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?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Krauthammer outdoes himself

Every time I think Charles Krauthammer cannot possibly write anything worse than the column he has just written, he surprises me: he writes something worse.

His column denying that the War on Terror was an overreaction to 9/11 contains the classic elements of a baseless argument: straw men, irrelevant rhetorical flourishes, and bad historical analogies. The analogies to World War II are especially ludicrous. He implies that "we" defeated al-Qaeda in the present period just as "we" defeated the Axis powers in World War II.

Just a couple of little problems with this: World War II was a conflict against an enemy far more formidable than al-Qaeda, and it was one which demanded some kind of sacrifice from huge swaths of the population. WW2 was fought by an army -- or I should say armies -- of conscripts, of draftees; the WoT has been fought by armies of professional soldiers, in the case of the U.S. increasingly separated from the population, and whose sacrifices have not been shared by the population at large.

Krauthammer points out that the financial collapse and Great Recession were not caused by the War on Terror. I don't know of anyone who claims they were. Krauthammer is taking statements that the WoT "bankrupted" the country a bit too literally; there are different kinds of bankruptcy, as anyone as well acquainted with the English language as Krauthammer must realize.

Most damagingly for Krauthammer's argument, the invasion of Iraq toppled an ugly regime to be sure, but one which had nothing to do with 9/11. If that doesn't constitute an overreaction, then the word has no meaning.

Krauthammer is an intelligent person who writes stupid things. There must be a name for this phenomenon, but if there isn't, then maybe it's time to coin a new verb: to Krauthammer.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

'Familial capitalism' in France

Via the French Politics blog, a brief book notice in Le Monde. Of the 200 biggest French businesses in 2008, 76 were under "family control," up from 62 twenty years earlier. "Family control" could mean a couple of different things I suppose, but the gist is clear enough.

Not another one, please

Bob Gates, according to the Checkpoint Washington blog at WaPo (here), is to become chancellor at Wm & Mary and is planning two books: a memoir and "a treatise on leadership."

Gates is widely respected but please, not another treatise on leadership. I don't read such things (not having any particular reason to) but the mere thought of another one's coming into existence is irksome.

Also there's a piece in the Style section comparing Princeton economists Alan Krueger and Paul Krugman. There are one or two substantive points in there but first you have to wade through stuff about which one plays tennis, which one looks "mildly" like a Hobbit (sic), and so on. (Sorry, no link on this one. I don't get paid enough.)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Does the 'sovereignty debate' matter?

Update: I've now read Slaughter's latest entry in the debate, and at least on a theoretical level I tend to agree with the "walk and chew gum" formula: sovereignty as it's coming to be understood implies both a state's monopoly on the legitimate use of force within its borders (at least in the normal run of things) and a duty to act in non-exterminatory ways toward its citizens. As Slaughter herself appears to acknowledge, this hardly resolves all the practical problems, but as a general formula it seems unobjectionable.
I would be lying if I'd said I have read with extremely close attention the recent blog posts by A.-M. Slaughter (here), J. Foust (here), D.P. Trombly (here), and others about the implications of the Libya intervention for the notion of state sovereignty. But the gist is that Slaughter wrote a post at The Atlantic saying that R2P and its application in Libya means that the "nature of sovereignty has fundamentally changed," Foust and Trombly took exception, and they were off.

Guess what? None of them is completely right. (You knew I was going to say that.) I think Slaughter is probably exaggerating when she implies that the notion of sovereignty as it is traditionally understood by international lawyers is dead -- to the extent she has implied that -- and Foust and Trombly are wrong to suggest that the 19th and 20th-century (note: their periodization) concept of sovereignty is as much about preventing civil war as it is about preventing external intervention in a state's 'internal affairs'. The modern idea of state sovereignty as enshrined for instance in Art. 2(7) of the UN Charter has more to do with the prerogatives of governments (states) than anything else. R2P has widened and formalized a traditional exception rather than completely upended the received notion of sovereignty, or so I would be inclined to argue.

Anyway, does the whole debate matter? I'm not sure it does. It gives IR types another subject to argue about, but whether it has any real importance beyond that is questionable. Governments will continue to make decisions about intervention for a variety of reasons, but whether any policy-makers will first sit down and reach a position on whether sovereignty has 'fundamentally changed' is, I think, doubtful. But this is, admittedly, pure speculation.

Added on 9/5: See also J. Ulfelder here.

Digging out an old proposal: a UN 'contact group' for Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan

Back in December '08 I blogged about an article by B. Rubin and A. Rashid [link will be added later] that advocated setting up a UN contact group to facilitate dialogue between India and Pakistan on the issues of Kashmir and Afghanistan. They argued that steps toward resolving some of Pakistan's anxieties about its borders (presumably in both the legal and practical senses) could help reduce Pakistan's motives -- or more specifically, the motives of parts of its army and intelligence service -- to support the Afghan Taliban and other militant groups.

Some relevant aspects of the situation, of course, have changed since Dec. '08. For one thing, U.S.-Pakistan relations have deteriorated (in light of the drone campaign and the killing of bin Laden, among other things), and the U.S. has suspended some military aid to Pakistan. But the future of Afghanistan, especially after the last U.S. combat forces have left, remains as much an open question now as it was at the end of '08. Pakistan's connections with the Afghan Taliban, via elements of the army and ISI, have also not ceased, as far as I'm aware. The Kashmir problem remains, of course, unresolved (btw, the UN has had a small military observer, a/k/a peacekeeping, force along the Line of Control since 1949. The UN spent $16 million on it in 2010-11 according to its website). So if the proposal for a UN contact group made sense in Dec. '08, it would seem still to make sense. The UN has a lot on its plate, to be sure, but that in itself is not a good reason for not adding one more item (double negative, sorry).

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Hollywood and the military (continued)

I promised a bit more on the history of relations between Hollywood and the U.S. military. Some may be familiar with the series of films Why We Fight, produced during World War II under the auspices of the War Department (as it was then called) and directed by Frank Capra, but I knew little or nothing about it until I read part of Benjamin Alpers's Dictators, Democracy, and American Public Culture (Univ. of N. Carolina Press, 2003).

Alpers writes that the U.S. government "saw knowledge of the facts as essential to the morale of U.S. troops in a war against fanatical belief systems" (p.175), and the Why We Fight series was thus "built around the notion that factual knowledge about the war was the best basis for troop morale" (p.178). However, the films were "ultimately more factitious than factual" (p.179).
Much of the footage was...not what it claimed to be. Following a cinematic tradition established long before by newsreels, the Why We Fight series included footage from Hollywood features passed off as actual battle footage, staged scenes of life in the Axis countries, and captured footage taken entirely out of context.... Capra defended [this], maintaining that it was simply the most effective way to package fact. (p.179)

However, subsequent research on the films' impact on soldiers showed that "although the films did impart greater factual information about the war, this information effect whatsoever on morale or combat motivation." (p.180)

As Alpers's discussion in the same chapter (called "This is the Army") suggests, the impact of Hollywood during WW2 was probably greater on civilians, as movies deployed the convention of the multi-ethnic combat unit as a symbol of American democracy and pluralism. Of course, this ran up against the awkward fact of racial segregation, both in the army and at home. Hollywood, not surprisingly, found it difficult to square this circle (see p. 170).

My own impressionistic sense -- not having researched this -- is that the relationship between Hollywood and the military began to turn a bit more adversarial during the first decades of the Cold War, with movies like Dr. Strangelove. By the Vietnam era, the splits in U.S. society were reflected in the movies, with John Wayne for instance continuing to make pro-war films while others made anti-war ones. (I think Apocalypse Now will probably be the most-viewed of these years from now, although there were a raft of them, including Platoon, The Deer Hunter, Born on the Fourth of July, and so on.)

As the Sirota piece linked in a previous post indicates, Top Gun represents a swing of the pendulum back toward celebration of militarism (not quite the right word, perhaps, but it will do). A trickle of dissent begins to return with the movies made after the first Gulf War (not that I saw any of them, I don't think), and this trickle becomes more of a stream with the movies of the current period that deal with the post-9/11 conflicts. Many of these (e.g., The Hurt Locker, In the Valley of Elah) I have not seen, but I did see Stop-Loss (2008) and Brothers (2009). I had to look up the titles of both of these on IMDB just now -- I remembered the actors but not the titles. (One of the joys of being middle-aged.) Stop-Loss was better than Brothers, as I recall, although the latter had its moments. I also saw (but on DVD not in a theater) a movie about Iraq with Matt Damon in it. Again, I don't remember the title and this time I'm not going to bother looking it up. Matt Damon fans will probably know the movie I'm talking about it and everyone else will probably not care too much. It was not great, but in terms of its politics definitely quite critical of the U.S. role, or at least of the military/occupation hierarchy.

P.s. There have also been, of course, documentaries on recent conflicts. E.g., on Afghanistan, 'Restrepo,' which I've mentioned before, and 'Armadillo,' which I haven't seen but which V. Yadav writes about here.

P.p.s. I've now seen The Hurt Locker. Worth watching.