“Me versus Us” Replacing “Us versus Them”

I started a folder to track the unrest begun in Tunisia last January, and labeled it “Africa in Turmoil”. You should see it now – it contains its own folders: Algeria, Djibouti, Egypt, Côte d’Ivoire (the old Ivory Coast), Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, a Middle East folder, which itself contains: Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, the Levant (Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestinians and Syria), a Peninsula folder: (so far, just Yemen), and a SW Asia folder containing Afghanistan and Pakistan. I really should include India in the SW Asia folder, as you can’t think about Pakistan without considering India, just as you can’t think about Afghanistan without considering Pakistan. Afghanistan is included because you can’t consider Iran without considering Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t even include the proto-demonstrations in PRC or the disruption in Sudan, because although they are contemporary to, they are not related to, the upheaval occurring in the Tropic of Cancer from the Atlantic to the doorstep of Asia-proper.

There are a few visible fires – Tunisia, Egypt, Libya – and the region is soaked in charcoal starter.

There have been viral revolutions before – 1848 (where a rising in France engulfed Europe), 1968 (where the demonstrations of what we might call the New Left swept the world) and 1989 (where a wave of unrest, triggered by East Germans wanting to get to the West, generated an uprising in Eastern Europe that overthrew Soviet rule) – with mixed results. The French uprising was a failure, though it’s seeds produced results in later years; the rise of the New Left fizzled, though it saddled the United States with a simplistic worldview that persists to this day; and the implosion of the Soviet Empire changed the world order. There have been waves of democracy before – the late 18th and early 19th centuries; the post-colonial, post-World War I era; and the post-Soviet period – again, with mixed results. How the current chaos sweeping the Greater Middle East will turn out is still unknown, but the stakes are as high for the West as they were when the Soviet Union suddenly teetered.

Civilization is energy-centric, and generalized energy is hydrocarbon-centric. That’s just the way it is. That petroleum – oil and gas – is Greater Middle East-centric is another of those immutable facts, and that’s what makes this particular wave of viral unrest so profoundly important. The production and distribution of oil and gas surrounds the Mediterranean and Arabian Seas.

The new wrinkle to this wave is the incubus from which it sprang. The revolutionary and democracy periods were classical “Us versus Them” confrontations – the plebiscite versus royal rule and self-determination versus authoritarianism, respectively. These were movements of the classes against stacked decks. This one is more “I can’t afford anything in a wealthy nation.” It’s the individual rejecting an avaricious kleptocracy that’s getting rich in the face of generalized poverty. “Me versus Us”, i.e., not the Libyan masses as an entity, but a mass of individual Libyans, against official Libyans.

Whereas the earlier movements both alluded to democracy as a superior theory of governance, the exercise was more philosophical than practical. Today the crowds are clamoring for democracy because they – the people in the streets – want a voice in the decisions of state. Truly vox populi.

The physics, however, are the same as always. In each trouble spot, watch for the people with the guns – which side are the police and military taking? This will decide the winner. The country to watch in all of this is Saudi Arabia – they control OPEC with their production and export decisions. In Egypt and Tunisia, the guns sided with the people, in Libya, the military is split, which doesn’t bode well for Qaddafi, but could still end in chaos and civil war. The wild card is the jihadist element. They have nothing to do with fomenting these uprisings, but they will try to exploit them by turning them into jihad. The Shi’ite/Sunni war is still alive, if repositioning itself after heavy Shi’ite setbacks in Iraq and Afghanistan (even with gains thus far in Bahrain). And again, the Saudis, as the Sunni counterforce to Shi’ite Iran, can prove to be the pivotal player in the regional shakeout from this spasm.

This is an expression of the “desire for liberty that burns in the hearts of people everywhere”, to quote from George W Bush’s scoffed-at second inaugural speech, and that brings us to a closer look at the “democracy movement”.

In a region rife with autocracies and locally strong militaries, the odds against “democracy” turning out to be democratic has a lot of 9s in it. In each case, the results can take one of three general directions: one-man-one-vote-one-time, whereby those elected foreclose future elections; sham elections, as currently witnessed in Venezuela and Iran; or actual popular voting. Dealing with the last outcome, we need to realize that what we, or even the broader West, visualizes as “democracy” will resemble an Arab democracy only by chance. This is because, as mentioned, this region has no experience with it, lacks the institutions required to support it, and doesn’t sport populations with the same generalized degree of political sophistication as we did at our founding. Plato postulated that rational thought – the ability to choose among abstract options – implied free-will, which implied some form of self-governance. I agree. I believe that as we, as a species, continue to evolve in our social institutions, those institutions will gravitate toward popular sovereignty. Thomas Jefferson said that once the people realize that they understand the affairs of state as well as the ruling aristocracy, the people will insist upon self-rule. The Platonic Doctrine becomes the Jeffersonian Imperative. I agree with that as well.

The question now becomes, at what stage of political development are these populations in upheaval? Are the crowds flush from exposing the obvious abuses of long-entrenched power ready to exercise the levers of government any more wisely or justly than those they replace? We don’t know yet. Will a legitimate election produce results we don’t like (e.g., Hamas in Gaza or Hizbollah in Lebanon)? We don’t know yet. If the current upheaval produces one legitimate democracy, no change in the Shi’ite/Sunni balance of power, and no negative change in the geopolitical balance of power, I will consider the exercise a success.

With all of this in mind, I will let things percolate some more, and then comment on a case-by-case basis.


This also goes to recognizing the difference between national wealth – GDP – and national prosperity – standard of living.

Sit Rep: Egypt

A tipping point in the Greater Middle East is being approached as first Tunisian and then Egyptian regimes are toppled, seemingly by popular uprisings in the streets. Rumblings are being heard from Algeria to Iran. Open protests have been experienced from Jordan to Yemen. These two don’t yet make a domino effect, but if the phenomenon spreads, Tunisia will be the index case, as virtually all of the current protesters cite it as their inspiration. The rest of the world is in the Sit Rep (situation report) phase of Colonel John Boyd’s OODA-cycle (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) that describes the metabolism of any dynamic organism. As the environment changes – and regime-change alters the environment – an organism observes the change, orients itself to that change, decides how to react, and then acts. The trick is to not let events occur inside of your OODA-loop – fundamentally change the environment at a faster rate than your capacity to intelligently react. This is the function of contingency planning. “Gaming” alternative actions by others to have a handle on “what if?”

Game theory, pioneered by RAND Corporation, is very useful in this undertaking, but is limited by the original conditions set by the game designers. For example, game theory assumes rational players – else the premise of action/reaction cycles becomes meaningless. This complicates planning if one’s adversary can reasonably be considered irrational – Ahmadinejad comes to mind.

The problem inherent with today’s Greater Middle East is that revolts tend to move faster than games can be organized. Hence the value of having contingency plans already on the shelf. Add to that, popular uprisings require a game within a game – you must postulate “the street” as one player, which means that various factions within the demonstrators must be gamed against each other to get a reliable consensus reaction to various options exercised by the other players (the police, the military, the host government, regional governments, outside governments, etc).

Right now, everyone is evaluating what has happened in Cairo, and how that will radiate out through the streets, and finally to the region. We are digesting the Sit Rep.

The Greater Middle East is, by nature, an authoritarian region. As such, regional leaders are very nervous viewing popular uprisings, regardless of the merits, as they present a constant, existential threat to their own rule. If radicals are seen to win in Tunisia or Egypt, jihad is real possibility throughout the region. If “democracy” is seen the winner, liberal (in the classical sense of the word) movements may well sweep the region. Neither is especially welcome in Riyadh, Amman, Sanaa, Islamabad, or Damascus, or Beijing, Delhi, Khartoum, Robat, Algiers or Tripoli, for that matter. Unless adroitly handled by the Egyptian military, these next few weeks and months could prove disastrous for the region.

The transition of power from Hosni Mubarak to the military is the best of available options, given Mubarak’s intransigent statement on Egyptian television the previous night – relinquishing his run for re-election, but retaining power until those elections (in September). The military knew that wouldn’t fly. It would not satiate the crowds in the Square, and that left only three options – allow the revolt to usurp power for themselves, suppress the demonstrators to reinforce the status quo, or stage a coup. Experienced, if different, hands on the controls of state is always preferable to allowing impassioned amateurs to govern, and enforcing the status quo would only have turned a demonstration into a revolution. Mubarak saw that he must pass, but totally misread the breadth and depth of the unrest, thinking he had enough time to gracefully leave as a past-president rather than as a deposed one. Events were moving faster than his OODA-loop could cycle.

The Egyptian military is pro-Western, even if not as reflexively pro-American, as the Mubarak regime, and is as unlikely to abandon its treaty with Israel. The military’s threat matrix is topped by the temporarily volatile public and the Muslim Brotherhood within its ranks. It must return Egypt to some semblance of routine without resorting to martial law (i.e., becoming as suppressive as the hated domestic police), and guard against a “revolt of the colonels”.

It has already been announced that President Mubarak has been replaced by a provisional government whose chief domestic role is to oversee a transition to a popularly elected one. Good first move. The demonstrators get their prompt change (“Mubarak must go!”), but infrastructure and institutions keep seamlessly operating. The military must be taken out of domestic politics as a practical matter as well as a talking point. This will allow generals to insist that radicalized elements of the military cannot abet the candidacies of anyone, nor vise versa. This would protect both the ruling junta and the public from being run-over roughshod by the Brotherhood, easily the best organized segment of Egyptian society. We need to remember that it was these very elements of the Egyptian military that assassinated Anwar al-Sadat, bringing General Hosni Mubarak to power in the first place.

I don’t see a dramatic retuning of Egyptian foreign policy under the military. Moving away from the United States as a strategic partner would jeopardize $1.3 billion in annual foreign aid, and only establishing a deep relationship with Russia would argue for renewed hostilities with Israel (among the world powers, only Russia would profit from widespread anarchy in the Middle East). Secular-Sunni Egypt is unlikely to form a strategic relationship with fundamentalist-Shi’ite Iran. The military, as wary of terrorists as are we, should continue to be an ally in our anti-terrorist efforts, as well as exhibiting continued shared interest (with Israel) in controlling the Sinai-Gaza border, damping the free-flow of arms and fighters into and out of Egyptian soil. A continued pro-Western stance will play well in Europe, where they’ve been holding their breath since the people took to the streets in the wake of Tunisia. A stable Egypt will also soothe the sensibilities in regional palaces.

The ball is in Cairo’s court, and the atmospherics are favorable. They need to offer up an election season that is acceptable to the people, allowing for a legitimate free press coverage of the candidates and issues, and a vote that is seen as genuine. A demonstrably independent judiciary needs to be established, and entrepreneurialism encouraged. These actions, if believably undertaken in a reasonable timeframe, will go a long way to keeping Egyptians in their shops and out of Tafrir Square.

a Busy Day

ObamaCare

CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf told the House Budget Committee on Thursday that the healthcare law will reduce employment by 0.5% by 2021, because some people will no longer have to work just to afford health insurance. “That means that if the reduction in the labor used was workers working the average number of hours in the economy and earning the average wage, that there would be a reduction of 800,000 workers,” Elmendorf said in an exchange with Representative John Campbell (R-CA).

A net result of ObamaCare is that ~800,000 fewer people will choose to enter the workforce, effectively removing them from the official “unemployed”. Without regard to new hires, this gradual ebbing of the available workforce will exert a positive effect on the rate of unemployment, but at a real cost to the economy. That is because, if these people are no longer getting their insurance through the workplace, that means that everybody else is paying for it. Those persons now not “unemployed”, but nonetheless not working (read: not producing), are a net drain on the economy. To the degree that they are also seeking public assistance, doubly so.

So much for ObamaCare being “a jobs bill”, as promised by then-Speaker Pelosi (Twit-CA).

On a similar note, former Bush strategist Karl Rove is urging congressional Republicans to use Democrats’ own tactics against them to force the repeal of President Barack Obama’s landmark healthcare law. If Republicans are able to pick up at least four seats in the 2012 election – which would give them a simple majority of 51 and allow them to take the chairmanships of all Senate committees – Rove said he thinks the party will be able to roll back healthcare reform.

Under reconciliation, “the Senate Budget Committee could instruct the Senate Finance Committee to reduce mandatory spending on insurance subsidies and Medicaid expansion. These two items make up more than 90% of spending in ObamaCare,” he wrote. “All the changes from all the committees” could then be “bundled into one measure and voted upon” as a budget bill, meaning it would only need 51 votes to pass. Because reconciliation is protected by the rules of the budget process, it doesn’t take 60 votes to overcome a filibuster threat, and it requires a simple majority to pass. “Democrats cannot complain if the GOP uses reconciliation after Democrats used it to pass ObamaCare through the Senate,” Rove wrote.

Two things come to mind: I’m not sure that stooping to the level used by Democrats is philosophically desirable; and, unless a Republican president is also elected in 2012, the whole exercise would be academic.

On my first objection, although it is economically vital that ObamaCare be dismantled, I’m not sure that doing good by doing bad things is justifiable. It would be just as political-business-as-usual as the passage was. The Court my remove the public mandate, which will defund the law, obviating any necessity to resort to underhanded tactics, and the case should be heard by the 2012s. If not, Congressional defunding is a better, more honest, approach to removing the economic hazard the law presents. My second objection is self-explanatory.

I refute being a tyranny of the majority, whichever party does it.

Meanwhile, seventy-four House Democrats, led by Anthony Weiner (Whiner-NY), are calling for Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from any case on the constitutionality of ObamaCare because of his wife’s founding of the conservative group Liberty Central, which posted an eMail by her declaring the law unconstitutional. Similarly, Senator Orin Hatch (R-UT) has called for the recusal of Justice Elena Kagan, President Obama’s former Solicitor General during the formulation of the legislation. “I’m sure she participated in discussions at the White House. Participated in discussions in the solicitor general’s office. These issues were brought up throughout the process.”

I think the Court will do the right thing – either both will recuse themselves, or neither will. Personally, I don’t think either situation rises to the level of tainting either Justice’s ability to rule on the case, but because this case is obviously going to be decided by Justice Kennedy, removing either without removing the other, decides the case before oral arguments are heard. This is too important a case to be treated in that manner.

Multiculturalism

Yesterday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy joined Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, Australia’s ex-prime minister John Howard, Spanish ex-premier Jose Maria Aznar, and British Prime Minister David Cameron, in denouncing multiculturalism as, in Cameron’s words, having “failed, utterly failed.” All bemoan allowing cultural enclaves to co-exist in parallel to, but clearly outside of, the host mainstream.

“If you come to France, you accept to melt into a single community, which is the national community, and if you do not want to accept that, you cannot be welcome in France,” Sarkozy said. “We have been too concerned about the identity of the person who was arriving and not enough about the identity of the country that was receiving him,” Sarkozy told French television.

I have been saying this for years. Cultural equality suffers from the same malady as the UN’s sovereign equality: they’re both fraudulent. Chancellor Merkel put it best: “What is multiculturalism? It is a bankrupt ideology, one based on the fraudulent premise that all cultures are ‘equally viable’ and ‘equally deserving’ of respect. Are they really – or is this another simple case of progressives looking at the world the way they want it to be, instead of the way it really is?

“The way the world actually is underscores the fatal conceit of multiculturalism: if all cultures are equally viable, then why are we witnessing massive movements of people away from some countries and cultures towards other ones? Why for example, if Mexico and the US are merely ‘two sides of the same coin,’ do we have millions upon millions of Mexicans sneaking into the US, and virtually no Americans sneaking into Mexico? Why are millions of Arabs abandoning their ostensibly worthwhile lifestyles in the Middle East and Africa and emigrating to Europe?

“Could it be that such concepts as freedom, democracy, economic viability and equal rights for women are more attractive than religiously-inspired totalitarianism, ingrained misogyny and/or corrupt economic systems that yield little hope for advancement? You bet your life they are.

“And yet the multiculturalists among us would throw it all away. Theirs is a world in which it is unseemly or arrogant to expect those who make the choice to move to a new nation to embrace the ethos of that nation. It is the host which must accommodate the guest, lest that host be perceived as bigoted, racist or nativist. Such incongruent thinking begs a stunningly obvious question: why should success accommodate failure? And let’s be clear here: people don’t completely uproot their lives and those of their families in order to purposefully lower their standard of living or diminish their opportunity for a better life. The intention to emigrate, despite all the ideological blather to the contrary, is a self-admitting revelation: life is better somewhere else.”

I rest my case.

2012 Democratic Primary

Dennis Kucinich (D-Mars) wants to see someone challenge President Barack Obama in Democratic primary in 2012.

“I think primaries can have the opportunity of raising the issues and make the Democratic candidate a stronger candidate,” Kucinich, a Democratic candidate in 2008, said Thursday on C-SPAN. “I think it’s safe to predict that President Obama will continue to be the nominee of the Democratic primary, but he can be a stronger nominee if he receives a strong challenge in a primary.”

Ohio will lose two seats in the House because of the 2010 Census numbers, and Kucinich wants to make sure his isn’t one of them. He’ll not be the President’s primary opponent – he’s running for re-election.

Nonetheless, Kucinich did have some thoughts on the issues that a primary challenger might want to focus on. “I’m very interested in making sure that creation of jobs, healthcare for all, protection of Social Security and Medicare, those things are fundamental – and education,” he said. “Those are issues that certainly should be brought up in primaries. And, finally, getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan. We have to stop roaming the world looking for dragons to slay – we’ve things to take care of right here at home.”

In other words, Representative Kucinich wants to pull the Democrats even further to the left. Works for me.

Congressional Attrition

A fifth sitting US Senator has announced that he will not seek re-election in 2012. “I will not seek reelection the US Senate but will retire from public service in January 2013,” John Kyl (R-AZ) said. He added that he was confident he would win if he ran again, adding: “There is no reason other than the fact than I think its time.” He revealed that he had all but decided not to run again when he won six years ago. He joins Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Jim Webb (D-VA), and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) on the sidelines.

Republicans likely to take a serious look at running include former Representatives John Shadegg and Jeff Flake. Democrats’ best candidate is Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, who served as the governor of the state before accepting a job in the Obama Cabinet. Napolitano is not expected to make any statement on her interest or lack thereof today. Others mentioned include former Representative Ann Kirkpatrick, US Attorney Dennis Burke, former state party chairman Jim Pederson, and former state Attorney General Terry Goddard. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head at an event last month in Tuscon, was widely seen as Democrats’ strongest potential candidate and, according to those close to her, could still make the race.

Kyl is the Senate Minority Whip, the second ranking position in Republican leadership. His planned departure will set off a leadership race for his slot. National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (TX) and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) are expected to compete for that post. An Alexander aide confirmed the Tennessean will run for whip. Senator John Thune (R-SD) is currently mulling a run for president but if he takes a pass on that contest, he will likely enter the leadership fight as well.

As for the future, Kyl said, “I wouldn’t close my mind to being a vice presidential candidate. Having said that, I expect the chances of that are zero.”

I think he has picked his time well. All things being equal, 2012 should still be a Republican year at the ballot box, unless congressional Democrats suddenly learn how to be less shrill when out of power. This is a dynamic time, both here and abroad – ObamaCare likely to be heard at SCOTUS before the elections, the administration continuing to attempt “stimulating” the economy in the run-up, continued problems at our southern border, Egypt, continued deteriorating conditions in Iraq, the ongoing counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, on and on – and any one of these could break either way, benefiting or hindering Democrats between now and then.

Arizona is a purple state, electing Democrats and Republicans with equal ease, so retiring now (and allowing Governor Jan Brewer to appoint a Republican interim senator) wouldn’t solve anything, as Mr Kyl’s seat is up for re-election in 2012 anyway.

On the domestic side, I don’t see anything encouraging for Democrats, meaning that foreign affairs will become ever more important to the administration, which is their weakest area of expertise.

As I say, I think Senator Kyl picked his time well.

Global Cooling

A year after the Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruption in Iceland interrupted air travel over much of Europe, their Bárdarbunga volcano in middle of the country threatens an even larger release of lava and ash, says Pall Einarsson, a professor of geophysics at the University of Iceland.

Geologists detected the high risk of a new eruption after evaluating an increased swarm of earthquakes around the island’s second largest volcano. They complained that the sparse coverage from seismic measuring devices in the area means he cannot accurately detect the depth and exact location of the increased number of localized earth movements.

By comparison, Bárdarbunga dwarves the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which shutdown most of Europe’s airspace last year after its ash cloud drifted across the continent’s skies. It is the second largest volcano on Iceland and is directly above the mantle plume of molten rock. The last recorded eruption of Bárdarbunga was in 1910, although volcanologists believe its last major eruption occurred in 1477 when it produced a large ash and pumice fallout. It also produced the largest known lava flow during the past 10,000 years on Earth.

If things get slow in our news cycle, at least the news readers will have something to talk about, have some spectacular tape to show, and condemn numerous correspondents to cover sleeping people in European airports.


See J Lester Feder and Kate Nocera, CBO Director Says ObamaCare Would Reduce Employment by 800,000 Workers, in Politico, February 10 2011.

Jennifer Epstein, Karl Rove: Use reconciliation to repeal healthcare, in Wall Street Journal, February 10 2011.

See Huma Khan, Should Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas, Elena Kagan Sit Out Health Care Case?, ABC News, February 10 2011.

See Laura Kuenssberg, State multiculturalism has failed, says David Cameron, BBC, February 5 2011, Multiculturalism has failed, says French president, AFP, February 10 2011, and Arnold Ahlert, Multiculturalism? Check, Please, in Jewish World Review, October 20 2010.

Arnold Ahlert, op cit.

Jennifer Epstein, Dennis Kucinich wants a Barack Obama primary challenger – but not him, in Politico, February 10 2011.

See Chris Cilliizza, Jon Kyl announces retirement, in Washington Post, February 10 2011.

See Icelandic volcano set to “erupt”, in The Telegraph [London], February 8 2011.

a Door Opening, a Door Closing

The United States Navy is beginning a new era even as one begins to dim. Edwards AFB [CA] saw the dawn of carrier-borne unmanned combat aircraft on one day, and the next, a Cold War icon was laid to rest at Puget Sound [WA] Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility.

At 1409PST, a small aircraft rotated at 207mph and broke ground on its first flight. The X-47B Pegasus is Northrop Grumman’s answer to the Navy’s requirement for a UCAV (unmanned combat aerial vehicle) that is carrier-capable. The engineering progeny of Northrop’s B-2 Spirit, Pegasus shows its lineage. Tailless, the familiar bat-winged platform cleaned-up its landing gear and flaps, and set about 29 minutes of flight-testing, describing racetracks in the sky at 5,000 feet ASL and 276mph. She landed on center-line, 60 feet short of optimal, equivalent to catching the first wire on a carrier deck. Not perfect, but successful.

What separates Pegasus from, say, a Predator drone, is that the entire flight was autonomous – no one in a ground station flying a joy-stick driven display. Air taskers assign targets, flight engineers program the flight plan and download it into a Pegasus, and it is positioned (by a human remote pilot) for launch. From that point on, Pegasus flies the mission, returns to the carrier and lands, whereupon a remote pilot takes control to position it on an elevator for lowering to the hanger deck.

The X-47B will undergo around 50 test flights at Edwards before being dispatched to Patuxent River NAS [MD], culminating in sea trials in 2013. The technology demonstrator is designed to operate at 40,000 feet of altitude at high subsonic speeds. The Navy’s actual UCAV will have a wingspan of 172 feet (the X-47B’s is just 62.1 feet), and will carry a warload of 10,000 pounds (the X-47B carries two 2,000 pound GBU-31 JDAMs in an internal weapons bay), and may well be capable of supersonic flight. As the Navy says it also wants its UCAV for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), that tells me that at least one variant will utilize an ultra-high-bypassing turbofan, which has a very low audible footprint on the ground, and its bypass-air-jacketed exhaust leaves a very dim thermal signature. The X-47B’s stealth bomber-like shape gives it the radar cross section of a ping pong ball.

A day later and a couple of states up the coast at Puget Sound, a large, sleek submarine, sail number 688, is berthed at a pier festooned with ceremonial gangplank and grandstands, as the Navy pays homage to the USS Los Angeles, flagship of the class of fast attack submarines that bear her name. Sixty-three LA-class fast attacks were built, making it the world’s most prolific class of nuclear-powered men of war.

A technological marvel upon her commissioning in 1976, the Los Angeles was fast, quiet and bristling with hazards for Red Fleet boomers. LAs shadowed Soviet missile boats from the time they slipped out of their Minsk sub pens past Britain until they returned. When President Jimmy Carter, an SSN commander during his Naval career, wanted to see current Silent Service capabilities, it was the Los Angeles that took him and Roselyn on a quick tour out of San Diego and back. When DARPA wanted to test the supercavitating torpedo developed at Penn State’s Advanced Research Laboratories, it was the Los Angeles that fired it. She is the only boat to have fired torpedoes, Haproons and Tomahawks in anger.

Both Seawolf– and Virginia-class SSNs have entered service since the LAs came along, they are nonetheless the symbol of the Cold War to Soviet/Russian submariners, and it took Russia more than twenty years to design and build a peer competitor, the Akula-class Bloc 4 hunter-killers. Russia doesn’t export Akulas to anyone[1]. The passing of the Los Angeles represents the passing of an iconic machine, like the F-4 Phantom II or the M-1 Garand rifle.

The juxtapositioning of these two events is interesting – just as one new capability is being tested, a classic example of established capacity is retired. Life goes on.


[1] The ex-Soviet SSNs upon which PRC is basing their Type-093 Han-class fast attacks are old Alphas, which debuted in 1971.