zenpundit.com » Swedish Meatballs Confidential

Archive for the ‘Swedish Meatballs Confidential’ Category

The East Rising

Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

Gifts from a generous Meatball:


Hardcovers too. Nice.

The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers by Richard McGregor

Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power by Robert D. Kaplan

I have already dived a few chapters into the McGregor book and it is very good. What makes it good is that is running counter to the message of the herd in terms of popular Sinology, which is to emphasize that China is a) uniquely Chinese with deeply introspective Confucian civilizational traditions (that’s modern PC-speak for “inscrutable”) and b) the brave new world of liberal, globalized, capitalism with a benign technocratic face.

Now there’s important truths in both of the popular mass messages on China, incompatible as they can be with one another. The economic rise of China in a globalized economy is the most important story of the last quarter of the 20th century and the first quarter of the 21st ( collapse of the USSR is second; the Soviets were beaten before they imploded and imploded largely because they knew they were beaten). China is also not like America, not even when they imported stock options, blue jeans, McDonald’s and the American jobs that used to create all those things. China’s civilization is truly of a dizzying depth, complexity and scale that is best compared to Europe rather than a specific country. That in itself, is important because it points to how ignorant the average American policy maker is, never mind the average American, about what makes their Chinese counterpart tick.

[ Sidebar: Perhaps the Obama administration assembling a new senior “China/East Asia” diplomatic and national security team that does not include a single official with any professional knowledge of China was unwise? How is that better than the Bush II administration shunning Arabists during the run up to and occupation of Iraq? It is not that these diplomats and officers are poor, they are smart and experienced, but none of them are China specialists. Or Japan specialists, for that matter and only one has expertise in Korean affairs. These are the region’s great powers! This is like turning EU/NATO policy over to diplomats who speak Hindi and Swahili ]

What McGregor is doing in The Party that is important is reminding Westerners that the Soviet experience, particularly the Leninist Party model, is still deeply embedded in China’s political DNA. Not in an ideologically Marxist, Khrushchevian, shoe-pounding sense but in a functional sense. In a structural sense. In an instrumental governance sense. In a networking theory sense. And all these characteristics, which are largely innately hostile or indifferent to the values of liberal democracy, continue to shape Chinese policy, leadership succession, national security, defense strategy and geopolitical outlook to this day.

That doesn’t mean China is itching for a war with the United States, but it means they are playing a longitudinal strategic game where the first goal is to stay in power forever and the next is to advance one’s position relative to others.

We are the other.

China is not an enemy but she is no friend or ally of the United States either, yet it is the most important relationship the US has to manage for the next thirty years – and that relationship in a strategic context with rising India, Japan, South Korea and Australia.

It might help if America brought a team to the table that included people who could tell Han Fei Tzu from Mencius or spoke Chinese.

The World According to Meatballs

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

I have been remiss in linking but the off-color psyops analysts at Swedish Meatballs Confidential are back to posting again.

Where o’ where are the Imperating Kents though ?

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007


Swedish Meatballs Confidential:

“If we are to take the idea and actions of the Long War seriously then we must immediately come to terms with the full spectrum of consequences of our nation engaged in COIN everywhere and always. For this, only IO against self can provide us the slightest of chances for persevering without being sundered from within by the trauma of old school losses coming back to gnaw at a Will reared on the decisive and temporally compartmentalized wins of the history books that have reared us. Otherwise we would do best in working for outlooks and solutions beyond the framework of the Long War. However, such choices are perhaps best left for consideration by more driven and invested minds.

So what do you say, Bernays – any hidden costs? Is this where democracy ends or perhaps where democracy only truly can begin?”

Matt at MountainRunner:

“The answer: Yes and no to both. In part, Smith-Mundt is a response to Bernays’ activities thirty-five years earlier. During the massive restructuring of the United States to counter the emerging ideological threat coming from all angles (remember the National Security Act of 1947 was passed during the two years of debate on Smith-Mundt), Smith-Mundt was to protect democracy, not from itself but from the outside. Protection inside was mainly for the broadcasters, which Benton vigorously and successfully courted the broadcasters and continued to do so afterward its passage in a period of increasingly rapid (relatively) news cycles and accessibility.

The Swede is right, something significant needs to be done with Smith-Mundt, but attempts at an outright dismissal will be met by a swift and emotional counter-reaction. What is necessary is a conversation on the topic to understand its purpose and intent. “


A few days ago, I discussed H-Diplo (a Listserv) as weaker platform than a blog, despite the past richness as a community of interest ( some folks feel the time of H-Net is long over). Today, I featured an H-Diplo roundtable that could only be most easily put together by a high-powered community of vertical-thinking experts. That is a listserv operating at it’s best, showcasing an exchange of real scholarly depth and nuance.

Nevertheless, the exchange that just occurred between SMC and Matt would never have happened on a moderated forum like H-Diplo. Too cross-disciplinary. Too idiosyncratic. Too controversial. Too much a square peg in the round hole. Too…too…undisciplinary!

Either platform serves a purpose but one is fading and the other is rising.

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007


The enigmatic M-1 of the lively IO/PSYOPS blog Swedish Meatballs Confidential graced the comment section of the previous post and posed an excellent question:

“Q: Can there per definition exist legitimate* 4GW entities? If so, could you please, at your convenience,name any number of them.”

I can attest, from some years of studying diplomatic history, that “Legitimacy” in international relations is a lot like obscenity – hard to define but everybody knows it when they see it. The problem is that scholars, diplomats, jurists and intellectuals tend to see legitimacy most clearly when it happens to accord with their own interests.

For example, Neo-Realist IR theorists, Islamists, Marxist-Leninists, Burkean Conservatives, Lockean classical liberals and Liberal Internationalists will all construct arguments that appeal to the legitimacy, or argue the lack thereof, in certain regimes or institutions. Their premises differ as to the origin of legitimacy but the concept itself is regarded as sound across a wide political spectrum – excepting perhaps the fringe of Gramiscian -postmodernist-deconstructionistic radicals, whose tireless efforts to de-legitimize and dismiss nearly everything in the Western intellectual tradition only emphasizes the importance they really attach to legitimacy (At this point, I’d like to invite Dr. Daniel Nexon of The Duck of Minerva to add anything on academic perceptions of legitimacy, disagree with me or generally put in his well-informed two cents).

That being said, as average people are not afflicted with the abstruse theories of intellectuals, I think the Lockean concept of “consent of the governed” is most useful here in addressing M-1’s question. Most people stuck in a conflict zone are going to be pragmatists, interested in the restoration of peace on the best terms possible for themselves. It is for their affinity that the 4GW game is played.

Consent does not require democratic elections. Elections make popular consent visible, quantified and, where society operates under the rule of law, elections are a regular, contractual, but temporary grant of authority from the people to their government. Authority can also be granted implicitly by consensual, popular, deference as with homage given to Shiite maarjas, the King of Thailand, the Pope, the Emperor of Japan and the Supreme Court of the United States, whose powerful judicial role is formidibly augmented by the widespread acceptance of it’s moral authority as the legitimate arbiter of the meaning of the Constitution.

4GW entities, like states, can acquire ( and lose) moral authority and thus, political legitimacy, through their actions. We may not find this to be logical or objectively factual when Hezbollah or al Qaida are measured against a theoretical ideal. That however, is irrelevant to most the audience in the conflict zone. What matters is what you are measuring the 4GW entity against in the real world. A corrupt, incompetent, oligarchy? A vibrant, prosperous, liberal democracy? A constitutional monarchy backed by long tradition? A Communist regime? A hated dictator ? A foreign army? What ?

Much like time, legitimacy is entirely relative. The people might yearn for steak but if one side is providing nothing but crumbs and the other promises chicken – and can come across with a drumstick now and again – the side with the chicken wins.


Soob weighs in as well with an appropriately timed taxonomy.

Switch to our mobile site