Sunday, February 17, 2019

"Will you govern it any better?"

This post got me thinking.

I know it's difficult to look past the grandiose follies of the TrumpenEra.

But Klare has a point; there seems to be a widespread consensus in the United States' geopolitical thinking, not just within the GOP but throughout the mainstream U.S. geopolitical thought, that "China is the enemy". As Klare points out:
"In eastern Ukraine, the Balkans, Syria, cyberspace, and in the area of nuclear weaponry, Russia does indeed pose a variety of threats to Washington’s goals and desires. Still, as an economically hobbled petro-state, it lacks the kind of might that would allow it to truly challenge this country’s status as the world’s dominant power. China is another story altogether. With its vast economy, growing technological prowess, intercontinental “Belt and Road” infrastructure project, and rapidly modernizing military, an emboldened China could someday match or even exceed U.S. power on a global scale..."
The recent tsuris over the INF treaty and both the US and Russia seeming more concerned about China that each other seems a part of that. There seems to be a LOT of U.S. conturbation over the perceived threat of a powerful China.

Is it just me, or does this seem unpleasantly reminiscent of the setting of the Irano-Byzantine Wars of the 3rd through the 7th Centuries, wherein the two empires were obsessed with defeating the other, to the point where both succeeded only in thrashing themselves into debilitation that was ideal for the rising power of Arabic Islam to dismember and devour?

Is the ascent of the PRC inevitable? It would seem that to be so the flaws in the economic and political systems that brought down the USSR would have to be avoided. But, if they could be, does a conflict between the PRC and the USA have to occur? And, if so, what form(s) would it take? And would it be possible for one polity or the other to succeed, or is a mutual exhaustion of the Sassanid-East Roman sort seem more likely?


(Oh, and the title? Its from the supposed exchange between the newly crowned emperor Heraclius and his deposed predecessor Phocas:

"Is it thus", asked Heraclius, "that you have governed the Empire?"
"Will you," replied Phocas, with unexpected spirit, "govern it any better?"

Thursday, February 14, 2019


Following the example of my nation's chief executive, I am declaring a state of emergency!

Despite my fine physique and suave and debonair personality I still can't afford a Jaguar E-type, and Mila Kunis won't return my phone calls.

This cannot stand! I am calling on a threatened nation to shower me with cash (and the number to Mila's private line..!) in order to preserve peace, tranquility, and the Natural Order of Things.

Ridiculous, you say?

How much more ridiculous than Orange Foolius' announcement to abrogate Congress' mandated power-of-the-purse to get funding for his Big Beautiful Wall?

I mean...first, let's all remember that this entire southern border farrago is a ginned-up piece of nonsense. Period. There's nothing going on along the U.S.-Mexico border that qualifies as a concern, much less a crisis, WAY much less an "emergency". There IS no "emergency", or, at least, nothing more compelling than my bank account and sex life.

There's no there there.

And yet..."conservatives" will sit on their hands while this great tangerine-hued fool kicks down one more wall between a republic and an autocracy. Because the GOP "base" has been primed by President Coulter and President Limbaugh that they will all be killed and then raped by hordes of brown gangsters if the Wall is not Built. To hell with oligarchy, shrinking wage bases, foolish foreign wars, climate change...MS-13 may be climbing in the bathroom window as we speak!


Here's the thing. A lot of people - and especially a lot of the media people - are going to make this all about Trump. He's a huge orange whiny titty-baby who's having a tantrum that the mean old Dhimmicrats won't GIVE ME MY WALL!!!, so this is going to be portrayed as his toddler-snatches-the-toy solution.

But it's not.

The notion that the situation along the frontera requires spending billions appropriated for other reasons is nonsensical. Border security spending has been thrashed out to a fare-the-well in Congress. Using some gimmick to subvert that process removes a critical "check and balance" between the legislative and executive. It's not explicitly ruled out in the founding documents simply because it's a moronic argument on it's face; people as intelligent as the Founders and Framers would have laughed the notion out of the room.

No. This is an extraordinarily dangerous move, and, because a huge proportion of supposed "conservatives" will do nothing or, worse, applaud it because it is aimed at a target they have been told to hate and fear, represents a not-insignificant chance that it will be folded into the norms of government. The notion that this president or any president can do this is a very un-republican idea.

The notion that a fairly large number of the citizens of a supposedly self-governing republic will accept this?

Even more dangerous, and less republican.


(Oh, and Mila? Wear something nice, K?)

Update 2/15 11am: Welp, he did it.

Our friend Pluto is confident that "conservative" Republicans won't follow Hair Furor down the rabbit hole. Let's check in with their Congressional leadership, then, shall we?
"Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Trump’s hand was forced on declaring a national emergency by congressional Democrats.

“President Trump’s decision to announce emergency action is the predictable and understandable consequence of Democrats’ decision to put partisan obstruction ahead of the national interest,” McConnell said in a statement. “I urge my Democratic colleagues to quickly get serious, put partisanship aside, and work with the president and our homeland security experts to provide the funding needed to secure our borders as we begin the next round of appropriations.”

In a tweet, another prominent Senate Republican, Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina, said he backed Trump’s action.

“I stand firmly behind President Trump’s decision to use executive powers to build the wall-barriers we desperately need,” wrote Graham, chairman of the chamber’s Judiciary Committee."
The Conscience of Conservatives! Standing athwart the path of history and burbeling "Ummm...durrrr..." Meanwhile, here's our President* singing his explanation why this was necessary:

Hmmm. I wonder if the furnace is lit today..?

Update 2/15 12pm: Of course, if you don't want your republic to become an autocracy, it helps to ensure that the wanna-be-autocratic moron you elected president* is...well, a moron:

Friday, February 8, 2019


Speaking of capital ships:  Great video below of the Navy testing out their new catapult on the USS Gerald Ford.  This is the EMALS (Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System) they are launching trucks with.   I think this is an older video just recently published, since an actual aircraft launch was done from the Ford in July 2017.

Built by General Atomics of Predator fame.  Per Wikipedia EMALS accelerates aircraft smoothly, putting less stress on airframes than steam catapults.  The "EMALS also weighs less, is expected to cost less and require less maintenance, and can launch both heavier and lighter aircraft than a steam piston-driven system. It also reduces the carrier's requirement of fresh water, thus reducing the demand for energy-intensive desalination."  But there have been major reliability issues with EMALS.  That despite the Wiki hype, which maybe was taken from a General Atomics brochure?   ComNavOps' blog "NavyMatters" back a year ago debunked several of those claims.  And Commander-in-Chief Bonespurs thinks we should go back to steam power.

The Ford has just come back from her shakedown cruise.  Perhaps we'll soon know whether it worked satisfactorily?

If so I would hope it is also quieter and generates less heat than steam catapults.  I spent many months of an extended cruise bunking in quarters directly below the steam catapult of the USS Coral Sea back in 79.  I was constantly deafened plus steamed, poached, and parboiled when trying to sack out during flight operations.  And with the extra speed from an EMALS launch I assume you would get fewer aircraft going in the drink because of not getting enough speed off the deck and no lift.  If of course they address all the previous reliability issues.  And perhaps with this system you don't need to be sailing at 30 knots into the wind in order to launch?

So I wish the Navy and General Atomics well in working out the bugs.  Not just because of the high heat and noise I was treated to, but also because of the high failure rate of steam catapults.  They are multi-technology systems requiring hydraulics and electric as well as steam.  And they are hard to maintain also.  Nimitz Class carriers have four steam catapults just to ensure one is always working: quadruple backup.

Ruling the waves..?

Rob Farley has a post up at the National Interest discussing the current expansion of the PRC's People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), comparing that to the Great Power navies of the past century.
He asks whether the PLAN can succeed in advancing the PRC's geopolitical ends compared to the Imperial German, Russian (and Soviet), Imperial Japanese, and United States navies.

It's not a bad little article, but I think it asks the wrong question.

I'd start, rather, with the question "Does (fill in the blank nation) need a blue-water navy?"

Two of the four examples Farley picks - Germany and Russia/the Soviet Union - were primarily continental powers and as such the answer seems obviously "No".

As such their fleets were superfluous at best and, for Germany, disastrous at worst; dragging Wilhelmine Germany into a naval arms race with Great Britain that diverted resources that the Reich could have put to better use.

The "good cases" would seem to be the maritime empires, Japan and the U.S.; both depend on overseas trade, both are isolated by oceans, at least partially in the case of the U.S., both had, or have, imperial ambitions.

Oddly, Farley chooses to ignore two other great maritime empires.

The "success" is, obviously, the British. Britain obviously needed a blue-water navy, and, in general, did pretty well with it. Unsurprisingly that naval power disappeared with the Empire, but it had a hell of a good 400-odd-year run.

Spain, on the other hand, needed a fleet but always seemed to find its ambitions were greater than its capabilities.

Someday I should really find a good Spanish naval history to understand why the Dons never managed to figure out what the British seemed to manage so effortlessly. Whatever the reason, lacking a fleet capable of long-range power projection surely helped doom the Spanish colonial empire, whether from foreign enemies like the U.S. or from colonial revolt.

Looking at the historical examples, and the current geopolitical needs of China, I can't really see how putting time, money, and effort into a big fleet helps them.

Anyone willing to take the counterpoint?

Let's discuss.

Monday, February 4, 2019

You and your big mouth...

Honestly. This guy is a fucking idiot.
Why his policy people can't duct-tape HIS mouth shut to keep him saying this kind of stuff;
TRUMP: "When President Obama pulled out of Iraq in theory we had Iraq. In other words, we had Iraq. So when he did what he did in Iraq, which was a mistake. Being in Iraq was a mistake. Okay.

Being in Iraq- it was a big mistake to go- one of the greatest mistakes going into the Middle East that our country has ever made. One of the greatest mistakes that we've ever made--

BRENNAN: But you want to keep troops there now?

TRUMP: --but when it was chosen-- well, we spent a fortune on building this incredible base. We might as well keep it. And one of the reasons I want to keep it is because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran because Iran is a real problem.

BRENNAN: Whoa, that's news. You're keeping troops in Iraq because you want to be able to strike in Iran?

TRUMP: No, because I want to be able to watch Iran. All I want to do is be able to watch. We have an unbelievable and expensive military base built in Iraq. It's perfectly situated for looking at all over different parts of the troubled Middle East rather than pulling up. And this is what a lot of people don't understand. We're going to keep watching and we're going to keep seeing and if there's trouble, if somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things, we're going to know it before they do."
Guess what, genius?

The cover story for the continued US presence in Iraq is to mop up the Islamic State. The Iraqi leadership made it damn crystal clear back in 2011 that they had NO interest in keeping US forces around if the latter were unwilling to sign off on a conventional Status of Forces Agreement that put the Iraqis in charge. I'm not saying I blame the then-US-government for not signing; if I was a GI I'd be scared as hell of winding up in an Iraqi court after killing someone in a traffic accident. But that ship has sailed, and to keep GIs in-country we, and the Iraqis, have to pretend. This dumbass obviously missed that memo big-time.

He probably thinks that because it's a shithole country the people there spend their time telling each other stories, but Orange Foolius apparently doesn't get that the leaders of the Iraqi legislature have televisions, too. Only they don't just watch FOX. In fact, they have people watching you shoot off your big blabbermouth on CBS, and you just told them that 1) you have no intention of leaving that "incredible base" other words, you see it the way the British did their colonial installations and the MNF-I did theirs when the US was officially an occupying power, that 2) you intend to use it for power projection, which is something that powers can only do with the acquiescence of the host nation, and that 3) this projection is going to be directed primarily at their ally, Iran.

Jesus wept.

I get that a plurality sizeable minority of the American people wanted this joker. What I don't get is why ANYone still wants him, when he's worked overtime to show that he's a total moron about...well, pretty much everything.


Saturday, February 2, 2019

Vestigia militaria

I just finished Andrew Gordon's 1997 The Rules of the Game.

It's a fun read, and does a good job of taking a deep dive into the command culture of the Royal Navy that had such a big effect on the actions of 31 MAY 1916. For what it's worth, Gordon is a "Beatty man" as opposed to Robert Massie, whose Castles of Steel made researching the Scarboro Raid (and the career of HMS Warspite) so entertaining.

Gordon's main point is that the long peace after Waterloo created a culture of rigidity within the RN that was wrapped up in the idea that the fleet actions were supposed to be centrally directed by the admiral in command through strict adherence to maneuvers effected by signals.

That knowing the minutia of the Signal Book became a substitute for understanding what a modern U.S. officer would call the "Commander's Intent". Gordon details actions at Jutland - in particular the Fifth Battle Squadron and its commander, RADM Hugh Evan-Thomas - that demonstrated that this lack of understanding resulted in a lack of initiative, and intelligent actions or reactions to German maneuvers, that cost the RN ships and lives.
I won't go further into Gordon's work except that it's definitely worth a read (as is Massie's, and his earlier volume, Dreadnought, as well).

Here's the utterly different thing, though, that generated this post.

An Army pal of mine recently sent me a link to something about the 3rd U.S. Infantry. Y'know, the guys who do the whole "guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier" and put on the military shows at Arlington and elsewhere? And I'll be the first to admit that as an old NCO and drill sergeant I'm always impressed with the 3USI's showmanship at square-bashing, and how pretty their sliding manual-of-arms looks. It's a sergeant thing, sorry, and there's no real excuse or explanation for it; it's the military version of being a "furry".
But as I was watching the video
(and I have to say that the Army blue overcoat sure is purty. I got in just as the Army 86ed the khaki summer-weight Class A uniform, the last really sharp-looking formal dress we had. After that it was all the hideous AG44/344 polyester abomination and the dreaded "black sack" overcoat that made you look like a Baloney Joe's wino shuffling down to the dumpster for a snack...)
I couldn't help thinking what a beautiful utterly useless military skill all this drill and ceremony is.

Short of falling in and marching from one place to another...what's the point? It's a sort of armed tea ceremony; gorgeous, yes, but completely for show and dressup. For the working day you suck down your tea from a travel mug and move out smartly.

And that's what led me back to Gordon and Jutland.

Because in 1916 the notion of "shiphandling" - whether individual captains and their crew, or flag officers directing squadrons - was literally a matter of life and death. Gordon points out the horrific nightmare of the Fifth Battle Squadron's turn "in succession" under German gunfire that put every ship at exactly the same location as it went through a slow 180-degree roundabout, giving the fire direction officers of the Hochseeflotte the equivalent of a free header.

They knew exactly where to put their projos minutes before the British battleship arrived. It's a tribute to luck and the sturdy construction of the Queen Elizabeth-class that none of the Brits ended up as a crap-ton of their battlecruisers did, as homes for North Sea groundfish and hazards for trawl-nets.

But now?

Aircraft and missiles have made the possibility of a mass fleet daylight gun action utterly impossible.

Individual ship captains and their bridge staff still need to be good at shiphandling. And flag officers still need to know how to arrange and move their squadrons. But that sort of "line-ahead-to-line-abreast" dance? It seems to be as utterly archaic and vestigial a skill as the ability to file from the left or move from column to line does for a modern infantryman.
No higher purpose here, just the rumination that time and tide changes things that we think of as immutable.

Had you told an infantryman of 1850, or a naval officer of 1916, that the skills that were essential to their profession would be as dead as the dodo in a century they'd have thought you were nuts.

But they were, and here we are.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Taking our nukes and going home

I'm a bit baffled at the tactics in play here.
"For far too long, Russia has violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with impunity, covertly developing and fielding a prohibited missile system that poses a direct threat to our allies and troops abroad. Tomorrow, the United States will suspend its obligations under the INF Treaty and begin the process of withdrawing from the INF Treaty, which will be completed in 6 months unless Russia comes back into compliance by destroying all of its violating missiles, launchers, and associated equipment."
There's no question that the Russian Federation has been playing fast-and-loose; the 9M729 GLCM violates the 1987 INF Treaty's definition of banned weapons; "...all land-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers..."

My understanding is that one thing that worries the Russians is China, which isn't bound by the INF and has some intermediate-range missiles that the Russians would like to counter. The USN has similar concerns about the tricksy Chinese, too, and may have been pushing for this. Our old pal Bolton hates arms control treaties - ALL arms control treaties - with a hate as huge as his mustache.

So there's no shortage of players who wanted this to happen.

But, as Kaplan points out, there's a huge difference between "...Bolton go(ing) to Moscow, formally declare the Russians in breach of the treaty, and give them a certain span of time to rectify matters, warning of consequences if they don’t." and reneging on the treaty ourselves.

For one thing, how does this "punish" the Russians? I mean, unless it means that the US is going to begin a GLCM arms race in Europe, which, I'm sure, will thrill the living shit out of the EU.

If China's the US's problem, as Kaplan points out:
"...we have plenty of other weapons, nuclear and conventional, that would deter a sensible Chinese leader from aggression against vital U.S. interests. (If the Chinese leader isn’t sensible, then all principles of deterrence are null and void anyway.)"
The other point is that this treaty bans LAND-based intermediate range missiles. Ships and aircraft? Not limited.

And the biggest thing about this is that it gives away the game to the Kremlin, largely because of Trump's preceding treaty fucktardry. The guy who spiked the Iran deal, the Paris accords, NAFTA can't realistically whine about other people breaking treaties.

This simply give the Russians a free hand to do what they were doing sneakily anyway.

That doesn't sound much like the Art of a Very Smart Deal to me.