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Eastern European Missile Defense Bases to be Scrapped

[ 0 ] August 28, 2009 |

So says Defense News, reporting claims in a Polish newspaper:

Washington will scrap plans to put anti-missile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic and is looking at alternatives including Israel and Turkey, a Polish newspaper reported Aug. 27, citing U.S. officials.

The U.S. plan, intended for defense against attacks from Iran, has met with fierce objections from Russia, which regarded the eastern European bases as a threat to its own security.

Leading Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza cited administration officials and lobbyists in Washington in support of its story.

Pro-missile shield lobbyist Riki Ellison said the signals from the Pentagon were “absolutely clear,” with U.S. authorities scouting for alternatives sites, the paper reported.

Good deal. Expect the usual shrieking from the wingnut gallery. No one could ever conclusively argue why these bases were a good idea; they were supposed to deter Russia, but at the same time weren’t aimed at Russia, and couldn’t possibly have stopped a Russian attack. They were supposed to defend from Iranian missiles, even though no one could ever figure out a plausible reason why Iran would fire ballistic missiles at Europe. Eastern European missile defense was, in short, insane; it was conceived by missile defense fanatics in the United States, and abetted by policymakers in Poland and the Czech Republic who wanted a clear signal of US commitment to their defense. The latter motivation was defensible; the former not so much.


What About a Mind Flayer? Would that be Acceptable to the Libruls?

[ 0 ] August 27, 2009 |

Too good:

Is Using A Minotaur To Gore Detainees A Form Of Torture?

H/t Serwer.

Russians Prep Missile Defense Battery on Nork Border?

[ 0 ] August 27, 2009 |


Russia has placed an anti-missile defence system close to its border with North Korea, in an apparent sign of growing alarm in Moscow at Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.

Russia’s chief of army staff, General Nikolai Makarov, told reporters on a trip with President Dmitry Medvedev to Mongolia the military had deployed its S-400 anti-missile division, a state-of-the-art anti-aircraft system capable of shooting down short- and medium-range ballistic missiles.

The system, stationed in Russia’s far east, would “guarantee” fragments from an errant North Korean missile would not fall on Russian territory, he said. “We are definitely concerned by the conditions under which tests are being carried out in North Korea, including nuclear devices,” he added.

There’s apparently some question regarding the veracity of the claim, and it’s unclear what the S-400 can really do in terms of missile defense, but interesting nonetheless. If true, I guess it means that the Russians are pretty much finished with Pyongyang. I do wonder whether this is connected with North Korea’s more cooperative attitude in the past few weeks…

Aah! Reverse vampires! Reverse Vampires!

[ 0 ] August 27, 2009 |

I suppose the appropriate reaction to Glenn Beck’s latest fugue state pretty much writes itself.

Bart: So finally, we’re all in agreement about what’s going on with
the adults. Milhouse?
Milhouse: [steps up to blackboard] Ahem. OK, here’s what we’ve got: the
Rand Corporation, in conjunction with the saucer people —
Bart: Thank you.
Milhouse: — under the supervision of the reverse vampires —
Lisa: [sighs]
Milhouse: — are forcing our parents to go to bed early in a fiendish
plot to eliminate the meal of dinner. [sotto voce] We’re
through the looking glass, here, people…


[ 0 ] August 27, 2009 |

If he won’t do it, perhaps the GOP can turn to the only marginally-less-plausible Bucky Dent.

All Class

[ 0 ] August 27, 2009 |

It’s somehow reassuring to come back online and find that some things never change.

It’s also worth pointing out that — in addition to the fact that there’s nothing wrong with “politicizing” a funeral if these means “celebrating the values that the deceased individual had long publicly stood for” — the Wellstone funeral was not in fact the “Wellstone funeral.” In addition, the latest fake controversy provides further evidence that it’s pretty safe not to take anyone who still uses the phrase “x is y on steroids” in 2009 seriously…

The Rockies have won the pennant, the Rockies have won the pennant . . .

[ 0 ] August 26, 2009 |

. . . well no they haven’t actually won anything yet of course, and indeed aren’t even in first place, but having eliminated all but two of the Dodgers’ 15-game lead over them they’re threatening to make one of the biggest comebacks, and precipitate one of the biggest collapses, in baseball history. (LA is still in good shape for the wild card but who knows what’ll happen if they get overtaken for the division lead after so many months of cruising?)

Anyway it’s too bad Denver is really a football town, as the Rockies have been a lot of fun to watch, and have pulled off a bunch of great comeback wins this summer.

Remarkably, Colorado was on track to lose 100 games two months into the season (they were 20-32 on June 3rd), and have played at a 113-victory season pace since then (52-22).

Nate Silver’s linked article is funny in a morbid way, in that he wrote it at almost exactly the moment the Mets began what turned out to be the second-most spectacular collapse, statistically speaking, in baseball history.

Russia Buys a Mistral

[ 0 ] August 26, 2009 |

The Russian Navy is buying a French Mistral class amphibious assault ship. Exciting.

Stay classy

[ 0 ] August 26, 2009 |

It comes as little surprise that someone who commemorates treason in defense of slavery would fail to notice the absurdity in accusing Ted Kennedy of conspiring against his country, but that’s one of many reasons that Bob Owens remains a Very Special Blogger.

To summarize TIDOS Yankee’s claim, Kennedy secretly reached out to Soviet leaders twice during the late 1970s and early 1980s, probing — in the interest of advancing his own presidential ambitions — for ways to undermine the cold war foreign policies of the Carter and Reagan administrations. If you haven’t encountered this fable before, you shouldn’t feel deprived. It originates from the early 1990s and has been amplified by several recent hagiographies of the Reagan-Thatcher axis, especially books by John O’Sullivan, Paul Kengor and Peter Schweizer. “Proof” for the Kennedy-as-Soviet Collaborator argument rests on two documents, original copies of which you will doubtless be astonished to learn are unavailable for independent scrutiny.

The first — a handwritten note supposedly brought to Great Britain in 1982 by Soviet defector and former KGB agent Visaly Mitrokhin — describes a letter allegedly written by Kennedy and delivered to Leonid Brezhnev in 1979, wherein Kennedy offers to help “de-escalate” the crisis in Afghanistan by undermining President Carter. The letter would indeed by an interesting document, if in fact it actually existed; shockingly, however, it does not appear in the Mitrokhin Archive itself, nor does Mitrokhin himself discuss it in his 700-page book, The Sword and the Shield (though he does mention that the KGB sent Kennedy’s office forged documents purporting to show that Scoop Jackson and Richard Perle were “members of a gay sex club.”)

The second document — a 1983 memo from former KGB head Victor Chebrikov to Yuri Andropov — discusses a purported letter from Kennedy (sent to Chebrikov via former California Senator John Tunney) in which the senator advises Andropov to invite him to Moscow for talks; promises to coordinate interviews for Andropov with American journalists like Walter Cronkite and Barbara Walters; and suggests a variety of steps that Soviet leaders might take to hinder Reagan’s re-election the following year. A copy of the “Chebrikov memo” was published in The Crusader, a book written by Paul Kengor; Kengor teaches at Grove City College, an academy of wingnuttery that has been under continuous AAUP censure since 1963 for violations of academic freedom. The memo’s provenance is predictably sketchy, having been delivered to Kengor by a right-wing Ukrainian activist (and “reader of FrontPage Magazine”) before being vetted and “authenticated” by creditable sources like Richard Pipes — the erstwhile head of Team B — and Herbert Romerstein, the former HUAC investigator who recently offered definitive proof that Barack Obama is a stealth Negro Communist. The original “Chebrikov memo” is of course (cough cough) conveniently locked away in an old Soviet archive, safe from the prying eyes of less transparently dubious observers.

Kengor has spent the past several years whining about the fact that “liberal bias” in the press has engineered a near-total blackout of his stunning revelation. Alas, the Kennedy family has evidently frightened the redoubtable FOX News into complicit silence, defying its customary editorial policy of holding out an open mic for precisely this sort of poorly-sourced lunacy:

I did a taping with Hannity & Colmes but they never used it, apparently because they were so focused on the mid-term elections, to the exclusion of almost any other story or issue. The Hannity & Colmes thing was a major blow; it could’ve propelled this onto the national scene, forcing the larger media to take note. That was the single greatest disappointment.

Fortunately for Kengor, there are more sympathetic regions of the intertubes, where no evidence is sufficiently absurd to thwart repetition.

This is Not an Achievable Metric

[ 0 ] August 26, 2009 |

BruceR, responding to a question about Afghan army training from Matt Yglesias:

Building anew is harder than renovating. In Afghanistan as in Iraq we really are doing our best to junk the old system, recognizing correctly that it was part of the problem in the first place. Building another Afghan army like all other previous Afghan armies, one that splits on ethnic lines, that oppresses the people it’s supposed to protect, that can’t fight its own insurgencies, would be entirely pointless. So our ambitions have to be rather large here. There are lots of old soldiers in the Afghan senior leadership. At least twice I have been present when one of them was talked out of what they saw as the correct response to insurgents in a village: that being to shell the village with howitzers. Principles of counterinsurgency and effects-based operations are things we’re struggling with, having already figured out industrial total war… they don’t have any secret knowledge that allows them to jump that progression in military capability.

I don’t think that this represents a sensible way to approach the construction of an Afghan Army. In particular, I think that this vision depends on some serious misunderstandings of the relationship between state, society, and military organization. My objections:

  • Detachment from society: Military organizations can, to some degree, be detached from the societies that support them, but the vision of an Afghan Army that doesn’t split along ethnic lines is simply implausible. The Afghan Army will be made up of Afghans; the expectation that a national or organizational identity could replace tribal and ethnic identities is not reasonable within a conventional time frame. Moreover, the effort to create an organization distinct from society creates its own problems. Organizations which have strong, distinct identities that make them less susceptible to societal pressures can also be harder for civilian political authorities to control.
  • Building Anew IS Harder, but there are tradeoffs: It’s true enough that building an Army from scratch is an exceptionally difficult task. Most military organizations have precursors, even in revolutionary situations. The Bundeswehr and the JSDF both included veterans of WWII service, albeit in much different organizational configurations. At the same time, building anew means that you can break some institutional bad habits, get rid of dead wood, and pursue appropriate organizational structures. While there was never any possibility of disbanding the Red Army, I don’t doubt that current Russian military reformers sometimes wish that the entire organization could have been torn down and rebuilt from scratch. I think that the disbanding of the Iraqi Army was a mistake, but I can understand why Bremer thought that it would be a good idea; the new army was likely to have much different missions than the old, and in any case the old army wasn’t a strong performer. If it hadn’t been for the pesky details of throwing thousands of armed, unemployed young men on the streets of Iraq…
  • “Oppressing the people” is what an army does: It is a peculiar conceit of modern Westerners that we don’t think of our armies as the core violent capability of the state. Historically, armies have served a “protection” function, in that they have geared much of their effort toward potential foreign enemies. However, armies also fulfill the critical function of maintaining the authority of the state over its own people. We can forget this in the United States and Europe because of successful state building and identity creation, and also because we have an overlapping network of paramilitary organizations that perform the most basic “maintenance of order” functions. A successful Afghan army, from a US perspective, is one that can perform these maintenance of order functions with the least amount of bloodshed. In a counter-insurgency situation when even a relatively small proportion of the populations supports the insurgents (and I think this applies to Afghanistan), protecting some people involves “oppressing” others. For example, suppressing the opium trade will involve a great deal of activity that looks a lot like conventional military repression. Furthermore, there’s a category error; armies don’t oppress/manage populations for their health, but rather because they are directed so by political authorities. Which leads to…
  • There is a confusion of the military and the political: Bruce’s argument assumes that a political settlement exists, and that this political settlement can be secured through the organizational constellation of the national army. The idea that a national army can avoid ethnic rifts assumes that major ethnic and religious groups have reached political accomodation; otherwise, the national army simply serves to the de facto advantage of whatever ethnic groups hold power. The idea that an army can be built that will not oppress the people assumes either that the political authorities who control the army are uninterested in political oppression, or that the army will refuse civilian orders to engage in repressive activities. Military organizations can be infused with certain conceptions of professionalism, and can be constructed such that they support a particular vision of the political order. There’s a tradeoff, however; an organization that focuses on subordination to civilian authority does not necessarily perform well as a guarantor of the political order. It’s not quite either/or, but armies that act as the guarantor of political order often find it necessary to disobey or remove “disorderly” civilian leadership.

What you can build, I think, is an Army with certain skills, including skills associated with the kind of counter-insurgency that Western democracies practice. You can hope to produce organizational allegiance, and a vision of military professionalism that includes subordination to civilian authority. You cannot, however, detach an organization wholly from the society that supports it. More importantly, it’s usually a bad idea to rely on a military organization to enforce a particular political settlement. To some limited extent this model has worked in Turkey, but that’s a unusual case, and exposes the limitations as well as the virtues of the model.

All that said, I think that construction of an Afghan Army that is capable of maintaining order and preventing Taliban territorial control is possible. The Taliban have no more claim on “authentic” Afghan nationalism than the central government does; even as the popularity of the Kabul government has declined, it remains significantly higher than that of the Taliban. Moreover, the Taliban is, like the Kabul government, a foreign creation, alien to many Afghan traditions and hostile to many Afghan ethnic and religious groups. The point, however, is to concentrate of what is institutionally achievable, which in this case does not involve creating a Huntington-esque ideal type military organization. I also think that this point (highlighted in Matt’s second post on the subject) may well be correct; the Afghan Army that exists today may already be capable of preventing large scale Taliban control of Afghan territory, or at least of helping to enforce a favorable political settlement with assorted Taliban groups.

Six Greatest Senators of All Time

[ 0 ] August 26, 2009 |

Loomis has a list.


[ 0 ] August 26, 2009 |

Sorry for the nearly unprecedented (and perhaps blessed) period of silence on my end — my move to New York’s lovely capital region currently involves (in addition to too many unopened boxes to count) Internet access neither at home or at the office. Both situations are likely to be resolved imminently, so the regular pontificating should resume in the near future.