Tag Archives: chet richards

What should we do about Somalia?

Introduction:  Chet Richards (Colonel, USAF, retired) originally posted at Defense and the National Interest.  Everything he writes is worth reading; this is one of his best.

Beats hell out of me.  First, it’s not clear that there really is a Somalia — the CIA World Factbook identifies the Republic of Somaliland and a self-declared autonomous state of Puntland as making strides towards legitimate, representative government.  New states, in other words.

Second, the only reasons most Americans care at all about Somalia, other than those with relatives in the area, are 1) pirates, and 2) terrorists.  Pirates are the current news filler nowadays, so lets look at terrorists.

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What Tom Barnett should have told Congress about America’s 21st century Navy

Thomas Barnett is one of our foremost geopolitical visionaries, so his presentations are always worth attention.  His latest is insightful and elegantly expressed, as always.  However, I have a few suggestions — minor changes to make  it better suit the current situation and needs of America.  (I have a draft post in the pipeline describing the implication of the revised Barnett speech for our naval forces.)

Statement submitted By Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett, Senior Managing Director, Enterra Solutions LLC to the Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Subcommittee, House Armed Services Committee, United States Congress, 26 March 2009 (Hat tip to the always-interesting Zenpundit).

I fully agree with the opening of Barnett’s presentation:

I appear before the subcommittee today to provide my professional analysis of the current global security environment and future conflict trends, concentrating on how accurately–in my opinion–America’s naval services address both in their strategic vision and force-structure planning. As has been the case throughout my 2 decades of working for, and with, the Department of Navy, current procurement plans portend a “train wreck” between desired fleet size and likely future budget levels dedicated to shipbuilding.

I am neither surprised nor dismayed by this current mismatch, for it reflects the inherent tension between the Department’s continuing desire to maintain some suitable portion of its legacy force and its more recent impulse toward adapting itself to the far more prosaic tasks of integrating globalization’s “frontier areas” — as I like to call them — as part of our nation’s decades-long effort to play bodyguard to the global economy’s advance, as well as defeat its enemies in the “long war against violent extremism” following 9/11. Right now, this tension is mirrored throughout the Defense Department as a whole: between what Secretary Gates has defined as the “next-war-itis” crowd (primarily Air Force and Navy) and those left with the ever-growing burdens of the long war — namely, the Army and Marines.

Let’s skip ahead to the money paragraph:

As someone who helped write the Department of Navy’s white paper, …From the Sea, in the early 1990s and has spent the last decade arguing that America’s grand strategy should center on fostering globalization’s advance, I greatly welcome the Department’s 2007 Maritime Strategic Concept that stated:

“United States seapower will be globally postured to secure our homeland and citizens from direct attack and to advance our interests around the world. As our security and prosperity are inextricably linked with those of others, U.S. maritime forces will be deployed to protect and sustain the peaceful global system comprised of interdependent networks of trade, finance, information, law, people and governance.’

I suggest a few tweaks to the remaining text.  Better yet, let’s throw it out and substitute the following text.

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Globalization and free trade: wonders of a past era, now enemies of America?

Summary:  Something is wrong with America, rendering our society incapable of connecting effectively to reality.  Who can tell what has caused this social illness, a form of cultural Alzheimer’s?  The symptoms appear in many aspects of our national public policy, an inability to effectively take collective action in critical areas such as energy, geopolitics, and management of our economy.  This is chapter 2; the first chapter (6 December 2007) discussed our housing bubble.


  1. Introduction
  2. A brief look at free trade
  3. Problem recognition is always the first step
  4. About those wages for highly trained professionals
  5. Ricardo probably would consider our trade policies insane
  6. Mockery of obsolete orthodoxy, an effective tool to encourage thought
  7. Other reports about free trade and globalization
  8. Afterword and where to go for more information

(1)  Introduction

Globalization — the free flow of capital, jobs, and trade — was a pillar of the post-WWII geopolitical regime.  Economists and the foreign policy establishment assure us that this globalization is an unqualified good thing — a “win-win” for all parties.  That is, of course, absurd.  Globalization in its current form has clearly become problematic for America.  It has weakened us in important ways during the past 3 decades.  Unless we start to think more clearly about trade, the ill effects will grow both during this downturn and in the following recovery.

Our inability to adjust to this change is another example of America’s broken thinking.  The late USAF Colonel John Boyd described the connection of individuals or groups to reality as a process:  Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act.  For a description of the OODA loop see this or Wikipedia.   All four phases of this process seem to work poorly in modern America, but we seem to have special difficulty with orientation.  To learn more about Orientation see this article by Chet Richards.

(2)  A brief look at free trade

Is free trade beneficial to the US?  David Ricardo stated that both sides benefited if the key factors of production were not mobile (On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, chapter 7).  That was true in 1817, but not so today.  Three of the key factors are mobile: knowledge, capital, and labor (both as migration and outsourcing).

The expansion of our exposure to third world competition was tolerable so long as limited to traditional “tradable goods.”  Now both sophisticated manufacturing can be done almost anywhere, exposing a large fraction of our workforce to global wage competition. Worse, globalization is expanding to services.  Another tranche of high paying jobs — this time white collar, professional jobs — are going overseas.

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How can America adapt to a new world? A conference about national security lights the way.

As the post-WWII era ends, America’s public policy must adapt to a changed world, with new domestic and international challenges.  Where will we find the necessary new ideas? 

Can our current institutions innovate on this scale?   Our “think tanks” have evolved to serve their patrons with exquisite sensitivity, unfortunately with the loss of much creativity and awareness.  The government has  talent in its ranks, but locked into a bureaucracy like something from “Dilbert” (on its good days, like something from a Kafka story on its bad days).

A solution

  1. Meetings of small groups of people
  2. who have a wide range of training and occupations,
  3. organized around a specific analytical method or perspective,
  4. with a broad but clearly defined subject or focus.

 This encourages both clear communication and the clashing of views, both prerequisites for intellectual progress.  Conferences with two or three of these factors are common; all four are rare.  Here is one example, well-worth considering:

The Boyd 2008 Conference/Colloquium
4GW, Resiliency, and the Decline of the State.  How Boyd’s ideas can help.

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Georgia = Grenada, an antidote to Cold War II

Summary:  Bob Killebrew at the SWC displays the aggressive aspect of American strategy, joining the chorus calling for us to restart the cold war.  Fortunately we have Chet Richards to provide a useful perspective on the events in Georgia.  The contrast tells much about America.

What will the 2033 version of Wikipedia say about the Georgia – Russia fighting?  Chet Richards (Colonel, US Air Force, retired) suggests (via email) that we look at a similar event that occurred 25 years ago.  (Others have also compared the current fighting to Grenada, but I found none with this focus).  From today’s Wikipedia:

The Invasion of Grenada, codenamed Operation Urgent Fury, was an invasion of the island nation of Grenada by the United States of America and several other nations in response to an internal power struggle which ended with the deposition and execution of Grenadan Prime Minister Maurice Bishop. On October 25, 1983, the United States, Barbados, Jamaica and members of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States landed ships on Grenada, defeated Grenadian and Cuban resistance and overthrew the military government of Hudson Austin.

The invasion was highly criticised by the United Kingdom, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada and the United Nations General Assembly, which condemned it as “a flagrant violation of international law”.[4] Conversely, it was reported to have enjoyed broad public support in the United States[5] as well as in segments of the population in Grenada. October 25 is a national holiday in Grenada, called Thanksgiving Day, to commemorate this event. Approximately 100 people lost their lives.

The Soviet Union pushed into our sphere of influence; we responded by invading Grenada and changing its government.  That’s what great powers do.  This simple insight, a commonplace of history, provides an antidote to the hysterical over-reaction of so many American geopolitical experts.  Like this essay, calling for us to restart the cold war.  Reading it illustrates why so many people in other lands consider the US a loose cannon on the world stage — too quick to escalate military tensions.

Russia-Georgia: Early Take“, Robert Killebrew (Colonel, US Army, retired), posted at the Small Wars Council, 15 August 2008 — Excerpt:

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