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Category: Robert Farley

Ambiguity, Deception, and Albert Pujols

[ 24 ] November 21, 2011 |

With the NBA not happening and college football over, it’s time to start talking baseball.  Let’s begin with this from Jason Brannon and Rob Neyer:

Resolved: Albert Pujols is not 31 years old.

It’s really a fascinating discussion, and not just for baseball fans; there’s a lot about how organizations make mistakes and deal with those mistakes, and about how different elements of an organization (in this case the scouting team) have strong incentives to deceive about those mistakes. There’s also a fair amount about deception and strategic ambiguity between organizations, with Neyer and Brannon trying to interpret the apparent motives of the Cardinals and Marlins. Good stuff.

“Fight Them Till Hell Freezes Over, then Fight Them on the Ice”

[ 14 ] November 20, 2011 |

Really loving the NYT’s Disunion blog. Loomis probably knew who William Brownlow was, but I had never heard of him:

Fancying himself a modern Isaiah, Brownlow declared on the masthead, “Cry Aloud and Spare Not.” He wrote scathing harangues excoriating all things he despised, including, but not limited to, Presbyterians, Baptists, Catholics, Mormons, Democrats, Republicans, gamblers, drinkers, Irish immigrants, cheating husbands, African-Americans, secessionists and abolitionists.

And that man serve as the two term governor of Tennessee. They just don’t make Tennesseans like they used to.

Oh, Leon…

[ 11 ] November 18, 2011 |

It’s fun to teach the bureaucratic politics segment of National Security Policy during such momentous times. Panetta:

The federal budget is roughly about $4 trillion. About a trillion of that is in what’s called discretionary funds on the domestic side and on the defense side. Three-fourths of the federal budget is wrapped up in entitlement programs. And I said, you know, you’ve cut the hell out of the discretionary side of the budget. You’ve taken steps; I’m going to implement those cuts. But the time has come, if you’re serious about deficit reduction, you got to take on the three-fourths of the budget that has grown incredibly over these last few years, and you got to deal with revenues.

Why does Leon Panetta say such alarming things about the world and the defense budget, despite a pretty moderate Congressional record on the defense budget? Why, in fact, does he sound so much more hawkish about defense than his predecessor? “Where you sit is where you stand” explains the first, but not the second; Panetta obviously feels vulnerable to forces within DoD in a way that Gates didn’t. The sad truth of defense politics is that DoD critters feel more secure with a Republican at the helm, even when that Republican is interested in/open to defense cuts. As with all experienced bureaucrats, DoD insiders have ways to resist and undermine civilian appointees, usually in conjunction with the uniformed services and with Congressional allies.  It’s an almost textbook case bureaucratic politics interacting with ideology; Panetta doesn’t have sufficient street cred to talk tough on the budget, whereas Gates had much more latitude to speak in terms of possible and necessary cuts to defense spending.  This isn’t to say that DoD never resists Republicans (Rumsfeld eventually wore out his welcome), but there’s a reason why Clinton and then Obama decided to go with moderate GOPsters at SecDef.  In the long term, it doesn’t do Democrats any favors to treat Republicans as the defense budget grownups, but for a US President there is no such thing as “the long term.”

Global Times Interview

[ 15 ] November 17, 2011 |

Last week the Global Times e-interviewed me about the possibility of war between the United States and China. Here’s the result, along with answers to the same questions from Major General Luo Yuan, deputy secretary-general of the PLA Academy of Military Sciences.

All Iran, All the Time

[ 11 ] November 17, 2011 |

My final entry into the Yale Journal Iran nuclear debate is up:

Ackerman and Cohen accept many of these lies at face value. Ackerman apparently believes that the autocrats in Bahrain would not have suppressed demonstrators, but for the specter of Iran. Dead protestors in dozens of states not threatened by Iran might wonder whether the Bahraini government is telling the truth about its motivations. He and Cohen believe that the Israelis will act irrationally, mostly because the Israelis insist that they will act irrationally. To my mind, the Israeli response to the Iranian nuclear program has been quite rational; they have pursued low cost, relatively low impact ways of disrupting the Iranian nuclear program, all while repeatedly insisting to their patron state that they are extremely concerned, and will very soon be launching a disruptive attack that could destabilize the whole region, and wouldn’t it be better if the Americans solved the problem? There is nothing even mildly irrational about this strategy, and there is no reason whatsoever to suspect that the Israelis will become more irrational, or the Bahrainis less autocratic, after an Iranian nuclear test.

Also see Michael’s excellent, long comment defending his perspective.

On last night’s Alyona, I discussed the same issue:

Slow Learning

[ 3 ] November 16, 2011 |

I observe with some degree of pride that Captain Andrew Betson, a student of mine at the Patterson School, has an article in the latest Armed Forces Journal. The article began life as a seminar paper in last spring’s Counter-Insurgency course.  It’s excellent work; check it out.

Iranian Nukes Re-Visited

[ 19 ] November 16, 2011 |

Today we’re revisiting the Iran: No Big Deal argument.  First up, my column at WPR makes the case for thinking about Iran in terms of the behavior of other nuclear powers:

The problem with nukes is that there are strong material and normative pressures against their use, not least because states that use nukes risk incurring nuclear retaliation. Part of the appeal of nuclear weapons is their bluntness, but for foreign policy objectives requiring a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer, they are useless. As a result, states with nuclear neighbors quickly find that they can engage in all manner of harassment and escalation without risking nuclear retaliation. The weapons themselves are often more expensive than the foreign policy objectives that they would be used to attain. Moreover, normative pressures do matter. Even “outlaw” nations recognize that the world views the use of nuclear — not to mention chemical or biological — weapons differently than other expressions of force. And almost without exception, even outlaw nations require the goodwill of at least some segments of the international community.

Given all this, it is not at all surprising that many countries eschew nuclear programs, even when they could easily attain nuclear status. Setting aside the legal problems, nuclear programs tend to be expensive, and they provide relatively little in terms of foreign policy return on investment. Brazil, for example, does not need nuclear weapons to exercise influence in Latin America or deter its rivals. Turkey, like Germany, Japan and South Korea, decided a long time ago that the nuclear “problem” could be solved most efficiently through alignment with an existing nuclear power.

Why do policymakers, analysts and journalists so consistently overrate the importance of nuclear weapons? The answer is that everyone has a strong incentive to lie about their importance. The Iranians will lie to the world about the extent of their program and to their people about the fruits of going nuclear. The various U.S. client states in the region will lie to Washington about how terrified they are of a nuclear Iran, warning of the need for “strategic re-evaluation,” while also using the Iranian menace as an excuse for brutality against their own populations. Nonproliferation advocates will lie about the terrors of unrestrained proliferation because they do not want anyone to shift focus to the manageability of a post-nuclear Iran. The United States will lie to everyone in order to reassure its clients and maintain the cohesion of the anti-Iran block.

Over at Yale Journal, Michael Cohen and Spencer Ackerman both responded to my op-ed on the Middle Eastern regional balance of power. Cohen takes a historical track, arguing that nuclear weapons have been important in past crises, while Ackerman points out that many regional actors are quite insistent about the dangers of Iranian nukes. Both are good; check them out. I’ll have a response later that discusses how Cohen gets the history wrong and Ackerman, for lack of a better phrase, gets the ontology wrong.

Police, OWS, and the State

[ 34 ] November 15, 2011 |

I was working on a post about the relationship between OWS and the armed apparatus of the state for a while, but failed to get around to finishing it before the events of this morning.  Here are a couple of fairly long excerpts from approaches that I find quite interesting.  First, an excellent post from Dan Trombly that draws together a lot of themes regarding the relationship between social protest and the state, especially in the US context:

Before there were militarized police in the United States, we had the actual military fulfilling a much broader range of policing roles – and before that, there was deference to the “mercenary armies” such as the Pinkertons, as well as state militias and other unaccountable security forces. Despite the fits of paranoia and outrage that the tasking of the 1st Brigade Combat Team to the 3rd Infantry Division often elicits, this was not always the way in which federal military intervention in domestic political disorder was viewed.

In fact, it was not fear of federal abuse of power which prompted fear about the use of military in domestic disputes, it was fear of the state governments, which tended to be more overzealous in their suppression of local protests, riots, and strikes. Indeed, it takes only an examination of the Ludlow Massacre to see why state and local governments, generally much further in thrall to the interests of employers and capital generally, were considered far more brutal than federal troops. When Federals arrived, they were generally far more neutral and sought to disarm the sides to reinstitute the government monopoly on force.

The US desire not to have an actual military or paramilitary police force, along the lines of European states, is partially responsible for the massive growth in the power of civilian law enforcement agencies and the decline of informal state militias, mercenary outfits like the Pinkerton or the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agencies. If you think security contractors are out of hand nowadays, consider the conduct of Baldwin-Felts. This was a private security firm which, after engaging in a gunfight in West Virginia, murdered a town’s police commissioner and his friend in a courthouse in front of their wives. They also took part in the aforementioned Ludlow Massacre, which included an armored car mounted with a Colt-Browning machine gun. Let’s not also forget that private associations were also able to contract bombers with tear gas and fragmentation bombs during the Battle of Blair Mountain. It’s open to debate how effective the coal miners and their many battles with employers and local, state, and federal governments were in contributing to the later labor victories during the Roosevelt administration – certainly I am not an expert on any of these subjects. They are worth ruminating on, though, because as Adam Elkus notes, the downside of the “new frontier” in conflict may be the resurgence of violent, antagonistic anti-establishment actions, this time in an urban context.

Speaking of Adam Elkus, he also has a pretty interesting post on the networking and OWS:

The idea inherent in much of the OWS strategic commentary is that information-age social networks could help the occupiers build up a strategic infrastructure through viral replication. Rapid and wide-ranging infrastructure generation is made possible by the low transaction costs of communication and organization that network technologies and forms of organization make possible. This is undoubtedly true. A system, driven by its own dynamics, can rapidly generate infrastructure, especially given an operating concept as tailor-made for economic and political downturns as the concept of the “99%.”

However, such an infrastructure, once built, has its own upkeep costs—which can be steep. An encampment is not a 4Chan server that people can virtually peruse. It’s a real place where people have to be clothed, fed, and kept warm, clean, and safe, and there are important organizational and tactical decisions that have to be made every single day. In short, maintaining this infrastructure requires resources, physical and intellectual labor, and organizational acumen. Maintaining the infrastructure is also a cognitively draining task, especially when the organization itself is fractious and has important fissures as to how to allocate resources. These problems are not exclusive to political activists camped out in New York. Crisis management and the daily minutia required to keep a system running squeezes out strategy and long-term thinking in defense too. But there’s a crucial difference between DoD and Zucotti: even relatively small pieces of the DoD budget could put all of the OWS up in five-star hotels and drinking more Cristal than Jay-Z and Kanye West combined.

Organizations with resources have more of a cushion to compensate for becoming consumed with their own internal dynamics. Whatever the political decision-making problems the US currently faces, it is still the richest and most powerful nation-state in the history of the state system. It isn’t a good thing that we can’t seem to make crucial decisions about priorities, but it’s drastically worse for OWS.

The organization is caught in something of a trap. Without a plausible means of satisfying its amorphous demands or at least realizing a goal that would allow it to “declare victory and go home,” it must stay within its camps to maintain the infrastructure and media attention it has built. But the logistical costs inherent in maintaining the infrastructure indefinitely are fearsome. And although it uses public land, the movement cannot expect the public, however sympathetic to their aims, to allow a disruptive presence to remain in perpetuity—especially if the disruption imposes basic quality of life costs.

OWS isn’t a general strike; it doesn’t seek to inconvenience state or society to the degree that either demands must be met or violence must be employed. The presence of the occupation itself becomes the problem to be dealt with, just as the costs of maintenance (ideological, social, and material) mount to the extent that they will inevitably devour the movement. To circle around a bit, my sense is that in the broadest terms Loomis, Yglesias, and Klein are right about the usefulness of state violence for the OWS protest.  From the point of view of an ideological sympathizer, the worst outcome was for OWS to slowly fade away over the course of winter, perhaps with a mild revitalization as the weather grew warmer, but never regaining the degree of energy and excitement on display in its first weeks.  State violence takes care of these problems, while also providing a necessary rejuvenation of ideological energy.

On Not Re-Arranging My Viewing Priorities

[ 79 ] November 14, 2011 |

I, for one, will always confuse the year the owner’s lockout prevented me from watching any NBA games with all the years in which I voluntarily didn’t watch any NBA games.  On the upside, my utter lack of interest in the NBA means that I don’t have even the faintest interest in seeing an agreement, and can wholeheartedly back the players hard line.  Good luck gentlemen, and remember that nobody ever paid a dime to watch an owner play basketball (at least in their role as an owner).

With the Iraq Thing…

[ 16 ] November 13, 2011 |

A few outliers aside, Republicans have stumbling over themselves to critique Obama for the withdrawal from Iraq, despite that fact that this position polls very badly.

Some thoughts:

1. As Jonathan Bernstein has repeatedly argued, primary campaigns are about capturing the party elite, not capturing the popular vote. In foreign policy, the neocons are still in charge. The fact that neoconservatives have promoted policies not terribly popular within the base of the Republican Party, not to mention the country as a whole, doesn’t change the fact that they continue to dominate the elite levels of the GOP foreign policy apparatus.  Romney’s hold on the lead is too fragile to risk alienating this elite by taking a different position on Iraq (even if he wanted to; I honestly doubt that he gives a damn).  If there were a capable challenger on Romney’s right, things might be interesting; in this kind of race, trying to grab some of the 43% of the GOP that wants to get out might make sense. As we know, however, this is not the case.

2. No power comes with no responsibility. I have considerable doubt that any of the current GOP crop would have pushed very hard to keep troops in Iraq, given how unpopular the position is, and given how little strategic sense it makes.  But then the lack of GOP influence over foreign policy means that critiques are effectively free; Romney can (within the bounds of the primary campaign) attack Obama all he wants on Iraq, without ever having to worry about dealing with the issue himself.

3. I very much doubt that Romney will challenge Obama on this during the general election.  Apart from the thin crust of GOP foreign policy elite, my sense is that even the “pro” stay in Iraq faction doesn’t consider the issue all that salient, while the “anti” faction in the Democratic Party (and probably among independents) seems to consider the issue pretty important. It really does seem that foreign policy is going to be a political strength for Obama (setting aside actual evaluation of his foreign policy), although I doubt that it will be all that relevant to the outcome.  It’s also pretty clear to me that the decision to withdraw active duty US forces was correct both politically and on the merits.


So Much for that Heisman, National Championship, Etc.

[ 43 ] November 12, 2011 |

Dear Stanford,

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a webbed foot stamping on a Cardinal S – forever.

Andrew Luck is too Ugly to Win the Heisman

[ 65 ] November 12, 2011 |

There, I said it. Go Ducks!

…a brief word on the apparent invulnerability of my interest in NCAA athletics. The events of the last few months have, if anything, hardened my conviction that NCAA athletics are hopelessly corrupt and fatally unsustainable. The Penn State rape scandal is the icing on the cake, as it were; not directly necessary to the case against the NCAA, but an outgrowth of a system that wasn’t neither quite predictable nor particularly surprising. And yet, I’m am as emotionally committed to Oregon football as I am to just about any aesthetic preference I have; Oregon victories are more uplifting and defeat more devastating than most anything I experience on a daily basis, with the allowance that I get to enjoy my wife and daughters every day, not just on Saturdays. This is a commitment that is neither wholly voluntary nor completely beyond my control; I could stop caring about the Ducks if I really wanted to, but it would be very difficult. I’m also, tragically enough, developing almost against my will a commitment to Kentucky Wildcats basketball. Go figure. To an extent, this commitment also demands that I point out that not all programs within the corrupt system are equally as bad. The Ducks are currently having some problems with recruiting regulations, but Chip Kelly also kicked his starting senior quarterback off the team prior to a national championship run for rules violations that were far less egregious than anything that happened at Penn State. John Calipari’s saga is well known, but I really do believe that the athletes he works with benefit from the experience; the best thing John Wall could have done, under the system that currently prevails, was come to Kentucky for a year before going to the NBA.

Rationalizations? To an extent, yes, but then as I suggested, our emotional commitments are only partially of our own volition…

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