Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cultural diplomacy and 'smART Power'

The U.S. State Department has long sent "cultural ambassadors" abroad, but in recent years, as this New York Times article from last October points out, those envoys have been mostly performing artists (dancers, actors). Last fall the Obama administration decided to start sending visual artists abroad too, under a $1 million program called smART Power to be administered by the Bronx Museum of the Arts.

It's tempting to make fun of this, but I'm not really in the mood for that today. I'll content myself with noting that the State Dept., according to the article, is spending more on cultural diplomacy now than it has in quite a long time: in 2010 the budget for this was $11.75 million, no doubt a small fraction of State's total budget, but not nothing. At a time when budget pressures are acute and may lead to cuts in U.S. government programs aimed at alleviating extreme poverty and fighting disease in poor countries, one does wonder whether sending a sculptor to, say, Islamabad or Lahore to create a public artwork is a wise use of funds or, to be blunt, just ******* crazy (yes, Pakistan is on the list of places for smART Power; so is Egypt; so is a Somali refugee camp in Kenya -- this last might make more sense). However, I'll leave this question for readers to ponder. (Note: I don't know what the current budget imbroglio has done, or is doing, to smART Power's appropriation -- if anything -- or to the broader cultural diplomacy appropriation.)
Hat tip for the article to HC. It only took me five months to get around to reading it.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Yemen explosion

An explosion at an ammunition factory in southern Yemen has killed at least 150 people. The authorities blame al-Qaeda, but local residents accuse the government of setting the explosion itself. If the latter turns out to be true, that alone should be enough to remove whatever remaining legitimacy Saleh has.

Monday, March 28, 2011

R2P and Libya: application or misapplication?

This post at the blog connected with the journal The American Interest [hat tip: DPT] argues that 'the responsibility to protect' (R2P) is a "nebulous norm". One way norms get less nebulous, however, is by being invoked and debated, as Badescu and Weiss suggest in a piece in last November's International Studies Perspectives (abstract here).

According to them, R2P should not be seen as synonymous with humanitarian intervention by military means (too narrow), nor as synonymous with human security generally (too broad). Rather, R2P is "about taking timely preventive action, about identifying situations that are capable of deteriorating into mass atrocities and bringing to bear diplomatic, legal, economic, and military pressure" (p. 367). Given the speed with which the Libyan situation unfolded, an argument can be made that there was not time to do these things in sequence -- i.e., first the diplomatic and economic, then the military measures -- but that, rather, an effective response required a deployment of these different means pretty much all at once. That, at any rate, seems to me to be the most plausible argument that the military intervention and accompanying actions (e.g., freezing of assets) do represent a legitimate application of R2P rather than a misapplication. It will be interesting to see how Pres. Obama frames the issue in his address tonight.

P.s. After listening to the speech, I realized that my reference (above) to the measures being taken "pretty much all at once" is a bit of an overstatement; the asset freeze etc. did precede the military action -- but not by a prolonged period. As Obama noted, the entire sequence of events from the start of the Libyan protests to the intervention took only 31 days.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The day the New Deal began

March 25th was the centennial of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York, in which 146 young, mostly female garment workers were killed in an unsafe building that was a firetrap (and some of the exits had been locked). The March 19th Economist carries a short, remarkably sympathetic (given the venue) piece about it (at p.39 of the hard-copy edition). A commission set up to investigate the fire proposed broad reforms not only of safety laws, but also in the areas of child labor, wages and hours, etc. Many of these were adopted by New York city and state. The Economist recalls that Frances Perkins, FDR's secretary of labor, had seen the fire and "she later called March 25th 1911 the day the New Deal began." The article continues:
Lee Adler, who teaches collective bargaining at Cornell University, sees parallels between the way the sweatshop owners treated their workers and how a few governors in the Midwest are treating civil servants these days. The comparison is perhaps farfetched [not really - LFC]. But the anniversary does remind America why unions were needed.
Were needed -- and still are.
P.s. The factory's owners were tried for manslaughter but acquitted. Details about the trial and a lot else can be found at the Wikipedia entry on the fire.
P.p.s. Krugman on the need to restore labor's bargaining power. [H/t: T. Burke]

Saturday, March 26, 2011

When you cite a social-scientific study, it usually helps if the study is relevant to the issue at hand

...which is a long-winded way of saying that Stephen Walt seems to be a bit offbase here. He cites an unpublished working paper by Alexander Downes which concludes that "foreign-imposed regime change" tends to "ignite" civil wars. That may well be, but it's of limited relevance to Libya because in Libya there already is a civil war. Kindred Winecoff beat me to this point, but I figure it's worth repeating.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Remembering the end of the Sri Lankan civil war

Conor Foley, in a post that I have previously linked to, mentions the situation in Sri Lanka toward the end of the government's war with the Tamil Tigers (LTTE).
Hundreds of thousands of civilians were blockaded into an area the size of New York Central Park, where at least 20,000 were killed over a three month period. The area was shelled incessantly and hospitals and food-distribution points appear to have been deliberately targeted. Many more died from starvation and disease because the government blocked humanitarian access. Others were summarily executed during the final assault.... There was never even the remotest prospect of a ‘humanitarian intervention’ in Sri Lanka and I only include it in the discussion to show that the option of doing nothing also has moral consequences.
What happened in Sri Lanka at the end of its war is certainly worth recalling. Nothing on anything approaching a similar scale has occurred in Libya. The intervention there may be said to have relied on a reasoned prediction ("reasoned" of course not meaning "infallible") about what might occur in the absence of intervention. Seen in this light, the intervention is defensible, though the continuing debate about it is probably a good thing. Interventions of this sort are necessarily controversial and an absence of debate would be surprising.

Brief thoughts on 'The King's Speech'

I saw the movie last night. The climactic scene, for those few who may not have seen the movie or read about it, is the radio address George VI gave on Sept. 3, 1939. Colin Firth turns in an excellent performance, though he makes the address sound perhaps a bit less labored than it actually was in George VI's delivery: you can listen to the original here. Perhaps the most interesting clause in the speech is the remark or warning at the end that "war can no longer be confined to the battlefield," which of course turned out to be entirely and tragically accurate.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


...somewhat disturbing things are happening in Ivory Coast, which in other circumstances probably would be getting more attention.

Kuperman on Libya

In a USAToday column (h/t T. Wilkinson), Alan Kuperman argues that the Libyan rebels started the uprising knowing they could not win on their own and hoping to provoke civilian casualties that would draw in outside intervention. This seems to be based on an analogy with what Kuperman argued happened in Kosovo, where for instance a KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) official admitted that the more civilians killed, the more likely the prospects for outside intervention. But on a quick reading of the USAToday column, I see no direct evidence presented for his assertion that the Libyan rebels were following the same modus operandi. Moreover, didn't the anti-Gaddafi movement start out as peaceful protests and then become an armed uprising once the protesters were violently attacked? Or am I just imagining that?
Kuperman's 'moral hazard' theory of intervention (i.e., that the possibility of outside intervention gives rebels an incentive to provoke atrocities in order to bring on an intervention) has generated academic debate. See e.g. A. Grigoryan, "Third-Party Intervention and the Escalation of State-Minority Conflicts," Int'l Studies Quarterly 54:4 (December 2010). Abstract.
P.s. For discussion and other links, follow the Wilkinson link (above) to the CT post and comment thread.
Also - Marc Lynch on Fresh Air this afternoon.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

After Gaddafi

On the admittedly optimistic assumption that Gaddafi's days are numbered, despite his vow of a "long war," it may not be too soon to think about what happens (or should happen) after. With the caveat that I know basically nothing about Libya, I suspect that holding elections is probably not one of the first things that should happen. There is ample evidence, as discussed for instance by Roland Paris in a several-years-old article* I was glancing at yesterday, that holding elections first thing in a polity emerging from a civil war, and therefore having weak or damaged institutions, is probably not a great idea.
*R. Paris, "Bringing the Leviathan Back In: Classical Versus Contemporary Studies of the Liberal Peace," International Studies Review 8:3 (Sept. 2006), pp.425-440. See also his At War's End (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004).

Friday, March 18, 2011

The streets of Belfast

An excerpt from Sean Kay's post on Ireland:
Northern Ireland was very successful at "peacemaking" -- building a new system of governance. But the process of peace-building -- confidence building and integration at the ground level -- remains only in its nascent stage. Key areas of Northern Ireland, especially in parts of Belfast, remain in what is often characterized as a "benign Apartheid". "Peace walls" continue to divide street-by-street Catholic and Protestant communities. Education and public housing remain segregated. The irony is that peace-building in Northern Ireland requires breaking down those walls. But in so doing, also risks sparking street-to-street conflict once again. In effect, Northern Ireland shows that the real hard work to build peace takes generations....

Have the drones met their Waterloo?

The botched drone strike on the North Waziristan-Afghanistan border which killed 40 people, apparently mostly tribal elders and police, may be the last straw. The Pakistan army chief of staff called it "intolerable," which is about as strong as this kind of official reaction gets. The strike came not that long after another Pakistani general made a somewhat bizarre statement praising the drones. Chances are the subtext of that statement was "we don't have to take military action in N. Waziristan because the drones are doing it all." Well, they're doing it all right; there's just one little problem: they don't always kill the "right" people.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Stuff I'd be blogging about if I had time

(with apologies to H. Farrell, from whom I've stolen this general rubric)

- V. Weaver and A. Lerman's article "Political Consequences of the Carceral State" in the Nov. 2010 American Political Science Review (hope to do a post about this in future)

- R. Danin's article "A Third Way to Palestine" in the Jan./Feb. 2011 Foreign Affairs

- B. Rathbun's article questioning the conventional wisdom about the bipartisan consensus on multilateralism in post-WW2 U.S. foreign policy, in Int'l Studies Quarterly, March 2011

...among other things

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Kristol & co. send a letter

Via Tom Ricks, I see that a letter has been sent to Pres. Obama urging intervention in Libya and signed by a gaggle of neocons and some others. As Ricks says, the signers alone are enough to ensure that the letter will probably have the opposite of its intended effect. A letter on foreign policy signed by Bill Kristol, Martin Peretz, and Joshua Muravchik, among others, carries a huge warning sign on it before the contents are even examined.

In this case such unavoidable prejudice-before-reading might be too bad, since it looks as if Gaddafi's forces are readying an assault on Benghazi and as Dirk Vandewalle said on the NewsHour tonight, the ragtag rebel forces are not going to be a match for Gaddafi's mercenaries and armor. He suggested that what's needed now is a 'no-drive zone'; the point is past at which a no-fly zone could have helped. Depressing, especially when coupled with the horrible events in Japan.

Update: Text of the letter here. A more skeptical view, e.g., here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bad verdict

I can see no compelling justification for putting five Somalis, who attacked a U.S. navy ship that for some reason they thought was a merchant vessel, in prison for life. This sentence, apparently mandatory in a piracy conviction (of which these are the first in a U.S. court since the early 19th century), seems excessive. It will simply add to the already absurdly large U.S. prison population.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Walzer on Libya

Michael Walzer suggests that if and/or when an intervention is deemed "necessary," perhaps before a Gaddafi victory that would result in very large-scale retributive killing of the regime's opponents, the intervention should be done by neighbors, i.e., the Egyptian and Tunisian armies. I don't think that will happen, although I do follow his logic. (And it's not that I have any better ideas -- I don't.) Also here.

[the break will now resume]

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Research on 'unarmed insurrections'

A recently published article looks at non-violent insurrections in non-democratic regimes. Not relevant to Libya, obviously, but perhaps germane to Tunisia and Egypt. Abstract here (I have not read the article, just the abstract).

[Spring break will now resume]

Friday, March 4, 2011

Brief interruption of spring break

The billionaire philanthropist George Soros apparently has now set himself up as a social scientist, pronouncing on what has caused the revolutions in the Mideast. No one could disagree with his calls for more transparency and accountability and greater sharing of oil wealth with the populations, but the fact is that we don't know exactly what caused these revolutions. Social scientists and historians are still arguing over the causes of the French revolution of 1789 and the Russian revolution of 1917, just to take two examples, and it is absurd for Mr. Soros to suppose that he has divined "the cause" of these revolutions. There is comparable oil wealth and corruption in Nigeria but there has been no comparable society-wide revolution there -- what about that, Mr. Soros? I guess if you're a billionaire philanthropist and everyone hangs on your every word, you consider yourself entitled to pronounce on anything.

[The spring break will now resume]

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Spring break

There will be little posting here in March and April -- probably none, in fact -- as I have some other things to attend to. I plan to return in May.