Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Guantanamo Bay Soccer Field

Fox News is running a story about the Defense Department's decision to build a soccer field in the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. The article suggests that this is an extraordinary waste of money and an unwarranted reward to undeserving terrorists. I disagree. 

The money, $750,000, is nothing in terms of the overall DOD budget - which is over $600 billion/year. At the same time, setting up this soccer field has major potential benefits. First, by reducing US-inmate security escort time (as the news report comments) it reduces the risk of Guantanamo inmates using force against our security garrison. 

Second, it offers the chance for better morale in the camp (which serves US interests by making inmates more amenable to co-operation with US authorities on other issues). 

Third, observing the social interactions of the detainees while they play will allow US intelligence officers to identify social hierarchy/interaction dynamics and then use this information for intelligence purposes. 

Fourth, the soccer field is good PR for the US. While I agree that the camp should stay open, the negative PR connotations that surround Guantanamo in the eyes of many in the muslim world, are unquestionably damaging to US interests. This negative PR undercuts our true (albeit imperfect) narrative of standing for democracy and empowerment in the 'war on terror' and helps feed the propaganda/support base of groups like Al Qa'ida. As David Galula would suggest, the 'war on terror' is 80% an ideas war. This soccer field is a small price for the prospect of real American strategic gains.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Putin Assassination Plot

If reports are to be believed, the disruption of the Putin assassination plot appears mainly to be the result of good luck (the suspects inadvertently set off an explosion in their apartment and in so attracted the attention of Ukrainian authorities*). That the suspects were in possession of video footage concerning Putin's movements will be a cause for concern on the part of the Russian Presidential Security Service (counter-surveillance is a major part of any effective protective effort). Duko Umarov, the Chechen terrorist who the Russians have accused of being responsible for the plot, is a dangerous, highly committed individual linked to recent, medium casualty attacks on Russian transport infrastructure. The Russians will now be even more aggressive in their hunt for him.

*An important point worth noting re-the terrorists failure to maintain operational security (IE - remain undetected until they could attempt to carry out their attack) is that many other terrorist plots fail for the same reason/operational incompetence. The capture of Ramzi Yousef who was planning a 9/11 scale attack, the May 2005 Bush assassination attempt, the failure of the July 21st 2005 London Underground bombers and the 2007 London bomb plot, all provide examples of this dynamic. In each of these cases, major attacks that would have had major consequences, failed because of a corollary failure on the part of the attacker/s. 

In Counter-Terrorism, luck is important.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Christopher Tappin Extradition

Christopher Tappin's extradition to the US is appropriate. According to the US case, in 2006, Tappin attempted to sell export restricted MIM-23 Hawk missile batteries to Iran. Unknown to him however, he was dealing with undercover US agents. The problem with the arguments of those who state that he should not be extradited are two-fold.

First, the accusation against Mr. Tappin is extremely serious and has been found to meet the reasonable suspicion evidential burden that is imposed on extradition requests by the English courts. The MIM-23 system is the foundational basis for Iran's newest air defense system. In this regard, if Iran is able to acquire technology to support their air defenses, then this technology contributes to the endangerment of American (or British) pilots who may one day be called to militarily contest air space with those systems. We have a responsibility to deny potential adversaries the access to military tools that they could use against us.

Second, just because Mr. Tappin and Mr. McKinnon have well developed PR strategies to win British public support, it doesn't mean that they should be able to escape justice if they are guilty. Gary McKinnon is accused of taking down the Washington DC military computer network for an entire day. If the US had suffered a terrorist attack or major disaster on that day, American citizens could have died as a result of the problems that this communications failure caused. Extradition serves the cause of justice.

Although there are some who claim that the current US-UK extradition treaty is unfair, they are wrong. Between Jan 2004 and July 2011, 7 extradition requests by the US to the UK were rejected. In the same time period, the US rejected no UK extradition requests. These are the facts and justice is built on facts and not emotion. Mr. Tappin is innocent until proven guilty, he will have his day in court.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Iraq Attacks

Today's attacks in Iraq are very likely to be the work of Al Qa'ida in Iraq. The multiple actions included strikes against diners in restaurants, a school and a mosque. This is the nature of Sunni Salafist extremists - extraordinarily aggressive application of force in pursuit of a total war doctrinal strategy.* A strategy that in AQI's case, is rooted in the pursuit of the destruction of the Iraqi state via the propagation of genocidal levels of sectarian violence. The intention of today's attacks is thus to spark sectarian warfare among different communities of the Iraqi people (Shia areas were targeted), much like with AQI's intention in conducting the 2006 attack on the Golden Mosque. The current sectarian dysfunction in the Iraqi Govt is seen by AQI as an opportunity ripe for exploitation. Clearly also, it is important to note that the (post- Coalition withdrawal) absence of large scale counter-terrorism capabilities from the US/UK has allowed AQI space to re-constitute to a position where in they can effectively carry out large scale attacks such as today's. (US/UK counter-terrorist forces waged a highly effective attritional campaign against AQI during 2007/08/09 that effectively destroyed the group's senior and middle leadership).

Another point to note here is that the proximate position of Iraq to Syria/Iran means that instability in Iraq has profound consequences for the rest of the region. Amidst the ongoing Iranian nuclear crisis/Syrian uprising, reducing tensions in Iraq must be a priority for the US govt. Joe Biden has done some pretty good work on this recently. At the same time, Obama should ensure that the CIA station in Iraq has the support it needs (especially from the NSA) to be able to provide actionable intelligence to Iraqi security forces.

*- The current leader of AQI, Abu Dua, is true heir to Zarqawi.

According to one US intelligence officer speaking in 2005, Dua 

"held religious courts to try local citizens charged with supporting the Iraqi government and coalition forces. He would kidnap individuals or entire families, accuse them, pronounce sentence and then publicly execute them."

 People like Dua are a reflection of the irreconcilable element of a terrorist organisation. 

These individuals can only be dealt with through capture/kill operations.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Iran Talks Fail (shocker..)

As I predicted, the nuclear talks in Iran were a complete waste of time. Iran is adopting strategy on the basis of the hesitancy of the west to deal robustly with their nuclear program. Ultimately, Israel will attack.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Koran burning reports

If this 'burning' was in fact authorised, it was an act of extraordinary strategic incompetence. The damage that reports like this one do to America's credibility in Afghanistan is substantial. We want to persuade people about the truth of our good intentions. Reports of acts like this serve only to provide propaganda to the Taliban. 

However, the Afghan people must look in the mirror more often. It is high time that the uproar that has typified the reaction to this incident be also reflected towards acts like this and this. Morality must be consistent. We should not be afraid to speak out about this hypocrisy, especially when we ask our military families to put their loved ones on the line.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Understanding Israeli strategic calculations re-Iran's nuclear program

The New York Times is carrying a piece today that outlines the complexities that will be inherent in any prospective Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. Clearly, it is absolutely true that any attack would be exceptionally difficult. However...... The problem with a lot of the analysis surrounding this Israel-Iran issue is that it often fails to  consider the encompassing, strategic conception that exists on the part of Israel. For Israel, consideration of a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities is not just rooted in analysis of the potential risks of that act and its aftermath (IE - failing to substantially weaken the Iranian program and potential Iranian retaliation). Instead, alongside these factors, Israeli considerations are consumed with the perceived threat that a nuclear Iran will pose if it arises. Israel regards a nuclear Iran as a precursor to a second Holocaust. An existential threat that will be unconstrained, undeterred and unleashed in its encouragement for proxies like HAMAS, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad. It is in this sense that for Israel, whatever the perceived risks of acting against Iran, the risks of not acting are perceived to be higher. It is for this reason that even if the liklehood of an Israeli strike succeeding is low, Israel will still act.

+ The Saudi Sunni Monarchy is especially concerned by the prospect of a nuclear Iran. The Saudis may grant 'closed eyes' overflight rights to Israel.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Iran offer to negotiate (BS)

Anyone who thinks that this has any utility is being moronic. Iran is attempting to buy time to break the back of the western alliance against their nuclear program. The Iranians are gambling that the absence of an appetite to confront Iran and the current economic climate means that internal fractures in the alliance can be expanded and manipulated. They have been playing the same game since 2003. Totally absurd that people can't see it. The problem with EU/US support for these negotiations is that they ignore the fact that Israeli patience is rapidly evaporating. They thus increase rather than decrease the liklehood that Israel will feel that diplomacy is exhausted and in turn, risk forcing Israel into a position in which the use of military force is seen as the only remaining option.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Paul Ryan continued

Follow up of last post - Ryan grilling White House budget.

Paul Ryan discussing the President's budget

As regular readers will know, I am a big fan of Congressman Paul Ryan

Here he is again. This time taking apart the absurdity of the President's budget and illuminating the hollow nature of the President's 'desire' for realistic, bi-partisan solutions to resolve America's debt crisis. Ryan is articulate, exceptionally bright and willing to engage in real bi-partisan solutions (listen to him talking about his plans with Democrat Ron Wyden)*. 

Ryan is also incredibly important to the credibility of the Republican Party in the era of Palin/Cain etc.

*- The President launched political attacks on Wyden and Ryan when they announced their plan. The President's change we can believe in..

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Washington Post Military Slideshow

Great slideshow piece in WPost on 2011 US Military leaders.

Failed Iranian attack - Bangkok

A suspected Iranian intelligence agent has inadvertently blown himself up in Bangkok with a poor grenade throw - wounding civilians in the process. One other individual was arrested and a third is apparently on the run. The Iranians are desperate to put calculated pressure onto Israel. Thai authorities busted an Iranian linked cell in Bangkok a couple of weeks back so this may be a related cell. The problem for the Iranians is that these attacks serve little strategic purpose. They have inflicted little harm on Israel and have simultaneously drawn the anger of states across the world. Israel will now be able to count on the anger and sympathy of Thailand, India and Georgia. Interestingly, the fact that these attacks/attempted attacks were staged at three different global locations and in relative time proximity to each other, would suggest that there was at least some control from Tehran..

Monday, February 13, 2012

Attacks on Israeli Diplomats

Apparently Israel attacked its own diplomats. (According to Iran)

In reality, the attack in New Dehli and attempted attack in Tiblisi were v. likely actions by Iranian intelligence operatives in retaliation for Israel's killing of Imad Mugniyah four years ago. Mugniyah was killed when his head rest exploded. Iran is also trying to retaliate against Israel for the Israeli assassination campaign against Iranian scientists. It is worth noting that Iran's attack today was calibrated towards killing a few people  versus many. Iran does not want to provide Israel with a pretext to attack their nuclear facilities. Although from an Israeli perspective, this attack does make their assertions over Iran's inability to responsibly possess nuclear weapons more persuasive. Ultimately, Israel is likely to launch air strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities within the next few weeks/months.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Western Intervention in Syria? Not so fast..

Calls for a western intervention in Syria are growing. While I understand and share the concern of many regarding Assad's continuing campaign of murder, I do not believe that military intervention in Syria would be an appropriate strategy. 

First, a direct military intervention would be far from easy. Unlike Gaddafi's weak military infrastructure, Syria possesses a formidable array of military capabilities. These include thousands of tanks and artillery pieces and hundreds of thousands of soldiers - the key units of which are ideologically attached to the Assad regime. Military intervention would require engaging and destroying these units. Such a mission would be complex, risky and would require a much more substantial coalition military force than that which was seen in Libya. Only the United States Military could carry out this operation. The pathetic European attitude towards foreign security policy - 'big talk, no kit' means that practical support from the EU would be almost non-existent. So.. in effect, if the US were to embark on an operation in Syria, it would be forced to commit significant military resources away from critical operations like in Afghanistan, while undertaking full practical responsibility for the evolution of 'post-action' events inside Syria.

Beyond the pure military complexities, a prospective US intervention in Syria also raises  other major concerns. First, in the context of existing tensions, Iran would likely regard direct US engagement against Assad as constituting a direct threat to the Iranian regime. Combining this with the worsening Israeli-Iranian showdown, Iran's paranoid leadership might elect to go 'all in' to support Assad. Whether through supporting terrorist attacks against western interests around the world, mining the straits of Hormuz or sending a much greater level of military support to Assad, Iran would probably take a much more overt role in the conflict. Israel might also decide to launch an early strike on Iranian nuclear facilities (to offset future negative international concerns) thus increasing the likelihood of a situation in which every regional power alliance rapidly escalated towards war.

In another area, for Assad domestically, a US intervention would encourage the regime to portray the internal rebellion as a foreign project controlled for example by the 'Zionist puppets in Washington'. As well as weakening the rebellion's support amongst the fence sitters, this would also give Assad a pretext to dramatically increase his violence of action against domestic opponents. Assad's desire to portray recent terrorist attacks as a representation of the broader protest movement, suggests that the regime would jump at any opportunity to weaken the narrative of legitimacy that the current rebellion continues to expound. Put simply, American intervention might encourage Assad to use massive amounts of force in an attempt to finally annihilate those who challenge him.

I believe that there is a better route towards destroying Assad's regime. This approach should take the form of a dual track strategy.

First, the west should increase covert support to Syrian resistance cells. This should focus around provision of money to allow cells to fund logistical costs (like fuel, food and communications) and to build organisational structures that can contest Assad's forces more effectively. If possible, the west should provide insurgency advisers to help direct the resistance military strategy.

Second, the west should continue to draw attention to Assad's actions and their incompatibility with the arab spring. The west should aggressively highlight continued Chinese and Russian unjustifiable support for Assad's regime, while continuing to build regional pressure with allies like Turkey.  The west along with democratic Turkey, should draw attention to the sickening hypocrisy of Iran and Hezbollah in the current fight. While the Iranian regime claims to have lead the region towards revolutionary empowerment, in reality, Iran's clerical leaders are supporting the murder of thousands of innocent civilians in order to maintain their grip of power over the Syrian people. Similarly, by supporting Assad, Hezbollah's narrative of 'emancipation for the oppressed weak against the power of the corrupt strong', is being rendered a transparent falsehood. At least in the case of Hezbollah, if sustained attention can continue to be brought against that group's relationship with Assad - a tipping point in which they break effective ties will probably become possible. As in Lebanon, Hezbollah is vulnerable to further negative attention.

 The near/middle east is undergoing seismic shifts in state-society relations. Popular power sustained through cross-sectarian albeit uncertain alliances (Egypt's new parliament for example) will ultimately constitute the political future of the region.

 In this regard, ultimately the current Syria-Iran-Hezbollah alliance is its own worse enemy. Honest publicity of this alliance is the most powerful weapon we have to oppose and break it.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Santorum and the Tea Party?

Little note re- Santorum. I struggle with the idea of Santorum as the tea party candidate. The central premise of the tea party is that government should get out of people's lives.. yet, Santorum thinks that the state should be able to intrude into the private residence of two consenting adults. That is incompatible with any notion of personal freedom vs the state. If we believe in personal freedom then that belief must be honest and genuine. Content based evaluations of when freedom is warranted and when government has overreached, serve to seriously diminish the power of the Republican pro-freedom narrative.


Santorum did very well last night. However, this result will not change the outcome of the primary race. For all his passion, Santorum has a central problem. His policies are simply out of the mainstream. In arguing so vociferously against gay rights- including Lawrence v Texas, Santorum undercuts a simple premise of the mainstream Republican movement. This premise being that the government should not engage in excessive interference with the affairs of the individual. Santorum would be crushed by Obama. Republican primary voters will ultimately coalesce around Romney. He is the only candidate who has the economic-policy credibility to challenge the President in the general election.

Americans simply don't care about what gay people do in their own homes. And those that do, tend to care more about how much money they have in their pocket!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Israel and the aftermath of an attack on Iran

This CNN piece is an idiotic article. 'EU liberals might get upset'... are you kidding? It fundamentally fails to address the critical premise upon which Israeli nuclear security strategy is vested. Israel regards an Iranian nuclear weapon as the precursor to a second holocaust and thus as an unacceptable risk that must be countered. It is in this sense that for Israel, no potential after effect of air strikes on Iran are perceived as more risky than the potential of a nuclear Iran itself. Ultimately, this is why I believe Israel will attack Iran at some point in the coming months. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Assad and Syria

For anyone who doubts that China and Russia are focused on power politics in their foreign policy, here is the proof. Assad the vogue hero is murdering his own people as they demand freedom. From a practical perspective, military based intervention options are limited. Instead, hardened sanctions and increased covert support to resistance cells must be the increasing concern of the West. This conflict is one being fought over values. The values of freedom vs the values of authoritarianism (Iran alongside).

As I wrote for the guardian a while back, if the West can increase both pressure and regional attention on Assad's actions, groups like Hezbollah will feel great pressure to reduce their support for the Syrian regime. This will be critical in helping to speed Assad's fall into the trash can of history.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


This suggests that the US will move to an attrition-warfare focus against the Taliban. Special Forces will be used to apply heavy kinetic pressure on Taliban facilitators/leadership while providing space for the President's Afghanistan troop draw down.

Nadal (and me) Wimbledon 2010

Found this video of Nadal's 2010 Wimbledon victory celebrations on youtube. Me appearing from 3.33 (behind Nadal as he greets the crowd).


The violence in Syria is reaching new levels- http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/02/201223231333768854.html

The Syrian regime and their Iranian/Hezbollah allies are showing the world their true nature. For all the arguments of peace, respect and 'righteous resistance' that they claim to uphold, in the end these groups are made up of totalitarian despots. Individuals who are willing to go as far as they believe they must go to maintain their hold on power.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

NYTimes Magazine Piece on Afghanistan.

2013 US-Afghanistan Deadline

The decision by the Obama Administration to move US forces into an 'advise and assist' role in Afghanistan in 2013 is the right call. I strongly disagreed/disagree with the Administration's artificial 2015 deadline for the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan (and their idiotic decision to announce that deadline to the Taliban - unsurprisingly leading to Taliban elated morale and increased Pakistani support for the Taliban). However, under the current albeit flawed policy, to have any chance of success, Afghan security forces will have to be relatively self-sufficient by the time US forces depart. This will require forcing Afghan forces to embrace the hard learning curve of military operations. The thinking with this 2013 deadline therefore being, that in confronting the Taliban/other anti-government forces (and protecting civilian communities) with less American support, Afghan forces will face the necessity for better command leadership, more nuanced strategy and a better, integrated force structure. I.E - different units fighting together under better leaders and in pursuit of the clear strategic objective to secure and hold civilian areas. If the US were to leave Afghanistan in 2015 without functioning Afghan security forces, the Taliban would be able to rapidly re-consolidate their position in the South and East of the country. Short of changing the withdrawal date (which as I have said we should), the US had no choice in making this latest decision.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Romney Message Delivery

Last week, a friend of mine asked why Romney kept saying things that served to play to an image of him as divorced from the concerns of average Americans. I said that he was probably tired and probably trying to up front with his message delivery. Regardless, while he is right to be straight forward in terms of what he is calling for and offering if elected, Romney needs to get his message delivery tightened up. These kind of mistakes will be gold dust in the hands of a politician as skilled as President Obama.

A Republican Perspective on the Welfare State

This example from the BBC News illustrates the realities of a welfare state. It also illustrates perfectly why I am a Republican.

In this case we have a guy who has been unemployed for over ten years. He says that

 'there's a total lack of work in my area of expertise' 

Why doesn't he train in another area? 

Some other beautiful quotes (with the BBC cost figures) on why he needs taxpayers to pay for the following.

£15/Week - Sky (Cable TV) Package =

'We get the Sky Movies package because we're stuck in the house all week - otherwise we wouldn't have any entertainment.' 

£20/Week - Night Out =

'I go out once a week, on a Friday night. I meet up with my mates in the pub and have three or four pints.'

£32/Week - Cell Phones =

'My wife and I have mobile phones, and so do all of the teenage children. You try telling teenagers they're going to have to do without their mobiles and there'll be hell to pay.'

£240/Week - Shopping =

'Which includes 24 cans of lager, 200 cigarettes and a large pouch of tobacco'

Fundamentally misplaced understandings of equality or fairness have created a society in which personal responsibility has evaporated (see summer riots). People like this guy need a kick in the ass (not literally - they just need their benefits cut).

Romney Wins Florida. What's Next?

Romney's victory in Florida (by about 15% over Gingrich) is significant. In the end, Romney's focused, aggressive and issue based campaign attracted undecided voters and undercut Gingrich's base of support. The pressure on Gingrich to withdraw from the race will now grow significantly. While he has stated that he intends to continue forwards to super tuesday (early march), the importance of the fact that his Florida performance was so disappointing cannot be understated. As anyone who has ever lived in Florida knows, Florida Republicans are conservative. Gingrich's campaign narrative would therefore have expected success in the state (or at least a much closer outcome). 

The size of Romney's victory should give Gingrich a cause for pause.