Alex Parets live-blogged yesterday’s ISA panel on blogging, policy, and the political science discipline. Check it out. I should further note the blogs of the various questioners and participants, including Steve Walt, IPEatUNC’s Will Winecoff, Peter Feaver, and Duck of Minerva’s Stephanie Carvin.
Tag: "foreign policy"
Matt Duss shoots, guts, dries, and renders into tasty beef jerky the Chalabi-supporting wing of the neoconservative movement:
Even after the invasion, after it became clear that there were no WMD and no Saddam-Al Qaeda alliance, and that, despite his claims of a massive following, Chalabi had no genuine political base in Iraq, the neocons — such as Michael Rubin and Eli Lake himself — continued to promote him as Iraq’s savior. That became a lot harder after Chalabi’s party — which ran on the slogan “We Liberated Iraq!” — received a pathetic 0.36 percent of the vote in Iraq’s December 2005 elections, not even enough to secure a single seat for Chalabi himself.
Eventually, Chalabi was disavowed by the Bush administration, judged to be an “agent of influence” of Iran, suspected of having tipped off the Iranians that the U.S. had broken secret Iranian codes, as well as passing Iraqi government documents to Iranian agents. The Defense Intelligence Agency concluded — in 2004 — that “Iranian intelligence has been manipulating the United States through Chalabi.” Needless to say, none of this speaks very well of the judgment of Chalabi’s neoconservative fans.
Now consider the recent neoconservative attacks on Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett of the New America Foundation for their advocacy of U.S.-Iran engagement. Back in November, Lake published a piece that suggested, on the flimsiest of evidence, that Parsi was an agent of the Iranian regime. The piece was hailed as a blockbuster in neoconservative circles, in some cases by the very people who had boosted Ahmad Chalabi.
On the one hand, you’ve got a guy whose double-dealing and treachery helped get Americans killed. On the other, you’ve got people who think that attempting to achieve rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran is in the U.S. interest, and should therefore be pursued (though, at least in Parsi’s case, not to the exclusion of human rights concerns). It’s interesting who the neocons think the real villains are. And it’s amazing that they should consider themselves credible to attack the integrity of others after having been duped by an IRGC-connected swindler like Ahmad Chalabi.
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 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.
I have an article up at TAP on the QDR and the end of the Long War. I also have a couple of posts up at ID on the QDR, including this on improving Air Force foreign training practice, and this on innovation in the defense industry.
Here’s some other groovy stuff to read on the QDR:
- Max Bergmann wonders about the implications of the QDR for nuclear weapon policy.
- Christian at Defense Tech says that Air Force COIN advocates see a big QDR win.
- Brad at Wonk Room talks more about climate change in the QDR.
- Yglesias holds forth on the Minerva Initiative.
- Jason Sigger gives his QDR take here. He also disagrees with me on some points regarding LSIs.
- CNAS gives its take on the budget and the QDR.
- Attackerman suggests that the counter-insurgents have won, at least in the QDR. More on that later.
- Galrahn is not wholly pleased with the QDR approach.
I’ll try to get to a few specific questions that people have asked in comments later today.
Kayvan Farzaneh informs us that the Pentagon has been worrying about terrorists using World of Warcraft to plot attacks. Considering a Wisconsin appeals court recently upheld the right of prisons to ban inmates from playing Dungeons and Dragons, lest they “foster an inmate’s obsession with escaping from the real-life correctional environment,” this sort of paranoia is not just funny but genuinely troubling.
Too bad the “right to play” in international law only applies to children…
Dan Drezner is among those who today bemoaned the absence of foreign policy content in President Obama’s State of the Union Speech. He’s not the only one. Max Boot calls foreign policy “AWOL” from the speech. Eric Ostermeir at Smart Politics has quantified the foreign policy content at only 13.9%. Whether they were very worried or not about Obama’s foreign policy message, most commentators agreed it was a weak one relative to the domestic policy content in the speech.
My off-the-cuff reaction to the speech echoed this concern as well. But then I began thinking about the assignment I have my World Politics students doing right now, which is to write about their lives using a global perspective. Lots of them are struggling with it as they always do: if they haven’t traveled abroad, served in the military, supported a global social movement, or watched BBC regularly, they don’t feel like they are really participants in world politics. I challenge this thinking by asking them to reflect on the ways in which their everyday lives are impacted by, and in turn impact, the world beyond our borders.
The purpose of the assignment is to get them thinking past their identity as Americans and situate themselves globally. However the assignment – and the era of globalization we live in – begs the question about the entire notion of the domestic politics / international politics divide. One way to look at the distinction we draw between domestic and foreign policy is as a boundary-maintenance project that is part of the practice of sovereignty. If we make the choice to suspend this practice for a moment, we might realize that Obama’s speech had more foreign policy in it that we may have recognized.
For example Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin, whom I linked to earlier describes the Obama’s foreign policy talking points as consisting of “trade, export controls, Afghanistan, Iraq, nukes, North Korea and Iran” and says he touched on all of this for only “a couple of minutes at the end.” Rogin categorizes energy policy, jobs and financial reform as domestic issues. So do those who have tallied the foreign policy content of the speech and found it wanting.
Yet what could be more global – in their impetus and impact – than a turn toward clean energy and alternative transportation in the US, which until recently led the world in global carbon emissions per capita? Given the global impact of the US banking crisis, is not financial reform a global issue? And is not a policy of “ending subsidies for firms that ship jobs overseas” a foreign policy as well as a domestic one? Certainly it will impact individuals abroad who rely on manufacturing jobs with US companies as a stepping stone out of poverty. This in turn will affect those individuals’ abilities to consume the products Obama also wants to export in greater volume. I’m not saying this is good or bad, just that these things are interconnected.
And actually, Obama said as much. Consider his rationale for financial, education and energy reform:
China is not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany is not waiting. India is not waiting. These nations — they’re not standing still. These nations aren’t playing for second place. They’re putting more emphasis on math and science. They’re rebuilding their infrastructure. They’re making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs. Well, I do not accept second place for the United States of America.
We think of foreign policy as that subset of policy that is directed at relations with other countries. But since so much of what happens here affects (and can be affected by) what is happening elsewhere whether we intend it or not, perhaps this perspective is behind the times. Drezner concludes his post by saying:
“I would have liked to have seen a more robust effort to link foreign policy priorities to domestic priorities – because the two are more linked than is commonly acknowledged.”
What would it mean to our practices of citizenship if our policymakers and pundits routinely thought past that distinction entirely? As Drezner himself once said, in today’s world “all politics is global.”
Or maybe this is all bunk. But it sure is a useful teaching tool. Thoughts?
[cross-posted at Duck of Minerva]
Wow. Perhaps the ghost of Howard Zinn was speaking through our President tonight. In a little over an hour, he called out the Supreme Court for its recent decision on campaign donations, reminded Republicans they are here to serve their country rather than their own ambitions, and chided pundits for reducing serious debates to silly arguments. I don’t know whether to be glad to see him speaking truth to the powers that be around him or worried: he seemed most effective at the parts of his speech where he was reaching out to the opposition rather than staring them down.
He did, though, end on the right tone:
“Democracy in a nation of 300 million people can be noisy and messy and complicated… the only reason we are here is because generations of Americans weren’t afraid to do what was hard.”
Well said, Mr. President.
Saw Avatar last week, and apparently I must weigh in. Lot’s o’ spoilers ahead…
Is Avatar racist?
Sure, but that’s not a very interesting question. Back before I saw 300, I was prepared to be irritated by its racism, ethnocentrism, and violence to history, but after watching for about 20 minutes I realized that all of these complaints were simply beside the point. 300 is racist and ahistorical, but seriously, who cares? It’s not just that 300 is about abs and spears and gay giants and fat guys with knives for hands, although it is about those things. Nor is it to say that 300 should be treated as off limits for serious literary or philosophical inquiry; “you’re over-thinking it” is one of the least useful complaints that one can make about serious criticism. Rather, it’s to suggest that the racism and ethnocentrism of the story are among the least interesting, least novel, and least productive avenues of such inquiry.
Now, I will grant that Avatar is more complex than 300, and that the racism/racialism is, in some relevant sense, more deeply embedded in the story. I think that Westerners sometimes like to fancy that imperialism is something that they did to other people, but that’s not quite right; the Western experience of imperialism is so deeply embedded in our narratives of self that it’s essentially inextricable. In a hundred years, when China and India dominate the world economy, tales of Western imperialism, conquest, and exceptionalism may lose their charm for film-going audiences. For now, the background notion of dominance, modified only by Western forebearance, itself evidence of Western moral superiority, remains a foundational way of thinking about the confrontation between the West and the Other. While there are certainly examples of narratives in which humankind represents the oppressed rather than the oppressor (V, Battlestar Galactica), and narratives which essentially sidestep the question (Star Wars), stories in which human/Western/American dominance is the unproblematic assumption have their own intuitive appeal. Star Trek, in which human moral superiority prevents the full exertion of military superiority, is a science fiction example of this genre; another might be Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead. Ursula K. Leguin’s The Word for World is Forest takes this narrative as a starting point and further problematizes it, but then Leguin is considerably more thoughtful than we have any right to expect James Cameron to be. In any case, Avatar takes this assumption about the relationship between the West/humankind and its subjects as a starting point, and as such is fundamentally about colonialism. Moreover, while Avatar is anti-colonialist it doesn’t particularly challenge the basic colonial/imperial structure of the narrative. More on this in a bit.
At the same time, I think it’s worth noting that the idea of an alien Messiah was present in Western civilization prior to the colonial period. The story of Miriam, Moses, the reeds, and the daughter of Pharoah can be read as an extended effort to “naturalize” the leader of the Hebrews. Even Jesus Christ is, in some important sense, alien to the population of his ministry. The alien messiah is also present in explicitly anti-colonial ideologies that nevertheless accept the basic narrative structure of Western imperialism; I have no doubt that Che Guevara understood his work in a messianic sense when he tried to draw the Indians of Bolivia into a revolution that they didn’t particularly care about. I suspect that there are a few idealistic converts to anti-colonial Marxism that understood themselves as playing the Jake Sully role. Nevertheless, there’s considerable synergy between the “alien as messiah” narrative and the colonial/anti-colonial narrative; Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, for example, are based around combinations of these narratives.
So what can we say about Avatar’s politics?
And so if the racial question is only mildly interesting, what else can we say about Avatar’s politics? From a foreign policy point of view, it’s clearly a very left wing film. Much has been made of the difference between the mercenaries employed by the Corporation and actual marines, but to my mind the distinction didn’t mean very much. It’s clear that the (genocidal) mercenaries were veterans of the (presumably American) military, and the film gives us very little reason to think that the interventions they carried out while serving under the flag (a couple are alluded to, including a war in Venezuela) are any more just than that depicted in the film. Colonel Quaritch and Parker Selfridge are about as complicated as Billy Zane’s Cal Hockley, and the film falls very comfortably into a neo-Marxist explanation of the sources of American foreign policy. Unfortunately, Cameron feels the need to laden the already obvious analogy with relatively direct allusions to the Bush administration and the Iraq War. Cameron doesn’t trust his audience enough to make the blindingly clear connection between resource based imperialism and… resource based imperialism. I think that in our rush to interpret Avatar as racist/racialist, we run the risk of forgetting that a fundamentally imperialist/colonial story can also be very left wing in the contemporary political context. This is not to say that the politics of Avatar are particularly liberal; the closest theoretical fit would probably be a kind of left-wing Burkeanism.
I’m surprised that I haven’t read more about Cameron’s troubling vision of gender relations(and probably has been; forgive me for not fully exploring the literature produced on Avatar thus far); it’s true enough that the Na’Vi women hunted, but the gender division of labor nevertheless seemed very traditional, with women maintaining the spiritual health of the community while men manage its temporal affairs. Also, on passing their coming of age ceremony, Na’Vi men get their choice of (lifetime) mate, even though Na’Vi women apparently have to undertake exactly the same coming of age test. I also think that the question of disability could be profitably investigated. There’s a potentially productive parallel between Sully’s effort to escape disability in Avatar and Lieutenant Dunbar’s utter terror of amputation in Dances with Wolves.
Is it Dances with Wolves in Space?
Sort of. It reminded me more of The Mission than of Dances with Wolves, primarily because the tension between the scientists and the Corporation was reminiscent of the tension between the Jesuits and the colonists. The narrative of personal redemption (apparently necessary to any big budget American film) is more reminiscent of Dances with Wolves, although some parallels could be made between Sully and Robert De Niro’s character in The Mission. The montage of death near the end of Avatar was also echoes the final scenes of The Mission. On the other hand, The Mission rarely involved serious conversation between Indians and Jesuits, while Avatar and Dances with Wolves both include extended conversation in native language. To explore the comparison more deeply I’d need to watch Dances with Wolves again, which will never, ever happen. I suppose that the extensive use of the oboe in the scores of both Avatar and The Mission may have brought the parallel further to mind.
In any case, though, the three movies clearly sit within the same imperial family. In every case, Western/human/American domination is assumed. In every case, the only thing capable of preventing domination of the worst sort is Western et al moral superiority; the natives are assumed to be morally pure, but their morals and their military capabilities aren’t very important to the story. In all three cases, morality essentially fails to limit or modify temporal power. In Avatar and Dances with Wolves, a small group or single individual prevents or mitigates the domination (at least for a while), while in The Mission the Catholic Church is supposed to provide Spanish imperialism with a conscience. I further think that there’s some interesting ground to be covered in the comparison of the role of the Church in The Mission and the role of “science” in Avatar. At her other place, Charli wrote:
Other “good” characters too seem all too easily to manage the cognitive dissonance of knowing what is in store for the Na’Vi they consciously respect and love. Grace the xeno-biologist makes a few half-hearted attempts to dissuade when the tanks are already rolling. But surely she understood what was coming sooner? Soon enough to avoid feeding all the relevant facts to “the company,” or to warn the Na’Vi, or to engage Jack Sully about the ethics of his duplicitous posturing. If anything this is not a story about assuaging historical guilt but about forgetting the lessons of history. It is as if these characters are blissfully unaware of every mind-numbingly obvious political metaphor in the story.
This is interesting because the conflict between the spiritual authority of the Jesuits and the temporal power of the colonial state in The Mission is historically genuine; Jesuits and Franciscans often resisted state power, sometimes bitterly, in an effort to protect Indian populations in the New World. At the same time, the clerics themselves served as the vanguard of domination, giving the Spanish state a taste of Indian revenue, mapping out the physical and human terrain of native peoples, and in general providing the structure through which the colonial state was able to exert control. Indeed, the clerics themselves regularly engaged in the physical domination of the populations to which they ministered. The Jesuits and Franciscan weren’t stupid people, but there was the same kind of tension between their project and that of the Spanish colonial state as there was between the scientists and the corporation in Avatar. To bring this back to the point about Western colonialism made above, it bears mention that the scientific project is both the enabler of imperialism and its handmaiden; science helped make Western armies and navies invincible, while Western armies and navies opened broad vistas of study for anthropologists, biologists, zoologists, and so forth and what not. We shouldn’t forget, either, that the work of the scientists in Avatar is underwritten by the Corporation, just as the endowments of many major universities (not to mention the resources that went into the construction of more than a few Catholic cathedrals) were made possible by the wealth appropriated through imperialism.
Is it extraordinary?
Sure. Even more the Spielberg, Cameron is the master of the action-spectacle motion picture. While watching Avatar, it is impossible not to fantasize about the horrible set of punishments that ought to be inflicted upon Michael Bay (hopefully in 3D). I value the kind of spectacle that Cameron creates (I’m more than happy to apologize for Titanic), and believe that it requires an exceptional degree of talent. Avatar is visually remarkable, and its narrative (though deeply cliched) holds together enough for the spectacle to proceed. All of the Ford Pintos that appear in Act One explode by Act Four. The film’s biggest deficiency is its extended conclusion, which has several different emotional high points and is poorly paced. The dialogue is also terrible in spots.
Nevertheless, it was a thoroughly enjoyable 2.5 hours.
Over the break, Foreign Affairs posted my picks on which gender literature the foreign policy community should take seriously. Here’s how the piece begins:
Feminists have long argued that it is wrong to ignore half the population when crafting policies meant to secure a stable world order. Now foreign policy experts are beginning to grasp a different point: a “gender perspective” is relevant not only to those concerned with making the world better for women, but also to anybody who cares about military effectiveness, alliance stability, democracy promotion, actionable intelligence, the stem of pandemic disease, or successful nation building. The following sources are essential reading for anyone interested in the connections between gender relations — norms and assumptions about men and women, masculinity and femininity — and the practice of foreign policy.
You can argue with how I framed it or which works I chose out of the volumes of good scholarship on gender and IR. But if you ask me, it’s fabulous that FA is starting to include gender issues among its must-reads – and, if the latest issue is any suggestion, mainstreaming them in its print edition. Go check it out and tell me what you think.
[cross-posted at Duck of Minerva]
American neoconservatives tend to get hostile when you make the point that every country has its neocons. The response typically runs something like this:
How can you possibly compare me with those Russians/Chinese/Iranians? Don’t you understand that I cloak my hawkish right wing nationalism behind a thin veneer of concern for human rights!?!?
Neocons also tend to get hostile when you point out that hawkish foreign policy pronouncements and actions feed hardliners in foreign countries. The ideology of toughness extends beyond the borders of the United States; the Russian, Chinese, and Iranian versions of Chuckie Krauthammer are at this very moment insisting that the projection of power, resolve, and toughness will force the Americans to back down/give up/stop poking us/do something.
The implications of handing foreign policy to people committed to the rhetoric of toughness should be obvious. A demonstration of “resolve” on the part of the United States is matched by a similar demonstration on the part of the Chinese; a weapon system intended as a “bargaining chip” spurs development of a corresponding system by the Russians; insistence on “regime change” in Iran empowers the people who have always argued that the United States intends to conquer Iran. And then we get things like this:
China said late Monday that it had successfully tested the nation’s first land-based missile defense system, announcing the news in a brief dispatch by Xinhua, the official news agency. “The test is defensive in nature and is not targeted at any country,” the item said.
Even if news accounts on Tuesday did not provide details about the test — and whether it destroyed its intended target — Chinese and Western analysts say there is no mistaking that the timing of the test, coming amid Beijing’s fury over American arms sales to Taiwan, was largely aimed at the White House.
In recent days, state media have been producing a torrent of articles condemning the sale of Patriot air defense equipment to Taiwan. China views the self-ruled island as a breakaway province, separated since the civil war of the 1940s, and sees arms sales as interference in an internal matter.
I’m of the opinion that carefully managed and limited US arms sales to Taiwan are both wise and appropriate. However, even if you agree with the Chinese position, or at least believe that the US should stay out of the relationship, how could you think that a Chinese ABM test would have an even vaguely positive effect on US behavior? Does anyone now believe that it is less likely that the US will transfer F-16s and Patriot missile systems to Taiwan?
I appreciate that weapons need to be tested and domestic constituencies need to be appeased, but it seems clear that the Chinese intended this test as a warning to both the US and Taiwan. I suspect that the Chinese intended this message to say:
Please respect China’s territorial integrity, and right to manage its sphere of influence.
I very much doubt that this is the message Americans will hear. More specifically, I doubt that the right people will hear this message in the way the Chinese want. Instead, those voices who have always insisted that the Chinese are an incorrigible threat, that they cannot be dealt with, and that they only understand the language of force will be enabled. To manage the next foreign policy dispute with China in a wise and measured fashion will become “appeasement of the aggressor.” Voices in Beijing will be making precisely the same argument.
I suspect that international franchising of the Weekly Standard might be an excellent investment opportunity.
David Frum compares the conventional and Team B views of Soviet military spending and arms control.
The conventional view:
The Soviets could increase their arms spending, therefore arms control was worthwhile.
The Team B view:
Because the Soviets were spending so much, they probably could not spend more. This implied that arms control was a waste of time. The US was trading something it COULD do (build more) for something the Soviets could not do (build more).
We’ll briefly set aside the fact that a) Frum is simply wrong about Team B’s conclusions about the Soviet economy, and about the political positions of major Team B players (Richard Pipes, for example, argues that the greatest achievement of Team B was to prove that the Soviets were preparing for pre-emptive war, a view that Frum associates with Luttwak), and b) Team B analysis got Soviet domestic politics, Soviet military doctrine, Soviet military procurement, and Soviet foreign policy preferences terribly wrong, and that by “terribly wrong” we mean wrong in the sense that they bore no meaningful relationship with reality, and were deeply outclassed by the (also flawed) CIA analyses of the same questions. Instead, we’re going to focus on Frum’s rather odd interpretation of arms control. Arms control provides an opportunity for two players to eschew the payment of substantial costs in order to maintain the status quo; this is to say, arms control agreements tend to reaffirm the status quo at a lower cost than unconstrained competition. Every arms control agreement will involve one state that is economically more capable of increased military spending than the other, but this hardly means that there are no gains to be had from efforts to control arms. Money not spent on unconstrained arms races might, conceivably, be used to purchase things other than weapons. Or, to go all Tea Party, money not spent on unconstrained arms races might be returned to tax payers. I suspect that Frum is operating on the assumption, common to conservatives of all stripes, than money spent on defense simply isn’t money in the same sense that money spent on, say, social security or tasty, tasty bourbon. Moreover, even if arms control agreements don’t achieve the actual reduction of arms (and sometimes they don’t) their presence tends to reduce tensions.
I appreciate that Team B involved most of the major foreign policy luminaries of neoconservatism, and consequently that some effort must be made by conservatives to rescue the project from the diaper genie of history. I would suggest, however, that simply pretending that the project never existed, or focusing on its rhetorical and policy success (the Team B folks won the policy debate, after all) would be a better strategy that engaging in the pretense that Luttwak, Pipes, Wolfowitz, Nitze, and rest
had the faintest fucking idea what they were talking about. didn’t make a series of dreadful, repeatable analytical errors. Because of course, it’s really not as if this collection of men had no idea what they were talking about; they really, genuinely knew a lot about Soviet and American defense policy. The problem was that they reached their conclusions before they made their analysis; having been created, Team B could hardly reaffirm the CIA, or come to the (correct) conclusion that the CIA was overestimating Soviet military and economic capabilities. This problem was compounded by another fundamental error, which was to characterized Soviet domestic politics as the simple, dyadic conflict between tyrants and dissidents. This led them to ignore the relevance of the Soviet Union’s own military industrial complex, and of differences within the CPSU. Wise fools, as they say. Tragically, almost all of these errors would be repeated verbatim when the same folks turned their attention to Iraq and Iran.