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Category: Robert Farley


[ 16 ] February 28, 2016 |
HMAS Canberra (LHD 02) berthed at Fleet Base East (8).jpg

By Hpeterswald – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

HMAS Canberra is on her way to Fiji:

Canberra is headed to Fiji in the wake of Cyclone Winston, which has reportedly killed dozens, done tremendous property and infrastructure damage, and left up to 30,000 homeless. The United Nations has suggested that Winston is the most devastating cyclone ever to hit the island.


Red Lines

[ 32 ] February 27, 2016 |

Well, this should be fun.

In the Room Where it Happened…

[ 57 ] February 26, 2016 |

“So we’re just going to call it the B-3, right?”

“Makes sense.  B-1, B-2, B-3.”

“Yeah… I mean, that’s how things are done.”

“Really, why would anyone ever consider calling it something other than the B-3?”

“Yeah, if we didn’t call it the B-3, we’d have to come up with some lame reason for why it would be something else.  Would seem very arbitrary.”

“Alright then.  Good to see we’re in agreement.”

Well, shit.


[ 6 ] February 23, 2016 |
Mui Ne4.jpg

“Mui Ne4” by MikeRussia – MikeRussia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

I spoke with CBC Radio this morning about the South China Sea.  Transcript here, listen here. Long story short, the US should worry about China’s assertiveness in the SCS, but it shouldn’t worry too much.

Gambling with the Baltics

[ 70 ] February 23, 2016 |
2 norwegian Leopard tanks in the snow.jpg

Norwegian Leopard tanks, Public Domain,

In my latest for the National Interest, I have some thoughts about the recent Russia-Baltic wargame coming out of RAND:

A recent RAND wargame on a potential Russian offensive into the Baltics brought talk of a “new Cold War” into sharp focus. The game made clear that NATO would struggle to prevent Russian forces from occupying the Baltics if it relied on the conventional forces now available.

These wargames have great value in demonstrating tactical and operational reality, which then informs broader strategic thinking. In this case, however,the headlines generated by the game have obscured more about the NATO-Russian relationship than they have revealed. In short, the NATO deterrent promise has never revolved around a commitment to defeat Soviet/Russian forces on NATO’s borders. Instead, NATO has backed its political commitment with the threat to broaden any conflict beyond the war that the Soviets wanted to fight. Today, as in 1949, NATO offers deterrence through the promise of escalation.

How to Excuse Torture

[ 48 ] February 22, 2016 |

By The Ardvaark – Originally from the May 10, 1902 edition of the Deseret Evening News. Posted to Flickr as 1902 Waterboarding, Public Domain

The following is a guest post by William L. d’Ambruoso, Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of Washington.

It is bizarre – or, if it isn’t, it should be – that the leading members of one of two major political parties in one of the world’s most firmly established liberal democracies refuse to rule out coercive interrogation against terrorist detainees. Even stranger, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump, has not yet suffered politically for saying that he’d “bring back waterboarding and…a hell of a lot worse…” If anything, he seems to have benefited.

Whether they plan to use it frequently or rarely, Republicans agree on how to excuse torture: by comparing this country’s behavior favorably with that of its enemies. This approach echoes the justifications offered by previous administrations. Then and now, these comparisons are misleading and irrelevant, and should not be a basis for another era of liberal-democratic torture.

Cruelty, by nature, can always be worse. A torturer can always find an example of something more horrible than what he is doing. According to Mr. Trump, “[W]aterboarding is peanuts compared to what they’d do to us, what they’re doing to us, what they did to James Foley when they chopped off his head.” Mr. Trump has repeatedly promised to go further than waterboarding. As long as he stays short of the horrors of beheading on the cruelty scale, he figures that he’s taking the moral high road.

Memories of these enabling comparisons in the George W. Bush administration are recent enough, but in case they are not, former administration officials still occasionally take to the airwaves to juxtapose the war on terror’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” against the tactics of the enemy. Torture, as recently defined by Dick Cheney, “is an American citizen on a cell phone making a last call to his four young daughters shortly before he burns to death in the upper levels of the Trade Center in New York City on 9/11. There’s this notion that somehow there’s moral equivalence between what the terrorists and what we do. And that’s absolutely not true.”

Jeb Bush made essentially the same point last summer: “There’s a difference between enhanced interrogation techniques and torture. America doesn’t torture.” In New Hampshire, Ted Cruz used the Bush administration’s “vanishingly narrow” definition of torture to exclude waterboarding. “Civilized nations” don’t torture, according to Mr. Cruz, but they can use “enhanced interrogations,” including waterboarding, in emergencies. Torture is something other people do.

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Trump has promised to be the harshest torturer of the bunch. But even as he claims that a Trump administration would do “whatever it takes,” he still uses euphemistic “enhanced interrogation” language to sell the point.

America’s use of favorable comparisons to excuse torture has deeper roots. In the Philippine-American War, General Fred Funston claimed that when Filipino soldiers under his command used the “water cure” (a method similar to waterboarding) against insurgents, they “were merely repaying the insurgents for worse treatment received by them in the past.” President Theodore Roosevelt also downplayed the water cure as a “mild torture,” claiming, “Nobody was seriously damaged, whereas the Filipinos had inflicted incredible tortures on our own people.” To his credit, Mr. Roosevelt still maintained that violators should be held to “sharp account,” and some (though not all) were prosecuted.

What most of today’s leading Republicans aren’t divulging is that “clean” techniques like waterboarding are designed to look and sound milder than they are. As Reed College political scientist Darius Rejali argues, liberal democracies, with their human rights laws and free presses, have been torture innovators, pioneering or adapting clean techniques like waterboarding (as well as stress positions, sleep deprivation, etc.) to avoid censure and prosecution. We should not be fooled. Journalists and even skeptical conservative talk show hosts have admitted that waterboarding is torture when faced with the cloth and pitcher.

Comparisons to the enemy are not just misleading, however; they are also irrelevant. Senator John McCain states the matter well: “[Al-Qaeda] has no respect for human life or human rights. They don’t deserve our sympathy. But this isn’t about who they are. This is about who we are. These are the values that distinguish us from our enemies.”

Sadly, advocates of “enhanced interrogation” may have shifted the debate in their favor. Not only did Mr. Trump win the New Hampshire primary handily; he has probably received as much admonishment for crass language as he has for his disregard for human rights. Fifteen years ago, Mr. Trump’s support for torture would have been outrageous; it should be outrageous now. We should strive for a society in which politicians who endorse torture pay a steep political price.

Droning On….

[ 24 ] February 22, 2016 |
Reaper UAV Takes to the Skies of Southern Afghanistan MOD 45151418.jpg

British Reaper over Afghanistan. POA(Phot) Tam McDonald/MOD, OGL, Public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

My latest at the Diplomat looks at some of the fruits of China’s cyber-hacking program, and notes how difficult it can be to clearly demonstrate causal effect in cases of industrial espionage:

U.S. defense officials have long suggested that China has illegally appropriated U.S. military technology through a variety of means, but mainly through cyber-intrusion. These intrusions have attacked the Pentagon, as well as defense companies, and even law firms.

To be sure, Gertz makes clear that no one can prove, as of yet, that China acquired information about U.S. drones through illicit means. And even if China did acquire data from General Atomics, the Department of the Defense, or the myriad of contractors, subcontractors, and law firms associated with the development and sale of U.S. weapons, it is by no means clear that China’s defense industry could absorb this data in ways consequential to the construction of its own drones.

Note that the Diplomat has instituted a paywall. Subscribe! Or get five free articles a month without subscribing, which conveniently happens to correlate with my number of monthly contributions…

The Stilwell Story

[ 77 ] February 16, 2016 |
General Stilwell marches out of Burma.jpg

“General Stilwell marches out of Burma”. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

In my latest column for the Diplomat, I propose a new project:

With that in mind, the time may have come for a biopic about Joseph Stilwell, or an action film depicting the experiences of the Flying Tigers. U.S. studios have greater access to Chinese acting talent (not to mention locations) than ever before, and a film about the joint U.S.-Chinese war effort might enjoy success on both sides of the Pacific.

The Game

[ 322 ] February 13, 2016 |

“KnightsTemplarPlayingChess1283” by Alphonse le Sage (Alfonso X) – “Livre des Echecs” (Libro de Ajedrez, dados y tables). Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

I eagerly await Scott and Paul’s commentary.  Gaming it out, however, am I wrong in thinking of two different scenarios for Obama?

  1. Nominate a centrist who will represent (to Democrats) a clear improvement over Scalia, and see if Republicans are nervous enough about either a Hill/Bern victory or losing the Senate (or both) to bite, or…
  2. Nominate someone from a key demographic that will be offended by over the top GOP attacks on the nominee.

Or both; there’s plenty of time between now and the election for the rejection of one nominee.

How to Destroy an Organization from Within

[ 155 ] February 11, 2016 |
"SABOTAGE CAN OUTWEIGH PRODUCTION - NARA - 515321" by Unknown or not provided - U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons -

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

These suggestions for industrial and organizational sabotage are basically just a description of academic life, not to mention LGM board meetings:

  • Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
  • Make “speeches.” Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your “points” by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences.
  • When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committee as large as possible — never less than five.
  • Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
  • Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.
  • Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.
  • Advocate “caution.” Be “reasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reasonable”and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.
  • In making work assignments, always sign out the unimportant jobs first. See that important jobs are assigned to inefficient workers.
  • Insist on perfect work in relatively unimportant products; send back for refinishing those which have the least flaw.
  • To lower morale and with it, production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions.
  • Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.
  • Multiply the procedures and clearances involved in issuing instructions, pay checks, and so on. See that three people have to approve everything where one would do.
  • Work slowly.
  • Contrive as many interruptions to your work as you can.
  • Do your work poorly and blame it on bad tools, machinery, or equipment. Complain that these things are preventing you from doing your job right.
  • Never pass on your skill and experience to a new or less skillful worker.

Do Not Underestimate the Power of Grounded

[ 19 ] February 10, 2016 |

Lemieux discounts the Grounded Factor in the end of the Christie campaign:

Inquiries to the Sanders campaign regarding its position on the future of the US Air Force have not yet received an answer. Let me be clear, Bernie; there’s only one way to avoid the grim fate of Chris Christie.

The Future! Of the Future!

[ 4 ] February 10, 2016 |

psc49_1S_CoverPolitical Science and Politics has collected a set of articles on the professional future of the discipline, including my own.  The rest of the author list includes:

Kent Worcester
Robert Keohane
Gary King
Jeffrey Isaac
Robert Maranto and Matthew Woessner
Jeffrey Knopf
Beth Miller, Jon Pevehouse, Ron Rogowski, Dustin Tingley, and Rick Wilson
Timothy Rich
Beth Leech
Roselyn Hsueh, Francesca Refsum Jensenius, and Akasemi Newsome
Suzanne Scoggins
Vasundhara Sirnate
Francesca Refsum Jensenius
Christopher Chambers-Ju
Akasemi Newsome
Jody LaPorte
John Sides
David Niven
Kim Quaile Hill and Rebekah Myers
James C. Garand, Micheal W. Giles, André Blais, and Iain McLean
Marijke Breuning and Kathryn Sanders
David L. Leal
Michelle Boyd

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