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[ 0 ] May 20, 2009 |

The illogic and desperate ad hoc exceptionally implausible counterfactuals are what make Mickey Mickey, but since when has Kaus ever needed to pretend that a sex scandal (involving a Democrat) needed to be politically relevant to justify tawdry gossip? He seems a little off his game…


IR Film Series

[ 0 ] May 20, 2009 |

Over the past several weeks, a number of international relations scholar-bloggers have set forth lists of films suitable for use in an IR course. Unfortunately, most of these lists have been riddled with fallacy and error. This is the correct list:

  1. The Third Man: Discussed here. Long story short, America meets the world, world fails to meet American expectations, hijinks ensue.
  2. Breaker Morant: Briefly discussed here. Law, war, morality, the confusion of order; it’s all things to all people.
  3. Grand Illusion: Also discussed here. Attachments to class and other non-state identities wilt in the face of war and modern nationalism.
  4. Dr. Strangelove: This is on pretty much all the lists, for obvious reasons. I’ll add that Dr. Strangelove is about more than just nuclear theory; it’s about the intersection between nuclear theory and conceptions of masculinity.
  5. Hero: Discussed here. It’s all about the Hobbes, baby; the transition between anarchy and hierarchy and the choices made therein.
  6. Downfall: Briefly discussed here. If the Fog of War is about the little decisions, Downfall is about the big ones. These are the institutions of the state at their breaking point, at the point in which a state transitions from sovereignty, however limited, to not-sovereignty.
  7. The Fog of War: Discussed here. I still believe that Morris let McNamara get away with far too much in terms of rehabilitating his reputation. In my experience, those who’ve lived through the Vietnam era like this movie much less than those who haven’t. It’s nevertheless critical, however, for its depiction of how wind themselves into decision trees that have no reasonable exit.
  8. Battle of Algiers: Discussed here. It’s about more than Algeria, or counter-insurgency; it’s about the state, violence, colonialism, and evil in the modern world.
  9. When We Were Kings: How many films set in Africa aren’t about a white guy who goes to Africa and goes crazy? In this case, Norman Mailer and George Plimpton effectively (if unknowingly) send up the entire white-centric Africa genre. It’s about Foreman, Ali, the African diaspora, and decolonization; white people are just along for the ride.
  10. Red Dawn: “Because we live here!”

It’s unsurprising that there are a lot of war movies on this list. States make war, and war makes states; it creates their institutions and helps bind them together. The international system cannot be understood without understanding the state, and the state cannot be understood without an appreciation for its particular forms of violence and coercion. The films above are only incidentally about war; they’re really about the state. I once showed the Ox Bow Incident in a Europe in World Politics course just to illustrate the limitations of state authority and the consequences of those limitations…

Next list: Name five television series that can be effectively used in the classroom to teach IR. Here are mine:

  1. Yes Minister
  2. Sandbaggers
  3. Battlestar Galactica
  4. Deadwood
  5. Star Trek: TOS

The Real Offenses of Dan Brown

[ 0 ] May 19, 2009 |

A.O. Scott:

I might as well begin with a confession. I have not read the novel by Dan Brown on which this film (directed, like its predecessor, “The Da Vinci Code,” by Ron Howard) is based. I have come to believe that to do so would be a sin against my faith, not in the Church of Rome but in the English language, a noble and beleaguered institution against which Mr. Brown practices vile and unspeakable blasphemy.

The Reverse Nuremberg Defense, Supreme Court Edition

[ 0 ] May 19, 2009 |

I’ll have more about the Toobin article on John Roberts later. But the bottom-line quote — “The kind of humility that Roberts favors reflects a view that the Court should almost always defer to the existing power relationships in society” — applies quite forcefully (as it usually does) to all of the Court’s conservatives in the most recent Anthony Kennedy atrocity, Ashcroft v. Iqbal.

Lyle Denniston explains that the ruling creates a standard that will make it very difficult to hold high officials responsible for misconduct carried out by their subordinates. And what’s particularly disturbing is what Kennedy had to do to reach this conclusion. As Souter lays out in section 1A of his dissent, what’s remarkable is that Kennedy held that a superior’s knowledge of and indifference towards unconstitutional conduct by subordinates could not make the former legally liable, although Ashcroft and Mueller conceded that they would be liable if their knowledge and indifference were proven. Kennedy, in other words, went far out of his way to insulate powerful state actors from consequences of illegal conduct they should (and, under previous Supreme Court precedents, properly would have) been held responsible for, with patently unjust consequences:

Finally, the Court’s approach is most unfair to Iqbal. He was entitled to rely on Ashcroft and Mueller’s concession, both in their petition for certiorari and in their merits briefs, that they could be held liable on a theory of knowledge and deliberate indifference. By overriding that concession, the Court denies Iqbal a fair chance to be heard on the question.

I would post Kennedy’s defense of his casual disregard of precedent in order to protect powerful state actors in their abuse of people’s constitutional rights. But (as one of our commenters noted) he doesn’t actually have a response to Souter. The reasons for this are pretty obvious, and it’s a disgrace.

Obama’s Notre Dame Speech

[ 0 ] May 18, 2009 |

I was impressed and was thinking about writing about it, and I may do so at some point, but not today. Some recommended thoughtful commentary:

Hugo Schwyzer sees Isiah Berlin and likes it.

Russell Arben Fox sees Rousseau and likes it.

Mahablog sees Reinhold Neihbur and smart politics.


[ 0 ] May 18, 2009 |

The Supremes issued another decision today. Liptak:

A Pakistani Muslim man who was arrested after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks may not sue John Ashcroft, the former attorney general, and Robert S. Mueller III, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, for abuses he said he suffered in a Brooklyn detention center, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in the 5-to-4 decision, said a lawsuit filed by the man, Javaid Iqbal, must be dismissed at a preliminary stage because he failed to allege a plausible link between the officials’ conduct and the abuses he said he had suffered.

All that Mr. Iqbal’s suit plausibly suggested, Justice Kennedy wrote, “is that the nation’s top law enforcement officers, in the aftermath of a devastating terrorist attack, sought to keep suspected terrorists in the most secure conditions available until the suspects could be cleared of terrorist activity.”


Justice Souter added that the majority had engaged in a sort of legal sleight of hand, ignoring a concession from the government that Mr. Ashcroft and Mr. Mueller would be liable were Mr. Iqbal able to prove they actually knew of unconstitutional discrimination by their subordinates and were deliberately indifferent to it.

Instead of accepting that concession, Justice Souter continued, the majority decided that even proof of such knowledge was insufficient.

More when I’ve had a chance to read the opinions more carefully.

…see also Farber.

Why Court Diversity Can Matter

[ 0 ] May 18, 2009 |

With respect to Sonia Sotomayor’s comments about diversity and judging, Kerry Howley makes two accurate points: 1)they are entirely innocuous, and 2)will be inevitable misrepresented by Senate Republicans if she is nominated by Obama. I would only add that Sotomayor is more obviously true when dealing with appellate judging, when a judge is almost always choosing among multiple plausible interpretations as opposed to trying to determine what “the law” is. A decision handed down today provides an illustration of this.

In 1976, The Supreme Court held in GE v. Gilbert (quite absurdly) that pregnancy discrimination by employers “was not a gender-based discrimination at all.” Congress responded by overriding the Court’s interpretation by passing the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, amending Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to outlaw pregnancy discrimination by employers. Today, the Court held 7-2 that the PDA should not be applied retroactively — AT&T is permitted to pay lower pension benefits to female employees if they took maternity leave prior to the enactment of the PDA. Souter’s opinion presents a plausible way of interpreting the statute, but as Justice Ginsburg notes in her dissent, one more consistent with the Court’s current gender discrimination jurisprudence is available:

Today’s case presents a question of time. As the Court comprehends the PDA, even after the effective date of the Act, lower pension benefits perpetually can be paid to women whose pregnancy leaves predated the PDA. As to those women, the Court reasons, the disadvantageous treatment remains as Gilbert declared it to be: “facially nondiscriminatory,” and without “any gender-based discriminatory effect.”

There is another way to read the PDA, one better attuned to Congress’ “unambiguou[s] … disapproval of both the holding and the reasoning” in Gilbert. On this reading, the Act calls for an immediate end to any pretense that classification on the basis of pregnancy can be “facially nondiscriminatory.” While the PDA does not reach back to redress discrimination women encountered before Congress overruled Gilbert, the Act instructs employers forthwith to cease and desist: From and after the PDA’s effective date, classifications treating pregnancy disadvantageously must be recognized, “for all employment-related purposes,” including pension payments, as discriminatory both on their face and in their impact. So comprehended, the PDA requires AT&T to pay Noreen Hulteen and others similarly situated pension benefits untainted by pregnancy-based discrimination.

The issue here, in other words, is in a way similar to Ledbetter. Does paying a woman lower pension benefits than she would otherwise be entitled to constitute ongoing discrimination if the decision was initially made in the past? In addition, Ginsburg also argued that she “would explicitly overrule Gilbert so that the decision can generate no more mischief,” which would be salutary, although it’s fair to note that stare decisis carries considerably more force in statutory cases (At least 5 members of today’s majority, it should be noted, haven’t been fully consistent about that.)

Do you think it’s a coincidence that only woman on the Court was one of the two dissenters in this case, while two more liberal members (albeit including one Gilbert dissenter) joined the majority? It’s unlikely. Does that mean that Ginsburg was somehow subverting the law to her gender? Of course not — her opinion is a perfectly plausible reading of the statute and is more consistent with its purpose than the majority’s reasoning. It would benefit the court to have have a gender balance closer to that which pertains in the nation (not to mention the nation’s law schools.)

Star Trek II: The Rematch

[ 0 ] May 18, 2009 |


And: what will be the Khan-equivalent in this re-imagined Star Trek — the moment that makes the optimistic humanitarians confront the consequences of their attempts to be merciful?

Why not… meeting Khan Noonien Singh? Nothing about the revised timeline presented in the new Star Trek precludes Kirk meeting Khan; Khan and his genetic supermen are still adrift in the Botany Bay, waiting for the Enterprise to find them. Moreover, Naveen Andrews was born to play Khan…

A Walk Down MoDo Memory Lane

[ 0 ] May 18, 2009 |

Apparently, her stance on the ethics of plagiarism has changed considerably over the decades. And, of course, her plagiarism is much worse, since nobody (except perhaps some PUMAs and right-wing bloggers) actually expects contemporary politicians to always write their own stuff.

Maureen Domenech

[ 0 ] May 18, 2009 |

When I was a graduate instructor, I taught a course once in which a student plagiarized enormous sections of a take-home final exam; the plagiarized sections, hilariously enough, came from one of the texts I’d actually assigned for the course. When I confronted the student about the infraction, s/he claimed to have “slipped into a trance” of some kind — those were his/her words — and typed out about 500 words from the book without the slightest comprehension of was going on.

I mention this only because I find MoDo’s explanation for ripping off Josh Marshall to be several orders of magnitude less convincing.

From Colony to Superpower XX: And Now We Come to the End

[ 0 ] May 18, 2009 |

This is the 20th and final chapter in the series on George Herring From Colony to Superpower. that Erik Loomis and I have embarked upon. The twentieth chapter runs from roughly the end of the first Gulf War until about 2007. The world that faced Clinton and the second George Bush was very different than that which his Cold War predecessors had to deal with. Unfortunately, neither Clinton nor Bush developed practical policies for managing and maintaining US hegemony. Clinton muddled through with varying levels of effectiveness, while the Bush administration developed a coherent ideology of the United States’ place in the world that had disastrous effect when put into practice. For better or worse, the United States still lacks a practicable vision of what it wants the world to look like, not to mention any reasonable conception of how best to press that vision forward.

Bill Clinton was woefully unprepared to handle foreign policy when he became President. That his successor was a major disaster in spite of having an experienced cabinet shouldn’t obscure this; Clinton had little interest and less experience in foreign affairs when he became President in 1993. His National Security Advisor is supposed to have said “Bill Clinton was elected for domestic policy. Our job is to keep foreign policy away from him.” Still, it’s hard to point to clear, enduring missteps that the administration took during its first term. Clinton handled North Korea as well as could have been hoped, and certainly better than his successor. He bears some responsibility for the disaster in Somalia; his predecessor left a bit of a mess, but Clinton didn’t improve the situation. Clinton didn’t have any very clear ideas of how to handle Iraq, but then at that time no one did; the general assumption was that Saddam Hussein couldn’t maintain control for an extended period of time. US intervention in Bosnia turned out more or less positively, leaving space for both interventionists and non-interventionists to complain. Russia policy is perhaps the one area in which Clinton’s fumbling may have had enduring effect, but again, it’s unclear what the alternatives to strongly supporting Yeltsin were. Clinton could have said no to NATO expansion, but given uncertainty about long-term Russian intentions, I think that the inclusion of Eastern Europe was defensible.

Over time, Clinton got better at the practice of foreign policy, and adopted a certain vision of liberal internationalism. There may be enduring questions about the wisdom of the intervention in Kosovo, but maintaining the alliance during the war was a diplomatic accomplishment. Clinton’s Israel/Palestine policy also left much to be desired, but given his successor it probably represented the last, best chance for a peace settlement. The lasting error of the second half of the Clinton administration may have been the steady rhetorical surrender to the foreign policy of neoconservatism. On Iraq in particular, Clinton ceded the ideological ground on deposing Saddam Hussein while retaining the practical control over the decision for war. This would have devastating consequences during the administration of his successor, as Clinton’s surrender undercut the ability of the Democratic Party to put up serious resistance to Bush’s march to war.

Herring gives as cogent and reasonable an explanation for intervention in Iraq as I’ve seen. Ideology, fear, political power, and oil were all drivers, and they weren’t mutually exclusive. Herring doesn’t waste time singing the praises of Colin Powell; Powell decided, in the end, that the United States really had reached the end of its options with Iraq, and the war was preferable to the status quo. Indeed, Herring doesn’t have very much to say about Powell, relative to the other members of the cabinet. He reminds us that the war was a bad idea conducted with great ineptitude and a deep lack of seriousness. In the end, almost no one got what they had wanted.

Curiously, Herring suggests that the Bush administration does represent a serious break with previous American foreign policy practice in its preference for preventive wars. I find this interesting because Herring has, in the full narrative, suggested that the discontinuities of US foreign policy over time aren’t that discontinuous at all. In particular, he has argued that a certain vision of American exceptionalism has always prevailed ideologically, and that this has had predictably policy effect over the centuries. In this context, it’s interesting that he sees Bush as a major discontinuity. One possibility is that this book took a very long time to write, and accordingly it would have been difficult to work in a full appreciation of how much a shift the Bush administration represented in the full narrative of the book.

A bit more to come in terms of general wrap up…

The Reverse Nurenberg Defense

[ 0 ] May 18, 2009 |

The Editors sum up the state of play:

It’s funny that when torture was all the fault of poor, ugly hillbillies of the sort David Brooks writes about in his Adventure Stories for Young Aristocrats, we had to throw the book at the evil-doers. Now that important figures in Washington have admitted to directly ordering more and worse, however, the question of even investigating whether some sort of crime may perhaps have taken place is fraught with all sort of beard-tugging brain-twisters which no man can untangle, even with the help of modern computer technology. How can we investigate if we don’t know all the facts? How dare we enforce laws against things which might possibly be permissible in some highly artificial thought experiment? What if ‘24′ is FOR REALS?!? These are the sorts of questions which need to be shrugged at for 50 billion news cycles before we can even think about OH MY GOD A SHARK ATE A WHITE LADY AT HER WEDDING!!!!! We’ve got what amounts to a reverse Nuremberg defense, where Bush administration officials are let off the hook because they were only giving orders. I’m not sure that’s such a great idea.

Brutally depressing, yet true. Although it must be noted that if you stipulate that torture has a 100% chance of stopping millions of deaths and also stipulate that all other methods will have a 0% chance and stipulate that we have perfect advance knowledge of all of this then torture is a great thing and how could you be the kind of immoral deontologicist who would say otherwise?!?!?!?!?!?!?