April 27, 2013

'Democracy May Have Had Its Day'

In an email sharing the below story, a very dear friend of mine, who has spent his entire professional life studying the politics and cultures of the Middle East, had this to say about Kaminski's coverage of Prof. Donald Kagan's farewell lecture: "Possibly the most important article published this year."

I'll be looking for a transcript of the lecture but until then, Kaminski's overview is quite enough to convey the primary themes and import of the points Kagan was trying to convey: the importance of America's role as defender of Western democracy, the difficulty in doing such, the fragility of the form of democracy itself even while it is the most powerful form of government in providing the greatest opportunity for the greatest number of people, the fundamental importance of education in making our citizenry aware of all of this (especially with respect to democracy's foundation and the nature of its development over the centuries), and the roles both society and our educational establishment have in preserving all of this. 

The greatest threat to America comes not from any external actor, condition, or influence but rather from the steady growth of a sense of entitlement among our people and the corresponding decay in individual and collective responsibility for doing what is necessary to preserve and promote the ideals of democracy as it is practiced by our Republic. 

Just a couple of days ago, Former President George W. Bush briefly spoke at the opening of his library. Here is an excerpt from his speech:

    In democracy, the purpose of public office is not to fulfill personal ambition. Elected officials must serve a cause greater themselves. The political winds blow left and right, polls rise and fall, supporters come and go. But in the end, leaders are defined by the convictions they hold. And my deepest conviction, the guiding principle of the administration, is that the United States of America must strive to expand the reach of freedom.
    I believe that freedom is a gift from God and the hope of every human heart. Freedom inspired our founders and preserved our union through civil war and secured the promise of civil rights. Freedom sustains dissonance bound by chains. Believers huddled in underground churches. And voters who risked their lives to cast their ballots. Freedom unleashed creativity, rewards innovation and replaces poverty with prosperity. And ultimately freedom lights the path to peace. Freedom brings responsibility.
    ...I dedicate this library with an unshakeable faith in the future of our country. It's the honor of a lifetime to lead a country as brave and as noble as the United States. Whatever challenges come before us, I will always believe our nation's best day lie ahead. God bless.

Like our forty-third President, I, too, believe that "our nation's best day[s] lie ahead" but I also know that there are no guarantees about the future. The opportunity, hope and promise that America has symbolized for so many millions of people cannot withstand general public apathy, selfishness, indiscipline, and abrogation of both civic responsibility and a constantly renewed commitment to our founding principles. We simply have to do better than what we are doing now.

For your consideration:

Donald Kagan, Yale's great classicist gives his final lecture, fighting as ever for Western civilization.
New Haven, Conn.

Donald Kagan is engaging in one last argument. For his "farewell lecture" here at Yale on Thursday afternoon, the 80-year-old scholar of ancient Greece—whose four-volume history of the Peloponnesian War inspired comparisons to Edward Gibbon's Roman history—uncorked a biting critique of American higher education.

Universities, he proposed, are failing students and hurting American democracy. Curricula are "individualized, unfocused and scattered." On campus, he said, "I find a kind of cultural void, an ignorance of the past, a sense of rootlessness and aimlessness." Rare are "faculty with atypical views," he charged. "Still rarer is an informed understanding of the traditions and institutions of our Western civilization and of our country and an appreciation of their special qualities and values." He counseled schools to adopt "a common core of studies" in the history, literature and philosophy "of our culture." By "our" he means Western.

April 20, 2013

After the Wars, New Battlefronts for the Marine Corps

Thought I'd share my latest item on things-military. In the Fall of 2010, The American Interest asked for a piece on the Marine Corps as part of a collection of essays on the military Services that they ran in their Sept-Oct issue for that year. In "Caught on a Lee Shore" I attempted to describe what I believed to be key challenges for the Service at that time, most prominently among them the EFV program. A few months ago, TAI asked for a follow-up item that they've now published. In "After the Wars..." I've tried to address the major challenges confronting the Corps as it draws-down its efforts in Afghanistan amidst substantial budgetary, cultural, and conceptual pressures. 

I was intentionally descriptive vice prescriptive as my focus was to lay-out the issues rather than pontificate about possible solutions. To my mind, most pundits presume to know all the various details of any given issue as well as just what the organization should do to "fix things" even though they haven't been party to the very private discussions that take place amongst leadership at the highest levels of government. Sometimes, enough information is available in the public domain and one has sufficient, relevant personal experience to come to rather obvious conclusions. Such was the case for my recommendations about EFV and other matters in "...Lee Shore" and an earlier piece published by CSBA. When it comes to the budget turmoil created by the sequester and federal debt situation, the changes being imposed on the military regarding who can serve and in what capacity, and just how the Services will evolve their thinking about applying military power in future settings...no one really has any idea how this will all work out. My hope is that senior leaders keep their eyes firmly fixed on 'military effectiveness' in serving our national security interests and that the myriad decisions before them are decided with this fundamental objective in mind.

After the Wars, New Battlefronts for the Marine Corps
Dakota L. Wood
As the U.S. Marine Corps winds down its operations in Afghanistan, it faces a different kind of battlefield back home, where the challenges take shape as numbers, ideas and purposes. This operational theater consists of three fronts: budgetary, cultural and conceptual. 

On the budgetary front, the Corps faces substantial challenges as it adjusts to the decline in defense spending that historically follows periods of war; the frustrations of “continuing resolutions”, by which it must operate under the funding level approved for the previous year regardless of the accumulation of new expenses; and the cuts forced by sequestration, which require an additional 8 percent reduction in the Corps’ annual budget each year for the next decade.

Regarding cultural stressors, the Corps must deal with the implications of homosexuals serving openly and accommodating their partners or spouses; figure out how to open previously restricted “combat arms” occupational fields to women; and manage shrinking its force by 10 percent over the next four years, while keeping faith with Marines accustomed to high-tempo combat operations abroad who will now increasingly be moored to garrison and training environments in the States for the decade to come.

As for conceptual matters, the Corps has embarked on a variety of efforts to redefine its role as the nation’s “911 force.” What does it mean to “get back to the sea” following a decade of sustained operations ashore? The vast majority of Marines currently serving in uniform have never set foot on a ship. How does the Corps regain a service-wide competence in amphibious operations if the U.S. Navy now has only 28 amphibious ships in its fleet, half of which might be unavailable for immediate use at any given moment due to maintenance schedules? How should the Corps proceed with plans to focus on key regions, to maintain a “persistent presence” supporting U.S. regional commanders with at-the-ready crisis response forces, when the cost of deploying such forces is steadily rising?

Each front brings challenges of its own, but taken together they present a kind of battlefield occupied by the Service’s most senior officials. The outcome of these battles will shape the Corps in size, capability and purpose for many years to come.

April 14, 2013


I'll admit to tracking recent reporting of H7N9 with a bit more interest than your average bear. I spent a year on a small team developing a national bio-surveillance program during the H5N1 "bird flu" scare not so many years ago. It was quite an educational experience in many ways but particularly with regard to the "drinking from a fire hose" learning necessary to rapidly come up to speed on some of the more interesting aspects of bio-threats, both naturally occurring and man-made. The team leader was brilliant in demanding that we read a masterful book by John M. Barry entitled "The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History." While the primary theme is the influenza pandemic of 1918 (causing upwards of 100 million deaths), Barry also tells the broader story of how the search for a cure -- in fact, the search to even understand what the flu virus was -- actually served as a catalyst for the birth of modern medical science and of the social impact the pandemic had across communities large and small, urban and rural.

The 'bird flu' scare of 2006 (actually 2003 to present but cases/deaths peaked 2005-07) likewise had an impact well beyond the actual number of cases of human infection, spurring lurid reporting in the news, the rise of a 'bird flu protection' industry, widespread community and municipal awareness and pandemic response preparedness programs, and even a made-for-tv-movie or two. Since the much-feared and over-hyped global pandemic never materialized as popularly imagined, most folks (I think) tend to dismiss the actual risk such outbreaks have inherent to them. The field of bio-surveillance has really improved over the past decade perhaps no where more importantly than in the areas of information reporting, sharing and preventive posturing, i.e. the willingness of government agencies and the medical community to collaborate in aggressively investigating and responding to the potential for outbreaks.

The current reporting on H7N9 indicates no cases of human-to-human transfer. As of today all 43 reported cases of infection have occurred from close contact with infected birds. For those interested in reading up on the outbreak, the World Health Organization site is pretty informative and is kept up-to-date with each reported and confirmed case: WHO H7N9. For information on influenza in general and the H5N1 strain especially, the flu.gov site is really very good. A companion site - ready.gov - is also a good resource for information on emergency preparedness planning.

April 11, 2013

North Korea

Well...just in case you were tiring of news about the sequester, the job and housing markets, European economic collapse, or corruption in WashingtonChicagoNewYorkCity politics, Kim Jong-un has been quite busy stirring up alternatives for your morning-cup-of-coffee reading. If you're in the habit of more than one cup, here are a couple of sites you might find of particular interest:
- War News Updates has extensive coverage but this website should be on your daily reading list regardless. The editor (who lives in Canada) uses tags for sorting reporting on North Korea if you'd like to sort by sub-topic (missile capabilities, North-South relations, etc) but you'll get all the latest reporting by just scanning the website. 
- Galrahn with a very good post at his naval blog Information Dissemination on the background story leading up to our annual military exercise with the South Koreans, an event that sends the North into a tizzy every year. He details the 'playbook' developed and implemented to leverage this year's exercise as a 'strategic messaging' initiative to a greater extent than is normally the case each year. Interestingly, the North's more-than-usual animated response threw the US message off track. As you're seeing in the news, all the major players (US, South Korea, Japan, and China) are waiting to see just how closely North Korea's actions reflect its hyperbolic rhetoric.
But if you really want to understand the North Koreans, there's no better item to read than this: "The 1951 Korean Armistice Conference: A Personal Memoir," by Herbert Goldhamer, who dictated it in 1951, and which was released by RAND as a monograph in 1994. Goldhamer's memoir was recommended to me (following some work I did at U.S. Central Command in the immediate wake of the 9-11 attacks) by the fellow who wrote the Forward, from which I share this extract:
    "In his Memoir on the Korean Armistice Conference, Goldhamer shows how American beliefs and values made for disadvantageous negotiating performance. He points out how members of the U.N. side were determined to behave honorably. The North Koreans and Chinese were able to take advantage of this attitude by constantly challenging their ethical behavior, forcing them to demonstrate their morality, sometimes to the detriment of the U.N. position. Also, in a section entitled, "Strength Leads to Failure, Weakness Leads to Success," Goldhamer points out that because the U.N. negotiators assumed the North Koreans and Chinese would be intransigent, "... there was a tendency to assume, in considering any possible line of action, that if the action was a strong and aggressive one the outcome would probably be a failure.... On the other hand, any action that was a sign of weakness, for instance a concession, was in some obscure way looked upon optimistically.""
       -- A.W. Marshall, 1994, Forward
Goldhamer's point was essentially this: the North Koreans behave like bratty children who throw a tantrum when ignored and who will bully, bluster, threaten, and angrily pout to get their way. Conversely, the West, and especially the U.S., just hates the idea it might be seen as anything other than the 'mature, understanding parent' so it wants nothing more than to mollify the scene-making child. So, it gives in. The North knows this and has had proven time and again this is how the West/America will respond. With Jong-un newly ascending to power this is likely -- likely -- a situation wherein he and his handlers see an opportunity to gain attention on the world stage (especially with the US hindered by war fatigue, debt problems, and domestic political discord) and make some gains vis-a-vis concessions from the West re the DPRK nuclear program, etc. One should also keep in mind the South Korea also has new, untested leadership.
Most commentators I've read feel the North will fire a missile or two into adjacent waters to make a point, declare victory, and go back to starving its people. But there is always the possibility for miscalculation, misinterpretation or simple mistakes when things are on a knife edge and everyone is unsure of just what might happen. When folks are running around in the dark with loaded weapons and fingers on triggers, lots of bad things can go wrong even if no one really wants them to. 
I'm reminded of one of the final scenes in Le Morte D'Arthur where the armies of Arthur and Mordred are arrayed against each other on Salisbury Plain. While the two principles are preparing to engage in negotiations a knight sees a snake in the grass and innocently, unthinkingly, draws his sword to kill it. The action is perceived by everyone else in proximity as a signal to attack and the two sides surge to war. Mordred dies as do most of Arthur's knights, Arthur himself receives an ultimately fatal wound, Guinevere follows him from anguish and, learning of her death, Lancelot likewise passes.
Brinksmanship is a tricky game.

April 8, 2013

Margaret Thatcher

Of the many eulogies I've scanned on the passing of Margaret Thatcher, I like these two the best. William Kristol provides a superb, concise coda that provides context for not only the combined contribution of Thatcher, Reagan, and John Paul II to the West's victory over the Soviet Union's oppressive communism but also their resolute stand for the principles in which they believed. But first, a remembrance from The Economist, who does this sort of thing better than anyone else. In fact, it has long been my habit to read the magazine from back to front, starting with their weekly perspective of an extraordinary life.

The lady who changed the world 
Apr 8th 2013, 12:35 by Economist.com

ONLY a handful of peace-time politicians can claim to have changed the world. Margaret Thatcher, who died this morning, was one. She transformed not just her own Conservative Party, but the whole of British politics. Her enthusiasm for privatisation launched a global revolution and her willingness to stand up to tyranny helped to bring an end to the Soviet Union. Winston Churchill won a war, but he never created an "ism".

The essence of Thatcherism was to oppose the status quo and bet on freedom-odd, since as a prim control freak, she was in some ways the embodiment of conservatism. She thought nations could become great only if individuals were set free. Her struggles had a theme: the right of individuals to run their own lives, as free as possible from the micromanagement of the state.

In Britain her battles with the left-especially the miners-gave her a reputation as a blue-rinse Boadicea. But she was just as willing to clobber her own side, sidelining old-fashioned Tory "wets" and unleashing her creed on conservative strongholds, notably the "big bang" in the City of London. Many of her pithiest putdowns were directed towards her own side: "U turn if you want to", she told the Conservatives as unemployment passed 2m, "The lady's not for turning."

Paradoxes abound. Mrs Thatcher was a true Blue Tory who marginalised the Tory Party for a generation. The Tories ceased to be a national party, retreating to the south and the suburbs and all but dying off in Scotland, Wales and the northern cities. Tony Blair profited more from the Thatcher revolution than John Major, her successor: with the trade unions emasculated and the left discredited, he was able to remodel his party and sell it triumphantly to Middle England. His huge majority in 1997 ushered in 13 years of New Labour rule.

Yet her achievements cannot be gainsaid. She reversed what her mentor, Keith Joseph, liked to call "the ratchet effect", whereby the state was rewarded for its failures with yet more power. With the brief exception of the emergency measures taken in the wake of the financial crisis of 2007-08, there have been no moves to renationalise industries or to resume a policy of picking winners. Thanks to her, the centre of gravity of British politics moved dramatically to the right. The New Labourites of the 1990s concluded that they could rescue the Labour Party from ruin only by adopting the central tenets of Thatcherism. "The presumption should be that economic activity is best left to the private sector," declared Mr Blair. Neither he nor his successors would dream of reverting to the days of nationalisation and unfettered union power.

On the world stage, too, Mrs Thatcher continues to cast a long shadow. Her combination of ideological certainty and global prominence ensured that Britain played a role in the collapse of the Soviet Union that was disproportionate to its weight in the world. Mrs Thatcher was the first British politician since Winston Churchill to be taken seriously by the leaders of all the major powers. She was a heroine to opposition politicians in eastern Europe. Her willingness to stand shoulder to shoulder with "dear Ronnie" to block Soviet expansionism helped to promote new thinking in the Kremlin. But her insistence that Michael Gorbachev was a man with whom the West could do business also helped to end the cold war.

The post-communist countries embraced her revolution heartily: by 1996 Russia had privatised some 18,000 industrial enterprises. India dismantled the licence Raj-a legacy of British Fabianism-and unleashed a cavalcade of successful companies. Across Latin America governments embraced market liberalisation. Whether they managed well or badly, all of them looked to the British example.

But today, the pendulum is swinging dangerously away from the principles Mrs Thatcher espoused. In most of the rich world, the state's share of the economy has grown sharply in recent
years. Regulations-excessive, as well as necessary-are tying up the private sector. Businessmen are under scrutiny as they have not been for 30 years. Demonstrators protest against the very existence of the banking industry. And with the rise of China, state control, not economic liberalism, is being hailed as a model for emerging countries.

For a world in desperate need of growth, this is the wrong direction to head in. Europe will never thrive until it frees up its markets. America will throttle its recovery unless it avoids over-regulation. China will not sustain its success unless it starts to liberalise. This is a crucial time to hang on to Margaret Thatcher's central perception-that for countries to flourish, people need to push back against the advance of the state. What the world needs now is more Thatcherism, not less.

William Kristol, Apr 8, 2013

And now the last of them is gone. Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and Pope John Paul II—three who won the Cold War and, it isn't too much to say, saved the West (at least for a while!)—are no longer with us. Their examples remain.

They knew what they believed but also knew they had to justify their beliefs, and that one could adjust prudently to circumstances without yielding on principle. They stood firm when in power, and they took risks to get there, challenging the conventional wisdom and the respective establishments of their nations or institutions. They were conservative but not nostalgic, and would counsel us today against excessive nostalgia for their deeds and their days. They would rather, I suspect, urge that we act in their spirit—what one might call a spirit of unapologetic but reformist conservatism.

Whittaker Chambers wrote at the end of his last letter to Bill Buckley, “Each age finds its own language for an eternal meaning.” So each age has to find its own leaders for an eternal task—the defense and renewal of civilization. The death of Margaret Thatcher is a healthy reminder to students of politics of the difficulty, the gravity, and also the nobility of this task.