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Demented Choirs

[ 0 ] November 22, 2006 |

Ooh, there’s a novel out about the construction of Dreadnought. John J. McKeon:

When a nation has a big technological lead over its potential military rivals, how long can that lead be expected to last?

The United States enjoys such an edge today, with no other nation either willing or able to compete in firepower, communications or mobility. Other nations, at other times, have occupied similarly advanced positions.

History suggests these advantages don’t last long, and pursuing them can lead to unexpected places[…] It was in search of just such a long-lived war-fighting advantage that Great Britain set out in 1905 to build what was then the most extraordinary weapon in the world, the great battleship HMS Dreadnought.

In fairness, there’s a pretty big difference between the technological advantage displayed by Dreadnought and the advantage displayed by, for example, the Zumwalt class destroyer. Dreadnought represented the synthesis of a number of different developments (turbines, long range gunnery, etc.) that were widely available and that had been used, in isolation, by most of the other navies in the world. Both Japan and the United States had been working on designs (Satsuma and South Carolina) that would have accomplished the revolution that Dreadnought precipitated. Consequently, the construction of Dreadnought didn’t represent technological primacy on the part of the Royal Navy (indeed, the American design was more advanced in some respects) but rather an advanced understanding of how to synthesize and employ extant technologies. The Royal Navy couldn’t exclude other navies from this understanding, however.

The Zumwalt destroyer is a bit different, because it includes genuine technological advances that are simply unavailable to countries that aren’t the United States. In fifteen years somebody may be able to build a ship similar to a Zumwalt, but right now it just can’t be done. Similarly, the F-22 is a generation ahead of any fighter in any other country in the world. Now, the existence of a Zumwalt or an F-22 can generate both symmetrical and asymmetrical responses. A symmetrical response would be additional effort to develop the necessary technologies to produce a comparable plane. An asymmetrical response would be the development of alternatives ways of fighting an F-22, including better SAMs, better techniques for avoiding air attack, and so forth.

I suspect that Dreadnought and the race she inspired was a rather unique development; I can’t think of a similar manifestation of technological advance, while the Zumwalt and F-22 cases seem more common. To be sure, the gap between major powers isn’t usually as large as it is right now. Of course, it’s because of this gap both in technology and in size of current force that both the Zumwalt and the F-22 seem uncompelling as defense acquisitions.


A Response to (one of) My Critics

[ 0 ] November 21, 2006 |

Eric Martin in response to this post at TAPPED:

First things first: Payne and Farley are right to note that not finding WMD had a tangible upside. Not only did it relieve anxiety over Saddam’s destructive arsenal – and its potential use on our soldiers, or elsewhere – but it also, as Payne argued, offered evidence that policies of containment through inspections/sanctions could be “wildly successful.” That’s good to know. Further, and perhaps relatedly, the discovery of this colossal blunder undercut the likelihood of launching subsequent disastrous wars of transformation in the Muslim world. This is an unequivocal positive, despite the crestfallen Lawrence Kaplan.

But there was a down side – and not exclusively for the Republican Party. The failure to find WMD in Iraq has greatly tarnished our credibility on all matters of intelligence. This has hurt our ability to muster robust support for certain other non-proliferation strategies – as well as a host of other efforts in the GWOT. Credibility in intelligence matters is a valuable asset squandered at one’s peril (leaving aside questions of culpability in squandering such assets).

Further, and perhaps more importantly, the failure to find WMD led to an avalanche of cynicism, suspicion and mistrust about our actual motives for invading Iraq in the first place. This ‘revelation,’ as it were, has fueled the fires of anti-Americanism which has strengthened the hand of al-Qaeda and others that would commit violence in the name of Islam, while at the same time weakening our position in Iraq itself, and the Muslim world more generally speaking. The mission to win-over moderate Muslims, and lessen the intensity of anger within the hostile factions, suffered a significant setback as this story unfolded to our detriment.

Sure, but…

The cause of the loss of faith in US intelligence (and the loss of faith in the idea of the United States as a progressive force in world politics) is not the fact that weapons of mass destruction were absent in Iraq, but rather that US intelligence failed disastrously and that US motives in invading Iraq were, in fact, questionable. US intelligence services lost credibility because it made claims that could not be supported by the evidence at hand. In other words, people stopped believing US intelligence claims because the methods through which those claims were made were deeply flawed. In short, US credibility has come into question because, in fact, US claims were incredible. This is not a situation in which all the signs pointed to “YES!” and the WMD just happened not to turn up; we know now that the intelligence was politicized, the evidence was tenuous, and that the information we had could not justify the arguments the Bush administration made.

Similarly, the fact that US motives are in question is not because of the accidental failure to find WMD but, rather, because US motives in Iraq are incoherent and questionable at best. Even the supporters of the conflict cannot articulate a unified compelling narrative for why the war was fought. This was true even prior to the failure to discover WMD. People suspect our motives because our motives are suspicious. The failure to find WMD had only a minimal impact on the size of the coalition, a much smaller effect indeed than the development of the insurgency and the inability of the US to prevent chaos in Iraq.

Finally, I’m singularly uncompelled by the argument that “the failure to find WMD has made our mission in Iraq, and beyond, more problematic. We have incurred real costs as a result, both on the ground in Iraq and throughout the rest of the world, in the form of increased resistance, a greater reluctance to cooperate with our lead and greater doubt about our intentions as the world’s lone hegemon.” I don’t believe that a single insurgent has picked up a weapon because of the absence of WMD, or that their absence has motivated the withdrawal of a single coalition partner. In part, this is because I view the WMD claims (even if they had been true) as an exceptionally tendentious justification for the war to anyone other than the domestic US audience. How many partners joined the Coalition because of Colin Powell’s speech, as opposed to the number of liberal hawks that joined the cause? The only “real world cost” that I can perceive from the failure to find WMD in Iraq is that it might be more difficult to convince the rest of the world that Iran and North Korea have active nuclear programs. However, given the fact that the major players all seem to concur that Iran is pursuing a nuclear program, and that North Korea’s actions have rendered that question moot, I’d say that those are minimal costs, indeed.

Tax Cuts vs. Tax Deferments

[ 0 ] November 20, 2006 |

J. goes ballistic on suburban Virginians:

“But Allen was apparently successful in convincing voters that their taxes would go up if Webb was elected to the Senate. Almost two-thirds of voters questioned in the exit polls who said taxes were an extremely important issue said they voted for Allen.

‘I really don’t want my taxes raised,’ said Anne Harrell, 39, who voted for Allen in her Annandale precinct. ‘It’s the money that’s driving me.’

I want to shake these people and say, are you really that stupid? Do you really think the multi-billion dollar defense supplementals are free? Do you really think the BioWatch/BioShield billions are somehow written off as not adding to the debt? Do you enjoy watching the federal government grow larger as your local services shrink? Do you really think this deficit spending will never be repaid by YOU or your kids’ taxes? Me, me, me, me, me. I need more money so my kid can play his Playstation 3 on the 52 inch screen television in my McMansion. Screw the rest of you. But you have to hand it to the Repub politicians. They can sell a bill of goods to their sheep people – at least a percentage of them.

Amen. There must be some way for progressives to repackage the concept of tax cuts as tax deferments; the notion that, without unpopular (indeed, probably impossible) spending cuts, tax cuts simply lead the country deeper into debt. Of course, wingnuts will remain attached to the fantasy of supply side economics, and thus have truthiness on their side. Nevertheless, the idea that the stuff that people like costs money isn’t exactly counter-intuitive, and is accepted in large parts of the industrialized world. As J. points out, there’s also an obvious moral component to the idea that we should pay for the things that we buy, one that ought to appeal even to the family values crowd.

Hope that We Will Not Merely Endure, But that We Will Prevail

[ 0 ] November 20, 2006 |

Franklin Roosevelt beats Ronald Reagan 430-108. Oddly enough, I suspect Reagan might approve. Via the Ethical Werewolf.

You, Sir, are an Idiot

[ 0 ] November 19, 2006 |

Josh Muravchik is a real prize, but at least he helps me hold out hope that, if I fail to get tenure, I could drop 40 or so IQ points in the ensuing binge and still get a job at the American Enterprise Institute. Josh:

In short, Tehran can build influence on a mix of ethnicity and ideology, underwritten by the region’s largest economy. Nuclear weapons would bring regional hegemony within its reach by intimidating neighbors and rivals and stirring the admiration of many other Muslims.


The only way to forestall these frightening developments is by the use of force. Not by invading Iran as we did Iraq, but by an air campaign against Tehran’s nuclear facilities.

Right, and since Muravchik allows in this very column that an attack will give Tehran MORE influence, GREATER capacity to build on ethnicity and ideology, and win the admiration of many other Muslims WITHOUT the need for a nuclear program, it’s quite likely to exacerbate the very problems that Muravchik poses. To make things worse, Muravchik cuts and pastes from half a dozen or so Weekly Standard articles in an effort to compare modern Iran with Germany in 1933 or the Soviet Union in 1917. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, Josh, but isn’t it true that only a genuine moron would believe that the rise of either Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia could have been forestalled by a few airstrikes. Indeed, as Yglesias points out, the Western Allies (and Japan) DID intervene in Russia in a failed effort to strangle the revolution in its crib. There’s nothing worse than a neocon without the courage of his own convictions.

The LA Times typically refrains, Jonah Goldberg aside, from publishing the incoherent scrawlings of stoned 8th graders. Hopefully there will come a time when nonsense like this receives the same treatment. It barely rises to the level of the New Federalist.


[ 0 ] November 19, 2006 |

I thought that the tale of the grunting weightlifter kicked out of the gym was a mildly amusing human interest story without political import. Others disagree, and Erik’s on the case.

…zuzu also has thoughts.

Best Bond Since 1969

[ 0 ] November 19, 2006 |

Casino Royale did not disappoint. It’s easily the best Bond since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and is competitive with top Connery films. The reasons for the improvement are clear; Craig is an excellent choice as Bond, the producers decided to return to Fleming’s source material, and partially as consequence of the latter the movie is about spying rather than about trying to conquer the world.

I recall reading somewhere that Connery played Bond as a thug who had become a fop, while Moore and the rest played fops who had learned to be thugs. Craig, given the opportunity to play a younger Bond, takes the role a step farther and simply plays an unformed thug. In the wake of Brosnan’s irritating sophisticate, this is a remarkably refreshing turn. Craig emphasizes the “unformed” aspect, making it clear that the Connery Bond could emerge from the character that he’s taking over. Bond preferences are always a bit idiosyncratic (for some reason I have a high tolerance for both Roger Moore and George Lazenby), but I think it’s fair to say that Craig has the opportunity to become no worse than the second best Bond.

Casino Royale is the first serious use of Fleming source material since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, allowing that some of the Moore films used elements from various of Fleming’s works. The Fleming material (with some modification for an audience unfamiliar with baccarat) covers the middle portion of the movie, but the producers do a good job of filling in appropriate story on both sides. The overall storyline is very reminiscent of Secret Service, taking advantage of Bond’s humanity and uneasy relationship with MI6. Unlike most recent Bond, it’s simply a good story and could make for a decent spy movie even in the absence of the Bond character. The opening sequence is radically different than recent (or, really, just about any) Bond, although the opening titles aren’t so strong.

Casino Royale went long by about 20 minutes (fat could have been trimmed in several places, including the longer poker sequences) but it’s an extremely strong entry in the Bond canon, and suggests that there may be hope for the future of the franchise.


[ 0 ] November 19, 2006 |

Matt makes a good point; the idea that “one last big push” will make a difference in Iraq is absurd on its face. The basic problem of counter-insurgency warfare is that the enemy need not fight if it doesn’t wish to. Increasing troops in an area for a limited amount of time, which is pretty much the definition of a last big push, just means that insurgents will reduce their operational tempo until success is declared and the troops leave.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: USS Maryland

[ 0 ] November 19, 2006 |

USS Maryland represented the zenith of “standard type” US battleship development. The “standard type” ships had compatible speeds, turning circles, and armaments, allowing them to form a squadron that could operate as a cohesive unit. The last five of the twelve ships built to the standard type were referred to as the Big Five. Starting with Maryland’s half-sisters Tennessee and California, the Big Five adopted a new underwater protection system, a more modern secondary armament, a more extensive superstructure, and reinforced cage masts capable of supporting heavier conning towers. Maryland differed from the first two ships in that she carried 8 16″ guns in four twin turrets rather than 12 14″ in triple turrets. The Big Five were slightly larger than the New Mexico class, displacing about 33000 tons standard, and could make 21 knots.

Maryland’s interwar service was uneventful. The Washington Naval Treaty resulted in the destruction by gunfire of her last sister, USS Washington, leaving Maryland and her four sisters the most modern ships in the fleet. Nevertheless, the Navy decided not to modernize the Big Five after determining that they would be unable to keep up with the new battleships under construction. A moderate refit improved Maryland’s anti-aircraft protection. Maryland entered the Second World War on December 7, 1941 with her original profile intact, cage masts included.

On December 7, Maryland was moored inboard of USS Oklahoma, protecting her from torpedo attack. She suffered two bomb hits but received only superficial damage. Once freed from Battleship Row, Maryland proceeded with Tennessee and Pennsylvania, both of which had suffered similarly minor damage, to Puget Sound Naval Yard for repair and refit. Much work was done in a short period of time to modernize Maryland for the Pacific War. She lost her aft cagemast, and her foremast was reduced in height and complemented by a larger superstructure. Her beam was slightly increased to improve torpedo protection, and she received additional AA mounts. For the next year and a half she and a squadron of older battleships operated as convoy escorts and a “fleet in being” in the Pacific, without ever engaging the enemy. In late 1943 Maryland undertook her first shore bombardment mission, a role which would occupy her for most of the rest of the war.

In October 1944, Maryland and five other battleships (West Virginia, California, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Pennsylvania) were tasked with shore bombardment and escort of Leyte island in the Philippines. Warned by recon aircraft that a Japanese force was approaching, the American battleship took up a position in the Surigao Strait, crossing the “T” of the oncoming Japanese fleet. Led by the battleship Yamashiro, the Japanese ships sailed right into the American trap, and came under withering fire from the American ships. Three of the US battleships possessed modern radar arrays, and quickly found the range to Yamashiro. Maryland had an older array, but nonetheless managed to straddle Yamashiro with several salvos. Yamashiro underwent brutal shelling, and sank following a torpedo attack.

Maryland continued with her shore bombardment duties for the rest of the war. She was hit by three kamikazes planes, the first and third causing serious damage. In early April 1945 Maryland was assigned to shore bombardment off Okinawa when word came that a Japanese task force, led by the battleship Yamato, had left port. Maryland, along with Colorado, West Virginia, Tennessee, Idaho, and New Mexico was detailed to destroy Yamato if she survived air attacks along the way. Yamato fell victim to US carrier aircraft, but it’s worth thinking about what an engagment with the old battleship might have looked like. Yamato had considerable advantages in size, speed, and range over any of the American ships. The engagement would have been fought in darkness, which earlier in the war had worked to the Japanese advantage. In this case, I suspect that improvements in US radar and the long range of the battle would have worked in US favor, and that USS West Virginia, a ship with 16″ guns and an advanced array, would have been the first ship to draw blood. Using her relatively high speed, Yamato could have tried to fight the battle at long range to her advantage, but I think that her suicide mission would have led to more aggressive tactics, and that she would have engaged with the US battleline. The US ships would no doubt have suffered severely from Yamato’s 18″ guns, but hit anything with enough 14″ shells and it will sink. The US advantage in destroyers would also have had an effect, as Yamato had virtually no defense against surface torped attack. However, as Yamato might easily have sunk one or more US battleships, with thousands of resultant dead, the Americans made the right decision by destroying her from the air.

After the war Maryland and her four sisters were placed in reserve, and not finally disposed of until 1959. It is unfortunate that a more serious effort was not made for her preservation, since she was the only survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack to remain in substantially original condition (California, Tennessee, and West Virginia were transformed by wartime reconstruction).

Trivia: What was the only dreadnought battleship built on the US West Coast?

A Funny…

[ 0 ] November 18, 2006 |


I’ll just note how ironic it is that the man who popularized the term “no free lunch” proved that if you were willing to argue against taxation and government regulation, there would always be a rich person willing to buy lunch for you.

Observations on the Big Game

[ 0 ] November 18, 2006 |

Ivan Maisel:

Eight times in the 10 years (1969-78) that Hayes and his protégé, Bo Schembechler, glowered at each other across the sideline, their teams played for the Big Ten championship. Each coach took his team to the Rose Bowl five times. Hayes went 1-4, Schembechler went 0-5, and neither record should come as a surprise. After coaching against each other, they and their teams were spent.

I’d say there’s probably an alternative explanation for that 1-9 record against the Pac-10.

Other observations:

  • I’m hardly the first to note this, but what’s the point of the BCS system if the computers get neutered to the degree that one of the founding purposes of the system (to eliminate the distinction between a loss in the first game and a loss in the tenth game) is lost?
  • I think Chait gets the better of this exchange. Although I wouldn’t give up the Oregon-UW rivalry for anything, I’ll admit that on the Oregon side it comes with a healthy dose of ressentiment. That may change if Husky football continues its spiral into pathos…
  • Since I’m in Ohio this morning I feel compelled to cheer for the Buckeyes. Cheering for a Buckeye is something that I’ve never done before.

Prediction: Michigan has the reach, but Ohio State has the patented coma lock. And is at home. And is better than Michigan. Ohio State 30, Michigan 17

[ 0 ] November 17, 2006 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson

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