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Category: Robert Farley


[ 103 ] July 13, 2016 |
USNS Comfort (T-AH-20)

USNS Comfort. By Spc. Landon Stephenson – Navy News Service Hi-Res, Public Domain,

Well, this is interesting.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign is vetting retired Navy Adm. James Stavridis, a four-star officer who served as NATO’s 16th Supreme Allied Commander Europe.

Stavridis, who currently serves as the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, is being formally vetted, according to two sources familiar with the process.

In addition to his service to NATO from 2009 to 2013, Stavridis also served as the 15th commander of U.S. European Command from 2006 to 2009, and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1976.

Stavridis would certainly be an interesting choice.  I’m guessing that the logic runs that Trump himself sews up the major constituencies of the Democratic Party, and that Stavridis would serve to reassure folks who need a Vaguely Competent White Guy on the ticket.  Although Stavridis is fairly obscure to most people outside the national security community, he probably sufficiently fits that bill.  I have no idea of his broader political convictions, or of his ability to manage the campaign trail. Smart guy, but I’m not sure what else exactly he adds to the ticket.

In a strange sense, Stavridis would have made a better choice for Bernie Sanders.  Partnership for the Americas is a really good book about Stavridis’ time with Southern Command; the gist is that maritime power can make some positive, broadly uncontroversial contributions to global welfare.  It’s the kind of argument that would have contributed to, and been compatible with, Bernie’s foreign policy perspective.


War College on Grounded

[ 1 ] July 11, 2016 |

I recorded a podcast for War College (not affiliated with any of the service war colleges) on Grounded the other day. Check it out. I’ve also updated the Grounded and Battleship Book pages for all extant reviews (and yes, removed all of the spam that seems to periodically infect those pages).


[ 13 ] July 10, 2016 |
A black and white blueprint of a ship with a flat deck designed to launch and recover airplanes. Medium sized guns line the bridge area, while notes and a ruler outline points of interest and the estimated length of the designed ship.

A black and white blueprint of a ship with a flat deck designed to launch and recover airplanes. Medium sized guns line the bridge area. By U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph – Photo #: S-511-54, Public Domain,

Last week’s National Interest entry was on the various plans floated in the Navy to refurbish the Iowa class battleships during the Cold War:

But the Iowas were nevertheless magnificent ships, and various proposals emerged in and around the Navy to bring them back into service (indeed, even before the war was over some suggested converting the ships to aircraft carriers). These proposals would result in reactivations for the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the last stages of the Cold War. Indeed, some hopes for modernization persisted even into the 2000s.

This is also a subject I deal with at some length in the Battleship Book, although in more general terms.

Nesher Kfir Lavi!!!

[ 39 ] July 9, 2016 |

Ecuadoran Air Force Kfir. By Camera Operator: SSGT GUS GARCIA – Defense Visual Information Center, Public Domain,

Taking advantage of my time here in Israel-Palestine to write some about the confluence of Israeli airpower and technology policy:

The dominance of the IAF has come about through effective training, the weakness of its foes, and a flexible approach to design and procurement. Over the years, the Israelis have tried various strategies for filling their air force with fighters, including buying from France, buying from the United States and building the planes themselves. They seem to have settled on a combination of the last two, with great effect.



[ 256 ] July 8, 2016 |

Not good.

It goes without saying that no one, least of all the families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, is helped by this.

More on Chilcot

[ 63 ] July 7, 2016 |
28 May 2002 Meeting of the NATO-Russia Council at the level of Heads of State and Government Left to right: President Jacques Chirac, France; President José Maris Aznar, Spain and Prime Minister Tony Blair, United Kingdom.

28 May 2002
Meeting of the NATO-Russia Council at the
level of Heads of State and Government
Left to right: President Jacques Chirac, France; President José Maris Aznar, Spain and Prime Minister Tony Blair, United Kingdom.

Worth looking at a couple of other treatments of the Chilcot report; Zack Beauchamp at Vox, and Tom Switzer at Lowy. And here’s the punchline; especially in the wake of Brexit, but really even before, the United States government has come to view France as a much more important security partner than the United Kingdom. France maintains power projection capabilities (and the will to use them) that the UK does not, and France’s diplomatic voice carries greater weight in a variety of different regional multilateral fora. The UK remains an important contributor to Five Eyes and a variety of other intelligence sharing programs, and is one of the most important partners in the F-35 program. In the long term, however, the US prefers an ally that is not actively falling apart, which means that Washington’s best European friend in military terms is Paris, not London.

And this means is that Tony failed even against the exceedingly low metric he set for himself: To remain the poodle of the United States.

Build All of the Ships

[ 13 ] June 30, 2016 |
2008년9월27일 해군 세종대왕함기동 (1) (7193823614).jpg

ROKS Sejong the Great. By 대한민국 국군 Republic of Korea Armed Forces – 2008년9월27일 해군 세종대왕함기동 (1), CC BY-SA 2.0,

My latest at the Diplomat takes a look at the South Korean shipbuilding industry:

The Korean shipbuilding industry has plunged into a deep crisis. The three biggest shipbuilding firms—Daewoo, Hyundai Heavy, and Samsung Heavy—posted record combined losses in 2015, and 2016 looks no better. Combined with a major accounting scandal and ongoing concerns about the viability of the market, South Korea could face a major shift in the viability of one of its most important industries.

Foreign Entanglements: #Brexit Breaks Bad

[ 26 ] June 28, 2016 |

On the latest episode of Foreign Entanglements, I spoke with Nick Clark about the consequences of Brexit.  There’s also a bit on Game of Thrones at the end.

Unfortunately, the video on both feeds froze.  The audio is fine, though.

The Party of Lincoln

[ 9 ] June 27, 2016 |
Middle aged clean shaven Lincoln from the hips up.

Attributed to Nicholas H. Shepherd, based on the recollections of Gibson W. Harris, a law student in Lincoln’s office from 1845 to 1847. – Library of Congress, Public Domain,

Don Doyle has a fine review of Louise Stevenson’s new book on Lincoln’s trans-Atlantic influences. It’s hard to read some of it without immediately thinking of the presumptive nominee of the Grand Old Party:

Lincoln’s “German Lessons” take us to the many immigrants from the German states who had settled in the Midwest, many of them fleeing repression after the failed revolution of 1848. The German 48ers were revolutionary, or “red,” republicans whose abhorrence of slavery and aristocracy drew them to the Republican Party. But the party made an alliance with the nativist Know Nothing movement, and this left German voters divided and therefore much sought after by both parties. Lincoln worked hard to win German votes in 1860. He funded Theodore Canisius to publish a German-language newspaper to spread Lincoln’s message to German voters in their own idiom. He took pains to distance himself from the nativist Know Nothing Party and linked their xenophobia and anti-Catholicism to prejudice against blacks, both rooted in bigotry against people based on their circumstances of birth. “When the Know-Nothings get control,” he wrote in 1855, the Declaration of Independence “will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners and Catholics. When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty” (p. 121). If some assert the principle of equality does not apply to blacks, what is to stop them from excluding others? Lincoln asked (p. 145). Historians debate whether Lincoln owed his victory to German voters, but there is no question that he felt indebted to them. Once elected president, he appointed numerous Germans, Canisius among them, to diplomatic posts and other government positions.

Trump’s addendum would surely run “the Declaration of Independence will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, foreigners, and CatholicsMuslims’, and this is a good thing. A great thing, in fact.”

Strange Partners

[ 19 ] June 27, 2016 |
Presidential Standard of Guyana (1980-1985) under President LFS Burnham.png

Presidential Standard of Guyana (1980-1985) under President LFS Burnham. By Prez001 – Own work, Public Domain,

My latest at the Diplomat looks at the strange case of the late Cold War relationship between North Korea and Guyana:

Cold War politics made for strange bedfellows. Albania and the People’s Republic of China became fast friends, because of a shared aversion to the Soviet Union. The United States developed a cordial relationship with Romania, despite the brutality of the Ceaușescu government. Both China and the United States became far too defensive of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, in order to balance against the power of Vietnam.

Among these, the strangest of the bedfellows may have been the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the small South American country Guyana. A recent article by Moe Taylor (reviewed by Suzy Kim) sheds light on this odd relationship. Guyana’s leader, Forbes Burnham, was inspired by the apparent discipline and devotion of North Korea’s workforce, and of its gymnastics performance teams.


Alfa Alfa Alfa!!!

[ 36 ] June 26, 2016 |
Alfa class submarine.jpg

Public Domain,

In my latest at the National Interest, I look back at the Alfa:

After the first few designs came to fruition, the Soviets decided to undertake a combination of brute force and extremely risky high technology. The brute-force part meant building a submarine that could move faster and dive deeper than any Western counterpart; the high-tech part meant innovative hull design, reactor design and material manipulation. The result was the Type 705 Lyra (known as Alfa in NATO), a submarine that the West regarded as a profound, if short-lived, threat to its undersea dominance.



[ 21 ] June 26, 2016 |
Slash in 2010.

By Scott Penner –, CC BY-SA 2.0,

As the world disintegrated on Thursday night*, I was at Ford Field in Detroit watching the first show of the new Guns N’ Roses tour. This was the third time I’ve seen GNR; the first in Seattle in October 1992, and the second in April 1993 in Portland. I don’t mind stadium shows, although I haven’t seen one in a while. Thursday’s show was the first of the “Not in this Lifetime” tour, which brings Slash and Duff McKagan back into the fold.  Feel free to debate whether Axl, Slash, and Duff are sufficient to constitute “Guns N’ Roses,” but if your answer is “no,” then the band hasn’t existed since 1991.

Alice in Chains opened, which we missed because really, there are limits. GNR hit the stage at 9:43, two minutes ahead of schedule.  Several friends had asked me “what if Axl throws a tantrum and they only play for fifteen minutes and then cancel the tour?” to which I responded “Well, that would be awesome.” There were hiccups; in particular, the sound effects associated with the pyrotechnics were off, and unnecessarily distracting.  And halfway through It’s So Easy, the first song of the set, Rose looked visibly winded.  A lot of folks seemed to notice this; I thought to myself “first song of the first concert; gonna be a long tour, Axl,” but he recovered quickly.

Axl somehow convinced Duff and Slash to do three tracks of Chinese Democracy. I’m not nearly as familiar with CD as with the rest of the catalogue, although I don’t think it’s a bad album. And I’m happy that it hasn’t been expunged from the history of the band. The inclusion of the songs (along with a few covers) suggests that Rose, in particular, still wants to do something interesting and challenge the audience, rather than becoming a greatest hits act. There were no extra musicians on stage, no background singers, no orchestra; the stripped down set worked particularly well for November Rain, which plays better in such conditions than with the full regalia.

With respect to Axl… it may shock some readers that a fifty-four year old man can add a few pounds over his thirty-one year old self, but let me assure you that this is a thing that can happen in the real world (Slash also seems just a bit stouter than he was in the 1990s, although Duff looked like he had somehow lost weight). Although Rose’s drug use has been overstated, he endured some significant health problems in the 1980s and 1990s. On balance, Rose is almost certainly more healthy now than just about any time in his GNR tenure.  And while he may be a bit slower and less slinky than he was in the early days of the band, it’s only a marginal difference; he remains a remarkably energetic front man, and his voice is still quite strong.

With respect to intra-band relations, Axl and Slash worked very well together.  I’ve heard that relations between Duff and Axl are still quite bad, but it didn’t show up on stage in any meaningful way.  Overall, the entire band performed very professionally, and worked well as a unit.  If GNR is your thing, then you should give the tour some consideration.

*Yes; I was, in fact, frantically checking my phone for Brexit updates during a Guns N’ Roses show.

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