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Category: Robert Farley

Foreign Entanglements: All Iran Bombing, All the Time

[ 61 ] February 26, 2012 |

Duss take on Helle Dale of the Heritage Foundation on the subject of bombing Iran to Freedom:

2012 Patterson School Spring Crisis Simulation

[ 8 ] February 25, 2012 |

The Patterson School Spring Crisis Simulation has drawn to a close.  The UK School of Journalism set up two sites to support the sim; check them out. This year’s sim involved Mexican cartels, the Bellagio Casino, and the unfortunate passing of Mr. Brad Pitt.

More of a wrap up later this week.

“Some Degree of Airpower”

[ 57 ] February 23, 2012 |

A cowardly, mendacious editorial from The New Republic on Syria:

To be clear, we do not want to see troops deployed to Syria. We are not arguing for another Iraq or another Afghanistan—both of which have offered cautionary lessons about the limits of American power. We are not even necessarily arguing for another Libya, since the geography of the Syrian conflict might not permit as extensive an air campaign as was used against Muammar Qaddafi. All we are recommending is that the United States and its allies look for ways to help the rebels hold off Assad’s troops, by arming them or using some degree of airpower on their behalf, or both.

“Some degree of airpower” is really a fun little phrase, isn’t it? You would wonder how such a sloppy phrase made it to print, except that the answer is obvious; the writers of the editorial don’t have the faintest idea of what airpower is or what it can do. Here is what “some degree of airpower” in Syria would require:

1. A major initial attack, led by cruise missiles and potentially stealth aircraft, to disable and destroy the Syrian Air Force and the Syrian air defense network. This would be demanded by any air commander from any country, in order to ensure the security of follow on strikes. The Syrian Air Force has ~400 fighter aircraft alone, plus ground attack. It’s not hard to envision an attack that would destroy the entire SAF without chance of substantial American/NATO losses, but it would be a MAJOR undertaking. Similarly, Syria has a large air defense network, mostly of Cold War vintage. Not terribly difficult for a modern air force to destroy that network, but it would take a while and require a lot of strikes. “Some degree of airpower” in this case means a massive, sustained air assault against the Syrian military just to kick the door open.

2. Air attacks directed against Syrian artillery and armor in urban areas, in close contact with rebels. This is doable, but requires a substantial investment of recon assets to track the movement of Syrian Army forces and to distinguish between them and rebels. This will also require tight coordination with the rebels, which in the past has required the presence of Western special forces. To level the playing field between Syrian heavy forces and the rebels, the campaign would likely have to be considerably more substantial in terms of aircraft and ordnance than the Libya campaign, which targeted a much smaller, much less professional military force under considerably more favorable geographic terms.

3. A political commitment by NATO or the United States to the survival and victory of one or another rebel coalition. We can pretend that  the US would destroy the Syrian Air Force, bomb the Syrian Army, and then just hope that Assad and the rebels came to some kind of friendly accommodation, but eventually we reach a “George, you can type this shit, but you can’t say it!” moment.

“Some degree of airpower,” indeed. If TNR wants regime change, it should call for forcible regime change, with a massive air campaign backed by naval assets and SOF. If it doesn’t, then the editors of TNR should take a break, buy a Kindle, go to the beach, and start reading about what airpower is and does. Might not reduce the stupid quotient, but couldn’t hurt.

Drone Airlift?

[ 47 ] February 22, 2012 |

Juan Cole:

Well, I hate those US drones when used for purposes of warfare. But here is a Gandhian use for them. Let us defy the Syrian regime’s misuse of its sovereignty to murder its own citizens by using drones for supply airdrops.The US military was thinking already in 2009 of using drones to resupply troops in Afghanistan, and surely they have made progress since then. They could be launched from Incirlik Air Force base in Turkey, and I think Turkey might agree to this limited form of intervention. If the Syrian military shot down any humanitarian drones, no one would interpret that as an act of war requiring retaliation. So the tactic does not carry with it any danger of escalation into hostilities.

Readers in the military would know better how plausible this plan might be.

Opinions about using UAVs for aerial resupply differ, but the prospects of a drone driven Berlin Airlift in Syria are pretty grim.  Andrew Betson has an article forthcoming in Army Sustainment magazine (no direct link) that lays out some of the problems. The biggest is capacity; conventional extant drones have a carrying capacity that maxes out in the scores of pounds, which makes them essentially useless for any large scale resupply effort.  The KMAX remotely piloted helicopter can do a bit better (~2 tons), but they’re in very short supply. That the Syrians would presumably have no compunctions about shooting down a supply UAV exacerbates the problem.  Given time, you could presumably rig a regular transport helicopter for remote piloting, but no one has any interest in flying a big, slow, expensive helicopter into a situation where it’s extremely likely to get shot down.

Uncertainty and War: Iran Edition

[ 55 ] February 22, 2012 |

This week’s WPR column considers the rhetoric of war against Iran:

The case for attacking Iran relies overwhelmingly on the concept of uncertainty. We don’t know if the Iranians want to build a bomb, or whether they can build a bomb, or when they might be able to build a bomb. Even if they build one, the consequences will remain unpredictable, because we don’t know what they would do with a bomb, or how their neighbors would react to an Iranian bomb. The deterrent effect of an Iranian nuclear weapon might prevent us from seeking regime change or some other aggressive military option, thus creating even more uncertainty. Containment might be possible, but the costs could be high and much would remain out of U.S. control.

It’s understandable how so much uncertainty can trigger anxiety. What is less clear is how we arrived at the notion that airstrikes against the Iranian nuclear program can eliminate this uncertainty. Prospects for success of an Israeli strike remain iffy, and U.S. estimates suggest that an attack would only briefly delay Iran’s nuclear program. Indeed, it’s difficult to say what precisely would count as “success” or how the Israelis would measure the effectiveness of their attack. Tehran would certainly declare victory as soon as the last Israeli aircraft left its airspace, and the Iranians would control public assessment of the damage to their nuclear facilities. Moreover, an Israeli strike on Iran, or a joint U.S.-Israeli strike, would hardly disarm the Islamic Republic. And once started, the war would end according to Tehran’s timetable, as Israel lacks the capability, and the United States the will or interest, to conquer Iran and replace the current regime. It is not certain that the regime of economic sanctions targeting Iran would break in case of an attack, but it’s certainly possible. Similarly, it’s not certain that Russia and China would become more forthcoming with military assistance to Tehran, but that, too, is certainly possible.

Spencer has an interesting post comparing the 2002-3 Iraq debate to the current Iran debate:

The war fever of 2002-3 was stoked by a government that had made up its mind. Whatever war fever exists in 2012 exists in spite of the current government’s national security apparatus. I work out of the Pentagon these days. People here do not want war with Iran.

You can even try to caveat that case to be fair to Shane’s thesis, but it still doesn’t hold up. For instance: there’s an argument that the Clinton administration didn’t want war with Iraq, but because of its reluctance to accept that the United Nations weapons inspectors actually disarmed Iraq, it seeded the bed for the Bush administration to co-opt its warnings about Saddam to portray the invasion as bipartisan, consensus wisdom. Could President Santorum do the same thing with Obama?

Not really. The Clinton administration did not argue, as Gen. Dempsey did, that a war would be destabilizing. It enforced a no-fly zone and administered a four-day bombing campaign called Desert Fox. That, obviously, wasn’t an invasion, but it provided a rhetorical opening that the Obama team hasn’t provided. The most you can say is that Obama has repeatedly argued that a nuclear Iran is a destabilizing force that can’t be allowed; but that’s baseline political discourse.

There’s an interesting counter-factual comparison to be made between the Obama administration and a notional first term Gore administration. I think there’s sufficient evidence to conclude that Al Gore was not personally interested in war with Iraq (just ask him!), but it is often argued (by Naderites and neocons, among others) that he would have been unable to resist the pressure for war that would have mounted from hawkish elements in the liberal internationalist fold and on the neocon right. We’re seeing an imperfect test of that proposition now; the cases are substantially different (Iraq, notably, lacked an “Iraq” as counter-argument), but nevertheless suggestive of how Iraq might have played out with an unenthusiastic administration.

More on Romney’s Inevitability

[ 44 ] February 20, 2012 |

Sabato et al have broken down the rest of the GOP primary race by date, delegate, and demographics.  A couple thoughts:

1. Colorado notwithstanding, I have trouble seeing the Pacific Northwest and Mountain West states as tossups.  Romney is going to have strong support from Mormons all over the region, and I suspect that Ron Paul will also bite into Santorum’s base.  So to speak.

2. It’s very hard to see Romney giving up, or accepting a VP slot.  Theoretically Romney could try again in 2016, but it’s doubtful that he’ll ever face a field this weak again.  As we know, there’s nothing more dangerous than a Mitt with nothing left to lose.  Santorum might have a chance in 2016, might be willing to accept the VP slot, and thus is less likely to go for broke.

3. The failure of Santorum to get on the ballot in Virginia (and apparently Indiana) is a real problem, forcing him not only to sweep the Midwest but also to chip away at Romney’s strongholds.  I just don’t see it happening.

4. Gingrich may well cut into Santorum in the South, either in terms of margin or by taking a state. Although it’s hard to tell at this point, neither Gingrich nor Paul seem susceptible to the pressures that drive sane humans from Presidential races.

And so while baiting Lemieux is entertaining, I have to concur with his basic assessment; Mitt Romney remains overwhelmingly likely to win the GOP nomination. For you compulsive types that just have to bet, I don’t think I’d take the 15% that’s now being offered for Santorum; 10-1 is a bit more to my liking.  I should also note that I don’t think that this is good for Romney in terms of his general election viability. Unlike in 2008 when two essentially identical Democratic candidates fought it out, I suspect that wrangling with Santorum will push Romney farther to the right than he’d like to be.

Seapower in Culture: Final Countdown

[ 68 ] February 19, 2012 |

In 1980, the USS Nimitz sails out of Pearl Harbor and into a strange storm.  On the other side, the crew finds itself in December 6, 1941. After coming to terms with the basics of the situation, Captain Yelland (played by Kirk Douglas) decides to destroy the Japanese strike force before it can attack the Pacific Fleet at Pearl.  However, the storm returns just before the Nimitz’ airgroup encounters the first Japanese wave, and the Captain decides to take the ship back into (what he presumes to be) the present without changing history.  Martin Sheen plays Warren Lasky, an annoying civilian contractor dispatched by DoD to observe ship operations.

And thus, Final Countdown. Alas, while time travel is certainly a fun plot device, the film doesn’t really develop any memorable character-driven conflict.  A crew mutiny scenario is mooted, but then left to lay fallow.  The end resolves the basic plot conflict (Nimitz returns home), but opens a host of other questions (how does the Captain explain the loss of a helicopter and nine crewmen, including his Chief of Air Group? Does he try to lie, or just put everything on the table?). Dialogue is by and large terrible (although I acknowledge the difficulty of writing plausible dialogue about the situation). The acting isn’t particularly good, even from Sheen and Douglas, because they simply aren’t given much to do. Another scene of the major characters working through the implications of what they were about to do would have added to character depth and given the principals a chance to work, even if (I hesitate to add) it had come at the expense of reviewing the weapons load procedures on an A-6 Intruder.

Final Countdown is interesting largely because of the role played by the Navy in its production.  Filming was conducted on board USS Nimitz, and numerous naval aircraft were depicted in flight, landing, etc.  In an important sense, Final Countdown was part of the Navy’s post-Vietnam effort to control its own brand.  Top Gun would represent a later, and much more successful effort in this regard.

Theory of Seapower

There’s a lot to this movie that’s fun for the naval aviation fanatic.  We get to see Hawkeyes, Tomcats, Intruders, and Corsairs engage in a variety of different missions, including recon, intercept, air refueling, and strike. The sheer amount of time spent launching, arming, fueling, and recovering aircraft is remarkable. The most memorable sequence from the film comes when a pair of F-14s intercept a pair of Japanese Zeros.  There’s not much to say about this sequence beyond the obvious; it’s incredibly awesome, up to and including the point at which the F-14s splash the Zeros. From a dramatic point of view, the basics of carrier operations take up a lot of screen time, and I can appreciate why the film wasn’t particularly successful.

What implications for seapower? Because the focus lies squarely on carrier operations, this is less a film about airpower than, say, Top Gun.  However, it doesn’t really have much to say about seapower. The utility of the Nimitz is evaluated solely in terms of its ability to stop the Japanese strike, up to and including destruction of Nagumo’s task force (this is presumably the purpose of the A-6s and A-7s in the strike force). Sheen suggests that Nimitz has the opportunity to change history, and right “all the mistakes” of the past half century, but there’s no clear theory of how Nimitz would effect that change. Destroying the Japanese military? Giving the US the means the break the Soviet Union? Giving the US a critical early technological advantage?

Final Countdown is really more about civil-military relations than about seapower. After losing communications with the rest of the world, Captain Yelland naturally wonders whether nuclear war has precipitated the event. In this sense, the idea of an aircraft carrier captain being forced to act without any guidance from either USN or civilian authorities is not absurd. Once the situation becomes clear, Yelland reaffirms the supremacy of civilian authority, arguing that the crew of Nimitz is responsible for the defense of the United States past, present, and future. The extant President of the United States would surely desire to use the power of the Nimitz to defeat the Japanese task force.  But on the other hand, while we could expect that President Roosevelt would have few qualms about ordering Nimitz into action, I suspect that civilian authorities in 1980 would be exceedingly ill tempered about the notion of transforming world history.  Thus, even a decision to abide by perceived civilian authority would require Captain Yelland to make a critical decision.

Given the confidence that the Yelland and Lasky have regarding the gravity of the decision to engage the Japanese, however, we can assume that they believe Nimitz intervention in the war would be decisive, although the film doesn’t work through that belief in any detail. Moreover, given that the first action of Nimitz would be to intercept and defeat a Japanese attack, we can also assume that they believe that Nimitz decisiveness would to at least some extent come in operational terms. Unfortunately, all we can do for most of this is assume; the characters have a few simple, not terribly interesting conversations about their role, but give little indication of how they would conduct the actual intervention of the Nimitz in World War II.

The Fun Part

Now the fun part; how would the presence of Nimitz affect World War II? We can start with the assumption that Nimitz could have destroyed the Nagumo’s carrier task force and its aircraft without great difficulty.  While the F-14s would have run out of missiles before shooting down the entire first wave, they could certainly have disrupted the attack and done further damage with their cannon.  The A-6s and A-7s carried enough ordinance to destroy the six Japanese carriers, although to my understanding they would not have carried Harpoon missiles; the bombing would have to be straight and level.  But then they’d get a number of chances at it, given that the A-6s could carry a lot of bombs and considerably outranged the Japanese aircraft.

Beyond that the USN would face some interesting choices.  Integrating Nimitz into the fleet would have taken a while (“We’re here from the future!”) and it’s not obvious what the most efficient way to use Nimitz would have been.  One option would be to have Nimitz spearhead a task force to turn back and defeat the IJN invasions of the Dutch East Indies. With history driven intel, the obvious technological superiority of Nimitz, and the rest of the USN carrier fleet, the IJN would have been hard press to carry out operations with any degree of success. Nimitz would have been nearly invulnerable to Japanese air attack, assuming that A-7s and F-14s could be kept in the air for CAP.  A successful attack would require waves of aircraft and suicidal tactics (press forward until Nimitz and her CAP ran out of missiles), and even then might not disable the carrier.  A Japanese submarine could certainly give Nimitz a very bad day, but against sufficient escort and modern ASW, getting into firing position would be difficult.

An alternative use of Nimitz would involve trying to end the war right away by sustained air attacks on Tokyo.  Nimitz would have carried a dozen or so A-6s, which in a sustained operation could have dropped a lot of bombs on Tokyo.  The rest of the USN would either support Nimitz or concentrate on the DEI invasions.  I’m no fan of strategic bombing, but on the heels of the sudden destruction of the IJN carrier fleet, the likely impending defeat of the IJN in SE Asia, and an essentially unstoppable bombing campaign over the capital, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising to see the Japanese sue for peace. Of course, even the Nimitz couldn’t stay on station indefinitely; eventually ordnance and jet fuel would run short, forcing Nimitz to retire (potentially for an extended period of time).

In a longer conflict, complications ensue.  The USN of 1942 was not the USN of 1944, even without Pearl, and would have been hard pressed to carry out offensive operations in the Western Pacific.  There was no fleet of B-29s to bomb Japan, and the prospect of fighting the Japanese on mainland Asia wouldn’t look any better in this scenario than it did in real life. The USN probably would have been able to cut Japan’s economic lifeline, however, eventually rendering the Japanese military toothless.  This could have rendered the question moot from a strategic point of view; badly wounded and without oil, Japan could be hemmed in by extant USN and USAAF forces, allowing the US to concentrate more heavily on the ETO.

And what to do with Nimitz in such a campaign? The F-14 squadrons would prove devastating in any tactical situation, but amounted to only 36 aircraft.  As the F-14 was notoriously unreliable, use of the fighter in support of the Combined Bomber Offensive would likely have led to some attrition, especially given a shortage of spares and jet fuel (although I assume the latter could be remedied without great difficulty).  Retooling American industry to produce either missiles or more F-14s would have been a complicated undertaking, manageable in the medium but probably not the short term.  Of course, the E-2 Hawkeyes could have made a big difference in the air war in Europe, and the A-7s could would also have proven extremely capable air superiority fighters against the Luftwaffe of the time.

The other big question (which Final Countdown does not touch upon) would be the availability of nuclear weapons onboard Nimitz.  I simply don’t know enough about nuclear weapons policy on USN carriers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but it wouldn’t be terribly surprising to find that Nimitz carried nukes. This would pose very interesting challenges; with sufficient weapons, Nimitz very likely could end both the Pacific and European wars before the end of 1942. Explaining the power of nuclear weapons to Roosevelt would be a challenge, as would convincing him not to use them, if Yelland and co. were even interested in going that direction.


Final Countdown is a fun movie for people who love naval aviation. The scene of the F-14s splashing the Zeros is itself worth the price of admission. As a film, it’s lacking; the characters aren’t strong enough to support the plot. From a seapower point of view, the film’s assumptions are incomplete and poorly specified.  The Navy devoted considerable resources to making this film look good; most of the extras were Nimitz crewmen. Exchanging three minutes of shipboard operations for three minutes of conversation about the actual role that Nimitz might play in a war would have been more than worthwhile from both dramatic and public relations points of view. And really, you generally hire Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen for a reason; it wouldn’t have killed the director (Hollywood vet Don Taylor) to give them a few more minutes of conversation. A work about time travel is neither inherently absurd nor without potential lessons, and it would have been better if Taylor had allowed the premise some space to breathe.

Mike Cameron

[ 81 ] February 19, 2012 |

If there was ever a player poorly served by fixation with the batting average stat…

Exactly two months after signing a minor-league deal with the Washington NationalsMike Cameron has decided to call it a career, according to the club.

Cameron appeared to be a possibility as a center-field platoon partner with either Roger Bernadina or Rick Ankiel — both of whom are left-handed — but now the Nats are without a righty option. Of course, if Bryce Harpermakes the team out of spring, the plan is to play Jayson Werth in center every day.

Cameron, 39, closes with a good career resume. In 17 seasons, he hit .249/.338/.444 with 278 home runs, 968 RBI, 1,064 runs and 297 stolen bases. He won three Gold Gloves, made one All-Star Game and received MVP votes two times.

He never spent more than four years with the same ballclub, playing for eight different franchises: The MarinersWhite SoxMetsRed SoxPadres,BrewersReds and Marlins. Amazingly, as you can see, he played in every single division

The fondest LGM memories of Cameron come from his years with the Mariners, especially 2000 and 2001. Acquired for Griffey along with several other players, Cameron outplayed Griffey in all but his first year, and at much lower cost. He was a crucial part of the great 2001 team, and always a pleasure to watch in center field.

The Babeu Story Mostly Speaks for Itself…

[ 32 ] February 18, 2012 |

Just a couple of brief observations:

1. If Paul Babeu had been a member of a political party that advocated treating gay men as human, he might not have had to resign his position on the Presidential campaign.

2. If the laws of Arizona treated gay men as human beings, Babeu and his alleged partner would have had the option of marriage, thus providing an entirely legitimate pathway to citizenship.

That is all.

[EL] An additional observation–The imagery of Babeu’s campaign website plays very heavily on the myth of rugged individualism so prominent in western politics. Whether the imagery is only far-right or crosses the border into fascistic, I’ll let you decide.

Foreign Entanglements

[ 1 ] February 17, 2012 |

Mark Leon Goldberg and myself talked Russia-Syria on Wednesday:

Grecian Formula

[ 24 ] February 16, 2012 |

Proposition 1: Greece is screwed.

Proposition 2: The implications of proposition 1 can get even uglier than you expect.

Tweeting vs. Liking

[ 6 ] February 16, 2012 |

Anton Strezhnev tries to explain why some posts get more “Likes” and others get more “Tweets” (via Monkey Cage):

Posts that have graphics or are funny are more “likable” while wonkier posts are more “tweetable.” I would add that the first relationship is a bit stronger than the second since its difficult to find a good measure of “wonkiness” (especially since almost all posts on the Monkey Cage are relatively wonky). That the more “tech” categories (Data and IT/Politics) had a positive effect on the Tweet Rating might lend support to Edwin Chen’s argument that the Twitter ecosystem is geared specifically towards technology nerds.

I’m not sure that the results say much about the composition of Facebook vs. Twitter – a lot of people use both. I do, however, think that they may hint at a key difference in the content-sharing incentives behind both services. Facebook is much more graphically-oriented than Twitter.

This accords with my (wholly without empirical substantiation) sense of the relationship between tweets and likes here at LGM; whimsical posts seem to get more of the latter, wonky posts more of the former. It also seems sensible in context of my own social networking behavior, as I view my twitter feed as a much more professional venue than my Facebook page. I know many of my Facebook friends from spaces wholly unrelated to my professional persona, while I expect that most of those who follow me on twitter do so because of my professional/academic/blogospheric work.

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