Voice

Rush Limbaugh's Very Important Question.... and Zombies

Yesterday Rush Limbaugh asked a former U.S. serviceman who called into his show a totally-hypothetical-and-not-in-any-way-designed-to-impugn-the-patriotism-of-the-sitting-president-kind of question: 

Are you aware of any military contingency plans for a president who might not be your prototypical pro-America president? Are there contingency plans to deal with a president who may not believe that the United States is the solution to the world's problems?

Marc Ambinder provides both a succinct ("No.") and a more detailed answer.  Now, some readers might take umbrage at the partisanship of Limbaugh's question, but I think it dovetails nicely with some recent research interests of my own.  In particular:  what would happen if the president was under threat of turning into a zombie? 

Let's break this down into two phases:  A) a president who's been bitten but is still clearly human; and B) an undead POTUS. 

The first situation could distort the government's initial policy responses.    After all, the actors with the most immediate stake in sabotaging any attack on zombies are those who have been bitten by zombies, and the human relatives of zombies. By definition, the moment humans are bitten, they will inevitably become zombies. This fact can dramatically alter their preferences. This change of mind occurs in many zombie films. In George Romero's Land of the Dead (2005), the character of Cholo has the most militant anti-zombie attitude at the outset of the film. After he is bitten, however, he decides that he wants to "see how the other half lives." In Peter Jackson's Dead Alive (2002), as well as Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Survival of the Dead (2010), family members keep their undead relatives hidden from security and paramilitary forces.  

Clearly, soon-to-be-ghouls and their relatives can hamper policy implementation.  One would expect a soon-to-be POTUS to order research efforts on finding a cure rather than focusing on prevention, for example. 

If the situation is unclear when the president is infected, all hell breaks lose once he becomes a member of the differently animated.  The law here is extremely murky.  From Ambinder:

The Presidential Succession Act of 1947 spells out a procedure. Let's look at 3 USC 19, subsection "E."  We're dealing with a situation where there is no President, no Vice President, no Speaker of the House and no President Pro Tempore. The law then appoints the Secretary of State as President until either the end of the current president's term in office OR someone higher in the chain of command suddenly re-appears or recovers from injuries and is able to discharge the powers of office.  (The Secretary of Defense is sixth in line, after the Secretary of the Treasury.)

This seems clear: If it's not clear, after some sort of decapitation attack, whether the President, the Vice President or the two Congressional successors are alive, or if they're all alive but disabled, then the Cabinet secretaries become acting President -- until and unless a "prior entitled individual" is able to act.

Let's say that the POTUS, the VPOTUS, the Speaker and the President Pro Tempore are all injured; only the Vice President recovers. As soon as that person is eligible, he or she can "bump" the Acting President aside whenever he wants....

The problem is that, in a catastrophic emergency, the people who need to know who is in charge might not have the resources to find this out immediately. These people are, in particular, the Secret Service, and the folks who execute lawful orders from the National Command Authority (which is another name for the commander in chief's executive powers).

Well, then what the hell happens if a president is bitten by a zombie, dies, and then becomes a zombie?  It seems to me that the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 doesn't cover this contingency. 

There is also the question of the conflicting bureaucratic imperatives that some organizations, like the Secret Service, would face in this scenario.  For example, in Brian Keene's The Rising, the U.S. government falls apart almost immediately. A key trigger was the Secret Service's difficulties altering their In divining bureaucratic preferences, where you stand depends on who you eat. standard operating procedures. After the president turned into a zombie, he started devouring the secretary of state. As a result, "one Secret Service agent drew his weapon on the undead Commander-in-Chief, and a second agent immediately shot the first." 

I think the lesson to draw here for Rush and others is that in divining both bureaucratic and presidential preferences, where you stand depends on who you eat. 

I hereby applaud Rush for being brave enough to highlight this troublesome question during a week when nothing else is going on in the world

Daniel W. Drezner

The costs and benefits of multilateral coercion

I think it's safe to say that the multilateral coalition implementing Operation Odyssey Dawn have had their share of public spats.  This means a lot of hand-holding and negative punditry/negative press stories on the issue. 

Of course, this raises the question of whether there's a better alternative or not.  As sick as liberals might be of using force in the Middle East, I suspect they're even sicker of doing this unilaterally.  Some conservatives seem to get the notion that multilateralism has its advantages -- particularly with generating American support for these kind of missions.

Clearly, there are tradeoffs here.  I could weight them very carefully using my own limited understanding, or I could be smart and ask an expert.  So, I posed the question to Sarah Kreps, Assistant Professor of Government at Cornell University and the author of the now-extremely-trenchant Coalitions of Convenience: United States Military Interventions after the Cold WarHer thoughts on the matter:   

Prime Minister Churchill once opined that "there is only one thing worse than fighting with allies-and that is having to fight without them."  These words were remarkable coming from a leader who had spent the better part of two years trying to encourage the American military to enter WWII.  Given coalition operations in Libya, leaders couldn't be blamed for drawing the same conclusion as Churchill.

On the one hand, coalition operations in Libya are a recipe for disaster.  UN Security Council Resolution 1973 was crafted in intentionally vague terms in order to minimize opposition.  The unintended consequence is that no one can figure out who's in charge, what the goals are, and when they'll leave. Undertaking this as a NATO operation would have been obvious since at least it has a clear decision making apparatus, but member state Turkey opposes the use of military force in Libya.  As the Turkish prime minister said in televised speech, "Turkey will never be on the side of pointing the gun at the Libyan people."  The alternative to NATO is what Prime Minister David Cameron referred to as an ad hoc "coalition of the willing"-remember Iraq?-with a mishmash of largely British, American, French, Danish military assets.  But which of these is taking the lead and how these militaries are being coordinated is a mystery.  This violates rule #1 of military operations:  unity of command.

On the other hand, the United States already has TWO ongoing wars.  Undertaking a third was of questionable merit in my book, but once it decided to use force, it made sense to be able to share the burden with others.  President Obama justified the multilateral operation saying that "it means the United States is not bearing all the cost."  At the least, going multilaterally will have defrayed the cost for an overstretched American military. 

Whether multilateralism makes it more legitimate and exonerates the US from accusations of invading another Muslim country is another story.  The initial signs are not encouraging.  US marines have already been accused of firing on civilians when they went in to rescue the pilots of the fallen F-15E.  Ultimately, events on the ground are likely to determine the legitimacy, not UN and Arab League approval.  If the operation is successful, then multilateralism will have seemed like the legitimate, effective choice. 

Of course, the first step is to figure out what success looks like.  That ambiguity, however, is no fault of the coalition.   The US has had some difficulty figuring that out in its "own" wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Making that decision by committee will be considerably more difficult.  But far preferable, as Churchill might have said, than having to bear the burden of fighting alone.

What do you think?