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December 16, 2009

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Except in Dr. S, you'll recall as I recall the recall doesn't work.

I think I recall that ;)

That is, if I recall correctly.

:meow:

This is utterly absurd. First, the economics is stupid; if the government isn't spending $2 billion on useless things, the people who would be making those useless things will have to find something else to do, probably something less useless, and will be getting most of that $2 billion for whatever else they're doing. Second, eliminating bombers isn't replacing everything with ICBMs and SLBMs. Fighters can deliver nuclear weapons, guided missile cruisers can deliver nuclear weapons. If we want to act all menacing without actually launching weapons that can't be recalled, we can station fighters near our enemy, even fly them into enemy airspace if we feel like it, or send aircraft carriers and guided missile cruisers into their waters. We don't need to send bombers. Bombers really are obsolete.

Not all nuclear bombers are B-2s, Aaron.

Fighters are notoriously short-legged. They're not a credible threat to targets well inside a region where someone else controls the airspace.

guided missile cruisers can deliver nuclear weapons

Tomahawks are also relatively short-legged, so you're confined to a certain distance from the water where the ship is. Let's call it 1000 miles. Which is not peanuts, but it (as a further limitation) takes rather longer to put a Tomahawk-carrying naval vessel in range to launch than it does to launch a bomber and put it in vicinity of the target.

Unless the ship is already on site, that is.

Apropos of nothing, I haven't read this blog in a while, and it's kind of disturbing to see that it has become exclusively focused on warfare and the military.

Shane, Lindsey just posted about Copenhagen. And we're shuffling our roster post-Hilzoy and post-Publius to try to get some better balance. Bear with us.

"I'm all for a handful of failsafe missiles on Trident submarines; they would serve as a final deterrent."

Which is all we really should need, IMO.

"I'd prefer Slim Pickens ..."

The budgetary savings of getting rid of cowboy hats for pilots and crew alone would pay off much of the structural deficit.

"The budgetary savings of getting rid of cowboy hats for pilots and crew alone would pay off much of the structural deficit."

Unfortunately, the constantly escalating cost of chaps adequate to provide protection against the latest missiles would offset this savings in the out years.

A manned bomber can be prepped, armed, manned and sent off an airbase in a matter of hours. In those hours, diplomats can let a potential adversary know that the US is serious, can attempt to find a solution and can do what they are meant to do.

I admit, I don't see this as being particularly useful. We are either committed to a nuclear attack or we aren't; launching the bombers can't be both committing (ie forcing the enemy to recognize how serious we are) and not committing (ie recallable after the negotiations).

If what you said was true, we could just put bombers in the air every time we got in a bind with some WTO disagreement. But of course, we can't do that, because no one would believe that putting bombers in the air is equivalent to threatening a nuclear strike in those circumstances. The threat to strike is as credible as the situation it responds to (eg China invading Taiwan), not reversible actions we might take preparing to launch one IMO.

Now, like any other animals that fight one another for dominance, human beings use signals to indicate position. And our innate signals don't work in modern warfare, so we use alternative signals. But the signals themselves are arbitrary- the CIC can tell the enemy that we're at Defcon 2, which should serve the same basic purpose as launching bombers.

it isn't exactly like we are spending that same amount on cars built in Germany or Saudi oil.

Something of a broken-window fallacy as mentioned above, but even the macro-economic point smells off to me. Once we send $2B of taxpayer money to the Gulf it pings around overseas until someone buys something from us.

Of course, it's more likely to get loaned back to us once it goes overseas, I guess.

But the point has fascinated me for some time now.

We're spending $800 billion now on "defense". At $50,000 per job, that's 16 million jobs. (!)

They're [fighters] not a credible threat to targets well inside a region where someone else controls the airspace.

If we're going toe-to-toe with a continental power, we're going to wish we had fewer bombers and more other stuff like missiles.

Making an argument for this kind of spending, given how screwed we are economically, is pretty whack IMO. Hopefully we won't have too many more years of this martial extravagance left in us and we'll be able to move on past this manifest nonsense.

@Troy and others, ref:economics;

The point I was making is that I get the argument "bombers make jobs" that the contractors sell to Congress. I'd prefer "schools make jobs" or "infrastructure repair makes jobs" over bombers, but we always don't get what we want. And defense is one of those things that congressmen feel obligated to vote for (the Right by their 'strong on defense' mantra; the Left by not wanting to look 'weak on defense').
Not saying that it means I agree with the theory, but just saying that I understand it.

@Shane M--a friend just noted on an email the fact that the use of drones may actually cause a nuclear war. Would any drone that flies near a country suddenly be considered a potential nuclear-carrying threat? that is pretty damn destabilizing...

Yeah, there is a lot of war talk, which is interesting for some but not for most. That said, if you need a bomber bad enough to use it, you really need it badly. War isn't going away, regardless of how much most of us would like to see that happen. Bombers, in addition to being subject to recall, can be reload, reused, refurbished, redeployed, etc. We are a tech-heavy, systems-heavy force structure due primarily to geography and secondarily to widespread opposition to large standing armies. We use force multipliers instead. Bombers, strategic and tactical, are essential.

I find the war talk less depressing than the discussions on the travails of health care legislation over at Daily Kos.

Is annyone worried about the Air Force being systematically infiltrated by religious wackos who think they are bouund to carry out God's will which they think is to bring about the End TImes?

I actually know a person who interpets everything this way. He thinks Obama's trip to Copenhagen is part of a conspiracy to set up one world governmwnt which he says the Bible predicted as a step just before the End. Fortunatley he isn't in the armed services.

Any way apart form this paranoia I have about religous nuts, I'm not sure I trust human judgement all that much. But given the choice I'd prefer a system that requires a whole string of people to act and that can be recalled.

"He thinks Obama's trip to Copenhagen is part of a conspiracy to set up one world governmwnt which he says the Bible predicted as a step just before the End."

I thought everyone knew this?

I think that your argument makes bombers look even more useless.

The nuclear option is only necessary in the face of a near-peer competitor, probably China. Threatening such a country with nukes is incredibly dangerous, because their reaction is likely to be a first strike. Nations almost always act aggressively when threatened, even when rational analysis suggests that they can't win. Under the circumstances, the best choice is peace, and the second best choice is a first strike.

Slartibartfast: The range of a nuclear platform doesn't matter all that much. Most good targets are near the ocean. Also, the EMP of a good sized hydrogen bomb would irreparably destroy every microcircuit on a continent (except a few military shielded systems), and every radio (since attaching an antenna to a circuit is the exact opposite of shielding the circuit). A single airburst over Shanghai would turn off the lights, fairly permanently, over most of the high tech areas of China, all of Japan and Taiwan, and possibly a good chunk of India. Advanced countries have gotten a lot more vulnerable to nukes in the past 30 years.


"Bombers, strategic and tactical, are essential."
Amen, to that, Bro...

And those stealth B-2s don't only have to carry nuke payloads; they can drop other 'strategic' bombs as well. And if the current generation of bombers is 'largely antiquated' we should replace them with something more effective; and instead of slowly phasing them out, we should send them out in a blaze of Slim Pickins' glory:

Twas the Night Before Christmas, and all through Tehran
The Mullahs were praying, for a Nuclear Iran.
The cyclotrons were spinning full speed ahead
The reactors at Isfahan converting yellowcake bread.

Although the West sternly warned them to cease and desist,
The Iranians refused, and continued to insist
Their intentions were peaceful, far beyond reproach,
Their national sovereignty would not be encroached.

To them the U.N. grumbled, and the members complained,
And even relations with their allies were strained.
But the Iranians ignored them, both sanctions and condemnation,
For their inexorable goal was a nuclear nation.

And so they continued constructing nuclear vaults,
And testing long range missiles in a threatening waltz,
Revealing their IAEA promises were merely a charade,
And of threats from the West, they were snidely unafraid.

But then out of the night there arose such a clatter,
Propelling Ahmadinejad from bed, to see what was the matter.

Across to the window he did made a mad dash,
And threw open the shutters to see a blinding flash.

The sky was alive with airplanes galore,
And bunker-buster concussions knocked him to the floor.
As he lay there surrounded by smoke and debris,
The heavens were filled with an USAF jubilee.

And onto Chalus, and Isfahan, and Qom
Fell 30,000 lb facility penetrating bombs.
Like avenging angels through the darkening sky
The B-52 bombers unloaded their payloads, and away they did fly.

And the stars they did twinkle, and the clouds they did roll,
And the landscape of Iran was pockmarked with cratering holes.
And as the planes banked, and flew out of sight,
A voice from above sang out: "And to all, might is right!!"

I don't drive a 60 year old car
I'm certainly not typing this on a 60 year old computer
The marines and army don't use 60 year old rifles
When I fly to Disney World, I don't go in a 60 year old jet
Our armored units don't use 60 year old tanks
Why in Beelzebub's name is our strategic nuclear deterrent based on bombers that were already 10-20 years old when we used them in Vietnam?


Slartibartfast: The range of a nuclear platform doesn't matter all that much. Most good targets are near the ocean.

True enough. But there's still that potential time delay to get a ship on site, if it's not already there.

I thought I mentioned that.

Why wouldn't a remotely piloted version of the exact same thing confer those same benefits?

This one's pretty easy . . . comms can never be 100% secure, and losing control of a nuclear bomber due to a zeroday exploit would ruin everyone's day.

If I were King I'd rather have 1000 USN missiles vice one USAF bomber, but that's just me. I'd also cut the army down to the ANG/AR, the navy down to sea control and logistical support of the USMC, and the USAF down to the AFSPC. If the job is too big for the 4 divisions of the USMC, then we'd have to find some friends to go in with us.

Why in Beelzebub's name is our strategic nuclear deterrent based on bombers that were already 10-20 years old when we used them in Vietnam?

because it's not much of a deterrent anyway regardless of the paint job.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marginal_utility

Why in Beelzebub's name is our strategic nuclear deterrent based on bombers that were already 10-20 years old when we used them in Vietnam?

a) B-52s in current use were built in 1959-1964, so: 50 years old.

b) "based in part on" would be more accurate than "based on", which sounds as if we can only drop nuclear bombs and ASMs from B-52s. There are 94 B-52s in inventory, 90-ish B-1Bs and maybe 20 B-2s.

All of these aircraft can and do carry conventional weapons as well as the nuclear kind. B-52H and B-1B are, additionally, getting targeting hardware and other avionics upgrades to facilitate the use of precision targeted munitions.

"Why in Beelzebub's name is our strategic nuclear deterrent based on bombers that were already 10-20 years old when we used them in Vietnam?"


The B2-Stealth was not 'activated' into service until 1997; and you can be sure every year it's been in operation it's been upgraded and refined: in December lst year the plane's radar was modernized with advanced state of the art electronics; and this past April it was retro-fitted to accommodate the 30 thousand lb penetrator bombs necessary to take out Iran's underground nuclear facilities.

The B52-H's are like big flying ten-wheelers: they are reliable, can carry a lot of bombs, are relatively cheap to build, have low operating costs, and
reliably perform at high subsonic speeds. Short of a warp-drive rocket, or an invisibility shield, exactly what kind of 'modernizing' improvements would make them better?

Short of full nuclear disarmament, however, I'd prefer Slim Pickens flying in a recallable bomber than two guys in a silo in Nebraska with funny keys around their necks.

Okay, I'll grant that, but... even if we should agree that the manned nuclear bomber still has a place in the world, can we at least take as a lesson from Dr. S that we don't still need manned nuclear bombs?

True enough. But there's still that potential time delay to get a ship on site, if it's not already there.

But the whole point of Bob's argument was that the B2 deterrent is slow--it gives the target time to come to a diplomatic solution. So the deployment time of the sea-based solutions is a feature in this argument. Similarly, the need to stay within 1000 miles of the coast is also not a burden, as it is not the precise choice of target that makes the threat palpable, but rather the relentless march to nuclear war. For immediate strikes, we have ICBMs. I can understand keeping strategic conventional bombers around, and given a pressing need, they could be forced into nuclear service easily enough, but to keep a standing array of nuclear bombers as a deterrent seems terribly wasteful to me. The ICBM does it better, and the sea-based options work fine for nuclear diplomacy.

Why in Beelzebub's name is our strategic nuclear deterrent based on bombers that were already 10-20 years old when we used them in Vietnam?

The basic mission capabilities -- subsonic, long range, big payload, capable of carrying a variety of munitions, cheap to operate -- remain unchanged. The air frame design may be that old, but pretty much everything that could be upgraded has been upgraded at some point. Current Air Force long-term plans call for continuing to operate the B-52H until 2040.

Perhaps worth noting is that the Russian Tu-95 strategic bomber is almost as old in origin (although they continued building them into the 1990s), and the Russians plan on operating their 95s until 2040.

(Welcome to ObWi!)

And starting you off as you should probably expect to go on: no offense, but this post seems pretty silly to me. I wrote a much longer comment but it really boiled down to asking why a foreign leader would take the US seriously when it said nuclear-armed bombers were on the way but not when it said it would launch a missile attack in four hours. "Gee, I thought you were kidding about the missiles" doesn't seem a likely response.

That said, I think the US should probably retain all or most of the current bomber fleet because it already paid for it, and it's extremely effective for conventional use. In 60 years, nothing that invalidates the basics of the B-52 design has changed about the process of dropping a semi-truck full of bombs on a target. The bombs have changed, the engines and avionics have changed, but for non-stealth subsonic bombing nothing about the airframe itself has changed. The B-1 and B-2 have some particular unique abilities (speed & stealth) that probably weren't worth paying for but are probably worth paying to retain.

I said in comments to a recent post that I think US military hegemony is important for peace and stability. I think there is probably an interesting conversation about what that really means in terms of ready military capability and budgets for R&D and procurement that doesn't seem to have been had very prominently in recent years. What exactly does the US need to be ready to do? I think it needs to be able to credibly threaten a second strike against nuclear attack and credibly defend against any conventional attack on any NATO ally. I think that the war in Iraq and at this point the war in Afghanistan are precisely not the kind of wars the US needs to be ready to fight, and that the capacity for fighting those kinds of wars is destabilizing and casts into doubt the moral standing of the US. Those capabilities were the hallmark of colonial powers. The US should be focused on defending itself and its allies by deterring both nuclear and conventional attacks, not on the ability to suppress insurgencies in occupied countries.

credibly defend against any conventional attack on any NATO ally

by Russia? The EU has a larger GDP than us now, surely they can fight their own battles.

Count me in as a peacenik of considerable military (esp. history) reading who would like to see more posts like this.

In particular, I'd like to see your take on the religious issues wonkie mentioned.

I also have recently come across:

1. The Victory Disease, a quite prescient 2003 article by then-Major Timothy M. Karcher. LTC Karcher commanded the US forces withdrawing from Sadr City this past summer; he lost both legs above the knee in an IED attack, and is still in rehab.

2. Refighting the Last War: Afghanistan and the Vietnam Template, by Thomas H. Johnson and M. Chris Mason. This article, also, strikes me as extremely clear-eyed on the strategic issues.

I found these articles almost at random, and was struck by how much more strategically aware and sophisticated they are than the military "analysis" and "commentary" I seem to hear from official or high-profile sources. It's enough to make me wonder how gung-ho the services really are about the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, though that's the impression I get from the teevee and from the off-duty military I know or run into.

Bluntly, I had been assuming that the services were essentially in favor of the interventionist, imperialist policies of the Bush administration, and that doubters were rare and silent. Now I don't know, and it would interesting to hear your take.

There really is a lot wrong with this post. The silly economics has been dealt with before. (Apart from anything else: where do you think these USAF bomber drones are going to be built, Italy?)
The silly strategy: the reason that other nations (such as the UK) ditched their nuclear bombers and concentrated on SLBM is that bombers can be shot down and SLBMs can't. You want to take that joke of a B-2 downtown against the Moscow air defence net, be my guest. It's just not a credible deterrent.
The silly operational theory: I don't know if you've noticed, but "modern air warfare" doesn't involve lots and lots of jamming at all. It involves flying in racetracks over the Hindu Kush waiting to drop bombs on peasants.
The silly logic: "we shouldn't build new drones for the strategic bombing role because current drones are inadequate for it." Er, that's why you build a new type?

Slarti, your range estmates for cruise missiles seem to be too low and only count for the export version. The US version to my knowledge can fly a good deal more than 1000 miles.
I heard that under Dubya the military took a second look on the nuclear powered cruise missile. Range unlimited for any practical purpose and with the added 'feature' of contaminating the area it flies over due to radioactive exhaust.
I would agree with the argument that subsonic strategic bombers (to my knowledge no longer carrying any defensive weaponry) are extremly vulnerable to attack from (manned) planes, even rather obsolete ones, unless they have heavy fighter escorts. I am not aware that B52s are capable of going in at treetop level.
Against a potential strategic enemy (Russia, China, India) a few bombers surviving long enough to reach their targets would be hitting the hornet nest with a stick, i.e. leave retaliatory capacities intact. Any smaller country would be within fighter/cruise missile range from the sea or friendly territory (Mongolia being the only possible exception I could think of without looking at a map).
From that I would conclude that the heavy bombers are only useful to drop conventional heavy payloads on the practically defenseless. Since this is the SOP of the US military, the bombers are still perfectly useful indeed but not for the nuclear role.
---
I also agree about the religious whacko problem in the Air Force (and by now also the army) but what prevents the missile crews from falling for the same?

I heard that under Dubya the military took a second look on the nuclear powered cruise missile. Range unlimited for any practical purpose and with the added 'feature' of contaminating the area it flies over due to radioactive exhaust.

Good Lord, they really thought about resurrecting Project PLUTO? But that's lunacy. Are you sure? You're not thinking of the nuclear-armed cruise missile?

I am not aware that B52s are capable of going in at treetop level.

--Well, if the pilot's good, see, I mean, if he's really sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low - you ought to see it sometime, it's a sight. A big plane, like a B-52, vroom! There's jet exhaust frying chickens in the barnyard!

--Yeah, but has he got a chance?!

--Has he got a chance? Hell yes! ...oh.

The nuclear option is only necessary in the face of a near-peer competitor, probably China.

That is completely incorrect, Jay. North Korea is about as far from a near-peer competitor as you can get. Pakistan could also easily become a very unfriendly government at some point in the future and A nuclear-armed Iran is probably inevitable. That's not to mention God knows how many other countries that could develop nuclear, biological, or chemical programs along with a credible strike capability over the next four or five decades.

I'm certainly not a hawk, but I very much want governments like that to have a crystal-clear understanding that any limited WMD attack they're capable of could easily result in their complete annihilation.

Sigh. You know, Robert Mackey, you're probably a nice guy, being open to the idea of nuclear disarmament and all, but somehow this talk of bombers with nuclear warheads is kind of, like... not Hilzoy. Or Publius. But whatever, I'll probably get used to it :-)

wonkie: Bear in mind that the kind of religious nut who's so certain and convinced that he would like to bring about armageddon, might also take the shortcut of entering heaven on his own beforehand, say, by killing himself (possibly in a "blaze of glory"). Experience both in the US and elsewhere suggest that truly apocalyptic nuts are generally more of a threat to themselves and each other than to society at large. I don't think this level of zeal is very compatible with the kind of dedication/cynicism it takes to gain power.

Doctor Science, thanks for the interesting links. In the second one, I think they make some good points, but there are some strange things. In comparing the Russian and Chinese supplying of Vietnam to the ISI and Saudi support of the Taliban, at some point, a difference in degree becomes a difference in kind. Also, Pakistan is an (ostensible) ally (as are the Saudis), so the comparison is a bit strange.

This doesn't undercut their recommendations, but I just thought those points were strange. Thanks again for the links

Soeaking of drones, this is kinda disturbing.

Yeah LJ, I just put up a post remarking on Robert's prescience.

The EU has a larger GDP than us now, surely they can fight their own battles.

Much of the "benefit" provided by the very large US military is a public good under our current policies. Suppose, just for example, that Iran were to declare the Strait of Hormuz closed and sink a few tankers to assure the world of the point. The US military is the only one capable of projecting sufficient conventional force to reopen the Strait in a relatively short time. Such a US forcing is a public good, as we would open the Strait for all traffic, not just tankers bound for the US.

I'd also cut the army down to the ANG/AR, the navy down to sea control and logistical support of the USMC, and the USAF down to the AFSPC.

Just to continue with the Hormuz example, the capabilities you would leave do not seem sufficient to handle the major amphibious assault (and subsequent occupation) needed to force open the Strait.

"Bluntly, I had been assuming that the services were essentially in favor of the interventionist, imperialist policies of the Bush administration, and that doubters were rare and silent. Now I don't know, and it would interesting to hear your take."

I can't speak for all the military and constantly question those who say they can.

But, I asked Gen. Patton Jr., who commanded the 2nd Armored at the time, what he thought about these things. His answer was that he didn't know any Generals who were for war, but all of them thought there existed reasons for the military to be used.

I was struck by the simple way he defined the difference. War is bad and should be avoided until it is needed to replace something worse. Then we should be the best equipped and trained to fight and win.

I regret not following up to ask many more questions, but I was filling his jeep with gas at the time.

In my life since, I have observed that most senior military people think in terms of mission. If given one they perform it, with great intelligence and focus. They don't think in terms of defining the mission, just executing it, training for it, evaluating alternatives and minimizing the human cost.

It is just those who can somehow make war an abstract thought exercise who want to go to war, most senior military people can't think of it in the abstract.

Just my opinions and observations.

Drones just don't do well in a nuclear environment. Even a smallish EMP would fry their comm circuits (I'm assuming that they would have some sort of shielded backup electronics without comms). Generally, nukes and radio don't mix.

Sean: I'll give you North Korea. We could take the Iranian government down fairly quickly if we wanted to, conventionally. I suspect we could even win against Pakistan conventionally (which would involve securing their nukes by surprise). Of course, what to do with the countries we've conquered is the question of the age.

Just to continue with the Hormuz example, the capabilities you would leave do not seem sufficient to handle the major amphibious assault (and subsequent occupation) needed to force open the Strait.

Oh come on. 2 divisions of Marines and their associated flotillas isn't enough to take and hold a sufficiently dear objective to force a settlement?

The gulf is crowded as it is; we'd still have Army Rangers and whatnot to do their sub rosa stuff, but war with Iran would not require, nor would it be advisable, to repeat the drive to Baghdad we accomplished in 2003.

Closing the strait would be an act of war, and war means national commitment, not the half-measures we bumbled through the latter half of the twentieth century with. National Crisis. Declaration of War. Total blockade. Escalating engagement with the enemy. Clear exit strategy.

And I fail to see what Hormuz has to do with our present (and silly) continental commitments protecting Europe from Russia.

Marty:

I have observed that most senior military people think in terms of mission. If given one they perform it, with great intelligence and focus. They don't think in terms of defining the mission, just executing it, training for it, evaluating alternatives and minimizing the human cost.

In other words, they are not thinking on the "grand strategic" level, where war is in fact part of politics.

It may be that the grand-strategic guys are at a much higher level than those you've encountered -- but I actually wonder if they're there at all.

"It may be that the grand-strategic guys are at a much higher level than those you've encountered -- but I actually wonder if they're there at all."

I haven't had access to the brass for some years now (12-13) to even know beyond what I read. I hope they are saying no if asked if it seems necessary, I expect they are usually only asked if it's possible.

Sadly, there really are very, very few "grand strategic thinkers" in senior leadership positions in and out of DOD. It just is not trained into generals, admirals and cabinet members. Generals are judged on how good they were as lieutenants, captains and colonels; admirals by how good they were as 'ship drivers'; cabinet members by party loyalty, etc.

Don't expect a Clausewitz, Mahan or Jomini to popup there.

ajay, yes it was about about nuclear powered (not just tipped) cruise missiles. I don't know where the documentary I got that from got its info (clearly not an offical statement by the administration) but given what other crazy schemes* were hatched with ample proof of reality, it looks at least quite credible that someone at least thought about it.

*like openly talking about scrapping the space treaty, putting nukes and 'the rods of God' into orbit and claiming the right to deny anyone else access to space (including blowing up other people's satellites). And that was the more harmless stuff.

Such a US forcing is a public good, as we would open the Strait for all traffic, not just tankers bound for the US.

Do we get to tax the rest of the world for providing this "public good"? If not, then why provide it? I guarantee you that, were the Strait of Hormuz to be blockaded and the US not to respond, someone would probably get around to it.

Bob:

Don't expect a Clausewitz, Mahan or Jomini to popup there

The question is, why aren't we getting Washington, Grant, Sherman, or Eisenhower? In The Limits of Power, Andrew Bacevich argues that the current crop of flag officers -- since Vietnam at least -- are mediocre compared to the people they command, and especially mediocre at the grand-strategic part of their job. But the US military *has* produced great generals in the past, so there must be something different about the current system.

The larger problem I'm chewing over -- one which should be quite pressing to you -- is how far down the chain of command there is a legal or moral obligation to detect and stop war crimes. The crimes I'm thinking of are "Planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace", and also "violations of the laws or customs of war", including "the murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war".

Doctor Science,
Washington was a pretty mediocre commander. Grand and Sherman were good, but only because they realized how a war of attrition worked, and if they reappeared in the present day, they'd be war criminals. Eisenhower's strength was politically dealing with the various factions. As the ability to practice a war of attrition disappears, it may be that how we define a great general may look a lot different. I don't think that we've really come to grips with how things have changed, and as a consequence, we really don't have a metric for judging what a good general will be.

To include Mahan would imo also not be the wisest choice given what his theories led to, including but not limited to the fateful naval arms race that was at least a contributing factor to WW1. One could as well include Douhet who had that philanthropic idea of gassing civilians from the air and to do Baedeker bombing because that would be more effective (and less costly) than fighting the opposing armed forces. Unlike Mahan he never lost popularity (although few would admit to it).

I'd also prefer Slim Pickens to Bertie Wooster.

Bob:

Washington was a pretty mediocre commander

I don't know what criteria you're using, though I don't know as much about the Revolution (militarily) as most of the other US wars. Washington IMHO had the critical quality of focusing on winning the *war*, not the battle -- which is, also IMHO, the most important quality at the grand-strategic level.

Eisenhower's strength was politically dealing with the various factions

And that's why he's on my short-list of greatest US generals. Getting all those interests and egos to work together and not forget the goal was an incredible accomplishment.

we really don't have a metric for judging what a good general will be

I disagree, at least for the highest level. A good grand-strategic general fights the war, not the battle. He has a realistic vision of what the endgame should be -- and that vision has to be political, not just military. He does not tolerate Underpants Gnomes.

As for Grant and Sherman -- if they reappeared in the present day, they'd be war criminals.

That implies (a) that what was important about them was their tactics, and that they'd use the same tactics today. I'm saying no, they used those tactics to serve the grand strategy, and with a different war and goal they'd have the sense to use different tactics.

It also implies (b) that modern US generals do not use such tactics nor include war criminals. Sherman's March and Vietnam argues that yes, Sherman's strategy and tactics are still current; I am arguing that yes, at least some current US generals are war criminals.

That was me, not Bob. I see what you are getting at, but I'd suggest that you are looking in the wrong place. A general wins battles. By that standard, Washington was mediocre. You want to why we aren't producing generals who can win a war, it becomes a bit like wondering why a plumber can't rewire your house.

I felt a little bad about accusing Grant of being a war criminal, nothing in his record suggests it, so thatnks for not jumping on that. As for Sherman, perhaps if he were reincarnated today, he would come up with the set of tactics that would win this 'war' (which isn't really a war, but we call it a war) but perhaps, when confronted with the same set of circumstances, would just give up. In fact, before the war, he was a bank manager in San Francisco, in an atmosphere similar to the one that gave rise to Enron and Lehman, and he was debilitated with asthma. Perhaps dealing with the kind of conflict we face in Afghanistan, Sherman might be similarly debilitated.

It is also significant, I think, that both Sherman and Grant were, in a sense, outsiders, in that they had resigned from the Army and returned to it. In situations like this, it usually takes a view from the outside.

In regards to your points a and b, you are right, but I don't think that you can assume the opposite, that they would use different tactics because they were clear-headed enough to understand the endgame is, not because of any fault in them (who here has a clear idea of what should be the endgame is in Afghanistan?) but because the situation may not have a point where we determine winners and losers.

arrgh, I apologize to both Bob and LJ. It was a braino.

You want [know] to why we aren't producing generals who can win a war, it becomes a bit like wondering why a plumber can't rewire your house.

I don't agree with that analogy. The purpose of tactics is to win battles (strategy), the purpose of strategy (winning battles) is to win wars (what I'm calling grand strategy -- I don't know what it's called in the military academies). They are -- and are supposed to be -- a continuum. It's not like the difference between an electrician and a plumber, it's the difference between an electrician and an electrical engineer.

Clausewitz: Tactics is the use of troops for the purpose of battle*, strategy is the use of battles for the purpose of war.
(he would probably have been the first to admit that this definition falls short because the clever avoidance of battles and concentration on enemy supplies can also be a winning strategy).

The German word 'Gefecht' he used here usually describes armed fights below the level of 'battle' (I can't find a specific English word for that) and also, in a more abstract sense, combat itself.

Dr. Science, no worries. Your analogy is better, but we wouldn't be too awfully surprised if an electrical engineer couldn't add a new outlet. At some point, there is a difference. We don't expect every musician to be a great conductor, and while some musicians become great conductors, the majority are merely workman-like, I think.

Also, the focus on training our military to focus on a tactical rather than a strategic level could be seen as part and parcel of the strong civilian oversight of the military. The most common type of coup in the world is a military coup, and one might posit that a driver is encouraging military leaders to think they have a right or a duty to fix the problems of a nation. Our country has been free of that, though Haig's comments when Reagan was shot raised a few eyebrows.

LJ:

could be seen as part and parcel of the strong civilian oversight of the military

Except that I'm arguing that it's gotten significantly worse since WWII, and I don't think it can be reasonably argued that civilian oversight has gotten stronger in that period.

On the contrary. Eisenhower had originally wanted to warn against the "military-industrial-congressional" complex, not just M-I. The MIC does not represent strong civilian political oversight or control of the military, it means that the military can get whatever it wants -- so long as it wants something with high profits for civilian contractors. There's no danger of a military coup in the usual sense, because the coup has already happened -- the military, especially the higher-ranking officers, already *have* the power they want.

Doctor Science,
Originally, we were talking about the ability of the armed forces to turn out leaders of a particular quality. Now, you seem to be suggesting that because the military has gotten more power that it is perhaps incapable of turning out such leaders. I'm sympathetic to what I think is the principle, that when people get too comfortable, they aren't going to be challenged to change their viewpoint. But I think that has the risk of being circular.

This is not to completely dismiss your point, but how leadership arises and what are the conditions to allow it to flourish seems to be a much more mysterious process than believing that there were leaders who came to the fore before, so something is wrong because they aren't coming to the fore now. And personally, I think that West Point and Annapolis do, all things considered, a good job (the Air Force Academy, I have my doubts)

I may be misunderstanding your point, so if I have, apologies. You seem to have an idea of what the future leader should be, but I really don't know what kind of characteristics a leader needs to have to deal with the kind of COIN operations that I think are going to be the mainstay of military tactics.

I think good generals are bred under adverse but not too bad conditions, i.e if they have to actually struggle against opponents but have enough resources on their side to think beyond the needs of only the day. It takes time and lots of opportunity to learn under practical conditions. Most great military leaders I can come up with had to cut their teeth in comparatively low positions, learning the basic trade. Most also committed a few blunders early in their career. I think modern technology works against the development of 'military genius', WW2 being something of a watershed.

"somehow this talk of bombers with nuclear warheads is kind of, like... not Hilzoy."

And yet, strange to say, I agree with Bob on this one. I take it that the point is not whether it makes sense to threaten people with nuclear weapons, but whether, if we have one, we want (a) a threat that leaves several hours for negotiation, and can be recalled if those negotiations work, or (b) a threat that just vaporizes people without warning. Like Bob, I opt for (a).

Besides, there's no reason I can think of that Bob should be me. (I, at least, would find that pretty unnerving.)

As would Bob, I'd guess.

Hi, hilzoy! I hope you are well!

...(a) a threat that leaves several hours for negotiation, and can be recalled if those negotiations work, or (b) a threat that just vaporizes people without warning. Like Bob, I opt for (a).

I'm still not clear on the logic of this. It was mentioned up-thread, but I'll re-state this in my own words:

Even with a bomber, at some point you would have to drop the bomb to actually use it. How is that point any different than the point at which you press the button on an ICBM? Why wouldn't those hours of negotiations taking place while the bomber was on its way simply take place while the button-pusher was waiting? It's not the decision to send the bomber that's critical. It's the decision to actually drop the bomb, which, once done, cannot be recalled any more than can a missile. What am I missing here?

LJ:

Well, I was really (if vaguely) talking about, or talking around, the question of how much responsibility various levels of the military have for participating in war crimes. Which is, it seems to me, right up this blog's alley.

But I also admit that I am operating from a position of seething rage and even resentment, that no-one with the power to do so seems to have effectively pointed out that the Iraq war was clearly criminal from the start. I feel like I'm urged to view military people as braver, more noble, devoted to the public good, defenders of my freedom -- but when push came to moral shove, they folded like a pack of cards.

No-one listened to me, a Dirty Frakkin' Hippie, when I said the Iraq War was illegal and impractical: what did I know? But who were the people who *should* have known, and why didn't they know, and if they did know why didn't they say anything.

For the kind of money the US pays, we should be seeing a military that is better at its job -- which also means, better at recognizing when something *isn't* it's job, and when some jobs shouldn't be done.

I feel betrayed, and I want to know who did it.

Thanks Dr. Science, I missed the thrust of your point. Identifying those responsible is an important and probably an ultimately frustrating task, but what bothers me most is the way this has been more of a systemic failing rather than feeling that particular person or persons should be held responsible. (I do think that Bush and Cheney should be careful about travelling overseas and if they happened to end up in front of Garzon, I think it would be altogether appropriate) Still, the sick feeling in my stomach comes from the fact that this seems less due to a specific individual and more to a world view.

@ Dr Sci and Lib Japon--

I think I should post something on the idea of a just/legal war, and what is considered (at least in my opinion) the basis for such a conflict...if that justification even exists in today's world.

Sound like fun?

@hilzoy--
Great to see you again. Send me a note on Gmail and let me know how you are doing! Great fun at the last defense salon at my place in DC; need to have another confab soon!

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