Over the years I've taught Scott Sagan and Charles Perrow for a range of different courses. Based on those two books, I'm pretty sure that I'd rather not read these two terms in the same sentence: "nuclear weapons" and "rot." From this morning's Washington Post:
The Air Force stripped an unprecedented 17 officers of their authority to control — and, if necessary, launch — nuclear missiles after a string of unpublicized failings, including a remarkably dim review of their unit’s launch skills. The group’s deputy commander said it is suffering “rot” within its ranks.
“We are, in fact, in a crisis right now,” the commander, Lt. Col. Jay Folds, wrote in an internal email obtained by The Associated Press and confirmed by the Air Force.
The tip-off to trouble was a March inspection of the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., which earned the equivalent of a “D” grade when tested on its mastery of Minuteman III missile launch operations. In other areas, the officers tested much better, but the group’s overall fitness was deemed so tenuous that senior officers at Minot decided, after probing further, that an immediate crackdown was called for.
The Air Force publicly called the inspection a “success.”
All of this "success" comes after a much publicized effort that began in 2008 to fix the problems of complacency, demoralization, and insubordination.
So everyone is bashing Obama’s use of red lines on Syria. In Sunday's New York Times, Daniel Byman took the concept of red lines to task because failure to act on them weakens America’s credibility and reputation:
…when deterrence fails, the United States looks weak and indecisive.... Moreover, not acting after issuing ultimatums harms America’s reputation. As Mr. Rogers and others have argued, inaction makes it more likely that American red lines elsewhere in the region will be questioned, especially in Iran, which is facing pressure on its nuclear weapons program and watching Syria closely.
But here is the question: Does the United States really look weak and indecisive if it fails to follow through on a bluff? The United States uses force at a rate that is several times greater than others – it has already toppled regimes on Iran’s western border and on Iran’s eastern border – and somehow it is the lesson of Syria that is more salient for Iran? More broadly: why should an occasional bluff matter?
Well, actually it doesn’t. Robert Jervis demonstrated four decades ago that signaling is complex business. Jon Mercer’s excellent book on reputation shows that we’ve spent far too much blood and treasure over the folly of preserving our credibility. Daryl Press spent years trying to demonstrate the costs of lost credibility when a state fails to follow through on its threats. His finding? The conventional wisdom on credibility “is wrong.” In his book Calculating Credibility: How Leaders Assess Military Threats, Press writes:
A country’s credibility, at least during crises, is driven not by its past behavior but rather by power and interests. If a country makes threats that it has the power to carry out – and an interst in doing so—those threats will be believed even if the country has bluffed in the past….When assessing credibility during crises, leaders focus on the “here and now,” not on their adversary’s past behavior.
He and Jenny Lind have a nice post on Steve Walt’s blog warning against using the idea that we have to intervene in Syria to defend American credibility in the wake of Obama’s red line. We don’t.
But, this also raises another interesting question.
OK, the 10-year retrospectives on the Iraq War are in and the debate is on. Yes, Bush, Cheney, and the neocons sold the country a bill of goods on Iraq. They are war criminals and should be held accountable. Iraq was a strategic disaster, it was a financial disaster, and for far too many it was a human and humanitarian disaster. Yes, yes, yes, the intelligence was faulty, the pundit class failed, Judith Miller was wrong, and the New York Times screwed up. The list goes on.
But, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen all of this, and it won’t be the last. Read on and be sure to take the time to watch the video clip at the end.
It's the Ides of March. Be careful out there. Here's a random selection of this week's reads:
- How Fear made America. Scott Lemieux reviews Ira Katznelson's new book Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time.
- Anatol Levien questions the "endgame" in Afghanistan.
- Ken Roth asks what rules should govern drone attacks.
- Charles Hunt on the on-going challenges of peacekeeping in DRC.
- North Korean propaganda video of life in the United States.
- Missed this earlier -- the four stages of Putinism.
- The guy who put internet freedom on the "grown-ups table" is leaving the State Department.
- Larry Diamond is running a MOOC on Democracy Development course through Coursera. Begins April 1.
Apparently, the Arab Spring will not come to the UAE this weekend. Planners of an LSE conference on the implications of the Arab Spring set for this weekend in UAE have cancelled the event after efforts by senior UAE officials to control the content. From the BBC:
A senior LSE academic told the BBC he had been detained at the airport in Dubai on Friday.
Dr Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, who is the co-director of the Kuwait programme at LSE, said immigration authorities had separated him from his colleagues and confiscated his passport before denying him entry and sending him back to London.
In an earlier statement given to the BBC, the university said:
"The London School of Economics and Political Science has cancelled a conference it was co-hosting with the American University of Sharjah on The Middle East: Transition in the Arab World.
"The decision was made in response to restrictions imposed on the intellectual content of the event that threatened academic freedom."
It did not say who had placed restrictions on the conference but a well-placed source told the BBC pressure had come from "very senior" UAE government officials.
To date LSE has received £5.6m ($8.5m) from the Emirates Foundation, which is funded by the UAE government, but the institution denied that the foundation was involved in placing the restrictions.
I am guessing we'll get more details about this specific event in the days to come. But, here are a couple of quick thoughts:
Ok, you went to Oberlin or maybe Swarthmore or Bowdoin or Haverford or Macalester. It was your first experience away from home -- your first real intellectual stimulation, the drugs, the sex -- it was a total mind blowing experience. You had dinner at a professor’s house and then stayed late into the night discussing the Russian Revolution. You experimented with Marxism, liberation theology, or maybe even poetry. From the moment you left college, you knew you would get your Ph.D. and become a liberal arts college professor.
Sorry to burst the bubble, but let me be blunt here. You can’t get it back. Seriously, you can’t. When you finish your Ph.D. and land that job in a liberal arts college – you are not a student experiencing new and “fresh” ideas for the first time in your life. You are an untenured assistant professor. (With an emphasis on untenured and assistant). There is nothing “fresh” about being untenured and assistant (emphasis is still there). And, there is no more experimentation.
And for those of you interviewing for a job in a liberal arts college and planing to tell us all about how “the liberal arts education transformed” your life. Don’t. Really.
My colleague, Javier Corrales, has an excellent summary of the internal political dynamics in Venezuela on the news yesterday of President Hugo Chavez's deteriorating health condition. Corrales reports that the "Venezuelan government is busy preparing for the re-inauguration of the country's beloved president, Hugo Chávez, and also for his funeral."
The timing of all of this makes for significant confusion:
Venezuela's constitution offers some guidance on what to do. If the president dies, the vice president (in this case, Nicolás Maduro, an avowed communist) will take office. He will call a new election within 30 days. If Chávez survives but cannot attend the inauguration, most jurists agree that the president of the National Assembly (Diosdado Cabello, who will presumably be reelected to that post in a vote on January 5) will take power. If the government then rules that the president-elect is only "temporarily absent," Cabello will govern for 90 days, which will be renewable for 90 more. If it instead declares the president-elect to be "permanently absent," Cabello would be constitutionally obligated to call an early election...
...The political confusion, meanwhile, is no small matter. The government's unwillingness to accept that Chávez most likely cannot be inaugurated has produced unnecessary uncertainty. The indecision is probably the result of a power struggle within Chávez's party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. The PSUV knows well that the timing of the announcement of the president's absence (whether it occurs before or on the inauguration date) and the type of absence (permanent or temporary) determines who gets to control the succession, Maduro or Cabello. And each man leads a different faction.
Chávez stated his preference for Maduro to succeed him in December, during a weekend visit to Caracas between cancer treatments. But the rest of the party does not seem to be fully on board. Maduro's opponents believe that he is too close to Cuba and too distant from Venezuela. As foreign minister since 2006, Maduro has spent much of his time away from home in recent years. Cabello, too, has detractors. Thanks to his history as a member of the armed forces, a state governor, and a minister of public works, he is seen as being allied with the least glorious element of Venezuela's revolution: corrupt businessmen and military officials who have profited from their dealings with the state.