Catch 22

Somehow I thought of this last night…

Milo carefully said nothing when Major —- de Coverly stepped into the mess hall with his fierce and austere dignity the day he returned and found his way blocked by a wall of officers waiting in line to sign loyalty oaths. At the far end of the food counter, a group of men who had arrived earlier were pledging allegiance to the flag, with trays of food balanced in one hand, in order to be allowed to take seat sat the table. Already at the tables, a group that had arrived still earlier was singing “The Star Spangled Banner” in order that they might use the salt and pepper and ketchup there. The hubbub began to subside slowly as Major —- de Coverly paused in the doorway with a frown of puzzled disapproval, as though viewing something bizarre. He started forward in a straight line, and the wall of officers before him parted like the Red Sea. Glancing neither left nor right, he strode indomitably up to the steam counter and, in a clear, full-bodied voice that was gruff with age and resonant with ancient eminence and authority, said:

“Gimme eat.”

Instead of eat, Corporal Snark gave Major —- de Coverly a loyalty oath to sign. Major —- de Coverly swept it away with mighty displeasure the moment he recognized what it was, his good eye flaring up blindingly with fiery disdain and his enormous old corrugated face darkening in mountainous wrath.

“Gimme eat, I said,” he ordered loudly in harsh tones that rumbled through the silent tent like claps of distant thunder.

Corporal Snark turned pale and began to tremble. He glanced toward Milo pleadingly for guidance. For several terrible seconds there was not a sound. Then Milo nodded.

“Give him eat,” he said.

Corporal Snark began giving Major —- de Coverly eat. Major —- de Coverly turned from the counter with his tray full and came to a stop. His eyes fell on the groups of other officers gazing at him in mute appeal, and with righteous belligerence, he roared:

“Give everybody eat!”

“Give everybody eat!” Milo echoed with joyful relief, and the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade came to an end.

“Give everybody eat!”…if only it was somehow that simple.

Walt > Woodshed

John Judis just shreds Stephen Walt’s – endlessly repeated – claim that Israel was a key factor in the decision to invade Iraq.

I’ll point out that in my reading of their book, their entire argument is as thinly reasoned (I can’t say that they misrepresent sources as baldly because I haven’t looked). It’s all a part of the “just make s**t up” school of political argument that we’re all suffering under these days.

Led By The Stupid And Loathsome

The last month or so hasn’t been very good for me as a blogger…I feel like I’ve lost the will to write, and what has always been very easy for me (writing) suddenly became very hard.

I was mulling over why this weekend, deciding what to do, and kind of came to a conclusion about why, at least.

It’s just massively depressing.

While few Democratic bloggers are big fans of mine, I have always at core been a Democrat. I really did believe that a new President, who followed the dicta of openness and who put down the partisan cudgels might be able to make desperately-needed change happen in Washington.

I really did believe that my leaders in Sacramento would wake up as the car approached the edge of the cliff and turn us away.

And I was naive on both counts – first, for believing that Obama meant what he said, or that the clowns sitting in the California Legislature were capable of change.

I really didn’t want to write anything about this, because it just seemed – whiny and unhappy.

But my more-mainstream-liberal friend Kevin Drum broke the ice for me today…

…rejecting the eminently qualified and reasonable Maldonado for the inconsequential job of lieutenant governor – apparently because Dems were unwilling to allow a Hispanic Republican to gain a higher profile – was both stupid and loathsome. And making the repeal of Prop 11 [the antigerrymandering proposition – AL] their highest priority is – well, let’s just go with stupid and loathsome again. These guys aren’t really worth a trip to the thesaurus.

The depth of California’s political suckitude is hard to fathom. It’s like a contest from hell, where both parties try to outdo each other in sleaze and contemptibility. Republicans have a pretty big lead, but it’s not insurmountable. Apparently Democrats are out to prove it.

I feel like I’m watching all my worst predictions come true…the hollowing out of the US job markets and economythe political and business elites ignoring the impending crises in order to cling (bitterly) to power and advantagethe reinforced ‘iron rice bowl’ of rent-seeking by public sector employees, politicians, and corporations – all seeking to mutually reinforce their positions on the backs of the rest of us.

It’s going to stop. It’ll stop when we finally gather the political will to do something about it, or else it will stop when it simply can’t go on any further and crashed to the ground. I’d prefer the former…

We are led by good people who are trapped within a system that transforms them into the ‘stupid and loathesome.’ We need to fix that…

Strategy On A Budget – Guest Post

Guest post by Mark Buehner, in response to my “Can’t Quit” post. An invitation to Coldtype for a guest post is still open.

He who seeks to be strong everywhere will be strong nowhere.” – Military truism

By Mark Buehner

The budget of the United States is on a collision course with its mounting debt. Entitlement and interest payments are set to overwhelm the budget, and no sector of government spending will be exempt from radical re-examination. The sooner we make difficult choices, the more thoughtful we can be, and the better result we can expect.

Defense is no exception. In 2010, over 680 billion dollars have been budgeted for the Defense Department, in addition to as much as $350 billion in defense related spending outside the DOD. This accounts for over 40% of military spending across the globe. It is immaterial whether this level of spending is justified, as it is simply unsustainable given our level of debt. It is in our national interest to examine our current defense philosophy and attempt to craft an intelligent new policy in line with the realities of a new century.

With the Cold War long over and the Terror War simmering, America must first reexamine our place in the world and commitment to power projection. Winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is a trillion dollar enterprise that the country shows little appetite for repeating, and once they are decided we would do well to rethink our projection posture before launching a knee-jerk procurement course in expectation of similar wars in the future. This, along with the (expensive) relics of our Cold War era thinking will overwhelm our resources and leave less room for confronting more likely threats in the coming years. Intercontinental ballistic missiles and up-armored humvees are not going to deter rogue nations or a resurgent China, largely because we will not be conducting a preemptive nuclear strike, nor another IED riddled occupation, and everybody knows it.

Instead we should be focusing on the realistic ways our technology can justifiably deter these enemies at much more sustainable costs. UAVs and smart weapons are not the wave of the future, they are the reality of the present, and they have changed our ability to project force like nothing since the invention of the airplane. These systems are affordable, humane, and proven, and they should be the front line deterrent of a new defense doctrine.

The traditional American concept of warfare may be to meet and defeat an enemy upon the (foreign) fields of battle, but it needs to be recognized that such warfare, no matter how successful, is a result of multiple failures of diplomacy, foresight, and deterrence. Perhaps the most ancient truism regarding warfare is that the greatest victories are won before a shot is fired. America needs to re-embrace this fact and rely upon our unrivaled powers and the threats of those powers long before an actual fight can break out.

In a sense, the Bosnian War should be a model for future conflicts. We can reliably and nearly instantly reduce a belligerent nation’s ability to provide for the basic needs of its people by destroying power, infrastructure, communications, and ultimately natural resource production. Coupled with embargo and interdiction, this makes provoking the military might of the United States a losing proposition whatever the potential gain in question. All this can be done for virtually no risk to American lives and less expense than a month fighting in Afghanistan.

This strategy, like any, has caveats. One certain criticism is a recognition that airpower has never won a war. This is true and will remain true in our traditional definition of conventional total victory. However, historically speaking, the idea of defeating an enemy on the battlefield and forcing his unconditional surrender is more the exception than the rule. Worse, these types of victories often plant the seeds of the next war.

Hence, classic capitulation is not necessarily a wise goal in this context. Unconditional surrender is expensive in both blood and treasure. Many times, simply being willing to leave your enemy in worse shape than you are and walk away is a more credible threat than marshalling the resources needed for regime change (much less occupation). As it is our enemies may well feel a sense of security in recognizing our binary approach to warfare, ie either peace or conquest. It is easy for rogue regimes like Iran to play at brinkmanship with us so long as they fail to incite us into full scale conventional warfare with the expectation of total victory.

On the other hand, if a rogue regime like Iran had reason to fear a limited American strike (but not too limited, as often demonstrated in our past) that would truly cripple the enemy but leave America hardly troubled, we might actually see our security and interests better protected. This requires far more than simple pinpricks, but far less than actual regime change.

International cooperation and (ideally) consent is critical, both materially and morally. A rogue nation must feel isolated and helpless for the full psychological effect to take hold. Ultimately, the physical weakening of the regime combined with the isolation and destitution of the populace (or threat thereof) will be enough to either bring a favorably negotiated conclusion, or (as in the case of Bosnia) full scale regime change.

None of this is to say we won’t fund our more conventional and traditional forces, particularly ground forces. We must and will, and they must be prepared for the worst. But full scale land battles must be a last resort, and not the first.

The United States is certain to undergo a difficult and painful reckoning in the near future. Every aspect of our relationship with government will be examined and will very likely see a reduction in accustomed resources. If this is done in an ad hoc manner, particularly regarding defense, our national security will suffer in unpredictable ways. This is not to say we should ever think to abandon the traditional winning tools of a professional multi-branch military, but instead to examine every element of these entities with a careful eye towards a forward looking strategy. And this must mean tough decisions and excepting that we cannot afford every weapon systems even if it might serve quite well. In the bigger picture, it will cost us more dearly than we think.

Now is the time to reexamine our strategic vision for our projection of power, and to reassess the tools and strategies we have developed and are developing. By embracing the technological and practical realities we are faced with, we can come through this period with a stronger defense and more robust deterrent, and indeed a safer and more peaceful world.


I had very little good to say about Rep. John Murtha while he was alive; he died yesterday, and I want to take a moment and remember that he was a person who deserves a bow of the head; he served his country and his district as well as he could.

We’re all in this together – all citizens of the same country – and no matter how much we oppose each other politically, it’s important to remember that.



We went car-buying on Friday.

The last time was in 2006, when we sold our minivan and bought a Civic Hybrid.

We didn’t want a Prius, because TG has an irrational (or given recent news, entirely rational…) dislike of Toyotas, and I didn’t like the idea of a ‘statement’ car. We bought it, first and foremost, for the HOV lane stickers, but also because I thought it was neat technology, and because I do think that cutting back on our energy consumption in non-hair shirt ways is a good thing to do.

Note that I really don’t see hybrids as all that environmentally benign, so our plate – ECO FROD – reflected that.

Well, at the end of this year, the HOV stickers on hybrids expire, and probably won’t be renewed, and we’ve put 60,000 miles on ours with decent – not great, not terrible – results. We had to replace the main battery (warranty) but it was brain damage to get the local dealer – Scott Robinson Honda, who does Honda’s fleet cars (American Honda is here in Torrance) struggled for a bit to deal with the driveability problems caused by the dying battery, but once I escalated they were great in getting it all dealt with.

So – no stickers soon, a car with hypercomplex technical systems and a so-so support chain. Sounds like time to reconsider what we’d do.

I kicked the issue over to my frugality friend at Downturn Living, and she and her readers were clear that the frugal, economically sensible thing was to keep the car.

So of course we decided not to.

Instead, this Friday, we bought a new 2009 Honda Civic GX – a natural gas powered car.

I was initially kind of anxious about a NGV – just that the logistics of refuelling are more complex (there are some 26 fuelling stations in the parts of Southern California where we typically go – and I worry that TG, who tends to run her vehicles on fumes would wind up getting towed.

But I put them all into a map and loaded it into our Garmin, and so far – after 4 days and 300 miles – it’s been pretty darn easy.

Home filling stations are (sort of) available – the Phill brand went BK and may be releaunched – but I’m unsure of the economics for someone who drives as little as we do. We do long trips, and the odds are that we’ll be renting more for that – I’d guess that 10K of the hybrid’s miles are on road trips.

And the new car is interesting – really downmarket and defeatured compared to our hybrid, which not only has a leather interior but is in a far higher state of trim. It’s a real fleet car…just the basics. We’ll invest in a decent stereo and leave it at that, I’m thinking.

We bought the car through our credit union’s car-buying service, and got a great deal on it. Thanks to Jeff Wyrick and Auto Expert Online…and over the next year or so I’ll report on our experience with it.

Back in the 70’s I read Amory Lovin’s Soft Energy Paths and noted his belief in building out a NG infrastructure as a transition plan to hydrogen. It made sense to me then…we’ll see if it makes sense now.

You Keep Using Those Words…

…but I do not think they means what you think they mean…

So the blogs were all a-twitter over the Gallup Poll last week that showed that 53% of Democrats/leaners have a positive view of socialism (I was going to do this post Friday but was busy buying a car…).

But you know, when you look at the poll, what it shows (I think) is just an American public that’s somewhat confused about labels…and actually a liberal American public that’s a bit more confused about what it believes.

Here’s the breakdown by party:


…what jumps out at me?

53% of the Democrats (and leaners) say they have a positive reaction to socialism. But 95% are positive on small business, 85% on free enterprise, 82% on entrepeneurs, and 53% on capitalism. Notice a contradiction??

Let’s look at the breakdown by ideology:


Socialism is positively viewed by 20% / 39% / 61% (conservatives/moderates/liberals). But…

Free enterprise is liked by 89% / 82% / 87%.

Capitalism 68% / 52% / 60% – more liberals like capitalism than moderates!!

Interestingly, conservatives/Republicans were more consistent in their answers – 20% liked socialism, and 90% liked free enterprise.

I think that what this says is that the broad base of American voters aren’t really all that comfortable with the fine meaning of broad political economy labels; I think the scare factor of labels like ‘socialist’ and ‘capitalist’ has been pretty thoroughly devalued and that the American public – correctly – doesn’t know where the government’s role in the economy ends and business’ begins. They are correct because our national leaders don’t know either.

And that’s not a terrible thing. Governments have been meddling in markets to some extent here since the Founding.

But while it’s not terrible that they are confused, I think it’s problematic; problematic because I think we need a clear vision of our society, economy, and politics that resonates with the people and helps clarify the turbulent times we’re in.

If only we had leaders who were visionaries and great imagemakers…oh, wait…

42.7 Percent Of Statistics Are Made Up On The Spot

Check the update at the bottom…

Kos released his poll of Republican attitudes (he’s doing the polling to support his contention that Republicans = Taliban) and shockingly, the results make them look like – Taliban.

63% believe Obama is a socialist.

39% believe he should be impeached.

23% believe their state should secede.

77% are opposed to gay marriage.

77% believe that Genesis should be taught in the public schools.

76% believe abortion is murder…let’s stop on this one, you get the point.

Now there’s not a lot of background about the mechanics of the poll (i.e. where did the 2,000 self-identified Republicans come from – the Wesboro Baptist Church mailing list, perhaps?), but the numbers pretty much ring completely false to me, based on anecdote (my own experience with Republicans) and data…

…let’s go to the June 2009 CBS News poll, which shows that 40% of Republicans (self-identified, I’d assume) think Roe v Wade is a “good thing.”

…the much-derided Gallup poll on abortion this year showed that 23% of “Republicans and Republican leaners” were pro-choice. I’m not sure how you mathematically get from 7% to 23% by blending “republicans and leaners except by assuming “real republicans” are at 7% and “leaners” are at 75% … plausible? You be the judge.

I’d love to have been polled on this and see what the mechanics of the poll sounded like. But right now, I don’t think I’d take it terribly seriously. I can’t wait to see the book.

Update: Research2000 has a lot of marcomm on its site about how accurate it is, but the only 3rd party reference I could find (in a very fast Google session that included a fast look at the Wayback machine) was this:

Exclusive BMG/Research 2000 poll: Coakley leads 49-41
by: David
Thu Jan 14, 2010 at 11:48:08 AM EST

(Bumped, because we shelled out BMG’s hard-earned money for this. — Bob – promoted by Charley on the MTA)

The results are in from BMG’s exclusive statewide poll in next week’s special Senate election. Research 2000 interviewed 500 likely voters on Tuesday and Wednesday (and we do mean “interviewed” — Research 2000 does live interviews, unlike robo-pollsters Rasmussen and PPP). That means that our poll is the first (and so far only) one taken entirely after Monday’s final televised debate. Here’s what they came up with (margin of error is +/- 4%).

QUESTION: If the 2010 special election for U.S. Senate were held today, would you vote for Martha Coakley, the Democrat, Scott Brown, the Republican, or Joseph Kennedy, the Libertarian candidate?

Martha Coakley 49% 82% 7% 36%
Scott Brown 41% 12% 85% 49%
Joseph Kennedy 5% 1% 2% 11%
Undecided 5% 5% 6% 4%

I wonder how these guys do on Intrade?

Doing It Wrong

Look, even without the threat of four-wall counseling by Jimbo, I have massive respect for the folks in Special Forces. Read about what they do, go through, how hard they work – it’s all amazing.

…and then, sometimes there’s stuff like this.

Apparently CBS did a 1-hour special on an ODA in Afghanistan, reported by a comely young blonde Brit named Lara Logan.

I just watched it, and winced both at the reporting – the amazing shallowness – and at the behavior of the team as reported.

I found out about the show through Baba Tim over at Free Range International – a site you should be reading if you aren’t already.

His critical commentary on one key incident in the show – where one of the team fired on an advancing truck – seems tactically pretty darn sound to me, and strategically, his criticism couldn’t be more spot on:

When you live behind walls everything on the other side of those walls is a threat. When you isolate your forces from the population you are supposed to “protect,” then your forces have no ability to distinguish friend from foe, threat from normal routine, the good from the bad. Gen McChrystal can gob on all he wants about the importance of “COIN” and getting to know the people blah blah blah … it doesn’t matter because he sets the operational rules here, and under his rules no conventional American troops can leave a FOB unless they have at least four MRAPS and 16 riflemen. How are you supposed to “protect the people” if you can only roll around in large road-bound convoys? How can you “protect the people,” if every night all your people have to be back on the big box FOB’s eating ice cream and pecan pie?

These SF guys are supposed to be the ones who know how to operate outside the big bases with the local population, but did you notice where they live? On a big box FOB, isolated and removed from their Afghan charges which is obvious, because none of them spoke a word of Dari or Pashto. My children can get through formal greetings in both Pashto or Dari and they were here just a few months – it is just not that hard to learn these things when you live in the local environment. Those SF teams should be out here free ranging with guys like Bot, Mullah John, Panjiwai Tim and myself. They are good troops being poorly served by commanders who keep them isolated and removed from the people they are supposed to be protecting. They will never be able to gain the situational awareness required to do real COIN if they remain confined to the Big Box FOBs. That is the real story and as usual the MSM missed it.


What To Do When “You Can’t Quit.”

An interesting discussion on Afghanistan, insurgency and “what now” has been breaking out lately.

Note that here, again, the semipro commentariat are doing Obama’s work for him as they collectively try and come up with a strategic framework for the related series of conflicts we seem to be caught up in.

I’ll refer you to three pieces, and focus my own commentary on one of them, the triggering post by Zenpundit (Mark Safranski): ‘The Post-COIN Era is Here.’ In addition, you should read Thomas PM Barnett’s response, as well as T Greer’s supportive post.

So, COIN still reigns supreme, albeit with trimmed sails?


We are forgetting something important about the ascendancy of COIN. It was not accepted by a reluctant Pentagon and the Bush administration because COIN is a very effective operational tool in the right strategic context – although that is certainly true. Nor was it because the advocates of COIN were brilliant policy architects and advocates – though most of them are. COIN became the order of the day for three reasons:

1) The “Big Army, fire the artillery, fly B-52’s and Search & Destroy=counterinsurgency” approach proved to be tactically and strategically bankrupt in Iraq. It failed in Mesopotamia as it failed in the Mekong Delta under Westmoreland – except worse and faster. Period.

2) The loudest other alternative to COIN at the time, the antiwar demand, mostly from Leftwing extremists, of immediately bugging-out of Iraq, damn the consequences, was not politically palatable even for moderately liberal Democrats, to say nothing of Republicans.

3) The 2006 election results were a political earthquake that forced the Bush administration to change policy in Iraq for its’ own sheer political survival. COIN was accepted only because it represented a life preserver for the Bush administration.

We have just had another such political earthquake. The administration is now but one more electoral debacle away from having the president be chased in Benny Hill fashion all over the White House lawn by enraged Democratic officeholders scared out of their wits of losing their seats next November.

Republican Scott Brown, the winner in a stunning upset in Massachusetts’ special election for Senator, certainly had no intention of undermining President Obama’s commitment to Afghanistan. To the contrary, he is for it in a far more muscular manner than was his hapless Democratic opponent. But that’s irrelevant. What matters is that in all the recent elections, Democrats have been clobbered by a “Revolt of the Moderates” – socially liberal, fiscally conservative, independent voters who came out in 2008 for Obama and are now shifting radically away from him. For the next year, politicians of both parties will be competing hard for this bloc which means “deficit hawks” will soar higher than defense hawks.

America’s nine year drunken sailor spending spree is officially over.

He’s making the (very real) point that our strategies have to match our means, and that those means are going to look pretty sketchy for the next few years (sadly for me, who is supposed to be bankrolling my retirement during that term…).

The problem of course can be summed up in three quotes:

The enemy gets a vote.

You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.

and my personal (and most generally applicable) favorite:

You can’t win.
You can’t break even.
You can’t quit.

So what do we do if we’re unwilling – or unable – to afford massively time consuming and expensive COIN wars?

Do we hunker down?

Do we follow Hamas rules?

Now – again – I’m not disagreeing with his assessment of the domestic political situation. I think he’s dead on that being fiscally prudent is the Golden Ticket to electoral success in the next round – being fiscally prudent plus (depends on your political affiliation) is going to be the stump speech we’ll all have to hear for the next two years.

But…we can be as cheap as we want to; the problem is that we still have to figure out how to deal with the ongoing expansion of Islamism while doing so.

(Or not…one of the disconnects among people with varying approaches here will be the question of whether the conflict with Islamists would be a significant one if we simply refused to play. Shockingly, I’m on the side that says that things would just get worse.)

Because creating an internal police state to deal with domestic security won’t be a lot cheaper than dealing with the problems outside our borders.

And to me, that’s one of the five real alternatives:

1. Hama rules (B-52’s all the way, “rubble don’t make trouble”).
2. Come home and lay down arms, while defending civil rights for everyone.
4. The security state. (“Homeland Security is watching you, buddy, so watch your a**!”)
5. Magic underpants gnomes.

I’ve got to say that ranking these in reverse preference order (for me), it’s #4, #2, #1, #3, and maybe, depending on what it is, #5.

So maybe we’d all better get cracking on figuring it out.