Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Note to readers

I'm taking a break from posting for the rest of this month. Happy holidays, and I'll see you in 2015.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Spheres of influence

Loomis reminds that today is the anniversary of the Monroe Doctrine: here (plus comment thread).

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Quote of the day (Virginia Woolf)

[Parson James Woodforde] was a quiet man, a man without ambition, and it is more than likely that his niece found him a little dull. It is the niece Nancy, to speak plainly, who makes us uneasy. There are the seeds of domestic disaster in her character, unless we mistake.... No suitor has yet appeared. It is but too likely that the ten years of Parson Woodforde's life that still remain will often have to record how Nancy teased him with her grumbling.

The ten years that remain -- one knows, of course, that it must come to an end. Already the Custances have gone to Bath; the Parson has had a touch of gout; far away, with a sound like distant thunder, we hear the guns of the French Revolution. But it is comforting to observe that the imprisonment of the French king and queen, and the anarchy and confusion in Paris, are only mentioned after it has been recorded that Thomas Ram has lost his cow and that Parson Woodforde has "brewed another Barrell of Table Beer today." We have a notion, indeed -- and here it must be confessed that we have given up reading Parson Woodforde altogether, and merely tell over the story on a stroll through fields where the hares are scampering and the rooks rising above the elm trees -- we have a notion that Parson Woodforde does not die. Parson Woodforde goes on. It is we who change and perish. It is the kings and queens who lie in prison. It is the great towns that are ravaged with anarchy and confusion. But the river Wensum still flows; Mrs. Custance is brought to bed of yet another baby; there is the first swallow of the year. The spring comes, and summer with its hay and its strawberries; then autumn, when the walnuts are exceptionally fine, though the pears are poor; so we lapse into winter, which is indeed boisterous, but the house, thank God, withstands the storm; and then again there is the first swallow, and Parson Woodforde takes his greyhounds out a-coursing.

-- Virginia Woolf, "Life Itself," 1927 (a review of Woodforde's diaries), reprinted in The Captain's Death Bed and Other Essays (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1950).

Friday, November 28, 2014

The toll of the Boko Haram conflict

Via. A takeaway figure is 7,000 deaths connected with the Boko Haram insurgency between July 2013 and June 2014. More than that die every day in sub-Saharan Africa of preventable poverty-related causes, a fact that does not diminish the number's significance but perhaps helps put it in perspective.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tuesday linkage (abbreviated)

-- Corey Robin on a panel discussion with Steven Salaita and Katherine Franke at Brooklyn College: here.

-- J.W. Mason on Coriolanus (plus comment thread): here.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Maps and myths

See here and my (Disqus) comment.

Friday, November 21, 2014


I see from a long WaPo piece (link to be added later) that Boehner claims the reason he couldn't take up immigration measures in the House is that the Pres. had issued "too many" executive orders w/r/t the health care law, supposedly creating an environment of mistrust. Makes perfect sense, doesn't it? (Meanwhile, the House Repubs' lawsuit, filed in federal district court in D.C., argues the Pres. could not delay the individual mandate, the very provision of the law they unsuccessfully tried to get SCOTUS to declare unconstitutional.)

Mysteries of the publishing industry

In 2013 Richard Overy's The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945 was published in the UK. In 2014 Overy's The Bombers and the Bombed: Allied Air War Over Europe 1940-1945 was published in the U.S. A note on the inside cover indicates it's the same book. The practice of changing titles is fairly common, I think, but since in this case the publisher, The Penguin Group, can't possibly have had a sensible marketing reason for the title change, one is left to conclude that the publisher's main goal was to sow confusion.
Update: TBA in comments points out it's not the same book: the U.S. edition is shorter.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Pres.'s immigration speech

One of the best addresses he's given in a long time, I thought. Very effective on the level of language, both impassioned and conversational in tone: has a President ever used the phrase "here's the thing" in a prime-time speech before? I am not too impressed with the argument that he's overstepping executive authority, but will let the constitutional lawyers quarrel over that.    

Friday, November 14, 2014

"Give us the facts, we will take care of the philosophy"

From Jason Frank, Constituent Moments (2010), p.230 (endnote omitted):
In My Bondage [and] My Freedom [Frederick] Douglass describes his painful break with [William Lloyd] Garrison.... While Garrison and others initially lionized Douglass and relied heavily on his personal experience in slavery to mobilize support for their cause, they actively resisted his attempts to do more than speak from personal experience, his attempts not to be reduced to "experience" and "testimony." Douglass described white abolitionist attempts to pin him down to his "simple narrative" as yet another effort to keep blacks in their place. "Give us the facts," said one of his white abolitionist supporters, "we will take care of the philosophy." For Douglass this well-meaning advice from white abolitionists relying on the sentimental authenticity of his experience was all too reminiscent of the meticulous orchestration of subservience and place under the "organization of slave power."

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The global scope of WW1

Christopher Nichols writes a reminder that the effects of WW1 extended far beyond Europe. The only thing I would differ with is his description of WW1 as "the first total war," which it was not.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wed. eve. linkage (abbreviated)

-- The Disorder of Things recently ran a series called "The Global Colonial 1914-1918." Lucian Ashworth's post, the first in the series, looks to be worth reading, though I've not done more yet than glance at it. [Update: I've now read it; see the discussion in comments.] The other contributions also seem worth a look.

-- There's a post and discussion at the USIH blog about a review in New Left Review of The Great Persuasion. Since I've read neither the review nor the book, I don't have a lot to say about it right now.

-- Craig Lambert's profile of Orlando Patterson (in Nov./Dec. Harvard Magazine) is interesting, though I raced through it. A more careful reading might be in order at some point. [Update: Read it properly now. A good piece.]

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Everything becomes an acronym

I heard, via C-Span radio, part of a briefing session for reporters (conducted by academic or think-tank types) on the Pres.'s upcoming trip for the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting and the G-20 meeting. One of the speakers, in discussing the G-20 economic agenda, referred to "[tax] base erosion and profit shifting," or as he put it: "'BEPS' in the terminology." With a trillion dollars flowing out of developing countries (broadly defined) each year as a result of tax evasion and other illegal practices, and with corporations always searching for ways to escape paying taxes, BEPS is a serious problem for governments. But I guess everything has to become an acronym, irrespective of its seriousness (or lack thereof).   

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Post-election reflections

Thanks to a tip from a Twitter feed, I just read this piece by Molly Worthen in yesterday's NYT. She correctly (in my opinion) criticizes what passes for the Left in mainstream U.S. politics for avoiding serious discussion of the sources of economic inequality (while it embraces progressive stances on social issues). As Worthen says, the 2014 election was not about "nothing"; rather, it was about  a deliberate effort to avoid genuine debate: basic philosophical (ideological) differences and their connections to policy were largely bypassed. Thus the election [in my view, at any rate] was indeed about "something": namely, it was about the continuation of the degradation and trivialization of elections and the evacuation of substantive debate from politics.

These are not, of course, new features of U.S. politics. With one or two exceptions, politicians who hold national-level offices avoid frankly discussing the philosophical (i.e. ideological) roots of their positions. Instead, they speak in sound bites and code words, while pursuing agendas that appear on the surface to be ideologically neutral but actually are not. Thus, for instance, the current Democratic governor of Virginia goes on a 'trade mission' to Asia, trying to entice Japanese, Korean, and Chinese companies to invest in his state, and in some cases succeeding (see Jenna Portnoy, "McAuliffe: Asia Trip Will Spur Deals, Spark Economy," Wash. Post, Oct. 23, 2014, p.B5 [print edition]). States vie with each other to see which can create the most "business-friendly" climate. But even in a 'business civilization' and a world dominated by those entities referred to by the cryptic phrase 'the markets', there are different ways to "solve problems," not just one supposedly neutral way.

Ever since the Democratic Party embraced an agenda of deregulation in the Carter administration and then proceeded to accommodate some of the key premises of Reaganism by moving further right in the 1990s, U.S. electoral politics has lacked the kind of real ideological debate that should be one of the distinguishing characteristics of a mature, well-functioning political system. Instead, U.S. electoral politics are dominated by code words and sound bites, while elite groups (i.e., corporations and their lobbyists) exercise what often amounts to a stranglehold on the making of policy. That Pres. Obama, while managing to achieve certain things, has not been able to alter these basic pathological features of U.S. politics and, to a large extent, has not even tried to do so, shows how deeply entrenched they are in the fabric of the country's warped, diseased political culture.

Added later: for a more upbeat assessment of various things, you can listen to the Pres.'s news conference of today.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Quote of the day (Gouverneur Morris)

Too bad that the following doesn't really seem to apply to the present...

Gouverner Morris to Thomas Penn, 1774:
These sheep [the people], simple as they are, cannot be gulled as heretofore.... The mob begin to think and to reason. Poor reptiles! it is with them a vernal morning, they are struggling to cast off their winter's slough, they bask in the sunshine, and ere noon they will bite, depend upon it. The gentry begin to fear this.
(As quoted, at more length, in Jason Frank, Constituent Moments, Duke Univ. Press, 2010, pp.86-7.)

Wielding executive power

Even a casual follower of the news knows that Pres. Obama has used, as have other Presidents, executive orders to accomplish things that a gridlocked Congress has been unable to (in the environmental area, for instance, or with certain measures affecting government contractors). With the Senate seemingly poised to slip into Republican hands, one would expect the Pres.'s reliance on the levers of executive power to increase for the remainder of his term.

[edited slightly after initial posting] 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A dumb name for a drink

From a good reporter, Juliet Eilperin, a less-than-earthshaking piece about Takoma Park (Md.) and (among other things) its connections to the upper reaches of the Obama admin. A brief excerpt:
The elevation of this community of fewer than 18,000 residents to the highest echelons of government speaks to the influence of progressives in the administration — a bent that will become more pronounced during Obama’s final two years in office, even if Republicans make major gains in next week’s elections. But it also underscores how, for all of its radical leanings, the city has moved closer to the mainstream than one might think. Its residents are no longer fighting the power; they are the power.

A decade ago, Takoma Park’s downtown economic anchors included a yoga studio, a pet food store that sponsored animal rescues and a music store. Those businesses have survived, but that strip now has two coffee shops, three restaurants that serve alcohol and a hardware store. Where Murphy’s Auto Parts once stood is now the upscale restaurant Republic, which offers not just a duck confit Cubano sandwich but a “Fascist Killer” specialty cocktail that features Old Scout bourbon, Amaro Averna, basil and lemon peel.
Bourbon, basil, and lemon peel = yuk. And "fascist killer" is a stupid name for a drink.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"To be a citizen is to have an ideology"

One of the commenters at Crooked Timber has been on a crusade lately against "ideology," not against any particular ideology but against some phantom in his head that he sees as bad and to which he attaches this word. I've never read Karl Mannheim or done any deep study of the notion of ideology, but the word has no negative connotations for me. I think virtually everyone has, in some sense, an ideology, whether it's conscious or not, sophisticated or not, elaborate or not.

I'm reminded of something Judith Shklar wrote in a festschrift for Stanley Hoffmann, describing the latter's attitude toward ideology and ideologies:
He sees [ideologies] not only as inevitable, but as necessary functions of democratization and of democratic public life once it has been institutionalized.... Ideology [in Hoffmann's view] is as positive as it is a necessary part of political action. To be a citizen is to have an ideology. Without ideology there would have been no resistance to Nazism, no heroism of the few who had a faith that led them to risk their lives to save the persecuted, and no will to defend human rights.
(Judith N. Shklar, "Teaching Ideologies with Stanley," in Ideas and Ideals: Essays on Politics in Honor of Stanley Hoffmann, ed. L. B. Miller and M. J. Smith, Westview Press, 1993, p.62)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Quote of the day (pre-election division)

I take it as proved that those who consider universal suffrage as a guarantee of the excellence of the resulting choice suffer under a complete delusion. Universal suffrage has other advantages, but not that one.
-- Tocqueville, Democracy in America, vol.1, pt.2, ch.5 (quoted in the G. Lawrence trans.)

P.s. This is not to say Republican attacks on voting rights don't matter; they do, obvs.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Comment of the day

One of the angles in a WaPo story about Justices Thomas, Sotomayor, and Alito returning to Yale Law School to receive awards was that Thomas seems to have "made his peace" with the law school. To which a commenter, one "Publius38," remarked:
To really, really make peace with Yale, Thomas should resign as soon as possible from his current job and go teach there. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

"The army of lawyers will be annihilated"

From S. Walt, Revolution and War (1996), p.71:
Prussia's desire for action [in 1792] was based on the same sort of optimistic beliefs that the Girondins had promulgated so effectively within France.... The belief that the revolution had sapped French [military] strength was widespread.... [O]ne of Frederick William's chief advisors predicted, "The comedy will not last long. The army of lawyers will be annihilated in Belgium [i.e. the Austrian Netherlands] and we shall be home by the autumn."  

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Degrade, not destroy

You (a generic "you") may notice that I haven't been writing recently about what's going in the world now, preferring instead to meander through the French Revolution and Napoleon. Ok. Time to opine on ISIS and the air campaign. Actually I don't have much to say about it beyond the thought that Obama should not have set the goal as being to "destroy" the group. That's too high a bar, and also not necessary. "Degrade seriously" would be enough.    

Tocqueville and Napoleon

Alexis de Tocqueville was born in 1805, the year of Napoleon's victory over Russia and Austria at the battle of Austerlitz (one of the consequences of which was that, the following year, the Holy Roman Empire finally went out of existence).

Was Tocqueville one of the many caught up, retrospectively, by Napoleon's mystique, one of those who breathed in what David Bell (see the previous post) refers to as the "intoxicating fumes" of Napoleon's legend?  Apparently yes, at least to some extent.  In Tocqueville's Discovery of America (pb. ed., 2011), Leo Damrosch writes (p.187) that Tocqueville "was quite starstruck by the memory of Napoleon, much though he deplored his imperial rule," though Damrosch doesn't cite a passage from Tocqueville in this connection. 

Damrosch does, however, quote Tocqueville's reaction to hearing the Duke of Wellington speak in the House of Lords: "La gloire is invested with such extraordinary prestige that when I saw him take off his hat and begin to speak, I felt a shudder run through my veins" (Voyage en Angleterre, 1833).  T. evidently had a weak spot for generals, especially perhaps titled ones, who had won famous victories. Damrosch: "Tocqueville believed that only great generals, like ... Napoleon and Wellington, deserved political eminence" -- unlike Andrew Jackson, whom T. did not see in that light.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Book review: The First Total War

David A. Bell, The First Total War: Napoleon's Europe and the Birth of Warfare as We Know It. Houghton Mifflin, 2007. 420 pp. (including notes, bibliography, and index).

Historians and social scientists do not agree, and likely never will, about when (or how) certain key features of the modern world originated.  One such feature or phenomenon that eludes universally accepted definition and a universally accepted date of origin is "total war."  International-relations scholars these days refer to "major war" or "hegemonic war" but don't use the phrase "total war" much, although Hans Morgenthau had used it, indeed had devoted a chapter to it, in Politics Among Nations.  At any rate, for most people the phrase "total war" brings to mind the world wars of the twentieth century; however, a good case can be made that the kind of war that engulfs whole societies was invented in the era of the French Revolution.  Although various writers have made this point before, in The First Total War David Bell explores it in detail, deftly combining cultural, intellectual, political, and military history.  

The intensification of warfare during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic period reflected, Bell maintains, a change in the prevailing "culture of war," from one that assumed war was an unexceptional, normal phenomenon to one that viewed war in apocalyptic terms:  "A vision of war as utterly exceptional -- as a final, cleansing paroxysm of violence -- did not simply precede the total war of 1792-1815.  It helped, decisively, to bring it about" (p.316).  He argues that a mindset that demonizes enemies and presents conflicts in stark good-vs.-evil terms continues to affect the way Western societies prosecute wars.  Clearly this argument is influenced, perhaps overly influenced, by the rhetoric of the G.W. Bush administration, during which The First Total War was written.  Bell refers to Carl Schmitt a few times, and those who see the 'war on terror' as a 'Schmittian moment' will find support for their position here.  The book's value, however, lies perhaps not so much in its main thesis as in the wide range that it covers, from works of philosophy to poems and paintings to rhetoric to battles and strategy, and in its effort to draw connections among these.  Most of the book's detail cannot be covered in this post, unfortunately.      


The opening chapter describes the aristocratic and relatively restrained character of eighteenth-century warfare (the key word being relatively).  The nobles who dominated European officer corps before the French Revolution viewed their behavior on the battlefield as a kind of elaborate performance, similar in that respect to their behavior on the dueling field, on the dance floor, and (in certain cases) in the bedroom.

According to Bell, this aristocratic ethos took war to be a normal, ordinary part of existence.  During the Enlightenment that assumption came under a dual intellectual assault: on one hand, from various philosophers who saw war as irrational, primitive, and likely to disappear as commerce, civilization, and morality progressed; on the other hand, from writers such as Wilhelm von Humboldt, who called war "one of the healthiest phenomena for the cultivation of the human race" (p.82).  The eighteenth-century nobility generally saw war as neither primitive (in d'Holbach's or Condorcet's sense) nor healthy (in Humboldt's sense), but as something one regularly did between May and October (see p.25).  The two-pronged critique of that view of war gave rise to what Bell calls "a new culture of war in embryo, one grounded precisely in the assumption of war's exceptionality" (p.82).  Add the idealization of the classical (Spartan and/or Roman) ideal of the citizen-soldier, as extolled by Rousseau and Mably and then by various orators in the Revolutionary assemblies, and the ground was prepared for a new style of warfare.  

Revolutionary and Napoleonic France led the way in the adoption of this new unrestrained and often brutal style of war, while the other European powers lagged behind.  And in the case of the counterrevolution in the Vendée and its violent suppression, described vividly in chapter 5, the French turned the brutality on each other.      

As for how and why the Revolutionary wars were launched in the first place, Bell emphasizes the belligerence of the faction known as the Girondins, and especially Jacques-Pierre Brissot.  They thought war would "regenerate" the Revolution.  While some scholars have seen France more as a victim of Austria and Prussia in 1792 than as an aggressor, Bell writes (pp.110-111): "The apparent weakness and chaos within [France] certainly tempted Austria and Prussia to behave more aggressively...but.... [w]hat proved decisive was that an influential group of French radicals [i.e. the Girondins] began to push for aggressive international action, in apparent contradiction of the declaration of peace [by the National Assembly in 1790]."   

After almost 200 pages, Bell turns to Napoleon, discussing Napoleon's character and the cult of personality that he fostered, as well as Napoleon's campaigns.  Even as French forces' often brutal suppression of insurrections in various parts of Europe (notably Spain) blurred or eliminated the civilian/combatant distinction, within France there was "a growing cleavage between military and civilian spheres" (p.217).  The legitimacy of civilian authority was eroded by crises, factionalism, and incompetence, while the citizen army's main loyalty increasingly went to its generals and to Napoleon in particular.  And although Napoleon as emperor was not exactly a military dictator, maintaining a civilian administrative apparatus and keeping or institutionalizing certain features of the Revolution, the influence of militarism on society and culture increased (p.243).  The casualty figures on all sides in the Napoleonic wars (not only from battle but, significantly, from disease) still have the capacity to shock, lending some credence to Metternich's claim in his memoirs that Napoleon told him: "I grew up on the battlefield.  A man like me does not give a shit about the lives of a million men" (p.251; see end-note on p.351).  Yet, as Bell remarks in the epilogue, Napoleon's legend has survived the gore for which Napoleon was responsible: "Julien Sorel [the protagonist of Stendhal's novel The Red and the Black] stands for millions of real men and women who have breathed in [the legend's] intoxicating fumes" (p.307). 


Not all historians are inclined to emphasize the discontinuities between the pre-1789 and post-1789 worlds as strongly as Bell does, nor will everyone be fully persuaded by his attempt to connect the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars to the early twenty-first century.  Some will be irked by his dismissal of "trend analysis" as applied to armed conflict (p.315).  Bell's stress on the causal role of ideas, rhetoric, and ideology will be congenial or not, depending at least partly on the reader's prior commitments.  But whether one cottons to the main arguments or not, this book is well worth reading for its engaging narrative backed by solid research.  Students of international relations will find much of interest in The First Total War, and they may find it worth comparing to the approaches of political scientists who have dealt with the same period, such as Stephen Walt (in Revolution and War) or Mlada Bukovansky (in Legitimacy and Power Politics).    

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Pictures of the Scottish highlands

Update (9/19): Now that the vote is over, the first part of this post on the implications is informative.

Since I have nothing notably insightful, informed or original to say about the Scotland referendum, here, in lieu of that, is a link to a report that aired on the NewsHour yesterday in which Dan Rivers of Independent Television News interviews some people in the highlands. Never mind the interviews; just look at the scenery. The word sublime means, among other things, awe-inspiring, and this is sublime, as the correspondent says. (Except my dictionary defines awe as a mixture of reverence, fear, and wonder, and I think there's not much to fear here, unless, I suppose, one were to go on a hike without the right equipment, or something like that.) 

P.s. The highlands segment starts about halfway through.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

'Offensive realism' and state motivations

One of the weak points of structural realist theories (or at least of Mearsheimer's, which has been the topic here recently) is their lack of a strong theory of state motivations. M. says states want more rather than less power, because that's the best way to be secure, or safe, in a world in which, according to M., "uncertainty about [other states'] intentions is unavoidable." (TGPP, p.31)  

In the body of the text of Tragedy of Great Power Politics, M. says that "the only assumption dealing with a specific motive that is common to all states says that their principal objective is to survive...." (p.32) But because "there are many possible causes of aggression" [what are they? he doesn't say] "and no state can be sure that another state is not motivated by one of them" (p.31), assuming that all states all the time want nothing more than survival is not warranted. Indeed, in an important end-note -- why this material is buried in an end-note rather than being in the text is rather perplexing -- M. makes clear that:
Security concerns alone cannot cause great powers to act aggressively. The possibility that at least one state might be motivated by non-security calculations is a necessary condition for offensive realism, as well as for any other structural theory of international politics that predicts security competition. (p.414 n.8)
Again, he doesn't say what these "non-security calculations" or motives are [except for a brief discussion on pp.46ff.], but this is nonetheless an important clarification. It's one that tends to get lost later in the text, however, for example at the beginning of ch.6 when he writes that "security considerations appear to have been the main driving force behind the aggressive policies of Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union" in the twentieth century (p.170). This, of course, is in some tension with the statement in the end-note that "security concerns alone cannot cause great powers to act aggressively." It may not be a fatal logical contradiction; it's probably more the result of careless use of shorthand phrases (and, to be fair to M., I have quoted only part of the end-note here, not the whole thing). Still, someone who only reads the text of TGPP and doesn't read the notes is likely to be even more puzzled about this issue than someone who has read the notes.

Harknett and Yalcin, in their 2012 article "The Struggle for Autonomy," which I discussed in this post (where, I see, I also quoted the Mearsheimer end-note I've quoted here) recognized some of these problems about state motivation in realist theory and attempted to deal with the issue more satisfactorily than had been done previously. Although I was critical of their effort (not that I have gone back and carefully read that post), they should be given credit for having recognized and tried to address the problem.

Added later: For one useful discussion of this set of issues (and, of course, more thorough than the discussion in this post), see Jack Donnelly, Realism and International Relations (2000), ch.2, "Human Nature and State Motivation."

Friday, September 12, 2014

Pearl Harbor, once more

Since I occasionally make cryptic, sniping remarks about Mearsheimer's The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, I should make clear that there are at least a few things in the book that I find  illuminating. One of them is his discussion of the situation that Japan faced in 1941. (Btw, the prompt for this post is a discussion about Pearl Harbor on an LGM thread that started off being about the Russo-Japanese war.)

He notes that in mid-1941 the U.S. applied a "full-scale embargo" against Japan, "emphasizing...that it could avoid economic strangulation only by abandoning China, Indochina, and maybe Manchuria." (p.223) The U.S. was determined that Japan should not dominate Asia or be in a position to strike the USSR, then on the ropes against Hitler's invasion. This left Japan with two bad, from its perspective, choices: "cave in to American pressure and accept a significant diminution of its power, or go to war against the United States, even though an American victory was widely agreed to be the likely outcome." (ibid.) The Japanese chose the latter course, he goes on to say, as the less bad of two very bad alternatives. That does not mean the decision was irrational, though it was an extremely "risky gamble" (ibid., 224).

Where I would part company (or so I assume) with Mearsheimer is in seeing the entire Japanese militarist-imperialist enterprise as irrational -- and also immoral and criminal -- from the outset. However, given that Japan's leaders at the time were committed to that enterprise and given the particular circumstances that they faced, their decision to go to war with the U.S. was not 'irrational'. Whether the specific decision to attack Pearl Harbor was a mistake is really a secondary question; the more basic question has to do with the decision to launch war against the U.S.

ETA: And it's the more basic questions that tend to get shunted aside or overlooked when discussions focus narrowly on specific strategic decisions.

2nd update: Googling "sagan origins of the pacific war" brings up results, including Scott Sagan's 1988 article that M. cites (although my browser didn't like the pdf) and a 2010 paper at by a UCLA grad student ("Revisiting the Origins of the Pacific War") that appears, on a quick glance, to take M.'s view, more or less. (But I've already conceded in the comments that TBA could be right.)

3rd update: For a somewhat different take on this, see John Mueller, Retreat from Doomsday (1989), pp.229-30.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The 'authority' debate, once more

At the time of the Libyan intervention, there was a debate about the President's authority to participate, with air assets etc., in that French-initiated operation (without congressional approval). Now there may be a rerun of the debate with respect to his authority to expand air strikes against ISIS. Except that Congress is going to fall over itself in its haste to pass something that says "yes yes," so in the end the debate about presidential authority in this case won't, practically speaking, matter much. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Question of the day

Why has Kissinger, at 91, published a 400-page volume called World Order that seems, judging from this review, to be mostly a repetition of things he's said before?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

False confessions

It is well known that a problem with the U.S. 'justice' system is the way in which false confessions are sometimes obtained under often coercive circumstances from young or otherwise vulnerable suspects: see here (h/t P. Campos at LGM). See also here.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The alignments in the M. East

On Friday the NewsHour had a segment with Hisham Melhem and Steven Simon talking about the somewhat tangled alliance patterns in the Middle East: starts at about 14:00 here.

ETA: The segment referred briefly to this June post at ThinkProgress, which featured a chart of the "tangled web" of alignments in Syria.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Blaming 'manifest destiny'

In a case of timing so bad that it would seem close to unbelievable (not that any time would be good for this), the Netanyahu government has announced its intent to convert 1,000 acres of land on the West Bank into 'state land' (here).

The linked Wash. Post story has generated a torrent of comments, which at a glance appear to be mostly negative, not surprisingly. One somewhat history-challenged commenter insists the 19th-cent. U.S. doctrine of 'manifest destiny' is to blame for the current situation in the Mideast. Why? Well, according to this commenter the Zionist movement at the turn of the twentieth century must have taken its cue from the U.S.'s westward expansion and the concomitant displacement, resettling, brutalization, killing etc. of Native Americans. I asked this person if there is any evidence that Herzl or the other early Zionists were even aware of the phrase 'manifest destiny' or anything in detail about the U.S.'s westward expansion. (I'd be surprised if there were such evidence, though I'm not sure.) Anyway, drawing a straight line from the Trail of Tears to the displacement of Palestinians in the 1948 war and subsequently strikes me as -- how shall I put it? -- tenuous. (As if Israeli soldiers in 1948, when asked for their heroes, would have answered: "why, Andrew Jackson, of course.")    

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Stent vs. Mearsheimer

Caught them on the radio last night. Although the conversation made it sound as if they disagreed about almost everything, I'm not sure they actually did. To the extent they did disagree, I think Stent had a somewhat more nuanced perspective on what's going on in Ukraine. (Which may be what happens when you put a regional expert up against an IR theorist, especially one who, like Mearsheimer, doesn't often "do" nuance; he could if he wanted, but my impression is he usually doesn't.)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

"Intent" does not matter here

Based on the circumstances as reported here, the criticism of the IDF missile firing that killed ten people near a UN school is justified. Targeting three people on a motorcycle riding by a compound where civilians are lining up to buy food and other items amounts to an attack on civilians; the missile, according to the linked article, "hit the motorcycle" and then "crashed into the road," sending shrapnel flying "in every direction." The fact that the three people riding the motorcycle were the intended targets (and were apparently killed along with the others) does not matter, under standard notions of proportionality. So the UN Sec-Gen's statement ("a moral outrage and a criminal act") is justified.

(Note: Post edited slightly after initial posting.)

Update: Hank in comments has pointed out that the WaPo article, standing alone, does not provide enough info to determine whether this was a legal violation, because for that judgment one has to know what the personnel in the plane knew about the situation on the ground when they fired the missile. That point is right, although as I say in the comments it seems likely to me, as someone admittedly ignorant of jet-fighter technology, that the personnel in the plane either knew or could have informed themselves about what the situation on the ground was, i.e., that the motorcycle when they fired on it was passing a school with civilians standing outside.

Friday, August 1, 2014

A word on the 1976 Democratic presidential campaign

As various commenters have pointed out at LGM, anyone who thinks liberal Democrats supported Carter in any significant numbers in the 1976 primary campaign is wrong. Maybe Perlstein has some poll figures to show otherwise, but I don't believe it. The 1976 Democratic primary campaign is a live memory for me. I think Perlstein was probably not born yet. (Off the internet for the weekend.)

On how to save twenty dollars

I came close to buying the updated (2014) edition of Mearsheimer's Tragedy of Great Power Politics today in a B&N where I happened to see it. It's the same as the orig. ed. except it has a concluding chapter arguing M's view, with which I disagree, that China is unlikely to "rise peacefully." My pb copy of the orig. ed. has fallen apart so I figured why not buy the updated one. But then I decided to buy two CDs for $4.99 each, plus the current (summer) issue of NYRB, and in light of that I decided I really couldn't afford and didn't need the Mearsheimer. What I can afford is a somewhat elastic concept, but it boils down to "why the @#! am I spending this &%!@# money?"

ETA: On similar grounds I ask myself why I flush $130 down the toilet every year to maintain my 'inactive' D.C. Bar membership. There's sort of an answer, albeit not a very good one, but it would be boring and take too long to go into.

ETA (again): TBA will be pleased to know there was a prominent small table in the B&N given over to WW1 bks, including handsome (and not inexpensive, of course) new matched pb eds. of Tuchman's Guns of August and The Proud Tower. They said on them "Barbara Tuchman's great war series," even though Proud Tower is about pre-war Europe. Random House is not dumb.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Steven Cook on Israel, the PA, and Hamas

From S. Cook's blog post for The Times of Israel:
Instead of using the period after the 2012 cease-fire to help Abbas by giving him a political win and boosting his narrative about the promise of negotiations, Jerusalem did nothing. When Secretary of State John Kerry launched a push for peace in 2013, the Israeli government went along, but never gave Abbas anything he could use to close the gap between what he was telling Palestinians about talks and their objective reality, which unfortunately for the Palestinian Authority president included Jerusalem’s announcement of new settlement building and failure to honor its commitment to release Palestinian prisoners.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Of bad captions

Someone recently referred me on a particular issue to the site Sharia Unveiled, with which I was unfamiliar (though the name rang a bell). Without passing definitive judgment on the site on the basis of a brief visit (I read only a particular post, not the site's mission statement), I must say I was not struck favorably by the sidebar, which features among other things the picture of a young girl with the caption "Fight Islam for me" beneath it. Not "Fight extremism for me," not "Fight Salafism for me," but "Fight Islam for me." This kind of thing is politically irresponsible and unacceptable and, frankly, stupid.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Most Wanted Man

I saw the movie A Most Wanted Man last night, having just read the LeCarré novel on which it's based. Among my several criticisms of the movie, the main one is that it considerably tones down the political edge of the book, which was published in 2008 and is a strong critique of certain facets of the 'war on terror'. The political message is not absent from the movie, but it is muted. Philip Seymour Hoffman is good in his last major role and there are a couple of other good performances, but on the whole I found the film disappointing.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

"The fever-dream stage of superpowerdom"

The quote is from Timothy Burke's post on that guy who claimed a "country" for his daughter on a small piece of land in southern Egypt. As Burke points out, the only reason it's unclaimed terra nullius is that Egypt and Sudan, "still fencing with each other about their postcolonial border," each has a reason not to claim it. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Quote of the day

Following a link provided by a commenter on the USIH roundtable led me to Paul Kramer's historiographical essay in American Historical Review (Dec. 2011), for which a pdf is available. I've only glanced through it, but I like Kramer's opening paragraph enough to quote it here:
When U.S. historians begin to talk about empire, it usually registers the declining fortunes of others. The term’s use among historians in reference to the United States has crested during controversial wars, invasions, and occupations, and ebbed when projections of American power have receded from public view. This periodicity—this tethering of empire as a category of analysis to the vagaries of U.S. power and its exercise—is one of the striking aspects of empire’s strange historiographic career. When it comes to U.S. imperial history, one might say, the owl of Minerva flies primarily when it is blasted from its perch.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Y. Levy on Israel's casualty aversion

The latest headline from Gaza -- 60 Palestinians, 13 Israeli soldiers killed in the latest clash -- reminded me that I'd seen reviews of this book by Yagil Levy. A glance at the introduction confirms that the book was the author's dissertation. One of his arguments is that increased sensitivity to military casualties among the Israeli middle class helps explain the use of "excessive force" (the phrase is Levy's) in the 2009 Gaza offensive (Operation Cast Lead).

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

USIH Roundtable on U.S. Foreign Policy and the Left

The foreign-policy roundtable at the U.S. Intellectual History blog, taking off from Perry Anderson's NLR essays, has begun; Andrew Hartman's opening remarks are here. Other contributions will follow, including mine (to which I'll be adding a link, in the self-promoting tradition of the blogosphere). Update: My piece is here; essays by the other participants to follow. 

Further update (7/17): Three pieces (counting the introductory post) in the roundtable are now up, and there is some discussion in the comments.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Nadine Gordimer

The Guardian obituary.

I think Burger's Daughter and The House Gun, and possibly a couple of short stories (the collection Not for Publication was on my parents' shelves when I was a kid), is all I've read of her work. Burger's Daughter was very good, though at this remove I have a clear memory of one scene, and that's about it.    

Monday, June 30, 2014

A further note on laissez-faire

Another thing: If Repubs are going to oppose Ex-Im Bank on grounds that it is interference with the 'free market', one might think they would have to take on a big chunk of the U.S. economy, where oligopoly reigns (h/t). Unless their position is that oligopoly and monopoly are fine, provided that they arise from 'free-market' competition. If competition leads to one or two or three firms dominating an industry, so be it. But heaven forfend that government should "pick winners and losers." No, we can't have that.

Friday, June 27, 2014

More evidence of "the business-populist split" in the Repub. party

Signing off the computer for the evening, I just ran across this WaPo piece about Tea Party and other right-wing opposition to reauthorization of the U.S. Export-Import Bank. This is a Chamber of Commerce vs. Club for Growth fight, to name two groups on opposite sides. Moreover, the new House majority leader, McCarthy, has announced he is opposed. Another Republican congressman, according to the piece, recently gave a speech at the Heritage Foundation in which he said the party had to come down firmly on the side of "free enterprise" (as opposed to "mercantilism" or "industrial policy"). Does that mean he opposes all government subsidies to business? All provisions of the tax code tilted in a pro-business direction?  There are probably various angles from which one could gloss all this, but I'll let readers provide their own. Btw, the phrase in this post's title that's in quotes is taken from the article.

Added later: If you want to oppose 'corporate welfare', fine. But wrapping oneself in the rhetoric of a pure laissez-faire, free-market system is just political flummery, because there is no such thing. Modern economic systems require some degree of state involvement, and businesses and the state have been intertwined forever, going back at least to the 'long 16th century'. I view these points as being obvious, but sometimes saying the obvious can't hurt.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Note to readers

Posting here is likely to be very light or absent for the rest of this month.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The difference that not running for re-election makes

In a Senate hearing today, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) criticized the proposal to have NSA ask the telecom companies for specific pieces of data it wants, rather than have NSA store all the 'metadata' itself, as it now does. Rockefeller said that the plan makes no sense, for several reasons, among them that the telecom companies don't want to do this (and, he implied, will mess it up). Whereas, he said, the NSA has not abused its power in this regard yet, though people fear it might, he added. (Hmm, so much for Snowden, Greenwald, et al.)

If Sen. Rockefeller were running for re-election this year rather than retiring from the Senate, would he say this? (You have two options: yes or no. Congratulations -- you've just won, well, something or other.) 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


Derek Gregory, a geographer who writes a lot about war, has a recent post discussing an essay of his about "cartography and corpography," which is mostly about the Western Front in WW1 and ends with "some reflections on [war in] the 21st century."

(This reminded me that some months ago I picked up a used copy of Richard Cobb's book on France under German occupation in the two world wars. Haven't done more than dip into it.)

Btw, some other recent posts of Gregory's are worth a look, including this, on the Syrian war. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Preview of USIH roundtable on U.S. foreign policy and the Left

In July I'm participating in a roundtable on U.S. foreign policy and the Left at the U.S. Intellectual History (USIH) blog. Andrew Hartman has a preview of it here, with abstracts from the nine participants. It looks like there'll be a nice mix of contributions.

[P.s. My abstract is short and perhaps a bit harsh in tone, so pls wait for the actual essay before rushing to judgment.]

Monday, June 2, 2014

U.S. food aid and civil conflict

An article (via) in the current American Economic Review finds U.S. food aid "increases the incidence and duration of civil conflicts." A commenter in the thread at the linked blog questions the data analysis. In any case, I think it's true, as the linked post says, that U.S. food aid is generally more concerned with disposing of domestic grain surpluses than anything else. In an overhaul of U.S. development assistance, the food aid program should be one of the first things to be reformed. (Are there political obstacles? Of course. There are obstacles to everything. That's no reason not to raise the issue.)


"People don’t take hurricanes as seriously if they have a feminine name[,] and the consequences are deadly, finds a new groundbreaking study."

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

From economic growth to a 'steady state' economy

I don't write a lot here about environmental and resource issues, mostly because I feel I lack the required expertise to say something valuable. But I recently looked at this piece by an Australian philosopher named Rowan (E. Loomis linked to this which in turn linked to it), and it raises some questions that need to be discussed more widely. As Rowan points out, even the most resource-efficient, 'clean' versions of economic growth are not sustainable propositions in the long term: eventually the world will run out of physical space (for the "stuff" that people are using plus the non-bio-degradable "stuff" they have thrown out), and well before that happens raw materials will have been depleted. The way to avoid this is to transition over time to a non-growth, steady-state global economy, while ensuring, or so one would hope, that it is also marked by considerably less poverty and more material equality than the present system. Sounds like a tall order, but the alternatives if it doesn't occur will be very unpleasant. Such a transition might (probably will, I suspect) require the wealthy and the upper-middle-classes in the 'developed' world to give up some of the "stuff" that they currently view as either necessary or desirable props of their existence. 

The alternative to thinking about these issues and doing something about them will be an eventual (note "eventual" not "imminent") collapse of civilization. If it does happen, it will occur, I would guess, several hundred years after I am no longer around. But that isn't too much consolation. Humans, probably uniquely among animals, have the capacity to think about the long-term future, and that really is something more of us should do more often.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Robert Kagan's realist irrealism

From Kagan's piece (h/t S. Lemieux) in New Republic (which I've bookmarked for actual reading, as opposed to skimming, later):
In fact, the world “as it is” is a dangerous and often brutal place. There has been no transformation in human behavior or in international relations. In the twenty-first century, no less than in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, force remains the ultima ratio. The question, today as in the past, is not whether nations are willing to resort to force but whether they believe they can get away with it when they do. If there has been less aggression, less ethnic cleansing, less territorial conquest over the past 70 years, it is because the United States and its allies have both punished and deterred aggression, have intervened, sometimes, to prevent ethnic cleansing, and have gone to war to reverse territorial conquest. The restraint showed by other nations has not been a sign of human progress, the strengthening of international institutions, or the triumph of the rule of law. It has been a response to a global configuration of power that, until recently, has made restraint seem the safer course.
The first sentence is obviously correct: the world is indeed an often brutal place. The second sentence, particularly the second part of it, is  more questionable. And the portion in which the "U.S. and its allies" are credited with the decline of territorial conquest is very, very incomplete (to put it charitably), and w/r/t the GW Bush admin, downright weird. Territorial conquest (of the 19th/20th-cent-and-before sort) has declined because most states (I said "most" not "all") are no longer interested in conquering territory. It's not something their leaders think about and plan for. They know (they have learned) that invading other countries does not, as a rule, tend to solve their problems. That's a main reason why territorial conquest has declined since WW2, imho, though there are also other reasons, which I've written about here before.     

Obama's foreign policy week

A speech at West Point is to be followed by one in Poland: see here. Meanwhile, WaPo ran a one-year retrospective on the National Defense Univ. speech; I haven't read the piece yet but will be posting something on it in the beginning of June. [ETA: Well, maybe. June is shaping up to be rather busy.]

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Two little words

Via this apparently conservative-of-some-sort site:
Columbia University has received nearly $6 million in taxpayer funds that are being used, in part, to create climate change games that include fake voicemails that portray a dire future, including warnings that "neo-luddites" will be murdering global warming advocates by 2035 (emphasis added).
Without reading further, I suspect the two words I've italicized are doing a lot of work here. Why "neo-luddites" would have it in for "global warming advocates" is a question I don't even want to waste time thinking about.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Mem. Day weekend French lesson

I didn't have the patience this evening to read this post on Nigeria, but skipping to its end I saw a note that fighting in Mali has resumed, with a link to an interview (in French) with an historian and W. Africa specialist. Continuing in skim mode, I glanced at the opening bits of the interview, then followed a link to another interview on the military coup in Thailand. The intro to that reads as follows (boldface added):
Entretien avec David Camroux, spécialiste de l’Asie du Sud-Est et maître de conférences à Sciences Po Paris.
Deux jours après l’imposition de la loi martiale par l’armée thaïlandaise, et après plus de six mois d’instabilité politique, le chef de l’armée, le général Prayut Chan-O-Cha, a annoncé jeudi 22 mai à la télévision un coup d’État. David Camroux, spécialiste de l’Asie du Sud-Est, revient sur les tenants et aboutissants de cet événement qui n’est pas si exceptionnel en Thaïlande.
Les tenants et aboutissants -- I had not much idea what that meant. My paperback French dictionary wasn't helpful, but my somewhat bigger hardcover dictionary was. Les tenants et aboutissants de l'affaire = the ins and outs of the case. (Harrap's Concise, rev. ed. 1989, q.v. tenant)

ETA: I see now that I could have just clicked for the English version, but sometimes it's more fun to look things up. (The site is French, and the English trans. appears, from the opening, to be a bit shaky, but "ins and outs" is there.)

Monday, May 19, 2014

Abstract of the day: biased IMF lending policies, 1980-2000

Sometimes an article's value lies in providing evidence for something one might have assumed but couldn't be sure about in the absence of evidence. As in this:
International organizations (IOs) suffuse world politics, but the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stands out as an unusually important IO. My research suggests that IMF lending is systematically biased. Preferential treatment is largely driven by the degree of similarity between beliefs held by IMF officials and key economic policy-makers in the borrowing country. This article describes the IMF's ideational culture as “neoliberal,” and assumes it to be stable during the observation window (1980–2000). The beliefs of top economic policy-makers in borrowing countries, however, vary in terms of their distance from IMF officials' beliefs. When fellow neoliberals control the top economic policy posts the distance between the means of the policy team's beliefs and the IMF narrows; consequently, IMF loans become less onerous, more generous, and less rigorously enforced. I gathered data on the number of conditions and the relative size of loans for 486 programs in the years between 1980 and 2000. I collected data on waivers, which allow countries that have missed binding conditions to continue to access funds, as an indicator for enforcement. I rely on indirect indicators, gleaned from a new data set that contains biographical details of more than 2,000 policy-makers in ninety developing countries, to construct a measure of the proportion of the top policy officials that are fellow neoliberals. The evidence from a battery of statistical tests reveals that as the proportion of neoliberals in the borrowing government increases, IMF deals get comparatively sweeter.
--abstract from Stephen C. Nelson, "Playing Favorites: How Shared Beliefs Shape the IMF's Lending Decisions," Intl. Org. 68:2 (May 2014)

Was it a BJP landslide?

Yes and no. Yes in terms of total seats won (282 of 545; more than that if you count the BJP's alliance partners); no in terms of total vote percentage, which was 31% (at least that's the figure I heard on the NewsHour). The disjunction is explained by the single-member-district system and the fact that relatively few of the BJP's votes were wasted -- i.e., in districts where it lost, it often lost by large margins whereas in districts where it won, it often won by smallish margins. Or so one gathers from an analysis at the Monkey Cage, quoted at the end of this post by P.A. Foster, who includes links to the coverage in various places.

ETA: The map reproduced at the linked post shows the Congress Party, trounced on the whole, did very well in a few places, including the extreme east, which showing may have been a result of fairly harsh recent govt crackdowns -- if I'm not mistaken -- on the long-running armed insurgencies there. Btw, Harvard history professor Sugata Bose ran for a seat as a Congress candidate in W. Bengal; I don't know whether he won and am not taking the time to look it up right now. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Photos from Central African Republic

By a young French photojournalist recently killed there. See here.
P.s. They may not all have been taken in CAR, but I think most of them were.

Is Partition to blame for all the subcontinent's woes?

Isaac Chotiner's review of John Keay's Midnight's Descendants puts, it seems to me, too much blame on Partition for everything that is today less-than-optimal in the subcontinent.  P. O'Neill corrects a specific sentence in Chotiner's review, here.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Imperial visions

In "The Sociology of Imperialisms" (1919), Joseph Schumpeter defined imperialism as a drive for expansion for its own sake:
...whenever the word imperialism is used, there is always the implication...of an aggressiveness, the true reasons for which do not lie in the aims which are temporarily being pursued; of an aggressiveness that is only kindled anew by each success; of an aggressiveness for its own sake, as reflected in such terms as "hegemony," "world dominion," and so forth. And history, in truth, shows us nations and classes -- most nations furnish an example at some time or other -- that seek expansion for the sake of expanding, war for the sake of fighting, victory for the sake of winning, dominion for the sake of ruling. (Schumpeter, Imperialism/Social Classes [pb. ed. 1974], p.5)   
He continued:
Expansion for its own sake always requires, among other things, concrete objects if it is to reach the action stage and maintain itself, but this does not constitute its meaning. Such expansion is in a sense its own "object," and the truth is that it has no adequate object beyond itself. Let us therefore, in the absence of a better term, call it "objectless".... This, then, is our definition: imperialism is the objectless disposition on the part of a state to unlimited forcible expansion. (Ibid., p.6)  
Schumpeter went on to note, among other things, that an "inner necessity to engage in a policy of conquest" could be translated into action only when a "war machine stood ready at hand" (p.61). Schumpeter, as Michael Doyle notes in Ways of War and Peace (1997), exonerates capitalism of any responsibility for imperialism more or less by definitional fiat, and then proceeds to argue that "democratic capitalism leads to peace" (Doyle, p.245).   


The idea of a
Schumpeterian 'objectless' expansion may seem odd, but in The Reactionary Mind (ch.8, "Remembrance of Empires Past") Corey Robin portrays American neoconservatives as, in effect, proponents of such a thing (though he doesn't put it quite that way).  

Robin describes the distaste, even disgust, with which the neocons viewed the Clinton years. These writers (the Kagans, Kristols, and Robert Kaplan, for instance) saw Clinton's foreign policy, with its emphasis on free trade agreements and globalized markets, as "proof of the oozing decadence taking over the United States" (p.172) after the Soviet Union's dissolution.

Robin summarizes the neocons' perspective as follows (p.174; emphasis in original):

What these conservatives longed for was an America that was genuinely imperial -- not just because they believed it would make the United States safer or richer, and not just because they thought it would make the world better, but because they literally wanted to see the United States make the world.
The neoconservatives were indeed repelled by what they viewed as Clinton's lack of virtú (cf. p.173) and 'vision' (not that George H.W. Bush or Reagan had an especially coherent vision either, but that's another story).  However, the casual reader (and probably even the non-casual one) could come away from this essay (and one or two others in The Reactionary Mind) with the impression that only conservatives have been strongly attracted to an imperial and/or militarily assertive role for the U.S.  Robin is aware, of course, that this is not accurate, but his argument that conservatives' attraction to war and imperialism is qualitatively different from that of non-conservatives can result in glossing over the fact that support for an imperial or expansionist or, at minimum, 'pro-active' U.S. foreign policy has not been the sole preserve of the Right. 

Most obviously, Cold War liberals supported and/or designed many of the interventions of the 1950s and 1960s, including but not limited to the Vietnam War; and the aura of macho toughness cultivated by some members of JFK's inner circle is well known. 

To go back further, one finds, for instance, at the turn of the twentieth century that support for an expansionary U.S. foreign policy crossed the ideological and partisan lines of domestic politics. (There was also, of course, an anti-imperialist movement at the time, though it wielded, on the whole, less influence.)

As Walter McDougall observes:

Historians stress the dynamic crosscurrents in turn-of-the-[twentieth]-century American society. Foster Rhea Dulles thought the era "marked by many contradictions." Richard Hofstadter identified "two different moods," one tending toward protest and reform, the other toward national expansion.... But the contradictions are only a product of our wish to cleanse the Progressive movement of its taint of imperialism abroad. For at bottom, the belief that American power, guided by a secular and religious spirit of service, could remake foreign societies came as easily to Progressives as trust-busting, prohibition of child labor, and regulation of interstate commerce, meatpacking, and drugs. Leading imperialists like [Theodore] Roosevelt, [Albert] Beveridge, and Willard Straight were all Progressives; leading Progressives like Jacob Riis, Gifford Pinchot, and Robert LaFollette all supported the Spanish war and the insular acquisitions. Even academic historians of the time applauded the war and colonies (except, in some cases, the Philippines), and elected A.T. Mahan [author of The Influence of Sea Power upon History] president of the American Historical Association. (McDougall, Promised Land, Crusader State (1997), p.120)
Mahan was far from the only intellectual supporter of expansionism, but his book on the influence of sea power, published in 1890 (it was followed by a sequel), had a wide impact. Fareed Zakaria notes:
In the first chapter, which was the most widely read part of the book, Mahan clearly stated his central thesis: as a great productive nation, the United States needed to turn its attention to the acquisition of a large merchant marine, a great navy, and, finally, colonies and spheres of international influence and control. Not only was this necessary, Mahan asserted, it was inevitable, an inexorable step in the march of history. Mahan had expounded on these themes in his lectures at the Naval War College in the late 1880s, and he continued to propagate them through articles, books, and speeches throughout the 1890s. (Zakaria, From Wealth to Power (1998), p.134)
It was not only in the U.S. that Mahan was influential. His book became, in Michael Howard's words, "the Bible of European navies at the turn of the century," from which they took his teaching that the "task of naval power [in war] was to gain 'Command of the Sea,' which made it possible to use the oceans as a highway for one's own trade and a barrier to that of the enemy; and that command was the perquisite of the strongest capital fleet." (Howard, War in European History (1976), p.125)  [For more on Mahan, see, e.g., Philip A. Crowl, "Alfred Thayer Mahan: The Naval Historian," in Makers of Modern Strategy, ed. P. Paret (1986); J.T. Sumida, Inventing Grand Strategy and Teaching Command (1997).]


Is there, as some of the preceding might suggest, a close connection between attachment to a big navy and support for a far-flung, 'forward-deployed', quasi-imperial global role? This is perhaps a less obvious question than one might think. A big navy, for an 'insular' power like the U.S., is probably a prerequisite (necessary but not sufficient) for the maintenance of a global network of military bases such as the U.S. now has. But one might favor a big navy and advocate limiting its use to helping keep sea lanes open and assuring 'command of the commons,' while opposing the network of hundreds of bases (as well as the present and/or future military operations they might facilitate). Another position, of course, would simply be not to support a big navy, or at least not one of the current size. But this opens up a bigger subject, a question for another occasion.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Book note

The opening paragraph of this NYT ArtsBeat blog post mentions Adam Tooze's The Deluge, to be published in November. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Quote of the day

From Richard Shannon, The Crisis of Imperialism 1865-1915 (1974; Paladin Bks. ed., 1976), ch.4, "Liberal Initiatives: Gladstone's Ministry 1868-74":
In many ways the various reforms of the British military system during Gladstone's first ministry exemplify as well as anything the interconnectedness for Liberals of principles of morality, efficiency and economy.... The basic aim of the Liberal military policy was to shift Britain from what may be termed a 'Wellingtonian' posture to a posture characterizable as being on unmistakably Liberal principles.... Of the influences at work the most important were the 'objective' considerations: on the immediate level, a chronic shortfall of recruitment, aggravated by the depopulating effects of the famine in Ireland, traditionally a rich source of enlistment in the British service; and, on a larger view, recognition that the fundamental lesson of the Crimean War was not so much its misconduct as that it registered the end of Wellingtonian or Peninsular assumptions that Britain could be a military power on a par with the continental Great Powers.... The Liberal aim, in essence, was to leave the Indian situation more or less where it was as far as strength was concerned (there was no real alternative) but to bring home the bulk of the rest of the army, reduce it in numbers and expense and make it an efficient expeditionary army which could be dispatched where it was needed instead of being a dispersed aggregation of strategic garrisons.... Thus from being a colonial garrison army with a European interventionist frame of intention, it would become a home army with a colonial or expeditionary frame of intention. (pp.82-84)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Bad day in Afghanistan

The killing by an Afghan policeman of three Americans at a hospital in Afghanistan, including a pediatrician, Jerry Umanos, who had been there nine years, seems perhaps especially outrageous, though every death there in these sorts of circumstances is outrageous. But the deaths of Westerners who are in the country in the capacity of, say, doctor, journalist, or teacher -- I think for instance of the young American scholar Alexandros Petersen, killed last January in a restaurant bombing in Kabul; he had just gone to teach at the American Univ. in Kabul -- will, as they should, garner attention. It's hard to give equal attention to all the pointless deaths, but at this juncture they all seem pointless.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Housekeeping note

I've just turned off (at least I think I have) the word/number/captcha/whatever-you-call-it feature of the commenting function, so commenting should be marginally easier now. (If spam results, I may have to consider turning it back on.)  Posting will be light here for the remainder of April, but a couple of semi-meaty posts are in the works for sometime in May.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Quote of the day

I was skimming the other day a two-year-old article by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, "How India Stumbled" (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2012), and these bits might be worth quoting in light of the current Indian election:
Most Indian political parties, the Congress included, have archaic decision-making structures that are controlled by small groups of elites.... There are no transparent processes by which decisions are made or party platforms are shaped, which means that there are no real checks on party leaders.... The silver lining for the Congress is that the BJP is struggling with succession and organizational issues of its own.... The next major face-off between the Congress party and the BJP will be the general elections of 2014.... The side that understands that India is fundamentally changing and that old modes of governance no longer work will have the best chance of winning.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Once more with the Asian pivot

A WaPo piece by David Nakamura -- quick reading because so much of it is what might be called 'mainstream-media foreign-policy boilerplate' -- concludes that the Obama admin's Asian pivot is falling short of expectations. The, by implication, obstructionist Dems are blocking the TransPacific Partnership 'free trade' pact (did it ever occur to the WaPo that maybe the TPP has problems?); the State Dept, according to a recent Senate report, is not focusing much of its resources on Asia; and as a result (gasp, what a surprise) the pivot has come to be seen in the region as militarily-focused, the piece informs us.

Also (how shocking), the Chinese believe the aim of the pivot is containment, the Obama administration's protests to the contrary notwithstanding. Of course the piece does mention, in quick passing, the placement of a rotating contingent of U.S. Marines in Australia that was announced shortly after the pivot was launched. What if China placed a rotating contingent of its soldiers in, say, Cuba or, less plausibly, Jamaica? Wouldn't the U.S. admin think China's aim was containment of the U.S.? The distinction between containment and hedging, mentioned in the article, seems not worth wasting all that much time on: China likely will view the redeployment of U.S. military assets to the region as containment, regardless of what the U.S.'s  preferred label is.

There is however at least one success story, or semi-success story, from the pivot, and that is Burma. Hillary Clinton made two trips there as Sec. of State, the second time accompanied by Pres. Obama, and Burma is on what seems to be a gradual path to political liberalization, with emphasis on "gradual." (Jeffrey Brown on the NewsHour had a report from Burma/Myanmar the other day, which I heard on the radio but haven't watched yet.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Quote of the day

A post-disability world is closer than we think. When soccer’s World Cup begins in Brazil in June, a paralyzed teenager will rise from a wheelchair on the field to make the ceremonial first kick. The teen will be wired into an exoskeleton, with electrodes in his brain that will make the machine respond to his desires, and move the immovable.

Monday, April 14, 2014

C. Rice speech controversy

See here.

Book note

They don't make paperbacks like they did in the good old days (TM). I recently chanced upon (and bought for practically nothing) a beautifully manufactured paperback copy of Roberta Wohlstetter's Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision (1962), a book I'd seen cited many times but had never looked at. It remains to be seen how much I'll read of it.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A.M. linkage

-- S. Radchenko on understanding Putin in light of history (here).

-- S. Vucetic has an 'autobiographical take' on the causes of WW1.

-- There are now one million Syrian refugees in Lebanon (via). 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Journal note

The March 2014 issue of International Theory is currently available for free (here). It includes a symposium on "Theories of Territory beyond Westphalia."

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Quote of the day

From Corey Robin's 2004 review of Greg Grandin's The Last Colonial Massacre: Latin America in the Cold War, republished in Robin's The Reactionary Mind [link], pp.156-57:
Arguably the most audacious experiment in direct democracy the continent had ever seen, the Agrarian Reform [in Guatemala] entailed a central irony. The legislation's authors -- most of them Communists -- were not building socialism. They were creating capitalism. They were scrupulous about property rights and the rule of law. Peasants had to back their claims with extensive documentation; only unused land was expropriated; and planters were granted multiple rights of appeal, all the way to the president.... Guatemala's socialists did more than create democrats and capitalists. They also made peasants into citizens.... When anti-Communists put an end to this democratic awakening in 1954, it was as much the peasant's newfound appetite for thinking and talking as the planter's expropriated land that they were worried about.... Guatemala's archbishop complained that the Arbencistas sent peasants "gifted with facility with words" to the nation's capital, where they were " speak in public."