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Category: Robert Farley

One by One, Our Old Friends are Gone…

[ 1 ] July 12, 2011 |

Media Czech moves on to bigger and better things.  Let’s hope that Barefoot and Progressive continues to shake things up while under new management.

Also, LGM always makes money for its partners.

Whatever His Faults, Tricky Dick was Good for a Quote…

[ 12 ] July 12, 2011 |

I’m slowly making my way through this- there’s some fairly interesting stuff regarding disputes between Nixon and Abrams on how airpower should be used in Linebacker I- but I wanted to pass along this nugget, from a conversation between Richard Nixon and CJCS Admiral Thomas Moorer:

Moorer: The flow shifts back and forth. And it’s very difficult, almost impossible, to run that from Washington. And so far as the reports to you are concerned, let me tell you right now, that if I am directed to give the reports you will get them precisely when you ask. But I am not running this reporting business. And I am passing the information up to the Secretary of Defense and it’s being run from up there, but it’s—
Nixon: Right. I am directing you—
Moorer: If you want me to do it, I can do it—
Nixon: I am directing you, and if the Secretary of Defense raises the questions, I am directing you. I have to have them directly, and they must be unsanitized. And also when an order goes, it’s got to go from me. The Secretary of Defense is not Commander in Chief. The Secretary of Defense does not make decisions on these kinds of things—
Moorer: I understand that, Mr. President—
Nixon: He’s a procurement officer. That’s what he is and not another goddamn thing. And from now on this has got to be done this way. So under these circumstances we can go. Now, getting back to this thing, let’s see what kind of an excuse is being developed here.

There’s nothing in particular wrong with what Nixon is asking, here; he’s certainly asserting his authority as commander-in-chief, although the idea that the Secretary of Defense should essentially be ignored by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs isn’t ideal for most models of civil-military relations. I invite you to consider, however, both the extent and volume of the howls that would emerge from the Right if a similar transcript emerged from a conversation between Obama and Mullen. The Weekly Standard would likely devote between 6 and 10 issues to this single snippet, and Victor Davis Hanson would never write anything about anything else ever again.

Arms Sales to Lebanon

[ 13 ] July 11, 2011 |

When I was in Israel a few years ago, the security folks I was introduced to were uniformly of the opinion that trying to increase the military capacity of the Lebanese state was a waste of time. The Lebanese Army would never have the will or the capability to fight Hezbollah, no matter the degree of arms and security assistance, and any advanced weapons were as likely as not to end up in Hezbollah’s arsenal. While these were hardly unbiased observers, it’s not clear to me that the argument is wrong. The unspoken assumption behind US security assistance seems to be that if we try hard enough, someday the Lebanese government will be strong enough to restart a horribly bloody civil war against Hezbollah. It seems to me that both the likelihood and the desirability of such an outcome are in deep doubt.

I’m also genuinely untouched by the “But Lebanon might turn to Syria or Iran!” part of the argument. A substantial portion of the Lebanese population already thinks of Syria and Iran as major patrons. Given the extent of division in Lebanese society, it would be really… surprising to see all of the major players unite around a pro-Iran position.

Sunday Book Review: The Gun

[ 31 ] July 10, 2011 |

This is the fourth of an eight part series on the 2011 Patterson Summer Reading List.

  1. Paul Collier, The Plundered Planet
  2. Greg Mortenson, Stones into Schools
  3. Jason Stearns, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters
  4. CJ Chivers, The Gun

The Gun is the second book in four years on the topic of the AK-47. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to read Larry Kahaner’s AK-47: The Weapon that Changed the Face of War, but readers and reviewers generally seem to prefer Chivers account. Although billed as a book about the AK-47, The Gun is really more of a history of automatic weapons, with particular attention paid to the Kalashnikov and its design process.

Chivers story effectively begins with the development of a series of different models of automatic weapon in the US Civil War.  The US Army (usually for good reason) was unwilling to entertain adopting most of these weapons, although the Gatling Gun would become part of the official US inventory at the end of the war (several early models had found their way into unofficial use).  Gatling’s crank system then found its way into other armies, including British and French colonial forces and Russian Far East and Caucausus units.  Chivers describes the (sometimes painfully) slow realization by major armies of the utility of the weapon, but then relates how effective the crank automatic became in colonial fighting.  Later, the smaller and more reliable Maxim gun would give colonial forces an insurmountable advantage over subjugated populations,whether in Africa, Central Asia, or the Americas.  The machine gun pushed its way into continental European warfare with a false start in the Franco-Prussian War, and then with full maturity by the First World War. Chivers gives a fantastic account of how individual lines of automatic weapons matured across the industrial production process.  The first Gatling guns were startling effective, but also quite troublesome; even if the US Army had been more visionary regarding their use, it would have faced the teething troubles associated with immature weapon systems.  The same issues would face the Maxim gun, the AK-47, and eventually the M-16.

Chivers places the AK-47 firmly within the context of the Soviet military-industrial complex.  In doing so, he tries to dispel many of the myths that have developed (and been constructed) around Mikhail Kalashnikov, the most important member of the design team that created the rifle.  Kalashnikov has become a legendary figure, treated in some accounts a an isolated genius discarded by a system uninterested in individual achievement.  Chivers shows that this picture is wrong, although he sometimes veers close to the building and burning of strawmen regarding the legend of Kalashnikov.  Towards the end of  World War II, the Red Army recognized the promise of a weapon with characteristics broadly along the lines of the AK-47, combining the characteristics of an infantry rifle with a submachine gun. Various teams were invited to compete to submit designs, with Kalashnikov leading the team that eventually won.  The AK-47 differed from many (but not all) in its durability, ease of construction, and ease of use, characteristics which helped it win the competition.  Kalashnikov’s team freely borrowed innovations from other designs, a practice that was both extremely productive and completely in line with Soviet industrial practice. The initial production models provide the foundation for what we now know as the AK-47 family of rifles.

Chivers is also careful to place the spread of the AK-47 in the context of Soviet foreign and industrial policy.  The Soviet economy, as we now, was exceedingly adept at certain tasks and very bad at others.  For example, it was good at building lots of simple machine equipment, and bad at assessing market demand.  Consequently, the USSR would dramatically overproduce the AK-47 and its brethren over the course of the Cold War. It would export the technology to build AK-47s to many foreign countries, many of which would also overproduce the gun. The USSR would use the AK-47 as a foreign policy chit, exporting it to whichever countries or rebel groups were willing to pay lip service to Soviet foreign policy goals.  Consequently, the AK-47 became the weapon of choice across a vast family of countries, rebel groups, and terrorist organizations.  Chivers makes clear that this development was the result of Soviet foreign and industrial policy, rather than a “market driven” process; as an independent entrepreneur, Kalashnikov could not have invented, produced, or exported the rifle on anything approaching the scale that has been seen since 1950. The collapse of the Soviet bloc made a tremendous number of rifles available, swamping the market (although, Chivers carefully points out, never to the extent that you could trade a Kalashnikov for a chicken).

As I suggest earlier, there’s an element of anti-hagiography to Chivers’ discussion of Kalashnikov.  Chivers points out the considerable ambiguity regarding both Kalashnikov’s biography and his contribution to the weapon.  Kalashnikov himself tells many different stories of his origins, and his account of the development of the AK-47 differs in key details from those of others present in the process.  Nevertheless, even in Chivers’ account it’s hard for me to see how anyone (besides perhaps Stalin) has more of a claim to be the “father” of the AK-47 than Mikhail Kalashnikov.  Chivers points out that Kalashnikov’s work has hardly gone unrewarded; he was the Soviet equivalent of a star celebrity, and now lives a comfortable retirement on the pension of a lieutenant general.  Given that Kalashnikov grew up in Stalin’s USSR, I’m willing to cut him more than a little slack on honesty issues.

For the sake of comparison, Chivers gives an account of the M-16, arguing that both the American weapon (at least in its first decade) and the American process of procurement were inferior to their Soviet counterparts. The US Army was slow to recognize the threat and promise of an effective assault rifle, then leapt to the M-16 almost in a panic when it recognized the vulnerability created by the AK.  The selection of the M-16 was also affected by private economic interest, as well as a series of misunderstandings about technology within the McNamara Pentagon. Consequently, the United States entered the most intense parts of the Vietnam War with a weapon that simply wasn’t ready for prime time.  Over time the M-16 improved, just as later models of the AK improved on early defects and manufacturing issues.

Chivers also has an interesting story to tell regarding American and Russian understandings of military technology.  His account conforms broadly with that set forth in Dima Adamsky’s The Culture of Military Innovation; the US military-industrial complex has been particularly adept at perfecting technologies within a specific understanding of how military force can be used.  The Russians (then the Soviets, then the Russians again) are better at realizing the potentially revolutionary aspects of particular weapon technologies than they are at developing the advanced technologies themselves.  Indeed, it could be argued that the most effective Soviet weapon systems (the AK, the T-34, the MiG-21) were the fruits of integrating relatively mature technologies guided by a clear vision of the military and political impact of the weapon.

Near the end of the book Chivers has an interesting aside on the question of how and why the AK-47 will become “obsolete.”  He points out that even the AK deteriorates over time; although fighters in Afghanistan are still using weapons built in the 1950s, the parts don’t last forever, and we can envision a world (perhaps some fifty years after the last AK has been built) when the last AK will be fired in anger.  I wonder, though, what factors could motivate an “end” to the AK-47.  It’s not a perfect weapon, but then no gun can be.  It’s difficult to imagine what could replace the AK, and in so doing make the AK no longer useful, in the sense that a sword is no longer a useful weapon of war.  The invention of cheap, portable phasers? Or perhaps this is the wrong way to think about it; the end of the AK-47 will be brought about not by a change in technology, but rather by a change in the political and social factors that made it such a useful tool in the first place.

The Gun isn’t perfect.  Chivers includes some discussion of the impact of the AK-47 in wars, brushfire or no, across the world, but doesn’t bring the same satisfying level of detail that he provides regarding the production and design of the weapon.  Indeed, he gives a tighter account of the effect of machine guns in the trenches in World War I than of the AK in the jungles of the Cold War and post-Cold War eras. Those seeking a technical account of the AK and its various models will be, Chivers is careful to assure the reader, disappointed.  Nevertheless, The Gun is an excellent, useful account of the development of automatic weapons, and in particular of the most commonly employed automatic weapon of the past fifty years.

All Kinds o’ Libya Stuff

[ 38 ] July 9, 2011 |

As has been the case from the beginning, I’m unconvinced of the prospects of the rebels for winning a military victory. I don’t think it’s right to say that Gaddafi is “winning,”  (his forces appear to be losing ground on several fronts) but NATO and the rebels are on the clock; sooner or later, they’ll have either win or decide to accept/impose some kind of de facto partition in Libya. Dan Byman and Matthew Waxman do a good job in FP describing the asymmetrical stakes in the war, and explaining why Gaddafi has been so difficult to pry loose. See also this update from Camile Tawil (via Brian Ulrich).

Some other links:

  • Juan Cole, Ten Mistakes. On the first he’s obviously right; the Obama administration clearly believed that this would be over before the WPR ever became at issue. This was a ridiculously stupid error, and hopefully we’ll find out someday just how the administration’s thought process played out. I’m not sure that the second mistake (“shock and awe” vs. close air support) is actually true; seems to me that most of the air effort has been focused on real, tactical military goals. #3, #4, #6, and #10 were predictable. #5, again, I’m uncertain of; there’s just a limit to how much focused air attacks can do against ground forces in an urban area. Regading #9, I’m not sure why Juan thinks that such an offer has not already been made, or why he thinks that Gaddafi and family would be quick to accept. 7 and 8 are reasonable, but are probably the result of incoherent NATO war aims. Carl Prine (no, not that Carl Prine) being brutal but, I would have to say, fair on the subject of Juan Cole’s approach to the Libya War.
  • Micah Zenko on the justifications for the Libya war. I think that the British and French commitment to Afghanistan loomed large here, along with the belief that it would be a cakewalk.
  • Dan Trombley thinks through some lessons of the war so far, and brings the snark regarding the French decision to supply the rebels with arms: “Upset about improper distribution? Well, madames et monsieurs, if your distribution method is just chucking weapons out the back of aircraft into the middle of the mountains and hoping that the notoriously disorganized Libyan rebels do the right thing, that is on you. Naturally, the rebels are not cooperating as a cohesive group and instead the arms are going to whatever rebel commanders get them.”

This One’s Going on My CV…

[ 5 ] July 8, 2011 |

At Information Dissemination, we get awards. What have you done for me lately, LGM?

Time to Start Hedging?

[ 68 ] July 8, 2011 |

Is it too early to start saying “Please let it be Romney?”

The jobless rate rose to 9.2 percent in June from 9.1 percent in May, the Labor Department said, as the economy added a meager 18,000 jobs.

I, for one, welcome our new corporate-feudal overlords. I’d like to remind them that as a trusted blog personality, I can be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground sugar caves.

What Does it Mean to Waste Money?

[ 49 ] July 7, 2011 |

A couple of weeks ago, the WaPo had an interesting enough article on cancelled military programs:

The Army’s Comanche helicopter was envisioned as “the quarterback of the digital battlefield,” a technologically superior aircraft that could hide from enemies, operate at night and in bad weather, and travel farther than any other helicopter.

Gen. Richard Cody, a former vice chief of staff of the Army, called it the “most flexible, most agile” aircraft the country had ever produced.

In 2000, it ranked as the most important planned buy for the Army. Four years later, the program — which had consumed close to 20 years of work and nearly $6 billion — was abruptly shuttered.

It is one of 22 major Army weapons programs canceled since 1995, ringing up a price tag of more than $32 billion for equipment that was never built. A new study, commissioned by the Army and obtained by The Washington Post, condemns the service’s efforts as “unacceptable.”

The study is the latest indication that the Pentagon — and the defense industry, in turn — is undergoing a seismic shift in its approach to new programs. As pressures mounted in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military retreated from its ambitions for multibillion-dollar, technologically superior systems. Instead, it was forced to make better use of tried-and-true equipment.

I think that the article’s implication (that money spent on abandoned systems has been wasted) is a touch misleading.  In general terms, it’s not at all surprising that the military has spent billions of dollars on cancelled weapons programs.  Some systems never pan out, others reach a certain degree of maturity before we determine that they’re impractical, some plans are rendered obsolete by technology, others by shifts in doctrine and interest.  Any healthy system of procurement designed to support a modern, capable military is going to have a lot of cancelled systems.  Indeed, while I understand the political necessity of denouncing the $32 billion in cancelled systems, I’m not at all convinced that the report uncovers actual problems in Army procurement, or at least I’m not convinced that the problems are correctly identified.

Most of the system identified in the article are associated with the end of the Cold War, the shift to Future Combat Systems, and the Counter-Insurgency turn.  The end of the Cold War (which saw substantial real reductions in US defense spending) ensured that billions of dollars would be wasted through the abandonment of programs that were no longer strategically sound.  Indeed, I suspect that most readers of this blog would believe that more dollars should have been so wasted.  Regarding Future Combat Systems, it’s certainly fair to critique the operational and tactical logic behind the development of a new concept of ground operations, but the cancellation of many FCS systems is primarily a result of the COIN turn; if we had never invaded Iraq or Afghanistan, we’d probably have something very similar to FCS as originally envisioned (a system of systems designed to conduct highly efficient, networked warfare across the combat spectrum).  Indeed, one of the primary arguments against FCS is that it wouldn’t improve the COIN capabilities of the Army.  This is probably true, but if you don’t think that the Army should have turned to COIN in the first place, then criticism of FCS needs to be modified accordingly.

See also this nifty CAP chart about historical defense budgeting. It’s a little misleading to suggest that deficits forced Eisenhower and Bush to cut defense; in both cases post-war demobilization accounts for a big part of the cut.  I do think it’s interesting, however, that elements of the right seem to be trying very hard to prevent any future Republican presidents from doing even the modest cutting that we saw from Bush, Eisenhower et al.




A House Divided Against Itself Still Rests on One Foundation

[ 23 ] July 6, 2011 |

My latest at WPR expresses skepticism regarding the practical import of a realist/neocon divide in the GOP:

However, it is probably too soon to expect the return of a “realist” foreign policy establishment in the GOP. As a result, the candidate that ultimately emerges victorious from the Republican primary will likely be broadly comfortable, if not enthusiastic, about the neoconservative approach to foreign relations. He or she will hedge sufficiently to fend off a realist challenge in the primaries, but will maintain connections with neoconservatives in the policy and journalistic community. Even if subsequently elected to the White House, however, no Republican is likely to undertake the extremely difficult project of reorienting the intellectual superstructure of the GOP foreign policy establishment in a noninterventionist direction. Much ink will flow, but in the short term, the foreign policy preferences of the GOP are unlikely to change in a major way.


The Devil would have a Gingrich Sticker on the Back of His Cadillac, Except that the Devil Likes Closers

[ 47 ] July 5, 2011 |

Speaking of the Newtster, let’s review: The fact that George Wallace really wasn’t that racist, and probably only supported segregation for careerist reasons isn’t a point in his favor.  And so with one of the “narrow constituencies” that was once supposed to help form Newt’s unconventional coalition:

As speaker of the House in the 1990s, for example, Gingrich played a key role in setting aside space on Capitol Hill for Muslim congressional staffers to pray each Friday; he was involved with a Republican Islamic group that promoted Shariah-compliant finance, which critics — including Gingrich — now deride as a freedom-destroying abomination; and he maintained close ties with another Muslim conservative group that even urged Gingrich to run for president in 2007.

That was before Muslim-bashing was the new hotness in the Republican Party, and Gingrich decided to become one of the most vocal proponents of sharia panic. The Onion captured the meta-narrative of the GOP nomination race best with a piece titled “Mitt Romney Haunted By Past Of Trying To Help Uninsured Sick People.” One of the biggest problems for a prospective Republican nominee is having to disavow a past record of common decency.

Another lesson is that no minority can ever be sufficiently model to avoid being sold out by the GOP. I continue to wonder about relative contributions to the measured tolerance of Islam during the Bush administration of a) the strategic needs of the War on Terror, b) the absence of Barack Hussein Obama as a central public figure, and c) a personal commitment to tolerance on the part of George W. Bush.

Cool, Considerate…

[ 9 ] July 4, 2011 |

Happy Independence Day!


[ 1 ] July 4, 2011 |

Robert Haddick has an appropriate degree of skepticism regarding plans to maintain the Libyan Army in case of Gaddafi’s fall:

The “Bremer Hypothesis” may get another test in Libya, as Mitchell seems determined to learn from the presumed error. Mitchell and his colleagues are assuming — or at least hoping — that army and police officials in Tripoli and elsewhere in pro-Qaddafi western Libya will readily agree to fall in with the post-Qaddafi political order, which we can assume will be dominated by the anti-Qaddafi National Transitional Council now in Benghazi. Mitchell’s recommendation also seems to assume that the anti-Qaddafi leaders in Benghazi have come to the same conclusion about Bremer’s decision as most policy analysts in the West and will agree to share military and police power with their former enemies in Tripoli. Whether that assumption will remain valid during a post-Qaddafi transition (or if it is even valid now) remains in question.

I would add that the Libyan and Iraqi armies were very different institutions that played very different roles in their respective national cultures. Most obviously, the Iraqi Army was much larger in relation to the population; about twice as large per capita in 2003. This understates the difference, because a much larger proportion of the Iraqi than the Libyan population had served in the Army, often during wartime. The Iraqi Army also had a more robust reputation for professionalism. Although both forces disintegrated in their final conflicts, the Iraqi Army fell apart under concerted ground and air onslaught from the United States and the United Kingdom, while the Libyan Army was falling to pieces even before NATO intervened.

Finally, while there’s good reason to doubt the cohesiveness of the rebel coalition, building a new Army around the fighting forces of the coalition might make quite a lot of sense from a statebuilding perspective. In the event of Gaddafi’s collapse, the various elements of the coalition will begin jockeying for power. Establishing a national army is a good beginning for an effort to buy off the major players. Of course, it will also be necessary to give surviving loyalist elements a reason to buy in to the new order.