Friday, February 27, 2009

Some books I would like to buy, cont'd

If Mahan Ran the Great Pacific War: An Analysis of World War II Naval Strategy

Adams uses Mahan's ideas to discuss the great Pacific sea battles of World War II and to consider how well they withstood the test of actual combat. Re-examining the conduct of war in the Pacific from a single analytic viewpoint leads to some surprising conclusions about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Doolittle Raid, the Battle of the Coral Sea, the recapture of the Philippines, and the submarine war.

Tycoon's War: How Cornelius Vanderbilt Invaded a Country to Overthrow America's Most Famous Military Adventurer

When he died in 1877, Cornelius Vanderbilt, founder of the Vanderbilt dynasty, was wealthier than the U.S. Treasury. But he had nearly lost his fortune in 1856, when William Walker, a young Nashville genius, set out to conquer Central America and, in the process, take away Vanderbilt’s most profitable shipping business. To win back his empire, Vanderbilt had to win a bloody war involving seven countries.
Tycoon’s War tells the story of an epic imperialist duel—a violent battle of capitalist versus idealist, money versus ambition—and a monumental clash of egos that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Americans.

The Training Ground: Grant, Lee, Sherman, and Davis in the Mexican War, 1846-1848

Few historical figures are as inextricably linked as Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. But less than two decades before they faced each other as enemies at Appomattox, they had been brothers--both West Point graduates, both wearing blue, and both fighting in the same cadre in the Mexican War. They were not alone: Sherman, Davis, Jackson-nearly all of the Civil War's greatest soldiers had been forged in the heat of Vera Cruz and Monterrey.
The Mexican War has faded from our national memory, but it was a struggle of enormous significance: the first U.S. war waged on foreign soil; and it nearly doubled our nation. At this fascinating juncture of American history, a group of young men came together to fight as friends, only years later to fight as enemies. This is their story.

Lincoln and His Admirals

Written by prize-winning historian Craig L. Symonds, Lincoln and His Admirals unveils an aspect of Lincoln's presidency unexamined by historians until now, revealing how he managed the men who ran the naval side of the Civil War, and how the activities of the Union Navy ultimately affected the course of history.
Beginning with a gripping account of the attempt to re-supply Fort Sumter--a comedy of errors that shows all too clearly the fledgling president's inexperience--Symonds traces Lincoln's steady growth as a wartime commander-in-chief. Absent a Secretary of Defense, he would eventually become de facto commander of joint operations along the coast and on the rivers. That involved dealing with the men who ran the Navy: the loyal but often cranky Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, the quiet and reliable David G. Farragut, the flamboyant and unpredictable Charles Wilkes, the ambitious ordnance expert John Dahlgren, the well-connected Samuel Phillips Lee, and the self-promoting and gregarious David Dixon Porter. Lincoln was remarkably patient; he often postponed critical decisions until the momentum of events made the consequences of those decisions evident. But Symonds also shows that Lincoln could act decisively. Disappointed by the lethargy of his senior naval officers on the scene, he stepped in and personally directed an amphibious assault on the Virginia coast, a successful operation that led to the capture of Norfolk. The man who knew "little about ships" had transformed himself into one of the greatest naval strategists of his age

Guardians of Empire: The U.S. Army and the Pacific, 1902-1940

In a comprehensive study of four decades of military policy, Brian McAllister Linn offers the first detailed history of the U.S. Army in Hawaii and the Philippines between 1902 and 1940. Most accounts focus on the months preceding the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. By examining the years prior to the outbreak of war, Linn provides a new perspective on the complex evolution of events in the Pacific. Exhaustively researched, Guardians of Empire traces the development of U.S. defense policy in the region, concentrating on strategy, tactics, internal security, relations with local communities, and military technology. Linn challenges earlier studies which argue that army officers either ignored or denigrated the Japanese threat and remained unprepared for war. He demonstrates instead that from 1907 onward military commanders in both Washington and the Pacific were vividly aware of the danger, that they developed a series of plans to avert it, and that they in fact identified—even if they could not solve—many of the problems that would become tragically apparent on 7 December 1941.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Today's Quote: The Great Prize

From God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World

The Anglo-Americans have sought to build a global trading system based increasingly on liberal democratic capitalism; their enemies have resisted and tried to build walls that would protect their societies from the disruptive effects of Anglo-Saxon ideas and practices.
The Anglospheric grand strategy has not always been conscious. To some degree it is embedded in the assumptions, habits, and institutions of the English-speaking powers.
By doing what came naturally, by following the logic of their geography, culture, and society, the British and then the Americans happened on a way of managing their affairs in the world that provided for a flexible and durable form of global power suited to their circumstances while committing them to a less difficult set of tasks and conflicts than other leading powers have faced.
The modern version of sea power was invented by the Dutch. The system of global trade, investment, and military power that the Dutch built in the seventeenth century was the envy and the wonder of the world at the time, and many basic features were adopted by the British and the Americans in subsequent years. That Dutch system was like version 1.0 of the operating software on which much of the world still runs. At the turn of the eighteenth century the British introduced version 2.0; there were several incremental upgrades along the way until the Americans introduced version 3.0 after the Second World War.
A new kind of society and a new kind of power had appeared in the world. An open, dynamic, and capitalist society generated innovations in finance, technology, marketing, and communications. Those innovations offered the open society enormous advantages in world trade. The wealth gained in this way provided the basis for military power that could withstand the largest and mightiest rival empires of the day. This basic formula of an open society, world trade, and world power was the power secret of the sea kings and the major driving force in the history of the last four hundred years.
For the Anglo-Americans, the great prize has been and remains the construction of a global system that meets their economic and security needs.
In Anglo-American strategic thought, there is one world composed of many theaters. The theaters are linked by the sea, and whoever controls the sea can choose the architecture that shapes the world. The primary ambition of Anglo-Saxon power is not dominance in a particular theater; it is to dominate the structure that shapes the conditions within which the actors in each of the world's theaters live...the end is to control the system that binds them all together.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A discussion on the future of the WTO

There's an interesting discussion about the WTO at the University of Chicago Law School Faculty blog. My interest in the liberal international trade order has been fired by the works of Barnett, Ikenberry and Slaughter, and Meade's God and Gold which have set me thinking about things in ways that are new to me, and that's very exciting. There is also an intertwining of themes here: the competition of ideas, entrepreneurial liberalism, the role of America in the world, ruleset resets, etc. The liberal international order is supported by a set of ideas and attitudes and so maintaining, perpetuating, and improving that order requires an ongoing campaign championing those ideas and attitudes:

That brings us to the role of ideas, including perspectives of WTO legitimacy as a forum for liberalization, which has not been addressed in posts so far. It is no coincidence that the GATT was signed after WWII following the Great Depression, and that the Uruguay Round was concluded and the WTO created following the Berlin Wall's collapse and the discrediting of socialism. Yet we are now seeing shifts in domestic opinion that will be less favorable to trade liberalization.  Trade negotiations for further liberalization thus do not bode well in the near term. In other words, the economic crisis is not just about political priorities shifting away from trade; it is also about shifting perceptions regarding the benefit of open markets. This loss of faith in liberal markets will affect the constellation of domestic pressures on government negotiators.

Market power matters in affecting WTO negotiation outcomes, as we have all shown in our work. But so does the mobilization of domestic interests and ideas about trade liberalism. Thus, in my view, while the WTO as a negotiating forum is indeed deadlocked, it is not dead in the sense that it is forever gone. We just need to be realistic about what it can accomplish in these times. Acting as a useful shield against protectionism is not insignificant.

Via Dan Drezner

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"Improvisation and initiative"

It's all about the transitions. What kind of political ideology is optimal for transition periods that require people to create new institutions and cultural practices? Our task is to innovate modes of thinking that will match the challenges of our time; to develop attitudes that will foster an enthusiasm for imaginative institution building.

The shift that is happening right now is that the people who insist on keeping the world as it was are going to get more and more frustrated until they lose their jobs. People who want to invent a whole new set of rules, a new paradigm, can’t believe their good fortune and how lucky they are that the people in the industry aren’t noticing an opportunity...

We not only face the challenge of crafting appropriate policies, but we also have to recognize that the organizational models that we have inherited were designed to develop and implement policies in different circumstances.

They're used to working in "networks of networks" with lots of individual responsibility. This is very encouraging. But State remains an extremely hierarchical, process-oriented organization that still more closely resembles GM in the 1950s than, say, Google today. This is stifling to the kinds of improvisation and initiative that we increasingly need and that, on the military side, COIN demands of even junior officers. So how do we change this?

How do we groom people for the kind of "improvisation and initiative that we increasingly need"?

Finally some good news...

This past year has really sucked as I've been trying to get my foot in the door in a new career without success, until now. It's not much, but I got an internship for a few months at a cable tv channel that provides public affairs programming. I'll be doing master control operations. I'm very happy and motivated and eager to get in there and just be a sponge: to work my ass off and learn as much as I can. A few years ago I started a business, but the sales were disappointing and I was not happy with the quality of my product. As my savings ran out I had a decision to make and I decided to go back to school to improve my skills so that I could make a better product and also to prepare myself for a parallel career in media. Ideally I'd like to work at someplace like VOA while I continue working on my business. I also want to pursue a master's degree once I get a little bit more stability. So we'll see, hopefully this is the first step...

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Foreign Policy Entrepreneurship

Our era is one in which individuals are being empowered in ways that would not have been possible in the past. This is the whole rationale behind the Strategic Citizen idea and my interest in entrepreneurship. I have argued for "public diplomacy entrepreneurship" and it makes perfect sense that Tom Barnett would argue for "foreign policy entrepreneurship":

And it’s just a wonderful way of connecting, and it fits my sort of super-empowered argument in the book which is you know, in effect, everybody should have a foreign policy in America. You shouldn’t wait on the government to do these things for you. If you have a strong feeling about making some part of the world better, there are way to directly connect to it, feel empowered by it, and put your money against very specific things that you can track.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Quotes: Images, Symbols, Myth

From Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbolism by Mircea Eliade

Images by their very nature are multivalent. If the mind makes use of images to grasp the ultimate reality of things, it is just because reality manifests itself in contradictory ways and therefore cannot be expressed in concepts...It is therefore the image as such, as a whole bundle of meanings, that is true, and not any one of its meanings, nor one alone of its many frames of reference. To translate an image into concrete terminology by restricting it to any one of its frames of reference is to do worse than mutilate it--it is to annihilate, to annul it as an instrument of cognition.

From Philosophies of India by Heinrich Zimmer:

Indian philosophy insists that the sphere of logical thought is far exceeded by that of the mind's possible experiences of reality. To express and communicate knowledge gained in moments of grammar-transcending insight metaphors must be used, similes and allegories. These are then not mere embellishments, dispensable accessories, but the very vehicles of the meaning, which could not be rendered, and could never have been attained, through the logical formulae of normal verbal thought. Significant images can comprehend and make manifest with clarity and pictorial consistency the paradoxical character of the reality known to the sage: a translogical reality, which expressed in the abstract language of normal thought, would seem inconsistent, self-contradictory, or even absolutely meaningless. Indian philosophy, therefore, frankly avails itself of the symbols and images of myth, and is not finally at variance with the patterns and sense of mythological belief.

The Greek critical philosophers before Socrates, the pre-Socratic thinkers and the Sophists, practically destroyed their native mythological tradition. Their new approach to the solution of the enigmas of the universe and of man's nature and destiny conformed to the logic of the rising natural sciences--mathematics, physics and, astronomy. Under their powerful influence the older mythological symbols degenerated into mere elegant and amusing themes for novels, little better than society gossip about the complicated love-affairs and quarrels of the celestial upper class. Contrariwise in India, however: there mythology never ceased to support and facilitate the expression of philosophic thought.

From Images of Enlightenment: Tibetan Art in Practice by Jonathan Landaw and Andy Weber:

To understand how these images are used in the Vajrayana to transmit spiritual insights, we must consider the centrally important meditational method known as visualization.

Visualization is the process of becoming intimately acquainted with positive and beneficial states of consciousness as they are envisioned in our mind's eye in the form of enlightened beings and other images. Each visualized image functions as an archetype, evoking responses at a very subtle level of our being and thereby aiding in the delicate work of inner transformation. For example, by generating an image of Avalokiteshvara, the meditational deity symbolizing enlightened compassion, and then focusing creatively upon it with unwavering single-pointed concentration, we stimulate the growth of our own compassion. We automatically create a peaceful inner environment into which the dissatisfied, self-centered thoughts of anger and resentment cannot easily intrude. The more we practice such visualization--and the related disciplines, or yogas, that train our body, speech and mind in the appropriate manner--the more profound their effect. Eventually our mind can take on the aspect of its object to such an extent that we transcend our ordinary limited sense of self-identification and actually become Avalokiteshvara: compassion itself, or whatever enlightened quality we have been concentrating upon.
The underlying premise of all Vajrayana thought and practice is that the essential nature of each being's mind is pure and clear and that the main task along the spiritual path is to discover and identify with this essential purity, or buddha-nature. Visualization and other related practices involving the images of meditational deities assist this process of discovery and identification because these images directly communicate the experience of those who have already realized this essential purity to those who have not yet done so.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Prepare for the worst: Terror and meme war in the 21st century

As a the war of ideas rages pitting competing visions of civilization each using all means available to achieve primacy; memes clash in a brutal contest for supremacy with the fate of Western civilization hanging in the balance, we finally get a glimpse of the most dangerous combatant of all. A conspiracy dedicated to the propagation of the most terrifying of all memes has emerged into the light with evidence of its infiltration into the corridors of power. Will all that is good and true survive the devious machinations of this persistent threat?:

An ABBA tribute band says the Kremlin whisked it away to perform a private concert for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Rod Stephen, the founder of British-based group Bjorn Again, says the four-member band traveled 200 miles (320 kilometers) north of Moscow for the Jan. 22 gig on the shores of Lake Valdai.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov denies Putin attended any such concert.
Stephen says Putin danced to ABBA hits such as "Dancing Queen" and "Waterloo," accompanied by an unidentified woman and six men in tuxedos.
Stephen told The Associated Press Friday that Putin was heard yelling out "bravo, bravo," and particularly enjoyed renditions of "Mamma Mia" and "Super Trouper."

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Fabian Way

I needed something to read and grabbed The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America off a stack of books and opened it randomly and read the following passage.

The Fabians, a society of intellectuals, founded their organization in 1884. Their ranks included Sidney and Beatrice Webb, H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw. Their aim was to replace the "scramble for private gain" with "collective welfare," and their chosen technique was "permeation." They did not believe in overthrowing society, like the Marxists. They did not particularly care about winning elections, like the Labor Party they also helped found. Indeed, they tried not to tie themselves to one particular party. They hoped that socialism would come about gradually but relentlessly--by clothing collectivism in the garb of common sense and by extending government controls over one institution after another.

For the Fabians, the important thing was to change the climate of opinion so that whoever got into Parliament was marching to their tune. "Nothing in England is done without consent of a small intellectual yet practical class in London, not 2,00 in number," Sidney Webb once observed. The society's primary aim was to influence that class, but it also made a point of shaping the minds of less important people. The Fabian pamphlet was one of their hallmarks; they established periodicals like the New Statesman, set the agenda on numerous parliamentary committees and founded the London School of Economics and Political Science.

The Fabians also helped to establish the idea that socialism was an exciting way of life, not just a political creed. They founded a network of "groups" -- the women's group, the arts group, groups for education, biology and local government. One of the most successful of these was the "nursery," composed of bohemian young men and women who took that notorious roue H.G. Wells as their role model...
In some ways, the Fabians were a peculiarly British phenomena. In others, Fabianism was a template for something that was much more universal. Across Europe groups of intellectuals helped to establish the idea that socialism was the wave of the future, and groups of activists helped to define socialism not just as a body of ideas but also as a community. The result of all these efforts was the "socialist movement": an ideology that was also a fraternity; a set of beliefs that could organize people's lives from the cradle to the grave; a faith that could exert a relentless pressure on moderates and extract a terrible revenge on traitors.

"The Fabians also helped to establish the idea that socialism was an exciting way of life, not just a political creed."

This is an idea that I have been trying to find a way to articulate. To paraphrase the above sentence: We need to establish that the American Experiment is an exciting way of life, not just a country. We need to establish that a classical liberalism updated for the 21st century is an exciting way of life, not just a political creed. Our vision of the free society needs to be something that can appeal to people in a way that captures their imagination, makes them feel that are participating in something special, motivates them to seek out ways to creatively express what they are feeling and thinking and experiencing. That is what will successfully disseminate the ideas and the vision; it is what will generate support for community building and institution building. (This opens the door for Seth Godin's idea of Tribes which is an excellent book and will be the subject of another post)