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Pox on One of Their Houses

[ 5 ] October 7, 2013 |

Noted lefty nutcase Ben Wittes:

To put the matter simply, the current Republican insistence on attaching conditions to a continuing resolution to keep government open is nothing more or less than the elevation of domestic disputes over Obamacare and fiscal matters above the security of the country as a whole and above the physical safety of its population. It is as reckless as it would have been for Democrats to shut down the government over the Bush tax cuts. And it is no less apt to raise questions about the seriousness of those who would do it.

And what of a President who—as Bush surely would have done in my hypothetical and as Obama is currently doing—stands firm and refuses to negotiate away a signature domestic initiative in the face of congressional insistence on linking its denuding to the essential security of the nation? Should we not also question such a president’s seriousness for failing to capitulate, given the stakes? Is this not a case in which it takes two to tango?

I am, generally speaking, a pox-on-both-houses kind of guy, but I have trouble seeing it that way this time. It was the House Republicans, after all, who attached these conditions to the continuing resolution, thus putting the President in an impossible situation—one in which he either lets the government shut down or both gives up a signature domestic initiative and, along the way, makes clear the presidency’s vulnerability to the most grotesque types of brinksmanship and extortion. No president worth his salt would negotiate under these circumstances—and the responsibility for the situation is thus not even between the parties. One side, and only one, created this crisis.


Sunday Book Review: Nomonhan, 1939

[ 21 ] October 6, 2013 |

Nomonhan, 1939, by Stuart Goldman, is a political and military history of the 1939 confrontation between Japan and the Soviet Union over the border between Manchukuo and Mongolia.  Goldman opens with a neat discussion of who was actually in the right with respect to the border dispute, something that rarely seems to matter in events such as this.  Long story short, the Japanese were right about where the border should have been (along the Khalkin Gol River), and the Russians were right about where the border had historically been drawn (about 10 miles east, around a village called Nomonhan). The short war (which would kill upward of 15000 on both sides) would be about control over that space, although questions of prestige, reputation, and domestic politics would soon become wrapped up in the decision-making of both sides.

The story of how Japan and the Soviet Union became embroiled in a battle over such a small prize is complex, and Goldman tells it well.  Elements of the Kwantung Army were itching for a fight, and the Soviets gave them far more than they could handle. Anyone familiar with Japanese interwar politics appreciates the freedom with which the Army, and especially the Kwantung Army, operated.  Nevertheless, I still found the extent of KA contempt for the civilian government and the Army General Staff remarkable; the officers in Manchuria felt no compunctions against developing their own national strategic aims, lying to Tokyo about them, and then starting wars with foreign powers. Goldman points out that the Japanese offensive near Khalkin Gol was only the latest of several provocations, not all of which had ended well for the Japanese.

Goldman is very good on one of the crucial parts of the story, the inability of the Soviets and Japanese to communicate with one another.  The combatants were consistently unable to successful project intent and commitment to each other, which led to serial miscalculation.  It didn’t help that Japanese intelligence was atrocious, leading the government and the Kwantung Army to repeatedly miss obvious Soviet signals, and also didn’t help that the different organs of the Japanese national security complex intentionally and assertively misled one another.

The Japanese were surely experienced, having seized Manchuria in 1931 and having spent the last two years in major combat operations against Nationalist China. But the Kwantung Army was not prepared to fight a modern, mechanized foe.  Goldman tells the story of Japanese preparation for what they expect will be an annihilating artillery barrage against the Soviet position, in which a very significant proportion of the entire artillery strength of the Kwantung Army was brought to bear against the Russians. The Japanese expected that the Soviets would either break or be annihilated, but the Japanese had no experience of a genuine, World War I style artillery barrage.  Goldman describes the dismay of the officers as the Soviet replies soon begin to outdistance and outweigh the Japanese artillery. In every category the Soviets could outmatch the Japanese, including artillery, aircraft, armor, and support vehicles.

Japanese intelligence was simply terrible, with respect to both Soviet capabilities and Soviet intentions. The disastrous relations between the Kwantung Army and the Tokyo government undoubtedly played a role, as the reluctance of the KA to describe the war it planned to embark on limited its access to strategic intelligence.  Even at tactical and operational levels, however, the Kwantung Army was often at a loss with respect to Soviet positions, intentions, and forces.

Nevertheless, there were points at which the Japanese offensive was a near thing.  Their initial offensive took the Russians by more surprise than the Japanese had any right to expect.  The opening Japanese air attack, for example, destroyed a significant proportion of local Soviet airpower on the runway.  The Japanese very nearly managed a complex encirclement that would have cut off the Soviet position on the east side of the river, only failing because of the timely arrival of Soviet reinforcements combined with Zhukov’s willingness to commit forces to the decisive point, regardless of cost.  After the failure of the initial Japanese offensive, however, the Soviet response was methodical, using superior logistics to bring overwhelming force to the point of contact, then erasing the Japanese salient.

Zhukov fairs reasonable well in Goldman’s account, although Grigor Shtern also receives a great deal of the credit, especially for the logistical arrangements that made the Soviet victory possible.  Zhukov could probably have done a better job with the intelligence he had available, but in his first wartime operational command he demonstrated admirable decision-making, committing force to the decisive points when needed. The success would, of course, bode well for his future, although considerably less so for Shtern, who would be shot in 1941. The experience left the Japanese suitably chastened, although it did not enable the introduction of any lasting reforms into the Kwantung Army of the Imperial General Headquarters.

In any case, this is a very good account of a very interesting confrontation, with sufficient detail of tactical, organizational, and political detail to appeal to a relatively wide audience. It helps that Goldman’s prose is excellent, and that he has a strong sense of the appropriate level of necessary detail. Goldman is somewhat less convincing with respect to the importance of Nomonhan on the course of World War II, although he makes a good case that the disaster had some effect on Japanese decision-making.  He also argues that concern over further Japanese aggression in Manchuria inclined Stalin to agreeing to alliance with Germany instead of Britain and France.  This is a sensible position, although Stalin obviously had other good reasons for accepting the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Nevertheless, a good book.

Foreign Entanglements: Under Pressure

[ 0 ] October 6, 2013 |

On this week’s episode of Foreign Entanglements, Matt speaks with Michael Singh of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy about internal Iranian conflicts:

Politics as Hobby

[ 63 ] October 5, 2013 |

I found this passage from Richard Overy’s The Bombing War fascinating:

It is evident that many other issues on the home front and the fighting front preoccupied the wider public as well. A Mass Observation survey in August 1940 found that three-quarters of respondents could not name a British air marshal; included on the list of responses was Hermann Göring. A second MO report on the attitude of demolition labourers showed that they discussed the bombing hardly at all, but spent most of the time bantering about sex, race and loot, with an occasional comment on the war overseas.

“Included on the list” isn’t very specific, but it surely does bring to mind similar howlers from U.S. polling data. The lesson I take (which, of course, backs up my previous view), is that politics, war, and international relations remain essentially a hobby, a niche interest, even under the most dire possible conditions. To frame differently, I suspect that if Hugh Dowding and Laurence Olivier had both used twitter in 1940, Olivier’s follower count would have dwarfed Dowding’s by 2-3 orders of magnitude.

Vo Nguyen Giap

[ 24 ] October 4, 2013 |

The BBC reports that General Vo Nguyen Giap has died at the age of 102. Obviously, one of the most important military figures of the post-WWII 20th century.  People’s War, People’s Army is a critically important document, even if it should be thought of as a starting place on Dien Bien Phu rather than an ending point.

Sequester, then Pivot

[ 2 ] October 4, 2013 |

My latest at the Diplomat examines the USAF’s strategy with respect to the sequester and the Pacific Pivot:

Last week, at the Air Force Association’s Air and Space Conference, questions about the impact of the sequester on the future of American airpower loomed large. The Pacific Pivot and the associated development of AirSea Battle (ASB), commits the U.S. Air Force (USAF) to an extensive set of doctrinal and procurement targets, targets that the sequester may endanger. It’s hardly unreasonable to be concerned about how cuts in funding (especially haphazard cuts like the sequester) could affect the ability of the service to meet these targets.

However, with respect to the platforms that will form the core of the USAF’s contribution to the Pacific Pivot, the Air Force’s commitment appears to remain strong. Despite the growing concerns about the F-35, the service has not wavered in its insistence that large numbers Lightning IIs are necessary to maintaining air supremacy. Similarly, Air Force leaders have consistently maintained that the K-46 tanker and the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRSB) will form the foundation of USAF capabilities long into the 21st century. All of these platforms have obvious applicability to the USAF’s ability to project force along the Pacific Rim.


Boehner: We Won’t Shoot the Hostage

[ 169 ] October 3, 2013 |

I dunno whether the appropriate reaction to this is relief or surprise:

With attention shifting to potential consequences of not increasing the debt limit, one House Republican said Thursday that Speaker John A. Boehner has told colleagues that he was determined to prevent a federal default and was willing to pass a measure through a combination of Republican and Democratic votes.

The lawmaker, who spoke on the condition of not being named, said Mr. Boehner indicated he would be willing to violate the so-called Hastert rule if necessary to pass a debt limit increase. The informal rule refers to a policy of not bringing to the floor any measure that does not have a majority of Republican votes.

Other Republicans also said Thursday that they got the sense that Mr. Boehner, who held two meetings Wednesday with groups of House moderates, would do whatever was necessary to ensure the country did not default on its debt.

It’s a relief that Boehner doesn’t intend to carry the country over a cliff.  It’s surprising that conditions inside the House GOP conference have gotten so bad that members are willing to completely undercut Boehner’s negotiating position by revealing that he won’t hurt the hostage.

I suppose from here on out it’s just theater; how viciously will Republicans go after one another?

A Plethora of Options for the Discerning Consumer!

[ 42 ] October 2, 2013 |

A helpful FAQ with the author:

Can I order the book now?

Grounded is available for pre-order at Amazon, at the University Press of Kentucky website, and elsewhere.  UPK has an eBook loyalty program that provides anyone who purchases a physical copy of the book with an electronic copy; take this into account when making a purchase decision. Publication is scheduled for March 6, 2014. A helpful widget has been added to the far right sidebar to assist your ordering.

How many copies should I order?

How many friends do you have?  How many friends would you like to have?

I’d like to give Grounded as a Christmas gift, but it isn’t released until March 6.  What should I do?

The best approach would be to design an aviation related holiday card that could be placed in a strategic location, helpfully reminding the recipient for each of the 71 days (plus shipping) preceding arrival that his or her Christmas gift is, in fact, on the way.  Consequently, the recipient will feel like he or she is having 71 consecutive Christmases (plus shipping).

What about Valentine’s Day?

There is nothing so satisfying as sitting across from your beloved, gazing into his or her eyes, then launching into a discussion of the organizational perversities that prevented the Air Force from achieving air supremacy over the PAVNAF in the early stages of Rolling Thunder.

Is the book appropriate for my infant or toddler?

Of course.  It has lots of pictures of pretty planes.  What infant or toddler doesn’t like planes? However, note that infants and toddlers can be extremely destructive; you should probably invest in several copies in order to keep them entertained.

Why would I ever consider signing up for the Facebook page or the twitter feed?

Because I consider the book a single, if central, part of a larger academic project, I’m also devoting some time to a Facebook page and a twitter feed. In addition to relentless sales updates at both, at the former I’m posting photos and documents that I came across during my work, and at the latter I’m tweeting a wide variety of aviation-oriented links, as well as book-tweeting works such as Richard Overy’s immense, majestic Bombing War. Take a look if you’re interested.

Ok, I’m not really sold. What else do I get?

A two year paid subscription to LGM at the “Elite” level, with all the benefits and privileges entailed.


Tom Clancy RIP

[ 171 ] October 2, 2013 |

What to say about Tom Clancy… He wasn’t a particularly good writer, and his books got worse as he got older.  Nevertheless, it takes a certain degree of talent to make the techno-thriller, well, thrilling, and I think that his earlier works certainly succeeded on this metric. I haven’t re-read recently, so I can’t say that the following “hold up,” but given infinite time I might actually consider revisiting the following:

As a few have noted on twitter, Clancy was enormously influential on a generation of defense wonks and journalists. Almost everyone who works in the field today is familiar enough with Clancy’s work to make reference and analogy with some degree of comfort that the audience will understand.

The Olden Days…

[ 18 ] October 1, 2013 |

The September 2004 archive has now been fully restored. Some highlights:

What’s This?

[ 16 ] September 30, 2013 |

Book has a cover.  Also a twitter feed and a Facebook page.  Of course.

LGM Baseball Challenge Liberated!

[ 10 ] September 30, 2013 |

Sic Semper Tyrranis!

In a final day effort that can only be described as “epic,” the horrific regime of Free Leonard has finally been thrown down.

1 War On Error, SouthSideFan773 8304 99.9
2 Free Leonard, mattricci 8295 99.9
3 Fbern, fbern06 7997 99.1
4 Hail To The Victorinos, cosmic_horror 7958 98.9
5 dsalmanson 1, dsalmanson 7947 98.8
6 Jersey Burkers, john theibault 7641 96.4
7 [random], FTAVII 7629 96.3
8 Welcome (Mat) Astros, kinestx 7610 96.1
9 boz’s q team, jboz1373 7595 96
10 The Rob Deer Hunter, Aaron Veenstra 7545 95.4

And the people celebrated!

Back in March I put out a bounty on Free Leonard. SouthsideFan773 should contact me ASAP (address on right sidebar) to collect.