Negotiating with terrorist; more on the new Russian Empire; notes on a Strategy of Technology

View 827, Monday, June 02, 2014

John Quincy Adams on American Policy:

Whenever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.

She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.

Fourth of July, 1821

Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.
Napoleon Bonaparte


My son Phillip had a five hour plane change at LAX today, so we had planned to go down and spend some time with him. Alas, Roberta wasn’t feeling up to it, so I went alone. I took him to lunch at the Proud Bird, one of my favorite places to eat in Los Angeles. It’s been around a long time, and has a lot of WWII and previous airplanes parked on its grounds, as well as a complete collection of photographs from the early days of airplane times. It was a pleasant lunch and all went well.

It takes an hour to get to LAX from Chaos Manor unless the freeways are working, and they never are. I checked my morning mail, and found:

I’m not on Twitter so I cannot confirm this directly. This source chain has been uncommonly good in the past regarding things Islamic and political.

We may very well have traded 5 very nasty Jihadists for a home grown Jihadist who happens to be a deserter. This is very not good. His father is known to be a convert to Islam. (He greeted his son with the Bismallah prayer, for example.)

This is a soldier’s report on Bergdahl’s time in his unit including his desertion. If this is on the level this SHOULD bring down Obama’s regime.

U.S. Soldier Who Claims To Have Served With Bergdahl Casts Doubts On Official Version

More as I learn of it. I do note that Michael Yon has been noting rumors of such events since shortly after Bergdahl was "lost" from his sources as an embed in Afghanistan. He’s alluded to it twice since the trade, very indirectly as if he feels what he knows is classified if he brings up details.

Note also that this soldier’s story corroborates one of the three early accounts just after Bergdahl left. It has more detail and is slightly different from the "he walked away" and "last seen walking with three Taliban" story.

That is why I figure this report is a live one.


I hadn’t been paying much attention to this story over the weekend, and my morning papers were full of the story of bringing PFC Bergdahl home, and the TV news last night was all approval. I don’t want to be part of spreading rumors, particularly ones that can do real harm, so I sent some inquiries and drove off to the airport. I’d no sooner got started that the radio talk shows were all over the story, complete with plenty of sources: apparently PFC Bergdahl left his unit by crawling under the fence, having left behind his firearms and armor, and once he was sell away from the camp, used his cell phone to call the camp and inform someone that he had left voluntarily, and was gone. He was never charged with desertion, and it wasn’t long after that the Taliban claimed to have him as a prisoner of war.

When I got back home there were many confirmations of all this. PFC Bergdahl was promoted to Corporal and then to Sergeant while in captivity, and was listed as a Prisoner of War – an interesting designation since it make the Taliban a legal enemy of the United States and the Afghan operation a “war” within the war powers act, at least in the eyes of the White House and the Department of Defense.

And the President of the United States, the Secretary of Defense, and presumably the Secretary of State have negotiated the trade of five (5) very senior Taliban officials – war criminals under most definitions of war crimes – for one PFC deserter. This does not look like a very attractive trade, nor does it speak well for the negotiating powers of those sent to make this deal. Five flag rank officers for one PFC seems a bit extreme, particularly since the US doesn’t negotiate with terrorists.

The President of Afghanistan is horrified because he had hoped to take custody of those five flag rank Taliban officers to use in his negotiations of a treaty of peace after the US departs. He’s going to need them. The great fear is that once the US military departs, Afghanistan will revert to a Libya-like state of civil war. Libya has become a failed state much like Somalia, spewing weapons all over Africa and generally contributing to chaos. Iraq hasn’t quite reached that status, and there are tranquil civilized areas in the conglomerate ‘nation’ built from old Turkish provinces after The Great War, but there’s no real assurance that it won’t go that way. Saddam kept Sunnis and Shiites from killing each other (and protected Christians, Druze, and a few Jews while he was at it); his price was having to put up with his despoty – not as bad as some have been there – and his completely decadent sons, who were determined to show that those who will not study history will have their noses rubbed in it.

The Libya collapse makes it clear that cringing before the United States won’t earn you much: Khadafy gave up his nuke stuff, his chemicals, a scapegoat for Lockerbie, and just about anything else we demanded, and it didn’t even earn him a place in exile for himself and his children. But then the United States, having driven Saddam Hussein into his spider hole, proceeded to dismantle the Army, send the soldiers home with rifles but no jobs, and impose the most incompetent proconsul since the fall of the Roman Empire. The Kurds did learn and learn fast, and have come out of our intervention in Iraq much better off than they were before we went in. It’s not so clear who else can make that statement.

Afghanistan is about to elect a new President, and it’s unlikely that his writ will run much further from Kabul than the current President’s does. The best thing the US can do for him is to get out fast – the only thing that unites Afghani’s is the sight of armed foreigners on their land even if they claim to be allies of the Mayor of Kabul – and to leave him as many bargaining resources as possible. Five Taliban flag officers would have been very useful; but he won’t have them now.

It’s late. I have been trying to come up with a US policy that would make this POW swap reasonable, and I am not sufficiently clever. If there’s a good reason for doing this, it’s well beyond my ken, and nothing I have heard from the President’s men enlightens me.

Interesting commentaries:

this was posted on the Marine Corps Times Early Bird enews blast:


Report: Military Knew Where Bergdahl Was Being Held But Didn’t Want To Risk Lives Of Troops To Rescue A “Deserter”…



Dear Jerry,

"Any realistic assessment of American strategy must take into account that while Russia is not as powerful as the Soviet Union was, it remains a Great Power, at least as much so as any European nation, and arguably not greatly inferior to the European Union."

Supply chain disruption when the USSR collapsed in 1991 was profound. Since that time the "Brain Drain" of scientists and engineers from the former USSR states has been equally profound. Their destinations were the USA and western Europe. These people are not returning merely because Putin began to dog whistle for them. His regime is even more rife with corrupt and massively incompetent cronyism than the end stage USSR.

There is no industrial base reset button for Putin to push to return to Cold War III.

Ex-KGB thug Igor Sechin at state-owned Rosneft Oil is illustrative of the Neanderthal gangster mentalities now controlling Russia. Here is a real life Biff Tannen. Compare Igor to Rex Tillerson, civil engineer and CEO of Exxon-Mobil. Or we can compare him to Bill Dudley, chemical engineer and CEO of BP. Or how about Ben van Buerden, chemical engineer and CEO of Royal Dutch Shell?

To no great surprise Igor’s main idea for oil and gas development is to outsource the real work to Exxon Mobil, BP and Shell. These companies and their subcontractors are where real expertise resides. This includes a great many Russian engineers who fled the post-1991 gangster state corruption driven by ex-KGB bully boys like Putin and Sechin.

We have both lived to see a time when the USA’s deployable air-land combat force is at least three times as large as Russia’s numerically. Qualitatively it is probably five times as strong. The active US Army and USMC alone are double the regular Russian Army of 380,000. And which army still relies on very poorly trained 12 month conscripts for half its manpower.

Does Putin possess a domestic mandate to run up large casualties with this ill trained and equipped conscript force in a Slavic civil war? No. This is the reason he is relying on forces like the "Vostok Battalion" of adventurers, mercenaries and locally recruited ex-convicts, alcoholics and the chronically unemployed.

Start surfing the US Army National Guard brigades in Wikipedia. All of them now sport Iraq and Afghanistan campaign streamers on their colors. This force alone has more experience and is better staffed, trained and equipped than the active Russian Army.

Whether this unexpected fact should ever be germane to US policy deliberations is a second issue.

I also think that Russia’s real headcount of serviceable land-based ICBM’s could easily be under 200 missiles. The only way we can reach a higher total is start including 1980s Soviet missiles. And these had how much maintenance in the 1990s and early 2000s?

And their SSBN force may have no operationally usable units at all. There is no indication the Bulava SLBM’s development problems have been solved. This leaves three newly built Borei class SSBNs unarmed. The remaining ex-Soviet Delta IVs are all that is left. Russia long ago stopped conducting routine deterrent patrols. The real condition of these dock queens is open to interpretation.

This is a cute little regional airliner. It is comparable to aircraft produced by Embraer in Brazil and Bombardier in Canada. And it is entirely dependent on avionics from US DoD contractors, including EADS’ subcontractor base in Europe. Is this the Russian aerospace industry that will get the mythical Pak FA "5th Generation" fighter combat ready? I think not. The Pak FA’s ultimate fate will be the same as the T-95 tank project in 2010: Cancelled due to unworkability and unaffordability.

So what if Putin is refusing to sell Soviet designed RD-180 engines to the United Launch Alliance. How much will you bet that Egon Musk and his engineers (including how many Russian emigres?) at Space-X celebrated this news? Their only real fear is that Putin will quietly reverse this decision.

These data points do not outline the profile of a great power or even a country with great power potential. It is the profile of a Potemkin Village that has been erected on ruins by an oil state dictator pretending to great power.

Putin is not going to be remembered as the man who rebuilt Russia into a great power. He is most likely to be remembered as a figure comparable to Napoleon III, and as the man who set the stage for Russia to lose most of Siberia to the Chinese.

I propose you seriously reconsider and reassess Russia’s present condition, its actual economy and its realistic future power potential. An objective description of Russia’s real economy is a good starting point. I believe all of these indices are far lower than is generally believed, and which Putin wishes us to believe.

The immediate issue of who will dominate some obscure eastern Ukrainian oblasts is not vital except to the unfortunate inhabitants of these tormented regions.

The big question for the USA is who will possess Siberia in the year 2040. If China under its present regime appears to be a trustworthy and pacific successor to this vast resource then there is nothing to worry about. If not, then very profound thought is needed.

It never troubles the wolf how many the sheep be. President Putin is acutely aware that his Russia is not the USSR, and has not the military, nor economical, nor ethnological resources to be a superpower. He is also acutely aware that the promises given by America not to move NATO eastward to encircle Russia were worthless and were broken less than a decade from when they were made. And he is certainly aware that the oligarchs are corrupt and not greatly competent. He also understands that restoring the central command economy isn’t going to fix things. He is quite aware of the economic differences between East Germany and West Germany before the Wall came down.

As to the status of the Russian nuclear forces, I have no special sources, but I am certain they have far more serviceable ICBM capable of being placed on alert/ready status than any other power except the United States. Incidentally, Ukraine will have a few as well; not as many as Russia, but more than North Korea.

Your last paragraph reflects the problem nicely: but what is the American interest? Kissinger under Nixon negotiated with China to curb the USSR. In those times China was by far the weaker of the two. This is no longer the case, and it is not at all clear that China is a potentially more reliable partner than Russia could be. The realist balance of power strategy would be for the US to move closer to the Russians, who have a common interest in opposing Chinese expansion. Meanwhile, nothing we can say or do will cause Russia to shed its interests in the parts of the old Soviet Empire that contain ethnic Russians; and to Putin that term “Russian” is an ethic term, almost congruent with Slav.

Putin has no real choice. The United States showed the new rules in 1999 when we bombed Serbia until Kosovo was turned over to the Albanians, who promptly demonstrated that they know of the joys of ethnic cleansing as well as anyone. Since there had, up to the American bombings, ever been a single legal Albanian immigrant to Kosovo, and the US intervened at 10,000 feet to protect the Albanians from the Slavic Serbs, the lesson was hardly lost on the Yeltsin government; and Putin as Yeltsin’s heir understands all this very well.

China, meanwhile, sees all this ethnic self-determination with concern. The Chinese solution to ethnic problems is to import enough Han Chinese into an area to suppress the Tibetans, or Uighurs, or Mongols. Granting autonomy to different ethnic groups is not greatly attractive to the present leadership of China.


The West tried to move the Ukraine out of the Russian orbit and over into that of Brussels. The problem with that is the results of putting yourself under the yoke is that the EU doesn’t really make you rich, as witness events in Greece, Spain, Portugal — and their remedy tends to be austerity. The Russians paid many of the Ukraine’s bills for a decade. How they’re calling in some of the debt. The Crimean gambit worked better than expected, and is now a done deal. What else does Russia want?

Applying the formula, Russia wants loyal Russians, where is a good supply of them? Well, in the southern Ukraine; they call themselves Cossacks, and they made up the loyalist elements of the Tsarist armed forces. Well over half of the White Guard Army troops in the Russian Civil War were Cossacks.


I note that the F-35 is now 7 years behind schedule. Given the inexorability of Moore’s Law this means that the airplane is obsolete by current technology standards. We need to buy a hundred or so of the F-135’s, and finish working out the bugs, and get them into operational readiness; there are no prizes for second place in an air superiority airplane. On the other hand, we will not need to deploy them against very many countries; few will have anything that can challenge our current force.

The optimum strategy is to assure continuity by buying enough F-135 to dominate the air superiority mission in the next few years, while accelerating the design and development of the F-35’s successor. And about the time we are ready to deploy that, it’s successor should be well into the R&D cycle.

We covered all this in The Strategy of Technology, although the examples of course were drawn from much lower technology. But Moore’s Law is inexorable, and exponential curves have a way of making things obsolescent much faster than you had expected. So it goes.





Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.




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