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[ 0 ] July 6, 2009 |

Andy McCarthy ingests more than his daily allowance of crazy pills (and let me tell you, that’s a lot of crazy pills):

The Wall Street Journal (as flagged in the NRO web briefing) reports on rioting in China by Uighur “students” that has left scores dead and hundreds wounded. The “students,” described elsewhere in the story as from a “predominantly Muslim ethnic group[, which has] long chafed at restrictions on their civil liberties and religious practices imposed by a Chinese government fearful of political dissent,” expressed their dissent by torching cars and buses, as well as — according to accounts of some witnesses to state-controlled media — rampaging “with big knives stabbing people” on the street.

No reason for non-Muslims in Bermuda, Palau, or the United States to worry, though. The lovable Uighurs are merely trying to address “economic and social discrimination.” Once they get social justice, I’m sure they’ll stop.

It’s hard to figure out where to start… for one, there was a time at which movement conservatives were mildly skeptical of the claims made in Chinese state media. Apparently this is no longer the case. There was also a time at which conservatives would have celebrated a provincial rebellion against our communist superpower existential foe*, but apparently there was a memo or something to the effect that “Anyone from any ethnic group that has members who have ever been incarcerated in Guantanamo deserves the swift, brutal justice of the Chinese state. Pass it on.” I also like how McCarthy has tossed aside the values of democracy and self-determination just to score points against liberals; this doesn’t even rise to the level of coherence displayed by Chucky “Bring back the Shah” Krauthammer.

The rest of the Corner crew, it appears, has tactfully declined comment.

Hat tip to Chet.

*of the week


Sarah Palin: The First Politician Ever to Be Criticized In Less Than Fully Rational Ways!

[ 0 ] July 6, 2009 |

See Adam, Steve, Jill and Steve for the obvious rejoinder to Douthat’s claim that it’s only politicians of Palin’s gender and class background who can expect that their “children will go through the tabloid wringer” and their “religion will be mocked and misrepresented.” Even leaving aside the press’ longstanding war on Clinton and Gore, as Adam notes we have an excellent ongoing example of an Ivy League meritocrat being subjected to all kinds of race-and-gender driven attacks in Sonia Sotomayor. Palin was indeed subjected to some attacks based on her gender and class (as well as many more perfectly legitimate and substantive ones), but this ongoing conservative meme that there’s something unusual about the vitriol directed at Palin is absurd.

Roy has more on winger reactions to the Palin resignation here.

Independence Day, Redux (from a British perspective)

[ 0 ] July 6, 2009 |

Yeah, I know.  But an American colleague of mine at this rain soaked university sent me this yesterday.  These two are amongst the funniest guys on the planet (just ignore all the House bs, his best work was with Stephen Fry by miles).  This is not unfunny.


[ 0 ] July 6, 2009 |

It appears that Old Man McNamara has passed. I’m not sure it’s correct to say he has a “mixed” legacy; he was a terrible wartime Secretary of Defense, and the fact that he apparently felt the war was pointless from the beginning doesn’t really win him any points. Had war been avoided he might be remembered as a fine SecDef, but the war poisoned the reforms he tried to enact at the Pentagon. While I value “Fog of War” as a historical document, I still think that Morris let McNamara get away with far too much at too low of a price. Someday, someone will write a fabulous book comparing and contrasting Robert McNamara with Don Rumsfeld.

. . . update (davenoon): Meantime, this old post from the much-missed Jon Swift will have to do…

First Against the Wall When the Revolution Comes is….

[ 0 ] July 6, 2009 |

Ezra Klein.

…see also Ebert (via Lance).

A Green Light?

[ 0 ] July 6, 2009 |

I guess that I don’t read Biden’s comment in the same way that Marc Lynch:

BIDEN: Look, Israel can determine for itself — it’s a sovereign nation — what’s in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Whether we agree or not?

BIDEN: Whether we agree or not. They’re entitled to do that. Any sovereign nation is entitled to do that. But there is no pressure from any nation that’s going to alter our behavior as to how to proceed.

What we believe is in the national interest of the United States, which we, coincidentally, believe is also in the interest of Israel and the whole world. And so there are separate issues.

If the Netanyahu government decides to take a course of action different than the one being pursued now, that is their sovereign right to do that. That is not our choice.

I read this as Biden distancing the United States from any Israeli attack; this is to say that, if the Israelis do attack Iran, that the United States had nothing to do with it. I don’t really see it as the US giving Israel a green light; why would such a message ever been given in public? I probably wouldn’t have used the phrase “entitled” but the point seems to be to draw a distinction between Israel and the US, rather than to indicate a preferred course of action to the Israelis.

… to clarify a bit, Israel is unlikely to ask for overflight permission from anyone, Iraqi, Saudi, or American, if it wants to attack Iran. The chances of US aircraft shooting down attacking Israeli fighters as they cross Iraq is approximately zero, and the Iraqis don’t have the capability. This is to say that the Israelis do not need our permission to attack Iran, whether they’re crossing Iraqi airspace or Saudi. What I read this statement as saying is this: “What the Israelis do, they do on their own. An Israeli attack on Iran is not part of US policy.”

I should add that this is yet another case in which supposedly clear “messages” turn out to be remarkably murky.

EMP: A Special Breed of Crazy

[ 0 ] July 6, 2009 |

Dick Destiny does the work. Via AG.

Typhoons Coming Back?

[ 0 ] July 6, 2009 |

Via Chet, the coolest submarines ever built may be returning to service:

A week ago, Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy, the Navy Commander-in-Chief, told journalists that the Navy intends to keep Project 941 Typhoon submarines in service. These submarines were waiting for some kind of decision about their future since at least 2004, then the Navy disbanded the division that held them.

It appears that the Navy plan is to keep the Project 941 submarines, but without ballistic missiles – as cruise missile carriers or in some other role (these options were mentioned some time ago). I’m not sure why the Navy would want to get into the trouble of converting the submarines, but this definitely can be done. Especially since the conversion would not have to involve cutting out the missile compartment as it is required by the START treaty.

Speculative and vague? Yes, but conversion of the surviving Typhoons to SSGN status would certainly be possible, and would be roughly similar to what the USN has done with four of the Ohios. As to why the Russians would do it… well, why do they ever do anything?

I almost feel dirty after watching that.

Book Review: The Accidental Guerrilla

[ 1 ] July 5, 2009 |

This is the fourth installment of a seven part series on the Patterson School’s Summer Reading List.

  1. World of Nations, William Keylor
  2. The Bottom Billion, Paul Collier
  3. Hide and Seek, Charles Duelfer
  4. Second World, Parag Khanna
  5. The Accidental Guerrilla, David Kilcullen

Seven years ago, David Kilcullen was an obscure officer in the Australian Army. He served in East Timor, and wrote a dissertation on guerrilla warfare in traditional societies. Today, he is the military equivalent of a rock star, with a degree of influence in the US military rarely enjoyed by foreigners. Kilcullen rose to prominence by developing and codifying a set of principles for fighting modern counter-insurgency warfare, and became part of the team that imprinted these principles institutionally in the US military. Accidental Guerrilla describes his experiences and the essentials of his theory of guerrilla warfare.

Kilcullen’s title refers to his theory of insurgent behavior. Most guerrillas and insurgents, he argues, do not share in the overarching set of political goals represented by the insurgency. They fight because their relatives have been killed or their lands have been burned by the government/occupier, or they fight because the insurgent forces have threatened to kill them, or because the insurgent forces have offered to pay them, or because they’re simply bored and the insurgents are offering something to do. The last sounds trite, but ought to be taken seriously; an insurgency can offer young men in pre-modern agrarian areas the opportunity for travel and excitement. If most guerrillas don’t actual share the ideological premises of the insurgency, then the trick to is to create conditions under which they don’t have an interest in aiding or joining the insurgents. This means laying the foundations for economic development, creating opportunities for the underemployed, not killing people’s families or clan associates, and protecting people from attacks by insurgents. Such activities will, eventually, isolate the core of the insurgency, and force it into steadily riskier attacks in order to maintain its position and resources.

This is a fairly standard description of what has come to be accepted as modern counter-insurgency theory. It is embodied doctrinally in FM 3-24, to which Kilcullen contributed and which bears obvious similarity to the argument laid out in Accidental Guerrilla. Kilcullen focuses a great deal on the understanding of local cultures and the appreciation of local grievances. If few guerrillas are motivated by the overarching ideological goals of the insurgency, then most have local concerns in mind. Understanding local power structures, social units, and decision-making procedures is thus critical to successful COIN. This preference has found institutional life in the Human Terrain System and similar approaches to collecting information on localities.

While counter-insurgency theory has been adopted by substantial portions of the military and political elite, it is not without its critics. Kilcullen takes a short aside to denounce Ralph Peters, who criticized the counter-insurgency turn as being too touchy feely and not sufficiently oriented around the butchery of the wogs. Another line of criticism suggests that COIN isn’t terribly different than the normal operations that modern armies conduct, and thus that the “COIN revolution” has involved much smoke and little fire. I don’t find this latter line of argument particularly compelling; the training required by officers and enlisted personnel in a military organization emphasizing COIN would seem to differ considerably from that required in a more conventionally oriented army. This doesn’t necessarily mean that COIN doctrine will manifest in every single soldier or in every unit, but it does suggest preference for a different set of skills and aptitudes than are required in a conventional force. Yet another line of critique accepts that COIN is substantially different than conventional operations, but argues that this leaves the United States particularly vulnerable; developing a capacity to fight effectively in Iraq and Afghanistan means losing the ability to fight in large scale conventional operations. I’m convinced of the first part, but not convinced that the second is at all relevant; it is difficult for me to imagine plausible scenarios in the short or medium term (other, perhaps, than North Korea) where the United States is under any threat that would require the deployment of significant conventional land forces.

Accidental Guerrilla will not fully soothe the fears of those who believe that counter-insurgency theory and practice is a stand in for empire. This critique has emerged on both the political right and the left. The steps that an army will undertake in a counter-insurgency campaign essentially replace the presence of domestic security forces, including police and military. This procedure lies at the heart of all successful imperialism; we kill the bad men with guns, replace them for a time with our own men and guns, and eventually turn security duties over to a friendlier, more accomodating set of men with guns. Furthermore, Kilcullen is hostile to the notion that precision attacks of the type we see in Pakistan are suitable to winning a counter-insurgency conflict. Counter-insurgency cannot be done on the cheap; campaigns like Afghanistan and Iraq can only be won if military organizations replace the essential functions of the state. That said, Kilcullen also argues that counter-insurgency operations are extremely difficult, with the clear implication being that they shouldn’t be undertaken lightly, if at all. He notes his opposition to the invasion of Iraq, both on the grounds that the operation had a low chance of success, and that it was tangential to larger US and Western foreign policy goals. Overall, I would suggest that his thinking on the place that counter-insurgency practice plays in the foreign policy of the United States is roughly similar to my own. COIN is compatible with imperialism, and is probably necessary to successful modern imperialism in a democratic state; however, it does not necessitate imperialism. The United States Army prepared for war in the Fulda Gap for sixty years without actually engaging in such war; it is similarly possible for counter-insurgency theory to be part of the foreign policy toolbox, yet not the tool of choice.

As an advocate for and architect of the Surge, Kilcullen emphasizes its impact on the reduction of violence in Iraq more than ethnic cleansing or the tribal awakening movement. He points out that previous efforts by tribal organizations to resist Al Qaeda had failed, and suggests that the reason the Anbar Awakening succeeded is that it was backed by US forces that were a) capable, and b) knew what they were doing. While there’s certainly cause to argue with the notion that the Surge single-handedly reduced violence in Iraq (it did not), and there are certainly questions to be asked about its long term strategic impact (it may have succeeded only insofar as it allowed the US to stay in Iraq longer), I do think that the harshest criticisms of the Surge have not born fruit. It’s one thing to say that the Surge was unlikely to “win” the war in Iraq, and entirely another to suggest that it would be wholly useless and have no meaningful positive impact. In 2006-7, I was pretty strongly in the latter camp, arguing that the Surge was too little, too late and that it would have no noticeable effect on the course of events in Iraq. While I’m not prepared to take back the mean things I said about Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, it’s no longer tenable to argue that the Surge was operationally (as opposed to strategically) doomed to failure. In combination with other factors (and there’s no way to tell how much each factor contributed) the Surge helped reduce violence well below what I had thought possible; I don’t know how much money I would have bet on the “over 313” US casualties for 2008, but it’s fair to say it would have been a lot. Of course, withdrawal beginning in 2007 is the road not taken, but I argued not simply that the Surge was worse than withdrawal, but that it would fail according to its own metrics. Farley fail.

The term “must read” is by its nature trite; there really isn’t any book that everyone “must read” or have something horrible happen to them. Accidental Guerrilla, however, comes about as close as I can imagine to such status. It doesn’t hurt that Kilcullen is a remarkably good writer, with lucid, well-constructed prose and an eye for the relevant. Even if you’re not deeply interested in the ins and outs of counter-insurgency theory, it’s likely that you’ll enjoy Accidental Guerrilla. Even if you bitterly disagree with Kilcullen’s premises, it’s likely that you’ll find his argument useful, if only as a foil.

Moments In High Broderism

[ 0 ] July 5, 2009 |

Alas, Krugman’s response to Broder noting Franken’s well-above-the-Senate-mean knowledge of public policy probably won’t cut any ice, given that there’s nothing worse to Broder than actually caring about public policy. Remember his attacks on the borrr-ing Al Gore and his actual interest in public policy?

I have to confess, my attention wandered as he went on through page after page of other swell ideas, and somewhere between hate crimes legislation and a crime victim’s constitutional amendment, I almost nodded off.

The fact that Franken almost certainly knows far more about public policy than Broder just makes him worse!

In addition, I wonder if Broder will share with is the names of the “scholars” who allegedly claim that as “such complex legislation is being shaped, the substance is likely to be improved when both sides of the aisle contribute ideas.” This is more Brockington’s department, but if I understand correctly many scholars that that Westmintster systems in which the opposition party has pretty much no say in policy outcomes perform as well or better as separation-of-powers systems. At any rate, given that the Republicans in this case aren’t trying to “contribute ideas” but to “stop the Democrats from enacting any decent legislation” the point is moot.

Matt has more on what actual “scholars” have to say on the subject.

Happy Independence Day Mark II

[ 0 ] July 5, 2009 |

Paul Giamatti was great with the crabby and all, but William Daniels will always be my John Adams.


[ 0 ] July 4, 2009 |

A talented, gutty player. R.I.P.