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Archive for December, 2008

The Year In Wingnuttery

[ 0 ] December 30, 2008 |

A comprehensive roundup. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I’m tempted to go with the low-seeded “Fred Thompson, savior of the Republican Party”…

Abdication of Responsibility

[ 0 ] December 29, 2008 |

Perhaps I’m missing something, but it seems clear to me that Minnesota court’s order that both the Franken and Coleman campaigns had agree to a standard for counting improperly excluded ballots is pretty much the stupidest thing ever. Maybe before the election establishing such standards by mutual agreement could work, but after the fact? Of course the Coleman campaign doesn’t want to include improperly excluded ballots, and I can’t even blame them. The role of the courts in this situation is to develop a standard consistent with state statutes, not to delegate the decision-making to third parties even though the incentives in play make a mutual agreement virtually impossible. The impasse now being reached was of course inevitable, and it seems likely that the court will have to step in anyway.

UPDATE: Adam Platt had more.

Wingnut Historical Analogy of the Day

[ 0 ] December 29, 2008 |

If you happen to be a confederate apologist like Robert Stacy McCain, about the only lesson you’re willing to take away from the Civil War is that collective punishment is an acceptable tactic, so long as approving references to Sherman’s March aren’t construed as an endorsement of Sherman’s actual march.

You have to admire the ingenuity at work there. I suppose when Israel finishes leveling everything in Gaza that bears even a remote connection to Hamas and resumes its previous policy of merely throttling the territory with a relentless blockade, McCain will wipe the snot from his nose and inform us that a similar policy would have shown the Confederacy who was the boss of whom. Or perhaps he’ll insist that the Palestinians, like Emmett Till, simply had it coming.

Targeting

[ 0 ] December 29, 2008 |

Via Ackerman, Gershon Shafir:

First, Israel is about to exhaust obvious and legitimate military targets, especially those available for aerial bombardment, even under their broadest interpretation. Admittedly Hamas never seriously tried to separate its political and military wings–unlike, say, the Basque nationalist ETA (who have had both the clandestine ETA and various incarnations of the Hari Batasuna Party) or the Irish Republicans (who had the IRA and the Sinn Fein Party), partly because it does not really have a political strategy distinct from its military one. Even so, bombing Hamas police stations and Hamas’s organizational structure is different from striking the Hamas broadcasting center, let alone the Islamic University in Gaza City. Attacking distinctly civilian targets and the infrastructure of civil life is a potential war crime. It is also counterproductive. The number of civilian casualties will rise, and the international community will be mobilized to chip away at the immunity Israel now seems to possess in targeting Hamas.

This reminded me of an old editorial in Warship: International Fleet Review:

An air campaign starts with a target set, which might be informed by adequate intelligence and consists of targets, which are related to the casus belli and susceptible to accurate targeting. The promise of so-called surgical strikes against legitimate targets makes the use of force acceptable to policy-makers and opinion-formers on the left and the right of politics. However, as the air campaign progresses the intelligence becomes poorer and the targeting more challenging, even for precision weapons (which are only ‘precision’ in terms of means of delivery but are otherwise just as indiscriminate in such circumstances as any other munition). Therefore, inevitably there is ‘collateral’ damage. At the same time the intelligence becomes less reliable and the targets become more and more remote from the original set. Eventually the campaign ceases altogether to be intelligence-led and becomes capability-led: Rather than search out those targets which contribute to the campaign, the planners seek desperately for the targets which are susceptible to their available technology.

I really have to wonder whether the Israelis have something more in mind that “2006 II: The Re-FAILening”.

Exceedingly Unsurprising News of the Day

[ 0 ] December 29, 2008 |

Abstinence pledges don’t work.

Or, rather, they don’t work in terms of promoting abstinence. In terms of what one suspects is the real objective — marking a teenage girl’s virginity as the property of her father and related notions — I suppose they’re more effective.

Reputation Summed Up

[ 0 ] December 29, 2008 |

Serwer:

A much commented upon statement from Marty Peretz, on the battle currently raging in Gaza:

Message: do not fuck with the Jews.

I’m not sure if this is applicable to international conflicts, but I can’t help but notice that the people I’ve known who spent a lot of time proving that they weren’t to be fucked with often ended up getting fucked with. It’s more than a single act, it’s a commitment to a lifestyle.

Ayup.

Discrimination

[ 0 ] December 29, 2008 |

To be clear, I think that the Israeli air campaign against Gaza will end up being destructive, and, from a political point of view, pointless at best. That said, the Israeli attacks thus far have NOT been indiscriminate; civilian casualties are inevitable in any such campaign, especially as Hamas locates its arsenals and security forces in areas of densest civilian population. Given this, such casualties have been quite low; it would appear from independent media accounts that something on the order of 95% of the casualties have been incurred by Hamas security forces. Rocket factories, rocket stockpiles, and tunnels to Egypt have also been targets of the assault.

The reasons for my continued skepticism are thus:

  1. I don’t believe that Israel can actually stop rocket attacks. The volume of rocket fire into southern Israel is quite light, and isn’t hard to maintain even with constrained smuggling and rocket manufacture operations. And yes, “quite light” is different when the rockets are blowing up in your backyard than when you’re hearing about it a continent away…
  2. I don’t believe that Israel can topple Hamas through airstrikes, and don’t believe that it will do so through a ground offensive. This means that, at some point, Hamas will be able to claim “victory” by correctly asserting that it survived the Israeli blitz.
  3. Wars are destructive, even when carried out in a “discriminate” manner; the people of Gaza will suffer from the destruction of government infrastructure, even if they’re not killed in the bombing. If Israel’s political goals can’t be accomplished through the attack (and a distinction should be made between Israel’s goals and Kadima’s), then there’s little point to pushing forward.
  4. As noted below, “sending a message” isn’t enough. Hamas knows that the Israelis are badass; this is why Hamas has been studiously trying to goad Israel into just this kind of assault. Israel has responded by trying to send a really loud message, but of course what the Israelis are trying to say and what the world hears are two different things. Israelis are rather fond of suggesting that Arabs only understand the language of force, but the language of force is terribly imprecise.

Disquieting Signs from the Other Hot Spot

[ 0 ] December 29, 2008 |

Pakistan and India are building up forces along the border:

Senior Pakistani security and defense officials said Friday the military had moved a “limited number” of troops fighting Taliban militants in the tribal areas near Afghanistan to the Indian border as a “minimum security” measure.

This followed intelligence intercepts indicating that India had put its forces on notice to move to the border and cancelled all leave, they said. An Indian army spokesman however told AFP that no troops had been moved.

Alex Harrowell games out what a shortish conflict might look like:

Just using the Jaguars, Mirages, and any Sukhois assigned to the job, 5,000 aiming points would be attacked in 17 days at 2 sorties/aircraft/day. It’s fair to rule out many missions covering more than one target – this won’t be Afghanistan or even Iraq or even Iran. Pakistan has a lot of rather old but much-upgraded Mirage IIIs, Chinese-made MiG-21s, and some very new Chinese JF-17s that really, nobody knows much about. Assuming 75% serviceability, it would be a theoretical 23 day campaign, but this doesn’t count the major commitment of fighters and defence suppression aircraft.

Clearly, however, there is no quick and relatively safe option. If Indian planning is anything like Barbora’s remarks, this means major war, with the certainty of the biggest air battle in living memory, the near certainty of a major mountain battle in Kashmir, a significant risk of the armies fighting out a battle of manoeuvre further south, and some risk of nuclear war.

On the brightish side, Fester points out that impending economic collapse in Pakistan will make an extended mobilization difficult:

Pakistan can not afford any more indirect or direct economic disruption. The country received the first tranche of an IMF bail-out in November, and the follow-up tranches are conditional upon policy changes. The IMF would be very unwilling to release several billion more dollars to fund a Pakistani military mobilization and limited operations. This is one of the potential brakes on the crisis; Pakistan does not have the economic capacity to sustain any significant escalation.

Thank God for small favors, I suppose.

"Libertarian" Torture Apologist of the Day

[ 1 ] December 29, 2008 |

Glenn Reynolds.

In addition to everything else, Reynolds also demonstrates the bizarre inability of torture apologists to understand the concept of consent (or, in a pinch, the ability to define the concept of “consent” so that it’s meaningless):

At any rate, whatever limits on volume and duration are applied to Guantanamo should also be applied to public concerts…

The most prominent reactionary blogger in America, ladies and gentlemen!

Just To Add

[ 0 ] December 29, 2008 |

…to the points Drezner makes about this silly column, let’s start with this argument from Sherdian:

What’s wrong here is obvious. It’s also not really new. Unlike the NFL, NBA and NHL, baseball has no salary cap. Those leagues do not have caps for the sheer, unbridled joy of finding loopholes and exceptions. They have them as part of an effort to maintain some kind of competitive balance among teams from different-size markets in disparate parts of the country.

Ah, yes, like most sportswriters, Sheridan would seem to be a puke funnel for the extremely wealthy people who own professional sports teams. At this point, let us summarize the central reasons for salary caps in pro sports:

  • To increase the amount of money owners get to keep.
  • There is no #2.

If the policy objective is to ensure competitive balance, then the key is to equalize revenues, not salary expenses. The NFL, in fairness, does a lot of this, but this makes its salary cap largely superfluous for reasons other than suppressing player salaries (and given the short careers of NFL players and the effects of playing on their bodies, this suppression is an absolute disgrace any rational person should be embarrassed to defend.)

On a related point, Sherdian’s whining about high-salaried baseball players because we’re in a recession is a transparent (though beloved by many sportswriters and fans) non-sequitur. If I may be permitted to state the obvious, capping player salaries doesn’t affect the total revenue earned by professional sports one iota. The only question here is how much money goes to the players and how much goes to the owners. How the Steinbrenner family keeping more money and C.C. Sabathia keeping less would help laid off autoworkers or underpaid teachers or whatever other group you care to name I can’t tell you.

I Know; Let’s Send a Message!!!

[ 0 ] December 29, 2008 |

The New York Times shows the stupid:

But it has another goal as well: to expunge the ghost of its flawed 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon and re-establish Israeli deterrence….“There has been a nagging sense of uncertainty in the last couple years of whether anyone is really afraid of Israel anymore,” he said. “The concern is that in the past — perhaps a mythical past — people didn’t mess with Israel because they were afraid of the consequences. Now the region is filled with provocative rhetoric about Israel the paper tiger. This operation is an attempt to re-establish the perception that if you provoke or attack you are going to pay a disproportionate price.”

Right; the Arabs sure did doubt the capability of Israel to pound the bejeezus out of a political actor with no defensive weapons. People were really fucking UNCLEAR about that point. Israel DID make Hezbollah pay a disproportionate price, but Hezbollah was perceived the victor because the IDF accomplished absolutely nothing else. One might even conclude that efforts to “send a message” don’t always result in the receiving of the anticipated message…

The risk to Israel in Gaza seems of a parallel nature — that if the operation fails or leaves Hamas in the position of scrappy survivor or even somehow perceived victor, that it could then dominate Palestinian politics over the more conciliatory and pro-Western Fatah movement for years to come. Since Hamas, like Hezbollah, is committed to Israel’s destruction, that could pose a formidable strategic challenge.

Exactly how do people think this is going to end? Does anyone believe that these airstrikes are actually going to topple Hamas? Or that the IDF is going to invade Gaza and replace Hamas by brute force? If the IDF doesn’t want to leave people with the impression that Hamas or Hezbollah can persevere through simple defiance, then it really needs to rethink its operational and strategic orientations.

From Colony to Superpower VIII: American Century

[ 0 ] December 29, 2008 |

Chapter VIII of From Colony to Superpower deals with the second Cleveland and first McKinley administrations, covering the Spanish-American War and the beginning of serious US involvement with China.

Herring touches on the influence of Alfred Thayer Mahan, but I think he gives insufficient attention to the US military buildup between 1893 and 1898. As we discussed last time, the USN in 1890 was demonstrably inferior to even second tier European navies. By 1898 it was capable of crushing the Spanish Navy (really at the bottom of the second tier) and was competitive with any force not named the Royal Navy. The development of the Army was somewhat slower. Herring goes pretty easy on the performance of the Army in the Philippines, although (unsurprisingly, given his thesis) he doesn’t waste time implying that the Spanish-American War was anything but an imperial project. I think a fair argument could be made that an independent Philippine Republic would have fallen victim to either German or Japanese imperialism, but of course this didn’t require a long term occupation by the United States; a defensive treaty allowing for some military cooperation would have sufficed.

Herring briefly mentions the issue of post-war military reconciliation. He suggests that the Spanish-American War provided military professionals from the North and South with an opportunity to heal the rift, so to speak. This is an issue that I’m quite interested in, but unfortunately know almost nothing about. The timeline doesn’t seem quite right to me; some very senior officers in the Spanish-American War must have served in the Civil War, but the numbers would be quite small. I would imagine also that the Indian Wars would have served as the cauldron in which the US Army was, so to speak, reforged. But maybe not; I’ll be tracking down some of the cites that Herring gives on this point.

Herring also gets into US involvement with China, including participation in the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion. American missionaries and merchants had already extensively visited China, but the late McKinley administration made the first serious efforts at military and political involvement. US concern was motivated mainly by the need to maintain access to China, and thus to prevent its direct partition by Japan, Russia, and the European powers. Although Americans tended to interpret this as altruistic, this belief was not shared by the Chinese. The acquisition of the Philippines and the increased involvement of China were not, of course, coincidental.

More later on the Venezuela Crisis and the promotion of US ministers to ambassadorial rank…

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