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Category: Robert Farley


[ 6 ] October 31, 2014 |

My latest at the Diplomat highlights some recent work on how the Tu-22M Backfire affected US and Soviet naval doctrine:

The Tu-22M Backfire bomber entered service in 1972, with the Soviets eventually producing almost 500 aircraft.  Theories about the plane abounded (some argued that it represented the USSR’s most serious foray into a strategic nuclear bomber force), but eventually it became clear that the most important use for the bomber would come as a maritime strike aircraft.  The Backfire gave the Soviet Navy a supersonic aircraft that it could use in mass to fire anti-surface missiles against U.S. carrier battle groups.

Cited in the article, but if the topic interests please read the five part series (I, II, III, IV, V) on the subject at Information Dissemination, as well as the original Naval War College Review article.



[ 52 ] October 30, 2014 |

So you’ve probably seen all of this:

Over the years, Obama administration officials have described Netanyahu to me as recalcitrant, myopic, reactionary, obtuse, blustering, pompous, and “Aspergery.” (These are verbatim descriptions; I keep a running list.) But I had not previously heard Netanyahu described as a “chickenshit.” I thought I appreciated the implication of this description, but it turns out I didn’t have a full understanding. From time to time, current and former administration officials have described Netanyahu as a national leader who acts as though he is mayor of Jerusalem, which is to say, a no-vision small-timer who worries mainly about pleasing the hardest core of his political constituency. (President Obama, in interviews with me, has alluded to Netanyahu’s lack of political courage.)

“The good thing about Netanyahu is that he’s scared to launch wars,” the official said, expanding the definition of what a chickenshit Israeli prime minister looks like. “The bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states. The only thing he’s interested in is protecting himself from political defeat. He’s not [Yitzhak] Rabin, he’s not [Ariel] Sharon, he’s certainly no [Menachem] Begin. He’s got no guts.”

I ran this notion by another senior official who deals with the Israel file regularly. This official agreed that Netanyahu is a “chickenshit” on matters related to the comatose peace process, but added that he’s also a “coward” on the issue of Iran’s nuclear threat.

These quotes fill me with interesting thoughts and feelings!

  • It’s very interesting to me (although not surprising) that Bibi’s efforts to look tough and resolute to one crowd (domestic audience, Israel backers in US),come off as cowardly and irresolute to another (the Obama admin). Policymakers face different priorities; it’s almost impossible that they can look tough to everyone. Reaffirms my view that reputation is complex, multifaceted, and that generally it’s a waste of time to spend blood and treasure on displaying “resolve.”
  • The depth of the animosity towards Bibi is intriguing, but not particularly surprising. Bibi’s most significant mistake in handling the United States has been his urge to turn Israel into a partisan issue, and throw in with the Republican Party. It hasn’t happened quite yet, but you can see the threat on the horizon. It’s an apocalyptical stupid move for Bibi to make, however emotionally satisfying it may be in the moment to rail against the weakness of a Democratic President.
  • Speaking of apocalyptic stupidity, can we all agree now on just how bad the 2010 “Israel is about to bomb Iran” article from Jeffrey Goldberg was? You remember; Goldberg breathlessly transcribed the statements of Israeli policymakers on how they viewed the Iranian nuclear program as a VERY SERIOUS MATTER that would require VERY SERIOUS BOMBING unless Obama did something. That the article amounted to a transparent Israeli bluff should have been obvious at the time, but inexplicably some people took it seriously.  Turns out now that the Obama administration has concluded that Bibi is chickenshit, in part because of the serial claims about Bibi’s dire views of the Iranian threat. Cry wolf enough times, even Americans will stop believing you.

The First Sino-American War

[ 11 ] October 29, 2014 |

Latest at the National Interest takes a look at the legacies of the Korean War:

The legacies of this war remain deep, complex and underexamined. Memory of the Korean War in the United States is obscured by the looming shadows of World War II and Vietnam. China remembers the conflict differently, but China’s position in the world has changed in deep and fundamental ways since the 1950s. Still, as we consider the potential for future conflict between China and the United States, we should try to wring what lessons we can from the first Sino-American war.


[ 54 ] October 27, 2014 |

USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77)

Discuss: The end of American empire.


[ 7 ] October 26, 2014 |



[ 11 ] October 26, 2014 |

Interesting on Chip Kelly’s decision to kick the FG on 4th and 1 from the 2 yard line with 2 minutes left against the Cardinals:

“Good call!”

When it’s in the middle to late 4th quarter (or overtime), I use a measure called win percentage, which puts more emphasis on how 4th down decisions affect game outcomes. (This measure isn’t as useful earlier in the game, when the impact of a single play is harder to measure. Check out the methodology page for more details.) Here’s the breakdown for the Eagles’ scenario.
Go for it 70% of the time 55% of the time 64% of the time
Punt 49% of the time
Field goal try 83% of the time 100% of the time 35% of the time
* Based on about 600 fourth downs with similar field position and distance to first down since 2002
In this case, teams who attempt a field goal would be more likely to win. This doesn’t mean this is absolutely the right call in every situation. But on average, in situations like these, I recommend doing what the coach did: attempt a field goal!

I would have guessed the other way, and had that guess confirmed by ensuing events…


[ 1 ] October 24, 2014 |

Some thoughts on the dangers of anti-access/area denial system proliferation in East Asia…

The idea of supplying the various regional states that have territorial disputes with China has a great deal of appeal. A China that fears the military capabilities of its neighbors is easier to deter, especially as the commitments of these neighbors are more credible than that of the United States.  The potential for an integrated system is even more interesting, giving the United States and its allies a major geographical advantage over China.

But there are problems.



[ 33 ] October 23, 2014 |
Allied tanker torpedoed.jpg

“Allied tanker torpedoed” by U.S. Navy (photo 80-G-43376) Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

My latest at the National Interest takes a look at military failure:

In this article, I concentrate on specific operational and strategic decisions, leaving aside broader, grand-strategic judgments that may have led the United States into ill-considered conflicts. The United States may well have erred politically in engaging in the War of 1812, World War I, the Vietnam War and Operation Iraqi Freedom, but here I consider how specific failures worsened America’s military and strategic position.

Scalia Comes Off Rather Well…

[ 16 ] October 20, 2014 |

I’m deeply disappointed that Scott and Paul failed to post this:

With the Icky and the Eeeebola…

[ 62 ] October 20, 2014 |

Well, this sounds like a sensible and reasonable precaution:

Navarro College is not accepting any new applications from students residing in Africa – all of Africa, not just those five countries on the continent with confirmed cases of the Ebola virus.

The Texas community college made the news cycles last week for sending rejection letters to Nigerian applicants that said “Navarro College is not accepting international students from countries with confirmed Ebola cases.” Navarro initially apologized for “misinformation” provided to prospective international students, but later, Dewayne Gragg, the college’s vice president of access and accountability, issued an updated statement saying that administrators believe it to be the responsible course to postpone recruitment “in those nations that the Center for Disease Control and the U.S. State Department have identified as at risk…. We are eager to resume accepting student applicants from these countries as soon as possible.”

In an interview Gragg clarified that non-African countries with Ebola cases – which would include Spain and, yes, the United States (where Texas has been ground zero) – are not encompassed by the new application policy. By contrast, he said that the college’s policy is to return new applications from any African country.

And the kicker:

Asked why the policy is so broad as to include prospective students in African countries without any Ebola cases, Gragg said the interview was getting into territory that isn’t relevant, but added, “We have made this decision based on what we feel is best for the safety of our students.”

Pity is, this may well turn out to be a remarkably successfully publicity stunt, with Fox News viewers elbowing each other aside to send their little darlings to Navarro…

Friday Links!

[ 72 ] October 17, 2014 |

Some Friday morning reading:


[ 16 ] October 15, 2014 |

Elizabeth Pena, rest in peace.

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