Analysis 09-08-2020

ANALYSIS

US Pentagon:   China has Outpaced US in some Defense Areas.
Truth or Hype?

 

Just as Congress is considering a $700 billion Defense authorization bill, a DoD report has come out that claims the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has already surpassed the US in missile development, in number of warships, and air defense systems.  China’s goal, the report says, is to develop a military by 2049 that is one of a great world power.

It seems Pentagon leaders are bent on trying to convince the congress to continue providing  enormous defense budget, and the US military industrial complex is the main beneficiary.

To that end, the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) has “marshaled the resources, technology, and political will over the past two decades to strengthen and modernize the PLA in nearly every respect.”

The result is that “China is already ahead of the United States in certain areas” essential to its goal of global power projection.

The report to Congress is one that is made, by Congressional request, every year since 2000.  The first one said that China’s military was geared for a large land war along its borders.  Its ground, air, and naval forces were obsolete.

The report now says China is ahead of the US in shipbuilding, land based ballistic and cruise missiles, and air defense systems.  The report also said that China had restructured the PLA “into a force better suited for joint operations, improving the PLA’s overall combat readiness, encouraging the PLA to embrace new operational concepts, and expanding the PRC’s overseas military footprint.”

These were the “scare” headlines that were published.  However, when one digs into the report, it is obvious that China and the PLA have a long way to go to reach a global power status.

The telling statement that few reported said, “Despite the PLA’s progress over the past 20 years, major gaps and shortcomings remain.  The PRC’s (People’s Republic of China) leaders are aware of the problems and their strategy envisions the PLA undergoing almost 30 more years of modernization and reform.”

Since weapons systems rarely have a life of over 30 years, that means all the naval ships, air force aircraft, and armored vehicles being considered in this report will not even be active (or will be considered obsolete) when the Chinese goal of being a world power in 2049 occurs.

In other words, despite the reports, China is not even close to being a global military power at this time. In fact, much of China’s leadership may be engaged in wishful thinking.

One way to look at this report is to compare it to the annual reports made by the US Department of Defense from 1981 to the end of the Cold War on Soviet Military Power.  These reports were filled with tables comparing numbers and quality of Soviet equipment.  Although there was a tendency to exaggerate Soviet weapons systems capabilities (their aircraft carriers are an excellent example) they clearly showed a quantitative and qualitative threat.

This report on Chinese capabilities had few tables and none compared Chinese weapons and capabilities to American weapons and capabilities.  Rather, there was more of a focus on vague wording.

An example was the statement frequently made that, “The PRC has the largest navy in the world, with an overall battle force of approximately 350 ships and submarines including over 130 major surface combatants.  In comparison, the US Navy’s battle force is approximately 293 ships as of early 2020.”

Those figures are misleading.  The US Navy has fewer ships, but they have much more capability.  Many Chinese naval ships are light warships designed for littoral operations.

The US Navy has more displaced tonnage in its battle fleet than the next 13 navies (including China’s) combined, 11 nuclear aircraft carriers (only one other navy, France has one), and 3,700 operational naval aircraft (that doesn’t include the massive number of aircraft that the US Air Force has).  The number of US navy aircraft exceeds the total number of Chinese fighter bombers and attack aircraft by about 1,000.

In order to merely gain equality in nuclear powered aircraft carriers by 2049, the Chinese would have to design an operational, large deck, nuclear aircraft carrier that can carry a multitude of aircraft types, and then build a new carrier at a rate of more than one every three years.  The Chinese are still trying to build a small conventional powered aircraft carrier.

That does not even include the effort and cost of building the aircraft and training the crews and naval personnel.

The same is true in the other fields where China has a lead over the US. True, it has a lead in nuclear capable land based ballistic and cruise missiles, however, that is only because the US had a treaty with the USSR/Russia that eliminated these missiles.  Since the treaty has been nullified, the US is already working on fielding new systems in the coming years – systems that are as advanced as current Chinese systems.

China’s lead in air defense is also illusionary.  It depends on Russian S-400 and S-300 radar and missile systems that the Israeli’s regularly defeat when they carry out raids in Syria.

The Chinese military also faces problems in several other areas.

One of the glaring differences between the Soviet and Chinese military is the political nature of the military.  While the Soviet military had political officers, it was considerably more pragmatic than the Chinese military – as evidenced by the dozens of pages dedicated to political leadership and theory in the DoD produced Chinese report that came out this week.

According to the report, “the PLA is the principal armed wing of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) and, as a party-army, does not directly serve the state.”

This means that PLA doctrine is more closely tied to Chinese Communist doctrine and does not have the pragmatic aspect that most militaries have.  While a Soviet general, a Russian general, and even an American general follow the same principles of military doctrine, the Chinese PLA leadership does not.  They are a critical part of Chinese foreign policy and their goals are directed towards advancement of Chinese Communist goals rather than military reality.

This is one reason why the Chinese leadership has set a goal of world class military by 2049 (the centennial of Communist China).  The question is not one of what it takes to acquire a world class military status as much as it is a political desire by the Chinese leadership to achieve it by 2049.

Traditionally, when political goals take precedence over military realities, shortcuts take place.  This is seen in the development of the Chinese FFL – a light frigate that gives the Chinese navy larger numbers of warships, but little in survivability or combat effectiveness in wartime.

The Chinese military leadership is also burdened with the problems of an overbearing party leadership.  Recently PLA media outlets have complained that commanders cannot understand higher authorities intentions, how to make operational decisions, how to deploy forces, and how to manage unexpected situations – all problems when the military leadership is forced to consider political issues first.

The PLA is also failing to meet its own goals on modernization.  It’s 2019 Defense White Paper noted that the PLA had “yet to complete the task of mechanization.”  Other references indicate that the PLA is at least a couple of years behind schedule.

If China wants a world class military, it must be able to project power across the world.  But most of its capability is focused on several territorial conflicts like those with India, Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

The report admits that China would be hard pressed to launch an invasion against Taiwan.  The current strategy to defeat Taiwan is to use a missile barrage to force the nation to surrender (that type of strategy did not work against Britain or Germany in WWII).

China can carry out limited amphibious landings against some small islands but would be unable to launch an invasion capable of conquering Taiwan.  Nor would it be able to logistically sustain its forces once they land.

The only hope to defeat Taiwan would be to find a way to keep the US out of the conflict.

If China is unable to project its power across the narrow strait that separates China and Taiwan, it is less likely to project its power further.  Its coast is closed by a chain of islands controlled by Japan, the US, Taiwan, and the Philippines.  Sustaining military operations while these islands cut off its rear would be difficult.  Although China may want a deep-water navy, geography practically limits it to littoral operations just as Germany’s large WWI fleet was limited to littoral operations because it could not break out of the British blockade in the North Sea.

A worldwide reach also depends on overseas military bases.  Currently they only have one in Djibouti.  Other agreements may be forthcoming in the future, but Chinese behavior in terms of conditional loans may cause potential allies to reconsider any long term Chinese military base on their territory.

In the end, although many have called this report a warning about the threat China poses, it also contains information about the nation’s limitations.

Although China has advanced considerably in technology and has developed an economic and manufacturing infrastructure, the Chinese military is hampered by the tight control of the Chinese Communist Party leadership.  Generals that are afraid to lead because of political leaders back in Beijing, are likely to face difficulties in any conflict due to an overabundance of caution.

Although China is modernizing, they seem to fail to realize that the modern weapons systems of 2020 will be old and obsolete by 2049.

While China’s leadership wants to present an image of a powerful dragon spouting fire, the reality is that allocating huge funds for defense spending and improvements during the next 30 years might be a difficult task in an uncertain economic environment.

It seems Pentagon leaders are bent on trying to convince the congress to continue providing an enormous defense budget, and the US military industrial complex is the main beneficiary.

Analysis 09-03-2020

ANALYSIS

Concerns Abound About a Vague Presidential
Election Results in November

 

The question of who takes over a position of power has always been a major cause of civil war.  In England, it was the War of the Roses, which saw several nobles lay claim to the English Crown.  That is why the current line of succession to the British Crown names over 200 people and their place in the line.

The US does not have monarchy or such a clear line as both Republicans and Democrats vie for power.  Both sides have intimated that they may not recognize the election results if there is a question of its validity.  Last week we mentioned that Democrats had “gamed” a scenario where Biden would not concede the election and try to manipulate results in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, where the governors are Democrats, although the state’s voters may prefer Trump.. Trump himself declared:”

‘The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged”.

Meanwhile, the Democrats accused Trump of trying to manipulate the outcome by limiting the use of mail-in ballots.

It would help if there were clear rules outlining all the possibilities that may occur in November.  However, there is only the 20th Amendment of the US Constitution and various laws from the states and federal government concerning elections.

The problem is that the 20th Amendment had been rushed onto the books in the early 1930s.  Previously, the Constitution had the election in November and the inauguration in March – an ideal system when the US was a vast wilderness without good roads or trains.  The 20th Amendment had changed the inauguration to January 20th and had set forth rules for picking the president if there were any problems in the election.  But they had not considered every possibility, especially if the contestants were more concerned with acquiring power, not following the rules of fair play.

As it stands, the 2020 US Presidential Election stands on the edge of disaster.  One of the key problems is mail-in ballots, which are ripe for fraud and can take weeks to open and count. But instead of working in advance to fix any potential problem with mail-in Trump is making it difficult to put procedures in place to prevent such occurrence, despite having himself voted by mail-in in the past, and despite the practice of using absent ballots or voting that way by many states.

The US Constitution and law are firm on presidential elections.  The election must take place across the nation on November 3rd.  That date cannot be postponed nor can mail-in ballots postmarked on November 4th or later be considered.  Ballots without valid postmarks are also illegal.

The states have one week to declare a winner.  One week after the election, the states must appoint the electors for the president and vice president.  The electors must then meet and vote in their states on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December.  Failure to follow this federal law could lead to disqualified electoral votes by that state.

Of course, Congress has a say if there is a question of who is to be president.  They meet on January 3rd (each state getting one vote if there is a question of who should be president).  However, if there is an uncertain election result for president, then there is a good chance that there will also be unfilled seats in the House of Representatives.  That then leaves it up to the US Senate, which has 2/3 of its members not up for election in November.  They can then pick a Vice President.  When the House manages to acquire a quorum, they can then pick an acting president.

The problem is not the rules.  The problem is that there are numerous holes in the law and both sides have powerful incentives to work the rules and law to their own benefit.

Here are some possibilities:

The State without qualified electors.  Let us say that it is a close election with Biden winning the popular vote nationally but losing the electoral vote by a small margin – a margin so small that the votes of a single state could change the outcome.  If Wisconsin, goes for Trump (who is leading there in the latest poll), would the Democratic governor slow up the counting of mail-in votes to make it impossible to name electors one week after the election?

In a case like that, the law says that without named electors, the state does not get a vote in the Electoral College.  Undoubtedly the case would go to the courts and finally the Supreme Court – whose ruling would upset the losing side.

And, what if the sickly Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Ruth Ginsberg dies before a decision?  A 4 to 4 tie would complicate the results more than a clear majority ruling.

A State Refuses to Send Electors.  The Democratic team that gamed outcomes to the election also supposed that some states like California and New York might refuse to send their electors and would support secession from the US instead.  In that case, Trump would be reelected as president, but the absence of some states would cast a shadow on his presidency.

Picking an Acting President.  If there is no president on January 20th, the House of Representatives can pick an acting president.  Some have suggested calling upon a former president to fill the role, since they have the experience.  The problem is that the party that the acting president belongs to would be unwilling to move the process along to pick the new president.

Shifting Allegiances in the House.  If January 3rd rolls around and several House seats have not been declared, one side or another might have an interest in delaying the vote in hopes of giving their presidential choice a better chance of winning.  Some unsavory deals may be made to shift critical votes.  There may also be pressure placed on state election boards to declare a winner (or not declare a winner) to determine the outcome of the vote.

Switching Electors.  If there is some question about the vote, some legislatures can appoint the electors.  This gives the legislature the ability to ignore the voters of the state and pick another presidential candidate if they wish.

Although faithless legislators would probably be defeated in the next election, they would surely be up for a nice job in the new administration in Washington.

President Pelosi.  If there is no President or Vice President on January 20, Speaker of the House Pelosi could become President if the Democrats continue to hold the House and she is reelected.  United States Code Sec. 19, Titled “Vacancy in the Offices of Both President and Vice President; Officers eligible to Act, says, “If by reason of…failure to qualify,, there is neither a President or vice President to discharge the powers and duties of the office of President, then the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall, upon his resignation as Speaker and as Representative in Congress, act as President.”

Subsection C of that statute provides that the individual would continue as president until the end of the term.

This could encourage Democrats, who are less than eager to have a mentally unfit Biden as President to slow up vote counts.  It may also be the reason why Democratic planners have looked at Biden not conceding.  The strategy may not be to put him in office, but to guarantee that the Democrats would control the White House with Pelosi

Although any of these strategies may change the outcome of an election, they will also have a negative impact on the future.

The key to elections that are accepted by all the citizens are transparency, fairness, and speedy results.  If the 2020 election is determined by gamesmanship instead of the will of the voters, the results could be dangerous.  America is in a state of civil unrest where the death of one black man by police can lead to riots across the country and the injury and deaths of many.

Although “gaming” the system in order to win the 2020 presidential election may put one candidate in the White House, there will be millions of voters who will be dissatisfied and unwilling to accept the results as should be done in democracies.  As we have seen, it only takes one incident to inflame a sector of the population.

Those who have been following the riots and protests have noticed a growing level of violence against the establishment.  In May, violence against the police was limited to rocks and firecrackers.  Today, its firearms and Molotov firebombs.  Police are even being ambushed when responding to calls.

There could even be violence during the counting of votes.

In the 2000 presidential election, crowds of people stormed offices where votes were being counted in Broward County, Florida.  Imagine what could happen in today’s overheated political climate.  Vote counters could be injured or killed, ballots could be lost, or illegal ballots would be added.  Offices could be burnt, thus disfranchising large groups of voters.

The US election system is on a precipice.  Two political parties are determined to remain in power no matter the long-term consequences. Trump is signaling to his base including armed supporters not to accept a defeat in the presidential election.  What happens will start to unfold on November 4th and the country will be standing on the edge of civil unrest if no decisive win is clear enough and fast enough to be in place.

Analysis 08-26-2020

ANALYSIS

Will the US Military Intervene in the 2020 Election?

 

As the November presidential election grows nearer, the number of theories about what will happen continue to grow.  Charges about fraudulent ballots and denying citizens the opportunity to vote are heard on a nearly continuous basis.

One of the more interesting theories is that in the election confusion, President Trump will refuse to leave office.  This led two retired Army officers (Col. Paul Yingling and Lt. Col. John Nagl) to pen a story in Defense One calling on the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, to order to military to remove the president should he refuse to accept defeat and leave the White House.

The authors wrote, “As the senior military officer of the United States, the choice between these two options lies with you…In the Constitutional crisis described above, your duty is to give unambiguous orders directing US military forces to support the Constitutional transfer of power.  Should you remain silent, you will be complicit in a coup d’état.”  They went on to mention that the chainman was already complicit in the use of military force against protestors in front of the White House.

Although the article was perceived as a trial balloon set up by pro-Biden people, it raised some interesting observations by those who served in the US Military Officer Corps.

This article was written by two very junior members of the retired officer corps.

In over 244 years, there has never been a threat of a military involvement in a presidential election.  And nearly everyone seems in agreement in that.  Giving the military any role would only open the door to more intrusive actions in the future.

In the US, the dividing line between civilian control of government and the military is noticeably clear.  In 1952, General Dwight Eisenhower even had to resign his position as a retired general to become president.  It was only after he left office that President Kennedy reappointed him to the rank of General of the Army – thus reinstating his military pension.

Although there has been much made about the ambiguity that this election may create, the rules that govern a contested result are clearly outlined in the 20th Amendment of the Constitution.  Trump’s term as president ends at noon on January 20th, 2021 – period.  He must have clearly won reelection to be re-inaugurated.

Without going into all the details (this case may be even more complicated as Biden may be incapacitated after winning, but before taking office), the House of Representative has the authority to choose an acting president if the Electoral College is unable to pick a president and vice president in time.  That person will remain acting president until the mess is cleared up.  If necessary, the Senate picks the vice president.

Therefore, there is little room for the type of ambiguity that would allow Trump to remain in office and force a military operation.  It is very doubtful that the military would rally around an illegal Trump or Biden presidency in the clear outcome of an election or vote by the House of Representatives for an acting president.

Condemnation of the article was from both sides of the political spectrum.

Kori Schake of the American Enterprise Institute, who authored a book with General Mattis on the Civilian-Military divide, said “the Constitution is clear on it. The law is clear on it.  The Congress is in the driver’s seat.”

Retired Army General Raymond Thomas, former head of the US Special Operations Command tweeted that the article was “really irresponsible.”

 

Succession?

Although the law and the Constitution clearly leave the military out of the 2020 presidential election, the New York Times did raise a situation that might involve the military in a post-election fracas.

NYT reporter Ben Smith reported on August 2, that a group of former government officials called the Transition Integrity Project had gamed several scenarios for the election.  One was where Trump wins the electoral vote but loses the popular vote to Biden.  The narrow lose by Biden comes from a close vote in Pennsylvania, which takes weeks of recounting the votes.

Rather than concede, the person who was acting as Biden in the game (John Podesta, former Hillary Clinton campaign chairman) claimed voter suppression and persuaded the Democratic governors of Wisconsin and Michigan to appoint pro-Biden electors.

According to the NYT, “In that scenario, California, Oregon, and Washington then threatened to secede from the United States if Trump took office as planned.  The House named Mr. Biden as president; the Senate and White House stuck with Mr. Trump.  At that point in the scenario, the nation stopped looking to the media for clues and waited to see what the military would do.”

Again, this could be a trial balloon.  And, as in the earlier scenario, state laws are clear that the winner of that state’s presidential vote have their electors vote for the state’s winner.

This leaves the threat of California, Oregon, and Washington seceding.  All three states threatened it after the 2016 election and California even went so far as to circulate a petition to put it on the 2018 ballot (the petition failed to get enough signatures from California voters).

The secession of these three states would have dramatic strategic consequences.  The Navy’s largest Pacific port is in San Diego.  If Hawaii were to secede (likely if states start to leave the US), that will take the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor out too – leaving the US with no major naval facilities in the Pacific.   This would be disastrous at a time when the US and China are clearly positioning themselves for a potential war.

In such a situation, Trump may be willing to let some of the states secede but would insist that the naval ports along the Pacific Coast and other Army, Air Force, and Marine bases remain in US hands.  This would undoubtedly include reinforcing these facilities from the encroachment by any of the state forces.

It is quite possible that the states and the federal government would come to an agreement giving the federal government long term leases on the facilities.

Or the states may prefer to occupy these military bases themselves.

It is interesting to note that the US Civil War begun in the same way, when the US federal government reinforced the fort in Charleston, South Carolina’s harbor in the days leading up to hostilities.  It was when Confederate forces began bombarding the fort (Fort Sumter) that the Civil War began.

Although threats made in the days leading up to a presidential election are common, these issues must be considered.

America is in the middle of growing civil unrest.  Several cities like Portland, Chicago, New York City, and Seattle have become nearly ungovernable due to constant protests and some riots.  When Trump called on federal police to go to Portland to protect the federal courthouse, many agencies in the government did not want to become involved.

There are many unresolved issues in this election.  While past presidential elections have been resolved on Election Night, this one may take weeks before a winner is declared.  Democrats are pushing for more clarity and guarantees in the election process, while the Republicans are fighting widespread use of mail in ballots.

And there is the ongoing Covid virus issue that overshadows everything.

The longer that it takes to declare a clear winner (if possible) the greater the risk of more unrest.

It is quite possible that gunfire will punctuate this election season.  However, the gunfire is unlikely to be coming from the military.

Analysis 08-19-2020

ANALYSIS

Biden Picks a Running Mate

 

The last piece for the 2020 presidential election has been put in place – the choice of Biden’s vice-presidential running mate.  The choice is junior California Senator Kamala Harris, who had run for the presidential nomination, but had pulled out due to low polling numbers.

The comments from the different parts of the political spectrum were to be expected.  Democrats and the most media outlets were excited and saw Harris as the ideal choice.  Republicans and the conservative media saw her as a potential drag on the Biden ticket.

Harris is 55 years old and a lawyer from California.  Both of her parents are immigrants – the mother from India and the father from Jamaica.  She was California Attorney General from 2010 to 2017, when she was elected to the US Senate.

One of the first demands of a vice presidential running mate is to balance the ticket.  And, she has done that in many ways.  She is 22 years younger than Biden.  She comes from the West, while Biden is from the Eastern United States.  While Biden is considered moderate, she is well known for her many liberal and progressive stands but not considered as part of the growing left-wing progressive wing of the party.

She also brings several things to the race that it is hoped will excite the electorate.  She has an Indian background, which will probably excite the Indian community in the US.  India is a major source of professional immigrants into the US.

Harris is the daughter of two immigrants, which will allow the Biden-Harris ticket to draw a clear line between their open borders policy and Trump’s policy of limiting immigration.

As California’s Attorney General, she can claim to be a “law and order” candidate at a time when violent crime in America is on the rise.

Finally, the Harris candidacy can be shown as a “look towards the future with a new generation ready to take the reins of leadership.”

Although Biden was praised for this choice, it is well known that she wasn’t his first choice.  During the campaign, Biden had promised to pick a woman as a running mate.  Soon, elements in the Democratic Party had demanded that the woman should be a “person of color.”

This seriously limited Biden’s choice.  He needed to have a running mate of national stature, who could take over if necessary.  He was left with several black congresswomen who had far left leaning ideologies and a woman who had lost the race for governor in Georgia.

Biden clicked well with Michigan’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer, according to Obama senior advisor David Axelrod.  She also would be able to bring her state, Michigan, back into the Democratic fold after voting for Trump in 2016.  Winning Michigan is critical to Biden’s electoral strategy.

The problem was that Whitmer is white and her policies are more moderate.  And, Biden needed someone with more progressive policies to provide an ideological balance to the ticket.  Without that, the left wing of the Democratic Party would not have been energized enough to vote.

In the end, Harris was seen as the candidate that would do the least harm.

Although Harris will be portrayed as an African-American child of immigrants who had to struggle to get to where she is, the truth is a bit different.  She has nothing in common with the African-American experience of poverty and segregation since her parents aren’t from the US.

She is from an affluent, educated family.  Her mother is a high-caste East Indian breast cancer scientist.  Her father was a Jamaican born economist who is a professor emeritus at Stanford University.  She spent years growing up out of the US in countries like Canada.

Despite the media calling Harris a moderate, her record is quite progressive.  Her voting record in the 116th Senate was more liberal than 97% of Democratic senators.  Only Senators Sanders and Warren (both presidential candidates in this cycle) were more liberal.

In terms of immigration, she says undocumented immigrants aren’t criminals.  She wants government controlled medical care for Americans.  She wants to ban all offshore drilling and fracking for oil.  She wants American energy to be “carbon neutral by 2030.

One stance that may spell trouble for the Biden/Harris ticket is her stand on the Second Amendment, which guarantees Americans right to own firearms.  She is anti-gun and has stated that if she were president, she would sign an executive order banning “assault weapons” and high capacity magazines.  She also supported other anti-gun legislation while Attorney General of California.

Her attitude on advancing gun laws was evident in the August 2019 Democratic debate when Biden pointed out that the president doesn’t have the constitutional authority to rewrite gun laws by executive order without Congress.  Kamala Harris laughed and said, “Oh, Joe, yes we can.”

Given that in the past 8 months 10 million Americans have become first time gun owners and many of the guns that were purchased were “assault weapons,” this will not go down well with a large block of voters.  A Rasmussen poll conducted this week showed that likely voter support for gun control has dropped 12 points in the last year.  Forty-seven percent of likely voters said they or someone in their household owns a firearm.  In gun owning households, 27% said they or someone in the household had purchased a firearm within the last 6 months.

In addition, the threat to use executive orders rather than the legislative process will also be a concern since she could very well become president within four years..

While the political positions of a vice president may not be a major concern, given Biden’s age and mental state, it is quite possible that she could be president in the next four years through the 25thAmendment.

The 25th Amendment sets the rules for declaring the president unable to fulfill the office.  And it is the vice president who determines what happens.  If the VP determines that the president can’t fulfill the office of president, he or she, with the approval of the majority of the Cabinet, can step in as acting president.

There are some roadblocks to the process.  The president can oppose the action, which sends it to Congress, which must vote by a 2/3 majority that the president can’t fulfill the office.

Here’s where the actions behind the scenes are important.  Has Harris had discussions on this subject and is there an informal agreement in place?

Obviously, those who are determining Biden policy now are likely to be unwilling to see a Harris acting presidency where they would be “out of power.”  Would they give Harris a say in national policy in return for not declaring Biden unfit for office?  Would they make sure the Cabinet is so loyal to Biden that Harris would be unable to muster a majority?  Would Harris keep them in the White House?

There’s also the question of obtaining the 2/3 majority in the House and Senate.  Would Republicans, aware of her left leaning agenda, vote to make her acting president, if Biden and his closest advisors oppose it?  An incapacitated Biden would be preferable to a competent Harris.

Republicans might agree to her acting presidency in return for some agreements.  This occurred when Democrats voted to confirm Nelson Rockefeller as Vice President under President Gerald Ford in return for an agreement that Rockefeller would not run for president later.

On the other hand, some (including CNN News) have hinted that Biden will only be in office a small time before resigning, leaving the presidency to Harris.  This would allow a very progressive president to take office without having to run for the presidency or answer questions or undergo scrutiny about her agenda.

Of course, the political composition of the House and Senate may have an impact.  If the Republicans retake the House, a Biden resignation would leave a Republican Speaker of the House next in line for the Presidency.  And, a Republican Senate (if the GOP retains the Senate) would have to vote on a Harris choice of vice president.

There is also a question of what may happen between now and Inauguration Day 2021.  The Democratic Party leadership might have to pull Biden if his condition gets worse before Election Day.  The alternate could be Harris or another person.

If it becomes necessary to pull Biden after he wins the election, the decision would be up to the electors, who have the final say of who becomes president.

The fact that Biden is old and his declining mental condition is becoming common knowledge means that voters will be more likely to look at Harris and her policies before they vote.  If that is the case, her political stances will have much more importance than in normal presidential elections.

But we will not know how important they were until after November 3rd.

Analysis 08-03-2020

ANALYSIS

US Redeploys its Forces in Europe

 

This week, the American Secretary of Defense Mark Esper outlined the new US European Command Force Posture Policy.  Given the fact that this is a presidential election year and the election is only about 3 months away, it immediately became controversial. Democrats were quick to accuse Trump of appeasing Russia and abandoning Germany as a NATO reliable partner and ally.

The basics of the policy is that about one third of the American forces in Germany will redeploy to forward NATO nations or bases on American soil.

This is not a uniquely Trump Administration move.  These policies were outlined and agreed upon by the Obama Administration many times from 2009 to 2016.  The Readiness Initiative launched in 2014, which was agreed upon by the Heads of State of NATO significantly reinforced NATO’s collective defense.

In 2016, NATO leaders approved a strengthened deterrence and defense posture which led to the forward deployment of NATO units to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland.  An outgrowth of the NATO Heads of State meeting in Warsaw in July 2016 was setting up a regional NATO hub in Naples, Italy to strengthen NATO’s southern flank as unrest started to roil the Mediterranean region.

Consequently, the Trump initiatives must be seen in this historical setting.  It moves assets closer to the NATO border with Russia, and, per the 2018 Brussels Summit, allows for a rapid deployment into the NATO Theater within 30 days (the “four thirties” plan).  US military exercises (Defender Europe 2020) earlier this year showed that the US could deploy US based forces into Europe within 30 days.

 

Strategic Needs

One of the reasons for the new National Defense Strategy is the realization that defense goals change as foreign threats evolve, technology improves, and national politics change.  This was seen in the US European Command Review that the SecDef outlined this week.

Obviously one factor is the ongoing NATO relationship with Russia.  While the US and Russia work out a new nuclear treaty, which will impact NATO, some NATO nations like Germany increase their economic ties with Russia, especially regarding energy and natural gas purchases.

Unlike the Cold War era, when NATO focused primarily on European defense, NATO has become an international force.  They were active in the former Yugoslavia, which was part of Europe, but not part of the NATO region.  Their air forces were also active in Libya.

With the growing tensions surrounding Libya and Turkish expansionism, NATO must look south.

There is also the growing Russian naval presence in the Mediterranean.  Now that Russian ships have a warm water port in Syria, Russian ships can deploy longer to the Mediterranean, resupply, and receive needed repairs without returning to their home port.  What was once considered an American lake, is now part of the growing chessboard of the NATO/Russia “Great Game.”

There is also a growing Russian presence near NATO borders.  Russian reconnaissance aircraft, which were rarely seen in the last 30 years are now aggressively testing NATO responses from Great Britain east to Alaska and Canada’s far northern territories.

This aggressiveness by the Russian military has worried some of the newer NATO nations, who still remember being unwilling members of the Soviet bloc.  Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania especially remember that before World War Two, the Western powers allowed them to be occupied by the Soviet Union with no active response.  By moving NATO assets closer to Russia, it not only makes more strategic sense, it also provides strong proof of the NATO guarantee that these nations will not fall under Russian influence again.

 

The Evolving Strategy – the SecDef Speech

Although it can be seen purely in a NATO/European manner, the SecDef speech made it clear that this new strategy fits into the worldwide scope.  He said, “As we’ve entered a new era of Great Power Competition, we are now at another one of those inflection points in NATO’s evolution.”

Although that includes deterring Russia, the SecDef made it clear that it would “improve US strategic flexibility and EUROCOM operational flexibility.”

The plan will reposition about 11,900 military personnel from Germany – from roughly 36,000 down to 24,000.  Of the 11,900, nearly 5,600 service members will be repositioned within NATO countries and approximately 6,400 will return to the US, with many rotating through Europe from time to time.

Some of the rotations are due to equipment not designed for a European battlefield.  Nearly 4,500 members of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment will return to the US.  Similar units will start rotating in countries further east, close to the Black Sea, and closer to the Russian border.

This makes tactical sense.  These units employ the Stryker armored vehicle, which was designed during the Clinton presidency for the transition from a Cold War military to one that would operate in the Third World.  It was designed to be lighter and easier to deploy by aircraft and to be more practical on the unimproved roads and bridges of lesser developed nations.

Although faster than a main battle tank, the Stryker was controversial.  It is lightly armored and without additional armor can only protect its occupants from the 14.5 mm Russian heavy machinegun ammunition – and then, only from the front.  The same bullet will penetrate the armor from the side.  However, to be airmobile, the vehicle could not carry more armor, unless it was flown in separately and attached in the combat theater.

The Stryker was considered a temporary measure until Future Combat Systems Manned Ground Vehicles came online.  However, that program was cancelled

The Stryker was a good idea for an era where the US would only be fighting insurgents.  However, it would be of marginal use (outside of reconnaissance or engaging light infantry) in a European theater where main battle tanks would be controlling the battleground.

The strength of the Stryker is its ability to be air lifted into a theater of operations.  By moving the 2nd Cavalry Regiment back to the US, it can still be quickly redeployed to Europe.  However, by remaining in the US, it allows it to be moved quickly to the Western Pacific, which is seeing increased tensions between the US and China.

The plan also will move more military personnel to Italy, which was once the headquarters of NATO southern operations and still has the infrastructure.  This will mean the movement of about 2,000 soldiers from Germany to Belgium and Naples

A fighter squadron and elements of a fighter wing will be repositioned to Italy, which will provide more coverage in the Mediterranean and bring the aircraft closer to the Black Sea area of operations.

While forces are being moved from Germany, which Trump has accused of not fulfilling their NATO obligations, some units are remaining in nations with better relations with President Trump.  The Air Force command in Mildenhall, Britain, will remain there rather than moving to Germany, as was once planned. Britain has a closer working relationship with the US than Germany.

Another part of the European strategy is the activation of V Corps (Fifth Corps).  According to the agreement between President Trump and Polish President Duda last year, the V Corps forward headquarters will be in Poland.  The V Corps had been stationed in Germany until its deactivation in 2013.

Now that President Duda has been reelected, we can expect to see the signing of the necessary Defense Cooperation Agreement that will be the legal basis of the US deployment to Poland.

Although it is uncertain what assets will be assigned to V Corps, it is interesting that in the Defender Europe 2020 exercises earlier this year, the famed First Cavalry Division went to Poland to set up a temporary headquarters.  The 1st Cav, as it is called, is one of America’s most powerful mechanized units and although it will remain stationed in Fort Hood, Texas, it is expected to frequently rotate some of its units through Eastern Europe as part of V Corps.

 

Conclusion

What does this US European Command Force Posture Policy accomplish?

By shifting some units away from Germany and closer to the border of Russia, it has improved deterrence.  If something happens in Europe, the units that will be asked to fight will be close to the expected area of operations.

By stationing the V Corps in Poland, the US is rewarding Poland, who is one of the few NATO countries to meet its commitments.  And, since Poland has the largest tank force of any European NATO nation, it creates a potentially powerful counterforce to the Russian Army.

Shifting forces to Italy recognizes that the southern flank of NATO is much more unstable than it once was.  With unrest in Libya, Syria, Turkey, and the Eastern Mediterranean, the additional air power will help offset the lack of American naval assets in the region and provide more of a counter to the Russian Fleet.

Shifting US military units to Italy also allows them to be better positioned to assist the US African Command.

Admittedly, there is some politics involved.  Germany, whose relations with Trump are not that good, loses more about 12,000 American soldiers who help boost the local economy.  However, it must be admitted that Germany isn’t the “front line” nation that it was during the Cold War.  A conflict with Russia will start hundreds of miles east of Germany, not on the German border.

Britain will be rewarded by keeping the major American Air Force Base in Mildenhall.  Britain has kept its NATO commitments and by helping Britain in Europe, it allows Britain to keep more assets in and around the South China Sea.

And the close relationship between the US President Trump and the British Prime Minister Johnson also helps.

The US European Command Force Posture Policy also gives the US more worldwide flexibility.  As tensions grow between the US and China, there is a need to be able to quickly move American military units into the Western Pacific.  However, there is still the need to keep the units within quick reach of Europe.

By stationing more units in the US, Trump can keep his promise of bringing more American soldiers back home.

However, there is a strategic advantage.  US military units stationed in the US lie halfway between the NATO Theater and the Western Pacific Theater.  They are better able to respond to the situation in either Europe or The Western Pacific.

Positioning within the US also allows the units to play to their strength.  Light mechanized units like those who use the Stryker vehicle can deploy faster from the US than units that are stronger but use main battle tanks like the M-1 Abrams that require shipment by sealift.  The more powerful units can deploy in a rotating manner, often using redeployed tanks that are permanently stored in Europe.

Although the new US European Command Force Posture Policy will be politically controversial in this election year, To Trump supporters, it makes sense for a nation that has major obligations in Europe and the Pacific.  Repositioning the military assets must eventually be based on sound military thinking, not short-term politics.

Analysis 07-29-2020

ANALYSIS

Trump Strategy on Use of Federal Law Enforcement

 

The US is currently debating President Trump’s decision to use federal law enforcement police, claiming that it is necessary to protect Federal property in cities where the current political leadership is unwilling to provide that protection.  It has led to charges by his opponents that he is trying to federalize law enforcement and will use these forces to stay in the White House if he loses in November.

As is the case in many of these situations, there is no clear answer.  There are a lot of political considerations in the charges.  Some of it has been settled in landmark legal cases over the last two hundred plus years.  And some have been settled on the battlefield during the American Civil War.

When the American colonies won their independence from England, England recognized each of the 13 colonies as an independent, sovereign nation.  The signing of the US Constitution, which formalized the current United States, recognized the individual sovereignty of each state in addition to the sovereignty of the federal government.

Sovereignty was clearly split.  The 10th Amendment of the US Constitution clearly gave all powers not enumerated by the constitution to the states and the people.  However, the Supremacy Clause in Article 6, Clause 2 says federal laws take priority over state laws, providing they do not contravene the Constitution.

Several states signed the Constitution, while making it clear that they reserved the right to leave the United States, if they found this document to be too burdensome.  This was the legal rationale for the succession of the states before the Civil War.  In fact, this same issue was the legal justification for the opening shots of the Civil War on Fort Sumter in Charleston Bay – that the federal government had illegally reinforced the fort without state approval.

The Union victory over the Confederacy settled the issue and courts recognized the reality of that victory in several cases.

However, the concept of where federal law and state law conflicted remains an issue.  After the federal siege of Ruby Ridge in Idaho in 1992, the issue came up, when an Idaho prosecutor indicted an FBI agent for manslaughter for killing the wife of Randy Weaver.  The federal court assumed jurisdiction in the case and dismissed the case because the FBI agent was a federal agent.  However, later the Federal Court of Appeals held that he could be charged under state laws.

The Supreme Court also ruled in the 1990s that state and local law enforcement were not required to spend money or effort to enforce federal law.  This gave local police the rationale to ignore the defense of federal property.

The result is that the issue of federal enforcement of laws and cooperation is a quilt work of precedents.  Federal and local law enforcement usually cooperate unless local politicians disagree with a federal law.  An example is “illegal” immigration, where some cities and states expressly forbid the local police from cooperating with the federal government.

This is the background behind the current controversy.

The issue came up first in Portland, Oregon, which is very Democratic and progressive.  They have had Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests and clashes almost every night for two months.  These protests included coordinated attempts to control federal buildings, which overwhelmed the local federal protective agents.  Trump said the situation in Portland was “Worse than Afghanistan.”

In one instance, the federal courthouse was set afire by protesters on Wednesday night, they were angry by the detaining of some protesters by the federal agents sent by Trump, and after the Department of Homeland Security sent teams in to reinforce the local agents.

The DHS teams came in without warning the governor, mayor, or local law enforcement.  They also came in heavily armed like soldiers, not policemen.

The state went to federal court to seek a restraining order to stop the federal teams from detaining Oregonians.

Stories quickly spread that these agents were taking protestors off the street without arrest warrants or identifying themselves (unconstitutional behavior).  They were also charged with using less than lethal weapons that can seriously hurt protestors.

This week, Trump announced that he was going to send other teams of federal agents to other cities with “lawlessness problems”.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress called for investigations into the Portland events and the legality of Trump’s moves.

One of the cities to receive federal agents will be Chicago, which saw the shooting of 15 people at a funeral just this week.  Despite that, the mayor, a Democrat, was not interested in additional help from the Federal government.

Meanwhile the District Attorney of Philadelphia threatened to arrest federal agents if they came to town.

“Anyone, including federal law enforcement, who unlawfully assaults, and kidnaps people will face criminal charges from my office.”

Speaking about Trump, he went on to say, “He has an agenda.  It is a strictly political, racist, divisive, fear-based fictional agenda.  All this stuff comes out of the fascist playbook.  All of this stuff comes out of the white supremacist playbook.”

However, he did admit that federal agents have great flexibility to travel to cities if they obey the law.

Trump supporters responded “but he didn’t mention that his city has major crime problems.  230 people have been murdered in Philadelphia this year – up 28% from last year.  The city has also had nearly 1,000 shootings this year too”.  According to them “these are the types of statistics that can encourage independents to vote for Trump and his pro-police position”.

Democrats obviously do not agree.  Elizabeth Goiten of the Brennan Center for Justice said this was a pretext to have federal agents supplant local police.

“In short, the use of secret federal paramilitary forces in Portland (and soon Chicago and likely other cities) is every bit the abuse of power that it appears to be.  And it is an abuse we can expect to see again in November if the administration isn’t called to account,” she tweeted.

Is this being a rehearsal for November?

First, we have no idea of what violence may take place in November after the elections.  Both sides seem agitated and the potential for protest and violence by both sides is real, especially if it is a close election with the winning margin being decided in the courts or by absentee ballots.

But there is a question if these paramilitary police teams will side with Trump if he is trying to remain in power.

Probably not.  These statements are aimed to encourage the Democratic voter base.

America has gone into overdrive during the past few months when it comes to charges of racism.  While most people supported BLM after the events in Minneapolis, there are concerns after the violence of the last two months.  Trump is counting on many voters, especially White and middle-class voters, to show less support for the BLM movement.

Trump’s calculation is based on his desire to repeat the 1968 situation, when riots and protests led to the victory of the “law and order” presidential candidate Richard Nixon. He is wishing that supporting peaceful protest and opposing violence is a good way to win elections, while supporting the radical protestors is a nearly guaranteed way to lose.

Supporting law and order is clearly Trump’s strategy.  On Wednesday, he approved Operation Legend to tamp down lawlessness in some of America’s biggest cities.  The operation is named after Legend Ruggiero, a four-year-old who was shot and killed while he slept.  Trump was joined by the Ruggiero family in the White House.

The issue according to Trump is not just protests, but an increase in murders and shootings. As the election date approaches, it is not certain whether this strategy will work while his failure to confront Coronavirus is dominating the news forcing him to cancel holding the GOP convention in Florida.

 

Analysis 07-21-2020

ANALYSIS

Sino American Relations Continue to Sour

 

If anyone thought that Chinese American relations could not get worse, they were wrong, as President Trump and the State Department ratcheted up pressure on the Chinese government.This week, the US State Department released a press release on the change in US government policy.  The document stated, “We are making clear: Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign to control them.”

The day after making the South China Sea announcement, Trump signed an executive order (Hong Kong Autonomy Act) that eliminated trade benefits for Hong Kong as long as Mainland China continued its “draconian” actions against the people of that former British colony.

That was followed by the State Department’s imposition of visa restrictions on Chinese corporate executives like Huawei who “facilitate human rights violations”.

“Get out or risk the consequences,” Secretary of State Pompeo said, referring to the new sanctions on China.

Pompeo is heading to Europe next week to discuss China’s treatment of Hong Kong with American allies.

China responded by summoning the US Ambassador to “solemn representations” by Vice Foreign Minister Zeguang.

China said, “This is a gross interference in China’s internal affairs and seriously violated international law.”

These moves have raised anew concerns about a military conflict with China.  Potential Secretary of Defense in a Biden Administration Michele Flournoy wrote in Foreign Affairs that the two nations could, “all too easily stumble into conflict.”

Flournoy warned that China has focused on asymmetric tactics that are “designed to prevent the United States from projecting military power into East Asia in order to defend its interests or allies.”

She continues, “The United States can no longer expect to quickly achieve air, space, or maritime superiority.”

 

The USS Bonhomme Richard Fire

Nothing demonstrates the thin line between deterrence or inability to project power as this week’s fire onboard the USS Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious ship that has the capability of a light aircraft carrier.  It is a Wasp Class Amphibious Assault ship and its name is one of the most honored in the US Navy – going back to Revolutionary War.  The Captain of the original Bonhomme Richard was the Revolutionary War hero of the US Navy, John Paul Jones.

The ship was undergoing a modernization before being deployed once again in the Western Pacific, where it would undoubtedly come face to face with the Chinese Navy in the South China Sea.

The fire started early Sunday morning.  As only about 160 sailors of the 1,000 crew were onboard, the fire quickly overwhelmed the firefighters and they were withdrawn.  The fire has raged over 4 days, making it the most damaging fire in the history of the US Navy – surpassing the fire on the USS Forrestal during the Vietnam War over 50 years ago.

At this time, there are questions about how the fire started.  It began in a storage area, where there was no work being done.  Any work that required high temperatures (welding, etc.) has a “fire watch” that can quickly put out a fire.

Although spontaneous combustion can take place, it is rare and is usually quickly limited due to the compartmentalization of navy ships.  Journalists have noted that there are cables and other lines used in the repair and modernization process that could keep hatches from being closed, but they are usually limited to the actual work area, not storage in remote parts of the ship.

As the fire comes under control, the major question is if the ship can be repaired or if it will have to be scrapped.  At a press conference on Tuesday, the Navy was optimistic.  It appears that the four engine room compartments were not damaged.  And, although temperatures inside the ships may have reached 1,000 degrees, there is no evidence that the damage will be serious enough to scrap the ship.

The final answer will only be made after a Survey Team goes onboard to make an evaluation.

Even if the ship can be brought back into active service, much will have to be done.  The ship’s “island,” where the bridge and air operations control are, were made of aluminum to decrease topside weight.  These melted in the fire and will have to be replaced.  There will also have to be replacement of cables, electronics, and structural items.  The repairs could take a couple of years.

However, it is not uncommon for heavily damaged ships to be put back into operation.  The battleship USS West Virginia was sunk at Pearl Harbor in WWII but was a flagship at the D-Day landings in 1944.

If the ship is more seriously damaged, it will have to be scrapped, with many of its components like the gas turbine engines being removed to be spare parts.  Since the ship is already 22 years old, the cost of repair (versus the cost of replacement) may not make it economical in the long run.

If the ship is scrapped, it may very likely be replaced by the newer America Class amphibious ship which came out of the shipyards beginning in 2014.  These are like the Wasp Class that the USS Bonhomme Richard belongs to but has more space for aviation operations and less for amphibious operations.

Although frequently seen in the role of a light carrier, the Wasp Class of ships are designed to embark, deploy, and land a Marine landing force.  Although they can deploy a squadron of Harrier jump jets or the new F-35 fighter aircraft, it designed to primarily support helicopters.  In fact, one of the reasons for the current upgrade was to make the flight deck (designed for helicopters) more resistant to the high temperatures of F-35 operations.

In the role of an amphibious assault ship and a light carrier, the LHD ships are an ideal ship for the Western Pacific operations.  Not only can they carry out anti-submarine operations with its helicopters, it can use the F-35 for ground support or limited air superiority operations.  Then they can land a force of Marines to capture some of the islands the Chinese have either constructed or enlarged in the last few years.

This combination of roles makes the USS Bonhomme Richard and its sister ships a real threat to Chinese power in the South China Sea.

In fact, the Chinese Navy is undoubtedly happy that the Bonhomme Richard is out of commission for a couple of years.  In fact, apart from America’s nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, these amphibious ships pose the biggest threat to the Chinese Navy and its controlled islands.

All this does raise the question, “Was the fire a case of sabotage?”

Sabotage during shipyard availability periods has always been a threat.  Shipyard workers are not as carefully vetted as the sailors and moving the crew off the ship during these periods makes it easier to avoid scrutiny.  Frequently, ships order their commissioned officers to make random walks through the ship 24/7 to prevent potential sabotage or theft of equipment.  Workers are also teamed up with sailors who stand as a fire watch while much of the work is done.  All this limits the risk of sabotage.

However, there are some issues that make the potential of sabotage possible.

The first was the location of the fire.  It was in the stern of the ship, where no work was being done.  The storerooms contained supplies that would be airlifted to Marines on the beach.  The supplies were palletized and covered in a heavy cardboard called triwall.

Usually, storerooms not being used are closed and locked to prevent unauthorized access and to limit the spread of fire.

In this case, the fire was able to spread quickly – something that should not have happened under normal procedures.

The timing of the fire is also suspicious.  It occurred early Sunday morning, a time when there were few crewmen onboard to observe unauthorized activity or fight the fire.  Ironically, the time was like the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, which was planned to hit the US Navy at its most vulnerable time.

Could China have been involved?  There is no evidence to indicate that.  However, sabotage is now a legitimate foreign policy tool, as seen in the recent series of explosions at sensitive military bases in Iran.

China has penetrated many sectors of the US economy and there have been arrests of Americans (some highly respected scientists) who have been working for the Chinese.  It is not unthinkable that the Chinese would be able to find willing accomplices in the San Diego shipyard.   These sources would be able to inform the Chinese of shipboard modernization, readiness of navy ships, and the status of repairs.

If the Chinese felt that taking out a ship like the Bonhomme Richard was critical to its strategy in the South China Sea, it could have probably been able to do it.

However, that does not make sabotage the most likely cause.  In recent years, the US Navy has had several public failures like the Corona Virus outbreak on the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, which put it out of operation for a couple of months.

There were also several Navy collisions with commercial ships in the Pacific.  These collisions were finally blamed on the lack of training of junior officers.

Is it possible that damage control training has deteriorated in the US Navy?

A review of current Officer Candidate School (OCS) damage control training seems to indicate that the scope and intensity of the training has declined over the years.  In the past, most junior officers were given realistic training in preventing a ship from sinking and fighting a fire onboard.  A newly commissioned naval officer now only has one day of training in preventing a ship from sinking and no practical training in onboard firefighting.

In other words, many of the crewmembers onboard the Bonhomme Richard when the fire started were untrained in realistic firefighting.

Traditionally the US Navy has had a reputation of “Not giving up the ship.”  Ships that would have sunk if in another navy were kept afloat thanks to the rigorous damage control training once required in the US Fleet.  The idea that a navy ship could still be on fire for four days, while pier side would have been unthinkable.

Ironically, the first USS Bonhomme Richard caught fire and eventually sank from damage caused during combat in 1779.  However, it sank only after capturing the larger and more powerful British ship HMS Serapis

 

Analysis 07-14-2020

ANALYSIS

The Rise of Black Militias:

Americans Worrying about Violent Overthrow of US Government

America has a 244 year   old tradition of peaceful transition of power.  Even when incoming and outgoing presidents have had serious political disagreements, such as Trump and Obama, the transition took place peacefully at noon on January 20.

With the current nationwide violence, Americans are beginning to worry about violence marring the transition of power.

A recent Rasmussen poll shows half of American voters worried that a violent overthrow of the US government will be attempted in the next ten years.  The” Just the News” poll by Rasmussen showed 18% thinking it is very likely and 32% thinking it is somewhat likely.  The poll was taken over July 2 – 4.

“This was a surprise,” Scott Rasmussen said.  “Upon reflection, though, it probably shouldn’t have been.”

Rasmussen noted that although the gap between Democrats and Republicans is modest, Republicans are more likely to expect such violence.  This may be due to a perception among some that the current unrest is heading in that direction.

Many Republicans fear the left will respond with violence if Trump is reelected.  Many Democrats fear the same thing if Trump is defeated.

Those most convinced that there would be violence were younger demographics – 25 to 44 years of age.  Blacks and Hispanics were more likely to see violence in the future than whites.  Those who were very liberal or very conservative were also more likely to see a violent future.

In what should be a worry, with the unemployment caused by the Corona virus at historical levels, nearly two thirds of the unemployed saw a violent overthrow in the next ten years.  Those who made less money also agreed with that assessment.

This violence was a subject of President Trump’s Fourth of July speech at Mount Rushmore on July 3rd. He attempted to deflect criticism directed at him of instigating violence,  “Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities,” Trump said.  “American people strong and proud, and they will not allow our country and all of its values, history, and culture to be taken from them.”

 

The Growth in Gun Purchases

That fear of violence has shown itself in the boom in firearms purchases in the past few weeks.  June 2020 saw the largest number of FBI firearms purchase background checks in history.  Handgun sales were up 177% over 2019 and rifle sales were up by 114%.  In total, more than 2.3 million firearms were sold in June 2020 – this in a nation that already has more than one firearm for every person in the nation.

According to anecdotal evidence, many rifle sales were for the popular AR-15, the civilian version of the US military rifle.

Ammunition has also been leaving the shelves of gun stores as Americans prepare for the worse.

Another interesting demographic about these increased gun sales is the first-time buyer.  While many previous gun sales have gone to current owners of firearms, in 2020 over 2 million Americans became first time gun owners.  Firearms retailers said about 40% of their guns sales are now first-time buyers.  Women, traditionally a minor firearm purchasing demographic, represented 40% of the first time buyers.

Another changing demographic is the ethnicity of gun owners.  Traditionally Whites have had the highest rate of gun ownership.  Hispanics and Blacks were less likely to own firearms.   Percentage Black ownership of firearms was only 2/3s that of Whites.  Hispanics owned less than half the guns Whites did in terms of percentage.

That is changing as Blacks are seeing the advantages of gun ownership.

 

The Rise of Black Militias

The idea of Black ownership of firearms has become more popular.  While some of these new gun owners have joined traditional gun organizations like the National Rifle Association, there are a growing number of Black gun organizations.  While some focus on the sporting aspect or Second Amendment politics, some are also focused on political aspects.

One group, the National African American Gun Association wants to fight the negative stereotype of a black with a gun.  While supportive of law enforcement, they worry that too many White police are likely to shoot a Black man lawfully carrying a firearm.

A dramatic change in how the Black community views firearms and their uses in self-defense was seen happened last weekend in Atlanta, Georgia.  A Black militia called NFAC (Not F**king Around Coalition) marched to Stone Mountain, the site of a Confederate memorial to protest.  The protest was peaceful.

 

Stone Mountain celebrates the three major persons of the Confederacy – President Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee, and General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.  Their portraits have been chiseled into the side of the mountain.  In the past, the site has been used by White supremacist groups like the KKK.  Some have called for its destruction.

NFAC Militia July 4, 2020, Atlanta Georgia

 

 

The leader of NFAC is a hip-hop music artist called John Jay Fitzgerald Johnson – known as Grandmaster Jay.

“Our initial goal was to have a formation of our militia in Stone Mountain to send a message that as long as you’re abolishing all these statues across the country, what about this one?”

Grand Master Jay also commended Stone Mountain police for allowing them to exercise their constitutional rights on July 4th.

“It was all Black … there were no brown people, no white people… everyone was Black. I am not a protester, I am the commanding general of my militia, we were swearing in new members,” he added.

It makes sense that a Black militia would form after the creation of so many right-wing militias.

However, the contrast to the White militias seen was dramatic.

While most White militias are small, the NFAC group was large and organized, Jay claimed in an interview that he is commending about 12000 members. Its 200 members marched in formation in black uniforms, while carrying rifles.  Georgia is a “open carry” state where citizens can carry firearms if they have permission.  NFAC said they checked to make sure persons carrying firearms had their permits before they could march.

According to Jay, many members are former military.  The political belief of the militia is Black Nationalism and their religious belief is Black Hebrew Israelites.  They claim that they are not affiliated with Black Lives Matter or organizations like the Black Panthers.  There are videos of them holding firearms practice in the past.  Many carry semiautomatic AR-15s.

The Southern Poverty Law Group has designated them a Black extremist hate group.

The NFAC said that although they only intend to protect the Black community, they are more than willing to fight White supremacist groups like the KKK.

However, there appears to be little chance of a firefight between White and black militias soon.

The NFAC still needs training (photos show many of the NFAC unit not familiar with their firearms – something that can be solved with a few days of training), while the right wing militias are focusing on limited missions like protecting monuments and memorials in their locality.  The two groups are also in different localities.  The black militias are in inner cities, while the right-wing militias are usually rural.  A conflict is unlikely unless one invades another’s territory.

The NFAC is unlikely to deploy in a 200-person unit.  What was seen on July 4thwas a publicity stunt to gain members around the nation.  Instead, the NFAC will probably engage in guerilla actions that use 5 to 10 person squads.  Tactics will be like those used in Rhodesia, former Yugoslavia, or during the Dirty War in Argentina.

However, the appearance of a large Black militia means that the unrest in America is moving into the next stage.  All sides are sure that major civil war is in the future and are gearing up by creating their own military units.

While the voices of confrontation are growing, it seems like the voices of moderation are growing fainter.


NFAC Militia

 

 

Analysis 06-19-2020

ANALYSIS

The Militia Movement in America

After keeping out of sight for much of Trump’s presidency, the American militia movement is making itself felt.  In the last few weeks, the Michigan militia protected monuments in Hillsdale, Michigan and others were involved in a shooting in New Mexico, as protestors tried to tear down a statue.  In addition, an Air Force sergeant who is accused of shooting a Federal Security Officer in Oakland, CA. is reputed to be associated with an extremist group.

Most of the recent activity by the militia is directly related to the current spate of unrest across the country.  However, the history of the American Militia movement goes back to the settlement of America.

Militias were begun as a protection against raiding bands of Native Americans.  Each male settler was required to have a firearm and practice with it on a regular basis.  A century later, the militias were called upon to assist the British Army in the North American battles of the Seven Years War (called the French and Indian War in North America).

The golden moment of the American militia movement was on April 19, 1775 at Lexington and Concord.  There, 77 American militiamen were present at Lexington when the shooting began.  By that afternoon, hundreds of armed Americans were shooting at the British as they retreated towards Boston.  By that evening, reports of the time say that about 15,000 American colonists were besieging the British in Boston.

Months later, they would cause the British Army to sustain serious casualties at the Battle of Bunker Hill

It was this militia army that was the first American Army.  General George Washington was assigned by the Continental Congress to take command of them.

Unfortunately, the performance of the militias after these first skirmishes was not as memorable.  They were known for refusing to join battle and even leaving the field of battle in later fights with the British.  But their reputation had been established.

No doubt, the militia’s role in the Revolutionary War was a factor for the Second Amendment of the US Constitution, which specifically mentioned the need of a “Well-regulated militia” as a reason for Americans to have the right to own firearms.

Militias continued their role as units in future wars like the War of 1812 (part of the Napoleonic Wars) and the American Civil War.  However, they died out as the need for a professional army was seen.

The modern militia movement started in the1980s and grew in the 1990s with the government attacks at Ruby Ridge and Waco.  They were seen by the Clinton Administration’s Department of Justice as relatively harmless as they are reactive, not proactive.

While the militia movement grew during the Obama years, they started to decline in the Trump years.

In recent years, the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified a couple of hundred militia groups.  Most are statewide and very few are national in character.

Militias see themselves as aiding local communities.  However, they do make it clear that they see themselves as a potential insurrectionist force if circumstances call for it.

The reality is that these militias are more of an armed presence than an actual military force.  Although many have former military experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, each militia has a separate command structure and disagreements on tactics are frequent.  Each militia group also has differing agendas – ranging from simply protecting local citizens to seeking an armed confrontation with federal agents.

They also have communications and other logistical gear necessary for sustained operations.

Little is known about these groups.  The foremost of these is Oath Keepers, a group of about 3,000 who are either former or serving military members or police, who have sworn that they will not obey unconstitutional orders given by the government.

Oath Keepers created a high profile for itself in the Bundy Ranch standoff in 2014 because their headquarters are in Las Vegas and their nationwide network of members was able to quickly funnel money and supplies to the people at the Bundy Ranch.  Although not an actual militia, the presence of armed Oath Keepers and their visibility gained a lot of attention for the organization.

Several other militias exist, although their numbers are unknown – although they undoubtedly number less than an infantry company.  Other militia groups include the West Mountain Rangers, 912 Movement, and the III%.  In most cases, the numbers from each group probably are probably less than a dozen, although many supporters provide logistical support when necessary.

To limit infiltration by federal agents – something that was common in the Obama years – units are usually limited to a dozen or fewer members and usually consist of people who have known each other for years.  However, there are larger units.

Most states have statewide militias that even have websites on the internet.  The size depends on effective leadership and the politics of the day.  Most are conservative – ranging from pro-Trump to small government activists who see Republicans and Democrats as equally bad.  They have been involved in patrolling the US/Mexico border to prevent illegal immigration.  Some deployed at the Bundy Ranch in 2014.  Several units across the country have also deployed recently to protect monuments that have been threatened by protestors.

Many militias work with each other in training exercises.  Some even have leadership and “War College” training for potential militia leadership.

Not all militias are right wing.  A growing number are more radical and have either Marxist or anarchist political beliefs.

Some units have tried to create a nationwide presence, with more assets than a handful of semi automatic firearms.  One such unit is the Colonial Marine Militia, which deployed a mechanized unit to Hillsdale, Michigan last week.  The mechanized unit was the 8th Mechanized Regimental Combat Command, the Colonial Marine Militia.  The unit fielded 18 armored vehicles last week at Hillsdale.

The Colonial Marine Militia concept was established in the1980s by US Marine Corps veterans.  It was formed in Indiana and has grown to include units in 48 states.  They are based on the Regimental Combat Team concept which means each unit is self-sufficient with elements of logistics, communications, and medical support.  This gives them the ability to deploy across the nation at short notice.

There are currently 116 Colonial Marine Militia Regimental Combat Teams, with 49 cadres available for expansion.  There are four training commands and supporting arms that include mechanized and light artillery like mortars.  They also include airborne assets for airborne resupply and small airborne assaults. 

The Colonial Marine Militia also has an air force of cargo aircraft and even small jet powered aircraft that could be used in a tactical situation.

This may seem to be a unique threat to the US government; however, there have been such threats since the beginning of the nation.  Patriotic organizations, called “democratic republican societies” were formed, which were viewed as subversive by the federal government.  President Washington would later write, “I early gave it as my opinion to the confidential characters around me, that if these societies are not counteracted (not by prosecutions, the ready way to make them grow stronger)… they would shake the government to its foundation.”

Although these rebellions may lose, they do have the ability to change government.  For instance, the Whiskey Rebellion changed the complexion of the political landscape and led to the creation of the two-party system in America and led to the election of Thomas Jefferson.

Although the 1794 incident was a vastly larger rebellion than the current standoff in Seattle, the situations share important parallels including the use of what many people in each situation considered the disproportionate use of force by the government.  It also reflects the differing political views of the people in the more progressive, urban parts of the country and those in more conservative rural areas.  In this case, it was the rural parts of the country that rebelled.

The rebellion began in 1791 when Congress passed an excise tax on distilled whiskey with the firm backing of President George Washington and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton’s plan was to federalize the debt accumulated by the states during the Revolutionary War and pay it off through a variety of measures, including domestic taxation. On top of that, Hamilton wanted to fund a more widespread extension of government investment in the new country’s military and infrastructure. The tax was excessively high–about 25 percent of the value of each gallon of whiskey.  It encountered almost immediate opposition.

Opposition was fierce on the western frontier (then around Pittsburgh, PA), where farmers would turn excess corn into whiskey.  Not only was whiskey cheaper to transport over the dirt roads, in the money starved west, it was used as a form of money.  In addition, frontier people rarely saw the benefits of federal spending.  In a quote vaguely similar to the statements coming from supporters of the militia movement, one westerner wrote, “To be subject to all the burdens of government and enjoy none of the benefits arising from government is what we will never submit to.”

Western Pennsylvania rose up.  In four western counties of Pennsylvania, excise officers were terrorized; the Pittsburgh mail was robbed; federal judicial proceedings were stopped; and a small body of regular troops guarding the house of General John Neville, excise inspector for western Pennsylvania, was forced to surrender to the rebels.

Historian John Miller would later write that Hamilton “knew that he was committing the government to a trial of strength with Westerners, but he deliberately courted the contest” to display the power and legitimacy of the federal government. Goaded by Hamilton, Washington assembled one of the largest armies built in America up until that time. The president, with the treasury secretary by his side, would lead this force from the capitol in Philadelphia into the wilds of western Pennsylvania.  The size of the assembled army was astounding given the threat.

This force, called the “Watermelon army” by detractors, ended up arresting 30 rebels without any resistance.  Although the rebellion was quashed, the political damage was enormous.

Some Americans viewed the sudden expansion of government power as a blow to the principles fought for during the Revolution, and worried about a government quick to pull the trigger on legitimate freedom of assembly and protest.  The author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, attacked the excise tax as an “infernal tax” and said that the “conduct of the ‘rebels’ was no worse than riotous.” He and many others called for an elimination or reduction of the hated tax.

From the scattered protests of leaders like Jefferson and others, a new party was formed to oppose the administration. Panicked Federalists, sensing the rise in support for “Republican” opposition, started to become more repressive in their tactics. Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798 under President John Adams in response to the Republican protest during the short “Quasi War” with France, which severely curtailed civil liberties. The acts targeted Jefferson’s supporters. The political storm was growing, and Jefferson and Madison wrote the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, calling out the laws as unconstitutional and repressive.

The Resolutions became a political platform for the new party, and a massive wave of supporters was swept into office in 1798. That year’s election became known as the “Revolution of ‘98” and marked a major change in American politics.  Jefferson was elected president in 1800 and he appointed Albert Gallatin, who had spoken up for the rights of the western farmers, as his treasury secretary.  By tapping into these “patriot” societies of the time, he was able to politically establish a political counterbalance to the Federalist Party.

Although the political parties of that time have disappeared, they have set up the continuing philosophical differences of the two parties of today – one calling for more federal control, and one calling for more state and local control.

 

Are the Militias a Real Threat?

Given the size of the US military, it seems that the militia movement would be little threat to the US government.  However, it must be remembered that the US military has been in Afghanistan for nearly a generation and still has not won.

Although the military has better equipment, the militia and its supporters have the US military vastly outnumbered and can field more firearms.  In fact, there are more hunters out on the first day of deer hunting in Pennsylvania than are in the American Army.  Although the militia does not have machine guns, many firearms experts say semi automatic firearms are more accurate and use less ammunition.

The problem that the US Army faces is that they cannot be everywhere.  Most of their assets would be used to protect vital government installations like military bases and Washington DC.

Local police are also limited, as is being seen in the current protests. If the police can’t handle the rocks that are being thrown at them, they will be hard pressed to handle militias with training and experience from Afghanistan and Iraq.

At this point in time, the militia is in a reactive mode.  A study of militia websites seems to confirm that militias are gearing up for a potential civil war. Others are guarding communities or memorials. Others are advancing their training.  However, they all seem to be prepared for the worse – a second American Revolution.

If that is true, they are emulating the words of the commander of the Lexington militia, Captain John Parker, on April 19, 1775.  According to accounts, he said, “Stand your ground; don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”

Analysis 05-22-2020

ANALYSIS

Special Elections Give Insight into November Election

Although relatively insignificant, special elections show political experts a lot.  While polls show the leanings of adults, registered voters, and likely voters, special elections show who the real voters prefer.

The other difference is that special elections, although small have an impact.  In Tuesday’s case, they narrowed the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives by one vote.

The Republican wins in two congressional districts were more important in that they both occurred in states that have Democratic majorities – California and Wisconsin.  No doubt, Democratic Party leaders are worrying a bit.

The most dramatic Republican win is in the heavily Democratic state of California.  For the first time in over 20 years, Republicans have managed to flip a Democratic seat to Republican control.

The nationally watched congressional special election in California’s 25th congressional district appears to have gone to Republican Mike Garcia, although mail-in ballots have yet to be counted.  However, Garcia is leading by more than 11%, so his margin appears to be sound.

What is remarkable is that Hillary Clinton won this district in 2016 by 6%.  And, though the nonpartisan Cook political report rated the district a “toss-up,” Garcia’s margin of victory represents a major shift.  It is also the first time Republicans have flipped a California congressional district since 1998.

If the election results hold, Garcia will be the only House Republican to represent a district that Hillary Clinton won with more than 50% of the vote.

The other congressional special election win for Republicans was in Wisconsin’s district 7, where Tom Tiffany beat Tricia Zunker.  And, although Wisconsin went for Trump in 2016, the state is still overwhelmingly Democratic, the Republican won by a margin of 14% of the vote.  The district, which is rural, has started to tilt Republican over the last few years and Trump won handily in 2016.  However, Obama had won the district in both 2008 and 2012.

So, does this mean that Trump is on his way for reelection and the Republicans are set to retake the House?  Not necessarily.  The election is still half a year away and there is the political maxim that, “A week is an eternity in politics”

There are several factors still in play and no one really knows what will happen.

The Corona virus issue is still the great unknown.  While many thoughts that the number of cases and the declining economy would scuttle Trump’s reelection bid, this week’s Newsweek and CNN polls showed Trump with his highest approval rating since 2017.  Not only do voters think that China is to blame for the pandemic rather than Trump, the daily press briefings have given Trump more.

In fact, the CNN poll shows Trump beating Biden by 7 points in the battleground states which will decide the election.  However, Biden leads nationally, thanks to large majorities in solidly Democratic states like California, which does not count in the way the president is elected by the Electoral College.

No one, not even the medical experts know what will happen if the restrictions are eased.  Americans are getting tired of staying at home and the Democratic governors who are pushing for continued isolation are facing more resistance.  Some political commentators have even speculated that the strict isolation policy in California may have helped the Republicans win in California.

Will a surge of new Corona cases as the nation opens cause voters to turn against Trump?  Will the crashing economy cause voters to blame Trump?  Will voters turn against Democrats who want to keep restrictions in place?  No one can tell at this time.

Another issue is apparent Democratic presidential nominee Biden and his choice of a Vice Presidential candidate.  Many Democrats are worried about Biden’s fading mental capabilities and lackluster performance in the last couple of months.  They see Biden’s pick of a VP as a chance to energize the electorate and bring all the wings of the Democratic Party together for the election.

Another issue that the Democratic leadership is discussing – but not publicly – is replacing Biden if necessary.  Biden is losing support due to credible charges that he raped a member of his staff back in the early 1990s.  He is also having problems articulating himself in interviews.

If the problem gets worse, there may have to be a last-minute change in the Democratic presidential ticket. Although Biden has the largest number of delegates currently, Bernie Sanders has a sizable number too.  There are also quite a few uncommitted delegates from states that did not have their primaries due to the pandemic.

How these delegates are picked and how they will vote are big questions.  They will probably be picked at state conventions and their selection may depend on who controls the party in that state.  Democratic governors and senators will have a big say in who is picked and therefore, these delegates will be likely to support the governor’s or senator’s presidential choice.

However, these delegates will not be legally bound to any candidate, which can make the national convention a “free for all.”  It may be the first brokered convention since the end of World War Two.

If it is decided to pick someone to replace Biden, the Sanders delegates will expect that choice to be Sanders – something that the Democratic leadership will not tolerate.  The result might be that the Sanders delegates may walk out of the convention and not support the Democratic nominee in November.

Of course, the biggest determinant of the election is the economy.  A bad economy means the incumbent loses.  A good economy means the incumbent usually wins reelection.

However, this is a different situation.  The Corona virus, which voters may not blame on Trump, has caused the economy to go into a tailspin – a situation that more closely reflects the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Here the dynamic is interesting.  Franklin Roosevelt won reelection during the Great Depression, so the good economy/bad economy theory does not hold in extreme circumstances.

The other issue is that Republicans are pushing for reopening the economy, while the Democrats are insisting that the economy remain closed until the threat of the Corona virus is eliminated.

In this case, the issue is: do you want the economy to reopen and grow or do you want to stay home?

While many seem to want to remain in isolation, providing they can receive more stimulus money from the federal government, the increase in public demonstrations across the nation show that the majority of people want to reopen the nation and economy.

There is also a growing concern about the issue of Constitutional Rights.  As some states try to keep their citizens at home, there are more and more stories about police arresting people for being outside, opening their business, worshiping at church, or even protesting the isolation rules.

One of the governors at the center of this is Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, who has found herself in the center of the Constitutional Rights debate as thousands of Michigan citizens have protested her strict isolation rules.  As one of those on Biden’s list for Vice President, her political future may very well hang on how American voters view the guaranteed Constitutional Rights of assembly, religion, and petition of grievances.

Whitmer may have overplayed her hand this week.  Last week a 77-year-old barber, Karl Manke, opened his shop despite the governor’s orders.  Despite the revocation of his license and threats to arrest him, he opened the shop, which was then surrounded by armed Michigan militia who were there to prevent any police from arresting him.

However, the county Sheriff made it clear he would not arrest the barber, “Since the Michigan legislature did not extend the state of emergency beyond April 30as required by law.” Sheriff Begole noted his office’s “responsibility to serve and protect the citizens of Shiawassee County and to ensure their rights as described in both state and federal Constitution.”

Later a judge denied the state’s cease-and-desist order against Manke.  And, with it, probably goes Whitmer’s chances of going to Washington as Vice President.

In the end, it must be remembered that there is still a long road to the November elections.  Trump has improved his ratings and it appears, based on this week’s special elections, that Congress may have more Republicans next year.  However, the Republicans’ hold on the Senate is precarious as twice as many Republicans are up for reelection this year than Democrats.

If history holds, however, Trump should win reelection and increase Republican margins in Congress.

Admittedly, the Corona virus is an unknown, although the press briefings are helping Trump’s approval ratings.

The new factor is the shutdown of the nation and the growing issue of Constitutional Rights.  Americans want to leave their houses, spend their money as they wish, return to their jobs, and assemble in crowds or at their place of worship.  Some Democratic governors have probably overstepped their authority, and this may become a Republican issue in November.

But keep in mind that in the world of politics, the next six months is several eternities.