Some interesting reading for your weekend

Contents

I.  Articles by and about Ann Marlowe, the Human Terrain System, and the Afghanistan War have been added to the “Antrhopologists Go to War” reference page.

II.  Costly Lesson on How Not to Build a Navy Ship“, New York Times (25 April 2008) —  An amazing new chapter in the story of the Navy’s death Spiral.  

III.  Iraqi forces see victory in Basra“, Inside Iraq Blog at The Times (25 April 2008) — More evidence that the war bloggers were right, the area experts wrong about the fighting in Basra.

IV.  Drug Battle Leaves 15 Slain in Tijuana“, Reuters (26 April 2008) — Mexico internal security situation continues to deteriorate, another “Decline of the State” in progress.  More on this tomorrow.

V.  Update:  “Why this crisis is still far from finished“, Mohamed El-Erian, Financial Times (24 April 2008) — The financial fore-shocks have passed, but major shock — the recession — lies ahead.

VI.  Update:The Pentagon Strangles Our Economy: Why the U.S. Has Gone Broke“, Chalmers Johnson, Le Monde diplomatique (26 April 2008) — “60 years of enormous military spending is taking a dramatic toll on the rest of the economy.”

Here are this week’s news stories you might have missed…

I.  Articles by and about Ann Marlowe, the Human Terrain System, and the Afghanistan War

These were added to “Anthropologists go to war AND Revolt of the Anthropologists reference page:

  1. Anthropology Goes to War“, Ann Marlowe, The Weekly Standard  (26 November 2007) — “There are some things the Army needs in Afghanistan, but more academics are not at the top of the list.”
  2. Is the Human Terrain System Worth Its Spit?“, Joshua Foust, posted at Registan.net  (18 November 2007)
  3. On Anthropology Goes to War“, Dave Dileffe, posted at the Small Wars Journal  (20 November 2007)
  4. A (Brief) Dialog With Ann Marlowe“, Joshua Foust, posted at Registan.net  (20 November 2007)
  5. Two Myths About Afghanistan“, Ann Marlowe, op-ed at the Washington Post  (11 February 2008)
  6.  ”Ann Marlowe Thinks Afghanistan Is Doing Awesome“, Joshua Foust, posted at Registan.net  (11 February 2008)

You also might find of interest The Essential 4GW reading list: David Kilcullen — this has links 35 articles by or about Kilcullen, 2 backgrounders to his work, 7 mainstream media articles about him.  A good place to visit if researching COIN, or more specifically the work of this major player in the field.

II.  Costly Lesson on How Not to Build a Navy Ship“, New York Times (25 April 2008) — An amazing new chapter in the story of the Navy’s death Spiral.  See previous articles here and here.  Excerpt:

A project heralded as the dawning of an innovative, low-cost era in Navy shipbuilding has turned into a case study of how not to build a combat ship. The bill for the ship, being built by Lockheed Martin, has soared to $531 million, more than double the original, and by some calculations could be $100 million more. With an alternate General Dynamics prototype similarly struggling at an Alabama shipyard, the Navy last year temporarily suspended the entire program.

The program’s tribulations speak to what military experts say are profound shortcomings in the Pentagon’s acquisitions system. Even as spending on new projects has risen to its highest point since the Reagan years, being over budget and behind schedule have become the norm: a recent Government Accountability Office audit found that 95 projects – warships, helicopters and satellites – were delayed 21 months on average and cost 26 percent more than initially projected, a bill of $295 billion.

III.  Iraqi forces see victory in Basra“, Inside Iraq Blog at The Times (25 April 2008) — More evidence that the war bloggers were right, the area experts wrong about the fighting in Basra.  Excerpt:

Iraqi soldiers are standing proud in Basra one month after launching a surprise offensive to wipe out murderous gangs of Shia militants that had been allowed to flourish under Britain’s watch.  Many of them say the operation has boosted their confidence, but the militiamen warn that the only reason the fledgling Iraqi army had any success was because they continue to observe a ceasefire order by the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

IV.  Drug Battle Leaves 15 Slain in Tijuana“, Reuters (26 April 2008) — Mexico internal security situation continues to deteriorate, another “Decline of the State” in progress. Stratfor has done an excellent job documenting this, with their weekly “Mexico Security Memos.”  The situation is bad when gangs kill police chiefs and Army Colonels with impunity.  Excerpt:

Fifteen Mexican drug gang members were killed in a gun battle near the U.S. border on Saturday, their bodies soaked in blood in the road after one of the deadliest shootouts in Mexico’s three-year-long narco-war.  Rival factions of the local Arellano Felix drug cartel in Tijuana on the Mexico-California border fought each other with rifles and machine guns in the early hours of the morning, police said.

… President Felipe Calderon has sent thousands of troops to Tijuana and Baja California state since taking office in December 2006. Some 25,000 soldiers and federal police are deployed to fight cartels in drug hot spots across Mexico.

… Some 190 people have been killed in Tijuana so far this year. In 2007, there were more than 2,500 drug killings across Mexico and there have been more than 900 this year.

 V.  Update:  “Why this crisis is still far from finished“, Mohamed El-Erian, Financial Times (24 April 2008) — The financial fore-shocks have passed, but major shock — the recession — lies ahead.  Excerpt:

During the past few weeks we have seen a growing number of market participants predict an end to the dislocations that erupted last summer and claimed victims throughout the financial system and beyond. While their predictions are understandable, they are premature. The dynamics driving the disruptions are morphing and may again move ahead of both the market and policy responses.

The optimistic view is based on two distinct elements. First, that the de­leveraging process is reaching its natural end as valuations stabilise and institutions come clean about their losses and raise capital; second, that a series of previously unthinkable policy responses have been effective in restoring liquidity to the financial system.

… Yet, consistent with what we have seen since last summer, the dislocations are entering a new phase. As such, bold reactions on the part of policymakers may, once again, prove to be too little and too late.

Persistent financial dislocations have now caused the real economy to become, in itself, a source of potential disruption. During the next few months there will be a reversal in the direction of causality: the unusual adverse contamination by the financial sector of the real economy is now morphing into the more common phenomenon of recessionary forces threatening to undermine the financial system.

VI.  Update:The Pentagon Strangles Our Economy: Why the U.S. Has Gone Broke“, Chalmers Johnson, Le Monde diplomatique (26 April 2008) — “60 years of enormous military spending is taking a dramatic toll on the rest of the economy.”  Excerpt:

The military adventurers in the Bush administration have much in common with the corporate leaders of the defunct energy company Enron. Both groups thought that they were the “smartest guys in the room” — the title of Alex Gibney’s prize-winning film on what went wrong at Enron. The neoconservatives in the White House and the Pentagon outsmarted themselves. They failed even to address the problem of how to finance their schemes of imperialist wars and global domination.

As a result, going into 2008, the United States finds itself in the anomalous position of being unable to pay for its own elevated living standards or its wasteful, overly large military establishment. Its government no longer even attempts to reduce the ruinous expenses of maintaining huge standing armies, replacing the equipment that seven years of wars have destroyed or worn out, or preparing for a war in outer space against unknown adversaries. Instead, the Bush administration puts off these costs for future generations to pay or repudiate. This fiscal irresponsibility has been disguised through many manipulative financial schemes (causing poorer countries to lend us unprecedented sums of money), but the time of reckoning is fast approaching.

… Our short tenure as the world’s lone superpower has come to an end. As Harvard economics professor Benjamin Friedman has written: “Again and again it has always been the world’s leading lending country that has been the premier country in terms of political influence, diplomatic influence and cultural influence. It’s no accident that we took over the role from the British at the same time that we took over the job of being the world’s leading lending country. Today we are no longer the world’s leading lending country. In fact we are now the world’s biggest debtor country, and we are continuing to wield influence on the basis of military prowess alone.”

Some of the damage can never be rectified. There are, however, some steps that the U.S. urgently needs to take. These include reversing Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for the wealthy, beginning to liquidate our global empire of over 800 military bases, cutting from the defense budget all projects that bear no relationship to national security and ceasing to use the defense budget as a Keynesian jobs program.

If we do these things we have a chance of squeaking by. If we don’t, we face probable national insolvency and a long depression.

Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling). 

7 thoughts on “Some interesting reading for your weekend

  1. An update has been added to this post: “Why this crisis is still far from finished”, Mohamed El-Erian, Financial Times (24 April 2008) — The financial fore-shocks have passed, but major shock — the recession — lies ahead.

  2. Fabius, several of the articles in the Kilcullen list have inoperative links, e.g., “Chaos vs. Predictability: A Critique of Effects-based Operations“.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Thanks! Links to the Australian Army Journal are slowly breaking. I have fixed all but one, and noted the problem for that link.

  3. The Pentagon Strangles Our Economy: Why the U.S. Has Gone Broke“, Chalmers Johnson, Le Monde diplomatique (26 April 2008) — “60 years of enormous military spending is taking a dramatic toll on the rest of the economy.” Excerpt:

    “Federal Financial Management Improvement Act” … Neither the Department of Defense, nor the Department of Homeland Security, has ever complied … Congress has complained, but not penalized either department for ignoring the law…”

    Taxation without representation?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Absolutely not “taxation without representation.” We elect our representatives, nor have their been widespread protests against the post-WWII expansion of the military-industrial complex. Nor can we complain that we have not been told. President Eisenhower’s warning was clear, and there have been countless stories in the mainstream media about this over the past few decades.
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    If our response to these things is to blame others instead of our own fecklessness, then perhaps we are not capable of self-government.
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    Thank for your bringing this article to our attention. I have added an update about this.

  4. I’m not sure Ann Marlowe deserves a place in the serious analysis of the Human Terrain System. Much of the criticism is warranted, especially over the nature of the military’s collaboration and potential cooptation of social science fields, but Ms. Marlowe has demonstrated a rather poor understanding of both counterinsurgency theory, and the specifics of the country she chooses to cover. I highly suggest reading critiques of her analysis by Péter Marton, Dave Dilegge, and Abu Muqawama for starters.

    I think HTS is an important program that should be criticized and fully transparent. But I also think it’s worthwhile to promote constructive criticism of it, and not the ramblings of one who uses her occasional week-long embeds to silence her critics.
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    Update: Sorry — I glanced over {missed} the link to Dilegge’s criticism. I’d still recommend the other two.

    And I realize this looks like I’m just pushing sour grapes because I’ve argued against her. My criticism of her is not personal; I’ve just not found the criticisms she levels to be constructive toward the overall discussion over the program’s validity.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Thank you for adding links to the other two critiques. I did not add them due to their brief and superficial nature. This kind blog posts are useful discussion starters and pointer to interesting articles, but too imo short to be considered as constructive criticism long afterwards.

  5. One last thing: Chalmers Johnson is being willfully blind if he thinks military spending is in any way comparable to other social programs. Figures depicting the military budget usually omit non-discretionary funding, such as social security and medicare/medicaid, which are not only bloated, ineffecient, and riddled with fraud, but also vastly outweigh the amount of money spent on weapons systems.

    So while it is certainly true that the DoD budget is riddled with fraud as well (I’m constantly amazed at how few contract officers and corporate executives don’t wind up in jail for the stunts they pull), it is no more so than any other federal program, and represents a relatively smaller portion of the Federal budget than other concerns (similarly, the DoD budget remains a vanishing portion of our national GDP, and thus probably represents a relatively small portion of tax revenue, though I haven’t crunched the numbers to confirm this).

    The big difference between social welfare programs and the military is that it is difficult politically to argue against giving old people medicine, while it is relatively easy to point to the $10 billion a month spent on Iraq and ask “why.”

    This isn’t about the relative value of either initiative, but to pretend the military has such an outsized impact on the economy is a bit silly. Johnson tacitly admits this when he compares the DoD budget only to other countries with a fraction of our (economic) size, rather than in the context of the total Federal budget (while he rightly complains about the military costing a great deal, he doesn’t touch the incredible funding increases in other departments under Bush, such as Education or Medicare). So I wouldn’t place too much stock in what he says until he places it in a proper context. It may well be that the military is bloated and out of control—I would certainly argue that—but to place the military at the center of the government and society’s impending financial implosion is to let his publishing zeitgeist overwhelm his rigor.

  6. “We elect our representatives, nor have their been widespread protests against the post-WWII expansion of the military-industrial complex. Nor can we complain that we have not been told. President Eisenhower’s warning was clear, and there have been countless stories in the mainstream media about this over the past few decades.
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    If our response to these things is to blame others instead of our own fecklessness, then perhaps we are not capable of self-government.”

    I don’t think you’re being fair to the American people, Fabius. Americans have voted, protested, written, and used every peaceful means to try to reform their government. They have not been entirely feckless and passive. They appear to have been outmaneuvered by those in power — that doesn’t mean they just sat around doing nothing.
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    Also, American voters do not elect their representatives. Diebold does, and exit polls make this abundantly obvious.

    To be outmaneuvered by an oppresser is not the same thing as deserving to be oppressed.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I believe this is overstated.

    “Diebold does, and exit polls make this abundantly obvious.”

    Diebold’s electronic voting machines are a new development — unlike the trends I discussed — and is used in only a fraction of America’s voting boths. Exit polls — like polling in general — has a long history of inaccurate results. Polls do not “prove” anything..

    “Americans have voted, protested, written, and used every peaceful means to try to reform their government.”

    Are you kidding? Did I miss the mass protests, the marches, the petitions, the widespread popular outrage?

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