Saturday, April 30, 2005

Dead Man Walking

Phil has the goods on the recent sentencing of Sgt Hasan Akbar.

I am not, by and large, an advocate of capital punishment (for procedural reasons - make no mistake, I believe there are numerous people for whom it would be all too richly deserved) but it seems to me that if it is to be maintained, this is a clearly justified ruling.

Akbar's crimes are horrible enough as they stand but it seems to me that there is something about the fact that he passed about the camp, casually rolling primed grenades into the tents of his comrades that makes the flesh crawl. Many factors go to make up a successful military organisation and one of them is trust. When the chips are down, your mates are the only people you can count on - you fight for them and they fight for you. For him to work with them, train with them, live among them and then calculatedly slide metaphorical knives into their backs seems to me unusually abhorrent, quite apart from the loss of life itself.

There have been numerous cases through history when serving military men have been condemned in order to set an example to others - the shooting of Admiral Byng ("pour enocourager les autres", as Voltaire commented) is merely the most obvious case. Sometimes this is a necessary evil. In my view the execution of Sgt Akbar is both necessary and just, a happy combination if happy is an appropriate word to use given the circumstances.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


It appears the JSF may be in trouble. My main worry about this is that if it does go belly up I'm not sure exactly what the implications are going to be for the Royal Navy's carrier programme. I THINK that when the designs were drawn up, safeguards were put in so that the absence of a STOVL plan would mean that only relatively minor design adjustments would result in a workable design for conventional takeoff. If not, the British naval establishment could end up ankle deep in the brown mushy stuff.

Clear and Hold

I've recently finished Anthony James Joes' Resisting Rebellion: The History and Politics of Counterinsurgency. It's worth a look, though it's fundamentally a distillation of existing research and while this is not necessarily a criticism, dedicated counterinsurgents may not find much new. Joes clearly writes with one eye on contemporary American military operations and therefore I do feel it would be of use to the serving officer (though NOT a substitute for the classic works). He also provides a service in that he deals with less well-trodden insurgency case studies, such as the Vendee in revolutionary France and Portugese operations in Africa.

On a more controversial note, Joes puts forward an alternative strategy for American success in Vietnam, which makes for an interesting read and which I'm still mulling over.

Anyway, worth a look. Absolute COIN novices will especially find much that is worthwhile. It's certainly an easier foundation text than Ian Beckett's Modern Insurgencies and Counterinsurgencies and more affordable (and much shorter) than Asprey.

More wholesome than All Bran, minus the diarrhoea...

Don Vandergriff has a review of Sean Naylor's "Not A Good Day To Die" at DNI and is hearty in his praise.

I've received some positive feedback (and no negative feedback) from people who have purchased Sean's book due to the earlier recommendation on this site so if this is your sort of thing and you're in the market for a read I'd just like to restate the old Unethical Book Plug and say it's well worth a look.

Spinning Top

Clifford May reckons there's some a-spinnin' goin' on:

SPIN CITY [Cliff May]
Arms Move to Syria 'Unlikely,' Report SaysThe Bush administration's senior weapons inspector said in a report that it was "unlikely" that Saddam Hussein's forces moved weapons to Syria.
- The New York Times April 26, 2005

CIA can't rule out WMD move to Syria “The CIA's chief weapons inspector said he cannot rule out the possibility that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were secretly shipped to Syria before the March 2003 invasion, citing "sufficiently credible" evidence that WMDs may have been moved there.” - The Washington Times, April 27, 2005

Call me big ole Mr Obtuse, but it seems to me that if there's any spinning going on, its the WaTimes and not the NYT that's doing the spinning. Though I can't imagine that's what Clifford May is implying. Unless you take the stance that absent of concrete proof to the contrary, the weapons are in Syria - a position I consider unreasonable and untenable - you are sticking to it as a probable scenario, there is nothing whatsoever untoward in the NYT's headline. The Washington Times, however, plays up a possibility that is nontheless not a probability. It is of course possible that the weapons are in Syria. It's also possible that I'll wake up next week to find myself balls-deep in Jane Fonda. But that's not the way to bet.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Compound Fever

Bill Lind has something to say regarding the current vigilante (or what you will) effort to keep illegal immigrants from crossing America's border with Mexico.

I don't so much wish to draw attention to Lind's praise of this per se (partly because my gut reaction is one of mild suspicion and partly because I don't know enough about this particular situation to judge whether he has got it right or, um, not. What I do quite like is this bit:

A common mistake that many analysts and commentators make is to think that Fourth Generation forces must replace the state or at least the government. A recent study issued by the Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, Street Gangs: The New Urban Insurgency by Max. G. Manwaring, illustrates this error. It says right up front, on page 2,

Although gangs and insurgents differ in terms of original motives and modes of operation, this linkage (between gangs and insurgents) infers that street gangs are a mutated form of urban insurgency. That is, these nonstate actors must eventually seize political power to guarantee the freedom of action and the commercial environment they want.

I would argue that, on the contrary, many Fourth Generation actors, not just gangs, will deliberately not take over the government or overturn the form of the state because they will benefit greatly by operating within the state, below the radar of the state’s armed forces. In effect, the hollowed-out sovereignty of the state is their best protection, especially against the armed forces of the United States or other outside powers. The current situation in Columbia provides an example. If the FARC or the drug lords took over the Columbian government, they would immediately make themselves subject to American attack or other action by the world community. Operating as they do, like viruses within the body of the state, they are protected by Columbia’s sovereignty.

I like Manwaring's work a lot and I don't believe that Lind in any way invalidates it. Lind's take on this particular issue has much to commend it, however. It's paradoxical and kinky. This is a Good Thing..

Homer, who do you hate most, Italy or France?

Nobody ever chooses Italy...

Without wanting to descend to crude French-bashing, two recent developments are, at best, annoying, at worst alarming.

First with regard to the China-Taiwan situation. This has not received anything like the exposure it deserves:

French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has said Paris will continue to push for the lifting of the European Union's arms embargo on China.

Mr Raffarin was speaking at the start of a three-day visit to China.

He also said France had no objection to China's anti-secession law, authorising the use of force against Taiwan should it move to declare independence.

This is, in my view, little short of mind boggling. The French are already the key movers behind the proposed lifting of the arms embargo on the PRC. They further made the ghastly move of sending a substantial naval contingent to participate in PLAN exercises of the coast of Taiwan during the Taiwanese election, an activity the Chinese routinely undertake with the aim of intimidating the Taiwanese and reminding them of the consequences of making the "wrong" decision. To come out at this time, when other EU nations are trying - albeit tentatively - to tick the Chinese off for overstepping the boundaries, and effectively offer support to a dictatorship that has one of the worst human rights records in the world and executes more people annually than the rest of the world combined in potentially overrunning a legitimate democracy if nothing short of jaw dropping.

Second of all, this story on the Sudan, again little highlighted in the various news media:

...Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who raised the conflict at wide-ranging NATO talks in Lithuania, said it should be ready to offer help with logistics and planning if asked.

"If there is a request, I would hope NATO would activate quickly … We all have a responsibility to do what we can to alleviate the suffering in Darfur," she said.

However French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier disagreed that there was a role for NATO in Darfur and stressed that Africans should retain the lead in peace efforts.

"NATO does not have a calling to be the gendarme of the world," he told a news conference at the same meeting.

Do the French want NATO killed off? Signs point to quite possibly. And, of course, there's the old chestnut of French Africa policy, which has long been the most disgraceful (and, again, underreported) operated by any major Western power:

French officials see the European Union as better suited to helping in the region than NATO.

Oh, I'll bet they do.

But of course, it's only President Bush, with his opposition to the ICC, who is prepared to play politics with the lives of African peasantry.

Naturally, as a stony-faced, hard-nosed realist I should not be surprised by any of this. And indeed I'm not. What does get up my nose, however, is the continued conceit in some circles that the French are - in contrast, of course, to the United States - deeply cuddly and seductively iliberal.


Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Remember to keep your arms inside the carriage at all times or you may die...

Fareed Zakaria is one of the smartest writers around.

So imagine my delight to discover that some mad fool has decided to give him his own TV programme. And what's more you can watch it on the website. This is what we call a Good Thing.

Let's Have A Mass Debate! (sorry...)

Phil Carter is debating James Joyner regarding the utility or otherwise of reinstating the draft in one form or another - the debate appears to take a form similar to that employed by Slate and can be found here. Well worth a look.

When Phil first published his article I expressed a degree of initial scepticism here. Whether that criticism holds up (whether it held up then for that matter!) I don't know, but I'm still pretty sceptical. That said, I can spot a couple of chinks in Joyner's argument too. It really may be a case of least worst options.

Quotation Of The Day

Mr Dubois never seemd to care whether he got through to us or not. He would just point at you with the stump of his left arm (he never bothered with names) and snap a question. Then the argument would start.
But on the last day he seemed to be trying to find out what we'd learned. One girl told him bluntly: "My mother says that violence never settles anything."
"So?" Mr Dubois looked at her bleakly. "I'm sure the city fathers of Carthage would be glad to know that. Why doesn't you mother tell them that. Or why don't you?"
They had tangled before - since you couldn't flunk the course, it wasn't necessary to keep Mr Dubois buttered up. She said shrilly, "You're making fun of me! Everybody knows that Cathage was destroyed!"
"You seemed to be unaware of it," he said grimly. "Since you do know it, wouldn't you say that violence had settled their destinies rather thoroughly? However, I was not making fun of you personally; I was heaping scorn on an inexcusably silly idea - a practice I shall always follow. Anyone who clings to the historically untrue - and thoroughly immoral - doctrine that 'violence never settles anything' I would advise to conjure up the ghosts of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington and let them debate it. The ghost of Hitler could referee, and the jury might well be the Dodo, the Great Auk and the Passenger Pigeon. Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and freedoms."

- Starship Troopers

Fourth Estate

On a related note, it is widely accepted that the various news media will play an important role in the success or failure of Western policy in future conflicts (especially those of a counterinsurgency, LIC, 4GW or what you will nature). Although I have not been uncritical of the way some recent conflicts (notably Iraq) have been reported, the fact of the matter is that I increasingly suspect that the correct way to conceptualise the role of the press is through Clausewitzian friction.

In other words, it ain't going away. And the people who are likely to be most successful will not be those who try to remove or destroy or rail against it - which is a fool's errand - but those who recognise and accept its impact and come up with ways to mitigate its effects. Embedding is arguably an example of this.

The bad news is that in retrospect, the record of press judgement actually doesn't hold up particularly well. In fact, the historical record indicates that in both Gallipoli and the Crimea (two notable cases in which "crusading" journalists are popularly perceived to have "told it as it is") the press actually pretty much muffed it, at least with regard to the Big Picture. This raises the question of whether journalists are motivated by dark intent or whether we are simply dealing with the limitations of the format. A bit of both may be the correct answer, journalists are, after all, human. I have already noted that the case of Tet is far from clear cut, with lashings of blame to go round. In the case of Gallipoli, while hardly the armed forces' finest hour, there is evidence that some of the most noteworthy reporting was motivated by personal prejudice and predisposition. Perhaps a good example of the limitations of the format can be seen in BBC journalist John Simpson's reminiscences, especially with regard to the Kosovo conflict. I don't doubt for an instant that Simpson is an plain dealer and tells it as he sees it. Unfortunately, while reporting from on the ground brings numerous advantages, it can also cause the Big Picture to be missed or badly misinterpreted. Simpson's work brings invaluable insight into conditions on the ground in Serbia during the NATO air campaign. However, as soon as Simpson begins to pass judgement on the broader situation, things begin to fall apart and several of his judgements are simply not supported by the available facts.

This earlier post also flags up some of the problems that have reared their heads of late.

Tets Out For The Lads

One of the classic topics that is almost guarenteed to get people butting heads is that of the Tet Offensive and in its small way the exchange seen here is quite representative.

In fact, there is much wrong with the common interpretation of the results of the Tet Offensive - namely that the operation was an American victory and that defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory by aggressively anti-war liberal broadcast and print media.

In fact there's rather more to it than that and, while the conduct of sections of the various news media is open to question (I am far from entirely comfortable with Walter Cronkite's editorialising from that time), other factors are as or more important.

Crying Wolf

The key factor is erosion of trust - a long term process that took place at numerous levels:

First, it is important to note that, with notable exceptions such as John Pilger who has spent much of the past four decades nuzzling appreciatively at the Vietnamese regime's clammy, bepimpled buttocks like a pig in search of truffles, most representatives of the press came to Vietnam with open minds and a committment to the facts. Scepticism largely became ingrained official when briefings from MACV demonstrated an unreal, Walter Mitty quality, frequently containing demonstrable untruths and contrasting wildly not only with the evidence seen by journalists' own eyes but with briefings given to journalists by American military advisers stationed with South Vietnamese units and among the Vietnamese population and by members of the BRIAM (British Advisory Mission). By the time of Tet, trust had broken down, all reports from the top were being taken with a huge grain of salt and the entire apparatus for press briefings was seen - not without justification - as thoroughly tainted. To heap blame exclusively on the heads of the press assumes that the military high command and the US government had been acting in good faith during the preceding years - this was not, sadly, the case.

As important as any breakdown in trust between the public and the government or the press and the armed forces, Tet resulted in an enormous rift between the government and MACV. MACV's optimistic briefings had not merely been directed at the press, but at the government back in Washington as well. A debate can be had over whether this was the fault of MACV due to careerism and detatchment from reality or of the LBJ administration for creating an environment in which it was near impossible to speak truth unto power, but nevertheless this was the situation. Shortly prior to Tet, the US administration had received breezy assurances that the back of the opposition had been broken and that the existence of hostile forces in the South was minimal. Tet may or may not have broken the back of the VC, but the point is that according to MACV's briefings prior to the operation, the forces that took part in the Tet Offensive did not exist in the first place. This took already deteriorating civil-miltary relations to a new low as the credibility of the US command in the eyes of America's civilian leadership, already rickety, crumbled. Everything that the brass hats had been telling the frock coats appeared - on the face of it - to have been either a fabrication or a fantasy.

This, then was the state of affairs when the Army declared Tet a victory. The Army, which had given repeated assurances of success in the past, all of which had proven illusory and many of which had been accompanied by pleas for manpower escalation to finish the job, then proceeded to ask for a manpower escalation to finish the job - a manpower escalation that would have required an extensive further mobilisation to fulfill. Even in the best of scenarios, the situation in Vietnam increasingly represented a painful rupture between ends and means (a topic that deserves further discussion but which is beyond the scope of this present post). On top of this, the fact that the high command was perceived as continuing to sing from the same old discredited hymn book was catastrophic. We may argue that the US administration's incredulity in the face of this was misplaced, but it is nontheless understandable that they reacted badly. What we are essentially presented with is a case of the boy that cried wolf writ large. It is entirely understandable that soldiers who fought in Vietnam, by and large honourably and well for a decent cause, feel ill used and disillusioned at the way their exertions appear to have been rewarded, but those in search of an explanation need to look closer to home than simply the media, including to their superiors in uniform.

The point of this is not to make a value judgement regarding the conduct of the press in the wake of Tet. It is to highlight that a) the outcome of the Tet Offensive rested on numerous factors and that b) if the press (or elements of it) to all intents and purposes went rogue, the Johnson administration and the US Army itself fostered an environment that made this almost inevitable. The fact of the matter is that by the time of Tet, what goodwill and trust had existed had been frittered away many times over and this breakdown in trust manifested itself at almost every level (civil-military, press-army, junior officer-staff, civilian population-government etc etc), most of which had only a tangential connection with Walter Cronkite and his merry band at best. Failure in this case was most definitly not an orphan, no matter how much it may comfort some to pretend that it was.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Chicken-powered nukes - the wave of the future?

It is a commonly held view that the United States is the greatest country in the world and there is much empirical evidence to back this up.

But for all your innovation, hard work, wealth, vitality, creativeness and sense of purpose, you never built a gigantic chicken-powered nuclear landmine.

So I think we win the moral victory, frankly.

In older news, the MI14 Pigeon Committee.

British spy chiefs secretly considered training pigeons to fly into enemy targets carrying explosives or biological weapons, it has been revealed.

British intelligence set up a "pigeon committee" at the end of World War II to ensure expertise gained in the use of the birds to carry messages was not lost.

Documents now released to the National Archives reveal that the War Office intelligence section, MI14, warned: "Pigeon research will not stand still; if we do not experiment, other powers will."


He believed his "revolutionary" ideas could change the way wars were fought, and had the tentative backing of wartime MI6 chief Sir Stewart Menzies.

However the internal security service MI5 branded Rayner a "menace in pigeon affairs".

"To Rule The Waves" - Big Fun but, Oh Dear...

I've been trying to cram in as many books as possible over the pre-exam break, some of which have actually been vaguely related to course content. One of the books that doesn't fall into this category has been Arthur Herman's "To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World".

Herman's book is a doorstop, the main body of the text clocking in at 569 pages, but it is one of the most enjoyable 569 pages I've read in some time and I was able to canter through it at quite a lick, even allowing for the fact that I was reading it mostly at night as a prelude to falling asleep in a spreading puddle of my own dribble. As popular history goes it's a first class effort. If you like your history to be brimming with larger than life heroes, stuff blowing up and lots and lots of dead French people, then you'll be ready to rock 'n' roll. Boy's Own has nothing on it.

The book opens in the early years of Francis Drake and ends with a brief treatment of the Falklands campaign. Herman frontloads the pre-1700s, resulting in the feeling that later eras are somewhat rushed (especially the 20th century) through. The narrative is very much character driven, with extensive coverage of Francis Drake, John Hawkins, Samuel Pepys, Horatio Nelson, Jackie Fisher, Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all. Given that it is fundamentally a popular narrative history, this works quite well and Herman deserves credit for, for example, not giving undue focus to Nelson to the exclusion of others. Of course, being character driven it does run the risk of coming back to sterile debates over who was "the best" and I found myself thinking in these terms while reading the book, not necessarily a good thing - for example, in the section dealing with the Great War, Herman clearly favours David Beatty over John Jellicoe. This is what we call "wrong".

The book carries the tag line "How the British navy shaped the modern world" and this sets alarm bells ringing over whether the text would be excessively deterministic. Broadly speaking, I think Herman avoids this, though given the overall popular slant of the book it is never really developed into a serious thesis anyway. I was alert for the whiff of history-as-politics while reading the book (Herman is a regular contributor to NRO) and there were occasional hints of it. Britain is undoubtedly portrayed as a country with a mission and Herman is explicit in noting the passing on of roles from the UK to the USA. He also makes much - probably too much - of the role of morality and mission in British foreign policy during the nineteenth century. In his treatment of the post-1815 piece I felt I sensed strongly that Herman had Germany and Japan in mind as he wrote and his focus on Castlereagh and implicit criticism of Metternich seemed to represent a calculated slap in the face to Henry Kissinger and other old school Realists. That said, the question is one of emphasis and while Herman probably overeggs the pudding, his general slant cannot be said to be completely at odds with reality.

So, taking it for what it is, I enjoyed it a lot.

Unfortunately, there the good news fizzles like spit on a hot griddle. Because there are a lot of problems with it, even allowing for its status as a nakedly "popular" history.

As I read the first few chapters, I found myself thinking, "Christ, he hasn't footnoted any of this."

In fact, I later found that this is not quite true. There's no bibliography to speak of, but there's actually 51 pages of notes at the back of the book. What Herman has not done, bizarrely, is to link the notes directly to the main body of the text. Instead, the notes are prefaced by a snippet of the text to which they are related. So, page 2, in common to all other pages, has not a single footnote directly attached. But if you go to page 571, you will find three small snippets of text from the page, with notes attached.

This is a completely inadequate way of going about things. Perhaps the only less satisfactory method I have encountered is John Mosier's tendency to present the reader with a rather dubious "Essay on the sources" in his work, rather than a full and comprehensive Bibliography. Not only does it make it virtually impossible to check on Herman's sources while reading, it then becomes a labourious process to track back through the text, searching for the three words which are meant to flag up which sentence the footnote is referring to. The strangeness of this is added to by the fact that to the best of my knowledge I have never encountered a single other book, popular or academic, that is sourced in this manner. Whether this format was set upon by Herman or his publishers, Hodder and Stoughton, I have no idea. Given that Herman is a teaching historian, I sincerely hope it's the latter. If I submitted an essay sourced in the same manner, I'd have strips torn off me - with justification.

This need not be fatal in and of itself, but unfortunately the moment the text began to stray into areas in which I harbour any degree of substantial knowledge, I began to pick up repeated errors of fact. Some of these ring alarm bells but can plausibly be put down to sloppy editing (for example, Herman skips between calling General Monck "George" [correctly] and "Samuel" with gay abandon). Others are simply buttock-clenching. Apparently the commander of the naval contingent during the Gallipoli campaign was Admiral Sir Ian Hamilton(!). Earlier on, we are informed that the Duke of Wellington was able to seize victory in the Peninsula because the British infantry was armed with rifles (!!!!). Later, Herman has Sandy Woodward controlling and giving orders to the British submarine force, in apparent ignorance of the fact that British nuclear submarines acted under a seperate chain of command and were controlled directly from London.

I gave some thought to the idea that perhaps I was becoming rather petty and that the broad sweep of the book made such errors inevitable. Frankly though, I don't think so. Some of the errors - especially those cited above - are really very serious and do risk calling into question the credibility of the whole. I am not, for example, in the position to dissect Herman's chapters on the Seventeenth Century and earlier. These take up the lion's share of the book and it may well be that Herman is personally on more solid ground here. However, given that I know that chunks of the latter portions of the book feature a string of jaw-dropping errors of fact, I am less than inclined to take sections where I know that I personally am not on solid ground as gospel. The whole project is thrown into uncertainty.

This is unfortunate, as it's a fantastic read. But as things stand, To Rule the Waves is unlikely to ever rise above the status of enjoyable historical eye candy and may actually end up horribly mis-educating the uninitiated.

New election twist

The upcoming British election seems set to be one with an unusual number of independent candidates, including former ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, standing in the Foreign Secretary's seat of Blackburn, two independent anti-war candidates - Reg Keys, father of one of the Redcaps killed in Iraq and David Shayler, the rogue Security Service officer - in the Prime Minister's seat of Sedgefield and now this.

I've been following this issue with a moderate amount of interest and obviously my gut instinct is that these people, who did an unglamorous but absolutely vital job of work (with a low survival rate), deserve their medal. However, the refusal of the government to provide such even when it is set to cause them a lot of discomfort, makes me suspect there must be more to the story than is generally realised. Certainly, I suspect this is a decision that has been made on the back of professional advice and not political expediency.

This is not, of course, the first time the government has stood by an unpopular decision in this area. In the early days of the government, defence ministers killed - entirely correctly - moves to issue a blanket pardon to soldiers executed during the Great War, in spite of the fact that said move had substantial lobbying power behind it and was broadly popular in the country at large.

Frank Gardner Back To Work

Good news. Mr Gardner is very, very lucky to be alive.

George Galloway Butts Heads With The Baghdad Blogger

I draw your attention to this without (with great difficulty) editorial comment...

The "Baghdad blogger" was at the event to make a film for Newsnight, and he managed to snatch a brief interview with Mr Galloway before the Respect candidate dashed off to his meeting with the lawyers.

"I know who you are," said Mr Galloway, warily eyeing Mr Pax, whose weblog gave the world an insight into the lives of ordinary Iraqis in the run-up to the US-led invasion.

Mr Pax wanted to know why Mr Galloway wanted the immediate withdrawal of occupying troops from Iraq.

"I really don't think we are going to agree on this. You supported the war and I opposed it," said Mr Galloway.

"You welcomed the invasion of foreign armies into your country. I opposed it. So we are not going to agree on this, which is why I didn't think it would be productive to have a discussion with you and I do have to go now."

But Mr Pax - whose real name has never been revealed - pressed the point.

Galloway: "I just want to be honest with you. You can not demand that our armed forces occupy your country - that's a matter for us.

"It's not a matter for you - it's a matter for us. Now I think there are millions of people in this country who think the war was illegal, was wrong shouldn't have happened and should be immediately withdrawn from. We are entitled to that point of view and we are."

Mr Pax "shouldn't have supported" the war in the first place, added Mr Galloway.

But Mr Pax countered that would be tantamount to supporting the continuation of a regime like Saddam's.

Galloway: "We are not going to agree on this. You are a supporter of the war. You are a supporter of the occupation and I am an opponent. Your family joined the puppet government."

Pax: "We are helping to build the new Iraq."

Galloway: "That's your point of view, it's not our point of view and you are entitled to your opinion, and I welcome you to London, and I am entitled to mine - and let's see what the British people think."

And with that, Mr Galloway really was gone.

Meanwhile, back in the meeting room, Respect's chairman John Rees and the two candidates Mr Galloway had been sharing the platform with, got on with the more mundane task of launching the party's manifesto.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

A Brief, Unscripted Aside...

A copy of a petition started by David Hirsch of Goldsmith's College, London, opposing this move being put forward by a faction within the Association of University Teachers is available at this site. I know there are at least a couple of full time British university teaching staff who read this site from time to time and I would just urge anyone answering that description to strongly consider putting their name to it, regardless of their stance towards Israel's policies in Gaza and the West Bank. One should not need to be pro-Israeli to oppose what is frankly a thoroughly scurrilous, partial, selective and discriminatory move, of which, in my view, those involved should be utterly ashamed.

Thursday, April 14, 2005


I thought that Mackubin Thomas Owens did a great job on the piece that Anthony references below -- and mea culpa, mea maxima culpa for not reading Anthony's comments in full yet, it's been one of those days. And I think Owens' points are well taken and exceedingly appropriate. I'd just argue that there is a difference between the uniformed military arguing whether or not to go to war and the uniformed military arguing over how to wage the war -- which doesn't necessarily contradict anything in the piece. Pushing back about waging war, bad, pushing back about how to wage war, perhaps not bad. Argue to the point of decision and then execute. I think there is an interesting convergence of political schadenfreude and mythmaking about how this is Rumsfeld's war and how if only we had listened to the Chief of Staff of the Army none of this would happen. As my friend Frank Hoffman has argued/is arguing at Carlisle Barracks yesterday/today, there was kind of a collective "look to the east on the morning of the 5th day" attitude about Phase IV in OIF whose responsibility extended beyond what did and did not happen in the halls of OSD.

Furthermore, I would argue that I find it slightly disheartening that The Soldier and the State is still a fixture of professional reading lists. No disrespect to Professor Huntington, and there is much of value in the book, but I still hold that the issue of extolling purist (purely military) over fusionist (socio-economic-politico-military) military advice is not helpful and, in fact, is very damaging when dealing with socio-politico-military environments such as Mindanao or Afghanistan or Iraq. I think that feeds into the pushing kinetic vice kinetic/non-kinetic solutions to problems on the ground. Of course, pushing for fusionist advice does not mean that military officers veto foreign policy, rather it just allows them to offer advice in hopefully a better context.

British? Gonzo for Seapower? Well...

Just a quick tipoff, I got Geoffrey Till's "Seapower At The Millenium" from the marketplace for £10.99 and it arrived this morning in mint condition. Considering that the standard price for the book is forty quid, I think this worked out pretty well. From what I can tell the, blokes who sold it to me still have copies available if anyone is interested.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Keep it Zipped

Interesting and excellent Mac Owens article at NRO dealing with issues of civilian control of the armed forces and when it is or is not right for an officer to speak out.

I'm not an expert in civil-military affairs, but it strikes me that there may be a few other things to be added.

First, a point I've made before - one of the problems curently being seen on a fairly wide scale is that of leaks and anonymous briefings to the press. I do not approve of this. However, that said it is widely accepted that leaks by professional civil servants are more likely to take place when those doing the leaking are made to work in an environment in which their advice is either not given a fair hearing or is likely to lead to punishment or active sidelining. The job of professional civil servants is to speak truth unto power and if they do not do that for the sake of their own skins then that speaks badly of them. On the other hand, it is also up to our elected representatives to maintain an environment in which saying the "wrong" thing is not seen as beyond the Pale - they do, of course, then have the right to reject said advice as they see fit. While I find the current spate of leaks and briefings distasteful I also feel that claims that the current US (and British) administrations have fallen down on their share of the deal do not lack credibility.

Second, the question faced by any civil servant faced with a severe rift between himself and the elected representatives - whether and when to resign - has always been a supremely difficult one. First of all it takes guts. Second of all, it involves overcoming the very natural instinct that informs us that it is better to stick at a bad job and hope to influence events in what little ways we can than to throw our toys out of the pram and have no influence at all. A resignation may cause a stir for 24 hours, but once that initial exlosion of interest and exposure has died down, you are, to all intents and purposes, buggered. This feeling is doubtless exacerbated when a substantial chunk of that part of the commentariat loyal to the current administration seems to have taken to adopting the rapid-response character smear as weapon of first resort in reacting to any resignation, whether by a political appointee or a professional bureaucrat.

None of this is terribly new, of course. Similar debates took place in the 1930s, when Britain's Imperial General Staff, the bulk of whom favoured a tougher line on Germany and strengthening of the Anglo-French alliance, went through agonies of indecision and heartfelt ethical debate over how to respond to the policies set out by their elected masters. Ultimately the consensus decision was that they would resign en masse if committed to the field in pursuit of a policy they considered wildly irresponsible or if sent in on what would amount to a suicide mission without pressing cause but that they could not in good conscience resign over the absence of an active policy of which they approved (rearmament and stiffer opposition to the Nazis). In other words, they could resign to protest policy but not resign in order to coerce the government into adopting policy. The conscientious debate, absence of leakage from within the ship of state and rigorous committment to the principle of civilian authority did the officers involved much credit, though history might have turned a blind eye to their abuse of position had they chosen differently - nothing succeeds like success.

Finally, I do wonder whether the increasingly militaristic slant of American society (please don't choke on your own tongue at the sight of this comment, I have not turned into Michael Moore and will be laying out some moderating parameters in a moment) is not helpful in this regard. The term "militaristic" has become a catch all pejorative over the past few decades, simply being hurled (like "fascist") at anyone the hurler finds particularly annoying. These days, those who favour increased defence spending or an expeditionary foreign policy are frequently described as such. In fact in its proper usage a militaristic society has two rather specific factors linked to it - 1) an active role played by the armed forces in government and the policy making process and 2) the employment of the armed forces and the values seen to be embodied in the armed forces as a desirable template for society as a whole.

A little historical padding. Europe in the years building up to the Great War is frequently described as militaristic - a catch all term that is applied to all the participants in the conflict in equal measure. In fact, this holds true only if we accept as our benchmark of militarism the rather watered-down, student politico definition: all the major power supported high defence spending and most supported an active foreign policy based around national aggrandisement. However, in order to be precise we must look at the domestic situations of the leading powers and here a comparison between Imperial Germany and the United Kingdom is instructive.

In Imperial Germany, the German army was seen as the expression of national values and consciousness. There are two main reasons for this - first, the fact that German nationalism (as opposed to, say, French nationalism) was inherently tied into the reforms of the Prussian army in the wake of Prussia's disastrous defeat at Jena-Auerstadt in 1806 and that the key movers in this development were, quite naturally, uniformed officers and not civilian officials. Second, the fact that for centuries Germany as a geographical entity had been the main battleground for a series of catastrohpic wars that had decimated the civilian population, this helping to ingrain something approaching a siege mentality among significant chunks of the German population at large. Books elaborating theories of the purifying, Darwinian nature of war and exalting the mobilisation of the entire population to serve a grand national military project were popular among the general staffs of all the major European powers (and the USA). However, whereas in other countries, such books rarely found much of an audience outside the military arena, they found a ravenous civilian audience in Germany, the work of Colmar von der Goltz topping the equivalent of the bestseller lists and being reprinted thirteen times in its first year of publication. German army officers enjoyed significant power in the civilian arena (including powers of arrest over civilians). At its most mundane level this manifested itself in the ability of uniformed soldiery to boss ordinary civilians around even when in a civilian setting. At its most serious, it led to the rapid collapse of German democracy in the face of national crisis, to the extent that by the end of the war Imperial Germany was to all intents and purposes a military dictatorship.

In the United Kingdom, threads of similarity existed. The British public was cock-a-hoop over naval construction, even lobbying parliament for MORE ships than planned ("We want eight and we won't wait!" - long time since we've seen that sort of thing...) and shrewd bureaucratic players (notably Jackie Wilson) were keen to cultivate good relations with newspaper magnates and to advance their pet projects. The record of civilian control over the armed forces was not entirely unblemished either, as the Curragh incident demonstrated. Beyond these superficial similarities, however, the differences are stark. Apart from when "our lads" were off doing the business in foreign climbs, the "scum of the earth" theory of British soldiery ruled, with men in uniform often being treated not as titans, but second class citizens. Once again we return to Kipling - it is almost inconceivable that "Tommy" could ever have been written in Imperial Germany. Had it been, it would not have chronicled any recognisable social reality. While the British public did mobilise - in the event, more effectively than their German opponents - in the face of a perceived threat to national survival, enthusiasm for empire and grand adventures abroad was contingent upon the fact that pursuit of these cheerful diversions rested in the hands of a tiny professional army and an all volunteer navy and thus demonstrated minimal impact on the average man in the street beyond the occasional tax increase and exposure to the odd unusual item of foodstuff or trinketry sourced form Exotic Climbs.

I don't wish to give the impression that America is somehow analogous with Imperial Germany or that it is teetering on the brink of a military coup. I have a lot of faith in American democratic institutions and, broadly speaking, the sound sense of the American people (excepting those factors identified by Fareed Zakaria in his "The Future of Freedom"). However, various developments (none of which, lest I seem to be unduly hammering the current people in office, are the creations of the Bush administration) do point in that general direction and, while they are unlikely to have earth shattering effects on American democracy as a whole, they may serve to contribute to the increasingly opaque state of the civil-military divide.

The first of these is the sidelining of public diplomacy in favour of military representatives abroad - analogies (slack or otherwise) with ancient Rome abound. This is probably not a Good Thing, though the point ought to be made that it is quite possible that this trend reached a peak during the Clinton administration and is now actually on the decline. The choice of civilian representatives to lead the American missions in Iraq and Afghanistan (I myself would have been strongly inclined to make Iraq at least a quasi-military appointment in the form of retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni) may serve as a repudiation of this creeping militarisation. The cynic would doubtless argue that the increase in civilian appointees is a result of the fact that the only people prepared to back current administration policy are politicised true believers. Whether there is some truth in this or whether there's just no pleasing some people, I don't feel equipped to judge (though I suspect rather more the latter than the former).

Second is the militarisation of the presidency. To the best of my knowledge - I am open to correction - this started with Ronald Reagan, who took to saluting soldiers as he sauntered past and other minor military affectations. Ironically, Reagan was at that point the least military of all post-war presidents. The trend has been taken to new heights with the current incumbent, reaching its apogee with his landing, encased in military flight suit, on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln at the close of conventional operations in Iraq. It is impossible to conceive of Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan undertaking such a spectacle and it is equally hard to see George H W Bush, a genuine, Grade A, copper-bottomed war hero, in the same position (full disclosure of prejudice: Although a supporter of the war and full of piss and vinegar at that point, I found the whole display to be in monumental bad taste). This is, of course, a tricky point, given the president's role as commander in chief. In the United Kingdom, of course, the Queen has this role and other members of the Royal Family various appointments (The Princess Royal is Colonel-in-Chief of the Blues and Royals, much to the detriment of Elaine Donnelly's bile duct one presumes), while lacking serious political power (Her Majesty reins, but does not rule...). I would be interested in hearing from American readers what their views are on this issue - where should the line be drawn?

There are a couple of other factors which I don't feel terribly comfortable discussing here. Aside from anything else I have no wish to cause offence. Reviewing the post I have the terrible feeling I may end up sounding like some sort of ghastly person who can expect lifetime employment on the editorial board of Le Monde or something. As I say, the areas of current American political life that I've picked out for tentative (and it is very tentative) criticism, I have picked out because of their potential to blur somewhat the lines between civil and military control, not because I think they are contributing to - or are symptoms of - a supposed urge to ravage the planet or lapse into some sort of crypto-fascist dictatorship.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Preggers For Victory

Demoralising news for our lads in the Gulf - Britney is up the duff.

However, as is so often the case, a closer examination of the news item reveals that this is, in fact, a Hidden Good News Story:

However, she has previously expressed a desire to start a family. In an interview with People magazine last fall, she said: "I want to be a young mom. I can see us as parents."

While this will be Spears' first foray into parenthood, Federline, 27, has two children with his ex-girlfriend, actress Shar Jackson. Spears and Federline met last year when he was a backup dancer on her tour — and Jackson was pregnant with their son.

In fact behind the predictable Leftist spin we can clearly see that this story is nothing more than the chronicle of a distinctly positive landmark breakthrough: The hitherto unheard of existence of a heterosexual backup dancer.

Once again, the Mainstream Media misses the Big Story and the informed public have to rely on the Blogosphere to pick up the pieces...

On Not Getting Me Started

I have recently noticed that I have been indirectly challenged by an old political sparring partner, Peter Cuthbertson of Conservative Commentary, to furnish answers to various book related questions that are making their way, chain letter stylee, about the internet.

Well, the problem with these things is never getting me started, it's getting me to shut up again once I've worked up a full head of steam. So here goes...

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

I can't actually remember what happens in Farenheit 451, beyond the fact that the firemen burn books and that Farenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper combusts. On the assumption that I'm going to get frasped, I'll go for "I'm not the only one" by George Galloway. I'm not a great fan of burning books, by and large, but if it's gotta happen I can think of few worthier candidates. If I was going to escape in some sort of shock manoeuvre (honestly can't rmemeber what the hell happens in that book) I'll go for Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War.

UPDATE: Having poked around a bit more I see that it's definitely a case of which book do you want to not be burned - so Thucydides. I think. Though a single volume general history would probably be more appropriate. Arrrgh!

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

I don't think so. Ply me with expensive drink, however, and the grotesque shameful tuth may out...

What are you currently reading?

I've got a few things on the go at once, to the detriment of all. Until very recently I was reading Anthony Read's The Devil's Disciples, which I found interesting, if not necessarily the sort of thing I'd want to cite in essays. The problem was that it's just too bloody long - 900 odd pages. I got 350 pages in and was enjoying it but just ended up thinking, "Christ, it's going to take me the best part of a fortnight to read this cover to cover and I've got more important things to do with my time". I will return to it, but it's on the back burner for now. Anyway, as things stand I've ploughed through Wolfgang Schivelbusch's The Culture of Defeat (of which more later in a different post) and I'm now dividing my time between Carol Reardon's Soldiers and Scholars, Michael Palmer's Command at Sea and Andrew Mango's The Turks Today.

The last book you bought is:

I actually got six (eek!) books last Saturday. Two, George Crile's Charlie Wilson's War and The Road to Martyrs' Square by Anne-Marie Oliver and Paul Steinberg, were from Borders. The rest, Anthony James Joes' Resisting Rebellion: The History and Politics of Counterinsurgency, Steven Ozment's A Mighty Fortress: A New History of the German People, Stephen Cohen's The Idea of Pakistan and Frank Kitson's Warfare as a Whole (second hand) were from Amazon.

Five books you would take to a deserted island:

I don't know. I've found it difficult to finalise my choices on this one. I'll stick the answers up in a seperate post when I finally make my mind up.

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

Well if Michael and/or Mark want to set out their choices, they can go for it - I don't doubt it would be very interesting. Otherwise, I'll go for Phil Carter, Mark Grimsley and Ross Douthat for the individual expertise they would no doubt bring with them, though I'm not going to pester any of them into doing it.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

COIN 101

Good news -something I should have flagged up about a month ago.

I have mentioned on this site in the past a variety of books on the subject of counterinsurgency, among which there is a broad consensus that the best - or at least the most practically useful - is "Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice" by the late French theorist David Galula..

Unfortunately the book is notoriously difficult to get hold of - in spite of the fact that it has come to the attention of high-ups within the American defence community. The book only surfaced in one edition during the COIN craze of the 1960s and then, like so many books that emerged on that topic in that decade (regardless of quality) became about as difficult to find as snake feathers. Michael and I had attempted in the fairly recent past to disseminate the information contained within as far as possible, but obviously the effort was necessarily limited in scale.

Happily, it seems that the book is now coming back into print. You will not find it at Amazon but you can get hold of a copy from here. I would encourage all serving officers and anyone with an interest in the subject to get themselves a copy as it really is probably the single best one stop treatment of the area. Hopefully the powers that be in the British and American defence communities will have the sense to buy numerous copies and make sure that they are readly available in the relevant libraries.

Kudos to Mr Hailer for getting the ball rolling on this one. I'd encourage those with an interest to support his effort.

Oh and on a purely personal note, cheers to Terry Daly for pushing this title so hard in the first place way back when.

Brent Scowcroft at SAIS

Other Men's Flowers

I'd encourage readers to check out the comment attached to this post, as to my chagrin it may actually be better than the post itself...

Incidentally, one of the points I make in my piece on Owen's poetry is that one of the problems of poetry as a source is that it rarely deals with the humdrum and the normal. I believe that this holds true and I stand by it. However, it is worth noting that perhaps one of the reasons for Kipling's greatness is that he does NOT live up to this rule and a substantial amount of his output deals with the everyday drudgery of barracks life and soldiering in England or India.

Of course, Kipling brings with him his own problems. As a reliable source for the "reality" of the experience of war, he suffers for the fact that he was not himself a frontline soldier, whereas Wilfred Owen (and Brooke and Sassoon etc) was. But Kiplng's canvas is broader and thus in many ways more convincing.

P.S. If anyone can tell me the significane of the title of this post, they win... well actually they win nothing. Nothing but honour!

Dance the Danny Deever

I note that Mark Grimsely seems to have taken on something of a penchant for poetry and given that Kipling and Starship Troopers have both been playing merry hell with my brain recently, here's one by the former:

"What are the bugles blowin' for?" said Files-on-Parade.
"To turn you out, to turn you out," the Colour Sergeant said.
"What makes you look so white, so white?" said Files-on-Parade.
"I'm dreadin' what I've got to watch," the Colour Sergeant said.
For they're hangin' Danny Deever, you can hear the Dead March play,
The Regiment's in 'ollow-square - they're hangin' him today;
They've taken off his buttons an' they've cut his stripes away,
An' they're hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'

"What makes the rear-rank breathe so 'ard?" said Files-on-Parade.
"It's bitter cold, it's bitter cold," the Colour Sergeant said.
"What makes the front-rank man fall down?" said Files-on-Parade.
"A touch o' the sun, a touch o' the sun," the Colour Sergeant said.
They are hangin' Danny Deever, they are marchin' of 'im round.
They 'ave 'alted Danny Deever by 'is coffin on the ground;
An' 'e'll swing in 'arf a minute for a sneakin' shootin' hound -
Oh they're hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'!

"'Is cot was right-'and cot to mine," said Files-on-Parade.
"'E's sleepin' out an' far tonight," the Colour Sergeant said.
"I've drunk 'is beer a score o' times," said Files-on-Parade.
"'E's drinkin' bitter beer alone," the Colour Sergeant said.
They are hangin' Danny Deever, you must mark 'im to 'is place,
For 'e shot a comrade sleepin' - you must look 'im in the face;
Nine 'undred of 'is country and the regiment's disgrace,
While they're hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'.

"What's that so black against the sun?" said Files-on-Parade.
"It's Danny fightin' 'ard fo life," the Colour Sergeant said.
"What's that that whimpers over'ead?" said Files-on-Parade.
"It's Danny's soul that's passin' now," the Colour Sergeant said.
For they're done with Danny Deever, you can 'ear the quickstep play,
The regiment's in column an' they're marchin' us away;
Ho! the young recruits are shakin' an' they'll want their beer today.
After hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Right Wing Spin Machine Lumbers Into Action

I am livid. This Weekly Standard article is a disgrace.

Today there arrives Sin City and if nothing else can be said for it, there is this: It's the biggest gimmick movie of our time. Not only is Sin City adapted from a series of Frank Miller comic books; not only is it shot mostly in black and white with some splashes of color; not only was it made almost entirely with computer-generated sets; not only does it feature an all-star cast of some 18 above-the-line actors; not only does it boast of having three directors; but one of these directors is a "special guest director" who goes by the handle Quentin Tarantino. As gimmicks go, this is pretty strong stuff.

And as a piece of cinema, it's clearly superior to Clue.

NOTHING is superior to Clue.

Something Vexes Thee?

Paul Robinson of Hull University has an article in this week's issue of the Spectator (free registration required) that is worth a read.

I corresponded minimally with Paul a year or so ago over a couple of pieces he'd written (and actually suggested he start his own website - but apparently he's "busy" with "work" and "research" and other airy-fairy things like that) and I find his output invariably provocative and interesting even while I may disagree with large chunks of it. Politically, from what I can tell he's basically Jonathan Swift.

Only reborn and working in Hull.

And living on the continent, if memory serves.

Anyway, worth a read.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Compare and Contrast

For two different perspectives, compare this bit

A Media Intelligence Failure (subscription req)
Wall Street Journal, April 1, 2005, Pg. 10

We'll need time to dig through the details in the 600-plus-page Robb-Silberman report on intelligence that was released yesterday. But one important conclusion worth noting, even on a quick reading, is that the report blows apart the myth that intelligence provided by Iraqi politician and former exile Ahmed Chalabi suckered the U.S. into going to war.....

to this bit from General Jack Keane (USA ret), former Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, in front of the House Armed Services Committee on July 15, 2004:

SKELTON: Well, why didn't it happen? Why was

KEANE: If I could comment on that.

SKELTON: Jack -- General.

KEANE: Well, let me add to that, because I participated in this process. And this represents the space, the intellectual capital that we expended to take the regime down. This represents the space for the intellectual capital to deal with it after. I mean, that was the reality of it.

And when I look back on it myself, and having participated and contributed to it, one of the things that happened to us -- and I'll just speak for myself. I don't want to speak for others, is many of us got seduced by the Iraqi exiles in terms of what the outcome would be.

SKELTON: We're all going to be treated as liberators, right?

KEANE: That's correct. So, therefore, the intellectual capital to prepare ourselves properly for an insurgency was not there. Nor was -- there were very few people who actually envisioned, honestly, before the war, what we are dealing with now after the regime went down.