Tuesday, August 17, 2021

The Dreamers Wake


This poor bastard is one Dr. William Brydon. He's arriving in British-held what is today Pakistan, the sole surviving escapee of the British Afghanistan expedition of 1844. He could probably have told you what it's like in Kabul today.

It's kind of pointless to refight all the fights we've had over this slow-motion disaster. Largely because we knew, or should have known, that the people who were supposed to be running this goat rodeo knew and have known for years that they were building nothing; that the ridiculous pile of blood and treasure had gone completely to waste.

The only point left to make is the point the GIs in Vietnam used as their summary of the clusterfuck: "Don't mean nothin'." That there was no point at which that rock was going to roll uphill, and the only question was who'd be left standing when the music stopped.

Of course this is a human tragedy. Thousands of people are going to suffer, many of them will die, because of all of this; the initial bizarre "constitution" doped out in Europe that tried to make a conventional Westphalian state out of Afghanistan, Rumsfeld's refusal to accept Taliban terms in 2001, the unwillingness to face the reality of what was happening to the place and the people, the constant insistence that just a few more months and a few more lives would change things.

To me, anyway, the truly "tragic" part - in the classic meaning of the term - is the fate of the poor Afghan sods that worked with and for the occupation. The images out of Kabul are horrifying...and yet...how else could this have ended?

To have ramped up an evacuation program six months ago, say, would have been as much as announcing to the Afghan government and the ANA that the U.S. had no confidence in their ability to hold. That lack of confidence would have been and is, obviously, fully justified. But it would have likely resulted in this disaster happening in February instead of August.

And I honestly can't see a way - short of slamming in a full division complete with heavy artillery support - to have held a perimeter around Kabul long enough to get everyone out. If it was my call to make I might have made it. But it wasn't, and I can see why it wasn't.

So the fever-dream of hustling the East ends, as such dreams so often do, in blood and heartbreak.

Will the waking dreamers learn from this?

Sadly...my guess is that not only will the Western foreign and military organizations not learn, they will refuse to even accept that there is a lesson to be learned here. There will be a brief search for scapegoats, and then the entire episode will be shoved unceremoniously down the memory hole so the next time we need to slay Afridis where they run.



Tuesday, June 29, 2021

The Swinged Cats Strike!

And those dusky border ruffians are put on notice! The Mount Rushmore State Mosstroopers - a whole platoon of the hardened veterans! - will fan out and become The Wall! No pasaran!

Seriously. Some Republican fatcat is paying for a whole platoon or so from the South Dakota Guard to TDY down to Texas to stop the Brown Hordes. 

Be assured that now the Republic is safe from La Raza.

Hey, Abbot? Hey, Noem? I seem to recall we tried this once. It didn't go all that well.

"We left the border for Parral
In search of Villa and Lopez, his old pal.
Our horses, they were hungry,
And we ate parched corn.
It was damn hard living
In the state of Chihuahua
Where Pancho Villa was born."

Update 6/29: Dan Nexon wins the Internets:

Friday, June 18, 2021

Unloading Chekov's Gun


The U.S. Congress has, in the usual scatterbrained and dysfunctional way that body seems to work, taken up the issue of repealing the 2002 "Authorization to Use Military Force" that was the legal cover for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the mess-o-potamia that followed.

I trust that no one who regularly visits this place has forgotten the appalling clusterfuck that resulted from that cynical bit of Great Power stupidity, so it's obvious on its face that it is time and past time to flush the boneheaded and dangerous thing, full of more lies than nuts in a fruitcake, and I wish they'd 86 the 2001. 9/11, version while they're at it.

The notion of having a political rule just lying around that provides any U.S. government who wishes the "legal" authority to start throwing projectiles around the globe seems dangerously stupid. It's not like illegality will stop a cabal that wishes to do that, but to give them a sort of real-life "C'est par mon ordre et pour le bien de l'Etat que le porteur du present a fait ce qu'il a fait."?

That 's a Bad Idea.

Both of the 2000's AUMFs are Bad Ideas spawned by my country's weird and ugly combination of geopolitical hubris and laziness, the sort of mindless aggressive response to any sort of provocation that makes every problem a nail to be militarily hammered.

It's unfortunate that the mindset that produced them cannot also be repealed. But at the very least - given the lessons that the mindless ruin and merciless hatred that the two have spawned should have taught us - these two loaded guns need to be unloaded.

We'll see if there's enough political sanity left in the U.S. capitol to do that.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Sunk Cost and Lessons Learned?

We had a fairly long discussion here about the "lessons learned" - or, rather, whether lessons that seem obvious in hindsight were, in fact, too difficult for the military boffins of 1914 to discern - in the first catastrophic war of the 20th Century.

Now the NY Times discusses a pointless (and "catastrophic" in the sense of "blood and treasure wasted for no geopolitically valid objective") war of the 21st Century, the mess that the United States has made in the Grave of Empires:

"It’s not as if Mr. Biden is being pressured to stay in Afghanistan with a cogent argument; most analysts freely admit that the United States has no plausible path to victory, that the military isn’t trained to midwife democracy and that the Afghan government is grievously corrupt.

Rather, the national security community cannot bear to display its failure. That’s why many who advocate continuing the war are left grasping for illogical or far-fetched justifications. In a meeting of National Security Council principals, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, reportedly made an emotional plea to stay in Afghanistan, after “all the blood and treasure spent” there."

This is the classic "sunk costs" theory that has been used to justify military shenanigans since the Peloponnesian War, and certainly we've seen modern Great Powers do this repeatedly (I'd argue that the real problem isn't that the U.S. foreign policy establishment was "traumatized" by the disaster in Vietnam but, rather, that the lessons IT taught were not learned, either...)

To me, the big question that the rolling clusterfuck that is the U.S.'s misadventures in the whole "land war in Asia" business is "is there a way for Great Powers - or, indeed, most polities - to make foreign policy decisions that are based on "national interests" that are, indeed, based on the interests of the bulk of the people in the polity"?

It's hard to see too many examples that prove that there is, so my question for the readership is "can you think of an example of a policy (or set of policies) or decision(s) that show that this sort of intelligent geopolitics IS possible?"

Is there (are there?) examples that, say, the "blobs" of various nation-states could look to for a way to see their way through to avoiding the very sort of complete clusterfuck on display when you look at the U.S. foreign policy camorra and it's work in Afghanistan since 2001?

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Over the Hegemon

I get that there is a fairly large subset of the U.S. public (and the pundits that natter to it) that refuses to use the word "empire" for the United States.

Imperial is as imperial does, but, fine, whatever.

But I can't think that there would be any disagreement that the U.S. has been the global hegemon for quite some time.

My question for the readership would be, then, is this worth going to Cold War with the PRC over?

I won't even argue with Rubio's contention that the PRC wants to replace the U.S. as the global hegemon.

Would that, however, present "as great a threat as any in history"?

Threat of what?

Would it harm the U.S. public in a material way if the U.S. was no longer the premiere Great Power but, instead, the second behind the PRC?

Keeping in mind that mainland China has a fairly horrible human rights record, would that translate into a worse world in general if the PRC had the ability to conduct whatever they'd call the "Ledeen Doctrine" on regional powers? A worse United States?

I have some ideas, but at this point I'm curious to hear yours; is this an actual thing (or is it just scaremongering)? If it IS a thing, is it really the MOST scary thing ever? And if it IS...is it worth hatting up for a new Cold War (with the attendant sorts of small Hot Wars between proxy states and non-state actors of the sort fought between the US and the USSR between 1945 and the 1990s)?

Let's discuss in the comments.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Brusilov and the question of Lessons Learned


My Bride (who is a terrific person for lots of other reasons, too...) was wonderful enough to gift me Tim Dowling's 2008 The Brusilov Offensive and I wasted no time curling up amid the wrapping debris to begin reading. 

In the opening chapter I came across something that intrigued me a bit, and thought I'd throw it out here for the patrons to swill along with their Christmas nog.

On page nine, Dowling recounts a general consensus among what he describes as "...a great many people - most notably the Russian general staff - that technological advances would play a minimal role." in the coming war of 1914. 

He then goes on to say that this "cult of the offensive" dominated most of the tactical to grand tactical thinking of the European powers. The paragraph concludes with a summary of the work of Austro-Hungarian GEN von Hötzendorf, as concluding that "Firepower was certainly beneficial, but its effectiveness was limited..."

I won't argue too hard against this; certainly there was a hell of an influential clique for the attaque à outrance idea in the French Army, and most of the other combatant army planners of WW1 seemed unwilling to abandon the notion that you could figure out some way to outrun a bullet or a shell and gain that elusive decisive victory if you just tried hard enough.

I get that part of that had to have been the lack of actual Great Power combat in the forty-odd years between the end of the Franco-Prussian War and 1914.

But, still...

You'd had the Russo-Japanese War just ten years earlier, and that had featured all the things that would kill all that "offensiveness" deader'n a Japanese rifleman hanging on the wire outside Port Arthur; deep entrenchment and obstacles behind machinegun beaten zones and heavy artillery. 

Pretty much every other European power had observers with the combatants, and it sounds like a ton of them reported all the same problems for the attackers facing these defensive measures, it sounds like none of them - particularly the Russians themselves, if Dowling is correct - learned anything from the lessons of others.

That, in turn, makes me wonder; how often in history have we soldiers (or the civilian leadership that directs us...) done that - learned from the experiences either of our predecessors or others - versus how many times we've failed to learn those lessons? It seems off the top of my head that the failures seem more common than the successes, that it seems more likely that military organizations will fail to recognize critical changes in technical or tactical conditions rather than anticipate or adjust to them.

Is that really the case, though? Or am I just being influenced by a sort of military "recency factor" that occurs because those failures tend to be more spectacular than the less catastrophic effects when an organization does react and adjust appropriately?

And is this something that tends to happen to all large military organizations at some point? Is there an example of an army (or navy, or air force...) tending to be uniformly decent at learning from the lessons around them rather than having to learn the hard way?

Christmas Day 2020


It rained when it should have snowed.
When we went to gather holly

the ditches were swimming, we were wet
to the knees, our hands were all jags

and water ran up our sleeves.
There should have been berries

but the sprigs we brought into the house
gleamed like smashed bottle-glass.

Now here I am, in a room that is decked
with the red-berried, waxy-leafed stuff,

and I almost forgot what it's like
to be wet to the skin or longing for snow.

I reach for a book like a doubter
and want it to flare round my hand,

a black letter bush, a glittering shield-wall,
cutting as holly and ice.

---”Holly”, from "Station Island" by Seamus Heaney.

 (h/t to Lance Mannion, who has been posting these evocative Heaney poems...) 

No matter your place, time, or creed, I hope you are enjoying a time of peace for you and yours. 

 I wish I could have said it as well as Charlie Pierce, but I can't, so I'll just add his Christmas wish to take me out:

 "...may you all have the rest and peace of this mid-winter holiday season. May all your whiskey be mellow and may all your lights shine. And may there always be a candle in the window, calling you home, calling you out of the storm, calling all of us home, together, and home."