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Tens of Thousands of People Flood the Streets…

[ 116 ] November 23, 2015 |

Am I the only one who doesn’t think that this question is naive?

With due respect to the Salon staff, why is this question “bonkers?” Every system of social organization, from anarchist to tyrannical, involves measures both punitive and celebratory. The fascist and communist regimes of the twentieth century insisted upon creating space for joyous celebration, and to some extent they surely succeeded. I read Oates as asking the question of whether and how ISIS manages the same thing. The Western discussion of ISIS concentrates on the punitive and puritanical, with some time set aside for ISIS’ delivery of social services and basic governance, but it has very little to say about how ISIS constructs and maintains a positive, forward looking worldview that can animate followers and attract support.

I think Oates is interested in this subject, and it’s surely an important question to ask.  It’s not clear to me why folks can’t see past their own noses on this issue.


In the Eye of a Hurricane, There Is Quiet…

[ 14 ] November 23, 2015 |
The USS Ronald Reagan

USS Ronald Reagan, by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Elizabeth Thompson – Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

My latest at the National Interest looks at some potential sparks for World War V:

Since 1756, the modern-state system has experienced four global wars; The Seven Years War, The French Revolutionary Wars, World War I, and World War II. The longest global peace came between 1815 and 1914, and it has now been seventy years since the last world war.

“World War III” would, in effect, be the fifth World War in the history of the modern state system. What might spark such a war, and how would it escalate into a global conflict? Here are five potential scenarios, none likely, but all possible:


[ 8 ] November 22, 2015 |


In about twenty minutes I’ll be going on Midrats to talk the procurement process.  Listen in!  Or listen later!

The World Is Gonna Know Your Name. What’s Your Name, Man?

[ 27 ] November 21, 2015 |

Vernon Adams.


My name is Vernon Adams.

@Stanford, USC: 30-37, 612 yards, 8 TDs, 1 Int

And there’s a million things I haven’t done
But just you wait, just you wait…

The World Turned Upside Down

[ 11 ] November 21, 2015 |
Operation Inherent Resolve 150304-F-MG591-123.jpg

“Operation Inherent Resolve” by Staff Sgt. Perry Aston – Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Some thoughts at the Diplomat on future directions in Canadian foreign policy:

Some of the strategic questions are clear; how closely does Canada wish to cleave to the United States, how does it want to approach the arctic, and how does it plan to replace or refurbish aging equipment. Even these questions, however, can lead to difficult debates over the operationalization of strategy.

History Has Its Eyes on You

[ 80 ] November 20, 2015 |
Woodrow Wilson by Pach Bros c1875.jpg

“Woodrow Wilson by Pach Bros c1875” by Pach Brothers, New York – Heritage Auctions. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

I suppose I’m not utterly convinced that Princeton should change the name of the Woodrow Wilson School; Wilson was a two-term President, and is particularly important to Princeton as an institution.  He’s not nearly as disposable as John C. Calhoun, for example. But it’s unquestionably positive that student activism has forced a public conversation on Wilson’s central “achievements:”

Leaving the broader question of whether Wilson’s name should be removed, let’s be clear on one thing: Woodrow Wilson was, in fact, a racist pig. He was a racist by current standards, and he was a racist by the standards of the 1910s, a period widely acknowledged by historians as the “nadir” of post-Civil War race relations in the United States.

Easily the worst part of Wilson’s record as president was his overseeing of the re-segregation of multiple agencies of the federal government, which had been been surprisingly integrated as a result of Reconstruction decades earlier. At a April 11, 1913, cabinet meeting, Postmaster General Albert Burleson argued for segregating the Railway Mail Service. He objected to the fact that workers shared glasses, towels, and washrooms. Wilson offered no objection to Burleson’s plan for segregation, saying that he “wished the matter adjusted in a way to make the least friction.”

In effect, Wilson killed the last, best part of Reconstruction. While I don’t necessarily support expunging him, it’s fair to say that we (both generally, and specifically the institutions that lionize Wilson) need to grapple with this.

Take the Long Range Strike Aircraft Out Your Carrier

[ 5 ] November 18, 2015 |
CVA-42 approach 1970s DN-SP-04-08721.JPEG

USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42) approach, 1970s. USN photo, licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

My latest at the Diplomat looks at one of the more impressive recent salvos in the ongoing Carrier Wars:

Jerry Hendrix traces the history of the carrier air wing, with emphasis on how the World War II experience led American naval aviators to appreciate the need for long range attack aircraft. Especially late in the war, the effectiveness of Japanese land-based kamikaze aircraft helped create interest in longer range attack planes, which in turn drove an increase in deck and ship size. This culminated in the mid-1970s, when US carrier wings could boast the long-range F-14 interceptor and the A-6 strike aircraft, as well as organic aerial refueling capabilities.

If You Stand for Nothing, What Do You Fall For?

[ 207 ] November 17, 2015 |

The Democrats could take Kevin Drum’s advice and get to the right of Ben Wittes, or they could not:

As readers of this site know, I do not hang out, intellectually or emotionally, in the human rights clubhouse. I defend non-criminal detention. I believe actively in robust surveillance authorities. I have no moral or legal qualms about military commissions. I don’t mind drone strikes. I’ll even—still—cop to harboring mixed feelings about coercive interrogations in the highest-stakes cases. #SorryNotSorry.

But turning our backs on refugees? Count me the heck out.

There is a critical moral line here; there is also an important strategic line…

Let’s start with the moral point: Unlike the many tough and controversial tactics the Bush and Obama administrations have used in combatting terrorism, what’s going on now involves action directed at concededly innocent people. Even the CIA’s interrogation program waterboarded people believed to be Al Qaeda’s senior operational leadership. The tens of thousands of people governors are pledging to keep out of their states are, by contrast, innocent victims of the very people we are fighting. Nobody contests this. Nobody argues that they are, in fact, an army of ISIS operatives. The concern, rather, is that some tiny percentage of them will be sleeper operatives infiltrated into a much larger group of people deserving of our protection.

I would make an analogy here to throwing out babies with bathwater, except that it would be in poor taste. We’re dealing with real babies, after all.

I’d go with “not.”

Tuesday Linkage

[ 38 ] November 17, 2015 |
North American XB-70A Valkyrie in formation 061122-F-1234P-035.jpg

“North American XB-70A Valkyrie in formation 061122-F-1234P-035” by US Air Force. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.


It looks like Moscow stepped up its military effort in Syria even before the intention to intensify the air strikes was announced by Putin on Nov. 17.

As initially reported by Reuters, a US official has confirmed that Moscow has conducted a significant number of strikes in Syria using both sea-launched cruise missiles and long-range bombers.

The Russian MoD said 25 long-range bombers took part in the raid: 5 x Tu-160s, 6 x Tu-95MS and 14 x Tu-22M3.

According to one our sources who wishes to remain anonymous, the long-range bombers the Russian Air Force has used against ground targets in Syria early in the morning on Nov. 17 were Tu-22M Backfire strategic bombers.

Other stuff for your Tuesday:

You Make My Subs Go Boom Boom Boom

[ 22 ] November 16, 2015 |

USS Maryland (SSBN 738)

USS Maryland (SSBN 738). Public Domain, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Some more thoughts on China’s developing boomer force at the National Interest:

How vulnerable are China’s nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs, or boomers), and what does that vulnerability mean for US strategy?

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has devoted considerable time and expense to developing a maritime nuclear deterrent. The United States Navy, on the other hand, has forty years of experience in hunting down Russian boomers. Chinese boomers present no major problem.

But the paradox of nuclear weapons is that one player’s insecurity can make the other player less secure. If the United States can credibly threaten the Chinese nuclear deterrent, Beijing’s paranoia might become more risk acceptant, rather than less. This makes the decision to exploit the vulnerability of China’s boomers fraught with danger.


[ 96 ] November 14, 2015 |

Marche-des-marseilloisSome similarly barely organized thoughts on the Paris attack:

  • The French government has made it clear that it believes ISIS to be responsible, but the tactics bear much greater similarity to Al Qaeda. The French undoubtedly have good reasons to believe what they do, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the verdict on responsibility evolve over the next few days.
  • I think it’s clear that the biggest impact is going to be felt in the domestic politics and France, and the broader internal politics of the EU.  A few folks yesterday were tweeting about “President Le Pen,” and I have to concede it’s a serious concern.  Anti-refugee and other right wing groups will undoubtedly derive a great deal of support from the attacks, as well.
  • It is no easy thing to assemble an arsenal and set up a planned, coordinated series of attacks under the noses of the French security and intelligence services.  It’ll be very interesting to see how the attackers managed to find a seam in French intel, and how they managed to keep their planning efforts secure.
  • Not obvious yet what the French response will be, but if they do decide it was ISIS, I expect it will go beyond adding a few additional French aircraft to existing coalition efforts.  This may be the incident that precipitates an expansion of special forces efforts against ISIS, both by the French and potentially by other European governments. 

The Wishy Washy Centrist Post You’ve Been Waiting For!

[ 86 ] November 14, 2015 |

solomon1Some barely collected thoughts on student activism, presented in bullet form. The italics represent sub-bullets, because apparently our bulleting doesn’t work as well as I’d hoped:

  • 18-22 year olds are, as a rule, stupid; they do stupid things, both individually and collectively.  They have not been trained in the various ways that effective political actors develop, publicize, and enforce claims; they are exceedingly prone to over-reaction, in-group thinking, and a variety of other tactical and strategic errors
    • You’ll never find me saying that I “unconditionally” support a student activist movement.
  • The particular movements that have arisen at Missouri, Yale, Amherst, et al display some distinctly anti-liberal tendencies that, while almost certainly positive for in-group cohesion and concerted political action, will make it difficult to formulate long-term goals and build long-term alliances with relevant stakeholders in the university reform process.
  • It is quite likely that positive answers to student claims will come in the form of “administrative bloat,” the expansion of administrative authority over faculty and student life, and that this administrative bloat will have some negative effects on campus life. In particular, the establishment of broader support and monitoring networks within the university system will likely erode faculty authority and faculty governance.


  • Headlines notwithstanding, almost all of manifestations of this most recent wave of student activism arise from *some* foundation of genuine, reasonable grievances about how their institutions are operating, how these institutions relate to the past, and how these institutions are managing (or failing to manage) technological change. While some of the demands are expansive, others are specific and on point; the change of particular administrators or administrative policies, and the expansion of particular administrative support capacities.
    • Jeffrey Amherst and John C. Calhoun are not humans who should be memorialized on an American university campus.
    • The expansion of services and support designed to reduce attrition rates for minority students should be utterly uncontroversial.
  • A liberal society can (and indeed, must) tolerate the existence of a wide variety of illiberal spaces. The internal functioning of organizations and communities within liberal society necessarily requires illiberal, hierarchical, and authoritarian measures. This is true whether we’re talking about a fraternity, a corporation, a political party, or a university.  This has always been the case, and is so obvious to me that it hardly seems worthy of bearing mention. Consequently, simply noting the illiberalism of activist demands in neither here nor there; the question is whether these particular illiberal manifestations are uniquely harmful to the organizational (university) mission, or the liberal project more broadly.
    • It seems abjectly silly for a blog that actively moderates its comment threads to claim that it is inherently wrong for universities, as well as specific groups within universities, to call for and establish both form and substance limitations on speech.
  • Faculty governance ain’t all its cracked up to be. There are big downsides to administrative bloat, but the process has come about through a recognition that the 4-7 years of undergraduate education represent a personal transformation that involves something far more important that the collections of grades and classes that constitute a transcript.  As the American university system has expanded beyond its pre-war base of young, middle- and upper- class white men, it has become clear that the university community requires a degree of support, management, and administration that goes well beyond what was available fifty or sixty years ago. Much of this fight is about the precise contours and responsibilities of that administrative bureaucracy.
    • The faculty aren’t the only stakeholders in this process, and it’s not even obvious to me that they’re the most important stakeholders. 
    • It should be painfully obvious to anyone who has ever darkened the halls of an academic department that faculty are not selected for administrative talent or vision, and that a significant portion of faculty only grudgingly acquiesce to regular administrative responsibilities.

The biggest problem for the future of this particular wave of student activism isn’t Jonathan Chait; it’s the vengeful state legislatures that have been salivating about ways to break the public university system. Freddie is utterly correct about this, and I am far less hopeful than he that there’s any positive outcome to be found in that arena.

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