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When People Stop Being Polite…

[ 57 ] February 12, 2015 |

Earlier this week, Francis Sempa made a go at rehabilitating the reputation of James Burnham.  I had some objections:

What’s odd about Sempa’s column is that very few try to resurrect the reputation of Vietnam hawks, the people who argued that the only problems with the war in Indochina are that the United States didn’t squander enough blood and treasure and didn’t slaughter enough Asians. America’s historical memory has struggled to flush such voices from its consciousness, and has largely succeeded. It also bears note that the National Review itselfrarely enjoys being reminded of the sort of sentiments it published during the 1950s and 1960s.

… via Hogan, Orwell on Burnham. And this is particularly on the nose:

Power worship blurs political judgement because it leads, almost unavoidably, to the belief that present trends will continue. Whoever is
winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible. If the Japanese have conquered south Asia, then they will keep south Asia for ever, if
the Germans have captured Tobruk, they will infallibly capture Cairo; if the Russians are in Berlin, it will not be long before they are in
London: and so on. This habit of mind leads also to the belief that things will happen more quickly, completely, and catastrophically than
they ever do in practice. The rise and fall of empires, the disappearance of cultures and religions, are expected to happen with earthquake
suddenness, and processes which have barely started are talked about as though they were already at an end. Burnham’s writings are full of
apocalyptic visions. Nations, governments, classes and social systems are constantly described as expanding, contracting, decaying, dissolving,
toppling, crashing, crumbling, crystallising, and, in general, behaving in an unstable and melodramatic way. The slowness of historical change,
the fact that any epoch always contains a great deal of the last epoch, is never sufficiently allowed for. Such a manner of thinking is bound to
lead to mistaken prophecies, because, even when it gauges the direction of events rightly, it will miscalculate their tempo. Within the space of
five years Burnham foretold the domination of Russia by Germany and of Germany by Russia. In each case he was obeying the same instinct: the
instinct to bow down before the conqueror of the moment, to accept the existing trend as irreversible. With this in mind one can criticise his
theory in a broader way.

Foreign Entanglements: The Guns of Kiev

[ 2 ] February 10, 2015 |

On the latest episode of Foreign Entanglements, Sean Kay and I talk about arming Ukraine:

“I mean, it could be that God stopped the bullets, or He changed Coke to Pepsi, He found my fucking car keys”

[ 54 ] February 9, 2015 |

Four years ago I lost my car keys. At the time we were in the middle of a move from Cincinnati to Lexington, and for a while I simply assumed that they would turn up in some box or another. As the years went by, and we underwent another move, that hope faded. Late last year, I finally threw away two bike locks that I had kept around in the forlorn hope that the keys would turn up. One of the keys on the ring was a departmental submaster, which set off a minor crisis at work that eventually made it all the way to the Dean (I still have the panicked e-mails from the Dean, insisting that we needed to change every lock on the floor twice, one temporary, one permanent, and I remember my Director carefully talking the Dean down). The ring also had my old lanyard from the year I spent as an RA in the University of Oregon dorm system.

And then I get a call last Tuesday from someone, telling me that my keys had been turned in at a Cincinnati area Kroger, and that they had identified me through the Kroger card on the chain. I was driving at the time, and I insisted that they had to be wrong; the keys were literally in the car. But then I realized that they had found the *old* set. It’s fair to say that my surprise was noticeable to the person on the phone. After confirming my identity, she took my new address, and they express mailed the keys to me. Some thoughts, in no particular order:

  • Where could the keys have been that they spent four years in a Kroger?
  • Who knew there was an upside to giving your actual phone number on your Kroger card?
  • Does this mean that I should never throw anything away again?
  • Isn’t that some damn fine customer service?
  • Does this count as one of my miracles?

Institutions Matter?

[ 4 ] February 7, 2015 |

My latest at the Diplomat takes a look at the pace of institutionalization in the Asia-Pacific:

East Asia is well known for its weak-to-non-existent institutions of multilateral governance. In Europe, the economic, social, and security concerns of most states play out in one or another institutional setting, usually in organizations created shortly after World War II. In Asia, the success of multilateral institutions has been far spottier, and those organizations that have endured generally have not impinged deeply upon national sovereignty.

Is there an upside? International institutions can outlive the basic causal factors that give them life, which is to say that they can shape and adapt to changes in geopolitical reality. But as we may be seeing in Europe, institutional momentum can be dangerous; efforts to preserve institutions that have outlived their usefulness can prove destructive.

Not to Defend Brian Williams, But…

[ 52 ] February 5, 2015 |

This criticism of Williams makes no sense to me:

That’s partly because his fake anecdotes made it seem like he was trying to claim the bravery of other people who really did come under fire. After all, one of the Chinooks did get hit by an RPG. The story Williams told was theirs, not his.

Lance Reynolds, who was the flight engineer on the helicopter that got hit with the RPG, told Stars and Stripes, “It was something personal for us that was kind of life-changing for me. I know how lucky I was to survive it.” For Reynolds, the incident was “a personal experience that someone else wanted to participate in and didn’t deserve to participate in.”

If two aircraft took ground fire and two didn’t, the reason for the variance likely has very little to do with the personal bravery of any of the pilots or occupants. Everyone involved was lucky to survive; the occupants of the helicopter that got hit, but also the occupants of the helicopters that didn’t take direct fire despite being in the same formation or on the same flight path. In other words, everyone was a “participant,” whether their helicopters were hit or not.

Air Attack!

[ 67 ] February 3, 2015 |

I turned my listicle-sense to attack aircraft last week:

Is the dedicated attack aircraft a dying breed? Few air forces are developing new attack aircraft, preferring to rely on fighter-bombers carrying precision-guided munitions to do the dirty work of close air support and battlefield interdiction. But then it has always been such; tactical attack has long been shunted to the side by air forces more interested in fast fighters and majestic bombers. Many of the attack aircraft used in World War II began design life as fighters, only becoming attack planes when they “failed.” And yet these attack aircraft have, over the years, ably performed one of the most critical airpower missions—the destruction of the fielded forces of the enemy, and the support of friendly ground troops.

Do not read the comments!

The Curse of Chuckie

[ 63 ] January 31, 2015 |

And the Krauthammer Award for Lazy Mendacity goes to… Charles Krauthammer. In the process of using the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz to shill for war against Iran, Chuckie writes:

Didn’t it [deterrence] work against the Soviets? Well, just 17 years into the atomic age,we came harrowingly close to deterrence failure and all-out nuclear war. Moreover, godless communists anticipate no reward in heaven. Atheists calculate differently from jihadists with their cult of death. Name one Soviet suicide bomber.

Former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, known as a moderate, once characterized tiny Israel as a one-bomb country. He acknowledged Israel’s deterrent capacity but noted the asymmetry: “Application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.” Result? Israel eradicated, Islam vindicated. So much for deterrence.

As Krauthammer undoubtedly knows, Cold War hawks regularly invoked the atheism of Soviet and Chinese leaders as justification for concern about Communist nuclear programs. Atheists, with no fear of eternal punishment and no hope of heavenly reward, could not be trusted to value life. In addition to providing a useful explanation for genocidal Soviet policies in Ukraine, the Stalinist purges, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution, the Communist-as-indifferent-to-life trope helped justify attacks on deterrence theory. If Mao and Stalin cared so little about human life that they were willing to kill tens of millions of their own people, then it made no sense to trust their rationality with respect to pushing the button.

And, as Krauthammer is surely aware, there were Soviet suicide bombers. On June 26, 1941 (at least in Soviet propaganda; the reality is murkier) a Soviet pilot named Nikolai Gastello plunged his bomber into a column of German tanks. Suicidal ramming was not an uncommon tactics by Soviet pilots early in the war, the official atheism of the Soviet state notwithstanding. And while I can certainly sympathize with (and even admire) the willingness of Soviet pilots to engage in suicidal self-sacrifice while fighting the Nazis, the question that Krauthammer poses is whether godless communists, who anticipate no reward in heaven, can nevertheless be motivated by nationalistic and ideological commitments to undertake suicide attacks.  The answer is yes.  The answer is also “yes” for Vietnamese Communists, who were sufficiently motivated by nationalistic and ideological commitments to undertake suicide attacks in several instances.

With respect to Rafsanji, I can only assume that Krauthammer appreciates that rhetorical invocations of an Islamic community aside, Iran has behaved far more like a nation-state than an apocalyptic death cult. Indeed, the Islamic Republic has, thus far, demonstrated remarkably little interest in committing national suicide in the service of “vindicating” Islam.  And as Middle East watchers have long noted, while Iran isn’t shy about rhetorically embracing the tactic of suicide bombing (and supporting such tactics in proxies), actually instances of Iranians engaging in suicide attacks are quite rare.

At this point, I find the lazy almost more irritating than the mendacity.  Krauthammer is a rhetorician, largely indifferent to the accuracy of the claims that he makes, but in the past he’s made at least a middling effort to distance himself from the rabble by striking an erudite pose.  In his old age, this seems to be slipping. One would hope that the editors of the Washington Post would expect more from one of their front line columnists, but alas…

Defense Innovation in China

[ 0 ] January 29, 2015 |

The Diplomat: APAC (one of my employers), recently introduced a new app. The app has a magazine format, and I have an article on defense innovation in the Chinese military-industrial complex in the third issue.

Yet for all of this success, serious questions persist. China remains dependent on access to foreign technology, with many of its most important systems stemming from Russian and Western designs. More importantly, however, China must figure out a way to manage the growing divide between its military and civilian economies. The United States and Europe have struggled mightily to harness their military-industrial complexes (MICs) to private industry, particular in the information technology sector. China’s MIC will soon face the same problems, and how it manages this obstacle will matter much more than questions about how much technology it can steal from the West.

I highly recommend both the article, and the app.

I believe that LGM will not merely endure: We will prevail

[ 205 ] January 28, 2015 |

One more obstacle falls in LGM’s ruthless, albeit leisurely paced, march to the top of the blogosphere.

Vaxxing

[ 119 ] January 27, 2015 |

Last Tuesday, my daughter Miriam complained at breakfast of itchy skin. Miriam complains about a great many things (she’s generally quite insistent that most maladies, from stubbed toe to mild fever, require a trip to the emergency room), and so I didn’t initially take the complaint all that seriously. That afternoon, she complained to her mother, who noticed that a small rash had broken out on her arm. Miriam also had a couple of minor blisters on her legs, and so despite the lack of fever, we resolved to take her in the next morning.

On Wednesday, the doctor diagnosed Miriam with chicken pox. No fever, no nausea, few pox, but chicken pox nonetheless. We mentioned that Miriam had been vaccinated, and our pediatrician noted that she sees about one case a year of a kid who’s been vaccinated by nevertheless gets the disease. It apparently has a transmission rate of roughly 10%, and the cases are 10% as severe for a vaccinated kid as for an unvaccinated.

I got the chicken pox when I was 14. It was hell; constant itching, lethargy, deep unpleasantness all around. I missed two weeks of school. Miriam, the child who complains relentlessly (and eloquently, for a five year old) about every illness or injury, real and imagined, barely raised a peep about her rash, and missed only two days of school. Oh, and her twin sister Elisha has yet to develop the pox.

Dayenu, varicella vaccine. Dayenu.

Air Forces All Over the Place!

[ 4 ] January 27, 2015 |

My latest at the National Interest takes a look at the three most effective air forces flown by Asian countries:
B

ut effective air forces need more than flashy fighters. They need transport aircraft that can provide strategic and tactical airlift, and Aerial Early Warning (AEW) planes that can maintain surveillance and control of the sky. They need a defense-industrial base that can keep the warplanes in the air. This article looks at the three most effective air forces in Asia, in the context of their ability to put planes in the sky, to make sure those planes are well flown, and maintain a reliable supply and procurement base.

GoT at ISA

[ 3 ] January 25, 2015 |

This, by LGM alumna Charli Carpenter, is very well done:

Tragically, Alex and I won’t make the panel because of unforeseen new commitments. Nevertheless, if you’re at the ISA conference I can’t imagine a more interesting Wednesday afternoon panel.

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