Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Victory, Part Deux

Tigerhawk has been doing some thinking about victory, too, but deeper.

I'd have liked to have been able to write that. It's an excellent analysis of what victory in the wider war is all about.

Iraq, for us, is only a campaign in the wider war on Islamism. That's an important point to remember. It does us no good to win in Iraq if we lose everywhere else.

However: the war in Iraq gives us a couple of opportunities to exercise a bit of geopolitical ju-jitsu. I'm shooting from the hip, here, but I'll try to stay on point.

One: Tigerhawk's spot on about the importance of discrediting Al-Qaeda. You can't kill an idea, but you can ruin it's worth and vitality by exposing its true nature. We have to reveal it as the busted, worthless thing that it truly is. So, what do we have to put up against it? Freedom, and self-determination. An Iraq that is governed by a regime regularly held accountable to its citizens is a powerful counter-example to the jihadist death-cult.

Two: There's another element that I don't think has been explicitly stated yet. In the aftermath of September 11, one of the challenges raised was the difficulty of engaging Al-Qaeda in open combat. They're an organization, not a government. They have no territory. Nothing to defend. They can melt into the background, whenever they choose.

But, take note of what's happened in the last couple of years. By drawing a line in the sand in Iraq, we've forced Al-Qaeda to adopt that land as their own, forcing them to come out to fight and die for it. We've forced them to forfeit one of their key strategic advantages. They do manage to serve up some unpleasant surprises from time to time, but we've managed to serve up a few of our own. After September 11, they were seen in the popular Arab press as invisible, invincible heroes. Unseen, untraceable, going where they will to perpetrate Jihad. But now? The hatred grows with every bombing of Iraqi citizens. The jihadists can't fight the Americans toe to toe, you see. The best they can manage is to pick off one or two, here or there, but they pay dearly when they do that. The Americans can fight back. Schools, mosques, and police stations are much softer targets.

They aren't melting into the background so well, anymore.

Me, I don't mind that Zarqawi slipped through our fingers last year. He's doing a fine job for us right where he's at. His murder spree is costing them more and more Arab and Muslim support by the day, if not by the hour.

I think it's still a bit early to declare that we've passed a tipping point. Things can still go completely FUBAR in Iraq. But, we're miles and miles ahead of where we were in early 2004. We're even miles and miles ahead of where we were, this time last year. More and more, Iraqis are coming to believe in this new government they've created. They won't fight for an occupier. But they will stand up and fight for their own flag, their own people, their own laws. There's an increasing sense that it is truly theirs, now.

Soon. It'll be soon. Al-Qaeda's credibility runs out like the sands in an hourglass. Their political capital's spent, their monetary captial, likewise. Their top leaders are on the run, and have to be lucky every day for the rest of their lives. We only have to be lucky once.

We do have to keep our eye on the prize, though. It's never too late to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

What Will Victory Look Like?

It's a fair question. And, it's one that we all ought to ponder very thoughtfully. We are going to come to some sort of decision point sometime in 2006, most likely. It's a question that's closely tied to another one, namely, "What are our objectives?" That's the better question to ask.

Our basic, number-one objective was to put paid to Hussein's Baath Party regime in Iraq. That was the easy part. The hard part is figuring out how to replace it.

The way I see it, that comes down to three or four things. Two of them require our assistance. The other two require that we get out of the way.

The two things that we need to help with are:

(1) Standing up a new government, and
(2) Standing up a new army, police, and security apparatus.

The two things that we more or less need to stay out of the way for are:

(3) Re-constituting Iraqi civil society, and
(4) Re-constituting the Iraqi economy.

The next year is critical time for (1) and (2) above. The worst of the heavy lifting is done on that score, though. Now, it's all about follow-through. The good news is that the Iraqi people have taken to parliamentary politics like ducks to water. They're very enthusiastic about it, and participation has grown in each of this year's elections. The Sunnis, who were holding out only a year ago, have begun to participate in earnest. That, to me, looks as though a critical mass of that population has acquiesced to the new way of things, and does not hold out much hope for a return to their former privileged position.

The critical things to look for in the coming year have to do with how the new Parliament takes care of business. Are the Sunni parties sufficiently included that they feel like they're getting their money's worth? Do things devolve into sectarian knife-fights, or can they find at least a few areas of broad nationalist consensus? This year was all about just getting a political process started in the first place. That's been done. This next year is all about keeping the ball rolling.

Largely, our involvement in that process is done. We can tick off item (1) on our list as accomplished. It's the responsibility of the Iraqi people to manage it, now.

Now, as far as security goes ... There's still work to do. But again, the heavy lifting has been accomplished. It can still be a violent and dangerous place, but over the last year, Iraqi forces have borne more and more of the load. Increasingly, Iraqi security has an Iraqi face. Mind you, the Iraqi forces that are taking over security aren't as good as the American forces they're replacing, but they don't have to be. They only have to be better than their opponents, who have a pretty lousy sense of grand strategy and public relations. To those who question that assessment, just look at the recent record. They discover that suicide bombings aren't necessarily well-received by their own press corps. Their response? More suicide bombings. They ain't the sharpest tools in the shed, folks. They're ideologically fixated on tactics that aren't working, and most likely won't work in the future, either.

So, number (2) looks like it's going fairly well.

The third and fourth items are important, but they are things that will largely take care of themselves if the security environment is something within shouting distance of reasonable. Given good government and safety, people will sort out things like soccer leagues and business plans for themselves. We don't need to fiddle around with that, and will sow much ill-will if we try.

So: as far as we're concerned, the victory conditions are as follows. First, a stable, self-sustaining government that is accountable to its citizenry. Second, an army and police force that is capable of both defending Iraq's borders and keeping the peace within them.

Now, just to clarify for those who ride the short bus: "keep the peace" does not mean "eliminate all violence." That's an unreasonable expectation. There will always be violent criminals to deal with. But we're reaching a point where the insurgency will be just that: an assortment of violent criminals. A syndicate that must be crushed, not ennobled by false attributions of political legitimacy. But, the fact that some of them are still running about cannot be taken as a sign of failure. If they begin to gain popular support, yes, that's a major failure. But so long as the government continues to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the people, and the security forces gain strength, then all indicators are moving in the right direction. Given that, you can't lose so long as you keep your nerve.

So far, so good. We've made real progress in 2005, and have condiderable momentum going forward into 2006. So, what will victory look like?

Purple fingers. Saddam having to answer to a court of law. Free citizens voting their conscience, not their fears. People all over the Middle East looking to Iraq and asking, "Why not here?"

We're not there yet, but I can see it from here. That's more than I could say a year ago.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Never A Fair Fight

"If we go to war tomorrow, the Raptor will go with us."

-- General Ronald E. Keys, USAF

Yes, sports fans, the 27th Fighter Squadron, 1st Fighter Wing is now open for business. The F-22A Raptor has achieved Initial Operational Capability as of today, December 15, 2005. That means that the next time the USAF has to go abroad to spread joy and good cheer amongst our enemies, the Raptor rides shotgun. Anyone who tries to come up and play will pay, and pay dearly, for the privilege.

That sound you just heard was every Chinese, North Korean, Iranian and Syrian military aviator soiling their flight suits in unison.

My brother and I had an argument a long time ago, about whether it was better to have invisibility or super-speed. At the time, I thought being invisible was better.

I was wrong. The correct answer to the question, "Invisibility or super-speed?" is, of course, "Yes."

You really want both. And boy, does the Raptor deliver!

Let's start with stealth. It's not quite invisibility, but it'll do until something better comes along. The F-22A has about the same radar cross-section as a BB, maybe a bit less. It's also designed to minimize its infra-red signature. But mostly, it's built to avoid radar detection. It's also got an advanced suite of defensive electronics, but by current doctrine, the preferred method is to rely on passive detection avoidance.

This is a key advantage. You can't hit what you can't see. And if it can enter the battle area undetected, the first indication that the enemy has that all isn't as it ought to be is when things start blowing up. Then it's a bit late to start searching for the responsible party.

But that's not all. The Raptor is also very, very fast. The other key thing about its design is supercruise, which is the ability to cruise at supersonic speeds without going to afterburner. Specifically, it means cruising supersonically on military power. That's an important distinction. Military power is seventy percent of maximum, non-afterburning thrust. At military power, the Raptor is said to be able to fly at Mach 1.5. This is huge, folks. Faster entry to the battle area means being able to spring the attack before it's expected. Faster exit from the battle area means less opportunity for the defense to organize and react. Faster entry to the battle area means that, if your command and control aircraft detects a strike force forming up in enemy airspace, a group of F-22s can be inserted and disrupt the strike force before it gets underway. With speed and stealth, the Raptor has the capability to dominate the battle space.

But that's still not all. The Raptor packs a heck of a lot of computing power. All sensors are integrated, so that the pilot has an easy-to-understand, no-nonsense view of the space around him. And there's data-linking, too, so that what one Raptor pilot knows, they all know. Nobody's sneaking up on one of these.

And yes, there's more. The F-22 has thrust-vectored nozzles. They can swing in unison to boost pitch rate, or in opposite directions to boost roll rate. The Raptor's nose goes where the pilot wants it, not necessarily where Mother Nature wants it.

Not that it makes so much difference. The F-22 boasts a helmet-mounted gunsight, and its AIM-9X Sidewinders have an imaging infrared seeker that can track targets 120 degrees off-boresight. If it comes down to a dogfight, the other pilot is in one hell of a fix. It probably won't come to that, though. The Raptor will start the party beyond visual range, with a volley of AIM-120 radar-guided missiles. The Raptor's radar can track and engage several targets simultaneously. Most of the Raptor's victims will never know what happened.

And to top it off, it can carry the latest precision-guided munitions, and do so in internal bays. No external pylons to disrupt its clean lines.

It's expensive. All that capability does come at a steep price. But we get our money's worth, all right. From the Raptor's cockpit, you own the sky. Name the odds, they don't matter, you're never in a fair fight.

Come on up and play, boys. We dare you.

Friday, December 02, 2005

A Dash of Perspective

Flashback: Friday, 15 December 1990

Dawn would not come for several more hours. At least, not a natural one.

The F-15E Strike Eagle was flying low and fast, heading towards the East German border. But due to the events of the last few days, it had already crossed the FEBA five minutes ago. Their target was the 70th Guards Tank Division's headquarters, thought to be at Fulda, where they gave the 11th Armored Cav the bum's rush last night. They were in for a rude awakening this morning.

Everybody was.

They were approaching their target, fifty feet above the tree-tops, barely under the speed of sound. They carried a single B61 bomb. The plan was to pull up about two miles short into a 60 degree climb, release the bomb, and then punch up the afterburners, trying to put a hilltop between them and Ground Zero.

"Hey Mac," the pilot called, "I think we ought to modify the plan a little. We want to make sure it takes."

"What do you have in mind, Duke?"

"Just lay it down on target. Low pass, use the drag chute."

"Not much of a chance to get away."

Grim laugh. "You thought we were getting away?"

"No. Not really, no."

"OK, then."

Mac armed the bomb. Duke made some final adjustments, bringing the ship right over the Soviet armor formation. Almost involuntarily, Mac's lips peeled back in a Death's-head grin. "Just about everybody I know is already dead," he thought, "but at least I'm gonna take some of these Red bastards with..."

Light. Impossibly bright, ineffably searing, all-destroying light. Then, nothing.

Welcome to my nightmare. Well, not a current nightmare. That one's about fifteen to twenty years old. I haven't had to worry about that one, lately. I just wanted to share the moment with those of you whose memories don't stretch back that far.

We are at war, true. But our enemy does not command ten thousand atomic weapons aimed at our cities. Our enemy does not command five thousand tanks poised to roll across Europe. Our enemy commands a ratty assortment of box-cutters, homemade bombs, and suicidal idiots.

Guys, in the grand scheme of things, this is nothin'.

It's a walk in the park, by comparison with some of the wars we've seen. Why, the British lost 60,000 in the first day alone at the Somme, in WWI. Two thousand is a grim price, to be sure, but we've achieved more for that price than the Brits did in, say, 24 minutes on that first day. Two years in Iraq doesn't even amount to a pre-game show at the Somme.

Sure, we're in a war, and we're being hurt. But for the love of God, man, let's have a sense of perspective! Are we going to run from a scratch, when we've faced down so much worse without a flinch?

And what kind of threat do we face? Maybe, some kind of terror attack. In one or two places. Well, pardon me for not being impressed. The threat I grew up with, you see, was losing ALL -- count 'em, ALL -- of our major cities. And most of the minor ones, too. The city I grew up in would have went up in a patchwork of fireballs, as far as the eye could see. You'll have to excuse me for not quivering in terror at a few random kabooms here and there.

Boys and girls, we've got their number. We're winning. The great thing is not to lose our nerve. If we keep them from getting us to beat ourselves, we're golden. They're still thrashing, but that doesn't mean we don't have our hand on their throat.

Now, it's time to squeeze.

Withdraw? Sure, when we're done. But not a second before.