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Category: Robert Farley

Oppose Any Foe

[ 33 ] June 27, 2017 |

My review of Mark Moyar’s Oppose Any Foe is now up at H-Net.

In Oppose Any Foe, Mark Moyar chronicles the history of American special forces since World War II, casting a critical eye on the development and employment of these units. While Moyar acknowledges the heroism of such forces, and their effectiveness in certain tactical situations, he effectively paints a skeptical picture of their overall impact on warfighting, and on the larger American defense establishment. Moyar begins his account by discussing the prehistory of today’s special operations forces, the ad hoc units developed in the European and Pacific theaters during World War II. He examines both the political and military logics underlying these foundations, which often depended on idiosyncratic assessments of value and the strength of specific personal relationships.

One passage in the review that tragically did not make the cut, but that some readers may find useful anyway:

Finally, some of Moyar’s stylistic choices grate. “[General Dick] Scholtes watched the drunken revelry with the revulsion of the Theban King Pentheus observing his subjects debauched by the wine and carousing of Dionysus” is an analogy that may well work for a few of Moyar’s readers; it will mystify some others, and for most it (along with similar allusions sprinkled across the text) will seem an altogether gratuitous example of flashing classical knowledge to no particular point.


Comment System Transitions

[ 95 ] June 26, 2017 |


As part of the ongoing update of the site, we are shifting to Disqus.  The reason for this is that it offloads the comment database (which is huge) which makes it much easier for us to manage comments, and which should improve overall site speed.  We have chosen an option that enables Single Sign On, meaning that you should be able to login with the same WordPress ID that you’ve been using at LGM.  We’re also importing all of the existing comments from LGM.

The transition from WordPress to Disqus comments is currently scheduled for 8:30am (ET) on Wednesday; we’ll update if there are any problems or changes.

The Management

HMS Queen Elizabeth

[ 13 ] June 26, 2017 |
HMS Queen Elizabeth in Rosyth Dockyard MOD 45158229.jpg

HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2014 at Rosyth.

As you may have heard, HMS Queen Elizabeth is beginning her sea trials shortly.  This is a great time-lapse (via Foxtrot Alpha):

Hopefully more on this later; the success of the Queen Elizabeth is tied inextricably to the success of the F-35B, which is the only modern fighter she can carry. Down the road, a UAV fleet may be able to change that formula a bit, but much remains to be seen.  Some more video of QE:

Repealing Johnsoncare

[ 16 ] June 26, 2017 |

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs Medicare Bill at the Harry S. Truman Library, 1965.jpg

This is a guest post by Dr. Chris Koski, Associate Professor of Political Science at Reed College.

Repealing Obamacare? No.

Try, repealing Johnsoncare.

Folks should understand that the current House and Senate bills are mostly not actually about the Affordable Care Act (ACA)- these bills are about lowering taxes and reforming Johnsoncare – a.k.a. Medicaid.

Indeed, the Affordable Care Act provides the ruse for the Republicans to undertake dishonest legislative action against the poor for the benefit of the wealthy. The legislative history of Medicaid is tightly linked to two broadly popular programs that undergird American social welfare policy: Medicare and Social Security. The Medicaid program was created in 1965 as part of the same bill as Medicare – and that bill was authorized by title XIX of the Social Security Act.

The legislative fight for Medicare and Medicaid were linked for a variety of reasons – and, these are hard fought Democratic accomplishments. Truman first proposed each and was fought by a Republican Congress. Eisenhower was lukewarm to the idea, but Johnson pushed the bill through. In a supremely classy move, Johnson issued the first two Medicare cards to Harry and Bess Truman.

Most of what the current House and Senate health “care” bills do is to modify the tax code and gut the Truman/Johnson legacy of Medicaid. Initially focused on the poor, Medicaid has been expanded over the years to emphasize seniors’ long term care and children – two items left out of the Medicare side of the equation. CHIPs (Children’s Health Insurance Programs) are widely popular and widely successful in saving states money and, yes I’m a bleeding heart, leading to healthier children.

For a party that hates the idea of income redistribution, both the House and the Senate versions redistribute income to a greater degree than the original Affordable Care Act. Consider the following:

1) In addition to rolling back the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, both the Senate and the House versions *further* reduce Medicaid funding to states by adding a “per capita cap” to Medicaid. According to Brookings: “The AHCA would cap the total amount of federal funding that states could receive for each person they enroll, a structure commonly referred to as a “per capita cap.” The Senate bill additionally reduces something called the “provider tax threshold” from 6 to 5 percent. This essentially reduces the capacity of states to generate tax revenue from hospitals that receive Medicaid patients. The CBO did some preliminary work on this in December and found that such a move would reduce federal expenditures to states by about $16 billion (this is no doubt an important number for scoring this go around). The bottom line: the bill makes less money available to states to pay for Medicaid beyond rolling back the ACA’s Medicaid expansion.

2) In addition to rolling back taxes on investment income greater than $250000 and a .9% Medicare Surtax (which funds MEDICARE, you know, one of the greatest programs we have in America and one that is in the red because it is so popular), both bills reduce the pool of eligibility for Medicaid. The House bill allows for states to prevent lottery winners from receiving Medicaid, but leaves it up to the states to set a high income threshold. Finally, both bills allow for states to reduce the number of individuals on Medicaid by instituting a “work” requirement. At the same time, both bills get rid of the Obamacare requirement that employers cover their workers. Millions of people working at low-wage jobs could immediately qualify for Medicaid once their employers decide not to offer health coverage. Of course, this is to the firm’s benefit and, once again, the American safety net will subsidize the likes of Walmart and other big box retail by becoming its insurance provider.

Many US companies live off of food stamps, welfare checks, and Medicaid but fly to work on corporate jets – makes ODB’s driving to the welfare office in a limousine look like amateur hour.

At least the ACA asks them to pay for health care.

3) Most egregious: Both the House and the Senate bills expand the “age rating” from 3:1 to 5:1. The age rating is the amount of money insurance companies can charge based upon the policy holders age. For a 3:1 ratio, the current status quo, insurance companies can charge older customers up to 3 times the rate as younger customers. Both bills want to change the law to allow insurers to charge the elderly *5* times as much.

4) Worst: Both the House and the Senate bill intend to turn Medicaid into a block grant; an arrow in the quiver of Republicans for a long time (pre-Obama). Block grants are sold as giving states flexibility in how they spend federal monies – which is true – but there is often very little oversight in how these funds are spent (see, for example HUD block grants for Hurricane Katrina in Mississippi). Removing the requirement that firms cover their employees will increase demands on the Medicaid program, forcing states to make tough choices regarding coverage – tough choices with far less revenue.

Block grants shift health care choices from doctors and hospitals to local politicians – which one would you prefer to take care of your medical issues?

The block grant proposal will redistribute inequality across the states to create the very same conditions that Kennedy and Johnson observed in the 1960s in Appalachia and the rural south. Medicaid was part of the broader War on Poverty Strategy. Yes, war metaphors are silly because we tend to use them for problems that are generally analogous to unwinnable wars (see: Drugs), but suffice to say that the problem with poverty was not just an individual issue, but a system of income redistribution from poor to rich that was entrenched by state interests (often the same as the rich). Johnson didn’t fully trust states, which were controlled by interests that intentionally stratified societies, to distribute health care dollars equitably. A block grant system will further exacerbate the two Americas problem we currently have. Fittingly, Appalachian senators are in a position to do the right thing today – Portman (R-OH) and Caputo (R-WV).

IN SUM: Both bills take money from the poor (less Medicaid expenditures, fewer citizens eligible, increased premiums for the elderly, workers in firms whose health care will go away) and give it to the rich (individuals with significant investment income, insurance companies, and firms who no longer pay health care costs).

That is the definition of redistribution – redistribution beyond a “repeal and replace” of Obamacare.

Other folks have written about this, but the scale of the Republican AHCA is truly historic, reaching back to the very roots of the American Health Care system. It is not just about Obamacare.

Rand Paul is right on this one: the bill endorsed by both chambers – controlled by Republicans – does not fulfill the campaign pledge to repeal Obamacare. It goes much farther.


[ 62 ] June 22, 2017 |
MiG 17A Mighty 8th.JPG

VPAF MiG-17. By Bubba73 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0


Over at the National Interest, I take on Mark Moyar’s latest update to the “We could have won the Vietnam War” argument.  After reading and reviewing (will be up on H-Net shortly) Moyar’s book on the history of special operations forces, I’ve developed a greater respect for his approach, but I still think he’s fundamentally wrong. Moyar lands some punches, primarily on the basis of long-standing misconceptions about the war.  These include the idea that Communist victory was primarily based on the Viet Cong insurgency, that the Saigon government had no meaningful domestic support, and that the war was uniquely unpopular in the United States.  The first two are quite untrue, while the third is not quite true, at least insofar as we commonly remember today. But that only gets Moyar so far, and doesn’t answer the most important objections to US intervention in the conflict.

Hanoi remains in control of all of Vietnam today. This government has proven the most receptive of any state in Southeast Asia to U.S. efforts to curb Chinese expansionism; the military relationship between Hanoi and Washington grows daily. This government was also at the forefront of the now-defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership, an effort to bring U.S. economic rules to the Asia Pacific. The human tragedy of the destruction of the Republic of Vietnam should never be minimized, but the strategic significance of its loss was, in the long run, trivial. As U.S. policymakers eventually decided, the game was simply not worth the candle.

Wednesday Links

[ 40 ] June 21, 2017 |
170617-N-XN177-155 damaged Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) in June 2017.JPG

USS Fitzgerald. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter Burghart – , Public Domain

Some links for your reading pleasure…


Su-22 Down

[ 118 ] June 19, 2017 |

So we got this going on:

A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet from Carrier Air Wing 8 on board the USS George Bush shot down a Syrian Air Force Su-22 ground attack aircraft near Raqqa, Syria after the aircraft struck ground troops in Ja-Din, south of Tabqah, near Raqqa.

According to most sources it is the first time a U.S. combat aircraft has shot down a manned enemy aircraft in aerial combat in nine years.

The pro-Assad regime Syrian Su-22 that was downed had attacked Syrian Democratic Forces aligned with the U.S. led coalition and inflicted casualties on the friendly forces as they were driving south of Tabqah before it was intercepted.

Hopes that Trump would be anti-interventionist… may not be wholly rewarded. This is the latest of a series of quiet escalatory steps that the Trump administration has either undertaken or allowed to be undertaken in Syria; with the leeway that Trump has granted local commanders, the reasoning for these steps is unclear.

Russia is displeased.

Ever since the US started bombing ISIS targets in Syria, the Assad government and the US military have been involved in an uneasy, low-key, but generally productive collaboration, at least insofar as the remnant Syrian air defense network would avoid targeting US aircraft, and vice versa. There isn’t much left of that network now, but in any case we can expect altogether less cooperation moving forward.

Word of the Day: FONOP

[ 15 ] June 16, 2017 |
USS Dewey conducting a replenishment

USS Dewey (DDG-105). US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class John Philip Wagner, Jr./Released) Public Domain,

At the Diplomat, I express some skepticism about FONOP-mania:

FONOPs taken; FONOPs not taken; FONOPs misconducted; FONOPs conducted at the behest of one element of the U.S. foreign policy hierarchy rather than some other element; FONOPs as indicative of the policy of one administration rather than another. In sum, Dutton and Kardon make clear that FONOPs make nothing clear; they are inadequate to conveying precision-guided messages to the Chinese military and diplomatic establishment. FONOPs impose no practical constraints on China’s development of new installations in the SCS. They send no obvious message about conditions under which the United States might go to war. They are as likely to confuse potential allies as they are to confuse the Chinese.

Foreign Entanglements: What the Fuck Happened?

[ 51 ] June 15, 2017 |

On the latest episode of Foreign Entanglements, Brockington and I ask the hard questions:


[ 133 ] June 13, 2017 |

USS Yorktown (CV-5) is hit by a torpedo on 4 June 1942. Photographed from USS Pensacola (CA-24) – Official U.S. Navy Photograph U.S. National Archives., Public Domain

I had a couple of pieces on the Midway commemoration last week.  First, some technical thoughts:

The basic tactical situation at Midway is well-known; the Americans enjoyed the advantages of land-based air (aircraft launched from Midway itself) as well as intelligence regarding the timing and disposition of Japanese forces. The Japanese enjoyed a huge numerical advantage in surface ships, and a smaller advantage in carrier aircraft. The American advantages held; a series of raids against the Japanese strike force left it unbalanced, and eventually vulnerable to dive bomber strikes that sank four fleet carriers.

And then some noodling on why Midway does not loom larger in US remembrance:

Midway is remarkable, and perhaps unique among decisive battles, in that the outcome depended on the actions of a small number of people in a very confined time frame. If the American dive-bombers had made any of a variety of mistakes, or if the Japanese defenders had avoided any of their mistakes, the United States could have lost a net of three aircraft carriers instead of the other way around. It is vastly easier to imagine an alternative outcome to Midway that it is for Stalingrad, or Moscow, or D-Day, or Leyte, or any of the other great battles of World War II.

And on that last point, looks like there’s a big budget Midway film in production, funded in part by the Chinese

Roland Emmerich will direct World War II battle movie “Midway” with China’s Bona Film Group leading the investment for The Mark Gordon Co.

The project was unveiled Tuesday at the Cannes Film Festival. Bona will distribute the film in China and retains worldwide distribution rights, excluding the U.S. CAA brokered the deal and will represent U.S. distribution rights.

I’m more optimistic about this than I have any right to be; it could plainly go terribly wrong with Emmerich at the helm. On the other hand, he can certainly manage the kinds of action sequences that the film would call for. You’d rather have Ridley Scott, but he’s occupied.

The Next Five Ways to Kill a Carrier

[ 47 ] June 12, 2017 |
USS Oriskany sinking.jpg

USS Oriskany. U.S. Navy photo – Public Domain

Here’s a follow up to my piece on the difficulties of killing an aircraft carrier:

We know how to kill aircraft carriers—or at least we know how best to try to kill aircraft carriers. Submarine-launched torpedoes, cruise missiles fired from a variety of platforms and ballistic missiles can all give an aircraft carrier a very bad day. Of course, modern carriers have ways of defending themselves from all of these avenues of attack, and we don’t yet have any good evidence of the real balance between offensive and defensive systems.

But what of the future? How will we plan to kill carriers thirty years from now? Here are five problems that the next generation of aircraft-carrier architects will need to worry about.


[ 33 ] May 31, 2017 |

Photo Illustration by Elena Scotti/Jalopnik/GMG

Foxtrot Alpha asked me for some thoughts about a future Large Surface Combatant, or “battleship:”

The U.S. stopped building battleships in the 1940s. Aircraft, submarines, and missiles, able to strike more securely and at greater distance than the guns of a battleship, rendered the type obsolete. Nevertheless, over the years various analysts have proposed a new, large surface combatant that would play some of the same roles as a classic battleship.

Let’s imagine what such a ship might look like; what it needs to do, how it would fight, and how much it might cost.


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