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Cylons and Preventive War (significant spoiler content)

[ 0 ] November 28, 2006 |

In the last episode of BSG, we learned that, some three years ago, a Colonial recon ship crossed into Cylon territory where it was discovered, destroyed, and its pilot captured. The Blame the Colonies First Crowd has apparently decided that this means that the Colonial Fleet precipitated the genocidal Cylon attack that nearly destroyed humanity. Let’s review that claim, shall we?

The Galactica timeline indicates that the recon mission took place roughly a year before the Cylon attack on the Colonies. If the mission precipated the attack, this would mean that the Cylons must have decided to attack and developed the capability to attack within this timeframe. Given what we know about Cylon decision-making, it’s entirely plausible that they could have decided to attack and and begun to develop plans in such a short period. Given that the Colonial Fleet possessed over a hundred battlestars, it’s also plausible that the Cylons would have constructed numerous Basestars and Raiders during the truce period. Thus, the material requirements for what we’ve seen seem well within Cylon capabilities. The more twitchy question involves the Cylon infiltration of the Colonies.

We know that the Cylons infiltrated the Colonial Fleet and associated groups (most notably a civilian corporation working on the computer defense network) well prior to the attack. The fact that Sharon Valerii, presumably among others, managed to achieve a position in the officer corps of the Colonial Fleet suggests that this infiltration began well prior to the recon mission. Indeed, the Galactica timeline indicates that Caprica Six began her infiltration mission a year before the recon mission, and that Boomer joined the Galactica a year before as well; this would indicate that Sharon had been in the colonies for quite a considerable time period before the recon incursion. What does this tell us? The Cylons had broken the Treaty considerably prior to the Colonial mission. The suspicions of Colonial Admirals were justified; Cylon incursion into Colonial space preceded Colonial incursion, and thus it is rather tendentious to claim that the Colonial mission serves as a legal justification for the Cylon attack.

However, it’s possible that, while the Cylons clearly violated the Treaty, they had not planned to attack and destroy humanity prior to the Colonial incursion. Perhaps Cylon infiltration was essentially defensive in nature (security dilemma dynamics having prompted action), and the Colonial incursion convinced the otherwise peaceful Cylon that the Colonial Fleet was dedicated to their destruction. The ensuing war could then be understood as the tragic consequence of misunderstanding between two essentially status quo powers. There is some supporting evidence for this interpretation. Cylon theology seems to suggest a belief that humanity is incorrigibly aggressive, implying that war between the Colonies and the Cylon was inevitable, and making Cylon action essentially defensive. Given the difficulty of controlling human populations on old and New Caprica, a campaign of genocide might have appeared the only way of dealing with the Colonial threat. On a couple of different occasions, Cylons have claimed an essentially defensive justification for tracking down and destroying the remnants of humanity. Left to their own devices, it is argued, even a tiny residue of humanity would reconstitute its military power and return for revenge in the future.

However, I believe that there is more evidence to suggest that the Cylon planned and waged their war with aggressive intent, with defensive motivations playing only a trivial role. Although it’s difficult to distinguish between a genuinely preventive war and an outright war or aggression (which is why, under almost any theory of international law, preventive war is prohibited), internal Cylon discussions, and conversations with Colonial interrogators, suggest that the Cylon had positive, aggressive intent. We know that the Cylons attacked shortly after Caprica Six had achieved full infiltration and compromise of the Colonial defense network. Although this doesn’t necessarily contradict the defensive explanation, it is more consistent with a longer term aggressive plan, and implies that the Cylon infiltration before the recon mission was designed to lay the groundwork for an attack, rather than to determine Colonial intent. Following the conquest, the Cylon did not destroy all of humanity, but rather initiated a Cylon-human breeding program in an effort to create some sort of hybrid. This does not imply a defensive motivation, but rather a religiously motivated effort at genetic engineering. The initial Cylon decision to occupy the conquered Colonies also suggests a war of aggression rather than of defensive motivation. Finally, Cylon theology seems to suggest that, above and beyond their belief that humanity was an incorrigible threat, the Cylon understood themselves as Gods tool for the destruction of humanity, and thus that the cause of the war was divine inspiration, rather than defensive survival.

In summation, the argument that the Colonial recon mission into Cylon space constituted the legal justification for the Cylon campaign is simply implausible, and is an argument unworthy of consideration by a Colonial officer. Futhermore, while it can plausibly be argued that Cylon motivation for the war was essentially defensive, the weight of the evidence heavily favors an interpretation of the war as an aggressive campaign of conquest.



[ 0 ] November 28, 2006 |

It’s not typical that I, an inhabitant both spiritually and physically of the provinces, can recommend a Broadway show to our readers in the metropole. However, the group about to begin a revival of Company on Broadway was in Cincinnati a few months ago, where I caught a performance. I recommend it without reservation. It didn’t hurt that I saw the show, about an unmarried man named Bobby on the eve of a thirty-something birthday, a couple of days before my own 32nd birthday.


[ 0 ] November 28, 2006 |

Does it surprise anyone that conventional munitions would most likely do a better job against deep bunkers than their nuclear counterparts? Whenever I read a report like this, I try to think back to my days as a conservative (ten years ago or so) and figure out why, in spite of the evidence, I might nevertheless hold an objectively irrational position. In this case, it’s not all that hard; hippies hate nukes, and hippies are obviously wrong, so therefore nukes must be good, in spite of any practical difficulties that might crop up.

Hanson Idiocy Watch

[ 0 ] November 27, 2006 |

VD Hanson:

Then why has not bin Laden and Dr. Zawahiri turned jihadist attention to either country? While neither has troops in the Middle East, each might at least warrant some hateful rhetoric, inasmuch as their policies make the Danish cartoonists or the poor Pope pale in comparison.

The answer is, as we know, that China and Russia are not only strong like the United States, but, unlike America, wildly unpredictable and seemingly a little crazy. No jihadist quite knows what would be the reaction to a campaign of suicide bombing on Moscow or Beijing, and, more importantly, no rogue nation that sponsors Islamic fascists wishes to find out. What Middle Eastern state wishes to discover what being on the receiving end of a Russian nuclear version of the Beslan or Moscow theater “rescues” might look like?

Islamic terrorists haven’t turned their attention on Russia? Living in the real world, I was under the impression that the war on Chechnya had resulted in the influx of large numbers of “jihadists” who have carried out a relentless campaign of terror against Russian targets, the most notable being the seizure of a school at Beslan. Indeed, I have been almost ready to believe that this campaign of terror has far exceeded in length, body count, and devastation any reaction to Danish cartoonists or to the Pope’s speech on Islam. But then, I guess I just concentrate way too much on “stuff that actually happened” and “reality” to appreciate the good professor. In Hanson’s world, terrorism against Russia can’t be all that bad, because Russia is strong and has the “will” to slaughter thousands at the drop of a dime. Ergo, evidence that Russia suffers from a severe terrorist problem in spite of its Carthaginian approach doesn’t register. It’s like that time that Israel retaliated for a terrorist attack, solving once and for all its problems with Islamic terrorism…

On roughly the same front, Hanson writes:

The problems in Iraq, in the radical Middle East at large—with democratization, with nuclearization, with Islamism—are not, repeat not, a lack of dialogue with Syria and Iran.

We know what both rogue states wish and it is our exit from the Middle East and thus a free hand to undermine the newly established democracies of Lebanon and Iraq—in the manner that all autocracies must destroy their antitheses.

They both sponsor and harbor terrorists for a reason—to undermine anything Western: a Western-leaning Lebanese democracy, a Western-style democracy in Iraq, a Westernized Israel, or soldiers of the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Professor Hanson is apparently unaware that, until the Axis of Evil speech, Iran was quite cooperative with the United States in Afghanistan, supporting Western operations in areas along its border and seeking actively to undermine the Taliban. Iran wasn’t doing the US any favors, of course, but it was possible to reach accomodation on a subject that both countries had an interest in. One might be inclined to believe that a similar accomodation would be possible in regards to Iraq; maybe not, but at least worth trying. In any case, VD’s recommended policy course would also preclude any cooperation with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or Pakistan, as they are certainly autocracies and thus must destroy their antithesis. There also an echo here of the same problem discussed above; because Iran and Syria don’t respond to forceful rhetoric and to the invasion of Iraq in the way we want them to, they must be irrational haters of the West, dedicated to no-holds barred destruction of everything we love, valuing our pain even more than their own lives, etc. I guess this is how guys like Hanson get around the empirical puzzle of how some countries aren’t intimidated by our threats.

If we are to judge an ideological movement by the firepower of its intellectuals, neoconservatism appears to be in terrible, terrible shape. Hanson is a third rate hack who would have been consigned to the dust bin of any healthy intellectual program. Instead, he finds worshipful disciples and is regularly linked to by Insty, himself at an advanced stage of intellectual outsourcing. If I wanted to offer a psychological explanation, I would probably suggest that something about the way wingnuts think makes men like VD, who write in big words about distant subjects with great historical themes but little substance, particularly attractive. It’s probably not accidental that this crew loves the sweeping historical epic, like Braveheart, Gladiator, or the John Milius’ penned Rome. Lacking anything better to do with their time than the aforementioned 16 hour Civ IV marathon, they want to understand themselves as at the forefront of some grand, civilizational struggle, and VD Hanson can offer them that. I guess the gig pays well enough…


[ 0 ] November 26, 2006 |

I have it on good authority that some law professors are deeply sympathetic to Ezra’s position on social science students and law school. I recall that, during graduate school, the template refrain for “what if this political science thing doesn’t work out?” was “I’ll go to law school”. Still, while the endless flood of twenty-somethings without clear life goals would understandably be irritating, law professors must realize that they by and large owe their jobs to this miasma of post-graduate confusion…

Sunday Battleship Blogging: USS California

[ 1 ] November 26, 2006 |

The first American battleship built on the West Coast was USS Oregon, commissioned in 1896. USS Virginia, USS Massachusetts, and USS New York were built in their nominal states. The first and only battleship built in its own state on the West Coast was USS California, second ship of the Tennessee class, and second of the “Big Five.” USS California, commissioned in 1921, displaced 33000 tons, carried 12 14″ guns in four triple turrets, and could make 21 knots. As a member of the Big Five, USS California carried the honor of being one of the most powerful battleships in the fleet, and suffered from the decision of the USN to delay the reconstruction of the Big Five as long as possible.

On December 7, 1941 USS California was sitting at anchor somewhat south of Battleship Row. Preparing for inspection,
California was not ready for underwater attack. Struck by two bombs and two torpoedos, California was abandoned prematurely in fear of a burning oil slick advancing off of the other damaged battleships. Upon their return, the crew could not control the flooding and she settled onto the harbor floor. She was refloated in March 1942 and sent, in June of the same year, to Puget Sound Naval Yard for reconstruction. Instead of returning USS California to service as soon as possible, which might have taken three months or so, the USN decided to rebuild California and two of her sisters (Tennessee and West Virginia) completely, such that they visually resembled the South Dakota class rather than their erstwhile sisters USS Maryland and USS Colorado. USS California emerged with a modern superstructure, an advanced anti-aircraft armament, new radar, and a wider beam (chubby enough that she could not advance through the Panama Canal). The time, cash, and material spent on the reconstruction of these three old battleships must be brought into question, as the expansion of their capabilities was relatively modest given the roles that the played in the Pacific War.

California reactivated in early 1944 and deployed to the Pacific in a shore bombardment capacity until October. She was present at the Battle of Surigao Strait, where she and the other two “Big Three” members (West Virgnia and Tennessee) detected and opened fire on Yamashiro well before their unmodified comrades. The purpose of the American task force was to seal off the area around Leyte from any Japanese naval forces coming from the south. The northern approaches were supposed to be covered by the fast battleships attached to Admiral Halsey’s carrier task forces. Admiral Oldendorf’s battleships and cruisers easily overwhelmed the squadrons of Admirals Nishurima and Shima. If, however, the larger force led by Admiral Kurita had taken the southern route, the situation might have become more interesting. American air and submarine attacks sank or turned away a battleship, three cruisers, and two destroyers, but Kurita still had a respectable force. Had Kurita’s force met Oldendorf’s, the balance would have been six battleships, twelve cruisers, and twenty-nine destroyers on the American side against four battleships, nine cruisers, and eleven destroyers on the Japanese. Assuming that the lighter ships cancelled each other out (although the American advantage would have weighed over time), the encounter would have come down to the confrontation of battle lines. The Japanese had the most powerful ship in either fleet (Yamato), but the next three most powerful were the Big Three. USS Maryland was probably roughly equivalent to Nagato, and Mississippi and Pennsylvania were clearly superior to the battlecruisers Kongo and Haruna. The American line had a substantial advantage in guns and armor, especially as the Japanese battlecruisers could not have expected to last long under accurate fire. However, the Japanese line had 5-6 knots on the Americans, which might have allowed them to pull off a replay of Tsushima, where a faster Japanese line twice crossed the Russian T. I suspect that, given local US air superiority and the need for the Japanese to escape before the return of Halsey’s battleships, that the encounter would have been fairly brief. The Japanese might well have lost one or both of the battlecruisers, but Nagato and Yamato probably would have escaped, although not before heavily damaging several of the American ships. Had Musashi survived the air attacks prior to the battle, the story might have been different.

California participated in several other shore bombardment operations before the end of the war, although a kamikaze attack delayed her arrival at Okinawa. After the end of the war, she supported occupation landings in Japan and elsewhere, before returning to the United States. Placed in reserve in 1946, California and the rest of the Big Five were retained for thirteen years in case of a need for shore bombardment ships. As the Korean War did not even justify the activation of the much newer North Carolina and South Dakota classes, the rationale for the retention seems questionable. California was sold for scrap in 1959.

Trivia: What was the last American battleship to be built with reciprocating machinery?

[ 0 ] November 25, 2006 |

Belated Friday Cat Blogging… Mamacat

Finest Hour

[ 0 ] November 24, 2006 |

Iain Ballantyne notes a discussion of Britain’s “Finest Hour” regarding the relative value of the contribution of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force to Britain’s survival in 1940 and 1941. Ballantyne:

Certainly the German fleet was not up to the job of fighting off half a dozen British battleships, scores of destroyers and dozens of submarines. The battle-hardened Royal Navy would have ripped the German invasion ships to pieces.

I am deeply sympathetic to this perspective. Even with only partial fighter cover, the Royal Navy could easily have disrupted a German invasion fleet. Ballantyne notes that most of the heavy units of the Kriegsmarine had been damaged by the Royal Navy in early 1940, and would not have been available for action in Sea Lion. Any German invasion fleet would have faced not only the capital ships of the Royal Navy, but groups of cruisers and destroyers that might have proved an even more dire threat to any amphibious landing. Every Allied amphibious assault, Atlantic or Pacific, enjoyed massive local naval superiority, and only the invasion of Normandy would have rivalled the requirements of a German invasion of Great Britain.

The Royal Air Force certainly played a critical role in defending the United Kingdom from attack in World War II. But it was the Royal Navy that prevented invasion, just as it had in the Napoleonic Wars and so many times before.

Outright Thuggery

[ 0 ] November 22, 2006 |

If you love the VD Hanson-bashing genre (and obviously we do), be sure to check out Matt’s contribution. A sample:

Rather than view this appreciation, imitation, and innovation as a metaphor for the cultural exchange which has characterized the relationship between Islamic and Christian civilizations just as often as has “clash,” Hanson views this as a form of “parasitism.” This tells you a lot about his approach to the study of history, as well as his feelings about Islam in general. “We” create, “they” copy (and destroy). The fact that it was Muslim learning that turned the lights on and helped to end Europe’s Dark Ages seems not to have penetrated Hanson’s fuhrer’s bunker of a head. I mean, sure, Fibonacci got people to abandon the abacus by introducing Arabic numerals and calculation to Italy, sure our word “algebra” comes from the Arabic al-Jabr, transposition, but who really even uses mathematics any more these days? Sure, Muslims developed the modern university, but when was the last time you heard of anyone “going to college”? What a bunch of parasites.

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.

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