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Category: Robert Farley

Friday Daddy Blogging

[ 48 ] December 9, 2011 |
  • Pocoyo is awesome.
  • The girls experienced a long plateau/shallow upslope (close to a year) in which they steadily learned more words, gained command of a few phrases, and increasingly understood human speech.  About a month ago, seemingly overnight, they started constructing sentences, putting words in intelligible combinations that they’d never actually heard, and talking to each other (rather than to adults) in words.  Remarkable stuff; sometimes I like to listen to them chattering at each other behind a closed door, after a nap.
  • This chart indicates films I’ve seen in theater, by year:

LGM Bowl Mania

[ 3 ] December 8, 2011 |

As per request, I have created an ESPN Bowl Mania group for LGM. Note that the group uses the “confidence” system, the misunderstanding of which invariably results in disappointed expectations. Prize for winning, etc.  First game is December 17.

Group: Lawyers, Guns and Money

Password: zevon

Pujols to Angels?

[ 42 ] December 8, 2011 |

Eagerly awaiting confirmation on this deal. Tossing it out now for the folks to chew on; my first thoughts are that it’s a good deal for the Angels, that moving Morales to DH isn’t likely to be such a problem, and that Mark Trumbo isn’t really all that good anyway. And yes, Mariners apparently going nowhere.

Will certainly enliven this year’s fantasy baseball auction; several members of LGM participate in an AL-only keeper league.  With Josh Hamilton also becoming available after several years under contract, should make for some interesting strategy…

Yet More Iran Stuff

[ 5 ] December 8, 2011 |

I blogged heads with Michael Cohen on the strategic effect of an Iranian bomb:

Whole Damn Brazilian Navy

[ 14 ] December 7, 2011 |

Brazil received some pretty bad economic news yesterday. In my latest (exceedingly well timed) WPR piece, I talk a bit about how Brazil’s apparent aspirations to influence don’t fit very well with the decaying Brazilian Navy:

The Brazilian navy is weak compared to the rest of the BRICs, and because of its age, the force is falling farther behind. There is nothing wrong with a nation choosing to maintain a relatively small navy. Money spent on weapons is often better spent on other priorities. The experience of 1910 is not something that Brazilians, much less Chileans and Argentinians, wish to repeat, and Brazil does not currently face any critical maritime security threat.

However, recent rhetoric from Brazil suggests an interest in playing a larger role on the global stage. And though Brazil benefits from the maritime security umbrella provided by the United States Navy, its complaints about the U.S. Fourth Fleet seem to indicate unhappiness with the U.S. Navy’s continued pre-eminence in the Western Hemisphere. The Brazilian government must choose between aligning its international expectations with the resources it is willing to dedicate to defense, or aligning its defense expenditures with its global ambitions. If Brazil does not desire to play a major maritime role, it should discard its aging carrier and forego plans for an expensive nuclear submarine, opting instead for a smaller, more compact, but more modern force. If Brazil wants to play in the same league with the other BRICs, then it needs to shift its procurement priorities soon before it gets left too far behind.

Droning On…

[ 15 ] December 6, 2011 |

Last night I was on Alyona, talking drones and Iran:


[ 5 ] December 6, 2011 |

Sometimes I can’t help but to love Facebook:

More on Militarization

[ 51 ] December 5, 2011 |

To add a bit to Scott’s post citing Randy Balko, see this Eli Lake article on the effort defense firms are making to break into the domestic police market:

Brad Antle, the president and CEO of Salient Federal Solutions and a former vice president of Lockheed Martin, said, “I think it’s logical to assume your adjacent markets for ISR capability, assuming the federal government won’t let you sell it overseas—and it’s pretty sensitive, so I can’t imagine you are going to get much of that approved for foreign sales—they are going to try to push it down to the state and local governments to see if there is a mission to support.”

Antle said he didn’t think the states and cities had the budget for much of the technology developed for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “Maybe some limited cities and states; a city like New York might have some budget to support that, but I can’t see broadly how the customers are going to support customers in ISR.”

Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union, said he has seen this trend for a while of military technology developed for uses overseas finding their way to local law enforcement.

“In some ways this is the entire trend we’ve been seeing since 9/11. All kinds of capabilities that were developed with an eye to foreign countries are being turned inward upon the American people,” Stanley said. “We’ve seen this with everything from the NSA to spy satellites even to a lot of the technologies that are moving through what is called the green to blue pipeline, which is to say the military to the police.”

Gifts that keep on giving, and all that.  There’s not even anything particularly sinister or conspiratorial about this process.  Firms produce technology in response to military demands; military demand slackens as focus shifts; firms look to domestic customers, and begin to craft sales pitches that appeal to police departments increasingly thinking along military lines for (mostly) independent reasons.  I don’t have stats, but I suspect that military veterans are also carrying some know how and technological expectations into domestic police forces, which increases the demand for the technology.

Don’t know of any examples, but I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point we see invocations of state secrets privilege stemming from defendant counsel inquiries into the nature of military technology repurposed for police use.


On Selling Taiwan…

[ 21 ] December 4, 2011 |

So you’ve probably seen something about Paul Kane’s “Sell Taiwan” op-ed in the New York Times; effectively, Kane’s suggestion would mean that the US would guarantee non-intervention in any PRC-ROC dispute in exchange for forgiveness of a portion of the Chinese held US debt.  I’m not sure exactly how the economics would work out, other than to say that the effects would probably be minimal.  But “selling” Taiwan would also relieve the US of the (self-imposed) responsibility of defending Taiwan from China, potentially creating the conditions for a more stable strategic framework in East Asia.

Kane argues that the op-ed was intended as satire, designed to force us to think through our foreign policy values and commitments. While the attempt seems somewhat clumsy to me (and the rejoinders to his critics even more clumsy), I think there’s considerable value in these exercises.  As I’ve mentioned before, I always assign David Brin’s Thor Meets Captain America to my National Security Policy course, along with Arnold Wolfers’ National Security as an Ambiguous Symbol and Charles Lindblom’s The Science of Muddling Through. The Brin brings the process of choosing between values into relief, and opens the door to questions such as “under what circumstances would we exchange Florida for peace and security?”  And so the responses to Kane’s hypothetical about Taiwan could range widely between discussions of Taiwan’s direct military value, of its reputation value, and of the intrinsic value of defending a democracy from an authoritarian state. These then could lead to productive conversations about the relation between military, reputational, and intrinsic value, how they interact, and so forth. These are not bad conversations to have, even if you doubt the wisdom of selling out the ROC.


Where is the Nuclear Taboo?

[ 49 ] December 3, 2011 |

Apparently wide swaths of the US public approve of the use of nuclear weapons in non-retaliatory circumstances.

Randomly selected groups of survey respondents were told that the nuclear and conventional attacks would either be equally effective or that the nuclear attack had a greater chance of success. Everything else was held constant. When both options are equally effective, only a relatively small proportion of respondents prefers nuclear weapons, presumably to “send a message.” Yet, when nuclear weapons are portrayed as having a 90% success rate while conventional weapons hit the target with only 70% of the time, a (small) majority of Americans prefers nuclear weapons to conventional ones. This effect is even greater when the discrepancy in success rates widens further. Moreover, among the people that still prefer conventional weapons, most say that they do so not out of moral aversion but because they are concerned that first usage sets a dangerous precedent.

There’s obviously an elite-popular divide, because virtually no one in either party in DC has talked seriously about the use of nuclear weapons in a preventive war against Iran. Such was not the case fifty years ago, when preventive nuclear war was seen as a good options by some policymakers, but that simply illustrates how taboos develop over time. I’ve also never seen any evidence that anyone ever seriously discussed using tactical nuclear weapons in 1991, even against Iraqi military forces or suspected missile sites/chemical warfare facilities. Bush was fairly cagey about whether the United States would respond to an Iraqi chemical attack with nukes, but nobody ever seems to have proposed “let’s blow up this Iraqi tank column with a 30kt bomb.” Recall that the US military expected significant casualties (~10000) in the course of destroying the Iraqi Army, so nukes could genuinely have been expected to reduce direct military costs. The elite level taboo, presumably, is why no one thought in these terms. The reason for the divide is unclear; we don’t normally think of the US foreign policy elite as being more pacifistic than the population as a whole, but perhaps the answer lies in exposure to transnational norms.

I’d certainly like to see comparative data from the other nuclear states. My way out guess would be that you’d find similar or higher levels of support for non-retaliatory use of nukes in Russia (Russia still publicly talks about using nuclear weapons while at a disadvantage at conventional levels of escalation), relatively high support in Pakistan, China, India, and maybe Israel, and very low support in Britain and France. But that’s just guesswork.

The End of the Local

[ 16 ] December 1, 2011 |

Given that some recent posts have dealt with the contrast between central and local control over violence, this from Jason Sorens is interesting:

In 1927, local revenue decentralization (LRD) still stood at 73%, nearly twice the level it is today. By 1932, near the nadir of the Depression, that had fallen to 68%. Under “that man in the White House,” the pace of centralization accelerated, as within two years LRD was at 59%, dropping further to 49% by 1940, not far from where it is today. To be fair, state politicians like Huey P. Long deserve some share of the blame or credit, depending on one’s perspective, for their attempts to set up state-level mini-New Deals. The federal role in centralization largely has to do with the expansion of federal grants to state and local governments, reducing the importance of autonomous revenue sources. The point is that within the space of about a dozen years, the U.S. political economy was transformed from one of extensive decentralization and robust local autonomy to one of federal dominance.

The remaining centralization episodes include the periods between 1940 and 1946 (-3% LRD), 1961-1969 (-6% LRD), 1971-1977 (-5% LRD), and 1991-1995 (-3% LRD). The latter two periods are probably associated with state supreme court decisions mandating state aid to local public schools, which in states like New Jersey and Vermont have been associated with noticeable jumps down in LRD. The escalation of the War on Drugs under Nixon, with its concomitant federal grants to local police departments, might also account for the 1970s trend. The 1960s centralization almost surely has to do with the expansion of the federal welfare state, which partly crowded out the pre-existing safety nets set up by local governments.

This describes a remarkable shift in terms of the balance of power between the federal government and localities (and it’s unclear exactly how Jason is defining “local” here). It’s intriguing to think of how this has played out in terms of control over legitimate use of violence; in most cases this seems largely to have stayed in the purview of localities, although state and federal policing certainly increased over the course of the twentieth century, as did mechanisms for influence on and oversight of local policing organizations.

COIN Dead? Probably the Wrong Question

[ 18 ] November 30, 2011 |

I’ve been frustrated by the discussion over counter-insurgency for quite some time.  This week, I took those frustrations out on my WPR column:

Of course, abandoning COIN doctrine would not in itself eliminate the possibility for stupid wars or massive strategic errors. To the extent that U.S. Army doctrine had anything to do with the invasion of Iraq, it was in giving the U.S. the ability to completely destroy fielded Iraqi forces in a short period of time with a minimal footprint. In other words, U.S. conventional capabilities, organized by a doctrine that eschewed serious political or strategic thinking, gave U.S. policymakers the impression that the conquest of Iraq would be cheap and easy. And in the wake of the initial conquest, the response of the U.S. Army to the growing Iraqi insurgency was clearly inadequate. Here, however, Gentile plays a bait-and-switch. He is surely correct to say that good COIN tactics and operational proficiency cannot redeem disaster at the strategic level. However, he does not examine in any serious detail the strategic, which is to say the political failures that led to the disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan, preferring instead to critique the work of the surgeons trying to save the patient. The worst that can be said of COIN, with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan, is that it failed in an expensive way to remedy a disaster produced by a combination of civilian strategic incompetence and extant U.S. military doctrine in 2001 and 2003.

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