Richard Beck

All articles by this author

Let’s Not Kid Ourselves

Let’s Not Kid Ourselves

On David Berman

Much of what David Berman wrote and performed throughout his life was country music: songs about the sadness and difficulty of trying to get by in the world, along with descriptions of that world. “When God was young, he made the wind and the sun,” Berman sang on the opening song of Bright Flight. “And since then, it’s been a slow education.” When country songs are successful, it is because their outward simplicity, their plain-spokenness, their colloquialisms emerge out of enormous and delicate efforts of emotional compression. You can tell when a country song is just simple—when the necessary effort hasn’t been made—and you can tell when a songwriter hasn’t pulled off the compression, because then the song sounds mannered. But when both elements are working, a country song can shimmer, throb, or glare at you with an uncomfortable intensity.

The Korean Peace Process

The Korean Peace Process

American foreign policy hasn’t done any real thinking in two years

Peace is possible, if just barely, on the Korean peninsula neither thanks to nor in spite of America’s leadership, but because America isn’t leading at all. The country’s ruling party has been thrown into such chaos by Trump’s election that it lacks a coherent geopolitical strategy, and the State Department is a nonfunctioning husk of its former self. What Kim Jong-un and South Korean president Moon Jae-in have done is recognize America’s geopolitical incoherence as an opportunity to act on their own behalf. The peace process is primarily of South Korean design, it was underway months before Trump flew to Singapore, and it illustrates the kinds of space that open up, and the kinds of diplomacy that become possible, as the US begrudgingly starts to cede its place at the head of the world’s table.

Gun Violence and the War on Terror

Gun Violence and the War on Terror

Discussions of terrorism and mass shootings lean heavily on a sense of danger that bears little resemblance to the threats that actually face us.

This time around, magical forces (that is, children) were supposed to save us from the gun control debate. There was something unsettling or self-serving about the excess of praise adults heaped on the Stoneman Douglas students who boarded charter buses bound for the Tallahassee statehouse just a few days after watching their classmates die. “This shooting is different from the other ones,” a 16-year-old boy told a Times reporter. “I just have a gut feeling—something is going to change.” It’s understandable that he should feel this way; insofar as no previous school shooting had happened in his school, to his friends and teachers, this time was different. But his representatives quickly demonstrated that it was not different enough. Florida’s legislature voted down a motion to debate an assault weapons ban.

Why Are We in Niger?

Why Are We in Niger?

It has become safer to assume that the American military has a presence in a given country in Africa than not.

Faced with political instability in the developing world—often a region of the developing world in which the US and its allies have at least some interest in resource extraction—the US advises weak governments to fight “terrorism,” providing training and material assistance as needed. When the government proves unable to stand on its own two feet, the US sends in troops of its own.

The Origin of Endless War

The Origin of Endless War

On Barbara Lee and the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force

The AUMF is the War on Terror’s key piece of legislation. The text of the law is brief, beginning with, “Whereas, on September 11, 2001, acts of treacherous violence were committed against the United States and its citizens,” and ending with an assurance that nothing in it would supersede “any requirement of the War Powers Resolution,” the 1973 law passed (over Nixon’s veto) to prevent any more Presidents from waging undeclared war, as they had for years in Korea and Vietnam.

A Combination of Historical Ignorance and Disastrous Blundering

A Combination of Historical Ignorance and Disastrous Blundering

The US has no prospects for improving the stability of Afghan politics through military force.

The US army, through a combination of historical ignorance and disastrous blundering, failed to populate Afghanistan’s post-invasion government with the people who could have given it a chance at real stability. The US pretended as though the Afghan civil war had never occurred, and allowed mujahedeen and warlords who had terrorized the country throughout the 1990s to assume positions of political power, which did not endear Afghans to their new rulers.

Lobby Day in Albany

Lobby Day in Albany

Single payer’s moment has arrived in New York.

There are many good reasons for citizens to understand the finer points of policymaking. But in this room, we were at our most powerful and effective when we put aside the urges to be experts (we are not) and to show off our sophisticated political analysis (we didn’t have one). The organization that had put together the lobbying meetings needed us to be warm bodies who live in the right districts, people willing to simply show up and say what we want.

The Syria Catastrophe

The Syria Catastrophe

The response required at this late, desperate stage is neither anti-Assad nor anti-ISIS nor even anti-imperialist — it is antiwar.

Again and again, countries across and outside the Middle East have decided that escalating the war by military means is justified by whatever little sliver of national interest they feel is at stake. The US, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, China, France, and Britain have all pumped military resources into the conflict, increasing not only the war’s capacity for destructive violence but also its duration.

The Syria Catastrophe

The Syria Catastrophe

The response required at this late, desperate stage is neither anti-Assad nor anti-ISIS nor even anti-imperialist — it is antiwar.

Again and again, countries across and outside the Middle East have decided that escalating the war by military means is justified by whatever little sliver of national interest they feel is at stake. The US, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, China, France, and Britain have all pumped military resources into the conflict, increasing not only the war’s capacity for destructive violence but also its duration.