Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Published in Military

Foreign Affairs

Today's History Lesson

Looking for a cheap lunch at a favorite Vietnamese restaurant, got an education instead.


Categories > Foreign Affairs


Podcast and Colloquium with David Tucker

I recorded a podcast last week with David Tucker who has been visiting Ashland for most of the past six months or so.  We discussed many things, but primarily his new book, Illuminating the Dark Arts of War: Terrorism, Sabotage, and Subversion in Homeland Security and the New Conflict.

David also discussed these issues with the Ashbrook Scholars on Friday at a colloquium.  They, too, had a good conversation which you can listen to here.

Categories > Military


In Defense of Bush's National Security Policy

Steve Knott, who teaches at the Naval War College, has just published Rush to Judgment: George W. Bush, the War on Terror, and His Critics, which offers a vigorous defense of President Bush's national security policies. Knott (who teaches in the MAHG program) argues that the assessment of any presidency requires a "decent interval" before judgment can be pronounced.

I've read all of Steve's books (though not the Don Knotts book in the link) and respect his scholarship and judgment greatly.  He certainly picks his books' subjects well: Reagan, Hamilton, and covert actions. This is the defense Bush and his team should have been giving when they had the power (and the duty) to do so. Their failure to do so has led to cynicism in the public, the Obama election, the rise of Ron Paul, and decline in support for the vigorous foreign policy our country requires today. May Knott's work reverse these trends and advance prudence in politics.

Categories > Presidency


Obama's Risky Defense Policy

Naval War College Professor Mac Owens reminds us in the WSJ today that "any war plan that depends on the cooperation of the enemy is likely to fail."  The Obama Administraton's defense spending cuts assume principal threats from Asia.  This departure from the "strategic pluralism" designed to account for uncertainty of threats instead invites enemies to exploit our weaknesses.
Categories > Military

Foreign Affairs

Learning From Pearl Harbor

Herewith my annual plea that Roberta Wohlstetter's 1962 classic study, Pearl Harbor, be read by anyone interested in strategy, intelligence, and the post-9/11 world.  (Here's a link to the googlebooks version.)  As in 9/11, as Wohlstetter shows, U.S. leaders and military knew something was up, but the different "signals" were misinterpreted or not shared with other parts of the government.  And unanticipated Japanese technological progress (combined with boldness) made possible a stunning attack.  Try to track down her study of the Cuban missile crisis as well.

As I write this, I recall that the book was first called to my attention by the late Claremont professor Bill Rood.  It would be fitting if this and Roberta Wohlstetter's other work were recalled at the 2012 APSA at the Claremont Institute panels.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


The Civil War's Irish Volunteers

I came across a Civil War song recently written by an Irishman from that era in New York City, about the Irish Brigade in the Civil War. Many of the Irish who fought in the war were the children and grandchildren of rebels who fought in the 1798 Irish Rebellion. My family has some particular connections to that uprising and one of its leaders, John Murphy. My grandmother lives in Boolavogue right down the street from the Father Murphy Center, which is on land owned by my grandfather's cousin, Jim. Jim also owns Vinegar Hill in Enniscorthy, where the Irish rebels made their last stand before a British-led massacre saw hundreds executed and the rebel leadership wiped out. Today Vinegar Hill is a small, quiet, nice bit of land overlooking the village. My great-grandfather was struck by lightning twice in his life, once while trying to herd some sheep off of the hill. A century before, that great battle saw it covered red in the blood of Irish rebels, many of whose compatriots and families fled to the United States in the subsequent decades. The Irish Americans represented an interesting part in our war, and supported the Union heavily for several reasons--not least of which was that they saw the United States as their best hope for support against their homeland's oppressors. The ballad below highlights some important historical points of all of this--the connection to the Boys of '98, the refusal to participate in a parade for the Prince of Wales, and the support for George McClellan.

My name is Tim McDonald, I'm a native of the Isle,
I was born among old Erin's bogs and left when but a child.
My granddad fought in '98 for Liberty so dear;
He fought and fell on Vinegar Hill as an Irish Volunteer.
Then raise the harp of Erin, boys, the flag we all revere--
We'll fight and fall beneath its folds like Irish Volunteers!

When I was driven from my home by an oppressor's hand,
I cut my sticks and greased my brogues and come o'er to this land.
I found a home and many friends, and some that I love dear,
Be jeebus I'll stick to them like bricks, an Irish volunteer.
Then fill your glasses up, my boys, and drink a hearty cheer,
To the land of our adoption and the Irish volunteer.

Now when the traitors in the South commenced a warlike raid,
I quickly then threw down my hod, to the Devil went my spade!
To our recruiting office then I went, that happened to be near,
And joined the good old Sixty-ninth like an Irish volunteer.
Then fill the ranks and march away, no traitors do we fear;
We'll drive them all to blazes, says the Irish volunteer!

When the Prince of Wales came over here and made a hubbaboo,
Oh, everyone turned out, you know, in gold and tinsel too;
But the good old Sixty-ninth, they didn't like these lords or peers;
They wouldn't give a damn for kings, the Irish volunteers!
We love the land of Liberty, its laws we do hold dear,
But the Devil take nobility, says the Irish volunteer!

Now if the traitors in the South should ever cross our roads,
We'll drive them to the Devil as Saint Patrick did the toads.
We'll give them all short nooses that come just below the ears,
Made good and strong from Irish hemp by Irish volunteers.
And here's to brave McClellan, whom the army now reveres!
He'll lead us on to victory, the Irish volunteers.

Now fill your glasses up, my boys, a toast come drink with me:
May Erin's Harp and the Starry Flag united ever be;
May traitors quake, and rebels shake, and tremble in their fears,
When next they meet the Yankee boys and the Irish volunteers!
God bless the name of Washington! that name this land reveres;
Success to Meagher, Nugent, and their Irish Volunteers!

Here is some more about the Irish Brigade, their leaders like Meagher, and the battles they fought in.
Categories > History


Veterans Day

I meant to remind us yesterday that it was the 236th birthday of the Marine Corps, but never got to it. Sorry. My USMC Cpl John doesn't need reminding, of course. He even rides his motorcycle like a Marine should, with pride.

Today is Veterans Day.  This Christian Science Monitor points out that some 41 million Americans have served in the US military since 1775; 23 million of them are still alive, of whom 17 million served during a conflict. Thank you.

Someone reminded me of this, from G.K. Chesterton, on courage: "Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. 'He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,' is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers. It might be printed in an Alpine guide or a drill book. This paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or quite brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if he will risk it on the precipice.

He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine. No philosopher, I fancy, has ever expressed this romantic riddle with adequate lucidity, and I certainly have not done so. But Christianity has done more: it has marked the limits of it in the awful graves of the suicide and the hero, showing the distance between him who dies for the sake of living and him who dies for the sake of dying." Semper fi.
Categories > Military


Memorials and Warriors

I spent much of the weekend walking around Washington with some visiting family who had never been before. It was a beautiful fall weekend, the trees along the National Mall standing in perfect shades of autumn--such as in the picture below, taken around the Korean War Memorial. There happened to be a large amount of war veterans, too, on the Mall this weekend as part of some organized tour of the memorials. Mostly veterans from WWII and Korea, and it was a sobering sight to see these old warriors staring at that black wall, standing beside those soldierly statues, and gazing around at the water and pillars commemorating the last world war. Volunteers, made up of veterans from more recent wars in addition to civilian volunteers (including, it seemed, most of the Miami-Dade fire rescue team) were pushing them around in wheelchairs, or at least trying to. On more than a handful occasions I saw the old men themselves pushing their empty wheelchairs and walking alongside their assigned volunteer, refusing to be pushed as they walked around the structures we have established to honor their service and the dead. Good for them. Even in their own autumn years they do not expect any special treatment for the tremendous service they gave us. May their memorials forever stand to remind us of what fortitude men are capable of.

Categories > Military


Saint Crispin's Day

October 25th is named for twins who were martyred in the year 286, the Christian saints Crispin and Crispinian. The day bore witness to three of the most famous battles in history. The first is one made famous by Shakespeare, the Battle of Agincourt--the victorious English archers of Henry V against the French forces of Charles VI. The second is the 1854 Crimean War's Battle of Balaclava, where British Lord Cardigan led the famous and ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade against the Russians. The final is the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Pacific theatre of World War II, the largest single naval battle in human history, which saw the United States essentially wipe out what remained of the offensive capabilities of the Imperial Japanese Navy. This is a day of warriors, and, as always, the Bard provides the best words for it:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

I had an opportunity to sit and chat for a while with a WWII veteran last week. The old warrior had good humor and a refreshing love for life in his gray years. He told me members of his family had fought in every conflict we have been involved in since the French and Indian War ("including both sides of the Civil War!"). Here's to him and the other brave brothers-in-arms who have risked it all for their countries. 
Categories > History

Foreign Affairs

Iranian-Sponsored Terrorist Plot Foiled

According to the Department of Justice, after work done by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency, elements of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran attempted to carry out a terrorist attack in Washington, D.C. A captured Iranian-American citizen was meeting with elements of the notorious Mexican Zeta drug cartel, offering them cash and opium in exchange for assistance with this plot. They conspired to assassinate the Ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the United States and then to carry out bombings at the Saudi Arabian and Israeli embassies. The plot was orchestrated by elements of the Iranian government, including high-level officials within the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Attorney General Holder refused to say that the Ayatollah or Iranian President Ahmadinejad were complicit in the plans.

Holder and FBI Director Mueller have both said that Iran will be held accountable for this terrorist action. When pressed for what he meant by that, Holder said that the Department of Justice will be working with the White House, the Department of State, and the Treasury Department in order to take further action against the government of Iran, which he reiterated conceived, sponsored, and directed the foiled assassination. This new provocation comes at a time when relations between the Islamic Republic and Saudi Arabia are already incredibly tense, and when the Iranian regime is at odds with the United States and the rest of the West over their pursuit of nuclear technology.

The international intrigue of this dangerous conspiracy almost reads like the plot of a Hollywood movie--Mexican drug gangs, Iranian terrorists, assassination of foreign diplomats. I fear, though, that it adds now to the increasingly disturbing reality that we are running out of options with how to stop Iran. It is a disturbing chain of events, leading in an even more disturbing direction. Hopefully the worst-case scenario can be avoided.
Categories > Foreign Affairs