Friday, December 30, 2022

Last Call

 I think it's time to officially turn out the lights.

Unless there's any demand from whatever remains of the readership - and since we (well, I, since there is effectively no one left here other than me) haven't posted since April my guess is that's not much - to continue I think I'll see if I can delete this blog altogether. 

It's painful to see it just drifting here, there's nobody but me writing here, and if you want to hear from me you can stroll over to my personal blog Graphic Firing Table, where I still post about military affairs occasionally.

So.

Time, please.

Drink up, folks. It's...



Saturday, April 16, 2022

Naval makeover! (cruiser-to-submarine)

 The cruiser Москва has passed on.


He is no more. 

(Russian naval vessels are by tradition "he's" rather than the "she's" of English or American sailor tradition) 

He has ceased to be, expired and gone to meet his maker. Bereft of life, he rests in peace, has shuffled off his mortal coil, rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible.

Okay.

Rule #1 of war is "Shit happens", and the fact that this vessel is now full of water is not in itself either shocking or particularly interesting. 

If one was in a snarky mood one might make the same sort of observation Bismarck might have made about continental powers like Germany or Russia wanting (let alone "needing") large capital ships: "...the fuck?" (only in the original German, of course...). 

If one was in a snarky mood.

To me there are two interesting parts about this, though.

The first is that the Russian official line is that the cruiser was lost "under tow in heavy seas after an internal ammunition explosion". 

Not because nasty enemy missiles turned him into a flaming pyre, no, no! Just your basic head-on-collision-twenty-car pileup of fucked-up munitions handling and/or storage, piss-poor damage control, and incompetent seamanship.

I kind of get the dictator-grade level of "not wanting to admit that your enemy hurt you" propaganda. But to want to make the story "our sailors are lethally incompetent" seems...a bit louche' at best. Tell me...how does that make things in your navy sound...better?

Now, that said; damage control at sea is goddamn hard. It requires constant, repetitive, realistic training led by good petty officers and planned and overseen by competent and demanding officers.

Even the best navies have their bad days; we saw that back in 2015 when we talked about the loss of HIJMS Taiho during the Battle of the Philippine Sea

The 日本海軍 Nippon Kaigun - the Imperial Japanese Navy - was one of the best-led (at the tactical level, at least...) and best-trained in the world in 1944. But that didn't prevent the sinking of one of their newest carriers because of poor damage control after a single torpedo strike.

On the other end of the military scale, though? Damage control is one of those massive-training-fail issues that seems to be endemic in "gangster" military organizations. Think Idi Amin's or Saddam's "armies" if you want a model. 

If nothing else this Russo-Ukrainian War has done a pretty good job of throwing a nastily bright light on exactly how fucking brutally bad the Russian armed services are. As bad as the Ugandans or the Iraqis.

Turns out that when your national model is "kleptocracy" your national military is just about as good as you'd expect based on that. 

When your soldiers and sailors are "led" by people - from petty officers and NCOs through general officers to their political masters - whose whole mode of thought is "steal what you can, neglect what you can't, and lie about everything to everyone both above and below you"  and those troops are either not trained for shit (or completely untrained) and their "leaders" are often incompetent, either because the system is designed to ensure the leaders are piss-poor, or unable to demand they aren't, to find that the entire organization those soldiers and sailors are part of ends up being criminally incompetent at the difficult business of war, including the difficult task of naval damage control, should hardly be shocking.

If you choose shitty crooks to "lead" you, you shouldn't be shocked when they "lead" you into shitty crookedness. 

Which leads me back from the shores of Ukraine to the shores of North America.

Because you'd think that this sort of military clusterfuckery would be a cautionary tale for those of us here on the sidelines in the United States about the whole business of being all enthusiastic for dictators because, say, they hate homosexuals and you do, too. That getting your dream of "leaders" hating on liberal soy-boys and darkies and uppity women isn't worth the sort of incompetent "leadership" that ends up getting your sailors killed and their capital ships sunk. 

Even for the most foaming-mouthed-rabid MAGAt groupies of Tubby and his crooked little weasel pals.

But, no.

They won't believe that.

Ever.

And that's a problem, a problem deeper than the bottom of the Black Sea, where the Москва now rests.


 

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Lessons learned in blood and fire

I've been kicking this around for a while, and wanted to get it down before I wander away from it.

What have we learned from what's been happening in Eastern Europe over the past month or so?

 
1. Thucydides is still correct: the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.

We like to think, we pampered wealthy white Americans, that there is a "justice" that transcends simple brute force. If we're Christian we like to think that there's a "God" (and his kid) who cares about people and sort of wants them to do justly and love mercy.

And then comes something like Ukraine, where the ugly reality is impossible to hide.

So no. There's no arc of history that bends towards justice. If people want justice, they need to defend it, by force at times, with their lives if they must.

That lesson is bolded by the actions of Russia in Ukraine. But it should resonate with us here, since we have steadfastly refused to take action against those who have already attempted once to use force to "do what they can" thinking that they were the strong and we are the weak. If we do not, then we ARE the weak, and they will do with us what they can.

Putin isn't the only leader of authoritarian goons in the northern hemisphere.


2. When someone tells you what they are, believe them.

Vladimir Putin has said one thing consistently since loooong before he was Donald Trump's mancrush; that the devolution of the USSR was the Worst Thing EVAH and that if he could he would get the band back together.

Well, because the successor state to the Soviet Union looked like a shitshow and its' dictator seemed full of shit like many other dictators, a lot of us got complacent about how serious he was.

Ask the resident of Kyiv how serious.

If I was a Latvian or and Estonian right now I'd be hugging everyone who insisted that the Baltics scurry into NATO as soon as the Сове́тский флаг came down.

Now the NATO countries - including the U.S. - need to accept that those former Soviet republics are all on Putin's list. That means taking Article 5 seriously. Is Riga worth Manhattan? We might find out sooner than we like, because...

 
3. The Russian military is proving what a bad fucking idea personal autocracy is.

We in the Western militaries listened to and, often, believed the tales the Russian media and government told about the modernization and professionalization they'd done with the successor to the old Soviet Red Army.

I'm not sure if they were fooling us, or themselves, or both, but boy fucking howdy were they full of shit.

Turns out that the Russian conventional forces are bad. Reeeeally bad. "Iraqi Army" bad.

It's hard to imagine that Putin kicked off this war knowing that Saddam's Republican Guard made his regulars look like an anime goon squad. So I suspect he's been fed the diet of bullshit and flattery that people who can kill you whenever they please tend to get. His military advisors told him what he wanted to hear, not what he needed to hear.

"Dictatorships foster oppression, dictatorships foster servitude, dictatorships foster cruelty; more abominable is the fact that they foster idiocy." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

But the bottom line is that modern warfare is goddamned hard to do, and the Russians are no better at it than you'd think given the open kleptocracy and brutal autocracy that permeates Russia the country.

That's...actually kind of a Bad Thing for us as well as for them.

Because if the Russian armed forces would get waxed in the first 48 hours of combat with a Western military?

All Putin has to swing is his nukes.

And that should worry all of us at least a little bit.

Update 3/21: Someone named "Kamil Galeev" has an interesting thread discussing one of the main reasons that the Russian ground force is so damn bad; it's designed that way. It's a feature, not a bug. Long read but worth a look to think about why a putative Great Power would want to handicap its military in the way we've seen in Ukraine.


4. Smedley Butler is still right, too; war was a racket and still is.

No matter the outcome in Ukraine, everyone involved is likely to be the worse for it. Obviously the dead, but those wounded, or homeless, the refugees, the prisoners, those impoverished by war or sanctions or economic collapse. Those who have lost family, friends. The citizens of Russia's "near abroad", who must now fear that success in Ukraine will make them next in line for death and mayhem.

Of course, the Russian leadership is likely to be insulated from all that. War "leaders"  -unless they make the mistake of losing war and being captured by the victors - are seldom punished, no more than the "leaders" here that committed the identical war crime of waging aggressive war in 2003 were punished. 

It's always the "ordinary" people who suffer when the Great and the Good amongst us choose to use force to get - or try and get - what they want.

So, like most rackets, it's the bosses that profit and the footsoldiers - military and civilian - that die.

I wish I had a happier conclusion.

But, just like Ukraine today, there is no lightness; only ruin and hatred, the strong doing what they can and the weak, well, suffering.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

The lights are going out...

 It appears that it's extremely likely that there will be war in Eastern Europe for the first time since 1944. While there is obviously no "legal" grounds for Russia's decision, it appears that the Russian leadership has decided that the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must. It seems clear that Moscow has decided that to use the mere threat of force to win political gain will not achieve their political aims.

How - or if - the rest of Europe, and the world, responds will have a great deal to do with the way this plays out

Consider this an open thread to discuss.

Update 2/21: Fred Kaplan has some ideas about why the attack didn't happen Sunday.

Interesting political note; in case you're wondering why the response from the U.S. Right seems so peculiar, consider that while Putin polls at about 75% negative amongst self-identified Republicans, Biden polls at minus-90%.

Hmmm.

Update 2/21pm: Max Seddon (Financial Times Moscow bureau chief) live-tweeting Putin's speech:

Not promising. Worth a scan of the whole thing; sounds like Putin is taking his "I alone can fix Russia by making it the old USSR again!" for a long walk.

Update 2/21 p.m.: I'm reading that Russian maneuver forces are moving into the two eastern oblasts, and particularly towards the city of Donetsk. This is consistent with Putin's speech identifying the eastern regions as part of Russia. Presumably these will complete the takeover of the entire Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts from the Ukraine government.

The real crux of the biscuit will be if the forces along the southern border of Belarus strike towards Kyiv. The distance between the border and the Ukraine capital is relatively short, and the lure for Putin and the Russian Army leadership of a "decapitation strike" must be very strong...


Update 2/24: It now appears that Putin's goal is full-on subjugation of Ukraine. 

I'm not sure if this will involve prolonged Russian occupation; if Putin doesn't, I'll bet his military chiefs remember both the Chechen and Afghan nightmares as well as the post-WW2 Ukrainian resistance. But the actual conquest is pretty much guaranteed; the relative strengths of the two militaries all but ensures that T-90s will be parked in the Maidan fairly soon.

My guess is that after a brief occupation and ratissage of Ukrainian nationalists the Russians will leave behind a Quisling government including a mini-KGB/FSB and antipartisan militia to hunt the resistance. I could see this working at least well-enough to get by in the eastern regions.

How well this will work in Ruthenia is anyone's guess. But "not so well" would be mine.

Now...my further, and more worried, question is whether the success of this move will embolden Putin to go after his other lust-objects, the pieces of the former USSR. 

The Baltics? Georgia? One of the lessons of the fascist 1930s is that once a fascist dictator is on a roll he's often unwilling or unable to stop himself. 

For a long time I thought that Putin was too canny to go full-on Hitler.

Now? I'm not convinced he has. 

But I'm not so sure he hasn't, either.

And...it's worth noting that if there are any "good options" here I don't see them. 

Sanctions on Russia? Ask the Cuban government how well that works. Military action? Against a nuclear power run by what increasingly appears to be an aggressive dictator who DGAF? 

The brutal reality that young Mr. Putin is reminding us is that in international relations the strong CAN do what they please and the weak WILL suffer what they must.

I don't have to like that and neither do you.

But that changes this atrocity not a whit.

Update 2/25: Juan Cole observes that Dick n' Dubya's Excellent Iraqi Adventure "enabled" the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Over here our reliable commentor Sven makes pretty much the same point.

I have a fair amount of respect for Cole's opinions on the Middle East, and Sven's opinions overall, but I think they overstate the case.

Reassembling the old Soviet Union has been an obsession of Putin's for as long as I've known about Putin. I can't believe that some sort of move to re-absorb Ukraine wasn't on his bucket list for a loooong time; the recent Ukrainian move to try and become more closely integrated with its western neighbors rather than Russia probably moved it up the list as well as making armed force more plausible.

(and, while we're on the subject, who the hell would WANT to be a "Russian" given the current conditions in Russia? Life as an American wage-slave sucks pretty big ass. Throw in open kleptocracy for the discreet American version along with shittier living conditions? Ugh. Our return-to-the-Gilded-Age economy may make life pretty grinding for the 99%, but I can't see voluntarily wanting to swap that for life in the post-Soviet Russia. There's frying pans and there's fires.)

Anyway, I agree with Cole that American foreign policy makes it harder for the U.S. to oppose other's military fucktardry. I agree with Sven that the U.S. and the West has done badly, both in general and in Eastern Europe.

But I disagree that Putin needed any help to decide to kill Ukrainians, or that anyone else deserves to go directly to Hell for that decision.

The U.S. was wrong in Iraq, just as it's been wrong all over the world in places like Nicaragua and Vietnam. Iraq is and was a war crime, making aggressive war, the crime for which the victorious Allies hung Nazi leaders. Dick and Dubya should be in jail, not enjoying a comfy elder statesmen's retirement.

But that simply makes Putin just as guilty. 

They all should be sharing a cell in SuperMax, and We the People of the United States should be ashamed for letting them do otherwise.

To those Russians who are trying to stop Putin...I have no words, and doubt I have that kind of bravery. I wish I thought you could succeed. I hate what I know will happen to you

And I'm just sorry, sorry for this sorry world that has so much wrong in it.

Update 2/26: The fighting continues in Ukraine, with the Russian forces doing surprisingly poorly (relative to the preponderance of weight-of-metal on the Russian side...). I still doubt the outcome is in play - poor or not, quantity has a quality all it's own (just hard on the people in the "quantity"...).

My opinion remains unchanged. As much as the U.S. has been a bad actor globally that doesn't excuse this. In the last words of the guys on Snake Island, "Russian warship, go fuck yourself."

Krugman has a column that makes a good point, though; for all that fingers are pointing at Putin and Russia right now, there's a mote/beam problem related to our own plutocratic/kleptocratic economies and the malefactors of great wealth therein that emphasizes the degree to which We the People have casually let the very sort of corruption endemic in Putin's Russia become less blatant but almost as endemic all over the West. 

That makes even economic war problematic.

"There are two uncomfortable facts here. First, a number of influential people, both in business and in politics, are deeply financially enmeshed with Russian kleptocrats. This is especially true in Britain. Second, it will be hard to go after laundered Russian money without making life harder for all money launderers, wherever they come from — and while Russian plutocrats may be the world champions in that sport, they’re hardly unique: Ultrawealthy people all over the world have money hidden in offshore accounts.

What this means is that taking effective action against Putin’s greatest vulnerability will require facing up to and overcoming the West’s own corruption.

Can the democratic world rise to this challenge? We’ll find out over the next few months."

Remember the "Panama Papers"? The revelation of the vast coterie of Western vulture capitalists that were thieving and cheating right alongside the cartoon Latin caudillos, African "strongmen", and Russian oligarchs? Remember how many of them we prosecuted, convicted, mulcted of their stolen lucre, and sent to the Crossbar Hotel?

Yeah, me neither.

I'm not saying "Oh, we're just as bad as Russia, so we can't point fingers."  Sure we can - we just need to be willing to point fingers at our own when they go wrong. We haven't done that. The fact that people like Dubya and Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney and a gajillion Wall Street thieves and, yes, Trump are still walking around free is living testimony to the degree we've failed.

Putin is still a sonofabitch.

We really need to use this occasion of naked kleptocratic criminality, though, to think hard about how much rope we want to give our own oligarchs.

Friday, December 10, 2021

End of an Era

Some eighty years ago the Battleship Era ended in a flurry of bombs and torpedoes that sank the two capital ships of the Royal Navy's Force Z.

Yes, aircraft had been involved in sinking the most capital of capital ships prior to December 10, 1941. But the circumstances allowed battleship fans to temporize. 

An aerial torpedo ensured the doom of Bismarck, but the actual sinking occurred during a surface gun action. Battleships were sunk by aircraft at Taranto and Pearl Harbor, but those were surprise attacks on unsuspecting moored warships.

There was no gray area on December 10. Aircraft found and sank two of the Royal Navy's heavy units, one, Prince of Wales, one of the newest and most powerful British battleships extant.

The "moral" I've always been told that this story taught was that in the 90 minutes it took the air attack to sink both Prince of Wales and Repulse the battleship era ended and any naval organization that pursued heavy gunpower rather than carrier airpower was foolishly incompetent. 

What's kind of intriguing about one "counterfactual" is that Force Z had come within five miles of an IJN task force consisting of "six cruisers" - I've been unable to discover which six these were, but at least one was Chōkai (鳥海), a Takao-class heavy cruiser.

Neither task force was using radar effectively. The Japanese because IJN radar technology was crippled throughout the Second World War, the British because Prince of Wales' radar had gone down earlier in the mission, supposedly through overheating in the tropical heat and humidity.

(Worth noting that in this the PoW lived up to her reputation as a "hard-luck ship"...)

Let's assume that at least three or four of the other "six cruisers" out that night were also heavies. The Japanese heavy cruisers were beasts, especially heavily armed with the big 24-inch torpedoes, and the IJN trained extensively in night gun and torpedo action as the encounters off Guadalcanal the following year proved.

 
Let's suppose that the two task forces had, instead, bumped into each other in the night.

The British weight of metal would probably have torn the Japanese cruisers apart, but the IJN night fighting and torpedo tactics might well have either sunk or badly damaged the British capital ships to the point where their sinking by aircraft the following morning could be written off the same way that the battleship aficionados wrote off Bismarck, Taranto, and Pearl Harbor.

The "end of the battleship era" might now be attributed to the naval and naval air actions off the Philippines in 1944.

No real point here other than to consider how things we take for received wisdom often turn on small, nearly insignificant events, like the failure of the British radar the night of December 9/10.

Thoughts?

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Posse Stupidtatus

 So it turns out that sending U.S. soldiers to be ersatz Border Patrol was a pretty stupid idea.

"Leaders initiated more than 1,200 legal actions, including nonjudicial punishments, property loss investigations, Army Regulation 15-6 investigations and more. That’s nearly one legal action for every three soldiers. At least 16 soldiers from the mission were arrested or confined for charges including drugs, sexual assault and manslaughter. During the same time period, only three soldiers in Kuwait, a comparable deployment locale with more soldiers, were arraigned for court-martial.

Troops at the border had more than three times as many car accidents over the past year — at least 500 incidents totaling roughly $630,000 in damages — than the 147 “illegal substance seizures” they reported assisting.

One cavalry troop from Louisiana was temporarily disbanded due to misconduct and command climate issues — an extremely rare occurrence."

Gee. I wonder? Where did we have the occasion to learn - and recently - that soldiers are usually good at soldiering, usually not so much as domestic - or foreign - policemen.

"Tensions were ignited on April 28, however, when soldiers from the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment opened fire on a group of protesters in front of a school, killing 15 and wounding more than three dozen others. Although the military said the soldiers fired in self-defense under attack from Baathist provocateurs, residents said many of the demonstrators were unarmed.

The shooting set off a cycle of violence that wracked the city for weeks. Exchanges of gunfire and rocket-propelled grenade attacks started to occur almost daily."

 Oh, shit, yeah. That.

I swear, we're the fucking 21st Century Bourbons. We learn nothing but we forget nothing.


Wednesday, December 8, 2021

New York for Kyiv? Boston for Taipei?

Now that the United States doesn't have bodies coming home from the lesser paved parts of the world (the bodies we're generating tend to be locals and remain where we drop them...) the U.S. public can go back to sleep regarding it's foreign policy doin's around the world whilst the foreign policy nabobs can go back to the sort of stuff they enjoy; pondering Great Power rivalries.

And current events have had a way of bringing those rivalries up in the nightly news. 

First back in October we had worries that the People's Republic of China was - at least - thinking about forcibly re-uniting the island of Taiwan with the Motherland.

Now the focus has shifted to eastern Europe, where Russian military moves appear to be directed against Ukraine.

The larger questions that arise from these potential conflicts are the same ones that have been in place since the end of WW2, namely that 1) as the Western hyperpower the United States is, effectively, the Western "big stick" in Great Power confrontation, but 2) there is always the question of the degree to which a United States would be and will be willing to risk escalation with the other big nuclear powers - Russia and China - over threats to the U.S.'s non-nuclear allies.

Some "allies" don't believe the U.S. is willing to do this at all; one of the prime drivers of the Israeli nuclear program was the desire to be independent of U.S. political will. France much the same (with a heaping helping of post-1940-defeat-shame). 

My understanding is that the U.K. was the only Western nuclear power who hung on to the "special relationship", developing their nukes purely as a way to avoid sitting at the geopolitical kid's table.

There's also the issue of diplomatic linkage.

The European nations are militarily bound up with the U.S. in NATO. You nuke Berlin, it's going to cost you. Israel, too, has always had a (in my personal opinion an unhealthily) close relationship with the U.S. 

In theory those polities can depend on U.S. military power to back their integrity if threatened. They can act as if they had a portion of that power, which gives them a certain degree of geopolitical freedom and international influence beyond their inherent military strength.

(At least that was the c.w. until Trump; now the GOP is full-on ethno-nationalist and "America First" and, frankly, if I was Berlin or London I'd be hesitant to make plans based on the notion that Uncle Sammy had my back 24/7/365. President Trump 47 (or Tom Cotton or Marjorie Taylor Greene) may very well be most unwilling to go to the mat for latte-sipping socialist Eurotrash.) 

Smaller states with relations short of full alliance like Ukraine and Taiwan don't have those options. They pretty much have to design their relationships with their larger neighbors based on their assessment of the willingness - or, particularly, potential unwillingness - of the Land of the Big PX to risk a bigger fight rather than give their rivals the win.

And that means that the U.S. itself has to - or, at least, should - think hard about the degree to which it's willing to risk that fight for those polities. 

After twenty years of lies, damned lies, and delusion the current U.S. administration finally admitted that there was nothing in Afghanistan worth the bones of a West Virginia grenadier. 

Will a non-America-First administration be willing to risk that, and more, to ensure that Taipei remains free of PRC occupation? To keep the Donbass as part of the Ukraine?

What frustrates me about this, and the only reason that I'm writing this post, is because of the combination of indifference, stupidity, and hubris that seems to characterize the U.S. public and most political discussion about these topics.

The U.S. press spends about five or six more times the amount of talking nonsense about "critical race theory" than it does these potential collisions. The degree of public literacy about the risk-versus-rewards of an aggressive Taiwan policy in the linked article above is appalling; if damn near 70% of the U.S. public want their government to recognize Taiwan as an independent nation? 

They've been face-down in the edible weed far too long.

There's discussion to be had - and, potentially, arguments to be made - for resisting Chinese and Russian aggression in places like the West Pacific and eastern Europe. 

Those discussions are difficult and complex...and are not going on

Instead the public and, it appears, most media and political talking heads, are trying to reduce the issues to simple us-versus-them jingoism.

Yes. I realize that's how a lot of "geopolitics" gets done here in the Land of the Freedumb.

But, frankly, after the twenty-year-long disaster that has been the Phony War on Terror?

It's really time that We the People grew up and started putting away these childish things.

A collision with China or Russia may, indeed, be inevitable (or, as Andy will remind you in the case of China, is already happening...)

But I'd like to think that if it happens it will happen for sound geopolitical reasons. For U.S. national interests. 

I'd like to think that the systems of supposed self-government - the "free press", the representatives of the People in Congress, the foreign specialists in the Departments of State and Defense - would have conducted a thorough discussion and analysis of the potential gains and risks before it happens.

But.

That would mean thinking geopolitical strategy and, as former friend of the blog Seydlitz would tell you, the United States don't do "strategy".

We do the shit out of "critical race theory", though, so there's that.

Jesus wept.