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[ 0 ] March 7, 2006 |

Jeff Goldstein should probably go back to doing what he does well. I’m not sure what that is, really, but it can’t be blogging about national security. Regarding a report that some insurgent weapons have been made in Iran, Jeff lets loose:

Well, sure—if true, this is a declaration of war. But the real question is, why is Iran willing to take such provocative steps at this juncture? Are they farther along in their nuclear program than we know? Or is there something else to this?


The answer, it seems to me, is that the Mullahs have done the poltical calculation and believe that a western coalition (outside of the US, who is already fighting in several theaters), lacks the will to act in any but the most feckless of ways. And even if they could gin up the will, the inevitable 6-8 month “rush” to war would give the Iranians time (and an excuse) to accelerate their nuclear program.
I’m not sure. But I do know that it is fortuitous that we are staged in both Iraq and Afghanistan. And I don’t think we can waste much time. If it turns out Iran (and their Syrian allies) are behind the manufacture and supply of weapons being smuggled into Iraq to kill Americans (and bomb both Shiite and Sunni targets in an effort to foment civil war), we have no choice, it seems to me, than to quickly isolate both countries, and launch a series of strategic attacks with the hope of fomenting an uprising of our own among the Iranian student movement.

Where to start….

First, it’s entirely possible that the Iraqi insurgents are getting some of their weapons from Iran, Syria, and various other states that border Iraq. Indeed, I’d be pretty surprised if this wasn’t the case. Part of the problem with getting from this to a declaration of war, however, is that support may well not be state instigated. It’s entirely possible (and I would even say likely) that various Iraqi insurgent groups have made deals for weapons with various groups in other countries, probably without the consent of the governments of those countries. Iran and Iraq have a very long border, one that is hard to guard on either side. So, the Iranian government, rather than declaring war, may well simply be ignorant of what’s going on.

Second, the bugbear of “outside actors” has long been a preoccupation of the United States military in counter-insurgency operations, and has helped the military to ignore the very real problems of fighting an insurgency. In Vietnam, the United States Army relentlessly obsessed over the relatively meagre trickle of supplies coming to the Viet Cong over the Ho Chi Minh trail, while largely ignoring the much more significant supply base that the Viet Cong had in sympathetic South Vietnamese villages. This mis-focus is not terribly surprising; supply lines can be interdicted with firepower, while pro-insurgent villages cannot be so dealt with. This is a long way of saying that Iranian support, even if tacitly or explicitly consented to by the Iranian government, almost certainly isn’t significant to the outcome of the conflict. It is attractive militarily and politically to believe that the problem in Iraq is the cause of outside forces, but it just ain’t so, and operating as if it were so will be quite detrimental to our efforts.

Third, it’s nifty how Jeff moves so quickly from a few shipments of arms across the Iranian border to war with both Iran and Syria. It is here that Jeff moves from simple fancy to sheer idiocy; he apparently genuinely believes that a few airstrikes might foment a student uprising in Iran resulting in the destruction of that regime. Let me be as clear as possible; to believe that airstrikes will bring about a revolution in Iran, you have to be either stupid or deluded. Airstrikes have, invariably, made target regimes more and not less popular. If the United States attacks Iran, the state will become, at least in the short term, much MORE popular with its people. It will have, if anything, greater capacity to crack down on dissidents. Iran may have a revolution at some point in the future, but airstrikes ain’t going to bring it about. Jeff seems to have internalized some kind of neocon fantasy here; just demonstrate US resolve, and all of the nasty regimes in the world will fall like dominoes.


Fourth, and this brings us to the basic contradiction in Goldstein’s argument, if we have enough force to deal with both Syria and Iran (and, presumably, to occupy the both of them), then we really, really don’t need to be in Iraq anymore. If the troops we have in Iraq are free to be used elsewhere, then it seems to me that they don’t need to be in Iraq. Thus, we should feel free to withdraw them anytime, just like lots and lots of lefties have argued. It’s hard for me to see how someone with who believes the things that Jeff Goldstein believes could argue this, but I suppose asking for consistency is really too much. US troops continue to die in Iraq at a reasonably high rate, and the country has not, to the naked eye, been pacified. If this constitutes a finished job, and really a model of what we’d like to do to Syria and Iran, then I really…. well, I just don’t know what to say about it.

I suppose that I could rattle off an analysis of the military situation with Iran… much larger territory… much larger population… no particular reason to believe it will be any easier to manage or occupy than Iraq… but I’m not sure that would make any difference to Jeff; he’s escaped reality based analysis, and wandered wholly into some fantastic world where Iranian students will launch a revolution as soon as the first bomb hits Tehran, and where the people of Iran will greet us with flower petals, etc etc.

In fairness to Jeff, he’s already prepared a dodge. He’s just talking about “options”, and hasn’t come to any firm conclusions. Great…

Kirby Puckett, Rest in Peace

[ 0 ] March 6, 2006 |

It was fun to watch him play.

1783 games
207 home runs
2 World Series rings (1987, 1991)
.296 lifetime EQA

UPDATE: Joe Sheehan has a good column on Kirby.

American Fascism

[ 0 ] March 6, 2006 |

Via Magnus at Capital Cadre, this offering at The Officer’s Club is about the clearest distillation of an American fascism that I’ve ever seen.

A selection:

The problem with our world today is cultural rot. Cultural rot can be detected by symptoms such as terrorism, oppression, overpopulation, ineffective government, poor economic models, and extremism. Conversely, cultural rot can also be identified by an obsessive media, a naval gazing pop culture movement, isolationists, pervasive liberalism, ignorance of history, and a society becoming disconnected from its past.

And demonstrating that a little knowledge is often worse than none at all…

When a society disconnects itself from the principles and institutions that played a prominent role in its establishment, rot begins to fester in the darker crevices of the culture. In America, tougher-than-nails colonists and settlers hacked their existence out of the wilderness. They went to church, prayed, ate dinner with their families, and labored with a consistent vision that tomorrow would be better than today. We have now disconnected ourselves from these principles. We have jettisoned our families in the inner cities, and become so self-focused that our individual wants and desires insert themselves in front of our duties and responsibilities to our family. We have maligned or marginalized (Judeo-Christian) religion in this country, and have lost the values that were taken from religion and applied elsewhere in life. Morality, publicly and privately, has suffered because of this. Because of this encroaching rot, consequences have emerged. Parents who were too successful in providing a better life for their children have led to children leading lives of privilege, not understanding the values that allowed their existence to be so leisurely.

This translates directly into a disrespect for society, the institutions that govern it, and the military that defends it.

In a particularly delightful move, and one demonstrative of Robert Paxton’s observation that fascism always takes on essentially local characteristics, he maintains that part of America’s greatness is “rugged individualism”. In other words, individualism is great as long as it has nothing whatsoever to do with the individual.

Paging David Neiwert; David Neiwert to the lobby please…

UPDATE: Speaking of which, it never hurts to give Neiwert’s essay The Rise of Pseudo Fascism another read.

The Picks

[ 0 ] March 5, 2006 |

Picture: Brokeback

Director: Lee

Actor: Hoffman

Actress: Witherspoon

Supporting Actor: Gyllenhall

Supporting Actress: Weisz

Original Screenplay: Good Night and Good Luck

Adapted Screenplay: Brokeback Mountain

Let this serve as an open Oscar thread.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: SMS Ostfriesland

[ 1 ] March 5, 2006 |

SMS Ostfriesland was the second ship of the Helgoland class, the second group of German dreadnoughts. Germany had been taken aback by the construction of HMS Dreadnought and HMS Invincible. The Kiel Canal, which provided for quick, safe transit between the Baltic and the North Sea, could not accomodate vessels of Dreadnought’s girth. The German’s dawdled a bit before finally deciding to enlarge the Canal, and in 1907 laid down their first dreadnought battleships. The construction of HMS Dreadnought turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because while the Germans trailed badly in naval strength in 1906, Dreadnought reset the race; everybody went back to zero, and the Germans were well positioned to make a game of it.

Commissioned in August 1911, Ostfriesland displaced about 23000 tons, could make 21 knots, and carried 12 12″ guns in six twin turrets. The turret layout on Ostfriesland was remarkably inefficient, including one turret fore, one aft, and two on each wing. This meant that Ostfriesland only had a broadside of 8 12″ guns. To compare, the much smaller USS Michigan also had an eight gun broadside. The Brazilian Sao Paulo and the Argentinian Rivadavia each had ten gun broadsides, and the Hungarian Szent Istvan and Italian Dante Alighieri each managed a 12 gun broadside on a smaller displacement than the German ship. However, like all German ships, Ostfriesland was very well armoured, and capable of sustaining a great deal of damage.

Ostfriesland’s career mirrored that of the rest of the High Seas Fleet. It was thought at the time that encounters at sea tended to heavily favor the side with numerical superiority. A naval battle, unlike a land battle, suffers from relatively few natural impediments. Thus, it was thought that any encounter would quickly become a match of competing battle lines. In such a match, the side with more heavy guns would cause damage above ratio to the other fleet. A small numerical advantage would mean a large victory; if sixteen ships met thirteen, the ships would not simply cancel each other out, and the smaller side would be devastated at a relatively light cost to the larger. Because the High Seas Fleet could never match the Grand Fleet in numbers, its admirals were loathe to sortie.

The only major clash between the dreadnoughts of the two fleets came at the end of May, 1916, at the Battle of Jutland. Ostfriesland played a relatively small part in the battle, taking no damage but probably inflicting some on portions of the British squadron. On the way back to port, Ostfriesland hit a mine, but did not suffer crippling damage. The High Seas Fleet made only a couple more minor sorties, and mutinied when ordered on a near-suicide mission in late 1918.

Being fairly old, Ostfriesland was not interred at Scapa Flow at the end of the war. The remaining German fleet was parcelled out among the great powers. Ostfriesland was allocated to the United States. A forty-two year old American aviator, General William “Billy” Mitchell, had been arguing since the end of the war that aircraft could destroy surface naval units. In July of 1921, this argument was put to the test. Along with a number of other naval units, including the pre-dreadnought Alabama, Ostfriesland was attacked by successive waves of US Army Air Force bombers. The first attacks by the bombers caused relatively light damage, but later attacks by heavier aircraft caused extensive flooding, and sank Ostfriesland. Mitchell concluded from this demonstration that surface fleets had become essentially obsolete. The US Navy rejected this, arguing that the German ship was, old, small relative to new US ships, carried no anti-aircraft armament, and could not maneuver. A fleet under steam, the admirals argued, could not be so destroyed.

Both services took the tests seriously. The B-17 was intially designed to attack naval targets, although it was rarely used in that capacity. In battleship refits after 1921, the US Navy substantially increased the anti-aircraft weaponry of its main units. Aircraft would sink at least 14 battleships in World War II, the largest single cause of battleship loss.

Trivia: Seven of the ten fast battleships constructted by the United States have been or will be preserved as museums. Five of the ten fast battleships represent coastal states. Which fast battleship representing a coastal state was not preserved, and why wasn’t it preserved?

Situation: Belarus!

[ 0 ] March 4, 2006 |

This will be of mild-to-no-interest to most readers, but the Patterson School just finished its 2006 Spring Simulation. A good time was had by all. The theme this year was a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, interrupted by a coup in Belarus. Here is the website.

Suffice it to say that US and Italian warplanes were on their way to Minsk when the simulation ended. The reputation of Gerhard Schroeder was fatally impugned, and the Secretary General of NATO lay on his deathbed.

[ 0 ] March 3, 2006 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson and Starbuck


[ 0 ] March 2, 2006 |

If you can spare a moment, try the survey.

Many thanks to our readers, and also to our sponsors, the fine people at Boomershoot 2006.

A Sound Beating

[ 0 ] March 2, 2006 |

Alex at Martini Republic take Victor Davis Hanson out to the woodshed.

I think maybe Vic should stick to Ancient Greece….

A bit more on the stabbing in the back…

[ 0 ] March 1, 2006 |

What’s most pathetic about the Goldstein and Hanson pieces is the predicable transparency of the arguments. I am more disappointed in Goldstein than Hanson; “Victor Davis Hanson”, “transparent”, “predictable”, “asinine”, and “puerile” are more or less synonyms in my book. This is a line of attack that has been in preparation since 2002, and that we have expected for nearly as long. If this war went south, everyone knew that the damn dirty liberal hippies would be to blame, just like they were in Vietnam. That the conservative account of Vietnam bears no resemblance to the actual history of that conflict is irrelevant; blaming the critics of a war for its failure has been a remarkably successful political strategy for the right wing, and not just in the United States.

People like Buckley make this strategy a little bit more difficult to execute, because they force Goldstein and company to distinguish between good, “loyal” critics and bad, “disloyal” critics. Nevertheless, the chutzpah surrounding this effort really is astounding. In advance, they manage to have terrified Democrats from Peter Beinart to Hillary Clinton into acquiesence with a manifestly absurd war. Everyone knew this was coming, and they still expect it to work. It’s remarkable, really.

I guess the next question is whether they can actually pull it off. I’m mildly optimistic. A fair portion of America did manage to forget the creeping ineptitude of the Vietnam War in time, but I don’t see it happening as readily in this case. For one, the culture war does not loom as large now as it did in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Opposition to this war is personified not in some anonymous, doobie smoking hippie, but (at worst) in people like Cindy Sheehan and Michael Moore. Conservatives have done their very best to discredit Sheehan and Moore, but they can’t fundamentally transform them into something alien. Moore and Sheehan look like the rest of us; indeed, they look almost like proto-typical Americans. It will be harded to create the impression that anti-war forces are somehow alien and un-American when they very much resemble ordinary Americans.

…more from Glenn Greenwald.

Help! Help! I’m being stabbed in the back!!!!

[ 0 ] March 1, 2006 |

Ah, Jeff Goldstein…

Goldstein is smarter than the average wingnut, and takes care to avoid many of the pitfalls normally associated with a “Stab in the Back” argument. He allows that people in a free society have every right to oppose the war. Nevertheless, he contends, the questioning of the Iraq War has objectively damaged the war effort; while people may be free to argue against the war, it is not wise for them to do so. To vocally oppose this war is not traitorous, but is to be without rectitude and oblivious to the benefits of presenting a “unifed front” in the War on Terror. Indeed, Goldstein’s critics are guilty of the following:

Face it: my critics know [that showing a united front against the terrorists would weaken the insurgency]. And so all these smarmy and utterly tranparent attempts to suggest that I am trying to “blame leftists” for a loss in Iraq is simply the manifestation of guilty consciences bursting like boils and oiling up the internet with so much pus-thickened epiphany juice.

Uh… yeah.

One wonders what precisely the role of the loyal opposition during war would be to a guy like Jeff Goldstein. He doesn’t make it completely clear, although, from what I can tell, it has something to do with being Bill Buckley rather than Juan Cole or Paul Krugman. I’ll confess that I don’t see the difference; the three above are convinced that US action in Iraq is pointless and destructive, and have used the media resources available to them to make their views known. Goldstein tries to parse the difference with this:

It is clear that the post took issue not with critiques of the particular strategies and tactics (which I note quite clearly in the piece proper), but rather with those whose hatred of the campaign and the current administration turned them into de facto propagandists for the enemy, especially insofar as they were willing to repeat lies as truths (because, as Glenn Greenwald argued) the ends justify the means.

Although, again, the difference escapes me as anything other than an effort to discredit left-wing critics while excusing right-wing critics. Jesse Taylor=De facto propagandist for the enemy; Bill Buckley, even though he makes more far reaching claims regarding the defeat of the United States=Critique of particular strategy and tactic. I suppose in the end the question for Goldstein comes down to tone; if you’re nice, respectful, and like the President, you’re a legitimate critic. If not, your guilty conscience is bursting forth like so many pus-filled boils.

The fact is that democratic governments, when they decide upon war, must account for the possibility of opposition. This is the heart of democracy; the decision to go to war is perhaps the most crucial that a democracy can make, and must, accordingly, be given the weightiest of democratic deliberation. It’s not as if opposition to war in democratic countries is something that started in 1967, although conservatives would like to think so. Vigorous anti-war movements have taken place in virtually every war that the United States has conducted since the American Revolution. Nor is the United States unusual in this; anti-war movements were common in European democracies, as well. When the war is as obviously ill-conceived, poorly executed, and poorly prepared for as the Iraq adventure, the criticism will be correspondingly harsher.

Long story short, when a democratic country engages in a manifestly stupid war in an egregiously inept fashion, you can expect to take some heat.

Goldstein also makes this claim,

The fact is, the insurgency simply cannot succeed militarily. And Iraqis have voted in spectacular numbers for an attempt at democratic governance.

Which means the only hope of the insurgency from the start has been to break our will by inflicting casualties, staging spectacular terrorist strikes (that serve the dual purpose of recruiting new insurgents and playing to our sensationalist and largely anti-war media), and fomenting a civil war between Shia and Sunni in an effort to sweep aside the prospect of democratic coalitions forming among long-warring sectarian groups.

which clearly demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what war, insurgency, and “military” mean. The insurgency can succeed militarily by steadily increasing the costs of the occupation in blood and treasure. This is how an insurgency succeeds; it is very, very rare than an insurgency will move to Mao’s phase three of operations. Typically, in an occupation situation, they don’t need to. Insurgents understand that they will ALWAYS place more value on victory than the occupier; the only question is whether they can exact sufficient costs to drive the occupation forces out. This is a military strategy, one that sometimes succeeds and sometimes does not. It is a strategy which works as well on authoritarian states as it does on democratic ones; the Soviet Union was not “militarily” defeated by the Afghan resistance in 1988, for example. Since Goldstein is obviously a really smart guy (and I mean that in all sincerity; I do respect Goldstein’s blogging) I can only assume that his obtuseness on this point is deliberate.

From the deliberately to the accidentally obtuse, let’s take a look at Victor Davis Hanson, who is manifestly not a smart guy. Hanson repeats the traditional wingnut talking points; the US is winning, the terrorist are desperate, terrorist success is a further demonstration of how desperate they are, etc. Hanson does go farther than Goldstein, and argues that, really, criticism is objectively undemocratic; if the Founding Fathers had questioned George Washington’s military strategy, there would have been no American Revolution.


VDH goes on to make clearer that the kind of second-guessing we’re seeing is akin to refighting Pearl Harbor on the road to Okinawa. VDH, it appears, has talked to the soldiers in Iraq and to the planners in Washington, and remains quite confident.

VDH should perhaps take a closer look at the books on military history that line his shelves; Admiral Husband E. Kimmel did not, in fact, lead the naval war against Japan. Why? Second guessing. Lieutenant General Walter Short didn’t lead the ground campagin. Why? Second guessing. General George B. McClellan didn’t accept Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Why? Second guessing. The history of democracy at war is repleat with examples of inept military officers and civilian officials who are sacked because of their inability to execute the war properly. This is as it should be; it is one of the reasons that democracies fight well. The other reason is that democracies choose their wars wisely, but it’s too late for that one now….

Civil War

[ 0 ] February 28, 2006 |

If this isn’t civil war, then what is it?

Grisly attacks and other sectarian violence unleashed by last week’s bombing of a Shiite Muslim shrine have killed more than 1,300 Iraqis, making the past few days the deadliest of the war outside of major U.S. offensives, according to Baghdad’s main morgue. The toll was more than three times higher than the figure previously reported by the U.S. military and the news media.