Recommended weekend reading

Some posts you might find of interest.

  1. How Complex Systems Fail“, Richard I. Cook (MD, Cognitive technologies Laboratory, U Chicago), 21 April 2000 — “A Short Treatise on the Nature of Failure; How Failure is Evaluated; How Failure is Attributed to Proximate Cause; and the Resulting New Understanding of Patient Safety (hat tip to Michael Krigsman at ZD Net)
  2. Such a Waste of Fine Infantry“, Jeff Huber,, 5 November 2009 — A look at the Af-Pak War.
  3. The Future of Nuclear Power“, MIT Study, updated 2009
  4. Reviews Raise Doubt on Training of Afghan Forces“, New York Times, 6 November 2009

For something different, two articles about our animal friends:

For more information from the FM site

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Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 word max), civil and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

25 thoughts on “Recommended weekend reading”

  1. Number 2 is a classic!

    El Comandate: Go tell those shepherds the we know they have been naughty.
    Libralo: I don’t care, I wanna go home and party.
    Conservatus: I say we back off and nuke the place from orbit.
    Hasan: Gee, how about those Mets?
    Unknown: BLAM!

  2. re the anti war link.. total bullshit and of course.. i expect no less of you. our foreign policy is only as futile as the idiots that employ it. if we had enough troops in afghanistan to ensure that the tribal leaders could trust us.. it would solve the problem that our troops have. have you ever linked to a pro-war/pro-american website? if you have.. i haven’t seen it.
    FM reply: Some specifics at last. Excellent!

    (1) “if we had enough troops in afghanistan”

    We do not have sufficient troops, unless we pulled out of Iraq. There are many articles in the military literature about calculating force requirements. The most cited is “Force Requirements in Stability Operations“, James T. Quinlivan, Parameters, Winter 1995. The COIN manual, FM 3-24, echoed Quinlivan’s conclusions. For a discussion of this see How many troops would it take to win in Afghanistan?, 15 September 2009.

    (2) “to ensure that the tribal leaders could trust us”

    That’s problematic. Foreign infidel troops supporting an illegitmate leader, not a happy combination. Can you think of post-WWII examples where this has worked?

    (3) “have you ever linked to a pro-war/pro-american website?”

    Yes. For example:
    * Registan(5 to the site, plus 18 to Joshua Foust — a strong advocate of the Af-Pak war who writes there),
    * Stratfor (54 posts), and
    * Bernard Finel’s blog (12 posts)
    * The Zenpundit (10 posts)

    These (and others) have been recommended on this site many times (the links go to articles on the FM site, as evidence). All have had their pro-war articles excepted here, with varying degrees of criticism.

    This website’s primary source of information about our wars is also most important and valuable of the pro-war sites: the US government.

    More broadly speaking, this site has linked to most of the major pro-war voices, with long excepts and links. For example:
    * Max Boot (3 posts),
    * Andrew Exum (7 posts),
    * David Kilcullen (18 posts),
    * John Nagl (17 posts), and
    * Ralph Peters (16 posts)

    Readers of this site have been exposed to the writings of the war’s advocates. What pro-war websites do your read, and can you say the same about them? Most of the comments on this thread come from those reading the Instapundit, which site almost never shows any criticism of the war.

  3. It’s not our playground, it’s theirs. They don’t have to trust us more. We need to be able to trust them more. That isn’t gonna happen while we’re yelling “straighten up and speak American!” :)

  4. Fifty thousand more? Five hundred thousand? Five years, ten years, fifty years? I dunno, how much you got in your piggy bank? :P

  5. Don’t confuse this firefight with one of those deals where the bad guys are mixed in with the population and Gen. Stan McChrystal’s goofy rules of engagement require our guys to tie both hands behind their backs and box with their chins. This was a straight up fight between our guys and an inferior force, and our guys were lucky to get out of it with mere joint sprains.

    This is part of the “we were stabbed in the back” mythos that has become standard. Meaningless rules of engagement doubtless proposed by some Harvard intellectual seeking praise from trendy French newspapers.

    One difference between the current War on Terror and earlier imperialisms is that in previous efforts, large numbers of colonial forces “went native.” They didn’t need to pull “bull in china shop routines” with total strangers. They had their ear on the grapevine. There would be lots of Afghan carpets and – yes – opium that they would be trading in. It was called the “Great Game” – and it’s very well known actually. (I haven’t read Joseph Conrad, but Lord Jim should also be a feature here.) So you don’t just go thrashing about and barging in everywhere.

    But the US military persists instead in high tech gizmos and the like.
    FM reply: For a deep analysis of this phenomenon, I strongly recommend reading Wolfgang Schivelbusch’s “The Culture of Defeat – On national trauma, mourning, and recovery” (2001).

  6. I guess Nigel Blundell at the Daily Telegraph has been out of the loop. Ever since it was discovered that dolphins gang rape the females, dolphins stories have been out of vogue.

  7. War is becoming obsolete. It used to be that a country would gather resources to attack another country in the hopes that if successful, they’d have more resources. Now we linger around for years engaging in pointless destruction while trying to make the people “western”. I’m not anti war. After 9/11 we should have sent the B-2s to level a mountain or two and tell the terrorists “Don’t do it again.” It worked for Regan with Libya.

  8. >> originally touted as a search for water , a Pentagon official has now called the operation ” a pre-emptive strike “which also gives an early warning and a statement of intent to any of those little red bastards watching from Mars . ” Describing the moon as part of ” an axis of darkness “, the spokesman refused to rule out regime change . President Obama,however , called for a ” full and frank dialogue ” with the moon , once it has been properly obliterated , ” so Americans and our dear moon-folk friends might in time come to understand each other better , given repeated carpet bombing “. The man in the moon was unavailable for comment . <<
    UK Sunday Times , 11 0ct 09 .

  9. No one could have believed, in the first half of the twenty first century, that Lunar affairs were being watched … But slowly, and surely, we drew our plans against them.

  10. Sigh. The saddest part of this story is that the “antiwar” article makes more sense than anything posted at, even including several comments from professional officers. Strange days.

  11. Marcus Luttrell was a navy seal and wrote Lone Survivor, a book about his time in Afghanistan, the loss of 2 seal teams and his rescue and aid by Afghans. Are good read on the situation there. Just skip the chapters on his training.

    The Afghan mountains are made up of villages that support, are neutral too, or fight the Taliban, but are growing tired of American bombing and help(correcting) their way of life. No army in recorded history has ever conquered these mountain people.

    We went in to Afghanistan after the Taliban refused to hand over Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda has lost the ability for another 9/11 and the Taliban are no longer running Afghanistan. I believe it’s time to let Afghanistan be Afghanistan and keep a watchful eye from afar.
    FM reply: I have found no evidence that the Taliban refused to hand over Al Qaeda — or that we ever demanded that they do so. As seen in this excerpt from page 332 (Chapter 10 — Wartime) of the 9-11 Commission report:

    The State Department proposed delivering an ultimatum to the Taliban: produce Bin Ladin and his deputies and shut down al Qaeda camps within 24 to 48 hours, or the United States will use all necessary means to destroy the terrorist infrastructure. The State Department did not expect the Taliban to comply. Therefore, State and Defense would plan to build an international coalition to go into Afghanistan.

    Both departments would consult with NATO and other allies and request intelligence, basing, and other support from countries, according to their capabilities and resources. Finally, the plan detailed a public U.S. stance: America would use all its resources to eliminate terrorism as a threat, punish those responsible for the 9/11 attacks, hold states and other actors responsible for providing sanctuary to terrorists, work with a coalition to eliminate terrorist groups and networks, and avoid malice toward any people, religion, or culture. (State Department memo, “Gameplan for Polmil Strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan,” 14 Sept 2001)

    President Bush recalled that he quickly realized that the administration would have to invade Afghanistan with ground troops.

  12. Re FM on #16 – On page 331, Administration officials were in contact with Pakistan political and military leaders with instructions to contact the Taliban. It’s somewhat of a he said, she said situation. The US didn’t make a formal diplomatic demand, but the US was making it clear that the policy would be to attack any country supporting al Qaeda.

    Personal, I think we would have been better off to just provide air support for the Northern Alliance and let the people of Afghanistan rebuild and expel the hated Taliban.

    FM: “Considering that we were about to invade, a formal demand would have been appropriate. We made a big deal of Japan’s failure to do so in WWII. … There was no need to play “telephone” with Pakistan. The Taliban’s leaders read the newspapers.”

    Technically Japan did issues a formal demand. The message just arrived after the bombs.

    Since America didn’t have an embassy in Afghanistan, the government with the closest ties to the Taliban would be Pakistan. Routing dialog though Pakistan would be the logical choice. I don’t recall if the Taliban could read newspapers. The banned most forms of human communication. But even if they did, State doesn’t have the brightest people. Hillary Clinton’s reset button made for the Russians used Latin letters, not Cyrillic. For all we know, State running an add in a Kabul newspaper could have ended up reading as an invitation for chicken wings.

    FM: “You’re kidding, right? I said “We made a big deal of Japan’s failure to do so in WWII. Your reply: “Technically Japan did issues a formal demand.” Did we care about that technicality?

    If your going to be silly, so will I. The US had good information that Japan was going to hit a US island group a year before Pearl Harbor. The US engaged in policies that threatened Japan. A responsible government that engaged in such activities wouldn’t leave their military assets lined up like sitting ducks. So the Japanese were an hour late getting their declaration of war to the White House. We had their codes and knew war was coming.

    I’ll stand by my position on the Taliban. Government to government dialog with the Taliban was best handled through Pakistan. The leadership of Pakistan best knows the people and culture of the people in Afghanistan proper and the tribes in the mountains. We could have used the Swiss, but I don’t think chocolates were the message we wanted to send.

    I doubt you have lived among the people in the middle east. If you had, you’d realized these people don’t use a logic system that is familiar to the west.
    FM reply: Most of this is factually wrong, but too off-topic to go into here in detail.

    The US had every right to restrict export of materials Japan used to make war on China. That was not “threatening”, except to Japan’s war plans. The policy was implemented as a slow tightening, to show Japan that we were serious. For an intro to this, I recommend the early chapters of by Gordon W. Prange’s “At Dawn We Slept”.

    The “we knew of Pearl Harbor” theory is nonsense, ignoring the difficulty intel agencies have coping with a flood of information, esp when grossly underfunded during peacetime. For more on this I recommend the excerpts from Special National Intelligence Estimate (SNIE) 10-41 “The Likelihood of Japanese Military Attack“, 4 December 1941 — This is a must-read for anyone interested in the collection and analysis of intelligence, about the most important NIE (more specifically, the most important NIE never made).

    To say the Taliban doesn’t read newspapers is nuts. Also, I have seen no evidence we made any serious offers to the Taliban re AQ after 9-11, nor is any given here. Your assertion about page 331 of the 9-11 report is false; it says no such thing. We made 7 demands on Pakistan, with no mention of communicating with the Taliban about breaking with AQ. Excerpt:

    The same day, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage met with the Pakistani ambassador to the United States, Maleeha Lodhi, and the visiting head of Pakistan’s military intelligence service, Mahmud Ahmed. Armitage said that the United States wanted Pakistan to take seven steps:

    * to stop al Qaeda operatives at its border and end all logistical support for Bin Ladin;
    * to give the United States blanket overflight and landing rights for all necessary military and intelligence operations;
    * to provide territorial access to U.S. and allied military intelligence and other personnel to conduct operations against al Qaeda;
    * to provide the United States with intelligence information;
    * to continue to publicly condemn the terrorist acts;
    * to cut off all shipments of fuel to the Taliban and stop recruits from going to Afghanistan; and,
    * if the evidence implicated bin Ladin and al Qaeda and the Taliban continued to harbor them, to break relations with the Taliban government.

  13. is a wonderful site, with some excellent writers and of course links.

    It might surprise many of you that it is a Libertarian site, not left wing at all. Backed by the Randolph Bourne Institute, which is about as Conservative as you can get. They are strict Constitutionalists, to quote them:

    “ represents the truly pro-America side of the foreign policy debate. With our focus on a less centralized government and freedom at home, we consider ourselves the real American patriots. “America first!” regards the traditions of a republican government and non-interventionism as paramount to freedom – a concept that helped forge the foundation of this nation. “

    Basically their opposition to war is that wars of choice for the US (and nearly every war the US has been involved in has been a war of choice) destroys the economy, the freedoms and even (or perhaps especially) the ideals of US society.

    While I might argue with them on economic or societal issues (though many of their positions are more ‘liberal’ than many so called ‘liberals as freedom is their first priority) I admire their staunch and unbending idealism and patriotism. A more different crowd from the ‘neo-cons’ you could not imagine.

    They might be wrong, but you know exactly where you stand with them. And are thus worthy of respect, especially as they are more than willing to engage others.

    Add it to your ‘must read list’. And download a few of Scott Horten’s AntiWar Radio podcasts, beneath his ‘oh shucks’ demeanour he is one of the sharpest interviewers around and he gets a dazzling group of people on the show.

    Discloser: yes I contribute money to them, but because it is voluntary, I only do it because they are so good at what they do.
    FM reply: Thanks for the background. I read them daily, and never knew this.

  14. While missions statement is quite rational, the site has no problem jumping to conclusions.

  15. I think the “The Likelihood of Japanese Military Attack“ report is consistent with my point. I’m not taking the “FDR knew and let Pearl happen” view or that the US policy of restricting exports of materials Japan was bad. The US took a position, the Japanese chose to counter with an attack.

    All I’m saying is that America, as the report points out, knew Japan sent a lot of signals that they were engaging in a carrier attack in the pacific. There was also diplomatic chatter a year before Pearl that the Japanese were considering hitting an American target. My only point is that as soon as the US lost sight of Japan’s carrier and sub assets, Pearl’s ships should have been sent to sea until the Japanese intentions could be determined.

    As for a formal declaration to the Taliban, I would agree that we didn’t ring up their acting dictator and ask him to hand over his buddy Bin Laden, not that they would have answered being busy gunning down their own people for violating social protocols.

    You might suggest a realistic means that the US State Department could have used to contact Taliban directly. Or why the US even needed to contact the Taliban. They were a government protecting resources used to attack the US on 9/11 and US assets 6 times during the Clinton administration.
    FM reply: The President could have made a speech, or contacted them through neutral nation. We did neither, despite your false assertions (which I would appreciate your owning up to, not evading). Nor is the report I cited consistent with your assertions about Pearl Harbor, the point of which was that our intel operation at that time was neither funded nor configured to correctly analyze the info we had.

  16. I would take “As for a formal declaration to the Taliban, I would agree that we didn’t ring up their acting dictator and ask him to hand over his buddy Bin Laden” as being clear that we didn’t contract the Taliban faction controlling part of Afghanistan.

    Form the report you cite: Key Judgments {from page 1, the excerpt snipped} The report goes on to list all the reasons why the minority believes in a US attack. Whatever the final conclusions, some people had intel and thought the US was at risk.

    So “My only point is that as soon as the US lost sight of Japan’s carrier and sub assets, Pearl’s ships should have been sent to sea until the Japanese intentions could be determined.” would seem prudent. I’m not backing any kind of conspiracy. The government just made the wrong decisions.
    FM reply: You appear not to have read the article, just copied something from page 1. It was not a real NIE, but an excercise showing what could have been done in 1941 by a modern intel agency. As it says on page 71:

    The first consideration is of course that no such Estimate was in fact ever produced. Our “SNIE” is a wholly theoretical example of what might have been, and what might have changed history, had 2 mandatory prerequisites obtained at the time:
    • That the institution and the processes of the National Intelligence Estimate system had been in
    operation in 1941.
    • And, candidly speaking, that such processes in 1941 had been better — in terms of message,
    presentation, and impact — than many NIEs produced in the recent past and now, a half century later: that is, a World War, a Korean War, a Vietnam War, many small wars and a Cold War later.

    “being clear that we didn’t contract the Taliban”

    That’s not what you said in comment #18, with your false reference to “p331” of the 9-11 report. You have a pattern of changing your story, which makes logical response to your comments difficult.

    Please do better, or I’ll moderate your future comments. This is too much.

  17. I thought the report read like fiction but you kept harping about it. I have read some of the source material used to make the “report”. Having read “And I Was There : Breaking the Secrets – Pearl Harbor and Midway”, the conclusion of this non fiction work was had Washington passed along all intel related to Pearl, Rear Admiral Edwin T. Layton view is that the ships a Pearl would have been sent to sea.

    Layton knew of a 1933 war game where Pearl was taken out by a carrier attack. His view is valid.

  18. bannedmanchronos

    I don’t quite understand your view for the need for chess match type diplomacy with the Taliban. It is a quasi military/terrorist like group that controls areas in 2 countries. While technically considered the government of Afghanistan, the country was in civil war at the time of 9/11. Wiki of Afghanistan:

    Politics in Afghanistan has historically consisted of power struggles, bloody coups and unstable transfers of power. With the exception of a military junta, the country has been governed by nearly every system of government over the past century, including a monarchy, republic, theocracy and communist state.

    4 of the 7 demands on Pakistan would have sent up red flare warnings to the Taliban of US intentions even if Pakistan never communicated with the Taliban. But we must remember that the report is quoting Richard Armitage, the guy that forgot he “leaked” Valerie Plame’s name in that non criminal affair. So your working from a politically cleaned up report quoting a guy with questionable memory.

    We clearly had people talking with the Northern Alliance and it would be surprising if some for of communication wasn’t tried with the Taliban that didn’t get in it to some public government report, but considering the nature of the group, effective communication with it’s “leadership” way well have been impossible.

    This is a group that took a UN built stadium and turned it in to Roman like arena of death. They weren’t exactly operating a government consistence with international standards.

    End the end, I don’t feel that any contact was required. The Taliban/al qaeda chose to attack civilians in the US. They became a legitimate target regardless of whether a well written letter was sent to them in a diplomatic pouch.
    FM reply: All good questions! As for the origins of the war, you are speculating. “Red flags”, “cleaned-up report”, “clearly had”. The alternative, unequivocally stated in the 9-11 report is that we intended to invade Afghanistan no matter what the Taliban did. We did not ask them to surrender Al Qaeda, as that would have ruined our caus beli.

    ‘Taliban/al qaeda chose to attack civilians in the US.”

    False on several levels. There is no such thing as “Taliban/Al Qaeda.” We don’t know that the Taliban’s leaders knew in advance of the 9-11 attack, and Afghanistan had no substantial role in the attack. No Taliban people were involved; no Afghanistan facilities played a significant role. It was planned in Hamburg, they trained in Miani. That’s one of the big lies underlying our wars. This is discussed in more detail in these posts:
    * The Big Lie at work in Afghanistan – an open discussion
    * You can end our war in Afghanistan

  19. bannedmanchronos

    I don’t really contest your points. The 9-11 report is a public document made by politicians which tend to give themselves the best spin. I’d look at Dean in the Nixon administration as a good example.

    Were the people of Afghanistan aiding world terror programs? No. I’d even agree that little to no terrorist training in Afghanistan was used in 9-11.

    I think Taliban/Al Qaeda is open to debate. There were 2 main groups fighting the Russians. The proto Taliban/Al Qaeda and the proto Northern Alliance. Black opps get murky, but one group was backed by Saudi Arabia and the other by the US through Pakistan.

    Bin Laden had a close relationship with the proto Taliban/Al Qaeda group. There is plenty of video of him with the group from that era. With the Russians gone the proto Taliban/Al Qaeda seems to have split in to a governing body and a terror body with the governing group fighting the Northern Alliance.

    “False on several levels. There is no such thing as “Taliban/Al Qaeda.” We don’t know that the Taliban’s leaders knew in advance of the 9-11 attack”

    I agree that Google isn’t going to find a pdf somewhere showing the connection. Considering the origin of the groups, a relationship can’t be dismissed either. A lack of knowledge doesn’t automatically invalidate the entire debate.

    “It was planned in Hamburg, they trained in Miami.”

    Agreed, but you can’t really think attacking these cities would deal with the problem. Command and control seemed to be in Afghanistan.

    “All good questions! As for the origins of the war, you are speculating (aka guessing).”

    I wouldn’t equate speculating with guessing. If you go that route, you could relegate statisticians to which doctors.

    I don’t think all information about the 2 current wars are in the public domain. I think Bush did a very poor job managing the wars. But I’m quite willing to speculate that Obama has both wars still going in 2012 to use as a tool for reelection.
    FM reply: The problem with alluding to non-public information is that it is as likely to undercut your theory as support it. As for Obama, I don’t see how expanding the war is a “tool for reelection.” Polls show support is under 50% and falling; it is esp unpopular among his base.

    “I think Taliban/Al Qaeda is open to debate.”

    I have seen nothing by an expert supporting your theory. The 9-11 Commission report (pp 63-70) shows that they were distinct groups, and allied only in 1996-98 (the USSR left in 1989).

    “proto Taliban/Al Qaeda group’

    I have never seen evidence of any such thing.

    “A lack of knowledge doesn’t automatically invalidate the entire debate.”

    It just moves it into the realm of fantasy. This is why I prefer to discuss some form of expert analysis. This kind of thing, citing nothing but lack of evidence, can go on forever to neither a point nor conclusion.

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