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Crazy Netrooty Purge Happy Blogofascists

[ 0 ] July 29, 2006 |

They’ve invaded the New York Times, apparently.

[The editorial page of The New York Times on Sunday endorsed Mr. Lamont over Mr. Lieberman, arguing that the senator had offered the nation a “warped version of bipartisanship” in his dealings with Mr. Bush on national security.]

…weird. The editorial itself is not yet available, but the notice is hidden halfway down an article about Lieberman’s campaign difficulties.


Good Lord, this isn’t good…

[ 0 ] July 29, 2006 |

The last few weeks have bumped up the bar for “Horrible News”, but I think this qualifies:

“Tonight Show” host Jay Leno will be the first replacement co-host for the syndicated review series “Ebert & Roeper” as Roger Ebert recovers from cancer surgery earlier this month.

Ack. The only thing worse that having Jay Leno replace Ebert would be… oh, no. Oh, God no…

As previously reported, Kevin Smith, director of “Clerks 2,” will sub for Ebert the weekend of Aug. 12. Buena Vista hasn’t named any other co-hosts but said Ebert is under doctor’s orders not to rush back to work.


[ 0 ] July 29, 2006 |

This is awful, obviously. The Stranger seems to have good coverage.

[ 0 ] July 28, 2006 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Stromboli

Graf Zep

[ 0 ] July 28, 2006 |

In comments, Bistroist points out that the wreck of the Led… er, Graf Zeppelin has been found. Graf Zep was Germany’s first effort at building an aircraft carrier (Seydlitz was the second). After the war began the Germans gave up on Graf Zep and consigned the hulk to duty as a storage vessel. The Soviet Union took the ship over at the end of the war, and apparently sank her in the Baltic.

Just a thought for the naval enthusiasts out there: What if the Germans had completed Graf Zep and used her as a commerce raider? Commerce raiding with Graf Zep was never their intention, as she was supposed to serve as a prototype for their projected fleet carriers. I suppose that the big problem would be supply; aircraft carriers use up fuel and ordinance at a rate much higher than surface ships, so any cruises would likely have been short. On the other hand, only one carrier during the war was caught by enemy surface ships (HMS Glorious), and it’s possible that Graf Zep, with a high speed (35 knots) and significant recon assets, could have avoided being destroyed by the Royal Navy. Graf Zeppelin was also quite large (33000 tons) for her projected complement of aircraft (50), which may suggest the possibility for longer ranged operations.

Lebanon Roundup

[ 0 ] July 28, 2006 |

Read Hilzoy. Critical passage:

If we’re going to argue about this, let’s at least recognize that we are not living in a world in which any state of affairs we might want is achievable. Stopping Hezbollah from firing rockets is difficult. Katyushas are nine or ten feet long, which makes them a lot easier to smuggle and to conceal than, say, your average ICBM. They can be fired from any hard surface, using a pipe and a car battery. Hezbollah has hidden them all over southern Lebanon, and they would not be hard to smuggle in from Syria. A force with popular support — say, the army of a popular Lebanese government — might be able to keep actions against Israel to a minimum, if not to stop them altogether. But an unpopular occupying force, whether Israeli or multinational, probably will not, even if it does have the right mandate and rules of engagement.

If you think I’m wrong about this, then argue with me. But don’t just ask me whether Israel is supposed to just accept the presence of people willing to use rockets on the other side of the border, without explaining what alternative there is. And don’t say that Israel has to do what it’s doing since it was attacked, without being willing to explain why exactly you think that Israel’s actions will in fact make it more secure.

Read Yglesias on deterrence.

By committing themselves to a war whose strategic objectives they can’t achieve without the deus ex machina of massive European intervention, the Israelis have put themselves in a very awkward — very dangerous — position. Tit-for-tat retaliations combined with vigorous diplomacy might have taught Hezbollah a lesson about the dangers of future raids and nudged Lebanon in the direction of taking responsibility for the south. But Israel and the United States have now put themselves in the position of arguing that a return to the status quo ante is unacceptable without having a strategy for forcing anything else. And, certainly, the pre-war situation was sub-optimal, but its merits can be too easily dismissed. Israelis were much better off than Lebanese Shiites or Palestinians (and the general situation in Lebanon was moving in a direction favorable to Israel) and therefore had the most to lose from rocking the boat.

Again, I’m glad that I don’t believe it’s possible to create a deterrent reputation for resolve. Otherwise, I might think that Israel was in serious trouble.


[ 0 ] July 27, 2006 |

Good line:

The case requires elaborate cover, buckets of money and the finest, fastest air and sea vessels the taxpayers of Miami can afford. Not really, of course. The actual operating budget for the Miami police department in fiscal year 2005 was around $100 million, a good $50 million less than the reported production costs of “Miami Vice.”

Should I be ashamed of the fact I’m excited to see this movie?

Sports Autobiographies

[ 0 ] July 27, 2006 |

Are there any good sports autobiographies? The genre is not one noted for distinction; most of the books are written by ghost writers who often have only a mercenary appreciation of their subjects. Ball Four, the one clear candidate for classic status, may not even qualify as an autobiography, although Bouton’s multiple revisions and new editions have brought it much closer to inclusion in the genre. I’ve heard that Hank Aaron’s book isn’t bad, but I haven’t read it. Are there any sports autobios that are worth reading?

Rethinking Agricultural Subsidies

[ 0 ] July 26, 2006 |

Late last year one of my students gave an outstanding presentation in defense of US agricultural subsidies, an accomplishment I had not thought possible. Daniel Davies makes the same argument here. Long story short, it’s difficult to convincingly argue that agricultural subsidies have a serious detrimental effect on Third World consumers, as opposed to producers. Given that most third world countries are net importers of food rather than exporters, reduced subsidies in the US and EU are likely to hurt more than help.

This doesn’t get ag subsidies completely out of the woods; they are still allocated unfairly, they still represent questionable subsidization of a narrow economic strata, and they still tend to have detrimental environmental effects. Still, something to think about.

What the Hell?

[ 0 ] July 26, 2006 |

After launching widespread airstrikes in order avoid negotiating with Hezbollah for the return of its soldiers, it now looks as if Israel will… negotiate with Hezbollah for the return of its soldiers, possibly promising to stop harassment of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and negotiate out the Shebaa farms issue.

What the hell? Why did a war have to be fought to achieve that outcome? A Haaretz article also indicates that Israel may maintain a 1km zone within Lebanon, which will do absolutely nothing to prevent anything like this from ever happening again. You might as well put up a sign saying “Don’t Seize Soldiers or Launch Rockets at Haifa”.

Since I don’t believe establishing a reputation for “resolve” is important or possible, the outlines of this settlement don’t bother me so much. If you do believe in reputation, however, it’s hard to imagine how this situation could have gone down worse for Israel. Of course, the situation remains fluid, and everything I just cited may change in the short term. It’s also possible (as always) that I’m missing some important angle.

UPDATE: As Dan points out, the FOE post cites a Beirut Daily Star op-ed, which can’t really be seen as a reliable indicator of Israeli attitudes. My bad. But Haaretz doesn’t really dispute the second contention, which is that Israeli objectives have been scaled back to something resembling a thin demilitarized zone, which, again, will have almost no effect on Hezbollah’s ability to attack Israel. Note that I’m not calling for Israel to attack more vigorously; I think that a quick cease-fire will be good for everyone. Nevertheless, it’s frustrating to see lots of people die for what appears to be no productive outcome.

Ze’ev Schiff has a not terribly helpful op-ed arguing that Hezbollah must be defeated for reputational reasons; apparently, Jordan and Egypt are likely to attack Israel if Hezbollah cannot be defeated:

If Israel’s deterrence is shaken as a result of failure in battle, the hard-won peace with Jordan and Egypt will also be undermined. Israel’s deterrence is what lies behind the willingness of moderate Arabs to make peace with it. Hamas, which calls for Israel’s destruction, will be strengthened and it is doubtful whether any Palestinians will be willing to reach agreements with Israel. Therein lies the link between the fight with Hezbollah and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

That’s pretty close to a textbook case of a bad use of the reputational argument; all commitments are interdependent, everyone interprets events in the same way, etc. Schiff also give no useful advice as to how Hezbollah can be “defeated” such that all actors will agree on the outcome.

IDF Effectiveness Roundup

[ 0 ] July 26, 2006 |

Billmon on strategic planning:

But, of course, I’m getting the impression from reading between the lines of the official propaganda that the IDF is struggling just to produce these little symbolic victories — they seem to be “securing” the same objectives over and over again. So my guess is that the internal debate will now turn to how many more divisions to commit to the battle, how far north to push, etc. My friend can’t tell, nor can I, if the primary objective is still to smash the hell out of Hizbullah, or whether the Israelis are just looking to save a little face.

Pat Lang on Israel’s newfound taste for air power:

At the strategic level, the IDF under Halutz is following classic “Air Power” theory which holds that crushing the “Will of the People” is the correct objective in compelling the acceptance of one’s own “will” by an adversary or neutral. With that objective in mind, all of the target country is considered to be one, giant target set. Industry, ports, bridges, hospitals, roads, you name it. It is all “fair game.” In this case the notion is to force the Lebanese government and army to accept a role as the northern jaw in a vise that will crush Hizballah and subsequently to hold south Lebanon against Hizballah. Since Lebanon is a melange of ethnic and religious communities of which Shia LEBANESE are a major element and since many Lebanese Shia are supporters of Hizballah, the prospect of getting the Lebanese government to do this is “nil.”

Larry Johnson on clear and hold:

When you are fighting a force like Hezbollah, on terrain it views as its home, you cannot defeat them unless you occupy the land and maintain a force in place. That is a costly and long term proposition. Israel tried it once and withdrew. Israel will discover in the coming weeks that their current operation will leave them once again on the horns of a dilemma—stay in southern Lebanon and fight a long-term insurgency or withdraw and give Hezbollah another notch in its belt. A third alternative—an international force empowered to keep the peace—exists only as a fantasy on paper. No country or group of countries appears willing to assume the burden of a costly, long-term military occupation.

Reuven Pedatzur on unpreparedness in the IDF:

Until the incidents are examined seriously by elements external to the IDF, there is an unpleasant feeling of a whitewash operation going on – and concern that something fundamentally bad is going on in the army. Because what began at Kerem Shalom repeated itself on the Lebanese border: The IDF was again caught off guard, this time in a well-planned Hezbollah ambush. The intelligence failure and the complacency of the men in the patrol and of their officers had grave results. The entry of the tank into Lebanon, in an attempt to delay the escape of the kidnappers of the two soldiers, was also flawed. It is unclear why, at command levels, they did not anticipate that Hezbollah had laid mines to delay the advance of tanks.

Also see the NYT on the likely inadequacy of air power, the reluctance of Israel to commit significant ground forces (although Israel is apparently preparing to occupy a strip along the border), and on the continuing capacity of Hezbollah to resist the IDF.

First, some caveats on all of the above. Whatever mistakes the IDF may be making (and some of the above may be overblown), the US has been down the same road and made the same mistakes on multiple occasions. All military organizations make mistakes, including the IDF. Although in popular lore the IDF has acquired a reputation for invincibility, its performance historically has been uneven. The Yom Kippur War and the Lebanon occupation both revealed serious deficiencies. The question for the future is whether the Israelis will learn from the mistakes and either a) choose operations more likely to succeed, or b) become better at operations they’re likely to choose.

I have to say, though, that what appears to be an increasing commitment to the idea that air power can prevail over all obstacles is a disturbing turn. The idea that an organization like Hezbollah can be destroyed or even seriously damaged even by a long term, intensive air campaign is absurd. The commitment of small ground units helps, but won’t solve the problem. It is deeply troubling that some in the IDF appear overtaken by the same fantasy that continues to afflict the USAF; the idea that air power is the hammer than can drive all nails, even when those nails are screws. This point really reveals the absurdity of much of the blogospheric discussion of the Israeli campaign. Wingnuts are happily cheering on Israeli resolve to fight Hezbollah, while failing to note that the tactics being employed by the IDF stand no chance whatsoever of actually destroying the organization.

I’m a lot less concerned about IDF effectiveness on the ground, as Hezbollah is an effective organization, well trained and capable of laying a good ambush. Falling into such an ambush doesn’t necessarily reveal any deeper problems. But Johnson is correct to say that Israel is on the horns of a dilemma. If they don’t occupy southern Lebanon, Hezbollah will declare victory. If they occupy a small strip of southern Lebanon, Hezbollah will continue its attacks and declare victory. If they end the airstrikes without destroying Hezbollah, Hezbollah will declare victory. Indeed, it’s hard for me to figure out a way in which this will end without giving Hezbollah the opportunity to declare victory, unless a large contingent of foreign troops arrives from somewhere (Fiji? Chile? Mongolia?) to help disarm the militia or at least manage southern Lebanon.

… also read Philip Gordon on the hopelessness of an air power strategy.

… and it should be noted that Israeli ground incursions seem to be increasing in scope and strength. This is not, in my view, a bad thing, as long as the incursions allow Israel to actually engage and destroy Hezbollah forces. I don’t think that Israel can actually destroy Hezbollah through the limited incursions, of course, but it’s still better than an air campaign that won’t do anyone any good.

The Chinese? Say what?

[ 0 ] July 26, 2006 |

A transcript of my remarks from yesterday is here.

The front page of the Herald-Leader reads “UK Professor Rob Farley thinks that the Chinese would be the best choice for leadership of a peacekeeping mission. Find out why online”. I suppose I ought to defend that palpably absurd offhand remark…

The problem is that while deploying a peacekeeping or peacemaking force to Lebanon is a good idea in the abstract, no one knows where the troops will come from. The US cannot supply peacekeepers, and wouldn’t want to even if it could. The Europeans seem reluctant. An Arab-led force seems to me a bad idea; there’s little reason to believe that Egyptian or Saudi forces will take the initiative in controlling or disarming Hezbollah. This leaves relatively few options (although Indonesia and Malaysia have both offered troops).

In this context, a Chinese led mission looks attractive. The PLA has massive ground forces that aren’t doing anything particularly important right now. The Chinese also have relatively good relations with all of the parties concerned, including Israel, Lebanon, Iran, and the Gulf monarchies. With logistical support the Chinese have the capacity to carry out the operation, and can plausibly play the role of honest broker. That’s the upside.

Then there’s the downside. Why would China ever want to do this? The PLA has engaged in several other peacekeeping missions, including Lebanon and Haiti, but none of a magnitude approaching what would be necessary in southern Lebanon. The capability of the PLA to carry out what might turn into a counter-insurgency operation in unknown. On the one hand, the PLA was born as an insurgency. On the other, Mao’s been dead a long time. Moreover, a country retains its status as an “honest broker” by staying as far away as possible from any controversial subject. Beijing might lose diplomatic cred through an extended Lebanese deployment. Finally, there’s likely to be considerable Pentagon nervousness about extending the diplomatic and military reach of China, nervousness that might lead the administration to kibosh the whole operation.

Still, it’s a thought. The PLA could use some experience in a large operation and, if Beijing is interested in stepping up on the world diplomatic stage, this would be a way to do it. I also doubt that Beijing is as casualty averse as many of the European governments.


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