Month: April 2006

Colbert and Kristol: Scrumtralescent

All hail fake news–the last bastion of true journalism.

Bill Kristol, a prominent member of the Project for a New American Century, stopped by the Colbert Report last night and, well, let’s just say he wasn’t coddled.

A little taste:

Colbert: Speaking of thinking alike, you were a member, or are a member of the New Project for the American Century, correct?

Kristol: I am.

Colbert: Were or am, am?

Kristol: Were and am.

Colbert: How’s that project coming?

Kristol: well. it’s..(stammering)

Colbert: How’s the New American Century, looks good to me?

Kristol: Ahh–I think…hehe yea–I’m speechless..

Colbert: Really?

Crooks and Liars has the full video.

Go. Watch. Now.


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Iran is like a full moon…

…it brings out the wackos. Via Yglesias:

Andy McCarthy correctly observes that if we start a war with Iran, Iran will fight back. Then he mentions offhandedly that “The retaliation we most have to worry about is a nuclear attack against our homeland.” A nuclear attack with what? The nuclear bombs they don’t have? Even more remarkably, McCarthy favors taking action against Iran. I certainly don’t, but I certainly wouldn’t if I thought Iran could retaliate against our airstrikes with a nuclear bomb. That’s crazy. Color me deterred. Is the idea here that the media should just be flooded with as much Iran-related misinformation as possible without regard to the details of whether or not the misinformation bolsters the case for war?

Starting to look that way.

Rob over at LGM has more. Go play the new game that is sweeping the nation: “The Wingnutty Meld”.

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Deterrence

Washington Post:

Escalating the threats between Washington and Tehran, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned Wednesday that his country would strike U.S. targets around the world in the event it is attacked over its refusals to curb its nuclear program.

“If the U.S. ventured into any aggression on Iran, Iran will retaliate by damaging U.S. interests worldwide twice as much as the U.S. may inflict on Iran,” Khamenei said in a speech to a workers’ assembly, according to the official news agency IRNA.

In a spate of statements this week, Iranian officials have also threatened to cut oil production, export nuclear technology, bar international nuclear monitors, make their nuclear program entirely secret and withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Not to mention recent threats to disrupt the vital oil-shipping lane through the Strait of Hormuz–an area through which 2/5 of all globally traded oil flows.

Yes, they are rational (enough) and they recognize (as many others have) the strategically advantageous position they are in right now. Unlike the deterrent threats made by the Iraqi regime before the war, Iran is in a position to actually inflict the kind of punishment they are threatening—especially terrorist attacks overseas against US interests.

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A new sign of the apocalypse

The Washington Post:

The Senate voted this afternoon to cut some of the money President Bush has requested for the Iraq war and use it instead to increase border patrols against illegal immigrants and buy new boats and helicopters for the Coast Guard.

Who voted for it?

Mr. Gregg angrily rejected as “pure poppycock” any suggestion that his measure would deprive front-line troops in Iraq and Afghanistan of what they need. Fifty-two Republicans and seven Democrats voted for Mr. Gregg’s measure. Three Republicans voted against it.

The Democratic proposal, which failed:

Another measure, to add the border-security money but not subtract from the Pentagon, failed by 54 to 44. It was offered by Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic minority leader.

Bush is really in trouble when his own party votes to decrease funding for ongoing military operations overseas. I guess they can say they “were for the funding before they were against it,” eh?

More interesting are the continuing efforts to force Bush to “clarify” his stance on immigration.

Mr. Reid, a regular critic of Mr. Bush, praised the president for bringing the two sides together and said, “Senator Frist and I have to work out a way to handle the procedural quagmire that the Senate is, and we’re going to try to do that.”

Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, one of about a dozen senators at the meeting, said the session was significant because Mr. Bush seemed to be talking about “not automatic citizenship but the path to citizenship,” though Mr. Boehner said that he had no stomach for such a provision and that he hoped Mr. Bush would ultimately not support the Senate bill.

Though senators from both parties said afterward that Mr. Bush seemed to support the bill in principle, they said he did not flat out endorse it.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, said in an interview that Mr. Bush would have to take a more forceful stand to clear up any ambiguity, but White House officials have said that he is trying to stay away from endorsing any one piece of legislation so he can help broker compromise with the House, which is pushing a bill focusing only on enforcement.

Bush’s own ambiguity suggests that immigration may be a wedge issue — for the Democrats. We’ll have to see, but as long as he doesn’t take a clear stand he seems to be pissing off both Hispanic voters and nativists. It wasn’t that long ago when calculated ambiguity helped Bush rather than hurt him. I suspect those days may be long over for The Decider.

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Not such a MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD, world?

Rob mentions the provocative article in the recent issue of Foreign Affairs by Keir Lieber and Daryl Press on the possible achievement of nuclear primacy by the United States. In the article (as well as a more detailed analysis forthcoming in International Security), the authors claim that

[t]oday, for the first time in almost 50 years, the United States stands on the verge of attaining nuclear primacy. It will probably soon be possible for the United States to destroy the long-range nuclear arsenals of Russia or China with a first strike. This dramatic shift in the nuclear balance of power stems from a series of improvements in the United States’ nuclear systems, the precipitous decline of Russia’s arsenal, and the glacial pace of modernization of China’s nuclear forces. Unless Washington’s policies change or Moscow and Beijing take steps to increase the size and readiness of their forces, Russia and China — and the rest of the world — will live in the shadow of U.S. nuclear primacy for many years to come.

The thesis is provocative and the analysis quite solid. A number of defense analysts who work on this very issue have vetted the research and found little to complain about.

As for the thesis being provocative, the article has caused a major stir in Russia. Monday’s Christain Science Monitor ran an article describing the uproar that the piece has created in Russian political and military circles. President Putin has been placed on the defensive by the press over the issue, not something he is accustomed to:

Putin issued a statement following the article’s publication last month, insisting that Russia will increase its weapons spending and do whatever necessary to keep its strategic edge.

Russia has stated that it will soon (and already has to some degree) inform Washington of key changes in its strategic arsenal. The changes include Russia’s planned

deploy[ment of] a new generation of nuclear missiles that could penetrate any possible US defense shield. Those weapons are now coming online, they say, with the first regiment of mobile Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missiles, which feature warheads that can evade interceptors…

For my money, the most interesting part of the analysis is what this may mean for the effectiveness of an American missile defense system. We continue to claim that our SDI system will be limited so that it can’t be aimed at states such as China and Russia. The problem raised by Press and Lieber is that if you are confident that a first strike would likely only miss a handful of missiles in Russia (and even China) then a limited missile shield is all one would need to ensure a successful first-strike capability.

The purpose of the article was not to advocate a US first-strike or to claim that it is certain such an attack would be successful, but rather to highlight the possible deterioration of MAD and the likely political and strategic consequences that are likely to result as states such as China and Russia adjust to this new reality. I recommend it to all.

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Doing the people’s work

Ruth Marcus writes about Ted Kennedy as people on the Hill know him: a Senator who pursues bipartisan compromise in the spirit of actually legislating for the common good.

Look, there’s Ted Kennedy, shoulder-to-shoulder with John McCain, Republican presidential front-runner, just after the collapse of the immigration deal the pair had brokered. And there he is, again, right behind a beaming Mitt Romney — Kennedy’s ’94 Senate opponent, Massachusetts governor and, yes, 2008 Republican presidential wannabe — as Romney signs a health care bill.

What, you may ask, is wrong with these pictures? The icon of Democratic liberalism, the Republicans’ favorite fundraising device (just mention “Teddy” and a torrent of direct-mail dollars gushes forth) — what’s he up to — consorting with the opposition and helping its presidential prospects?

The answer is that he’s up to nothing more than Kennedy business as usual. In the public consciousness, Kennedy’s persona may be that of the unflinching liberal warrior, champion of government-based solutions and red-faced berator of Republican nominees. And he is, when that’s called for (and, at times, when it’s not).

But this Kennedy caricature is misleading because it is incomplete. Into his fifth decade in the Senate, he is a dogged, pragmatic practitioner of the legislative arts. Kennedy-McCain on immigration, Kennedy-Romney on health care (the Massachusetts senator worked behind the scenes to get the necessary federal go-ahead and also as an emissary to hostile state Democrats leery of giving Romney a big win) — these aren’t aberrations but simply the most recent examples of Kennedy cross-party collaboration.

Which raises the most interesting and unexpected question about Ted Kennedy: Is he a political dinosaur? Not in the usual way that issue comes up — that his brand of unabashed liberalism is outmoded in a “big government is over” age — but in the sense of whether Kennedy-style legislating is outmoded in an age of smackdown partisan politics. In short, unlikely as this sounds: Is Ted Kennedy a starry-eyed naif?

These are, if not in those exact words, awfully close to the current Washington whispers. He doesn’t understand the way things work these days , you’ll hear. You can’t cooperate with these guys the way he’s used to doing. You work with them and they’ll just roll you in conference, or trot out the 30-second spots against you. Or both.

It didn’t take long for at least one conservative blogger to rant about, in this case, how Kennedy invented mean-spirited partisanship at the Robert Bork hearings (sadly, I’m not kidding). It should also come as no surprise that some conservative bloggers think that highly original “blood alcohol” jokes constitute a ‘refutation’ of Marcus’ description of Kennedy’s legislative activities.

At least The Bullwinkle Blog’s post–“when all else fails, lie”–makes use of some actual argumentation:

Kennedy has’t crossed any lines here, Romney has and he didn’t have far to go. He’s always been borderline conservative anyway so it’s not surprising that he’d come down in Kennedy’s camp on this one. Second, and most important, is that Kennedy’s work with two RINOS is nothing more than pandering to the center, he has been on the edge of scaring centrist Democrats for years and every so often he extends a hand to reassure them that he hasn’t become Fidel, not yet!

Kennedy, of course, has a much longer history of working with Republicans on legislation. Consider, for example, the title of his 1996 health-care achievement, Kennedy-Kassebaum, which many,many people I know have benefited from.

A similar article by Eleanor Clift generated pretty much the same kind of ill-informed vitriol.

Why, you might wonder, am I blogging about this? I’m obviously not part of the ‘Kennedy wing’ of the Democratic party, and the Duck is an international-relations/baseball/geek-stuff blog. Well, my father worked for Ted Kennedy for over twenty years. I’m sure rabid conservatives will dismiss my comments as “biased,” but I have a pretty good idea of how Kennedy’s office worked on legislation and interacted with Republicans, and I can vouch for the accuracy of the positive aspects of Marcus’ portrayal.

Indeed, I’m immensely proud of my father, who now works for AvaMed. I think the pictures below- from his retirement party–reflect the bipartisan nature of much of Kennedy’s legislative work. At the very least, I now have an excuse to post them.

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Now that’s just great…

One of the (many) flaws in the Bush administration’s rationale for invading Iraq stemmed from Hussein’s history as a vector of proliferation.

There wasn’t any.

In the worst-case scenario, in which Hussein somehow acquired nuclear weapons, we would have little reason to be concerned that he might transfer weapons or weapons technology to anyone else–nasty regimes, terrorists, or whomever.

That didn’t mean it would be hugs and puppies if Hussein developed nuclear weapons; one of the legitimate fears of the pro-invasion crowd was that possession of nukes would embolden Hussein to revive his dreams of hegemonic domination in the Middle East. Even though, in practice, US nuclear weapons would have been more than an adequate deterrent (“you lob a tactical nuke at our ground forces, we turn Iraq into glass”), the American public might have been far less willing to support US power projection into the region if Hussein started waving the bomb around.

The same definitely cannot be said about North Korea, which has a history of selling weapons and technology to the highest bidder. Some analysts believed at the time that Iran constituted a greater proliferation risk than Iraq. The Iranians aren’t doing anything to dispel those fears:

TEHRAN, April 25—Iran’s supreme leader said today in a meeting with the Sudanese president that Iran was ready to share its nuclear technology with other countries.

“Iran’s nuclear capability is one example of various scientific capabilities in the country. The Islamic Republic of Iran is prepared to transfer the experience, knowledge and technology of its scientists,” said the supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, IRNA news agency reported.

Mr. Khamenei’s comments to the leader of Sudan, one of the most unstable countries in Africa, came a few days ahead of the Friday deadline by the United Nations Security Council for Iran to suspend its sensitive uranium enrichment activities.

At a conference on its nuclear program in Tehran today, senior officials rejected the demand and vowed that Iran will continue its enrichment activities.

The Iranians are talking about nuclear energy, of course, but one has to wonder if this kind of statement isn’t intended to (1) escalate the stakes of current negotiations and/or (2) contribute to the Iranian’s attempt to cast their program in “clash of civilization” terms. Regardless, Tehran continue to bluster:

ran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said that if the Security Council imposed sanctions, Iran will suspend its cooperation with the United Nations nuclear agency, and any military strike aimed at destroying its enrichment facilities will lead Iran to hide its program.

“If you decide to use sanction against us, our relation with the agency will be suspended,” Mr. Larijani said. “Military action against Iran will not lead to the closure of the program,” he added. “If you take harsh measures, we will hide this program. Then you cannot solve the nuclear issue.”

“You may inflict a loss on us but you will lose also,” he warned.

Mr. Larijani said that Iran is willing to cooperate if its case is returned to the International Atomic Energy Agency. “But do not expect us to act otherwise if you drag the case to the Security Council,” he added.

Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a senior cleric and chairman of the powerful Expediency Council, denounced the role of the nuclear agency at the conference and said the I.A.E.A. has failed to support Iran’s program.

“I am not saying that the agency has had bad intentions,” he said. “But it has not fulfilled its duty to support countries to enjoy their right to have nuclear technology,” he added.

The head of Iran’s atomic organization, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, left Tehran for the I.A.E.A.’s headquarters in Vienna today, ISNA news agency reported.

As members of the Duck team have discussed before, US options look pretty limited. I can’t say that I’m pleased that Iran appears to have falsified the “bandwagoning” rationale for the US intervention in Iraq–that the US use of force would somehow convince other rogue states to fall into line lest they suffer the same fate–but I’m even less pleased that it has clearly weakened our hand in the face of a much more significant threat to, among other things, the nonproliferation regime.

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Give ’em the damn money

Rep. Charles H. Taylor (R-N.C.) decides to take a ‘principled stand’ and is holding up $10 million dollars necessary to buy the land where a monument to the passengers and crew members of United Flight 93 is to be built.

Why is Taylor, chairman of the House Interior Appropriations subcommittee, holding up the funds?

For Taylor, a large landowner in the mountains of western North Carolina, the issue comes down to principle: The federal government is already the largest landowner in the country, and he believes that no additional tax dollars should go to more land buying for this or any other memorial. Beyond that, the families have committed to raising half the $60 million needed to build the memorial but so far have raised $7.5 million. Taylor is concerned that the federal government will be left holding the bag.

GOP aides familiar with the issue said Taylor’s resolute stance made sense shortly after passage in 2002 of an act authorizing the memorial. The original designs were expansive, the acreage perhaps excessive, and there were real questions about how many tourists would visit the remote site in Somerset County. Taylor infuriated some Flight 93 family members by suggesting a more fitting tribute would be a scholarship fund.

Let me get this straight. Taylor thinks thegovernmentt needs to stop spending money on land and the funding of new memorials because it’s potentially expensive and people likely would not travel to such a remote site. Expensive and remote–you mean like a road to nowhere that Taylor is pushing for at the cost of $604 million? Taylor claims the road will stimulate the economic fortunes of the area. Well, here are some numbers:

The population of Swain County, NC is about 13,000. The cost of the bridge is about $45,000 per capita. The total personal income in Swain County is about $225,000. The total personal income would have to double for 2667 years (ignoring discounted future values) before the bridge project would pay off for Swain County, and this is ignoring that economic impacts may simply rob other counties or regions of income (i.e., GDP won’t rise because of this bridge).

Such a boondoggle is actually more expensive (in both absolute and per capita terms) then Sen. Ted Stevens’ “bridge to nowhere” ($223 million, $27,700 per person in the region). The proposed funding to acquire the land for the Flight 93 memorial amounts to 1/60th of Taylor’s proposed road in NC and 1/280,000th (or .0004 percent) of the $2.8 trillion proposed federal budget. Not 4%, but .0004%. But just as long as the federal government isn’t buying land then I guess Taylor’s pork–I mean, project–is okay.

I don’t mind the government scrutinizing funding requests and I don’t mind it showing some fiscal discipline every once and a (very long) while, but let’s be serious here. The memorial isn’t exorbitant, nor is it trivial; it will serve as a reminder of the incredible courage displayed by those passengers and crew members who sacrificed themselves on that terrible morning. Principles are at the heart of this debate, I just happen to think that Taylor is ‘championing’ the wrong one.

If you would like to contact Congressman Taylor feel free to call, write, or email him using the information listed below.

Congressman Charles H. Taylor
339 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-6401
Fax: (202) 226-6422
To send an electronic letter click here

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Ikenberry takes stock of America’s ‘Security Trap’

G. John Ikenberry has a post up at TPMCafe on what he terms the “security trap”. The piece argues that a number of major changes (American Unipolarity, a ‘revolution’ in the concept of state sovereignty, lack of common threat as in the Cold War, and the rise of a more democratic international community) have produced conditions such that…

…as the Bush administration tries to solve the nation’’s security problems by exercising its power or using force, it tends to produce resistance and backlash that leaves the country more isolated, bereft of authority, and, ultimately, insecure.

Those who are familiar with Ikenberry’s work will recognize this as his “Liberal Hegemony” argument about the rise of Western international order during the Cold War (based on a liberal hegemon [read, US], democratic states, and international institutions which facilitate trust and cooperation amongst states). He argues that the new structural setting of the 21st Century is such that the unilateral use of force by the US actually makes us less secure do to the backlash it creates from friends and foes alike. While I agree with him that the excercise of power is likely to create a backlash I am not sure how his proposals will extracate America from this security trap.

First, as Ikenberry notes, during the Cold War there was a common threat that helped keep the Western alliance together, even when second-degree interests and preferences collided. For better or worse, the threat of global terrorism has not had the same type of magnetic effect as global communism. We simply do not have the same kind of ‘Cold-War consensus’ internationally today as in previous eras.

Second, because this consensus does not exist the issue of ‘violations of sovereignty’ becomes more salient–not because the norm of sovereignty is now under attack, but rather because allies no longer agree upon the necessity of such violations by the United States. Sovereignty has never been absolute nor universally applied (see Stephen Krasner’s Sovereignty for the classic work on this subject). Since the we are likely to see and likely to require future interventions which violate the ‘norm’ of sovereignty in the near term I am not sure how reinstating Ikenberry’s Cold War system will work since everything turns on allies sharing the US perception of what constitutes the greatest threat to world (and Western) security.

Third, given that there is little consensus on a common threat we are unlikely to get the kind of agreed-upon order that Ikenberry advocates at the end of his post. The Cold War order was made possible by two things–American power and agreement on the severity of the threat of the Soviet Union and global communism to the West. We are still lacking one of these two conditions. This discrepancy of threat perception is arguably the biggest hurdle to reestablishing the kind of consensus Ikenberry yearns for. I will be watching for his promised follow-up posts to see how and if he addresses the problem of this lack of consensus on threat perception and what he suggests can be done about it.

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External Enrichment Part Deux?

The BBC (via FP Passport, my new favorite ‘msm’ blog) is reporting that Iran and Russia may have yet again reached a deal to shift the enrichment of Iranian uranium to Russia.

Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told Iranian radio he had struck a basic agreement…Mr Soltanieh said the joint enrichment company would operate on Russian soil

This is almost exactly the same thing Iran said in February. It is an attempt to revive an old Russian compromise plan which proposed moving all Tehran’s sensitive nuclear work to Russia.

If true this may be the diplomatic breakthrough necessary to avert an aerial strike by the US and/or Israel against Iranian nuclear facilities–at least in the short term. However, a few factors complicate this deal.

First, my guess is the United States and some European countries will be skeptical given that Iran rejected a similar proposal not too long ago. One has to ask what has changed. The BBC report suggests that since Iran can now enrich uranium itself it feels that it is negotiating from a position of strength, able to resume domestic enrichment if Russia were to cut off its supply. But this should make the Western parties even more skeptical–after all, Iran can use the enriched uranium from Russia for civilian purposes while possibly continuing with large-scale domestic enrichment on the scale necessary for weaponization–essentially playing for time, which seems to be the greatest concern of the US these days (and rightly so).

Second, I am not sure to what extent the US is willing to trust the Russians on this sensitive question. Given Russia’s economic and political interests as well as the deteriorating trust between the former Cold War rivals (passing along classified war plans to one’s adversary before hostilities tends to chill relations), to what extent are we willing to accept such an arrangment where trust in Russia is critical? I am not sure, but I wouldn’t bet that the Pentagon stops drawing up operational plans for using force against Tehran if the deal goes through.

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The Paradox of Humanitarian Action

I have been quite busy this week hosting Fiona Terry, author of Condemned to Repeat? The Paradox of Humanitarian Action, and 2006 winner of the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. She’s been a great guest and the book is truly worth your time.

Terry, by the way, has a PhD in Political Science and International Relations from Australian National University — and has been a humanitarian field worker for about 15 years. At the time she published the book, she was research director for the French section of the Nobel-winning group, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders).

Terry’s passport reflects a large part of the political history of the post-cold war era. She served in Somalia in the early 1990s, then (I’m not 100% sure of the order) Vietnam, northern Iraq, Rwanda, Liberia, and across the border from North Korea. She’s been in Myanmar (Burma) for about two and a half years and will leave there in October for some other global hotspot.

Today, before flying back to her current post for the International Red Cross, Terry was on a local public radio interview program, “State of Affairs.” If you are interested in her ideas, but don’t have access to the book, listen to the entire program from the website.

The archive is here. The April 21 show is not yet there, but I’ll try to post a link when it appears.

The Cornell University Press website explains the book’s main argument:

Humanitarian groups have failed, Fiona Terry believes, to face up to the core paradox of their activity: humanitarian action aims to alleviate suffering, but by inadvertently sustaining conflict it potentially prolongs suffering….

[She] makes clear that the paradox of aid demands immediate attention by organizations and governments around the world. The author stresses that, if international agencies are to meet the needs of populations in crisis, their organizational behavior must adjust to the wider political and socioeconomic contexts in which aid occurs.

Most recently, by the way, Terry’s book was seen under the arm of one of the world’s most famous international aid advocates. If you get People magazine, check out p. 13 of the April 3, 2006 edition.

Note: The University of Louisville gives the Grawemeyer World Order awardannually and I have administered it since 1995. There are four other $200,000 awards: for Religion, Psychology, Education and Music.

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Lack of Vision

Yesterday, Kevin Drum had an interesting piece on the failure of the Bush administration to take Iran up on an offer to talk about its weapons program and support for anti-Israeli terrorists shortly after the President declared the end of ‘major hostilities’ in Iraq. The story goes that Tehran exchanged messages with the US through the Swiss in which they offered

…to resolve bilateral differences. The document acknowledged that Iran would have to address concerns about its weapons programs and support for anti-Israeli terrorist organizations. It was presented as having support from all major players in Iran’s power structure, including the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

What was the reaction by the administration? They complained that the Swiss were “out of line” for passing the message along.

If the story is accurate this was a missed opportunity of major proportions and on a number of levels.

First, and most obvious, the administration could have started an intense, formal dialogue with Tehran over its weapons program. As Kevin points out, these talks could have taken place at a time when the US was in a stronger position vis-a-vis Iran and relations were a bit more amicable:

[S]ince then things have only gotten worse: Iran has elected a wingnut president, they’ve made progress on nuclear enrichment, gained considerable influence in Iraq, and increased their global economic leverage as oil supplies have gotten tighter.

Second, part of the rationale for the Iraq War (both ex-ante and ex-post) was the supposed “domino-effect” it would set off by signaling to other rogue regimes that they better voluntarily give up their WMDs or else face regime change, an action the US was now willing and able to carry out as demonstrated by the Iraq War. So far, the only instance of a regime giving up such weapons has been Libya in December of 2003, an event the administration was quick to trumpet as the first domino to fall as a result of the Iraq campaign. And while the causal impact of the war on Libya’s calculus is debatable, this was precisely the kind of public event the administration had hoped for. But it seems that the US could have had a more important example to tout 6 months earlier. More importantly, the administration had already identified Iran’s weapons program as a major issue of national security, and with the Persian state’s proximity and ability to disrupt stability in post-war Iraq one would think the US would jump at such an offer for diplomatic dialogue.

Alas, it appears that once again the implementation of our new grand strategy was fumbled and an opportunity missed. We were supposed to gain a bargaining dividend from the outcome in Iraq, leading to favorable outcomes with rogue regimes without having to expend the same kind of force. However, it appears that many in the administration have failed to keep things in perspective and became enamored with the seeming ease with which our military could bring about regime change.

The sad thing is stories like the one above are no longer surprising.

Hat tip Laura Rozen.

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Do as I say, and, apparently, as I do

After having previously vowed to speak candidly with Chinese President Hu Jintao about affording more political and social freedom to Chinese citizens, President Bush managed to miss a golden opportunity and let diplomatic nicety get in the way.

Most should by now be aware of the vocal protester who shouted at Chinese President Hu Jintao and President Bush during the welcoming ceremony at the White House today. The women apparently acquired a press pass and from her location on top of a camera stand began shouting “President Bush, stop him from killing…President Bush, stop him from persecuting the Falun Gong”. The woman was quickly apprehend and ushered away by members of the Secret Service. The story pretty much turns my stomach from there.

Bush leaned over to President Hu and whispered “You’re OK”, prodding Hu to continue his remarks. Later, according to Dan Wilder, acting senior director for Asian affairs at the NSA, Bush told Hu that the incident “was unfortunate and I’m sorry it happened”.

To make the story more ridiculous, the woman has been charged with disorderly conduct and possibly an additional charge of intimidating or disrupting foreign officials. The picture below shows the protestor being escorted away by a secret service agent with the agent’s hand covering her mouth. Just the message I am sure we wanted to send President Hu–when citizens protest unjust policies they should be stifled, charged with a crime, and those who previously touted the virtues of freedom of speech and political expression will apologize for it.


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“What Hu Talking About Mr. President?”

Chinese President Hu Jintao is in town to meet with our own commander-in-chief and while I am sure most people are focusing on the more visible issues of trade, currency valuation, and nuclear proliferation I like to look at the apparently insignificant, yet likely-to-cause-diplomatic-hay types of moments.

FP Passport reports that while introducing the Chinese national anthem during the arrival ceremony on the South Lawn this morning, the announcer referred to it as the national anthem of the “Republic of China”. One problem–the Republic of China (ROC) is the official name of Taiwan, not China (which of course is referred to as the ‘Peoples’ Republic China–PRC).

Was it a simple mistake? Was it an intentional ‘gaffe’ whose purpose was to send a message? Regardless it should cause a few headaches and get a number of groups on the ROC all fired up.

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The foreign policy establishment

The Atlantic Monthly recently asked a group of foreign policy “insiders” a number of questions about US foreign policy. The poll results were in the April 2006 issue, which is hidden behind a subscriber wall.

The magazine greatly limited the possible poll answers. For example, the insiders were given a list of seven countries and asked to rank which would post the greatest threats to US security in the next decade.

The outcome was perhaps predictable: Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and then Russia. Venezuela and Egypt each received a write-in vote.

Michael Gersh listed the insiders (and complained about them) here.

Without spending too much time on this, I would estimate that at least two thirds of the names on the list are associated with democrat administrations or leftie positions. Four republicans and three neocons are all I can recognize at first blush. So much for seeking a balanced view.

Is this true?

Here’s how I broke down the list:

These are some obvious Republicans and/or neocons: Ken Adelman, Daniel Blumenthal, Max Boot, Lawrence Eagleburger, Douglas Feith, John Hulsman, Robert Kagan, and John Lehman.

Gersh is correct that the list includes many members of the Democratic foreign policy establishment: Madeleine Albright, Ronald Asmus, Sandy Berger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Ivo Daalder, Leslie Gelb, John Hamre, Gary Hart, Robert Hunter, Jessica Mathews, William Nash, Wendy Sherman, Susan Rice and James Steinberg.

He misses those who are primarily academics: Graham Allison, John Gaddis, Bruce Hoffman, James Lindsay, Joseph Nye, and Ann[e] Marie Slaughter.

He overlooks the fact that many have primarily served as foreign service officers, CIA analysts, international organization bureaucrats or military officers: Steven Bosworth, James Dobbins, Jay Garner, Marc Grossman, David Kay, Carlos Pascual, Thomas Pickering, Kenneth Pollack, Joseph Ralston, and Anthony Zinni.

In sum, this is a truly mainstream foreign policy list, save for the few neocons.

There are almost no true “lefties” on it. Which of these individuals is anti-war in most circumstances or “soft” on security issues? Who opposes the enormous and growing defense budget? Who would immediately withdraw from Iraq?

In fact, many of the individuals worked in both Democratic and Republican administrations. Many (if not most) supported the war against Iraq and virtually all were cold warriors.

The problem with Washington is that there aren’t enough voices of genuine dissent.

This group is the choir!

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Nowhere roads

Thanks to Dan, I read the interesting AU piece about Patrick. This is what caught my eye:

“We wouldn’t have a car culture if it weren’t for superhighways,” he says. “The whole idea of being able to drive a car depends on the existence of a certain set of infrastructures. Material infrastructures, certainly, but also conceptual. Think about the metaphors we use. Someone who’s in control is in the driver’s seat. There’s something significant about that. What I want to try to do is pull it together and look at the way the construction of superhighways has this effect of producing us as the kinds of modern subjects that we are.”

My father built interstate highways.

Thus, I think Patrick would agree, the interstate highway system produced me.

When I was growing up, in fact, my family moved from town-to-town, constructing bits and pieces of I-35 in Kansas and Oklahoma. There were other construction jobs, including parts of hydroelectric projects and sludge pits for power plants, but the interstates were the high profile jobs.

I learned to ride a motercycle and drive a car on unpaved interstates. In the farm state of Kansas, kids like me could acquire a driver’s license at age 14. In college, I wrote my first environment-related paper on construction company requirements vis-à-vis green legislation. I could go on, but will spare you the details.

Perhaps in some small way, my father’s management position in the construction business led to my interest in defense and security politics. Indeed, Patrick may have to take into account this social fact:

When President Eisenhower went to Kansas to announce the interstate highway system, he announced it as “the National Defense Highway System.” In 1956 President Eisenhower signed legislation establishing the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways (about 41,000 miles of roads)…

The National Defense Highway System was responsible for building many of the first freeways. Its purpose was supposedly to allow for mass evacuation of cities in the event of a nuclear attack. The Interstate system was designed so that one mile in every five must be straight, usable as airstrips in times of war or other emergencies.

Ike, of course, was a fellow Kansan — and it is relatively easy to build straight, flat roads in that state.

This is probably much more than anyone wanted to know, but I for one very much look forward to Patrick’s next book project.

One caution: “Car culture” clearly implies something very different in commuter cities like Washington than it does in the middle of the country. Wide open spaces create different opportunities and needs. “Car culture” also means something different in LA and Hollywood. Did I mention that my father-in-law Sam was apparently a neighbor of George Lucas, who learned about “car culture” in Modesto, CA? Man does my father-in-law like to drive…

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The Lump-of-Power Fallacy

Back in 1976, the eminent political scientist Robert Dahl pointed out a common error in the analysis of power among social theorists: the tendency to assume that power was a unit-level attribute, something that a unit or actor possessed in isolation. This was hardly a new observation, but Dahl did something very important with it: he coined a term to describe the problem. Dahl called it the “lump-of-power fallacy.” But despite the efforts of Dahl and others to root this particular misconception out, it remains firmly embedded in both our theories and in our ordinary ways of speaking.

A case in point is provided by a comment that Shibley Telhami made in a Washington Post article last week. Discussing the infamous paper by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt on the influence of pro-Israeli lobbying groups on U.S. foreign policy, Telhami, whom the article describes as someone who “does not believe Jewish neocons and their Christian supporters forced the United States into the war,” comments:

“There’s no doubt that neocons long wanted a war…But in the end it was the decision of a president who was super-empowered after 9/11 and who could have ignored them.”

I am not going to say anything about the Walt/Mearsheimer claims; I will leave discussion of US-Israeli relations to senior tenured colleagues, thank you very much. Instead, I want to make a different and more modest point: Telhami’s claim is misleading, inasmuch as it replicates the fallacy that Dahl named thirty years ago. No more than any other actor or unit, presidents — even presidents benefitting from one of the largest rally-round-the-flag approval-ratings boosts in recent history — do not possess power as a lump that they can utilize in order to get whatever they want.

In order to see this, consider the following counterfactual. Imagine that Bush went to Congress on 20 September 2001 and made a speech rather different from the one that he did in fact make — the speech that advanced the famous division of the world into “with us” and “with the terrorists” and hence declared that the United States was now officially and openly in the business of civilizing the world by military force, and sovereignty be damned. But imagine for a moment that he took a rather different tack:

Jesus Christ, whom I said was my favorite political philosopher in the presidential campaign, teaches us that we should love our enemies. Indeed, in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 5 verse 39, our Lord tells us that when someone strikes us, we should turn the other cheek. And we have been struck. As a Christian nation, it is therefore incumbent upon us both to turn the other cheek and to learn to love our enemies. As such I am announcing today the “Islamic Friendship Initiative,” and have instructed the State Department to begin to organize public meetings throughout the Middle East so that we can speak with Muslims and learn to love them…

Clearly this is not what Bush said. And it has a bit of an absurd ring to it, I think, which should be our first clue that something has gone seriously awry in our thought experiment. Indeed, the very implausibility of Bush haven given a speech like this nine days after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington DC should tell us something important: because we cannot actually imagine it having happened, we must have overlooked something in creating that counterfactual history.*

So what did we forget? Well, it certainly wasn’t the text of the Christian Bible (look up Matthew 5:39 if you don’t believe me). So the problem here isn’t a logical one — the hypothetical policy does follow logically from the biblical text. [Indeed, several policies follow logically from different parts of the biblical text, which is one of the problems with trying to produce policy grounded in the Bible, but that’s an issue for a whole different post.] And the problem also wasn’t something having to do with Bush’s personality; this is the man who proclaimed the need for a more “humble” foreign policy during the presidential election, who did in fact declare that Jesus Christ was his favorite political philosopher, and who condemned “nation-building” as a strategy in no uncertain terms. So the problem is not that one cannot imagine George W. Bush coming to the conclusion that more Christian charity was needed in response to the 11 September attacks.

I’d submit that what is implausible about this counterfactual Bush speech is the notion that such a thing could have made it through the various levels of the presidential staff, and somehow cleared the scrutiny of speechwriters, advisors, political consultants, Congressional allies, and party officials. Even if Bush himself had this idea in his head, his staff wouldn’t have let it see the light of day — especially on such a public stage as an address before a joint session of Congress — because they would know what kind of backlash it would engender. Presidential staffs may make mistakes, but they aren’t generally populated by idiots, and anyone who wasn’t a complete idiot would have known that many, many sectors of American society were crying for blood in the days after the attacks. To refuse a military response would be to disregard the opinions of a large section of the population, and this would have caused Bush’s popularity and job approval rating to plummet. And the staff knew this and acted accordingly — or, if they hadn’t, we can easily imagine them being replaced.

Lurking around this analysis is the notion that Bush’s “power” — his capacity to get things done, to bring about one outcome rather than another — is some kind of infinitely flexible commodity that can be used in vastly different domains. The technical term here is “fungible”; money is a fungible resource because you can use it to purchase basically anything that is for sale at a given point in time. But power, in in this case presidential power, is not as fungible, but is more specifically bounded. After 11 September 2001, Bush was certainly empowered to extend the national security apparatus and to deploy troops, but it would be a stretch to say that he was empowered to (say) preach repentance for the sins of American imperialism, or even to reform the Social Security system.

To assume that Bush was “super-empowered” to the point where he could have ignored his base, his supporters, and the narrative strategies that they used to make sense of the world is to commit the “lump-of-power fallacy.” Recall that the fallacy revolves around two misleading notions: the idea that an actor or unit can “have” power, and the idea that power is a sort of transferrable (fungible) capacity that makes an actor capable of getting their way under almost any circumstances. A claim like “Bush had power” ignores the extent to which that power was inextricably bound up with a set of social relations that sustained it, including social relations involving a specific legitimation strategy (America as God’s Chosen Country Destined To Civilize All Of Humanity, a.k.a “Manifest Destiny”). A claim like “Bush could have ignored the neoconservative calls for war” further removes Bush’s socially produced and sustained ability to get things done from the relations that make it possible.

Could Bush have really done something different than he did? Sure — but it is important to specify the practical limits within which even this “super-empowered” president was working. He couldn’t produce a reinvigorated manned space flight program; he couldn’t privatize Social Security; and I think it unlikely that he (or any other American president) could have refused the call to deploy troops against suspected terrorists or the regimes that supported them.

Whenever we analyze power and agency, we have to keep the limits of the possible clearly in view. This is the only way that we can avoid the lump-of-power fallacy.

* Yes, this is a Weberian methodological claim. Is anyone surprised?

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PTJ gets a glossy write up

Check it out as American University promotes our very own Patrick Jackson. For example:

It was Jackson’s dedication toward students that brought him to AU. Attracted by the school’s emphasis on instruction and the opportunity to teach a course on his beloved science fiction (as it relates to world politics), Jackson moved to Washington in 2000 from his adopted hometown of New York, where he earned a PhD from Columbia University and developed an intense passion for the Yankees.

Since arriving on campus, he has earned a reputation as one of SIS’s most passionate, unique, and tech-savvy professors.

Read the rest.

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I once was blind… but now I see

The Chronicle reports on a rather old problem in the electronic peer-review process: editors, authors, and reviewers forwarding Word documents without scrubbing the properties, tracked changes, and other sources of embedded data likely to reveal a writer’s or reviewer’s identity.

Henry Farrell weighs in: “I’ve been aware of this for a couple of years (I carefully strip all data before sending reviews out, just in case) – but I suspect that many academics aren’t (some of them may not even realize that Word collates this data automatically).”

About two years ago I reviewed a string of papers for different journals that had one thing in common: after having completed my review of each, I checked the properties of the documents and discovered the identity of the author. I always alerted the edtior (or assistant editor) and reminded him or her to watch out for these issues in the future. It doesn’t seem to be a problem anymore at any of the journals I regularly review manuscripts for.

Not that such efforts make a lot of difference–for preserving the anonymity of manuscript authors at least. The rise of search engines, conference paper archives, and web-posted information about academic talks makes it pretty easy to discover the author of a paper with a few keystrokes. Even in relatively large disciplines, such as political science, working papers often become pretty well-known in the pool of qualified reviewers that a conscientious editor will turn to in seeking informed assessments of a manuscript’s suitability for publication.

Is any of this problematic? I’ve never been convinced that blind peer-review is such a good thing (I’ll save peer review itself for another discussion). It may let reviewers “off the hook” when it comes to writing quality reviews. Some percentage of reviewers don’t bother to actually read a manuscript closely, maintain an appropriate level of professional courtesy, or otherwise do “due dilligence”; if they couldn’t hide behind anonymity they might be more inclined to take the duties of peer reivew seriously.

It can also make things harder for reviwers. International Studies Quarterly, for example, asks reviewers to estimate the probability that the author (or authors) can implement revisions. Certainly knowledge about who wrote a manuscript would lead a reviewer to make a more informed judgment on this kind of issue.

There are, of course, good arguments for double-blind peer review (the standard in my field). But a lot of those arguments are simply being superceded by technological change. We’re increasingly at a point of de facto single-blind review (i.e., of reviewer anonymity but not author anonymity). Perhaps we ought to take that fact into careful consideration.

All of this reminds me to note a new blog of interest: Political Science Journal Monitor. Unlike the train wreck that is IR Discussions, Political Science Journal Monitor may serve a real purpose. A good deal of the discussion is actually useful, although I’ve already read some ignorant snark about a prominent political scientists–which probably reveals that the commentators are too young to understand what a profound mark the scholar in question made on the field. Regardless, check it out.

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International-relations “isms”

During the late 1980s and the 1990s academic international relations was dominated by the so-called “paradigm wars.” Scholars argued over — and oriented their writings towards — the major three “isms”: realism, liberalism, and constructivism.[1]

The degree to which arguments about the “isms” enframe and motivate many articles and books in international-relations scholarship creates one of the biggest barriers to entry for students, non-scholars, and scholars from other disciplines (although I’m sure that our often turgid prose doesn’t help matters). I’ve experimented many times with building syllabi around something besides the various “isms,” but each time I give up. One major reason is that if students don’t have basic knowledge of the “isms,” they can’t make sense of a lot of the better articles in the field.

Some international-relations scholars are fed up with the “isms.” Quite a few graduate students actively trash them. The exciting issues, for my cohort, were the twin rise of rational-choice theory and constructivism; I remember many arguments over the costs and benefits of both movements. But I wonder if “post-paradigmism” represents, for many current-generation graduate students, the next big movement.[2]

I, for one, do not welcome our would-be post-paradigmatic scholar overlords.

I’ll explain why by advancing a very stylized story: social-science disciplines tend towards one of two equilibrium points.

1) A particular intellectual framework establishes some sort of hegemony over the field while small groups of scholars establish dissident frameworks. Some sort of hegemonic struggle ensues, with either one of the dissident frameworks or the old dominant “paradigm” emerging victorious. The struggle begins anew.

2) The field fragments into groups of scholars pursuing relatively narrow — but often very important — inquiry into a particular set of topics. At the extreme, the field ceases to be a “discipline” in any meaningful sense. Scholars lack any common ground to relate their findings to one another’s work. New fields and disciplines may even break off from the old one.

We can find aspects of both of these tendencies in any particular discipline or subfield. When I look at American Sociology, for example, I see a discipline that in some sense is hopelessly fragmented between different objects of inquiry (criminal justice, historical sociology, and so forth) but also has a flagship journal, the American Sociology Review, that many criticize for over-representing “trendy” methods and themes.

American Politics, on the other hand, looks to many outsiders like a field with one or two dominant frameworks and very little else going on. I simply can’t get a handle on comparative politics — a field in which scholars wage bitter battles over the value of idiosyncratic area studies versus settling on a single framework (one of the candidates is “rational choice plus statistical analysis”).

One might argue that the state of contemporary social science has much to do with the way these two tendencies “nest” within one another. We have increasing disciplinary specialization and fragmentation — law, politics, and political economy were once a single field of study — but within each specialty we see a tendency towards the emergence of hegemonic frameworks. It may even be that the first process helps drive the second: consider the fragmentation of anthropology in some universities into cultural anthropology and “scientific” anthropology.

The “isms” wars in interantional-relations theory, in this light, accomplish something very important: they allow for the benefits derived from researchers focusing on very narrow areas of inqurity — civil wars, regulatory frameworks, international organizations, and so forth — while, at the same time, giving us a common language to relate our findings to broader common themes. International relations is basically an enormous “area study” that includes everything from intra-state conflict, to transnational activism, to the domestic determinants of foreign policy, to the dynamics of the entire internatioanl system. To the extent that globalization erodes any notion that states, and state boundaries, constitute the only domain of international relations, it follows that the topics we study are likely to grow rather than shrink.

Any number of disciplinary commonplaces might provide for broader conversation, i.e., of keeping international relations a discipline in fact as well as name. We could, for example, adopt some form of flat-footed empiricism. If we all used the same methods — statistical, interpretive, formal, or whatever — we would certainly be able talk to one another. But one of the interesting things about the social sciences, I submit, is that we need multiple methodological perspectives to gain an appreciation of the complexities of social and policial life. It follows that, at least in my view, settling on a single set of methods as a hegemonic intellectual framework will do more harm than good to our understanding of international politics.

The question, therefore, is whether the current “isms” constitute the right focal point for the field. But if we abandon argument about the “isms” we also abandon the ability to discuss such questions. Part of the point of “isms” battles, if they are done well, is to maintain a lively dialogue about what constellation of wagers about international politics constitute key objects of contention.

I believe that realism, liberalism, and constructivism do a reasonable job of capturing enduring debates in the study of international politics. If one goes back to the origins of “international thought” — at least in the European intellectual tradition — one finds debates about the role of ethics in world politics, whether (and to what extent) institutional and normative arrangements constrain “might makes right,” and to what degree patterns of behavior are driven by some form of natural necessity. Patrick Jackson and I have been fleshing out this argument for a few years, and may eventually attempt to publish something about it.

While others may disagree with us about whether the current constellation of “isms” work particularly well, I think none of us should forget that our discipline contains key “political theory” concerns. These core issues — and their associate disputess — may mutate over time, but they serve to link together a plethora of very different studies. The alternatives to “ismatic” wars, at least from my perspective, look pretty bad for the discipline of international relations.

Viva the isms!

[1] If international-relations “paradigms” come in threes, than in the 1970s and early 1980s we might have had realism, liberalism, and Marxism. In truth, however, narrower frameworks often predominate — consider the rise and decline of bureaucratic politics models in the 1970s.

[2] Read this website at your own peril. I find it a rather embarassing statement about attitudes among some of the members of my field. Junior-high school stuff.

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