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Category: Robert Farley


[ 92 ] February 27, 2017 |

So that was crazy.

In other news:



Friday Links

[ 126 ] February 24, 2017 |
Warren Zevon 1978 press photo.jpg

Some Guy.

We open with a Letter to the Editor:

You have stolen a fantastic song by the brilliant Warren Zevon and turned it into a confusing political nonsensical rant.  Worse, you don’t even acknowledge Zevon or his inspiration H.S. Thompson.

Hunter and Zev will long be remembered by their artistic genius.   You, on the other hand,  will go down in history for vulgar plagiarism, or more likely,  be forgotten altogether.

Moving on…



[ 76 ] February 21, 2017 |

Folks seem generally pleased with the choice of H.R. McMaster as NSA, and it’s hard for me to disagree; McMaster is almost universally well-respected in the national security community, both among soldiers and civilians. He brings a fine analytical mind, a wealth of experience, and a scholarly understanding of national security problems to the NSA position. Here’s his account of the Battle of 73 Easting; here’s a summary of one of his talks on the Revolution in Military Affairs.

The biggest questions going forward will be:

  1. How much control does he have over his own staff?
  2. How much authority will he have relative to more political actors such as Steve Bannon?
  3. Will Trump actually listen to him?

The main job of the NSA is to coordinate all of the departments and agencies that manage US national security. McMaster’s reputation as a strong thinker should help, at least initially. On the other hand, some have suggested that his reluctance to suffer fools gladly has, at times, slowed his professional progress. I’m sure that problem will never come up in the Trump White House.  Others have suggested that McMaster’s active duty status will make it more difficult for him to say “No” to the President.  Fortunately, he literally wrote the book on the responsibilities of the uniformed military for giving good advice to civilians.

And on a personal note; H.R. McMaster was kind enough to speak by Skype with my counter-insurgency class back in the spring of 2011.  Longtime readers will recall that I was denounced as a Communist for teaching this class, way back when Donalde was the only Donald in town.  Good times.

The Pence Gambit

[ 93 ] February 18, 2017 |

By Henry Fuseli – The Yorck Project.

Some thoughts on Mike Pence; note from the start that this is far from a “Mike Pence and the GOP must save us from Donald Trump” kind of post…

There are currently 290 serving Republicans in the US Congress, and probably 270 would prefer President Pence to President Trump. This is not to overstate GOP opposition to Trump, or to suggest that Republican legislators will serve as a meaningful impediment to his agenda, or to imply that they won’t be happy to use the Trump presidency to accomplish their policy ends. It simply means that we are in the genuinely unusual position of having a majority Congress in which the strong majority of members would prefer the Vice President over the President.

Obviously, this makes impeachment more likely, which is different than saying it makes impeachment likely.

Of all the avenues by which we can imagine Trump getting impeached, I think that the Russia investigations hold the greatest danger. There may yet be some very interesting stuff; notwithstanding the new admiration for Putin in the rank and file, Russian electoral interference remains generally unpopular; Trump’s position on Russia is not widely held within the GOP legislative cohort.

Depending on your perspective, Mike Pence either took one for the team when he agreed to serve as Trump’s running mate, or made a high-odds gamble on success of the campaign. Thus, he’s essentially playing with house money. In the first weeks of the administration, Mike Pence has taken strong, visible steps to distance himself from the Russia Problem. He has repeatedly made speeches about Russia that hew much closer to the traditional GOP line on Moscow than to Trump’s accommodationist approach. He was apparently critical to the execution of Mike Flynn, and in the best possible way; he demonstrated that he had been cut out of the distribution circle and decision-making process regarding Flynn’s conversation with the Russian ambassador.

Right now, Pence is a hefty insurance policy on a mobbed-up, fire-prone restaurant. The GOP appreciates the dangers associated with burning the restaurant down, and will avoid doing so unless pressed. But the insurance policy is very nice indeed, and if push comes to shove, nobody will have to shove all that hard to get a sufficient number of GOP legislators to think about impeachment. The content of the shove would involve collapsing Presidential approval ratings, poor performance in special elections, and anything particular explosive coming out of the various Russia investigations. Because of the role that Congress plays in the investigative process, the former two make the latter more likely.

Impeaching Trump is only possible if the GOP is in trouble, and by itself will not save the Republicans, although it may help. Presidential approval ratings went from 24 to 71 in a day when Gerald Ford replaced Richard Nixon.  Polarization, and the fact that Pence is more identified with Trump than Ford was with Nixon, will make such improvement impossible, but there would still likely be some increase. Such a move might do significant damage to the party, in so far as it would alienate Trump’s hardcore supporters (and unless he goes to prison*, Trump will presumably be vocal and angry about his dismissal).

The incentives for Pence at this point are clear.  He needs to stay as far away as he can from Trump on Russia.  This means continuing to hold to the traditional GOP line, but also making sure that the flow of information is under strict control.  I do not doubt that Pence’s staffers have already been instructed to be extremely careful about the kind of information on Russia that crosses the VP’s desk. If Pence can plausibly depict himself as out of the loop, it makes it very hard to implicate him in the scandal (see also George H.W. Bush and Iran-Contra).  Note that this also means that anyone in the administration fighting against the Trump-Bannon line on Russia will not be able to count on Pence as a reliable ally, as it’s likely that Pence will simply distance himself, rather than engage.

I’ll leave it to you to decide whether it’s good or bad if the GOP decides to impeach Trump in favor of Pence. At this point, I’m genuinely more frightened of the damage that Trump could cause than the damage I’m sure Pence would cause, and so I’d “welcome” the ascension of the latter. But a Pence administration is likely to restore a degree of popularity to the GOP (at least in the short term), and it’s almost certain that Pence will be more effective in formulating an agenda and in working with Congress than Trump.  Rock and a hard place, hell or high water, Trump or Pence…

*Do not ever take seriously a story that uses, as its main source, the tweets of John Schindler.


Saturday Links

[ 20 ] February 18, 2017 |

Battleship Roma.jpeg

RN Roma

Some links for your Saturday afternoon…

In other news, the National Interest is publishing some updated and revised versions of entries from The Battleship Book.  Thus far…

Enemy of the American People!

[ 111 ] February 17, 2017 |

Hey so LGM isn’t included so I guess we’re okay?

Bernie on Trump and Russia

[ 28 ] February 16, 2017 |

Senator Sanders is making sense:


[ 2 ] February 16, 2017 |

Multinational task force in the 24th biennial Rim of the Pacific. By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brian T. Glunt. Public Domain.

Latest at the Diplomat takes a look at a report on US naval partnerships:

As the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) closes the gap with the U.S. Navy, how can the United States optimize its maritime partnership programs?

The consulting firm Wikistrat (where I am a senior analyst) recently ran a simulation on how the United States could better leverage existing maritime partnerships, as well as develop productive new relationships. The simulation included members of a variety of organizations inside and outside the United States, and expected participants to play roles from both U.S. and international perspectives.


Sao Paulo Put Out to Pasture

[ 37 ] February 15, 2017 |
Sao Paulo carrier.jpg

Sao Paulo. CC BY-SA 3.0

Brazil has decided to retire, rather than refurbish, the Sao Paulo:

On 15 February, the Brazilian Navy announced the retirement of the SAO PAULO aircraft carrier (the former FOCH). Since Argentina has similarly demobilised the 25 DE MAYO, the era of aircraft carriers as capital ships in Latin America might now have come to an end.

With 37 years’ operational service at the time of its acquisition from France, the SAO PAULO has a proud history in the service of two nations, with several attempts made at enhancing its operational capacity. However, Brazilian naval authorities decided that the technical uncertainties involved in so large-scale a programme, coupled with the likely high cost and extended timescale (ten years, according to some observers), made it preferable to retire the carrier.

While a replacement programme has not been altogether ruled out, it would at best take third place in the hierarchy of naval projects, after the nuclear submarine project and the construction of the new NL-class corvettes. Both are less expensive than the putative replacement of the SAO PAULO and acquisition of a modern carrier-compatible aircraft. Even if the carrier were to be modernised, the existing fleet of F-1 (A-4M SKYHAWKs) would reach the end of their service life by the time the programme could be completed.

This will drop the number of navies capable of operating CATOBAR (catapult-assist-take-off-arrestor-recovery) to two; the US and France.  Word is that the second domestically built Chinese carrier will have steam catapults, and INS Vishal may have electromagnetic catapults if she ever enters service.

I don’t like the idea of a nuclear submarine project for Brazil; too much overhead for too little return, especially given the defense commitments that Brazil has. I can’t quibble overmuch with the decision to scrap Sao Paulo, though. Refurbishing the carrier would have been expensive, and the acquisition of replacement aircraft for the A-4 Skyhawks (which are approaching the end of their useful lives) would also have cost more than Brazil could credibly spend. As I’ve argued in the past, the best naval investment for Brazil would be a decent-sized amphib, which would give Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief (HA/DR) capabilities and command facilities in addition to some high-level warfighting capacity.

I Don’t See Any Method at All

[ 49 ] February 13, 2017 |

Chengdu J-20s. By Alert5 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

In the wake of the phone call between President-Elect Trump and President Tsai Ing-Wen of Taiwan, a few analysts of the Asia-Pacific tried to make the best of it.  The arguments that the Trump call represented a genuine strategic maneuver, and not simply the random hurling of feces, boiled down to two points.  The first was that US diplomatic treatment of Taiwan ought to be considered intolerable from the perspective of liberal democratic foreign policy.  The second was that the phone call signaled Beijing that the United States was willing to put China’s most tightly-held maritime aspiration in jeopardy.  Even if the US did not decide to recognize Taiwan, the move would force Beijing to acknowledge the danger.

I don’t quite hold with either of these, but they aren’t abjectly silly rationales.  In the flush of the moment, it was possible to imagine that President Trump did indeed have some vision for what US-China relations should look like, and that he was willing to engage long-standing (for better or worse) taboos in order to push the relationship in a direction.

Turns out not so much.nyt21217

Make no mistake; I think this is the right move. There are merits to the idea of rethinking the US approach to Taiwan, and there was some logic to trying this in the midst of a Presidential transition, but the risks outweighed the benefits. But it should put paid to the notion that there was any logic or coherence to Trump’s first foray into the US-China relationship. Trump either had no idea what he was doing when he spoke with Tsai Ing-Wen, or had no good sense of the costs and benefits of opening up the snake nest that is US-Taiwan relations.

As long-time readers will know, I don’t take arguments about “reputation,” “resolve,” or “credibility” all that seriously; in addition to all of the problems associated with defining foreign policy in terms of aggressive masculinity, there are simply too many psychological, cultural, and bureaucratic filters to allow messages to have the kind of fined-tuned impact necessary to making the argument work.  But a lot of folks still do take credibility seriously, and many of those were harsh critics of President Obama’s decision not to bomb Syria after Assad’s violation of the “red line.”  It’s fair to say that if you take credibility seriously, Trump’s phone call with Xi should be deeply disturbing. China made multiple verbal and non-verbal threats to the United States following the call, indicating further action if Trump did not back away from his Taiwan comments; subsequently, Trump backed away.  The question of whether B naturally flowed from A is irrelevant; it’s hardly irrational for the Chinese (or for various third party observers) to conclude that Trump’s resolve failed in the face of Chinese power. Again, if you believe (as I do) that the politics of reputational messaging is nonsense all the way down, this won’t bother you.  If you’re someone who was deeply troubled by Obama’s failure to bomb a misbehaving Russian proxy, then you should be very concerned about what just went down between Trump and the closest thing that the United States has to a peer competitor.

Sunday Links

[ 13 ] February 12, 2017 |

Jin (Type 094) Class Ballistic Missile Submarine. By CSR Report RL33153 China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress by Ronald O’Rourke dated February 28, 2014 – United States Naval Institute News Blog, Public Domain.

Some random thoughts for your Sunday afternoon…

And of course:

RIP Richard Hatch

[ 73 ] February 9, 2017 |

Screenshot 2017-02-09 12.34.40

In honor of the passing of Richard Hatch, some blasts from a past in which Battlestar Galactica was a relevant blogospheric discussion topic:


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