I have just learned that our main RSS feed ceased to update on Friday. If you read the site through RSS you’re probably not getting this, but nevertheless be patient…
It’s interesting to me that “must” is so big in the tag clouds of both the Bush and Obama NSS. “Must” implies a lack of freedom; it’s much different than “may” or “can.” It seems odd that the world’s sole superpower, hegemon, unipolar state etc. thinks strategically in terms of “must” rather than “can”. Recall your Thucydides:
The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.
The logic is quite clear; the powerful have freedom to pursue whatever ends they wish, while the weak are constrained by the whims of the strong. Both NSSs, however, use the language of constraint rather than the language of freedom. The most powerful state that the world has ever known feels deeply constrained by the exigencies of the international system.
One response to this would be that “must” is there simply for political effect, and is intended simply to foreclose alternatives that “may” or “can” would leave open. I think that there’s considerable truth to this, but I don’t think it’s the whole story. Rather, I suspect that both the policymakers in the Bush and the Obama regime feel the artificial, self-imposed constraint of “must” as a genuine imperative. I suspect that psychologically, institutionally, and politically the imperative of “must” becomes real for policymakers, such that even the most powerful actors in the most powerful state that the world has ever known subjectively “suffer what they must,” rather than “do what they can.” It’s worth noting that the above quote was part of the patient Athenian explanation that they had no choice but to burn Melos to the ground and put its inhabitants to the sword.
I find this a bit of a scary thought.
I don’t want to interrupt Jeffrey Goldberg’s hand-wringing, but this really stood out:
Israel may face, in the coming year, a threat to its existence the likes of which it has not experienced before: A theologically-motivated regional superpower with a nuclear arsenal.
Really? We’re calling Iran a regional superpower now? Here’s some quick data on Middle East defense spending:
Saudi Arabia: $33.1 billion
Israel: $12.1 billion
Turkey: $11.6 billion
Syria: $6.3 billion
Iran: $6.1 billion
Now, it’s obvious that defense spending isn’t the entire issue; I doubt that anyone would take seriously the idea that Saudi Arabia is militarily superior to Israel. Nevertheless, the term “superpower” rather conveys “super” “power”; it seems odd that a regional “superpower” such as Iran gets outspent by four other regional countries. Does this make Saudi Arabia a regional “superpower”? Maybe Goldberg means “superpower” in some way that doesn’t actually reference the superness of a country’s power? This would be odd, given that the term came into common usage when there were two “super” “powers”, each of whom dwarfed any other potential competitors in total defense spending. Perhaps the nuclear weapons are doing the work here, although that would also be odd since he clearly uses “with a nuclear arsenal” as a modifier to “superpower”. Or perhaps Jeffrey Goldberg just really isn’t all that thoughtful about the Middle East balance of power…
Haven’t been blogging on the spill, because I know next to nothing about deep sea oil drilling or cleanup. I do want to echo a bit what John Cole wrote here; the situation that we’ve produced for ourselves is one in which, unfortunately, we have to depend on BP to handle the problem. BP has greater familiarity with the area and with the particular mechanics of the well than any other actor, and certainly than any actor in the US government. There are engineers outside BP with similar levels of expertise, but they all pretty much work for big oil companies, too. This post in particular struck me as ill-conceived:
The administration has been keeping an ecological criminal in charge of the crime scene during a national crisis. Seventeen nations have offered assistance — but “the final decision is up to BP” to accept it, according to the State Department — and only Canada, Mexico and Norway have been allowed to help so far. The law — Title 33, Section 1321 — mandates that President Obama “shall direct all Federal, State, and private actions to remove the discharge,” using any means necessary. There are not any resources — people or equipment — that Obama doesn’t have the authority to seize and put into service.
It’s certainly fair to expect that private sector resources may be needed for this disaster, but BP’s only unique qualification for the disaster response is that it is the perpetrator. Although BP is by default a party responsible for implementing the cleanup plan, it is by no means the only possibility. The rig was operated by Transocean; the cementing done by Halliburton; the blowout preventer built by Cameron. Other companies involved in ultra-deepwater drilling include engineering giant Schlumberger, Norway’s nationalized oil company Statoil, Shell, and Chevron.
If the Navy can’t direct the undersea mission after it’s given authority over any needed private resources, it calls into question why we entrust it to operate aircraft carriers and nuclear-armed, nuclear-powered submarines.
The last bit is particularly idiotic; the Navy can operate aircraft carriers and nuclear armed, nuclear-powered submarines because it has trained for decades to do so. It can’t cap oil spills because it hasn’t spent years incorporating that capability. It might be a good idea for the USN to focus more on this particular kind of disaster management, and indeed I think that such focus would fit rather comfortably into the broad outlines of CS-21, but nevertheless.
The second problem is that all of the potential alternatives are also private companies, all of which have less stake and less interest in the situation than BP. It can fairly be argued that BP has done poorly thus far and has not exhibited a sufficient degree of urgency, but there’s little reason to think that Shell or Chevron, with no particular interest in the disaster, would proceed with any additional urgency. Options such as nationalizing BP make more sense in the medium term, but not much in the short. Indeed, the threat of nationalization is probably more effective than actual nationalization, until the crisis is over. If BP believes that US assets are at stake (rather than already gone), it might pursue cleanup operations with additional vigor. Seizing the relevant assets of the company now (“There are not any resources — people or equipment — that Obama doesn’t have the authority to seize and put into service,” as Brad puts it) doesn’t mean that the people with expertise will have an interest in working for the US government, or that they’ll work faster for the government than they’d work for BP.
So what are Obama’s failures in this case? I can think of a few off the top of my head:
1. While it’s fair to blame the Bush administration for leaving the MMS a shambles, acknowledging that the service was gutted doesn’t spare Obama. One of the core functions of the Obama administration from the beginning should have been identifying critical nodes of governance that Bush and his cronies had essentially destroyed, and capabilities involving mineral extraction should have been the first place that they looked. It’s not as if mineral extraction was a small sideshow in the Bush administration’s effort to destroy government oversight capability; it was the main feature. From all indications, the Obama administration failed to note this or to do anything productive about it until too late.
2. The Obama administration could have and should have adopted a more adversarial tone towards BP in the immediate wake of the disaster. Such a tone might have conveyed the gravity of the situation, and perhaps convinced BP to treat the spill as a genuine disaster rather than as a PR problem. I don’t have a clear sense of what could have been done in the early period that wasn’t, but then neither did the administration.
3. Obama’s decision to open more areas to offshore drilling is going to go down as one of the great “own goals” of American political history. It was a stupid, ill-informed decision that he made in order to undercut Sarah Palin and other Republican energy policy critics. While it’s fair to acknowledge that Obama couldn’t have known that the disaster would happen in such a short time frame following the announcement, he surely must have understood that more offshore drilling would result in more disastrous spills. Instead of being able to utterly gut the GOP energy position, he’s left apologizing for it. Stupid, stupid, stupid….
4. Obama also missed an opportunity to make a philosophical distinction between Republican and sane approaches to economic regulation. In this case, BP was allowed to engage in economic behavior that ran the risk of massive, widespread destruction and that was not, apparently, reversible even by BP’s own internal engineers. This should have resulted in a fantastic case study for why certain economic functions ought never, ever, ever to be left in the hands of minimally regulated private industry. Unfortunately, because of the aforementioned opening of additional areas to drilling and because of a wider Democratic unwillingness to make sensible arguments about governance, private industry, and regulation, this opportunity is being lost.
Israeli Defense Forces seem to have fired on a flotilla of humanitarian shipments, killing
nine ten aid workers (or militant blockade runners, depending on where you sit). Netanyahu has defended his troops who claim to have fired in self-defense, and has canceled his visit to the White House. Al-Jazeera is live-blogging the coverage.
Happy Memorial Day from all of us to all of you. Celebrate with the beer and the baseball and the what not, but do give a thought to those who have served and died, whether for the United States or elsewhere. Also see this; while I can’t concur fully with the presentation, I think it would be a shame to dispose of an artifact like USS Olympia. I think that we probably memorialize too many ships (we don’t need to save all four Iowas, for example), but the Olympia is the last of her kind. Unfortunately, I failed to see her on my last trip to Philly, but I’ll probably have to go if plans on scuttling her move forward.
Among other things, they cut defense spending. In the United States, it’s impossible to cut defense spending, because the world’s reserves of whiskey/sexy/democracy/freedom depend utterly on the ability of the United States to egregiously outspend any rival or potential coalition of rivals by a factor of five or so. In the US, as we know, the idea that the growth of defense spending should be cut is radical hippie peacenik nonsense. And incidentally, we also need a few engines that we’ll never use…
It’s good that I didn’t get around to picks for the conference finals, because I would have been wrong on both. I thought that the Sharks would be very tough once they got out of the first round, but watching them against the Hawks makes you realize that they’re no so much underachieving in the playoffs as that their talent — especially on the blueline — isn’t that impressive. (Although Marleau should be permanently excluded from the “choker” label.) The only caveat I would have had in picking Montreal is Pronger, whose greatness has always been a little undercognized — the more you look at the ’06 Oilers and the surrounding teams, the more amazing he looks.
So because of Pronger, I guess you can’t entirely write off the Broad Street Slightly Unpleasant People. But, still — since despite Pronger I didn’t even pick them to beat Montreal, I can hardly change now, and this might be the biggest mismatch on paper since Avs/Panthers in ’96. Hawks in 5.