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What is on Your Desk?

Monday, December 26th, 2011

Time for a bit of lighthearted, blogging fun.

I spend a lot of time reading and writing and I do so primarily within a specific environment – my home office. The space reflects the man, to some degree.

Surveying my office space here at home, I noticed that my desk has begun, like a coral reef, to accrete various objects, oddments and curious like a layer of bric-a-brac sediment. ¬†Some objects change, others stay forever. ¬†Exclusive of papers, books, printers and a computer, here’s what my desk holds:

  • 1 lamp
  • 6 photographs of family and friends
  • Stapler
  • Cup of pencils and ball points
  • Two modestly priced non-disposable writing pens
  • One expensive, handmade, writing pen in case
  • A handmade, blue ceramic, pinchpot made by my Eldest in kindergarten (it holds some krazyglue and a metal skull keychain fob)
  • Two Challenge Coins from the US Army War College and Small Wars Journal
  • A Doctor Octopus figurine my son is now too old to play with (I like the mechanical arms)
  • A ceramic coaster made by aforementioned Boy in pre-school with his handprint
  • A brass dagger letter opener (Shiny!)
  • A case of CD-ROMs of a very large comic book collection (graciously sent to me by Eddie Beaver for the Boy)
  • A battered WWI French Army helmet
  • A candle holder with a picture of my Eldest when she was approximately three or four
  • A nondescript, lidless box holding post-it notes, business cards collected from various people, phone numbers on paper scraps, paper clips, spare ear buds and headsets for iPods/iPads
  • One small ceramic seal figurine (origin unknown, think it was left here years ago by my Eldest)

I am officially “tagging” the following bloggers to describe what is on their desks in the same fashion – they may, if they wish, inflict this post on a new group of victims:

Lexington Green
J. Scott Shipman
Charles Cameron
Dave Dilegge
Joseph Fouche
Adam Elkus
Shane Deichman
Lewis Shepherd
Carl Prine
Crispin Burke
Dave Schuler
Cheryl Rofer
Shlok Vaidya
Steven Pressfield
Doctrine Man
Sean Meade
The Meatballs

Readers are invited to list their strangest or most beloved desk object in the comment section. Have at it!


Hmmm…it appears that some may be doubting the authenticity of some of my claims….I never bluff ūüėČ

Pressfield and Instapundit

Friday, August 19th, 2011

One of the blogosphere’s few¬†true 800 lb gorillas, Professor Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit fame, interviews best selling novelist Steven Pressfield:


For one thing, I hadn’t realized Reynolds does short,¬†Larry King-style vignettes. Considering that the MSM and the social media¬†crowd have been going around the last few years saying “blogging is¬†dead”, bloggers who can roll out professional quality television type productions without anyone batting an eye testifies to the durability of the medium.

Secondly, Steve probably sold more books with an Instapundit appearance than any other media venue, with the possible exception of a NYT book review.

The Debate over the Influence and Extent of “Realism”

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

 Kudos to Dan Trombly of Fear, Honor and Interest. Why?

First, for drawing attention to the debate between Dan Drezner and Anne-Marie Slaughter over, hmm, “Real-world Realism” in American¬†foreign policy:

Dan DreznerMeet the new foreign policy frontier…. same as the old foreign policy frontier

….Well, this is… this is… I’m sorry, I got lost among the ridiculously tall strawmen populating these paragraphs.¬†¬† I’ll go out on a limb and posit that not even Henry Kissinger thinks of the world the way Slaughter describes it.¬† Just a quick glance at, say, Hillary Clinton’s¬†recent speech in Hong Kong suggests that actual great power foreign policies bear no resemblance whatsoever to that description of “traditional foreign policy.”¬†

Slaughter knows this very well, given that she was Clinton’s first director of policy planning.¬† She also knows this because much of her writing in international relations is about the ways in which traditional governments are becoming more networked and adaptive to emergent foreign policy concerns.¬†¬†

Rebuttal time…..

Anne-Marie SlaughterThe Debate Is On! A Response to Dan Drezner

….I’ll take that bet. I think it’s exactly how Henry Kissinger still thinks of the world. Indeed, he has just published a book on China — of course, because from the traditional realist perspective China is by far the most important foreign policy issue in the 20th century, as it is the only possible military and economic competitor to the United States. Hence, as realists/traditionalists never tire of repeating, the U.S.-China relationship is the most important global relationship of the 21st century: what matters most is ensuring that as both nations pursue their power-based interests they do not collide catastrophically. Never mind that an avian flu virus that is both fatal and aerosol-borne arising anywhere in Asia could do far¬†more damage to global security and the economy than China ever could — just see the forthcoming movie Contagion.

The second reason for giving Mr. Trombly props is that his excellent post in response to the above was a lot more interesting and substantive than their pleasantly jocular and Friedmanesque exchange:

Old School realism and the problem of society

….Waltz cares about states because states, in the time periods he examines, are the primary bearers of¬†power. Power, not the state, is likely the more long-standing differentiation between the liberal/idealist and realist schools of international affairs. Realists generally care more about who has power, and particularly coercive power, because in the realist view, it is the power to control – not to collaborate, connect, or convince – which is the final arbiter and source of other forms of ¬†socio-political-economic behavior.

For most of the history of thinkers identified with realism, the state did not exist, nor did the conception of the state as a unitary actor. Thucydides, long identified as one of the fathers of Western realism, was not a Waltzian structural realist in the slightest. As most early realists did, he cited the origins of political behavior in irrational and rational drives, which originate in the hearts and minds of men. There were no states in Thucydides’s day, but city-states, empires, and various other forms of political organization which did not survive to the present day. Thus one had to be quite conscious not just of particular parties and factions, but even individuals, who, in a¬†polis¬†such as Athens could completely upturn the designs of the Athenian state. In his description of the varying governments and systems of organization at play, Thuycdides actually shows a keen awareness of how regime types and the social composition can influence international politics, but only insofar as it involves the exercise of power. The exchange of goods, culture, and ideas matters far less to him. Slaughter does offhand mention that an Avian flu could kill far more than a war and be more likely. Interestingly enough, the plague of Athens does play an important role in Thucydides’s history

….This pessimism about the dangers of those lacking political virtue, or restraint of their passions, from acquiring power colors, in one way or another, much of the subsequent 2,500 years of realist thought. Ultimately, the interactions and aims of the various interest groups that Slaughter describes, and Drezner dismissed, are not necessarily prescriptively ignored but the subjects of active disdain, fear, and scorn

Much to like in this fairly lengthy post, which  I recommend you read in full.

Now for my two cents.

First, as a factual matter, it would not be hard to establish that Dr. Slaughter is correct and Dr. Drezner is not that Henry Kissinger does think like that. He most certainly did while he was in power, as is amply recorded in the National Archives, Kissinger’s memoirs and secondary works by historians and biographers who made Kissinger their subject. To all appearances, Brent Scowcroft, Kissinger’s protege thinks the same way, as did Kissinger’s master, Richard Nixon, whose private remarks regarding the unimportance of ephemeral actors to geopolitics were brutal. The UN, for example, Nixon dismissed as a place for “just gassing around” and Nixon was happy to use the UN (and George Bush the Elder) as unwitting props in his China Opening.

Policy makers do not think like IR academics do, even when they are IR academics like Dr. Slaughter or Dr. Kissinger. They don’t have the time or luxury of remove from events.¬†The cool, detached,¬†analytical, Harvard intellectual who wrote Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy became the emotive, egoistic, domineering, slightly hysterical,¬†bureaucratic operator and diplomatic tactician as National Security Adviser. I suspect a¬†six days a week,¬†sixteen hour days of crisis management culture as Policy Planning Director at State likewise tempered Slaughter’s time for theorizing speculations.

That said,¬†there is some room present¬†for Dr. Drezner’s skepticism and¬†Mr. Trombly’s “active disdain, fear and scorn”of non-state actors (which I think is a spot on gestalt of the Metternich-worshipping Henry the K).

The state as an organization of coercion and defense is unrivaled in human history by any other political form except the tribe. The state is fine-tuned to be a beast of prey and¬†open challeges to the state, in all it’s panolpy of might, without a long preparatory period of eroding it’s legitimacy and attriting it’s will to power,¬†seldom turn out well unless the challenger is another state. Non-state actors who challenge state authority¬†tend to survive and thrive initially only¬†by being elusive, deceptive,¬†adaptive, faster and by inflicting moral¬†defeats until they accumulate enough armed power to co-opt, thwart, deter or topple the state by force. This requires the challenger engaging the state in such a way that it habitually reacts with excessive¬†restraint punctuated by poorly directed outbursts of morally discrediting excessive¬†violence ( see Boyd’s OODA Loop)

When non-state actor challengers gain sufficient political¬†momentum and break into a full-fledged armed insurgency, a dangerous tipping point has been reached because insurgencies are¬†generally very¬†difficult, expensive¬†and¬†bloody to put down, often representing a much larger pool of¬†passive political discontent. The advantage begins to turn to the challenger because the mere existence of the insurgency is itself an indictment of the state’s competence, authority and legitimacy. Some states never manage to regain the initiative, slipping into state failure and co-existing with the insurgency for decades or being ignominously defeated.

We live in an era of state decline, or at least¬†an era of¬†erosion of the state’s willingness to use force in self-defense with the unconstrained savagery of a William Tecumseh Sherman or a Curtis LeMay.¬†While overall, the zeitgeist favors the non-state actor, challenging the state¬†a much harder trick when¬†it is ruled by a charismatic¬†sociopath, an authoritarian lunatic¬†or when the machinery of security¬†is organized on the basis of¬†extreme and homicidal¬†paranoia. Very little political “room” exists in such circumstances for non-state actors of any size to emerge because the state has used¬†terror to atomize society and dissolve natural bonds of social trust; dissidents, if they are to be effective,¬†often must¬†rely upon external support and patronage.

This is not to say that the power Dr. Slaughter commends, to “collaborate and connect” is unimportant. Far from it, as it represents a very formidible long term threat to the omnipotence of states by permitting a highly networked and wealthy global civil society to self-organize to check their power. At the inception though, “collaboration and connection” is very fragile and vulnerable to state interdiction. Representing oneself as a political challenge to the state before power is acquired to any significant degree is unwise; if empowering civil society in tyrannies¬†through “collaboration and connection” is the goal of the USG, it ought to be done under the radar with plausible pretexts and without an obvious affiliation to American sponsorship.

That would only be…..realistic.

New Look at SWJ Blog

Saturday, August 6th, 2011


Congrats to Dave Dilegge, Bill Nagle, Robert Haddick and Mike Few for the bold new look at Small Wars Journal, stil the best site for military and national security affairs on the web!

Users will now need to create an account or, if they are active on the Small Wars Council, there are instructions for resetting your password. Don’t get left out of the discussion.

Here is more from Dave and/or the Editors:

Welcome to SWJ 2.0

…. Site Sections

We are live now with the SWJ Blog and Journal. All posts, articles, and user comments have been migrated into our new system. You can still find feeds of recent activity on our Home page, more recent activity on the main pages of the SWJ Blog and Journal sections.

The Journal and SWJ Blog are now separate features instead of a cross-threaded stream. Search is site-wide and the home page gives a cross-site view, but the archives views within the SWJ Blog and Journal sections are section-specific. We will be evolving out publishing over the next few months to place more commentary and Op-Ed in the SWJ Blog, and the analytical and/or feature length works in the Journal.

The Library section as it exists now is a shadow of its former relevance but a placeholder for future greatness.¬† We brought the old Reading List and Reference Links pages into the library are outdated and full of dead links, yet they are not completely useless so we didn’t completely destroy them. More below on future changes there.

Almost There Items

All the existing SWJ content has been migrated, but it will take us some time to get some of it out of its legacy format and into the new system.

  • The new system has much better support for guest author bylines and author archives. Over time, we’ll move the author’s byline, bio, etc. in the old content out of the article out of the body content and into the new system. We will reach out to past authors soon to provide info on how to submit any updates you want to provide.
  • The new system will support us publishing Journal Articles fully in-the-system rather than as PDF links. We hope to be doing that within a few weeks. Readers will have the option of generating print-optimized or PDF versions on-the-fly, content will be more searchable, and we’ll be able to offer full length Journal Articles via a Kindle feed. We are not sure how far back into the legacy articles we’ll update things, but we should be rid of PDFs for future articles.
  • We will continue to publish Journal Issues as a PDF.¬† Our new Journal Issues feature an automatic index of the month’s individual articles, plus the cover, table of contents, and download link for the PDF Journal when it exists for a given month.¬† The index portion is live now, and we should have the PDFs added within a week or so.¬† We hope to bring more features into future Journal Issues.
  • The way-back issues of the Journal (2005-2007) are only available here for now, and the articles are only in the PDF.¬† We will eventually get those articles into the system as individual articles and a complete issue.
  • Of course there are tons of little things that need doing for your usability and our efficiency. Kai zen, and all that.

Coming (Soon?)

As we move in and clean up in our new site, we’ll also be taking advantage of new features.¬† Look for these developments in the future:

  • We will have a new content section on Latin America where we integrate content published here and from all over. We have a lot of talented people signing on for the effort and we are very excited about this new feature on a hugely important topic.
  • In the next few months we will be changing the way we publish the News, moving from the blog-based Roundup to a more effective and user friendly display. We know that feature is very popular, and we’ll do you justice with it while making it something that is more sustainable for us.
  • Library 2.0 is coming. Instead of updating our dusty old flat files, we’ll be moving the Library into a system that allows for mutliple views, tagging, search, your comments and ratings, editors picks, etc.¬† That will be rolled out with new News section, and will continue to grow as we do.

New Blog: Fear, Honor, and Interest

Friday, June 24th, 2011

Fear, Honor, and Interest, judging by the list of contributors, has the potential to be a vibrant group blog. Preemptively endorsed.

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