Apr 052010

Fascinating review of Ernest May’s “Strange Victory – Hitler’s Conquest of France”, by Alex Harrowell over at A Fistfull of Euros.

It turns out that that Hitler’s Germany was able to defeat France and Britain because Germany acted more like an egalitarian democracy, while France went in for authoritarian central planning. And then Germany lost the war because, after the first victories, Hitler insisted on tight control and central planning.

This story has a sort of tragic duality. The Germans won because they had been able to plan more like a democracy than democratic France or Britain – they constantly questioned their assumptions, criticised superiors, and threw out bad ideas – but they would never do so again, precisely because of their triumph over France. Hitler rapidly convinced himself it was all his own work, and the independent authority of the army was permanently destroyed.

Aug 092009

Seth G. Jones writes in the WSJ (“Going Local: The Key to Afghanistan : The U.S.’s strategy of building a centralized state is doomed to fail in a land of tribes“) that the U.S. is making a mistake in Afghanistan by acting as though there is (or should be) a central authority to deal with. The Soviets made the same mistake.

It’s understandable that a highly centralized government like that of the Soviet Union would do that. But what excuse if there for the U.S., which supposedly is itself much more decentralized — a federal system with greater levels of autonomy at the state and local level than you see in most large countries? We ought to be the experts at dealing with systems of federated sovereignty.

But neither the current nor the past administration seem to get it. It’s probably no accident that GWB was a great centralizer at home (Homeland Security, Education) as is Barak Obama (Health Care, Manufacturing, Banking, Housing). Neither has very good decentralization skills. And if Obama doesn’t know how to work with grassroots activism at townhall meetings, he’s not going to know how to deal with local entities in Afghanistan, either.