Judging by the rumors coming out of the media, it appears that we have a deal to avert the fiscal cliff. This is troubling on a number of levels. First, the deal will be agreed to by the outgoing Congress–what we at the Duck are ashamed to call the lame-duck session–instead of the Congress just elected, the one that includes Elizabeth Warren instead of Scott Brown and Claire McCaskill instead of Todd Akin. Second, and related, on its merits this appears to be a deal that serious fiscal hawks and progressives alike will be deeply dissatisfied with–one that locks in Bush tax cuts for nearly all Americans, despite the U.S. government’s pressing need for revenue, while failing to make any substantial headway on America’s long-term fiscal problems. Most important, of course, this deal is simply not one that most Americans want; it is, instead, a deal acceptable to the House Republican caucus (or, rather, one presumptively acceptable to that caucus, which has a notable tendency to shoot itself in the foot).
The outcome of the negotiations, and the very fact that there were negotiations to begin with, suggest that it’s time for restructuring the American government.
Happy New Year to all. While you’re sticking the bubbly in the fridge and mapping out 2013 resolutions, consider nominating your favorite blogs for the 2013 OAIS awards sponsored by the Duck. Tomorrow is the deadline for nominations. See Dan’s last update on current nominees for more information.
The heavy bias toward counterinsurgency links in today’s post is entirely unintentional. Blame the feelings of impending doom sweeping through the DC streets. For things you might actually want to read on NYE, skip to the end.
The deadline for nominations and voter registration is 1 January 2013. The list of nominees has slightly expanded since my last update. You should feel free to add nominations in the comments section below. Please do check the eligibility criteria.
You can register to vote by emailing us with your coordinates. I’ve mentioned before that registration guarantees you a right to a ballot, but that we will also be drawing up a list of people who will receive one regardless. Note that we do not respond to all registration emails. If you emailed us and do not get a ballot (we’ll announce when those go out), please let us know then.
On a plane ride a couple of days ago, I picked up Judith Butler’s Frames of War, perhaps a couple of years after I should have. Though there is a lot of the book that I disagreed with, reading it was a transformative experience. It is perhaps particularly relevant to the subject and content of Megan MacKenzie’s latest post, given Butler’s suggestion that “specific lives cannot be apprehended as injured or lost if they are not first apprehended as living” such that “if certain lives do not qualify as lives or are, from the start, not conceivable as lives within certain epistemological frames, then those lives are never lived or lost in the full sense” (p.1).
Butler spends the book carefully considering the relationship between precarity, violence, and war – considerations that made me think a lot, about the book, about gender/violence more generally, and about the role of reading in our lives as scholars. My thoughts about the book are below the fold, and a separate post about reading is forthcoming.
Frames of War is to me a frustrating combination of absolute and piercing brilliance and letdown …
The world has payed attention to the gang-rape of a young woman (her name has not been made widely public) in Delhi and her struggle to survive over the last few weeks. The reports of the brutal incident on December 16th broke through the national news of India and set waves of reports through the rest of the world. The sheer violence, randomness, and horror of it seemed to fixate the globe.
Now, as we learn that this woman’s struggle to survive after multiple surgeries, cardiac arrest, and evidence of brain damage has ended, there seems to be an attempt to shift this story back into familiar categories of domestic sexual violence and out of the political sphere. Reports on the death of this woman consistently re-report the hospital’s claim that she ‘died peacefully.’ This may seem like a side note to the entire story, yet these words hold significant political value and raises some important questions, including:
Does the focus on her ‘peaceful’ death detract from the violent nature of her attack and her exhausting struggle for life over the last 2 weeks?
A neat non-Duckpost by PM on the Peloponnesian War.
If you haven’t been following CJ Chivers’ blog, THE GUN., you should be.
Zack Keck wants to set the record straight on Chuck Hagel. Good luck with that. And here’s Steve Walt on that topic. And Kori Schake on ‘unconsidered’ alternatives. And I’m pretty annoyed by Foreign Policy‘s big box of registration badness.
Corey Robin’s Jacobin essay is getting a lot of attention, including from Jon Western at the Duck and Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns & Money. I don’t think that it detracts from Robin’s essay to note that the argument he’s making is long-standing in international-relations scholarship. It appears in David Campbell’s seminal Writing Security and, more recently, in the form of “securitization theory” (PDF), complete with similar invocations of Thomas Hobbes.
Scott’s criticisms of Robin gets at an ongoing issue with securitization theory. Scott notes that security threats, particularly in the context of warfare, have also led to the expansion of rights:
To bring Klinkner and Smith, Dudziak, and Graber into the discussion security has not only been the most powerful justification for the suppression of rights; it’s been the most powerful justification for the expansion of rights. The two major expansions of civil rights in American history were the result of an incredibly bloody civil war and the Cold War.
Indeed, securitization theory often suffers from, among other problems, and overly simplistic story. Speech acts by powerful actors–or some similar processes–render an object an existential threat to a political community. A state of exception comes into being. Rights suffer. The endless debates about securitization theory have, of course, complicated that story. But what’s interesting about Scott’s quick empirical criticism is that it brings, in essence, work on state formation into the picture. Bellocentrictheories of state formation have long held that warfare, and the mobilization for warfare, constitute significant moments for the evolution of the state.
Last week I attended our annual neighborhood holiday party and caught up on all the news about the neighbors’ kids. One recently graduated with an advanced degree in computer science and is now an “ethical hacker” working in “the U.S. intelligence community.” What exactly is an “ethical hacker”? Another spent the last two years in intensive Chinese language study and has a job “following twitter and websites and stuff…for the U.S. government.”
Corey Robin sees a deeper pattern in the persistent expansion of the national security apparatus — we are living in a failed Hobbesian State in which the state has to continually escalate its “protection” in order to ensure obedience and obligation:
Relying upon a simple fear of danger to underwrite obedience… [however]… is not enough. Dangers can slip from view, and when they do, obligation is thrown into question. Hobbes was quite attuned to this problem, and hoped that it could be solved by the sovereign supplying the people with “prospective glasses” by which they could “see a farre off the miseries that hang over” them but which they did not immediately perceive.
But how does a state make a particular danger or disaster that lies far off appear up close? How does it turn hypothetical dangers into immediate threats? By developing an intellectual apparatus that dispenses with the ordinary requirements of evidence and proof, by articulating a set of arguments, and pithy slogans, that enables the state to take extraordinary measures against postulated perils: fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here; the Domino Theory; MAD and other theories of nuclear deterrence.
One of the most repeated, and most dubious, axioms about strategy is the notion that being proactive is wiser than being reactive, and that reactivity is something we should be allergic to. In the words of Briain’s foreign secretary William Hague, ‘the nation that is purely reactive in foreign policy is in decline.’
Likewise, written into the folklore of the US foreign policy establishment is the notion that the ‘strategic shocks’ that struck America – such as Imperial Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor or 9/11 – happened because Washington was passively sleeping. A quick read of Presidential speeches on the anniversary of that attack shows how powerful the creed of active vigilantism lives on, even if it doesn’t power all of America’s day to day behaviour.
Never mind that a prehistory of activism triggered both crises, whether an escalating conflict in the form of economic warfare with Japan, or deep entanglement with the very regimes that galvanised Al Qaeda to take its war to the far enemy. The logic still goes: it is wiser to be active, shape the environment so that it precludes threats.
The trouble with being proactive is that it implies a confidence about forecasting the future. What if world politics is too chaotic to anticipate? Can we make strategy if we can’t predict? This problem is implicit within many ‘strategic’ documents and general theories of strategy – which start by announcing that the future is unpredictable, before going on to…predict it.
I have read with great interest over the last few days posts by Jeffrey Stacey and now Sean Kay on the gap between scholarship and policy. I agree with much of what they said – seriously – and I want to raise a more positive spin on some of these issues. I the gap between policy and scholarship in Washington DC as *mildly* improving when it comes to political science, at least from the political science side of the question. This is not to say things are perfect. Far from it. But rather than thinking about political science in general, and international relations in particular, as a “cult of the irrelevant”, I think there are some green shoots, so to speak, or at least reasons to think that the glass is half full, rather than half empty. In what follows, I will lay out just a few of my reasons for optimism.
The deadline for nominations and voter registration is fast approaching. The list of nominees is unchanged since my last update. You should feel free to add nominations there, to email us, or in he comments section below. Please do check the eligibility criteria.
The two most common ineligible nominees are (1) restrictions on Duck of Minerva pieces and permanent contributors and (2) online articles that don’t qualify as blogs, such asForeign Affairs snapshots. Unfortunately, this double-disqualifies Charli’s excellent “Game of Thrones as Theory“–which, after being named “best of the web” for Foreign Affairs pieces in 2012, has catapulted back into its “most read.”
You can register to vote by emailing us with your coordinates. I’ve mentioned before that registration guarantees you a right to a ballot, but that we will also be drawing up a list of people who will receive one regardless. Still, I’m seeing some signs of registration with the aim of supporting specific nominees, so if you care enough about the outcome to answer a five-minute survey, I would recommend that you go ahead and register.
Jeff Stacey’s introductory blog post at the Duck of Minerva gives important perspective showing that scholarly training helped him in government to frame issues and develop policy. Stacey suggests academic perspectives should inform policy and, indirectly, corrects an argument in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Robert Gallucci. Gallucci, who has a distinguished career in government and academe, asked why scholars are not informing policy. Gallucci faults the scholarly community for an unfortunate turn towards theory and inaccessible discourse which “…has created a profession that is inward-looking and concerned with arcane debate—a result that provokes and deserves all the insults thrown at the ivory tower from the world of policy and practice.”
Scholars should be better at making arguments in concise ways. But the straw-man attack on the academy as detached from relevance deserving of ridicule fails to look beyond the policy world’s own shortcomings. Take one example – the invasion of Iraq – as an indicator. In 2004 a group of over 700 academic experts signed a lettercalling for change in Bush administration policy in Iraq (see the Jackson and Kaufman Perspectives on Politicsarticle). On the biggest foreign policy matter of the day, these scholars were right (PDF), and the general Washington consensus was wrong. The group failed to affect policy change – but whose fault is that?
Regarding my previous post and the very useful comments, first the matter of what do we do once we realize that a policy problem in search of a policy solution is the equivalent of a social scientific puzzle in search of an explanation, for both the solution and the explanation are outcomes. In other words, Step One is to identify the policy problem in question. Step Two is to search the academic literature for a published study (in book or article form) whose puzzle is essentially identical to the policy problem. For example, the problem of how to end a civil war in Country X is equivalent to the puzzle of how to do so in an academic study.
The explanation of the study is the academic hook to hang the policy solution on. In other words, if there is a published study that explains the outcome of bringing civil wars to an end, this means that the study contains the cause of the outcome and has the evidence to back up the argument thereby matching the cause to the outcome. Once a study is found it is on to the next step.
I must completely disagree with his (“modest”) level of satisfaction. This represents no victory at all because this new statement from URI officials, like the first one, completely misses the point. This is not about First Amendment rights. Nobody was saying that Loomis should be thrown into the deepest darkest dungeon never to be heard from again. They were saying that he should be fired or otherwise professionally damaged for an emotional — and politically motivated — response to a mass killing.
The relevant standard here is academic freedom, not First Amendment rights. The University of Rhode Island subscribes to the 1940 “Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure” issued by the American Association of University Professors. This Statement indicates that Loomis deserves the full support of the University of Rhode Island even if he was speaking under the banner of the University. (Which he always is, implicitly, contra the views of the CT commenters.) Instead of espousing that principle, which is fundamental to the mission of public universities, the University has repudiated it by saying that Loomis deserves no greater protection than those who have written to the University on this matter, whether in solidarity with or opposition to Loomis.