Tag: us politics

Retired Generals are People Too!

This is a guest post by  Christopher Gelpi, Chair of Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution and Professor of Political Science
Mershon Center for International Security Studies at Ohio State University

 

The appearances of retired Generals Michael Flynn and John Allen at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, respectively, have created quite a stir among those concerned with civil-military relations in America.  In one sense, the attention paid to these military endorsements is surprising, since the best available evidence suggests that the support of military officers has a substantial impact on the public’s willingness to support military operations, but little impact on their voting choices.

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A General Arms Race in US Conventions: Not Great But Unavoidable

LTG (retired) Mike Flynn has become a Trump advocate and appeared at the Republican National Convention.  General (retired) John Allen surprised many by not just speaking at the Democratic National Convention but giving such enthusiastic support to Clinton.  The big question is: is this problematic to have recently retired military officers take such public positions in the middle of a national election?  Yes.  But what can you do?

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Lame Counterfactuals and American Politics

This has been going around:

Why is this such a dumb counterfactual?  Let me count the ways:

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Race, Gender and Civic Justice in America

The idea that citizens should be empowered by law to lethally judge who is a criminal threat is dangerous and wrong. Here’s one reason why:

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In Defense of Melting the Platinum Coin Option

Some prominent liberal commentators are upset that Treasury and the Fed have ruled out the “$1 trillion coin” option. The basic reasoning: the declaration weakens the President’s bargaining position and forecloses a way that it could have ameliorated the consequences of a failure to extend the debt limit.

I suspect that the reason for the declaration was sincere: key players believe that it is neither legal nor prudent. The second is Ezra Klein’s position. He also notes that the decision coheres what the administration has been arguing all along:

The administration’s position is that raising the debt limit is Congress’s responsibility until the day that Congress votes to make it the White House’s responsibility, which is a resolution the Obama administration would happily accept. Until then, White House officials say, they will not negotiate over the debt ceiling, and if congressional Republicans attempt to use it as leverage, then the consequences will be theirs to bear. As White HOuse Press Secretary Jay Carney put it, “there are only two options to deal with the debt limit: Congress can pay its bills or they can fail to act and put the nation into default.”

And, in fact, bargaining theory suggests that this move strengthens Obama’s hand. Continue reading

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A Pre-Post-Mortem on Romney’s Defeat

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It increasingly looks like Romney is gonna lose. Intratrade now puts that likelihood at 75%. Now it’s my understanding from the American politics subfield, in which I took exactly zero courses in grad school, that the state of the economy is supposed to be the great determiner of American elections. But somehow Romney can’t seem to win despite 8+% unemployment. So I’ll take that as a methodological opening for wild speculation – namely my own – masquerading as rigorous theory.

Given my masterful background in this field, which includes watching Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, still getting Fox News in my cable package even though I don’t live in the US (stop chasing me!), and having been a Congressional district slave staffer (Republican) 15 years years ago, here’s my take. And no, I have no great proof to back up these instincts, but as George W Bush’s decision-making style taught me, my gut is enough, and ‘data,’ or whatever you ‘academics’ call it, is for wusses. “We’re an empire now; we make our our reality,” and here’s mine:

1. That 47% video just killed him.

Wow. The polling after this just collapsed. The desperate ‘me too-ism’ of Fox News in response spoke volumes about how destructive that leak was. Scrounging up any dated recording of Obama also saying something dumb (or not) and then trying for 2 weeks to balloon it into an ‘affront to all Americans’ to stir indignation was just embarrassing. I wonder if O’Reilly and Hannity can say to Roger Ailes or Rupert Murdoch once in awhile, that some conspiracy-mongering is just too ridiculous even for them. If some old, vague Obama comment on ‘redistribution,’ which the government has been doing for almost a century, is now cause enough for GOP ‘outrage’ (ever noticed that Fox is always ‘outraged,’ btw?), then they’re effectively repudiating more than half the budget. Even in the GOP, I don’t think eliminating redistribution is majority opinion, and there’s no way the electorate will go for that, as it essentially re-writes the social contract on something –  a basic safety net – that most American simply assume now. Maybe Romney should apologize? I dunno; politicians do it in Asia sometimes. But doubling-down on that remark, as he has, is a sure-fire loser.

2. He can’t be who he really is, because the Tea Party holds him hostage.

I still think that the conventional wisdom that Romney is a moderate, trying to fool both himself and his party that he’s not, is correct. Even though the 47% tape looks like ‘smoking gun’ evidence that Romney is a clone of Jamie Dimon, I still don’t think so. Chait makes the strong point that Romney sounds like a ‘sneering plutocrat’ on the tape. Yeah, it’s pretty hard to get around that interpretation. But if I had to guess, I bet he was just saying what he thought they wanted to hear. Anyone who’s ever worked in an American campaign cycle knows the enormous pressure on candidates to pander to the mega-donors (as in the Romney vid) who make our campaigns possible (all the more reason for dramatic campaign finance reform, but that’s another story).

My own sense, still, is that Romney is moderate non-ideologue and probably not a wing-nut. I had affiliations with the Ohio GOP throughout the 1990s, and most of the people I knew were reasonable and sane, but under constant pressure from the right-wing to say/do outrageous stuff. It was always a battle to fend off some group insisting that the 10 Commandments be hung in member’s office, that the UN was taking over America, or called CNN the ‘Communist News Network.’ (All true stories.)
Instead, I think Bruni is right that the process of running for president has so distorted Romney that he just doesn’t know what to say anymore. He’s so desperate to win, so frustrated he can’t get traction against a weak president in a terrible economy, so flummoxed that his CV from the ‘real world’ doesn’t obviously out-stack a community organizer who somehow became president. So he’ll say almost anything anymore.

He wants to be a moderate who had a decent, centrist record as Massachusetts governor. He’s almost certainly proud that he put through ‘RomneyCare’ in Massachusetts (his signature achievement as guv), speaks French (who isn’t pleased they can speak a foreign language?), and turned around a major government project – the Olympics (that’s a huge achievement). But now he can’t say any of that, because the ideological right and its media network won’t abide it. Instead, he’s reduced to transparent, shameful phoniness like teasing Obama for worrying about global warming, when someone as educated as Romney obviously knows that science is not some liberal plot.

In short, he’s been running for president for so long, he’s so desperate, that he’ll say almost anything to anyone; he’s lost himself in this mess and doesn’t really know what he thinks anymore. And the voters have picked up on this and can’t figure out who he is (like Nixon in 1960). It’s sad actually, that a pubic servant with Romney’s reasonable credentials must pander so bad he loses respect for himself. It reminds me of Condoleezza Rice, a realist for 20 years, who suddenly ‘saw the light’ of neoconservatism when in power. Yeah, right – having direct access to POTUS every day had nothing to do with that.

This is yet another reason why the agonizingly long US election process is so awful. Most importantly, the horse-race element of it distracts government from governing for huge stretches of time. But it also wrecks the integrity of almost everyone who runs for high office, Romney included, sadly.

3. He comes across like Gordon Gekko just 3 years after the Great Recession.

Even if he isn’t a plutocrat at heart (maybe not) or a winger (probably not), he comes off just awful. Romney really needs lessons from the Bill Clinton ‘I-feel-your-pain’/George W Bush ‘who-would-rather-have-a-beer-with’ school of campaigning. I realize this is terribly shallow. Exactly what difference for government does it make if W comes across like ‘Dubya,’ while Kerry is a windsurfing dork? None at all. To this day, I still resent how the media read Al Gore’s earnest, over-read wonkiness as a flaw (?!!), while embracing W’s cowboy-hat-wearing folksiness. What c—!

But atmospherics count – a lot unfortunately, and Romney, a master of the universe, is a god-awful candidate – especially just 3 years after the Great Recession. As I argued earlier this month, how is it that a product of the financial services industry, like Romney right down to his perfect hair, got to be a presidential candidate just a few years after high street banking nearly wrecked the economy? That just floors me. Who wants that Jamie Dimon clone in the White House? (It’s bad enough when Dimon goes before the Senate Banking Committee and mocks the whole country.) Makes you wish Santorum had won…(*shiver*)…

Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog.

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Assessing the Arguments Against GI Jane: The Combat Exclusion for Women Part I



As American troops trickle back from Iraq and-eventually- Afghanistan, it seems like the perfect time to examine the lessons learned from the last decade of warfare. One of the policies requiring a review is the combat exclusion for women. Although most positions within the US forces have been opened up to women over the last 50 years, there has been adamant efforts to sustain rules which prohibit women from joining the so-called front lines of conflict in combat roles. Many of the remaining justifications for this exclusion are based on expired research (or no research at all), and outdated or irrelevant assumptions about military operations (including the idea of a clear front line).

First, some quick facts: over 130 women have died in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom; women are excluded from 9% of all army roles, and 30% of active duty roles and 38% of marine positions are closed to women; two servicewomen have been awarded the Silver Star- the military’s third highest honor for valor in combat.

The arguments for sustaining the exclusion can be divided into three categories: physical standards, the moral argument, and the cohesion hypothesis.

The focus on physical standards is a legitimate one. Women and men are just different physically, particularly in terms of body fat and upper body strength- not to mention the fact that women menstruate and get pregnant. There are no feminist arguments that can undo these differences. There are a couple of worthwhile considerations here: 1. standards have increasingly been adjusted in training to recognize the difference in male and female bodies 2. there is growing research indicating that a single standard isn’t necessary for operational effectiveness 3. some research shows that tasks can be adapted (using two people to lift, for example) to allow women to succeed.



The second argument against women in combat is less tangible and certainly impossible to measure- the moral argument. This is the position that women simply ‘don’t belong’ in combat. It may seem like this would be irrelevant to policy-makers; however, in senate hearings and in much of the literature on the combat exclusion this position emerges. A quote from Gen. Merrill A. McPeak, a former Air Force chief of staff summarizes this position, “I just can’t get over this feeling of old men ordering young women into combat…I have a gut-based hang-up there. And it doesn’t make a lot of sense in every way. I apologize for it.” The moral argument is an important one to take notice of. Research and the interviewee’s response indicate the existence of deeply embedded beliefs about men and women’s valid place during conflict. In many ways it is difficult to disentangle the moral argument from the physical standards and the cohesion hypothesis as these embedded beliefs seem to inform and influence much of the debates surrounding women’s participation in combat.

The final, and perhaps most significant, argument for keeping women out of combat roles is the cohesion argument. Or, what I call the cohesion hypothesis. According to this position, the presence of women affects the emotional bonds, friendships, and trust amongst troops and therefore jeopardizes the overall effectiveness of military units. The cohesion hypothesis is used by other defense forces across the world, and was also used to support Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. There are a couple of difficulties with the cohesion hypothesis: 1. cohesion is difficult to define and measure. In military scholarship it is defined as anything from commitment to a shared mission, trust, bonds, to ‘liking’ one another. As a result, it has become nearly impossible to test the cohesion hypothesis conclusively. 2. partially as a result of disparate definitions and partially as a result of the lack of test population, research on cohesion is all over the map when it comes to combat cohesion women.

RAND did a large study on women’s impact on cohesion in non-combat units, concluding that it was largely leadership, not the presence of women, that impacted cohesion. Despite some research indicating that women don’t spoil cohesion, it is impossible to conclusively determine if women would spoil cohesion in combat units. As the 1992 Presidential Commission looking at women in military found, “[t]here are no authoritative military studies of mixed-gender ground combat cohesion, since available cohesion research has been conducted among male-only ground combat units.”

The arguments against so-called GI Janes seem to defy the reality that women have been and are operating in dangerous, physically demanding roles in the US forces. Arguments about cohesion and standards were used to exclude African Americans and homosexuals from the US forces. These arguments were dropped and largely discredited as soon as policies changed, yet they continue to be used to exclude women from many positions with the US forces. Is the US military ready to open all positions to women? Will the removal of the combat exclusion be on the table for policy makers over the next 5 years?

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My Two Cents on Obama’s Speech

It was full of gloom and doom, which is not what some of us might have expected from the “hope” President, but just the kind of realism the nation needs to hear. Finally someone who will ask us to step up to bat and make the sacrifices needed to turn the planet around!

(And frankly the enormity of the mess we’re in was hit home to me when my kids and I, desperate to see Obama sworn in during a layover in Charlotte, were told by the manager of the sports bar near our gate that the basketball game was more important than hearing this historic speech. If anyone can change this mentality that afflicts so many Americans, it’s Obama, but there is a long way to go.)

The kids and I spent that hour huddled around my MacBook Air instead, along with a growing crowd of other passengers. My initial reactions:

1) The “war” against “a network” is definitely not over, contra recent suggestions on this blog. Much of Obama’s rhetoric is surprisingly similar to that of the previous Administration. Jon Stewart captured this well last night.

2) Was he sending veiled cues to Israel when he said, the US will be “a friend to all nations”? Are we finally entering an era where the US will not only obey international law but make our alliances and partnerships contingent on similar good citizenship from our allies? And if so, would this be a good thing?

3) Despite being an unprecedented diversity-fest, this was a very monotheistic celebration. Prayers and benedictions were addressed to the Almighty, not to the female Goddess, the Taoist Creative, or the pantheon worshipped in many forms by American Wiccans, Native American communities, or other minority faiths. Obama made multi-faith references to Christians, Muslims, Jews and – importantly – to non-believers. But I was a little bothered by the juxtapositioning of the People of the Book with nonbelievers, dismissing the wide swaths of deeply spiritual people of faith within this country who do not subscribe to a view of God consistent with any of the Abrahamic faiths. Obama did mention Hinduism as well, and it is probably too much to expect him to rattle off an exhaustive list of spiritual and religious diversity within this country. Still, I felt the limits of this framing warranted mention.

4) Most remarkable in my mind was this: Obama made very few specific promises in this speech. The one time I heard him use the word “pledge” it was in reference not to ending torture, solving the global economic crisis, or combatting global warming; it was to reducing global poverty:

“To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.”

To me, this seems like a surprisingly ambitious agenda – if he was going to pledge this, why not make some other pledges that are more within his capacity? Not to belittle the impact that a concerted US effort to combat poverty could have. President Obama could make an enormous difference immediately with such concrete steps as announcing that he will support the commitment of 7% of the US budget to non-mility foreign aid. This would still be a tiny fraction of US spending, but an enormous increase from existing spending on non-military aid. It would embody his messages of service, sacrifice, outreach to other nations. And, in addition to helping make a dent in global poverty, it would reduce one source of tension between the US and other OECD countries who already meet or exceed the 7% goal.

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