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Let’s Hope We Don’t Look Back on this as the Cheonan Crisis…

[ 9 ] March 26, 2010 |

I have a piece at Guardian: Comment is Free on the sinking of the South Korean patrol corvette Cheonan. Long story short, I’m betting that there are a lot of people right now hoping that Cheonan blew up accidentally and not as the result of a North Korean torpedo.

… and accident the verdict may be:

The waters around Baeknyeong island are rocky, and some senior government officials speculated that the sinking may have been an accident, not an attack, South Korean media said.

“It’s looking more and more like it was just an accident that happens on a ship,” Carl Baker, an expert on Korean military relations at the Pacific Forum CSIS think tank in Honolulu, said by telephone.


White House: Drones Are Legitimate Self-Defense

[ 6 ] March 26, 2010 |

Ken Anderson testified before the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs earlier this week and argued that the Obama Administration must publicly justify its use of drones in Pakistan.

Yesterday he got his wish when State Department Legal Advisor Harold Hongju Koh issued this statement, excerpted from his speech at the American Society of International Law conference (scroll down to the section on “Use of Force”):

Some have suggested that the very use of targeting a particular leader of an enemy force in an armed conflict must violate the laws of war. But individuals who are part of such an armed group are belligerent and, therefore, lawful targets under international law…. Some have challenged the very use of advanced weapons systems, such as unmanned aerial vehicles, for lethal operations. But the rules that govern targeting do not turn on the type of weapon system involved, and there is no prohibition under the laws of war on the use of technologically advanced weapons systems in armed conflict — such as pilotless aircraft or so-called smart bombs — so long as they are employed in conformity with applicable laws of war…. Some have argued that the use of lethal force against specific individuals fails to provide adequate process and thus constitutes unlawful extrajudicial killing. But a state that is engaged in armed conflict or in legitimate self-defense is not required to provide targets with legal process before the state may use lethal force.

I will weigh in presently on this, but in the meantime Nathan Hodge has more; and if you want to watch the entire video of Koh’s remarks, you can see it at Anthony Clark Arend’s blog here.

Get The Damn Gubmit’s Hands Off My Disability Checks!

[ 3 ] March 26, 2010 |

Self-parody exhumed and killed again.

Naval Skirmish in Yellow Sea Sinks RoK Patrol Boat?

[ 0 ] March 26, 2010 |

Details are extremely sketchy, but it looks as if a skirmish in the Yellow Sea may have resulted in the sinking of a South Korean patrol boat with 104 aboard. The latest report indicated that 58 of the sailors had been picked up as of an hour and a half ago. See also CDR Salamander and Bubblehead. If there are still at least 46 sailors unaccounted for after a few hours in the water, this is a very serious problem; there have been skirmishes in this area for a while, but it will be very hard for the South Koreans to ignore a major loss of life and the loss of a significant naval unit.

Is the CIA an “Armed Group”?

[ 6 ] March 25, 2010 |

Awhile ago I wrote about the legal status of CIA operatives flying drones in Pakistan. A commenter asked a great question: is the CIA an armed group? I’ve been pondering an answer, but my colleague Stephanie Carvin has beat me to it: Read more…

Revisiting the Paradox of the Chess Queen

[ 25 ] March 25, 2010 |

My brother gave my son a civil war chess set this past weekend for his birthday, which sparked a discussion about a post I wrote at Duck of Minerva a year ago on the history of the chess queen. The European Chess Championships having just passed, I thought it appropriate to revisit the issue.

The original post was inspired by my inability to answer one of my son’s random questions: “Why is the queen more powerful than the king?” Read more…

Glenn Beck is punk rock.

[ 36 ] March 25, 2010 |

I have a confession: I have never watched or listened to Glenn Beck for any sustained period of time. I’d read transcriptions of his rambling monologues and seen parodies of his lunatic shtick, but until today, I’d avoided prolonged exposure to the Glenn Beck Experience. Would that I could still say the same. As a public service to anyone else out there who might be tempted to try and understand his appeal, I offer the following transcript of the horrors I witnessed condensed down to their rhetorical appeals:

Read more…

Go Cats!

[ 4 ] March 25, 2010 |

Thursday Daddy/Basketball Blogging…. Miriam and Elisha

Ricks in Lexington

[ 2 ] March 25, 2010 |

While I’m on the subject of Tom Ricks…

Last month, Tom Ricks visited the Patterson School and gave a couple of talks about Iraq. One talk was for the Patterson students, and the other for the general public. Because of bad weather, however, most of the turnout at the public talk happened to be Patterson students or recent Patterson graduates.

Ricks argued that the invasion of Iraq was the worst mistake in the history of American foreign policy. He suggested that the Surge succeeded at a tactical and operational level, but failed to resolve the basic strategic and political problems of the US occupation of Iraq. He is relatively optimistic, however, about the McChrystal plan in Afghanistan; he believes that the fundamental political issues are more tractable than in Iraq, and in particular that the unpopularity of the Taliban among the Afghan people makes military victory possible. The Karzai government was the most serious problem, but he suggested that making a credible threat to leave Afghanistan was the most effective tool that the United States had in order to make Karzai more accountable to his domestic constituency.

The most controversial aspect of Ricks’ argument will be familiar to anyone who read his recent op-ed in the New York Times. Ricks contended that the political situation in Iraq is untenable, and that civil war is inevitable in the absence of a substantial, long-term US commitment. He further argued that the civil war would be destructive to US interests in the Middle East, and would produce a greater humanitarian disaster than Iraq has yet seen. Although the Surge failed overall, he suggested, combined with the strategy of buying off the Sunni insurgency it did manage to produce a substantial drop in violence. The current situation in Iraq is an uneasy truce, enforced by US troops and dependent on US financial commitment. US disengagement in the near or medium term, he argued, will make the status quo untenable.

Obviously, this argument doesn’t fall into any convenient ideological box. The progressive coalition remains appropriately hostile to the notion of maintaining a substantial military commitment to Iraq over the long term. Conservatives aren’t much more excited about a long-term commitment, preferring instead to declare victory and blame any post-withdrawal violence on the Democrats.  I think that a modest percentage of the uniformed military is just about the only constituency that supports a continued large scale presence in Iraq, although, as I suggested, conservatives will be happy to blame any post-withdrawal disasters on Obama.

There are certainly elements of Ricks’ argument that I agree with. I am deeply skeptical of the ability of the Maliki regime to maintain control without the presence of substantial US forces.  I’m also quite certain that Iran is more influential in Iraq than it ever has been.  However, that doesn’t get me very close to Ricks, for a few reasons.  The first is the aforementioned lack of any constituency for keeping a large scale presence beyond the short term; Democrats certainly don’t want to stay, and Republicans are hoping that Democrats will be the ones to pull out.  The second is the apparent disinterest of the Iraqis in a continued US presence.  Even if the leadership could be convinced that US troops were necessary for survival (political or otherwise) general Iraqi resistance would be… substantial.  Third, Ricks argument on Afghanistan makes the threat of US withdrawal a centerpiece; the main obstacle to success is Karzai, and our main weapon against Karzai is the threat that we’ll abandon him to his domestic opponents.   I’m not sure why the same dynamic wouldn’t hold in Iraq; if we make clear that we’re “around for the long haul” then there’s little incentive for political reconciliation.

Still, even though I disagreed with Ricks’ conclusions, his talks were excellent and informative, and his visit was extremely productive.

Troubling Nonsense Coming Out of CNAS

[ 12 ] March 25, 2010 |

Why try to pretend that this should be taken seriously?

Second, it’s not just about drugs. The Venezuelan alliance is almost a classic geopolitical attempt to deny the US access to Latin America — probably including Mexico — and to gain access to our southern border. FARC is not only the world’s largest producer of cocaine, but continues to be a murderous terrorist insurgency. The cartels, which are fast becoming a worldwide concern, are not only about drugs, but also about control of territory and other criminal activities — murder, kidnapping, extortion, counterfeiting, money laundering, among others. This is emphatically not the old, “comfortable” Mafia, and legalizing drugs, even if it were possible, would not make these trans-national criminal organizations go away, particularly when they have the support of narco-states like Venezuela has become. They will just shift to other sources of income.

I quite like Tom Ricks, but really, what’s with letting your blog become a platform for this nonsense? Venezuela and Iran are trying to seize control of Mexico and gain access to our southern border? “Narco-states” like Venezuela “will just shift to other sources of income” if drugs are legalized? What sources of income would those be? And how precisely are Venezuela and Iran and Cuba supposed to “deny US access” to Latin America, much less Mexico? Is it worth noting, at all, that Mexico has a population and economy which are each 4 times as large as those of Venezuela? And yet we’re supposed to be worried about magical narco-terror networks that can just create money whenever they want?

Why would anyone ever bother to pretend that any of this makes sense? It worries me that this garbage is coming out under the CNAS banner.

Majority Votes By Elected Legislators: Undemocratic. Mob Violence: Democratic.

[ 19 ] March 25, 2010 |

Over at Seriously, We Shelled Out $30 Million For This? Media, BadTasteInCocktailsPundit suggests that a little terrorism may not be such a bad thing, if the right targets are intimidated:

The important part is this: If this abominable, unconstitutional [sic], usurperous [sic], injurious, unsustainable [sic] and ruinous new health care law has a mere ten legislatures[sic] afraid for their safety, then this country might already be too far gone to save itself.

I think further commentary here is superfluous. However, for the punchline allow me to point you to more of Green’s Deeply Serious historical analysis. Here, we get some of the most painful libertarian historical fantsay this side of Charles Murray:

Quite the opposite. In fact, if you look back through American history, about the only time government ever did any good is when it stopped doing something. Usually, something heinous and awful and bad. I’ve even prepared a few examples.


After the Civil War, the government stopped telling some people that they were the property of other people. The government didn’t free the slaves — it finally recognized that all men are already free.


With the Civil Rights movement, the state governments finally lost the ability to tell some people that they couldn’t go places other people could already go.


I could go on, but you get the point. Every advance in liberty is met with — isn’t possible without — a proportionate retreat in government power.

Yes, the Civil War, Ike sending the Screaming Eagles into Little Rock, the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts — if they teach us anything, it’s 1)that government intervention is never necessary to secure civil rights and liberties, and 2)the glories of “federalism.”

Hearts are Breaking…

[ 7 ] March 25, 2010 |

No President Petraeus:

I thought I’d said no about as many ways as I could. I really do mean no. We have all these artful ways of doing it. I’ve tried Shermanesque responses, which everybody goes and finds out what Sherman said was pretty unequivocally no. I’ve done several different ways. I’ve tried quoting the country song, ‘What Part of No Don’t You Understand?’ I mean, I really do mean that. I feel very privileged to be able to serve our country. I’m honored to continue to do that as long as I can contribute, but I will not, ever, run for political office, I can assure you. And again, we have said that repeatedly and I’m hoping that people realize at a certain point you say it so many times that you could never flip, and start your career by flip-flopping into it.

Two thoughts:

1. Generals don’t tend to make the best political candidates, anyway (see Wesley Clark), so I doubt that Petraeus was much of a threat even to the other Republican primary contenders (if he had chosen to run for the GOP).
2. Petraeus has been saying so many sensible things lately about Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel that his attractiveness to the neocon fringe may have waned in any case.