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South Korea Raises

[ 22 ] December 8, 2010 |

Words, words, words:

South Korea will swiftly and strongly respond with force until North Korea surrenders if the communist state launches another assault, the South’s new defence minister said.

Kim Kwan-Jin issued the warning on Saturday, during his inauguration speech after President Lee Myung-Bak officially appointed the retired four-star general as the new defence chief following a parliamentary confirmation hearing Friday. Kim Kwan-Jin replaced Kim Tae-Young, who came under fire over the military’s allegedly feeble response to North Korea’s deadly shelling of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island near the tense Yellow Sea border on November 23.

“If North Korea launches another military attack on our territory and people, we must swiftly and strongly respond with force and punish them thoroughly until they surrender,” the new defence minister said.  “We do not want war, but we must never be afraid of it,” he said, adding South Korea faces “the worst crisis since the Korean War,” which ended in an armistice in 1953.

The sinking of a South Korean warship in the Yellow Sea in March and the shelling on Yeonpyeong left “indelible wounds” on the South’s military pride and honor and had deeply disappointed its people, Kim Kwan-Jin said.

Some Schelling-esque observations:

  1. There’s no doubt that South Korea’s reluctance to escalate plays a role in how free the DPRK feels to harass the RoK. As we know, even a victorious war would be devastating for South Korea, meaning that Seoul is inclined to shrug off provocations as serious as the sinking of a patrol ship without warning.
  2. This rhetoric is intended to suggest to North Korea that Seoul has exhausted its patience with provocation, and is willing to incur substantial costs in responding to any future attacks. In short, the intention is deterrence.
  3. North Korea may nevertheless conclude that Seoul remains reluctant to pay the exorbitant costs of an all-out war, regardless of the rhetoric. Alternatively, the North may make an attitudinal rather than an economic assessment, and conclude that the South simply lacks resolve. The North may be correct in such an assessment.
  4. However, rhetoric like the above is intended in part to raise the domestic costs of inaction in the face of further North Korean attacks. It will be very hard for the Seoul government to resist escalation in response to future incidents; it has painted itself into a rhetorical corner, mostly by design. The North Koreans may not fully understand the domestic implications of these kinds of comments.
  5. Consequently, I’m more than a little worried about the possibility of an actual shooting war on the Korean Peninsula.
  6. The US should be supportive of South Korea, but not to the point of emboldening a South Korean war party. I don’t think that this is much of a threat, since everyone seems to recognize the enormous costs that South Korea will have to pay in any war. US support simply can’t make those costs go away.  However, I suspect that it will be difficult for the US to restrain a South Korea that feels victimized by the North.

Inter-Service Rivalry

[ 9 ] December 8, 2010 |

This week’s Over the Horizon column is about inter-service rivalry:

Because different services perform different missions, not all contribute equally to certain grand strategic tasks: The Royal Navy’s contribution to the counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan is severely limited, while the British army does not normally contribute to anti-piracy patrols such as those off of Somalia. Inter-service conflict focusing on resources, therefore, is about the prioritization of particular strategic goals. Each service, like any other bureaucratic organization, tends to believe that its own parochial missions fall more in line with national security goals than those of the other branches. The classic example of a resource conflict involves that of a warship versus army brigade: The units have different capabilities, perform different jobs, and suggest a different focus for national strategic priorities. Nations may find themselves forced to choose between options, but can reconcile limitations by adjusting strategic commitments.

A different kind of inter-service conflict involves mission allocation. In the last century, the need for collaboration between air, ground, and sea assets has increased dramatically. The primary driver of such integration has been the expansion of warfare into the third dimension. Aircraft now represent an organic part of most military missions, from ground assault (close air support) and interdiction (exploitation) to anti-submarine warfare and counter-sea operations. Aircraft are as necessary to the efficient and successful execution of tactical- and operational-level military tasks as infantry, armor, and artillery. However, bureaucratic walls have been erected in both the United States and the United Kingdom placing different elements of these missions in different services.

This was distilled from a longer article comparing British and American experiences of inter-service rivalry that never really went anywhere.  One nice thing about having a column (or a blog) is that you can repurpose certain arguments such that you don’t feel like a failed article is a complete waste.  In any case, this inter-service angle is going to be a significant part of the hopefully-someday-will-get-published Abolish the Air Force book; independent air forces by their nature break apart organic mission sets, creating unnecessary bureaucratic barriers as well a bad institutional incentives for missions with shared responsibilities.

A working class hero was something to be

[ 11 ] December 8, 2010 |

John Lennon
Thirty years ago tonight John Lennon was murdered by a mentally ill fan. By a simple twist of fate the story was broken by sportscaster Howard Cosell during a ABC Monday Night Football telecast. After the shooting police responding to the scene took Lennon to a nearby emergency room, where an ABC employee was being treated for a broken leg. The employee overheard the police discussing the shooting, then witnessed Yoko Ono’s grief-stricken disbelief when told minutes later that her husband was dead (Ono had been with him when he was shot). The employee hobbled to a pay phone, and called in the story. MNF producer Roone Arledge was instructed to tell the announcing crew to break the news on the air. The crew were given the news during a commercial break, and had less than a minute to figure out how to handle the situation. Cosell, who knew Lennon personally and indeed had interviewed him on MNF six years earlier, didn’t want to do it. Frank Gifford insisted he had to, and Cosell gave the horrible news the memorable treatment linked above.

I was watching the telecast in my dorm room in Ann Arbor. The Youtube video brought the shock of that moment back as if it had all happened yesterday. (Today of course something like this would have been tweeted almost before the shots had stopped echoing).

Besides being a great musician, John Lennon was an interesting political figure. His politics were of course not “serious” in the sense that Very Serious People give that word — they reflected a kind of utopian radicalism that found its expression in absurdist performance art, such as the infamous Bed-Ins for Peace he undertook with Ono in 1969. Lennon paid a real personal price for his opposition to the Vietnam War: the basic story is told well if a bit simplistically in the documentary The U.S. v. John Lennon.

I dislike “if X were alive today” speculations on principle, since such musings invariably conclude that the departed’s hypothetical present opinions would be identical to the author’s current views. Nevertheless I very much wish John Lennon were alive today for all sorts of reasons — not the least of which is the desire to still have his voice advocating, through art and activism, for that most feared and despised thing, a world of free and equal human beings.

You Are the Sucker, Susan Collins Edition

[ 25 ] December 8, 2010 |

Nobody possibly could have predicted that getting Susan Collins’s “support” for DADT would involve procedural compromises that would allow the explicit repeal opponents in her conference to kill the bill.    Certainly, we haven’t seen this before.

This “it” may be the “that” that’s so far up with which it can’t be put.

[ 72 ] December 8, 2010 |

I confess that it’s Week Ten in the UC system, and as such, I’m swamped with the duties that make me a responsible teacher.  But as a cancer survivor myself, I can’t let this pass. In his post about her dying words, Donald Douglas writes:

The story’s trending at Memeorandum. And at ABC News, “Elizabeth Edwards Won’t Receive Anymore Cancer Treatment: John Edwards’ Joins Family at His Wife’s Side.” But I notice at her farewell statement an odd aspect to her “three saving graces”: She doesn’t list faith in God as one of them[.]

I repeat: the first words Donald Douglas writes about the death of a mother of three is, and I quote, “[t]he story’s trending.”

I repeat: “[t]he story’s trending.”

That’s what death is to him: an opportunity to capitalize, via traffic, from the death of a political opponent.  That Donald Douglas doesn’t even go through the motions–can’t even fathom that her acceptance of her fate was hers own, and accomplished with dignity, says something more terrible about Donald Douglas than anything I could write.  Donald Douglas should stick to posting nude images of women the same age as his students.  Better yet, while Donald Douglas publishes nude images of women the same age as his students, he should think about why I had insomnia last night:

There’s a word for your face, for the teeth you have left, and that word is danger, grave danger, because that word is “fear,” but it sounds like “snap,” because that word is “pain,” and it whistles, up through the lungs it’s got left, “What happened to my teeth?  My teeth.  What happened — to my — tee-th.”  Court it within shot of my ears — my ears — again, and the word whispered will be “death.”  Two syllables, you see, not one, but two: “Death.”  But not– not — before “pain.”  Never before “pain.”

Would that we had a Pembleton — a righteously unhypocritical Christian who knows-better-but-still is of the sort seen 1:05 seconds into this clip — instead of the likes of Donald Douglas, who believes his Christian duty is to talk “trending” about the recently departed and post to nude images of women the same age as his students.

The Latest Attempt to Insulate Activist Conservative Judges From Charges of Judicial Activism

[ 10 ] December 8, 2010 |

George Will has introduced the latest effort to claim that, by definition, only liberal judges can be enagaged in judicial activism. This latest gloss on the more accurate “judgifying I don’t like” is about as useful as you’d expect.

Perhaps for the 10th anniversary of Bush v. Gore we can get a symposium of conservative pundits and legal scholars to praise the Court for its judicial “engagement.”   After all, if the ratification debates of the 14th Amendment produced any common thread, it must be “using different standards to count ballots is illegal if it might prevent a Republican from winning Florida’s electoral votes and not in any other case.”    More sophisticated conservatives can provide the extensive evidence that the Framers uniformly understood Article II to mean that “only state legislatures can make or enforce election laws, unless it’s an executive or judicial branch official making a ruling favorable to the Republican candidate, with executive branch officials appointed by the candidate’s brother given especially wide discretion.”    That could be almost as convincing as Will’s column!

On The Wikileaks Manifesto

[ 83 ] December 8, 2010 |

I hope most of you following the Wikileaks story read Aaron Bady’s essay at zunguzungu last week, in which he examines two early essays attributed to Julian Assange and provides his explanation of Assange’s broader theory. It’s a sophisticated read with at last glance 567 comments – the sort of blog post political theorists will (or should) assign to their graduate classes.

I also think Bady makes some mistakes in his interpretation of Assange’s essays – or at least glosses over some of the more disturbing implications in his zeal to paint Assange as smarter and less objectionable than might be assumed by those not familiar with his writings.

Let’s begin with what Robert Baird at 3QD argues is the central insight of Bady’s essay: “the recognition that Assange’s strategy stands at significant remove from a philosophy it might easily be confused for: the blend of technological triumphalism and anarcho-libertarian utopianism that takes ‘information wants to be free’ as its gospel and Silicon Valley as its spiritual homeland.”

In Bady’s words:

According to his essay, Julian Assange is trying to do something else. Because we all basically know that the US state — like all states — is basically doing a lot of basically shady things basically all the time, simply revealing the specific ways they are doing these shady things will not be, in and of itself, a necessarily good thing. In some cases, it may be a bad thing, and in many cases, the provisional good it may do will be limited in scope. The question for an ethical human being — and Assange always emphasizes his ethics — has to be the question of what exposing secrets will actually accomplish, what good it will do, what better state of affairs it will bring about. And whether you buy his argument or not, Assange has a clearly articulated vision for how Wikileaks’ activities will “carry us through the mire of politically distorted language, and into a position of clarity,” a strategy for how exposing secrets will ultimately impede the production of future secrets.

Baird usefully describes Bady’s argument analytically as follows:

For Assange in 2006, then, the public benefit of leaked information is not the first-order good of the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world (free information is its own reward), nor is it the second-order good of the muckrakers* (free information will lead the people to demand change). What Assange asks of leaked information is that it supply a third-order public good: he wants it to demonstrate that secrets cannot be securely held, and he wants it to do this so that the currency of all secrets will be debased. He wants governments-cum-conspiracies to be rendered paranoid by the leaks and therefore be left with little energy to pursue its externally focused aims.

Here are my reactions. First of all both Bady and Baird, who seem in agreement about Assange’s “clearly articulated vision” and offer a very helpful analytical typology to situate his ethics in relation to others like Mark Z, both discount the inconsistencies with which he has articulated that vision. If Assange truly fit the “third-order” mold when he wrote those essays, his thinking today seems to draw on all three discourses to fit his audience and the moment. He has said third-order types of things, but he has also said on the Wikileaks site  “transparency creates a better society for all people” and that “all information should be free” (ala Zuckerberg); he has argued at times that his goal is reform, not revolution; and as Baird acknowledges in a footnote, Assange’s Time interview reflected the second-order position.

If he has a consistent position, I’m not sure even Assange knows what it is. And considering that he is using the nuclear threat of releasing his entire archive (presumably irrespective of any harm minimization tactics the organization would otherwise claim to employ) as a bargaining chip to deal with his legal troubles, I have a hard time agreeing with Bady’s claim that Assange always emphasizes ethics.

But let’s suspend disbelief for a moment about whether Assange’s 2006 essays provide a useful road-map to his current position or political behavior, and simply examine his writings. What surprises me most is that Bady, and to some extent Baird, seem to accept many of Assange’s central claims. Here are several I find very troubling – even moreso if they indeed tell us something about his current agenda. Read more…

Elizabeth Edwards

[ 5 ] December 7, 2010 |

Very sad news — despite the warnings, I never would have expected it to be so sudden.    R.I.P.

…amazingly, this remarkable group of excerpts from Althouse and her equally classy sycophants [link safe; does not go to Althouse’s cesspool] doesn’t even include Althouse’s note in aother thread that “[s]he had 3 beautiful children, only one of whom died young.”  Only one!    Then there’s her speculation that she died early to avoid the estate tax that, being married, she wouldn’t have to pay anyway.   She can always outdo herself, give her that.

For Your Torpedo Bombing Pleasure…

[ 12 ] December 7, 2010 |

I have nothing to say about Pearl Harbor today.  However, while researching a short article about the British attack against the Italian fleet anchorage at Taranto I found this article, which contends that the British attack should be seen as an operational and strategic failure.  While the Royal Navy did a lot of damage using very few resources, it failed to fully exploit a critical Italian vulnerability, and failed to capitalize on the damage that the attack caused.  It’s certainly an interesting argument; I think that a strong case could be made that the attack didn’t change Italian behavior very much, nor did it resolve the central British dilemma in the Mediterranean.

Assange Arrested; Media Continues to Mis-Report the Charges

[ 91 ] December 7, 2010 |

I haven’t blogged at all about the little issue of Julian Assange being wanted in Sweden for “sex crimes,” mostly because I find it completely irrelevant to the broader questions about the ethics of what he’s doing with his website and am annoyed by the narrative that suggests otherwise.

However now that he’s actually been arrested in London, and given that not only the press but also a number of people I respect seem to buy the media’s claim that he is being charged with “rape” let me just direct readers here. Also here. Also, if you want to know what I think about conflating sexual predators with those who accidentally or even intentionally violate repressive, Victorian standards of consensual sex, see here.

None of this has any relationship, in my mind, nor should it, to the wider debate about the legitimacy of his politics. I would make this argument even if he were charged, or found guilty, of actual rape. Though it is to be expected now that the media will conflate and confuse the two stories, I for my part will attempt to keep issues of Assange’s personal conduct distinct from my ruminations about his wider political and professional agenda.

Robert Stacy McCain Will Determine Which Women Are Worthy of Legal Protection

[ 5 ] December 7, 2010 |

Shorter Verbatim Robert Stacy “Emmett Till had it coming” McCain: “The problem here is not some theoretical abstraction about the nature of consent. No, the much larger problem apparent in this situation is that Swedish leftist women are atrocious sluts.”  [His emphasis.]

No direct link, but via.   This post is rather more worthy of your time.

On the Deal

[ 39 ] December 7, 2010 |

Needless to say, I don’t have much to add to Krugman and Rortybomb.    The deal, once you accept that the cave-in on extending the Bush tax cuts was inevitable, was better than expected.   But the caveat pretty much swallows the good news.     The die on this cast in September, and while I would have preferred that Obama put the better long-term policy of letting all the tax cuts expire above his political self-interest, I’m not naive enough to think there was any chance of this happening.   But let’s be clear — this isn’t a “temporary” extension of the Bush upper-class tax cuts.   The chance to let them expire has vanished.   The political context certainly won’t be better in 2012.

In a very related point, Unequal Democracy is indeed a fantastic book.