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Blood and Guts Ed

[ 0 ] August 22, 2006 |

In between seriously problematic paragraphs, Edward Luttwak makes (or, perhaps I should say shows the way to) a couple of interesting points. Luttwak wishes to draw into the question the idea that Hezbollah fighters were particularly brave or competent in the recent war against Israel. As part of this effort, he argues

many commentators around the world kept repeating and endorsing his [Nasrallah’s] claim that his fighters fought much more bravely than the regular soldiers of Arab states in previous wars with Israel.

In 1973, after crossing the Suez Canal, Egyptian infantrymen by the thousands stood their ground unflinchingly against advancing 50-ton Israeli battle tanks, to attack them successfully with their puny hand-held weapons. They were in the open, flat desert, with none of the cover and protection that Hizbullah had in their fortified bunkers or in Lebanon’s rugged terrain.

Right, and to the extent that individual displays of courage matter for the conduct of modern warfare, Luttwak is correct to note that Arab soldiers in 1973 (and 1967) displayed enormous bravery in the face of overwhelming (tactical) Israeli superiority. I’ve noted on several occasions that Arab military organizations have very consistently been characterized by operational and tactical ineptitude. It would be a mistake, however, to derive from that the idea that individual Arab soldiers have failed to display courage. The problem is simply that individual courage cannot win modern wars. The difference between Hezbollah today and the Egyptian Army in 1967 has little to do with courage and everything to do with training and tactical and operational execution. Now, it’s reasonable to ask how Hezbollah achieved a much higher level of execution than Arab states, but that’s a different question.

Luttwak then goes off the rails, descending into absurd comparisons:

Hizbullah certainly did not run away and did hold its ground, but its mediocrity is revealed by the casualties it inflicted, which were very few.
Many a surviving veteran of the 1943-1945 Italian campaign must have been amazed by this reaction. There too it was one stone-built village and hilltop town after another, and though the Germans were outnumbered, outgunned and poorly supplied, a company that went against them would consider the loss of only eight men as very fortunate, because attacking forces could suffer a 150% or even 300% casualty rates – that mathematical impossibility being explained by the need for a second, third or fourth assault wave to take a small village.

Even that was not much as compared to the 6,821 Americans who died to conquer the eight square miles of Iwo Jima. Hizbullah should not of course be held to such standards, but on the whole it did not fight as fiercely as the Egyptians in 1973 or the Jordanians in 1967 – as Israeli casualty figures demonstrate.

Yeah… the notable difference between Italy and Lebanon is that the Israelis, last week, were fighting a guerrilla organization that, while well equipped for guerrillas, maintained a maximum of 6000 fighters, while the Americans in Italy and on Iwo Jima were fighting conventional armies designed to hold territory and that, while poorly equipped for a conventional force, had far better access to firepower than Hezbollah. Indeed, Hezbollah’s decision to stand and fight against the IDF opened up more questions about its capacity than it answered; in a purely military sense, Hezbollah might have been better served by limiting its direct contact with the IDF in order to limit casualties. Of course, Hezbollah’s political strategy (and its belief that a cease-fire was imminent) may have depended on standing and fighting even losing engagements against the Israelis.



[ 0 ] August 22, 2006 |

The biggest problem with the term Islamofascism has always seemed to me that it conceptually unites groups of people who ought not be put under the same umbrella. When hawks used the term in 2002 and 2003, it conveniently put Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda into the same category; we are fighting islamofascism, and given that both Hussein and Bin Laden are islamofascists, it makes sense to invade Iraq in an effort to damage Al Qaeda.

It seems to mean something slightly different now, but the point remains the same; the term is designed to convince us to fight people that we don’t necessarily need to fight.


[ 0 ] August 22, 2006 |

I’ve been reviewing our archives in an effort to collect our Nader posts and book reviews. This is no mean task; you would not believe how many of our posts were anti-Nader screeds, especially in the early days. The following post, from July 7, 2004 made me laugh:

Slow day at LGM, no posts attacking Ralph Nader or warning of Iranian nukes. I wonder if there’s a way we could solve both of those problems at once. . .

The UW Political Science Department softball team, the Fighting Filibusters, is off to a historically bad start. We lost our first game 30-1, and ended up on the short end of a 23-2 score tonight.

I contributed an 0-2 at the plate and four errors at first base. Good times.

Schadenfreude and Ken Pollack

[ 0 ] August 22, 2006 |

Yesterday morning, a colleague with mild tendencies towards neo-conservatism pointed, in irritation, to Ken Pollack’s article in the Washington Post. “It’s as if,” the colleague noted, “he hadn’t written a book trying to convince me that the war was a good idea.” Right, I said; Pollack didn’t exactly issue a mea culpa, and didn’t mention his complicity in building the case for war. On the upside, his analysis of the situation now is more or less correct; three years late, but correct.

I then go to new faculty orientation, so I’m away from the computer for seven hours or so (this is an eternity in Rob computer time). I get back and take a look at my aggregator, finding something along the line of a dozen denunciations of Pollack, ranging from the humorous to the bitter to the measured to the quizzical. This, I think, is odd. Some thoughts:

1. If you really don’t care about what Ken Pollack has to say, here’s a tip; writing an angry post about his latest article does not indicate indifference. I can honestly say that I no longer care what John Tierney or Bobo Brooks or Tom Friedman say (thank you thank you thank you Times Select), and I express this lack of interest by not writing about their columns.

2. When George Will came out not long ago and said that the Iraq War was a terrible idea, he didn’t exactly win plaudits from the left half of the blogosphere, but he did get numerous approving citations. It’s unclear to me to why Will (who was a war supporter) gets to change his mind (without issuing a mea culpa) and Pollack doesn’t. Will was even part of the chorus early on that denounced war opponents as unpatriotic, a position that Pollack, to my knowledge, never took.

3. It’s fair to say that Pollack was terribly, terribly wrong about the Iraq War, and that he’s failed to face up publicly to that error. Moreover, the magnitude of the error was rather impressive, and it demonstrated some serious blind spots. It is not, however, fair to say that Pollack is just another pundit who hasn’t the faintest idea of what he’s talking about. Pollack knows a lot about Middle Eastern military affairs; he wrote a very long and very, very good book on Arab military performance, and a long, solid-enough-if-irritating-in-parts book about US-Iranian relations. He’s also has considerable practical experience working in government. Who knows what the qualifications for “pundit” are, but Pollack is a good deal smarter and better informed than most.

4. Say what you will about The Threatening Storm, but it’s a serious book. There’s no passive, mealy-mouthed “I kinda favor this option but would prefer to cover my ass” nonsense; the subtitle is “The Case for Invading Iraq.” He takes the other options seriously, and doesn’t build strawmen. He doesn’t denounce opponents of the war as pacifists, or useful idiots. He dreadfully underestimates the difficulty of rebuilding Iraq, but points out (correctly) that the reconstruction would be the most difficult and most important element of the conflict. Again, reasonable people should have been able to tell that the Bush administration would be incapable of carrying out ANY meaningful plan to rebuild Iraq, but Pollack is hardly the only guy to make that mistake. Pollack also doesn’t have a Lieberman-esque “one size fits all” approach to solving military problems; his latest book opposes military intervention in Iran.

5. Unless I missed it, Pollack has never engaged in Beinart-style baiting of the anti-war elements of the Democratic Party. He has never suggested that his is the only reasonable position on national security, and that everyone needs to get on the bus. His focus has remained squarely on international affairs, and has not extended to undermining the political standing of domestic opponents of his favored policy.

Given all this, I find the interest in throwing Pollack under the bus both curious and troubling. As I noted in comments below, I would much prefer to welcome Pollack to the reality-based community than to suggest that he spend some time in a closed room with a revolver.

Absurd Comparison Department: Woods vs. Federer

[ 0 ] August 21, 2006 |

A while ago, Kevin Drum declared that Rodger Federer was the most dominant athlete in any sport today. I’ve wondered about this for some time. For my money (and it should be fairly noted that I don’t watch much tennis), the two athletes that have truly dominated their sports during my lifetime are Tiger Woods (1997-present) and Barry Bonds (2000-2004). During those times, both Woods and Bonds made the question of “Who is the best baseball player/golfer?” essentially irrelevent; how could you even have a reasonable discussion with someone who didn’t believe that Woods and Bonds were the best? I suppose that the other candidates would be Gretzky and Jordan, but I’ve always thought of Jordan more as the first among equals, and I don’t know enough about hockey to reasonably comment on Gretzky vs. his contemporaries.

Regarding the specific question of Woods vs. Federer, in Tiger’s favor I would note that, since Jack Nicklaus, it has simply not been the case that any one player would be the prohibitive favorite in EVERY SINGLE MAJOR during his career. Woods dominance of golf seems to me Ruthian in scope. Federer has certainly been dominant recently, but the kind of dominance Federer has displayed seems far more common in tennis than the dominance Woods has displayed in golf.



[ 0 ] August 21, 2006 |

Thoughts on the Shatner Roast? I haven’t watched the whole thing, but the parts I’ve seen were pretty funny. I’m pretty skeptical about the comedy value of the “roast” format, but William Shatner is probably the single most appropriate subject of a roast I can think of; a tremendous amount of material, but good natured and self-aware enough to handle it.

"Battle" of Lawrence

[ 0 ] August 21, 2006 |

143 years ago today, a guerrilla group called Quantrill’s Raiders rolled into Lawrence, Kansas. Lawrence was a target of Confederate ire because it had been a center of anti-slavery activity during the “Bleeding Kansas” years, in which pro and anti slavery forces strove to control Kansas. A Confederate officer, William Quantrill, led 300 or so men into Lawrence, which was not garrisoned by Union forces. Over a period of four hours, Quantrill and his men burned down most of Lawrence, and systematically murdered 200 men and boys.

Why do I mention this? Every time someone suggests a display of the Confederate flag is about the “heritage”, remind them of Lawrence. Every time a wingnut suggests that ethnic group X basically consists of barbarian savages, unfettered by common feelings of humanity or Christian fellowship, remind them of Lawrence. We all have our monsters.


[ 0 ] August 20, 2006 |

This is a grim bit of business. At least he’s bringing in Papelbon now…

…that could have been worse. Now I’d like to see A-Rod hit into the DP…

…Papelbon did a great job; could have been so, so much worse. Now I’m going to bed, and I’m going to assume that he successfully finishes them off in the ninth.

…oh, for christsakes. I get up for this?

Brief Thoughts on the Atlanta Braves

[ 0 ] August 20, 2006 |

The Atlanta Braves have, in one form or another, been playing baseball since 1876. Indeed, in their Boston incarnation the Braves franchise has been playing since 1871, although the National Association is generally not referred to as a Major League. The early Boston franchise was very successful, peaking at 518 games above .500 by the end of 1902. In 1903 things took a turn for the worse, however, and the Braves began a long slide into irrelevance. At the end of 1922, the Braves were a mere six games above .500. On May 28, 1923 a doubleheader sweep at the hands of the Philadelphia Phillies put the Braves at .500 as a franchise. They rallied to win two straight, then lost three to go under .500 on May 31. On June 1, the Braves saw .500 for the last time, as they beat the Brooklyn Dodgers 11-6. They then proceeded to lose twelve straight, and ended the season 54-100.

In spite of some strong teams in the 1950s and 1960s, the Braves remained below .500. At the end of the 1990 season, the Braves found themselves 523 games short of even. The first edition of the Bobby Cox Braves didn’t open strong, and a 3-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on April 20 put the Braves at 3-6 for the season, 526 games under as a franchise. From April 20, 1991 until the end of the 2005 season, Cox’s Braves went 503 games above .500. They opened 2006 with a chance to even up their franchise record, needing to go 88-64 to find themselves on the sunny side of .500 for the first time since May 1923.

As we know, things haven’t gone well for the 2006 Braves. They’re seven games under .500, and there’s no reason to believe that they’re going to turn things around soon. Nor am I particularly optimistic about the next couple of seasons at Turner Field. It looks as if the Braves’ luck has finally run out, just short of what was needed to wipe away their historic futility. Still, it’s a good organization with a solid financial base, so I suspect that within the next five years or so they’ll be able to string together enough winning seasons to crest .500. I wonder, though, if the 65 year old Cox will still be with them, or if he’ll be the Moses of the Atlanta Braves, destined to lead them to the edge of the Holy Land but never to enter.

Book Review: China’s Trapped Transition

[ 0 ] August 20, 2006 |

This is the sixth of an eight (but probably just seven) 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
5. The Persian Puzzle, Kenneth Pollack
6. George Packer, The Assassin’s Gate
7. Minxin Pei, China’s Trapped Transition

Predicting the end of China’s economic boom is a project somewhat akin to predicting the collapse of the Braves dynasty; it has to end at some point, but there’s a lot of time for people to be wrong.China’s Trapped Transition by Minxin Pei argues that, indeed, the People’s Republic of China is running up against hard constraints on its growth, and that the PRC will shortly begin to face a severe economic crisis. The prediction is bold but at the same time of one with many other arguments on a Chinese economic collapse. So many have predicted such an outcome that one will be in good company whether or not the prognostication is correct.

Pei argues that the gradualist mode of economic transition inevitably runs into difficulties when combined with an authoritarian mode of government. The dynamics of such transitions create opportunities for the central government and government officials to pursue rents that are inimical to economic development. In short, it is impossible for an authoritarian government to create long term economic growth through a gradualist strategy. At the same time, Pei points out that quicker developmental strategies undermine the grip of an authoritarian government on society. We are left to conclude that it is difficult to impossible for a government to pursue market economic reforms without accompanying political reforms.

The argument is well constructed as far as it goes, and Pei makes a compelling case that some elements of the authoritarian state run directly contrary to prolonged economic development. Pei’s research is outstanding, and his theoretical position firm. However, two major questions stand out. First, how has China thus far managed to maintain economic growth without political reform, and why should we believe that now is the time that the two factors will clash? Second, how useful is this argument if an authoritarian state cannot, as Pei argues, remain in power by pursuing a rapid marketizing strategy?

China’s growth rate will eventually wane. Pei’s problem is to demonstrate that it will wane in the near term for the reasons he believes. Pei argues that the CCP is moving from a developmental to a predatory state, one that will dissipate any economic gains and leave China without a substantially greater economic pie. Examining the grain, telecom, and banking sectors, Pei tries to demonstrate that the interference of state officials has severely constrained growth. He does a decent job of arguing that interference in the banking sector forbodes severe growth problems in the future. His argument about grain and the telecom industry is much less compelling, as he can show that interference may have slowed growth, but not that it has reversed it or caused significant economic damage. From Pei’s account, it seems to me that the CCP has muddled through thirty-five years of economic reforms, but he doesn’t show conclusively that it will fail to continue to muddle through. He can’t tell us why the perversities created by the coexistence of an authoritarian state and a market economy will stop economic growth now, rather than ten years ago or ten years in the future.

Gradualism thus far has been a brilliant success for the CCP, because it has been able to achieve consistent economic growth without giving up substantial power. If Pei is to be believed, and China’s future growth will be severely constrained, then the CCP will be in trouble. However, if Pei is correct that swift reforms invariably undermine authoritarian regimes, then we have a quandry. It’s hardly surprising, given the latter, that the CCP has chosen a gradualist strategy. The policy value of Pei’s argument comes not for the CCP (it is entirely useless to tell the CCP that it needs to reform politically to spur economic development when the CCP clearly cares more about political power than development) but rather for Western countries and NGOs that might deal with market and political transitions in the future. Still, the argument runs up against the problem of what has been China’s remarkably successful employment of the gradualist strategy thus far; what Pei describes as failure looks very, very good.

I’m uncompelled by the argument that the CCP cannot continue to muddle through. Economic reforms thus far have been iterative; when a particular strategy fails, new strategies are tried. The reform process has not been static. Corruption in China is obviously bad, but the corruption problem also offers the center a useful narrative and legal tool for keeping the rest of the party in line. Nevertheless, Pei’s analysis is solid and serious, and he may in the end be vindicated by events.

73 MPH Fastball and Plenty of Class

[ 0 ] August 20, 2006 |

Godspeed to Jamie Moyer. He was well worth the price of Darren Bragg…

Sunday Battleship Blogging: USS Lexington

[ 0 ] August 20, 2006 |

The United States made a very late entrance into the battlecruiser game. The reasons for this are unclear; the Royal Navy built the world’s first battlecruiser in 1908, with the Germans and Japanese quickly following suit. Since the USN viewed the Royal Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy as its most likely foes in the early part of the twentieth century, it’s surprising that the Americans would concede the battlecruiser race to enemy navies. The most charitable interpretation is that the USN recognized the basic problem with the battlecruiser form; its inability to participate in the line of battle because of light armor. The Japanese recognized this problem as well, but decided that, given the size of the Pacific theater of operations, battlecruisers would nonetheless be useful. To the credit of the USN, it consistently built the best protected battleships in the world, which may have made the battlecruiser culturally unpalatable.

The USN began to think seriously about battlecruisers in 1912 and 1913. The first designs were genuinely appalling; one early design was over 1000′ long, could make over 36 knots, but was armed with only 8 12″ guns. The first serious design was commissioned in 1916, and envisioned a ship with seven funnels, 10 14″ guns, boilers on two levels, and a speed of 35 knots. When the United States became involved in World War I, the Royal Navy handed over the plans to HMS Hood, which revolutionized the US design. In the final design, the Lexington class battlecruisers would carry 8 16″ guns in four twin turrets, displace 43500 tons, and make 33.25 knots. The design was competitive with but probably inferior to that of the Japanese Amagis, which would have carried heavier armor. Both the Japanese and the American ships would likely have been outclassed by the British Invincible class. The battlecruiser naming strategy was odd largely for the lack of any particular strategy. While the USN has historically been very programmatic about its ship names (submarines after fish, battleships after states, cruisers after cities, destroyers after people), the proposed names of the battlecruisers were Lexington, Constellation, Saratoga, Constitution, Ranger, and United States.

The Washington Naval Treaty intervened, and almost all the new battlecruisers were scrapped or cancelled. Because the Royal Navy had converted several ships into aircraft carriers prior to Treaty ratification, it was decided that the United States and Japan would both be allowed to convert two of their incomplete battlecruisers. The United States Navy decided to spare Lexington and Saratoga. In her new incarnation, Lexington displaced 38000 tons, could carry 91 aircraft, and could make almost 34 knots. The conversion worked out beautifully, with Saratoga and Lexington being far more effective as aircraft carriers than they would have been as battlecruisers. Of course, it took a while for the USN to figure out what to do with its huge new ships, and Lexington spent most of the prewar period participating in exercises and simulations designed to determine the proper employment of the fast carrier. The most famous of these involved surprise air attacks on the Panama Canal and Pearl Harbor. The sparing of Saratoga and Lexington led to an aircraft carrier naming convention that, with exceptions, tended to focus on major battles (Essex, Enterprise, Yorktown, Midway, etc.)

Lexington was one of three carriers in the Pacific at the beginning of World War II. Fortunately, all three were away from Pearl Harbor during the attack. Lexington was ferrying aircraft to Midway, but participated in the search for the Japanese task force after the attack. In early 1942 Lexington participated in raids against Rabaul and other targets in the South Pacific before returning to Pearl in March. On April 15 Lexington left Pearl Harbor to rendezvous with the carrier Yorktown in an effort to stop the Japanese advance on New Guinea. The Japanese were launching a maritime effort to seize Port Moresby, allowing them to severely degrade communications between the United States and Australia.

The Battle of Coral Sea began on May 7 with the sighting of the small Japanese carrier Shoho. Lexington’s dive bombers destroyed Shoho in less than ten minutes, but failed to locate the two much larger Japanese carriers, Shokaku and Zuikaku. Both sides launched strikes on May 8, and both airgroups found their targets. Planes from Lexington and Yorktown severely damaged Shokaku, but failed to sink her. Lexington was hit by two torpedos and three bombs, but because of her large size and sound construction, was able to maintain speed and begin to recover her aircraft. Unfortunately, damage control was not up to the standard it would reach later in the war. Gasoline fumes spread on the lower decks of the ship, resulting in a huge explosion. With uncontrolled fires raging, Lexington was abandoned by her crew. Shortly thereafter she was scuttled by an accompanying destroyer. The battle has typically been rated both a tactical and strategic victory, despite the loss of a fleet carrier, as the Japanese invasion failed and Shokaku and Zuikaku could not participate in the Battle of Midway. Lexington’s sister, Saratoga, survived the war and was sunk in the Bikini atom bomb tests.
Trivia: What battleships carried the heaviest broadside before 1940?

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