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Belmont Club

Origin of a Legend

July 7th, 2013 - 3:34 pm

A clue to the source of the enormous destructive power of the Obama administration’s blunders in the Middle East is contained in Victor Hugo’s novel, Ninety Three. It contains  a famous chapter describing the struggle to contain a five ton carronade that has broken loose from its mountings and was now veering around the hull, smashing everything before it. It is where we get the phrase “loose cannon”. Here is Hugo’s dramatic description.

At the moment when the fastenings gave way, the gunners were in the battery, some in groups, others scattered about, busied with the customary work among sailors getting ready for a signal for action. The carronade, hurled forward by the pitching of the vessel, made a gap in this crowd of men and crushed four at the first blow; then sliding back and shot out again as the ship rolled, it cut in two a fifth unfortunate, and knocked a piece of the battery against the larboard side with such force as to unship it. This caused the cry of distress just heard. All the men rushed to the companion-way. The gun-deck was vacated in a twinkling.

The enormous gun was left alone. It was given up to itself. It was its own master and master of the ship. It could do what it pleased. This whole crew, accustomed to laugh in time of battle, now trembled.

The same words, with some alterations, might be used to describe the terrible forces unleashed by the administration’s attempts at proxy warfare — “leading from behind” as it is called. It  has set sects, countries and regional terror groups clashing against each other. While each was tethered the dangers they posed were relatively confined. Now, loose upon the region these monsters are  being fed by enormous inputs of energy: the loose weaponry of Libya, the competing financial supports of Iran, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and the occasional help of American and Western military airpower.

The key event, of course, was to set them free, in the manner of a sorcerer’s apprentice who has opened the gates of hell and discovered, a little belatedly, that it is easier to summon the devil than to send him away. Like the “loose cannon” of Hugo’s story, the forces unleashed by the errors or incompetence or bad luck of the administration are now smashing apart country after country, community after community, releasing arsenal after arsenal.

It is doubly ironic that Hugo’s sailors try at first to halt the rampaging cannon with bundles of overprinted money known as assignats, by throwing bales of them under its wheels to slow it down. The loose cannon shreds the assignats to confetti.

Assignats were paper money issued by the National Assembly in France from 1789 to 1796, during the French Revolution. The assignats were issued after the confiscation of church properties in 1790 because the government was bankrupt. The government thought that the financial problems could be solved by printing certificates representing the value of church properties. These church lands became known as biens nationaux (“national goods”). Assignats were used to successfully retire a significant portion of the national debt as they were accepted as legitimate payment by domestic and international creditors. Certain precautions not taken concerning their excessive reissue and comingling with general currency in circulation caused hyperinflation.

Originally meant as bonds, they evolved into a currency used as legal tender. As there was no control over the amount to be printed, the value of the assignats exceeded that of the confiscated properties. This caused massive hyperinflation. In the beginning of 1792, they had lost most of their nominal value. In 1796, the Directoire issued Mandats, a currency in the form of land warrants to replace the assignats, although these too quickly failed.

Who knows but that someone might try to stem the rot with boxcars of printed money today? A few billion here, a few billion there … more energy to the cannon.

The secret power of a loose cannon lies in that it sets up a destructive resonance. It has the power to tap external energies and store them within itself, so that each swing grows in amplitude until even the strongest structures are shaken.

In 1940 the Tacoma Narrows bridge destroyed itself through the effects of such a resonance only a few months after it was completed. Outwardly it seemed solid enough. “At the time of its construction (and its destruction), the bridge was the third longest suspension bridge in the world in terms of main span length, behind the Golden Gate Bridge and the George Washington Bridge.” But there was a hidden flaw.

Because planners expected fairly light traffic volumes, the bridge was designed with two lanes, and it was just 39 feet (12 m) wide. This was quite narrow, especially in comparison with its length. With only the 8 feet (2.4 m)-deep plate girders providing additional depth, the bridge’s roadway section was also shallow.

The decision to use such shallow and narrow girders proved to be the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge’s undoing. With such minimal girders, the deck of the bridge was insufficiently rigid and was easily moved about by winds; from the start, the bridge became infamous for its movement. A mild to moderate wind could cause alternate halves of the center span to visibly rise and fall several feet over four- to five-second intervals. This flexibility was experienced by the builders and workmen during construction, which led some of the workers to christen the bridge “Galloping Gertie.” The nickname soon stuck, and even the public (when the toll-paid traffic started) felt these motions on the day that the bridge opened on July 1, 1940….

The bridge’s design added up the force of each gust of wind until it literally shook itself to pieces. About all that can be said about the bridge’s design today is that it seemed like a good idea at the time. The same fate may overtake the administration’s “leading from behind strategy”.  What a clever scheme it seemed. A little Muslim Brotherhood here, a little al-Qaeda there, some Hezbollah thrown in on the side. Add hunger and chemical weapons, and voila! What could go wrong?

Where was the first tremor in the administration’s foreign policy architecture felt? What caused the fatal resonance? Ah, I know. It was a YouTube video, like the one below, only made in LA.


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Top Rated Comments   
Sailors think in terms of Damage Control. That does not mean what Spin Doctors think it means. Sailors think of Progressive Flooding and Free Surface Effect and Center of Gravity when discussing Stability. These are useful concepts to consider when analyzing an accumulating disaster. Given the problems we face the chosen policies of the Obama administration, Fast & Furious and Immigration Amnesty and backing the Muslim Brotherhood, make as much sense from a Damage Control perspective as the Three Stooges solving a leak by drilling a hole in the bottom of the boat.
Found a video of an NSC planning session. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SV1i9n2lueM
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
"administration’s foreign policy architecture"? They had no true architecture, but rather a bunch of disconnected and usually contradictory beliefs urelated to facts.

I have to agree with Lt Col Ralph Peters. He said the overthrow of Morisi was the best thing to happen the the ME in some time. It offers some hope.

And furthermore I shake my head whne I see pundits and politicians call for calm in Egypt. They dont need calm in Egypt; they need the military and the Anti-Islamic types to butcher 20,000 plus of the the pro-Morisi types in the streets, and in short order. Then maybe the Muslim Brotherhood would figure out they lost and will lose even bigger if they press the issue.

You have to hand it to the people in Egypt; they only required a year to assess the results of their election and take corrective action. Here in the U.S. we have passed 4 years, with no effective corrective action in sight.

As for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, I always wonder about that car that was sitting out there. What led someone to decide that stopping the car and presumably jumping out and running away was the right course of action?
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
The problem with lording over the lives of ants is that the ants are busy about themselves 24/7 and as unintelligent as they may seem they keep at their enterprise continuously. The problem with sitting in the comfort of White House offices deviously planning on social engineering the populations of the world is that, no matter how smart Valerie Jarrett is, the human race keeps evolving on, each day a new day. Central planning as such is doomed until central planning becomes as massively distributed as the things they are trying to control. The only thing predictable in this world is the hubris of the Obama administration.

“What caused the fatal resonance?” IMHO, it was moving the center of gravity of the US state to the hinterlands of Afghanistan. GWB had our rooks in a masterful if albeit unintentional check mate for all parties involved and a constant errand of sea side resupply. Historians will be debating why a leader would so capriciously act against its own national interest. Oh yeah, it was hatred that slew the beast.


Thumbs down to proxy-blog-warfare.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (31)
All Comments   (31)
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I don't think that a loose cannon is quite the right analogy for our foreign policy. Since WW2 the United States has been more like the ballast in the bottom of the world ship of state. We provided the stabilizing mass that kept the ship upright when battered by wind and waves. What we are seeing in the middle east is not so much a loose cannon swinging around the deck. We are seeing what happens to a big ship when the ballast is removed. The ship loses stability and pitches and rocks in the waves until finally a big wave overturns and sinks it.

There are some loose cannons careening around the deck in our domestic policy. The most obvious and one of the most dangerous is Obamacare. One sixth of the entire U.S. economy is now unmoored from its base and pitching around wildly. Simply, no one know what is going to happen when the individual mandate hits next year. The administration has already blinked on the employer mandate and the subsidy verification. If they are already scared then things are probably a lot worse than they let on. To fill out the analogy, the Republicans are trying to remove the deck railings so that the loose cannon can pitch overboard, while the Democrats are chasing after it trying to fill it with gunpowder. It's hard to imagine that things will end well.


41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
The domestic manifestation of this loose cannon includes Trayvon Martin, July Fourth celebrated with 73 shot in Chicago, celebration of gay marriage, IRS torpedoing opposition groups, Benghazi fiasco, vilification of old Paula Deane, agency snooping, the Boston Marathon bombing and the complete failure of all the "intelligence" to detect it, the drive to scuttle the Second Amendment, Obamacare, immigration, and hundreds more large and small daily instances of governmental idiocy and hypocrisy having come to their logical conclusion.

The Dear Leader has no power to stop or slow down the government's cascading plunge into excess. The result is that the limit switches of more and more people are going off. A hint is in the poll showing that most people believe that blacks are the racists, not whites. A watershed moment may come when cities burn with riots after Zimmerman's acquittal. The media may actually come to their senses.

Even with nearly half the country dulled with government largesse, the other half has had enough.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
"The secret power of a loose cannon lies in that it sets up a destructive resonance. It has the power to tap external energies and store them within itself, so that each swing grows in amplitude until even the strongest structures are shaken."

The system has a positive feedback coefficient. So what is needed is NEGATIVE FEEDBACK!

Ridicule Obama and especially his MSM acolytes. Make it HURT to be an Obama apologist!

Start with Jen Psaki. she is America's Baghdad Bobette!
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Stretching the structural harmonics idea a bit, picture a time, soon, when the MSM begins (has begun?) to hear its own message as audio-feedback.
Internet reinforces traditional distribution at an ever increasing rate. Soon it is just incomprehensible noise.
At that point the only thing to do is turn it off, rest ears a while and play soft soothing music.
ta
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
The US foreign policy in the middle east reminds me of the US forest service policies in 1988. It was thought that a few controlled burns would restore the natural order.

Some fires can't be controlled.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellowstone_fires_of_1988
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Indeed. Some fires just have to burn themselves out. And, pace JFSandars' comments in the previous threat, the MacArthur blueprint for Japan and the Marshall Plan blueprint for Germany cannot be applied to Syria and Egypt. Both Japan and Germany were complex civilized societies with long histories of self-governance. There was even, in both instances, experience with consensual government--not by a demos per se, by fairly diverse groups at the top levels of society. The members of these groups had experience in governing as collaborative bodies and reconciling the claims and interests of competing factions. Although both Japan and Germany purported to be absolutist polities with all power vested in hereditary sovereigns, they were in fact nothing of the sort and had not been for a very long time: the sovereigns were essentially figureheads. Those countries were, in effect, primed by their respective histories for the transition to democracy. Syria and Egypt are not.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
So..
....did anyone get that loose canon tied down?
That would be a story of seamanship and heroics, eh?
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
If you ask me, the loose cannon is the U.S. or really the West in general. And the unmooring occurred at the end of the 19th century, when the cannon was re-tethered to the illusory notions of Marx, Nietzsche, Freud and a whole host of minions of modernity.

So the soon-to-be-former hegemon is now crashing and flailing against everything in sight, trying harder and harder to banish nature - the nature of the economy, of marriage and the family, of history, and human nature itself.

We are observing the collapse of Islam, its overdue death throes, in real time.

But we are also watching the disintegration of the edifice of modernity. When this is over, we will see once again that natural law cannot be repealed, no matter how smart we think we are.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
MM- We are observing the collapse of Islam, its overdue death throes, in real time.

If your timeframe is 300-400 years you might be right.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Dude, Nietzsche and Freud? You also want to repeal Einstein and Heisenberg? I like steampunk as well as the next guy, but really.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
If I were a centrist Democrat, which I once was, and I hope fair minded, I would have to say that Bush certainly set the bridge rocking. Destabilized the Middle East to put it bluntly. But I would have to admit, however reluctantly, that Petraeus calmed things down and that the balance in Iraq has held up after a fashion. If pressed I would have to admit that Maliki, while still somewhat a strongman, is no Saddam Hussein. And I would have been inwardly wondering the past 5 years how Hillary would have handled the Arab spring. The same as she was constrained to handle it under Obama? I think not. This was the woman who skewered Bush along about 2005 by saying 'We have to deal with the Iraq we have, not the Iraq we wish we had'. And I would even credit her with getting through to Dubya such that that she contributed to his trying the surge. And, because I am fair minded, I would have to admit that the same Hillary said she would have to suspend disbelief to accept General Petraeus' testimony on the progress of the surge. She didn't get it that God had failed to send the general the Democrats prayed for and had instead sent a real general. Couldn't get it, which is one of the reasons why I am no longer a Democrat. But still, would she have been dumb enough to dump Mubarak for the Muslim Brotherhood - the founding organization of Islamism? You would have to believe that the vast left wing conspiracy marches in lock step with the post colonialism of places like Columbia and Harvard. No, I think both Clintons are savvy opportunists, not ideological possessed idiots lost in the echo chamber of their illusions. Which brings me to Obama who has consistently pursued a policy that apparently has no concept of the forces he thinks he is deftly manipulating with smart diplomacy. Bush may have weakened the moorings that constrained the Islamist cannon, but Obama has actively severed them. Finally, I would like to add that during the Bush years I felt that both McCain and Lieberman often seemed to my way of thinking to have a better grasp of the Iraq conflict than Bush. Recently with McCain urging support of the Syrian rebels and calling for the US to cut off aid to Egypt I find I no longer agree with him. Did he change or did I? I don't know yet, but I know that I don't think either side in Syria are good guys and that the Egyptian military has dealt a serious setback to the Islamists. From a certain perspective, the Egyptian military has restrained the Islamist cannon and is actually pulling Obama's chestnuts out of the fire (to mix metaphors freely) , and he is too dumb to know it. And so is McCain.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Paragraphs, sir ... paragraphs.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
What Hunter said +1
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
The first tremor? Or at least the first unmistakable one - the Cairo speech.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Obamamaniacs as usual have it all backwards. Democracy doesn't bring good government - ask all those Egyptians about the democratically elected government of Mr Morsi which proceeded to destroy the democratic rights of the very people who voted his government into power.

In reality it's the other way round. Liberty, the Rule of Law, transparency and tolerance of different opinions will probably bring about good government. Good government, in turn, will probably bring about Democracy.

Naive dreaming about Democracy being magically created because Joe Presi-dictator gets a legitimate electoral mandate is what caused the Arab Winter. Don't ask only the Egyptians. Go ask the Algerians and the Tunisians.

Apparently there's no oxygen inside the Obama bubble - seemingly just a cloud of CO2 and after dinner methane. No wonder they can't think straight.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
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