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A brief, bitter quiz

Let's take a trip down memory lane to understand what the USA, UK and others bombing IS in Iraq is really about, starting with a quiz:

  1. What started on December 24th, 1979?

  2. What was Operation Cyclone?

  3. Who was Abdullah Azzam and what was the name of his young protege and follower who continued the organization he founded?

  4. Who did Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad originally pledge allegiance to, and what did that organization change its name to on October 17th, 2004, and then in 2013/14?

TL:DR; Your answer is that IS are the renamed, rebooted, latest incarnation of the Al Qaida in Iraq franchise. (Same flavour of ideology, still tastes like shit to western tongues.) They got their doctrine from Azzam by way of his sidekick Osama bin Laden, and Azzam got his training and experience in running a big chunk of the insurgency in Afghanistan, with guns and ammo from Pakistani military intelligence (the ISI) bankrolled by the CIA.

It's not hard to follow: the chain of mergers, name-changes, leadership switches, and loyalty goes all the way back to Sayyid Qutb. IS is simply Al Qaida staging a coup in the wake of civil war, and applying Leninist praxis to overthrowing the tenuous grip of Ba'athist nation-building in order to create a revolutionary Caliphate. The only reason our media aren't calling them Al Qaida is because (a) the last administration cried wolf several dozen times too often, and (b) the boil has turned into full-blown necrotising fasciitis and they don't want to scare the horses.

It has not escaped my attention that Al Qaida has effectively grown from a bunch of student radicals sitting around in a basement talking smack about islamist politics, through the same phase of bomb-throwing and bank robberies that Lenin's followers went through in the 1890s and 1900s, to an army with mobile artillery that controls several million people and a bunch of oil wells. There is an ontology to the growth of revolutionary organizations and AQ — or IS as we're now meant to call them — are following the same curve as Mr. Ulianov's vanguard party and drinking society, which snowballed from a bunch of exiles clogging up central European cafes in 1914 to a full-scale government (firing squads, army, secret police and all) by 1918. As with Lenin, idiot western governments who thought they could use the beast for their own ends fed it until it grew big enough to bite the master's hand ... and now we're all supposed to panic and write these same idiots a blank check.

(Parenthetic digression: obviously the CIA didn't directly intend to train and arm these aforementioned dangerous assholes: if they'd known where it would all go they'd have been horrified. But in the 1980s they didn't have a clue about Qutbism, so they handed an open chequebook to ISI, who in turn doled out cash and guns to anyone who would inflict grief on the Soviets in Afghanistan, and perhaps if Zbignew Brzezinski's state department had been slightly more forward-looking and clear eyed they might have pondered where all these angry young men with leet bomb-making skillz were going to go once the Soviets were defeated ... but that's all water under the bridge. Or is it? One thing's certainly true: western governments' track record in picking proxies to fight their wars for them are generally so disastrous that it's almost as if they were looking for rabid dogs. Hmm, time to re-read Chomsky.)

And you know something else? If George W. Bush hadn't had such a raging hard-on for Saddam Hussein, if he hadn't railroaded everyone into invading Iraq, this needn't have happened. Al Qaida have grown into a full-scale scary government-shaped object with a revolutionary ideology because Bush created a power vacuum for them to expand into. (And Obama helped, by not actively propping up the weak Ba'athist regime in Syria — who are bastards, but at least they're not trying to destroy western civilization for a hobby.)

It is to weep. But we've made our bed and now I suppose we must drop bombs on it.

172 Comments

1:

We now have Turkey joining the fray in return for the US not arming the Syrian Kurds. It's becoming a coalition of former enemies who are going to turn on each other if provoked. The Sunnis in Iraq hate our guts and the Baathists in Syria (backed by Putin) know the West doesn't have their best interests at heart. The Shiites are beholden to Iran and the Kurds have been betrayed by everyone. A very unstable situation is developing. Thank you Mr Bush and Obi Wan, sorry I mean Obama.

2:

This old news article from about Osama bin Laden from 1993 has always been a favorite of mine:
https://i.imgur.com/qdCuOIk.jpg

3:

And Obama helped, by not actively propping up the weak Ba'athist regime in Syria — who are bastards, but at least they're not trying to destroy western civilization for a hobby

By this logic, do you think now that Obama should have supported the Mubarak government of Egypt during the Arab spring? Of course, in hindsight we know that the Army could overthrow the Muslim Brotherhood by itself, but by then it was not certain.

4:

The only people worth supporting in the area are the Kurds

5:

I tried to mention this on Twitter, but 140 letters in a foreign language is often too harsh a limit. It really seems to me that the Western forces never had any clue about motives and ideology of people they are fighting or supporting during the conflicts in Middle East. As if trying to understand the enemy was some kind of weakness: infamous Quran-burning incident is only one, albeit illustrative, anecdote.

May it be that education in Orienal Studies in US or UK is considered second-rate and/or unsuitable for political/government career? In USSR and later Russia it was emphatically not so, with alumni of corresponding departments of Moscow and Saint Petersburg universities strongly present among political elite (and, of course, in FSB).

There definitely is a shortage in Western Pashto translators even after 10 years of American war in Afghanistan. For example, a family friend who has previously served in Afghan war as a translator and taught Pashto in a military academia was hired by Red Cross as a translator for its Afghanistan mission despite the fact that he had to learn English for the job. Now (like 4 years later) he mostly teaches new Red Cross translators who arrive from Europe at a level completely inadequate for the job at hand.

6:

I sort of stopped and blinked when I first heard the Australian government were going to be arming the Iraqi Kurds, because quite frankly, the last bloody thing anyone needs in the area is the Kurds uniting across the various borders with Syria, Turkey, Iran, Iraq and the southern parts of whichever former bit of the USSR they're in at present and demanding their own homeland. Although given the situation at present, we're likely to see that happening within the next five or so years. The Kurds were definitely among the losers when the borders in the region were drawn up at the end of World War 1, and they've been agitating politely for their own homeland ever since. Given weapons, I suspect their levels of politeness will drop precipitously. So, I'm predicting Kurdish separatist guerrillas for the next bunch of "terrists" out of the Middle East.

I say again, the sanest thing any Western government can do about unrest in the Middle East is to stay the fuck out of it, and this has been the case since before Alexander rolled through the place in the 300s BCE.

Meanwhile, of course, our Federal gummint here in Australia is busy using the excuse of IS sympathisers locally as an excuse to double down on repression. Yays. ASIO has been given new powers to spy on everyone (including electronic snooping powers which effectively allow them to tap into any computer on the internet in search of their required evidence for terrist activity... good luck guys, and enjoy trying to sip from the firehose). There have been police raids made (one arrest, for what effectively boils down to "considering the possibility of maybe thinking about committing a terrorist act at some point in the far future once the round toowit has been located"), and our terrist threat level has risen from "be afraid" to "be very afraid" (the next level, "headless chicken mode", is presumably reserved for some future Liberal government), while our PM has gone on public record as pointing out that all that's needed for a terrist atrocity here in Australia is a sufficiently motivated individual with an iPhone, a knife, and a friend with a get-away car. As numerous independent media sources here have pointed out, he sounded almost disappointed at the lack of sufficiently motivated individuals...

7:

By this logic, do you think now that Obama should have supported the Mubarak government of Egypt during the Arab spring?

I think in general "supporting" a foreign government -- especially a dictatorship -- is a rather dodgy plan; it tends to backfire when the regime in question loses the mandate of heaven popular support. It's one thing to cooperate on trade of collective defense with another nation, but to do so with a specific government commits you to partisan meddling in that nation's internal affairs, and that seems bound to end in tears.

8:

So, I'm predicting Kurdish separatist guerrillas for the next bunch of "terrists" out of the Middle East.

Congratulations: you've just caught up with Turkish government policy circa 1984! (Mind you, I don't have much time for the Turkish establishment's view of history.)

I say again, the sanest thing any Western government can do about unrest in the Middle East is to stay the fuck out of it, and this has been the case since before Alexander rolled through the place in the 300s BCE.

Yup. Shame about all that oil, though, isn't it? (And once the oil isn't economically amenable to extraction, think of all that cloudless desert just waiting to be paved with photovoltaics ...)

Meanwhile, of course, our Federal gummint here in Australia is busy using the excuse of IS sympathisers locally as an excuse to double down on repression.

It's the same, back in Blighty.

A brief refresher on the Palmer Raids would appear to be in order at this point, with a course on McCarthyism for anyone who thinks that kind of thing had to be a one-off.

9:

I have two issues with this piece.

One is that it's quite a short look at the history which is long and messy. Why stop in 79? Why not go back to '58 and the revolution that established the Republic of Iraq? By a nice coincidence '58 gives a nice turning point in Syrian history too, with the founding of the (admittedly ill-fated) United Arab Republic. 1932 and the fall of the Ottoman Empire? Or about 632 and the death of Muhammad and the split between the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam?

Equally, while there's no doubt IS has a heritage back to Al Qaeda, terrorist groups splinter off, reform, denounce their ancestors as having sold out, being too weak and whatever. There's a long history of it. Both IS and AQ have done it here. It's daft to pretend they're not related but facile to pretend they're the same with a new name like Consignia and Royal Mail.

AQ certainly controlled territory for training camps, places to hide and so on. But it's grand gesture was 9/11 and then other attacks that anyone would characterise as terrorist attacks on foreign soil. IS's grand gesture is a land-grab and the (self-proclaimed and unrecognised) establishment of a new caliphate and country. It's backed up by massive religious intolerance enforced by attempted genocide, brutal executions and a host of other things that will pull in a lot of international opprobrium even if you're an established state. (Without wishing to be banned, over it's recent history Israel, a state that was established by proclamation within living memory has rolled into land that was formerly held by Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, it practises massive religious intolerance although probably not genocide (you can argue about Gaza although that's off topic for this thread), illegal attacks on its neighbours, illegal resettlement and other activities to widespread international opprobrium. The obvious differences? A powerful international ally and being an established state up front are high on the list.)

We (the British) have certainly helped mess the situation about in the last century or so. The Turks, as the Ottoman Empire have a longer history of messing around in the area. The Americans, as usual, are late to the party and might only have about 35 years of mess in this particular pool. We are swimming in a pool that certainly contains ordure we've added and stirred up. But not all of the sewerage is ours.

10:

Yes, this is of necessity a short piece that starts late -- I'm trying to finish a book here!

Adam Curtis offers a somewhat deeper look at the origins of the Syria/Iraq mess, with specific reference to US state department meddling circa 1947. But really, if I was going to blame anyone in the west, I'd have to start with Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798.

11:

Congratulations: you've just caught up with Turkish government policy circa 1984!

Geez, and I did it all without the help of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, or an ASIO briefing, too. I'm not so sure what it says about our current political leaders here in Australia that they haven't managed to reach this conclusion even with the help of DFAT and ASIO...

(And once the oil isn't economically amenable to extraction, think of all that cloudless desert just waiting to be paved with photovoltaics ...)

Oh my gods! You've finally made a decent argument for why the Australian government would see any advantage (aside from the dubious gains in the opinion polls to be garnered from looking tough on Nashnul Security) in joining in operations there... we're in it to spoil things! It makes sense! We have heaps of nice vacant desert here, and sunlight to spare - pave the country with photovoltaics (imported from elsewhere, of course, because the Abbott gummint has been busy doing their level best to dismantle the Australian solar/renewable energy industry) and ship the resulting power generated overseas! But only so long as there aren't areas closer to home the US or European buyers could purchase from... hence our other major foreign policy decision of the past month or so - namely, keeping the heck out of efforts to do something about the ebola problem in Africa.

It all makes so much sense now...

(Well, it makes as much sense as any other plan the Abbott gummint has had in the past twelve months).

12:

Yup. Shame about all that oil, though, isn't it? (And once the oil isn't economically amenable to extraction, think of all that cloudless desert just waiting to be paved with photovoltaics ...)

Hmmm... How easy could it be to occupy an uninhabited piece of desert, surround it with mine-fields and extract oil/install pvs? Probably much easier than to occupy and police large densely-build cities full of less-than-friendly population...

13:

Speaking as a non-Australian, I nevertheless find the Abbott government really useful as a guide in trying to figure out the right side of any issue: look at whatever policy they're advocating, and assume they're Wrong. (Am I right about this? Has the Mad Monk ever done anything right?)

14:

I think in general "supporting" a foreign government -- especially a dictatorship -- is a rather dodgy plan

And yet you suggest that Obama should "prop" the Assad regime in Syria, on the ground that the opposition is worse.

But if Obama actually propped it 3 years ago, you'd be objecting it, on the ground that the opposition is better.

Well, Obama just waited for the opposition to get worse, I guess.

15:

As always an interesting post about a complex situation that defies simple answers. We in the West have ignored the lessons of history, and worse, made enemies through caricaturing a diverse group of cultures. One can only hope that some sort of conversation will eventually be started when it's realized that peace requires dialogue, until them I guess it's war.

16:

I find it very disturbing that western world is methodically destroying all regimes we can actually negotiate with. While shah, Saddam, Gaddafi, Bashar al-Assad and others were far from being nice guys, they somehow managed to build secular or moderate countries. Sure, they ruled with iron first and were monsters by western standards, but they sort of did our dirty work for us and we didn't need to spend trillions fighting even worse monsters who (as it turned out) we created and fed by ourselves.

Emergence of IS was caused by power vacuum created by removing Saddam and considerably weakening al-Assad. Can we say that we didn't saw that coming? I don't think so.

17:

You seem to be taking the pledge of allegiance to al Qaeda more seriously than I do; to me it just looks like a publicity stunt. IS seems to be basically just a Sunni institution comparable to the Kurdish Regional Government or the Shia-dominated "Iraqi government". Sure, they're raving, barbaric jackasses, but so are the Shia and the Kurds, even if the barbarism of the latter two groups isn't aimed in our direction at the moment.

If Iraq breaks up, and it looks like it will (or has), IS is about what I would have expected the Sunni part to look like. The Sunnis used to run the whole place, and now they don't, so naturally they're pissed as hell at America and the West. Everything we can accomplish by bombing them has already been accomplished, so why not just leave them alone?

18:

Pronto made an interesting observation, two or three comments up: it chimes with a conversational aside from a serving soldier (paraphrasing, because my memory is unreliable) : 'Yes, and we saw what would happen to the Israelis. The reason we didn't get into assassination in Ulster is that, ten years later, you find out that you killed the moderates and there's no hope of negotiation with survivors. The men who come out of a war like that alive, they're smart, resourceful, paranoid, and they know that you're just as likely to kill them as deliver on whatever concessions you can be forced into'.


That sounds a lot like Pronto's point, writ large: what happens when you try feeding weapons and money to armed factions in the hope of 'assassinating' an inconvenient government, or an extremist faction, is that you eventually discover,at a terrible cost, that the 'extremists' you killed were actually your best hope of a negotiated outcome.


Also: everbody underestimates how fragile dictatorships can be.

19:

Historical analogies are like nuclear weapons - powerful and illuminating, but needing to be handled with care.
The bomb-throwers of the 1880s and 90s were anarchists rather than Leninists (Lenin was only 20 in 1890, so probably had relatively few followers). They were actually quite close in spirit to AQ, believing that destruction of symbols of the old regime was the only way to bring about political change. The Bolsheviks were essentially a political movement and did not have an armed wing as such. The seizure of power in 1917 was through organised industrial action in key economic areas (see Malaparte's "Technique du coup d'état" for a near-contemporary analysis).

As others have said, AQ and the IS are not the same thing, in fact the differences between them are more interesting. But they are both examples of what happen when decaying feudal regimes are challenged by new forces. Such forces need an ideology to substitute for the old one. In 1789 it was liberal constitutional monarchy followed by liberal republicanism. In 1917 a whole set of different ideologies were in competition, and a form of secular authoritarian modernism came out on top. In the Middle East this process has been obscured by the colonial era and its consequences, but in principle it should have been accomplished through Pan-Arabist and vaguely socialist regimes, all of which (most recently the Libyan) have carefully been destroyed by the West.
So what's left as an ideology apart from a kind of republican Islamic internationalism? It's not a coincidence that the Arab states supporting the West are all monarchies, whose rulers are terrified of winding up on the scrap-heap themselves.
And back to Lenin, the difference between AQ and the IS resembles the battles in the socialist movement before World War I - the majority (like AQ today) believed that revolution in Russia was a long-term project managed by a professional revolutionary elite, which had to wait until a working-class with a class consciousness had evolved. Lenin, on the other hand, though that you could pretty much bypass the capitalist phase altogether, and move directly to a revolution through a coup d'état. ISIS, on this reading, is representative of the modern tendency that says the answer to the Middle East's problems is not continuation of the monarchies, or western liberal style power sharing among ethnic groups, but the move to an islamic republic now.

20:


the dictators were keeping a lid on everything else under them.
when weakened/ destroyed these underlying groups emerge.
in the case of Iraq and Syria, the underlying groups are fundamentalist Islamic nutters.
no matter what the west wants to be true about these rebel's motivations, this is what it is.
they have their own cause and will lie and twist reports to support it.

21:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/28/isis-al-qaida-air-strikes-syria

"Isis reconciles with al-Qaida group as Syria air strikes continue"
...
A senior source confirmed that al-Nusra and Isis leaders were now holding war-planning meetings. While not yet formalised, the addition of at least some al-Nusra numbers to Isis would strengthen the group’s ranks and further its reach at a time when air strikes are crippling its funding sources and slowing its advances in both Syria and Iraq."

22:

I think your parenthesis is too kind to Brzezinski & co. I saw an interview with ZB once in which the interviewer asked him whether he regretted effectively creating the Taliban (I think this was pre-9/11, so creating AQ wasn't on the charge sheet). ZB's reply was "Are you nuts? By arming the muj I basically destroyed the freakin' Soviet Union! The hell I regret it!" (Slight paraphrase.)

He may have had a rethink after 9/11, or after Madrid, or after Bali, or after the rise of ISIS. Or he may not.

23:


" Also: everbody underestimates how fragile dictatorships can be. "


Really? ..


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

24:

>I say again, the sanest thing any Western government can do about unrest in the Middle East is to stay the fuck out of it, and this has been the case since before Alexander rolled through the place in the 300s BCE.

I'm too late to second this, guess I'll third it. :)

On a lighter note, having watched Obama vow to destroy ISIS, I think it would have added to his speech to have had a Dalek ally chime in with the classic "exterminate, exterminate, exterminate"...

Is there any hope to get the Saudi's take part in some
sort of peace talks with ISIS? Maybe a beheader-to-beheader discussion of some kind? Probably not hosted in Nanking, though... No need for a contest...

25:

Arnold:

1. The USSR wasn't a normal dictatorship; while Stalin was a dictator (taking off from Lenin's really bad take on collegiate governance and turning it into full-blown dictatorship via purges) it was designed to be a one-party state and reverted to that mean after Stalin's death.

2. Nothing shores up a dictatorship like a real existential external threat. Stalin would probably have been history by 1943 if not for Hitler.

26:

Note "can be". Not all dictatorships are equally fragile, and Stalin is probably a good example where there were plenty of factors that made the Soviet Union remarkably stable, as dictarorships go.

First was that Stalin managed to build a shared ideological identity and framework, partly based on Marxist and Leninist dogms, partly of his own creation. Mubarak et al pretty much lacked this.

Second was that Stalin had broad popular support. Maybe grudging, and compared to some of the tsars or the prior Civil War, even a Stalin can be thought of as not too bad. And he did manage to modernise Russia with remarkable speed. Mubarak et al, on the other hand, relied more on the security apparatus and the well-to-do.

Third, Stalin had the advantage of a clear exterior enemy. After the Camp David agreement, there were no such clear exterior enemy to point at in Egypt's case. And Israel was never an existential threat against Egypt, like Germany was to the Soviet Union.

27:

Couple of things here:

One is that modern Syria and Iraq (and Turkey) owe their national borders to the way the Ottoman Empire was broken up after WW1. People in the Middle East don't think much of T.E. Lawrence any more, given what's happened since.

The other issue is water. Back about a decade, Turkey started damming the streams coming out of Turkish Kurdistan, to promote farming and development for their Kurds and squelch the long-running civil war in that region. This worked, but it cut the amount of river water flowing into eastern Syria and western Iraq by something up to 50%.

Assad did a really crappy job of managing this shrinking water supply (he promoted them growing wheat, let them drill wells until the groundwater was tapped out, and so on). The revolt against Assad spread like wildfire in the areas that were most dewatered, and the IS is currently most active in those same areas.

Note the fights over dams on the Tigris and Euphrates? This isn't about sending floods downstream, it's about controlling the water in an area where there isn't enough water left to support the people living there. At least those people who are downstream from Kurdistan, which incidentally includes much of Iraq.

This may be our first example of a 21st century water war.

Al Qaeda and its successors have always flourished in areas of collapse, and this is no exception. Left to themselves, they'd probably implode bloodily in a few years, but we keep feeding them attention and making them matter. The best reason to fight them directly, in my opinion, is the way they go after controlling dams. I'm no fan of dam-busting, and I'm really not sure that destroying the rest of the water infrastructure in that area does anyone any favors.

Still, if we actually wanted to control Al Qaeda and its allies, I'd suggest the best way to go about doing it is to install a lot of desalination plants in the area, and get governments in the area to make water security of their populations a slightly higher priority. This would, of course, be relatively cheap and boring, but not fighting wars is generally cheap and boring.

28:

People in the Middle East don't think much of T.E. Lawrence any more, given what's happened since.

Personally I blame my paternal grandfather. (Who, per family legend, nearly machine-gunned Colonel Lawrence outside the gates of Damascus in October 1918.)

Water issues: yes, that's a touchstone in that part of the world, once you subtract oil as an issue.

29:

May it be that education in Oriental Studies in US or UK is considered second-rate
Err... ever heard of SOAS?
School (for) Oriental & African Spies
( Correct title: School of Orental & AFrican Studies) - my wife is a graduate.
[ IIRC SOAS is now merged with SEAS ]
So the answer to your question is: NO or not in Britain, anyway!

30:

Well done!
Blaming anything at all on Boney is always a good start!
Long live the memory of the Battle of the Nile!
Err, oh, *cough* ....
Without reading below ... has anyone mentioned "Sykes-Piquot", yet?
And "the line in the sand"
Oh dear.

31:

How easy could it be to occupy an uninhabited piece of desert, surround it with mine-fields and extract oil/install pvs?

The bigger problem is that the oil and the PVs are hundreds/thousands of miles from where the West would like them. Oil pipelines and long-distance HVDC transmission lines are relatively fragile and more difficult to defend. If I were in the UK and looking for electricity from far away, I'd be much more interested in an Iceland-Scotland line to access Icelandic hydro and geothermal power.

32:

Our Gracious Host has answered your point in general terms: repressive regimes are shored up by external threats.

In specific terms, the German invasion shored up Stalin's regime in three essential ways:

1: The decimation of the ineffective Red Army allowed Stalin to rebuild it with embedded political officers at all levels - the zampolits and commissars - who could and did remove all potential centers of opposition. No risk of a military coup in *this* regime!

2: The Eastward retreat of industry - effectively, the reindistrialisation of the Soviet Union on rational lines, rather than ideological fantasies - was facilitated by massive aid from America and Britain, at considerable cost to Britain with the Arctic Convoys.

3: The mass mobilisation and military lockdown of the Soviet Union facilitated genocidal deportations and the deliberate use of mass starvation against regions perceived as potential sources of political opposition. The two gross examples were Stalin's refusal to lift the siege of St.Petersburg (then called Leningrad) and the Homodor famine in the Ukraine - a policy applied to other areas formerly under Nazi occupation, both within the Soviet Union, and in the satellite states - which were looted of every nut and bolt and scrap of food in 1945 and 1946.

That latter point is worth considering: Stalin's regime enjoyed the benefits of a catastrophic military defeat in human terms, selectively applied against internal enemies; and the material benefits of a successful war of conquest; and technological aid from powerful and generous allies.

A clarification: 'Selectively applied' is a term of art: Stalin's regime was brutally indiscriminate in all its actions and 'success' was any murderous act that killed a useful number of the enemy - internal or external - and killed an affordable number of Stalin's unfortunate comrades. How stable and sustainable was that, measured in the medium to long term?

And how long *did* Stalin last after 1946, when the killing wound down to prewar levels? Or after 1949, when the fruits of looting had been spent, and mass arrests into labour camps were all that he could call upon to take up the material and political deficits?

Was he really so fortunate as to die of natural causes before a terrified Politburo realised that they had to band together and kill Stalin before he killed all of them?

As I say: we underestimate how fragile dictatorships are. But the discussion here illuminates an inconvenient truth, that almost all external efforts to weaken or remove dictators have shored up the dictatorship. And we underestimate that, too; or wifully disregard it, for reasons that that throw doubt on whether we 'democracies' can claim to be 'the good guys'.

33:

The two gross examples were Stalin's refusal to lift the siege of St.Petersburg (then called Leningrad) and the Homodor famine in the Ukraine

Since the 1980s, the engineered famines of 1932-3 have been given the label of 'Holodomor' or 'murder by hunger' by Ukrainian nationalist groups. (I don't think they needed another label myself - particularly not one beginning with the letters 'holo' - but it's not really my fight.) Pre-war and nothing to do with the Nazis, anyway.

34:

The biggest characteristic of the Mad Monk is incompetence. Honestly, you may think Cameron is only slightly this side of Hitler, but at least he could organise a piss up in a brewery. Abbott is so cartoonishly, arrogantly, evil that he is consistently politically outmanoeuvred by a man that thinks "Titanic II" is a pretty good idea.

As far as the latest moronic, barbaric, zealot-idiot group is concerned; the thing that worries me is they might not actually be idiots.

Hacking off the heads of journalists and aid workers is perhaps the dumbest move for an organisation that was happily running over Syria and taking control of oil fields in Iraq. We saw that Obama didn't want to do anything about them ("it's your fault Iraq") up until they started demonstrating they were dangerous vermin to people with fair skin.

It's pretty obvious that if you hack of the head of an american on video, the bombs are going to start falling.

However it's not just a case of a local psycho - we've had how many murders now? Six I think? Therefore it's sanctioned at a high level - which makes it look like they WANT the US to start bombing.

And it worries me when it looks like someone has a plan, that they want something to happen, but that it's not obvious how they win out of it.

35:

I suspect Zbignew Brzezinski would have taken today's consequences if they were necessary collateral damage to free Poland. I am not saying that relationship actually exists or was inevitable. I am just saying ZB is probably not lying awake at night second guessing himself.

36:

Their plan is to recruit the US Air Force into their propaganda department. They know the US almost certainly can't actually wipe them out no matter how far they provoke it, for all the usual reasons conventional forces don't win against insurgency. IS see themselves as the rightful government of some large piece of geography (details TBA), and the more American bombs fall indiscriminately on the Middle East, the more people in the vicinity will come around to their way of thinking.

37:

Why does the existence of IS remind me of how the US created the Khmer Rouge by accident during the Vietnamese War. The West needs to bite the bullet and give the local people what they want in Iraq. Split it in three and tell the Sunnis they can have their own area if they throw out IS. Not a single one of them is going to support the West if it means murdering Shiites are going to be let lose on them.

38:

for all the usual reasons conventional forces don't win against insurgency.
Oh dear.
NOT TRUE
It can be done, but it has to be done carefully & with real intelligence.
N Ireland (eventually)
Malaya
Borneo/Indonesia "confrontation"

OK?

39:

Operation Cyclone was a goddamn stupid idea, although I can see why it happened - that was back when Reagan would back any set of thugs with guns if they were shooting communists and leftists. Truth is, it wouldn't have been a huge tragedy if the Soviet Union had rolled over Pakistan as well and shoved Zia out of power (he's responsible for most of the appalling Islamist laws in the country).

@Greg Tingey

Oh dear.
NOT TRUE
It can be done, but it has to be done carefully & with real intelligence.

Thailand did a pretty good job against the communist insurgencies it faced as well. But it takes a ton of patience as well as proper integration of policing, military action, and so forth.

The British did a good job against the 1950s insurgency in Malaysia as well - too well. British success inspired a lot of really bad tactics by the US military in South Vietnam.

40:

The bigger problem is that the oil and the PVs are hundreds/thousands of miles from where the West would like them. Oil pipelines and long-distance HVDC transmission lines are relatively fragile and more difficult to defend

Yes, but you've got lots of largely barren land that's not useful for much else (FSVO "useful" that boils down to "economically productive to late-period capitalism").

Sure, HVDC lines are vulnerable. But I'd expect PV in the middle of the Sahara or Arabian deserts to be used to drive Fischer-Tropsch synthesis rather than actual live current to foreign destinations. Sure it's lossy, but if you can manufacture methane from CO2 and water (shipping the water in from coastal desalination plants) you can polymerize it to longer-chain alkanes and then ship them out via tanker.

Worst case: the ME stays on an oil-production economic basis in perpetuity -- just switching to an atmospheric carbon recycling mode from a fossil carbon extractive one.

41:

Alexander was drawn into Persia after a centuries long process initiated by, wait for it, Persia. They wanted to conquer the Greeks. Then after losing two wars of expansion, they wanted Greek mercenaries to assist them in their civil conflicts which led to greater and greater incentives for the Hellenistic world to cut out the middleman. (The Persians also meddled in Greek civil conflicts for various reasons, mostly for short term profit, but also to avoid potential counter-invasions.) So now you know who is really, ultimately responsible for the recent unpleasantness.

It wasn't so long ago that Turkey tried to bite off a large part of what we now consider Western Europe (with the blessings of the French who just did not care for the Hapsburgs.)

The opening of Herodotus actually pushes the back and forth origins of conflict between Europe and Asia to the time of the Gods. Though my guess is that before the Minoan Greeks and Etruscans, there was never anything in Europe worth conquering for the Egyptian/Western Asian civilizations.

42:

It's relatively easy to argue that no Western (European and North American) government has ever implemented a useful policy with respect to the Middle East. Sykes-Picot certainly made a hash of the post-Ottoman politics of the region, along with varying strains of Zionism, anti-Communism, CIA, MI6 and DGSE adventurism, and all those hungry oil companies, including BP, Shell (originally Royal Dutch Shell), etc.

No matter the cause, we now have an unstable situation to deal with that offers very little upside. President Obama's "do as little as possible" approach is a direct repudiation of Bush's "spread democracy by firepower" approach, but arguably no less ineffective. Were it not for all that oil, and the very nasty things both sides are inflicting on the citizenry, it'd be much better to just let the hard cases kill each other. Effectively influencing the outcome in the region will require patience, deep insight, and nuance. In other words, we're screwed.

ISIS, or ISIL, or whatever they are today, may eventually burn itself out. These are the same people who were so brutal that Saddam's Sunni brethren united against them; they've learned nothing of public relations in the meantime. We were perfectly willing to tolerate Assad until he started killing large numbers of his citizens in view of the press; now we're faced with a war between his thugs, the Qutbist whackos, and variously ineffective, splintered revolutionaries. Hmm, what would have happened if Nicholas II had been a competent tyrant? There are days I really miss how the Cold War papered over these problems.

With respect to PV, there's plenty of other empty, sunny land that could drive Fischer-Tropsch synthesis; my home region of the SW United States has the equivalent of about three times the area of England (say a million square kilometers) of very thinly settled desert, all below 35 degrees North latitude. As mentioned above, there's plenty of sunny emptiness in the Australian outback, too. It's a question of focused investment and development. Maybe Elon Musk needs to start another company?

43:

Iceland already exports enormous amounts of electricity in a way that minimizes transmission losses - aluminium.

44:

"Was he really so fortunate as to die of natural causes before a terrified Politburo realised that they had to band together and kill Stalin before he killed all of them?"

That was obvious before WWII, and Stalin survived that fear.

45:

"Oh dear.
NOT TRUE
It can be done, but it has to be done carefully & with real intelligence.
N Ireland (eventually)
Malaya
Borneo/Indonesia "confrontation""

Note that this is three successes out of many, many tries. And N. Ireland would count as a loss, in terms of mucking the situation up for many, many decades.

46:

"No matter the cause, we now have an unstable situation to deal with that offers very little upside. President Obama's "do as little as possible" approach is a direct repudiation of Bush's "spread democracy by firepower" approach, but arguably no less ineffective. "

I'd like to see somebody actually argue that, from facts and such.

47:

Can someone (maybe Charlie) help me understand what Charlie means by "Leninist praxis"? I've googled and wikied a bit, but am still at sea.

Thanks.

48:


They know the US almost certainly can't actually wipe them out no matter how far they provoke it, for all the usual reasons conventional forces don't win against insurgency.

Conventional forces have difficulties fighting an assymetrical war, but that's a different problem, and also not what we're currently seeing with IS, which has itself moved to conventional warfare, with tanks and artillery. These need logistic support, and the whole thing is absolutely the class of target that modern airforces are built to destroy.

49:

Re: Power Vacuum

Anyone with half a grain of sense (which does not characterize the US Government is general, and the Bush regime in particular) knew that removing Saddam was going to result in several dozen groups having the freedom to wreak havoc. The reason that AQ came to the fore was that it was already established.

And yeah, I think the Kurds are about the only ones worth backing. They've made their wishes known, and are pretty good about not overstepping that. The world could do worse than having an independent Kurdistan.

50:

Well, Abbott did Face Down that nasty Mr Putin and Bring Home the Bodies from MH17. If you believe our press.

51:

Try Praxis on it's own, as the method by which ideas are enacted or engaged with practically.

Leninist praxis then becomes taking the ideas of Lenin (as opposed to any of the other early Russian communists implementing the praxis of Marx and Engels such as Trotsky, and up to I guess Stalin etc. although the normal division you hear about is Marxist-Leninist and Marxist-Trotskyist) as your model for your activity. In this particular case you'd be looking at his ideas about how to implement revolution and overthrow of the capitalist states.

52:

If you want to know more about Leninism, you're getting outside my comfort zone, but the bits I vaguely know correspond closely enough to the Leninism wikipedia page that it and the links at the bottom are probably a good starting point.

53:

El @52,
I think you have a broken link.

[[ fixed - mod ]]

54:

And N. Ireland would count as a loss, in terms of mucking the situation up for many, many decades.

How so? As far as I can tell, everyone now acknowledges that Northern Ireland will be part of the UK until the people of Northern Ireland decide otherwise, by democratic mandate.

The terrorists-as-were have admitted that non-democratic means weren't going to work. They have disarmed (sorry, put the weapons beyond reach). The troops are off the streets, the Police can do their job without needing a multiple of soldiers in the immediate vicinity. The Peace Walls are slowly coming down, the border OPs and permanent border VCPs are demolished.

When Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley were sitting down together to get on with the business of democracy, or when Martin McGuinness met the Queen, they were rather strong indications that normalization was pressing ahead, and certainly not a "mucked up situation".

Yes, there are the few fanatics who oppose peace. Fortunately, they have difficulty mounting operations, let alone equipping them, and it's a sign of the times that (alleged) members of the PIRA Army Council have no hesitation about condemning their brutal behaviour.

One observation was that the Scottish Independence Referendum will chop some of the remaining support away from the remaining nutjobs - because there is now proof that the UK is willing to accept that democracy can happen, and doesn't require murder, destruction, and intimidation.

55:

Replying to the original point:

and perhaps if Zbignew Brzezinski's state department had been slightly more forward-looking and clear eyed they might have pondered where all these angry young men with leet bomb-making skillz were going to go once the Soviets were defeated ...

And perhaps not. Perhaps they'd have happily taken the tradeoff - after all, they'd be trading "defeat a perceived expansionist USSR that is an undeniable existential threat to the West" (see: a couple of million men and several thousand tanks at 30 minutes notice to move on the other side of the IGB, IRBMs and nuclear weapons in theatre, the potential for another Cuban crisis or ABLE ARCHER)...

...for a bunch of fanatics that can at best kill thousands of US and European citizens, rather than millions. They are one of the greater threats in the world today, they may end up killing millions of locals (and have already created millions of refugees) but they are nowhere near as great a threat as the one that Zbignew Brzezinski believed he was facing.

Note that the real red line for Syrian chemical weapons wasn't as much "Assad uses chemical weapons on his own people" as it was "Assad's chemical weapons fall into the hands of the nutjobs". The first is despicable but can be handled by negotiation; I suspect that the second would have resulted in the Israelis taking instant and direct action (or rather, more public action than has already happened).

As for the Sunni Awakening in Anbar province, AIUI it wasn't quite so much "local tribes are disgusted with IS predecessor" as "local tribes are persuaded that standing up to IS is possible and will give them a better end-state". Note that Generals Petraeus and Lamb put a lot of effort into that persuasion, and resources into backing it up. And it worked, right up until the Baghdad was perceived as being too bigoted/sectarian to work with (again); hence why it was important for the first steps to be persuading Maliki to step down.

Note that there was a fair gap between "trying to sort out the political problem" and "resorting to force to buy more time to achieve a political solution" - we're talking weeks, not an instant rush to launch the bombers.

56:

And N. Ireland would count as a loss, in terms of mucking the situation up for many, many decades
No - centuries, with at least three "sides" taking turns to screw whatever "balance" the other two achieved.
That is Ireland's tragedy - the penultimate one being the murder of M Collins & the second civil war of 1922-4, thus postponing any hope of reconciliation for at least another 75 years.
Sorry, but "Northern Irlenad" was shorthand for all of that.

57:

they'd be trading "defeat a perceived expansionist USSR that is an undeniable existential threat ...for a bunch of fanatics that can at best kill thousands of US and European citizens, rather than millions.

Ah, but it's still early days!

To use the Soviets as a metaphor and Leninist praxis as the trajectory, what we're looking at now is probably 1917-18. (9/11 was the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, or maybe the revolt of 1905.) Actual seizure of power in a broad region is more like the Russian revolution.

We have no idea where IS is going to end up, and the Pakistani government's possession of nukes and delivery systems does not fill me with glee.

Revolutions are horribly unpredictable and trying to guess where they're going in the early days is a mug's game, but the potential for disaster on a global scale -- if not less than a few years down the line -- is there in embryonic outline.

58:

Apart from the err (we hope) temporary blip caused by Malaki's stupidity ......
We are not addressing another underlying cause of this present trouble, & one which, saving a many-hundred year campaign of education towards atheism, there is no potential solution at all.
The err, pardon the word, fundamental schism in islam.
Between Sunni & Shia, dating back to, IIRC the battle of Karbala 690 CE (AH61).
Now imagine the bitterest catholic - prod sectarian strife dating back to before the christian gospels were properly written down & whose viciousness surpasses anything seen in either the "Wars of Religion" or the 30 years war in Europe.
That is the quarrel we may now be involved with.

"ISIL" are a sort of ultra-prod milirant bunch of loonies who make Calvin or the Covenanters look sane, normal & peaceloving, which really does not help.
Given that their extreme form of sunnism has also absorbed the "teachings" of Qutb, & the poison drip-feed to him from the Grand Mufti & even Adolf, it becomes truly horrible.
A lot of "reasonable" voices would & do say - "stay out, let them kill each other".
But, given the ideology powering ISIL, can we, should we?
My suspicion is "no, we can't" ... but oh, how nice it would be if we could.

P.S. WHere is ISIL's money & support really coming from?
The MSM are hinting extreme Wahhabists in Saudi, opposed to their "lenient" government, & others are hinting Quatar.
I'm disinclined to swallow those easy answers.
Does anyone have any better (non-giant-conspiracy) ideas?

59:

Sorry, and thanks.

60:

Where is ISIL's money & support really coming from?

The locals? Ransom payments for kidnapped UN Observers? Ransom payments for kidnapped locals? Extortion of money from businesses / locals? "Taxes"? All of their savings? The fact that they're the number-one attractor of jihadi recruits (and hence money)?

Yes, they're organised and comparatively rich (and growing richer for every resource they get their hands on). But much of their equipment is captured, and you have to wonder whether their consumption rates are soon going to exceed what can be captured or bought.

Perhaps this is what brought the drive towards Baghdad - if they didn't capture more resources, or gain themselves a strong negotiating position, or gain a bigger slice of the jihadi-support money available globally, they knew that they were going to burn out from within; it's not born of strength, or arrogance, but from a desperate hope that if they can get Baghdad to a negotiating table that they might avoid an internal cash crisis?

61:

If you really want chapter and verse about the long and ugly western interference in the Middle East, try reading "Quicksand" by Geoffrey Wawro. It made my blood boil when I read it.......and the ugly and disastrous interference hasn't stopped since he published his book!

62:

I'm afraid it's somewhat more complicated than this, at least AFAIK...

Let's start with the fact that while we view Greece as the South-Eastern part of Europe, at the time in question it was more like the North-Western part of the Eastern Mediterranean cultures. While I guess "Black Athena" is too speculative in some areas, it might help to remember which are the two gods most closely related to Ancient Greek culture, Pazuzu, err, Apollon and Pallas Athene (though that etymology is somewhat up to debate), and where the Greeks got their alphabet from.

Problem is we only have the Greek POV in this, since the Persians were not that much into writing history, but according to Herodot, the problem were the Greek colonies in Anatolia switching from Lydian to Persian supremacy and being not that content. That one didn't work out, though they asked for help from the Old Country and got some from Athens and Eretria. End of Act One, fast forward to Act Two, the punishment of the two cities, and while we're at it, why not subjugate the rest of the polytheistic, uncultivated goat fuckers and bring them the benefits of the Pax Persiana?

Seen somewhat anachronistically through the lens of the Westphalian System, well, we have Athens and Eretria intervening in internal Persian matters, and the Persian Empire trying to subjugate quite a few innocent bystanders. Not that anybody at that time thought that way, though there were likely some general customs (remember the Romans never attacked anybody, err, they mayben mad you attack them, but of course they were never the aggressor...)

63:

Personally, I suspect Western (US/Israeli/Saudi) involvement in this miraculous rise of ISIS from the ashes of defeat a few years ago, now with a very slick propaganda wing, snazzy flags, supervillain uniforms, lots of money, etc. To me this has Western involvement written all over it, by some of the same elements that have been backing jihadists since at least T. E. Lawrence's time.

The motive? Spreading chaos in the region and destabilizing any state in the region that might be a threat -- mainly Syria and Iran at the moment. This fits with the "Oded Yinon" plan devised 30 years ago by an Israeli, to ensure that no force would emerge that could threaten Israel. The Saudis (considered corrupt Western puppets by jihadists) have good reasons to go along with plan at the moment.

I know you wanted non-giant-conspiracy ideas, but in this case, maybe giant conspiracies are the best explanation?

64:
AIUI it wasn't quite so much "local tribes are disgusted with IS predecessor" as "local tribes are persuaded that standing up to IS is possible and will give them a better end-state"

That's maybe the most important aspect of the whole sad sick story; while we tend to view at least some of the actors as "nutjobs" or insane, most of them are likely just as rational (or irrational) as the guy next door[1]; a rationality that has different parameters than the one we're used to, but still not that alien. Hell, even a suicide bomber is acting quite rational. Which might make for some hope before going totally bleak.

BTW, anybody read the War Nerd lately?

65:

Um, ISIL is supposedly getting funding by pirating oil and selling it at up to US $1 million per day. I have no idea if this is accurate or not, but that would likely be their biggest source of income at the moment.

As for tactics, someone correct me, but ISIL seems to be using the Somali tactic of technicals with support crews. As Kilcullen described it in Out of the Mountains, it's a really simple and robust system: set up a skirmish line with everyone in eye contact (either on foot or in weaponized SUVs). Advance in a line, and when there's fighting, everyone within range heads towards the fight and engages until the threat is eliminated or they're forced to retreat. Once the threat is eliminated, reform the skirmish line and head forward. Owners of the technicals drive their vehicles to make sure they're not stolen, but otherwise, there's no command structure. It's a simple system, easy to teach, and a pain in the ass for a rigid military hierarchy to deal with, because every fighter in the line within communications range automatically converges on any opposition they find without command, and there's no communications hierarchy to disable or decapitate to stop the attack. OTOH, the US has been dealing with these kinds of attacks for almost 25 years now, which may be one reason why drone wars have become so popular. The point here is that it's a low tech, relatively low cost, relatively robust way to fight, and a conventional army really needs to be ready for it to take it on and win.

My guess, per my previous post, is that the fight is ultimately about two things: (Kurdish) water and (Kurdish) oil. Control both, and you control the region. ISIL's got an effective structure for attacking, but it's not so clear that they're any better at long term occupation than the Americans are.

The other thing is that, since anyone with an internet connection can show that ISIL descended directly from Al Qaeda, it means that the US (expletive deleted) Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists act from back in 2001 allows the US military to attack them. They'd have been much more clever to claim to be a brand new group unaffiliated with Al Qaeda, because that would have gummed up the US government for quite a bit longer.

66:

Err, I forgot the footnote:

[1] Err, not, I was not thinking about the time some friend lived next door to some friends of a friend of Mr. Atta et al. Apparently, there was a scene somewhat similar to "He's not the Messias" from Life of Brian(about 2:40), though it was the local SWAT equivalent before his window, telling him to be quiet...

67:

On an even more bitter subject, how much of our current obsession with oil is about military capability? This isn't a new idea. AFAIK, Winston Churchill helped set up British Petroleum back in the day to get oil out of Iran to power the British Navy and Army as part of their switch from coal. Oil isn't just about commerce, it's about military might, and I think we forget this all too often.

The reason I'm pointing this out is that a good chunk of our economies can be run from renewables. This even includes international cargo ships, which are running so slow that they're barely above clipper ship speeds. Given the nasty and brutish consequences of climate change, one would think that, as with CFCs, most sane economies would convert away from petrochemicals with all reasonable speed. Instead, we get, well, what we have now, where it's all lip service and rearguard protection of the status quo.

I wonder how much of this inaction is the hidden cost of fueling military forces? While armies are getting better at fuel consumption and renewables out of sheer self-preservation, precisely no one is talking about making solar or wind-powered warships or electrical warplanes. If you think about it, giving up fossil fuels seems suicidal, especially if you do it first. Giving up fossil fuels first makes you vulnerable to all the other militaries that have not given those fuels up, simply because those fuels are so much more energy dense than even the latest batteries. Of course, not giving up fossil fuels is also ultimately suicidal for all countries, so we're in for some interesting times, I suspect.

68:

I wonder how much of this inaction is the hidden cost of fueling military forces? While armies are getting better at fuel consumption and renewables out of sheer self-preservation, precisely no one is talking about making solar or wind-powered warships or electrical warplanes.

What the USN is thinking about is moving more of its fleet to nuclear power, and using spare capacity to synthesize fuel oil for the aircraft. The energy density of nuclear is a win for the military compared to, say, returning to the age of sail (albeit with automated rigging and weather satellites to make best use of available power).

It's also worth noting that the Pentagon is much more interested in renewables and carbon neutral strategies than the Republicans in the congress are happy about.

(Most other nations don't have the global reach to get to worry about this sort of problem. Although I suspect the UK's decision to build new gas turbine powered carriers rather than go fully nuclear will come back to bite the MoD within the 30 year life of those carriers.)

69:

It's also worth noting that the Pentagon is much more interested in renewables and carbon neutral strategies than the Republicans in the congress are happy about.

Yep. It's been very interesting here in Colorado Springs watching all the local miltary installations building solar farms, and fitting housing with panels. A few years ago Peterson AFB started building new housing just west of the north end of the runway, then last year they started to refit them all with solar panels.
Meanwhile the local conservatives keep banging on about expanding fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline--which doesn't even come into the state.

70:

One of the modern logistics problems is batteries for radios. There are a lot of radios, and similar powered stuff, in a modern army, and the British started putting auxiliary engines in tanks around the end of WW2, just to keep the batteries chanrged.

Modern hardware uses rechargeable batteries, and solar power for recharging also helps, but solar power is something of a risk. It's hard to camouflage.

71:

And whatever you do, don't mention the aircraft carriers.

(There's a huge amount of nautical craziness can be traced back to that rather suspect design choice.)

72:

It is true that the Pentagon's an active leader in renewables (when not muzzled by Congress), but that was because they lost so many lives keeping everyone fueled in Iraq that they finally got the message about local power.

Still, I'm not sure how much of their fuel budget is actually going renewable. On-base housing, radio charging, and the like are low-hanging fruit. Ships of the line, submarines, tanks, missiles, and jets most definitely are not, and they all run on "legacy fuels": radioactive materials dug out of the ground, oil, or coal dug out of the ground.

There's just a certain, bitter irony that we may be fighting so hard for oil just to preserve our ability to fight for oil, because the first country that stops fighting for oil is at risk of being invaded by those that did not stop fighting for oil. Talk about a Red Queen problem.

73:

Not just that - there's a lot of military interest in hybrid vehicles, going back twenty years.

The first practical hybrid I read about was in the mid-90s where a DOD-funded research project put a motor in each wheel hub of a HMMWV, and replaced the 6.2-litre engine with the 1.9 turbo diesel out of a VW Golf and a bunch of batteries - to end up with a wagon that had twice the range, a better top speed, twice the acceleration, better torque and hence hill-climbing ability...

You want to look at the fuel consumption of an army; it's huge. This was manageable in Western Europe, or 1991, or 2003; but it gets much, much worse under dispersed conditions. ISTR a figure that it took forty gallons of fuel to deliver each gallon of fuel at an Afghan forward operating base. Having solar on site, or less power-hungry equipment, is a huge benefit - because it means a smaller logistic tail, etc, etc. The British agreement to push small units forward in Helmand was daft - mainly because it meant operating bases at the raggedy edge of what was supportable (and often wasn't, apparently). This is why Brown and Blair were able to claim that the Army in Afghanistan had everything it had asked for - because it was everything they'd asked for, before the commanders in theatre changed tactics rather than say "no". A "can-do" attitude is all very well, until "can't-quite".

The US Republican Party can be relied upon to push for domestic energy independence, at almost any cost (fracking, et al) because the institutional memory of OPEC in the 70s, and a couple of oil spikes, is a desire to tell the Middle East that it can go and eat sand.

74:

Ahem: fission fuel isn't in short supply. Sure there's only about a century of known Uranium reserves ... but only because we stopped looking for new deposits in the 1960s; there's a lot of it about -- enough dissolved in seawater that it would in principle be net-energy-positive to extract by electrolysis. Also, that century-long supply only lasts for one century if we don't reprocess the fuel repeatedly, which we don't do because reprocessing is expensive and uranium is dirt cheap. As it is, we only 'burn' about 8-10% of the energy in a fuel rod before we reclassify it as "high level waste" rather than 88-90% good fuel plus some contaminants.

And that's before we even think about thorium, or fast breeders and a plutonium cycle.

75:

Beg to differ, from what I've read.

The nuclear-powered carrier is a huge jump in complexity, manning requirements, security requirements, and training requirements. It takes a lot more people to run than a set of diesels and a gas turbine, and it's the people that are the hideously expensive part of any defence budget. What I read makes me believe that the RN engineering branch is already rather undermanned, likewise their nuclear engineering branch. The RN forums are already beating the "not enough sailors to man the ships we have" drum for certain key trades.

Unless you're suggesting that the U.S. shipbuilding industry is dangerously incompetent, there's a reason why we built two aircraft carriers for less than the price of a single American CVN. On top of that, it's not as simple as "just put two submarine cores into the carrier, how hard can it be?" - as the French found out with the Charles de Gaulle. We're talking nine-figure sums in additional costs here...

76:

Well, given my limited and bitter experience with other sectors of the energy mining industry, I'd take reserve estimates with a large boulder of salt, preferably with a trebuchet to pitch it back at them. There's little incentive for any resource company to tell the truth, less incentive for them to be open about the uncertainties in their estimation methods, and good evidence that their own maps are wrong. From personal experience real fun for someone who owns oil mineral rights to get a message saying "sign this extraction contract or we'll sue you and/or take your land through eminent domain," only to find that the map isn't for their land and their name is misspelled. It gives me real confidence in their maps, it does.

Anyway, the other problem with nuclear fuels is that the fuel is around for 20-50 years, while the resulting pollution is around for, what? 20,000-50,000 years? It doesn't matter, really. The 1000s:1 reward to crap ratio is massively unsustainable.

77:
To use the Soviets as a metaphor and Leninist praxis as the trajectory, what we're looking at now is probably 1917-18. (9/11 was the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, or maybe the revolt of 1905.) Actual seizure of power in a broad region is more like the Russian revolution.

We could envision a similar but less gloomy model: the Iranian Revolution is the equivalent of the October Revolution, and Shia islamism is to Sunni islamism what Marxism-Leninism is to Marxism-Maoism (i.e. the earlier, less demented, less populated version). With that model, the Islamic State is akin to the Red Khmers: the completely-barking-genocidal decay channel for the later-demented-populated flavour of the incriminated ideology.

If that model is accurate, it means


  • that at least it doesn't really get any worse than this
  • that inside power struggle within the ideology start kicking in. And indeed, the Iranians are fighting the Islamic State in a way that might remind of the way the Soviet-supported Viet-Nam fought the Chinese-supported (and US-supported...) Red Khmers.
  • that there will be much suffering and horror, but the State-shaped entity will eventually be more of a flash in the pan than a 80-year long empire of global reach.

Which of the two models will eventually turn out to be more representative of what is happening now in Syria and Iraq, only observation of the actual events will tell. I hope it will be more of the Red-Khmer-model than the Sovier-Union-model. In any case, there will always be other models we can consider and deviations from these models. Let's not hyperventilate too much over an long-term projection on few measure points.

78:

The BBC has made a report on the phrase Boots on the ground. It only goes back to about 1980.

It's very problematic in Arab culture. Footwear is considered unclean in some circumstances. It wouldn't be the only unfortunate phrase used in Western political commentary. What do they make of "pork-barrel politics"?

79:
Anyway, the other problem with nuclear fuels is that the fuel is around for 20-50 years, while the resulting pollution is around for, what? 20,000-50,000 years? It doesn't matter, really. The 1000s:1 reward to crap ratio is massively unsustainable.

Burying spent fuel really does work. Look up "Oklo" ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_nuclear_fission_reactor ): it is quite possible to have radioactive material underground without any leakage, and predicting stability of rock formations is well within our capabilities. Nuclear waste is a problem if you leave it lying around or if you are irresponsible handling it, but over the long-term it is a non-issue. And I am not even mentioning really elegant ways to deal with it, like reprocessing.

80:

ISIL had the bright idea of robbing the banks when it took Mosul - it netted them an estimated $2billion. See Stalin for references.

81:

Uranium is about 2ppm in the Earth's crust. That means the top metre of rock over 1 sq km contains about 10 tonnes.
Apart from that Thorium is far more abundant than Uranium

82:

That being that the 2 QE class, even if we get them both complete air wings, will be less competent than one Nimitz class?

83:

Anyway, the other problem with nuclear fuels is that the fuel is around for 20-50 years, while the resulting pollution is around for, what? 20,000-50,000 years?

The radioactive materials are there even if nobody uses them. Would you rather they be in some random hillside somewhere or in a containment facility?

84:


there's a reason why we built two aircraft carriers for less than the price of a single American CVN.

Well, two carriers are better than one, in the sense that one is mostly useless. As a rule, you will have at least one ship refitting for each ship on station. A fleet of two carriers is barely adequate. A single nuclear powered carrier for the RN on the scale of a USN CVN would have been an, um, less good, plan.

Which of course begs the question, what is the navy for? Towards the end of Safeguard of the Sea (A Naval History of Britain Vol 1) NAM Roger looks at the tension between the "commerce protection" and "national prestige" model. In the early 17th century, Barbary pirates operating up and down the Atlantic coast were picking off fishing vessels and their crews at will, a threat that the Royal Navy, composed of a small number of large well armed warships with the task of showing the flag, was entirely unsuited to meet. This caused some unhappiness in the body politic ...

85:

Anyway, the other problem with nuclear fuels is that the fuel is around for 20-50 years, while the resulting pollution is around for, what? 20,000-50,000 years? It doesn't matter, really. The 1000s:1 reward to crap ratio is massively unsustainable.

Actually, the main kiloyears byproduct of fission reactors running on uranium is plutonium 239 -- itself a viable fuel (different reactor design, basically). Really long-lived by-products -- anything with a half-life over 10^6 years -- isn't a problem if it's properly buried somewhere where it will take centuries or millennia before leaching has any effect. In any event, the direct activity is low. The main problem is short-lived isotopes (half lives under double-digit years) which tend to be rather active, and you might want to look into Integral Fast Reactors or hybrid fission/fusion energy cycles -- technologies that have received a lot of attention (but not enough money) for their potential to consume or deactivate waste.

The real problems are that (a) nobody wants to pay for disposal, and (b) the cost of a nuclear energy cycle is high enough that it's not competitive with fossil fuels and neoliberal market doctrine insists that we've got to run it at a profit. Oh, and (c) some of our administrative structures (cough, Tepco, cough) are at best semi-competent. But you know who's got a pretty decent track record of running nuclear reactors without horrible accidents? The US Navy ...

86:

What do they make of "pork-barrel politics"?

Or, indeed, of "Crusade".

(I cringed when GWB used that exact word in his speech on September 12th 2001. It proved that either he was a totally ignorant idiot who was in over his head ... or worse, that he knew what it meant to the muslim world and didn't care. And subsequent history suggests a bit of both.)

87:

That being that the 2 QE class, even if we get them both complete air wings, will be less competent than one Nimitz class?

Remember what I said about the expensive part of defence being the people, not the kit? They did a lot of work on reducing the crew complement of the QE class.

Consider that every sailor on a ship costs you over £60k a year to employ (probably more, and much more for key people - cost of employment is roughly 2x salary as a rule of thumb)

Nimitz crew: 3,200, air wing 2,400
QE crew: 680, air wing 900

The QE, even without the noisy things on the roof and associated people, still costs £150 million a year less to run than a Nimitz. Over the 40-year life of the ship, that's £6 billion more. Add in the air wing, and that number jumps to £250M per year, and £10 billion.

88:

My interpretation of what's going on is that policy-wise, since the Nott defense review of 1981-ish (although that got punted into the long grass until the USSR collapsed, thanks to the Falklands conflict), MoD policy has been to turn the RN into a subsidized annexe to the US Navy.

We effectively provide the USN with four Trident SSBNs (pointing at the same targets as the USN boomers, nominally under independent management but in practice the V-force missiles will never be used without US approval), and two hello/STOVL carriers. The new ones being larger than their predecessors, are probably about what the USMC would like to upgrade to from their Wasp-class LHDs (you'd need to send another ship along to carry the LCACs and boots, but in terms of aviation capability a QM class carrier would be a good fit for a USMC expedition's air wing). And at a pinch, a QM-class can fill in for a low-intensity op that would otherwise take up a Nimitz-class CVN.

Indeed, to quote First Sea Lord Sir Alan West's evidence to the Commons Select Defence Committee in 2004, "I have talked with the CNO in America. He is very keen for us to get these because he sees us slotting in with his carrier groups. He really wants us to have these, but he wants us to have the same sort of clout as one of their carriers."

So the RN plugs a useful gap in the USN's capability, at British taxpayer's expense. In terms of buying the UK an independent capability? That's rather more questionable ...

89:

, well, history has wide room for chronological apophenia, so...

a) the arab spring was the french revolution, and we're somewhere between the bourbon restoration after napoleon and la terreur (with kurds and shias standing in for the vender)

b) the situation of the arab world is comparable to the holy roman empire (see atatürk and the caliphate). no idea if it's 48 or 71...

c) or we go with the russian civil war.

problem is, the only somewhat successfull nation building in the area i know is turkey, and that's not that. not to forget all european nations except the swiss are examples of "successful ethnic cleansing" (war nerd) to some degree...

90:

A nit: I wouldn't be putting photovoltaic panels in the middle of the Sahara. Not with those lovely, lovely sandstorms that are liable to blow up at the drop of a hat.

No, I'd use mirrors to concentrate the sunlight onto a solar thermal plant of some sort.

As for exporting the energy, methane is one option; turning bauxite into aluminium, as another poster has suggested, is another - Al is incredibly energy intensive to refine, and would give up most of that energy without quibbling in a system that would probably generate reasonably efficient electricity at the other end. The hard part is then gathering up the oxide and shipping it back to be reused.

Speaking on the broader topic of energy independence and dealing with that whole pesky carbon dioxide thing, my attitude is that there are some countries - Australia springs to mind - that don't need to get on the nuclear bandwagon (we have plenty of solar power going begging, if we only had the political will to exploit it rather than building, say, some useless boondoggle of a road that a certain state government doesn't want scrutinised properly before the impending election in two months time - to the point that they just signed a contract to have it built). Other countries? Either they'll get on the nuclear bandwagon, or they'll struggle to reach fully carbon neutral energy production. As OGH has already indicated, the waste really is much less of a problem than people generally think. And hey, guess what - Australia is, geologically speaking, the ideal place to stash it all. Win win! (if we can just get people past the "but NYOOKLEARR!" bogeyman...)

91:

Don't think of it as filling a gap in the USN capability, but a gap in the NATO capability.

The RN brings several skills to the NATO party, and apparently everyone is quite envious of the Type 45. Even the Type 42 used to impress - HMS Gloucester managed to shoot down a Silkworm aimed at a US battleship, before the USN destroyer that was supposed to be protecting it even detected it...

PS Regarding the SIOP, we apparently didn't point the V-force / CASD at the same targets as the US triad, but integrated with them. There's a non-zero likelihood that any given little drop of sunshine won't launch, won't fly properly, won't hit, or won't go bang; with the result that key targets get more than one weapon assigned, and probably have the rubble bounce. Apparently, it's the only way to be sure...

92:

But the UK trident submarines can, under certain circumstances that do not require the approval of the US, fire their nuclear weapons. To say they will never do so, when the procedure to do so exists, seems something of an absolute.

93:

My suggestion for disposal of HL waste would be to dig a hole like the one Cruachan power station is in, fill the turbine and generator halls with the waste, then backfill the access tunnel with a mix of granite boulders from the excavation and concrete.

94:

Yes. Using your figures, are you claiming that the Nimitz is carrying 600ish supernumerary Air Wing personnel? The function of an aircraft carrier is to be a base for the air wing, rather than just to be a large ship. Your numbers suggest that the Nimitz is carrying 4 aircraft (and stores for same) for every 3 that the 2 QEs have between them.

95:

As if trying to understand the enemy was some kind of weakness:

To a lot of Americans, it is. I used to read sci.military.naval, which was good for getting some ideas of US political opinions until it got too wearing. Some time in 2001-2003 I asked why the US didn't seem to want to understand the motivations of its enemies, and the firestorm was quite noticeable.

There seemed to be at least two parts to it. Firstly, "understand" was being taken to include "empathise with", rather than merely "comprehend". Secondly, opponents were eeeevil, and attempting to understand their thought processes would contaminate your own (precious bodily fluids).

And getting elected in the USA is a lot easier if you're a "regular guy, ordinary."

96:

"P.S. WHere is ISIL's money & support really coming from?
The MSM are hinting extreme Wahhabists in Saudi, opposed to their "lenient" government, & others are hinting Quatar.
I'm disinclined to swallow those easy answers.
Does anyone have any better (non-giant-conspiracy) ideas?"

No, because the 'non-conspiracy' theories are less likely to be correct :)

I think that the biggest problem is that (in parallel to the 30 Years' War) a whole bunch of the surrounding countries and factions are quite happy to support various people like ISIS, so long as they believe that they gain. ISIS is technically surrounded by enemies, but many are frenemies, depending on the day.

97:

"It's a simple system, easy to teach, and a pain in the ass for a rigid military hierarchy to deal with, because every fighter in the line within communications range automatically converges on any opposition they find without command, and there's no communications hierarchy to disable or decapitate to stop the attack."

That's good when not facing competent, well-armed conventional forces. If they are, they'd get killed a lot; the only thing that you'd need to emphasize to their opponents is to keep good 360 degree security.

98:

The decision-making class in America is far more interested in defeating its near (political) enemies than its far (military) enemies. The group of fools that invaded Iraq and precipitated this whole mess haven't paid much of a price for it, in terms of their political careers, but people like former-general Shinseki, who to his great credit spoke up before the war in a prudent and prescient manner, can't catch a break. The system rewards simple, aggressive posturing but doesn't communicate nuance or caution very well.

Short version: American decisions are made in Washington, where looking weak is a career killer and ISIS is a ragtag bunch of barbarians half a world away.

99:

Your numbers suggest that the Nimitz is carrying 4 aircraft (and stores for same) for every 3 that the 2 QEs have between them.

Sounds about right ...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nimitz-class_aircraft_carrier

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_Elizabeth-class_aircraft_carrier

... although it's unlikely that both will be operational at the same time

100:

Yes, you are not the first person to notice the similarity to 1618-48 either.
Profound religios & political conflict, with money & troops pouring in from noth sides.
Which means it's going to get a whole lot nastier.
What ufortunate town or city wil stand in for Magedburg in this one?

101:

Thought I'd toss in some George F Kennan, the author of the 'X Article'. Substitute ISIS for Soviet and it's pretty well spot-on.

Excerpted from Wikipedia:

The Long Telegram - Wikisource has original text related to this article:

The Long Telegram

In writing the Long Telegram, his reply to the U.S. Treasury Department, Kennan was profoundly aware of the matters at stake; its preface says:

Answer to Dept’s 284, Feb. 3,13 involves questions so intricate, so delicate, so strange to our form of thought, and so important to analysis of our international environment that I cannot compress answers into single brief message without yielding to what I feel would be a dangerous degree of oversimplification. I hope, therefore, Dept will bear with me if I submit in answer to this question five parts...I apologize in advance for this burdening of telegraphic channel; but questions involved are of such urgent importance, particularly in view of recent events, that our answers to them, if they deserve attention at all, seem to me to deserve it at once.[1]

Kennan described dealing with Soviet Communism as “undoubtedly greatest task our diplomacy has ever faced and probably greatest it will ever have to face”. In the first two sections, he posited concepts that became the foundation of American Cold War policy:

The USSR perceived itself at perpetual war with capitalism;
The USSR viewed left-wing, but non-communist, groups in other countries as an even worse enemy of itself than the capitalist ones;
The USSR would use controllable Marxists in the capitalist world as allies;
Soviet aggression was fundamentally not aligned with the views of the Russian people or with economic reality, but rooted in historic Russian nationalism and neurosis;
The Soviet government's structure prohibited objective or accurate pictures of internal and external reality."


102:

MoD policy has been to turn the RN into a subsidized annexe to the US Navy. What a disaster!

Deliberately ignoring our subservience to the USSA, which I dislike as much as you, & just for the purposes of this single slot in the thread ...

Even if the type 45 is that good, we need about double the number of them, & we should have gone for 4 or 6 Harrier-carriers with updated airframes/kit.
I suppose the new carriers could easily be re-structured to carry drone hordes/swarms.

IF this all blows up seriously in the next year or two, we'd bettr think about some serious (i.e. working practical) re-armaments.

103:

Re use of the word "Crusade" and given the main post, I'm reaching the conclusion that this is all deliberate. This wasn't just an unthinking speechwriter writing something to be delivered by an unthinking figurehead. Which then leaves me puzzled over the hoped for result. Who benefits from general chaos in the middle east with plenty of hatred and bloodshed?

But then as some said recently, "Sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice." So maybe it is just incompetence (and hubris, and arrogance, and stupidity, and so on).

104:

Actually nuclear-generated electricity is about as expensive as coal generation but more expensive than gas at the moment after all costs are factored in, including spent fuel disposal. Most Western nations operating nuclear power plants surcharge the nuclear plant operators to provide a spent fuel disposal fund and even with those extra costs it's still cheap, particularly since the price of uranium at the minehead is seriously depressed at the moment.

Disposal is being paid for, at gunpoint perhaps but it is actually being funded. The requirement for disposal isn't actually desperate though, there's so little spent fuel around that spending the money now to dig and drill deep repositories is a little bit premature, especially if future tech improvements in recycling mean they'd want to dig it back up again. Dry cask storage on reactor sites is affordable for decades and doesn't prevent future geological disposal if and when it is deemed necessary.

The killer with nuclear power is that it is a national infrastructure project, like a motorway or a high-speed rail line meant for use for decades or, with the new generation of reactors being built today, for a century or more. Gas is fast to build and currently cheap but prone to political upheavals (we'll see what happens this winter if Putin turns off the taps to Western Europe) but it won't be around in twenty or thirty years, not a the current price. If the price of gas doubles so does the cost of the electricity it generates. OTOH the minehead price of uranium could triple and only add about 1 Euro cent per kWh to the electricity price, and if that happened a whole lot of currently sequestered uranium ore bodies would be ripe for exploitation, never mind a lot of existing spoil heaps like the one at Olympic Dam mine in south Australia where acid leaching could produce an extra 19,000 tonnes of U3O8 a year for the forseeable future.

105:

One problem we are going to face with solar energy is that it isn't 24/7, and not everything can turn off when the sun goes down. An aluminium plant looks a bit dodgy, so geothermal and hydro start looking important. We're facing some big changes to behavior, when there's been reasons to sell late-night electricity at low cost.

Local generation and storage might help.

I don't think any country can totally ignore nuclear. I think Australia went big on hydro in the fifties, but will that be any use in Perth?

What I have noticed is a certain lack of thinking through all over the shop, though we do have some smart people here. What are we missing?

I'm not sure that I'd want to live in a country run by any of us, and some of you can really creep me out, but we're at least still talking with each other.

And here's a thought. The ordinary phone system was pretty good at not drawing power, except for keeping the exchange battery charged, when everyone was asleep. What's a digital exchange like. And what would the internet be like if there were a rolling wave of no-power running around the world. What would that do to Google, or cloud storage?

106:

It is all so predictable.. What was it that idiot said.. PUBLIC POLICY HAS CONSIQUENCES if we could just stop the sale of arms, yes you Boeing.. Sigh

107:

Greg - sorry, that's Fantasy Fleets stuff.

The Invincible class had a crew size the same as QE class, for a third of the aircraft. As the saying goes, steel is cheap and air is free, so you're as well buying a big ship,as a small one.

"Four to Six small carriers" is unaffordable. Keeping a helicopter carrier and an assault ship manned is hard enough, trying to provide frigates and destroyers for another four is just unaffordable given the current balance of UK defence spending.

108:

We have actually got "spare" Type 45s, they're the Astute submersible cruisers. Unfortunately we probably won't have enough of them to carry out boomer escort duty as well as keeping the Other Side's own submersible light cruisers away from the QE2 and its battle group on deployment at any given time.

109:

I stand partially corrected ....
But, we (will) need decent carrier-cover + assault + Heli + sevral more 45's ... unless we are very, very lucky.
Do you feel lucky?
Defence is very expensive, yes - being defeated is even more expensive.

110:

So who exactly are we going to fight who has any appreciable capability? The USA? France? China? Russia? That's the question, isn't it? The first two are very unlikely, the next really about as likely, given the economic conditions. That leaves Russia, and are they really likely to pose any kind of threat in any way that can't be seen a decade in advance, given how long it takes to build up military capability.

111:

Different job - after all, an Astute isn't very good at AAW :)

Looking at the French CVN, it's about the same size as QE, it carries a similar number of aircraft, and it takes 500 more crew to run it... Given that the primary difference is the power plant, that suggests that the kettles in the bottom of the ship take some looking after.

(Same applies to submarines - typical SSN crew is 100+, typical SSK crew is more like 50)

112:

A type 45 makes a piss-poor boomer escort though.

SSNs are much bigger, quite a lot faster and definitely more capable than any modern non-nuclear submarine, even the German/Italian peroxide type 212As. Their only downside is in brown water and no carrier should be getting put into a brown-water fight against anyone armed with anything better than pointed sticks (like, for example, Sunburn/Moskit, the ultimate pointed stick...)

113:

"Appreciable" is probably what the Israeli Navy thought in 2006 just before it turned out Hezbollah had anti-ship missiles, or the Army found an effective ground defence. Or their Israeli Army in 1973, just before the Egyptians turned out to have AT-3, or their Air Force in the face of SA-3 and SA-6.

It doesn't take us to fight a P5 member. It just takes us to fight someone armed by them; if (for example) Russia decides for financial or political reasons to sell some S-400 or SS-N-26, the buyer has to be taken on carefully. As Nojay says, Oniks is a very pointy stick.

114:

So what you're saying is that our large slow warships are very vulnerable to cheap foreign missiles if we decide to have a military adventure somewhere, and nobody is going to be attacking us with submarines?
Then why do we have a large expensive navy in the first place...

115:

Hardly. I'm saying that cheap warships built to a price point are vulnerable. UK defence kit is expensive exactly because it's designed to operate against first-world threats, and doesn't make assumptions (as you appear to) that we'll never go up against a first-world customer or proxy.

116:

PS I'm merely pointing out that SSN are not "Type 45 replacements", not that they're unnecessary. As for ASW, that's why Type 26 is being designed (the RN has quite a good reputation in that area, although losing the Nimrod replacement was a blow)

PPS and before you put more words in my mouth, yes I am suggesting that MRA.4 was an utter fiasco (and apparently not particularly airworthy, even if the mission systems were top-notch), and I do think a C-17-like rental or Airseeker-like outright purchase of P-8 is our best bet...

117:

Rather, my reply was based on the fact that earlier people were talking about first world threats then you reply to me by moaning about cheaper more terroristic threats. I think it clear there might be some developed country on developed country fighting this century, the point is more at what point do we have a big enough and well equipped enough navy, and is it well enough to have all these ships around now, or start ramping things up when there actually is more of a first world threat.

118:

"It's very problematic in Arab culture. Footwear is considered unclean in some circumstances."

This is true, but I think it's over-sensitive to assume offense when discussing boots used *as they are normally used*. They are boots. They go on the ground.

I could see taking offense if the saying were "boots on Baghdadis", or "boots on [some Shiite shrine]". But "boots on the ground" simply refers to the normal mode of use of boots.

119:

Considering the same article talks about the Chinese version using the translation "iron hooves," which has connotations of trampling and conquest, perhaps it's not a values-free phrase in Arabic? Assuming someone paid to know this stuff is overstating the offensiveness of something because it's not that bad in our culture seems... counterintuitive.

120:

"One problem we are going to face with solar energy is that it isn't 24/7,"

Liquid metal batteries may solve that problem. However, even if not, what solar PV will do is cream off the most lucrative part of the electricity market - peak daytime power.

121:

Because
We are an island ... In case you hadn't noticed ...
And far too much of our food comes in by sea.
This is not a new problem, but our idiot & traitorous politicans, of all parties, have been deliberately ignoring it.

Err also @ # 117
Thaty's what we did in 1937 - started a re-armament programme - & only just in time ....
[ Chamberlian was never given credit for it, either. ]

See also Martin's excllent replies @ # 115 + 116.


122:

Remembering that a CV (N or otherwise) is not a ship, but a mobile airbase, then a Nimitz is about 8/3 as effective as a QE, for only twice the money.
I presume that some of the extra sailors are "hotel services and maintenance" for the extra air wing staff and volume too.

123:

Even if the type 45 is that good, we need about double the number of them

And, indeed, Liebour actually ordered 2 tranches of 6 hulls each. The ConDems subsequently cancelled tranche 2 as pst of the "austerity programme".

124:

And also linking back to #117 as well.

As I heard it, NC came back from Munich, gave the "peas in our time" speach to the press at Croydon, drove back to Downing Street, and called an emergency Cabinet which he opened by saying "Well gentleman, I think I've bought us 12 months. I want your draft plans for rearmament and for going to a war footing presented at our next regular meeting."

125:

It's a form of synecdoche, using the part to refer to the whole, and when you figure in the Islamic thinking on "modesty" it all gets rather more complicated. "Modesty" is about your speech as well as your clothes, and a phrase like this which refers to a man by his footwear is pretty un-Islamic. All the political and military leaders who are using the phrase are insulting their own soldiers.

And the Chinese version, the iron hooves, actually is meant to raise the image of a conquering army. It's a meaning from within the same culture as the user of the term.

I wonder how it would have sounded if that American general had talked, all those years ago, "helmets in the line". It raises some images. It's not limited to soldiers, it raises echoes of those such as firefighters, who will take risks for others. Would it have caught on. Well, it isn't anything to do with "trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored."

I wonder what the politicians really think they're saying.

126:

I thought my basic point was that's it's complicated; so pointing out that is even more complicated would be supporting my assertion.

Since the Greeks identified as something other than Asia or Egypt, then I am going to take their word that they did not see themselves as the NW corner of Asia. They could have been wrong from some lofty perspective, but for at least some purposes, their self perception has to be given some weight.

To be more on point for the thread: I was resisting two interrelated memes:

1) the "West" is more predatory than other civilizations and Alexander was the First Great Satan/Crusader/etc.

2) the "West" exists and if it does, that it comprises of what we say it does. The practical definition of the West is situational, not universal. If you need some great Long Term View for labeling super civilizations/cultures, then the current view does not cut it, in my opinion. For me, the West includes the Slavic/Arabic/Persian/Sudanese worlds. Basically, if you trace your cultural family tree to Egypt/Mesopotamia, you're a Westerner. If you trace to India and/or China, you are of the East. (If you are Pakistan, punt.) If someone starts selectively cutting people out of this definition, I suspect they are doing it for political purposes, either consciously or subconsciously. Honestly, East/West is actually fairly useless for historical discussions in any but the most abstract way, but if there has to be one, at least let it make sense for some "objective" reason.

127:

It's not even neutral in our culture: "X's boots on the ground in Y" vs "Y under the boot of X".

128:

Eventually I worked out that the weapons system is the most important bit, not the specific actors involved.

And Greg, yes, I know we are an island, and we had a re-armament program in 1937, although I don't recall Chamberlain's precise relation to it, I'd have to check my library. And in a way, it all actually worked out; the equivalent problem nowadays is that we don't have many shipyards and such, everything would get manufactured abroad.

Hmmm, that makes me think - a novel or story in which there is likely to be war in 5 or 6 years, and one side sets out to carefully sabotage the build up by the other side. Whether that's sand in the gears in a factory, or fiddling blueprints so the new submarines are delayed by nearly a year, all of it would help.

129:

Re Julian @ 103:

I like it! Do you have a source quote? It's a nice homage to A C Clarke.

130:

Some thoughts on the ongoing, although admittedly tangential, conversation on RN capabilities:

- You all seem to be missing a perspective on the employment of UK and US naval forces. Short of unilateral adventurism, our forces have a good likelihood of being employed as part of a NATO operation. That means the navies of France, Germany, Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands and so on are relevant, as is the employment of national assets in a multilateral task force. NATO has two Standing Naval Maritime Groups (http://www.mc.nato.int/org/smg/Pages/default.aspx), one in the Atlantic and one in the Med. While these are, day to day, peacetime engagement and "show the flag" forces, they do establish the habits and SOPs for alliance NATO operations. If we were to build a carrier strike group around a QE class carrier, it would likely include escorts from a number of your neighbors, and would likely be used in a littoral scenario, if not in brown water, then close to it.

- A conventionally powered carrier differs fundamentally from a nuclear powered carrier in a couple of ways:
-- The key advantage of a nuclear carrier from a mobility standpoint is the ability to cruise at over 30 knots INDEFINITELY, limited only by the consumables carried on board
-- The use of fission reactors means that a much greater percentage of the displacement can be used for sustainment of the air wing, since no consumable fuel is required to propel the ship

It is most useful to discuss carriers as part of a carrier strike group, rather than just compare ship particulars. The USN is built around the idea of a fast carrier strike group, going back to our domination of Imperial Japan in WWII. This fixation on an employment scheme does leave us limited in execution unless we break doctrine, as we have by putting carriers in that toxic estuary called the Persian Gulf, and leaves us vulnerable to the development of countermeasures, as is being undertaken by the Chinese with their development of ballistic anti-ship missiles and other area denial weapons. I'm not up on RN doctrine on employment of your carriers; does anyone here have current information?

Re nuclear power in the USN, please note that only carriers and submarines are currently fission powered; we retired our nuclear powered cruisers in the 1980s. The USN is seriously looking at alternatives to conventional fuel sources, even including deriving fuel from sea water! (http://www.nrl.navy.mil/media/news-releases/2014/scale-model-wwii-craft-takes-flight-with-fuel-from-the-sea-concept) I have my doubts about that one, though.

131:

Perhaps the most unexpected consequence is Fox News and their incredibly sexist Boobs on the Ground comment.

I know the US armed forces is large and political diverse but it was nice to see a group of veterans turn around and publicly call him out on it even though I'm pretty sure he's a shameless moron who didn't mean anything by the apology I understand he's now made.

132:

Nope, it was Geoff Hoon who cut the order from twelve to eight, in 2004; and Bob Ainsworth that cancelled the seventh and eighth ships, in 2008 - in other words, Labour.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/3911877.stm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/hampshire/7464085.stm

133:

The key advantage of a nuclear carrier from a mobility standpoint is the ability to cruise at over 30 knots INDEFINITELY

I have my suspicions about that. As you pointed out, the USN abandoned the California-class CGN to accompany the CVN (because operating a CGN cost twice as much as the equivalent CG). The nuclear-powered carrier may not need refuelling, but its non-nuclear escorts will...

It's more likely to my mind that it's driven by the number of replenishment ships (and their crews) needed to ferry fuel forward so that it arrives at the carrier group on operations, in a timely fashion. Not enough fleet oilers for your consumption rates, means an embarrassing operational pause while you wait for your next chance to refuel at sea.

If your carriers operate closer to home, or closer to a secure logistic base, you're OK (e.g. "the North Atlantic"). If you're working over longer operating ranges (e.g. "the Pacific"), further from secure bases and developed infrastructure, the extra ships and crews on the logistic train might outweigh the additional sailors and hulls you need to support global reach with conventional-powered carriers.

The question is whether the planning assumptions driving CVN design are the need to operate in the Western Pacific, without guaranteed host nation support in the area...

134:

Looks like it's Hanlon's Razor. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanlon's_razor

There's several alternate versions, eg, "Never assume malice when the same actions can equally well be attributed to incompetence."

135:

That's the reason the USN is the world leader in underway replenishment. They maintain a fleet of fourteen fleet replenishment oilers (http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=4400&tid=600&ct=4) to maintain deployed task forces, and are complemented by four fast combat support ships (http://navysite.de/ships/aoe.htm) and various other auxiliaries. The fleet is sized to support simultaneous carrier strike group deployments to the Middle East, Mediterranean, and Western Pacific.

That's not to say the Navy doesn't plan on ashore replenishment; there's the large base at Yokosuka, the facilities at Pearl Harbor, several facilities in the Med, interchange agreements with the RN and other countries. It's kinda like they've thought the whole thing through . . . .

136:

I sit corrected.

Of course, that just further proves the point about Liebour.

137:

That's basically my rule of thumb for doubting conspiracies.

138:

Fishing an email from 2007 out of my system:

> This is beginning to remind me of Clark's Law[1]....
>
> Apologies.
>
> Chris.
> [1] *Not* "Clarke's Law", by Sir Arthur C. Clarke[2], but the one
> by J. Porter Clark[3] in one of the news.admin.net-abuse newsgroups
> (the wording was deliberately based on Sir Arthur's one, though).
> [2] "Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
> [3] "Sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice."

139:

Barry, it's worth remembering that the Black Hawk Down Fiasco, which resulted in massive fatalities for the US Rangers, was a direct result of this tactic. Basically, everyone within earshot of the crash who had a gun ran towards the fight, resulting in 2,000-4,000 armed attackers showing up spontaneously.

It only looks like it's an solvable problem now because the US Army (and others) has been studying it for 25 years. It's worth pointing out that David Kilcullen, who wrote Out of the Mountains, had a long career in the Australian army that included time in Afghanistan, and he's a long-time counter-insurgency expert, working with the US Army (including time directly under Petraeus) since 2005-2010. I'm not a soldier, but when someone who has the experience describes that Somali skirmish line with admiration for its simplicity and effectiveness, then points out in some detail (go read the book) the problems conventional armies have with dealing with it, especially when they're unprepared for it, I'm willing to believe him.

Incidentally, Kilcullen agrees that a well-prepared first-world army can deal with this kind of attack. But as the Iraq Army has demonstrated repeatedly, conventional armies can also crumble under this kind of attack, just as the US did when it first ran into it.

140:

Chinese with their development of ballistic anti-ship missiles and other area denial weapons

Apropos that, see this: http://fas.org/man/eprint/gobi.pdf

141:

It's one thing to cooperate on trade of collective defense with another nation, but to do so with a specific government commits you to partisan meddling in that nation's internal affairs, and that seems bound to end in tears.

Seems to me that in the middle east the difference between a nation and a specific government is not nearly as clear as it is in the US and EU.

142:

Arrghhh...

One presenter asks if her presence in Syria would be considered 'boobs on the ground', while another jokes about her parking the aircraft.

Why do I have to think about this comic concerning sexism in different societies...

http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/files/2008/12/1.png

143:

I'd suggest gently that it's not just the cost, it's the trusting someone's competency for hundreds to tens of thousands of years that sticks in the activists' throats. I'm not going to be too harsh on the nuclear industry, because they do pretty well compared to, say, the Koch Brothers' oil companies. Trouble is, they aren't perfect, and when you're dealing with hazards that last longer than centuries, you've got to be so close to perfect that no one can spot the difference.

That's why people have problems with the disposal schemes. They're all pretty good, but not perfect. From the carbon sequestration sector, I'll point out what "pretty good" means. "Pretty good" underground carbon sequestration allows 0.1% of the carbon to leak back into the atmosphere every year. This sounds tiny, but in 1,000 years, it's all back in the atmosphere. That's not good enough. We don't particularly want 0.1% leakage of anything that can last 1000 years, whether it's carbon dioxide or something dangerously radioactive.

I should point out that, according to David Archer's model, some portion of the carbon dioxide we're emitting now will stay in the atmosphere for 100,000 years too (this is after the biosphere has taken its share, after the oceans have equilibrated with the atmosphere, and the CO2 is getting taken out of the atmosphere by weathering rocks in landslides, floods, karst formation, and similar activities).

Ultimately, it looks like the pollution from any "legacy fuel" (a great term that encompasses petroleum products, coal, and radioactives--they're legacies of the past) has a potentially active lifespan of at least thousands of years if not hundreds of thousands of years. I'm rapidly getting to the point where I don't think a sustainable society can run on anything other than renewables, which makes for a very rocky transition ahead of us indeed.

144:

Put that way, there is indeed little difference between us, though I got the impression you originally just countered "Alexander started it" with "the Persians started it", which, as already noted, is not necessarily so. Or mentioned incursions of Asia into Europe. Mind you, how is Kara Mustafa Pasha before Vienna different to what Belisarius did in Italy and like? They both reported to the same city, hell, Albania is even not that far from Ancient Thracia...

As for the Ancient Greek identity, I wasn't saying Ancient Greece was "part of Asia" (though quite a lot of the cultural life we associate with Ancient Greece was happening in what the Romans called Asia Minor, or Anatolia), I was trying to say that since the Late Bronze age Ahhiyawas, any culture in Greece was part of the Eastern Mediterranean network (most likely even before that), so the whole fracas between Persians and Greeks was more of a internal struggle than the "clash of civilizations". In some ways, Greece even had more ties to the Ancient Near and Middle East than the latecoming Persians. So substituting Ancient Greece for "Europe" or "the West" makes little sense in this context (If you ask the late Samuel Huntington about the Western and Orthodox world, it makes little sense with Modern Greece even now, but I digress), and neither does "Persian" for "Near Eastern".

As for the Greeks thinking themselves different from Egyptians (in Herodot's scheme, divided between Libya and Asia) and Asians, well, the Egyptians also thought themselves distinct from everybody else, including the heavily influenced Nubians, as seen in pictures like this. The "Asians", e.g. a certain innovative Canaanite splinter group, most likely also thought themselves different from both Greeks and Egyptians, but I guess within the "Asians" Neo-Hittites also thought themselves quite distinct from Assyrians or Iranians to the same degree as from e.g. Greeks. As for the latter ones, the Persians in their usual charming and distinguished ways just divided the world into Iran and Not-Iran. Ethnocentrism is quite funny, you know. OTOH, contrasting the relations between e.g. the Greeks, Luwians and Persians with, e.g. the relations between Greeks, Thracians and Celts, we might argue which ones were closer.

Speaking about "the West" or "Europe" in general, as you note, quite a few ideas about that one make no sense, and objectively (e.g. ecologically and geologically), there are no entities like Europe or Asia; there is the Eurasian continent, and some somewhat sensible subdivisions, e.g. Anatolia or Mesopotamia, but even that is tricky. And, just as you, I have quite some problems routing with the Ancient Greek as our "good guys" against Persian "bad guys". Mind you, "good vs. evil" is as we all know quite Persian. ;)

Of course, as you proposed, we could try to remedy this by using somewhat more inclusive definitions, but that's just moving the problem somewhat, as you mentioned with relation to Pakistan. Another problem is, as you mentioned, groupings are quite situational, even with somewhat smaller groupings; going for the "Slavic" grouping you mentioned, Pan-Slavism was not that successful in some contexts, in others, of course there is some, err, "Slavic connection".

Maybe it's best to start by limiting the use of certain monikers to certain situations; it might make sense to speak of "the West" with regard to e.g. the Crusades. It might make sense to speak of "Europe" with regard to e.g. Napoleon. With the Ancient Greeks and Persians, not so much.

It might also help to use more discriminating monikers in many situations, e.g. "Northern European" or "Protestant" etc. Whatever.

(BTW, I wouldn't even argue for India being distinct from "the West"; they share quite a big base with Ancient Iranians, Indian writing systems (and thus many other East Asian ones) are likely derived from Eastern Mediterranean ones, and even in, err, science and medicine there were big influences from Greece. China, OTOH, is not that close.)

Another point I tried to make was that the answer to "who started it?" depends somewhat on the framework you use, if you use the (IMHO overrated) idea of Westphalian souvereignity, it might have been the Athenians helping the Ionians, if you use justifications like "helping kin"(quite likely as a justification in the Ancient World, though we know how much fun reinventing mythology can be) it was the Persians subjugating the Ionians etc. I guess the current fracas in the Ukraine shows how murky this can get.

Last but not least, for "the West" being more "brutal" or "pushy", well, I'm not that sure anybody here has heard about that paper comparing "Westerners" with other cultures, but there are few indications of greater "brutality" or "pushiness" in that one, though of course, it's mainly about modern students of that demographic (qualifier: mostly Psychology or Sociology). Still, I wouldn't think there was that much difference between, say, Medieval North Western European and Medieval Middle Eastern rulers. Or Alexander and the various Cyruses. I might somewhat route for the latter one, though. Of course not when against some Eastern Iranian nomads, but I digress...

145:

Okay, Blog hive mind, what's your take on this?

Apparently the Obama administration invented a whole terrorist group: https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/09/28/u-s-officials-invented-terror-group-justify-bombing-syria/

I don't know what to make of this, it just sounds so much like a bad movie plot.

146:

Short of unilateral adventurism, our forces have a good likelihood of being employed as part of a NATO operation
Like the Faklands was, you mean?
Thank you for making my point, exactly.

147:

How about taking the really nasty long-lived stuff, that we know we haven't go a use for ... & sending it back where it came from?
By putting it into deep-pentrator propelled casings & drive them into the bottom of a subduction trench?

148:

1) Are you seriously saying that you wouldn't trust me when I say "This Scottish mountain is made of granite (or Lewisian Gneiss), has been here for millions of years, and is in a seismically stable area"? These are the sorts of tests I'm applying to selecting a deep repository.
2) Have you really not noticed that CO2 is a gas at RPT, but that most actinides (ok, there is Radon but we don't make nuclear piles from that), their salts, and their decay products are solids until several hundred degrees C?
3) Most water leaks from the repositary can probably be handled by making the access shaft go up such that the floor at the highest point is above the highest point of the opening.

That's just the stuff I can spot off the cuff.

149:

NIMBY seems to stall all discussions that are based on engineering.

150:

And toss in the Vikings and Mongols who stirred the pot in various ways that still cause issues.

151:

Barry, it's worth remembering that the Black Hawk Down Fiasco, which resulted in massive fatalities for the US Rangers, was a direct result of this tactic. Basically, everyone within earshot of the crash who had a gun ran towards the fight, resulting in 2,000-4,000 armed attackers showing up spontaneously.

"Massive fatalities?"

Rangers lost 18 dead and IIRC 70 wounded. Somalis had two thousand dead. This is not something any force can do on a regular basis. It was considered a fiasco only because nobody in US particularly wanted to have armed forces in Somalia, and it was a good excuse to call it quits.

Under any other political circumstances, such battle would be considered a disaster for the Somalis, not for the Rangers.

152:

I suppose it's too much to hope that the UK learned any lessons from that, er, adventure?

153:

Shades of Khe Sahn.

154:

Yes. Both were "optional wars" from US perspectives. For the people who are currently fighting ISIS on the ground, there is nothing optional about it. And they would be more than happy to trade 18 for 2000.

Yes, Somali swarm tactics would not do any good against opponents who are professional military AND are fighting for their life with nowhere to retreat.

155:

It's interesting to see the State Department ripping off the FBI's tactics. Is this the first known instance of a false flag *attacker*?

The DHS has been in the business of defending against bad movie plots for years, so it's not like that's a first for the US Government.

156:

Greg, the Falklands conflict was an end-of-empire weirdness. In case you hadn't noticed, apart from the Falklands, there's not much of an empire left to have conflicts over, is there? NATO is, like it or not, where things are at: the Falklands war was the only significant non-NATO conflict op the British army has been deployed on during my (fifty this month) lifetime, unless you count Northern Ireland (an internal problem).

157:

I assume you mean the first case of the US doing a "false flag" attck?
Because there are sevral notorious non-US ones, the best-known being the Gliewitz incident of 1939.
However, it is often alleged that the US has form in this area
Judge for yourself.

158:

I can't remember if Gulf I & Gulf II were NATO conflicts?
G-I was an invasion of a "soverign state" ( Kuwait ) by an external aggressor, IIRC & came under a UN mandate (?)
G-II was a trumped-up excuse by the Shrub_B-liar monster, from which several NATO members, most notably France excused themseleves from engaging.

159:

I specifically didn't. A false flag attack by definition requires an attack, and almost definitely an existing opponent to blame the attack on. I was saying it might be the first time the casus belli wasn't a false attack, but a false attacker.

160:

Not quite.

The UK support to Oman was ongoing; see Operation STORM.

There was the tail end of the Borneo campaign
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indonesia–Malaysia_confrontation
Try looking up Operation CLARET.

And then there was the Belize situation: a particularly nasty bunch of Fascists in Guatemala with designs on their smaller neighbour. Requiring some stern language, the occasional unacknowledged and fatal ambush of "navigationally-embarrassed" Guatemalan special forces patrols, and a resident Battlegroup until the mid-1990s. I went out there for a couple of weeks to support training - my one experience of jungle warfare training.

None of these involved NATO; they did involve infantry operations in Brigade strength or better, and a full-on but localised war. In a way, the Falklands War settled the Guatemalan situation down - a military dictatorship suddenly discovering that a professional first world military with a demonstrated willingness to defend its dependencies, might not be a pushover. The prospect of an easy populist victory to distract the man in the street, suddenly became a lot less attractive.

Meanwhile, the French were helping Chad to, errr, "deter" the Libyans from road trips South, so that was two NATO members doing their bit to defend small countries against larger members. Meanwhile, things got decidedly twitchy in Cyprus in 1974, with dependants being evacuated (some of my later school friends) and the resident battalions going onto a war footing - not quite, but almost, a conflict.

On a smaller scale, i.e. the nice men from Hereford helping the locals, open sources would suggest the occasional gunfight in Colombia, Botswana, smaller countries in Central Africa, etc, etc...

http://britains-smallwars.com/main/index1.html

161:
I can't remember if Gulf I & Gulf II were NATO conflicts?

No, Gulf I was a nasty war between Iran and Iraq that lasted from 1980 to 1988.

You may remember it as the time when Saddam Hussein was still good friends with the USA, and one Donald Rumsfeld made personally sure that he got all the weapons of mass destruction that he would ever need. (Personally I still sort of think that if Rumsfeld ever had any actual evidence pointing to the existence of WMDs in Iraq in the run-up to 2003, it was his personal knowledge that he himself had sold them to Saddam.)

162:

Re: Belize. I read a book a while back about a time in the 60s or 70s when the Guatemalans were planning to annex Belize and the Royal Navy put on a maximum-effort operation from a carrier in the Atlantic to fly a couple of Buccaneers over the building the Guatemalan diplomatic team were staying in while they explained to the Belizeans that they were about to be the wholly-owned property of their bigger neighbours. Things quietened down after that.

The carrier couldn't have done it twice, the demonstration flight involved buddy in-flight-refuelling, the Bucs weren't armed except with drop tanks and they flew a very fuel-conservative trajectory while the carrier steamed closer to the Belize coast hoping that they could recover the crews if they had to ditch. In the end they got both Bucs back on deck safely.

163:

And the "Ten Year Rule" worked out really well last time it was articulated (1920's); It is also the development/maintenance of the industrial base that limits mobilization (Construction); ie, when the UK got serious about rebuilding the RN, they found out there was not enough plant to manufacture the Armor Plate (The Invincible class carriers of the Second World War); According to D K Brown, they really could not have built up any faster in the late 30's.

Or Guns or Fire Control Systems. These days, you can't just write an app and run it on any old laptop....

So if you want more Type 45s (or Helicopters, or AFV's) Ten Years Out, you probably need to start contracting (and training the trainers for the operators) NOW.

Most of the USN carriers that came on stream in 1943 and won the Pacific war were under contract prior do Pearl Harbor.

I heard in the 1970's that one of the lessons learned from the Yom Kippur war was that the US would not receive a single additional Tank Hull (M60 Family then) for THREE YEARS after recognizing the need.

164:

A big problem with the ten year rule, which actually made some sense initially, was that they kept re-setting the clock.

A lot of military technology was changing very rapidly. Take as an example aero engine design. They kept improving the construction of the cooling fins. They found improvements to the airflow.

Stuff was out of date long before the ten years was up.

It gets messy, because the original ten years ran out in the middle of the Great Depression, Hitler bought German's way out of that with Rearmament and dodgy accounting. It was luck that we had the Spitfire just in time, but it was also a combination that worked, and was good enough for the whole war (although so much had changed about the late models that you can fairly argue they should have had a different name).

Some of the Ten Year Rule effects probably made the Spitfire less effective in 1940, but it did get 20mm cannon eventually. It's not wild fancy that the 1940 Luftwaffe could have come up against Spitfires armed with the .50 Browning instead of the .303, or the same gun could have been in the tail turrets of RAF bombers. They were used, eventually, but the RAF chose a cheaper option, which they didn't need new ammunition factories for.

But there was more than good luck. There were other 'planes, more recent than the Spitfire, American and British, which couldn't quite match it, even with the same engine. Although there was the Merlin-engined P-51. And, when you dig into the figures, in 1940 we were building 'planes faster than we were losing them. Pilot training was the bottleneck.

And whoever asked Goering for that squadron of Spitfires didn't know what else the RAF had to make their aircraft so effective. He was flying with 87-octane fuel. The RAF was using 100-octane.

165:

FIrstly, the HUrricane was more useful and important at the start of the war; secondly the Spitfire wasn't just luck, there was a great deal of planning and began with a specification number F.5/34 in the early to mid 30's, demanding an 8 machine gun plane enclosed cokpit and retractable landing gear, prototypes being ordered in 1935. Performance in 1936 was so good that that basically started the development of the spitfire, although obviously the type in WW2 was a bit superior with more years develoment.

So actually it kind of fits the 10 year rule doesn't it?

166:

One of the RAF advantages in the initial air war was that they had armour protection for the pilot and fuel tanks (plus self-sealing tanks). The Luftwaffe lacked armour and were extremely vulnerable to rifle calibre fire, especially in the volume delivered by an 8-gun fighter aircraft. This evened-out as the Luftwaffe frantically armoured-up, but by then the bugs were being worked out of the 20mm Hispano cannon and there was no way they could armour an aircraft against that. The early German 20mm equivalent was a short-cased round that lacked the performance of the Hispano, coupled with much less effective projectiles that mainly exploded on contact instead of after penetration.

"Guns of the R.A.F." by G.F. Wallace is a very interesting work on the subject. (You can tell I've been reading it recently, can't you.) :-)>

167:

The RAF also had an effective rifle-calibre incendiary round which was only just available in the Battle of Britain. The B Mk VI round was, on tests, about twice as effective as the German round. And the 20mm Hispano certainly wasn't delayed by the 10-year rule.

Have a look here.

There's some evidence that the .50 Browning was a better weapon than the .50 Vickers, but was a little less-developed when it was tested. That piece does come from an interesting set of articles.

168:

That looks authoritative, but Haynes' Spitfire manual quotes weight of fire from the 8x0.303" Browning fit as being 8lb from a 3s burst and they can't both be right.

169:

Nile,
You are seriously confused about interwar and early war Soviet military history. The Red Army had embedded commissars for its entire existence before Barbarossa. And Stalin's Great Purges of the late 1930s further solidified his control over the Army.

I'm not sure that I understand your second point because the consolidation of the armaments factories in the Urals and points east actually did very little to rationalize Soviet heavy industry, which was pretty much already rationalized when built in the late 1920s-early 1930s. The whole process was incredibly inefficient and some factories actually returned to the Moscow area in 1942 for reasons that I've never actually been able to pin down, although likely related to shortages of skilled labor.

While Lend Lease helped to sustain the Soviets as they refocused their economy on armaments and related goods, I don't think that it did much to assist with moving the factories because it mostly kicked in well after the factories had already moved east. The Brits sent some material in 1941, but the scale of deliveries at that time was not large.

I've seen other references to Stalin's refusal to liberate Leningrad, but the evidence in support of this statement is sadly lacking once you actually start investigating. While initially not strong enough to break through the German defenses around Leningrad, the Soviets made repeated attacks in attempts to reach Leningrad in late 1941 and throughout 1942. None of them succeeded until Operation Spark at the beginning of 1943. David Glantz's book "The Battle for Leningrad, 1941-1944" is probably the best book on the battles in English.

And I can't say that I've ever heard much about an artificial famine in the Ukraine and the Baltic States in 1945-46. Can you point me to a source? And I believe that many of the mass deportations to which you refer actually occurred before the war so I'm uncertain just how much the German attack allowed Stalin to solidify support. It certainly proved the existence of an existential threat to the Soviet state, which likely quieted some doubts about the regime, but it's hard to estimate how influential that was.

170:

Regarding famines in 1945-46, ISTR comments that it was a very hard winter. Add to that the wreckage caused by Army Groups sweeping across the countryside in both directions, (sometimes three times over if Polish), and a lack of farm hands caused by either continued military service, or continued imprisonment (if you want scary, see how long it took for many Germans captured by the USSR to be released post-war; or their survival rates between capture and return. It was a terrifyingly brutal and vicious theatre of operations, and very much "sow the wind and reap the whirlwind").

You can see how a largely non-mechanised agricultural sector would fail to supply a surplus - no conspiracy required. The war diary of the 9th Royal Scots (in those days, based within a mile of OGH) records that the Battalion's snipers spent much of that winter in Occupied Germany as hunters, trying to kill deer and boars to help feed German civilians.

171:

Sorry, that should read "7th/9th Royal Scots" - they were Charlie's local TA infantry unit, headquartered in East Claremont Street.

172:

AFAIK the winter of 45-46 was very hard with lots of starvation in the fought-over areas, although I haven't heard much about Allied occupation forces doing a whole lot to help the starving civilians. Interesting story about the Royal Scots over there.

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