November 17, 2003


A couple interesting stories on newfangled military hardware this weekend. In Britain, governmental officials denied an American request to have one of the presidential vehicles carry a minigun, according to the Guardian. One suspects this would have been a 7.62 mm model of the ultra-fast firing machinegun mounted in a Secret Service SUV, much as seen here. With proper guidance systems it's a devastating anti-air weapon, but on the kind of mount you could fit in a militarized civilian vehicle, it's nothing more than a people-killer, ideal for shooting down rampaging swarms of those alien bugs from Starship Troopers, some of the smaller varieties of velociraptors, or maybe those crazed African Simbas from The Wild Geese. It's really incomprehensible what use anyone would have thought they could ever get out of this weapon on London's streets. And unless there is some major policy announcement coming out of this, along the lines discussed below, this visit by its highhanded security needs seems to have already caused more damage among international audiences than the Americans need now.

Meanwhile in Iraq, the Americans are using "satellite-guided missiles" to destroy the empty homes of suspected militants, after clearing out the nearby residents. There's no reason this weaponry is being used, as opposed to, say a tank gun... other than the persistent military need, if you've got a new weapons system, to test it out once or twice. The new weapon in this case is the MGM-168, also known as the ATACMS Block IVA missile, which replaces the cluster munitions of a standard army heavy artillery rocket with a 500-lb. HE warhead in a GPS-guided missile body. It's fired by the army's artillery rocket launcher, the MLRS; each launcher can hold 2 such missiles. It was designed with use on point targets in mind, as opposed to the wide swathes of destruction the MLRS is famous for, and this is the first time I've heard it used in action (destroying an individual house 100m away not being a capability the Army lost much sleep over in the Cold War years.)

That only one missile was fired in two separate instances, and that in the second case other artillery was around to finish the job, suggests these were in-combat trials, too. They seem to have worked quite well. (Wondering about the general tactic of house-razing? No obvious military value, rather a product of no intelligence and insufficient troop presence, probably... it actually looks like it was meant for internal military morale purposes, as much as anything else. There needed to at least be the appearance of payback, one suspects.)

Posted by BruceR at 10:35 PM


Well, an unspecified time, maybe a month, until we get a Prime Minister again, which, if all you other Canadian soldier-readers haven't realized it yet, is about the only unfettered time we have to talk about Canadian politics. (We're not supposed to criticize the current political leadership, but Chretien's gone and Martin hasn't done anything yet.) So woo hoo, cat's out of the bag at Flit! Expect numerous posts along the lines of, "you there in Ottawa, I don't know who you are, exactly, but I'm sure you suck!" and so on in like vein.

Seriously, I have very little to say about Canadian politics that isn't ably said on the right by Colby Cosh and in the sensible centre by Paul Wells. (Still looking for a readable leftie. Angua doesn't count.) But for what it's worth, I think Wells gets it about right in his discussion of why no one in Canada votes for the right. He's... well, absolutely right... as discussed here last May in examining their defence policy, the Canadian right's combined policy expertise when it comes to defence (and likely all the other areas of federal responsibility) could fit in my hat. With room for my head.

Posted by BruceR at 06:49 PM


Diana Moon is unimpressed with the jingoism of Master and Commander, evidently seeing it as a movie with the Anglo-French rivalry substituting for the U.S.-Arab one ("...slimy dark Mediterraneans. You see them lying dead and dying and the image that comes to mind is cockroaches or rats in need of extermination;" scroll down, the Blogspot link's acting a little buggy.)

Which may well be true (haven't seen the flick), although not surprising. Movies are a function of their times and wartime movies doubly so (Olivier's Henry V the classic example; Shakespeare's war against the French used to inspire a war to free the French). Certainly the changing of the book's villains from Americans to French had to be made, in part because of the current world situation; a movie with Russell Crowe standing triumphant over the bodies of dead and wounded American sailors simply could not be made now, if ever.

Moon's on shakier historical ground, when she says in criticism, "In 1805, the British were our sworn enemies. The French were our friends. They helped us during the Revolution."

Moon might want to look up the Quasi-War with France sometime. Also the XYZ and Genet affairs.

The (largely beheaded by this point) French royal family under Louis were the colonists' friends; the Revolution, although welcomed by some like Paine, had made other Americans profoundly uncomfortable, while the 1795 Jay Treaty had more or less normalized Anglo-US relations. That series of insults by revolutionary France I list above switched American popular opinion, particularly in the seaboard cities that valued trade with England and its colonies, right over to the other side. In the years up to 1805, the opposition Federalist party, the party of Washington and Adams, was basically pro-British in its foreign policy.

Throughout Jefferson's first term, the best way to describe American views on the deteriorating European situation as Napoleon rose to power would be neutral isolationism. America was the largest remaining neutral shipping power. The years from 1803-05, when war returned to Europe, were thus incredibly lucrative for New England (ie, Federalist) shipping interests, because theirs were the only ships that could inter-trade between the ports of all countries in Europe... so long as they could keep amicable relations with both sides.

Things went south again starting in 1806, though, with the French and British forbidding trade with the other (making any ship going to the other's ports a potential naval prize) and the Essex ruling. This led to the Leander incident, and finally the bloody Chesapeake affair in 1807... from then on, Britain and America were headed for war again, sooner or later. America's choice between the two was probably inevitable; in what was essentially a world war situation, the simple fact was Britain, as the largest maritime power, and America, as the largest neutral shipper, were much more likely to actually cross swords than the French and Americans were at this time, regardless of any 30 year-old feelings for either of them. (Britain actually possessing colonies in North America within range of being attacked was another factor.)

So, "sworn enemies?" Not in the year this movie is set, anyway. An actual American in 1805, if he heard of the British capturing a French frigate and commerce raider, would likely have been profoundly... indifferent. Now if you set it in 1808, different story... but by then the French navy was too weak to be a threat to anyone, so it doesn't work there historically, either.

PS: Moon also writes, "They [the British] sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War." Actually, they remained neutral, as did France. However, Napoleon III invaded Mexico in 1862, taking advantage of American distraction (the Foreign Legion's finest hour, the last stand at Camerone, dates from this war). Unlike Canada, Mexican ports could have been used to funnel supplies overland to the Confederates, making French recognition of the Davis government as great a threat as British recognition if not greater and a serious concern to the Lincoln administration.

In between, Moon skips right over the 1834 "French Crisis," as well, supposedly Andrew Jackson's finest foreign policy hour. Of course, only a Jacksonian would see it that way.

Question for history: Why is it it seems that every country's famous last stands (Grenville and the Revenge, Alamo, Camerone, Butch and Sundance) so often involve wave after wave of Hispanic speaking assailants? Just asking.

Posted by BruceR at 05:27 PM


A lot of fluffle today about the remarks of former NATO Secretary General Solana about NATO taking a larger role in Iraq. "It's a climbdown," etc. etc. It's unlikely it's as bad as all that... in fact, it may make for a big improvement. (via Stryker, Calpundit, etc.)

What I expect we're going to see in Bush's state visit to Britain is a Bush-Blair announcement that they support the handing over of land force authority for one, or possibly both multinational divisions to NATO headquarters. This would create a defacto "NATO zone" in Iraq, probably the southern Shiite part of the country the British and other multinationals now patrol. Civilian authority will remain with the CPA (although there will be some opening up of business contracts to European firms) and the Iraqi governing council. Supreme military command will remain with the US, but the divisional commander(s) in the NATO zone will also report in some fashion to the NATO Council and SecGen.

This is not unusual, really it's almost customary. West Germany had three separate occupation zones in 1945 after all, and Bosnia and Kosovo both are recent NATO peacekeeping operations structured on this model. Afghanistan, with NATO responsible for Kabul and Americans outside the environs, is also similar.

It'll be hard for NATO to say no to this, especially if the ex-SecGen's behind it. The French would likely be the biggest holdouts, but there will be pressure from their own businesses to get French money into the Iraqi reconstruction profiteering game, and as of this week Chirac can now claim that the U.S. has largely adopted his plan for a return to self-governance. The other countries with troops on the ground will be ardent for it.

The reason is casualties, but not, as Tacitus suggests, American casualties. It's the other countries'. Now that Italians and Spanish are dying, the fact they have no say at all above their own brigade level areas in the military planning in Iraq has to be grating. To my knowledge, there are no force commitments, not even Britain's, at this point that extend past the fall of 2004. This is now not to be about getting more commitments, as much as keeping the ones they have. If the US does this right at this juncture, though, those commitments could be extended indefinitely.

It's only fair. The recent Italian fatalities have certainly crystallized the issue. If there is going to be a multinational component to this force, they need some commensurate authority, under U.S. overall command, to "shape the battlefield" in their divisional zones according to their own values. These soldiers and their civilian leaders at home are not mindless automata; they deserve the freedom to try something a little different, as the British have with success in Basra, when they feel the need, providing it doesn't compromise the overall nation-wide operation. It is their soldiers, and their citizens, who are dying, after all. I have no doubt getting NATO back in on the military command of the multinational divisions would have full Pentagon support, for this reason alone.

The advantages for Bush and Blair are huge. Blair can claim he's pulling the U.S. back into line with Europe, and getting greater British say over the running of things. Bush gets to claim multilateralism for real, without impeding the military's operations (if NATO does anything well, it's the kind of robust "community soldiering" that's required here), or getting stuck in the inevitable quagmire if the UN were to be given military authority. It basically undercuts the whole Wesley Clark Iraq platform, too.

It's important to remember who mans the two multinational divisions at the moment, leaving aside all the symbolic and non-fighting contributions:

The British-led Division:
Britain (NATO) -- 11,000
Italy (NATO) -- 2,800
Netherlands (NATO) -- 1,100
Denmark (NATO) -- 400

The Polish-led Division:
Poland (NATO) -- 2,300
Ukraine -- 1,800
Spain (NATO) --1,300
Bulgaria -- 500
Romania -- 400

The first is basically a NATO division now... undoubtedly being run using NATO staff procedures, under a commander high on the NATO merit list, etc. For them especially, this would just be formalizing the reality.

This also has to do with the survival of NATO itself. The US is at the "fish or cut bait" point. The other non-NATO members, including Britain, have been pushing the idea since the Afghanistan war of a military headquarters to co-ordinate military operations by the other members in the absence of the US. Sort of a "Club of No Homers" approach to military strategy. The US opposes this because they want to keep their options in Europe open in years to come, and keep their seat at the military planning table even if they don't see the group as particularly useful at the moment. If NATO is seen, despite the presence of its other nations' troops and their lamentable deaths, to have no role in a US-led operation, the centrifugal force that splits the organization further into the Americans and Everybody Else it has perceptibly been turning into these last two years can only increase. This is almost certainly Solana's thinking, and why he is advocating for the American interest in this instance.

Anyway, that's what I think will be announced this week. If I'm wrong, I'll know when you do. It would be a very wise course if it was, with upsides all around. How people react when the news comes out, however, will depend on what they're really after in Iraq... if they're in favour of victory, and freedom for Iraqis, this is a good thing. If they're pathologically opposed to French petroleum engineers flying in, on the other hand, their reaction will be obvious.

UPDATE: As of 4 p.m., the Independent has pulled the story that started the whole ruckus from its website. Hmm. (5:30 -- never mind, it's back up again... maybe it was just being hammered.)

Posted by BruceR at 02:27 PM