What Should the U. S. Naval Strategy Be?

I won’t bother to critique or even excerpt this article at RealClearDefense by James Holmes advising the Biden Administration not to skimp on the U. S. Navy’s budget. All I will say is that our strategic position is that we’re the only country in the world with Atlantic and Pacific ports it can use year-round. We would be very, very foolish not to capitalize on that competitive advantage. Not only does it enable the U. S. to apply force anywhere in the world, it allows us to deploy manpower and materiel anywhere in the world. We underresource the Navy at our peril.

There are lots of other places to reduce military spending. Reducing the size of the flag and general officer corps would be a good place to start.

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When Will It Be Over?

And speaking of spoiler alerts, here’s another one. If you ask when will COVID-19 be over, the short answer is never. It has already become endemic. There will be outbreaks forever. Not only that but we will be dealing with the health consequences of COVID-19 forever as this New York Times article by Pam Belluck documents:

Hundreds of thousands of Americans have sought medical care for post-Covid health problems that they had not been diagnosed with before becoming infected with the coronavirus, according to the largest study to date of long-term symptoms in Covid-19 patients.

The study, tracking the health insurance records of nearly two million people in the United States who contracted the coronavirus last year, found that one month or more after their infection, almost one-quarter — 23 percent — of them sought medical treatment for new conditions.

Those affected were all ages, including children. Their most common new health problems were pain, including in nerves and muscles; breathing difficulties; high cholesterol; malaise and fatigue; and high blood pressure. Other issues included intestinal symptoms; migraines; skin problems; heart abnormalities; sleep disorders; and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

Post-Covid health problems were common even among people who had not gotten sick from the virus at all, the study found. While nearly half of patients who were hospitalized for Covid-19 experienced subsequent medical issues, so did 27 percent of people who had mild or moderate symptoms and 19 percent of people who said they were asymptomatic.

to which I would add that the notion that only 10% of Americans have had COVID-19 is absurd on its face. I don’t know whether 20% of Americans, 30%, or 50% have had it. I don’t believe for a second that only 10% have had it. As the article observes just because you didn’t experience symptoms of COVID-19 does not mean that you won’t experience side effects. And we probably won’t know for decades what the long term health implications of COVID-19 are. We can safely assume that COVID-19 is going to increase health care spending in the U. S. forever.

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What’s the Purpose of Federal Funding of Scientific Research?

While I’m asking questions, here’s another one: what’s the purpose of federal funding of scientific research? Is it to

  • Advance scientific knowledge
  • Signal the Congress’s and White House’s recognition that scientific knowledge is good
  • Provide a conduit for channeling money to scientists and organization of whom the Congress and White House approves
  • Find a way of spending money in the belief that any time the federal government spends money it stimulates the economy

If you believe it’s the first, you might find this article at Reason.com by Terence Kealey interesting. The TL;DR version is that federal funding is not an effective way of accomplishing that goal. Here’s its opening which pretty much says it all:

A bipartisan group led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wants to counter China with legislation to dramatically increase government funding of pure science (science that is mainly concerned with theory rather than practical applications). They call their bill the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act. But if they really want to spur innovation and competition, they should be trying to slash science subsidies, not increase them.

The most potent criticisms of the government funding of science have come from government agencies themselves. The first came in 1969 when the Office of the Director of Defense Research and Engineering analyzed 700 research “events” that had led to the development of 20 weapons systems—finding that only two of those events were in pure science.

Then the Congressional Budget Office (in both 1991 and 1998) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2007) reviewed the entire academic literature, finding that study after study showed that the research projects that governments funded had failed, on average, to generate profits: in contrast, the research projects that the private sector funded were, overall, highly profitable.

There is an example of funding scientific research that was “highly profitable” in the sense that it produced enormous, beneficial results as a byproduct: the Mercury-Apollo programs. It isn’t too much of an exaggeration to say that the modern world would have been impossible without the innovations it funded.

That’s the sort of thing I mean when I say that what I support is “mass engineering programs”, i.e. large scale programs with specific, achievable objectives and firm dates. Spoiler alert: you get a lot more results from such programs than from open-ended, possibly unachievable goals.

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What’s the Role of NATO?

It was pretty clear that the editors of the Washington Post approved of George Will’s column this morning—in addition to being in the “Columnists” section it was featured in the “Global Opinions” section as well. That’s the first time I recall one of his columns being afforded that treatment. Its title was “America needs NATO allies who share its renewed dedication to maintaining an orderly world” but it raised all sorts of questions for me. Here’s its conclusion:

When NATO was assembled in 1949, it was all about Europe. Its first secretary general, Lord Hastings Ismay, famously said it was created to “keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” Today, the memory of the Soviet Union that nurtured Putin haunts and motivates him; he calls its death “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” President Biden has wisely reversed his predecessor’s order reducing U.S. forces in Germany. But although that nation has Europe’s largest economy, in 2022 it probably will, as usual, fall at least 25 percent short of NATO’s defense spending target.

NATO’s 2010 “Strategic Concept” contained not a word about China. At this week’s summit, however, NATO said China now poses “challenges.” That is a remarkably anodyne characterization of activities that include:

Shredding commitments regarding Hong Kong’s autonomy and suffocating liberty in one of the world’s great cities. Escalating incursions by Chinese military aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. (Tuesday marked the largest yet — 28 planes, including four nuclear-capable bombers.) Militarizing, contrary to public assurances, artificial islands in the South China Sea, through which up to a third of global seaborne commerce passes. And inflicting what the United States has formally identified as genocide on the Uyghurs, more than 1 million of whom are in concentration camps, enduring forced labor and worse.

One purpose of Biden’s trip to Europe was to reassure allies that the United States is ready to resume its responsibilities regarding the maintenance of an orderly world. Now, some comparable reassurances from allies would be timely.

Earlier in the column Mr. Will featured the Russia-Georgia War of 2008, the Russian invasion of Crimea, and the recent events in Belarus.

For me the column raised all sorts of questions including:

  • What is the purpose of NATO? Clearly, it no longer has anything to do with Lord Ismay’s characterization.
  • How did the admission of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania to NATO advance that objective?
  • What was the relationship between the talk of admitting Georgia to NATO and the Russia-Georgia War?
  • What was the relationship between the talk of admitting Ukraine to NATO and Russia’s occupation of Crimea?
  • How did the U. S. bombing of the Chinese embassy in Sarajevo under NATO auspices contribute to “an orderly world”?
  • How have operations in Syria under NATO auspices contributed to “an orderly world”?
  • What should the role of NATO be in civil wars within non-members of NATO?

just to name a few. I don’t expect much in the way of answers to any of those questions.

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Responding to Belt and Road

I didn’t want this post at The Hill by Jennifer Hillman and David Sacks on the G-7’s announced “Build Back a Better World” pass without comment. Here’s a snippet:

The Biden administration should be applauded for prioritizing a response to Belt and Road and partnering with the G7 nations to offer a transparent, sustainable, responsible alternative. But it is unlikely that this new initiative, termed “Build Back Better World,” will be enough to compete with Belt and Road.

Belt and Road is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature foreign policy endeavor and the largest-ever global infrastructure undertaking — funding and building roads, power plants, ports, railways, 5G networks and fiber-optic cables around the world. In many ways, Belt and Road filled a void left by the United States, its allies and the multilateral development banks.

In too many instances, China is the only country offering to fund critical infrastructure projects in low- and middle-income countries, while in other cases China is more competitive than the United States because it can move quickly from planning to construction and offers the ability to work with a single group of builders, financiers and government officials.

I don’t think that the U. S. needs to respond to “Belt and Road” and moreover our putative allies in the G-7 aren’t reliable partners for such a venture. There are any number of reasons for my views. First, I think China’s policy of non-intervention is a better one for building China’s repute in the non-aligned world. Lending money may make you a few temporary friends but it can also produce, shall we say, unforeseen secondary effects like this. Here’s another example of that. China is heavily involved in Ethiopia’s Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam—one of the developments most likely to provoke a major war in Africa. Sometimes one country’s development program is another country’s destruction of essential ressources.

Second, what’s the objective? If it’s to line the pockets of a few local politicians, an infrastructure lending program is a darned good way to do it. If it’s to build infrastructure maybe not so much.

Third, our putative allies, France and Germany in particular write a heckuva good press release but are perhaps not as good at follow-through as might be needed. And keep in mind that more involvement from their former colonial overlords might not a all that bright a prospect for many countries in the world.

Finally, IMO there is no better way for the U. S. to boost its soft power than to rebuild its own society and economy and by that I mean more primary production, more research and development, more national infrastructure (things like a resilient power grid, a sound currency, dependable and just enforcement of laws, and so on). Increasing primary production would put the administration at odds with some of the people on whom it depends for political support, flying in the face of the “green reform” they prefer.

So what about not invading other countries? That would be a darned good way of building up U. S. soft power, too.

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When Was That Again?

I had to giggle when I saw the headline for this op-ed by Adam Schiff in the Washington Post: “The Justice Department must be depoliticized”. The slug attributes the politicization of the JD to Nixon:

Nixon started it. Trump perfected it. Now it’s time to clean it up.

Rep. Schiff has apparently never heard of the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations. Maybe he’s too young.

The first Attorney General of the United States was Edmond Randolph who had been George Washington’s aide-de-camp during the War of the American Revolution. He received the appointment for his support of Washington. It was a notably political appointment. As far as I can tell the Justice Department which the Attorney General directs at the president’s behest, has been politicized ever since.

If I recall correctly, John Kennedy’s Attorney General was his brother, Robert who had graduated from law school in 1951 and received a series of jobs that were clearly political in nature. His resume as a lawyer was quite thin. His appointment was political not to mention nepotism. The more notable of Johnson’s Attorneys General was Ramsey Clark. Must I document the political nature of that appointment or the various political activties in which Mr. Clark participated?

For my entire life I cannot remember a time in which the AG was not in essence the administration’s hatchet man. Maybe it hasn’t always been that way but I can’t recall anything else.

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Sometimes the Best Deal Is No Deal At All

I actually found Thomas Friedman’s New York Times column, an attempted explication of the situation with respect to Iran, pretty interesting. He has a succinct assessment of the problem:

Iran is too big to invade; the regime is too ensconced to be toppled from the outside; its darkest impulses, to dominate its Sunni Arab neighbors and destroy the Jewish state, are too dangerous to ignore; and its people are too talented to be forever denied a nuclear capability.

with which I materially agree except in one particular but it’s an important one. I think that Mr. Friedman is doing something I’ve complained about frequently. I don’t think he’s taking the religion of the Iranian mullahs seriously.

All of the following is just how I understand things. In Islam the entire body of those who profess Islam is the Ummah, analogous to what is called in Catholicism the “community of the faithful”. After Mohammed’s death the Ummah was governed by a caliph and it is soon after that the great division in Islam began. Sunni Muslims believe that any Muslim may be made caliph. Shi’ite Muslims believe that only a descendant of Mohammed may legitimately be caliph. In other words they believe that all caliphs after the death of Ali and, indeed, all other rulers of Muslims countries are, in effect usurpers. The mullahs of Iran hold to a specific version of Shi’a Islam dubbed “Khomeinism” (and considered a heresy by some other Shi’ite Muslims) under which government of the Ummah by Muslim clergy has a sort of legitimacy.

That’s where I think that Mr. Friedman doesn’t appreciate the problem. Iran’s mullahs aren’t just interest in dominating “its Sunni Arab neighbors”. They believe they have a religious obligation to spread their version of Islam not just to Sunni Muslims but to everyone. That they would happen to rule that world-spanning doamin is just a coincidence. What must be kept in mind is that they can’t be dissuaded from it and they won’t negotiate it away. I suspect that the mullahocracy’s antipathy towards Israel is a device to rally other Muslims, particularly Sunni Muslims, to their side.

Mr. Friedman goes on to provide what I think is a pretty fair assessment of the status quo:

None of this will change as long as these ayatollahs are in power. And, if we are being honest, not only have they been consistent for 42 years, but so, too, have U.S. presidents and Israeli prime ministers. Their strategies can be summed up as this: Always try to get the best deal with Iran that money can buy.

also with one proviso. Since the mullahs won’t negotiate their core beliefs away and those beliefs are diametrically opposed to what we and Israel might want to accomplish in the Middle East, the expectations from negotiations with them should be pretty darned limited. In fact I don’t honestly think they’re worth negotiating with at all.

Also, keep in mind that should the Israelis genuinely feel threatened by Iran they won’t hesitate to use nuclear weapons against them. They don’t believe in showing mercy to their enemies and they have their own religious motivations. Not to mention survival. It wouldn’t take much to render Israel uninhabitable.

Here’s his description of the Biden Administration’s position:

It’s not only that Biden won’t grant Israel’s new prime minister his every whim the way Trump did Bibi. It is that Biden is tightly focused on securing what he thinks is America’s primary strategic interest in the Middle East — preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon that would force Turkey and all the Arab states to get nukes, thereby blowing up the global nuclear nonproliferation order and making the region a giant threat to global stability.

The Biden team believes that Trump’s maximum-pressure campaign did not diminish Iran’s malign behavior in the region one iota (it will show you the data to prove it). So, Biden wants to at least lock up Iran’s nuclear program for a while and then try blunting its regional troublemaking in other ways. At the same time, Biden wants to put more focus on nation-building at home and on countering China.

while here’s his proposal for moving foreward:

I have an idea: One way to defuse the tension between the U.S. and Israel would be for Biden to attempt a radical new diplomatic initiative — a leveraged buyout of the Iranian presence in Syria.

Syria today is effectively controlled in different sectors by three non-Arab powers — Russia, Turkey and Iran. Russia is not enamored with having Iranian forces in Syria alongside its own, but it needed them to help crush the democratic and Sunni Islamist enemies of its proxy, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Biden and the gulf Arab states could go to the Russians and Assad with this offer: Kick out the Iranian forces from Syria and we will triple whatever financial aid Iran was giving Syria, and we’ll tacitly agree that Assad (though a war criminal) can stay in power for the near term.

I agree with him that negotiating with Russians and Syrians is more likely to be productive than negotiating with the Iranian mullahs.

The news isn’t entirely bad, however. The history of radical revolutions like the Iranian Revolution is that they don’t tend to outlive the revolutionaries by much. The “students” who overthrew the Shah are now old men. In twenty years or so they’ll be dead and their successors will be bureaucrats without a great deal of revolutionary fervor sp things are quite likely to change.

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Consolidation

I encountered a statistic that’s pretty startling is true in a post on “decarbonization” of all things at RealClearEnergy by Rupert Darwall:

In his epochal book “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy,” Joseph Schumpeter described publicly traded corporations as capitalism’s vulnerable fortresses. This is truer now than when Schumpeter was writing in the 1940s, with huge, politically controlled state and municipal pension funds. The Big Three index funds of Vanguard, BlackRock, and State Street now hold 43% of the fund industry’s U.S. equity assets, which own individual stocks and vote their proxies not out of choice or conviction but because they’re in the index.

The emphasis is mine. Is that right? That sounds like too much consolidation to me.

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Winning and Losing

In his latest Wall Street Journal column Walter Russell Mead has some interesting definitions of winning and losing directed at the G-7 representatives who seem to confuse pontificating with achievement:

Winning means getting Russia to withdraw from Syria, the Donbas and Crimea. A diplomatic victory is when China agrees to dismantle military bases on artificial islands in the South China Sea. Success involves getting Iran to stop arming and funding armed militias and terrorist groups in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

Losing, on the other hand, is something the West has become quite good at. Losing is watching construction continue on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as Russia declares the country’s largest opposition party an illegal conspiracy. Losing is moaning about Chinese behavior in the South China Sea as the military balance tilts toward Beijing. Losing is crafting intricate webs of ineffectual sanctions as Russia’s reach and control inexorably expand. Losing is wringing one’s hands and issuing eloquent critiques as China intensifies its crackdowns in Tibet, Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

Perhaps it’s just me but I see something of a mismatch in those success criteria. A year-round port has been part of Russia’s definition of winning for more than 200 years. IMO the notion that Russia will cede that goal to an anti-Russian regime of dubious legitimacy in Ukraine is pretty far-fetched.

I can’t speak authoritatively to China’s objectives in trying to consolidate its control of the South China Sea or Iran’s support for Islamist terrorist groups. Perhaps someone can explain it to me. I could speculate that in China’s case it’s about natural resources and trying to obstruct U. S. “freedom of navigation” exercises and in Iran’s that it’s part of Iran’s asserting its role in the Islamic world but those would just be speculations.

As far as the losing side of the equation goes, I think I can explain that in one word: Germany. As long as Germany sees its relationships with Russia, China, and Iran as economically advantageous, the G-7 will keep losing as Dr. Mead defines it.

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The Argument Against Teaching CRT

You might want to look at this argument against teaching critical race theory by Rick Esenberg and Daniel Lennington at RealClearEducation. After identifying the legal problems with federal programs to teach CRT in the schools the authors arrive at the meat of their argument:

Critical race theory literally teaches children racism. They are placed in groups, labeled oppressors and victims, and taught that America’s system is rigged against persons of color. These are destructive lies that have no place in American schools.

concluding

Our schools are places of reason, facts, discovery, and the scientific method. Critical race theory is a Marxist experiment to remake society based on class struggle. It is not an educational tool and certainly should not be funded with taxpayer dollars. The Education Department should abandon this abominable social experiment and remove any reference to critical race theory from these grant programs. America must reject the false promises of “equity” and rededicate itself to equality for all.

I have no objection to teaching the painful, unpleasant facts of American history in the schools. I have no problem with teaching young people, once they have reached an age at which they might understand it, what critical race theory teaches. I do have an objection to teaching that it is true. For example, consider this famous quote from Ibram X. Kendi:

The only remedy for past discrimination is present discrimination.

That is a textbook example of arguing that two wrongs make a right. It is fallacious since it is a relevance error. Furthermore, it benefits people who have not personally experienced the “past discrimination” by punishing people who did not commit that discrimination.

I also object to consciousness-racing exercises in schools. Such exercises serve no healthy function.

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