Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bomber Command Memorial

This is sure to stir up some controversy. The (UK) Telegraph is sponsoring a major fund raising campaign "to build a memorial to the forgotten heroes of the Second World War--the men of Bomber Command." (I was pointed to this item by an associate on an EMail loop.)

The RAF Bomber Command was the tool the British used to take the war to the heart of Germany after the Battle of Britain, when no other instrument was available. There was public controversy about the bombing campaign at the end of the war. The crews were denied a campaign medal, which their efforts surely deserved. The Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command during much of the war, Arthur Harris was promoted to five star rank (Marshal of the Royal Air Force) but at the time refused elevation to a peerage, being the only one of the Commanders-in-Chief to not receive that honor after the war. His reason was that he felt his crews had been snubbed.

The brutality of the bombing effort raised a lot of controversy. The bombing of cities, and in particular Dresden, late in the war, was very controversial. At the same time, the cost of the campaign to the RAF was high. Out of 125,000 Bomber Command aircrew members, 55,500 were killed, 8,400 were wounded and 9,800 became POWs. One's chance of making it through a 30 mission tour was not very high. The average loss rate was 5% on any given mission--1 in 20 aircraft shot down on a typical night.

It wasn't until 1992 that a statue was raised to Arthur Harris. It is outside of the church of St Clement Danes, which has become the Royal Air Force Church. Surprisingly, the other statue outside the church is that to Air Chief Marshall Hugh (Stuffy) Dowding, cashiered as Commander Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain. The erection of the Harris statue was objected to in Germany and England.

I support this project, but didn't see where to send my money. I am sure a web site will appear soon.

There is an Royal Air Force Memorial near Windsor, overlooking Runnymede, where the Magna Carta was signed in 1215. This Memorial contains the names of over 20,000 men and women who died in World War II air operations, but have no known graves. Many of these would have been with Bomber Command. This Memorial was erected before our own Viet-nam Wall on the Washington Mall, with the names of all those US forces who died in that conflict.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a graduate of the RAF Staff College, 64 Course.

Regards -- Cliff

Monday, October 27, 2008

25 (26) Top Innovations Over Time

The Foreign Policy Research Institute (you can get on their EMail list) recently published an item titled "From Stone to Silicon: A Brief Survey of Innovation."

There are also a set of slides to go with the paper.

This paper, by Lawrence A Husick, who is a Senior Fellow at FPRI, is pretty interesting to me because it shows how new solutions build upon older ones, like the late 1970s TV show Connections, with its frenetic developer/presenter, James Burke. The problem is, the list is from bottom to top and so we don't see the "build up" of ideas, but rather the track back to the beginning.

This effort was sponsored by FPRI's History Institute for Teachers, which is led by David Eisenhower and Walter A McDougall. The first name rings a bell--he was President Eisenhower's grandson and married President Nixon's daughter. Mr McDougall is a Pulitzer Prize winning historian.

In my mind, the thing missing, is, of course, Wilbur and Orville Wright and the airplane, but that is just my bias.

Regards -- Cliff

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Chaos Close to Home

I was hopeful when George Bush was elected President that he work on our relationship with Mexico, working in cooperation with President Vicente Fox of Mexico to deal with problems of mutual interest.

With 9/11, al Qaeda changed the focus of the Bush Administration toward the "Global War on Terrorism." The result has been that while we having been active in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Philippines, the situation in Mexico has deteriorated. I recognize that this is Mexico's problem, but we have contributed to it, both by being the destination for illegal drugs and by being a source of illegal arms for those delivering those drugs. To quote one source:

"Already this year, nearly 4,000 people have been killed in Mexico as warring drug cartels intensify their battle for control of drug markets and transportation routes, according to the newspaper Reforma."

Now we have an OpEd in the LA Times where a USC Senior Lecturer, Pamela Starr, talks about the situation in Mexico. Titled Mexico's spreading drug violence," this article talks about the violence in Mexico and recommends actions we should be taking. Quoting Professor Starr: "Mexico matters to the United States not merely as our third-largest trading partner and our third-largest source of imported oil. Geography makes Mexico pivotal to U.S. national security."

We have found ourselves dragged into Mexican internal problems before. Just before we entered World War I, General John J Pershing took his Brigade into Mexico in pursuit of Francisco "Pancho" Villa. It didn't turn out well. In the end, the Pancho Villa depredations petered out by 1920. I don't think we would wish for a repeat of the 1916/17 experience and I expect Mexican citizens would feel the same. However, today we have snipping and other cross-border aggression by smugglers from Mexico into US territory.

While dealing with terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Philippines and other places remains important to us, Mexico is right next door and must not be ignored. I remember few speeches I have heard, but I do remember Leo Carrillo telling my Junior High School, back in 1957, that we needed to stop pouring millions into Europe and Asia and to begin focusing on Latin America, right in our back yard. He could give the same speech today.

Regards -- Cliff

Friday, October 24, 2008

Rep Barney Frank Says Cut DoD Budget

Well, maybe it is just rhetoric, but in a recent article at the South Coast Today web site Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) is quoted as saying that when the election is over Congress will back into session, provide a new stimulus package, cutting Defense spending by 25% and increasing taxes on the rich. (A hat tip to Michael D, who posts at the LRCC Blog.)

What is 25% of the Defense budget? Is it authorizations or outlays? The difference is close enough for this discussion. What about the DoD "Budget Function" vs DoD plus the "off-budget" Global War on Terrorism (GWOT)? For FY 2008 requests, that is $464 Billion vs $625 Billion total. Here is a quick and dirty look.

Budget Area% of DoD Only% w/ GWOT
Mil Personnel25.6%19.0%
Ops & Maintenance35.7%26.5%
Military Construction Bill4.6%3.4%
Global War on TerrorismN/A22.67%

These numbers don't add up to 100%, but pretty close. The point is that finding 25% is not going to be easy. Military Personnel is a big chunk and it is generally agreed that we need to add numbers to the Army and Navy and the new Air Force Chief of Staff has asked to add a few thousand more.

The Operations and Maintenance (O&M) budget is getting things done day to day. It is maintaining the force. If the Congress cuts O&M we buy less spare parts and airplanes don't fly as much, ships sail less and Army equipment is deadlined more often.

The Procurement line is a favorite to cut. But, cutting it is mortgaging our future--see my previous post. And, you don't just call up Boeing or Lockheed and say stop work. You have to do it right and think about the "termination costs," which could cost millions. And, some of this Procurement is about moving the military forward, like the Army's Future Combat Systems (FCS). Killing the F-22 and F-35 and some Navy shipbuilding systems (like the ZUMWALT Class Destroyer (formerly DDX-1000), which the Navy tried to kill a few months ago and Congress kept alive), but that won't get you to 25%.

Military Construction is only a few points and it is necessary for the BRAC, the Base Realignment and Closure action--which is designed to save money in the long run. The BRAC is not cheap. Also, housing for families is in there for almost $3 billion.

I would argue that Congressman Frank's talk of cutting 25% may sound good to his base, but it is going to be hard to do. And, he has to get it through a Congress that might still include people like Congressman John Murtha (D-PA), from the city of my birth, Johnstown, PA. Congressman Murtha is the king of the "ear mark." The other way to think about "ear mark" is "pork."

Regards -- Cliff

Thursday, October 23, 2008

El Alamein Anniversary

I have one of those large wall calendars, like they sell at Barnes and Noble or other fine bookstores. Mine has airplane pictures and lists Canadian and other "Anglo-Saxon" holidays. Today is listed the anniversary of the start of Second El Alamein (running to 2 November).

While I have on the bookshelf across the room a Toby of Bernard Law Montgomery I don't see him as the dashing hero of World War II. On the other hand, he knew that one of this jobs was to conserve the lives of the British soldiers under his command and he worked at it. The same can not be said for all of the generals the British have suffered under. Those in the First World War, the Great War, came to be known as donkeys--as in "Lions led by Donkeys." The Lions were the British infantry and the donkeys the generals. The source of this quote is disputed, and goes back to at least the Crimean War.

Wikipedia notes a book with the quote as the title--Lions Led by Donkeys, by Captain P.A. Thompson, published in 1927 (not listed at Amazon). The subtitle is "Showing how victory in the Great War was achieved by those who made the fewest mistakes." There is probably some truth to that.

While today the US Department of Defense, and the nation as a whole, is focused on counter-insurgency and the war against terrorism, everyone should be keeping a small part of his or her brain working on big wars. People would do well to look at WWI from time to time, just to keep the thinking muscles exercised in that area. A war with ten or twenty or thirty million dead--not counting civilians--would be a terrible thing. It would also be a thing not to rule out. However, not being prepared for it intellectually and materially would be to invite such a thing.

Regards -- Cliff

Sunday, October 19, 2008

al_Qaeda and the Long War

This is from "Tom Ricks' Inbox, at The Washington Post. Tom Ricks is the real deal.

Quoting from the article in the
Sunday, 19 October 2008 issue of The Washington Post:

Even before the U.S. military announced last week that it had killed the alleged No. 2 leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, the group had been widely seen as on the ropes. Where did al-Qaeda in Iraq go wrong? In a paper prepared for the recent annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, the Australian political scientist Andrew Phillips argues persuasively that, by their nature, al-Qaeda affiliates tend to alienate their hosts. So in the "long war" against jihadism, time may ultimately be on our side--if we show patience, tolerance and a willingness to listen to local grievances.

* * *

. . . [W]hen considered within the context of the broader history of the global jihadist movement, Al Qaeda's defeat in Iraq appears far from exceptional. . . . In successive conflicts ranging from Bosnia to Chechnya to Kashmir, the jihad jet-set has rapidly worn out its welcome among local host populations as a result of its idelogical inflexibility and high-handedness, as well as its readiness to resort to indiscriminate violence against locals at the first signs of challenge. Throughout their history, Al Qaeda's operatives have consistently sought to graft the global jihadist agenda onto localized conflicts involving Muslims. However, with the notable exceptions of Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban and to a certain extent the lawless tribal belt straddling the contemporary Afghanistan-Pakistan border, they have been generally unsuccessful in converting locals to the jihadist cause, much less securing a territorial base for the Caliphate. That this pattern has so frequently been repeated suggests that the underlying causes of Al Qaeda's defeat in Iraq may transcend the specific circumstances of that conflict . . . . Baldly stated, the causes of Al Qaeda's defeat in Iraq can be located in its ideological DNA.

[ But, Phillips adds, the U.S. decision to support armed Sunni tribesmen in Iraq may be undercutting the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad:] Al Qaeda may have lost Iraq, but this in no way implies that America and its allies have won.

Regards -- Cliff

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Seige of Yorktown Anniversary

Sunday, the 19th is the 227th Anniversary of the signing of the official surrender documents by Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown--where the British Regimental Band played "The World Turned Upside Down." This American victory lead to the British agreeing to our Independence.

When we think about Yorktown, which we mostly don't, we usually forget the large contribution of the French, including Lieutenant General Rochambeau and his 5,500 troops and Admiral de Grasse and his fleet. The French fleet was key, in that it denied British forces relief. Sometimes a Navy is decisive without really doing anything, but just by being there.

But, going back to the French, if you wish to critize a Frenchman for the actions of his (or her) Government, first be sure to thank him for support back in 1781, helping us win our War of Independence.

For those interested in American history and who travel by auto, there are a number of highway markers along the route taken by General Washington and General Rochambeau in their march from Newport, Rhode Island to Yorktown, the first being in Connecticut. Information on those markers can be found here.

Regards -- Cliff

Alex Beam Again

I thought that Alex Beam's column in today's The Boston Globe, "Contrary to popular belief..." was interesting. In the column he talks to the question of if President George W Bush is the worst US President ever. This is germane to the current campaign in that Senator Obama is trying to paint Senator McCain as just another George Bush term. I thought Mr Beam had a fairly balanced item, as usual.

I was surprised that Mr Beam did not mention President Andrew Johnson, who I think may have been the worst of our collection of Presidents. He was the first President to be impeached. He was the person whose reconstruction efforts may have allowed racial discrimination laws to fester in the United States for over 100 years. By comparison with President Johnson's efforts and the lingering problems, President Bush's reconstruction efforts in Iraq seem pretty effective. If the prompt action of President Bush and his team to deal with the now global economic crisis take hold, in the long run it will work to improve his standing.

Regards -- Cliff

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What I would like to hear at the debate

I am not hopeful I will hear either candidate talk about this issue at the Presidential Debate, but I would like each of them to take the issue of Afghanistan and to then step back and look at the larger region. Before we decide to "surge" into Afghanistan we need to think about what are the key issues on Wednesday, the 15th of October 2008. They may not be the same as the key issues were on Wednesday, 12 September 2001.

If the candidates zoom out from Afghanistan they will see Pakistan and India and Iran. Pakistan has just gone through a change of President and done it peacefully, but they are having serious problems, especially in the tribal regions. Some analysts (or pundits) are asking if Pakistan is becoming a failed state. That would be a nuclear armed failed state. Its neighbor, India, is also nuclear armed. They have disputed territory, such as Kashmir. Perhaps more important than capturing or killing Osama bin Laden is making sure that a conflict that would make "the world safe for nuclear warfare" does NOT break out between Pakistan and India.

Then there is Iran, which borders on both Pakistan and Afghanistan. How do they play in this game? And, how does it apply, if at all, to Iran and Iraq?

Then there is the opium crop. How does it play in this game. Given Question 2 (Possession of Marijuana) on our 4 November Ballot, the question of how we view drugs is very important. Opium is a cash crop in Afghanistan. What should we be doing about that?

Then there is the question of NATO, operating in Afghanistan under the auspices of the UN, and the relationship of the US only effort with the NATO effort.

Finally, what is the Afghani solution? The Taliban is reported to have broken with al Qaeda. Should we (or should President Hamid Karzai) be negotiating with the Taliban? Is Saudi Arabia a big player? Are we happy to see the former Taliban regime back in power, with all it means for women's rights and the rights of religious minorities?

Not a subject for a sound bit. This is one of those vexing problems where the President will be making decisions that have complex consequences for many people, some of whom will be winners and some losers.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Globe Speaks Truth to Power

Well, maybe just Columnist Joan Vennochi, whose column this Sunday was titled "Angry at Beacon Hill? Vote Republican."

Maybe Ms Vennochi doesn't really want everyone to vote Republican, but she makes the point that Voting YES on Question 1 (repeal the Commonwealth's Income Tax) is not the way to send a signal to your local State Rep and State Senator. She suggests that people need to have the courage to vote the rascal's out, rather than just trying to send them a message.

But, she also points out the sorry state of the Republican Party in our Commonwealth, although she sees hope for the Party in an Obama win, with its expected exodus of higher ranking Democrats for the new Administration. The question is, is the Party ready to step up.

Her closing line is:

"The Question 1 vote will measure one facet of citizen anger. But if Massachusetts voters keep electing liberals, maybe they should get angry at themselves for doing it."

Good show, Ms Vennochi!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

When The Boston Globe dropped the "Sidekick" on Saturdays, I migrated to reading the Living Arts Section, to find the comics. I would finish the comics and my wife would still be reading the A Section, so I took to reading Alex Beam. Frankly, my prejudice was that he sat at the intersection of MSM and Lifestyle, a sure fire formula for having views I didn't agree with. I was wrong. That is the way with prejudice. It gets in the way of learning and enjoying.

Today's Column is about those who think that someone in the Administration will suspend the election before November. While I don't believe this will happen, I do entertain a fantasy about the election being delayed.

In my fantasy NASA announces that their operation out of Hawaii has found an inbound asteroid and that it is expected to impact southern China by the end of the month. The initial death toll is estimated at half a billion, with another billion or so to die in the ensuing environmental adjustments.

The UN shrugs its shoulders, but China, having put men in space and done space walks, mounts a quick effort to get to the asteroid, but it blows up on the launch pad. Russia offers no help, in that anything that hurts China enhances Russia's position. Finally, President Bush orders the launch of ICBMs, whose warheads nudge the asteroid out of the way, barely. As a result, President Bush's approval goes to 80% world wide. (Ten percent wouldn't say anything nice about Bush even if he donated a kidney to keep them alive. The other ten percent are those who never get the word.) Senate Majority Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi realize that the election will be a disaster and that the half life of a typical political memory is 90 days, to they recall the Congress, vote President Bush a Gold Medal and also vote to delay the election until June of 2009. Then they call Dr Howard Dean and tell him to hold a new nominating convention. Their next step is to go to the Chapel on Capital Hill and pray the Republicans follow suit.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

This does not seem to be an auspicious time for a first Blog post.  This last week we have seen Commentator Bill O'Reilly and Congressman Barney Frank act in a most uncivilized way.  They each brought disrepute upon their own vocations.  And this at a time when we have put $700 Billion (plus) out there to try and stem a financial crisis--and don't, in truth, know if it will work.  There are those who confidently predict it will, and those who confidently predict it won't.  We don't even have consensus on what worked and didn't work in the Great Depression.  But, we do have a lot of confidence on the part of academics, politicians and commentators as to what did and didn't work.

I know it is hard to be humble, but folks should be checking their humble from time to time.