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Category: Robert Farley

Rethinking Counter-Piracy

[ 6 ] March 9, 2011 |

My WPR column this week:

That didn’t seem apparent two years ago, when Dr. Yoav Gortzak and I argued (.pdf) that increasing the density of naval forces off the Horn of Africa could have a major impact on Somali piracy. We assumed, apparently like many naval authorities, that a flotilla of sufficient size would allow navies to make contact with pirates in affected areas, and that this contact would quickly lead to the seizure or defeat of the pirates.

Both of these assumptions turned out to be overly optimistic. First, Somali piratesincreased their geographic scope of operations beyond the area that could be covered by the flotilla through the use of “mother ships” that extended their range deep into the Indian Ocean. Second, the naval flotilla has not yet been able to overcome the political and legal problems associated with defeating pirates once contact has been made.

This latter problem has several facets. Like insurgents, pirates have in some cases been difficult to distinguish from civilians. Indeed, sometimes peaceful fishermen can become pirates very quickly if opportune targets pass nearby. Meanwhile, states have been reluctant to arrest pirates because of evidentiary concerns, and because they don’t wish to clog their own legal systems with groups of captured pirates. Finally, navies have generally avoided taking hostile action against pirated vessels out of concern for the safety of hostages and of private property.

Where to Put Dan Savage…

[ 98 ] March 8, 2011 |

I guess I’m not convinced by Amanda’s criticism of Benjamin Dueholm’s article on Dan Savage:

You can criticize Savage for being wrong or being sexist at times, but generally speaking, he’s trying to create an ethical system that’s anti-patriarchal not to fill a void, but because he believes that the old patriarchy was evil and unethical. He’s openly agreed with the feminist contention that the “old constraints” were more about oppressing gay people and straight women than anything else. In fact, this should be pretty obvious. A system that forces gay people to live in shadows and deliberately pushes women to be a servant class for men is not a system that’s about happiness, at least not for the majority of people. And that’s especially true if you grasp, as Savage often does, that straight men who are more interested in personal fulfillment than dominance are also screwed by a patriarchy. He may not use the word “patriarchy” often, but that’s the basic gist of it. And while I’m skeptical of a lot of the evo psych stuff he’s been indulging lately, it’s undeniable that he does so because he’s arguing that our basic human nature is thwarted by patriarchy, and he supports the claim that the “old restraints” were there more to keep men controlling women than to promote happiness or even stability.

I dunno. I read a lot of Savage in the 1997-2003 period, and it really, really seemed like much of his project was about convincing people that drag queens could be good Republicans, too. What I mean by this is that much of his writing and activism seems motivated by the idea of creating a standard nuclear family, with relatively standard ways of transmitting family mores, and simply substituting out some of the “traditional” members. Savage seemed enraged not by the notion of a “traditional” nuclear family, with pre-set roles and expectations, but by the idea that he should be excluded from this traditional vision. There’s some merit to that, of course, but it also reflects a certain comfort with a conservative vision of politics and family life. And so I guess that my reading of Savage is much closer to Dueholm’s than to Marcotte’s; Savage is a radical in that he argues for a different set of sexual ethical principles than most conservatives, but he has rather a Republican way of going about it. This puts me into the exceedingly uncomfortable position of agreeing more with Sully than with Amanda.

I’ve long thought that Savage was a much better editor than columnist, and I’ve also detected a level of judgement in his columns that doesn’t reflect the same values that conservatives hold, but that does treat interlocutors with the kind of moral contempt that’s common in conservative circles. Savage’s support of the Iraq War is worth mentioning here, because it falls into the same category; the idea that someone who has made a “radical” set of individual choices can still hold bog standard Republican views on war, taxes, etc.

Politics as Hobby

[ 40 ] March 8, 2011 |

The recent Sheen-stravaganza brings these thoughts to mind. Bernstein:

Remember: if you’re reading this blog, odds are good that you’re at least in the top 10% of all Americans in political knowledge, and more likely you’re in the top 1%. And for those of us in that group, it’s hard to imagine just how little the median American knows about the day-to-day events that we pay so much attention to. Even when in some sort of abstract way it makes sense for people to know about politics or public affairs — for example, it makes sense for Medicare recipients to know how ACA affects them — they just don’t. Sometimes that’s because people aren’t well-educated enough to feel comfortable reading or even watching the news (and the linked polling shows that college grads do much better on this question, although “some college” respondents actually are more likely to believe inaccurately that ACA has been repealed than are those with no college). But often it’s because people have other, more immediate things in their lives to attend to, or they pay attention only occasionally, or they have low tolerance for conflict, or they just don’t see any connection between things happening in Washington and their lives.

I’ve said this before…to get a sense of what politics is like for many Americans, I suggest thinking of something that you do encounter in some way all the time, but that you just have zero interest in. Perhaps sports in general — or, for sports fans, a major sport that you don’t pay any attention to. Perhaps it’s current pop music, or HBO shows, or celebrities. Me? NASCAR, the NBA, and any games made since Missile Command and Stargate Defender. The idea is that I actually do encounter and, in a way, retain a fair amount of information about those things in the nature of headlines that I see but skip the stories, or references made in other things I do read or watch, or conversations I’ve had that veer off in that direction. It’s not as if I know absolutely nothing. It’s just that the stuff I’ve heard is not organized at all, and I’m sure I’ve picked up misinformation along the way, since I don’t scrutinize any of it.

Anyway, when you’re involved in what’s happening in Wisconsin, or Libya, or the budget negotiations in Washington, just keep in mind that most people aren’t paying any attention at all.

There’s a good argument to be made that responsible citizenship in a democracy demands a certain degree of education in politics and current events. In this sense, we can suggest that those who haven’t the faintest what’s going on in Libya et al are doing it wrong; they’re being irresponsible, and their irresponsibility has a negative impact on the health of the body politic. We can also say, with some comfort, that there are interests in every body politic that profit from the ignorance of the citizenry. I don’t buy “bread and circuses” theories of politics, the most modern form of which suggest that professional sports/Jersey Shore effectively represent corporate efforts to keep the citizenry docile, but it’s obvious that Fox News, for example, serves interests for whom an ignorant citizenry is a key value.

And so I’m comfortable to a point with condemnations both of ill-informed citizens and of the larger forces that keep citizens ill-informed. At the same time, I tend to be deeply uncomfortable with the wave of media criticism that emerges every time news networks devote too much time to, for example, the death of a B-list celebrity.  I don’t really care what Charlie Sheen has to say about anything, but as lots of people seem very interested I can’t really condemn CNN for putting him on TV (the quality of the interview is, of course, a different matter).  Preference for news about Charlie Sheen over news of the Libyan civil war seems to me to be largely a question of taste.   I follow politics not just because I think it’s my duty as a citizen, but also because I find the political entertaining. It has always been thus; I became a political scientist because I found politics fun and interesting. I have a taste for politics. Like Bernstein, I find some forms of mass entertainment mind numbingly boring and stupid. I think that it’s arrogant, however to suggest that my preference for baseball and politics over NASCAR and Jersey Shore represents an elevated level of consciousness, rather than just a particular set of tastes that don’t have any particular moral or ethical content.

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Spring Crisis Simulation

[ 0 ] March 8, 2011 |

I’ve written a summary of the Patterson School’s Spring Crisis Simulation (this year focusing on the Korean Peninsula) over at ID.  Check it out.

Locke to China

[ 5 ] March 8, 2011 |

It appears that former Washington governor Gary Locke will be the new US ambassador to China. This makes so much more sense than Jon Huntsman.  See also Thomas Barnett on 10 reasons the US is eager to demonize China.

Libya Updates

[ 7 ] March 7, 2011 |

It’s a day old and so probably outdated in some respects, but see this good update from Juan Cole on the civil war in Libya. See also this report that the United States may have asked the Saudis to airlift weapons to the Libyan rebels in Benghazi, and that the US may be lending some reconnaissance and signals intel to the rebels. Finally, see this piece on the potential for food assistance to rebel forces.

Undercover Boss

[ 6 ] March 6, 2011 |

In the unlikely eventuality that anyone is interested in the management of the Queen City, Mayor Mark Mallory is on Undercover Boss right now. I’m live tweeting…

… the show was quite good. Undercover Boss normally protects corporate privilege; Mallory did an excellent job of lauding the work that public sector employees do on a daily basis.

Airpower in Libya

[ 1 ] March 6, 2011 |

Alex Harrowell has an excellent post on how we should think about airpower in the Libyan Civil War. The main point is that the effect of airpower is likely to be felt less in terms of the ability of Gaddafi’s forces to carry out tactical and strategic airstrikes against rebel forces, and more in terms of airlift capacity. This makes a no fly zone very complicated, because it would involve threatening to shoot down military cargo aircraft and, potentially, civilian aircraft converted to military airlift purposes.

New, Hopefully Minor Korea Crisis

[ 3 ] March 5, 2011 |

A boat with 31 North Korea citizens drifted into South Korea waters and was picked up.  North Korea being the kind of place that people sometimes don’t like going back to, four are trying to stay:

North Korea on March 5 made a fresh demand for the repatriation of all 31 citizens whose boat drifted into South Korean waters, warning inter-Korean relations would be otherwise seriously affected. The latest message carried by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency came a day after the North refused to accept 27 of the 31, insisting that Seoul also hand over four others who want to live in the South.

“The South Korean authorities are forcing the detained guiltless inhabitants to separate from their families by appeasement and pressure,” it said in a notice sent to the South on March 5. “If the South Korean authorities do not comply with [North Korea's] just demand, it will seriously affect the North-South relations and the South side will be held wholly accountable for it,” it said.

The North Koreans were on a fishing boat which drifted across the Yellow Sea border in thick fog on Feb. 5. After almost a month the South said it would hand over 27 but announced that two men and two women would be allowed to stay as they had requested.

In a message late March 4, the North demanded the unconditional repatriation of all 31, according to Seoul’s unification ministry, whose officials had been waiting in vain at the border village of Panmunjom to hand over the 27.

A ministry spokesman has said the South would try to contact North Korea again early next week to send the 27 home across the border. The communist state late March 3 accused the South of “despicable unethical acts” and said the group on the boat had been held hostage in a bid to fuel cross-border confrontation.

Seoul’s Unification Minister Hyun In-Taek told parliament the four had been allowed to stay in the South in respect of their wishes. The four include the 38-year-old boat captain, who apparently feared punishment if sent back and decided to stay when he saw how different life in the South is, the newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported.

The issue of involuntary repatriation, of course, formed one of the core disputes of the last year of the Korean War. Although the focus is on Chinese rather than Korean prisoners, I’d recommed Ha Jin’s wonderful novel War Trash for its treatment of this issue.  In this case, my sympathies are obviously with the ROK; I suspect that returning the four to North Korea against their will would constitute a violation of their human rights.

One More Step on the Road to “Baby Clausewitz”

[ 3 ] March 5, 2011 |

I find it difficult to express how supportive I am of this project.  I can only hope that it reaches fruition before necessity demands that I start Elisha and Miriam on the actual text of On War. Frankly, however, I would have preferred Boar Clausewitz.

History of Windows

[ 13 ] March 3, 2011 |

Fascinating, for some reason.  Via Blattman.

Prospects for Restoration Make a Very Mild Uptick

[ 6 ] March 3, 2011 |

For what it’s worth, the heir to the Libyan throne seems to be on the right side of history:

Muhammad bin Sayyid Hassan as- Senussi, who would be Libya’s crown prince if the country still had a monarchy, said the people who were “killed by the brutal forces” of President Muammar Qaddafi are “heroes” and that their struggle will soon be victorious.

Qadaffi’s “fight to stay in power will not last long, because of the desire for freedom by the Libyan people,” Senussi, whose great-uncle King Idris was overthrown by Qaddafi in 1969, said in an e-mailed statement from London today. He called upon the international community “to halt all support for the dictator with immediate effect.”

Qaddafi’s crackdown on a week-long uprising, inspired by protests that overthrew the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt, has left more than 200 dead as regime supporters fired on demonstrators in Tripoli, according to Human Rights Watch. Libya’s royal family, which was for a period held under house arrest by Qaddafi, emigrated to the U.K. in 1988, according to the statement.

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