Friday, December 10, 2021

End of an Era

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, December 9, 2021

Posse Stupidtatus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Oh, shit, yeah. That.

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

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

New York for Kyiv? Boston for Taipei?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There's also the issue of diplomatic linkage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Jesus wept.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Into the Darkness

 Our longtime friend-of-the-blog Sven (from Defence and Freedom) dropped by to ask what the hell was wrong with us? Why hadn't we had any content here for so long? And it took me a while to consider that, yes, I should say something, rather than let this place just drift along into the darkness.


First, we've taken massive casualties. Look at the right-hand column. There, under "bar staff"? Seven names.

Well, here I am.

Lisa and jim, from Ranger Against War) left us after the 2016 election. Lisa, largely because (so far as I can tell) she went headfirst down the Trumpkin rabbit hole. She had been Trump-curious during the runup to the 2016 election and by that autumn had completely bought into the idea of Trump as a "rulebreaker" and "iconoclast" that was what was needed to shatter the corruption and oligarchy that had and has overtaken the United States.

She's right about the problem...but there was a massive dustup over her choice of solution, and we "parted brass rags" as theBrits used to say, and she decamped.

Jim, sadly, seems to have just given up in disgust. If you go to the RAW site and go to the comments on the last post, the second comment is jim's, and he says: "I cannot take fire from inside the perimeter.
If Lisa wants to write about Trump then i'd respectfully request that she start a new blog and not use up the RAW that we built so artfully."

And that's it. Radio silence since then.

We lost PF Khans some time shortly after that. He was already getting quiet, and I have to reach our to him and say how grieved I am for him. The ending of the Umpteenth Afghan War is hard for those who gave their youth and their strength in fighting it. I'm still certain that it had to end and that the ending we got was as good as ever possible...but that doesn't change the grief and loss that comes from seeing that end. I'm sorry, PFK, and I hope you and yours are bearing up.

Mike has just got too much else going on, and has largely (as so many others have) moved over to Twitter and the other short-form social media.

Seydlitz (of the immortal memory!) had moved on long before 2016. I miss his insightful wisdom and should be better about looking for him where the runs these days.

Sheerahkhan was a very rare poster and is evident (when he is) only in the comment section these days.

So it's just me.

I've - as everyone does - got a lot going on, too. Work. Home. Family. Other interests outside geopolitics. Knee surgery - I had both knees replaced at the end of the summer and I'm still achy and tottery on the new parts.

And I'm also sick and sad at what I'm seeing here in the Land of the Big PX.

But to explain that I have to go back a bit and give you some dreaded backstory.

I was born in Whittier, Califormia, in 1957 - yep, Dick Nixon and I are homeboys - to a chemical engineer of the 1951 postwar Cornell crop and his buxom redheaded HomeEc major wife. I was raised in what was a stereotypical Father Knows Best Fifties and Sixties middle-class white Protestant household in Chicago and outside Philadelphia as his big company moved my father around in classical Mid-Century Big Company fashion.

The old man was a poster child for Mid-century Middle Class White Guydom. Golfed. Smoked a pipe - an actual no-shit serious pipe (I still remember the smell of his favorite bowl, something called "Heine's Blend" that came in a big blue-and-white faux Delft tin...).

And was Republican because...of course he was.

So I was.

We stood for all things that Mid-century Republicans stood for. Prosperity. National greatness. Low (but fair) taxes. "Personal Responsibility" - sure, we accepted the New Deal, because nobody wants their granny to die in poverty, but you had to pull yourselves up by the bootstraps, goddammit!

We were "Rockefeller Republicans"; "liberal" on social issues - we didn't care who you screwed or what you did so long as your fist stayed away from our noses - but "conservative" on fiscal and geopoltical ones.

I think the beginning of the end came in the Civil Rights era and Vietnam.

 One thing that my parents, lovely complacent white folks that they were, couldn't deny was that the Land of the Free was kind of a tough place if you weren't...well, what they were. And they wanted to see that change.

They were also pretty smart people, and as such refused to fall for the classic blunder of supporting a land war in Asia.

And so it hurt them - my father most - to see the Dixicrats peel off and become Republicans, and to see Nixon cynically manipulating the war for political gain. While no fan of LBJ and the Democrats...these were the first cracks in the marriage.

Then came Reagan - who my father had seen and distrusted in the embryonic stage back in California - and his "voodoo economics" and his magical thinking and the goofy foreign policy adventures (Iran-Contra disgusted him and GHW Bush's pardons made him furiously angry; treason was treason and should be punished, the public be damned...).

And then came Newt Gingrich and the movement that metastasized first into the "Tea Party" and then into the real lunatic fringe, the QANuts and Three Percenters and the whole freakish shitpile of imbeciles and bigots that we have today running the rest of the GOP scared.

Thank God he died before Trump. That alone would have killed him, seeing that we both knew Trump from his shenanigans in the Tri-State area back in the Eightes and knew him as the ridiculous, egomaniac, corrupt buffoon he is...

And that's not even to take into consideration the mad rush on the American Right to return to the economic ways of the Gilded Age and Lochnerism. Tom Jefferson had some pretty goofy political ideas, but he was right about this - a democratic republic cannot be governed by a polity of wage-slaves. If your livelihood depends on the largesse of your patron - whether that patron is the Duke of Sandringham or Jeff Bezos - you cannot act against the patron's interests. 

You can have a concentration of great wealth, or democracy. Not both. We Rocky Republicans were totally jake with the 90 percent top marginal rate, remember? 

Today's GOP does not.

Anyway...that was my road to Santiago de Compostella - through my father's eyes, watching his beloved GOP become the party of Critical Race Theory and January 6th and the Bundys and Taylor Green and - even more terrifying - Tom Cotton, who has all the right Falangist genes and none of Trump's insane emotional problems.

Why am I telling you all this?

Because I see this country as poised on the edge of desuetude.

We have 30-40% of the U.S. public who, in the face of a pandemic, insists in fantasy "treatments" like equine dewormer while spurning effective vaccinations.

That insists that perfectly normal elections have been "stolen".

That is willing to believe, and act with violence to support, in the craziest things that their "leaders" say.

That supports a Supreme Court that appears poised to throw out not just the most sensible firearms regulation but the legal concept of "nondelegation" that will undo the Twentieth Century. 

And I despair.

The U.S. needs a "conservative" political party (and the electoral reality of the US means that there will be only two large parties, one "liberal/left" and one "conservative/right").

But it needs a sane conservative party.

And it doesn't have one.

Right now we - all of us - are confronted with perhaps the single most massive issue we will face over the next century; the way we are heating up the Earth's atmosphere.

It's not a mystery. C'mon! About 200 years ago we the human race started burning stuff - first wood, then coal, then oil - and all that smoke had to go somewhere. The receipts are impossible to ignore. It's going to push us close to the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum if we don't do something, LOTS of somethings, and that is a world unlike anything we know.

And the mantra of one of the two political parties we allow ourselves in the US is "Crisis? What crisis?"

Confronted with that...well, spending three or four hours writing a post about field artillery seems...louche, at best.

I'm sitting here as almost half my country becomes something I don't even recognize. Or, worse, that I recognize as a bad dream from earlier times; No-Knothings, Klansmen, Birchers. All the whackaloon things that I thought that We the People had outgrown.

Is the Left a treat?

Christ, no. Idiotic things like "Defund the Police" ensure that my impatience with the American Left has not grown any lesser.

(Mind you, the Portland Police Bureau is still an incompetent shitpile of ignorance and arrogance just as it always has been; we'd be better off to replace it with a troop of sentient raccoons...)

But what the hell is a democratic republic going to do when damn near a third of it's citizens think - and act - like wearing a piece of fabric over your nose and mouth is an intolerable assault on Freedom?

That's just not supportable.

Look at the Congress this past summer?

A bill to fix all the things we know are breaking or broken - bridges, electric lines, roadways - and to help people and to bring some change to the warming climate - has been deadlocked despite massive support from the public largely because a handful of the notional "Left" - Manchin and Sinema - have been bought by big money - and the Right would rather own the libs than help out (although 13 of them finally did - good on you, Baker's Dozen! - and are getting pilloried all over the conservative airwaves for doing it).

We can't even fucking govern ourselves anymore. Geopolitics? How the hell can we hope to do that when we can't even rule ourselves?

So I'm looking around me and seeing an end to the nation and the people I thought I lived among and grown up in .

And I feel like Smokey the Bear standing helpless, with my dungarees and shovel and hat, watching all the trees in the world burn down around me.

Because watching a politically-indigestible minority of my supposed-fellow-Americans cheer enthusiastically for a New Gilded Age and home-grown Franco- or Peronism? 

The only response I can come up with is an inarticulate roar of rage and anguish.   

And who wants to read that?

Which is why I've been so silent.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

The Dreamers Wake


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Tuesday, June 29, 2021

The Swinged Cats Strike!

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

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

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

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

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

Update 6/29: Dan Nexon wins the Internets:

Friday, June 18, 2021

Unloading Chekov's Gun


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

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

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

That 's a Bad Idea.

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

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

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

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Sunk Cost and Lessons Learned?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Over the Hegemon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Threat of what?

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

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

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

Let's discuss in the comments.