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The thing about a carrier strike group and John Bolton

Friday, May 10th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — strategy / metacognition — here’s an easy to feel, hard to conceptualize notion: the threat to Iran is a human+carrier-group threat, not just a carrier-group threat, okay? ]
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The U.S. Navy’s Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group includes guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf, and missile destroyers USS Bainbridge, USS Gonzalez, USS Mason and USS Nitze. Photo by MCS3 Stephen Doyle

As the son of a captain RN, I can’t resist images like this:

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Aside:

Let me start by noting that MSNBC’s Richard Engel today mentioned that North Korea expresses varying levels of frustration by exploding underground nukes when “really, really angry” — and then in descending order firing off ICBMs and then short-range missiles — the stage we’re at this week, indicating “moderate displeasure — but why? — And Engel suggests the Kim regime is signalling that it “wants to get back to the bargaining table”..

So the firing of missiles, albeit into the Sea of Japan, an act of aggression on the face of it, and plausibly a bit of a threat — an example of “saber-rattling”, as Engel goes on to say — can carry a message of tghe wish to negotiate, if not for actual reconciliation.

I mention this merely to indicate that threat — along with such related categories as exercise, deployment, war-game, &c — is a polyvalent matter.

But that’s just to open our minds to the matter of The thing about a carrier strike group and John Bolton…

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Main point:

John Bolton just announced that the USS Abraham Lincoln was hastening to the Persian Gulf “to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”

That’s a threat.

Presumably, as far as Bolton is concerned, the threat in this case is the Lincoln strike group and accompanying bomber wing — the deployment of massive lethal force.

I don’t think that’s the threat — or to put it another way, I think that’s only half the threat, or more precisely, it’s y in the threat xy.

What I’m getting at is on the one hand patently obvious, and on the other, conceptually difficult to handle: that the threat is in fact John Bolton force-multiplying the carrier strike group..

John Bolton is a hawkish hawk — Trump himself said today with a laugh that he’s the one who has to “tempers” Bolton, rather than the other way around — Bolton, if I may say so, is somewhere between a rattling saber and a loose cannon. He may be in complete control of himself, full of sound and fury purely for effect, and far more cautious in purpose and action than he lets on. But his hawkishness is unpredictable, and it’s that unpredictable bellicosity — multiplied by the lethality of the carrier group — that constitutes the real thread.

It’s easy to feel that, particularly if you’re an Iranian honcho — but not so easy to think about it or discuss it strategically, because there’s no such conceptual category as a human-warforce hybrid.

We need that category.

Because the threat to Iran is a human-warship threat, not just a warship threat. And when the human is John Bolton — watch out!

Concerning the Future — black swans & white

Sunday, September 25th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — in concern, yes — and hope ]
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timeline-with-swans-sm

I know which I’d choose — but I can’t speak for the powers that be (Ephesians 6.12 included).

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Here’s a paragraph from David Barno and Nora Bensahel, The Future of the Army: Today, Tomorrow, and the Day After Tomorrow:

Some future developments can be predicted, but others will be unexpected and unforeseen. “Black swans” —- unpredictable events with very serious consequences — will be as inevitable then as they have been in the past.105 In 2000, for example, no analyst could have possibly foreseen all of today’s disparate security challenges—the 9/11 attacks, the rise of al-Qaeda and ISIS, a resurgent Russia annexing Crimea and threatening neighbors with force, and China building artificial islands in the South China Sea from which to project power, among others. Unpredicted and unpredictable events will indubitably disrupt sober defense planning and could shift US defense priorities in an instant — especially if there were a nuclear exchange overseas or if a weapon of mass destruction were used against the homeland.

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I’m somewhat sceptical of the polling methodology used by the Lincoln Leadership Initiative to generate these conclusions reported by The Hill:

Among those who say they will vote for Trump, 48 percent say he’ll create a database to track Muslims? 36 percent say there will be race riots? 33 percent say the government would default on its debt? and 32 percent say Trump would punish his political opponents and authorize internment camps for illegal immigrants.

Only 22 percent of Trump supporters believe he will start a nuclear war.

Whatever the reliability of the poll — and I’ve asked — it seems clear that at least some potential voters believe Donald Trump, if elected president, might use nuclear weapons, perhaps in the fight against ISIS.

I’d call the database, the race riots and the debt default that Barno and Bensahel mentiom black cygnets at best, but the prospect of nuclear war almost qualifies IMO as a full-on black swan — and I’d refer you back to the final sentence of the Barno-Bensahel quote above:

Unpredicted and unpredictable events will indubitably disrupt sober defense planning and could shift US defense priorities in an instant — especially if there were a nuclear exchange overseas or if a weapon of mass destruction were used against the homeland.

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Barno-Bensahel sat they would consider a nuclear exchange a black swan in their chapter on 2020-2035, whereas Trump’s first term, if he were to be elected president, would barely touch the beginning o0f that range — so that particular black swan, if it is one, might conceivably occur quite soon.

But note that word “conceivable” — a true black swan, to my way of thinking, would be something that hadn’t even occurred as a possibility to forward thinking folks like David Barno — indeed not even, with all due respect, to John Robb.

And Barno-Bensahel predict out to 2040.

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My own predictive vision as a student of wisdom literature and propecies of various kinds shows me the following timeline:

timeline-with-swans

It goes without saying that I could be wrong — a whiter shade of swan might make all the difference.

Better angels, honest selves

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — two phrases, two anthropologies, two ways of virtue — Lincoln & Trump ]
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SPEC DQ Lincoln Sharlet Trump

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Jeff Sharlet is one of our finer writers about religion, and his piece on Donald Trump in Saturday’s NYT Magazine is worth your attention.

Here, I simply want to contrast Lincoln‘s “better angels of our nature” with Sharlet‘s “lust, the envy, the anger of our more honest selves” — idealism and realism? sanctity and authenticity? — as phrases representing two approaches to human nature, each clearly enunciating a virtue in its own context.

Sources:

  • Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address
  • Jeff Sharlet, Donald Trump, American Preacher

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