Streetwise Professor

August 16, 2021

Joe Biden’s Mendacious Defense of the Indefensible

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 6:43 pm

This afternoon Joe Biden delivered an angry, bitter, and defensive speech in an attempt to quell the uproar over the fiasco in Afghanistan. It was a pathetic attempt at misdirection–rhetorical three card monte by a man with slow hands, therefore fooling no one who does not want to be fooled.

The bulk of the speech was a strident defense of his decision to withdraw. Ironically, I agree with many of the points he raised: indeed, I raised them in earlier posts. Further ironically, I am sure that Donald Trump would have delivered the same speech to justify a withdrawal. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

But that’s not the point right now. The issue isn’t whether withdrawal is wise: it is whether the handling of the withdrawal was executed with any competence at all, or was instead a historical debacle with few parallels in American history. On this fundamental question, Biden had little to say–and what he did say stood in stark contrast with what he said a little more than a month ago.

Biden heaped blame on the Afghan army and government. And there is much blame to heap–again, I agree with his points. But the harder he pushes that argument the more he demonstrates the cataclysmic failure in planning.

The defects Biden highlighted were common knowledge. For years. Meaning that any planning to withdraw had to take into account the manifest deficiencies in the Afghan army and government.

But if anything, the reverse was true. The WSJ reports that the American military told the Afghan president that the dispersion of his forces throughout Afghanistan in penny packets made them extremely vulnerable, but that Ghani said it would be “political suicide” to withdraw from isolated areas and concentrate. So he decided to commit military suicide instead–and the US conceded.

Further, the US eliminated all air support for the Afghans, and withdrew US maintenance personnel for Afghan aircraft. This was a recipe for catastrophe. Patton once wrote in his diary: “[French general] de Langres said the poorer the infantry is the more artillery it needs.” Well, (a) the Afghan infantry was about as poor as one could imagine, and (b) airpower is effectively artillery. So there should be no surprise that isolated and dispersed Afghan units crumbled when the US yanked the airpower crutch it so desperately needed. (Eerily reminiscent of 1975 Vietnam, by the way.)

So not only did the withdrawal “plan” fail to account adequately for the well-known deficiencies in the Afghan army and ameliorate them–it exacerbated them.

Moreover, according to the NYT, Biden was on notice that the Afghan army would collapse:

In late March, Mr. Austin and General Milley made a last-ditch effort with the president by forecasting dire outcomes in which the Afghan military folded in an aggressive advance by the Taliban. They drew comparisons to how the Iraqi military was overrun by the Islamic State in 2014 after American combat troops left Iraq, prompting Mr. Obama to send American forces back.

“We’ve seen this movie before,” Mr. Austin told Mr. Biden, according to officials with knowledge of the meetings.

Withdrawal in the face of an aggressive enemy is one of the hardest military tasks, but the basic steps are clear. Get out the soft stuff first. Concentrate around decisive points. Defend those points with fires while troops exit.

The approach implemented violated all these principles. The soft stuff–notably upwards of 10,000 American civilians, not to mention those of other nations–remained in place while the situation went to hell in a handbasket. Which is a major reason for the chaos at the Kabul airport.

Biden alluded to this in his speech, when he said that the Afghan government opposed the withdrawal of civilians because it would send a bad signal. That is understandable. It certainly would have been a sign of no confidence in the Afghan government. But we had no confidence in the Afghan government–Biden said as much. So deal with the reality and do what is necessary when you can’t rely on the locals. Get out the civilians while the getting is good.

Besides, evacuation of civilians would not have told the Taliban anything that they didn’t know–that the Afghan government and army were teetering on the brink. Would the Taliban have acted any differently if civilians had been evacuated? Ha!

As for concentration, as noted above the Afghan forces remained dispersed, vulnerable to being picked off unit by unit–as they were. And realizing that they were isolated and unsupported, decided that discretion was the better part of valor and either ran or surrendered. The military planning by the US should have attempted to counterbalance that, and further, it was another reason to accelerate removal of civilians.

As for firepower, again as noted, the US deliberately withheld that even though that has long been the American comparative advantage and that our military knew that the Afghans were desperately dependent on it.

Withdrawal before the enemy requires exquisite sequencing, but the US “plan,” such as it apparently was, had its sequencing completely out of whack, in large part because of deference to and undercutting of a government that Biden excoriated today for its incompetence and unreliability.

Biden’s speech also proved his mendacity, and that of Milley and Austin. As I posted yesterday, on 8 July Biden gave a stirring defense of the Afghan army and concluded that there was no way it would fold before the Taliban. Then, Biden said that this would not happen because of the army’s numbers and equipment: today he said that it happened despite its numbers and equipment. But Milley and Austin supposedly (per NYT) told Biden this would happen. Nonetheless, he adamantly opposed any changes to his plans.

In other words, he shamelessly lied a month ago about the reliability of the Afghan army, and lied today when he said that the collapse of that army came as a shock.

Milley is no better. He also stated categorically in public that the Afghan army would not fold–but this was not what he told the president. He should not have lied in public, and if he felt compelled to do so he should have resigned.

As for Austin–who knows? He’s like Major Major Major from Catch 22. Is he on vacation with Jen Psaki? Searching for extremists and vetting CRT training materials? Got me. He responded to an emailed question about whether he would resign by saying no. Other than that, he’s been personus not aroundus.

In sum, all of the factors that Biden emphasized in his speech do not justify how the withdrawal was planned and executed. In fact, they do the reverse. They emphasize the additional challenges facing an inherently fraught military operation–withdrawal before an aggressive enemy–which were not remotely adequately addressed, and were in fact aggravated.

Getting out makes sense for the reasons Biden stated. The way of the getting out makes no sense–and Biden provided no reasons for it. And it is for that getting out–bugging out, more precisely–that Joe Biden’s name will live in infamy and ignominy in American military and political annals.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

August 15, 2021

Dizzy With Success, Biden Administration Version

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 4:59 pm

As I suggested in my previous post, the “who lost Afghanistan?” debate is in full swing. And again I say: this is the wrong question. Everyone loses the un-winnable, and Afghanistan was un-winnable if one defines victory as the establishment and maintenance of a stable, centralized civil government. Believe me: the Taliban will fail at this too.

It all comes down to timing. When would the US choose to reap the whirlwind? When, not if.

The possibilities frontier does not, did not, and never will include a stable centralized civil government, let alone one that proudly flies the pride flag–or lets women out of the house. The US basically had two choices: bug out and let the Taliban run rampant, followed by another Afghan civil war or stay in and play Whac-a-Mole year after year after year after year after . . .

The “optimal” choice depends on the carrying cost and how heavily one discounts the future. The carrying cost ran into many tens of billions of dollars per year, and at least tens of American lives, and in some years many more. One has to discount the future fairly heavily to justify incurring such a cost.

Politicians discount the future very heavily. They do not personally bear the carrying costs, and are willing to pay a lot to defer disaster until after they leave office.

Politicians also tend to take the past into account, when they should not: as Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break noted in the comments, the sunk cost fallacy is a fallacy, but one that people fall for over and over and over–and politicians more than most.

So the incentive structure is perverse, and leads to procrastination and doubling down on un-winnable bets. And this is why the US stayed long past the time that it was clear that the war could not be “won.”

It’s plausible that the speed of the rout would actually have been slower, had the US bugged out in 2005 or 2011 rather than 2021. The US succeeded in keeping the Taliban at bay, but their strength actually increased over time during the resulting stalemate while the Afghan government and army treaded water at best and in fact probably regressed because of the moral hazard created by American protection and insurance.

The Biden administration and its myriad lackeys are trying to blame Trump. Well, if Trump had been reelected and followed through on his plan to withdraw, it’s certain that the outcome would have been the same. But the Biden administration chose to withdraw. If the Trump plan was so flawed, why did Biden follow through with it? After all, he’s had no reservation about reversing every other Trump policy (e.g., the border). So the choice to pull the plug is Biden’s and Biden’s alone. So he owns this.

The military and “intelligence” communities are covered in ignominy for their failure to predict this outcome, although their ability to prevent it was minimal or non-existent.

Ultimately the fundamental problem was the failure to develop an effective Afghan army despite the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars. The US should have spent money on speed bumps: they would have slowed down the Taliban advance far more effectively than the Afghan army on which the US lavished so much money and effort, and at much lower cost.

And why? Culture. As The Pilot noted in a comment, culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Read John Keegan’s A History of Warfare: he emphasizes the cultural dimension of warfare It’s obviously not that Afghans are not warlike. They are obviously one of the most warlike people on the planet. It is that their cultural mode of warfare is guerrilla, tribal conflict, not regular battalions like a Roman legion or an American airborne outfit.

The United States attempted to create the simulacrum of a regular, western army, and failed miserably. This tweet is illuminating:

Can you imagine being one of the trainers?

I could go on and on about the underlying reasons. But the main question is why are the guerrillas so tough, and the regulars so pathetic?

Self-selection is the root of the issue. Guerrillas like the Taliban are self-selected, and committed for ideological/religious, tribal, or mercenary motives, or all of the above. Conscripts or those who volunteer for a pittance (much of which is stolen by their commanding officers) are drawn from the left tail of the distribution because their opportunity costs are low: you have to be pretty desperate to want to join the Afghan army. This is especially true in a “nation” that has no national identity and where military service does not generate any social status or prestige: can you imagine any Afghan saying “thank you for your service” to this lot? As for post-military employment, no doubt service in the Afghan army is (was) a negative signal of intelligence, motivation, etc. So the equilibrium is an army consisting primarily of unmotivated misfits who get trounced by steelier if less well-equipped guerrillas.

But it’s not as if this should have been a surprise to the US military in 2002, let alone in 2021. Yet year after year, we pretended to train them, and they pretended to be a military force. And we lied–to ourselves–about the results.

The American model of training indigenous forces to fight in the western fashion has failed over and over again. Vietnamization sort of worked when backed by massive American airpower (as in the Easter Offensive of 1973), but not when that airpower was withdrawn. Elsewhere it has failed time and again (again remember the rout of the American trained and equipped Iraqi army before ISIS).

And as numerous Middle Eastern wars have shown, it’s not an American problem alone: Middle Eastern states have not been able to produce regular western-style forces that can stand up to stalwart opponents (e.g., the Israelis, the US, or local guerrillas).

Again, it’s a cultural thing. And this should have been obvious long ago, and led the US government to conclude that the Afghan army would never be able to stand up to the Taliban on its own. But the overemphasis on the past and the excessive discounting of the future by politicians and the military and intelligence establishments continued to give life to the lie.

Given all this, I really don’t blame the Biden administration. Yes I’m sure they (and the Pentagon) could have been more foresightful and found ways to avoid the avalanche that has occurred–even delaying the withdrawal to the winter would have bought something of a respite, but the difference would have been in the degree (and only slightly) rather than the essence. They haven’t lost Afghanistan: they have chosen to take the inevitable L.

That said, I do find their response to the debacle to be appalling.

Biden’s condescending and cocky July press conference in which he heaped scorn on the prospect of a rapid Taliban victory is one example.

Was he lying? Was he delusional? Was the Pentagon (specifically, JCS Chair Michael Milley) lying to him–and he was too credulous to question them or understand that they were lying?

Doesn’t matter. This will turn out to be the most grimly farcical prediction made by any president in American history. He should have leveled with the country. He didn’t, and deserves the obloquy that his arrogance will engender.

As bad as Biden’s statements before the fact were, the after-the-fact statements of the execrable Secretary of State Anthony Blinken are even worse. Because he doesn’t acknowledge the facts that are obvious to every sentient being (which may, of course, excuse Joe Biden). Instead, he blows sunshine up our asses, which adds insult to injury.

Blinken’s “success” criterion is that the US achieved its objectives in Afghanistan, but not Vietnam. The US objective in Afghanistan was to defeat Al Qaeda, which we did, he says. Well that happened in 2001-2002 (which would mean the success would be Bush’s). So why were we still there in 2021? Was the post-Al Qaeda mission a success? Obviously not.

Stalin’s “Dizzy With Success” apologia for the catastrophe of Soviet collectivization was more tethered to reality than Blinken’s Dizzy With Success characterization of the Afghanistan debacle.

If this is success, dear Lord spare us failure.

Another loathsome individual is Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, whom I’ve detested since his previous stint as Pentagon flack under Obama–although thank God he’s no longer in a Navy uniform, which was a truly nauseating sight.

I guess you have to say that he’s right. It’s not an “imminent” threat environment (which implies something that could happen in the future)–it’s a full on here-and-now threat environment.

Admit the truth. Level with us. Take the L and admit it is an L. Move forward.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

August 13, 2021

The Land of Bones, Redux.

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 7:19 pm

Things are going pear-shaped, to put it mildly, in Afghanistan. A Taliban offensive launched on the heels of the American withdrawal has resulted in the fall of 12 provincial capitals, the collapse of the Afghan army, and the likely fall of Kabul within weeks if not days.

No doubt this will be framed as “who lost Afghanistan?” But maybe it should be framed as “should we have lost it later–or sooner?” Because it is likely that the loss was inevitable, and we only had control over the timing.

In 2009, I wrote a post about Afghanistan and my ambivalence about our continued presence there, a mere 8 years after our intervention (not 20). In that post, I suggested it might be best to come home–in 2009, mind. No doubt if we had, what we are seeing now would have been acted out then. Which could have been preferable to having it acted out now.

The real insight in that post was not mine, but that of a University of Houston colleague, Frank Holt, who wrote Land of Bones: Alexander the Great in Afghanistan. I again quote from his 2003 book:

[W]e must acknowledge that the wars waged in Afghanistan by Alexander, Britain, the Soviet Union, and now the United States share some salient features that may not bode well for our future.   For example, all these invasions of Afghanistan went well at first, but so far no superpower has found a workable alternative for the recipe for ruin in Afghanistan:

1. Estimate the time and resources necessary to conquer and control the region.

2. Double all estimates.

3. Repeat as needed.

Afghanistan cannot be subdued by half measures.   Invaders must consider the deadly demands of winter warfare, since all gains from seasonal campaigns are erased at every lull.   Invaders must resolve to hunt down every warlord, for the one exception will surely rot the fruits of all the other victories.   Invaders cannot succeed by avoiding cross-border fighting, since the mobile insurgents can otherwise hide and reinforce with impunity.   Invaders must calculate where to draw the line between killing and conciliation, for too much of either means interminable conflict.   Finally, all invaders so far have had to face one more difficult choice: once mired in a winless situation, they have tried to cut their losses through one of two exit strategies:

1. Retreat, as did the British and the Soviets, with staggering losses.

2. Leave a large army of occupation in the area, as Alexander did.

Neither option seems acceptable to the United States, which must therefore learn from its predecessors’ mistakes and seek another path.   (pp. 18-19).

Ignoring Holt’s injunction, we did not seek another path. We eventually retreated, and though our losses were not as staggering as those suffered by the British or Soviets, they were bad enough, the financial costs were high, and the damage to American reputation great.

Contrary to Holt’s warning, the US attempted to subdue Afghanistan by half measures (which was the main thing I cautioned against in 2009). We ended up “mired in a winless situation,” and eventually chose to exit rather than occupy indefinitely a la Alexander. (Although note that Alexander quickly went on to other things and left the dirty work to his subordinates.)

Holt was very prescient, because he wrote this in 2003 when the glow of the initial routing of the Taliban and al Qaeda brightened many an American cheek. But he saw ahead, by looking back at history. Somewhat later I read him, and agreed with his gloomy assessment.

So I was in the “sooner” camp over a decade ago. In poker, trading, and war, you need to know when to cut your losses, and stop doubling down.

Could we have lost it better, then or now? Perhaps. Rather than withdrawing after a long and rather desultory campaign against the Taliban, as we did, a robust attack on them that seriously degraded their capability immediately prior to withdrawal might have bought the Afghan government and army some time. Might. But the evident abject failure of our enormously expensive and time consuming efforts to create a stable, relatively uncorrupt government and competent military suggests that the end result would have been the same, just delayed by a few months–until next spring, most likely. Those few months would hardly justify the lives and treasure spent in firing such a Parthian shot.

The US track record on third world nation building and third world army building is dismal (recall the utter rout of the American trained and equipped Iraqi army before ISIS). There is no reason to believe a miraculous improvement in the Afghan government and military even given a respite from the Taliban bought by American blood and bombs.

In retrospect, the Colin Powell Pottery Barn assertion (“you broke it, you bought it”–he applied it to Iraq but it is apposite for how we approached Afghanistan as well) was incorrect. Yes, we broke it, and achieved fairly rapidly our objective of dispersing Al Qaeda and its Taliban supporters. But then we went all romantic, believed that we owned it, and thought we could transform Afghanistan into something it has never been: a stable, even moderately peaceful, polity. Remember the purple fingers? Yeah. Good times, good times.

We shoveled trillions down a rathole, lost thousands of American lives and damaged many others, and failed utterly to change Afghanistan in any meaningful way. Nor, realistically speaking, was there any prospect of doing so–nobody has succeeded in doing so in 2300 years. The attempt was hubris, and nemesis has duly arrived.

In retrospect, the appropriate policy would have been to break it in 2001-2002, and leave it in 2003. If a terrorist threat to the US analogous to bin Laden’s had reappeared, go in and break it again. There might have been the political will to do that. But now, the we-broke-it-bought-it-and-didn’t-fix-it policy of the past 20 years has created a situation where the American people have no appetite whatsoever to have anything to do with Afghanistan ever again.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

August 4, 2021

Navy Runs Experiment. Gets Wrong Answer. Chooses to Discriminate.

Filed under: Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 5:44 pm

In 2020, Navy Secretary Mike Esper (one of Trump’s many, many horrible personnel choices) eliminated photo portraits from Navy promotion files, on the theory that this facilitated discrimination against African Americans. Presumably Esper believed that promotion boards were stacked with racists.

There is a clear testable implication of Esper’s theory of discrimination: elimination of photos should lead to an increase in promotion rates for African Americans.

The Navy ran the test. The results?

Promotion rates for African Americans fell after photos were removed.

Whoops! Hypothesis rejected! Apparently the promotion boards weren’t so racist after all. Or maybe they were.

There is a clear explanation of the results of this experiment: when photos were included, promotion boards favored African Americans. That is, the results are consistent with discrimination, just in the opposite direction hypothesized by Esper.

So what is the Navy (and perhaps the USMC) likely to do? Reinstate photos. So they can discriminate better. In the name of “diversity” and “equity.” Obviously not in the name of military effectiveness.

I predict that in the current environment, African American promotion rates will exceed those achieved when photos were included prior to 2020.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

August 1, 2021

Navy Blues–A Coda

Filed under: Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 4:00 pm

A few follow on thoughts.

The Navy had huge race problems especially in the late-Vietnam era. One of Elmo Zumwalt’s biggest challenges was dealing with that issue. He did so, fairly successfully.

Related to the post-Vietnam attempts to address racial tensions,I was a subject (victim?) of what I would characterize as CRT 1.0 when at the Naval Academy. Mids were subjected to various race- and gender-related struggle sessions. During Plebe Summer these were both brigade-wide and at the company level. The latter were rather embarrassing, given that they were led by the company officers who were clearly reading off a script and had instructions to crack down on Wrongthink.

My main memory of that is when a hapless (and remember, 18 year-old) company mate made the mistake of saying something about “Amazons” in reference to women (I groaned as soon as he said it knowing it would not end well), at which the company officer (a bubblehead who later became president of Electric Boat) jumped all over him: “You are a sexist AND a racist!” Why racist my befuddled classmate asked. Because people in the Amazon are dark skinned! (Apparently the lieutenant needed to brush up on Herodotus.)

I can only imagine that things are infinitely worse, and infinitely more cringeworthy and infinitely more Orwellian and oppressive, given the that the leftist march through the institution of the military hadn’t really even begun when I was at Navy, and is all but complete now.

Zumwalt’s reforms had pretty well tamped down the racial tensions by the time I was at Navy. I am convinced that what is going on now will ramp them up.

By way of trying to see the glass as not completely empty, one of the reasons I left the Academy was my experience during Youngster cruise. Seeing the dysfunctions aboard an active USN ship–low morale, heavy drug use (I remember smelling reefer wafting from the crew spaces when I was standing watch on the quarterdeck, and multiple E3’s and E4’s being put on report at morning quarters for having been busted for possession by Norfolk cops), borderline insubordination, and officers that held little sway over the crew–really served to concentrate my mind.

But I can hear you say–hey, I thought you were going to say something optimistic! Well, the optimistic statement is that things turned around dramatically (from what I understand, not from first-hand experience) in the 80s and early 90s. The Reagan defense spending boom and the rebound from post-Vietnam malaise led to considerable improvement on both the hardware and meatware side.

So it is at least possible that current trends can be reversed. That’s my optimistic take. But in order for that to happen, things must change soon. I am not so optimistic about that. The nation has changed dramatically in 30-40 years. But I hope I am wrong.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

July 31, 2021

Navy Blues

Filed under: Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 4:26 pm

Over Labor Day weekend I will be attending my Naval Academy class reunion (which one?–classified!). Although I punched out after my Youngster Year, having determined that I was better cut out to be a scholar than a boat driver/order giver/order taker (a wise judgment, in retrospect, especially for a 19 year old in the face of family pressure), I have kept an eye on the Navy. And its current situation brings a tear to that eye.

The Navy faces serious hardware and meatware issues.

The surface fleet is dwindling. The Ticonderoga class cruisers are reaching the end of their useful lives. The Arleigh Burkes have proved to be an excellent platform whose capabilities have been increased steadily, but they are being stretched to their limits, both operationally and in terms of the ability to expand their capabilities.

Two of the Navy’s recent surface ship programs–the Littoral Combat Ship and the Zumwalt class–have proven to be total disasters. With regards to LCS, Strategy Page tells the dismal tale. A snippet (and alas there’s much more):

The ensuing endless equipment and operational problems led the navy to cut LCS production from the 52 originally planned to no more than 35 ships. As of May 2021 only 23 LCS are in service and four are to be retired by late 2021, one of them after only seven years of service.

The LCS was intended to replace 30 larger Perry class frigates and 26 smaller mine warfare ships. That did not work out as planned because of delays in completing the task-specific mission modules that enabled an LCS to quickly install specialized equipment, which was accompanied by a team of specialists to operate it. This enabled an LCS to handle mine warfare, surface combat, air defense and so on. While the first LCS entered service in 2008, the first Mission Modules didn’t arrive until 2018 and none of these modules worked as originally planned. Not only were the modules all late, some were cancelled and all were way over budget because of a variety of problems navy planners did not anticipate, but could have if they had paid more attention to all the potential problems with developing these modules.

The Zumwalts (of which 32 were originally planned, but only 3 will see the sea) were designed to be stealthy ships specialized for shore bombardment. The shells designed for the 155mm (6″) guns turned out to be unreliable and expensive, so were scrapped. So much for shore bombardment. Further, the reemergence of peer competition (notably from China, and to a lesser degree Russia) reduces the priority of the shore bombardment mission and increases the priority of anti-ship, anti-aircraft, and anti-missile capability which Zumwalts are relatively unsuited for (unable to carry Aegis radar, for example). The Zumwalts are thus an orphan class, and a dead end.

So billions of dollars and more than a decade have basically been wasted on two classes of ships that are not fit for purpose, especially in confrontation against a peer competitor.

New carriers of the Ford class are coming online. Over budget, of course, and with some teething problems (especially related to elevators and the electric catapults), but at least those ships appear to offer considerable improvements over the stalwart Nimitz class.

New ships for the Gator Navy (amphibious ships) are superior to their predecessors, but numbers and cost are major issues.

Submarines are a relative bright spot. The Virginia class boats are highly capable, and are improving substantially with every new Block (Block V currently). But numbers are a serious concern, and as Stalin said, quantity has a quality all its own. The Navy talks big about the new Columbia class boomers (ballistic missile subs) but it remains to be seen whether the big talk about cost and deadlines will be realized in fact. History suggests otherwise. There is also the issue of whether the US has the capability to build enough Virginias and Columbias simultaneously, not even considering cost.

The Navy also faces serious constraints in shipyards. Ships need to be repaired, and such constraints are causing delays in repairs and increases in their costs.

With respect to aircraft, it all depends on the much maligned and much touted (depending on who you listen to) F-35. The program seems to have turned a corner but it remains to be seen whether the theory of stealth fighters winning battles from a distance will turn out this time–as it didn’t with the F-4 in Vietnam. Moreover, relatively short range makes aerial refueling imperative, which will be difficult in a contested environment until stealth drone refueling aircraft become a reality.

Meatware is also a serious concern. The Navy suffered several serious accidents attributable to poor training, poor leadership, and excessive demands on ships and crews necessitated by hull numbers not keeping pace with operational commitments. Knock-on-wood there haven’t been any major incidents lately, presumably because lessons have been learned and corrective measures taken, but some of the underlying issues remain.

Moreover, morale is low. In part this is due to the operational demands. But it runs deeper than that, and the problem starts at the top. The Navy is in woke step with the rest of the US military. This is demoralizing, and time and effort spent on woke activities is time and effort that can’t be devoted to mission critical activities:

“I guarantee you every unit in the Navy is up to speed on their diversity training,” said one recently retired senior enlisted leader. “I’m sorry that I can’t say the same of their ship-handling training.”

The zero fault tolerance mindset that prevails today also saps initiative, induces extreme risk aversion, and is conducive to Bligh-like vertical chop discipline all down the line, which creates a “the lashings will continue until morale improves” mindset. Many years back I wrote about how US Navy icons such as Nimitz and Halsey experienced serious mishaps as junior officers, with Nimitz’s career surviving a ship grounding for example. That would never happen today.

These are all extremely deep problems with no easy fixes. In theory, the ship numbers can be fixed with money. But this administration is loath to spend that money. Moreover, the Navy’s wretched procurement record means that even though money is necessary to fix the problem, it may not be sufficient: as the LCS and Zumwalt experiences prove, the Navy can blow a lot of money–a lot of money–and get very little operational capability in return.

The institutional and cultural issues will be much harder to fix. Institutional cultures take longer to turn around than an aircraft carrier with disabled steering gear. Senior officers who rise in a particular culture are the ones who have to change it, but the very fact that they were selected in that culture means that they are often the least capable of doing so. They are the problem, or products of the problem, and are hence ill-disposed or ill-equipped to fix the problem. Political pressures to focus on mission-irrelevant or mission-inimical issues, such as diversity and phantom extremism, are potentially insuperable barriers to necessary change.

The Navy has faced budgetary, cultural, political, doctrinal, and institutional tempests before. If you read about the Navy’s performance early in WWII, especially in the Guadalcanal Campaign, and you’ll learn that arguably the only reasons it overcame, or even survived, its leadership, cultural, and doctrinal challenges in 1941-1942 were the presence of a couple of exceptional admirals (King and Nimitz), and the fact that the Japanese had even more crippling leadership, doctrinal, and cultural handicaps. That, and the fact that American industrial capacity to rebuild its fleet and expand it far outstripped that of its foe–something that is almost certainly not the case today.

We can’t count on being so lucky again.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

July 21, 2021

Travis Putin

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 1:28 pm

Vladimir Putin penned–or at least posted–a long disquisition about how Russia and Ukraine really, really, really belong together. They are meant for each other. They are one soul ripped apart in a great historical injustice.

The most charitable way I could characterize it is that it reminds me of Pepe LePew (Putin LePew?) trying to sweet talk a reluctant female feline into falling for his historical charms. But that would trivialize what is really a weird and creepy and threatening missive. More Travis Bickle than Pepe LePew.

Putin portrays Russia and Ukraine as being spiritually connected and wrongly separated by malign Western actors (the Lithuanians, Poles, and Austrians at one time, the EU and US today), and misguided Bolsheviks who dismembered Holy Russia. Thus, they belong together. They need to be together. They are a single soul separated by cruel fate, who need to be reunited. And Putin is just the man for the mission.

But this begs the question: why don’t Ukrainians feel the same way? If the historical and spiritual ties are so deep, so mystical, why aren’t most Ukrainians equally desperate to be reunited with their Russian soulmate?

Putin’s answer, such as it is, is that malign forces–again Western–are conspiring to keep them apart. They have bewitched Ukrainians, or somehow fascistically intimidated them (which seems like a clear case of projection). Moreover, the underlying Western purpose of separating Ukraine from its spiritual kin is to attack Russia itself. And thus, Russia is justified in using force to unite Ukraine and Russia–it is an act of self-defense!

Yes, Putin and Travis Bickle have a lot in common. The paranoia and obsessions and delusions in particular. Except Travis only had Smith & Wessons and Walthers, not tanks, Buks, and nukes.

Putin goes on and on about how history, over a thousand years of it, means that Ukraine and Russia are destined to be as one. This argument is apparently quite persuasive to him, but not to most Ukrainians. Nor is anyone else in the world likely to be persuaded. Such historical arguments–especially ones stretching back to well before the First Millennium–are almost never persuasive or even plausible to those not steeped in that history. What seems self-evident to Putin seems bizarre to anyone who does not already believe in the Third Rome view of history. And especially so to anyone who views Russia as a historically predatory, imperial power.

Which would include Poland. Yes, Poland attempted to exploit Russian (Muscovite, actually) weakness during the Time of Troubles, but examining the sweep of history one must conclude that Poland has been far more the victim of Russia than the victimizer thereof.

Poland comes in for much criticism from Putin, but look at the benign way that he characterizes Russian connivance at the dismemberment of Poland:

After the partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Russian Empire regained the western Old Russian lands, with the exception of Galicia and Transcarpathia, which became part of the Austrian – and later Austro-Hungarian – Empire.

The partitions just happened, I guess. And for someone who emphasizes the importance of language and religion, it is striking how Putin somehow happens to overlook that the partitions brought in Polish-speaking Catholics into the Russian Empire when it “regained the western Old Russian lands.” I would love to hear historian Putin’s explanation of say the January 1863 insurrection in the Polish parts of “Old Russian lands.” Somehow he left that out. Huh.

Indeed, reading this, I would say that not only Ukrainians should be put on notice as to Putin’s ill intent: Poles should be as well.

Another example of Putin’s selective history:

I would like to dwell on the destiny of Carpathian Ruthenia, which became part of Czechoslovakia following the breakup of Austria-Hungary. Rusins made up a considerable share of local population. While this is hardly mentioned any longer, after the liberation of Transcarpathia by Soviet troops the congress of the Orthodox population of the region voted for the inclusion of Carpathian Ruthenia in the RSFSR or, as a separate Carpathian republic, in the USSR proper. Yet the choice of people was ignored. In summer 1945, the historical act of the reunification of Carpathian Ukraine ”with its ancient motherland, Ukraine“ – as The Pravda newspaper put it – was announced.

Yes, elections held in the presence of Soviet tanks and bayonets and NKVD executioners are clearly an expression of the will of the people.

And if we want to go all historical, it is also sickly amusing that Putin’s tract was published 550 years to the month after Muscovy won a decisive victory that culminated it its subjugation of Novgorod the Great, which sort of harshes the entire image of the deep fraternal, linguistic, historical, and spiritual bonds between Russian peoples.

The question is whether Putin intends to reprise Ivan III, this time in Ukraine. The threatening tone surely suggests this. He gives the impression of trying to persuade Ukraine to embrace Russia willingly. But he is abundantly clear that should his advance be rejected, it is due to the fact that the country is ruled by local stooges of malign Western powers who threaten Russia, hence reunification may only be accomplished by force, which is (according to him) fully justified and which he is willing to use.

Empty threat or real? It would be unwise to discount it. Operationally and logistically, it would be difficult, and would likely result in a stalemate and vicious guerrilla warfare (as occurred in the aftermath of World War I during the Russian Civil War, and in the aftermath of WWII) that could well stop any Russian drive well before it reached Kiev/Kyiv. It would sharply increase tensions between Russia and the West, far more than the Crimean anschluss did. Poland and the Baltics–Nato members–would clearly consider such an invasion a mortal threat. This sharply raises the odds of a Russia-Nato confrontation.

But despite these obstacles and risks, Putin is clearly obsessed with Ukraine. He has been throughout his presidency. He clearly views the 2004-2005 Orange Revolution and the 2014 Maidan as devastating personal defeats. Megalomania and the knowledge that he is aging and thus doesn’t have long to achieve what he believes to be a historical mission may push him to act, sooner rather than later.

Ukraine is hard to love. It is the most Sovok of the Soviet successor states–a painful illustration of how decades of Soviet oppression wreaked havoc on psyches and institutions. Some of Putin’s criticisms of it have more than a grain of truth. But that does not mean that it should be consigned to Putin’s tender mercies. Especially since there is no guarantee that Putin’s pining for Russian lands will stop in Ukraine.

The situation is fraught. A man obsessed with a messianic mission, be he Travis Bickle or Vladimir Putin, is not easily deterred.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

June 26, 2021

The March Through the Institutions Is Reaching Its Acme: The Left Is Marching Through The Military Like Sherman Through Georgia

Filed under: Civil War,History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 10:50 am

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, apparently studied Medieval fortification quite closely, as he implemented a classic motte-and-bailey stratagem in defense of the military’s program of Critical Race Theory indoctrination.

Expressing outrage, Milley dishonestly replied to Republican questioning about CRT thus:

I personally find it offensive that we are accusing the United States military general officers, our commissioned [and] noncommissioned officers, of being “woke” or something else because we’re studying some theories that are out there. I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a communist.

Why do I say dishonest? For an ambitious officer rising through the ranks during the Cold War, or shortly thereafter, studying Lenin, Marx, and Mao was a way to “know thine enemies.” To know how they thought. To know what motivated them. That is valuable knowledge in trying to counter them. Reading communists provides part of a good foundation for devising strategies to confound communists. As the movie Patton said while watching the Germans retreat at the Battle of El Gattar: “”Rommel, you magnificent bastard, I read your book.” 

Mandatory indoctrination in CRT at the academies, and in the ranks and officer corps, is nothing of the sort. It is not about educating servicemen and -women about a foreign enemy to be able to defeat them. It is about coercively reshaping the minds and hearts of those who have volunteered for armed service to force them to pay obeisance to beliefs most of them find inimical. Indeed, puts an official imprimatur on the view that the majority of those who serve are irredeemably racist, and in need of reeducation of the type that Marx, Mao, and Lenin enthusiastically advocated. (No word on whether Milley also studied Pol Pot.)

No, Milley didn’t read Marx to become a Marxist. He read Marx to understand Marxists to fight them better. By forcing CRT on the armed forces, he and others in the military establishment, e.g., CNO Admiral Gilday, are waging war on the values, beliefs, and characters of a large majority of those whom they command.

Put differently: you read Marx et al to learn about the enemy; you force Americans who have volunteered for military service to read Ibrahim X. Kendri (aka Ibram Henry Rogers) et al because you believe they (the American volunteers) are the enemy.

And Milley said so, in not so many words:

I want to understand white rage, and I’m white. So what is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America? What caused that? I want to find that out. I want to maintain an open mind here, and I do want to analyze it.

Kendri and his CRT ilk identify white people and “whiteness” as the enemy. If you are reading Kendri to understand white people, and their alleged rage, you are doing so because you have already bought into the idea that they are the enemy.

And about this “white rage” thing. Is it really a thing? I don’t think so. It is basically a standard epithet that leftists drag out when their political opponents don’t conform like good sheep. My first recollection of a variant on this is when Peter Jennings said that voters had thrown a “temper tantrum” when they voted out the Democrats from control of Congress in 1994. The real rage here is expressed by leftists (ironically, largely white) who cannot countenance opposition: the charge is just another example of psychological projection. “Mommy! No Fair!!! Johnny hit me back!!!!”

And it’s interesting that when it comes from the left, rage is considered a sign of authenticity, of righteous reaction to injustice. (“Days of Rage” in Chicago in 1968 was a label the leftists chose, not one that was applied to them.) This is particularly true of “black rage.”

So apparently the virtuousness (or not) of rage is politically situational and ideologically contingent. Go figure.

Another element of the motte-and-bailey strategy regarding CRT in the military is to claim that there are racial tensions in the military, and that such tensions degrade morale and military effectiveness. Therefore, proactive measures to improve racial understanding are imperative.

Well, there are such tensions, and not for the first time. I guarantee things were infinitely worse in the late-Vietnam and early-post-Vietnam era. The Navy had severe racial problems: that’s one of the biggest challenges Elmo Zumwalt faced as CNO: as I recall there is a chapter in his autobiography where he discusses his struggles to deal with racial conflict in the service in detail. Things had come a long way a short handful of years later when I was at USNA: they have improved substantially in the decades since.

But CRT indoctrination will not ameliorate racial tensions–it will exacerbate them, and substantiallynso. Tell me how, exactly, preaching that one skin color is inherently evil and oppressive, and other skin colors are inherently saintly and oppressed is going to promote a sense of camaraderie among a racially diverse group of individuals. It does the exact opposite. R. Lee Ermey’s way was much more effective.

The motte-and-bailey response to criticism of CRT is not limited to Milley and the military. It is particularly pronounced in public schools, where it is (dishonestly) argued that preventing teaching CRT prevents teaching about slavery: as MSNBC’s Joy Reid put it, if you don’t teach Critical Race Theory you are teaching Confederate Race Theory. This is obviously illogical bollocks: CRT emphasizes the evils of slavery, but not all curriculum that deals honestly with slavery is CRT. Another motte is to deny that such a thing as Critical Race Theory even exists: it’s just a figment of fervid (raging?) right wing/white wing imaginations dontcha know.

Wrong. CRT is a thing. It is a dishonest, pseudoscientific, divisive, coercive thing, and essentially a mask for the will to power. Cancerous Race Theory is a more accurate description. And it is now a cancer in the military.

One last thing about Milley. The left is in a rage (more irony!) about criticism of Milley’s remarks before Congress. Tucker Carlson’s trenchant description of the general (“He’s not just a pig, he’s stupid!”) has brought down howls demanding his cancelation (yes, it was a day ending in “y”).

Leftists defending the military “leadership.” The world turned upside down. But this isn’t because the leftists have changed: it’s because the military “leadership” has become leftist. It will become only more so in the next three and a half years as the purges work through the ranks. The military was once the sole institution the leftists hadn’t marched through: but now they’re doing so, like Sherman marched through Georgia.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

May 9, 2021

Combat Is Not Gender Normed, or Died of a Theory. Literally.

Filed under: Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 5:58 pm

One of the developments that has distressed me most over the past years is the descent of the US military into what is now called wokism. The descent began long before the term “woke” gained currency, but it has accelerated since it has, and especially post-20 January.

One of the primary stress points has been over the role of women in combat, especially in the infantry. Clearly here a decisive–and arguably the decisive–issue is physical capacity, notably strength and body mass.

Combat is extraordinarily difficult physically (and mentally as well). It taxes every muscle and sinew. Even movement to combat is physically punishing, especially given the increasing weight of material (including body armor) that the modern soldier must hump before firing a shot.

After WWII, the US Army surveyed veterans. One question they asked was what needed to change in basic training. The overwhelming answer was more physical fitness training. A lot more. Soldiers who had served in the ETO and the jungles of Asia responded that extended combat was far more physically demanding than they had been trained to handle.

In its efforts to integrate women, including into combat billets, the military has had to try to overcome what should be immediately obvious to any sentient being: men are stronger than women. (If this statement offends you, so be it: I am not going to bend to your denial of reality.)

The flash point here has been physical fitness testing. Recently the military adopted a new “Army Combat Fitness Test” (note the word “combat” in the title, as opposed to the old “Army Physical Fitness Test”). The intention was that the test standards would apply equally to women and men, to make sure all had the physical strength required for combat.

The only way this could happen if the test was no test at all. To the extent that the test does impose physical challenges even remotely similar to those required in combat, it was inevitable that women would fail at a far higher rate than men.

And lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened.

But rather than questioning whether this undermined entirely the case for even thinking about letting women serve in infantry units (or other MOS demanding physical strength), the Army is consider gender norming the tests.

Combat is not gender normed. Period.

I say again: combat is not gender normed. A gender normed “combat fitness test” is an oxymoron that makes “military intelligence” look like the epitome of consistency.

I often use Jeff Davis’s phrase “died of a theory.” Here, that will be literally true. People will die. Wars will be lost. The nation’s survival may be at stake.

There are few things more serious–existential even. Serious people–including bad ass women in the military who can hack it physically (there are exceptions to every rule)–understand this. But the US military is currently in the hands of very, very unserious people–and has been for a long time. These are people in thrall to a theory, and are willing to send service men and women to their deaths (and jeopardize the security of the nation) rather than choose reality over theory.

The incoherence of the theorists is also striking. The feminist left argues that men are predisposed to violence and aggression, and are certainly more violent and aggressive than women: indeed, they direct much of their violence and aggression towards women, who are incapable of defense because of their lesser physical strength and aggression. Well, a comparative advantage in violence is an attribute in the military, and this comparative advantage recommends–compels!–that men specialize in socially sanctioned violence–notably in combat arms in the military–and that women specialize in other things.

This is not an assertion of superiority, dominance, or hierarchy. It is a basic point about comparative advantage and specialization. A basic point that is grasped by few, and basically by none on the left, whose obsession with simplistic notions of equality leads them to shrink with horror from the ideas of comparative advantage and specialization.

Yet the same leftist feminists–whose theories have captured the US defense establishment–argue that men and women should not so specialize, but that women and men should both close with enemies in violent combat. In the name of equity. Or something. Like I say, the theorists and the theory are incoherent, so explaining this patent contradiction is beyond the powers of mere mortals.

Various strains of Critical Theories predicated on perverted concepts of equality and delusional views of reality have attacked the brains of those at the pinnacle of the uniformed and civilian hierarchies. I am reminded of this line from Patton’s legendary speech to the Third Army:

The bilious bastards who write that stuff for the Saturday Evening Post don’t know any more about real battle than they do about fucking

Alas, the bilious bastards who want to gender norm “combat fitness tests” are no longer merely editors and writers for newsweeklies.* They run the US military. God save us.

*There are obviously many in the Pentagon, including those holding flag ranks, who know battle. That actually makes it worse. Most likely out of the intersection of careerism and a political class in thrall to the theory, they are willingly collaborating with–nay, directing–policies that they know are are in conflict with basic reality and which jeopardize lives and the nation’s security.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

April 17, 2021

Putin Calls Biden’s Bluff: Xi No Doubt Watches With Amusement

Filed under: China,History,Military,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 6:20 pm

Domestically, the US political situation is dysfunctional. On its best days. To compound the dangers, the international situation is fraught.

At present there are two smoldering hotspots involving world powers (and arguably superpowers) that could suck the US into a confrontation with such powers–Taiwan and Ukraine.

China has ramped up the rhetoric over Taiwan. It has also increased its provocative military behavior around the island.

Russia has amassed a 50,000 man plus military force, heavily armed and armored, on the borders of Ukraine.

Taiwan and Ukraine have been hotspots for years, but it is at least plausible, and in my view likely, that the increase in tensions is the direct result of the change in administrations. That is, China’s Xi and Russia’s Putin are testing Biden. Or they believe they have already found him wanting in the fortitude and strategic departments.

Who can blame them, really?

In Ukraine in particular, the Biden administration has played things in about the worst way imaginable, and has no doubt convinced Putin that they are weak.

Most notable was the embarrassing exhibition involving the supposed dispatching of two US destroyers into the Black Sea. The Russians reacted quite aggressively, and last week it was announced that no ships would be transiting the Bosporus after all.

I thought it was a horrible idea to send the ships in any event. Play out the game. If deterrence fails, and Russia and Ukraine recommence the hostilities that (sort of) ended 7 years ago, then either the DDGs would have to turn tail (which would not be a good look), or they could get involved in combat with the Russians. Even overlooking the dire consequences of armed confrontation between the US and Russia, the ships would have been able to accomplish little, and would be at extreme risk. Yes, they are very capable platforms, but are intended to operate as part of a carrier battlegroup. Operating independently, they would have little influence on a battle in Ukraine, and would be extremely vulnerable operating within range of dominant land-based air and missile forces. Which is why they almost certainly would have turned tail.

The Russians would have known this, and playing out the game, would have realized that two DDGs would not effect their operations in Ukraine. So the deterrence value of the deployment would have been close to zero; the upside of the deployment negligible; and the potential downside huge.

In other words, don’t make non-credible bluffs. That’s exactly what the administration did, before backing down. Thereby revealing that it was bluffing, and had no intention of backing it up.

This came to mind:

(That was John Cleese as Putin at the end.)

The worst possible way to play this, regardless of whether you believe that the US should risk a confrontation with Putin over Ukraine, or not. The. Worst.

It’s sickly ironic that this climbdown from a confrontation with Putin occurred about the same time that one part of the administration discretely acknowledged that the “Russian bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan” story was a complete crock. That story was flogged incessantly over the summer to reinforce the narrative that Trump cowered before Putin, and was running away from Afghanistan as a result. Well, the story was bullshit, so there was no cowering. It is the Biden administration that is demonstrably cowering. (Even while the Pentagon was backing off the bounties story, others in the Biden administration were continuing to assert it.)

That story was another flagrant example of media mendacity. The NYT journalists who wrote it should be consigned to oblivion–but they won’t be. If they were lied to by their anonymous sources, they should call them out–but they won’t. So there is NO accountability for lying, or for trading in lies (as the NYT journalists and so many other journalists do). They used to say never trust anyone over 30. That was always a dubious statement. It is anything but dubious to say never trust any journalist, regardless of age.

Furthermore, Biden cemented his image of weakness before Putin by offering to meet him in a summit–at least, you can be sure that this offer cemented an image of weakness in Putin’s mind. It makes it look like Biden is coming to Putin as a supplicant.

Another own goal.

And shifting to the other end of the world, you know Xi is watching this very, very closely.

The coming months could be worrisome, indeed.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

« Previous PageNext Page »

Powered by WordPress