Beauty of Gray

Saturday, February 09, 2002

Asymmetric Warfare

Vodkapundit jumped in with an on the mark reply to my post about the price of a modern military, pre-empting my intended follow-up by introducing the idea of asymmetric warfare. As I argued below, for technological and financial reasons, no country in the world can challenge the current US supremacy in military strength. So, if you're the despotic ruler of some country and don't like the US, what can you do?

The answer is to adopt the idea of asymmetric warfare. The concept of strength or power is only meaningful with regard to some object--the strength to do something in particular. When you talk about military strength, the unspoken object of that strength is in fighting other armies. The way to challenge a dominant army is to try to change the rules of the game, and attack it in ways and areas where it's strength doesn't apply. Although it's a bit ill-defined, that's the fundamental idea of asymmetric warfare.

The most common form such an attack takes is guerrilla warfare. The guerrillas, knowing that they cannot defeat their opponent in a standard battle, choose not to engage in such battles. This then changes the field of decision from a strict military test to one of politics and willpower. The guerrillas try to maintain enough popular support to continue their fight, and try to outlast the superior power. The classic examples of this are the revolutions in China and Vietnam. In both cases, the communist rebels won few if any battles, but simply by staying int he field and inflicting continuing casualties on the opposition, eventually won the war. (The American revolution is a still earlier example of this approach.)

A fourth example is the Russian experience in Afghanstan, one which the US is trying to avoid. The current situation appears to be sliding towards a civil war, with the central government facing down several regional powers. US force could clerly win such a war, but it would not remove the opposition, it would simply drive it underground, likely converting the civil war into a guerrilla uprising. This is the difficult line the US has to walk in dealing with the interim government. We want to support it and maximise its chance of success. And one element of the US suport is the threat of force. But the actual application of US force could be counterproductive--since the regional loyalties are so strong, it's doubtful that a simple military conquest would cause them to give in completely to the central government. The trheat of US force, though, is serious to the current leaders of oppostion forces, though. Although a guerrilla uprising might rise to take their place, they would still probably be killed in any US action. So the US needs to use the threat of force to support the government without actually using that force.

The only way in the long term to bring about unity is to slowly draw the regions in. Rather than conquering them, which rarely works, try to bring them in via a loose federal structure and then slowly build up the strength of the central government and unity of the country. there may be a few military actions, but the main trend is the slow accumulation of civil connection. (This is more or less the way most European countries came together. The Roman Empire is an interesting case because, although there were several rebellions of Italian states, the other colonies rarely revolted once they had been conquered and brough tinto the Empire.)

But I'm getting sidetracked. A second form of asymmetric warfare is terrorism. This can be used both against civilian targets as in Israel today, and against military targets like the USS Cole. Some countries, like Iran, may even incorporate these sorts of attacks into their defense plans in case of a conflict with the US. Although you might or might not class a jetski with explosives strapped to it attacking a US warship as a terrorist weapon, it's certainly an example of asymmetric warfare.

A third asymmetric technique is to try and choose the terrain of battle such that it minimizes your enemies force advantage. A big part of the US supremacy is in air power, which is neutralized if you can draw US forces into a conflict in an urban area. The many non-combatants around prevent air power from being applied. For the same reason, artillery can't be used in a city, and in many cases it's difficult for armoerd vehicels to be brought to bear either. So in urban terrain, combat tends to devolve into an infantry battle, where most of the US advantages are gone. One example of this was during Blackhawk Down in Somalia. Another is the current situation in Palestine, where Israeli response is limited by the presence of many non-combatants.

Two final, less obvious examples of asymmetric warfare are non-violent resistance--which takes the battle to the moral rather than physical plain--and submarine warfare. Submarines allow you to leverage a small investment to a potentially large impact on enemy shipping and naval forces. So without directly confronting US naval superiority, you can limit or neutralize it. This is why Germany used submarine warfare in World War II--because they could not directly challenge the English Navy--and is also why China is trying to acquire a modern submarine fleet. (Iran is doing the same.)

So, while my post below struck a fairly optimistic note, pointing out that no country could really compete directly with the US military, the actual situation is more uncertain, since they can still challenge and attack us militarily without such direct competition.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 8:50 AM

Friday, February 08, 2002

Two solid critiques of my post on vouchers have been posted over at the JunkYardBlog and by Mark Byron (who doesn't have a snazzy name for his blog.) It appears that Ideas, etc. will also have something upcoming, but it hasn't been posted yet.

They identify several weaknesses in my discussion. First, not all private schools are more expensive than public schools, especially religious schools. This is certainly true, but religious schools are a bit of a special case, and aren't (at least right now) capable of handling a huge increase in their enrollment. I also don't know how much cheaper they really are: I've seen per pupil numbers that showed a significant difference but I don't think they took into account some of the special ed and costs that public schools have to carry but the religious schools don't.

Regardless, though, the existence of such a reasonably priced alternative is a good argument for vouchers. If vouchers really can cover the costs of many private schools, than instituting such a program is really just an expansion of school choice to include many private schools as well. But for this to work, it has to be all or nothing. A small award (like $2000) such as has been floated in some proposals, certainly is vulnerable to my critique that it ends up being mainly a subsidy for well off parents who are already sending their kids to private school.

Both also point out that the "skimming" argument--that private schools do better than public schools because the students there are self-selected from groups that are likely to succeed--is not always true. Some schools (like military academies) are able to take "problem" students and still outperform public schools. "A good private school, which might challenge a kid to do better rather than baby the kid for fear of hurting his self-esteem, can often do well with the "dummies" if given the chance." This can be true, but I don't think it completely invalidates the argument that private schools do well in part because they select better students. Or, to put it another way, many of the students doing well in private schools would likely have done well if they'd stayed in public schools. I'd also say the quoted passage is really an argument to reform the public schools.

Bryan Preston at the JunkYardBlog also comes at the issue from a more economic standpoint, arguing that the money for schools comes from the taxpayers. Why is it wrong to give individual taxpayers then the full choice about the best way to spend this money on their kid? His concluding line is "Our property taxes have been propping up a school system whose services our son hasn't used yet, but because of those taxes we can't afford to pay for a private school should that be our choice. Explain to me how that's fair."

This is a valid point, and I think I'd be OK with returning to a parent the marginal cost of educating their child. (Although this goes against my argument above about small refunds only helping those who don't need any help. Now I'm confused--my economic ideas of justice are going against my populist utilitarian instincts. Hmmm, I'm not sure.)

I'm less sure giving a voucher for the full amount, since this could hurt the local school and I'm less comfortable with the idea of the public school system "crashing," as Bryan put it, than he is. I feel strongly that offering a high quality education to all students is a primary goal of government (tying into my equality of opportunity approach), and so value the public school system. I don't feel comfortable throwing up my hands and giving up on public schools--I think there are other things that should be tried first. There are certainly serious problems, but aren't there reforms that could be tried within the framework of a public school system? I think there are, and we're seeing some of them--increased accountability, school choice, charter schools. The main argument for vouchers is that private schools give better value for the money, but I'm not sure why this should be the case. Can't public schools be reformed so that they provide similar value? I'd like to see other reforms tried before going to a full voucher system that might seriously damage the public school system.

On the other hand, thinking about the economics of vouchers made me realize that, depending on how they are administrated, vouchers would likely represent a spreading of the cost of education over large regions--entire counties or states. One critique of the current local funding for schools is that rich areas end up with great schools because they can afford to spend lots of money on them, while poor districts can't afford as much per pupil. But if a state puts together a voucher system, this inequity would be addressed, since presumably the value of the voucher would be the same for all students. This represents a radical break with the current funding methods.

So, where does this leave me? I've gone from being pretty strongly opposed to vouchers to being uncertain, but still somewhat opposed to them until other options have been tried. Not quite back on the fence, but with at least one leg up. I'll be thinking about the issue some more and welcome any additional arguments from either side, whether more from Mark and Bryan or from a fourth party.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 12:03 PM

Is there an editor in the house?

Also in that same Washington Post story, there is my nomination for the worst written sentence to be published in 2002. There's still plenty of time for new entries, but this will be hard to beat:

The ratio of smart to dumb bombs dropped has gone from 10 percent to 90 percent in Desert Storm to 60 percent to 40 percent in Afghanistan.

Any other nominations from the peanut gallery?

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 9:29 AM

If you want to join the game, you have to ante up

In today's Washington Post there's an overview of the funding for various next generation systems in the President's proposed defense budget. They go through quite a few advanced systems that are being funded, most of which have been in the pipeline for some time. My main thought, reading through this laundry list, though, was how much modern military power is tied to economic strength. To even get in the game nowadays, there's a tremendous investment required. Simple manpower has become almost completely irrelevant; stength now lies more in material than in masses of men.

And the situation for an aspiring popwer is even worse than a simple perusal of the budget numbers would suggest. There's a triple whammy here. Most obvious is the price tag for advanced systems--not just planes and tanks but the very bombs themselves are now quite expensive. But more expensive and advanced equipment also requires more difficult and involved training in order to become proficient at it. And you also need similarly skilled people to service and maintain your advanced equipment. So even if you can afford the price tag of the new plane, there's a similarly high price tag to operate it.

The activation barrier for building a modern military is even larger, though. (But wait, there's more!) If you really want to challenge the US, you also need to have the technology and industrial base to research and design your own systems, and to build them once they are designed. This is not trivial, since advanced systems are much more than just welded steel--they've got computer control systems and avionics, IR sensors, advanced radar and sonar suites, advanced composite materials, etc.--things that you can't just get made at the neighborhood factory.

This is certainly nothing new--technology has been invfluencing war since the discovery of iron and the invention of the stirrup. But until recently, all of the advances were things (like rifled muskets and artillery, machine guns, tanks, airplanes) that tended to be mechanical, easily copied, and easily built by any country which could produce an automobile. But sometime between the Korean war and today we've entered a new realm, where the technology and cost of building a military have exceeded the capabilities of the great majority of nations in the world. And as of right now, there is not just a quantitative difference in the amount of the money the US is spending on defence compared to the rest of the world, but there's also a qualitative difference in the caliber of systems that we are buying with that money.

Of course, this doesn't mean that smaller countries are wasting their money in buyiing military hardware, just that there's essentially no way any of them can compete with the United States. But most of them are trying to compete with other regional powers, not the US. To put it another way, India and Pakistan have no interest in being able to challenge the US military, but they have a very strong interest in being able to engage each other.

One more note about the article--has there ever in history been a less inspiring and intimidating name for a military group than the "Interim Brigade Combat Team" that the Army is putting together? Well, maybe the Australian cavalry which, if they followed their naming conventions, was presumably called the "Horsey Forcey."

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 9:23 AM

Thursday, February 07, 2002
Whither rebellion?

Every generation of teenagers will eventually rebel against their parents, as part of staking out their own identity. Since WWII, and possibly before, a big part of that rebellion has been through the medium of music. But each generation, when they become parents, has accepted and internalized what came before. So to rebel, it has been necessary to push the envelope with each successive movement.

Elvis, then the Beatles, then the hippies, then punk, heavy metal, grunge, each one has successively reacted to what has gone before. I think it is this, in large part, which has fueled the popularity of both gangsta rap, which was widely followed in suburbia as well as the inner city, and the current push of tattooing and body piercing.

But at some point, this continuing push towards harsher and darker and more negative and violent music runs out of steam. And I think we’re almost there. This occurred to me while riding home from work the other day. I was listening to the radio and enjoying the latest alternative songs from Slipknot, System of the Down, Linkun Park—all contemporary alternative heavy-metal type bands. I grew up on Metallica, the Sex Pistols, the Outnumbered, and other punk and heavy metal bands. I am comfortable with these and continue to listen to current bands. No types of music shock or appall me. So what will my kids do? I’m sure they’ll come up with something, but it seems that before too long, music will become more of a shared experience that crosses generations, rather than something that separates them.

Of course, eventually kids grow up and learn that rebellion—the instinctive reaction against outside authority—is as much a betrayal of the self as mindless obedience. And that wisdom lies not in knee-jerk opposition, but in self-knowledge and being true to your own character. Whether in opposition or obedience, defining yourself by your relation to external things is a capitulation of your fundamental responsibility, which is to seek your own way and live your own life. Unless you're Robert Fisk, of course...

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 6:02 PM

School choice and vouchers

Interesting study here on the effects of a long-term school choice program that exists in Vermont and Maine. I've skimmed it, and I don't see any gross errors, although it's more of a glossy-sheeted PR publication than a rigorous research one--I would have like to see more of their numbers and some graphs, in particular of school performance vs. their calculate competition value. Even if it does hold up, tt's not a perfect argument for school choice, since the system described is sort of a hybrid between regular public schools and full school choice.

But it's not shocking that some elements of choice could improve overall performance, or at least get more kids into schools where the education is better. It seems to be a case where the opportunity wouldn't hurt anyone and could help, so why not try it? (I don't know what the administrative costs of such a program would be; if they were too high you'd be better off just spending the extra money on the schools directly.)

On the other hand, while they're often discussed almost interchangably, I'm not in favor of school vouchers. That seems to me to be a very questionable program that would provide the most benefit to those who don't need it. Good private schools cost more (in many cases quite a bit more) than most public schools spend on kids. So a voucher program wouldn't mean that every kid could go to private schools. (And there's also an argument to be made that a big part of why private schools do better is because they skim off the best students and the best parents, who value education enough to pay for it. So sending everyone into private school would, rather than giving the benefit of private school to everyone, actually bring private schools back to the current level of achievement of public schools.)

But getting back to the argument, voucher's wouldn't cover the full cost of tuition to a private school. You can then group people into 3 classes: those whose kids are already going to private school, those parents who can't quite afford to send their kids to private school right now but could with the help of vouvhers, and those who won't be able to afford private school even with a voucher program. So the coucher program gives full benefit to people wealthy enough to already send their kids to private school, and also provides a benefit to the second group of middle class parents who can't quite afford it. The third class, the poorest, who need assistance the most, are left out in the cold by a voucher program. So the voucher program gets it exactly backwards, and provides the most help to those who don't need it, and the least to those who do.

School choice and charter schools are much better answers for improving public schools, although as I mentioned, I think a big part of the problem with many schools is less in the teachers and the administration (which you can reform) than with the students and the parents. And there's a limited amount which you can do to make up for this. The best you can do is to provide the opportunity for kids to learn--it's up to them to take advantage of it.

(Full discolsure: I went to high school in what would probably be described now as a charter school--a state funded, competitive admission, residential high school.)

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 2:53 PM

Interesting phone service idea

AT&T is now starting to offer a flat rate long distance plan according to this Washington Post story. They'll give you unlimited minutes for $19.99. This is actually a good idea, and addresses the competition from cell-phone carriers who offer similar packages. I know that for me and for many of my friends, one of the big attractions of cell phones is the cheap long distance. (I'm a luddite on this issue--I haven't gotten a cell phone yet. But if I did, this would be the big reason.)

So far, so good. But the catch is that the calls are only free if you're calling other AT&T customers. The idea is that this will encourage people to becomes salespeople, and that customers will try to get their friends to sign up for AT&T. I think it's more likely to kill the whole plan. I know that I can't be bothered to figure out what the various long distance carriers of all my friends are. And even if I were nosey and anal enough to have this information, I sure wouldn't be obnoxious enough to try and get them to switch. I'd bet a lot of people feel the same way, on both accounts.

There was also this quote, later in the article:

Consumer advocates and rivals say the new pricing won't do much for the majority of AT&T customers who spend less than $15 a month for long-distance access.

"For the typical long-distance customer, this is a very high price to pay for the current amount of calling they do," said Gene Kimmelman, co-director of the Washington office of the Consumers Union.

Who peed in this guys coffee? The plan won't cure world hunger, either, but so what? It's this sort of knee-jerk anti-corporate response that annoys me with many advocacy groups. Consider: AT&T is offering a new plan that they are not forcing anyone to sign up for. For people who make a lot of calls, it could save them a lot of money. For others, it doesn't make sense. So it helps some people and hurts no-one. Why is a consumer advocacy group getting snippy about it?

You'd think they'd be happy that there was this new option to give customers more flexibility and the chance to save money. Instead, they seem to be mad that AT&T didn't just to decide to give away free long-distance service to everyone. (IF they did, this guy would probably be whining that it wasn't helping Sprint customers.) Give me a break, buddy. If this is the best thing you can find to get worried about, your organization should close its doors tomorrow.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 8:55 AM

Wednesday, February 06, 2002
Male-female wage disparities

Some of you might remember a negative piece I wrote about a "recently released" GAO study about male-female wage discrepencies, and how, from the article I read, it didn't look like the report actually proved anything. Well, I finally managed to find it on the GAO website--it was actually originally released last October, which is why I had trouble finding it. Take a look at it here. By coincidence (or, as obnoxious TV newspeople would put it, ironically), the NRO online just put out an article on the same subject.

The NRO online piece is pretty weak. The writer breathlessly reports that Rep. Maloney, one of the sponsors of the study, had let her in a secret. After going on about the "sisterhood" and silliness about assumptions of agreement just because she's a woman, she finally gets to the moneyline, the quote that supposedly shows that the report is bogus and dishonest:

Then in a comment that went from “off” to “on” the record (she gave me, the sister, permission to tone down anything I thought was “too radical” ) she told me that “Women have always been discriminated against. . .this [the findings of the report] is another example of that.” “But,” she expounded to me, “we have to prove it. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Apparently there are not more questions than answers after all.

Maloney even shared with me her intention to keep the Right from finding out what she and Dingell are up to. As she explained it to me, they “don’t want to scare the right wing so that they stop collecting data” on women in the workforce.

Apparently the writer thinks this proves something. To me, it shows that Maloney is biased, but says nothing about the study. And the last quote is just a bit of political strategy, not some grand conspiracy to suppress the truth. In fact, from the quote, it's obvious that Maloney thinks the truth is on her side. She wants more data to be collected, not to cover it up, as the author of the NRO piece implies. (Of course, there's more than a whiff of hypocrisy about a piece in the National Review--a straight-up conservative magazine--denouncing someone else's biases, but that's neither here nor there.)

Finally, the author of the piece finished with the snide comments and innuendos and actually addressed the substance of the report, rather than the motives of the Representatives who commissioned it (as if a political motive on the part of a congressperson was somehow scandalous):

But of course conservatives aren’t the ones scared by hard data. The GAO study had several limitations. For instance, it did not control for experience, level of managerial responsibility, or most important, continuous years spent in the workforce.
Yet, studies which do control for these relevant factors continually show that the wage gap between men and women virtually or totally disappears.
The problem for liberals like Maloney and Dingell is that they cannot conceive of women preferring to forgo or cutback careers for a time (or altogether) to care for children, or choosing slower-paced careers at the outset, like pediatrics as opposed to neurosurgery, even when they know this might affect their long-term earnings potential.

Well, these are more or less the criticims I made, based on the Washington Post story I read on the study. So, let's go the study itself--the results are interesting. First, on the substantive issue of the salary discrepency, the GAO report says they controlled for "education, age, marital status, and race." So while they did control for some factors, they didn't control for others. I think age is probably a reasonable substitute for experience, but the keys cited in the NRO report are level of responsibility and continuous years in the workforce.

The level of responsibility criticism seems valid--the GAO study lumped together a whole range of positions they considered "managerial," without differentiating between them. They also only quoted means and not medians, which means that a small number of huge CEO salaries could sway the numbers significantly (and CEOs are still predominantly male.)

I'm less convinced about the years in the workforce complaint, but I could be wrong. Presumably this would be due mainly to taking time off to raise kids, and the study didn't look at how many female managers had kids. According to the NRO article, studies that looked at such things found that no salary discrepency existed. I'd be interested to take a look at any of those studies, if anyone out there has seen them.

Regardless, there are several other results of the study which are very interesting and are not affected by these criticisms. First, the salary discrepency between men and women (as measured in this study) has substantially widened between 1995 and 2000. I don't know why this is, but it's potentially worrisome. I don't see why any of the uncontrolled for factors would have significantly changed in those 5 years, although it's possible. But something seems to be going on there, possibly not good for women.

On the other hand, the study also showed that the women managers are, on average, younger and less educated than their male counterparts. This would argue for the opposite of the glass ceiling--that women actually are more likely to advance into management than their male counterparts of similar age and educational background. Again, it's hard to tell what's going on here, given the limitations of the data. But at the very least, this result seems to undercut the argument that this study "proves" the existence of sexism and the glass ceiling in industry.

Ultimately, after seeing the full study, I haven't changed my earlier verdict. The study is simply not detailed enough to really draw any conclusions. I will let the study director off the hook on this, at least partially though, since they did control for the data they had available. They were just working from a limited data set. And they were up-front about the limitations of the data, putting them on one of the first slides, which is what you should do in a rigorous study.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 3:14 PM

Military procurement and foreign policy

I was recently pointed towards an interesting, if scattered, article by Gregg Easterbrook in the online edition of The New Republic. Easterbrook basically uses the success of the recent action in Afghanistan to defend the status quo of the military. He argues that proponents of the idea of a "Revolution in Military Affairs" (RMA) need to reassess their position, since the current big, bloated military showed so well in Afghanistan.

I have a number of issues with the argument Easterbrook makes. First, I think it's important to realize that, although almost everyone talks about "the" RMA, it means very different things to different people. It has become a buzzword, and proponents of all sorts of different approaches have tried pass them off as being "the" RMA, when in fact there are many ideas so named. Easterbrook is criticizing a very specific set of proposals:

Basically, RMA proponents want big reductions in the standing army, aircraft carrier groups, and conventional air wings, with the savings used to purchase more long-range smart bombs and missiles.

But even if you agree that this RMA idea is bad, you need to be careful not to make the jump to claiming that all ideas which are peddled as RMA's are equally discredited. More fundamentally, just because the existing military performed very well doesn't mean that it couldn't be improved or reformed. Resting on your laurels is a good way to get unpleasantly surprised next time around.

There have been three fairly radical shifts in forces and equipment that have been proposed under the aegis of an RMA. (Other so-called RMA's include the widespread use of precision weapons, and the use of computer to revolutionize command and control--the "digital battlefield.") Two of them, which go hand in hand, are those noted in the passage above: the reduction of tactical aircraft forces (to be replaced by more cruise missiles and a smaller number of long range bombers) and the reduction or elimination of the aircraft carrier force. Obviously, since aircraft carriers exist to ferry tactical aircraft, then if those aircraft are de-emphasized, the carriers will be too.

As Easterbrook points out, though, tactical aircraft and the forward basing of the carriers showed themselves to be extremely valuable in Afghanistan. In my opinion, the basic problem with the bomber/cruise missile approach is that it only answers the mail from a strike (strategic) standpoint. It might be as effective and cheaper to destroy bridges and buildings with cruise missiles and bombs from a few heavy bombers. But these systems simply can't meet the requirements of tactical air support--of providing assistance to troops on the ground. It can take hours for a Tomahawk missile to fly from a ship to an inland target; troops on the ground need support in minutes. Any mobile target will probably be gone before the missiles get there. (As bin Laden was, avoiding the TLAM strike on the camps in Afghanistan a few years ago.)

The problem is similar, if less severe, for the bomber approach. Fewer, heavier bombers means fewer aircraft in the air, loitering to support troops. Fewer support aircraft means a slower response time to support troops and hit targets of opportunity. Plus, if they're based in the US, there's a very slow response time if the situation changes. You can't always plan 36 hours in advance what weapons and how many you'll need. Forward based aircraft (such as on an aircraft carrier) provide better, faster, more responsive, and more flexible support.

So much for the air component. However, another part of (some) RMA proposals is a shift in the Army's emphasis away from heavy armor towards a lighter, more responsive force. Easterbrook argues that proponents of "more claw, less tail" in the armed forces (which has nothing to do with don't ask, don't tell) are misguided because the tail is needed to provide logistics. This is true, but ignores the fact that some force restructuring could reduce the required logistics tail to support the forces.

In particular, the M1 tank is the only tank in the Army's inventory right now. It's huge, heavy enough that simply driving it down a road shreds the concrete. Many bridges can't support its weight. Neither can most transport planes. And it guzzles gas at an incredible rate. It's true that, if it can make it to the battlefield, the M1 an awesome weapon that no-one can stand up to. But the required logisitcs and transport burden means that it's almost impossible to deploy it to many theaters, and absolutely impossible to do so quickly. So there's a strong argument to be made that the Army should look for alternatives to the M1 that are lighter, more mobile, and more easily deployed. This doesn't mean getting rid of all heavy tanks, just shifting emphasis and creating more light brigades that can deploy more quickly. The Army is doing a little of this, but not much, and they haven't gotten there yet. There's a reason the Marines are the ones in Kandahar--it's because the Army forces are so cumbersome that it's not worth deploying them unless there's a full scale war. And that's just wasteful, to have around a third of your armed forces (and 70% of your ground troops) essentially land-bound and useless for 90% of the conflicts you engage in.

Easterbrook goes on through a catalogue of proposals, some of which I think are good (shelving the F-22 for now) and some of which are bad (a stealthy arsenal ship for land attack; we already have them and they're called submarines.) I won't bother going through them all--you can read it and make up your own mind. A summary point he makes is worth further consideration, though. He makes the point that if we are to continue all our existing military commitments while also expanding into a widespread war on terror, then the military budget will need to be increased, which is just what Bush and Rumsfeld have proposed.

But isn't now a good time to reassess those existing commitments? Is there any reason why we still have troops based in Europe? The USS Clueless has been arguing that the current war has shown that NATO is an irrelevant anachronism, and I agree. So why are we continuing to spend money defending a continent that is not threatened, and which could equally well be paying for itself? An article in the Atlantic makes just this argument, framed in a larger proposal to reassess our foreign policy goals and objectives. I was going to write about that as well, but this post is already far too long, so I'll just provide the link for now.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 12:26 PM

Tuesday, February 05, 2002
Hard hitting news coverage

He may not be Geraldo, but Seanbaby has his own take on America since September 11th. A few excerpts:

As soon as a war starts, there's always some hippy genius who figures out that wars kill people and makes it their bumper stickers duty to put a stop to it. This never works. It would be nice if homicidal madmen took the advice of our fruitier citizens' fenders more often, but there are several historical examples of where bending over and being polite did not turn pure evil into delicious candy.

Maybe some day we'll be able to build bombs that can fly into a terrorist camp and conduct extensive interviews to see if the person it's about to blow up is actually a terrorist or just a nun riding a unicorn who happens to be photographing baskets of kittens in a terrorist camp. Until then, the best advice I can give innocent people is to stay a blast radius away from anyone making video tapes about how much they want to destroy America.

Go read it all, then check out the rest of his site. It might be the funniest on the web, especially if you grew up with Nintendo and the Superfriends.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 9:23 PM

Correction on Rome and Macedonia

A reader, Christopher Smith, wrote in with a correction to my brief digression on Macedonia vs. Rome:

About your comment on Macedonia not joining with Carthage -- actually
Phillip of Macedon did make a treaty with Hannibal during the Punic Wars
against Rome. They never coordinated strategy after that. Rome, fixated on
negating Hannibal's gains after Cannae, did not have to redeploy a single
legionary. They instead roused a league of Greek states to face Phillip
until the end of the Punic Wars.

So its less that Phil of Mac didn't see an opportunity to hurt Rome, he
rather was not willing to stake everything on a fight to the finish.
Neither was Carthage -- the basic miscalculation of all sides was to
underrate Rome's determination to raise the stakes from a limited war to a
war for survival of the nation. Hannibal could win battle after battle, but
he could not win the war.

I'd either forgotten or never knew that Phillip had actually signed a treaty with Hannibal, but only remembered the upshot, which was that Macedonia didn't give any substantive aid to Hannibal while he was in Italy. I'd also add that Hannibal's miscalculation was not so much concerning Rome's strength or determination, but of the strength and unity of the Italian confederation. Despite his crushing victories, he was not able to swing a large number of the Italian cities over to his side, which was crucial for his long-term success. He made some inroads, but they were limited, and without a local base of operations his cause was in the end hopeless.

Relations between Hannibal and the government in Carthage are an even more interesting case. The Carthaginian policy was far from unified, and these internal politics helped doom their war effort. The dominant party in Carthage was jealous of Hannibal's power and success, and never really wanted to get involved in another war with Rome. Depending on your viewpoint they were either prudently cautious or cravenly short-sighted. Regardless, they were far from forthcoming with aid during the period when Hannibal's army was the dominant force on the Italian peninsula. When they finally did send a supporting army, Rome had regrouped and was able to defeat this army in the north while still keeping Hannibal bottled up in the south.

It's an open question whether Hannibal could have won with more vigorous support from Carthage (or from Macedonia), but in the actual event, he was driven from Italy and his personal assault on Rome ended up destroying Carthage as a military power and, ultimately, destroying it altogether. Meanwhile, the fallout from this war and the following war with Macedonia left Rome with huge foreign conquests, starting them down the road toward empire and world dominance. It's debatable, but not entirely inaccurate to say that one man's grudge (that of Hannibal's father) changed the entire course of Western history.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 11:17 AM

It's military history month here in blogland

Well, at least it is over at the USS Clueless, with discussion spilling out across cyberspace. I don't know enough about WWII aircraft to venture an opinion, and on the subject of the innovations of the Civil War vs. 19th century European warfare, I think they've already covered the main points, though I would give more emphasis to the rifled musket than they have. (I would also mention in passing the perversity of the continents competing to take credit for the advances which led to WWI.)

However, in a previous post, Den Beste examines the US military position vis-a-vis Iran and Iraq, analyzing the various chest-pounding pronouncements from the leadership of those two countries. On the whole I think he's spot-on, but I wanted to add my two cents on one point.

Iranian navy commander Admiral Abbas Mohtaj told IRNA his fleet was ready to defend his country's waters.

Let me get this straight: they are trying to claim that they are capable of driving off the United States Navy?

Actually, yes, they are trying to do just that. A significant part of their defense build-up since the Iran-Iraq war has been aimed at trying to develop the capability to deny the US Navy access to the Persian Gulf. And it's not quite as crazy as it sounds. Here's an article with some good info, although it's a bit out of date. (Scroll down to near the bottom to get to the military discussion.)

The big problem is that the US Navy has really been designed to operate in "blue water," in the open ocean. With plenty of space around them, carrier aircraft can keep any enemy surface ships from getting close enough to attack the US ships, while the cruisers and destroyers provide a back-up line of defence in case any threats (most likely air-launched missiles) make it through.
However, the Persian Gulf is a very constrained theater of operations, a "brown water" locale. In the gulf, it's impossible to keep threats out of range of the carriers since the coast of Iran is so close.

In terms of direct threats, Iran has purchased mobile anti-ship missiles from the Chinese. These can move around and hide, only emerging to fire a volley of missiles. Such "short dwell time" targets are extremely difficult to find and destroy, as the SCUD hunting in the Gulf War showed. In theory, the air defense systems of the US ships should be able to shoot down these ASMs, but if one lucky shot gets through, it could sink a US ship. The Iranians also have bought 3 (possibly more by now) old Soviet Kilo class subs. The gulf is pretty shallow, so no-one is really sure how effective submarines would be there, but the nightmare of every US surface commander is a submarine attack. If the US was planning on attacking Iran, I think the very first thing we would do would be to locate and destroy these subs as well as their base.

Finally, Iran also has a number of small, fast attack craft which can be mounted with missiles. They could also simply fill small motorboats with explosives, for suicide "human torpedo" attacks. The US Navy is designed to counter attacks from the air and has relatively limited capability to handle other surface threats.

If those threats weren't enough (and the US is certainly aware of and worried about them) Iran could also deploy mines in the Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz. A relatively small number of mines could wreak havok with shipping and with naval operations.

None of these are decisive factors, and the US certainly would win a war against Iran, especially given the general unrest of the populace there. But their threats against the Navy actually have some teeth behind them, and aren't just bluster like the comments on their air and land forces.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 10:07 AM

Have they checked the cave complexes outside Houston?

Apparently, Ken Lay has disappeared. Hmm, has anyone ever seen Ken Lay and bin Laden together?

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 8:30 AM

Monday, February 04, 2002
Two birds with one stone?

Here's an interesting speculation that bin Laden could be hiding in Iran. The main argument, which makes sense, is that Iran is one of the few countries where he could get medical treatment for his kidney condition without the US knowing about it. Despite their religious differences, it's possible that bin Laden and the Iranaian regime could be driven together by common cause against the US. Perhaps Iran decided they were on the US hit list no matter what they did, so they'd be better off joining forces with al Qaeda than waiting to fight alone. They might not be wrong on this point. (Macedonia, in ancient history, made the opposite choice, deciding to remain neutral during the Second Punic War rather than supporting Hannibal and Carthage. Only after Rome had emerged victorious did they wake up to the peril of having a large, strong, militaristic Roman Republic at their border. Only then did they attack, at which point they were subdued in relatively short order.)

If this is true, though, I can't see bin Laden's presence there remaining secret for too long. The mullah regime there is very unpopular, and what is probably a sizable majority of the people in Iran would like to see it overthrown. Given that, there are many, many, Iranians who would be happy to let the US know that bin Laden was hiding there, since the likely result would be US military action which would topple the existing government.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 2:26 PM

Anarchy and Capitalism

Two interesting thoughts, first from the NY Times:

How would apples be distributed according to "communal economics" instead of capitalism? Some members of the community, objecting to the energy used in shipping New Zealand apples, would insist on doing without them even when there were no fresh apples from upstate. Others would consider the energy a small price to pay for a tasty, nutritious apple.

Whatever "consensus" was reached, one side would end up imposing its will on the other. A group of people claiming to be anarchists would end up dictating what kind of apple an individual could eat. Somehow that sounds more like the Taliban than like a group of free-spirited rebels. These control freaks are giving anarchy a bad name.

Second from a post on the spread of Western culture at the USS Clueless:

We don't have to actively spread our culture to the world; it is seductive. Cultural competition is darwinian; and one culture can replace another quite easily. It happens because of a billion individual choices by a billion people, not as the acts of a few. We don't have to actively spread our culture, because it is spreading on its own. And so are our political ideals.

Reading these two together, it struck me just how incongruous the anarchist protests at the WEF and other global capitalist conferences are. Because, after all, is there anything in the world that comes closer to the anarchist ideal of individual unfettered choice than capitalism and free trade? It's not perfect, but capitalism, at its heart, is about giving people what they want, as cheaply as possible. People make their own individual choices and, through the magic of the market and the emergent order of complex systems, you get the existing world order. It seems to me that free trade is as close to anarchy as you can get in the real world.

I think ultimately, the anarchists' real problem isn't with the lack of individual freedom in the world, but with the fact that everyone exercising their freedom doesn't produce the world that they'd like. Hence the contradiction between their stated goals and philosophy, and the actual rather authoritarian ideas some of them come up with. Like too many movements, it's less about empowering the powerless than about empowering the protesters. And they simply conflate in their minds their own utopia with what everyone else would really want, if they weren't brainwashed by the system.

Well, it's about that and about breaking stuff and being a rebel. It must be hard being alienated and rebelling against a system that so relentlessly co-opts and accepts rebellion into its heart.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 2:02 PM

A good day to be a Patriot

And speaking of the Superbowl, congratulations to the New England Patriots: underdogs but champions. They won the way they've won all year: playing tough D, not making mistakes, and capitalizing on the mistakes of the other team. It's hard to tell how much of a role shifting schemes played in their victory, but clearly the lion's share of credit has to go to the defensive secondary. The Patriots were getting almost no pressure on Warner all day; he was regulalrly getting 4 or 5 seconds before feeling any pressure.

Conventional wisdom says that it's impossible to cover receivers for that long downfield, that a good QB, if given time, will always be able to carve up the defense. But Warner had time and was still limited and struggled to find open receivers. Perhaps St. Louis was used to quick strikes and the Patriots took the first options away from the receivers, and they couldn't adjust or improvise to use the extra time effectively. Or maybe it was just a great defensive job. But for whatever reason, the Rams passing attack never got on track, and they never really tried running the ball.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 1:39 PM

And how did you spend your day?

No posts yesterday, and no apologies, since I was busy doing more important things, like spending time with friends watching the Superbowl and drinking tasty beverages.

"We are great fools. 'He has spent his life in idleness,' we say; 'I have done nothing today." What, have you not lived? That is both the simplest and the most illustrious of our activities. To compose character, not books, and to win, not battles, but order and tranquility in our conduct. Our great and glorious masterpiece is to live appropriately."

-----Montaigne, from "On Experience"

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 1:33 PM

A Renaissance blog: Politics, sports, literature, history, and whatever else strikes my fancy.


Sneaking Suspicions
Crooked Timber
Unqualified Offerings
Asymmetrical Information
Cranky Professor
The Poorman
newsrack blog

Powered by Blogger