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Caveats on the American Way of War

[ 0 ] April 29, 2007 |

A couple of minor caveats regarding Yglesias’ discussion of the use of artillery in Iraq:

1. There’s a risk to taking the “American Way of War” a bit too seriously; the character and nature of the United States Army prior to 1900 is radically different than what we grew to accept in the 20th century. The Army prior to 1900 was primarily an anti-guerilla force, and one that was comfortable with the political role that Jeff Record argues has grown beyond its ken. For a number of reasons, not least the desire to heal intra-service rifts following the Civil War, the model had changed by the 20th century.

2. As Record helpfully points out, the Marine Corps has never fit the mold of high firepower, high tech, high intensity war organization. The role of the Marine Corps has shifted over the years, but it has consistently had more expertise and more success in low intensity conflicts than the Army.

3. Consequently, it’s wrong to think that there’s something intrinsically problematic about American counter-insurgency operations. The Army has handled such operations in the past, and the Marine Corps has conducted such operations on and off since its inception. The problem with the Army is the organizational culture that has developed over the last century, but this culture is subject to change, if only slowly.

And to respond a bit to this comment, I think it’s absolutely wrong to say that counter-insurgency is simply normal operations plus genocide. There has been an enormous range of counter-insurgency efforts over the last two centuries, some of which have verged on genocide, and most of which have not. Contra Glen, there’s a pretty wide body of work on low intensity operations, all of which suggests a different set of skills for such tasks than for high intensity military operations. It’s probably not quite right to say that counter-insurgency warfare represents a “science” but it surely cheapens the word “genocide” to conflate the varieties of counter-insurgency operations together as “war against the people”.

Sunday Light Cruiser Blogging: USS Phoenix

[ 0 ] April 29, 2007 |

USS Phoenix was the fifth of the Brooklyn class, a group of light cruisers designed in response to the Japanese Mogami class and the restrictions imposed by the London Naval Treaty of 1930. The Treaty, in an effort to limit competition in heavy cruisers, established limits on the number of 8″ gunned cruisers allowed each of the major signatories. The hope, especially on the part of the British, was that naval architects would design new cruisers around the 6″ gun, and scale down the size of the ships appropriately. Unfortunately for the cash strapped Admiralty, this did not occur. Instead, the Japanese built the Mogami class, each armed with 15 6″ guns and as large as a heavy cruiser. The US responded with the Brooklyns, also armed with 15 6″ guns, displacing about 10000 tons, and capable of 33 knots. In US naval doctrine of the time, light cruisers were expected to lay down a wall of fire alongside the main battle line, thus deterring destroyers from closing and launching torpedo attacks. Heavy cruisers would destroy enemy heavy and light cruisers. In practice, there was little functional difference between heavy and light cruisers, as the 6″ guns rapid reload time made up for the extra punch of the 8″ gun. Moreover, pre-war light cruiser doctrine proved impractical, as the wall of fire concept led to extremely inaccurate gunnery. This forced light cruisers to rely on salvo fire instead.

Commissioned in late 1938, USS Phoenix was present at Pearl Harbor, but escaped the attack unharmed. She carried out many missions in the first two years of the war, but did not see combat against Japanese ships or aircraft until June 1944, when she was serially attacked by Japanese bombers and torpedo aircraft. Near misses resulted in light damage. She was part of Admiral Oldendorf’s force at the Battle of Surigao Strait in October 1944, and contributed to the destruction of HIJMS Yamashiro. The rest of her war service was spent mostly in escort, and although accompanying ships experienced several kamikaze attacks, Phoenix escaped damage. After the war, Phoenix was placed in reserve.

In April 1951, USS Phoenix was sold to Argentina, becoming Diecisiete de Octubre. She was accompanied by her sister Boise, which became Nuevo de Julio. The Brooklyn class cruisers essentially replaced the aging dreadnoughts that the Southern Cone navies had possessed since the 1910s. In addition to the two Argentine ships, Chile picked up two and Brazil one. In 1956 Diecisiete de Octubre was renamed General Belgrano, after an Argentine independence leader. In 1968 General Belgrano was partially modernized, and equipped with two British Sea Cat missile launchers. The Sea Cat, an early anti-aircraft weapon, fired a missile capable of mach .8, slower than most jet fighters and surface-to-surface missiles at the time.

Apart from conducting the initial landings, the Argentine Navy was largely quiet at the beginning of the Falklands War. On April 26, however, it was decided to dispatch General Belgrano and two escort destroyers on patrol south of the islands. Although the political purpose of this patrol was understandable, its military logic is unclear. General Belgrano did have certain advantages against modern naval vessels. Her 6″ guns would have made very short work of any British ships unfortunate enough to wander within twelve or so miles. General Belgrano’s armor, while considerably lighter than a battleship, might still have been sufficient to provide considerable protection from the surface-to-surface missiles of the day. However, while General Belgrano’s initial probe was in the direction of the British task force, it is extremely unlikely that any British surface ship would have wandered into her patrol area. Having virtually no anti-air or anti-submarine capability, her ability to decisively affect the battle was extremely low. On May 2, General Belgrano and her group began repositioning toward the Argentine mainland, perhaps in preparation for another sortie to be coordinated with the Argentine Air Force.

Unfortunately for the Argentines, ARA General Belgrano had been detected by the submarine HMS Conqueror on April 29. Conqueror shadowed the group while Prime Minister Margart Thatcher decided on an appropriate course of action. On May 2, she decided that Conqueror should attack the Argentine cruiser. Conqueror moved into position and fired three conventional, non-homing torpedos at General Belgrano. Two of the torpedos hit. The captains of the accompanying destroyers claimed that, because of the gloom and the electrical failure on the cruiser, they were unaware that General Belgrano had been hit. They moved off, and only noticed the absence of the cruiser several hours later. Inspection after the battle would indicate that one of the destroyers had been hit by a torpedo that failed to explode, indicating, among other things, superb marksmanship on the part of Conqueror. Severely damaged, General Belgrano rolled over and sank about thirty minutes after the attack. 770 of the crew were later rescued, but 323 Argentines died.

There had been some hope for mediation before the attack on General Belgrano, but these hopes sank almost as quickly as the cruiser. Argentines have ascribed belligerant motives to the British, claiming that the ship was outside a previously announced exclusion zone, and that it was moving away from the British task force. However, the exclusion zone was generally understood to have been abrogated, and no principle of war excludes attacks on retreating, as opposed to surrendered, enemy forces. Indeed, since General Belgrano was repositioning rather than retreating, she still represented a potential threat to British forces. Finally, while General Belgrano’s obsolescence limited the threat that she could pose to British forces, there remained some plausible ways in which she could have restricted British operations around the islands. Moreover, the sinking of General Belgrano helped deter the Argentine Navy from further action, greatly facilitating the British war effort.

Imperial Nostalgia

[ 0 ] April 29, 2007 |

“Holy shit” doesn’t quite describe this piece in McKristol’s Quarterly Concern, wherein the author not only fails to spell Thomas Hobbes’ name correctly even once, but also dishes out exactly what one would expect from someone whose oeuvre consists of prose renditions of Rudyard Kipling poems.

Behold:

Because of and in spite of Hollywood films like The African Queen and television shows like Tarzan, tropical Africa south of the Sahara and north of the Zambezi is terra incognito for most Americans. Some cling to fragments of the “noble savage” myth advanced by Jean Jacques Rousseau, who argued that in an idyllic “state of nature” uncorrupted by civilization, people are innocent, happy, and brave.

Others accept the opposing myth promulgated by Thomas Hobbs [sic] that in a “State of Nature,” there are “no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worse of all, persistent fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Neither myth reflects the real tropical Africa that I saw in the 1960s while there researching three books on U.S. policy. Almost everywhere I saw poverty, corruption, and a retreat from the rudimentary rule of law established by the British and French colonial powers.

As Kempton Makamure, a political opponent of President Mugabe, wrote recently in Zimbabwe’s Financial Gazette, “It is entirely possible that conflicts within independent states in Africa have caused more privation, deaths and stalled development than the colonial rule they have replaced.”

President Kennedy and some of his Africa hands were more optimistic. Naive might be a better word. They saw themselves as heralds of freedom. Unduly critical of the European colonists, they seemed unaware that the British, for example, had ended slavery 79 years before Lincoln signed the Emaciation Proclamation. Perhaps the greatest flaw in the official U.S. perception was the failure to recognize that long before the Europeans had arrived, Africa had seethed with tribal wars and indigenous slavery. The Western traffic in human beings would not have been possible without the active participation of African slavers eager to sell Africans of other tribes to their Western counterparts. As a poignant African proverb put it, “The tears of a stranger are only water.”

Back to Hobbs [sic, unless he's actually talking about the florist, in which case I heartily apologize for the error]. If it took a thousand years for the barbarian tribes of Europe to become democratic and prosperous states, how long will it take African tribes that missed the Renaissance, Reformation, Magna Carta, and Industrial Revolution?

It’s remarkable that the Standard, as ignorant as its historical thought pieces tend to be, would actually publish this kind of childish white supremacy. The non-sequiturs about “missing” the Renaissance and Industrial Revolution make just as much sense as they did when they were breathlessly declared at 19th century ethnological societies, where deveotees of Lewis Henry Morgan wondered if the “high savages” might soon ascend to the level of barbarians.

As for the actual historical commentary here, it hardly seems worth mentioning, for example, that Britain’s abolition of slavery took place after the Royal African Company and scores of successor enterprises had robbed the continent of millions of souls over the course of more than 200 years. Anti-slavery advocates did not regard abolition and emancipation as somehow compensatory for the crimes of two centuries, and so their accomplishments cannot be credited with that sort of moral outcome. And the fact that slavery and warfare existed prior to European conquest of the planet is an irrelevant red herring (as always); Africans did not capitalize the slave trade, globalize it, and use it to generate a pernicious mythology of racial supremacy that fueled, among other things, the development of regional monocultures that demanded the complete expulsion of indigenous people (African and otherwise) from the land.

Having said that, I’ll brush past the juxtaposition of Rousseau and Hobbes — a rhetorical move usually reserved for high school term papers — and simply note that Lefever’s real point is to mourn the vacated glory of Rhodesia, whose racist settlement policies and political organization (he claims) were misunderstood by Americans who drew “false comparisons” to Jim Crow laws and the expropriation of Indian land. And since for Lafever the only alternative to Robert Mugabe’s rule is the return of gentlemanly racists like Ian Smith, the entire project of African independence must be viewed with skepticism and deep moral concern over the “preparedness” of such people for self-rule.

The whole thing is loaded with bigoted historical fantasy, topped off by a quote from Piny the Elder. That would be the Roman natural historian Pliny the Elder, who died in the Pompeii eruption in 79 CE and believed that there were people in Africa who actually looked like this:

Single-handedly Justifying the Blogosphere

[ 0 ] April 29, 2007 |

I’ll grant that the awfulness of today’s comic sections was near the top of the list of the topics I liked to engage in dorm-dinner-table rants about (foreshadowing my inevitable entry into a blogosphere), so I’m a particularly ripe audience. Nonetheless, I think it’s plain that Joe Mathlete Explains Today’s Marmaduke and the Comics Curmudgeon are among the best. sites. evah.

Taking One For The Team

[ 0 ] April 28, 2007 |

One of the most frustrating aspects of being a Yankee-hater (or, in other words, a decent human being) is watching Mariano Rivera put up 200 ERA+s every single damned year. Yes, yes, he’s by far the greatest closer of all time, but throwing 75 innings a year you would think that one year hits would just start to drop; there’s simply no precedent for that many incredible years in a row. (Eckersley and Hoffman did it once; Sutter never did it.) Clearly, there was only one way of solving the problem. So I sucked it up and paid a hefty fee for him at this year’s auction. And:

1-2 0 SV 12.15 ERA

You’re welcome!

But I Must Know, What Does Kiper Think?

[ 0 ] April 28, 2007 |

Argh. Is there a bigger waste of 26 hours of TV than ESPN’s coverage of the NFL Draft? I mean, Christ, what’s wrong with people that they’ve managed to convince themselves that listening to Mel Kiper and half-a-dozen other idiots blathering on about left tackles for two days constitutes entertainment? I don’t really blame ESPN; if the draft didn’t get ratings, it wouldn’t be on. I blame America. Here’s a tip; if you turn off your TV and do something with your life for the next day and a half, you can STILL get the results on Sunday night. They’ll even come in a convenient list format.

While I’m on the subject, let me further decry the creeping, expansive coverage of the NFL on Sportscenter. It’s April, for crying out loud, and I nevertheless find myself subjected to such tripe as “Which AFC South team will have the easiest road in November?” The NFL is fine, but there are alternative athletic options for our viewing pleasure…

Zanger Bob

[ 0 ] April 28, 2007 |

He turns 11 years old today. If the intertubes can make a star out of Pam Oshry or Ann Althouse, it can make a star out of a chunky Dutch kid. Long live strange European pop music!

In unrelated birthday news, Saddam Hussein would be turning 70 today if not for . . . well . . . you know.

But Trent Lott Was Forced To Resign Before Becoming the Second Most Powerful Senate Republican!

[ 0 ] April 28, 2007 |

Seriously, can someone make a case that this isn’t even worse than what Imus did? As Digby reminds us:

Rush is not some misunderstood schlub who just made a few slightly off-color jokes and doesn’t understand why it bothers some people.He’s not even a nasty old racist/misogynist creep like Imus who just thought he could demean anybody he felt like and make big money doing it. Rush Limbaugh a professional cog in the GOP machine who has been helping to set the political agenda in this country for more than a decade. He knows exactly what he’s doing when he plays on racist stereotypes and it isn’t just for the laughs.

Yet in 2000 NBC hired him to do election commentary. ESPN later hired him to do sports. The Republican party defends even the most disgusting of his antics. The president himself appeared on his show just days before last fall’s election.

This flagrant racist is a major part of the GOP. It can’t be emphasized enough. And while one would like to think there’s a better defense available than bizarre homophobic slurs, some appalling racist nonsense about Hillary Clinton and attempts to argue that pointing out someone’s explicit racism is suppressing their “free speech,” let’s be frank: there really isn’t a better defense available.

…it is the crazy season.

More on the Terrorism in Austin

[ 0 ] April 27, 2007 |

From Amie Newman.

You Forgot Poland!

[ 0 ] April 27, 2007 |

Shorter Wingnut:

“Poland’s homophobic purges and suppression of free speech resistance to the gay agenda inspires me.”

I’ve long since stopped being amazed when conservatives — who ordinarily toe the line of American exceptionalism — venture abroad to discover illiberal alternatives to whatever it is they abhor about American culture. Ordinarily, these folks can’t be bothered to care what anyone else in the world thinks about climate change, capital punishment, land mines, nuclear weapons, or any other issue on which there’s a broad international consensus. When it comes to issues of sexuality or family planning, though, many conservatives are perfectly comfortable aligning themselves with the world’s cultural retrogrades and reactionary theocrats (some of whom they also insist we’re opposing in an existential war for the survival of Christendom). Eric Langborgh prefers to view Poland as the closest European cultural peer of the US, but he’s just transparently picking cherries to support his bogus thesis that Poland’s challenge to “the rest of secularized Europe” is somehow commendable.

Here’s some context to what’s going on in Poland:

President Lech Kaczynski . . . has made it clear that he sees homosexuality as a threat. On February 20, during a visit to Ireland, he stated, “If that kind of approach to sexual life were to be promoted on a grand scale, the human race would disappear.”

The proposed homophobic legislation follows a series of recent threats and abuses against lesbian and gay Poles by state officials. In June, the State Prosecutor’s office issued a letter to prosecutors in the municipalities of Legnica, Wroclaw, Walbryzch, Opole and Jelenia Gora ordering in sweeping terms investigations into the conduct of “homosexuals” on unspecified allegations of “pedophilia.”

Polish officials have also repeatedly tried to restrict the rights of LGBT people to free speech and assembly. In 2004 and 2005, when he was mayor of Warsaw, President Kaczynski intended to ban Gay Pride marches, though the parades were allowed to proceed after administrative courts held the ban unconstitutional. Authorities also tried to ban the LGBT Equality Parade in Warsaw scheduled to take place on June 10, 2006. Wojciech Wierzejski, a member of parliament from the League of Polish Families (Liga Polskich Rodzin, or LPR) said last May, “If deviants start to demonstrate, they should be bashed with a baton.”

This most recent attack on lesbian and gay rights comes at a time when homophobic policies and anti-Semitic rhetoric by Polish officials have come under increasing international scrutiny. On March 15, the president of the European Parliament reprimanded a Polish member, Maciej Giertych, for publishing an anti-Semitic pamphlet, marking the first time a member of the European Parliament was sanctioned for violations of the EU body’s principles of mutual respect.

Basing policy on false assumptions? Suppressing rights to public assembly? Endorsements of state-sponsored wilding? Sounds like a model to me.

Tough

[ 0 ] April 27, 2007 |

From Armed Forces Journal, Lt. Colonel Paul Yingling. Apparently, this has been making the rounds inside the USMC. It’s surprising and impressive to see an LTC aim the guns at his superiors.

After failing to visualize the conditions of combat in Iraq, America’s generals failed to adapt to the demands of counterinsurgency. Counterinsurgency theory prescribes providing continuous security to the population. However, for most of the war American forces in Iraq have been concentrated on large forward-operating bases, isolated from the Iraqi people and focused on capturing or killing insurgents. Counterinsurgency theory requires strengthening the capability of host-nation institutions to provide security and other essential services to the population. America’s generals treated efforts to create transition teams to develop local security forces and provincial reconstruction teams to improve essential services as afterthoughts, never providing the quantity or quality of personnel necessary for success.

After going into Iraq with too few troops and no coherent plan for postwar stabilization, America’s general officer corps did not accurately portray the intensity of the insurgency to the American public. The Iraq Study Group concluded that “there is significant underreporting of the violence in Iraq.” The ISG noted that “on one day in July 2006 there were 93 attacks or significant acts of violence reported. Yet a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light 1,100 acts of violence. Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals.” Population security is the most important measure of effectiveness in counterinsurgency. For more than three years, America’s generals continued to insist that the U.S. was making progress in Iraq. However, for Iraqi civilians, each year from 2003 onward was more deadly than the one preceding it. For reasons that are not yet clear, America’s general officer corps underestimated the strength of the enemy, overestimated the capabilities of Iraq’s government and security forces and failed to provide Congress with an accurate assessment of security conditions in Iraq. Moreover, America’s generals have not explained clearly the larger strategic risks of committing so large a portion of the nation’s deployable land power to a single theater of operations.

Read the whole thing. He argues that only Congress can provide a solution.

Sunstein on Reproductive Freedom and Gender Equality

[ 0 ] April 27, 2007 |

Last week, Bean pointed us to this op-ed by Cass Sunstein, who argued that Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent in Carhart II–which rooted a woman’s right to obtain an abortion on the basis that most attempts to interfere with this right violate a woman’s equal citizenship–may well become the Court’s majority one day. In the long sweep of history, this is probably right, and certainly this provides a compelling doctrinal basis. (Reva Siegel, a pioneer in equal protection theory, argues in the recent book What Roe Should Have Said that such an opinion would have been possible for the Court to advance based on the legal materials available in 1973.) A few random comments about Sunstein’s argument:

  • While I think gender equality is fundamental to a woman’s right to choose an abortion, I don’t agree with Sunstein’s assertion that “[m]uch more than the right to privacy, the ban on sex discrimination is firmly entrenched in constitutional doctrines.” [my emphasis] Whether or not one finds it a persuasive reading of the text, the “right to privacy” is perfectly well-entrenched in precedents that have no chance of being overturned reaching back to the 20s, and the doctrine provides a compelling basis for Roe (at the very least, there can be no serious question that choosing an abortion represents a fundamental right; the only question is whether there is a sufficiently compelling state interest to override it.) Moreover, I think that Sunstein creates a false dichotomy here. As the post-1980 jurisprudence of Blackmun, Stevens, and Ginsburg (and, in the case of the husband notification provision, even O’Connor) makes clear, recognition of a woman’s equality rights can be, and is, an important part of applying “the right to privacy” (a somewhat misleading name applied to a line of cases that are really about a broader right to reproductive autonomy). As Carhart II makes strikingly clear, asserted state interests in regulating abortion almost always embody reactionary gender mores, so gender equality is always relevant no matter what docrtine is being applied.
  • One striking thing about Sunstein’s article is what a radical revision of the “minimalist” position on Roe he had previously advanced it is. One implication of the gender equality argument, as Sunstein seems to accept, is that abortion regulations (the 24-hour waiting period is a particularly obvious example) that might be colorable when applying a due process argument are plainly impermissible when applying a gender equality standard. Resting on equal protection also seems likely to have at least as broad an effect on other areas of the law. I certainly approve of all of this, but it’s a strange position for someone who had previously argued that the Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence should rest on the narrowest possible grounds and leave the largest possible space for subsequent legislative regulation to advocate without explanation for the switch.
  • I do think that Sunstein deserves credit for acknowledging that “the sex equality argument will not be convincing to committed opponents of the abortion right.” I like discussing the finer points of abortion doctrine considerably more than the next person, but it’s important to recognize that in terms of the public acceptance of the decision, or subsequent results on the Supreme Court, the weak craftsmanship of Roe is irrelevant. (For one thing, as Carhart II makes depressingly clear, the gender equality argument won’t persuade many opponents of abortion because they’re against gender equality.) Whether Ginsburg’s jurisprudence will secure 5 votes will depend on Presidential and Senate elections, not on it being a more attractive jufiscatory framework.
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