Thursday, December 6, 2012

Syria: Will Assad go full chemical?

   The Syrian Civil War just made headlines.


   Because, according to Western media, Bashar al-Assad's regime is so desperate that it's threatening to bust out the chemical weaponry and watch the world burn. Death by chemicals is the kind of warfare that makes comfy consumer populations in the US, Europe and even in Russia and China squirm. Chemicals are destabilizing due to the simple horror aspect of their use. Nobody anywhere wants to die WWI trench style. Sure, the trenches of the Great War are far away in the popular imagination but mustard gas, that persistent, skin lesioning horror chemical remains in the collective memory of anybody who ever picked up a history book. Chemical weapon usage is a sure sign that the Assad regime in Syria  is about to die without an exit strategy.  When you load the bombers with chemical weapons you know you've gone full Tony Montana on the whole situation.

   "Say hello to my little Sarin gas!"

   Suddenly, the world is watching the war in Syria and every major power has a stake in the game.

  Up to now, Russia and China have been blocking UN Security Council votes on intervention because all the major powers see Syria as a valuable pawn in the global energy chess game. The Middle East is ground zero and Damascus is the historic and spiritual gateway to the soul of Arabia.

   Chemical Warfare is the kind of warfare that makes general populations shudder.

   Sure, you could argue the case that it makes no difference how you die in a war. Death via explosives or via bullets or via sarin or mustard gas is all the same, right? You still end up dead so what's all the fuss about?

   Actually, no.

   Death by gas is cheating in the popular imagination. And there is wisdom in this.

   War can be fair. It is possible to kill people opposed to you via exploded metal projectiles aimed down a tight cylinder. You can also kill people via a 2000lb GBU laser guided bomb that turns your target's whole body into red meat spray. But killing by chemical is the worst kind of war by every human calculation. It's deadly and most of all, it's indiscriminate.

   There's the rub.


   At least an artillery strike is aimed at something, right?

   Chemical weapons seep across the land. They infect the body. Even if you survive, the cancer may appear later in your kid. Chemical warfare is deemed terrible by our thinking because, while we can all agree that we hate the enemy and want to kill him, chemicals in our bloodstream shouldn't destroy our children. Just because I want to kill that opposing guy with the AK doesn't mean I want to gun down his kid too. Nearly every human who ever lived loved their kid. Even though it sounds crazy, even war can have rules. 

   And chemical weapons break those rules. Chemical weapons break the rules by wiping out everyone everywhere. They're like messy nukes. At least nukes have the courtesy of vaporizing those at ground zero and are so lethal they cancel out their own use on the mutually assured destruction (MAD) paradigm. Chemical weapons are different. You can sneak them in there and maybe get away with using them. Not of course against the US or her allies. Current US policy on chem usage by foreign entities runs like this:

  "The current US retaliation policy, known as calculated ambiguity, warns potential adversaries that they can expect an “overwhelming and devastating” response if they use chemical or biological weapons (CBW) against the United States or its allies".

  In other words, you get Nagasakied if you try any "funny stuff".

   If Bashar al Assad is loading his fighter bombers with chems than you know he knows he's already dead.

   There is no exit strategy for him and his family.He's trapped, beaten and probably delusional.

   If chemical weapons are used then it's basically an invitation to NATO to walk into Syria and grab some amazing free Middle East real estate. Russia and China will wilt and withdraw support for Assad at the UN Security Council because once you go chemical on your population you've gone full Saddam and nobody anywhere will feel any sympathy for you.

   Assad has a selection of gases at his disposal but they mainly come down to just two. Mustard gas sure  is one ugly compound. First deployed in WWI, it likes to pool and remain skin melting in small depressions in terrain for days. The other choice, Sarin gas, makes your muscles fail on contact and you usually die of suffocation because you can't draw air into your lungs a few minutes after exposure.


   While Syria doesn't have much oil, for Western war planners, it has another quality that's hard to sell on the world market.


   Arabian prestige.

   Damascus is the spiritual heart of the Arab world. Mecca and Medina might be nice but Damascus is the home of the real philosophers of Arabia. Damascus had street lighting while the cities of Europe were black in the Dark Ages. The neighboring Egyptians see themselves as the home of Arabian Sunni identity and their revolution is significant. But the fall of Damascus to new powers will be the most significant war in the Middle East since T.E. Lawrence captured Aqaba.

   If Assad uses chemical weapons against his own population he will instantly lose Russian and Chinese support. It'd be a suicide move. That's why I think this whole chemical story in Western media is overblown. One of those fed to the media via "unnamed government officials" that stinks of CIA subterfuge. Still,  I've always marveled at the existence of Assad. He's the son of a famed father, Hafez al Assad who would've known how to deal with Arab Spring rebellions early. His dad would have killed every protester in the street and called them communists or whatever word was necessary to gain support from a major power. Arab dictators who don't play ball in the energy chess game get designated as the enemy. Arab dictators who play ball in the game get called friends.

   That's why king Abdullah in Saudi Arabia is seen as a philantropist and major US ally and Colonel Gaddafi went down fighting with pistols like a badass from the back of a pick up truck. Life and death in the desert is a precarious occupation. It's always been that way. The difference these days is that the world economy depends on the stuff that's buried under Arabian feet. 

    Either Assad is totally desperate and ready to press the red button that will extinguish his whole dynasty Gaddafi style, or, he's already been told by the Russians that he's gone too far and there is no retirement option in a villa on the Black Sea in his future.

   Anyone who's ever played a hand of poker knows that you double down on the bluff when your credit line just got cut off. Maybe someone will believe that crazy look in your eye. So you push all your chips into the middle of the table. That's Assad right now. Chemical weaponry is a way of breaking the bank.

   Personally, I can't believe Assad is serious here.

   Using chemical weapons would be like Hitler biting into a cyanide pill.

   It's certain death multiplied by the destruction of your country.

   But you know what?

   Wounded animals are more dangerous. Dictators are prone to shitty decision making when confined to a bunker. When you know you're about to die and you've got nothing else to lose, sometimes it's fun to just sit back and set the ignition fuse on the firework.





Thursday, November 8, 2012

China v Japan. Are the Senkaku Islands worth a war?

  China versus Japan sure would be a fun war.

  Fun, of course, being a relative term.

   For those who like watching the world burn, sure, it'd be an interesting fireworks display. At least until cheap Asian labor dried up, killing the world economy and suddenly Walmart has no cheap shit left to sell to subsistence consumers in the US. The world economy right now is married to the idea of backwater peasants, recently liberated from subsistence rice growing, getting subsumed into the brave new world of working for peanuts in concrete warehouses that fill western economies with cheap plastic shit and flashy tech goods. China, the ultimate population behemoth in history, has been rising fast ever since they ditched Maoism and embraced the idea that Marxism, while a nice idea in theory, doesn't work because of a fundamental law in evolutionary science:

   We're all greedy self serving assholes and nature seems to like it that way.

   China v Japan isn't going to happen anytime soon. There are many reasons why and all of them involve history. Even a quick scan of Chinese history tells you that the burgeoning new middle class in China (they bought more new cars in 2011 than the US) are casting a harsh eye on their own history and noticing how they've been screwed over by outside forces (white men) since at least the 19th century. Worse still, for western war planners, the Chinese people are angry and they've got money. It's a critical difference from colonial times. Poor natives complaining about life is par for the course when the Euros ran their empires. But when consumers complain these days, and that's what 300 million Chinese are today, consumers; then the whole equation is radically changed.

   Chinese history makes Chinese people very angry.

   And who would blame them? I mean, the 19th century British won a series of Opium Wars against the Chinese where they basically turned a huge segment of the Chinese fighting age population into junkies just so they could pay for sought after Asian goods in smack instead of silver. The demand for Chinese goods in Europe was so high that Euro treasuries were being depleted of precious metals so the colonials instigated the polar reverse of today's drug war. Heroin tastes nice. It makes life better... for a while. It alters human behavior. Seeing this, the British devised a "new plan". Let's let empire commerce dump tonnes of Opium into China, the country we seek to control. It'll render their population useless. Sometimes history gets surreal. Other times, it's hard to think of a modern equivalent outside of an alien invasion. Either way, try finding the awkward truth of a reverse drug war in your average high school history curriculum.

   The Japanese, on the other hand, are experiencing a 21st century existential crisis.

   Their economy is stagnant, electronics can be made cheaply elsewhere (unlike when they were kings of the business in the 70s and 80s), and they've got 1.4 billion people just across the water who hate their guts for the shit they pulled in Nanking in 1937. The aging Japanese population cannot process this. In truth, the Japanese have never come to terms with their actions in WWII, at least not to the satisfaction of the Chinese. The mayor of Tokyo, a neocon Dick Cheney on crack, worships at a tomb where at least twelve Jap generals buried there have been convicted of "war crimes". The Japanese sure have a sketchy record when it comes to their memory of WWII. Whereas the Germans have been dealing with guilt for the past 70 years and attempting to make recompense for it, the Japanese are classic Basil Fawlty about the whole thing and "don't mention the war".

   The Chinese want an apology for Nanking.

   Unfortunately, the Japanese do apologies the same way they do unconditional surrender. 

   That is, you have to detonate more than one nuclear weapon over a major population center before they'll consider the merits of your argument.

   For the rest of us, if the China v Japan conflict ever entered the shooting phase (ostensibly over these shitty Senkaku islands but really because both sides hate each other's guts), so many escalation events present that it'd be hard to see an end that doesn't involve a nuclear exchange. It'd be like India v Pakistan on bath salts. It'd screw the world economy so hard it'd make Israel's bunker busting dream strike on Iran's nuke sites about as interesting to the global public as Bono talking about Africa at a U2 concert.

   That's why China v Japan isn't going to happen anytime soon.

   Because nukes.

   Yeah, I'm one of these crazy fucks who is a big fan of nuclear warheads. Let's face it, the cost benefit analysis since 1945's "Little Boy" airburst over Hiroshima has been positive once you take into account the conventional war alternatives. Nukes are probably the best thing to happen to humanity since penicillin although it's not really a fair comparison because nukes have probably saved more lives. Without nukes, the Red Army would have stormed through the Fulda Gap and turned Western Europe into a mega death zone. Without nukes, there would've been no Cold War and instead a constantly warm endless Orwellian nightmare Eurasia v Americana conflict where war is continuous but never winnable. Nuclear weapons have this habit of cutting through the bullshit by defining the limits of human madness. The idea that "we all get to die" makes nukes the greatest peace keeping weapons ever invented. Sure, penicillin saved a lot of 19th century top hatted sport fuckers from syphilis but Western Europe under Stalin's policies would have wiped out the global economy.

   And that's a lot of dead people. Everywhere.

   Advantage nukes.

   Nukes rule out any immediate China v Japan war because Japan falls under the Pacific hegemony of the US nuclear umbrella. We're still a decade away from the time when the real noose tightens on the world economy (unsustainably high oil prices) and both China and Japan are majorly dependent on seaborne delivery of spice for right now. This makes them nervous. Without an Iraq in your back yard, you tend to seek out every oil deposit you can. Supposedly, the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands have offshore oil and gas deposits and that's when you know things are approaching a crisis point.

   Countries start fighting for the leftover scraps in the barrel.

   Even deep sea short term possible oil deposits are worth disputing. But not worth setting the world on fire for.


   How would this war play out if it did happen?

  Apparently, the US was concerned enough about the saber rattling that they dispatched the USS George Washington carrier group to the South China Sea two weeks ago just to remind all parties to keep their shit on the down low. Even though the Japanese navy could handle itself versus China's medium tech surface fleet and its as yet not ready for primetime second hand Russian carrier, that doesn't mean we can laugh at the Chinese Navy.

   We're talking, at least at the outset, a very interesting naval war not seen in the Pacific since Midway.

   Right now I see a rerun of the 1982 Falklands War with one side landing a token troop contingent on an island and declaring an exclusion zone (200km) around it while the UN shits major bricks and scrambles emergency sessions to prevent WWIII. Meanwhile, the naval blockade could be challenged because forum warriors are screaming for blood in both countries. It's funny how civilians ramp up fast to high level assholes once the shooting starts and then ramp down to cowering failures once the local 7-11 runs out of Tootsie Rolls. War works that way throughout time. It's a combination of trading self worth versus self preservation and sometimes it;s hard to predict a winner because people are prepared to die for stupid shit. Either way, the US dispatches three more carrier groups to the South China Sea to try to contain the new internet sensation: Cuban Missile Crisis Part II: Revenge of the Radiation.

   Sure, this is all hypothetical as hell but nobody can deny this war is "fun" to think about.

   Even though Japan might be superior in surface vessel tech the Chinese wouldn't be out of the battle by any account. Their sub surface fleet of diesel submarines is large. Sure, you might giggle at the mention of 'diesel' subs (conjuring up images of sweaty WWII Germans running around claustrophobic pipe laden interiors) but don't be so quick to discount the effectiveness of old 20th century piston and battery designs just because advanced nations have gone nuclear on sub fleets. The Soviet K-19 story is an object lesson in how these designs are dodgy even if everybody these days says technicians sleeping in close proximity to a nuclear reactor is about as harmful as licking the door of your microwave oven. Diesel subs still have a hand in the game especially when you consider the continuing stealthiness of modern diesel designs. Just ask the Germans (master sub engineers), Israelis, Australians, or, in this case, the Chinese. The Chinese managed to surface one diesel submarine undetected in the middle of a USN carrier group in exercises off Taiwan in 2006. The Chinese have a lot of these babies ranging from the useless to the effective but modern sonar technology has shown that even the AEGIS system is vulnerable.

   My favorite thing about this whole hypothetical war that won't be happening for at least 20 years is the cold eye it casts on naval power itself. Modern technology means 19th/20th century naval projection is losing its luster in the 21st century. Every admiral worth his salt these days knows naval warfare is a quaint idea left over from hardier times before today's missile technology. Naval warfare is great for force projection versus lower tech nations but for industrialized nation v industrialized nation, missile tech is so sophisticated these days that surface ships are really just large, floating, meat filled shipping containers, easy to hit hold overs from a different century when having a Dreadnought added inches to your nation's penis.

   The Russians and Chinese have expended years of R&D on satellite guided ways to sink USN carriers but that doesn't mean a carrier group off your shore is not force projection. A US carrier group offshore still means you're probably fucked. But force application these days is not just military. Global 'soft' pressure is economic in the post WWII era of nukes.

   These days it's economic war with a smiley face where the plebs glued to the TV watch where the multi national cola company that owns the politicians mixes feel good moments on TV and some irrigation project in Africa into their advertising campaign and suddenly the thirsty people safely far away benefit from you buying the correct sugar water. It's a different kind of warfare these days. It's you versus humanity. You versus everything you're supposed to want. The dream consumertopia amounts to the same thing. Either way, it's a lot of people working their asses off while the elite host parties in Monte Carlo and you're not invited.

   It's like the Roman Empire but with i-Phones.

   But that doesn't make this hypothetical war any less interesting.

   For one thing, Japans's version of the AEGIS cruiser/destroyer system, the Kongo series based on the US Arleigh Burke class, would go up against China's lower tech vessels spamming anti ship missiles and, if their subs can get close enough, torpedoes. Sure, the Chinese Navy is kinda funny with all their reverse engineered stuff, their dodgy stealth fighter but the newer generation Chinese destroyers do have modern radar and missiles from France and Russia. The fun part is how all these missile trading systems would hold up under the classic "fog of war" environment. Sure, in multi country war-games these designs have been billed as effective, intercepting at best X% [classified] of the incoming but all it takes is 1% of the incoming to get through and what happens if it lands in the nuke belly of a carrier?

   For fun, let's say two Japanese cruisers go down to Chinese torps because they strayed into the hypothetical "exclusion zone". It'd be like the General Belgrano incident on steroids. Instantly, the Japanese would be seeking to enact that clause of their mutual defense treaty with the US where the US comes to their aid in return for them not having a nuke arsenal and maintaining a "defensive" army. God, you gotta love us humans and our bullshit. No country on earth has so far gathered their forces under an "Offense Department"which sure must be some kind of divine comedy for the aliens... if they're watching as we squirm around the petri dish.

   There is no such thing as a defensive sub. They are primary attack weapons and the Chinese have a lot of them so yeah, the naval war will be fun. This is the point where the war must die because the next stage is trading missiles at 'military installations'. At this point world trade has shut down, the world is in emergency session and everybody with half a brain is stocking up on canned goods.

   It's a crazy world.

   Full of deceit, stupidity, genius, luck, madness and sometimes a little common sense. For right now, the Senkaku Island dispute stays irrelevant. Because we're not that desperate.



Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Syria: Fantasy war in the desert!

   Anyone watching the Syrian Civil War right now through the eyes of Western media is like some  guy who figures he knows what WWII was all about because he just watched Inglourious Basterds. Sure, it's a fun movie but it does fall a bit short on the historical accuracy front. Kind of like world popular media today. The Syrian narrative being presented on the nightly news is of brave rebel fighters battling oppressive dictator Assad whose forces go around shelling civilians and murdering babies. And while some of that is certainly true, the real devil lies in the details and omissions; truth being the first casualty of any war since the first shot gets fired. Hardcore war in the heart of the Middle East is complex and prone to lies especially these days when all the major powers are scrambling for the last easily tappable energy reserves on the planet; but that kind of big picture view never fits into a soundbite even if a foreign public wants to hear it.

  Which they don't.

  Still, for those who happen to care, the Syrian conflict is damn compelling in its wider implications for regional and global security in what's sure to be a very messy 21st century.

  Right now, the battle for Aleppo (Syria's largest city and the home of the business elites) is being billed as the make or break battle for Syria. It's hard to know what defector talk to believe but all of this final stand "talk" makes me think the Free Syrian Army are playing right into Assad's hands here. Let's face it, the major strengths of any guerrilla army since Spartacus are hit and run type tactics and not all out decisive battles against the enemy's frontline "teeth" divisions. Major battles involving light infantry versus heavy infantry, tanks and air power, even in urban areas, is not the kind of warfare that puts guerrilla troops to their best use. In fact, 'decisive' confrontations play mainly to the strengths of Assad's army where it's easier for him to motivate his government troops by telling them they're embarking on a big final push against the rebels. The alternative, years of attrition type warfare with no end in sight, is the kind of protracted war your troops may not think worth the paycheck.

The first casualty of the Syrian War is Photoshop!

   Another thing that's confusing is the Western media's constant insistence that the rebels are outmanned and outgunned. Sure, they're outgunned barring the occasional stolen T-72 or BMP but outmanned they certainly are not. If one fifth of the unemployed young men that make up 50% of Syria's angry youth can get their hands on an AK (and when has it ever been difficult to get your hands on an AK anywhere in the Middle East) that's a healthy dose of rebel fighters sending 7.62mm the Syrian Army's way. And that's not even taking into account all that Saudi money supplying covert arms through Lebanon and the plethora of foreign special forces running around observing the burgeoning mess. But nope, this Western portrayal of the rebels as oppressed freedom fighters fits with the whole Arab Spring narrative the West likes to push whenever there's energy in the vicinity. Democracy and all that other funny talk.

   These days, democracy is just a feel good word the suits on TV say when they want you to know who the good guys are.

   Democracy is likely to deliver up another theocracy like what's happening in Egypt in the aftermath of Mubarak. Let's face it, these rebel fighters (and they seem to come from all kinds of sketchy demographics including the Al-Qaeda franchise) are no saints. Setting up shop in dense urban areas among the civilian population, drawing artillery and rocket fire and then posting the inevitable parade of corpses on YouTube isn't exactly a Mother Teresa maneuver. Even she knew where to draw the line when shaking people down. Making the enemy look bad is one thing but hiding behind civilians and chucking corpses in front of news cameras is quite another. It's not exactly the honorable tactic of the good guys.

   Ooops! I just made myself spew beer all over my keyboard. Yup, I just said 'honorable' and 'war' in the same sentence. Perhaps it's just the romantic in me, hoping for an honorable desert war like maybe Afrika Korps v 8th Army in North Africa in 1942. But that kind of major army v army action on sandy terrain isn't going to be happening anytime soon in our desert proxy war timeframe. Unless of course if something really fun happens like Turkey invades Syria. That right there my friends is my secret little fantasy war in the desert that'll never happen. I'll indulge more in that later.

   Right now, if the FSA are serious about winning this thing they should stick to the tried and true tactics of guerilla warfare that have proven solid since time immemorial, that is, interdicting the enemy's logistics and supply routes with hit and run raids and ambushes. Instead, they seem determined to duke it out with frontline armored divisions using urban areas as cover. Also there's that old Mao maxim about controlling the countryside to control the cities but maybe that doesn't work so well when the countryside is a desert. In guerrilla warfare there's always the Sun Tzu tactic of trading land for time, a tried and true tenet of guerrilla warfare and time would seem to be on the rebel's side here because one thing seems for sure, the longer this war goes on, the weaker the Assad regime becomes. And then there's the whole atrocity factor that's playing in the FSA's favor when civilians start dying. That might be the whole rebel plan in the first place. Sure, it's a dirty tactic but clean went out the Mosque door a long time ago. It's a play straight from the old Vietnam playbook where the side with the big guns like the US (the Syrians in this case) drops an errant bomb that wipes out 40 women and children in some bamboo hut village and suddenly you've just recruited 100 peasant rice farmers into the Vietcong. I figure the FSA strategy here is that by fighting in the cities they can provoke Assad to naturally play to his strengths, artillery and heavy armor, thus racking up plenty of civilian casualties that'll swell the FSA with new recruits.

   It's dirty war and the dirtier it gets the bigger the FSA becomes.

   Maybe that's the whole crazy plan.

   The FSA could not hold the pockets they established in Damascus a few weeks back but Aleppo may be a juicier target to set up shop in. For one thing, Aleppo is primarily made up of Sunni middle class businessmen who have supported Assad up to now but only because he's left them and their cash alone. With the war reaching Syria's richest city it's a pretty good sign that the tacit agreement between Assad's Alawite leadership and the Sunni business class is cracking.  It's hard to say for sure what the Sunnis think now that Aleppo is on fire because polling a populace under shellfire ain't easy. With the FSA forcing Assad to level his business districts this means more Sunni refugees fleeing and more Sunnis recruited into the FSA with the added bonus of a small chance of foreign intervention. The Saudi's are already pumping millions into the FSA and there's also the Turkish factor which brings me to my favorite fantasy about this whole war.

  When the Syrians shot down that Turkish F-4 Phantom a few weeks back my war-dar started registering blips right off the scale and I got excited about the possibility of a regional war in the desert. But that's just the Rommel in me. I just got high on the possibilities for mechanized warfare in the desert not seen since El Alamein. Turkey invades Syria. That right there would make for an honorable tank duel in the desert.

  Truth is, who isn't tired of shitty heavy civilian casualty warfare where well equipped armies go up against guys with AKs? I'm talking the multitude of proxy resource conflicts where a bunch of goat herders go up against Predator Drones and find that their early warning radar (goats) are pretty shitty at warning early because no notifications get bleated when the Hellfire comes down the chimney pipe of the mud hut and wipes out four generations of Pashtun or Yemenis or Iraqis. Yeah, those bearded dudes in the graveyard of empires are resilient but that doesn't make the US mission in Afghanistan entertaining. Hell, you can IED a US convoy these days and not even make the nightly news. Let's face it, wars are pretty dull right now. Even the mainstream media doesn't give a shit. You know you've either lost or won a war when a war stops being news.  For the US, Afghanistan is kind of like watching your dog take a shit on someone's lawn. Do you walk away quickly and not give a fuck or stand there looking responsible while acting like you're going to pick up the turd with a Costco bag? That's the US mission in Afghanistan right now. Maintaining the illusion of responsibility. Sure, that war has always been ambiguous and mostly awful. But you know what would be less awful war-wise right now?

  Watching two equally matched modern nations going head to head in a wider regional war.

   That right there would at least be entertaining in the current sea of shitty heavy civilian casualty wars. Battles like Fallujah, Misrata and Aleppo suck because one side has all the heavy weapons. But proxy resource wars are par for the course these days as the planet gets increasingly overcrowded. With supply chains long, food resources subject to the vicissitudes of climate change and oil production pretty much maxed out, it's only a matter of time before the major powers clash directly for what's left. That's the scary future that makes this squabble in the desert a minor preliminary salvo.

   For the Turks, losing an F-4 Phantom wasn't exactly a major loss militarily. Sure, it's a bummer the pilot didn't bail out but Phantom's are basically Vietnam era flying double decker buses with the maneuverability of a cement truck in rush hour traffic. That Turk pilot never saw it coming and was probably sucker punched by one of Syria's Russian supplied S-300 SAMs (one reason NATO doesn't fancy a rerun of Libya over Syria). One thing F-4s always had going for them even in Vietnam, despite their lack of cannon was a pair of serious get-me-the-fuck-out-of-here engines that allowed the Phantom to run from any engagement it didn't fancy the odds in. To my mind, the Turkish F-4 incursion into Syrian airspace was a move designed to get the Syrians to turn their air defense radars on so they could be pinpointed for NATO airstrikes later on in the event Assad doesn't fall in a timely manner.

   Every time I think of Turks involved in war my mind automatically reverts to the Siege of Constantinople in 1453 when some Byzantine idiot forgot to lock the Kerkoporta Gate and allowed a bunch of Turks in to raise a flag on the battlements that sowed panic in the defenders; a ploy that ultimately led to the end of the last twinkle in the old Roman Empire's eye. Sure, the possibility of a Turkish invasion of Syria is practically zero but I'm not going to let that burst my bubble right now because I'm salivating on the idea of tank on tank action in open desert terrain which is a hell of a lot more fun than a bunch of rebels smoking hashish in a kebab joint getting shelled. Syria has a major beef against the Turks for water rights on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Those pesky Turks have big plans for hydroelectric power on those rivers and that pretty much sucks for the Syrians and Iraqis downstream who need that water for agriculture. The Turk's have a problem too with Syrian refugees spilling over their border possibly further destabilizing a region where their own ethnic Kurds are liable to stir up trouble. A limited invasion into Syria to create a refugee "buffer zone" might not be out of the question. It would also be a nice time for the Turks to redraw their southern border with Syria which is mountainous and difficult to defend. Still, it's unclear if they'd make such a ballsy move. Politicians in Turkey are wary of anything that might increase military prestige in a country where the military likes to throw its weight around the political arena.

   But this war is fun to think about.

   The tank on tank action would pit Turkey's modern arsenal of German supplied Leapord 1s and 2A4s  against Syria's aging but more numerous Soviet era T-72s, T-62Ms and believe it or not, T-55s (the most produced tank in history) but completely out of date. That'd make for a fun turkey shoot in the desert. Add in total Turk air superiority by way of US supplied F-16s and naval dominance off the coast and this war that'll never happen becomes even less fantastic. In fact, it'd get boring pretty damn fast. I see a rerun of the Yom Kippur War in the Golan Heights where less than 40 Israeli tanks held off over 500 Syrian tanks. Maybe the Israelis threatened to bust out a nuke, maybe they didn't, either way, the Syrians retreated.

Rebel held areas of Syria are primarily border regions for easy resupply.

 Bashar al Assad's days in power are surely numbered. Ever take a look at the guy? He's like that tall awkward friendless guy that joined your second grade class whose dad showed up with lollipops for everyone in the hopes that you might like his dick son. Just because dad was alpha and bought off or murdered the competition doesn't mean those genes automatically pass down to your jizz. Maybe there was a predominance of pussies on mom's side of the family that emasculated junior but either way, this war wouldn't be happening if dad was still in charge. One thing is for sure, I don't see Assad Junior going out like badass Gadaffi in some high speed car chase pistol in hand. Nope, Junior will probably opt for some beachfront property on the Black Sea in Russia. If he's lucky.

   Even if Assad bails with a few billion in pocket change what'll be left in Syria is anybody's guess. Very likely we'll be talking partition along old sectarian lines with Alawites, Druze, Kurds and Sunni Muslims looking to draw lines on prospective new homelands. The aftermath could be just as ugly as the war itself. Meanwhile, the major powers all see Syria as part of the global energy chess game. Damascus, the gateway to the Middle East. It certainly was in T.E. Lawrence's day when the British and Arabs recaptured it from the Ottomans during WWI. But these days the prizes have shifted further south and east and the Wahhabis (who even Lawrence knew were insane in 1917) were sitting on the real prize on the sun fried lava of the Saudi peninsula

   Meanwhile, Syria turns into the kind of war zone with a level of destruction not seen in Syria since the crusaders holed up in their citadels and tried to fend off Saladins armies. Even the ancient fortress of Krak des Chevaliers has not been spared, shelled by the Syrian army because some rebels rightly assumed it'd be a good place to hole up. The Arabs sure built wonderful castles back then so much so the crusaders copied their designs. Even Saladin could not break the crusaders at that fortress but then again, Saladin wasn't packing 155mm howitzers. There are reports from all around the country too that ancient treasure sites and museums have been looted so, along with Iraq's Mesopotamian treasures, all will likely wind up on the black market somewhere. Perhaps even venerable Saladin's green silk tomb cover bestowed by Kaiser Wilhelm could end up in some nouveau riche Chinese billionaire's ritzy apartment overlooking the endless grey Beijing smog.

Krak des Chevaliers: Not immune to modern artillery.

   What a sad end to history.

   That, I fear, is a pretty good template for how the 21st century is plays out. Us dumb apes begin to feed on ourselves and our past in search of simpler times, times before the resources got scarce and the planet got too small.

   Along with Iraq and Libya, Syria is the last of the Middle East's low hanging fruit to be subsumed by larger empires. From here on in, things get hotter and direct competition by proxy war gets harder to control. Meanwhile, countries devolve into surveillance and police states as governments try to suppress populations who decry increasing resources dedicated to grabbing the last strategic energy, food and freshwater reserves. Exciting times for those who like watching the world burn.

   Meanwhile, the Russians and Chinese love to stymy any Western inspired peace efforts at the UN because bringing Syria under the Western sphere of influence through some brokered peace deal that would get rid of Assad would be just a little too disconcerting now that the West has successfully locked down Iraq's energy reserves and taken Gadaffi out of the picture.

   The Iranians too, who've provided plenty of bumbling covert assistance to Assad would see the last gate in the Middle East fall. They're smart enough to know that if the Syria question gets settled, then the battle lines in the Middle East will be clearly and inexorably drawn.

   Battlefield Iran.

   The Iranians, despite their crazy theocracy, are smart enough to know where the real cross hairs will aim and they'll have to wonder if they will be the next domino to fall.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Arctic Melt: The New Cold War

                                        This article was first published in King's Tribune.

   There isn't going to be a shooting war for Arctic resources just yet.

  Major powers like the the US, China and Russia are still waiting for the Arctic ice to hurry up and melt away. And that process is moving along at a pace that makes the average environmentalist want to sign yet another petition during Nat Geo Channel commercial breaks and bong hits. The Arctic is said to have up to 25% of the world’s oil and gas sitting like Inca gold under all that pesky ice and, with current global oil production maxed out and prices rising fast, the North Pole sure has the potential to be proxy resource war central in the increasingly tense 21st century.

  In 2007, the Russians planted a titanium flag on the seabed under the polar ice which was a pretty ballsy move ripped straight out of the 16th century when European powers had a habit of sailing to foreign shores and planting flags on valuable shit they didn’t own. That flag move was designed by Putin to tell Canada, the US, Denmark and Norway (who all claim a piece of the Arctic action) that the Russian claim theoretically extends all the way to the Pole. Naturally, this pissed off everyone and sets the stage for a Cold War Part II later on this century.

  Another fun thing about the melting ice is the profitable new shipping routes that are opening up. The famed “Northeast Passage” is a handy shortcut from Europe to Asia that bypasses the Suez Canal and becomes ice-free every summer. Lately, that shipping lane along the northern Russian coast is becoming increasingly viable even in winter. The Russians like this because it would mean cheaper export routes for Russian oil tankers to burgeoning energy hungry soon-to-be superpower, China. The Russians recently exported 60,000 tons of oil products to China via northern Siberia on the vessel, Perseverance. A trial voyage for sure, but a whole lot cheaper than building a pipeline to China.

  Meanwhile, the US is engaged in proxy resource war in Middle East deserts and sniffing at regime change in Iran and the opening of the third largest oil field on the planet to sleazy Western oil companies. The Russians and Chinese are playing a longer game here on the global energy chessboard. While blocking concerted action at the UN against Iran and Syria (stymying Western attempts at energy field access in Persia), they see a future multi polar world of more balanced rival powers (as the US loses it singular super power perch) and the ending of US hegemony on global energy supply.

  This sure is an interesting time if you’re interested in how the 21st century will play out.

  The retreating Arctic ice shelf is putting a smaller and much ignored part of the planet into the global spotlight. Ground zero for global resource scrambles in the Arctic right now is Greenland. Nominally a Danish ‘protectorate’ (code speak for Copenhagen owns all your shit), the US has been floating the idea of ‘independence’ for that Euro centric island. This would be handy for US oil and mining corporations to skirt pesky European environmental laws that say you have to clean up the mess after you’re done strip mining. Preliminary reports from the soggy permafrost in Greenland reveal uranium, diamonds, gold and rare earth metals packed under the retreating glaciers and those rare earths are in high demand too since 90% of existing supply comes from a single mine in China. Those rare earths get crammed into plasma TVs and i-Pads and the Chinese have been restricting exports, which are subtle opening salvos in the proxy resource wars that will dominate the 21st century.

  The Greenlanders recently retracted laws governing the digging up of radioactive elements on their soil and decided spilling gamma waves into igloos for cash was a deal they could live with. This has attracted the usual swarm of sleazy corporations looking for mining rights. Fun thing is, these corps represent US, Russian and Chinese mining interests with a host of smaller countries like Canada, Australia, Norway and Finland looking for a piece of the action too. Everyone wants access to the last  non-raped piece of real estate on the planet. Sure, the polar bears won’t like it but let’s face it; polar bears are assholes. They'll just have to make do with shitty zoo swimming pools and dancing for fat fucks on cellphone vids.

   Will there be shooting over these resources anytime soon?


   Climate change still has some work to do to melt away those last bits of polar habitat that'll make the region viable for free-for-all energy and commodity extraction. But if we fast-forward to say 2020, shit starts to get interesting. By then, it'll have fully sunken in to us dumb upright apes that economic growth on a planet is finite and tied to energy supply. Nobody's going to be particularly happy about this. Especially in rich countries where we will get to learn the hard way that the plastic bottle that contains the Coca Cola is actually worth more in real terms than the shitty sugar water inside. When that truth comes down the pipe, along with $200 barrel oil, food price increases and shittier lives, it's going to be somebody's fault. In Western countries, that'll probably mean the Chinese and Russians.

   That's where the seeds of future resource wars will get sown.

   Wars always start with angry people. People who get angry blowing their paychecks on fuel and food and not having enough left over for a new plasma screen. This has been going on ever since some hunter-gatherer tribe killed the last mammoth in the valley and pissed off all the other tribes who also needed new fur coats too. Truth is, despite the dystopian sci fi consumertopia we're all living in today, not too much has changed. We've got satellites and i-phones but we're still dumb upright apes when it comes to killing people who try to take our shit. Killing each other for resources is a proven strategy and civilization is just a thin veneer pasted on top of four million years of naked raw survival. When lower living standards peel that veneer away, shit will get interesting fast. And by interesting I mean war. Thing is, future resource wars are going to go global fast because every tribe is going to want a piece of the last mammoth left in the valley.

   Will the Arctic be worth fighting over?


   The Russians have already started beefing up their Northern Fleet and, I shit you not, have begun building a prototype floating nuclear power station to power undersea drilling. That’s sure to make environmentalists shit bricks. The Norwegians just inked a deal with the US for 52 new F-35 multi role stealth fighters which is a $10.5 billion order and gigantic when you consider Norway’s tiny population. It reeks of a ballsy ambition to stake a claim for some Polar resources but then that’s typical of the Nordics. If the shooting ever starts they’ll be looking at a Finn style rerun of the Winter War in 1939 when the tiny Finns bloodied the Red Army’s nose.

   The Canadians too are gearing up for some possible pew-pew.

   In October, the Canadian Navy announced a $25 billion order for 23 new combat vessels of various types aimed at patrolling the Northwest passage, shipping lanes in the Canadian Arctic that are opening up to maritime trade again due to melting ice. Canada has been running Arctic military exercises every year since 2006 (Operation Nanook) designed to warn the Russkis to keep their filthy titanium flags off Canada’s sea floor.

   The US of course is well positioned to defend any Arctic claim. In addition to a defense budget larger than the next ten countries combined, the US has 50 nuclear attack subs that have been lurking under the Arctic ice for decades and it’s hard to see them being over whelmed in any future resource war.

   But here’s where we come to the fun part.

   In an increasingly nuclear-armed world, are limited resource wars even possible without escalating to full on WWIII take-us-back-to-the-Stone Age action? That sure is an interesting question for the 21st century and the fun thing about nukes themselves. They're really only useful when they never get used. In fact, nukes are the greatest peace keeping weapons ever invented.

   Global power since WWII has been primarily economic and “soft”. Having aircraft carriers and stealth bombers is useful but not game winning when you consider that once a nuclear armed power starts losing a conventional war it’s time to press the big red button of win and sort out WWIV with sticks and stones. Nukes were the mutually assured destruction glue that kept the Cold War from ever turning into a shooting contest. The US and Russia fought through proxies and kept warfare on the down low. But will this paradigm endure once oil production peaks and prices increase to the point where the era of cheap energy ends?

   Right now nukes mean there can be no winner and that has made leaders realize that it is better to trade than conquer. Global communication means there are no ideological divisions right now; every nation is money grabbing capitalist pig and that works pretty well for everything but the planet. As planet conditions change and make human populations more costly to sustain, it sure raises some interesting questions.

  Do we get to stage where desperation creeps in?

  Sometime later this century, a major power may have to make a move on some energy, water, or sea lane because failing to do so would result in a collapse of the state anyway; so war and nuke escalation events further down the road are not impossible the way they are now. Resource shortages later this century are the type of things that result in paradigm shifts. Sure, China right now is happy exporting plastic shit, Russia is having a lulz fest squeezing European natural gas supply and the Americans are having a field day running around ME deserts securing future oil supply. But this kind of status quo has a sell by date and that's coming pretty damn soon.

   It's a scary recipe for the future. In fact, it’s so scary I think I’ll go sign some useless petitions and take a bong hit.


Friday, May 4, 2012

Man wakes up from decade long coma and figures he's living in an Orwellian dystopia... asks if he can be a Viking instead.

   Taking a look around at how scary the world is getting makes me wonder what it'd be like to wake up after a decade-long coma and take a fresh look at the surveillance society that's been coming down the pipe since the 9/11 attacks baptized the new century in crazy. Let's say it's 1999 again and you dropped some windowpane, watched The Matrix, felt like you just witnessed your autobiography and then jumped off the roof of your apartment to see if you are indeed "the one". Bad idea... seemed logical at the time. Anyway, next thing you know you wake up in a hospital bed and everyone around you looks like they stuck with the blue pill because they're wearing that ‘bad test result’ face as they tell you it's 2012 and you just skipped the whole terror decade.

   All of it.

   Catching up on world history since 1999 would be like reading some dystopian future sci-fi novel by the likes of Orwell or Dick except you're reading The New York Times and it's news and all real. Just a quick scan of early 21st century history would have you longing for the '90s and the happy days of OJ trials and sex scandals in the Oval Office where the corporate spokesman in the suit messes up the intern's dress and not the entire direction of the new century. 

   The century got defined by 9/11 right from the start and the future was always going to suck if you were a fan of privacy and keeping your shit on the down low. For a coma victim nursing a migraine in 2012, the 9/11 attacks sure would look like some stunt ripped out of one of the shittier Bond movies complete with the perpetrator being an evil villain millionaire living in a cave lair. Sure, it'd sound like the dumbest cliché-ridden plot ever if you tried to sell it to Paramount, but the new reality has a habit of running with the absurd.

Bond villain lair or actual news story? This graphic actually appeared in US media in 2001.

   Quite apart from the very bad idea of a land war in Afghanistan and the necessary resource grab in the Mesopotamian desert, the greatest legacy of the 9/11attacks for the United States will be the terrorism-industrial-complex that sprung up horribly like an erection at a nudist funeral. Just nine days after the attacks the largest merger in US government history occurred  when 17 agencies from the Coast Guard to the cops merged into the colossal Ingsoc that is the Department of Homeland Security. 9/11 was seen as a "failure to communicate and connect the dots" on the part of everyone with a badge and a 9mm, so centralization and intelligence sharing in a single giant database was seen as the answer. That, and a few billion dollars to corporations and private contractors to design and run the software

   To keep us safe.

   US intelligence agencies have always relied on technology to invent their way out of a knowledge hole. Since WWII the NSA and CIA have excelled in the areas of Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and Imaging Intelligence (IMINT), which is your run of the mill but tech heavy wire-tapping, code-breaking and picture-taking of your "secret" new missile launch facility. From the U2 spy plane to the SR-71 Blackbird and on to satellites that can read your golf ball from space, IMINT has never been a problem for the skilled genius of US technology.  The weak spot has always been Human Intelligence (HUMINT). That's a harder pitch for the US to swing at as it involves spies and agents and assets operating behind enemy lines speaking and acting like natives. The Israelis are the kings of this simply by the demographics of the Jewish diaspora. There are native Jews in many countries and if Mossad wants to know where a nuke scientist's mistress lives, fresh HUMINT is an encrypted email away. During the Cold War, the US relied on Israel for HUMINT in exchange for US SIGINT and IMINT. Post 9/11, mass surveillance is seen by the US as the way to make up for their HUMINT deficiencies, a weakness the US sees as leading directly to 9/11. 

   In the new sci-fi dystopia, the police state starts with the cop on patrol who is expected to "feed the system" with suspicious stuff that might flag someone as a terrorist. The problem is, Main Street USA isn't exactly a target-rich environment for towel-headed mullahs waving AKs and yelling "Allah Ackbar" every time the local 7/11 runs out of pita bread . In order to justify the billions being spent, the DHS must continually see 'enemies' everywhere. The enemy morphs into the citizenry itself, be it activist, protester or anyone with a beef against the prevailing narrative. The primary weapon of the average cop is the Suspicious Activity Report (SAR), which includes activities like taking pictures, reading maps, driving while looking out the window a lot; pretty much anything about you the average donut guzzler doesn't like. Cop cars are being equipped now with license plate scanners that not only read every infraction of every passing car but also relay this info along with GPS data to the centralized database; something that makes every unpaid parking ticket a shit brick offense. 

   In the sci-fi dystopia, everyone is a suspect.

   It's no surprise that most of the headline-making F.B.I. busts of terror plots in the US are perpetrated by a bunch of dumb fuck wannabe al-Qaedas who end up sleepwalking into an F.B.I.-produced trap, like stars in some twisted episode of MTV's Punk'd where the G-men supply fake explosives, blasting caps and a party van while co-opting some dip shit Bin Laden fan to drive into the middle of the sting. The mark gets zip ties instead of cameras and there's no explosion except for the thud of the perp's skull against the cell wall of a SuperMax as he trys to figure out why he trusted the 'knowledgeable chemical guy' at Home Depot who turned out to be a bomb tech narc. After you get showcased nabbed, it's a simple matter for the F.B.I. to go on Fox News and tell all their viewers how they are winning the war on a noun. Just recently, we learned the evil doers (still operating under the al-Qaeda franchise) are hiding their 'secret plans' for mayhem inside porn images which is the funniest thing I've heard since that idiot tried to blow up a plane with his boxer shorts.

   What ever happened to the smart terrorists?

   There are currently 72 DHS "fusion centers" planted all around the US collating and indexing every bit of HUMINT about everyone, trying to sniff out who might want to hijack a cruise ship, blow up a bridge or chuck a flaming shit bomb into an Olive Garden. There's been a ten-year building boom going on around Washington D.C. too as drab-looking four-story buildings sprout up like whack a moles. Beneath these nondescript Cold War commie-looking structures are up to ten subterranean floors of who knows what. Nobody knows how much they've cost – including the US government – because everything is a semi state/ corporate hybrid of melded privatization and black hole money pit contracts hidden under a rug of secrecy in the name of national security.  The monitoring of information (SIGINT) between the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (ECHELON) is well known but the US seems to be hitting it out of the park when it comes to total communications monitoring of its population. This of course comes in the form of the recently reported super structure under construction in the Utah desert, the Stellar Wind server farm that will basically be 'downloading' the entire Internet every second and sniffing through yottabytes of our emails and faxes and cellphone GPS data searching for the bad guy with a plane ticket to New York and a pipe bomb up his hole.

   In the sci-fi dystopia, everyone is a suspect. 

   And your privacy is the price of your security because what do you have to hide?

Sometimes paranoia is just a heightened state of

     Sometimes you need to be a decade out of the loop to truly see the extent of what's gone down. History happens gradually and things only gain context when historians hammer events into a coherent narrative usually long after the fact. Meaning emerges further down the road. For instance, a Weimar Republic German in a similar coma in say 1926 who woke up a decade later would wonder why so many of his countrymen were buying into the crazy  bullshit of the angry guy with the mustache. First it was a beer hall putsch followed by goose-stepping militarism and a power-grab later, the Reichstag burned down mysteriously and in no time the German Army were partying on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées thinking "this is awesome but possibly a bad move in the long run if shit doesn't play out well". The nature of history is that it unfolds gradually enough that nobody notices the emergent narrative because they're too busy living in it. By the time the story emerges in context, Army Group South is surrounded by Zhukov at Stalingrad and the Wehrmacht is screwed.

   The one thing about the mass surveillance society we're building that would fry Orwell's brain is the nature of information in the Internet age. Sure most governments these days see 1984 as an operational tech manual but we're not just living in an age when just Big Brother is watching; we ourselves are watching each other with the intense fascination of zoo chimps fapping at the banana delivery man. The camera culture is so prevalent and everyone's face so buried in a cellphone that nobody knows what's going on in his or her immediate vicinity. Except of course when there's a car wreck and then everyone's phone is uploading footage to YouTube or, if it's really awesome and messy, LiveLeak.

   Part of the sci-fi dystopia is the willingness of the population to be watched.

   To be a minor celebrity in the ongoing movie of your own life. 

  I was voyeuring on some old school friends via Facebook the other day and came across this guy I remember from first grade who used to shit his pants in class just because it pissed off the teacher and made everyone laugh. I remember the teacher washing his underwear and me watching it steaming dry on the radiator as he waved his little cock at the teacher when she turned her back. It was pretty funny when you were seven. Yeah, I went to Catholic school. Anyway, according to Facebook that guy's a plumber now (shit makes sense) and just got a divorce from a wife who took the kids and left him for some douche bag. I know all this because he thought it would be cool to post all this on his Facebook wall and not keep his shit on the down low. It's a law enforcement wet dream. No need for gum shoe field agents anymore, just Google the perp and see where he hangs out and who his friends are.

   Orwell's mind would be blown.

Except the cop investigating you or the prospective
employer checking to see if you're an asshole.

   Next up to the party: Police Department unmanned aerial drones circling 24hrs a day over every city. Now that's pure sci-fi. It's also handy if you can control the narrative too. That hasn't been a problem so far. The thing with wars these days is that the corporate oligarchy are getting really fucking good at bullshitting. The technology of bullshit is now so ubiquitous that the mass media totality of Internet, TV, cellphones and 24hr news cycles make it easy to beam a consensus reality into the ether of our brave new world. We are all feeder antennae jacking into a whitewash of total information where everything is up for debate. There's no need to hide anything anymore because anything could be true because you read it on the Internet.

   Case in point: Libya. All the interventionist narrative needed was a bad guy (Gaddafi); some oil, a possible Euro refugee crisis and some media story about Gaddafi firing back at the guys trying to overthrow him. Basically, he  pulled a Kent State with attack choppers; nothing the US wouldn't have done if OWS protesters brought something a little harder-hitting to the party than sleeping bags and a bong and started wrecking some Bentleys. NATO precision bombed Gaddafi's armor and the country got handed over to a rag tag bunch of rebels willing to write favorable oil deals with sleazy Western oil corps. All this went down live on TV without a single sign-waving long hair on a street anywhere. That's when you know you've got serious media penetration and total control of the narrative.

    Holy shit! What a time to be alive, right?

   That old Chinese curse "may you live in interesting times," sure applies today.

  I've often wondered what it'd be like to live in other eras. Personally, I've always fancied a stint as a Viking, you know, sailing around with your mates in a bad ass longship, raping and pillaging in a consequence-free environment but I was born too late for this and missed out on all that awesome Valhalla action. And it looks like I was born too soon to hyperdrive around the galaxy on seed ships discovering strange new worlds and...  and raping and pillaging them in a consequence-free environment. Christ, if we humans ever advance to the level of a space-faring species the galaxy is screwed. It'll never happen though because we upright apes will self destruct before we get that far. The technological adolescence hurdle of "fission before fusion" is like a universal failsafe to keep the riff-raff out of the star gate club. Any civ must prove they can live 100 years with nukes and not red button each other back to the Stone Age before they gain access to free energy and 'warp drive'. Right now, we ain't gonna be passing that test.

   Let's face it, we just might be the scary bad guys in our own dystopian sci-fi novel that leaves us all wondering...

   Who wrote this book?

   Everyone is suspect.