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‘Foreigners’ in A Song of Ice and Fire, Cont.

By Taylor Marvin

This post contains mild spoilers for A Song of Ice and Fire through A Dance with Dragons. 

Last week I wrote about Orientalism in A Song of Ice and Fire, and today Sean T. Collins reposted an excellent piece of his on the subject:

“And yet the cultures of Essos still come across as ‘foreign,’ in a way that can easily be interpreted as orientalist. Why? I think it comes down to speech patterns. While the people of Westeros, from Dorne to the Iron Islands to beyond the Wall, all sound basically like Englishmen, the speech of people from the other cultures is almost always either florid or stilted… You hear them and you think ‘Okay, this person is not like us,’ ‘us’ being real-world readers and fictional-world Westerosi, the inheritors of the shared cultural relevance of medieval Europe. It’s a huge structural obstacle that instantly otherizes everyone across the Narrow Sea.”

I’m ashamed I missed it before, especially since I read Collins’ Boiled Leather site frequently. Check it out.

Speaking of Orientalism, also check out this recent excellent piece on the subject at my old home Prospect Journal of International Affairs. 

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Friday’s Reading List

By Taylor Marvin

Antônio Parreiras, “Fim de romance”, 1912. Via Wikimedia.

What I read this week:

Rebels say West’s inaction is pushing Syrians to extremism.

Bran Phillips of Grantland makes an intersting observation about Star Trek: The Next Generation: “The Enterprise crew is conservative as a matter of method and liberal as a matter of goal. They sail through the universe with colonialist confidence sticking up for postcolonial ideals” (via liberal japonicus).

Jeffrey Sachs reviews Why Nations Fail – it’s not just institutions.

A Marine’s perspective on Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s “Little America”.

Afghanistan’s lost decade.

Tod Kelly on Columbus and the dangers of modern American myth-making: “The Columbus my generation was taught was a whitewash, deliberately crafted to fit more seamlessly with the myth of America’s founding we wished were true.  It magically erases both slavery and imperialism, and it replaces them with the iconic American entrepreneur: poor, wretched and outcast by the rest of the world before making something of himself with little more than cleverness, moxie and elbow grease.”

Steve Saideman has a good look at Turkey and invoking Article V.

Oddisee – Birds & Bees Ft. Diamond District.

Why Aren’t We Talking About China?

By Taylor Marvin

Image by James Currie, via Wikimedia.

Unless I’m missing something, Monday’s address by Mitt Romney was branded as a foreign policy speech. Of course, given the Virginia Military Institute venue this was really a national security address, though it isn’t surprising that a man who titles his autobiography in reference to a mythical “apology tour” appears to entirely conflate ‘foreign policy’ with an aggressive national security agenda. I don’t have much to say about the contents of the speech that smarter people haven’t already, but one thing jumped out at me: the word “China” appears exactly once, in a throwaway line:

“There is a longing for American leadership in the Middle East—and it is not unique to that region. It is broadly felt by America’s friends and allies in other parts of the world as well— in Europe, where Putin’s Russia casts a long shadow over young democracies, and where our oldest allies have been told we are ‘pivoting’ away from them … in Asia and across the Pacific, where China’s recent assertiveness is sending chills through the region … “

With only a few exceptions, Romney’s entire speech is focused on the Middle East. Of course, this is partially due to the Romney campaign’s recent focus on the death of Ambassador Stevens in Benghazi as evidence of the Obama administration’s negligent handling of the Arab Spring and failed overall Middle East policy. But a focus on the Middle East this extensive is myopic.

Managing China’s rise is the most challenging security dilemma likely to face the United States this century, and the US’ current mixed strategy of engagement and limited containment is unlikely to remain a viable option in the future. Assuming that Beijing’s commitment to recover Taiwan is serious — there’s a reasonable argument to be made that the 2005 Taiwan Anti-Secession Law is a hands-tying device designed to force the next generation leadership, who simultaneously have no memory of losing Taiwan and whose superpower status lessens the prestige concerns over the continued de facto independence of the lost province, to prevent a declaration independence — the US’ commitment to the region is destabilizing. China’s growing relative military strength relative to the US, in particular its development of effective anti-access/area-denial strategies, increases the chance Beijing will one day call America’s bluff. If it does, the insufficient force to back up its security commitments in the region will encourage US leaders to escalate a previously limited conflict. The next president of the United States should have a concrete plan to address this strategic problem, either by massively increasing the US military’s ability to fight in an A2/AD environment or ceding portions of the Western Pacific as within a Chinese sphere of influence; by mocking the Obama administration’s ‘pivot to Asia’ Romney appears to be dismissing the entire question of strategic choices.

Romney’s single mention of China is especially puzzling given that one of the speech’s few concrete policy positions is the commitment to “restore our Navy to the size needed to fulfill our missions by building 15 ships per year, including three submarines” as part of Romney’s goal of growing the US Navy to 350 ships; the Obama administration favors building nine ships per year, for a current goal of a 300 ship fleet. If this increase in shipbuilding is motivated by a practical strategic purpose rather than ill-defined notions of national greatness — unfortunately, Romney’s frequent remark that “the size of our Navy is at levels not seen since 1916” suggests that it is not — he should justify why a larger navy is important. The most credible argument for growing the US Navy is, of course, China. A larger fleet is of no use in the Middle East, and America’s ability to quickly challenge an Iranian attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz is not related to the total size of the fleet (though building more minesweepers would be wise). Instead, a 350 ship strong fleet is arguable an important part of maintaining a credible military presence in the vast Western Pacific theater.

But this isn’t enough. If Mitt Romney wants to build a more numerous fleet as part of his plan to counter China’s military growth he needs to explain how this fits into his larger strategy, and why attempting to contain China — the clear implication — is worth the cost, or even possible. So far, he hasn’t.

Perhaps Romney feels that he doesn’t have to justify growing the US Navy to voters on any rational other than American greatness, or it’s simply a way of contrasting himself with Obama’s lack of “resolve”. But it is still troubling that Romney sees no need to justify a major change in US defense policy in what is supposed to be a major speech.

Doubts about a New Space Race

By Taylor Marvin

Continuing my debate with Daryl Morini on the prospect of a new space race between China and the US, I have a piece up at e-International Relations arguing that the US and China are unlikely to escalate their military anti-satellite rivalry into a prestige-driven exploratory space race:

“The real barrier to unconstrained competition in space is the disheartening prospect of unconstrained costs. While ASAT kinetic kill missiles are certainly difficult to engineer, they are based on proven concepts. Novel space accomplishments are much more difficult. A permanent lunar base would require significant advances in in situ resource utilization, life support design, and likely a large reduction in launch costs. A crewed mission to Mars would be much more difficult, and would come with a significant risk of a catastrophic, long-running disaster. Even given the prisoner’s dilemma dynamic behind the choice to initiate a space or arms race, the US or China are only likely to bear the enormous opportunity costs of a prestige-driven space race unless they see no other choice. Given the multipolar world the twin superpowers are likely to inhabit this century, it is unlikely that either country will ‘jump the gap’ from a limited ASAT military space race to a general exploratory one.”

Check out the whole piece at e-IR if it sparks your interest.

Friday’s Reading List

By Taylor Marvin

Luis de Morales, “Pietà”, 16th century. Via Wikimedia.

What I read this week:

Why Bibi can’t scare the US into bombing Iran.

Libyan counter-protests: an everyday affair?

Imperialism in an age of terror.

Reinventing landpower.

All politics and civil war is local: Helmand’s micro-conflicts (via Dan Nexon).

Robert Farley smacks down a very problematic Crooked Timber post “Who Needs a Navy?”.

FC Barcelona fans the Catalonian separatist flame.

Niyaz – Minara.