Monday, June 24, 2019

The Latter Days of a Better Nation, Part VI

A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.
-- Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States, “Fear God and Take Your Own Part,” 1916

A century ago, America had an articulate and educated president who understood the strategic necessity of sea power.

But then, that president was a graduate of the great educational institutions of America where he had studied in detail naval strategy and who as a student wrote a paper titled “The Naval War of 1812” that remains a full 100 years later an oft cited standard study of that war. Before he was president, Theodore Roosevelt was Assistant Secretary of the Navy and his orders to the commander of the US Navy’s Asiatic Squadron, Admiral George Dewey, are credited by Dewey himself with victory at the Battle of Manila Bay. When a peaceful solution to conflict with Spain could not be found, Roosevelt gave up his office to become a cavalry officer of the US Volunteers and leader of the famous Rough Riders where he would win the Medal of Honor for his astounding heroism in battle.

Despite his many faults, and despite valid criticism of his actions and policies, Theodore Roosevelt remains one of America’s truly great leaders, a genuine cowboy, a war hero, a peacemaker, a diplomat, a scholar, a conservationist, a naturalist, a military strategist, a consummate politician, a humanitarian, and a president who truly understood the machinations of politics and the workings of power on a global scale.

More, Roosevelt, despite being born to privilege was always and ever aware of his responsibility as a leader to both the nation and to history.

Today … well, yes, today.

Today, America is being lectured on naval strategy by a guy who doesn’t know the difference between "straights" and "strait."

But then it gets better.

"China gets 91% of its Oil from the Straight [sic], Japan 62%, & many other countries likewise. So why are we protecting the shipping lanes for other countries (many years) for zero compensation. All of these countries should be protecting their own ships on what has always been a dangerous journey. We don’t even need to be there in that the U.S. has just become (by far) the largest producer of Energy anywhere in the world! The U.S. request for Iran is very simple - No Nuclear Weapons and No Further Sponsoring of Terror!"

If you need an example of a non sequitur logical fallacy, this is a pretty good one.

As usual, Trump begins as he always does: power is for profit.

Trump never reminds you that power comes with responsibility, because he doesn’t believe that. No, for Trump power is about one thing: money.

Specifically, Trump implies US sea power is something we do for profit and then, somehow, he ends up at Iranian nuclear ambitions via US domestic energy production.

As I said, a non sequitur logical fallacy in that one most assuredly does not follow the other.

But then, that is the hallmark of this administration.

Everyday with Trump is like that Calvin & Hobbes cartoon where Calvin is completely unprepared for Mrs. Wormwood's question and just starts shouting random answers: The Gettysburg Address! War of 1812! Lewis and Clark! Spaghetti!

Let us begin here then:  US strategic power isn't a business.

We do not profit from our military.

Other nations do not pay us for protection, nor should they.

We don't project sea power for the purpose of making a profit, but rather to secure the sea lanes for our own use and that of our allies.

The Strait of Hormuz is a strategic chokepoint, one of the most critical waterways in the world. Not just because it is the primary passage for Gulf state oil, or because it allows the US military access to our allies (and our enemies) and US commercial interests access to their markets, suppliers, and customers, but because what happens there to both our enemies and our allies affects the entire world.

This is the very purpose of sea power; something previous presidents have understood in detail.

The fact that other nations benefit from our military power is incidental.

Also, it should be noted since Trump himself specifically used the example: Japan does not have a navy.

Japan has a Maritime Self-Defense Force to protect their sovereignty and their interests in their own waters.

But the nation does not have a blue-water navy to protect their commerce on the high seas.

This is by design.

Our design.

Japan does not have a navy because the United States and her allies defeated Imperial Japan at the end of WWII and the agreements which ended that conflict and Japan's formal acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration dissolved Japan's military forces. When a new Japanese government was formed following the war, it specifically declared: "The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes" and they put that in their new constitution verbatim as Article 9 in 1947. And what an example, and an admonishment, to the rest of us.

For the last 70 years, the US has provided protection, at least in part, for Japanese shipping on the high seas – as America does for all of its allies. Not for profit or for prestige or for conquest, but because it is in our best interest to ensure freedom of the seas for all nations, friend and foe alike.

Because when freedom of the sea lanes is not enforced for all, war follows. Always.

This is what Roosevelt meant when he said, A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.

As to China, do you believe it is in our best interests that the Chinese navy became the peacekeeping force in the Arabian Gulf? Or the Russian navy? Or the Indians? Really?

For some reason, I am suddenly reminded of the decline of the British Empire and how it ceded control of the seas to younger, more vital nations in the interests of saving itself a few pounds.

But I digress.

Trump’s assertion that "we don't need to be there in that the U.S. has just become (by far) the largest producer of Energy [sic] anywhere in the world!" demonstrates a profound ignorance of history, the purpose of US strategic power projection, and global energy production.

War in the Gulf is bad for the entire world, both now and into the future.

It is in our best interests to prevent that conflict and to keep that waterway open and free to passage of all vessels whether we get a single drop of oil from the Arabian Gulf or not.

Moreover, and beyond the geopolitics of the Strait of Hormuz, all energy is not the same.

All energy production is not equal.

And production of energy is not the same as the process of acquisition, refining, and distribution of the materials necessary for the production of that energy.

Nuclear energy, for example, requires materials and technologies far beyond the simple mining of uranium. And it is the same with oil or gas, wind or solar – or oxen pushing a cane-mill around and ‘round for that matter.

Trump's declaration that the US is the largest producer of energy in this context implies not only that all energy production is the same, but all forms of energy are interchangeable at all levels of our civilization and are produced at the same rate, for the same cost, and at same level of technology and purpose.

This is patently ridiculous in all regards.

Trump’s comment is a gross oversimplification of an incredibly complex subject.

For example, not all crude oil is the same.

Did you know that? Trump doesn’t seem to. The majority of our congressmen and Senators don’t seem to know this.

Not all oil is created equal. The oil from Saudi Arabi and the oil squeezed out of Canadian Tar Sands is not even vaguely similar.

Oil is graded by three factors, viscosity, volatility, and toxicity.

More viscous oil is thicker. What does that mean, thicker? Well, what it means in practical terms is that it takes more energy to move that oil, to pump it out of the ground, to transport it, to refine it.

And more energy means more cost.

Which means the final products made from that oil are more expensive.

More volatile oil contains the most desired light compounds, the kind of stuff you make gasoline from for example. But those compounds evaporate quickly, that’s what volatile means. It’s also much more flammable. And so this more volatile oil requires more advanced processing, safety, and transportation technologies to prevent it from evaporating, or exploding, during extraction from the ground, during pumping and transport, during refining. Meaning you can’t use just any tanker or any pipeline or run it through just any refinery.

Toxicity refers to how poisonous the oil is. What percentage of the oil is made up of toxic sulfur compounds for example. Oil heavy with sulfur compounds is very difficult to process, it's extremely expensive to refine it into lighter products -- such as gasoline or jet fuels. And that production produces huge amounts of toxic compounds that have to be disposed of. The majority of oil in the world is highly toxic, including much of the oil produced in North America.

With advances in recovery technology, yes, the US now pumps a huge amount of oil, or gets it from Canadian tar sands. But much of that oil is heavy, thick, toxic low volatility crude that can't be used for our most common energy requirement, i.e. transportation. Because that oil is thick toxic goo, i.e. heavy sour crude, we export it, mostly to Asia where it's used for bunker oils, heavy fuel oil, lubricants, industrial processes, plastics, and etc.

And we still have to import light sweet crude (low viscosity, volatile, low sulfur) oil to refine into gasoline, diesel, kerosene, heating oil, jet fuel, and so on.

So does the rest of the world.

But then there's the dismount.

“The U.S. request for Iran is very simple - No Nuclear Weapons and No Further Sponsoring of Terror!”

That’s what Trump said. That’s where he ended up. There.

And yet, literally, the sentence immediately prior to that is, “We don’t even need to be there in that the U.S. has just become (by far) the largest producer of Energy anywhere in the world!”

No nuclear weapons?

No sponsoring of terror?


Iran is far away. If the US did not maintain a presence in that region, then Iran would have no beef with us. Right? So why would they sponsor terrorism or wage nuclear war against us? Why then would we care what they do? 


What’s that?

Israel, you say? What if Iran attacks Israel?


So what?

According to Trump’s own statement, that’s not our problem.

I mean, we don’t make any profit from defending Israel, do we? We don’t get any energy from Israel. So who cares, right? Why is it our problem? Why don’t they just defend themselves?

You again? What now?

Oh, I see. That’s different.

Except, of course, it’s not. And I am being sarcastic and not actually suggesting we abandon our allies and the nations of that region simply because we might not directly profit from them.

We do need to be there.

Not just because of Israel. Or Saudi Arabia. Or Kuwait. Or our other allies such as the U.A.E and Bahrain. 

We do need to be there.

Not because we do or do not profit from the region but because securing the sea lanes for our own use and for that of both friend and foe alike is in our best interest.

We need to be there in the Middle East, because what happens there affects us all.

We need to be there because, like it or not, the United States cannot stand alone and because being an ally cuts both ways.

We need to be there because if we are not there to secure the sea lanes – and thus access to the Gulf – then someone else will be and that nation will control the global economy.

We need to be there because America is part of that global economy and what affects our allies – and our enemies – impacts us both directly and indirectly. Because our trade and production is global. Because if Japan and China and other nations that are a critical part of our economy are cut off from light sweet crude oil produced in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, it will have a direct and immediate and unpleasant impact on our nation. 

Beyond that, money from oil is what powers the banks of the U.A.E and other Middle Eastern financial centers. Those banks in turn fund a huge amount of the global economy. If Saudi and Kuwaiti oil money stop flowing through those banks – because war closes the Strait of Hormuz for example – then very, very likely the global economy will collapse and fall into chaos the likes of which will make 2007 look like a bad day at the track. All the fracking wells punched into your water table, all the tar sands crude oil, and all the natural gas in the world, will do you not a goddamned bit of good when the critical parts you need to run your economy come from nations cut off from their energy sources and the global economy has imploded into massive recession. And, unless you own a Tesla, you can't run your car on it either, or transport goods over your highways or down your rail lines.

Trump's childish boast of America's energy production in this context is not only a non sequitur, it demonstrates a staggering lack of understanding of global economics.

Trump ranks every relationship by how it might profit him, the manifestation of a life of selfishness.

Donald Trump sees everything in terms of money. For him power is merely a means to profit, and profit means more power. But the world is far, far more complicated than that and Trump can’t even manage to string together two pitiful tweets and maintain a coherent train of thought between them.

Our president, like far too many American leaders, is an ignorant fool. He is the product of privilege without responsibility, of power without education or temper, of might without compassion or empathy.

A century ago, we had a president of vast intellectual curiosity, a scholar and a diplomat and a warrior, a man who won both the Nobel Peace Prize and the Medal of Honor, and a leader who understood in his very bones the complexity of global politics and the absolute responsibility of power and privilege. Statesman. Scholar. Soldier. Intellectual. Humanitarian of compassion, sympathy, and respect for his follows. In this regard, Roosevelt was not at all dissimilar to the men who founded the United States itself.

Over the last century, as the traits we demand of our leaders have diminished, so has our nation.

Force is never more operative than when it is known to exist but is not brandished.
-- Alfred Thayer Mahan, US naval strategist, “Armaments and Arbitration, Or, The Place of Force in the International Relations of States,” 1912

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Remember The Maine

"In spite of all its horror, we must regard the sinking of the Lusitania as an event most important and favourable to the Allies. The poor babies who perished in the ocean attack struck a blow at German power more deadly than could have been achieved by the sacrifice of 100,000 men."
-- Winston Churchill, commenting on the “unprovoked” attack on the luxury liner RMS Lusitania, torpedoed by German U-boat U-20 on May 7, 1915. 1,200 people died in the icy waters off the coast of Ireland. The attack caused international outcry and was one of the factors that led to US involvement in WWI and was used to stoke anti-German sentiment in the United Kingdom.

It was later revealed Lusitania regularly engaged in the transport of thousands of tons munitions and war materiel using civilian passenger service as camouflage, a fact that had been deliberately kept from the British public and Lusitania’s passengers.

Trump on Twitter quoting US Secretary of State Pompeo, “It is the assessment of the U.S. government that Iran is responsible for today's attacks in the Gulf of Oman...."

The government.

It is the assessment of the US government.

Not the US intelligence community, the US government.

You want to pay attention to the weasel words.

[Edit: Moments ago, Pompeo blamed Iran for the attacks, “citing evidence from US intelligence” instead of just saying “US government. He did not, however, present any of this alleged evidence.]

Two tankers were attacked this morning in the Gulf of Oman near the mouth of the Straits of Hormuz.

Japan's Trade Ministry said the two vessels were carrying "Japan-related” cargo.

Four tankers were attacked last month in the same region.

Two more today and it’s starting to look like a trend.

Naturally prices surged on international markets as investors panicked at this sudden threat to the oil supply.

US officials are – predictably – blaming Iran for the attacks.

The general consensus in the press and world opinion is that Iran must be behind these attacks.

Must be.

There’s no evidence yet, at least none that any nation is willing to make public. No one actually witnessed Iran carrying out these attacks. It’s the assessment of our government, but not of the professionals – at least, not yet.

Still, perhaps conveniently, there really isn’t another obvious candidate.

But, as a retired US Navy Intelligence officer who spent significant time in that part of the world, I've got to say this assumption doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense. Not to me anyway.

Right now, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is in Tehran.

Japan’s leader is meeting with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in an attempt to rekindle nuclear disarmament talks – something the Trump administration is adamantly opposed to. And Trump himself said so on Twitter again this morning.

And suddenly there are these attacks on tankers ...

...carrying Japanese cargo?

That's damned coincidental, if it is indeed a coincidence.

But if it's Iran, as our leaders say it must be, and it's not a coincidence, then what's the message?

Japan isn't threatened by Iran. 

Iran isn’t threatened by Japan.

Japan is currently in Iran attempting to negotiate a future equitable to Iran and Iran blows up cargo destined for Japan?

I repeat, what's the message here? Don’t try to negotiate with Iran? Is that the message? Because that message seems like it would be a lot more likely to come from somebody other than Iran.

Somebody who doesn’t want Japan and Iran talking.

Somebody who doesn’t want Iran talking to anybody.

Unless, you know, it is just a damned odd coincidence.

And maybe it is. How do you know?

How do you know?

Perhaps start with your intelligence assets, the professionals who spend their entire lives looking at this problem, instead of some political hack running the State Department who tells you only what you want to hear.

And the first thing you have to ask as an intelligence analysts is: Who benefits from these attacks?

Start there. Don’t start with the assumption Iran is behind the attacks and then reverse engineer the data and the politics to make it so. That’s how we ended up invading Iraq for 9-11. I know, because I was there.

Who benefits from these attacks?

And that's the question you don't see asked.

You see a lot of blame tossed around this morning. A lot of speculation. But the press doesn’t ask "who benefits?"

This morning, as we edge closer and closer to war, President Trump is furiously tweeting about impeachment and how somebody spied on his campaign and how he’s under no obligation to report when foreign intelligence agents hand him dirt on his opponents and something about the “Prince of Whales,” but you don’t see him asking: “who benefits?”

And you’re not seeing it from any of our other so-called leaders either.

We all just assume Iran benefits. But do they? And can you prove it?

Who benefits from attacking oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman?

Start here: The attackers didn't get the cargo.

And that’s significant.

In fact, at this point, we're not even sure how the ships were attacked. Mine? Missile? Torpedo? Nobody knows, again at least not that they’re saying. But whoever it was and however they did it, they weren’t interested in the cargo. I have some very direct experience in this area, in this gulf, on ships like this, with piracy and oil and you don’t blow holes in a tanker or light it on fire if you’re after the oil.

The attackers didn't get the cargo and made no attempt to do so.

So piracy isn't the motivation.

Or is it?

See, there's more than one form of piracy and this is where I remind you of that surge in oil prices this morning.

What am I saying? Wall Street is behind the attacks? Exxon stock holders? Investors? OPEC? Some sort of James Bondesque plot from the Pierce Brosnan era?

Well … you know, stranger things have happened. Wars have been started for profit more often than we’d like to admit. It is a hell of a lot of money. One hell of a lot of power.

To hell with Spain! Remember the Maine!
-- Rallying cry of Americans who wanted war with Spain following that nation’s attack on USS Maine in Havana harbor, February 15, 1898.

Many years later, following the Spanish American War, it was revealed USS Maine had been destroyed by a coal bunker explosion. An accident.

But I'd rate the probability of that scenario as, well, probably unlikely – but not entirely impossible.

It would be easier to raise oil prices via a variety of safer means, depending on your definition of "safe." Particularly when these attacks are likely to spark a military response.

Very likely, a military response from the US -- despite the fact that these are not our ships, nor our cargo, nor our people, nor our sovereign territory.

And that’s the thing, right there. Isn’t it?

Who wants war between the US and Iran?

Besides us, I mean?

Who wants that war? Who benefits from war between the US and Iran?

Well, a lot of people actually. A lot of nations. A lot of entrenched political and monied power structures.

Now, we're certainly veering dangerously towards conspiracy theory territory here, but the thing is that whoever is behind this, well, they must want war.

They must.

Whoever is behind these attacks, be it a nation or some other agency, they must want war.

Or they are the single most naïve terrorists ever born.

Because war is what you're going to get when you threaten the oil supply.

And the United States is going to be leading the charge. That’s a given, for many reasons beyond just oil.

So, if it is Iran, is that what they’re trying to provoke? War. With America?


Does Iran really want war with the US?

Of course, the kneejerk jingoistic American answer is: YES!

But, do they? Really?

How does Iran benefit from that war?

The odds are that the US will win – depending on how you define the terms. Maybe not quickly, maybe not easily, maybe at great cost – perhaps even fatal cost -- but eventually the US along with the rest of the world will destroy Iran if pushed into war, because the world can’t afford to have the Straits of Hormuz closed for very long. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, the UAE, those nations cannot allow Iran to close the Straits for long. The nations who depend on the oil which flows via tanker through those straits, they can’t allow those straits to be closed at all.

And that’s what will happen when the US goes to war with Iran.

I’ve been there. I’ve been on the bridge of US cruisers, the point ship of a fleet transiting that narrow strait. I’ve looked at the war plans, hell, I helped write them. It doesn’t have to be complete. It doesn’t have to be total. Such a blockade might not keep warships from fighting their way through – unless somebody gets lucky and sinks an American nuclear aircraft carrier in the channel. But you can’t sail oil tankers through a war zone. Not through that channel under fire.

It doesn’t matter if anybody else can get through, if you can’t sail tankers through the Straits of Hormuz, then you’re screwed.

And there isn’t much anybody could do to stop that once war is joined, short of utter destruction of Iran – perhaps even nuclear destruction. 

Iran knows this.

Their leaders are religious fanatics, but they are not stupid. And they understand war and power just fine. So why would they provoke the US into attacking?

What do they stand to gain?

Now, of course, this is where things get difficult, because we are talking about religious fanatics. Maybe they do want the US to attack. Maybe they think their God will give them victory. Or maybe they’re gambling that the attack will be limited.  Maybe they think they they can parley such a strike into sympathy, drive a wedge between the US and its allies, especially if they can play up America’s penchant for unprovoked war ala Iraq.

That would be a hell of a risky plan.

Then again, stranger, riskier, and far more ridiculous plans by fanatics have pushed nations into war.

But you have to ask yourself, why then attack tankers? Why attack these tankers? Why not attack warships? If war is what you want. Iran attacking these tankers just doesn’t make much sense even if they did want war. And the truth of the matter is that no matter who “wins,” war with the US will be very, very bad for Iran. And it’s damned unlikely they would risk any such open conflict, especially since these very same Iranian leaders have repeatedly demonstrated their willingness to sit down at a negotiating table and talk, even sign agreements with the United States and her allies.

Agreements the US walked out on, not Iran.

Of all the nations that might want war between the US and Iran, Iran is the least likely candidate.

And so, we come back ‘round to it.

Back around to the questions we should be asking.

To the questions that the press should be asking.

To the questions our our leaders should be loudly asking right now.

To the questions our intelligence community should be working to answer in detail.

Who benefits?

Who benefits from attacks on these particular targets?

Who has the capability to carry out these attacks. Who has the ability to carry out an attack on oil tankers, underway at sea, in one of the most heavily trafficked sea lanes and thus one of the most heavily surveilled areas in the world, on ships that are specifically on the lookout for such an attack.

Who can carry out that attack and do so in such a manner that the methodology and origin are not immediately apparent?

Who has that capability?

Not only has that capability, but also believes they will directly benefit from a war between Iran and the rest of the world.

Has the capability, is willing to use it, wants a war, and will benefit from the results even if later reveled  -- starting with a massive increase in the price of oil.

Now, you tell me: who is that?

My fellow Americans, as President and Commander in Chief, it is my duty to the American people to report that renewed hostile actions against United States ships on the high seas in the Gulf of Tonkin have today required me to order the military forces of the United States to take action in reply…
-- President Lyndon Johnson, August 4, 1964, addressing the nation following two attacks by North Vietnamese gunboats on the American warship USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Whereas these attackers are part of a deliberate and systematic campaign of aggression that the Communist regime in North Vietnam has been waging against its neighbors and the nations joined with them in the collective defense of their freedom…
-- Tonkin Gulf Resolution, August 7, 1964, the US resolution which, as a result of the North Vietnamese attacks on USS Maddox, led directly to the Vietnam War.

In 2005, records from the Maddox Incident were declassified, revealing that in the first “attack” on USS Maddox, the US warship was in fact the aggressor and fired on North Vietnamese vessels first.

The second “attack” never actually happened at all.