• What If Biden Gave a War and Nobody Came?

    July 11, 2022 // 3 Comments »

    What if Joe Biden gave a war and no one came? Such is the case in Ukraine where slogging Russian progress is unmatched by Biden’s and Biden’s alone belief a struggle for global hegemony is at stake, and that he is fighting his war at little cost. Here’s the war at about four months in, as Joe announces a new aid package of $1.2 billion atop his previous $40 billion “lend-lease.”

    Given that core NATO raises a quiet glass every night that it does not have to be militarily involved in the fight for the Donbas and Crimea (the latter invoking 19th century memories of the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade, as the area was last seriously contested between east and west when the British fought the Russians there, the Charge over the disposal of abandoned Turkish cannon) Joe Biden stands nearly alone thinking he is leading the west in some sort of epic struggle. In that the west does not have troops in the field, the western war is being fought with arms supplies and sanctions, both of which are failing and leave Biden exposed, one day to awake to find himself the Emperor of Donbas without any clothes.

    Rumors of the death of the Russian military have been greatly exaggerated, literally: Ukraine has claimed kill rates for men and machines in weeks what are produced over months and years (two decades in the case of U.S.-Afghanistan) elsewhere. Despite the sexy time women snipers and Ghost of the Ukraine, it has been massive arms shipments primarily from the U.S. which have limited Russian gains largely to the eastern part of the country.

    The biggest problem with trying to win simply via outspending the other guy is artillery and anti-tank missiles do not hold ground, infantry does. A brave Ukrainian taking on a T-72 may stop the tank (until another comes along) but he cannot retake a village or hold ground against a combined arms offensive. In short the flow of U.S. defensive-style weapons has done its job, doing exactly what it was intended to, blunt an offensive. The problem is there seems little plan for after that and so in areas like Donbas where Russia enjoys local support, or areas like around Mariupol where is it willing to employ a scorched earth policy, the Ukrainians are predictably losing and will continue to do so.

    There are other problems with trying to win simply with arms sales. One is finding a way to train Ukrainians not familiar with modern weaponry in a way that is fast and effective enough to make a difference on the battlefield while not escalating the fighting overall. The usual method, either bringing foreign personnel to the U.S. or using American Special Forces trainers on the ground, both would dramatically escalate the war and give Russia the excuse to begin killing Americans. The American “volunteers” on the ground now are only going to fool some people for some time before it is obvious the U.S. has had to become deeply involved in the actual fight.

    A secondary problem with dropping so many arms higgledy-piggledy into a fluid situation like Ukraine is blowback, always a great fear during the CIA-Russian war in Afghanistan. What would terrorists in the Middle East pay for a shoulder fired anti-anticraft missile? How many sophisticated anti-tank weapons (the pop-up capability that allows the missiles to strike down on a tank’s weaker top armor is highly classified) are the Chinese interested in? “While the response to provide more weapons to Ukraine is understandable, it would be prudent to consider the immediate and long-term security implications,” said one think tank. “We’ve seen time and time again how arms aimed at aiding an ally in one conflict have found their way to the frontlines of unforeseen battlefields, often in the hands of groups at odds with U.S. interests or those of civilians.” Ukraine has a very poor record in this regards; in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union the country lost track of $32 billion in weapons and sold China its first aircraft carrier.

    Supply is also an issue. America has currently sent about one third of its entire Javelin anti-tank missile inventory to Ukraine along with 50 million rounds of conventional ammunition, extraordinary quantities which strain production capability. Lastly, there remains concern over Russian reaction should American-made artillery rounds begin falling inside the Russian border. The recently shipped 155mm howitzers are seen by many as the first truly offensive weapon the U.S. introduced into the conflict. For Joe Biden what seems like a risk-free no brainer — send more weapons — actually carries with it considerable risk no one seems to be thinking about.

    But it was sanctions which were to have won the battle, forcing Russia to withdraw at the risk of her economy collapsing, perhaps along with Putin’s own regime. The problem is that not only has that not happened, U.S. sanctions have actually aided Russia. Though Russia’s energy exports fell by volume in reaction to American sanctions, surging prices driven by supply shortages have more than canceled out the effects. Russia’s export prices have been on average around 60 percent higher than last year. Simple supply and demand.

    Demand remains the thing thwarting Biden’s charge into the guns. France and Germany in particular have evolved the ability to talk tough and do little of substance, making quite an event out of the end of Russian energy exports via ship while quietly lapping at the pipelines like drunkards. And what demand does not fix supply steps in for. The EU reduced natural gas imports from Russia 23 percent in the first  days of the invasion. Meanwhile Russia’s Gazprom has seen its income levels double year-over-year, thanks to higher prices. The EU also reduced its direct imports of Russian crude oil by 18 percent but thanks to Russian re-exporters  India and the United Arab Emirates, that has lead to no net change in Russia’s overall oil export volumes. China, too, has helped make up for the EU shortfall, albeit more for domestic use and not re-export into the global market, as the largest single buyer of Russian energy. Japan holds that title for unsanctioned Russia coal exports. Even the U.S. itself helps out, buying unsanctioned highly refined oil products from the Netherlands and India that most certainly were made at least in part from Russia crude.

    Russia has shown it can also play offense, cutting natural gas flow to western Europe by 60 percent blaming technical difficulties. Germany correctly understood the latest curtailment in its gas supply as a political move. “Russia’s reason for reducing gas supplies is just a pretext,” the German Vice-Chancellor said. “Their strategy is obviously to drive up prices.” Poor Joe can’t catch a break it seems. May be it is time to seize another megayacht to show Putin who is boss?

    So where are Biden’s allies? The EU and Japan talk a great game but are hamstrung by their own energy needs. Next month Joe Biden travels to Saudi Arabia to bargain away any remaining American self-respect for oil. The UN, such as it is, saw 35 key abstentions, including much of Africa, on a symbolic get-out-of-Ukraine resolution.  The head of the African Union explicitly called for the lifting of sanctions on Russia. India re-exports Russian oil. Brazil and Mexico refuse to condemn Russia. China won’t step in. Biden stands nearly alone claiming the liberal world order is at risk. Or could it be those other nations have seen so little benefit from that order they are not sorry if they see it pass?

    Bottom line: Russian energy exports, which make up some 45 percent of the country’s budget, are stronger than ever. Russia has more money than ever to finance its war in Ukraine, and Putin is as secure in his post as ever before. The irony is with gas hitting $5.00 a gallon across the U.S., the sanctions driving that may indeed bring about regime change, albeit in Biden’s next Congress.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Biden, Democracy

    Today’s Afghan Reconstruction Folly: $43 Million Compressed Natural Gas Station

    June 10, 2015 // 4 Comments »

    afghan

    Ho ho, ho, this one has all the hallmarks of the amazing waste and stupidity I enjoyed while participating in the reconstruction of Iraq, documented in my book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.

    The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released with a straight face its inquiry into U.S. government’s “Downstream Gas Utilization Project” in Afghanistan, the sum total accomplishment of which was the erection of a single compressed natural gas (CNG) station at a cost of nearly $43 million to the taxpayers.


    Here’s why this was such a hallmark waste:

    — The limited ability to transport CNG to the location of the single station in the Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif limits the practicality of expanding the CNG industry in that city. There is only one natural gas pipeline providing gas to Mazar-e-Sharif and it is only safe to operate at minimal pressure.

    Hallmark: The people who conceived the project to build the compressed gas station never thought for a second where the gas would come from. They just built the station for the hell of it.


    — Construction on a planned new gas pipeline has not started and about $6.5 million worth of new pipe is apparently sitting in storage in Afghanistan.

    Hallmark: The people who built the station, the people who ordered the pipe and the people who organize construction did not speak to one another. They may have worked for different contractors. They may not have even known the others existed. They may have done their work in different years. By the time anyone figures all that out, the pipe in storage will have been pilfered, and likely melted down by the Taliban to make mortar shells.

    — The gas project may never be completed unless the state-owned Afghan Gas Enterprise pays up to $16 million for its completion.

    Hallmark: Leaving some part of a reconstruction project for the host government to pay for was a plan designed to promote “buy in.” In reality, the host government is far too busy sucking up American money via every possible channel of corruption available, and could care less about buy-in on whatever dumb ass thing the Americans are building now.

    — The process for converting automobiles in Afghanistan to CNG appears to be cost prohibitive for all but the wealthiest of Afghans.

    Hallmark: And here’s the money shot — even if all of the above factors could somehow be fixed by magic, the project would still be a complete waste. Nobody in Afghanistan wanted what the U.S. was building to begin with. If we built this compressed natural gas station for anyone, it is at best as a financial mastubatory device for ourselves.

    Bookmark this page so in a few years when Afghanistan devolves into the mess Iraq is today, you’ll know why!




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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Biden, Democracy

    Oil and “Iraq’s Transition to Something”

    May 31, 2011 // Comments Off on Oil and “Iraq’s Transition to Something”



    Ben Lando, chief of the Iraqi Oil Report, fails here in making any intelligent point. He reiterates that Iraqi has a lot of oil underneath it (indeed, that oil has been there for several thousand years or more) and that progress in extracting it has been slow. He seems unsure why, though the host offers multiple suggestions such as infrastructure problems and security.

    The only useful line here is “we’ll need to keep an eye on progress as Iraq transitions to, um, something, we don’t know what.”

    To be fair, Ben wrote to me to clarify things:

    I think the bigger picture, which isn’t quite captured on a quickie interview, is that the potential is there and even the people to realize that potential is there – Iraqis inside and outside Iraq, and the ex-pats they trust – but they have a lot stacked against them, including their leadership and that of other countries.

    And this is what I think Iraq is at right now, a chaotic transition, an elongated fork in the road, and their choice/choices foisted upon them, has not been finalized.


    Even richer in irony, Iraq just inked a deal with Iran to buy natural gas for Baghdad’s power plants. Iran will build a gas pipeline that will pass ironically through Iraq’s own rich but undeveloped Mansuriyah gas field near the Iranian border in volatile Diyala province. The gas would supply a power plant in Sadr City in northern Baghdad, and another plant in the northern outskirts of Baghdad. The pipeline will be completed in 18 months.

    It hard to imagine that the US will enforce its own sanctions against trading with Iran against ‘lil bro’ Iraq, though that would be hilarious.

    More specifics are available in Twelve Reasons Iraq will not be a Major Oil Exporter.



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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Biden, Democracy