From Six Weeks, the book about British junior officers in World War I that I've mentioned before, here is a stanza from a poem by Sub-Lt. A.P. Herbert, who fought at Gallipoli, and later saw his battalion destroyed at the Somme:
We only want to take our wounds away
To some shy village where the tumult ends,
And drowsing in the sunshine many a day,
Forget our aches, forget that we had friends.
I really like those lines. The emotion they convey is more complex than it may first appear, especially the last five words.
I've been reading Six Weeks: The Short and Gallant Life of the British Officer in the First World War, by John Lewis-Stempel. I bought it in a store in St. Ives, Cornwall, on a stormy day when the tops of the gray waves off the Irish Sea were hitting the slate roofs of waterfront houses in the town. (But in Doc Martin, wasn't Cornwall always sunny?)
One thing that has really struck me in the book is how often battalions would lose many or even all their officers in a battle. "I ended up the only officer in the battalion," wrote 2nd Lt. Stuart Cloete, who was 19 years old. Of the 30 officers in one battalion of the East Surry Regiment who went into a battle on the Somme, four came back. And the 6th Battalion of the King's Own Scottish Borderers lost every one of its 20 officers in an attack on September 25, 1915. If I recall correctly, Robert Graves wrote in Good-bye to All That that as a lieutenant he went on leave and returned to find himself the senior surviving officer in his battalion.
I also was struck by the narrowness of military history in the small bookstores I visited in Cornwall. Basically, they are about the British in the two world wars, with a soupcon of the Falklands and Iraq tossed in. I can understand not paying much attention to the Americans, but how about ancient history at least?
And has anyone read Emperor Maurice's Strategikon? Worth reading?
By Ken Weisbrode
Best Defense department of Thucydidian analysis
Some months after the 9/11 attacks the diplomatic historian Paul Schroeder published an article in The National Interest with the title, "The Risks of Victory: An Historian's Provocation." He posed a simple question that has been asked many times: How does a minor crisis lead to a major war? He considered the possibility that the 9/11 attacks would result in something far worse, and the analogy he gave was to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914.
Another Great War has not taken place, and even if it were to happen in the near future, it would be difficult at this point to claim that the fuse for it was lit on September 2001. Much has happened since in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and elsewhere. Nevertheless, Schroeder's provocation should still be taken seriously. We recall that not once during the entire Cold War (with the partial exception of Soviet pilots in the Korean War) did soldiers of the two main protagonists fire on one another. But both superpowers were engaged in armed conflict to one degree or another during the entire course of the conflict. The remarkable thing is that none of these smaller wars or crises escalated to an all-out hot war between the superpowers.
The consensus seems to be that nuclear weapons and the doctrine of mutually assured destruction are primarily responsible for that. This may be true but there is no way to prove it. We are told that John F. Kennedy had the 1914 scenario in mind (thanks to his reading of Barbara Tuchman's Guns of August) during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Cold War calculus may have been reversed whereby nuclear weapons and the prestige associated with deterrence made escalation more, rather than less, likely in this instance.
A higher cost attributed to escalation, in other words, does not do away with Schroeder's basic question. How and why do major powers make crises worse? Political scientists and others have been testing hypotheses for a long time, but a general blueprint still eludes us. One reason may be that their models emphasize the roles of major actors over minor ones. For nearly a century historians have debated whether Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia or the "system" was most responsible for the escalation leading to World War I.
Tom has recently reminded us to ask who won the Peloponnesian War and, by implication, who lost the most after starting it. Our eyes are trained to hunt for underlying structural conditions, "the long fuse," and great, zero-sum rivalries.
Overlooked in many of these accounts are the active and sometimes dominant roles of instigators: Corcyreans, Serbs, Cubans, et al. These second- and even third-tier revisionist powers tend to follow a different, more opportunistic calculus. They too -- potentially -- have everything to lose, but also much more to gain, they must imagine, from provoking a war among much bigger powers. The burden falls upon the latter to master the ways of defusing crises before it is too late.
I had known that Enoch Powell, before becoming the most controversial politician in modern British history, was an intelligence officer in World War II (and a very good one, according to his boss) and a classicist before that.
But one thing I learned in London after a wine-fueled dinner at the old school bohemian Chelsea Arts Club ("dress code: none") was that Powell was one of the editors of a very good edition of Thucydides. I checked on Amazon and unfortunately it costs too damn much.
Bonus fact: The original version of the Beatles song "Get Back" had an allusion to Powell's "rivers of blood" speech (which itself was a reference to Virgil). It is not often that you can pack Paul McCartney, Enoch Powell, and Virgil into the same song. What a bag of cats.
I'm not even gonna get into Eric Clapton's 1976 endorsement of Powell.
While I am on the subject of what I did in London, can anyone name the one-time terrorist who is honored with a statue just west of the Houses of Parliament? Hint: She eventually became a member of the Conservative Party.
War is never desirable, but I confess to wondering: Exactly how would the two countries confront each other as they escalated? Boycott each other's films? Neil Young banned from performing in Copenhagen?
Best Defense guest historian
I fully appreciate the dialogue between the Athenian elite and the Melian elite. I am sure that among the Melians there must have been contention as to what choice to make. In 400 BC, as in our time, an elite in the name of the people always makes such decisions for better or worse.
A modern parallel existed in May of 1940 in Great Britain. With her armies being shattered on the continent and her key ally in the final stages of her death throes, Britain faced a choice very much like that of Melos.
The choice was no less stark than that faced by Melos. The enemy was a great power, with the momentum of victory behind it. It was utterly ruthless. Britain could have cut a deal with the looming threat -- a deal eagerly sought by Hitler -- and opted out of harm's way with little loss but of reputation and humiliation.
Many of the British elite who were led by Halifax and the Foreign Office were looking for such a peace treaty but Winston Churchill, understanding the nature of his foe, outmaneuvered the Halifax faction and accepted the challenge from Hitler come what may. This choice amounted to the key strategic decision of the 20th century. Churchill's leadership resulted in a decision that showed a willingness to risk all to preserve western civilization from Nazi barbarism.
This choice in my view was anchored in realism. Churchill and his Parliamentary allies possessed a hardboiled realism that fully appreciated the consequences of defeat but also the possibilities (as remote as they seemed at the time) of victory in the end.
Halifax's approach, in contrast, was seemingly realistic on the surface but in fact was not, because it failed to appreciate the nature of the opponent. Any deal arranged with the Nazis could only be temporary, because of the innate predatory nature of the Nazi regime and its cold-blooded ideology. Churchill, a historian, intuitively understood this important fact.
I find this parallel with the experience of the Melians very compelling. Had the Melians had a great power ally (Sparta), perhaps their choice may have become heroically successful rather than heroically doomed. As it was there was no deliverer off in the distance whose interests were served by a living Melos.
"Jeff" is an amateur military historian and financial executive retired after thirty years with Merrill Lynch.
In the dialogue with the people of the small, weak island of Melos, the Athenians explained why the island must submit to the wishes of the city of Athens: "the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must." (P. 352, Landmark edition) Yow. That is (as the headline suggested) perhaps the nastiest line I ever have read.
The Melians asked to be allowed to remain neutral in the war. Tough luck, said Athens, which then invaded and "put to death all the grown men whom they took, and sold the women and children for slaves," and then re-settled the island with their own colonists.
Such wholesale violence seemed to be about par for the course in the ancient Greek world. Samos is not that big an island, but when one party in a civil war on the island prevailed, it executed 200 of most powerful men from the other party and banished another 400. (P. 493, Landmark edition) Sounds to me like they extirpated the opposition.
It seems to me, reading Pericles' funeral oration (431 BC), that it clearly provided the inspiration for Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
Pericles begins by dismissing his own speechmaking ability: "[I]t is hard to speak properly upon a subject where it is even difficult to convince your hearers that you are speaking the truth." That reminded me of Lincoln's "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here."
Pericles then dwells on what we might call "Athenian exceptionalism": "Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighboring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves." A bit later, he adds, "In short, I would say that as a city we are the school of Hellas." This brought to mind Lincoln's beginning, "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure."
Most striking of all, both speeches conclude by challenging the living to live up to the standard set by the fallen. "So dies these men as became Athenians," says Pericles. "You, their survivors, must determine to have as unaltering a resolution in the field." I think Lincoln expresses that thought better: "It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
(After writing this I did some quick Googling and saw that the comparison between the two speeches is apparently a major theme of Garry Wills' book on the Gettysburg Address. So clearly I am not the first to come across this.) I knew that Lincoln was into Shakespeare and the King James Bible, but I hadn't realized he also absorbed the Greeks.
By John M. McFarland
Best Defense guest columnist
Your opinion on MacArthur as the worst general in U.S. history absolutely baffles me. It just reinforces the notion that anyone, anytime, can assert some completely uninformed, ridiculous opinion on an internet blog and get away with it. Place a Washington Post byline beneath their name, and, suddenly, they have some type of credibility, or presumed knowledge or insight about anything.
One actually has to study military history to be able to articulate an opinion such as that which you have so carelessly issued. Either you have never studied it, or you were skipping that instruction when it was offered to you. If MacArthur had never set foot in WWII or Korea, he still would have been one of the greatest battlefield leaders in American military history, based solely upon his performance in WWI. If you want some suggested readings to inform yourself about MacArthur's military career, and about more basic military affairs or matters generally, I will be happy to provide them. It's never too late to learn.
One can read everything about MacArthur 5 times over, but fail to ever gain the slightest insight into him if (i) one reads everything about MacArthur with a view and goal of extracting only what fits into the preconceived notion of MacArthur to which one is already wed, and/or (ii) one is more concerned with articulating opinions or judgments that will be more readily accepted by those of one's particular social/political persuasion or perspective, rather than viewing a historical figure fully in the round. It's not necessarily what you read, but how you read it.
Now you want to strip him of his WWI accomplishments. I am familiar with the book to which you refer. That author looked at the historical record (as he perceived it) and pronounced most proudly that he had discovered that MacArthur had not actually set foot on the objective in the battle campaign for which he received a DSC (one of 4, I believe, that MacArthur received from a headquarters that was hostile to him). Because of this author's "extensive" knowledge of all things military, he concluded from this sole "fact" that MacArthur did not deserve his decoration, had not performed with valor worthy of the citation, and was a charlatan and a fraud. This author supposedly discerned 80+ years after the fact what no one in the Rainbow Division, Chaumont, or the AEF discerned during the attack. The sheer tonnage of what that author obviously does not know about military operations on a tactical level literally took my breath away. As William Manchester remarked in American Caesar, there is almost nothing derogatory that can be said about MacArthur these days that will not be believed immediately at face value by those untrained or unwilling to examine the premises of the statement.
All of the great captains of history have manifested flaws roughly commensurate with their brilliance. MacArthur is no different than, for example, Napoleon or Hannibal in this regard. The best single volume analysis of MacArthur, I believe, is Geoffrey Perret's Old Soldiers Never Die -- The Life of Douglas MacArthur. Perret is critical and judgmental of MacArthur when necessary and appropriate, but succeeds as a military historian in viewing MacArthur in the round, which you, in this regard, clearly do not. Perret judged MacArthur the second greatest soldier in American history, after U.S. Grant. Perret expressly moves him to second place because of MacArthur's dabbling in politics late in his career, and his antagonism with President Truman. Unlike you, however, Perret does not allow himself to be blinded by these episodes in analyzing MacArthur's place among the great captains of history, and certainly American military history. While I disagree with that particular conclusion of Perret, I respect his process because he has viewed and analyzed the complete sum of MacArthur's life in the whole, not little snippets of his life that are cherry-picked by authors such as you to support the preconceived end that they have already identified for their analysis.
Where have you possibly gone or whom have you possibly talked to in order to draw the conclusion that the U.S. Army has "extirpated" the memory of Douglas MacArthur?
John M. McFarland, an attorney and graduate of West Point, served in the 82d Airborne Division and 5th Special Forces Group before attending law school on active duty and transferring to the Judge Advocate General's Corps, where he continued his service before leaving the Army to begin private practice.
That's what National Geographic says, in the last paragraph of a new article: "It may well be the first western European city with a majority of its residents from Muslim backgrounds."
Probably better for the magazine to have said it may be the first majority Muslim city in western Europe in about 700 years. If I recall my history correctly, in the 13th century, many western European cities, such Granada and Cordoba, were majority Muslim. I remember being told that Cordoba (AKA Qurtuba) was at one point the world's largest city and had 3,000 mosques. Not long before that, the entire island of Sicily was an Arab emirate. Dunno if it ever was majority Muslim, but I'd bet Palermo was.
(HT to Al D.)
By Robert L. Goldich
Best Defense bureau for Celtic secessionism
Remember when the main character in the movie Braveheart, loosely, really loosely, based on the Scottish chieftain and military leader William Wallace, shouted "Freedom!" at the top of his lungs? Although the real Wallace defeated the English in 1297 at Stirling Bridge, he was captured in 1305 and hanged (but not until he was dead), drawn (four horses pulling his body apart in different directions) and quartered (just what it sounds like) for "treason" by the English.
It probably won't come to that in the early 21st Century. But a more formidable successor to Mel Gibson exists in the person of Alex Salmond, the current First Minister of Scotland, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and its majority in the Scottish Parliament. Just about everybody in the United Kingdom seems to agree, whether they like him and his policies or not, that Mr. Salmond is an extraordinarily astute, charismatic, and dynamic political leader. He is currently engaged in a high-stakes interaction with the British Government and its political leadership to have a referendum, sometime in the next couple of years, on whether or not Scotland should leave the United Kingdom and become an independent country.
Well. As with all such disputes, it arises for domestic reasons which need not concern the United States and those responsible for, and interested in, U.S. foreign and national security policy. We may not be able to affect the process overtly, and doing so would almost certainly be counterproductive. But that doesn't mean that some very important questions need to be asked about what the implications of Scottish independence would be for US national defense. Let's start with general issues.
First, Scotland has been a part of the United Kingdom since 1707, when the "Act of Union" was enacted by Parliament. That alone means something. What would it say to American policymakers if our closest ally, one with whom we have been linked in peace and war since we entered World War I in 1917, suddenly broke apart after over 300 years of political unity? What would it say about the internal cohesion of whatever rump UK remained after Scotland left? Would Wales -- which, arguably, has much more linguistic and cultural differentiation from England than Scotland -- be next? Would moves for Northern Ireland's independence from the UK, and union with the Republic of Ireland, be re-energized, with possible attendant violence? Or, more broadly, would a disintegrating United Kingdom be considered as reliable a partner?
There are some more pointed questions that American policymakers might start thinking about. Mr. Salmond has on occasion stated that he favors having the UK retain control over foreign and defense policy, but this scarcely squares with his also stated desire to eventually have all nuclear weapons -- that is, British ones -- out of Scotland, and his stated support for establishment of a "Scottish defense force" that would include the Scottish regiments of the British Army. (As a fair chunk of the enlisted soldiers, and most of the officers, of Scottish regiments, aren't Scottish, this might not work out too well, but I digress.)
What would be the foreign policy of an independent Scotland, as it appears that Mr. Salmond in fact wants to have his own defense policy? Would it join NATO? How much, if at all, would it cooperate with the armed forces of a truncated United Kingdom? With the armed forces of other Western democracies, including, but not limited to, those of the United States? Would it cooperate with the British intelligence services in the maintenance of internal security against terrorism in the British Isles? Would it cooperate with other countries' intelligence services, including those of the United States? Would it look more leniently on the presence of embassies and diplomatic representatives, and their activities, from anti-American and anti-Western states such as North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela? Mr. Salmond and his Scottish Nationalist Party, and the dominant political culture in Scotland, is quite far to the Left, for a variety of internal reasons that don't matter here. This doesn't augur well for a positive answer to any of these questions. It suggests that we have to consider that, a la the Republic of Ireland, Scotland might well be aggressively neutral, and avoid involvement all kinds of Euro-Atlantic collective security agreements that have been so important in maintaining European stability since 1945.
Finally, what would Scottish independence, and what it implies about the long-term political stability of the UK, say to American economic interests? To Americans, Great Britain is not, say, velvet-divorced Czechoslovakia, and certainly not Doonesbury's Brzrkrstan. It is viewed as a bedrock of political stability that underlies a willingness to invest in a country. It could scarcely be considered such if Scotland left it. Moreover, Mr. Salmond has made all kinds of statements about the need for an independent Scotland's economic policy to shift sharply to the Left, not something guaranteed to invite foreign investment.
The people of the current United Kingdom will ultimately decide, one way or another, actively or passively, about Scottish independence. But that doesn't mean that Americans don't have a strategic stake in it. Scottish independence may or may not be a good idea for Great Britain as it is currently constituted. But there are good reasons for us to think that it might not be too good for us.
By Bob Goldich
Best Defense guest book reviewer
I just finished an incredibly insightful book, David French, The British Way in Counter-Insurgency 1945-1967. French is a distinguished British historian who has produced superb books on, among other things, British Army mobilization and training in World War II, and the British regimental tradition. IMHO, Four of the many conclusions he comes to in this work are:
1. The British used a lot more coercion and force in their COIN operations than more hagiographical accounts of those operations admit or imply. This isn't new, but he gathers together information from ten post-WWII British COIN operations to make his point very meticulously.
2. Because of the gross misinterpretations regarding (1), COIN doctrines based on a supposed "hearts and minds" and humanitarian-oriented doctrine are based on a totally incorrect interpretation of history. Last line of his book, page 255: "Misleading history had contributed to producing a misleading doctrine."
3. British success in post-WWII COIN was mixed at best. Oft-cited Malaya worked very well. By any standards the British lost in Palestine, the Suez Canal prior to the late 1956 invasion, Oman, and Aden. The British suppressed the Mau Mau insurgency in Kenya in the short run, the same in Nyasaland (Malawi), but within a few years had to grant Kenyan independence anyway. In Cyprus, the British had to grant Cypriot independence and retained only two military base areas on the island. In Oman they failed in the 1960s and had to go back and do it in the 1970s. I think this part of his analysis is very significant, because if we compare his list of successes and failures with ours, we come across as no worse or better.
4. The British were, in general, not particularly prepared in advance for COIN operations, did not adapt rapidly, and had enormous problems in transmitting sound operational analysis to the field. Interestingly, in view of our recent discussion about conscription and COIN, he cites the use of National Servicemen (two-year draftees) as a real drag on developing effective COIN units due to huge personnel turnover.
This book ain't cheap but it is well worth the dough.
By J. Dana Stuster
Best Defense office of Arab seasonal affairs
In the earliest days of the Arab Spring, Algeria appeared poised to join Tunisia in its revolution. Protests swept through the country weeks before the first stirrings in Egypt, Bahrain, Libya or Syria. According to The Economist's tongue-in-cheek attempt to quantify the factors generating the unrest ("the shoe thrower's index"), Algeria seemed less likely to be stable than its revolutionary neighbor and far outpaced Bahrain in factors contributing to potential unrest.
Algeria isn't stable now, but it has managed to avoid reaching a critical mass of domestic upheaval through a measured police response that has been severe without being so brutal that it incites more anger, as well as economic concessions that reduced the cost of staple foods and legal reforms that include the repeal the country's twenty-year-old emergency law. While it remains to be seen whether these concessions will stick in the long-term, they seem to have bought some time for the Algerian government.
The next potential crisis will be the country's legislative elections, scheduled for May. The country is only dubiously democratic; true power resides with a cabal of political and military officials informally know as Le Pouvoir, and there are concerns that, if a truly democratic election is held, the military may intervene to prevent an Islamist landslide in the parliament. The last time the military stepped in was 1992; what followed was a military coup, the institution of the emergency law, and an ugly civil war. The Algerian government is only now walking back the many effects of 1992, and if Le Pouvoir intervenes in May it would be a significant setback for the country, but so too could be a polarizing election.
Speaking at CSIS recently, Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci expressed his full confidence that the military will support the results of the election and downplayed the significance of a potential Islamist election, pointing out that an Islamist party (condoned by the government) has participated in the parliament since the late 1990s. Listening to Medelci, it is easy to get caught up in his optimism for Algeria. He boasts about his country's progress toward meeting the United Nations' Development Program's Millennium Development Goals and speaks eloquently about the political and economic reforms underway. Speaking to a collection of Arab media, businesspeople, think tank experts, and diplomats, he touted the increasing privatization of the economy, the large college-educated population (the majority of which are women), the proliferation of trade agreements, and the government's attempts to diversify the economy, including a large solar array to reduce Algeria's reliance on oil exports. He tied the new flurry of reforms to Algeria's efforts over the past decade to better incorporate minority groups, though he didn't go into detail on these. He seemed pleased with the new reforms, which include expanded press freedoms, a new quota system for women's representation in the parliament, an increased role for the judiciary in elections to make them more independent from the administration, and an upcoming revision of the constitution.
It all sounds very promising, and if done right, it could be precisely the sort of gradual reform that the United States has encouraged the monarchies in the Gulf to embrace. But even ignoring the questions about how healthy Algeria's economy truly is (only last year, Issandr El Amrani called Bouteflika's economic policy "an unmitigated disaster"), Algeria has only a narrow window of opportunity for this to succeed - Bouteflika's term expires in 2014, but he is physically ailing and there is no clear means of succession if he passes while in office. If Algeria cannot prepare its democratic institutions for this essential transition, it will face a two-front struggle: a crisis within Le Pouvoir, and also the remobilization of the disenfranchised and disheartened public that took to the streets in January 2011. Eurasia Group's James Fallon pointed to Algeria for a potential renewal of upheaval last November, and while the protesters in Algiers had difficulty expressing a set of common grievances, they will no doubt learn from the successes in Egypt and Tunisia.
While Algeria's problems are far from solved and new unrest may arise between now and then, for now, its role in the Arab Spring is restricted to its participation in the Arab League delegation to Syria. Medelci distanced his government from Anwar Malek, the Algerian monitor who resigned from the delegation and called it a "farce." Medelci has pointed out that Malek was representing a non-governmental organization and not the Algerian government, which remains committed to the mission in Syria. Justifying this commitment involved some verbal hurdles. Pressed by Ellen Laipson of the Stimson Center to reconcile Algeria's involvement in the Arab League's involvement in Syria with its policy of non-intervention, Medelci explained that he considers the Arab League mission as less a matter of interference, but an effort to prevent broader interference through providing an option for third-party mediation.
Medelci was nothing if not positive in his assessment. Speaking of its revolutionary neighbors in North Africa, he told the audience, "We hope that these countries now control their destiny and can join us as stronger partners. We need stronger partners, but we are not in a position to be hegemonic. We don't have lessons to teach but we share a revolutionary heritage." This July will mark the fiftieth anniversary of Algeria's independence from France, and while, for now, Algeria's non-interventionist intervention in Syria may be the center of attention, it is shaping up to be a dramatic year domestically as well. Here's hoping it lives up to the foreign minister's optimism.
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
Since the 1950s every political crisis Pakistan has faced has been a result of civilians trying to wrest power and control from the military. This crisis is no different except for one important aspect - the military has no intention of seizing power. Instead it has allied with the Supreme Court in an attempt to get rid of a government that is widely perceived to be corrupt and irresponsible.
But in an era when hope of democracy is spreading through the Arab Muslim world and powerful armies in countries such as Thailand and Turkey have learnt to live under civilian control, Pakistan is an ongoing tragedy. Its military refuses to give up power, its huge stake in the economy and its privileges, while its politicians refuse to govern wisely or honestly and decline to carry out basic economic reforms such as taxing themselves.
FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images
Jakub Grygiel is one of the more interesting strategic thinkers around. In the new (Fall 2011) issue of Orbis he has a good piece that looks at why certain decentralized parts of the Roman Empire were better able to counter the barbarian invasions than were others.
The lesson of his inquiry:
The policy of decentralizing security provision by, for instance, building greater capabilities for local police forces, may be the most effective way of responding to such a security environment. Signs already abound that this is exactly what is already happening in the United States, a country that because of a deep tradition of self-reliance and federalism may be well positioned to adapt to the possibility of non-state, small, localized, threats. Other countries, in particular in Europe, where the drive to build a centralized state that arrogates to itself most aspects of social life has been historically longer and more relentless, may face greater challenges.
By Patrick McKinney
Best Defense department of Maghreb affairs
In late October 1956, British and French forces aided Israel's seizure of the Suez Canal from Egypt. In March 2011, an allied force including British and French forces intervened in Libya to establish a no-fly zone and protect rebels from the ruling Gaddafi regime. Half a century apart, these actions in North African defined trans-Atlantic defense. The Suez Crisis heralded an era of American leadership and action, while Libya has shown that, though powerful, America intends to rely on its allies to carry larger burdens, and take responsibility for their own regions. America once drove and financed western security, but due to fiscal shortfalls and a decade of conflict, it no longer intends to guarantee European security.
In 1956, the once-powerful European states were still weakened from the world war and faced forceful colonial independence movements. The French lost Indochina in 1954 and the situation in Algeria continued to deteriorate, while the Suez Canal Zone in Egypt was England's last foothold in the Middle East. After tense negotiations, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser threatened to nationalize the canal as sovereign Egyptian territory, and in response, Israel, England, and France coordinated an invasion with the pretext of securing the canal for world commerce. They failed to inform the United States of their intent and expected American support or indifference. To their surprise, they received neither.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower forcefully protested the Suez invasion and demanded that foreign forces withdraw from Egypt. Though he had little compassion for Nasser and his regime, Eisenhower intended to support international order and avoid unnecessary international conflicts. He condemned the invasion, saying, "We believe these actions to have been taken in error. For we do not accept the use of force as a wise and proper instrument for the settlement of international disputes." Israel, England, and France were surprised by the American response and false expectations of support. Their forces began withdrawal from the Suez Canal Zone, and returned control to Egypt.
After the conflict, American authority and consent became pre-eminent in the Trans-Atlantic partnership. Through NATO, America assured European defense from the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, and American priorities were NATO's priorities. England lost its Middle Eastern influence and decided to influence western and world security through cooperation in its "special relationship" with the United States. Embarrassed and affronted by the perceived betrayal, France took the alternate path and sought to set its own defense priorities. France demanded a restructure of NATO leadership in 1958, and began the withdrawal of its forces from the command in the 1960s. France remained outside of NATO for more than forty years until operations in Afghanistan and officially returned its forces in 2009.
I don't feel a lot of sympathy for Germany being unhappy with foreigners. I remember someone once telling me that the history of Europe is essentially 2,000 years of "the German problem," with its tribes constantly getting frisky and invading westward, southward and, eventually, eastward.
That said, seeing Germany move rightward is not a comfortable feeling. Given a choice, I'd much rather put up with a bunch of self-righteous moralistic Greens than a bunch of self-righteous angry Browns. The latter can lead to trouble.
This is General Patton, writing to his wife about the people of Sicily in July 1943. The inventive spellings are his:
Poor things, I feel sorry for them. They make tomato catchup in the streets and let all the filth settle on it and then eat it with spagattey. All the children beg for food all the time and one could buy any woman on the island for a can of beans, but there are not many purchasers."
Yesterday I was reading the transcript of comments Gen. J. Lawton Collins made at Fort Leavenworth in 1983. "Lighning Joe" Collins was one of the few generals to fight in both the Pacific and the European theaters in World War II, and to my knowledge, the only one successful in both. (Generals Eugene Landrum and Charles Corlett, not so much.) So I was interested to see Collins conclude that the Germans were better fighters:
They were radically different. The German was far more skilled than the Japanese. Most of the Japanese that we fought were not skilled men. Not skilled leaders. The German had a professional army. . . . The Japanese army was very much like ours in a sense. They had a small corps of officers who were professionals. But the bulk of their people were not professionals in the sense of knowing their business and so on. They didn't have the equipment that we had. They didn't know how to handle combined arms-the artillery and the support of the infantry-to the same extent we did. They were gallant soldiers, though. They fought to the end and you had to knock them off-that was all there was to it. And we had to do that right on Guadalcanal. . . . The Japanese were very gallant men. They fought very, very hard, but they were not nearly as skillful as the Germans. But the German didn't have the tenacity of the Japanese."
Tom again: Still, I think the Pacific war, conducted on remote islands where the enemy would fight to the death, probably was the tougher fight, even if the foe wasn't as skillful or as well-equipped.
The Wolfhound Heritage Project
You never know what a blog post will provoke. I was impressed with the level of detail in Lobot's comment in response to my comment about Taliban weaponry outranging the U.S. Army's in Afghanistan:
This is very reminiscent of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. The French were armed with the new Model 1866 Infantry rifle (the Chassepot) that had an effective range of 1000 yards. Thoroughly outclassing the Prussian Dreyse Zündnadelgewehr, which was effective up to around 400-600 yards. State of the art in 1841, the needle rifle was showing its age by 1870. The French bullets, jacketed in linen instead of paper, were smaller (11mm as opposed to the Prussian 14mm). A French infantryman carried 105 rounds while his Prussian counterpart carried only 70. The Prussians, however, made up for this imbalance with tactics & modern, breech loading Krupps artillery. Also, the Sovs in Afghanistan found that often the main armament on their armored vehicles could not elevate high enough to be employed against the Muj in the mountains, the ZSU-23-4 ADA gun, with its -4° to +85° elevation, became a mainstay in the bronegruppa.
By Daniel Kliman
Best Defense chief Turkish affairs correspondent
When Turkey's Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations one night last week, Iran dominated his remarks. He was emphatically opposed to more robust sanctions, arguing that instead what is needed is "diplomacy, diplomacy, diplomacy." Davutoglu also suggested that a glimmer of hope remains for negotiations with Iran, though he didn't provide any details. In the past, Turkey has served as a mediator between Iran and countries concerned about its nuclear program. Davutoglu played up Turkey's success in this role during his remarks. Could there be a Turkish initiative in the works? Stay tuned.
On Iraq, the FM was bullish. Calling Iraq a "mini-model of the Middle East," Davutoglu cast the recent elections there as a move away from sectarian politics. (Your mileage may vary, of course.)
Earlier this month, Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Erdogan hammered Israel, labeling it "the principal threat to peace in the region today." Davutoglu avoided such language.
Omission can be telling. Davutoglu was silent on Turkey's prospects for EU membership. Combined with his ambitious vision for a transformed Middle East, it was clear that Turkey sees its destiny unfolding to the east and south, in lands once under Ottoman rule.
I didn't realize that the Chinese government might see possible advantages in the melting of the northern icecap. But apparently it does, and the foreign ministers of some of the colder nations are discussing what to do about the panda bear's interest in going polar.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense chief canine correspondent
Tom's recent posts on the seedy behavior of some naval officers got me thinking about a far more virtuous sailor and the Royal Norwegian Forces' beloved mascot during WWII.
Bamse (which is Norwegian for cuddly bear or teddy bear -- take your pick), was a St. Bernard who belonged to the family of Erling Hafto, captain of Thorodd, a whaling vessel. A gentle giant weighing in at 14 stone (that's 196 lbs!), Bamse officially became a war dog when Captain Hafto's ship was drafted into the service of the Royal Norwegian Navy during the first years of WWII. By 1940, the ship, by that point a minesweeper, regularly docked in a town called Montrose, Scotland where Bamse quickly became a neighborhood fixture where he was oft seen making the rounds "decked out in a white sailor's collar and mariner's cap."
The stories about Bamse are some of the most delightful I've come across -- tales of how he would break up fights between the men by launching his large paws on the agitated sailor's shoulders to subdue him. Or, almost unbelievably, how this large dog would ride the local bus unaccompanied to a nearby pub and retrieve the drunken crew to lead them safely back to their ship.
photo of Bamse's burial courtesy of Dr. Andrew Orr
On a whim I watched Salvatore Guiliano the other night. I wish I had seen it before visiting Sicily. This is a terrific film, especially if you know the island, because it rings true.
It begins in the late 1940s, which is actually when Michael Corleone would have been there. But it portrays a far more complex world, where the Mafia is siding with the carbienere against the Communists and the aristocratic independents, and so on.
It struck me as what the Sicily scenes in The Godfather would be like if they had been done by the director of The Battle of Algiers. Like the latter, a lot of the scenes in this movie were filmed using the actual places where they occurred, with some of the original participants. When I went to GoogleEarth to locate the massacre at Portella di Ginestra, it offered a photo of the rocky hill in the background -- which I recognized from the film.
This isn't a terrorism film. It is more one about how most insurgencies end, and I am not sure there is a category for that. The only movies I can think of that fit that are this one and "The Wind that Shakes the Barley."
Note: Michael Cimino apparently made a movie called The Sicilian which is based on Mario Godfather Puzo's novel about Guiliano. Haven't seen it.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.