Belmont Club

Belmont Club

The Great Lamplighter

May 26th, 2015 - 5:57 pm

News that efficient fast-food robots are entering the market have sent shudders through advocates of a guaranteed minimum wage.  What’s the sense of aiming for a career in flipping burgers if those jobs are poised to go the way of buggy-whip makers and slide-rule manufacturers? Technological innovation is menacing employment.  Salon warns that  ”robots are coming for your job: Amazon, McDonald’s and the next wave of dangerous capitalist ‘disruption’”

In the United States and other advanced economies, the major disruption will be in the service sector—which is, after all, where the vast majority of workers are now employed. This trend is already evident in areas like ATMs and self-service checkout lanes, but the next decade is likely to see an explosion of new forms of service sector automation, potentially putting millions of relatively low-wage jobs at risk.

San Francisco start-up company Momentum Machines, Inc., has set out to fully automate the production of gourmet-quality hamburgers. … While most robotics companies take great care to spin a positive tale when it comes to the potential impact on employment, Momentum Machines co-founder Alexandros Vardakostas is very forthright about the company’s objective: “Our device isn’t meant to make employees more efficient,” he said. “It’s meant to completely obviate them.”

Change never stops and its effects work in both directions. The Left had been poised to leverage the fact that while fast-food workers entered the industry young, they aged like everyone else. ” Nearly 90 percent of fast food workers are twenty or older, and the average age is thirty-five. Many of these older workers have to support families—a nearly impossible task at a median wage of just $8.69 per hour.” So far, so good.  But what time giveth, it also taketh away. Now, after strikes in 50 US cities had put the minimum wage movement on the verge of triumph, “disruptive capitalism” has come along to eliminate the jobs themselves.

But automation will not stop at replacing burger flippers.  Its insidious fingers are reaching into every corner.  Robert Kuttner of the American Prospect noted that “robots have indeed eliminated a great deal of factory work and are rapidly moving on to product design, medical diagnostics, research, teaching, accounting, translating, copy editing, and a great deal more. Once-secure professions are no longer safe. From that, many economists conclude that we may just have to adjust to a high plateau of unemployment.” Unlike Salon, Kuttner believes jobs will simply be displaced into tasks where humans have a competitive advantage.  Flipping burgers is a terrible waste of a mind anyway, he argues.  The “invisible hand” will guide them to a higher use of their time.

This story [of universal unemployment] is mostly malarkey. Not the automation part; technological displacement of human work is indeed accelerating.

The part that is malarkey is the assumption that high rates of human unemployment must necessarily result. They will indeed result if we trust “the invisible hand” to do the transition.

But the “invisible hand” is often less powerful than the visible one. The late Nobel Prize winning Harvard economist Wassily Leontief noted that if horses could vote the government would never have allowed the rise of the motor car industry in the early years of the 20th century. One place where horses don’t vote is China, maybe because people don’t vote there either.

The Chinese are embracing automation with a fervor that would put fast-food chains to shame. “The robotics industry is on the cusp of revolutionizing the way business is conducted in China; and the world. With China expected to have the most industrial robots operating in production plants worldwide by 2017,” writes China Briefing.

The Chinese government is pushing forward with robotic research, and leading foreign robot manufacturers are their main focus. With demand rising, Chinese manufacturers will be looking to acquire foreign companies to speed up development through the use of imported technological knowledge and materials – something that China is currently lacking….

Currently, the automotive industry is the most prominent industry for robotics in China, claiming 40% of robots in operation. The next big industry to follow will be electronics, but the adoption of robotics is constantly increasing and has expanded into the aerospace, healthcare, railway, energy, consumer durables, apparel and jewelry industries. The automation of China’s production plants is still in the beginning stages, but is expected to double within the next three years (from 200,000 units today to more than 400,000 units) – surpassing Europe and North America. …

Over the past five years, companies in China have adopted the use of robots to combat worker shortages, rising wages, increase efficiency and to cut production costs. The ratio of industrial robots to workers in China is still relatively low, but that is swiftly changing. China has been long known as a source of low-cost manual labor, but as the cost of automation drops and wages increase, industrial automation is looking increasingly attractive. Wages have been increasing at a rate of 10% annually over the past decade while the cost of robot production has been decreasing by 5% year on year over the same period.

While Americans are working to set minimum wages, ironically the Red Chinese are working to abolish them. In time this may reverse the current relative reliance on labor. China is choosing to become an automated economy while the West is determined to reinvent itself as legally-mandated labor intensive society. The Chinese vision is a Jetson-like future.  The Western future is one of spinning wheels, bicycles and craft beer.  Thus, one of Leontief’s predictions about international trade may come true, but with the roles of the First and Third Worlds reversed. He wrote that jobs would move to where the technology was, assuming that the technology would remain in the US and Europe.


Faith of Our Fathers

May 25th, 2015 - 2:09 am

Sammy Ketz of Agence France Press says that Syria is about to throw in the towel. “Weakened by years of war, Syria’s government appears ready for the country’s de facto partition, defending strategically important areas and leaving much of the country to rebels and jihadis, experts and diplomats say.”

People close to the regime talk about a government retreat to “useful Syria.”

“The division of Syria is inevitable. The regime wants to control the coast, the two central cities of Hama and Homs and the capital Damascus,” one Syrian political figure close to the regime said.

“The red lines for the authorities are the Damascus-Beirut highway and the Damascus-Homs highway, as well as the coast, with cities like Latakia and Tartous,” the political figure added, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The coastal Latakia and Tartous provinces are strongholds of the regime, and home to much of the country’s Alawite community, the sect of Assad.

Damascus still controls 50% of the country but 40% is in the hands of al-Qaeda/ISIS forces, with 10% going to the Kurds.  The rebels have the momentum. The Mahgreb and Orient Courier has a map showing how much Assad’s perimeter, shown in pink, has shrunk in the last year. It’s obvious that the rebels can cut the Assad regime in two if it succeeds in thrusting over the mountains north of Damascus.

The Fall of Assad

The Fall of Assad

Assad’s fall can provide the Obama administration with a chance to claim its first victory in the region, if it can claim the laurels from the bloody hands of ISIS and its Sunni state allies.  The strategic possibilities of a Assad’s defeat and the consequent humiliation of Iran were laid out in a Stratfor report in July, 2012.  The collapse of the Damascus regime would be a victory of policy because  Obama set out to topple Assad as he set out to topple Khadaffy.

“The United States, France and other European countries have opposed his regime,” Stratfor says, “Russia, China and Iran have supported it, each for different reasons.” The goal of China and Russia, according to Stratfor, was to encourage the US to bleed itself out trying to contain Iran. The goal of Iran was simply to expand.  If Assad falls, China and Russia “lose” along with Iran.

The Russians and Chinese clearly understood that if this [Iranian expansion] had happened, the United States would have had an intense interest in undermining the Iranian sphere of influence — and would have had to devote massive resources to doing so. Russia and China benefitted greatly in the post-9/11 world, when the United States was obsessed with the Islamic world and had little interest or resources to devote to China and Russia. With the end of the Afghanistan war looming, this respite seemed likely to end. Underwriting Iranian hegemony over a region that would inevitably draw the United States’ attention was a low-cost, high-return strategy.

The Chinese primarily provided political cover, keeping the Russians from having to operate alone diplomatically. They devoted no resources to the Syrian conflict but did continue to oppose sanctions against Iran and provided trade opportunities for Iran. The Russians made a much larger commitment, providing material and political support to the al Assad regime.

But as Assad began to fold the wily Russians decided to cut their losses, leaving the Iranians holding the bag. Moscow slowly tiptoed toward the exit to await events. “It seems the Russians began calculating the end for the regime some time ago. Russia continued to deliver ammunition and other supplies to Syria but pulled back on a delivery of helicopters.”  Putin has already crawled out from under the wreck.


The Ordinary Life of the World

May 23rd, 2015 - 5:04 am

In one sense the Magna Carta was an attempt to restrain the powerful nobles of the period who were bringing ruin on the countryside through war and high-handed behavior. “First drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury to make peace between the unpopular King and a group of rebel barons, it promised the protection of church rights, protection for the barons from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on feudal payments to the Crown, to be implemented through a council of 25 barons.”

As an instrument it didn’t work, at least not until history had found a winner. “Neither side stood behind their commitments, and the charter was annulled by Pope Innocent III, leading to the First Barons’ War.”  But after the English Civil War the Charter was resurrected as political myth and many of its ideas became incorporated into the US Constitution, the most important of which are that the most basic laws are restraints upon the powerful in order to keep them out of mischief.

More recently the tragic experience of the First and Second World Wars renewed interest in the concept of restraining nations through international law in order to avoid such mischief again.  The huge human cost of 20th century conflicts made it apparent that world leaders were apt to get themselves into trouble unless they were bound to a certain code of behavior. To a certain extent “international law”, like the Magna Carta, is more of a political myth then enforceable statute, but it sort of, kind of worked for as long as the international system’s most powerful members clamped down on the misbehaving countries within the international system.

International law has emerged from an effort to deal with conflict among states, since rules provide order and help to mitigate destructive conflict. It is developed in a number of ways. …

Perhaps the first question to ask is whether in fact international law is law at all. The primary distinction between domestic and international law is that the latter often lacks an enforcement mechanism. There is no government to enforce the law, as there is in domestic situations. ….

Despite all of this, international law is often followed. This can be attributed in part to Great Power backing, but also much of international law is based on customary practice. International law may be enforced by states taking unilateral action if it is in their interest or through multilateral measures where sufficient consensus exists. Reciprocity can play a role, as benefits in other areas may be gained from following laws. In addition to ad hoc efforts to enforce international laws, a number of formal courts have been established for that purpose.

But the current elites forgot that the post-War institutions were meant to restrain them, not to exalt them and we’re in trouble again.


Mosul vs Ramadi

May 20th, 2015 - 7:55 pm

ISIS’ attack on Ramadi has apparently derailed the planned Iraqi government offensive on Mosul.  Some pundits have even suggested Ramadi’s fall proves  it was an American strategic mistake to set its sights on Mosul, implcitly suggesting that Ramadi was the correct critical point.  But rarely is the logic behind the debate explained.  Where should the emphasis have been?

Yet an examination of the respective arguments for Mosul or Ramadi brings into focus as perhaps nothing else does the respective priorities of the combatants.  If one understands why one city is regarded as more important then one also understands what the parties in Syrian civil war and the conflict in Iraq have been up to.

The best place to begin is a map.  The one below (which you can click on to expand) shows the current situation on the ground.  Dark brown marks the area controlled by ISIS.  The areas shaded green are Kurdish.  As can be readily seen, Mosul, which is at 12 o’clock on the map relative to Baghdad, represents the end-point of what can call the “northern strategy”.  Mosul, especially the Mosul dam, controls the headwaters of the great rivers and sits at the junction of the Syrian, Turkish and Iranian borders.  It is where the uplands passes descend upon the plain. Ramadi, on the other hand represents the “western strategy”.  Ramadi is the road to the Western desert and to Anbar.

The Syria/Iraq Theater

The Syria/Iraq Theater

It is easy to see why American planners would choose Mosul as the primary objective.  Taking Mosul would put Baghdad back in control of their northern borders.  It would obviate the danger that the Mosul dams would be blown,  flooding the great rivers, bringing ruin to the floodplain downstream of Baghdad.  It would open a supply route to the Kurds, secure access to the oil refineries and wells of the north.  It would provide a place where a Sunni population that did not want to live under ISIS could inhabit. Above all, it would connect Iraq along the axis of the rivers, creating the minimum territory required for Iraq to remain Iraq without being obviously partitioned. Anthony Cordesman stated this obvious point when he wrote:

the areas ISIS holds in the north are far more populated than Anbar in the southwest, and largely by Arab Sunnis that have sharply competing claims from the Iraqi Kurds. … Mosul and Ninewa, not Ramadi and Anbar, are the strategic prize that is the key to Iraqi unity, and creating some form of federalism that gives Iraq’s Sunnis status and security. …

The defeat at Ramadi should not have happened, but the war to save Iraq will be won in Mosul

Cordesman’s logic seems unassailable. Ramadi is the gateway to empty desert.  Surely Mosul is the correct objective.  But before you make up your mind forget Iraq for a moment and think about the situation without the artificiality of borders. Look at Syria and Iraq together. The area in purple-gray is the nucleus of the state ISIS wants to build. The area in violet to the south is what the government in Baghdad is trying to hold. The yellowish areas are Kurdish.


The Road to Damnation

May 19th, 2015 - 4:50 am

The Washington Post’s editorial on the unfolding catastrophe in Iraq has the quality of a man mumbling after waking from a dream — or a nightmare.  Written by the editorial board it begins by repeating a falsehood. Perhaps not a deliberate one, but a falsehood all the same.

It has been apparent for some time that the United States lacks a strategy to fulfill President Obama’s pledge to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State since it has no plan to root out the terrorists’ base in Syria. There was hope, though, that Mr. Obama’s half-measures might be enough to blunt the Islamic State’s advances in Iraq, leaving the Syria problem for the next U.S. president. With the stunning fall of Ramadi on Sunday, even that modest optimism is questionable.

This falsehood is so basic that it needs to be fixed. It should read: “President Obama began a course of action at the start of his term to leave Iraq and Syria to their fates.  He hoped the fallout of this action might be blunted until the next US president could be stuck with it.  Now, with the stunning fall of Ramadi, ISIS is presenting the president in advance with the logical consequence of his strategic decision.”

Having fixed the foundational idea, it is easy to understand the rest of the Washington Post’s editorial in the proper light:

“ISIL is on the defensive, and ISIL is going to lose,” Mr. Obama declared on Feb. 11, using an acronym for the Islamic State. “We’ve seen reports of sinking morale among ISIL fighters as they realize the futility of their cause.” …

But U.S. airstrikes late last week proved powerless to block a sophisticated Islamic State offensive to capture Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province 80 miles west of Baghdad. Once again, the Islamist terrorists are slaughtering captives and sending civilians fleeing in fear. Once again, they have seized U.S. military equipment, including about 30 vehicles the government sent into Ramadi the day before its fall. Once again, in the absence of more intensive help from the United States, the Iraqi government is turning to Shiite militia and the Iranian armed forces that support them. Iran’s defense minister, Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehqan, flew into Baghdad on Monday.

The Shiite militia cannot save Iraq, as its Shiite prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, well understands. Anbar is Iraq’s Sunni heartland, and many of its residents will regard the militia with as much or more fear than they feel for the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State. But Mr. Obama will not permit U.S. trainers to work with Iraqi forces on the ground or send U.S. spotters to make airstrikes more useful.

The president was never going to defeat ISIS, because that would require what he will not do. Despite the Post’s belated exhortations, America won’t come back to Iraq. If Baghdad pulls it together, it will be a minor miracle. But it doesn’t look like it. One hundred thousand refugees are reported on the road to Baghdad, fleeing the house-to-house reprisals of ISIS and running straight into the hands of waiting bloodthirsty Shi’ite militias.

Behind the tide of misery is the Islamic state, now in control of a supply route running from Syria to the Baghdad. “This is a very big threat to Baghdad. If [ISIS] controls Ramadi and Anbar, it gives them a big morale boost,” Iraqi General Najim Abed al-Jabouri told The Daily Beast. “The road between Syria and Ramadi is open, so they can always send more fighters to Ramadi.” The capital, consumed with suspicion and hatred, waits in suspense for the assault, unable to trust itself with guns, unable to unify its strategy. Jacob Siegel of the Daily Beast reports:

The Sunni force to retake Mosul has not been built yet. The force to take back Ramadi exists, but it needs weapons, ammo, and more important, Baghdad’s willingness to trust it enough not to disarm it afterward. It may also need Iran’s approval.

The Iranians are running the show now. Obama is out the game. He’s benched himself. This basic fact must be grasped if anything is to make sense. America’s forlorn tribal allies in the the western reaches are making a last plea for help, as if Michael Jordan could still re-enter the match and turn the tide with 3 pointers from way out.  But Michael’s retired now.  He’s not coming back.

A Sunni sheikh from Iraq’s besieged Anbar province is meeting with U.S. lawmakers and administration officials this week to ask the U.S. government to arm and train Sunni tribes to repel militant advances. Sheikh Abdalrazzaq Hatem al-Sulayman said in an interview that he could rally thousands of Sunnis in Anbar to fight Islamic State, or ISIS, but they lack both resources and expertise.

The collapse in the Middle East feels like Black April, 1975, the month South Vietnam fell. And it should, because just as the collapse of Saigon did not happen in Black April, but in a political American decision to allow South Vietnam to fall after a “decent interval”, so also is the ongoing collapse rooted, not in the recent tactical mistakes of the White House, but in the grand strategic decision president Obama made when he assumed office.


Fighting Entropy Part 2

May 17th, 2015 - 8:37 pm

The reason the press has been trying to corner interviewees into “admitting” that George Bush made erred in toppling Saddam Hussein is the need to reassure themselves that catastrophe in the Middle East isn’t really their fault.  The constant need to be told it’s not their doing is a form of denial. The more certain they are of their blunder the more they will need to tell themselves that the sounds they hear aren’t the footfalls of doom.

Because the alternative is to admit the truth and accept that to reverse the tide, 20th century Western liberalism has to die or radically reform itself. None of the people who have built political and establishment media credentials want to hear that, but all the same …

Putin is preparing anew offensive in the summer.  Aden is under siege. Syria has returned to using chemical weapons and the Christian Science Monitor’s editorial board says its time to face the fact that very soon the country will implode.  China is pushing into the South China Sea.  ISIS has routed security forces in Ramadi who are fleeing pell-mell leaving large quantities of US supplied weapons to swell the armories of the jihad, as Hugh Naylor of the Washington Post reports.

The fall of Ramadi represented a huge victory for the Islamic State and dealt a profound blow to Iraq’s U.S.-backed government, led by Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, and its military campaign to drive the extremist group out of the war-torn country. Just 24 hours before, officials in Baghdad announced that military reinforcements had been dispatched to defend the city, capital of Iraq’s largest province, against a brutal assault that began on Thursday.

But by Sunday, even the roads to Baghdad, 80 miles to the east, appeared vulnerable to the militant advance.

“Ramadi has fallen,” Muhannad Haimour, a spokesman for the Anbar governor told the Associated Press. “The city was completely taken…It was a gradual deterioration. The military is fleeing.”

The problem isn’t these things of themselves but the fact that nobody in the establishment seems to understand how to react to these and other challenges. As it is, no one knows where this retreat will end. Despite their outward bravado, American liberalism must suspect it could well finish, politically at least, in the New York Times’ newsroom.

ISIS is adapting very quickly and while liberalism is  adjusting not at all. Like the need for reassurances on Iraq, the more unsuccessful their projects become the more compelled they are to repeat them. Even now they must pretend that president Obama hasn’t given away the store to Iran in his nuclear negotiations.  But come on, they know that he has.

The last Belmont Club post asked: what can defeat ISIS? The answer is a civilization that can adapt faster than it; which can seize free energy more quickly than the current masters of the Jihad; a society that can seize the initiative and not simply be content to reactively “lead from behind”. That eliminates the Western status quo ideology, based on 1930s socialist ideology, from the running.  That’s never going to change.

Yet the only way to survive the challenges of the coming years is to change the existing political status quo.  The good news is that change is going to happen come what may.  The bad news is that the Left, because it is the most mobilized, will probably initiate it.


Fighting Entropy

May 17th, 2015 - 5:26 am

Most of us have watched movies where a mysterious threat attacks an unsuspecting community.  They may be vampires ravaging an Alaskan town or a blob-like being swallowing a town.  Typically the defenders, at first confident, are rapidly dismayed when they find that police firearms have little effect against the creatures.  With that realization the characters go from complacent to desperate in a few minutes of movie time until the hunted survivors are forced by desperation to try an outlandish theory from a crackpot who has a peculiar insight into the nature of the monsters.

Sometimes real life resembles a horror movie, as in the present instance when Westphalian states find to their surprise that the state-killing bullets in their arsenal can’t kill Islamic extremism.  Perhaps the epitome of such weapons is the precision guided missile-firing drone or its equivalent, the special forces raiding team directed by the signals intelligence wizardry of the NSA.  This targeted force is like Zeus’ thunderbolt;  it is inconceivably potent, almost unimaginably effective.  Surely such a thing can destroy what the president of the United States aims it at.

The United States has killed Saddam Hussein, Abu Mussab Al-Zarqawi, and Osama bin Laden.  It was instrumental in the death of  Imad Mughniyah. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the current head of ISIS, is probably lying crippled in some safe house never to walk again from the effects of a March 18, 2015 airstrike.  And now a US special operations team has killed one of the next in line, the chief of ISIS’ oil smuggling business, its “chief financial officer”, a Tunisian with the nom de guerre Abu Sayyaf.

A U.S. official with direct knowledge of the intelligence and the ground operation described Sayyaf as “CFO of all of ISIS with expertise in oil and gas” who played a increasing role in operations, planning and communications.

“We now have reams of data on how ISIS operates, communicates and earns its money,” the official told CNN, referring to some of the communications elements, such as computers, seized in the raid.

Now that America has put a bullet through the body, head and wallet surely all that is left is to watch ISIS die. SECDEF Ashton Carter believes they’ve dealt it a serious blow. But others are not so sure. “Michael Weiss, author of “ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror,” said Abu Sayyaf was largely unknown to close observers of the organization.” Killing him won’t hurt it any more than its been hurt before.

Weiss said he’s skeptical the United States would risk lives to capture the head of ISIS’s oil operations. ISIS hasn’t made significant money from captured oil fields since U.S. bombers began striking its infrastructure, he said.

A Pentagon spokesman confirmed in February that oil is no longer a main source of revenue for ISIS.

“It may be the case that he wasn’t the primary target in this operation,” Weiss said. “The U.S. might have been trying to kill or capture a higher-value ISIS leader who was thought to be at the same location. But it’d make sense to play up Abu Sayyaf’s prominence after the fact since U.S. soldiers’ lives were at risk here.”

But like the monster in the movie, it’s taken “three billion electro-volts of energy and it’s still coming on”!  Why have none of the previous heavy blows slowed ISIS or any of the affiliated rebel groups down?  Why is the jihadi organism inexplicably resistant to leadership disruptions, whether caused by drone strikes or the murderous work of rivals from other factions? How can it stand against the Olympian thunderbolt? This is an important question to answer.

It’s resistant because it is not a state.


ISIS in Ramadi: Like the Tet 1968?

May 16th, 2015 - 3:46 am

If Syria is — in the words of Al Arabiya’s Washington correspondent Nadia Bilbassy — likely to be remembered as Obama’s Rwanda, will the ISIS offensive now underway in Iraq go down as the president’s Tet?  Their attack on the city of Ramadi caught the media by surprise and the first reports coming out of the city were tinged with an alarm born of shock.

(CNN)The months-long fight for the key central Iraqi city of Ramadi now appears to be going ISIS’s way, with the Islamist extremist group capturing police headquarters, the Ramadi Great Mosque and even raising its trademark black flag over the provincial government building, sources said.

The ISIS push began Thursday, with armored bulldozers and at least 10 suicide bombings used to burst through gates and blast through walls in Ramadi, according to a security source who has since left the city. Dozens of militants followed them into the city center. …

“There will be good days and bad days in Iraq,” State Department acting deputy spokesman Jeff Rathke said. ISIS “is trying to make today a bad day in Ramadi.”

The shock was not dissipated by the assurances offered by the Obama administration. Robert Burns of the Associated Press filed a skeptical report that could have come straight out of the press coverage of Vietnam. He as much as ridiculed the administration’s explanation that the attack was a flash in the pan.

Despite major new setbacks in Iraq, the U.S. military command leading the fight against Islamic State militants insisted Friday that its strategy is working and that the militants’ takeover of a key oil refinery and a government compound are fleeting gains feeding an IS propaganda machine.

“We believe across Iraq and Syria that Daesh is losing and remains on the defensive,” said Marine Brig. Gen. Thomas D. Weidley, chief of staff for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, the name of the international campaign fighting IS. “Daesh” is the Arabic acronym for the militant group that swept into Iraq from Syria last June and swiftly took control of much of Iraq’s north and west.

Even as Weidley spoke to reporters by phone from his headquarters in Kuwait, IS militants were defying his description of them as a force on defense. Iraqi officials said IS fighters had captured the main government compound in Ramadi, the capital of battle-scarred Anbar province. Other officials said they had gained substantial control over the Beiji oil refinery, a strategically important prize in the battle for Iraq’s future and a potential source of millions of dollars in income for the militants.

The battle to push IS out of Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq, which some had hoped would begin this spring, now seems a more distant goal.

Even if the administration sincerely believed ISIS was losing,  the situation was still serious enough to prompt Vice President Joe Biden to call the Iraqi prime minister to promise more weapons, especially AT-4s which can stop VBIEDs in their tracks. Still the question remains: is the sky falling or is General Weidley right when he says ISIS’ “advances were minor and unsustainable”.

The NVA gains during the Tet offensive were also minor and unsustainable from a strictly military point of view.  The offensive was a catastrophe but a PR victory for Hanoi. Giap’s forces sustained over 45,000 KIA vs 4,000 from the US-South Vietnamese side. But North Vietnam’s center of gravity wasn’t the allied armies on the ground, it was Lyndon Johnson’s will to win.  They may have lost the fight in Hue, but they won the narrative in the New York Times and CBS News.

Could ISIS be trying the same stunt? As the Institute of War points out, ISIS is attacking across the front.  They are guided by a strategic objective where  Ramadi is but a piece of the puzzle.

The TOW Missile in Syria

May 15th, 2015 - 7:23 am

One of the more ambiguous symbols of the road not taken in Syria is the belated appearance of BGM-71 TOW missile in Free Syrian Army hands.  The weapons first came to the media’s attention in 2014. “Administration officials are keeping quiet about the TOW missiles. But Frederic Hof of the Atlantic Council says the appearance of American anti-tank missiles in Syria seems to represent a shift in thinking for the Obama administration. Hof was US special envoy for Syria in 2012.”

“It’s a belated acknowledgment on the part of the United States that what’s left of the nationalist armed opposition inside Syria really needs some assistance,” Hof says.

In other words, the so-called moderate opposition forces in Syria that the Obama adminstration says it supports now have their backs against the wall. And the White House might be trying to throw them a lifeline. …

Amr al-Azm is an associate professor at Shawnee State University and he’s also a member of the Syrian opposition. He agrees that the appearance of US-made anti-tank weapons in Syria signals a shift in American policy. But he doubts that the Obama administration wants to help the rebels actually topple Bashar al-Assad’s government.

“For the US, the dilemma has always been how to bring the Assad regime to serious negotiations without damaging it to the point where it collapses,” Azm says. By most accounts, the current situation is not looking good for Syria’s rebels.

“I think the US administration is essentially trying to shift things back to the stalemated position,” Azm says.

Part of the reason for the administration’s reluctance to back a side is the uncertainty over who is really working for whom. Thomas Jocelyn of the Long War Journal says the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, claims it using the TOW missiles for itself and has released a number of videos showing them in action. The missiles are mind-bogglingly effective.


Compassion fatigue may finally be setting in.  David Cameron’s newly elected conservative government is planning to repeal the “1998 Human Rights Act [which] had the effect of extending the protections listed in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into domestic UK law” and replacing it with all British legislation.  Everyone on the left, including the Scottish National Party, has vowed to oppose Cameron, believing — rightly — that it would drive a stake through the legal edifice the progressives have so carefully constructed.

But Cameron probably senses which way the political wind is blowing.  The strong turnout of UKIP, which polled twice as many voters as SNP, is an indicator that many voters have had it up to their necks with human rights. And it’s not just the Europeans.

Thomas Fuller of the New York Times notes that thousands of Muslim Rohiyngya refugees are sailing the Andaman Sea looking for a country to take them, but no one will. Not even, probably especially not, Muslim countries.

A wooden fishing boat carrying several hundred migrants from Myanmar was spotted adrift in the Andaman Sea on Thursday, part of an exodus in which thousands of people have taken to the sea in recent weeks but no country has been willing to take them in.

Cries of “Please help us! I have no water!” rose from the boat as a vessel carrying journalists approached. “Please give me water!” …

Their presence has created a regionwide crisis in Southeast Asia. Most were thought to be headed to Malaysia, but after more than 1,500 migrants came ashore in Malaysia and Indonesia in the past week, both countries declared their intention to turn away any more boats carrying migrants. Thai officials have not articulated an official policy since the crisis began, but Thailand is not known to have allowed any of the migrants to land there.

There’s a real possibility that the Southeast Asians are just going to let them die. Over by another narrow sea, the Mediterranean, just a stone’s throw from Europe, millions of Syrians have pretty much been given up for dead. Gas is once again being openly employed. It now appears clear that president Assad lied to Obama when he said he would surrender his chemical weapons. Such weapons and evidence of their use is becoming increasingly apparent, and international humanitarian organizations are urging Obama to draw a real “red line” this time, as Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt of the New York Times report.

If President Obama hoped that the danger of chemical warfare in the Middle East receded when Syria gave up tons of poison gas, mounting evidence that toxic weapons remain in the strife-torn country could once again force him to decide just how far he is willing to go to enforce his famous “red line.”

The discovery of traces of ricin and sarin in Syria, combined with the use of chlorine as a makeshift weapon in the country’s grinding civil war, undercut what Mr. Obama had viewed as a signal triumph of his foreign policy, the destruction of President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical arsenal.

But Mr. Obama appears no more eager to use military force against Mr. Assad’s government today than he was in 2013 when he abruptly called off a threatened airstrike in exchange for a Russian-brokered agreement in which Syria voluntarily gave up its chemical weapons. Instead, the Obama administration responded to reports of violations this time by seeking renewed assistance from Russia and exploring a new United Nations Security Council resolution addressing Syria’s continued use of chemicals as weapons.

“You’re dealing with a regime that is not very credible on weapons of mass destruction programs,” said Robert Ford, the Obama administration’s former ambassador to Syria. “No one should be surprised the regime didn’t declare all of its facilities. But the bad news in all of this is the regime is using chemical weapons regularly — even if not sarin gas now, they’re using chlorine gas regularly and they are not deterred from doing so.”