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[ 1 ] June 23, 2010 |

In the words of Arthur Carlson, where I come from this ad is in bad taste.


Free At Last

[ 15 ] June 23, 2010 |

I am happily in receipt of a letter from University of Massachusetts’ Chancellor Holub informing me that I have been awarded tenure. Of course you know what this means: the days of keeping outside-the-box ideas to myself are gone like the Twelve Colonies of Kobol. Yep, I just cannot wait to write something unpopular or controversial using my newly acquired academic freedom.

Linky Linky…

[ 1 ] June 23, 2010 |

Some lazy Wednesday night blogging…

Landon Donovan: A Musical Tribute

[ 7 ] June 23, 2010 |


Big Basketball and Big Coal: Two Tastes that Taste Great Together

[ 8 ] June 23, 2010 |

There are consequences for devotion to big coal?

Wendell Berry, perhaps Kentucky’s best-known writer, is pulling many of his personal papers from the University of Kentucky’s archives to protest the naming of Wildcat Coal Lodge.

Berry excoriated his alma matter in a Dec. 20, 2009, letter, saying the decision to name a new dorm for UK basketball players the Wildcat Coal Lodge “puts an end” to his association with the university.

“The University’s president and board have solemnized an alliance with the coal industry, in return for a large monetary ‘gift,’ granting to the benefactors, in effect, a co-sponsorship of the University’s basketball team,” Berry wrote in the typewritten letter. “That — added to the ‘Top 20’ project and the president’s exclusive ‘focus’ on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — puts an end to my willingness to be associated in any way officially with the University.”

Brief McChrystal Thoughts

[ 13 ] June 23, 2010 |

The general interest in healthy civil-military relations in the United States is more important than the outcome of the war in Afghanistan. Even were McChrystal absolutely critical to that effort (and that effort absolutely critical to the security of US values and interests) Obama would be well advised to cut the general loose. In this case, the individual importance of McChrystal and the overall importance of the war effort are both in question. McChrystal’s sins have not risen to the Douglas MacArthur level, but the comments by his aides do appear to reflect a general contempt not only for the civilian leadership of the United States but also for the doctrinal principles that McChrystal himself advocates. This raises grave questions about his command.

To put this in terms of the ongoing “executive power” debate, Obama faces a relatively easy task. McChrystal has apparently already offered his resignation. The legal ability of the President to cashier commanders is without serious question. Conservatives have, if anything, been faster than liberals to call for McChrystal’s ouster. Furthermore, McChrystal represents one faction in a bitter dispute within the US Army; although I tend to find more points of agreement with McChrystal’s faction than its oppposite, it’s unclear that the institution as a whole would terribly resent his replacement.

UltimaRatioReg is right (never did I expect to write those words) in suggesting that civil-military relations are always messier than the Huntington model; senior military officers will play a role in the public debate over strategy and doctrine even in healthy democracies. Although I think that some of McChrystal’s earlier advocacy approached the “neutral zone” between civilian and military roles, I don’t believe that he crossed the line. Senior officers cannot, however, countenance or enable open contempt in the ranks for the civilian leadership.

“I’ve Just Made a Deal That’ll Keep the Empire Out of Here Forever”

[ 2 ] June 22, 2010 |

Due to recurrent server issues, we have decided to shift providers. The transition will not involve any visual change to the site, or any change in address. However, service may be intermittent early tomorrow morning. Hopefully by tomorrow afternoon all of our server issues will be behind us. Thank you for your patience…

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Should Obama Accept McChrystal’s Resignation?

[ 3 ] June 22, 2010 |

As of 2 hours ago, he is said to have offered it.

According to Jon Western:

This can not end well for McChrystal. He has a lot of support here, but this crossed so many lines– civil-military relations, leadership judgment, command authority, the raunchiness of his conduct, etc… Given the complexity of the on-gong operations and the multiple levels of coordination across so many different civilian and military organizations operating in Afghanistan, there is no way McChrystal can credibly command ISAF. No one will want him commanding their forces. And, given the wide swath of his attack — directed against the entire civilian and political leadership in Washington working on Afghanistan — he can’t possibly continue to work with them.

Maybe true. If Obama accepts his resignation, it may send a strong and worthwhile signal in terms of civil-military relations. But it will also remove a commander who has done more to protect civilians in Afghanistan than anyone since 2001. Afghans understand this. Michael O’Hanlon has more. Also see Joe Klein.


Willful Naivete

[ 9 ] June 22, 2010 |

I can’t believe that conservatives really think that there’s something unusual about the state using leverage to extract agreements without a full trial, but that really does seem to be the core of their most recent line of defense for BP. Obviously, comparing such agreements to genocide really does take it that extra level.

It also makes the arguments of Col. Mustard et al. that the agreement actually violates the Constitution especially farcical. If the state violates the 5th or 14th Amendment every time it extracts a deal after an implicit or explicit threat of further legal action, we’re going to some radical changes in fiscal policy: just paying for judges and lawyers alone might consume more resources than the Pentagon…

Bureaucratic Resilience

[ 48 ] June 21, 2010 |

This is simply wrong:

One of the principal aspects that make the “weak presidency” claim so laughable is that the post-World-War II presidency has done virtually nothing but expand in power. The President controls virtually the entire Pentagon and intelligence industry, and all administrative agencies, with very few limits. That includes a massive amount of jobs, contracts, access, and projects the White House single-handedly directs, and the President can expand or cancel a whole slew of pet projects for various members of Congress and their home states or districts.

This is, it’s fair to say, a brutal misunderstanding of the relationship between the President and the national security bureaucracy. The White House does not, in point of fact, single-handedly direct projects that can, in any significant number, be canceled or redirected at executive whim. Each expansion of executive power creates an institutional manifestation of that power; the institutional manifestation then produces, in and of itself, an interest group with powerful incentives in favor of the status quo. These interest groups have multiple ways in which they can check executive power, including intra-administrative regulation, labor protection, and congressional influence. The vast majority of the employees of the executive branch are career civil servants who continue to enjoy considerable control (as they should) over hiring, firing, and placement. Non-governmental employees also enjoy a variety of protections while under government contract. The money spent on the national security bureaucracy flows to a large number of states and congressional districts, vesting interests within those that support executive power in effect if not in principle. These structures are not infinitely plastic; they cannot be moved from district to district at executive whim. Simply put, just because the President technically has control over a particular budget does not mean that he or she has the practical ability to slash or multiply at will.

This is not, I should hasten to add, part of an “Obama apologist meme.” Bureaucracies, especially large ones associated with the state, are deeply resistant to change, and manifest that resistance in any number of ways. This is not a phenomenon that is limited to the Obama administration, or to the United States government. In every state (and, indeed, in every corporation) the power of the executive is limited in ways that aren’t obvious from a surface legal analysis. Observing this hardly constitutes an apology for the executive. At risk of Godwin, Hitler and Stalin were unable to coerce their bureaucracies into doing precisely what they wanted, in spite of minimal legal obstacles to executive power.

…to add a bit, the idea that the US presidency is relatively weak compared to other executive offices is not new to the Obama administration. It is an argument that has, the “imperial presidency” notwithstanding, been made repeatedly over the last fifty years by political scientists specializing in American and comparative politics. Repeating this argument hardly makes one an “Obama apologist”; skeptics of the comparative power of the US executive may be wrong, but they aren’t specific to the Obama administration. Indeed, more than a few of the same liberal pundits that Greenwald assails have noted that George W. Bush accomplished relatively few of his domestic priorities, in spite of enjoying significant congressional majorities for several years of his two terms. In foreign policy the situation is different, and indeed Greenwald allows that “honest” discussants of American executive power have noted the difference between domestic and foreign executive latitude.

None of this is to say that the Presidency is “helpless”; rather, it’s really important, and people should take it very seriously. People should also take Senate elections, which are altogether less important than the Presidency, very seriously. However, I haven’t really seen anyone claim that the US Presidency is “weak, helpless, and impotent”; Glenn certainly intimates that his interlocutors have this view, but he fails to demonstrate such, and my own cursory reading of the discussion has thus far failed to uncover anyone who holds such a view of the US executive.

De-composingconstructing the Zombie Menace

[ 12 ] June 21, 2010 |

Daniel Drezner has expounded on his seminal “Zombies and IR” blog post
with a full spread on the topic in the July/August Foreign Policy:

The specter of an uprising of reanimated corpses… poses a significant challenge to interpreters of international relations and the theories they use to understand the world. If the dead begin to rise from the grave and attack the living, what thinking would — or should — guide the human response? How would all those theories hold up under the pressure of a zombie assault? When should humans decide that hiding and hoarding is the right idea?

What follows is an attempt to satiate the ever-growing hunger for knowledge about how zombies will influence the future shape of the world. But this is a difficult exercise: Looking at the state of international relations theory, one quickly realizes the absence of consensus about the best way to think about global politics. There are multiple paradigms that attempt to explain international relations, and each has a different take on how political actors can be expected to respond to the living dead.

Drezner’s treatise is already being referred to as the cornerstone work of “zombie theory” akin to other foreign policy crazes such as “cybersecurity” or “counter-terrorism.”

As such, therefore, I can’t help but point out this summary of relevant IR “theory” turns a blinded eye to whole range of the perspectives that might be presumed useful to comprehending this emerging transnational threat. Would not post-colonial theory help us understand the unique Haitian approach to the zombie menace? Would not constructivist IR theory contribute a more nuanced understanding of the power relations required to make the zombie community hang together, and the cultural reasons for the abject neglect of the such non-traditional threats by policymakers thus far? Would not IR feminism attune us to the impact of marauding zombie mayhem on zombie women and children, to say nothing of usefully deconstructing the gendered narrative about threats-of-the-flesh that underpins the popularity of zombie hysteria? (I hungrily await Laura Sjoberg’s take on Drezner’s piece.)

Surely a more complete understanding of IR theory would lead to a brainier policy response. Then again, this is Foreign Policy, and I suspect behind this article is a humorous back-room story about the ever-contentious process of translating academic theories and jargon to a beltway audience – a process that often takes the bite right out of IR theory.

What Drezner conclusively shows, however, is the urgency with which security specialists must sink our teeth into this body of uncharted research. Hint, hint, National Science Foundation and DoD Minerva Project: a new Cross-Cutting Program on Zombie-Human Social Dynamics?

[cross-posted at Duck of Minervaand Current Intelligence.]

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Today In “Sucking Up to the Nitwits Who Destroyed The Gulf Coast” Wingnuttery

[ 35 ] June 21, 2010 |

Although it would be nice to think that Col. Mustard was a crank outlier, Roy has been doing a good job of rounding up people who believe that the Constitution should be correctly understood as enacting Sarah Palin’s Facebook posts. (The Trainwreck Media hack who goes on and on about how Obama is a tyrannical threat to the rule of law and the Constitution before conceding that “BP may have been under no legal constraint to follow Obama’s dictate” is definitely my favorite.)

This is all silly enough. But then he found this example of ante-upping from reasonable, moderate, thinking man’s conservative Reihan Salam:

Shakedowns [like this perfectly reasonable argeement to ensure that BP will actually compensate the victims of its disastrous ineptitude rather than just giving its money to executives and shareholders] have a long and undistinguished history.


During the westward expansion of the United States, the federal government “negotiated” with sovereign Indian nations in a similar spirit. European powers engaged in a truly extraordinary shakedown of China during the 19th century, forcing a then-vulnerable empire to accept the spread of opium and surrender treaty ports like Hong Kong. Resentment of the West lingers still.


It should go without saying that demanding money from BP is not quite like a playground full of schoolyard bullies kicking a kid when he’s down. For one thing, BP isn’t terribly sympathetic. But that’s precisely the point—the Muslims who were burned alive in Gujarat in 2002 weren’t sympathetic to those who victimized them either.

I remember being assured by many otherwise sharp people that Salam was a thinker who had to be Taken Seriously. Then I read his extensive analysis of the wrongthink in a mediocre Chevy Chase comedy, so that was the end of that. (If I recall correctly, I was subsequently assured that this was in fact an 11-dimensional satire of…something, which will perhaps be the defense mounted this more recent and much more indefensible exercise.) I have, however, long thought that Douthat was the most overrated of the young reactionary thinkers praised by many liberals for no obvious reason, but I may have to reconsider that.