Monthly Archives: June 2011

No Longer Rome, Not Yet Greece. Andora?

In a press conference today the president vented his frustration at the latest example: partisan cliffhanging about lifting the country’s debt ceiling. The obstacles lie both in Washington, where the heart of the problem is the supermajority hurdle in the Senate, and in many individual states. A magnificent constitutional framework of checks and balances, designed to prevent the return of British tyranny, has atrophied into a system that makes reform almost more difficult than revolution.

And this, too, is familiar from history. Over time, superpowers acquire dysfunctionalities which they can carry because of their sheer plenitude of wealth and power, rather as a super-strong athlete can carry deficiencies in technique. When your strength wanes you suddenly need the technique; but it may be too late to get it back. Beside technique, there is the all-important confidence. But the old American can-do optimism is shaken. Even those who most loudly proclaim American exceptionalism strike a note of cultural pessimism. “It’s breaking my heart,” emotes Glenn Beck, “to see this nation basically going down the tubes.”

One has to be tolerant of Continental Schadenfreude. History’s perverse humor is revealed by Dominique de Villepin and Chirac as our Greek chorus. Timothy Garton Ash actually thinks there’s a way out of the American cul de sac. But he wonders if political dysfunction will win out.

Obama and the Democrats will go to the polls on the message ‘we suck less.’ That was the Peanut Farmer’s, too.

So You Social Tweeting Revolutionaries . . . Now What?

It’d be unkind (and inaccurate) to attribute today’s moribund (Brumaire-esque?) state of affairs from Tunisia up through Syria to Tweets, txts (SMS for the Euro-oriented) Facebook, etc. Just as it was hyperbole to claim these technological ephemera “caused” the civil uprisings originally. We’ve gone over that debate here before.

Dave Parry in Democracy writes: Social Media. Good For Revolution. Bad For Democracy. Asking the question one sees his conclusion. Still a fun read.

Our only qubble? The notion that social media it turns out isn’t very good for revolution, either. Aside from large mass emotional symbolic gestures, social media has yet to prove itself capable of more. (We don’t count NATO using people to Tweet for targets). It’s instructive that the amorphous and ground-based Egyptian opposition is calling for everyone “to start over at the beginning.”

Parry arguably arrives that the same point by another route. A confirmed Realist and long time supporter of Area Studies, naturally we would urge caution drawing on analogies from various situations around the world. Each social dynamic is its own. Events so far? Not looking so good. Somebody should tweet about that.

Still Smells Like A Strategic Disaster . . . Can You Check?

As a result, starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point. After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan Security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security. We are starting this drawdown from a position of strength.

American media has to put Obama’s nonsense into a cognitive frame they understand: who’s up, who’s down. Thus the bogus attention paid to Petraeus vs. Biden. This was classic Boy King Goldilocks. Withdrawing the surge troops (assuming it happens) still leaves 70,000 in a strategic black hole. One of the most comical moments tonight was to behold Gergen’s phlegmatic outrage that Obama did not do everything Petraeus told him.

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Unlike Gergen, Zakaria etc. you wouldn’t be surprised that we thought the speech merely modest if not mediocre. Its trumphalism hollow to even the most casual observer. What to make of such absurdities as “We are starting this drawdown from a position of strength? Many cynics might opine that the Boy King began misleading with “Good evening”, but, as Richard Cheney once said, we are not one of them.

The alleged goals and victory conditions enunciated again tonight – a cohesive national Afghan government, a reliable Afghan military, a non-corrupt police, etc. are not only wholly historically anomalous and thus beyond our means, but nothing can be achieved by kinetic violence. Whether one campaign season, two campaign seasons or a dozen.

In that sense, Obama’s cynical Goldilock’s solution is imposition of crass political calculation in the face of strategic insanity. Whether he pulls 10,000 now, leaves them, or pulls any other fraction of 100,000. Leaving a large American army in Afghanistan further exposes U.S. logistics to an increasingly hostile Pakistan. And that’s the rub.

The only feasible ‘victory’ outcome in Afghanistan as enunciated by the Boy King requires not only combat in Afghanistan. Pakistan must be eliminated as sanctuary and sponsor. A joint occupation of “Afpak” is beyond U.S. means and even imagination. But it does mean that prosecuting the ‘war’ in Afghanistan is even more strategically bankrupt than the Southeast Asian unpleasantness.

For a while Pakistan thought it would emerge the ultimate winner together with its proxies seeking control of Afghanistan for strategic depth (if no longer branded ‘Taliban’). Until recently, that is. The arrest of a brigadier and the naval base raid merely the latest signs of a burgeoning who whom.

For the U.S., Obama in Afghanistan presents a double irony. The first? LBJ et al. were actually more sincere in their mistakes than this crowd. The second? The first passes unrecognized.

Some People Apparently LIKE Getting Punched In The Face

Despite their grousing about the administration during the Netroots Nation conference, liberal activists and bloggers are relatively happy with President Barack Obama’s performance.

A straw poll conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research showed that 80 percent either approve or strongly approve of the president more than a year before voters head to the polls to decide whether he deserves a second term.

Sunshine daydream.

It All Comes Down To Checks And Balances, Not Separation Of Powers

The most important thing we learn hearing that the Boy King disregarded the legal advice of OLC and the AG, together with DoD’s General Counsel isn’t the outcome. Presidents always make the call for the Executive Branch. Rather, it’s how the Administration got there. The informality raises questions for the future.

It’s The How, Not The What

The specific issue is how to interpret “hostilities” in Section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution. If the U.S. is deemed engaged in hostilities in Libya, that conclusion triggers termination events. People say they’re for an “expansive” definition of hostilities to end operations or a “narrow” one if they’re for the current situation. Put that aside.

Let’s turn to how the Administration made its decision. Usually, when a legal analysis of this magnitude confronts the Executive Branch, OLC serves as coordinator. OLC will typically reach out to affected agencies and departments. Then OLC renders a written formal opinion (even if third-tier law school junk retroactively withdrawn per last Administration).

Here the White House actively avoided that formal structure (and remove from the issue at hand, even if it’s more appearance than fact). Instead, the Administration specifically asked OLC initially only to provide informal advice. Meanwhile, the WH itself solicited legal opinions from around government. Apparently there were a few meetings and some phone calls. That’s it. Then the WH asked for submission of rival analysis. The politics are clear. Amorphous, informal = maximum control. It’s the Diet Coke of Donilon’s exhaustive whirlybird thing-a-jig.

Big problem. Such unstructured process is not a system that can support first rate legal decision-making. Even more than ‘policy’, law is dependent on structure, integration, coherence.
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Simulation of IJN Center Force vs. USN Task Force 34 Off Samar, Oct. 25, 1944

Will be setting up a simulation of this ‘What If?’ from the Battle of Leyte Gulf. There, Japanese battleships and cruisers missed their American counterparts. Here it will happen.

We are setting the Japanese force assuming Kurita’s fleet as attrited in the Sibuyan Sea on the 24th. When the Japanese fleet exits the San Bernardino strait off Samar to attack the American landing operation, instead of running into the unbelievably valiant but hopelessly overmatched Taffy 3 escort carriers and their handful of destroyers and destroyer escorts, now they encounter the American fast battleships of Task Force 34.

In history, Halsey took Task Force 34 with him away from Leyte Gulf on a goose chase after empty Japanese carriers. This left the incredibly brave and determined men of Taffy 3 to stand between Japanese battleships and landing area. If you saw ‘Hunt for Red October’, this is what the Scottish/Russian captain meant when he says to a young and thin Alec Baldwin that Halsey acted foolishly. (Adding to the ‘What If’ mix, Kinkaid now sends Oldendorf’s 77.2 battle line north behind Task Force 34 as a reserve (the old battlewagons had more AP shells than let on)).

Light posting/tweeting Friday night.

The Japanese fleet commander’s state of mind was critical to the American victory. Some overview discussion here. The references to Evan Thomas there are harmless. Kurita’s official post-war de-brief is also interesting between the lines.

Fortunately, it’s a non-issue now. In this simulation, the Center Force is programmed to seek the beach head decisively.

It’s Time

What Walt says and we’ve said ad nauseum here before. In his heart Gates knows it’s over, too. May it be quick.

E-Mail Hang Over

The controls are almost as famous as the Konami Code or idkfa. Space bar = fire, arrows are direction, one is thrust. Game after link.

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Newt’s Quiet Day – Staffers Dynamite His Campaign To Obscure Their Bad Bet And Free Themselves For Perry Or Others

There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.

Newton Leroy Gingrich (2011)

Any American would be proud to honor service to our country. We generally agree with Rich Galen’s take on why the wheels came off. You may have noticed on Twitter my one quibble is over whose fault. Unless we learn something dramatically new, we believe (a) the staff deluded themselves into thinking they could impose a campaign structure on Newt; (b) blaming everything on Callista is not only inaccurate but shows lack of class; and (c) the mass exodus a CYA drama queen move.

Newt’s Always Been Undisciplined And Unable To Focus

Long time readers know our cant. He was Clinton’s coeval partner in one other respect: both congenitally undisciplined. It’s apparent within 15 minutes meeting him.

Anyone who has worked in his environment or reported on it knows this to be true. It was so in the late 1980s. In 1993-94. When he got fired in 1998. And 2011. To be ‘long time staffers’ and suddenly ‘discover’ this character facet in June 2011? Either mentally handicapped or venally dishonest.

Rick Tyler of insane press release fame has been on Newt’s payroll for 10 years. You make that call.

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Why We’re In Deeper Trouble Than Even Justin Wolfers Thinks (Long)

Justin Wolfers offers sobering empirical analysis to support his 4 conclusions:

1. The slump began in late 2006. And indeed, we were hardly enjoying good times through early 2006.

2. It’s a big slump, and GDP per capita fell by over 7 percent.

3. We remain a long way below the previous peak.

4. It’s going to take a long while to return to where we were back in 2006. Most forecasters are expecting GDP to grow by around 3 percent, implying per-capita growth closer to two percent. At those rates, average incomes in 2013 will (finally!) be back around the levels of 2006.

He has some nice charts. Check ‘em out.

Unfortunately, both he and the Fed think that the last few years are essentially cyclical — i.e., connected to and integrated with economic behavior and welfare/consumption before and to come. Things are grim to be sure, but we’ll get back (in 2013, go team). If only it were so.

We Are Not In A Normal Cyclical Downturn But A Structural Collapse

First, as you know Dear Reader, the Stiftung has argued for years that the American economy ceased generating real (as opposed to phantom, transient, financially engineered) income and per capita growth since the mid-1990s. Second, financial engineering hid this structural dysfunction from 1994-2011 by constantly generating bubbles to obscure the real underlying atrophy and decay.

Wolfers is optimistic about 2013 because his return data point, 2006, is actually itself a bubble popping high point. Don’t look down, it’s a long, long way to fall.

For the Stiftung, our economic narrative is thus: (a) the First Tech/Telecom Bubble (1994-2001); (b) the National Security Boom (2001-present); (c) Tax Cut -Redistribution (2001-present); (d) the Second Real Estate Bubble (2002-2007); and (e) the bailouts/USG and Fed subsidies (2008-present). Bernanke all but assured in recent appearances that money will continue to be free – as in close to zero % cost of borrowing. Under normal circumstances, if we were in a cyclical moment, the Fed would not only watch out for but want to see inflation. On cue, a Second Tech Bubble is getting ready for its close up.

We’re Not On The Same Economic Curve Anymore

Our predicament is not related to normative, linear macro-economic narratives. But because we collectively don’t realize that, the U.S. continues to make illusory and dangerously erroneous choices along an inflated baseline curve. Our real welfare curve is an order of magnitude smaller. It’s highly unlikely the U.S. will hit Wolfers’ mark in 2013 because there’s literally no there, there.

To be blunt, many of the jobs vaporized since 2008 are not coming back. Those few that do will be significantly reduced. People really haven’t internalized any of this yet.

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