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Things I Didn’t Know…

[ 0 ] March 14, 2006 |

but am genuinely appalled by.

Less well-known is that the AFL also worked with the CIA to overthrow the elected Arbenz government in Guatemala in 1954, helped set up drug smuggling routes in Europe, and in 1962, established the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD) which helped lay the groundwork for U.S.-backed military coups in Brazil in 1964, the Dominican Republic in 1965, and Chile in 1975, among others. Under the aegis of “business unionism,” the AFL-CIO supported military dictatorships around the world against leftist and progressive unions. Among other things, it supported the Reagan administration’s refusal to conduct a review of labor rights under the military regime in El Salvador for most of the 1980s, because, as Human Rights Watch noted, those being repressed were mostly left-wing unionists.

I suppose that it doesn’t really surprise me that the AFL-CIO has such aa reactionary foreign policy history. Most of the actions noted above actually had wide, bipartisan support in elite policy circles, and it stands to reason that the labor movement would operate within that Cold War consensus. Still, it’s disappointing that the AFL-CIO would find itself involved in the worst excesses of the Cold War (and the various interventions on behalf of murderous Latin American meat packing glitterati would certainly qualify as such), and more disappointing that the AFL-CIO would continue to kowtow to many of the worst impulses in US foreign policy.

One and Done

[ 0 ] March 14, 2006 |

Interesting enough article at Slate by Seth Stevenson about the WBC and small sample sizes:

It’s true that baseball feels somewhat unsuited to the win-or-go-home format. The very best MLB teams—those that win 100 games—still end up losing 38 percent of the time. Compare this to an NFL team that goes 12-4 (a good but by no means great record), losing just 25 percent of its games. Even those record-setting 2001 Mariners lost a whopping 46 times, while the NFL-best 1972 Dolphins went undefeated.

This makes it seem like baseball is far less suited to a one-and-done format than is a sport like football—in other words, the better baseball team quite often loses. But is this difference inherent in the nature of baseball? Or is it a product of the way we’ve constructed things?

Here’s a thought experiment: What if baseball, like football, played one game a week for a 16-week season? The team’s ace pitcher could now start every game. The best positional players would never get a day off. The intensity and focus would never wane (as they necessarily do in the midst of six games in six days in two cities).

In these circumstances, the best baseball teams might well go 12-4. Or even 14-2. And we might be less apt to consider baseball a game of chancy vicissitudes and random luck.

Why do the best baseball teams win less often than the best football or basketball teams? The guys at Baseball Prospectus probably have a firmer grasp on this, but surely the structure of baseball, which prevents a team from using its most important single player (and the pitcher, in any given game, has more of an impact on the outcome of a particular game than any other player) in every game is an important cause of the moderate winning percentage. I wonder if it’s the only reason, or if something else about the structure of the game itself makes it more likely that weaker teams will win on any given day.

BSG Finale

[ 0 ] March 14, 2006 |

I have deeply ambivalent feelings about Television Without Pity. I think that too much of their criticism comes off as too-clever-by-half fanboy posturing (Worst. Episode. Ever). Nevertheless, I rather enjoy some of their summaries, and I think that Jacob did a very good job with the second season finale of BSG.

Also check out this analysis by piny. I can’t say that I agree with piny, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

Fun with Headlines

[ 0 ] March 14, 2006 |

From todays NYT:

Bush Expresses Confidence in Iraq’s Future

He highlighted improvements in the Iraqi security forces and repeated his promise that U.S. troops will stand down as Iraqi forces are able to defend the country.

”As more capable Iraqi police and soldiers come on line, they will assume responsibility for more territory — with the goal of having the Iraqis control more territory than the coalition by the end of 2006,” the president said.

Police have found dozens of bodies in Baghdad, including those of men bound and shot in an abandoned minibus, in a 24-hour period after car bomb and mortar attacks in the Shiite slum of Sadr City in east Baghdad on Sunday.


Reprisal Killings Leave 68 Dead Throughout Baghdad

The police reported finding 68 bodies today scattered around the city, as the wave of reprisal killings for Sunday’s attack on Shiite civilians appeared to gain steam.

The victims, all male, were shot or strangled after being bound and blindfolded. Many of the bodies were found in Sadr City, the Shiite-controlled area where Sunday’s bombings took place, although 15 bodies were found in a minibus on a road west of Baghdad, according to the Iraqi Interior Ministry.

The wave of killings followed a graphic display of street violence on Monday, in which Shiite vigilantes seized four men suspected of terrorist attacks, interrogated them, beat them, killed them and left their bodies dangling from lampposts on Monday morning, witnesses and government officials said.

The sense of growing lawlessness deepened Monday night with a mortar strike against a well-known Sunni mosque in Baghdad, killing three people.

This is a parody of a President. It is a parody of an administration.

What About the Fedayeen?

[ 0 ] March 13, 2006 |

There’s nothing really surprising about the infighting among senior officers depicted in the second part of Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor’s piece about the intial stages of the Iraq War. Those sorts of disagreements and threats happen in any kind of military operation, especially one that moves forward at the pace of American operations in 2003. The account probably does tell us something about the collision of cognitive limitations and the revolution in military affairs, however. No matter how much intelligence is available, and no matter how fast communications move, there will always be disagreements about interpretation and relevance, and these disagreements will always work to slow the tempo of military operations and sometimes divert their course.

The disagreements between civilian and military officers over the conduct of the war and particularly its pacing are a bit more interesting. I don’t think it’s a stretch to argue that the primary method that the military has used to explain its failure in Vietnam is some kind of nebulous “civilian interference”, and that much of the military’s political effort since Vietnam has been about insulating the military from those civilians. This has never worked, really, and shouldn’t work. Nevertheless, it’s interesting, in the context of this narrative, to watch Pentagon civilians interfere in every aspect of the operation up to the attack on Baghdad.

The whole Ahmed Chalabi episode is a bizarre sideshow. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad.

In the end, I think it’s fair to say that Wallace and McKiernan come off much better than Franks and Rumsfeld. The US should have spent more time destroying the paramilitary fedayeen units before seizing Baghdad. Iraqi resistance wasn’t getting any stronger, and there was plenty of time to conduct the necessary operations. Undertaking this (and deploying the First Cavalry) probably wouldn’t have prevented the insurgency, but it couldn’t have hurt, either.

LGM Tournament Challenge

[ 0 ] March 13, 2006 |

(Bumped to reflect availability of brackets)

I’ve created an NCAA Tournament Challenge group at ESPN.

Group Name: Lawyers, Guns and Money
Password: zevon

Sunday Battleship Blogging: USS Washington

[ 0 ] March 12, 2006 |

The London Naval Treaty of 1936 was intended to preserve the battleship size limitation at 35000 tons and to restrict the size of battleship gun size to 14″. In retrospect, it’s hard to see how the latter mattered; as long as the 35000 ton frame was observed, there was only so much advantage to be had by installing larger guns. The United States designed its first post treaty battleships, the North Carolina class, to carry 12 14″ guns in three quadruple turrets. However, the London Naval Treaty had an escape clause. If any one of the original three signatories failed to ratify, then the gun calibre limitation was raised to 16″. Japan did not sign the treaty (her representatives would have been assassinated if she had), so the 14″ limitation did not apply. The Royal Navy, in a fit of wild hope, had already begun construction of the 14″ weapons for its King George V class, and could not alter their design. The design of North Carolina and Washington, however, allowed the use of either 14″ or 16″ weapons. Accordingly, the Americans quickly substituted the heavier guns.

USS Washington and her sister, North Carolina, were the first American battleships built since 1921. They carried 9 16″ guns in three triple turrets, displaced 35000 tons standard (45000 full load), and could make 28 knots. Their armour was somewhat less extensive than that of foreign contemporaries, but their anti-aircraft armaments were very strong, making them extremely effective as aircraft carrier escorts.

Washington was commissioned in May 1941. Being the first of a new generation of ships, Washington suffered from considerable teething troubles, and required an extensive period of trials and training. This kept Washington in the Atlantic, where she was, incidentally, closer to the war in Europe. It is fortunate that Washington and North Carolina were not deployed with the Pacific Fleet. Although they would have had a better chance at surviving than the older battleships at Pearl Harbor, their loss or even damage would have been a severe handicap for the US Navy. Washington deployed to the United Kingdom for service with the Home Fleet in March 1942. Washington helped guard convoys to Murmansk, and it is conceivable that she could have met Tirpitz or Scharnhorst in action. Such a battle would almost certainly have favored Washington; her armament and armor were superior to that of Tirpitz, and she had much better fire control. In September, after a refit, she entered the Pacific, where she would remain for most of the war.

In late September Washington was deployed to the Solomon Islands. The battle of Guadalcanal centered around the control and operation of Henderson Airfield. Japanese forces had been pushed back on the island of Guadalcanal, but still held
considerable ground. Japanese naval units resupplied the Army forces at night, and heavy Japanese units bombarded Henderson Field on a regular basis. The US Navy’s job was to prevent this from happening. On November 13, 1942 Washington was positioned, along with the battleship South Dakota and four destroyers, to intercept a Japanese task force steaming toward Henderson Field. The Japanese fleet included the Kirishima, one of four Kongo class battlecruisers. On paper, the US force was quite superior, but the Japanese had considerable skill a night-fighting and had better torpedos. In a confused night action, all four US destroyers were crippled or sunk, and South Dakota managed to wander into the searchlights of most of the Japanese force. The Japanese lacked radar, however, and didn’t notice the approach of Washington. Washington did exactly what a modern battleship should have done to a thirty year old battlecruiser, and reduced Kirishima to sinking condition in about ten minutes. The rest of the Japanese force retired shortly afterward. Washington suffered no damage.

The rest of the war was spent largely in carrier escort by Washington. Her closest brush with disaster came in February 1944, when she rammed the battleship Indiana. Indiana received the brunt of the damage, but Washington was still forced to retire to Puget Sound Naval Yard for a refit. Later, Washington would serve as an escort at the Battle of Philippine Sea and the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Washington would also deliver shore bombardment at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Washington was taken out of commission in June 1947. The US Navy went through three major cycles of battleship disposal in the twentieth century. The first came in 1922-23, when most of the pre-dreadnoughts and older dreadnougts were scrapped in accordance with the Washington Naval Treaty. Between 1946 and 1948, all of the pre-war battleships, with the exception of the Big Five and Mississippi, were either scrapped or sunk as targets. The last cycle came in the late 1950s, when the Big Five (Colorado, Maryland, West Virginia, California, and Tennessee) and six of the ten fast battleships were disposed of, either through scrapping or through donation. Alabama, Massachusetts, and North Carolina were all adopted by their respective states. Washington was not, probably because, given the existence of a major naval reserve yard in the Puget Sound, it didn’t seem to make sense to keep another old battleship around.

Trivia Question: What do the battlecruiser Hood and Rear Admiral Horace Hood have in common, other than the name?

Why Pinochet?

[ 0 ] March 11, 2006 |

This is something I’ve wondered ever since, long, long ago, I was on the other side of the political fence. Why is it that Augusto Pinochet gets lefties into such a lather?

I mean this question in all seriousness, and I’m looking for serious answers. Pinochet has always struck me as a kind of middling dictator, not worthy of the hatred that the left holds for him. From what I understand, Chile under Pinochet was somewhat less bloody than the Philippines under Marcos and Argentina under its military junta. He certainly didn’t approach the level of brutality found in Guatemala, El Salvador, or the Dominican Republic under Trujillo. Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, and the various leaders of China make him look like a rank amateur in the tyranny game. Yet, the invocation of Pinochet lets loose the rage. I don’t understand.

I suppose that Castro is a good comparison. Both Pinochet and Castro evoke particular emotions from the right and the left, emotions that seem to me all out of line with their actual crimes. Some lefties defend Castro for what he has done, which is create a passably decent social welfare system. Righties defend Pinochet in virtually the same way, excusing his brutality by referrring to Chile’s economy. Neither of these positions makes all that much sense to me, but whatever.

Anyway, I look forward to some responses.

The Enemy Within

[ 0 ] March 11, 2006 |

Really interesting article in the NYT about Saddam Hussein and Iraqi military strategy in the second Gulf War. To put it lightly, Saddam was not an ideal military leader.

As American warplanes streaked overhead two weeks after the invasion began, Lt. Gen. Raad Majid al-Hamdani drove to Baghdad for a crucial meeting with Iraqi leaders. He pleaded for reinforcements to stiffen the capital’s defenses and permission to blow up the Euphrates River bridge south of the city to block the American advance.

But Saddam Hussein and his small circle of aides had their own ideas of how to fight the war. Convinced that the main danger to his government came from within, Mr. Hussein had sought to keep Iraq’s bridges intact so he could rush troops south if the Shiites got out of line.

This demonstrates a fundamental mis-understanding of the military situation. It was obvious at the time that the question of maintaining control over the south would be irrelevant if the Americans took control of Baghdad. Hussein hopelessly misjudged the situation.

Other interesting revelations include this:

Taking a page out of the Russian playbook, Iraqi officers suggested a new strategy to defend the homeland. Just as Russia yielded territory to defeat Napoleon and later Hitler’s invading army, Iraq would resist an invading army by conducting a fighting retreat. Well-armed Iraqi tribes would be like the Russian partisans. Armored formations, including the Republican Guard, would assume a more modest role.

Mr. Hussein rejected the recommendation. Arming local tribes was too risky for a government that lived in fear of a popular uprising.

Which suggests that Hussein probably made the American job a bit easier than it otherwise might have been. Of course, as Hussein undoubtedly noted, there was no assurance that the southern tribes would use these weapons against the invader, rather than against the Iraqi state.

And this:

In December 2002, he told his top commanders that Iraq did not possess unconventional arms, like nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, according to the Iraq Survey Group, a task force established by the C.I.A. to investigate what happened to Iraq’s weapons programs. Mr. Hussein wanted his officers to know they could not rely on poison gas or germ weapons if war broke out. The disclosure that the cupboard was bare, Mr. Aziz said, sent morale plummeting.

which we really should have known at the time. If the Iraq military commanders knew that Iraq possessed no WMD capability, then it’s a travesty that the US didn’t have the information.

The article is very interesting, so read the whole thing. The upshot is that Iraq was in a state of staggering military weakness in March of 2003. Iraqi capabilities were far, far lower than they had been even in 1991. This has a couple of implications. First, the suggestion that Iraq was somehow a threat to its neighbors is obviously nonsense. While it may have had the capacity to briefly overrun Kuwait or part of Saudi Arabia (and this is quite a stretch) it would have suffered almost immediate military collapse in any war. The second implication is one that has been derived previously by Stephen Biddle, and suggests that the Iraq War is in fact not a meaningful test of US military power. Iraq may have been one of the least militarily capable states in the world in 2003, and it’s not surprising that the US mopped the floor with the Iraqi Army. This is not to say that the US military isn’t better than any potential competitor, but rather to suggest that Gulf War II may provide a misleading indicator of the extent of US military dominance.

Brief Thoughts on Slobodan

[ 0 ] March 11, 2006 |

It’s too bad he died before the trial could be completed, not so much because he needed to be punished more severely (although he did), but because he was an interesting test case for international justice.

I did not support (and still do not support) the prosecution of Augusto Pinochet in a European court. It seems to me that some incentive must be left for dictators to peacefully and safely leave power, and as long as Pinochet isn’t dictator of Chile, I really don’t care all that much about him. Much worse, in my view, would be setting a precedent under which a dictator peacefully steps down, with agreement for his own security in place, and then is prosecuted anyway. The question, for me, is simply not a moral one. That is, I’m not terribly interested in the question of what dictators deserve. I’m much more interested in the problem of removing dictators from power without bloodshed, and if we begin prosecuting guys like Pinochet, we’re likely to see dictators more reluctant to step down. Fidel Castro is a bad guy, but if he were willing to take a billion dollars to step down and move to France tomorrow, I think it would be a good policy outcome.

But, as I recall, this really doesn’t apply to Milosevic. His regime collapsed, and his home state sent him to The Hague. A fair trial (to both Milosevic and to the prosecution) could not be had in Serbia. There should be some international mechanism to deal with situations like this, and it’s a pity that the mechanism didn’t get fully tested in this case.

Kat has more.

UPDATE: In comments, Randy asks

Then another dictator takes power and wants an immunity agreement. Where do you draw the line?

My first response is that I think this is a nonsensical question. I may be wrong regarding the personalities of authoritarian rulers, but I’d be pretty surprised to find that any of them thought very much, while attaining power, about whether they would be prosecuted if they fell. I don’t think that there’s any moral hazard here; allowing dictators who establish specific immunity agreements before stepping down to avoid prosecution is not, in my view, going to create an incentive for some huge number of potential dictators to seize power and start shooting people. There is already plenty of incentive for seizing authoritarian power; a misguided sense of patriotism, a desire for power, a desire for wealth, whatever. Also, given the number of dictators who fall prey to violent ends or to imprisonment at the hands of successor authoritarian regimes (and this tends to happen more often than the replacement by democratic regimes), you can color me enormously skeptical regarding this portion of the argument.

Second, I’m inclined to say “Who cares?” Aleksandr Lukashenko, Fidel Castro, Islam Karimov, Emomali Rahmonov, and Saparat Niyazov are all dictators with varying degrees of nastiness. I would not hesitate to grant them singly or as a group an amnesty based on a surrender of power to a democratic government. I really can’t see how this would further the ends of authoritarian rulers in the world; I think it’s much, much more likely that, if promised security in their persons and their property (and this doesn’t mean that they keep everything; obviously such solutions can be negotiated), that these leaders would, in situations where they otherwise faced pressure, be more likely to surrender power than to attempt to hold on to it through brutal and repressive means. Note further that this does not involve some kind of blanket amnesty for authoritarian rulers, which is how some seem to be interpreting it. Authoritarians who allow a transition minimizing bloodshed get credit; those who don’t can be prosecuted to our heart’s delight.

Go Ducks!!!

[ 0 ] March 10, 2006 |

I have been remiss in failing to congratulate my Ducks for beating the living snot out of 13th ranked Washington Thursday in the Pac-10 tournament. The Ducks have to win two more games (against Cal and either UCLA or Stanford) for a bid, and that’s unlikely to happen. But, beating the Huskies was also unlikely.

Go Ducks!!!!

[ 0 ] March 10, 2006 |


Friday Cat Blogging… Starbuck and Nelson