Peter Van Buren on the State Department: Meet the New Boss, Same/Worse as the Old Boss?

The rumors of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s demise may finally not be greatly exaggerated.

A marked man, it was only about a month ago the media speculated on how soon United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley would replace Tillerson. Two weeks ago a trial balloon floated up with Mike Pompeo’s name in trail. But a burst of nearly-identical stories over the last few days, spearheaded by the New York Times, signals the end for Tillerson and names Pompeo, currently Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, as his successor. What lies ahead?

The unique interplay between the Civil Service (non-diplomats largely stationed in Washington DC) and the Foreign Service (who have primary responsibility in Washington and who staff the embassies and consulates abroad) complicates Secretary of State transitions. Engaging both sides, with their different vested interests, can be tough. And unlike the military, where chains of command and internal procedures are written on checklists, State is a hybrid, half foreign and half domestic, with a structure that either conforms to a new Secretary or is conformed by a new Secretary. State is a vertically-oriented bureaucracy, with layers below the boss’ office waiting for bits of policy to fall so as to inform them of what their own opinions are. One academic referred to this as “neckless government,” a head and a body in need of an active connection.

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Peter Van Buren: Soldier Boy, for Veteran’s Day

Perhaps only ancient Sparta claimed to support its military more than the United States. From the “soldiers in uniform board first” rituals that happen only in American airports, to politics where a decision not to serve is forever held against a candidate, there are reminders that America’s troops are a presence in our society like few others.

The desire to claim a piece of that leads to elaborate lies, known as “stolen valor.” People buy regulation uniforms and walk through society showing off medals, telling fake war stories, and accepting unearned thanks, all without ever having served a day. They want the juice without having endured the squeeze. They are out there this Veteran’s Day, and they are to be loathed.

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Peter Van Buren Says Thanks, and Goodbye

I’ll save someone the time typing in the Comments section – yes, yes, I won’t let the door hit me on the ass on the way out.

I’m going to take a break with this blog. I may post here and there when I get bored, I may rerun some old things, I may do nothing at all. But after some six years and over 2,000 posts, I’m gonna do something else. Not sure just what yet.

The reason is simple: the Internet has become too boring and too toxic. It is no longer a matter of having a thick skin, it is a question of why bother.

The past election finally broke the idea of the informal interchange blogs thrive on, as it broke journalism. And as it apparently caused most of America to lose its mind.

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Peter Van Buren Says: Sorry, No War in North Korea

I’m so sorry to disappoint so many people, but there is not going to be a war with North Korea.

No, no, Trump is not going to start a war there. And, no, Kim Jong Un is not going to start a war there. It is not going to happen, despite a cottage industry of pundits who seem to really believe war is only moments away.

Let’s start with the obvious. A war on the Korean peninsula benefits no one and is really, really bad for everyone (we’ll get to the irrational madman theory in a moment.)

Any conflict means the end of North Korea, and the end of the Kim dynasty. The U.S. will win any fight, nuclear or not, and Kim and everyone with any power or money in the North knows that. North Korea has no reason to start a war that will end in its own destruction. The people there with power and money do not want to give those things up.

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Peter Van Buren on Morality, Expediency, and Hiroshima

August 6 usually doesn’t make headlines in America. But mark the day by what absence demonstrates: on the 72nd anniversary of the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and some 140,000 noncombatants, there is no call for reflection in the United States.

In an era where pundits routinely worry about America’s loss of moral standing because of an offish, ill-mannered president, the only nation in history to employ a weapon of mass destruction on an epic scale, against an undefended civilian population, otherwise shrugs off the significance of an act of immorality.

But it is August 6, and so let us talk about Hiroshima.

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Hiroshima and the Scar of Moral Injury

For military historians, walking a battlefield is a special experience. That’s where things previously locked away in books happened, the hill that blocked an advance, the river that defended an important city and altered the course of human history. Historians visit Waterloo, Gettysburg, and Normandy all the time.

Things work differently for those interested in the final days of World War II. Absent the bloody struggle for Okinawa, the real end days of the war were conducted from the air. The firebombing of Tokyo in March 1945, the greatest civilian loss of life in a conventional air raid, left no signs some 70 years later in the modern city. There is nothing to indicate a million people were left homeless because one-fourth of the urban area was destroyed. And that is exactly as the Japanese want it. It was all cleaned up, buried, as if it never had happened.

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