Nov 27, 2011

Where's the River of Snot?

A senior US law enforcement official asked me if I noticed anything strange about the video footage of the UC Davis incident.

I told him that I had only seen the famous still photo in the press.  I hadn't seen any video.

"You've been exposed to pepper spray before haven't you?", he asked.  I recounted for him the time that I was responsible for a minimal AD from a large canister of the stuff inside a moving vehicle. 

He reached for his IPad and clicked on the first YouTube video he could find.  "What isn't right about this scene?", he asked.  I answered, "the protesters aren't hauling ass out of there. They aren't acting like they have been pepper sprayed."

"Where is the River of Snot?" He continued, "Before riot cops use pepper spray they mask-up.  Do you see any of the cops standing there wearing gas masks?  The stuff that they are spraying is marker.  They are identifying the protesters that they are intending to arrest.  Look right there, that other cop is standing in the mist with no effect."

He got no argument from me there.  That wasn't pepper spray.

"Then why aren't the cops coming to their own defense?," I asked.

Timing is everything.

Nov 15, 2011

Blast From the Past

Remember the mention of Cicely Angleton's passing? Now we have the obit of another member of the same exclusive circle. (The deceased was the sister of Mary Pinchot Meyer.)

While Mrs. Bradlee’s life with her husband Ben was in many ways charmed — private dinners at the White House and weekend getaways at Hyannis Port, Mass., with the Kennedys — it also had enduring sorrows. Their circle included Mrs. Bradlee’s older sister, Mary Meyer, a painter whose murder in 1964 on the C&O Canal towpath remains unsolved.

The case took an eerie twist, Ben Bradlee later wrote in his memoir, “A Good Life.” The Bradlees saw CIA counterintelligence chief James J. Angleton picking the padlock on Meyer’s Georgetown art studio in an attempt to retrieve her diary. (Meyer and Angleton’s wife were friends.)

Mrs. Bradlee subsequently found the diary, which appeared to disclose her sister’s affair with late President John F. Kennedy. Mrs. Bradlee and her husband, who was serving as head of Newsweek’s Washington bureau, turned the diary over to Angleton with the promise that the CIA would destroy it.

More than a decade later, Mrs. Bradlee was upset when she heard Angleton had not kept his word. Through an intermediary, she got the diary back and set it on fire.

The real story is more spooky than here portrayed. Does anyone believe that Angleton would have conducted a black bag job himself over trifling gossip?

Nov 11, 2011


The NYT gets Henry Kissinger to review John Lewis Gaddis's book about George Kennan for the Sunday Book Review.  Kissinger delivers a compliment or three about Gaddis, and then reviews Kennan's career, not the book.  

And as you might imagine, the Kissinger imperative works its way into the story:

Kennan often shrank from the application of his own theories. In 1948, with an allied government in China crumbling, Kennan — at some risk to his career — advanced the minority view that a Communist victory would not necessarily be catastrophic. In a National War College lecture, he argued that “our safety depends on our ability to establish a balance among the hostile or undependable forces of the world.” A wise policy would induce these forces to “spend in conflict with each other, if they must spend it at all, the intolerance and violence and fanaticism which might otherwise be directed against us,” so “that they are thus compelled to cancel each other out and exhaust themselves in internecine conflict in order that the constructive forces, working for world stability, may continue to have the possibility of life.” But when, in 1969, the Nixon administration began to implement almost exactly that policy, Kennan called on me at the White House, in the company of a distinguished group of former ambassadors to the Soviet Union, to warn against proceeding with overtures to China lest the Soviet Union respond by war. 

Kissinger refers to Dean Acheson as "the greatest secretary of state of the postwar period."  False modesty or a ghostwriter?  Gotta be one or the other, but we are leaning towards the former because no Kissinger Associates staffer would risk the repercussions from making a call like that.

Kissinger - the great Balance of Power practitioner - admired that Kennan (at least at times) shared his Metternich-influenced approach:

Stable orders require elements of both power and morality. In a world without equilibrium, the stronger will encounter no restraint, and the weak will find no means of vindication.


It requires constant recalibration; it is as much an artistic and philosophical as a political enterprise. It implies a willingness to manage nuance and to live with ambiguity. The practitioners of the art must learn to put the attainable in the service of the ultimate and accept the element of compromise inherent in the endeavor. Bismarck defined statesmanship as the art of the possible. Kennan, as a public servant, was exalted above most others for a penetrating analysis that treated each element of international order separately, yet his career was stymied by his periodic rebellion against the need for a reconciliation that could incorporate each element only imperfectly. 

Kennan's dissenting view on Vietnam is portrayed as follows:

In a turbulent era, Kennan’s consistent themes were balance and restraint. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he applied these convictions to his side of the debate as well. He testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee against the Vietnam War but on the limited ground that there was no strategic need for it. He emphasized that the threat posed by Hanoi was exaggerated and that the alleged unity of the Communist world was a myth. But he also warned elsewhere against “violent objection to what exists, unaccompanied by any constructive concept of what, ideally ought to exist in its place.” He questioned the policy makers’ judgment but not their intent; he understood their dilemmas even as he both criticized and sought to join them.

Kissinger's final judgement:

So emphatically did Kennan sometimes reject the immediately feasible that he destroyed his usefulness in the conduct of day-to-day diplomacy. This turned his life into a special kind of tragedy. Until his old age, he yearned for the role in public service to which his brilliance and vision should have propelled him, but that was always denied him by his refusal to modify his perfectionism.


Policy makers, even when respectful, shied away from employing him because the sweep of his vision was both uncomfortable (even when right) and beyond the outer limit of their immediate concerns on the tactical level.

Well.  Not exactly accurate.  After he left the State Dept., Kennan was a consultant to the Cold War arm of the U.S. Government from the 1950's until at least the 1990's.

Nov 10, 2011

NYT Mag - Gettin' Lulzy with Herman Cain

From this Sunday's NYT Mag - On the Ropes with Herman Cain

In October, Cain had to undo damage from the following: a suggestion to put up an electrified fence on the Mexican border, statements endorsing a woman’s right to choose, an apparent unfamiliarity with the terms “right of return” and “neoconservative,” a tentative thumbs-up to negotiating with Al Qaeda for prisoners and news stories of a completely mismanaged campaign.

That was before things got tough. Now allegations of sexual harassment have drowned out pretty much anything else related to Herman Cain. And if that’s in any way a blessing, it’s only because it diverted attention from what may have been some serious violations of campaign-finance laws.


The Web site of J. D. Gordon Communications, the firm founded by Cain’s campaign spokesman, J. D. Gordon, offers, among its services, “crisis communications.” It notes that “timely and accurate responses to a crisis have never been more important to success.” Given the way Gordon has handled Cain’s latest crisis communications, perhaps Guant√°namo Bay, where Gordon was the Navy spokesman, should be seen in a new light. 


Let us pause here to make a necessarily severe assessment: to say that Herman Cain has an imperfect grasp of policy would be unfair not only to George W. Bush in 1999 but also to Britney Spears in 1999. Herman Cain seems like someone who, quite frankly, has never opened a newspaper.

But I suspect Cain’s flubs are unrelated to intelligence. In 2010, Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute set off a lively debate by suggesting conservatives had fallen prey to “epistemic closure,” a fancy way of saying that they were getting all their information and opinions exclusively from one another. This may or may not be true of the conservative movement. But it is certainly true of Herman Cain.

“I can honestly say that if I hadn’t been on the radio, I wouldn’t have been as familiar with the issues as I am now,” Cain has written. “I believe that having that program was God’s way of forcing me to understand the critical issues confronting our nation.”

In short, Cain’s briefings on politics came from heated right-wing callers on talk radio. “Epistemic closure” is probably too mild a term for such conditions.


Cain likes to tell his audience that “the voice of the people is more powerful than the voice of the media.” In fact, he likes to tell them this right after dropping everything for a television interview ...

Cain also likes to tell his audience that callers to his show went from “concerned” to “frightened” for the nation’s future. This, too, is true. More than any other candidate, Cain has managed to connect to those Americans — yet, unlike Sarah Palin, he has done it by unleashing optimism rather than bitterness. He can articulate a crowd’s worst fears — America is falling apart, weakening in the world, suffering economic carnage — and then reassure everyone that, no worries, we can fix it. If any candidate were able to relate to voters in this way and have a clue what he or she was talking about (there, in Cain’s case, is the rub), that person would be unstoppable.

Nov 7, 2011

A review about a new book on George Kennan in The New Yorker

A long review of John Lewis Gaddis's new book on George Kennan is in the Nov 14 issue of The New Yorker.

The review starts off by establishing that Kennan did not much care for Americans (America yes, Americans no).  A number of examples illustrating how Kennan was a dick are included (this is not even the worst):

In January, 1944, when the end of the war was in sight, Kennan served in the American delegation to the European Advisory Commission, in London. Bohlen (who had been in Tokyo when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and was interned for six months) remembered Kennan returning to Washington “appalled by the behavior of American soldiers—their reading of comic books, their foul language, and their obsession with sex, among other things. He wondered whether the United States was capable of being a world power.”

Once we stipulate that Kennan had his flaws as a human being, we are able to get down to business.  A very good discussion of  The Long Telegram and "The Sources of Soviet Conduct" by "X" begins thusly:

In all his reports, Kennan’s repeated message to Washington was “Get real.” He didn’t just disapprove of idealistic policy talk. He deeply loathed it. Declarations about the self-determination of peoples or international economic co√∂peration—the kind of thing that Roosevelt and Churchill announced as Allied war aims in the Atlantic Charter—seemed to him not only utopian and unenforceable but dangerously restrictive on a government’s scope of action. If you tell the world that you are fighting to preserve the right of self-determination, then any outcome short of that makes you look hypocritical or weak. Concessions to Soviet national-security interests were going to be necessary in Eastern Europe; it was better to be frank about this, and to stop pretending that Moscow and Washington had the same goals and values. But for domestic political reasons the American government always wants to appear virtuous, Kennan thought; so it continued to call the Soviets comrades and allies even as they were clearly preparing to walk all over the Atlantic Charter.


Kennan was appalled when he read the draft of Truman’s speech [announcing the Truman Doctrine], and for the rest of his life he protested that he had meant containment to be a policy of selective confrontation, and its means to be diplomatic and economic, not military. But he was construed otherwise. Lippmann wrote a book, called “The Cold War,” in 1947, attacking Kennan and containment, on the assumption that the X article, which appeared four months after Truman’s speech, was meant as a justification of the Truman Doctrine. Lippmann had got Kennan completely wrong. Kennan was so upset that he wrote Lippmann a long letter explaining his mistake, but could never bring himself to send it.

Reviewer kinda goes off the rails when he suggests that Kennan's requirement to have suicide pills on hand when stationed in Moscow was so that he could make an honorable exit if his compulsive womanizing were to be discovered.  (The real reason is doubtlessly more prosaic.)  And Gaddis, the author of the book, does not endorse the reviewer's theory on this.

As the exemplification of a realist in international relations, Kennan drew criticism easily:

[I]n 1978, Alexander Solzhenitsyn attacked Kennan, by name, for refusing to apply moral values to politics. “Thus we mix good and evil, right and wrong, and make space for the absolute triumph of absolute Evil in the world,” he said.

Solzhenitsyn was right that Kennan was allergic to concepts that were important to Soviet dissidents, concepts like “human rights.” The reason Kennan considered the United Nations a bad idea was that it is an organization based on the pretense that every nation can subscribe disinterestedly to international legal principles—when nations are always, and rightly, interested primarily in preserving or extending their own power. He was horrified by the Nuremberg Trials. “Crimes against humanity” was just the sort of exalted legalism that he thought led to foreign-policy disaster. In any case, he believed that, once the United States accepted Stalin as an ally, it lost the moral authority to condemn Nazism. Kennan spent a good deal of his early life in Germany; in the two volumes of his memoirs, there is not a single mention of the Holocaust.

The review wraps up on a high note:

Still, buried within Kennan’s realism there is a moral view: that in relations of power, which is what he thought international relations ultimately are, people can’t be trusted to do the right thing. They will do what the scorpion does to the frog—not because they choose to but because it’s their nature. They can’t help it. This is an easy doctrine to apply to other nations, as it is to apply to other people, since we can always see how professions of benevolence might be masks for self-interest. It’s a harder doctrine to apply to ourselves. And that was, all his life, Kennan’s great, overriding point. We need to be realists because we cannot trust ourselves to be moralists.

Nov 5, 2011

Sometimes I Feel Like 'A Last Standing Hetero-Hero'

A really shitty piece from David Sanger (NYT). Quds force plots "from Yemen to Latin America." And this:

“The Saudi plot was clumsy, and we got lucky,” another American official who has reviewed the intelligence carefully said recently. “But we are seeing increasingly sophisticated Iranian activity like it, all around the world.” Much of this resembles the worst days of the cold war, when Americans and Soviets were plotting against each otherand killing each other — in a now hazy attempt to preserve an upper hand.

Unless he is talking about the proxy wars like Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan, he is way off base.  Killing each other's intelligence officers was off the table to avoid snowballing reciprocation.  That's why the lobby at CIA had relatively few stars on the wall until quite recently.

And this is just really special:

To many members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government — and, by the accounts of his former colleagues, to the Israeli leader himself — the Iran problem is 1939 all over again, an “existential threat.” 
“WHEN Bibi talks about an existential threat,” one senior Israeli official said of Mr. Netanyahu recently, “he means the kind of threat the United States believed it faced when you believed the Nazis could get the bomb.”

On another subject, was funny seeing coverage of the "Vengeful Librarians."  (If they were really vengeful, we would have been toast for exposing way back when that bit about how they deal with bloggers - sending requests for info to embassies, etc.)

Finally, this smells a lot like one of those cases of emailed disinfo that spreads urban legends for metric marking.  (Or aren't we supposed to mention these?)

PS: Now we know why Herman Cain instituted his policy of not allowing his campaign staffers to speak to him unless spoken to.  ;-)

Nov 3, 2011

Tokenism Revisited.-- Rice, Powell, and Economic Warfare

Fascinating all week long to witness the media framing the prospect of a Greek referendum as beyond the pale.  Nobody even faking a preference for democracy. (of course Papandreou is playin' pussy's brinkmanship)

Also, international relations-wise , moments like this can be really instructive.  A keen eye will often - by monitoring course changes by political actors - get a good idea of who is buttering who's bread.

Also, on another topic, funny this: intelligence officials underscored that the United States does not conduct economic espionage as a matter of national policy.  Times have changed?  (Methinks not.)  They probably could have worded it better, i.e. to indicate that we don't spy to help our corporate interests.  (But that would have been pushing it too.)

And from this weekend's NYT Book Review:

Brent Scowcroft, Gerald Ford’s and George H. W. Bush’s national security adviser, said about the man he had worked with in two previous administrations: “Dick Cheney I don’t know anymore.” What had turned this capable, pragmatic, respected figure into the harsh and belligerent man who seemed toward the end to believe that only he understood the world of his time? Part of it was that he had become “really conservative,” as he told President Bush when he was invited to join the ticket in 2000. Certainly, he was convinced that 9/11 had dramatically changed the world and had radically transformed America’s role in it. And he was disturbed that so many people did not share his views. He also had serious heart problems through much of his life, which intensified during his tenure as vice president, and though he courageously fought to keep going, his poor health may have contributed to what Scowcroft considered his change.

The angry responses to Cheney’s book are evidence of how embattled the Bush White House became in its last years, and how central Cheney’s role was. Colin Powell has accused Cheney of taking “cheap shots” in his book. He has challenged Cheney’s claim that he had forced Powell out of the State Department. Powell himself had long made clear that he would serve only four years, and he charged Cheney with lying. Powell also called Cheney’s statements in the book “the kind of headline I would expect to come out of a gossip columnist.” He added, “I think Dick overshot the runway.” Rice responded to Cheney by describing his book as “utterly misleading” and an “attack on my integrity.” 

PS  A best friend -- Kodiak -- remains adamant on insisting Dick's a real nice guy (neighbors or energy biz-buddies, or something along those lines). Such claim remains a gnawing notion -- not unlike gravity -- I can't quite shake despite ambitious velocity vectoring asymptotically (alas) towards terminal. Dissonance.