Subscribe via RSS Feed

Nukes and Cold War Nostalgia

[ 2 ] June 2, 2010 |

I have an article up at Right Web on nuclear policy and the institutional Right.

The vehement attacks against President Obama’s arms control initiatives reveal the extent to which the militarist extreme in the Republican Party’s foreign policy establishment has remained deeply entrenched despite the significant setbacks hawks have suffered since helping drive the country into war with Iraq. Using language that conjures images from the heyday of the Cold War, neoconservatives and other right-wing nationalists have endeavored to paint the administration as willing to sacrifice national security to achieve international acclaim. They have also drowned out more moderate voices in the Republican Party, whose realist views, although more in line with the policies pushed by the Obama administration, are failing to have an impact on conservative discourse.

Read the rest at Right Web.


It’s Not About the Drones.

[ 8 ] June 1, 2010 |

Drones were back in the news this past week. First, the UN is poised to publicly criticize the US for allowing CIA operators to conduct lethal attacks with drones, in a report to be released later this week. Then, the US military released a report sharply criticizing operational failures that led to the deaths of 23 civilians in a convoy in February. And Newsweek has a big lead article about the extent to which drone strikes, regardless of their legality or side-effects, are fueling homegrown terror.

I would like to posit that to some extent, the issues at stake in all of these debates are much broader than the issue of drones and it may be problematic to focus on drones, as if altering our “drone policy” will resolve the broader issues. Bear in mind that drone themselves are simply remotely piloted aerial vehicles. They’re not robots and they’re not making decisions on their own, Star Wars-like. (Though they might in the near future which would raise entirely different ethical questions.) Except for the fact that the pilots are operating remotely from the safety of a military base (or CIA facility), these weapons are little different than other forms of air power. Of course, as Peter Singer has documented there are those who are troubled by the dislocation of the warrior from his targets, but this argument is as old as the long-bow and doesn’t necessarily pose legal issues. It should also be pointed out that drones have many extremely useful non-lethal applications: reconnaissance that helps ground troops avoid civilians, for example. And drones are not simply being used to hunt terrorists in Pakistan. They have civilian and law enforcement uses as well: to monitor the drug trade in South America or population flows across borders. (Not that these surveillance functionalities don’t also involve pressing trade-offs with respect to rights and civil liberties.)

Speaking just in terms of using drones as attack weapons here, I would argue the important issue here is not whether we use drones. The issues are a) whether it is right to use any weapon in such a manner as to risk more casualties among civilians than we are willing to accept among our own troops (as both manned and unmanned forms of aerial bombing do) b) whether we are willing to use any weapon to summarily execute individuals we have associated with criminal organizations whether or not they are engaged in what might be considered combat operations against us and c) whether it is either right or effective to outsource the deployment of lethal violence – by drones or by other means – from our military to our civilian agencies?

“Sir, When You Yell it Makes the Technician Less Likely to Want to Help You”

[ 3 ] June 1, 2010 |

We continue to suffer from server issues. Until the situation is resolved, we are reopening the old site. Thank you for your patience.

Layering Disaster Upon Disaster

[ 3 ] June 1, 2010 |

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…


[ 7 ] May 31, 2010 |

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.


[ 34 ] May 31, 2010 |

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…

Whether you are interested in 70-640 or looking for 70-551, using 70-452 and pass your certification exam on first attempt of 70-630 and HP0-S30 is a superb job.

Brief Thoughts on the Oil Spill

[ 13 ] May 31, 2010 |

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.

Oh, My.

[ 7 ] May 31, 2010 |

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.

Celebrating Memorial Day

[ 13 ] May 31, 2010 |

What Rob said below..

Read more…

Memorial Day!

[ 8 ] May 31, 2010 |

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.

How European States Deal with Fiscal Shortfalls…

[ 7 ] May 30, 2010 |

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…

All the Names

[ 9 ] May 30, 2010 |

Proposition: If a mad scientist undertook to create “Joey Votto” in a lab, the result could not look more like “Joey Votto” than the actual Joey Votto.