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Category: Robert Farley

Won’t Someone PLEASE Think of the Children?!?!?

[ 5 ] July 27, 2011 |

In My WPR column this week, I think of the children:

It is almost too trite to point out that foreign policy professionals from around the world would agree in principle that the next 80 years should ideally be better than the past 80. Every analyst, diplomat, soldier and policymaker hopes to make a better world for his or her children. Unfortunately, this common hope cannot, in and of itself, solve most international disputes. People continue to disagree about both what constitutes a better world and how we should divide its fruits.



[ 52 ] July 27, 2011 |

Two updates to posts from last week. First, Colbert is absolutely brutal to Jennifer Rubin:

Second, Eli Lake has additional sourcing on the Georgia bombing. Two US intelligence officials describing a classified report ain’t gospel, but it’s a lot better than sole sourcing the story to the Georgian Ministry of the Interior. I suspect that the administration would prefer that the activities of the GRU not interfere with larger US-Russian relations, although of course the motives of individual intelligence officers will vary. If the US intelligence community believes that the GRU is responsible, them I’m inclined to give much more credence to the report. See also Spencer.

On the Exploitation of Mass Murder

[ 129 ] July 25, 2011 |

Jennifer Rubin didn’t have such a good weekend. As a general rule, it’s pretty easy not to use the murder of ninety-three Norwegians to shill for the defense industry.  For example, instead of leaping to the conclusion that Islamic terrorists were responsible for the attacks, then denouncing advocates of defense cuts as insufficiently attentive to “evil,” Jennifer Rubin could have gone for a walk.  She could have taken a nap, changed the oil in her car, read a book, watched a baseball game, or baked a cake.  Any one of those might have delayed her  contribution sufficiently to make clear that there was at least a chance that the attack wasn’t perpetrated by Islamic extremists.  Had she just waited a short while before publishing a post using ninety-three dead Norwegians as props to attack anyone who proposed cuts to the US defense budget, then she might not have been subjected to the cruel (if righteous) derision of her political enemies. To be sure, using fresh corpses to dress up a political position is always ethically sketchy, but the fact that Rubin got the particulars of the incident so strikingly wrong made for a noxious brew of amorality and stupidity.

Wait. Before. You. Post. If it helps, “WAPO” can be read as a shorthand reminder for WAit before you POst.

But of course she didn’t, and now we have a situation.  Here’s what she wrote on Friday:

This is a sobering reminder for those who think it’s too expensive to wage a war against jihadists. I spoke to Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute, who has been critical of proposed cuts in defense and of President Obama’s Afghanistan withdrawal plan. “There has been a lot of talk over the past few months on how we’ve got al-Qaeda on the run and, compared with what it once was, it’s become a rump organization. But as the attack in Oslo reminds us, there are plenty of al-Qaeda allies still operating. No doubt cutting the head off a snake is important; the problem is, we’re dealing with global nest of snakes…”

… Some irresponsible lawmakers on both sides of the aisle — I will point the finger at Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and yet backed the Gang of Six scheme to cut $800 billion from defense — would have us believe that enormous defense cuts would not affect our national security. Obama would have us believe that al-Qaeda is almost caput and that we can wrap up things in Afghanistan. All of these are rationalizations for doing something very rash, namely curbing our ability to defend the United States and our allies in a very dangerous world.


It’s clear she was either embarrassed by this, or a touch concerned about her job; there are clearly no worries on the latter front, since Fred Hiatt has ensured that there is no mortal sin but one that conservatives can commit under the Washington Post banner. Nevertheless, this is rich:

That the suspect here is a blond Norwegian does not support the proposition that we can rest easy with regard to the panoply of threats we face or that homeland security, intelligence and traditional military can be pruned back. To the contrary, the world remains very dangerous because very bad people will do horrendous things. There are many more jihadists than blond Norwegians out to kill Americans, and we should keep our eye on the systemic and far more potent threats that stem from an ideological war with the West.

In our own debates about national security, conservatives argue that national security spending is deserving of a higher priority than other expenditures. The defense budget is not numbers on a balance sheet as some of those on the left and right insist. Cutting defense spending is not the same as cutting domestic spending. That light rail project can wait, or states can do it, or we can decide it’s a boondoggle not worth doing even if we had the money. But national security is solely a federal function, and it can’t be put off.

There’s a certain risk in engaging too closely with this, as if it’s something that should be regarded as a “conversation starter.”  Nevertheless, if you pay careful attention you’ll note two things. First, upper class tax cuts appear to be more important than either the defense budget or domestic spending. There’s not even any consideration given to the notion that higher revenues might enable both higher defense and higher domestic spending.  Rubin has spent most of the weekend lauding John Boehner’s efforts to ensure that the federal government of the United States collects only a minimal amount of revenue; there’s no hint whatsoever that she considers the possibility that defense might be funded through additional taxes. That should be enough to demonstrate how serious Jennifer Rubin really is about defense spending; that next aircraft carrier is critically important, unless millionaires have to pay a slightly higher tax rate in order to finance it.

Second, Rubin doesn’t bother to defend any specific level of military spending. The argument made for defense cuts by just about everyone is that the military component of security is oversupplied in the United States; we spend more than we actually need in order to defend ourselves. A corollary of this argument is the (rather obvious) observation that aircraft carriers, F-35s, and armored personnel carriers are relatively inefficient ways of defending the United States from terrorists. Rubin doesn’t bother to engage with this argument. Aircraft carriers may be great at what they do, but Rubin makes the case for the defense budget specifically in terms of the fight against terrorism and the indefinite occupation of Afghanistan.

This goes to the greater irony behind Rubin’s initial argument.  The Oslo attacks do demonstrate rather conclusively that it is possible to launch mass casualty attacks without support from “safe havens” in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.  Over the past ten years, ideologically committed individuals and groups have found it relatively easy to do tremendous damage without significant material links to terrorist camps and networks in the places Rubin thinks we need to bomb.  In a sense, the early Islamophobic reaction to the Oslo bombings actually makes more sense than Rubin’s account; if the problem really is bad people, then the real remedies are in immigration, assimilation, and domestic security policy, rather than the purchase of extraordinarily expensive military equipment and the conquest and occupation of “rogue” states.  Of course, given that illiberal assimilation policy and rhetoric appear to generate ideological committed individuals prepared to undertake both Islamic and right wing terrorism, the Islamophobe solution doesn’t really work, either.  However, it’s also worth pointing out that the  implications of the conquest and indefinite occupation of Islamic countries for domestic terrorism ought to be taken seriously.

But it’s not really as if Jennifer Rubin thought all of this through when she decided to decorate her paean to the defense budget with 93 dead Norwegians.  She was given a perch by the Washington Post, and she’s decided to use it to shill for the defense industry.  The particulars aren’t really relevant.  The only reason this specific case is notable is that she got the details so terribly wrong that she looks like a moron as well as a hack.   The editors of the Washington Post knew who she was and what she would do when they hired her.  They bear ultimate responsibility for the gross indecency of her writing.

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The Kind of Terrorism You Should Try to Understand

[ 30 ] July 24, 2011 |

Shorter Jerusalem Post: Just because the killer in Norway wasn’t a Muslim shouldn’t distract us from the important project of hating Muslims.

There is no way that a sentence that starts with “While there is absolutely no justification for the sort of heinous act perpetrated this weekend in Norway…” is going to end up anywhere that any civilized person wants to be.

This Wouldn’t Have Happened if We Had More F-22s

[ 59 ] July 23, 2011 |

Jeebus. It should go without saying that if you’re interested in the latest updates on the situation in Oslo, you shouldn’t be here.

And Jeebus. It’s one thing for nutcase wingnut bloggers to decide Oslo is the latest front in their jihado-crusader fantasy, quite another for a columnist at the Washington Post to suggest that terrorist attacks on Oslo mean we can’t cut the defense budget.

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Targets! Give Me Targets!

[ 12 ] July 22, 2011 |

It’s important to read this:

NATO commanders requested the sophisticated surveillance aircraft after concluding that they were running out of military targets in Libya after four months of bombing and missile strikes against Kadafi’s military forces and command facilities, U.S. and NATO officials said.

….“It’s getting more difficult to find stuff to blow up,” said a senior NATO officer, noting that Kadafi’s forces are increasingly using civilian facilities to carry out military operations. “Predators really enable you study things and to develop a picture of what is going on.”

In context of this:

An air campaign starts with a target set, which might be informed by adequate intelligence and consists of targets, which are related to the casus belli and susceptible to accurate targeting. The promise of so-called surgical strikes against legitimate targets makes the use of force acceptable to policy-makers and opinion-formers on the left and the right of politics. However, as the air campaign progresses the intelligence becomes poorer and the targeting more challenging, even for precision weapons (which are only ‘precision’ in terms of means of delivery but are otherwise just as indiscriminate in such circumstances as any other munition). Therefore, inevitably there is ‘collateral’ damage. At the same time the intelligence becomes less reliable and the targets become more and more remote from the original set. Eventually the campaign ceases altogether to be intelligence-led and becomes capability-led: Rather than search out those targets which contribute to the campaign, the planners seek desperately for the targets which are susceptible to their available technology.

GRU Bombing Campaign in Georgia?

[ 18 ] July 22, 2011 |

Sourcing is a little thin (and by thin, I mean entirely sourced to the Georgian Ministry of the Interior), and implication seems strong (based on Russian behavior in Georgia, we should scotched New START, put Russia on terror sponsorship list, etc.), but interesting nevertheless:

A bomb blast near the U.S. Embassy in Tblisi, Georgia, in September was traced to a plot run by a Russian military intelligence officer, according to an investigation by the Georgian Interior Ministry.

Shota Utiashvili, the most senior official in charge of intelligence analysis for the ministry, said in an interview with The Washington Times that the recent spate of bombings and attempted bombings – including what he said was a blast targeting the U.S. Embassy – was the work of Russian GRU officer Maj. Yevgeny Borisov.

Georgian court has charged Maj. Borisov, who is based in the Russian-occupied province of Abkhazia, with being the mastermind behind a spate of 12 bombings and attempted bombings throughout the country in the past year. These attempts include the detonation of a military-grade explosive about 100 yards from the U.S. Embassy in Tblisi on Sept. 22. No deaths or injuries were reported.

Lake’s description of the South Ossetia War is… tendentious, but I wouldn’t be all that surprised to find that Russian intelligence had embarked on a campaign like this. Whether the United States should react to such a campaign by suspending- I’m not sure what, exactly, but it has something to do with “reset”- is a different question entirely.

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Comparisons Can be Useful…

[ 53 ] July 21, 2011 |

This is worth your while.

And as if to illustrate…

In what looks to increasingly be an inevitable presidential bid, Rick Perry has turned to Doug Feith to discuss national security matters, according to a report at National Review Online.

Feith, a fellow at the Hudson Institute, was previously undersecretary of defense for policy under the George W. Bush administration and is widely considered to be one of the main architects of the Iraq invasion.

GOP on China

[ 30 ] July 20, 2011 |

In my latest WPR column, I discuss the old Red Dawn, the new Red Dawn, and the reluctance of the current crop of GOP presidential aspirants to focus on the security aspect of US relations with China:

For the most part, candidates for the GOP presidential nomination have avoided inflammatory rhetoric about the military threat represented by China. While former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has warned of the dangers of an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) attack against the United States, China specifically does not figure prominently in his rhetoric. Rep. Michelle Bachman’s critique of China is limited mostly to the economic realm,saying recently, “With all the money that we owe China, I think you might correctly say, Hu’s your daddy.” One of the selling points for John Huntsman’s candidacy is the business opportunities generated by his recent ambassadorship to China. Similarly, Mitt Romneyhas emphasized China’s role as both an economic competitor and economic partner, more than as a military threat. Tim Pawlenty has argued that the United States should try to achieve China-like rates of GDP growth. Of the notable Republican candidates, only Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania has sounded a note of warning about China’s military ambitions, faulting President Barack Obama for “acquiescence to China’s saber-rattling in the South China Sea.”


[ 6 ] July 19, 2011 |

Who could have known that Michael Oren wasn’t an entirely reliable source regarding Israel’s military plans?  After all, he totally predicted that Israel would strike Iran within eighteen months of January 2007.  That must mean that he’s really, really well connected. The only other explanation is that members of the Israeli strategic class are quite comfortable lying to American journalists about Israeli interests.  But really, that’s just too crazy to be believed.

In related news, Jeffrey Goldberg is now arguing that publicly noting that attacking Iran is a bad idea undermines Israeli deterrence and makes Israel more likely to attack Iran.  Clever.  I’m curious, however, how seriously Goldberg took this argument when he was writing the original article.  For example, would subjecting the self-interested claims of Israeli policymakers to a trifle more scrutiny have accidentally revealed Israel’s reluctance to strike, and therefore damaged Israeli security?  Would depicting the Israeli strategic class as divided on the wisdom of strikes against Iran have undermined Israel’s “deterrent credibility?” In other words, given Jeffrey Goldberg’s deep concern about the wisdom of pointing out the abject stupidity of attacking Iran, I have to wonder how credible he is as a reporter on Israeli strategic thought.

That Man Knows How to Die

[ 23 ] July 18, 2011 |

Makes me curious how he managed to make it through Ronin without dying, or even getting injured.

Sunday Book Review: The East Moves West

[ 3 ] July 17, 2011 |

This is the fifth of an eight part series on the 2011 Patterson Summer Reading List.

  1. Paul Collier, The Plundered Planet
  2. Greg Mortenson, Stones into Schools
  3. Jason Stearns, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters
  4. CJ Chivers, The Gun
  5. Geoffrey Kemp, The East Moves West

Geoffrey Kemp’s The East Moves West is not written in a particularly engaging manner, nor does it have much of a core narrative.  Kemp argues that energy economics will force East Asia and West Asia to maintain closer economic ties in the future.  He exhaustively demonstrates that East Asia and Southwest Asia already have substantial economic ties, centered mainly around resource extraction. He details some of the social and geopolitical implications of these ties, including their relevance for the relationships between US East Asian allies (Japan, South Korea) and Middle Eastern states that have difficult relations with the United States.

As a book, The East Moves West has all the charm of a collection of wikipedia entries.  There are a few interesting stories, including the tale of Saudi Arabia’s purchase of useless ballistic missiles from China, and the chapter on Israeli relations with East Asia is pretty good.  Read this book, and you’ll know more about the economics of Asia.  Beyond that, there are no earth-shattering insights or hypotheses, or revelations of particularly interesting data.  East Asia and South Asia are becoming more dependent on Middle Eastern oil, and the Middle East is becoming more dependent on East and South Asian money.