A Reminder: What the Hagel Farce Was Actually About – Outsourced to Peter Beinart

I don’t generally link to the Daily Beast (for many and various reasons) but led by Bruce Bartlett’s twitterizing, I got to Peter Beinart’s clear, succinct description of what was really at stake in the Hagel nonsense:

The right’s core problem with Hagel wasn’t his alleged anti-Semitism. From Jerry Falwell to Glenn Beck to Rupert Murdoch, conservatives have overlooked far more egregiously anti-Jewish statements when their purveyors subscribed to a hawkish foreign-policy line. The right’s core problem with Hagel was that he had challenged the Bush doctrine. Against a Republican foreign-policy class that generally minimizes the dangers of war with Iran, Hagel had insisted that the lesson of Iraq is that preventive wars are dangerous, uncontrollable things. “Once you start,” he warned in 2010, “you’d better be prepared to find 100,000 troops.”

Sweerts,_Michael_-_Soldiers_Playing_Dice_-_c._1655

The point isn’t that Hagel “favors” containment and deterrence. Like virtually everyone else, he’d much rather Iran not get a bomb. But by reminding Americans of the potential costs of preventive war, Hagel was implying that containment and deterrence might be preferable. He was suggesting that if the U.S. can’t stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons short of war, it should make the same tradeoff that Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy made when they allowed the Soviet Union and China to get the bomb. This horrifies hawks for two reasons. First, some of them, echoing Benjamin Netanyahu, claim Iran represents an existential threat to Israel. But were that their sole concern, they’d pay more attention to the near-consensus view among top Israeli security professionals that although Iran poses a threat, it does not pose an existential one, in large measure because Iran’s regime, while vile, is rational when it comes to preserving its own existence.

The second reason hawks find Hagel’s view so frightening is that it concedes the limits of American power. Although Bush said that after 9/11 the United States no longer could afford to rely on the deterrence and containment of hostile states, what he really meant was that the U.S. no longer needed to rely on deterrence and containment, because it was now strong enough to prevent nuclear proliferation via force. For many hawks, conceding that the U.S. can’t do that means conceding American decline.

Beinart goes on to point out the absurdity of the neo-con fear that acknowledging the fact of limits to power equals American decline.* That’s another way of saying (a) read the whole thing and (b) there is a very depressing realization (familiar to readers of this blog) that sinks in should yo do so:  Beinart has achieved here nothing more than a well-stated penetrating glimpse of the obvious.

Or to put it another way: if America is in fact in decline then the cause isn’t that some of our leaders have noticed that the capacity to blow up any building anywhere in the world is not the same thing as exercising power to an end beyond rubble.  Rather, it is that so many in our media and political elites can’t or won’t.

*The concept of imperial or superpower decline is tricky.  Are we in decline if we continue to grow in wealth and capability, but other nations do so with enough vigor to approach levels that in the unique circumstances of the post-World War II decades we could occupy on our own?  Britain, shorn of empire, is wealthier, more equal, more comfortable now that it has ever been for the great bulk of its citizens, for all that Cameron and Osborne are trying to undo some of that.  Are we impoverished if we advance into a world in which the Chinese middle class, still a small proportion of that country, may soon achieve economic status equal to our own?

As I say, tricky.  One more thing, though. Such caveats to the threnody of decline do not in themselves mean that we cannot in fact propel ourselves into an actual, unmistakable loss of power, influence and so much relative economic standing that the conditions of national autonomy and agency the US now possesses will erode.  Could happen; may be happening.  But not because Chuck Hagel thinks it makes sense to ask first what one gets out of sending 100,000 American troops to the far side of the world.

Image: Michael Sweerts, Soldiers Playing Dicec.1655.

Cross posted at Inverse Square

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108 replies
  1. 1
    Tonal Crow says:

    I think your analysis gives Republicans too much credit for good faith. Following the money (and consequent political power), I’m pretty sure that Republicans fear Hagel mostly because he’s not against cutting the Department of War.

  2. 2
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    Our status as unrivaled superpower capable of doing anything was a historical anomaly. Our status, however, as a superpower – or even the superpower – is not remotely threatened.

  3. 3
  4. 4
    Xantar says:

    In before the trolls:

    You’ve gotto be fucking kidding me. You got bigfooted so you withdraw your post so that you can bifgoot DougJ instead? Why can’t you people get some organization going on here? It’s not that hard. I put together a shared Google Doc for my coworkers and myself. I demand that you give me more value for what I paid!

    Cudlips!

  5. 5
    catclub says:

    I saw somewhere (FP mag) a ‘Five things I wish an Honest John Kerry would say’, or some such.

    #5 was: We are on top and like it that way.

    I think others did give a nod to the fact that even though we are on top, we are not as overwhelming as we have been in the past.

    Another was: The two state solution ain’t gonna happen.

    Another: Human rights are not something we actually consider very important: just a useful club to hit adversaries with.

  6. 6
    Tom Levenson says:

    @Xantar: What makes you think we are unorganized?

    Recall DougJ’s involved.

    Perhaps we are just messing with you because we can.

  7. 7
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Xantar: People are proposing robots as a solution. You can call me a luddite, but I am leery of giving robots that much power.

  8. 8
    Feudalism Now! says:

    The simple point is Hagel is a traitor to the GOP and was nominated by the black man in the white house. This is all I see. The fabricated arguments for trying to block a SecDef nomination are scanty and specious. I don’t know that we need to look deeper. The Senate is that petty and delusional.

  9. 9
    dollared says:

    @catclub: Yeah. I really wanted to send a drone-fired Hellfire into Steven Walt’s lake place after that fucking article.

  10. 10
    Jon says:

    Sad.

    Even really smart folks like Rachel Maddow and Peter Beinart think the “Bush Doctrine” was preemptive war. It wasn’t. It was about fraud. They made the argument that we had to act to stop the threat, but THERE WAS NO THREAT.

    Hagel called bullshit on them and they got mad. The whole “I read Foreign Policy” mag argument Beinart makes is almost precious for bestowing so much good faith on Bush.

  11. 11
    Yutsano says:

    The blah guy wanted him. That was enough.

  12. 12
    PeakVT says:

    Even if the US is “in decline” it will almost certainly never fall below the 3rd most powerful country in the world. And even if it falls farther, who is going to invade us? We’re a long way from everywhere else. OTOH, the likely future number 1 and 2 countries share a long border that is already in dispute.

    The fact is that post-Cold War America is very secure, but arguably that fact has made us less secure.

    @catclub: Here’s the article you’re thinking of.

  13. 13
    Tonal Crow says:

    @Tonal Crow: I should have added, “Don’t presume malice if incompetence explains the phenomenon, except if Republicans are involved. Then presume malice, because that’s just what Republicans do.”

  14. 14
    catclub says:

    @dollared: I thought the statements he said were true but never spoken were pretty accurate. Not sure how you are taking it. (It could be an _Ironic_ Hellfire missile.)

  15. 15
    Tom Levenson says:

    @Jon: I don’t think that the argument Beinart makes ignores the fraud. What remains is that there is a huge caveman faction remaining in the national security apparat (and its journalist useful idiot auxilary) that argues that pre-emption remains a valid response to less fraudulent threats. Hagel’s appointment says, effectively, nope. Even if we knew for sure that Iran was about to build two hemispheres of plutonium a couple of chunks of uranium enriched to 90% U235 that blown together could form a critical mass, pre-emption still wouldn’t work.

    That’s the realization that drives the opposition bonkers.

    ETA: Fuggedabout it. As you’ll see down thread, my memory of nuclear weapons design is (a) faulty and (b) derives almost entirely from reading into the early history of the A and H bombs. So — ignore all references to the gun design. Pre-emption won’t work even if Iran manages to machine a sphere of subcritical uranium or plutonium and manufacture an appropriate explosive implosion lens. So there. (Thanks to the commenters who educated me on this.

  16. 16
    Feudalism Now! says:

    As for the bigfooting, there should be a better way to get the FPers to play nice. The fact that DougJ likes to machine gun out posts during lunch is a side issue. Kay’s SC VRA post, This TL post and DougJ Obama Derangement Syndrome post are all easily 100 comment issues. Let ’em breathe for bit.

  17. 17
    catclub says:

    @PeakVT: “who is going to invade us?” Freedonia.

    Hail! Hail! Freedonia!

    The Mouse that Roared.

  18. 18
    Zifnab says:

    For many hawks, conceding that the U.S. can’t do that means conceding American decline.

    The lesson that refuses to be learned. American was never as omnipotent as it appeared to be. Claiming that the country is “in decline” simply because someone in leadership refuses to drink the American-Exceptionalist kool-aid is pretty much ass-backwards.

    Back in the 50s and 60s, Americans were scared shitless of the Soviet Empire and openly admitted we had a global rival that could match us blow for blow. I think that realization (despite it being couched in Red Fear fever) did a lot more for our decision making than this post-Soviet delusion of grandeur.

  19. 19
    Tom Levenson says:

    @catclub: Oh for draught of Pinot Grand Fenwick right about now.

  20. 20
    Jon says:

    @Tom Levenson: Almost the entire media, when asked what “The Bush Doctrine” is, would immediately reply with some variation on the theme of preemptive war.

    Yes, there are those that generally support it and oppose it going back to primordial times. What bothers me is that there are cases where preemption is a good idea. Discrediting it entirely on the basis of a fraudulent threat is ridiculous.

    I don’t really believe there is a such a binary allotment in the foreign policy world. I think if presented with different cases, you’d get different consensuses.

    It’s not that the GOP folks want preemption. They want to just pick a war and do it for very stupid reasons, like profit and dick size.

  21. 21
    MikeJ says:

    @Feudalism Now!: The way to fix it is with a policy that nobody ever posts live, and every post is scheduled, even if only for ten minutes in the future. Then when you start to post, you can look at the queue and set an appropriate time.

  22. 22
    raven says:

    @catclub: That’s Duck Soup. The Mouse that Roared is the Grand Duchy of Fenwick.

  23. 23
    catclub says:

    @Tom Levenson: I think I confused Duck Soup and the Marx Brothers (Freedonia)
    with The Duchy of Grand Fenwick. I sit corrected.

  24. 24
    Capri says:

    IMHO, the whole Hagel thing was for reasons that were much more petty than any of those suggested above. It was about Graham looking hawkish and him being able to stand up and air a lot of reactionary crap so that he’s not Lugar-ed in the next election cycle. Everyone (including Hagel) was in on it, which is why Hagel looked so inept. It makes sense from a GOP senator side (they help one of their own)and a DEM side (they keep a semi-rational GOP member vs. whatever mouth breather would take his place). It’s why he pretty much sailed through as soon as the grandstanding was over.

  25. 25
    raven says:

    @catclub: I’ve got a good mind to join a club and beat you with it!

  26. 26
    Chris says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    Not a historical anomaly, more a delusional overestimation of our own abilities. Somalia was only two years after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, and that alone should’ve reminded us that we weren’t nearly as all powerful as we claimed.

  27. 27
    catclub says:

    @raven: So, is it the Grand Duchy of Fenwick or The Duchy of Grand Fenwick?

    or should I just start singing Hail! Hail! Freedonia.

  28. 28
    Ron Thompson says:

    the same tradeoff that Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy made when they allowed the Soviet Union and China to get the bomb.

    This is one of the silliest things I’ve seen all week, and I watched the Michelle Malkin dance video.

    The idea that Truman and Kennedy “allowed” the Soviet Union and China to get the bomb is ludicrous. They had absiolutely nothing to say in the matter. And as a further point, Kennedy was eleven months in his grave before China’s first successful test in October, 1964.

  29. 29
    Anonymous At Work says:

    Imperial decline is a result of imperial dominance requiring geometric, not arithmetic, advantage over other nations. Even if we were to grow as fast or faster than nations, it would almost certainly not be enough to match the required pace for geometric advantage.

  30. 30
    Mandalay says:

    @Tom Levenson

    Such caveats to the threnody of decline…

    I just learned a new word. Thanks.

  31. 31
    Cygil says:

    This argument is tendentious in the extreme. I think it is perfectly reasonable to take the Senate confirmation comittee at their word. They grilled the man for hours on the sole topic of his apostasy on Israel. It seems reasonable to conclude this is their primary objection to him. It is true that they are unconcerned about “anti-semitism”, which Hagel has shown no trace of. Like Falwell, you can be the biggest anti-semite in the world, so long as you support Israel unquestionably. I think Beinart is just trying to distract from the elephant in the room, which is how Israel exerts such total control over US foreign policy in the middle east.

  32. 32
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Ron Thompson: We could have nuked them when it looked like they were going to get the bomb. It would have stopped them. That is more or less the position today of the neo-cons wrt Iran. It was insane then; it is insane now.

  33. 33
    catclub says:

    @Cygil: “which is how Israel exerts such total control over US foreign policy in the middle east. ”

    Except Hagel was confirmed. And Obama has made Bibi look like a fool. Not quite total control.

  34. 34
    JPL says:

    @MikeJ: Since our front pagers have other commitments, sometimes that’s not possible.
    I appreciate that those who post on the front page also comment and that might be restricted if robots were involved.

  35. 35
    Mandalay says:

    @PeakVT:

    Even if the US is “in decline” it will almost certainly never fall below the 3rd most powerful country in the world.

    History says otherwise. Consider the British and the Greeks and the Mongols and the Egyptians and the Romans and the…

  36. 36
    Chris says:

    @Jon:

    The Bush foreign policy was to shovel gobs and gobs of money at defense contractors, and justify it with whatever flimsy reasons they could come up with. That was true even before 9/11 and before the Iraq War became the specific means of shoveling the money. It’s pretty blatant if you read their pre-9/11 strategic overviews.

  37. 37
    Ron Thompson says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    It wouldn’t have stopped them. We had nothing approaching the intelligence necessary to know where to strike. Neither does Israel with respect to Iran. Fancy JFK “nukeing” China in 1963! What do you suppose the international reaction would have been?

  38. 38
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @JPL: A front pager can’t watch and go, “Oh, my page is up”?

  39. 39
    raven says:

    @catclub:

    Talk talk talk
    Sometimes I think I must go mad
    Why don’t you go home to your wife?
    I’ll tell you what, I’ll go home to your wife and,
    outside of the improvement she’ll never know the difference. . .

  40. 40
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Ron Thompson: Please read the last sentence of the comment to which you replied.

  41. 41
    patroclus says:

    Given that they ultimately let him be confirmed, I wouldn’t read too much into the confirmation exercise other than the Republican Senators throwing their weight around for a week or so for political purposes. Yes, these can be endlessly speculated about by writers like Beinart and yes, there are weightier issues involved, but I’m wary of ascribing huge lessons from the contretemps.

  42. 42
    Bulworth says:

    The point isn’t that Hagel “favors” containment and deterrence. Like virtually everyone else, he’d much rather Iran not get a bomb. But by reminding Americans of the potential costs of preventive war, Hagel was implying that containment and deterrence might be preferable. He was suggesting that if the U.S. can’t stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons short of war, it should make the same tradeoff that Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy made when they allowed the Soviet Union and China to get the bomb.

    Not sure why containment of Iran is not a reasonable option, but the guardians of our discourse have decreed it to be That Which Must Not Be Spoken Of.

  43. 43
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @Tom Levenson:

    Even if we knew for sure that Iran was about to build two hemispheres of plutonium that togethr could form a triggerable critical mass

    You might be thinking of U235. Implosion is the standard mechanism for reaching critical mass with a Pu core, which thus starts out as a single sphere, not a pair of hemispheres.

    Or has somebody documented that the Iranians are working on a Little-Boy type gun design but using Pu rather than enriched Uranium?

  44. 44
    Chris says:

    @PeakVT:

    Personally, I don’t give a damn if America loses its number one status as long as the next number one is a friendly democracy that’ll have our back the same way we have Britain’s. In other words, as long as it’s not China or Russia, I’m good.

    The U.S. government would do itself and all of us if it simply accepted that fact (nothing lasts forever) and worked to lay the groundwork for our successor.

  45. 45
    Tone in DC says:

    Beinart and Juan Cole must have hung out recently. Truth be told, I like Cole’s a bit better.

    http://www.juancole.com/2013/0.....Comment%29

    And, I give not one fuck who bigfooted whom.

  46. 46
    SatanicPanic says:

    @Bulworth: Where’s the fun in containment? No news in that

  47. 47
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @Mandalay:

    History says otherwise. Consider the British and the Greeks and the Mongols and the Egyptians and the Romans and the…

    Every group on that list except the Romans ran an empire from a very small base of home country population. In contrast, at 300 million the US is currently the 3rd largest country by population and not likely to slip very far down that list anytime soon. We are a historical exception in combining the commercial and power-projection attributes and behavior of the European maritime empires (the Greeks, the Dutch, the Brits, the French) with the very large population and native resource base of traditional land-centric powers like Russia and China

    Unless our per-capita wealth declines to well below 1st World standards, or we fragment into pieces like the Romans did, we’re going to be large and at least partially in-charge for awhile.

  48. 48
  49. 49
    PeakVT says:

    @Mandalay: Sure, the US could break up, or somehow become ungovernable, though I question how likely that is to happen to a country that has one of longest records of governmental stability in the world. But barring some kind of breakdown/breakup, which country is going to rise to be more powerful?

  50. 50
    raven says:

    @Ron Thompson: Duck and cover.

  51. 51
    raven says:

    Or, bend over and kiss your ass goodbye.

  52. 52
    Chris says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ:

    Key word “partially.” The worst case scenario I can imagine for America is basically becoming like Russia after 1989. Still invulnerable thanks to size and nuclear armament, but by no means “in charge” except as a regional power.

  53. 53
  54. 54
    Anoniminous says:

    McConnell is in hip-deep trouble in Kentucky. His polling numbers are in “Do Not Re-elect” territory. He may very well get a primary challenge from his right. And Ashley Judd may jump in. McConnell’s political career is in jeopardy and much, if not all, of his kabuki is directed back home to the ignorant hicks GOP voters in Kentucky.

    Adding:

    Most Americans don’t give a fig about International Relations. My Rule of Thumb is when a pol starts making noises about the international status – or whatever – of the US look to his near term political interest.

  55. 55
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Ron Thompson:

    Fancy JFK “nukeing” China in 1963! What do you suppose the international reaction would have been?

    Not that much different than the international reaction was to the US invading Iraq in 2003. Which is what Omnes’ point was: even when our power was “unlimited” after WWII, it wasn’t actually unlimited. The neocons are misremembering the glory days of the American Empire just as they misremember so many other parts of our history.

  56. 56
    Doug Galt says:

    It’s worth nothing that neither AIPAC nor AIPAC media outlets (e.g. the Washington Post editorial page) opposed Hagel much.

  57. 57
    Chris says:

    @Doug Galt:

    Clever of them. Bibi had already thoroughly shit the bed during election season, and AIPAC probably knows better than to give Obama another reason to be pissed off at them. After all, he’s who they have to deal with whether they like it or not.

  58. 58
    grandpajohn says:

    @Bulworth:Hagel has studied the words of previous war leaders notably Winston Churchill

    Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter.
    The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.
    Sir Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965)

  59. 59
    liberal says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ:

    Or has somebody documented that the Iranians are working on a Little-Boy type gun design but using Pu rather than enriched Uranium?

    I thought due to cross sections blah blah blah (IANA physicist) you can’t make a gun design from Pu.

  60. 60
    General Stuck says:

    I don’t think the republicans were expecting a pro war on Iran Obama SecDef. I think they object because Hagel is a genuine right winger and no RINO, like say a Bill Cohen. And that in general, he is pro peace. Meaning, in this case, the implication that we are spending way to much coin on an amped up military, that is easy to use and abuse, because it exists. And would exist when the nutters get back the WH.

    Their fear, I suspect, is what it usually, is at the core of their bankrupt souls. Money, and more of it for their rich friends, than not. With the Pentagon an ideal place for laundering tax payer monies in large amounts into big plutocrat bucks. But also a war machine to go tear assing around the world, when the opportunity arises.

    As for Obama, listen to his words, that he almost always means when delivered in a certain flat tone speak, repeated as needed. If Iran is about to get the bomb on his watch, he will act militarily. I wouldn’t support that, but when I vote for someone who tells me what they will do, then my opposition is mitigated with regard to any sense of outrage or betrayal on my part.

  61. 61
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: With what would you have nuked them, dear Liza dear Liza, with what would you have nuked them dear Liza with what?

    Presuming you mean to nuke the Soviet Union ca. 1946, a nation covering a larger area by far than the United States and which had already pulled most of its military and strategic factories beyond they Urals away from the Nazis, you need a very long-range bomber aircraft and in late 1945 all you’ve got are the Silverplate B-29s with a there-and-back range of about 1600 miles, or about Berlin to Moscow, maybe, through some of the thickest AA and fighter cover in existence. If they managed to shoot down a nuclear bomber and recover its payload from the wreckage, so much the better for them.

    In a shooting war with the Russians the Western powers would have lost Germany and France in short order which means the only bases left to operate from would be in the UK. Soviet nuclear weapons development was being carried out in the middle of the continent in places like Chelyabinsk (made famous recently by the meteor) so if you wanted to nuke that site it would either be a suicide mission or you’d need a much better aircraft like the B-36 which were on the drawing boards but buggy and not actually brought into service until several years after 1945.

    As for nuclear weapons to actually bomb our brave Soviet allies with, the production lines weren’t quite up to speed in August 1945 — Fat Man was built with Pu from several experimental lines and there was one more core left after the Japanese surrender. By the time 1946 rolled around there were maybe a dozen or so bombs ready for use, no more. That sound like a lot of firepower but try drawing a number of 5-mile diameter circles on a map of the old Soviet Union and see how long it takes to do serious damage to the place, and how many weapons it takes.

  62. 62
    PeakVT says:

    @Chris: The U.S. government would do itself and all of us if it simply accepted that fact (nothing lasts forever) and worked to lay the groundwork for our successor.

    Yup. And our successor will be China, which isn’t a democracy now. So the transition between the two countries won’t be like the one between the UK and the US. But that doesn’t mean that future Americans (and us, probably) will be condemned to live in perpetual fear. It will just mean the US will have to actually talk to other countries, not at them.

  63. 63
    Patricia Kayden says:

    @Feudalism Now!: And Hagel is not the only one they’ve blocked (or will block in the future).

  64. 64
    Patricia Kayden says:

    @Feudalism Now!: And Hagel is not the only one they’ve blocked (or will block in the future).

  65. 65
    srv says:

    I completely disagree, the Senate is not clinging to some hurt fee-fees caused by a mostly ex-post facto realization by some outsider Senator that Bush was wrong. They are unkind because Hagel was never a team player and smarter than most of them.

    If Obama put McCain up, they would have viciously gone after him also, unless their cost-benefit calculation was “sheesh, this is a great opportunity to get rid of that asshole”

    Nobody liked Hagel, and nobody likes McCain (other than his good friend SoS Kerry).

    As you imply, America’s Decline is really a function of the neocon fantasy demonstrating to the world that the US was unable to force its will upon a couple of third world nations. Whatever respect they had is gone, and whatever fear they have is waning.

  66. 66
    Mandalay says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ:

    we’re going to be large and at least partially in-charge for awhile

    No argument from me on that. But 50 or 100 years from now?…

  67. 67
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Robert Sneddon: Again, understand that I do not think this would have been a good idea at the time, and I do not think that it would be a good Idea with respect to Iran today. That being said, you do point out some significant hurdles to the feasibility of the policy vis a vis the Soviets.

  68. 68
    Forum Transmitted Disease says:

    Are we impoverished if we advance into a world in which the Chinese middle class, still a small proportion of that country, may soon achieve economic status equal to our own?

    We’re running into a brick wall of resource availability. Any gains made by anyone are now someone else’s loss.

    If you’re wondering what’s changed since the “good old days”, that’s it.

    Ugliest truth ever.

  69. 69
    LGRooney says:

    Such caveats to the threnody of decline do not in themselves mean that we cannot in fact propel ourselves into an actual, unmistakable loss of power, influence and so much relative economic standing that the conditions of national autonomy and agency the US now possesses will erode.

    We are propelling ourselves in that direction with our non-stop allegiance to hard power. As long as our cudgel is our main strategic tool, we will soon see ourselves isolated internationally. It has already begun to happen. As much as we celebrated the end of the Bush II presidency, with a current president who hasn’t acted on the rhetorical denigration of his predecessor’s malpractice in Constitutional and international laws,* we are becoming less a guide for the world while our friends in the EU have stepped up – in a two up, one back fashion, to be sure – to show a more equitable, pacific partner in the world.

    * I think Obama would like to and he probably could with the introduction of an executive order here and there but he is content to continue the atrocities, accepting they are atrocities, while waiting for Congress to act. I think very much, in large part, Obama is providing leadership back to the original intent of the founders with the president a focal point for the country but not its prime legislator as presidents of the past 70-80 years have been. IOW, he wants to see the legislation come from Congress because it can otherwise always be called illegitimate – the way Congress wants it, i.e., they don’t have to take responsibility for doing their jobs and making decisions if the WH will do it for them; they are free to argue the details and go play golf with sponsors while sewing their golden parachutes.

  70. 70
    Tom Levenson says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ: Got it doubly wrong, me.

    Yes, plutonium cores form a subcritical sphere, not two hemispheres and, if I recall correctly, if Iran pursues uranium enrichment to 90% U235 levels, it would not need to produce plutonium, and would be able to build the simpler “gun” bomb that I was half recalling.

    So I messed up. Fixed above.

  71. 71
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ: The “hemispheres” thing is a bit of a crock. The gun-type uranium weapons like Little Boy used a cylindrical plunger fired into a cylindrical receiver with a hole running through it. Weapons makers thought they could use two solid hemispheres in a gun design to reduce the total amount of fissionable material needed for a decent yield. This wouldn’t actually work too well for various reasons.

    Implosion is the normal method of triggering both highly-enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium-239 warheads these days. It’s not too difficult to work out how to do it even from scratch; the important thing is knowing it works at all and from there even pray-and-try experimenting will get you the requisite squeeze characteristics to compress a critical mass into the correct geometry. Implosion weapons are a lot more compact than a gun-type device and are easier to integrate onto missiles etc. so they are the choice of discerning nuclear powers.

  72. 72
    Chris says:

    @PeakVT:

    Can’t say I’m that sanguine about the prospect of our next superpower being a dictatorship, which is why I’m on board with the idea of supporting India as a counterweight.

  73. 73

    @PeakVT: It may happen in the distant future, but I don’t see it happening in the near future. Both India and China have huge internal problems which they need to take care of before they can assert power on the global scale.

  74. 74

    BTW I found this tidbit from BBC about Hagel and his supposed antipathy towards India.

  75. 75
    Tom Levenson says:

    @Robert Sneddon: So wrong again, me; I haven’t read much into nuclear weapons design since reading into the early history of the H-bomb; I didn’t know that the gun type design is now gone the way of the horseless carriage. Fix’t again above, I hope.

    Blogging is good for the brain.

  76. 76
    dmbeaster says:

    Why all this debate about the motivation for the Republican shitfest about Hagel when there plainly were many motivations, all coalescing around the Hagel nomination?

    There was clearly the crazed pro-Israel faction. There was the general pissant attitude about anything Obama. There was payback for the apostate both as to the party and as to Republican Iraq war dogma. There was Benghazi grandstanding. There was the Huckleberry factor. It became the perfect storm of non-stop Republican frothing.

    What was most “interesting” about it was the demonstration of all of the crazy in one episode concerning Republican thinking about defense and foreign policy. “Interesting” in the same sense as cataloguing scat samples.

  77. 77

    I suspect the right’s core problem with the Hagel nomination was that he was a Republican and Barack Obama being seen as bipartisan messes with their narrative. They had to disown him to tell themselves and anyone that still swallows their bs that Obama was still the Kenyan Usurper.

  78. 78
    dmbeaster says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ:

    The original Trinity bomb and the fat man Nagasaki bomb used two hemispheres simply for purposes of assembly (dont know about future designs). The initiator was placed inside the two hemispheres as part of final assembly, and the two hemispheres the placed against one another. SO nothing wrong with referring to “hemispheres” even though once assembled for use, they are placed together to form the sphere around the initiator.

  79. 79
    MCA1 says:

    @Mandalay: I guess that’s a long way to project, but given current trajectories in the politico-economies of each of the possible contenders to the U.S. throne as World Overdog, as well as our own, there’s nothing there to suggest that anyone other than China might overtake us in at least the next 3-5 generations in terms of global influence.

    Back to the original point PeakVT was making, I assume the threat to eventually ascend to No. 2 and push the U.S. to No. 3 he/she’s talking about is Russia and not India? I’m not sure, though, why that would be, unless Russia becomes imperial again. It commands great natural resources, but so does the U.S., and at less than half the population of the U.S. and an economy 1/5 the size, Russia can’t economically overwhelm us by sheer force of numbers the way China can/will. India could, eventually, if it got its shit together, although there’s no indication it has any inclination to actually do so.

    I guess the point is, unless the U.S. screws itself royally, there’s nothing in the way of reasonably forseeable circumstances in which we’re pushed beyond the No. 2 world power in the next hundred years or so.

  80. 80
    Mandalay says:

    @PeakVT:

    But barring some kind of breakdown/breakup, which country is going to rise to be more powerful?

    I guess it boils down to what exactly you meant by “most powerful country in the world”, and only you know that. But there are a few things which suggest that the US will become relatively less powerful:
    – Even if the US retains its absolute military superiority, that superiority will become less meaningful as other nations become more powerful. There’s comes a point where all our military might doesn’t help at all. (e.g. Afghanistan)
    – Non-military US influence in the world is declining.
    – Technology advances are equalizers: Hamas and the Taliban will get drones…Burkina Faso will be educating its kids through the internet…Wikileaks…cell phone cameras. The world is catching up with the US.
    – The US can no longer control events in other countries. The days having a strong hand in determining who governs El Salvador, Chile, Egypt, etc. are over.
    – I suspect that the days of the dollar’s strength may be numbered.

    But the whole issue of which country is #1 is so silly anyway. For example, most accept that if China invaded (reclaimed) Taiwan the US would not do a damn thing about it. So much for us being the world’s only superpower.

    But I’m betting on the fall of the House of Saud to be the beginning of the end for us, once we start pumping gas at $7 gallon.

  81. 81
    MCA1 says:

    @Mandalay: I guess that’s a long way to project, but given current trajectories in the politico-economies of each of the possible contenders to the U.S. throne as World Overdog, as well as our own, there’s nothing there to suggest that anyone other than China might overtake us in at least the next 3-5 generations in terms of global influence.

    Back to the original point PeakVT was making, is the threat to eventually ascend to No. 2 and push the U.S. to No. 3 he/she’s talking about Russia or India? I’m not sure how/why either would pass us, unless Russia becomes imperial again. It commands great natural resources, but so does the U.S., and at less than half the population of the U.S. and an economy 1/5 the size, Russia can’t economically overwhelm us by sheer force of numbers the way China can/will. India could, eventually, if it got its shit together, but there’s no real indication it has any inclination to actually do so, and it would be at least a century-long process.

    I guess the point is, unless the U.S. screws itself royally, there’s nothing in the way of reasonably forseeable circumstances in which we’re pushed beyond the No. 2 world power in the next hundred years or so.

  82. 82
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Robert Sneddon:

    And, again, you make Omnes’ point for him: our “unlimited” power never actually existed, and yet today’s conservatives are trying to “return” us to a time that never was.

  83. 83
    dmbeaster says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ:

    I believe that a gun-type plutonium bomb is not feasible. The high rate of free neutron production in a typical plutonium sample causes the chain reaction to start before the plutonium pieces can be assembled by the relatively slow gun mechanism. All you end up with is a fizzle, as the too-early onset of the chain reaction causes a minor explosion that prevents further assembly of the component plutonium pieces.

    All bets would be that the Iranians would push for a gun-type bomb with sufficient U-235. It is easier to make, except for the horrible problem of obtaining a high enough U-235 enrichment. I seem to recall that the Iraqi nuclear program was proceeding along the same lines, with the intent to use calutrons ala Manhattan Project (Oak Ridge) to enrich the uranium, since many of the components for their manufacture were not on proliferation watch lists.

  84. 84
    MCA1 says:

    Apologies for the double post. FYWP.

  85. 85
    Ronzoni Rigatoni says:

    @Mandalay: “Threnody” schmenody. A word whose meaning is superfluous, especially since we prolly won’t ever see it again anywhere (‘cept possibly in another Levenson post, where it will remain superfluous).

  86. 86
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @dmbeaster: Gun-type assembly for Pu is just about feasible but it produces a very low yield, a couple of kilotonnes maximum from the reports I saw. It’s also a very big mechanism based around a high velocity light-gas gun, nothing as simple and compact as the cannon system used for the uranium Little Man designs.

  87. 87
    Ron Thompson says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    Yes, I read it the first time. Your post was simply too ambiguous to rely upon the readers’ perception that it might be a joke. Many people know very little of those times, and people unfamiliar with the subject, and who have been de-sensitized to the lunacy of such thinking by its repetition over the last ten years, might take it as an established fact that the United States might have had an alternative to “allowing” the Reds to Get The Bomb. After all, that’s what Beinart strongly implied by using “allowed”.

  88. 88
    Mandalay says:

    @MCA1:

    I guess the point is, unless the U.S. screws itself royally, there’s nothing in the way of reasonably forseeable circumstances in which we’re pushed beyond the No. 2 world power in the next hundred years or so.

    To repeat some points in an earlier post that got eaten by FYWP:
    – The very idea of ranking power is kinda silly. Suppose China invades/reclaims Taiwan. What will the world’s #1 superpower do to support our commitmment to Taiwan? Nothing, so much for being #1.
    – I’m betting on the fall of the House of Saud and gas at $7 per gallon to make things interesting. Is it probable? No. Is it a realistic possibility? Surely.

  89. 89
    Ron Thompson says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    Uh, one tiny difference between China in 1963 and Iraq in 2003 was that the Cold War was still going very strong and the country had faced nuclear Armageddon the previous October.

    The point is, it was never remotely within Kennedy’s power to stop China from acquiring the bomb.

  90. 90
    Mandalay says:

    @LGRooney:

    We are propelling ourselves in that direction with our non-stop allegiance to hard power. As long as our cudgel is our main strategic tool, we will soon see ourselves isolated internationally. It has already begun to happen.

    Exactly. And more generally, our absurd obsessions with being number one, and being “exceptional”, are directly harmful to this country.

    They shape our rhetoric, they shape our politics, and they shape our policies. I suppose it’s progress from “freedom fries” and “they hate us for our freedom”, but when the hell are we finally going to grow up?

  91. 91
    Chris says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    Par for the course. It’s what their “solution” to all of the nation’s problems is, why not foreign policy too?

  92. 92
    Mandalay says:

    @srv:

    They are unkind because Hagel was never a team player and smarter than most of them.

    If Hagel is smart he certainly hid that well at his confirmation hearing. He seemed dumber than a box of rocks and McCain – who is none too bright – wiped the floor with him.

  93. 93
    Ronzoni Rigatoni says:

    @Ron Thompson: “allowed” Isn’t that what Joe McCarthy was all about?

  94. 94
    Chris says:

    @Ronzoni Rigatoni:

    Yep, exactly. World War Two gave us unprecedented (and excessive) self confidence. Whenever things didn’t happen as we wanted – Russia getting the bomb, then China falling, then Korea being inconclusive – people simply couldn’t understand how it was that a country that had destroyed the Nazis and Imperial Japanese couldn’t deal with the Reds the same way. The Red Scare was tapping into that paranoia.

  95. 95
    Ted & Hellen says:

    Wow, Tom, this is spot-on. I couldn’t agree more.

    You are knocking them out of the ballpark!

  96. 96
    MCA1 says:

    @Mandalay: Agreed. Still fun to ponder our inevitable post- most importantest country EVAH stage as a nation, though. If for no other benefit than doing so publicly makes wingnuts flip out thinking we can’t wait for it to happen because we’re lacking in self-confidence and desperately aspire to Frenchness, or something.

  97. 97
    dmbeaster says:

    @Robert Sneddon: That sounds correct, but has anybody ever bothered? I do know that the plutonium gun type assembly was abandoned by the Manhattan project because it required too ridiculous of a gun design with low yield results.

  98. 98
    dmbeaster says:

    @Mandalay:

    He seemed dumber than a box of rocks and McCain – who is none too bright – wiped the floor with him.

    Couple things on this. First, the basic strategy for Hagel seemed to be to not rise to the challenge no matter what. Second, realize that the person being grilled is always at a serious disadvantage, and the questioner has a much easier time of it. And since Hagel seemed to pointedly not be fighting back, it is hard not to look weak or dumb.

    For example, for McCain’s questions on the surge, I am sure that Hagel could have schooled McCain about his bs. But Hagel deliberately did not do so, and instead gave some flop sweat answers about history. Having seen the clips of him speak during the Iraq war on the same issues, I am sure that he could have easily repeated even those lines. But he deliberately kept his tongue. Knowing the trend of the way that the Obama administration likes to do things, I suspect those were his specific marching orders concerning the hearing.

  99. 99
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Ron Thompson:

    The point is, it was never remotely within Kennedy’s power to stop China from acquiring the bomb.

    Yes, I realize that’s the point. I’m not sure what you think you’re arguing about.

  100. 100
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Ron Thompson: Referring to an action as insane is ambiguous? Okay. Got it. Would calling it “fucking insane” have cleared up the ambiguity?

  101. 101
    danielx says:

    @Feudalism Now!:

    Also, too – they really don’t like the fact that his experience as someone who has been down there where they do the bleeding and dying has kept him from achieving the proper Olympian perspective. After all, if he stops to consider whether the lives and treasure at risk in a particular action are actually worth the gain, it might prevent him from approving actions designed to demonstrate our imperial will and awesomeness. Which is pretty much what the Cheney – er, Bush – Doctrine amounted to…

    We certainly can’t have that.

  102. 102
    The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge says:

    The Manhattan project had a design for a plutonium gun: Thin Man. It would have worked if they had pure 239, like the cyclotron-produced samples they had when they designed it. Come to find out, reactor-produced Pu has too much 240, which decays by spontaneous fission much too often. They decided doubling the velocity by firing two projectiles at each other and having them meet in the middle was too outré, so they abandoned the idea and went back to Seth Neddermeyer’s “insane” implosion proposal from 1942.

    There have been reports that some gun-type designs have been tested since—particularly the “Davy Crockett”-type nuclear shells because they needed to be narrow. More modern info indicates that such rumors are hooey.

    The only gun-type designs produced since Hiroshima were the half-dozen or so devices built by South Africa. They could afford to waste uranium, and had very modern isotope separation plants. In all probability, they did fire two hemispheres at each other from opposite directions—the timing of such a thing was a trivial problem by the 1980s.

    The main reason no one else has built a gun-type device is inefficiency: The Hiroshima bomb had less than 1% of its Uranium 235 actually fission (vs. 17% of the Fat Man’s plutonium)—remember that’s after taking a year and a half to literally sort it atom by atom. The South Africans may have had ulterior motives in that the normal-density material creates a much brighter visible-light flash, and the putative enemies they would be using it against would…ahem…absorb that energy so much better.

    Just as a historical footnote:

    @Robert Sneddon:

    The gun-type uranium weapons like Little Boy used a cylindrical plunger fired into a cylindrical receiver with a hole running through it.

    This was the conventional wisdom, but it turns out Little Boy fired the barrel-shaped main body down onto the plug at the end of the barrel. Heaven knows why they did this, but they must have had their reasons.

  103. 103
    Mandalay says:

    @dmbeaster:

    But he deliberately kept his tongue…I suspect those were his specific marching orders concerning the hearing.

    That had not occurred to me (or the MSM AFAIK), and you make a very persuasive argument.

  104. 104
    liberal says:

    @Chris:

    …how it was that a country that had destroyed the Nazis…

    Well, first off, it was primarily the Soviets that destroyed the Nazis, though I suppose you yourself knew that.

  105. 105
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge: The Davy Crockett warhead was an implosion device, deliberately inefficient with none of the go-faster bits like a tamper jacket, beryllium reflector etc. but it wasn’t fired in an artillery shell but from a Jeep-mounted short-range rocket launcher. It holds the distinction of being the smallest known nuclear devices ever fired with the smallest known yield (about 20 to 30 tonnes of TNT equivalent) and the last above-ground nuclear tests fired in the US before they went to underground testing.

  106. 106
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @liberal: The Soviets also had a hand in defeating the Japanese too although it’s not that well-known in the West. They destroyed the last large Japanese military force, about 1.5 million strong, left outside Japan during the Battle of Manchuria in early August 1945.

  107. 107
    The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge says:

    @Robert Sneddon:

    Yeah, I love the people who squawk about the SU just declaring war after Hiroshima to get in on the spoils. The jumped in on the exact day they agreed to at Yalta.

    Plus, the atomic bomb allowed us to avoid Operation Downfall—but it wouldn’t have been much help snaffling the entire army in Manchuria if they decided not to cooperate; and they’d been pretty much doing what they wanted since 1931, regardless of what the Government told them.

    P.S. Yeah. I always miscall “Atomic Annie” “Davy Crockett”. It’s a mental block.

    Wikipedia is still claiming that the 280 mm nuclear shell tested in 1953 was a gun-type device, but I’m very skeptical of that.

    Now, apparently the W48 warhead from the 155 mm nuclear howitzer was a “linear-implosion” device. I guess if you don’t mind throwing away enough plutonium to make two Fat Man bombs for a 70-ton yield,,,,

  108. 108
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge: The Soviets also had to reposition about one and a half million troops from central Europe thousands of miles overland to Manchuria plus supply them with the arms they needed from the factories in the Urals — 26,000 artillery pieces, 5 thousand tanks etc. etc. That’s what took them about three months to achieve after V-E day before they could declare war and launch their attack on the Japanese. It’s an amazing job of planning and logistics, probably the biggest military effort of the war. D-day was a piece of piss in comparison.

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