Regarding W.F. Buckley’s musing on whether or not, in the end, Ronald Reagan would actually have given the order to launch our nuclear response, I must point out that such ambiguity was always at the heart of the policy of Mutual Assured Destruction — that it is, in fact and by its nature, at the heart of any strategy of deterrence.

For deterrence to be successful requires two elements that must both be present:

    • That your opponent believes you have the capability to retaliate
    • That your opponent believes you have the will to retaliate (including the will to depend on retaliation, rather than backing down)

Note that neither element requires that your threat be ‘real’ — that is, that you actually have the capability in the first instance and that you actually have the will in the second.   What matters is that you can make your opponent believe both are real.

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Trump’s “Treason” in Helsinki?

Donald Trump betrayed us before a global audience — he dishonored us, as head of state rather than as head of government — by exhibiting a disdain for our democratic values, by demeaning the integrity of and trust in our institutions, by undermining our cultural and moral influence, and quite frankly, by playing, in our name and to our shame, the role of fool and sycophant to a petty tyrant.

If, as head of government negotiating and implementing executive policies, he were actually to act as an agent of Russian interest and against ours, then his behavior could legitimately be described as “treasonous”. But in the absence of evidence for that — and under the much more likely scenario that his abysmal performance represents merely a self-willed and negligent act of narcissistic defensiveness — the proper and appropriate term for his behavior is “perfidious.”

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The Limits of Diplomatic Engagement

Aside from its affects on our adversaries, diplomatic engagement creates certain expectations at home: expectations that can be manipulated to gain advantage by politicians during the electoral contest and during legislative debate; and expectations that can be manipulated, also, by our adversaries as they augment the quiet closed-door diplomacy of engagement with public relations efforts aimed directly at the American citizenry.

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A Question of Nation

The chaos we are seeing — on the ground and in our own thinking — reflects the dissolution of the “nation” into more fluid and less tractable identities and spheres of interest. Al Quaeda is not a country and yet, in many circumstances, it seems to define and control a “nation” of people who pledge it their loyalty. Iraq was not Al Quaeda but were they really distinct — two “nations” apart — or were they both part of the larger Arab — or was it Islamic? — “nation” to which both claim allegiance and from which the “clash of civilizations” is arising? Is the UAE a country allied with the United States, or is it a culture allied with Arabia or with Islam?

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How to View Illegal Immigration

We routinely view the problem of illegal immigration effectively as one of importing labor. But it is a much more useful paradigm to view it as exporting work, despite the fact that the work doesn’t actually leave the country … If we view illegal immigration as an illicit export of jobs rather than as in illicit import of people, we see a different set of solutions to the problem.

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Headline Bias

In the aftermath of the Iraqi election, as the new parliament worked through the political compromises and alliances required to form a stable government, The New York Times ran a “news analysis” describing the difficulties and dangers induced by the relative split among the various political constituencies in the vote — by the lack of a clear mandate for one group to rule.

Although the analysis itself was unobjectionable and even somewhat balanced — labeling something “analysis”, even in the news section, reduces the need for a veneer of objectivity — I found it objectionable because of the way it was prefaced: the headline placed on the story communicated a clear and critical bias against the notion that the election had been successful that was not supported by the report itself.

If you had merely read the headline and the first paragraph you would have come away with an impression of utter chaos and gloom completely at odds with what the analysis overall communicated. My objection was not to the bias but to the dishonesty.

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Palestinian-Israeli Negotiations

It occurs to me (and I am sure to others) that an effective approach to getting the most out of the current negotiating opportunity in the middle-east would be for the President to appoint a special envoy rather than to handle it through the Secretary of State and the State Department. That would not only leave the Secretary free to focus her attentions on the rest of the war on terror but would also give the negotiator both additional moral authority (as the personal appointment of the President and his personal representative) and less “official” baggage (as someone not actively engaged in other aspects of American foreign policy).

My nominee for the post: Bill Clinton.

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Restructuring Intelligence Services

Since I spent many years working within large bureaucracies — the United States Air Force and Abbot Laboratories — and participated in endless rounds of reorganization and “quality improvement” programs in vain attempts to make those bureaucracies “efficient” and “effective”, I have some insight into how such bureaucratic organizations – and our intelligence services fit that description — fail.

For that reason, and because I am outside the political fray and therefore somewhat more dispassionate than our elected representatives, I prepared a proposal for restructuring the intelligence services that I believe balances the conflicting demands we place on them. I admit I have no experience in intelligence collection or analysis, and so my thinking is based strictly on my observations of our political culture, my experience with large bureaucratic organizations, and my imagination about how intelligence works. Further, I am not arrogant enough to believe that my proposal is optimum or even very good. But it seems to me better than what I’ve heard so far coming from Washington, and I hope it might provide some useful insights to improve the other schemes that are being debated.

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Bush/Kerry: The Security Debate

I listened to the debates in the 2004 presidential election hoping to hear that one of the candidates was not as pathetic as they appeared. I was disappointed.

During the “debate” on national security issues, in particular, not only was neither candidate personally reassuring but there seemed to be almost no substance to the actual argument. That was particularly frustrating because the talking heads of the media, and all the news stories the following day, kept referring to the “substantive” discussion. I wondered if I’d somehow tuned in to the Cliff Notes version of the debate, or perhaps the “Debate for Dummies” channel.

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