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Archive for November, 2008

Colony to Superpower II: Can’t Go Wrong with John Jay

[ 0 ] November 19, 2008 |

Erik writes about the harsh criticism that John Jay received upon returning from Europe on the conclusion of the Jay Treaty.

This was ridiculous. Herring states that Jay probably gave up more than he had to on these issues. Maybe. But this was the United States. And England was England. To think that we could simply state terms to Europe, as we did over and over again in these years, was totally absurd but typical of the arrogance in which the United States carried itself, even from the nation’s infancy. Herring defends Jay as well saying “The most likely alternative to the treaty was a continued state of crisis and conflict that could have led to war” and “Rarely has a treaty so bad on the face of it produced such positive results.”

Quite right. Public and elite opinion in the early Republic seemed to swing back and forth between raw terror that either Britain or France were on the verge of destroying the United States, and crazed optimism about the ability of the United States to dictate terms to and win wars against the major European powers. This isn’t terribly surprising; revolutionary regimes tend to have erratic foreign policies in their early years, and the leaders of the United States were self-conscious revolutionaries. At the same time, I wonder if the temporal proximity of the French Revolution to the American, and the very real differences between those two revolutions, didn’t serve to push US foreign policy in a more conservative direction. Interestingly enough, Herring credits Nelson’s victory at the Nile with making France amenable to negotiations with the United States.

Erik is also correct that the biggest omission from this chapter is an in-depth discussion of the Alien and Sedition Acts. Perhaps Herring considered these to be a domestic issues, but I can’t really see why. Without the pressure provided by the war between France and Britain, and the consequent division of the American political elite, I doubt that the Acts would ever have come about. Of course, it’s also kind of interesting to follow the self-immolation of the Federalist Party during Adams presidency. I had not previously knwn that Timothy Pickering is the only Secretary of State in US history to have been fired, rather than resign. In retrospect, Hamilton’s machinations against Adams really do seem foolish and short-sighted. Without the divisions in the Federalists, Adams probably would have beaten Jefferson in 1800.

I’ve heard it argued, and I think it’s correct, that the 1790s, the 1950s, and the 2000s are the only three eras in US history in which foreign policy played a genuinely critical role in American political competition. It’s too early to say whether Herring holds to this position, and I suppose further that the question depends on whether one terms relations with Native Americans as “foreign policy”. Then again, I suppose it could be argued that there was a broad consensus in the American political elite on the Native American question (kill them and take their land), and as such disputes weren’t really politically salient. It’ll be interesting to see how Herring treats this.

Finally, from the “that probably didn’t mean then what it sounds like now” file, Herring quotes an American official saying “The affairs of Europe rain riches on us, and it is as much as we can do to find dishes to catch the golden shower.” Indeed.



[ 0 ] November 19, 2008 |

I think I just became a lot more sympathetic to the bailout…

Missile Chicken

[ 0 ] November 19, 2008 |

I have an article on Russia, Obama, and missile defense up at Guardian Comment is Free.

The revolution will not be slenderized

[ 0 ] November 19, 2008 |

Body liberation can start with a donut.

Make it a jelly

Haven’t Those Thighs Been Rubbed Enough?

[ 0 ] November 19, 2008 |

I’m generally agnostic about having Clinton at State. But part of me would like to see it happen as a thumb-in-the-eye to the shameless hacks trying to gin up yet more ridiculous Clinton pseudo-scandals. (Apparently, powerful politicians know rich people!) As with most of the alleged “scandals” starting with Whitewater, it’s far from obvious what the there is here.

…I would also have to agree that if Kristof thinks the “war on brains” is over he hasn’t been reading his colleagues on the op-ed pages…


[ 0 ] November 19, 2008 |

Obama’s apparent AG choice certainly sounds promising, even granting that the previous administration hasn’t exactly set a high bar…

Talking Turkey

[ 0 ] November 19, 2008 |

If you don’t prefer my heretical choices (i.e., just skip tradition altogether and if you’re a carnivore go with ham or salmon or roast beef or some other meat with flavor in it), Lindsay has good tips. And, actually, having tasted roast turkey done well at Thanksgiving in recent years (including once by Lindsay herself) has increased my appreciation somewhat…

Late Night Video

[ 0 ] November 19, 2008 |

23-year-old Linda Ronstadt, accompanied by Bobby Darin on guitar. Darin would be dead three years later.


[ 0 ] November 19, 2008 |

Andy McCarthy:

Thousands of American lives and hundreds of billions in taxpayer funds have been expended to provide Iraqis the opportunity to live freely. And this despite the facts that (a) the U.S. interest in Iraqi democracy remains tenuous (our interest was the elimination of Saddam’s terror-mongering, weapons-proliferating regime), and (b) Americans were assured, when the nation-building enterprise commenced, that oil-rich Iraq would underwrite our sacrifices on its behalf. Yet, to be blunt, the Iraqis remain ingrates. That stubborn fact complicates everything.

To be blunt, the people who argued for an invasion for any reason — to eliminate nonexistent WMD, to rearrange the political culture of the Middle East, to rescue herds of ponies — were morons. The people who argued that Iraqi oil revenues would be sufficient to bankroll the war should have their skulls boiled and turned into drinking gourds. And the people like Andy McCarthy — who continue to argue that the US should be toppling regimes across the planet — should be standing on a corner somewhere, selling pencils or offering to squeegee your car. These, too, are stubborn facts.

Not so fast

[ 0 ] November 18, 2008 |

Like everyone, I’m eagerly awaiting the final count in Alaska’s Senate election. The final 24,000 ballots will be counted today, with a few absentee ballots trickling in through Wednesday. The final results won’t be certified until Dec. 1, though — at which point a recount is entirely likely. The interesting question at this point seems to be whether a GOP vote to boot Stevens from their conference will have any effect on Stevens’ decision to seek a recount (assuming, as seems likely, that he winds up on the losing end). An ordinary mortal — someone whose heart pumps blood instead of liquified asshole — would perhaps decide to spare Alaskans the additional national humiliation. But Stevens is not the sort of person who’s inclined to ease gently into defeat, and I suspect his campaign will ask that ballots be tallied again. And if Stevens himself won’t do it, ten voters — that’s right, ten — within a particular state house district can request the same, provided they have $10,000 to pay for a statewide recount or $750 per district. It’s conceivable that a group of voters could insist on a targeted recount that focuses on the districts that Stevens won, on the off chance that 1000+ net votes might turn up.

The end zone, in other words, is a long way off. And today’s shameful retention of Holy Joe can only give Stevens more confidence that he’d keep his Senate seat if a recount happened to swing his way. I don’t know if that confidence would be well-placed, but Stevens is the sort of person who is infinitely capable persuading himself that the universe is aligned in his favor.

Also, Ted Stevens turns 85 today.

. . . Good riddance, Ted. The margin looks to be outside the .5% margin for an automatic recount…. Stevens and/or ten of his friends could still pay for one himself, though.


[ 0 ] November 18, 2008 |

Shorter Democratic Party: Please, endorse the other party’s presidential candidate and smear ours. We don’t mind!

Q Ships!

[ 0 ] November 18, 2008 |

Kenneth Anderson proposes Q-ships to solve the problem of piracy:

There are many legal questions here, of course. But I had a conversation with a US Navy officer, not a lawyer, but someone with operational duties, who suggested that the best military course of action would be to equip some number of civilian vessels as decoys – heavily armed and carrying marines. The best thing, he said, would be for Somali pirates to attack, and then be aggressively counterattacked, in a battle, not the serving of an arrest warrant – sink their vessel and kill as many pirates as possible. It would send a message to pirates that they could not know which apparently civilian vessels might instead instead counterattack.

The original Q ships were civilian steamers equipped with sufficient weapons to fight off U-boat attacks. They were designed to lure U-boats into surfacing, then to destroy the offending submarines with their guns. The project was mildly unsuccessful in World War I (14 submarines killed at a cost of 20 Q ships, with no notable deterrent effect on U-boat attacks), and extremely unsuccessful in World War II (4 Q ships lost with no known U-boat kills). I’ve also seen the argument that the World War I numbers rely on Admiralty juking of the stats, and that the actual impact of the Q ships was much smaller. That said, while a U-boat could usually kill a Q ship even when it fell for the disguise, pirates are probably going to suffer badly at the hands of a well armed crew. Anderson further argues that this is a good thing:

Moreover, the use of overwhelming force aimed at killing them at the very moment the attack is commenced is most useful, before they can board and take hostages, and killing them rather than taking them prisoner and turning them over to local justice systems that do not impose great risks on them. The greatest risk posed by pirates is once they have boarded – that is when their firepower is maximized by having hostages; they are at their weakest when still in their own vessel, and that is the moment to strike – as they commence their attack and can be sunk in their vessel yet have no hostages for bargaining.

Dead men make no amnesty requests. This wouldn’t be such a problem, except for the reluctance of some countries to take the responsibility for prosecuting captured pirates.

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