Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy new year, etcetera

As 2011 draws to a close (it's already drawn to a close in some parts of the world), I would like to thank everyone who has stopped by here this year -- especially the small group of regular or semi-regular readers -- and wish all of you a good 2012.

This blog had roughly 2,500 'unique visitors' in 2011, which is the traffic that some other blogs get in a single day or a single week. Still, it represents about a 50 percent increase over the traffic here in 2010, no doubt partly because I did more posting in 2011 (there having been a lot, obviously, to write about).

I'd been hoping to put up the long post I've been promising before the end of 2011; however, that's not going to happen. So it will appear in early January.

Bonne année!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Iraq: the clouded crystal ball

U.S. military forces have left Iraq, but it is evident that the U.S. will be dealing with the consequences of the Iraq war for some years to come. The widely-reported recent political turmoil and the increase in violence raise questions about the country's stability, while kidnapping threats issued against U.S. civilian workers in Baghdad suggest that conditions may be less than propitious for the kind of future U.S. civilian operation that the Obama administration envisages. The Green Zone, home to the largest U.S. embassy in the world, may be as much a space of confinement, albeit -- for at least some -- apparently rather luxurious confinement, in 2012 and beyond as it was during the previous years. And unresolved issues between the U.S. and Iraq's government persist, including the fate of the Iranians in the MEK group, resident in Iraq since 1986 and protected by the U.S. military until 2009. A UN-arranged deal for their voluntary emigration is in the works, but the linked article indicates that complications remain.

Four U.S. veterans of the Iraq war were interviewed on the PBS NewsHour tonight. Asked if it was "worth it" and if they would do it again, two basically answered in the negative and other two -- the two Marines on the panel -- said yes. All four agreed that there was a "disconnect" (and imbalance of sacrifice) between veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, less than one percent of the U.S. population, and the rest of society.

The debate about the Iraq war will probably never end, just as the debate about the Vietnam war has never really ended. It is doubtless possible to pile up anecdotes on both sides of the question. For every story about tens (or was it hundreds?) of thousands of dollars that were wasted in translating classics of American literature into Arabic (the books ended up in an unused pile behind an Iraqi school), there are probably stories about development projects that worked. For every instance of U.S. soldiers mistreating or even (in at least a few cases) deliberately and premeditatedly killing Iraqi civilians, there are probably cases of kindness toward and support for civilians.

It seems clear enough to me that the Iraq war was a tragic, unnecessary venture whose original justifications were either flimsy or fabricated and whose costs -- in lives, money and disruption -- could not be outweighed by the removal of Saddam Hussein, awful as he was, and by his replacement by what may or may not turn out to be a functioning polity and society. But it is, in a sense, easy for someone who sat at home and observed things from a distance to reach this judgment. Even the very well-informed journalists who covered the conflict at first hand and wrote books about it (Packer, Filkins, Chandrasekaran, et al.) probably cannot be viewed as having produced much more than, as the cliché has it, the first draft of history. It's difficult to engage in the careful comparative weighing of misery, which, along with painstaking research, is what any more definitive judgment on the conflict will require. But one thing that seems fairly certain is that it will be a long time before the U.S. embarks on another such undertaking.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Airline carbon emissions tax: latest EU-U.S. dispute

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) recently upheld the EU's levying of a carbon emissions tax on non-EU planes flying to EU destinations. The U.S., Canada, and China strongly object, with the U.S. arguing that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is the proper body to deal with this.

A couple of thoughts. First, when it comes to concerns over climate change versus concerns over the balance sheets of U.S. airlines, the latter wins out in the Obama admin, it seems. Second, whatever objections are being advanced to the ECJ's ruling, it is probably hard to fault the court's reasoning that sovereignty is not in question here: the planes are flying into EU airspace, after all. But large amounts of money are apparently involved, so this dispute will no doubt continue.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Kroenig on Iran

It's a bad article. I've commented on it at Duck of Minerva (where you can find other relevant links), so I won't repeat myself here.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What are the worst U.S. foreign policy decisions of the last 50 years?

As a first cut and being very telegraphic:

1. Vietnam 1965
2. Cambodia 1969-70
3. Chile 1973
4. Iraq 2003
5. Nicaragua and El Salvador 1980s

Number 5 is a series of decisions (or course of policy) rather than a discrete decision. Same for what might be my number 6, the backing of the resistance to the Soviets in Afghanistan and then forgetting about the country after that (until 9/11). Number 7 might be the failure to stop the Rwandan genocide.

Update to the list: The Bay of Pigs (as Hank mentions) and subsequent Cuba policy. Some might want to throw in the failed Iranian hostage rescue mission, but that was a question more of implementation/execution or just bad luck, I think. Open to correction though. Then there are the omissions rather than the acts, e.g., failure to do anything very effective about al Qaeda until after 9/11.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bangladesh is 40

This past Friday was the fortieth anniversary of Bangladesh's independence: Dec. 16, 1971 was the day on which the war of liberation ended. Unfortunately the celebrations were marred by some violence.

Regular readers of this blog may be aware of my interest in the country, which stems from having lived there as a child in the early '60s (when it was still East Pakistan). As a 14-year-old in the U.S., I was aware of and followed the events that led to Bangladesh's independence. The infamous Nixon-Kissinger "tilt" toward Pakistan, at time when its ruler Yahya Khan was engaged in a brutal, indeed quasi-genocidal effort to put down the independence movement, partly reflected the way in which so much in the Nixon White House was seen through the lens of Cold War politics, even in the era of detente. (See, e.g., Robert Dallek, Nixon and Kissinger, pp. 341-42 [these two pages are available on Google Books]).

I have not been following developments in Bangladesh very closely (maybe switching my home page back to the BBC would help), but on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of its independence I extend an obscure blogger's best wishes and the hope that there will be many more anniversaries.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Add reference to "instability," stir, season to taste

Sunday night here, and I take a last check of the news before shutting off the computer, which I probably should have done a while ago.

What do I find? An AP story informing me that Kim Jong Il has died and going on to say that the S. Korean military is on high alert and that Asian stock markets have moved down, fearful that this may mean increased "instability" on the Korean peninsula. N. Korea is of course a closed, highly authoritarian regime in which the leader had already handpicked a successor, who happens to be one of his sons. There may be jockeying for power among factions of N. Korea's elite, and the son in question is rather young. So what? Why should this mean more instability on the Korean peninsula? Does anyone actually think about these things or is this just a pre-scripted quasi-robotic scenario in which an editor on the AP desk says to one of his subordinates: "Hey Joe (or Mary, or Pedro, or Li or whoever), make sure you throw in the word 'instability'." And the subordinate replies: "aye aye sir, one reference to 'instability', coming right up."

Addendum (added later): Commentary over the last couple of days indicates people see various reasons for concern, including possible difficulties of the 'great successor' in consolidating his power. Guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Update: defense bill

The U.S. DOD authorization bill, containing detention provisions that I blogged about earlier, has now cleared both houses of Congress and is headed to the Pres.'s desk, the detention provisions having been reworked just enough, apparently, to avoid a veto. The measure includes sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran, application of which, according to the linked WaPo piece, threatens to disrupt oil supplies and to cause shortages and price increases. Good one.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Abstract of the day

(That's a variation on Quote of the Day, in case you were wondering)

Sebastian Rosato and John Schuessler, "A Realist Foreign Policy for the United States," Perspectives on Politics (Dec. 2011). I haven't read the article, but here's the abstract:
What kind of policy can the United States pursue that ensures its security while minimizing the likelihood of war? We describe and defend a realist theory of foreign policy to guide American decision makers. Briefly, the theory says that if they want to ensure their security, great powers such as the United States should balance against other great powers. They should also take a relaxed view toward developments involving minor powers and, at most, should balance against hostile minor powers that inhabit strategically important regions of the world. We then show that had the great powers followed our theory's prescriptions, some of the most important wars of the past century might have been averted. Specifically, the world wars might not have occurred, and the United States might not have gone to war in either Vietnam or Iraq. In other words, realism as we conceive it offers the prospect of security without war. At the same time, we also argue that if the United States adopts an alternative liberal foreign policy, this is likely to result in more, rather than fewer, wars. We conclude by offering some theoretically-based proposals about how US decision makers should deal with China and Iran.
Stop the presses!! Did you know that if the great powers had balanced against Nazi Germany before '39, WW2 might have been averted?! Film at 11!! (or maybe that should be: Newsreel at 11!)

Ok, I'm sorry (sort of) for the sarcasm, but there were reasons -- very understandable ones in the historical context -- that there wasn't more balancing in the '30s. (Maybe the authors make that point and there wasn't space to put it in the abstract.) And I know, it's unfair to dump on an article solely on the basis of the abstract. (Blogging means having to say you're sorry ... again and again...)

The question at the beginning is, to be serious, a good one: "
What kind of policy can the United States pursue that ensures its security while minimizing the likelihood of war?"

Here is, arguably, a better question: "In a world in which the likelihood of great-power war is vanishingly small, how should the U.S. reorient its foreign and defense policy to: (1) take account of that reality, (2) stop acting as if it's 1947 instead of 2011, and (3) generally come to its senses?"

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The new European treaty vs. social democracy

C. Bertram:

The Euro treaty..., assuming it goes ahead as planned and is enforced, mandates balanced budgets and empowers the Eurocrats to vet national budgets and punish offenders. Social democracy is thereby effectively rendered illegal in the Eurozone in both its “social” and “democracy” aspects.

Whole post here.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Should we wish for an Obama-Gingrich contest?

Michael Kazin thinks so. He writes that Gingrich-Obama debates would be a true clash of ideas that would "expose the moral and logical defects of the conservative ideology that has been mostly dominant in the U.S. since 1980, even under Democratic presidents. Then, perhaps, a true liberal revival could begin."

I'm not completely convinced. From a selfish standpoint, I can't stand listening to Gingrich and the idea of having to endure his yammering for an entire general election campaign is hardly pleasing. But something a little more substantive seems to be bothering me about this, though at the moment I'm not sure exactly what it is.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

More on Kennan

I heard a talk by Gaddis this afternoon about his Kennan bio (save the first ten minutes or so, which I missed). On the question of Kennan's feelings about America (raised by a commenter here on an earlier post), Gaddis (and I assume this is also what he says in the book) views Kennan's critique of American culture (i.e., materialism, consumerism, the automobile, advertising, all of which Kennan loathed) as being akin to that of a "prophet" who holds his country to "an impossibly high standard." But Kennan did not "hate America," in Gaddis's view, quite the contrary. Personally I think the question whether Kennan "hated" or "loved" America is actually not a very interesting question. His criticisms of American culture are interesting, however, and one author (not Gaddis) has suggested that Kennan would have found some of the cultural criticism of the Frankfurt School (esp. Adorno and Horkheimer) congenial, had he read it. (More on this later, perhaps.)

A couple of other points that struck me as noteworthy from the talk: Gaddis emphasized how deeply Kennan was influenced by Russian literature, above all Chekhov, in the way he formulated his thoughts about the future evolution of the USSR, e.g. in the X article. (Don't have time to go into the details now.) The other thing that struck me was Gaddis's statement that although Kennan despised Ronald Reagan, the latter was actually the president who came closest to implementing Kennan's strategic vision. This I found, to put it mildly, less than persuasive (or at least very debatable), and I was tempted to ask Gaddis a question about it, but I didn't. (Which was probably just as well.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Gaddis interview on ATC

I stopped by the All Things Considered site for another reason, and I found that they just aired an interview with Gaddis about his Kennan biography. Haven't had a chance to listen to it yet (I'm planning to do so this weekend if not before), but here's the link for those who might be interested.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Quote of the day

Peter Tomsen, in the Fall 2011 World Policy Journal (p.89):
A more realistic and tougher American policy towards Pakistan should take into account a number of regional geopolitical trends.... Duplicating a geopolitical pattern in the 1990s, the closer the predominantly Pashtun Taliban get to the Amu Darya River, dividing Afghanistan from the former Soviet Stans, the more Russia, Central Asian states, India, and Iran will coordinate to assist Afghan Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara anti-Taliban resistance groups.... Counterproductive results of Pakistan's proxy wars in Afghanistan will also be felt at home as Pakistan surrenders the extensive regional economic benefits an Afghan peace accord could deliver to Pakistan.
There's also some other interesting material in the same issue, e.g. "Kenya: Phoning It In" (on the transforming effects of money transfers by cell phone in Kenya -- pp. 8 and 9 of the hard-copy issue).

Monday, December 5, 2011

A tale of two candidates and one ambassador

Gingrich and Romney are calling on the Obama administration to fire the U.S. ambassador to Belgium. His transgression, from what I can gather from this article, seems to have been (at most) perhaps some bad choice of words when describing the effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on attitudes among Muslims in Europe.

The article quotes him as saying:
"Throughout the Muslim communities that I visit, and indeed throughout Europe, there is significant anger and resentment and, yes, perhaps sometimes hatred and indeed sometimes an all-too-growing intimidation and violence directed at Jews generally as a result of the continuing tensions between Israel and the Palestinian territories and other Arab neighbors in the Middle East."
This quote doesn't excuse the anger, resentment, and "perhaps sometimes hatred"; it simply describes his perception. Ditto for another quote in the article in which Amb. Gutman appears to be simply describing the cycle of violence in the Middle East. His mistake was to use the charged word "anti-Semitism." (If he had made the same remarks without reference to "two forms of anti-Semitism," the remarks probably would have passed without too much notice.) The article says the ambassador has now issued a statement on his website, regretting that his remarks might have been misconstrued, etc.

In addition to the reactions from Romney and Gingrich, the remarks have prompted other reactions, including (again according to the Wash. Post article) a statement from the Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors that refers to the "ongoing campaign by the White House to undermine Israel."

The U.S. gives Israel on the order of $3 billion a year, a very large portion of which, I believe, is military/security assistance. Obama administration officials, from Hillary Clinton on down, have said repeatedly that the U.S. is firmly and unwaveringly committed to ensuring that Israel maintains its QME (that's 'qualitative military edge'). Pres. Obama himself has made this clear on more than one occasion. The Obama administration wasted (in retrospect) about a year-and-a-half or so urging Israel to curtail construction of settlements. There was a brief-ish moratorium, after which settlement construction resumed (though perhaps at a slower pace than before). The admin appointed former Sen. George Mitchell its special envoy to the region tasked with bringing the conflict to a resolution, as he had in N. Ireland. Sen. Mitchell butted his head against brick walls for a while and then resigned. As long as the $3 billion per year remains untouchable, which it does because Congress sees to that, nothing the Obama administration says can in any way "undermine" Israel because everyone understands that the administration's words, unlike some words in international politics, are empty. No leverage will be brought to bear in connection with them. Since the Six Day War, Israel has been primus inter pares among U.S. allies. This has been true no matter who is in the White House and no matter what they have said about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The word "undermining" in the statement quoted seems to mean "ineffectually disagreeing with certain aspects of Israeli government policy while tacitly communicating that such disagreement is indeed ineffectual because it will not be accompanied by any actions of consequence."

There are very good reasons for the U.S. to support Israel. Whether there are good reasons for the U.S. to support Israel in the particular way that it does is a legitimate subject of public debate (although if you try to debate it you will have all kinds of accusations leveled at you; viz. Walt and Mearsheimer). In any case, the charge that the Obama administration has an "ongoing campaign" to "undermine" Israel is, to put it mildly, groundless.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Question for Stephen Walt: Who is a "genuine" realist?

Stephen Walt, in a recent post at his blog, applauds (with some qualifications) Peter Beinart for endorsing offshore balancing as a U.S. strategy, but bemoans the fact that Beinart fails to mention the various scholars (e.g., Mearsheimer, Layne, Porter, Walt himself, etc.) who have been advocating offshore balancing for the last decade or more.

Walt is upset by Beinart's omission because he claims it contributes to the continuing "marginalization" of realists in U.S. foreign policy debates. Walt seems to think that realists represent a distinctive position in those debates, being less inclined to "hubristic" interventionism than necons on the one hand and liberal internationalists on the other. Walt says that there are no "genuine" realists writing for any major media outlet in the United States. I guess he must not consider Kissinger, who writes (or least use to write) quite regular op-eds in the Wash. Post, a "genuine" realist.

Walt would better off, IMHO, if he advocated his preferred policies -- with many of which I'm largely in agreement -- without trying to appropriate the label "realism" exclusively for himself and those with whom he agrees. This muddies the waters without clarifying much and also distorts the disciplinary history of International Relations, a fairly cursory glance at which makes clear that there is far more encompassed by "realism" than is dreamt of in Walt's philosophy. Realism has meant different things to different people in different contexts, and for Walt to effectively narrow its meaning to "people in the U.S. academy who agree with me about the merits of a particular grand strategy [i.e., offshore balancing] " is itself arguably somewhat hubristic. Notice how he sneaks in the adjective "genuine" to qualify "realist". Presumably a genuine realist is someone who agrees with Walt and a false realist is someone who doesn't.

The maxims and phrases typically associated with realism, and especially its emphasis on the national interest, are so vague that they can accommodate a range of policy views. George Kennan, Walter Lippmann, Dean Acheson, Reinhold Neibuhr, and Hans Morgenthau were all realists, and as Joel Rosenthal has argued (Righteous Realists, 1991) they might have shared certain assumptions, e.g. that power brings with it responsibility (itself not the most specific of notions), but they certainly did not always agree on U.S. foreign policy. Walt's effort to associate realism with a particular set of policy prescriptions ignores that realism, like several other 'isms' one might mention, is too slippery and elusive a designation to be tied down in this way. I don't object to Walt's calling himself a realist ("a realist in an ideological age," as his blog's masthead proclaims). I object to his implication that he is a genuine realist and that others who might want to use the label, but who might disagree with him on some policy matter or other, are not genuine realists. This risks inviting fruitless discussions and detracting attention from the very policy prescriptions Walt wants to advance.

P.s. To further illustrate my point about the protean character of realism, consider this description, from a publisher's recent catalog, of The Realist Case for Global Reform, by William Scheuerman (whose book on Morgenthau, by the way, I think is very good). According to the Polity Books catalog description, Scheuerman reveals "a neglected tradition of Progressive Realism" and "concludes by considering how Progressive Realism informs the foreign policies of US President Barack Obama." So the President who one scholar (Walt) considers too influenced by liberal internationalism, another scholar (Scheuerman) sees as influenced by a version of realism! I rest my case (for now, at least).

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why is the U.S. Senate (and one Senator in particular) so dismissive of the rights of terrorism suspects?

Update: The original post has been changed to correct an error (or two).

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...


I meant: a long time ago, i.e. before 9/11, one could assume that an ideologically middle-of-the-roadish Democratic Senator would support the notion that those suspected of crimes, even of terrorist activity, had certain rights, including the right not to be detained indefinitely without trial.

No longer. The Senate yesterday kept in the defense authorization bill provisions on detention that Pres. Obama has threatened to veto. According to this NYT article:

The most disputed provision would require the government to place into military custody any suspected member of Al Qaeda or one of its allies connected to a plot against the United States or its allies. The provision would exempt American citizens, but would otherwise extend to arrests on United States soil. The executive branch could issue a waiver and keep such a prisoner in the civilian system.

A related provision would create a federal statute saying the government has the legal authority to keep people suspected of terrorism in military custody, indefinitely and without trial. It contains no exception for American citizens. It is intended to bolster the authorization to use military force against the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which lawmakers enacted a decade ago.

Among the supporters of these provisions is Sen. Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. According to an Agence-France Presse article which I saw at Raw Story (and which I'm not linking to because my browser is having trouble with it), Levin denied the provisions would harm civil liberties (!) and (the NYT story also has this) cited a Supreme Court ruling that a so-called enemy combatant, even if a U.S. citizen, may be held indefinitely without trial (this must be Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, but that case also said the detainee had to have the right to challenge his designation as an unlawful combatant).

Interestingly, the Pentagon itself is opposed to these provisions, according to the AFP piece, and the NYT says even some former Bush admin counterterrorism officials oppose them. Why is Levin supporting them? Why did he agree to their being part of the defense authorization package? He's not up for re-election until 2014, so immediate political considerations would not seem to be the answer. Has he always been this bad on these issues?

Friday, November 25, 2011

How not to think about the obsolescence (or non-obsolescence) of "industrial" war

Scott Wolford argues, in effect, that we aren't seeing traditional interstate wars because big "industrial" armies are "cancelling each other out," not because interstate war is obsolete. (H/t Phil Arena, here, for directing my attention to this post.)

(Update: Scott Wolford writes in the comments to this post that I have misconstrued his point. I may well have. One of the hazards of blogging.)

This ignores several things. First, states are simply less interested now than they used to be in territorial conquest, which is what big armies have traditionally been used for. Look at the figures: Between 1945 and 1996, the percentage of armed conflicts in which territory was redistributed -- i.e. conquered -- was 23 percent; by contrast, between 1648 (I don't like to use this over-emphasized date btw, but anyway) and 1945, the percentage was in the range of 80 percent. This strongly suggests, although it admittedly doesn't definitively prove, that post-1945 armed conflicts have mostly been about matters other than traditional territorial acquisition. (Source: M. Finnemore, The Purpose of Intervention, p.126, citing Robert Jackson & Mark Zacher, "The Territorial Covenant," Univ. of Br. Columbia Inst. of IR, working paper no.5, 1997; see also Zacher's Int'l. Org. article on the territorial integrity norm.) For the period since 1996, I believe the figures would be even lower though I don't have them to hand.

Second, Wolford's post ignores the argument that (at least some) states have progressively internalized norms against permanent territorial acquisition and conquest, and that great-power war has become progressively unthinkable as a live policy option for leaders -- so much so that Mueller (Retreat from Doomsday) argues it doesn't even appear in their minds ("subrationally unthinkable").

Third, Wolford's point that big wars aren't obsolete because you have to consider what would occur in the absence of "industrial" armies is a bit weird. It's weird because there's no proof that if A and B are having a territorial dispute, A would take the disputed territory by force if B didn't have a big industrial army. I'm not sure it's even likely. But to make his point convincingly Wolford would have to cite an instance or two where this has actually happened in fairly recent years (and surely it's possible to find cases of territorial disputes between very unequally armed adversaries), not just speculate about what might happen.

P.s. Off the top of my head, possible examples supporting Wolford's view are the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (except that Saddam was hardly a typical leader) and maybe the Russia-Georgia war of '08. I don't find either too convincing. The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in '03, although a very bad idea, is not directly relevant here because its major aim was forcible regime change not territorial acquisition.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pepper spray and Seurat: a Pointillist Event (Pointillist or pointless?)

Pablo K at The Disorder of Things has a long post on "body politics" which reproduces, toward the end, several "meme-ifications" of the "pepper spray policeman" -- in Guernica, in Tienanmen Square, in Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, and so forth.

(Click here for the Seurat image.)

What is the point of this particular juxtaposition? The linked post refers to it and similar images as "jovial and sardonic in the face of callousness, but also now repeated for their own sake." I think the post and comments are worth reading, though written in a style not everyone will take to. The author asks parenthetically in comments: "Does someone want to theorise this in terms of the Event?" Thanks, but I think I'll pass on that. For now, at any rate.

Is Walt right about China?

Short answer: I don't think so. (Hat tip here for drawing my attention to Walt's post.)

Elaboration: Walt says that if China were to establish a secure sphere of influence in its region, that would free up China to devote more attention to the stirring up of trouble in the western hemisphere. It could forge closer ties with countries in the U.S. backyard and ratchet up tensions. Remember the Soviet missiles in Cuba. Etc. I'm not convinced by this notion that the U.S. must prevent any other great power from achieving a regional sphere of influence. (Walt reaches back for authority to Kennan's American Diplomacy but a more recent statement of this view is in Mearsheimer's The Tragedy of Great Power Politics.)

In my view, this is the most misleading paragraph in Walt's post:

... this logic reflects the realist view that it is to U.S. advantage to keep Eurasia divided among many separate powers, and to help prevent any single power from establishing the same sort of regional hegemony that the United States has long enjoyed in the Western hemisphere. That is why the United States eventually entered World War I (to prevent a German victory), and it is why Roosevelt began preparing the nation for war in the late 1930s and entered with enthusiasm after Pearl Harbor. In each case, powerful countries were threatening to establish regional hegemony in a key area, and so the United States joined with others to prevent this.

The problem with this analysis is that Nazi Germany and imperial Japan were not just seeking "to establish regional hegemony in a key area"; they were expanding by military aggression and conquering and occupying other sovereign states. Nazi domination of Europe was unacceptable not only on strategic but also on moral grounds. Until someone comes up with a more detailed, convincing scenario about how a Chinese sphere of influence or regional hegemony threatens the U.S., I will remain skeptical.

However, I will concede this much to Walt's view: intentions are difficult to read precisely and there is a case for hedging bets by maintaining U.S. alliances with South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and other countries in the region. But does the U.S. need to send Marines to northern Australia? Does it need to sell advanced F-16 jets to Indonesia? For that matter, does it need as many as 28,500 soldiers in South Korea?

Views that emphasize a "contest" between the U.S. and China (see e.g. W.R. Mead's recent post) can be self-fulfilling prophecies, as Walt himself acknowledges in passing. In the lingo of contemporary bureaucratic diplomat-ese, this is unhelpful.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Clichés 101: "a tense time in the region"

The opening graph of an AP story in WaPo headlined "Hezbollah unravels CIA spy network in Lebanon as agency contains damage":
Hezbollah has partially unraveled the CIA’s spy network in Lebanon, severely damaging the intelligence agency’s ability to gather vital information on the terrorist organization at a tense time in the region, former and current U.S. officials said.
Two questions:
(1) When is it not "a tense time" in that region?
(2) What "vital information"? Well, of course we don't know because the article's sources, "former and current U.S. officials," no doubt wouldn't say. The result is an article about a putative intelligence disaster that never really explains why it's a disaster -- except insofar as some people working with the CIA may have gotten killed. But the article doesn't even confirm that since, as someone quoted toward the end mentions, Hezbollah treats different captured spies differently: some it "disappears," some it apparently doesn't.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Why has the Obama admin avoided major scandals (so far)?

A piece by Jonathan Alter in The Washington Monthly, deploying political science as well as the author's own experience and insights to speculate on the reasons why the Obama administration has been largely free of scandal. Also included is a quick tour of scandals of past administrations (remember Anne Burford? I didn't think so). One scandal that, on a fast reading of the piece, I didn't see mentioned is the substandard-facilities-at-Walter-Reed story -- but I'm pretty sure that broke under G.W. Bush not Obama, so it doesn't undercut the premise.

P.s. Of course there are those on both left and right who consider some administration policies to be criminal (e.g., use of drones, targeted assassinations) or unconstitutional (or what have you), but that's not what this is about.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Quotes of the weekend

(1) From Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (via):

"Well, I was there. They wasn't no agitators. What they call reds. What the hell is these reds anyways?"

Timothy scraped a little hill level in the bottom of the ditch. The sun made his white bristle beard shine. "They's a lot a fellas wanta know what reds is." He laughed. "One of our boys foun' out." He patted the piled earth gently with his shovel. "Fella named Hines - got 'bout thirty thousan' acres, peaches and grapes - got a cannery an' a winery. Well, he's all a time talkin' about 'them goddamn reds.' 'Goddamn reds is drivin' the country to ruin,' he says, an 'We got to drive these here red bastards out.' Well, they were a young fella jus' come out west here, an' he's listenin' one day. He kinda scratched his head an' he says, 'Mr. Hines, I ain't been here long. What is these goddamn reds?' Well, sir, Hines says, 'A red is any son-of-a-bitch that wants thirty cents an hour when we're payin' twenty-five!' Well, this young fella he thinks about her, an' he scratches his head, an' he says, 'Well, Jesus, Mr. Hines. I ain't a son-of-a-bitch, but if that's what a red is - why, I want thirty cents an hour. Ever'body does. Hell, Mr. Hines, we're all reds.'" Timothy drove his shovel along the ditch bottom, and the solid earth shone where the shovel cut it.

Tom laughed. "Me too, I guess."

(2) From the beginning of another post at the same blog:
My brother-in-law graduated from Freeport High School in Freeport, Illinois, and my favorite part about this rather mundane fact is that the school's mascot is the Pretzel. The Freeport Pretzels. At sporting events the students liked to chant "You can eat us but you'll never beat us."

Friday, November 18, 2011

Competitive authoritarianism and oligarchical democracy

Political scientists love classifications, of course. This is the opening paragraph of Michael Bernhard's review of Jonathan Steinberg's Bismarck (in the current Foreign Affairs):
Over the last two decades, a distinctive regime type has emerged across the developing world, one that scholars have come to call competitive authoritarianism. This sort of political system allows for the contestation of power among different social groups, but with so many violations of electoral fairness and so little regard for liberal norms that it cannot be called a true democracy. From Russia to Peru, Cambodia to Cameroon, such regimes are now located in almost every region of the world, and how they develop will determine the shape of the twenty-first century.
Maybe it's time to recognize yet another new regime type: oligarchical democracy. Exemplar: the current United States. Features: Severe inequalities of wealth and income; grossly disproportionate power in the political process exercised by the wealthiest; polarized parties masking a fairly narrow range of "respectable" policy debate; money enshrined as constitutionally protected speech. Etcetera.

"Oligarchical democracy" sounds contradictory and no doubt goes against Plato's and Aristotle's classifications of regimes (and many subsequent classifications). Well, tough s**t.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bizarre remark of the day

From a comment in a CT thread:
OWS is, it is not a Leninist Vanguard Party such as dominated both the Old and New Left movements in the US."

Excuse me? What was the "Leninist vanguard party" that "dominated" the New Left in the U.S.?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chinese "aggression"?

English is a funny language. You can be a competent native speaker and still not grasp anywhere near all the nuances.

Item: I just heard a brief three-minute top-of-the-hour NPR news broadcast. The announcer said that the new U.S. 'security arrangement' with Australia is widely seen as a response to "growing Chinese aggression." My inner antenna switched on: What Chinese aggression? Nothing China has done recently (or not so recently, for that matter) amounts to aggression as I use the word -- that was my reaction.

Then I went to my dictionary. (Dictionaries are not deities, of course, but they're better than nothing.) The first definition of "aggression": "an unprovoked attack or warlike act; specif., the use of armed force by a state in violation of its international obligations" -- yes, that was the sense of the word I had in mind. There is also a second definition: "the practice or habit of being aggressive or quarrelsome" -- that's somewhat looser or broader. Then I went down to the adjective "aggressive"; one of the definitions is: "full of enterprise and initiative; bold and active; pushing." Then there is a little further section which draws fine distinctions among aggressive, militant, assertive, and pushing.

Bottom line? Where I might have said "growing Chinese assertiveness," the NPR guy said "growing Chinese aggression." Is that wrong? Strictly speaking, perhaps not. But I think it's misleading, since "aggression" triggers in most hearers the first sense of the word (unprovoked attack, etc.).

As is well known, China is a rising power in terms of economic and demographic weight (though it also has many problems, which I won't go into here). Rising powers tend to be somewhat "assertive". It's par for the course. That doesn't mean China is going to start a war. Its military is still well behind technologically. Chinese leaders have shown no evidence of exceptional bellicosity. Yes, there are a few possible flash points, but it's nothing to get one's knickers all in a bunch about. Scholars who study Chinese foreign policy closely, like Taylor Fravel of MIT, have shown that China's stance on territorial disputes has been one of compromise more often than not.
Btw, I think having U.S. Marines in northern Australia is not an especially good idea.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Keep him far away from us

Hard to find the right words to describe Rick Perry. In the interview linked in the previous post, Joshua Cohen says Perry wants to "roll back the twentieth century" in terms of domestic policy. That may be, if anything, too charitable. Kate Weaver at Duck of Minerva mentions Perry remarking in a recent debate that the U.S. ought to "zero out foreign aid." A commenter says this remark occurred in a discussion of Pakistan, so maybe all Perry meant is that the U.S. should cut aid to Pakistan. This raises the question: Does Perry himself know what he means? Maybe he's just flailing around -- abolish this, cut that, zero out the other -- in what one hopes is the soon-to-be-end-game of a losing candidacy. Texas apparently likes him, and one hopes that Texas will keep him... far away from the rest of us.

(Apologies to the author of that line from Fiddler on the Roof: "God bless and keep the Czar -- far away from us.")

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Packer on the broken U.S. social contract

In the current issue of Foreign Affairs (here); looks like one has to register to get the whole thing.

Excerpts: or around 1978, American life changed.... It was, like this moment, a time of widespread pessimism -- high inflation, high unemployment, high gas prices. And the country reacted to its sense of decline by moving away from the social arrangement that had been in place since the 1930s and 1940s....

This is a story about the perverse effects of democratization.... Once Walter Reuther of the United Auto Workers and Walter Wriston of Citicorp stopped sitting together on Commissions to Make the World a Better Place and started paying lobbyists to fight for their separate interests in Congress, the balance of power tilted heavily toward business.

Of course the move to neoliberalism occurred across much of the world, not just in the U.S., but the consequences in terms of inequality were worse here.

Update: See also Zakaria in today's WaPo on social mobility in U.S. compared to Europe. (Link to be added later)

Housekeeping note

With apologies to those who were listed, I've deleted the 'followers' feature because, in non-technical language, it was screwing things up.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Guest commentary by HC: Obama 'gave' too early on the deficit

Re the Dem-Rep deadlock over deficit reduction and Obama’s strategy: his grand-bargain offer to cut entitlements (compromising a basic Dem principle, and indeed embracing a Rep one), if only the Reps would raise taxes (compromising their basic principle), was a bad mistake for at least two reasons.

First, it relied on a strategy of public shaming ("look, we are being flexible, now it is your turn") that does not work with stubborn and proud people, indeed only makes them more so.

But more important, once the offer to cut entitlements was out there, the public soon forgot that it was a great sacrifice by the Dems. The result was an asymmetry in perception whereby it was only the Reps who ever had a clear and principled position, so why should they abandon it? Plus their position is three words ("no new taxes" or "starve the beast") while the Dem position involves more and longer words.

If Obama had hung just as tough as the Reps, at least in public, the stage would now be set for a private deal in which each party could save face with its constituents by saying it was only giving something because the other was. But since the Dems "gave" too early, and too publicly, the Reps will just look weak if they give now. And the reason Obama gave too early, as we know from inside accounts, was that he was unwilling to take things to the brink. Bad way to negotiate with someone intractable. If he had never offered anything but a populist line about changing an unfair tax structure that benefits the rich and corporations at the expense of working people and the safety net and stimulus, he would be in a much better bargaining position. Instead, he has come to that message too late, and it is now muddied by his standing offer to cut social programs, so instead of looking bold (which his offer actually was, but only a great rhetorician, not Obama, could have sold it as such), he has both emboldened the Reps and alienated his base.

(Underlying dynamic: libertarianism is historically stronger than populism in the USA, or at least so Obama believes, and believing is what counts.)

So no matter how many experts and reasonable Reps point out that Boehner and company are holding the country hostage, the latter have no reason to compromise. Instead they can just hang tough and look strong while Obama looks weak and unprincipled (which is always the fate of the premature compromiser). And everyone knows that a "weak" president is to blame for everything.

Obama looks so weak at this point that if the Reps do give in at the last minute, they might look like heroes in comparison. But even that will not tempt them, because they are looking strong now and the economy is going to hell "under Obama" so why fix it if it ain’t broke?

-- HC

Pakistan reacts to charges about the security of its nukes

Via WaPo's Karen Brulliard:
...a story in this week’s Atlantic magazine...cast strong doubt on the security of [Pakistan's nuclear] weapons. According to the article, Pakistan moves its nukes in unmarked trucks on public roads – the same used by militant groups that have attacked military bases – while a worried United States hones plans to secure them in the event of a terrorist takeover.

In a statement on Sunday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry slammed the article, dismissing it [as] “pure fiction, baseless” and “part of a deliberate propaganda campaign meant to mislead opinion.”

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Diamonds are forever; or, Institutional arrogance, 1970s edition

[title revised on 11/7]

A Crooked Timber thread about a recent student walk-out from Harvard's intro economics course (Ec 10), currently taught by Gregory Mankiw, elicited comments from a number of people who had taken the course in the past, sometimes the quite distant past. I was one of those commenting, having taken Ec 10 sometime in the mid-1970s (no need to get too specific for these purposes).

Late in the CT thread, one commenter suggested that having so many students in one course, albeit with numerous TA-led sections, was evidence of institutional arrogance. My response, which I'm posting here rather than at CT: if you think Harvard officialdom is arrogant today, you should have been there in the late 60s -- which I did not experience but have read a bit about -- or a decade later in the 70s.

Emblematic of the latter period for me, and no doubt for others, is a statement by the then Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Henry Rosovsky. I remember this statement one way; I just discovered that Google (or, more precisely, an article I found via Google) remembers it slightly differently. Thus I'm going to give it in two versions. As I recall it, Rosovsky, probably responding to a question from a probably disgruntled student, intoned: "You are here for four years, I am here for life, and the institution is here forever."

Typing "you are here for four years..." into Google produces, among other things, a Feb. 28, 2005 NYT piece by Adam Cohen about the controversy then raging over Lawrence Summers's remarks about women in science. Here is how the piece opens:
"You are here for four years," Henry Rosovsky, who long served as Harvard's dean of faculty, once told a group of students. "The faculty is here for life. And the institution is here forever." The quote became part of Harvard lore: a campus film society promoted a James Bond movie with the slogan, "You are here for four years; Dean Rosovsky is here for life; and Diamonds Are Forever." But it also came to embody, for my generation of students and alumni, Harvard's imperious view of its place in the world.
It hardly matters whether my version or Cohen's version of the Rosovsky quote is correct. The point is that one would be rather unlikely to find a university administrator making a comparably patronizing, dismissive statement today, not because administrators necessarily have become more benign and enlightened but for reasons of survival in a changed climate in which, among other things, student opinion probably matters more than it used to. Btw, if you read down to the end of Cohen's piece you'll see that he managed to riff neatly on the statement in his last paragraph.

Will gets something right

It's fairly unusual for me to agree with George Will, but this column rightly insists that the Republican presidential candidates should spell out how many American soldiers they would keep in Iraq and for how long. He also expresses proper skepticism about some current U.S. troop deployments, such as the 54,000 soldiers the U.S. has in Germany. What purpose are they serving?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Gaddis's Kennan bio due out next week

Following a tip from a friend, I see that J.L. Gaddis's biography of Kennan is scheduled to be published by Penguin on Nov. 10. Long in preparation, this should be the definitive biography.
Note to readers: I have a long post in the works and I hope it will be up sometime in the next two or three weeks.

Monday, October 31, 2011

France votes 'yes' on UNESCO seat for Palestine

Glancing through this AP story on the vote giving the Palestinian Authority full membership in UNESCO, what really jumped out at me was that France voted in favor. The article calls this a surprise. I suppose on some level it was, but France, no matter what party holds its presidency, has long prided itself on having an independent foreign policy. Sarkozy brought France back into NATO's integrated command a few years ago (and France took a lead role in the recent Libya campaign); however, this vote is a signal, if any were needed, that the Sarkozy government will follow its own course on certain issues. The U.S. reaction, predictably, was to call the PA's admission to UNESCO membership "regrettable" and "premature" and to cut off its funding to UNESCO, which a law requires it to do in these circumstances, apparently. Sigh.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Keystone XL pipeline

I haven't been following the details of the controversy over the Keystone XL pipeline, but I'm aware that it's aroused some passionate opposition. A demonstration is planned for Nov. 6 in front of the White House. For those interested, the Tar Sands Action site is here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In case you missed this...

Anwar al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son, a U.S. citizen, was killed in a recent drone strike in Yemen that also killed the media chief of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). (H/t V. Yadav) This will raise further questions about drones and whether their increasing use accords with accepted principles of the law of armed conflict.

Related (added 10/27): Drone strikes in the Pakistan border regions earlier this month killed several al-Qaeda figures and a "top deputy" in the Haqqani network, according to this piece.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Break briefly interrupted

Commenting on Gaddafi's demise etc., David Brooks on the NewsHour tonight said Obama deserved credit for U.S. policy vis-a-vis Libya -- a judgment with which I basically agree, though I think there could and should have been more consultation of Congress. (This is the same Brooks, btw, who wrote last January that Obama was Nero fiddling while Rome burns [I'd probably write that post a little differently if I were writing it today, but never mind]).

Then Brooks went on to say that he thought foreign policy might have an impact on the 2012 election; it won't all be the economy, he said. But this really depends to a substantial extent on what happens to be leading the news cycle a year from now, which is of course impossible to predict.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Another break

I have some other things to catch up on, so will be taking a break from posting. At least a couple of longer, meatier posts will be on the agenda when I return.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Theorists and others have at OWS

In a column at the Foreign Affairs site (h/t The Monkey Cage), Sidney Tarrow compares Occupy Wall St. to the women's movement of the '70s, calling it a "we are here" movement whose aim is to dramatize that something is wrong in the "system of economic relations" rather than specifically to "target" capitalism. (Not sure if this is a convincing distinction.) Tarrow is a leading theorist and scholar of "social movements and contentious politics" (to quote the subtitle of one of his books) but I can't say this particular analysis bowled me over.

Btw at the same site you can find a piece by Hardt and Negri, which I haven't read. And then, if masochistic, you can go to Wash. Post and read George Will's silly column on OWS today, which I raced through and figuratively consigned to the dustbin. (Maybe even the dustbin of history.)

Update: Via here: Mayor Bloomberg is apparently planning to clear Zuccotti Park tomorrow at 7 a.m. There is a petition (see the link) that can be signed, though I doubt it will prevent Bloomberg from doing whatever he's planning to do.
Further update: The 'clean-up' has been postponed.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Political opening in Burma

See here and here.

"Sign...said private property"

This comment in a CT thread, with its reference to Pete Seeger, reminded me that he had sung "This Land is Your Land" (along with his grandson and Bruce Springsteen) at the Obama inaugural concert in Jan. '09 and had included a verse with a political edge that is sometimes omitted -- but I couldn't quite remember the verse.

Wikipedia to the rescue:
There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn't say nothing;
This land was made for you and me.
I recall that the historian Michael Kazin, in a Wash. Post piece not too long after the inaugural concert, noted approvingly the inclusion of this verse. Some of those now in the 'occupy Wall Street' protests might wish that the verse's general spirit had exercised more of an influence on certain administration policies, though I understand their main complaints are directed elsewhere (properly, in my view).

Monday, October 10, 2011

Don't write off 'people power' in ME just yet

Looking at events in Syria and Yemen, Jackson Diehl asserts that "people power [in the Middle East] isn't working." The judgment seems premature and much of the rest of the column rather weird. Of course, this is the same columnist who said that the PA's bid for statehood at the UN was tantamount to a declaration of war against Israel.

What happened to the Palestinian statehood thing, btw? The General Assembly's September session is long over (isn't it?) so something should have been voted on in the way of enhanced observer status. If it was reported on, however, I missed it. Haven't been following the right sites, evidently. (A blogger confessing ignorance -- my my, what is the world coming to?)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Worth reading

One human angle on the Afghan war: here.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

James Rosenau (in memoriam notice)

Since Duck of Minerva doesn't seem to have picked this up, I figured I'd link to it: here.

Rosenau was a prolific IR scholar who had a long career, ranging from foreign policy analysis (early on) to, later, big-picture theory focusing on the roles of non-state actors and individuals in a globalized world. His later work uses concrete examples, often culled from journalistic sources, to illustrate broad concepts (sometimes designated with neologisms, e.g. fragmegration). Several of his books are on my shelves: Turbulence in World Politics (1990); Along the Domestic-Foreign Frontier (1997); and the 1969 volume he edited with Klaus Knorr, Contending Approaches to International Politics, behind whose bland title lie the key pieces in what is sometimes referred to as the 'second great debate'. [added later]: I also recall an article of his from the '80s on 'habit-driven' actors. [added still later]: I also have Czempiel & Rosenau, eds., Global Changes and Theoretical Challenges (Lexington Books, 1989).
P.s. Another recent passing, completely unrelated: here (via A. Rudalevige at The Monkey Cage).

Friday, October 7, 2011

Romney's vacuous foreign policy

Mitt Romney's interview with Judy Woodruff on the NewsHour tonight revealed someone who hasn't thought much about foreign policy and is content to repeat platitudes and, worse, nonsense. The U.S. shouldn't let any country 'balance' against it, he said. This is a dumb statement for a bunch of reasons, one being that the statement raises a non-existent problem because there hasn't been much (or any) traditional 'hard' balancing against the U.S. He said he would "listen" to the generals. What President wouldn't? He said the defense budget should consume roughly 20 percent of the federal budget or roughly 4 percent of GDP. Regardless of what's happening in the world? After the wind-down of the Afghanistan and Iraq involvements it is hard to see why this level of defense spending would be required; but in any event, defense spending should respond to conditions, not be set at an arbitrary figure. He said the U.S. should never "publicly" disagree with its allies, specifically Israel. Why not? He said Israel had never found itself in a more "fragile" setting than it does now. Come on. And then there was the usual stuff about the U.S.'s unique and special responsibility to ensure peace and prosperity in the world, blah blah. There are interesting foreign policy questions involving immigration, trade, economic relations e.g. with China (see under currency wars), U.S. policy in Latin America, attitudes toward the new regimes in the Arab world, and none of this came up in the interview. Instead he painted an outdated, vacuous picture of a "threatened" U.S. that must continue to spend huge sums on defense for no compelling reason. No wonder no one is excited about his candidacy.
Update: A dissection of his speech at The Citadel, here.

The noise of a sick society

A few months ago some idiot in the corporate hierarchy at 7-Eleven decided that the chain of convenience stores needed to be equipped with large ceiling-mounted TVs. These TVs emit what is best described as irritating noise. They are not effective advertising tools. They do not enhance the customer "experience." They make it worse.

It is impossible to walk into most public spaces in the U.S. and not be met with programmed noise. I once spent an hour in Logan Airport waiting for a flight. I wanted to read but I couldn't because there was a TV on the wall telling me over and over what a great place Boston is. I wanted to rip the damn thing out and stomp on it while screaming: "Boston would be a much nicer place if you would shut the **** up." Many (not all) restaurants have noise coming out of the ceilings. Grocery stores have muzak interrupted by annoying ads and supposedly helpful announcements about how to pick out ripe pears, how to eat more healthily, and heaven knows what else. It shouldn't be necessary to buy a smart phone and an earpiece to block this out. It shouldn't exist in the first place.

When the Occupy Wall Street movement gets around to formulating a list of demands, one that should be on it is: End commercial noise in public places and business establishments. I for one am ******* tired of it.

P.s. Of course there are far more important issues but there are plenty of other people writing about them.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Book notes

I heard Timothy Snyder give a talk on his book Bloodlands in New York this past weekend. The lecture was so good that I almost feel I don't have to read the book. That would be fine, in a way, because I've got a list of books I'd like to get to (or, in one case, finish).

What's on my list? Among others:

* Daniyal Mueenuddin, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders. I'm about halfway through this elegantly written collection of short stories set in Pakistan.

* Geoffrey Dyer, Otherwise Known As The Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews. I've taken this out from the library but so far have only read bits of it. The pieces collected here are mostly short. Those at the end are autobiographical, including one in which Dyer remarks on his decision to avoid specialization and "the supreme pointlessness of a Ph.D." (Nice phrase, whether one agrees or not.)

* Francis Wheen, Marx's Das Kapital: A Biography. Brief (unlike its subject).

* Michael Latham, The Right Kind of Revolution: Modernization, Development, and U.S. Foreign Policy from the Cold War to the Present.

Geoffrey Parker, Success Is Never Final: Empire, War, and Faith in Early Modern Europe. Especially the piece "The Etiquette of Atrocity: The Laws of War in Early Modern Europe."

* Daniel Sherman, French Primitivism and the Ends of Empire, 1945-1975. To be published this month (Univ. of Chicago Press).

* Joshua Goldstein, Winning the War on War. Mentioned earlier; now bought (via Powells).

Will I get to all these? We'll see. What's on your list? (Feel free to say in comments. Note: Ads from publishers or self-publishers may be deleted at my discretion.)

P.s. The authors mentioned above are all male. That is a coincidence, not discrimination (just in case anyone was wondering).

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The decline of war (Part II)

In my previous post on this subject, I promised to follow up with some observations on the relation between global politics and global economics over the past couple of decades. For various reasons this has proved beyond me at the moment, so I'll confine this post to noting the case of one writer who acknowledged the decline of violent conflict but refused to accord it the significance it would seem to warrant. The case to be mentioned is probably not unique but rather is an indication of how hard it is for some analysts to discard assumptions about the permanence of conflict that have been central to discourse on international politics for centuries. Longevity does not equal validity, however, and the fact that these assumptions have been repeated endlessly does not make them correct.

Writing in 2007 about the shape of what he termed the post-American world, Fareed Zakaria observed that "war and organized violence have declined dramatically over the last two decades." [1] There has been, he wrote, "a broad trend away from wars among major countries, the kind of conflict that produces massive casualties." [2] However, in the very next breath Zakaria felt constrained to point out that "numbers [of casualties] are not the only measure of evil," [3] which is true but not particularly relevant. "I don't believe," he declared, "that war has become obsolete or any such foolishness. Human nature remains what it is and international politics what it is." [4]

"Human nature remains what it is and international politics what it is." This statement has basically no analytical content. It is an expression of faith, the same faith to which Robert Gilpin pledged allegiance when he wrote: "One must suspect that if somehow Thucydides were placed in our midst, he would (following an appropriate short course in geography, economics, and modern technology) have little trouble in understanding the power struggle of our age." [5] (Gilpin wrote this 30 years ago but plenty of people, including perhaps Gilpin himself, would write the same thing today.)

Would Thucydides, stepping out of a time machine, not bat an eye at a world in which there has been no great-power war for more than half a century (and in which no great-power war is looming on the horizon)? I'll let readers supply their own answers to that question.
1. Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World (W.W. Norton), p. 8. The book was published in 2008, meaning that it was written in 2007.
2. Ibid., p. 9.
3. Ibid., p. 10.
4. Ibid., pp. 9-10.
5. Robert Gilpin, War and Change in World Politics (Cambridge U.P., 1981), p. 211.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hazaras in Baluchistan targeted again

Unlike, for example, Iraq, where Shiites are in the majority and Saddam Hussein's Sunni regime represented the empowerment of a minority group, in Pakistan the vast majority of the population is Sunni. Nonetheless, certain militant Sunni groups remain bent on trying to rid Pakistan of all Shiites. Or so one might conclude from the recent attacks in Baluchistan on Shiites belonging to the Hazara tribe. See here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Collective insanity, Republican version

I have been spared the full experience of the recent debates among the Republican presidential candidates. Which is to say, I've heard merely snippets and excerpts, read commentaries rather than the transcripts. That's enough. The real star of these debates, as others have observed, is apparently not any one of the candidates; rather, it is the audiences. Whether cheering for capital punishment or booing a gay soldier, the crowd has upstaged the candidates. (Where is Canetti when we need him?)

Reflecting on the other candidates rounding on Rick Perry for his exceedingly few humane actions, Richard Cohen asks: "My God, what has happened to American conservatism?" Was it always this crazy? That depends on one's definitions. There has long been an uncompromising strain of American conservatism but it usually managed to clothe itself in at least a few shreds of rationality (McCarthyism and the John Birch Society excepted). That's rapidly vanishing, if it isn't already gone.

The recent passing from the scene of Mark Hatfield and Charles Percy is a reminder that there used to be Republican senators who could be called moderates -- even, on certain issues, liberals. That's definitely gone. The Republican party of 2011, at least as manifested in its primary contest, appears to be a version of collective insanity. John Holbo's theory that conservatives are really "operational" liberals in that they don't accept the implications of their slogans appears to be an analytical philosopher's attempt to convince himself that crazy is not crazy and, as such, is both less than persuasive and not very consoling. But holding to such a fiction may be required if one wants to get through this U.S. campaign season in one mental piece, or in something that at least approximates that condition. Good luck.

How can they know that?

As I've had occasion to mention before, I'm on the e-mail list of the ONE campaign.

The following message from ONE arrived in my in-box today:

Dear ___,

Budget battles are never easy - except when there's a clear choice to save lives.

Right now, the House is proposing 18% cuts to global agriculture and economic development programs in next year’s budget. They’re proposing 9% cuts to global health programs.

And the Senate? No cuts at all - and in some cases even small increases.

It’s time to tell the House to think again.

It’s easy to just throw around numbers, but what would these House budget cuts really mean for the world’s poorest people? Nearly 50,000 children will not receive treatment for malaria. 900,000 children won’t receive nutrition interventions. 1.1 million children won’t be immunized. 1.9 million people won’t be able to escape extreme poverty.

We’ve got to let Congress know that the Senate bill is the only way to go. So today, we’re joining with our partners - Bread for the World, CARE, Oxfam, RESULTS, Save the Children - and making as many phone calls as we can to Capitol Hill.
I agree with ONE on the legislative issue here, but the sentence "1.9 million people won't be able to escape extreme poverty" is odd. You don't have to know a whole lot about development programs to know that it's extremely difficult to estimate, even to this kind of rounded figure, how many people will or won't escape extreme poverty as a result of a particular level of funding for certain programs. ONE's cause, which I support, is not well served by this.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The U.S., Iraq, and 'chronic misperception'

A piece by Duelfer and Dyson in the summer issue of Int'l Security. I've only read the abstract, which is here.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Walzer, Mill, Libya, and the value of state boundaries

In a blog post written last March (which I linked at the time but did not comment on at any length), Michael Walzer rehearsed J.S. Mill's argument about non-intervention, an argument Walzer had also summarized in his Just and Unjust Wars (Basic Books, 1977), pp. 87-91. With the debate about the Libyan intervention, sovereignty, and R2P continuing to simmer (in the IR blogosphere and elsewhere), and with Gaddafi still at large and one or two cities in Libya still resisting the rebels (or revolutionaries, or anti-Gaddafi forces, whichever label you like), it may be worth going back to Walzer's post. The question whether the U.S. and/or NATO should intervene in Libya is now of course moot, but the broader issues will likely recur (and have already recurred in a way in the case, e.g., of Syria).

Mill's position was basically that oppressed peoples had to struggle for their own freedom without outside help; if they failed to secure freedom that proved they didn't deserve it, weren't "fit" enough for it. In his blog post of last March, Walzer wrote that if the Libyan rebels were on the verge of defeat he would not be willing to go all the way with Mill, i.e. to declare the rebels "unfit" for liberty and leave them to their fate after a Gaddafi victory. But Walzer said that when intervention became necessary -- and he wasn't sure exactly when that point of "necessity" would occur -- it should be done by neighbors, by the Egyptian and Tunisian armies, rather than by the U.S. and NATO.

Even though he was not willing to go all the way with Mill in the Libyan case, Walzer clearly has a lot of sympathy for the view that oppressed peoples should do their own struggling, with outsiders intervening only in cases of real "necessity" (however defined). In Just and Unjust Wars [JUW] (pp. 90-91), he wrote: "We need to establish a kind of a priori respect for state boundaries; they are, as I have argued before, the only boundaries communities ever have. And that is why intervention is always justified as if it were an exception to a general rule, made necessary by the urgency or extremity of a particular case."

It is perhaps unfair to focus on something Walzer wrote 30-plus years ago, ignoring his more recent writing on these issues; still, the sentence just quoted shows a weakness, in my view, of his approach in JUW, namely the attachment of too much moral value to state boundaries. He recognized the (in some cases) "arbitrary and accidental character of state boundaries... [and] the ambiguous relation of the political community or communities within those boundaries to the government that defends them" (JUW, p. 89), but his basic position was that boundaries enclose communities which should be left to work out their political fates for themselves. There is definitely something to be said for this view but it is also necessary to acknowledge that the ways in which state boundaries are routinely penetrated or breached by outsiders, whether they be governments, corporations or NGOs, make the issue somewhat more complicated [note: some, e.g. Robert Jackson, would deny this]. Moreover, it is not the case that state boundaries are "the only boundaries communities ever have." Students of international relations have spilled much ink writing about all sorts of boundaries (ethnic, zonal, tribal, etc.). State boundaries retain a special place in international law and practice, but they are not the only boundaries communities have.

So where does this leave matters? Intervention should still be an exception to a general rule, and R2P, at least as I understand it, does not alter that. But in a world that some see as being full of cross-boundary 'networks' and transnational communities, the principle of non-intervention, assuming one wants to keep it, perhaps needs an updated justification, one that does not rely quite so heavily on a picture of self-enclosed national communities, each working out its own political destiny in isolation from the world outside. I'm not sure exactly what that updated justification of non-intervention might look like; perhaps political theorists and IR types have already produced one and with a little research I could find it. But laziness being the blogger's prerogative, I'm not going to bother searching, at least not now.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

On incarceration, race, etc.

Issues of incarceration, race, and the death penalty, including the Davis case, are being written about at length here. I frankly haven't had time to do more than glance at these posts but I figured I'd put up the link for those who may be interested.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

U.S. 'ultimatum' to Pakistan over the Haqqani network

The approaching transition in Afghanistan and recent attacks in Kabul appear to be driving this, probably including the assassination today of Rabbani but especially the recent attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul. Perhaps an 'ultimatum' on this issue is overdue.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Koch's role in the NY special election

I hadn't read much about the recent election to fill Anthony Weiner's NY congressional seat, so it was not until glancing through this piece that I became aware of Ed Koch's apparently key role in supporting the Republican, Bob Turner, who won. I find it difficult, or I should say impossible, to come up with a polite word to describe my reaction to Koch's views on Israel/Palestine as described in the linked article. So in an act of restraint I will let people read it and arrive at their own judgments.

I'm out of here. Have a nice weekend.

The case for (another) UNSC res. on Israel-Palestine

From Telhami & Goldstein's WaPo op-ed:
What would such a resolution include? Two states, based on the 1967 borders, with comparable mutually agreed swaps. Israel, as a state of the Jewish people and all its citizens, and Palestine as a state of the Palestinian people and all its citizens. The capital of Israel in West Jerusalem and the capital of Palestine in East Jerusalem. Mutual security arrangements to be negotiated, including possible deployment of international peacekeeping forces. And the Palestinian refugee problem to be resolved in a manner that respects the refugees’ legitimate rights, taking into account previous U.N. resolutions and the principle of the two-state solution outlined above.
I'm not entirely sure what the last sentence means, practically speaking. And hadn't the resolution better also say something about equitable arrangements re natural resources (e.g., water)?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

No, no, no

Not that this will do any good, but ... people persist in mischaracterizing the Peace of Westphalia.

I'm skimming through a piece by Geoffrey Wheatcroft, called "Once Upon a Time in Westphalia" (ungated) in the current issue of The National Interest -- lots of nice quotations, Rev. Sydney Smith, Cobden and Bright, yes, yes, etc. Then my eye falls on a sentence which says that the Peace of Westphalia "established the principle of national sovereignty" (uh-oh) and that it also established the principle of cuius regio eius religio (whose the region, his the religion). Both statements are wrong, though the second one is perhaps a bit more excusable inasmuch as it confuses the Peace of Westphalia with the Peace of Augsburg. The first statement, about Westphalia and "national sovereignty," doesn't confuse anything with anything else; it's just wrong. There are some people who argue that Westphalia helped lay the foundations for a sovereign state system, though even this claim is debatable, but to say it "established the principle of national sovereignty," in an article full of other historical references, is not good.

May I suggest that Mr. Wheatcroft read the text of the treaties of Munster and Osnabruck (or at least the former). They're online.

Palestine at the UN: overblown warnings

Daniel Kurtzer, on the NewsHour last night:

The second, more serious concern has to do with the possibility that the Palestinians will use their new U.N. status to gain standing in international legal institutions such as the International Criminal Court or the International Court of Justice and to transform what has been a diplomatic process into a legal process of holding settlements illegal, settlers, Israeli soldiers and so forth coming under the jurisdiction of these international institutions.

And this could lead to some very dire consequences down the road.

I doubt it. Unless I'm much mistaken, the settlements have already been held illegal, for all the difference that's made. As for Israeli soldiers coming under the jurisdiction of the ICC, doesn't that depend on whether Israel signed the ICC statute? Which I'm reasonably sure it didn't.

I think this talk of dire consequences is much overblown. Moreover, as Jon Western pointed out in a recent Duck of Minerva post, to call the Palestinian move at the UN 'unilateral' is somewhat odd. In the official Israeli view, anything that takes place outside the framework of the currently non-existent peace process is 'unilateral,' hence to be opposed. This is a rather silly use of the term 'unilateral'.

As Robert Malley went on to note in the same NewsHour interview, Abbas is committed to this now and would face a great deal of criticism internally if he didn't pursue it. Far from foreclosing future negotiations, enhanced observer status for the PA at the UN could be just what is needed to get things moving again in the moribund 'peace process'.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"A...less subtle guy than George W. Bush"

In this WaPo piece about Rick Perry's speech at Falwell's university, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention is quoted as saying that Perry is a "more overt, less subtle guy than George W. Bush" and therefore will be inclined to talk more openly about his religion.

To which one appropriate response would seem to be: my God, must we go through this? My current lack of a functioning television begins to seem more and more, um, providential.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The decline of war (Part I)

Joshua Goldstein's piece in Foreign Policy, based on his new book Winning the War on War, will interest a lot of readers, not only IR types. In this post -- the first of a two-part discussion -- I will make some brief-ish comments on his Foreign Policy article. The second part of this discussion, which will appear in due course, will contain some broader ruminations about the relationship between global politics and global economics (no small, narrow subjects here, folks!).

Goldstein observes that the post-Cold War era, and especially the decade just passed, has been remarkably peaceful by historical standards. Citing research done by Lacina and Gleditsch at the Peace Research Institute Oslo, he notes that "the last decade has seen fewer war deaths" -- on average about 55,000 a year -- "than any decade in the past 100 years." Wars of all types, including civil wars, have decreased over the past 20 years.

What accounts for this decline of war? The article hints at a few possible explanations, but it's only at the end that Goldstein mentions what I'm inclined to believe is the most basic and consequential of the possible causes.

He writes that "armed conflict has declined in large part because armed conflict has fundamentally changed. Wars between big national armies all but disappeared along with the Cold War, taking with them the most horrific kinds of mass destruction." No doubt in the book Goldstein gives figures on how many "wars between big national armies" -- i.e., conventional interstate wars -- there were during the Cold War. The last war directly between great powers was either the Korean War or World War II (depending on whether you think China qualified as a great power at the time of the Korean War), and as Goldstein notes, the Korean War "effectively ended nearly 60 years ago." So there has not been a great-power war since either 1953 or 1945, depending on one's definitions. The end of the Cold War may have contributed to a change in the character of armed conflict, but the more basic change, I would suggest, is that great-power war as an 'institution' of international society seems effectively to have ceased to exist. [P.s. Of course some people thought the same thing in the period before 1914 and they turned out to be wrong, to put it mildly. But the situation is not analogous, for reasons I can go into in the comments or elsewhere, if anyone is interested.]

Why? Could shifts in the balance of power have something to do with it? Goldstein observes that "relative U.S. power and worldwide conflict have waned in tandem over the past decade," adding that the "best precedent for today's emerging world order may be the Concert of Europe...." The idea that a great-power concert, which today would include of course certain non-European powers, might be emerging (or might have already emerged) is not new. However, the heyday of the Concert of Europe (if I remember right) didn't last all that long (roughly, between the end of the Napoleonic wars and the Crimean War) and its operation was based in large part on shared reactionary values among the main European powers. This could be seen as either a pedantic irrelevancy or as casting some doubt on its suitability as an analogy, depending on one's inclination.

At the end of the piece Goldstein mentions that norms about war have changed, and this seems to be at the heart of the matter. Not only have norms about the protection of civilians changed; as J. Mueller, C. Fettweis, and others have argued, there is reason to think that great-power wars have become normatively unacceptable to great powers themselves. If correct, this is of course consonant with the main lines of Goldstein's argument, even if the emphases may differ somewhat. Btw, I'm sure his book (which I have not yet seen) goes into much greater detail, so readers interested in the subject should consult it rather than just the FP article.

Another p.s.: The decline of war also connects in a particular way with Foucault on biopower (oh no! I hear you crying), something which I learned a while back from a discussion on another blog. I'll get to this later (good, I hear you saying. In fact, why not make it never). Tsk, tsk, why can't the IR types all get along?