Voice

As an expert in post-apocalyptic political economy....

For the past ten days your humble blogger has been doing some intense work on a project that will see the light of day in the spring of 2013. This project has left your humble blogger's brain in a state that most likely resembles tapioca pudding.  So today's post is not gonna be about the abstruse nature of the global economy. Instead, I wanna talk about a bad TV show. 

The NBC/J.J.Abrams/Jon Favreau show Revolution earned respectable ratings in its premiere and follow-up episode. Your humble blogger must confess that he was intrigued enough by the trailer to check out the pilot to see what all the fuss was about. As a self-identified expert in the political economy of the apocalypse, however, I'm afraid that I must conclude that Revolution is a pile of derivative crap. 

So, the basic setup of the show is that at some point in the near future, something happens that causes all electricity to stop working, everywhere. Revolution then fast-forwards fifteen years. In the interim the United States has fallen apart, replaced with authoritarian militias like the Monroe Militia currently trying to control the Midwest.  In that area, gun ownership is banned.

The basic problem with Revolution is that it wants to to get to the post-apocalyptic world of, say, The Walking Dead, with the anarchy and the chaos and the bloddletting, but it cheats way too much on its premise to earn its world. 

I kinda like the idea of a reset in which electricity simply stops working for some malevolent reason, so I don't exactly have the same problem that the physics geeks have with the show.  But Revolution's premise simply neither considers nor respects the lessons from history in trying to create it's post-apocalyptic world.  Consider the following historical facts:

1)  Countries and empires managed to maintain something resembling territorial integrity prior to the invention of electricity;

2)  There's this little invention called the "steam power" which really only needs fire to be able to work, that the show completely elides.  This matters one whole hell of a lot.  Steam engines can power railroads, steamships, and even cars.  So a blackout would have put some crimps in cross-country and cross-border communication -- but it wouldn't have slowed transportation all that much.  Steam power would also allow things like industrial factories and foundies to continue -- albeit with considerable retooling.  All told, the odds of state collapse are actually pretty remote. 

3)  Everyone in this show is either walking or riding a horse to get around.  Now let's assume that everyone in the world developed historical amnesia about steam power.  It's stupid, but OK.  Where are the f**king bicycles?!  Are those not working as well? 

Now I realize that the show's creators are more interested in promoting anything that gives this show a whiff of that Hunger Games vibe swordplay and hot young archers -- not that there's anything wrong with that.  Still, this seems like a wasted opportunity.

Coming up next time in Drezner's TV round-up -- I'll review Last Resort.

Daniel W. Drezner

I don't think the GOP is going to go in this direction on foreign policy

Conor Friedersdorf has an provocative essay over at The Atlantic in which he states a few hard truths about the state of the GOP on foreign policy... and then goes to a very strange place.  The hard truths first:

President Obama's foreign policy is vulnerable to all sorts of accurate attacks. But Mitt Romney, the Republican Party, and the conservative movement are totally unable to exploit them. This is partly because the last four years have been spent advancing critiques so self-evidently implausible to anyone outside the movement that calling attention to them seems impolite. There is no factual basis for the assertion that Obama rejects American exceptionalism or that he embarked on an apology tour or that he is allied with our Islamist enemy in a "grand jihad" against America; or that his every action is motivated by Kenyan anti-colonialism. And while those critiques are especially inane, they aren't cherry-picked to discredit conservatives; they're actually all critiques advanced by prominent people, publications, and/or Republican politicians.

The fact that the vast majority of conservatives give no indication of having learned anything from the Iraq War is an even more significant reason that the GOP has lost its traditional edge on national security issues, with a majority of Americans telling pollsters they trust Democrats more.

OK, I'm with him so far.  But then we get to how Friedersdorf thinks the GOP should ground its criticism: 

So what could an opposition party less dysfunctional than Republicans say about Obama's foreign policy?

1) The Afghan surge turned out to be a failure that cost a lot of American lives and money with little if any lasting benefit.

2) In the course of the successful Bin Laden raid, the Obama Administration ran a fake vaccination campaign that failed in its mission to get the fugitive's DNA, failed to stay secret, and undermined public health efforts in Pakistan and elsewhere for a generation -- a catastrophic bungle that could conceivably make the world more vulnerable to a pandemic in the future.

3) Obama's main counterterrorism strategy, secretive CIA drone strikes in multiple Muslim countries, scatters terrorists to more countries than they'd otherwise be in, arguably creates more terrorists than it kills over time, and has definitely killed hundreds of innocent people at minimum.

4) Agree or disagree with the idea of intervening in Libya, the way President Obama went about it violated the U.S. Constitution, the War Powers Resolution, and an Obama campaign promise.

There are a lot more critiques of Obama's foreign policy. It's instructive to focus on these because they're just the sorts of things you can't attack if your party defines itself as most hawkish; totally discounts the importance of things like public health compared to military operations; doesn't pay any attention at all to dead innocents killed by America; and has totally abandoned Madisonian notions of checks and balances when it comes to national security policy (emphasis added). 

I don't necessarily disagree that these lines of attacks exist -- but I also don't think that Friedersdorf comprehends the history of the GOP on foreign policy -- and I'm not just talking about the post-Cold War era.  As Colin Dueck noted in his book Hard Right, the Republicans have been branding themselves as the more hawkish party since Thomas Dewey faded from the scene.  Sure, the Ron Paul wing would love these lines of attack -- but I don't think either the rest of the GOP or the rest of the country for that matter is gonna dislike the drone strategy. 

I agree that the GOP has made its mistakes in its foreign policy critiques, but the kind of conceptual pivot that Friedersdorf expects Republicans to make strikes me as pretty absurd. 

So what should the GOP do?  I'm not entirely sure, but I do know two things: 

1)  The Republican Party can't summarily reject the hawk brand it's built for more than a half-century;

2)  Unless and until the GOP acknowledges that Iraq was a tragedy and a mistake, it will be as enfeebled on foreign policy as the Democratic Party was on this issue for a generation after the Vietnam War went south.