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Category: Robert Farley

What it Would Mean to Create a Third Party

[ 27 ] September 26, 2011 |

Dan Hopkins asks some questions about third party advocacy. For my part, I wouldn’t say that I’m so much against the idea of a third party as skeptical on both the process and outcome side.  Yglesias had some thoughts a few weeks ago that lend themselves easily to both over- and under- interpretation:

Which is all just to say that what happened in 1860 was not at all the case of an outsider third party presidential campaign sweeping the nation and changing things up. Instead, starting in 1854 and with continuing force in 1856 and 1858 a large number of established northern politicians left existing parties and came together at the Republican Party. Then, with caucuses already in place in the House and the Senate and strong bases of support in every northern state legislature, they won a presidential campaign against a splintered Democratic Party. So, yes, a third party that manages to persuade large numbers of incumbent officeholders from both parties to jump ship and join it could have a huge practical impact on American politics.

When we think about the rise of a third party in American politics, it’s hard to imagine an outcome that will involve the long term survival of three major political parties. Even a third party that emerges around a platform of major institutional reform will quickly find itself subject to the incentives of the US electoral system, and to the control of veto points by the rump parties. It’s much more likely that the development of a third party would mean the replacement of one of the two existing parties.

So let’s say we could implode the Democratic Party and build a party more oriented towards progressive goals from the rubble.  On the one hand, any replacement for the Democratic Party would quickly be subject to the same electoral pressures as the current Democratic Party, and would of necessity include many of the same personnel as the extant Democratic Party.  The precise electoral coalition that this new party would try to assemble would vary depending on the ideological infrastructure of the party, but would presumably focus on a coalition defined primarily in economic terms that would try to recapture elements of the white working class while mobilizing previously under-mobilized poor voters from the existing Democratic coalition. There might also be some effort to peel civil libertarians off from the Republican coalition, or ensure the loyalty of civil libertarians from among the (small) population of genuinely independent voters, but this has a limited upside and is in some tension with populist economic policies. Long story short, populist economic policies require a more activist state, which inevitably and appropriately makes civil libertarians nervous. Non-interventionist foreign policy might make up a third plank, and probably could also peel some voters away from the Republican coalition, but foreign policy rarely makes for a lasting component of a coalition’s appeal.

This effort might succeed in producing a party more geared towards left-populist economic policies, although I suspect it would also involve some unpleasant ideological concessions. But as the experience of the Republican Party in the 1850s demonstrates, ideological narrative and institutional structure do matter.  Although the Republican Party contained many of the same people and appealed to many of the same interest groups as the Whig Party, it had an obviously distinct political program, as well as a different geographic base. However, the GOP also had some advantages that a “New Progressive” party is unlikely to enjoy, including most notably the political monopoly produced by the Civil War and Reconstruction.

The gist is that party structure and ideology do matter, and I think we could expect that a replacement for the Democratic Party would act differently from its predecessor in consequential ways.  However, any new party has to threaten to grab 50% of the Presidential vote every four years, and has to run competitively for a majority of House districts and Senate seats.  The need to do this inevitably produces a degree of ideological conflict, even in an organization as demographically coherent and tightly run as the modern GOP.

But let’s also be clear; I’d vote for a “New Progressive” party without hesitation, just as soon as it was evident that a tipping point had been reached with respect to the old Democratic Party. As a political actor I wouldn’t weep over the death of the Democrats, because I don’t link my identity to the health of the Democratic Party in any personally meaningful way. American political parties are broad-based coalitions that strive to link interest groups together on a few major points of agreement.  Becoming too attached to the institutional infrastructure of such a coalition is a guarantee of disappointment.  If I view the development of third party infrastructure with skepticism, it’s because I view the prospects of replacing the Democratic Party as somewhat less likely than the prospects of reform, and not because I have any attachment to the existing forms.

The Deal that Lost the West?

[ 32 ] September 24, 2011 |

I think that Mike Scioscia is a pretty good manager, and that he’s done about as well as he could with the team that he has in LA.  However, it bears notice that Mike Napoli is about five games better than Jeff Mathis this year, and that Napoli is playing for the Rangers instead of the Angels in large part because of how Scioscia evaluates catcher defense.  It isn’t all Scioscia’s fault; somebody in the front office might have made a mental note that having a player who can play catcher, first base, DH, and can rake is worth more than the difference between Juan Rivera and Vernon Wells (!).  Also due credit to Ron Washington for appreciating what he had and steadily increasing Napoli’s playing time over the course of the season.

[SL] What bears emphasis here is that the Angels lost the trade horribly even leaving aside the fact that they took on one of the worst contracts in baseball. Wells, who has a handsome .252 OBA (albeit with very good defense in left), would be killing the team even if he had been signed to a cheap one-year flier. It’s a staggeringly bad trade. About the only thing you can say in their defense is that “winning” the Carl Crawford auction might have been even worse.

The Instructor’s Challenge

[ 17 ] September 23, 2011 |

Via Tom Ricks, Joyce Goldberg has an interesting article at the Chronicle of Higher Education on the teaching of military history in the War on Terror:

What these students needed was personal catharsis, but I am not a trained psychologist. What these students craved was the opportunity to express their anger or pain, but my class was not the place to do it.

Student veterans are not a homogeneous lot, and I would never use a broad brush to paint them all as unstable or troubled, but any reasonably observant person could see that beneath their quiet demeanor, politeness, and deference, some were visibly scarred. Students find me accessible, and I listened sympathetically to each one. I feel for these young people and what they have endured. Many shared photos and stories with me, and some showed me their physical scars. My heart goes out to them, but a course in military history is not an appropriate place for a therapy session. Since I foresee no diminution of this problem, and indeed believe it will intensify significantly over the next decade, I have decided that I can no longer teach the course.

Anyone who has taught a security or military oriented course knows that veterans can bring a lot to the classroom, but that they also present special challenges. These challenges are especially apparent at the undergraduate level, where students haven’t acclimated to the academic project sufficient to distinguish between personal and academic knowledge. This also comes through in area studies courses, more than a few of which have risked ruin at the hands of students more interested in discussing their experiences in China than in learning about Chinese state economic policy.

To be sure, the responsibility for maintaining discipline in the classroom lies with the instructor. However, with a group of students who know a lot about their subject, and more importantly feel very intensely about their personal experiences with the subject matter, classroom management can become exceedingly difficult. It is very hard to shut down a student talking about his experience in a convoy hit by an IED, even when the comment isn’t pertinent to the discussion, or class time is needed for something else. This has nothing whatsoever to do with an unwillingness to debate or a personal fear of the students, but rather about the difficulties of maintaining an environment for the facilitation of learning.

I’ll never give up teaching security courses (at least voluntarily) because I love the subject matter too much, and because it’s easier with graduate students. For someone who isn’t a specialist, however, the willingness to teach a class often depends on how difficult that class is going to be. It’s no one’s fault (except perhaps for the authorities in Washington) that undergraduate military history and policy courses are going to become harder to teach. Veterans have good reasons for being interested in such courses, and the courses themselves are quite necessary. Nevertheless, I suspect that more instructors will demonstrate a reluctance to accept the difficulties associated with teaching military history.

Bunker Busters to Israel

[ 40 ] September 23, 2011 |

This is a thing:

While publicly pressuring Israel to make deeper concessions to the Palestinians, President Obama has secretly authorized significant new aid to the Israeli military that includes the sale of 55 deep-penetrating bombs known as bunker busters, Newsweek has learned.

In an exclusive story to be published Monday on growing military cooperation between the two allies, U.S. and Israeli officials tell Newsweek that the GBU-28 Hard Target Penetrators—potentially useful in any future military strike against Iranian nuclear sites—were delivered to Israel in 2009, just several months after Obama took office.

The military sale was arranged behind the scenes as Obama’s demands for Israel to stop building settlements in disputed territories were fraying political relations between the two countries in public.

There  are military and political logics to selling the bunker busters to Israel. The military logic is that the Obama administration believes that Israel should be better equipped to strike hardened Iranian nuclear facilities. That’s it; these are the only targets Israel might consider attacking in the near to medium term that would require such ordnance. One way to read this is that the administration thinks that an Israeli strike on Iran would be a good idea. This may be possible, but the administration doesn’t appear to have been doing much else in order to push Israel into an attack.

This suggests that the primary motivation for the sale of of the ordnance is political; the administration was attempting, in 2009, to start relations with Israel and with Israel’s domestic supporters on a strong note, and perhaps to threaten Iran. On the first, it’s hard to say that the move has worked; as Spencer points out, Bibi has consistently given Obama the finger on policy, and has made his support of Obama’s GOP opponents about as clear as possible. Obama has no leverage; no GOP President will reduce the level of military aid sent to Israel, and Bibi finds a Republican administration preferable for a variety of reasons. It wasn’t completely impossible to think that Bibi might make some concessions in response to the shipments, but to borrow a phrase from Martin Schenk “I suppose all things are possible… if not equally.”

This leaves the impact on Iran, and on Israel’s domestic supporters. To borrow another phrase, the whole point of politicized arms shipments to Israel is lost if you keep it a secret. Even if we accept the premise that Israel’s US constituency could in some sense be satisfied by bunker buster shipments, it’s hard to see how secret shipments help solve the problem. Perhaps the logic was that since someone had to know, elite level signalling would serve to insulate Obama from attacks. This again means that, effectively, Obama was dependent on Bibi’s goodwill for the plan to work. Good luck with that. The Iran problem is essentially the same; Iran can only be intimidated by things it knows about. It’s possible that some US negotiator somewhere showed some Iranian diplomat a packing slip for the bombs, but that strategy works whether or not the US actually ships the weapons.

And so we’re left with the question that has too often characterized the Obama administration: For this bad policy executed incompetently, what’s the balance between bad and incompetent? On the upside, at least Eli Lake has been uncovered as the administration shill he’s always been.

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Pu Transfer?

[ 14 ] September 22, 2011 |

Now this is fascinating. Jeffrey Lewis discusses a startling claim by AQ Khan:

Simon Henderson and I disagreed on an issue related to the broader question of whether North Korean officials really showed AQ Khan three nuclear weapons.  I said North Korea didn’t have enough fissile material, while Henderson referred me to one of his articles stating that North Korea “is already sitting on a stockpile of highly enriched uranium courtesy of Stalin, the Soviet leader.”

I didn’t find that statement credible and asked about its provenance. “Is this yet another of Khan’s assertions in these documents?” I wrote. “If so, this further undermines his credibility and demonstrates the need to place these documents in the public record to allow others to examine their contents.”

So, now we have the actual sentence from Khan’s statement:  North Korea “had also manufactured a few weapons as, according to Gen. Kang’s boss, they had received Kg 200 plutonium and weapon designs from the Russians in the mid-fifties after the Korean War.”

Lewis has some exceedingly compelling reasons why we shouldn’t take this claim seriously.  There’s no evidence of the transfer in the Soviet archives, it would have represented a huge Soviet investment, etc.  Lewis theorizes that Khan is trying to absolve himself of responsibility for helping North Korea develop a weapon, which seems entirely reasonable to me.  Nevertheless, an interesting read.

High Modernism and Strategic Paralysis

[ 38 ] September 21, 2011 |

This week’s WPR column thinks about the pursuit of “strategic paralysis” in context of James Scott’s discussion of High Modernism in Seeing Like a State:

As a doctrine, network centric warfare, like other attempts to create strategic paralysis before it, springs from the same idea as High Modernist projects like Soviet collectivist agriculture: that a complex social structure, whether the social landscape or an enemy army, can be made sufficiently legible as to be subjected to easy manipulation by the state. Such schemes have consistently, and tragically, failed to appreciate the sophistication and complexity of the social systems they seek to influence. Military examples of such failure are legion, the most notable being the failure of strategic airpower in World War II to crush either the morale or industrial capacity of Germany or Japan. More recently, network-centric attacks geared at creating strategic paralysis in Iraq in 1991, Kosovo in 1999 and Lebanon in 2006 failed to have their intended effect. The critical nodes of target states and military organizations turned out not to be so critical; when Saddam could not reach his generals by phone, he sent motorcycle messengers instead.

I also think that reading FM 3-24 or Kilcullen’s Accidental Guerrilla in context of Scott’s framework can be an enormously productive intellectual exercise.

The NCAA Cartel

[ 61 ] September 20, 2011 |

It’s difficult to summarize Taylor Branch’s Atlantic story on the NCAA, or to find any specific parts to excerpt; basically, just read the whole thing.

Branch ends on a relatively optimistic note, suggesting that the NCAA is facing some serious legal problems, and that the uneasy peace between the NCAA and the big schools (a peace which is essentially built on the exploitation of male athletes in football and basketball) is unstable and may soon collapse.

My only commentary is that I share none of Branch’s moral qualms about paying players.  The most compelling objections (and I don’t find them all that compelling, to be sure) involve distributional issues within and across intercollegiate sports.  The persuasive power of the ethic of amateurism is, for me, effectively nil.  For the NCAA and the big universities, on the other hand, the ethic of amateurism is worth quite a lot of money.

Ask an Apocalypse Specialist: DADT Edition

[ 43 ] September 20, 2011 |

Dear Dr. Farley,

Will the end of DADT bring about the collapse of American society as we know it?  Should I being trying to learn Chinese, Arabic, Farsi, Mexican, or Canadian?

Depressed in Dover

Dear Depressed in Dover,

Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Also yes. And none of the above; while the end of DADT will fast forward the eclipse of US military power, the real threat will come not from foreign enemies, but rather from the demon-zombie hordes unleashed by America’s lack of righteousness.  With luck, the Chinese will be here in time to pick up the pieces.

Dear Dr. Farley,

What will the immediate impact of DADT be?  Will the troops turn on each other in fratricidal fury? Or… you know… even worse?

Alarmed in Akron

Dear Alarmed in Akron,

Unlikely.  The first big problem will be the desertion of previously loyal members of the armed forces.  The F-22 Raptor, for example, has made clear in no uncertain terms that it does not wish to serve with homosexuals.  The F-35 is more… versatile, but the attitude of the bomber fleet is in serious question.  Fortunately, we dodged a bullet by going the KC-767 over the Airbus 330, as the latter had a curiously non-European attitude on this question.  In the Navy, the Arleigh Burke fleet has proven considerably more flexible than the LCS squadron, although some attribute this to the latter’s youthful identity confusion.  On the Army side, the bulk of the MRAP family seems indifferent, the M1A2s are neutral negative but loyal, and the Bradleys may cause trouble.



[ 5 ] September 19, 2011 |

Rodger Payne highlights a contradiction between Mitch McConnell’s roles as GOP leader and US Senator from Kentucky:

Dick Cheney’s memoir apparently verifies an interesting political point from George W. Bush’s memoir. Last November, I noted that the former President claimed that Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had approached him in 2006 prior to the congressional elections in order to urge withdrawal of some US troops from Iraq. This might save the Republican majority, argued the Majority Leader, even though McConnell was publicly taking the position that the US should remain in Iraq for vital security reasons. After the election, of course, Bush famously increased the US deployment in Iraq (“the surge”).

A local columnist in Louisville has identified a key passage in Cheney’s memoir that apparently confirms Bush’s account, based on the former Veep’s recollection of a July 2007 dinner he hosted (p. 462):

Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walked over to me. Mitch had been one of the most concerned of the Republicans. He was up for reelection and had suggested to the president that he needed to begin a withdrawal in order to avoid massive defection of Republican senators.

I dunno; this is something I have trouble getting irritated about.  Mitch appears to have taken a different position in his capacity as high ranking member of the Republican Party than he did as Senator from Kentucky. This obviously stemmed from an a desire to defend his own status, but probably also from the conviction that continued GOP control of Congress was the best thing for his constituents (however he may have defined them).  It’s interesting, because while of course we have to highlight this sort of thing when it comes to light, the phenomenon of politicians lying to protect the health of their parties surprises exactly no one.  If Mitch had felt differently about the effect of Iraq on the 2006 election he would have been a moron instead of a liar, which is hardly more reassuring.  I suppose the ideal is that Mitch would have forthrightly and publicly broken with the President over Iraq (HAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!), but it’s not even clear that Mitch supported a drawdown on the merits of the policy, rather than on an evaluation of partisan advantage.

Secession and Terror

[ 20 ] September 16, 2011 |

You read this, and you come to appreciate just how sick and twisted the “Black Confederate” claims really are:

Already on edge from these neighboring rumblings, large fires in Natchez on Sept. 20 and 22 pushed the residents into an increasing state of alarm. “No one is safe,” confessed Louisa Lovell in a letter to her husband, a Confederate captain, stationed in Virginia. Responding to the fears, a planter-dominated vigilance committee rounded up slaves in the Second Creek neighborhood, where talk of a conspiracy first surfaced. Committee members believed that the slaves schemed not just to “kill their masters,” but to “ravish,” “ride” and “take the ladies for wives.” Ten slaves were hanged on Jacob Surget’s Cherry Grove plantation on Sept. 24.

But this swift retribution did little to assuage the panic. Many more slaves were arrested and subjected to torture in the weeks to come. “All testimony was extracted from the negroes by whipping,” reported one white correspondent. Based on these forced confessions, the vigilance committee believed that the conspiracy had spread from the plantations to the city. James Carter, a slave of a Natchez druggist, who was charged with “getting news from the battles and reading it to other colored people,” described how committee members used the lash to compel him to talk: “They would whip until I fainted and then stop and whip again. Dr. Harper sat by and would feel my pulse and told them when to stop and when to go on.” But Carter told them, “I knew nothing about it.” By the end of October, at least 27 slaves had been executed, another 13 by mid-1862 and, according to a postwar investigation by the abolitionist missionary Laura Haviland, another 168 by the time Union troops arrived in 1863…

Discussions about causes of the war led to further discussions about what could be done to help the Union armies. For George Selden and his brother, Burr, both plantation slaves, they determined after many conversations that they would “join the army … when the Union soldiers came.”

For slaveholders, planning to fight with the Union Army versus talk of insurrection may have been a difference without a much of a distinction. According to Laura Haviland’s investigation, the initial scare in September 1861 arose when whites heard slaves “repeating what their master said, that if Lincoln was elected he would free all the slaves.” Marshall Bates, a slave on an Adams County plantation who sought refuge with Union gunboats in 1863, told a somewhat similar story to a New York Times reporter. Early in the war, a fellow slave named Dennis, a bricklayer, was overheard “by some white man to express the wish that they would hurry up the war and bring the time of freedom to the slave.” Dennis was whipped to death for his statement. Over the course of the vigilance committee’s investigation, any talk “in favor of liberty, or of the Yankees … either in conversation or prayer,” wrote Haviland, was enough for slaves or free blacks to be arrested and executed. “A single word indicative of my feelings — known upon the street,” testified Robert W. Fitzhugh, a freeborn carpenter, “would have no doubt caused my death.”

The Confederacy, and really the antebellum South, was a police state enforced by terror. African-Americans were the most obvious targets of this terror, but of course white loyalists and draft evaders were also subjected to violence in service of “the Glorious Cause.”

Nuclear Terrorism

[ 37 ] September 15, 2011 |

Thomas Schelling, via Erik Voeten:

In 1982 I published an article that began, “Sometime in the 1980’s an organization that is not a national government may acquire a few nuclear weapons. If not in the 1980’s, then in the 1990’s.”

I hedged about the 80’s but sounded pretty firm about the 90’s. It’s now the 2010’s, twenty-nine years later, and there has been no nuclear terrorism nor any acquisition of such weapons by any terrorist organization that we know of; and I think we’d know by now. I don’t know of anyone—and I knew many colleagues knowledgeable on the subject—who thought my expectations outlandish. Something needs to be explained!

Schelling then goes through what amounts to the Mueller treatment, detailing all of the steps that would have to take place for terrorists to acquire fissile material and develop a nuclear weapon, which goes some distance to explaining why terrorists have not yet done so.

However, I think that the epistemology of the claim is more interesting than the claim itself.  What Schelling doesn’t explain is why none of the knowledgeable people in 1982 could have come up with the same set of difficulties that we can understand with relative clarity today. The claim seems plausible on its face; if I were a nuclear weapons expert in 1982, I can’t imagine that it would have surprised me, whatever quibbling there might have been with the timing. There’s a certain similarity with claims about the imminence of the nuclear weapons development of Iraq/Iran/Burma et al, but without the same degree of institutional interest that we find in, say, the Israeli intelligence services. As the timing for an Iranian nuclear test keeps getting pushed back, we begin to reexamine our assumptions about the interest that Iran has in nukes and its capability to produce them, questions that should have occurred to us at the beginning but didn’t. In the latter case the timeline has been developed in a deliberately misleading way in order to suggest a much greater threat than actually exists; I don’t really see that in the case of Schelling’s terrorism claim, however.

It would be nice to think that there was some kind of “democratization of expertise” phenomenon happening, in which a closed group of “experts” had been replaced with a much broader social network community, but I’m not sure that’s the case, either. Again, the single best account of why terrorists haven’t acquired nuclear weapons comes from John Mueller, who by most accounts was, in fact, alive and conscious in 1982.


[ 33 ] September 14, 2011 |

My column today has nothing whatsoever to do with Presidential power:

Combined with the longstanding enmity between Israel and Iran, this means that Israel faces a potential future in which it has acrimonious relationships with its three largest and most powerful neighbors. Israel has never faced this situation before: During the period of constant conflict with Egypt, Israel maintained cordial relations with Iran and Turkey, while the Camp David Accords that secured peace with Egypt roughly coincided with the Iranian Revolution that installed a hostile regime in Tehran.

Such a situation would seem to demand a strategic rethink on the part of Israel. But thus far, there appears to be little coordination in Israel’s strategic approach to each of the “Big Three.” Hostility with Iran, tension with Turkey and uncertainty with Egypt have not thus far produced hedging behavior, in the sense of Israel trying to repair relations with one partner as a defense against a collapse in relations with another. Rather, the Netanyahu government appears to be treating each of the three as separate, distinct foreign and security policy problems. It also appears to have rejected the idea that the pursuit of a comprehensive accord with the Palestinians could modify either the character or the depth of hostility from any of the Big Three.

To the extent that Israel has any coordinated strategy for facing the unremitting hostility of the three largest countries in its neighborhood, it appears focused on maintaining and increasing the support of extra-regional allies, primarily the United States and Europe.

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