Free Men Bear Arms

Herschel Smith · 15 Dec 2014 · 3 Comments

Mike Vanderboegh: You know the Founders were as suspicious of unrestrained democracy as they were of absolute monarchy. Both can be tyrannical. Both can be deadly. Both are threats to life and liberty and property. This is why they crafted a constitutional republic. The Founders knew that the mob could be manipulated by cynical elites to rob other citizens of their liberty, their property and their lives – cynical elites, wealthy men, powerful men, with unceasing appetites for more and more…… [read more]

Second Amendment Challenge

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 11 months ago

A study of the current public debate (including comments generated from Legislation on High Capacity Magazines) shows that the arguments by pro-gun control advocates generally fall into one or more of three categories.  The first category is hyperbolic, exaggerated and overheated prose.

For example, E. J. Dionne, Jr., writing for The Washington Post, believes that advocates of the Second Amendment hold “peculiar” views, that they are “extremists,” and that their rhetoric has been instrumental in blocking legislation that would have saved lives.

I came to realize, partly from e-mail exchanges with ardent foes of gun control over the years, that the real passion for a let-anything-go approach to guns has little to do with culture or hunting. It is rooted in a very peculiar view of how America has maintained its freedom. Rep. Ron Paul, as is his wont, expressed it as plainly as anyone.

“The Second Amendment is not about hunting deer or keeping a pistol in your nightstand,” the Texas Republican declared in 2006. “It is not about protecting oneself against common criminals. It is about preventing tyranny. The Founders knew that unarmed citizens would never be able to overthrow a tyrannical government as they did. . . . The muskets they used against the British army were the assault rifles of that time” …

The approach to guns, violence and “tyranny” promoted by loud voices on the right has been instrumental in blocking measures that could at least have contained the casualties in Tucson – or at Virginia Tech or Columbine. Extremism in defense of feeble gun laws is no virtue.

Dionne doesn’t really know any of this as we will discuss further, but while the Washington Post attempts to frame their anti-gun views in respectable arguments, a discussion thread at Media Matters (focused on the so-called Second Amendment Remedy) turned quickly into a lambaste of “right wing extremists,” and one commenter weighs in by saying that “the “Second Amendment Remedies” remark is one that even the most hypnotized wingnuts won’t generally defend.”

But Ken Klukowski, a research fellow at Liberty University School of Law, observes:

This right has two purposes. One is so Americans can defend themselves from criminals. Another — talked up by the Tea Party but ridiculed by the liberal elite — is that the Second Amendment protects citizens against our own government.

The Supreme Court declared in its landmark 2008 D.C. v. Heller decision — a decision praised by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. — that the Second Amendment was enshrined in the Constitution because when vast numbers of citizens have guns and know how to use them, “they are better able to resist tyranny.”

When serving on the California Supreme Court, now-D.C. Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown observed, “political writings of the [Founding Fathers] repeatedly expressed a dual concern: facilitating the natural right of self-defense and assuring an armed citizenry capable of repelling foreign invaders and quelling tyrannical leaders.”

Ninth Circuit Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain explained the Second Amendment “right contains both a political component — it is a means to protect the public from tyranny — and a personal component — it is a means to protect the individual from threats to life or limb.”

The most sobering words come from Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit, who wrote, “the simple truth — born of experience — is that tyranny thrives best where government need not fear the wrath of an armed people.”

The son of Holocaust survivors, Kozinski continued, “The Second Amendment is a doomsday provision, one designed for those exceptionally rare circumstances where all other rights have failed — where the government refuses to stand for re-election and silences those who protest; where courts have lost the courage to oppose, or can find no one to enforce their decrees. However improbable these contingencies seem today, facing them unprepared is a mistake a free people get to make only once.”

When leftist rhetoric suffers from a refusal to do even the most basic homework, it’s difficult to take it very seriously.  The second category into which much rhetoric seems to fit is one of a fundamentally flawed mechanical understanding of firearms and how they work.

Robert Rector, writing for the Pasadena Star-News, says that he’s ex-Army, but then treats us to this confused set of plans for gun control:

The Second Amendment is a reality. We have the right to keep and bear arms and I do not wish it repealed … I do believe we need to reinstitute the federal assault weapons ban, signed into law by President Clinton and allowed to expire under President Bush. It would, among other things, have prohibited the magazine which allowed the shooter to fire 33 rounds before he was stopped.

I believe we need effective gun control. The right to bear arms doesn’t allow you to own nuclear weapons, surface-to-air missiles or flame-throwers. We should add to that list semi-automatic handguns, super-sized ammo magazines and concealed weapons of any kind.

Rector doesn’t wish the Second Amendment to be repealed, but he wishes to ban semi-automatic handguns, high capacity magazines and “concealed weapons of any kind.”  How exactly one could allow Second Amendment rights and yet ban the ownership of any weapon that could be concealed isn’t explained (or obvious).  Perhaps Rector wants us to return to single action pistols (that aren’t concealable – if there is such a thing), but he justifies this by denying a right to own a nuclear weapon.

The third category into which much of the rhetoric falls is illogical.  Most proponents of a ban on high capacity magazines confuse causation with correlation, and one may include the “excluded middle” in their list of problems.  If high capacity magazines weren’t so readily available, they say, crimes like this wouldn’t occur.  But this hasn’t been demonstrated, and there are other options.  The shooter could simply become skilled at rapid magazine changeout (and see here and here too).  Or perhaps since criminals don’t care about the law, they might choose to steal a high capacity magazine or obtain one on the black market.  Another option might be to become skilled at the use of tool and die equipment and fabricate their own (after all, it’s only a box with a spring).  Yet another option would be to carry two or more handguns, with rounds chambered, so that magazine changeout would be unnecessary.  The reader may be able to come up with more options.

Besides being unable to demonstrate that a ban on high capacity magazines would effect the desired outcome, it is a particularly ghoulish and creepy argument anyway to say that it’s okay for a shooter to kill ten people in a crowd (the proposed limit on magazine capacity), but greater than ten deaths is not acceptable.  The threshold is completely arbitrary and totally capricious.

One may add to the list of logical fallacies ad hominem insults and an appeal to authority (the genetic fallacy).  The leftists are especially crowing about alleged gun rights advocates supporting the proposed ban on high capacity magazines.  Vice President Dick Cheney may be open to the idea, although he doesn’t explain what he thinks it will accomplish.  And Peggy Noonan even recommends that Obama pursue the idea, while observing that the GOP likely won’t fight it in the Congress.

What civilian needs a pistol with a magazine that loads 33 bullets and allows you to kill that many people without even stopping to reload? No one but people with bad intent. Those clips  were banned once; the president should call for reimposing the ban. The Republican Party will not go to the wall to defend extended clips. The problem is the Democratic Party, which overreached after the assassinations of the 1960s, talked about banning all handguns, and suffered a lasting political setback. Now Democrats are so spooked they won’t even move forward on small and obvious things like this. The president should seize the moment and come out strong for a ban.

Of course, Noonan gives us yet another problematic argument, i.e., assuming that the Constitution is discussing needs rather than rights.  The road down which she turns is a dastardly one indeed, since Noonan may be not able to convince an empowered government that she needs an automobile for travel or a computer for writing her commentaries.

So here is a challenge – a Second Amendment challenge.  Give us an argument by which we may conclude that a ban on high capacity magazines (or semi-automatic handguns) is constitutional and will effect the desired outcome.  Do so without using hyperbolic, exaggerated language and without insults, and make it demonstrably logical in its construction.  In all of my study I have yet to run across such an argument.

Prior: Legislation on High Capacity Magazines

Bankruptcy for States? A Defining Moment for America

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 11 months ago

There is quite a bit of buzz lately over the possibility of allowing States to file petitions under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.   An article by Mary Williams Walsh in The New York Times yesterday, “Path Is Sought For States To Escape Debt Burdens,” lays out pretty well the gathering storm.

The article begins with reference to the,”crushing debts, including the pensions they have promised to retired public workers.”  This is, indeed, a real problem.   California, one of the worst offenders, is projected to have a budget deficit in 2011 of over $25 Billion.  New York and Illinois are in equally dire straits.

The article points out, ever so helpfully, that:

Unlike cities, the states are barred from seeking protection in federal bankruptcy court. Any effort to change that status would have to clear high constitutional hurdles because the states are considered sovereign.

Pardon me while I laugh out loud at this one.  Suddenly The New York Times cares about “high constitutional hurdles” and state sovereignty.  This is the paper that has published secrets about the federal efforts to track terrorists and cared nothing about the Constitution when it came to Obamacare.   Nor did the NYT seem to care about state sovereignty when it was Arizona’s sovereign right to enforce its borders.

The article goes on to report that several members of Congress and experts outside of Congress are debating the merits of a change to the Bankruptcy Code that would allow States to file for federal bankruptcy protection.

As a substantive matter, there are so many things wrong with the idea of allowing States to file a bankruptcy petition that several posts could be devoted to the subject (and perhaps someone will…).  Suffice it to say that: (A) any shred of States’ rights left in this country will be completely and finally buried if the federal government is allowed into State finances in anything like the way the usual debtor is governed under the Bankruptcy Code, and; (B) the moral hazard of allowing States, particularly the spendthrift ones like California, to wipe away debt will indelibly scar all State finances, and; (C) the ability of States to finance necessary capital projects will be severely restricted.   In short, this is Fall of the Roman Empire stuff, folks.

The Panic Sets In

What is more interesting is the underlying tone: panic.

Liberals who have adored the big welfare state are suddenly waking up to the fact that: (A) the gushers of money that always seemed to be there, no matter how high the tax rates were set, have suddenly stopped, and; (B) the voters are finally aware of the problem and actually demanding something other than the usual bailouts and tax increases.

If liberals cannot find new sources of other peoples’ money (0r undo the debts that they have run up), this fiscal crisis threatens to collapse much, if not all, of the liberal policies and programs of the last 75 years by revealing the socialist model as one, big Ponzi scheme that only lasted this long because of the incredible strength and resilience of the American economy.  No more.

So, as this panic sets in, liberals are doing what every spendthrift does when he is finally out of money: he asks his responsible family members for help.  Afterall, it worked last time with the massive, $800 Billion bailout in 2009 that was cynically touted as “stimulus.”   States were allowed to postpone the day of reckoning because Uncle Harry and Aunt Nancy were only too willing to give up the cash.  Amazingly, in just two years’ time, things have changed and Aunt Nancy has been cut off from the checking account.   Liberals know this time will be different.   Liberal bastions like California, New York and Illinois are not going to get a dime from the current Congress.

This is the impetus for Ms. Williams’ article.  Rather than face the utter repudiation and dismantling of their bloated, top-heavy, welfare states, Liberals are opting for wiping out the debts that politicians foolishly promised to their union supporters for decades.   Yes, unbelievably enough, Liberals are so desperate that they are ready to throw the public unions under the proverbial Bus.

The Usual Shock and Awe

Next, note that the call for bankruptcy protection for States comes in a vacuum, as if the enormous budget shortfalls arose magically overnight without warning.  (This seems to be the common, liberal posture:  abject, jaw-dropping, head-scratching surprise when confronted with the real-life consequences of liberal policy).

Should anyone be surprised when a never-ending policy of enlarging State government brings about “crushing” debt?  Was it somehow unforeseeable that adding tens of thousands of State employees each year with ever-increasing pay and benefits, would not, eventually bankrupt the State?  Yet this has been the liberal prescription since Franklin Roosevelt: ever greater involvement and control by Government which, by necessity, requires ever greater Government employment.

A Cancer We Can’t Ignore

Why are the politicians and political class talking about radical ideas like bankruptcy for the States?  To read the NYT article by Ms. Williams it would appear that States are helpless to control their budgets, as if some freak force of nature has descended.  (This, by the way, seems to be part of the same, recurring liberal tactic:  declare a crisis which compels radical solutions which the People are too stupid to understand).  Even if we assume that pension funding is a real and immediate problem, and we further assume that States cannot, as a unilateral budget matter, change pension obligations due to State constitutions, there is an obvious solution which no one seems to see.

It is called the Voter.

The State constitution can be amended to allow for necessary changes.  Go to the voting public and pass laws that will reduce budget obligations for benefits and salaries.  But, for some, strange reason, the politicians do not want to face the voting public.  Why is that?

Could it be that voters are finally starting to see that politicians are largely in the pocket of small but powerful interest groups with policies that run counter to public welfare at large?

So long as the general, voting public turned out in low numbers for state/local elections, public employee groups, while relatively small compared to the registered voting public, have commanded disproportionate power due to their greater focus and energy in mobilizing votes and donations.   They own the politicians and, hence, the political process.

This has led to a growing tyranny of sorts where the majority of Americans are increasingly subject to the whims of small but highly focused, highly energetic special interest groups that work through the political process to manipulate policies to their own, distinct advantage.

This cancer is self-perpetuating.  As the special interest groups, such as teacher unions, capture ever-better benefits vis a vis the private sector, increasing numbers of people are attracted to the group, swelling its numbers with more dues-paying, voting members.   This ever-growing cancer on the body politic will have fatal results for our republic if left unchecked.

California is a textbook example of this cancer of special interests transforming a one-time economic dynamo, blessed with every resource God can bestow, into a pitiful charity case.  This should unnerve every one of us, for if it can happen to California, it can certainly happen to the country as a whole.

And, by all appearances, it is.

If we are going to avoid a terrible fate, we will need political leaders at the State and Federal level that can confront and overcome the special interests.   Chris Christie in New Jersey may be the best example of this.  So far he has taken his message– and not a popular message at that of fiscal restraint– directly to the voters.   He has directly challenged the teachers union, among others, to help right the ship of State.   Note that this can only happen when the average voter gets so disgusted with the state of affairs that they are willing to vote in sufficient numbers to overwhelm the special interest groups.

Let us hope that there is a responsible majority in Congress that will not fall for the panicked calls to bail out failed social policies of Big Government.   And, in the meantime, it would be wise if ordinary Americans who believe in limited government get involved however they can in electing responsible leaders.

The Bienart Approach: Spreading Democracy By Neglect

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 11 months ago

In a Daily Beast article yesterday, Peter Beinhart takes a measure of relief in the fact the United States seemingly has nothing to do with the apparent uprising in Tunisia that has (for the time being) tossed out the autocrat, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

What a great country we have. Where else would you find opinion leaders applauding evidence of their own country’s irrelevance to international affairs?

The critical thing to understand about the movements stirring against tyranny in Tunisia, and throughout the Arab world, is this: They aren’t about us. And that might be a good thing.

Beinhart’s point, in essence, seems to follow along these lines:  Tunisians rose up against the oppressor-thugocracy without American help, therefore American support for oppressed peoples– particularly in the Middle East– is not only unnecessary but actually counterproductive.   Furthermore, he seems to argue, the Tunisian experience validates the view he terms “optimist” that freedom/democracy is an irresistible force that will, eventually, prevail.   (This he contrasts with the straw-man “militarist” view that democracy can only spread along with American power and influence).

To be fair, Beinhart does concede eventually that it is a “good thing for the U.S. government to want democracy in the Middle East.”  This is a nice concession that, afterall, we should not feel guilty about wanting democratic governments in the Middle East. It’s just that we shouldn’t want to do anything about it.

This allergy to the use of American power in the world is, however, disturbing on two levels.

First, it is incredibly naive.  We can all agree that the Tunisians have shown incredible bravery while, at the same time, acknowledging that the prospects for a democratic government taking hold there are slim to none without some type of external assistance.  The chances, moreover, that the autocratic governments in the Middle East will somehow fall to a rising tide of purely indigenous democracy without external aid is equally fanciful.

Second, and perhaps most disturbing, Beinhart’s approach is incredibly wrong.  Immoral.  How can we, as Americans, stand idly by while unarmed, peaceful protesters are clubbed, raped or gunned down by the security forces of pariah regimes?

It is simply not in our national character to refuse aid to any people that is willing to put their lives on the line to gain their freedom from oppression.

Does this require that the U.S. send in the tanks every time there is a political protest put down by government violence?  No.   Rather, there should be a sliding scale of involvement that begins, at the very least, with persistent and public expressions of condemnation toward the regime, followed by economic and/or diplomatic sanctions, followed (where appropriate) by tangible aid to the democratic movement (covert if necessary) and, at the extreme end of the scale, open, military assistance.    This approach leaves plenty of time and opportunity for public debate over the merits and extent of support.  But there can be no argument, such as the one Beinhart hints at, that the U.S. do nothing.

We have already seen the consequences of Beinhart’s approach.  In 1991, tens of thousands of Iraqi shia in Basra were killed by Saddam Hussein’s thugs when they revolted in 1991.   The U.S. did nothing and paid the price 12 years later when radical Islam had taken root in the region, making pacification infinitely more costly. The democracy movement in Iran is another example of ordinary citizens giving up their lives for a chance at freedom.  Obama, clearly favoring the Beinhart approach, has left them helpless against determined torture and murder by the regime.   Sudan and the Congo stand out as well.  Oppressed people of the world have rightly looked to the U.S. and we did nothing, absolutely nothing to help.  These are blots on our national honor.

In the end, Peter Beinhart may be right on one point:  democracy and freedom may (somehow) break out in the Middle East without meaningful U.S. support.  Anything is possible.

The real question, however, is this: why should we ever want that kind of world?

Prisons Do Not Work In Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 11 months ago

Continuing reports on the use of prisons in counterinsurgency.

A few months after insurgents launched a rocket attack on Kandahar’s air base, US soldiers kicked down Khan Mohammed’s door and whisked the stout, ruddy-faced 27-year-old — blindfolded and handcuffed — to an American prison near Kabul.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, US forces have detained thousands of suspected enemy combatants without trial in facilities such as Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, Abu Ghraib in Iraq, and Bagram in Afghanistan. US officials say the detentions prevent attacks, but critics charge that innocent people have been unfairly held for years.

Mohammed’s story illustrates what US officials say is a dramatic shift in policy aimed at treating suspected enemies better, and releasing them sooner.

“We changed everything,’’ said Vice Admiral Robert Harward, head of US detention operations in Afghanistan, who oversees a new, modern prison outside the boundaries of the Bagram Air Base, near Kabul, which officials say emphasizes rehabilitation and release.

Mohammed was taken to the new prison and was brought be fore a military judicial panel within weeks. But his case also reveals how, despite these improvements, the military’s opaque judicial process often seems arbitrary to the local populace and continues to leave some Afghans unappeased.

Sensitive evidence against Mohammed was never shared with him, nor explained to the public. Four months after he was seized, American soldiers issued him a gray coat, a white prayer cap, and a black bag containing a toothbrush, then set him free with little explanation.

His quick release bolstered the belief among some Afghans that he should never have been arrested. Some also say an evolving system of judicial trials for detainees is unfair.

“The perception is still that it is like a black hole,’’ said Hekmat Karzai, a cousin of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and director of the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies, an independent, nongovernmental organization in Kabul that offers legal defense to detainees.

Numbers released by American authorities tell a tale of speedier justice, however. In 2010, as US troops pushed deep into hostile territory, the US-led coalition arrested 6,223 Afghans, the largest number on record, Harward said. But about 5,000 were let go within days, often after tribal elders vowed to keep them out of trouble.

About 1,200 — who had the most damning evidence against them — were sent to the new $60 million US prison facility outside Bagram Air Base. A quarter of them were released within months without a trial.

“There are people who think this is all rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. But you have got to hope they succeed,’’ said Eugene Fidell, a professor at Yale Law School and a specialist in the subject of military justice.

Rehabilitation and release.  The report goes on to say that this kinder, gentler, state-of-the-art facility was the brainchild of General McChrystal.  That sounds about right.  We can’t rehabilitate most of the criminals in our own U.S. prisons where we know the culture, know the language, know the people, and own the system.  We can’t manage to effect this rehabilitation because criminality is a moral problem, a problem of evil.  Prisons don’t change a man’s heart.  Much less, then, will we be able to use prisons in Afghanistan to effect rehabilitation.

When the U.S. is seen as short-timers in the campaign and when release is usually just days or weeks away, there is no reason to befriend U.S. troops.  There is no replacement for killing the enemy on the field of battle.  If the naysayer responds that “This violates the Geneva Conventions,” or “That violates our own rules of engagement,” very well.  There are other solutions.  Simply put, kill when we can, but refuse to take prisoners.  It simply does no good.  Or, we can redeploy home and end the campaign.  Either way, pretending that prisons work in counterinsurgency is foolish, and runs counter to the evidence from both Iraq and Afghanistan.  As I have said before, “simply put, prisons … do … not … work … in … counterinsurgency.”

Prior:

Hamid Kzrzai: Defeater of the High Value Target Program

The Ineffectiveness of Prisons in Counterinsurgency

Jirgas and the Release of Taliban Prisoners

Prisons in Afghanistan

Prisons in Counterinsurgency

Legislation on High Capacity Magazines

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 11 months ago

Representative Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) has introduced legislation to “restore the prohibition on large capacity ammunition feeding devices in the United States.”  She intones, “Though it will remain impossible to estimate, I believe that the increased difficulty in obtaining these devices will reduce their use and ultimately save lives.”  Law abiding citizens who want to obtain the high capacity magazines through legal means will be prohibited from doing so under her new laws, and the criminals will still obtain whatever they want by any means that they want.  Representative McCarthy is a stooge.

Her legislation goes even further than the assault weapon ban that expired in 2004, outlawing the sale or transfer of clips that hold more than ten rounds, even those obtained before the law takes effect.  Proponents have argued that there is no “need” for such magazines.  Neither is there a “need” for me to eat steak, but it tastes good.  When a politician uses the phrase “there is no need” in the context of firearms, it only goes to show that they don’t yet acquiesce to the notion of rights.

But let’s play this silly game of “need” for a moment.  Could you tell Ramon Castillo in Houston, Texas, that there was no need for a high capacity magazine after having to save himself and his wife by killing three assailants?  According to the police:

Investigators said so many shots were fired inside the jewelry shop in a two- or three-minute span that they could not estimate the number of rounds. “We’ve got bullet fragments all over the place, casings all over the place, shotgun slugs all over the place, so it’s really hard to determine at this point how many rounds were actually fired – but quite a few.”

Castillo used at least three different firearms: a 9mm, .380, and a shotgun.  Or how about feral hogs?  Ask the dog boys around Abbeville and parts of Northern Georgia how threatening 400 – 500 pound feral hogs can be to children and even adults, and how, at times, dozens of rounds have to be fired to take them down.  If a 400 pound feral hog was running towards your child, do you think you might want a high capacity magazine?  Oh, and they’re in about 40 states now, and after breeding with imported and violent Eurasian boars, there are about six million of them.

In Des Moines they apparently believe that the framers never figured on a right to bear a Glock, and elsewhere the phrase killing machines has taken on an evil connotation.  In Knoxville, Jack McElroy gets his numbers wrong, talking about a 31-round clip.  I have a 30 round magazine, but you know, you have to count that one in the chamber (30 +1), if you go to the trouble of putting it there.

But none of these individuals has had to defend his life like Ramon Castillo, or had children attacked by feral hogs.  So this silly need game that we just played is a Red Herring.  Can we get back to talking about rights?

It’s Time to Engage the Caucasus Part II

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 11 months ago

After discussing the recent disputations that have occurred between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Stephen Blank goes on to make recommendations for greater U.S. engagement in the Caucasus.

The U.S. has displayed indifference, or at least apathy, toward the situation. This needs to change. Armenia’s threats reflect the facts that NATO disregarded Armenia’s claims and that the OSCE, largely because of distrust between the U.S. and Russia, cannot bring itself to function as intended (i.e., as a mediator). But the threats also reflect the fact that behind most of the headlines, this has been a very good year for Azerbaijan in its international relations, particularly its energy diplomacy. As a result, Azerbaijan has become more strategically important to the West, including the U.S.

Baku has stood its ground with Moscow. While doubling gas exports to Russia, it signed a major deal with BP to develop new gas holdings off its shores, thus not only maintaining its energy independence, but also demonstrating the importance of the planned Nabucco pipeline to Europe. Azerbaijan has also visibly improved its relations with Turkmenistan, to the point where a Turkmen decision to send its gas to Europe through pipes traversing Azerbaijan is now quite conceivable. Further, Azerbaijan signed a four-party deal to build an Interconnector that will send Azeri gas through Georgia and the Black Sea en route to Romania and then Hungary. This deal enhances Azerbaijan’s importance to Southeastern Europe as a reliable supplier of oil and gas. Also in 2010, Azerbaijan improved its ties and signed an energy agreement with Turkey.

While these agreements cannot hide the fact that no progress was made on Nagorno-Karabakh — over 30 serious incidents occur daily on the “Line of Contact” there — they do show Azerbaijan’s growing importance to Europe and self-confidence in international affairs. Armenia, by contrast, has little to show for its efforts except continuing dependence upon Russia. For example, because of its refusal to negotiate with Azerbaijan, Armenia remains estranged from Turkey — a situation that decreases Armenia’s GDP by 15 percent. Recent reports show that Armenia ran weapons to Iran, something that will hardly endear it to the West.

Blank goes on to describe the disaster that would be open war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and then concludes with this:

The 2008 Russo-Georgian War showed that even small wars in the Transcaucasus can have repercussions that far transcend the region. Failure to take an active role in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh issue not only cements Armenia’s dependence upon Moscow and estrangement from Turkey and Europe; it also undermines the success Azerbaijan has had in strengthening Europe’s position vis-à-vis Russia on energy security. Continued neglect of Azerbaijan, and of the Transcaucasus as a whole, can only erode U.S. standing and damage its credibility in the region, confirming Russia’s belief that the reset policy amounts to an acknowledgement of its right to a sphere of influence over the Commonwealth of Independent States. Under the circumstances, the ongoing failure of the U.S. to play an active role here makes no sense at all — and worse, encourages the drift to war.

I had initially advocated engagement of the Caucasus region for at least two purposes, namely logistics (as an alternative to the troublesome line of logistics through the Khyber region or the increasingly troublesome Chamen area), and as a barrier to Russian assertion of influence in what it considers its “near abroad.”

Hidden, or perhaps simply assumed in my prose, was the understanding that the Caucasus region is oil and natural gas rich.  Blank recognizes that the Caucasus is strategically important due not only to its oil and gas, but also as a potential way to blunt the force of Russian hegemony (or possible developing Russian hegemony).

So there are three good reasons to engage the Caucasus: (1) Oil and gas, (2) as a barrier to Russian influence (see Rapidly Collapsing U.S. Foreign Policy for as discussion of Russian basing rights and logistics in Armenia), and (3) as an already-proven line of logistics to Afghanistan in lieu of Pakistan.  Actually, as Stephen Blank points out, in spite of the fear mongers who believe that Georgia will drag us into a war with Russia, there is a fourth good reason to engage the Caucasus region: to prevent war from occurring.

I don’t hold out high hopes that the Obama administration will pursue engagement of the Caucasus, as I am not convinced that they care about any of the above justifications that we have offered.  However, Russia is not our friend, we still need logistics to Afghanistan, our automobiles and trucks still need to run in order to support our economy, and war between Armenia and Azerbaijan would be a humanitarian disaster.

Prior: It’s Time to Engage the Caucasus

Coolness Factor II

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 11 months ago

In Coolness Factor I linked Joe Bonamassa (a must-see at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam doing a ZZ Top tune).  Now for another breather after hard work covering difficult issues, watch this special presentation of the great and legendary Stevie Ray Vaughan performing “I’m Goin’ Down.”  Because of video quality, you need to turn up the speakers.  This is one of his last concerts before his untimely death.  Enjoy.

Afghans Wary of Building Up Local Policing Forces

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 11 months ago

From NPR:

In Kabul this week, U.S. Vice President Biden said the surge in American troops has arrested the momentum of the Taliban insurgency, and he pledged that U.S. forces would draw down as Afghan troop numbers build up.

To that end, U.S. commanders in Afghanistan are pushing for the rapid creation of local community police forces. But many Afghans are reluctant; they have reservations about creating yet another armed group in a fractured country.

About 100 miles south of Kabul, Ghazni province is a world away from the capital. On election day last year, Taliban threats kept voters away from the few polling stations in the mostly Pashtun province that were considered safe enough to open. In Andar district — with a population of 110,000 — exactly three people went out to cast a vote.

The soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry, travel everywhere outside their tiny fort in titanic mine-resistant trucks. For the four months they’ve been in Andar district, they’ve skirmished almost every day. Lt. Col. David Fivecoat speaks of the enemy in personal terms.

“After four months of tough fighting, we’ve attrited [reduced] his capabilities and control and have begun the slow process of every counterinsurgency, of turning the control back over to the government,” he says.

But it’s not the first time NATO troops have tried to take back Andar district from the Taliban, and it’s not the second. In 2006, the U.S. Army’s Operation Mountain Fury was supposed to clear Ghazni province. So were sporadic raids in 2007. U.S. soldiers from the 187th arrived there in September, replacing Polish NATO soldiers, but now the strategy is different.

On a recent day, chickens scatter in a yard as Capt. Aaron T. Schwengler and a platoon of B Company soldiers enter the farmyard of a village elder in a hamlet called Bangi. With soldiers on the roof keeping watch, Schwengler takes off his helmet and sits on the ground for tea.

“We appreciate the hospitality, having us here in Bangi,” he tells a group of elders. “It’s always nice to come here because we don’t get shot at and I appreciate that.”

Schwengler isn’t joking, and the elders don’t laugh. He can’t say that about many villages in the district. Bangi is close enough to B Company’s base that the Taliban shy away from it. Schwengler has promised money to rebuild the irrigation canals in the village, and he has asked about building a school, which Bangi hasn’t had since the 1970s. But he wants something in return.

Schwengler is hoping to recruit, pay and arm a squad of the new community watch program. The program has changed its name several times since summer, but it’s based on the one in Iraq that helped turn the tide against al-Qaida. The commander of U.S. forces here, Gen. David Petraeus, pushed the program through despite public doubts expressed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. B Company has been canvassing the local villages hoping to get elders to come to their base for a shura, or council, to start forming the village guards.

One village elder, Muhammad, says he agrees with everything that Schwengler and the local district governor want to do, and he promises to come to the shura to discuss it.

But two days later, the day of the shura, only the two elders from Bangi turn up at the base. Schwengler says the other villages are too scared to show.

“The Taliban [came] in after we did and told them not to support the shura and not to show up,” he says.

Even the elders from Bangi have reservations about the program.

“We tried that program during the Russian occupation,” says Muhammad, “and when we armed people they went and joined the insurgency.”

There are several ways to take this report, and each reader will perform his or her own analysis.  But I think it’s important not to turn this into yet another data point in the “local versus centralized government” debate.  My takeaway is different.

In not only Afghanistan but also Iraq, weapons turned up with the insurgents, construction projects lined the pockets of the enemy, and people walked both sides of the track.  That is, until it was made apparent in Iraq that alignment with the insurgency was dangerous.

People are aligning with the insurgency because they don’t see it as dangerous.  They see it as the winning side.  Until it’s the losing side, no amount of local policing, construction, schools, or community engagement will persuade people to forswear or repudiate the insurgency.  We need to get first things first.

Changing the Support to Infantry Ratio in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 11 months ago

So Bruce Rolston and I had been debating the issue of large versus small footprint in Afghanistan, and Tim Lynch weighs in with this interesting take:

I’d like to clear up my position on the number of troops deployed which, given my tendency to write about things that irritate me, may not seem consistent. In fact I am going to prove my suitability for government service by stating unequivocally that you are both right.

When I write that we are turning the corner in the South I do so because I have seen the Marines there doing what Marines do – figuring out how to accomplish their assigned mission using a combination of innovation and solid infantry fundamentals. But the Marines have essentially a reinforced division fighting in the sparsely populated Helmand Province which gives them enough boots on the ground to be effective. And I remain flabbergasted by the thousands of support troops and massive headquarters supporting the Marines. The Marines should be focused on securing the people by separating the population from the Taliban which is best done by relentlessly hunting them down and killing them. But they are now doing nation building tasks they should not have to do because our State Department and USAID are incompetent.

Yet even with the added burden of doing missions other governmental agencies are designed and funded to do there are too many of the wrong types of people deployed in country. I have always said that PRT’s are a massive waste of money and personnel because they, by design, cannot accomplish what they are assigned to do. I would add that when you walk into the C9 or C6 or C3 sections of the MEF HQ and see a half dozen full bird Colonels in each it doesn’t take a military expert to figure out something is amiss.

We are not going to build Afghanistan into a functional nation. But we can build the Afghan military into a functional tool while providing the room for them to grow with our own maneuver battalions. To do that requires lots more boots on the ground but outside the wire of the dozens of massive bases we have built in Afghanistan. You can deploy and support those troops with about 50% of the people currently stuffed into the massive FOB’s.

We need more trigger pullers but less troops. We need more reconstruction but don’t need PRT’s. We need a clear mission with more of the ROE decision making passed down the chain of command, not more general officers. And we need to figure out how to do the hold and build with the TTP’s I use which is currently a bridge too far for both the military and the other governmental agencies who are spending billions while accomplishing nothing.

Tim makes an interesting point concerning support to infantry ratio, a theme that has been discussed here, here, here, here and hereMicromanaging the military has also taken a prominent place in our inspection here at The Captain’s Journal.  As for ROE, I have always been a proponent of pressing both responsibility and authority down in the chain of command.  Micromanaging the ROE caused the deaths of three Marines and a Corpsman.

As if on cue (maybe they’re listening to Tim and/or me), the support to infantry ratio is about to change in Afghanistan.

U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan are seeking ways to maintain the level of combat troops there, even as they make plans to cut the overall number of American personnel to meet the White House’s mandate to start shipping out forces by summer.

Under one early proposal, commanders in Afghanistan would cut from 5,000 to 10,000 staff positions, maintenance personnel and intelligence analysts. But the number of Army and Marine infantry would be untouched, as would brigade and battalion headquarters.

A senior military official said Gen. David Petraeus has yet to authorize any formal planning for the July 2011 drawdown of forces that President Barack Obama announced more than a year ago. But other officials said Gen. Petraeus and administration officials in Washington appeared to back the general approach of culling support positions that may be redundant or expendable, while preserving, or even increasing, the proportion of front-line infantry troops in the field.

“You’re still engaged in a war and you don’t want to give up combat power,” said an administration official. “Why would you send home gunfighters and keep cooks? It doesn’t make sense.”

The plan to reduce troop levels, which President Obama announced when he committed 33,000 additional troops for Afghanistan in December 2009, has been a running source of tension between the White House and the military. Reducing troop levels is a political priority, especially with anxiety on the left about the length and cost of the war. Military commanders are wary that too fast a withdrawal could imperil what they see as their fragile gains.

Gen. Petraeus believes he has been given wide latitude by the White House to determine how to cut, according to a military officer familiar with his thinking, and also understands the cut must be more than 2,000 people. Officials believe reducing forces between 5,000 and 10,000 could satisfy demands within the White House for a substantial
reduction. But cutting at the upper end of that range could entail reducing the military’s firepower, they say.

Although there is no official cap, military officials in Afghanistan have been told they can’t exceed about 98,000 troops, which is close to the current deployment.

Some senior officers believe keeping the same number of combat troops in Afghanistan after the beginning of the drawdown is critical to breaking the will of the Taliban to keep fighting after the summer. “The message [we are hearing] from the Taliban is that we are leaving,” said a senior defense official. “A significant number will leave, but I guarantee there won’t be any combat forces cut.”

Separately from the July drawdown, officials say top commanders in Afghanistan are reviewing the makeup of their forces, looking for support troops that could be sent home and replaced with additional front-line “trigger pullers.”

“We’ve got a lot of guys who never leave the wire,” said one military officer, referring to a military base’s perimeter. “I think we’re asking what each one of them does and do we need what they do.”

There are worse things the Pentagon could be doing than listening to Tim – and um, me.

Obama’s Smart Diplomacy with Great Britain

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 11 months ago

Mr. Obama is showing off his smart diplomacy again.

Barack Obama has declared that France is America’s greatest ally, undermining Britain’s Special Relationship with the U.S.

The President risked offending British troops in Afghanistan by saying that French president Nicolas Sarkozy is a ‘stronger friend’ than David Cameron.

The remarks, during a White House appearance with Mr Sarkozy, will reinforce the widely-held view in British diplomatic circles that Mr Obama has less interest in the Special Relationship than any other recent American leader.

Mr Obama said: ‘We don’t have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French people.’

And here I thought that the U.S. and the U.K held a special relationship!  You know, we have claimed that “the Administration has reinvigorated U.S. foreign policy with robust diplomacy and strengthened our traditional alliances.”  I guess the U.K. isn’t a traditional ally like I thought they were.  Maybe they don’t think so either.

We also claimed that we are building “new alliances.”  Well, at least we aren’t doing something so stupid as snubbing upstart allies like Georgia, especially since Putin threatened to hang Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili “by the balls.”

It’s good to show strength and respect for tradition, you know.


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