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Category: Robert Farley

Foreign Entanglements: Trump! Cruz! Bernie!

[ 1 ] January 31, 2016 |

On the latest Foreign Entanglements, Michael Cohen and I jabber about foreign policy and the Presidential primary:


19th Century Loomis

[ 47 ] January 31, 2016 |

This is how you solve a problem.salad

The Splits

[ 5 ] January 30, 2016 |
1916. Khrushhev-s-zhenojj-efrosinejj.jpg

Nikita Khrushchev, 1916 Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

My latest at the Diplomat covers some recent historiography on the Sino-Soviet Split:

In the Journal of Cold War Studies, Danhui Li and Yafeng Xia (reviewed by Avram Agov) survey the historical research on the Sino-Soviet relationship in the early 1960s. The authors focus their argument on the competition for ideological leadership between Beijing and Moscow. By their account, the ideological and security differences emerged and sharpened as the two giants tried to make space for themselves at the top of the international communist movement. The Soviet Union naturally saw itself as the leader of the movement, as it had the most powerful, longest established socialist regime. The Chinese regarded their revolution as indigenous, and saw the developing world as key to the long-term success of the socialist bloc. The two countries fought this battle in a series of pamphlets and conventions, often through proxies in the Communist world.


[ 30 ] January 26, 2016 |
Brusilov Aleksei in 1917.jpg

Aleksei Brusilov. Available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3b20079. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

My latest at the National Interest takes a look at some under-remembered battles of 1916:

The centenary commemorations of World War I will undoubtedly concentrate on a trio of well-known battles; Verdun, the Somme and Jutland. All three ended inconclusively, and all witnessed tremendous bloodshed. Verdun and the Somme etched themselves into the national consciousness of France and Great Britain, respectively, while Jutland helped transform naval architecture.

But 1916 also witnessed a number of other, lesser known battles. Although they lack the same resonance in the West, the outcome of these battles helped determine the post-war map of Europe, not to mention the nature of warfare for the next generation.

Uncertainty Kills

[ 83 ] January 24, 2016 |
The Pentagon is functioning.jpg

U.S. Navy Photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Bob Houlihan – Public Domain

Interesting find by Politico, but gets a key part of the story fundamentally wrong:

The [Joint Chiefs of Staff] report was an inventory of what U.S. intelligence knew—or more importantly didn’t know—about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Its assessment was blunt: “We’ve struggled to estimate the unknowns. … We range from 0% to about 75% knowledge on various aspects of their program.”

Myers already knew about the report. The Joint Staff’s director for intelligence had prepared it, but Rumsfeld’s urgent tone said a great deal about how seriously the head of the Defense Department viewed the report’s potential to undermine the Bush administration’s case for war. But he never shared the eight-page report with key members of the administration such as then-Secretary of State Colin Powell or top officials at the CIA, according to multiple sources at the State Department, White House and CIA who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity. Instead, the report disappeared, and with it a potentially powerful counter-narrative to the administration’s argument that Saddam Hussein’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons posed a grave threat to the U.S. and its allies, which was beginning to gain traction in major news outlets, led by the New York Times.

The article goes on to contrast the uncertainty described in the report with the public statements of Bush administration officials. It’s fair to acknowledge that there’s a significant disjuncture between the certainty with which the Bush admin publicly described intel, and the much more mushy reality of what the US intelligence community (IC) could prove. That said, in other cases officials made the case for war in terms of uncertainty; Condi Rice’s “Mushroom Cloud” comment was premised on precisely these terms.

And inside the administration, the uncertainty regarding the state of Iraqi WMD was viewed as a cause for war, in and of itself. Charles Duelfer is very good on this point; he was far from certain that Iraq had WMD, but he favored war because it was impossible to tell for sure. That may sound a bit crazy, but in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 this kind of argument carried a lot of weight within the national security community. To the extent that arguments were used strategically within the administration (not everyone was convinced that invading Iraq was a good idea; Colin Powell is the best example, but there are others) the “we don’t have enough intel to prove what Iraq is doing” case tended to support the hawks.

And so it’s really not the case that the distribution of a document raising caveats about the state of intel on Iraq might have slowed the rush to war; uncertainty was one of the key talking points of hawks within the administration (above and beyond all of the other reasons they wanted to invade Iraq). Rumsfeld may have decided not to distribute the report simply because he felt it unnecessary at that point to add to the case for war.

More on the VPAF

[ 2 ] January 22, 2016 |
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21PF USAF.jpg

By USAF – National Museum of the U.S. Air Force photo 050322-F-1234P-001, Public Domain.

I was on BBC Business World last night, talking Vietnamese fighter planes. Folks seem excited by the notion of selling Typhoons to Vietnam…

Hammer of the Gods

[ 40 ] January 21, 2016 |
Lockheed F-104A-15-LO 060928-F-1234S-008.jpg

USAF – National Museum of the U.S. Air Force photo 060928-F-1234S-008, Public Domain.

Some links for your pleasure, as snow begins to destroy most of the eastern half of these great United States:

Some projections have Lexington getting up to 15″ of snow tonight, which would mean that three of the top six snowfalls in history would have happened in the last year. That ain’t normal.

Oh, and this:


[ 21 ] January 17, 2016 |
F-5C VNAF 23TW 522FS BienHoa 1971.jpg

Original source: Source: The Vietnamese Air Force, 1951-1975, An Analysis of Its Role in Combat, by William W. Momyer, Gen, USAF, Ret., USAF Southeast Asia Monograph Series, Washington, Department of the Air Force, 1979. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

My latest at the Diplomat looks at Vietnam’s decision to consider buying some European fighter aircraft:

Thus, the sale would likely represent a long-term relationship between Vietnam and whatever country is lucky enough to get the sale. It would likely require some technology transfer (especially if Vietnam can generate a competitive bidding process), the presence of engineers and maintenance personnel on the ground, and a long training regimen. The aircraft will (undoubtedly) return to the host country for periodic upgrades and overhauls as new weapon and software systems become available.

Nothing about this is particularly new or novel; buying a fighter jet has become far less about hooking up than establishing a long-term relationship. But it will represent one of the first of these kinds of relationship that Vietnam has established with a Western country. And it says much about Vietnam’s long-term strategic outlook that Hanoi is exploring the option in such depth.


A Man in My Position Can’t Afford to Be Made to Look Ridiculous

[ 117 ] January 10, 2016 |

nbc-fires-donald-trump-after-he-calls-mexicans-rapists-and-drug-runnersAt the risk of eventually looking deeply ridiculous, I’m going to have to depart from Paul (and to some extent from Scott) regarding Trump’s candidacy. At this point, I’d rate the chances as Cruz 50%, Rubio 35%, Bush 10-15%, and Trump 0-5%.

Cruz’s path to the nomination is fairly clear; he wins Iowa, and Trump and the vote in the next few primaries is sufficiently divided between Trump and the remaining mainstream candidates that he wins or does very well in the first few contests.  The Establishment dislikes Cruz, but it will rally around him.

Rubio and Bush have very similar paths.  Each has to do decently enough in Iowa to have an impact on New Hampshire, forcing the Establishment to choose one or the other in order to avoid Cruz or Trump.  I appreciate that it’s trendy to be completely dismissive of Bush’s chances at this point, but expectations have gotten so low that if he stages any kind of rally in Iowa or New Hampshire, he’ll earn a strong comeback narrative and he’ll get a lot of his Establishment support back.  Given that he’s a known quantity and that the situation is fluid, I would not at all be surprised to see voters go with him as the safe choice.  But then it’s also possible he’ll be out when polls close in New Hampshire.

My case against Trump is pretty much identical to that of Nate Silver.  The party hates him; he’s polling worse in the states that have the earliest primaries than he is nationally; the people who’ve expressed a preference for him are the lowest information voters and the least likely to actually vote; there are deep questions about his organization (a problem tied to the party hating him); state polls and national polls are extremely volatile in the early going.   I think there’s a very strong chance that he’ll underperform in Iowa, which will make things very difficult moving forward. It’s also important to remember that while we’re treating state polls in isolation at this point, that’s not at all justifiable. Especially for the first few states, these polls have historically seen wild shifts based on the outcome of the previous contests.

While Trump may see some isolated success, I think the most likely outcome is that he doesn’t see the early success he’s expecting, and goes on to regularly run second or third for as long as he remains in the race, behind Cruz and whichever of Bush and Rubio survive. In the unlikely event that Trump does win some early primaries, I suspect that the party will fairly quickly unite around Cruz or Rubio, and that Trump will struggle to put together majorities. Either way, he’s drawing dead.

The impact of Trump, such that it is, will most likely manifest in giving Ted Cruz the advantage he needs to take the race, although it’s possible that Cruz might have won anyway.  The more interesting wild card is, of course, if Trump runs third party; even a limited impact (and I’d say he’ll manage something less than Perot ’92) will give Clinton a huge advantage in the general.

Bowl Mania Wrap

[ 3 ] January 9, 2016 |

Cementerio Maria Magdalena, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Photograph by author.

Apologies for the sparse posting; I continue to endure the sunny warmth of Puerto Rico, and to… um… immerse myself in conference related activities.  Like, for example, this evening’s rum tasting, presented by the Southern Political Science Association!

Life is hard.

Anyways, looks like it’s all she wrote for the LGM Bowl Mania League:

1 38 718 99.8
2 4 659 96.0
3 34 654 95.3
4 9 649 94.6
5 1 647 94.3
6 29 628 90.8
7 35 624 90.0
8 33 623 89.8
9 39 620 89.1
10 12 606 85.5


This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call an insurmountable lead.  Mr. or Ms. TMTZac should feel free to contact me (address on right sidebar) regarding prize info.

2015 Prediction Review

[ 71 ] January 6, 2016 |

“ChickenDivination” by Anonymous folk artist. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.


Time to review last year’s predictions:

World Series Champion: Washington Nationals
NCAA Football FBS Champion: Oregon Ducks
Number of living Castro brothers, 12/31/15: 1
Academy Award, Best Picture: Boyhood
Number of Mistral class amphibious assault ships delivered to Russia: 1

Number of fatal incidents involving collision between Russian and NATO aircraft: 1
Afghanistan Coalition fatalities: 35 (27)
North Korean nuclear tests: 1
Sunsets on Syria under President of Bashar al-Assad: 365
Number of defeats suffered by Kentucky Wildcats Men’s Basketball, 2014-5 season: 0
Heisman Trophy: Dalvin Cook, FSU

Israeli strikes on Iran: 0
Number of formal agreements between Iran and the United States on the future of Iran’s nuclear program: 1

Number of Coalition aircraft shot down by ISIS: 1
Supreme Court vacancies: 1

2014 3rd Quarter GDP growth (as per revisions by 12/31/15, +/-.2): 2.8% (1.9%)
F-35 crashes: 1
Barack Obama approval rate, 12/31/15 (+/- .3%): 45.1% (46.7%)
European benchmark Brent oil, 12/31/15 (+/- $2.00): $61 (37.08)

Well, that was just a disaster. And that’s even giving me credit for the collision between a Russian aircraft and a NATO missile.

Here’s to 2016:

World Series Champion: Los Angeles Dodgers
NCAA Football FBS Champion: Oregon Ducks
Number of living Castro brothers, 12/31/16: 1
Academy Award, Best Picture: The Big Short
American soldiers killed in Iraq/Syria (+/-5): 15
Afghanistan Coalition fatalities (+/-5): 40
North Korean nuclear tests: 1*
Sunsets on Syria under President of Bashar al-Assad (+/-20): 365
Fatal military incidents in South China Sea: 2
Heisman Trophy: Royce Freeman
Israeli strikes on Iran: 0
GOP Presidential Nominee: Senator Ted Cruz
Number of Coalition aircraft shot down by ISIS: 1
Democratic Senators (including Senators elect, caucusing independents): 50
2015 3rd Quarter GDP growth (as per revisions by 12/31/16, +/-.2): 2.6%
Electoral Votes, Hillary Clinton, 2016: 303
Barack Obama approval rate, 12/31/16 (+/- .3%): 50.3%
European benchmark Brent oil, 12/31/16 (+/- $2.00): $45


*I’m going to count this one; was on the list last year, and I can show the timestamp on the draft  revisions…

Using the Bomb in Korea

[ 37 ] January 5, 2016 |
B-29 307th BG bombing target in Korea c1951.jpg

“B-29 307th BG bombing target in Korea c1951” by USAF – National Museum of the U.S. Air Force photo 050831-F-1234P-008. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

The Diplomat is running a brief series on historical counterfactuals in East Asia. I contributed this:

U.S. President Harry Truman refused MacArthur’s request to expand the war into Manchuria, eventually firing the General and turning command over to Matthew Ridgway, who stabilized the situation in Korea. However, the possible use of atomic weapons in 1950 and 1951 remains one of the great unanswered “what if?” questions associated with the early Cold War. Such a decision would have affected not only the course of the Korean War, but also the broader ideological and military struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union.

So, what if the United State had used atomic weapons against China and North Korea in 1950?

Incidentally, I’ll be in San Juan, Puerto Rico for the next four days, enjoying the Southern Political Science Association conference. Happy to have drinks with (what I am sure is) the robust San Juan LGM fan club, or with anyone else attending SPSA.

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