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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.

Naval Doctrine

[ 0 ] October 11, 2006 |

Two days ago Kim Jong Il bequeathed a glorious gift on the Navy and the Air Force. Because the Army is deeply engaged in Iraq, it has been requesting additional funds to the point that the fiscal division-of-spoils between the Army, Air Force, and Navy has been threatened. As Defense Tech and Arms and Influence point out, any military confrontation with North Korea would most immediately be handled by the USAF and the USN. A couple months ago in Armed Forces Journal, Frank Hoffman critiqued naval acquisition strategy and proposed an alternative approach. Hoffman’s core point is that the Mahanian navy, built around a few powerful capital ships and intended to destroy the fleet of a peer competitor, is an increasingly anachronistic vision that is nevertheless held to by a considerable portion of the Navy. I’m not as comfortable with this argument as I once was, because the Navy has done some serious work increasing its littoral capabilities in both a doctrinal and material way, but he has a point worth engaging.

There is currently no peer competitor worth discussing in the same league as the USN. The old Soviet Navy never sought to directly challenge US dominance of the sea lanes, and the Russian Navy has been reduced to an almost token force. The Chinese have considerably capabilities for use in the Taiwan theater, but not so much in the blue water. The most advanced destroyers employed by the rest of the world are more than a generation behind the warships used by the USN. Given this, emphasizing those capabilities that would allow the USN to affect operations on land makes more sense than increasing our capacity to destroy an enemy fleet. Doctrinal publications like Forward… from the Sea have taken the littoral (60 miles from the coast in either direction) seriously, and the design and construction of the littoral combat ship (LCS) also speaks to a renewed emphasis on land operations. Some ships, like aircraft carriers, can serve in both the traditional Mahanian and the littoral roles, while others, primarily the Zumwalt class destroyer or DD(X), can’t.

Hoffman proposed that, as a cost saving measure, the AGS (Advanced Gun System) be installed on some of the new San Antonio class LPD (Landing Platform Dock). The AGS is, like, a super cool 6″ gun that can fire at very long ranges at a high rate of fire. It’s currently the centerpiece of the Zumwalt class destroyer, and indeed represents just about the only reason that anyone would consider building one of the ultra-expensive Zumwalts. If the AGS could be installed on a San Antonio, and there’s no reason to think that it couldn’t, the Zumwalt could be dispensed with in the favor of useful ships.

Hoffman uses Julian Corbett as his touchstone, arguing that Corbett had a better handle on the relationship between politics and war than Mahan. That’s a debatable point, but there’s no question that Corbett deserves more attention. Corbett was more interested in the use of the navy as a political instrument than Mahan, which may make him the theorist we need to revisit today. Of course, Mahan was an American, which may account for his enduring influence over US naval policy.

Cross-posted at Tapped.

VD Hanson Loves Howard Dean

[ 0 ] October 10, 2006 |

Or at least I must assume that he does. In another part of the post that Dave refers to below, Hanson declares:

My rule of thumb is that almost every current, know-it-all critic, whether a Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Chris Matthews (“we are all neo-cons now”), Francis Fukuyama, etc., at one time or another voiced support for removing Saddam and bringing war to Iraq.

One constant in their various escape hatches is that a particular lapse, a certain mistake alone explains their abandonment of earlier zeal—too few troops, disbanding the Iraqi army, not trisecting the country, the tenure of Donald Rumsfeld, etc.

In contrast, the simple truth is too bitter to confess: their support follows the pulse of the battlefield. When the statue fell and approval for the war hovered near 80%, few wanted to be on the wrong side of history. But fast forward three years plus: after well over 2,000 battle deaths, and chaos in Iraq, most not only don’t wish to be associated with the stasis, but contort to assure that they never supported the war in the beginning (hard to do with footprints on the internet), or were supposedly betrayed by the incompetence of others.


My own views remain the same. While I didn’t support removing Saddam prior to September 11, I am glad we did afterwards.

So it seems to me that Hanson must have been writing checks to Howard Dean for President fund for some time now. Dean, of course, has had the good fortune and good sense to be right about the war from the beginning. He never supported the war, predicted that the occupation would be a disaster, predicted that it would weaken our position in Afghanistan, and noted that it would strengthen the hand of Iran and North Korea. He also correctly pointed out that the capture of Saddam Hussein wouldn’t change the course of the war, a statement for which he was roundly denounced at the time.

So VD Hanson must be a big Dean fan, right? He does like consistency, doesn’t he? Well, maybe not…

Dean seems to evoke Vietnam without any inkling how close the United States was, after a decade of ordeal, to achieving many of the goals originally envisioned — something like a viable South Korean government that, unlike its Communist counterpart, might have a chance to evolve into a truly consensual society. Much less does he cite the millions who perished, were incarcerated, or sent into exile following the establishment of a cruel Stalinist regime, or the effect of that defeat on the security of the U.S. and its allies, as later demonstrated in Cambodia, Iran, Afghanistan, and Central America.

Forget that Hanson has only the most tenuous grasp on the reality of the Vietnam conflict, and instead savor the love of Dean. More love here:

When I turn on the TV and see some wild-eyed crazy-like public figure ranting, it is not a John Bircher frothing about pure drinking water and statesmen of dual loyalties, but prominent Democratic politicians like an Al Gore or Howard Dean screaming to the point of exhaustion, alluding to the end of America as we have known it, and citing a “betrayal” of the United States.

Ooh, and here too:

Lincoln was often cartooned as an ungainly ape. During the hysterics over the Korean War, George Marshall — who earlier oversaw the U.S. military victory of World War II and aid to a postwar starving Europe — was called a “front man for traitors” and “a living lie” by Indiana Sen. William Jenner.

In this context, Howard Dean’s assertion that the present war is unwinnable or John Kerry’s claim that our troops are engaging in terrorizing Iraqis is hardly novel.

So I’m left confused; VD Hanson claims that he’s particularly incensed by people who favored the war at one point but oppose it now. His record (and I assure you that this was quite representative) seems to indicate that he doesn’t have much regard for Howard Dean, who’s been quite consistent in his position on the war. I don’t know what I should think; if I were the more cynical type, I might think that VD Hanson was a liar, and that he really just loathes everyone who opposed the war at any time. The more optimistic take, I suppose, is that he’s just intellectually confused.

And while I’m on the subject, Hanson ends his post with this:

A final note. At some point all these retired generals need to simply quiet down and think. In World War II, Nimitz or Eisenhower never blamed the Secretary of War or FDR for the mistakes on Iwo Jima or the Kasserine Pass. Instead, they called in their top brass, drew up a plan, followed it, and then presented a successful fait accompli to their civilian overseers. In other words, our four-stars need to summon their colonels and majors in the field, draw up a military strategy that ensures our political aims of seeing a stable consensual Iraq, and then win. Blaming Bush, or faulting Rumsfeld is a waste of time; figuring out as military officers how to achieve victory over a canny enemy is all that matters.

Right. So these men that each have, literally, infinitely more military experience than Hanson get some time in the corner to think about what they’ve done. I’d suggest a relatively simple answer, Vic; the difference is that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a competent executive in a well conceived and winnable war, characteristics that George W. Bush and the current conflict lack.

What, Henry Kissinger is a Republican?

[ 0 ] October 10, 2006 |

Summarized Hitch:

I’m shocked, schocked that the people who planned my beloved war would have anything to do with Henry Kissinger. Why, I thought that they shared all of my views on foreign policy, and that the necons were somehow hermetically sealed off from Kissinger’s influence. Also, in spite of the fact that Kissinger has been explicitly arguing against a withdrawal from Iraq, it will clearly be his fault if we withdraw and something bad happens.

Read the whole thing. Hitch’s position is based on a couple faulty premises that, to their credit, many other liberal hawks have come to grips with. The first and most important is that the war that they wanted was not the war that they were going to get, and that this was obvious from day one. No matter how powerful in the abstract the case to liberate Iraq might have been, the actual execution of its liberation would inevitably fall into the hands of men and women who were both incompetent and utterly uninterested in the goals that the Euston Manifestors pursued.

The second and related point is that, despite Hitchens’ fantasies, the foreign policy wing of the Republican Party has never been neatly divided between realists and neocons. There have been disputes within the foreign policy community, but the core of the establishment has remained the same since Nixon’s second term. Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Scowcroft, and others have been around for a long time. The direction is dependent on the man at the top; under the experience George H.W. Bush, a competent and reasonably moderate foreign policy was possible, while under his son it has not. It’s absurd to declare Henry Kissinger a war criminal then to explicitly support the foreign policy efforts of a Republican administration; only an idiot or an ideologue could convince himself that Kissinger would have no influence.

A Blessing and a Curse

[ 0 ] October 10, 2006 |

Two Fridays ago the Kentucky Canadian Roundtable treated myself and about forty other scholars and students to a day long seminar on Canadian foreign policy. In attendance were Liberal Party MP Dr. Keith Martin and Dennis Moore, Public Affairs Officer from the Detroit Consulate.

The program was put together by the Canadian Consulate in Detroit, and is apparently intended to serve as a reminder of Canada’s importance to the economy and social life of Kentucky. Did you know that Canada represents 34% of Kentucky’s exports, or that Kentucky has a $.6 billion trade surplus with Canada? Apparently, 280000 Canadians visited Kentucky last year, while only 70000 Kentuckans visited Canada; odd, that. Also, no fewer than two Canadian horses have won the Kentucky Derby. Anyway, it occurred to me while in attendance that programs like this are an important component of modern foreign policy; direct appeals to the population of the target country, bypassing government-to-government interaction. I suppose that the whole thing would have felt more sinister if the country sponsoring the event were Israel, France, China, Saudi Arabia, or Venezuela.

One of the breakout sessions concerned Canada’s status as a second tier power. A consideration of Canada’s position has to include, I think, not just the observation that Canada is a second tier military and economic power, but also that Canada stands in an almost unique position even among second tier states. For most of its existence, the problem of territorial integrity has largely been off the table, the responsibility of a much more powerful patron. This is not to say that Canada has somehow escaped the dangers of the international system, just that the critical questions of Canadian national survival have been answered in London and Washington rather than in Ottawa. Since Canada historically has broadly shared the values of its two imperial patrons, its position as world actor has essentially been as adjunct to empire. This is not to minimize Canada’s ability to affect the world, as having influence over Washington and London gives Ottawa a non-trivial capability to pursue its foreign policy values. Indeed, when one of the members of our roundtable asked “What is Canada’s greatest foreign policy resource?”, the answer seemed to me clearly to be its ability to influence United States foreign policy, even if that capacity sometimes seems limited.

Listening to Martin, who is the official Foreign Affairs Opposition Critic, I got the sense that the question of Canada’s relationship with the United States is more one of tactics than strategy. Liberals agree that maintaining a close relationship is critical, but differ with Harper regarding what this means for the relationship with the Bush administration and with the United Nations. Cleaving close to the United States does not mean going down with the sinking ship that is the Bush administration. From an outside point of view, it’s difficult to imagine a situation in which Canada will break more cleanly from the direction of US foreign policy than it already has. I’d be very surprised, for example, if Canada scaled back its presence in Afghanistan, even in response to heavy casualties.

In any case, it was a useful workshop.

SOB of the Day

[ 0 ] October 9, 2006 |

Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter (which, I’ll allow, is a cool name).

On the TeeVee

[ 0 ] October 9, 2006 |

Today, thanks to Kim Jong Il, I got to be on the TV. I talked about North Korea on the 12:30pm (27 Newsfirst), and on the 5:30pm (36 Action News). Each station interviewed me for about two minutes, asking similar but not identical questions. The situation had developed across the day (in particular in reference to the possible failure of the test), so the answers were a bit different, too.

The experience, certainly, was kind of cool. Of course, that North Korean bastard decided to blow up a bomb on the day that I wasn’t exactly dressed for success, so I had to run home, unrumple my jacket, and put on a tie. Both station crews had the kind of casual professionalism that I really like, regardless of the profession. It’s weird; I was of course paranoid about saying or doing something stupid (picking my noise or launching into an obscenity laden tirade against Mickey Kaus, for example), yet they do this every single day, and don’t seem to worry about it at all. In one of the newsrooms, a discussion of Anchorman broke out during the station break. It was fascinating just watching how the newsroom operated; how the weatherman, for example, wandered across the room chatting while the satellite photo was up. The funniest parts of both interviews were the segment segues; in the first, they went from discussing a rogue state with nukes to “Why can’t men and women just get along when it comes to watching football?”, while the second followed up with a bit on the house from A Christmas Story. Nevertheless, both interviews were enjoyable.

In between I talked for about half and hour on the radio, a discussion which was obviously a lot more detailed and, to me, interesting. Talk radio catches a lot of flak, but done correctly it can convey quite a bit of information. Of course, fewer people listen than watch, fewer still read the newspaper, and very few indeed read the relevant books and blogs, so we have to start somewhere.


[ 0 ] October 9, 2006 |

I suppose I should make some substantive comment…

I don’t think that the North Korean test is significant in military terms. We knew (or suspected so strongly that we had to plan as if we knew) that the North Koreans had built atomic bombs. That they would test one is completely rational, given that they probably weren’t quite sure that the device would work. The detonation of the bomb changes nothing, absolutely nothing, about the current deterrent relationship between the United States and North Korea. If the US were going to attack NK over its nuclear program, we would have started bombing four years ago, or ten years ago. Moreover, if North Korea wanted to commit national suicide by launching an attack against South Korea or Japan or the United States, it could have done so last with with nukes and at any other point in its history with conventional forces.

Diplomatically things are a little bit more interesting. The North Korean test will substantially strengthen the hand of Shinzo Abe and others who have argued for a more assertive Japanese foreign policy. Even if we don’t see Article 9 go away, it will certainly be reinterpreted such that it could allow offensive military action against North Korea. There’s also going to be some pressure on South Korea to develop its own weapon, and I don’t really have a sense of how that’s going to play out. As long as South Korea is under the US deterrent umbrella, nukes don’t really do it that much good, although they might reinforce the deterrent relationship, just as French and British nukes did in the 1960s. The situation that could become really problematic is that between Taiwan and the PRC; if Taiwan decided that this was the time to try to go nuclear (and there’s no evidence that they’re thinking along those lines), then things could get ugly really quick.

Any diplomatic effort to get North Korea to give up its nukes depends almost entirely on the stances of South Korea, Russia, and China. None of the three, as Matt has pointed out, have much interest in seeing North Korea collapse. I’m skeptical that they’ll be willing to put much effort into a diplomatic effort when the military situation hasn’t substantially changed, especially given that a collapse of North Korea is probably the most dangerous turn that this situation could take in the short term. We will see more careful monitoring of North Korean land and maritime trade, in an effort to ensure that nuclear material and technology don’t leave the hermit kingdom.

In other news, Wretchard of Belmont Club is an idiot. He writes:

Now all the folks who wanted 400,000 troops in Iraq and thought the transformational initiative which emphasized technology and precision weapons were a crock may grudgingly conclude that maybe Donald Rumsfeld did have a point. The US requires a full-spectrum fighting force able to engage the AQ and North Korea. A world power like America needs to think of more than one theater of operations, always. Also critics may now remember how, unremarked, the administration pulled US troops back from the DMZ, which if they were still there would make them sitting ducks. As it is, they far enough back to give them a chance. Also, the unnoticed development of facilities at Guam have given the US a capability it now needs. Not everything, but something. That plus BMD defense. Maybe I’m looking for silver linings where none are to be found. But just maybe not everyone was asleep.

There’s so much wrong here that it would take WAY too long to deal with it all, but briefly I’ll note a) that few people argued against the transformational initiative, while a lot of people argued that trying to occupy a country like Iraq while simultaeneously making that transformation was a really, really terrible idea, b) that “thinking about more than one theater of operations” significantly predates Rumsfeld’s tenure, and c) that the discussion of US troop disposition in North Korea is a non-sequitur; I can recall no one arguing that moving the troops was a bad idea (it was certainly publicized at the time), and it won’t have the slightest effect on the crisis unless the US decides to start bombing, an eventuality that I find extremely unlikely for the reasons outlined above.

Keep searching for the silver lining, Wretchard; I’ll allow that it’s no easy task.


[ 0 ] October 8, 2006 |

It looks as if the test has been conducted.

As far as I can tell, the world hasn’t ended. North Korea has one fewer nuke than it had yesterday.

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