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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.

In Defense of Straw

[ 33 ] June 21, 2010 |

I like Neyer’s project of trying to define the eras of teams by representative players, and I think he nails the Mets. (It would have been amazing to think in 1981 that Joe Torre would go into the Hall of Fame as a manager.) To mount my “great players should generally not be blamed for the failures of their teams” hobbyhorse, though, I would take mild issue with this:

As good as Strawberry was (and he was very good) and as good as the Mets were (and they were, under manager Davey Johnson, very good), there was always the feeling that everyone could have been just a bit better. That Strawberry, the Rookie of the Year in 1983, should have won an MVP Award or three in his career. That the Mets, who did win the World Series in 1986, should have reached the postseason more than twice. And that maybe they would have, if only Strawberry had reached his enormous potential.

The Mets of this era were obviously underachievers, and I suppose Strawberry never reached his “enormous potential” even with the Mets, although it’s always hard to know how to measure that. Still, Strawberry was one hell of a player during his Mets career, I think better described as great than very good — a tremendous offensive player, decent corner OF, could have been more durable but had only one really bad injury year. The big injury year may have cost the Mets the pennant in ’85, but he did have a 164 OPS+ when he played. The best case for linking Strawberry to the Mets’ underachievement would be 1989, where he had his worst Mets season and they lost a fairly close race. But even so, he was their second-best player and the third-best RF in the league (behind Hayes and Gwynn.) I’d start looking at such things as “Juan Samuel: center fielder!” before Strawberry’s failings. And it should be noted as well that while the Mets underachieved through much of this era they didn’t collapse until they decided to let Strawberry walk and replace him with Vince Coleman and Hubie Brooks. Admittedly, after 1991 Strawberry really was done as a full-time player, so this in retrospect didn’t work out that badly, and there could be no further question that Strawberry was a sad case of wasted potential. But as a Met, he was a fantastic player, and although he had only two more good years (one as a part-timer) there a number of worse players in the Hall of Fame. And if he gets demerits for his various “intangible” issues surely he should get some credit for being a significant part of the two greatest teams of the post-Big Red Machine era.

All in all, I’d say Strawberry was the least of the Mets’ problems during their disappointing follow-ups to ’86. The big issues were that 1)Carter and Hernandez got old and were never really adequately replaced (although Magadan was OK), 2)Gooden — in addition to his own demons — was worked way too hard in ’85 and was never remotely the same pitcher again, and 3)they let the defense go way too much.

Who Knew that Portugal Felt So Strongly About the Cheonan?

[ 7 ] June 21, 2010 |

Wow. And of course Ivory Coast now has strong incentive to try to beat the DPRK just as badly. While I suspect that concerns about the DPRK team suffering retribution upon its return are a touch overblown, I do sincerely hope that all of the players will be alright…

Comment Hunting is the Lowest Form of Blogging…

[ 10 ] June 21, 2010 |

This is why so many right wing blogs tend to eschew comments. This is unquestionably my favorite:

Agosto Pinchet had the right idea when it came to dealig with commies.

Ya just can’t do better than that. Incidentally, Zombie earned his cred in the right blogosphere with a long, detailed [sic] explanation of how polls suggesting a large Obama lead were in fact a liberal plot to disguise a small Obama lead. Make sure that you read the afterword…

One More Manute

[ 0 ] June 20, 2010 |

Nice tribute from Pierce.

Beliefs Against Even Self-Interest

[ 21 ] June 20, 2010 |

Given the glaring factual howlers (which, needless to say. err on the Pain Caucus side the paper’s editors have long favored), none of the claims in this WaPo story can be taken at face value.   And yet, unlike the statements about public opinion, I find the assertions that the deficit is “resonating more powerfully in Congress” than unempoyment or economic growth depressingly plausible.    And especially Democratic members of Congress who believe this are complete idiots.    Not only are such priorities bad for the country, they are bad for their own political futures.    If they think that massive unemployment can constitute a favorable political context as long as there’s some perception of deficit control, they deserve to lose.

And Dick Cheney’s black heart continues to gurgle

[ 7 ] June 19, 2010 |

Manute Bol, unquestionably one of the most decent, humane people to have lived in the past half century, passed away today from complications of a horrific illness that he acquired while doing human rights work in Sudan. Sam Mellinger wrote a nice piece about him last month, when it looked as if he were going to be released from the hospital. Sad news.

Group Dynamics

[ 14 ] June 19, 2010 |

First, it was a goal.  See here, for example; who is fouling whom?

Clear in the picture, the world’s greatest referee[*] has a clear view of the action as an on side Edu scores the third goal for the US.  h/t Mark Devlin for the link.

I have heard one plausible counter argument to this event, (see also here), but one that runs counter to normal practice: the ref saw this and decided to halt play immediately rather than allow the play to run its course.  Of course, how this evolved into a Slovenian free kick is still anybody’s guess.

[*] at least until another ref makes an equally egregious blunder in the next week or so, and one will.

But that was yesterday.  Thanks to England being, well, England against Algeria, the fate of the US MNT is still in its own hands.  Beat Algeria, and they’re through, period.  It’s turned out to be an interesting group — certainly not the “EASY” group that The Sun so typically predicted when it was drawn.  Going into the final two matches on Wednesday, every side can still qualify.  If Algeria beat the United States, and England do no better than a turgid draw against Slovenia, then it’s Slovenia and Algeria who qualify out of the group.

The NYT — especially in the comments — has a good breakdown of the tie-breaking rules here.  The only way it gets technical from an American perspective is if both the US and England draw: that would result in a table of Slovenia 5, US 3, England 3, Algeria 2.  Then it comes down to goal differential, but by definition at three draws apiece, both England and the US would be level on that criterion.  Then it’s goals scored.  Here the US currently have a two goal advantage.  If England draw 2-2 while the US draw 0-0, (or 5-5 and 3-3, etc.) then it comes down to flipping a coin.

I have no idea how England will fare against Slovenia.  I’ve been watching England from this side of the Atlantic for ten years now, I’ve long since given up on predicting just which England side will turn up.  As for the US, I have to think we will beat Algeria.  They’re a solid side, well organized, but in both group matches they have played a very contained, defensive game — they’ve yet to score a goal.  They have to win to progress, while for the US, a draw could suffice (if England lose, or if England draw while scoring fewer goals in the three games than the US).  The US will not be playing for a draw, because an England victory requires a US victory as well, and the matches are simultaneous, but Algeria will have to go forward and stretch it out a bit, which plays into the strengths of the US side.  Algeria will likely score, the US defense has not been stellar this tournament (when is it ever?) but the US should score a couple, minimum.

2-1 to the USA.

Regardless, this group hasn’t played out in quite the way many of us thought it would.