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Tag: "foreign policy"

So, the Avatar Thing..

[ 0 ] January 23, 2010 |

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.


"What to Read on Gender and Foreign Policy"

[ 0 ] January 20, 2010 |

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]

On How Neocons Feed Off One Another…

[ 0 ] January 16, 2010 |

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.

Multiple Layers of Fail

[ 0 ] January 15, 2010 |

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.

The Top 12 Human Security Issues of the Next Decade

[ 1 ] January 15, 2010 |

By way of living up to Rob’s kind introduction (and answering elbruce’s question in comments) I figured I’d kick off my LGM blogging career by reposting my Happy New Decade Top Twelve list – my predictions of which “human security” issues are going to become big in the next ten years.

Landmines, child-soldiering, genocide, debt relief, trafficking and climate change are just some of the human security issues that have been most prominent on the global agenda in the last ten years, as a result of activism by networks of NGOs, international organizations, think-tanks, governments and academics. But what about the human security problems that did not get sufficient advocacy, and consequently suffer from neglect by global policy networks? To which pressing problems might human security advocates turn their attention in the next ten years?

Here are some candidate issues, drawn from recent focus groups with human security practitioners:

1) Opthalmic Care in Developing Countries. Good eyesight seems to many like a luxury in countries riven by malaria, HIV-AIDS and river-blindness, but as a health and development priority it may be one of the most important ways to help improve the lives of individuals in the developing world: according to the NY Times, a WHO study last year estimated the cost in lost output at $269 billion annually.

2) Gangs. Human security organizations pay a great deal of attention to armed political violence, but they tend to stress violence carried out by states, either in wars per se or against their civilian populations. And emerging attention to non-state actors tends to focus on terror groups or militias. Local violence not aimed at capturing the state but rather at holding turf in contestation with other local armed groups – and the role of gangs and cartels as parallel governance structures in many places now competing with states – is being overlooked by analysts and advocates of human security. In Mexico, for example, drug cartels bring in 20% of Mexico’s GDP, control significant portions of Mexico’s territory, possess their own armies. Columbian cartels are experimenting with submarines. Threats to human security in zones where these actors have a foothold are more complex than “combatting crime” or “preventing human rights abuses by states.”

3) Indigenous Land Rights. Perhaps this issue will get a bump with the release of James Cameron’s Avatar. While indigenous people have their own UN treaty process and the right to participate in UN processes, indigenous issues are relatively marginalized within the human security network, occupying little agenda space among organizations working this these areas. Since it is now becoming clear that many of the policy initiatives to stem climate change will negatively impact indigenous populations, perhaps the indigenous voice in world politics will get a little louder in the next few years.

4) Space Security. In 1967 governments signed the Outer Space Treaty, effectively demilitarizing the Moon and other celestial bodies and prohibiting the placement of nuclear weapons in orbit. Yet the treaty does not prohibit the placement of non-nuclear weapons in orbit, and according to the Center for Defense Intelligence, today space is becoming highly militarized as governments race to build anti-satellite weapons and space-based strike capabilities. These developments are prompting a movement to promote a new treaty on space governance. So far this idea has have limited impact in global policy circles, but it may an idea whose time is arriving. A recent report from Project Ploughshares argues that even the civilian uses of outer space represent human and environmental security risks, such as that posed by mounting orbital debris. And with the discovery of a perfect location for a moon colony being touted as one of the New Year’s top stories, the relationship between outer space and human security is bound to become more prominent in the next few years.

5) Role of Diasporas in Conflict Prevention. Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer may have attracted ire for their treatise on the Israel Lobby, but human security practitioners spoke repeatedly of the wider issue of which their case is a putative example: the impact of outsiders, particularly diasporas, in intractable conflicts worldwide. Focus group participants spoke of the role played by financial transfers and propaganda from ethnic brethren safe abroad in inciting violence within countries that puts civilians at risk and contributed to a spiral of violence – an argument also put forth recently by scholars at United Nations University. They also bemoaned the lack of a strong international norm against outside governments fomenting rebellion within states when it suits their purposes. It’s easy to see why such an ethical standard would go against the interests of some powerful states, but it’s also clear that such a norm might serve a useful conflict mitigation function.

6) Workers’ Right to Organize. The right to unionize is enshrined in human rights law but besides the International Labor Organization, very few human rights advocacy groups pay much attention to the rights of workers to organize and collectively bargain with the companies for which they work, or the responsibility of states to ensure this right is not violated. Organizations central to the human security network might follow the lead of smaller NGOs like the International Labor Rights Forum to address not only “humane working conditions” as defined by Northern advocates, but the right of workers’ to advocate on their own behalf about the concerns most pressing to them.

7) Waste Governance. It’s not sexy like climate change but it’s a significant environmental issue for billions of people worldwide. The safe disposal of human waste products is a prerequisite for human health and environmental well-being, yet in places like Africa, populations are rapidly urbanizing often in the absence of effective waste management architecture. As the International Development Research Center recognized ten years ago, this issue will need to become a priority for development organizations and donors in the next century.

8) Sexual Orientation Persecution. Gay, lesbian and transgender individuals worldwide face violence, stigma, and numerous forms of discrimination. Last month, the Ugandan government began considering legislation that would make homosexuality a capitol offense in that country; that they are now reconsidering this provision under pressure from donor governments points to the effectiveness of a strong international response to such human rights violations. Yet it has only been in very recent years that sexual orientation persecution has been recognized by mainstream human rights organizations as an issue meriting serious advocacy, and to date far too little attention has been paid to this very pervasive and widespread form of discrimination.

9) Water. Depending on who you ask, access to a sufficient clean water is a health issue, a development issue, a human right, and increasingly at the root of territorial conflicts globally. While the issue of water is already on the human security agenda, many focus group participants were adamant that much greater global attention and advocacy is required in the next decade to create genuine and inclusive governance over water as a planetary resource.

10) Familization of Governance. During the 2008 Democratic primary, some Democrats voted against Hilary Clinton for no other reason that this: they believed no political system was served by members of only two families – the Bushes and the Clintons – ruling a country for nearly two decades. Yet the US is hardly the worst country in the world when it comes to the monopolization of state power in the hands of a few wealthy families. In many countries, democracies and dictatorships alike, apportioning some high-level positions through kin networks rather than through merit is so common as to be a taken-for-granted aspect of political life that rarely raises an eyebrow. In some cases, such as North Korea and Syria, the entire state is inherited. Participants in my focus groups pointed to the pervasive and largely unchallenged rules of the game that allow this to occur globally and discussed the ways in which it prevents political reform in many places – not just in governments but in international institutions as well. An anti-corruption agenda for the 21st century should include some focused attention to this problem.

11) International Voting Rights. The international community likes to talk about democracy promotion, but this is normally couched in terms of creating accountable, transparent and inclusive institutions at the state level. Not much attention has been given to democratizing political processes at the global level. Some practitioners argue that more attention might be given to inclusiveness within global institutions, or international voting rights on key issues that affect not only states but also individuals. A recent book by OXFAM’s Didier Jacobs lays out this argument more forcefully and shows how it could be institutionalized.

12) Impunity for Death by Neglect. As of 2005, the International Criminal Court can try and punish individuals found guilty of crimes against humanity including murder, rape and forced displacement. But governments enjoy impunity for deaths worldwide that result from benign neglect of their citizens, rather than intentional atrocity. Half a million women die due to pregnancy or childbirth and 11 million children under five die from preventable diseases each year, not because any leader wished it but simply because resources are channeled to palaces instead of hospitals, to militaries instead of health clinics. As we move into the second decade of the 21st century, those on the front lines of the human security community argue for a more expansive notion of impunity, and new mechanisms to incentivize leaders to create a fairer, safer world for all.

Question to readers: what issues do you feel should receive greater attention by human security advocates in the coming decade?

New LGM Contributor

[ 0 ] January 14, 2010 |


I am pleased to announce that Dr. Charli Carpenter, Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, will join Lawyers, Guns and Money. Charli also blogs at Duck of Minerva and Current Intelligence, specializing in foreign policy, international law, and human security. Medium and long-term readers will recall that she served in a guest stint several months ago, during which she demonstrated her value as a technician of empire. We are delighted that Charli is joining LGM; please extend her a hale and hearty welcome.

Return of the Vampires

[ 0 ] January 9, 2010 |

Every spring, Patterson runs a policy simulation designed to illustrate the difficulty of operating an organization in the context of asymmetric and limited information. Every fall, I run a two hour mini-simulation designed to give students a sense of how the larger simulation will play out. In my first year, I did zombies; the year after was the aftermath of Independence Day, and last year I asked our 35 first year graduate students to develop a strategy for containing or killing Godzilla. Since vampires seem to be in the news lately, this year I chose a vampire oriented scenario.

The scenario was broadly organized around the motivating concept of True Blood; vampires, in existence throughout human history, reveal themselves and demand civil recognition. With vampires the devil is always in the details, so I gave them the following characteristics:

  • Sun Sensitivity: Able to move about during day, but direct sunlight kills in short time frame (15 seconds)
  • Some shape-shifting ability; some vampires capable of turning into wolves, bats, while others lack such capability
  • Coffins: Not necessary, but typical
  • Human blood: Human blood is most nutritious, but mammal blood will do in a pinch
  • Fangs: Retractable
  • Super strength: Well in excess of human norms of endurance and physical strength
  • Vulnerabilities: Cross and other religious paraphernalia have no effect; wooden stake kills, incineration kills, silver injures. No effect from garlic, running water, etc.
  • Propagation: Vampires have to intentionally create additional vampires by force feeding “candidate” victims
  • Lifespan: Spans centuries, at least

Again, with a couple of exceptions these are broadly similar to the vampires in True Blood. I also gave the vampires a transnational governance structure of generally feudal character. I estimated the total numbers of world vampires at around 15 million, with a US population of just under a million.

I divided the students into the following groups:

  • Department of Justice
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Central Intelligence Agency
  • Department of Defense
  • Department of Homeland Security
  • Department of State
  • Department of Health and Human Services

Each group was tasked with developing an organizational response to the imminent public declaration of the existence of vampires. I gave each group a few general questions, then set them lose. CIA and DoD each received a bit of additional information. CIA had been aware of the existence of vampires essentially from the point of its founding, as had most major foreign intelligence organizations. The CIA even employed vampiric agents from time to time; a CIA vampire killed Salvador Allende. DoD’s relationship was even longer and more extensive. In its previous incarnations as the Departments of War and Navy, the US military had employed vampires since the Civil War. In World War II, an entire brigade sized unit was created, although it was mainly concerned with responding to the activities of German and Japanese vampires. I also indicated that many analysts believed that Osama Bin Laden was a vampire, and that Al Qaeda seemed comfortable with the use of vampiric agents.

Here are the highlights of what they came up with in the two hour window:

Department of Justice

  • Prioritize vampire-specific policies. When crafting initial vampire policy, reducing risk to humans must take precedence over the granting of equal protection to vampires.
  • Define vampire’s legal status. If the President desires full vampire inclusion in the human population, they must be granted equal protection under the law.
  • Review U.S. laws to make them species neutral, as far as possible.
  • Strengthen criminal statutes that address crimes likely to be associated with vampire behavior, including feeding and conversion. Also, create human-on-vampire hate crimes.
  • Amnesty for past crimes and legal food supply based on self-identification within a specified time frame.
  • Create and fund a new interagency entity headed by the Department of Justice to deal with vampire registration, identification and criminal enforcement, and distribution of vampire food.
  • Liaise with Interpol regarding transnational vampire threats.

Department of Defense

  • Upon legal recognition of the U.S. vampire population, the DoD has determine that a policy of further R&D should be pursued in regards to vampire defense and technology associate with vampire capabilities.
  • The increased integration of vampires into the armed forces brings up the issue of special training for both vampire and human troops. The DoD proposes to keep vampire units separate from human units.
  • A Global Conference on the Special Needs of Vampires is recommended to address international security issues, specifically a Convention on the Use of Vampires in Combat (CUVC).
  • Vampires are vital assets to the DoD. While vampires do have some limitations such as ability to withstand direct sunlight, their superhuman strength and longevity make them very valuable. Currently, US Armed Forces include three thousand of the one million U.S. vampires; this number should be bolstered through a voluntary conversion program.
  • With Osama bin Laden as a suspected vampire, other terrorists and terrorist groups may also be assumed to be vampires, given the inherent tactical advantages of converting a small force to vampires. Therefore there is an urgent necessity to create additional Special Forces units in the military to combat these insurgents wherever they may operate.
  • The DoD foresees civilian and military concerns about maintaining a sustainable, non-threatening ratio of vampire to human soldiers. The Department of Defense proposes a thorough internal review of the roles and positions of current vampire soldiers, past incidents of vampire misconduct, and the threat of defecting vampire units.
  • The increased vampire presence in the U.S. military presents logistical concerns that must be addressed by the DoD. Vampires have been previously granted Veteran’s Benefits after the traditional twenty years service. Instead, the required length of service should be adjusted in proportion to the longer vampire life span of several centuries.


  • All vampire citizens must be required to register and carry identification so that FBI agents will be able to determine the difference between a vampire and a human. The FBI proposes to maintain a database of all vampire citizens that can be checked in the event of suspicious activity involving superhuman strength.
  • Vampire agents must be recruited to work within the Bureau to assist in infiltrating organized vampire crime groups.
  • Current tools such as handguns, steel handcuffs, and bullet proof vests will not be appropriate weapons in dealing with vampire criminals. The FBI must integrate silver handcuffs that resist shape-shifting, be armed with wooden stakes and bows and arrows, and trained in archery.
  • Underreporting of crimes related to blood sucking poses a threat to the FBI and to American citizens. The FBI will need to adapt our intelligence collecting methods to detect when humans change into vampires unwillingly by vampire attack. In the event of such attacks, the FBI must ensure that the vampire database is updated with new members of the species for both the protection of FBI agents as well as American citizens.


  • The most alarming threat from vampires is the potential for infiltration into the United States government, and their unique application in covert operations in the United States and abroad, especially as vampires retain the allegiances of their former lives.
  • CIA’s primary policy proposal focuses on the recruitment of unaffiliated vampires in an effort to check the influence of transnational vampire organizations. Efforts for this policy should focus on emphasizing vampire identification and vampire tracking with the United States.
  • If the DOJ supports interrogation efforts for vampires, a new interrogation manual needs to be created that includes techniques including UV rays and liquid silver-boarding for coercing information out of vampires that relates to US national security.
  • Vampiric individuals provide opportunities to enhance current counterintelligence efforts. Efforts to incorporate and assimilate vampiric individuals in a counterintelligence sphere should be coordinated with intelligence services worldwide who hold similar interests with CIA and the United States. Their physical characteristics allow for new levels and new methods of data collection in clandestine operations.


  • There are millions of vampire attacks on humans and animals yearly, many of which are fatal. This poses a different degree of terrorist threat. The Department of Homeland Security recommends a continued threat level of “High” (orange) as pertaining to vampire attacks.
  • The fear that the anticipated public vampiric announcement could incite in the United States population at large is a threat to homeland security generally in the risk mass hysteria poses. A more specific aspect of the threat is the probability that a marginalized population poses in the fight on terrorism. If the larger population fears Vamperic-Americans, this marginalized population will become a prime recruiting base for terrorism. This potential threat should be addressed with a public awareness campaign.
  • Given the large number of annual vampire-caused attacks, the Department of Homeland Security proposes the implementation of a microchip identification system. Current vampiric American citizens will be encouraged to voluntarily give up violent behavior and participate in the program to ensure their compliance.
  • Given the fact that there are approximately 15 million vampires worldwide and only 1 million in the U.S., it is reasonable to assume that some vampires will seek to immigrate to a country in which they will enjoy full citizenship. The DHS will direct Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to implement the microchip identification system on a mandatory basis for all vampires entering the United States.


  • Vampires will not fit within current human-oriented health administrative codes and regulations because, should they be granted full citizenship, they will have access to the national health care system. Their particular strength, lifespan, and sustenance needs would not fit into normal codes, and new ones must be developed, separate from human regulations to account for vampires’ unique condition. Medicare regulations will have to be severely restricted to vampires, as their life span is known to be far longer than average unaffiliated humans. Medicaid will also require adjustments, as human diseases afflict vampires to a far lesser extent.
  • In order to avoid any violent public backlash or outcry against vampires, the Department of Health and Human Services will publish an education campaign to inform the public about the honest intent of the vampire population to openly acculturate. The medical community will receive education on how to treat vampires, how to treat unwilling participants in vampirism, and will receive educational literature for public diffusion on what vampirism is and how it affects the body both positively and negatively.
  • In order to protect the US human population from becoming an unwilling food source to vampires, Health and Human Services will provide policy for the distribution and sale of human and animal blood to support the nutritional needs of the vampire population.
  • It is recommended that grants and funding be provided for the essential task of medical research into vampirism and related health concerns. Currently there is no known cure or treatment for vampirism. Research must be done into potential vaccines and cures for vampirism in order to assure the general public that options are available if accidental contraction occurs.

I can’t find State’s response, although as I recall it involved the potential for a separate state solution to the vampire problem. Also, several of the organization expressed concern over the extension of social services to vampires; Social Security, military and civil service promotion and retirement, and other program would have to be substantially changed.

Altogether, it was a very professional and carefully considered set of responses to an absurd question.

In Fairness, There’s Also A Strong Consensus Against Waste, Fraud and Abuse. And For Limiting Welfare Recipients to Three Escalades A Year.

[ 0 ] December 20, 2009 |

One thing to add to the fact that foreign aid is one of the tiny number of specific areas in which cuts to government spending are actually popular is that (unless public awareness of federal spending levels has increased to implausible levels since 1995) it’s quite definitely the exception that proves the rule:

The weekend before President Clinton’s State of the Union Address, the Wall Street Journal assembled a focus group of middle-class white males to plumb the depth of their proverbial anger. These guys are mad as hell. They’re mad at welfare, they’re mad at special-interest lobbyists. “But perhaps the subject that produces the most agreement among the group,” the Journal reports, is the view that Washington should stop sending money abroad and instead zero in on the domestic front.

…a poll released last week by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland which stated that 75% of Americans believes that the US spends “too much” on foreign aid, and 64% want foreign aid spending cut. Apparently a cavalier 11% of Americans think it’s fine to spend “too much” on foreign aid. Respondents were also asked, though, how big a share of the federal budget goes to foreign aid. The median answer was 15%; the average answer was 18%; the correct answer is less than 1%. A question about how much would be “too little” produced a median answer of 3%–more than three times the current level of foreign aid spending.

Does Criticism of Nauru’s Foreign Policy Constitute Slut Shaming?

[ 0 ] December 15, 2009 |

Nauru has just become the first country to recognize Kosovo, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia. Unfortunately, Nauru switched its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the PRC in 2002, meaning that it misses out on the much coveted “golden sombrero” of breakaway recognition. It turns out that Nauru shifted back to Taiwan in 2005. My google powers are weak. Nauru has, in fact, achieved Golden Breakaway Status.

Sometimes Success Means Success

[ 0 ] December 14, 2009 |

Yglesias is more impressed than I by Pat Lang’s discussion of successful and failed counter-insurgency campaigns. In particular, I think he misconstrues the objectives of many of the major counter-insurgency campaigns of the post-war colonial period:

This theory of warfare [COIN] was developed by the colonial powers as a “cure” for the wave on “wars of national liberation” that swept through their overseas possessions after World War Two. Because of these revolts against authority most of the European powers found themselves faced with colonized populations engaged in extended attempts to obtain independence from the metropole. Such rebellions were usually based on ethnic and racial differences with the colonizers and were often led by vanguard Left parties with communist connections. That connection caused an eventual American policy commitment to the COIN struggle. That commitment sometimes occurred as a partner of the colonial power (Vietnam in the late ‘40s and ‘50s) and sometimes as a successor to the colonial power after at least partial independence had been achieved. (Vietnam after the French).

Whereas Lang describes COIN as being primarily about maintaining territorial control of colonies, the retention of territorial control was only sometimes the objective of war. The French wanted to hold Algeria, but the British in Malaya wished only to install and maintain a friendly regime. The latter model is more common, I think, to both the colonial era and today. For example, formal Vietnamese independence was established in 1950; the rest of the war, from both the French and American perspectives, was about installing friendly rulers. The Mau Mau revolt accelerated Kenyan independence, but only by convincing the British that it would be easier to manage their interests through a friendly African government than to govern the territory directly. Kenyatta, never deeply tied to the Mau Mau, embarked on a very pro-British foreign and domestic policy after independence. Lang’s argument is closer to the mark on Cyprus, but even there the insurgency was as much about the eventual balance of power between Greeks and Turks as it was about ejecting the British. The British also retained a very strong influence over Cypriot domestic institutions and foreign policy. Moreover, the pursuit of a friendly government isn’t exclusive to the colonial era. The Soviet aim in 1979 was the replacement of one faction of the Communist Party with another, not annexation; it is perhaps the only example of an invasion that was requested by both parties to the dispute.

The British succeeded in suppressing this revolt [in Malaya] but what did this successful effort gain them? It was enormously expensive and success was followed by British withdrawal from Malaya and the creation of an independent Malaysia completely dominated by the Malay ethnic adversaries of the overseas Chinese.

It resulted in the creation of a friendly regime, run by rulers chosen by the British. Indeed, the British escalated their commitment at the behest of the Malayan rulers that they had chosen. The establishment of friendly rulers in former colonial territories may or may not be stupid reason to fight a war for (there’s certainly a good case that it’s an immoral reason to fight a war), but Lang doesn’t really contribute on that question. I don’t know if the value of British economic and strategic interest in a friendly Malaysia over the forty years following 1958 exceeded the cost of the war, but I wouldn’t be surprised either way. Indeed, one of the key realizations on the part of metropolitan powers at the end of the colonial period was that they could retain economic (and often some political) control of their former territories if they made sure that the right people took over. The difference between friendly and not-so-friendly post-colonial leadership was seen, understandably, as something worth waging a war for. Thus, it’s a bit absurd to suggest that British success in establishing Malaysia was somehow pointless, simply because the British withdrew anyway.

Having friendly rulers in charge of foreign countries is nice; in fact, it’s one of the central reasons that countries decide to wage war. Arguing that COIN is useless because all it can do is install friendly rulers is like suggesting that a hammer is useless because it can only drive nails. The Korean War was waged in conventional fashion by the United States, and it resulted in the maintenance and survival of a South Korean state run by people we liked. The Chinese entered the war because they wanted to maintain a North Korea run by people that they liked. Edmund Burke wanted to strangle the French Revolution in its crib not because he had designs on Calais, but rather because he wanted to eliminate dangerous people in Paris. Central to the Allied war aims in 1939 was the removal of Adolf Hitler as ruler of Germany. It would never be argued, however, that success in conventional warfare is worthless because it resulted only in the installation of friendly regimes in Korea, France, and Germany.

Some of the other parts of Lang’s argument are better; COIN is expensive, long term, and fails a lot. Obviously, there’s also something twitchy about killing foreigners in an effort to determine how they’ll order their societies. I think that he gets Vietnam pretty wrong in suggesting that US counter-insurgency efforts were essentially successful in a military sense; the communist/nationalist insurgency in South Vietnam fatally weakened the state (and US attachment to South Vietnamese independence) to the degree that the North Vietnamese Army could crush its opposite number with ease in 1975. I also think that he gets some of this wrong:

COIN theory is predicated on the ability of the counterinsurgents to change the mentality of the “protected” (read controlled) population. The sad truth is that most people do not want to be deprived of their ancestral ways and will fight to protect them. “Hearts and Minds” is an empty propagandist’s phrase.

Were this true, the Chinese Communists would never have defeated the Nationalists, and the Viet Minh would have failed in Vietnam. In both cases, the insurgents offered positive revolutionary programs that defied tradition and ancestral ways; indeed, this is how the insurgents won the loyalty of the target populations. The peasants liked the insurgents because they promised to kill the landlords and redistribute their land, and because the insurgents offered an alternative (nationalist) conception of identity. Insurgencies in other parts of this world follow this pattern, offering varying degrees of revolutionary and nationalist doctrine (nationalism itself was a revolutionary doctrine, alien to traditional conceptions of village life). The Taliban doesn’t exactly campaign on a platform of restoring traditional Afghani ways of life; it also has a positive political program. “Hearts and Minds” is an empty propagandists phrase, but no less empty than “ancestral ways.” Most modern theorists of COIN reject using either term.

In the end the foreign counterinsurgent is embarked on a war that is not his own war. For him, the COIN war will always be a limited war, fought for a limited time with limited resources. For the insurgent, the war is total war. They have no where to escape to after a tour of duty. The psychological difference is massive.

While it’s true that insurgents invariably accept higher risk and endure higher costs than counter-insurgents, it’s simply not the case that there’s “nowhere to escape after a tour of duty.” The success of the “Anbar Awakening” was in giving insurgents somewhere to escape to, and thus reducing their willingness to sacrifice for the cause. Efforts to reach out to moderate elements of the Taliban are similarly about reducing the absolute commitment of the insurgent. These efforts may fail, and they may be costly in their own right, but it’s absurd to claim that every insurgent has a total commitment to the cause. When given a good reason (Americans promise to go home, for example) many insurgents may well decide that the fight isn’t worth the risk.

None of this has anything to do with whether or not a counter-insurgency approach will succeed in Afghanistan. The friendly government may be too corrupt and weak to save, the enemies too strong, civilian casualties too high, etc. I’m skeptical that even the most in-depth historical analysis can be of much assistance in determining the prospects for success in Afghanistan, and I’m really skeptical that an approach as far ranging and shallow as Lang’s can do much good.

Graduation Day!

[ 0 ] December 12, 2009 |

Today was graduation day at Patterson. For lack of anything better to post, below is the graduation keynote that I delivered to the Spring 2009 graduates:

Congratulations to the graduating class, and thank you for asking me to speak. I’m not going to make any claims about the superiority of the Spring 2009 Patterson School graduating class over any other class. But let’s be frank; I don’t need to. They’ve already sufficiently demonstrated their wisdom…

Graduation speeches are evaluated primarily on their brevity, so I’ll keep things short. Tonight I’ll only talk about two things; the first is service, and the second is myself.

A commitment to service binds all Patterson classes together, and by that I mean all Patterson classes that have been, and all that are to come. When someone decides to come to the Patterson School, they sketch out for themselves a career of service to their community, to their government, to something larger than themselves. Our students go on to work in the government, in the intelligence community, in non-governmental organizations, and in major companies around the world. In so doing, they take responsibility for making the world work; taking responsibility is, after all, what service is about. We live in a world of financial crises, terrible poverty, terrorism, cylons, piracy, and trade disputes, and those are only the exciting bits, the tip of the iceberg. Our graduates tonight will be taking responsibility for all of that, along with the daily grind that constitutes making policy in government, in an NGO, or at a private company. Our graduates, in short, are taking responsibility for making the world run.

I don’t think that this commitment to service, this undertaking of responsibility, can be understood independently of an appreciation of Kentucky. Kentucky is about community; circles of community reaching from family to town to county to state to nation. How this sense of community works can be mystifying, even maddening to an outsider like myself, but there’s no doubt that it exists. I think that this sense of community, and the commitment to service it produces, infuses everything that we do at the Patterson School. We’re not simply a school of foreign policy; we’re a school of foreign policy in Kentucky, and that distinction means something for what our graduates will do.

And so, what has all this meant to me? For four years, I’ve had the privilege of teaching at the Patterson School, and I’ve found it the most rewarding part of my career. If someone asked me, I’d say that teaching Patterson students is, I think, the most important thing that I’ve ever done. But I would also have to say that my attachment, and my enthusiasm, has thus far been detached; I’ve approached Patterson in an analytical sense, detached from the personal.

This has been a luxury of (relative) youth. As some of you know, my wife and I are expecting two baby girls this summer. I expect that many things will change; one thing that has changed already is my appreciation of service, of the acceptance of responsibility that our students have undertaken. Because now it’s not just me; it’s my daughters as well. Now, when we send our students out into the world, they’re taking responsibility for making sure my daughters have the opportunity to grow up safe, healthy and prosperous. And that means that the success of our graduates tonight has, so to speak, become personal. And so as you, the graduates, go forth, I say with all seriousness: Do well.

I should also say that I will be deeply honored if, some 24 years from now, my daughters join you all as Patterson graduates. We’ll see.

Thank you, and congratulations again to our graduates.

ChiComs Under the Bed!

[ 0 ] December 3, 2009 |

Al Kamen, via Jason Sigger:

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the Clinton administration’s cavalier handover of the Panama Canal — leaving an alleged front for the Chinese Red Army in control of the strategic passage — despite the strong misgivings of some top foreign policy experts.

“If we do nothing, I can guarantee you that within a decade, a communist Chinese regime that hates democracy and sees America as its primary enemy will dominate the tiny country of Panama, and thus dominate the Panama Canal, one of the world’s most important strategic points,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) told a House subcommittee on Dec. 7, 1999, as it debated the handover.

Retired Adm. Thomas Moorer warned that China could sneak missiles into Panama and use it as a launchpad for attacking the United States. And former defense secretary Caspar W. Weinberger wrote that fall that Panama’s contract with Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa to control ports at both ends of the passage was “the biggest threat to the canal.”

Is that a money back guarantee, Dana?

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