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Category: Robert Farley

Bomb Beijing! Er… Tehran!

[ 35 ] November 1, 2011 |

Hey now, it’s not as if knowing whether China has nuclear weapons is at all relevant to the practice of American foreign policy:

I do view China as a potential military threat to the United States… we already have superiority in terms of our military capability, and I plan to get away from making cutting our defense a priority and make investing in our military capability a priority, going back to my statement: peace through strength and clarity. So yes they’re a military threat. They’ve indicated that they’re trying to develop nuclear capability and they want to develop more aircraft carriers like we have. So yes, we have to consider them a military threat.

In the interest of balance and of due fairness to Herman Cain, the argument against the Chinese nuclear program is startlingly similar to the case against the Iranian, although I don’t believe that Iran is buidling aircraft carriers…

On a related note, the thought that Avigdor Lieberman was the only remaining obstacle to an Israeli-Iranian war is… alarming.  At times like this, I take some solace in the fact that the world exploding is Good for Rob. If the long nightmare of peace and prosperity that prevailed under Bill Clinton still held, I might not even have job…

Rehabilitating Caligula

[ 64 ] October 30, 2011 |

Is Caligula misunderstood? Scott Mclemee reviews Aloys Winterling’s efforts in this regard:

But what if all of these claims about Caligula were wrong, or at least overblown? What if he was, in fact, completely sane — his awful reputation the product of a smear campaign?

In 2003, Aloys Winterling, a professor of ancient history at the University of Basel, in Switzerland, published a book arguing that the emperor’s strange behavior was, in effect, normal Roman politics carried to extremes. Caligula played hardball with his enemies, giving them every reason to exact posthumous revenge. But the truth could be separated out from the slanders. The volume is now available in English translation as Caligula: A Biography

But Winterling sees the turning point in Caligula’s reign as strictly political, not biomedical. It came when he learned of a plot to overthrow him that involved a number of senators. This was not necessarily paranoia. Winterling quotes a later emperor’s remark that rulers’ “claims to have uncovered a conspiracy are not believed until they have been killed.”

In any event, Caligula responded with a vengeance, which inspired at least two more plots against him (not counting the final one that succeeded); and so things escalated. Most of the evidence of Caligula’s madness can actually be taken, in Winterling’s interpretation, as ways he expressed contempt for the principle of shared power — and, even more, for the senators themselves.

Giving his horse a palace and a staff of servants and announcing that the beast would be made consul, for example, can be understood as a kind of taunt. “The households of the senators,” writes Winterling, “represented a central manifestation of their social status…. Achieving the consulship remained the most important goal of an aristocrat’s career.” To put his horse in the position of a prominent aristocrat, then, was a deliberate insult. It implied that the comparison could also be made in the opposite direction.

So Caligula was crazy … like a fox. Winterling reads even Caligula’s self-apotheosis as a form of vengeance, rather than a symptom of mental illness. Senators had to pretend to believe that he conversed with the gods as an equal. Declaring himself divine gave him ever more humiliating ways to make them grovel — to rub their noses in the reality of his brute and unchecked power.

It was one-upsmanship on the grandest possible scale. Beyond a certain point, I’m not sure where anger ends and madness begins. But Winterling makes a plausible case that his reputation was worse than his behavior. The memory of their degradation by Caligula gave the aristocracy every reason to embellish his real cruelties with stories that were contrived later. In the period just after the emperor’s death, even his worst enemies never accused him of incest; that charge came decades afterwards.

Interesting, but here’s why I’m not convinced. Every early emperor (and really, every emperor) endured roughly the same political structure as Caligula, in the sense of struggling with plots from the Senate and having to deal with an unspecified power responsibilities.* Yet not every emperor has a reputation for insanity; some emperors were relatively well regarded by contemporaries, others regarded as cruel but effective, etc. Maybe Winterling explains how Caligula’s political maneuvering so enraged the contemporary elite (and let’s be clear, Suetonius is not a contemporary, suggesting that the perception of Caligula’s insanity was enduring) that they decided to depict him as more insane and tyrannical than every other Caesar, or maybe he was actually more insane and tyrannical than every other Caesar.  Given that he was outlasted in that position by such prizes as Nero, Domitian, and Commodus, I’m inclined toward the latter interpretation.  But then I haven’t read the book, so take with many grains of salt etc. etc.

It’s also worth noting that to the extent the Brass/Guccione/Vidal film has a political perspective on Caligula’s career, it mirrors Winterling’s argument; McDowell’s Caligula is crazy, but his craziness is a reaction to/accommodation of the paranoia and corruption of the contemporary Roman elite.  Haven’t seen it in years (I mean… erm, ever), but to the best of my recollection we’re supposed to sympathize with Caligula at the end.

*This may deserve a post of its own, but the occasional comment over the years has made it necessary to point out that a monarchy and a dictatorship are not the same thing; the latter represents a much more direct relationship between head of state and political power than the former, which should really be understood as a mechanism for managing intra-elite relations in a feudal, pre-feudal, and quasi-feudal societies. Monarchies attempt (with often middling success) to minimize the impact of any given head of state, while dictatorships (in their 20th century form) attempt to maximize the individual power of the autocrat. The key virtue of a hereditary monarchy is to ameliorate problems of succession, which it does by creating a presumptive heir and by situating that heir within a traditional system of formal and informal limits on his power.  The latter is necessary to managing the “blithering idiot” problem sometimes produced by the former.  Obviously, monarchies historically often failed to deliver on one or the other of these promises, but the system nevertheless represents an effort to solve serious problems of political authority.  In Rome, it was ideologically (and for a time constitutionally)  impossible to maintain a true monarchy, even thought many emperors did hand off power in a quasi-hereditary fashion. However, I think it’s almost certainly true that a true monarchy, with a regularized system of transferring power and a set of formal and informal limits on the power of the emperor, would have been superior to the imperial system, which obviously failed to solve the “blithering idiot” problem on its own terms.

I think that this becomes clear when comparing “undergraduate textbook” discussions of Eastern monarchies versus European monarchies.  Discussion of European dynastic history are even at this late date very personalistic, featuring discussion of the personal qualities of whatever Peter, Henry, Frederick, John et al happens to be the monarch in question, while backgrounding discussion of contextual dynastic issues.  Undergraduate textbook versions of Chinese and Japanese history, however, are almost remarkable in the absence of actual individual monarchs, with the exception of a few dynastic founders.  Rather, the emphasis in on the Qin, Han, Tang et al dynasties in the Chinese case, and the various imperial periods in the Japanese.  This emphasizes that each dynasty/period was actually a system of governance with formal and informal rules, rather than simply a succession of hereditary monarchs.  I think that historians can get away with this in the Asian context because undergraduates (not to mention reviewers, etc.) are far less familiar with the personalities in Asia than they are in Europe, and so don’t rage when the textbook excludes detailed discussion of the foibles of Richard the Lion Hearted et al.

Shifting Attitudes Towards the Military in Guatemala and Haiti?

[ 27 ] October 29, 2011 |

Interesting pair of articles on Latin American military institutions.  First Guatemala:

They burned villages, killed children and, just a winding road away from here in 1982, the Guatemalan military also massacred hundreds of Mayan peasants, after torturing old men and raping young women. But now, all across these highlands once ravaged by a 36-year civil war, the region’s bloodiest anti-Communist conflict, Guatemalans are demanding the unthinkable — a strong military, back in their communities.

That is how desperate this country has become as gangs and Mexican drug cartels run fever-wild, capturing territory and corrupting institutions so that Guatemala will remain a safe haven for cocaine, guns, money laundering and new recruits…

Guatemala’s presidential election on Sunday could represent a turning point. The three top contenders have all called for a stronger, crime-fighting military, borrowing heavily from the Mexican model of attacking the drug cartels head-on, even though that strategy has claimed more than 40,000 lives without yielding peace.

Then Haiti:

The military was disbanded over human rights abuses in 1995 by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide after years of political turmoil, making Haiti one of a handful of countries without an army.

But now President Michel Martelly is pledging to revive it, pressing forward with a plan to reconstitute the Haitian military as a kind of national guard or civil defense force to supplement the weak national police.

His $95 million proposal calls for an initial force of 3,500 personnel to patrol the border, help put down civil unrest and provide badly needed employment to legions of young people. It sets aside $15 million to compensate former soldiers who have long complained they are owed a pension.

I don’t know a ton about either case, but a couple thoughts. First, the stance of the United States matters for concerns about military intervention in politics. During the Cold War, the US explicitly valued friendly regimes over democratic regimes, and rightist military officers responded to either direct suasion or plentiful hints. Now, the US is considerably less friendly to direct military intervention in politics, even if (as in Honduras) the US response is relatively tepid. Broadly speaking, this means that the threat of a politicized military doesn’t loom as large as it did in the1980s.

Second, global norms of appropriate military behavior have shifted in the direction of deference to civilian control since the 1980s, in a development that’s not unrelated to the end of the Cold War. This has tended to make coups less common and less bloody, and also means that concerns about the having the military play a direct role in politics and law enforcement may not raise as many red flags as it once did. In the Haitian context, it probably does make sense to rebuild a military institution capable of reacting more capably than the police to disasters, and so forth.

All that said, it’s appropriate to be concerned about direct military intervention in a drug war, because of course the military may become inclined to employ the same method that drug cartels use. Moreover, it hardly seems impossible that the military will develop an interest in a piece of the action through the process of becoming familiar with the trade, attacking cartels, and so forth. I can appreciate the frustration that Guatemalans feel regarding the cartels, but asking for greater intervention from the military seems to be a recipe for trouble.

Game 7!

[ 62 ] October 28, 2011 |

I don’t see the Rangers recovering from last night, but then lots of unlikely things have happened in this Series.  Consider this an open thread for game seven of the World Series.

…[SL]:  I’d like to think that this would discredit the IW-the-bases-loaded play, but nothing ever does.

Change: Never Good

[ 57 ] October 28, 2011 |


Centuries of British royal discrimination came to an end Friday after Commonwealth leaders agreed to drop rules that give sons precedence as heir to the throne and bar anyone in line for the crown from marrying a Roman Catholic.

The 16 countries that have Queen Elizabeth as their monarch agreed to the changes put forward by Prime Minister David Cameron, who had called the rules of succession outdated.

“The idea that a younger son should become monarch instead of an elder daughter simply because he is a man, or that a future monarch can marry someone of any faith except a Catholic, this way of thinking is at odds with the modern countries that we’ve all become,” Cameron told reporters.

Might as well just hand the country over to the Irish right now.

How Much Did the Anti-War Movement Matter?

[ 115 ] October 27, 2011 |

Why did anti-Iraq War protests never reach the crescendo of their anti-Vietnam predecessors? There’s been some decent scholarly work on the determinants of public support for wars, but as a very quick cut this seems about right:

Instead of curing the Vietnam Syndrome or its symptoms, the Bush Administration insulated the American public from it. It formulated and executed policies that neutralized the nagging problems that Johnson had previously faced. Whether these decisions were made with Vietnam in mind or were implemented due to political ideology (tax breaks for example) can be debated, but the result was an American public largely distanced from the direct, day-to-day effects of a prolonged conflict. Although America was directly attacked, taxpayers did not pay higher taxes (in fact, paid less), young Americans were not subject to a draft, and the country did not experience the loss of a large number of its citizens. Additionally, despite the advantages of information technology and its professionalization, the anti-war movement never rallied or connected with a large audience in a long-term, meaningful way. Though there were individuals with strong personal connections to the on-going conflicts, they did not exist in significantly numbers.

The last two sentences are interesting for their assessment of the importance of the anti-war movement. The conclusion is debatable; while I think we can say with some safety that the 2006 elections went the Democrats way because of frustration with the war, it’s less clear that the shift in opinion was specifically the result of anti-war activism, or rather the inevitable result of a war that was going poorly. Jonathan Bernstein argues that the most important result of the 2006 election for the war was the Surge; had the Republicans held on, Bush wouldn’t have been as inclined to pursue a risky escalation, or to make the political concessions to the Iraqis that executing the Surge required. I don’t know that this is right, because Bush had pretty much lost faith in Rumsfeld by that point, and Rumsfeld was one of the key obstacles to putting more troops in Iraq. Petraeus was building a constituency for the Surge inside and outside the military well before the election, and might have been able to convince Bush that it was worth the effort.

But then in terms of effect, it’s also not clear that the anti-Vietnam movement had a huge policy impact. By 1968, there was a growing elite-level consensus that continuing the war was a bad idea. Nixon and Kissinger wanted to get out on their own terms, but they definitely wanted to get out, and mostly for international rather than domestic reasons. It’s worth wondering how the war would have wound down if an explicitly anti-war candidate like Bobby Kennedy had prevailed. I think it’s very possible that we would have seen something similar to the slow motion Iraq withdrawal undertaken by the Obama administration, hopefully without the periodic escalations launched by Nixon.

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You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are, Boy, Back in the DPRK

[ 26 ] October 27, 2011 |

This sucks:

An estimated 200 North Korean nationals are in Libya and previously worked as doctors, nurses and construction workers, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. They had been dispatched to the country in order to earn the hard currency that Pyongyang requires to fund its missile and nuclear weapons programmes.

Yonhap reported that the North Korean nationals have been left in limbo, joining their compatriots who are stuck in Tunisia, Egypt and other countries with orders not to return home.

North Korean media has so far failed to report that Gaddafi is dead and the government has made no moves to officially recognise Libya’s National Transitional Council as the legitimate governing authority of the country.

The decision to ban its own nationals from returning indicates just how concerned the North Korean regime is of the news leaking out to its subjugated people.

While being banned from North Korea certainly has its upsides, recall that many of these individuals will have a lot of trouble finding work, shelter, etc. where they’ve been stranded. Also, they’ve been allowed to work outside of North Korea because they’re not considered defection risks, which in practical terms probably means that they have families to support.

This move seems very old school, and not in a good way. I suspect that the North Korean state is being far too optimistic about its ability to control information; North Koreans in non-Arab countries will probably also have heard of the Arab Spring, and I find it extremely unlikely that the North Korean populace is as in-the-dark about developments as the authorities seem to hope. Doesn’t mean that there’ll be a popular anti-government movement in the DPRK anytime soon, of course.

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On Selling Out

[ 19 ] October 26, 2011 |

Oh. So that’s how it is.

Well, whatever. I want to make a pledge* right now to all readers of LGM; we will NEVER** go corporate, or sell out, or place ourselves under the umbrella of some larger media organization, no matter how big of a dumptruck full of money they drive up to our respective houses. It’s about freedom, man.***

*This pledge should not be taken literally.
** This might be a good time for SEK to write a post about the visual rhetoric of dramatic foreshadowing.
*** It’s more about the money than the freedom, actually.

Predictable Anti-Airpower Screed….

[ 26 ] October 26, 2011 |

The airpower advocates are crawling out of the woodwork:

The lessons we take from Libya matter, because they will inform military procurement and intervention decisions for years to come. In the United States, the Army is battling budget hawks who will no doubt take solace in the perceived effectiveness of airpower in Libya. In the United Kingdom, the RAF and the Royal Navy will continue their nearly century-long struggle for both funding and control of air assets. To be sure, none of the major powers had an interest in launching a major ground campaign in Libya, much less a prolonged occupation. Still, policymakers should be hesitant in the face of claims that airpower has displaced ground power or sea power, just as they should resist arguments that future interventions will be cheap and bloodless. The war in Libya surely does carry many lessons for military action, but they should be drawn and analyzed only with the greatest care. And if the principle lesson learned from Libya is that “airpower can win wars cheaply and bloodlessly,” rather than “the combined naval and air assets of the NATO alliance, in close coordination with an extensive rebel army, took six months to topple a weak, unpopular regime without a professional army,” then we have a problem.

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Libya, R2P, and Precedent

[ 23 ] October 25, 2011 |

Scott Horton has an interesting essay at Foreign Policy discussing the domestic and international impact of the intervention in Libya. The domestic side is mostly right; the international side, not so much:

While much of the military operations in Libya were plainly within the mandate of Resolution 1973, some aspects exceeded it. For instance, attacks fairly early in the conflict targeted command-and-control centers of the Qaddafi regime. Such steps would be routine in wartime and would plainly be authorized under the laws of armed conflict. But it’s not so clear that they were authorized by Resolution 1973, the authority of which rested on the doctrine of “responsibility to protect” (R2P): the notion, adopted by the U.N. in 2005, that intervention is justified to protect a civilian population from harm, even at the hands of its own leaders. After all, strikes were mounted against military positions far away from the attacks on civilians and with no apparent linkage to them. Moreover, as the war progressed, the posture of the fading Qaddafi regime became increasingly defensive. The final weeks of the campaign put this in sharpest perspective, as Qaddafi and his final core group of retainers withdrew to his hometown of Sirte, ultimately fleeing in a convoy that was fired upon by NATO aircraft and an American Predator drone, destroying two vehicles. Libyan authorities have denied an independent autopsy that might show conclusively the cause of Qaddafi’s death — which may have been shots fired after he surrendered and was in rebel custody — but the role played by NATO in his final moments points to the near perfect inversion of the mission. Instead of protecting civilians from attack by Qaddafi and his forces, they were attacking a fleeing and clearly finished Qaddafi.

At this point, some members of the Security Council clearly feel they got suckered. They voted for a resolution to protect the people of Benghazi from slaughter and saw their authority invoked to depose Qaddafi and install a new government. That will have consequences for future humanitarian crises. Russia and China have now blocked Security Council resolutions targeting Syria. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has made clear that Russia supports demands for reform in Syria and abhors the use of violence against demonstrators, but has been equally clear that Russia cannot risk a repeat of the Libyan example.

NATO’s operations in Libya began as a valid demonstration of the use of military force to protect civilians. But they evolved quickly into an exercise in regime change. In the wake of Libya, the Security Council is unlikely to embrace another R2P operation anytime soon. And that is bad news for the people of Damascus and Hama, as well as for advocates of the responsibility to protect.


Anyone who believed that the intervention in Libya wouldn’t involve at least an attempt to overthrow Gadhafi is either stupid or lying. With the Russians, the Chinese, and the Arab League it’s pretty obviously the latter; none of them gave a fig for Gaddafi, but they were happy to express their shock and indignation when the campaign went beyond a no fly zone. It was obvious from day one that the initiation of military operations would inevitably produce an effort to overthrow Gaddafi, although it was less certain for some time whether that effort would succeed. There was never the faintest chance that the Russians were going to allow a UNSC mandated no fly zone over Syria, a country where they have real interests, and it’s rather sad that Horton (as well as a few opportunistic neocons) believes otherwise. No criticism of the Russians intended; countries tend to defend their interests. Moreover, I’d say that there’s pretty much zero chance that the US, France, or the United Kingdom were ever going to ask for an NFZ over Syria, no matter what happened in Libya; fighting the Syrian Army and Air Force would be a much more expensive and difficult operation that defeating Gaddafi’s rabble, with the political effects much less predictable.

Moreover, what Horton seems to be asking for here is the worst of all worlds; a situation in which NATO became the militarily necessary guarantor of a Libya split between Loyalist and Rebel factions, observing a resolute neutrality regarding who was supposed to win. This interpretation of R2P would lead inevitably to the carving out of multiple statelets with minimal internal legitimacy and no ability to defend themselves. It is very difficult for me to understand how anyone would find this to be a desirable, much less an outcome that would provide a useful precedent for future action.

No Words…

[ 40 ] October 24, 2011 |

I post this only because it’s probably illegal not to:

But hey, Robert Stacy McCain remains confident.

NCAA Rearranges Deck Chairs

[ 9 ] October 24, 2011 |

This has me thinking that the NCAA is worried about something:

NCAA President Mark Emmert says he supports a proposal to allow conferences to increase grants to student athletes by $2,000, “to more closely approach” the full cost of attending college, beyond the athletic scholarships athletes receive for tuition, fees, room, board and books.

Emmert told the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics on Monday that the proposal will be finalized this week and he’ll ask the NCAA Division I Board of Directors to support it. He noted that student athletes have limited opportunities to work outside the classroom and playing fields, and that the current model of athletic scholarship hasn’t changed for 40 years.

Emmert says he’ll also ask the board to allow colleges and universities to provide multiyear grants, instead of year-to-year scholarships.

Definitely an improvement in terms of sustainability of the model and in making the lives of student athletes marginally easier. In terms of enhancing the overall fairness of the system, not very significant. I suspect that this is a gambit on the part of the NCAA to ward off the emerging critique of college athletics, which it appears to regard as dangerous.

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