Streetwise Professor

April 24, 2022

The Dangers of “Reforming” the USMC: Tread Very Carefully

Filed under: History,Military — cpirrong @ 7:20 pm

I have often written of my admiration for the United States Marine Corps–all the while acknowledging that I would not be good fit for the Marines 😛 In particular I admire its culture. It is a true warrior culture that often seems strange to outsiders, who often include even those in other branches of the military. This culture, forged in combat for almost two-and-a-half centuries has allowed the Marines to prevail in virtually every kind of battle (sniping from topmasts; counterinsurgency in Central America, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq; urban warfare; amphibious assault; and even armored drives in the desert) in virtually every possible climate (except Arctic, though the Marines train for that too). This flexibility and adaptability has distinguished the USMC, and perhaps reflects its often precarious status within the US military: it has had to adapt to survive, especially in the battle for defense dollars.

The organization and doctrine of the USMC is also very distinctive and worthy of admiration. The USMC has always been built round the rifleman: “every Marine a rifleman.” As such, its doctrine is based on fire and maneuver, with artillery, armor, and most crucially organic air power (fixed and rotary wing) having the mission of assisting the grunts at the pointy end take and hold ground. As a result, they have been amazingly successful in doing so.

The current Commandant of the USMC, David H. Berger, is pushing a major reorganization and reorientation of the Corps that would radically change it. The motivation for Berger’s revolution is that the US must reorient to confront China. Berger believes that the USMC can best advance that objective by operating in the littorals to direct fires at Chinese naval targets and to provide reconnaissance and screening for the USN and USAF.

To accomplish this mission, Berger believes that armor is irrelevant, and that conventional artillery will play a much diminished role in the Marine’s future. He also believes that the days of amphibious assault are over.

Based on these precepts, Berger would massively overhaul the force. All armor–all–would be eliminated, on the theory that if the Marines need it, they can call on the Army. (Hmmm.) The number of artillery battalions would be slashed. The number of infantry battalions would also be reduced, and the sizes of these battalions would be reduced as well. The Marines would operate many fewer aircraft.

What would be increased under Berger’s plan? Missiles capable of striking enemy ships and land targets from littorals, and anti-aircraft missiles.

Berger would also transform manpower policies, in particular by bringing in specialists in areas such as cyber and giving them rank and assignments based on civilian experience and expertise.

I must admit deep reservations about this vision. I do commend the refocus on fighting China, in the littorals in particular. I also understand that military conservatism can be extremely destructive. Living off past glories and perpetuating past practices risks becoming like the Prussian army that remained wedded to old ways, only to be crushed by Napoleon at Jena.

But I deem the proposal to be extremely risky, and likely ill-advised.

Most importantly, it is a reorganization built on a particular theory of what war will be fought in the future, and how it will be fought. Militaries have always been poor at forecasting the future. Moreover, creating a force that can do one thing gives an enemy the incentive to do something other than what the force is designed to do, which renders it all but ineffective. (Think of the Maginot Line. There are many other examples.)

War is uncertain, and the future of warfare is uncertain–and one’s enemies have incentives to attempt surprises that add to the uncertainty.

In the face of considerable uncertainty, optionality is extremely valuable. The ability to adapt is extremely valuable. A force designed to do one thing offers very little optionality, and is of little utility outside that one thing. Which gives an enemy a reason to do something else.

The Marines have demonstrated the benefits of that optionality for their entire history, and in particularly during the last 35 years. In that time, they have succeeded in armored warfare in the desert, urban warfare in extremely hostile environments, guerrilla warfare in jungles and the Hindu Kush. All because of the adaptability of fire and maneuver to different combat situations, the diverse organic weapons of the USMC, and the peerless training and esprit of Marines of all ranks.

Yes, fighting China in the littorals may be the most likely future conflict. But planning based on the most likely outcome is almost always faulty logic, especially considering that the enemy gets a vote and can avoid fighting the way you are oriented to fight.

Berger’s plans would largely eliminate that optionality. This would deprive the national command authority of the ability to respond flexibly to the predictably unpredictable types of conflicts that will occur in the future–or will not occur, because the US does not have the capability to fight them.

I am also deeply skeptical that modern weaponry has rendered fire and maneuver obsolete. If anything, the Russian experience in Ukraine demonstrates that the inability to execute fire and maneuver is a recipe for military disaster.

The re-engineering of Marine culture is particularly worrisome. It is really the USMC’s secret sauce. It is the product of centuries of evolution and experience. It is an intangible that has led to tangible results from the shores of Iwo Jima to the sands of Tripoli to the Halls of Montezuma and pretty much everywhere else that Marine boots have trod and Marines have bled.

All in all, Berger’s proposal has a very McNamara feel to it. McNamara had some insights and offered some constructive criticism and made some constructive changes, but for the most part his influence was baleful.

Ironically, Berger’s proposal has unleashed a barrage of fire and much maneuvering from myriad critics, including notably every living USMC commandant. The opposition position is well-summarized in a James Webb op-ed, Webb being a USNA grad, Vietnam combat Marine, and ex-SecDef and Senator. A series of essays in Task and Purpose also offers extremely trenchant criticism of Berger’s plan. I found General Van Riper’s essay particularly persuasive, as was the one on Berger’s “talent management” plan, which emphasizes the risk it poses to the Marines’ unique culture.

Of course, military forces have to adapt as technologies and threats change. Optimizing these adaptations is difficult because of the huge uncertainties involved. But it is precisely those uncertainties which make plans based on a narrow conception of future threats and technologies particularly ill-advised. The fire-and-maneuver-based USMC has demonstrated amazing flexibility and adaptability in his storied history. A prudent course would be to determine how to adapt such a force to incorporate a new mission without crippling its ability to execute old ones. Unfortunately, that is not the course that General Berger is setting, and that leaves me very uneasy indeed.

April 20, 2022

Moskva Update. (It’s still on the bottom)

Filed under: Military,Russia,Ukraine — cpirrong @ 11:18 am

The early Russian story regarding the Moskva’s fate was that it sank in “stormy seas” or “heavy seas.” Well, pictures have emerged that show . . . now brace yourselves for this! . . . that the Russians are full of shit.

The sea is like glass. Other reports (including those from the US) said that bad weather obscured satellite and aerial imaging. Well, there is high overcast, but nothing that would prevent real time observation of the aftermath of the strike.

From the images, it does not appear that the P-1000 Vulkan ASM mounted so prominently on the deck were hit, or exploded. The hits appear to have occurred on the superstructure, although the list could have been due to a waterline hit. Alternatively, the list could have been due to the explosion of ammunition stowed in the magazines below deck.

The fire appears to have been very severe, and was obviously not extinguished before the ship was abandoned. The smoke appears even heavier in other images. (Helluva lot of good those two water cannon are doing there.)

Of course it is impossible to judge the condition of the inside of the ship from these photos in order to determine whether it should have been possible to save it. The external view shows less apparently less damage than on the USS Stark, which was also struck in the superstructure. (And to correct my earlier post, the Stark was hit by two Exocets, which BTW had warheads about 10 pct larger than the Ukrainian Neptunes.) So the inability to save the Moskva remains something of a puzzle.

Not that we will ever get the straight dope from the Russians on this.

April 16, 2022

Elon v. Twitter: Cognitive Dissonance, Quickly Resolved

Filed under: Economics,Politics,Regulation,Tesla — cpirrong @ 12:40 pm

I am a longtime critic of Elon Musk. I have criticized his rent seeking, most notably his extensive reliance on government subsidies to build his business empire. I have criticized his deceptiveness and self-dealing in the Tesla acquisition of Solar City–which despite all his bloviation about synergies was flatly a bailout of a failing company paid for by Tesla shareholders. I have criticized his numerous misleading statements over the years, most notably his promising the moon and then failing to deliver (e.g., heard of the solar roof lately?).

I am also a longtime critic of Twitter. It is a censorship engine masquerading as a social media company. Its management has, and still does, viewed its mission as enforcing the leftist progressive political narrative, and in pursuit of that mission ruthlessly suppresses all dissenting voices–especially if they gain any prominence.

Therefore, my first reaction to the news of Elon mounting a takeover attempt of Twitter was cognitive dissonance. That soon passed, however. Life is about choices between less than ideal alternatives, and as problematic as he is, Elon still dominates Twitter and its allies, hands down.

He at least talks the talk on free speech, and his criticisms of Twitter are trenchant and largely in agreement with my views. Although one may question how truly committed he is (he blocks people who needle him, myself included) there is considerable option value here. We know Twitter is committed to being the speech police, Musk offers the possibility of a freer and fairer platform.

The hysterical (in both senses of the word) response of Twitter management, employees, and the phalanxes of leftist, statist orthodoxy is wildly entertaining, and suggests that Elon is a real threat to what they viewed as their plaything: they certainly believe he is. There is so much material to choose from here, but Robert Reich’s widely mocked article in the Guardian provides a good summary of the various panicked arguments opposing Musk’s move. This was particularly hysterical (again in both senses of the word):

Elon Musk’s vision for the Internet is dangerous nonsense: Musk has long advocated a libertarian vision of an ‘uncontrolled’ internet. That’s also the dream of every dictator, strongman and demagogue.

Dictators, strongmen, and demagogues have libertarian visions. Who knew?

It is also beyond amusing that those who for years sneeringly dismissed Twitter critics by saying “it’s a private company so it can do what it wants” are now in full psychological meltdown over the prospect that someone might take a company private and do what he wants–because it’s not what they want. Say, here’s an idea: if he takes over Twitter, start your own platform, bitches. That’s what you’ve been telling us for years, isn’t it?

If I had any doubts about whom to support in this battle, two of my other bêtes noires, Gary Gensler (SEC) and the Department of Justice immediately mounted up to ride to Twitter’s rescue:

Regardless of whether there are issues at Tesla, they existed before he dropped his bomb on Twitter. But I’m sure the timing of this is just a coinky dink, right?

Like Peruvian General Benavides said: ““For my friends, everything; for my enemies, the law.”

Further proof, moreover, that Twitter is just an appendage of the ruling class.

And the SEC should actually be more focused on corporate governance at Twitter. The company implemented a poison pill defense in order to fend off an offer at a price that Twitter would have no possibility in hell of reaching without it. (NB: it’s stock price is up 8 percent since its IPO.) But it’s OK to screw the shareholders to protect the guardians of the narrative, right?

(Musk has threatened to sue the board over this. Alas, poison pill defenses have survived legal challenges, and in fact thrived. That’s why hostile takeovers are largely a thing of the past. The political economy of American regulators and the judiciary decidedly works in favor of incumbent corporate interests.).

This epic thread is spot on:

Seriously. Read the full conversation.

So how will it turn out? Well, it will provide numerous opportunities for schadenfreude. It will reveal the utter hypocrisy of the ruling class. It will reveal how Twitter is really an apparatchik of the ruling class. But I think Elon’s odds of success are low. He will be taking on the ruling class. And very practically speaking, poison pill defenses are extremely hard to overcome. And that will be especially true in this case because Twitter’s board is not using it as a means of extracting a better price: I seriously doubt that there is any price that they would accept if that involved giving control to Elon. But if anyone can beat these odds, it’s likely Elon. The very thing that I have criticized in the past, specifically the lack of any scruple in pursuing what he wants, is exactly what is needed to win a battle like this.

April 15, 2022

It Sank

Filed under: History,Military,Russia,Ukraine — cpirrong @ 3:10 pm

In a rather amazing development, the Russian cruiser Moskva was hit by two Ukrainian Neptune surface-to-surface missiles, caught fire, and experienced a major munitions explosions. It subsequently sank, allegedly while under tow, although that is according to the Russian side which (as will be seen) was even more deceptive during this incident than it has been in the rest of the war–which is saying something..

Perhaps some latter day Larry King can get Putin on his show and ask him what happened to the Moskva:

Somehow I doubt Putin would be so smug now.

Would that the sinking of two major combatants provide the bookends to Putin’s malign reign.

This episode was even murkier than the rest of the war. The Ukrainians almost immediately claimed that they had struck the ship. The Russians merely acknowledged that it had experienced a severe fire and an ammunition explosion, but that the entire crew had been evacuated.

These things did not hang together. Fires and explosions sufficient to sink a ship with no casualties? Or had the crew failed so miserably in fighting fires that the captain ordered abandon ship before the fires triggered the ammunition explosion? And if there was no missile, what could have caused such a devastating fire, and the failure of the crew to be able to control it?

The missiles that allegedly hit the Moskva are powerful, but not that powerful. Far smaller ships, e.g., the USS Stark, a frigate that displaced about 1/3rd of the Moskva, was hit by an Exocet (which had a bigger warhead than the Neptunes) and survived–though only after heroic efforts by the crew (as an exhibit at the UNSA Museum documents). The HMS Sheffield, which was only slightly larger than the Stark, was hit by Exocets. It eventually sank under tow, but only after several days. The bigger Moskva should have been able to absorb these hits.

Perhaps they were very lucky hits. But hits devastating enough to put such a large ship in mortal danger would have almost certainly killed large numbers.

My guess is that Russian damage control was very poor. Damage control is a war winner, and a force multiplier. It was the US Navy’s saving grace throughout WWII in the Pacific, and has also proved invaluable in later conflicts, e.g., the fires on the carriers Oriskany, Forrestal, and Enterprise during Vietnam. (When I was at Navy we had to watch a film about the Forrestal fire as part of our education on the importance of damage control. Pretty sobering watching.) If Russian damage control was poor, either due to bad training, bad doctrine, or bad equipment (e.g., DC gear being stolen, or not maintained) that would explain fires getting out of control and forcing abandonment of the ship, and a subsequent explosion.

There is also the issue of whether the ship should have been struck in the first place. Apparently its primary role in the Ukraine war was to provide air surveillance and defense for other Russian fleet units operating in the Black Sea. It had a rather extensive suite of long range and short range air defenses, including point defense systems that are intended to take out threats like the Neptunes. So why did it fail so spectacularly to defend itself?

One story circulating is that the ship was “distracted” by several Turkish made drones. Really? That shouldn’t happen. If true, that smacks of lack of situational awareness and target fixation. Or a smug confidence that the Ukrainians had nothing that could hit them. It also suggests that the drones have taken up residence in Russian heads.

The US contributed to the fog of war. Initially the US said that it could not confirm that missiles had struck the ship, or that it was in a sinking condition, or had sunk. Then today the US said yes, it was able to confirm that Ukrainian missiles had taken it out.

I find this purported ignorance to be implausible. The Black Sea has to be blanketed with US surveillance and reconnaissance assets, in space, in the sky, on land, and in the ether. The US is likely sucking up visual, photographic, and electronic information (radar emissions, communications intercepts) at a prodigious rate. The very fact that the Moskva’s electronic emissions would have largely disappeared when it was in extremis would have been one clue that it was hors du combat. And no doubt all all Russian fleet radio transmissions were sucked up and analyzed in near real time. It’s plausible that the US Navy was more informed about developments than the Russian.

This would explain the pains to which the American went to appear mystified by what was happening with the Moskva. “Hey, we can’t see nothin’. Big mystery to us!” In reality the US sees a lot. A lot. Ex ante and ex post. Those ex ante observations, if provided to Ukraine, could have made possible a strike that Ukraine could not have carried out on its own.

And here’s another thing. The Moskva was hit relatively far offshore–approximately 100 kilometers, or well over the horizon. Over-the-horizon target acquisition is not easy. (This might be another reason the Moskva felt secure.) Did the Ukrainians have the requisite targeting capability, or did a little birdie tell them? That is, one very plausible hypothesis is that the US fed Ukraine the necessary targeting information, again relying on the extensive array of sensors upon which the US can call.

If Ukrainian assets targeted the Moskva, that would only raise other issues. Why didn’t Russia take them out over the past 6 plus weeks? Again, US doctrine prioritizes going after the eyes. It’s a lot easier fighting a blind enemy.

What are the broader implications of this sinking. It is unlikely to have a first order effect on the fighting. It does make an amphibious assault less likely, but I always thought that was a remote prospect in any event.

Its main impact is most likely psychological. A fillip for Ukraine, a humiliation for Russia. And in particular humiliation for one specific Russian–Vladimir Putin. No doubt this will stoke even further his incandescent rage against the Ukrainians–and his own military. It will represent yet another ignominious defeat in a litany of ignominious defeats to be avenged. That bodes ill for any prospect of seeing this war end soon.

April 9, 2022

What Ukraine Needs

Filed under: History,Military,Russia — cpirrong @ 6:45 pm

The prospect that the war in Ukraine will drag on for some time has rendered urgent the question of how the west can support the country militarily. Specifically, what weapons can and should the west supply?

Retired General Barry McCaffery recommends supplying the full panoply of an American force–armor, air defense, aircraft. This is unnecessary, and unrealistic.

The immediate answer to the question hinges on the nature of the battle, the time frame, and the ability of the Ukrainian military to absorb and use equipment.

The nature of the battle is now clear: Ukraine is fighting a defensive battle, and will almost certainly do so on a relatively restricted front in the eastern part of the country.

The time frame is compressed. Although it will take some time for the Russians to generate sufficient combat power in Donbas given the necessity of reconstituting units devastated by the last six weeks of combat, Putin is clearly impatient and needs to demonstrate progress soon.

Military hardware can be complex and require considerable training to use effectively. Ukraine doesn’t have the time to train on unfamiliar equipment.

Given these realities, what are the priorities?

Number one, clearly: artillery. Artillery. More artillery. And lots of ammunition. Given that Ukraine is defending, towed tube artillery would do just fine, although self-propelled guns would have some benefits. Also, rocket artillery (MLRS) would be extremely useful.

Ukrainian troops could readily employ conventional artillery and it could play a decisive role in smashing any Russian advance. The stocks of European countries and the US should be adequate to provide a healthy upgunning of Ukrainian forces in relatively short order.

Relatedly: equipment to leverage the effectiveness of artillery. Specifically, counter battery radars (of which the US has already supplied some) and drones (for reconnaissance and battle damage assessment as well as for carrying out precision strikes).

Number two: air defense weapons, especially longer range SAMs. This could be something of an issue. The Ukrainians are trained up on Soviet/Russian weapons (e.g., S-300). It would take time to get them up to speed on western equipment (e.g., Patriots). Further, the US has legitimate security concerns about supplying these weapons, due to the risk of capture and reverse engineering.

A stopgap would be more MANPADs. The Ukrainians have made good use of those, and to the surprise of virtually all, have prevented the Russians from achieving air superiority, or even executing an effective air campaign.

Number three: more artillery.

Armor would be nice, but not necessary. The Ukrainians have already demonstrated a remarkable ability to defend against armor using ATGMs. So more of those, please. A Ukrainian armored assault is not in the offing, which reduces the need for more tanks beyond the T-62s, T-64s, T-72s already in its arsenal. (Not to mention captured Russian armor.). They likely have enough for the local counterattacks that they will need to execute as part of an active defense.

Aircraft would assist Ukraine in denying Russia air superiority, but it is uncertain how many decent pilots Ukraine has, and they would be limited to ex-Soviet aircraft types. Further, the bases would be vulnerable to Russian missile strikes. I doubt they would be decisive.

Get them the big guns, and the shells to feed them. That’s the priority. They would prove essential in a defensive battle.

Although Russia already has its hands full in Ukraine, and has proved to be a military paper tiger, amazingly it is looking to pick other fights. Latvia (the least anti-Russian of the Baltic countries) had the temerity to announce a commemoration of Ukrainians killed by Russians during May, the holy Victory Month. Which caused the Russians to lose their shit (I know, it’s a day that ends in “Y”, but still), and call the Latvians Nazis (of course!) and make threatening noises.

On cue, Russia state television trotted out a mouth breathing ex-military type to lay out how Russia would (and by implication, should) invade not just the Baltics, but Poland and Sweden (specifically Gotland):

Pointing a the map, Colonel Igor Korotchenko [Ukrainian name, interestingly], formerly of the Russian General Staff and air force and currently a reserve officer, said at the start of the invasion ‘a massive Russian radio-electronic strike is inflicted’ as ‘all Nato radars go blind and see nothing’, according to the Sun.

This was how the scenario for capturing the countries might look, he added.

Sweden has been politically neutral throughout its recent history, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine brought the prospect of the Nordic country joining NATO to the fore of political discussion.  

Russia has threatened Sweden and Finland over NATO membership repeatedly since the invasion began.

‘At this time, on the Swedish island Gotland, Russian military planes land, delivering S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems, and Bastion coastal anti-ship systems,’ said Colonel Korotchenko. 

In the video, a border area labelled the ‘Suwalki gap’ is shown – the gap between Belarus and Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, a leftover territory annexed from Germany after the Second World War.

Colonel Korotchenko explained how Russia would push up from Kaliningrad towards the Suwalki corridor separating Poland and Lithuania, blocking NATO reinforcements from the West.

Is this guy Ripski Van Winkle? Has he been asleep the last 6 weeks? Russia has not been able to blind Ukrainian radars, FFS. It’s vaunted electronic (and cyber) warfare capabilities have proved to be as Potemkinesque as its armored and air forces. And as if Russian transport planes would get anywhere near Gotland: they would all go down in flames due to Nato (and Swedish) SAMs and AAMs. And has Col. Korotchenko noticed that the airborne units that would necessarily spearhead such a mission (a) failed to achieve a similar mission outside Kiev on the opening day of the invasion, and (b) have been torn to shreds in the subsequent combat.

Gotland is an island, you know. Amphibious assault? The Russians haven’t had the stones to do that against Odesa or elsewhere, and the odds of pulling it off in the Baltic are far longer. Ain’t happening.

As for tearing through the Suwalki gap, the Russians haven’t torn through anything in Ukraine. And they could pull this off logistically how, Colonel? Your army has no clothes. Literally, in some cases.

This is the best part:

‘The astonished West and NATO will know that Russia declares a no-fly zone of 400km,’ added the enthused Colonel.

The only thing that is astonishing is that Russia has not been able to create a no-fly zone in Ukraine.

One would have to think this has to be for domestic consumption, to feed the image of a Russian juggernaut capable of taking on Nato to Russia’s northwest, thereby to distract the nation’s attention from the reality of its abject failure against Ukraine to Russia’s southeast. They really can’t be thinking of doing this, can they?

Six weeks ago I would have thought not. Now I am not so sure. The detachment from reality in Moscow is palpable. Ironically, the failure in Ukraine appears to have made the Russian leadership and the Russian people more delusional, not less. The shocking reality has led to denial, and a desperate need to fantasize about military glories to be won elsewhere to compensate for the fact of devastating losses in Ukraine.

Meaning Nato has to be ready for anything. They are just crazy enough to try it.

And in the meantime: send artillery to those who can use it.

When People Talk About Zero This or Net Zero That, Zero Is a Good Approximation of Their IQ

Filed under: China,Climate Change,CoronaCrisis,Economics,Politics — cpirrong @ 11:34 am

The optimal amount of any “bad” (e.g., crime, cancer) is very, very seldom zero.* This is because the marginal cost of reducing a harm increases (typically at an increasing, and often rapidly increasing, rate): eventually the cost of reducing the harm further exceeds the benefit, usually well before the harm is eliminated.

Unfortunately, a good fraction of the world is in the thrall of those with Zero obsessions who ignore this fundamental reality. COVID and climate are the two most telling examples.

Countries pursuing “zero COVID” strategies have subjected their citizens to draconian measures that have deprived them of the blessings of normal human interaction, and freedom of thought and movement. Children especially have been brutalized, losing two years of schooling, socialization, and even the ability to speak and understand and interpret the non-verbal due to absurd masking requirements.

This brutality has unsurprisingly reached its zenith (or nadir, if you prefer) in China, a nation of 1.3 billion governed by a despotic regime that has gone all in on Zero COVID. The outbreak of COVID in Shanghai after years of restrictions proves the futility of the objective. The CCP’s response to the proof of the futility shows its insanity.

In response to the outbreak, the regime has locked down a city of over 26 million people. And this ain’t your Aussie or Kiwi or American or Brit or Continental lockdown, boys and girls: this is a hardcore lockdown. Mandatory daily testing, with those testing positive sent right to hospital, symptomatic or no–despite the fact that this has overwhelmed the medical system and is depriving truly sick people of vital care. Children separated from parents. People locked in their abodes, often without adequate food. Pets slain.

It is draconian–and dystopian.

The other prominent example is “Net Zero” carbon emissions. This has become the idol which all the right thinking bow down before, especially in the West. Governments, financial institutions, and other businesses (especially in the energy industry) are judged based on a single criteria: do their actions contribute to achieving “net zero” emissions of greenhouse gases? And woe to those who do not pass this judgment.

It is absurd. And it is absurd because the monomaniacal focus on a single measure immediately banishes all considerations of trade-offs, of costs and benefits. The implicit belief is that the cost of carbon is infinite, and hence it is worth incurring any finite cost–no matter how huge–to achieve it.

And the costs are immense, have no doubt. In particular, the environmental costs–the production of battery metals involves massive environmental costs, for example–are huge. Yet they are ignored by people who preen over how green they are. Because to them, Only One Thing Matters.

This is beyond stupid. Those who will impose any cost, and force others to bear any burden, in order to achieve some Zero reveal that that number is a good approximation of their IQ.

Upon reflection, I believe that the worship of Zero is a mutation of the worship of central planning with dominated the pre-WWII era, and which was supposedly discredited by experience (e.g., the USSR) and intellectual argument (e.g., Hayek, von Mises). Central planning involved the determination by an elite of an objective to be achieved by a society, and the use of coercion–at whatever level necessary–to achieve that objective. Actually, compared to the Rule of the Zeroes, central planning was quite nuanced: it usually did involve some acknowledgement of trade-offs, whereas the Rule of the Zeros does not, with everything–literally everything–being subordinated to the One Zero.

But ultimately, central planning foundered on the reef of its internal contradictions. Attempting to impose a singular objective on a complex, emergent system consisting of myriad individuals pursuing their own idiosyncratic goals was doomed to failure. And it did. But only after inflicting tremendous costs in terms of human lives and human freedom, not to mention human prosperity.

The fundamental inconsistency between emergent and imposed orders meant that central planning required the application of massive coercion. The same is true in the Rule of Zeroes. This has been particularly evident in the case of COVID: what is going on in Shanghai proves this beyond cavil. But the same is inevitable for Net Zero. To impose a centrally dictated objective, and a unidimensional one to boot, on complex societies comprised of billions of individuals with extremely diverse preferences and capabilities is to wage war on human nature, and humanity. Sustaining it necessarily requires the application of massive, and massively increasing, coercion. Because it requires people to “choose” what they would not choose of their own volition.

The populism so scorned by the elite is a natural reaction to this fundamental inconsistency. Whether Le Pen prevails in France or no, the mere fact that it is a possibility reveals the seething discontent of large numbers of folks at the presumptions of their betters. And this is just the latest example of the disconnect between the Zeroes who presume rule, and those whom they presume to rule.

It is a disconnect born of a fundamental misunderstanding of the basic social reality that life involves trade-offs, and that different people value trade-offs differently. That supposedly Smart People have Zero understanding of this reality is a shocking commentary on our “progressive” age.

*Note that I do not say “is never zero.” That would be a paradox, no?

April 5, 2022

Vlad the Accursed

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 6:25 pm

Apologies for the hiatus. Was traveling in Europe for my annual teaching gig in Geneva. Other than the unseasonably cold weather in Geneva it was a great trip.

And now that I am pretty much recovered from the travel, some new material:

Vladimir Putin no doubt imagines a sobriquet being attached to his name. You know, like “the Great,” as in Peter the Great or Catherine the Great, or Vladimir I the Great. He probably wouldn’t even mind “Grozny,” as in Ivan IV Grozny–under either of the offered translations of “Formidable” or “Terrible.”

What are some other possibilities that would appeal to his penchant for history?

Well, I think we can definitely rule out “the Humblest” (Alexei Mikhailovich). We can also clearly rule out “the Peacemaker” (Alexander III).

Putin no doubt views himself as “the Liberator” like Alexander II, who earned that nickname not for freeing the serfs, but for freeing the Balkans: Putin thinks he is liberating Russians in Ukraine and Georgia from a foreign yoke, and no doubt yearns to do the same in the Baltics. He also no doubt dreams of being known as “the Blessed” after Alexander I, who defeated the hated westerners (namely Napoleon), enforced autocratic rule in eastern Europe, and made Russia a world power.

But the trajectory of events suggests that other historical sobriquets are more likely to stick. “The Bloodstained” (Nicholas II) is certainly in the running. But I think that the best candidate is . . . “the Accursed” (after Sviatopolk, a Kievan prince, ironically).

Yes, Putin is riding a wave of popularity in Russia right now. But he is clearly cursed in Ukraine, the rest of eastern Europe, and much of the world. And I think that once the propaganda fueled euphoria fades, and reality intrudes, Putin will be known as The Accursed in Russia as well.

The invasion of Ukraine is a bloody fiasco. Stymied on the battlefield, Russia is resorting to indiscriminate bombardment. In the wake of its withdrawal from the Kievan front, evidence of atrocities is mounting. And just as the Soviets responded to German announcements of the discovery of mass graves at Katyn by claiming that the Germans were the actual murderers, the Russians claim that the mass graves and civilian corpses littering the streets of places like Bucha were not their doing, but the Ukrainians’, thereby proving Russia to be the true successor state to the USSR–and wrecking even further Russia’s already dismal credibility.

Russia had become a pariah state before these revelations. Russians going all Russian has made it even more of one, and it will always remain such as long as Putin is in power. This will relegate the country to persistent penury that propaganda will not be able to paper over for much longer. To maintain his stubby little fingers’ hold on power, Putin will resort to even more draconian measures and oppressions. Defeat (or even Pyrrhic victory), poverty, isolation, and oppression will, sooner or later, make Putin Vladimir the Accursed even in his own land.

As for the military situation, Russia has clearly experienced a major defeat in the north, to the west, north, and east of Kyiv/Kiev. It is withdrawing post haste from those areas, leaving the Ukrainians in control–and allowing them to uncover and broadcast the evidence of Russian atrocities.

One narrative is that the withdrawing units will be redeployed to the Donbas front, and bring a victory there by Victory Day (May 9). Quite frankly, this is delusional bullshit. Claims of redeployment are as convincing as Michael Palin’s insistence that the dead parrot is merely resting.

Units that have been as thoroughly thrashed as those around Kyiv/Kiev take weeks, if not months, to regenerate. And doing so requires a stream of men–which Russia does not have. (Note the extreme difficulty that the US had in keeping infantry units up to strength in the ETO during WWII.) No doubt Putin will find some way to circumvent the legal obstacle against deploying conscripts outside of Russia (e.g., by dragooning them into “volunteering” as kontraktniki, or claiming that Donbas is really Russia), but the new lot of conscripts are just being called up, and it will take them months just to figure out how to put on their gear and find the latrines. And once they are integrated into these units, why should it be expected that they will be any more militarily competent than their predecessors who died in droves while accomplishing nothing? Indeed, the experience of their predecessors means that they will no doubt start out with morale at rock bottom levels, even before they see any of their comrades incinerated by a Ukrainian ATGM. And their training will be, frankly, shit. They will be missile fodder, and nothing more.

Further, there are stories that replacement stocks of equipment are largely unusable. Not that that really matters, I guess, given how ineffective the front line equipment has proved to be. The best stuff blowed up real good. Just think what’s in store for the not so good stuff.

Moreover, if the Russians can redeploy, so can the Ukrainians now that the threat to the north has been reduced. And they can do so with less attrited units, and on interior lines. Adding more mass to the Donbas front–especially given the low quality of the mass to be added–will just add to the body count.

Putin’s alleged focus on 9 May/Victory Day is pathetic, and illustrates Marx’s maxim about history repeating, first as tragedy, then as farce. Even if by some miracle the Russians achieve some simulacrum of a tactical victory in Donbas . . . it is still Donbas, not Berlin–or even Kyiv/Kiev. A farcical achievement, at best.

So Putin is doomed to either a humiliating climb down (which I doubt he will choose, precisely because it would be humiliating), continuing a grinding, pointless battle that will kill thousands of Russians and Ukrainians (and bring more atrocities in its wake), or heaven forbid, escalating with nuclear or chemical weapons.

Whatever option he chooses, he will be cursed for it. By virtually the entire non-Russian world certainly, and eventually in the Russian world as well. He is deserving of the sobriquet The Accursed, but what death and destruction and poverty he will cause in order to well and truly earn it.

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