Month: January 2011 (Page 1 of 2)

Explosive Pakistan

Is “people power” contagious? It’s easy to find examples of journalists, policymakers and/or analysts, and some scholars arguing that opposition to authoritarian rule is spreading like a winter virus from Tunisia to Egypt and Yemen. In this case, many optimists argue (though some merely hope) that the viral idea will result in more democratic governance for millions of people that have long lived under autocratic rule. Moreover, many think (or hope) that the contagion will spread to other similar states with large Arab or Muslim populations.

However, the skeptics and pessimists have keyboards too. IR realists have already provided plenty of reasons for skepticism. For example, even during the so-called “third wave” of democratization some years ago, many states merely transitioned from authoritarian to semi-authoritarian rule.

The worriers are concerned about the fact that Egypt has long been the second largest recipient of American foreign aid. Indeed, many believe that the American government is quite cautious and fairly openly favors the status quo. Egypt has received substantial aid in large part because of its continued support for the Jimmy Carter-brokered Camp David peace agreement; thus, many friends of Israel are more than a little concerned about the current situation.

In any case, I have been thinking about the prospects for internal upheaval spreading to Pakistan — ground zero in the current war and a nuclear-armed state with a history of conflict with its neighbors. Vice President Joe Biden, who like me sometimes worries about the relationship between Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and its internal stability, largely dismisses the prospects of contagion effects. However, he acknowledged to PBS interviewer Jim Lehrer on January 27 that “there’s a lot going on across that part of the continent, from Tunisia into — all the way to Pakistan, actually.” Lehrer explicitly asked Biden to compare the situation in Tunisia and Egypt to events in Eastern Europe more than 20 years ago.

Biden was not biting:

…the difference between Tunisia and Egypt is real, beyond the fact that Egypt’s the largest Arab country in the world.

So, I don’t see any direct relationship…But I don’t — I think it’s a stretch at this point. But I could be proven wrong. But I think it’s a stretch to compare it to Eastern Europe.

However, in a weekend Press TV news report (from Iran) about the continued unpopularity of American drone attacks, a man identified by name as a human rights activist openly declares (in English): “There will be an uprising in Pakistan. After Tunis example, after Yemen…I think so, now it is our turn. Now is Pakistanis turn.” See about 1 minute into this report, which differs somewhat from the one linked above that is currently on Press TV’s website:

Obviously, any mass uprising in Pakistan would be important for a large number of reasons, but today’s Washington Post centers on one key concern — Pakistan’s growing nuclear arsenal:

Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal now totals more than 100 deployed weapons, a doubling of its stockpile over the past several years in one of the world’s most unstable regions, according to estimates by nongovernment analysts.

As the article notes, U.S. policymakers frequently “voice confidence in its [Pakistan’s] strong internal safeguards, with warheads kept separate from delivery vehicles.”

Perhaps these policymakers are simply whistling past the graveyard as a number of Wikileaks documents highlight genuine US and British concern about Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. As the BBC reported in December:

senior UK Foreign Office official Mariot Leslie told US diplomats in September 2009 that Britain had “deep concerns about the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons”.

In another cable seven months earlier, then-US ambassador Anne Patterson told Washington: “Our major concern is not having an Islamic militant steal an entire weapon but rather the chance someone working in the government of Pakistan facilities could gradually smuggle enough material out to eventually make a weapon.”

Potentially, that smuggling task would be easier in a context of internal disorder. Imagine if the state security apparatus is distracted by mass upheaval.

The 22 September 2009 cable quoting Leslie was written in London by Ellen Tauscher, US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. It is available at the Wikileaks collection on The Guardian website and is quite intriguing for another reason. It suggests that Pakistan is fearful of an entirely new form of American counterproliferation:

The UK has deep concerns about the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, and Pakistan has accepted nuclear safety help, but under the IAEA flag (albeit British technicians). The Pakistanis worry that the U.S. “will drop in and take their nukes,” Leslie said.

Could the U.S. really “drop in and take” Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal?

Granted, it seems foolhardy to speculate about second and third-order consequences of internal upheaval in Pakistan. The drone attacks in Pakistan have long been unpopular, but it is possible that Biden is correct and that neither Washington nor Islamabad have anything to fear from the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

Perhaps readers should take solace in the words of Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the UK Wajid Shamsul Hasan, who told the BBC in December that his government “had a very successful, foolproof control and command system looking after the nuclear arsenal.”

Maybe we should keep on whistling.


What is really “Anonymous”?

I realize that this is not the Feminist IR 101 post that you may have been expecting, or some bright engagement with what’s going on in that area we seem to be able to so easily group as “the Middle East …” but it is something that I’ve been thinking about recently, so …

In theory, journal review is double-blind: the reviewers shouldn’t know who the author is, and the author shouldn’t know who the reviewers are. In practice, this almost never works, and seems like a dying standard anyway. That said, for the purposes of this rant, take it as a given: reviews should be, and often are, double-blind. The question, for now, is how to best achieve that when cites to the authors’ other published work are involved.

So there are two ways to accomplish anonymity: 1) remove the cites to the authors’ work, replacing them with the word “author,” or 2) leave the cites to the authors’ work in the third person, as if they are being cited in the normal course of writing the article.

To me, if the authors have published anything of any note in the field, #2 is a clear answer. But in the last month, two very different journals have (in my opinion, totally wrongly) taken the other position. So, why do I think there’s a clear answer? And what am I missing?

Here are just the top 5 reasons I think that putting the word “author” is just a bone-headed decision:

1) It serves to identify the author. If something says, “There are traditionally three images: man, the state, and war.” (AUTHOR) … well, its clear who the author is. If something says, “There are traditionally three images: man, the state, and war” (Waltz 1959), well, Waltz could have written it, or someone else could have written it, and it can be judged on its merits. What isn’t cited can be as identifying as what is.

2) It encourages dumb critiques that say “should have cited Laura Sjoberg more,” when the article used to cite Laura Sjoberg but since she was the author the journal made her remove citations to self where there wasn’t a quote and put “author” where there is a quote – reducing the overall quality of the article, particularly when the journal asks reviewers a direct question about the adequacy of citations to the literature. And before you laugh – I’ve gotten this critique, more than once.

3) It decreases the readability of the article. The (AUTHOR) citation just gets in the way, and draws attention to the question of the author’s identity. It is confusing and annoying to read as a reviewer.

4) Anyone who can’t figure out how to cite themselves when and only when it is essential to the article doesn’t deserve to participate in the review process anyway. I mean, really, how hard is it?

5) Having a hard and fast rule on this is managing editor laziness. Should you send back something that is a graduate student citing a conference paper they presented when it hasn’t been published? Sure. But should you send back the person who wrote an award-winning book last year for citing to that book? No. Because anyone would have cited to it if they were writing in that area. There’s middle ground, certainly, but it is not rocket science, and it matters to protecting anonymity. Sending both back is just being imprecise.

That’s just my .02. Please, let me know what I’ve missed that makes this less obvious than it appears to me.


Egyptian “People Power,” Civil Society, and the U.S.

 The prospect of a new government in Egypt opens huge uncertainties for the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East.  At this point, no one can predict what that new government will be.  But it is clear that there will be substantial change, even if Mubarak hangs on.  A military regime is possible.  A transition government, perhaps led by Mohamed ElBaradei, leading to democratic elections also seems possible–and would be the best outcome.

Notwithstanding the uncertainties, it is worthwhile to think more about the implications.  In the long term, the events of last week would seem to mean more democracy or at least more democratic input into government in Egypt.   Regardless, any new government will likely mean leaders less willing to do the bidding of the U.S., whether because of their own beliefs or because of the force of popular sentiment.  (Certainly an important undercurrent in the journalistic reporting has been strong anti-American sentiments expressed by many of the protesters.)  It is good that American policymakers seem to realize this.  President Obama is quoted as stating several times at a high level meeting yesterday that “the outcome has to be decided by the Egyptian people, and the U.S. cannot be in a position of dictating events”–or, in my view, much influencing them.

In the longer term, the U.S. needs to accept the likelihood that a new Egyptian government might be  “anti-American” and anti-Israeli.  Certainly this is likely if elected democracy eventually ensues.  Given huge, decades-long U.S. support for the unpopular and illegitimate government, it would be surprising if Egyptians felt differently.  The result is likely to be an Egyptian government which–surprise, surprise–does not share American foreign policy preferences.  Whether or not this is a more Islamically-influenced government matters less than the fact that it could better reflect popular sentiment in Egypt.

The U.S. has had a difficult time accepting the possibility that “Islamist” or even radical governments might actually be put in office by free and fair elections–by thinking people who see no better alternative in their societies.  U.S. opposition to the duly elected, Hamas government in the Palestinian Authority in 2006 is an obvious case in point.  But it is not necessarily the case that Islamist governments are so hostile to democratic values that after winning election they would destroy democracy.  Nor is it the case that, faced with the reality of governance, they would be unwilling to compromise.  Leaving aside the irony of such views when the U.S. has long supported our own set of Arab autocrats like Mubarak, experience in other parts of the world suggests that governments influenced or run by Islamically influenced political parties are not necessarily hostile to democracy and can be pragmatic.  Turkey is an obvious case in point.

Overall, the fact that soon we may no longer have pliable, autocratic clients in Egypt, Tunisia, and possibly other North African and Middle Eastern countries is, on balance, a good thing notwithstanding risks of short-term violence.  First, a more autonomous Egypt–or even simply a more unstable one–could exert greater pressure on Israel, expressly or tacitly, to reach a settlement with the Palestinians.  Added to American presidents’ ineffective “good cop” pressure on Israel will be another neighborhood “bad cop” that might help change the calculus of negotiation even among the Israeli right.  It is of course unclear how that might play itself out.  But a more democratic or more Islamically-influenced government will not necessarily mean war in the Middle East—and might even add pressure on Israel that would help promote peace.

Second, this and the Tunisian revolt once again demonstrate the force of “people power” seemingly untied to strong civil society associations.  Although the power of “spontaneous” nationwide popular revolts, whether made possible by new or old media, is ephemeral, it can of course have great effect—as centuries of revolution attest.

But the lesson for students of civil society—and for the American and other governments that seek to foster civil society–is broader.  When revolutionary moments end, civil society organizations probably will play an important role.  But in Egypt and other Islamic countries, a freer civil society is unlikely to look much like America’s.  

This seems to trouble U.S. policymakers. Consider this recent remark of Stephen J. Hadley, President Bush’s national security advisor:  “We should not press for early elections.  We should give the Egyptian people time to develop non-Islamic parties. The point is to gain time so that civil societies can develop, so when they have an election, they can have real choices.”  Hadley tacitly acknowledges that there are civil society groups in Egypt already—only, problematically in his view, they and opposition political parties are often tied to Islam.  That is in part a reflection of real sentiments on the ground, although in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood seems to have been caught flat-footed by the popular revolt.  It also reflects the kind of regime the U.S. has helped maintain in power with billions in aid for decades—one that has repressed much of Egyptian civil society, notwithstanding American lip-service favoring democracy.  

A revived Egyptian civil society will not be wholly or perhaps even predominantly secular.   Islamic organizations are likely to hold considerable sway.  But there is no reason to fear or denigrate religiously-based civil society organizations.  American civil society is of course replete with religious groups, and they exert great influence in politics.  The fact that in the Middle East and North Africa these will inevitably by Muslim organizations is not necessarily problematic either.  As long as they are willing to play by democratic rules, their presence should be welcomed.  And many Islamic movements are willing to do so.  

Finally and most broadly, an Egyptian transition unexpected by American officials would reinforce the need to curb American hubris about its role in the world.  Too much of the U.S. foreign policy and military establishment believes and acts as if the U.S. has the right and the ability to manipulate other countries’ political systems, “in our favor.”  This has created vast distortions in our own political system, starting with grossly outsized defense budgets completely disproportionate to the threats we face.  For all that, we have never been able to “control” events overseas, as the Iranian revolution against America’s good friend the Shah demonstrated decades ago.

Leaving aside moral issues of America’s acting as if we are the world’s “indispensable nation,” the events in North Africa should again emphasize that we see no further into the future, and stand no taller than other nations–notwithstanding Madeline Albright’s delusions of grandeur.  And because we cannot control events in other countries, we should curb our penchant for trying to do so.  


Willow Witching Pt. 2: What Washington should do….

The neocon blogoshere is lit up with more willow witching that the events in Egypt are vindication of the Bush’s “freedom agenda.” And, they are blasting Obama for his timid response — apparently, Washington controls the destiny of this protest movement:

In yesterday’s Washington Post, Jackson Deihl claimed that it’s not too late to influence events. He called on the administration to support unidentified “democracy groups.” But more curious was his criticism of the administration. He cited Hillary Clinton’s 2009 comments about her personal friendship with Mubarak as setting the stage: “Thus began what may be remembered as one of the most shortsighted and wrongheaded policies the United States has ever pursued in the Middle East.” Right — let’s just ignore the fact that the U.S. has been cozying up to Mubarak for the past three decades — including a dramatic expansion of security and intelligence ties by the Bush administration after 9/11. Snippy political attack = 1; foreign policy analysis = 0.

Max Boot argued that this is the moment for Obama to “redefine” the Middle East and stand with the aspirations of the people:

we need a president fully engaged in the moment — a president who will speak for the aspirations of the people of the Middle East (more than one line, please), while also working to provide a soft landing for longtime dictators and to ensure that radicals don’t seize power.

Yeah, well there’s a novel idea. I bet no one in the administration thought of that…

Jeffrey Goldberg urged Obama to live up to American values and cut Mubarak loose and let the chips fall where they may with the Muslim Brotherhood — I guess that’s kind of living up to American values….

We still don’t know how this will unfold and I’m somewhat skeptical about what the Obama administration can do today or tomorrow to influence events — though Marc Lynch gives us some thoughtful comments on this.

But, I am struck that in all of this commentary, there is almost nothing about what’s next. Despite all of their generic claims to support democracy, the neocons cling to a very naive notion of what democracy is and how it emerges. In Iraq, they assumed democracy and market capitalism were self-executing — simply remove a tyrannical regime and let the natural, universal aspirations of the Iraqis guide the way. They didn’t plan for Phase IV of the Iraq invasion because they didn’t believe it was necessary. They were wrong, their actions triggered a civil war with disastrous consequences — more than 100,000 Iraqi deaths and countless more wounded, more than 2 million refugees, at a cost of more than 4,000 U.S. service members and well over $2 trillion.

It’s simply not enough to say one is “for” democracy and demand support for the protesters. The hard part of democracy building comes in the weeks, months, and years after a regime collapses. Let’s assume Mubarak flees sometime in the next few days. What then? How can the U.S and the international community help manage a transitional process to accommodate the demands of a disparate group of protesters? They are unified in their desire to remove Mubarak, but that consensus will evaporate the instant Mubarak gets on a plane. How will their competing claims be adjudicated — what kinds of mechanisms or institutions will best serve these challenges? What kind of institutional arrangements will be necessary to ensure domestic security that is sufficient and legitimate enough to maintain some sense of order but not coercive — what kind of leverage does the United States have over various factions within the military and security services to help this? Many of the protesters are in their 20s — nearly 3/4 of all of those unemployed are in this age bracket. What capacity exists to put them to work or to give them hope for new employment opportunities in the near future?

The administration clearly faces challenges in the coming days, but the real challenges likely will come in the weeks ahead. And there is nothing in Bush’s vacuous “freedom agenda” or the Bush administration’s experiences in the war in Iraq, or in the self-congratulatory rhetoric from the neocons that can help with the hard work of developing democratic state norms and institutions.


Organizing the Revolution

When I taught for three years at the American University in Cairo, my partner, who was conducting her doctoral dissertation research on Islamist political parties, would often get text messages from the Muslim Brotherhood informing us of interesting programs we might want to watch on satellite that evening or educational events around town. While I found the messages from the “banned-but-tolerated” party amusing (and useful), I was always dimly aware that the state must also be monitoring such messages. In one of my political economy classes I remember my students talking about one of their colleagues whom they suspected was being paid by the state to take notes in another lecture class. (When I asked whether they thought anyone was spying on my classes, my students all said IPE is just not that important to the regime). I think back to those stories whenever I hear people talking about the groundbreaking role of new media in organizing protests in authoritarian regimes.

While the January 25th revolution was partially organized through Facebook, activists are certainly not restricted to these new social media networks…. and make no doubt about it, this was a well organized revolution.  The Atlantic has translated pamphlets distributed to protesters on how to organize and behave.

What one notes in this pamphlet is the advice not to use Twitter or Facebook because they are monitored by the state. These pamphlets were distributed the “old” fashioned way: photocopies given out by hand.

This is not to say that new social networking sites are irrelevant. What I mainly noticed in the days leading up to the start of the protests was that many of my friends in Egypt who are on Facebook began openly posting anti-government status updates. It was surprising to me because many of them are elites or at least members of upper middle class.  In essence, one might hypothesize that the role of new social media networks is to help rally or tap into anti-government sentiment which is often not voiced loudly in public, but the actual organization and dissemination of strategy and tactics still occurs off-line.


Exit and loyalty

Great powers find themselves compelled to support regimes they consider problematic, unpleasant, or even odious. The United States is no exception. Many of its friends and allies have far greater democratic deficits than Egypt, although few receive more combined U.S. aid than Cairo does. 

Sometimes those allies will have revolutionary moments — points at which the forces for regime change are strong enough that no one can be sure whether the government will prevail. Sometimes they will have what might best be described as pre-revolutionary periods. During these periods it looks like a revolutionary moment might come, but no one is quite sure. Egypt is in a pre-revolutionary period, which means:
  • The US has less influence over Mubarak’s government than it would if the regime were under greater threat; and
  • The US faces much greater uncertainty about the costs and benefits of calibrating its level of support for the regime and the pro-democracy protesters. 

The Obama Administration cannot pull a “Ferdinand Marcos” in Egypt; despite all that aid, Mubarak is less dependent on Washington than Marcos was. While I expect that the hearts of most people in the Obama Administration are, like most other Americans, with the brave men and women protesting on the streets of Egypt, they also need to worry about the geo-strategic costs of alienating — or losing completely — an important regional ally, whether by supporting a doomed regime or undercutting a survivor. 

If things go badly, the ultimate fault will lie with decades of U.S. policy. From a realpolitik perspective we can understand why democratic great powers will support undemocratic regimes. But it is unforgivable for any great power — democratic or not — to lack exit options, e.g., to fail to cultivate other sources of support such that it can pivot to them when a regime begins to bend and shake upon its long-obvious cracks. 
It is doubly unforgivable for a liberal great power to lack variants of those exit options that allow it to more fully support a people’s democratic aspirations, whether by:
  • Making use of concomitant leverage to pressure a regime to enact liberalizing reforms;
  • Being more secure in the knowledge that democratization will not threaten its geo-strategic interests;
  • Pivoting to supporters within civil society; or
  • Doing all of the above.

Egypt Rises Up

Do we?

Tomorrow is slated to be a showdown between the US backed Mubarak regime and masses of Egyptian protesters. It is a critical moment for Egypt, and also for the Arab nation.

What strikes me about these events, is the general way in which the discourse of “reform” continues to be the official American mantra (at least where there is not out right denial of the authoritarian nature of the regime in Egypt). After decades of supporting a dictatorship, the US government continues to claim that the Mubarak regime needs only to reform to retain power and address the legitimate anger of the Egyptian people. Of course, part of the reason that the regime has resisted political opening is strong US support, particularly whenever the prospect of an increase in Islamist representation in the government is raised.

Regardless of whether the Mubarak regime is finally toppled, it is time for Americans, as a people, to engage in a serious discussion of the long term costs and benefits to the American people of having our government prop up authoritarian regimes.


Tunisia… Egypt… Yemen…

We haven’t had much to say about these topics at the Duck. Which is fine, as there are much better academic bloggers to go to for informed commentary (e.g. Marc Lynch, Juan Cole, etc.). But I am struck by this AP story, which suggests Egypt is taking additional efforts to shut down internet communications (more here and here [note: holy &*!!, the whole country appears to be cut off]) as it ramps up its crackdown.

On a more abstract plane, Josh Tucker wrote an interesting post on revolution and revolutionary contagion that approvingly cites Timur Kuran’s influential work on the inevitability of revolutionary surprises.

2) One of the most interesting theoretical pieces I ever read about the collapse of communism was a 1991 World Politics article by Timur Kuran (gated, ungated). In this article, Kuran posits that even people living within a regime that is perched on the edge of collapse may not realize it. The mechanism here is to assume that different people have different thresholds for when they will be willing to publicly oppose the existing regime. Imagine a country with 10 people, one person who will protest if there is at least 1 other protesting, 1 if there are 2 other protesting, 1 if there are 3, etc. It is a stable equilibrium for no one to protest. However, if something happens to put just one person out on the streets (say, a particularly difficult interaction with the authorities, or, hypothetically speaking, an emotional response to someone setting themselves on fire), then suddenly everyone ends up protesting. Person 1 comes out because now there is 1 person on the streets. Once person one comes out, then person 2 comes out because there are 2 people on the street, and onward up the chain. The lesson of the story – in my opinion – is that as long as regimes are repressive and we can assume that citizens have accumulated grievances against the regime, then there is always the possibility that the regime could tumble precipitously.

Kuran published a variation of this argument in a symposium in the American Journal of Sociology on the why-did-we-miss-the-collapse-of-the-USSR issue , which also included a piece by Charles Tilly called “To Explain Political Processes”. In it, Tilly argues that:

This seems to me a very important thing to remember when we turn our analytic vision to unfolding events. For now, however, I find the personal accounts coming over listservs and across the web moving and inspiring. I hope the people of Egypt claim their democratic rights.


Light Reading in Genocide Studies

If you’re looking for something to read for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, let me humbly suggest Adam Jones’ volume Evoking Genocide, which has won a 2010 Outstanding Academic Title Award by the American Library Association’s Choice Magazine. Here’s their review:

This compilation has a simple yet fascinating premise: ask leading human rights scholars and activists to reflect on the art and literature that most influenced them. The result –60 two-to-three page essays mediating on a wide variety of sources, from the essential (Elie Wiesel’s Night, 1960) to the unexpected (Star Trek)—is highly engaging and thoughtful. The beauty here is that these well-known intellectuals and activists are honestly writing about the things that move them, capture their imaginations, and propel them onward in their work. Reading the book is akin to talking to a favourite professor about why he or she chose a specific field of study. The essays, covering events ranging from genocide of the indigenous peoples of the Americas to the genocide in Darfur, are not traditionally academic, a fact that may make this book more accessible to students. An excellent starting place for those interested in developing classes on the art and literature of genocide. Jones includes a list of resources for further reading.

The credit goes, of course, to the editor Adam Jones, who conceived and shepherded this book into being, on top of countless other scholarly contributions to the subfield of genocide studies.

Anyone who would like a breakdown of my “unexpected” contribution on genocide and the Borg can go here.


How Political Negotiations can be Un-Mediated but Mediatized

When delicate political negotiations are needed, perhaps journalists need to get out of the way. Gadi Wolfsfeld’s studies of peace processes have shown how journalistic discretion in Northern Ireland created space for political leaders to make individual compromises. Such compromises would probably each have been unacceptable to their constituencies if lit up by a media spotlight, but only became public once the full package of a peace treaty was reached (Bono had to wait). Past negotiations between Israeli leaders with their Jordanian or Palestinian counterparts have been less successful in part because journalists in the region have tended more towards the sensationalist and the partisan.

At the LSE tonight, Nick Anstead presented an analysis of media coverage of the 2010 UK General Elections, particularly the period between 7 May and 12 May when the three major parties were involved in behind-the-scenes negotiations to form a government, following inconclusive results. This was another instance in which journalists were denied access. Nevertheless, this occurred in a mediatized political environment, i.e. one in which media logics determine how processes work more than political logics. Following a political logic – principally, how the UK constitutional system works – if no party failed to produce a governing majority, then no party ‘won’, and a range of outcomes became possible. However, the prevailing media logic in the UK media ecology was that any election needs a winner. Further, in an ecology in which politics has been presidentialised, the winner has to be an individual: in this case David Cameron must be Prime Minister. That the office holder, Gordon Brown, was constitutionally entitled to remain in office until a governing coalition could be formed escaped many journalists. That the Labour Party could possibly be part of a new coalition government was almost as tricky to grasp, for hadn’t Labour’s man lost? Anstead illustrated these media meltdowns with some amusingly flustered questions from reporters of various TV channels.
Conceptually, this process was un-mediated but very mediatized. It was un-mediated because media could not provide a channel between the negotiations and the public, since reporters were barred from the political negotiations. But the event as a whole was mediatized, Anstead argues, because the range of potential outcomes was constrained by what the media system could find intelligible. As discussant, I was granted the chance to add a further point: it was surprising that UK political reporters were caught off guard to such an extent, given the close nature of the polls. Surely they should have provided a guide to how the constitution works and mapped the various permutations of possible coalition governments? Central to a mediatized system is premediation, the logic of mapping all likely scenarios for audiences before events happen, even if they never happen (Richard Grusin’s idea). Journalists form cultures marked by fallible expectations: in 2001 no US journalists saw another attack on the WTC coming, and in 2010 UK journalists had reached a consensus that Cameron would win outright. In each case, reporters were at a loss. The broader point is that the coalition negotiations were not as mediatized as they could have been: public responses to the various possible coalitions could have been solicited and the confusion minimised.

But what Anstead’s paper seems to suggest is this: Even if journalists are excluded from an event, the media ecology inhabited by political leaders, reporters and publics will shape what is thought possible, intelligible and legitimate, whether in domestic or international politics – an indirect but inescapable effect. Political processes can be un-mediated yet mediatized. He will present a more developed draft of his paper at the PSA Annual Convention in London in April, but if you are interested in receiving a copy please email 

Crossposted from 


The Promise and Perils of Book TitlesBecause I’m Way Too Busy With the Start of the Term to Blog About Anything Useful.

Thanks to Erik Voeten, I have just discovered a fabulous blog, Better Book Titles:

This blog is for people who do not have thousands of hours to read book reviews or blurbs or first sentences. I will cut through all the cryptic crap, and give you the meat of the story in one condensed image. Now you can read the greatest literary works of all time in mere seconds!

Some of my other favorites from the site:

the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime
the very hungry caterpillar, and
the elements of style.

And both Erik and Jeff Ely have a little more to say about the political economy of book titles, especially in academic publishing.

And Kieran Healy is collecting suggestions for a political science contribution to the Better Book Titles site, where Friday entries are submitted by readers. I’d love to come up with a snappy version of Dan Drezner‘s new Theory of International Politics and Zombies, which I’m supposed to roast at the International Studies Association Conference in March. [“I Am Too Funny For My Half-Eaten Shirt,” perhaps. Or “I Will Claim To Describe IR Theory While Completely Ignoring Feminism, Post-Colonialism and Critical Theory. Bwa Ha Ha!!”]

Add in your own suggestions for this or other books below.


Feminist IR 101, Post #5 War and Security (in Theory)

There’s been a small break (understatement) in my posting as I dealt with some pressing stuff personally and professionally, and to post about some time-sensitive stuff (like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which I couldn’t resist, though I did resist talking about Wikileaks). I will now return to “Feminist IR 101,” a series of posts designed to provide audiences that had (intentionally or not) an understanding of feminist approaches to IR that caused them to misinterpret the intentions, goals, and potential contributions of feminist work in IR, particularly when assigning reviewers and performing reviews.

The last few posts before Feminist IR 101’s winter break were really an attempt to provide the basic tools that would help readers to understand the words and concepts employed in feminist research in international relations/global politics; the post-winter break posts will delve more into topic-based contributions that feminist lenses might make to seeing and understanding the ways that the world(s) ‘out there’ work(s), and how that is interdependent with, and intersubjective with, our theorizing about it.

I start where my work largely falls, in gender and security, or Feminist Security Studies – something I’ve written a fair amount about, theoretically and empirically, including, most recently, a feminist Special Issue of Security Studies, and a book, Gender and International Security: Feminist Perspectives. What does feminism contribute to thinking about security?

Feminists (including but not limited to Ann Tickner, Spike Peterson, Anne Runyan, Jindy Pettman, Christine Sylvester, Laura Shepherd, Annick Wibben, and myself) have argued that feminisms not only contribute to but transform both the central concerns of security studies and its methods, purposes, prescriptions, and performances.

So the first answer to how feminisms read war/security is – multiply and too broadly to discuss in one (readable) blog post. I’m going to make two posts – one about theory and the other about practice – but it will still necessarily be only a small snapshot of what Feminist Security Studies is/can be.

Feminists point out that there are genderings in concepts of international security that are often t ken for granted as gender-neutral if not even objective. Looking for women in global politics shows feminists that secure state often contain/make insecure people, especially at their margins, and especially women, which leads to questioning interstate gender relations; relationships between sexisms and militarisms; and the gendered natures of states, interstate relations, international institutions, and the international system structure as well as our perceptions and/or performances thereof.

Feminists have suggested that one of the key contributions of scholarship looking for women and gender in global politics to thinking about war and security is seeing them as fundamentally differently defined than the “common sense” understandings which pervade contemporary security scholarship. In “common sense” understandings, security is about the threat, use, and control of military force (so argues Steve Walt), and war is a time-deliminted but sustained violent conflict between two states, which starts and ends as/when those states decide it does (so argue Jack Levy and Bill Thompson).

Instead, feminisms have seen security policies as performed in/on women’s bodies, and personal security at the margins/periphery as every bit as important as (and often threatened by) state security/ies at the center/core of the international system. As such, they define security broadly and multidimensionally (see Ann Tickner’s work), and war/violence as a system (see Betty Reardon’s work) or a continuum (see Chris Cuomo’s discussion). Feminists have asked different questions about war(s) as well, including (but not limited to) how wars are sensed/sensual (see Christine Sylvester’s work), performed/enacted/experienced (see Judith Butler’s work), and how warring parties feminize each other (and relatedly how gender relations occur in/with wars, see the work of Spike Peterson). Feminists have provided evidence that gendered logics and war logics are co-constituted, that genderings operate as causes of war(s), and that studying war(s) and security without reference to/cognizance of/”control for” gender hierarchy is incomplete.

On the one hand, some say “so what?” or argue that these ideas are too broad or sweeping, or normatively weighted.  To the first, I’d argue that this work has a sort of “choose-your-own-ending” answer to the “so what” question. It could be strictly “practical”: operationalization of any traditional security policy is going to fall short of “working” to its fullest capacity without recognizing/taking account of gender subordination. It could also be fully transformative: security is not what “we” thought it was, nor do any of our traditional causal or constitutive analyses “work” fundamentally. To the second, well, of course, given the nature of the medium here – but there are hundreds of feminist books and articles that explore these assertions, and I could provide more guidance than I do here via email or personal conversation. To the last, of course the work is normatively weighted. All work is, some is just ignores its normative content. Feminist politic(s) are explicit; feminist security narratives (see Annick Wibben’s new book) are explicitly narratives. That’s a strength, in my view, not a liability.


The “drug war” is over?

Over the years, the so-called global “war on terror” (or “war on terrorism”) has had its ups and downs as a foreign policy framing device. The George W. Bush administration, of course, relied upon the frame to sell virtually all its major foreign policies over a period of many years — even though the Pentagon at one point preferred “struggle against violent extremists.” Britain stopped using the phrase some years ago (at least in the Labor government).

Barack Obama’s administration allegedly abandoned the phrase very early in his term — in favor of alternatives like “overseas contingency operations.” However, with a little searching, it’s not difficult to find official spokespersons (like Robert Gibbs)  — or even the President himself — continuing to use those words after announcing that they wouldn’t.

Somehow, I missed the Obama administration’s similar early announcement that it was also going to stop using the phrase “war on drugs.” The Wall Street Journal reported this story May 14, 2009:

The Obama administration’s new drug czar says he wants to banish the idea that the U.S. is fighting “a war on drugs,” a move that would underscore a shift favoring treatment over incarceration in trying to reduce illicit drug use.

In his first interview since being confirmed to head the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske said Wednesday the bellicose analogy was a barrier to dealing with the nation’s drug issues.

“Regardless of how you try to explain to people it’s a ‘war on drugs’ or a ‘war on a product,’ people see a war as a war on them,” he said. “We’re not at war with people in this country.”

We haven’t discussed the “war on drugs” very much here at the Duck of Minerva, but it has long had a significant effect on public policy — especially domestic policy as recently demonstrated in a drug-themed issue of The Nation. This is an excellent summary of the costs from Ohio State Law Professor Michelle Alexander’s piece in that issue:

More than 30 million people have been arrested since 1982, when President Reagan turned Nixon’s rhetorical “war against drugs” into a literal war against poor people of color. During the past few decades, African-American men, in particular, have been arrested at stunning rates, primarily for nonviolent, relatively minor drug offenses—despite data indicating that people of all races use and sell drugs at remarkably similar rates. In some states, 80 to 90 percent of all drug offenders admitted to prison have been African-American, and when released they find themselves ushered into a parallel universe where they are stripped of many of the rights supposedly won during the civil rights movement. People labeled felons are often denied the right to vote and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education and public benefits—relegated to a second-class status for life simply because they were once caught with drugs.

She put the economic cost of the war at “more than $1 trillion in the past few decades.”

Clearly, America’s “carceral state,” which Charli recently mentioned, reflects the outcome of the drug war. Of course “contact with the criminal justice system” is going to be a “significant predictor of civic and political disengagement and mistrust of government.” Felons are frequently denied the freedom to vote.

I recall more than 20 years ago thinking about writing a rhetorical analysis about George H.W. Bush’s use of the phrase “war on drugs” to rally support for his domestic and foreign initiatives. But I didn’t. The cold war was still raging, my dissertation concerned strategic defense — and I needed to find a tenure track job. Members of the IR Copenhagen School have long discussed the securitization of this issue, but few American IR scholars have taken it very seriously — even when it occasionally spilled over into “hot” rather than merely metaphorical war.

The Obama administration doesn’t use the phrase “war on terror,” but has escalated American intervention in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The “war in Iraq” has ended, but 50,000 American troops remain to help provide security.

I suspect the decision to stop using the phrase “war on drug” will have similar policy consequences. Indeed, that recent issue of The Nation demonstrates the continued failings of U.S. policy in this area.


International Relations Reading Group

I run a small international-relations reading group at Georgetown University, and thought some of our readers might be interested in the list of books we’re tackling this semester.

  1. Michael Horowitz, The Diffusion of Military Power: Causes and Consequences for International Politics (Princeton, 2010); 26 January.
  2. Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, The Conduct of Inquiry in International Relations: Philosophy of Science and Its Implications for the Study of World Politics (Routledge, 2010); 23 February.
  3. Donald A. McKenzie, An Engine, Not a Camera: How Financial Models Shape Markets (MIT Press, 2008); 30 March.
  4. Beth Simmons, Mobilizing for Human Rights: International Law in Domestic Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2009); 30 April.

As should be obvious, we strive for methodologically and substantively diverse readings.

And, before I forget, if you haven’t checked out the Mortara Center symposium on Germany and the European financial crisis, you should. Crooked Timber did a masterful job of disseminating it.


Memories of willow witching

So, this is it — Tunisia is vindication of the Iraq War. Here’s Jennifer Rubin’s great insight:

Recall when President George W. Bush talked about democracy taking hold in Iraq and then the region? Now Bush’s vision seems very prescient.

…One question that deserves further consideration: How much did the emergence of a democratic Iraq have to do with this popular revolt in Tunisia?

This is similar to a point Max Boot made recently at Amherst College in a debate with Andrew Bacevich. Boot argued that it was too early to tell if the Iraq war was a success or failure, because as he put it, the effects possibly might not be known for decades. (Bacevich countered by noting that, given Boot’s logic, with the economic developments and recent steps toward political liberalization in Vietnam, perhaps we will soon be on the verge of being able to call the Vietnam War a success.)

The arguments of Rubin and Boot remind me of the hot summer when I was a kid growing up in western North Dakota and our well went dry. Rather than spend money on “big city” hydrogeologists, my dad decided to use the ancient dowsing method of willow-witching to look for water. Each morning, he picked up his willow branches and walked around until he found the “right spot.” My brother and I then dutifully dug and drilled holes — that turned up dry — day after day. But alas, nearly seven weeks and some three dozen dry holes later, we finally hit water and tapped a new well. For the past forty years, my dad has told all who will listen about the wonders of willow witching and how he found water that summer.

Yep, keep searching and you’re bound to find something….


Interstellar Relations: notes for Watchmen (book) and Akira (film)

Of possible interest to some Duck readers, I reproduce notes that I posted on my class blog in preparation for our next section. Comments and suggestions welcome.

  1. The narrative of Watchmen enjoys, at best, a quasi-linear relationship to time. Events in the past and present intermingle. At the same time, Moore gives significant space to Dr. Manhattan’s relationship to space-time. It might be interesting, in this context, to skim the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entries on God and Time and Time.
  2. Themes common to Watchmen and Akira include (but are far from limited to): nuclear and non-nuclear apocalypse, urban decay, and the implications of transcending human-ness.
  3. We are again the realm of the nuclear and post-nuclear imaginary. If you cannot place yourself in the mindset of the Cold War nuclear standoff–let alone the 1980s–you may find it difficult to make sense of the settings and motivations. Some helpful context might include: the Doomsday Clock (and also here), the decline of New York City, and Kitty Genovese.
  4. Some read Watchmen as not “merely” a rumination on the superhero genre, but on readers’ relationship to (and complicity in) comic-book conventions. Watchmen itself contains multiple examples of text-within-text, e.g., Tales of the Black Freighter and numerous inserts on the history of superheroes.
  5. Watchmen plays with our expectations about ethics and morality, particularly with respect to consequentialist, deontological, and “virtue” ethics (see also, and). Some of the characters make what (at first glance) might seem surprising choices (given what we “know” about them) when confronted with moral dilemmas. Consider also how their actions and choices align with concerns about ethics, values, rights, and duties in foreign policy.
  6. Keep in mind that elements of Watchmen‘s narrative are conveyed by a character (Rorschach) who is sociopathic.
  7. Scott Eirk Kauffman has written some very smart things (be sure to scroll down to get to the relevant stuff) about Watchmen over the years; his posts are particularly interesting because they call attention to what he calls “visual rhetoric,” and should lead you to think about issues of composition and perspective not just in Watchmen, but also in Akira. (nb: A word of warning, SEK is even more foul-mouthed than I am, and quite left wing, so caveat emptor).
  8. Viewers of Akira often find one of its most disturbing (or silly) elements to be its violations, mutilations, and deformations of the human body. Is there a common thread here, or interesting points of comparison with not only Watchmen, but A Canticle for Leibowitz?
  9. In Watchmen‘s alternate universe, Richard Nixon is President of the United States. What other counterfactual conditions obtain in its political order? And can we get any mileage out of a comparison of the political systems represented in Watchmen and Akira?
  10. When in doubt, fall back on depictions of human nature (or its varieties).
  11. As always, we will return to these works in future classes.

Anti-Iran Protests in Afghanistan

In 1991, with the Soviet Union on the verge of collapse, the rump regime of Mohammad Najibullah finally cut a deal with Iran. The Iranians were allowed to supply the Hazarajat in central Afghanistan with armaments and other goods through direct flights to Bamiyan in exchange for supplying petroleum to western Afghanistan, including to the Kabul regime’s military forces. The arrangement provided Tehran with unfettered access to an area which since 1981 was increasingly under its patronage. The Iranians hoped that they would be able to use this access to strengthen their proxies (i.e. Hezb-i Wahdat) in the conflict against Saudi backed Sunni groups (see Rubin 1995, p. 264). Throughout the tumultuous period that followed, Iran continued to expand its influence in western and central Afghanistan.

The deal highlighted the dependency of the Kabul regime on Tehran for petroleum and Iran’s stake in the character of the government in Afghanistan. Twenty years later, Iran is again flexing its muscles in Afghanistan through petroleum politics. Iran’s decision to block (at least) 700 Afghan owned fuel trucks from transiting to western Afghanistan has resulted in a major spike in fuel prices just as winter sets in.  Fuel prices in Herat are at an eight year high. Afghanistan has witnessed several protests directed against Iran in recent days.

Why is Iran doing this now?

Professor Juan Cole argues that Iran’s decision is a response to the US led sanctions regime imposed through the United Nations. Through Iran’s chairmanship of OPEC and its supply links to western Afghanistan, Iran can directly punish the Americans and reap a windfall profit. Iran will not allow OPEC to meet to revise production quotas which might ease the current price of petroleum. By halting fuel supplies to western Afghanistan through a virtual blockade, Afghanistan will have to rely primarily on a supply route through Pakistan which is vulnerable to Taliban attacks. Some supplies could also come through Uzbekistan, but Iranian officials have apparently also limited shipment through that route according to Afghan traders. Iran assumes that this will further impair the American occupation. And while ordinary Afghans will also suffer, Iran does not appear to be intentionally targeting the civilian population (although there are some speculative arguments that Iran is unhappy that the TAPI pipeline was not also routed through its territory). As Cole points out the Iranian strategy is brilliant: American consumers will compensate Iran for the sanctions regime and Iran will have the added bonus of making life difficult for the US in Afghanistan.

The only problem with the strategy is that if Iran persists in blocking fuel supplies, it will lose influence within Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry has warned that it will seek to cut trade ties with Iran if the fuel trucks are not allowed to enter Afghanistan. Afghans argue that by international law, since much of the fuel was apparently purchased in Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan, the Iranians do not have the right to stop the flow of these goods particularly as they do not constitute a direct threat to Iran’s security. However, Afghanistan remains reliant on the goodwill of its neighbors to keep supply routes open.  Afghanistan is again caught in the struggle between foreign powers and ordinary Afghans will bear the brunt of the suffering.

[Cross-posted from my Afghan Notebook]


The mean world…or why we should all tone it down.

The conversation on last week’s tragedy in Tucson has gone from the absurd to the absurd to the absurd. The late George Gerbner who was the long-time Dean of the Annenberg School of Communication at UPenn and who later finished his career at Temple University was a pioneer in the study of media influences on society and violence.

He frequently warned against assuming or inferring a direct relationship from a specific media event or elite cue to a specific personal or political behavior. His research suggested a more diffuse, but real, effect of the constant media bombardment of images and messages on individual and collective perceptions. He is featured in a recent documentary from the Media Education Foundation in which he outlines cultivation analysis and the methodological complexities of media influences on public attitudes and behavior. MEF has a new post on its website with an excellent video clip from the documentary (sorry, but I’m not able to embed the code directly to this post). MEF’s post above the clip captures the gist of Gerbner’s views:

Setting aside whether or not this individual (Tucson shooting) case turns out to be linked to any one political philosophy – and given the shooter’s apparent mental illness, it seems unlikely to be – the fact is that over the past two years security officials have reported that threats to American politicians have increased by upwards of 300 percent….

…Gerbner, who urged us to think about violence in more nuanced ways, found in study after study that heavy exposure to media cultivates what he called “the mean world syndrome” – a heightened state of paranoia, fear, and mistrust that often leads to a dangerously reactionary worldview. From this perspective, the point isn’t whether the Arizona tragedy can be linked to a single outside influence, but whether or not our increasingly paranoid political culture makes it more and more likely that violence like this will occur in the future.

« Older posts

© 2021 Duck of Minerva

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑