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Category: Robert Farley

Mythology and the Iraq War Debate

[ 171 ] December 15, 2014 |

On the development of mythology:

Consider this: When Colbert first launched his new show as a spinoff from “The Daily Show” our nation was awash in the culture of fear that followed the attacks of 9/11. In those pre-torture report days anyone who criticized the Bush administration was immediately accused of treason. Those who thought the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were ill-conceived and immoral, who staunchly opposed torture, and who believed our nation depended on an active, inquisitive and critical citizenry were silenced. In those days it was common to hear of journalists and professors losing their jobs because they had dared to question the administration and ask more of the media.

That was the atmosphere when Colbert took the stage in 2006 to roast President Bush to his face at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. Standing only a few feet away from the president, Colbert dealt a scathing blow to the hubris of the administration and the docile media that covered it. The moment was a real watershed in our nation’s history, because it was the only time in the entire eight years of the Bush administration that anyone had directly critiqued Bush in such detail to his face.

Eh…. I don’t remember it that way.

I’ll grant that things played out differently in Seattle than in other parts of the country, and that the conversation was different in the academy than in other sectors. But by 2004, much less 2006, American public debate had space for some bitingly savage critiques of the Bush administration, and especially of its war performance.  The 2004 Democratic primary was won by someone who, while he nominally favored the war, was exceedingly critical of the manner in which it was being conducted.

Even in 2003, voices in opposition to the war weren’t cries from the wilderness.  Many major newspapers, including the New York Times, either outright opposed the war or believed that the administration had botched the diplomacy. Anti-war protests in 2003 were, by an large, not met by truncheon-wielding thugs.  Instead, they were either completely ignored or used by the right to feed narratives of out-of-touch pacifists who couldn’t protect America. 

With respect to journalists and professors losing their jobs, there surely were cases, but by mid-2004 (if not earlier) opposition to the war in the academy was so ingrained that it was almost certainly more dangerous to be strongly in favor of the war than strongly opposed. For example, I can say without qualification that while the founders of LGM may have worried about how blogging would affect their professional prospects, we were not at all concerned about how potential employers would view our opinions on the war.  In 2005, for example, I was hired to teach national security by a program with a conservative reputation in a southern state. And of course there was a robust internet debate (back when blogging was still a thing) in which anti-war voices were welcome; by 2005, arguing that the United States should withdraw gradually rather than immediately was enough to get a writer lambasted.

We’ve become increasingly fond of saying that there was no debate in 2003. But there was a debate, and our side lost.  It wasn’t fair and square, but such debates rarely are.  We were right at the time, and we were decisively proved right by the course of the war. War supporters have not suffered the public opprobrium they deserve, especially given how solid the consensus now is that the conflict was a mistake. The other side lied relentlessly, although I still doubt whether it really needed to. But we should be hesitant about mythologizing how hard it was to be right at the time, and we shouldn’t paint ourselves as martyrs of latter-day McCarthyism.


Foreign Entanglements: Killer Robots Redux

[ 1 ] December 14, 2014 |

On the latest episode of Foreign Entanglements, Kelsey Atherton and I jabber about killer robots, Tolkien, and Star Wars:


[ 36 ] December 13, 2014 |

I’ve been waiting for this since before Marcus Mariota was born. Bill Musgrave was a fringe Heisman candidate in 1989 and 1990.  Both Reuben Droughns and Akili Smith received some attention in the late 1990s, with Smith famously promising to bring the Heisman to Eugene.  Joey Harrington was made the center of a notorious PR campaign for the Heisman, and ended up as the only finalist in school history.  The award belonged to Dennis Dixon, until a terrible night in Tucson.  By the time LaMichael came along, the award had become the domain of of dual-threat quarterbacks.

And so it’s about time.

Here’s to hoping that Mariota will be able to buy a suit that fits with the immense amount of money he should start making next year.

College Bowl Mania!

[ 10 ] December 11, 2014 |

I’ve reactivated last year’s LGM College Bowl Mania group. If you’ve had a team previously, it should give you the option of rejoining the league automatically. If you didn’t join last time but would like to this time:

League: Lawyers, Guns and Money
Password: zevon

As always, prize to the winner yada yada yada. Go Ducks!

Rolling Stone…

[ 223 ] December 5, 2014 |

Well, this is a problem.

In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced. We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.

Much remains to play out, but at a minimum it does appear that Rolling Stone failed to conduct due diligence in its reporting. As a few people have noted, given the destructive impact of the “false accusation” narrative on rape victims’ willingness to come forward, it’s absolutely critical that journalistic outlets do their best to nail down the facts.

The Kia of the Fighter World

[ 2 ] December 5, 2014 |

My latest at the Diplomat takes a look at the export prospects of the Sino-Pakistani JF-17:

The JF-17, a joint Sino-Pakistani fighter project, is a single engine fighter developed, conceptually, as a modern MiG-21. Given how global fighter fleets have deteriorated since the end of the Cold War, the idea seemed sound; a low-cost fighter that didn’t present major technical challenges, and that could serve as a cheap option for revitalizing many air forces. Like many such low-end projects, however, the “maybe good enough” JF-17 has yet to catch on with defence ministries fixated on prestige and technology.

Recently, however, indications have emerged that a few countries might have an interest.

Off to Brazil this afternoon; blogging will be light, but hopefully not non-existent.

Listicles of the Arctic!

[ 5 ] December 4, 2014 |

Latest at the National Interest:

It’s not surprising that Russia has prepared its military for arctic operations better than any other country. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union prepared to fight across the Arctic, both in the air and at sea. Many of the weapons and much of the expertise from that era have remained, leaving the Kremlin with a lethal set of capabilities. Here are five systems we can expect Russia to use in order to defend its interests in the Arctic Ocean, in case the unthinkable ever occurred.

Some other links of note:


[ 21 ] December 2, 2014 |

Early next week, I’ll be attending a conference on the future of warfare in Brasilia, Brazil.  Two questions:

  1. What do people do for fun in Brasilia?
  2. Does anyone who reads LGM live in Brasilia?

Iran: Holding the Door Shut?

[ 11 ] December 1, 2014 |

My latest at the National Interest takes a look at Iran’s anti-access systems:

Iran’s anti-access systems have trailed those of Russia and China, but in some sense are more interesting than developments in the two larger countries. The idea that Russia or China, continental powers with massive defense-industrial bases and huge economies, should have the military wherewithal to deny military access to the United States is not, in itself, all that remarkable. Only the extraordinary dominance of the United States over the past twenty-five years has made the question of anti-access/area denial remotely interesting.

One of the conclusions I came to in writing this article is that Iran’s conventional military is extremely weak. The gap between Iranian and Vietnamese capabilities is really quite large; the Iranians have more and better ballistic missiles, but the Vietnamese have huge advantages in every other area. Decades of sanctions have really taken a toll.

Rock on Obama

[ 58 ] December 1, 2014 |


What do you think of how he’s done? Here we are in the last two years of his presidency, and there’s a sense among his supporters of disappointment, that he’s disengaged.

I’m trying to figure out the right analogy. Everybody wanted Michael Jordan, right? We got Shaq. That’s not a disappointment. You know what I mean? We got Charles Barkley. It’s still a Hall of Fame career. The president should be graded on jobs and peace, and the other stuff is debatable. Do more people have jobs, and is there more peace? I guess there’s a little more peace. Not as much peace as we’d like, but I mean, that’s kind of the gig. I don’t recall anybody leaving on an up. It’s just that kind of job. I mean, the liberals that are against him feel let down because he’s not Bush. And the thing about George Bush is that the kid revolutionized the presidency. How? He was the first president who only served the people who voted for him. He literally operated like a cable network. You know what I mean?


It Was Truly a Great Pumpkin

[ 104 ] November 29, 2014 |

“GreatPumpkin” by Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

I recently watched “It’s a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” for the first time in several years, and so this discussion had some resonance for me. Re-watching after a long period also made me more cognizant of the contrast between Halloween Linus and Christmas Linus. If you’ll recall, Linus emerges from the Christmas special as the voice of wisdom, if not authority. He lends intellectual and moral weight to the Christmas program through his reading of Luke 2:8-14, and supports Charlie Brown’s decision to acquire the most pathetic tree available. Although Peanuts deliberately eschews adults, Linus lends an adult presence, someone to ensure that things will turn out right.

This sense of wisdom and competence persists through much of the Halloween special; he uses his blanket to great effect as a tool, speaks with confidence and authority about the Great Pumpkin, and wins the support of at least one convert. Moreover, the other major characters come off either as horrible (Lucy), pathetic (Charlie Brown), or detached (Snoopy). Indeed, the Halloween special doesn’t work unless we have the wise Linus in mind.  The idea of the Great Pumpkin seems absurd and destined for failure, until we’re exposed to the confidence and sincerity of the little kind who lent his voice of authority to Christmas. When Linus begins to doubt, we begin to doubt, although even those cracks in his confidence are instructive. We’re not so committed to the realism of Peanuts world to reject the idea that, in this universe, there may be a Great Pumpkin, and we’re primed to suspect that Linus might well be his prophet.

And so it’s a bit of a surprise when the Great Pumpkin fails to arrive, and the conventional wisdom, which proved so wrong at Christmas, proves right at Halloween.  And it’s particularly crucial that at the end, Linus seems to have learned nothing from this failure. His response to the (fairly measured) comments of Charlie Brown is to double down, arguing that insufficient sincerity may have been shown this time, but next time the Great Pumpkin will surely appear, rewarding his followers etc. etc.  It’s perhaps the classic “if we simply cheer harder, the team will win,” giving us tools to interpret all the similar claims that we’ll encounter.  The episode ends with the little boy who gave weight and gravitas to the Christmas special descending into an unhinged rant.

There’s a lesson here, but I think it took me quite a long time to learn it properly.  One potential (if obvious) lesson is suspicion of wise men; the one who speaks with authority at Christmas is revealed as a crank at Halloween.  But this reading casts too much of a shadow on Christmas Linus, undercutting the entire spirit of the previous special. Maybe I just don’t have the temperament for revolution, but I don’t want the abnegation of authority; the Linus of the Christmas special offers something more than comfort.  His comments shed light on the logic of the gathering, and explain to the gathered what’s important about the occasion.

The lesson I’d rather take, I think, is that the wise can be cranks, given the opportunity, and that the same traits that make them wise can make them blind to their own crankery. This creates a new set of dilemmas, both for the wise and for those who would listen to them; the former must sort through an appropriate means of self-examination, while the latter must develop a healthy sense of skepticism, without allowing that sense to become too healthy.

I’ll grant that this is an essentially liberal reading, saving some role for paternalism and authority, while creating a division between appropriate and inappropriate degrees of resistance. Like I suggested, the idea of complete abnegation of authority feels to me like revolution, and leaves me untethered. But I think that there’s something psychologically true about the need for authority; most revolutionaries have their own Linus, and that Linus oft descends into unhinged rants, notwithstanding the wisdom of their commentary on Christmas.

Small Business Saturday!

[ 17 ] November 29, 2014 |

Hey, we’re a small business!  The easiest way to support us is either through the Donate button (although you guys have already been extravagantly generous this year, so no worries), or through buying our books on the far right sidebar.  Every purchase through Amazon (admittedly a giant, evil corporation) sends a little bit extra to the blog.  Ain’t capitalism grand? Here are the books, helpfully in list form:

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