How’s that Africa plan working out for us?

Map of Nigeria, from Nigeria.ru

With the focus on the Middle East, its easy to forget there are other parts of the world. Africa in particular tends to not make our news feeds. It always makes mine though, and yesterday was more bad news:

Nigeria looks to sign military cooperation deal with Russia this month

with this gem:

““We’re sure that with Russian help we’ll manage to crush Boko Haram, given Russia’s experience combating Islamic State in Syria,” Nigerian envoy Steve Ugbah said in an interview with Russia’s RIA news agency.”

Steve Ugbah, Nigerian Envoy

Ugh.

As a nation we suck at African relationships. Nigeria in particular is a key nation, with not only a relatively functioning democracy, but also a large population and large economy. Nigeria will be a leading force in Africa over the next 20 years. And that is about where our relationship ends.

Our State Department is not pushing relationships forward enough, unlike China and Russia, who are more than happy to offer economic and military incentives to advance their influence in the region. On the military side, we should be pushing for a military collective with African Nations that would help build military standards (similar to NATO), allow collective exercises, provide personnel exchanges and open markets to military sales. On the economic side, Africa presents a unique opportunity break China’s grasp on low-cost manufature and invest in a region that is unlikely to build a military super-giant devoted to destroying the United States. While we’re at it, let’s reevaluate how we do sanctions, since we seem happy to put sanctions on African countries for human rights violations while willfully ignoring those of Arab countries.

Africa could be our answer to China if we let it be. Let’s make that choice vice letting China and Russia turn Africa into their next backyard.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Somalia and a coming Africa boom

US Embassy in Somalia in 1992, from Wikipedia

While everyone was busy talking about impeachment, the re-establishment of the US Embassy in Somalia popped into my Facebook feed. It will probably garner no real headlines or much fanfare. It is really important, because it might mark a culmination of investment into Africa, and perhaps a turning point in how we view that continent.

Africa has been left behind by most of the industrialized world. Although it was critical for trading, it just never industrialized like North America, Europe or Asia has. It’s been left in the dark and had its share of crime, dictators and poor rule. This despite its critical location, abundance of resources and a people that have proven they can accomplish a lot when not held back by corruption and crime.

Africa, if done right, is important. China figured this out and is trying to buy up Africa through debt-diplomacy, hoping to secure a future for itself. The US has mainly viewed Africa as a place to practice killing terrorists. That isn’t a long term strategy though.

Since we’re already in Somalia, let’s have a long term plan. Somalia has a ton of advantages. It’s right near the Bab-el-Mandeb Straits, a critical choke point for maritime trade. Somalia reaches to the equator and has a large expanse of ocean, which is preferable for launching satellites. Somalia has some pretty significant untapped oil reserves. It also has good beaches, game reserves and plenty of archaeological ruins that would attract tourism.

The United States should be taking our focus out of Syria, where we will only ever pour more money and get nothing, and into Somalia. Encouraging companies to invest in Somalia and using some of the revenue to rebuild the security a government needs to survive is a start. Building a Somali Navy that is dedicated to stopping piracy would prevent us from wasting US Navy ships on a relatively low-combat mission. Pushing academic institutions to invest in Somali education and archaeology will begin the process of building an educated society that won’t tolerate high levels of crime in the future.

Somalia, given a better start, should be a thriving long-term partner with the United States. Let’s hope we can treat them as such and walk down that path before China beats us to the punch.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Play the long game on Iran

Everything is focused on Iran. Everyone seems worried we’re going to war in Iran. And every time someone says President Trump is a warmonger (unlike President Obama, who was just quiet about killing people overseas), he goes off and does something non-warmongerish, like attacking the firms that ship oil to Iran.

He’s doing this because it really isn’t about Iran. The Iranian economy and government is on the brink of collapse. It’s propping itself up, but there are increasing protests against corrupt regime officials. There are similar protests in Hong Kong against corrupt Chinese regime overreach, and in Russia against election rigging.

War has a funny way of uniting an entire population against another population. Iran is itching for a war, not because it would win, but because it would distract its population from the poor economic situation they live in every day. Going to war with Iran, right now, is that last thing that we should be doing.

Instead, we need to apply pressure to what is propping up the Iranian regime, in this case Russia and China. Clamping down on illegal oil shipments is a start. But let’s take it one step further. The Russian oligarchs and Chinese officials that control most of the wealth in these countries are extremely unpopular. If their roles were emphasized, and sanctions imposed on their foreign investments, it would stoke the sympathy of Chinese and Russian populations.

The other point is looking at emerging countries and tamping down on their future oil requirements. Part of the reason oil continues to exert influence is that every time one country begins to ween off of oil, another emerging economy requires it. If the population of India suddenly started joining the middle class lifestyle, it would place a huge demand on oil that gives Russia and Iran significant influence. If the U.S. began exporting cheap, safe nuclear energy, that would make public transit viable in these countries, and keep oil from coming back in vogue. That’s playing the long game, but its our best bet for a long term win against Iran.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

It was always about burden sharing

It’s easy to pick on President Trump for his treatment of allies, given his willingness to call out countries like Germany for not spending their fair share on defense. It’s also easy to gloss over the fact that Europe has taken for granted a strong US presence that guarantees security. Relying on the US to be the muscle in any fight is one thing, but purposely passing the buck and not defending your own nation is another.

Not anymore. An op-ed in the Norwegian news site DN.no written by Professor Janne Matlary outlined a new policy spelled out by the new Secretary of Defense Mark Esper:

“Secretary Esper’s message to NATO countries were that “if you receive infrastructure that we [USA] are building, it’s just fair that you are paying for it”, and Matlary states that the same policy will be valid for Norway and the building of new shelters at Rygge Airport. Matlary states that European countries (including Norway) have avoided the self-imposed 2 percent goal while at the same time believing that burden sharing is limited by that number, now challenged by Secretary Esper’s new policy. Professor Matlary also referred to Ambassador Braithwaite’s NATO op-ed in VG on August 12, asking if Norway’s security should be more important to American tax payers than for Norwegians. She is puzzled the Ambassador has not received any response, asking if Norwegian media and politicians are taking United States for granted, or if it’s too unpleasant to respond to.”

We need allies in any future fight. That is a given. But allies are worthless if they can’t do the basics of providing for some sort of defense of their own country. It would take the US some time to muster forces to defend or possibly liberate any European country, and the fact that Norway, like many other countries, has taken a constant US presence for granted is sad. Our alliances should not be an excuse to stand quietly by while other countries avoid burden sharing.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Biased media has gone from annoying to dangerous

Hurricane Dorian predictions, from ABC News, https://s.abcnews.com/images/US/FloridaSpaghetti_hpEmbed_16x9_992.jpg

It’s like some people just want to watch the world burn. And by watch, I mean set it on fire themselves and then sit back and smugly gaze at their destruction.

The latest sad example of this is the controversy over Hurricane Dorian’s track. Dorian was a particularly nasty storm. It was big, had strong winds, and was driving into a variety of high and low pressure regions that altered its path, in some cases by hundreds of miles. So when President Trump tweets out that the hurricane is bearing down on Alabama, he’s attempting to ensure that every state is prepared.

He’s not wrong for being concerned. Here’s NOAA’s prediction at 5 pm from 29 August:

“The guidance envelope has nudged southward this cycle, with the ECMWF and HMON along the southern side, and the GFS bracketing the northern side. There has also been an increase in
along-track spread or speed differences with day 5 positions among the dynamical models ranging from near the northwestern Bahamas to the northeastern Gulf of Mexico. This appears to be the result of differences in the models’ depiction of the strength or lack thereof of the western portion of the ridge by day 5.”

NOAA Website, https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/archive/2019/DORIAN.shtml?

Read the rest of historical data here: https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/archive/2019/DORIAN.shtml?

You’ll find lots of times the models “diverge” a lot. Would you want to be caught flat-footed if the storm diverges?

If Trump used old data and put out bad gouge to the state of Alabama, then ask yourself: does it matter? Was it a bad thing to be prepared for the worst? Is it worth tearing him down over? And if he hadn’t done it and the hurricane had turned that way, would he be criticized for not preparing?

The last part that gets me is this sort of non-controversy spreads around the world. News sources in Norway are jumping on this and calling it a fake weather forecast:

“In VG’s editorial, Per Olav Ødegård stated that “good economic times are Donald Trump’s best card in the election campaign. But the economy can also be his Achilles heel”. Ødegård commented that Donald Trump depends on good economic growth in the United States for his re-election campaign. Kenneth Lund and Terje Erikstad shared the same opinion in two pieces in Dagens Næringsliv published on the same day. Erikstad further speculated that “when Donald Trump is willing to fake a weather forecast, will he also fake economic statistics?”

Yup, this model looks fake:

Or the one at the top of the page.

President Trump does plenty of controversial things, but let’s stop pretending that being concerned for the welfare of a state in the path of a hurricane is somehow contentious.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Stop making excuses for your kids diet

Ice Cream for Breakfast? Sure, why not, what could go wrong?

A few years back my family hosted a friend from a few commands back at our house for dinner. She brought her daughter with, and we had a simple dinner: pizza, salad, and brownies for dessert. Yes, not the healthiest thing in the world, but something that would please most people.

Apparently not. The daughter would not eat the pizza or dinner. She didn’t like the “texture” of those foods, and had been diagnosed with “Avoidant Food Intake Disorder.” If you didn’t know that was a thing, don’t feel bad, because I didn’t either.

She would eat the brownies though! And, apparently, according to her mom, whenever she didn’t want to eat something, she would simply eat ice cream instead. After they left, I pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t in some sort of weird dream world.

Today I read this article about a teenager in the UK going blind due to eating only “potato chips, sausage, French Fries and white bread” for almost a decade. Same diagnoses about “food textures.” No surprise in the outcome.

Look, parenting is hard. My first child did not want to eat dinner, and I don’t know how many times I had to send her to bed hungry, with all the screaming, wailing and gnashing of teeth that accompanied it, until she broke and ate dinner like a normal person. It sucked. But, it was important, because now my kids eat a balanced diet and will at least try new foods when we travel. It’s far more enjoyable to take them places and know I have almost unlimited dining options.

Rather than sucking it up and just doing the job, parents seem inclined to find a medical diagnosis to make up for their lack of parenting. Whether its food textures, food neophobia, fear of going down the playground slide, requirement for a service turkey, or some thing I simply can’t imagine right now, it boils down to having an excuse.

Now, that fear of food texture might be totally real. I won’t deny that. But it doesn’t matter. If you want to live in this world, you need to learn how to eat a balanced diet, or expect to suffer and die young. Providing excuses won’t make up for the nutrition your body needs.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Before you go there: NO, President Trump did not pull a Hillary Clinton

I saw the same picture you did when President Trump tweeted about Iran’s failed satellite launch. The picture is pretty nice and detailed. It’s resolution appears to be much higher than commercial imagery, and more than a few people are accusing the President of releasing classified information, and in doing so, demonstrating disregard for our intelligence capabilities. I’m calling it now…it won’t be much longer until someone compares this to Hillary Clinton’s classified emails.

Except that it’s an apples to pawpaws comparison. The picture was likely part of an intelligence product. The black spot in the upper left was probably where the classification marking was located. Most likely this appeared in a product of some kind, and President Trump asked to release it at an unclassified level. Whether that is responsible or not isn’t much of a discussion, because as an original classification authority, President Trump is 100% authorized to declassify any intelligence he wants.

The Intelligence Community exists to serve national interests, and declassifying intelligence at a sooner than expected date is not unprecedented. Showing our enemies that we have knowledge of an event, a military buildup, or something else may advance our interests. In the case of Iran, it was probably intended to stave off Iranian accusations of US meddling. It’s also a high-level trolling event, where President Trump wishes Iran “good luck” in finding out what happened. Does he know something? Did he pay off someone? Or did he get lucky? If it causes a flurry of accusations about Americans inside the Iranian ranks…so much the better.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Intelligence Community, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Norway: stuck in the middle

Norway is stuck in the middle. Russia has been pushing more aggressively past Norway. Recently Russia canceled a polar Norwegian Cruise Line entry into Russian waters, forcing the cruise company to reimburse passengers only two weeks before the cruise. Russia also surged naval forces off the Norwegian coast in its “Ocean Shield” exercise, causing a lot of consternation among the Norwegian populace.

But simply saddling up to the US isn’t in the cards, at least for some. Norwegian media is enthralled with President Trump, and not in a nice way. Norwegian media, namely Dagbladet and Klassekampen, regularly blast the US and President Trump in particular, and call for Norway to keep its distance from the US.

Norway is quickly entering into a forced choice. It’s military understands that NATO, and specifically the US, are critical to keeping it independent of Russia in any future conflict. The US is doubling down not just on NATO funding, but also on support for the Straits of Hormuz patrols. Iran’s foreign minister recently visited Norway, was met with significant protests, and told Norway to not support the patrols.

So now Norway, always content to play the middle, gets to choose between two forces. On one side, a resurging Russia and Iran, who are willing to use their muscle in critical maritime geography, and a US, which is using its forces to support the agreed-upon UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Choices have consequences, and the middle choice will likely become untenable before much longer.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Greenland? Why Not?

There is much ado about President Trump offering to purchase Greenland, and the Danish government politely turning it down. Was it stupid to make the offer in the first place? It’s not the first time the U.S. has offered to buy Greenland, which captured the interest of William Seward in 1867 and President Truman in 1946. Trump’s offer is looked at as rude, but its actually a bit genius.

The biggest under reported piece about Greenland is timing with China. China recently tried to purchase the Grønnedal naval base on the western side of the island. It wasn’t economically viable, but it would give them a foothold in Greenland to work from. China looked at other purchases of various mines in Greenland, including mines near the North Pole and mines for uranium and rare earth metals.

The Danish government’s response has been tepid. The local Greenland government, longing for independence, needs viable economic development in order to be independent of Denmark. Keep in mind that the majority of the 58,000 mostly Inuit people on Greenland don’t really identify as Danish, and have been creeping closer to independence over the past 20 years. Heck, Greenland isn’t even part of the EU anymore. China needs a claim to the Arctic, and has plenty of experience loaning money in debt diplomacy, so it seems like a win for China.

Enter Trump and the “bombastic” claim to purchase Greenland. How can Denmark respond?

  1. Denmark can take the offer. Greenland becomes essentially like an independent Indian nation inside the US.

Sounds crazy? Right now, Greenland operates under it’s own laws, and allows Denmark to manage foreign affairs and security. What about US Indian tribes?

“These tribes possess the right to form their own governments, to enforce laws (both civil and criminal) within their lands, to tax, to establish requirements for membership, to license and regulate activities, to zone, and to exclude persons from tribal territories. Limitations on tribal powers of self-government include the same limitations applicable to states; for example, neither tribes nor states have the power to make war, engage in foreign relations, or coin money (this includes paper currency).” (from Wikipedia)

That doesn’t sound like a bad deal.

  1. Denmark can reject the offer and say that Greenland belongs to them.

By doing so, Denmark will have to say how important Greenland is…which will spark it to show it can protect the area, perhaps invest in it, address Inuit concerns and, most importantly, not allow China a foothold.

Trump’s offer comes on the heels of Secretary of State Pompeo making fun of China’s claim to be a “near-Arctic” nation. “Near-Arctic” means…nothing. It’s a poor attempt for China to get in on the “global superpower” game, and Pompeo rightly laughed them off the stage. Trump crushing China’s hopes in Greenland provide much-needed follow-through on this Arctic-denial strategy.

Trump’s offer is a win-win for the U.S. It starts serious dialog about Greenland and makes the Denmark government, who have to defend Greenland, become more serious about its defense. No surprise, Denmark is increasing its defense budget, although still falling short of the 2% GDP NATO limit. And most importantly, it directly kicks China out of the running for Arctic Nation status.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

A Rusty Problem

The ocean is a nasty, caustic, unfriendly environment. Between the sea spray, wind and waves, not to mention the wildlife, pretty much everything wants to or can kill you. For a maritime vessel though, the largest challenge is managing rust. The science is simple. Ocean vessels sit in salt water, the iron in the vessels loses electrons because of the presence of oxygen, and the iron turns in rust. A moving ocean that readily reabsorbs oxygen makes this a continual process on a ship.

For the US Navy, this means the oceans are literally eating our ships. The USS FORT MCHENRY caused a bit of a stir when she pulled into Germany looking…well, like a rust bucket. Fighting rust, at least right now, is difficult and labor intensive. The Navy spends 7.5 billion dollars a year to fight rust. Thats half an aircraft carrier, and from looking at the FORT MCHENRY’s pictures, it’s probably not enough.

Rust doesn’t discriminate by country either. China’s growing Navy looks beautiful on the outside, but that’s because most of the ships are new. At least a few Chinese officials have admitted that rust is a problem with ships, aircraft and ground systems in the South China Sea. Like the US, fighting rust is a big industry, and the Chinese are pursuing graphene coatings for their systems.

We continue to have debates about the size of the Navy. Whether its 355, 300 or 400 ships, we as a nation are laser-locked on numbers. That focus ignores a big, ugly unfortunate truth: we can’t keep ignoring maintenance. The biggest Navy in the world is worthless if it rusts away at the pier. Brazil, for example, once had battleships and aircraft carriers, but a lack of focus on maintenance resulted in a Navy powerful only on paper.

It’s not sexy to budget for corrosion protection, but its vital if we want to keep the Navy we pay for.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.