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“[L]et him who aspires to such station, and is not one of the Medici, favour Liberty and the popular Power.”

[ 225 ] April 8, 2017 |
Photo: Alex Brandon, AP

Photo: Alex Brandon, AP

With only superficial changes, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld‘s new piece in Politico could have appeared—at one time or another—in a pro-government outlet in, say, Azerbaijan, North Korea, or Syria. Simply  substitute Jared Kushner’s name for that of Ilham Aliyev, Kim Jung-Un, Bashar al-Assad, or some other princeling—and we’re in business.

Honestly, the whole thing is such a dumpster fire that it’s hard to know where to begin.

By virtue of their close relationship with the president, Jared and Ivanka are able to speak truth to power without fear of suspect motives. This is a major advantage of family enterprises. The great merchant banking families were able to cover the globe, operating in distant seaports, with primitive communication and painfully slow transportation by dispatching family members as their emissaries in these far off lands. With shared values, deeper bonds of trust, greater respect for risk taking, and longer time frames, family dynastic wealth has been a huge force in the success of global enterprises. Today, companies like Ford, Wal-Mart, Mars Inc., and Campbell Soup still benefit from large family stakes and faith in the mission of the enterprise.

If I were setting out to defend the transformation of governance—in the world’s oldest extant democratic republic, no less—into a family business, I would probably not start out by genuflecting toward the Medici or invoking the same features of kinship-based trust networks that work well for organized criminal enterprises. But, then again, I’m not the Senior Associate Dean for Leadership Studies & Lester Crown Professor in the Practice of Management at the Yale School of Business.

What follows—after some noncommittal material about possible conflicts of interest and the fact that observant Jews don’t work on the Sabbath—is a long list of inexperienced people that held powerful positions in the White House. Sonnenfeld sprinkles in examples of insular and inbred administrations. The fact that many of these arrangements—the Nixon administration, the early Clinton years—proved deeply dysfunctional seems besides the point.

For Sonnenfeld Kushner is just like Kissinger—except for the record of scholarship and policy profile—or Harry Hopkins—except for a twenty-some year history in government and non-government service to the public welfare. Also, experienced hands in the Bush Administration brought us Iraq, Thus, nepotistic self-dealing at the highest levels of American government is totally fine. Because reasons. It’s particularly rich to read all of this forty-eight hours after we learned that Kushner met with Russian officials—and failed to disclose those meetings on the application for his security clearance. That’s enough, by the way, to get people stripped of their clearances and fired.

But, not to worry, because Sonnenfeld assures us, based—as best I can tell—on no evidence other than his conversations with Donald Trump, that Kushner is the bee’s knees.

Perhaps, too, it is time to stop the needless bomb-hurling at Kushner, a trustworthy, objective, smart, fresh voice working in the national interest, who unlike some of his colleagues in the White House, appears to work effectively and quietly with real facts and analysis rather than with public pronouncements, tweets, “alternative facts,” or threats.

As Daniel Drezner puts it:

I suppose that this might be amusing as a clickbait-y exercise in counter-intuitive punditry. Except that it’s actually rather frightening. No matter how smart, or capable,  Jared Kushner is…. well, it doesn’t actually matter. Indeed, I agree with Sonnenfeld that I’d rather have Kushner making policy than Bannon or Miller. So what? There are plenty of smart, capable, and even qualified people who could fill Kushner’s roles without eroding the foundations of our system of government. Essays like Sonnenfald’s normalize the destruction of norms that keep the United States from sliding into an outright kleptocracy, oligarchy, or banana republic.


Foreign Entanglements: Russia Edition

[ 21 ] April 1, 2017 |

I’m sorry that I haven’t been posting lately. Lots of travel and work. But I do have a shiny new episode of Foreign Entanglements—yes, I’ve joined the masthead there and thereby moved forward Rob’s plans for total LGM domination—in which I talk with Yuval Weber about Russia, Trump, and Syria. And yes, I can’t figure out how to embed the new video player.

Bonus: the roundtable that led me to ask Yuval to be my first guest on the channel.

…Update by Rob: Here we go!

A Number of Gas Grills in Thailand Have Exploded. Thus, We Have Decided to Ban the Importation of Canadian Grilling Utensils.

[ 47 ] March 21, 2017 |

By Mail2arunjith CC BY-SA 3.0,

If you haven’t heard yet, the Department of Homeland Security has ordered carriers to force customers to check a number of electronic devices on flights originating from a number of airports in majority-Muslim countries.

Passengers on foreign airlines headed to the United States from 10 airports in eight majority-Muslim countries have been barred from carrying electronic devices larger than a cellphone under a new flight restriction enacted on Tuesday by the Trump administration.

Officials called the directive an attempt to address gaps in foreign airport security, and said it was not based on any specific or credible threat of an imminent attack.

The Department of Homeland Security said the restricted items included laptop computers, tablets, cameras, travel printers and games bigger than a phone. The restrictions would not apply to aircraft crews, officials said in a briefing to reporters on Monday night that outlined the terms of the ban.

The official explanation for this policy, as a number of commentators have noted, makes little sense.

The policy seems poorly calibrated, None of the proposed causes of the destruction of Metrojet Flight 9268 would either have been stopped or necessity the ban. The Somalian incident may have been caused by a laptop bomb, but why this necessitates targeting the specific airports affected by the ban remains unclear. The Brussels attack involved suicide bombers and took place outside departure security checkpoints.

This lack of compelling logic observers to speculate about more nefarious motives. Is this an attempt to undermine competitors to US airlines?

Is it a ham-handed security effort by an administration of dubious policy competence?

Other possibilities include animus toward Muslims—or, more broadly, people who aren’t white. That is, an attempt to simply make life more difficult for students, business travelers, and others—and perhaps deter travel to the United States. This is consistent with reports of aggressive visa denials to people traveling to the United States.

This tracks with the arbitrariness of the Muslim travel ban. Indeed, these kinds of policies might be a means of forwarding the same goals—the equivalent of “self-deportation” as an approach to undocumented immigration. Another benefit of continuing to push policies with threadbare logic and justification? It forces GOP officials and conservative media to defend them. In doing so, it makes them  complicit in an increasing number of irrational administration actions.

And that’s the basic problem. Trump, his handlers, and their minions lie—and bullshit—with such reckless abandon that it’s simply impossible to trust them about anything. This is becoming a major national security threat, not simply because of the substance of these lies, but also the Executive Branch needs basic credibility with foreign leaders—and populations—in order to effectively in protect American interests.

I am So So Very Done with Sebastian v. Gorka’s Dissertation

[ 83 ] March 17, 2017 |

I promised a Part IV, but Foreign Policy asked me to do a piece for them… so I’m pointing you all there. You’ve seen some of the arguments before, but not all of them. For example, it turns out Gorka played a fast one with the—already extremely weak—evidence he uses in his efforts to show a trend toward terrapocolypse.

As he writes in his dissertation, “For the years 1998 until 2003, the average number of terrorist victims per attack jumped to 13.71. In 1992 the number of victims per attack was 2. In 2003, the number was 20.5 victims per terrorist attack.”

When we zoom in on this claim, we can see the sloppiness of Gorka’s methods. Not only is this an unacceptably truncated period, but the aggregate, descriptive statistics he gives just aren’t remotely good enough. The period from 2001 to 2003 covers not only the 9/11 attacks but also the first years of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. He does not even bother attempting to identify the proportion of such attacks carried out by groups — including in the Middle East and Central Asia — that would qualify as “irrational, transcendental” terrorists rather than, say, secessionists or guerrilla movements. In other words, this is an exercise without any evidentiary value.

Just to expand on this for a minute. If we were to use Gorka’s ‘method’ in 2004, we’d include the Beslan school siege, which killed around 330 people in North Ossetia. That’s a lot of deaths for a terror attack. But it wasn’t carried out by Gorka’s irrational-transcendental terrorists. The culprits were Chechen separatists. Many of the deaths were likely avoidable as well.

So, basically, the evidentiary value of his measure is approximately zero.


Figure 1: Average number of fatalities per terrorist attack, per the Global Terrorism Database. Prepared by Peter Henne.

It gets worse. The data Gorka relies on does not extend beyond 2012, so I asked former students to run the same measure using counts from the Global Terrorism Database (for some of the limitations of this data, see, for example). The lethality of attacks — that is Gorka’s own measure — while consistently rising, remains consistently lower than Gorka reports. It does not, to be blunt, seem like evidence of growing “hyper-terrorism” that would require a total paradigm shift in how Western states secure themselves against threats.

As I discuss there, the differences in these numbers aren’t a consequence of different datasets.

I also discovered, in a different work, this gem of a quotation from 2010: “[w]e need not prepare in the short or even medium terms for conventional warfare between nation‐states, using tanks and aircraft carriers. For the foreseeable future our enemies will be non‐state actors — with or without state sponsorship — using irregular means against us.” This is how much he hypes the terrorism threat—and on so little evidence.

Anyway, I conclude a more serious note than kicking someone who likes to kick other people for lacking his supreme gravitas.

It is precisely attention to the significance of inconvenient facts that distinguishes good scholars and true experts from pretenders. Pretenders present themselves as scholars and experts. They adopt the language, get the credentials, and perform as they — or, at least, their audience — imagine scholars and experts sound. Rather than speak truth to power, they peddle what their ideological compatriots want to hear, wrapped up in the trappings of intellectual authority.

The more that political movements, politicians, and leaders move into a universe of alternative facts, the more they render themselves vulnerable to these intellectual grifters. And the more these fake experts influence actual policy, the more damage that they can do. I do not believe that a doctorate, let alone an academic background, is a prerequisite for good policymaking. But the president of the United States is best served by advisors who place facts before ideology, who care about the substance more than the credential, and who would never make sweeping judgments about millions of people grounded on essentially no evidence at all. This is particularly the case for a new president who has repeatedly demonstrated that when ideology — or even vanity — runs into inconvenient facts, he expects the facts to bend. In this sense, Gorka seems a perfect fit for the worst impulses of this administration.

Freep the Urban Dictionary… for Feminism, Accuracy, and Apple Pie

[ 39 ] March 12, 2017 |

The Urban Dictionary, which helpfully defines “freep” for those of you too young to know the term, has had it’s definition of “mansplaining” hijacked by misogynists. I suggest that readers go and help correct this via down-voting and up-voting relevant entries. If you think that this is silly, I’ll note that I have it on good authority that tweens sometimes get their understanding of terminology from that site.

Area Man, Come Undone by Trump’s Election, Accuses Democrats of Coming Undone by Trump’s Election. And by “Area Man,” I mean “Glenn Greenwald”

[ 271 ] March 9, 2017 |


I’ve been a member of the Lawyers, Guns and Money team for some months now, and yet I believe that I’ve written only one post criticizing Glenn Greenwald. As I’m clearly not meeting my quota, I need to say a few word about this particular monstrosity that he offered up on Monday.

One of the most bizarre aspects of the all-consuming Russia frenzy is the Democrats’ fixation on changes to the RNC platform concerning U.S. arming of Ukraine. The controversy began in July when the Washington Post reported that “the Trump campaign worked behind the scenes last week to make sure the new Republican platform won’t call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces.”

Ever since then, Democrats have used this language change as evidence that Trump and his key advisers have sinister connections to Russians and corruptly do their bidding at the expense of American interests. Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spoke for many in his party when he lambasted the RNC change in a July letter to the New York Times, castigating it as “dangerous thinking” that shows Trump is controlled, or at least manipulated, by the Kremlin. Democrats resurrected this line of attack this weekend when Trump advisers acknowledged that campaign officials were behind the platform change.

This attempt to equate Trump’s opposition to arming Ukraine with some sort of treasonous allegiance to Putin masks a rather critical fact: namely, that the refusal to arm Ukraine with lethal weapons was one of Barack Obama’s most steadfastly held policies.

I can’t wait until Greenwald writes a column explaining how hypocritical and bizarre it is that the same people who want legal marijuana have a problem with murderous drug cartels making a profit from selling it.

I’m not a Greenwald fan. Still,  I never realized he has so much contempt for the intelligence of his readers. I imagine—although I don’t know, and neither does Greenwald—that the majority of Democrats supported Obama’s caution in providing lethal aid to Ukraine. I also imagine that most Democrats are outraged because we don’t think presidential candidates should trade important national-security decisions for favorable electoral interference from foreign dictators. This really isn’t a tough one.

But wait, there’s more….

In short order, Greenwald quotes a Politico story quoting an un-named “disaffected” Obama appointment who draws a comparison between Obama’s Reset and Trump foreign policy. He writes:

In other words, Democrats are now waging war on, and are depicting as treasonous, one of Barack Obama’s central and most steadfastly held foreign policy positions, one that he clung to despite attacks from leading members of both parties as well as the DC National Security Community. That’s not Noam Chomsky drawing that comparison; it’s an Obama appointee.

As luck would have it, I’m taking part in a panel on the Reset tomorrow in New York. This is hogwash. Obama never intended to pursue a ‘grand bargain’ at the expense of NATO and the liberal order. The Reset never envisioned a grand ideological war against Islam in which the US and Russia worked as close partners. Nor did the Obama Administration want to ‘turn’ Russia to pursue hostilities with China. I think the chances of the Trump Administration accomplishing either of these thing are slim, but they reflect a radically different geostrategic outlook and understanding of US-Russian relations.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not terribly hawkish on Russia. But I am capable of updating my priors in light of new information. This isn’t crass partisanship. It’s what human beings who care about facts and stuff do. Anyway, whatever the ultimate cause of their behavior, Moscow has found a mechanism—information warfare deployed in electoral politics—for undermining liberal democracy in the Euro-Atlantic zone. Democrats need to take that fact very seriously when considering Russia policy. What we can’t do is, per Greenwald, reduce the debate to a choice between ‘American warmongering hawks’ and ‘apologists for Russian imperialism.’ If you think my characterization is too strong, read this:

Put another way, establishment Democrats – with a largely political impetus but now as a matter of conviction – have completely abandoned Obama’s accommodationist approach to Russia and have fully embraced the belligerent, hawkish mentality of John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Bill Kristol, the CIA and Evan McMullin. It should thus come as no surprise that a bill proposed by supreme warmonger Lindsey Graham to bar Trump from removing sanctions against Russia has more Democratic co-sponsors than Republican ones.

Do you feel that? That’s the feeling of whiplash. This bill prevents Trump from unilaterally lifting sanctions imposed by the Obama Administration as part of its response to, first, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and, second, Moscow’s interference in the US election. But wait, you say, didn’t Greenwald open by arguing that Democrats have gone insane because they don’t support Obama policies toward Russia? Why yes. Yes he did.

I can’t help thinking that we’re watching Greenwald’s own psychodrama play out at The Intercept. He knows that he did his part, no matter how small, to help elect Trump. He knows that he’s been carrying water—I assume unintentionally—for authoritarian regimes. And, indeed, it doesn’t take long to see the effects in action:

This is why it’s so notable that Democrats, in the name of “resistance,” have aligned with neocons, CIA operatives and former Bush officials: not because coalitions should be avoided with the ideologically impure, but because it reveals much about the political and policy mindset they’ve adopted in the name of stopping Trump. They’re not “resisting” Trump from the left or with populist appeals – by, for instance, devoting themselves to protection of Wall Street and environmental regulations under attack, or supporting the revocation of jobs-killing free trade agreements, or demanding that Yemini civilians not be massacred.

The fact that Greenwald can’t be bothered to pay attention to what the vast majority of actual Democratic politicians are doing, or how they’re voting, when it comes to these issues is no excuse for stupid. The fact that Greenwald has clearly never been to a rally where liberals and left-wingers join together to protest Trump’s Islamophobic  policies, his assault on the environment, and his pro-corporate policies is no excuse for stupid. The fact that virtually all of these regulatory changes—or proposed policy changes—are things that Hillary Clinton would’ve prevented is no excuse for stupid. The fact that the Democratic party moved in a protectionist direction during this election, and that Greenwald is objectively wrong about the likely economic consequences of revoking existing trade deals, is no excuse for stupid. And hey, is it remotely possible that opposition to Trump might make a difference with respect to US policy toward Yemen? Maybe, maybe not. But it is certainly the case that, back in September, over half the Democratic members of the Senate supplied almost all of the votes against a large military aid package to Saudi Arabia.

Back to the ratcheting rhetorical fervor:

Instead, they’re attacking him on the grounds of insufficient nationalism, militarism, and aggression: equating a desire to avoid confrontation with Moscow as a form of treason (just like they did when they were the leading Cold Warriors). This is why they’re finding such common cause with the nation’s most bloodthirsty militarists – not because it’s an alliance of convenience but rather one of shared convictions (indeed, long before Trump, neocons were planning a re-alignment with Democrats under a Clinton presidency). And the most ironic – and over-looked – aspect of this whole volatile spectacle is how much Democrats have to repudiate and demonize one of Obama’s core foreign policy legacies while pretending that they’re not doing that.

Say what you want about neoconservatives, but they recognized three things about Trump.

  • That he is completely unqualified to be President.
  • That he would undermine national security by doing stupid, and often racist, stuff.
  • That he poses an existential threat to not only the US, but the western democratic order.

This is pretty important stuff. And while Greenwald is busy positioning himself to the left of Noam Chomsky, I just want to point out that Trump does not, in fact, promise less militarism than the Clinton wing of the Democratic party. He just would like to pursue more war-crime-y and more crypto-fascist-y militarism.

In conclusion, we all make mistakes. I think Greenwald would be happier, and a good deal less ridiculous, if he just owned his.

The Gorka Dissertation, Part III

[ 50 ] March 1, 2017 |

I wasn’t that enthusiastic about writing another installment. There’s only so much satisfaction from bashing an obvious vanity dissertation. But now I see that some right-wing media outlets are alleging a conspiracy to ‘take down’ Sebastian Gorka by nefarious Obama supporters. In the classic style of deflection, his defenders say that he’s a “patriot” and “consummate professional.” Indeed, Georgetown PhD Mike Gallagher, now a GOP Representative from Wisconson, says that “The counterterrorism field is highly politicized, and I fear the personal attacks on him are politically motivated.” So, like it or not, welcome to Part III.

I want to stress again that I am simply commenting on the academic merits of Gorka’s dissertation and, inter alia, some of the claims found within it. My assessment has no direct bearing on any of the other controversies surrounding Gorka, except to the extent that he uses his doctorate to buttress his authority. Also, please keep in mind that when I argue that the dissertation is wanting as a piece of scholarship, that does not imply that its claims are groundless. It merely means that his presentation of them in the dissertation is without scholarly merit.


For a dissertation of its type—one not composed of three-four thematically related journal-article style chapters—Gorka’s thesis is actually quite short. It clocks in at about eighty-thousand words. Roughly eleven percent of the thesis (at least) consists of material cut and pasted from prior work. In addition to the piece that I mentioned in my first post, Gorka also recycled text from a Human Events article that he co-authored with his wife. The very fact that a recycled Human Events article fits seamlessly into the dissertation is a bit of a tell about its academic quality.

Gorka sometimes notes that a particular section of his dissertation is derived from an earlier work. But I can’t find a mention of the Human Events piece. This is in keeping with something that I pointed out in my prior post: the dissertation’s inadequate approach to citations. As I wrote, “Gorka is not big on citations, especially scholarly ones. Moreover, the citation practices are, shall we say, lax.” But I worry that I might not have sufficiently explained the stakes here. Gorka’s use of citations simply does not meet modern scholarly standards. When he does source claims, he relies on very few references. More often, he just doesn’t bother.

Why is this a problem? First, the dissertation gives no indication that Gorka has sufficient familiarity with relevant literature in his field. I already mentioned that I am not, by an stretch of the imagination, an expert on terrorism. But I am surprised how much literature I know of that Gorka ignores. Not a single article from Terrorism and Political Violence or Studies in Conflict and Terrorism makes an appearance. While he does cite a number of major figures in the field, his engagement with their work is almost always perfunctory. However, Gorka does like to talk about the stature and biographical details of some of these figures—especially those whom he references personal conversations with—while dismissing terrorism studies more broadly.

This curious mixture is on display, at least in part, on page 42 of the dissertation.

Even today, after 9/11, the field remains incredibly small39 and the possibilities to study it at undergraduate and graduate level remain very limited. With the odd exception, today there are still very few centres of excellence for research into terrorism40. It is rather telling that of all the billions that have been spent on investment by the US government in recent years to counter terrorism, the vast majority has gone into technology and equipment in general, with very little, by comparison, being spent on the academic side of support to policy. Hopefully this will change.

It’s true that the study of terrorism was, in 2007, not yet mainstreamed in international-relations scholarship. But this description still seems a bit off. A dive into the footnotes clarifies a bit:

39The academic ‘great’ names in political violence remain the same as they were pre 9/11: Sloan, Crenshaw, Rapoport, Jenkins, Laqueur, Wilkinson and Schmid. To quote an anonymous contributor to Schmid’s ‘Political Terrorism’: “there is a tremendous amount of nonsense written in this field.”…. there are “about 5 [authors who] really know what they are talking about – [the] rest are integrators of literature…” Schmid himself goes on to note that “many authors have never written more than one article about terrorism; few have dedicated most of their research time to this field of study. Real specialists in academia are still few.” Schmid’s study includes a table of the leading authors based on frequency of citation, see Chapter Four of ‘Political Terrorism’ op. cit..

The edition of Political Terrorism Gorka (2007, 40-41 fn37) references here was published in 1988. The table Gorka alludes to is based on questionnaires from 1982 and 1985.

He’s ‘substantiating’ a point about the state of the field in 2007 based on a source from nineteen years beforehand—and from data that was more than twenty years old at the time.

Second, the use of citations helps ensure that we don’t engage in plagiarism via paraphrasing. Perhaps some of the clichés I quoted in my second post—whether about globalization or Turkey and the European Union—are so overused that they don’t require references. But it’s good practice in something like a dissertation to provide references. More generally, there is very little here that resembles an original idea. Indeed, much as I wish I could claim otherwise, the same is true of my writing—and of almost all scholarly writings. We all know this. We reinvent the wheel. It’s an important reason to actively look for people to cite when making an argument. Doing so is both an obligation—our ideas are our currency—and a way of protecting ourselves against inadvertent plagiarism.

Third, even when Gorka does provide references, he often engages in poor scholarly practice. I’ve already mentioned that he’s careless about providing page numbers. He also fails to distinguish between when he paraphrases and when he directly quotes work. For example, he summarizes a piece by Martha Crenshaw on pages 61-65, and occasionally intermingles the two.

For example, compare the paragraph on the left (from his dissertation) with the one on the right (from a later edition of the edited volume from which he cites the Crenshaw piece—the article originally appeared in 1996):


Or one will just find individual sentences:SGMC2

Later on the dissertation, Gorka (2007, 76 fn 105) writes that: “Unless otherwise footnoted, the following biographical and historical information on bin Laden and his organisation is sourced from the first book to treat the subjects comprehensively: Rohan Gunaratna’s “Inside Al Qaeda: global network of terror”, Hurst, London, 2002.”

He’s not kidding. For example:


Although this would appear to violate Corvinus University of Budapest‘s plagiarism guidelines, I see this kind of thing as more of a process foul than something to get really worked up about. It’s just more indication of the general sloppiness of the dissertation. Read more…

Sinking the Ship of State

[ 103 ] March 1, 2017 |

Der Untergang der Titanic

Julia Ioffe’s article on her interviews with career State Department employees manages to be heartbreaking, appalling, and frightening at the same time.

You should read the whole thing, but here are three choice excerpts.

First, the evisceration of the professional bureaucracy in favor of barely competent loyalists and family members:

A lot of this, the employee said, is because there is now a “much smaller decision circle.” And many State staffers are surprised to find themselves on the outside. “They really want to blow this place up,” said the mid-level State Department officer. “I don’t think this administration thinks the State Department needs to exist. They think Jared [Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law] can do everything. It’s reminiscent of the developing countries where I’ve served. The family rules everything, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs knows nothing.”

Second, the complete collapse of the Office of Policy Planning:

The Office of Policy Planning, created by George Kennan after World War II, is now filled not just with Ph.D.s, as it once was, but with fresh college graduates and a malpractice attorney from New Jersey whose sole foreign-policy credential seems to be that she was born in Hungary. Tillerson’s chief of staff is not his own, but is, according to the Washington Post, a Trump transition alum named Margaret Peterlin. “Tillerson is surrounded by a bunch of rather mysterious Trumpistas,” said the senior State official who recently left. “How the hell is he supposed to do his job when even his right hand is not his own person?” One State Department employee told me that Peterlin has instructed staff that all communications with Tillerson have to go through her, and even scolded someone for answering a question Tillerson asked directly, in a meeting.

Third, a quotation that sums up the human-capital side of Trump’s march to geopolitical suicide:

“This is probably what it felt like to be a British foreign service officer after World War II, when you realize, no, the sun actually does set on your empire,” said the mid-level officer. “America is over. And being part of that, when it’s happening for no reason, is traumatic.”

Don’t get sucked into debates about whether Trump’s failure to bite a bat in half at last night’s speech bodes well for the Republic. When you look past the shiny object, it’s all terrible.


The Gorka Dissertation, Part II

[ 67 ] February 25, 2017 |


JDCIn my prior post, I tried to make clear that you don’t need to get very far—less than twenty pages, in fact—into Gorka’s dissertation to recognize its academic shoddiness. Something like 7% of it is a cut-and-paste job from an earlier article. In of itself, that’s not a problem. But the article came out 3-4 years before the dissertation, and Gorka couldn’t be bothered to change the text or update the data to reflect that gap. The first twenty pages also reveal a pattern that persists throughout the entire thesis: Gorka is not big on citations, especially scholarly ones. Moreover, the citation practices are, shall we say, lax. For example, here’s footnote 10:

The sarin gas attack executed on the Tokyo metro by Aum in 1995 was in fact preceded by several unsuccessful biological agent attacks prepared by the private laboratories the cult had established with millions of dollars of its funds. For a journalistic account of the history of the cult see David E. Kaplan and Andrew Marshal: “The Cult at the End of the World”, Arrow Books, London, 1996. For a scholarly and detailed analysis see the relevant section in Richard A. Falkenrath, Robert D. Newman and Bradley A. Thayer: “America’s Achilles’ Heel: nuclear, biological, and chemical terrorism and covert attack”, MIT Press, Cambridge, 1998 [emphasis added]

In fact the discussion of Aum Shinrikyo appears to be spread over multiple chapters. Along these lines, footnote 20 reads “CNN even showed footage of al Qaeda experimentation that involved the gassing of dogs.” That’s it. In fact, getting an appropriate citation isn’t that much of a challenge. But, at least, a reader can be thankful that he provides references at all. The section called “The New International Scene” runs from pages 19-23. It contains myriad empirical claims—such as the countries within which Al Qaeda had affiliates in 2001—and analytical ones—that Al Qaeda launched 9/11 against the United States to divide it from its allies,  or that “the Arab and Muslim world still has a perturbed relationship to the question of modernity” (21)—none of which are sourced in any manner. The only such reference, involving the number of CIA officers who spoke Pashto on September 11, is to “author’s discussion with Marine Colonel who had served in Afghanistan as a covert paramilitary operator within the CIA, Summer 2004” (2007, 22 fn18).

I stress this lack of citations not merely because it amounts to poor scholarly practice—if anything, the typical dissertation suffers from too many citations—but also because it reflects the bloviating tone that runs throughout. The lack of references creates the impression that Gorka is passing off every insight—from the shopworn, the clichéd, and the banal to the unoriginal but tendentious—as his own.

Some examples:

Here it may be too early to prove the existence of a large-scale trend, but with the second and successful attempt against the World Trade Centre (WTC), – following the earlier truck-bomb attempt in 1993 – al Qaeda at least, has demonstrated a determination to attack highly symbolic targets. This author believes the logic behind this tactic is clear. Terrorism is, like guerrilla warfare, always the tool of choice of weaker actors that cannot win a stand- up fight against their nation state adversary. As a result they will rarely, if ever, be in a position to exact lethal damage to the vital interests or functioning of the state they have pitted themselves against. This is why fear has to be the overarching goal, a fear which can be directed as a tool in applying greater and greater political pressure upon the targeted authorities until policies are changed. In this inculcation of fear, the attack of universally recognisable symbols – such as the Pentagon and WTC – is invaluable, especially in this age of live, global cable and satellite news services. Thanks to the likes of CNN, NBC, BBC, etc., Osama bin Laden was able to send his message of fear to as wide an audience at possible in the fastest time imaginable. Add to this last element of media exploitation, the recent rise of media outlets which challenge the ‘white man’s’ news monopoly, e.g. Al-Arabiya and al Jazeera Television, and we now have channels which in fact may be favourable to the terrorist and act as a force-multiplier in the globalisation of his message (2007, 18).

It is interesting to note that despite the beacon-like example that modern Turkey represents, here too there have been significant developments recently toward a revitalisation of a national identity that relies far more on religion than would otherwise even have been imaginable during recent decades. This resurgence can in part ironically be explained by the negative way in which the European Union has delayed talk of Turkish EU membership (2007, 22 fn17).

Globalisation as a process is not new. Many an ancient empire can be seen as a form of (limited) globalisation. Even so, the fact that globalisation is now occurring in an environment of interconnected market economies and the spread of one specific model of nation-state structuring, namely market democracy, means that an actor wishing to exploit the inherent weaknesses of the democratic model, such as a the religious terrorist, has a broader environment in which to operate. Additionally the attitude of many people nominally belonging to the faith community of Muslim fundamentalism may be swayed by interpretations of the current trends to globalisation that exacerbate the centuries old question of Islam’s relations to modernity and the West. Lastly, the fact that the pre-eminent exponent of globalised terrorism at this time has chosen to restrict his actions very much to attacks aimed against just a handful of Western nations (UK, US, Spain) results in the fact that existing alliance frameworks may be severely weakened by differing assessments as to whom has most to fear from “Transcendental Terror”. Within the previously united western world there is now no agreement on whether or not this is a significant new threat that applies to all of us. In part, the problem is that man has a propensity to judge others based upon himself. As a result it is very difficult to believe in, let alone comprehend, an adversary who thinks in a fashion so contrary to our own. We tend to posit our rationality, even our morality, onto the other. Additionally, many of America’s European allies are more inclined to resolve dispute and potential conflict through diplomatic and political means, rather than through the use of force (2007, 24).

The basics needs of a human being are quite easy to identify: shelter, sustenance and community. The importance of the first two is also simple to explain. As a biological entity, without protection from the elements and food and water, we will not function and quickly die. The relevance of the third requirement is superficially obvious, but on closer examination more complex. There are, of course, the economies of scale that come from living in a cooperative group. As our ancestors who did not have the use of firearms well knew, it is quite difficult to hunt and kill a large animal by oneself. Likewise to fish the seas in an efficient fashion or even to build a sizeable home is a faster and easier a task when done in the company of others. But there are also the psychological and societal benefits of not living the life of a hermit or recluse. Man craves friendship and companionship and finds fulfilment in living within community. If this were not the case, given all the benefits of technology, we could in fact choose to live in total isolation from one another today, but we do not. Then there is the more practical profit that accrues with regard to safety in numbers.

It has been said more than enough times that the history of Mankind is the history of conflict. Respect for one’s territory, one’s chattels and even one’s right to life was never a given. There have always been, and will always be, those that threaten our very existence or livelihood. As a result, the need to be able to defend oneself and one’s family has always been apparent. Such defence is easier when done in numbers than individually or just by family unit. In modern terms, this is the function of providing security (2007, 27).

This last bit of banality opens a section entitled “The Evolution of National Security.” Gorka presents one of the diagrams for which, if nothing else, he deserves all the credit due to him.


Gorka (2007, 28) did not think this through.

In conventional language, shifts in scale from “micro” to “macro” are shifts in size: smaller to larger. As best I can tell, Gorka is trying to tell a temporal story here: the evolution of security is a story about the increasing scale of the object that needs to be secured. The result is a mess. As he writes:

It is not the purpose of this dissertation to provide a lengthy discussion of this evolution, to enumerate the dates when one macro level gave way to another.  In gross terms we can speak, however, of a chain of security being tied first to the tribe or clan, then to a village and, or, religious community, and further to the local landowner unit, followed by a kingdom or empire, or a city-state until we arrive at the modern object of macro-security, the nation-state’ (Gorka 2007, 28).

There are a bunch of problems with this, but the most obvious goes something like this.

Here is the Neo-Assyrian Empire:


Here are some empires in around 750 AD:


Over the past three millennia, there have been many empires that are much larger in scale than national-states. Indeed, empires—along with federative and confederative polities—constitute some of the most time-honored ways of organizing large, heterogeneous political communities. It makes no sense to call “nation states” a more “macro” stage in security evolution than these forms.

Regardless, Gorka next briefly discusses Philip Bobbitt’s The Shield of Achilles—for just long enough to tell us that “while there is much to commend the work… it does have its distinct flaws, flaws that it shares with a majority of recent treatise that have proclaimed the death of the nation-state, somewhat prematurely” (2007, 30). This allows him to open his next section (“The Westphalian Inheritance”) with a paragraph that gives me hives.

It is often far too easy to take for granted the system of governance and administration in which we today live. If one does not professionally study modern history or the evolution of international law, one could be forgiven for thinking that the current system of independent nation-states has existed for much longer than it has in fact existed. The truth is that as a concept we can describe its evolution as being quite recent in historic terms. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 is taken by most commentators as introducing the foundations for the creation in the West of a system in which the objects were states, bodies that were independent of each others – although which could ally with one another – and into whose internal affairs it was not allowed to become involved, a system in which sovereignty would eventually become paramount26. Later, as this concept evolved and as the individual allegiances of the people would shift from local landowner or royal house, to a professional political elite defined around a national identity, the state would evolve further into the nation-state, with is fundamental aspects of citizenship and nationality.

26In fact it was the sacrosanct nature of sovereignty that would later lie behind the creation of the ‘balance-of-power’ system that would be so important to Europe in following centuries.

Again, no sources. None. Zero. And while “most commentators” may have once believed this, it’s wrong. Westphalia had nothing to do with the foundations of the state system. At least if Gorka had been troubled to cite some of the (very smart) people who argue that it did—even if erroneously—he would come across as less of a pretentious blowhard. The footnote is just the icing on the cake. The balance-of-power system did not render sovereign sacrosanct, because it was premised on moving territory around to maintain the balance of power. The inhabitants of what would later be called “Belgium” certainly did not appreciate being placed under the rule of the United Netherlands for the sake of blocking future French expansion.

All of this amounts to a belabored way of making a rather simple argument: almost all states are organized to defend themselves against military aggression, to police their territory, to engage in espionage, and to protect themselves against espionage. Moreover, Gorka contends, the western allies oriented those capabilities against the Soviet Union and its clients. With the end of the Cold War, things are so much more complex and uncertain, what with the cyber, and the environment, and the terrorism. Add a few footnotes, and we’d have pretty much all we need to move forward.

Thus Gorka returns us to terrorism. Or, more accurately, he summarizes a very few sources to tell us nothing original about conceptual issues related to the study of terrorism. But he does supply us with this wonder of a passage: “One more avenue that takes us out of the abstraction of mere words is a pictographic representation of the mechanics of terrorism. By resorting to a Venn diagram-like approach, it may be easier to understand the dynamics at work between the various subjects and objects of political violence [emphasis added].”

A Venn Diagram-Like Approach (Gorka 2007. 47)

A Venn Diagram-Like Diagram

Now, to the uninitiated, this may look merely like a simple flow chart. So I’ve created a diagram to help make sense of it:


Locating Venn Diagram-Like Diagrams: a Venn Diagram


That’s the end of Part II. I still haven’t gotten to the ‘good stuff’. 150 or so pages to go.

Sebastian Gorka’s Dissertation, Part I

[ 99 ] February 25, 2017 |

This is real. This is an actual diagram from Gorka’s (2007, 166) dissertation. I will discuss it in a later post.

We should exercise caution when evaluating dissertations. Dissertations are not works of scientific perfection. I finished mine in a marathon month, as I was pushing the deadline for retaining my position at Georgetown. Even the substantially revised book that emerged from contains a handful of truly embarrassing historical errors. In other words, I think it would be grossly unfair to reduce Gorka to his dissertation, or to use it as evidence that he is unqualified for his position. Moreover, I concentrated in the study of international security. I know a bit about the intersection between great-power politics and transnational religious movements. Still, I am not a terrorism expert. I am certainly not an expert on Islam. And I am far from an expert on Islamic terrorism.

Nonetheless, I did read the dissertation last night. Members of the Lawyers, Guns and Money community have asked for my opinion. I would not characterize it as a work of scholarship. I am confident that it would not earn him a doctorate at any reputable academic department in the United States. Indeed, it would be unacceptable as an undergraduate thesis for the Department of Government or the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. My guess is that Gorka wanted to call himself “Doctor,” and his PhD-granting institution was happy to oblige.

Despite its overwrought title and often ponderous prose, the dissertation starts with a rather straightforward claim. There are two “sub-divisions of terrorist, the Rational and and Pragmatic and the Irrational, or Transcendental Terrorist.” The former seek a “fundamentally feasible and realistic goal”—such as national independence or autonomy—and hence “there is the possibility for a political or diplomatic solution to the root grievance.” The latter, however, “has as his end goal the realisation of a state-of-affairs that is not obviously feasible or realistic and which is completely antithetic to the opposing government. There is no possibility for a political resolution or even negotiations” (2007, 12).

In November 2007, when Gorka finished his dissertation, this was already a well-established line of argument. Scholars were debating the degree that the latter characterization applied to movements such as Al Qaeda, and bringing multifaceted evidence to bear on the subject.Thus, there was certainly room for an intervention that moved the ball forward. But that would require a dissertation with discipline and focus. This is not such a dissertation.

That becomes clear on the next page, where Gorka (2007, 13) introduces four hypotheses and ways that he will validate those hypotheses. They are:

1. Irrational terrorist actors have become more numerous since the cessation of the Cold War
2. Governments are sorely limited in the selection of tools that can be used in the face of such actors
3. The Irrational or Transcendentally informed terrorist represents a wholly different category of threat, since due to the fact that he is completely uninterested in political resolution, he can justify the use of Weapons of Mass Destruction.
4. Osama bin Laden typifies the new threat and poses a challenge which we cannot adequately deal with given existing Westphalian state structures and national security divisions of labour.

The evidence comes from:

a) How national security has evolved as a function of the modern nation- state.
b) What the difference is between the geostrategic environments of the Cold War and the post-September 11th 2001 state-of-affairs.
c) Who Osama bin Laden is and how novel an organisation al Qaeda is and,
d) What should be done to reform Westphalian security architectures so as to make them applicable to the new threat environment that has been shaped by the rise of the Irrational/Transcendental Actor and the globalisation of security.

If you wonder how Gorka can accomplish these tasks in 240 pages, the answer is that he can’t. He makes little effort to consider alternative explanations, use anything resembling a proper methodology, adequately source key claims, cite or take seriously more than a smattering of scholarly works, or even sufficiently develop lines of thought. Parts of the dissertation come across as filler. Perhaps they are. Toward the end of the piece, he dumps about eight pages of “potential theories or doctrines that have been penned in an attempt to make the current strategic environment more understandable” (page 167ff). He also used the same text in a September 2007 co-authored survey for the Council on Emerging National Security Affairs (CENA), which is no longer online.

Regardless, the bulk of the dissertation summary—its first part—consists of boilerplate within the realm of conventional wisdom. Gorka argues that the end of the Cold War made the international security environment more complex and the identification of the proper hierarchy of threats more challenging (2007,  7-8), he offers a fairly standard definition of terrorism (sourced exclusively to “discussions” with “Dr. Jenkins“) and defends restricting the term “terrorist” to non-state actors (2007, 11).

The introduction continues apace. He writes that “there has been a resurgence in terrorism that is not purely political in nature” and that the Aum Shinrikyo 1995 gas attacks, along with Al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks, “together… describe a proto-trend that is supported by quantitative statistics pertaining to terror attacks in the last decade” (2007, 15-16). The only such statistics offered appear in Appendix I, which uses US Department of State data for 1993-2003. This obviously does not cover the “last decade”—recall that the dissertation was deposited in 2007. The data boils down to a rather crude average of number of death per attack.

Why does the”last decade” ends with 2003? The relevant sections are—as best I can tell—recycled from a paper Gorka first wrote in 2003, and come from what I think is a 2004 version. Regardless, this is a good example of how shoddy the scholarship is. Gorka wants to claim that there’s something radically different about contemporary terrorism from that of, say, the classic terrorism of the 1970s. So he needs to extend the data back well beyond 1993. That is, we need to actually compare the different waves. It would also require some basic statistical work that looks at regions and countries, the effects of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, how much the average is driven by outliers, and that kind of thing. It’s hard not to read this section and hear Gorka insisting on “empirical evidence” in his phone call to Smith.

I’m only about 17 pages in, and there’s a lot more to talk about, including some parts that seem relevant to Gorka’s worldview. Stay tuned for Part II.

A warning, though: working through it this way is quite a slog, and I’m not sure that I have the energy to blog the whole way through.

The Trump Administration: Restoring Integritude to the White House

[ 51 ] February 23, 2017 |


On the plus side, the FBI rejected the request. On the massively minus side, the White House violated long-standing restrictions designed to protect ongoing investigations.

The FBI rejected a recent White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump’s associates and Russians known to US intelligence during the 2016 presidential campaign, multiple US officials briefed on the matter tell CNN.

But a White House official said late Thursday that the request was only made after the FBI indicated to the White House it did not believe the reporting to be accurate White House officials had sought the help of the bureau and other agencies investigating the Russia matter to say that the reports were wrong and that there had been no contacts, the officials said. The reports of the contacts were first published by The New York Times and CNN on February 14.

It gets better:

The White House initially disputed that account, saying that McCabe called Priebus early that morning and said The New York Times story vastly overstates what the FBI knows about the contacts. But a White House official later corrected their version of events to confirm what the law enforcement official described. The same White House official said that Priebus later reached out again to McCabe and to FBI Director James Comey asking for the FBI to at least talk to reporters on background to dispute the stories. A law enforcement official says McCabe didn’t discuss aspects of the case but wouldn’t say exactly what McCabe told Priebus

No, of course we don’t need to worry about the ghost of Richard Nixon haunting the White House. Why would you ask?

Extra special bonus: listen to Deputy Assistant to the President Sebastian Gorka make an unhinged phone call to Michael S. Smith II (via Pejman Yousefzadeh). Really, listen to all twenty-some minutes. It isn’t just that Gorka’s an unqualified hack and a charlatan, it’s also his pseudo-academic bluster. Gorka sounds like someone trying really, really hard to come across as a Deep Thinker™️ and scholar in an attempt an intellectual dominance. He fails.

Trump and Antisemitism

[ 136 ] February 23, 2017 |

BritLibCottonNeroDiiFol183vPersecutedJewsIs Donald J. Trump an antisemite? If so, he would not be the first American president to harbor prejudices against Jews. Nixon, despite his close relationship with Henry Kissinger, obsessed about whether Jews were out to get him. Regardless, this question was the subject of a heated exchange on CNN yesterday.

CNN commentator Kayleigh McEnany posed a simple question to Steven Goldstein, the Anne Frank Center’s executive director, on Tuesday night: “You think the president does not like Jews and is prejudiced against Jews?”

Goldstein’s response was unequivocal: “You bet.”

So began an intense exchange on CNN’s “Out Front” that escalated when McEnany suggested that President Trump cannot be anti-Semitic because his daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism when she married Jared Kushner.

“Does he hate his daughter?” McEnany asked. “Does he hate his son-in-law?”

“You know what, Kayleigh?” Goldstein shot back. “I am tired of commentators like you on the right trotting out his daughter, trotting out his son-in-law as talking points against the president’s anti-Semitism. They are Jewish, but that is not a talking point against anti-Semitism, and that is a disgrace. Have you no ethics?”

Indeed, ‘some of my best friends are Jewish’ isn’t much of an argument—even when it extends to one’s own family. As Erin Burnett correctly noted, it’s far from unheard of for people to make exceptions to their prejudices when it comes to, say, ‘their Jews’ or ‘their blacks’ or ‘their Catholics.’ For that matter, it doesn’t really matter whether or not the Prime Minister of Israel praised a President supportive of his policies.

However, I think that a focus on Trump’s personal views misses the point entirely. Since the start of his campaign, Trump has rarely missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity to condemn antisemitism, whether among his supporters or in the form of anti-Jewish terrorism. The administration’s exclusion of Jews from its Holocaust remembrance statement, and the way that it doubled down on the matter, justifiably provoked concern among members of the Jewish community and their allies.  Consider the statement by the Trump that McEnany invoked:

Well, I just want to say that we are very honored by the victory that we had — 306 electoral college votes. We were not supposed to crack 220. You know that, right? There was no way to 221, but then they said there’s no way to 270. And there’s tremendous enthusiasm out there.

I will say that we are going to have peace in this country. We are going to stop crime in this country. We are going to do everything within our power to stop long-simmering racism and every other thing that’s going on because lot of bad things have been taking place over a long period of time.

I think one of the reasons I won the election is we have a very, very divided nation. Very divided. And, hopefully, I’ll be able to do something about that. And, you know, it was something that was very important to me.

As far as people — Jewish people — so many friends, a daughter who happens to be here right now, a son-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren. I think that you’re going to see a lot different United States of America over the next three, four, or eight years. I think a lot of good things are happening, and you’re going to see a lot of love. You’re going to see a lot of love. Okay? Thank you.

As Callum Borchers noted:

“For those wanting to give the president a fair chance,” McEnany said, “you would have heard him condemn anti-Semitism. … That sounds like a condemnation to me.”

If it was a condemnation, it was one that did not specifically mention anti-Semitism and began with an off-topic boast about Trump’s electoral college win — all in all, an unconventional answer from a president.

To put it differently, Trump took a softball question—’Mr. President, I am providing you an opportunity to condemn a wave of antisemitic incidents’—and provided an discursive and elliptical answer. We shouldn’t have to be parsing his precise meaning. When Trump did call antisemitism “horrible,” it shouldn’t have come across as petulant damage control. What this suggests to me is not so much that Trump is antisemitic—but rather that he just doesn’t care that much. It’s another example of his narcissism and spotty empathy for the suffering he might inflict—by commission or omission—on others. Trump’s Jewish problem, in other words, is merely a symptom of the fundamental flaws that render him unsuited to the Presidency.



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