"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 20 February 2001. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Fast, Cheap, and Mission-Controlled


Jean Splicing
Levi's history writ hip packages the past in "featured decades." Summations such as that for the 1930s - "this was a big decade for new stuff" - might lead one to believe that the folks at levi.com weren't working too hard on this section.
Five years ago today in Suck.

The second Bush administration, staffed at the top with some old hands from the Ford era, is suddenly demonstrating a willingness to really listen to Eisenhower. And it's one of the most interesting new developments in American government in a long time.

Back in November, just before the election, Johns Hopkins professor Eliot Cohen undertook a comparison between the national defense establishment during the late stages of the Cold War, "with the Soviet Union still standing and the Gulf War soon to begin," and the contemporary U.S. armed forces. Troops in the old military, Cohen wrote in the Nov./Dec. issue of Foreign Affairs, "drove M-1 tanks, flew F-15 and F-16 fighters and F-117 bombers, and sailed Nimitz-Class carriers." Ten years later, in a markedly different environment of global threats and critical tasks, troops in last year's military "drove M-1 tanks, flew F-15 and F-16 fighters and F-117 bombers, and sailed Nimitz-Class carriers." It's easier to write about this stuff when you can just keep cutting and pasting the sentences from your first paragraph.

True, the services are moving forward. The Army, for example, is in the late stages of the development of a new 155-mm. self-propelled Howitzer that could positively crush a heavy Soviet attack on Western Europe; live-fire testing began in February of last year, so the Crusader is scheduled to enter service as soon as 2008. (And it's perfect for peacekeeping!)

We are, of course, used to this sort of thing, and then some. So much so that, way back there in November, any kind of real change was barely imaginable. Sure, Cohen allowed, George W. Bush has promised a radical military course correction, a "revolution" that would "skip a generation of technology," but what are the odds he'd ever really get away with trying that?

"The next U.S. president — whether Bush or Gore — will get the chance to change all of this," he wrote. "But they are unlikely to do so, since inertia overwhelms the impulse to change at the Pentagon... The services cling to established ways of war, and to combinations of technology, organization, and personnel systems that have come to acquire value in and of themselves — even if they are no longer entirely functional."

Throw in a defense industry rich in lobbyists and made up of companies "that make their money not by coming up with new products, but by churning out old ones," and a sense of "doctrinal and intellectual stagnation" that hangs like a fog over the whole mess, and you've got a complete picture of an institution immune to human agency, locked solidly on a permanent course to wherever.

All of which suggests that Eliot Cohen is having a really good time with the morning newspaper, these days.

What's shocking here isn't that Bush and Co. have come up with some radical new idea; the military has been talking to itself about a "revolution in military affairs" for quite some time. What's shocking is the hugely unprecedented notion of at least attempting to take action on our knowledge of the changing world. To be fair, the uniformed leaders who run the military can claim a paper trail pointing to some fresh and dramatic efforts at joining the calendar year that the rest of us are currently living in. As we've previously derided, a whole mess of newspaper stories have lately been documenting an internally planned military transformation from a "Cold War behemoth" to a "New World dynamo." Except that, Matlock moment here, the defense has made the prosecution's case: Somehow these folks have failed to notice that "we've begun to think about how our forces should look in the post-Cold War environment" is not, in 2001, an especially strong argument for leaving them to think for themselves.

And there's precisely no argument at all to be made for leaving Congress to think for itself. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, for example, noted in a Feb. 10 story that many legislators considering the Bush refusal to immediately pump more money down the Pentagon's gaping cakehole were deeply concerned about the, ahem, strategic type, uh... well, you know, our standing in the world, things like that. And so Rep. Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, indicated that he would soon be speaking with the president about all of these important... global... strategic things, about which he was terribly concerned. Examples? Chambliss is concerned about the fate of the highly strategic Robbins Air Force Base — which happens to be in Georgia — and the global strategic significance of F-22 and C-130 military aircraft, which just happen to be manufactured in Marietta. Uh, Marietta Georgia.

"I agree we need a long term strategic plan for our military," Chambliss generously conceded. "By the same token, we can't afford to let our current weapons system slip to too great a degree." Ten dollars to Saxby Chambliss if he can publicly name a strategically critical weapons system that isn't made in Georgia.

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MOD SQUAD: Gamers are doin' it for themselves, featuring
  • Suck founder Carl Steadman on the rebirth of 2-D gaming;
  • Justin Hall on the most successful online mod, and others

    Also: Steven Johnson on game storytelling and ONI, and an exclusive interview with Deus Ex creator Warren Spector

    Next: Hack, Marshall, and big, giant Nukes!

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