Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Hawk Harrelson, 72. Yes, I enjoy his broadcasts. No, I'm not going to apologize for it.

Some good stuff:

1. Reid Wilson on the era of the recall.

2. Smart Syria analysis from Dan Drezner.

3. Also worth reading: Ross Douthat on Syria.

4. Beth McMurtrie on social scientists and policy makers.

5. And this came up in comments here recently, so I should definitely link: David Schoenfield on "why we'll see tanking in September." More plausible than I thought. Thanks again, Bud Selig.


  1. Hawk's enthusiasm for the game is really infectious. I much prefer his excitement and partisanship over a dozen other more "professional" announcers who try very hard to never sound like they're enjoying what they're doing.

    Also, happy birthday to my mom!

  2. I like Drezner's description of Obama's dilemma as wanting to do something to punish the chemical weapons use while avoiding: 1) being dragged into a quagmire, 2) a victory by Assad/Iran/Hezbollah, 3) a victory by al-Qaeda affiliates, and 4) general chaos. Yet he also describes the outcome as a conscious policy to draw Iran and others into a costly and self-defeating fight. By his own description, I thing that it is a consequence of circumstances, including Obama's avoidance goals, rather than a conscious policy goal. But perhaps I'm quibbling.

  3. I think that what Drezner casts as Obama trying to "half-ass his way through a muddle" can just as easily be seen as navigating step by step through a minefield. O wants a negotiated solution that unseats Assad and incorporates elements of the regime in a government dominated by "moderate" forces within the opposition. He doesn't want the regime to collapse suddenly; he wants to tip the balance while strengthening elements in the opposition the US can support. I see him trying to balance liberal and realism, rather than being driven to choose between the two.

    1. Then he should make that case for why that's a good goal and why it's achievable at acceptable cost balanced against benefits. What you're describing is not a humanitarian intervention. It's a major mission, with the public support of only a handful of allies, to secure political transformation in a regional geopolitical situation.

  4. Re: #2 Drezner

    I think the administration is even more confused than Drezner frames it. Drezner says it's liberal vs realist justifications. True, but I've actually heard from Obama, Kerry, and Hagel three clearly different modes of justification corresponding to three significantly different understandings of the scope of the mission:

    1) multi-lateral/soft liberal internationalism: strikes shore up a norm and credibility, act in interests of international community and humanity to make symbolic point with element of accountable punishment, maybe all this gets more countries on board and a diplomatic solution on the way;

    2) unilateral/hard liberal internationalism (almost all the way to neoconservatism): besides stuff in #1, what we're really doing is seeking to degrade Assad's capabilities to the extend that we make an effective intervention in the Syrian Civil War--leading to Assad being deposed or a diplomatic resolution after Assad feels desperate, plus we may ramp up assistance to the rebels;

    3) Cold, unilateral realism: *wink wink* please ignore everything we've been saying so forthrightly, actually what we're doing is seeking to maintain some marginal role in the Syrian situation so as to let the conflict persist as a sinkhole for Iran, Hezbollah, Al Qaeada, and Russia. Plus doing something for show, like these strikes, will remind the world that we use military force whenever we want to and they should cower

    So with them swinging back and forth between these three modes, we're already seeing substantial mission creep *before* anything has even begun. On top of that, the administration initial proposed resolution was so broad it was almost a blanket request to Congress to authorize any military force throughout the Middle East.

    I actually thought Obama was a #1-style liberal interventionist after the balance of his public statements in late August, but the administration has me pretty confused now. They willing to think and say a lot of incompatible things to gain support for their unclear plans -- and that's not a good sign at all. Additionally, in the last several days, the notion of working to gain greater international support for any mission has totally dropped out of the picture.

  5. Ah, Hawk. Thirty years ago I heard him describe Jim Rice as, "Stronger than a garlic milkshake."

  6. Congress (the Senate, at least) has no intention of exercising any serious constitutional constraint on the President's powers over military operations. In fact, it would like to take the opportunity to affirmatively hand over more fundamental control to the President, giving up power by establishing clearer precedents. Jack Goldsmith assesses the Senate's AUMF draft:

    "If the Senate draft becomes law, the President should be very pleased. It will give him congressional political and legal support for the targeted strikes that his senior national security advisors say he wants to conduct. The authorization extends to the use of ground troops in Syria for intelligence and other non-combat-related purposes. The draft AUMF does nothing to limit the President’s claimed independent constitutional power to intervene in Syria regardless of what the Congress does. Indeed, in the “Whereas” clauses it actually supports the President’s claims for independent constitutional power in this context, in broad and unqualified terms. Given the President’s stated aims, this is, for him, a great AUMF – if Congress passes it."


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