erdoğan has changed all that.  By running on an Islamist platform, he has driven a wedge between the more conservative Muslims and the secularists, non-Muslims, and the rest.  Now it is starting to matter whether you are secular or Islamist, moderate or conservative.  Last evening a friend showed me a photo that had been posted on Turkish social media a few days ago, before yesterday’s bomb in Izmir.  It was of a Turkish woman in her 20s in a headscarf suggesting that the city – which has a reputation as a centre of secularism and having a Westernised population – be attacked because it is full of infidels.  The number of people approving her remarks was well over a hundred.  This would have been unheard of a generation ago, Turks wanting other Turks killed and maimed over religious differences and being prepared to say so in public.

We have already seen what happened in Europe when people who had never wanted labels were forced to wear one and fight each other.  We are currently seeing what happens in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere when choosing a side becomes compulsory.  I really hope that Turkey avoids this fate, but it is heading in that direction.

Turkish Soldiers Killed in Syria

In August I said this regarding Turkey’s foray into Syria ostensibly to fight ISIS:

But the Turkish army has already taken its first casualties, and the longer they stay in Syria, the deeper they penetrate, and the longer their supply lines become the more likely they will be to incur more.  The Turkish military was stripped of much of its leadership in 2010 following the foiling of the alleged “Operation Sledgehammer” coup plot, and then last month subject to sweeping purges in the aftermath of the more recently bungled coup.  A military which has had its officer and NCO cadres purged for political reasons and replaced with loyalists tends to lose a lot of its effectiveness, and the degree to which this happens is dependent on how many key, competent personnel have been replaced by idiots.  The Turkish army hasn’t done any proper fighting in generations and few of its personnel will have seen real combat.  They are going up against Kurdish forces who have been doing nothing but fight for years, and unless they finish the job quickly they might find them a tough nut to crack.

Today’s news is as follows:

Fourteen Turkish soldiers have been killed in fierce fighting against so-called Islamic State in Syria, the Turkish army said.

Wednesday’s clashes happened in the town of al-Bab, which Turkey is helping rebels take from IS control.

A further 33 Turkish soldiers were reported wounded.

It is the Turkish military’s biggest loss in a single day since launching its military operation in Syria in August.

I suspect that is the Turkish military’s biggest loss in a single day for over a generation. Probably only the fighting in Cyprus saw more, and possibly not even then: we might have to go back to Korea.

The soldiers Turkey sends into Syria will most likely be conscripts led by officers who were selected for their loyalty to Erdoğan rather than their military competence.  I wonder how many more stories like this we’ll be reading in 2017.

Aleppo

Apparently there is a massacre going in Aleppo and people are saying this is the next Srebrenica or Rwanda. The UN is busy making meaningless noises and British MPs and other public figures are saying “we must do something”.

I’m not sure what everyone expected to happen.  The Assad regime was always brutal, and especially so since the Arab Spring.  Indeed, it was the Syrian secret police detaining and torturing teenagers – not the CIA – which turned the protests into a civil war.  Assad was never going to treat any defeated rebels with kid gloves, and massacres were likely to follow.  This is generally what happens when an armed rebellion is put down by the government in most parts of the world, the civilian population cops it big time.  It’s a shitty situation.

Those saying “we must do something” are talking about aid drops, as if that will achieve anything.  Others are calling for military intervention, which is even more stupid.  There might have been a window of opportunity to remove Assad and install a better government in 2013, but this was voted down in Parliament.  That window slammed shut soon after and when the Russians entered the fray on the side of the Syrian government, it was effectively bricked up.  Rather than complain bitterly that the Russians have outsmarted the strategic genius of Obama and Kerry and continue to arm jihadists in the hope that some of them would one day become the president of a new, democratic Syria the West should have accepted that Assad is here to stay so long as the Russians are bombing the opposition for him, and dealt with that reality.  Once Russia got involved, and started deploying the same tactics it used to such great effect in Chechnya (i.e. massacre anyone in range, friend or foe) the least bad outcome in Syria was a swift end to the fighting, meaning Assad back in control and the rebels defeated or chased away.

It’s pretty awful, but civil wars are like this.  If no side can prevail quickly, the suffering starts to increase exponentially and this has been going on in Syria for nearly 6 years now.  After this long even a return to the bad old days of Assad must be looking pretty good.  Few people want Assad in power and nobody wants to reward the Russians for their tactics, but what alternative is there?  It’s about time the West realised this, and understood that the poor souls in Aleppo are going to die horribly but hopefully they’ll be the last who do.

Not that I think any of this is the West’s fault, save for perhaps their role in extending the war by providing whatever minuscule assistance they did to the opposition (no, I don’t believe the CIA had a role in fomenting the civil war or “destabilising” Assad any more than I think they left Russia with no choice but to invade Ukraine).  Others disagree, though:

George Osborne has told MPs that they share some responsibility for the terrible events happening in Syria.

The ex-chancellor said the unfolding tragedy in Aleppo had not “come out of a vacuum” but was due to “a vacuum of Western and British leadership”.

Parliament had helped enable a “terrorist state” to emerge by voting against military intervention against the Assad regime in 2013, he said.

No, sorry.  I don’t know and don’t care why individual MPs voted against intervention in Syria in 2013, but there were an awful lot of very good reasons for doing so and not very many for getting involved.  Top of the list of reasons why not to get involved was our experience in Iraq and a public who is damned tired of fighting people who hate us supposedly on behalf of people who also hate us.  Britain made a lot of enemies by helping to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein, and there was very little by way of gratitude from those who we ostensibly came to save.  We Brits are a thick-headed lot, but we seem to have learned our lesson in that regard: no more wars thanks, at least not for a while.  And especially no more wars to bring peace and democracy to Arabic lands ruled by oppressive dictators.  We’ve had a gutful of that, and all that comes with it.

However, those who really need to take note are those who live in the Middle East and places like it.  The US-led intervention in Iraq was deemed a “war on Muslims” and the Americans and their allies demonised in every possible way by locals and foreigners alike for how they executed the war and handled the aftermath.  They were not just criticised, which would have been more than justified, they were made out to be a rogue nation, carrying out atrocities on a scale not seen since World War II.  This was bollocks on stilts.

But the demonisation worked.  Well done.  America and its allies were detested, and eventually they left.  Only a short time later when people wanted them to come back to prevent yet more butchery, they politely declined.  Instead the locals got an altogether different military turning up, one whose savagery surpasses anything the Americans could dream up never mind get away with, and whose population back home would be completely unconcerned if indeed they bothered to learn about it.  And now we have Aleppo.  Suddenly the thought of the US military being in charge isn’t so bad is it?

But it’s too late.  America’s enemies both in the Middle East and the West who engaged in relentless hyperbole, propaganda, lies, and violence to force Westerners out of that part of the world are now going to have to deal with the grim reality that they’re not coming back, and the Russians are there to stay.  There will be people out there, possibly even some spending the night in a cellar in Aleppo waiting for the death squads to come at dawn, thinking they ought to have been more careful what they wished for.

An Unproven China

Streetwise Professor has put up a post regarding Donald Trump’s possible policy towards China, which includes a paragraph on the Chinese military capability:

Chinese military power is increasing dramatically. This is perhaps most evident at sea, where the Chinese navy has increased in size, sophistication, and operational expertise. Submarines are still a weak spot, but increasing numbers of more capable ships, combined with a strong geographic position (a long coastline with many good ports, now augmented by the man-made islands in the South China Sea) and dramatically improved air forces, long range surface-to-surface missiles, and an improving air defense system make the Chinese a formidable force in the Asian littoral. They certainly pose an anti-access/area denial threat that makes the US military deeply uneasy.

I’ll not argue with this, it is hard to imagine China’s military isn’t improving with all the money and technology being thrown at it.  What I don’t agree with is a comment by “FTR” underneath:

China will be the dominant power. There’s really no stopping it, try as the Communist Party might. Even if long-term per capita development remains below the west thanks to the inefficiency and corruption of the party, it will still be the world’s largest economy from sheer population alone. Correspondingly, the military will eventually match or exceed American capabilities. Just as the United Kingdom couldn’t block the rise of the more populous Germany or America, China will take the pole position.

People often talk about the future of China in terms of inevitability, as if their enormous population is the one factor that will propel them to the top of the pile.  Me, I’m not so sure.

I remember writing ages ago – I forget where – that quality is inherent in a culture and not every culture has it to the same degree.  The Chinese have grown their economy from a very low base by engaging in low-level manufacturing of things Westerners want to buy, and made technological progress by copying what the West has been doing for years.  This will be enough to bring improvements, but I don’t think one can draw a line through the progress, extrapolate it 20 years into the future, and conclude China will be top dog.  A lot of the stuff the Chinese produce is utter junk.  Most of their own designs – meaning, those they have not bought or stolen – are rubbish which nobody with money or standards wants.  People talk about the incredible learning rate of the Chinese, but I think most of this comes from having the bleedin’ obvious pointed out to them.  I don’t think it means they will necessarily be able to do what any economic superpower needs to do – innovate, and produce quality goods.

It is not just a matter of time.  The British have had plenty of time to learn how to build a decent house, but seemingly can’t.  For whatever reason, we put up with shit that some other nationalities don’t.  Our cars were also crap (I used to be an amateur Land Rover mechanic: I found some of the bolts/screws were metric, some imperial, and the remainder some obscure thread nobody had heard of in two generations), whereas the Germans and Japanese made them properly.  I will believe the Chinese have mastered technology not when they have built a high-speed rail to much government fanfare based on a design they copied from Siemens without permission, but when an international airline orders a batch of Chinese aircraft instead of Boeing or Airbus.  Until then, the jury is out on whether they can produce quality goods or differentiate themselves when it comes to innovation.  Perhaps they will manage it – I’m not saying they won’t – I’m just saying that thus far they haven’t proven much and fears of them taking over the world might be a little premature.

Which brings me onto the Chinese military.

When I was a student I came back from a night out and found my apartment had been burgled and all my stuff stolen.  This was rather unsurprising given I lived in Manchester, but nevertheless I had been rather stupid and not gotten insured.  Eager not to get burned again I replaced the goods out of my own pocket and got some insurance.  The company I dealt with were very reasonable and I got covered in short order, and so I happily told my eldest brother that I had found a good insurance company.  His reply was that you normally find out if an insurance company is any good when the times comes for them to pay out.  Wise words, indeed.

Similarly, a military normally finds out if they are any good or not when they have to actually fight.  Manpower numbers, training levels, budgets, equipment specs, number of ships/tanks/planes etc. are all good indicators as is historical performance and the culture from whence the personnel comes, but none of this really counts until they are involved in some serious action.  History is littered with examples of supposedly superior forces being proven to be useless (the Russian navies in the Russo-Japanese War, for example) and of theoretically weak armies being surprisingly hard nuts to crack (e.g. the Finns in the Winter War).  I wrote here that Turkey’s intervention into Syria might end up putting a dent in what I think is probably a rather outdated reputation of their army, as they haven’t done any proper fighting in generations.

Other than a few skirmishes, the Chinese have not had a proper fight since the Korean War.  By contrast, the Americans – perhaps for this very reason – seem keen on fighting in one way or another practically non-stop, as do the Brits.  The US Navy hasn’t been properly tested in a long time, and nor has its air force.  But American ground troops have, as have their logistics capabilities.  True, they’ve not fought an all-out large scale war but they have come far closer than anyone else with Afghanistan and the Iraq War.  Their weapons and personnel have been tested in the field and, although sometimes have come up wanting, it is at least known that they work.  The Chinese?  Well, it’s all theoretical, isn’t it?

I think what would hamper the Chinese military more than anything is the same thing that could bring China to its knees anyway: an unaccountable Communist Party facing off against an increasingly wealthy and well-informed middle class.  During the Korean War, Mao was able to send hundreds of thousands of Chinese to be slaughtered without any domestic backlash: being slaughtered seemed to be a pretty routine way of life in 1950s China, especially if you complained about it.  But China has changed.

Let’s supposing China does decide to flex its military muscles in the South China sea.  They could probably lose quite a few men and a lot of material before they’d hear any grumbling at home, and – like Putin over Crimea – they could dress up the capture of a few hundred square miles of land as a major strategic victory which has saved the face of the nation and proven that it’s rightful place is zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.  Sorry, I nodded off just thinking about such a speech.  But should they decide on a bolder adventure, such as a full-scale invasion of Taiwan, they will almost certainly incur enormous casualties – something everyone assumes they would just absorb.

But would they?  China’s one-child policy has left most households with a single son.  Could the mothers of the quarter-of-a-million soldiers who are going to die capturing Taiwan please step forward and tell me how robust is your national pride?  Are they really going to be motivated by the same ultra-nationalistic propaganda used in the Korean War when the body bags start coming home (or the bodies washing up on the beaches) in 2030?  If their military is found wanting and catastrophic flaws are found in their doctrine, equipment, leadership, and men it could easily lead to an internal revolution – either from the military themselves or a middle class who are fed up of a CP who have badly overestimated the popularity of their own geopolitical ambitions.  As with their economy, I don’t think it is a given that the Chinese military will be any good simply because it is big and they have spent a lot of money on it.  As yet, they are completely unproven.

I’m sure the Chinese leadership knows that any bold military adventure would need to succeed very quickly or they could find the domestic situation slipping out of their control., and that for all the hype their military has yet to be put to even a simple test.  By contrast, the Americans know they can fight deeply unpopular wars and life goes on much as before, and that their military is up to the task.  With General Mattis now on board hopefully preventing anything idiotic from happening, Trump probably doesn’t have too much to worry about from China.

Cubans in Angola

A good piece on Fidel Castro from Bayou Renaissance Man, who is originally South African:

I was standing in the Angolan bush, along with a group of UNITA rebels.  They were cleaning up after a firefight – which meant leaving the enemy bodies where they had fallen, but stripping them of their weapons, uniforms and supplies.  Everything would be washed, cleaned, repaired if necessary, and reissued to new owners, who would use it to kill more of the enemy.

Among the dead were two very young Cuban conscripts, some of the tens of thousands of troops sent by Fidel Castro to prop up the brutal pro-Communist regime in Angola. They were probably well under 20 years old.  They hadn’t even finished growing;  they still had that gangling, slightly disjointed look of late adolescence.  Both looked as if they didn’t yet need to shave every day.  They never would, now.  Their AK-47’s were still half-slung.  They hadn’t even managed to raise them to a firing position before the RPD bullets found them.

A grizzled NCO looked down at them, and an odd look came over his face. He spat to one side, very expressively, and murmured, “Just one more. That’s all I ask.  Just one more.”

I looked at him, and my eyebrows rose.  He caught my expression, and nodded.  “I want the bastard who sends kids like this over here to die.”

It makes you wonder how many of those who complain about American forces deployed around the world had no problem with Fidel Casto sending his army to Angola.  The fact that Cubans had no choice in the matter makes it that much worse.

Keeping Britain Safe

I find this story a bit pathetic:

A flotilla of Russian warships is passing through the English Channel en route to Syria.

Two British naval ships are shadowing the vessels. The Ministry of Defence said they would be “man-marked every step of the way” while near UK waters.

The ships are within international waters but Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the UK would “be watching as part of our steadfast commitment to keep Britain safe”.

Oh please.  As if the Russian carrier is suddenly going to hang a right and splurge little green men all over Kent.  This is just an opportunity for the Defence Minister to sound tough and the Royal Navy to show that it’s still relevant.

The UK’s Type 45 destroyer HMS Duncan, escorted by the Type 23 frigate HMS Richmond, steamed from Portsmouth on Tuesday to track the Kuznetsov group as it headed south from the Norwegian Sea.

Why?  To give them something to do which might be slightly less humiliating than being captured by Iranians and made to cry?

Sending a large Russian flotilla through the North Sea and the English Channel sends a clear message to the West: anything you can do, we can do just as well – or even better.

You don’t need to be a supporter of the Russian military or their actions in Syria to find this ridiculous: the English Channel is the most logical route to follow.  Did the Belgians send any ships out?  The French?  This isn’t the Channel Dash.  Next time just ignore them, eh?

And this amused:

A Russian tug, believed to be in convoy with the taskforce, entered the channel first off the coast near Ramsgate.

As Streetwise Professor is fond of pointing out, the Russian navy can’t go anywhere without its rescue tug.  The accompanying video of the Admiral Kuznetsov shows columns of black smoke belching from its twin funnels, a feature which probably wouldn’t have helped the Japanese at Midway.  Neither navy comes across particularly well in this report.

Changing My Mind

In the comments of this post reader Duffy asks the following wholly reasonable question:

Can I ask, what was the last Big Thing you changed your mind about after doing some research?

He went on:

I ask because in my experience most people decide first and rationalize afterwards. Whatever facts don’t fit the preconceived idea are discarded in favor of confirmation bias.

I had to think about this for a while, but I thought Duffy deserved a proper answer.  The best example I can think of is the role of the US military around the world, and specifically what changed after the Iraq War.

There were some very reasonable arguments opposing the US and its allies’ decision to launch the Iraq War, and there were some incredibly stupid ones as well.  One of those that fell somewhere in the middle is one I have changed my mind about.  Before the invasion took place there was a school of thought that went something like this:

These brown folk are primitive.  They don’t know how to get along with one another, they need a strongman like Saddam Hussein to keep them in line.  They’re not ready for democracy, it doesn’t work for the likes of them.

The reason why I didn’t subscribe to this view was I thought it would be a massive injustice to an oppressed and brutalised population to just assume that the person who was standing on their necks was doing so for their own good and they’d be worse off without him.  I couldn’t think of anything worse than living under such conditions myself and the people who could do something about it telling me that I was incapable of running my own affairs.

I supported the Iraq War for several reasons, one of which was I thought the Iraqis deserved the chance to be free of Saddam Hussein and run their country without him.  I genuinely thought they would seize the opportunity to demonstrate to the world that Arabic people are not incompatible with democracy and, so thankful that Saddam Hussein is gone, they would make a pretty decent effort to make things work.

Instead they tore each other apart and did everything they could to demonstrate that those who dismissed them as savages that needed a strongman to keep them in line were right all along.  I think this was probably the most depressing aspect of the whole shambolic affair.  I still think the Iraq War should have gone ahead because I believe it solved two security issues which I think the US would have found much harder to manage in future: the security of the Saudi oilfields and finding out for sure whether Saddam Hussein had chemical or biological weapons that could be used in a future conflict.  I’m also certain that had the Iraq War not happened a bloodbath would have occurred at some point anyway: either the Arab Spring would have been tried in Iraq, or it would have been dragged into Syria or another conflict with Iran.  Whatever might have happened, I don’t think an Iraq under another decade or two of Saddam Hussein & Sons would have been a stable, happy place.

But the one issue I changed my mind on was that the US (or British) military should no longer be brought to bear for altruistic or humanitarian reasons.  It is rather depressing, but I am now a firm believer in the premise that a population generally deserves the government it gets.  No longer would I support a war that is not prosecuted for clear strategic reasons that are indisputably in the national interest.  So all those suffering under the jackboot of oppression?  Sorry, you’re on your own.  We tried our best and look where it got us.

Turkey enters Syria

The series of proxy wars going on in Syria got a bit more complicated last week when Turkish troops rolled over the border to tackle what Ankara is calling terrorists: both ISIS and Kurdish groups.  Turkey has suffered a wave of suicide bombings in the past few months, almost certainly carried out by ISIS or groups affiliate to their cause, and so have some justification in going after them in their strongholds.  But it’s also likely that Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan will use this as an excuse to deploy proper military units against their old foes the Kurds in their homelands, something which they could not have done previously without provoking an international outcry.

With the men and material at the Turks’ disposal, I expect they will prevail against the Kurds to begin with.  But the Turkish army has already taken its first casualties, and the longer they stay in Syria, the deeper they penetrate, and the longer their supply lines become the more likely they will be to incur more.  The Turkish military was stripped of much of its leadership in 2010 following the foiling of the alleged “Operation Sledgehammer” coup plot, and then last month subject to sweeping purges in the aftermath of the more recently bungled coup.  A military which has had its officer and NCO cadres purged for political reasons and replaced with loyalists tends to lose a lot of its effectiveness, and the degree to which this happens is dependent on how many key, competent personnel have been replaced by idiots.  The Turkish army hasn’t done any proper fighting in generations and few of its personnel will have seen real combat.  They are going up against Kurdish forces who have been doing nothing but fight for years, and unless they finish the job quickly they might find them a tough nut to crack.  The most viable Kurdish strategy would be to drag this out as long as possible, practice hit-and-run tactics on vulnerable Turkish supply lines and rear echelon units, and turn it into the sort of guerrilla war which has done so much damage to American units in Iraq and Afghanistan over the years.  But crucial to the Kurds’ success is to secure the backing of a larger power to keep them supplied with weapons, ammunition, medical equipment, and funds.  I suspect a major reason for Ergodan’s decision to kiss and make up with Putin over the downing of the Russian plane in November 2015 is to prevent Russia from fulfilling this role.  It will now be interesting to see who does back the Kurds (if anyone) and how Turkey’s newly purged military performs.