Pirate Petri Dish

Josh Marshall, no military guru he, is nonetheless onto something as he looks briefly at the piracy situation:

Historically, the rising incidence of piracy has frequently, if not always, been a sign of the receding reach of whatever great power has taken on responsibility for policing the sea lanes. The decline of the Hellenistic monarchies in the Mediterranean before the rise of Rome. Caribbean piracy during Spain’s long slide into decrepitude and before England decided she lost more than she gained from it.

The Barbary pirates are an exception, given that they ran amuck when the Royal Navy was at the zenith of its ascendency in the Med, but, yes. And the fecklessness of the folks running today’s USN doesn’t help.

Brainwashed

American Prospect offers a look at the development of counterinsurgency doctrine. Some of the analysis is highly debatable. One particularly interesting tidbit is that defense guru Edward Luttwak favors junking the Afghan war for reasons and in favor of a strategy I agree with:

“What the fuck are we doing there?” he asks. “Much better to abandon it and do occasional punitive expeditions as opposed to counterinsurgency and its enormous costs. I’ve been to Afghanistan. Basically, you’d have to kill every single Afghan and take all the children and put them in boarding school, preferably in England.”

“Not Recommended”

Former Space Shuttle program manager Wayne Hale discusses the problems involved in aborting short of orbit the flight of any crewed spacecraft. Suffice to say, the problem is a lot more complicated than a lot of armchair astronauts think. Most scenarios involve meat waffles or crispy critters. 

Hale frequently shares spaceflight war stories at his blog, along with the occasional nightmare scenario. Fascinating stuff.

Old News

USA Today writer John Diamond is out with a book, “The CIA and the Culture of Failure,” that purportedly documents serial failures of tradecraft in the agency and a long-term politicization of its product. Folks like Jeff Stein at CQ are inclined to see this as new:

Diamond, who written about the CIA for the Associated Press, the Chicago Tribune and USA Today, also has several news breaks in the book, including:
  • How a deliberate undermining of the CIA was critical to the neo-conservative push for the defense build-up in the 1970s and 80s, national missile defense in the 1990s and the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
  • How the chance arrest by Pakistan of a suspect, Mohammed Sadeeq Odeh, in the U.S. embassy bombing in Kenya tipped off bin Laden and caused al-Qaeda to change its plans for a leadership meeting, rendering the Clinton administration’s retaliatory strike an embarrassing miss.
  • How the Iraq/WMD failure, one of the most consequential in CIA history, stemmed from one of the Agency’s most notable successes. The great misjudgment prior to the Iraq invasion was the failure — by the White House, Congress, and the CIA itself — to even consider the possibility that this combined effort to disarm Iraq had, in fact, succeeded. 

None of this, alas, is any great revelation to those of us who followed the “Team B” disputes of the 1970s and have read books like Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark’s “Deception.” The folks in Langley couldn’t find water if they fell out of a boat.

Buffalo’s Hidden History

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Given that a lot of peeps in my family still live in Buffalo, I try somewhat to keep up on what’s happening back there. Needless to say, the town has obviously fallen on hard time. The NYT, however, had an excellent piece in Friday’s paper about how some folks are trying to preserve some of the city’s best architecture. Well worth the read.

Intellectual Prerequisite

Galrahn has a mandatory reading list:

if you read this blog and have not read Ian Toll’s book Six Frigates, it is basically a party foul in the context of spilling your red wine on your boss at the Christmas party.

I wouldn’t go quite far, but Toll’s work is excellent particularly for his examination of the economic causes of early U.S. naval confrontations with France and England.

The Vision Thing

NASA Administration Mike Griffin teaches a little history:

The planned Apollo 20 mission was cancelled a few weeks after the Apollo 11 landing, and Apollo 18 and 19 were cancelled some months later. With those actions, the space program as we knew it in the 1960s was over, finished, and done. NASA is often blamed for its so-called lack of vision after the apotheosis of the Apollo years, but frankly, after those decisions, it didn’t matter what NASA did, or didn’t do. Our elected leaders had lost the vision and sense of purpose for our nation in space, and we retreated to low-Earth orbit.

We have become inured to what should be recognized as alarming trends, the subject of a recent hearing before the House of Representatives Science & Technology Committee. There are half as many bachelor’s degrees in physics awarded today in the United States than when Sputnik was launched in 1957. The number of engineers graduating with bachelor’s degrees declined by over 20% in the last two decades prior to a recent up-tick – but that up-tick is primarily due to an increase in the number of foreign students, who are increasingly returning to their home countries. In 2004, China graduated approximately 500,000 engineers while India graduated 200,000 and the United States graduated 70,000. In 2005, the United States produced more undergraduates in sports exercise than in electrical engineering. In 2006, only 15% of college graduates in the United States received a diploma in engineering or the natural sciences, compared to 38% in South Korea, 47% in France, and 67% in Singapore. The number of PhDs in engineering awarded by U.S. universities to U.S. citizens declined 34% in a single decade. Two-thirds of U.S. engineering PhDs are awarded to foreign nationals. In some surveys, U.S. public schools consistently rank near the bottom in mathematics and science as compared to their global counterparts. We are surpassed by, among others, Azerbaijan, Latvia and Macao.

Tough Guys

This quote, a dissenting view from Jeffrey Goldberg’s lengthy piece on McCain’s views on preemption, stood out because it called to mind a friend’s observation that the Vietnamese are the only battlefield enemy we’ve faced that didn’t crumble under the weight of B-52 strikes:

“We lost in Vietnam because we got beat,” Andrew J. Bacevich, an international-relations scholar at Boston University and a Vietnam veteran, told me. “I served during the period when Abrams was supposedly winning the war, and what I saw there [in the Central Highlands of Vietnam] makes it impossible for me to believe that we were winning. That’s a personal statement, not a scholarly judgment, but what I saw were South Vietnamese forces that were utterly incapable, a South Vietnamese government that was utterly ineffective, and an American Army that was falling apart.” 

My friend’s takeaway point was that the outcome of the Vietnam War said more about the North Vietnamese than it said about us. They’re pure warriors and damn near impossible to beat on their home ground.

Goldberg’s article is worth reading in full.

Faulty Memory

Bill Whittle admits being a little hazy on McCain family history:

I knew McCain’s father and grandfather were admirals. I did not know his grandfather was on the USS Missouri, came home, and died the next day after giving everything he had for his country. That’s powerful.

Uh huh. I bet he also didn’t know that the senator’s grandfather helped Bull Halsey sail TF38, the Navy’s World War II carrier strike force, into typhoons, twice, with significant loss of life in one and damage to several carriers in the other. Halsey, by that time a Navy icon, kept his job. The elder McCain got sent to the beach (he was about to be relieved by Admiral John Towers when the Japanese surrendered). There were many in the task force who thought both Halsey and McCain Sr. were past it by that point in the war.

Executive Presidents

Lisa at Ramblings of a Pseudo-Intellectual is going through the list of the country’s presidents and trying to judge whether their particular background, experience-wise, contributed to superior performance in office. So far she’s through Fillmore. Her most controversial judgment so far would have to be her conclusion that Andrew Jackson was not a good president. The mere fact ol’ Andy told John C. Calhoun to get stuffed tips the meter to the “good” side for me.