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War on the Rocks: A New Nixon Doctrine – Strategy for a Polycentric World

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

I have a new piece up at the excellent War on the Rocks site that is oriented towards both history and contemporary policy Some Excerpts:

A New Nixon Doctrine: Strategy for a Polycentric World

….Asia was only the starting point; the Nixon doctrine continued to evolve in subsequent years into a paradigm for the administration to globally leverage American power, one that, as Chad Pillai explained in his recent War on the Rocks article, still remains very relevant today. Avoiding future Vietnams remained the first priority when President Nixon elaborated on the Nixon Doctrine to the American public in a televised address about the war the following October, but the Nixon Doctrine was rooted in Nixon’s assumptions about larger, fundamental, geopolitical shifts underway that he had begun to explore in print and private talks before running for president. In a secret speech at Bohemian Grove in 1967 that greatly bolstered his presidential prospects, Nixon warned America’s political and business elite that the postwar world as they knew it was irrevocably coming to an end [....]

….China was a strategic lodestone for Richard Nixon’s vision of a reordered world under American leadership, which culminated in Nixon’s historic visit to Peking and toasts with Mao ZeDong and Zhou En-lai. In the aftermath of this diplomatic triumph, a town hall meeting on national security policy was sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute that featured the Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird squaring off with future Nobel-laureate, strategist and administration critic Thomas Schelling over the Nixon Doctrine and the meaning of “polycentrism” in American foreign policy. Laird was concerned with enunciating the implications of the Nixon doctrine as an operative principle for American foreign policy, taking advantage of the glow of a major success for the administration. Schelling, by contrast, was eager to turn the discussion away from China to the unresolved problem of the Vietnam war, even when he elucidated on the Nixon doctrine’s strategic importance. [....]

….What lessons can we draw from the rise of the Nixon Doctrine?

First, as in Nixon’s time, America is again painfully extricating itself from badly managed wars that neither the public nor the leaders in two administrations who are responsible for our defeat are keen to admit were lost. Nixon accepted defeat strategically, but continued to try to conceal it politically (“Vietnamization,” “Peace with Honor,” etc). What happened in Indochina in 1975 with the fall of Saigon is being repeated in Iraq right now, after a fashion. It will also be repeated in Afghanistan, and there it might be worse than present-day Iraq. [....]

Read the article in its entirety here.

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Happy Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

[ from the crew at Zenpundit via Charles Cameron ]
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Blog-friend Michael Robinson emailed me yesterday to let me know that the (US) National Archives have now posted all their Thanksgiving films — many taken abroad in war zones — and suggested Zenpundit’s readers might enjoy one or more of them.

This first clip from 1930 is almost more of an online education than I need, but if my tech skillz are sufficient it should be followed by others from the same archive — several clips in the series showing wartime Thanksgivings during WWII, in Vietnam and elsewhere.

My 70th birthday fell yesterday, so that first clip would have been shot a dozen years before I was born: time flies. As a Brit, I didn’t run acrsss Thanksgiving until I was in India of all places, decades later — and this evening I’ll be celebrating it here in California with my boys.

So before I go spruce myself up for the event, I’d like to wish a Happy Thanksgiving — and Chag Sameach — as appropriate, to all our ZP readers.

And thanks, Michael, for the suggestion!

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For joy and sorrow: DoubleQuotes in the Wild

Friday, September 6th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- without access to joy, how shall we carry the burdens of despair? ]
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via Bill Murray likes

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DoubleQuotes are juxtapositions that have a powerful impact. Our minds and hearts are drawn naturally to seeing parallels and contradictions, making comparisons between ideas and creative leaps from one idea to another, and since this is a very basic human cognitive ability, I’ve developed my own DoubleQuotes format for presenting striking juxtapositions, and use it frequently in my posts here at Zenpundit. But I also collect strong examples of such juxtapositions when others make them, and call them DoubleQuotes in the Wild.

Today, I’d like to double up on my wild DoubleQuotes, and having offered you Jimi Hendrix (graffito juxtaposed with tree, above) to bring you joy, now offer you the poignant example from a Serbian Orthodox monk (Aleppo, Syria, then and now, below) to bring you sorrow:

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Music, munitions — we may think them unequal combatants, yet as von Clausewitz puts it:

One might say that the physical seem little more than the wooden hilt, while the moral factors are the precious metal, the real weapon, the finely-honed blade.

– or in somewhat more recent terms, as Michael Herr noted in his book Dispatches:

Whenever one of us came back from an R&R we’d bring records, sounds were as precious as water: Hendrix, the Airplane, Frank Zappa and the Mothers, all the things that hadn’t even started when we’d left the States.

sounds … as precious as water

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American Caesar — a reread after 30 years

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

[by J. Scott Shipman]

American Caesar, Douglas MacArthur 188-1964, by William Manchester

Often on weekends my wife allows me to tag along as she takes in area estate sales. She’s interested in vintage furniture, and I hope for a decent collection of books. A sale we visited a couple months ago had very few books, but of those few was a hardback copy of American Caesar. I purchased the copy for $1 and mentioned to my wife, “I’ll get to this again someday…” as I’d first read Manchester’s classic biography of General Douglas MacArthur in the early 1980′s while stationed on my first submarine. “Someday” started on the car ride home (she was driving), and I must admit: American Caesar was even better thirty years later. Manchester is a masterful biographer, and equal to the task of such a larger-than-life subject.

MacArthur still evokes passion among admirers and detractors. One take-away from the second reading was just how well-read MacArthur and his father were. When MacArthur the elder died, he left over 4,000 books in his library—both seemed to possess an encyclopedic knowledge of history and warfare. Highly recommended.

PS: I visited the MacArthur Memorial, in Norfolk, Virginia, recently while in town for business and would recommend as well.

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Manhunt: religion and the director’s eye

Saturday, June 8th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- with an assist from Wm Benzon, under-appreciated and brilliant film and literary critic, musician, author of Beethoven's Anvil ]
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Screen-time is valuable: movie directors don’t just throw it away.

Here are screen-grabs of two moments in Greg Barker‘s HBO bin Laden documentary, Manhunt, offered for your consideration:

and:

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As you know from my review of Battle of Algiers (Pontecorvo) and Black Friday (Kashyap), I’m a film buff.

Screen time is the life-time of story: every second counts. And thus it is that if a director uses the same shot with variations at two or more points in a movie, they don’t just follow along, the way the elements in the narrative through-line follow along, one after another — they stack up. They “mean” cumulatively, synchronically…

Putting that in musical terms, they take on the function of rhythm rather than melody — and it is rhythm that can make the body dance, just as it is melody that can make the heart soar.

So, this repetition, this striking parallelism — why?

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Here’s my friend Bill Benzon, writing about the use of parallelism in Apocalypse Now:

The Assassin and the Surfer

Now for the less obvious parallel: Willard and Lance, the only member of the boat crew to survive. One can’t miss the parallel killings nor Willard’s statement of kinship with Kurtz. This parallelism, on the other hand, is easy to miss. That is to say, it may well elude conscious notice. Unconscious notice, on the other hand … Well, what is that?

Here’s three frame-grabs that point up the parallel. The first is from the opening montage of Willard in Saigon just before he gets his orders:


Montage AN 19 martial arts

The second shot comes much later in the film. Clean has been killed (bullet), then the Chief (spear). Lance is the one who floated the Chief’s body down the river. Now they’re heading upriver toward Kurtz again, with Lance in the bow of the boat:


AN Lance dance1

He’s doing a martial arts dance. Not the same one as Willard did in the opening montage, but a martial arts dance. No one else in the film does such a thing. Clean does some dance moves while listening to the Rolling Stones, but they’re in an entirely different style; faster, jerkier, more angular.

Finally, we have this scene in Kurtz’s compound. Willard’s in the foreground, and Lance is in the background:


AN Lance dance2

One might suggest that this parallel is a mere accident, one might. And perhaps it is. In cases like this, however, my default assumption is that it is not an accident. It may not be there by conscious intent and deliberate plan; but it is not there by accident. The people who made this movie are too skilled to do such things inadvertently.

That final remark of Benzon’s makes exactly the point I was hoping to make here, before commenting on those two screen-grabs from Manhunt:

The people who made this movie are too skilled to do such things inadvertently.

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There’s actually a third shot in Manhunt with a view of a dangling rear-view-mirror ornament — let’s take a look:

This one’s from the van Peter Bergen and his cameraman, Peter Jouvenal, took in the docu’s re-enactment / flashback to their CNN interview with bin Laden, back in 1997. I don’t think this one is a rosary-like thing though it might be — I think it’s just the sort of tassel decoration you’ll find on saddle-bags, or decorating a camel or a car in Afghanistan.

The other two, however, seem clearly religious, both of them are shots of the cars in which American counter-terrorist folks would have gone to work during their efforts to track down bin Laden — and I find it significant that one features a (Christian) cross while the other very likely shows (Muslim) prayer-beads.

I say “very likely” because the beads could be (secular, Greek) worry-beads — but they look more like a tasbih to me. And why would that be interesting — why would a film-maker be interested in such a parallelism?

Besides the fact that these shots allow voice over and show us the various folk involved going to work, they specifically point up the fact that those working to defeat bin Laden were not all kuffar but included Ali Soufan of the FBI and “Roger” — the fellow described by Greg Miller in this March 2012 piece in WaPo, At CIA, a convert to Islam leads the terrorism hunt.

Am In right? I don’t know. But the subliminal message, if I am, is that the manhunt for bin Laden was indeed not a “Crusaders against Islam” affair.

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May I recommend Wm. Benzon’s Beethoven’s Anvil to all who read here who have an interest in cognition and / or music?

For more on parallelism in cinema, see David Bordwell, Julie, Julia, & the house that talked, to which Benson also pointed me.

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