A War of Convenience

I’m sure this strategy has Putin and Assad cowering in fear:

America’s allies in Britain and France declared that they were prepared to act again if necessary, but made clear that they did not want to become further involved in Syria.

Translation:

We will take all necessary measures to deter our enemies…unless doing so becomes a hassle.

Right, but wouldn’t that be an invitation on Putin and Assad’s part to make it a hassle? If you don’t want “to become further involved in Syria,” wouldn’t non-involvement be the more obvious method to adopt?

Rolling Blunder: Airpower Redux

From George C. Herring, America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975, pp. 179, 180:

Rolling Thunder

The United States relied heavily on bombing. Airpower doctrine emphasized that the destruction of an enemy’s war-making capacity would force that enemy to come to terms. The limited success of strategic bombing as applied on a large scale in World War II and on a more restricted scale in Korea raised serious questions about the validity of this assumption. The conditions prevailing in Vietnam, a primitive country with few crucial targets, might have suggested even more questions. The air force and navy advanced unrealistic expectations about what airpower might accomplish, however, and clung to them long after experience had proven them unjustified. The civilian leadership accepted the military’s arguments, at least to a point, because bombing was cheaper in lives lost and therefore more palatable at home, and because it seemed to offer a quick and comparatively easy solution to a complex problem. Initiated in early 1965 as much from the lack of alternatives as from anything else, the bombing of North Vietnam was expanded over the next two years in the vain hope that it would check infiltration into the South and force North Vietnam to the conference table. …

The manner in which airpower was used in Vietnam virtually ensured that it would not achieve its objectives. Whether, as the  Joint Chiefs argued, a massive, unrestricted air war would have worked remains much in doubt. In fact, the United States had destroyed most major targets by 1967 with no demonstrable effect on the war. Nevertheless, the administration’s gradualist approach gave Hanoi time to construct an air defense system, protect its vital resources, and develop alternative modes of transportation. Gradualism in encouraged the North Vietnamese to persist despite the damage inflicted on them.

Sound familiar?

Questions about the Parkland Shooting (2): The Premature Demonization of Scot Peterson

Here’s my second round of generally unasked questions about the Parkland shooting:

What legitimate purpose was served by branding Deputy Sheriff Scot Peterson a coward, thereby inducing his resignation and tarnishing his career, before the investigation into his performance had been completed (in fact, it had barely gotten underway), and (obviously) before all of the relevant facts were in?

I can think of a couple of patently illegitimate purposes:

  1. The demonization of Peterson facilitated some awe-inspiringly gratuitous virtue-signaling, the ne plus ultra of which was Donald Trump’s mind-blowingly idiotic claim (even for him) that he, Trump, would have gone in to confront the shooter with or without a weapon in hand. Unclear what this “act” of bravado would have accomplished, except to have put a bullet in Trump’s brainless head–not a bad outcome, I suppose, but not precisely the intended one. But let’s not stop with Trump: lesser versions of Trump’s grandstanding–or waking dreamwork–have now become ubiquitous. Apparently, we live in a country of bravehearts and tactical experts who know a coward-under-fire when they see one on video, or rather, read about the video on Facebook.
  2. The attacks on Peterson also reinforced the essentially Trumpian ethos of making personnel decisions a matter of mobocratic approbation or disapprobation, a la “The Apprentice.” Professionals are now being fired across the country and across professions (or else being induced to resign their positions), not for demonstrable violations of professionally-relevant standards, but for reasons of PR and image control: what looks bad is bad has become the axiom. The people acting on that axiom are now commonly hailed as “courageous” for firing helpless subordinates without a feasible means of challenging their higher-ups; its victims have become the scapegoats that everybody loves to hate. The inversion of virtue to vice, and subordination of reality to appearance, has become complete.

I’m curious to know whether anyone can adduce good reasons for Peterson’s being treated the way he was. Naturally, the video that depicts Peterson’s supposed delinquency is not being released, because it’s part of an “ongoing” investigation (which didn’t stop the authorities from releasing confidential material on Cruz’s state of mental health). In other words, the video that is generating so much outrage is mostly invisible to the people undergoing the outrage, because the agency in custody of it is engaged in an “investigation” with an outcome they’ve already announced. It all gives new meaning to the old cliche, “Nothing to see here.” Continue reading

Treason for the Goose

Isn’t what’s treason for the goose also treason for the gander? I’d have thought so. Maybe that’s why we should avoid making half-baked charges–or half-charges–of treason unless there’s a really good reason for doing so.

As for this…

With the possible exception of an American “levying war” against U.S. troops in a place like Afghanistan, “the biggest-picture takeaway is that there is no treason occurring on any side now,” said Jed Shugerman, a legal historian at Fordham Law School.

Fair enough. But I’d have thought that a good legal historian would enjoy a good hypothetical. For example: if Israel is at war with the Palestinians, and dual national Israeli-Americans join the IDF to shoot at Palestinian-Americans or Americans-in-Palestine, what exactly is the word for that? It’s not treason, I know. It’s not reason, either. But it’s always in season.

I guess there’s a widespread temptation to say “nullum nomen, nullum nominandum” in this case (roughly: “where there is no name, there is nothing to be named”). But maybe there shouldn’t be.

The Bottom Line on Jerusalem

France 24: “Israel’s Netanyahu Says US Embassy Could Move to Jerusalem within a Year.”

Reuters: “Trump Denies US Embassy to be Moved Within a Year.”

CNN: “US to Move Embassy by Year’s End, Netanyahu Says.”

Ha’aretz: “Trump Denies Netanyahu’s Claims that US Embassy Will Move to Jerusalem within Year.”

Calgary Herald: “Netanyahu Says US Embassy to Move to Jerusalem this Year.”

Jewish Press: “Trump Curbs Netanyahu’s Enthusiasm: No Embassy Move Any Time Soon.”

The New York Times: “U.S. Presses to Relocate Embassy to Jerusalem by 2019” (print version: “Trump Administration Presses to Relocate Embassy to Jerusalem by 2019.”)

NHK World: “Abbas: Jerusalem Could Be Gate to War.”

Felician University Statement on the Repeal of DACA

Almost all readers were unimpressed with the “Statement of the Faculty of Felician University” that I posted here in January, responding to the election and inauguration of Donald Trump. I’m happy to report that Felician’s president, Anne Prisco, has released a statement that takes a much stronger and more substantive position on the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program. I’ve excerpted it below the fold. I’m grateful for it.

I can’t help remembering the “proseminars on pedagogy” I attended back in grad school, intended to prepare us for the ups and downs of college-level teaching. Oddly enough, I don’t ever remembering anyone’s covering “what to do when the federal authorities come in force to campus, invade your classroom, and seize your students as a preliminary to deportation.” But hey–the great thing about this job is that it forces you to learn new things. What I’ve learned is a twist on the old cliche that “life is a journey”: for some of us, it promises to be a journey from the classroom to a prison cell, and from there to a permanent exile from the country of one’s birth.

To be honest, if such deportations are to take place at all, I prefer that they take place on campus. Better collectively to have to bear witness to them than to have the luxury of pretending that they aren’t happening.

Continue reading

Plato on the Ridiculous and Donald Trump

Donald Trump is a fairly ridiculous human being. Though he has somehow managed to inspire admiration in many, even some of his supporters concede that he isn’t especially admirable, and many of his detractors apparently agree that he is not merely a bad person and unfit for public office, but positively absurd, a laughingstock of the sort we more readily expect from political satire than from political reality, perhaps all the more ridiculous for being real rather than fictional. Such, at least, we might infer from the frequency with which social media users and some traditional media outlets subject Trump to ridicule and present him as an object of derision and mockery. Admittedly, politicians in general, and especially presidents, are always easy targets for humor and satire, and the most successful comedians can find a way to make almost anything funny. In some conservative circles Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were — and in some, still are — laughed at with tedious regularity, and it may not be that Trump is made fun of more than they were, or by more people, but simply more often by people I happen to pay attention to. Even so, Trump gets made fun of. A lot. This worries me.

In some ordinary, imprecise sense of the word, I find Donald Trump ridiculous. What I don’t find him is funny, in any way, someone who inspires laughter of any kind. I share what some readers will no doubt regard as the Standard Liberal Elitist Disdain for Trump; pick a widely held complaint about Trump, and I probably at least sympathize with it. So my inability to laugh at him is not an expression of any kind of respect for the man or his office. I simply can’t laugh at him, or at any of the many discussions or representations of him designed to make me laugh at him, from Alec Baldwin’s caricatures to the latest post on my Facebook feed. This isn’t because I’m a generally humorless guy; anybody who knows me well will probably tell you that I’m at least occasionally too silly. It’s that I don’t think I should laugh at him. More than that, I don’t think you should either. I don’t think anyone should. Insofar as something that is ridiculous is something worth laughing at in a contemptuous, dismissive way, I don’t find Donald Trump ridiculous.

Plato explains why.

Continue reading

Talking Treason

The U.S. Constitution defines “treason” as follows (Article III, Section 3):

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

It’s not the only possible way of defining treason, but it’s the legally accepted definition of treason in the United States. Treason is a crime, and like all crimes, those accused of it enjoy a presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law. Since it’s a capital crime, punishable in principle by death, the presumption of innocence matters even more than it ordinarily would, not that the presumption is any less applicable to non-capital crimes.* Continue reading

Immigrants and Slaves

I have zero admiration for Ben Carson, but even Ben Carson deserves better than the criticisms that have been made of his first speech as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Ben Carson’s first full week as secretary of Housing and Urban Development got off to a rough start on Monday after he described African slaves as “immigrants” during his first speech to hundreds of assembled department employees. The remark, which came as part of a 40-minute address on the theme of America as “a land of dreams and opportunity,” was met with swift outrage online.

Mr. Carson turned his attention to slavery after describing photographs of poor immigrants displayed at the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration. These new arrivals worked long hours, six or seven days a week, with little pay, he said. And before them, there were slaves.

“That’s what America is about, a land of dreams and opportunity,’’ he said. “There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less. But they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters, might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”

Carson’s remarks elicited widespread “outrage” for his supposed failure to observe the fact that immigrants migrate by choice to a country of their choice, whereas slaves are seized by force, transported by force, and sold involuntarily into forced labor. The implication of the criticism would appear to be either that Carson was unaware of the distinction between voluntary migration and the forced nature of slavery, or that he was aware of it, but minimized the distinction so as to make slavery seem less bad than it really is. Unfortunately, both criticisms are absurd, as is the outrage itself. Continue reading

Two Petitions Worth Signing

I have the somewhat tedium-inducing sense that the next four years of our lives will involve a lot of petitions–reading them, signing them, and enduring widespread derision for doing so.

Tedious it is, but don’t let that stop you. It’s doubtful (I know) that petitions serve any straightforwardly instrumental function: it’s not as though the Trump Administration will recoil in horror at the discovery that 20,000+ academics deplore his Executive Order on immigration, and that 272+ academics deplore the attitudes he’s expressed toward Mexico–and then decide to roll back his immigration policies. But those of us who oppose Trump and his policies feel the entirely healthy desire to do something to oppose his administration, and signing a petition is something–not much, but something. At the very least, it gives us something cheap and easy to do while we figure out what else to do. It serves an expressive function, which is not nothing, and offers solidarity to those adversely affected by the policies, which, though not much, is better than nothing. Continue reading