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Book Review: The World is Flat

[ 1 ] August 15, 2006 |

This is the fourth of an eight part review series of the Patterson Summer Reading List.

1. Colossus, Niall Ferguson

2. Illicit, Moises Naim
3. The End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs
4. The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman

The World is Flat is a book by Thomas Friedman. As I refuse to recognize Thomas Friedman’s right to exist, I decided to read Cobra II by Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor instead.

Cobra II is about the campaign and the military buildup to the campaign, rather than the aftermath. As such, it grants some important but limited insights into how the campaign affected the post-conflict environment. Some of the decisions made in the very early days were certainly crucial for what happened later, but Gordon and Trainor don’t dwell on the disastrous incompetence that characterized the occupation. Rather, Cobra II is an excellent campaign history, following Franks and his lieutenants as they prepared for and executed the war, often with Don Rumsfeld watching over their shoulders and offering unhelpful advice.

Cobra II paints a fascinating portrait of Franks as military commander. Certainly, constructing a battle plan with continual interference from Don Rumsfeld and his jolly band of morons was no easy thing. Franks was, however, an effective bureaucratic fighter, using Rumsfeld rhetorically to quash resistance within the Army and the Marine Corps. In some sense, I almost felt that Trainor and Gordon shorted Franks a bit of the credit for his execution of the war. He was very involved in the planning of the campaign, successfully parried Rumsfeld enough to preserve a workable operation, and effectively overrode opposition within his own ranks. If we understand his role as primarily to create and execute a plan to seize Iraq in a short period of time with minimal casualties, Franks performed exceptionally well. Trainor and Gordon mention several incidents during the campaign in which on the ground commanders began to have serious reservations about the execution, and detail how Franks, in gruff and intimidating style, overruled them and pushed them forward. In all fairness to Franks, he was almost always correct about the capacity of US forces to destroy and bypass Iraqi opposition, even when the Iraqis began using tactics that the Americans were unprepared for.

It’s on the political side that Franks really fell short. Trainor and Gordon suggest that he really hated diplomacy, and understood the military sphere as separate and distinct from the political. In other words, and just as so many generals have before him, he ignored the critical tenets of Clausewitz. He didn’t take time to mollify the Turks or other potential allies in the run up to or execution of the war. He understood the Iraqi guerilla tactics as primarily a military problem, one that posed little significant threat to his advance, rather than as a political problem for the aftermath and occupation. He gave little thought to what would happen following the destruction of Iraqi forces and the seizure of Baghdad. Most importantly, he failed to resist Rumsfeld and the Pentagon strongly enough on the construction of post-war Iraq. In an important sense, Franks abdicated his responsibility as a political actor, a role that all senior military officers must be prepared to accept. Franks operated much more in the “Patton” than the “Eisenhower” mode, and his experience should serve to remind us just how important it is to have a general like Eisenhower who can balance the military and political parts of the job.

Any discussion of Iraq as a model for other military action has to deal with the question of the competence of Iraqi forces. The Iraqi Army has, historically, displayed a high level of ineptitude even for an Arab military organization. The reasons for this are long and complicated, but have a lot to do with a generally dysfunctional political system and consequent civil-military problems. These problems were evident in the 2003 campaign. The problems started at the very top, with Hussein and his inner circle making several devastating misjudgements regarding American intentions and capabilities. Hussein failed to perceive the threat that the Americans posed, and consequently failed to give his forces the tools and freedom they needed to fight the invasion. Regular Iraqi units and even Republican Guard units were rarely trusted with the equipment, information, or latitude of action necessary to resist the US attack. In part because of this (but also because of the US interdiction campaign, and the general collapse of the Iraqi state) the regular units began to disintegrate a week or so into the battle. When regular Iraqi forces met US troops, they got dusted; Iraqi T-72s were simply incapable of doing significant damage to US tanks, for example, and Iraqi tactics were in general quite poor. The Iraqis ended the Iran-Iraq War by developing a French/Egyptian model of methodical planning, but this was obviously unavailable in the context of Iraqi domestic politics in 2003, and given the speed and agility of US forces. The ineptitude of the Iraqi forces extended to the irregular Fedayeen, who were occasionally able to construct clever ambushes, but who were wholly incapable of dealing with US firepower superiority. On countless occasions, inexperienced Fedayeen guerrillas launched pointless and suicidal attacks against well defended and supported US positions. A competent and experienced guerilla organization (like Hezbollah) would likely have performed much better, and posed a far more significant threat to US rear areas and supply lines during the initial advance. It would be wrong to assume that all foes that the US fights in the future will display the same level of incompetence as the Iraqis.

Trainor and Gordon do an outstanding job of depicting various critical encounters between Iraqi and US forces. Even as US forces were slaughtering fedayeen attackers, the Iraqis were creating situations that posed real problems for the Americans. These problems were exacerbated by the fact that the Americans were always concerned that the Iraqis were about to mount either armored assaults or chemical attacks. Most of the serious engagements were between advance elements of US units and Iraqi guerrillas. Trainor and Gordon cover this in detail, just as they give clear and informative discussions of the runs through and eventual seizure of Baghdad. The authors even make good use of Iraqi sources, although more at the strategic level than the operational or tactical. It would be nice, in particular, to hear how the guerrillas conceived of and executed their attacks, and of the state of morale in the face of overwhelming US firepower superiority.

The guerrilla strategy employed by Iraq posed serious difficulties for the US advance, even if the guerrilla attacks were not competently executed. Oddly, the US operation played directly into the Iraqi strategy, as the US advance left long, hard to defend supply lines vulnerable to guerilla assault. Had the fedayeen displayed more competence, they might have been able to do serious damage to the US battleplan. It is a difficult (and somewhat daring) thing to turn over significant responsibilities for national defense to what are essentially irregular guerrilla organizations, and it will be interesting to see if other states begin to follow suit. Certainly, the Iraqis could have done a much better job of training the guerrillas, and of establishing cooperation between guerilla and regular forces. I suspect that the Iranians in particular are studying the campaign with an eye toward particularly those questions. The Iranian state is probably better equipped for this kind of fighting than most any other, given the division of responsibilities between the conventional military and the Revolutionary Guard, and the rather irregular nature of the latter.

As a final note, the CIA comes through as completely incompetent in Cobra II. They got the big questions (WMD) wrong, and they got the medium questions (Iraqi public opinion) wrong, and they got the small questions (various tactical situations) wrong. Even before Porter Goss was inflicted upon the Agency, it seems that there were serious problems with how it did business, problems that weren’t all created by pressure from the administration. For example, even the much vaunted phone calls to Iraqi officers on the eve of the invasion failed, in part because the Iraqi accented Arabic was so genuine that the officers believed that the calls came from Hussein’s security services.

Cobra II is an excellent work, and I highly recommend it to students of military science, as well as to anyone interested in the general contours of the 2003 campaign.

UPDATE: See this review of The World is Flat. Via FMGuru.


Hezbollah Force Employment

[ 0 ] August 15, 2006 |

Good WaPo article on Hezbollah guerilla capabilities. MacGyver has also been on the case, asking the right questions about Hezbollah’s competence. There are three questions that I find of particular interest:

How good is Hezbollah?

The WaPo article says that they’re very good, and I’ve heard pretty much the same thing from practitioners. They are extremely adept at digging in, creating ambushes, kill zones, and so forth. Part of this expertise comes from a lot of experience fighting the IDF, and part of it comes from outside training. They’re also one of the better equipped guerilla organizations in the world. It’s certainly impressive that they managed to keep firing large numbers of rockets at northern Israel even as the IDF meandered into a large scale ground offensive. It’s also quite impressive that they managed to destroy a number of Israeli armored vehicles; the US generals in Iraq had to be watching this and praying that the advanced Russian antitank missiles don’t start falling into the hands of Iraqi insurgents. Even then, tank destroying capability depends as much (or more) on the expertise of the shooter as it does on the capability of the weapon, and Hezbollah proved it knew how to effectively use good weaponry. Of course, measuring effectiveness is always a difficult thing, and it has been reasonably argued that Hezbollah has not so much displayed outstanding effectiveness as demonstrated a level of competence heretofore unseen among Arab military organizations.

How much did the Israelis hurt Hezbollah?

This is probably the most important question, and the answers differ. I do suspect that analysts are being a bit too pat regarding Hezbollah’s “victory” in this war; the Israelis killed a lot of fighters, and forced Hezbollah to expend a lot of rockets (although the tactic of depleting enemy rockets by encouraging them to be fired on your cities seems like a not terribly clever form of rope-a-dope). Hezbollah’s fighting force is relatively small, and the analyses I’ve seen suggest that the Israelis killed close to 10% of their total manpower. Including wounded, the damage is undoubtedly a bit higher than that, and not the kind of pain that a guerilla organization will regularly want to experience. Hezbollah will see a recruiting bonanza, but much of the organization’s strength is tied up in human expertise and capital, and it will take a while to achieve the same level of expertise and capability. It’s hard to say, but it looked to me as if, toward the end of the conflict, Hezbollah was taking the Israeli bait and trying to fight stand up skirmishes against the IDF, which can never be a good thing. Although we’ll never know for sure, the final Israeli offensive may have caused some real damage to the organization. The destruction of Hezbollah infrastructure is also a problem, as well developed bunkers don’t grow on trees (or in the ground, as the case may be) and Israeli destruction of parts of their system will in general reduce Hezbollah capabilities.

What does this tell us about Iran?

This is the million dollar question, and my first response would be “Not much.” It’s very hard to argue that Hezbollah’s competence in waging guerilla warfare in southern Lebanon tells us very much about either the Revolutionary Guard or the conventional Iranian armed forces. I would bet that most of the human capital that Hezbollah has built up has come from experiential learning rather than vicarious; that is, they’re developing expertise from within, rather than based on Iranian training. There’s no really good reason to believe that the Iranians, who have little experience with guerilla war, could have developed competence in it to the degree that they could help out Hezbollah. Certainly, they have probably imparted expertise on the use of particular weapon systems, but I doubt that their training extends very far beyond technical competence and basic light infantry tactics. Indeed, it’s almost as interesting to ask whether the expertise has flowed in the opposite direction, and wonder how much Iran has learned from the experience of Hezbollah. My guess, again, would be “not much”, as conventional military organizations have not historically learned very much from irregular forces. The problem remains that no one really knows how competent Iranian military forces have become, and I’m not convinced that the experience of the Israeli-Hezbollah war tells us anything very useful about their capabilities.

If You’re Going to Get Crushed, Why Play?

[ 0 ] August 15, 2006 |

Heh. Maybe one of the reasons that the administration doesn’t like going to the UN is that they regularly get schooled by the French

First, during the first UN Resolution that was cobbled together, the French signed on to the U.S. language. While that first resolution favored Israeli interests disproportionately and did not call for an immediate Israeli military withdrawal from Southern Lebanon, it laid the groundwork for a ceasefire and for a deal on the Shebaa Farms.

The French encouraged the Arab League and Lebanon to object to the resolution — particularly over the failure to call for an immediate Israeli withdrawal. The French then jumped ship and sang in unity with Lebanon and the Arab League — and then pushed Hezbollah to accept something reasonable between the original US/French position and the later French/Arab League position.

In the end, the French maneuvered American agreement on the ceasefire and Israel’s troop withdrawals — and left Israel diplomatically cornered.

If John Bolton wants to take credit for any of this, let him — but it was the French all the way.

This reminds me of the run up to the legendary second resolution on the Iraq War, at which time the US first declared that it would bring about a vote in the expectation that France would be the lone dissenter, then declared that the vote would achieve a supermajority, then declared that it would achieve a majority, then declared that there would be no vote. What was particularly impressive about the French diplomacy was how well they were able to line up the developing world votes; reminding the African countries, for example, that France was still going to care about Africa (for good and ill) when the US had forgotten about the continent. Chirac has also done an impressive job of resurrecting French cred in the Islamic world, no small task for a country once bitterly reviled for its colonial brutality in Syria and Algeria.

Thank You!!!

[ 0 ] August 15, 2006 |

A warm, hearty thanks to the fine soul who dropped $50 in the tip jar. We’ll give it a good home.

Dorm Food

[ 0 ] August 14, 2006 |

Lexington seems to be filling up with incoming freshmen. Many of these freshmen (as well as assorted upper classmen) will soon be infesting the dorms, and, of course, eating dorm food. Two months ago in Fort Collins I ate dorm food. The good people at ETS put us up in the Colorado State dorms, which have a passably decent cafeteria. It’s neither the best (Cornell) nor the worst (University of Oregon) that I’ve seen, but it does the job. Because the ETS crew is committed to making all of the participants gain at least five pounds during the grading week, I was extremely careful; I always skipped lunch, never had desert, drank only diet pop, and exercised obsessively. Following upon the dietary disasters that were Las Vegas and Seattle, maintaining this program was my only hope.

It occured to me while in Fort Collins, however, that dorm cafeterias are a blight upon our society. It is customary to speak of the “freshmen fifteen”, but in my case, it turned out to be a freshmen thirty-five. I entered my freshmen year at a svelte 175, left it at 210, and haven’t seen 200 since. While my circumstances were somewhat special (my grandmother was a bad cook even before she suffered a stroke, I never took the time to learn how to cook properly, and as such I was almost guaranteed to gain weight as soon as I began a normal eating regimen), it nevertheless seems that a lot of people gain a lot of weight as soon as they get to college.

When I got to UO, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Suddenly, all the pop, cake, and fried food in the world was available to me. My consumption at all three meals increased dramatically. In retrospect, I dearly wish that there had been some sort of dietary counseling or warning available. It had never occured to me to read the back of a can of Coke, and thus I hadn’t the faintest understanding of how many calories I was ingesting when I drank three glasses of pop a night. I would often grab a bagel with cream cheese after eating a full breakfast, having no idea just how bad that was for me. This is to say nothing, of course, of the immense amounts of pizza and Taco Bell that college freshmen become accustomed to eating.

Given that the late teens seem to be important in determining eventual body weight and, more generally, healthy eating habits, I’m kind of surprised that there wasn’t more attention paid to teaching young college students how to eat. While in Fort Collins, I didn’t notice any material in or near the dorm cafeteria that had nutritional information or nutritional warnings, so I’m assuming that the situation today at CSU is roughly similar to the situation I knew at UO. I’m curious, though; how many people faces similar situations when they went to college? Are there any universities that have more of an appreciation for good nutrition than the UO did?

Hard to Force

[ 0 ] August 13, 2006 |

Daniel Goldhagen writes:

The sixth option is to compel Hezbollah’s suppliers and patrons — Syria and Iran — to end the terror. Neither country wishes a war with militarily superior Israel (Syria’s saber rattling notwithstanding). If every Hezbollah missile into Israel produced Israeli retaliation against Syria, and possibly Iran (including its nuclear production sites), Syria and Iran would be forced to make Hezbollah stop.

Wrong. Indeed, this displays a deeply flawed understanding of how military force and political will actually intertwine. Unfortunately, it’s a very common (almost willful) form of misunderstanding, especially on the Right.

There is no way, short of marching to Damascus or Tehran, of “forcing” Iran or Syria to give up their support for terrorist organizations. It’s possible that they can be convinced to do so, given some combination of sticks, carrots, and changing circumstances, but “forced” implies a process that is virtually impossible to bring about. Airstrikes, coercive raids, interdiction, and so forth (which is what I expect Goldhagen means) never forced any country to do anything. Increasing the costs to a target for a particular line of action may incline the the target toward a change in policy, but in the absence of direct coercion the change will not necessarily be in a pleasant direction. This works both ways; I have no doubt that various terrorist organizations have carried out attacks against Israel in the belief that the attacks would “force” Israel to cease or begin some particular policy. Blowing up five buildings in Damascus for every one destroyed in Haifa might convince the Syrians to engage in some other policy, but that policy might be to increase support for Hezbollah, or for Hamas, or to undertake some other means of attacking Israel’s interests.

There is, simply put, no way of ensuring that a target will interpret a strike and react to it in the way that the attacking country wants and expects. Even if the “message” is understood correctly (no small thing), the response is unlikely to be what the attacker desires. This is one reason why attempting to establish a reputation for resolve (which is basically what Goldhagen is suggesting) is such a futile exercise; it depends on the attacker understanding the values and internal political situation of the target so well that it knows a) that the message will be understood in the manner expected, and b) that the value threatened will be sufficient to arouse the target to action, c) that the value threatened will be greater than the target’s own preference to maintain “resolve”, d) that the target, among a whole myriad of responsive options, will select the response that the attacker wants, and e) that the internal political balance of the target will allow the execution of that response even if it is decided upon as policy.

To give an example, even if a) Tehran understood an Israeli attack as response to Hezbollah and not as an unconnected preventative effort on its nuclear facilities or as naked aggression, and even if b) whatever targets Israel selected were viewed as particularly valuable to the various elements of the Iranian state, and c) even if Tehran viewed the destruction of those targets as so damaging that it was willing to be seen as “backing down in the face of Israeli attacks” before its own population, and d) even if Tehran decided to rein in Hezbollah, rather than step up support in an effort to compel Israel to stop its attacks, e) there is no guarantee that all the players in the Byzantine world that is the Iranian government could be brought to pursue the same policy; the Revolutionary Guard, for example, might increase support for Hezbollah in spite of Tehran’s preference.

Force is diplomacy, and diplomacy is complicated. When we recognize the complications implicit in the use of force, it becomes a less rhetorically attractive option.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: Volya

[ 0 ] August 13, 2006 |

Imperator Aleksandr III was the third of the Imperatritsa Mariya class, a group of dreadnoughts built in the Black Sea and designed to fight the Turkish Navy. Emperor Aleksandr III had succeeded to the throne of Russia upon the assassination of his brother in 1881. Although also the target of several assassination plots, Alexander III died of natural causes in 1894. A conservative, he helped roll back the reforms initiated by his father, and contributed in his own way to the revolutionary upheavels in Russia in the early twentieth century.

Imperator Aleksandr III carried 12 12″ guns in four centerline, flush triple turrets. She displaced 24000 tons and could make 22 knots. The design was similar to but a moderate improvement upon the Gangut class, carrying much heavier armor. Because of an obdurate Turkish government, the Black Sea Fleet was the only Russian fleet, following the Russo-Japanese War, to still possess ships. The Turkish purchases of the dreadnoughts Sultan Osman I and Reshadiye (later Agincourt and Erin) would have given the Turks decisive superiority over the five remaining Russian pre-dreadnoughts. Imperator Aleksandr III and her sisters were designed to remedy this problem. Of course, the seizure of the two Turkish battleships by the British government and the later transfer of the German battlecruiser Goeben to Turkish control meant that the situation was somewhat different than what had been expected. The completion of Aleksandr’s two sisters would briefly give the Russian Navy superiority in the Black Sea in World War I, although the unfortunate explosion of Imperatritsa Mariya prevented the Russians from achieving dominance.

Aleksandr III was laid down in 1911, but because of slow Russian construction and problems with machinery delivery, was not complete by 1917. In February 1917 Russia went and had a revolution. Imperator Aleksandr III was taken over by the provisional government, and renamed Volya. Although still incomplete, she began to take her sea trials. A few months later, Volya was appropriated by one of the several independent Ukrainian governments that emerged in the wake of the Revolution. A few months after that, the inexorable advance of the Reichswehr left Germany in control of much of the Black Sea. The Treaty of Brest ceded control of Volya and her remaining sister to the Germans. The revolutionary crew of Svobodnaja Rossija (as Imperatritsa Ekaterina had been renamed) arranged the scuttling of their ship, but Volya was seized by the Germans, renamed Wolga, and commissioned (still incomplete) into the German Navy on October 15, 1918.

Germany surrendered on November 11, 1918, and the German fleet was ceded to British control. The British did not want the Bolsheviks to have access to Wolga, so moved her (under Royal Navy flag) to Izmir. British, French, American, and Japanese policy in 1919 was to strangle the Bolshevik Revolution in its crib. The British turned Wolga over to White Russian forces, which completed the ship and renamed her General Alekseev, after the Imperial and counter-revolutionary Russian General Mikhail Alekseev. General Alekseev conducted bombardment operations against Bolshevik forces in the Black Sea area until mid 1920, when Red forces crushed White resistance in the Crimea. In November 1920, fleeing from the Bolshevik tyranny, the last Imperial Navy battleship, General Alekseev, led a ragtag, fugitive fleet on a lonely quest; a shining city named Bizerta. Thousands of Whites who could not fit on the Russian or accompanying British ships were massacred by the Red Army.

General Alekseev made its way to Bizerta, in the French colony of Tunisia. Alekseev was interned there by the French until 1924, when France officially gave up its baby strangling policy and recognized the Soviet Union. The French offered Alekseev to the Soviets, but the offer was refused because of the poor state of the ship. The reasons for the Soviet refusal are unclear, as it’s unlikely that General Alekseev was in any worse shape than Sevastopol and her sisters in the Baltic. In any case, the French kept General Alekseev, and slowly scrapped her at Bizerta over the course of the next twelve years. One of her main turrets was used as coastal defense artillery in World War II.

Trivia: What class of American battleships had the highest design displacement prior to the Iowa class?

Russian Conscription

[ 0 ] August 12, 2006 |

Last year, sixteen Russian conscripts were killed during hazing. Another 276 committed suicide, and while not all of those can be attributed to hazing (young people commit suicide at a high rate, especially when they have access to guns, and Russia has a high suicide rate anyway), it may have played a significant role in many cases.

While I’m not surprised that Russian military life in the post-Soviet era is harsh and brutal, I am curious as to why Russia has retained conscription as its primary mode of recruitment. The Russian mandatory service system performs poorly, anyway, with roughly 90% of the male population escaping its service obligation. Given that most Western countries have moved away from conscription (Germany is an exception), I’m not sure why Russia has decided to retain it. The Western military organizations have generally (although not uniformally) decided that all-volunteer forces are both cheaper than and more effective than conscript forces. Given the disaster that Russia experienced using conscripts in the first Chechen War, I would think the latter argument in particular would be compelling.

Answers to the puzzle that I can think of are a) that the Russian military lacks the money to provide sufficient incentive for recruits, and thus that manpower levels would fall to an unsatisfactory level if conscription was abolished, or b) that high ranking Russian officers remain committed to Soviet era operational doctrines, requiring a mass army (this would be connected to a perception of a), or c) the Russian Army wishes to hold onto at least some conscription for domestic political reasons, particularly to retain influence over society at large.

Thoughts? Any experts on Russian military policy out there?

this old post at Free Republic gives more info about Russian conscription, and the comments supply some reasons for the maintenance of the system:

There are powerful economic motives among Russian officials to keep the draft going in Russia. The corrupt officers also make plenty of money by hiring their conscripts out to work on building sites and road crews. Occasionally, they have allowed their conscripts to be kidnapped for a bribe, so they can be used as slaves. The NCOs also extort money from the junior conscripts, in return for not beating them.

Book Review: The End of Poverty

[ 0 ] August 12, 2006 |

This is the third of an eight part review series of the Patterson Summer Reading List.

1. Colossus, Niall Ferguson
2. Illicit, Moises Naim
3. The End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs

The End of Poverty made a big splash when published last year, as Sachs argued in provocative fashion that extreme poverty (essentially, deep rural poverty in Africa, some parts of Asia, and parts of Latin America) could be ended with a relatively small investment of capital by the developed world. Sachs argued that the ending deep poverty was not only a moral necessity for the developed world, but that, in the end, it would work to their positive good. Sachs central point, I think, is that poverty has specific causes (bad infrastructure, bad geography, bad health conditions, poor education) that can be solved with specific types of aid programs. Such aid programs can eliminate the worst of extreme poverty in the world, and would be relatively inexpensive for the developed world.

Sachs points out that the vast gulf between rich and poor regions is a relatively new phenomenon for the world. Until two centuries ago, most people everywhere in the world lived more or less in the same fashion, as subsistence farmers. Regional differences existed to be sure, but they did not approach the kind of inequality that we began to see with the industrial revolution. Putting this in perspective is important, because Sachs is calling not so much for redistribution of global wealth (the rich countries won’t become poorer) but rather for creating the conditions under which those regions that have not yet benefitted from the vast increase in wealth spurred by the industrial revolution (and its successors) can begin to take advantage of the possibilities of exponential economic growth. The creation of wealth, he points out, is not a zero-sum game.

Sachs also gives a good account of the many of the factors that keep countries poor. Governance is not the only problem, and indeed is rarely the central problem for economic development. Bolivia, for example, suffers from a number of critical handicaps on the international economic stage. Because of the transportation difficulties, exports from Bolivia must demand a very high price per unit of weight. Historically, the most successful Bolivian exports have been silver (which is now largely gone), tin (for which the market has collapsed), and cocaine. Bolivia will never be able to build development on the export of basic agricultural products, or even on the low level manufactures that developing countries often use as stepping stones. Sachs also attributes much poverty in Africa and continental Asia to geographic difficulties. Like any argument, this one is limited; it would seem to me that the answer for Bolivia would be to attempt to develop an economy based on the export of services, but that in itself requires a certain economic foundation.

The biggest problem with Sachs’ argument is his lack of focus on problems on governance. This decision is not surprising, as he is arguing against those who would assert that the primary problems of development stem from poor governance in the developing world. He does a good job of demonstrating how limited that perspective is, and how damaging policy based around that idea can be. Even an exceptionally well governed country, in the face of severe infrastructure, resource, health, and geographic drawbacks, will be unable to produce signficant, reliable economic growth. Nevertheless, in reading his prescriptions I couldn’t help but to wonder what kind of organizations could execute the kind of aid programs he was setting forth. The prescriptions, he points out, need to be tailored to specific countries, based on the needs of those states, and executed in cooperation with local governments. In a well-governed, more or less democratic, not overly corrupt society this seems like it could make a bit of sense, but precisely how many countries in the developing world does that describe? Largely because so many of the countries are so poor, and often because of Western interference, the states lack capacity and interest in executing and assisting the necessary programs. NGOs can help to an extent, but without the coercive power of a state are unable to make certain that the aid will get where it needs to go and do the things that it needs to do.

Sachs is quite correct to argue that unspecific aid programs without clear goals will tend to fail, which is why so much Western assistance has not produced the necessary effects. He’s also right to say that this failure does not mean that Western aid MUST fail. But the more specific the aid program, the greater the capacity needed for execution, and thus the greater need for robust and competent governance. In the absence of such governance, it’s unclear how to make the aid programs that he wants have the effects that he intends.

Nevertheless, an interesting and useful book. And he has a foreword by Bono. Which I didn’t read.

Wal*Mart vs. Jesus Cage Match

[ 0 ] August 12, 2006 |

When big business meets the evangelical community, who do you think wins?

While much of America put Prohibition to rest 73 years ago, large parts of the South have remained strictly off-limits to alcohol sales.

But local and national business interests that stand to profit from the sale of alcohol, including real estate developers, grocery chains, restaurant groups and Wal-Mart, are combining their political and financial muscle to try to persuade hundreds of dry towns and counties to go wet. In the process, they are changing the face of the once staunchly prohibitionist Bible Belt.


Across the South, some business groups seem to agree with her, backing efforts to nudge dry towns and counties to go wet.

“It’s going to be much harder to attract restaurants and grocery stores to your town if they can’t sell alcohol,” said Mr. Hatch, the political strategist who has been hired to help get the measure passed in Angelina County.

Mr. Hatch and other proponents say their campaigns have been financed by a diverse group that includes grocery chains like Albertson’s, Kroger and Safeway; and restaurant groups like Brinker International, which owns Chili’s Grill and Bar, and Darden Restaurants, owner of Red Lobster and Olive Garden.

And, of course, Wal-Mart. “I think Sam Walton, being the family-oriented man he was, would be rolling over in his grave about this,” Mr. Frankens, the pastor of Homer Pentecostal Church, said in a telephone interview, referring to the Wal-Mart founder. “I’m really disappointed in Wal-Mart as a company.”

What? International capital doesn’t respect local difference in its search for profit? Welcome to the world, pastor. Given Sam’s long history of deep respect for local capital and culture, I’m sure that he’s sleeping soundly…

Given that I like to drink, I’m more or less politically sympathetic to the giant international conglomerates on this one. I can appreciate the desire of locals to maintain restrictions, but given that the patchwork of alcohol regulation almost always means that beer and booze are functionally available everywhere (typically, rows and rows of liquor and beer stores spring up just across the country line), they seem to me pointless regulations. I wish that the story had given some more information on how local and state Republican elected officials have been dealing with such campaigns. Given the willingness of the Republicans to sell out their base on gambling, I can only assume that they’re quietly working to make the liquor flow.

Everybody Loses, Except Those Who Don’t.

[ 0 ] August 11, 2006 |

So that means it’s fair, right? A quick cut, assuming that things fall together like the Times suggests…

Given the situation on the ground right now, the deal seems to be about as good as Israel could have hoped for. Hizbollah was neither going to be destroyed nor disarmed, and the Israelis get their UN /Lebanese force, which seems to have some teeth, if probably not enough to fully disuade Hizbollah from launching attacks. Had the Israelis (and their allies on the American Right) not made such extravagant claims at the beginning of the conflict, the outcome might even look kind of like a draw. The blood and treasure cost of this operation for Israel may be eventually be dwarfed by the increased political (if not military) strength of Hizbollah and its expanding influence on the Lebanese political scene.

Iran, as usual, wins. Its client survives, if not quite with the same amount of teeth, and Israel spends a lot of time and effort making Hizbollah really popular everywhere in the Islamic world.

France wins. It gets to be the “honest broker” and can pretend to be a great power again for a while. That is, at least, until its soldiers start getting killed in southern Lebanon.

The US just looks inept. Our client, in spite of vast military superiority, is unable to destroy Iran’s client, and the latter goes from being an unpopular terrorist organization to a very popular terrorist organization. We have to rely on France to bail us out. Not good.

All that, and a lot of Israelis and Lebanese die.

Also see Billmon, Greenwald, and for the enraged wingnut reaction, Powerline.

Attack a Pak?

[ 0 ] August 11, 2006 |

In fairness to Thomas Joscelyn, he doesn’t actually suggest that the US should attack Pakistan. Rather, he asks cowardly rhetorical questions like “Pakistani terror networks were behind the 7/7 bombings and the London airline plot. What will we do about it?”

Also it should be noted that, as Pakistan cooperated closely with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, is controlled by a military dictator, is known to sponsor violent terrorism against India, has illicit (and proliferate) nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and is strongly suspected to be harboring Osama Bin Laden, it is one of the many, many countries that it would have made more sense to confront than Iraq.

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