Current Affairs

July 4th

There is a lot I could say about the state of the Republic (note for the poorly educated, we are NOT a democracy), but I will skip it and play Gunny Mormon for a minute.  

"... Be careful out there!"  A line I loved in a tv show many years ago, and all the more important today.

First, the 4th is, IMO, one of the top holidays to bring out the amateurs (second only to St. Patrick's Day).  Watch out for idiots, and if handling fireworks or around those who are, please do listen for words to the effect of "hey y'all, watch this!" and react to protect oneself.  Please don't be the one to say it.  Keep an extra eye peeled when driving.  Me, I hope to watch fireworks from a comfortable distance where I can smoke a cigar or my pipe lounging in comfort away from crowds.  

Second, there is a lot of chatter about the potential for terrorism (workplace violence, random acts, etc. in the governmental parlance).  Honestly, I'm surprised we've not had more and would not be surprised.  Be prepared, protect yourself and your own, and do what you have to if anything does happen.  

Finally, enjoy.  The Great Experiment is in crisis (IMO), but is still creaking along.  Savor what there is, and take a moment to re-read some of the finest words on governance (and self-governance) ever written in my humble opinion.   They are the cornerstone of the Republic, with the Constitution being the foundation.  

Be prepared, but enjoy the holiday.  


Ghost Fleet - A Review

Ghost Fleet.  PW Singer & August Cole, (2015). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. New York, NY: 404 pages

GhostFleet cover

 If you've ever wondered what an operationalized version of Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex” might look like, noted national security analysts Peter W. Singer and August Cole have a book just for you.  A true triad of military, bureaucrats, and corporations overthrows a long-running government to form an uneasy alliance to run a rather large country.  Singer and Cole throw us the first of many curves by teeing this up, not in the US, but China...or, as they now call themselves, "The Directorate."

 This first fiction effort by the duo delivers wide-ranging action at a frenetic pace. The story begins in outer space and, in mere moments, the action plunges far below the Pacific Ocean's surface.  Throughout the story, as venues change, the reader gasps for breath and delves back in as the action continues.  This is a Tom Clancy-esque thriller with most of the pieces one would expect:  people unexpectedly thrust into difficult situations; well-researched, accurate portrayals of current capabilities; imaginative exploration of new, emerging, or desired technology; as well as good old fashioned palace intrigue and political gamesmanship.  For those making the Clancy connection, you’ll find this book of the Red Storm Rising genre - a look at how a world war type scenario would likely go. 

   Ghost Fleet looks at how the "Pivot to Asia” could go - and it can go bad pretty fast.  It also plays on many of the fears that serious analysts ponder regarding military procurements, military readiness and other economic tradeoffs.

 Buoyed by the massive changes spurred by their recent revolution, the Directorate decides that it is time to achieve their "Manifest Destiny" in the Pacific.  A major energy discovery gives them the opportunity to challenge US supremacy in the Pacific and even take on the US militarily, with the tacit assistance of Russia.  What ensues is a massive and coordinated sneak attack that cripples US capabilities throughout the Pacific Rim, most notably in Hawaii.  The Directorate, now occupying US sovereign territory and positioned to prevent response either from space or across the vast ocean, looks to turn America into a third-rate client state.  To counter this the US decides to reactivate ships (and some aircraft) mothballed by the significant cuts that US politicians foisted upon itself.  This is the rebirth of the Ghost Fleet that gives this story its name.

 It also evokes a slightly different comparison: this is the Navy's version of "Team Yankee".  Team Yankee was a very popular "must read” in the late 1980s, especially popular with the mechanized/armor community of the Army.  It is about warfare at its base level, but with existential impact.  In this case, the crew of a one-of-a-kind ship – rejected by the Navy when cuts were made – is being brought back to life by a crew trying desperately to make it work in very trying circumstances – fights the battle of its life for a noble cause.

 Singer and Cole introduce a number of characters including a Navy Officer whose transition to retirement is rather violently interrupted; a Marine thrust into the role of guerilla; a Sun Tzu-quoting Chinese Admiral; and a seductive assassin.  The story explores the very tempestuous relationship between father and son bonded in a moment of crisis while wrestling with demons of the past.   The duo’s style offers some nice bonuses.  The reader gets a murder mystery. The idea of "privateers” in the 21st Century is presented.   For the geopolitical thinkers, Singer and Cole skewer a lot of the shibboleths of current alliances and ask “who will really ‘step up’ when the going gets tough?”  The authors present some very interesting ideas of what could happen and what could emerge if all the geopolitical knowns were to suddenly change. Rather than distract, these threads are woven into a complex but compelling story that is both provocative and frightening.

 What this book does do well - and in a scary way - is show how pervasive a wired world could be and what would happen if a major actor were to severely upset the proverbial apple cart. Among the discoveries in the opening salvos of The Directorate’s aggression are the vulnerability of so much of the electronics used both in military equipment as well as the networks that course through the US.

  Ghost Fleet explores the extent to which autonomous systems change life and warfare. .  Can we trust the electronics we buy from overseas? Do we depend too much on automatic, autonomous and “linked” systems in our basic and daily lives?  What if a major competitor played on those fears with ruthless precision and execution?   This will confirm the worst fears of the Luddite or conspiracy theorist.  Those that are on the fence about the impact of autonomous systems will likely find that this book tips them one way or the other. 

Two things that one would expect to find in such styled books are not found in this one.  One is probably the book’s only serious flaw. The story does not give time stamps and the reader may not realize that the scenario has advanced in time as it changes chapter.  Without this context, the reader may become confused on why or how things changed so fast within the story.

The other creative difference is a positive: there is very little discussion of the machinations of the American politicians.  Singer and Cole - in a choice very likely calculated to avoid the politics of the moment - do not really describe much, if anything about the moves, motives, or response of the President, or most of the National Security apparatus.  While the Secretary of Defense is omnipresent, no one else is - nor are there any real discussions on the national politics at play.  Some may be greatly disappointed by this while others may find it a welcome departure in the genre.

Although cyberspace capabilities are a significant aspect of the storyline, this is not a book about “cyber war.”  If anything, this is may be the first real exploration of Demchakian "cybered conflict" in story form. Cybered Conflict is a construct provided by Naval War College professors Chris Demchak and Peter Dombrowski.  The premise is that the nature of conflict remains the same but that cyberspace capabilities add a new dimension.  They further purport that cyberspace is not a separate domain, per se, but is instead just another aspect of how humans interact and compete.  Cyberspace is itself not decisive but can certainly tip the scale in an existential conflict.  There are ample examples in this book on how this could occur. It is certain to ignite debate on the nature of “cyber war”.  

Thriller readers will find this a welcome addition to their collections.  Thinkers, advocates, policy wonks, geeks and nerds will all find something to chew on that will confirm or challenge their own biases.  Scheduled for a June release, this highly recommended story is a daring look at the fusion of traditional and modern warfare, delivered at "machine speed".  


New CJCS nominee Dunford - "Not a Cyber Expert"

President Obama has nominated current US Marine Corps Commandant General Joe "Fighting Joe" Dunford to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS).  As such he would be the President's top military advisor and would replace General Martin Dempsey.  The anecdotal reporting from multiple vectors is that General Dunford is the right pick and that the President should be lauded for this selection. #CreditWhereDue   

General Dunford's a "proven combat leader who had distinguished himself as commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan in 2013-2014 as foreign forces shifted responsibility for fighting the Taliban to Afghan troops. Dunford also commanded a Marine regiment early in the Iraq war."  h/t:  Washington Post

With all the big ideas that the JCS has to wrestle with, I found this article on Dunford a particularly odd take on the nomination.  In it, The Hill's Cory Bennett opines that the President opted for a "strategist" rather than a "cyber expert" to execute the recently published DOD Cyber Strategy.  Apparently, despite all his other qualifications, including being the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the cyber zealot class things SecDef Ashton Carter was selected for his cyber expertise.  (He was a physicist, not a computer guy, but what do I know?)  The article presents a view point that a number of recent DOD appointments were "cyber" focused.  (Umm, ok..)

President Obama’s pick to become the nation’s next top military officer, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., bucks a recent trend of cyber-focused appointments.

“He’s not a cyber expert,” said Peter Metzger, a former CIA intelligence officer and Marine who served with Dunford on four occasions. “But he doesn’t need to be.”
 
Cyber military specialists believe the Obama administration is seeking an operational expert and relationship builder, not a technological savant, to carry out Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s recently unveiled cyber vision.
 
“They went with a strategist,” said Chris Finan, a former military intelligence officer and adviser to the Obama administration on cybersecurity policy. “An operational artisan.”

I agree with Metzgar and Finian that there is a need for a "strategist" in the role of CJCS.  I am amused at the degree to which Bennett rates the Cyber Strategy on the Chairman's agenda. 

While cyberspace in  undoubtedly important, apparently Mr Bennett is unaware that there are two able four-stars (USSTRATCOM's Commander as well as Commander of USCYBERCOM/DirNSA) that are more than capable of focusing on the the implementation of the cyber strategy.  And, if one understands the strategy, every Service Chief and all of the other Combatant Commands will also be keenly focused on this, particularly in terms of policy and resourcing.   The Chairman has much larger fish to fry, including the "pivot to Asia" (however that manifests itself), the continuing struggles with ISIS/AQ et al, and Iran's territorial ambitions - as well as a shrinking force, an aging fleet, and a recalcitrant air power Service insisting on going their own way.  

Cyberspace is important, but it isn't the Chairman's biggest issue.


 

 


"The Wall", "The Shield", "The Team" -The Latest Batch of Commercials Take a Queue from the USMC

While I appreciate that the Marines stopped using lava monsters in their commercials long ago, they always tend to have the best ones.  Here's the latest USMC commercial...and, as usual, no mention of benefits, jobs, or college, only being a part of something greater than yourself..."The Wall":

 And here the Army talks about sports...or do they? "The Team":

And the Navy, after foundering on a Global Force for Good campaign, has also followed suit with "To get to you, they have to go through us...". Here is "The Shield":

So Air Force, it's been a year since the "Its what we do" commercial...what you got?!


Jordan Allies with the Tribes

This is the policy likeliest to succeed, provided that you're willing to accept the secession of Western Iraq.  Our government is opposed to that, but I see no reason why we should be at this point.  Baghdad has proven it was, and remains, unwilling to treat the Sunni population justly.  It held together while the US remained in Iraq to enforce the peace, and perhaps in time if we had stayed they would have learned to trust each other and work together.  We left, and the Shi'a led government chose the path of fear.  

It is that very dynamic that allowed Daesh, the so-called "Islamic State," to spread rapidly through Western Iraq.  They are horrible people, though, and are preferable for Iraq's Sunnis only to the hostile and corrupt government in Baghdad.  I would not be surprised to see a Sunni kingdom built around one of the larger tribal groups emerge from this conflict, a state perhaps like Jordan itself:  not perfect but better than what they have now, and a buffer against Iranian efforts to dominate the Levant.