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And a Brief Military Assessment…

[ 0 ] July 16, 2006 |

Restating what should be some obvious points…

  • Israel has clear conventional superiority of Hezbollah and Lebanon, and can obviously do a lot of damage. However, the idea that Israel can destroy Hezbollah is absurd. If Israel could have destroyed Hezbollah, it would have done so at some point between 1982 and 2000. It’s clear that the IDF can hurt, but equally as clear that it can’t exterminate Hezbollah through military force alone.
  • If the IDF can’t do it, then the Lebanese obviously can’t do it. Suggestions that the Lebanese simply lacked the will to deal with Hezbollah are idiotic on their face. Will in this case is irrelevant; Lebanon (largely, but not solely, because of the interference of its two more powerful neighbors) is one of the least capable states in the world. If you think that the Lebanese Army could have destroyed Hezbollah, then you really don’t understand what a state is, and certainly know nothing of the relationship between states and non-governmental actors.
  • Dan seems cautiously optimistic about the idea of international assistance for Lebanese government forces in action to disarm Hezbollah, but I’m unconvinced. Various Lebanese militias managed to survive attacks from each other, Syria, Israel, and the United States in the 1980s, and I don’t see any reason to believe that the situation has changed.
  • The Israeli action has been defended on the pretense of establishing a reputation for resolve and national will. Who, I wonder, doubted Israeli resolve before three weeks ago? When I wasn’t looking, did Israel indicate that it was full of pansies? Or is it possible that a reputation for resolve does not, in fact, save you from terrorist attack? There’s probably a dissertation to be written in here somewhere, but to put it as briefly as possible, Israel seems to be a critical negative case for the idea that a reputation for resolve and will can deter attacks. Israel habitually responds to such attacks with overwhelming force, but either this never establishes for Israel a tough reputation, or a tough reputation doesn’t matter. As an aside, if you believe that the security fence has cut down on terrorist attacks in Israel fine and good, but a fence is about capabilities, not resolve.

UPDATE: In response to this last point, Alex notes in comments that the withdrawals from Lebanon in 2000 and from Gaza in 2005 may have left Israel with a reputation for weakness. There are two colossal problems with this argument. The first is that, in order to believe that the withdrawal in 2000 was consequential for terrorist behavior, you have to assert that Israel’s reputation for toughness was deterring attacks prior to 2000. This is an absurd claim. Second, the policy implications of this position are appalling. The argument seems to be that having occupied a territory, a state can never withdraw without suffering dire reputational effects. The implications of this argument for US Iraq policy are quite troubling; literally, the US will acquire a reputation for weakness if it EVER withdraws from Iraq. If there are multiple ways of interpreting a particular action (that is, if Hezbollah can interpret as weakness something that Israel interprets as strength) then the logic of the resolve argument collapses. If people can interpret things in any way they see fit then they can never be convinced that strong action actually indicates strength; they will always assert, rather, that it covers weakness.

And this is the empirical problem with the resolve argument. Because there are no measurable indicators of resolve (indeed, by the nature of the beast, such indicators are impossible), partisans of the reputational argument can invariably insist that the bad thing X is the consequence of weak policy Y. What, you beat five guys to death but left two standing? Weakness!!! In response to bad thing Z, which has no evident temporal connection to Y, the policy recommendation is simply “more toughness”. It’s an empty argument.

Iran and the Crisis

[ 0 ] July 16, 2006 |

Like Ezra, I think that Ze’ev Schiff’s assessment of the Iranian role in the Hezbollah attacks is plausible, with some caveats. The employment of a relatively modern surface to surface missile against an Israeli warship is a dead giveaway; while it’s possible that Hezbollah could have come up with the missiles and the training necessary to use them independently, it doesn’t seem very likely. But this leaves open the exact nature of the relationship between Iran and Hezbollah, and on this point I think there’s a lot of room for misstep.

First, even if we were to assume that Iran and Hezbollah are both unitary rational actors that have a close relationship with one another, it simply isn’t true that Iran “controls” Hezbollah to the degree that all Hezbollah activities can be laid at the feet of Iran. Hezbollah, whatever its connections with Iran, has its own set of interests and undoubtedly plays a regular game with its various sponsors. I don’t doubt that Iran has influence, but influence is much different than control. The United States has a lot of influence over its clients, but those clients nevertheless often act in ways we don’t care for, and embroil us in conflicts we don’t want. This isn’t an effort to excuse Iran, but it should make us hesitant about drawing neat, solid lines between Tehran and southern Lebanon.

Of course, a second problem is that Iran doesn’t really qualify as a unitary rational actor. No country does, but the military and foreign policy apparati of the Iranian state are byzantine, and do not act under the control of one entity. Rather, you have bureaucratic actors competing with one another, often with ends that are at odds. My guess is that someone in Iran thinks that attacking Israel through this method was a good idea, and a selection of other governmental officials think it was a terrible idea. Again, this hardly excuses Iran, but it does make the situation more complicated. It is extremely unlikely that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is sitting in Tehran carefully assessing whether the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers will take the heat off of the Iranian nuclear program. This is the big problem with Schiff’s claim about Iran’s purpose in manufacturing a crisis; I very much doubt that the decision-making process was anything like what he suggests. Indeed, it seems problematic to me on its face, as the conflict with Lebanon would appear just as likely to refocus attention on Iran as it would to deflect it. As many have noted, the vultures are already clamoring for blood.

Matt has more.

Precedent

[ 0 ] July 16, 2006 |

The problem with a precedent is, of course, that someone might follow it. Rodger writes:

Given how the US reacted to the traumatic 9/11 attacks — wars against Afghanistan and Iraq that are still ongoing and adoption of a dangerous public doctrine of “preemptive” action that openly embraces preventive war — security scholars ought to be thinking seriously about India’s possible reaction to this week’s Mumbai commuter train bombings.

While the origins of the bombers remain unclear, and their connection to Pakistan unknown, it’s fair to acknowledge that the Indians have much better grounds for viewing Pakistan as responsible for the recent attacks than the US had for, say, Iraq. Pakistan and India of course have a grim history of conflict and war. It would hardly be unreasonable, under a doctrine of preventative war, for the Indians to view an attack on Pakistan as wholly legitimate and even required by the circumstances. Given the relatively close relationship between Pakistan and the United States, India could also reasonably assert that the “international community” is unlikely to do anything productive about Pakistani sponsored terrorism.

A neocon, such as Charles Krauthammer, might respond to this argument by suggesting that Pakistani cooperation in the War on Terror should be seen as a mitigating factor. Such a response would be unlikely to satisfy India, which is far more threatened by Pakistan than it will ever be by Iran or ever would have been by Iraq. The neocon is left, I think, with only a modified “good for me, but not for thee” argument, maintaining that as world hegemon the United States ought to have special leadership rights on intervention decisions. Again, this argument is unlikely to satisfy the world’s largest democracy.

The only argument we’re left with is a realist one; the United States should restrain India because an attack on Pakistan would be against our interests. Naked self-interest does not require the giving of reasons or explanations to countries like India. But this position leaves the notion of preventative war as reasonable act of internationalist policy in tatters; there seems no way to convincingly argue that the US ought to be capable of launching whatever preventative wars it fancies while India should be restrained from advancing its own interests.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: RFS Pyotr Velikiy

[ 0 ] July 16, 2006 |

The Soviet Navy emerged from World War II a tiny force, possessed of a few ancient battleships and numerous smaller, obsolete craft. Geography has not been kind to Russian maritime endeavours, as the Black and Baltic Seas are easily choked off, the Russian Far East is distant from the industrial base, and the far north is both often choked with ice and very far from conventional shipping lanes. Nonetheless, naval power was considered important by Stalin, and the Soviet Navy became a formidable force in the 1950s and 1960s. The Soviet Navy differed in important ways from the USN, however, as the Soviets never fully adopted a Mahanian outlook on naval power. Rather than pursue the construction of a few large capital ships designed to attack and destroy their Western counterparts, Russian efforts focused on submarines, patrol boats, destroyers, and cruisers. As the Soviet SSBN force developed, naval doctrine began to concentrate on the problem of defending Russian submarine patrol areas from US submarines, surface combatants, and aircraft carriers. Thus, even the Soviet aircraft carriers designed late in the Cold War focused on defensive fighter squadrons rather than on strike aircraft.

The Kirov class represented something of a break from this philosophy. Designed in the early 1970s, the Kirovs were the largest class of surface combatants built anywhere in the world since the end of the Second World War. Yuri Andropov, fourth ship in the class, was laid down in 1986. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War led to neglect of the Soviet (then Russian) Navy, and the ship was not completed until 1996, when it entered service as Pyotr Velikiy (Peter the Great). Pyotr Velikiy displaces 26000 tons, can make 32 knots, and carries a main armamament of 20 P-700 Granit surface-to-surface missiles. Pyotr Velikiy is powered by a nuclear reactor, allowing her to maintain top speed for considerable distances. The ship also carries significant anti-air and anti-submarine armamaments.

Pyotr Velikiy is capable of carrying out multiple operations. Her surface armament (the P-700 is a large, heavy missile) makes her a danger to US carrier battle groups. Pyotr Velikiy can also defend Russian naval task forces, as well as SSBN patrol areas. The very size of the Kirovs disturbed the US Navy, and strengthened the hand of elements desiring to reactivate the four Iowa class battleships, three of which had been in reserve since the 1950s. As surface combatants the Kirovs were no match for the larger, more heavily armed, and more heavily armored Iowas (indeed, the Kirovs had little if any armor) and it’s unclear that even a P-700 missile could do much damage to USS Iowa, a ship designed to resist 16″ shells. However, the anti-air and anti-submarine capabilities of the Kirovs were much greater than that of the Iowas, making them more flexible ships.

Pyotr Velikiy has had a spotty career since her commissioning. As Russia really has little need for a deep water Navy, funds have been scarce. All three of Pyotr Velikiy’s sisters have been decommissioned, although one is about to be recommissioned. Named flagship of the Northern Fleet upon completion, she has participated in several notable exercises. In 2000 she was the designated target ship for RFS Kursk, the submarine that exploded and sank with all hands. An exercise off Iceland in 2004 was designed to simulate an attack on a US carrier battlegroup, and involved Pyotr Velikiy, the carrier Kuznetsov, and several other major assets. Because of mechanical problems, PV remained stationary off the Iceland coast for the duration of the simulation. It was later decided that the exercise went so badly that, in order to minimize embarassment in the future, the Russian Navy should exercise as little as possible.

Perhaps most disturbing, in 2004 the chief of the Russian Navy said that Pyotr Velikiy could “explode at any moment”, a troubling statement at any time, but particularly when made in reference to a nuclear powered battlecruiser. Admiral Koroyedov later withdrew the statement, and it has since been argued that the statement was more about internal Russian Navy politics than about the actual state of Pyotr Velikiy. In any case, Pyotr Velikiy remains in service as the flagship of the Northern Fleet. Although not technically a battleship, she serves a similar symbolic purpose to the dreadnoughts of the early twentieth century, and her sisters helped spur the reactivation of the Iowa class. At 26000 tons, she is likely to be the last large surface combatant constructed by any navy for a very long time.

(Images courtesy of FAS)

The Barbary Wars

[ 0 ] July 15, 2006 |

Make sure to read Kingdaddy’s excellent series on the Barbary Wars:

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

Kingdaddy has some good observations, and makes some interesting parallels between the dilemmas facing the early Republic and the modern empire.

Stabbed

[ 0 ] July 14, 2006 |

Make sure to read Kevin Baker’s brilliant essay on the “stab in the back” myth. My favorite bit:

The POW/MIA flags, with their black-and-white iconography of shame, now fly everywhere in the United States, just under the Stars and Stripes; federal law even mandates that on at least six days a year—Memorial Day, Flag Day, Armed Forces Day, Veterans Day, Independence Day, and one day during POW/MIA Week (the third week of September)—they must be flown over nearly every single U.S. government building. There has been nothing else like them in the history of this country, and they have no parallel anywhere else in the world—these peculiar little banners, attached like a disclaimer to our national flag, with their message of surrender and humiliation, perennially accusing our government of betrayal.

Yes, it’s really time to get rid of the POW/MIA flags. There’s not a scrap of evidence that any POWs were left behind in Vietnam, yet the flags remain, reminders of a narrative that was strongly evident in 1980s pop and political culture.

Smallish Media Rob

[ 0 ] July 14, 2006 |

I’ll be on WVLK at 10:07am Eastern to discuss the Israel-Arab dispute. As readers of this blog know, this is a subject that I’m well-versed in and love to talk about in public fora. Listen in if you want to hear a man make a fool of himself.

Sigh. I suppose it’s too much to ask to devote a show to interwar Soviet military doctrine, but they could have called me on North Korean missile day. Missiles are cool and uncontroversial, and people don’t yell at you for talking about them…

…Ugh. Did anyone listen?

[ 0 ] July 14, 2006 |


Friday Cat Blogging… Frodo and Pip

HBO Future

[ 0 ] July 13, 2006 |

Variety reports…

  • The Sopranos will not return until March. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the first of several delays.
  • Rome will return in January, but will only have one more season. Maybe they’ll get to Actium? Max Pirkis is going to have to do some aging, and that’s a lot of civil war to have in only thirteen episodes.
  • Alan Ball is putting together a vampire series. I’m skeptical.

The upshot is that the next year will see the death of Deadwood, the Sopranos, and Rome, three of my favorite series. I would also wager that Entourage is not long for this world; I love it, but there’s only so much you can do with the premise. The same might be said of Lost. Let’s hope that Battlestar Galactica has a long and fruitful life.

Chinese Missiles

[ 0 ] July 13, 2006 |

Good Defense News article (subscription only) on the deployment of the DF-31 and the DF-31A. These are the first Chinese missiles capable of MIRVing (3-5 warheads each of up to 150 kilotons). The former have an 8000 mile range, which simply reinforces and expands existing Chinese strategic capability. The latter, however, has a 12500 mile range, which makes possible the targeting of the entire United States and all of Europe. Defense News says that the deployment of 60 DF-31s is expected, but doesn’t give figures for the DF-31A. In any case, we can expect that the number of Chinese missiles capable of reaching the US will triple or quadruple in the next four or five years.

China has also begun construction of the Jin class, its first group of genuine SSBN. My guess is that the first will enter service in 2008 or 2009. Each will be able to carry 16 SLBM versions of the DF-31. It will be interesting to watch how the PLAN deploys these boats in the next ten to fifteen years. Soviet naval doctrine was designed primarily to protect SSBN sanctuaries, but the Chinese seem to expect the PLAN to play a more active conventional role. We’ll see how they weigh those two roles.

None of this matters too much for US policy, although the prospect of a couple hundred Chinese missiles, as opposed to 24, should serve to further discredit the idea that a missile defense system will ever be able to provide security to the US.

Mickey Kaus is a %%$%@ Moron, Part LXXIV

[ 0 ] July 13, 2006 |

Yes, I realize this is an unhealthy obsession.

Mickey has responded:

Numerous readers email to note Plano’s very Republican voting record–Collins County, of which it’s a part, went 71% for Bush in 2004, for example. It’s certainly a Bush bastion. It’s less clear to me that it’s a “conservative” bastion if by that you mean social conservative (gay marriage, school prayer, abortion, etc.). Nor does it seem to be a “pickup” truck, chewin’ tobacco bastion in the classic sense. More of a Bobo Boomburg. Either way, the use of Plano to demonstrate red state outreach is still a PR-man’s con because, as mentioned, the Angelika Film Center, where the Gore movie is showing, draws from the entire Dallas metro area. It’s an art house featuring standard art house films–such as (currently) “Keeping Up with the Steins” and “Wassup Rockers.” If a film does well there that says no more about any subversive appeal to conservatives than if the film sold out the NuArt in West L.A.. Or the Angelika Film Center on Houston St. in Manhattan, for that matter.

Shorter Mickey: If we redefine conservative to mean what I want it to mean, then Plano is kind of not conservative.

What an idiot. Conservatives should loathe Mickey even more than I do; for Mickey, it appears, conservatives are ignorant hicks who’ve never heard of sushi, shop every day down at the Wal*Mart, and who all drive aging pickup trucks with “I Hate Queers” bumper stickers on the back. Moreover, while the “Plano ain’t social conservative” line could explain why Brokeback did well, it certainly doesn’t explain An Incovenient Truth, which hardly touches on any social conservative questions. If anything, libertarian conservatives should hate the latter even more than the former.

Just to add to the frivolity, Mickey’s claim that “people from all over Dallas go to watch movies in Plano” is somewhat undermined by the fact that there appear to be five theaters in the Dallas metro area showing Inconvenient Truth. The Angelika, it seems, is 20 miles from downtown Dallas. Pending further evidence, you can color me unconvinced that Plano is drawing all the raving liberals in the area…

Last Kaus post today, I swear. I should stop reading Slate.

UPDATE: I’ll grudgingly allow that I’m mildly impressed that Mickey linked to a post titled “Mickey Kaus is a %%$%@ Moron, Part LXXIV” without engaging.

Argh

[ 0 ] July 13, 2006 |

The Reds had a tendency to blow late inning leads. This was a problem. They have now solved this problem by ensuring that they will never again take a lead into the late innings.

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