Wednesday, December 30, 2009

First 2010 Reading Assignment for Our Crew

Stumbled across this in my morning reading of the IHT. The manuscript of Leavenworth's Combat Studies Institute history of operations in Afghanistan from Oct 2001 until Sep 2005. It's 422 pages, so don't think you can digest it too quickly. I haven't begun to read it, as I hate reading material this voluminous on the web, but will start to read it tomorrow night, once the New Year festivities are behind us.

However, the Times did print their synopsis here.

So, start reading it and as time goes by, perhaps it can provide fuel for discussion.

Happy New Year to all.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Some thoughts on tactical issues, too...

Interesting little article (actually, it's not so much an article but a steno job by Tom Ricks) about an AAR delivered by a warrant in A-stan.What I find a little depressing is the degree to which this is no-shit-Sherlock infantry 101. Stay off the roads and trails? Goddam, troop, my platoon daddy taught me that lesson he and his homies had learned the hard way (in the A Shau in 1967) waaaayyy back in 1982. Where the hell else do you think your enemy is going to put the mines, hero? Y'all been to war for, what, six or seven years now, and you're still forgetting this?

Having to remind the gyrenes about walking both point and slack point? About security halts? About rally points? Crossing linear danger areas?

One selling point of having a volunteer Army (and the USMC has been volunteer since 1945) was to prevent the "not-in-Vietnam-twelve-years-but-one-year-twelve-times" syndrome. If this warrant is ragging the troops for CRS disease, it sounds like this was either one fucked up platoon or we're having a problem learning and applying the simple old infantry tactics and techniques. All this stuff was hammered home in the Sixties in Vietnam. My generation learned it from the guys who came back to be our platoon sergeants and first sergeants and passed it on to our troops in the Eighties and Nineties when WE were platoon sergeants and first sergeants.It's a little irritating to think that we're reinventing the patrolling wheel having supposedly been at war for all this time. I think we agree that the U.S. has some serious issues with strategic thinking. This little article suggests that we might have some tactical problems, too.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Some thoughts on Strategic Issues

While catching up on my reading the other day, I found this paper in the Spring 2009 Naval War College Review (which, due to the turtle pace of bulk mail, arrived here in Oct) to have a few snippets that are aligned with the talk of "strategy" here.

Dr Bookman offers this quote from a 1955 paper written by Herbert Rosinski, a Nazi-era émigré German historian:

"Strategy = the comprehensive direction of power to control situations and areas to attain broad objectives." (page 3 of the .pdf document)

To me, what makes an operation "strategic" is that it meets all of the above criteria. The power must be purposefully directed, it must be comprehensively directed, the direction must be for the purpose of controlling situations and areas, and that control must be for the purpose of attaining broad objectives. (I restate the obvious for the purpose of emphasis.) I would offer that lacking any one of those imperative factors renders an operation non-strategic, or results in what becomes "strategic error".

Note that Bookman offers, "Control—and focus on its implications and ramifications—is the active ingredient of Rosinski’s seminal 1955 contribution; as control’s antithesis he points to a “haphazard series of improvisations.”" (pg 5) I would therefore ask if generally reactionary operations can ever be strategic in their application and outcome?

A third snippet that caught my attention was: Objectives refers to actual, not declaratory, strategy. In a world where public relations has become a function of command often no less important than the classic duties of a general staff, it is all too easy for strategists to let their declaratory strategies edit their real goals. In one limiting case of this kind of error, the “objective” is replaced by a mere slogan—which may be accepted with little analysis within an inner circle of high command as well as circulated among a wider public. (pg 5) Bookman addresses the uselessness of the terms "Victory" and "Defeat" as strategic objectives, as they are, in the larger strategic context, meaningless.

With the above snippets in mind, one might ask exactly what are and or were the situations and areas we sought to control in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to achieve broad objectives, and what were these broad objectives? In short, were these two wars initiated with a less than strategic view or fundamentally flawed by strategic error? Were the situations and areas to be controlled sufficient to achieve a stable geopolitical outcome (i.e. - were the objectives sufficiently broad?) and was the power applied comprehensively directed and sufficient to achieve control?

In terms of the second quote, one need only look at the period following the toppling of the two governments to see a “haphazard series of improvisations" that, as Rosinski says, lead us to understand how this antithesis of control allowed both theaters to fall into chaos. Whether or not history tells us that both nations may be unmanageable, the very lack of serious Phase IV operations ensured that history need not be the driving force. Rather, our lack of strategic vision sealed the deal.

Last of all, is the issue of slogans as strategic objectives. One could easily find sloganeering in the stated objectives of both wars, no less the GWOT. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find significant statements of the control that was to be exercised over specifically identified situations and areas. Yes, we were going to stand up two governments, or help them stand up, but what control can one have over such a situation, especially when we are claiming to allow them to do so by an almost immediate imposition of democracy? Is democracy really subject to control by an external power?

One will also find a mention of the pitfalls of "weapons based strategy". Perhaps all our discussion about COIN could be seen as a "tactics based strategy" discussion. Has the tactic displaced or skewed strategic thinking? Can COIN meet the criteria Rosinski sets out for strategy? Does it provide the comprehensive direction of power to control situations and areas to attain broad objectives, or is it a bit too reactive, and thereby too haphazard and improvisational to rise to strategic effect?

Just food for discussion.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Merry

From the Fire Direction Center:This holiday isn't exactly my thing. But for those whose it is; may yours be blissful and happy. May you be overwashed by the love of those you love around you. And may you wake to peace and content.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

No One Ever Lost Money Betting On The Stupidity of the American Public

And sure as hell not in Monterey.

But, hey, we've all been there: there you are strolling along, there they are, lying there in the public grass glistening in the California sun like little chocolate Faberge' Easter eggs, how could you NOT just pop one in your mouth?

They're like candy.

(h/t to the Comics Curmudgeon)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Money for Nothing and your Chicks for Free

I KNEW there was a reason I was a paratrooper.Works the same in the Ukraine, I see. That beret and the sailor shirt...they draw the girls like catnip, the little dears.

(h/t to Lawyers, Guns and Money for this delightful video)

Gian Gentile's Strategy of Tactics and the Ghost of Reinhold Niebuhr

A matter of semantics has to be cleared up before preceeding further. It is unwise to concede to Mao Tse-tung that the revolutionary's opponent is a "counterrevolutionary", for this word has come to be synonymous with "reactionary", which has not always been, nor will it always be, the case. Therefore, one side will be called the "insurgent" and his action the "insurgency", on the opposite side, we will find the "counterinsurgent" and the "counterinsurgency". Since insurgency and counterinsurgency are two different aspects of the same conflict, an expression is needed to cover the whole: "revolutionary war" will serve that purpose.

David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare, xii

Colonel Gian Gentile has produced a thoughtful - and I would add given the political siutation in the US - heroic interpretation of the current state of not only the US Army, but the whole US way of war, or what it has become. Today the all encompassing concept is COIN or population-centric counterinsurgency, which for Gentile is the problem.

Let me start with an outline of Gentile's main points and his conclusion with my own comments at the end. Gentile's article has 10 main points:

1. "Population-centric Counterinsurgency" or COIN has become an all encompassing concept for the Army which precludes choice as to other methods and approaches.

2. The American "way of war" (counter to Russell Weigley) has historically been of "improvisation and practicality", not an "ideological attachment to seeking out the next Austerlitz". The American way of war is thus pragmatic . . . not ideological . . .

3. COIN is not a military strategy, but at best an operational doctrine and at worst a "strategy of tactics", or simply an "intellectual straightjacket", which blinds the practitioner to not only other options, but its inherent limitations.

4. This total focus on a single method leads to self-deception: "appearing to apply David Galula's principles (Galula provides the "historical how-to text") while at the same time ignorance of military strategy.

5. What lead us to this crisis point was first of all a false (and for the Army self-serving) reinterpretation of the Vietnam War. Abrams the good (using COIN) following Westmoreland the bad (the conventional approach), but the politicians and public losing "their will" when the Army could have won in the end.

6. The second cause, and the more recent, has been the victory narrative associated with the 2007 Surge in Iraq, which Gentile describes as "hubris run amuck". Here he repeats his well-known argument that the Surge was simply one of numerous causes for the decline of violence in Iraq. The Surge did contribute to the change, but was not the main cause of it. He then implies a broader argument that the Surge in fact was a tactical measure that compromised strategic success.

7. The US military is unable to think in a historical context. The term the Army uses - "counterinsurgency" - is "so loaded with historical context, assumptions, myths, and absurdities that it has become almost meaningless". This can also hide a whole range of political purposes which are rather left unsaid, since COIN can be "used to define and judge any small war, imperial war, or insurgency".

8. Since 2006 there has been a lack of debate as to the way forward for the Army. Compared to 1976-82, when 110 articles appeared in Military Review, following the publication of FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency, there have been only a series of articles "touting the triumph of the Surge, a narrative that has steamrolled the American Army into accepting this new way of war".

9. COIN is assummed by its supporters (who fancy themselves as the "Young Turks" of the Army) as being "more difficult than conventional warfare", "more demanding", even more "political", although COIN is executed at a much slower pace with much more reaction time for commanders. In COIN since one has E-5s interacting with local villiage elders, it is assummed that this approach is in fact more "political", but policy has always existed at the lowest tactical level, [as the Communists well understood with their emphasis on constant education for not only cadre, but potential supporters - lack of historical context once again]. This focus on the political in the tactical also promotes this total focus on tactics, making for a "strategy of tactics" with no consideration of the link between tactics and strategy as a means to a political purpose, let alone of considering strategic effect. Gentile approvingly quotes Clausewitz at this point.

10. With the total emphasis on COIN, the Army has lost track of its conventional skills, which is another of Gentile's old arguments. He sees this as an unacceptable risk which could lead to serious consequences should the Army be called upon to military action at the other end of the conflict spectrum.

In conclusion he says that the Army would be better off studying the history of the British Empire of the latter half of the 19th Century where, "if nothing else" they understood the essence of strategy, that being the link between resources and means and ends. The British then, unlike the COIN supporters of today, did not see military operations as ends in themselves. What COIN boils down to is a form of "total war", the remaking of societies through military means, a ceaseless series of "crusades" sold as "nation-building" but which actually require the remaking of political indentites by outside force. How this supports the nationl interest or is let alone achieveable, or what the long-term costs would be is lost in the maze of tactical considerations, COIN having in effect "buried strategy".

What to add?

I think Gentile's assessment very accurate from a Clausewitzian strategic theory perspective. I would howerver add a few points which make the COIN position even more dubious.

First, not only does the current Army way of war lack the historical context of counterinsurgency, it lacks the theoretical context, having in effect cut and pasted what they liked from David Galula to fit their purposes. A careful reading of Galula's classic Counterinsurgency Warfare, would indicate how precarious the US position in the actual "wars on terror" is. Referring to the Galula quote above, which exactly is the revolutionary side? Who is attempting to impose their view on the local population, the Taliban, or the US/NATO? Galula also assumes that the Counterinsurgency begins from a position of institutional strength, possessing all the elements of a state in being. Even a colonial power would have had a functioning state system, there is no place in his theory for the outside actor (posing as the "counterinsurgent") starting a new state from scratch and imposing it on the locals (even officials of the former state) who then are labelled as "insurgents". The point here is that certain strengths that Galula assumes belong to the counterinsurgency do not exist in the two (or three) conflicts where COIN is being applied today, ditto for the assumed weaknesses associated with the insurgency.

Also in line with Galula's view, the political context sets the stage for revolutionary war. Prior to 1938 (see page 22) there were no successful insurgencies against colonial regimes, rather it was the crisis that Western and Japanese imperialism underwent as a result of World War II that ushered in the era of successful insurgency. Without the actions of Japan, Galula argues, the Chinese Communists never would have succeeded against the Kuomintang. For this reason, a Western state, even the lone super power, invading and establishing a client state given the current political context would be an exercise in futility for Galula, something which simply is not going to happen, that is his theory, the basis of COIN today, would not allow for it.

Second, this crisis of American strategic thought goes back a ways. I've put the beginning point as 1991. I have also argued that the similar notion of 4GW was Ludendorff's concept of Total War stood on its head. That is that war from this perspective "absorbs politics" and becomes theoretically something autonomous.

Third, Rupert Smith in his book, The Utility of Force argues that the US way of war is frequently "less an art than a search for the technical solution and a process" (page 88). This being an industrial process, industrial warfare having been the US way of war since the Civil War with a few exceptions. I think this emphasis for a technological solution part of US strategic culture, but that would apply more to the practical view that Gentile argues than the ideological view he associates with COIN. Also is not this search for a technical solution also influenced by the understanding that war is a test of opposing wills, that is traditional strategic theory?

My last point concerns the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Why? Rev. Neibuhr has been in the news of late with President Obama being described as "Niebuhrian" in his approach to morality, especially his comments on "evil" and even becoming "a war president". With all this name dropping going around (how many Americans even know who Niebuhr was or what his views were?) there must be something going on . . .

If one actually reads one of Niebuhr's classics, The Irony of American History, then one comes across a very intresting connection with Gian Gentile's view, showing us who is a "Niebuhrian" and who is not . . .

Long before the New Deal radically changed the climate of American political life the sovereign power of government had been used to enforce taxation laws which embodied social policy as well as revenue necessities; great concentrations of power in industry were broken up by law; necessary monopolies in utilities were brought under political regulation; social welfare, security and health and other values which proved to be outside the operations of the free market were secured by political policy. More recently, housing, medicine and social security have become matters of public and political policy. All this has been accomplished on a purely pragmatic basis, without the ideological baggage which European labor carried. The development of American democracy toward a welfare state has proceeded so rapidly partly because the ideological struggle was not unnecessarily sharpened.
page 100

Niebuhr found our emphasis of pragmatism over ideology as a great strength, perhaps our greatest strength and something which ensured the continued health of the American body politic which he saw as a Republic. This pragmatism was reflected in how we did things and how the country developed over time, how would Niebuhr see the changes that have shook this country since 1951? or more specifically in the points mentioned in the quote since the 1980s? That is a re-emphasis on ideology which in reality masks narrow political interest and an abandonment of one of our key American virtues.

This abandonment of our better pragmatic nature for the promise of superficial ideology has also inspired the current popularity of a new "way of war" which masks uncomfortable political realities. The current confusion in our strategic thinking reflects the larger confusion of our politics.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

OK, so does this tell us anything?

Today's IHT had an article chock full of interesting tidbits. Here's a couple of them, and I'll number them for quick reference as you comment.

1. Mr. Gates, who maintained his usual laconic reserve as the disarray unfolded, was by Friday more openly reflective when he acknowledged to American troops in Kirkuk, the oil-rich region north of Baghdad, how hard a sell the wars were at home. “One of the myths in the international community is that the United States likes war,” he said. “And the reality is, other than the first two or three years of World War II, there has never been a popular war in America.”

Talk about a Freudian slip on a horrific scale! So, should there even be "popular" wars? Having worked in the field for the bulk of my adult life, to include actually fighting in a couple of them, I shudder at the notion that any war might be "popular". I would hope that those who bear arms would be clinical about their trade. I would also hope that those clinicians would also retain a touch of humanity at the same time. Perhaps not in the heat of close contact, but at least in the larger sense.

Isn't it time to think about war as a last resort? To use a word so terribly over worked by GWB and Co, should war be "popular" of more correctly viewed as the application of necessary, but basically evil acts in response to unnecessary evil acts? Of course, necessary and unnecessary is in the eyes of the beholder.

In my eyes, popularity or not, the major failure of the American culture is the presence of far too many people who take war, especially "away games", far too lightly. If the 19 boxcutter wielding guys of 9/11 had killed or maimed a proportion of the NYC population equal to some of our collateral damaged innocents in Iraqi or Afghan villages - - - - well, think about it!

2. Mr. Gates found himself ..... startled by President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, who blurted out at a palace news conference that the Afghans would not be able to pay for their own security forces until 2024

Ok, boys and girls, if the Afghans will not be able to pay the bill for 15 more years, who will? And in return for those 15 years of payments, what will be the return on investment? You gotta love Karzai. If he is right, his "honesty" should scare off sane people. If he is wrong, you have to wonder where his head is. Either way, he's announced, "Heads you don't win and Tails you lose". Actually, after reading all that has been written about the nature of the country, his comment sounds quite plausible. Where would a tribal, non-industrial, natural resource poor country get the money to fund security forces sufficient for what we hope of them?

3. And, while we are wondering why the current wars are not "popular":
Mr. Gates did meet with Mr. Maliki early on Friday, the same day he finally managed to talk to some troops. That was in Kirkuk, where in a town hall-style session he was asked unusually pointed questions. Why, one wanted to know, is the United States still at war after eight years?

“I think it’s a mistake to look at Afghanistan as sort of one eight-year war,” Mr. Gates responded in the same even tone he had used all week. “We had a war in 2001, 2002, which we essentially won. And the Taliban was kicked out of Afghanistan. Al Qaeda was kicked out of Afghanistan, many of them killed. And then things were very quiet in Afghanistan.”

Without blaming President George W. Bush’s administration, which he once served, for sidelining the conflict in favor of Iraq, Mr. Gates said the second war in Afghanistan started in late 2005 and early 2006. “But the United States really has gotten its head into this conflict in Afghanistan, as far as I’m concerned, really only in the last year,” he said.

I think we have discussed his first claim, "essentially winning" the "first war in Afghanistan". How can you claim victory when the only result was a political vacuum, not a firm, sustainable political end state? OOOpppsss, there I go again, asking why we ignored our well developed doctrine for an "Occupation". Societies with Attention Deficit Disorder don't do occupations.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Books For Soldiers

In case you haven't been to one - or in case no one has ever told you - war is one of the most boring things humans ever invented.

It is a sort of Perfect Storm of bad food, worse hygiene, unchanging scenery and incessant companions punctuated (if you are unlucky) by moments of bowel-loosening terror.

And then you get up and do the same fucking thing again the next day.

And the next. And the...

You get the idea.

So now that we're neck deep in the Annual Holly-Bedecked QuasiReligious Festival of Corporate Greed, perhaps you can spare a moment to help those stuck in this craptacular business. One of the best ways I can think of - short of storming the Capitol and forcing the congresscritter to watch repeated showings of "When Justin Met Kelly" until they agreed to make peace and bring the deployed guys home - is here, at "Books for Soldiers".

(h/t to my battle buddy Jim over at RangerAgainstWar for turning me on to this site).

So to do something really decent to poke a thumb in the eye of your corporate masters (who want you buying something spendy and trendy to celebrate the birth of the impoverished Prince of Peace), how about kicking down a spare twenty or fifty to help some OTHER dogface make it through a long day somewhere in Central Asia?

Like you need another Christmas sweater, right?

(crossposted at MilPub)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Unknown Unknowns

This from Fred Kaplan over at Slate:
"At an otherwise uneventful hearing before the House Armed Services Committee this morning, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said something that should confirm and heighten most people's apprehensions about the war's escalation."
And goes on to comment that it was Savior-General McChrystal saying he had a lot to learn about the 'Stan.Umm, actually, Fred, no. That's just the way generals work. I'd be surprised if Ike knew all the details of the conditions inside the German infantry divisions defending the beach at Normandy. His G-3 and G-2 knew, though, and used that knowledge to make Ike's invasion plan work. McChrystal has staff, and his subordinate units' commanders and staff, who know their AOs better than he ever will.

No, what I heard on the radio yesterday morning that made me shiver was our modern day Little Mac tell the congresscritters something to the effect of; "You'll see, by 2011 the Afghan people will see the results of our success and see the benefits of siding with their government."

Now THAT is scary. First of all, it assumes that we're going to lick this ice cream cone in 18 months. That's lightning speed for a domestic rebellion. The Sri Lankan and Indian troops took, what, 30 years to clean out the LTTE?

Second, and most frightening, is the bland assumption that all this military goodness will drive Abdul and Miriam Lunchpail into the lovin' arms of the government in Kabul. THAT'S real crack smoking. The average Afghan is loyal to family first, clan second, tribe third, probably some sort of weak regional feeling last and Kabul every third leap year, if ever. No amount of force yet applied has changed that, and is unlikely to.If McChrystal really believes that - and is not just blowing smoke up the Congresscritters' collective butts - then he really DOES have a lot to learn about the 'Stan and we really ARE in trouble.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Climate Change, globally political, or politically global?

Or as I once asked, “does the marketing drive the science or the science drive the marketing?”

Since Chief beat me to the punch, I strong recommend reading his thread first.

Climate change is always a hot topic, and more so today than ever. Every scientist has a position on it, including myself. This thread, then, is presented because I had this discussion with a few people, scientists, who are not affiliated with any University group, or independent group advocating, promoting “Let’s do something!” really, it was a discussion amongst a few scientist from various backgrounds.

Without a doubt things are changing in our environment. One just has to go to Alaska to see the once great glaciers all but disappearing. In fact, one of the greatest concerns is called “rebound” earthquakes. This is happening in Alaska due to the disappearance of tons of glacial ice per square inch off of Alaskan soil which is causing the earth, mantle, to
“rebound” from all the weight coming off from it.

However, there are other factors to take into account that indicates empirical change in our world and that would be the receding glaciers in Antarctica where entire shelves of ice are calving and separating from the continent only to float northwards in the currents and melt.

Also, there are other indicators that things are on the move…earthquakes in deep places. Everyone knows about the tsunami that scrubbed clean lots of islands and mainland resorts in the Pacific, but what a lot of people don’t know is that that earthquake was so powerful it actually shifted the axis of the planet…not by a whole lot…but significantly enough that it was noticed.

Which brings me to this point: We live on a dynamic planet.
Living on a dynamic planet means that things are going to change.

Oh yes, they will.
What doesn’t change are peoples attitudes, and for the rejoinder I would like to say that we should take care of our planet regardless of
whether or not our production of greenhouse gases is affecting the temperature of the planet.

One of the more interesting aspects of human influence on the planet can be found in England…eight-to-ten inches below the surface. There, you will find the ash layer…soot really, that is a left over from the birth of the industrial age. Apparently, the ash is from all the coal that was burned to fuel the engines of progress…and even though the descriptions from that time of gray foreboding skies, choking smog, and black lung that affected non-miners the island still has green hills.
And really, that is where I’m coming from.
Life adapts, continues and moves on with us…or…without us.

So what, then, is our motivation for keeping the planet we live on healthy, and nice?
Well, because someone has to be the fucking parent in a world full of shitty diaper wearing children. I wouldn’t let my son run around in shitty diapers, and I suspect none of you would, either

And besides, who wants to lay down in their own garbage?

So, really, the truth of the matter is yes, things are a changing on our planet, and more than likely if we curbed our desire to soil our own beds we probably wouldn’t have so many environmental problems…but there is the issue of the human condition and that, in my opinion, is what the Climatologist were trying to change. Albeit, inelegantly, and deceptively, which in the end did more harm than if they had just been forthright and let he science speak for itself.

In short, yes, there is significant evidence that points to change, and yes, there are a lot of people who have vested interests in advocating for and against doing something.

The real question you have to ask yourself is what are you going to do about it?

Everybody talks about the weather...

bg mentioned the Copenhagen Conference on climate change and the recent fooforaw about the "censoring" of climate change skeptics by the mainstream climatologists.

Now, overall, I am perfectly confident that if human industrial emissions ARE having a significant impact on global climate (and I cannot imagine why they wouldn't - see below) that this conference will continue the great tradition of looking away from a difficult and painful choice until it rips our collective head off and vomits down the neck stump. There never has been a human society that anticipated their own impact on natural systems prior to those systems going to hell. Ask the Sumerians about soil salinization, the Anasazi about irrigated agriculture in a desert, or the Easter Islanders about giant heads. Oh, wait, you can't...But as for the "censoring" the background is in geology, not climatology, but here's my short take:

1. We are in an interglacial, and we know that over the past 1.8 million years the Earth has warmed and cooled considerably from where it is today. From the VOSTOK ice cores in the Antarctic we have O16/O18 ratios that give us a fair idea of global temperatures back into the end of the late Pleistocene. Stratigraphic, palynological and flora/fauna interpretation can give us a good guesstimate of global temps back at least as far as the Proterozoic (4 billion years ago). And we know from that that the Earth has been both much warmer and much colder than it is now.

2. But...the temperature data we have now looks suspicious; it spikes starting in the late 18th Century and that trend seems to be continuing. This trendline is rising at about the same rate as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, which saw 6 degrees of rise in 20,000 years and had a fairly major impact on planetary life.The thing is that we think that the PETM was triggered by one or more natural causes, the most likely thought to be the release of deep-ocean methane deposits or "clathrates". Of the other natural or cosmogenic processes that have affected global temperatures, from cometary impacts to the development of grasses, we have seen none over the past 200 years.

3. We also know that...

4. Industrial gases, including CO2, do have a "greenhouse" effect, and we have poured a tremendous amount of them (relative to the global baseline) into the air since about 1800.

5. So it makes sense, in a purely empirical way, to be highly skeptical of the notion that "humans can't alter the global temperature stasis", which is the primary point of the skeptics. Even if the temp spike and the industrial emissions aren't 1:1, it makes no sense to think that there's no effect at all (which is the main skeptic point).

6. And the real problem is that we know from Venus that there's a tipping point where the greenhouse becomes irreversible. And we don't really know what that tipping point is here on Earth. Runaway greenhouse here is unlikely - we have too much free water - but the point is we don't know. We don't know what is happening, other than the global temperature is rising above the normal trend and we have no smoking gun - no volcanism, no bolides, no clathrates, nothing that we know or think has caused warming in the past - to account for it. We don't know.

7. So since we know so little to me it makes perfect sense to reduce the amount of industrial gas emitted into the atmosphere to the greatest extent possible. And many of the skeptics

- whose evidence consists mostly of nitpicking holes in the theory and some pretty wild assumptions (as in the cartoon above - are paid for by industries that have a short-term stake in preventing this. It's also worth noting, as the Toronto Sun editorial stated:
"A key factor in the controversy is that the data discussed in these e-mails was not suppressed. It was discussed in the IPCC's Fourth Assessment report, which concluded it is more than 90% likely that human emissions of greenhouse gases are responsible for climate change."

This whole business is another attempt to make doing nothing - or making a mistake - seem like doing the right thing. Haven't we been there before?

So my feeling is this: we're not going to reverse the industrial revolution and go back to living in yurts. No one who warns of climate change believes we will. What they are trying to do is talk to a largely uneducated, credulous and greedy public about the notion that we need to put off our pursuit of that Wii and that Hummer H4 to slow down the emissions cycle and reduce the chance that we will end up with a runaway greenhouse.

This is the scientific equivalent of taking your foot off the gas because the terrain ahead suggests there may be a hard left turn in front of you. The skeptics, many of them, are saying "Fuck you, you pussy, floor it!" for no reason other than they have found some irregularities in the climate data, the scientific equivalent of saying that you don't need brakes because the road has always been straight and always will be.

So in a perfect world the climatologists would lay out all the data, point to the trend and then point out the irregularities and discrepancies and admit "We don't know why this is, this seems anomalous, but the overall data seems to suggest this." But the Western publics know only this: anything that curtails their industrial "progress" makes them "poorer" in the short-term.

Therefore if someone can manage to take those irregularities and discrepancies and make them look like a fatal flaw (which is possible with any scientific data you don't really understand how to interpret) they will seize on it as an opportunity to do nothing.

So I don't think that what the climatologists did was smart in the long run; if there IS a serious climate problem, people in general are going to have to become smarter about it in order to solve it.

But in the long run we're all dead and these guys have been fighting the battle against the nay-sayers for thirty years. We all saw how the people who were skeptical about the good sense of invading a fucked-up post-Ottoman Third World dictatorship to let freedom reign were swiftboated and lied about and generally screwed over. They did, too.

So I can fully understand their instinct to shut these guys up before they managed to raise their Pecksniffian bullshit to full Cheney on them.

The editorial in the journal Nature sums the situation up pretty well:
"In the end, what the UEA e-mails really show is that scientists are human beings — and that unrelenting opposition to their work can goad them to the limits of tolerance, and tempt them to act in ways that undermine scientific values. Yet it is precisely in such circumstances that researchers should strive to act and communicate professionally, and make their data and methods available to others, lest they provide their worst critics with ammunition."
But no matter. The entire controversy is a tale told by a lot of idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. The bottom line is that if this climate problem forces us to make a hard decision today, forces us to put down the TV remote and do something that makes us poorer and smaller in the short run...we'll kick it down the road. We like our problems minor, and our major problems invisible - until the moment they strike us dead. That way it's SO much less stressful.

Just ask anyone in Sumer.

Or on Venus.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Afghanistan's plains

It now appears certain that the present Administration is going to commit something like 10-12 additional maneuver brigades (or the equivalent of 2.5 divisions in our presently effectively-divisionless Army) to the Umpteenth Afghan War.

Debate at this juncture seems meaningless. After all, it has been over a year since the Obama Administration took over, there have been endless debates on the subject, and at no point does anyone with any significant influence in Washington seem to have said "Well, sod this for a game of soldiers; let's just grab a hat."Fred Kaplan, one of the few writers at Slate with any pretense of having given this war any real thought, comes down tentatively, hesitantly, gingerly, what-ever-other-name-you-want-to-give-the-act-of-sitting-down-naked-on-a-bear-trap-ly on the side of continued engagement after reading off all the reasons that this foreign expedition will probably fail.

Fine, Fred. You've probably thought about this more than I have.'s the thing; to me, there's a hidden landmine, a real shot-to-the-heart, buried in the very last paragraph on the first page:
"Earlier this year, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that enlarging the Afghan army was the key to success (and to America's exit). In March, when Obama ordered another 21,000 troops to Afghanistan, Gates assigned 4,000 of them—the 4th brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, a highly decorated combat unit—specifically to train Afghan soldiers."
Emphasis mine.

Now I come at this from a very specific frame of reference. To wit: I spent about 8 years as an airborne medic and medical NCO in airborne line units just like 4th BDE (which, from the division's website, looks like two battalions of the 508 PIR (airborne light infantry) and a battalion of the 73rd Cav, which is no longer the light tank outfit it was when I was there but some sort of bastard wheeled recon/security organization in HUMVEEs). Pretty much standard-issue paratroops. Good on 'em.


Here's the nitty: we didn't train people. Airborne troopers aren't trained to train people, especially foreign people. Check their METL. "Train Afghan troops"?

Not there.

They fight, and fight well. They include some truly outstanding NCOs who could teach eunuchs to fuck like mink. But "train Afghan soldiers"?

Nope. Sod THAT for a game of soldiers.

If this is what the "plan" is - to use some of our maneuver elements to straight-up fight the Talibs (a losing game in Afghanistan, where foreign troops can either be merciless conquerors or just passing through, but not really anything in-between, not successfully, not for long) and the rest to "train Afghan troops" - we're looking at a years-long arc of fail.

Training foreign maneuver forces is a hell of a tricky job, touchy as old explosives and calling for a very specific skill set that is usually developed over years if not decades. The British used to have a terrific knack for it; you had people like "Chinese" Gordon training the "Ever-Victorious Army" of mercenaries in 1860 and then the Khedive's Army in Egypt in the 1880s, Kitchener training those same Egyptians and Sudanese. Guys like Harry Maclean in Morocco training the hell out of the local bandits (that's him below, third from left with the lovely white whiskers)But these guys weren't doing something for freedom or democracy; they were working for the good of their own Empire. They were going to be there a looooong time, and knew it. They went native, and, largely because of that, were well outside their own regular Army, the very sorts of guys that today make up the 4th BDE, 82nd ABN and all the units like it.

Mind you, we used to have a bunch of folks like old Harry Maclean, whose specific job it was to do what he did. They were called "Special Forces" and their entire rationale was to sneak into Bad Places, train up local yobs into "Mike Forces", fight the Bad Guys and, if that didn't work, blow hell out of the place and split.

Mind you, this was before the SF was turned into Rangers with sexier hats.


But grabbing a bunch of guys off of Ardennes Street and expecting them to produce the 21st Century-equivalent-of-the-Indian-Army-of-the-Raj out of a bunch of illiterate Hazaras and starving Pashtuns?

That's the fucking "plan"?

Jesus wept.

That ain't gonna work."When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
So-oldier ~of~ the Queen!"

(Endnote: after I published this I stopped and really LOOKED at the two pictures of the current GIs I had grabbed off the internet and my first thought was: what the FUCK are these goatscrews? A squad straggling through the desert like a bunch of Castro Street drag queens at the fucking Gay Pride Parade? Joe Snuffy going for his third attempt at a posthumous Purple Heart skylining on the knoll? Where the hell are their team leaders, squad leaders, and platoon sergeant?

Does anybody here know how to play this game?)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Rummy versus Personnel Strength

I have posted on more than one occasion that Secretary Rumsfeld did not want the expense of the military personnel strength to interfere with his wheeling and dealing "business ways". Every service member in uniform, competed and interfered, by law, with his desire to execute his desires as freely as possible. How's that for a strong statement. Here's why I say that those in uniform competed and interfered, by law, with his desires:

In the private sector, if the CEO needs money for new equipment, he has several ways of getting it. One is to borrow, another is to increase sales, and another is to divert funds for one expense item to the desired purchase. Laying off employees and extracting higher productivity from the remaining work force, for example, allows the salaries and benefits not paid to be diverted to other corporate uses. Or, the employer can find a way to reduce individual salaries and benefits to diver the funds thereby saved.

In the US military budget process, there are three categories of budgeted funds that bear explaining:

1. The Personnel Account (PA). These are the funds specifically identified by Congress to meet the direct payroll and selected benefits requirements of the uniformed military. And, the monies in PA are virtually impossible to divert to other expense items. Unlike XYC Corp, the Secretary of Defense, or any other member of the Defense dept cannot simply reduce pay or the number of uniformed military at his discretion to divert PA funds to other use once a budget has been approved. Nor can money from other accounts be used to make up shortfalls in the PA. The jargon for this is that the PA is "Fenced".

2. The Operations and Maintenance Account (O&M). These are the funds with which the day to day operations of the military are conducted. Civilian payroll, supplies, repairs, contractor services, utilities, bullets, uniforms, and so on come from this account. Fund managers have a degree of discretion in executing these accounts. If you delay hiring a replacement civil servant, the salary not disbursed can be used elsewhere, within some limits.

3. Procurement Accounts. These are the funds designated to buy "big ticket" items, and quite often they have not only dollar, but unit quantity specifics.

Now, for every soldier on the payroll, a part of the Defense budget is and can only be used for his pay, allowances and certain benefits. Further, unless you want the people up in arms because you wouldn't provide food, uniforms and medical care for the troops, a certain portion of the O&M account is basically out of the Defense Secretary's control, as it must be spent to accomplish these ends, and every fellow in uniform requires food, uniforms, medical care, equipment, etc. In short, a huge portion of the Defense budget is "Fenced" to support the people in uniform, or is driven by circumstances to support the people in uniform. Even O&M funds that are, on the surface, available to support things of the Defense Secretary's choosing, are tied to personnel strength levels to a great degree.

One would be a fool to think that Congress is willing to write a blank check to the Defense Dept. Unlike XYZ Corp, that can try to increase sales to get more money to fund internal priorities/desires, DOD can only work with what Congress sees as the TOTAL expense level it will accept for the Defense Budget. If a SecDef wishes to spend 10% more on missiles next year, he very well may have to give up something in exchange, just a a CEO with no hope of increased sales/revenue must fore go an expense item to use that money elsewhere. But, unlike his corporate CEO counterpart, the SecDef cannot play fast and loose with the PA to meet his internal expense priorities.

Now, Mr Rumsfeld was seduced by technology to increase the "lethality" of the armed forces. One aspect of lethality is that each service member can kill more bad guys with technology than without, and the next logical conclusion (if you want to call it "logical") is that therefore, fewer troops can kill the same numbers of bad guys with better "toys". Now, in an auto manufacturing plant, technology can decrease payroll expense without reducing the plant output. But the DOD really has more in their mission than killing and blowing up things, and Phase IV is one of them, or at least the potential for Phase IV operations. But, Phase IV operations, by their very nature, are not lethality based, and are very manpower intensive. So, if you can avoid Phase IV responsiblities, you can reduce manpower requirements.

How antagonistic was Rummy toward manpower costs? Well, he openly expressed irritation that his budget had to divert his attention to and pay for "grocery stores, department stores and hospitals that no proper private sector employer had to provide". When reminded that the Exchanges were not supported by budgeted funds, they dropped out of his cross-hairs. To reduce the number of medical staff being paid out of the PA, we simply had their stateside billets converted to contractors paid out of the O&M accounts, adjusting staffing as necessary to manage the O&M dollars as he saw fit. Or, shifted patient care from military hospitals to nearby civilian hospitals to move that expense to the TRICARE (insurance) account.

Why the dependence on contractors in Iraq? Because one hires them on an "as needed" basis and pays them out of O&M funds. If the need for fuel transportation drops, reduce the contract requirements and spend the money elsewhere. GI fuel truck drivers cost the same amount whether they deliver fuel or not, and those PA funds cannot be shifted.

Now, as to what I saw as evidence that Rummy wanted to strip the military down to a "shock and awe" capability only? First, there was a numeric ceiling on the force for the invasion of Iraq. Now, any student of the military will tell you that personnel numbers are meaningless. Operational thinkers work with "Force Packages". There is a warfighting difference between 2,500 troops and a Brigade Task Force, and there are also different types of brigades, based upon the type of warfare (light infantry, armor, etc). "2,500 troops" tells us nothing about the capability of the resulting force. Yet, Rumsnamara was not going to entertain more than 250,000 uniformed personnel in theater, regardless of the force composition needs. Thus, significant and necessary combat service support units were left off the battle roster. Thus, the 3rd ID, for example, had difficulty getting rations when the operation lasted longer than anticipated, and contractor logistic support was not available. And this diddling with "non lethal elements" being left behind by design can be traced directly to SecDef.

To be able to really "conquer" an enemy and stand up, over time, a new state, requires, as GEN Shinseki so gracefully stated, many, many more soldiers than just invading and toppling the army and government of another nation. If we are to have a military capable of conquering another nation and properly occupying it, the size and type of Army Rumsfeld envisioned, small and lethal, but nothing else, will never get the job done. I'm not saying that we ever could have stood up an acceptable and functioning government in Iraq. What I am saying is that if it is possible, we did nothing to make that happen, and that nothing was by the intent and design of one Donald Rumsfeld.

So, we are not, nor never have been facing an "insurgency" in Iraq. What is going on there is no different that the chaos in New Orleans when the forces of nature kept the civil authorities from providing basic and effective public safety services. No police, fire, water, electricity, sanitation result in a break down of the social order and you end up with looting and other associated crimes. And like Iraq, some of the criminals were from outside New Orleans. The difference in Iraq is that after the total destruction of the elements maintaining the social order, the follow on structure was too little and too late. It's not an "insurgency" but a totally failed occupation.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

This turkey bites!

I'd like to join Publius in wishing the entire MilPub - patrons and waitstaff - the happiest and most peaceful of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving has always struck me as among the most American of holidays; invented here, founded on a half-ounce of history larded with ten pounds of myth and outright bullshit, centered around a perfectly denatured "religious" occasion and (in modern times) represented by eating too much good food and professional sports.

And since you can't get more Thanksgiving than Star Wars, here's my gift to you all this year: this is an "All-Terrain Turkey Eliminator" walking tank, as envisioned by my little man, who cares nothing for the holiday other than he gets a week off from school.All the best from the four of us here in Portland to all of you, wherever you are.


Just when I was wondering what to be thankful for in this, my year of general malaise, brought on by economic distress and stupid wars, I came across this. That's right, folks, the phony shit kicker from Texas, the walking embodiment of the old slur about all hat and no cattle, is gone from the scene. Yes, his successor, despite all of the strong words during the campaign, all too often seems intent on emulating the Crawford Clown, but this post isn't about that.

I say we should just take our blessings where we can. Me, I'm blessed by still being on the right side of the grass and by not having any family or close friends leave me this year. I'm also blessed in having a wonderful spouse and kid, both of whom deserve high marks for putting up with me all these years. And, in the huge blessing department, my daughter is in the process of moving from the San Francisco area to Cambridge, MA, where, just after the first of the year, she will take up new duties as an associate director with a large biotech firm. Boston in the winter: ugh. Boston as a warm weather destination: nice. Boston any time, with my kid there: very good news.

I'm thankful to FDChief, for doing the heavy lifting in putting this blog together. And to the other MilPub bloggers: You make my days brighter and the heavy lifting not quite so heavy. I salute you. I may sometimes disagree with you, but I always respect you. I especially hope Al and Seydlitz, our friends abroad, find a way to carve out a little piece of America on this most American of holidays. Further thanks go to other members of our blog family: to my friends Lisa and Jim, from Ranger Against War, and to all of you who take the time to read our maunderings and to make a contribution. I consider you all friends.

A couple of years ago I asked one prominent military blogger about his practice of "moderating" (read censoring) reader comments, "What are you afraid of?" I noted that, IMO, reader comments were often the best part of a given post, and that I disagreed with any actions taken to censor them. I did not get a satisfactory answer; in fact, I was invited to "get lost." At that point, I decided that no matter how brilliant or well informed this blogger was, if he couldn't stand the heat, participating in his blog wasn't worth it. I bring this up only to note that no one posting on this blog is afraid of comments. Keep 'em coming.

Thinking of Al and Seydlitz, residing in nations where this distinctly American holiday isn't celebrated, takes me back some 30 years or more to when we resided in Bayreuth, FRG. As the person in charge of operations for a large swath of the border with Czechoslovakia and East Germany, I devoted much time to social gatherings with West German government officials. We hosted a Thanksgiving dinner with some of them. And, of course, along with the turkey and the stuffing, we served corn, that most American vegetable. And then I had to talk my German friends into eating the corn.....

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everybody.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Broad, Sound View of War . . .

Today more than ever it is vital that a broad, sound view of war, beyond the petty maxims of the practitioners, should become the common property of every citizen, so that all those striving toward understanding may communicate with each other.

Carl von Clausewitz, Letter to Fichte, 1809

William F. Owen has published a noteworthy article in the Armed Forces Journal:

. . . Yes, the U.S. Army needs restructuring, but the demise of the Warsaw Pact in 1991 provided a far greater strategic justification for change — and still does — than fighting insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan ever could.

U.S. forces are drifting toward viewing counterinsurgency and war-fighting as distinct forms of activity. They are not. They are inextricably linked, in terms of equipment, training, doctrine and education. Thus the Victorian expression of “big wars and small wars.”

War is not changing. The aims and purpose of organized violence for political gain are enduring and unchanging. Insurgencies are war, and most if not all of the observations made in the Army’s new FM 3-24 “Counterinsurgency” manual could have been written in 1991 or earlier. Future wars will be born of future politics, not “globalization” or the Internet. Yes, there will be “unknown unknowns,” but they are just that: unknowable. New words won’t change that. . .

Language is basic, communication necessary. Propagandists will tell you that language is power.

The words we use do make a difference, words do have specific and concrete meanings, they are a basis of social communication, unless of course following Thucydides we are in political turmoil in which the inability to communicate with words reflects political chaos. In chaos, words that can be linked to interests take on these new meanings, subverting the old meanings, making everything in effect political, a matter of contention. Societies cannot withstand such conditions for long without suffering serious effects.

Prior to this quote, William Owen does a number on "hybrid warfare", another item in the current menagerie of pseudo-strategic notions and potions (N&S).

"Today, we no longer need strategic theory, such an outmoded concept" the N&S guys and gals say, "it's all about politics, which as everyone knows is a thing of the past. We no longer do politics. We just follow and applaud."

Ahhh, the marketplace of "strategy" which is so easy to find, just follow the most current jargon . . . and other loud noises. That being of course because we no longer do "strategy" in the meaning of how our government is organized and structured to do strategy, that according to Clausewitzian definitions . . . not since Cheney decided he wanted to do everything off the books . . .

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Broken Contract?

Tim Egan has a fairly vituperative post up over at the NYT.

I don't agree with his conclusions: I think the American public, left, right and center, are too complacent, too stupified and too cowed to do any "raging" at anyone. Look at the peasant mentality of the "teabaggers" - ramping and stamping about "government interference" in their sorry little lives while the limos of the wealthy glide by toasting the largesse they are receiving from that government. Look at the way the rest of us - all of us - are willing to stand by and let a minority of fanatics insist that our supposedly nondenominational governments hold up a monotheist religious standard for who gets to form a domestic contract with whom.

No. We are, by and large, sheep for the slaughter.

But I do agree that our ruling class has largely become the wholly owned subsidiary of the rentier and corporate classes. If we're going to be outraged about something, why aren't we outraged that 44% of our congresscritters are millionaires?

We rebelled against a king and his aristocratic cronies for that?

And I loved his snarky comparison between the Bull Moose Republicans of yore and the RoboGOP and RoboDems of today.

Anyone with any other thoughts?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Best to my fellow Marines and Veterans

Yes, a day late to wish a "Happy Birthday, Marine", but the warmth, respect and affection is still there.

With equal warmth, respect and affection, our thoughts are with our fellow veterans on this 11th of Nov. For me, it's fitting, however how accidental, that one day follows the other.

Semper Fi! and Present Arms! to you all


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

We learn war no more

Sunday, November 8, 2009, approximate time, 1112 hours, worship songs have been sung, and the worship leader begins to pray…

“…Father G-d, as we approach Veterans day, we ask that you bless our soldiers and their sacrifice for our freedoms that we enjoy. Bless them G-d, and protect them as they fight in distant lands, protecting us and the freedoms we enjoy…”

My heart is no longer in the prayer.
My mind is now engaged which is usually a bad thing for the person I’m focusing on, or institution which I’m in.
I’ve been having issues with many in Christianity today because of their rabid devotion to the secular issues of this world, but this prayer…yes, this prayer brought it home for me.
As I said, it’s a bad thing when I start thinking in the middle of a worship service, but there I was…thinking.
And these are my thoughts.

Do you have any clue what you are praying?
You all are thanking these men and women for doing things they wish they had never done.
You are thanking them for seeing things they wish they had never seen.
You are blessing them with a hell they wish they had never been part of.
You are thanking them for slaughtering people.
You are thanking them for butchering men, women, and children.
You are thanking them for delivering wholesale destruction on someone else’s nation, someone else’s community, someone else’s places of worship, and more so, someone else’s homes.
You are asking the Lord G-d Almighty to bless the destructive capabilities of our nation which has no peer in this world.
And my one and only thought is this…have you lost your mind?

You want G-d to bless our soldiers, then be more specific with the blessing…bless our soldiers with peace.
Bless them with compassion so that they may show compassion.
Bless them with hope so that when they come back home they don’t turn on their own family, their own community, their own nation.
But most of all, bless our Nations leaders with a brain.
With common sense.
With an overall burden of knowledge that war only causes more problems, and that someone, somewhere has to have the balls, the courage, the compassion of the divine, and a concern for humanity that enough is enough.

Because the prayer you just prayed…is not a good prayer.
It is a bad prayer.
A very, very bad prayer…and I refuse, nay, I will not pray such a prayer.

So, as I have ponder that moment, I have come upon the prayer that I will pray.

So this is my prayer for Veterans and soldiers on Veterans Day.

May the sovereign G-d that you know or do not know watch over you.
May he bring you out of the maw of the dragon, and back to your home.
May the G-d of heaven and earth teach you peace of mind, peace of heart, and peace of soul.
May the Lord G-d Almighty caress you with compassion, may he cradle you in love, and may you be a living expression of that love.
To love without hesitation.
To care without concern.
To live a life without fear.
May G-d bring you the joys of life you have taken, or seen taken and may your only burden be concern as a teacher of caution for our future.
May you be the voice of history that we, who do not know the hunger of the dragon, heed your experience and learn from your life that you may willingly share.
And may G-d give us a spirit of discernment and a teachable heart to listen your wisdom.
So with all our love, may G-d give you all that you need, but most of all, may G-d give you the peace of the spirit that your soul may linger in the fields of life a moments time longer, and may we all walk in the paths of a quiet life.
May your knowledge, your experience be our knowledge, our experience so when we say “no more war,” it is not out of ignorance, but out of your knowledge that we understand the scripture, “and we will learn war no more.”

That is my Prayer, and may G-d make it so.


Monday, November 9, 2009

We Are the People! - The Fall of the Berlin Wall - 9 November 1989

Alexanderplatz, East Berlin, 4 November 1989

With all the hoopla about the 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Wall, perhaps we should ask ourselves what exactly is the significance of this event and all the various events associated with that Annus mirabilis of 1989 and revolutions that swept away Stalinist Europe.

A good place to start in considering a retrospective is with Timothy Garton Ash's 1989!. Much to understanding those times is to get a "feel" for the electricity that was in the very air that people breathed. Ash was in Poland, East Germany and Czechoslovakia at just the right times and experienced the moods among the crowds. In his essay he relies on several concepts to help explain not only those events but how they have since been interpreted. For instance the idea of hindsight bias, or simply, "what happened had to happen" or simply deterministic fate. In regards to the Berlin events this runs "Communism was at an end, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was broke, they needed a way out and simply sold out to the West". This goes hand in glove with another dubious notion that Ash doesn't mention in this essay, but is so very common, that is that those in power always call the shots. This notion is the basis of all government conspiracy theories, that is when something happens those with the power made it so. Common people, even organized in great numbers never really make a revolution, maybe a nudge, but not really a difference . . . 1989 proves that wrong and makes the use of mass action possible given the right motivations, conditions and contingencies.

The year started uneventful enough, the leader of the GDR telling the world that the Wall would last "for another 100 years" and who was to disagree with him? The leadership elites of both East and West had become accustomed to the stability the Cold War brought, to the predictability and sustainability of keeping both sides as they were. This did not consider the feelings and aspirations of the people in the Warsaw Pact or even Russia (as opposed to the "Soviet Union"). Clausewitz wrote that the material side of organized force was a "simple wooden handle" as opposed to the moral side which was the "shining, well-honed steel blade". This also assumes that the leadership wielding the sword know what they are doing with it.

There must have been something in the world's air, since in China a democratization movement developed between April and 4 June when it was brutally crushed. What had sparked that protest had been a funeral of a popular official, but the reaction was particularly marked in eastern Europe, where it divided the leadership between hardliners who supported what the Chinese government had done and those who saw the "Chinese example" as something to be avoided at all costs. It is here perhaps were Mikhail Gorbechev, who influenced the events of 1989 more than any other leader, exercised the most significant effect rejecting the Chinese example as an option, or at least the option of using Soviet Troops to do what the PLA had done.

In Poland, Solidarity was elected into office in the first free elections since 1945, and Gorbechev and Glasnost were attempting to rethink "the system " in the USSR. Change was in the air, but at what point would it be seen as too much and at what point would the "Chinese option" kick in? Tensions were high and the situation only needed a bit of a push to set the whole unstable structure in motion, but towards what?

The Hungarians in effect lit the fuze with a picnic in August by opening up a section of their border to Austria as a sort of party between two neighboring towns. This followed a limited crack in the Iron Curtain that the Hungarians had made in May. What they did not anticipate was that over 600 East German vacationers would "crash the party" so to speak and cross over into Austria. Suddenly Hungary became the favorite vacation spot for East Germans, and the Hungarians failed to do anything to stop them. The GDR responded by refusing to allow people to travel to Hungary, but then those wishing to flee started gathering in West German embassies in Prague and Warsaw. This created great pressure both inside and outside the GDR.

At the same time as the "pull" to get out, there was an internal "push" for reform across the GDR. Weekly demonstrations started in September, but gained a much greater momentum on 9 October with the first Monday demonstration in Leipzig following the 40th anniversary of the GDR on 7 October. The Leipzig demos climaxed with the one of 23 October drawing over 300,000 people, gaining Leipzig the title "Hero City" or Heldenstadt der DDR. The reason for the title was clear since in September and October going out to demonstrate against the GDR government meant possible arrest, later police harassment and physical abuse. For instance on 8 October 500 were arrested, and many more beaten, at a peaceful demonstration at the Gethsemane Kirche in East Berlin, which was another center of the protest. The government tried to quell the protests with the semblance of change, Erich Honecker and most of the old line resigned on 18 October, only to be replaced by Egon Krenz who was even less popular than Honecker had been. Krenz had visited China earlier that year and praised the "Chinese example". This only spurred the demonstrators on more which in turn led to the largest demo of them all, one million at Alexanderplatz on 4 November, five days before the fall of the wall.

The "push" met the "pull" with the freedom trains which transported 12,000 East Germans who had been held up in Poland and Czechoslovakia to West Germany during the first week of October, the one event proving a catalyst to the other since the trains were required to pass through Leipzig . . . It was one of the greatest mistakes the GDR leadership made during the whole crisis, but not the biggest nor most spectacular.

That honor belongs to GDR Politburo member Günter Schabowski, who in one of the best examples of the importance of being clear with your meaning at public speaking events botched a news conference and told the people of the GDR they were free to travel outside the country "immediately" (this is a youtube link since you have to see this to believe it). The looks on the Border Guard (including Stasi Passkontrolle) officers is amazing.

The rest is history as they say, although what did happen could have turned out a wide variety of less favorable ways (especially for the Eastern Europeans) and even some more favorable (in terms of economics) than what it fact did occur. This becomes clear when comparing the events in Berlin with those in Prague which also required a whole sequence of contingencies to occur.

What stands out for me is the potential effect of the common person, what people can do for themselves if properly motivated and willing to go through a period of adversity and even pain. That and keeping your wits about you, not reacting violently to power, but making power appear impotent by its inability to instill fear. Get the uniformed "keepers of the peace" to start doubting not only their power but their purpose and watch what happens. Perhaps that is the big message from 1989, that any political elite would not want you to know.

The second thing was the cluelessness of those in power on all sides. Even Gorbi, who was the most influential, had no idea what the effect of his actions would be and went a bit hard line later on. Of the Allied leaders, Pappy Bush probably comes out the best (especially when compared to Thatcher who made even Krenz appear "reform minded") in that he got out of the way of German reunification. During the 1990s there were a whole series of former officials who came out with memoirs explaining how they had known all along what was going on - ninty-nine point nine percent of which is self-serving tripe imo. At the time we (as in strategic intelligence collection) were being told to either "expect anything" or it "will all blow over". It was the ops who were able to adjust well to quickly changing events, less so the managers in my experience. Those closest to the streets were the most clued in, those high up on the food chain, in positions of bureaucratic power, the least.

Where was I on 9 November? It was a Thursday so I was home from work with the family watching TV (usually switching between East and West German and AFN) and heard Schabowski's statement. "WOW, this is big!" I tell the wife and head for Checkpoint Charlie by way of the U-bahn getting off at Koch Strasse. There already were crowds gathered on the West Berlin side and climbing a light pole (I could do stuff like that 20 years ago) I could see hundreds of East Berliners patiently waiting. At this point the corrected version of the new travel law came out and people were spreading the news on our side that it would only come into effect on the 11th, that is the people would have to apply on the 10th and be able to travel the next day. So I went back home, feeling as I was a bit guilty for leaving the wife at home alone with our sick daughter. What I didn't realize until the next day was that Ossies had lost their fear of the system and the GDR authorities had lost their faith in it. The "push" met feeble resistance and kept pushing, so the local border guard commanders simply opened the borders and kept their troops in barracks lacking any coherent orders from above.

The next day my office opened a screening center in a former elevator factory and over the next days I screened scores of "pullers" whereas the "pushers" were mostly back in their East Berlin beds by noon. Some of the first to desert - and those I interrogated - were those who would have under different conditions been those most relied on to enforce the "Chinese option".

In spite of all the work I had to do, I was in a state of euphoria during that entire time and into Spring 1990. It was the most sublime period of my life.

One more link: 20 Years After the Wall

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Where Goeth the Economy?

Here’s the new thread that picks up from where Pluto posed good questions based on his valid observations:

My academic training and research was heavy on labor market theory and much lighter on economic theory. What I fear is being missed is the disruption to the labor market that is being suffered, along with the economic and structural factors that will prolong the disruption as well as emerge from the disruption. There's some "The Chicken or The Egg" issues here, as far as I see.

My research was in "dual labor market" theory, and predominantly the structural side. I had colleagues who looked at the sociological side, and we shared data, as the phenomenon is both structural and sociological in nature. In short there are two distinct labor markets, "Primary" and "Secondary". The Primary market is what we normally think of in terms of desirable employment. Earnings are a statistically predictable factor of education, experience, age, tenure on the job, etc, and jobs have established reasonable security and upward mobility ladders, even if that ladder is simply longevity raises. Job turnover in the market is modest.

The Secondary market shows none of the above predictors of earning, stability and upward mobility. Earnings are predicted by the prevailing minimum wage and hours worked. The market is oft times colloquially referred to as "burger flipping", for example, even though there are numerous other industries in the farm and service sectors involved.

I looked at the structural reasons why such jobs exist (actually the industries that were characterized by a predominance of such jobs), and there is more to that than fits in the allowable space here. The sociologists looked at the incumbents in the labor market, and germane to our discussion here is that once someone spends 18-24 months or so in Secondary labor market employment, the probability of entering or returning to Primary labor market employment decreases drastically, without regard to the person's education, experience, etc. Amongst ourselves, we called it the "Roach Hotel" phenomenon - many check in, but few check out. It is not unusual, for example, for even a scientist who has to “flip burgers” for a couple of years to remain in that state. The contributing factors are complex and many.

One major question was if the residency in Secondary labor market employment was a product of the nature of the employing industry or the laborers themselves. The answer was strongly suggested to be both. It was a saprophytic relationship, more or less. At least at that time, and while I have been away from the field for nearly 30 years, what we learned then would be generally applicable now.

Very briefly, however, Secondary labor market industry has grown since the days of my graduate/dissertation research (76-82), and more industries have developed employment practices and relationships that have Secondary market characteristics. I must state here that I returned to active military service in 83 and left that world behind, so I am not as closely involved with the material. However, from my view, many jobs have been "converted" to employment with at least some Secondary market structural characteristics since 82, and I would offer "independent contracting" as an example, due to the inherent instability therein. Pay may be higher in some fields of contracting, but surety of employment from one contract to the next is not predictable, future earnings are not predictable and all too many contracts limit future employment options (contract or direct hire by contractor, contractor's clients or competitors and their clients) in a given field. As an aside, many "independent contractors" do not meet the eligibility criteria for unemployment benefits when their contract is terminated. Thus, in my view, over the past two decades, we have actually created a new, higher pay category of Secondary-like (and thereby imprisoning and unstable) employment.

A second concern is that we created good jobs in "bubble" fields that appeared in the short term to be traditional Primary market employment, but because of the unsustainable growth, were not. Home construction for example. The underlying causes of these jobs was tenuous and non-sustainable at best.

So, to the conclusion. The current crash and high unemployment has eliminated many jobs in the Primary market. Further, the “Secondary-like” fields, such as those that employ contractors at reasonable pay, is displacing Primary market jobs, undermining employment security. That puts millions into the “desperate for work” category who will accept anything to hold their heads above water. Typical answer – “temporary” Secondary market job, if it can be found.

Whether we want to accept it or not, I fear that this recession is profound enough to reshape the overall labor market. The “engine of growth” of the past three decades, irresponsible and boundless personal credit and debit, was not, is not and cannot be sustained. Consumers account for 70% of our GDP and cannot continue the debt fueled spending spree. Home values for many, now at 1999 levels, will not rise to the mortgaged value for another 8 years or so, trapping many people with “upside down” mortgage situations into paying to hold on until they finally get some equity, sell at a loss or allow foreclosure. There will not be home equity to finance consumer spending for a few years, if that trend return at all.

Thus, the trend of our nation’s wealth moving more and more into the hands of the top few will continue. Manufacturing companies and other “necessary” industries will staff at “lean and mean” levels, or shift manufacturing to lower cost overseas facilities/sources to maximize profits. Employment in Secondary labor markets will grow disproportionately as the portion of the population that does not amass wealth will grow, and we will see the “underclass” expand.

And, to address the implications for foreign policy, as more and more of the population becomes economically disenfranchised, the remaining holders of wealth will entertain more and more adventures overseas if it doesn’t conflict with their economic goals, while many of the poor and nearly poor will accept it as a result of their feelings of helplessness and/or the only source of national pride available.

That’s the “Readers’ Digest Condensed Version” of a very complicated issue. Please feel free to pick at it, challenge it, reject it and/or expand on it. Nothing would make me happier than to find I have reached an inaccurate conclusion.

How’s that for cynicism? Now, in closing, all of us at the university that were working in dual labor market theory at the time agreed on one point. It was a depressing subject.