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Jailer's Posts

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China’s Vast Sovereignty Claims Are Becoming Reality


On June 13, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin held an extraordinary press conference in which he made a series of audacious statements about the sprawling reach of the Middle Kingdom’s territorial sovereignty. Placed in the context of China’s other recent actions and statements, the incredible size and shape of its regional ambitions are brought into sharp relief.

In simple terms, Beijing is determined to thoroughly dominate its region.

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Jeff Bezos recently touched off a mini firestorm when he suggested that free-speech enthusiast Elon Musk may be vulnerable to pressure from Beijing to put his own finger on the sacred algorithmic scales to protect Chinese Communist Party interests. Bezos later walked it back a bit, but he should have stood his ground. This is […]

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The Solomon Islands’ Pact with China


Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare in Beijing on October 9, 2019.

Recent news about the Solomon Islands’ new security agreement with China sent Americans scrambling for their atlases. Not so in Australia, which has been watching this issue closely for years and sees this issue as potentially existential. To understand why harkens back to World War II.

When I was the U.S. defense attache in Canberra, around this time of year I found myself giving speeches and laying wreaths at the annual Battle of the Coral Sea events. To be honest, I had to get a lot smarter on the Coral Sea, as I hadn’t previously assigned as much importance to it as to other Pacific naval battles–Pearl Harbor and Midway, for example. But for the Aussies, who had just seen their primary security partners (the British) surrender in Singapore, the fact the Yanks showed up and stopped the Japanese fleet before it reached Australian shores meant everything, and we became their new best “mates”.

Eight Important Lessons on Deterrence from Ukraine


There’s nothing that complicated about deterrence theory. To successfully deter potential adversaries from doing bad things to you and your friends, they need to believe you are willing and able to do unacceptably bad things to them and their friends in response. The degree to which they believe this is the degree to which deterrence is effective. Hence, successful deterrence employs the tactic of ambiguity to create doubt in adversaries’ minds over how far you may be willing to go, which is where the phrase “all options are on the table” has often been employed through past conflicts and crises.

So, what lessons have we learned about deterrence over the past two months?

Casualty of War: Russia’s Arms Industry


One of the many casualties of Putin’s war in Ukraine will likely be Russia’s global arms industry, which was already in trouble both financially and reputationally.

The appeal of Russian gear to foreign markets has long been:

  1. Its low cost compared to western counterparts.
  2. Its unconcern over such messy details as the client’s human rights record or intended use for the weapons.
  3. Its under-the-table generosity to corrupt government officials and purchasing agents.

Unfortunately for Russia’s arms merchants, the war has made their job much more challenging for three key reasons:

One Final Military Thanksgiving


Today marks my final Thanksgiving Day in uniform. I have spent it largely alone, as the Middle East dust has been playing Old Harry with my sinuses, sharply limiting my opportunities for fellowship. I did make an exception to go serve the troops at the dining facility, or “DFAC” in our military lingo. I was entrusted with the corn-on-the-cob, collard greens and gravy. They kept me away from the carving knives, which was probably the right call, manual dexterity not being my strong suit.

I can’t help but feel a bit nostalgic–indeed, thankful–as I tic off each of these “lasts” through this final year on active duty, an extraordinarily fulfilling 35-year adventure from start to finish. The Air Force collected me from a disastrous early college experience, gave me a trade and sufficient structure to get me through those undisciplined early adult years, and then let me go back to school once I’d grown up enough to handle it. It sent me to amazing places and introduced me to even more amazing people–including my lifelong friend and soul-mate, who willingly signed up for the rest of the journey.

Trump’s Disruptive Foreign Policy


The following began its brief life as a comment on another recent post, but after reflection I thought maybe it was cogent enough to stand on its own. On the foreign policy front, I suspect I may be the only one here who has served in Embassies, including during the Trump era. This is what I will say about that.

  1. I’m sure I won’t break any news when I say that most of the foreign policy establishment leans left and is distressed when any Republican is elected but was especially so in 2016. This is not only true of our dear State Department friends but across the entire transnational community of foreign policy elites.
  2. Continuing as Captain Obvious, DJT is a norm-breaker, and the foreign policy community seriously loves it some norms–and resents when they are broken.
  3. Of course, some norms badly needed to be broken. In particular, the national and international foreign policy consensus on China urgently needed to move, and this administration succeeded in catalyzing that movement. The 2017 National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy were masterfully done. They met a critical need to generate a global awakening about the failure of the previous consensus on Beijing, probably best summarized by Robert Zoellick’s 2005 “Responsible Stakeholder” speech. Someone had to end the charade, and it’s worth wondering whether a more conventional administration of either party could have overcome the entrenched consensus to have boldly introduced major-power competition as the new normal–so successfully that even the professionals now agree that we can’t go back to the status quo ante on China.
  4. Israel and the Middle East is the other major area where the foreign policy consensus simply had to be sidelined. I recently spoke to a State Department official who–in the context of a discussion about normalization with the UAE and Bahrain–seethed angrily about how this Administration had trashed 70 years of foreign policy consensus on Palestine. Without irony. Sometimes the conventional wisdom must be firmly rejected.
  5. Getting our allies to finally invest in their own defense is also a plus.
  6. Having said that, we are paying a price for appearing capricious and unnecessarily dismissive of our allies. Sure, they can be difficult, but they remain our allies and we do need to keep them on our side. Those same national security documents make it clear that major-power competition is a team sport, and we have to bring the team along if we’re going to win. And we must win.
  7. Also, the incessantly revolving door of senior officials (especially SecDefs and National Security Advisors) has been extremely disruptive to getting important work done in the international space.
  8. Finally, there’s been a dearth of consistently strong and vocal leadership on our American principles (democracy, rule of law, human rights, etc.), particularly since Nikki Haley stepped down as U.N. Ambassador. Foreign policy requires salesmanship, and ours would benefit from some strength, steadiness, and consistency on these themes.

Bottom line, this administration has served as a corrective to some badly flawed policy. Disruption was absolutely necessary, but at some point should start to give way to stability and focused team-building.

It Was a Dark and Stormy Volcanic Apocalypse …


A pick-up truck desperately tries to outrun a cloud of ash spewing from the volcanic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991. (Photo: Alberto Garcia)

I was just 24 years old on June 15, 1991 … the day the world ended. I waited quietly for the apocalypse at a rectangular folding table with a beige telephone, a green logbook, and a squadron personnel roster. My station that day was at Subic Bay Naval Base, which was not my home.

Up until five nights previously, my home had been the cozy little two-bedroom apartment that the recently married Mrs. Jailer and I had been assigned at Clark Air Base, Republic of the Philippines. Clark was about 30 miles–as the indigenous F-4 Phantom flew–southwest of Subic Bay.

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There are a number of key questions transitioning military professionals ask when we plan our off-ramps to civilian life. The one that gets the most attention on career platforms like LinkedIn is, “What shall I do?” In the real world, however, my military colleagues just as often begin with, “Where do you want to live?” […]

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INFP: Frodo Goes Job Hunting


My generation grew up in the era of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). I’ve honestly lost track of how many times I’ve taken this test, but my results are always the same: I am an INFP (introverted, intuitive, feeling, perceiving):

“Idealistic, loyal to their values and to people who are important to them. Want an external life that is congruent with their values. Curious, quick to see possibilities, can be catalysts for implementing ideas. Seek to understand people and to help them fulfill their potential. Adaptable, flexible, and accepting unless a value is threatened.”

Mission: Transition


Soon to be unmasked for the civilian world to see …

Three and a half decades after I first took the oath that has defined my professional life thus far, I am facing a very different kind of mission: military retirement and transition to civilian status. It is hardly my first big project, and a great many fine colleagues have gone before me and testify that, with careful planning and preparation, it may be done quite successfully. Yet the prospect seems strangely daunting. Why?

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Previous:  Born Again 13:  God’s in the Heart-Changing BusinessIt’s time to come clean. What I have not told you — though you may have guessed — is that Sharon and I had briefly been romantically involved, back when this saga began so many years ago. The relationship had crumbled as I realized my girlfriend did […]

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America’s Ambassador to Australia has a strong Op-Ed on China in today’s Defence Connect online publication: This is the Unbreakable Alliance we have built, and it is the one the Indo-Pacific needs for the emerging challenges ahead. Even as I write this, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has aggressively deployed its navy, coast guard and maritime […]

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Previous:  Born Again 12: My Husband Thinks I’m Weird   Sharon’s previous letter raises a couple of critical concerns. First, she’s been conditioned to think of the term “born again” as something of a derogatory. Of course, Jesus emphasized the need for spiritual rebirth in very clear terms, and so she’ll need to be able […]

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Previous: Born Again 10: What do You Want?   My sense of excitement over Sharon’s growing enthusiasm and revelations is matched by a sense of uncertainty. Everything is here sitting in a pile: conviction of sin, comprehension of Christ, yearning for salvation … I can’t escape the sense that a gifted evangelist would have brought […]

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US Navy ‘Expelled’ by China?


USS Barry (left) and USS Bunker Hill (right) underway in the South China Sea, April 18. Both vessels conducted FONOPS this week. (USN)

This past week, the US conducted two “freedom of navigation operations” (FONOPS) in the South China Sea (SCS). US and Chinese rhetoric following these events was pretty much standard fare: measured on the US side, hyperbolic on Beijing’s.

In the first instance, Beijing claims to have “expelled” the USS Barry from Chinese territorial waters. From the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) version of Tokyo Rose:


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