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Biddle

[ 0 ] April 6, 2006 |

AG has an excellent review of Stephen Biddle’s excellent book, Military Power. Read the review, and read the book if you get a chance.

AG sums Biddle’s argument up as follows:

His argument is that it is not superior manpower, superior technology, superior firepower, or superior mobility that wins battles – it’s superior force employment. If you’re on the offensive or defensive side, superior tactics and skills are what wins the day.

Which is not quite accurate; Biddle allows that numbers and technology can overwhelem employment advantage in certain cases. In the Desert Storm chapter, Biddle notes that the outcome in 1991 was over-determined, as advanced Coalition technology would likely have won the day regardless of the force employment advantage, and that the two in combination led to the historically low casualty rate of that operation.

One of my students asked an excellent question about this book; how would Biddle explain the performance of the PLA against the US Army in 1950? Force employment and technology clearly favored the Americans, yet they were soundly defeated by a PLA with overwhelming numerical superiority. My initial cut would be a) numbers still matter, b) US Army force employment in 1950 was not what it had been in 1945 and not what it would be in 1990, and c) MacArthur’s Korea strategy put the US in an operationally hopeless situation. Any other thoughts?

Also see Kingdaddy’s commentary on Biddle’s latest on Iraq. Biddle disputes the Malaya/Iraq analogy, and Kingdaddy disputes Biddle.

NRO: Our Generals Suck

[ 0 ] April 5, 2006 |

Matt helpfully points us to this:

“As our generals have said, the war cannot be won militarily. It must be won politically.”

Some generals may have said that, but it’s wrong. It’s what is said by generals who love to train and parade and buy expensive weapons systems and then retire to cushy jobs at Lockheed. The fact is we have to win both militarily and politically.

We have to learn to fight and win a war against terrorist and insurgent groups. If we have a military that can’t win this kind of war, then Iraq will be only the first of many defeats–Afghanistan, Jordan and Pakistan will soon follow. What would prevent that?

Conservatives have come to love the idea of the military more than the actual military. Now, May is right that the US military isn’t particularly well constructed to fight this kind of war, and that at least some of the blame for failure in Iraq lies at the feet of senior military personnel. It would have been great, however, if someone on the Right had made this analysis prior to 2001. Since the end of the Vietnam War, conservatives in the United States have pursued what must be understood as a pro-military propaganda strategy. Beginning with Caspar Weinberger and the Weinberger doctrine, they facilitated and enabled the US Army narrative which said that the primary responsibility for the defeat in Vietnam lay with (Democratic) politicians. This was great, as far as it went; it helped restore morale within the military, and helped the Republicans to win elections by painting their Democratic opponents as weak, meddling, pacifist traitors.

It was not, however, conducive to healthy civil-military relations, or to the construction of a set of military organizations capable of fighting the kinds of conflicts the United States was likely to fight. Enabled by this narrative, the services turned further away from the kind of low intensity conflict seen in Vietnam and toward a high intensity model that had little applicability in the post-Cold War world. Because support of the military became so deeply embedded in a particularly Repbublican form of patriotism, cricitism of the military became akin to criticism of America itself. The Democrats are not innocent in this; to say that Bill Clinton treated the military with kid gloves is a grave understatement.

The chickens, so to speak, have come home to roost. Left to its own devices, the Pentagon has constructed a doctrinal and material edifice wholly unsuited to the challenges of the War on Terror. The most valuable political insight that American conservatives have offered is that large governmental bureaucracies are unwieldy, inefficient, and often unable to accomplish their goals. For the last 35 years, however, an article of faith among conservatives has been that this insight ought never to be applied to the US military, the largest bureaucracy in the Federal Government. Since 2001, Don Rumsfeld and his lackies have discovered that, no matter how many one-stars and two-stars you fire, the US military is too large of an institution to be turned on a dime. Like any bureaucracy, it includes entrenched interests that resist change. It cannot transform itself, will not transform itself, at the command of a few arrogant and irritable civilians.

And so they complain, and they blame, and they point fingers, and they manage to forget that the monster is of their own creation.

Lexblogging: Drinking Liberally

[ 0 ] April 5, 2006 |

For anyone in the Lexington Area,

The first meeting of Drinking Liberally-Lexington will be held at 6:30pm, Tuesday, April 11 at the Horse and Barrel (101 North Broadway). I expect that we’ll be meeting every other week. Given popular preference, the day, time, and venue may change after the inaugural meeting.

If you have any questions, let me know.

Hank vs. Wilt

[ 0 ] April 5, 2006 |

I have to agree with several of Matt’s commenters that Hank Aaron’s 755 home runs probably is the most “hallowed” record in American sports, given that hallowed is a rather inexact term.

It’s not the most unbreakable, which I’m inclined to think goes to Charlie Radbourn’s 59 wins in 1884. In the modern era, I wouldn’t be surprised if Barry Bonds 232 walks in 2004 stands for about as long as any record in sports; it’s 62 walks ahead of any player not named “Bonds”. But unbreakable does not equal hallowed, because the latter term encompasses more than difficulty. Certainly, a hallowed record must be difficult to break, because it has to stand for some time and acquire a certain legendary status. 73, for example, may be hallowed fifty years from now, but it’s not that memorable right now. However, to be hallowed a record must also reflect something central to the sport, an achievement of some note. Given the importance of the home run to baseball, I think Aaron’s record counts.

Yglesias invokes Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point performance as another candidate, and it’s certainly the most hallowed record that basketball has given us. I don’t think it’s unbreakable, but forty years is pretty solid for a single game record. I suspect, though, that a career records are always going to carry a bit more “hallow” than single game or even single season records, because they take years to make and years to break. People have been talking about the possibility of Bonds breaking Aaron’s record for the last five years or so. Before that, they were talking about Griffey. The more attention a number gets, it seems to me, lends “hallow”.

Anyway, the Giants come to Cincinnati for three games in late September. I’ll be in the right field stands for at least one of those games. It’s obviously unlikely given Bond’s health, but I can say without hyperbole that seeing home run 756 live would be the most exciting moment of my existence on this planet.

Go Terps

[ 0 ] April 4, 2006 |

Congrats to Maryland for winning one hell of a championship game.

Venezuela’s Spree

[ 0 ] April 4, 2006 |

I’m inclined to think that the foreign policy of Hugo Chavez could provide grist for a generation of new international relations scholars. Chavez has pursued a fascinating anti-hegemonic strategy; gambling that hostility to the United States will be more profitable than friendship with the US. It’s a policy that not many Latin American leaders have pursued, and that fewer have succeeded with. Without doubt, it’s more risky for a Latin American country than a European one, the latter not needing to worry overmuch about the threat of a US sponsored coup.

This article on Venezuelan spending patterns is very interesting, demonstrating that Chavez has a conception of power and security that extends beyond the military sphere. Clearly, Chavez believes that general approval and perception of legitimacy among Latin (and North) American leaders will help him survive as much as new tanks and helicopters will. Venezuela is spending a lot of political and financial capital on soft influence. It would seem obvious that this project includes a genuine commitment to leftist goals, a desire to maximize Venezuelan power in the region, and a hope that foreign assistance will help immunize Venezuela from US intervention. These three can conflict in pretty serious ways, as pursuing left wing goals is a good way to earn the animosity of the US, and maximizing power can have the perverse effect of reducing security.

Chavez also has to play a domestic game, and the article suggests he may be having some trouble pursuing his foreign strategy and keeping his base quiet. Some Chavez supporters are apparently asking questions about why so much of Venezuela’s oil wealth is being spent on international projects, and it’s not hard to see why; the connections to increased Venezuelan prosperity are tenuous. Chavez derives domestic benefit from sticking his thumb in the eye of the US, but it’s not clear to me that international status and prestige translate all that well into domestic electoral success (is there any good work out there on that?). It’s possible that Chavez feels so secure in his domestic position that he doesn’t think he needs to worry about losing future elections. It’s also possible that he’s become overconfident, and has miscalculated the degree of his grip on power.

Hammered

[ 0 ] April 4, 2006 |

Gone.

Uh, I’m not sure how someone is supposed to react to this from Assrocket:

It’s too bad, I think. DeLay was an effective leader, albeit too liberal in recent years. It’s possible, of course, that he did something wrong along the way. But there is no evidence of that in the public domain; as I’ve often said, the politically-inspired prosection of DeLay by Travis County’s discredited DA, Ronnie Earle, is a bad joke. As far as we can tell at the moment, DeLay appears to be yet another victim of the Democrats’ politics of personal destruction–the only politics they know.

The english language lacks the verbs, nouns, and adjectives necessary to describe…

Instapundit clutches desperately for some centrist cred…

Inside Man

[ 0 ] April 3, 2006 |

Saw Inside Man on Saturday. I was quite pleased.

There were a couple of obvious problems. The score, until the very last scene, was intrusive and annoying. The payoff, admittedly, was good, but didn’t make up for the rest of the soundtrack. The last thirty minutes had a clunky, taped together feeling. Having already revealed everything important, Lee had trouble stringing the final act together. We knew about the important decisions made my Owen and Washington, and about the secrets that Plummer harbored. Not all that much left to say.

That said, lots of positive qualities. The performances by Washington, Dafoe, and Owen were predictably good. The plot was interesting enough, last act notwithstading. I liked Lee’s presentation of the NYPD; movies like this all too often descend into the Die Hard template of assuming the radical ineptitude of police organizations in the face of a major heist. The NYPD, however, looked extremely professional on every level. It’s not so much that I like seeing police department portrayed in a positive light as that it was genuinely different than the typical presentation in such a film.

Lee also displayed the eye of a New York filmmaker. On every visit I’ve had to Manhattan I’ve seen lots of scaffolding; lots of building are always under construction or repair. Even in Law and Order, I don’t think I can ever recall seeing scaffolding in a cinematic depiction of New York. Lee shows us scaffolding in the first ten minutes. Lee, unsurprisingly, also shows an eye for what New Yorkers look like. He did an amazing job of depicting the variety of shades of the citizens of America’s most diverse city. Unlike some filmmakers, he was able to pull this off in a completely believable and unselfconcious way. It never felt as if the director was trying to [insert stereotypical black character here] or [insert stereotypical hispanic character here].

Scott is quite right in his evaluation of Lee:

The secret to Lee is that he’s an extremely gifted director who is a mediocre-to-poor (and always uneven) writer.

Inside Man is a pretty solid effort.

Opening Day

[ 0 ] April 3, 2006 |

Thank goodness I don’t have Barry Zito on my roster…

In other news, congratulations to Mr. Keith Adams on winning the LGM Tournament Challenge. As soon as Mr. Adams sends me his e-mail address, I will be happy to present him with a genuine LGM Championshipness-worthy certificate, suitable for framing.

Was it just my imagination, or did UCLA play about the ugliest championship game I’ve ever seen?

Libya

[ 0 ] April 3, 2006 |

AG and Kingdaddy have both commented on this article on Libya by Dafna Hochman. Hochman demolishes the argument that the invasion of Iraq had any effect on Libya’s decision to end its nuclear weapon program. It’s well worth reading.

In the 1980s, Qaddafi occupied the narrative space that Saddam Hussein assumed in the 1990s and Fidel Castro held in the 1960s. Qaddafi did a bunch of genuinely bad things. He adopted the Soviet Union as a patron, and just about every terrorist organization under the sun as clients. Terrorists operating with Libyan assistance, training, and perhaps under Libyan orders carried out a number of high profile and deadly attacks against Western targets. Libya invaded neighboring Chad, an operation that ended in a humiliating defeat at the hands of poorly equipped Chadian militias. Libya also had several military encounters with the United States, including a fighter scrum in the Gulf of Sidra and a series of air attacks intended to decapitate Qaddafi’s regime.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union things went poorly for Libya, and Qaddafi decided to move back toward the West. Libya toned down the terrorism angle, eventually handing over those responsible for the Pan Am 103 bombing. Libya rebuilt its relations with the rest of Africa, eventually achieiving a prominent position in African diplomatic circles. Finally, as early as 1999, Libya offered to shut down its WMD program, including the nuclear program. It gave up the last of its program in late 2003.

Conservatives were quick to declare Libya’s decision to give up its nuclear program as evidence that the Iraq invasion had had its intended effect of intimidating US enemies. If you had been paying no attention, this make sense. To anyone who followed Libyan foreign policy during the 1990s and early 2000s (an admittedly small number), the argument was absurd. Libya began moving toward the West well before the United States attacked Iraq or even began to seriously threaten moving against it. Moreover, the Libyan decision was made in the absence of any plausible military threat on the part of the West. While US rhetoric toward North Korea and Iran has been characterized by bluster and a strategy of “keeping all options on the table”, no one has talked about using military force against Libya since the early 1990s. It would be curious indeed if the invasion of Iraq frightened Libya, against which no threats were made, into giving up its WMD while apparently pushing Iran and North Korea, the target of very serious threats, in precisely the opposite direction. In this case, however, there’s no puzzle. The invasion of Iraq had no effect on Libya’s decision, which was made before 9/11.

Given the logical weaknesses of the reputational argument, it’s not surprising that no easy line can be drawn between Iraq and Libya. The Libyan example is also instructive regarding another right-wing fantasy, that of Iraq’s connection with terrorist groups. Stephen Hayes is making a career out of producing fantastic descriptions of Iraq’s connections with Al Qaeda, mostly based on a few documents that suggest some contacts in the mid-1990s. Let me suggest that if we had access to Libya’s intelligence archives we’d find a web of connections that would make Hayes most fevered dreams look like child’s play. Even in the 1990s, and certainly in the 1980s, Libya was a far more enthusiastic supporter of terrorism than Iraq. The same could be said of Iran, Syria, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Hayes doesn’t grapple with this because his purpose is not to study Iraq in a comparative context, a project that might determine Iraq’s connections to terrorism relative to its neighbors. This is the only useful way to study Iraq’s terror connections, as the invasion of Iraq can only be justified on terrorism grounds if Iraq was a relatively aggressive sponsor of terrorism. Hayes has done nothing to establish this, and with good reason; it’s preposterous. Relative to Iran, Syria, Libya, and Saudi Arabia (at least with regards to Al Qaeda) Iraq was a dabbler in terror. Hayes doesn’t deny this, and doens’t grapple with it, because his point is post hoc rationalization rather than serious journalism.

Termination and Employment

[ 0 ] April 3, 2006 |

Brad Plumer has an interesting discussion of whether making it easier to fire workers in France will actually decrease unemployment. I can’t really say that I feel strongly either way; both positions seem reasonable, although Brad presents some solid evidence on the contrary position.

During my short residence in Germany, what struck me as contributing to unemployment wasn’t so much personnel regulations as the collection of other regulations that limited German commerce, such as laws that prevented retailers from remaining open until late hours, open on Sundays, and so forth. On the one hand, these measures were extremely annoying to someone who had become accustomed to being able to hit the supermarket at 4am if the fancy struck me. On the other, they would really seem to contribute to unemployment by prohibiting the hiring of additional workers to occupy certain shifts. When I asked why these regulations were in place, I was usually told that the limits were intended to protect small, family businesses against large corporations.

I really have no idea of how accurate my impression was, if it stands up in comparative context, or what other obstacles there might be to increased employment in European countries. Nevertheless, it didn’t make any sense to me to prohibit retailers from selling product to customers based on the hour of the day. I wouldn’t be surprised if such regulations had just as much, if not more, impact on unemployment than those that concern hiring and termination.

One of these is not like the others….

[ 0 ] April 3, 2006 |

In the course of denouncing a University of Texas professor for making an environmentally apocalyptic statement, Sully gives us the following. See if you can pick out the problem:

In the long run, right-wing fundamentalism and left-wing fundamentalism end up in the same place.

[...]

You have John McCain’s new best friends, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, seeing the End-Times approach, when every homosexual, feminist and Jew will be roasted alive by Jesus. You have Marxists expecting the Communist revolution when all alienation will be dispelled. And you have the fundie enviro-left eagerly anticipating species annihilation. To my mind, it’s a very good indicator of whether someone is worth listening to from a political stand-point. Those who expect the end of the world relatively soon should be kept as far away from public office as possible. They can keep their apocalypses to themselves.

A pox on all their houses!!

But maybe, just maybe, John McCain’s new best friends are a slightly bigger threat than a few lonely, bitter Marxists and a UT professor who likes plagues. And possibly, lumping the former into a group with the latter really does a disservice to reality by failing to grapple with the fact that the right-wing extremists are members-in-good-standing of the Republican political machine while the left-wing extremists are in the wilderness and will continue to be in the wilderness for the foreseeable future.