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Humanitarian Assistance

[ 6 ] December 28, 2013 |

My latest at the Diplomat examines the nexus of “smart” power and humanitarian assistance:

Such maritime assistance programs do not guarantee that the recipients will support the geopolitical aims of the United States in a high diplomatic sense; the friends we’re winning and influencing have their own interests, and in an actual struggle for power in East Asia would have their own reasons for supporting one side or the other. But let’s be frank; any program that “intends to provide up to $18 million in new assistance to Vietnam to enhance the capacity of coastal patrol units to deploy rapidly for search and rescue, disaster response, and other activities, including through provision of five fast patrol vessels in 2014 to the Vietnamese Coast Guard” also increases the combat capacity of Vietnamese maritime forces, as well as Vietnam’s ability to maintain a presence in areas that it contests with China. There’s surely a trade off between disaster preparedness and external defense, but a professional force with modern equipment can, for a time, become better at both.

What to Do About the F-35

[ 39 ] December 27, 2013 |

At the National Interest I have some ruminations on the future of the F-35:

What are we to make of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF)? Over the past several months, several pieces of good news about the program have emerged. The Royal Netherlands Air Force just became the second partner organization to operate the F-35. While new reports note a deal is not finalized, a South Korean purchase of the plane looks likely and with Japan already committed the plane looks set to soar in Asian skies. Indeed, while several partners have reduced their commitment over the last year, none have backed out fully. The F-35 Lightning II will, eventually, fly in the service of around a dozen major allied air forces.

Happy Christmas! Merry Holidays!

[ 127 ] December 25, 2013 |

From all at LGM, have a Happy Holiday! Stay safe! Avoid Disney!


[ 56 ] December 24, 2013 |

Well, this story dramatically enhances my faith in the United States Air Force:

McNamara wanted this [ICBM unlock code] system installed and wanted the unlock codes provided in the launch order, and the commander of SAC Thomas Power disagreed and went to the mat over it. McNamara thought he had prevailed, but learned from me in 2004 (the date of my article that you wrongly dated 1994) that SAC had set the combination codes to eight zeros and got away with it until 1977. Meanwhile, comparable technical coded switch devices were installed on strategic bombers in the early 1970s (the codes to which would be provided in the launch order), and in Trident submarines in 1997 (the codes to open a safe inside a safe containing the fire control key would also be provided in the launch order). One can surmise that an effort has been made to universalize these codes or otherwise the launch order would be pretty heavily loaded with unlock codes.

Or, if you prefer:

Rules of the Road

[ 11 ] December 24, 2013 |

My latest at the Diplomat ruminates on the rules of the road:

The Cold War surely presented its own version of a tense, complex maritime environment, but at least in that case good alliance relations between most of the major navies on either side meant that informal rules of the road could be applied with some confidence.  A Russian SSN playing tag with a French, British, or U.S. nuclear submarine had at least some sense that the other side shared a common purpose, if not always particular tactics. The current situation in East Asia is considerably different. As regional powers seek to increase their naval strength, an ever more complex maritime space develops. Sometimes, the increase in complexity does not even require the deployment of a larger number of ships; the “defensive zone” of the Liaoning is necessarily a relatively new concept for the PLAN. But in less than a decade, each of South Korea, Japan, Australia, India, the United States, and China may be operating carrier/amphib battle groups in rough proximity to one another. A shared understanding of the rules is important both to those who wish to live within them and those who want to test them, and the multiplicity of actors in Western Pacific makes coming to such an understanding exceptionally difficult.

Monday Linkage

[ 72 ] December 23, 2013 |

Stuff for the eve of your Christmas Eve…

Foreign Entanglements: “And That Means Crushing the Spirit of Every Child in America”

[ 4 ] December 23, 2013 |

On this week’s episode of Foreign Entanglements, Kelsey Atherton and I work through the strategic, operational, and tactical aspects of the War on Christmas:

Revising the Future of Flight

[ 23 ] December 20, 2013 |

I have an article up at Foreign Affairs (subscription):

The United States needs air power, but it does not need an air force.

In fact, it never really did. The U.S. Air Force, founded in 1947, was the product of a decades-long campaign by aviation enthusiasts inside the U.S. Army. These advocates argued that air power could not achieve its promise under the leadership of ground commanders. With memories of the great bombing campaigns of World War II still fresh and a possible confrontation with the Soviets looming, the nation’s would-be cold warriors determined that the age of air power was upon them. But it wasn’t. Advocates of an independent air force had misinterpreted the lessons of World War II to draw faulty conclusions about air power’s future.

In other news, read this:

The Air Force has just released its official report on its investigation into Maj. Gen. Michael Carey’s July trip to Moscow, which got him fired in October. Carey oversaw three wings of nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles, with 450 ICBMs in all. At the time, the dismissal was reportedly over personal misconduct during the official trip. But “misconduct,” it turns out, does not even come close.

The 42-page report is a doozy. It describes Carey as drinking heavily, spending an awful lot of time with two foreign women (a possible security risk), skipping meetings, complaining, offending the Russian hosts, at one point trying to perform with a band at a Moscow bar called La Cantina and generally acting a bit like a college kid on a semester abroad. The drinking got so bad that, according to the report, “one witness was concerned that Maj Gen Carey needed assistance standing.”


DC, Where the Bourbon Flows Like Bourbon

[ 138 ] December 19, 2013 |

Well, this is a shiny little piece of dreck:

I came home this fall to the state where I was born, raised and somewhat educated. My apartment is three times the size of my last one and half the cost, and it’s a little more than a block from Rupp Arena, home to the winningest college basketball team of all time and where I’d have my ashes spread if I weren’t worried a player would slip on them…

Much of my time in Washington was one hell of a party, an endless and decadent blowout bash more suited to VH1’s Behind the Music than working in the nation’s capital.

The first couple years, I spent almost every night downing bourbon—and sometimes indulging in harder substances—at Capitol Lounge before walking back to my studio apartment in Eastern Market, occasionally with some female congressional staffer whose name I was almost always too drunk to remember. (I later sought out and apologized to as many of those women as I could. To the ones I missed: I’m profoundly sorry for my behavior.)

I suppose part of my disillusionment had to do with my breakup with bourbon, after a real-life, devastating romantic breakup that was followed by a downward spiral. When I returned from my 28 days in rehab, in January 2010, it was harder to ignore the near criminal disconnect between Washington and the rest of the country.

Mr. Youngman has now returned to Kentucky, where bourbon and women of loose morals are never to be found. Of course, professional contrarian Matt Yglesias has a predictably #slatepitchy take:

Remarkably enough, I was able to do some empirical work on just this question last night. I determined that one could, in fact, find people willing to sell bourbon of many different varieties in the very shadow of hallowed Rupp Arena. At one establishment, I was referred to as “that hot Irish man at the end of the bar” by an obviously inebriated young woman. Fortunately, I maintained my virtue. The entire experience, however, made me wonder whether the problem wasn’t “This Town,” but rather “Mr. Sam Youngman.”

“You Shall Not Crucify Mankind Upon a Dragon of Gold”

[ 148 ] December 17, 2013 |

Liked the second Hobbit movie better than the first, and while I didn’t hate the first, I wouldn’t say that it’s improved upon subsequent viewings. The Desolation of Smaug probably has the fewest “coming of age” moments in the entire Jackson-Tolkien cycle, and since I find the iteration of these moments pointless and exhausting (I mean seriously, how many times does Sam have to realize his own worth?), the story could take center-stage. I also found the Tauriel character mildly less annoying than I expected, although I expected to be extremely annoyed.

With respect to Matt’s point, I think that the in-universe answer would run as follows; the death of Smaug leads to the restoration of the Kingdom Under the Mountain, the Kingdom of Dale, and the dominion of the Beornings. It also helped open access to Mirkwood by making Thranduil less paranoid. These developments substantially increased the opportunities for trade in the north, while also (in combination with the destruction of goblin strength in the Battle of Five Armies) helping to create reliable expectation of future stability. Trade increases, investment increases, and the massive supply of gold (literally) pouring out of the Lonely Mountain provides the monetary foundation for a strong, bustling northern economy.

The four allied dominions prove to be a pillar of Western strength during the War of Ring, requiring significant diversion of Sauron’s allied forces. And so really, the Hobbit is mostly about Gandalf attempting to generate economic growth by loosening monetary policy.

Monday Linkage

[ 14 ] December 16, 2013 |

Even as we speak, Mr. Lemieux and Mr. Loomis are engaged in a brutal, down to the last minute fantasy football playoff fight. For the less committed among us:

And remember the LGM Bowl Mania league:
League name: Lawyers, Guns and Money
Password: zevon

Erik–Thanks to the Ravens inability to put the ball in the end zone, I win.

Foreign Entanglements: Precarious Commitments

[ 0 ] December 15, 2013 |

On this week’s episode of Foreign Entanglements, Meir Javedanfar speaks with Emily Landau about Iran and the commitment problem:

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