Cheney Rumsfeld

Donald Rumsfeld’s biggest unknown: himself

Donald Rumsfeld was less afraid of what intelligence revealed than what it didn’t ― that is, almost everything.

Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld in 1975

Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld in 1975

The New York Times recently ran a four-part post in its Opinionator section by filmmaker and blogger extraordinaire Errol Morris titled The Certainty of Donald Rumsfeld. Complete with interviews with those present, including Rumsfeld himself, about which Morris has just made a documentary titled The Unknown Known, it’s a meditation on what George W. Bush’s infamous first secretary of defense expounded on at a 2002 press conference about the lack of evidence that Iraq had a nuclear-weapons program. Continue reading


What if Russia’s invasion of Crimea is really a post-democracy problem?

The Crimea crisis may feel like a throwback to the Cold War, but it’s actually reflective of 21st century democracy.

ImageDemocracy is defined as “a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.” Despotism is “the exercise of absolute power, especially in a cruel and oppressive way.”

A child denied any access to sweeties, despite abject pleas to the contrary, is experiencing despotism. A child offered a choice of two sweeties, but not one of the fifty they actually wanted, is experiencing democracy.

History is messy. Continue reading


Nuclear weapons and guns: comrades in arms

Which is more of a threat to a nation’s safety ― untrammeled gun “rights” or a nukes program?

NuclearWarheadAuthor’s note: I first published this essay on Kindle in autumn of 2013, then at the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points. It is now my pleasure to present it to Scholars & Rogues readers.

A nuclear weapon and a gun may be far apart on the arms spectrum, but they’re more alike than not. They’re both designed to kill by setting off detonations – one massive, the other miniaturized. Both depend, also to different degrees, on deterrence for their effectiveness. Continue reading


Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: is it doomed to be one of history’s greatest unsolved mysteries?

The case of the missing plane is confounding all my attempts to construct a plausible theory, and it’s driving me crazy.

We all love a good mystery. But only if it comes with a resolution. If we can figure it out, that’s ideal. If not, we need somebody else to figure it out and tell us.

Books and TV shows and movies are perfect if you have the mystery Jones because the case is always solved in the end. In real life, we’ve gotten pretty good at investigating and when all is said and done, we usually walk away with at least a strong suspicion as to whodunnit.

Continue reading


US war movie military policy: Baby Boomers grew up on films where battle was noble and Americans never died

America’s permanent war policy is a reflection of WWII movies, which offered an unrealistic vision of war’s motivations, consequences

My Depression-born parents raised me in a rural idyll during the Eisenhower years. As a child, I snuck into the Garden Theater to watch war movies. They enthralled me: Battle Cry, To Hell and Back, Away All Boats, D-Day the Sixth of June, The Wings of Eagles, Battle of the Coral Sea, and my favorites, the submarine movies: Run Silent Run Deep, The Enemy Below, and Up Periscope. I revered Steve McQueen in The Great Escape and John Wayne in Operation Pacific and The Flying Leathernecks. Later, I learned mediated definitions of traitorous betrayal in Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare. Continue reading

Assad poster

Is Syrian President Assad following the Pakistan model?

Like the Pakistan military and ISI, Assad may be aiding jihadists who operate on his own soil.

Assad posterIn an article at Foreign Policy titled The Disappeared, James Traub reports on journalists who have been kidnapped in Syria, either by Islamist extremist rebels or by forces for the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. At one point he was introduced to (emphasis added):

… Hamza Ghadban, a Syrian journalist. … He was convinced, as many rebel sympathizers are, that the regime has subterranean connections with the foreign jihadists. Continue reading


What nobody is saying about the cheating missileers

Their perception that they’ve been relegated to an armed-forces version of Siberia is only the tip of the iceberg.

NuclearWarheadRobert Burns of the Associated Press has been the point man on the ongoing story of the U.S. nuclear launch force’s shortcomings. In one recent development, “missileers” at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana are alleged to have cheated on a proficiency exam. Subsequently, reports Global Security Newswire, about half of them

… have had their launch certifications taken away and been pulled off alert duty.… Of the more than 90 launch officers currently implicated in the cheating scandal, 40 missileers were believed directly involved in the misconduct, which involved sharing exam answers by text message. Others allegedly tolerated or facilitated the incidents. Continue reading

Dimona Nuclear Reactor 1968

Ever wonder exactly why the U.S. keeps Israel’s nuclear secret?

Hint: it’s not just the Israel lobby.

Israel's Dimona nuclear reactor, c. 1968. Image Wikimedia Commons

Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor, c. 1968. Image Wikimedia Commons

In a piece titled The truth about Israel’s secret nuclear arsenal at the Guardian, Julian Borger writes about how Israel began its nuclear-weapons program.

The list of nations that secretly sold Israel the material and expertise to make nuclear warheads, or who turned a blind eye to its theft [more on that down-post ― RW], include today’s staunchest campaigners against proliferation: the US, France, Germany, Britain and even Norway. Continue reading


Secretary of the Air Force tries to show nuclear missile force some love

The United States nuclear missile force has been beset by a series of issues that Robert Burns of the Associated Press, who has been the lead dog on this ongoing story, describes as the “deliberate violations of safety rules, failures of inspections,” and “breakdowns in training.” The latest, as you may have heard, is cheating by the “missileers” on proficiency exams. There’s been much handwringing on the part of the command, including Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who wondered aloud: “Do they get bored?” he asked. No doubt; also, as Burns explains:

Nuclear missile duty has lost its luster in an era dominated by other security threats. It’s rarely the career path of first choice for young officers.

They can see the writing on the wall. Nuclear weapons may be a century away from being abolished. But in this year’s Omnibus Spending Bill, six percent of funding was cut from what the National Nuclear Security Administration asked for warhead research, development, production, and related activities. Continue reading


Demoralized “missileers” unwittingly make case for disarmament

To some in the U.S. missile launch force, their command is the Air Force’s Siberia.

NuclearWarheadOn January 17, I posted:

For the past couple of years, Robert Burns of the Associated Press has been chronicling what he describes as the “deliberate violations of safety rules, failures of inspections,” and “breakdowns in training” of the United States nuclear missile force. He’s also found “evidence that the men and women who operate the missiles from underground command posts are suffering burnout.” Continue reading


The Iran nuclear intelligence well was poisoned from the start

Gareth Porter reveals how Western intelligence believed the procurements of an Iranian university were proof of nuclear-weapons research.

Arak nuclear facility. Image Wikimedia Commons

Arak nuclear facility. Image Wikimedia Commons

The sources of enmity between Iran and the United States are legion. In 1953, when Prime Minister of Iran Mohammad Mosaddegh (also spelled Mossadegh) sought to make Iran a democracy and nationalize the oil industry, which was owned by British corporations, the United States helped plan and execute a coup. Then, in 1979, when President Jimmy Carter allowed the just-deposed Shah into the United States for medical treatment, Iranian revolutionaries took U.S. embassy staff hostage. But, after 9/11, in a gesture of good will, Iran collected hundreds of Arabs who crossed the border from Afghanistan, deported them, and supplied copies of their passports to the United States. Iran also provided assistance overthrowing the Taliban and establishing the Karzai government in Afghanistan. Continue reading


Syria’s Assad a serial torturer, but not a poisoner

AssadOne shudders at the phrases “systematic” and “industrial-scale” killing used by the three lawyers who prepared a report on torture and killing of detainees by the Assad regime. (Yet another huge story broken by the Guardian.) A military policeman secretly working with a Syrian opposition group smuggled out 55,000 images of 11,000 bodies tortured and/or starved to death. It gets worse.

Many other photographers are attached to security units elsewhere in the country and are likely to have been asked to provide visual evidence of deaths.

Even just trying to imagine the suffering is unimaginable. One can only hope it will put Syria on the defensive at the upcoming Geneva II peace talks. Continue reading

Image Wikipedia Commons

Al Qaeda seizure of Falluja throws U.S. attitudes toward Iraq into sharp relief

U.S. Marines react to loss of Falluja to al Qaeda affiliate ISIS.

Image Wikipedia Commons

Image Wikipedia Commons

After the fall of Falluja to al Qaeda affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, disappointment was expressed by many U.S. Marines who fought to wrest it from Iraqi insurgents. In a New York Times article on January 9, Richard Oppel quoted Kael Weston, who he described as “a former State Department political adviser who worked with the Marines for nearly three years in Falluja and the surrounding Anbar Province.”

Though he would not send troops back, Mr. Weston, the former State Department official, said it was “almost immoral for us to say, ‘It’s all up to them now, we’re out of there.’ ” Continue reading

Nuclear Test for FPIF

Pakistan allows China to use Karachi as lab rats in nuclear-energy experiment

Pakistan has contracted with China to build two nuclear reactors ― except they’re untested.

As if Karachi didn’t have enough problems. Already, it’s “far and away the world’s most dangerous megacity,” writes Taimur Khan in Foreign Policy. Due, in large part to Sunni attacks on Shiites, its homicide rate is “25 percent higher than any other major city.” Now it’s broken ground on two new nuclear power plants. All together now: What could possibly go wrong?

In fact, even more than you think and for a reason outside the bounds of nuclear energy’s attendant risks. Continue reading


More sanctions on Iran = uranium enriched to a higher grade

Both U.S. members of Congress calling for new Iran sanctions and hard-liners in Iran assault President Rouhani from each side.

Arak heavy water plant in Iran

Arak heavy water plant in Iran

In light of how much it has invested in uranium enrichment, it’s unrealistic to expect Iran to abandon the process. At the National Interest, Colin Kahl explains.

Given the significant financial investment—estimated to be at least $100 billion—and political capital the regime has expended to master uranium enrichment, the supreme leader will not agree to completely dismantle Iran’s program as many in Congress demand. … If Khamenei senses [President] Rouhani and [Minister of Foreign Affairs] Zarif are headed in that direction, he will likely pull the rug out from under continued negotiations, regardless of U.S. threats to escalate the pressure further. Continue reading


Beta testing dones on unwitting subjects

Predator_and_HellfireCivilians are the innocent victims of U.S. use of an unproven product ― drones.

In a moving testimony at the Guardian, Heather Linebaugh, a former drone analyst for the United States, writes:

Whenever I read comments by politicians defending the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Predator and Reaper program – aka drones – I wish I could ask them a few questions. I’d start with: “How many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile?” And: “How many men have you seen crawl across a field, trying to make it to the nearest compound for help while bleeding out from severed legs?” Continue reading

Iran's Arak nuclear enrichment facility

U.S. determined to re-freeze thaw in relations with Iran

Iran's Arak nuclear enrichment facility

Iran’s Arak nuclear enrichment facility

It was only supposed to be Iran’s uranium enrichment progress that was frozen after talks with Iran last month. But now, acting in bad faith by violating the spirit of the Geneva deal between the G5+1 (the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany) and Iran, the United States seems to be doing its level best to re-freeze the recent thaw in relations between the G5+1 and Iran. If you’ll bear with me for a final sub-Arctic-temperature metaphor, the United States has frozen the assets of (reports the Jerusalem Post) “companies and individuals engaged in transactions on behalf of other companies that the United States previously designated under the sanctions.” Continue reading

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Republicans want it both ways with treaties

They alternately disdain and demand them.

In a new report for the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, Usha Sahay and Kingston Reif cite President Obama’s June 19 speech in Berlin. The President announced his intentions to reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal an additional 1,000 or more warheads below the level required by the New START treaty. When he stated that these cuts could either be “pursued through formal agreements” ― treaties ― or “parallel voluntary measures,” 24 Republican senators immediately wrote him to the effect that “any further reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal should only be conducted through a treaty subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.” Continue reading

The fallacy of nuclear deterrence, chapter 238

A prominent psychiatrist and author unearthed yet another flaw in the principle of nuclear deterrence.

I posted recently about a 1985 article in Political Psychology titled “Toward a Collective Psychopathology of the Nuclear Arms Competition” by John E. Mack, the American psychiatrist and Harvard Medical professor.* Another insight of his runs something like this.

To make “the intention to kill off the bulk of the population” of the enemy in nuclear war morally able, the enemy that’s “created” (or demonized, as we might call it today) by the acceptable, the United States must be ― drum roll, please ― “monstrous to a degree virtually not experienced among the peoples of the human race.” Whether or not deterrence worked in preventing another world war, it’s apparent that many in the Soviet Union perceived the United States as ready and able to launch a first strike as it had in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Continue reading

Nuclear Test for FPIF

Failure to factor nuclear close-calls into national security equation threatens us all

One of these days the nuclear odds will no longer work in our favor.

Nuclear Test for FPIFAs I posted recently, nuclear-weapons advocates forget to factor human error into their national-security equation. Command and Control, the new book by Eric Schlosser (Penguin Press) about nuclear close-calls (which I have not read) illustrates this clearly. A new example of sloppiness in the command and control of nuclear weapons has recently arisen regarding the Permissive Action Link (PAL), a security device for nuclear weapons intended to prevent unauthorized detonation. At Gizmodo, Karl Smallwood revisits a 2004 article by Bruce Blair, co-founder of Global Zero. Continue reading