As one might expect Dan Drezner has some interesting comments about the earlier-discussed Mearsheimer/Walt article. Drezner makes 3 important points. First, he explains in more detail that the explanation seems a strained, ad hoc, excessively simplistic explanation to explain away a problematic anomaly for the realist framework. Second, he points out that “[i]f “The Lobby” is as powerful as Walt and Mearsheimer claim, why hasn’t there been a bigger push in the United States for more fuel-efficient cars, alternative energy sources, and the like?” I would go further: if the swing-state Jewish vote is so critical in presidential elections, why have the Republicans adopted approximately none of the other policy preferences of the median swing state Jewish voter? (In a way, I wish M/W were right: I can’t wait for the next Republican platform to enthusiastically endorse Roe v. Wade and the strict separation of church and state!)
The third point, which provides the frame of Drezner’s analysis, is a comparison of M/W to Sam Huntington. That strikes me as a quite apt description, especially insofar as Mearsheimer is concerned. Both have written very important scholarly works whose gift for parsimonious explanations can sometimes cross the line into crude overgeneralization, and the latter tends to overwhelm the good parts of their work when they’re writing for a popular audience. (Huntington’s Political Order in Changing Societies, which emphasized that the most crucial difference between states is those that have effective governments and those that don’t, is certainly highly relevant today.) I’m not sure about the “full Huntington” either way. On one hand, while it’s not my field I doubt that any of Mearsheimer’s work will prove as important or influential as Huntington’s powerful early work, but on the other hand while I strongly disagree with it I don’t think the new M/W piece is anywhere near as normatively objectionable as most Huntington’s Clash Of Civilizations-era work (the worst of which Drezner has a good piece about here.)
Speaking of overly simplistic thinking about foreign policy, Andrew Sullivan uses a familiar routine, ending a discussion of Juan Cole’s analysis of Sistani’s horrific anti-gay statements by claiming that “Cole tries a third option: he blames all this on what he regards as the misguided attempt to get rid of Saddam. Ah: Saddam. The pomo-left’s last great hope for Arabia. I assume he’s referring to (and distorting) this part of Cole’s argument:
I personally condemn Sistani’s stance here, of course. He is a conservative Shiite cleric, however, so I don’t know what people were expecting to happen if the secular Baath was overthrown and replaced by primordial ethnic identities.
In other words, Sullivan is using the classic warblogger technique of avoiding difficult questions by accusing anyone who raises arguments about the war of being Saddam-lovers. Cole’s point, is of course, unassailably correct: the increased power of radicals like Sistani was the nearly inevitable consequence of disposing Hussein. This doesn’t make any statement about the comparative merits of Hussein’s regime. To subject anyone who points this out to the smear that Hussein is their “hope” is disgraceful. And, of course, evaluating what the actual alternative regime is, rather than assuming that deposing a dictatorship means liberal democracy is crucial to assessing the war. With the security justifications evaporated, the only possible defense of this war is on humanitarian grounds. It may be at least possible to defend the war if deposing Hussein would lead to liberal democracy. But if one compares it to the quasi-theocracy that was always vastly more likely, the argument is impossible to make. A somewhat democratic illiberal Islamic state may be a better outcome than the preceding government (although if I were a woman or gay person in Iraq, I’m not so sure that I would agree), but hardly enough to justify the invasion. And, in addition, it exposes the self-evident folly of folding the deposing of Hussein’s brutal but secular dictatorship with a war on “radical Islam.” If anything, the invasion benefits it, and pointing this out this blindingly obvious fact doesn’t make you an apologist for Hussein.