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Archive for August, 2008

Imagine if Obama had done this

[ 23 ] August 12, 2008 |

“Some” would have seen it as a Secret Terrorist Gesture, while more sober-minded chin-scratchers would have taken it as evidence that Obama is too much of a foreigner to understand our customs and traditions.
Of course on the left this is seen as yet further confirmation that the Leader of the Free World is, as Jeeves said of his equally clueless employer, “mentally negligible,” but on the right that same judgment is generally understood to be a kind of compliment.
(Edited to reflect sensitivity to the plight of the mentally disabled who don’t have access to nuclear weapons.)

Russia, Georgia, and IR Theory (Part I)

[ 33 ] August 12, 2008 |

Moscow McDonalds.

Tblisi McDonalds.

Sorry, Tom.

And on IR Theories that should be taken more seriously, Chris Bertram notes both Russia and Georgia currently rank at 7, the highest democratic score, in the Polity Index. As Chris allows, this produces some difficult questions for the Polity Index, but then again I think it’s fair to say that the lack of war between countries marginally less democratic than either Russia or Georgia has been taken as positive evidence for Democratic Peace Theory…

I’m working on applying James Fearon’s Rationalist Explanations For War to the Confrontation in the Caucasus (won’t someone else please pick that catchy alliteration up?), which I’ll hopefully finish in the next couple of days.

US Tried to Restrain Georgia?

[ 0 ] August 12, 2008 |

Kevin Drum links to an article by Jonathan Landay indicating that the United States did its best to restrain Georgia, and that while it anticipated a strong Russia reaction within South Ossetia, it didn’t foresee the larger Russian counter-offensive. This runs strongly counter to Adrian Bloomfield’s Telegraph account, which suggests that the US gave tacit approval to the Georgian offensive.

The two accounts aren’t necessarily contradictory. The Landay article is much more thoroughly reported than the Bloomfield piece, relying on a number of statements by anonymous US officials suggesting that the United States has been trying to restrain Georgia for several months. The anonymous sourcing is somewhat troubling, but then the Bloomfield piece has no sourcing at all. It’s possible that the administration is in CYA mode, but cautioning Georgia is, after all, the direction I would have expected the administration to go; it’s the sane move, and Bush needs support from the Russians on several issues (primarily Iran) in the last few months of his presidency. The other possibility is that the Americans said different things than the Georgians heard. This happens ALL THE TIME in international politics; motivated bias on the part of Saakashvili may have led him to believe that the Americans were making encouraging noises, because he wanted to believe that the Americans were encouraging him. Indeed, this would go a long way to explaining how the Georgians were certain of US support, despite the fact that there was no compelling reason for the Americans to give support.

Did Ballistic Missiles Kill the DDG-1000?

[ 7 ] August 12, 2008 |

Defense News has a good article on the Navy’s decision to end pursuit of the DDG-1000, although much will be familiar to readers of Information Dissemination. The story notes the inability of the DDG-1000 to use the SM-2 and SM-2 Standard missiles, which it apparently could launch but not control. This meant that the DDG-1000 would never have the capacity to carry out area air defense, and thus could not protect a carrier group from cruise missile or ballistic missile attacks. The latter, it appears, loomed as a particularly large concern:

Although a “secret, classified” threat was discussed during the hearing, neither Navy officials nor lawmakers would reveal any details.

One source familiar with the classified briefing said that while anti-ship cruise missiles and other threats were known to exist, “those aren’t the worst.” The new threat, which “didn’t exist a couple years ago,” is a “land-launched ballistic missile that converts to a cruise missile.”

Other sources confirmed that a new, classified missile threat is being briefed at very high levels. One admiral, said another source, was told his ships should simply “stay away. There are no options.”

Information on the new threat remains closely held.

Ballistic missiles are, potentially, very bad news for a carrier battle group. With modern GPS guidance, Chinese ballistic missiles can have a CEP (circular error probability) of 15 meters or less. That means that half of the missiles fired at a particular target will land within 15 meters. A aircraft carrier is roughly 300m by 50m, meaning that any missile fired at a stationary carrier will have a high likelihood of hitting. But of course carriers don’t sit still; they travel at about 30 knots, and can cover a lot of ground in the 15-20 minutes (at least) it would take between location of the carrier and the landing of the missile. This means that, even with high accuracy, ballistic missiles are going to have a very difficult time hitting carriers.

However, the problem is a lot easier to solve if the missile warheads in question have terminal guidance. Terminal guidance would mean that they could alter their flight path upon re-entering the atmosphere, and target the carrier in its new location. And that causes a very serious problem indeed, because while a modern supercarrier might well survive a hit from a conventional ballistic missile, it probably won’t be able to carry out flight operations. The Defense News article indicates that concerns about terminally guided ballistic missiles may have been key in making the DDG-1000 an unattractive bet for the Navy.

If the Chinese have hyper-accurate terminally guided ballistic missiles, then the Navy has a much larger problem than the DDG-1000. Tactical ballistic missile defense is in general a better bet than strategic, because the number of hits actually matters; the system doesn’t have to be perfect to be useful. But as I suggested above, even one hit is likely to make an aircraft carrier useless for combat operations. I am not optimistic that, even with a relatively successful BMD program, a carrier battle group could immunize itself from a dedicated attack with lots of ballistic missiles.

In a 2006 article republished in a recent Naval War College Review, Wang Wei goes into some additional detail regarding ballistic missile attacks on ships at sea.

McCain and Plagiarism

[ 23 ] August 12, 2008 |

I count myself among the folks who aren’t wound up about the possibility that McCain’s speech on the Georgian crisis might have benefited from Wikipedia. After all, quality bloggers like Confederate Yankee use Wikipedia all the time, and I don’t think anyone would doubt the vastness of Bob Owens’ intellectual reach. As far as plagiarism itsef is concerned, the case is pretty thin; if McCain had submitted this in one of my courses, I might have sent him a quick e-mail to gently suggest that the internet is heaped neck-high with bullshit and that multiple, peer-reviewed (rather than user-edited) sources are likely to be more reliable and current. I’d have added a non-accusatory but firm reminder that when he’s working with a single source, he should be very careful to avoid duplicating even short phrases — something that often happens when students cut and paste passages that they plan to reword later.

I’d try to be understanding, though. Because you just never know how complicated and rushed a person’s life can be outside the classroom. It may have been, for example, that John had to work a double shift the night before to cover for that guy who smoked up in the walk-in freezer and got his ass fired. Or maybe his roommate’s girlfriend dumped him, and John was up all night holding the guy’s hand and cradling his head to keep it from dangling in the toilet. Or maybe he had that hellacious chemistry test to study for. The thing is, you never know. Insanely old people Kids get lazy, and they make mistakes. Sometimes, you just give them a C and the benefit of the doubt, and you move on.

The Gori Details

[ 0 ] August 12, 2008 |

The Times has a fairly grim account of the Georgian retreat from Gori:

The Georgian Army was in complete disarray last night after troops and tanks fled the town of Gori in panic and abandoned it to the Russians without firing a shot…

The retreat from Gori, the birthplace of Joseph Stalin, was as humiliating as it was sudden and dramatic. The Times witnessed scores of tanks and armoured personnel carriers, laden with soldiers, speeding through the town away from what Georgian officials claimed was an imminent Russian invasion.

Residents watched in horror as their army abandoned its positions after a day of increasingly aggressive exchanges of fire along the border with South Ossetia, the breakaway region now fully under Russian control.

Jeeps and pick-up trucks filled with Georgian soldiers raced through the streets, their occupants frantically signalling to civilians that they too should flee. The road out of Gori towards Tbilisi was a scene of chaos and fear as cars jockeyed with tanks for a speedy escape.

Soldiers left by any means available. Dozens of troops clung to cars on the back of a transporter lorry, while five other soldiers fled on one quad bike.

Obviously, this does not bode well for the Georgians. It is extremely difficult to put an army that has routed back together. Incidentally, I guess that Ralph Peters is a moron:

That said, the Russians may be surprised at how fiercely the Georgians defend their homeland. At least two, and possibly four, Russian jets have been shot down while attacking Georgian bases close to the capital city, Tbilisi.

As of last night, the Georgians had retaken Tskhinvali, South Ossetia’s capital. I’d bet American veterans helped Georgia with contingency planning for just such a situation (it worked in Bosnia)… This fighting is serious. And, unless Moscow pulls out all the stops, its forces just might take a surprise beating.

Who knew?

…Small Wars Journal has a predictably excellent roundup.

…Nexon makes a good point regarding the Russian bombing campaign:

But if this were a United States operation you can bet that the US navy would be blockading the country and the USAF would be taking out every piece of military hardware or key transportation hub they could find. Indeed, the US would be actively aiming at regime change. The United States did all of these things in the Kosovo campaign.

Right; also Israeli practice in the 2006 Hezbollah war. This hardly justifies Russian behavior, but it does mean that some avenues of critique against Russian escalation are plainly hypocritical.

Gorbachev Weighs In…

[ 7 ] August 11, 2008 |

For what it’s worth.

What happened on the night of Aug. 7 is beyond comprehension. The Georgian military attacked the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali with multiple rocket launchers designed to devastate large areas. Russia had to respond. To accuse it of aggression against “small, defenseless Georgia” is not just hypocritical but shows a lack of humanity.

Mounting a military assault against innocents was a reckless decision whose tragic consequences, for thousands of people of different nationalities, are now clear. The Georgian leadership could do this only with the perceived support and encouragement of a much more powerful force. Georgian armed forces were trained by hundreds of U.S. instructors, and its sophisticated military equipment was bought in a number of countries. This, coupled with the promise of NATO membership, emboldened Georgian leaders into thinking that they could get away with a “blitzkrieg” in South Ossetia.

In other words, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was expecting unconditional support from the West, and the West had given him reason to think he would have it. Now that the Georgian military assault has been routed, both the Georgian government and its supporters should rethink their position.

Gorbachev has moved in the last couple of years to be conciliatory towards the powers that be, but I nevertheless think that this is a defensible interpretation of the start of the war, and of Georgian motivations. In particular, I think he gets the Georgian interpretation of Western behavior just right. Still, it places a bit too much faith in Russian humanitarian motives, and in any case doesn’t justify the continued Russian offensives.

A War for Every Continent

[ 0 ] August 11, 2008 |


Meanwhile, if we launch a war with Russia — which would seem to be the point of busting out the analogy — then how are we going to find the time to launch wars with Iran and China? And what about Syria?

Not to mention our depressing tardiness in conquering Burma and Zimbabwe. Also, Hugo Chavez still lives. And surely, Australia and Antarctica have done something requiring a stern display of American moral clarity. If nothing else, the elephant seals hate America and everything we stand for; in the name of decency and national honor, we must demand satisfaction.

Meantime, over at Blog of the Year 2004, someone claiming to receive alien radio transmissions through the fillings in his teeth work for the State Department believes that Russia’s incursion into Georgian territory is analogous to the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran, and that the appropriate American response would be to organize a “bold response” comparable to the Berlin Airlift.

Because really, the best response to such a hostage situation would be to plan an air rescue of some kind.

Reds exploit world distracted by Olympics and . . .

[ 14 ] August 11, 2008 |

. . . donate Adam Dunn to Arizona for a petrified starfish and two pre-owned copies of The Transformed Man.

Dunn is a free agent in six weeks, so if the Reds would have gotten two first round picks if they had kept him, assuming they would have offered arbitration and he would have walked (which seems like a safe bet).

Obviously you can’t really evaluate the trade without knowing who the two propects to be named later are, but as it stands now it looks like something of a giveaway and I don’t understand why the Dodgers let him clear waivers.

Gori Falls; Russians Moving on Tblisi

[ 0 ] August 11, 2008 |

Fox News (which has been solid on this thus far):

Russian forces swept across Georgia on Monday, capturing the town of Gori and moving to within 35 miles of the capital city Tbilisi, FOX News confirmed.

Georgia reportedly was rushing more than 1,000 troops to Tbilisi in anticipation of a battle with Russian troops.

Russian armor, meanwhile, moved beyond two breakaway provinces and seized a military base and police stations in the country’s west, officials said.

The Russians are also advancing out of Abkhazia.

Most Likely, You Are, Or Know Someone, Morally Worse Than A Slaveholder

[ 25 ] August 11, 2008 |

Shorter Verbatim Michael Novak: “As a violation of natural right, abortion is even more extreme than slavery.” I certainly hope that John McCain will repeat this as often as possible as an attempt to appeal to the Catholic vote!

The rest of the column involves feeble defenses of idiotic, useless abortion regulations and hilarious attempts by Novak to justify his own cafeteria Catholicism, which has a remarkable tendency to reach policy results favored by George W. Bush.

Justified Wars

[ 46 ] August 11, 2008 |

Balko has a poll. Inferring from his comments that we’re judging wars in retrospect, I get five (Balko’s three plus the Civil War and the first Gulf War.) A couple of these would be more problematic at the time, especially the Civil War. (Evaluating the Civil War after the fact, conversely, one has to account for not just emancipation but the Fourteenth Amendment, which almost certainly could never have passed under normal circumstances.) Afghanistan also looks worse in retrospect but I’m not prepared to say it was unjustified yet.

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