Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Run silent, run deep, run stupid

On the NewsHour tonight there was a piece about the upgrading or 'modernization' of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, slated to cost on the order of one trillion dollars over the next several decades.  There has been no discussion in the presidential campaign, at least so far as I'm aware, about the absurd levels of overkill embodied in the current arsenal, and it appears that the issue has not attracted much Congressional attention either.  This despite the fact that a number of informed analysts have concluded that the U.S. nuclear triad as currently configured makes no strategic sense.

ETA: IMDb reminds me that Run Silent Run Deep (1958) is a WW2 movie; it involves submarines, but not nuclear ones. But as we say on the interwebs: whatever.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The private server and "our enemies"

Did Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server as Sec. of State harm national security?  Who knows, but it's not something I lie awake at night worrying about.  It is, however (and needless to say), a political talking point for Republicans, as was underlined again this morning when a Repub senator, questioning John Kerry at a hearing, asserted that we must assume that all those e-mails are now in the hands of "our enemies" (direct quote).  I'm sure our enemies have not been having fun wading through the e-mail traffic, most of which must be boring, routine garbage.

Monday, February 22, 2016

"Trump has nothing but contempt for our intelligence"

The quote is from Danielle Allen; see here.  (Didn't read full WaPo column as I've used up free WaPo articles for the month.)  One problem with the strategy is that Rubio might be a more formidable opponent in the general election. [ETA 3/17: Well, so much for the whole Rubio thing.]

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Recycled Reaganism and chilling demagoguery

In his post-South Carolina primary speech, Marco Rubio might as well have been a priest worshiping at the altar of Saint Ronald Reagan.  Despite some references to conservatives fighting for those who are trying to get ahead but haven't quite made it yet, the core of the speech was recycled Reaganism, the same rhetoric that Republican candidates have been delivering since at least Goldwater: free enterprise, limited government, strong national defense.  Rubio wraps it in a "twenty-first century conservatism" wrapper, but it's the same old crap.

As for Trump's speech, it was pure demagoguery.  Both the speech and the reaction to it were frightening.  The "wall with Mexico" appears to have become an ideé fixe with him and a symbol of how far removed he is from anything that resembles reality.

Empty Reaganite slogans and chilling xenophobia. Thank goodness I didn't hear Cruz's speech.  I don't think I could have taken three performances like that.

Jeb Bush's withdrawal speech on the other hand -- and I say this as someone who loathes strongly disagrees with his ideology and his policies -- was actually kind of classy.

The art of the blurb

Writing a thoughtful book review takes time and effort, but writing a snappy blurb for a book is a skill in itself.  In my mailbox today was a Cambridge Univ. Press brochure advertising its recent and forthcoming international-relations titles, one of which is an edited volume Diplomacy and the Making of World Politics.  The blurber is James Der Derian, who says (inter alia): "This collection has the jolt of an intellectual defibrillator, bringing diplomacy back from a grossly exaggerated death while nurturing emergent forms of global mediation."

All I can say is: the book damn well better have the jolt of an intellectual defibrillator, because the title has the anti-jolt of an intellectual soporific.

Friday, February 19, 2016


I happened to hear just now most of a Friday round-up of world news with three knowledgeable journalists.  It was the Diane Rehm Show but, thankfully from my standpoint, Rehm herself was not there.  (I have nothing at all against Rehm personally and I recognize that she's had a highly successful career; I just basically can't listen to her.  I realize that's not an especially nice thing to say on the verge of her retirement, but so be it.)  Anyway, there was a good discussion of, among other things, the mess that is the Syrian situation and, at the end, a brief discussion of Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who died recently.  More about him later, perhaps.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

An interview with Dukakis

Slate has an interview with Dukakis (h/t).  He criticizes HRC strongly on Syria and Libya and then proceeds to say he is supporting her for the nomination ("views change," he says).  Dukakis also has things to say about Scalia, who was a law school classmate of his.  And on NATO, Dukakis says:
I don’t understand why we are expanding NATO, do you? What the hell is this? NATO was designed to stop Russia or the Soviet Union from invading Western Europe. That is not going to happen for the next 300 years. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

States of stupidity (guest post by Peter T.)

In mid-2014, Obama defined the core of his foreign policy as “don't do stupid shit.”  Obama followed up by normalising relations with Cuba, negotiating a detente on nuclear matters with Iran that deprived the U.S. neo-cons of a potential casus belli, and refusing to be drawn into the ground war in Syria and Iraq.  Not doing stupid shit is a low threshold, and critics have charged that even so, it has not always been met.  Doubtless so, but it was a welcome contrast to the previous administration that made stupid routine.  Here, I want to look at one part of U.S. policy in the Middle East, a part that surely merits the label “stupid,” a part that just looks as if it went from being merely stupid to being moronic.

This Huffington Post piece by Jeffrey Sachs more or less covers the background.[*]  In focusing on Secretary Clinton's role, however, it misses an interesting point.  As Sachs notes, the CIA has done stupid stuff with disastrous consequences at least once a decade since its inception.  Further, as the CIA's effort in Syria has gone from muddle to failure post-Clinton, it has not therefore slackened.  Even as Kerry was negotiating a limited cease-fire (labeled a "cessation of hostilies"), the CIA stepped up arms deliveries and its foreign government partners were threatening armed intervention.

So this is not just Hillary Clinton, or Obama.  One explanation is to see this sort of thing as the real face of U.S. policy.  Another is to see it as the play of bureaucratic and other interests allowed some degree of play.  A third possibility, though, is to see it as an example of a state which has no single locus of decision – a state with multiple independent centres of power.

This challenges our ordinary conception of the state.  But examples are not hard to find. One thinks of the British and French frontier officers who often drove imperial expansion in the nineteenth century, sporadically checked by some areas of home government and encouraged by others.  Or the American settlers whose actions negated treaties with native tribes even as they were signed.  Or the way the German General Staff formulated military plans without regard for the Foreign Office, or how the French Foreign Ministry neglected to formally communicate a key diplomatic agreement to their general staff.  A final example is Japan in the 1930s.  Who was in charge: Tokyo or the young officers of the Kwantung Army?  The answer surely is both.

The possibility is that the CIA is so embedded in Washington and foreign networks of influence that it is effectively beyond the control of the formal mechanisms of the U.S. state. Certain versions of international-relations theory view states as single, "unitary" actors.  More realistic theories take into account the play of internal forces that shape decisions. Both approaches assume that, however arrived at and however discordant or contradictory, policy is at least the expression of a unified process.  The examples above suggest this is not always the case.

-- Peter T.

[*] I have certain disagreements with the Sachs piece that I plan to address at some later point.  I will add that guest posts at this blog obviously represent the views of the guest author and do not necessarily represent, down to every detail, the views of the blog's proprietor. -- LFC

Sunday, February 14, 2016

"Do you think he knows the rest of us are here?"

From Robert Barnes's front-page (with continuation inside) obit for Scalia in today's WaPo:
It is hard to overstate Justice Scalia's effect on the modern court. Upon his arrival, staid oral arguments before the justices became jousting matches, with Justice Scalia aggressively questioning counsel with whom he disagreed, challenging his colleagues and often dominating the sessions. He asked so many questions in his first sitting as a justice that Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. whispered to Justice Thurgood Marshall: "Do you think he knows the rest of us are here?"
There is no doubt something or perhaps a lot to this, but I gathered from perusing the oral arguments in Brown v. Bd. in the mid-50s (in preparation for writing this post) that Justice Frankfurter also asked a lot of questions, occasionally pointed ones (actually I don't know how typical that was, but it was certainly evident in the Brown arguments). Here's an exchange between Frankfurter and John W. Davis (sorry, it's out of context, but anyway):
Justice Frankfurter: Mr. Davis, do you think that "equal" [in the Fourteenth Amendment] is a less fluid term than "commerce between the states"?
Mr. Davis: Less fluid?
Justice Frankfurter: Yes.
Mr. Davis: I have not compared the two on the point of fluidity.
Justice Frankfurter: Suppose you do it now.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Churchill once more

I haven't done more than glance at the transcript of the most recent Clinton/Sanders debate, but I gather from this that there was a question about which foreign leader the candidates took inspiration from when it came to foreign policy.  Not an easy question to answer on the spur of the moment, especially if you've been absorbed in a presidential campaign for months.  Sanders's answer was Churchill.  We've been over Churchill, so to speak, here before, for instance here (and also see the comment thread, where the Bengal famine gets mentioned at the end), so I don't see the need to rehash this again, at least not right now.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Reconsiderations: Schweller's Deadly Imbalances

Introductory note:  
Randall Schweller's name is well known to those familiar with international-relations theory.  Schweller's first book, Deadly Imbalances: Tripolarity and Hitler's Strategy of World Conquest (1998), was based on his Columbia University dissertation.  His second book, Unanswered Threats (2006), also dealt with balance-of-power issues, focusing on instances of so-called underbalancing.  As mentioned before on this blog, in recent years Schweller's attitude toward the conventional versions of Realist international-relations theory has become much more critical (see his 2014 book Maxwell's Demon and the Golden Apple).  In this guest post, Peter T. looks back at Schweller's first book Deadly Imbalances, offering some thoughts on the book and on the enduring problem of the relation between theory and history.  I have added one sentence in brackets. -- LFC


Schweller's theoretical argument starts from Waltz's classic Theory of International Politics (1979).  Schweller acknowledges the validity of criticisms that Waltz's theory, modelled explicitly on economic theories of the market, is "too abstract to generate useful hypotheses about specific foreign-policy behaviour."  By adding a number of other factors Schweller hopes to bring theory into a closer approximation to reality.  [By contrast, Waltz's view is that, within certain limits, a theory's "[e]xplanatory gained by moving away from 'reality,' not by staying close to it." (Theory, p.7)]

The argument of Deadly Imbalances centers on the lead-up to and conduct of World War II.  Schweller argues that in the late 1930s, the world was effectively tripolar, with the U.S., the Soviet Union, and Germany the central players.  This requires that Schweller establish a more nuanced hierarchy among states than a simple division into Great Powers and others.  So from the classic IR world we go to a world of Poles, Lesser Great Powers, middle powers, and others.  Further, states are no longer simply status quo or revisionist in their aims, but status quo, revisionist or neutral (the U.S. up to 1941).  Revisionist powers can have limited or unlimited aims, and states' strategic choices are not just about balancing but also buck-passing, band-wagoning, binding, distancing or engagement.

Not all these strategies are realistic options for all states, but each state has sufficient choice that, in combination with their power status and aims, there are a myriad of potential outcomes.  And this is the problem with the approach: as Schweller adds new factors his theoretical base becomes less like an explanation and more like a description.  And, as the book proceeds, the theory gives way to what looks very like old-fashioned diplomatic-military history.  It is a long way, for instance, from calculations about the overall balance of power to Hitler's belief that shipping constraints would prevent effective U.S. intervention in the European war.

In this way the book falls between two stools.  The theory illuminates very little of the complex forces at play, while the exploration of the detail draws almost entirely on secondary sources and has dated rapidly.

A second issue is that Schweller's theory, like Waltz's, assumes that states have a clear and relatively accurate view of their own and others' power. Schweller goes into some detail on the strengths of the various Poles and Lesser Great Powers, using the Correlates of War (COW) project estimates of power.  For the period, these are a composite of industrial production, population, and military strength.  Yet, as Schweller details, all states made major errors in estimating their own and other's power.  And all considered not just these factors but many others -- national morale and political cohesion, geographic position, financial resources, allies and sympathisers, operational proficiency, military technology and more.

As an instance, the COW rankings put Great Britain well behind Germany in the '30s.  Yet Great Britain had an overwhelming advantage at sea, the backing of the dominions (most of whom disposed of considerable military and industrial resources), its position as the second financial centre of world trade, and the manpower and other resources of India.  Moreover, Great Britain's economy was more advanced than that of Germany (with its still large agricultural sector) and, of course, Britain had the advantage of being an island with free access to the Atlantic.  Britain worried about the German army and air force; Germany worried about British financial pressure, grip on overseas trade, ability to call on colonial and imperial resources and on U.S. support.  Germany had an immediate superiority, Britain an ultimate one.  These are not commensurate capabilities, to be summed into two numbers and compared.

Again, Germany's attack on the Soviet Union was predicated on the certainty that German operational proficiency and Soviet political weakness would more than compensate for superior Soviet numbers, the effects of distance, and German logistic shortfalls.  Soviet calculations were, of course, in the reverse direction.

The inability to exactly define or measure power is a central problem for IR theories.  A major reason that wars happen, as Geoffrey Blainey (in The Causes of War) pointed out, is that states are uncertain of their relative power.  Clausewitz likened battle to cash settlement in commerce -- the moment when true credit-worthiness is tested and revealed.  Likewise, war usually provides a moment of clarity about relative power.  In the absence of a recent test, all parties are left to manoeuvre in uncertainty.

And this uncertainty extends to defining who are the major players.  In the '30s the U.S. preponderance of industrial and financial power was widely acknowledged.  Yet how this translated into international influence given U.S. isolationism, its distance from Europe, and the small size of its army left a lot of room for error.  In some areas the U.S. was a major force, in others a minor player.  The same could be said of the Soviet Union, China, Japan and Italy.  It is this zone of uncertainty that gives rise to alterations in the ranks of the Great Powers -- the sources of their strength go unrecognised until revealed in some contest, rendering previous calculations and strategies moot.

So Schweller's Deadly Imbalances is an interesting, and not unrewarding, read. Its strength is his willingness to engage with the detail; its weakness the inability of abstract theory to explain that detail in any convincing way.  It is a general weakness of grand theory in this area of study.

-- Peter T.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Quote of the day

"The style is extremely graceful, but its literary merits go with a refusal to use the more ponderous devices of footnote and reference which, like metal spikes in mountain-climbing, may be inelegant but do help one over the steep places."

-- Bernard Williams, review (in Encounter, 1960) of Stuart Hampshire's Thought and Action, reprinted in Williams, Essays and Reviews 1959-2002 (p.11).

Friday, February 5, 2016

Rubio the "moderate" (cough) hope

Lemieux at LGM:
My guess is still that Rubio will to some extent break the knot by finishing ahead of Cruz and clearly ahead of Christie and Jeb! in New Hampshire. Things are at least trending in a “Party Decides” direction. But given how long Rubio has run behind Cruz and Trump, considerable skepticism about his candidacy remains justified.
How long Rubio has run behind?  It's really not that long when you consider that the actual voting has just started.  The real reason for skepticism about Rubio's candidacy is that he appears determined to repeat stale, idiotic talking points, as when he accused Pres. Obama of "pitting people against each other" [!] by giving a speech at a mosque at which Obama urged the inclusion of Muslims in American society on the same basis of tolerance accorded to members of all other religious groups (and to the non-religious, for that matter).

P.s. I'm not actually linking to the LGM post from which I quote because they already get enough ******* traffic. If they don't like it, that's just too damn bad. (Of course, they won't know one way or the other.)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Insomniac musings

Amid the sturm und drang of the CT thread on liberalism and conservatism, it occurs to me to wonder about other binary axes on which one could try to divide writers/philosophers etc. Take action vs. contemplation.  On the 'action' side would be, for example, Machiavelli, Burke (?), Sartre; on the 'contemplation' side, perhaps mostly but not exclusively religious thinkers, from Augustine to Zen (apologies for forced cleverness).  And maybe someone like Rousseau straddling the divide: he did write that the human who meditates is a depraved animal, but probably some other lines more favorable to reflection can be found in R's oeuvre.  And where would Marx be?  (Yes, very simplistic, but this is a blog; one has to throw in something like this once in a while.)

Monday, February 1, 2016

The legacy of Brown

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education marked its 60th anniversary in May 2014.  A unanimous opinion of the Warren Court, Brown prohibited official (i.e., de jure) segregation in the public schools and rejected the doctrine of 'separate but equal'.  "Separate educational facilities," Chief Justice Warren wrote, "are inherently unequal."  He explained that "[t]o separate them [i.e., African-American students] from others of similar age...solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone."  In a follow-up opinion a year later, the Court noted that implementation of its decision would involve a "period of transition"; it ordered states to "make a prompt and reasonable start toward full compliance" with its ruling and directed the lower courts to "enter such orders and are admit to public schools on a racially nondiscriminatory basis with all deliberate speed the parties to these cases."  

While the practical impact of Brown, which took time to be felt fully (see below), was in some respects significant, the "symbolic quality of the decision," as Yale Kamisar observed in 1969, "was immeasurable," or at any rate substantial.  Thurgood Marshall (later, of course, a Supreme Court justice) was the main lawyer for the successful plaintiffs, and the cases consolidated in the Brown decision were the culmination of a long litigation campaign by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.   

Writing in The Atlantic around the time of the 60th anniversary, Ronald Brownstein described Brown's "core mission" as "unfinished" and went on to observe: "...racial and economic isolation remains daunting: One recent study found that three-fourths of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics attend schools where a majority of the students qualify as low-income."  Brownstein also noted that the "increasing diversity and shrinking white share of America's youth population" makes more urgent than ever Brown's "broader goal of ensuring all young people the opportunity to develop their talents."

How much and in what ways did the Brown decision matter and, more broadly, how much did the courts in general contribute to the civil rights movement in the U.S.? On the one hand, the prohibition of de jure segregation in the schools was important both symbolically, as already mentioned, and because it did lead, first in the border states and then eventually in the deep South (after years of 'massive resistance' and other forms of obstruction), to some school integration.  In 1954, 'dual' (i.e. segregated) school systems were mandated by statute in eleven southern states and six other states, as well as the District of Columbia.  T
he situation in the border states began to change relatively quickly after Brown, but the decision did not have any substantial effect in the deep South until the 1970s, when, as James Patterson (author of a 2001 book about Brown) notes, the decision finally was enforced.  Some cities and localities have been success stories of integration -- Raleigh, N.C., to mention one, as discussed in Gerald Grant's 2009 book Hope and Despair in the American City [link]

If that's the glass-half-full side of the story, the glass-half-empty side is that there is overall still a great deal of both economic and racial segregation in U.S. public schools -- there's more segregation now in schools in the North and West than there was 30 years ago.  The Supreme Court had a chance to help reverse this trend in 1974 by allowing court-ordered cross-district (urban/suburban) busing in cases of de facto (residential) segregation, but instead a 5-4 majority of the Burger Court went the other way; the case was Milliken v. Bradley.  Voluntary urban/suburban integration programs -- which typically do not involve an actual merger of urban and suburban systems, as occurred in Raleigh, but instead move relatively small numbers of students across district lines -- are not an adequate substitute for larger-scale court-ordered programs, but Milliken basically precluded those.  Today, according to this piece that aired last month on the PBS NewsHour, there are only eight voluntary urban-suburban 'transfer' programs in the country, involving all together a mere 40,000 students, and almost half of those are in Hartford, Ct.  The same piece noted that the number of 'intensely segregated' (i.e., more than 90 percent minority) schools in Rochester, N.Y., has increased fivefold since 1989, and Rochester has one of the voluntary urban-suburban programs.

There is by now a large literature on Brown and on the broader question of the courts and social change, most of which I haven't read (I've listed a few relevant titles at the end of this post, but this list is only the tip of the iceberg).  With that said, Mark Tushnet's judgment on the impact of Brown, and of civil rights litigation more generally,
seems reasonable, though no judgment here will command universal agreement.  In Red, White, and Blue: A Critical Analysis of Constitutional Law (1988), p.132, Tushnet wrote:
Brown galvanized black communities not so much because schools were desegregated -- except in the border states substantial [de jure] segregation continued for more than a decade after Brown -- but because it showed that one branch of the national government was on their side. Two years later the Montgomery bus boycott was the first episode in the development of the modern civil rights movement, whose sit-ins and marches prodded Congress to enact important civil rights acts in 1964, 1965, and 1968. The [Supreme] Court's response to the movement was hesitant and indirect. It never ruled that sit-ins were protected by the Constitution, but it did allow demonstrators to invoke the powers of the federal courts to limit the worst sort of harassment, and it upheld innovative efforts by the executive branch to convict white terrorists under old statutes.  Overall the courts played a distinctly subordinate role in the post-1960 struggle for civil rights.  It seems fair to wonder whether the pattern of race relations in 1970 or 1980 would have been dramatically different had blacks been forced to use only political methods.
Kamisar in 1969 emphasized more strongly Brown's "galvanizing" effect, arguing among other things that it contributed to the subsequent enactment of civil rights legislation and that it sped up or "perhaps even precipitated" the Warren Court's "revolution" in criminal procedure ("The School Desegregation Cases in Retrospect," in the Chelsea House volume listed below, p.xxiv).  Probably the only certain statement is that the legacy of Brown will continue to be debated.  

References and further reading
Carol Anderson, Eyes Off the Prize

Mary Dudziak, Cold War Civil Rights
Gerald Grant, Hope and Despair in the American City
F. Harris and R. Lieberman, "Racial Inequality after Racism," Foreign Affairs (March/April 2015)
Richard Kluger, Simple Justice

Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., All Deliberate Speed 
James T. Patterson, "The Troubled Legacy of Brown v. Board" (pdf)
Gerald Rosenberg, The Hollow Hope

James Ryan, Five Miles Away, A World Apart
Mark Tushnet, Red, White, and Blue 

Argument: The Oral Argument Before the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 1952-55, vol. 1 of the series Oral Arguments Before the Supreme Court (N.Y.: Chelsea House, 1970; paperback reprint, 1983), ed. Leon Friedman, with introductions by Kenneth Clark and Yale Kamisar.

[added later] R. Straus and S. Lemieux, "The Two Browns," New Political Science v.38 (2016