Among the many things I’m not, is a foreign policy expert. I have an awareness of issues and a personal opinion, of course, but lack any significant academic knowledge beyond what I’ve picked up from books and the mass media. Growing up at the tail end of the Cold War makes me far more comfortable looking at, and trying to understand events in and around the old Soviet Union, but honestly, I’m far more comfortable talking about the Crimean War than I am any contemporary issues surrounding the Ukraine situation.
In retrospect, maybe we should all have assumed Ukraine would be the flashpoint it seems to have become. In our collective defense, we’ve spent a lot of that time focusing on Korean dictators, the failures of the Trump presidency, its domestic implications, and fighting among ourselves.
Here we are, threatening sanctions, arming the Ukrainian military, and staring down our old adversary while NATO rushes nominal reinforcements towards Eastern Europe. Sixty years ago, my old man wore our nation’s cloth in Bavaria serving the same function – a forward presence in Europe to deter Russian aggression. For fifty years, the great powers staring at each other across the plains of Europe managed to keep the peace, because the consequences of not keeping that peace were considered catastrophic by both sides.
There’s nothing new under the sun… though as we begin our evacuation of family members and non-essential personnel from Ukraine, I’m left to wonder if the old playbooks will hold up in this brave new world of ours.
I didn’t vote for Joe Biden (Don’t worry, I didn’t vote for Donald Trump either). Say what you want about the president, but I’m finding him a refreshing throwback to the era when I had a vague understanding about how politics worked in this country. For the last 60-ish days is been chasing the same basic policies that mainline Democrats went after from 1980-2000. I don’t support the lion’s share of those policy ambitions, but they’re predictable and after four years of the Trump administration, I’ve come to appreciate that kind of predictability in a politician.
The throwback goes even further than domestic policy, though. We’re back to antagonizing China and the USS… errrr…. Russia. I mean the Russians are so annoyed they recalled their ambassador. For a cold war kid, it’s the kind of international fidgeting that feels almost like home.
Over the last four years we managed to forget one of the few truisms of our political culture – that although we treat it as a life and death endeavor, a single presidential term is long enough only to tinker around the margins and the results will be nowhere near as good as we hoped or as bad as we feared. Sure, at some point the administration is going to start poking at something I’m personally interested in and I’m going to have to get my dander up. Just now, though, I’m happy to spend a few months being only tangentially interested in politics and appreciating the renewed interest in poking about in international affairs.
1. Superfluous email. I’ve been keeping a rough track of emails I receive – specifically those in my inbox at the start of the day or after I’ve been away from my desk for a few hours. Though not purely scientific, I’ve found that only one out of every four emails is something I actually need to see. One in six are messages resulting in my needing to actually do something. Might I recommend not cc-ing everyone who you’ve ever tangentially met on your email messages? If feels like it would save us all hours every year of time we currently spend reading and then deleting email that has absolutely nothing to do with us.
2. Being a watched pot. I’ve got the assignment. I’ve told you when I’ll have it finished. I’ve gotten awfully good at estimating things like this over the last fourteen years. What I don’t need you to do is call and email me every 7 minutes asking if it’s finished. All that serves to do is 1) annoy me and 2) slow down the process making final delivery later than it would be otherwise. I do good work and good work takes time. Believe me when I tell you know one wants a project off my desk more than I do.
3. Syria. Two or three years ago, I actively advocated for putting American troops in harm’s way to try to bring order to that chaos. The Syrian war in 2017 is a far cry from what it was in 2015, though. Back then there was still a fighting chance for the sides opposing Assad to win the day without the direct assistance of an overwhelming number of American and allied personnel. Back then a nudge – in the form of material support and “advisory” personnel – could have made the difference and toppled a tyrant who was busy killing his own populace. The battlespace has changed and it increasingly looking like Syrian government forces will be the “last man standing” after a long and bloody fight. Landing American troops, on a mission with no clear objective and even less prospect of an exit strategy, would be a mistake – and those calling loudest for it today would be among the very first to denounce it as “Mr. Trump’s War” and a “foreign policy disaster” when the butcher’s bill came due.
1. Official computing. For being among of our parent organization’s “top priorities” the network that connects us all is something of a capricious jerk. On Tuesday none of my web browsers worked and my computer dumped me out repeatedly into a series of restarts and scan disk sessions. On Wednesday the web browsers worked, but email was down. On Thursday browsers mostly worked and access to email was what I’d generously call “sporadic.” On close of business Thursday I’m still waiting on a return call from the help desk to resolve the “work stopping” issue of a potential dying hard drive that I reported on Tuesday. I’m well aware that we’re under funded and under staffed, but for the love of Christ the thing is still under warranty so just issue me a working computer already and tell Dell they’re going to have to eat this dud.
2. “You Care About X When You Should Care About Y.” Over the last few days I’ve seen a veritable plethora of meme’s drawing attention to the fact that people were commenting on a dead ape when people were starving somewhere, someone was homeless, the Veteran’s Administration is useless, Big Finance is ruining the country, and any other issue you want to mention. So two things about that: 1) I’ll care about whatever I want to care about on any given day; and 2) Just because I post about X doesn’t mean I’m not aware of Y, Z, 37, and a whole host of other things. I like to think as reasonably intelligent person I’m capable of thinking deeply about any number of issues over the course of a day. When you tell me I’m only supposed to think about this instead of that you sound like a moron. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of bad shit happening around the world for all of us to get out quota of worry.
3. Foreign Policy. Secretary Clinton made a major foreign policy address today. That’s good. Foreign policy is important. But after watching the tape I’m mostly reminded that on one side we have someone with no experience in foreign policy and on the other we have someone who led the State Department though one of the most listless and undirected periods for foreign policy in my adult life time. I find myself back in a position where one lacks any capacity for subtlety and nuance and I plain just don’t trust the other.
1. When the Secretary of State of the United States of America resorts to calling out a 30 year old techno-geek to “man up,” I have fear for the future of American “diplomacy.” Setting aside my personal position on what Snowden did or didn’t do, it strikes me as something that’s simply beneath the dignity of the Secretary’s office. Maybe I just have a hard time thinking of Henry Kissinger or Madeleine Albright going on national television just to talk smack. Call me old fashioned, but I want my Secretary of State to be the clear, articulate, authoritative voice of America’s foreign policy. “Man up.” If that’s the best we can manage, the republic really might be lost.
2. Triage. It’s been a week of doing my best to prioritize a metric shitload of competing “very important” things to do. Now keep in mind, I have no actual idea if any of the decisions I’m making on the fly are right or not, but I’m making them. I’m just going to go with the policy of any decision is better than no decision and keep moving out until someone starts screaming at me. That should probably start any time now.
3. Gun Control. I’ve articulated this before, but it seems to bear repeating: A gun is just one another tool among the many others that man has devised. It doesn’t have a conscience. It doesn’t have intent, It’s a simple inanimate object. In the hands of someone who is trained and competent in it’s use, a firearm is the last, best line of defense for an individual. In the hands of a lunatic or criminal it magnifies their harmful intent. How an individual uses the tools at their disposal makes all the differences in the world. My real problem with most “control” advocates is they simply want to paint lawful owners and lunatics with the same broad “guns are bad” brush. Intelligent people on both sides can certainly have a difference of opinion, but until that dialog gets a hell of a lot more objective I will never give up my Constitutionally derived rights and I will never be silent on the subject.
Yeah, it’s a day of thanks and all, but it’s still a Thursday and no matter how thankful we are, that’s no reason to just ignore the annoyances that continue to be so plentiful.
1. Federalized healthcare. I’m really starting to wonder when the powers that be are going to fess up that the rollout of the Affordable Care Act has been a cluster and push it back. From my reading, it’s a goat rope that hasn’t seemed to improve much over the last six weeks and doesn’t seem likely to improve much over the next six. I think a president who stepped back, admitted that his people screwed the pooch, and focused in on Launch 2.0 might actually earn himself some goodwill. But you know me, I’m a crazy optimist.
2. Appeasement. I know that Prime Minister Chamberlain, errr… President Obama is expecting “peace in our time” with Iran, but it feels a bit like we’re giving away the whole damned store and getting nothing to speak of in return. Time was “because we said so” was a perfectly reasonable approach to take with a belligerent nation whose stated foreign policy is to destroy the United States and our closest allies. I’m not sure I even recognize what’s passing for foreign policy these days. The world is a dangerous place and doesn’t get any less dangerous when we roll over and play dead on the important issues.
3. Food. So. Much. Food. I’ve never thought about bulimia, but there’s a first time for everything.
So, it would seem that the Syrians are chunking chemical weapons at each other. The good news is that if they are busy beating the snot out of factions within their own country, they’re not busy chunking the same weapons at us or our allies in the region. Of course there’s a fair chance that will change as soon as the Western allies start lobbing cruise missiles at Damascus. It’s a game changer and makes the US and our allies legitimate combatants. I’m not saying I don’t like our odds in a general engagement with the Syrian army, but we should walk into this thing knowing full well that it’s going to be a shit storm from the minute we light the candle.
Politics and the 24-hour news cycle prevent us from going to war the same way we did in the first half of the 20th century. I might even be inclined to argue those are two of the contributing factors for why our latest wars have had declared “endings” rather than ending in substantive and actual victory. If CNN’s cameras had been around to film Dresden burning or the blood on the sand of Okinawa, I wonder if World War II would have gone into the win column or if we’d have collectively settled for an unsatisfying and counterproductive draw.
I have no compunction about England and the US leading the world on this latest Mid-East escapade. It’s probably the morally right thing to do and we seem to be the only countries around with the stones to do it even if the world will immediately crucify us for it. We just need to remember that in throwing our lot in with the Syrian rebels, there’s going to be a price to pay in blood, treasure, or more likely in both. The stakes of the game are the lives of the men and women who serve and we damned well better be playing with loaded dies before we decide to give them a roll.
If I thought we were going to storm the beaches, stamp the flame of radicalism out using any means necessary, establish a working and legitimate democracy, and stay there for 50 years to make sure the peace is secure, I’d be more inclined to say it’s a good idea. That’s the model that worked in Japan and Germany. If we follow the model used in Iraq and Afghanistan of political half measures hog tying military expediency, or worse yet, fire off a couple dozen cruise missiles and hope for the best, all we’re doing is creating more trouble than we already have – and a mess that we can’t avoid ten or twenty years from now.
1. Priorities. I don’t know that I’ll ever get use to something that was a earth-shatteringly critical issue yesterday being completely irrelevant today. Look, I completely understand that focus changes and priorities shift, but maybe it would be ok to give a guy some advanced notice before he spends eight hours working on something that will never actually see the light of day. Hard to believe anyone ever accuses us of being inefficient.
2. The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Since December we’ve been listening to Dear Leader: Part III lead a veritable chorus of batshit crazy tirades about attacking both the US and South Korea. Sure, everyone on the planet, including the Dear Leader’s biggest boosters in China think he’s taking his unique brand of nuts way out past the edge of reasonable saber rattling, but no one seems to know quite how to deal with him at this point. I’m a simple man, really. When someone is standing on my front porch with a lit match and a gallon of gasoline talking a lot of smack about burning down my house, I don’t just stand there waiting for him to add one plus one. It’s one of those occasional times in life that calls for swift and decisive action, rather than another six months of handwringing and hoping we can just “hug it out.” It’s all a lot of talk right up to the point where it isn’t. For once I’d like my country not to be on the receiving end of a sucker punch to spur us out of complacency.
3. Evolution. As an apex predator, humans have evolved over millions of years right along to the various flora and fauna that inhabit the earth. Over that vast amount of time, you’d think our species would have evolved some kind of general ability to deal with pollen and other allergens in the air – beyond getting a clogged nose, watery eyes, and scratchy throat. I think it’s high time we expect more out of evolution… and for that matter we should expect a hell of a lot more from science in general – because the allergy medications it’s come up with pretty much suck.
As it turns out, Doug MacArthur was right. We should have gone right ahead and pummeled North Korea into submission in the early 1950s and skipped over the last 60 years of them becoming increasingly batshit crazy. In the 50s it would have been socially acceptable to lob a few nukes at them, throw the Chinese back across the Yalu, and unify the Korean peninsula under the democratically elected government of the south. Today we have to send them grain and beg them for a chance to “talk it out.” Hindsight is a real pain in the ass, like that.
Big Mac, Curtis LeMay, George Patton, and even Colin Powell knew how to handle the kind of situation that results from your enemy declaring that they are no longer bound by the terms of a ceasefire… you destroy them with massive and overwhelming force. But we live in a civilized world now, where it’s impolite to even make that kind of suggestion for fear of being labeled a war monger or worse.
North Korea is a mess… and not the kind that’s going to be fixed by a shipload of food and asking them to sit down for tea in Panmunjom. But since our leaders don’t seem capable of even making sensible domestic decisions, my expectation of them being able to make the hard calls on the international stage is almost nonexistent. So instead of making the world just a little safer for democracy we’ll go for round 487 of the DPRK behaving badly and getting rewarded for its trouble.
Sometimes I just don’t see the point in being a superpower anymore.