Links 12/2/09


  1. Independent Accountant

    While agreeing with most of what Streetwise Professor wrote, I see Obama’s giving McChrystal 30,000 more troops instead of 40,000 as evidence of something else. McChrystal, who I have derided as a “CFR-Kennedy School General” gave Obama what Obama wanted, i.e., “cover” for “moderation”. Obama wanted to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. So McChrystal produced a request for 40,000 to make Obama look “moderate”. I have followed military and intelligence affairs since Vietnam and have seen kabuki dances like this for 30 years.

    1. Nostradoofus

      That’s believable.

      It’s pretty clear what happened. Candidate Obama promised to surge Afghanistan. President Obama had access to info showing we should withdraw. He spent 2 months trying to figure out how to break the news to us. His uneasy compromise was to meet his promise as narrowly as possible: send 30k guys over there for a few months, then withdraw.

      Yes, it is unfair to play politics with 30k soldiers. He better hope they don’t vote. The good news is we are getting out. We need the forces and money in reserve for a future conflict where our forces can make a difference.

  2. attempter

    Some points on Streetwise’s commentary:

    *I agree that the plan makes no sense. “We’ll escalate in order to withdraw.” (Sounds like Paulson inaugurating the bailouts with “Fannie and Freddie have to get bigger in order to get smaller.”) It sounds alot like Obama is simply afraid to do anything but stay the course. That’s plausible given his clearly established status quo preference and basic cowardice.

    *I agree that it’s possible he’s simply replaying the Vietnam plan to try to withdraw “with honor”, trying to leave with a decent interval before the corrupt client is overrun.

    *As for the 30K, that’s what many military experts and according to reports the Joint Chiefs themselves said is the maximum possible. The army is stretched to the breaking point. With this deployment there will be no resiliency left in the system. So it looks like Obama is sending every man he can, and speculation over how he arrived at the number is therefore moot.

    *The 11-dimensional chess of “he’s looking for a rationale to get out” makes little sense. If O really wanted a rationale to get out he had it ready at hand with the election fraud. Indeed, Petraeus’ and McC’s own counterinsurgency doctrine says you can’t do COIN without a legitimate government ally.

    So right there, according to America’s own doctrines, the war is already a lost cause. So if O really wanted anything other than to escalate, whether out of real desire for permanent war or simple political cowardice, he would’ve seized that opportunity to pack it up.

    I put up my own post on this earlier this morning.

    1. charcad

      In December 2005 Clinton similarly promised to “withdraw” from the Balkans in 12 months. i.e. one month after the 2006 elections. Look at Camp Bondsteel now as the years roll by…

      Complete with picture of Joe Biden visiting in May.

      Here’s the face of “Withdrawal” in the Middle East located in Qatar.

      Google Earth it. CENTCOM has no plans to leave this base anytime before 2050. The five B-1s at the north end are not that significant. Nor is the covered hard stand parking for 40 more F-15 Strike Eagles and F-22s.

      What’s significant are the 34 KC-135 and KC-10 refuelers on the ramp. These are aircraft are what’s needed to greet incoming waves of B-2s, B-1s and B-52s from Anderson AFB on Guam and in the USA.

      B.O., advised by the Clintons, has now similarly promised to have things heading home in 19 months or so. i.e. the Democrats can campaign on an anti-war platform in 2010.

      Well, Democrats can look on the bright side. There’s an excellent chance this is just a deception operation designed to mask a build-up for an attack on Iran.

      Assured destruction of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will require temporary forcible ground access. The 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) with its flocks of helicopters is precisely the unit I’d use for the core of such an effort. And this division is the primary reinforcement being sent to “Afghanistan”.

      1. chad

        I hesitate at the thought of ground warfare in Iran. It’s largely an infrastructure problem that can be dealt with from the air.

        You have a point though in that Iran’s facilities are hardened and you probably need boots on the ground to ensure their destruction.

        My first reaction is ground warfare in Iran would be perceived as yet another invasion and be politically unfeasible. But with everything that has happened in the last 10 years I would say the sky’s the limit to what the future may bring. Maybe attacking Iran would be an easy sell, maybe not, who knows? Maybe the world’s economies collapse before the time is up? Maybe Israel nukes Iran? Maybe Iran nukes Israel? I think it’s all on the table.

        1. charcad

          It’s largely an infrastructure problem that can be dealt with from the air.

          Of course. We’ve had another military technology revolution, largely unnoticed by the hoi polloi as usually happens. USAF and USN can probably put 40,000 GPS guided bombs and missiles on Iranian targets in the first 48 hours of a campaign. “Small Diameter Bomb” is an educational Google.

          My first reaction is ground warfare in Iran would be perceived as yet another invasion and be politically unfeasible. But with everything that has happened in the last 10 years I would say the sky’s the limit to what the future may bring.

          I envision it as a very large scale raid lasting a 2-3 weeks against select targets. The 101st’s operations during Desert Storm are a good model to study.

          The only troops the Iranians will be able to employ are those already in place. Once an attack begins they will not be able to move any forces via highways, still less to concentrate them with helo or transport aircraft. As if concentration would accomplish anything other than provide CENTCOM AF larger targets.

          1. Hugh

            Before you go all giddy over your military toys, you might consider what a large attack on Iran would do the price of oil and a world economy teetering on the edge of depression.

    2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      I hope we are not sending every man we can.

      That’s something the French do, like Napolean sending his last reserve, the ‘We die but we never surrender Imperial Guard,’ at the Battle of Waterloo.

      1. charcad

        I hope we are not sending every man we can.

        You can sleep easy, we’re not. In fact, forward deployment during all these wars has been limited to a very sustainable 1/3 of the force. Which force at no time has equaled the Cold War force of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Back then we had an active Army of 770,000. Now it’s only 500,000, plus variable numbers of activated National Guard and Reserves that totaled at max 150,000 more at various points.

        (up to date stats on reserve mobilizations here: )

        This 1/3 forward – 2/3 stateside was the balance kept during the Cold War.

        “Active Duty Recruiting for October 2009. All four services met or exceeded their recruiting goals.”

        “Active Duty Retention. All four services met or exceed their retention goals for October 2009.”

        If the force were on the verge of collapse from combat stress it would show up in the recruiting and, most importantly, in the retention statistics. “Retention” = re-enlistment. Instead its all systems go heading into the 9th Year of the Neocon Wars. Both recruiting and retention are running ahead of quotas.

        Another worthwhile point is the very tiny impact these wars have on the Air Force and Navy. These are Army/Marine wars. Apart from a few hundred Navy SEALS and a few thousand USAF pilots and maintainers these services are uninvolved. I saw a report recently that only 6% of all sorties flown in Afghanistan resulted in the expenditure of any munitions.

        Sorry if this news disappoints anyone. I know many here are hoping for a total military collapse arising from troop fatigue and fiscal bankruptcy (Stiglitz’ mythical $3-$5 trillion).

        Personally I don’t think either event is in the cards.

        1. Hugh

          I can only assume you play a lot of Risk because you seem to have no idea that armies are made up of people, not counters, and that ours has been weakened by repeated deployments to combat zones, or that the combat brigades are a significantly smaller subset of our overall troop strength, or that our Navy is in fact overextended as well and can’t even spare the resources to take care of a few Somali pirates.

          1. charcad

            I can only assume you play a lot of Risk

            You might want to revisit some other assumptions.

            because you seem to have no idea that armies are made up of people

            I think I learned one or two things about that up through infantry battalion command. What you don’t understand is:

            1. There is a population fraction of Real Soldiers. They like being deployed on operations and they enjoy killing people for a living. I chalk it up to adrenalin addiction. It took me well over a decade to get over mine.

            2. The political elites aren’t too concerned about the fates of individual soldiers. They have their own forms of adrenalin addiction to power and public fame.

            ours has been weakened by repeated deployments to combat zones

            You just keep parroting all these narratives fed to you by others. Combat experience overall doesn’t weaken forces, it strengthens them.

            For your benefit, real stress on the force shows up in reenlistment/retention stats. They can always vote with their feet. They aren’t.

            or that the combat brigades are a significantly smaller subset of our overall troop strength

            These wars can continue indefinitely unless the NCOs and junior officers decide not to fight them any longer. I see no sign of these key groups refusing to obey orders.

            or that our Navy is in fact overextended as well and can’t even spare the resources to take care of a few Somali pirates.

            Where on Earth do you come up with this 100% fiction?

            Clearly you have never done anything serious. The US Navy, CENTCOM and now AFRICOM want no part of that because of the highly restrictive rules of engagement that will be imposed. Piracy is prevalent in that area because it provides a very good living to the pirates.

            Dying isn’t a living. But for the most part this cost of doing business isn’t being offered to the “pirates”. When it is they’ll swiftly find another line of work.

            A few dozen helo gunships would have quickly cleared the area of “pirates” putting around in fishing boats with outboard motors and armed with AK-47s and RPGs. Zapping one a week and saving one survivor to put ashore would have been sufficient.

            What the UN and various NGOs want is for US forces to clear the road back into Blackhawk Down scenarios in Mogadishu and suburbs. The commanders concerned are rightly declining this no-win opportunity.

      2. charcad

        Before you go all giddy over your military toys

        I’ve stated in other posts I was opposed to the Iraq War before and during the initial invasion. And said so when vast numbers of others were busy waving flags and yellow ribbons.

        I could care less what weapons Iran acquires or doesn’t acquire. If the Israelis think this is worth a war then let them conduct the attack. And if they screw it up like they did with south Lebanon and Hezbollah, tough shit for them. The disparity of treatment and policy priority between North Korea (far higher regime whacko quotient) and Iran is too obvious.

        you might consider what a large attack on Iran would do the price of oil and a world economy teetering on the edge of depression.

        It might not do much of anything. And if it does? Do you suppose Putin will get upset over $125 bbl oil? The Nigerians? The Sudanese? This is something that worries you and therefore you conclude it should be important to others.

        The Neocon Israel First Zionist crew is willing to fight to the very last non-Jew and their very last penny. Including you and yours.

        1. Hugh

          My apologies not Risk, but GI Joe and Rambo. You make our forces and their commanders sound not much different from the Waffen SS. I think the suicide and PTSD rates in our armed forces belie such a view of blood drunk warlovers.

          At this point $90/bbl oil would sink the world economy. $100/bbl oil would do so overnight. Tipping the world into depression would benefit no one.

  3. rcyran

    While Mayer has always been one of my favorite thinkers, I think he makes a wrong assumption in regards to auditing the Fed. He claims it has been shown that the government and banking sector that want inflation, while small farmers and small business owners want stable currencies. Therefore, you don’t have to worry much about lawmakers pressuring the Fed into easy money.

    Isn’t it the other way around? Heavily indebted farmers almost always favored inflating away debts, while the lenders (read Wall Street) wanted deflation. Hence the cross of gold campaign by Bryan.

    While accountability is almost always a good thing (for example, the Fed’s experiences as a bank regulator mean it should be stripped of these powers immediately), I’m not sure it’s wise to have House oversight over credit creation. Since the House is supposedly on the side of the little guy, easy money should be the result. Although the size of the house financial services committee (72 members!) suggests this august body may actually weigh in on the side of tighter money. In any case, you may get even more politicization (sp?) than is currently the case.

    (Irony alert – I’m with the commenter NDK and think inflation is extremely unlikely – inflation in asset prices sure, but not in wages etc. When the new credit bubbles currently inflating collapse, then deflationary pressures will intensify)

  4. dearieme

    “‘Global surge’ in rhino poaching”; it’s been particularly bad in the Cambridgeshire Fenlands, I believe, and in the badlands of Dakota.

  5. Robespierre

    “Sprint Nextel provided law enforcement agencies with its customers’ (GPS) location information over 8 million times between September 2008 and October 2009. This massive disclosure of sensitive customer information was made possible due to the roll-out by Sprint of a new, special web portal for law enforcement officers.”

    This is not to spy on criminals since they will probably do their crimes with their cells with their batteries removed. What a sorry state of affairs

  6. fresno dan

    Worse Than Enron? Nomi Prins “Citigroup: Another balance-sheet renovation, this time because of a sale (Smith Barney, which it offloaded to Morgan Stanley) rather than a purchase, and another trading miracle. Citigroup’s main trading arm, housed in what it calls the Institutional Clients Group (ICG), made $31.5 billion in net revenue for 2009, compared with a $7.8 billion loss in 2008.”

    Can’t these traders use Scottrade or some other discount broker?

    Seriously, does anyone know what the fee or commission on trades done by Citi is? That seems an astounding amount of money to make by fees.

    The other question I would have is:
    1. How is money being made by the traders?
    A. Either you are taking profits – how often is that happening now? (bought gold in 2001?)?
    B. You are selling at a loss
    C. Churning which benefits neither the buyer or seller, but only the broker.
    In the above snenarios, it appears to me that money is predominantly being lost. How can all this trading continue by people who are ostensibly ending up with less and less money???

  7. russell1200

    Actually moderation in war is not always a lot of fun, but it is often more effective.

    The failure of the German General Staff in both WW1 and WW2, the Japenese in WW2, Napoleon, et al show that unbridled aggression when you have insufficient means at your disposal can lead to disaster. All you due is get everyone backed into a corner, where their only option is to destroy you.

  8. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    Actually, peaceful coexistence is probably more effectively. But that’s just my ideal.

    In any case, about the rhino poaching surge, I understand there is a bubble in cordyceps – that fungus/insect pair, in a parasitic relationship often found also between politicians and bankers, that contributed to 5 world records in 1993 by female Chinese athletes.

    Apparently, the Tibetan mushroom hunters are doing quite well selling ever more expensive cordyceps to the Chinese Oympic committee. For each Tibetan family, it’s probably better than having to send 1/3 of their income and their eldest son to a monastery.

    1. Skippy

      Caterpillar Fungus, Caterpillar Mushroom, Cs-4, Cordyceps sinensis, Dong Chong Xia Cao, Dong Chong Zia Cao, Hsia Ts’Ao Tung Ch’Ung, Tochukaso, Vegetable Caterpillar.

      Coming to a pharmaceutical lab near you soon! Of course it will be synthesized, no bloody organic reproduction allowed with out the heavy hand of man to make it better.

      Skippy… MyLessThanPrimeBeef knows his mushrooms, abet ones riding on the back of a caterpillar lol.

  9. Hugh

    “Moderation in war is imbecility” is itself imbecilic. The post does not follow its own logic. Yes, Obama’s surge will fail, but so would McChrystal’s. The following is something I wrote for a different project last night in reaction to the Obama speech:

    On December 1, 2009 at West Point and on primetime television, Obama announced his Afghanistan surge. He would send in 30,000 more troops bringing US force size to around 100,000. He promised to begin their withdrawal by July 2011. He stated his policy reason for remaining in Afghanistan as

    “Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.”

    This simply repeats the reason we went into Afghanistan in late 2001. That goal was largely met by the spring of 2002. There are almost no al Qaeda currently in Afghanistan and a surge will have no effect on their presence in Pakistan, just as our military presence in Afghanistan has had no effect on that presence anytime in the last 8 years.

    So what is the point of having an army in Afghanistan and increasing its size? In part, Obama addressed this by erroneously, or dishonestly, conflating the Taliban with al Qaeda despite the fact that while al Qaeda is about international terrorism the Taliban is one Pushtun faction in an ongoing inter- and intra- ethnic civil war in Afghanistan.

    But even with regard to an anti-Taliban war, Obama’s math is all wrong. It will take 6 to 8 months to move the surge troops into Afghanistan. This will leave them 12 months at full strength to accomplish the following:

    1. secure large parts of the Afghan population from the Taliban
    2. build up, train, and deploy a large Afghan army
    3. make the Afghan government both less corrupt and more effective
    4. improve the Afghan economy

    None of these objectives can be accomplished within this timeframe. Within the context of Afghanistan and its history of ethnic conflicts, each of these is generational in nature. We do not have the resources to undertake them nor any compelling reason to try.

    We continue to have an army in Afghanistan and will soon have an even larger army there, but still no coherent policy to explain why it is there. Obama has opted for a strategy that will continue to overstrain our military, our soldiers, their families, and our resources in a war on the other side of the world in a deeply impoverished country of no policy and little strategic value in pursuit of goals that by their nature are impossible to achieve. It is hard to say which is worse that Obama believes this will work or that he is using the current surge as the first part of a screen to keep our troops in Afghanistan for years to come.

    1. Anonymous Jones

      First, let me just state that I do not think there is a good reason to be in Afghanistan, viewed from my perspective or from what I perceive as the perspective of the majority of the US citizens. I think you and I are in complete agreement there.

      That said, I doubt that BO believes that 30,000 additional troops are going to make a difference. I think he is adding 30,000 additional troops as cover for a strategy that he does believe will make a difference, just as the “surge” in Iraq was basically cover for a new strategy of bribing combatants to stop fighting. In other words, I believe the new Afghanistan strategy is less a military strategy than an economic strategy even though it is being “sold” as a military strategy.

      BO is not doing this because it is best for our country, but he is acting, as most people do (and as most ‘free markets’ theories expect people to do), out of his own self-interest in gaining re-election. Anything that he can sell as “success” in 2012 is what he is angling for.

      While it is not completely useless to consider the possibility that BO doesn’t know what he’s doing, I doubt the assumption that he doesn’t know what he’s doing is going to lead to many correct conclusions.

      1. Hugh

        A failing economy, blank checks to bankers, healthcare that doesn’t work, and an endless war in Afghanistan. Obama is amassing a very strange record of accomplishments to run on.

  10. Ed

    I agree with Hugh. In 2002-3, local allies of the US in Afghanistan, backed by special forces and US airpower but not much in the way of group troups, pushed the Taliban out of the cities and al Qaeda apparently out of the country. They couldn’t keep the Taliban from regrouping in the mountains (neither could the Taliban gain every part of the country when they were winning) or capture bin Laden.

    So if the objective is to keep the Taliban away from the cities and at least limit the chances of al Qaeda coming back, it appears that no ground troops are needed at all, since this was accomplished without them. As far as al Qaeda is concerned we are too late, and its not clear why we have to destroy the Taliban instead of just neutralizing them.

    One of the previous poster mentioned that there was a limit on how many troops we can send anyway. Since Afghanistan is landlocked, we have to fly the soldiers in, and send the equipment through countries that either won’t let us do that, will let us do that if we tell them every single thing we send in, or will let us send the equipment but no soldiers or officials to track it and prevent it from being stolen.

    This is not Vietnam, but I’m not sure if its even possible to put the 500 K troops the US had in Vietnam in Afghanistan (not even the Soviets had that many)!

  11. Skippy

    Afghanistan’s function is ie: modify/scar for life anyone who spends any amount of time there, cost more per day than Iraq, randomly kill those around you, line the pockets of any one with out even a modicum of morality whilst kids die, to act as a beacon of neocon capitalism (taxpayer money goes in earmarked for projects only to be spirited away with little and no work done or completed).

    Skippy…lets not even talk about the sex trade ok.

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