Monday, January 31, 2011

Let Freedom Reign - Afghan Kleptocrat Edition!

Read it and weep:
"Nine years into the American-led war, it’s no longer enough to say that corruption permeates the Afghan state. Corruption, by and large, is the Afghan state. On many days, it appears to exist for no other purpose than to enrich itself. Graft infests nearly every interaction between the Afghan state and its citizens, from the police officers who demand afghani notes to let cars pass through checkpoints to the members of Karzai’s government who were given land in the once empty quarter of Sherpur, now a neighborhood of grandiose splendor, where homes sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Bribes feed bribes: if an Afghan aspires to be a district police officer, he must often pay a significant amount, around fifty thousand dollars, to his boss, who is often the provincial police chief. He needs to earn back the money; hence the shakedown of ordinary Afghans. In this way, the Afghan government does not so much serve the people as it preys on them. Last year, Transparency International ranked Afghanistan the hundred-and-seventy-sixth most corrupt country out of a hundred and seventy-eight, surpassed only by Somalia and Myanmar.

“It’s a vertically integrated criminal enterprise,” one American official told me."
And so it goes; thievery, deception, and lies - just another day in the warlord citadels in the highlands of Asia.
Despite the deep skepticism that the Karzai government has prompted in Washington, the corruption appears to have got worse. One of the reasons is the war itself. President Obama’s deadline for beginning his withdrawal of American forces later this year confirmed for many Afghans that time is running out. “Right now, this country is all about raping and pillaging as much as you can, because there is no faith in the future,” an Afghan businessman told me.

The businessman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told of a recent dinner with a number of Afghan officials: “I said to them, ‘Look at the Taliban. They believe in their cause, and that sustains them. You people have no cause. You don’t believe in anything.’ And these guys just sat there in their chairs. They agreed with me.”
The most tragic part of this, for me, is that there are millions of my countrymen who will never see this as the reality of central Asia, who will persist on seeing this ridiculous, idiotic misadventure as a "war on terror" or a "clash of civilizations". It is one thing to be blind. It is quite another to take up the gouge and blind oneself.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Policeman's Lot Is Not A Happy One

From Cairo, yesterday...

Loose Lips Can Reveal True Colors

Just read this one about Rep Michelle Bachman floating significant cuts and limits to Veteran Benefits.

Of course, when the VFW called her hand on it, a spokes puppet said that she's just "opening discussion" to cut the debt.

Whatever her objective, the very fact that she put Vet Benefits on the table says that she either thinks they should be cut, is willing to use these benefits as a "marketing ploy" or simply takes them lightly. The basic fact is that an action such as this, in my long held view, simply exposes the fact that the Right is and has not for a long time been, "a friend of the troops". GWB would pose in front of and suck up to troops for the camera, yet rushed to war with no plan to care for the human toll that war can extract. Even if he thought it would be a "walk in the park", some form of advance plan for casualties should have been close at hand, and it just wasn't. Thus, the long, hard, and generally ineffective scramble to play catch up when the public was shown how poorly vets and casualties were being treated.

But let's be serious. The Right may be willing to deploy and maim troops, and even spend a couple of bucks for a bumper sticker, but in their religion (and I am now convinced that what it is), their worship of their god, self indulgence, leaves no room for caring for "the least among us", those who shoulder the true burden of their ambitions, or anything else outside their super-ego. And heaven forbid their own spawn should don a uniform. Hell no. They become true patriots at the mall.

So when the chips are down, and these mutts pursue the holy grail of low taxes and dismantling government, one sees their true "Support for the Troops". Once the vet has sacrificed for Michelle's objectives, screw him or her.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday Fails

Just something that came to mind when I saw this picture...

Monday, January 24, 2011


Not to distract from seydlitz's discussion of Jellybean Dutch and his legacy, I'd like to ask the patrons for some help with a question of military history.Specifically, I'm wondering; can you think of a time and place in history that can be taken as a successful parallel for what we say we're trying to do in central Asia?

And in this I am willing to accept at face value the U.S. government's assertion that we have formed troop units in other people's countries purely and only to "help" those people in those countries fight Islamic hegemonists.

So what I'm looking for is

1) a foreign power sending troop units (and, technically, political and economic aid) to a government attempting to suppress a domestic insurgentcy that
2) succeeds - that is, it has to have happened long ago enough that we can say that a) it worked, i.e., the rebellion was suppressed and the government the foreign power assisted assumed a monopoly on the use of force pretty much thereafter, and b) that the nation so assisted has become at least moderately "successful" since the insurgentcy, that is, relatively democratic, respectably prosperous or at least making efforts to get there, and making a respectable showing on the "freedom indices".

To give you an example, I thought about parallels with the civil war in El Salvador. Here was a clear-cut U.S. FID mission, and the war was successful in that it brought El Salvador a relatively decent peace.The major difference is that there was no large-scale committment of U.S. maneuver units into ElSal; the government there pretty much won without the need for a foreign expeditionary force to do the fighting, regardless of how much "advisory" support they received.

So; any thoughts on this, you military history buffs?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Legacy of Ronald Reagan?

Ronald Reagan in Berlin, June 1987

Seems that the coming 6th of February is the Centennial of Ronald Reagan's birth. I've been invited to participate in a roundtable discussion of the 40th US President over at Chicagoboyz. I've been thinking about what to post, and haven't come up with much so I thought I would run if by my fellow barkeeps and our loyal clientèle and see what ya'll got to say about the subject.

I was in the audience during that particular Berlin speech, maybe five rows back and was very impressed at the time. He was of course addressing not only Berlin, but the whole world. I had voted for Reagan both in 1980 and 1984, but the gross illegalities of Iran Contra with commissioned officers destroying documents and refusing to answer questions or outright lying before Congress, not to mention the actions of Congressional Republicans in their lock-step support of these crimes, was too much for me and I left the Republican Party in 1986. I thought Ollie North should have been busted to private.

So Reagan's legacy? I'm thinking in terms of four main areas:

*The ending of the Cold War, but the continuance of Bacevich's "Washington Rules", which is a bit outside of Reagan's time, but his influence is still important.

*Ronald Reagan as the first real TV-age president. How image triumphed over substance? Some say that JFK was, but I think Reagan beats him.

*The redefinition of "conservative" as in what has become the Radical Right of today. "Government is the problem", but "government" redefined and limited to social programs. Massive defense and security spending is OK, but "government" seemingly does not include these aspects which form a sort of state socialism, that is seen as a normal and unquestioned "duty" or "obligation" of the state for unlimited intervention.

*Finally, and this is linked especially to the third point above, the hollowing out of government control over military/intelligence activities. Since William Casey, Reagan's DCI, we have seen a growing tendency to "outsource" certain questionable activities to preclude public scrutiny. This was a hallmark of Iran-Contra and it did not end there. The rise of Private Military Companies (PMC's) goes with this. From a Clausewitzian perspective this indicates a loss of material cohesion for the political authority, as well as numerous unintended consequences should the mercenaries gain too much influence. I see this as an element of the consolidating police state I have warned of.

All thoughtful comments are welcome. I'm looking for inspiration and I think I've come to the right place . . .

Friday, January 21, 2011

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Lost in Kandahar

Not much to say that hasn't been said about this, except that it seems vastly frustrating to me to read stuff like this and wonder "Didn't we go down this road once already? Didn't my platoon sergeants remind me that "...the locals are always friendly to the guys with the guns..."? because they'd walked through the ville full of smiling kids and nodding mama-sans and caught booby-trap hell on the way back? When the hell did we forget all this stuff?This story is already all over the web; here's one take on it, and here's another.

The really irritating thing I got from reading this is what Foust calls the "America Good!" syndrome. I ran into it awhile back on a blog called something like "Great Satan's Girlfriend", where the blogger was all up in everyone's grille about what great things our country does beyond the Jersey shore and how dare the filthy unwashed savages like the French and the Democrats question the purity of our precious bodily fluids.

While I yield to no one in my delight in the things my country has done well, there is no doubt that it has done some things in foreign lands exceptionally badly. Liberty and justice at home are no guarantee of decent behavior abroad; go visit the nice people in Brussels and then read about the nightmare that was the Belgian Congo. The Huns were probably wonderful husbands and fathers, too. We're all of us humans capable of horrific barbarity to those not in our tribe; it's not an American failing, it's a human failing and having a lovely Constitution and lots of indoor plumbing doesn't make us any less human...What MAKES this frustrating is that it's not a difficult fix. It's not like there's some massive, structural problem standing in the way of a U.S. foreign policy towards the Middle East and central Asia that makes some coherent sense. The realities of global power and that subset of power called imperial war are fairly straightforward - people have been doing it since Ramses' day, after all. The difficulties creep in when you insist on seeing not what is, not what you want in honest terms, but what you want it to be and what you pretend to desire.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Ayacucho 1824

The "decisive battle" for January, over at Graphic Firing Table.Liberals, conservatives, rebels, royalists, indios, gachupines, blood, thunder, Napoleonic pomp in the Andean highlands, treachery, bravery, and the little guys get screwed (of course!).

Check it out!

Difficulties Posting

As noted by seydlitz, there have been some of our esteemed crew's posts trapped in the blog's Spam folder. This has caused all kinds of frustration when you don't see a post appear. I'm kinda convinced it has nothing to do with your techniques or browsers.

We barkeeps are going to have to keep an eye on the "Spam Filter" feature that Google provides. My experience with another forum is that due to spammers getting more creative in methods of defeating spam prevention, some major hosts, such as Google, are tending to trigger more "False Positives" while they try to wrestle the problem to ground. I've cleared the Spam Folder by publishing all, to include the many "groans" about failure to publish. I'll try to check there twice a day to catch any unjustly accused material. If a couple of other barkeeps would do the same, that would help. Meanwhile, if a post doesn't, well, post, be patient.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Let Freedom Reign!

...or not. Whatev.

That seems to be the official U.S. position on the "soft coup" that occurred today in Tunisia. For the record, after several weeks of increasingly large protests the government of Ben Ali has fallen, with a "caretaker" PM in place and elections promised shortly. This was after Ben Ali's move to fire his entire government and end media censorship (the Tunisian government has been furious with Al Jazeera for publicizing the protests) didn't cool the frustration and anger against his rule.

Mark Lynch goes on to point out that "..(d)espite being one of the most repressive and authoritarian regimes in the region, Tunisia has generally been seen as a model of economic development and secularism. Its promotion of women's rights and crushing of Islamist opposition has taken priority in the West over its near-complete censorship of the media and blanket domination of political society. Indeed, the United States has cared so little about Tunisia's absolute rejection of democracy and world-class censorship that it chose it for the regional office of MEPI, the Bush administration's signature democracy promotion initiative." Now the government has fallen. This may not be a problem for the U.S....or it might, depending on who rises to power.

But, again, the U.S. never seems to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity in this wretched region. Both Bush and Obama made feeble rhetorical gestures towards the notion that the U.S. wanted "freedom" and "democracy" in the Muslim lands. But when it came down to nut-cutting time, what mattered was what had always mattered and, apparently, what still matters; "stability", and the ability of an Arab government to repress the Islamists, regardless of the means and methods it uses.

The White House presser is the expected bland statement of the Administration's hopes for democracy, human rights, and, presumably, magical ponies for everyone. The President states that "The United States stands with the entire international community in bearing witness to this brave and determined struggle for the universal rights that we must all uphold, and we will long remember the images of the Tunisian people seeking to make their voices heard." without a peep about how the U.S. was perfectly willing to let the Tunisian policemen break the heads of the brave and determined strugglers if those strugglers were struggling for an Islamic state.One of the things that has frustrated me about the U.S. Middle East policies for some time is our apparent inability to see that we can't keep our Arab proxies' foot on the manhole forever; the Islamic steam will just build up until, as it did here, it will explode. Repression works, for a time. But we keep running into the limits of repression again and again. Why don't we learn from this?

Well, it's too late now; we'll hove to see whether the dysfunction of Tunisian politics is reparable, or whether Tunisia stands to go the way of Lebanon.It seems like my country is always willing to spend millions for defense. Would it be too much to ask for a couple of cents for some tribute to some foreign policy nimbleness? A little geopolitical creativity?


Courtesy of Jason at Armchair Generalist:What we need is MORE blind obedience! And then we will attain true Victory!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Winter Dawn, 2011: Rauschning's View - An Up Date

Niedersachsen in Winter

I was going to post this as a postscript to my last post, but considering the events of the past few days I think it better posted this way. "Up Date" fits the current politics much better.

America is attempting a rare period of introspection, but it isn't coming easy, nor with much chance of success. Already the local sheriff has been labeled "Leftist". The guy's over 70 and has been sheriff of this particular county since 1980, and he's a "Leftist"? If you are so "friendly", then why do you react this way?

Whatever "noise" there is on the "Left" is only a reaction, and basically only noise.

First lesson for all Americans should be: Basic definitions. "Conservative", "Radical" and whatever else including "Liberal", "Socialist" . . .

Imo the Radicals are winning and the Conservatives (as in "conserving and operating according to our oath to the Constitution and the values behind it") are in total retreat and confusion. What else exactly would "conservative" mean? The other labels aren't even in the game.

You really have to shake your head, how it's played out and displayed in the media. They're "fighting" so fierce since that is after all what they are about, what drew them together in the first place. No one expected a rational argument, but at least coherence. But not even that, I'm afraid.

Rather it was about power, and the moneybags and their lackeys were running scared a couple of years back, not that they couldn't have made a deal. Would it have really been so difficult, with this administration?

Truth is the elites now in the driver's seat gave up on democracy long ago. It wasn't really even much of a decision on their part. Rather instead, they'll now spin it was all the pitchfork talk and all. So they started themselves a "movement" and now we all see what sort of "movement" it is, and also for whom, in whose interest . . . by what means.

Agitation. Focus. Confrontation. Raw anger, "firing people up" . . . their dirty little "secret". Funny that, as well since it's been hanging out for all to see for sooooo long.

Angry? You bet, and I know I'm not the only one. This is what has become of the country we served? This is what has become of our shared legacy? Of what we were entrusted to pass on? What follows us?

Rauschning writes:

Direct action is defined as "direct integration by means of corporativism, militarism, and myth"; this is to replace democracy and parliamentarism. But the true significance of direct action lies in its assignment of the central place in its policy to violence, which it then surrounds with a special philosophical interpretation of reality. Briefly this philosophical system amounts to the belief that the use of violence in a supreme effort liberates creative moral forces in human society which lead to social and national renewal.

The Revolution of Nihilism, pp 27-28


What conclusions can we draw from Rauschning's work? How does he rate as a theorist?

First, these conclusions refer to Rauschning's work and to a lesser extent that of Hannah Arendt, who produced about the best book on Fascism/Totalitarianism imo.

Second, these refer to Rauschning's subject which was Nazi Germany around 1939. I leave it to the reader to draw any similarities between Rauschning's subject and what we are/have been experiencing in the US.


1. What Rauschning describes is a radical right-wing movement which exhibits elements of left-wing attitudes as well. There is a significant "socialist" element to Nazi policy, such as government support for families, public housing, jobs on public works projects, etc. Mobilization of active public support for the goals of the movement is extensive.

2. There is a strong distinction between the movement and the state. The state, and even the nation, are seen as "instruments" for attaining the goals of the movement, or rather for the goals of the leadership of the movement. The movement/party works behind the facade of the state, and attempts over time to supplant it.

3. The movement/party's goals are irrational, based on a shared myth or notions which are not supported by reality. "Faith" in the movement/leadership is absolutely necessary and is consistently reinforced and promoted. Rhetoric appeals to instincts and myths, not to rational thought which is considered as "cowardice" and a lack of resolve.

4. What allows for the success of the radical right is conservative confusion, indecisiveness, lack of understanding of the nature of right extremism and cynical opportunism. Apolitical economic interests share certain attributes with the conservatives, but are not to be trusted to act in conservative interests, rather in their own which might be diametrically opposed. It does not seem that difficult to win over corporate/plutocratic interests over to this type of political system (as long as property is more or less guaranteed).

5. The radical right is the greatest enemy to conservativism. They use conservative symbols and rhetoric, but consistently undermine conservative values and ideals. They are radicals and destroying what is in place is necessary for the achievement of their radical goals.

6. Politicizing the military is one of the first goals of the radical right.

7. What made the Nazis a global threat was their radical goal of re-ordering the world along their notions of race. It did not matter that there was no scientific evidence supporting their views, rather what was decisive was holding and expanding power, the ability to organize a nation state along these lines. This achievement made it possible to do it elsewhere, in other words "Greater Germany" was not the goal, but the means.

8. There is a hierarchy of membership groups within the movement, with the fellow travelers at the bottom, followed by the rank and file members, elite organizations and finally the leadership cadre at the top. A high level of true belief is prevalent at the bottom levels, but becomes less and less as one rises, with cynicism replacing faith. At the top, the leadership has little respect for the masses, sees them as "herd animals" and expendable. This hierarchy of faith being replaced with cynicism explains the success of their irrational propaganda and "big lies".

9. The leadership have an unfailing belief in the power of human organization, anything is in fact "possible" no matter how fantastic in their eyes.

10. Violence is not only a means of achieving goals, but the primary means, the means of choice. Brutality is rewarded and the most brutal and ruthless rise quickly in the movement.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Whisper of the Axe?

SecDef Gates announced today that he is going to take an axe to his own budget.

Not that the Defense budget is going to be CUT, exactly. Next year's budget request (FY13), estimated at about $530 billion, is still (adjusted for inflation) the largest since 1945. It will still be more than the combined military expenditures of every single nation on Earth. It will still - regardless of the global strategic situation or the geopolitical aims and interests of the United States - be divided within a percentage point of 33% into equal thirds for each of the three major services.

But Gates' proposal reduces the DoD growth to 3% this year and to inflation level (about 1-2%) for FY14 and FY15. He proposes to reduce the flag officer billets by roughly 100, and senior DoD civilian positions by as many as 200.

Included on the chopping block are the Marine's EFV, the Army's FCS (pretty much already dead at this point, but this is the official death certificate), and delays for the USAF's F-35 JSF. Several other programs are also scheduled to be taken out behind the Pentagon and given two in the back of the head.

What I will be intrigued to watch now is the reaction from Congress.

Not so much the Republicans, the (insert hysterical laughter here) "Daddy Party", the "Party of Fiscal Responsibility". Smaller government interests the GOP only if the government that is getting smaller gives money to brown people instead of kills them. No, the GOP will go batshit, because...well, because the GOP is batshit. Where military spending is concerned they are like a fourteen-year-old huffing glue and playing "Gears of War" nonstop for two days; they have not a lick of sense in them. Whatever useless knick-knack some overage-in-grade bull colonel says he wants they will want to give him, regardless of whatever dry-humping they have doing to their fiscal responsibility girlfriend in the meantime. We all know that regardless of what they say, they just want the feeling of that sweet, sweet, drone controller in their hands, a Paki Talib in their sights, and their heads ringing with the heady combination of Testor's and 4-Loko.

No, it's the Democrats I'll be watching. Here's their opportunity to make a principled stand, to act like statesmen instead of your tweaker uncle who shows up near the end of the month to mooch a couple of twenties and a half-rack of Natty Light off you to hold him over until the eagle shits. There will be quite a few of these guys, mostly in the House (which is the New Home of Batshit Crazy anyway), whose districts are going to take an economic hiding when they lose some of these defense contracts.

Supposedly Dwight Eisenhower chose to avoid the term "military-industrial-congressional complex" during his famous 1961 address to make nicety with the boys on Capitol Hill. It's too bad; in my experience among the worst offenders in the U.S. in terms of making poor choices about spending tax money on war toys are the ones lolling about the Congress, and that comes from someone who had the M792 GAMA Goat on his DA 348.

I'd like to get my hands on the sonofabitch who got that piece of used food through the acquisitions process...

So it will be interesting to see what happens now. Will this signal some real changes in the way the Pentagon does business? Or is this just another serving of cherry jello at the Five-Sided Funny Farm?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Slaves of Duty

Richard Cohen has a worthwhile piece up in today's Washington Post.
"I was on active duty as a reservist, not for very long but long enough for the Army to have lost all its mystery. I found the Army to be no better and no worse than other large institutions. Some of its leaders were fools, and some soldiers were thieves, and everyone wasted money like there was no tomorrow. This is the truth and everyone once knew it.

No more. The military of today is removed from society in general. It is a majority white and, according to a Heritage Foundation study, disproportionately Southern. This is a military conscripted by culture and class - induced, not coerced, indoctrinated in all the proper cliches about serving one's country, honored and romanticized by those of us who would not, for a moment, think of doing the same."

Like this or hate it, this is why a republic needs to have some way to connect its citizens with its Army. The only practical way this has ever been accomplished is through universal conscription. Yes, it's involuntary servitude. Yes, it's often cheated on and often unfair. Yes, it makes things more complicated for the professionals within the Army.

But Cohen makes some good points here. For all the "garsh, what a great Army we have now those cranky draftees are gone!" rhetoric (to which I would merely observe; really? Where are the heavyweight enemies this great Army has dispatched? The Panamanian Defense Force? The Republican Guard (I guarentee nobody calls those fuckers "elite" anymore)? The Somalian militias?) the only real difference I can see between the mass army of WW2, Korea, and Vietnam and the VolAr of Grenada and beyond is that the latter is "virtually worshipped for its admirable qualities while its less admirable ones are hardly mentioned or known."

The Founders and Framers were quite explicit in their antipathy towards a standing Army. In their opinion, an opinion formed not from airy philosophy but from having been in the impact area of Great Britain's last "little war" with France, a standing professional force made that sort of cabinet war, the same sort of cabinet wars we've been fighting in southwest and central Asia for the past eight years, much more likely.

And why is this a problem?

Because in a republic the law is supposed to be king. We're a "government of laws, not of men", remember?

But in wartime the civil law is nullified. The day of battle is a legal dies non in the common law; the only law that applies is the Law of War, and that law takes no notice of things like personal liberties or property rights beyond what is required to fulfill the minimal requirements of civilian safety. And as the great wars of the 20th Century showed, these requirements are disregarded as often as not; ask any civilian resident of Coventry, Dresden, or Hiroshima.

So when the military is worshipped and ignored, when the business of killing and dying is offshored like an automobile plant, when every President becomes a War President, and every day becomes just another day in the War on (Insert Name Here)...what becomes of the law?

What does this mean for the long term health of the Republic?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Brown Water Navy

The idea for this post came up as I was discussing the Ignatius article cited in the preceding post with seydlitz. The exchange there went something like this:

seydlitz: (quoting Ignatius) "I come back to Shen, the Chinese analyst. He says that he's grateful that the United States is willing to spend so many billions of dollars to protect the sea lanes on which China depends for its global commerce. But instead of competing to build ships and tanks, he says, China will focus on the weapons that can cripple them. Somehow, we need to stop being the suckers when it comes to defense."
Seydlitz then continues, asking:
"Obviously lots of military spending is the answer as well as "protecting the sea lanes" from . . . from whom exactly? Do you get the feeling that the Chinese are playing us like we played the Sovs back in the 1980s? Of course the Sovs were - in spite of being far too focused on their deteriorating, but still highly vaunted military power - smart enough to see through a lot of it, but were in such an economic mess as to be unable to use this realization to any advantage . . . The notion of American Exceptionalism will be our undoing."
To which I replied,
"The U.S. is currently a global maritime power. While at times I think our commitment to global blue water hegemony is antiquated - our merchant fleet is, what, four RORO ships and an old surplus fleet oiler? - its a mission we've chosen to take on. We have also chosen to act as a power-projecting imperial nation (in the sense that we engage in conflicts not directly related to defending our own territory) and that requires a blue-water navy. As always, the "what" determines the "how", and blue-water navies include large surface vessels; "conventional fleets and bases around the world". You can argue whether we have too many fleet carrier decks, but not that a power-projecting, global blue water hegemony naval power doesn't need conventional fleets and bases.

China, OTOH, is today what it has always been; an Asian continental power. Its maritime power projection is limited to its immediate "near abroad", places like the Spratley Islands in the South China Sea. It doesn't need or want large conventional naval forces for that. Instead, it needs just what Chen says it needs; the ability to disable or deter a global navy from encroaching on those littoral areas.

Ignatius makes this sound like some nefarious yellow Red plot, when it's a simple A and not-A situation. The U.S. has certain maritime strategic needs and those needs dictate a certain naval force structure. China has very different needs, and can accomplish those with a very different force structure.

I don't think the Chinese are playing us. They're stating the simple reality of naval strategy; we don't care about the fucking Molucca Strait or the Somali pirates. We want the oil in the South China Sea, and all we need to defend that is enough patrol boats and submarines to sink one of your fleet carriers to make it unprofitable enough to deter you from challenging us."
But as I was writing that I was thinking over this article over at Danger Room, discussing the USN's purchase of the so-called "Littoral Combat Ship" or LCS.In the post David Axe discusses the many commentators, both inside and outside the Navy, who have problems with this vessel. It is built to commercial rather than naval standards, meaning that it is much less survivable when damaged. It has a exceptionally high top-rated speed; 50 knots, but at a huge cost in fuel. It is relatively underarmed, mounting a single 57mm cannon and carrying most of its offensive power in its deployable subunits such as aerial, sea-surface, and submarine drones. Its crew is listed at around 40-50, which many critics are saying is too small to fight the ship and perform damage-control duties, much less repel boarders(!).

Axe notes that at only about $500 million the LCS is a relatively low-cost platform, and observes that
"...(t)he Navy already has more than enough high-end, military-grade warships for any potential future showdown with, say, China. This force includes approximately 90 cruisers, destroyers and soon-to-debut stealth battleships. It’s the most powerful surface fleet in the history of the world, by far, and one that’s massive overkill in anything short of World War III. But, after retiring many of its minesweepers, patrol boats and frigates, what the Navy doesn’t have is enough low-end warships for all the mundane work of a busy, globally-deployed military. The LCS can help correct that imbalance."
So there's the pros and the cons.

My question would be: what is the mission we need to perform that needs this vessel?

I agree that if we're going to continue to be a global maritime power - and while there are legitimate arguments that the U.S. does not really need to patrol the South China Sea, or the Indian Ocean, and risk potential engagements with the regional powers there the bicoastal location of the U.S. makes it perforce a maritime power of some sort - then it needs the capability to work, and, if needed, fight close inshore. Navies have fought over the littoral since Agrippa's day and are unlikely to stop now.

Historically the blue-water navies, including ours, have operated to within miles of the beach. Old-school hulls, from destroyers and frigates up to capital ships, have operated within sight of land. So the creation of a new class of warship for that purpose - especially one that cannot be turned to other blue-water missions - seems superfluous.

It can sweep mines - but not as well as a minesweeper. It can hunt submarines - but not as well as an ASW platform. This vessel seems like an odd Swiss-Army-ship replacement for a helicopter carrier and a menage of small patrol craft. It cannot really operate with the fleet but is not as adaptable as the helicopter-and-PBR combination for inshore operations.The other realm of naval warfare has taken place inshore of the strand line. This "brown water" naval force has usually been composed of a swarm of very light vessels backed by a handful of larger hulls. The USN has a great tradition of this sort of riverine warfare, beginning with the monitors and gunboats of the Civil War through the gunboats and monitors of the 20th Century Asiatic Squadron and the PBRs and Swift boats of the Vietnam "Brown Water Navy"

But the LCS is much too heavy for this sort of instream work. Too big to get right into the mouths of rivers chasing pirate skiffs, but too small, light and frail to take on a Chinese frigate or a swarm of Iranian patrol boats by itself. And if it's going to be backed up by carrier aircraft...what can it do that the carrier's aircraft combined with its escorts cannot? It seems to lack (at least, the articles I've found suggest that it lacks) the capability to act as a tender for a small flotilla of modern PCF/PBR patrol craft. It is fast...but why? Its own helicopters are faster, and accompanied by a cloud of Zodiacs or small speedboats would seem to do the advertised job better without the need for the voracious fuel-devouring speed.In a sense, this thing is a sort of large Coast Guard cutter. But if then...why not just make it a Coast Guard cutter and give its drug interdiction and border patrol mission to the Coasties?

I keep coming back to the question; what is this vessel for that is HAS to be this vessel and none other? What can this platform do that existing vessels can't, and - more importantly - is that thing, or those things, really important to the national defense of the United States?

I don't have the answers.

But I think that now that we're on the verge of ordering 20-some of these vessels, it might be a good time for we the People to start asking some more questions. Because even at half a billion a hull, ten billion ain't no pocket change.
(One important part of the thinking that produced this post is Rob Farley's post over at LG&M, in which he says "I believe that, right now, progressives have evacuated the field on questions of military doctrine and technology (with a couple of important exceptions, as noted below), leaving the conversation to conservatives and “centrists”. I think that we are approaching a political reality in which real cuts to defense spending will become possible, and that staking out genuinely progressive positions on issues of military doctrine and technology actually have a chance of affecting the composition of US military forces." I agree, and so got to thinking about the conjunction between the Ignatius article and the non-debate-debate about the LCS. So, tip o' the hat to LG&M)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Blue Screen of Death

One thing we seem to keep returning to at MilPub, as a dog returneth to his vomit, is the apparent inability of the United States - both its people and its governing classes - to either formulate, or even discuss intelligently, any sort of geopolitical or military strategy.

A formula or discussion, that is, that doesn't involve someone shrieking "911! Scary! Brown! People!" at some point, usually early in the process after which all ratiocination flies out the window.

I am one of those who suspects that this is a feature, not a bug, of American society. And pat, like the Fairy Queen in pantomime, comes David Ignatius on the front page of my daily newspaper's editorial section, to remind me of why I think this.

The point of Ignatius' little screed seems to be to whip up worry about the nefarious plans of the Yellow Reds, who seem to be intent on developing a Chinese Commie Space Death Ray (read " weapons, lasers, pulses and other directed-energy beams") along with cunningly oriental "cyberattacks" and electromagnetic disruption aimed at knocking out our precious bodily fluids PCs and related digital command and control systems.According to Ignatius
"The nature of warfare is nearing another "hinge point," due to the advance of technology. Just as gunpowder, cannons, airplanes, rockets and nuclear power changed the face of combat, so too will a new generation of weapons that are on the drawing boards -- not just in America, but in China, India and other advanced technological nations."
Um. Well. Gee.

In a sense this is nothing new. Every generation of wonder weapons is supposed to "change the face of combat"; the arquebus, the machinegun, the aircraft, the nuclear weapons, the tank, the freeze-dried combat ration...all were supposed to do some magical thing that would make warfare...different. Replace infantrymen with tanks. Replace tanks with aircraft. Make war at sea a hidden duel of submarines.

But in another sort of sense this is depressing. Ignatius, while certainly an idiot about militaria, is a well-respected idiot, a fully-paid-up idiot member of the Beltway punditocracy. If Ignatius is saying stuff like this, then it goes a long way to suggesting that this sort of thinking is not an aberration amongst the political classes in our nation.

And this is nonsense, of course. A "beam weapon" is a gun. A cool, high-speed, low-drag, Buck-Rogers-space-ranger-slicky-boy gun, yes, but a gun. It exists at Point A and it's task is to project destruction to Point B, which is essentially the same function as the first gunpowder weapon.

It has one significant advantage; it's "projectile" can move from A to B at the speed of light, obviating the need for complex ballistic computation and negating the target's evasive maneuvers. But it has several offsetting disadvantages. The old-school ballistic projo carries a self-contained source of energy that is used and expended at the beginning of the fire mission; the beam weapon requires an external power source that must be both several orders of magnitude more powerful and must be kept online for the entire mission. Unlike the ballistic projectile, the beam weapon can be dissipated by smoke, fog, or particulates, or reflected by a simple mirror.But the bottom line is; it's a gun. It has no more chance of "changing the face of war" than the rifled musket, the machinegun, or the mortar. Possession will remain 9/10ths of the Law of War, and a man or woman with a gun, standing there, will remain the bailiff's process servers.

He has a minor point, and a point I've talked about previously, in his comment about "...aircraft-carrier battle groups -- that will soon be vulnerable to the new weapons." But he misses the point that we're already several generations into an OLD weapon - the supersonic sea-skimming missile - that proved highly dangerous to large conventional hulls in the Falklands almost thirty years ago and may pose a significant threat to our carrier decks. Unlike Ignatius' silly Star Wars scenario with the Red Chinese Death Stars beaming destruction on our fleet carriers from space, all these nefarious Asian rascals may need is better stealth technology for their submarine fleet.

If they can feel confident about their ability to get inside the ASW screen to launch a massive volley of antiship missiles they won't need some ginormous low-orbit satellite system that would be almost immediately knocked down by USAF antisatellite systems within minutes or even seconds of the first faint click of war drumsticks.

And EMP? Christ, we've been dealing with this stuff since the first radios died at Bikini Atoll, Dave. We harden our digital systems. They develop new means to scramble them. We harden them again. Wash, rinse, repeat. Making this into a major point of defense policy is like getting hysterical because of reports of Al Qaeda developing a giant mutant clothes moth to devour our troops' uniforms and make them fight naked.

The entire article is like this. No questions about the global geopolitical strategies, goals, needs, or wants that might dictate the allocation of military funds or the composition and capability of military forces, but lots of bloviating about "legacy systems", "innovation" and silly formulations like the U.S. as "IBM, running big, clunky mainframes, at the same it's trying to be an Apple-like innovator. We can't afford to do both."

Of course we can, Dave. That's what armies have done throughout history. You don't think that the Europeans threw away their swords when the first handgunner showed up on the battlefield, do you? Or the invention of the automatic rifle caused every trooper to throw away his pistol?

I have no idea how many people inside the Beltway are reading Ignatius and pulling their chins sagely. I hope it's no more than a handful. Because if there's any clearer evidence that this ridiculous piece that, at least in Ignatius' case, on the questions of military policy the entire CPU is toast, I have yet to see it.Makes you want to do a hard boot on Ignatius' brain and see it the damn thing makes more sense afterwards.