Foreign Legions 13 January 2020.

A bunch of historical examples can be offered of peoples hiring foreigners to do their fighting for them.  The Roman Empire came to rely upon foreigners to fill up the ranks of the army once citizenship became de-linked from soldiering.  The Arabs recruited large numbers of Turks driven off the steppe by the Mongols.  The little Crusader states in the Holy Land depended upon the military religious orders to aggregate individual European Christian volunteers into formidable props to their survival.  The Englishmen John Smith and Guy Fawkes fought for foreign rulers.  The French and Spanish armies included regiments of Irish Catholic refugees from English Protestant oppression.  In the 19th Century both France and Spain created “Foreign Legions,” while Britain came to prize the Gurkhas.  During the Spanish Civil War, the Comintern created the “International Brigades” to fight against the Nationalists.  Muslims from many countries fought against the Soviet in Afghanistan.  Most recently, the Islamic State marshalled thousands of foreign volunteers under its black flag.[1]

The death of Qassim Suleimani brought some peripheral notice of his reliance upon “foreign legions” to fight as Iranian proxies.[2]  Suleimani adroitly used both Shi’ite and—less frequently–Sunni militias on behalf of his government’s long-term effort to expand Iran’s influence in the Middle East.  Suleimani deployed these militias in the civil wars in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, while Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza are closely linked to Iran.  This policy brought so much success that Iran is unlikely to abandon it just because its original architect is dead.

Foreign volunteers have reasons for signing-up.  Some come for adventure; some are inspired by religious or ideological commitment; some are veteran soldier seeking something that civilian life can’t provide.  The motives for governments that recruit foreign volunteers are less varied.  Where military service has become socially undesirable or where the native population possesses skills too great to be wasted on the battlefield, foreign troops allow a country to punch above its weight.  Foreign soldiers cost only money.  No one cares if they die.

Only about one percent of Americans do military service.  Most of those who do serve come from the South and from military families living close to bases scattered through the South and West.[3]  Over three-quarters (79 percent) of Army enlistees have a family member who has served in the military; almost a third (30 percent) have a parent who has served.  Inevitably, that means that casualties are similarly distributed.  This trend has been developing ever since the military became All Volunteer in 1973.  There’s a political element to this as well.  Politically liberal areas often resist military recruiters in the schools and universities, while liberal parents rarely have done military service.  Young people have few models of military service.

Is this one reason for the “forever wars”?

No, I’ve never been a soldier.

[1] See: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2015/02/24/the-islamic-brigades-1/; https://waroftheworldblog.com/2015/05/08/the-islamic-brigades-ii/; and https://waroftheworldblog.com/2016/06/17/the-islamic-brigades-iii/

[2] Karim Sadjadpour, “The Sinister Genius of Soleimani,” WSJ, 11-12 January 2020; Dion Nissenbaum and Isabel Coles, “Iraqi Militias Remain a Wild Card,” WSJ, 10 January 2020.

[3] David Philipps and Tim Arango, “The Call to Serve Is Being Unevenly Embraced,” NYT, 11 January 2020.

The War with Iran 10 January 2020.

The American invasion of Iraq in 2003 created both opportunities and dangers for Iran.  On the one hand, it toppled an enemy leader (Saddam Hussein) and liberated the fellow Shi’ites of Iraq to dominate a “democratic” government.  On the other hand, it put the powerful military of Iran’s American enemy right on the country’s door-step.[1]

An important role in developing the opportunities and confronting the dangers fell to General Qassim Suleimani.  Suleimani occupied a powerful position in Iran’s government.  The New York Times has described him as “an American vice president, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and C.I.A. director rolled into one.”[2]  Suleimani worked to increase the power of Iraq’s Shi’ite majority, extend Iranian influence over Iraq and into Syria, and push the Americans to pull out.  Some Americans and a good many Iraqis died in the ensuing violence.  Both the Bush II and Obama administrations had thought about killing him.  Both seem to have decided that killing Suleimani would not advance American strategic interests at those particular times.  Clearly, President Trump and his closest advisors made a different decision.  On 3 January 2020, an American drone fired two missiles that killed Suleimani and some of his myrmidons.

It is impossible at this early date to foresee the long-term consequences.  Still, it is possible to suggest some factors that will influence events.  First, the killing of Suleimani is unlikely to deepen the existing abyssal hostility between the two nations.[3]

Second, domestic factors will push Iran to retaliate for the assassination.  General Suleimani in the front rank of Iran’s leaders.  Trying to deter the United States from weeding-out other leaders could push Iran’s hardliners toward action.  The same is true of maintaining the regime’s legitimacy in the eyes of the public.  You can’t get out big crowds every year to chant “Death to America!” in the streets and then go “Never mind” when you get slapped in public.

Third, there is a huge imbalance of power between the United States and Iran.  American superiority in conventional weapons would probably preclude a real Iranian conventional attack on American forces.  The recent missile strike in Iraq both hit a remote facility with few Americans present and was telegraphed hours in advance to allow the Americans to take cover.  At the same time, President Trump claims to want to end the “endless wars” launched by the Bush II Administration.  That desire should bar any attack on Iran by American ground forces.

This reality could shape the behavior of both sides.  Iran can pursue an “asymmetrical” response.  Iran could use allies like Lebanon’s Hezbollah or Iraqi Shi’ites to attack American forces or American interests.  Those would not have to be limited to the Persian Gulf or even to the Middle East.  One key factor might be how robust are American defense and intelligence resources for dealing with such “asymmetrical” threats.

On the other hand, American air power is there and ready to be used.  For example, Iran firing missiles at American ships in or around the Persian Gulf would trigger air strikes.  Those strikes might not be very restricted.  They would inflict still greater public humiliation on the regime.

So, future headlines may be full of car bombs and “smart” bombs.

[1] At the same time, the Americans were occupying Afghanistan on Iran’s eastern border.  You can see how Iranian leaders might get a little skittish.

[2] Max Fisher, “Is There a Chance Of a Wider War?” New York Times, 4 January 2020; Amanda Taub, “Will Strike Deter Attacks, Or Lead to Even More?” NYT, 5 January 2020.

[3] It is now impossible to know if the policy pursued by the Obama administration would have led to an actual improvement of Iranian-American relations or merely postponed the current confrontation.

The Attack on Iran 9 January 2020.

“Trump did it, so it must be the wrong thing.”  Fair rule of thumb/heuristic device.  However, seen in a historical perspective, some further thought may be in order.

First, the military historian John Keegan dissected the liberal mindset with regard to international order on the eve of the Second Iraq War in 2003.  He called this mindset “Olympianism.”  According to Keegan, it “seeks to influence and eventually control the behavior of states not by the traditional means of resorting to force as a last resort but by supplanting force by rational procedures, exercised through a supranational bureaucracy and supranational legal systems and institutions.” Keegan regarded this view as delusional, but widespread.  He describes the “Olympian ethic” as “opposition to any form of international action lying outside the now commonly approved limits of legal disapproval and treaty condemnation.”[1]

European states weren’t the only ones touched by “Olympianism.”  The Report of the 9/11 Commission tells readers that the US Government struggled to respond to the early attacks by Al Qaeda.  These early attacks included the bombing of two embassies in East Africa, and the attack on the USS “Cole” during a port call in Yemen.  The Director of the Central Intelligence Agency doubted he had the authority to kill some foreign terrorist just because the terrorist was trying to kill Americans.  Much thought went into how to capture Osama bin Laden.  Many Republicans, but also Democrats, belabored President Bill Clinton over the missile attack on a suspected Al Qaeda site in Khartoum, Sudan.  The evidence in the 9/11 Report suggests that the Clinton administration then slow-walked the investigation of the “Cole” bombing so that it wouldn’t be forced to do something that would lead to a further tide of abuse.  Attempts to kill Bin Laden in Afghanistan with cruise missiles failed because the diplomatic proprieties required the US Government to inform the government of Pakistan that the US would be flying cruise missiles across its territory.  This in spite of the fact that Pakistani intelligence had close ties to the Taliban government that was sheltering Bin Laden.

The response to the killing of Qassim Soleimani suggests that “Olympianism” has taken hold elsewhere.

Second, the war correspondent-turned historian Thomas Ricks has sought to explain the poor performance of the US Army in recent wars.  In his explanation, during the Second World War, Chief of Staff George Marshall and ruthless subordinates like Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley, transformed a sleepy, gerontocratic peacetime army into a devastatingly effective instrument of war.  They did so, in part, by getting rid of any commander who didn’t cut the mustard.  After George Marshall and his followers had passed on, the Army reverted to a cautious, self-protective rather than self-critical, bureaucracy.[2]  Generals don’t get fired, except for egregious personal misconduct—when it comes to public attention.

If Ricks is correct in his analysis, how should we understand the apparent lack of enthusiasm in the Pentagon for the strike at an Iranian leader who has been asserting his country’s influence throughout the Middle East at the expense of the United States?

Third, it seems unlikely that President Trump’s order to kill General Soleimani is going to have a worse outcome than the decision by the Bush II administration to invade Iraq or the decision by the Obama administration to overthrow the government of Libya.

[1] John Keegan, The Iraq War (2005), pp. 109, 115.

[2] Thomas E. Ricks, The Generals: American Military Command From World War II to Today (2012).  See also: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2015/08/10/command-crisis/

Get Carter.

The Report of the Inspector-General of the Department of Justice on the beginnings of the Russia investigation makes fascinating reading.  There’s a lot of information in it, even only in the Executive Summary.  So, like the Mueller Report, it will take some time to digest.  However, little bits and pieces are worth a quick look.

How did the “Crossfire Hurricane” team select targets?  A “ consensus among the “Crossfire Hurricane” agents and analysts … identified individuals associated with the Trump campaign who had recently traveled to Russia or had other alleged ties to Russia.” (p. iv.)  These individuals were George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and Michel Flynn.

“[I]mmediately after opening the investigation [31 July 2019], the Crossfire Hurricane team submitted name trace requests to other U.S. government agencies and a foreign intelligence agency, and conducted law enforcement database and open source searches, to identify individuals associated with the Trump campaign in a position to have received the alleged offer of assistance from Russia.”  (p. iv.)

In August 2016, the other agency [apparently the CIA] had informed the FBI that Page was approved as an “operational contact” of the other agency from 2008 to 2013; that Page had provided information about his past contacts with a Russian Intelligence Officer, and that an employee of the other agency had judged that Page had “candidly described his contact with” the Russian intelligence officer.  (p. ix.)

In late September 2016 the OI Attorney had specifically asked the case agent whether Carter Page had a current or prior relationship with the other agency. In response to that inquiry, the case agent advised the OI Attorney that Page’s relationship was “dated” (claiming it was when Page lived in Moscow in 2004-2007) and “outside scope.” This representation, however, was contrary to information that the other agency had provided to the FBI in August 2016, which stated that Page was approved as an “operational contact” of the other agency from 2008 to 2013 (after Page had left Moscow). Moreover, rather than being “outside scope,” Page’s status with the other agency overlapped in time with some of the interactions between Page and known Russian intelligence officers that were relied upon in the FISA applications to establish probable cause. Indeed, Page had provided information to the other agency about his past contacts with a Russian Intelligence Officer (Intelligence Officer 1), which were among the historical connections to Russian intelligence officers that the FBI relied upon in the first FISA application (and subsequent renewal applications)…. Thus, the FBI relied upon Page’s contacts with Intelligence Officer 1, among others, to support of its probable cause statement in the FISA application, while failing to disclose to OI or the FISC that” Page was candidly reporting on thee contacts to the other agency.  (p. ix.)

Thus the October 2016 FISA warrant application “Omitted information the FBI had obtained from another U.S. government agency detailing its prior relationship with Page, …” (p. viii.)

So, I don’t understand why Attorney General William Barr is so upset.  I can certainly see that the FBI and Department of Justice need to update their policies and procedure to prevent unintended errors like these from occurring again.

Just Typing Out Loud 9 December 2019.

First, the House of Representatives is going to impeach President Donald Trump.  The vote will be on a straight party line vote.  People shouldn’t make more of this than it deserves.  James Madison, in The Federalist, argued that the bad behavior of one group would be held in check by the bad behavior of the opposing group.  In short, this is how the Founders expected things to shake out.

Second, the Senate will try President Trump.

Third, they will acquit him him of all charges.  This will happen on a straight party line vote.  See above for an explanation.

There could be significant political fall-out from this trial.

On the one hand, the Republicans will have “gone loud” on Trump.  What if some new disaster of the president’s own making comes to light midstream?   What if the majority of American voters in November 2020 then decide  that they’ve had enough?  Not only will Trump be defeated, but so will Republicans in swing districts.

On the other hand, Democrats will have “gone loud” in impeachment when it was fated to lead to nothing.  Democrats and their media dog-whistlers will have made this the central issue in American politics during the Democratic primaries.   Whoever wins the nomination could be dragged down by this issue.  Or, perhaps, if enough Americans are persuaded by the trial testimony rather than by their established positions, then it will work against Trump and hos republican supporters.

On yet a third hand, former VP Joe Biden may be called to explain his “don’t ask, don’t tell” relationship with his son and his son’s choice of employment.

Hunter Biden may be called to explain his work on behalf of a  Ukrainian energy company when his business partner–Chris Heinz–wouldn’t go near it. “What has four wheels and flies”  A garbage truck.”–My Dad.

Ambassadors Marie Yovanovich and William Taylor may be asked–as they should have been if the House Republicans had any brains–if there was any discussion within the Embassy or between the Embassy and the State Department of Hunter Biden’s position with Burisma.  Were government officials concerned about his role and about any actions of the VPOTUS?

Then, what if Mitch McConnell decides to use the hearings to investigate the possible role of individual Ukrainians–rather than the Ukrainian government as a whole–in the 2016 election?  After all, Candidate Trump said many pro-Russian things during the campaign.  President Obama had denied “lethal” aid to Ukraine in the early stages of the Russo-Ukraine war.  Would a Trump victory lead to a cut-off of all aid?  (In the event, just the opposite happened, but there was no way for Ukrainians to know this before the fact.)  Might some of them have considered opposing Trump by transmitting secret information to the Americans?  Do politicians play be different rules in Ukraine than in the United States?

Then, the Republican are sure to cite the example of Iran-Contra: a president accused of crimes, but never subjected to impeachment.  Peggy Noonan already raised this question in today’s Wall Street Journal.   Sometimes a scandal is only a scandal, rather than grounds for impeachment.

Then, , a prolonged trial might “dirty up” Joe Biden, while trapping Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in Washington during important elements of the Democratic primary season.  For that matter, it might give free rein to Senator Kamala Harris’s cross-examination “skills.”  Meanwhile, Michael Bloomberg will stand above the fray.

Where will we be when this ends?  I’m just trying to see this from the opposing points of view here.

Democrats may be further enraged.  First the Trump-Russia “collusion” (John Podesta’s term I think, rather than Donald Trump’s) goes into the ground.  Then the Biden-Ukraine corruption thing goes into the ground.

Republicans may be further enraged.  First, there was the Democratic and media “with-hunt” in anticipation of the findings of the Mueller Report.  Second, there was the impeachment-looking-for-a-cause movement that fastened on the imperfect telephone call.

Another election is looming.

“I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.”–Thomas Jefferson.

 

 

 

Memoirs of the Addams Administration 5 December 2019.

  1. If Trump had a legitimate interest in repressing Ukrainian corruption–of which there is a great deal if we are to believe Transparency International–he would have sicced the Justice Department on the task. He didn’t. He set his personal pit-bull (if that doesn’t give offense to pit-bulls) on it.
  2. Hunter Biden has a chequered past, but–for some reason that is probably easily explained–a Ukrainian oligarch appointed him to the board of his company when Joe Biden was VPOTUS. Roughly, Hunter made as much in a month as I make in a year. The purpose wasn’t to enlist Joe Biden as a protector; it was to scare off Ukrainian prosecutors, who are mostly oligarchs-in-the-making.
  3. Intellectually at least, it is possible to distinguish between asking for an investigation of the involvement of Ukrainians–not the government as a whole–in the 2016 US election AND asking for an investigation of the Bidens. The latter is clearly wrong and probably illegal (although, thank God, I’m not a lawyer).
  4. In Politico and then in the New York Times, Kenneth Vogel has laid out a possible chain of connections between individual–but powerful and interested–Ukrainians and the Democrats in the 2016 campaign. These deserve to be investigated. They are fundamentally different from allegations about lost servers or “Crowdstrike.” They are at the heart of Republican Congressmen’s objections.  I have wondered if this is the origin of the decision to hire a law firm hire a consulting firm to hire Christopher Steele to investigate Donald Trump’s Russia connections. Did they investigate ONLY Trump’s Russia connections, rather than all his international dealings? If so, why?
  5. Commentators have explained away Adam Schiff’s management of the Intelligence Committee hearings by comparing them to a grand jury. But, as someone wise once said, “A good DA could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.” (See Nancy Pelosi: “A glass of water could get elected in Brooklyn if it said it was a Democrat.” Or words to that effect.)
  6. Normally, but it is so rare that maybe there is no “normal,” impeachment hearings are carried out in the House Judiciary Committee. Why did Mrs. Pelosi assign the heavy lifting to Adam Schiff, rather than to Jerry Nadler? OK, that’s and extraneous question, unless Pelosi thinks that Nadler wasn’t up to the work.
  7. Actually, it is pretty significant that the career professionals in the military and the State Department have “issues” with President Trump. This can’t just be dismissed as “bureaucrats of the Deep State.” OTOH, I haven’t read much about equivalent figures at the Treasury or Commerce Departments kicking back. Why is that?
  8. Donald Trump is a pretty appalling person. Leaving aside his persona and behavior—but how can one?—he has sent the United States down some wrong roads. Climate change most of all, but also dealing with the weenies in NATO.  OTOH, he was correct to confront the Peoples Republic of China over its trade practices; he was right to talk to the nut with the nuclear missiles and a bad haircut in North Korea; he was right to lean on the NATO allies to ante up, given the supposedly growing Russian danger in Europe; he was right to put the clutch down on the torrent of rules, regulations, and executive orders from the White House during the period when President Obama did not have a majority in either house of the Congress; and he was right to bring the US corporate tax to international norms.
  9. IF this goes to the Senate, THEN expect Hunter and Joe Biden, and Adam Schiff(under oath), and the “Whistleblower” to be called to testify in open session (with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as “judges” for month after month).  Also, Alexandra Chalupa, and the guy who liased between the Democrats and Ukrainian informants.

Four Eyes 3 December 2019.

How come you can’t see as well as do other people?  ‘Cause you’re near-sighted.  How come you’re near-sighted?  It’s because your eyes got mushed out of shape.  Why did your eyes get mushed out of shape?  “Cause you read a lot: there’s a strong correlation between short-sightedness and IQ.  Read a lot, do well on tests.  “Gentlemen don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.”   Why not?  ‘Cause smart women scare stupid guys, that’s why.

How long has this been going on?  Probably since the dawn of mankind.[1]  People invented “lenses” to improve vision as early as 700 BC.  This was pragmatic: they didn’t understand the science or the causes of failed vision, but they had some idea what to do about it.

So, what happened to people with bad vision in the many days ago?  They got treated as blind.  “Blind” actually is a relative term: even today only about 10 percent of people classified as “blind” can see nothing at all.  So, before glasses, there were a lot of “blind” people. The best you could hope for was bumping into things and getting yelled at by your sister-in-law.  (OTOH, you couldn’t see Thomas Kinkade paintings.)  Worse stuff could happen.  (See: Breughel, “Parable of the Blind” with everyone pitching into a ditch; see: “Old Blind Pew” in Treasure Island, trampled to death by the horses of the revenue men while he tap-tap-taps with his stick along the road outside the Admiral Benbow Inn.)

In 1263 the Medieval English polymath Roger Bacon mentioned that people were using “lenses” to improve their weak sight.  What he meant were glass spheres that had been cut in half.  In 1286 somebody[2] in northern Italy—who is a lot more important to me than is Columbus—invented spectacles.

Then, in 1604, Johannes Kepler, who also was interested in astronomy, got interested in optics.  Kepler figured out that concave lenses correct for near-sightedness and convex lenses correct for far-sightedness.  Things moved ahead fast in the Seventeenth Century.

In the late Eighteenth Century, Philadelphia became the center of progress on optical enhancement in America.[3]  Diagnosis and prescription were pretty rough-and-ready, but people were so glad to be able to see anything at all that they didn’t complain.

In 1843 somebody had the bright idea of making a whole bunch of different lenses and packing them into a diagnostic case for spectacle-makers so that they could figure out what was right for each individual.  In 1862 Hermann Snellen invented the eye-chart to measure vision.  (Ever since old people have been memorizing FELOPZD to fool the DMV.)  In 1888 the first contact-lenses were made.  Then along came Henry Ford and his Model-T car.  Lots of people took to the roads, but many of them couldn’t see very well.  Personal injury attorneys loved this, but a bunch of people thought drivers should have to take a vision test.  In 1938 came plastic contact lenses; in 1952 came the first soft contact lenses, but the Food and Drug Administration did not approve their sale until 1971.

Ignacio Barraquer (1884-1965), a Catalan-Spanish doctor, invented most of modern cataract surgery.  His son Jose Barraquer (1916-1998), a Spanish-Columbian doctor, and Svyatoslav Fyodorov (1927-2000), a Russian doctor, invented what we think of as Lasik surgery.

[1] Do dogs and cats and fish get near-sighted?  Probably, but then they get eaten.  So, the genetic element doesn’t get passed along.

[2] We do not know his/her name.  Every over-muscled moron in the Super Bowl gets a jeweled ring, but we don’t know who invented eye-glasses.  Zoro-H-Aster!

[3] You didn’t get people complaining about how unfair it was, how people were altering Nature’s plan, how it would lead children astray, or saying that people should get rid of their yellow Benjamin Franklin bracelets.