Subscribe via RSS Feed

Privilege the Subjective

[ 0 ] March 21, 2008 |

Matt writes:

It’s striking how much of conservative thinking about national security these days centers around subjective factors — determination, emboldening, “claiming victory” — rather than on objective assessments. Objectively speaking, withdrawing from Iraq would cut off a major line of recruiting for al-Qaeda while simultaneously freeing up vast quantities of American manpower and other resources. How “bold” that makes al-Qaeda leaders feel (and you’ve got to figure these fuckers were pretty “emboldened’ already when they blew up the twin towers, right?) has nothing to do with anything.

Two and a half thoughts on this…

First, I think there is a thread in American culture that privileges subjective factors like “determination”, “reputation”, “boldness”, etc. over objective material factors. Moreover, I think that evocations of reputation, toughness, etc. are more commonly made in the South than in other regions; as such, the increasing dominance of the South in Republican Party politics makes these evocations more key to the conservative understanding of the world. You could say that conservative elites manipulate these attitudes in a cynical way, but I don’t think that’s the entire story; elites, after all, are subject to the same cultural norms that everyone else is subject to. Consequently, we see plenty of evocations of our toughness and credibility (such that we see ourselves as “tough” and “determined” for pulverizing a country with less than a tenth of our population and less than a hundredth of our economic might) even when objective factors favor us; it’s unsurprising that such arguments are pushed to the fore when material reality proves disappointing.

Second, subjective factors are being forced to do the work that material factors should be doing. The Iraq War was, as much as anything else, motivated by the Ledeen Doctrine, the need to pound some little country to dust just to show that we could. The “light footprint” invasion was designed to indicate to potential enemies that we had the capability to do this over and over again; we could invade whomever we wished whenever we wished with whatever forces we had available, and still be essentially guaranteed of victory. This capability, even in the absence of a strong will (and conservatives haven’t actually believed that the American people have a strong will since at least Vietnam; most of them still, essentially, blame the public for being too weak) would put the fear of God in our enemies and force them to do what we wanted. That Iraq wasn’t actually responsible for 9/11 was hardly the point; when someone spills a drink on you in a bar it is incumbent upon you to kick someones ass, doesn’t matter who, just to demonstrate that you’re not to be trifled with.

But (and we’re to thought 2.5 now) the capabilities bit didn’t work out. No one believes that we have the capacity (broadly defined) to depose the Iranian regime and replace it with folks of our choosing. Iraq has served to gut the capabilities argument. What remains is determination; if we can prove to everyone that we’re really, really determined, really, really resolute, and really, really credible, then they may be as frightened of us as if the Iraq War had actually worked. If we demonstrate the willingness to pay infinite costs in Iraq, then the Iranians will think twice before messing with us, as will the North Koreans, the Russians, etc. This argument is founded on about thirty mutually supporting yet equally absurd elements, but it nevertheless has a certain rhetorical power.

And so the last refuge of the scoundrel is “determination”. Conservatives curl up with tendentious readings of the life of Churchill, and convince themselves that as long as we’re determined, tough, resolute, and credible everything will be okay.

Share with Sociable

SecDef Gates to Air Force: Fight this War

[ 0 ] March 21, 2008 |

Noah summarizes the disputes between Gates and the Air Force to this point..

Last fall, the Pentagon’s civilian chiefs shot down an Air Force move to take over almost all of the military’s big unmanned aircraft. “There has to be a better way to do this,” complained Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Michael “Buzz” Moseley. Things only got more tense when Gates said that the future of conflict is in small, “asymmetric” wars — wars in which the Air Force takes a back seat to ground forces. Then Gates noted that the Air Force’s most treasured piece of gear, the F-22 stealth fighter, basically has no role in the war on terror. And when a top Air Force general said the service was planning on buying twice as many of the jets — despite orders from Gates and the rest of the civilian leadership — he was rebuked for “borderline insubordination.”

…then links to a new one, via Peter Siegel:

Pressure from the Defense secretary in recent months has nearly doubled the number of Predators available to help hunt insurgents and find roadside bombs in Iraq. But it has forced air commanders into a scramble for crews that officers said could hurt morale and harm the long-term viability of the Predator program.

Some officers said pressure from Gates resulted in one plan that could have taken the Air Force down a path similar to the German Luftwaffe, which cut back training in World War II to get more pilots in the air.

“That was the end of their air force,” said Col. Chris Chambliss, commander of the Air Force’s Predator wing. The Air Force plan, presented to the military leadership in January, eventually was scaled back…

Right… the other thing that destroyed the Luftwaffe were the combined air fleets of the United States, Soviet Union, and United Kingdom, which in modernspeak would be referred to as “peer competitors”. There are certainly genuine concerns to be expressed about how an increase in operational tempo can detract from training; in many senses operating is training, but the two projects can differ in non-trivial ways. I do wonder if the logic of operational exhaustion applies as much to Predator operators as to pilots of actual aircraft, since as Noah notes piloting a Predator has always been seen as a fairly cushy gig. There are also some genuine concerns about the effect that high tempo operations will have on maintenance and equipment lifetime.

Nevertheless, I’m forced to wonder whether some of the discomfort the Air Force is having about this has to do with culture and long term mission expectations. The USAF has adapted to the UAV pretty well, but of course there remains a pilot culture that doesn’t find the unmanned thing all that appealing. Moreover, the Air Force as an organization is clearly positioning itslef (in procurement terms) around the possibility of a high intensity war with China. Increasing the salience of the counter-insurgency and UAV missions doesn’t get the Air Force what it wants in terms of material, and could detract from the USAF’s ability to build the kind of force that it wants.

Share with Sociable

A Grim Vision of America’s Future?

[ 1 ] March 21, 2008 |

Praise to the wise ones, our robot masters.

Share with Sociable

[ 3 ] March 21, 2008 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Starbuck and Nelson

Share with Sociable

Better Religion Commentators, Please

[ 53 ] March 21, 2008 |

Criticizing Amy Sullivan isn’t usually my beat, but really:

For decades, the Democratic Party has ghettoized religion, outsourcing it to African-Americans within the party. Democrats who give high-minded explanations for why they consider it inappropriate to mix religion and politics and why they don’t approve of wearing religion on their sleeve don’t bat an eye at politicians visiting black churches. Religion in black churches, they seem to think, isn’t really religion. It’s an ethnic characteristic of an important voting bloc.

I know that this is her schtick, but damn, couldn’t she provide some actual evidence? Did Bill Clinton give a lot of high minded explanations for why it was inappropriate to mix religion and politics? Jimmy Carter? Which “decades” is she referring to? Which “Democratic Party” is she referring to? Does she think the Democratic Party is entirely constituted by an atheist she once met at a coffee shop? The breathtaking inanity of it all makes me wonder if Mickey Kaus built Sullivan in his basement. And this is perhaps the worst:

[Kerry’s] advisers must have considered it good strategy to limit religious rhetoric to “safe” crowds, but the decision was problematic in two ways. First, by speaking about religion only when it could be politically advantageous, Kerry seemed to confirm the criticism that he was pandering and insincere. If religion was really important to him, voters might think, he would talk about it in other settings.

So… let me get this straight. By speaking about religion only when it could be politically advantageous, Kerry seemed pandering and insincere. The trick would have been to talk about religion A LOT, which wouldn’t have been pandering or insincere; as such, talking about religion more than was politically advantageous would have been politically advantageous. Just a little bit of pandering and insincerity is disadvantageous, because it seems like pandering and insincerity, but a ton of pandering and insincerity is, like, really advantageous.

I’m sorry, but why does anyone bother to read Sullivan? Even her concept of “religion” is frustratingly nebulous; you get the sense that in her mind it kind of means something like “sincere” but doesn’t have much meaning beyond that. Maybe I’m biased by the fact that I’d rather have less invocation of nebulous religiosity, but it seems to me that Sullivan herself doesn’t have much to offer other than “more and better pandering, please.”

Share with Sociable

All Seasons

[ 28 ] March 20, 2008 |

Paul Scofield has died; it’s unusual for an actor of his caliber to be so deeply identified with one particular role.

Share with Sociable

Dana Perino: Chicks Don’t Grok Carrier Battle Groups

[ 28 ] March 20, 2008 |

Via Kingdaddy and Jason Sigger, Dana Perino on women in defense:

Some of the terms I just don’t know, I haven’t grown up knowing. The type of missiles that are out there: patriots and scuds and cruise missiles and tomahawk missiles. And I think that men just by osmosis understand all of these things, and they’re things that I really have to work at — to know the difference between a carrier and a destroyer, and what it means when one of those is being launched to a certain area.

Right… because men do have an inborn understanding of the difference between a Tu-95 “Bear” and a Tu-160 “Blackjack”.

The first point worth making is that, as a professor who teaches Defense Statecraft, I can testify without reservation that most men are just as ignorant of defense issues as most women. When they take classes on defense, they learn a lot; Ms. Perino is welcome to sit in on my course anytime she wants. A second point is that one of the most notable shifts in the security/defense academy over the past fifteen years has been the substantial increase in the number of women who do defense; on both the academic and the policy side, the “old boys club” is giving way to a situation in which women are extremely productive on traditional security and defense issues, and have opened up new areas of inquiry.

The last and most important point is that while we commonly here complaints from conservatives about the general ignorance of Americans on defense issues and of the increasing separation of the military experience from public life, it is only because of such ignorance and separation that conservative ideas on defense can thrive. To put it bluntly, this video would only work on a populace utterly ignorant of defense reality. The Iraq War made the most sense to people who knew nothing of the difficulties of military statebuilding, or of the problems of counter-insurgency war. Perhaps most clearly, the anti-ballistic missile system survives only because most people don’t take the time to work through the technical, financial, and strategic issues associated with its construction; defending America sounds well and good, the details be damned. It’s not surprising that the most sensible eras of defense procurement during the Cold War came after the end of major conflicts in which wide swaths of the body politic had participated; widespread knowledge of military affairs meant that nonsense had a harder time finding fertile ground.

Share with Sociable

Dress Blues

[ 0 ] March 20, 2008 |

I mentioned in this comment thread that Dress Blues wasn’t one of my favorite songs from Jason Isbell’s Sirens of the Ditch. I should probably add that one of the reasons for this is the overall strength of the album. In any case, an LGM correspondent forwards this ESPN article on Matthew Conley, a high school acquaintance of Isbell’s and the subject of Dress Blues.

Share with Sociable

Things That Will Not Be Good

[ 35 ] March 20, 2008 |

I don’t often make it to the moving pictures these days, and I can’t imagine this is going to alter that trend:

Blowtorch Entertainment will next month begin filming on “Tenure,” which is about a college professor coming up for tenure (Luke Wilson) and facing off against a female rival who recently arrived at (fictional) Grey College. (The part of the institution will be played by Bryn Mawr College, where the movie will be shot.) David Koechner will play the professorial sidekick to the Wilson character, and the production company is planning kickoff events next year to promote the film in college towns.

Brendan McDonald, the producer, said that he viewed academe as “one of the interesting worlds to explore” and said that he viewed the project as “lampooning the tenure process.”

I’m experiencing a massive failure to comprehend any of this. A sidekick? Are professors allowed to have sidekicks? If this is standard issue, I must say I’ve got six years of sidekickery to redeem. Or does that perk only adhere to small liberal arts colleges?

. . . link fixed. A sidekick would have taken care of this eight hours ago.

Share with Sociable

Tourney Final Reminder

[ 12 ] March 20, 2008 |

The Tourney starts tomorrow; if you haven’t signed up, or if you signed up but haven’t filled out your bracket, take care of that problem…

LGM Tournament Challenge

League: Lawyers, Guns and Money
Password: zevon

Forthcoming will be an LGM Baseball Challenge league. Winners, as always, receive a Certificate of Championship-ness; previous winners can attest to the value of this unique honor.

Share with Sociable


[ 0 ] March 19, 2008 |

Since John McCain is clearly unable to comprehend basic facts about a war that he’d just as soon have last a century or longer, Spencer Ackerman kindly helps by reminding that what lots of folks were predicting five years ago has turned out to be, you know, accurate.

AQI has a lesson for us. Counterfactual conditionals are always problematic, but in all likelihood, according to MNF-I’s own profile, if the United States were not in Iraq, Mr. AQI would be back in his taxi in Algiers or Jedda. Were it not for Abu Ghraib — which, of course, never would have happened had we not invaded — Mr. AQI would never have felt that it was his religious duty to kill Americans. And were it not for the war, thousands of Americans and possibly hundreds of thousands of Iraqis would be alive, right now, and all without a propaganda windfall that spikes terrorist recruitment for the extremist lurking around the mosque trying to generate new Mr. AQIs. And what is true of our foreign-born Mr. AQI is all the more true of the perhaps 95 percent of AQI that’s Iraqi Sunni. Not one of them would have any reason to be a member of AQI if George Bush did not give him one.

In a different universe this might be a topic of serious conversation, but Ackerman fails to realize that there appears to be a Crazy Negro out there somewhere.

Share with Sociable

Nuclear War Hilarity

[ 0 ] March 19, 2008 |

Yesterday in class I showed the following:

Which is the first of a three part propaganda film asserting that the United States was vulnerable to Soviet nuclear attack. Contained therein are a series of assertion by prominent military officers and civilian policymakers that are hilariously inaccurate; the most important of these assertions was that the Soviet Union had the capacity to destroy the US ICBM force on the ground. No evidence was offered for this assertion, but it helped conservatives argue for a number of things, including:

1. The MX missile, which was supposed to be invulnerable to Soviet first strike, but of which zero evidence to this fact was offered
2. The B-1 bomber, which under the scenario indicated would… well, be destroyed just like the B-52s in the video.
3. A host of other programs to increase the “survivability” of the land force, and of the SLBM force.
4. The discarding of any and all arms limitation agreements with the Soviet Union.

The important thing to note is this: IT. WAS. ALL. BUILT. ON. LIES. No one, whether in uniform or no, who was part of the project to make the documentary or who appeared on the video is stupid enough to believe any of the things that it argues. There’s a reason no evidence was offered for the “90% vulnerability”; there was no such evidence. There’s a reason no serious effort to think about the devastating counter-attack the US could launch even in the event of the worst imaginable attack; that response was clearly enough to deter the notional Soviet attack. There’s a reason that none of the assumptions discussed in the scenario are given any scrutiny; such scrutiny would have rendered abjectly transparent the absurdity of the entire project. To give just one example, the documentary assumes that a) Soviet submarines would be able to approach the east and west coasts of the United States either without detection or without alarming the United States, b) that Soviet SLBMs would have sufficient accuracy to destroy ICBM silos, and c) that US submarines would be unable to reply in kind. All three of these are flat out lies; Soviet boomers rarely left the Arctic and carried missiles less accurate than their American counterparts.

Rather, this documentary represented the collusion of Pentagon civilians, conservative defense intellectuals, and uniformed military officers to shamelessly lie to the American public. In itself this isn’t terribly surprising; this was the era of Team B, after all, and the Team B people were involved in this project. It worked because of the utter ignorance on defense issues of the bulk of the American public. As if there was still any doubt, this experience should have erased the impression that the folks associated with this scam (folks who later found themselves in Republican administrations) felt constrained in any way by the need to tell the truth. In short, there was nothing new or unusual about the body of deception associated with the Iraq War.

Share with Sociable