Monday, February 28, 2005

Requiem Mass for The Naked Civil Servant...

Watched The Fog of War last night.

Interesting stuff. Ironically, the most interesting parts did not deal with Vietnam - the Second World War sections were far and away the most intriguing.

I'm not sure abour McNamara. First off, I think Jeffrey Record's verdict that McNamara was America's most disastrous public servant of the 20th century may well be correct (and as somebody who believes strongly that seapower should form the foundation of British strategy [and has a navalist's predictable prejudices against the RAF] I have "beef" against McNamara for tangentially causing the downfall of the Royal Navy's carrier [as opposed to "through-deck cruiser] fleet). CAN a man come back from that?

I didn't know beforehand and I'm not sure I know now. Part of the reason why I don't know is that I am still uncertain whether McNamara is a genuine penitent, or merely undertaking a circuitous route to self justification. Probably a bit of both. And I'm still not sure he really "gets it". Ah, well.

Incidentally, of McNamara's eleven lessons - which range from the very, very important to the quite banal - it seems to me that the most important, especially now, is the first: Empathize with your enemy.

For some reason, as the documentary drew to a close, I had the image in my mind of F. Murray Abraham's Antonio Salieri being wheeled through the madhouse in his rickety bathchair, touching heads and declaring, "Mediocrities of the world, I absolve you. I absolve you!" I dunno why.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Play Nice, y'hear...

Provocative article by Bill Lind at DNI.

I maintain that setting a fixed date for withdrawal of troops from Iraq is, on balance, ill-advised. However, Lind also latches onto something that I think has merit - I brought it up in a post here shortly after the Iraq election - namely the necessity to try to decouple Sunni nationalist insurgents from foreign jihadists. First of all, the domestic Sunni insurgency is the main problem - the notion that foreign fighters represent the main force enemy is not readily substantiated by the empirical evidence available. On top of this, the foreign fighters "swim" in a "sea" provided by a Sunni population that either turns a blind eye or offers tacit support. Drawing the Sunni into a broad political settlement will drain the sea and deprive the foreign fighters of freedom of movement and logistical support rendering them, if not entirely impotent, then at least much less of a problem. In other words - solve the Sunni problem and you'll have pretty much solved the foreign jihadist problem too.

On this basis, I think it's extremely important for the new Iraqi government to appease from a position of strength and offer numerous concessions in an attempt to draw the bulk of the Sunni population under the broad inter-communal umbrella that is emerging. Whether the Americans (a la the British in Malaya regarding the Malay/Chinese ethnic split) or the Iraqi government (possibly while overtly picking a few policy fights with the Americans to increase credibility) should take the lead on this I'm not sure (I suspect the latter). Recent news reports coming out of Iraq seem to hint that this may be exactly what is happening.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Predicting Insurgency

A classic theme one returns to again and again in the study of counterinsurgency operations is the fact that counterinsurgents should aim to predict and prevent or pre-empt insurgencies beofre they emerge. Given the almost invariably lengthy effort required to uproot an embedded insurgency (frequently a decade-plus) it is clear that prevention is better than a cure.

Counterinsurgency theorist-practitioners have recognised this fairly simple fact since at least the time of the Mau Mau Emergency. It is notable, therefore, that while this wisdom is of long standing and general acceptance, few if any counterinsurgent forces have been able to turn theory to practice (although perhaps the finest counterinsurgents of the 20th century, the British repeatedly failed in this area) and catch insurgencies before they do the military equivalent of erupting from John Hurt's chest and scrittering away into the air ventilation system.

There have been numerous attempts to construct empirically based models for understanding and predicting behaviour in the defence field - most recently, interesting work has been undertaken in attempting to create a predictive model to act as an early warning of potential genocides before they emerge. Whether a reliable model can be constructed for preventive counterinsurgency is an interesting question. Although obviously existing counterinsurgency theory does take in broad themes and truths and notes the various factors that make up most insurgent efforts (and more recent works have tried to pinpoint potential geographical flashpoints and potential areas of crisis), the record since most of these works were published in the halcyon days of counterinsurgency theory in the 1960s has not been particularly good.

The Isaac Brock Centre for Low Intensity Whup-Ass - a proposal

The recently announced boost in Canadian defence funding seems to have been received with some delight, as well it might, the Canadian armed forces having been treated with breathtaking shabbiness by their government for some time. My personal view is that the UK and USA should do as much as possible to coax the Canadian government into sustaining this newly active stance.

Having undertaken extensive reading over the past few weeks for an essay in which I hope to forward certain strategies for the successful conduct of the GWoT (so-called) one of the consistent themes to have caught my eye is the importance of developing a mechanism for co-ordination and dissemination of best practice in peace support and counterinsurgency operations among Western-aligned states.

Over a year ago now I contacted Air Marshal Sir Tim (now Air Marshal the Lord) Garden regarding his work as a defence advisor to the Liberal Democrat Party and he was kind enough to send me a copy of a (credit where credit is due: substantial and pretty impressive) paper dealing with Lib Dem defence policy proposals. Many of the policies on offer did not cause me to trill with delight, but one thing that did catch my eye was the notion that the UK should open a professional centre for LIC training and doctrine, which would not only serve as a seedbed for developing British doctrine but would also provide facilities for the training of native officers from Third World countries. This struck me as a fine idea then and an even finer one now.

In the matter of these sorts of operations, the United Kingdom and Canada share similar, though not identical, doctrines. Admittedly, the Canadians are more focued on peace support than counterinsurgency (though one can always argue that the two are ultimately indivisible) but it seems to me that they have access to a fund of experience and institutional memory that should be drawn on more extensively than is currently the case. On this basis, and in part to make up for the fact that we have something of an unfortunate recent track record of selling the Canadians second hand death trap military equipment on tick, it seems to me that the British government should not only consider investigating the viability of pursuing the foundation of an international gold-standard (and possibly interagency) COIN/Peace Support Ops centre but should give serious thought to inviting the Canadians to sign up as equal partners in the project.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Generations vs. Generation

The concept of 4th Generation Warfare has been getting a lot of press and discussion of late. Originally presented in an article in the Marine Corps Gazette in October 1989 by William S. Lind, Colonel Keith Nightengale (USA), Captain John F. Schmitt (USMC), Colonel Joseph W. Sutton (USA), and Lieutenant Colonel Gary I. Wilson (USMCR), the authors postulated that asymmetric strategies constituted a 4th Generation of of modern warfare. (To paraphrase: The First Generation was mass armies, the Second Generation was attition warfare, and the Third Generation was so-called manuever warfare.) Colonel Thomas X. Hammes has recently updated the concept with the publication of his book The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century. (You can also read his thoughts on the matter here.)
While I don't have a lot to argue with the concepts that make up portions of 4GW, I am skeptical of the 1GW, 2GW, 3GW, 4GW typology. Guerrilla warfare and other asymmetric strategies have been with us for a long, long time. See Asprey. In any event, I think that Dr. (and also retired Army Lieutenant Colonel) Antulio Echevarria has an excellent opinion piece up at the Army's Strategic Studies Institute site where he outlines his objections with the 4GW concept. Read it.
Quasi-NS Also, I highly recommend Colin S. Gray's latest article “How Has War Changed Since the End of the Cold War?” in Parameters.

A nod's as good as a wink to a blind bat...

Leeeeeeaviiiiing, oooon a jetplane....

Mark Grimsley is off to the annual SMH conference.

He does not appear particularly enthused by what is on offer, for reasons that regular readers of his site will be familiar with. I see where he's coming from. I have to say that some of it looks rather good and some of it looks rather less good - simply because looking at the schedule I suspect that some of the papers being presented (I shall name no names) will be rehashed presentations of old work that has already done the rounds. Could be wrong, of course.

It also seemed to me that terms current in the defense establishment
were frequently used to describe sessions that dealt with other historical
periods; e.g., "Amphibious Warfare in the Early Modern World;" "The Continental
Army: Insurgent Peace-Keepers?;" "Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Southern
Africa, 1900-1902;" "Counter-Insurgency from Cuba to Castile . . . 1895-1936;"
"Asymmetrical Warfare during the American Revolution's Southern Campaign;"
"Professionalism and Peace Operations [in the U.S., 1830-1860]."


I actually rather like this mix of military history and strategic studies - done well (ie. with solid history rather than warping the facts to fit a preconceived template) I think it can be extremely useful. I look forward to getting my sticky little hands on David J. Lonsdale's new book on Alexander the Great.

One part of the conference I would definitely go out of my way to see would be Simon Robins' paper on General Sir Henry Horne. Horne is probably the least well known of Britain's army commanders in the Great War, leading 1st Army from 1916 to the Armistice. His papers were burned on his death and his life is to no small degree a blank slate. This is unfortunate as, apart from the fact that he is broadly perceived as having been good at his job, he was a gunner and given that gunnery was the key discipline when it came to the tricky matter of unlocking the Western Front it would be both useful and interesting to know what was buzzing through his head during his tenure. If Robins can bring something new to the table on this, it should be good.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Shambaugh on the China Arms Embargo

David Shambaugh of George Washington University has a piece in the International Herald Tribune on why the EU lifting the arms embargo on the Red Chinese would be a Bad Thing. Worth reading.

Writers do like this "speaking out" thing don't they?

I was mincing round the RUSI library prior to an event recently when I stumbled upon a rather interesting book, the existence of which I was not aware of until now.

As readers will doubtless be aware, during the Spanish Civil War, an exercise took place whereby writers and public intellectuals took sides on the conflict in response to questioning by editors and their contributions appeared in book form. A rather crap reworking of this format was produced following the Iraq War (I do not encourage you to reach for your wallets).

Anyway, I found a copy of a book that looked at the Vietnam War in the same way. I was unaware of its existence and spent an interesting few minutes leafing through it.

A few things struck me. First of all, the most stupid entries rival the stupidity of our contemporary authors. The only exception to this rule is Harold Pinter, who has clearly got more stupid with time. His Vietnam vintage entry could conceivably have been written without his lips being crusted with rapid spittle:

The Americans shouldn't have gone in, but they did.
Now they should get out, but they won't.

Very mellow in contrast with the sort of stuff he's coming out with these days, which tends to be more along the lines of:

Shit, arse, Zionist Nazis,
Imperial America,
Bullets, Death, Battenberg Cake,
Arse.


I paraphrase.

The book was split in to different sections - a section for authors with strong opinions one way or the other, a section for those sitting on the fence or unsure, a section on those who looked at the military aspects etc etc. You get the general idea. The first category was dominated by anti-war opinion, but what really struck home was how ridiculous most of it looked thirty years on, regardless of politics. I suspect there are a lot of very clever people who would now be quite happy to forget all about the sorry exercise.

Two of the best entries came from Tom Wolfe and John Updike - both of whom continue to be unusually thoughtful commentators to this day. Wolfe took the line that the cause was probably the right one but he wasn't sure if the means were correct, Updike provided a breath of fresh air by arguing that most authors didn't know what they were talking about on the matter and that their views should be held in no higher regard than those of any average man on the street. The contrast with the self-importance of some of the entries was stark.

The most disappointing entry came from Hannah Arendt, who might have been expected to have something interesting to say, but in the end argued that all wars should be dealt with by immediate ceasefire and negotiation. Banality, it seems, is not a monopoly of the evil.

British Troops Guilty of Iraq Abuse

They'll be sentenced on Friday.

I am astonished, frankly, that the officer in charge appears not to have been beaten around the head and shoulders with a big stick over this. I know "strategic corporals" are all the rage these days but he had a duty of care at the Camp and it seems it may well have been his vaguely worded orders that caused all the trouble in the first place. Very poor. Of course, it may be that he gets hauled over the coals in private and that his career will very quietly go nowhere from now on, but frankly it seems to me that the sights should have been set rather wider in this case.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Pedantry Corner

I must take issue once again with a Clifford May article. Specifically, this article.

When a politician or a journalist talks about an “exit strategy” from Iraq,
there is only one appropriate response: Roll your eyes and leave the room.


I have argued before and will continue to argue that the time may come when it is necessary for us to pack up our bags and bugger off as far as the Iraq war effort is concerned. At this point we will have - let us be perfectly frank here - lost the campaign. However, it is one campaign in a broader war and throughout history armies have lost campaigns while ultimately winning the war.

I have some sympathy with May on a personal level, as too much blather about "exit strategies" by smug journos does take place and frankly it can go too far.

Where I have my beef - and, by God, it's a great big slab of it that's just been walloped with an humane killer - with all this is the fact that once again the history May uses to back up his argument is utterly, utterly lamentable.

History, as we all surely know, can be the most potent tool the strategist has at his disposal. But, as Colin Gray has pointed out repeatedly, bad history is worse than no history at all.

And, my word, this is bad history. Michael Jackson could write a song about it.

Or possibly Weird Al Yankovic.

May begins by comparing Iraq with World War 2. Uh-uuuuuuh. Try again, Cliff. Iraq is a campaign within a wider war. If he was imaginative, May might try to choose the Battle of Britain as the campaign with which to juxtapose the current conflict in Iraq. It's lucky he didn't, because the parallels aren't good. Better ones might be the Battle of France. Or the Norway campaign. Or the Middle East. Or what you will. But the point is that this is a campaign we can afford to lose and bounce back from. It wouldn't be pretty (and - I feel the need to restate this over and over - I am NOT suggesting that we are at a stage where it is time to cut and run), but we're talking Battle of France territory here, not Battle of Britain (if you accept that the loss of the Battle of Britain would have resulted in the British being knocked out of the war). If a reporter had asked the British what their "exit strategy" for the Battle of France was, they would have looked at him and gone, "whuh?". Or possibly, "hungh?". This is because the phrase "exit strategy" hadn't been invented then. But the fact of the matter is that when the chips were down and it became apparent the more could be salvaged by a calculated strategy of pissing off, they turned around and marched for the sea. And quite right too.

It's got to be put into some sort of reasonable, realistic context. And to equate Iraq with the entire World War 2 war effort and suggest that exit strategising is on a par with coming to a negotiated settlement with the Nazis or the Japanese is simply incoherent. In fact, it's alarming.

But a few years later, we did accept a substitute for victory in the Korean
War. The consequence: More than half a century later we are menaced by a second
generation despot in Pyongyang, heading a regime that has been building nuclear
weapons and exporting nuclear technology to those who despise us.


I assume I don't have to go into the implications of this viewpoint and way of thinking.

In Vietnam, we also had an exit strategy – the image that comes to mind
is of helicopters frantically evacuating Americans from the roof of our besieged
embassy in Saigon. After we left, millions of Vietnamese exited, too -- using
not helicopters but ramshackle boats. An unknown number perished in
shark-infested seas.


At least we are in the right sort of ballpark here. However, I would note that not only did America continue to exist following its defeat in Vietnam, it went on to win the Cold War, of which Vietnam was argually a campaign.

The Cold War – World War III – we won, despite that fact that much of the
Washington foreign policy Establishment wanted to back away from any serious
confrontation with Communism. But others – Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson and
President Reagan, for example – preferred to push until the Soviet Union
fell.


Bah yah bah. The fact of the matter is that the USA won the Cold War for a variety of reasons, using a variety of strategies which altered over time. These ranged from Truman's strategy of containment (carried out against a backdrop of 1940s vintage Clifford May's babbling on about "losing" China) to Eisenhower's prudent vision of the Cold War as a long hall requiring an economy and a defence establishment geared for a marathon and not a sprint (in the face of similar tub-thumping, this time from Democrats), to President Nixon's prying open the already existing fissure between Red China and the USSR to President Reagan's big buildup and excellent rehetoric followed by appeasement from a position of strength.

In Iraq today, America and its allies are fighting two enemies. The
first are the remnants of Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime, those who were
neither “shocked” nor “awed” by the invasion of 2003. It is clear that we erred
by permitting them to flee and reorganize, apparently utilizing neighboring
Syria, another Ba'athist regime, as a safe haven.


There's a bit more too it than that, but let's pass over this.

If, thanks to a premature exit, these butchers (of Iraqis, Iranians,
Kuwaitis, Israelis and Americans), were to return to power in Baghdad, it would
be a significant defeat for the U.S. and for the Free World.


Yes.

We also are fighting the forces of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, designated by
Osama bin Laden as the top al Qaeda general in Iraq. Were Americans to depart
Iraq while Zarqawi remained, it would represent nothing short of our Waterloo in
the War on Terrorism.


No.

It would not be our Waterloo. Or more accurately, it need not be our Waterloo. It would be a defeat, a bad one. A very bad one. But it could be our Corruna or - for those of you of both an historical and a Teutonophilic bent - our Jena.

Oh, I could go on. And on and on and on. But I won't.

Well, third base at least...

I'd like to make a second book plug, this time for "All The Way With JFK? Britain, the US and the Vietnam War" by Peter Busch (full disclosure: Dr Busch teaches contemporary security issues at King's).

I stumbled upon the book in Borders in York over the weekend and recognising it as both by a member of staff and about a subject in which I have no small degree of interest, I bought it.

It's excellent. It deals with, pretty obviously, Britain's involvement in Vietnam and takes a somewhat revisionist stance arguing that British involvement was far more enthusiastic than previously recognised.

This is a valuable line of inquiry in itself. Dr Busch sets upon two main strands, the first being British concerns to maintain great power status and credibility in the eyes of both the USA and the Asian Commonwealth, the second being a general embrace of the "Domino Theory". I am yet to be entirely convinced on the second point, as it files in the face of other well researched works I have encoutered that argue strongly that British strategic thought was broadly unconvinced on this count. However, that is not to say that I am rejecting the notion - but I will have to revisit various older texts and have a plough through the footnotes and see how the two theories hold up against each other, something I have not had the chance to do at the time of writing.

Perhaps more exciting for me is the fact that the book deals in some depth with the workings of the BRIAM and it's head, Sir Robert Thompson. There have, of course, been various studies that have taken into account the BRIAM's work in the past, as well as the theories of Sir Robert Thompson. However, "All the Way with JFK" does an excellent job of placing the BRIAM's presence and activities into a broader context and looking into how this sometimes served to distort its work and dilute its effectiveness.

If Vietnam is your thing (or counterinsurgency for that matter), you could do far worse that getting hold of a copy.

Mr Wong, Chopper Gleasby and The Ponce Ride Again

I had the pleasure of attending a RUSI Military History Circle event today, during which we were addressed by Dr David Anderson, author of "Histories of the Hanged: Britain's Dirty War in Kenya and the end of the Empire". I mentioned the book briefly here.

I came to the event with a certain sense of trepidation, as you may imagine having read my earlier post. My fears were entirely misplaced and I am happy to report that I enjoyed one of the most enlightening and entertaining ninety minutes of my time since I arrived in London last September - I think it is safe to say that this view is one that was held by the other attendees at large.

Having hedged my bets somewhat in my initial post, I would now like to come off the fence and recommend that readers opt for Dr Anderson's book over Dr Elkins' "Britain's Gulag". The latter book was raised as a subject matter during the event and it is clearly apparent that the two authors approach the subject from different angles.

Dr Anderson comes at the subject with the thesis that the Mau Mau Emergency was a war with few, if any heroes in it. He has uncovered numerous instances of atrocity and "not cricket" type behaviour by security forces (to go into it all in depth is beyond the scope of this post, suffice it to say that the British Army under General Erskine and many members of the British government come out of the matter, if not unscathed then at least without their reputations devastated - the allegations against European settler based security forces and elements within the King's African Rifles, however, are carefully documented and seem to me conclusive). However, he takes the view that the event should be viewed as a broad human tragedy and supports a reconciliation-based line (he stated in no uncertain terms that reparations for Mau Mau would be entirely the wrong route to go down). At no point does he attempt to argue that the Mau Mau were the "good guys" and he notes that in fact loyalist Kenyans played the key role in bringing Kenya to independence.

I have not read Dr Elkins' book, but the impression gained from the discussion that ensued following the lecture is that she is pretty firmly in the Mau Mau camp and take the rather George Gallowayesque line that Kenyans loyal to the United Kingdom were little more than high-living colonialist stooges who got what was coming to them.

Anyway, if you are going to read one of the two books, I would strongly urge you to go for "Histories of the Hanged". I am very impressed indeed.

On a final note, Dr Anderson argues compellingly that Jomo Kenyatta had nothing whatsoever to do with the Mau Mau.

Friday, February 11, 2005

A Brief Foray Into Party Politics (Apologies)

London Mayor Ken Livingstone is not fit to hold public office.
I look forward with great relish to the sight of the Jewish, gay, Sikh and Hindu communities abondoning this floating turd in droves come the next election. I would encourage all decent liberals to do the same and teach the newt-fancying little shit a damn good lesson.

So, yeah, I guess you know where I stand on the Qaradawi issue now.

Death, Taxes and Jonathan Steele


Jonathan Steele is at it again
. Will somebody please give me large wads of money to air my overblown and intellectually dishonest personal prejudices in a national print media outlet? I may not be up to much but I'm sure as eggs is eggs that I can do better than Steele's dross.
I feel an embolism coming on. On that basis, I'll hand you over to The Professor, who has been wielding a six-pack of whup-ass on this issue and says pretty much everything I'd like to say on the matter.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Mr Wong, Chopper Gleasby and The Ponce

Two new books have emerged recently on the Mau Mau insurgency in Kenya, one by David Anderson, the other by Caroline Elkins.

I plan to read both of these books in due course and have higher hopes for one of them than the other (not saying which one!). Those with an interest in counterinsurgency may wish to check them out.

I am not, frankly, convinced of just whether the reveleations promised by these works will pan out to be all that they are cracked up to be. While it may come as news to the general public, it is no secret in specialist circles that in dealing with the Mau Mau the British conducted their most brutal COIN campaign (for a variety of reasons, including the immaturity of emerging COIN doctrine, the relatively free rein given to white colonists [as opposed to British Army] in conducting security operations and the unfortunate racial hierarchy within the British Empire, in which blacks ranked at the bottom of the scale [below East Asians, who in turn were considered lower ranking than Indians]). It should also be no secret to half way informed students of British politics, as the later much-maligned Enoch Powell led a very public rebellion against what he considered to be human rights abuses committed by security forces during the campaign. Additionally, while the authors of the two books have impeccable academic credentials, some of the publicity accompanying the books has been both inaccurate and overblown. The Elkins book in particular has been accompanied by a string of preposterous and inaccurate historical analogies - whether these are spun from the author's pen or from the fevered imagination of the promotions department of the relevant publishing house I am not entirely sure: I sincerely hope the latter. Additionally, here seems to be a risk that the work goes beyond merely cataloguing British abuses and crosses into the territory of arguing that the Mau Mau were actually the good guys - which by any objective measure they were not (most Kikuyu, let alone most Kenyans, favoured the British over the Mau Mau [which is not to say that they did not want independence] and, in common with other groups of a similar ilk, from the IRA to the Viet Cong to the Iraqi "Resistance", the Mau Mau killed, terrorised and brutalised far more of its own people than it did colonial oppressors).

So we shall see. Might be worth keeping your eyes peeled if this is your sort of topic, though.

Great French Generals of the 20th Century

I've been struggling for something serious to write recently. Two of the long pieces I've been working on are based on academic research and can't be posted yet in case some of my fellow students might be tempted to incorporate some of it into their essays over the next couple of months. I'm part way through finally getting that write up on the Pakistan Tribal Areas conference written up but can't face finishing it yet.

But I've come up with an idea that I might pursue over the next few weeks.

Being British, it goes without saying that I am a virulent Francophobe. But - perhaps like many Brits - I have a strange love/hate relationship with the French. This extends to the French armed forces.

Anyway, I'm fed up of the received wisdom that the French haven't achieved anything militarily since the time of Napoleon. Aside from being smug, it's ahistorical and completely untrue. So over the next few weeks I think I'm gonna try to find time to flag up some of the very serious achievements of the French in the field of military affairs over the past hundred years or so.

No, this is not a joke.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Books and That

This is primarily for King's students in Stacy's seminar classes. I've decided to post up a list of my books that I've brought to university with me - here. I am open to borrowing requests from people in my CSI seminar group and anyone else on the course who knows me (sorry, I'm not open to extending this offer to everyone in the year as I need to know I'm gonna get anything I lend out back). If you borrow one of the books, I will expect it back promptly and in the same condition in which it was lent to you. Also bear in mind that I may need to use the books myself so if you ask and I say no don't take it personally.

Norm!

Prof. Norm Geras is honoured with an article all about him in the Sunday Times. I like Norm, with whom I have exchanged the odd email, and I like his site a lot. And there aren't many Marxists you'll catch me saying that about...

Abbas Moves On Incitement

Mahmoud Abbas has moved to tone down Palestinian TV. About time, frankly.

For earlier coverage of this issue, and some of the denial surrounding it, see here.

I wish I could do an impression of ET...

David Adesnik has a defence of Eliot Abrams up. Good reading, though I'm not sure I'd go so far as Adesnik in Abrams defence. In fact I wouldn't go that far. But he makes some good points and it's worth a read. Whatever else his record holds, Abrams does deserve credit in playing a key role in turning support away from Pinochet in Chile. For me, he pretty much epitomises the "neo-con" paradox, laudable aims and good works combined with unfortunate murk in almost equal measure.

Personally, I wouldn't have him back. But Adesnik is almost certainly right in cautioning against hysteria.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Waltzing Matilda

Mark Grimsley has a post up with links to useful sites for Australian military history.

As a Brit, I have mixed views on Australian military history - or perhaps more accurately Australian military historiography. Australian nationalism, as with so many nationalisms, grew out of war - in the case of the Aussies, the Great War. Unfortunately, this has had something of an impact on Australian military history writing. Because Australian military prowess has been so key to the development of the notion of the Australian identity, many of Australia's "necessary illusions" are tied up in bashing the military performance of other nations alongside whom the Australians have served (hardly a phemonenon unique to the Australians, indeed it is present in all countries, but I find it most ingrained in the Australian experience for some reason) - most notably the British, but also the Canadians.

This Australian attitude sometimes manifests itself through the "Breaker" Morant story but it finds full bloom through the Great War. We see this not only through films such as Gallipoli (a good film, but an historical farrago) but in numerous works by Australian authors such as Denis Winter and the late John Laffin (both of whom are extremely popular, in spite of the fact that their books have very little [or, in the case of a lot of the Laffin canon, no] historical merit). Thus we are presented with the notion that the Australians did all the fighting on the Western Front while British troops sat around in the trenches drinking tea and that John Monash, who never commanded a formation larger than a Corps and whose performance at various levels ranged from genuinely top notch to merely pretty good (as was the performance of plenty of other Corps commanders on the Western Front, including the Canadian commander, Arthur Currie), was a serious candidate for being leapfrogged into command or an army group consisting of five full sized British armies.

It is a source of continuing interest to me that the Canadians have never seemed to manifest this sort of antagonistic approach.

Anyway, I would commend the links to you with specific reference to the work of the Australian War Memorial, whose staff have been at the forefront of coming up with fine, rigorously researched work into Australia's genuinely impressive military heritage.

Incidentally, if you are interested in the topic and can find a copy, the now sadly out of print Oxford Companion to Australian Military History is a fine resource, prepared to a very high standard.

When witty post titles escape you...

Sound thinking from David Owen in the Times today.

Strategic Sense and Sensibility

Today’s Washington Post reports, “A preliminary study contracted by the Pentagon has concluded that the Defense Department should not take charge of the CIA's paramilitary functions, senior defense officials said yesterday.” The key paragraph in the story is this:

"If you take the very small paramilitary capabilities away from the CIA, in my view, it would limit their ability to conduct foreign intelligence activities which they are required by law to do," said one senior defense official familiar with the study. Moreover, "we don't have the legal authorities to be doing what the CIA does, so getting all those assets doesn't make any sense," he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the issue is still unsettled.

This is the correct decision in my mind. There are important distinctions between conducting clandestine and covert operations, and a paramilitary capability is able to do things that a military unit cannot. For instance, a paramilitary organization is less encumbered by, say, which side of an international border it is operating on. Paramilitary units, however, are also not protected under Geneva Convention protections, although in the current GWOT, I think that issue can be oversold; to wit, it doesn't seem like Al Qaeda groups would afford our soldiers such protections in the first place.
Background and Definitions
In contemporary military history the distinctions between paramilitary and military units largely emerged in the Second World War. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) conducted many clandestine and covert activities against the Axis powers. The Jedburgh teams of the OSS, which were used to train, organize, and equip partisans, were actually the predecessor to the U.S. Army Special Forces. As the terrorist threat began to emerge in the 1970s, the United States created the so-called special missions units (SMU) to conduct highly classified activities, generally, although not exclusively, of a counterterrorism nature. A former member of an Army SMU, Command Sergeant Major (ret.) Eric Haney, in his book Inside Delta Force, argues that members of such units are called "operators" because of the seam that they inhabit between being special operations military personnel and intelligence agents.

special operations (SO). [JP 1-02] (DoD) Operations conducted by specially organized, trained, and equipped military and paramilitary forces to achieve military, political, economic, or informational objectives by unconventional military means in hostile, denied, or politically sensitive areas. These operations are conducted across the full range of military operations, independently or in coordination with operations of conventional, non-special operations forces. Political-military considerations frequently shape special operations, requiring clandestine, covert, or low visibility techniques and oversight at the national level. Special operations differ from conventional operations in degree of physical and political risk, operational techniques, mode of employment, independence from friendly support, and dependence on detailed operational intelligence and indigenous assets.

clandestine operation. [JP 1-02] (DoD) An operation sponsored or conducted by governmental departments or agencies in such a way as to assure secrecy or concealment. A clandestine operation differs from a covert operation in that emphasis is placed on concealment of the operation rather than on concealment of identity of sponsor. In special operations, an activity may be both covert and clandestine and may focus equally on operational considerations and intelligence-related activities. See also covert operation; overt operation.

covert operation. S. [JP 1-02] (DoD) An operation that is so planned and executed as to conceal the identity of or permit plausible denial by the sponsor. A covert operation differs from a clandestine operation in that emphasis is placed on concealment of identity of sponsor rather than on concealment of the operation. See also clandestine operation; overt operation.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Quotation of the Day

Some people didn't like Miller's Crossing. Some even believe it's drenched
with homoeroticism. These people are what social scientists call "wrong."



Jonah Goldberg

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Bleeeurgh...

Pretty thin gruel from John Vidal in the Guardian:

But in contrast to the low-key closing speech given in Davos by Jürgen
Stark, vice president of the German Bundesbank, the vast crowds gathered in
Porto Alegre for the World Social Forum heard Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez,
dressed in a red Che Guevara T-shirt, denouncing George Bush, Tony Blair and
neo-liberal economics.
And instead of the polite applause accorded to Stark
from a near-empty hall, Chavez got the kind of reception that even Bono might be
embarrassed to receive. Porto Alegre confirmed that Chavez is now the
indisputable leader of the global poor, a Simon Bolivar of his age, engaged in a
mammoth populist experiment to redistribute wealth and land.


Pity he's an overpromoted authoritarian street thug backed up by his own private army of Paras though, eh, John? Kinda takes the shine off. Or apparently, if you're a Guardian columnist, not.


Wednesday, February 02, 2005

"An Exit Is Not A Strategy"

CSIS has testimony from Anthony Cordesman on Iraq up (PDF). Well worth a look. Cordesman agrees, incidentally, that looking for a rigid and predetermined route out is probably not the way to go right now. Much food for thought.

His name was Donald, he was a showgirl...

Dan Drezner has been talking to Michael Scheuer, the artist formerly known as Anonymous. Interesting nuggets of opinion there, hopefully he might get round to ladling out some more gossip later.

The Wait Out

Anthony's post about the timetable for withdrawal from Iraq reminded me of a certain episode of Seinfeld.

ELAINE: Hey, my God, look at that. (Jerry looks over at the table. A man and a woman are dining) David and Beth Lookner. (Leaning in for confidentiality) You know, I heard a rumor their marriage was a little rocky.
JERRY: (Interested, still looking at the couple) Really?
ELAINE: Mm-hmm.
JERRY: You know, I have a little thing for Beth Lookner.
ELAINE: Well, I have to admit, I've always thought David was kind of sponge-worthy. (Winks, making a clicking sound with her tongue)
JERRY: Yeah.. I've been waitin' out their marriage for three years.
ELAINE: Yeah, me too. Well, I've been waiting out two or three marriages, but this is the one I really had my eye on.

Now, the insurgents in Iraq have shown that they have patience, so, the issue for me is this: If you announce a time-line for withdrawal, doesn't that automatically say to the insurgents, just wait a little bit longer and your time will come? Sure 30,000-50,000 coalition troops would remain under the O'Hanlon-Steinberg option, but that could lead insurgents to consider rolling the dice and thinking that its better to work against 30-50K troops than 200K. Now obviously something will eventually have to give as the current force structure cannot continue to perpetually rotate large numbers of troops into Iraq while also dealing with Afghanistan and other commitments, but I still think some strategic ambiguity should be in place.
The late-Colonel Kevin Cunningham and Dr. Robert Tomes have an excellent article in the fall 2004 issue of Armed Forces & Society* entitled "Space-Time Orientations and Contemporary Political Military Thought." This article does a nice job of discussing perceptions of time and the effects that they play on military decision-making. The authors' argue that the American "monochronic" spatial-temporal orientation -- characterized by: zero-sum process, segmented execution, and agendas mapped to the future -- put us at a disadvantage against "polychronic" orientations -- characterized by an acceptance of non zero-sum outcomes, issues addressed in parallel, circular time perception, and agendas mapped to history. These distinctions, at least to me, make a useful contribution to thinking about how we counter the insurgency in Iraq and also the larger global Salafist insurgency. I hope that Cunningham and Tomes' article is getting a wide reading on both sides of the Potomac.
* That issue also contains an article by a certain Mark R. Lewis entitled "Army Transformation and the Junior Officer Exodus."

Time to go home, time to go home, Andy and Teddy are waving goodnight...

Michael O'Hanlon and James Steinberg have an article in the WaPo arguing for a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. This is hardly the first time this policy has been advocated and indeed we recently also saw advocacy of it in the UK from a combined front headed by Robin Cook, Lord Hurd and Sir Menzies Campbell (can't seem to put my hands on a link right now I'm afraid).

O'Hanlon is a very smart guy and I think the reasoning in the article is rather more solid than that put forward by the British triumvirate. I'm still wary though. I've argued before that there's a tipping point at which Anglo-American interests simply won't be served by staying but I'm unconvinced that this point has been reached and I'm also far from certain that the problems on the ground are inherent to the situation and not simply the result of flawed planning and poor execution (though given that the current situation is the result of the cascading effects of bad decisions in the planning and immediate aftermath of the invasion one can argue that problems that were previously solvable are no longer so).

On top of that I have to say that in my experience the whole timetable for withdrawal notion does not have an especially heartening pedigree. I take on board the O'Hanlon/Steinberg argument and of course I recognise that different situations represent different contextxts and flawed analogies are dangerous, but I am somewhat put in mind of the situation in Aden in which fairly successful COIN efforts ran into a governmental policy decision to wind up British operations east of Suez. Once it became apparent that the British were going to leave at a certain date come what may, the COIN effort collapsed like a house of cards almost overnight. That said, I recognise that the situations are not analogous.

It's something I need to think about more. Either way, O'Hanlon/Steingberg's prescriptions, while in the same ball park, are to be preferred to the Cook/Campbell stall which seems to me pretty stinky and not very convincing.

Don't f*** with the Jesus...

At the risk of straying wildly off topic, there's a rather surreal running debate on the Big Lebowski and Miller's Crossing going on over that the NRO Corner.

I feel obliged to point out that the Big Lebowski is possibly the single finest film ever made. And Miller's Crossing follows pretty close behind too.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

George Galloway - Cupid Stunt

Via Democracy Now, a transcript of George Galloway's reaction to the elections.

The whole sorry farrago is entirely rancid, but I think it's worth cherry picking a few of the more bullshit-heavy moments.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, was it the Times of London, which newspaper
settled with you and apologized?
GEORGE GALLOWAY: Well, how long have you
got? All of them have settled and apologized, and The Daily Telegraph is the one
I think you refer to which was my biggest victory. They had to pay me 150,000
pounds in damages and 1.6 million pounds in damages.
AMY GOODMAN: Why?
GEORGE GALLOWAY: Because they falsely claimed that I was in the pay of the
Saddam Hussein dictatorship.


Untrue. Galloway won his court case on the narrow legal grounds that the Telegraph had not offered him right to reply and that the newspaper had allowed editorialised commentary to slip into what should rightly have been a purely straight factual piece of reportage. At no stage have the claims against George Galloway been in any way shape or form disproved and the ultimate judgement against the Telegraph was not founded on these claims.

Contrast this:

The Sunni Muslim population, which if you add the Sunni Kurds and the
Sunni Arabs together, is some 40% of the population, are deeply anxious about
the way in which the occupying forces are deliberately trying to divide the
country along confessional lines.


With this:

In Malaya when we crushed the Malayan revolt for freedom, we killed
10,000 Malays. I’ve seen pictures of British soldiers holding the severed heads
of Malay people for the cameras. This is how all occupations end.


Now, either Galloway hasn't the first idea what he's talking about here or he's simply so consumed with dogmatic bullshit that he's doing a Tony Benn and plucking superficially impressive historical analogies out of thin air that subsequently turn out to be complete nonsense when exposed to further scrutiny or an informed audience.

The "Malayan Revolt for Freedom" as Galloway terms it was largely a conflict that stemmed from internal population divisions of precisely the type that Galloway accuses the Anglo-American forces of trying to stir up in Iraq - divisions that the British worked hard to prevent and ultimately did successfully solve. I seriously doubt that Galloway has seen photos of severed Malay heads, given that the Malay majority sided almost universally with the British. The insurgents were composed almost universally of ethnic Chinese who were fighting in part for Communism but in greater part for non-ideological resons based not around a wish for the British to leave (though they did want that) but around a fear that they would be marginalised and persecuted in any post-independence settlement once the British had left. The British won in large part by acting as honest brokers between the two ethnic communities, pressuring the Malay majority to provide an equitable settlement for the Chinese - a settlement that has continued to this day. By establishing themselves in this way they gradually drained away non-Communist support for the insurgents among the Chinese population until the insurgency was reduced to a husk consisting of hardline ideologues. When the British left, they left one of the most - if not THE most - accountable and liberal (in relative terms, of course) governments in the region and a settlement that has endured to this day. Perhaps Mr Galloway should ask some Malaysians (Malay or Chinese) whether they'd sooner have lived in Vietnam under his Viet Minh buddies. Or in Indonesia under Sukharno which tried to undermine the post-independence federation - until the SAS came back and gave him a damn good thrashing.

And while he's at it, maybe he'd like to explain how a Far Left, radical socialist MP manages to live the sort of lifestyle that makes Neil and Christine Hamilton look a couple of chimney sweep ragamuffins.* Arsehole.**

*Given "Gorgeous"'s propensity to sue at the drop of a hat, I feel I ought to point out that this is a question expressed through genuine intellectual curiosity and is in no way intended to imply in any way that he's as gross an example of personal, intellectual and moral corruption as has ever slithered onto the British political scene since the days of Horatio Bottomley.

**While we're at it, the word "arsehole" is employed in its broadest and most positive sense... etc.


Nuke Pox Boogie

Fascinating interview in the Guardian from a couple of years ago (Paul Tibbets having sadly passed away since).

[Feel dirty just saying this, but thanks to John Derbyshire]

I think it's worth making a couple of points about the nuclear attacks in particular and bombing in the contemporary world in general.

First off, on the morality of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I'm pretty firmly in the George MacDonald Fraser camp (if you don't know what that camp is, I'm not telling you - read his memoirs, they're first class [and would make a fantastic war film]). The hooplah over the bombings is largely a product of two things - post war anti-nuclear agitation and the lasting effects of radiation on the victims. The second factor is the most important and the most convincing. However, it is important to note that at the time the bombs were dropped, Allied officials were not aware of the existence of these side effects.

As to the scale of destruction, the obliteration of an entire city's population with a single bomb is of course something with which the human mind is not well equipped to cope. But it needs to be put in context. In fact, the dropping of the nuclear bombs came as the culmination of a lengthy conventional bombing campaign in which most of Japan's urban concentrations has already been reduced to charcoal by firestorm attacks of a potency that made most of the raids on Germany seem limp wristed.

Now, we can debate whether area bombing campaigns in the Second World War, especially the use of incendiaries on a wide scale, were in any way able to meet reasonable standards of either utility or Just War theory, though that's another discussion all together. The point is that the nuclear bombings must be placed within a broader context. Judged by the standards of the day (which we may or may not ultimately reject) they were unusual only in the fact that one bomb could cause so much damage - in absolute terms the scale of destruction was not especially unusual.

So what, if anything, has changed?

Well I haven't really given a great deal of thought but off the top of my head I'd say that one thing at least has changed. In the Second World War, it was an accepted fact that the populations of Japan and Germany were not only key cogs in the overall military machine but also active supporters of those regimes. The Nazi Party and the population of Germany were - largely rightly in my view - seen as analogous.

In large measure this situation no longer exists. Let's think of some of the major conflicts that have taken place since the end of the Cold War. What do the Gulf War, the Iraq War, the Kosovo War, The Afghan campaign and to some extent the Bosnia intervention all have in common? The fact that - at least in Western rhetoric - the populations of the countries aligned against us were not seen as analogous to the regimes we were fighting. Great pains were taken to differentiate between, for example, the people of Iraq and Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime. How many times have you heard Tony Blair rattling on about how we fight not the people Craplapistan (Or Equatorial Shittehoal, or wherever), but the wicked Craplapistanian junta alone?

Well, that's just peachy. And quite often it's true. But if it is true, you can't just turn round and start smacking eight shades of precision guided death out of civilians. Because you yourself, whether for strategic or PR reasons, have isolated them from the regime at the top. They are explicitly not in the same boat as a bunch of Nazis or Japanese. In these circumstances, shrugging and saying "war's hell" might have a whiff of the truth about it but it isn't terribly convincing on a moral (or, if one is facing a "low intensity" insurgency type situation, strategic) level.

Happy Clappy

I'm going to be very, very rude here and reproduce something Mark said in the comments section of this post without asking his permission.

First, yesterday was a triumph, and the Iraqi people especially and the
Administration as well, ought to be justly proud. When you hear the pre-election
stories of Iraqi families strategizing the best way to survive the voting
process (for instance: husband and wife go alternatively so if one dies, at
least somebody will be there for the children or both go together to minimize
exposure), it is truly amazing. That is courage. Think about what it takes to
keep Americans away from the polls, say, for instance, like bad chicken salad at
lunch or a new Friends episode.


Secondly, "J's" point about the nature of the threat of the new regime
in 5 years seems reasonable, but it's a matter of degrees. Even if the new
regime is more threatening, it doesn't mean this was not a worthy endeavor.
Consider we could have better domestic security if we just clamped down on
personal freedoms and extrapolate that to claim that we could have better
international security if we just clamped down on the small nations where we
could. Better the despot we know than the elected leader we don't? No. I think
that's a risk worth taking, in most cases. Sure, I'm not a big believer the
Democratic Peace theory and it's possible the new Iraq will be more of a threat
than the old Iraq (read: a threat in fact). But we can work to prevent that from
this starting point, which seems infinitely better than the
alternative.


This is not to say that this war is about security alone. I've long
maintained that when measured in units of security gained per unit of effort
expended, the balance is not even close to favorable unless the scope is such a
long long run as to be almost immeasureable. That is a large failing of the
Administration - and it's quite possible we'll "win" this war but come out the
weaker for it.


But that does not mean good is not served here, and we ought to
recognize its potential.



I do so because I know (and respect, and largely agree with when it comes to the matter of policy execution) Mark's views on this issue and I can honestly say that I have never seen him so impassioned in such a positive manner. On a rather simple level it's just a pleasure to see but more importantly, if Mark's blood pressure is not at Threat Advisory Level: Elevated over this, then I think that signifies quite strongly that while it's perhaps too early to claim with absolute certainty that some things went pretty solidly right on Sunday, that's the way to bet.

P.S. Newsnight dedicated an entire show to the elections yesterday and without wanting to drift into party politics, one of the most interesting things I noted was the extent to which the Liberal Democrats have been put on the back foot over these elections. They've been pretty much guarenteed an easy ride for over a year now and for the first time I felt that they were not on good ground. Sir Menzies Campbell was on debating the issue with Bill Kristol, Sir Jeremy Greenstock and the Iraqi Ambassador to the UK and by the end of it he looked pretty punch drunk. On top of the elections, all three of the other panellists criticised his calls for an arbitrary, publicised date for the departure of coalition troops and even Jeremy Paxman started to sink his teeth into his ankles with "But you surely have to recognise, don't you, that if you position had been followed Saddam Hussein would still be in power and these elections wouldn't be happening in the first place?". George Galloway was on too, looking ugly and angry. He was predictably unpleasant and sick (and tried to set himself up as the real voice of support for British troops). Labour MP George Foulkes gave him a good battering and pretty much laughed in his face.

P.P.S. See also Harry's Place, where they've got David Aaronovitch lurking in the comments boxes (!)