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From Colony to Superpower VII: Pacific Dreams

[ 0 ] December 22, 2008 |

Chapter VII of From Colony to Superpower covers the period between 1877 and 1893. Erik talks about missionaries, trade wars, and the generally expansionary US policy in the Pacific. I wish that Herring had dealt in more depth with the tremendous military gap between the United States and the European powers during this period. The United States had a larger population than any European state other than Russia in 1877, and experienced higher population and economic growth than anywhere in Europe between then and 1893. The US industrial base was competitive with that of the UK, and larger than any other European country. Yet US military power was comparatively miniscule. To give a sense of the gap, check this out (average 1877-1893, COW):

Country Military Expenditure/Person % in Uniform
UK $ 0.76 0.73
France $ 0.93 1.47
Spain $ 0.40 0.85
Germany $ 1.02 0.53
Italy $ 0.43 0.72
United States $ 0.22 0.07

That’s a pretty substantial gap, especially given that US GDP, total population, and steel production were all at or near the top of the list during this period. Some of this can be explained by the geographic situation of the United States; France needed more troops because it was next to Germany, for example. This only takes us so far; territorial threat can’t explain why the US retained huge standing military forces post-1945, and in any case the US was certainly developing global interests during this period. Rather, I think there was simply a different understanding of the utility of military force in Europe than in the United States. It would be wrong to say that the US was a pacifist country (as witnessed by the ongoing conquest of the West), but Americans certainly don’t seem to have seen the point of large standing military establishments. To put it another way, the US was economically and demographically capable, even at this early date, of competing for hegemony with Britain and Germany. Americans chose not to. The US didn’t even build a world class Navy, as it would during the 1920s and 1930s.

Apart from the post-war experiences of Germany and Japan (which are obviously dependent on much different factors) I’m not sure there’s another example of a potential hegemon that simply chose not to compete. There are various unsatisfactory explanations for this (Fareed Zakaria’s terrible book comes to mind) but Herring, unfortunately, does not venture much of an effort. In part, this may be because the book’s central thesis is that the United States has never been an isolationist power; this argument is certainly correct to some extent, but there has to be some explanation for the tiny US military profile in the late nineteenth century.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom Bleg

[ 0 ] December 22, 2008 |

Anybody read T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom? I haven’t, but I’m assigning it next term; if you have any thoughts re: boiling down the 700 or so pages down to a digestible chunk for a graduate strategy course, leave them in comments…

…recommendations on editions will also be entertained.


[ 0 ] December 22, 2008 |

This is groovy, in a suicidal kind of way:

Via DR.

Colony to Superpower: 6.2

[ 0 ] December 20, 2008 |

Erik writes a bit more about the utility of including the Civil War among the 19th century wars of national unification:

Herring argues that the Civil War was part of the nation-building conflicts around the world during the mid-19th century. It’s an interesting idea, though I’m not sure that I agree exactly. Had the North actively tried to limit slavery during the 1840s and 1850s, I think this would be a stronger argument. But the South wasn’t responding to increasingly northern pressure on their peculiar institution. Rather, the North caved on nearly every issue in the 1850s and yet the South still wasn’t satisfied.

However, the result of the Civil War was a much stronger and more centralized United States. Increased control over the west, a more centralized currency system, and a much greater industrial capacity all resulted from the war, and the United States certainly left the war much stronger than it began it. The late nineteenth century is a story of amazing growth in the nation. While this is a story mostly for next week’s discussion of the Gilded Age, there’s no question that the Civil War spurred this amazing period.

I think that this is right. I’m reluctant to concede American exceptionalism, but while the outcome of the Civil War bears some resemblance to the other wars of unification, its cause really didn’t stem from differences of opinion about the strength of central institutions. The South was happy to strengthen the central government, when it believed that a more powerful center was to its advantage. Also, while geographic differences were more pronounced then than today, similarity in language, culture, and institutions was greater in the case of the United States than in Italy or Germany.

Paul goes into a bit more depth on the inadequacy of Confederate diplomacy:

The most striking part of this, for me, is the sketch of the boorish incompetence of the Confederate diplomatic mission. Granted they had a difficult mission (it was an offense to the United States for responsible ministers even to talk to Confederate emissaries), but their greatest success was not even of their doing: Capt. Wilkes, USN, took two of them off the British steamer Trent without any of the appropriate formalities; the British dusted off the American objections to this sort of high-handedness from the War of 1812, and the resulting quarrel might actually have led to British recognition of the Confederacy.

But when Mason was released, and got to Britain, his speeches in favor of slavery and his bad aim with tobacco juice got him nowhere; Slidell did not understand how the French Government operated, or what the ministers wanted; the Confederate emissary to Saint Petersburgh never got there; and the star of the show, John Pickett of Kentucky, sent to Juarez in Mexico, managed to get arrested for brawling on the streets of Mexico City, offended and insulted the Mexican ministers, and eventually had Juarez intercepting his messages home and passing them on to Washington.

Herring describes this as provincialism and extreme cultural insensitivity…

Herring notes, but doesn’t really develop, the idea that because the professional diplomatic corps was tiny, the real diplomatic expertise lay in the backbench of the national political parties. The US had no ambassadors, and chief representatives were invariably political appointees, meaning that most foreign diplomatic representation revolved as the Presidency changed hands between parties. The Republicans largely inherited the Whig diplomatic corps, but apparently the Democratic corps was concentrated among Northern Democrats, who largely remained loyal to the Union. Thus, the Confederacy was forced to learn diplomacy very quickly, and the technological limitations of the time (slow communications, no wikipedia) made getting up to speed very difficult. Thus, I’m willing to excuse just a bit of the Confederate provincialism, although Paul also notes that Cassius Clay had little diplomatic experience but performed fabulously in Russia.

Tomorrow to chapter seven…

Pravda as a Jouralistic Standard

[ 0 ] December 20, 2008 |

Shorter Weekly Standard: If American journalism wants to restore its reputation, the only acceptable form covering Dick Cheney is the fellatio cool objectivity of Stephen Hayes.

Almost any part of this review could be a “verbatim,” but I think this was my favorite passage:

There is the cherry-picking of evidence. Much is made, for example, of an Australian intelligence report debunking the purchase by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq of electronic maps of the United States and of the doubts regarding aluminum tubing suspected of being useful in making centrifuges for a nuclear bomb. Angler reflects almost none of the fairly consistent foreign intelligence agreement that Saddam had, or was close to having, weapons of mass destruction.

Yes, clearly the fact that Hussein might have been “close to having” some “weapons of mass destruction” that posed no threat whatsoever to American civilians provides evidence that he was close to having nuclear weapons, and debunking straightforward lies made by administration officials is “cherry picking evidence.” Now that’s journamalism that I can get behind.

Speaking of 1000 Ship Navy…

[ 0 ] December 20, 2008 |

The Iranians have joined the anti-piracy brigade:

Iranian state radio says Iran has sent a warship to the coast of Somalia to protect its cargo ships against piracy.

The Saturday report says the ship arrived in Somali waters.

The Iranian ship would join vessels from the U.S., Denmark, Italy, Russia and other countries in patrolling the Gulf of Aden, which leads to the Suez Canal and is the quickest route from Asia to Europe and the Americas.

Two observations:

  • There probably is a legitimate Iranian state interest in having their own ships in the Somalia area; were I Iran, I don’t believe I’d trust the US and its allies with the protection of Iranian maritime interests.
  • Joining the fight against piracy is becoming shorthand for “acting like a responsible world citizen”. This appears to be true whether or not the warships in question actually fight against pirates. Appearing to be part of the fight is a shortcut to legitimacy.

Bowl Mania Reminder

[ 0 ] December 20, 2008 |

As of this moment, you have about 2 hours to fill out an entry and join the LGM Bowl Mania Challenge:

League Name: Lawyers, Guns and Money
Password: zevon

Sorry for the late reminder…

Failed Purge?

[ 0 ] December 20, 2008 |

The coup that was probably a purge now turns out maybe to have been a failed purge:

Iraq’s interior minister said all 24 of his officers who had been arrested in a security crackdown this week would be released. And in a bold gesture of defiance, he publicly condemned his own government’s investigation, calling the accusations false and motivated purely by politics.

The minister, Jawad al-Bolani, in a series of interviews and at a news conference on Friday, insisted on the innocence of the officials detained on charges of aiding terrorism and having inappropriate ties with political parties, including Al Awda, an illegal party that is a descendant of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party.

“It’s because of the competition of the provincial elections,” Mr. Bolani, who arrived in the country on Friday after a week away, said of the arrests in an interview. “It’s just electoral propaganda, and that’s playing with fire.”

Regarding my earlier backhanded praise of Maliki’s authoritarian instincts, it doesn’t bode well for him that either a)the coup plotters, or b)the purge victims are now on the street with the apparent full support of the Interior Minister.

Friday Cat Blogging: Beau

[ 0 ] December 20, 2008 |

Please welcome Beau to the LGM family.

As Alaska Turns

[ 0 ] December 20, 2008 |

Weird day up here in The Crazy State.

(1) Sherry “Fuckin’ Redneck” Johnson — the maybe, sort-of someday mother-in-law of Bristol Palin — has apparently been smelling a bit too much like cat urine these days. Still, the Palin-Johnson axis has a long way to go before they take over the title of Most Dysfunctional Family in Recent State History. Keep reaching for that rainbow, people!

(2) Walt Monegan, the most famous ex-public safety commissioner in the world, is running for mayor of Anchorage. Palin supporters are questioning whether he has the “experience” required to manage the largest city in the state. That’s just funny.

(3) Another former state senator pleads guilty to being a Corrupt Bastard. At the pre-sentencing hearing, the ailing, 78-year-old John Cowderly expressed his wish to be confined at home so he could visit his doctors. The judge earned style points by noting that if Cowderly were jailed, “the doctors [would be] right there.”

If Alaska didn’t already exist, you’d all have to invent it.

Piracy and the Maritime Strategy

[ 0 ] December 19, 2008 |

Matt and Spencer greet the news that China will contribute to anti-piracy efforts with a bit of faux surprise; the motivating concept behind the most recent Maritime Strategy and its predecessor, the 1000 Ship Navy, holds that naval power isn’t zero-sum. Galrahn has a good discussion here considering piracy as the quintessential test of the 1000 Ship Navy concept. Of course, the Maritime Strategy includes a component on the deterrence of peer competitors, but part of that deterrence involves the integration of such competitors (Russia, China) into multilateral arrangements so that the potential competitors have a stake in international society. Incidents like this, in which thirty Chinese crewmen were rescued from pirates by multinational forces, are hoped to reinforce great power commitment to multilateral norms.

The Maritime Strategy is high liberal internationalism; it’s founded on the concept of cooperation in an arena traditionally reserved for competition, and spreading the costs (and benefits) of hegemony as widely as possible. The rescue operations following the 2004 tsunami represent another manifestation of the Strategy.

On the issue of piracy more generally, see this interview with a pirate, this discussion of the effectiveness of assaults on pirate bases, and this discussion of the role played by Kenya in Somali piracy.

The "Hate Speech" Lie

[ 0 ] December 19, 2008 |

To follow up on this, it’s not merely that the California court’s decision was directed entirely at state actors, and had no bearing on the actions of private churches at all. It’s that the whole category of “hate speech,” as it pertains to American law, doesn’t exist. The state cannot restrict speech solely based in its content no matter how hateful or potentially dangerous; this has been well-settled federal law for nearly 40 years. (The separate category of hate crimes, which deal with the intent of the perpetrators of violent crimes — which is always relevant — as opposed to their beliefs per se is again of no relevance to Warren’s claims.) This is recognized by critics of the libertarian American approach as well as those (like me) who generally favor it.

Whatever the decision Prop 8 sought to overturn had said, therefore, it simply could not have made any action by a church criminal, and anybody who actually knew anything about American politics and constitutional law would know that. Whether Warren himself is fully immersed in a world of paranoid conservative fantasia or is simply cynically pandering to the ignorant paranoia of his audience I can’t say, but either way it doesn’t speak well of him.