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Israel’s Integrated Military

[ 0 ] February 6, 2010 |

Danny Kaplan at Foreign Policy is pointing out how the US lags behind other top-notch militaries like the IDF in its nascent, grudging willingness to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly.

The United States and Turkey are now the only NATO military powers that do not allow gays to serve openly, but Israel and other countries have shown that the participation of gay soldiers in combat units presents no risk for military effectiveness. What’s more, acknowledging their presence might even improve unite cohesion.

No “might” about it, actually; Elizabeth Kier’s study of this topic twelve years ago demonstrated it does. She drew attention back then to the distinction between “unit cohesion” which is indeed based on a sense of commonality among fellow fighters, and “task cohesion” – the ability to actually get things done in a professional manner – which at times can actually be threatened by too much unit cohesion resulting in group-think. While the “military morale” arguments have accounted for the opposition to open integration by conservatives, Kier explains this only applies to unit cohesion, but it’s task cohesion that makes military units effective.

[cross-posted at Duck of Minerva]


I Really Wish Emptywheel Hadn’t Written This Post…

[ 0 ] February 5, 2010 |

Emptywheel notes that one element of Shelby’s decision to put a blanket hold on all nominees was to defend the Airbus bid for the new USAF tanker aircraft. This represents part of the long competition between Boeing and Airbus for the tanker contract. Unfortunately, Emptywheel decides that it’s necessary to engage in xenophobia in order to attack Shelby.

There has been a lot of discussion of how foreign companies will be able to influence elections and politics given the Citizens United deal. But foreign companies are already dominating our politics.

As we’ll see, Marcy is arguing that Airbus is “dominating” US politics by providing Richard Shelby with incentive to put holds on all of Obama’s nominees. The instrument of Airbus’ domination is a promise to assemble key components of its USAF tanker contract in Alabama, which would supply jobs, investment, facilities, etc.

The key issue is that Shelby wants the Air Force to tweak an RFP for refueling tankers so that Airbus (partnered with Northrup Grumman) would win the bid again over Boeing. The contract had been awarded in 2008, but the GAO found that the Air Force had erred in calculating the award. After the Air Force wrote a new RFP in preparation to rebid the contract, Airbus calculated that it would not win the new bid, and started complaining. Now, Airbus is threatening to withdraw from the competition unless the specs in the RFP are revised.

Essentially, then, Shelby’s threat is primarily about gaming this bidding process to make sure Airbus–and not Boeing–wins the contract (there’s a smaller program he’s complaining about, too, but this is the truly huge potential bounty for his state).

If Marcy had followed this discussion since the beginning, she’d appreciate that “gaming bidding process” has been fundamentally about giving Boeing a heavy advantage. Airbus, of course, won the original contract handily, to much consternation and hand-wringing in the substantial portion of the US military-industrial complex that depends on not having to compete with foreign suppliers. There are legitimate questions about the bidding process, and legitimate debate about what needs the Boeing and Airbus bids provide, but it’s fairly clear that the revision of the terms of the bid have “gamed the process” to the extent that Airbus has no chance whatsoever to win. Marcy is entering this movie halfway through; Boeing has already exerted its influence on the US democratic process to substantially change USAF requirements in favor of its own bid.

I understand why any Senator would fight for jobs in his or her state. And I understand that there was dirty corruption in this original contracting process.

This is a key point; understanding American politics, Airbus determined that promising to assemble key parts of the tanker in the United States would weigh heavily in favor of its bid. Boeing already plays this game, and plays it very well; it has a wide range of Senators and Representatives in its pocket through diversification of its production all over the United States. In this sense, it was somewhat surprising that the USAF believed it possible to give the bid to Airbus. There was no question that Boeing would mobilize its political support to overturn any deal, even if Airbus had submitted a clearly superior proposal.

But underlying the refueling contract is the question of whether the US military ought to spend what may amount to $100 billion over the life of the contract with a foreign company, Airbus. Particularly a company that the WTO found preliminarily to be illegally benefiting from subsidies from European governments.

I don’t recall reading Marcy’s robust defense of WTO intervention in domestic subsidy discussions, but it’s at least worth noting here that one reason Airbus receives subsidies is to allow it to compete with Boeing in the civilian jetliner market. Unlike Airbus, Boeing has significant DoD contracts that give it sufficient financial security to weather turbulence in the international civilian aircraft market. Airbus doesn’t have the kind of cozy relationship with a major defense buyer, and has to rely on subsidies. The story is a touch more complicated than that, of course, but it’s nevertheless fair to say that Boeing’s ability to sell to DoD is one reason why Airbus needs subsidies.

Richard Shelby is preparing to shut down the Senate to try to force the government to award a key military function to a foreign company.

And this is really the key line. If we’re to take this seriously, Marcy is arguing that Airbus should not have been allowed to bid for the tanker contract. Allowing Airbus to to bid meant that there was at least the possibility that they would win, resulting in the “award of a key military function to a foreign company.” Now, I suppose it’s a defensible position to suggest that only American companies should be allowed to bid for American defense contracts. In this case, since there are precisely three companies worldwide capable of building long range military tankers (including one Russian), this would have the practical effect of awarding the contract to Boeing. The implications of giving a contract to a European company are, to me, a good deal less scary than the suggestion that Boeing should be insulated from defense competition when providing to the DoD. I would further argue that if you’re going to award key military functions to any foreign company, it might as well be Airbus; the US and Europe have maintained a tight defense relationship for sixty years, and the US defense industry supplies a very substantial proportion of European defense needs.

And so here are my key problems:

  1. Marcy is demagoguing the Shelby question, when she really doesn’t need to. Shelby’s behavior is despicable enough without making insinuations about the dread domination of foreign corporations.
  2. By highlighting the “foreign” aspect, Marcy is playing with the worst kind of xenophobic prejudice. Progressives really, really shouldn’t truck in the kind of anti-foreign stereotyping that conservatives love to employ. It’s also incidental to the argument; would Marcy have been cool with Shelby’s hold if it had been in defense of a Lockheed Martin or Boeing contract?
  3. Marcy appears to be suggesting that foreign companies ought not be allowed to bid for major US military contracts. That’s all fine and well, but it rather substitutes the domination of US defense corporations for foreign defense corporations. For my part, I’m pretty happy about the idea of letting Airbus into the competition, and of giving them a fighting chance to win.

…And I’m sorry that I have to include this, but when Marcy notes that the first bidding process (which Airbus won) was characterized by “dirty corruption,” she links here, which is a letter from a Boeing whistleblower about fraud and corruption at Boeing, rather than at Airbus. In other words, she identifies Boeing as the corrupt party, then argues that Shelby is trying to “game the process” by making sure that Airbus has a fair shot to win a contract that Airbus has, in fact, already won.

Executive Power and the Constitution

[ 0 ] February 5, 2010 |

I don’t think it contradicts the text of Matt’s post, but it’s worth noting that the trend towards unilateral executive power is a question of constitutional norms, as opposed to the text of the Constitution. John Yoo’s nonsense notwithstanding, the framers were worried about the President having excessive authority over foreign affairs, and clearly divided the relevant powers between Congress and the President in ways that put substantial limits on the president’s authority. The trend toward unilateral power has happened because Congress has been for the most part willing to delegate its powers to the executive branch.

Madison was right about one important institutional question: in and of themselves, parchment restrictions on state power are not very effective constraints, and hence they had to be accompanied by an institutional design that would make such limitations effective. Where Madison has largely turned out to be wrong is in his assumptions about the separation of powers. Madison assumed that institutional actors would be very jealous about guarding their prerogatives. But in practice, rather than maximizing their authority members of Congress often take advantage of the separation of powers to evade responsibility. Thus dynamic explains not only the increased foreign policy powers of the presidency, but the general growth in policymaking authority on the part of both the executive branch as a whole and the federal courts.

Genocide and the ICC

[ 0 ] February 5, 2010 |

Mark Leon Goldberg of UN Dispatch explains yesterday’s decision of the International Criminal Court’s Appeals Chamber to require the Pre-Trial Chamber to reconsider including the crime of genocide in the arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. The Pre-Trial Chamber previously included “only” war crimes and crimes against humanity in the warrant. The ruling is here.

Via Veronica Glick, Don Krause argues that the ruling demonstrates the ICC is governed by rule of law. That’s a good point. But I also think the fact that a relatively minor procedural decision is being treated as so significant tends to demonstrate why the PTC may have sought to avoid the charges in the original indictment. On procedural terms, the ruling makes absolute sense. But in political terms the earlier decision may have made sense as well.

An important distinction between “crimes against humanity” and “genocide” is that in the case of genocide, the burden of proof is on the prosecutor not only to demonstrate that atrocities occurred, but that the defendant ordered them with the intent that they have a particular effect on groups, rather than people. Intent crimes are extremely difficult to prosecute. At the same time, genocide is considered by the public to be more heinous than crimes against humanity, and many people take it for granted already that what went on in Darfur was genocide, which is why UN lawyers’ equivocating on this point was so unpopular in 2005. So the charges over genocide will likely be both more politicized and harder to prove than “crimes against humanity.” By prosecuting genocide, the court may set itself up to disappoint a lot of people if it is unable to convict.

The salience of the “genocide” concept in public understandings of Darfur also explains why this new ruling has been greeted with so much enthusiasm by Darfur watchers. Yet I tend to agree with Alex de Waal (see his comment on David Barsoum’s blog) that the significance of the legal distinction here may be overblown. How different does genocide seem from crimes against humanity from the perspective of the victims of killing, rape, or forced displacement? There is also no difference in terms of the maximum sentence. So at best the charges are somewhat redundant; at worst I fear the insistence on genocide charges erroneously suggests that crimes against cultural groups are somehow worse than crimes against people, or that if something is not “genocide” then somehow it’s not quite as bad. (On this, Kevin Jon Heller has a dissenting view.)

I would be interested in seeing the definition of genocide in the Rome Statute reconsidered by states parties given the decades of reconsideration and critique of the 1948 definition, which is not only hard to prosecute but also extremely limited (excluding purges of political groups, for example).

All that said, the procedural issue here was an important one. Al-Bashir may now have, if he is ever apprehended, a more costly and politically complicated trial but in any case one that meets ICC internal procedural standards – which is itself good for rule of law and may help dampen criticisms of the court. Will justice itself ultimately be served by this decision? I think this ruling shows that the a landmark case like this is never only about justice, but also about institutional credibility. And it shows that how to balance those two goals is not always entirely clear.

[cross-posted at current intelligence]


[ 0 ] February 5, 2010 |

Via the Twitter feed of Roger Ebert,whose Twitter feed which is a treasure.

The Court and African-Americans

[ 0 ] February 4, 2010 |

Both the long and short book-length versions of his argument are worth reading, but Michael Klarman’s remarks about the Supreme Court’s generally poor record when it comes to the rights of African-Americans constitute a very useful summary. These points about the contingency of the Court’s recent record are also important:

I would draw three lessons from the last forty years of the Supreme Court’s racial jurisprudence. First, most of these rulings have been five to four. Had there been one more liberal justice, many of these cases likely would have been decided differently. It was not predestined that the Court would reject race-based affirmative action, prematurely terminate the school desegregation project, or reject the argument that the Constitution bars racially disparate impacts regardless of discriminatory motive. Constitutional interpretation involves judicial discretion; judicial discretion reflects political ideology; and conservative justices tend, unsurprisingly, to subscribe to the conservative racial ideology of the party that appointed them. That ideology embraces a narrow, formalist conception of what counts as race discrimination; abhors the use of racial preferences, whether benignly motivated or not; and deems this nation’s ugly history of white supremacy as something more to be repudiated than remedied.

Second, while the political composition of the U.S. Supreme Court is partly fortuitous, the victories of the conservative bloc of justices since 1970 have predominantly been a function of politics. Between 1968 and 2008, Republicans controlled the presidency for twenty-eight years, Democrats for only twelve. Of the fourteen appointments made to the Supreme Court between 1969 and 2006, twelve were made by Republican presidents, most of whom prided themselves on their conservative politics. Because constitutional interpretation is so inextricably fused with politics, it should come as no surprise that justices appointed by presidents for whom very few black people voted would decide race-inflected cases in ways that contravened the preferences of most African Americans.

Because of cases like Roe, it’s sometimes argued that LBJ’s botched attempts to nominate Warren’s replacement and Nixon’s 4 quick appointees ended up not making much difference. But on the issues that Nixon cared about, it mattered. San Antonio v. Rodriguez and Milliken v. Bradley — which combined lent the Court’s imprimatur to schools that were both separate and unequal — were both 5-4 with all of Nixon’s appointees in the majority.

Worst Idea Since the Schumacher/Lloyd Weber Collaboration

[ 0 ] February 4, 2010 |

I thought it would be hard for Duncan Sheik to come up with something worse than the ludicrously overrated Spring Awakening. However, it’s entirely possible that I was wrong. I’m sure his new songs about how he’s the first person ever to discover that Wall Street executives are greedy will be almost as fascinating as his songs about being the first person ever to discover that sexual repression is suboptimal…

Because They Can.

[ 0 ] February 4, 2010 |

Why do repressive regimes sign the Torture Convention when they don’t plan to comply with it? At the Monkey Cage, Erik Voeten has a round-up of some conventional answers and calls attention to a novel explanation just out as a working paper from NYU.

[cross-posted at Duck of Minerva]

YouTube and World Politics

[ 0 ] February 4, 2010 |

To think about globalization, the information revolution and sovereignty, my World Politics students watched this popular video in class yesterday, a compilation of facts and statistics about our ever-changing world.

But check out this newer version. It makes a different point about the information revolution. Though I do wonder how many YouTube viewers will understand this version unless they happen to watch all the way to the end…

You want a cylinder of fish bits? Because I can bring it.

[ 1 ] February 4, 2010 |

When I clipped a prominent conservative for the hubristic assumption that his dinner card is of general interest, it had not yet been brought.

When I criticized another for buttressing a nonsensical argument with the untenable claim that not-p could only fully realize its not-pness if it embraced the truth of p, it had not yet been brought.

When I mocked a third for embracing his inner Baudrillard and gushing over patriotic simulacra, I actually left it at home because I knew I wouldn’t need it.

But because some of you don’t know what a barrel full of riddled fish looks like, I will bring it where it’s needed least. The other day Donald Douglas claimed victory over ten percent of me. His evidence consisted of two typographical errors and a string of comments in which he demonstrated the truth of his humble estimation of himself:

I also abhor irrationalism in argumentation. I welcome comments and debate, and I’ll defend my positions vigorously. Yet in friendship, you’ll find no one more trustworthy nor loyal; in battle you’ll find an umatched competitor whose tactical elan would make Machiavelli proud.

Those of you present for the epic thread that followed this post already know that examples of “tactical elan [that] would make Machiavelli proud” include:

  1. “You f**king tool, all of this is quite amusing.”
  2. “You’re pwned already, so you’re just scratchin’ bottom.”
  3. “F**k you, you ignorant prick.”
  4. “I have a Ph.D. you puerile buttfreak smear-merchant.”
  5. “Your Ph.D. can be abbreviated to ‘piled high and deep,’ which is just more of your f**ked up shit.”
  6. “Get a life, dickhole.”

To untrained ears, his “tactical elan” sounds like “profane blundering,” but that’s only because he prefaces his discursive genius with salty language in order to soften up opponents for the logical thunder:

And you would not, despite expected denials, attempt bad mockery of an academic unless you assumed having a Ph.D. yourself would grant authority, despite the self-said speciousness in your case of the latter. And since this is an academic blog, and your cohorts are professors, this dodge basically makes you a liar.

I’m not sure what I’m lying about, but since Douglas “abhor[s] irrationalism in argumention,” there must be some rationale behind what he says, right?

I’m block-quoting his entire post at Lawyers, Guns and Money, just in case he decides to proofread later and make corrections in a belated attempt to appear less an asshole than he is.

I’m “an asshole” because I made typographical errors? Douglas does know that “abhor” means “to shrink back from with shuddering, to view with horror or dread” and not the opposite? Because while his argument may be “shuddering” here, those twitches you see? Those would be an annoyed neuronal protest against the gunman who aimed at the enemy and shot himself square in the head.

His brain may not know the idiopathy of his idiocy, but it’s pissed that it has to die with him next to a barrel of exit wounds that were fishes not but two minutes ago. I don’t need to bring it for those fish because no one ever needs to bring it for those fish: they’ll always find a way to suicide themselves.

You Got Six Months to Show Me Something

[ 0 ] February 3, 2010 |

So, apparently…

America’s top intelligence official told lawmakers on Tuesday that Al Qaeda and its affiliates had made it a high priority to attempt a large-scale attack on American soil within the next six months.

Here’s my question: If by August 3, 2010 Al Qaeda has made no apparent headway in launching a large-scale attack on American soil, what conclusions should we draw about AQ’s organizational offensive capacity?

How Narratives Work

[ 0 ] February 3, 2010 |

Essentially, the only remaining interest in the “revelations” about John Edwards at this point is that they provide a good example of how narratives are put together by political journalists when in their theater critic mode. Once someone has been established as one of History’s Greatest Monsters, not only their unique transgressions but utterly banal characteristics shared by most similarly situated individuals (“He has lackeys run personal errands!” “He uses obscenities around his campaign staff!”) become evidence that the candidate was a horrible person who was always doomed to fail. I think you can see this in most reports about the new gossipy books about the campaign.

Tina Brown’s summary, while it has some of this, presents a couple new points to consider. First, there’s the revisionism about how the media treated Edwards during the campaign. It’s absolutely fair game to criticize the media for not finding evidence of Edwards’s affair. But it’s not true that nobody raised other questions about Edwards in general and his “authenticity” in particular; there were in fact many stories about his haircuts and house, and people who considered Edwards a phony have never been hard to find. (And while progressives certainly have no reason to stick up for Edwards, they have very good reason to resist media judgments about “authenticity,” particularly since in practice they tend to mean that only Republicans can ever be “authentic.”)

Even better, however, is this throwaway, which tells you most of what you need to know about how these narratives work and how much useful information they actually convey:

It should be collectively blush-making for the press to remember the newsmagazine covers, the fawning TV sitdowns, the op-ed boostings Edwards garnered in the course of his years as a crowd-pleasing, “Kennedyesque” candidate who supposedly cared for the underdog and coined the “Two Americas” catchphrase.

The media spent years calling John Edwards “Kennedyesque.”* But then it turned out that he was rich and unfaithful to his wife. Wait, what was my point again?

*I don’t recall this and can’t find any evidence for it, but anyway, I still find the point funny…