Schlemiel-in-Chief

Number 26 in a series

Having lunch with Barbara Jean today. Sitting in the restaurant, talking across the table. Noticed the reflection in the glass. The TV screen on the wall behind me was covering a news flash. I’m no language expert, but even backwards it translated to “Terrorist Attack in London.” I turned around and gave it a hard look. Yes, it was going down. That was bad:

What happened: An improvised explosive device was detonated on a London Underground train, injuring 29 people during rush hour Friday morning. A security source told CNN there was a timer found on the device, a sign that the intent was to cause greater damage.

The investigation: A manhunt is underway and police are treating the explosion at Parsons Green station on the District Line as terrorism.

The drama continues to play out. But fortunately we have a President who’s on top of matters:

Another attack in London by a loser terrorist.These are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard. Must be proactive!

There is more, but I’m not going to bother my readers with it. I’m only going to repeat what President Trump tweeted earlier today:

Another attack in London by a loser terrorist.These are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard. Must be proactive!

Just let that soak in. And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.

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The Junior Varsity Team

A rehash, number 4

Recapitulating from before:

To be sure, the President caught much flak over that remark, and to additional surprise I defended the remark. I considered ISIS, also known as Daesh, to be a JV team. I since explained my logic:

If ISIS is not JV, then who is? Here are the facts about ISIS:

  • No firm control over defined geography
  • No significant industrial base
  • Dependent on external clients for financial support
  • Fluid or weak bureaucracy
  • Ill-defined legal structure
  • Weak technological and intellectual resources

That was President Obama catching flak for calling Daesh a JV team, and that was me explaining why they did not make the varsity. Also, that was years ago, back when Daesh was taking weapons and vehicles away from the Iraqi army and occupying territory like ants on a wedding cake. In the meantime the Iraqis have begun to take civil defense seriously, and American forces have agreed to move into Syria seriously. The civilized world has been running up the score against the JV team for months now, and it’s beginning to look like Europe in April 1945. That would include a flood of rats deserting a decaying corpse:

US citizen fighting for ISIS captured in Syria

(CNN) — The US military has detained a US citizen who had been fighting with ISIS in Syria, a Pentagon spokesman confirmed to CNN Thursday.

“Syrian Democratic Forces turned over to US forces an American citizen who surrendered to the SDF on or around September 12,” US Marine Corps Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway told CNN, referring to the US-backed Kurdish led group fighting ISIS in Syria.

The news item from CNN further relates there has been an increase in Daesh fighters giving up, essentially saying that joining a JV team to take on the civilized world turned out not to be such a good idea. Apparently one of those calling it quits was a local commander, who surrendered to SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) within the past week. Apparently losing is a real turn-off and does not come close to the adrenaline rush of cutting off people’s heads, selling young girls into slavery, and demolishing thousands of years of human history.

CNN further notes that Daesh has proven to be less a draw in the United States than in various Western European countries. Piling on, a relentless string of defeats has emphasized its JV status, making Daesh a less appealing outlet for people dissatisfied with modern civilization.

The Washington Post has reported on the conviction in an American court of a man who went to Syria to fight for the second stringers:

A Virginia man, Mohamad Khweis, was convicted in federal court in June of supporting terrorism after he surrendered in early 2016 to Kurdish forces in Iraq who turned him over to the American military there.

Khweis, due to be sentenced next month, said he had traveled undetected from Fairfax County to join the Islamic State in Syria but at the time of his capture had deserted the militants and was trying to make his way home.

Yes, realizing that you made a big mistake and then attempting to unwind past misdeeds does not bring you back into the good graces of society. Once you have shown your true colors and stepped across the line into barbarism, you have—or you should have—lost the confidence of the the mentally stable world.

This story is going to have life for years to come. The disintegration of Daesh as a force on the battlefield is not going to end religious numb-skullery as an appeal to our darker nature. People are going to continue to invoke illusionary thinking to justify obnoxious behavior. Daesh presents one such outlet, and the meme will continue to draw disaffected souls long after all Daesh territory has been expunged of their presence. We are about to see what outlets JV team aspirants turn to over the coming years. The view of a cop standing watch with an automatic weapon is going to be with us for a while.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I put off watching this on Hulu a few weeks back when I took a peek and figured it was a spoof or somewhat. Of course, there was Tina Fey in the lead role, being more famous for her spoofs of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Then there was the title, which I will get into once I figure out WTF it stands for. But, the pressure of time—I’m taking a few days off—and the better production quality, drew me in, and I watched it through. By the time I was finished watching it was hard to get another movie, Up Close And Personal, out of my mind. This is Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, out of Paramount Pictures last  year. Here’s a walk through:

Tina Fey is real-life Kim Baker, a TV journalist based in New York, but the opening scene shows her and a gang of journalist in Kabul covering the ongoing story in Afghanistan. It’s 2006, and all the westerners are holed up in the Kabul bubble, enjoying a rave party. Than there is a terrific rumble, and everybody understands that a massive bomb has gone off in the street close by. They are all out immediately to cover the aftermath.

Roll back the clock three years, and it’s 2003. Kim is in her New York offices, where she is producer of News Division 1. The organization needs volunteers to cover Afghanistan, since all the first stringers have been shifted to the new story in Iraq. Kim goes, and in doing so meets her boyfriend passing through the airport in the opposite direction.

In Kabul it’s a different life. She teams with Fahim Ahmadzai (Christopher Abbott), driver, translator, protector.

Inside the bubble, she meets the other journalists and is informed that here is a place where anything goes, and everything does. She becomes friends with Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie), who discusses with Kim her plan to divvy up the available men between them. There are many.

Kim soon gets her legs and embeds with some Marines. When the patrol comes under attack from some Taliban in a technical, Kim hauls out of her ride, camera in hand, and charges to the forward line of defense, catching the scene as a Javelin missile destroys the truck.

This is an amusing episode. The Marine general (Billy Bob Thornton) in charge chews out the Marine for wasting an $80,000 Javelin on a 1989 pickup.

Kim’s romance back home gets strained by the separation and finally broken when a Skype video call reveals another woman in the background. She hooks up with photojournalist Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman), who saves her groceries when she gets stranded alone on the streets of Kabul at night, not a healthy place for a European woman, or any woman, alone.

Years go by, and Tanya undertakes a meeting with a Taliban group, which goes horribly wrong. At the same time the American military is tracking the Taliban vehicle and launches a Hellfire missile on it. Nothing was going to turn out well, anyhow. Just before the missile strikes, the Taliban fighters open up with their weapons on the journalists. People are killed. Tanya is hospitalized.

Called back to New York, Kim learns that Tanya has been groomed to take over her job there. Iain is taken by the Taliban and sold to others, who hold him for ransom. Kim returns to Afghanistan and blackmails the Attorney General of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan into revealing the whereabouts of Ian. Kim convinces Marine General Hollanek  it would be worthwhile for his men to stage a rescue mission, covered by Kim’s cameraman. She comes back with the story, and the movie ends with the possibility of Kim and Iain meeting in New York.

There is intrigue and battle action in  this movie, but it draws out as a single-threaded narrative. It’s one episode after another, and then it ends. The movie didn’t make back its $35 million budget.

Wikipedia points out some items I noticed. The character of Marine General Hollanek seems out of place (he starts out as a colonel). What’s an officer of flag rank doing observing combat with the enemy at pistol range?

Hollanek  mentions the cost of a Javelin. I found that curious. This weapon was developed by Texas Instruments Defense Systems and Electronics Group in Lewisville and Denton, Texas in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I worked the program off and on and remember the target cost was pegged a lot lower. Surprise! The Wikipedia entry lists a unit cost of $246,000. Inflation?

Another surprise is seeing a Javelin fired at such close range. It was designed to engage tanks at long distance, using two-stage launch and leave. A booster kicks it out of the launch tube, and the main motor fires when the missile is well clear, to avoid roasting the gunner. One requirement is to be able to fire out the window of a small room. So watching the movie I was surprised to see the Javelin fired in this mode, and then I recalled one feature is the direct-fire mode. You just point and shoot.

The movie is based on Kim Baker’s memoir, The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It might be worth reading. A Kindle edition is available for about $6. There could be a review in the future. It’s always interesting to see how Hollywood renders an author’s original work.

The Junior Varsity Team

A rehash

Posted on Facebook

The history goes a few years back, so I’m going to need to recap some points. Begin nearly three years ago. Back then I was comparing the newly-emerged ISIS (Islamic State In Syria) to a bunch of frat boys with Kalashnikov rifles. I said this:

All right then. We have all seen the videos. We have all studied the news reports of atrocious behavior. The threat “We will raise the flag of Allah in the White House,” has caught our attention. What then to make of this new face of religious fundamentalism?

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel lightly put it “This is beyond anything that we’ve seen. So we must prepare for everything.” He is speaking of ISIS, Islamic State in Syria, which can most generously described as a bunch of frat boys with Kalashnikov rifles.

My observation then was the so-called Islamic State had a motivated base and some conventional weapons, but not much depth. But they had accomplished much. They controlled territory in Syria and they had captured key cities in  Iraq, including Ramadi, Fallujah, and most importantly, Mosul, with a population of about 1.8 million people. This latter accomplishment was surprisingly swift, considering the size of the attacking force and their available weaponry. The truth is the defending Iraqi army units threw down their weapons and fled, leaving the civilian population to fend for themselves and also leaving behind large stocks of modern, American-supplied materials of war. And President Obama called them a junior varsity team, meaning second stringers.

To be sure, the President caught much flak over that remark, and to additional surprise I defended the remark. I considered ISIS, also known as Daesh, to be a JV team. I since explained my logic:

If ISIS is not JV, then who is? Here are the facts about ISIS:

  • No firm control over defined geography
  • No significant industrial base
  • Dependent on external clients for financial support
  • Fluid or weak bureaucracy
  • Ill-defined legal structure
  • Weak technological and intellectual resources

Nothing much changed since then, with a significant exception. With its captured territory Daesh acquired a considerable financial resource. It was able to broker captured petroleum resources for cash and arms. To be sure, Daesh in Syria and Iraq still did not have the industrial base required to sustain protracted conflict, and it was geographically cut off from any such base. Weapons still flowed in, but the supply lines were not secure. When the United States military rejoined the fight at the request of Iraq, a key tactic became to maintain a strangle hold on Daesh-controlled territory and starve them out. With the United States and Iraq in firm control of regional airspace, this approach began to have an effect.

In the meantime Daesh flexed its fundamental strength—its ideology. Still intellectually connected with the outside world, Daesh struck at the heart of its nemesis, Western civilization. Their minions attacked soft targets, especially in the United States and Europe, killing hundreds of noncombatants. It was terrorism in its purest form. It was and still is Daesh’s key chip in its conflict with the modern world. And it’s soon to be their only chip. Daesh, the Islamic State, is about to become a state without territory:

In Syria, American-backed militias have surrounded Raqqa, the group’s capital, and breached its historic walls. Across the border, Iraqi forces have seized the remains of the Mosul mosque where Mr. Baghdadi appeared and besieged the remaining jihadists in a shrinking number of city blocks.

That’s the good news, but I omitted the headline, which reads:

ISIS, Despite Heavy Losses, Still Inspires Global Attacks

Yeah, those guys are not through, but some comparisons are helpful.

Nazi Germany hung to the end upon a nail driven into a wall, and that nail was Adolf Hitler. Never was power so pyramidal than under his rule. He stood at the very top, controlling an increasingly reluctant second tier of command, and on down to the very last farm boy who was executed by the Gestapo in the final days because he refused to volunteer with some repair work. When Hitler shot himself within the sound of Soviet guns, the fabric began to unravel, and total capitulation was complete eight days later.

The death of Joseph Stalin in 1953 started the Soviet Union on the road to decline as pragmatism gradually replaced idealism. The Soviet Union was disbanded nearly 30 years ago, although communistic fervor is still ripe in the Russian Federation.

The death of Francisco Franco in 1975 brought an end to Spanish fascism after nearly 40 years of oppression.

Following the capture of Abimael Guzmán the Shining Path movement has declined to insignificance.

The death of Mao helped usher in the rise of a capitalistic PRC but not the end of communist oppression.

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) eventually made peace with the British government after decades of carrying out attacks of mass murder.

On a much smaller stage idealistic terror groups such as the Symbionese Liberation Army lacked any base of support and folded after a single, disastrous, confrontation with armed police.

It’s worth noting that a cadre of Nazi die-hards, known as the Werewolves, hung on past the capitulation of May 1945, and they did do some killing. Nazi ideology persists, not only in the modern German state, but also in this country, and extreme elements do dabble in terror. Timothy McVeigh was not strictly a Nazi, but his right-wing ideology skirted Nazism. The less destructive, in magnitude only, Dylan Roof is a prime example of the damage lingering Nazism can wreak.

We can look forward to decades of hearing from Daesh (calling themselves ISIS) in much the form inflicted by the IRA in years past. The difference is it’s not going to be like the skinheads marching with their swastikas and throwing stiff-arm salutes, and it’s not even going to be Daesh patriots gathering in encampments and darkened houses as the IRA might do. Such activities are much too vulnerable to modern police capabilities. A saying dating back to the Russian Revolution goes, “When three people sit around a table to make revolution, two of them are fools, and the other is a police spy.”

The Daesh revolutionary is going to be a loner, gaining inspiration through a thin wire connected to his computer. He will get inspiration but no material support. His attack is going to be unexpected, swift, deadly, and final. There will be no trial by jury, and there will be no confessions. To be sure, even if the attacker lives, he will have nothing to confess that the police do not already know.

The defeat of Daesh will be ideological. It has to be. It has to be demonstrated that the ideological basis for Daesh is unfounded. Islam is not a target for destruction or subjugation. And that will be a difficult ticket to sell, owing to hard line Christianity’s antipathy for other belief systems. Something fundamental is going to have to change. There’s more.

It could be truly righteous people in Western democracies need to be willing to stand by and observe without interference what we consider assaults on humanity. We will have to overlook suppression of women, institutional  slavery, religious oppression, summary executions. Something besides overt intervention will need  to be employed to salve our consciences, which thing we are already doing, as in  the case of our relationship with Saudi Arabia and other global partners of convenience. It will be a difficult course for this nation to undertake, considering we just spent the past 70 years in a war on communism.

I will post again on the topic as matters shake out. Keep reading.

The Ever-Diminishing List of Those Who Cannot Obtain Life Insurance at any Price

Number 24 in a series

“Days are numbered?” Make that “Days have been counted.” Those devilish Russians may have cashed in on one of the world’s most expensive insurance policies. From Reuters via the Huffington Post:

Russia’s Military Says It May Have Killed ISIS Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

The airstrike targeted a meeting of ISIS leaders and was carried out on May 28.

Reuters Dmitry Solovyov and Ahmed Rasheed

MOSCOW/BAGHDAD, June 16 (Reuters) – Moscow said on Friday its forces may have killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an air strike in Syria last month, but Washington said it could not corroborate the death and Western and Iraqi officials were skeptical.

The secretive Islamic State leader has frequently been reported killed or wounded since he declared a caliphate to rule over all Muslims from a mosque in Mosul in 2014, after leading his fighters on a sweep through northern Iraq.

If the report does prove true, it would be one of the biggest blows yet to Islamic State, which is trying to defend its shrinking territory against an array of forces backed by regional and global powers in both Syria and Iraq.

Yes, if the report does prove true, then somewhere there is an insurance underwriter standing on the window ledge of a tall building.

President Obama once called Daesh (ISIS) a JV team (junior varsity, second stringer). I have always agreed.

He got a lot of push back from that. So did I when I cast my vote for that sentiment. One person compared Daesh to the Viet Cong of 50 years ago. It was pointed out that we failed to defeat the VC. I begged to differ:

  • The VC were effectively finished in 1968. We fought the NVA from that point on.
  • The NVA  was not a JV team. They had SAMs and jet fighters. North Vietnam was a client state of the Soviet Union. Even though, like Daesh, North Vietnam did not produce its own weapons of war, it received a steady supply, apparently gratis.
  • To the contrary, Daesh does not have territory of its own. It currently occupies territory claimed by two well-armed nations, Syria and Iraq. One, Syria, is unable to combat Daesh effectively. The other, Iraq, appears unwilling.
  • Additionally, Daesh, unlike North Vietnam, does not produce anything on its own. Everything must be imported.

If Daesh does not qualify as a JV team, who does?

And as I mentioned when I posted this a year and a half ago, the death of al-Baghdadi and his minions does not mean it is safe to go in the water again. There are points still in play:

  • The idea—that modern, industrial, states dominate the world to the detriment of developing countries—tugs powerfully at the minds of a broad base for recruitment. Lack of a geographical base (Syria and Iraq) will not slacken this pull.
  • Syria—Iraq is no long in play in this respect— will cease to be a base for training and arming of international combatants. The dirty work can continue without this base. In prior times recognized states, Libya for example, served this purpose. There is still Iran, no friend of the world elite and inclined to assert its presence in whatever means are available.
  • Daesh is ideologically driven and in modern times can operate in the info-sphere. Militants who never meet can inspire, organize,  motivate, direct. On any given day a thoroughly indoctrinated actor can leave his rundown apartment with blood on his brain and a weapon—gun, car keys—in his hand, with no plans for the following  day.

The ultimate root of the matter is an institutional and cultural divide and not religion. As such it cannot pulled out without first addressing the divide. Doing that is above my pay grade. There will be more on this later. Keep reading.

Years of Living Dangerously

January 1934

I have what may be a first edition. The book was printed in 1941, immediately following the events of the final chapter. I have no idea how it came into possession by my family, but following a division of assets it wound up on my bookshelf. I have read my copy through at least three times, and earlier this year I acquired a Kindle edition, which vastly facilitates searching, highlighting, and copying interesting passages. It’s Berlin Diary, and it’s by journalist and war correspondent William L. Shirer.

The full title is Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, 1934–1941, and you can guess this is going to be about the early days of Nazi Germany. Besides that, it is the tale of a remarkable life. Shirer was born in 1904, and by 1925 he was in Europe, having worked his passage on a cattle boat. He intended to knock around for the summer but remained abroad for 15 years, returning only for brief intervals. As a news correspondent he traveled and associated broadly, including a close acquaintance with Mohandas K. Gandhi, and subsequently came to meet the key players in the lead up to war in Europe. In Europe he met and married photographer Theresa Stiberitz, from Vienna. Comfortable in French and German, he observed the widespread unrest in Europe and the spreading influence of Germany’s Nazi regime. He collaborated with Edward R. Murrow covering the early months of the war, being forced to leave in December 1940 as the danger became unbearable. Already noted for his war coverage, he achieved fame with the publication of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

If you ever thought your life has been dull, you may not realize how dull until you read this book. It begins after Shirer lost the sight in one  eye in a skying accident. First entries relate the couple’s year off in southern Spain, Shirer recuperating and the two living off their savings.

The plan for this series is to cover diary entries on a daily basis on each 80th anniversary. I will crowd in an initial burst of postings to catch up, since the book starts in 1934. The tale is best told by shamelessly reprinting great sections of text from the book and adding my analysis. This is, after all, Skeptical Analysis. The opening entry is 11 January 1934:

LLORET DE MAR, SPAIN, January 11, 1934

Our money is gone. Day after tomorrow I must go back to work. We had not thought much about it. A wire came. An offer. A bad offer from the Paris Herald. But it will keep the wolf away until I can get something better.

Thus ends the best, the happiest, the most uneventful year we have ever lived. It has been our “year off,” our sabbatical year, and we have lived it in this little Spanish fishing village exactly as we dreamed and planned, beautifully independent of the rest of the world, of events, of men, bosses, publishers, editors, relatives, and friends. It couldn’t have gone on for ever. We wouldn’t have wanted it to, though if the thousand dollars we had saved for it had not been suddenly reduced to six hundred by the fall of the dollar, we might have stretched the year until a better job turned up. It was a good time to lay off, I think. I’ve regained the health I lost in India and Afghanistan in 1930– 1 from malaria and dysentery. I’ve recovered from the shock of the skiing accident in the Alps in the spring of 1932, which for a time threatened me with a total blindness but which, happily, in the end, robbed me of the sight of only one eye.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 44-53). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

This is just north of Barcelona, peaceful as the tale begins, but soon to become a focal point of the vicious Spanish Civil War. Spain at the time seemed safe, compared to what was going on in Germany:

Hitler and the Nazis have lasted out a whole year in Germany and our friends in Vienna write that fascism, both of a local clerical brand and of the Berlin type, is rapidly gaining ground in Austria. Here in Spain the revolution has gone sour and the Right government of Gil Robles and Alexander Lerroux seems bent on either restoring the monarchy or setting up a fascist state on the model of Italy— perhaps both.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 55-58). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Those not familiar with the history, the Nazis came to power in January 1933 and immediately, with calculated brutality, muscled their way to complete control. At the time he wrote this, neither Shirer nor anybody else realized the level of viciousness that was about to ensue.

He tells of renting a furnished house for $60 a month—good fortune even at that time in that place:

Myself: some history, some philosophy, and Spengler’s Decline of the West; Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution; War and Peace; Céline’s Voyage au bout de la nuit, the most original French novel since the war; and most or all of Wells, Shaw, Ellis, Beard, Hemingway, Dos Passos, and Dreiser. A few friends came and stayed: the Jay Allens, Russell and Pat Strauss, and Luis Quintanilla, one of the most promising of the younger Spanish painters and a red-hot republican. Andres Segovia lived next door and came over in the evening to talk or to play Bach or Albeniz on his guitar.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 69-74). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Already a reader is coming to realize the waste he has made of his own life. The closest I came was when Dos Passos lived on a street in Austin I passed through going to and from the University.

The idyll ends here. After this it’s Paris and the brutal reality of European politics of the 1930s.

Turning Point

history-zimmermanncable

From Wikipedia

In 1898 the United States entered the world stage, replacing Spain as a major power following a decisive victory. A hundred years ago today an event occurred that forever ensured this country’s participation in world affairs. On 3 March 1917 German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann acknowledged the German Empire was conspiring to bring Mexico into war with the United States. The item of the hour was the Zimmermann Telegram. A prior post recounts the details from Herbert Yardley’s book:

A famous code breaking case of the time, and one that had historical implications, was one that never came the way of the Black Chamber. This was the famous Zimmerman cable message. At the time, Mexico was still smarting from General Pershing’s punitive raid into Mexican territory, and General Carranza, the President of Mexico decided to throw in his lot with the Germans:

The reader will recall the sensational Zimmermann-Carranza note which the President read before Congress just before we entered the war, the note in which Zimmermann, German Minister for Foreign Affairs, promised Mexico financial aid and the states of New Mexico, Texas and Arizona if she declared war against the United States. This telegram was deciphered by the British Cryptographic Bureau early in 1917, just before we entered the war.

Yardley, Herbert O.. The American Black Chamber (Bluejacket Books) (Kindle Locations 1606-1609). Naval Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

The United States declared war on  Germany in April 1917, and subsequently sent approximately two million troops to France, resulting in “about 320,000 casualties: 53,402 battle deaths.” Twenty-four years later the United States entered World War Two, an almost unavoidable consequence of the earlier war. The consequences of the Zimmermann telegram shape the American landscape to this day.

The Ever-Diminishing List of Those Who Cannot Obtain Life Insurance at any Price

One of a continuing series

war-isisleaderdaysnumbered

Lets try this, with apologies to Sonny and Cher fans:

The beat goes on, the beat goes on
Drums keep pounding
A rhythm to the brain
La de da de de, la de da de da

“La de da de da,” indeed. So what’s the latest?

Washington (CNN) — The US Special Operations head said Tuesday that the US and its allies had eliminated more than 60,000 ISIS fighters.

“We have killed over 60,000,” Gen. Raymond “Tony” Thomas, commander of US Special Operations command, told a symposium Maryland.
Thomas oversees America’s elite Special Operations troops, including Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets, which have played a large role in combating the terror organization, including raids against key leaders.

60,000? That’s out of a corps of how many?

The number of fighters in the Islamic State’s army largely “remains the same” as it did a year ago, a U.S. official briefed on the latest intelligence estimate tells Fox News.

Officially, ISIS is estimated to have between 20,000 and 25,000 fighters based on the new intelligence estimate, as first reported by USA Today. A year ago, ISIS was estimated to have between 19,000 and 31,000 fighters.

So the report is, allied forces have killed more than there are. And their troop strength remains the same. It’s the magic of counting coup. Allow me to reprint something I posted last February. It’s a back and forth from the Stanley Kubrick movie Full Metal  Jacket:

Lockhart: Joker, where’s the wienie?

Joker: Sir?

Lockhart: The kill, Joker, the kill. I mean, all that fire power, the grunts must have hit something.

Joker: Didn’t see ’em.

Lockhart: Joker, I’ve told you we run two basic stories here—grunts who give half their pay to buy gooks toothbrushes and deodorant—winning of hearts and minds. Okay? And combat action that results in a kill—winning the war. Now you must have seen blood trails, drag marks?

Joker: It was raining…, sir.

Lockhart: That’s why God passed  the law of probability. Now rewrite it and give it a happy ending. Say, uh, one kill. Make it a sapper, or an officer… which.

Joker: Whichever you say.

Lockhart: Grunts like reading about dead officers.

Joker: Okay, an officer. How about a general?

Yes, that was the subject of body count from the Vietnam unpleasantness 50 years ago. The story from CNN goes on to quote

Multiple American officials have told CNN in the past that the Pentagon does not officially tally body counts.
Carter’s predecessor, Chuck Hagel, said that the practice of counting the number of enemies killed wasn’t a particularly useful one.
“My policy has always been, don’t release that kind of thing,” Hagel told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in December.
Hagel, a veteran of the Vietnam War where the American military’s enemy body count statistics were disparaged for being overly optimistic, criticized releasing the figures.
“Body counts. I mean, come on, did we learn anything from Vietnam?” he asked. “Body counts make no sense.”

Yes, body counts do not make sense, unless you are an insurance underwriter. It’s possible none of this matters. It’s possible none of the 60,000 had life insurance.

And the beat goes on.

The Ever-Diminishing List of Those Who Cannot Obtain Life Insurance at any Price

One of a continuing series

war-daeshfighters-01

Suddenly, OK maybe slowly, it’s beginning to look like not so fun a game anymore. This is what it’s like to play in the big leagues:

Irbil (CNN) — Iraqi security and coalition forces have killed 97 ISIS militants in eastern and southern Mosul on Sunday, Iraq’s Joint Military Command said, as the group continues to defend its Iraqi bastion with suicide attacks and artillery.

The militants were killed in three separate incidents, the Iraqi military said in a statement.

Yeah, guys. It’s the NFL. The story from CNN relates how the 97 unknowns came face to face with eternity. 21 JV fighters were benched when Iraqi soldiers set off two explosive charges in separate vehicles. Another 51 lost out in an attack on Iraqi troops. Coalition airstrikes counted for a further 25.

But wait. What does all this remind me of? There is an image I’m looking for. Ah! Here it is.

war-fullmetaljacket-01

Yes, this is the one. It’s a scene from Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. That’s Lieutenant Lockhart (John Terry), a Marine Corps public affairs officer, lining up assignments for Marine journalists at the height of the Vietnam War. He’s explaining to Sergeant James T. “Joker” Davis (Matthew Modine) the importance of having an enemy body count when reporting action against the NVA. He picks apart a story by Joker concerning a firefight that interrupted a meal some grunts were having in the out lands.

Lockhart: Joker, where’s the wienie?

Joker: Sir?

Lockhart: The kill, Joker, the kill. I mean, all that fire power, the grunts must have hit something.

Joker: Didn’t see ’em.

Lockhart: Joker, I’ve told you we run two basic stories here—grunts who give half their pay to buy gooks toothbrushes and deodorant—winning of hearts and minds. Okay? And combat action that results in a kill—winning the war. Now you must have seen blood trails, drag marks?

Joker: It was raining…, sir.

Lockhart: That’s why God passed  the law of probability. Now rewrite it and give it a happy ending. Say, uh, one kill. Make it a sapper, or an officer… which.

Joker: Whichever you say.

Lockhart: Grunts like reading about dead officers.

Joker: Okay, an officer. How about a general?

By the time the Vietnam combat got intense I already had my DD-214 get out of jail card, and I was watching the action on TV. A big weekly item was the casualty report. Starting in 1967 these started to get ominous. The number rose with the level of action. For weeks every report was over 800 dead. Those were American troops. It peaked at over 1000. This was beginning to look like Operation Overlord.

Then there was the enemy body count, and there was a lot of talk about the numbers being fudged. It’s not as though these numbers needed to be weighted:

According to the Vietnamese government, there were 1,100,000 North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong military personnel deaths during the Vietnam War (including the missing). Rummel reviewed the many casualty data sets, and this number is in keeping with his mid-level estimate of 1,011,000 North Vietnamese combatant deaths. The official US Department of Defense figure was 950,765 communist forces killed in Vietnam from 1965 to 1974. Defense Department officials believed that these body count figures need to be deflated by 30 percent. In addition, Guenter Lewy assumes that one-third of the reported “enemy” killed may have been civilians, concluding that the actual number of deaths of communist military forces was probably closer to 444,000.

Even considering a North Vietnamese population ranging from 15 million to 23 million between 1960 and 1974, these kinds of losses were not sufficient to blunt the enemy’s will. It was the United States that withdrew from the combat zone without completing its objective of maintaining a South Vietnam independent of the North.

Sometimes made, regarding Daesh, is a comparison with the Vietnam conflict. It dies not work. President Obama drew some heat when he referred to Daesh as the JV (junior varsity) team. At the time I disagreed with the President’s detractors,  and I still do. I will reiterate something I pointed out previously. Daesh is deficient in critical areas needed to play in the big leagues. By these measures they don’t stack up to the North Vietnamese of 50 years ago:

  • No firm control over defined geography
  • No significant industrial base
  • Completely dependent on external clients for financial support
  • Fluid or weak bureaucracy
  • Ill-defined legal structure
  • Weak technological and intellectual resources

This aside, Daesh has gained control of significant geography in Syria and Iraq. The action in Mosul cited above is in response to Daesh taking the city over two years ago. In Syria Daesh remains entrenched amid a conflict among disparate parties.

The prognosis is that Daesh will be defeated militarily in Iraq. The Syrian conclusion is not as easy to project, but none of the possible outcomes includes a region controlled by Daesh.

Will Daesh prevail militarily anywhere in  the world? No.

Will Daesh continue to be a threat in the foreseeable future. 100% for sure.

We can continue to expect fatal attacks with varying degrees of success by Daesh in  the civilized world. While Daesh can be eliminated as an organized movement, as an ideology it has gained the base needed to perpetuate itself at a subterranean level for decades. As a deadly ideology Daesh is shoulders above what the Weather Underground, the Red Brigades, and Shining Path ever amounted to. A better comparison would be the Irish Republican Army, responsible for terrorists attacks, particularly in Ireland and Great Britain for decades.

A key element of Daesh, missing from the above mentioned, is a willingness to die. Modern police methods do not work against the employee who shows up for work one day with a weapon and no backup plan. This is the kind of person who keeps insurance underwriters awake nights.

 

The Ever-Diminishing List of Those Who Cannot Obtain Life Insurance at any Price

One of a continuing series

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President Obama has previously been criticized for calling Daesh a junior varsity (JV) team. My take is, if the shoe fits, wear it. Just ask your local Met Life agent:

(CNN) — At least 75% of ISIS fighters have been killed during the campaign of US-led airstrikes, according to US officials.

The US anti-ISIS envoy said the campaign has winnowed ISIS’ ranks to between 12,000 and 15,000 “battle ready” fighters, a top US official said on Tuesday.
The figures mean the US and its coalition partners have taken out vastly more ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria than currently remain on the battlefield, two years since the bombing campaign began. Last week a US official said the coalition had killed 50,000 militants since 2014.

Ow! That has got to  hurt. This gives a whole new meaning to , “See Syria and die.” I’m wondering what effect it’s having on recruitment world wide. One can surmise.

There seem to be three kinds of Daesh recruits:

  • Those who join Daesh (ISIS), go to Syria, and die.
  • Those who go to Syria, join Daesh, come back to the U.S., Belgium, Paris, etc., and die.
  • Those who stay in the U.S. Belgium, Paris, etc., join Daesh, and die.

Longevity is not in the lexicon. Neither, apparently, is life insurance.