A ceremony skipped

Marine One Davos

Marine One heading to Davos

Tyler Rogoway at The Drive provides some intriguing detail on presidential transportation that sheds light on a recent controversy:

President Trump is taking a serious shellacking in the media and on social media for the cancelation of a planned trip to Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in Belleau, France to commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War I. The site is located roughly 55 miles outside of Paris. The optics of missing such an important event are undeniably bad and they play into other narratives about the President that are unflattering, but these types of decisions are not usually up to the President. The Secret Service and the White House Military Office who arrange presidential airlift with HMX-1 are the ones that decide to cancel helicopter or ground transportation for the President due to a wide variety of contingencies. […]

The massive footprint of the security and administrative apparatus that follows the American President around dwarfs anything else like it on the planet, much of which isn’t even visible to the casual onlooker. […]

Usually, a ground transportation option via the Presidential Motorcade (the anatomy of which you can read all about here) is available in the case that Marine One and its accompanying decoy helicopter and staff and press corps airlift aircraft cannot safely make it to the landing zone as planned. But a 55-mile trip is a long way for the sprawling Presidential Motorcade in a foreign country and there are a slew of issues that could slow or even stop such a motorcade from happening even if it was prepared as a contingency option.

There’s more at the link. It’s rather remarkable that any education person would think that the president skipped a high-profile, planned ceremony because “he didn’t want to get his hair wet.” How does that even make sense? The official reason cited by the White House was “scheduling and logistical difficulties caused by the weather,” which could include, or cover up, a range of potential issues, including a terrorist threat. A lot of people have a tough time accepting that there are things they cannot know.

Time to go home

Mohammed bin Salman

Mohammed bin Salman

The US is taken to task for shrugging while a new pack of authoritarian leaders in the Middle East consolidates power:

What’s happening in the Middle East today can be traced back to the 2011 Arab Spring, which sparked a desire for democratic change among ordinary people and, among governments, a countervailing desire for stability based on the status quo ante.

To go back in time, as it were, the counterrevolutionary bloc—Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, and their allies in Yemen, Libya, and elsewhere—believes the future must be more authoritarian than ever. Based on extensive conversations with senior Arab officials, I’ve found that the dominant outlook could be summed up as follows: A heavy-handed domestic and regional approach may well carry risks, but the alternative is worse. […]

No space for reconciliation or compromise exists between authoritarian governments and their democratic or Islamist opponents. If the strongmen win—and they have a real chance—then the West will have to abandon its dream of a more politically open Middle East (the vision sparked by the Arab Spring). If they fail—and there is a compelling argument that they could—their countries could experience a period of turmoil on the scale of the Syrian civil war. In this volatile environment, the United States is ominously absent.

I remember when the US was condemned for its foreign interventions. Now it is criticized for its dangerous aloofness. The reality is that the US is terrible at managing an empire and has no ability to impose its own political norms on the Middle East. Any interest that Americans once had in such a grandiose project evaporated a long time ago. The US is completely unable to effect the outcomes that it wants, and can’t even distinguish the “good” guys from the “bad” guys in most of these conflicts. When is a democratic/Islamist revolution preferable to a stable, authoritarian regime? I don’t know, and chances are neither do you. It’s ridiculous for any Americans to think they can, or should, decide the political future of a radically different country 6,000 miles away.

On a related note, the US is still chasing the Taliban around Afghanistan after 17 years:

When Gen. Scott Miller took over the war in Afghanistan on Sept. 2, Afghan soldiers were being killed and wounded at near record numbers.

He instituted a more aggressive policy of helping the Afghan military track and defeat the Taliban — what he calls “regaining the tactical initiative” — but in an exclusive interview with NBC News on Tuesday, his first since taking command of U.S. and coalition forces here, he also says he recognizes that the solution in Afghanistan will be political, not military.

“This is not going to be won militarily,” Miller said. “This is going to a political solution.”

In other words, the war is unwinnable. Afghanistan cannot be pacified, as the British and the Russians and many others throughout history have learned to their chagrin. So go home.

A new Manhattan Project

US Army tent fabric

Do you ever get the feeling that the US will sleepwalk into a war with a great-power rival and lose?

The U.S. military has a tent problem.

The only domestic supplier of the specialist polyester fibre used in its tents has gone out of business with potential “significant impact to multiple tent and fabric systems”, according to a multi-agency assessment of weaknesses in the U.S. defence complex.

Tents are just one of nearly 300 strategic frailties identified in the country’s military supply chains. (“Assessing and Strengthening the Manufacturing and Defense Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States”, September 2018)

The list ranges from the cold-rolled aluminium used for armour plating through submarine shaft maintenance to the silicon power switches used in missile systems. And that’s just the handful of examples that made it into the declassified section of the report.

“All facets of the manufacturing and defense industrial base are currently under threat, at a time when strategic competitors and revisionist powers appear to be growing in strength and capability,” the report states.

Topping the list of “strategic competitors” is China.

The DoD report (PDF) thunders:

“China’s non-market distortions to the economic playing field must end or the U.S. will risk losing the technology overmatch and industrial capabilities that have enabled and empowered our military dominance.”

True, but why is this up to China? Instead of whining about the unfairness of it all, shouldn’t the US be proactively defending the supply chain for critical technologies? How hard would it be to jump-start (or restart) manufacturing of key technologies in the US? Bring it ALL back under the aegis of a new Manhattan Project for the 21st century. Incidentally, this would also help to reduce the trade deficit and create manufacturing jobs in the US.

The Trump administration has just begun to do this with steel and aluminum imports, invoking national security as a justification for tariffs. Back to Reuters:

Beneath the apparent chaos of U.S. trade policy lies a comprehensive rethink of the country’s industrial-military policy, specifically its raw material supply chains and its manufacturing sector.

Taiwan is gone

Han Kuang military exercise Kinmen Taiwan

Annual military exercise in Kinmen, Taiwan, a few miles from mainland China (Source)

I’m not entirely clear on who this guy is, but he has a strong opinion on what would happen in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan:

Now let me tell you the biggest military fiction to be found on the planet.

Taiwan will be able to defend itself against a Chinese invasion. The US will rush to Taiwan’s aid in the event of an invasion. Finally the combined might of the US and Taiwan with MAYBE the assistance of others in the region will be able to retake the island in the event that the Chinese establish a foothold/successfully take it.

Sorry boys and girls. Ain’t happening.

No matter how you slice it, we are victims of time and distance. The Chinese are too close, we’re too far away and the Taiwanese have been so thoroughly infiltrated that success is impossible.

Look at the Chinese order of battle.

Count numbers.

Do the same for Taiwan.

The results of your count should be obvious. Taiwan will fall.

Some numbers to consider:

China’s armed forces have long outnumbered and outspent Taiwan’s. China now has 800,000 active combat troops in its ground forces, compared with 130,000 in Taiwan; its budget last year was $144 billion, compared with Taiwan’s $10 billion, according to the Pentagon’s most recent annual report on the Chinese military. (Congress approved a $700 billion Pentagon budget in September, with an even larger increase than President Trump had requested.)

Back to the military blogger guy:

Remember the proposal (don’t know where it came from) to forward position US Marines on the island? If that was followed thu then the calculations change dramatically depending on the size of the force. Put a Platoon forward and its pretty much the same. Make it a Battalion and suddenly you have enough Marines in harm’s way where abandonment or rapid evacuation becomes impossible when ships show up on the horizon. Additionally you have the spectre of a Battalion of Marines “cutting and running” or being destroyed by Chinese forces. That would require a full scale military push if not to save the Taiwanese then to save the Marines.

That proposal would have signalled our determination for Taiwan to remain free.

But we didn’t bite.

Which means that this conversation has already occured at the highest levels of the Pentagon/State Dept/National Command Authority.

It has certainly been obvious for a while that when the pedal hits the metal, the US will throw Taiwan under the bus rather than fight China. As time goes on, China’s military edge over the self-governing island grows more extreme. It’s also very telling that Taiwan is struggling to recruit soldiers as it phases out conscription. The national morale needed to risk life and limb fighting off a PLA invasion seems… lacking.

There is some interesting back-and-forth about China’s capabilities in the blog’s comments section:

Danger_Maus • 3 days ago

You say Taiwan will vote to reunite with the mainland in a decade; that really shows your lack of understanding of the Taiwanese hatred of the communist regime of China. The only way the commies can “unite” the island with the mainland is by force.

Also I find your understanding of the local geography lacking as well. The Taiwan strait is 130 kms at its narrowest. The waters of the strait is considered the roughest in the northern hemisphere and the western side of the island (facing the mainland) has no beaches, only mud flats – the beaches are on the eastern side. This isn’t a Normandy crossing and the PLAN still hasn’t the capacity/capability to bring a significant number of troops ashore without them being sunk and drown at sea.

Solomon Mod Danger_Maus • 3 days ago

80 miles? hardly a long distance. i drive further than that on an almost daily basis. sorry bro but you’re dealing with an American. we know distance. we conquer just for shits and giggles in our personal lives much less militarily. 80 miles? that barely qualifies as a decent training opportunity much less a real world military mission…especially for forcible entry forces.

so what does that SHORT FUCKING DISTANCE mean? it means its within range of EVERY SINGE FIGHTER AND TRANSPORT PLANE IN THE CHINESE AIR FORCE! it means that an LCAC can cover the distance FROM FREAKING CHINA to Taiwan in 2 hours (assuming a transit speed of 35 knots)…it means that you have the almost IDEAL conditions for everything from a RAID to an AIR ASSAULT to a PARACHUTE ASSAULT to a MASSIVE AMPHIBIOUS ASSAULT using AERIAL INSERTION and SURFACE ASSAULT ASSETS!

you talk about me not knowing geography? hell yeah i know the geography. what i can’t figure is why China hasn’t already attacked. the ground is laid. this would be the stroke that would cement them as a Super Power with muscle to enforce their will.

no matter how you slice this thing. from a military point of view Taiwan is undefensible.

[…]

wtfunk555 • 4 days ago

Taiwan isn’t gone. If Taiwan were gone then the Trump administration would not be shoring up US Taiwan relations. Pence would not have recently singled out Taiwan as model of democracy in the Chinese speaking world. Trump wouldn’t be conducting all these FNOP operations right in China’s face if he didn’t believe the US could prevail over China. Losing Taiwan would signify to the world that Japan, The Philippines, Vietnam heck most of the Pacific is up for grabs thus the US isn’t just going to hand Taiwan over to China on a silver platter. If anything, the US seems be closer to Taiwan today, than it has been in decades.

Trump knows that China is the US’s biggest threat. He’s already taken steps to neutralize China starting with its economy. I’d even go so far as to say that USMCA was written in a way to specifically counter China’s exploitation of NAFTA loopholes to access America’s market.

Solomon Mod wtfunk555 • 4 days ago

wait. are you being serious or are you just being a nationalist (Taiwan) on this issue? i’m just looking at things as they are not as i wish them to be. you point out that as goes Taiwan so goes the Pacific? i think you’re just not being honest there. Taiwan could fall and the rest of the Pacific would remain unchanged. the same talk happened with regard to Hong Kong. it fell underneath China’s orbit and everything else remained the same.

quite honestly Taiwan COULD BE SEEN JUSTIFIABLY SO (to some) as properly being Chinese territory. a breakaway Republic but Chinese territory none-the-less.

but my bigger issue is the defense of Taiwan. i just don’t see how it could realistically done. we’re certainly not going to launch a nuclear war in defense of Taiwan so how do we defend it? additionally the US and Russia and NATO have ALL STARTED CONDUCTING LARGE SCALE EXERCISES! we claim that Trident Junction is peaceful but given past tensions it could mask an invasion. the same occurred with the large scale Russian exercise. i heard talk from some that it was a mask to make a move into Western Europe (yeah crazy talk). i said all that to say that the “we can see it from a mile away” is just plain happy talk. China has too many forces in the area. they run too many snap drills. the only real alert we’ll have is when we see Chinese Paratroopers and Marines loading transports and then its all over but the crying.

explain that away before you slam me for my thoughts on the subject. how far away is Taiwan from the mainland? a shorter drive than Atlanta to Louisiana! MUCH SHORTER. in today’s military that’s incredibly short.

Mending fences

The first state visit by a Japanese leader to China in seven years suggest that the two countries, which allegedly have deep-seated mutual animosity, are in the process of strengthening ties:

What Happened: China and Japan signed multiple agreements intended to strengthen bilateral ties during the first day of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s official visit to China, the South China Morning Post reported Oct. 26. Both countries will cooperate on roughly 50 third-country infrastructure projects and agreed to resume currency swaps. Additionally, they will further discuss joint East China Sea energy cooperation and China’s lifting of food import restrictions following the nuclear disaster at Fukushima.

Why It Matters: Both China and Japan are recalibrating their strategies toward each other as they look to hedge against uncertainties as well as increasing trade protectionism from the United States.

This makes sense; as the neoliberal world order falls apart, regional trade blocs will emerge and solidify, and Japan and China, with their proximity and shared Confucian heritage, can be expected to align more closely.

Stratfor argues, however, that any Sino-Japanese rapprochement is complicated by China’s maritime ambitions, which clash with Japan’s interests as an island nation. Japan is also expanding its activities in the South China Sea, recently sending a submarine to conduct drills there for the first time. The duo may need to remain frenemies for a while.

Invasion of Venezuela in the works?

Things may be heating up in South America:

A top Colombian official told Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo that its government will support Brazilian’s far-right President-elect Jair Bolsonaro if he wants to overthrow the socialist government of Venezuela.

According to Folha, a top diplomatic official said that “if [President-elect] Bolsonaro wants to help overthrow Maduro with a military intervention, he will have the support of Colombia.”

According to the anonymous source, Colombian President Ivan Duque and his political patron, the hard-right former President Alvaro Uribe, would agree with a military intervention.

“If it is [United States President Donald] Trump or Bolsonaro are the first to set foot in Venezuela, Colombia will follow suit without hesitation,” the diplomat told Folha. […]

Ivan Duque Colombia

Colombian president Ivan Duque

Colombia’s conservative President Ivan Duque, who is supported by the far-right in his own divided country, considers Maduro a “dictator” and has refused to rule out military intervention.

“Duque is confident that if such an operation is underway, with the involvement of Brazil, Colombia and perhaps the US, they will participate. The region can no longer bear a worsening of the Venezuelan diaspora,” said the source.

Regarding that diaspora, the Miami Herald reported in June:

Almost 1 million people from Venezuela are thought to have poured into neighboring Colombia in the last two years, amid a grinding economic, social and political crisis that has rattled the region.

On Wednesday, Colombian authorities said a nationwide census found that 442,462 Venezuelans are living in the country without proper documentation and 376,572 Venezuelans are in the country legally — for a total of 819,034. […]

The Venezuelan exodus is being felt throughout the hemisphere. According to the International Organization on Migration, there were at least 1.6 million Venezuelans living abroad in 2017 — up from 698,000 in 2015.

Venezuela exodus Columbia

Venezuelans looking for a better life in Colombia (Source)

On a possibly related note, the “Axis of Evil” has a successor in the Western Hemisphere:

Now the Trump administration has coined the term “Troika of Tyranny” to describe the group of oppressive Latin American dictators it is pledging to confront. The administration is right to call out the crimes of the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. But it remains to be seen whether the White House can deliver a comprehensive strategy to go along with the rhetoric.

National security adviser John Bolton gave a speech Thursday afternoon at the Freedom Tower in Miami to a crowd filled with people who fled Cuba and Venezuela to escape the cruelty and oppression of the Castro and Maduro regimes. Linking those situations with the escalating repression of the Daniel Ortega government in Nicaragua, Bolton promised a new, comprehensive U.S. approach that will ramp up U.S. involvement in pushing back against what the administration sees as a leftist, anti-democratic resurgence in the region.

Caution is needed here. The American public does not want another foreign war, and a major intervention in South America is guaranteed to be a multi-faceted disaster.

Daniel Ortega Nicolás Maduro

Nicolás Maduro and Daniel Ortega

China Telecom diverting internet traffic to and through North America

It may seem that I am beating up on a certain country all the time, for unknown reasons of my own, but in fact I am just relaying the accelerating flurry of reports of official misbehavior by that country’s government and state-owned corporations. Now we learn that, allegedly, China Telecom – one of the big three state-owned telecom providers – has hacked North America’s internet infrastructure (PDF link):

China Telecom has ten strategically placed, Chinese controlled internet ‘points of presence’ (PoPs) across the internet backbone of North America. Vast rewards can be reaped from the hijacking, diverting, and then copying of information-rich traffic going into or crossing the United States and Canada – often unnoticed and then delivered with only small delays. […]

Over the past few years, researchers at BGProtect LTD based on the DIMES project [DIMES] at the Tel Aviv University built a route tracing system monitoring the BGP announcements and distinguishing patterns suggesting accidental or deliberate hijacking across many routes simultaneously and with a granularity down to the individual city. Using this technique, the two authors of this paper noticed unusual and systematic hijacking patterns associated with China Telecom. […]

Using these numerous PoPs, CT has already relatively seamlessly hijacked the domestic US and cross-US traffic and redirected it to China over days, weeks, and months as demonstrated in the examples below. The patterns of traffic revealed in traceroute research suggest repetitive IP hijack attacks committed by China Telecom. While one may argue such attacks can always be explained by ‘normal’ BGP behavior, these, in particular, suggest malicious intent, precisely because of their unusual transit characteristics – namely the lengthened routes and the abnormal durations. The following are a set of such unusual cases.

An article summarizes:

In 2016, China Telecom diverted traffic between Canada and Korean government networks to its PoP in Toronto. From there, traffic was forwarded to the China Telecom PoP on the US West Coast and sent to China, and finally delivered to Korea.

Normally, the traffic would take a shorter route, going between Canada, the US and directly to Korea. The traffic hijack lasted for six months, suggesting it was a deliberate attack, Demchak and Shavitt said.

Demchak and Shavitt detailed other traffic hijacks, including one that saw traffic from US locations to a large Anglo-American bank’s Milan headquarters being terminated in China, and never delivered to Italy, in 2016.

During 2017, traffic between Scandinavia and Japan, transiting the United States, was also captured by China Telecom, ditto data headed to a mail server operated by a large Thai financial company.

Interestingly, a 2015 Obama-Xi agreement aimed at stopping cyber IP theft by military forces appears to have been somewhat successful. But the agreement did not cover activities by Chinese corporations, and apparently nobody considered the security risks of allowing China Telecom to operate major internet nodes throughout North America. China does not allow US-based ISPs to control pieces of its internet infrastructure in China. Perhaps it’s time for the US and Canada to learn from China’s example.

China Telecom PoP North America

China Telecom’s presence in North America (Source)

The beatings will continue until morale improves

China port source BBC

From Axios, we learn that the Sino-American trade relationship will remain… strained… for a while:

President Trump has no intention of easing his tariffs on China, according to three sources with knowledge of his private conversations. Instead, these sources say he wants Chinese leaders to feel more pain from his tariffs — which he believes need more time to fully kick in.

What we’re hearing: “He wants them to suffer more” from tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods, said a source with direct knowledge of Trump’s thinking, and the president believes the longer his tariffs last, the more leverage he’ll have. […]

Behind the scenes: Trump has privately boasted that his China tariffs have driven down the country’s stock market. Experts say the trade war has hurt market sentiment, but the stock market has never been a reliable barometer of Chinese economic strength.

As 罗臻 points out:

A-shares are not a good measure of Chinese economic sentiment, it’s housing. In order to crack the housing market, however, Trump would need to inflict more pain for longer, to the point where China can’t contain the fallout and home prices start sinking 1 or 2 percent per month.

Trump is pursuing the right strategy for his intentions, even if he isn’t watching the right signals. Or maybe the stock market comments are for public (and China’s) consumption.

Operation Urgent Fury

Invasion of Grenada

An interesting recap of Operation Urgent Fury, the US invasion of Grenada in 1983. I didn’t realize the operation was such a near-debacle, with 19 killed and 116 wounded on the American side:

In the end there were no maps of Grenada to be had anywhere at Fort Bragg. In an inspired moment a division staff officer headed for downtown Fayetteville, where he procured tourist maps of the island. Planners superimposed a military grid atop the map and distributed copies to the invading troops before they boarded their air craft. Interestingly, many senior leaders were relying on articles copied out of The Economist for the most up-to-date intelligence on the island. […]

Things did not go as smoothly for the Army. Newly obtained aerial photos showed obstacles on the airfield—something the SEALs might have cleared had they landed. Presuming the enemy was anticipating the assault, the Ranger commander decided to jump at 500 feet in order to minimize his troops’ time in the air. Such a low-level jump made reserve parachutes useless, so they were discarded. Worse, only the first assault company had expected to jump, so only they were wearing parachutes. At the last moment the rest of the Rangers scrambled to get into their harnesses, a task made infinitely more difficult when attempted in an aircraft crowded with men and equipment. As a result, the Rangers began landing more than 30 minutes behind schedule, and the successive drop waves took 90 minutes to complete —in daylight and initially under heavy enemy fire. So far, Urgent Fury was a perfect example of how not to conduct an airborne operation and was shaping up to be an unmitigated disaster. […]

A separate JSOC mission failed to capture the transmitter broadcasting the government-controlled Radio Free Grenada, after PRA counterattacks drove a SEAL team from the position. Similarly, Delta and Ranger assaults on the enemy command posts at Fort Rupert and the prison at Richmond Hill stalled after antiaircraft fire downed two helicopters and damaged others. Adding some macabre mockery to the unfolding spectacle, attacking U.S. aircraft accidentally hit a mental hospital, killing 18 patients and setting others free to aimlessly wander around a nearby town.

Etc. Apparently at one point, a solider had to use a payphone to call in support for his unit:

The basic story is that a unit on the island was pinned down by Communist forces. Interoperability and communications were so bad, they were unable to call for support from anywhere. A member of the unit pulled out his credit card and made a long-distance call by commercial phone lines to their home base, which patched it through to the Urgent Fury command, who passed the order down to the requested support.

Mistakes were made, and lessons were learned…

Former Army general predicts war with China in 15 years

Chinese troops Vostok 2018

Chinese troops during Vostok 2018 war games in Eastern Siberia

A dire prediction, but is it correct?

The former commander of the U.S. Army in Europe warned Wednesday that it’s very likely the United States will be at war with China in 15 years.

Retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges said that European allies will have to do more to ensure their own defenses in face of a resurgent Russia because America will need to focus more attention on defending its interests in the Pacific.

“The United States needs a very strong European pillar. I think in 15 years — it’s not inevitable — but it is a very strong likelihood that we will be at war with China,” Hodges told a packed room at the Warsaw Security Forum, a two-day gathering of leaders and military and political experts from central Europe.

“The United States does not have the capacity to do everything it has to do in Europe and in the Pacific to deal with the Chinese threat,” Hodges said.

I think it unlikely. What would they fight over? No doubt the Sino-American relationship is heating up, but China has no interest in war, and it’s hard to imagine the US going to war to defend the South China Sea or Taiwan. China will eventually replace the US as the dominant power in East Asia, and there’s not much the US can or will do about it.

In any case, the 2030s is almost certain to a very interesting decade all around. Buckle up.