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[ 0 ] October 18, 2006 |

Charles Pierce reminds me of my favorite conspiracy, Operation Northwoods.

In his new exposé of the National Security Agency entitled Body of Secrets, author James Bamford highlights a set of proposals on Cuba by the Joint Chiefs of Staff codenamed OPERATION NORTHWOODS. This document, titled “Justification for U.S. Military Intervention in Cuba” was provided by the JCS to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara on March 13, 1962, as the key component of Northwoods. Written in response to a request from the Chief of the Cuba Project, Col. Edward Lansdale, the Top Secret memorandum describes U.S. plans to covertly engineer various pretexts that would justify a U.S. invasion of Cuba. These proposals – part of a secret anti-Castro program known as Operation Mongoose – included staging the assassinations of Cubans living in the United States, developing a fake “Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington,” including “sink[ing] a boatload of Cuban refugees (real or simulated),” faking a Cuban airforce attack on a civilian jetliner, and concocting a “Remember the Maine” incident by blowing up a U.S. ship in Cuban waters and then blaming the incident on Cuban sabotage. Bamford himself writes that Operation Northwoods “may be the most corrupt plan ever created by the U.S. government.”

Great stuff. The Cold War military tended to be more reluctant to propose the use of force than civilian authorities, but Cuba is the important exception to that rule. For some reason, Castro drove the senior brass positively batty, to the extent that they were willing to kill people and subvert American democracy to get him. Fortunately, McNamara wouldn’t go for it, but I am again reminded of his statement in Fog of War that he wasn’t aware “in a sense” of the attempts to kill Castro.


"Does the White House Even Think About that Kind of Stuff?"

[ 0 ] October 18, 2006 |

Yglesias asks the above question in regards to the decision to announce unilateral space hegemony at exactly the same time that we’re trying to secure Russian and Chinese cooperation on North Korea. My short answer would be no; the elements of the administration committed to diplomacy and military policy respectively probably have so little to do with one another (and, indeed, view each other with suspicion) that it would likely not have occured to either to consult the other.

Speaking of ineptitude, someone mentioned last night at Drinking Liberally that the fact that the administration hasn’t apparently begun to plan for a post-11/7 reality in which the Dems control one or both houses of Congress should be cause for concern. Then we all had a big laugh at the notion of the administration preparing for the aftermath of anything…

Steel Drivin’ Man

[ 0 ] October 17, 2006 |


In “Steel Drivin’ Man,” Scott Reynolds Nelson argues that the John Henry story was no tall tale, and Henry himself no myth. Historians have long speculated that the John Henry ballads, which began circulating in the 1870’s, referred to a real railroad worker, but Mr. Nelson, with extensive documentation in hand, proposes a candidate. His John Henry is a former Union soldier, imprisoned for theft while on a work assignment in Richmond, Va., and leased out with other inmates to blast tunnels through the Allegheny Mountains for the new Chesapeake & Ohio Railway.

My Brain! The Tinfoil Does Nothing!!

[ 0 ] October 17, 2006 |

Why in the name of all that is holy did Slate hire Anne Applebaum to write a column called Foreigners: Opinions about events beyond our borders? Is she in some way that I’m not aware of qualified for such a column? Her previous entry at least attempted to answer a question about how foreigners thought about the United States, even if it did so in a clumsy and inept fashion. Is the column supposed to be about how foreigners think about the US, or is it just supposed to be a set of ruminations about international affairs?

In her latest, Applebaum makes perhaps the least useful contribution yet to the discussion on North Korea. Applebaum points out, correctly, that China has enormous leverage over North Korea and could, perhaps, bring about the collapse of the hermit kingdom.

But if it is within China’s power to rescue or destroy Kim Jong-il, then how, exactly, did North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program become in any sense the responsibility of the United States? Unlike Beijing, Washington has no diplomatic levers it can use in North Korea, no trade relations of any significance, and certainly no shared border. Yet the United States has been leading the effort to persuade the Security Council—of which China is a permanent member—to impose weak sanctions that probably won’t have any impact at all.


The rather obvious answer here would be that China isn’t at all interested in “solving” the North Korea problem, especially when such a solution involves absorbing considerable costs. Given that China doesn’t think it’s a problem worth solving, trying to place the blame for the proliferation on China seems a rather futile exercise. To go a step farther, since the North Korean government seems to be the entity interested in developing nuclear weapons, isn’t it actually responsible for the proliferation? The answer is “Yes, but so what?”

Applebaum’s purpose is to absolve the Bush administration of any responsibility for the debacle:

Somehow or other, North Korea’s acquisition of nukes has come to look like a U.S. diplomatic failure. Somehow or other, it is the Bush administration that is being blamed around the world for the latest explosion, not China, which props up the North Korean regime. Somehow or other, it’s beginning to seem like another illustration of American impotence. It clearly isn’t possible at this point to get up and walk away from this or any other nonproliferation issue. But next time, if there is a next time, maybe we should focus on pushing nonproliferation in countries or regions where we’ve got some leverage—a chance to influence the argument at the very least.

Right… and, so what? North Korean proliferation is either a problem for the US or it isn’t. China is either going to help solve the problem or not. If China chooses not to do anything, then it remains a problem for the United States. International problems are one reason that we have various mechanisms for developing and executing foreign policy. Applebaum’s reasoning would put a nine year old to shame; since someone else COULD solve the problem, the United States has no responsibility and can share no blame for the failure. Applebaum’s final sentence is truly a gem. I concur completely that we should focus on pushing nonproliferation in countries and regions where we’ve got some leverage, but this is more or like saying that we should only pay attention to problems that are convenient for us to solve.

…I suppose that the larger question comes down to this; why would Slate seek to use Applebaum as a regular contributor rather than someone, anyone, who’s qualified to discuss international affairs? A quick glance at the blogroll on the left indicates eighty or so writers who would be better than Applebaum, including some moderates and conservatives. From a glance at Slate’s staff, it appears to me that the last blogger Slate hired was Mickey Kaus. Given how disastrously that’s worked out, I can perhaps understand why they’d be reluctant to try another, but nevertheless. Bizarrely, even the New Republic has taken better advantage of the blogosphere than Slate, in spite of the fact that Slate has certain built in advantages. Why is this? Simple incompetence on the part of Weisberg? A decision to hold to an old media model in a new media climate? A need to be taken seriously in Washington and New York journalistic circles?

…commenters have pointed out that Applebaum has sufficient credentials (although, as noted, this fails to explain why her works sucks), and that her contribution to Slate comes from its relationship with the Washington Post. Still, this fails to answer the question of Slate’s arm’s length relationship with the blogosphere.

While We’re Tossing Around the Phrase "Moral Idiot"

[ 0 ] October 16, 2006 |

You knew that Hitchens would have to respond to the Lancet study, didn’t you? I’ll refrain from excerpting, and rather summarize:

1. The Lancet Study is wrong for some reason. I don’t really understand statistics, but some other people do.
2. Even if the study is right, the sanctions killed more people. That the damage inflicted by the sanctions dramatically decreased after the development of the oil-for-food program, and that the Lancet study accounts for the excess death rate over and above those killed by sanctions… um, I forget where I was going with that.
3. Even if the study is right, 2/3rds of the deaths are killings by insurgents, and there is absolutely, positively no way that the coalition could be held responsible for setting loose brutal criminal gangs and creating the conditions of civil war. And forget, by the way, that I have in the past lauded the Iraq War for turning Iraq into a killing field for foreign insurgents.
4. The editor of Lancet is a damn dirty leftist and, consequently, almost certainly an incorrigible liar.

We’re obviously beyond the point where one could say with any degree of originality that Christopher Hitchens is a morally and intellectually bankrupt sociopath. He is the true heir to the Stalinist left that he relentlessly rails about; there is no limit to the death and destruction that he’s willing to tolerate in service of his revolution. What’s more important now is to note that those who willingly associate themselves with people like Hitchens and Bill Kristol should be viewed in the same light. To paraphrase Yglesias, even if we were to find something of value in the Euston Manifesto or the work of PNAC (and this is a tremendous “if”), associating with the people who press these intellectual projects is, in itself, evidence of a lack of seriousness about foreign policy.

In Kentucky, the Civil War Never Really Ended

[ 0 ] October 16, 2006 |

It’s still claiming lives…

As it turns out, there were two casualties at last weekend’s national re-enactment of the Battle of Perryville: Two horses died.

The animals died during the Oct. 7 and 8 re-enactment of Kentucky’s largest Civil War battle, said Gil Lawson, spokesman for the state Department of Parks.

“About all I know is that we had two horses that had to be put down,” Lawson said. “We did have a veterinarian on site because we had so many horses. This was something that the veterinarian and horse owners made decisions about, but I don’t have any other details. … I’m sure these owners were devastated.”

Where’s Ken Burns when you need him?


[ 0 ] October 16, 2006 |

Via TAPPED, the Lexington Herald-Leader appears to be returning a grant designed to support investigation of Senator Mitch McConnell after McConnell’s office called the paper and accused the center giving the grant of having a liberal bias. Fortunately, the four part story appears to be running in any case.

Three observations:

1. The Herald-Leader is a lovely newspaper, so lovely, in fact, that I’ll be giving a webchat under its auspices tomorrow afternoon at 1pm.

2. I forget now where I read it, but someone had a wonderful little post about how accusations of “bias” have almost completely replaced any factual analysis on the part of the right. In response to the Lancet study, any media report critical of Republicans, or anything at all about global warming, the rhetorical strategy of the right has been to shriek “BIAS!!!” rather than to confront the data. I wonder how long that will keep working…

3. On a related topic, I wonder how well the “sure, it’s a scandal, but what about the timing of the report?” trope is playing. We’ve seen this in response to Lancet (how could they possibly release before an election?), Foley (although I don’t have any evidence that the Dems were sitting on it, I’m sure that they were), and Curt Weldon’s financial indiscretions (the FBI clearly wants me to lose). The argument is absurd on its face; knowing about our leaders before rather than after an election should be a good thing, after all. Nevertheless, I wonder whether folks are buying.


[ 0 ] October 16, 2006 |

Baltar is on the case.

Going to be in Louisville, Saturday night.

Billmon is Making Sense

[ 0 ] October 15, 2006 |

Everybody gets a swing at VD Hanson.

There’s more truth about the war in Iraq in the worst paragraph Tom Ricks ever wrote, on his worst day as a reporter, than there is in all the deluded crap that Victor Davis Hanson has churned out over the past three and half years, at the National Review and elsewhere. I haven’t read any of Hanson’s books, so I’m not qualified to pass judgment on the quality of his footnotes, but if he’s supposed to be the example of a “real” historian, then I guess Henry Ford was right: history is bunk.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: HMS Vanguard

[ 1 ] October 15, 2006 |

One of Jackie Fisher’s goofier schemes involved a trio of light cruisers armed with enormous weapons. The idea was that shallow draft ships with heavy guns could operate in the Baltic and support landings on the German coast. To this end, the Royal Navy constructed Courageous, Glorious, and Furious. Courageous and Glorious each carried 4 15″ guns to two twin turrets, while Furious was to carry 2 18″ (!) guns in two single turrets. The operation was not practical, and was eventually abandoned. Furious was converted into the world’s first aircraft carrier, soon to be followed by her two half-sisters. This left 4 twin 15″ turrets lying about, guns which couldn’t be used on new ships because of the Washington Naval Treaty. Gun turrets are among the most expensive and diffcult to construct parts of a battleship, however, so they were retained in the hope of future use.

In 1939, the Royal Navy decided to complement the King George V and Lion class battleships with a ship designed to carry the old 15″ guns. Intended for use in the Pacific, the ship would be fast enough to catch and powerful enough to destroy the Japanese Kongo class battlecruisers. The design went through several evolutions (at one point the Royal Navy declared that the ship would be a replacement for HMS Royal Oak, sunk by U-47 in 1939) before the keel was finally laid in 1941. Work proceeded slowly, and Vanguard was not finally completed until late 1946. Last battleship built by the Royal Navy, Vanguard carried 8 15″ guns, displaced about 50000 tons, and could make 30 knots. Only Iowa and Yamato were larger, but numerous battleships carried a more heavy armament. Vanguard was well armored and an excellent seaboat, but because of her light main battery she likely would have fared poorly against the other super-fast battleships. In the pictures, note that the 15″ turrets are dwarfed by Vanguard’s great size.

Completed after the war, Vanguard didn’t see much action. In 1947 she carried the King, Queen, and a young Princess Elizabeth on a Royal visit to South Africa. Vanguard was placed in reserve in 1956. After efforts to preserve her as a museum failed (why would the UK preserve Vanguard instead of Duke of York or King George V?), she was scrapped in 1960.

(Images courtesy of HMS Vanguard)

Trivia: What dreadnought owning state have I not yet discussed?

Kentucky Equality Federation

[ 0 ] October 11, 2006 |

I normally shy away from plugging our advertisers, but check out the Kentucky Equality Federation (ad on the right). They seem to be doing some good work on domestic violence and gay rights issues in the Commonwealth.

1000 ship Navy

[ 0 ] October 11, 2006 |

Following up the maritime theme…

The latest thing in maritime circles is the “1000 ship Navy”. This isn’t an effort to triple the existing USN; the Navy is looking for 313 ships, and won’t get that. Rather, the 1000 ship Navy envisions a global coalition of navies cooperating to fight terrorism, piracy, drug trafficking, human trafficking, natural disaster, and any other ills that afflict the international system. The project is extraordinarily ambitious, but the rewards for developing a successful international coalition could be enormous.

A lot of work that navies do can be thought of as constabulary. When not fighting each other (and high intensity naval warfare is an exceptional rare occurence), navies search for smugglers, pirates, and drug traffickers. The reason the United States was able to respond so quickly and in such force to the tsunami disaster was because of available naval assets. Wary cooperation and poor communication between naval assets allow illicit commerce to persist and make disaster relief more difficult. Just as the plethora of different police organizations often makes it easy to escape speeding tickets, terrorists, smugglers, and pirates exploit the “seams” between navies when plying their trade.

There are already some examples of international maritime cooperation. Under the aegis of NATO, Operation Active Endeavour conducts maritime constabulary work in the Mediterranean. Active Endeavour includes non-NATO countries as disparate as Russia, Israel, and Algeria, and has generally been considered a success. On the other side of the world, PACCOM (Pacific Command) has sponsored a communications network that links the various navies of the region in an effort to spread effective methods and make cooperation easier. Both efforts have the incidental effect of making “hot” conflict between their participants less likely.

The difficulties are also tremendous. A lot of the countries that would have to cooperate are suspicious of one another, or of the United States. Agreement on basic principles isn’t too hard, but the devil is in the details. In the Mediterranean, for example, North African countries are notably less excited about refugee hunting missions than their European counterparts. The same problem of emphasis exists with drug trafficking and even piracy. Some of the questions dealt with by the network would invariably touch on political concerns. For example, a cooperative naval effort to monitor North Korean trade might not win universal support. Much work would need to be done, and even then the prospects aren’t necessarily bright. Nevertheless, given the tremendous amount of money that the nations of the world devote to their naval resources, it would be nice to at least try developing a multilateral naval framework. Nudging the military and political establishment of the United States in a multilateral direction is never a bad idea, either.

Cross posted at TAPPED.

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