Tag: Ronald Reagan

Bear cam

Have you wasted any time viewing Bear cam? This Wired story explains:

Media company Explore has teamed up with Alaska’s Katmai National Park to install webcams that will deliver live video feeds of brown bears catching salmon in a popular feeding ground.

Each year, around a hundred bears travel to a stretch of Brooks River to fill their bellies with salmon. Now anyone with an internet connection can witness this gathering thanks to four high-definition cameras that have been set up in this remote part of Alaska. 

One camera is positioned at Brook Falls, where the larger male bears fight it out for salmon that are desperately trying to leap their way upstream.

This is the link to that camera: Brown Bear & Salmon Cam – Brooks Falls – Bears – explore

Warning: this is highly addictive.

Compare that to this 1980 Reagan campaign commercial to see how far we’ve progressed in our tolerance for bears (right?):

Yesterday, I watched as two bears postured somewhat violently towards one another. Meanwhile, a nearby bear was dining on salmon. This demonstrated that the two in the foreground learned nothing from the 2012 Republican primaries.


On Security Dilemmas and The Absurdity of Newt Gingrich

When he isn’t comparing himself to Ronald Reagan (whose withdrawal of troops from Lebanon, arms control negotiations with Gorbachev, nuclear abolitionist visions and moderation on immigration, and general sunny persona suggest they aren’t politically identical), Newt Gingrich says things like this:

I would say that the most dangerous thing — which, by the way, Barack Obama just did — the Iranians are practicing closing the Strait of Hormuz, actively taunting us, so he cancels a military exercise with the Israelis so as not to be provocative?

“Dictatorships respond to strength, they don’t respond to weakness,” Gingrich continued, “and I think there’s very grave danger that the Iranians think this president is so weak that they could close the Strait of Hormuz and not suffer substantial consequences.

Its already pointed out that his claim about the cancelled exercise is factually false.

More deeply, its simply untrue to claim that dictatorships (or any regime type, actually) only respond to ‘strength’, which is Gingrich’s shorthand for bellicose escalation.

It shouldn’t take a degree in political science (or indeed, in Gingrich’s case, a Phd in History), to ponder why this might be ever so slightly misleading. For a start, talk of ‘being strong’ because its the only way to change your enemy’s behaviour is exactly how Iran’s Supreme Leader is reported to talk about America. How would a President Gingrich react to equivalent Iranian posturing?

Surprisingly enough, history suggests that regimes which are highly motivated to survive might respond badly to threats, sabre rattling, and confrontation.

A really important case of this happened between 1937-1941, which despite the obsession with that era amongst Gingrich and his fans, is often neglected. President Franklin Roosevelt imposed economic sanctions on Imperial Japan (including oil, tin and rubber) which would virtually destroy its ability to operate. He did so to pressure Japan to abandon its brutal expansionism in China. He was confident that the presence of the US Pacific Fleet in Hawaii would act as a deterrent against retaliation.

Seeking to avoid a war in the Pacific, Roosevelt’s twin approach of coercion and deterrence had perverse results. Given the choice between abandoning its imperial ambitions in continental Asia, and challenging the US directly, Japan’s rulers chose Door Number 2.This unleashed a Pacific war of unimaginable suffering that neither country actually wanted.

Had Gingrich been advising President John Kennedy in 1962, would he, like the Joint Chiefs, have been muttering about Munich and warning the President to look strong by escalating against an opponent, we now know, armed with nuclear-tipped ground-to-ground missiles and authorised to use them?

Kennedy, fortunately, was mindful of other Western strategic history, when escalation resulted not in bloodless climbdowns but in the war of 1914-1918, with the horrors it bequethed to the twentieth century.

Most important of all, Gingrich falls prey to the false binaries of what passes for foreign policy ‘debate’ amongst those who call themselves Reaganites (and who conveniently forget how disappointed they were by the actual Reagan in the mid-1980’s). He characterises strategic choices as a matter of strength versus weakness.

For Gingrich, there is no middle ground of prudence and restraint. Reagan sometimes escalated, and sometimes backed off. We can debate how well or badly he did so, and whether it was part of a conscious design or an erratic indecision. But there was a sense that diplomatic behaviour, and the mix of deterrence and talks, could be calibrated and measured.

Not so with Newt, who simply won’t recognise that his own talk of threats, sanctions, regime change and military strikes might make Tehran want a deterrent (or even just a latent capability) even more, thereby making Newt a potential co-creator of the very monster that he warns against.

I yearn for his political implosion, and return to the outer darkness of the political fringe.   

Cross-posted at The Offshore Balancer


Nuclear Disarmament: Looking Back at Reykjavik

I’ve been looking at some of the documents in “The Reykjavik File” at the National Security Archive. This coming October will mark 25 years since Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev almost completed a startling nuclear disarmament deal.

Had they been successful, both superpowers would have been disarmed 15 years ago!

The US proposal at Reykjavik was fairly startling, as reported in the Memorandum of Conversation, Reagan-Gorbachev, Final Meeting, 12 October 1986, 3:25 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. – 6:50 p.m., October 16, 1986. Document 15 (or see this archive for educators):

“Both sides would agree to confine themselves to research, development and testing, which is permitted by the ABM Treaty, for a period of 5 years, through 1991, during which time a 50% reduction of strategic nuclear arsenals would be achieved. This being done, both sides will continue the pace of reductions with respect to all remaining offensive ballistic missiles with the goal of the total elimination of all offensive ballistic missiles by the end of the second five-year period. As long as these reductions continue at the appropriate pace, the same restrictions will continue to apply. At the end of the ten-year period, with all offensive ballistic missiles eliminated, either side would be free to deploy defenses.”

Obviously, the US was interested in the possibility of researching and testing anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems during the offensive disarmament period and then potentially deploying the systems after a 10 year period.

This is the somewhat different Soviet counterproposal (as reported in the same document), which also aims at disarming offensive arsenals over a 10 year period. However, it includes somewhat tougher language about research and testing limits under the 1972 ABM Treaty:

“The USSR and the United States undertake for ten years not to exercise their existing right of withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, which is of unlimited duration, and during that period strictly to observe all its provisions. The testing in space of all space components of missile defense is prohibited, except research and testing conducted in laboratories. Within the first five years of the ten-year period (and thus through 1991), the strategic offensive arms of the two sides shall be reduced by 50 percent. During the following five years of that period, the remaining 50 percent of the two sides strategic offensive arms shall be reduced. Thus by the end of 1996, the strategic offensive arms of the USSR and the United States will have been totally eliminated.”

Sadly, nuclear disarmament was blocked by a fairly narrow difference over a pipe dream technology.

For a U.S. government analysis of the negotiations, written in the first person and signed by Ronald Reagan, see Document 25: National Security Decision Directive Number 250, “Post-Reykjavik Follow-Up,” 3 November 1986, 14 pp.


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