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Realists and Neocons

[ 0 ] February 23, 2006 |

There are some things to like in Helmut’s discussion of Fukuyama’s NYT piece, in particular his point about the Cold War providing ideological cover for any policy the US wanted to pursue. But Helmut is dead wrong about realists and neocons; they’re not the same. They’re not close to the same.

“Idealism” is a complete backtrack on all that the neocons stand for, which just is standard old Cold War realism in which the most powerful states get to carve up the global pie. The “end of history” thesis suggests that there is a final victor and it is us. That fits the realist paradigm a whole lot better than it does any idealist notion of foreign affairs.

The above isn’t even a fair description of neoconservatism, much less realism. There is nothing, NOTHING, about realism that suggests, implies, or allows for a final victor that gets to carve up the world. Indeed, nothing could be further from realist thought; no realist would EVER suggest that a concept like “the end of history”, unless by history you mean the development of anarchy as the ordering principle of the international system. History never ends for a realist. Moreover, the processes of power described by realists don’t have a moral content; no realist would ever declare that the Melians deserved destruction at the hands of the Athenians or that the Iraqis deserved to be attacked by the Americans.

And this does not apply simply to neorealism. Hans Morgenthau’s fifth principle of power politics states that the moral laws of the universe cannot be identified with the moral aspirations of a given state. There is NO WAY to reconcile this statement with neoconservatism, which clearly identifies the aspirations of the United States with the laws of the universe. The two are completely antithetical.

But it should have been foreseen by Fukuyama as well as by the other neocons. They do, after all, come from the realist school of international relations. This school – perhaps best exemplified for our purposes here by Kissinger – understands the significance of legitimacy in the international sphere. Legitimacy of behavior in the international sphere requires that others, even those who may have something to lose in a given action, view the action as nonetheless right or appropriate or at least understandable.

We’ll set aside for a second the fact that the neocons loathe Henry Kissinger and focus on the misinterpretation of realism. While some realists include concepts like legitimacy within their edifice (I’m thinking Carr, Gilpin, and Walt to the extent that he can be described as a realist) many don’t, and it can hardly be regarded as a centerpiece of realist thought. On the contrary, the concept of legitimacy is highly regarded by liberal internationalists, who deliberately eschew the other aspects of realist thought.

The clearest element of Helmut’s discussion of Fukuyama is that neoconservatives ought not to be regarded as “idealists”. Why not? At one point, Helmut describes Fukuyama as a neocon “ideologue”, and members of the Bush administration as “ideologues”. There is nothing about the concept of “idealist” that suggests that someone must have the right ideas. If the ideas favored by an idealist are bad or destructive, then an idealist can be even worse than a realist, materialist, or rationalist, however you would like to describe the opposite of idealism. Neocons are idealists; they clearly identify an ideological end point, and see ideas as the prime generators of change and transformation. This doesn’t mean that they’re good, and certainly doesn’t mean that they ought to be called realists. Rudyard Kipling was an idealist; he identified the well being of the world with the hegemony of right-thinking white men. Kaiser Wilhelm II was an idealist; he identified the well being of the world with the glory of German civilization. Otto Von Bismarck was a realist; he pursued the interests of his state without larger consideration of whether the German Empire was in some sense carrying out a historical or divine mission. Neocons are very much like the former two examples, and very little like the latter.

The Iraq adventure was almost universally decried as pointless by realists in the academy and in the policy world. Say what you will about these realists; I hardly wish to argue strongly for the positions taken by John Mearsheimer, but at least he got this one right. The Iraq invasion may have been sold partially (but not wholly) in realist terms, but it makes almost no sense from the realist worldview. Whatever neocons may be, they aren’t Henry Kissinger. If they were, then Iraq would remain in the hands of Saddam Hussein. You can dislike both the realist and the neocon understandings of the world (and I dislike both) while recognizing that they are not reconcilable with one another. It does a dramatic disservice to the discussion of either neoconservatism or realism to conflate the two.

does a much better job of parsing Fukuyama’s NYT piece.

UPDATE: As Helmut’s comment just reminded me, even the security justification for the war on Iraq was sold in liberal internationalist, not realist, terms. Realists tend to prefer to rely on deterrence to resolve problems with weapons of mass destruction, and are certainly loathe to represent any state as “rogue” or “outlaw”. Quite the contrary; realists assumed that Saddam Hussein (and Kim Jong-Il, to give another example) was simply pursuing his own interests, and cared little about the threats to international law, international institutions, and international order that Hussein presented. Realist as a whole could also care less about NGOs, and were uncompelled by the logic of Iraqi cooperation with Al Qaeda. Even to the extent that the administration presented Iraq as a threat, it was a threat on liberal internationalist, not realist, terms.

Lexblogging: The Passion of the Rebels

[ 0 ] February 22, 2006 |

My second game at Rupp Arena was a bit less exciting than the first; in the 103rd meeting of the Wildcats and the Ole Miss Rebels, Kentucky eked out an 80-40 win. That gives Kentucky a 92-11 lead in the all time series. God, the SEC must have been a remarkably boring conference for most of its history; since 1933, Kentucky has won 43 titles. Tennessee, the next most successful team, has won eight. Is there any other major conference that has a similar imbalance?

The Rupp Arena crowd is very smart, and has very high expectations. This is particularly true of the area I’ve beens sitting, because many of the fans have had tickets for twenty years of more. They know all the players, have a refined sense of the game, and expect that Kentucky will dominate. It’s a lot of fun.

Tonight, the Wildcats played like the team they were supposed to be this year. Their next three games are tough; at LSU, at Tennessee, and Florida at Rupp. It will be interesting to see what they’ll do in the tournament.

Wisdom of the Day

[ 0 ] February 22, 2006 |

From Dr. B.

Yeah, it can be like herding cats; then again, as any cat person knows, it’s actually not all that difficult to get cats to do what you want, as long as you don’t treat them like dogs.

Almost Wholly Irrelevant, Except for that Ruling Iraq Part

[ 0 ] February 22, 2006 |

John Quiggin catalogues Insty’s history with Moqtada Al Sadr. Long story short, Sadr managed to fall off the radar screen both of Insty and the administration sometime in 2004, yet is now one of the most powerful men in Iraq. That democracy thing, looks like it’s going great.

I still can’t fathom why Sadr wasn’t killed or arrested in 2004.

A New Dudas

[ 0 ] February 21, 2006 |

Congratulations to frequent commenters JRD and MJD on the birth of Andrew Michael Dudas. If there’s one thing this world needs, it’s another Dudas.


[ 0 ] February 20, 2006 |

While wandering Wikipedia, I discovered this interesting fact; only eighty-two veterans of World War I are still alive. I suppose that this shouldn’t be particularly surprising, given that the youngest is 102 years old. Having never given it much thought, though, I guess I expected that the number would be bigger.

For the record, this is the breakdown:

Living in Australia – 4 veterans
Living in Austria – 1 veteran
Living in Brazil – 1 veteran
Living in Canada – 2 veterans
Living in France – 10 veterans
Living in Hungary – 1 veteran
Living in Germany – 14 veterans
Living in Italy – 12 veterans
Living in Poland – 3 veterans
Living in Russia – 1 veteran
Living in the United Kingdom – 11 veterans
Living in USA – 22 veterans

I’m mildly surprised that the United States has the largest number of surviving veterans, given that US mobilization was smaller than that of the other major powers. On the other hand, World War II must have taken its toll of veterans in the European countries, and US participation in the war came fairly late.

In ten years, I suspect they’ll all be gone.

Big Government Liberals

[ 0 ] February 20, 2006 |

Atrios is quite right; while liberals tend to believe that taxes should be high enough to pay for expenditures, and also tend to believe that a well funded, stable state can usefully fulfill a number of societal tasks, no one believes that big government is a virtue in and of itself.

I don’t know any “big government liberals” in the sense that Andy means. I don’t know anybody who gets a stiffy at the thought of raising taxes and increasing government spending as a share of GDP just for the hell of it. Liberals I know tend to think there are things government should do and we should, roughly, figure out how to pay for those things, though we’re not entirely allergic to deficit spending. When taxes have to go up to cover interest and debt repayment costs no liberals I know are going to go “YAY! HIGHER TAXES! WOO HOOO!”

On the right, the idea that small government is good seems to have escaped its theoretical roots and become a dogmatic assertion, one that is ignored in practice as consistently as it is declared in rhetoric. There is no corresponding
belief on the left in some kind of ideal state of the state.

The New World and Match Point and Munich

[ 0 ] February 20, 2006 |

Almost ready to wrap up my 2005 Top Ten list. 2046 briefly held the project up; I had given up any hopes of seeing the movie before it inexplicably came to Lexington last week. Oddly, it only played for one day, and I missed it. However, I have recently watched The New World, Munich, and Match Point.

The New World: I like New World a lot more than I thought I would. That’s kind of strange, given the high esteem in which I hold Malick and his three previous films. The problem is that I don’t feel I can trust my affection for The Thin Red Line. Badlands is an immortal classic, and Days of Heaven not far off, but The Thin Red Line is a problem. I really like it, and have seen it probably twenty times, but I can’t say for sure that I like it for its cinematic qualities or because of its subject matter, which is near and dear to my heart. I’m of two minds of the voice overs. On the one hand, they can be intrusive. On the other, they seem to speak for the characters with an eloquence that the characters lack. I can’t help shake the feeling that Thin Red Line would have been better with about thirty fewer minutes.

It was, thus, with some trepidation that I saw New World. I don’t particularly care about the Pocahontas-John Smith story, and the concept leaves itself open for some high class wankery. I found myself pleasantly surprised. The voice-overs are less intrusive here than in TRL, and the narrative doesn’t meander as much. It’s interesting that a large scale infantry assault against a fortified position plays such an important role in both films, although that may just be the security specialist in me. I suppose that the important difference in the two is that TRL treats both the Japanese and American forces on Guadalcanal as an alien presence, while only the English are treated in such a way in New World.

Match Point: My thoughts echo Scott’s. Of his later films I much prefer Deconstructing Harry and think that Celebrity is underrated, but Match Point is a worthy effort and his best in a while. The biggest problem with the film is the meteoric rise of our hero in the corporate world; I couldn’t bring myself to believe that, even with the help of his father-in-law, he could shift so easily from the tennis court to the white collar world. This makes it correspondingly more difficult to believe that he would stay with his wife rather than with Scarlett Johansson. A colleague also pointed out a minor but annoying problem; after Johannson and Rhys Meyers first encounter, conducted in a muddy field in the midst of a driving rain at the home of the parents of their prospective in-laws, both apparently wander back into the manor house without being noticed or having been missed. Nevertheless, a solid enough film.


“The killing will never stop”- Eric Bana
“Neither will this movie”-Rob

The increasingly reluctant killer is a common trope in American cinema. Some figure righteously begins killing his enemies, but as the killing continues the hero realizes that he is becoming very much like those he hunts. It’s a useful enough narrative device, effective across a range of different quality efforts. However, it really depends on an arc; the hero has to kill some people righteously, then slowly begin to question his actions. If he is reluctant, torn, and squishy before killing his first enemy, the movie gets boring quick.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Munich. We establish very quickly that Eric Bana loves his family and doesn’t really care for killing Palestinians. At that point, his character ceases to be of any interest, because it never changes. He reluctantly kills one Palestinian, then another, then another, worrying each time about his family. This may be a realistic portrayal of an assassin, although I have my doubts. What it is not, however, is compelling cinema. The sixth assassination is no different from the first; the characters don’t move in any meaningful direction.

And then the movie goes on. And on. And on. Spielberg spends 164 minutes telling a story that should have taken about 90. Yes, we know Bana is conflicted; we knew that an hour ago. Yes, we know that Ciaran Hinds has doubts; we knew that 90 minutes ago. It’s not that Spielberg fails to get to the point; he gets there in about 20 minutes. The problem is with the other 144 minutes; I finished my large “Mellow Yellow” and my Milk Duds two hours ago, and Bana is still a conflicted, reluctant killer hunting Palestinians. I found myself almost sympathetic with some of the right wing critiques of the movie. How can we take seriously a conversation, four assassinations in, about whether the killing of armed bodyguards is legitimate?

In other news, Eric Bana is still tortured and conflicted about killing Palestinians, and still loves his family.

Sunday Battleship Blogging: IJN Kongo

[ 0 ] February 19, 2006 |

The Imperial Japanese Navy of Togo Heihachiro, including the fleet that destroyed the Tsar’s armada at Tsushima, was primarily constructed in Great Britain. Although relations between Japan and the United Kingdom remained close, the Japanese understood the need for a domestic shipbuilding industry. The next four major IJN units (Satsuma, Aki, Kawachi, and Settsu) were constructed in Japanese yards with varying percentages of British parts.

The IJN understood that war in the Pacific was likely to be of a different character than war in the Atlantic. Because of the size of the Pacific, capital ships were less likely to find each other and fight. More common would be cruiser actions. The IJN found the battlecruisers of the Royal Navy very attractive, and decided to procure four battlecruisers to provide the basis for a new fleet. Finally, the Japanese decided that the first battlecruiser, Kongo, would be built in a British yard, although to a Japanese design. The British had experience with battlecruisers, and the Japanese wanted to take no chances with these expensive warships.

Kongo was commissioned in August of 1913. She was a magnificent ship. Kongo was the first warship anywhere in the world to carry 14″ guns, of which she possessed eight in four twin turrets. Kongo could make 30 knots, enough to outpace existing British battlecruisers, and displaced 27000 tons. When commissioned, Kongo was one of the most powerful warships in the world. Fortunately for the Japanese, Kongo was dispatched to Japan prior to the beginning of World War I. Had her construction been delayed a few months, it is possible that Winston Churchill would have been unable to give up the most powerful ship at his disposal, just as he was unable to give up Turkish and Chilean battleships under construction in 1914. Whether the Japanese, closely allied with Great Britain in 1914, would have taken this lying down is an open question. When the Royal Navy attempted to lease the Kongo and her sisters during World War I, the IJN refused. The presence of Kongo and her sisters at Jutland might well have turned a draw into a rout; their heavy weaponry would have made short work of Hipper’s battlecruisers.

Kongo was rebuilt twice during the interwar period. The first reconstruction was designed to bring her up to the armor standards of contemporary battleships. It resulted in a slower, but better protected, warship. Unfortunately, it also resulted in a less useful unit. More sensible heads prevailed in Japan, and the second major reconstruction of Kongo lengthened her hull, improved her machinery, and restored her speed to 31 knots. Even with the first reconstruction, Kongo’s protection remained inadequate to combat against other battleships, but her speed meant that she could perform carrier escort missions.

On December 7, 1941 Kongo and her sisters were, in spite of their age, the most useful units in the Pacific theater, with the exception of Prince of Wales. While any American battleship could defeat Kongo in single combat, none of them could actually force that combat because of their slow speeds. While the experience of the British battlecruiser squadron at Jutland left a bad taste in the mouth of most major navies after World War I, it turned out that the superior speed of battlecruisers made them more useful units in World War II. The British almost certainly erred in disposing of the battlecruiser Tiger, in 1930, instead of one of the slow “R” class battleships. Had the United States decided in 1918 to press ahead with the construction of three Lexington class battlecruisers instead of the three Colorado class battleships, the United States might well have possessed two useful ships in the wake of Pearl Harbor, instead of two more old, slow battleships.

Kongo’s first World War II duty was to counter the British battleships Repulse and Prince of Wales, both operating out of Singapore. Japanese aircraft dispatched both ships before they could meet Kongo or her sister Haruna, which freed Kongo for other duties. Kongo participated in almost every major action of World War II, including the Battle of Midway, the Battle of Gualdalcanal, the Battle of Philippine Sea, and the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Kongo and Haruna served together in every engagement, up to and including Leyte Gulf. At Leyte Gulf Kongo was part of Admiral Kurita’s main force, which included the battleships Musashi and Yamato. Kurita’s force intended to attack and destroy the American invasion fleet off Leyte after the main US force had been drawn off by Japanese decoy carriers. Shockingly enough, the decoy plan worked; Admiral Halsey and his battleships left their position off Leyte in a futile attempt to destroy the Japanese carriers.

Off the island of Samar, Admiral Kurita’s force of four battleships, ten cruisers, and eleven destroyers met an American force that consisted of three destroyers and four destroyer escorts. The US force was covering a group of eighteen escort carriers, small, slow ships with almost no defensive armament. In desperation, the US destroyers attacked. Miraculously, they won. The American destroyers, along with aircraft launched by the escort carriers, managed to sink three Japanese cruisers and to disrupt the Japanese attack. The Japanese battleships, expecting to meet battleships, had armed themselves primarily with armor-piercing shells. These shells passed through the unarmored American ships, causing only minimal damage. Eventually, terrified that the American battleships would return and cut off his retreat, Kurita ordered his fleet to turn around and escape. Kongo suffered heavy damage from ensuing air attacks.

Off Formosa, on her way to a refit in Japan, Kongo was hit by three torpedos from the US submarine Sealion. Yamato and Nagato were in line with Kongo, and the latter barely managed to avoid another set of torpedos. Fires started by the torpedo hits spread to Kongo’s magazines, and she exploded and sank. Had her captain not insisted on maintaining a high speed, the damage might have been contained, but he feared additional torpedo attacks. 1250 sailors died when Kongo sank.

Trivia: What was the only dreadnought lost in World War I to torpedo attack?

America’s Greatest Hero

[ 0 ] February 18, 2006 |

Michael Berube.

There really in no better response to Sean Hannity and David Horowitz than laughter. They are fundamentally ridiculous characters.

Best Miniseries

[ 0 ] February 18, 2006 |

I won’t fully engage, but any list of the best miniseries ever that doesn’t start with I, Claudius and the Dekalog isn’t worth the bandwidth it’s typed on…

[ 0 ] February 17, 2006 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson and Starbuck