Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Libya: Does NATO have the balls for a ground assault on Tripoli?

    There's no doubt that NATO needs Operation "Odyssey Dawn" to just go away now. Shuffle off into the pages of some history book that nobody will read. That's a pretty good bet these days too. With the collective memory of the public in our dystopian sci fi future bordering on goldfish territory, it's safe to assume that the sleazy corporations and oligarchies that run Western foreign policy could hide behind the curtain and watch this mess go away just by the inexorable force of inertia alone. Or at least until the X Factor comes on TV. 

   For one thing, this war is making everyone involved look bad. The French and British are just looking ineffectual with their hamfisted air strikes and with the US Congress voting to censure Obama for going to war in Libya without Congressional approval (laugh out loud funny when you consider Bush era foreign policy), everyone involved here is looking like the proverbial 8th grader school trippers at the local zoo who come across the chimpanzee enclosure. Those apes are so cute on the monkey bars until they get bored and start flinging freshly minted shit at the children behind the Plexiglas.

   The NATO mission in Libya is a lot like that. The trip sure seemed like a good idea if you didn't stop and think about it. And NATO didn't. Making sure that the supplier of 10% of the EU's oil didn't self destruct and flood the Euros with Muslim refugees in the process sure seemed like a good idea when NATO first started dropping precision ordinance on Gaddafi's tanks outside Benghazi. And barring some lucky Tomahawk strike on Gaddafi's tent (and that's always a possibility given the right intel), the NATO mission in Libya went wrong fast. That's not to say there was ever a definition of what the mission going "right" meant either.  Like Gaddafi predicted, it's already gone on longer than NATO bargained for and now they're left without a convincing exit strategy. That's always been the problem with starting small wars when you're the big guy on the block. Once you start them, you can't walk away without a win. Otherwise you just look weak. That's playground logic that every bully who preys on lunch money knows. With Gaddafi's lunch money proving harder to grab than anticipated and him entrenched in fortress Tripoli that no air campaign is ever going to break, it looks like NATO get to be the kids stuck behind the Plexiglas watching incoming turds.

   And this is where it's fun to entertain the possibility of a ground assault.

   Sure, it's never going to happen right? But let's engage in fantasy here for a few minutes, grab some popcorn and play around with the idea that the Euros have balls and how a ''boots on the ground strategy" might play out. This war was never supposed to go the distance. In the minds of politicians in Western countries, they've got this awesome military at their disposal with the latest multi million dollar combat aircraft to push around on the global chess board and anything that doesn't equal an automatic military win means there must be a glitch in the Matrix.

   Gaddafi, for his part, engaged in some high level trolling of the Euros last week. Just the other day, he threatened them with the prospect of hundreds of fools willing to martyr themselves on the streets of Paris and London if NATO didn't stop the bombing. Threats like that tend to piss people off and make the media jizz at the prospect of all the advertising revenue they'll bag while reporting it. If there's one thing the IRA proved when they started bombing economic targets in London, like say Canary Wharf in 1996, is that 'terrorism' tends to bring the politicians to the negotiating table. The dirty little secret of modern warfare despite the hype is that 'terrorism' works. Hell, it has always worked. It just comes down to what you define as terrorism. Carpet bombing cities sure counts. The London blitz, Dresden and Hiroshima were all pretty damn terrifying. If you're gonna bomb Tripoli with Rafales and Tornados, no matter how you dress it up with fancy talk about 'strategic aims' and formal apologies, when that GBU blows up in the wrong place and kills a bunch of fruitsellers it's media time and the chimpanzee shit goes airborne. Truth is, intent doesn't really matter as the smoke clears. Dead bodies are dead bodies. That's war. And it's pretty damn terrifying.

The Libyan rebels: Cool as fuck, yes. But not someone you're going to trust with artillery.

   So the real question, in our little fantasy war, is how does NATO conduct this ground campaign that'll have us grabbing the popcorn and that'll probably never happen. First off, let's take it for granted that the US, the Brits and the Frogs already have ground forces in theater. You think they could trust a bunch of those illiterate rebels in Toyota Tundras to target paint Gaddafi's tanks all by themselves? Foreign special forces have been running around Benghazi since this thing started.

  Could the French and British pull off a balls to the wall amphibious assault on Tripoli? Truth is, they probably wouldn't need to. The British would have HMS Ocean to throw at the job and the French have three Mistral class amphibious assault ships already linked up in the Mediterranean. But it'd be far easier to just unload the armor from cargo ships in Benghazi and push across the desert Eight Army style, rolling up strategic oil towns like Brega and Ras Lanuf along the way. That'd be a bit of a buzzkill on the amphibious landing front though. We haven't had a cool one in war since Inchon back in 1950.

   Still, the armor drive would be fun. 1941 all over again with British armor pushing across Libya and no Rommel to contend with. Just Gaddafi dressed in his 70s porno curtains. Of course, there's no public support for any of this right now, but let's say for the sake of argument that Gaddafi pulls off that threat of martyr bombs in Paris and London. All it'd take is a stack of bodies in your capital and an external enemy to blame it on to have the public crying for blood.

     For more wargasm, let's assume the British break out some Challengers IIs to do the job. You know I've always wondered how that classified ceramic "Chobham" armor of theirs would stand up to relentless RPG fire. Sure Iraq was a test case but Basra was no Fallujah. The French too have their own Main Battle Tank to throw at Gaddafi, the 'Leclerc', which unfortunately for the Frogs, sounds as threatening as some guy who works in a bank. When was the last time the French were involved in proper tank battle anyway? Oh yeah, summer 1940. Ooops.

   Once the NATO armored column got to Tripoli they'd probably head straight to the airport and set up a FOB right there and resupply themselves by air. That strategy worked out pretty well for the US marines when they took Baghdad in 2003. Occupying some real estate in the heart of the enemy camp is a pretty good bet when you're up against a teetering dictator with wavering support and an army who could ditch their uniforms and walk away when things get difficult. Occupying enemy real estate is also a handy way of testing what kind of fight the natives want to bring to the table. And with total air superiority, it'd be hard to see this working out bad for NATO. Of course, it's not the kind of strategy you'd employ anywhere else but in a fading dictators desert capital. But winning might still be tricky, especially if Gaddafi's forces were to prove resilient and everyone and their mother started grabbing an AK from the local armory. Unlikely, but then again, there's always the unexpected in war. My guess is Tripoli would fold in a week with a few small enclaves of die hards holding out a while longer.

  The question is, do the Euros have the balls to put their military on the world stage? Or the cash? The Russians and Chinese would sure like to know. This Libyan mission, like all small wars greater powers get mixed up in, always work out as test cases for bigger 'proper' wars. When the Russians handed the Georgians their ass in the NATO proxy war in South Ossetia in 2008 we all learned that the Warsaw Pact tank divisions hadn't really gone away. The Libyan debacle, no matter who says what, is an interesting test case for NATO as an effective fighting force. Right now a barely passing grade doesn't inspire much confidence.

   But this war still comes down to economics. With all kinds of embargoes, Gaddafi is running out of money and the situation in Tripoli is worsening. Tripoli has always been the place Libyan sophisticates hang out drinking lattes, sucking sweet smoke from fragrant hookahs and discussing how bad the western imperialists are. Truth is, a lot of them had it pretty good under Gaddafi. Free health care and free education right on up through university. Once those illiterate rebels from Benghazi take over who knows what'll be left for the coffee drinkers. Half those fools are Islamic hardliners from the desert who signed up to fight the Yankee imperialists in Iraq and Afghanistan. They don't do Starbucks culture very well. That's why the sophisticates sided with Gaddafi in the first place. Now coffee supplies are getting leaner and bread is being baked by female volunteers. Stuff like that tends to make cafe dwellers reassess their priorities.

   Paradoxically, NATO broke a cardinal rule and bombed the oil facilities at Brega last week. That's like the bully spitting in his victim's lunch before actually taking it and smacks of NATO desperation to get this thing over with. They claimed Gaddafi was using it to fuel his army. But the useless rebels held it a month before and managed to fill a tanker and collect $100 million before they passed "Go". That at least proved to the western corporatocracy that these fucktard rebels can at least play ball on the oil front.

   Gaddafi himself sees the writing on the wall. There's no win for him here long term and like all old men, he doesn't want to die penniless and locked up in some Euro jail. He's shrewd enough to see NATO's predicament and can give them the "victory" they need in exchange for a transfer of power to his son Saif, some kind of immunity from a war crimes trial in The Hague and, most critical of all, getting to keep some of that money he's stashed away in myriad offshore bank accounts. Beachfront property and a comfortable retirement sure seems like a good deal now and he's softening on the 'fight to the death' bullshit he was spouting when this war got started. If he's to cut a deal, he'd better do it quick before the rest of his generals defect and his troops chuck their uniforms, go home and act like they know nothing about rape and pillage.

   In respect to that NATO ground assault fantasy of mine, it looks like my popcorn supply is safe.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Iran's New Toys: Missile Silos!

  The Middle East sure is a fun zone these days. At least for those of us who derive a certain schadenfreude from watching the world burn. "The best laid plans of mice and men..." and all that jazz. But apart from the Arab Spring revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Syria which are all Sunni Arab based, we tend to forget about that old faultline in Islam that Iran represents; the Shia. Iran, as the champion of this particular branch of skygod worship, wants to become a regional force in the Middle East and why wouldn't they? They're sitting on an ocean of oil and natural gas and have a population of 72 million. Tehran has tree lined boulevards and it's an hours drive to ski resorts from downtown. Mobile phone ownership per capita is higher than some euro countries. Problem is, the country is a theocracy run by a doomsday religious cult. And they're losing a war against their own young people which makes them extra twitchy.

 There's nothing this Iranian theocracy likes more, other than attempting to attain regional theater parity with the Israelis on the nuke front, than trolling the same Israelis and the US with the possibility that they might have some new toys to play around with in their sandbox. Sure, the toys they'd really like to have would be some actual nukes or, barring those, a few batteries of the Russian S-300 missile system that would make any US/Israeli air campaign against Natanz orders of magnitude more difficult. But the Iranians already did have a bunch of S-300s bought and paid for until the Israelis found out about the deal last year and shat all over it before the system was delivered, scuttling the Iranian's defense gasm with some diplomatic pressure and a snarly phone call to the Russians from Hillary Clinton. The Russians just shrugged and kept the money which sure pissed the Iranians off mightily. But that's par for the course in the sleazy world of international arms deals these days. I still wonder what kind of pressure the Israelis put on the Russians not to sell the Iranians that SAM system but then again, Israel has a sizable Russian population, so I'm sure there were plenty of phone numbers to speed dial in Mossad's little black book.

   The first Iranian nuke underground test is still years away. The US and Israel made sure of that when they deployed the Stuxnet computer worm against Iran's shitty computer system earlier this year. That sure was a kick in the nuts to Iran's nuclear ambitions and has delayed them by at least an extra year and barring a North Korean document dump, it'll be at least 2015 before there's a Shia nuke and the "big red button of win" ends up on the Ayatollah's desk. As I've said before, an Israeli air strike on Iran's nuke facilities would be the ultimate popcorn war but the Israelis found a cheaper way to delay that program. They basically hacked the Matrix and 'uploaded a virus' into the Iranian's 'Pentium II" that blue screened them hard and now they have to go and buy a whole new computer non Windows based system. This plan sure worked out a lot cheaper for everyone than a bombing mission.

   But the Iranians are still pissed.

   And looking for ways to piss off the West.

   It looks like they found a new way this week. The State News Agency just reported on 10 days of Iranian war games called ''Great Prophet 6" (apparently the first 5 prophets were just mediocre) and splashed some dick waving pics of their brand new 'missile silos', large holes in the desert that can withstand an airburst and chuck a Shahab 3 (range 1200 miles) back at Israel or US bases in the Gulf in the event of an  air strike on Iran. Thing is, missile silos, while nice and all, are primarily defensive weapons that hark back to the '80s and the heady days of the Cold War and Defcon 5. Obsolete in some ways, a lot of silos in the US have been converted into post apocalyptic survival shelters where rich Wall Street types can buy a berth and sit back after civilization implodes (any day now surely) while the rest of us plebs massacre each other for the last can of chicken soup in the looted Seven Eleven. Some Iranian colonel went on Iranian State TV and stated that the silos "function as a swift reaction unit" meaning the missiles are always in a vertical position with the co-ordinates of Tel Aviv locked in. That is, of course, if Stuxnet hasn't fucked with them too and makes the Kebab 3s U turn back to Tehran soon after launch.

   But that right there is the purpose of these missile silos. To show the US and Israel that if Iran gets bombed, no matter what, we Iranians are going to get to launch at least one reciprocal strike and you don't know where those missiles will go. Could be Tel Aviv. Could be Saudi Oil terminals. Could be US bases. The point is they can make an attack on Iran costly and the outcomes unpredictable. Not least for the global economy which is basically the "oil" economy.

   Right now, the location of these silos is obviously secret (Abriz and Khorramabad in northwest Iran) but I'm sure any prospective US air attack on Iran will first involve a quick Pentagon scan of Google Earth to find them. In a world where you've got satellites that can read your golf ball from space, hiding stuff these days is tricky. Still, this is an advance from an Iranian point of view. Previous iterations of the Shahab 3, a liquid fueled piece of Iranian tech that can hit Tel Aviv, were all mounted atop dodgy looking mobile platforms with dozens of wheels that looked like something from Gerry Anderson's '60s era kids TV series "Thunderbirds". Another unidentified Iranian officer told state television that “only a few countries in the world possess the technology to construct underground missile silos. The technology required for that is no less complicated than building the missile itself.” That's a bit of a fucking stretch. I mean any country with a decent subway system is already half way there and that just leaves a few technical issues like venting the propellant gasses, rolling open the blast doors and on which floor to stash Dr Strangelove's wheelchair.  

May or may not be a pic of Iran's silo loaded with a Shish Kebab 3

   The Iranians really would like to up the ante as a regional player in the Middle East. It really pissed them off in April when the Saudis marched into Bahrain with tanks and started slapping around the Shia protestors there because they make up 60% of the population and suddenly wondered why they can't vote. That's a legitimate beef but went largely unreported in Western countries where it pays to keep your mouth shut about the Saudi's incase they tighten the nozzle on the oil wells to remind everyone whose boss. That would hamper the "economic recovery". Those Sunni Arabs sure do suck up to the Zionists and the US from an Iranian point of view.  The nut job theocracy in Iran wishes for the days when Babylon had Hanging Gardens and streetlighting and everyone feared their elite unit, the Immortals. The only way the Iranians feel they are gonna get some respect these days is if they can slap a nuke together, nukes being the modern elite unit. It's pretty funny the way they keep denying they want one, conducting numerous "talks" to stall the Euros and Turks and Russians with bullshit while sending a bunch of dipshit diplomats to act innocent in front of the world's TV cameras and swear on their momma's burka that they have absolutely no interest in the 'big one' but instead just want a little taste of nuclear fission for electricity generation and 'medical purposes'.

   Still, you could forgive Iran for wanting a nuke.

   The Iranians have noticed that when you get named a member country of the "Axis of Evil" possibly the best way to maintain sovereignty is to fast track some uranium into something blowable. It worked for North Korea. Iran figures, since it's surrounded on all sides by Americans, maybe the only route to autonomy and stopping the Americans grabbing your oil is a nuke. Another thing a Persian big one will do, is stop the Sunni's acting against Iranian proxies like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria (assuming Assad manages to massacre enough people to stay in power). Pulling those under an Iranian nuke umbrella would sure tip the balance of power in the Mid East to the Shia and have the Saudi's racing to get their own centrifuges churning.

Iran: For some reason, being surrounded by US "democracy" doesn't make them feel good.

   The IAEA said a few weeks back they had evidence that the Iranians were working on 'nuclear triggers', you know, those complex devices that fit in suitcases and usually make an appearance as McGuffins, important plot points in Bond and Bourne type spy movies. The report said it had asked Iran about evidence of “experiments involving the explosive compression of uranium deuteride to produce a short burst of neutrons” — the speeding particles that split atoms in two in a surge of nuclear energy. The Iranians apparently just nodded sheepishly and promised to get back to them on that one.

   The I.A.E.A.’s last comprehensive report, issued in February, listed seven outstanding questions about work Iran had conducted on warhead design. The documents in the hands of the agency raise questions about work on how to turn uranium into bomb fuel, how to cast conventional explosives in a shape that can trigger a nuclear blast, how to make detonators, generate neutrons to spur a chain reaction, measure detonation waves and make nose-cones for missiles. Obviously, Iranian scientists have been googling this shit like crazy for ages but so far the jury is out on how much they do know and how long it'll take before they can translate that shit from the North Korean. It seems the blue screen of death Stuxnet worm has run its course with reports out of Iran's main facility at Natanz saying it's enriching uranium at a slightly faster rate than before Israel forced them to buy a whole new computer.

   Of course, if all this doesn't work out, the Iranians are busy working on their next dastardly plan sure to piss off the US and Israel next month. Tehran just announced its intention to fire into space in early July a Kavoshgar 5 rocket piloted by a monkey. I shit you not.

   The first Iranian monkey in space is sure to piss off the capitalist pigs.

   Lucky little bastard.