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Recommended Reading

Top Billing! Bruno Behrend –So This Is How Democracy Dies

How is this for a headline?

“Key Democrats call for Ending Democracy”

Some people subscribe to the idea that politicians are stupid. They shoot from the hip until reined in by their consultants during election season. There is probably a great deal of truth to that. On the other hand, the use of the “trial balloon” is a well-tested technique for gauging public reaction to an idea.

With that in mind, I submit today’s WSJ’s “Notable and Quotable” into evidence to let the jury decide.

“Most Americans complain that government is unresponsive to their wishes. But not everyone feels that way. In the space of two days, two prominent Democrats have called for less responsive government that ignores public input.

One of them, former White House Budget Director Peter Orszag, penned a piece this week in the New Republic arguing, as the title says, “Why we need less democracy.” Orszag wrote that “the country’s political polarization was growing worse-harming Washington’s ability to do the basic, necessary work of governing.” His solution? “[W]e need to minimize the harm from legislative inertia by relying more on automatic policies and depoliticized commissions for certain policy decisions. In other words, radical as it sounds, we need to counter the gridlock of our political institutions by making them a bit less democratic.” . . .

[S]imilar comments by Gov. Bev Perdue, D-N.C., are far more troubling. “I think we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years and just tell them we won’t hold it against them, whatever decisions they make, to just let them help this country recover,” Perdue told a Rotary Club gathering in suburban Raleigh this week. “I really hope that someone can agree with me on that.”

Gaffe or Trial Balloon?

I’m in the trial balloon camp. I think the “Ruling Elite” (aptly described by Codevilla) wants to literally cut governance from “the consent of the governed.”

Democrat or Republican, inside government or outside, these rulers are in the process of turning most important decisions over to “depoliticized commissions,” and they simply don’t want any pesky citizens or constitutional barriers in their way. This class of people has a simple goal – to turn America’s “government of laws, not men,” on its head. They want to govern by edicts issued by commissions. I may be wrong, and I don’t want to appear overwrought, but I think this is (or should be) a big deal.

I am with Bruno. This generation of elite, which have shown themselves to be remarkably less competent and far more corrupt than their Cold War or WWII predecessors, are wistful for a velvet-gloved authoritarianism to help insulate themselves from democratic or legal accountability or even from hearing contrary opinions and criticism. It is amazing how our very best universities – Harvard, Yale and Princeton – produced so many alumni, in so short a period of time, who are disdainful of democracy and hold their fellow citizens in contempt.  Do the spirits of Carl Schmitt and Antonio Gramsci hold sway over undergrad education there or what?

Rethinking Security –Spectrum of Intervention and the Indirect Approach

In each step of the ratchet, actions proposed as cheap and risk-free end up pulling—through dynamics of public pressure and commitment—the political leader deeper and deeper into a military operation her or she did not originally intend to carry out. The process is similar to the famous microeconomic concept of the “dollar auction“—in which players bidding cents to get a dollar end up overbidding because they refuse to see the total sum of their sequential investments (which are deceptively cheap) as a sunk cost. The danger of the R2P spectrum, thus, is that even small investments in prevention can morph into commitment.

Why does prevention often fail? Clausewitz’s injunction about the necessity of defeating the enemy’s main army often applies here. CvC was perfectly fine with using influence to defeat an enemy without fighting—however, his reading of military history suggested that this was very rare and required an exceptional ability to know and manipulate opponents (and an unhealthy amount of luck). Strategic bombing and the idea of systems targeting is an attempt to bypass the enemy’s main army and target a state’s parts in detail, hoping to cause a cascading collapse. I have already dealt with indirect approaches and strategic paralysis here.

I welcome Adam’s keen intellect to the R2P arena.

Joseph Fouche-Attrition on the Cheap

In a recent post, I speculated that zombie military doctrines like the “revolution in military affairs”, “effects based operations”, or “network centric warfare” could bloom afresh in the debris left by the ravages of policy doctrines like “responsibility to protect”. I deliberately refrained from framing the negative consequences of such resurrections as solely a bad retread of past schools of military thought that advocated what author James Kiras called “strategic paralysis”.Military doctrines in the strategic paralysis tradition advocate winning quick, cheap, and easy victories by targeting the enemies critical centers of gravity. Fellow FHI blogger Adam Elkus pointed out in his recent Small Wars Journal article on The Rise and Decline of Strategic Paralysis that the embryonic 20th century version this military doctrine first formulated by the occultist J.F.C. Fuller in his Plan 1919 were based on a crude analogy to the human body. No wonder they required a special type of magick.


If indirect approaches are strategic magick then R2P is akin to the atavistic ritual of a witch doctor.

That’s it.

6 Responses to “Recommended Reading”

  1. J.ScottShipman Says:

    Zen, I concur with Bruno as well, and don’t believe the remarks were gaffes or jokes. The political elite knows a tectonic shift in American politics is at hand—we’ll probably hear more of this rhetoric in varying forms in the months ahead—along with more leftist violence. Hope I’m wrong, but I suspect this will be an ugly year.

  2. Mercutio Says:

    Today’s elites are "elite" in the sense that they get invited to the fancy parties.  However, unlike the Sith, they are not "elite" in the sense that they are superior.     Think Versailles and not the late Roman Republic.  ( Or perhaps think of 5th Century AD Rome; not 1st Century BC Rome. ).

    What are CVC and R2P?

    In Chess strategy, you don’t launch a violent attack ( ie, a blitzkrieg ) unless you already have a superior position, which you must maneuver for.   Also, it always helps to have the option to bring about a won endgame ( ie, attrition), which you also must maneuver for.  This suggests that a lot of preliminary maneuvering is called for before one launches what we recognize as overt hostilities.  Note that China has not launched any overt attack on the United States.

  3. zen Says:

    Hi Scott,
    Yeah, it is going to get very ugly.
    Hi Mercutio,
    CvC = Carl von Clausewitz. R2P = "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine.
    "Today’s elites are "elite" in the sense that they get invited to the fancy parties.  However, unlike the Sith, they are not "elite" in the sense that they are superior.     Think Versailles and not the late Roman Republic. "
    LMAO! True enough, no Darth Orszag there

  4. Cheryl Rofer Says:

    Let me put forth another hypothesis. The people whom you refer to as "elites" are insular. They consort with nobody outside their charmed circle, which has been closed at least since they started attending their charmed colleges, very likely since their charmed high and middle schools, and perhaps before that. They  know how charming they and their peers are, having been told so since an early age. And they do behave well, or if they don’t, the outside world doesn’t get to know about it.
    And the circles they move in do wield power. So if they are so charming, they must deserve to wield power. And probably intelligent too, because don’t we have a meritocracy? Plus they have a network, don’t they? They all have each other in their handhelds. So then they can talk about networks and emerging structures, which sound really good and cutting-edge. Unfortunately, they don’t get what the complexity theorists mean by those terms.
    So it must be a new governing order, emerging from the only grassroots they know.
    In other words, never assume malice when stupidity will suffice.

  5. J.ScottShipman Says:

    Hi Cheryl, Love the last sentence. I read something similar written on the wall of a men’s room in Korea back in the 90’s: "Never attribute to malice that which can be reasonably explained by stupidity." 

  6. seydlitz89 Says:

    It’s been ugly for a long time . . . ya’ll remember Zell?  If not, then perhaps you should . . . 
    I’ll bet we could stuff Carl Schmitt and Zell Miller inside Karl Rove and he wouldn’t bust.  Amazing what ya’lls propagandists are capable of . . .  

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