Subscribe via RSS Feed

From Colony to Superpower VI: Nation Building

[ 0 ] December 16, 2008 |

On to chapter VI of From Colony to Superpower, but first make sure to read Paul’s final thoughts on chapter V (here and here). He takes issue (as several others have) with my effort to ferret out a causal relationship between slavery and the debate over expansion in the 1840s, and discusses James K. Polk at some length. I suppose that I’d argue in response that expansion per se was never really the issue, and thus didn’t furnish the meat of partisan disagreement; it was how slavery could take advantage of that expansion that produced the dispute. Fittingly enough, Herring’s next chapter takes us through the Civil War.

Herring places the Civil War within the context of the various wars of unification in Europe and elsewhere as the nation-state solidified its hold as the primary unit of political organization. I think that there’s something productive in thinking about the war in this way; as Scott has often said, the war was in part about State’s Rights, and State’s Rights lost. That said, I think that the dynamics of national unification were much different in settler societies than in the Old World. In particular, I remain unconvinced that, had slavery not been at issue, the war would have occurred. That said, slavery may have had the effect of transforming local consolidation operations into a grand, regional conflict.

The Confederacy was generally inept in its diplomatic efforts. Faulty assumptions that had guided the early Republic, such as the notion that the world was dependent upon trade with America and would endure economic collapse in its absence, dominated Confederate diplomatic strategy. Although the Confederate cotton embargo hurt France and Great Britain, they were able to make do with stores, alternative suppliers, and cotton that either slipped through the embargo or was exported by the North. With the exception of Russia, the European powers generally preferred the idea of a divided North America, but were unprepared to do anything useful to make it happen. European investment in the North, especially on the part of Great Britain, also made the Europeans reluctant to intervene. These realities were not well understood in the South, leading to a combination of arrogance and cultural insensitivity that made earlier US diplomacy look positively competent. Jefferson Davis in particular didn’t seem to see much value in devoting a lot of attention to the diplomatic corps, believing instead that economic realities would force the European hand.

I would have liked to hear a little bit more about the impact of the war on military planning and doctrine in Europe. The nineteenth century combined fast technological and social development with relative peace, meaning that the art of warfare developed in fits and starts. Most military professionals (to the extent that the term was becoming useful) understood that the next war would be conducted in a considerably different manner than the last, but didn’t have a grasp on quite what the differences would be. Actual wars, therefore, came under considerable scrutiny. Americans such as George B. McClellan served as observers in the Crimean War, while many European observers served alongside both the Confederate and Union armies during the Civil War. Unfortunately, Herring doesn’t talk much about this cross-polination, except in that it affected other relationships. For example, Herring notes that relative friendship between the United States and Russia developed out of the experience of American observers in the Crimean War, and that this cordiality led to the good relationship between the Union and the Russian Empire.

On this point, Herring’s discussion of relations between the Union and the Russian Empire is remarkably interesting. He mentions the deployment of a Russian naval squadron to New York in the middle of the war, ostensibly intended to facilitate the study ironclad warfare, but also meant as a message of Russian support for the Union and, as always, to convey Russian military prestige. The squadron, including the frigate Alexander Nevsky, remained in American waters for seven months. The visit was partially the product of the diplomacy of Cassius Clay, abolitionist and cousin of Henry Clay, and who had been dispatched by Lincoln as Minister to Russia. The solid relations developed between Russia and the Union eventually led to the Russian sale of Alaska to the United States. As always, there were costs; Lincoln and Seward notably tamped down traditional American support for Polish independence during the 1863 Uprising.

Iraqi Ingrates, Footwear Edition

[ 0 ] December 15, 2008 |

Reprising Andy McCarthy’s inane meme, the Pantload thinks Iraqi journalists should at least be grateful enough to recognize that George W. Bush made them free enough to hurl shoes at him. And Bush won’t even have them tortured and killed!

Then, half-baked and with a few cans of Schmitz Schmidt’s dangling from the yoke, Goldberg lunges himself across the hood of the car, gazes blearily into the inscrutable night sky, and sprains his mind:

Also, if someone throws a shoe at Barack Obama — at home or abroad — will that be used by the press to define Obama’s popularity, never mind his legacy? I mean if some nutter in Holland hucks a clog at Obama, does that mean all of the Netherlands, never mind all of Europe, hates Obama?

By the time he’s finished, the entire gang has passed out, and Jonah never receives the answers he seeks…

If You’re in a Giving Mood…

[ 0 ] December 15, 2008 |

…consider giving something to The American Prospect.

If you’re still in a giving mood after that, recall that LGM has an online donation option (thanks, anonymous donor, for the $50!). And if your tastes are particularly particular, and you can’t stand that davenoon fellow, recall that we have Wish Lists on the right sidebar.

Veto Points and the Bailout

[ 0 ] December 15, 2008 |

John Judis brings the appropriate level of outrage to the failure of the auto bailout. And I actually think Kevin Drum is being too charitable when he attributes Republican opposition to the bailout to “ideology.” This implies that there’s some “free market” principle at stake. As today’s news again reminds us, the GOP doesn’t seem terribly concerned about much more problematic things like the disgusting, virtually no-strings-attached re-re bailouts of Citigroup and AIG. Rather, Republican senators want to drive down wages for American autoworkers and create competitive advantages for their right-to-work states so much that they’re willing to inflict massive blows to the American economy to do so. (As Molly Ivors cracks, if there was some way of putting together a bailout that would pay executives and not workers, the bailout might have had a chance.)

It’s worth noting, however, the unique institutional features of the American system that permit an unrepresentative minority of one (already grossly malapportioned) house of Congress to block legislation supported by clear legislative majorities and the executive (and that doesn’t even arguably violate any constitutional norms.) As Rob says, it’s not entirely clear whether Josh Marshall opposes getting rid of the filibuster or just using certain means to get rid of the filibuster. If it’s the former, though, he’s dead wrong. Adding another supermajority requirement onto the already high-veto-point American system makes no sense, and while there will be isolated cases in which it serves liberal interests over the course of history is is extremely damaging to progressive social change, and in any case conservative majorities are also entitled to govern and be held accountable.

The bailout fiasco also serves as a reminder that the Democrats blundered severely by not forcing the GOP to use the “nuclear option” to break a filibuster of Alito. Creating a precedent that would inevitably led to the end of the filibuster was far more important than “keeping the powder dry” for…er, remind me, what did they save it for again?

Long Fuse

[ 0 ] December 15, 2008 |

In addition to the many other ways in which it’s abominable, Reuel Marc Gerecht’s op-ed supporting Stalinist interrogation methods and opposing the rule of law contains one of the most farcical invocations of the “ticking time bomb” scenario ever:

But this third way, which is essentially where America was before the Clinton administration embraced rendition, is plausible only if Mr. Obama is lucky. He might be. If there is no “ticking time bomb” situation — say, where waterboarding a future Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (the 9/11 mastermind) could save thousands of civilians — then there is neither need for the C.I.A.’s exceptional methods, nor the harsh services of Jordan’s General Intelligence Department.”

The “ticking time bomb” is always useless because it requires certainly about a number of things that are inherently uncertain. But any “ticking time bomb” scenario that allows for a time-consuming rendition of terrorists to other countries is pretty much by definition not a “ticking time bomb” scenario at all, since we seem to be conceding that there’s nothing imminent and that taking more time isn’t an issue. And, of course, if we have a genuine “ticking time bomb” scenario it’s not clear why we would need extraordinary rendition at all; does anyone think that a Jack Bauer who really did prevent a nuclear bomb from going off in Manhattan would be convicted? Rather, Grecht is giving away the show: invocations of the “ticking time bomb” pretty quickly turn into “well, if we arbitrarily torture enough people somebody may have some information of uncertain reliability that may lessen the probability of a future terrorist attack” arguments. Why the New York Times thinks that we need people to be making these types of arguments on its editorial pages is unclear.

…I agree with lp in comments that Henley’s take is classic.


[ 0 ] December 15, 2008 |


The significance of the flight is best illustrated by the records that were set by Ford and his crew. It was the first round-the-world flight by a commercial airliner, as well as the longest continuous flight by a commercial plane, and was the first circumnavigation following a route near the Equator (they crossed the Equator four times.) They touched all but two of the world’s seven continents, flew 31,500 miles in 209 hours and made 18 stops under the flags of 12 different nations. They also made the longest non-stop flight in Pan American’s history, a 3,583 mile crossing of the South Atlantic from Africa to Brazil.

Bizarre hiring decisions, college football edition

[ 0 ] December 15, 2008 |

This is the weirdest coaching switch I’ve ever seen: Auburn fires Tommy Tuberville, who prior to this year had gone 42-9 in the SEC over the previous four seasons, including a perfect record in 2004, and replaces him with Gene Chizik, whose entire head coaching record consists of going 5-19 at Iowa State over the last two years. Adding to the bizarreness is that Auburn is several miles above ISU in the college football hierarchy. For a top 15ish program to fire a very successful coach in order to hire a guy whose head coaching record is limited to falling on his face at a fourth-tier program is, shall we say, unusual.

Meanwhile Auburn interviewed but didn’t hire Turner Gill, the former Nebraska quarterback who has done such a remarkable job of reviving Buffalo’s moribund program. Gill is currently one of four black head coaches at 119 major college programs. Now for a high-profile program like Auburn not to hire Gill is certainly defensible in the abstract, as his head coaching track record consists of two highly successful seasons at a lower-tier program, and that might reasonably considered not enough evidence of coaching talent. What’s not defensible is to hire Chizik instead of Gill.
Update: A couple of further points. As was noted in the comments, it’s not true that Chizik’s record at ISU has been anything but terrible even when you consider the context. ISU had played exactly .500 ball this decade before Chizik was hired, and had won seven games four times and nine games once. The very best you can assume is that he walked into a major rebuilding job, but it’s not as if his record so far can be counted as anything but a negative in the evaluation process. Simply ignoring his record given that, after all , it’s the only direct evidence there is of what sort of head coach he might turn out to be is ridiculous. The college football landscape is littered with examples of guys who were successful coordinators but failed as head coaches. What evidence is there to this point that Chizik won’t be another one? None.
Further, they’re paying him two million a year! They’ve taken a guy whose most relevant track record is a big negative, and put him very near the top of the college football salary structure. How many coaches will be making more than him next year, a dozen?
This, like the Weis situation at ND, is a classic example of structural racism. It’s not that anyone at Auburn is thinking “let’s hire the white guy.” It’s that some big deal booster or whomever really “likes” Chizik, and is “comfortable” with him, and just has a “feeling” that Chizik is going to be great, despite is actual record, which by the way totally sucks.
Funny how that works!

Colony to Superpower: 4.3

[ 0 ] December 15, 2008 |

Due to annoying illness and extended work commitments, part 5 of From Colony to Superpower will be delayed until tomorrow afternoon. Until then, see Paul from Subnumine:

Herring does have a thesis: he doesn’t believe that there was ever a real isolationist period in American history; his America has normally been willing to expand, and always to intervene. One of the commentators has come away with the impression that there is no real difference between Jefferson and John Quincy Adams, on one hand, and Reagan and Bush on the other; I think this over-simplifies Herring’s position somewhat.

On the question of extended Texas independence, Josh Trevino writes:

I think it’s fair to say that the prospects of a permanently independent Texas ended in an 18-month window in 1841-1842. In brief, 1841 saw the failure of Mirabeau Lamar’s Santa Fe expedition, which showed that the pro-independence movement was unable to make good its territorial ambitions, and would bankrupt the republic besides; and 1842 saw the Mexicans mount a successful invasion of Texas that withdrew for what can only be described as lack of interest. (Interestingly and irrelevantly, the Mexicans took San Antonio on 9/11!) The Texan riposte to that invasion, the Mier expedition, was a thoroughgoing disaster that was conceived and led mostly by Lamar’s pro-independence compatriots.

So, at the end of that 18-month period, it was fairly clear that an independent Texas would probably be an impoverished wedge of territory squeezed between the Sabine, the Nueces, and the Comanches, without prospects of developing major trade routes, and under permanent threat of “foreign” domination. The choice of that foreign dominator was between Mexico, the United States, and Britain as a distant third. No surprise that a settler population of expansionist Southerners chose the US.

This pretty much accords with what Erik suggests in his latest.

"The Democrats"

[ 0 ] December 14, 2008 |

An interesting and somewhat puzzling argument has been cropping up in comments from (amongst others) esteemed LGM commenters drip and John Emerson.

the existence of the filibuster gives the democrats some cover for a distinctly non-progressive agenda and they lack motivation to change it

The Democrat seems to use the Republicans as an excuse not to do things that they don’t want to do. Ending the filibuster would take away their excuse.

I am in substantial agreement with most of the views expressed by these and other sympathetic commenters–The filibuster ought to be eliminated, it probably won’t be, and even if it were it would not make democratic legislation, as drip puts it, “all super-progessive.” The precise position taken in these two quotations doesn’t make sense, and it simultaneously gives “the Democrats too much and too little credit.

A substantial number of viable progressive bills that fail have the support of a majority of Democrats. Likewise, a substantial number of anti-progressive bills that succeed do so despite the opposition of most democrats. The position advanced here seems to be that we should assume that the Democratic legislators on the right side of these votes should be presumed to be entirely insincere, that they’re voting for this bill for some unspecified reason, despite the fact that they really don’t want it to happen. The existence of a few Democrats to vote the way “the democrats” really want them to gives them cover to pretend to vote progressively.

I find this view….odd, and lacking in even basic evidentiary support. Part of the problem with the claim is that it treats “the democrats” as an actor with both intentions and capabilities they simply don’t have. It becomes a somewhat more plausible claim when we substitute “Democratic leadership” for “the Democrats”–leadership has on occasion worked against the preferences of a majority of Democratic legislators, perhaps most shamefully on FISA. But instead of assuming that means most Democrats don’t want better FISA legislation, one might assume that the leadership is more conservative than the rank and file, which invariably leads to such clashes. Given that the filibuster rules make it a necessary part of Reid’s job to win over non-trivial GOP support, it’s perhaps not surprising that his leadership is more conservative than the rank and file.

Too little credit: Assumes Democratic legislators’ intentions when voting progressively aren’t serious, without evidence. I see no more reason to doubt the sincerity of, say, Kerry and Dodd on FISA than I do Tancredo on immigration.

Too much credit: “The Democrats” aren’t the kind of agent capable of this degree of intentionality and devious action. Democratic legislators have their own reasons for doing what they do, and their collective actions don’t add up to the kind of collective actor with that kind of power to act in such a intentional (and devious) way.

Candid Stupidity

[ 0 ] December 14, 2008 |

There’s one thing, and one thing only, you can say about this nonsense: at least Silva makes no effort to hide the fact that he’s serving as a willing conduit for GOP propaganda:

The “unanswered questions” – as the Republican National Committee and others are calling them — will continue to haunt President-elect Obama and staff in the sordid case of the Illinois governor accused of attempting to sell Obama’s Senate seat.

What Silva never quite gets around to answering is what exactly these questions are, or why on earth anyone should care. This strikes me as relevant:

It’s important to remember that federal prosecutors, who have accused Blagojevich of dialing for dollars with his power of appointment over the seat that the junior senator from Illinois left after election as president, have implicated neither Obama nor his staff in the Blagojevich scandal.

I think this settles the question. So, again, questions about what? Who cares whether Blagojevich talked with Emmanuel if the latter didn’t do anything wrong? What’s the scandal here? We’re in Whitewater territory here — again, there will always be troubling “unanswered questions” that somehow can never be answered correctly, and once you’ve established that such “questions” don’t actually have to have anything to do with any wrongdoing the number of potential questions is infinite.

And, actually, I’m giving Silva too much credit. While at least he’s admitting to passing on feeble GOP talking points, note the “[t]hese are questions that Obama and staff will continue to face this week” construction. Needless to say, the role of hacks like Silva in ensuring that Obama will have to continue to face “questions” that imply some sort of scandal with no evidence whatsoever just sort of drops out of the picture. The “questions” just sort of magically appear out of nowhere, I guess.

Marshall on the Filibuster

[ 0 ] December 14, 2008 |

Via LP, Josh Marshall’s argument on why Senate Dems need to protect the filibuster is just a touch underspecified:

It is just bad practice — especially in the face of the last eight years — for numerical majorities not only to use the power of their numbers in straight up votes but to change the rules of the game itself. Notwithstanding the fact that filibuster has been increasingly abused, it was wrong in 2005 and it would be wrong now.

Ok… first, the filibuster isn’t one of the “rules of the game” that we have specified as requiring a super-majority to change. We refer to those rules as “constitutional”; they can be changed through amendments, and the process by which they are changed is laid out carefully in the Constitution itself. Marshall seems to be suggesting that the filibuster occupies a special class of rule that requires a super-majority to change, even though the actual, evident rules of the Senate don’t specify that such is required, or that the super-majority needs to be of a specific size, or really anything else about how that rule can be changed. I’m curious about what other rules Marshall believes require super-majorities to change, and what process he sees as necessary for that change. Beyond tradition, I’m not at all convinced of the utility of a rule that requires a legislative super-majority to enact everyday legislation in a body that is already ridiculously counter-majoritarian.

Now, I take more seriously than most (and probably more seriously than I should) the idea that tradition should have positive weight when considering changes in institutions. The filibuster as it stands now, however, bears little resemblance to the creature that existed forty years ago; it has not, after all, been traditionally understood that a 60% majority in the Senate is necessary for the passage of legislation. Moreover, the Republicans seem to understand this, and successfully bludgeoned the Senate Dems into submission with threats to remove the filibuster three years ago. So until Marshall comes up with a more compelling case for the need to protect the filibuster, count me unconvinced.

This is the Only Republican in the Country Willing to Tell the Truth: That Everything is Just Fine

[ 0 ] December 13, 2008 |

The thing is, it actually makes sense for Karl Rove to infer that the Republicans have come pretty much all the way back based on their narrow runoff victory in Georgia. After all, his own reputation as a strategic super-genius was based on his amazing track record of getting Republicans elected in such notoriously hostile environments as Alabama and Texas as well as a presidential election he lost only to be bailed out by Florida’s amateur-night electoral system and a partisan Supreme Court. (Remember the dozens of credulous articles taking Rove’s claims that he was a new Mark Hanna ushering in a decades-long Republican realignment seriously? Times of sustained high comedy, the early aughts.)