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Monthly Archives: May 2010

The Consolations of Philosophy

May 31st, 2010 - 11:36 pm
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Peace Activists on the Flotilla

Never mind what the press or the diplomats say happened, the above is what happened.  The Times Online reports that “Security Council members, who had broken off from their spring holiday to hold an emergency session prepared a draft document calling on Israel to lift its blockade and immediately release the ships and hundreds of international activists arrested on board them. ” That some of the “peace activists” were members of the Islan Haklary Ve Hurriyetleri Vakfi, itself an organization of ill-repute, is irrelevant. Nothing must get in the way of the narrative, the facts least of all. But the reason anyone should care about the gap between reality and conventional wisdom has nothing to do with what one may think of Israel. The main reason to worry is that it illustrates the Western addiction to fiction,  an addiction which sooner or later will have practical consequences. That addiction was also being pandered to on the other side of the world.


Hotline to History

May 31st, 2010 - 2:57 pm

An AFP article covers efforts by leaders of China and Japan to set up a hotline between their leaders in the wake of naval incidents between the two countries. “The premiers of China and Japan agreed Monday to set up a hotline following a series of tense naval incidents, and to resume formal talks on jointly exploring offshore gas and oil fields.” The incidents occurred when “Chinese naval helicopters twice buzzed Japanese destroyers, and a Chinese marine survey ship pursued a Japanese coastguard vessel.” Another AFP story described the incidents which took place on April 8 and 21 near the island of Okinawa. A Japanese destroyer was monitoring a Chinese flotilla of 2 submarines and 8 surface vessels. The story is a reminder that international conflicts are part of the long history of regions and nations. Although it may be hard to believe, Washington, D.C., is not the exclusive source of the world’s problems.


Where the Old Flotilla Lay

May 30th, 2010 - 11:33 pm

The ‘aid flotilla’ bound for Gaza met the immovable object and the resulting clash, under circumstances yet only sketchily described, may have resulted in 16 protester deaths and 6 IDF personnel injured. The LA Times reported that “Israel had vowed to intercept the boats, by force if necessary, and tow them to the Israeli port of Ashdod, where passengers would be arrested or deported.” The Turks, who were heavily represented in the flotilla, have already called in the Israeli ambassador.  There is almost certainly going to be an denunciation of Israeli actions from Europe. The incident will mean that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s forthcoming visit to Washington will be even frostier and more difficult than expected.


Memory and Survival

May 30th, 2010 - 5:34 am

There’s a video on YouTube showing a father shielding his child from an out of control car careening from the street into a shop. The father turns and interposes his body between and the baby he is carrying just as the vehicle smashes the through the window. The entire event happens so quickly the action seems entirely instinctive; and it is behavior familiar to us. Tolkien, in the Two Towers, describes Sam’s charge on Shelob in defense of the fallen Frodo as driven by nature. “No onslaught more fierce was ever seen in the savage world of beasts, where some desperate small creature armed with little teeth, alone, will spring upon a tower of horn and hide that stands above its fallen mate.”  If so, nature must have a reason for it.  Perhaps a species consisting of individuals capable of placing something above their own personal survival enjoys an advantage over that which does not. Darwin dealt with the problem of ‘altruism’ in his Descent of Man.


Sixteen inch Typeface

May 29th, 2010 - 2:42 pm

The Washington Post recently described a possible plan to strike at targets within Pakistan in the event of a major attack on the US originating from there . Anonymous officials quoted by the Post “stressed that a U.S. reprisal would be contemplated only under extreme circumstances, such as a catastrophic attack that leaves President Obama convinced that the ongoing campaign of CIA drone strikes is insufficient.”  The article is fairly complimentary, but a Heritage Foundation blog is not impressed, calling it a sad attempt at deterrence by press release, one of many recent efforts by the administration that try “to look conciliatory and humble and at the same time ‘reserved the right’ to look tough” and wind up, in Heritage’s estimate, doing neither.


Ye Olde Shell Game

May 27th, 2010 - 3:41 pm

When you can’t solve a problem, change the terms of reference so that you can.

President Obama in a newly released document has redefined national security policy in terms of domestic policy.  Blaming the Bush administration for relying on “military might”, Obama declared that what was important was the home front. David Martin of CBS News writes “if you had to pick one sentence in this 52 page document which defines President Obama’s National Security Strategy it would be this: “the foundation of American leadership must be a prosperous economy.”  By implication President Obama is going to give America that prosperous economy in order to defend it. But can he do it?



May 27th, 2010 - 3:15 am

When Hillary Clinton laid out her plans for dealing with North Korea, she responded with one concept: “strategic patience”.  Time, she felt, was on her side. A spokesman for the Korean President was quoted by the NYT as saying:

“The key word” during the South Korean leaders’ meetings with Mrs. Clinton was her strategy of “strategic patience,” said Lee Dong-kwan, President Lee’s spokesman.

“Another way to put it is that time is on our side,” the spokesman said after the president’s meeting with Mrs. Clinton. “We shouldn’t go for an impromptu response to each development but take a longer-term perceptive in shaping the situation around the Korean Peninsula.”

Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post, in a somewhat more skeptical article, noted that evidence this approach was working seemed far from evident.


The Ghost of Donald Rumsfeld

May 25th, 2010 - 6:08 pm

After the September 11 attacks, the Department of Defense realized that it had no contingency plan for invading Afghanistan because no such eventuality had been conceived. In order to provide a rapid response to attacks from unforeseen quarters, Donald Rumsfeld commissioned a study to create a “to whoever it may concern” contingency, so the US would never be without a comeback again. The lead service, to nobody’s surprise, was the Air Force, probably with some help from the Navy.  Rumsfeld’s requirement created a “no boots on the ground” attack concept called CONPLAN 8022.

One of the theaters in which CONPLAN 8022 might have to be carried out was the Korean peninsula, given the fact that US troop commitments in the War on Terror might preclude a more conventional response. This post revisits the CONPLAN 8022 concept and examines how it might apply in 2010.  The Washington Post laid out the basic elements of the plan. The idea was to paralyze North Korea rather than invade it.


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The Crystal Ball

May 25th, 2010 - 7:15 am

Niall Ferguson in an article for Economic History Review asked why the bond market failed to anticipate World War 1 any better than anyone else. “The main question addressed [in the paper] is why political events appeared to affect the … the London bond market, much less between 1881 and 1914 than they had between 1843 and 1880. In particular, I ask why the outbreak of the First World War … was not apparently anticipated … To investors, the First World War truly came as a bolt from the blue.”

Nor was World War 2 any more obvious, except in some markets. Moreover Bruno Frey and Daniel Waldenstrom argue that with the possible exception of the Nordic countries it was unclear whether the bond markets were able to anticipate World War 2 despite the obvious impact such an event would have on sovereign debt.


The New International Order

May 24th, 2010 - 4:21 am

On May 22nd President Obama’s West Point speech described the new “international order” he was trying to build; one founded on multilateral action in contrast to the unilateralism of the past. He described security in unusually broad terms. No longer did it simply consist of the mere prevention of war. It now included managing nature, feeding the sick and helping the distressed. Obama set forth the goals of “countering violent extremism and insurgency; stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and securing nuclear materials; combating a changing climate and sustaining global growth; helping countries feed themselves and care for their sick; preventing conflict and healing wounds” as the objects of security. To achieve these goals he would use cooperation and diplomacy. The Chicago Sun Times had a full transcript of the speech in which Obama laid out his vision: