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

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.

The Good and Bad War

A review of The Phoney Victory: The World War II Illusion by Peter Hitchens

The Phoney Victory Peter Hitchens“Facts are better than dreams.” – Winston Churchill

The Phoney Victory: The World War II Illusion by journalist Peter Hitchens is a powerful and unsettling book that aims to correct the historical record surrounding Britain’s involvement in World War II. It casts a cold eye on British decision-making before, during, and immediately after the greatest conflict in human history, and finds that large swaths of the conventional wisdom about the Good War are simply not true.

The argument goes something like this. Britain, wanting to preserve its credibility as a great power, foolishly committed itself to a war it was unprepared to fight. This tragic folly led to a long series of disasters. By June 1940, after the costly evacuation at Dunkirk and the German occupation of the Channel Islands, Britain had lost the war it had declared nine months earlier – chased out of continental Europe and defeated though not conquered by Germany.

The world’s greatest empire was reduced to a bankrupt, marginal power at the fringes of the war, essentially out of the fight in Europe, and had to be rescued by the United States. Why did this happen? The origins of this disastrous situation can be traced back to March 1939, when Britain and France made an unconditional guarantee to protect Poland’s borders and independence, knowing full well they were unable to enforce this pledge militarily. When Hitler invaded Poland in September, they were forced to declare war, although they did nothing practical to help Poland, then or later.

German occupation Guernsey

German occupation of the Channel Island of Guernsey (Source)

In examining the background to the guarantee, Hitchens finds evidence that the Chamberlain government was actually looking for a fight. As he argues:

Far from blundering into a guarantee they did not mean to fulfil, they wanted the guarantee to commit them irrevocably to an idealist war whose practical details interested them very little. For they had resolved to fight such a war that year to reassert their fast-shrivelling power and importance. [Italics in the original]

Hitchens asserts that Hitler needed to be overthrown at some point. His quarrel is with the motives and circumstances of Britain’s ill-timed intervention:

I am saying that we might have done better to follow the wise example of the USA, and wait until we and our allies were militarily and diplomatically ready before we entered that conflict.

The book later delves into “the wise example of the USA,” specifically the cold, harsh calculations of American self-interest that undergirded Roosevelt’s policy towards Great Britain. In a fascinating couple of chapters, Hitchens records how the US took advantage of Britain’s helplessness to strip the empire of its assets and its naval supremacy in exchange for desperately needed aid.

Stalin FDR Tehran

Stalin and Roosevelt in Tehran (Source)

Under the “cash and carry” agreement, a hopelessly indebted Britain shipped its life savings in the form of gold bullion and securities across the Atlantic to pay for war supplies. Much of this loot still remains in Fort Knox. Under the Destroyers for Bases deal, Churchill handed over British territories across the Caribbean, Bermuda and Newfoundland to the US, a humiliating loss of imperial possessions, in return for 50 decrepit ships. The ruthlessness of these bargains is stunning and very damaging to the trope of the Anglo-American “special relationship.”

The Churchill myth also takes a severe beating here. There is no doubt that Churchill was a great leader with many admirable qualities. But as the book reveals, he was also prone to absurd posturing and hubris that led to a number of damaging errors. One of these was his refusal to send reinforcements in time to Malaya, which paved the way for the devastating loss of Singapore to the Japanese in 1942. Churchill was also bizarrely fixated on Egypt, sending scarce resources to the Mediterranean and Middle East theater at the expense of nearly losing the all-important Battle of the Atlantic. A failed intervention in Greece “was also begun for reasons of prestige, not military ones.”

In the book’s most upsetting chapters, Hitchens addresses the British bombing of German population centers during the war, and the ethnic cleansing of Germans from large parts of central and eastern Europe under the post-war Potsdam Agreement. The first issue tends to ignite strong emotions. Many people believe that the deliberate mass bombing of German civilians in their homes was a justified response to Nazi aggression and was necessary to break the will of the German population.

Operation Gomorrah Hamburg

Effects of Operation Gomorrah (Source)

The chapter titled “Gomorrah” – named after Operation Gomorrah, the carpet-bombing of Hamburg in July 1943 which annihilated ten square miles of the city and killed over 40,000 civilians – dismantles these arguments, showing that the “area bombing” of entire towns and cities was futile and morally indefensible. The bombings had limited military value, and were done mainly for psychological and PR reasons, because they pleased Britain’s ally Stalin, and because, as Churchill put it, they were “better than doing nothing.” Huge numbers of British airmen were sacrificed in the raids, which accomplished little compared to the targeted bombing of industrial and military sites. The suggestion here is that Britain turned to carpet-bombing, a savage and largely pointless policy, because this was one of the few ways it could project power after having blundered into a war it was physically unable to win.

The follies continued long after Hitler self-terminated in his Führerbunker. The chapter “Orderly and Humane” covers the brutal, chaotic transfer of between 12 and 14 million ethnic Germans, mainly innocent women and children, out of Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia under the aegis of the victorious Allied powers. An estimated 500,000 to 1.5 million people died in this process, which is shockingly unknown to most people in the Anglo-American world.

Pointing out these facts is a dirty job, but someone has to do it. Hitchens goes to considerable lengths to fortify his book against the predictable misunderstandings. He makes it perfectly clear, for example, that condemning certain actions by the Allies in no way amounts to a defense of Nazi Germany or an argument that the two sides are morally equivalent. The book is also careful to praise the undeniable courage and sacrifice of the men and women who fought in and otherwise lived through the war, even as it shines a harsh light on the political and military decisions that were made by the people in charge.

Not being an expert on WWII, I am in no position to assess the book’s historical claims. My opinion is that Hitchens’s arguments are well supported and have the ring of truth. However, The Phoney Victory has attracted a couple of highly critical reviews, by Sir Richard Evans – described as “arguably the pre-eminent historian of 20th-century Germany” – and by Daniel Johnson, editor of Standpoint magazine (and son of historian Paul Johnson). Hitchens has also responded in detail to these reviews on his blog:

You can judge for yourself whether the above critics have successfully undermined Hitchens’s arguments. In my humble opinion, the book survives these attacks virtually unscathed. The sneering, dismissive article by Professor Evans can be, and is, easily demolished by Hitchens. It’s not clear whether the great academic even bothered to read the book.* Johnson’s review is far more thoughtful and detailed, but also ignores key parts of the book’s argument and veers off into embarrassing Churchill-worship.

I should also note that the book includes a highly entertaining and well-written index, which could almost hold its own as a separate work. Here’s a sample:

Great Britain, moderately important country off NW coast of Europe; its principal concern in 1939 preservation of its standing as a great power, 34; actively obstructs single largest escape route for persecuted European Jews, 34; naval weakness in Mediterranean, 34; seen by many Americans as selfish, mean and bullying, 37 […]

===

*A reader posted the following astute comment on Hitchens’s blog:

Sir Richard’s rant reaffirms my belief that Mr. Hitches is correct about the lingering power of the WW2 myth: it’s striking to witness a historian of his standing react so emotionally and with so little grace; especially the nitpicking that Mr. Hitchens highlights, a common refuge of those who duck and weave around a challenge they’re unwilling to face head-on.

Just as the Great Patriotic War’s been dragooned into service by successive Soviet and Russian governments eager to prop up their ramshackle hold on power, so the Second World War’s been used by successive British governments to mask imperial decline.

===

UPDATE: The book has also been reviewed by Ross Grainger, Dr Nicolas Lewkowicz, and Niall Gooch. And Mr Hitchens has kindly mentioned my review on Twitter:

Peter Hitchens tweet

Playing chicken in the South China Sea

How close did a Chinese warship approach a US Navy destroyer in the South China Sea before the latter swerved out of the way? This close:

USS Decatur China

USS Decatur (left) and PRC Warship 170 (Source)

From maritime industry website gCaptain:

The U.S. Navy confirmed the incident on Tuesday, accusing China’s navy of conducting an “unsafe and unprofessional maneuver” that nearly led to a collision as the U.S. destroyer was underway “in the vicinity” of Gaven Reef in the Spratly Islands on Sunday, September 30.

According to a Navy spokesman, during the incident, the Chinese warship “approached within 45 yards of Decatur’s bow, after which Decatur maneuvered to prevent a collision.”

As was reported over the weekend, the USS Decatur on Sunday conducted the U.S. Navy’s latest freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea, coming within 12 nautical miles of the Gaven and Johnson Reefs claimed by China.

China issued a statement Tuesday accusing the U.S. of violating its “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea islands.

Dangerous times.

Peter Jackson’s WWI Film

The great director colorized and enhanced old World War I footage to make this documentary, which looks both awesome and very moving:

The famous director Sir Peter Jackson will be releasing his latest film next month. This time, however, don’t expect hobbits and dragons. The acclaimed New Zealander has explored other battlefields: the unknown faces of World War One.

The movie is called “They Shall Not Grow Old.” It will be released in November to commemorate the centenary of the armistice that ended the Great War. It was contracted as part of the 14-18 NOW programme.

What’s unique about the movie is its protagonists. Jackson did not cast any actor for his movie, nor explore any landscapes. Instead, he utilized original photo and movie footage from WWI. He and his team received permission from the Imperial War Museum and the BBC to scavenge through their film archives for relevant footage. […]

Everything was in black-and-white. But with the aid of cutting-edge technology (the film footage was quite fragile), Jackson managed to rework them in high-definition colour.

Here’s the trailer:

 

Rethinking World War II

 

Churchill reviewing American troops

Peter Hitchens has come out with a new book, The Phoney Victory: The World War II Illusion, that challenges much of the conventional wisdom surrounding Britain’s involvement in the unpleasant events of 1939-45. Here, he summarizes the book’s main arguments, most of which will be familiar to regular readers of Hitchens’ column and blog. For many other people, especially in Britain, I suspect some of these ideas will prove seriously unwelcome.

[UPDATE: I review the book here.]

It seems that Hitchens is touching a third rail of politics with this book, which attempts to take an axe to some of the most cherished Anglo-American beliefs about the war. Here’s a sample:

MYTH 7: WE CAN THANK THE ‘SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP’

Hitler had well-founded suspicions that the USA, far from being a friend to this country, was hostile to and jealous of the British Empire. Indeed, the Anglo-American alliance refused to solidify as long as Britain still appeared to Americans as a selfish, mean and bullying Great Power quite capable of looking after itself. Attitudes began to change only when Britain, admitting it was running out of money, came to America’s doorstep as a penniless supplicant, offering America the chance to save the world.

The extraordinary (and all but unknown) transfer of Britain’s gold to the USA throughout 1939 and 1940 was the lasting proof that a deliberate, harsh British humiliation had to precede any real alliance. The stripping of Britain’s life savings was an enormous event.

Secret convoys of warships were hurrying across the Atlantic loaded down with Britain’s gold reserves and packed with stacks of negotiable paper securities, first to Canada and then to Fort Knox in Kentucky, where much of it still remains. It was not for safekeeping, but to pay for the war. Before Britain could become the USA’s pensioner, we had to prove we had nothing left to sell.

The ‘Lend-Lease’ system, which provided limited American material aid to Britain, was far from the act of selfless generosity Churchill proclaimed it to be. Even the Americans’ Bill had a gloating, anti-British tinge, given the number H.R. 1776 in reference to the year of the US Declaration of Independence.

The Destroyers for Bases Agreement, too, was quite grudging. It led to 50 decrepit American First World War destroyers being handed over in return for the USA obtaining bases in several British territories on the Western side of the Atlantic.

This shocking surrender of sovereignty indicates Britain was, piece by piece, handing naval and imperial supremacy to its former colony. It symbolises the true relationship between the USA and Britain in the post-Dunkirk months, as opposed to the sentimental fable still believed.

There’s much more in the linked piece. Hitchens has taken a lot of flak in the past for arguing that the British bombing of German population centers was unjustified, an issue that is revisited in the article. A lot of people find Hitchens’ viewpoint on this matter unpatriotic and disturbing because it undermines Britain’s moral standing in the war. This is of course a ridiculous non-argument, but the negative reaction is understandable. It’s very difficult for people to think objectively about events that are charged with personal or emotional significance, and this is especially true of World War II, which has loomed large in the imaginations of whole generations on both sides of the Atlantic.

This is a dirty job, but someone has to do it. By the way, I haven’t read the book yet, nor can I vouch for Hitchens’ arguments. All I can say is that Hitchens is a serious writer and thinker and I expect his treatment of the topic to be very interesting as well as controversial. History is complicated and our understanding of past events is fragmentary and distorted, full of yawning gaps and risible falsehoods. There is no reason to believe that history’s greatest conflict would be an exception to this rule.

Germany scandalously unprepared for alien invasion

Very disappointed in Germany. Apparently, the task of fighting off an alien invasion will fall on the US by default:

The German government has “no plans or protocol” should first contact with aliens occur, according to a report by German daily Bild.

The government considers such an event “extremely unlikely according to current scientific knowledge,” the Ministry of Economics said when responding to a question from Green MP Dieter Janecek.

“Concrete cases that could have been the subject of bilateral or multilateral talks with other states are not known,” the ministry’s statement continued.

United States has a plan

While Germany might not have a plan for extraterrestrial visitors, the US is more prepared. Even before the establishment of a Space Force that US President Donald Trump has recently said he plans to created as a new branch of the military, the 527th Space Aggressors Squadron is already a part of the United States Air Force. It aims to train US, joint and allied military forces for combat with “space-capable adversaries.”

The Air Force squadron regularly conducts drills designed to simulate what a space attack might look like if an otherworldly adversary attempted one.

In all seriousness, it’s hard to see what this can accomplish. Any alien invasion fleet will need to have traversed many light-years before reaching the earth, implying a level of technological sophistication that is surely far beyond that of the US military. Maybe, instead of rousing the invaders’ anger with pointless attacks, it would be better to do absolutely nothing.

From 2007-2012, the US also ran a task force that investigated sightings of unidentified flying objects with an annual budget of $22 million (€19.2 million). The UK has also run UFO sighting projects in the past.

More here about the Pentagon’s secret UFO task force. The military did admit that it was “incapable of defending itself against some of the technologies discovered” by the program, according to a New York Times report.

After analyzing past media coverage about possible findings of extraterrestrial microbial life, Varnum found most people’s reactions were positive.

In two following studies asking respondents what their hypothetical reaction would be if researchers did discover signs of life beyond Earth, or if researchers created a new life form in the lab, participants were still more positive than negative and were more excited about finding alien life than synthetically-created life.

Presumably, these people are betting that what we discover is kinder and gentler than this:

The research found that about half of Americans and Western Europeans surveyed elsewhere said they believe aliens have already visited Earth, Varnum said, and there does not seem to be any “chaos or disorder in the world” as a result.

Watch the subs

The broad outlines of the next world war are beginning to take shape:

The world’s three largest naval powers are all developing the next generation of their nuclear submarine fleets, accelerating the underwater arms race between the United States, China and Russia.

For now, at least, analysts say America remains by far the most dominant submarine force, even as its chief rivals work feverishly to overcome the U.S. advantages. Each country appears to have different strategic goals, with the U.S. bent on gaining greater cost and operating efficiencies while the Chinese and Russian are keenly focused on technological advances and achieving greater stealth.

I’m no military expert, but focusing on cost and operating efficiencies, rather than overwhelming technological dominance, seems like a sure path to losing the next war.

SSBNs, or “boomers,” hide in the ocean and can launch nuclear ballistic missiles at an enemy anywhere in the world even if the rest of a nation’s nuclear triad of air- and ground-based missiles is destroyed. They are the guarantors of mutually assured destruction in the event of nuclear war.

Some analysts say that these boomers will be increasingly crucial to the national security strategy of all three nations in the coming decade.

“There is no higher priority for the U.S. Navy than SSBN recapitalization,” said J.D. Williams, a retired Marine Corps colonel and senior defense researcher at RAND Corporation, who said SSBNs play a major role in the Navy’s big-picture decision making.

Now, why might that be? I thought the specter of global nuclear war was mostly a thing of the past.

Looks like we could be in for a fun century.

OPM: The other shoe drops

I was wondering when we would start hearing about the consequences of the massive Office of Personnel Management data breach back in 2014. Well, that particular shoe now appears to be dropping:

Some current and former federal government employees are taking a look at their credit activity after the Justice Department said this week that data stolen by suspected Chinese hackers in 2014 cyberattacks at the Office of Personnel Management may have been used to commit identity fraud.

Federal prosecutors on Monday said a Maryland couple had pleaded guilty to using information stolen in the OPM breach to set up fraudulent car-loan applications with a Newport News, Va., credit union.

Disclosure of the car-loan scheme, which took place in 2015 and 2016, has prompted new worries of potential identity theft for the more than 21 million current and former federal employees and contractors affected by the breach, which exposed Social Security numbers, addresses and other sensitive information, in addition to 5.6 million fingerprints. […]

Current and former U.S. officials familiar with the OPM breach said it wasn’t clear how the hacked files would have ended up in the hands of people in Maryland seeking to commit identity fraud. China has denied any involvement in the hack.

“This fraud case makes no sense,” said one former federal investigator who worked on the OPM investigation.

The use of stolen data to wreak havoc on individuals’ lives could become a very “disruptive” form of cross-border psychological warfare.