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Archive for March, 2005

George Kennan RIP

[ 0 ] March 17, 2005 |


George Kennan advocated a sensible approach to the Soviet Union, one that recognized the dangers but refused to inflate them. He was one of our last links with the foreign policy generation of World War II and its immediate aftermath.

He will be missed.

Institutions, Agreements, and Navies

[ 1 ] March 17, 2005 |

Yglesias, Justin Logan, and Tim Lee have been having a conversation about the utility of international institutions. More or less, Yglesias argues that John Bolton is a bad guy for wanting to kill the UN rather than reform it, Logan suggests that Yglesias is a blind liberal utopian for believing that international institutions can do anything, and Tim responds that international institutions actually have done lots of big, interesting things that directly affect outcomes in the international system. Yglesias then responds to Logan by pointing out the same thing.

Logan makes the argument that I would expect from any unreformed realist, that international institutions have very little effect. Unfortunately, there are very few unreformed realists left, and most everyone accepts that international institutions have some important effects, even if only as intervening variables between basic relationships of power and interest and outcomes. As Yglesias points out, institutions facilitate outcomes that could not be achieved through independent action. Logan also wants to deny the constitutive effects of international institutions, but he’s pretty clearly out in the cold on this one as well. To the enduring dismay of John Bolton, most states take international law seriously most of the time. This includes the United States; we complain about the UN, but we won’t be dropping out anytime soon. Good realists wouldn’t complain about the UN at all; they would use it when they found it useful, and ignore it when they didn’t. Similarly, good realists would be untroubled by the formation of the International Criminal Court, a weak institution whose demands could be brushed aside. That we’ll actively fight against these things demonstrates that we take them seriously.

Logan asks a somewhat more interesting question that Matt declines to answer:

Can Tim [or Matt] think of a historical example where an international institution successfully constrained the action of a state in contravention of its vital interests and outside the bounds of power considerations? That is, where it was some sort of moral opprobrium or institutional respect that deterred a state from acting, rather than concern it would be defeated?

Matt thinks Logan is establishing a strawman, and I would agree to a point. The biggest problem is that “vital national interest” can mean just about anything, and that a realist will ALWAYS be able to reply that a particular action was taken because of a state’s vital interest. It would be better to ask “Is there a historical example in which an international institution successfully limited the autonomy of a state or states in the national security sphere?” If that’s an acceptable formulation of the question, then my answer is an emphatic yes.

In 1922, the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, and several minor powers met in Washington in order to create an institution that would constrain their autonomy in naval construction. Immediately following the end of World War I Japan, the US, and the UK initiated vast programs of dreadnought construction. All three states laid down numerous battleships and battlecruisers intended to outmatch the other fleets. The actual construction of these fleets would have impoverished Japan and the UK, and wouldn’t have helped the US out very much. Accordingly, the three states agreed in 1922 to suspend their independent construction and create a set of rules that would regulate naval power. The UK was allowed to retain 20 dreadnoughts, the US 18, and Japan 12. Battleship construction was suspended for ten years, except for a special dispensation for the UK to build two 16″ gunned ships. The London Naval Conference of 1930 reduced the battleship allocations to 15:15:9.

The naval treaties have often been criticized for what they didn’t do, which is prevent World War II. Less time has been spent discussing what they did very well, which was to stop an impoverishing naval race in the early 1920s. The US, UK, and Japan scrapped battleships that were in an advanced state of construction. The US Navy used its newest and most advanced battleship, the Washington, for target practice. Although the three states devoted considerable resources to renovating existing battleships in the interwar period, no new dreadnoughts were built, and new ships conformed to treaty requirements. Although the treaty lacked provisions for monitoring and verification, none of the three states cheated egregiously (although the Japanese pushed the envelope).

This is a classic international security regime. Each state gave up a portion of its national security autonomy in the expectation that others would do the same. Each state abided by a set of treaty restrictions that were defended by little more than international opinion. The UK, at least, ended up paying significant costs for attending too closely to treaty restrictions, and for wishful thinking about future treaties. Perhaps most interesting, in 1934 the Japanese withdrew from the treaty rather than simply ignoring it, which indicates a due level of respect for international law.

All of this is a far cry from what the UN does today. But it goes to show that, even in the security sphere, states can accept ceding control over the most critical aspects of their sovereignty to an international accord.


[ 0 ] March 17, 2005 |

Is there any other word that can explain this nonsense? The question of whether or not Mark McGwire used steroids in somehow of great national importance?

Smoke. Mirrors.

The Humanitarian Case

[ 0 ] March 17, 2005 |

We know that the security case for the Iraqi war is gone. Saddam had no weapons and no weapons programs to speak of, and Iraq’s conventional capabilities were meagre. We know that the anti-terrorism case is gone, because despite our ability to question virtually all of the top Iraqi leaders and many of the top leaders of Al Qaeda, no connection has manifested. That leaves the humanitarian case and the democracy case. I have an extraordinarily generous soul, so I’ll concede to war supporters that the evidence on the democracy case remains out. The humanitarian case, however, is as dead as Caesar’s ghost.

Matt Yglesias makes this point today, channeling Jeanne D’Arc and Arthur Silber. Silber in particular points out that we have almost completely forgotten the Lancet study, in spite of the fact that its major findings remain unchallenged by competent authority. If the Lancet study is even close to correct, then the war was a humanitarian disaster very nearly akin to the tsunami that hit Southeast Asia. We have killed or allowed to be killed more people than Saddam would have accounted for in twenty years. Moreover, the killing shows no signs of abating, as the Coalition remains incapable of providing basic security for Iraqi citizens.

Matt Yglesias wants to grant, at least, that those killed by insurgents should be on a different moral ledger than those killed directly by US action. Others have argued that insurgent deaths and Iraqi military deaths should not be included on the US slate. I disagree with both of these arguments. Destroying a functioning state and replacing it with nothing is exactly equivalent to destroying an irrigation system or a food distribution network and replacing it with nothing. The consequences are the same; mass death. Moral responsibility isn’t divisible; if you watch someone being murdered and raped in the street and do nothing, you are no less responsible if a dozen others stood and watched with you. That insurgents pull the trigger does not relieve our responsibility. Similarly, hostile military deaths are a necessary evil in a war fought for security. Killing a substantial number of enemy soldiers has no direct bearing on a security justification. Once the security justification is gone, however, hostile military deaths are no more acceptable than civilian deaths. Any genuine humanitarian military intervention will kill both civilians and hostile combatants. This is part of the cost of such actions, and needs to be included in evaluations of past decisions and in the calculation of new interventions.

Yglesias is quite right to bring up the opportunity cost argument. Even if the humanitarian case was shattered on its own merits, the opportunity cost of the Iraqi operation would weigh heavily against its justification. Iraq was not the worst humanitarian disaster in the world in 2003. Far from it; Iraq had a functioning state that could provide for internal security. Dozens of states in Africa lack this distinction, and violent death rates in those states are much higher than in Iraq. An administration genuinely interested in humanitarian intervention would be forced to put Iraq very low on its list. The intervention in Iraq has made intervention in these other, far deadlier areas impossible. Of course, this does not even begin to consider what could have been done to save lives through non-violent means in much of the world.

Security case: dead
Anti-Terror case: dead
Humanitarian case: dead
Democracy case: Not looking good, but jury remains out

Best of the 90s

[ 0 ] March 17, 2005 |

With Rob and Lindsay having spoken, I suppose I should put forth my best of the 90s list. Like Rob. I don’t think there’s any question that the 90s were far deeper than the 80s; indeed, in terms of the sheer number of excellent movies I think they can compete with the 70s (although the later decade is weaker at the top end.) The first three are easy, but other than that the choices are virtually random; particularly toward the top of my honorable mention list, any of the movies would be good choices for inclusion. In keeping with my general theory of erring on the side of the uperexposed, my hopelessly arbitrary #10 choice is partly to urge you to see it if you ever get the chance. So here we go:

1. GoodFellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)
2. The Dreamlife of Angels (Erick Zonca, 1999)
3. Short Cuts (Robert Altman, 1993)
4. Fargo (Joel Coen, 1996)
5. Three Colors (Red, White, and Blue) (Krzysztof Zeislowski, 1993/94)
6. The Ice Storm (Ang Lee, 1997)
7. Glengarry Glen Ross (James Foley, 1992)
8. Deconstructing Harry (Woody Allen, 1998)
9. The Sweet Hereafter (Atom Egoyan, 1997)
10. Cold Water (Olivier Assayas, 1994)

Honorable Mentions: To Live, The Big Lebowski, Boogie Nights, The Thin Red Line, In the Name of the Father, All About My Mother, Sonantine, Husbands and Wives, Being John Malkovich, Citizen Ruth, Waiting for Guffman, Raise the Red Lantern, Reservoir Dogs, Hoop Dreams, Unforgiven, Schindler’s List, Pulp Fiction, Casino, In the Company of Men, The Remains of the Day, Living in Oblivion, Welcome to the Dollhouse, When the Cat’s Away, Magnolia, Happiness.

Our Anti-Western Framers

[ 0 ] March 17, 2005 |

Eugene Volokh, while often one of the best conservative bloggers, has always teetered precariously over the shark tank of wingnuttery, and now he’s dived right in. (Admittedly, Jim Henley accurately saw this a long time ago.) Needless to say, fellow fake libertarian Glenn Reynolds is now in favor of torture after he was against it. (I particularly enjoy the InstaSadist’s claim that people who oppose torturing people to death are simply “squeamish.” Damn James Madison and the equally squeamish states that ratified the 8th Amendment for writing anti-Western values into our Constitution!) As Roy notes, Volokh–who has always supported torture–has at least been consistent, although in this context this is hardly a virtue. Aside from the odious ethics of the argument, Volokh of course simply assumes that a rational criminal justice system can co-exist with openly sadistic punishments, that such punishments can easily be cabined to particularly bad crimes committed by plainly guilty people, etc. I had to read the original post again twice to make sure it was Volokh rather than one of his more wingnutty co-bloggers, but I’m afraid that between this and Jacob Levy leaving, this is one more reactionary blog I see no need to read in the future.

Drink Scotch Whisky All Night Long and Die Behind a Non-Sequitur

[ 0 ] March 16, 2005 |

Shorter Christopher Hitchens: The fact that there was extensive looting of conventional weapons after the American invasion of Iraq proves that people who claim that there were no WMDs in Iraq are logically inconsistent.

But they WERE there, I insist. . .

[ 0 ] March 16, 2005 |

Trying to make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear, Hitch is insisting once again that we’ve found WMD in Iraq. Well, maybe not WMD, but machinery, equipment, and buildings that, if used properly by skilled people, might be able to fashion something roughly akin to WMD. This sort of thinking gets Andrew Sullivan really hot.

The appropriate response to this kind of garbage is mockery. But, just for kicks, let’s go through it all one more time:

1. Lots of equipment useful for producing weapons and civilian goods is also useful for producing WMD. Finding that equipment in Iraq is no more surprising than finding it in Tacoma.

2. The Iraqi potential for WMD production mirrored that of any moderately industrialized state. In spite of this, Iraq produced no weapons for the twelve years prior to the previous war, and destroyed all existing stockpiles.

3. What this means is that, contra Andrew Sullivan, the war not necessary to the disarmament of Saddam Hussein. He disarmed himself, and there’s not the faintest indication he was preparing to re-arm himself.

4. Thus, the war and the failure to secure sites which held sensitive equipment and explosives took that equipment out of the hands of a man who we KNOW wasn’t using them, and placed them in the hands of individuals who may well want to use them.

5. This is bad.

Matt has more.


[ 0 ] March 16, 2005 |

Via Crooked TimberJuan Cole discusses the current state of Fallujah.

Readers often write in for an update on Fallujah. I am sorry to say that there is no Fallujah to update. The city appears to be in ruins and perhaps uninhabitable in the near future. Of 300,000 residents, only about 9,000 seem to have returned, and apparently some of those are living in tents above the ruins of their homes. The rest of the Fallujans are scattered in refugee camps of hastily erected tents at several sites, including one near Habbaniyyah, or are staying with relatives in other cities, including Baghdad.

In America, we used to be able to describe the Russian behavior in Grozny as barbaric. We can’t do that anymore.

First the Country, then the Cats

[ 0 ] March 16, 2005 |

Via a comment by praktike, I don’t think this Jonah Goldberg column needs much in the way of further comment, although as part of the cat-blogging sector of the blogopshere we must register some dismay. What is it with wingnuts and cats anyway? (The latter story also casts an interesting light on Falwell’s suit against Larry Flynt. Who knew that Falwell’s real family was roughly as morally appalling as Flynt’s satire? Well, actually, I suppose it’s not all that shocking.)

Worst Brooks… Ah, Nevermind…

[ 0 ] March 15, 2005 |

Typical Bobo:

There are no signs that anybody is budging or willing to budge. And so it’s time for a provisional obit for Social Security reform – an exercise in cold stock-taking, because when historians look back on this episode they’ll see a compendium of everything that is wrong with contemporary politics.

Having skimmed decades of private-account proposals, Republicans did not appreciate how unfamiliar this idea would seem to many people. They didn’t appreciate how beloved Social Security is, and how much they would have to show they love it, too, before voters would trust them to reform it. In their efforts to create a risk-taking, dynamic society, they didn’t appreciate how many people, including conservatives, value security and safety.

Ah, the unfamiliarity. It isn’t that people hate the idea of private accounts, it’s that they don’t understand why such accounts are good for them. If only, IF ONLY the Republicans could have gotten their point across, private accounts would have been wonderfully successful. If only the Republicans had been able to explain how deeply, truly, and madly they loved social security, everything would have been okay. If only the Republicans had been better at covering up their burning hatred of social security and desire to put it in the ground permanently. . .oops, nevermind. Didn’t mean to show you that.

More experienced negotiators might have put the solvency issue before the personal-accounts issue. That would have created a consensus on the need for change before we got to the divisive issue of how to fix the system.

If Republicans had gone with the solvency lie instead of the private accounts lie, more saps might have fallen for it.

When Social Security reform was broached, the party leaders went to the F.D.R. Memorial, as if the glory days of the 1930′s were the guideposts for the 21st century. Meanwhile, the party base has grown militant with rage. The Howard Dean hotheads declare that they hate the evil Republicans, making compromise seem like collaborating with Satan. The militants, bloggers and polemicists have waged a relentless pressure campaign on any moderates who might even be thinking of offering constructive ideas.

The Democrats have failed America in their senseless advocacy of traditional Democratic Party principles. They have made the profound error of respecting the history of the Party enough to oppose Republican initiatives.

The party’s greatest failures have come in the past few weeks. Sensing the inadequacy of the first Bush approach, many Republicans have floated brave concessions. Several leading Republicans proposed a big payroll tax increase for the upper class and upper-middle class. Senator Robert Bennett suggested progressively indexing benefits to protect the poor and working class from cost-saving steps.

These offers are more progressive than any Republicans have made before or are likely to make again. But the Democrats played the Yasir Arafat role at Camp David. They made no counteroffers. They offered no plan. They just said no.

Sensing their imminent crushing defeat, the Republicans cordially responded by trying just about anything to escape the demands their President was making upon them. The Democratic Party failed by refusing to bail them out. Also, the Democrats are possibly terrorists, and may want to destroy Israel. Just like Arafat.

Instead, many made demagogic speeches about Republican benefit cuts, as if it is possible to fix the system without benefit cuts. Many ginned up the familiar scare tactics designed to frighten the elderly.

Several Democrats made the critical faux pax of pointing out that the Republican “plan” would inevitably lead to benefit cuts and default on part of the national debt. This was impolite and scary. It’s not nice to scare people.

Oh, yes, there’s one more group to be criticized: the American voters. For the past 30 years, Americans have wanted high entitlement spending and low taxes. From the looks of things today, they – or more precisely their children – are going to live with the consequences.

The American people don’t deserve the brave Republican Party. They should be careful. If they’re not willing to go along, President Bush might move to some country that can truly appreciate him, like Russia or Chile. Then where would we be?

The Side of JetBlue

[ 0 ] March 15, 2005 |

Kos both reminds me why I love JetBlue and that I must rationali…er, justify the fact that I do not even consider flying another airline if I have the option, when JetBlue isn’t unionized and most airlines are. I would feel guilty, I think, if I flew JetBlue strictly for the price. But I don’t. I fly JetBlue without comparing prices, I fly it even when I’m getting compensated for the flight, and I now fly it although I’m a $9 cab ride from LaGuardia, while getting to JFK (where most JB flights originate) via subway is a monumental pain in the ass. (Robert Moses, the gift that keeps on giving!) And I do this because JetBlue offers things that other airlines just don’t. There’s nothing about being unionized that prevents the majors from having satellite TV, efficient service, seats my ass can fit in, not having drink carts crowding the aisle, etc. etc. As soon as they acquire these things, I’ll be happy to pay extra to fly a union airline. Until then, I hate not to show solidarity, but I’m not flying Delta or United unless I have no choice.

And my upcoming flight makes these advantages stark. I have an interminable flight to Oakland. If I were flying a shitty major airline, I would be stuck in a cramped seat with the option of paying $5 to watchFrom Justin To Kelly and an episode of Becker. While as I fly JetBlue I will be in a reasonably comfortable seat watching the first day of the NCAA tournament (go Yoo Dub!) for six hours–in other words, doing what I would be doing at home, except in the air. I really think this is no choice at all.

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