And now, the war in Uganda?

Our good-hearted but usually doomed attempt to right the world’s wrongs by sending in American troops to battle bad guys continues, as we send in the American military to central Africa:

President Barack Obama has authorized the deployment of up to 100 combat-equipped U.S. troops to central Africa to help hunt down the leaders of a rebel force known as the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army during a meeting with a delegation of officials and lawmakers from northern Uganda in 2006.

A senior administration official said 12 troops have been deployed so far under what he called a training mission aimed at helping African forces find and kill Joseph Kony, the fugitive head of the rebels.

The U.S. forces will deploy to Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“Although the U.S. forces are combat-equipped, they will only be providing information, advice, and assistance to partner nation forces, and they will not themselves engage LRA forces unless necessary for self-defense,” Mr. Obama said in a letter to Congress released Friday.

The U.S. deployment will include special operations forces, defense officials said. Pentagon officials noted that U.S. forces are routinely deployed to Africa for training missions.

The Lord’s Resistance Army is believed to have killed, kidnapped and mutilated tens of thousands of civilians since the 1990s. Military officials said they believed Mr. Kony, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, and other top LRA leaders are currently hiding the Central African Republic.

via U.S. Deploys Troops in Pursuit of African Rebels –

Is this liberal foreign policy?  Isn’t this neo-conservative?  Like what President Bush did?  Maybe Republicans should just vote for Obama as the most Bush-like of all alternatives.

Certainly, one can make a case for neo-conservative military interventions to support America’s moral principles.   Do you think this new military engagement is a good idea?  Or are 100 soldiers too few to constitute a military initiative?

Iran’s plan to attack Washington?

ABC reports that officials have thwarted a scheme to attack the Israeli and Saudi embassies in Washington, D. C., a terrorist attack planned by the government of Iran!

FBI and DEA agents have disrupted a plot to commit a “significant terrorist act in the United States” tied to Iran, federal officials told ABC News today.

The officials said the plot included the assassination of the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States, Adel Al-Jubeir, with a bomb and subsequent bomb attacks on the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington, D.C. Bombings of the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Buenos Aires, Argentina, were also discussed, according to the U.S. officials.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in an announcement today that the plan was “conceived, sponsored and was directed from Iran” by a faction of the government and called it a “flagrant” violation of U.S. and international law.

“The U.S. is committed to holding Iran accountable for its actions,” Holder said.

FBI Director Robert Mueller said the arrest of a suspect in the plot shows the U.S. will “bring the full weight of [the] law to bear on those responsible” and that “any attempts on American soil will not be tolerated.”

Senior Obama administration officials said the U.S. currently does not have any information indicating that either Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad necessarily knew about the assassination plot and said the U.S. will pursue a path of response that would not include the possibility of an armed conflict with Iran.

Shortly after Holder publicly announced the foiled plot, the U.S. Treasury announced it was initiating sanctions against five people allegedly connected to the plot.

The stunning allegations come against a backdrop of longstanding tensions between Iran and the United States and Saudi Arabia. In the last year, Saudi Arabia has attempted to build an anti-Iran alliance to push back against perceived aggression by Iran in the region.

via U.S. Says Iran-Tied Terror Plot in Washington, D.C. Disrupted – ABC News.

A link in the article cites a statement that the United States is not planning a military response.  But wouldn’t an attack launched by a sovereign government be an act of war?

America’s decline and China’s rise?

Robert Kaplan sees President Obama’s refusal to sell the latest F-16s to Taiwan as a sign of America’s decline and China’s rise:

By 2020, the United States will not be able to defend Taiwan from a Chinese air attack, a 2009 Rand study found, even with America’s F-22s, two carrier strike groups in the region and continued access to the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. Moreover, China is at the point of deploying anti-ship ballistic missiles that threaten U.S. surface warships, even as Taiwan’s F-16s, with or without upgrades, are outmatched by China’s 300 to 400 Russian-designed Su-27 and Su-30 fighters. Given that Taiwan is only 100 miles from China and the U.S. Navy and Air Force must deploy to the Pacific from half a world away, the idea that Washington could permanently guarantee Taipei’s de facto sovereignty has always been a diminishing proposition. Vice President Biden’s recent extensive talks with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping (who is poised to succeed President Hu Jintao), may have reinforced the notion inside the administration that Taiwan is better defended by a closer American-Chinese diplomatic understanding than by an arms race.

Notice what is happening, though. The administration is not acting unreasonably. It is not altogether selling out to Beijing. Rather, it is adjusting its sails as the gusts of Chinese power, both economic and military, strengthen. Thus the decision to help Taiwan — but not too much — illustrates how decline itself is an overrated concept.

Decline is rarely sudden: Rather, it transpires quietly over decades, even as officialdom denies its existence and any contribution to it. The Royal Navy began its decline in the 1890s, Princeton University professor Aaron L. Friedberg writes in “The Weary Titan,” even as Britain went on to win two world wars over the next half-century. And so, China is gradually enveloping Taiwan as part of a transition toward military multipolarity in the western Pacific — away from the veritable American naval lake that the Pacific has constituted since the end of World War II. At the same time, however, the United States pushes back against this trend: This month, Obama administration officials — with China uppermost in their minds — updated a defense pact with Australia,giving the United States greater access to Australian military bases and ports near the confluence of the Pacific and Indian oceans. The United States is making room in Asian waters for the Chinese navy and air force, but only grudgingly.

Decline is also relative. So to talk of American decline without knowing the destiny of a power like China is rash. What if China were to have a political and economic upheaval with adverse repercussions for its defense budget? Then history would turn out a lot more complicated than a simple Chinese rise and an American fall.

Because we cannot know the future, all we can do is note the trend line. The trend line suggests that China will annex Taiwan by, in effect, going around it: by adjusting the correlation of forces in its favor so that China will never have to fight for what it will soon possess. Not only does China have some more than 1,500 short-range ballistic missiles focused on Taiwan, but there are 270 commercial flights per week between Taiwan and the mainland, even as close to a third of Taiwan’s exports go to China. Such is independence melting away. And as China’s strategic planners need to concentrate less on capturing Taiwan, they will be free to focus on projecting power into the energy-rich South China Sea and, later, into the adjoining Indian Ocean — hence America’s heightened interest in its Australian allies.

This is a power shift. Subtle and indirect though it may be, it is a clearer story line than what is occurring in the chaotic Middle East, a region less prosperous and less dynamic than East Asia in economic and military terms, and therefore less important. Taiwan tells us where we are, and very likely where we’re going.

via A power shift in Asia – The Washington Post.

I would say that it is absurd to speak of America’s military decline in relation to China or anyone else.   It isn’t simply that America’s military has a huge technological advantage.  That alone is significant.  But America’s military also has something that is priceless when it comes to an advantage over an enemy:  combat experience.  Our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have given us that, at least.

Still, decline is not just a matter of military prowess.  Certainly our nation is weakened economically and culturally.  Also politically and in our national mood.  Does anyone think we would defend Taiwan even if we could?  China is resurgent and energetic, with its particular hybrid of communism and capitalism seemingly carrying the day.  Do you think Kaplan is right?  If so, should anything be done, or should Americans just get used to a second-tier status?

Drones that kill on their own

On the horizon of military technology:  Drones that “decide” on their own whom to kill:

One afternoon last fall at Fort Benning, Ga., two model-size planes took off, climbed to 800 and 1,000 feet, and began criss-crossing the military base in search of an orange, green and blue tarp.

The automated, unpiloted planes worked on their own, with no human guidance, no hand on any control.

After 20 minutes, one of the aircraft, carrying a computer that processed images from an onboard camera, zeroed in on the tarp and contacted the second plane, which flew nearby and used its own sensors to examine the colorful object. Then one of the aircraft signaled to an unmanned car on the ground so it could take a final, close-up look.

Target confirmed.

This successful exercise in autonomous robotics could presage the future of the American way of war: a day when drones hunt, identify and kill the enemy based on calculations made by software, not decisions made by humans. Imagine aerial “Terminators,” minus beefcake and time travel.

The Fort Benning tarp “is a rather simple target, but think of it as a surrogate,” said Charles E. Pippin, a scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, which developed the software to run the demonstration. “You can imagine real-time scenarios where you have 10 of these things up in the air and something is happening on the ground and you don’t have time for a human to say, ‘I need you to do these tasks.’ It needs to happen faster than that.”

The demonstration laid the groundwork for scientific advances that would allow drones to search for a human target and then make an identification based on facial-recognition or other software. Once a match was made, a drone could launch a missile to kill the target. . . .

Research into autonomy, some of it classified, is racing ahead at universities and research centers in the United States, and that effort is beginning to be replicated in other countries, particularly China.

“Lethal autonomy is inevitable,” said Ronald C. Arkin, the author of “Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots,” a study that was funded by the Army Research Office.

Arkin believes it is possible to build ethical military drones and robots, capable of using deadly force while programmed to adhere to international humanitarian law and the rules of engagement. He said software can be created that would lead machines to return fire with proportionality, minimize collateral damage, recognize surrender, and, in the case of uncertainty, maneuver to reassess or wait for a human assessment.

In other words, rules as understood by humans can be converted into algorithms followed by machines for all kinds of actions on the battlefield.

via A future for drones: automated killing – The Washington Post.

The article alludes to “ethical” and “legal” issues that need to be worked out with this particular technology.  Like what?  Is automating war to this extent a good idea?  Does this remove human responsibility and guilt for taking a particular human life?  Might this kind of technology develop, eventually, into a military without actual human beings in overt combat?  How could this be abused?

Kamikaze update

You know that recent post about Heather Penney, the female pilot who was ordered to take down Flight 93 on 9/11 by ramming into it in a suicide attack?  Well, it gets even worse.   As far as she knew, her FATHER, a United pilot working out of the east coast, might have been flying that plane!

See  F-16 pilot was ready to down plane her father piloted on 9/11 – The Washington Post.

I asked what was disturbing about all of this, but some of you couldn’t seem to tell what I might be referring to, in some cases going so far as to laud her heroic willingness to sacrifice her life. Here are some things that bother me:

(1)  Our military was going to take down an airliner, killing all of these innocent Americans, which was what the terrorists were planning to do.  If the purpose was to defend the White House or the Capitol building, evacuate those structures.  But the military is supposed to defend their countrymen, not kill them.

(2)  Ordering a suicide attack is monstrous in itself.

(3)  If we have jet fighters ready to defend us, why were they unarmed?  What good are military aircraft without weapons?  Were we really so unprepared, not only to obtain intelligence of a terrorist attack, but also to counter a military attack against our country?

(4)  Yes, I’m bothered by women in combat.  That they are in airplanes, far above the fray, dropping bombs and shooting missiles, is supposed to make a difference?  Women have the power to bring new life into the world.  They shouldn’t be put in the position of ending people’s lives.

(5)  This woman would have not only killed strangers, but her own father?


The 9/11 attacks ten years later

Sunday is the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. So we need to observe the occasion. And yet I find myself experiencing grief fatigue, outrage fatigue, war fatigue. I wish we could get beyond 9/11, put it behind us. Now that Osama bin Laden is dead, could we downgrade from threat level orange and keep our shoes on in the airport? I do realize we must remain ever vigilant because the threat remains. And I do agree that we should never forget what happened, honoring those who died, those who helped the victims, and the soldiers that enacted our national retribution. Still, I can’t help my post 9/11 exhaustion.

So where do we stand 10 years after the attacks?

Has “everything changed,” as was widely said at the time?

Does it take an attack like that to give us a sense of national unity? Why didn’t that last longer than it did?

What is the big picture, historical, and cultural impact of those plane crashes?