Who, like many fictional aliens, uses only one name...
@Frank2 I'm not sure what's written here really contradicts Tom Ricks, though I would not have used the phrase "silver bullet" as Ricks does.
Drug abuse and racism are also, to a greater or lesser extent, endemic in American society. So is obesity. Illiteracy is hardly unknown. The military doesn't tolerate any of them as if it were just any institution in America, because all of them in some significant way make the military's mission more difficult to perform.
Granting that no societal evil can be completely eliminated within so large an institution, it seems clear that rape and sexual assault within the services have assumed the dimensions of a major problem, negatively impacting the military's ability to do its job. That's a command responsibility -- and let me add that, in the wake of over a decade of costly wars the military was sent to fight and was unable to win, it is likely not the only serious morale problem that will have to be dealt with an urgency few thought necessary a decade ago.
Looking over the paragraphs above, I see I have used language that might be called bloodless. It doesn't reflect the wrecked lives produced by sexual assault, or the moral disgrace involved in allowing things to get to the point they evidently have. Having said that, let me close by reminding readers who have gone through Ricks' latest book what he points out about relief of general officers. Sometime around the 1950s, relief for cause ceased to be common in the Army; in our more recent history, when senior officers have fallen short in a noticeable way, civilians have stepped in to make the needed change. I'm not saying this should happen here; I am predicting it will happen here, unless the uniformed services at the highest level start taking rape and sexual abuse with a seriousness they evidently have not up to now.
2 days, 18 hours ago on Access denied | The Best Defense
Congratulations to Marc Lynch on a promotion well-deserved and, I am sure, most welcome.
2 days, 19 hours ago on MEC Review: Saudi human rights and all that | Marc Lynch
I thought Mike Kinsley's TNR piece came off like a complaint that Paul Krugman had written some very mean things about some of Kinsley's friends.
He probably has, but just how big a problem are we supposed to think this is? We've just been through a five-year period in which millions of Americans had their lives and fortunes crushed by the Great Recession. Many of them will never recover what they had, not least because long-term unemployment has become chronic for a significant portion of the labor force. Krugman has argued for doing something drastic about this since the recession began; though Obama's stimulus did more good than it is given credit for, it was inadequate to meet the need and faced bitter resistance from a Republican Party united in its indifference to unemployment, home foreclosures, and any government policies with a chance of alleviating either.
On balance, the people who don't agree with Krugman that fiscal policy needs to respond to massive unemployment have won the political battles. We've seen the real-world results. I really don't think the manner of argumentation in one Op-Ed space is much of an issue at all in this context. Maybe the people put off or hurt by things Paul Krugman says about them could use a little pain in their lives. After all, most of the suffering produced by the Great Recession has not been borne by the people who caused it, or by those who now resist using fiscal policy to ameliorate its effects. They've been living a relatively soft, pampered, spoiled existence, for which getting their feelings hurt from time to time seems a small price to pay.
5 days, 16 hours ago on The worst piece of conventional wisdom you will read this year | Daniel W. Drezner
A pro-war argument against a war opposed by an overwhelming majority of Americans, because the Commander-in-Chief who would direct that war lacks the resolve of the one who started and lost the last two wars the country fought. That's new.
If Peter Feaver is serious about this novelty kick, he might follow this post with one showing his own resolve about Syria. When is he going there? What will he do? Will he fight? Deliver food aid to refugees? Lecture Syrian rebel fighters about buck-passing? Perhaps he could organize a Shadow Government Brigade, the members of which might get shot and might get killed, but would surely demonstrate they were not mere spoiled, pampered children of the privileged class, dreaming of wars to ask other men's sons to fight.
I'm quite serious. I'm just wondering if Peter Feaver is.
1 week, 4 days ago on Access denied | Shadow Government
Is the foreign and national security policy universe too small, or merely too crowded?
I mean, really. Look at how many blogs there are just on this site. There are dozens of online columns, hundreds of Twitterers, God knows how many people in think tanks producing studies, white papers and advocacy papers on various subjects touching on government policy. Do they do any good? Or should we dismiss their substance more quickly than one can say "parasite"?
I give a pass, and then some, to a guy like David Ignatius who does actual reporting. If Henry Kissinger has anything to say about anything, I'll be inclined to listen. But most columnists, bloggers, and think-tank staff have never done serious policy work -- defined as work for the real-world results of which they can be held accountable in some way -- and don't want to, ever. They have some nice credentials, academic and other tickets they have punched; their professional networks are in good order; some of them may even have tenure. But what good do they do?
Look, I've read Kennan (who, incidentally, did his most influential policy writing while on government assignment). I know he was influential, and I know why. These huge clouds of people writing, tweeting and opining on television about policy...they ain't him. They should know and understand more about fields of policy and how they relate to one another, and to politics than someone who does something else for a living, e.g. me. They don't. They should be able to step into government assignments in a moment of national need -- I mean an actual ambassadorship, director of a major program, or something of that nature. One in a hundred, maybe, might be able to do that. The ratio is probably even higher if one assumes no future President will closely resemble George W. Bush.
Honestly, most foreign and national security columnists, bloggers and tweeters seem to spend most of their time griping about one another. And complaining about the mainstream media, just as farmers and engineers and other specialists complain about the mainstream media not understanding their line of work. Also, mocking Tom Friedman. This is all fine, but it reminds me a little of the kibitzers who would hover over chess games being playing in my freshman college dorm. Kibitzing is a great way to pass the time; some people have figured out how to make a living at it. But what real good does it do?
3 weeks, 4 days ago on While I'm on the Seoul train.... | Daniel W. Drezner
This list omits both sets of Churchill's memoirs (The World Crisis and The Second World War) and the Guderian and Galland memoirs from the German side.
3 weeks, 4 days ago on Access denied | The Best Defense
Following Navy tradition, these admirals three avoid the key questions:
1. Why do we need as many aircraft carriers (and their air wings, and carrier groups) as we have?
2. What do we need but cannot afford because we are buying carriers (and their air wings, and carrier groups)?
3. Why do the carriers we do buy have to be the large, gold-plated and therefore expensive Ford class?
I would add a fourth question, which is not a key question in any tangible sense but is still relevant to prevailing attitudes in the Navy's upper echelons: why have we slurged into a pattern of naming the Navy's capital ships after politicians prominent in recent American history? I have nothing against Gerald R. Ford, but in the Navy's history he is somewhat less relevant than, say, John Adams, who created the Navy Department as President and oversaw the naval quasi-war against France in the last years of the 18th century. Also the Navy has a great tradition of fighting ships, including carriers, carrying names like Ranger, Lexington, and Saratoga -- why should that tradition not be honored in favor of the recent trend of honoring politicians? The most recently commissioned carrier, named after the still-living father of the then-serving President, is the floating embodiment of institutional sucking-up excessive even by the standards of Navy brass -- though Admirals Buss, Moran and Moore can no doubt provide strategic and war-fighting reasons for sucking up on that level in their next column for FP.
3 weeks, 4 days ago on Access denied | Foreign Policy
My brother got a job when he was just out of college, and immediately bought a new Mustang. He didn't bargain; he bought on impulse, and on the monthly payments. He didn't look at any other cars, and he got extras he didn't really need.
The Mustang didn't kill him, and didn't bankrupt him either -- though it gave that last a good shot, having the multiple maintenance problems common to muscle cars of that era. He could always say it looked good, which was something. Owing money on an ugly car is hard to explain.
Never -- not then, not after he finally got rid of the Mustang, and not now -- has my brother ever argued that he made the right decision buying that damned car. It was reckless, it was foolish, and it saddled him with costs that kept him from doing things he might liked to have done and took many years to pay off. That he escaped with life and limb intact and only moderate damage to his credit rating didn't make his Mustang a victory.
Well, Iraq was not a car. But it wasn't a football game either. Winning tactical engagements and not surrendering to the other side can't make a victory out of a military adventure that involved huge costs in lost and ruined lives, in money, and in the good name of the United States. As for the argument -- made often as not with shrugged shoulders and a "what-are-ya-gonna-do" expression -- that we won't know if Iraq was a victory until 20 or 50 years from now...I have to say I've never understood it. I think it represents willful evasion of painful conclusions, and not just about Iraq, either. I don't think I'm that much more perceptive than others just because I recognize a human and policy disaster when I see it. That was Iraq.
3 weeks, 6 days ago on Access denied | The Best Defense
I'm not sure a court sycophant like Peter Feaver is ideally placed to defend someone else as not being a court sycophant. Perhaps there is a club with a membership card he happens to know someone like Stephen Biddle was never issued.
Walter Russell Mead's main argument is actually a more direct challenge to the Shadow Government exercise than his points about the substantive merits of the Bush record. What he argues is that George W. Bush is political dead weight around the neck of the Republican Party, which cannot hope for a revival in national politics unless and until that weight is removed. Even Republicans united in opposition to President Obama's administration are scarcely united in believing that the Katrina disaster, the Iraq disaster, and most especially the worst recession in 80 years were handled well, or that the way they were handled represents a model the GOP can use to portray how it would handle things in the future. Democrats certainly don't believe any such thing. Neither do independents.
The problem -- and again, this is a political problem -- is that the great bulk of the Republican Party's leadership is divided between Bush Republicans and Rush Republicans. There are those who want a restoration of the way things were done under George W. Bush's leadership (if that is the word), preferably under the auspices of another Bush in the White House; their chief opposition within the party comes from people who take the red meat thrown at them by Limbaugh and the other radio clowns as actual prescriptions for policy. Now, in perfect fairness, though George W. Bush didn't put up much of a fight on behalf of immigration reform as President he didn't share the bloodcurdling hostility toward Hispanics of the Rush Republicans, nor is the palpable loathing of the Tea Party crowd for the idea of an African American in the White House widespread among Bush Republicans.
These facts are not insignificant, but in almost every other respect the policy differences between Bush and Rush Republicans are negligible. Indeed, the GOP united without difficulty around Presidential election platforms in 2008 and 2012 very little altered from what Bush himself had run on in 2004. They retain their devotion to the bargain Bush made in 2001 and 2003 that ensured the party's largest contributors would get their taxes reduced by much more than the amount they could pump into the enormous Republican campaign infrastructure. They share enthusiasm for displaying obedience to certain organized interests in specific policy areas -- a trait once more common in the Democratic Party, that the Republicans exhibited just last week in the Senate debate over background checks for internet gun sales. They are united in being much more upset by what happened in Benghazi last fall than by what happened in Newtown last winter, and don't think the long-term unemployed, adaptation to climate change, or underregulated financial services firms are much to worry about at all.
And they generally think that George W. Bush's foreign policy should still be America's foreign policy. There are exceptions to this, among the Rush Republicans; I don't know how important they are -- see how the most visible of them, Sen. Paul, devoted his famous filibuster to denouncing the phantom prospect of armed drones attacking American citizens here, seemingly unaware that the question of whether actual drone use overseas has more effectively struck America's enemies or someone else's is a significant one. Among the Bush Republicans, there is unity in the belief that the Iraq invasion was a good idea, as was the Afghan war, as was starting torture in Bush's first term and suspending it in his second, as was the warping of the American defense establishment's direction, and that of American foreign policy, to the Middle East.
That I think most of this is perfectly idiotic, and most of the people who helped execute Bush's foreign policy unfit for any role in any future administration, is outside Mead's main argument, and mine here. Let's remember how the resurgence of conservative Republicans under Ronald Reagan started -- it started because Reagan was one of the very few nationally known Republicans untainted by Watergate. Reagan listened to Nixon privately, but adopted different policy positions and stayed miles away from anything that might have suggested agreement with what Nixon had done to put the nation through a Constitutional wringer only a few years before he ran against Jimmy Carter. Reagan worried about what he thought himself, not about how his thinking might differ from his very unpopular predecessor -- a man, incidentally, who had much greater achievements to his credit than George W. Bush, Watergate notwithstanding.
The Republican Party is in the same position today. George W. Bush is last week's lunch meat, left in the sun. Dump him. Dump his oily dirtbag campaign hands, still enriching themselves running losing election campaigns. Dump every last one of his damned relatives, and his Vice President, and his Vice President damned relatives -- and dump his foreign and economic policy loyalists. None of these people are going to help the Republican Party earn back enough public trust to return to power in the executive branch in Washington. I've always wondered why FP felt it necessary to have a blog manned by an opposition loyal mostly to the last President -- though FP has so many blogs at the moment this is probably a point of no great moment. The idea of a Shadow Government is that it included people who would take power if their party won a national election.
The Republican Party won't, as long as the American people think it is still the party George W. Bush made. The GOP needs to reinvent itself, a process that historical precedent suggests could take many years, and it can't start doing that as long as it is complaining that the administration that lost the public's confidence in the first place was a success, or was not as bad as people think, or has had mean things said about it that are very unfair and hurtful. Which, you know, is mostly what Shadow Government has done for the last four-plus years.
3 weeks, 6 days ago on Access denied | Shadow Government
I think I will leave to someone else the tasks of demonstrating that the process of moving toward war in Iraq was disorderly because the Vice President and his clueless chief preferred it that way, and of discussing the disproportionate impact of the Iraq fiasco appearing every night on the news and the Bush administration not responding aggressively enough to all the mean things people said about it after 2005.
I wonder, though -- given the fawning adulation usually directed at Gen. Petraeus by the Bush family retainers who do most of the writing at Shadow Government -- at the omission here of a fairly obvious mistake made early in the Iraq war. Why could not Petraeus simply have been moved from division command of the 101st in Mosul to overall command in Iraq when his division was rotated home? It's true this would have involved bypassing many of Petraeus' seniors, including the hapless Sanchez, and advancing a general not widely popular in the highest echelons of the army. It would also have advanced a general Sec. Rumsfeld could not bully, promoting an approach to the war many generals did not understand. Finally, it would have effectively admitted than an insurgency existed in Iraq, something the Bush White House and Rumsfeld Pentagon resisted until it was too late to keep it from spreading throughout the country.
In reality, of course, there was never any likelihood that the ignorant and intellectually lazy Bush would act as Commander in Chief in this way. He was canny in the way he used men in uniform as campaign props, but Bush was no warrior. He only turned to Petraeus in desperation after the situation in Iraq had deteriorated beyond recovery -- not unlike the way he turned in desperation to Henry Paulson a year or so later, after the Bush administration's stewardship of the American economy was revealed to be as incompetent as its conduct of the war in Iraq. In retrospect it is remarkable that a President who made such sweeping claims of executive authority was such a weak Chief Executive.
2 months ago on Access denied | Shadow Government
I think what Dan is really arguing here is that IR scholars, regardless of their orientation, are basically as irrelevant to the real business of international affairs as zombie movies.
2 months ago on Access denied | Daniel W. Drezner
This commentary is reasoned backwards from its conclusion, per usual from this author. Another, more perceptive author might have questioned whether one of the Obama administration's triumphs contributed to the conflagration in Syria.
In the Rhodes bio referenced here -- which is indeed, to be fair, a puff piece full of the kind of public sucking up common among officials in the last administration -- appears more of the self-congratulation in which Obama administration officials have repeatedly indulged with respect to the American attack on Libya. This action, justified on grounds manifestly different from the evident objectives of the United States and its allies and entered into with barely a glance toward Congress, must certainly have encouraged people living under other oppressive Arab governments to think that Washington would intervene on their behalf if they sought to reform or overthrow their leaders. Such people must have included Syrians.
There could never have been any doubt that a member of the Assad family would respond to a domestic political challenge with violence on several levels. The Syrian regime was far better armed than its opposition, and willing (as we have seen) to use all the arms it had. The only way for American and the West to prevent what has happened in Syria from happening would have been to attack the regime with its own forces, as it had in Libya. This it was unwilling to do -- fairly enough, given the unfortunate precedents set by President Obama's incompetent predecessor of invading Muslim countries and then not being able to figure out what to do with them -- but the Syrian opposition didn't know that.
Syria is a humanitarian catastrophe, the product of a rising that American and European policy in Libya may have encouraged. Those who led cheers for the administration when it decided to attack Libya are now doing what they have often done in the past, calling for bold-looking if somewhat nebulous steps to redeem the "failed" policy du jour. They might better contemplate their own role in helping to create the bloody hopeless mess Syria is today.
I'm something less than a dedicated apologist for today's American military. In general, I think Tom Ricks is on the right track in noting its tactical proficiency and poverty of strategic thought.
But as he himself documents in "The Generals," the same thing could have been said about the pre-AVF military (with the qualifiying observation that the tactical proficiency of the AVF is considerably higher than the late 1960s-era Army and Marines). Having a draft did not keep the United States from blundering into Vietnam. Nor did much greater Congressional engagement with military affairs; the much larger proportion of veterans in Congress in the late 1950s and 1960s were mostly veterans of World War II, which ended with America on the winning side thanks large to its military. Veterans in Congress were generally (and as it turned out, too much) inclined to give the military and its Commander-in-Chief the benefit of the doubt with respect to strategy, tactics, and deployment decisions.
There's something else. Ricks and Eikenberry address the scope and depth of public and Congressional engagement with military affairs today in terms of the AVF (compared to a hypothetical force recruited at least in part through conscription). Long experience persuades me that they might better think of this in terms of how Congress has changed. Congress does less oversight of executive branch agencies across the board (see Mann and Ornstein for figures on the number of oversight hearings now compared to decades earlier), not just where the military is concerned. Even appropriations bills, traditionally done on an annual basis that built a basic level of oversight into the process, don't get done on a regular schedule anymore. The amount of time Congressmen and Senators spend fundraising, and campaigning in their districts, is much greater than it used to be. Not just oversight but the power of legislation has atrophied, as Congressional committees have effectively yielded their authority to the party leadership on both sides of the Capitol. Changing the AVF to something else won't fix any of that.
I'm not wedded to the AVF. It might be the best means by which to populate the future American military, or it might not. I just think we ought to consider how many of the military's mistakes during the Iraq/Afghanistan period were command mistakes that shifting away from the AVF would not address -- and consider also that the greater distance between the military and the rest of society today is not just a product of how the former has changed.
2 months, 2 weeks ago on Access denied | The Best Defense
I think I'll defer comment on Vali Nasr until after I've read his book. I will note that White House animus toward Holbrooke was documented extensively by Chandrasekaran in "Little America"; the hostility ran in both directions, and was as much a product of clashing temperaments and shared overoptimism about the prospects in Afghanistan as it was of the Obama staff's preoccupation with domestic politics.
That preoccupation has also been written about elsewhere. Obama is a much more thoughtful man than Bush was, and responded much more effectively to the monumental crisis he inherited from Bush than he usually gets credit for doing. However, Obama is like Bush in being a product of the permanent campaign environment; as Eisenhower's administration reflected his career in the Army, and Reagan's the lessons of his years as an actor, Obama absorbed what he learned as a candidate for public office. He values message discipline, the suppression of public dissent, and the avoidance of "distractions" that could give the impression the "candidate" -- that is, the President -- is not the source of all wisdom and the maker of all decisions. This orientation occasionally leads Obama's administration to make bad choices; more often it produces a bias toward not making any choices, toward deferring action on difficult issues to some unspecified future date when they can be engaged in a politically favorable climate.
Because Obama, like Bush, insists on centralizing non-Defense decision making in the White House, inertia governs his administration's direction in most areas of policy. A problem in foreign policy, this is actually a much greater problem with respect to domestic affairs. It will restrict the scope of Obama's legacy as President.
I hope the advice given here to Sec. Hagel that he learn to salute ought to be circulated to every American Serviceman or woman wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan, as an example of what the Washington suck-up class prominent in the last administration expects of them.
What an astonishingly insolent thing to say.
2 months, 2 weeks ago on Access denied | Shadow Government
@SteveL Zakheim does not mean one carrier deployed overseas. He means one carrier currently deployed or in transit to the Persian Gulf, a reference to the Navy's holding USS Truman in port in response to the sequester. Gordon Adams addresses this on his blog here.
2 months, 3 weeks ago on Access denied | Shadow Government
Great article. About 90% of the advice here I got when considering trying to move from Capitol Hill to the Reagan administration, but that's not Brooks' fault. The "if I had known then..." quotes at the end confirm some impressions I've had for a while about the Obama administration.
2 months, 3 weeks ago on Access denied | Foreign Policy
Once upon a time, during my backpacking period, I would go deep into the boonies of Indonesia, Thailand, and Central Europe for weeks at a time, emerging into one of each region's major cities to rest, refit, and catch up on news from home. In those days, catching up with the American perspective on news from around the world was just as important; it was 1989 and 1990, Communism and apartheid were collapsing, and it felt like a new world was being born. The International Herald Tribune, even read just every couple of months, was a lifeline. Its passing brings a pang of regret.
2 months, 3 weeks ago on RIP, IHT | Daniel W. Drezner
@Xenophon @fg42 I'll just second the motion to retire "Team of Rivals" as a description of anything except groups of officials who could not get along -- a description much less applicable to any senior cabinet officers President Obama has ever had than to the people directly responsible for the Afghan war and other important policy matters during Obama's first term.
As far as the "groupthink" concern of Ignatius, well, it's a concern of mine as well. I don't see consensus on policy issues as troubling in itself, but do fear a bottleneck in the NSA's office could lead Obama's administration to mere reactiveness toward problems perceptible now that won't be on the front pages for a couple of years. Tom Donilon is not Henry Kissinger. Nor is his boss Richard Nixon -- the alternative to policy planning originating in the departments isn't likely to be better planning coming out of the White House, but rather spur-of-the-moment improvisation in response to crises. The Secretaries of State and Defense could use their access to Obama to reduce the risk of this being the dominant motif of the second-term foreign policy. But Hagel may have his hands full with his department's budget and Kerry with trying to manage a search for some way to end fighting in Afghanistan. So we'll see.
2 months, 3 weeks ago on Access denied | The Best Defense
Oh, come on. "Some critics" turns out to be one of the Republican Party's pet journalists at Fox News, citing a anonymous source. The source may or may not have been invented, but is this story really the basis of thinking about Gen. Allen's departure?