Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Byzantine Longevity



From the founding in AD 330 by Constantine I the Great up to the death in battle of Constantine XI Palaiologos in 1453 on the day Constantinople fell to the Turk.  Well over 12 centuries! 

It wasn't a stable millennium.  Their borders swelled and ebbed.  There were sixteen different dynasties and several periods of internal instability.  Their capital city was sacked and occupied for 50 years by Western crusaders supported by and urged on by Venice during the Fourth Crusade.  The invaders were aided by internal dissension.  But even then Byzantines survived in three successor states east and west of Constantinople and eventually liberated it. 

How did they survive so long?

Edward Luttwak’s book “The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire”  touches on some of the reasons why.  Interesting read if you are fascinated by the duration of empires, dynasties, republics, institutions and such.  Luttwak elaborates on seven major facets pf Byzantine strategy that may answer some of the reasons why they survived so long:

I.                 Avoid war by every possible means in all possible circumstances, but always act as if it might start at any time.

II.               Gather intelligence on the enemy and his mentality, and monitor his movements continuously.

III.            Campaign vigorously, both offensively and defensively, but attack mostly with small units; emphasize patrolling, raiding, and skirmishing rather than all-out attacks.

IV.             Replace the battle of attrition with the “nonbattle” of maneuver.

V.               Strive to end wars successfully by recruiting allies to change the overall balance of power.

VI.            Subversion is the best path to victory.

VII.          When diplomacy and subversion are not enough and there must be fighting, it should be done with “relational” operational methods and tactics that circumvent the most pronounced enemy strengths and exploit weaknesses.

Don't know much about Luttwak and have no idea if he knows what he is talking about.  His companion book on the grand strategy of Rome was criticized by many historians.  And he was seen by some as a neocon, although he was reportedly against the invasion of Iraq and against bombing Iran. 

In any case numbers one, five, and six are critical IMHO, two and four are also key.  Three and seven sound like a good game, but I am not 100% on board.  The emphasis on small unit tactics in the offense outlined in number three sounds much like our current use of SOF.  In number seven Luttwak seems to channel Sun Tzu which is good some of the time - but what would CVC say?

Several other reasons that the Byzantines lasted so long.  Most included in Luttwak's book, some in detail, some briefly.  Others are speculation on my part (or perhaps I remembered them vaguely from FDChief's excellent blogpost on the fall Constantinople two years ago?).
  • geography - They sat astride the trade routes, both the East/West routes and the North/South routes.  This made them a commercial powerhouse.  A treasury full with gold buys a lot of friends and allies, buys off a lot of potential adversaries, and pays a lot of soldiers and sailors (and provides for their equipment).
  • navy  - They dominated the Black Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean for more than five hundred years, and even the Western Mediterranean early on.  Their fleets managed to hold off the Arab fleets in the Seventh and Eighth centuries.  Eventually they lost naval dominance to Venice and Genoa and later to the Turks resulting in disaster.
  • legacy - They had a military legacy from ancient Greece and the earlier western roman empire.  Not strategy, but they took a lot from their forebears on military organization, training, tactics, operational methods, and in the means of evaluation of different strategies
  • engineering - This was another inheritance passed down from Rome.  They carried on with the advice of Domitius Corbulo: that the dolabra (a combination pickaxe tool) “was the weapon with which to beat the enemy".  The walls of Constantine and of Theodosius are testimony to that, and the hundreds of cisterns they built for when the aqueducts failed during a siege.
  • tax revenues – Tax collection was rigidly organized and sophisticated.   It was a very effective system.  No other contemporary powers could compete.  It filled their treasuries and gave them a huge advantage.
  • bureaucracy - They had a capable and enduring bureaucratic class.  It was they who administered the empire, guided diplomacy, counted beans in the treasury, organized and oversaw military logistics and training.  They provided the continuity and institutional memory needed through those sixteen different dynasties and 96 emperors/empresses. Without them - chaos with each change of crown.
  •  land for service in the army - This put tens of thousands of veterans on the frontiers of the empire.  Their family's safety gave them incentive to band together into ad hoc militia units.  They retained their weapons.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Your daily "hmmm..." (Middle East edition)

Fred Kaplan over at Slate has a take on the endgame playing out in Mosul, and how a lot of it revolves around not military strategy but political strategy:
"This is the biggest thing that Trump doesn’t understand and that few Western leaders grasp until they look at this conflict up close. “To everybody but us,” one senior military officer told me, “the defeat of ISIS is the least important goal.”

This is why, as the defeat of ISIS draws near, the lack of a coherent U.S. strategy — or, more precisely, Trump’s hesitation or refusal to accept, adapt, or do something with Mattis’ plan — is such a source of anxiety."
I wish I thought that this was another Tangerine-Toddler-specific problem. But IMO the entire history of the U.S. involvement in the Middle East, going practically all the way back to the hasty recognition of Israel in '48, is a litany of "what the fuck are we doing and why..?"

Back when he used to post and comment here Seydlitz used to insist that the U.S. political establishment doesn't really "do" geopolitical strategy, that there's no actual strategy or strategic thinking involved. This seems to be just a piece with everything else we've seen, all the way back to 2002 and beyond.

Mind you...given the unique incompetence of the Trump Griftministration I wouldn't be surprised to see things get MORE effed up!

But I see this not so much as a Trump Bug but as a U.S. Middle East Policy Feature.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Afghanistan gets worse

Spring is begun in Afghanistan.
Another fighting season has started and the news is grim.

I'm not talking about the MOAB; that non-story that somehow grabbed headlines for days.

Less was said by the serious defeat suffered by the Afghan Army in the north a few days ago.  Similarly, no one wants to talk about the resignation of the highest Afghan military officials as a result.
Very little has been said, as well, about the record casualties that the Afghan Army suffered last year, not to mention the civilian casualties.

Add to this shit sandwich, the hundreds of thousands of refugees that Pakistan and pushing back into Afghanistan, and you have what looks like a very grim stretch of months for the Afghan government.

The Marines are returning to Helmand.  ISIS is spreading in the eastern provinces and approaching the war with a bloodlust that has become typical for the outfit.  The Afghan government remains a completely dysfunctional mess.

The questions that will be faced is how bad will it get and how much can and will the US commit in order to keep our allies from breaking like the Iraqis did in 2014?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

25 April

25 April is ANZAC Day.  Wear a sprig of rosemary in honor of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps: 
https://www.awm.gov.au/commemoration/customs/rosemary/    

TheANZACs suffered and endured the stupidity of Winston Churchill and Lord Kitchener at Gallipoli in the worst planned amphibious operation ever.

They fought in France at the Somme, at Passchendaele, at the 2nd Marne.




Their Camel Corps fought and outflanked the Turk in the Sinai, in Palestine, and in Jordan during Allenby's anabasis to Damascus and beyond.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07JGpardvLU&feature=youtu.be

In WW2, they again suffered and endured Churchill's overreaching in Crete and mainland Greece.

That same year they fought off Rommel's (at that time undefeated) Africa Corps for eight months at Tobruk until finally relieved by the Eighth Army.  Later they fought with distinction at the 2nd Battle of El Alamein.

But the Australian mainland had suffered the first of 97 separate air attacks by the IJN and IJAAF (that first attack was by 242 aircraft, most of them from the same aircraft carriers that had hit Pearl Harbor).  And at Singapore, Churchill's so-called Gibraltar of the East, Britain's disastrous defense lost the Australians 15,000 troops to Japanese POW camps.   Many of them died during the Sandakan Death March which matched (or was worse than) our experience at Bataan.  Or they died on the Burma Railway.  So the Aussie Prime Minister turned down further requests by Churchill and brought his troops home to the Pacific Theater.

Section C of the Allied Intelligence Bureau, also known as the Coastwatchers and mostly Australians, played a critical role in the Solomon Islands campaign.  https://www.amazon.com/Lonely-Vigil-Coastwatchers-Walter-Lord/dp/0670437654/ref=pd_sim_14_1?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=0670437654&pd_rd_r=3AYRCBXGDPC4GSXZK3RC&pd_rd_w=UCzTU&pd_rd_wg=d5HqE&psc=1&refRID=3AYRCBXGDPC4GSXZK3RC

http://kokoda.commemoration.gov.au/
Then in New Guinea, the ANZACs saved MacArthur's entire SW Pacific strategy by taking and holding the Kokoda Track; and doing outstanding work at Buna-Gona and Salamaua-Lae.   After that, Mac then gave them the dirty jobs of mopping up Bougainville, New Britain, etc.  And relegated them to the flank in Borneo while the US Sixth Army got the glory in the Philippines.  There was some strong resentment in Canberra for that treatment.  And rightly so IMHO.



No space to list all their contributions - I missed many other battles.  But on the 25th, my bride is promising to cook up some ANZAC biscuits (guaranteed not to crumble no matter how long they spend being bounced, banged and beaten in the bottom of a military mail sack): http://allrecipes.com/recipe/9816/anzac-biscuits-i    Might even need to wash them down with a tinny of Australia's favorite bevvie.





Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Goguryeo

So, are the North Koreans pursuing  a rational policy?  Or are they 'whackaloons?

I cannot imagine the common people of North Korea being any different from the people of South Korea.  Aren't they both 98-99% homogeneous, and have the same DNA?    Yes, the NorKo regime itself is a family dynasty of vampires feasting on the blood and spirit of its people.   But in a weird way they do seem to have a crafty deterrence strategy.  But is that strategy based on reality?  Or is based on irrational fear?  Or is it based on the internal politics of staying in power?

I'm definitely not an expert on East Asia.  I've spent a total of two months in Korea (the South) back in the mid 70s.  Even though it was below zero winter weather, I loved my time there.   The ladies all had apple cheeks reminding me of upstate New York girls.  Vendors were roasting chestnuts on street corners of the villages on the outskirts of Uijongbu.  The baked chicken with body cavities stuffed full with garlic (entire bulbs, not a few cloves) was even better than my dear Aunt Rosa's  (sorry Rose, may you rest in peace).  The people were friendly and hard working.  Same same for Little Seoul in LA and the various Koreatowns throughout the west coast.  I believe the North Korean people to have the same intrinsic characteristics.

Whatever happened to the re-unification dream?   China wanted it, as did the Russians, the US, the UN, and both the North and South Koreans at least gave it lip service.   Grampa Kim proposed a 'Confederation of Koryo' in which North and South Korean respective political systems would remain.

We should be sending fertilizer and tractors to Pyongyang and not aircraft carriers.  Ivanka and Jared should have done some ski diplomacy in Masikryong instead of carving S-curves on the slopes of Aspen.

hat tip on the photo to bjornfree.com/kim/








Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Gassing On About Syria

Let me begin with this; I hate freaking chemical weapons like I hate crab lice, karaoke, and When Justin Met Kelly.

But I find myself thinking the same thing about the latest Syrian news that I kept thinking all the while my country and its allies were bombing hell out of a different Muslim country; where's the "good choice" here?

And for a guy who supposedly was our only hope of preventing a confrontation with Russia and becoming more deeply bogged in the civil wars and internal rebellions in the Middle East young Mister Trump appears to be perfectly with the idea of confronting Russia over its support of Assad and making more trouble and more rubble in Syria because of the latest possibly-a-Syrian-government-chemical-attack.
(Perhaps I should be reassured that the current Administration seems willing to come to cuffs with its Russian pals over this. At this point I'm taking my reassurances where I can get them...)
I'd be happy to hear anyone's suggestion of how a U.S. kinetic intervention in Syria to "punish" this gassy cloud ends well. I can't think of anything, and certainly I can't think of anything that involves using U.S.-made explosives or soldiers that will somehow make a silk purse out of this Syrian donkey's ear. I'd think that the America First President would kind of be thinking the same way I do...except, apparently not.

At this point I've kind of given up. There doesn't seem to be a global geopolitical problem that the sort of people who get elected to public office in the U.S. don't see as a nail to hammer down. You'd think that the Libyan example would serve as a cautionary tale for this Syrian mess, but, no.

Update 4/7: The Thursday cruise missile strike on the Syrian government airbase at Shayrat is such an utterly perfect summation of the U.S. "foreign policy" in the Middle East as to be like a tiny little explosive jewel-box portrait of derp that it just makes me want to walk around smiling all day in that grim, sickly, "isn't that fucking special" kind of smiley way.

Militarily useless? Check. Because, although he may be a grifter with the soul of a can of Chef Boy-ar-dee Spaghetti and Meatballs, the Tangerine Toddler isn't clinically insane his administration is reported to have warned the Russian government prior to the strike to ensure that we didn't send any random wingwipers of the Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily Rossii home in a box. The Russians, unsuprisingly, passed the warning on to their Syrian clients. So it's extremely likely that what the strike did was flatten some empty hangars and scatter bits of the buildings across the runways.

Tomahawks, so far as I know, are not equipped with delay-fused runway cratering warheads, so this couldn't have acted as an airfield-denial strike.

Geopolitically worthless? Check. Even supposing that this DID attrit the Assad government's ability to fight the civil war. Late on Thursday both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster made it clear that these strikes wouldn't have any major effect on the actual political situation in Syria.

And, of course - as we should have learned in Libya, the enemy of our enemy isn't just not our friend but is probably a bughouse crawling with vicious factional hatred and political dysfunction. A handful of damaged Flankers won't make the Syrian rebels any less rabid, the Islamic State any less gonzo, or the hatred between the first two and the Kurds any less toxic. The vicious civil war will roll on.

A fat paycheck for our defense contractors? Check. At about $1.5m a shot 59 Tomahawks set the Navy back about 88 million bucks. This, of course, isn't an actual loss-leader but a promissary note to Raytheon-McDonnell-Douglas for 59 new units.

Just a fiscal note: the 2017 budget request for the National Endowment for the Arts was about $149 million. It's kind of nifty that although the current Administration has publicly stated that it intends to zero out that budget that it's willing to throw down about 60% of the expense for an equally useless piece of political theater.

A big happy piece of domestic dick-waving? Check! The real value of this stunt appears to be that it has convinced the media outlets that His Fraudulency is "presidential", since nothing says "Chief Executive" like blowing dusky savages up, and has excited the sorts of voters whose fourth-grade "understanding" of the Syrian Civil War is limited to imagining the place as some sort of dytopian Agrabah populated by various species of "headchoppers".

What's really sad is how little this nonsense depends on the juvenile personality of the current President. From Obama's droney pursuit of Afridis where they run to Dubya's Mess-o-potamia to Clinton's Operation Desert Fox to what seems like every administration back to Eisenhower defenstrating Mossadegh and storming ashore in Lebanon...it just seems like this crap is what the U.S. does, and particularly in the Middle East.

Does it work? WHO CARES! The important point is that We Did SOMEthing! America, fuck yeah!

Sheesh.

(Oh, and this is also so perfect I just cant leave it out; "House Concurrent Resolution 40", from the 113th Congress back in 2013. Remember those days, back when Obummer was all dick-wavy about "red lines" in Syria and the serious foreign policy panjandrums of the Freeeeeeedom Caucus needed to remind the Kenyan Usurper that "...the President is prohibited under the Constitution from initiating war against Syria without express congressional authorization and the appropriation of funds for the express purpose of waging such a war." There was talk of...impeachment!

Now? Ummm...not so much.

Consistency is SUCH a hobgoblin of little minds.)

Update 2 4/7: And now reports are coming in that the Syrian Arab Air Force is operating out of Shayrat today.

Well! You'd think that Assad would at least tell the boys to take a break in place for a couple of days or so, y'know, like how soccer players limp around after getting tackled just to show how bad their owie is? But, nooooo. Guy won't stop the fun even to help out his pals Pootie and Trumpie for being all okay with not wanting him out and probably all Gaddafi'd or Ceaușescu'd after the rebels win.

What a buddyfucker! Honestly, you just can trust some homicidal autocrats!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Flynn- Flam



Image result for GENERAL FLYNN
 Phillip Carter has a good article on retired LtGen Flynn’s quest for immunization.  Phil, a lawyer and former JAG Officer, is well known to many members of this blog.  He postulates (or maybe I am trying to read between the lines) that:







1]  Although the Flynn/Kislyak conversation was a felony, Flynn would never be prosecuted for that relationship.  (I agree.)

2]  Or maybe Flynn lied to the FBI, which is also a crime.  (my perception:  Isn’t this what would have sent Scooter Libby to prison before Junior Bush pardoned him?)

3]  Failure to file under the Foreign Agents Registration Act in a timely fashion could also be prosecuted.  (I do not believe anyone has been prosecuted for FARA violations for over 50 years.)

4]  The speaking fees Flynn got from the Russians in 2015 violate the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which applies to retired military officers.  (Aren’t ’speaking fees’ what Flynn and Bannon were going after HRC about during the campaign?)

5]  Flynn’s reported conversations with Turkish officials regarding whether Fethullah Gülen could somehow be kidnapped and sent to Turkey— may well be a conspiracy to commit federal crimes.

6]  Finally, Flynn may face legal risk if he failed to disclose these foreign contacts as part of his top-level security clearance applications.  (see Senator Tester’s letter below to DNI, OMB, and OPM on this issue.)

My own opinion is that the whole Flynn attempt at asking for immunity is just more cooked up flim-flam.  Perhaps to generate sympathy?  Why else make it a publicly announced offer instead of the usual 'behind-the-scenes' proffer?  Or perhaps to deflect attention from elsewhere.  Or perhaps to protect his son, who may be even more deeply involved as a lobbyist for foreign interests?  But regardless of what happens Trump will pardon him.