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Category: Robert Farley

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…

Just Watching the World Burn…

[ 104 ] May 5, 2011 |

I haven’t been following the story, but the absurdity of this should be manifest:

Videos posted by the conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart appear to have ended the teaching career of an adjunct at the University of Missouri — even as university officials issued a statement backing the contention of the two instructors of the labor studies course that their comments in the class had been edited to present an “inaccurate and distorted” picture of what was said.

Breitbart posted the videos (here and here) on his Big Government blog and, based on the recordings, called the course “advanced thuggery.” In the video, the two instructors can be heard making numerous seemingly positive statements about the use of violence or threatened violence in labor-management relations. The course is taught by one instructor at the university’s Kansas City campus, Judy Ancel, and another at the St. Louis campus, Don Giljum. With a video link, the professors and students at the two campuses interact in class — and the recordings have been available to students through the learning management system used in the course. The videos posted by Breitbart are clearly from different class sessions, as the professors appear in different clothing.

In interviews Thursday, both Ancel and Giljum said that their statements in the videos were a mixture of different teaching techniques, including describing how labor leaders felt during certain periods of time, directly quoting specific individuals (whose views they did not necessarily share), and intentionally taking an extreme position to prompt class discussion.

They said that the full recordings would make this clear, and that they would like the complete class sessions released. The problem, they said, was that the recordings show identifiable students as well as the instructors (which is the case in the excerpts posted by Breitbart, too), so the university can’t just post the recordings without violating student privacy rights.

I suspect that anyone who’s ever taught any class associated in any way with the history of the Second World War has had, at some point, to work through the motivations of the German and Japanese governments and armed forces. Out of context, such descriptions could easily be distorted into affirmations of sympathy for Nazi or Imperial Japanese war aims. If universities are unwilling to back faculty (including adjunct faculty) in such contexts, then we effectively have mutual assured destruction; Breitbart and his ilk can destroy the careers of any faculty member they so desire, just as an enterprising student with a camera phone and Windows Movie Maker could make life difficult for Donald Douglas or Glenn Reynolds.  Because the privacy concerns for students are genuine, fighting allegations with the full recordings can be very hard.

New Home for SOF?

[ 16 ] May 4, 2011 |

In the context of my previous work on the institutional architecture of the US military, this week’s WPR column could probably best be summed up as “give the Air Force to the Special Operations Forces.”

While counterterrorism was certainly understood as important during the 1980s, it did not dominate defense considerations. After the attacks of Sept. 11, SOF again assumed a prominent role in counterterrorist operations. However, counterterrorism itself now became the primary “problem” of U.S. security policy. So while special forces played key roles in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, particularly the former, counterterrorism was redefined in more conventional terms. Fighting terrorists no longer involved small teams raiding terrorist hideouts, but rather large military operations geared toward regime change.

We can’t know how the debate over the response to Sept. 11 would have played out had the U.S. armed forces been designed differently at the time. Nevertheless, the inclination to understand major security problems in traditional terms may be a consequence of the enduring structure of America’s Cold War-era security institutions. In other words, as counterterrorism became the major mission of the U.S. national security apparatus, the traditional services came to interpret this mission in conventional terms. A different structure, one that privileged the skills and capabilities of SOF, might have come to different conclusions about the appropriate response to the attacks of Sept. 11.


[ 13 ] May 3, 2011 |

I had always hoped that Osama Bin Laden was a reader of LGM (and perhaps even a commenter; maybe wengler?). Turns out not so much. I’m still kind of optimistic about our Quetta and Peshawar readers, though. Memeification begins here.

Syria and Libya Redux

[ 3 ] May 2, 2011 |

Last Wednesday I blogged heads with Daniel Larison about Syria and Libya:

I would like to note that the diavlog was recorded on Wednesday, prior to the most devastating tornado strikes. We were under tornado warning in Lexington that morning, but fortunately there were no touch downs.

See also Saideman on the Libya-Syria comparison, and Xavier Marquez on the authoritarian state issue.

Bigelow Yes

[ 23 ] May 2, 2011 |

Let’s hope that this will avert the predictable disaster of a Michael Bay helmed Bin Laden film:

Fortunately, Kathryn Bigelow, who is responsible for The Hurt Locker, an Iraq war movie that’s both profoundly moral and tremendously gripping, is already working on a project with the working title of Kill bin Laden. Her Hurt Locker collaborator, Mark Boal, who also wrote the magazine story that formed the basis for In the Valley of Elah, is working on the movie with her. The project is actually about an earlier American attempt to capture bin Laden that failed, but The Hollywood Reporter notes that Boal and Bigelow are mulling a change in direction.

I’m not saying that a Predator drone campaign against Michael Bay and his network of associates would be justified in order to prevent him from making a Bin Laden movie. Let’s be clear; I’m not explicitly making that claim in precisely those words.

Composition of the Confederate Army

[ 12 ] May 1, 2011 |

Excellent, detailed post on the role of slavery in the Confederate Army. One of the great unmentioned tragedies of the Civil War was the conscription of poor Southern whites into a Confederate Army dedicated to the preservation of the legal regime of slavery, a regime that fundamentally excluded those poor whites from wealth and property. Effectively, conscription forced many poor Southerners into treason in defense of slavery. While I’m not an evangelist for Cold Mountain, it does effectively present the brutality of conscription in the Confederacy.

Wider Impact

[ 4 ] April 30, 2011 |

Cameron McWhirter on the impact of the Mortenson scandal:

Grass-roots nonprofits across the country now find themselves under intense scrutiny because of the Mortenson scandal. Many are considering going to new lengths to demonstrate to potential donors that they are on the up-and-up. All are bracing for an impact on giving. Many foundations and wealthy donors now are cautious because of “reputational risk” if they give to an organization that falters.

The scandal is the talk of the nonprofit community—though many won’t talk about it on the record. More extensive auditing is likely to result, according to Jim Zoiklowski, founder and president of BuildOn, a nonprofit that runs afterschool programs in American cities and builds schools abroad.

“Anything like this out there in the media can shake stakeholder confidence,” he said. “It’s going to elevate the scrutiny, elevate the expectations.”

Several groups that rate charities are rethinking the way they assess organizations, and others are working hard to get the word out about their rankings. Charity Navigator, one of the largest charity-watch sites, gave Mr. Mortenson’s institute four stars—its highest rating—but now has a large “donor warning” label in red for the group, with links to the recent stories.

For what it’s worth, we’re keeping Mortenson on our summer reading list at Patterson. The reasons are to indicate the difficulty of monitoring NGO behavior, as well as to familiarize students with the controversy over Mortenson’s work. We’ll certainly be supplementing with a selection of articles about Mortenson and CAI.

One by One, Our Old Friends are Gone…

[ 0 ] April 30, 2011 |

Friend of the blog Jason Sigger is moving onwards and upwards. Unfortunately, this means that Armchair Generalist will be shutting down.  DHS’ gain is our loss; Sigger has long been a vital progressive voice on hard security affairs.  Also, the green dragon graphic is absolutely perfect for a blog specializing in chemical weapons analysis…

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