Friday, July 22, 2005

One for Matthew...

Michael J. Totten has an article in the Lebanon Daily Star.

It's interesting, provocative, well-intentioned and, in my personal view, pretty detached from reality (and I think the Cold War analogy is pretty.... bleuurgh) and quite possibly dangerous but worth a read. I can't be bothered banging on about what I don't like about it - if anybody thinks it's the bee's knees, let me know and I'll try to muster a rebuttal.

Bye bye, baby, baby bye...

Intriguing. The "blogosphere" has claimed a scalp - a justified and eminently worthwhile scalp in my view.

The Guardian and Dilpazier Aslam have, how shall we say, parted company

The Guardian initially stood by a legalistic defence, arguing that Hizb ut-Tahrir is a legal organisation. So it is. And so is the British National Party and the National Front and if the Guardian found they had a leading BNP or NF activist working for them, he'd be out so fast his feet wouldn't touch the ground.

In fairness to the Guardian, although this result has been slow in coming (and the Guardian's Media section is reacting with extremely bad grace) it seems that many of the actions of their staff in the build-up were undertaken in good faith. But as far as I'm concerned this is the right outcome and I am very, very pleased.

The Guardian has stated that it intends to broaden access to young Muslims with aspirations to succeed in the print news media. This is a perfectly laudable objective. I strongly suggest they hire one of the ones who aren't bigoted Islamist wankers.

Everything changed. Mostly.

How and why has war changed as a consequence of industrialisation?

“Whatever happens we have got

The Maxim gun and they have not.”

- Hilaire Belloc

“Military organisations rarely have the opportunity to conduct the dirty business of war. In times of peace they cannot replicate wartime conditions: thus they find it difficult to evaluate the implications of technological and doctrinal changes. It is as if surgeons did not perform surgery for decades and then had to execute thousands of operations in cold, damp conditions, without food or sleep and with rivals shooting at them from the balconies of the operating theatres.”

- Williamson Murray

The process of industrialisation played a key role in the development of the conduct of war between the Napoleonic and First World Wars. However, we must from the very outset recognise two stumbling blocks that can impede any analysis of its impact. First and foremost, though it should scarcely need commenting upon, it serves to note that while industrialisation, as we shall see, had enormous impact on the way armies were raised, equipped and supplies, with knock on effects at most levels of the conduct of war, these changes had an impact only on the character of warfare as it developed from the pre-industrial period to the twentieth century – the objective nature of war it altered not a jot[i]. Second of all, it should be noted that industrialisation beckons to the scholar, Will ‘o the Wisp-like, to dip a toe into the intellectual fever swamp of technological determinism and this should be avoided in assessing its impact.[ii] While acknowledging that revolutionary technological change took place between 1815 and 1914 (and accelerated after that), it is also important to take note of two further factors, which will underpin the following analysis: First, the social and political context in which technological developments took place.[iii] Second, the fact that, while a comparison between, for example, a representative field artillery piece of 1815 vintage and an equivalent piece of kit dating from 1914 demonstrated startling improvements in every measure of effectiveness, this apparently revolutionary change represents the result of a string of minor, incremental improvements over time. Key developments linked (though not necessarily solely so) to industrialisation include the railway and telegraph, expansion in the size of armed forces, steam power and armoured fighting ships at sea and key improvements in artillery and infantry weapons. The practical impact of these developments was seen at all levels – strategic, operational and tactical.

At the strategic level, developments in communications were key, though these developments were slow and should not be overstated.[iv] Most dramatically, the development of the telegraph permitted armies in the field to contact their home governments with relative ease. A system of semaphore telegraphs existed in France in the pre-industrial period, but the development of the electric telegraph – first seen in action in the Crimea – represented an improvement in terms of range, speed and reliability, a situation further improved by the introduction of the Marconi wireless telegraph in 1897.[v] However, although communications between governments and their commanders in the field improved, communications between commanders and their troops saw only minimal improvement.[vi] Faced with the emergence of ever-larger armies without a parallel improvement in communications, commanders were forced to devolve control to ever lower levels. The Crimea demonstrated the worst effects of this, as control was devolved without any accompanying doctrine to inform junior officers’ decisions and ensure the dissemination of best practice. The situation had improved by 1870, but not to a drastic extent, as the performance of the Prussian Guards and of Steinmetz’ corps showcased. Methods of communication were relatively inflexible and immobile, a situation that persisted into the First World War.

At the operational level, the advent of the railway made a significant difference over time. Troops could travel greater distances at greater speeds and be maintained in the field for longer periods away from supply depots. Wounded troops could be evacuated and soldiers could depart from the theatre of operations when on leave.[vii] The employment of railways for military means was incremental, starting in the 1830s when various governments earmarked domestic rail systems as a means to facilitate the rapid deployment of troops from barracks towns to suppress internal insurrection (in 1839 the British deployed troops by rail to suppress a Chartist uprising and the Prussians employed a similar move against revolutionaries in Cracow seven years later)[viii] Use of the railway in inter-state conflict emerged in the 1850s, but revealed major limitations, including a lack of co-ordination and the fact that the movement of troops was easier than the rapid and regular movement of supplies. At this point the technological development of the railway was paired with social and political developments in the field of expanding bureaucracy to create viable systems for the rapid, co-ordinated deployment of troops by rail, which reached fruition in the wars of German unification. Problems persisted, such as the fact that the system tended to break down as troops advanced beyond the railhead. However, given that a two-day march could be compressed into a two-hour rail journey, it would be churlish to deny that the railway had an extensive impact.

Naval developments also had a significant impact on logistics and supply. The availability of steam power to the British and French allowed them to sustain their forces in the Crimea and run rings round the Russians, even though the Russians were operating on their home turf. Naval developments showcase the incremental nature underpinning much of the broad revolutionary change of the period.[ix] Auxiliary steam power was introduced in the 1830s, but sails were not abandoned altogether until the 1880s. Shell firing rifled guns made an appearance in the 1840s and the 1860s saw the beginning of the armouring of ships, partly in response to this.[x] In the 1880s, iron cladding was replaced with steel. In the early years of the twentieth century, coal power was replaced with oil. Meanwhile, paddle propulsion had been replaced by the propeller screw. The speed, range and lethality of naval vessels all increased radically during the period covered. It is difficult to find many similarities between an ironclad or Dreadnought and their Napoleonic cousins. However, it is important to note that for all this, the fundamentals of naval warfare and seapower remained much the same in 1914 as they had been in 1815.[xi]

Industrialisation is often linked with the growth in the size of armed forces. This is correct but misleading. Industrialisation was a necessary but not a sufficient condition in explaining the expansion of armed forces. Key factors in the emergence of mass armies were increasing population size and the political will for mass mobilisation, generally emerging through the phenomenon of nationalism.[xii] Additionally, the political scene in much of continental Europe grew to support the idea of linkage between military service and citizenship. The leap in size between ancien regime armies and French revolutionary armies was both greater and substantially more rapid than the leap in army size between 1815 and 1914. In the eighteenth century, armies peaked at around 80,000 men in size. French revolutionary armies could muster up to 600,000. To place the armies of industrialisation in perspective, in 1870 the Prussians were able to deploy 1,200,000 men and in 1914 Germany put 3,400,000 men in the field.[xiii] These were major increases, but clearly it is inadequate merely to place credit at the door of industrialisation. It is also important to note that due to a combination of different strategic concerns, geopolitical factors and social and political mores, neither Britain – for much of the period the gold standard for industrialised power – nor the United States (with the dramatic exception of the American Civil War, which displayed a fusion of emerging industrial methods and technology and pre-nineteenth century national mobilisation) maintained large conscript armies. The equation industrialisation = significant army expansion is simply not good enough. What industrialisation did was to make these armies more sustainable. Revolutionary and Napoleonic armies largely had to subsist off the land they occupied.[xiv] Thus, when the Russian campaign took place the logistical and supply system quickly collapsed and insufficient food could be foraged. Industrialisation permitted these armies to be supplied in a reasonably efficient manner (though the Crimean War demonstrates that there was a steep learning curve) both through the railway and the advent of the steam ship and through the advent of canned food on a large scale.[xv]

Industrialisation also helped states sustain prolonged war efforts. This development is first showcased through the example of Britain during the Napoleonic Wars. Britain certainly benefited from nascent industrialisation and the fruits of industrial production would spread both horizontally and vertically as the nineteenth century progressed. However, the sustainability of the British war effort also stemmed from factors not related to industrialisation – notably the development of banking methods and the establishment of a modern system of credit. These different factors were mutually supporting and self-sustaining, a pattern common in much of the development seen through the period of industrialisation.

The development of artillery provides another excellent case study in the incremental nature of much of the development and reform that took place during the period. Modern quick-firing artillery was the end result of many different and often unrelated improvements that came together to form a more or less revolutionary whole. The constituent developments can be identified as; smokeless powder, developed in 1861 but not widely deployed until a decade later, which not only permitted artillery units to fire without revealing their position but increased the power of the charge and therefore the range of the shot and resulted in a relatively high-visibility battlefield so that this increased range could be employed productively; the 1852 Boxer time fuse for shrapnel shells, which made explosive shells increasingly reliable and discriminate; the percussion fuse which emerged in 1870; the recoilless gun carriage (permitting the gun to be fired repeatedly without time-consuming re-laying of the 1890s; the auto-ejecting breech block, also of the 1890s, which massively increased firing speed from an average of three rounds a minute to between fifteen and thirty and – most importantly – mid-nineteenth century standardisation of machine tools and the development in the 1860s of increasingly efficient methods of steel production which increased output and decreased cost (between 1865 and 1879, British steel production quadrupled).[xvi] Many of these developments fed into each other and showcase the impact of industrialisation in microcosm. Steel was available prior to the 1860s and had many advantages – notably strength and lightness. However, the manufacturing capability did not exist to exploit it in a cost effective manner. Similarly, breech loading guns had long been available, from breech loading fixed naval guns from the pre-industrial age to the 1855 Armstrong breech loading system. However, production in iron was not satisfactory in terms of either safety or reliability and until the 1860s, muzzle loading remained more reliable. It was the drawing of these different developments together that ultimately produced a “revolutionary” weapon and the revolutionary nature of the change is most obvious in hindsight. Certainly there was no technological “big bang” for serving officers at the time.

The development of artillery and of rifle technology (a similarly incremental tale – if not more so - that resulted in significantly increased range, accuracy, weight of fire [the latter being more important than the former], rate of fire and – an important point that is often overlooked – bullet penetration) had a significant impact at the tactical level.[xvii] This is most often seen to manifest itself in the “empty battlefield” from the latter stages of the American Civil War onwards, where weapon lethality resulted in infantry going to ground. Part and parcel of this was the emergence of fire-and-manoeuvre tactics, the fundamentals of which persist to this day relatively unchanged. The recognition that massed frontal assaults were costly (though, contrary to popular belief, the historical record does not support the notion that frontal assaults were rendered futile) resulted in a focus on flanking manoeuvres at both the operational and the tactical levels. This was perceived to require ever-larger conscript fighting forces and yet paradoxically, manoeuvre, decentralised command and tactical flanking was seen as beyond the grasp of conscripts, which contributed to some of the confusion in the development of theories of attack in the run-up to the First World War (culminating in the first day on the Somme, where plans were devised, reasonably enough in theory, around the perceived limitations in performance of very raw non-regular troops).[xviii]

It is also of paramount importance to note that one of the key advances – if not the key advance - provided by industrialisation was to make existing theoretical ideas practical.[xix] We have already seen that ideas for “modern” cannon existed before the technological advances that brought them into general use existed. The point is that a good idea may have no military utility if it cannot be produced in good time, in large numbers and at reasonable cost. History is littered with ideas that came before their time and the supposedly reactionary ways of the top brass rarely provide for a realistic explanation for their failure. Major Patrick Ferguson developed a rifle during the American Revolution. It was a very fine piece of kit with many advantages. It could be loaded quickly and fired from prone. It was highly accurate. The breech loading removed the difficulty of forcing the ball ammunition through the rifle grooves. Yet it never went into major production (Ferguson’s small ranger unit was equipped with the weapon and created havoc for the rebels, but when the unit was almost wiped out and Ferguson killed, it lapsed into obscurity), not because British officers were hidebound and mentally deficient, but because brilliant though it was it was simply not practical given the manufacturing methods available at the time. It was a bespoke, labour intensive weapon. Similarly, the Chinese developed gunpowder weapons in the thirteenth century but in order to have broad military utility a weapon must be capable of being produced in large numbers to relatively uniform quality. This was industrialisation’s great achievement.


Beckett, Ian F. W. (2001), The Great War 1914-1918 (Harlow: Pearson)

Black, Jeremy (2004), Rethinking Military History (London: Routledge)

Black, Jeremy, “Determinisms and Other Issues”, The Journal of Military History 68 (October 2004), pp.1217-1232

Black, Jeremy, ed. (2003), War in the Modern World Since 1815 (London: Routledge)

Gray, Colin (1999), Modern Strategy (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Holden Reid, Brian (1999), The American Civil War and the Wars of the Industrial Revolution (London: Cassell)

Howard, Michael (1976), War in European History (Oxford, Oxford University Press)

Howes, Philip (1998), The Catalytic Wars (London: Minerva Press)

Jensen, Geoffrey and Wiest, Andrew, eds. (2001), War in the Age of Technology (New York: New York University Press)

Jones, Archer (1987), The Art of Warfare in the Western World (New York: Barnes and Noble)

Knox, MacGregor and Murray, Williamson (2001), The Dynamics of Military Revolution, 1300-2050 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)

Lynn, John A. (2003), Battle: A History of Combat and Culture (Boulder, CO: Westview)

Parker, Geoffrey, ed. (1995), The Cambridge Illustrated History of Warfare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)

Prior, Robin and Wilson, Trevor, “Conflict, Technology and the Impact of Industrialisation: The Great War 1914-1918, The Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol.24, No.3, (September 2001), pp.128-157

Sheffield, Gary (2001), Forgotten Victory: The First World War Myths and Realities (London: Headline)

Smith, Merritt Roe and Marx, Leo, eds. (1994), Does Technology Drive History? (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press)

Sondhaus, Lawrence (2001), Naval Warfare, 1815-1914 (London: Routledge)

Strachan, Hew (1983), European Armies and the Conduct of War (London: Routledge)

Wawro, Geoffrey (2000) Warfare and Society in Europe, 1792-1914 (London: Routledge)

[i] As indeed it could not. See Gray (1999) in general

[ii] Black (2004i). Technological determinism is the true hobgoblin of small minds. And senior officers in independent air forces. Not that the author suggests that the latter necessarily possesses the former.

[iii] On revolutionary change, see Knox & Murray (2001), p.77. On the oft neglected role of social and political factors in the historiography, see Black (2004), pp.104-111 and Black, ed. (2003), p.201

[iv] Black, ed. (2003), p.202

[v] Strachan (1983), p.124

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Howard (1976), p.98

[viii] Howard (1976), p.97; Holden Reid (1999), p.25

[ix] Parker, ed. (1995), p.243

[x] Wawro (2000), p.54

[xi] Black, ed. (2003), p.205. The new requirement for coaling stations and other refuelling points represents one area of change.

[xii] Strachan (1983), pp. 108-109 and Wawro (2000), p.3

[xiii] Howard (1976), p.99

[xiv] The Duke of Wellington’s Peninsula army represents a notable exception and there is something good waiting to be written on the positive impact the relatively sophisticated and thorough logistical system employed by Wellington had on British operational and strategic performance. That said, it should be noted that the British enjoyed the advantage of a relatively small army and the luxury of operating on friendly territory.

[xv] Methods for preserving food in sealed glass bottles predated the industrial period. This was very much a bespoke practice, however and the productions of the necessary materials was time consuming and labour intensive. The advent of tin canning allowed existing methods to be reproduced reliably and in bulk.

[xvi] See, variously, Wawro (2000), p.153; Strachan (1983), p.111 and Howes (1998), p.153-65

[xvii] On the weight of fire vs. accuracy and individual marksmanship debate, see Jensen & Wiest, eds. (2001), pp.29-34

[xviii] Black, ed. (2003), p.204. Trivia: As is more of less common knowledge by now, the photograph of advancing troops is actually of a mock advance staged as part of the filming of a propaganda film to boost morale during the Great War. However, audiences at the time were not aware of this, believing it to be footage from the front - the film is widely regarded as being one of the first exposures of home front audiences to the ghastliness of frontline combat - and it backfired. Tickets for the first showing of the film were in great demand and the audience arrived in collective high spirits but at the point when one of the advancing troops (apparently) falls dead in the wire, a woman in the audience cried out "Mr God! Oh my God, they're dying! They're dying!" An uproar ensued, with a number of female members of the audience becoming hysterical.

[xix] Black (2004), pp.114-116

For want of anything better to do...

I've been struggling to come up with some military history content recently with no success, so I've decided to post up one of my essays from last academic year on industrialisation and warfare. I've tweaked it very slightly but it's largely as originally presented. Please excuse a horrible, negligent error in the endnotes (they appear as footnotes in the original essay, but endnotes plays better on the site). Correct form is that chapters in edited works should be cited by chapter author and title as well as book editor and book title. I neglected to do this and frankly deserved to get my wrists slapped because it's not exactly rocket science. But anyway.

The essay took a very solid First, but the more I look at it the more I would like to change a lot of it - a feeling I get with all my essays regardless of grade. Some things added, some things taken out, newly discovered sources incorporated. But no. Particularly I'd have liked to go into the development of the rifle in a similar manner to my treatment of the artillery piece, but a fixed word limit rendered this impossible. I may have something to say on rifle development - with specific regard to the Dreyse needle gun - in a seperate post. We'll see.

Anyway, hope you find it moderately interesting. I loathe monocausal explanations and techno-centrism and I always emphasise themes of continuity over revolutionary change, as you can probably tell. If it makes you want to put your head through your computer monitor, you know my email address.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Paperback Writer...

Interesting interview with Ian McEwen.

Whether you agree with Mr McEwen or not (full disclosure: I mostly do), it's refreshing to see a novellist expressing some views that are... well... a bit different. So many people from the arty community these days, they're so drearily predictable it's like they've had their political views and issue stances fed to them on note cards by the same slightly mad, rather flustered person (I've ploughed through two post WW2 "Writers take sides" books, on Vietnam and Iraq, and it was like having teeth pulled).

Good stuff. Chap's got his head screwed on straight.

(via The Professor, who also has an article in the Grauniad)

Oooh, baby I love your way...

Much though I'd love to offer some insta-analysis of today's mercifully crap bombing attacks in London I shall refrain from doing so except to make one quick comment.

There has been much gushing praise among the American commentariat of John Howard's words spoken alongside Tony Blair today. Indeed, the Prime Minister's statement has been contrasted quite negatively with those of his Australian counterpart. Especially at the Corner, there seems to be widespread dismay that the PM didn't launch into a lengthy piece of glittering, defiant and principle-laden rhetoric.

I disagree.

Today, the Prime Minister's job was to speak to the British people and as far as I am concerned he did that very well. It was far more the sort of thing we need and want to hear right now and, by and large, the public agree with it. Had he attempted something along the lines of what Mr Howard said, I think it would have been perceived - rightly or wrongly - as stagey, out of step with the public mood and, quite possibly, cynical. Although there are a great many Brits who might broadly share John Howard's sentiments I don't think they are in the mood for that sort of "speechifying". Mr Howard's words may get him great reviews in America, but it was the Prime Minister's job to speak to the British people and I think he did a pretty good job of speaking both to - and for - us.

And I don't say that very often.

Cloudy Lemonade

Tim Collins has an article in the Telegraph, attacking the charges against British troops for war crimes.

It seems to me that what we actually have here is a conflation of a number of different issues.
  1. What should be considered worthy of legal action in a war zone.
  2. The legal and bureaucratic mechanisms via which legal investigations are pursued.
  3. Precisely which crimes should be considered "War Crimes".
  4. What - rightly or wrongly - the implications of the emerging culture are going to be.

I have sympathy with some of what Colonel Collins is saying. It seems to me that the mechanisms may well be deficient. Two years is a hell of a long time for the wheels to turn to completion. I also wonder whether what the British servicemen in question are alleged to have done should really come under the category of war crimes. Certainly that's an open question that bears consideration.

On the other hand, we have one key fact to play with - a man is dead. He died in British custody. This is something that deserves - no, demands - investigation and action (and is of a different order of magnitude altogether to what Colonel Collins was accused of) to be taken according to what that investigation discovers. Colonel Collins seems to assert that the Army should be largely permitted to police its own behaviour and can be trusted to do so. History indicates that this is simply not good enough. The overwhelming majority of British squaddies and officers, like their Americans counterparts, are honourable people who try to play by the rules. None of this alters, however, the fact that the Army is a relatively closed institution with institutional interests and that closed institutions do not have an enviable record in the matter of being prepared to expose those among their number who cross the line (though internally administered honour codes and rough justice may be another matter).

In broad terms, the performance of the British Army in the post-war period (and before) is largely - overwhelmingly, even - admirable, in both absolute and relative terms. Enough unpleasantness has taken place, however (in Palestine, Kenya, Ulster and other places), for it to be clear that some form of outside scutiny and oversight is necessary. Quite what form that should take, however, is entirely open to debate.

They want you, they want you, they want you as a new recruit...

James Joyner has a roundup of positive news regarding the recruitment of native Iraqi forces.

I agree that this seems positive and slow progress is still progress. That said, I'm not sure I quite echo all of Joyner's commentary. It's easy to sound churlish in questioning Iraqi motives for joining up and there is no doubt whatsoever that many do join out of a genuine enthusiasm for the fresh start the country has in its sights. That said, we shouldn't ignore the unfortunate fact that a lot of them are signing up quite simply because there are families to feed and the armed forces or security services a) pay over the odds and b) are sometimes the only available source of income. There's nothing dishonourable in it - indeed it is the hallmark of professional soldiery through much of history (let's not romanticise it). What it does do is draw into question whether we can draw wider positive lessons from the long queues outside recruiting offices.

One of the problems - and it's a problem that is widespread in trying to get some sort of clear picutre of what is going on - is that so very much of the evidence on offer is anecdotal and there's plenty of anecdotal evidence on both sides. What is undeniable is that units are emerging, however unskilled, which are prepared to stand their ground in the field. This is progress. I am of the view that the practice - long overdue - of "embedding" Coalition troops with Iraqi units may well pay dividends (and is overdue). Whether this is going to be enough to swing the Big Picture, I don't know and I think the picture is too mixed to come to a conclusion either way.

Play nice, you crazy kids...

A leaked early draft of the new Iraqi Bill of Rights has been made available by those lovely Carnegie Endowment people. people (PDF).

We don't know how accurate it is and obviously everything is subject to change, but so far it seems it is being treated with some degree of credibility.

When the Iraq War was in its early stages I was hopeful that we could make something good out of it and I still think that's quite possible. That said, I always thought that some of the more glowing projections were rather naive, especially those coming from those people who seemed to be of the view that Iraq was going to magically become pro-Israeli (yes, yes, I know, it would have if only we'd given Ahmed Chalabi his own private army of exiles and set him up as an Iraqi Charles de Gaulle. It's all the fault of the CIA, the State Department, the Turks and the British, blah, blah, blah...).

Well clearly that's one thing that, predictably, hasn't happened. Some other things haven't happened too and it's enough to make me somewhat concerned, even as somebody who didn't expect magical change overnight.

First there seems to be a lot of guff about vague economic aspirations that have no serious real-world underpinning. Second - and far more worrying - a lot of the rights set out in the Draft Bill are very heavily hedged about. If X is a right, but only as long as the government doesn't decide it's "deviant" or "immoral", or Y is a right, just as long as it isn't decided that it comes into conflict with Shari'a law... well it isn't really a right at all, is it? The commentary by the Carnegie Endowment notes that in many ways this is similar to constitutional practice in much of continental Europe but that it has perhaps worked imperfectly in the EU and has, in Arab states traditionally resulted in rights being "defined out of existence".

I'm not a solicitor or a constitutional expert but it's pretty plain that documents like this are meant to provide clear, unequivocal personal entitlements that the government is not free to tinker with. It's meant to restrict government intrusion. A lot of this seems to give the government massive get-out clauses and as such it - at best - means next to nothing.

Of course we can go too far with this criticism. It's a product of work by committee. The final product may be substantially different. Additionally, much will depend upon how the judicial system works (and some of the provisions for that seem quite encouraging). But, at least in my view, it's not an encouraging start. It very much strikes me that it may well rapidly unravel under pressure or in the face of a change in governing circumstances

If anyone out there is in a position to provide expert commentary, I'd be more than happy to hear it..

UPDATE: It seems that in the latest available draft the exclusionary references to Israel have been removed. Whether this represents a change in attitude I don't know but it's certainly an improvement at least.

Whoops! Apocalypse...

Oh my God. It's finally here.

But wait, what's this?

After thirty-five years of self-indulgent, extensive and discursive foot-noting, Another Bloody Century is a bold experiment in parsimony. The text is supported strictly by references, with no footnotes. This is a dramatic departure for the author, who has long been in the bad habit of all but conducting a dialogue, even a debate, between text and footnote.

I loved those fucking footnotes. I haven't felt this bereft since George Sewell left UFO. And I wasn't even born then.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Happy Birthday to you....

Thursday, July 14, 2005

"I so want to believe that. So I do!"

I've said before that - following Colin Gray - while historical illustration and awareness can be one of the strongest items in our toolkit, bad history is worse than no history at all.

Daniel Nexon has links to and commentary
regarding this takedown of this post.

The takedown, by Robert Farley, is very valuable. That said, Farley does overstate - at least as a matter of course - the role of technological and material superiority in victory generally. To go back to the old John Boyd cliche (which has the very real benefit of being true), "People, Ideas, Hardware - in that order!"

But beyond that he's absolutely correct that it's a pretty miserable misinterpretation of the naval action off Guadalcanal on almost every level.*

Wretchard tries to make out that the American naval victory a) demonstrated American superiority of spirit over the Japanese and b) that the Japaneseconceded defeat not due to material but to some sort of existential spiritual crisis brought about by the sudden realisation that the Americans were, well, just fabulous. He then tries to link this to events current in Afghanistan.

The historical record bears none of this out.

Let's look at the whole and then take it from the top:

Bin Laden understood and accepted that American logistics, technology and science would be superior to his own. What he was less prepared to believe was the possibility that their fighting spirit would be equal or greater than his. Sixty two years ago the Imperial Japanese Navy fought the USN for three straight days and nights in the waters surrounding Guadalcanal, from November 12-15, 1942. Both sides fought at point-blank range in some cases. Two USN Admirals, Scott and Callahan, died in a single night. Still the IJN and USN came on. Only after the USS Washington sank the battlecruiser Kirishima on November 15th did the Japanese break off. But it was not the material loss that shocked the Japanese: losses were about even on both sides; it was the realization that USN would not give up.

First of all, this is partly true but largely misleading:

Sixty two years ago the Imperial Japanese Navy fought the USN for three straight days and nights in the waters surrounding Guadalcanal, from November 12-15, 1942. Both sides fought at point-blank range in some cases.

The image given is one of some form of naval Stalingrad or Imphal and Kohima, opposite sides grinding each other down in a non-stop hell until sheer American grit and willpower won the day, overawing the Japanese, who were suddenyl forced to realise that the men they thought were pygmies were, in fact, giants. In fact this was not the case, or it is, at least, only part of the story.

In reality, the main moments of two-sided combat came in two main blocks - the first was on the night of 12th-13th November and was a nighttime contact engagement between a Japanese troop convoy led by two capital ships (the battleship Hiei and the modernised battlecruiser [generally characterised as a battleship but in reality significantly under-armoured] Kirishima) and an inferior American force composed of cruisers and destroyers. This engagement did take place at point-blank range, close enough, as H.P. Wilmott has noted, that some of the ships involved were unable to depress their main guns sufficiently and torpedos were rendered useless as they could not be fired far enough to arm. However, it also lasted less than twenty minutes.

The Japanese pulled back (more on this in a moment) and the Americans deserve due credit. However, a few rather prosaic, unglamorous factors need to be added to the mix for understanding. First, the Japanese' major prioirty was to protect their troop and supply transports. When they became seriously endangered, withdrawing was the sensible option. Second, although the Japanese force was superior, the close range at which the engagement took place actually favoured the Americans, as the Japanese capital ships found their main armamaent substantially hindered in what was, by naval standards, nose to nose fighting. Third, the Hiei and the Kirishima both had a substantial proportion of their arsenals composed of flechette shells designed for bombarding American infantry positions on shore and which was unsuitable for a serious naval engagement.

A few notes on the result. The Americans lost more ships - one cruiser lost to friendly fire, four destroyers sunk and three cruisers so badly damaged as to be hors de combat. The Japanese lost only one destroyer outright. However - and this is the kicker - the Hiei also took substantial damage. Here we encounter another key, deeply non-existential factor, that of air support. The Americans enjoyed complete air superiority, both from carrier air power and from land based air support. Because of this, the Japanese could operate only at night and then had to be away by day. The Hiei's damage meant that it couldn't make it away and by sun-up it was still maundering around aimlessly in the open.

At this point, US power was able to operate unfettered. One Japanese ship was sunk by naval fire, one by airpower and the Hiei took multiple bomb and shell hits which further damaged her and killed a substantial proportion of her crew. On the morning of the 14th she was finished off by land and sea airpower - the remaining crew scuttled her, most going down with the ship.

The second substantial naval engagement took place on the night of the 14th, in which the remains of the Japanese convoy was sent in led by the Kirishima, backed up by two elderly heavy cruisers. The Americans had a scratch force of two battlsehips, the South Dakota and the Washington.

As noted earlier - and as noted by the critics Daniel links to - the Kirishama was virtually obsolete. Although often classified as a battleship, she was in reality a somewhat modernised battlecruiser of early Great War vintage. In terms of speed, firepower and, crucially, armour she was, in theory, badly outclassed by either of the American battlships alone, never mind both. Both were newly commissioned and cutting edge fighting vessels. To provide an (somewhat rickety I admit, please use this only as a vague scene-setting piece) historically based illustration, it was something like the equivalent of HMS Hood going up against two Bismarcks.

The Kirishima went head to head with the South Dakota and inflicted substantial damage - perhaps surprisingly so given the disparity in quality. This gave the Washington an opportunity to work herself into an advantageous firing position - from which she proceeded to batter the Kirishama into scrap metal in under ten minutes.

So much for the narrative. In reality, then, the naval action at Guadalcanal was actually a number of seperate and fairly distinct engagements, with a certain amount of letup in between. In the first engagement the Japanese enjoyed material superiority, although it should be noted that this engagement lasted less than twenty minutes and the disposition of the ships reduced some of the advantage the Japanese should have otherwise enjoyed. The second engagement, conducted in daylight, in essence involved that Japanese floating around getting bombed with virtual impunity by American land and sea based airpower, with the admixture of some smaller scale naval fighting. The third engagement, viewed clinically, involved a much depleted Japanese force headed by an obsolete capital ship engaging in a virtual death ride against two of the most powerful and modern surface ships in the Pacific. None of this detracts from the American achievement - the US Navy's destroyers and cruisers fought with extreme courage, especially in the first engagement. But to portray it as some sort of spiritual engagement is guff. With the exception of the first 20 minute engagement, the Americans enjoyed substantial meterial superiority and won through skill, both in fighting but perhaps more thoroughly through logistics and flexibility (both in planning and in being able to relocate the South Dakota and the Washington to the area with great speed and efficiency).

OK, the endgame...

Only after the USS Washington sank the battlecruiser Kirishima on November 15th did the Japanese break off. But it was not the material loss that shocked the Japanese: losses were about even on both sides; it was the realization that USN would not give up.

In laymans' terms this is nonsense, or what historians call, "Making Shit Up". Feeling within Japanese military circles was split from the very beginning of the war over how the Americans would react, though a surprisingly large number believed the Americans would fight to the bitter end, but felt it was worth fighting anyway. As to the immediate results of Guadalcanal it was very much the material loss that was uppermost in Japanese minds. First, the Japanese had lost their two main capital ships in the area, while the Americans had two gigantic meat-axe battleships cruising about (albeit one damaged). Second, their troop and supply convoy was broken up and largely destroyed. All in all, the Japanese lost 70,000 tons of shipping in the course of a single day, a tenth of the total committed to the SW Pacific (on top of over 150,000 tons lost in the month before). This simply represented an unsustainable, irreplacable (indeed, the Hiei and the Kirishama were never replaced) level of attrition and the decision was made that they were facing a gap between ends and means and throwing good money after bad. As H.P. Willmott notes, in a judgement echoed by Milan Vego in his in-depth study of the dynamics of operations in narrow seas:

"Neither the losses of 13/15 November, nor a shipping committment of this magnitude, could be borne, certainly not indefinitely and in waters commanded by enemy land-based air power."

Indeed, if anything it could be argued that the moral, staying power victory was had by the Japanese, who kept coming after their material advantage evaporated and having spent an entire day under intensive and completely one sided bombardment.Certainly, though this line of argument can be stretched rather too thin, Evans and Peattie, in their "Kaigun: Strategy, Tactics and Technology in the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1887-1941" (the concluding chapters deal with Guadalcanal, even though it lies outside the scope of the main book) argue that the Japanese were able to make up with moral committment what they lacked in material superiority and were able to turn this into a distinct (though inadequate) slice of "value added".

Anyway, the bottom line is that, both thematically and in particular, the Wretchard Version in this case is pretty fanciful. I imagine he has a highly lucrative career ahead of him.

*Please note, this post would be better, but unfortunately a substantial chunk of my book collection dealing with these issues is sitting in my flat in London.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Afghan Rug

Great post from Bobby at Bobby's World detailing a thoroughly plausible possible explanation for the survival of the missing US Navy SEAL in the hands of Pashtun tribesmen.

Understanding of the way these people work is still somewhat lacking and this has led to far too many generalisations as to how they work, where their loyalties lie etc.

The influence their tribal beliefs have on their actions should not be understated. Interestingly, while it is commonly assumed (and asserted) that they are Islamic fundamentalists, this is not the case (though their brand of Islam is, by and large, of a deeply conservative and even reactionary variety). In fact theirs is very much a salad bar Islam, in which they have selected the parts that seem compatible with their tribal ethos and discarded those parts that don't. At every stage their tribal mores have proven more important than any religious allegiences. Indeed, Pashtun tribesmen in both Afghanistan and the FATA will turn on foreign Islamists who attempt to impose Islamist decrees and doctrine that come into conflict with their Pushtunwali honour code.

Cohen on the War

Similarly, I was going to link to this article by Eliot Cohen and gush about it. I really like Eliot Cohen, who has been churning out quality work for a couple of decades now. I also like the article which strikes me as being both broadly correct and spot on in a number of specific areas.

That said, not everyone likes it. It's set Daniel Nexon's temples throbbing and I know at least one person whose views I respect who will almost certainly have reacted the same way.

Telling them what they want to hear...

When I first read Karen Armstrong's most recent piece I felt the urge to give it a bit of a slapping but decided against it because, well, frankly you can just so too much of that.

So I didn't.

Luckily, Ross Douthat has done it anyway.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Cloth Ears

A bit of a sleeper story this - so far at least - Paul Murphy to head the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee.

This is a very strange choice and is quite likely to infuriate even the most mildly reform-minded. For those who are not well versed in British domestic politics, Paul Murphy was a member of Tony Blair's cabinet until all of thrity-two seconds ago.

The debate over what, if anything, needs to change within the British intelligence community in the wake of Iraq is ongoing but there have been a couple of stances that have acquired, in my experience, near universal acceptance. The first is that all future heads of the JIC should be very senior professionals in their last working post. The second is that the Intel and Security Committee needs to be distanced further from the government than it is at present in order to increase its "teeth" and provide it with greater credibility than it has at the moment.

The appointment of Paul Murphy is a retrograde step that flies in the face of widespread expert opinion and general consensus and which will be seen - understandably - to consolidate, not weaken, the executive's control over the committee.

Downing Street is trying to assert precedent as a defence by noting that the previous Committee chairman, Ann Taylor, was a Labour Chief Whip. This is true but disingenuous, as it ignores that fact that Taylor's appointment at the time was both controversial and unpopular and was generally seen as being overly political - and that was before Iraq.

This is not the first controversial appointment made by Downing Street since the Iraq War. JIC Chairman Sir John Scarlett was subsequently appointed to replace Sir Richard Dearlove as the new C, a move which raised a lot of eyebrows not merely within the Westminster village but within the security establishment itself.

It seems to me that there was better reason to appoint Scarlett as the new C - he was one of the finest case officers of the Cold War and, until Iraq, had an incredibly distinguished career - in spite of the fact that in appearance terms (which aren't everything but do count - trust and credibility are extremely important in this area) it looked bad than there is to appoint Murphy. In Murphy's case it appears to be a straight political shunt. At its most benign it's simply a rather tactless poitical payoff, at worst it's a serious attempt by Downing Street to tighten its control over the machinery.

I suspect there will be a substantial number of veins throbbing in foreheads within the security community tonight.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Slower, please.

Best comment piece regarding the London attacks so far comes from Michael Ledeen:

Ever since Thursday evening we’ve been subjected to the usual flow of instant analysis and data, and as usual most of it has been wrong. Wrong, as always, in the details, from the number of bombs to the number of victims, and then wrong — or, at a minimum, unconvincing — about the "meaning" of it all. First came speculation that the terrorists were locals, buttressed by a leak from the British government asserting that al Qaeda was recruiting among university students in the United Kingdom. Or maybe not. Shortly thereafter, it seemed that the terrorists were foreigners who sneaked into the country in order to carry out the operation. This was similarly reinforced by stories claiming that the Brits were looking for the same terrorist who had planned the Madrid train bombings.

Inevitably, writers on a short deadline felt obliged to look for the greater significance of the killings in London. The usual suspects, led by the New York Times, blamed it all on Bush and Blair and their perverse willingness to fight back against our murderers. On the other hand, a small cottage industry has grown up around the theory that, bad as it was, the operation is actually good news because, just as the terrorists killed fewer people in Madrid than in New York and Washington, they killed fewer still in London. This was said to "mean" that al Qaeda’s capacity for violence was ebbing. The argument is simple: If al Qaeda could have done worse, they’d have done it. Since they didn’t, they probably couldn’t.

That may be right. But we really don’t know, and I don’t see the value in guessing about something so important. Suppose, as I fear, there is a more violent attack in Rome in the near future. What, if anything, would that prove? That there are more explosives in Italy than in England? It pays to be a bit more humble when analyzing fragments of information, and none of the analysts has spoken of the enormously important "luck" factor. There were reportedly at least two unexploded bombs in London, just as there were unexploded bombs in Madrid. Bad luck for the terrorists. There was a failed suicide mission in the skies over Pennsylvania on 9/11. Unlucky — the infidels fought back. There is also considerable reason to believe that al Qaeda did not anticipate that the assault against the Twin Towers would bring them down. That time they got lucky. Maybe they were unlucky in London. Or maybe, as Sunday reports suggest, there are further bombers waiting to act. Thursday’s event is too small a "sample" to permit us to generalize on the terror universe. And I’m afraid that those who are doing it are looking too hard at a single event, and not hard enough at the overall situation. Policemen are being beheaded in Thailand, Christian missionaries are kidnapped in the Philippines, some of our finest fighting men are being killed in Afghanistan, and bombs are going off again in Turkey.

There's also a lot of the usual stuff in the article but in these terms he hits it dead on.

He's also noted the Iran-Iraq military training programme, which has still received astonishingly little coverage, regardless of what conclusions one might draw from it.

I was in Harrogate yesterday and as I was walking past a rack of newspapers I had a look at some of the stories on offer. As far as I can tell, 50% of the press is running with "EXCLUSIVE!!!!!!!: London bombers homgrown!!!" and the other 50% is running with "EXCLUSIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!: London bombers were foreign terrorists!!!!"

Similarly, about half are describing the attack as devilish sophisticated and half are describing it as crude.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

"Orange whip? Orange whip? Three orange whips..."

Today is the anniversay of the assassination of William I, Stadtholder of the Netherlands, in 1584. William's murder is apparently somewhat notable (among other things) because he was the first head of state to be assassinated with a firearm - a matter that British scholar Lisa Jardine has made the topic of a recent book. I haven't read the book, though I believe that Jardine has a broader argument to overlay on top of her historical snapshot.

Incidentally, bit of trivia for you - Lisa Jardine is the eldest daughter of the late Jacob Bronowski*.

*who, on top of his other achievements, was a pioneer of operational research in WW2.

Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!!!!!2: Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!!!!! Boogaloo

Since most of my disgruntlement over the past coupld of days has been expressed toward conservative commentators in particular, here's a smackdown of their counterparts on the Left by Nick Cohen:

All kinds of hypocrisy remained unchallenged. In my world of liberal London, social success at the dinner table belonged to the man who could simultaneously maintain that we've got it coming but that nothing was going to come; that indiscriminate murder would be Tony Blair's fault but there wouldn't be indiscriminate murder because 'the threat' was a phantom menace invented by Blair to scare the cowed electorate into supporting him.


On Thursday, before the police had made one arrest, before one terrorist group had claimed responsibility, before one body had been carried from the wreckage, let alone been identified and allowed to rest in peace, cocksure voices filled with righteousness were proclaiming that the real murderers weren't the real murderers but the Prime Minister. I'm not thinking of George Galloway and the other saluters of Saddam, but of upright men and women who sat down to write letters to respectable newspapers within minutes of hearing the news.

'Hang your head in shame, Mr Blair. Better still, resign - and whoever takes over immediately withdraw all our forces from Iraq and Afghanistan,' wrote the Rev Mike Ketley, who is a vicar, for God's sake, but has no qualms about leaving Afghanistan to the Taliban and al-Qaeda or Iraq to the Baath party and al-Qaeda. 'Let's stop this murder and put on trial those criminals who are within our jurisdiction,' began Patrick Daly of south London in an apparently promising letter to the Independent. But, inevitably, he didn't mean the bombers. 'Let's start with the British government.'

And so it went on. At no point did they grasp that Islamism was a reactionary movement as great as fascism, which had claimed millions of mainly Muslim lives in the Sudan, Iran, Algeria and Afghanistan and is claiming thousands in Iraq. As with fascism, it takes a resolute dunderheadedness to put all the responsibility on democratic governments for its existence.


But it's a parochial line of reasoning to suppose that all bad, or all good, comes from the West - and a racist one to boot. The unavoidable consequence is that you must refuse to support democrats, liberals, feminists and socialists in the Arab world and Iran who are the victims of Islamism in its Sunni and Shia guises because you are too compromised to condemn their persecutors.

Islamism stops being an ideology intent on building an empire from Andalusia to Indonesia, destroying democracy and subjugating women and becomes, by the magic of parochial reasoning, a protest movement on a par with Make Poverty History or the TUC.

I'll also focus on this bit for a moment:

After the Bali bombings, the conventional wisdom was that the Australians had been blown to pieces as a punishment for their government's support for Bush. No one thought for a moment about the Australian forces which stopped Indonesian militias rampaging through East Timor, a small country Indonesia had invaded in 1975 with the backing of the US. Yet when bin Laden spoke, he said it was Australia's anti-imperialist intervention to free a largely Catholic population from a largely Muslim occupying power which had bugged him.

East Timor was a great cause of the left until the Australians made it an embarrassment.

As Cohen notes, the motive for the Bali bombing has been claimed explicitly as being in revenge for Australian intervention on the side of the East Timorese against Indonesia - the Islamists being of the view that East Timor should be Muslim territory. And yet John "We can't afford to be choosy" Pilger and others persist in attributing the bombing to resentment caused by the contrast between impoverished locals and wealthy Western tourists. The intellecual dishonesty underpinning this stance is absolutely staggering.

Saturday, July 09, 2005


I feel rather bad about this because John Derbyshire actually quoted a piece of my email on the Corner recently. But not so bad as to not comment on it, obviously:

I am getting quoted a lot -- here for example -- and getting more calls from talk radio producers than I can cope with. All of which ought to be nice, but somehow isn't. I'm depressed.

I'm depressed too because as far as I'm concerned, having expressed a number of interesting and provocative opinions out of leftfield over the past few months, he's talked nothing but rubbish for the past 48 hours. Go figure.

It's a commonly held view among my classmates that I am something of a curmudgeon. I dunno why, something to do with some jokes about cute little puppies and a hedge trimmer or something. Or that thing about nuking Quebec. It's a broad canvas. Anyway, the general perception is that I care about nothing, that I am cynic of Olympian proportions and that my reaction to things like a Make Poverty History rally in Trafalgar Square, guest starring Nelson Mandela, would be to roll my eyes, mutter under my breath and make snarky comments about his greatest legacy being that he didn't metamorphose into a crazed child-eating dictator like everybody else in Africa and about people living in a whimsical fantasy world of cant and hypocrisy that bears no resemblance to the harsh realities of real life.

Needless to say, this is a completely inaccurate impression of me. Apart from the eye rolling. And the Mandela stuff. And the fantasy world comments.

And the muttering.

But that fact is that I'm a nice guy. Because while there are people out there who talk bollocks for a living, supported by a surprisingly large number of people in various parts of the broadcast news media eager to pay them to do so, I talk out of my arse free of charge. Gratis. No payment received or requested.

Basically, what I'm trying to say, in my small way, without too much fanfare or aggressive salesmanship, is that I am, without doubt, a living saint.

Though that is likely to be the only type of saint I'll ever be, due to some things I apparently said about the Pope. I was actually talking about the Irish at the time, but people will rush to take things out of context...

Anyway, where was I. Oh yeah, appeasement. Frankly I think we need a moratorium on the phrase for at least the next week. Now, arguably I'm not really in a position to talk as I actually made fairly sloppy use of the phrase "appeasement from a position of strength" myself a couple of weeks or so ago but really it's getting out of control in some places.

First of all, nobody - nobody - should be allowed to use the word outside of discussing the 1930s without reading this and this. Perhaps the greatest of the "lessons of Munich" is that as soon as somebody starts talking about the "lessons of Munich" you need to lock away your silverware. The pitfalls are many and perilous. The peril of bad history is exacerbated when the term "appeasement" takes on, as it has done recently, so broad and sweeping a definition - effectively employed to condemn any policy that is not expeditionary in nature and which does not involve "going on the offensive" - that it becomes, rather like such overworked terms as "fascist" and "militarist" (and, indeed, "neoconservative"), essentially meaningless.

References in the wake of the London bombing to the Madrid bombings and the Spanish electorate's reaction to it within this particular framework showcase the intellectual dereliction of the appeasement reference in a particularly ungenerous manner.Stanley Kurtz has led the charge:

The West may have forgotten about Spain's cowardly appeasement. Al-Qaeda has not.

Appeasement and shame, thy name is Spain. It's good that the Spain precedent is being used as a touchstone. The whole shameful incident had fallen off the radar screen. It deserves more attention. For one thing, I'd like some information. How have people in Spain thought about the episode in recent months? Have they ignored it? Are they proud of it? Is anyone in Spain having second thoughts now?

The reaction of the Spanish electorate was many things. My preferred term at the time for the outcome was "unfortunate". I do subscribe to the view that senior AQ figures may have taken from Spain reinforcement to the notion that America's allies represent her soft underbelly and that the pillars upholding the coalition could gradually be kicked out from underneath it.

But - and let's be absolutely clear here - the reaction of the Spanish was not appeasement in any even vaguely coherent definition of the term. Nor is there the slightest shred of evidence that it was motivated by cowardice. The reaction was a backlash against an already less than popular government who were perceived - at least understandably and perhaps correctly - as having sent up a deliberate smokescreen following the Madrid attacks in an attempt to artificially inflate, or at least avoid the depression of, its polling numbers.

Arguably nobody in the Western world has been so steadfast in the face of domestic terror threats, so less inclined to appease - as the Spanish. The vast public marches, rallies and protests that follow terror attacks on Spanish soil, coupled with a stern unwillingness to buy off ETA, do not speak of a nation that is either cowardly or minded to appease. The motivation of the Spanish electorate - which may or may not have had unfortunate consequences - was not to somehow buy off Islamic terrorists but to rid themselves of a government they perceived as being pernicious and dishonest.

I hold no brief for the Spanish. In my list of countries against whom I nurse blinkered xenophobic prejudices, the Spanish easily make the top 10 (just don't even to begin to commence to get me started...). And Mr Zapatero is a buffoon of the very worst type who will hopefully soon be slam-dunked into the rubbish bin of history. But to condemn the Spanish as cowards and appeasers is both intellectually sterile and deeply unworthy.

*Completely unable to think up a single halfway appropriate post title.

A Question for the economists out there...

I know a few of the people who read this have some economic background, even if only at an IR/Political "Science" level. Unfortunately, I come to this from the military history prong of the fork and I'm very much a disciple of the Alec Douglas-Home school of economics so I was wondering if anyone could provide and answer to this. All email much appreciated.

I was watching a documentary a few weeks ago in which a journalist for BBC Africa went on a bit of a tour about with former Ghanian president Jerry Rawlings. They chatted to various Africans in different countries at the grassroots level and one of the things that came up time and again was that African small businessmen frequently find it well nigh impossible to get credit. Thus, many African businesses never really have the opportunity to get off the ground and many good ideas are killed in the womb. What I'm wondering is this - if commercial banks are not prepared to deal in this sort of environment, would it be a worthwhile experiment to set aside a portion of the aid money to try to come up with some sort of a banking mechanism to extend credit the aspiring African businessmen? I'm aware that the loss rate on this would probably be high but the loss rate on African aid is very high anyway and while we write off millions upon millions of pounds worth of debt owed by corrupt or incompetant governments it seems to me that a lot of intelligent, motivated Africans are stuck in a rut for want of a few thousand quid's worth of startup funds.

As I say, I freely admit that I don't have a sound grasp of the dynamics behind this. I'd be very interested to hear from somebody who does.

Tony, George, and Bob Too

The Economist has a fairly balanced summary of what's emerged from the G8 conference.

It's the in-continent...

I think pretty much everyone knows - or should know - that in the case of Africa it's not so much the money as how it's spent. As various commentators have noted, it's all very well talking about a Marshall Plan for Africa, but Africa has actually already had the equivalent of several Marshall Plans and the money has been pissed away into slush funds, structural corruption etc etc. So we'll see.

That said, I was watching a special edition of Question Time broadcast from Africa, with an African audience and African panellists on Thursday and by the time the credits rolled I was somewhat heartened. The least impressive panellists were the Westerners, Baroness Amos (who, in fairness, had a pretty losing hand to start with and gave a workmanlike and honest performance) and Bianca Jagger (who was a royal pain in the backside and sat throughout with a face that looked like she was sucking on lemons). The Africans, Edna Ismail (foreign minister of Somaliland), Morgan Tsvangirai and Moeletsi Mbeki were largely impressive with balanced ideas and a clear sense that Africa has to take on more responsibility. The ethos was very much around teaching people to fish rather than giving them fish. I don't know how representative the audience was but by and large they seemed far more grounded than the usual British equivalent. Snarky questions regarding the guilt of the West and the loveliness of Robert Mugabe were largely met with the response of people sitting on their hands. So all in all it was encouraging and it seemed to me to showcase good people with sound ideas.

Oooh, shut that door...

Given that we're operating in the real world as opposed to some whimsical, chintz-upholstered fantasy world I think this is a fairly reasonable result. I think the Americans are almost certainly right to focus on technological developments as a key aspect of the fight against climate change, but frankly the stuff that has emerged from the conference on that issue is pretty ephemeral and I think they might have come up with something more solid. We don't know what the dynamics of the discussion were behind closed doors, of course.

Mental Oriental(ism)

The money for the Palestinian Authority is not necessarily unwelcome. My personal view has long been that, while a not insignificant minority of Palestinians are clearly completely barking, groups such as Hamas draw substantial support simply from the fact that in matters such as providing security, basic services on the ground and relatively clean government they beat Fatah like it's a ginger stepchild. Never underestimate basic human desires for security and certainty as motivational factors. I maintain that good governance on the part of the PA is ultimately going to be at least 50% of the fight to win broad acceptance among the Palestinian people for a settlement. That said, it's not like the Palestinians have actually been cash-strapped. The European Union has, for some time now, been lavish in its financial largesse toward the Palestinians and has imposed minimal (ie. scandalously lax) oversight in the matters of whether the money is disappearing into slush funds and arms deals and whether or not (the answer's "not", incidentally - at least not under Arafat) the Palestinians were bothering to make good on the committments (especially with regard to ending the institutionalised anti-semitic incitement that is entrenched in the Palestinian education system) they made in exchange for the cash. So while this could be a good thing, it's important that there's a quid pro quo involved and I hope the Americans have been very firm on this point.

Well, er...

Just found a story that dates from Thursday but which, what with all the rumpus, had passed me by.

Iranians to train Iraqi armed forces.

Not quite sure what to make of this.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Smog of War

I don't really know what to say with regard to the terrorist attacks that took place yesterday. Which is actually fairly appropriate because the theme for any serious look at what's going on should probably be the fact that actually we don't know much right now.

It seems that the death toll will be substantially lower than initially feared, though obviously we shouldn't minimise the horror on this account.

Sections of the Muslim "community" are expressing concerns that they may be victimised on account of yesterday's attacks. The MAB can, as always, kiss my arse, but it's a legitimate concern and one of the priorities of the government should be to ensure that innocent British citizens are not intimidated or victimised as a result of what happened yesterday. An increased uniformed police presence in heavily Muslim areas might well be appropriate over the next few days, along with regular communications with the locals to attempt to relieve any feeling of marginalisation - though whether the manpower is available for this I don't know. I hope very strongly that the British public will emulate their American cousins and that blanket revenge attacks and whatnot will be restricted to a few arseholes who can be swiftly rounded up and put away (I imagine the BNP will see this as a good opportunity to make mischief).

It will be interesting to see how this has an impact on relations with British Muslims. I think it is a perfectly plausible possibility that the attacks will act as a wakeup call to many Muslims who have been sitting on the fence or resentful of the security services. It is quite possible that one of the results of yesterday will be, ironically, a substantial increase in Humint coming to the security services from within Islaic areas as long as we do not overreact initially.

The government needs to make some things very clear, probably behind closed doors. First of all, we are all in it together. We need their help to conduct effective intelligence led operations. But they also need our help. The government should go to great lengths to calm and to reassure and should plough resources into making sure that law-abiding Muslims don't suffer as a result of their violent minority but they should make clear that in the event of slack co-operation and another attack there may be a limit to what they can do in the face of the British public's ire. It should be made abundantly clear that active co-operation is in the best interests of British Muslims. This is not Iraq, Malaya or Vietnam, where co-operation with the security forces could well mean that people come out of the undergrowth at night and burn your village down. We can provide security. This is our country. There is no excuse for non-cooperation, collective silences and no-go areas. None. We need the skillful employment of both carrot and stick here, in the most discrete manner possible.

On the broader issues raised by the attack, uncertainty rules. Or, at least, it should. Commentary that has emerged in the past 24 hours, ranging from the Guardian (the predictable screed by Tariq "Ho Chi Minh is going to win!" Ali and boilerplate by everyone else) to the National Review (at least 9 articles dealing with London so far and not a looker in the crowd), has been almost unversally weak. I've already criticised the Belmont Club where Wretchard, who is very smart but who makes something of a speciality out of conjuring concrete certainty where it doesn't exist, presumed within hours of the attacks to provide not only a lesson (al Qaeda is on the ropes) but the cause from which that lesson came (why, Iraq, of course). Not that this criticism should be confined to the Right - on the Left there are, of course, numerous people for whom the conceit that this attack is linked to our presence in Iraq and that it's the Prime Minister's fault is set in polished marble. Not that any of these assertions are implausible. It's quite possible that the terrorists are on the ropes. It's possible that they are on the rope because of Iraq. It's also possible that we'd never have been attacked had we not gone into Iraq.

Here are a few statements:

  • The attack shows the terrorists are on the ropes.
  • The attack shows the GWoT isn't working.
  • The attack has few, if any, broader lessons to teach regarding our progress.
  • We're where we are (good or bad) because of Iraq.
  • We're where we are (good or bad) because of Afghanistan.
  • We're where we are because of Spain.
  • We're where we are because we haven't been aggressive enough.
  • We're where we are because that's just the way it is.
  • There was an intelligence failure.
  • It was just one of those things.
The above are all plausible and possible and can be mixed and matched according to your prejudices. And essentially that's pretty much all that's happening right now - people, on both sides of the spectrum, are finding in the attacks reinforcement for their preconceptions. But as far as I'm concerned anyone who thinks they can deal in certainty at this moment is either a fool or a knave. We know too little. Few of the facts are in. Let's just wait and see.

I'd like to finish, for now, by again expressing appreciation for the enormous goodwill that has been flooding in from across the globe. It's been very heartening. The reaction within the UK has, I feel, been fantastic and inspiring and I'm very proud of my countrymen. That said, whether we'd be seeing the same reactions had 3,000 people died and a major landmark lain in ruins is an open question. My hunch is that, as with many things, the years of dealing with the IRA and taught a lot of Brits the ropes with this sort of thing and that this attack is instinctively perceived as something like a moderately worse version of what the Irish Republicans have thrown at us in the past. Anyway, we'll see. Certainly as things stand I think the national attitude has been absolutely bang on - just the right calibration of anger, business-as-usual spirit and a somewhat pissed off bemusement that the terrorists think they're going to get anything other than a good slapping out of what they've done.

From the London News Review (via Andrew Sullivan):

What the fuck do you think you're doing?

This is London. We've dealt with your sort before. You don't try and pull this on us.

Do you have any idea how many times our city has been attacked? Whatever you're trying to do, it's not going to work.

All you've done is end some of our lives, and ruin some more. How is that going to help you? You don't get rewarded for this kind of crap.

And if, as your MO indicates, you're an al-Qaeda group, then you're out of your tiny minds.

Because if this is a message to Tony Blair, we've got news for you. We don't much like our government ourselves, or what they do in our name. But, listen very clearly. We'll deal with that ourselves. We're London, and we've got our own way of doing things, and it doesn't involve tossing bombs around where innocent people are going about their lives.

And that's because we're better than you. Everyone is better than you. Our city works. We rather like it. And we're going to go about our lives. We're going to take care of the lives you ruined. And then we're going to work. And we're going down the pub.

So you can pack up your bombs, put them in your arseholes, and get the fuck out of our city.

Patrick Belton:

SO NOW AL QA'EDA HAS ATTACKED THIS COUNTRY. Perhaps now is therefore not the most inappropriate moment to do something which under ordinary circumstances would be decidedly un-English; viz, to express my real affection for the country in which I have chosen to live. It has become, in a way I never expected it to, home. And where the virtues of other countries fetishise a Romantic, Wagnerian heroism, those of England are unassuming: decency, carrying on, and in direr hours humour, stiff upper lips, and the ironic, benevolent wit of fellow-sufferers talking to one another. These are adult virtues, by comparison to which the others seem adolescent; by them one might live a daily rather than a cinematic life, share pints with friends, and when public duties call, do what they require with quiet steely determination and self-effacing humour. In unglad moments, these are sterner stuff.

And with that, I'm off for a cup of tea.