Cuts Against the Grain: Summer Edition

Summer has come and gone, leaving in its wake a rich harvest of abysmally hot takes and policy proposals. Here are some of the harshest cuts, balanced out by some fairly insightful writing that cropped up here and there.

Feeding the Forever War

  • Against: It’s hard to know where to start with a proposal in War on the Rocks by Tyler Black and Edward H. Carpenter to address military mental health by dosing troops’ water supplies with lithium. While lithium-in-the-water is at least a serious-enough proposal to merit a Vox explainer, Black and Carpenter quickly sail past questions of troops access to health care, structural supports and “operational stress” in the form of open-ended military engagements and traumatic scenes of violence committed against foreign populations. An earlier version of the article featured this jaw-dropping line, which tells you how much ethical considerations (don’t) weigh in here: Dr. Kate King, a British Navy Medical Officer and Senior Lecturer for Defence Medical Services, said in an Oct. 17, 2019, interview that such a trial would be unlikely to get “ethical approval from the Royal Navy as it removes autonomy from the individual.” But, she said, “potentially the U. S. Navy may have a different view.”
  • Against: Can The Blob indict a Biden foreign policy without implicating an entire half-century of DC consensus foreign policy? Kori Schake, who now holds a position at the American Enterprise Institute and whose career includes stints on the George W. Bush NSC and the McCain-Palin campaign, attempted a center-right critique of Biden’s foreign policy. In “Biden’s Bad Foreign-Policy Ideas,” she finds fault with him either continuing existing counter-terror and drone-strike heavy strategies or proposing withdrawal. Left unstated but implied is that the correct response to 19+ years of continuous warfare is instead a further escalation and mass deployment of forces, a surge strategy that is as unworkable as the status quo but does result in a lot more deaths. In the piece, Schake argues that the only correct response to the humanitarian crisis of war in Syria was a full-on US invasion, while the possibility of greater humanitarian aide or taking in refugees is nowhere mentioned. There are alternatives to Biden’s foreign policy that offer meaningful answers to the long-running failings of the DC consensus, but they exist on the left, and none of those options are “increase the scale of war.” Ultimately, though, Schake’s critique fails because it treats 2020 as an opportunity to reset to 2016, without reckoning with any of the changes in the world or within the United States since the last centrist foreign policy platform.
  • With: This Jeremy Shapiro review of Shields of the Republic, by Mira Hooper-Rapp, for perhaps the best single-sentence sociology of the Blob yet written:

President Eisenhower in his 1961 farewell address had warned of a military-industrial complex that would seek to lock the United States into ever higher military spending. But what emerged from the Cold War was more than that: a self-replicating class of powerful institutions and people whose education, outlook, and financial interests all told them that America’s continued global leadership and its associated alliance structure was necessary for both global stability and U.S. security.


  • Against: Sometimes the intellectual impoverishment of the blob becomes clearest when they apply their ideas at home. The constant refrain from protesters demanding that government defund police departments as a first step toward ending state violence against Black people is based on a clear understanding that policing, at its core, is about state control of Black bodies. That conclusion is borne out both by the history of policing in America and decades of failed attempts to reform it. Yet when it was past time for Joe Biden — he of the 1994 Crime Bill — to comment on police violence in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others, he told protesters that he hears them loud and clear, police violence and systemic racism must end, and to accomplish those goals he is proposing to… give police forces another $300 million in federal funding. Biden’s unshakeable belief that funding tweaks to a racist system can turn it non-racist (the best that can be hoped for, as anti-racism has no role in blob thinking) calls to mind his belief that America’s War on Terror can be redeemed by relying on targeted killings instead of full-scale invasions to kill people around the world. The promise of a reformed police force and the promise of lighter-footprint counterterrorism are the same: White supremacy made palatable by the illusion of precision.
  • With: Conversely, the promise of an abolished police force is a society that manages violence with the goal of reducing harm rather than enforcing racial hierarchies. As Atiya Husain writes, fully realizing that goal requires abolition in foreign policy as well as domestic policy. She advocates for the end of counterterrorism as an imperative in national security policy, arguing that, no matter its footprint, counterterrorism serves the same racist goals as policing. America’s vast investment in counterterrorism since 9/11 has only expanded the scale of state violence against people of color across the world. That expansion, in turn, has given racist domestic domestic security institutions permission to reproduce, for example, the concept of a CIA black site in Chicago. Husain provides a powerful reminder that anti-racist ideals rely in part on rejecting the idea that the only antidote to non-state violence is state violence, regardless of where that violence takes place. When Biden advisors cite their counterterrorism work as part of their progressive bona fides, we would do well to remember that.
  • With: “What alternative do we have?” is a common refrain from those who oppose the ongoing campaign to defund the police. Of course, there are salient domestic examples of how communities could be better protected – and there are also ample precedents abroad. Daniel Finn casts a spotlight on the reconstruction of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in Northern Ireland as a meaningful case study for American audiences. The RUC had been delegitimized in the eyes of the Catholic community as a consequence of its brutality and abuse of power during the decades-long civil conflict between Catholic nationalists and Protesant unionists known as the “Troubles.” After the 1998 peace agreement, the British government reconstituted the RUC as the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Despite opposition from the protestant community, the British government advanced efforts to recruit from the Catholic community and invited nationalist parties to participate in the police board. The most prominent nationalist party, Sinn Féin, finally offered support to the new police force in 2007. In order to restore the Catholic community’s trust in law enforcement, the British government had to overrule a well-organised bloc committed to defending the status quo, including the police force itself. Efforts in the United States will assuredly elicit similar reactions – but Finn points out that meaningful change will not be possible without confronting this opposition. Perhaps more importantly, this will be an ongoing process, which doesn’t end with the disestablishment of existing law enforcement bodies, but begins with it. 

Destined for Drawdown

  • Against/With: Polling from ReThink media shows just how out of line Democratic Party leadership is with rank and file voters when it comes to adopting a hawkish foreign policy stance – and the political opportunities for any Congressional leaders willing to cut defense spending (backed by 68% of Democratic voters), impose clear limits on Presidential war-making powers (87%), and halt arms sales to serial human rights abusers (87%). Restraint certainly won’t come from a Biden administration, which (with the possible exception of addressing climate change) is bent on returning to foreign-policy status quo ante of the Obama administration. If the bulk of the Democratic Party in Congress gives up on the idea of foreign policy leadership once Trump is no longer in the White House, you can bet that “endless wars” will be an albatross around the Party’s neck the next time Republican attack ads come calling.
  • With: A recent report from the Stimson Center lays out part of the case for drawing down an expensive, overbearing US troop presence the world over: “One key finding of the Stimson research is that, during a crisis, moving new forces into the region does significantly increase the chance that an adversary will back down. But the number of troops, aircraft, and ships already in the region prior to a crisis had no impact on the outcome.” 

One thought on “Cuts Against the Grain: Summer Edition

  1. Really appreciate this rundown but think it’s worth interrogating the first link shared in your paragraph on alternatives to the policing status quo.

    Abolition involves a rejection of “community policing,” which is often a trojan horse for increased policing and police funding, too. The evidence for its success in Camden elides the critical role played by citizen dissent and resistance in improving community life.


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