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22 March 2011


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Clifford Kiracofe


The costs to the US can be taken out of the present very bloated DOD budget with some sharp pencils and "reprogramming." Why have a defense budget after all?

Libya is rich so presumably once the dust settles, they can pony up some "war debts" say as Finland once did. There are plenty of billions in frozen funds from which appropriate war debt deductions can be made.

Patrick Lang


I disagree with the idea that consistency is a necessary or even desirable criterion in forming foreign policy. For example. Pakistan, Israel, England and North Korea all possess nuclear weapons. Iran is said to be developing nuclear weapons. Should we treat them all equally with regard to this issue? pl


Nary a word about America's either open support or complete silence on the issue of Israel's conduct relative to the people who were living in the region prior to the return of the Diaspora, or what is going on in Gaza right now. That conduct, of course, will not cause anyone to take any action against the US, like maybe going down to a Wal-Mart to buy some boxcuters before getting on a plane in New York....

The guy Patton talked about who was shoveling shit in Louisiana, he was a member of the "Greatest Generation", too. (Whether only a movie line or a direct quote, the sentiment is still true). As to $3 billion a year to foreigners (Israel), surely we aren't going to put that into the Social Security trust fund to help Americans, we know where the true national interest lies.


Mr. Lifton, to your question, the American public would answer with a resounding no, yet there is no longer any public input into Washington.

Bill H.

"Yes, the rebels look like they are the good guys and deserve to win."

Well, that's pretty questionable, actually. We don't really know much about the rebels and there is some reason to ask questions. For instance, the fact that Eastern Libya has been the richest recruiting ground in the world for suicide bombers.

 Charles I

Didn't somebody say that consistency was the hobgoblin of little minds or some such? I like the law. I like principles, rules and consistency.

Still, it has exasperated me to no end to hear MSM ask if this will not bee seen as yet more America bombing the ME, as though Iraq and Libya are the same. I love the rules, but goddammit if its moral, cheap and doable, with some consensus that reaches a tipping point, it should be done.

Its the difference between me at 52 intervening an assault, maybe at risk of being stabbed, seems to be a Samaritan's fate, and attempting to stop an armed robber with nothing more than the law and my inclination.

One does what bone can.

We need some little place with no oil to free, just a dictator, sand and captives before its legit, I guess.

William R. Cumming

Remember the sword of Lafyette? Why do great powers ever interfere in revolutions or civil wars? I would argue that PL's sophisticed analysis in his novels of England and French interests in the WBS as PL terms it gets into the factors at some depth.

I have a somewhat different view. Clearly in Western Civiilzation the ending of the 30 years war and religious wars by emphasizing the system of nation-states in the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) was an attempt to limit warfare and its organized violence to some factors other than religion. The question of the post is worthy of full-time study not just blog consideration. But I see the threat of substate violence eventually implicating even the great powers as the final effort, and perhaps it will fail,to limit organized violence by substate actors and also limiting organized violence against innocents, those without arms or other power to fight back. Reform in human
institutions rarely results internally and perhaps orchestrated violence from outside to promote reforms is a calculated risk that must be taken from time to time.
But the line-drawing is admitttedly dicey. And who is to say that great powers don't often facilitate repression and authoritarism and even dictatorship in the name of suppressing substate violence. Admittedly a first cut at an answer!


While all peoples are equally deserving of preservation from destruction and of aid in ridding themselves of a tyrant, the costs vary wildly. It is not often that we can make a difference by destroying one side's heavy armaments with minimal loss of life of the civilians on either side and very little danger to the lives of Americans. Bombing the movement of heavy tanks on Libyan highways is similar in nature to bombing the rail lines that took people to death camps and should be done.

Rob Waddell

Calling SST experts..

Can any readers,knowledgeable in such matters, estimate the cost ratio of paying and supplying armed forces in peacetime versus 'in the field' fighting minor wars such as Libya. Do similar ratios extend to larger conflicts such as AFPAK etc.?

Barry Kelly

Consistency based on clearly stated criteria would remove discretion from those in power, as well as make the US predictable - and therefore controllable - in ways that may not be in its interests. I don't think consistency is particularly valuable.

In game theory terms, deliberate inconsistency - rational irrationality - has distinct benefits. By having a credible threat of reacting severely (severe enough to be against self-interest) when provoked, it adds to the incentive of others not to provoke, because the outcome may be unpredictably unpleasant.

The idea that totalitarianism is a product of Islam seems to me a facile and misguided concept. There are very plausible alternative explanations - resource curse of oil resulting in top-down distribution of wealth, which creates corruption and patronage networks with power flowing down, rather than up; and Western interference to ensure the continuance of "stable", "friendly" regimes, which is its own form of resource curse, the resource being friendly to the Westerners, distributing resulting support largesse. Not only that, but there are counter-examples, like Turkey, which seems pretty non-totalitarian even with Islamists in power.


I normally don't post on military matters as my posting alias is designed to indicate no personal expertise in such affairs. However In Libya I see a similarity to an historical experience our country had earlier in my lifetime which I remember fairly well. When Saddam invaded Kuwait, GW's father, HW spent the time to deliberately assemble an international concensus and a coalition which eventually sent Saddam's surviving forces running back to Baghdad. (Whether HW baited Saddam into the invasion of Kuwait I'll leave to some other discussion). In any case I see Obama's actions in Libya as very much along the precedent set by HW in Kuwait: deliberate, measured and international.

As to the future, I'm willing to go along with the precedent. Quaddaffi's forces face the same aerial turkey shoot on a road across open desert as Saddam's guys and I see the same situation evolving: A retreat of survivors to Tripoli for Quadaffi and a divided country with a not too expensive no-fly zone in the middle just like Iraq and Kurdistan. It lasted 12 years in Iraq.

Down the road some neoconlet will probably attack Obama's manhood just as GW did his father's and we will once again start down the path toward invasion if we are dumb enough to let that tired scenario play out.



Mr. Lifton:

It's my opinion that the present level of military spending is unsustainable. Actually, I believe it is more a mathematical given than just my opinion.

In any event and assuming that military spending will be reduced, what do you envision in terms of reduction?

Can the US protect its interests without 11 carriers? Do we need that, or can we get by using highly mobile,specifically targeted "police" type units rather than the full array of carrier groups?

Until some decision is made to drastically cut military spending, imho, the entire dance of conservative v. liberal issues regarding domestic social spending is kabuki theater.

Get a grip on the pentagon, and then the US can have a meaningful dialogue on the proper role of government in domestic policy.


Bill H.
"...the fact that Eastern Libya has been the richest recruiting ground in the world for suicide bombers."
Quick, somebody tell Congressman Peter King! Hopefully with this new 'fact' he can stop pulling a Mcarthy on American citizens who follow Islam. But really, if this were true, then why is Israel blockading Gaza; and shouldn't they have invaded Libya and not Lebanon?

But don't worry, you won't see the latest bombings of Gaza on the US media tonight.


(BTW even the BBC took it off the main page in less than 4 hours).


"For instance, the fact that Eastern Libya has been the richest recruiting ground in the world for suicide bombers."
Bill H., not that it is particularly important, but where id you come by that remarkable "fact?"


For example. Pakistan, Israel, England and North Korea all possess nuclear weapons. Iran is said to be developing nuclear weapons. Should we treat them all equally with regard to this issue? pl "
Only in having all said nations sign and abide by the Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty, but that would mean talking to some of our allies, as well as some enemies.


I agree with Mr. Lifton. If there is one upside to this intervention, it is that Obama has shown us that there is no budget crisis--none. If the federal deficit were of concern to any of the decision makers, there would be a chorus of howls about all the money spent on Libya, as there was when health care didn't seem to be budget neutral.

Now all we have to do is convince the general public to raise this point the next time some disingenuous politician tries to cite the fiscal crisis as the reason to cut Social Security, Medicare, Head Start, etc.

(BTW--I believe there is a budget crisis. However, some enormous parts of the government are exempt from any notion of belt tightening.)


Regarding costs of the current (limited) action in Libya:

How sensible are the cost discussion (what actual discussion there is) and the implicational noise-making extant about this?
Are not most of the expenses either already spent, as in aging cruise missile stocks that might not be replaced, or else examples of opportunity cost, the OC in this case being standby activity on the part of the people and material assets being employed? Extra jet fuel is being burned and various munitions expended which will require replacement and so on, but I think that these are relatively small potatoes in the overall scheme of things.
I expect to see articles and whatnot that will purport to state the cost of this action, but, assuming it ends up limited to little more than what is ongoing now (and I fear the mission creep bogeyman as much as anyone) I suspect that most of those figures will amount to expenditures that would have been made anyway without any of this action at all.
Yes, an F15 went down due to "equipment failure", which can happen in any use case; any other losses are speculative at this point and tend to stray from the essential point that I am raising.

Another point with a different emphasis:
Assuming that a cruise missile costs about $600K, slightly over 100 cruise missiles represents about $70M, about the cost of one plane or so? If so, that seems a pretty smart deal.
How do you price tag a pilot, or a two man crew?


This is a fascinating site. I have no background or experience in military matters, but I have an interest in foreign affairs (as an amateur, and concerned citizen). Thank you for putting this out on the web.

Charles I: Emerson wrote "a foolish consistency...."

PL: you state that consistency is not desirable in foreign policy and give as an example our different attitudes to various nuclear or potentially nuclear states. I would submit that our attitudes to these states are very consistent . The nuclear issue is a red herring in a sense. The basis for disparate treatment is the threat the state poses to us.

Charlie Wilson

Party pooper. We are natural born Arab killers. Its what gives meaning to life. If we run out of $$$ we still have some smallpox containing blankets in reserve.



I believe there is a budget crisis.
Just out of spite, what makes you so sure it isn't just a revenue crisis?

That said, I agree that enormous parts of the government are exempt from any notion of belt tightening:

My point is that probably the US cannot just cut (and inflate) their way out of the deficit. They're going to have to raise taxes, too - and that's a good thing.

The inane idea that tax cuts are ever and always good for and against everything that permeates Republican orthodoxy is IMO a most pernicious delusion that runs counter to of good governance and reason.

William R. Cumming

Predicting that Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq will be first wars being fought during a government shutdown! Looking like all ahead stop at the end of current CR!
I believe this will send the world another key message of the incompetents governing American life.


Confused--whatever the solution to the budget crisis, tax cuts are clearly not the way to pay for wars. Soon the political "leadership" will have to either cut wars or raise taxes. And that is a good thing--asking people to pay for something is the best way to determine if it's a good idea or not.



And that is a good thing--asking people to pay for something is the best way to determine if it's a good idea or not.
I fully agree!

A while ago I read Tax Cuts And 'Starving The Beast' by Bruce Bartlett.

Although all of evidence of the previous 20 years clearly refuted starve the beast theory, George W. Bush was an enthusiastic supporter, using it to justify liquidation of the budget surpluses he inherited from Clinton on massive tax cuts year after year. Bush called them "a fiscal straightjacket for Congress" that would prevent an increase in spending. Of course nothing of the kind occurred. Spending rose throughout his administration to 20.7% of GDP in 2008.

Nevertheless STB remains a critical part of Republican dogma. On April 8 Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., told right-wing talk show host Sean Hannity that the Republican response to health care reform would be to "starve the beast" by refusing to fund it. On April 14 Sarah Palin begged her followers in Boston to "please starve the beast" by resisting any tax increase, no matter how large the budget deficit.

Despite its continuing popularity among Republican politicians, at least a few conservative intellectuals are starting to have misgivings about STB. In 2005 free-market economist Arnold Kling admitted he had been wrong. "Cutting taxes did not help to reduce the size of government," he conceded.

For some years Bill Niskanen of the libertarian Cato Institute has argued that STB actually increased spending and made deficits worse. His argument is that the cost of spending is ultimately the taxes that will have to be raised to pay for it. Thus fear of future tax increases was the principal brake on spending until STB came along. By eliminating tax increases as a necessary consequence of deficits, it also reduced the implicit cost of spending. Thus, ironically, STB led to higher spending rather than lower spending as the theory posits.

In the latest study of STB, political scientist Michael New of the University of Alabama confirms Niskanen's analysis. "Revenue reductions by themselves are not an effective mechanism for limiting expenditure growth," New concluded. "The evidence suggests that lower levels of federal revenue may actually lead to greater increases in spending."

In effect STB became a substitute for spending restraint among Republicans. They talked themselves into believing that cutting taxes was the only thing necessary to control the size of government. Thus, rather than being a means to an end--the end being lower spending--tax cuts became an end in themselves, completely disconnected from any meaningful effort to reduce spending or deficits.

Starve the beast was a theory that seemed plausible when it was first formulated. But more than 30 years later it must be pronounced a total failure. There is not one iota of empirical evidence that it works the way it was supposed to, and there is growing evidence that its impact has been perverse--raising spending and making deficits worse. In short, STB is a completely bankrupt notion that belongs in the museum of discredited ideas, along with things like alchemy.

I always say that a party that accepts creationism has a place for alchemy as well.

Frankly, I am horrified to see to which extent starve the beast ideology still holds sway among Republicans. As a result I try to make the point whenever the budget crisis, taxes or tax cuts comes up.

William R. Cumming

Increasingly as we (the US) enters into spring [after all the vernal equinox has been crossed] the lack of leadership in the US is really beginning to create a topsy turvey world. The BRICs [Brazil, Russia, India, and China] are increasing demonstrating fundamental instabilities that means they also will have leadership problems or other factors that prevent some sort of international arrangements that could effectively influence the world for the better in the next two decades. A startling 20% in the internal security budget in China since the onset of insurgency in the ME and the Mahgreb indicates that repressive regimes like MQ have pretty much decided to go down fighting. Germany is dominant and will be for the rest of this century in the EU but of course it is not politically correct to so state. Also Russia is effectively squeezed between the economies of the EU and China if not between their armed forces. Basic statistical information about the BRICs that is accurate is hard to obtain, just as it is getting very hard to achieve in the USA. For example some estimate that up to $27 Trillion went out from the FED and TREASURY in various programs that were designed to help sectors of the economy that still are not well. It looks like the US dollar will have been devalued by 50% by the forthcoming Presidential election by the policies of BUSH/OBAMA! And then of course looking increasingly like the 3rd largest world economy may well be off status for more than one year. So it is now not just perceived instability in the world but actual instability in the world that is troubling. And of course in the USA sensing a sea change in the political life of the USA and perhaps open class warfare, resentment of the military industrial complex and its various wars, and a President unable to explain his policies and programs whatever their merit and a Congress already frozen in the headlights over the possible triumphs or losses in the 2012 election, the picture does look bleak. Leadership is not likely to appear in the next 20 months in the USA that could help either party. But I do note that LINCOLN often discussed on this blog did not really resonate until his COOPER-UNION speech largely to the press i I believe May 1859! So anything is possible. So here are my proposals.
First, after the air campaign in Libya leave the rest for others. Two, announce some major ME policy changes. Principally that the US will no longer purchase oil for its own use from any state that is in violation of the HUMAN RIGHTS resolutions and conventions of the UN. Third, renounce the MONROE Doctrine and indicate that the US will not and should not be considered the protector of Central and South American nation-states from those outside the Western Hemisphere. Instead allow US corporations investing in Central and Latin America to have a 50% reduction in taxes to the extent of the investment. And note this is about immigration as much as economics. Fourth, launch a national campaign to educate 100,000 US citizens in the dialects and languages of CHINA, and another 100,000 in the languages of Court Persian, Persian, FARSI, URDU, ARABIC, and PASHTO. FIFTH! Force India and Pakistan to the negotiation table over Kashmir and other conflicting interests. And develop effective international safeguards and surety systems for any country with a nuclear arsenal. Enforcement regimes must also be in place. SIXTH! Announce that the US is renouncing all recognition of citizenship of its citizens that hold citizenship in other countries to be made effective in January 2013. SEVENTH: Provide all assistance to Japan necessary to restore that country's economy in the next year. EIGHTH: Reconstruct the Department of Energy so that it can actually collect energy statistics on both use and supply and/or demand and supply in the USA and no longer has to rely on organizations like API for its data. The NRC should be formerly moved under the DOE and the DOE weapons laboratories need to become not GOCOs as they are now but in fact GOGOs entirely. NINTH: The National Security Budget must be biannual and include the DOE weapons lab budgets, the VA and other direct and indirect costs of the defense budget. And I would consider renaming DOD the War Department. All DOD units not directly under the control of the Armed Services would become formally dual use--meaning supporting the civil sector of government as well as the military. Thus difficult areas for line drawing like cyber security could be left to these dual use structures.
THE USACOE should be moved to a new WATER RESOURCES AGENCY or DEPARTMENT. Water not energy will fuel the wars of the last part of the 20th Century. 10th: The reduction of flag ranks by GATES should be doubled. And post employment for any DOD contract should be barred by statute for a period of 5 years from date of retirement. 11th: EPA should become part of the the Department of Health and Human Services. 12th: Serious consideration should be given to reviewing the political compromises buried in the Constitution whereby 14% of the population has the same representation as the rest of the country. Perhaps dividing several large states into a number of states could be considered. 13th: All metropolitan areas with a transportation dependent population of 10% or more should have a federally developed and maintained public transportation system. And the states should reduce their numbers of local government by 10% each year for the next decade.
By the way the situation in Japan may just knock out of the box the US car manufactures. Especially GM.
14th: Tax reform tax reform tax reform.

15th: Immigration reform, Immigration Reform, Immigration Reform.

Okay admittedly a quick and dirty list but you have to start somewhere.

I guess proposals to hang a few financial sector types on the mall, or those perhaps a Congressman or two that have grown financially fat while serving the public and feeding at the public trough. Oh and ex Presidents whose net worth exceeds $50M shall donate any excess to the Treasury for deficit reduction.

Sidney O. Smith III

Mr. Lifton mentions, and rightly so, that US foreign policy in the Middle East should serve US nation interests

But, of even greater significance and one that reveals a blind spot, Mr. Lifton avoids asking the ultimate question in that regard. And answering that question, ultimately, will go a long way to explaining why some people oppose assisting Libyan rebel fighters and others support their fight. The ultimate question will identify who you are, and it is worded as follows:

Is it in US national interest to wage a clash of civilizations to ensure a greater Israel – one that includes apartheid, illegal occupation, and the ethnic cleansing of a population based upon race?

When you pull back the veneer, you will find that people fall into one of two groups, those who are promoting a clash of civilizations and those who are not. That is the organizing principle that has emerged since 2001.

And a person’s position on whether or not they support a clash of civilizations will determine, for all intents and purposes, their views on US foreign policy in the Middle East.

It is indisputable that those who are for a clash of civilization sing the high praises of our Iraqi and Afghanistan wars. The shameful depravity called Abu Ghraib is nothing but a reflection of that mindset, and the idea did not originate with some 20 year olds from Appalachia. It came from DC “leadership”, both civilian and military, and, basically, reflects the views of Dr. Gutmann -- the high priest at AEI who used psychology to legitimate torture against Arabs and Muslims.


It is important to note that Dr. Gutmann is the antithesis of Martin Buber. In fact, Gutmann’s views explain why Martin Buber, who deeply opposed such a clash of civilizations, broke with the Zionism that prevails today, and, consequently, Gutmann's views serve as proof positive that the Jacobins are promoting a clash of civilizations.

Not surprisingly, those who support Gutmann’s weltanschauung and who want a clash of civilizations oppose any involvement to aid rebel fighters in Libya in their fight for self determination.

And why do they oppose American assistance? Because aiding rebel fighters is a step against a clash of civilizations pitting the US against Islam.

True, others may oppose involvement in Libya for other reasons which deserve a closer look at another time. Not all who oppose aid to Libyan rebels are Jacobins.

But it is fascinating that Sean Hannity and his followers are attacking our aid to Libyans by relying upon the same arguments made by those who saw the folly of shock and awe and nation building in Afghanistan.

Obviously, this inversion of logic is a glaring inconsistency that, if nothing else, demonstrates that the integrity of the US constitution means nothing to the Jacobins. It is the only argument they have to argue against fighting on behalf of Libyan rebels. But by using such arguments they once opposed, they expose their true intent -- they support a clash of civilizations and, of course, they realize that helping Libyan rebels is a step in the other direction.

So again, pull back the veneer and the real opposition to aiding the Libya rebels is that it runs counter to their aim of clash of civilizations between the West and Islam. In fact, aiding the Libyans towards self determination is a step in the other direction, as it sends a message to the Arab and Muslim world that the US actually sees them as fellow humans.

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