Tuesday, December 19, 2017

unqualified president makes good

It's hard to imagine the shock people must have felt on April 12, 1945 when they learned of the death of Franklin Roosevelt and the succession of Harry S[for nothing] Truman. He had been a Senator since 1934 and Vice President for almost 12 weeks, but his image was that of a hack politician, a failed haberdasher, a man small in mind, body, and accomplishments. He knew little about foreign affairs, nothing about the atomic bomb program, and had met only twice with FDR since being named his running mate.

Lacking much formal education, Truman was a voracious reader, especially of history. He was well aware of his shortcomings, and was determined to overcome them. A nearly day-by-day study of his first four months in the White House chronicles his efforts to become an effective president. A.J. Baime's The Accidental President is a dramatic story of a man whose qualifications were questioned but who, within those four months, acted decisively and humbly and wisely, and quickly won an astounding 87% approval rating in the polls.

Truman read the ponderous briefing books before meeting foreign leaders. He listened to disparate advisors. He was willing to make prompt decisions and not look back. He made some intemperate comments in private, but not in public. He wanted the assurance of many of his old Missouri cronies and appointed many to offices for which they weren't qualified. But he proved and earned his own qualifications for the presidency. Hurrah for Harry!

Friday, December 15, 2017

the wars after the armistice

The First World War was an enormous catastrophe, both for those directly involved in the conflict and for the rest of us who suffered from the failed peace and numerous other wars spawned by it. I've spent a lot of my professional life studying the outbreak and conduct of that war, but only little on its immediate aftermath. I used to think that, maybe except for the fighting and power struggle in Russia, the war basically ended at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918.

I was thus shocked to read a paragraph in Lawrence Freedman's excellent new book, The Future of War, a study of changing views and practices of war. He discusses fictional accounts of future wars as well as academic and governmental studies. By the way, the novelists often did much better than the professionals.

Freedman's surprising observation:

Between 1917 and 1920 Europe experienced some twenty-seven violent transfers of political power. In addition to the economic blockade of the defeated powers, maintained until peace terms were agreed and which led to misery and starvation, and the devastating impact of the Spanish flu on a weakened population, some four million people died in Europe as a direct result of the wars that followed the armistice.
The "war to end war" failed to do that in the short run as well as in the long run.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

how many wars are we in today? 19

The White House released its twice-yearly war powers report to Congress this week, listing nineteen conflicts in which U.S. armed forces have been deployed "equipped for combat."  In addition to the 16 conflicts listed in June, the president added operations in Lebanon, Djibouti, and the Philippines, for a total of 19 operations.

The report has fewer specific numbers than in the past, but it still serves as a checklist of activities that put American military personnel at risk. There's no mention of Korea or other nations where we have permanently based forces since those have been established and supported by Congress through regular laws.

Despite its flaw, the war powers act of 1973 has served it chief purpose of preventing American involvement in major, sustained military operations without congressional approval. The wars in Iraq, twice, and Afghanistan were authorized by Congress, and all other major military adventures were greatly limited in size and lasted no more than 3 or 4 months.  It's time, however, for a new authorization to deal with ISIS and affiliates.

using the military for "social experiments"

Another history lesson: we often forget, if we ever learned, that the U.S. armed forces have been a vehicle for social cohesion and national purpose throughout our history. Not always, not everywhere, and not without periods of backsliding. But as this useful summary reminds us, African-Americans were recruited and fought in the Revolutionary War and in each conflict thereafter.
This “social experiment” was, of course, driven largely by necessity; African-Americans were again prohibited from joining the Army or Marine Corps after 1790 — not the Navy, where many served as sailors during the disastrous War of 1812. Even Andrew Jackson raised two battalions of African-American soldiers for the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, the last major confrontation in the conflict with Britain. The openness to build an integrated force in times of need reflected American commanders’ desire to advance a strong nation united in common defense of its Constitution.
Immigrants were also used in great numbers in World War I.
By the time the Treaty of Versailles brought the Great War to a close, half a million immigrants from 46 nations had fought in the U.S. armed forces — a whopping 18% of the country’s fighting force — in pursuit of expedited citizenship, according to the National Park Service. They fought alongside 350,000 African-Americans who served with the American Expeditionary Forces, including the 42,000 assigned to the 92nd and 93rd Divisions infantry units that fought during World War I alongside French troops.
The southern-dominated Army reimposed restrictions on African-Americans during the interwar period, but accepted their inclusion to meet the demands of World War II.

The article does not mention other "social experiments," including the efforts to provide opportunities for less-educated enlistees and draftees in the 1960s.

Even though many in the military resisted providing service opportunities for African-Americans, and women, and gays, the services saluted and obeyed when civilian leadership insisted, and I believe the results have been worthwhile.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

the populist, progressive Ku Klux Klan

The original Ku Klux Klan, formed after the War of Rebellion to impose white supremacy in the defeated south, was significantly different from the organization that rose to great power in the 1920s. As historian Linda Gordon explains in her new book, the second Klan was strong in the north and west and broadened its appeal by aligning with other movements. The KKK targeted Catholics and Jews as well as blacks; it supported Prohibition and women's suffrage; it joined evangelical Christians in denouncing the theory of evolution; its rituals were similar to many other fraternal organizations that also mushroomed in the 1920s.In my homestate of Colorado, the Klan helped elect the governor and several congressmen, but was also seen as reformist and against the power elite.

The second Klan had political power. It claimed 26 governors and 62% of the members of Congress. Gordon thinks those numbers are exaggerated, but the group was viewed by politicians as powerful. None of the presidents from Wilson to Hoover ever condemned the organization. Its greatest legislative triumph was passage of the 1924 immigration law that barred Asians and largely restricted entry to people from northern and western Europe.

The Klan rose fast and fell fast. By the end of the 1920s several leaders had been discredited by highly publicized crimes, including rape, murder, and embezzlement. The membership plunged. In the south, of course, Jim Crow laws stayed on the books and were vigorously enforced.

Monday, November 27, 2017

the political context of foreign policy decisions

The founding premise of this site, and the evidence from much of my academic research over the years, is that domestic politics influences American foreign policy. And it's also true that international developments can in turn shape domestic politics.

I discovered the importance of understanding political context as I was writing my first research paper in college, a case study of how the Truman Administration responded to the Berlin blockade. A librarian helped me insert the microfilm rolls for the 1948 New York Times in the clunky reader. There on the front page for June 25 the lead story was not a story from Berlin, but one from Philadelphia, where the Republican National Convention had just nominated Thomas Dewey as its presidential candidate. That means, I realized, that every decision Truman made that day and following was shaped and colored by the 1948 election contest. No wonder he decided on a strong and firm response; no wonder he seized upon an airlift, despite predictions that it would be woefully insufficient.

You can write a paper just focusing on the foreign policy decisions and military planning. That's how today's Wikipedia account reads. But in fact the domestic political context was a powerful factor.

Recently I was reading an account of the 1940 election and the surprising nomination of Wendell Willkie by the GOP. Prior to the June 24 start of the convention in Philadelphia, Thomas Dewey and Robert Taft were the clear front runners, with Willkie, who had been a Democrat until the year before, a distant dark horse. There were 10 candidates on the first ballot.

Willkie won on the 6th ballot, partly because of favorite son concessions and thundering supporters in the gallery. But he also won because he was the only interventionist in the contest All of the others were hard or soft isolationists. And what happened on the very day the convention started? France surrendered to Germany an Compiegne. And what had happened on June 18, just after the fall of Paris? President Franklin Roosevelt named two senior Republican statesmen, Henry Stimson and Frank Knox, to the cabinet posts for the Army and Navy.

Hitler's triumph, France's collapse, and Britain's vulnerability were on everyone's mind. And Republicans knew that they needed someone who shared FDR's views on military strength if they were to beat him on domestic economic issues. In this case, the foreign developments shaped domestic politics.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

as time goes by

More nostalgia, for it's the 75th anniversary of the Thanksgiving weekend release of "Casablanca," a film for all people and all seasons. I saw it for the first time, the first of many in the same venue, at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, which had a Bogart festival during exam time. It was escapist; it was romantic; it was wonderful!  We all learned the lines, and looked for moments to drop them in casual conversation. And one year, when the much-repaired print failed to include Inspector Strasser's "Round up the usual suspects," we howled and complained enough that the management stopped the show until a proper print could be found.

I wonder whether younger people feel the same emotions, whether they hope Ingrid Bergman makes a different choice, whether they tear up when Madeleine LeBeau [who died only last year]
sings "La Marseillaise," whether they still laugh at Claude Raines' shock at discovering gambling at Rick's Cafe. Yes, the story was a bit silly and wartime propaganda was shoehorned into it. It's revealing, however, that most of the cast were emigres from the troubles of Europe.

The film drove me to be sure to visit modern Casablanca on my first visit to Africa. The city, of course, was nothing like the Warner Brothers lot, and never had been. But ti was still exciting to be there and to think of the allied invasion the same month as the movie's release.

I've read most of the insider stories about its filming. Can't get enough, but I know I must remember this.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

news junkie

When I was in junior high school, I decided I wanted to be a journalist. I was already a news junkie -- listening to Edward R. Murrow's evening radio news report and NBC's weekend hourly news as well as reading both Denver newspapers. I became friendly with the men in the INS office, who showed me how they wrote their reports on perforated tape, then fed it into the teletype machines. After holding each day's output for a month, they let me have the discarded rolls. I took them home and pretended to write up my own news scripts [125 wpm, a journalism text prescribed].

I thought of those yellow roles, the staccato typing, and the five bells signifying a bulletin when I read Mike Allen's comments on this anniversary of the Kennedy assassination [see item 10 here] and also the AP historical report here. The Pulitzer went to UPI's reporter, who held onto the pool phone. Here's a long version of the UPI roll.

Thanks to Google, which wouldn't exist for another 35 years, I see another account of how journalists covered the tragic events that day. Myself, I was driving my freshman debaters to a tournament at the University of Vermont in Burlington. I stopped at a New Hampshire state liquor store [prices were much cheaper there] and noticed the flag at half staff. Inside, people were talking about the shooting. That's how I found out. To this day, I'm always curious to learn why flags are at half staff when it's not a holiday.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

excused absence

I haven't been writing much here, have I? I still get up every morning, pour through the papers and online sites, and want to share news and ideas. But instead of  picking one point or theme, I send a bunch of links to students and former students, with limited commentary.

I still feel motivated to write about new books I've read, or lessons from history, or occasional political rants, here at Giddy Minds and Foreign Quarrels. But if you want to know more of what I find noteworthy each day, please follow me at the Google doc a student established for me, and named "Stevenson's army."  [But remember that I'm a civilian, and the only shots I've ever fired in anger were verbal ones.]

 To join the group "Stevenson's Army", send a blank email (no subject or text in the body) to stevensons-army+subscribe@googlegroups.com. You'll get an email confirming your join request. Click "Join This Group" and follow the instructions to join. Once you have joined, you can adjust your email delivery preferences (if you want every email or a digest of the emails).

Saturday, October 21, 2017

war and diplomacy

I have an extremely low regard for Secretary of State Tillerson and anger at his destructive activities at the State Department. But a stupid and dangerous statement he made last week is a sentiment shared by all too many people, including many military officers.

In a television interview, Tillerson said that “those diplomatic efforts [with North Korea] will continue until the first bomb drops.”

I hope not. If we do get into direct combat with North Korea, I trust that we will explore every possible diplomatic channel until we find ways of ending the conflict. Diplomacy is strong when backed by the threat of force, but diplomacy is also necessary to conclude the use of force.

I won't quote Clausewitz on war's intimate connection to political goals, nor will I drag up all the other similar quotes by various military figures over the year. Just remember that a nation cannot wisely end diplomacy once fighting starts.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Trump's Iran decision

As I predicted, the president chose a kind of middle path between withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and simply certifying Iranian compliance, as other signatories and several cabinet officials preferred. The decision is an excellent example of bureaucratic politics, where differing officials have to compromise.

President Trump had strongly criticized JCPOA as a candidate and was angry that he had to report to Congress every 90 days on Iranian compliance. He said he didn't want to do that, but the facts demanded certification. His advisors looked for a way to remove that uncomfortable action while still preserving the benefits of the limits on Iran. A new report argues that UN Amb, Haley played a key role in fashioning a strong case against the agreement.

Trump's announcement was a powerful indictment of Iran's behavior over the years, but a very weak list of complaints about Iranian noncompliance. Basically he argued that Iran was violating the "spirit" of the deal since he couldn't prove violations of the terms of the deal. He was adopting a policy of linkage, saying US policy would be based on the full range of Iranian behavior even if they complied with the nuclear aspects.

What he did, however, does not seem to be part of a strategy to get Iran to change its behavior or to agree to changes in the deal. By not certifying compliance, he triggered a 60-day window for Congress to snap back the sanctions lifted under JCPOA. But he did not ask Congress to lift those sanctions. Instead, he seems to favor congressional amendments to the law requiring reports [INARA, PL 114-17] that would enable him to certify Iran was not complying with these new and additional behaviors. Senators Corker and Cotton announced a bill like that. And he threatened to withdraw completely from the deal if Congress fails to pass such amendments.

In other words, Trump is demanding that Congress amend its own law instead of ordering his secretary of state [or others] to negotiate such changes with the signatories. How is that supposed to work?

By the way, the administration also announced sanctions against Iran's Revolutionary Guards but did not put that organization on the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations [FTO]. CRS and State Dept have explanations of the differences.

"Could be worse" is still not very reassuring.

Friday, October 13, 2017

truth is in details

As a political scientist who also researches and writes history, I am more comfortable with case studies and biographies than Grand Theme works that present overarching explanations of American foreign policy or the changing balance of power. I look for truth in the details of particular events -- why the United States went to war with Spain in 1898, how Franklin Roosevelt maneuvered America into the conflict with Nazi Germany, why Harry Truman agreed to the airlift during the Berlin blockade, how we narrowly avoided nuclear war in the 1962 Cuba crisis, and so forth into recent times. My studies have also found numerous times when what presidents said was at least in part in conflict with what important elements of the government were doing, so I don't believe we can look to words alone to understand policy.

Sometimes I worry, however, that I'm missing important things by this approach. I know there may be megatrends that are more significant than the periodic oscillations of U.S. policymakers. Climate change is one such trend, along with growing inequality in America. I'm discouraged by the hyperpartisanship and dysfunction in Congress, but I reassure myself by remembering when things were better, and thus hope they can improve. To add to my concerns is this report on a conference of political scientists on this very topic -- big changes like distrust of the government and even each other. These trends are ominous, and perhaps more important than the foreign policy crises I normally follow.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Trump and Kaiser Wilhelm II

There's another comparison involving German leaders and the current U.S. president that doesn't violate Godwin's Law: Trump is a lot like Kaiser Wilhelm II, who took his country into Africa, started a no-win naval race with Britain, and then gave a blank check to Austria-Hungary that pulled Europe into the disaster of World War I. Harvard's Steve Walt makes the comparison at FP today. You heard it here from me last February.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

what if...

It has now been 20 days, just short of 3 weeks, since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. Relief and recovery efforts were slow to begin and still are far from restorating  basic human services.

Axios has some data:
  • More than 19,000 federal civilian personnel and military service members, including more than 1,395 FEMA personnel, are on the ground in PR and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Electricity: 15% of the island has power, and roughly 28% of cell towers have been restored.
  • Food: Approximately 77% of grocery stores are open, up from 65% Friday.
  • Gas: Roughly 78% of retail gas stations are operational.
  • Transportation: Only 392 miles of Puerto Rico's 5,073 miles of roads are open. All airports and federally maintained ports are open or open with restrictions.
  • Water and waste: Approximately 56.8% of Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) customers have potable water, and additional water is being provided by bottled and bulk water. 60% of waste water treatment plants are working on generator power.
  • Medical care: All hospitals (67) are open and operating, but only 25 are working with electricity. The others remain on backup power systems, and most are without air conditioning. 96% of Dialysis Centers are open, but several are still running on generators.
About 3.5 million people were living on the island when the hurricane hit -- about as many people as live in Connecticut, and somewhat more than live in Iowa.

What if 85% of the people in Connecticut were still out of power; what if 93% of Iowa's roads were blocked; what if over 40% of the people of either state had no potable water? If those were the conditions in either state on day two after the storm, I believe that the Federal Government would have mobilized even more people, immediately, and wouldn't have slacked off until the job was done. I believe the media would have treated it as a human catastrophe and would have continued massive coverage of the situation. But no; Puerto Rico is an island in a big ocean, and there are tweets and controversies to capture our attention. Shame!   

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Are we at war with North Korea?

The North Koreans, citing presidential tweets, say that the two countries are at war, and North Korea may shoot down U.S. aircraft. The White House press secretary says we are not.

These comments raise a bunch of legal and historical issues. First, only Congress can "declare war." But lawmakers can also authorize major military operations without calling them "war." And presidents can attack and retaliate with relative impunity.

Second, in fact, the Korean conflict was suspended by an armistice, not a peace treaty. And that agreement has numerous provisions for monitoring the cessation of hostilities and no clear provision for resuming the fighting.
62. The Articles and Paragraphs of this Armistice Agreement shall remain in effect until expressly superseded either by mutually acceptable amendments and additions or by provision in an appropriate agreement for a peaceful settlement at a political level between both sides.
Third, it's worth recalling that the last time North Korea shot down an American military aircraft, killing 31, President Nixon chose not to respond.

The main point I want to make, however, is that historically the United States has always claimed that its wars were defensive, in response to attacks by others, and that Congress was merely declaring that a war exists because of those attacks. North Korea seems to be doing the same.

Here are  some excerpts from previous declarations of war:

1812: That war be and is hereby declared to exist between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the dependencies thereof, and the United States of America and their territories;

1846: Whereas, by the act of the Republic of Mexico, a state of war exists between that Government and the United States

1898: That war be, and the same is hereby, declared to exist, and has existed since the twenty-first day of April, A.D. 1898, including said day, between the United States of America and the Kingdom of Spain.

1917: That the state of war between the United States and the Imperial German Government, which has thus been thrust upon the United States, is hereby formally declared;

1941: That the state of war between the United States and the Imperial Government of Japan which has thus been thrust upon the United States is hereby formally declared;

Monday, September 25, 2017

Shakespeare and Trump

Is it possible that Donald Trump has read or seen Shakespeare's Henry IV, part 2? In it, the dying king advises Prince Hal to "busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels" and thus distract the people from their domestic complaints. Readers here may note that I titled this blog with that phrase, because I want to focus on the domestic factors affecting foreign policy.

While President Trump has numerous foreign quarrels and domestic complaints to deal with, he wants to turn attention away from all of them, and toward protesting athletes.  As we sw during the 2016 campaign, Trump is the Duke of Distraction, making new outrageous statements whenever the issues he should be confronting cause him problems.

As Jim Fallows documents, no other president responded to protests by mostly black athletes. It's a shame that Trump can't bring himself to be presidential.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

the Iran game

It's clear that President Trump wants to scrap the Iran nuclear deal, formerly known as JCPOA. By mid-October, he is supposed to tell Congress whether or not Iran is complying with the agreement. Despite IAEA findings of technical compliance, Trump and many in his administration view the agreement as flawed and Iranian behavior outside the nuclear provisions as unacceptable.

So what will he do? There's a good analysis of the options in a new CRS report. 
Rather than claiming violations which other countries will not agree with, I believe he will take the easier path that still preserves his options down the road. Instead of certifying anything, compliance or noncompliance, Trump may just refuse to send any report to Congress. That would allow Congress to vote to re-impose sanctions lifted as part of the deal.

In fact, Congress could easily do that, because the law negotiated with the Obama administration allows prompt floor action in both House and Senate, no amendments, and time-limited debate. Opponents in the Senate can't filibuster or force a supermajority vote. This approach shares responsibility for such a major decision. [I personally believe continued adherence to JCPOA is in our security interest, but I bet the White House takes this path.]

Friday, September 1, 2017

hole of government

The President is not just commander in chief of the armed forces; he is also the chief executive of the rest of the federal government. That whole of government has been enormously busy helping the people and communities hurt by hurricane Harvey. FEMA is there,of course, but also people from EPA and Energy and Health and Human Services and Interior and Transportation and the FCC. The Post had a rundown of the many federal agencies already on the job.

These are not lazy bureaucrats. They are public servants, many sleeping in their offices so they can work longer hours.

And how does President Donald Trump treat these dedicated employees? With a pay cut! Trump announced that, instead of the 1.9% pay hike current law provides for federal civilian workers in the coming fiscal year, he is using his authority to reduce that figure to 1.4%.  Of course, he will allow the full 2.1% boost for the military, but not for the civilians. Does he not know, or just not care?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

war and food

One of the last items in my summertime recreational reading was Lizzie Collingham's book, The Taste of War.  It tells how food supplies impacted soldiers and civilians during the Second World War and offers fascinating nuggets:

  • The Japanese army found so much soldier dissatisfaction serving typical Japanese food [rice, miso soup, pickles] that they changed to Chinese noodles and western style pork and chicken, which also greatly increased protein consumption.
  • Britain gave equal adult rations for morale purposes, but insisted that companies with more than 250 workers create canteens so that war workers could supplement their diets.
  • At the start of the draft in 1940, the US found 40% of draftees unfit for service because of problems linked to poor nutrition.
  • Congress expanded a school lunch program during the war, but banned any spices other than salt in order to avoid ethnic complaints.
  • Coca-Cola won an exemption from sugar rationing when supplying its drinks to military bases.
  • Americans ate well, despite the war. Soldiers received on average 2/3 of a pound of red meat every day; US civilians were allowed 2.5 pounds of meat each week -- twice what the British were allowed, which itself was far more than other combatants.
Collingham's broader story is how the struggle for food supplies affected military strategy, but these details are particularly revealing to me.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Trump's secret plan for Afghanistan

Donald Trump looked presidential last night. He gave a serious speech to a national audience on an important topic. Though he looked awkward reading the teleprompters to his left and right, with his faced blocked by a too-high microphone, he avoided ad libs.

While his style was presidential, his substance raised more questions than it answered. He made clear he was not Obama [no artificial deadlines] and not George W. Bush [no nation-building or democratization]. In fact, his Afghanistan policy looks more like the counter-terrorism focus proposed by Vice President Biden in 2009. Other than promising "victory" without explaining how to achieve or measure it, he kept secret just what the administration will do. As Jim Fallows noted:

  • He won’t say how many more troops he’s sending. (A stance that, with the kind of checks-and-balances Congress that a democracy depends on, or with a non-chickenhawk public exposed to the consequences of military commitments, he couldn’t get away with.)
  • He won’t say what will constitute “victory” or an end point, in what he emphasized was already America’s longest war.
  • Except for bromides, he won’t say why this new approach will work, when its predecessors for 16 years have failed. (The main bromide is: “We are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists.” This is an argument against George W. Bush’s ambitious and Wilsonian inaugural speech in 2005. It is more or less in sync with what Obama was doing.)
  • He can’t say how the policy he’s proposing matches the staffing and budget he has put together. Tonight Trump said: “Another fundamental pillar of our new [sic] strategy is the integration of all instruments of American power—diplomatic, economic, and military—toward a successful outcome.” Both George W. Bush and Obama expounded exactly the same goal. The difference is that both of them backed it up with staffing plans and budgets. (Barack Obama had the redoubtable Richard Holbrooke as his Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Trump is dismantling the office, and of course most of his embassies and State Department posts stand vacant.)
Trump also hinted that we might attack safe havens in Pakistan and might side with India against its neighbor. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

when the military becomes an interest group

I have long worried about the politicization of the U.S. military. When officers openly identify with a particular party, they risk undermining their role as an instrument of whoever have legitimate power to control them. When American politicians court the armed forces and line up retired luminaries, they risk having the elected leaders seek out only Republican or Democratic officers for key posts.

That hasn't happened too much, yet, in the U.S., but it's a danger to be avoided. We now have another example where a foreign leader coopted the military to his own domestic policies -- Venezuela.

The NY Times explains how President Maduro has given military units and their leaders control over various domestic economic organizations, linking their personal interests to his own political success. He has created over 2,000 generals, using the army as a patronage bonanza. I believe the armed forces should be limited to their military roles, not used as a tool of political power.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

the next Korean war

It's time to get really concerned about a renewal of fighting on the Korean peninsula. There was only an armistice, not a peace agreement, that ended the fighting in 1953.

We have long been used to bombast from the Korean media and its leader. Now the American president is trying to match the explosive rhetoric. What makes Trump's comments more threatening is that they come at a time when U.S. public opinion is becoming increasingly hawkish. A quickie CBS poll  is "uneasy " about the Korean situation, and about Trump's ability to handle it. Some 29% favor "military action now." A more substantial survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs finds 40% of Americans favoring airstrikes on North Korean nuclear production facilities and 28% favor sending U.S. troops into the country to destroy its nuclear facilities. Only 11% of respondents are willing to accept a nuclear-armed North Korea.

Although large majorities of 68-78% prefer sanctions against North Korea and China to try to end the nuclear programs, that approach has regularly failed in the past. I personally favor Bob Gates' proposal for joint US-Chinese inspection of a North Korean commitment to freeze its existing missile and warhead programs in return for US diplomatic recognition and other normalization. That's the best possible deal at the moment. But it would mean accepting a world where DPRK had a modet but real nuclear capability, a very tough stance for any US president to accept.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

war weariness in 1945

Americans like short, successful wars; they don't like long or unsuccessful conflicts. I've long viewed U.S. national security policy between the Nazi surrender on V-E Day and Japan's surrender on V-J Day as a struggle over the costs of an American invasion of the Japanese home islands and over the role of the emperor and the meaning of "unconditional surrender." I now see that there were powerful domestic factors also shaping U.S. policy in those crucial months.

As part of my summertime reading, I found Waldo Heinrichs and Marc Gallicchio's Implacable Foes. While the main focus of the book is on military planning for the defeat of Japan, it also provides surprising chapters on the domestic politics of the period. Truman's decisions on the atom bomb and Japanese surrender were made in a context where--

-- Congress was pushing for rapid demobilization and "reconversion" to a civilian economy and was skeptical of the need for large numbers of troops and military production once America had tro fight only a one-front war.

-- Soldiers and their families were pushing for rapid implementation of the Army's promised demobilization schedule, starting with individuals with the most points under a scheme that emphasized length of service and especially time in actual combat -- despite the disruptive impact on military units.

-- Many in government and in certain economic sectors demanded special treatment for soldiers with particular skills, such as coal minors and railway workers. Officials had to spend a lot of time responding to individual requests, often backed by congressional sponsors.

-- Congressmen regularly leaked details of classified hearings with Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall and others to bolster their own calls for different military or economic policies.

-- The Army was faced with the nearly impossible task of organizing the movement of forces and equipment from Europe, where they were no longer needed, to the Pacific theater, often with 30-day furloughs en route.

One of the lessons for me is that American war weariness was a powerful factor in the spring and summer of 1945. Victory in Europe led many to switch prematurely to a civilian focus as if the war were already won.  This wasn't the last time we saw such sentiments.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

why we missed Trump's victory

As a fully frocked political scientist with some modest campaign experience, I watched last year's presidential contest with special attention to campaign organizations, spending, and themes and the resulting polling results. I knew that polls nowadays are failing to reach and get responses from over 90% of the people they try to contact, so I paid greater weight to aggregators.

I couldn't believe that Trump could win if he failed to run a traditional campaign of heavy media spending and strong organization, especially for getting out the vote [GOTV]. He didn't do either on a national scale, and even his swing-state efforts seemed modest -- though it was obviously enough in a few rust belt states that gave him electoral college victory.

Now I understand that I -- and we in the observer class -- missed where the Trump campaign was supercharged: on social media, often driven by bots. I don't follow or participate in social media, so I missed it, just as campaigns in earlier decades missed the new tactic surprise winners used.

There's new academic analysis of the role of the bots, as summarized here, with a link to the journal article, by Columbia Journalism Review:

Bots played a huge role in promoting the spread of misinformation and disinformation during and following the 2016 campaign season. A just-released study from a group of scholars at Indiana University in Bloomington, which analyzed 14 million Twitter messages, finds that bots were more likely than humans to be “super spreaders” of fake stories, playing a crucial, early role in making certain stories go viral. Bots spread the stories through tweets, retweets, replies, and mentions. Bots will repetitively add @realDonaldTrump to a tweet with a false claim, for instance, to propel false stories to surface more often.

While this is not a eureka moment in the battle against fake news, it is compelling evidence that so-called “bot armies” are a cornerstone of the misinformation strategy. The study’s findings also suggest a path forward for the fight against fake news. If bots are able to take advantage of an ecosystem that rewards their sheer force of numbers, then disabling overactive bots would be a way to slow the spread of such claims. Researchers, including those at Indiana, are developing more reliable ways to detect whether a particular account is a bot or not. The study I described above relies on a tool called a Bot-o-meter, which scores Twitter accounts based on how likely they are to belong to a human.

This story also comes after the recent controversy in the Gulf between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, in which bot armies promoted smear campaigns against Qatar and Al Jazeera. As David Carroll pointed out: “[Bot armies are a] global problem deployed as info ops against media outlets.” BahrainWatch.org provides a fascinating list of propaganda bot networks and hashtags involved.
Now we know where else to look for campaign information, but not what to do about it.

the marginalization of the State Department

Further evidence today on how Secretary of State Tillerson is succeeding in weakening,marginalizing, and ultimately destroying the State Department. See this article by Roger Cohen.

Tillerson is refusing the nominate people to key positions, including many major ambassadorships and 20 of 22 assistant secretary posts. He is outsourcing a planned reorganization of the department,which seems driven by org chart elegance and money savings rather than roles and missions. He has acquiesced in savage budget cuts and failed to take even simple steps to boost the morale of career professionals.

Here's an example:
In the Saudi-Qatar eruption last month, the extent of dysfunction was clear. Saudi Arabia, with clear support from Trump, orchestrated a blockade of Qatar, where the United States has its largest regional air base, accusing Qatar of supporting terrorism. Never mind that such accusations coming from the Saudis are pretty rich. That was on June 5. Four days later, Tillerson appealed for reconciliation. The blockade was “impairing U.S. and other international business activities.” Barely an hour later, Trump called Qatar a “funder of terrorism at a very high level.”

Throughout this time, Tillerson never contacted Smith, who was then still the Qatar ambassador, she told me. By contrast, she spoke four times to Defense Secretary James Mattis during the first week of the embargo; that communication line, at least, was open. Finally, this month, Tillerson spent a few days in the region trying to broker a deal between Doha and Riyadh, to no avail.
So far, at least, Congress is resisting the deepest budget cuts, but unless Tillerson changes course, lawmakers will be funding a hollowed-out, aimless diplomatic instrument.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

who won the Iraq war?

It looks like Iran. A lengthy article in the New York Times shows how Iran has become dominant in Iraq. That's the legacy of our ill-considered war to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

The Times notes that Iran not only decides who has power in the Iraqi government but also is using its position to provide military support to pro-Iranian forces in Syria and Lebanon.

It is not surprising that a Shiite-majority Iraq would have cordial relations with Shiite Iran, but Tehran's dominance makes it much harder to build a unified country where Sunnis and Kurds feel welcome and safe.

America's defeat has many causes, but the most valuable lesson we can learn is, Be Careful about going to war.

Monday, July 10, 2017

leadership abandoned

It's really discouraging to return to the news after a family vacation and see the further crumbling of America's position in the world -- in just a few weeks. Personally and professionally, I believe that U.S. leadership in world affairs in a good thing for us and for most others. The international institutions and norms we created after 1945 have been force multipliers for our security, our values,  and global prosperity.

That doesn't mean we have to lead everything, be policeman trying to solve every conflict, or insist on subservience to our policies. But we should still try to lead, to persuade, to shape a better future.

When an American president doesn't even try to lead other nations, doesn't listen to reasonable alternative points of view, embraces inconsistency as a virtue, he puts the rest of us at risk. That clearly was the result of the G20 summit. The other economic powers are lining up against us; they are working around our confused president. What has been and could still be a forum for international cooperation showed instead how much the U.S. has abandoned its former leadership role. America First has become America Alone.  Sad. Very sad.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Aux armes, citoyens!

No. Non. It worked in France -- and led to the Terror, Bonapartism, two empires, and so far five Republics. Maybe somebody will tell the American president a bit of this history when he goes to Paris for Bastille Day.  [It is interesting that the French military take no oath -- in contrast to Americans in uniform who take an oath to support and defend the Constitution and the German military who swear to defend the law and liberty of the people.]

That Constitution provides several ways to replace the president -- legally and nonviolently. I wish that one of those paths would be pursued.

I'm one of the growing number of Americans who believe that Donald Trump should leave the presidency. But I never believed he was qualified to be president. My anger, disgust, disappointment, outrage, and so forth matter to me, but they don't count for getting rid of Trump.

As I explained when setting forth the options for ending the Trump presidency, the people who count are the ones who supported Trump. Many of them have to turn away from him for whatever reasons change their hearts and minds.

So I sit here and wait and watch. No point in protest rallies -- they only stir defensive reactions among Trump supporters. Let the media do their job -- exposing the lies, the incompetence, the outrageous behaviors, the failed policies. The facts should make a difference.

Monday, June 12, 2017

the delusion of decisive battles

I like books with a well-argued point of view. That makes revisionist and contrarian writers more interesting than the recyclers of the conventional wisdom. Today’s example is Boston University historian Cathal J. Nolan’s The Allure of Battle. I didn’t read all 707 pages of Nolan’s tome – hardly any book deserves that length and weight -- but I welcomed his basic message:

The book does not argue that battle-seeking was always the wrong strategy throughout the period covered, or that all the wars considered were decided solely by attrition. However, it argues that, with few exceptions, the major power wars of the past several centuries were in the end decided by grinding exhaustion more than by the operational art of even the greatest of the modern great captains.

 Nolan’s pedagogical point is that it is highly misleading to focus history on so-called decisive battles, since they rarely determined or can explain broader geopolitical developments. His policy point is even more important: too many political and military leaders have succumbed to the “allure of battle” and counted on short wars which rarely turned out that way. The actual quick success of Prussia’s wars against Austria and France misled later generations of military planners to adopt the cult of the offensive, with tragic results.

I agree with that analysis, and with Nolan’s conclusions:

 First, beware the vanity of nations and the hubris of leaders, civilian and military; but perhaps civilians most of all. … Second, always be deeply skeptical of short-war plans and promises of easy victory, for they shall go awry as combat commences and descends into chaos, and an intelligent and determined enemy refuses to accept the initial verdict.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

foreign policy in support of slavery

Several months ago, I praised Matthew Karp's book documenting how pro-slavery southerners, often in powerful positions in the federal government, promoted a military buildup and foreign policies to defend, support, and expand slavery in the western hemisphere.

The New York Review of Books this week has a favorable review of Karp's book, which also serves as a summary of his arguments. [There's a paywall, so use the library, subscribe, or just read the book.]

Among his points: southerners favored and achieved a strong military buildup in the 1850s in part to guard against abolitionist attacks from Britain or its emancipated slaves; while arguing states' rights on domestic policy, they favored a strong central government for foreign policy. Karp also shows a pro-slavery tilt to other American foreign policies in the two decades before the war of the rebellion began.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

how does this end?

General David Petraeus’ famous question to a journalist about the Iraq war can also be asked of the Trump presidency. There are four broad options.

1.       Normalization/January 2021. Many supporters and opponents of the president just hope he settles down, stops tweeting, makes reasonable even if dull speeches, and works with the Republican Congress to enact the Republican program of tax cuts, smaller government, and increased military spending. By the way, this change of behavior could even lead to Trump’s reelection, continuing his presidency until January 2025.

2.       Impeachment/March 2019. Democratic leaders don’t want to talk about this because they know it can’t happen until enough Republicans turn against Trump, for whatever reasons. That could happen if Trump alienates congressional Republicans by opposing some of their key initiatives or if he loses so much public support he drags down their candidates. If Democratic gains in the 2018 elections are enough to give the party control of either house of Congress, the investigative subpoenas will fly like snowflakes and multiple scandals will be broadcast around the clock. If Republicans won’t defend Trump, it won’t matter what his own defenses are.

3.       Paralyzed presidency/sometime after summer 2017. Any of several possibilities could isolate the president from all but a residual 35% or so public support – faltering economy, terrorist attack, poorly handled foreign policy crisis, disclosures of presidential lies or misbehavior. Imagine nearly simultaneous events like a sharp recession, a war in Korea, and a terrorist attack on the DC subway – and then add leaked presidential tax returns. The best case is political gridlock; the worst case is armed partisan bands fighting in our cities and normal government services disrupted.

4.       Resignation in frustration/sometime after mid-2018. Trump could decide to leave office, either declaring victory – that he had accomplished all he could, given the political and media opposition – or declaring war against his political enemies and rallying his supporters for the 2018 elections. He could still hold his head high – he had been president – and he could still blame others for his shortfalls.

The Trump presidency seems so chaotic and unstable at the moment that something has to change, and only one possible change leads to a calmer America. The others portend political and economic turmoil, with few incentives to unify for solutions.