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The economy or the people? Or Is the cure worse than the virus?

 

President Trump said Tuesday during a Fox News virtual town hall that he wants the country’s economy re-opened by Easter amid questions over how long people should stay home and businesses should remain closed to slow the spread of coronavirus. Speaking from the Rose Garden alongside others on his coronavirus taskforce, Trump said he “would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.” The holiday this year lands on April 12.

The President also reiterated his argument that he doesn’t want “to turn the country off” and to see a continued economic downfall from the pandemic. “We lose thousands and thousands of people a year to the flu. We don’t turn the country off,” Trump said during the interview. He added: “We lose much more than that to automobile accidents. We don’t call up the automobile companies and say stop making cars. We have to get back to work.”

The President’s optimism of course is countered by all of the panic and anti-trump rhetoric of the media.  Have you heard the media report the praise for the actions of the president from unlikely leaders like the governors of California and New York?  Some of the closures are clearly the result of the panic created by the media.  The rest is truly to ease of contagion of the virus.

The president’s prediction that the U.S. economy would be up-and-running by Easter, however, is tempered by comments earlier in the day by top officials at the Pentagon who predicted the COVID-19 outbreak could last anywhere from 10 weeks to three months.

Trump’s thoughts about getting people back to work sets up a potential conflict with medical professionals, including many within his government, who have called for more social restrictions to slow the spread of the virus, not fewer.

For weeks now, millions of Americans have been practicing “social distancing” in an effort to “flatten the curve” of increasing Chinese Coronavirus infections. Governors in California and New York have issued “stay at home orders” and closed “non-essential” businesses in an effort to stem the growth of the illness. Other states have made similar or more limited declarations or are considering them.  Most states have ended the school year and are trying some form of remote education.  This would be more practical if every school child had a computer and every home had the internet.  (This will be the subject of a whole new article as I learn from the experience of our grandchildren.

While more than 40,000 Americans currently are infected with Chinese Coronavirus, hundreds of millions of others are suffering from the outbreak’s related effects. The U.S. economy is in shambles. The stock market has seen catastrophic losses. Out of an abundance of caution, millions of workers have been sent home. Thousands have been laid off. Restaurants and businesses have been shuttered, and many — especially small ones — may not re-open.

The negative financial impact of the shutdown/quarantine strategy gets worse every day. But are these widespread, but hopefully short-term, economic losses necessary? Will they avert a long-term economic crisis that could potentially kill hundreds of thousands?

As we come full circle from the Rose Garden’s hope of today about opening the country by Easter to the risk of opening the government prematurely maybe there is a compromise solution.

Some places like Wyoming and many of the other mid-western states have few cases of the virus.  Many locales in even New York have few cases.  Such an analysis of the country suggests that there are large pockets of minimal contamination.  Also we know that the vulnerable population groups are the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions.  Younger Americans my get the virus but the effects are minimal.  This suggests another way to dice who can go back to work—non-threatened folks.

It is only smart to continue to limit large gatherings but many other social interactions can be resumed in selected locales.

To me the biggest threat while living is Kansas is flying on commercial aircraft.  The airlines should use some of their stimulus money to devise methods of purifying the air inside their planes while they are in flight. 

Of course travel is one of the biggest threats to the selective isolation that I have suggested (age and locale) as the virus can be brought from one of the isolated pockets to a relatively clear zone.

As the country and its leadership struggle with the dilemma pointed out here it would be terribly helpful if the media could stop the hate Trump rhetoric and substitute a support for America theme—why not try telling folks what is good? Or be truly complete in its reporting—“New York City is out of certain needed items because the administration forgot to order them and the government has not been able to fill all of its needs yet.” “Areas critically impacted are in New York, where they did not cancel Lunar New year celebrations.” Complete and accurate reporting and positive stories about women in Kansas making facemasks for a local hospital would also be nice to hear.

I ask my readers to consider the closure of the society and the risks from that versus the closure of the economy and the much longer and possibly worse impact from that.  What is worse—some deaths from the virus or a depression?

Restructuring the Marine Corps

In the last several months the United States Marine Corps (USMC) has introduced a new vision for the structure of the Corps for 2030.  This Marine Corps 10-year restructuring is to align itself with the National Defense Strategy, but in doing so, in my mind, it risks ignoring the last 70 years of its history.

The commandant of the Corps is seeking to transition the Corps away from its two-decade-long focus on counter-insurgency and towards the international competition that the national strategy poses as the greatest threats in the future. However, the commandant and other Marine Corps leaders are announcing that as part of this transition, they would eliminate/greatly reduce capabilities for sustained ground combat.

For example, as it gears up to fight China in this anticipated period of great power competition, the USMC will trim the size of its F-35 Joint Strike Fighter squadrons and cut all of its tank battalions in the next 10 years. It is also greatly reducing its artillery depending on increased lethality and accuracy of the remaining tubes. These changes, part of the 2030 force design effort, come as a result of the Corps’ wargaming and analysis effort meant to inform what it needs to fight a near-peer threat in 2030. According to the outline, the Marine Corps will cut the “the Primary Aircraft Authorized” for both the F-35B and F-35C squadrons down to 10 aircraft from 16. Also in the next 10 years, the Marine Corps is planning for “complete divestments of Law Enforcement Battalions, Tank Battalions and associated Military Occupational Specialties (MOS), and all Bridging Companies.”  It will also greatly reduce its logistical support capability.  Finally, it is seeking to move into the longer range missile field, as we reported, rather than rely on the Army which is also moving in that direction.

There are two risks in this force structure revision.

  • The national command authorities will use the tools that they have available when a conflict arises. The Marine Corps they employ will not be dependent upon the Marine Corps’ capabilities or design at that time. The lack of diversity and flexibility in the capabilities to be applies could waste lives .This is not a new phenomenon. Look at the US Army that was deployed to Vietnam in the mid- 1960s.  It was designed to fight the Soviets on the plains of the Fulda Gap.
  • Why would the Corps want to be in a position where it cannot go to war without Army support for tanks, heavy firepower, logistics, and mobility? In short the changes undermine the Marine Corps’ expeditionary nature. The Army provides niche capabilities like psychological operations units and theater-wide logistics to all U.S. forces, not just the Marine Corps — the point is valid: The Marine Corps has been able to deploy and fight a wide variety of adversaries using its organic capabilities.

The Marine Corps should also avoid completely eliminating capabilities. Although the new guidance implies such eliminations, this creates gaps that might need filling in. Instead of creating these large gaps in capability the Corps should maintain in the Marine Corps Reserve an extensive toolkit as a hedge against an uncertain future. Traditionally, the Marine Corps reserves have been structured nearly identically to the active-duty force with a division, air wing, logistics group, and command headquarters. It is the only service that does this. The other services use the reserves to provide capabilities that are few or nonexistent in the active-duty force.

Thus, the Marine Corps could put capabilities into the reserves that don’t fit well with a western Pacific great-power strategy, but that would be needed for other kinds of campaigns. Using tanks as an example, the Marine Corps could reduce the number on active duty armored units to one company per division but keep an enhanced force of several battalion in the reserves. Personnel managers will whine that they cannot sustain the skill base with such a small active-duty community. The other services have figured out how to do this The Marine Corps can also.

Your thoughts?

New Howitzer Range

The Army’s improved Paladin 155 mm howitzer recently impressed officials at Yuma Proving Grounds.  The tests sent an improved projectile to an altitude of 50,000 feet and a distance of over 40 miles.  The goal is a range in excess of 60 miles.

Each armored or mechanized brigade includes a battalion of 18 such howitzers.  However brigades are currently hard pressed to acquire targets independently out to 60 miles away. This suggests that other changes need to follow in intelligence acquisition and overall doctrine of how divisions and brigades will fight the battle.

I would ask my readers for their ideas/suggestions on changes on doctrinal and equipment that the new artillery capability will necessitate. Let’s hear from you.

Extension of the New START Treaty?

A senior US State Department official told a seminar in London on 11 February that there remains time for Russia and the United States to work through processes for extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) that is due to expire in February 2021.  There are several extension possibilities in the treaty.

Rumors are that John Bolton wanted to try and lure China into a tri-lateral nuclear control agreement.  There are no rumors to date on what the president or his new National Security Adviser might be thinking.  I know from personal experience that time is actually short to decide to try for a treaty extension and then negotiate it.  Let alone add in the Chinese.  There has not been any evidence of the agencies—State, Defense, Energy, or Intelligence—manning up for such an effort.

The New START Treaty is the only strategic nuclear arms control agreement still existing between the United States and the Russian Federation. It was negotiated by the Obama administration and approved by the Senate. It limits both sides to no more than 1,550 strategic offensively deployed nuclear weapons on no more than 700 deployed launchers. Further, it provides the United States with access to and information about Russia’s nuclear arsenal and vice versa. Both signatories are reportedly fully complying with the agreement, as verified by the U.S. intelligence community.  The new nuclear capable missiles deployed by the Russians into Eastern Europe are not covered by the treaty.

The agreement entered into force in 2011 and will expire on February 5, 2021. However the agreement can be extended by executive agreement for up to five years, a step that would not require further Congressional approval. Both the Joint Chiefs and the U.S. intelligence community allegedly support such an extension. Russia, for its part, has repeatedly and unconditionally offered to extend the agreement.

The Trump administration has been in office more than three years and has yet to determine whether it is interested in extending the New START Treaty. It is easy to see the administration holding such a negotiation as a carrot for after the election.  This might attract more moderates and some Democrats to support Trump.  Conversely new allegations of the Russians meddling in the election and supporting Trump could dissuade the administration from offering such a negotiation lest it appear soft on the Russians.

It is in this context that one should consider any reports of interest by the US in negotiating a new broader multilateral strategic arms control agreement either independently or with both Russia and China. Some American military and security officials are reported to be eager to expand strategic conversations with Russia to protect American interests, and also right to want new and expanded strategic conversations with China, whose actions and capabilities pose growing military and security challenges to American interests in East Asia. Those that are eager feel that discussions are urgently needed to prevent conflicts and diffuse unnecessary tensions in volatile areas and develop new rules for our growing competition with these states.

Before going any further one must determine who the people are that are reported to be eager for such negotiations.  To carry the day in the Trump administration they must be completely without any swamp smell.

What are the arguments for such an extension of the existing agreement and then its expansion into a tri-lateral agreement? It is well known that Russia is developing new strategic nuclear systems, some of which would be covered under the New START if it remains intact. Allowing the agreement to expire or trying to expand it in an unrealistic way and in an unrealistic time frame means Russia would be free after 2021 to develop as many of these new systems as it chooses without any constraint or rights of American access. Of course the US would have the same rights, but in a deficit cutting world there might be strong voices to avoid another nuclear arms race.

There is also nothing that prevents the Trump administration from extending the current agreement and at the same time beginning negotiations on new ones with Russia, China, or both.

As we go forward we will keep an eye on this area as there is the potential for much to happen..

Deployment of small yield nuclear weapons

Barely noted in most news reports but this past week, the US Navy announced that it had tested a new missile known as the W76-2. The Washington Times reports that the W76-2 is a “submarine-launched, low-yield device designed to counter Russia’s arsenal of smaller missiles and to give the US. a way to retaliate in kind.”

A DOD spokesman noted that: “In the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, the department identified the requirement to ‘modify a small number of submarine-launched ballistic missile warheads’ to address the conclusion that potential adversaries, like Russia, believe that employment of low-yield nuclear weapons will give them an advantage over the United States and its allies and partners.” The spokesman continued: “[The W76-2] strengthens deterrence and provides the United States a prompt, more survivable low-yield strategic weapon; supports our commitment to extended deterrence; and demonstrates to potential adversaries that there is no advantage to limited nuclear employment because the United States can credibly and decisively respond to any threat scenario.”

The “Nuclear Posture Review,” referred to is a document that the Trump Administration put forth outlining its position on nuclear policy.  The Trump administration feels that  during the previous administrations, Russia, in particular, has made advancements in its weapon’s arsenal, while the United States has not, which has caused some to believe that Russia may have the upper hand in this area. The Nuclear Posture Review was meant to address this.

The thinking underlying this review reads very much like deterrence theory of the cold war. The W76-2 is one of the first publicly announced results of that document.  It reportedly gives America a way to combat the Russian advancements in low yield nuclear weapons. The thinking is that the deployment “strengthens deterrence and provides the United States a prompt, more survivable low-yield strategic weapon; supports our commitment to extended deterrence; and demonstrates to potential adversaries that there is no advantage to limited nuclear employment because the United States can credibly and decisively respond to any threat scenario.”

Proponents of the system believe the US needs a low-yield nuclear option in order to credibly counter Russia, which has invested heavily in a variety of nuclear systems in the last decade. Defense officials believe Russia would potentially use a smaller nuclear weapon in order to deter America from entering or extending a conflict, under the “escalate to deescalate” thinking; if the U.S. only has larger strategic weapons to retaliate with, it may hesitate.  This hesitation would give the Russians an advantage the advocates of this thinking believe.

Opponents of tit for tat deterrence doctrine question whether such a doctrine is realistic, and also argue that no nuclear system can truly be non-strategic. These opponents have raised concerns that having a low-yield and high-yield warhead able to be launched on the same submarine-launched missile creates a situation where an adversary doesn’t know which system is being used and therefore reacts as if the larger warhead has been launched.  This thinking makes the argument that a nuclear war can be limited to small yield exchanges questionable. Will an opponent wait until a war head detonates before acting?  Assuredly no!

In short this means that deterrence is strengthened because low yield nuclear weapons can be used and there is no need to escalate to larger yield weapons because we do not have a comparable small yield weapon. The logic is pure cold war deterrence theory and is potentially flawed.

Additional concerns are that this is the beginning of a new arms race.  An arms race that cannot be tempered by an arms control agreement.  How does one verify yield of a nuclear weapon. In the past nuclear arms control agreements have focused on delivery vehicles (planes, and different kinds of missiles)…  These are things that can be seen and counted.  Warhead yield is quite another issue.

The deterrence theory argued above and the inability to control warhead yield give me pause.  In arguing that smaller war head yield supports deterrence one can imagine the same argument for huge yields enhancing deterrence.  Being able to limit a nuclear war has its advantages, but any nuclear war must be considered a catastrophic event.

Army–Navy (and USMC) roles and missions vice system conflict

As we previously reported on 20 October, “the Army is looking at extending the range of its Precision Strike Missile to 800 KM.  This come following the dissolution of the INF Treaty which had limited ground based missile ranges to 500 KM.  The Army’s Precision Fires Cross-functional team will ill conduct its first flight tests from two competitor companies before the end of the year.  After the tests the Army will talk to the competitors about pursuing the extended ranges.”

This range extension is specifically oriented towards the ability to conduct operations in the Pacific from land based sites.  Recently Jane’s has reported that the Navy and the USMC are looking at developing shore based Naval Strike Missiles.  The concept is to take an existing sea based system and develop it so that it could be deployed on the land in support of USMC operations.

Inherent in the above are several inter-service conflicts.

  • Do the naval strike missiles have the same capability as the Precision Strike Missiles that the Army is developing? If so are we seeing a duplication of effort and waste of resources?
  • Is the island defense and land based missiles to assist in this an Army or USMC role and mission?

Presently the USMC does not contain any long range missile units while the Army does.  It would thus appear that this is an Army mission—not a USMC mission. BUT

It would also appear the Naval Strike Missile could at least provide a start point for the Army Precision Strike Missile.

We would hope that the secretary of Defense will have these conflicts in roles and systems examined to save resources.

War power limitations on the president—putting the recent House resolution in perspective

The War Powers Resolution was passed in 1973 by both Houses of Congress, overriding the veto of President Nixon. It was passed to reassert Congressional authority over the decision to send American troops to war.  After President Nixon ordered the bombing of Cambodia without Congress’s consent, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution of 1973, intended to limit the president’s authority to conduct war.

At the time, President Richard Nixon vetoed the bill on constitutional grounds, arguing that the measure would define presidential war powers “in ways which would strictly limit his constitutional authority.” Nonetheless, a two-thirds majority in each congressional chamber overrode the veto.

The War Powers Resolution requires the president to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action and forbids armed forces from remaining for more than 60 days, with a further 30-day withdrawal period, without a congressional authorization for use of military force or a declaration of war by the United States.

There have been several instances when the President has not notified Congress within the required 48 hours.  In the case of the attack on General Soleimani the Trump administration made such a notification.  However it would be easy to argue that Congress has already authorized military activities in Iraq and therefore that such a notification was not required.

Yesterday Congressional Democrats, seemed  blissfully unaware of then-President Barack Obama’s rather expansive interpretation of the War Powers Resolution of 1973 during his strategically disastrous 2011 operation to oust Libyan strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi, suddenly seemed to care an awful lot about constitutional norms and separation of powers principles. Intellectual hypocrisy again.

Specifically, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s House of Representatives debated whether to Congressionally impose War Powers Resolution limitations upon President Trump’s unilateral ability to ratchet up militancy actions with the Islamic Republic of Iran. In their crusade to hamstring the president’s conduct of his foreign policy vis-à-vis the Iranian regime, House Democrats even found several libertarian-leaning Republican allies.

In my opinion this exercise was misguided, because the War Powers Resolution is, and always has been, unconstitutional.  It has never been challenged in the courts.  This most recent effort was really an attempt by the Democrats to embarrass the president.

The Constitution divides foreign affairs powers between the legislative and executive branches. Among other enumerated powers in Article I, Section 8, Congress has the ability to “declare War,” “raise and support Armies,” “provide and maintain a Navy,” “make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces,” “provide for calling forth the Militia,” and “provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia.”

On the other hand, Article II of the Constitution provides that “[t]he President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.” The very first clause of Article II also vests the president with “[t]he executive Power” — meaning a “residual” foreign affairs power that encompasses all those powers not expressly delegated to Congress in Article I, Section 8.

Many legal scholars have conducted a careful, line-by-line overview of Congress’s enumerated powers and have concluded that the constitution does not provide a legislative means that could feasibly justify the War Powers Resolution. The most likely candidate is the Declare War Clause, but that provision happens to be woefully misunderstood by many lawyers and politicians across the ideological spectrum.

Congress can intervene to halt a president if it views a reckless warmonger is using the manifold tools it has at its disposal:

  • Decreasing the size of the Pentagon’s budget by going line item-by-line item and removing various offensive-oriented materiel from the Department of Defense’s arsenal, or using its more general power of the purse to defund a war effort in its entirety
    • This was what eventually happened in the Vietnam War case.

This interpretation of the Declare War Clause should not be nearly as controversial as it is. At the 1787 constitutional convention, the Framers actually conscientiously substituted out “make War” with “declare War.” In so doing, James Madison explained that it was imperative to leave to the president the “power to repel sudden attacks.” This ought to make a great deal of sense; as Alexander Hamilton would explain only six months after the constitutional convention in The Federalist No. 70, “[d]ecision, activity, secrecy, and despatch will generally characterize the proceedings of one man in a much more eminent degree than the proceedings of any greater number.”

Finally, in Article I, Section 10, the Constitution precludes a state from “engag[ing] in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.” The Framers were therefore aware of multiple verbs — “make” and “engage” — that could have clearly conveyed the meaning of an initiation of hostilities. But they didn’t use those words, and they didn’t use them for a reason. The Framers understood that there was great merit to leaving decisions such as the commencement of hostilities to one man, and not to a fractious Congress.

Congress already has a number of tools at its disposal to push back against a crusading commander-in-chief. As Andrew McCarthy wrote this week at Fox News, “No statute is needed to provide Congress with the power to frustrate unauthorized presidential war-making. The Constitution empowers the legislature to do so by simply refusing to appropriate funds for military action.” But the Declare War Clause means something fundamentally different than what many believe it does.

No president, to date, has abided by the war powers act!  Grenada, Lebanon, Panama, Libya being cases in point. They have avoided a legal show down by advising Congress after the fact of military action.  President Obama in 2016 wrote: “I am providing this supplemental consolidated report, prepared by my Administration and consistent with the War Powers Resolution (Public Law 93-148), as part of my efforts to keep the Congress informed about deployments of U.S. Armed Forces equipped for combat.”  The term “consistent with” has been used by multiple presidents.  They were saying that their notification was not “as required” by the resolution, but “consistent with” it..  This wording was used to avoid a legal challenge to the requirements for notification of Congress for fear of the president losing to a liberal judiciary and thus a resulting limitation on presidential power.

The debate over the war powers of the Congress versus the President will continue and in most cases it will be highlighted when a house of Congress is controlled by a political party that does not control the White House.  This is what we have just observed.

The strategic question is highlighted by the preemptive attack versus defensive reaction.  If the War Powers goal of the House Democrats was to take away the president’s ability to preempt an Iranian attack it is both a strategic mistake and inconsistent with the war powers resolution.  This is precisely what the Democrats sought: The resolution “requires the president to consult with Congress in every possible instanced before introducing United States Armed Forces in hostilities.” As a perceived new limitation on the ability of the president to use the military to protect US interests it would be tantamount to strategic surrender to the Iranians by denying the president multiple strategic options.  This action thus must surely be nothing more than the Democrats expressing their angst against a successful presidential action.

The debate over war powers will most likely continue and will most likely never been  finalized because the extreme answers available are strategic mistakes and such is realized by most clear thinking personnel.

Where are we going

One thing about getting older is that my personal data base has gotten much larger, however through all of the political battles and discussions of war and peace that I have observed and participated in I have never seen a political party that through its hypocrisy, lies and lack of constitutional grounding do so much to destroy our republic and divide the country.  I am going to list some activities and then focus on the international situation in the post-Soleimani era.  The Democrats have:

  • Weaponized impeachment such that every future president who is opposed by the other party in the House of Representatives is an odds on favorite to be impeached for looking cross-eyed during the state-of-the-union.
    • Now we hear that the House Intelligence Committee may consider the Soleimani attack as ground for another article of impeachment. (This could be an event filled with hypocrisy as all of Obama’s drone strikes are discussed.)
  • The Speaker of the House is now seeking to micro-manage the President by proposing legislation that would limit the President’s authority in the current dust-up over the death of General Soleiman. The result would be to contribute to the overall lessening of presidential power that the Democrats seek given their lack of competitive candidates for the 2020 election.
  • The left and their media allies are treating General Soleimani as a hero, not the butcher that he was. Of course they couldn’t congratulate the President for exploiting intelligence and attacking General Soleimani before he could launch his next terrorist attack.
    • These critiques include questioning every military move made by the administration. The current media frenzy suggests that Saddam Hussein was correct when he determined that the US center of gravity was/is the body bag.  Unfortunately, military operations are dangerous events and there will be casualties.  But preemptive actions are designed to limit civilian and other casualties.
    • By being afraid to suffer casualties (or even to appear that way) we are emboldening our enemies to try and inflict casualties. Thus, we should blame the Democrats and their media cohorts for every soldier, sailor airman or Marine who may become a casualty.  My liberal friends will challenge this logic only because they know that it is correct and that hurts.  Deterrence is about perceptions and the media and the Democrats are providing the wrong perceptions. 
      • Deterrence can include bluster. They have 35 targets and we have 52.  Have they tried to hit 2 of their targets with their attack in Kenya and the cyber-attack against the national library?  If so then we should expect several reactions in the coming days.  The management of these targets will tell us a lot—whether there is an attempt to manage escalation or not.
      • The composition of targets will also tell us a lot—casualty producing targets versus infrastructure/war fighting capabilities.

So where are we going?  The Iranians are most likely emboldened by all of the political noise coming from the Democrats.  This in ways seems like Deja vue all over again.  The North Vietnamese could never defeat the United States on the battlefield but they undermined the political will to finish the fight.  The current messages that our opponents are seeing is that the political will to fight has again been undermined—not by the acts of the Iranians or any of their proxies but by the desire of the left and the media to destroy this President and our current form of government.

We can only hope that people with reason will step forward as new leaders of the Democratic Party.

INF Treaty Update

The Army is looking at extending the range of its Precision Strike Missile to 800 KM.  This come following the dissolution of the INF Treaty which had limited ground based missile ranges to 500 KM.  The Army’s Precision Fires Cross-functional team will ill conduct its first flight tests from two competitor companies before the end of the year.  After the tests the Army will talk to the competitors about pursuing the extended ranges.

Media Excursion

The announcement that the US would re-position some of its 1000 troops in Syria to avoid their being engaged by Turkish soldiers if they invade has created another firestorm in the media.

Now that the Turks have started their attack there are numerous reports flying around:

  • Civilian targets are being attacked
  • The Kurds have requested that the US impose and enforce a “no fly zone.”
  • The Senate is considering severe sanctions against Turkey

The media and even some Republicans fear is that Kurdish fighters may be attacked by Turkish armed forces moving into north-eastern Syria.  In essence the media and other pundits are saying that the lives of US soldiers should remain at risk in order to protect the Kurds.

Hidden in all of this punditry are several hard facts:

  • The Kurds, with US support are holding 11,000 ISIS prisoners. An attack on the Kurds would possibly result in their freedom.
  • There are only about 50 Special Forces that are being tactically relocated.
  • The US has always wanted the US presence in Syria to be a short term operation
  • Now that the Turks have invaded their stated goal is to create a free zone in Syria so that many of the refugees that are in Turkey can be relocated to this safe zone
  • There is no indication that the Russians in Syria will get caught up in engaging the Turks—if that should happen it could trip the NATO obligations of other states to come to the assistance of an attacked ally. There are even reports that the Russians were trying to negotiate some form of cease fire.

What I seem to have missed in the reporting is why the Turks chose to attack into Syria now.  Probably missed because there are so many possible explanations:

  • Expansion of Turkey’s geographic area of control
  • Resettlement of Syrian refugees
  • Further destabilizing Assad of Syria
  • Weakening/destroying the Kurds

None of these explain the current timing.  Could the real reason be because Erdogan is in trouble politically?  The above objectives could all be valid but the domestic political situation is responsible for the present timing.

If the Turks don’t attack the Kurds and their US Special Forces advisors there will be no problem.  The US will have reduced its footprint in Syria and be on the way out, leaving the resolution of the conflict to regional actors with the Kurds secure in an enclave away  from the Turkish border.

So when you cut everything away the media frenzy is about US credibility in supporting allies in the future.  This assumes that the Kurds are being deserted by their Special Forces advisor / assistants and especially that their logistical support and air support will be shut off.  It is difficult to see that happening if for no other reason than the 11,000 ISIS prisoners that they hold.

In a perfect world the Kurds and Turks could coexist and the Syrian refugees could be relocated from Turkey into this safe zone.  Such a coexistence would be a very fragile one.

Strategically, there is still something missing from the above discussion.  We will watch the situation and update it as appropriate in the future.

We’ll see what happens.

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