27 February 2007

Binh Gia

I'm editing a book about the Vietnam War at the moment, and while checking some facts over the Internet I came across this account about the Battle of Binh Gia in December 1964. There's also some interesting contemporary anaylsis toward the end of this description of airmobile operational doctrinal developments.

Between the Lines

I find the concept of parapolitics "a system or practice of politics in which accountability is consciously diminished" useful for understanding something like this. Study this article carefully, and here is what you see:

a) The source of the rumour is British.
b) The British prime minister has expressed a view that coincides with the view of the potential resignees.
c) A Pentagon source appears to have been selectively quoted; his or her views could easily be contrary to the rumour.

One could easily conclude that this is a British signal to the Bush administration to lay off Iran, that the British cannot be counted on to support an attack. It could even be a call by the British to anyone in the American military with misgivings about an attack on Iran to look to them for help.

Articles like this always make me suspicious of neatly packaged historical descriptions. Real life is a lot more messy.

19 February 2007

Loose Change 1917 or Loose Change 1941?

Silence is golden, unless you're a blogger. I've been diverted by a variety of other matters the past week, mostly preparing for the sale of my house and getting some major dental work.

The BBC showed a documentary about conspiracy theories concerning the events of 9/11, 2001, last night. The main target was the now famous Loose Change video. Unfortunately, I fell asleep part-way through, but I saw enough to realize the BBC film made cogent points in support of the gang of terrorists “conspiracy” as opposed to the U.S. government “conspiracy”. There’s one caveat to this, however, which is that the programme suggested strongly the likelihood of a cover-up of the pre-strike intelligence analysis.

It isn’t the first time that a surprise attack on America has been the subject of a conspiracy theory. Howard Baker’s famous Watergate interrogation “What did the president know and when did he know it?” would have been very appropriate for Michigan senator Homer Ferguson.

In fact, the whole question of the validity of conspiracy theories is of far greater import to the general reader, as opposed to the “professional historian”. The latter has no choice but to discount such theories, since there is rarely any evidence in the form of letters or minutes or notes to sustain the idea that, for example, President Roosevelt knew the Japanese were coming, or that Robert Lansing worked for American entry into the war against the Kaiser. There wouldn’t be, would there, ripostes the person more familiar with chit-chat in the corridors of power. I’ll return to this matter in the light of the work of a totally discredited “popular historian”, the notorious David Irving, as I start a new strand on this blog.

09 February 2007

Three generations

'The current cost of occupation in Iraq is $12 billion dollars per month, and we may need to remain in the region for the next 25-50 years.'

This comment comes from this article, and probably as a bald statement of fact would seem shocking to many Americans. 50 years? A war we intend to bequeathe to our great-grandchildren?

What's 2007-1945? 62 years.

08 February 2007

Woodrow Wilson and the American Way of War, Part 9

On the surface, the anti-war movement in the United States in 1914 represented a key part of the coalition that had helped to elect Woodrow Wilson as president two years earlier. However, looking at this group of people in more detail, reveals a more inchoate mass for which the outbreak of the Great War represented a challenge instead of an opportunity.

There were three strands in the movement:

(a) Morally-minded businessmen and lawyers. These people regarded capitalism and liberalism (in the old-fashioned sense of anti-clerical and anti-monarchical) as social systems that would undermine the national boundaries and dynastic rivalries that provoked wars. In a sense, they were the Mirrors of Marxism, regarding the business class as having no nationality, and the progenitors of today's globalization as the End of History. They also supplied the leadership of the anti-war movement in 1914.

(b) Radical social reformers. For them, war was representative of immoral businessmen and social systems. A program of general social reform and some kind of transnational or supranational political authority would remove the need for war as a means of settling social disputes. However, their focus was on reform, not revolution. They found common cause with (a) on many occasions, because they welcomed any steps taken to eradicate war, even little ones.

(c) Revolutionary Socialists. For them, war was inherently a part of a social system that was corrupt and doomed. A simple refusal to fight, a revolutionary act on the part of the masses, would not only halt war, but quite possibly bring the whole corrupt edifice of capitalism crashing down. They had some common ground with (b).

In the event, between the outbreak of war and the resignation of William Jennings Bryan in June 1915, Group (a) were largely conspicuous by their absence in offering any kind of leadership to the anti-war movement, perhaps content with Wilson's management of American diplomacy, which did seem to offer a pragmatic implementation of their views. Group (b) made a few grand gestures, such as the women's Peace Parade down New York's Fifth Avenue on 29 August 1914, and a meeting at Henry Street Settlement House in September that was to have major long-term significance. However, they at first yielded leadership to group (a), in the mistaken anticipation that they would use the war to promote ideas for a kind of World Government that had been current for some years prior to August 1914. Group (c), meanwhile, focused on pressing labor issues that were also going to have important repercussions on the anti-war movement.

By pulling in different directions, the anti-war movement allowed initiative to pass to those who supported some level of involvement in the war, whether in laying the groundwork for eventual American entry, or simply by seizing sound business opportunities that steadily increased the American stake in an Allied victory. After Bryan's resignation as Secretary of State, however, matters began to take a different turn.

07 February 2007

Downsize That

Listening to the Senate Armed Forces Committee hearings on the FY2008 budget, the DDG 1000 came up again, as Senator Susan Collins (R, Me) tossed a few batting practice pitches to General Pace over the long-term savings that the smaller crew size will permit. The Department of Defense will save money on housing families, pensions, and post-service benefits that will make the price tag seem much smaller. The commodification of military and naval service would come as no surprise to Marxists.

06 February 2007

Guns and Buttered Guns

Here is an excellent article about some of the more expensive weapons for which money is requested in the Bush Administration's FY2007 budget. The issue of cheaper weapons versus expensive ones rears its head at specific stages in the American procurement process. I liked the story of how the DDG 1000 started life as a proposal for a "low-cost destroyer", and then gradually had more and more tasks added to its capabilities. It begs so many questions. Was it a "trojan-horse" project, intentionally priced low and intended to be eventually a big ticket item? Or was it the brainchild of those naval officers who prefer a "mosquito fleet" (a term originating in the Jefferson Administration, as mentioned here), only to see their project taken over by "blue-water" navy enthusiasts?

Looking forward to possible threats is one of the jobs civilians demand of their military and naval advisors. It's a fraught business, and doesn't always lead to good public policy. I am reminded of the British planners who after 1918 decided that the most likely opponent for the Royal Air Force was going to be France! They didn't have to omit the fact that the probability of that was likely to be small.

01 February 2007

Casey at the bar

I spent three hours today listening to part of the confirmation hearings on the appointment of General George Casey before the Senate Armed Forces Committee. I was a little surprised on how the questions focused so much on the planned reinforcement of the American troops in Iraq as a policy, as opposed to the situation in Iraq in relation to the wider role of the U.S. Army.

The only senators to address this issue in detail while I listened were Hilary Clinton (which surprised me) and Jim Inhofe. They did not quite have the same angle on this problem, but their comments stood out in thinking about Casey's future wider responsibilities, as opposed to his past narrower ones. Evan Bayh brought up the question of how willing Casey would be to challenge his civilian bosses if he thought they were wrong. Casey's answer did not suggest that he would see such a matter as a cause of resignation, but rather that he would return again and again to seek to adjust policy to suit his point of view.

I came away with two key thoughts about how the U.S. military sees Iraq over the coming year. Casey emphasized time and again that the capability of the Iraqis to take the lead in bringing order to the troubled parts of the country was crucial to the success of the American mission. This is Vietnamization all over again, although I suspect the prospects for success are better in Iraq than they were in Vietnam. The other key thought is that the Iraqi army is very much a mixed bag. An exchange with Bill Nelson brought out a figure of about 24,000 Iraqi troops being actually reliable, fully equipped and deployed in a significant war zone, in Baghdad. This is out of an army of 325,000.

What's Up in Iran

I don't particular like to speculate about strategy, but the steady drumbeat of news stories about the Bush Administration's intentions toward Iran has gripped the world of war analysis, so I thought I'd draw a couple of threads together. A U.S. Air Force study suggests that civil war is inevitable in Iraq, and the Air Force has a role to play in reconnoitring or even interdicting possible supplies from Iran to their Shia friends in Iraq.

However, we've been aware for some time of the movement of US aircraft carriers in the vicinity of the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. It could be that the administration's intention is to have plenty of forces on hand in case their efforts along the Iran-Iraq border lead to an incident requiring substantial retaliation. Of course, now one is in Gulf of Tonkin Incident territory.