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Archive for March, 2006

Israel and Neorealism

[ 0 ] March 19, 2006 |

Jeff Goldstein has found another purported example of the perfidy of the “Democratic party and liberals” at Harvard. The political scientists in the audience will be amused by the punchline: it’s the work of the conservative University of Chicago political scientist John Mearsheimer. Whether someone who voted for Bush in 2000 counts as a liberal or a Democrat is, I would submit, contestable. (I don’t know about the politics of his co-author Stephen Walt–my IR scholar co-blogger says he has voted for candidates of both parties. He’s certainly not a public man of the left.) Almost as remarkable as the fact that he quite clearly knows nothing about the scholars in question but is willing to link uncritically to marginally literate screeds by Randite crackpots accusing them of “Jewhatred” is the way he refers to their working paper as a “Harvard paper,” as if the institution sort of produces ideas that scholars receive like radio transmitters. Hmm, let’s apply this logic further–I’m appalled about this “Harvard book“: clearly the campus is overrun with Straussian male chauvinists! No wonder Larry Summers found poorly-supported just-so tautologies about female inferiority so convincing! And…no, really, this is too stupid.

Having said that, though, once you strip away the silly right-wing identity politics frame, Goldstein has a point: the Mearsheimer/Walt claim (the full version is in PDF form here) that American policy toward Israel is the result of an exceptionally powerful “Israeli lobby” is, in fact, not very persuasive. The bulk of the paper, indeed, is not about supplying evidence for their central argument. W/M establish what is, from a neorealist perspective, an anomaly: American policy toward Israel is more supportive than would expect based on neorealist conceptions of national self-interest. This is probably right, although the extent of the gap is debatable. They then go on to dismiss the moral case for supporting Israel; I find this less persuasive, you may find it more, but at any rate it’s neither here not there as far as the empirical case is concerned; what matters is not whether I or they find the case convincing, but whether people with decision-making authority in the American state find it convincing and whether it’s at least arguable. (I don’t disagree that Israeli policy is currently contrary to some liberal “American values”; it is also true that the US would have failed the “American values” test rather more resoundingly less than 50 years ago, and the relevant metric is to compare with other countries rather than against an ideal liberal democracy.) And then they conclude with a summary of the effects of what they see as excessive American support for Israel. But the key middle section–where they actually try to establish the key proposition–is skimpy and unconvincing, filled with dubious inferences and slippery causal relationships. To take an example of the at times almost comically tendentious nature of their empirical analysis, consider this paragraph:

Thanks in part to the influence Jewish voters have on presidential elections, the Lobby also has significant leverage over the executive branch. Although they make up fewer than 3 per cent of the population, they make large campaign donations to candidates from both parties. The Washington Post once estimated that Democratic presidential candidates ‘depend on Jewish supporters to supply as much as 60 per cent of the money’. And because Jewish voters have high turn-out rates and are concentrated in key states like California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania, presidential candidates go to great lengths not to antagonise them.

First of all, of course, for several cycles CA, NY and IL have hardly been “key states”; they haven’t been remotely in play, and it would be pretty odd to for Republicans craft messages with a disproportinate eye toward small minorities in states they have no chance of winning. Pennsylvania’s population of religious Jews is a whopping 2%. And then you have to remember that neorealist foreign policy would not predict hostility toward Israel, but less marginal support, narrowing the policy terrain. And, of course, Jews have far from monolithic positions towards Israel. So basically we’re left with an enormous amount of leverage over the executive branch derived from the effects of differences within a narrow policy range within a segment of a small minority within a single swing state. Er, let’s just say I consider the question open.

And there’s an even bigger problem when it comes to the Iraq War. Iraq is an even clearer empirical anomaly from a neorealist perspective, but it is (to put it mildly) far from clear that installing a Shiite state with very tenuous coercive capacity in Iraq is in the interests of the Israeli state. The M/W attempts to explain the alleged “Israel Lobby” influence on the Iraq war come down to little more that inferences drawn from the fact many administration proponents of the war are also supporters of Israel. But when it comes to evidence that Israeli interests were a key factor in the decision, that’s awfully watery broth, and one I would think a neorealist would be particularly skeptical of.

Since I’m not committed to neorealist explanations, I think a lot more explanatory leverage can be derived from noting that many important American state actors conceive of American interests differently than neorealists do and that they also believe the moral case for supporting Israel is more tenable than M/W do. Admittedly, measuring interest group power is a nettlesome problem, and assertions of interest group influence are almost impossible to prove or disprove, but I just don’t find the case at all persuasive. While I think it’s a disgraceful smear to imply that these serious scholars are anti-Semites, I do think they’re straining to provide a simple explanation for some outcomes that their theoretical framework can’t really account for. The well-organized and funded Israeli lobby may explain some policy choices at the margin, but there’s little evidence that it’s a central variable.

As a final note, another reason I don’t think that creating an “Israeli lobby” bogeyman is particularly helpful is that is obscures what neorealism can help us think about: the difficult choices that we face in the middle east. Unlike the ice-cream-castles-in-the-air vision of too many neocons, the realists grasp the obvious point that the democratization of despotic regimes whose populations are even more hostile to Israel than the current governing elites will produce very difficult dilemmas in which American interests, Israeli interests, and democratization are in serious tension with one another. Pretending that all of these interests are inherently aligned is useless, but weakly-supported intimations about a nearly-omnipotent “Israeli lobby” are also diversions from the real issues involved.


Sunday Battleship Blogging: HMS Invincible

[ 0 ] March 19, 2006 |

Lord Fisher was not content with the invention of Dreadnought, the all big gun battleship which would render the fleets of the world obsolete. The mission of the Royal Navy was not limited to the destruction of the enemy battlefleet. Fisher was worried that smaller, less capable navies might attack British trade through the use of commerce raiding armored cruisers. These cruisers could typically outpace even Dreadnought, and could make the defense of Britain’s trade lifeline difficult. Accordingly, before Dreadnought had even left the slip, Fisher commissioned a design for a new kind of ship, the battlecruiser. HMS Invincible was the first of this kind.

HMS Invincible displaced 18000 tons, carried 8 12″ guns in four twin turrets (one fore, one aft, and two wing), and could make 27 knots. Although roughly the same size as Dreadnought, Invincible sacrificed one turret and a lot of armour for six extra knots of speed. Invincible could either outgun or outrun any ship in the world. Against armoured cruisers, she was, well, invincible. Facing battleships, she had the speed to withdraw. The Royal Navy would build eleven more battlecruisers, culminating in HMS Hood. The German Navy, feeling the need to match the British, built seven, and the Japanese four.

HMS Invincible began the war with the First Battlecruiser Squadron, based in Britain. Her first action was the Battle of Heligoland Bight, in which a group of British battlecruisers intercepted a destroyed a few patrolling German light cruisers. Developments in the Far East, however, drew HMS Invincible away. At the beginning of World War I, Germany controlled a naval base at Tsingtao. A crack German squadron including Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, Germany’s best two armored cruisers, had been transferred to China before the war. The German position in Asia was untenable, however. British and Russian forces could easily occupy the German territory, and the Japanese were making ominous anti-German noises. Admiral Graf Maximilian Von Spee decided to take his squadron into the Pacific in an effort to do as much damage as possible before being caught. There was a small chance, if the German ships were lucky, that they might make it back to Germany. Spee’s squadron wreaked havoc in the Southeast Pacific for a couple of months before the British were finally available to collect the ships necessary to track it down. The first British effort ended in disaster, however; the British cruisers became detached from a pre-dreadnought battleship, and were destroyed at the Battle of Coronel. This defeat outraged British public opinion, and the Admiralty decided to deal with Spee by sending HMS Invincible and HMS Inflexible to the South Atlantic.

Admiral Graf von Spee’s squadron attacked Stanley on the morning of December 8, 1914. The Admiral had no idea that Inflexible and Invincible were in port. Had the Germans launched an immediate and all out attack, they might have had a chance of seriously damaging or even crippling the British ships. On the other hand, Admiral Graf von Spee can hardly be blamed for retreating before an overwhelimingly superior force. The British Admiral, Frederick Sturdee, was unfazed by the initial German attack, and ordered the crew to take in breakfast while the battlecruisers raised steam. When Inflexible and Invincible were ready, they proceeded to leave Stanley, track down the German cruisers (they had an advantage of 3-4 knots) and destroy them at range. The ensuing battle was deeply unsporting, but Scharnhorst and Gneisenau did manage to score a number of hits on their poor shooting Royal Navy opponents before sinking.

HMS Invincible
returned to Great Britain, but missed the Battle of Dogger Bank. In May 1916, Invincible was flagship of the 3rd Battlecruiser Squadron, temporarily operating with the Grand Fleet out of Scapa Flow rather than with the rest of the battlecruiser squadrons. Her commander was Read Admiral Horace Hood, part of a family with a long history in the Royal Navy. Invincible did not arrive at Jutland early enough to participate in the “Run to the South” where five German battlecruisers managed to destroy two of six British battlecruisers. When the Grand Fleet appeared on the horizon, the German fleet began to turn to the south. Hood joined his ships to Beatty’s surviving battlecruisers, and Invincible began to hammer SMS Lutzow, the flagship of Admiral Hipper’s German battlecruiser squadron.

Unfortunately, the Germans noticed Invincible’s excellent gunnery, an unusual characteristic in a British ship. Lutzow and Derfflinger poured fire onto Invincible, and a salvo from Lutzow hit the British ship on its middle turret. Invincible was not designed to take heavy fire from battleships, but the admirals of neither the Grand Fleet nor the High Seas Fleet could resist pressing their battlecruisers into front line combat. Invincible exploded and sank, taking all but six of her crew of 1021 with her, including Admiral Hood. That was twice the number of survivors of the battlecruiser Hood, destroyed almost twenty-five years later. A much larger number of sailors probably survived the initial explosion, but it was not the policy of the Royal Navy to pick up survivors during battle. Invincible came to rest in two pieces, with her stern protruding just above the water. As the rest of the Grand Fleet passed by, the name Invincible was clearly visible on the stern of the wreck.

Trivia: What battleship devoted the highest percentage of its displacement to armour?

Feingold and the Censure Resolution: 2006 and 2008

[ 0 ] March 18, 2006 |

Image hosting by Photobucket

[This was posted as a cameo guest slot at FireDogLake: but at least 50% new maetrial!]

As a follow up to ReddHedd’s post below, yesterday I wrote a post about Ryan Lizza’s baffling claim, in response to Russ Feingold’s proposed censure of the President, that “[c]hanging the FISA law is the way to address Bush’s overreach.” Ann Althouse objects, arguing that I am not “the best person to be deciding who’s ‘vacuous.'” The merits of the ad hominem I will leave to the reader, but I think that Althouse is missing the fundamental point here, and I don’t think that what’s at stake can be emphasized often enough. There are two issues here: the politics, and the merits. The former issue I see little point in discussing, because whether it’s a net positive or negative the political impact of a censure resolution on mid-term elections in November will be negligible in any case. I will only point out another contradiction in Lizza’s argument. His argument that the resolution will be politically damaging rests on his assertion that “providing a check on Bush and the Republican dominance of Washington is a key Democratic talking point, but it’s being advanced subtly by candidates who still often must distance themselves from national Democrats.” But, if a Democratic victory rests on red-state Democrats being able to distance themselves from the Senate leadership–a plausible enough claim–then how can the fact that Feingold’s resolution has not produced a unified Democratic caucus be damaging? Lizza’s argument gets more puzzling the more you think about it.

But the more important point, which I think Althouse also misses, is that Lizza’s claim that supporters of the resolution have the policy wrong is just a transparent non-sequitur. Changing the FISA law is hardly an adequate response to presidential overreaching, given that the administration has asserted the authority to ignore any statutory restrictions placed on its authority to conduct domestic searches. The value of Feingold’s resolution is that it draws attention to the point that pundits like Lizza seem unable to grasp: this dispute is not only about the best policy to gather information about terrorists, but is about central questions of the President’s constitutional powers and the rule of law. The key issue here is that the President acted–and continues to act years after 9/11, and therefore with plenty of time to request changes in the statute if it was inadequate–against a law passed by Congress. And, as ReddHedd says, claims that FISA is unconstitutional because the President has unconstrained authority over foreign policy are exceptionally weak. It’s worth repeating my quote from Cass Sunstein about how contrary to our Constitutional framework such claims of plenary presidential power are:

Yoo emphasizes Blackstone and British practice, arguing that the United States closely followed the British model, in which the executive–the king!–was able to make war on his own. But not so fast. There is specific evidence that the British model was rejected. Just three years after ratification Wilson wrote, with unambiguous disapproval, that “in England, the king has the sole prerogative of making war.” Wilson contrasted the United States, where the power “of making war and peace” is in the legislature. Early presidents spoke in similar terms. Facing attacks from Indian tribes along the western frontier, George Washington, whose views on presidential power over war deserve special respect, observed: “The Constitution vests the power of declaring war with Congress; therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they have deliberated on the subject, and authorized such a measure.” As president, both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams expressed similar views. In his influential Commentaries, written in 1826, James Kent wrote that “war cannot lawfully be commenced on the part of the United States, without an act of Congress.”

the issue. The administration is claiming powers to act unilaterally with respect to a conflict with no logical end, powers far beyond what Lincoln claimed at the height of the Civil War. Changing the FISA statute not only doesn’t address this crucial issue–which the censure resolution, at least, foregrounds–it compounds it by legitimating the President’s lawbreaking and contempt for constitutional restraints retroactively. Feingold, unlike Lizza, actually understands the crucial issue at stake. As long as Congressional Republicans refuse to assert congressional prerogatives there’s nothing Democrats can do policy-wise, but at least they should be making this point as often as possible.

One area where I agree with Lizza, however, is that this is more about 2008 than 2006, and that’s where I’ll throw open to the discussion to our readers. This probably won’t make me a very popular in these parts, but as much as I admire Feingold I think that, ideally, the Democrats would be better served by running a red-state governor than a blue-state Senator. On the other hand, if Matt is right that this strengthens Feingold’s odds against Clinton, that can only be good news. If it comes down to Clinton/Feingold, then I think there shouldn’t be any contest: Clinton–who ran well behind Gore in New Work, while Feingold ran well ahead of Kerry in Wisconsin–has electability issues that are just as or more serious, and Feingold is much better on the merits. To the extent that it weakens Clinton by highlighting her unswerving commitment to a disastrous and increasingly unpopular war, this is a good thing for the Dems in ’08.

Challenge Results, Round 1

[ 0 ] March 18, 2006 |

The Bearded Ducks are ready to make their move. Ordinarily, I’ve already been eliminated by this point, what with my special ability to identify high seeded first round upset victims and pick them to win the tournament. If Albany had pulled it out against UConn, I’d be sitting pretty; I have unwisely selected Kentucky to upset the Huskies, and an Albany victory would have let me off the hook.

Please Show Your Work

[ 0 ] March 17, 2006 |

Ryan Lizza claims:

So the partisans on the left cheering Feingold appear to have both the policy and the politics wrong. Censure is meaningless. Changing the FISA law is the way to address Bush’s overreach. And the only way for Democrats to change FISA is for them to take back the Senate. This week, Feingold’s censure petition has made that goal just a little bit more difficult to achieve. What an ass.

On the second point, the main question is what exactly the evidence is that Feingold’s censure resolution will make it more difficult to take back the Senate in ’08. Is the censure proposal unpopular? Does it draw attention away “from providing a check on Bush and the Republican dominance of Washington”? There’s some rather glaring gaps here. It may be true that it’s bad politics, but bare assertions that it makes Ryan Lizza mythical swing voters uncomfortable do not constitute evidence.

But even more problematic is Lizza’s suggestion for a more effectual solution. How, exactly, does “changing the FISA law” address the problem? Bush, remember, is claiming an unreguable arbitrary authority to violate the law. Changing the law really couldn’t be more beside the point, and certainly doesn’t represent the slightest check on the President’s power. And, of course, the changes to the law actually being proposed–which would essentially constitute a retrospective endorsement of the President’s illegal behavior–would not merely not address the problem, but would actually compound it. If Lizza means a very different set of reforms, then his argument is self-evidently illogical: it’s political poison for the Democrats to censure the President’s illegal wiretapping, but it would be politically viable for the Democrats to endorse strong checks on President’s warrantless wiretapping? Why? And if the Democrats believe that he was breaking the law, why on earth shouldn’t he be censured? This is TNR center-right contrarianism at its most vacuous.

[ 0 ] March 17, 2006 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Starbuck and Nelson

Dear CBS

[ 0 ] March 17, 2006 |

Seriously, what the hell is up with taking us from interesting, competitive games to the tipoff of 1-16 stiffs? Isn’t Villanova a pretty expansive definition of “local”? If we’re going to go that far, why don’t we count D.C. so we can actually watch a game that would be of interest to non-alumni?


…or, if you must show a 1-16 game, what about Ned Flanders’ relatively well-regarded alma mater?

WBC Semis

[ 0 ] March 17, 2006 |

Well, that was surprising.

I don’t think that anyone could have predicted that the US would simply fail to hit in the WBC. In five games against teams other than South Africa, the US scored 16 runs. That’s with an exceptional offensive lineup against pitching which doesn’t compare favorably with that of an average Major League team.

I’m glad that the umpiring travesty in the US-Japan game didn’t end up mattering. I’ll go out on a limb and predict that Japan will win its third game of the tourney against Korea, then will defeat the Dominican Republic in the finals. But really, with four teams as evenly matched as these in a single-elimination tournament, anything could happen.

And Just When You Thought Judy Miller Couldn’t Get More Pathetic

[ 0 ] March 16, 2006 |

Who knew bloggers had such power?

Judith Miller has a new alibi—the blogs done her in!

Writer Marie Brenner presents Miller’s latest defense in an April Vanity Fair feature story about the fallout from the Valerie Plame investigation. Brenner, acknowledging she’s a friend of the former New York Times reporter, writes that while still in Iraq in May 2003, Miller became a “major target in the intense public anger directed at Bush’s war, owing to her reports that Saddam Hussein was producing weapons of mass destruction.”

The ones tossing the fire were those dastardly—but unnamed—bloggers, according to Miller. Upon returning to New York later in May, Miller met with the Times’ two top editors, Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd, who were then battling a staff revolt triggered by the Jayson Blair scandal. They acknowledged the “flak” her stories had gotten and told her foreign editor Roger Cohen did not want her to go back to Iraq. Cohen opposed her return because, as he tells Brenner, “There were concerns about her sources and her sourcing.” Still, Miller managed a quick trip to Iraq.

Wow. And I thought that it was her extraordinarily bad reporting. Certainly the blogosphere has provided a venue in which hackish work like Miller’s can be exposed. But, it’s not as if this is some small potatoes event that some enterprising blogger stumbled upon and then publicized. Judy repeatedly relied on sources who claimed that Iraq possessed large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. Iraq did not, in fact, possess even small stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. I think somebody was going to notice this problem even if Josh Marshall and Bob Somerby hadn’t pointed it out…

An Appeal To Self-Interest

[ 0 ] March 16, 2006 |

If ethical and pragmatic arguments don’t sway you from your belief that granting males an unlimited right to withhold child support is a good idea, via Ezra note this crucial question from Tyler Cowen: “This change would be a tax on male nerd sex. It would boost male nerd autonomy, but which of these do nerds need more?” Game, set, match.

Why The Saletan Smug Moralism Stratagem Will Fail

[ 3 ] March 16, 2006 |

Via Atrios (who explains exactly what the results of the Saletan approach will be here), I see that Missouri Republicans voted to kill an amendment to start providing state funding for birth control. I guess Missouri pro-choicers didn’t talk enough about how evil women who get abortions are:

An attempt to resume state spending on birth control got shot down Wednesday by House members who argued it would have amounted to an endorsement of promiscuous lifestyles.

Missouri stopped providing money for family planning and certain women’s health services when Republicans gained control of both chambers of the Legislature in 2003.


The House voted 96-59 to delete the funding for contraception and infertility treatments after Rep. Susan Phillips told lawmakers that anti-abortion groups such as Missouri Right to Life were opposed to the spending.

“If you hand out contraception to single women, we’re saying promiscuity is OK as a state, and I am not in support of that,” Phillips, R-Kansas City, said in an interview.

Others, including some lawmakers who described themselves as “pro-life,” said it was illogical for anti-abortion lawmakers to deny money for contraception to low-income people who use public health clinics.

“It’s going to have the opposite effect of what the intention is, which will be more unwanted pregnancies and more abortions,” said Rep. Kate Meiners, D-Kansas City.

What–you mean many American pro-lifers oppose contraception for reasons independent of the abortion issue? My illusions are shattered.

And, of course, this is the central problem with Saletan’s preserve-abortion-through-presumptuous-moralizing strategy. It’s not just that he basically ignores the way in which American pro-life politics are not just about “fetal life” but are inextricably bound up in reactionary conceptions of gender and sexuality. It’s also that his strategy is missing a plausible causal link. To work it basically assumes that many anti-choicers will admit that they’re arguing in bad faith, and that their policy preferences aren’t really about protecting fetal life. How likely is that? And how likely is it that talking about how immoral abortion is will increase support for reproductive rights? Trying to infer political strategies from snapshots of majoritarian public opinion is very unlikely to work.

…as a useful alternative, I think that this is an excellent point:

What pro-choice advocates need to make clear in conversations with moderate pro-lifers is that advocating free access to abortion is not contingent on a belief that every woman who decides to have an abortion is doing a good thing, or is making her decision on a moral basis. It depends on the belief that, if you are willing to agree that there are good and sufficient reasons for a woman to seek an abortion in some circumstances, that there is no one in a better position to decide whether those circumstances apply than the woman involved. She may not always be right, but there is no preferable decision-maker available. Discussions of what constitute good and bad reasons for abortion can still be interesting and important moral discussions, but they can’t reasonably form a basis for restrictions on abortion that depend on the woman’s justification, unless one is prepared to propose an alternative decision-maker who decides whose reasons for abortion are sufficient and whose are insufficient on a case-by-case basis.

[my emphasis]

Exactly right. The problem with centrist moral ambivalence is that it can’t be written into law (unless you assume that committees of doctors or whatever can make better complex ethical judgments than the woman whose life is actually involved, which runs into the obvious problem that it’s silly.) So, instead, this ambivalence becomes manifested in regulations that make it harder for certain classes of women to get abortions, but do nothing to ensure that women will make choices Will Saletan will agree with.

Tourney Challenge

[ 0 ] March 15, 2006 |

Last reminder; we already have 19 entrants.

ESPN NCAA Tournament Challenge
League Name: Lawyers, Guns and Money
Password: zevon

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