The Problem With This Syria Strategy

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I feel the need to write something relevant about this whole Syria-related farce. In the middle of the argument about whether to arm the Syrian opposition, author Marc Lynch proposes that instead, Assad should be told it’s either step down or go before the International Criminal Court as a war criminal. This, he believes, will encourage high-level defections. US SecState Hillary Clinton also believes that a breaking point will come where there will be high level defections and Assad will be forced to step down.

Seriously, how ridiculous is this?

This Assad is a figurehead who has his job solely by virtue of the fact he prevents the heads of the military, who hold the real and tangible power, from needing to bicker among themselves for supremacy. This Assad has his job because his father, the real dictator, is already dead. This Assad is not Gadaffi; he is not running a personality cult and maintaining “police” that are more loyal than the regular military. The military is the regime, and in no way can be separated from it.

The rebels know this. They’re not in this to take Assad down; they’re in this to take down the entire Alawite sect and banish it from its grip on national power. I note that a lot of people think this is a really good idea if it can be achieved, notably lovers of Israel. However, my point is this: if the military is the regime, Assad stepping down is meaningless; and furthermore, the entire governing structure must come crashing down and be replaced with a complete revolution if the opposition is to be satisfied.

This is not Egypt. In Egypt, Mubarak forgot a simple truth: the military was the power behind the country. Mubarak tried to use economic assets and political power to create a family dynasty and shut the military out from control and the more lavish profits. The military decided Mubarak was a liability and needed to be cauterized to stem the bleeding. The military is still in power and isn’t rushing to take orders from Islamic legislators, though we’ll see what eventually happens. My point is, Assad is in good standing with the Syrian military, i.e. the real regime, and therefore is not in much danger of internal betrayal.

In the first place, why are the higher members of Assad’s power structure there to begin with? It’s probably because they’re getting a piece of the action. If they’re getting a piece of the action, I ask seriously, what benefit can they possibly get from defecting to the opposition? Do we really think that they can be swayed by the prospect of abandoning all financial benefit and courageously serving the Syrian opposition as the People’s Army, as if the Syrian opposition (most of it Sunni) would trust these people even an inch?

In short, Marc Lynch and Hillary Clinton think that these people will cut their own throats – that is, their access to the spoils of government – to ingratiate themselves with the rest of the world, which will offer them nothing and may yet decide to put them on trial for war crimes. Failing that, if the opposition becomes the government, drives the Alawis out of power, and seizes the military’s tanks and chemical weapons and so forth,  they may find themselves put on trial in Syria itself and hung or shot at the pleasure of their political leaders. This is not much of a carrot, people.

All this gets us back to the core point: you can’t have “regime change” in Syria just by having Assad to step down. Relying on the military to in effect betray itself to its enemies is a ridiculous strategy and not one that has a hope in hell of working.

As for intimidating Syrian military commanders with the prospect of trial at the Hague, that involves a) their losing in the field b) their being taken alive. Given that they are fighting for unenlightened self-interest as much as any loyalty to the Assad name, it’s hard to see what they gain by surrendering. Besides, they’re in the military. There’s probably at least a minimum level of pride involved.

I do not write this in order to advocate arming the opposition. The existing litany of reasons is plenty, but just to cite a few, Islamic radicals are heavily invested in the effort (I care nothing for the Al-Qaeda name branding – I just care that they’re not friends of the West); borders are weak enough that this can’t help but be a trans-national conflict one way or another; and even if NATO ends up going all out and bombing around the clock, it’s not certain if that would really win this.

The simple fact is that Syria is a tough nut to crack due to the interest of the Alawis to not, well, get slaughtered like pigs. That they benefit economically from their position at the top matters, but so does just avoiding pure ethnic cleansing. News flash: They want to live. Losing sucks. So, they’re going to try to avoid losing as much as possible. There’s no substitute for having a body of the population firmly in your camp due to, well, justified fear. I know, I know, the opposition says they’re nice guys, multi-religion, multi-ethnic… but we know the history of mankind. Expecting this to be some sort of rare exception is not a high percentage plan.

The bottom line is, you have to crack the entire nut and completely rebuild Syria in Saudi Arabia’s image – or maybe Qatar – and then,  maybe, you’ll get a “good” outcome out of it.

Plans like this depend on every last variable going right. That makes them very bad plans indeed. – J


The Rebirthing of Nations

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A New Dawn?

So, I hadn’t posted here in a long time. I have good reasons – life, learning how to be a webmaster of a small corporate site owned in part by family – but in addition, I write about strategy. This Libya mess hasn’t had much. Now, however, we get a clear indication of where this is going in the future: the rebirthing of Libya, the first among many perhaps in what promises to be a new era of worldwide instability.


Sun Tzu: Regular and Elite Forces

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Let’s talk us some Sun Tzu here. He went over regular vs. irregular forces and tactics, but let’s apply this to modern circumstances.

The Right Tool For The Right Job

Irregular forces… well, for our very modern purposes, let’s call them elite forces.

That is, forces with a selection of manpower, equipment, training, doctrine, and leadership that renders them superior to regular forces, especially by the old “pound for pound” measurement.

Pound for pound, the elite force can whip any regular force it meets. If numbers are equal, the elite force will win virtually all the time.

Therein lies the problem.

Pound for pound, a panther might be fiercer than the lion, but the lion will still win because its overall power is greater.

Pound for pound, the elite force might be fiercer than the regular forces, but the regular forces, being far more numerous, will surround the elite force, bombard it with artillery, whittle down its numbers from the inevitable damage, and finish it off and utterly destroy it. It’ll be messy, but it’ll get done.

Therefore, an elite force cannot defeat a much larger, minimally competent regular force. While capable of doing horrific damage on a narrow front, the vulnerability is great.

How, then, to use elite forces?

I have realized the truth of this circumstance.

You must use regular forces and elite forces simultaneously, but separately.

If put together, the elite soldiers will be resented by the regular soldiers, and the regular soldiers scorned by the elite soldiers, and ruinous tests of courage will take place between them. (Read: Fistfights, brawls)

Elite forces will be held back if they serve alongside regular forces as a unit, and their advantages will be diminished and drowned out.

Regular forces cannot keep up with the elite forces, therefore a unified command either brings the elite forces to heel (to their ruin), or pits elite forces against the enemy without coordination (to their ruin).

What to do, then?

Elite forces require regular forces to mask their movements and permit them to do maximum damage to the enemy.

That is, only a large regular force can act as a decoy for an elite force. A small regular force is too fragile to do this for long, but a sufficiently large and resilient force can securely draw the enemy’s attention and allow elite forces – which can operate outside of the regular order of battle, and which can operate even when cut off from the commander – to carry the fight to the enemy.

Regular forces are indispensable to elite forces, not because they are more capable, but because they are complimentary.

Just as it is foolish to attempt to win with conventional tactics alone, so it is foolish to attempt to win with irregular tactics lacking the distraction and masking caused by the actions of regular forces.

Only when the two work together, not in unison but complimentary to each other, can elite forces repeatedly attack sections of the enemy on favorable terms and rout them utterly. This causes chaos in the enemy’s order of battle.

I believe that this is what works. I can come up with various examples, and in the future, I plan to, but I felt it’s good to get this out now and just let people stare at it a little while.

The Head Of the CBO Is Dead Wrong

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I Couldn’t Ignore This Stupidity.

Go ahead and check this out on Bloomberg, but the key parts will be shown below.

A permanent extension of Bush-era tax cuts would provide a temporary boost to the U.S. economy and then become a drag on growth by pushing up interest rates, the head of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said.

Douglas Elmendorf said extending all of the breaks due to expire at year’s end would increase demand in the next few years by putting more money in consumers’ pockets.

He says that like it’s a bad thing.

I mean, seriously, hasn’t the main argument been, we need to increase demand? Isn’t that a Good Thing anymore?

There’s more.

Over the long term, he said, the tax cuts would hurt the economy because the government would have to borrow so much money to finance them that it would begin competing with private companies seeking loans. That, in turn, would drive up interest rates, Elmendorf said.

“The problem is that if those tax cuts are not accompanied by other changes in the government budget and are simply funded through borrowing,” the borrowing “crowds out other private investment in productive capital — in the sorts of equipment, the computers, the machinery, the buildings — that are the source of long-term economy growth,” Elmendorf told the Senate Budget Committee today.

“That connection is less visible, and I think thus less apparent in most people’s intuition, but it is no less important for being not-so-visible,” he said.

I see that he is trying to be cute, to offer up what is essentially a supply-side idea that the real source of long-term economic growth is private investment in productive capital (the “supply” part).

Note that those who are concerned about the government crowding out private borrowing say that it’s already happening, but at any rate, this seems to me to be a disingenuous argument. Totally aside from that…

It’s Just Stupid.

I mean, seriously? Raising demand is bad? News flash: if the economy improves due to raised demand, we won’t have to worry as much about borrowing! For that matter, a country on the upswing has people rushing to throw money at it since they know they’ll recoup the investment.

Totally aside from that… this is the same logic with the $30 billion loan support program for small businesses. By and large, small businesses are NOT borrowing, because businesses borrow to EXPAND. When your production is already under capacity due to a lack of customers and orders – that is, due to a lack of DEMAND – there is no point in borrowing more money.

Let the big, bad corporations and the Mom and Pop businesses worry about how to borrow money from the private sector after the economy is back on track and their profits – and the lure of more profits – provide a genuine factual basis for borrowing and expansion.

One More Thing.

Incidentally, I realize the CBO has priced the expiration of the tax cuts for “the wealthy” (and small businesses with gross over 250k yearly – my best assessment of news reports is that there is simply no reliable statistical information publicly available to say how many businesses this includes) into its budget projections. Congress and the White House have similarly factored it in, deciding that the government has a right to that money and speaking of how the nation cannot afford to give a tax cut over and above… the raised level of taxes that will soon arrive as a result of inaction.

They have priced it in, but ordinary families have not. In fact, ordinary people are aghast at the lack of an extension for even the middle class, in addition to a reversal of relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) and other “trap” provisions in the tax code that snare the middle class.

In other words, we are not discussing the cost of a “tax cut.” We are discussing the cost of not going through with a heavy tax increase, of which one component is raising the base income tax on the wealthy. (The AMT will surely squeeze a lot more than a simple base rise would.)

In other words, we are discussing raising taxes in a recession, and being proud of it.

Look, I thought this thought but, seeing someone else write it – not to engage in partisan politics, I won’t link, but… the idea is, Democrats are now willing to forgo job creation and economic revival. I’m stopping short of impugning their reasons. The fact is awesome enough in its raw stupidity that it requires no application of malice.

Supply Without Demand Is Ruin

Incidentally, to the extent supply-siders would actually support the idea that demand is irrelevant because supply creates it, that is a stupid and ruinous idea.

Broadly speaking, I’m not quick to support simply throwing money at people, but I’d support throwing money at people a lot faster than spending it in spectacularly wasteful ways that don’t give people the visceral feeling of a free lunch to encourage spending. That’s not really the point here.

The fact you have a factory means nothing if it is idle because you have no customers.

Therefore, a tax increase to support the government’s bloated finances just so that it does not “compete with private business” in borrowing years down the road is openly sacrificing the present for the future.

Look… keep your mind in the here and now, young Padawan. Do not be mindful of the future at the expense of the present.

The present is bad. To admit that not raising taxes would be beneficial in the short term is to make a mockery of the criticism of the long-term “problems.”

Without demand, none of us can do business, period. Without increased demand, few of us can do good business.

Let’s recognize that fact and drain the ideology from the issue. If we want prosperity, it must begin with allowing the economy to heal.

This won’t do it. This is actually choosing to continue the pain in order to create a politically appealing public lashing of the “wealthy” without the slightest regard for the consequences.

I still despise partisan politics in general, but my goodness, I never thought that a party going to the polls would actually choose to shun economic improvement because it doesn’t fit a redistribution agenda.

Prosperity As A Broader Goal

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Wealth is held by individuals, but prosperity is a high level of wealth across society at large.

Prosperity is not, and cannot, be equal or utopian. It need not be in the other direction, but absolute equality in wealth isn’t likely to work out.

Identifying prosperity as a strategic goal leads to several corollaries:

  • Freedom allows the enjoyment of wealth large and small.
  • So far as possible, freedom should be maximized.
  • So far as possible, the creation of wealth should be encouraged.
  • Redistribution of wealth is not a priority.
  • Equalization of society is not a priority.
  • Every effort should be made to encourage bottom-up prosperity.

Now, about that last point.

Bottom-Up Prosperity

Simply put, people should be able to make a profit with the least means possible. Barriers to entry into small business should be low. Government regulation should be the minimum possible. Taxation should be limited as far as possible.

It’s not a matter of handouts or redistribution. It’s a matter of empowering people to make money themselves.

This leads to:

  • Pride in one’s work
  • Higher quality of effort
  • Greater creativity

These are the things that add value, not only to products, but to society itself.

Personal wealth is obviously a goal for people in business, but insofar as the broader world can be influenced by us, it is mutually beneficial for prosperity to be a goal for society.

Prosperity is something that should be beyond reproach, but sadly, this is not so. It is something that should recognize that both supply and demand, both labor and capital, play crucial roles in creating prosperity, and both must exist for prosperity to exist, but sadly, this is discarded in favor of political jockeying on a wide scale.

To me, it’s rather simple. It got simple when I studied the issue and discovered it to be so.

Prosperity: The Most Benefit For Most People

Making prosperity a goal is to hold the general interest, the societal interest, above any particular section thereof for the purposes of creating big-picture, wide-ranging policy.

Being simple does not make it easy. In fact, I find it hard to believe much of anyone will agree with what I have written. It is a hard lesson for some. But, I see no point in not writing what I have come to believe over years of studying these issues.

About that Lockerbie Bomber Release…

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Quoting here:

The note added: “Nevertheless, if Scottish authorities come to the conclusion that Megrahi must be released from Scottish custody, the US position is that conditional release on compassionate grounds would be a far preferable alternative to prisoner transfer, which we strongly oppose.”

Mr LeBaron added that freeing the bomber and making him live in Scotland “would mitigate a number of the strong concerns we have expressed with regard to Megrahi’s release”.

The US administration lobbied the Scottish government more strongly against sending Megrahi home, under a prisoner transfer agreement signed by the British and Libyan governments, in a deal now known to have been linked to a pound stg. 550 million oil contract for BP.

It claimed this would flout a decade-old agreement between Britain and the US that anyone convicted of the bombing would serve their sentence in a Scottish prison. Megrahi was released by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill on the grounds that he had three months to live, making his sentence effectively spent.

My bolding.

You know, if he was released on compassionate grounds, he had served the entirety of his legal sentence. It didn’t flout the agreement; the Brits/ Scots just moved the goal posts of what the U.S. had agreed to, breaking the spirit but not the letter of the words.

It still stinks to high heaven, doesn’t it?

In addition, Scotland had no authority to allow this man to leave the country’s borders. (Scotland is not a country; the United Kingdom, however, is.) The U.K. government probably said something like, “Well, he’s been released, his sentence is de facto commuted, we have no grounds to hold him, so *whistling* guess we’ll have to let him go to Libya.” So rather than transfer him to a Libyan jail, the end result was to transfer him to Libya as a free man, which is certainly not what even the Obama administration was privately suggesting (and to this day, refusing to allow the private suggestions to be published so that Scotland can defend itself against public charges by the U.S. Senate).

I’m not sure you can call Straw’s refusing to subject himself to interrogation by a legislative body of a former colony as if the U.K. is a subservient nation (even Canada wouldn’t do that) should be called a “snub” but, the problems are twofold.

  • The Obama admin opened the door to compassionate release without grasping the full consequences of that action.
  • The U.K. government found a legalistic, back door, backhanded method to massively embarrass and humiliate the American government, flaunting the freedom of a man convicted of killing American citizens.

Not much to say about the people demanding an inquiry so that the convicted bomber can have his conviction expunged from his record because they think the trial was a conspiracy and railroading, except: man, you really can’t please anybody, can you.

My Writing About Zen

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The best summary of what I’ve written about Zen is at Zen: Life Made Simple at the hyperlink. You can also find the Zen for an Uncluttered Life feature at Technorati. For this and other commentary, you can visit the Learn Out Live Blog also.

The idea behind all this is to promote Education for Better Living, the idea that the more we know, and the less tangled what we know happens to be, the better off our lives will be, both in terms of bounty and enjoyment.

Having said this, I am in no way a formal teacher (or even student) of Zen; good luck finding a Zen center in rural Nova Scotia. My years of living in a small-time place have helped concentrate my mind on issues of simplification and mental clarity, and I like sharing that with the world, but this is the pursuit of the Zen idea, not Zen the religion. Then again, I firmly maintain that Zen was never something that belonged to monks alone. If it had, it would never have been part of the background of Japanese society.

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