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Tag: "human rights"

Humanitarian Logistics in Haiti

[ 0 ] January 16, 2010 |

I predict this book is going to sell a whole lot of copies this year. Unlike many ongoing crises that suffer from lack of aid money, in Haiti the relief lag we are seeing is due not to compassion fatigue (text message donations surpassed $10 mil today, equal to the amount pledged by Brazil or Switzerland) but rather to sheer logistical strain caused by poorly built or now-destroyed infrastructure.

(You simply can’t offload supplies from ships without dock cranes. You can’t land planes full of relief shipments and inflatable hospitals without a functional control tower. To save lives, search and rescue crews must get their equipment from tarmac to disaster zone efficiently. Helicopters need landing zones not decimated by rubble. And most importantly, military folks with the choppers need to be able to communicate with the civilian aid agencies who have the supplies.)

A lesson for human security specialists may be: is some level of international governance over basic infrastructure going to be necessary to resolve coordination problems like this in the future? There’s a lot of talk in the MDGs about development aid for food, vaccinations, school supplies, but how about for construction of roads, ports and control towers that can withstand natural disasters? This would seem to be a prerequisite for effective civilian-military response in such scenarios. An international community that can trace nuclear materials or close an ozone hole could establish and implement such standards if it chose – half the problem is lack of political imagination.

Meanwhile, a few signs of hope: the US now controls the Port-au-Prince airport; a couple of emergency field hospitals are up and running and the 19 Seahawks ferried in by the USS Vinson have doubled the capacity of the airport. Also a military drone has been diverted from the Middle East to capture images to assist in humanitarian operations. What a bright idea.

On the other hand, a 5.6 magnitude quake hit Venezeula a few hours ago. Stay tuned.

Don Draper as an unraptured Emma Bovary

[ 0 ] January 16, 2010 |

As I noted in the comments to this post, it was only a matter of time before I started Mad Men; however, as I’ve studiously avoided reading about the show for the better part of two years now, I’m not sure my insights into it will be all that insightful. Still, I’ll soldier on, with the caveat that I’m about to watch the eighth episode of the most recent season and would rather not have it spoiled. Not, mind you, that I think it could be, as the one of the defining features of the show is the thundering predictability of its characters. That’s not as an indictment of Matt Weiner or his writing staff, merely an acknowledgment of the show’s central conceit: these are people who want to be left behind when the rest of the world is raptured by history—at least at first.

Don Draper and his fellows at Sterling-Cooper aggressively court their own obsolescence by cultivating an aesthetic that appeals to inhabitants of a disappearing culture. In this respect, focusing the show around the Gatsby in the gray flannel suit is an inspired decision: Draper is a man at a remove both from his own history and those of archetypes that shape his character, and as such is constitutionally belated. He does not believe in free love, like his beatnik paramour Midge Daniels, he merely lacks a convincing moral objection to committing serial adultery. His persona is a fashioned response to a vanishing culture, and it appeals—both for the clients of Sterling-Cooper and viewers of the show—to the perpetually recycled nostalgia for a time in which romantic figures of powerful genius were recognized and compensated accordingly. In the decades previous, as evidenced by an article Earnest Havemann wrote for Life in 1958, it had actually been true that

most advertising agencies were started on the strength of one man’s genius and personality. These old giants of the business had an intuitive feel for advertising. Flying strictly by the seat of their pants, they made brilliant guesses as to what would put the public in the mood to buy and planned brilliant campaigns around their hunches. Yesterday’s ad man used to take a look at the product, then go off in a corner to dream up his campaign. Today’s ad man sends for the research on what consumers are thinking about at the moment and often goes out to size up the consumer himself.

Havemann captures, in miniature, why Peter Campbell’s career will inevitably eclipse Draper’s: a person can only have hunches about cultures they know intimately, so the value of a Don Draper is inversely proportional to, for example, market penetration into urban black communities. This is not to say that Campbell’s attempt to identify the desires of black Americans at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement makes him any more sympathetic as a character, or to viewers, as his commitment to equality is as instrumental as Draper’s is to free love.

Campbell is, in a sense, becoming us, and we revile his behavior to the extent that we recognize our sins in his actions. Draper, however, is becoming art, and as such we hold him as responsible for his actions as we would Emma Bovary. His self-fashioning was not merely based on literary precedent, it was an act of literature, if you will, and much of the appeal of the show is based on watching an inscrutable literary character interact with actual humans. Not literally, of course, but as the show moves forward in time, the endgames of everyone except for Draper become increasingly recognizable to the audience as modern types. We know why the black elevator attendent is reluctant to talk to the white advertising accountant. We know why the career woman is undermining gender expectations by sleeping around. These characters are commendable or revolting according to a familiar cultural logic tempered by a little historical knowledge. We may not know precisely how the story of Peggy Olson ends, for example, but we know what will limit her ability to grow and how struggling against the stunt will deform her, because hers is the thundering predictability of unwed mothers and unfair office politics.

So Peter and Peggy are not left behind because, over the course of two seasons, they learn to love and accept modernity in their hearts. They still seek Draper’s approval, but they recognize that he’s valuable in a way the world soon stop valuing. When the rapture comes, they know Draper won’t be numbered among the chosen. They may not know why—Draper himself seems ignorant—but they know. The key item, in this regard, is the note left by the hitchhikers who dose and rob Draper:

In an act of petty kindness, almost pity, they leave him behind with the means to join them because they know he lacks the will to do so. They may not have personally witnessed his days of the locust in the second season, but like Peter and Peggy, they understand that he will not be following them into the future. Nor, for that matter, will Joan Holloway, whose related status I’ll address in a future post should you so desire.

(So long as I’m feeling semi-literary, I should add: if you want to learn why The Dark Knight is actually all about dogs, that’s my beat too.)

The Top 12 Human Security Issues of the Next Decade

[ 0 ] 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?


[ 2 ] January 7, 2010 |

It’s actually kind of impressive how many obvious errors of analysis Charles Lane packs into a few paragraphs here:

I can’t remember a more breathtaking 48 hours in politics since Barack Obama’s election in November 2008. Byron Dorgan is out; Chris Dodd is out; Bill Ritter is out. Who would have thought that just one year into Obama’s promising presidency, the Democrats who had pinned their hopes on him would be dangerously close to political meltdown?


Dick Morris sees a “New Two-Party System” in which centrist Democrats are getting squeezed out of a liberal party that has no real place for them any more.

That’s about half right. It’s more like we have four political parties stuffed into two. Roughly speaking, the Democrats consist of a liberal wing (epitomized by, say, Howard Dean) and a centrist wing (think of Arkansas’s Blanche Lincoln). The Republicans include a conservative wing (e.g., Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio) and an ultra-conservative wing (Sarah Palin). These are not recent developments. Both parties have been ideological and regional coalitions for decades.


Now, however, under the Internet-intensified pressure of recession, terrorism and global uncertainty, the four parties are breaking out of the two-party mold that had previously contained them. On the Democratic side, President Obama finds himself torn between progressives demanding an ideologically pure health-care program, among other agenda items, and a pragmatic wing desperately attempting to hold together 60 Senate votes by whatever means necessary.


The past is not prologue, but party instability of this magnitude could be the harbinger of even bigger changes. The U.S. political system actually fractured into four major parties in 1860 — and we all know what happened next.

I suppose one could just note that he quotes Dick Morris as a serious political analyst and then go home, but for the record:

  • The idea that there’s “no room” for centrists in the Democratic Party couldn’t be more absurd. There remain plenty in the Democratic caucus, and as we’ve seen all too vividly they wield an enormous amount of leverage.
  • What Dorgan’s decision not to run again has to do with a split between progressives and “centrists” is, to put it mildly, unclear. As far as I can tell, no significant progressive blogger sees Dorgan’s resignation as a good thing, he wasn’t facing a primary threat, etc. etc.
  • Chris Dodd was, as Senators go, progressive. And far from being part of a “political meltdown,” his decision not to run makes it nearly certain that the Dems will hold a formerly vulnerable seat.
  • The idea that progressives are unwilling to compromise on health care, in contrast to a “pragmatic wing” of centrists, is a near-perfect inversion of the truth. Progressives have, in fact, been willing to accept any number of odious compromises in order to get a health care bill passed. It’s the Liebermans and Stupaks who are the nihilists willing to kill health care reform in order to (in the latter case) restrict abortion rights or (in the former case) indulge in unprincipled narcissism.
  • The fact that teabaggers sometimes want the Republican Party to run more conservative candidates hardly means that they aren’t willing to work within the party.
  • All of the large, “brokerage” parties that characterize two-party systems contain tensions. But, of course, American parties are in fact far more disciplined and ideologically coherent than has been the case historically. The idea that there’s an unusual degree of partly instability is utterly wrong. As for Lane’s suggestion that we could be on the verge of an 1860-like party crackup — care to make it interesting?

An impressive piece of work.

On Sending Messages

[ 0 ] January 7, 2010 |

I love this commercial:

The point, apart from some self-mockery of ESPN’s Brett Farve obsession, is that the message sent isn’t necessarily the message received. If there’s any kind of mistaken interpretation along the way, the receiver can draw a conclusion that’s exactly the opposite of what the sender intends. It’s useful to remember this in the context of international politics, because communication can be staggeringly difficult. Actors have to deal with domestic audiences and have strong incentives to deceive, making it extremely difficult to convey accurate information, especially in relationships characterized by hostility.

These problems are multiplied when the message itself lacks clarity. In the midst of one of my seemingly endless twitter feuds with Eli Lake this morning, he wrote “It was obvious to any honest observer by 2006 that Bush would not bomb Iran. The options on table talk was a negotiating ploy.” There’s a basic contradiction inherent to that tweet; if it was obvious that bombing was off the table, then the threat was pretty useless as a negotiating ploy. Setting that aside, however, it seems to me that there’s an implicit argument about message sending. Without putting words into Eli’s mouth, I think it’s fair to say that a consistent element of the neocon worldview is that the enemy only understands force, and that they’ll “get the message” if we accompany it with sufficient amounts of high explosive. Force, the argument goes, has a clarity all its own. For neocons, I think that the Iraq invasion was intended as a message to the rest of the world, with the precise content of that message being more or less:

The United States is prepared to use force in a responsible manner in order to pursue and defend its interests. We are now engaging in a high cost operation that will demonstrate our resolve and commitment.

Unfortunately, this does not appear to have been the message that either domestic opponents of the Bush administration or the international audience received. The message actually received seems to have been closer to this:

We are batshit crazy, and plan to invade random countries based on nothing more than whim.

Or maybe:

We hate Muslims (either because of 9/11 because we’re just mean), and plan to kill as many as possible.

Or maybe:

We wish to control the world’s supply of oil, and will buy or conquer every state that stands as an obstacle to that project.

I’m a charitable guy, and so I think that the message that most of the relevant policymakers intended to send was closest to number one. I can certainly understand, however, how the message that people around the world received was one of the latter three. Indeed, because I know a bit about social psychology, I can even appreciate how states and organizations hostile to the United States are MORE likely to hear one of the latter three messages rather than the first one.

Each of the messages carry radically different policy implications. If, for example, you believe that the United States is an incorrigibly hostile, semi-random aggressor, then the incentives for accomodation are rather low. To bring this back to the disagreement with Eli, however, the problem is that many honest observers could come to many different conclusions, depending on what messages they received about US behavior and intentions. While Eli may have believed that it would be crazy for the Bush administration to attack Iran after 2006, and consequently may view anyone who was concerned about such an attack as either ill-informed or fundamentally dishonest, I have rather a different view. The message that the administration sent to me was:

We are fantastically strategically incompetent, can’t really be trusted to make serious, rational decisions about national security, and consequently might just try to bomb our way out of this mess.

And so the takeaway is that we don’t own our messages, and we can’t control how others view us. I have serious doubts about the sincerity of the alleged neocon commitment to human rights, but even if I believed that the Weekly Standard crew were utterly committed to human freedom, I wouldn’t expect anyone else to believe it. Consequently, we can’t expect that what’s obvious to us will be obvious to others. Basic mistakes of communication are exceedingly likely to beset any effort at message sending in the international system.

WAPO: Robert Nozick is the Only Acceptable Definer of Human Rights

[ 0 ] December 28, 2009 |

Shorter Fred Hiatt: FDR was a total commie; King and his so-called “civil rights” maybe even worse. They probably didn’t even understand that “human rights” should be defined exclusively in the terms that will maximize the imperialist power of the United States. Let’s also completely ignore the fact that, in practice, the protection of even “negative” rights requires the substantial expenditure of state resources, making them no more “natural” by our logic by any other.

Matt has more about the editorial that “really breaks new ground in terms of red baiting and absurdity.”

Next British Election May Not Comply With European Court of Human Rights Law

[ 0 ] December 9, 2009 |

and not because the Tories may win, or even that the election may result in a hung parliament.

Rather, the EUCouncil of Europe is upset that the UK has been delaying the enactment of a 2005 European Court of Human Rights judgment that it is inconsistent with human rights law to disenfranchise convicted prisoners.
Come on, Britain, if Maine, Vermont, and even Canada can do this, so too can you.
Seriously, this places the lifetime voting ban of convicted felons, a grotesque anti-democratic practice of 14 U.S. states (according to Wikipedia . . . 11 of which, shockingly, are located in the South; I’m certain race does not factor into this policy whatsoever) in context. Of course, as this is state jurisprudence, felon enfranchisement law varies; I am having a difficult time confirming the wiki numbers. However, let it be duly noted that a resident of Mississippi convicted of timber larceny (whatever the hell that is) permanently banned from voting. This heinous crime doesn’t appear to be on the Alabama list, so I’d recommend crossing the border and setting up home in Alabama after release . . . but beware of committing treason (against the U.S.A.? The C.S.A.? The State of Alabama?) because that will blacklist you there.
A number of states require the convicted, and released, felon to appeal to the governor for a full pardon or clemency in order to enjoy the restoration of their voting rights. I guess that’s because in a number of states the governor doesn’t have anything better to do than determine, on a case-by-case basis, the fitness of his or her citizens to cast a ballot.
In attempting to understand how prisoners are treated for apportionment purposes, I found no clear guidelines, but I did find this observation:
“The American incarcerated population, 2,212,475 persons strong, is larger than the population of the fourth-largest city in the United States, commands a greater population than fifteen individual states, and contains more people than the three smallest states combined. If the incarcerated population of the United States were a state of its own, it would qualify for five Electoral College votes.”

And two U.S. Senators!

According to this source, 5.3 million Americans are denied the franchise due to past or current felony status. Again I’m stunned to note that there’s a race element involved:
African-Americans in particular were disproportionately disenfranchised and living in states where disenfranchisement is permanent even after a felon completes their sentence. Today, an estimated thirteen percent of black men are unable to vote due to a felony conviction.

13%. This is bonkers.
But at least the Europeans (and Canadians!) have a handle on the issue. Those wacky Europeans. What the hell will they dream up next as a human right, I wonder?

Plebiscitarianism run amok

[ 0 ] November 3, 2009 |

In the process of voting, I find myself pondering “King County Charter Amendment #1: Repeal of Section 350.20.30 and Portions of Article 9 – Transitory Provisions” Here’s the text in full:

Shall those no longer relevant portions of King County Charter Article 9 relating to the county’s prior transition to a home rule charter and King County Charter Section 350.20.30, relating to the county’s transition to a metropolitan form of government, be repealed, as provided in Ordinance # 16484?”

If you’re anything like me, you tried to read this several times, but kept falling asleep. Apparently, we’re being asked to vote on whether outdated language that refers to another no longer present section of the charter should be removed. I was tempted to vote no as an irrational protest vote against the madness that is the King County Charter. There’s a reasonable debate to be had about governing by plebiscite, but I can’t really figure out what a defense of copyediting by plebiscite might look like.

In other news, King County people please vote! I think we’ll win the big three (Yes to human rights and decency (71), No to disastrous state budgeting practices and Tim Eyman (1033), No to Susan “Sarah Palin II” Hutchinson) but these off year elections are somewhat unpredictable and losing any of these would drive me to drink.

Axis of Evil: Now with Turkey!!!

[ 0 ] October 22, 2009 |

It’s difficult to plow through the many layers of rank idiocy in the assertion that Turkey is “lost to the Islamists”; I can identify at least a few…

  1. The insinuation that the oppression of the Kurds was launched by AKP, rather than by the secular Turkish Army.
  2. The odd definition of “democracy” that includes occasional military interventions into the democratic process, and the serial abuse of human rights.
  3. The idea that Turkish observance of human rights has gotten worse over the past eight years, contrary to all evidence.
  4. The idea that the AKP government is somehow unique in its reluctance to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide (it is, notably, unique in pursuing good relations with Armenia).
  5. The idea that “treating political prisoners humanely and canceling the death penalty” is contrary to liberal democracy.
  6. The idea that the strength of the AKP is primarily the result of the behavior of US Presidents.
  7. The notion that support of the Iraq invasion constitutes a sufficient test for residence in the civilized West.

It’s fair to say that no one, and I mean no one, who has bothered to study Turkey for longer than a day would entertain any of these arguments; indeed, the last three are prima facie absurd even for someone who had never heard of a country called “Turkey.”

But my biggest question is this: If you believed this garbage, what policy would you recommend? Would you try to kick Turkey out of NATO? Would you suspend US arms sales to Turkey, and US military exercises with Turkey? Would you cut ambassadorial level contact with Turkey (after all, if Turkey really is Iran, then they might invade our embassy any day now)? Would you call for an invasion of Turkey (I’m sure that the secular military leadership would greet American and Israeli troops with rose petals…)? Because the thing is, if Turkey is “lost to Islam,” then we’re not talking about Turkey moving into Iran’s arms, or Turkey becoming part of Iran’s axis; Turkey becomes the hub. Turkish military and economic power dwarf Iranian, and I suspect that if Ankara wished to go nuclear, it could do so in very short order. This is rather the problem with making support of Operation Cast Lead the fundamental metric of support for the survival of the Israeli state; you throw out the bathwater, then the baby, then the cat, and then somebody else’s baby.

Here’s the problem: Beating the bejeezus out of Gaza, whatever merits it may have had for Israeli security, also had costs. People, even in relatively friendly states, didn’t think that the operation was sensible, or that it was conducted in a civilized manner. Endless bullying on the Goldstone Report won’t change that fact. Support for every aspect of Israeli policy does not constitute the central divide between Western and Islamic civilization; Operation Cast Lead was just as unpopular in Europe as it was in Turkey, and Turkey’s recent exclusion of Israel from military maneuvers only highlights the fact that Turkey has maintained a closer military relationship with Israel than just about any European country. Moreover, there’s a reason why the Israeli leadership is unwilling to go as far as Caroline Glick in calling Turkey out; they are, by and large, far more concerned than she with the survival of the Israeli state.

Bernstein: HRW Should Engage In Moral Relativism

[ 0 ] October 20, 2009 |

As with Michael Gerson on torture, Robert Bernstein believes that some countries should be ipso facto exempt from criticism for human rights abuses:

The organization is expressly concerned mainly with how wars are fought, not with motivations. To be sure, even victims of aggression are bound by the laws of war and must do their utmost to minimize civilian casualties. Nevertheless, there is a difference between wrongs committed in self-defense and those perpetrated intentionally.

But how does Human Rights Watch know that these laws have been violated? In Gaza and elsewhere where there is no access to the battlefield or to the military and political leaders who make strategic decisions, it is extremely difficult to make definitive judgments about war crimes. Reporting often relies on witnesses whose stories cannot be verified and who may testify for political advantage or because they fear retaliation from their own rulers…”

Setting up standards that make it essentially impossible to prove that countries Bernstein likes have ever committed war crimes is convenient, but not very useful for organizations that want to identify human rights abuses regardless of who commits them. The rest if the op-ed is long on pointing out we already know (most middle eastern regimes are highly repressive) and very short on evidence backing up his assertions that Israel has “borne the brunt” of HRW’s criticism. Based on the rest of his arguments, one suspects that for Bernstein any criticism of Israel is too much. I certainly don’t see Israel being singled out here.

The "Bomb Iran" Lobby is Getting Kind of Amateurish…

[ 0 ] October 13, 2009 |

Jeffrey Herf has taken to The New Republic in an effort to convince Americans that negotiations will go nowhere unless we threaten Tehran with an extensive bombing campaign. Herf is a specialist on Germany; Divided Memory is an excellent study of the different ways in which East and West Germans remember Nazism, and War by Other Means is interesting enough, even as it rather misses the point by over-emphasizing the role of Germany (and the missile debate more generally) in ending the Cold War. The vast expansion of literature on the Soviet point of view, in particular, has not been kind to Herf’s argument. In any case, Herf has some theories about relations between democracies and autocracies, and Marty saw fit to give him a platform. Yglesias identifies some problems; here are some more.

The essential problem is an old one in the history of negotiations between dictatorships and democracies. As was the case in the famous negotiations over intermediate-range nuclear forces in Europe in the 1980s, there is a fundamental asymmetry whenever a dictatorship sits down at the table with a democracy…All the domestic political pressures of the debate will be asymmetric: They will have an impact only on the governments of Britain, France, Germany, and the United States.

Herf doesn’t back this statement up, which suggests to me that he’s done almost no research on the issue. If he had, he’d know that there is in fact a literature on negotiation, and that democracies have some key advantages in negotiations with dictatorships. In particular, the constraints that democratic negotiators face can work to their advantage in determining outcomes within the range of mutually acceptable alternatives. Hard domestic constraints, assuming that they allow any agreement at all, are a massive plus at the negotiating table, because they limit what a negotiator can give away. It’s particularly fascinating that Herf invokes negotiations over the French and British nuclear arsenals, because, by his own account, the democracies won those negotiations, and won them because of electoral constraints. Indeed, democratic transparency often works to the advantage of negotiators; an American President can credibly argue that a treaty will not survive the Senate, while a Soviet General Secretary has much more trouble proving that the Red Army will veto a proposed arrangement. Herf would be well-advised to conduct additional research into the reasons why West prevailed on those negotiations, at least before engaging in another intellectual indefensible polemical exercise.

In December 1979, President Carter and our NATO allies agreed both to counter the new Soviet weapons by stationing American intermediate-range missiles in Europe and to propose a new round of arms-control negotiations with the Soviets, offering a scaled-backed NATO deployment in return for a reduction in their SS-20s. The USSR, however, demanded something more: that the nuclear weapons of Britain and France be counted in any negotiations. Under the Soviet scheme, Britain and France would have to pay the price for reductions in Soviet missiles by reducing or eliminating their nuclear arsenals, thus creating a “nuclear-free” Europe.

There’s rather a different way of thinking about this. Desiring the inclusion of British and French nuclear arsenals in the arms control negotiations may have been part of an actual, legitimate goal of Soviet foreign policy, rather than a negotiating “ploy”. The United Kingdom had, of course, developed its nuclear deterrent in collaboration with the United States. The primary delivery system for British nuclear weapons was the Polaris missile, designed in the United States. The United Kingdom was, moreover, tied to the United States through alliance in NATO. France was less constrained, and the French nuclear deterrent more independent, but nevertheless it’s hardly obvious that the Soviet desire to include the British and French arsenals as an element of the negotiations was either absurd or illegitimate. In the case of war between the Warsaw Pact and NATO, British and French missiles could destroy Soviet cities with exactly the same effectiveness as American missiles. Thus, I’d rather refrain from using the term “gambit” to describe what most rational observers would conclude was a rational, legitimate objective of Soviet foreign policy.

This brings us to the one policy option that Tehran truly fears–and thus the only one that gives these negotiations any realistic chance of success: a credible threat of military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities by the United States, perhaps joined by Britain and France, or Israel. If the Iranian leadership believed that such an attack was a real possibility, it, or some parts of it, might be persuaded to change course.

Right; the mullahs only understand the language of force, etc. Of course, if Dr. Herf had taken the US-Soviet analogy a bit farther, he might have been forced to notice that one of the key developments in the Soviet arms control stance in the mid-1980s was the Soviet realization that the US was not preparing to launch a preventive nuclear attack. Reagan’s rhetoric and arms buildup, whatever effect they may have had on the Soviet economy and on Soviet human rights, most certainly strengthened the hand of hardliners who argued that the US was planning to fight and win and offensive nuclear war. One of keys to Gorbachev’s success was his ability to argue that Reagan didn’t actually plan to attack, contrary to what appeared to be US preparations for war. In this sense, it was Soviet security, rather than Soviet vulnerability, that gave Gorbachev the ability to pursue arms control with Reagan. Had American hardliners such as Richard Perle and Dick Cheney prevailed, Reagan would have pursued a much more aggressive stance, and it’s unlikely that Gorbachev would have been able to budge the Soviet military-industrial complex. The Soviet Union would probably still have collapsed, but it almost certainly would have been a much more chaotic and bloody affair. Herf misses out on this because of either his inability or his refusal to understand that dictatorships also have factions, interest groups, and bureaucratic roadblocks, and his refusal to allow that the core interest of the Iranian leadership is their own security and survival, rather than nuclear weapons.

And this gets rather to the core of the problems with Herf’s approach. He assumes away Iranian domestic constraints, in spite of overwhelming evidence that a) dictatorships face internal constraints based on public pressure on bureaucratic infighting, b) that domestic constraints have unpredictable, and indeed often positive, effects on negotiating stances, and c) that dire military threats often empower the domestic actors in target countries that we’re least interested in seeing gain power. He seems to believe that since the regime successfully stole an election and hasn’t collapsed in the past three months, that it is free of domestic constraints. Such a position does not, as they say, demonstrate a sophisticated grasp of the way that authoritarian regimes operate; indeed, it would likely get Herf laughed out of an Introduction to Comparative Politics course.

In addition, Herf displays a cavalier ignorance of the Iranian regime; I suspect that the one thing the leadership TRULY fears is being overthrown by its domestic enemies, but not being an Iran specialist I try to refrain from writing statements like “the one thing Tehran truly fears.” Other than all that, however, Herf’s essay is just spiffy.

Sotomayor on Economic Issues

[ 1 ] September 22, 2009 |

An interesting article by Jess Bravin about Sotomayor’s recent oral argument queries about whether treating corporations as the equivalent of persons for constitutional purposes:

But Justice Sotomayor suggested the majority might have it all wrong — and that instead the court should reconsider the 19th century rulings that first afforded corporations the same rights flesh-and-blood people have.

Judges “created corporations as persons, gave birth to corporations as persons,” she said. “There could be an argument made that that was the court’s error to start with…[imbuing] a creature of state law with human characteristics.”

After a confirmation process that revealed little of her legal philosophy, the remark offered an early hint of the direction Justice Sotomayor might want to take the court.

“Progressives who think that corporations already have an unduly large influence on policy in the United States have to feel reassured that this was one of [her] first questions,” said Douglas Kendall, president of the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center.

It does seem possible that while Sotomayor might be a Breyeresque wet on civil liberties issues, she may also bring an economic liberalism that really has no representation on the current Court.

The rest of the article is very much worth reading, with good background information about Santa Clara County. What’s striking is how cursory the arguments in favor of the very important concept of corporate personhood were, although the constitutional text is silent either way and it’s certainly not obvious that it follows from the classical liberal principles that animated the rights in question.

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