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Category: Robert Farley

Nixon, Watergate, and the Credibility Fairy

[ 30 ] October 21, 2013 |


Nixon, in the newspapers that morning, argued that the crisis in the Middle East meant that Watergate had to be put aside; Henry Kissinger, that morning, flew to Moscow to negotiate the tense situation, and Nixon spoke about “those in the international community who may be tempted by our Watergate-related difficulties at home to misread America’s unity and resolve.”

This is a particularly egregious instance of a not-terribly-uncommon way of invoking the credibility fairy. The argument (which is not, itself, wholly insensible) is that domestic dispute produces international uncertainty with respect to American resolve and interest, undermining the credibility of U.S. commitments. The most common manifestation of this during the Bush administration was the effort to quiet Iraq critics by claiming that terrorists and insurgents drew inspiration from American discord. To my recollection we’ve seen a lot less of this particular trope during the Obama administration; while I recall plenty of arguments about credibility during the Syria debate, I don’t remember many claims that domestic disagreement itself undermined US resolve-itude. The closest we’ve come to a domestic-politics-as-credibility-problem lately is the debt ceiling fight, which is more about institutional capacity in the face of domestic political conflict than about resolve per se.

New Frontiers…

[ 62 ] October 19, 2013 |

This is happening.

Sorry, Cougs. Very much looking forward to not having to cheer for Tennessee for strength of schedule purposes, but gotta like this win. Also, what the hell happened to the Huskies tonight? Every time it looks like the UW program is about to turn a corner, it falls on its face.

Foreign Entanglements: Legacy of Clancy

[ 2 ] October 18, 2013 |

On this week’s episode of Foreign Entanglements, I hold very still for 12 minutes while discussing Tom Clancy with Steve Saideman:


[ 243 ] October 17, 2013 |

I think that if I ever heard someone give voice to Calvin or Hobbes in an animated special, I’d never be able to read the comic again. It’s not that I’m bothered by commercialism, but rather that I regard both as perpetually unsettled identities; hearing either would require me to force an age and (perhaps) an ethnic identity onto the character, and I think that would ruin the illusion.

Years ago, you hadn’t quite dismissed the notion of animating the strip. Are you a fan of Pixar? Does their competency ever make the idea of animating your creations more palatable?
The visual sophistication of Pixar blows me away, but I have zero interest in animating Calvin and Hobbes. If you’ve ever compared a film to a novel it’s based on, you know the novel gets bludgeoned. It’s inevitable, because different media have different strengths and needs, and when you make a movie, the movie’s needs get served. As a comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes works exactly the way I intended it to. There’s no upside for me in adapting it.


[ 17 ] October 17, 2013 |

My Diplomat column today is on the People’s Liberation Army Air Force:

Historically, the pursuit of air force institutional autonomy has focused on providing space for the air force to procure appropriate equipment, manage doctrine and training, and create independent plans for warfighting. Airpower advocates have typically argued that tying air forces to armies or navies produces hamstrung forces that cannot realize the full, independent potential of airpower. However, independence has often put air forces at odds with already existing services. The histories of airpower in the United States and the United Kingdom, for example, are replete with nasty conflicts over equipment, missions and warfighting preferences.

But of course, the PLAAF is *not* an independent service. Indeed, there is a good case to be made that the PLAAF has suffered, historically, as much as any air force from the parochial interests of ground forces. A combination of poor doctrine, mismatched equipment, inadequate training and outdated technology made the PLAAF a non-factor in the Sino-Vietnamese War. Not all of this was the fault of the Air Force, as the tumultuous ideology of the Maoist period and China’s international isolation contributed to constraining the PLAAF’s development.



[ 2 ] October 16, 2013 |

After weeks of dealing with technical problems, the podcasts for my DIP 742: National Security Policy course are finally up. Check them out. Also, the Patterson School’s podcast page is finally fully live and ready to go.

Finally, I’ll be able to post a version of the LGM Brian Frye podcast with much better audio in the next few days.

Well, That Makes Sense

[ 49 ] October 15, 2013 |

Lindsay Graham:

Said Graham: “We won’t be the last political party to overplay our hand. It might happen one day on the Democratic side. And if it did, would Republicans, for the good of the country, kinda give a little? We really did go too far. We screwed up. But their response is making things worse, not better.”


(Late) Sunday Book Review: Global Air Power

[ 2 ] October 14, 2013 |

Global Air Power, edited by John Andreas Olsen, is a collection of nine essays on the international development of military aviation.  Six of these essays concentrate on nations (United Kingdom, United States, Israel, Russia, India, and China), and three on regions (Asia-Pacific, Latin America, and Continental Europe). The essays are primarily historical, although most conclude with description of the impact of that history on modern institutions and procurement decisions. Unfortunately, this is not a book about airpower, or even a book about military aviation. Rather, it is a book a air forces; where they came from, what they have done, and what they do today. This perspective puts significant, obvious limitations on how useful the volume is as an account of airpower history and of the contemporary role of airpower in military affairs.

The chapters on the U.S. and the U.K. are useful short histories of the RAF in the latter, and the USAAS/USAAC/USAAF/USAF in the former.  Richard Hallion and Tony Mason are both excellent scholar/practitioners who have made significant contributions in the field, and they do a good job in a relatively short space. These are not, unfortunately, very helpful histories of military aviation in either the United States or the United Kingdom; in both cases naval (and in the U.S., Army) aviation is given short shrift. To be sure, the conflicts and debates that led to the independence of the RAF and the USAF are covered, but there’s relatively little about the contributions made by the RN, the USN, the USMC, and the U.S. Army in World War II and the Cold War.

The entire decision scheme with respect to the regional chapters is odd. One might think, for example, that the ability of the carrier fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy to spearhead the conquest of the better part of littoral East Asia would bear some consideration in a history of airpower in the Asia-Pacific. Unfortunately, the volume’s treatment of Japanese naval aviation, its political impact, and its destruction is minimal. The chapter also covers DRV airpower strategy in the Vietnam War, and the histories of Indonesian and Australian airpower.  These latter three are all interesting subjects, but frankly they don’t fit in very well with the discussion of Japan.

Similarly, the decision to include single chapters on Latin America and Continental Europe is…  interesting.  On the one hand, the Latin American chapter is useful as a description of the development of airpower in “second tier” military powers, and in states which have historically faced only limited international threats.  Unfortunately, much of the discussion actually relates a history of the use of U.S. airpower in Latin America, rather than describing how particularly Latin American conceptions of airpower may have affected military politics, relations with non-state actors, and procurement policies. On the upside, the Latin American chapter probably does the best job in the entire volume of describing the contributions made by the aviation arms of all the relevant military organizations, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard.

And this discussion is particularly troubling given that Latin America is given the same space, in a volume about Global Air Power, as Continental Europe. Not to understate, but it turns out that France, Germany, and Italy are all extremely important players in the history and contemporary practice of airpower. France has long had one of the world’s most important aviation industries; the German Luftwaffe, for a time, held off the combined forces of the RAF, USAAF, and the Soviet air forces; Italian engineers and airpower theorists made critical early contributions to the development of aviation practice and theory. No volume can include everything, of course, but the decision to lump those three into a single chapter is, to say the least, curious. Christian Anrig, the author of the Europe chapter, makes the sensible-under-the-circumstances decision to deal only with contemporary European airpower, but this obviously sets the European chapter apart from the accounts in the rest of the book.

The national histories are useful, but suffer from the same blinkered approach to the history of airpower practice. For example, the chapter on Soviet aviation argues that the Soviet’s most significant problem was a failure to take account of the promise of strategic airpower.  With due respect, the notion that the USSR should have invested more heavily than it did in strategic bombers at any time after 1935, or really at any time ever, is simply incredible; I can’t imagine a worse use of Soviet resources prior to World War II than the production of four engine bombers. Similarly, the USSR’s half-hearted commitment to the post-war strategic bomber looks, in hindsight, far more sensible than the USAF’s infatuation with whatever could fly fastest and highest, until it couldn’t. A more careful consideration of why the Soviets made a careful decision to set aside strategic airpower in favor, first, of tactical airpower and then of missiles would have been considerably more illuminating.

All that said, this volume’s biggest value is in providing manageable, coherent accounts of the development of several important air forces in one place.  The accounts of Indian, Chinese, and Israeli airpower areall useful, particularly the last. I used the book as part of my graduate course on Airpower, and it was effective for this purpose, especially as the students had already had time to develop a sense of skepticism about the collection’s focus.  Unfortunately, not many of the essays include much in terms of a structural analysis of how different institutions affected the development of airpower in the various nations, apart from a few canards about the need for independent airpower.  Consequently, Global Air Power is an interesting, but flawed and limited, account of the development of international military aviation.

Monday Linkage

[ 61 ] October 14, 2013 |

For your pleasure:


[ 12 ] October 12, 2013 |

The thing about twenty-four game winning streaks is that they start out as nine-game winning streaks.  But then again, nine-game winning streaks are generally characterized by a defeat on either side.  This is probably the best Washington team since the Streak began, but it may also be the best Oregon team.  So we’ll see.

I’m sure I’ll get tired of this someday…

Or this…

Or this compendium of decisive plays from the close games during the Streak:

Vigilance, Reach, Power

[ 1 ] October 11, 2013 |

My latest at the Diplomat thinks through some of the implications of the Air Force’s Global Vigilance, Global Reach, Global Power document for the Asia-Pacific:

Decorated with quotes by Hap Arnold, Giulio Douhet, Winston Churchill and Bernard Montgomery, GVGRGP reaffirms several themes that have been consistent in airpower theory since the end of the Cold War, including emphases on the five core USAF missions (air and space superiority, ISR, Global Mobility, Global Strike and Command and Control) in service of the aforementioned vigilance, reach, and power.

The document is hardly revolutionary, and to some extent serves as an example of how deep concerns about autonomy and independence continue to animate the Air Force. Nevertheless, it’s useful as a window into Air Force culture, and into how the USAF conceives of itself as a warfighting organization.


Free Munro!

[ 46 ] October 10, 2013 |

This is brilliant.

Dissident writer Alice Munro was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature Thursday morning for her fiction critical of the Canadian regime.

While not overtly political, Munro is known for stories that capture the struggles of regular Canadians. Though tolerated by the government, her work is seen as a challenge to the country’s rulers. She first gained international acclaim with her 1968 collection “Dance of the Happy Shades,” which offered a tender portrait of life under the brutal reign of then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

Munro has long been celebrated by Western writers. American novelist Cynthia Ozick once described her as “our Chekhov,” comparing her to the Russian playwright known for challenging Russia’s restrictive Tsar-era social codes.

State media in Canada reacted positively to the news, calling it a great victory for the Canadian nation and the state ideology.

For context see here.