Random thoughts, 21 May 2009

2009/05/21

I bumped into an interesting article [1] yesterday on the Random Musings blog, and it turns out that the article complements what I had mentioned yesterday regarding the Iranians using ballistic missiles armed with conventional warheads as terror weapons. Low-Cost Cruise Missiles (LCCMs, as the article calls them) could, indeed, pose a substantial threat, even to us with our sophisticated interception systems. Thankfully, we do have rather sophisticated cruise-missile interception systems available as a direct result of the Cold War (and you thought all that military development was just warmongery), [2] but even so, there are limits even to the most sophisticated technologies. Even advanced technology can be bested by overwhelming numerical superiority; Soviet naval planning during the Cold War exemplifies such a strategy. [3] Indeed, our forces won World War II in no small part because of numerical superiority; by all accounts, German technology exceeded our own in many respects, yet their industrial complex could never match the output of ours, and their war efforts suffered accordingly. The danger with LCCMs is that they could easily be employed in saturation attacks against a coastal city, with very little warning time available; launching from a barge a few miles offshore would give the Navy or Coast Guard precious little time to respond, and the latter does not possess anti-missile technologies, so that even if they did respond to the scene, they would be unable to shoot down the missiles. As mentioned yesterday, even an attack using conventional explosives is no laughing matter; large cruise missiles carry warheads in the thousand pound (or greater) range, [4] and such a warhead falling on any populated place would admirably fulfill the job of inspiring terror in our civilian populations. The fact that an LCCM may not be as accurate as mil-spec weaponry is mostly negligible; after all, the intent of a terror weapon is not to strike a specific target, but to cause terror – and I suspect that most people would consider the unpredictability of an unguided attack to be more terrifying than a precise surgical strike. For a good example of what can happen even with our sophisticated technologies, see the 1987 missile attack on the Oliver Hazard Perry class guided missile frigate, USS Stark. [5] The Stark was hit by two French-made Exocet cruise missiles, without detecting the missiles, and without employing any countermeasures; also keep in mind that the Exocet is a small cruise missile. [6]

Moving on, the President has outlined his rationale for closing the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay. [7] It is interesting to note that his speech is full of esoteric ideals, such as international solidarity, moral principles, and the rule of international law. He is also convinced that the enhanced interrogation techniques used on these detainees did not work; I would still like to see substantive proof of these claims, but it appears that this is not as high a priority as informing the nation of who authorized the use of said techniques; I suppose that we are to infer from these actions that we should simply take the President at his word that his view is a fair and unbiased interpretation of the results contained in the CIA’s records of these interrogations. While I do not think that I would be as unabashed as former VP Cheney in his allegations that these techniques were highly successful, [8] I would still like to see the actual records, and not just one side or the other’s interpretations of the records themselves. It is encouraging that the President has announced steps to begin making a determination as to the precise legal status of these detainees; his categories do appear to be well thought-out, though I am a little concerned about the third category, which describes detainees who have been ordered to be released by the courts. Where, exactly, will these individuals be released? Given that these individuals were detained overseas, I do not like the idea of releasing them here, even if they have done nothing wrong; where else will they be sent, I wonder? In any event, it is encouraging that the President has, at least, appeared to have made some effort at providing a detailed plan.

And speaking of international cooperation, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has announced that he does not support a partitioned Jerusalem; [9] I suppose that this does not necessarily preclude the notion of a so-called two-state solution, [10] such as that which our President supports, though I suspect that the Palestinians will not be as receptive to such a proposal. Of course, when looking at a map, it is not difficult to understand why the Israelis would not be very enthusiastic about such a proposal: if the West Bank were to be defined based on the “Green Line” (see map here; 257Kb png file), the remaining northern and southern Israeli territories would be connected by a strip of land that is roughly 10 miles across. In the event of yet another invasion, it would not be difficult for aggressors to cut off the northern and southern regions from each other, not to mention gaining relatively easy access to the Mediterranean for possible resupply from allied powers. I wonder if our President will be able to convince the Israelis that the rest of the Arab world will really start playing nice with them, now that Change We Can Believe In™ has arrived; I suspect that the Israelis themselves will be a little less optimistic in this regard, particularly in light of their 60-year history of almost constant warfare with their Arab neighbors (in Israel’s defense, many of these wars were initiated by the latter). [11]

On the domestic front, Representative Rob Bishop (R, UT) has introduced a resolution calling for an investigation into House Speaker Pelosi’s claims that the CIA intentionally misled Congress as to the extent of the former’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques with various suspected terrorist detainees. [12] It does strike me as being not much more than a political stunt, particularly because the resolution has almost no chance of passing, as the Democrats hold a commanding majority in the House and many of them have circled wagons around Pelosi. On the other hand, at least he and some of the opposition are trying to take action, even if said action is doomed to failure; Pelosi’s insinuations are potentially serious charges, and I do not like the idea that such aspersions can be cast about without consequence. This is especially troubling given the potential repercussions within our intelligence community that may ensue. [13] Note that the articles referenced in the notes below indicate that one potential outcome is a reduction in U.S. intelligence gathering capacity to pre-9/11/01 levels, and we all know what happened as a result of those intelligence gaps. I suppose that the President and his sycophants will argue that we will be safer when all the world’s nations are willing to hold hands and sing songs around the proverbial campfire, but I am not so confident in such a solution. Ah well, as with all of the President’s other plans, I suppose we will see soon enough if his experiments will be successful; I just wish he were not playing the equivalent of Russian roulette with our national security, tax dollars, civil liberties, etc.

And lest we believe that the threat of free-roaming domestic jihadists is remote, there is the terrorist cell that New York police arrested just last night. [14] Granted, these individuals appear to be of the home-grown jihadist variety, but does anyone doubt that our enemies abroad are not planning such attacks, as well? Does anyone believe that Al-Qaeda is simply sitting around waiting for us to capture or kill them? And what are we doing to prevent them from carrying out such attacks? What plans does the President have to enhance our national security in the absence of our “enhanced” intelligence-gathering activities? As I have previously mentioned, we do not always have the luxury of accommodating both our national security and the moral ideologies of our politicians; if we cannot have both, which is more important to the nation as a whole?

On a totally unrelated note, are you certain that those photos you posted to your social networking site really were deleted when you pushed the “delete” button? Don’t be so sure about it. [15] Note that most of the social networking sites had some issues with purging photos from their servers; I did not know this when I signed up with Facebook, but I also do not post personal photos there, anyways (to be fair, I do not even have any photos of myself; they steal your soul piecemeal, you know). It is also encouraging to note that the image hosting service I use (Flickr, see my photos here – yeah, yeah, I know…shameless self-promotion) does remove photos instantly. Woohoo! Regardless, as the articles point out, never post anything you do not want the rest of the world knowing about – you may never be able to live it down, if photographic evidence ever makes its way to the internets.

Finally, in today’s WTF?!? moment, the boy at the center of the Minnesota case regarding his mother’s refusal to allow him to receive chemotherapy treatments may have been taken to California by his mother, as a prelude to travel to Mexico. [16] What?!? Of course, given the mother’s belief that modern medical treatment amounts to assault and torture (again, WTF?!?), I suspect that she believes Mexico will be a more hospitable environment for her (I have no faith in her assertions that such actions are in the best interests of her child, of course). Ignorance and selfishness are clearly alive and well in our modern age. Yes, that’s right, selfishness. How else shall I quantify such actions that clearly do not indicate a rational assessment of the best interests of this woman’s own child, but rather, are indicative of her need to validate her own ignorance at the expense of her son’s welfare, and indeed, his very life?

Notes:

[1]: The Low-Cost Cruise Missile, essay on Bruce Simpson’s website; updated 29 April 2003.

[2]: SOP for the Soviet Navy called for massive cruise missile strikes to neutralize our Carrier Battle Groups (CBGs) in the opening moments of any full-scale conventional war. Despite their shipbuilding prowess, the Soviet Navy never matched the USN in terms of scale or capability; as such, their means of maintaining strategic parity was to develop systems to attack and immobilize (destroy) our bluewater navy, so as to deny us the ability to operate as we would like to. In particular, this called for saturation attacks using large numbers of cruise missiles to overwhelm our sophisticated air defense systems, the logic being that even if the majority of their cruise missiles were successfully intercepted by the fleet air defense systems, so long as a handful of missiles hit their targets, our battle groups would be effectively crippled, particularly if the carriers at the center of said battlegroups were hit.

[3]: See here for a general description of saturation attacks (Wikipedia article).

[4]: Consider, for example, our primary ship-launched land-attack cruise missile, the BGM-109 Tomahawk, which carries a 1,000 lb warhead, with a range of 2,500 km; the primary Soviet anti-ship cruise missile of the Cold War, the Kh-22 (NATO reporting code, AS-4 “Kitchen”) has a 2,000 lb warhead with a range of 400 km, but a top speed of Mach 4. See here, and here, respectively (Wikipedia articles).

[5]: Article describing the USS Stark and the 1987 cruise missile attack here (Wikipedia article).

[6]: The Exocet has a 360 lb warhead, compared to, for example, the Kh-22, which has a 2,000 lb warhead, or our own anti-ship cruise missile, the Harpoon, which has a 500 lb warhead. See here for a description of the Exocet missile (Wikipedia article).

[7]: CNN article, 21 May 2009.

[8]: VOA News article, from the Voice of America website; 21 May 2009.

[9]: Jerusalem Post article, 21 May 2009.

[10]: Description of the Two-State Solution here (Wikipedia article).

[11]: See, for example, the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the Six-Day War, the War of Attrition, the Yom Kippur War, the on-again, off-again Palestinian Intifada, etc., not to mention the perpetual calls for Israel’s destruction from various Mideast religious and political figures. I suppose the latter is simply rhetoric, though…they don’t really mean it, right?

[12]: Associated Press article, 21 May 2009.

[13]: See here, and here; from the Stratfor Global Intelligence website, 29 April 2009 and the Washington Post, 22 April 2009, respectively. Thanks to Avenging Sword at the Random Musings blog for cataloging these.

[14]: News articles here, and here, from Reuters and CNN, respectively; both from 21 May 2009.

[15]: CNN SciTech Blog post, 21 May 2009, and Light Blue Touchpaper post, from the University of Cambridge, 20 May 2009.

[16]: CNN article, 20 May 2009.

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