If There’s no Iran Deal, Then What?


A flurry of leaks and news reports seems designed to prepare us for the collapse of the Iran negotiations. We’re being told that Obama is “no longer sanguine” about the prospects.

Russian state media (for what that’s worth) reported that a senior official from the group of six told Zarif that if he didn’t want to reach a deal, they could end the talks right then and there. Iranian state media (for what that’s worth) identified that official as the Entity-Formerly-Known-as-the-European-Union foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini. Zarif apparently barked, “Never try to threaten the Iranians.” Lavrov apparently added, “Nor the Russians.” What the Americans said went un-leaked, but there are rumors that Kerry was heard screaming at Zarif, and that his aide had to tip-toe in to warn him that everyone in the hotel could hear it.

A Bit of a Cyber-Coincidence?


CJZ15QgUwAAhRWmFirst United’s flights are halted owing to a “glitch,” and now the NYSE?

Trading in all securities were halted on the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday following earlier reports of technical difficulties, although NYSE-listed issues was still trading on other exchanges.

After the halt, U.S. stocks extended their losses, but in low volumes, with the S&P 500 hitting a session low and the Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq both falling more than 1 percent.

Chekhov’s Midnight Raid on the Logistical Platform for the French Army’s External Operations


070715 miramas-m“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story,” Anton Chekhov advised. “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”

This just really happened:

A pile of explosives, 180 detonators and around 40 grenades were stolen from an army base in Miramas in southern France, a source close to investigations said on Tuesday, despite the country still being on high alert following recent terror attacks.

Secular Humanism: Our Only Hope for Defeating Radical Islam


In response to Paddy’s thought-provoking suggestion that a secularized Western culture is doomed to fall before committed barbarians, permit me to start with a statement that might shock: Secular humanism defeated radical Islam centuries ago. Everything we’re doing now, essentially, is mop-up.

The story began when Johannes Gutenberg invented the first European printing press with movable type, one of the most important events in the arc of modern history, if not the most important. Before Gutenberg, the marginal utility of acquiring skills such as reading and writing was low, because the cost of books, laboriously copied by hand, was high. The price of a single Bible could easily exceeded the economic value of a village.

Obama on ISIS: ‘Ideologies Are Not Defeated with Guns’


ObamaISISAfter meeting with military leaders today at the Pentagon, President Obama held a brief press conference on his administration’s ISIS policy. With head hung low and slumped shoulders, a graying Obama breezed through a statement that raised more questions than clarified America’s strategy:

OBAMA: This broader challenge of countering violent extremism is not simply a military effort. Ideologies are not defeated with guns, they are defeated by better ideas and more attractive and more compelling vision. So the United States will continue to do our part by continuing to counter ISIL’s hateful propaganda, especially online. We’ll constantly reaffirm through words and deeds that we will never be at war with Islam. We are fighting terrorists who distort Islam and its victims are mostly Muslims.

We’re also going to partner with Muslim communities as they seek the prosperity and dignity they observe. And we’re going to expect those communities to step up in terms of pushing back as hard as they can in conjunction with other people of good will against these hateful ideologies, particularly when it comes to what we’re teaching young people.

Oxi-Notes on the Morning in Europe


8af78d0e-fdf3-45f2-8677-72d06bd7b58c1) Headline writers throughout Europe have been manfully resisting all variants on the obvious Oxi-moron joke. This is perhaps because everyone on Twitter came up with it first. (I measured this.)

2) Game theorists are frantically trying to discern the strategy behind Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis’s abrupt resignation. Has he been inspired by Nash Equilibria or by Nash Schizophrenia? As yet unclear.

3) At least the result of the vote was overwhelming. I say “at least” because one of my fears was a vote so close as to make accusations of fraud and vote-rigging credible. So that’s a good thing, at least.

Introducing Secretary of State Thucydides-Machiavelli-Hobbes-Morgenthau-Kissinger-Waltz


screen-shot-2012-10-22-at-4-22-50-pmChairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey wrote the introduction to the Pentagon’s National Military Strategy, which has just been updated:

Today’s global security environment is the most unpredictable I have seen in 40 years of service. Since the last National Military Strategy was published in 2011, global disorder has significantly increased while some of our comparative military advantage has begun to erode. We now face multiple, simultaneous security challenges from traditional state actors and transregional networks of sub-state groups – all taking advantage of rapid technological change. Future conflicts will come more rapidly, last longer, and take place on a much more technically challenging battlefield.

I note (with cool detachment) that the Kremlin “regrets [the] new military strategy targeting Russia.”

Tsipras Should Take No for an Answer


shutterstock_194968301In today’s Daily Shot, this paragraph describes what’s happened since I last wrote about Greece:

First, [Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras] left bailout negotiations, insisting on a public referendum on the conditions Greece’s creditors were demanding. Then he let his nation go into default on its debt payments. Then, he suddenly realized how bad an idea that was, so he wrote a letter late Tuesday to other European leaders and the IMF, accepting the terms of their bailout. Then he started telling his voters to reject the measure.

I think the truth is worse than the paragraph suggests. Mr. Tsipras didn’t even accept the terms of the bailout. He made several modifications that were virtually a counter-proposal. The EU rejected this because it was a significant change in plans.

Perfectly Cowardly Answer: Publishing Religious Images That May Offend


BN-GK083_Charli_JV_20150112182529Sometimes I wake up thinking, “I could write something serious and original about the state of the world, or I could have a look at The New York Times and spend my morning shooting trout in a barrel.”

In my defense, the weather is quite hot and The Times made it too easy. Margaret Sullivan, public editor of The Times, yesterday tried to explain why the paper chose not to print Charlie Hebdo‘s cartoons depicting Muhammad in the wake of the massacre of Charlie Hebdo staffers in Paris.

You may recall that afterward, their surviving colleagues went on television, begging the world media to show the cover of the first edition they published after the murders. They asked this, first, to show that the image was not, in fact, calculated to offend — unless one accepted the precept that any depiction of Mohammed was inherently offensive. Second, and far more important, they noted that if every publication printed the cover, they wouldn’t be singled out as targets. Beyond that argument, there is the further point that, obviously, the cover was newsworthy.

The Strategika Podcast: Tom Donnelly on the Perils of Techno-Optimism in Warfare


In this installment of the Strategika podcast, I talk to Tom Donnelly, co-director of the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, about the efforts in recent decades to substitute technology for manpower in military affairs. Tom cautions that the West may have become too seduced by the desire to wage antiseptic warfare — and that the consequences could be perilous. Listen in below or subscribe to Strategika through iTunes or your favorite podcast app.

Environmental Imperialism


shutterstock_146843426The western Left has determined that people around the world must severely restrict their use of fossil fuels. Doing so would condemn billions of people to endless poverty. The “free” biomass fuels — wood, peat, and animal dung — that impoverished people in developing countries are forced to use exact terrible costs: the destruction of whole forests and jungles, loss of habitat and the attendant loss of flora and fauna, and respiratory problems and shortened lives from breathing smoke and fumes. As economist Deepak Lal stated in Poverty and Progress:

The greatest threat to the alleviation of the structural poverty of the Third World is the continuing campaign by western governments, egged on by some climate scientists and green activists, to curb greenhouse emissions… To put a limit on the use of fossil fuels without adequate economically viable alternatives is to condemn the Third World to perpetual structural poverty.

These “Green Imperialists” as Lal has called them, would deny billions of people the energy that has pulled the West out of poverty and that is essential to providing clean air and water, adequate lighting, communications, computer services, and life-saving medical care.

Grecian Formula €1.55 Billion


An ATM in Athens.  The sign says "empty."While we’ve been debating the Supreme Court, there’s been a whole lot of noise going on in Europe over the snap referendum the Greeks have called on their loans from the IMF, the European Commission, and the European Central Bank (hereinafter “the troika,” as they are commonly known in Greece and Cyprus — usually with an epithet as a modifier.)

Here’s a guide to what’s happening and what’s at stake, as well as a few thoughts on what we’ll see on Monday.

This is a very odd referendum. Normally, the troika and the Greek government — currently controlled by the left-wing Syriza party that swept to power 8 months ago on a pledge to not borrow more money and get out from under the troika’s economic stabilization plan — would agree to some compromise. Syriza’s leader, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, would go on television, announce the agreement, and ask the people to vote to support it. (Chances are the compromise would include his breaking a couple of promises, so he’d want the people’s blessing to do so.) But no, this referendum comes after Tsipras left negotiations and flew back to Athens without an agreement — and he is putting the troika’s deal on the table.  It is clear he would like the public to vote no.

Unreality and Nihilism


shutterstock_273465104George Kennan’s classic 1947 “X” article, published anonymously in Foreign Affairs under the title The Sources of Soviet Conduct, laid the foundation for more than 40 years of American Cold War policy toward its Soviet adversary. Kennan’s article is a model of analytical clarity and grand-strategic vision, best known for formulating the strategy of “containment”. But while containment was Kennan’s famous – and famously successful – policy prescription for the challenge facing the United States in 1947, what is often forgotten is his thesis, which is hiding in plain sight within the article’s title: if you want to prevail over your adversary, you must first understand what motivates him. What are the sources of his conduct? What is his “political personality”?

In the case of the Soviet Union, Kennan identifies the basic source in Marxist-Leninist ideology, and in particular, two of its key postulates: the innate and irreconcilable antagonism between capitalism and socialism; and the infallibility of Soviet political leadership. All Soviet conduct in foreign affairs flows from these two elements. In light of which, Kennan deduces that “Soviet pressure against the free institutions of the Western world is something that can be contained by the adroit and vigilant application of counterforce at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points, corresponding to the shifts and maneuvers of Soviet policy, but which cannot be charmed or talked out of existence.”

Secretary of State George Marshall and President Truman were persuaded by Kennan’s analysis and, with much public debate, committed the United States to a costly, long-term national effort to contain Soviet Communism. The precise meaning and form of this effort were subject to some disagreement around the edges, but its main contours remained firm and constant for over 40 years. This massive commitment was made while the smoking ruins of World War II still smoldered, and with the catastrophic failure of the major democracies to understand and confront the sources of Nazi conduct still fresh in the minds of America’s leadership class.

Obama Okays Negotiations with Hostage-takers


Militant Islamist fighter waving a flag, cheers as he takes part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa provinceOn Wednesday, President Obama will release an executive order to allow the U.S. government to negotiate with terrorists for the release of American hostages, according to CNN.

The White House claims that the government will not pay ransom or make “substantive concessions” to terror groups, but it will no longer prosecute families who wish to pay them.

The payment of ransoms to terror groups like ISIS and al Qaeda has long been tolerated, though it is technically illegal. The administration has looked the other way when families of Americans held overseas have paid ransoms.

The Day That Reagan Died


90265714_1It was June 5th, 2004. I had been in the Republic of Georgia for less than a month when I heard that Reagan had died. Reagan had meant a lot to me over the years, and I’d followed his political career since I was eight years old.  Growing up with the Reagan administration made the 40th president my childhood hero.

What I did not expect was how the Georgian people would react. As I was walking in the bazaar of a small provincial town, a man saw me, quickly crossed the dusty street, took my hand and said, “I am so sorry. Your great man died today. I am so sorry.”

I asked him, “Do you mean President Reagan?”

Fun With Files


shutterstock_285175289China has scored an intelligence coup by breaking into the Office of Personnel Management database and making off with the files on millions of current and former government officials. Estimates of the number of officials whose information was taken range from a low of 4 million to 14 million. Of course, the Chinese are not going to be interested in every clerk in the bowels of the Department of Agriculture. But they will have gained access, according to reports, to the background information on all those who held sensitive national security positions in the government.

For those curious what the information contained in these files might be, here is the form for national security clearances. It basically asks for every place you have ever lived, everywhere you have gone to school and worked, any groups you have joined, the names of anyone who has known you in any of these stages of your life, extended family members, contacts with foreigners, medical information, legal affairs, and so on.  The form is 120 pages.

It is then supplemented by an FBI background investigation, which collects all information, truthful or not, unfiltered and unevaluated, about the official. As someone who has held these type of clearances, I don’t have a right to see my own file — although now I guess I can ask the Chinese for it.

Journalism and its Discontents, Part I


Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 11.06.17Over the weekend, we had an interesting discussion on the Member Feed about journalism as a profession. Southern Pessimist asked me this question: “Give me some ideas,” he wrote, “of what you think needs to be reported that is not being reported.”

My answer to this is so long that I’ll break it into a few parts. What should perhaps precede this post is a detailed historical account of what’s happened to the news industry since the end of the Cold War. I’ll come back to that, though, because the first point I want to make is that these changes have had significant consequences — largely, and surprisingly, bad ones.

So let’s in fact call this Part II. Let me begin by talking about foreign news coverage, since this is what I know best. I wrote this piece a few years ago: How to Read Today’s Unbelievably Bad News. Please do read the whole thing, but these are the key points: