Streetwise Professor

January 16, 2019

Don’t Bother Me With the Facts! I Have a Narrative I Need to Flog!

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

US ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell recently tweeted that the Trump administration had been tougher on Russia than any of its predecessors. The reflexive anti-Trumpers wouldn’t stand for this. Not for a second.

NYT columnist Bret Stephens leaped into the lists to tilt at Ambassador Grenell:

And let’s play no word games about the difference between USSR and “Russia.” Putin’s Russia is the USSR reborn under the exact same management.

That’s what’s called “projection”, Bret, for you are playing word games by transmogrifying Putin’s Russia into the USSR.

Today’s Russia “is the USSR reborn” only in Putin’s wildest dreams. By any objective measure, Russia today pales in comparison to the USSR as a threat to the US (or the West generally). From 1945 through 1991, the Soviets had millions of men and thousands of tanks poised on the borders of western Europe. Today the men do not exist and the tanks are rusting away in storage–and all are hundreds of miles to the east of the Elbe. The Soviet Union had a very credible navy: Russia’s navy is back from the utter decrepitude of the 1990s and early 2000s, but is still a pale shadow of what it was under Admiral Gorshkov. Whereas the Soviet Union posed an extreme conventional threat to the US and the west, Russia poses no threat at all.

Oh, by the way Bret–where is Putin’s Warsaw Pact? Oh, that’s right–they are all Nato members.

The USSR was also a formidable ideological adversary, and its ideology was aggressive and expansionist. Especially prior to the 1980s, the Soviet ideology had substantial international appeal, especially in the Third World. The Cold War was as much intellectual and ideological, as it was military and economic.

Putin tries on new ideologies like a teenage girl tries on new clothes. But his ideological fashion choices are primarily for domestic political effect, and have no appeal outside Russia’s borders. Zero. Zip. This is in large part because most of Putin’s ideologies are nationalist and insular. His embrace of Russian Orthodoxy is a particularly telling in this regard. It only has very limited appeal even within Russia, and none whatsoever outside it.

Russia is not an ideological nation. It is a kleptocratic regime.

Yes, Putin laments the demise of the USSR. But his efforts to rebuild it are pathetic in the extreme. In his nearly 20 years in power, his efforts to reconstitute the USSR have succeeded in reclaiming–wait for it–Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and some rather decrepit bits of Ukraine. These are the offal of the USSR. He is now putting the squeeze on Belarus–but Lukashenko has no desire to go back to the Soviet Union.

And even these “accomplishments” have succeeded primarily in isolating Russia, with one of the consequences being economic stagnation that leaves Russia even further behind the US in the wellsprings of military power. After a brief splurge in defense spending, the realities of Russia’s parlous economic condition have forced Putin to cut back again, and announce new weapons with great fanfare–but not to produce them in meaningful numbers. Potemkin revisited.

In sum, Putin’s Russia is at best a pitiful simulacrum of the USSR. To equate the two, as Stephens does, is beyond farcical.

So after dispensing with Stephens’ sleight-of-hand turning 2019 Russia into 1979 USSR, let’s evaluate Ambassador Grenell’s statement on the merits, administration by administration post-USSR.

The Clinton administration was all in propping up Yeltsin. When Yeltsin shelled the Duma in 1993, Clinton said: “I guess we’ve just got to pull up our socks and back Ol’ Boris again.” When Yeltsin was in grave peril of losing the 1996 election, Clinton said: “I know that means we’ve got to stop short of giving a nominating speech for the guy. But we’ve got to go all the way in helping in every other respect.” (Can anyone say “interfering in an election”? I knew you could.) The Clinton administration also supported Russian policy in Chechnya.

Bush II famously gazed into Putin’s eyes, and his administration got on rather well with Russia. Even the 2008 invasion of Georgia did not trigger a vigorous response.

And Obama. Where to begin? Of course there’s the Reset, complete with Hillary grinning like a buffoon standing next to Lavrov, holding an idiotic button (mislabeled in Russian, no less). Then there was Obama paling around with Medvedev–they were burger buddies, remember? Oh–can’t forget the hot mike statement that Medvedev should tell Vladimir to be patient, as Obama would have more flexibility after the 2012 election. In the 2012 campaign, Obama mocked Romney saying that Russia was a threat.

Given this, it’s not surprising that Putin smelled weakness, and that his peak aggressive phase occurred during the Obama administration.

Obama’s response was 90 percent petulance and condescension about Putin not following the arc of historical progress, and 10 percent rather ineffectual measures.

It is against this standard–not that of Cold Warriors facing an existential threat–that the Trump administration should be measured. And as Grenell said, by this standard Trump has indeed been far more robust. He has provided Ukraine with weapons (which Obama steadfastly refused to do). He has embarked on rebuilding the US military. He has implemented more vigorous sanctions than the Obama administration. And the US military smoked 200+ Russians who tried to throw their weight around against US forces in Syria.

Further, look at other news involving Grenell. The Germans are in apoplexy over Grenell’s threat to sanction any company that cooperated with the Nordstream II pipeline that will bring Russian gas to Europe. Merkel’s party spokeswoman huffed: “The American ambassador operates in a, shall I say, somewhat unusual diplomatic manner. He’s shown that not only through this letter [on Nord Stream 2 sanctions] but also from when he took office.”

And this is not a new thing. Trump has been bashing Nordstream since he took office–and the Germans have been reacting with outrage every time.

Trump’s notorious criticism of Nato is also hardly pro-Russian. His main criticism is that Nato countries–especially Germany–don’t do enough to counter Russia, but expect the US to do it for them.

This is not a hard call. The Trump administration has objectively been far harder on Russia than its predecessors–including most notably its immediate predecessor, whom people like Bret Stephens now lavish praise on. It isn’t even close. To claim that US policy towards the USSR is the appropriate yardstick by with to measure US policy towards the decrepit, dissolute successor state of Russia requires breathtaking intellectual dishonesty. But Bret Stephens is obviously up to the task

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January 7, 2019

Lost in Space? Some Musings on the Economics of an Independent Space Force

Filed under: Economics,History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 8:30 pm

One of the Trump administration’s (and really, Trump is the one pushing it) more interesting ideas is the creation of an independent military “space force” as a separate service branch, co-equal with the Army, Air Force, Marines, and Navy. Given that this proposal gores many, many political oxen inside the military and without, it’s hard to get an objective viewpoint. Everyone’s opinion is colored by their vested interest.

I have no answer as to whether it’s a good idea or not. But I do have some thoughts on the appropriate framework that could contribute to a more objective evaluation. Specifically, transactions cost economics and property rights economics (and organizational economics, which has some overlap with these) address issues of how formal organizational structure, and the ownership and control of assets, can affect the allocation of resources, for better or worse. And that is the issue here: can a reorganization involving the creation of a new entity that has control rights over assets heretofore controlled by other entities improve the allocation of defense resources?

I mused on this topic long ago, but have never really pursued it in a serious way. But I’ll muse some more given the newfound topicality.

It’s useful to divide the analysis into two parts. First, how does organizational structure, and in particular the assignment of rights of control over existing assets (e.g., artillery pieces, aircraft), affect military effectiveness and combat power? Second, how does organizational structure affect the choices regarding which assets to invest in?

With respect to the first issue, over the centuries militaries have devoted considerable effort and thought to organizational charts, and the allocation of control rights over military hardware and military units. Some simple examples: should each division have its own artillery, with all guns being under division control, or should some guns be assigned to battalions subject to control at a higher level (e.g., corps, army)?; should all tanks be concentrated in armored divisions, or should infantry divisions also have organic tank units?; should submarines be employed in support of fleets, or operate independently?

As with all resource allocation decisions, there are trade-offs, and militaries have struggled with these. There has been experimentation. There has been success and failure. Changes in technology have necessitated changes in organization, because the nature of specific weapons systems may affect the trade-offs. These are arguments that never end, as the incessant reorganizations of militaries (e.g., the U.S. Army’s recent shift to a brigade-based structure) demonstrate.

A couple of transactions cost economics insights. First, most decisions regarding the use of military assets are made subject to severe temporal specificity. If I am under attack, I need fire support NOW. Moreover, it may be the case that even in a large military only a few resources are available to provide that support. Temporal specificity creates transactions costs that can impede the allocation of resources to their highest value use.

Second, trade is unlikely to be a viable option, especially given temporal specificity. “Hey. I need some artillery support on my position right now. Can you give me an offer on what that will cost me?” Yeah–that works. The prospects for spot exchange are almost non-existent, and intertemporal exchange is unlikely because (a) timelines are short (for a variety of reasons), making end game problems acute, and (b) potential parties to an exchange are unlikely to be interacting repeatedly over time with reciprocal needs.

Since voluntary exchange is out (except in very unusual circumstances) resources need to be allocated by authority. Which makes issues of organization and the allocation of authority (control rights) paramount.

With respect to space assets, the case for a space force relates to the fact that many space assets (a) offer value to air, naval, and ground forces, and (b) there are economies of scale and scope. Having each service invest in its own space assets likely sacrifices scale and scope economies, but eliminates the need for inter-service bargaining over access to these assets, and reallocation of these assets in response to shifting military needs.

Allocating space assets to one existing branch (e.g., the Air Force) would facilitate exploitation of scale and scope economies, but would require inter-service bargaining to permit the non-controlling service to get access. A specialized space force permits exploitation of scale and scope economies, but also necessitates inter-service bargaining. The key question here is whether a specialized force would have better incentives than an operational force. For example, the Air Force might favor itself over other services when deciding how to utilize space assets, whereas a separate space force would not be as parochial.

With respect to the second issue–which assets are procured–the impact of organization on the Congressional procurement process is paramount.

The services are highly politicized organizations, and certain specializations within a service may exercise disproportionate influence. For example, the “fighter mafia” in the Air Force is legendary. As another example, in the pre-WWII U.S. Navy, battleship admirals held sway. These factions within a service may warp and stifle the development of new technologies, new doctrines, or investment decisions: the stultifying effect of the dominant infantry branch within the pre-WWII U.S. Army on the development of armored forces (both hardware and doctrine) is an example.

Creation of a separate force that invests in assets provided by the other branches would tend to undermine the power that any faction in a particular branch could exercise. The branches would have to form coalitions to influence Congressional funding decisions. But the creation of a new entity with its own vested service interest and its own ability to influence Congress could prove problematic as well.

For example, in the immediate aftermath of the formation of the Air Force, beliefs that nuclear weapons made most conventional forces–including conventional air arms–obsolete, led the Air Force to try to persuade Congress to slash spending on conventional forces in order to focus on strategic forces, especially bombers. This led to the “Revolt of the Admirals.” It also led the Navy and even the Army to invest in nuclear capabilities in order to claim strategic relevance and maintain their share of the budget. These investments were almost certainly wasteful, and would not have been made but for the independent Air Force’s influence.

Perhaps the most important historical example that could shed some light on the desirability of an independent space force is the creation of a separate Air Force in 1947, and the Johnson-McConnell agreement of 1966, in which the Army ceded to the Air Force control over all fixed wing aircraft.

The effects of this reorganization were probably beneficial overall, but there certainly were problematic effects. In particular, it almost certainly attenuated the Air Force’s incentives to provide ground support, and resulted in the Army investing excessively in rotary wing aircraft (i.e., attack helicopters) to provide it.

Perhaps a better idea would have been to create a separate strategic air wing (first including strategic bombers, then strategic bombers and ICBMs, as well as air superiority fighters), and permit the Army to operate tactical aircraft for ground support. This was essentially what was done in in the immediate aftermath of WWII, with the creation within the Army Air Force of a Strategic Air Command, a Tactical Air Command, and an Air Defense Command.

The Marine Corps, and to some degree the Navy, provide a model. Each operate their own fixed wing air services, specialized to provide the kinds of air power each needs. Marine air is relentlessly focused on providing close air support. The Marine operational commander has control over these assets, and does not have to haggle with another service to get them. Moreover, the Marines’ acquisition decisions (notably the division between fixed and rotary wing aircraft) are oriented towards getting the optimal mix for the specific mission.

I have only touched upon some of the relevant considerations–there are no doubt others I have missed. Moreover, I have given only superficial attention even to the issues I raise. But this should be sufficient to show just how complicated this issue is. Organizational decisions, such as the creation of a separate space force, will have profound implications for how military resources are allocated, and what resources will be invested in in the first place. Crucially, the assets in question cannot be allocated by markets or the price system, so it is not a question of organization v. market, but the form of the organization(s). Further, military assets are complex, long-lived (and becoming more so–note that B-52s may be operational for more than a century), and can be extraordinarily specialized and hence specific (in the TCE meaning of that term). Technology is incredibly dynamic, and needs shift dramatically over time as new threats emerge. This all means that organization and the allocation of control rights matter. A lot.

And perhaps most importantly, organizational choices will be made in a politicized environment, and will affect political bargaining in the future. This will inevitably distort current choices (e.g., whether a space force will be created in the first place, what assets it will control) and future choices as well. It also makes it very difficult to sort through the debate on the topic, because everybody involved is a political player with its own political interests.

That makes it all the more important to establish a relatively objective and rigorous intellectual framework in which to analyze these questions. I think that transactions costs economics and property rights economics hold out great promise as the basis for such a framework.

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January 5, 2019

Vox Populi v. Vox Domini Super Eos Electos

Filed under: Economics,History,Politics — cpirrong @ 7:27 pm

For weeks France has been wracked by the “gilets jaunes” protests directed at President Emmanuel Macron. The protests had slackened recently, but today they flared up again, perhaps due to the arrest of a gilets janues leader. (Was this just stupidity, or does Macron want to stoke the protest? Dunno.)

The French protests represent yet another battle in the global war between the hoi polloi and the elite. The catalyst for the French protests was a quintessentially elitist policy initiative: a tax on motor fuel, with the stated purpose of combating climate change.

Even on its own terms the tax is stupid. Even assuming a very high temperature sensitivity to CO2, the reduction in emissions resulting from the tax would have a vanishingly small effect on global temperature. Furthermore, like most of Europe, French gas taxes are extremely high, and almost certainly far above the level that would efficiently address externalities arising from motor fuel consumption.

The protestors may understand that the tax does not make sense as a way of addressing climate change. But their interests are far more down-to-earth. This is another tax imposed on the most heavily taxed country in the OECD. Further, it falls most heavily on the rural population, and the working population, and has little impact on the metropolitan elites. It is, in a sense, the straw that broke the camel’s back.

With consummate tone-deafness, Macron galvanized the protestors with remarks that would make the fictional Marie Antoinette (“let them eat cake”) blush. Hey, if driving costs too much, just carpool! Or take the bus! Yeah. He actually said that (unlike Marie and the bit about the cake).

After the initial shock, Macron caved, and shelved the tax. But the protests continued, with varying degrees of violence around the country (e.g., torching toll booths). This is because the tax’s significance was more symbolic, relating to the excessive taxation in France, and the sneering indifference of the elite to the fate of non-elite France, which Macron has personified all too well. So, as is often the case in coordination games, once people became aware of each others’ dissatisfaction, the protests took on a life of their own even after the initial catalyst was removed.

Today the protestors gathered in front of the Paris Bourse, demanding Macron’s resignation. Surely, he won’t, but his evident unpopularity will hamstring his ability to govern for the remainder of his term.

The government response has been somewhat amusing. One tack was that police resources were inadequate to deal with both the protests and terrorism. “France Doesn’t Have Enough Cops.” That is, the government of the most heavily taxed advanced economy in the world cannot perform the primary duty of the state: to secure the safety and property of its citizens. So don’t protest, because that make it impossible to combat terrorists.

But of course they should be given more money and power.

In the United States, there is also an outcry against the president, but it is the inversion of the one in France. Whereas in France it is the ordinary people taking to the streets in opposition to the governing elite, in the US the governing elite is taking to the media and the bowels of the state to oppose Trump.

There are no widespread protests on the streets of the US (Antifa freaking out in Portland doesn’t count), and especially lacking are protests by ordinary citizens against Trump. And why should there be? For most Americans, the last two years have been pretty good insofar as bread-and-butter issues are concerned (as epitomized by yesterday’s job report, both on the number of jobs and wage growth). No, the frenzy in the US has focused on issues that ordinary Americans don’t give a rat’s ass about, but which drive the governing class into paroxysms of fury–e.g., alleged (but completely unproven) allegations of “collusion” between Trump and Putin/the Russians.

These allegations are merely useful cudgels with which to beat Trump. The fury of the governing class really stems from his running roughshod over their presumptions and privileges. He’s just not one of them. He insults them. He tramples their amour-propre. He does not worship their idols. Indeed, he trashes them. Icky people like him.

So whereas the ordinary French have taken to the streets, the governing class has taken to pulling the levers of its power–the FBI (even before the election), the American star chamber (aka the Mueller Investigation), incessant and hopelessly biased media coverage, and now, threats of impeaching “the motherfucker.” (To which I say–be my guest. Look at how well that worked out in 1998-99.) There are even those who have advocated a coup.

I daresay that the governing class in the US sees what is going on in Paris and other places in France, and shudders. It shows how deeply loathed the governing class is, and how a seemingly small spark can ignite a political firestorm against them. They have certainly questioned the protests’ legitimacy, at times in their desperation succumbing to the last refuge of the idiot–blaming it on the Russians. Case in point, the pathetically hilarious Max Boot (hey, Max, can you do a pushup?) who at one time pined for an American Macron, only to be subjected to ruthless–but completely warranted–ridicule when the French protests erupted. In a nauseating attempt to rationalize the complete popular repudiation of his man crush on Macron, Max insinuated that although the Russkies may not have caused the protests, they fanned the flames through their diabolically clever exploitation of social media.

The condescension here is palpable, and reflects a pattern that I’ve pointed out going back to 2015. Rather than acknowledging that widespread popular dissatisfaction with the elites–as epitomized by Brexit, the Trump election, various European elections, and now the protests in France–were due to repeated elite failure unsullied by any success, they add insult to injury by accusing their opponents of being stupid, unwitting pawns of their current bête noire.

It is indeed amazing to see that an incessant barrage of attacks from the governing classes have not moved the needle on Trump in the slightest. If anything, they have bound him and his supporters more tightly, because the latter recognize that an attack on Trump is just as much an attack on them.

The most common divide in polities around the developed world right now is between the governing and the governed. The self-conceived and self-congratulatory elite vs. the ordinary. France is just the most recent battleground. It wasn’t the first, and it won’t be the last. The battle is becoming more intense because the objects of popular disdain refuse to acknowledge any responsibility for creating the conditions that have spurred popular discontent.

The same thing happened in France, 230 years ago. The nobility in the ancien regime stubbornly and righteously clung to their privileges, and their conviction in their own superiority. Worked out swell for them, right? But some people never learn.

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December 29, 2018

Is the Withdrawal From Syria a Bitter Pill for Jacksonians to Swallow? I Think Not

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 8:02 pm

I admire the work of Walter Russell Mead a great deal. I especially admire his identification of Jacksonians as a uniquely American political community, and his respectful and understanding treatment thereof, which is in stark contrast to the treatment given them by the sneering classes. I was therefore surprised by his recent column, which in my view completely misreads how Jacksonian America will respond to Trump’s decision to leave Syria and (perhaps–there are conflicting accounts) draw down forces in Afghanistan.

It’s fair to say that I was among the first (along with Mead) to identify Jacksonians as Trump’s core constituency, so I think I have some insight as to how they will react to his decision. And I think that Mead is off-base here:

That harmony may soon sour. Mr. Trump’s decisions on Syria and Afghanistan risk a rift between the president and his Jacksonian supporters and provide a way for some in the GOP to break with the president without losing their own populist credentials. The betrayal of the Kurds, the benefits to Iran of American withdrawal, the tilt toward an Islamist and anti-Israel Turkey, and the purrs of satisfaction emanating from the Kremlin are all bitter pills for Jacksonians to swallow.

Of the two wings of the GOP populist movement, the Jacksonians are the stronger and, from a political standpoint, the more essential. The GOP base is more hawkish than isolationist, and from jihadist terrorism to Russian and Chinese revisionism, today’s world is full of threats that alarm Jacksonian populists and lead them to support a strong military and a forward-leaning foreign policy.


Neoconservatives tried and failed to rally GOP foreign-policy hawks against Donald Trump. Should Jacksonians turn against him, they are likely to pose a much more formidable threat.

Where does Mead go wrong? Well, in part by forgetting some of the key attributes of Jacksonians that he identified about 25 years ago. One is the Jacksonian way of war. He noted that Jacksonians are reluctant to engage in foreign wars, but when they do they favor the massive application of brutal force to achieve rapid and total victory. Kill a lot of people, destroy a lot of stuff, and go home.

The wars in Syria and Afghanistan are the antithesis of this. Jacksonians were on board for the initial action in Afghanistan, oh so long ago. The US went in hard, employed all elements of its national power (except nuclear), and achieved what appeared to be a decisive and rapid victory. Then came 17 years of grinding, inconclusive combat. There is no prospect of a decisive outcome there. Similarly in Syria, the Jacksonian objective–destroying ISIS–has been largely achieved, and it is decidedly un-Jacksonian to get involved in a protracted Game of Thrones where there are no obvious good guys, and indeed, pretty much everybody is a bad guy by Jacksonian lights.

Insofar as allies are concerned, there is absolutely no cultural affinity between American allies in Syria or Afghanistan and Jacksonians, and as Mead noted, Jacksonianism is a peculiarly cultural, as opposed to intellectual, mindset. Further, as Mead also noted, Jacksonians despise corruption, and it is hard to imagine more corrupt societies and polities than Afghanistan and the Middle East. The tendency of our allies in both regions to turn their guns on American soldiers in “green on blue” attacks only confirms deep misgivings that our ostensible allies are not honorable people–and honor is a preeminent value among Jacksonians.

Jacksonians support wars that smite American enemies, and redeem American honor. Wars to build up nations with profoundly alien cultures that appear incapable of becoming stable polities, let alone ones that are grateful for American sacrifice on their behalf–not so much.

The Kurds may be something of an exception, but Jacksonian America has never shown much interest in them, despite the US’s long involvement with the Kurds in Iraq in particular. It is sad, but nonetheless true, that the US has sacrificed Kurdish interests on many occasions in the last 30 years. All without eliciting a peep from Jacksonian America. Why should now be any different?

Further, if they learn more about the Kurds, Jacksonians will realize that it is hardly a black-and-white picture. Yes, the Kurds have fought against ISIS, and fought well (as is their wont), but this is a matter of survival. But the long-running Kurdish fight with Turkey, led as it is by hard-core communists and socialists, and using as it does terrorist methods, will not garner sympathy from Jacksonians. They are not likely to be enamored with Erdogan’s Turkey either, but given the lack of a clear good guy that appeals to Jacksonian sympathies and sentiments, the likely response is to be to hell with them all, that’s not our fight.

Insofar as Iran is concerned, Trump has been sufficiently aggressive in going after the mullahs to counter any concern that he is soft on those who shout “death to America.” There are hardly purrs of satisfaction emanating from Tehran.

Similarly, Trump has been far more aggressive with respect to China, and even Russia, than his predecessors. Russian crowing about Syria stands in sharp contrast with their incessant bitching about everything else Trump has done, so despite the media’s and the Democrat’s and the anti-Trumpers’ insane claims that Trump is Putin’s pawn Jacksonians will not be fooled.

If anything, Jacksonians will conclude that Trump is focusing on the big adversaries where it matters, rather than frittering away American lives and treasure where it doesn’t. That is, they realize that Trump is hawkish where it counts, is not isolationist, and is working to rebuild the military. Against these big things, Syria is a trifling matter.

So, pace Dr. Mead, I don’t think that Trump need to have any concern that his most important constituency will find his recent decisions on Syria and (perhaps) Afghanistan a “bitter pill to swallow.” They are more likely to conclude that he has his priorities right. Furthermore, they are sure to notice that the people who are screaming the loudest about Trump’s decision are people they despise and who despise them in return. The louder that the Bill Kristols and Max Boots squeal, the more Jacksonians will conclude that Trump is doing the right thing.

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December 22, 2018

Given the Realm at Stake, Why Play This Game of Thrones?

Filed under: China,History,Military,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 2:57 pm

The most recent shrieking emanating from DC and its various satrapies is the result of Trump’s decision to exit Syria and draw down forces in Afghanistan, with the clear implication that the US will leave there too in due course. The conventional wisdom is almost universally against him, and as usual, the conventional wisdom is flat wrong.

In evaluating any policy or operation, the first question to answer is: what is the objective? In Syria, is it a limited one–the defeat of the rump of ISIS? Or is it a more grandiose, geopolitical one–to control the outcome of the Syrian civil war and determine who rules there?

Trump has made it clear that his objective is limited and tactical. He has apparently decided that although ISIS has not been extirpated in Syria, it has been so attrited that its remaining enemies can contain it, or finish it off. And there is a Machiavellian aspect to that: why not let American adversaries, Russia and Iran, spend their blood and treasure dealing with the dead enders that remain? You wanted Syria, Vlad–have at it!

The conventional wisdom embraces the more grandiose objective. Perhaps this is purely self-aggrandizement, and lets them resume their college dorm games of Risk for real. Issues of motive aside, it is beyond cavil that those who want the US to remain in Syria, and indeed, to become more heavily involved there want to commit the country to being a player in a Game of Thrones that puts the fictional version to shame.

And that is why the conventional wisdom is wrong. For what does the survivor who sits on the throne rule over? A country that was a largely irrelevant shithole even before seven years of internecine warfare that utterly wrecked and largely depopulated a nation that was already pitifully poor and weak before the war began.

Congratulations Bashar! Congratulations Vladimir! Congratulations Ali! Behold the spoils of your victory! And indeed, spoiled is the right word for it.

And again, from a Machiavellian perspective, tell me why it isn’t smart for the US to let Russia and Iran plow resources into rebuilding a devastated nation? If they do so, these are resources they can’t use against the US elsewhere. Furthermore, even if Russia gains a presence in the country over the longer term, it is an isolated and completely unsupportable outpost that (a) could not provide a base for power projection in the event of a real great power struggle, and (b) could be cut off and destroyed in a trice by the US. Let the Russians put their very limited resources into a strategic dead end.

As for the Iranians, yes, their presence in Syria poses a challenge to Israel. But (a) I am highly confident that the Israelis can handle it, and (b) it’s far cheaper for the US to support their efforts to do so with material support for the Israeli military. And just as is the case for Russia, for Iran Syria would be utterly unsupportable in the event of a real confrontation between Iran and Israel.

The principle of economy of force–something that the policy “elite” in DC appears never to have heard of–applies here. One implication of the principle is that you should concentrate your resources in decisive sectors, and not fritter them away in peripheral ones. For the US, Syria is on the periphery of the periphery. In any geopolitical contest with Russia and Iran, our resources are far better deployed elsewhere.

What’s more, despite the obsession of the foreign policy elite with Russia and Iran, they are secondary challengers to the US. China is far more important, and poses a far more serious challenge. Throwing military resources into Syria is to waste them in a peripheral theater of a secondary conflict.

When I first read of Trump’s decision, I turned to a friend and said: “I wonder what this means for Afghanistan.” And indeed, hard on the heels of the Syria announcement the administration stated that it would draw down forces in Afghanistan, with the clear implication that US involvement there would wind down fairly quickly.

All of the considerations that make Syria a strategic backwater for the US apply with greater force in Afghanistan. The country has spent over 17 years, the lives and bodies of thousands of soldiers, sailors, and Marines, and trillions of dollars on a country that is the poster child for shitholes. Yes, it was the refuge of a particular terrorist threat 17+ years ago. And yes, if we leave it will likely continue to be the cockpit of vicious civil war. Just like it has for the past two plus millennia. It was barely tractable for Alexander, and the British and Russia found it utterly intractable in their 19th and 20th century wars there. We’ve arguably done better, but not much. And again: what’s “winning,” and since the demise of the Silk Road, what in Afghanistan has been worth winning?

The war in Afghanistan has proved a sisyphean task. Sisyphus didn’t have a choice: the gods condemned him to roll the rock up the hill, only to watch it roll down again. The US has been engaged in that futile task by choice, and Trump has evidently decided that he doesn’t want to be Sisyphus anymore. (My skepticism about US involvement in Afghanistan also dates to years ago–as indicated by this post from almost exactly 9 years ago.)

One of the administration’s most important, and largely ignored, decisions has been to reorient US efforts away from conflicts against terrorism in isolated, poor, and peripheral places towards recapitalizing the military for peer conflict against China and Russia. This is the right choice, and long, long overdue. (I wrote a post in 2007 that expressed concerns about prioritizing anti-terror over conventional warfare capability.)

Alas, God will not restore the years the locusts have eaten in the Hindu Kush or on the Euphrates. But sunk costs are sunk. Looking to the future, the right strategic choice is to continue the pivot away from peripheral conflicts to focus on central ones.

And these costs are not purely monetary. Last night, due to a travel nightmare, I ended up returning to Houston on a flight that landed at 0230. On the plane were a half dozen young Marines heading home for the holidays. There were also two men, in their late-20s or early-30s, with prosthetic legs. They almost certainly lost them to IEDs in some godforsaken corner of the Middle East or Central Asia. With Trump’s decision in mind, I thought: what is the point of turning more young men like the fit and hearty 19 or 20 year old Marines into mutilated 30 year olds in places like Afghanistan and Syria? I certainly can’t see one.

I’m not a peacenick or a pacifist, by any means. But I understand the horrible cost of war, and fervently believe that it should only be spend on good causes that advance American interests. I cannot say with any conviction that this is the case in Syria, or in Afghanistan, 17 years after 911. Indeed, I can say the opposite with very strong conviction.

At the risk of stooping to ad hominem argument, I would make one more point. Look at the “elite” who is damning Trump’s decision in Syria. What great accomplishment–let alone accomplishments plural–can they take responsibility for? The last 27 years–at least–of American foreign policy has been an unbroken litany of bipartisan failure. The people who scream the loudest now were the architects of these failures. Not only have they not been held accountable, they do not even have the grace or maturity to admit their failures. Instead, they choose to damn someone who refuses to double down on them.

The biggest downside of Trump’s decision is that it apparently caused Secretary of Defense Mattis to resign. I hold General Mattis in the highest esteem, and believe that if he could no longer serve the president in good conscience, he did the right thing by resigning. But if he decided that Syria and Afghanistan were (metaphorically) the hills to die on, for the reasons outlined above I respectfully but strongly disagree.

My major regret at Mattis’ departure is again completely different than the conventional wisdom spouting elite’s. They lament the loss of an opposition voice within the administration. I cringe for reasons closely related to my reason for supporting a major pivot in US policy: I think that Mattis was the best person to oversee the reorientation of the Pentagon from counterinsurgency to main force conflict. We desperately need to improve the procurement process. We desperately need to focus on improving the quality and number of high end systems, and raising the availability of those systems we have: the operational availability of aircraft and combat units is shockingly low, and Mattis has prioritized increasing them. He has made progress, and I fear that a change at the Pentagon will put this progress, and the prospect for further progress, at risk.

Listening with dismay at the cacophony of criticism from the same old, failed, and tired “elite” reminds me of Einstein’s (alleged) definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results. The “elite” is invested in the same thing, and changing the same thing is a not so implicit rebuke for their failures. Until they can explain–which I know they cannot–why doing the same thing has led to such wonderful outcomes in the past quarter century, they should STFU and let somebody else try something different.

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November 30, 2018

The Most Tragic Day of a Tragic War

Filed under: Civil War,History,Military — cpirrong @ 9:19 pm
The American Civil War was an extremely grim conflict from first to last, but few–if any–days of that war were as grim as 30 November, 1864.  On that bleak day, John Bell Hood launched his Confederate Army of Tennessee in an assault over 1.5 miles of open ground against a larger force of steely Union veterans behind strong entrenchments.  The result was predictable–to all but Hood, apparently: an epic slaughter of some of the finest infantry of that or any war.

The battle is known–to the extent it is known, which is too little–for the deaths of six Confederate generals, namely Cleburne (not of Texas, but for whom a town in the state is named because a brigade of Texans served under his command), Carter, Granbury (of Texas, and commander of that Texas brigade, for whom a Lone Star town is named), Strahl, Gist, and Adams.  Seven other brigade or division commanders were wounded.   No other battle took such a toll on general officers.

Officer casualties at Franklin were horrible, but the carnage in the ranks was almost as bad.  Many excellent formations were nearly obliterated.

Case in point: the storied Missouri Brigade.  Arguably the best combat unit in the western theater, and arguably of the entire war, the brigade went into the battle with 696 men, of whom 419 (over 60 percent) were rendered hors du combat.  53 out of 56 officers–think about that for a minute, 95 percent–went down.  Although a pathetic remnant of the brigade tramped on to Nashville, to participate in the defeat there, for all intents and purposes the finest unit in the Army of Tennessee was wrecked beyond repair.

In some respects it is invidious to single out a particular brigade: virtually every Confederate formation was ravaged.

Virtually nowhere did the Confederates penetrate the Union entrenchments. General Adams made it literally half-way: he attempted to leap his horse over the rampart, only to have his horse–and himself–riddled by bullets in the attempt.  Adams was found dead on his horse, which had its forelegs on the Union side of the parapet, and the hind legs on the Confederate side.

The one exception was in Cleburne’s and Brown’s sector near the Cotton Gin and Carter House.  A blunder had resulted in two small Federal brigades (Conrad’s and Lane’s) of Wagner’s IV Corps division remaining several hundred yards in front of the main Union line, holding a thinly-manned rudimentary set of earthworks.  These men were overwhelmed by the assault of the two Confederate divisions and they broke for the rear, as sensible men will.   A cry went up from the Confederate lines: “Shoot them in the back! Follow them into the works!” And they did.  The defenders of the main line were hesitant to fire because Lane’s and Conrad’s men were in the way, and thus the Confederates were largely spared from the withering volleys that stopped their comrades on their right and left in their tracks, allowing Cleburne’s and Brown’s men to surge over the works.

But only for a short while.  Wagner’s third brigade, under Emerson Opdyke (which contained the 2d Board of Trade regiment, the 88th Illinois, by the way), launched a frenzied counterattack that resulted in hand-to-hand fighting around the Carter House (which stands today, along with outbuildings that still exhibit hundreds of bullet holes).  Supported by troops that had been driven from the works (including the 1st Board of Trade Regiment, AKA the 72nd Illinois), Opdyke drove back the Confederates.

But not far.  The rebels congregated in the ditch on the outside of the Union lines.  Because that was the safest place: to recross the field would have been suicidal.

For the next several hours, in the darkness of the late-autumn day, the contending forces slaughtered each other at point-blank range.  General Strahl was shot handing loaded muskets to his men.  Carried to the rear, he was shot in the neck and fatally wounded in the field beyond the ditch.  Men would thrust their muskets over the parapet one-handed, and discharge them into the seething mass on the other side.  Soldiers launched bayoneted rifles like spears into the masses on the other side of the line. Some became frenzied, and jumped on top of the works, only to be shot down.  By late in the evening, the ditch in front of the works was a crawling mass of wounded men, intermixed with the dead.

There is nothing like it in the Civil War.  Pickett’s Charge was similar in terms of numbers, and ground crossed, and ultimate result, but when the Confederates were repulsed, they withdrew.  That fight did not drag on for hours at point-blank range.  The carnage at Franklin did.

In the end, exhaustion caused the fight to ebb away, just as the lives of hundreds of men were ebbing away.  The Union army had bought the time to rebuild the bridges over the Harpeth River necessary to continue their retreat to Nashville, and stole away in the night.  The Confederates were too tired, and too bloodied, even to notice, let alone to try to stop them.

This was truly one of the great tragedies of a War full of them.  In a conflict full of futile and pointless assaults, Franklin stands out for futility and pointlessness.  The Union army ended up exactly where it would have if the battle had never been fought.  But a third of the 23,000 Confederates who made the assault were killed (around 1750) or wounded (5500).  The casualty rates were even higher in Cleburne’s and Brown’s divisions.  60 of 100 regimental commanders went down.

The Federals suffered about 2400 casualties, of whom 1100 (primarily in Conrad’s and Lane’s brigades)  were captured.  Only battles like Fredericksburg or Cold Harbor resulted in a similar disproportionate loss on the contending sides.

So why did this tragedy occur?  It clearly is the responsibility of one man: John Bell Hood.  I agree with (the General’s distant relation) Stephen Hood’s debunking of Wiley Sword’s claim that Hood’s judgment was warped by his reliance on laudanum to ease the pain of his horrific wounds (an arm crippled at Gettysburg, a leg lost almost at the hip at Chickamauga).   Accounts make it clear that Hood was outraged that his subordinates had let the Union army escape a trap at Spring Hill (to the south of Franklin), and this almost certainly dominated his thinking and made an attack seem to be the only option.  It has also been argued that Hood wanted to punish his army for its failure at Spring Hill, but I tend to doubt this interpretation.  He was mad (“as wrathy as a rattlesnake” in the words of one witness) at seeing what he considered to be a Jacksonian stroke come to naught, almost certainly exhausted, and predisposed to aggressiveness.  A deadly combination for the hardy and valiant men under his command.

Franklin illustrates like few battles the incredible deadliness of veteran soldiers by that stage of the war.  Whereas the brutal losses of the Overland and Petersburg campaigns had made Army of the Potomac regiments shadows of their former selves, re-manned with draftees with dubious combat effectiveness (as illustrated by battles like Ream’s Station), western Union regiments had seen extensive combat experience, but still had a strong core of veteran soldiers.

The Army of Tennessee had suffered in battle after battle (Perryville, Stones River, Chickamauga, the battles around Atlanta) but although these losses led to shrunken ranks, those who remained were lethally effective and brave beyond measure.  Veterans that they were, they were certainly under no illusions about their prospects as they stepped off from Winstead Hill for the long trudge to the Union lines at Franklin.  But forlorn hope or no, they attacked with a will.  Awesome is the only word for it.

Unfortunately, the field where these men underwent their agonies is largely unpreserved.  All of the trenches are gone.  The site of the climax of the battle around the Cotton Gin was scarred by a Domino’s Pizza for years.  Fortunately, preservationists have acquired that property, razed the structures, and have created a small park there, including a monument to Cleburne.  The Carter House exists, and preservationists are painstakingly buying property around it in an attempt to create a larger commemorative space.  But most of the Union line to the right and left was covered by pleasant suburban houses years ago.

Carnton Plantation, where the bodies of 4 of the slain generals were laid out after the battle, is still exists.  A Confederate cemetery is located on the grounds–one of the largest at any Civil War battlefield.  The fields around Carnton, where the Confederate right stepped off, are undeveloped, but the target of their assault is suburbia.

Although you can’t experience Franklin in the same way as you can Antietam, or Chickamauga, or Shiloh, or Gettysburg, perhaps that’s for the best.  Bucolic scenes with granite monuments cannot possibly convey the experience of those men who were sacrificed without prospect or purpose 154 years ago today.

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November 23, 2018

The Looming War on Thanksgiving

Filed under: Civil War,History,Politics — cpirrong @ 12:47 pm
Attacking Columbus day? Confederate monuments? Old news!  The new hotness is attacking Thanksgiving.  Yes, the criticism can best be characterized as a swell today, but after long experience of observing the dynamics of these things, I expect that it will become a tidal wave next year, or the year after.

The grounds of the attack: it is a racist celebration.  Here is one particularly angry example of the criticism, but it differs from other things I’ve read and heard more in atmospherics than substance:

Nobody but Americans celebrates Thanksgiving. It is reserved by history and the intent of “the founders” as the supremely white American holiday, the most ghoulish event on the national calendar. No Halloween of the imagination can rival the exterminationist reality that was the genesis, and remains the legacy, of the American Thanksgiving. It is the most loathsome, humanity-insulting day of the year – a pure glorification of racist barbarity.

We at [Black Commentator] are thankful that the day grows nearer when the almost four centuries-old abomination will be deprived of its reason for being: white supremacy. Then we may all eat and drink in peace and gratitude for the blessings of humanity’s deliverance from the rule of evil men.

Thanksgiving is much more than a lie – if it were that simple, an historical correction of the record of events in 1600s Massachusetts would suffice to purge the “flaw” in the national mythology. But Thanksgiving is not just a twisted fable, and the mythology it nurtures is itself inherently evil. The real-life events – subsequently revised – were perfectly understood at the time as the first, definitive triumphs of the genocidal European project in New England. The near-erasure of Native Americans in Massachusetts and, soon thereafter, from most of the remainder of the northern English colonial seaboard was the true mission of the Pilgrim enterprise – Act One of the American Dream.  African Slavery commenced contemporaneously – an overlapping and ultimately inseparable Act Two. The last Act in the American drama must be the “root and branch” eradication of all vestiges of Act One and Two – America’s seminal crimes and formative projects. Thanksgiving as presently celebrated – that is, as a national political event – is an affront to civilization.

In a nutshell: Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday.  America is uniquely evil.  Therefore, in the coming Year Zero, Thanksgiving must be expunged, “root and branch.”

I will agree that Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday.   Everything after–appalling tripe.

First, to say that “[t]he near-erasure of Native Americans in Massachusetts and, soon thereafter, from most of the remainder of the northern English colonial seaboard was the true mission of the Pilgrim enterprise” is a lie and a libel.  Few things of that era are as well documented as the genesis of the voyage of the Mayflower, and the intent of those who sailed on it across storm tossed seas to an exceedingly uncertain shore.  The Puritans were people of intense religious feeling, suffering from intense religious persecution in their native England.  Decamping first to Leiden in the Dutch Republic, they decided to establish a New Jerusalem in a land outside of the control of the secular and religious authorities who persecuted them.

This was an inwardly-directed, insular, and arguably cultish group that was obsessed with inner salvation and communal adherence to strict religious principles.  It was the antithesis of a band of imperial adventurers and would-be conquerors: such a label might apply to the settlers of Jamestown, but not Plymouth.  There was not a Cortez among them.  They wanted to be left alone to pursue their vision of religious perfection.  Further, their settlement was founded based on a rather democratic and egalitarian document, the Mayflower Compact.

As a small band clinging to a precarious foothold, they posed little threat to Native Americans and intended to pose no such threat.   The initial relations with local tribes were mainly friendly.  Interestingly, competing tribes sought to cultivate their support in inter-tribal struggles.

As it turned out, their initial communitarian (bordering on communist) ideals turned out to be utterly impractical, with common property and communal labor leading to near obliteration by starvation.  The first Thanksgiving was a celebration of survival.  A genuine gesture from a sincerely religious people.

Being quicker learners than modern-day socialists, they jettisoned their Bible-inspired economic model, embraced private property and private labor, and within a few years of landing were becoming increasingly prosperous. During this period, relations with the native peoples were largely peaceful.

Continued religious persecution in England led other dissenters to leave their homeland for the New World.   Eventually the population growth, and the somewhat different ethos of these latter day Puritans, led to conflict with native tribes.  This culminated in the mid-1630s with the outbreak of the Pequot War.  But even that conflict is impossible to represent honestly as a conflict between grasping Europeans and persecuted natives.  Instead, it grew out of inter-tribal conflict, and in particular the aggressive imperialism–there’s really not a better word for it–of the Pequots.  In this war, the Puritan settlers were basically another tribe, but one with greater military capacity.

The Pequot War culminated in the Mystic Massacre.  Notably the Puritan attackers of the Pequot’s Mistick Fort were joined by Indian allies (the Mohegans and Narragansetts).  The attack against the fortification was almost a disaster, and in their desperation to escape the attackers set fires that spread, eventually consuming most of the fort and killing most of the Pequots trapped in it.

Like all history, this history is complicated.  Attempting to jam it into simplistic narratives intended to advance present-day political agendas necessarily does great violence to the truth, and leads to bitterness and conflict rather than understanding.

To make the Puritans emblematic of every American transgression does violence to the truth.  In particular, to tar them with the stick of slavery is particularly wrong.*  Moreover, to celebrate their laudable accomplishments, and their humble appreciation of God’s sparing them, does not excuse them or their followers from their failures and sin.

The modern holiday also attempts to appeal to the better angels of our nature (to quote Lincoln).  Consider Washington’s Thanksgiving proclamation:

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness. Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us. And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best. Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

It is clearly aspirational, and even acknowledges “national . . . transgressions,” for which it asks forgiveness in Christian fashion.  It also appeals for strength to be better as a people.

Or consider Lincoln’s, proclaimed during the depths of a Civil War:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

It also acknowledge’s America’s “sins,” and “our national perverseness and disobedience,” and calls for “humble penitence” therefore: read in context, coming as it did the same year as the Emancipation Proclamation, it is evident that Lincoln is referring to slavery.

In other words, from the outset in Plymouth or subsequent declarations in 1789 or 1863, Thanksgiving was anything but a chauvinistic celebration of a haughty people.  To the contrary.  It was an appreciation for the bounties that Americans had reaped, bound with a recognition of human (and national) failures to realize ideals, and a commitment to do better.  It is more gratitude and humility, than chauvinism and haughtiness.

This is why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and why I for one will push back at the swelling progressive attacks on it.

*One of my direct ancestors, Samuel Fuller, was a Mayflower passenger and a survivor of that first horrible year.  His parents, Edward and his wife (whose name does not appear in the records), were not so lucky, and died soon after they stepped off the boat.  Samuel was taken in by his uncle, also named Samuel Fuller, and survived to the ripe old age of 75, dying in 1683.

It is possible that Samuel Fuller was the only slaveholder among the Mayflower Puritans.  His will bequeaths an Indian named Joel to his son.  There are no other similar records of slaves, Indian or otherwise, held by these Puritans.  Slavery in Massachusetts Bay colony probably dates from the time of the Pequot War, but was relatively marginal there through the mid-18th century.  There were fewer black slaves than free blacks in Massachusetts in this period.   And of course, the descendants of the Puritans formed the core of the American abolitionist movement.

 

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November 12, 2018

Bugger Off, M. Macron, and Take Your Buddies With You

Filed under: History,Politics — cpirrong @ 8:02 pm
Trump’s blunt statement that he was a nationalist has set off paroxysms of rage from the usual quarters.  This culminated with French president Macron intoning (under a monument to French national pride and military conquest–but we’ll see that’s just a sliver of the hypocrisy) that “patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism.”

Upon reading this, my initial reaction was: bugger off, froggie.  Here’s my more considered reaction, though I have to confess it pretty much arrives at the same conclusion, only with bigger words 😉

Macron, and most of the other people European and American who have seized on Trump’s remark, are playing a slippery rhetorical sleight-of-hand.  They are trying to equate Trump’s use of the word with European-style blood-and-soil nationalism, which in the 1930s fueled fascism, and contributed to conflict–but not to the degree that Macron and his ilk claim.

This is categorically false, and in fact a slander.  It is clear that by “nationalism” Trump means putting American national interest first. Moreover, Trump’s assertion relates primarily to means, not goals.  He views collective international organizations to be an impediment to, and at times inimical to, the advancement of American interests.  He believes that a more transactional, bilateral approach better achieves American goals, and that collective organizations (even Nato, not to mention the WTO or UN or whatever) are beneficial only to the extent that they lower the transactions costs of the US making deals that benefits it.

That is, the antonym to Trump’s nationalism is globalism.  It has little if anything to do with ethno-nationalism of the blood-and-soil variety, as Macron and others ceaselessly insinuate.

You can disagree with Trump’s belief that a more unilateral, transactional approach is more beneficial to US interest than alternatives, but at least it is bluntly honest, as opposed to the hypocrisy of the EUropeans, as epitomized by Macron.  For they too want to advance national interests, but do not have the heft to do so as individual nations.  So Germany and France in particular have found that the most effective way to leverage their national interest is through collective organizations, such as the EU, Nato, and the UN, which they then tart up as high-minded humanitarianism.

In other words, the US is Gulliver, and the European Lilliputians are incensed and frightened that under Trump Gulliver-America is no longer willing to remain tied down.  So spare me the condescending lectures.

The Macron et al criticisms are false and slanderous as well because they grotesquely mischaracterize American nationalism–perhaps because the Europeans are projecting their own failures on us.  As many have pointed out over the years, American nationalism derives from a creed and an ideology, rather than ethnicity.  To confuse American nationalism with European nationalism is a category error.

American nationalism has assumed an ethnic or religious tinge primarily during times of large-scale immigration from countries and regions with cultures (political, social, religious) that were feared to be incompatible with American ideals of liberty and democracy.  Those fears usually turned out to be overblown, precisely because the United States has proved uniquely able to assimilate people from about everywhere, many of whom rapidly and eagerly adopted American identity–something Europe has never done, and continues to fail to do.  (Small illustration.  As a kid I was in a Civil War reenacting unit.  I was struck that most of the men in this group had eastern European names, and had no possible family connection to the Civil War, let alone the Revolution or the Mayflower.  But they were enthusiastic about the Civil War and American history, and all were vocally patriotic.)

So the sneering criticisms of Trump’s avowed American nationalism emanating from Macron et al are a mixture of ignorance, slander, and advancement of national self-interest by multi-lateral means.  Which is why he–and they–can bugger off.

Another point.  Why should we trust the judgment of soi disant international(ist) elites? Especially when their prescriptions have varied wildly over time.

Note: national self-determination was a bedrock Liberal Internationalism 1.0.  Look at Wilson’s 14 Points, one of the foundational documents of liberal internationalism: points VI through XIII–that is, more than half–were dedicated to nationality questions.  Furthermore, the thrust of these points was that ethnic nations should have their own states, or at least a major voice in the states in which they perforce lived as minorities.  Further, the post-WWI settlement created ethnicity-based nation states in Europe, and embodied the principle in colonial areas given mandate status.

This component of liberal internationalism was in part based on a view of right: the oppression of ethnic groups by multi-national empires (Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, Russian in particular) was considered a grave injustice.  It was in part based on pragmatic considerations. A major contributor to the outbreak of war in 1914 was the efforts of teetering multi-ethnic empires to maintain control over increasingly restive ethnic minorities.  Hell, the reason that Austria-Hungary felt compelled to strike at Serbia was that if it didn’t, it would encourage the Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenians, Ruthenians, Poles, and on and on to attempt to break away.

The belief that national self-determination would reduce the risk of world war was a very reasonable conclusion.  Wars between empires are dangerous and bloody.  Wars between empires are more likely when said empires are rent by ethnic turmoil–especially when Empire A deems itself the big brother and protector of an ethnic group in Empire B.  Yes, little national states may be prone to conflict, but such conflicts are localized and unthreatening to continental or world peace.

It’s also interesting to note that the idealization of nationalism on the left has deep roots, notably the Romantics of the 19th century (who had influence on the early-20th century internationalists): think of Byron and the Greeks.  The 1848 revolutions–often lionized by the left–had a decidedly nationalist thrust.

But what about the inter-war years, culminating in World War II?  Didn’t ethnic nationalism set the stage for it?

Europe did not have a nationalism problem, generally speaking.  It had a German problem, as it had had since 1870.  To generalize about nationalism and national self-determination from Germany is another category error.  Germany is its own category both intellectually/psychologically (Adenaur: “Germans are just Belgians with megalomania”), and due to its economic power.  Fascist Romania–no big deal.  Fascist Germany–very big deal.  (Which is one of the reasons why today’s Germans want to condemn nationalism generally, in order to obscure their uniquely malign historical legacy.  Another reason is that by keeping down the Poles, Hungarians, etc., Germany can achieve dominance by means other than panzers and the Shleiffen Plan.)

Liberal Internationalism 2.0 is the inversion of Version 1.0.  It is predicated on the abnegation of national identity, based on the claim that pursuit of national identity and interest will cause the next general conflagration.

In brief:

Liberal Internationalism circa 1918: Poles, Hungarians, Slavs, etc. should have their own nation states in order to prevent war.
Liberal Internationalism circa 2018: Poles, Hungarians, Slavs, etc. should subordinate their nation states to the EU in order to prevent war.

So what is the claim to authority based on, given this 180 degree turn?

Let us also remark on the ahistorical cluelessness of Version 2.0.  The reason that Macron and Merkel and all the other EUputians are particularly vexed by nationalism is that a majority of Poles, Hungarians, and English, and large and arguably growing minorities of Italians, Swedes, and yes, French, and yes!, even Germans, do not want to subordinate themselves to a supra-national, supra-ethnic government under primarily German domination.  (Hey–sounds kind of like the Austro-Hungarian Empire, no?) Their response to this is not to attempt to accommodate the desire for some national autonomy, but to crush it.  THAT is a subtext of Macron’s remarks.

But again redolent of Austro-Hungary (and the Russian Empire, and the Ottoman) these attempts to assert central (imperial) control over national groups only stoke more resistance.  This could not be more obvious.  Hell, even Merkel’s agonies are directly attributable to her mulish refusal to accommodate national sentiments within her own country, but she and her ilk insist on doubling down on Moar Europe, not realizing that the refusal to accommodate is a far greater threat to their dear project than Poles or Hungarians wanting to do things their way.

Merkel and Macron never tire of lecturing us about the Lessons of History, and in this just-past centennial of the end of WWI, about the Lessons of the Great War.  Before lecturing us any further, they should have a séance with Franz Josef and see how the suppressing national sentiments thing works out.  Sort of a Ghost of Christmas Past moment, if you will.  Or they should contemplate more honestly the sources of their current problems–like the Ghost of Christmas Present.  They really don’t want to see Ghost of Christmas Future.

In sum, the contretemps over Trump’s avowed American nationalism is just more bleating from a failed and failing elite who have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.  What’s more, for those bleating the loudest–Marcon, Merkel, and their lot–entities like the EU are just a way of advancing national interest through other means.  It is not an intelligent criticism.  Anything but–it is deeply ignorant.  Further, it is not a principled criticism.  Anything but–it is hypocritical to the core.

 

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November 10, 2018

A Job That Americans Are All Too Eager to Do

Filed under: History,Politics — cpirrong @ 6:36 pm
That job?  Voter fraud.

In three states where major elections are within the margin of fraud, ballot boxes are miraculously appearing in solid Democratic counties after Republicans appeared victorious.

This is a time-honored tactic.  It’s how “Landslide Lyndon” Johnson obtained his nickname.  After it appeared that LBJ had lost a Senate primary to Coke Stevenson, several ballot boxes containing 20,000 votes miraculously appeared, giving Johnson victory by an 87 vote margin.

So spare me chin pulling–and hysteria–about foreign interference in American elections.  American interference in American elections is a far greater threat to democracy.  And it’s a job Americans have been doing–and doing all too well–since the beginning of the Republic.

Reading about the shenanigans in Florida, Arizona, and Georgia spurred me to Google “Landslide Lyndon” to refresh my memory about his 1948 “victory.” The first several hits were from MSM (NYT, WaPo) reviews of Robert Caro’s biography of Johnson that documented the fraud.  Given how Johnson had been savaged by the left during Vietnam, it was astounding to see the lengths to which mainline liberal/leftist publications went to defend Johnson and criticize Caro.  It was like T-cells attacking a foreign body.  Yes, LBJ was a bastard–but he’s our (Democratic) bastard!

This is particularly revealing given the incredible research that Caro had done.  But he attacked one of the tribe, so he must be destroyed.

I remember vividly reading this Caro volume.  I finished about half of it, and had to put it down.  Johnson was such a loathsome human being–to put it charitably–it was nauseating to read the details.   I cannot think of one redeeming quality in the man.  Not a single one.

I was already pretty cynical about American politics by that time.  Caro’s Means of Ascent turned me into a die-hard cynic.   It was a perfect illustration of Hayek’s principle: the worst always get on top.

What is going on in the aftermath of the 2018 midterms is putting an exclamation point to that cynicism.  (Not that there were no reinforcing events in the intervening years–far from it.)   And we should not be surprised.   As government has grown in scope and power, the stakes of winning elections have grown commensurately.  If fraud paid in 1948 (or 1960), it pays far more now.

Indeed, I suspect that the obsession with idiotic Facebook posts or tweets allegedly posted by Russians is driven by the fact it is a very convenient distraction from far more real–and far more enduring–threats to the integrity of American elections.  Homegrown threats. But if you read the MSM, Russian meddling is a real and important threat, but even entertaining the possibility that American elections are rife with domestic fraud is to advance a conspiracy theory.  This is another illustration of their incomparable ability to invert reality.

 

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October 15, 2018

Elizabeth Warren’s Indian Heritage: From Absence of Evidence, to Evidence of Absence

Filed under: History,Politics — cpirrong @ 7:41 pm
Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test showing that she is infinitesimally Indian has supposedly put her in the pole position for the Democratic presidential nomination.  Well, that might be true, actually, for the whole episode shows that she’s a raving loon, which is a prerequisite for an aspiring Democrat these days.

The test results allegedly show “strong evidence” of Amerind heritage.  What they actually show is strong evidence of a trivial connection: that is, she provided strong evidence of how farcical and exaggerated her previous claims were.

The Cherokee Nation’s response brings to mind the punchline to the old joke about the Lone Ranger and Tonto: “what you mean ‘we’, paleface?”:

“Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong,” said Chuck Hoskin Jr., the tribe’s secretary of state.

“It makes a mockery out of DNA tests and its legitimate uses while also dishonoring legitimate tribal governments and their citizens, whose ancestors are well documented and whose heritage is proven.”

. . . .

“A DNA test is useless to determine tribal citizenship,” Hoskin said in the statement Monday, which was released by the tribe. “Current DNA tests do not even distinguish whether a person’s ancestors were indigenous to North or South America.

“Sovereign tribal nations set their own legal requirements for citizenship, and while DNA tests can be used to determine lineage, such as paternity to an individual, it is not evidence for tribal affiliation.”

This is particularly important because Warren did not just claim some non-specific Native American heritage: she expressly identified herself as Cherokee.  On multiple occasions.  Actual Cherokees say “don’t bring that mess in here.”

Warren clearly believes this test provides vindication.  In fact, it makes her a laughingstock.  The test itself is dubious, on multiple grounds.  The connection is six to ten generations in the past: to put in context, my ancestor a mere seven generations back, incidentally the last white man killed by an Indian in Washington County, Ohio, was tomahawked in . . . 1794.  (Perhaps I should sue for a hate crime violation. Has the statute of limitations elapsed?) Further, as alluded to in the Cherokee Nation statement, the genetic test inferred Warren’s ancestry, such as it is, from South American genes (Peruvian, Columbian) because North American Indian DNA samples are lacking (precisely because they are adamantly opposed to people–like, say, Elizabeth Warren?–using DNA test results to claim Indian heritage).  Moreover, the average American of European ancestry has as much or more Indian DNA as Warren.  Meaning that Liz is pretty much your average white person.  Only whiter.

Beyond the levity, there are serious issues here.  Warren used her claimed Native American heritage to advance her academic career.  She did so repeatedly, and with specificity–for instance, the story (ludicrous in light of the “strong evidence” Liz trumpeted today) that her mother’s appearance was so Indian that she had to elope due to the racism of her husband’s parents.  (But hey, Liz’s mom was twice as much Indian as Liz!)  At whose expense did she advance?

Further her story about her mother, she specifically claimed that mom was part Cherokee and Delaware.  Which would require two Indian ancestors–which her DNA test has ruled out.  The DNA test gives a “fail” to this story on another ground.  A Delaware-Cherokee union would have been possible, say, post-1860s, when the Delawares were moved to the Indian Territory from points east, and settled within Cherokee territories.  But Liz’s own DNA evidence puts her Indian ancestor no less than six generations back–roughly the end of the 18th century or early-19th century–and perhaps as far as 10 generations back–sometime early in the 18th century.  But at the later date the Delawares were in Ohio (fighting my ancestors!) and the Cherokees were in the Carolinas–not much of a chance of a tryst there.  At the later date, the Delawares were along, well, the Delaware River in New Jersey and New York, with some on Long Island, and the Cherokees were in the Carolinas.  Even less of a chance of a coupling.

But bah to such pesky details! Two prestigious universities–Penn and Harvard–touted her as a “person of color” to establish their diversity bona fides.   It is clear that both she and they did so shamelessly and self-interestedly in the complete absence of evidence.  Then there was an absence of evidence: now there is evidence of absence.

In other words, Elizabeth Warren is an opportunistic fraud, and Ivy League universities were accessories.

Which perhaps means that indeed, she is well-suited to be the Democratic front runner.

Run, Liz! Run! In your desperate search for validation, you just provided Trump with even more ammunition to ridicule you until the cows come home–if they ever do.* Meaning that you could be ridiculed for-evah.

*If you read the link regarding my ancestor Abel Sherman, you’ll learn that he was waylaid and scalped while searching for a wayward cow who had wandered off while Abel and his family were hunkered down in a fort at Olive Green (near the junction of the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers) to defend themselves against Indian raids. So sometimes the cows don’t come home.

To extend the riff, TV’s Tonto was portrayed by Jay Silverheels.  Abel Sherman was killed by a Shawnee named . . . Silverheels.  Whom I’m sure would have been far more likely to scalp Warren, then embrace her as a compatriot.

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