Month: August 2006 (Page 1 of 2)

Film class — week 2

Film #2: “Twelve O’Clock High” (1949). We watched it Tuesday.

Reading for Thursday: by the neorealist John J. Mearsheimer, “Power and Fear in Great Power Politics,” in G.O. Mazur, ed., One Hundred Year Commemoration to the Life of Hans Morgenthau (1904-2004) (New York: Semenenko Foundation, 2004), pp. 184-196.

In this brief chapter, Mearsheimer outlines some of the basic tenets of his influential theory of offensive neorealism, which emphasizes the role of fear in motivating tragic state action. Horrible wars and costly arms races occur even though no state necessarily seeks them. This is primarly because of the anarchic nature of international relations.

States know that other states possess offensive forces; yet, they cannot predict their intentions, cannot trust their assurances, and cannot rely upon others (or certainly not a central authority) to restrain these other states. Therefore, they have little choice but to make worst-case assumptions and to pursue more and more power. Such (difference maximizing) strategies are adopted to assure their own relative success (and to avoid loss).

In the film, Gregory Peck plays a hard-ass General in World War II who is put in charge of an air unit that is both critical to the war effort — and failing. The previous leader was a nice guy, even a friend of Peck’s, but he was not getting the necessary “maximum effort” out of his forces. Part of the problem is that the US employs daytime precision bombing, which is more accurate for hitting targets, but far more deadly for air crews.

Peck’s character, General Frank Savage, said this to his men on his first day on the job:

We’ve got to fight and some of us have got to die. I’m not telling you not to be afraid. Fear is normal. But stop worrying about it, and about yourselves. Stop making plans. Forget about going home. Consider yourselves dead. Once you accept that idea, it won’t be so tough.

How’s that for rallying the troops?

You can probably guess a fair amount of the storyline. I won’t reveal the plot details, but will say that the men become more engaged with the fighting when the bombing turns directly to German military targets and away from various missions over France.

The film has some genuine air bombing footage courtesy of the “War Department” and is well-acted by a good cast. If you eat various Kellogg’s cereals, you can even order a free copy of the DVD.

Filed as:


Administration critics being ‘framed’

I alerted regular Duck readers to the coming deluge of reputation rhetoric as the Bush administration and the RNC attempt to frame the upcoming midterm elections as a choice between ‘appeasers’ and ‘resolved warriors’. That deluge has officially begun. On Tuesday I discussed Secretary Rumsfeld’s latest incoherent drivel speech. This morning’s Washington Post reports on the increase of henny-penny arguments to come:

“President Bush and his surrogates are launching a new campaign intended to rebuild support for the war in Iraq by accusing the opposition of aiming to appease terrorists and cut off funding for troops on the battlefield, charges that many Democrats say distort their stated positions.”

Not surprisingly, when pressed for actual evidence to support the outlandish claim that Democrats and war critics “claim retreat from Iraq would satisfy the appetite of the terrorists and get them to leave us alone” the White House offered nothing, except the disingenuous notion that their claims are “logical interpretations of the most common Democratic position favoring a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq”. A time table you say, sort of like the one many Republicans now call for and that the military has outlined for itself? Surely we all know that responsible planning is always synonymous with cowardice and appeasement. A plan is certainly not something this administration would be caught dead with.

And what about RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman’s claim that “al-Qaeda leaders and other Islamic radicals have said they want to drive Americans out of Iraq and use it as a base. We ought to not ignore when they say they’re going to do that.” Yes, Ken is right. We ought not to forget that. We also should remember that there was zero probability that Iraq could possibly serve as a new base of operations for the beleaguered terrorist organization before the administration decided to launch a faith-based military campaign in the country. If there is a risk of Iraq becoming the new Afghanistan we have the administration to thank for that.

Additionally it pays to remind ourselves that we are not fighting Islamic-fascism in Iraq but essentially an insurgency made up primarily of indigenous combatants:

Estimated size of the Insurgency: 20,000
Estimated number of foreign fighters in the Insurgency: 2,000
Percentage of ‘jihadis’: 10%

More over, they are not interested in establishing a new caliphate but rather controlling the levers of governmental power, as in most civil conflicts where a power vacuum exists.

Since the administration and the RNC are only interested in winning elections–rather than serious governing–you can expect this cacophony of reputational rhetoric to continue. The sky will apparently fall until November 7th.

Filed as: , , , ,


Recommended Reading

Two recommendations for readers of the Duck:

First, a noteworthy article for those interested in analytical studies of strategic interaction as applied to terrorism appears in the recent issue of International Security. Andrew Kydd (a new addition to my department at Penn via Harvard) and Barbara Walter discuss terrorism as costly signaling and further elaborate on the numerous strategic logics of costly signaling at work in terrorist actions:

(1) attrition,(2) intimidation,(3) provocation,(4) spoiling, and (5) outbidding. In an attrition strategy, terrorists seek to persuade the enemy that the terrorists are strong enough to impose considerable costs if the enemy continues a particular policy. Terrorists using intimidation try to convince the population that the terrorists are strong enough to punish disobedience and that the government is too weak to stop them, so that people behave as the terrorists wish. A provocation strategy is an attempt to induce the enemy to respond to terrorism with indiscriminate violence, which radicalizes the population and moves them to support the terrorists. Spoilers attack in an effort to persuade the enemy that moderates on the terrorists ’side are weak and untrustworthy, thus undermining attempts to reach a peace settlement. Groups engaged in outbidding use violence to convince the public that the terrorists have greater resolve to fight the enemy than rival groups, and therefore are worthy of support.

The article is available as a free PDF download from the International Security website—I recommend reading the entire piece.

Second, Dr. Jeffrey Record of the U.S. Air Force Air War College examines the root of the reputation frame–good old Munich–in Appeasement Reconsidered: Investigating the Mythology of the 1930s. Here is the abstract:

U.S. use of force since 1945 has been significantly influenced by the perceived consequences of appeasing Hitler in the 1930s, and from the mid-1970s to 2001 by the chilling effect of the Vietnam War. As the United States approached its second war with Iraq, proponents cited the Munich analogy to justify the war, whereas opponents argued that the United States was risking another Vietnam. Though reasoning by historical analogies is inherently dangerous, an examination of the threat parallels between Hitler and Saddam Hussein, and between the Vietnam War and the situation the United States has confronted in post-Baathist Iraq, reveals that the Munich analogy was misused as an argument for war, whereas the American dilemma in Iraq bears some important analogies to the Vietnam conflict, especially with respect to the challenges state-building and sustaining domestic public support for an unpopular protracted war.

I’m licking my chops. Go check it out.

Filed as:


Secretary Rumsfeld is a funny guy

This must be a joke, albeit one that requires the audience to provide the punchline. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to the American Legion, August 29, 2006:

“Any kind of moral and intellectual confusion about who and what is right or wrong can severely weaken the ability of free societies to persevere.”

Surely Rummy was counting on his audience to remember the backstory. His famous leaked memo from October 2003 was full of potential zingers. Here’s a good one:

Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?

That guy is doing a “helluva job,” don’tcha think?

More on Rumsfeld and that question-filled memo from October 2003: was he the victim of an Oscar slight? Or should he have been on the lamb?

Filed as:


Sounding good vs. Good policy

Exhibit A: Rep. Tom Lantos

“The international community must use all our available means to stiffen Lebanon’s spine and to convince the government of Lebanon to have the new UNIFIL troops on the Syrian border in adequate numbers,” said Tom Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives’ International Relations Committee.

Lantos said he was putting a legislative hold on Bush’s proposal to provide $230 million in aid for Lebanon in the aftermath of the 34-day war between Israel and Lebanese Hizbollah guerrillas.

“My purpose is not to withhold aid from Lebanon, my purpose … is to persuade the government of Lebanon that the closing of the Lebanon-Syria border to arms smuggling from Iran and Syria is in the prime national interest of Lebanon and the Lebanese people.”

Right, because Lebanon didn’t realize that all by themselves. And, by all means, let us add more legitimacy to Hezbollah by allowing them to be the only player in the reconstruction efforts in the south. It isn’t like state capacity is a big deal in that area anyway.

Hat tip Belgravia Dispatch. More from Eugene Gholz.

Filed as:


Neocons discuss Hitler more than the History Channel

I am officially declaring that all future invokations of the reputation frame (and its cousin, the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics, which focuses on the importance of ‘will’) by neoconservatives be renamed “henny-penny arguments”, since they invoke the same feeling of hysterical irrationality that Rumsfeld originally tried to convey. In a recent speech, Secretary Rumsfeld stated…

…the world faces “a new type of fascism” and likened critics of the Bush administration’s war strategy to those who tried to appease the Nazis in the 1930s.

He quoted Winston Churchill as observing that trying to accommodate Hitler was “a bit like feeding a crocodile, hoping it would eat you last.”

“I recount this history because once again we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism,” he said.

“Can we truly afford to believe that somehow, some way, vicious extremists can be appeased?” he asked.

“Can we truly afford to return to the destructive view that America _ not the enemy _ is the real source of the world’s troubles?”

Nothing like tearing down a strawman to defend your policies. Like many critics, my problem with the administration’s policies is not that they don’t ‘blame America first’ or ‘give the terrorists what they want’, it’s that they are ill-conceived, poorly executed, and self-defeating in many cases.

[for those who do not get the History Channel reference, see here]

Update: Bruce Jentleson gets into the act over at American Abroad. Rob as well.

Filed as: ,


Globalization and You

Its the first day of school today, such an exciting time. And what are we greeted with? A prime example of the power of globalization to shape international markets–even the vaunted US economy and Federal Reserve Board.

Today, the NYT reports on the Fed’s retreat/conference out in Wyoming (casual, because Fed Chair Ben Bernanke doesn’t wear a tie).

Econ 101 in a nutshell: the Fed sets interest rates in an attempt to manage inflation and domestic economic growth. Low rates mean money (loans, capital, financing) is cheap and available, so the economy grows but then inflation appears. Higher rates make money expensive and inflation slows, but so does growth. The goal is to moderate the boom / bust cycle of the market.

Anyway…. as the Times reports:

As the Federal Reserve fiercely debates how to reduce inflation within the United States, economists are warning that trends outside the country may soon make the Fed’s job much harder.

In recent years, global integration has made things easier for the Fed in two ways. An explosion in low-cost exports from China and other countries helped keep prices of many products low even as Americans spent heavily and loaded up on debt.

At the same time, China and other relatively poor nations reversed the normal patterns of global investment by becoming net lenders to the United States and Europe. Analysts estimate that this “uphill’’ flow of money from poor nations to rich ones may have reduced long-term interest rates in the United States by 1.5 percentage points in recent years — a big difference when home mortgage rates are about 6 percent.

In other words, vast / huge / gianormous capital flows from China have been keeping my and your and your parents and everyone else’s mortgage payments low. This is good because it frees up money for other things in the economy.

Normally, the Fed is in control of all this, by setting short term interest rates and printing more money as needed, guiding interest rates. Not so much any more:

But as Fed officials held their annual retreat this weekend here in the Grand Tetons, a growing number of economists warned that those benign international trends could abate or even reverse.

For one thing, they said, China’s explosive rise as a low-cost manufacturer does not mean that prices will fall year after year. Indeed, China’s voracious appetite for oil and raw materials has aggravated inflation by driving up global prices for oil and many commodities.

Beyond that, new research presented this weekend suggested that the United States could not count on a continuation of cheap money from poor countries. Those flows could stop as soon as countries find ways to spend their excess savings at home.

“Medium- and long-term interest rates are set outside of the country,’’ said Kenneth S. Rogoff, a professor of economics at Harvard University and a former director of research at the International Monetary Fund. “It’s very important to think about what to do if the winds of globalization change.’’

Like, maybe:

“What happens if foreign investors decide they don’t want to accumulate American assets any more?” asked Martin S. Feldstein, economics professor at Harvard and president of the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Just to take an example:

One example is Chile, the most prosperous country in Latin America. Thanks to soaring copper prices in recent years, Chile has paid off its government debt and is running a budget surplus equal to about 7 percent of its gross domestic product. Chilean leaders are putting the surplus into a long-term stability fund, part of which is invested in foreign securities, that will be used to maintain full government operations if copper prices plummet.

Mr. Rajan said many countries might not have a way to channel their excess savings because their banking systems were too underdeveloped. If so, the savings rates of those countries may decline as people become more accustomed to rising incomes and as banks find ways to rechannel savings into consumer and business loans.

Even though capital is flowing uphill to rich countries like the United States right now, Mr. Rajan said, “it doesn’t mean these flows are optimal, safe or permanent.”

In otherwords, international capital markets, not the Federal Reserve, are starting to set US interest rates. This hits you and me right in the pocketbook– mortgage, car loans, student loans, credit card rates. All could be heading higher, and unlike in days gone by, there might be nothing the Fed, or any other US actors, can do about it.

Globalization, baby, Globalization.

Filed as: ,


Turkey: frontline state?

Turkey has long been viewed as one of a number a “pivotal states” for US foreign policy. According to scholars,

These are countries whose fate determines the survival and success of the surrounding region and ultimately the stability of the international system.

Turkey is additionally Samuel Huntington’s prototypical “torn country;” one of several states having “a fair degree of cultural homogeneity but…divided over whether their society belongs to one civilization or another.”

Whatever one thinks of these characterizations, it is clear that Turkey’s political, cultural and geographic position make it a key strategic state for America, NATO and the EU — as well as for global Islam.

Thus, it is very important that the Turkish government announced today that it will be sending troops to Lebanon as part of the UN “peace force.” The US, Israel and Lebanon have all been calling for Turkish participation and it looks like 500 to 1000 troops will be on their way, presuming the Turkish Parliament agrees.

This has been a controversial question for Turkey as President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and the main opposition Republican People’s Party have both opposed participation in the force. The Independence and Change Party (HURPARTI) leader and the True Path Party (DYP) leader both agreed with Sezer, fearing that Turkey would be dragged into a quagmire.

Some also worry that Turks will be asked to disarm Hezbollah, which might be quite unpopular throughout the Middle East.

Though perhaps unrelated to the latest political decision, it is noteworthy that Turkey suffered a series of bombings this past weekend. Bloomberg News reported:

More than 20 people, including 10 Britons, were wounded after three explosions in Marmaris, a resort in southwestern Turkey…

The Foreign Office warned British nationals on its Web site of a “high threat” from terrorism in Turkey, where attacks have targeted U.K. interests

The Australian government has also warned travellers to show a “high degree of caution in Turkey because of the high threat of terrorist attack.” The US has not yet issued a “travel warning.”

No one has yet claimed responsibility for these attacks, but the Bloomberg reporter reminded readers that “Turkey has been the scene of numerous bombings in recent years.” Many of the victims have been tourists and some of the attacks have been launched specifically on tourist destinations. The US State Department does say that risk to tourists is “high” in Turkey:

In the summer of 2005, incidents occurred in the popular coastal tourist destinations of Cesme, Bodrum, Antalya, and Mersin. Bombings have also taken place in Istanbul…

Not good.

Given Turkey’s pivotal and perhaps torn status, I’d expect more of these kinds of attacks in the foreseeable future. In retrospect, experts look back at post-Tito Yugoslavia and post-Hussein Iraq and declare that violence was obviously inevitable in those places. Turkey is not ethnically divided in the same way, but the Kurds are the largest ethnic group in the world that doesn’t have its own state — and the “torn” Turks could find themselves facing other internal troubles if Islamic forces there become more violent. I’m not sure anyone knows what would happen if Europe rejected Turkey outright. Or if Europe welcomed Turkey into the EU.

Note: Just to be a bit more thorough, bombs injuring dozens of people struck various Turkish towns on August 4 of this year. Other prominent attacks occurred in June 2006 (killing 3), April 2006 (killing 4), July 2005 (killing 10 people altogether), June 2004 (killing 3), and most memorably, in November 2003 (killing 58).

Filed as:


Groundhog Day

It would appear that, like Bill Murray before us, we are doomed to repeat the insufferable lead up to the Iraq War and endure major strategic blunder numero dos.

Shorter Frederick Fleitz: ‘US intelligence is faulty because they haven’t managed to dig up enough evidence to support my beliefs about how advanced Iran’s nuclear program is. Therefore, they need to work harder to find such evidence’.

It’s déjà vu all over again.

Filed as: ,



I’m on an academic IR theory mailing list that frequently receives email about possible 9/11 conspiracies.

Most of the time, I just delete these posts, but every now and then I click a link just to find out what the writers are claiming. One recent link led me to an August 2 Washington Post story that certainly raises interesting questions:

Some staff members and commissioners of the Sept. 11 panel concluded that the Pentagon’s initial story of how it reacted to the 2001 terrorist attacks may have been part of a deliberate effort to mislead the commission and the public rather than a reflection of the fog of events on that day, according to sources involved in the debate.

Suspicion of wrongdoing ran so deep that the 10-member commission, in a secret meeting at the end of its tenure in summer 2004, debated referring the matter to the Justice Department for criminal investigation, according to several commission sources.

Even the leaders of the 9/11 commission were not satisfied with the final story from NORAD:

“We to this day don’t know why NORAD [the North American Aerospace Command] told us what they told us,” said Thomas H. Kean, the former New Jersey Republican governor who led the commission. “It was just so far from the truth. . . . It’s one of those loose ends that never got tied.”

According to the Post story, the inspector general’s office of the Department of Transportation is soon going to produce a report addressing whether the story told to the 9/11 commission was “knowingly false.”

Vanity Fair obtained (and ABC News and other media apparently broadcast) military audiotapes tapes from September 11 and they did not match with the stories participants told the 9/11 commission. Michael Bronner wrote:

As the tapes reveal in stark detail, parts of [Colonel] Scott’s and [General] Arnold’s testimony were misleading, and others simply false.”

…[9/11] Commission staff believes that there is significant evidence that the false statements made to the commission were deliberately false,” [Senior counsel John] Farmer wrote to me in an e-mail summarizing the commission’s referral. “The false testimony served a purpose: to obscure mistakes on the part of the F.A.A. and the military, and to overstate the readiness of the military to intercept and, if necessary, shoot down UAL 93.”

Despite the conspiracy theories, this seems to be a case of CYA.

Filed as:


The Reputation Frame

For those that haven’t been paying attention, the Bush administration has launched its 2006 midterm-framing campaign for dealing with the Iraq debacle. Not surprisingly it’s a familiar riff, one that has been analyzed at length here at the Duck as well as more prominent outlets: ‘If you think things are bad now, just wait till the Democrats gain power—they will pull out of Iraq and show the world we lack resolve, which will embolden our enemies’.

When all is dark resort to reputational rhetoric and hope it resonates with your audience.

The argument fails for a number of reasons, not the least of which is due to the newly added twist—that the terrorists will ‘follow us home’ from Iraq if we display a lack of resolve. We have long known that the majority of militants in Iraq have nothing to do with global militant Islam and have everything to do with sectarian struggles for power within the country. And the idea that terrorists aren’t trying to attack continental targets, but would if we pulled out of Iraq is just plain moronic.

More importantly, the problem with signaling a reputation for resolve (and any other kind of signaling for that matter) is that your opponent will draw whatever conclusions (mostly favorable) they want from your actions. There is little one can do to ensure that the target of their signal gets the right message. The question I would ask the President and supporters of his policy is what outcome, short of utopian style democracy and stability in Iraq or staying forever, would ensure that our enemies do not draw negative conclusions about our resolve? It appears to me that a host of outcomes would leave much to interpretation. And if we know anything about terrorists groups (and any political actor for that matter) we know they thrive on and are schooled in the art of spin.

The more important implication–and the one Neocons seem incapable of understanding–is that while you may project a reputation for resolve you also gain a reputation for operational weakness, which arguably is what we are now stuck with because of Iraq (see my previous comments here and here).

I just hope this reputational rhetoric isn’t accompanied by any conspicuous conflicts (my term and the subject of my dissertation) in the lead up to the midterms. As Steve Clemons notes, “superpowers with swagger and considerable ego don’t usually acknowledge their failings. In desperation and attempting to show that their resolve is solid and military strength robust, big nations having a bad time strike out to prove a point”.

I’ll be able to tell everyone how much of an influence perceptions of vulnerability and weakness play in the initiation of conspicuous conflicts when I’m done dissertating (whenever that is), but in the meantime I hope the relationship is probabilistic rather than deterministic for the sake of our foreign policy.

Filed as: , ,


The Social Construction of Knowledge

Everyone knows that there are 9 planets:

Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto

which you remember by saying My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Pickels (or some variation on the theme.

Except that now, there are only 8 planets.

Pluto just got demoted.

So, a once critical fact, an immutable truth about the nature of the solar system has now changed.

Plus, I really feel bad for all those Pluto scholars out there who once studied the most mysterious planet and now just study a dwarf object or whatever. Its kind of like being a specialist on the Soviet General staff in the late 80’s….
(not really, but I couldn’t resist the obscure reference)

Filed as:


Film class: week I

The University of Louisville semester started this week and I’m holding the second session of my two classes Thursday. One of those courses is new for me: “(Global) Politics Through Film.” For the past 15 years, this class was taught without the (Global) by a now-retired colleague who was interested primarily in domestic American politics.

Consider this post the first in a semester-long series relating to the class (find the syllabus here).

Film #1: “Casablanca.” Students viewed it with me on Tuesday.

Reading for Thursday: Tilly, Charles, “War Making and State Making as Organized Crime,” in Bringing the State Back In edited by Peter Evans, Dietrich Rueschemeyer, and Theda Skocpol (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp. 169-191.

Tilly’s argument is provocative and I hope the class members will have lots of interesting things to say about states and violence.

It might seem trite to show “Casablanca,” but at least half the students had not seen it before and it is a perfect film to highlight some of the morally ambiguous aspects of IR that often dominate introductory discussions about the field.

Of course, on that note, we could spend the entire hour talking just about Captain Renault (played brilliantly by Claude Rains).

Note: Regular Duck readers may recall a comment thread that highlighted Tilly’s classic essay — sparked by my post about the first episode of “The Sopranos” this past March.

Filed as:


For your reading pleasure

Dan encouraged me to mention a new book that some Duck readers might find interesting, Hitting First: Preventive Force in U.S. Security Strategy (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006), edited by William W. Keller and Gordon R. Mitchell of Pitt’s Matthew Ridgway Center for International Security Studies. Their chapter 1, “Preemption, Prevention, Prevarication” is available on the press website.

Disclosure: the volume includes my chapter, “Deliberate before Striking First?”

There’s a nice review in the July 20 edition of Pittsburgh’s City Paper and I’ve blogged about the book throughout its production on my own site. The group began meeting about the project in February 2004.

The City Paper piece includes interviews with editors Mitchell and Keller. Writer Chris Potter also talked to a couple of the other local contributors and to Michael Glennon of Tufts and Ivo Daalder of Brookings.

Those latter two guys are part of the American foreign policy establishment — CFR members with past and present connections to U.S. policy — Congress, the NSC, and State.

Maybe that means the book will get some traction this fall.

Notes: I’ve been filing posts about the books as “preemptive war,” even though the title uses “preventive war” and the contributors agreed that this latter term more accurately described US policy. However, I figured that potential readers would more likely find information using the misleading term.

Consider me a lackey for the Bush administration.

Dan — any chance this book could appear here?

The book’s table of contents can be found here. That’s a pdf posted by the press.

8/26/06: Post updated to provide link to chapter 1 and press table of contents pdf.

Filed as:


Nuclear plant safety

“We’re talking a whole lot worse than Three Mile Island,” he said. “If an insider knows where the target sets are, in other words, the way to damage the reactor or to blow a hole in the spent fuel pool, it would be a hell of lot worse than anything we’ve ever seen in this country before.”

Peter Stockman, Senior Investigator, Project on Government Oversight (POGO)

Widely read blogger-journalists Kevin Drum and Andrew Sullivan are noting the growing questions about last week’s airline terror plot and arrests.

Drum points to some sources who justifiably question the ease of making binary explosives on planes, while Sullivan points to the Craig Murray post I mentioned earlier this week. Here’s Sullivan’s pithy comment:

I wish I didn’t find these questions popping into my head. But the alternative is to trust the Bush administration.

Been there. Done that. Learned my lesson.

More doubts are summarized by Drum here and here.

Even as the media has focused tremendous attention on the successful disruption of an alleged serious threat to security, they have virtually ignored a potentially serious recent security breach at a major American nuclear power plant. So far, I’ve seen only a few local newspaper and TV reports.

Granted, the breach was of procedure and protocol, and did not involve actual (potential) terrorists, but I would argue that it is indicative of the misdirection of resources and attention in the ongoing “war on terror.”

I received this troubling August 15 press release from POGO (the Project On Government Oversight) via email:

POGO has received a report of a security lapse that occurred at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Sequoyah Nuclear Power Plant. Officials discovered last week that a sealed manufacturer’s crate that had sat in a warehouse for an undetermined amount of time contained 30 M-4 assault rifles, which are similar to semiautomatic M16 rifles.

So far, there’s been no update from POGO, though I did find a wire story (UPI) that provides additional information and context. UPI reveals that the container of weapons had not been inspected upon arrival — inspection was not required and even after the plant revamped the procedures there are still many containers that are not inspected — and were stored in the wrong place for 24 hours before their discovery:

Officials acknowledged the security lapse at the facility, saying personnel “inadvertently” transported the factory-sealed shipment of weapons to an incorrect warehouse.

“They delivered the right cargo to the right people; it was inadvertently taken to the wrong warehouse,” TVA spokesman John Moulton told UPI in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Moulton said TVA was expecting the shipment of weapons without any ammunition for use by the private security personnel contracted by Pinkerton Government Services, Inc. The weapons were, however, inadvertently transported to the wrong warehouse, rather than the armory section of the nuclear facility.

The rifles had been delivered by a truck that entered the plant through the vehicle entrance into the Protected Area.

The UPI reporter managed to talk to a whistleblower who confirmed the magnitude of the screwup:

A Pinkerton security employee with first-hand knowledge of the incident told UPI on condition of anonymity Wednesday that the brown cardboard box of weapons had been mislabeled and slipped past numerous checkpoints at the nuclear site. Personnel at Pinkerton were strongly discouraged to speak to the media, the employee said.

“It should only take one, no less than two checkpoints to identify it (the box of weapons),” the employee said. “(There were) four chances for those weapons to be discovered on that day and they weren’t.”

The whistleblower thinks this is a big deal, reflective of a larger problem:

The employee said little has been done at the facility despite repeated warnings of potential vulnerabilities made to Pinkerton, TVA and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Complaints of possible threats to security, the employee said, were “scoffed at.”

“I told them that this very thing could happen,” the employee said. “I’m not the only one who has been singing this song.

“TVA and Pinkerton royally screwed up.”

Indeed, the Project on Government Oversight and other organizations have repeatedly emphasized the relatively weak post-9/11 security measures taken to protect America’s nuclear power reactors.

According to the nuclear power industry:

“Commercial nuclear plants are among the most secure industrial facilities in the world.

…nuclear plants have implemented more than 30 security directives from the NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission]. These include: augmented security forces, increased patrols, additional security posts and physical barriers, moving vehicle-checkpoints further away from buildings, greater coordination with law enforcement and more restrictive control of site access. There have been no credible threats against a U.S. nuclear plant since the 9/11 attacks.”

Peter Stockman, the spokesperson and Senior Investigator for POGO quoted above, is referenced in the UPI story:

“There are really terrible procedures allowing this to happen,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Stockton said if disgruntled insiders knew about this vulnerability and were able to bring weapons and explosives into the nuclear facility, there may be irreparable damage.

For those who suspect a political agenda here….Yes, I’ll criticize the Bush administration when it fails to make common sense security improvements, even as it inflates threats from terrorism and hypes apparently overblown cases — all at the expense of its domestic political opponents.

And yes, I would praise the administration when it succeeds, but I haven’t seen much evidence of achievement. Who can point us to their significant security successes?

Oh, wait, I almost forgot: “Ding dong, the wicked witch is dead.”

Filed as:


“Be sceptical. Be very, very sceptical.”

Craig Murray was the British ambassador to Uzbekistan, until he was recalled in October 2004. His posting was supposed to run through November 2005, so he was clearly sacked from this position, as they say in the UK. In early 2005, Murray resigned from the Foreign Office.

Before his dismissal, Murray was publicly criticizing the human rights policies of the Uzbek government — and privately condemning the Blair government for emulating the US and outsourcing torture. Murray says his dismissal was politically motivated, while the British government says the diplomatic recall was for “operational reasons.” Critics note that Murray was previously investigated for a variety of misdeeds and was charged with being drunk on the job and misuse of an embassy vehicle.

Why am I providing such detail? Well, Murray has written an explosive blog post about last week’s UK terror bust that has not received much attention in the US — though it is beginning to circulate around the web. The title for this blog post comes from his closing line.

Why is Murray skeptical of the official story? First, Murray has been very critical of the hyperbole used to sell the Iraq war and he points out in comments that a number of other British terror cases have been overblown. The evidence in this case doesn’t look so strong to his eyes:

None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn’t be a plane bomber for quite some time.

Moreover, Murray says that the only evidence about the airliner plot emerged from the Pakistani part of the investigation — and he’s convinced that it was obtained by torture and is thus potentially worthless. On this point, Murray speaks from first-hand diplomatic experience in Uzbekistan:

many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year – like thousands of other British Muslims….Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests.

Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes – which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance. Of course, the interrogators of the Pakistani dictator have their ways of making people sing like canaries. As I witnessed in Uzbekistan, you can get the most extraordinary information this way. Trouble is it always tends to give the interrogators all they might want, and more, in a desperate effort to stop or avert torture. What it doesn’t give is the truth….

As they were all under surveillance, and certainly would have been on airport watch lists, there could have been little danger in letting them proceed closer to maturity – that is certainly what we would have done with the IRA.

Murray attributes the arrests to domestic political pressures on George W. Bush and Tony Blair and points out that the media have “bought, wholesale, all the rubbish they have been shovelled.”

Have they?

NBC news has been reporting about political pressure in this case for a couple of days:

U.S. and British authorities had a significant disagreement over when to move in on the suspects in the alleged plot to bring down trans-Atlantic airliners bound for the United States.

British officials knowledgeable about the case said British police were planning to continue to run surveillance for at least another week to try to obtain more evidence, while American officials pressured them to arrest the suspects sooner.

Suspected ringleader Rashid Rauf was arrested in Pakistan “over the objections of the British” and the story says US officials had threatened to “render” him.

An unnamed “senior British official” told NBC that an attack “was not imminent.” In initial reports, “one American official” used the same phrase when talking to The New York Times.

Hopefully, in the coming months, we’ll learn whether this was a successful case of anti-terror law enforcement — or yet another example of threat inflation designed to serve political purposes.

Filed as:


The Lamont Paradox

Ned Lamont’s primary victory over Joe-Mentum Lieberman was certainly seen as a watershed political moment, where the anti-war message toppled an incumbent. Given that incumbents in Congress have something like a 90-95% success rate in re-election (actually, I think its higher than that, but i’m blogging at 6 am and not inclined to look it up), defeating a sitting Senator, former Presidential candidate and Vice-Presidential nominee is a pretty big deal. Its clear that the anti-war / anti-Bush vote is significant, not just within the Democratic party, but within Republican ranks as well.

But Democrats need to be cautious about how they plan to play the terrorism issue in the fall elections.

Today’s NYT gives a preview of the Democratic strategy for the fall:

“During the 2002 and 2004 elections, Republicans tried to sow fear in the American public by claiming that they were the only ones who could keep America safe,” Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, said in an e-mail message to supporters. “This from the same crowd that has driven Iraq to the brink of disaster, left Osama Bin Laden on the loose to attack again and continues to ignore our security needs at home.”

Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee… said that Mr. Bush’s public standing was cemented in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and that Republican efforts to improve the president’s image by emphasizing terror could not overcome the damage done by the bungled response to the storm.

“Katrina equals competency,” he said.

And I largely agree with this. But, as last the aftermath of uncovering last week’s terror plot in London continues to unfold, two things remain clear.

1- Unknown and unforseen events such as this are a huge wild-card in the elections. Both parties will try to react and spin, but history shows that hightened fear from terrorist attacks benefits the President.

2- The Administration–not the President but everyone else from the VP on down the party ranks– will push this relentlessly.

From Dan Froomkin’s blog at the Wash Post:

Voters who supported Lamont’s antiwar campaign in the Democratic primary were giving “the Al Qaeda types” exactly what they wanted, Cheney said. And as a result the Democratic Party, he asserted, now stands for a wholesale retreat in the broader campaign against terror….

Evan Thomas writes in Newsweek: “White House aides insisted that Cheney was not trying to exploit the latest terror plot for political advantage.”

Cheney had been briefed on the plot, but the aides “claimed that at the time he spoke, he was unaware that arrests were imminent. Even so, these officials were somewhat hard put to explain why the normally press-shy Cheney volunteered to talk to wire reporters and offer his analysis on the national-security implications of a Lamont victory.”…

E.J. Dionne Jr. writes in his Washington Post opinion column: “In a telephone call with journalists, Vice President Cheney came close to suggesting that there is a new political blog out there called ‘al-Qaeda for Ned.’ His words have not received nearly the attention they deserve.”

And he gives countless more examples.

If Iraq continues to “trend down” (as our favorite fantasy baseball analysts like to say) and if there are no more al-Qaeda type attacks, then the Democrats are probably in a good position to capitalize on the public’s discontent with the administration’s abject failures in these areas and make significant gains in Congress.

Though this is the most likely scenario, it is far from certain. Any major terrorist type event– directed at US interests or at key US allies abroad or in Iraq– has the potential to radically reshape the playing field. While the electorate seems to be less receptive to Administration scare-tatics on terrorism, fear following a real attack is a real wild-card for the fall.

Lamont’s win has really painted the Dems into this corner. Not necessarily a bad corner to be in, but its a corner nonetheless.

Filed as:


Terrorism as a social movement

An addendum (and yes, I still have internet access) to my post on progressive foreign policy. Ron Suskind, in his interview with Salon, gets it mostly right:

One of the things that I think is clear about the moment we’re in now is that in a way this is a new kind of war, a new kind of conflict we’re fighting now, with a kind of global insurgency. We know insurgencies, we’ve seen many of them through history, and very often it’s the case where gleaming armies come down from on high with banners waving and march in to some homeland or other to fight insurgents. It almost never works.

Whatever moral claim that the army has made as the trumpets blare soon sinks into the ugliness of destruction, especially amongst civilian populations. In Iraq, in the Israel-Lebanon situation, and in other parts of the globe — in Afghanistan, to a certain degree — we are seeing precisely this model. If in not thinking with, let’s just say, next-era clarity about the nature of these enemies and what best to do about them — where we are not involved solely in tactics, which is mostly what has been driving us, tactics where we’re often running around like a chicken with no head, and instead thinking about strategy, where actions fall into a larger good, a larger model that essentially bespeaks progress — we are going to create more and more people around the world who are angry at the United States. The fact is, by virtue of our power, our authority, that’s always going to be the case. But if that group, that angry mass of people, grows and grows, and some percentage of them, in this era, are apt to turn to violence, we could be facing a very difficult situation.

If one out of 1,000 people who are angry turn to violence, maybe that’s a manageable number. If it’s 10 out of 1,000, well, that’s a lot of people. If it’s 100 out of 1,000, we’re facing an army beyond anything we can challenge in terms of even our vast capabilities, especially in an era when individuals, based on the extraordinary power of the information age, can carry the destructive power that was once reserved for nations. That’s a very troubling combination, and it becomes a troubling combination if we are creating armies of people who are bent on destruction and violently angry at the United States. If our tactics are creating a metastasizing, a growth of that number, then our tactics are not working, plain and simple.

Some commentary:

1. This is less of a “new kind of war” than Suskind thinks. While technological change and other factors certainly make his “global insurgency” different than past trans-national and trans-regiona violent movements, these kinds of developments are far from unprecedented in the history of international politics, let alone in hegemonic and imperial systems; consider the anarchist movement, international communism, certain kinds of nationalist movements, religious social mobilization for hundreds of years before than, and so forth. This is a point I make in my own comparative-historical work on empires and composite political communities.

2. I still don’t think the “war” frame is expedient, for reasons I elaborated in the aforementioned post.

3. Suskind probably underestimates the potential success of counter-insurgency campaigns.

4. But he’s dead right about viewing contemporary terrorism in terms of, in effect, social movement dynamics. The US will never be able to extinguish a certain hard-core violent element, but we can work to (1) decrease the size of the recruitment pool and (2) isolate that element from the concentric circles of supporters and potential supporters that surround them. Which is one of many reasons why restoring the legitimacy of the American hegemonic order–and institutionalizing that order to survive in the face of relative American decline–numbers among the fundamental foreign-policy challenges the next administration will face.

Filed as: , , and


Heading back east

The movers are here. My internet connection is scheduled to cut out any time now.

I’ve had a great time at OSU. The Mershon Center is a wonderful institution, with terrific academics and staff. They’ve built an exciting intellectual climate. Thanks to everyone for having me out and for making my stay so interesting and productive.

If you are looking for post-doctoral fellowships in international studies, then you should definitely apply to Mershon.

The bad news is that my book manuscript isn’t quite done. I’ve still got some line-edit style revisions to complete. But that’s also the good news: the book manuscript is very close to submission to publishers.

Other than that, I can say that I’m heading back to Georgetown with a few more publications and forthcoming publications under my belt–something I’ll have more to say about when I get around to some shameless self-promotion.

Despite all the great things about the Mershon Center, I’m definitely looking forward to getting back home and teaching again at Georgetown.

Consider all of this an explanation for why you may not be seeing much in the way of posting from me over the next few days.

PS: if you’re ever in Columbus you should try a hole-in-the-wall restaurant called “Indochine.” It’s on Hamilton between Broad and Main. The owners are welcoming and the food is spectacular.

« Older posts

© 2021 Duck of Minerva

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑