Cuts Against the Grain: May

Each month (and maybe more often!) the Blog brings you the shallowest cuts against the grain that Blob sophistry can provide – strident policy writing snarled up in questionable assumptions and adrift moral vacuums. And to balance things out, thoughtful writing in the right (here, left) direction.


  • Against: Harvard Kennedy School’s Graham Allison, unable to wrangle another Cuban Missile Crisis analogy into COVID-19 policy recommendations, decided to forge ahead  instead with various musings – such as explaining away the racial injustice that has been brought into sharp relief by the pandemic. When your copious research assistants can only find a LinkedIn blog post and a New York Times op-ed to buttress your argument – both by the same person, we might add – your hot take is probably destined for the ash heap. 
  • With: For far more thoughtful reflections on COVID-19 responses in the U.S. and elsewhere, a series of white papers from Harvard’s Safra Center for Ethics considers the moral quandaries of the pandemic – from the problems of using wartime analogies for peacetime mobilization to the starkly different challenges faced by different corners of the globe
  • With: Taking a long view, economic historian Guido Alfani notes that the human cost of past pandemics depended on far more than the quality of individual countries’ health institutions. In the 17th century, Italy had exceptionally good practices to fight epidemics but was nonetheless devastated by the bubonic plague in 1629 because invading armies from France and Germany brought the disease over the Alps. Because the consequences of any outbreak depend t on a complex set of conditions that are difficult to predict, Alfani underscores that international solidarity is the only rational choice when fighting a pandemic.   



  • Against: The modern army is built on large, expensive systems, designed either for a tank battle in the Fulda Gap or the plodding patrols of counter-insurgency. At War on the Rocks, retired Colonel Liam Collins and active duty Captain Brandon Morgan walk through the advantage of distributed production of cheap swarms of autonomous robots for vehicles. Strikingly absent from this proposal for decentralized military-industrial production is mention of how nuclear weapons would shrink the time span of a superpower war from years to hours. Also missing is a discussion of the ethical and laws-of-war implications of handing over killing decisions to whole fleets of autonomous robots.
  • With: While there’s plenty to be said about the future of war robots, that’s an almost secondary conversation to the future of great power conflict. Nuclear weapons hang like a sword of Damocles over every possible future shooting war between nuclear-armed states. As it turns out, much of the U.S nuclear infrastructure is also threatened by climate change. “What is the point of re-capitalizing on outdated pieces of the nuclear arsenal that are likely to be rendered ineffective by flooding?” argues Matt Korda of the Federation of American Scientists. 


  • Against: There’s telling on yourself, and then there’s three Blob stalwarts asserting in Foreign Affairs that the American foreign policy establishment “enforces accountability over time” by pointing out that the US invasion of Iraq was followed by the Surge. Truly, what is accountability if not responding to doing something horrible by doubling down? The broader point of the piece by Hal Brands, Peter Feaver, and William Imboden is that the Blob is actually good because, despite what you’ve heard, expertise should always win out over the uneducated hoi polloi and democratic accountability. If you’d like to be condescended to by two people who suffered no professional consequences for their work in the Bush administration (and their younger colleague who wishes he’d been there), click away!
  • With: For a more enlightened view on the construction of the American foreign policy Overton window, check out Tristan Guyette’s latest in The Hill on Phyllis Schafly’s obsession with nuclear weapons. Schafly’s hatred of second-wave feminism was matched only by her enthusiasm for second-strike capability, a position that kept her out of the Reagan administration but helped sustain ties between far-right politics and aggressive nuclear posture from Barry Goldwater into the modern era.

One thought on “Cuts Against the Grain: May

  1. This is great!

    On Mon, May 4, 2020 at 10:14 PM Fellow Travelers wrote:

    > fellowtravelersfpblog posted: “Each month (and maybe more often!) the Blog > brings you the shallowest cuts against the grain that Blob sophistry can > provide – strident policy writing snarled up in questionable assumptions > and adrift moral vacuums. And to balance things out, thoughtful w” >


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