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Category: Robert Farley

Propositions on Airpower

[ 29 ] May 13, 2011 |

I initially posted this at ID, but Blogger appears to be undergoing a complete meltdown.  For your pleasure…

I’ve been having some unfocused thoughts on the air campaign in Libya, and think that it’s time to let a few of them see the light of day. A proposition, and some hypotheses:

Proposition 1: The air campaign in Libya bears little resemblance to a “strategic” air campaign, designed to win a victory on its own. It does not appear to be characterized by the kind of target selection associated with Effects Based Operations, in which attacks on key political, strategic, and operational nodes are expected to have an exponential effect on enemy capabilities. Rather, targeting seems concentrated on the goals of force attrition, logistics denial, and some close air support. In short, it’s the kind of campaign designed to make John Warden cry.

I’m open to critique of the above argument from either an empirical or a theoretical point of view. Certainly, there have been some strikes against Loyalist C3, but again these seem mostly to be geared around tactical and operational goals. However, if we accept proposition 1, that leads to four hypotheses:
  • Hypothesis 1a: The lack of a strategic air campaign is caused by a lack of agreement on strategic goals among the major players in NATO. Hard to have a strategic campaign when there’s no agreement on outcomes.
  • Hypothesis 1b: The lack of a strategic air campaign is caused by the unwillingness of the United States to commit its full strength to the anti-Gaddafi cause. A true strategic air campaign requires more assets that France, the United Kingdom, and the other players are capable of bringing to the table.
  • Hypothesis 1c: There is disagreement within the coalition about the utility of strategic airpower doctrine. Maybe the United States is pushing for the Full Warden, but some of the other players doubt the usefulness of strategic airpower doctrine, and are pushing back.
  • Hypothesis 1d: There is now substantial doubt in the politico-military elite of the United States (and elsewhere) that strategic airpower campaigns can deliver what they promise. Because of the experience of the 2006 war or whatever else, people are no longer interested in buying the strategic concepts that Warden et al are selling.
I’m probably most sympathetic to 1a and 1d, because I haven’t really seen much evidence that the United States is pushing for a full strategic campaign. I also don’t really believe that the demands of such a campaign are so great that France, the UK, and the rest of NATO couldn’t come up with the ordnance. But I’m obviously interested in everyone’s thoughts; links are most welcome.


[ 4 ] May 13, 2011 |

Friday Daddy Blogging… Miriam

Least Surprising Breaking News Ever

[ 7 ] May 12, 2011 |

Umm… shocking.

@natlsecuritycnn BREAKING –  OBL’s wives — who were all interviewed together — were “hostile” toward the American interrogators

Bernie vs. Rand

[ 103 ] May 12, 2011 |

On the question of whether Bernie Sanders is awesome, the answer is here.  And as for my Senator… well, he certainly has nice hair.

Blogger! Of the Year!

[ 1 ] May 12, 2011 |

Congrats to John Sides! I should say that I have some substantive (and substantial) disagreements with John’s characterization of the role that blogging should play in political science, but that’s a discussion for a different day.  Excellent work!

“Today will be a day long remembered…”

[ 69 ] May 11, 2011 |

This is dead on.

CORUSCANT — Obi-Wan Kenobi, the mastermind of some of the most devastating attacks on the Galactic Empire and the most hunted man in the galaxy, was killed in a firefight with Imperial forces near Alderaan, Darth Vader announced on Sunday.

In a late-night appearance in the East Room of the Imperial Palace, Lord Vader declared that “justice has been done” as he disclosed that agents of the Imperial Army and stormtroopers of the 501st Legion had finally cornered Kenobi, one of the leaders of the Jedi rebellion, who had eluded the Empire for nearly two decades. Imperial officials said Kenobi resisted and was cut down by Lord Vader’s own lightsaber. He was later dumped out of an airlock.

Great Carrier Debate

[ 16 ] May 11, 2011 |

My WPR column this week tackles the Great Carrier Debate of ’11, and tries to reframe some of the basic questions:

A third method of interpreting weapons acquisition — and naval aviation — is through a combination of the utilitarian and symbolic logics. In this framing, the symbolic has utilitarian import, while the utilitarian has symbolic effect. That the U.S. Navy’s fleet of aircraft carriers is viewed as the fundamental arbiters of world naval power is relevant for perceptions of U.S. power, and consequently for U.S. policy. If the America-class amphibious assault carrier has less — or different — symbolic resonance, then policymakers need to take that into account when making procurement decisions. Similarly, for Chinese policymakers, creating the impression that China is a serious player is an important policy goal, and should affect decisions about where weapons acquisition funds should go. If the United Kingdom wants to continue to be consulted about major intervention decisions, and if the differences in perception of the F-35B and the F-35C affect whether that will happen, then it makes sense to take advantage of symbolic politics.

Very Briefly on Chomsky

[ 215 ] May 10, 2011 |

Noam is taking some deserved hits for this, as well as some that aren’t quite deserved.  I think it’s best to view Chomsky as of limited utility as a theorist of international politics.  When I say “limited utility” I mean it; he has some utility, but that utility is limited.  In younger days, a friend (an engineer who had never read anything about international politics except for Chomsky) repeatedly insisted “For God’s sakes, Rob, read Chomsky!”  My rejoinder was “For God’s sakes, Nate, read something that’s not Chomsky!” That said, I think that Chomsky probably offers a bit more than most political scientists who study international relations are willing to concede; he writes about subjects that hover at the edge of the discipline, but that are quite important and that don’t receive enough attention.  At the same time, his vision of international politics is badly impoverished by a set of elementary misunderstandings.

  1. Reductionism is probably the most consistently annoying problem with Chomsky’s approach.  He’s not the worst example of a writer who substitutes lazy quasi-Marxist analysis for sophisticated analysis of why states do things, but he’s pretty bad.  The “elite Beltway consensus” theory of foreign policy behavior extant in the progressive blogosphere is limited in its own ways, but is a hell of a lot more sophisticated in terms of connecting interests and ideas with foreign policy that Chomsky’s crude economic approach.
  2. A second major problem is his US-centric approach.  Like neoconservatives, Chomsky acts and writes as if the United States is the source of all activity in the international sphere; dictators rise and fall at our behest, multilateral institutions collapse or persist based on our interests, etc.  Chomsky rarely bothers to turn the lens that he uses to analyze American foreign policy on any other country.  Again, he’s better than some; Chomsky was never much of an apologist for the Soviet Union.  Moreover, a focus on the United States is understandable in terms of a political program to attack US foreign policy.  However, one can’t begin to understand the genuine dynamics of international politics without recognizing that the factors that motivate the United States often motivate other countries as well.
  3. Chomsky’s understanding of international law is simply terrible.  He doesn’t know much about the content, and he doesn’t know much about the process, which leads him to say things that are either flat wrong or that are mystifyingly stupid.  For Chomsky, international law is more of a rhetorical cudgel/trope than an actual body of law and process of producing legal agreement.  In particular, the notion that international law is somehow “leftist” in orientation is really quite odd; I recall his famous debate with Foucault which left Michel simply flummoxed at Chomsky’s naivety with regard to what international law is, how it’s produced, and what it means for the pursuit of left wing politics.

And so this isn’t so much “LEAVE NOAM ALONE!!!,” as “recognize what Noam Chomsky can offer, and recognize the serious shortcomings in his approach to international politics.”

Some Good News

[ 26 ] May 9, 2011 |

Rebel progress in Libya:

In the besieged western city of Misurata hundreds of rebels broke through one of the front lines late on Sunday, and by Monday afternoon were consolidating their position on the ground a few miles to the city’s west.

The breakout of what had been nearly static lines came after NATO aircraft spent days striking positions and military equipment held by the Qaddafi forces, weakening them to the point that a ground attack was possible, the rebels said.

While not in itself a decisive shift for a city that remained besieged, the swift advance, made with few rebel casualties, carried both signs of rebel optimism and hints of the weakness of at least one frontline loyalist unit.

But more potential signs of loyalist weakness emerged in a battle near the eastern oil town of Brega, where rebel fighters killed more than 36 Qaddafi soldiers and destroyed more than 10 vehicles, according to a senior rebel military official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about military operations. Six rebel fighters died in the battle, the official said, adding that the rebel troops retreated east from Brega after the attack on orders from NATO, presumably in advance of airstrikes.

I think that Chivers wrongly puts the emphasis on airstrikes, which have been more or less a constant since the NATO intervention began. It’s possible that the key development here has been attrition of Gaddafi’s forces, but I rather doubt it; attrition is rarely a major factor, and Loyalist forces have increasingly taken precautions to limit the damage that air attacks cause. Airstrikes work best in combination with coordinated ground assaults. Accordingly, I’m curious as to how the effectiveness of rebel ground forces has changed in the last month. By most accounts it takes quite a while to create an effective, cohesive infantry force. However, all military effectiveness is relative. British and French special operations forces have been working for several weeks, and it’s possible that the early part of the learning slope is sufficiently gentle that substantial gains can be made in a relatively short time. With coordinated airstrikes in support, even a very basically trained infantry force might be able to make progress. It’s also possible, of course, that the rebels are being directly (but secretly) supported by NATO SOF.

We’ll see. The rebels have made progress before, only to see it overturned by new Loyalist offensives. The hope remains that some kind of tipping point can be reached that will lead to significant Loyalist surrenders or defections. Of course, it would be best if the rebels would stop summarily executing surrendered Loyalists, but that’s also something that NATO SOF might be able to help out with.

The Lack of a Libya Plan

[ 21 ] May 8, 2011 |

On Thursday I was on Alyona, talking Libya…

Some long form links on Libyan politics and the uprising, including some older pieces that are still interesting:

While we’re tallying the costs and benefits of the intervention in Libya, we can say that a potential massacre in Benghazi was averted, and that the probable destruction of the rebel movement was also at least delayed. We obviously can’t say that it’s had any kind of meaningful positive effect on the behavior of other authoritarian states towards resistance movements.


[ 8 ] May 7, 2011 |

People throw around the terms like “mortal lock” and “guaranteed return” all the time, but let’s just say that it would be extremely wise to riskinvest your 401K on the following trifecta:

1. Dialed In

2. Stay Thirsty

3. Shackleford

Feel free to enjoy a mint julep during the race, but I cannot recommend either a Hot Brown or Derby Pie. While both include so many wonderful ingredients that it’s hard to imagine not liking them, I’ve yet to have a serving of either that justified my affection.

But They’re Lovable! And Important! And Should be on Sunday Talk Shows!

[ 17 ] May 6, 2011 |


John McCain and Joe Lieberman have been intertwined a lot over the last few years and here’s another place where they share company- they are two of the three least popular out of the 81 sitting Senators PPP has done approval polls on since the beginning of 2010. McCain’s approval rating is only 34% with 53% of voters disapproving of him. That makes him the third least popular. Lieberman is the least popular and John Ensign is the second least popular.

Lieberman and McCain have the same problem- they’re not very popular with their party base but no one else likes them either. Only 44% of Republicans approve of McCain to 40% who disapprove and his spread is only 31/58 with independents and 23/67 with Democrats. There are other ‘maverick’ Senators who are not all that popular within their own parties- the Olympia Snowes and Susan Collins’ and Lindsey Grahams of the world- but they make up for it with good numbers from independents and Democrats. McCain and Lieberman’s actions have just caused pretty much everyone to dislike them.

Nevertheless, both McCain and Lieberman are very serious and important and serious voices who deserve to be wildly over-represented on the TV. Via Marcy Wheeler…

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