Monday, August 20, 2007

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (0)

OK, we're making some progress here....

Blog debates tend to have diminishing marginal returns after the initial volley of posts, so I'd like to walk away from debating Glenn Greenwald before we run into Godwin's Law.

Fortunately, his latest post clarifies our points of agreement and disagreement quite nicely.

First, I think we're in agreement about the following:

1) You can critique members of the foreign policy community (FPC) for getting Iraq wrong -- but they are not responsible for the war itself. As Greenwald says:
The Bush administration would have invaded Iraq no matter who was on board. They only sought an AUMF from Congress once Congress promised to vote in favor of it.... So in that regard, Drezner's point is correct that the war would have happened even without the FPC "scholars" cheering it on.
Of course, many on the left -- including Greenwald -- still think that liberal FPC members played a legitimating role. That might be true, but that's a very different discussion than saying these people are responsible for the war.

2) Ideological rigidity or narrowness is bad. Greenwald writes:

Personally, I would not want a foreign policy community composed solely or predominantly of netroots ideologues. Debates benefit from a clash of ideas, from inclusion of the full spectrum of positions. That is precisely the point.
Fair enough. At this point, the netroots perspective on U.S. foreign policy certainly deserves more of a hearing than the neoconservatives.
Greenwald and I factually disagree about the following:
1) The reputational costs incurred by Iraq hawks within the foreign policy community. Greenwald believes that O'Hanlon and Pollack have not paid a steep enough price for their past mistakes:
[T]he credibility hits are still relatively minor -- they can still walk onto the Op-Ed pages of the NYT, WP and cable news shows at will, will still be treated as "serious experts," and almost certainly will occupy key national security positions in the next Democratic administration, particularly in a Clinton administration. That is rather extraordinary, given how consistently, unrepentantly, dishonestly, destructively and fundamentally wrong they have been about the single most important foreign policy question of our time.
I disagree -- in fact, I'll bet Greenwald that neither Pollack nor O'Hanlon will be given a Senate-confirmable position in any Democratic administration. Furthermore, as Shadi Hamid observes, neoconservatives have lost a lot of influence inside the beltway. But this is a matter of interpretation going forward, so we'll see.

2) The extent of the post-Iraq shift within the FPC. Greenwald writes:

[There have been] some rhetorical changes on the margins. But the central premises that led us into Iraq -- particularly the right of the U.S. to use military force even against countries that have not attacked us and the placement of faith in the ability of wars to achieve complex ends -- seem as strong as ever. Compare who the "experts" are and what they are saying now (about, for instance, Iran and Iraq) to the ones who were predominant in 2003 and one sees very little difference.
OK, let's go to the latest Center for American Progress survey of foreign policy wonks. We find the following:
Chastened by the fighting in Iraq, the U.S national security community also appears eager not to make the same mistakes elsewhere. For instance, though a majorityó83 percentódo not believe Tehran when it says its nuclear program is intended for peaceful, civilian purposes, just 8 percent favor military strikes in response. Eight in 10, on the other hand, say the United States should use either sanctions or diplomatic talks to negotiate an end to Iranís nuclear ambitions. Similarly, a majority of the experts favor some kind of engagement with groups that may be labeled terrorist organizations but have gained popular support at the ballot box, such as Hamas in the Palestinian Territories or Hezbollah in Lebanon. Itís one indication that, after six years, we may be entering a new chapter in the war on terror.
To me this is more than a marginal shift. These numbers would have looked radically different in 2003.
Greenwald and I conceptually disagree about the following:
1) The utility of the term "imperial". Greenwald writes:
[A]nyone who challenges the general entitlement of the U.S. to intervene at will is generally relegated to the leftist fringes, and "pacifist" is a nice dismissive slur that accomplishes that.

By stark contrast, I use the term "imperialist" because it is accurately describes the predominant foreign policy ideology, not because it demonizes.

Give me a break. I certainly did not mean "pacifist" as a dismissive slur -- but Greenwald took it that way. Funny how the words you believe to be value-neutral are interpreted in a different way by others.

Does he seriously believe that members of the foreign policy community would not take the term "imperial" as pejorative? It's a loaded term, and as this back-and-forth with Greenwald suggests, conceptually slippery enough to be of little use. Citing a few examples of its use in mainstream discourse is insufficient. Beyond a brief embrace of the term by neocons between 2001 and 2003, the concept is viewed as tainted inside the beltway.

If Greenwald and the netroots want to hold onto the "imperial" categorization, that's their choice. But it's a loaded term that will poison any debate with the foreign policy community.

There's more conceptual disagreement (I don't think the foreign policy community is as big into "slaughtering innocents" as Greenwald claims), but that's a good statement of the lay of the land of what has, so far, been a fruitful debate from my perspective.

Let's hear it from the commenters.

UPDATE: Over at Democracy Arsenal, Michael Cohen offers a rejoinder to Greenwald that is also worth reading.

posted by Dan on 08.20.07 at 05:26 PM


Of course, many on the left -- including Greenwald

Dan, how do you define "left?" That's not a rhetorical inquiry, nor an attempt at "gotcha." I really wish to know, because I do not believe Glenn is "left" as that has been understood by 20th century metrics, except for some social issues.

Or, if he is "left," then I am as well, which will shock more folks than you can imagine.

posted by: Mona on 08.20.07 at 05:26 PM [permalink]

Mona: Here's a possible 20th century metric: anyone who refers to that "warmonger Michael Rubin" and that "outright psychopath Normal Podhoretz" is probably on the left.

posted by: Qingdao on 08.20.07 at 05:26 PM [permalink]

Dan, after an admittedly quick read, it seems that you blithely dismiss GG's use of the term "imperial". Seems to me, Glenn outlined a number of reasons he used the term (I'm not a lawyer, but the term "prima facie" springs to mind), but your argument to the contrary was... Oh yeah, you didn't make an argument to the contrary.

posted by: bamage on 08.20.07 at 05:26 PM [permalink]

Dan, after an admittedly quick read, it seems that you blithely dismiss GG's use of the term "imperial". Seems to me, Glenn outlined a number of reasons he used the term (I'm not a lawyer, but the term "prima facie" springs to mind), but your argument to the contrary was... Oh yeah, you didn't make an argument to the contrary.

posted by: bamage on 08.20.07 at 05:26 PM [permalink]

Mona: Here's a possible 20th century metric: anyone who refers to that "warmonger Michael Rubin" and that "outright psychopath Normal Podhoretz" is probably on the left.

OMG. Then for the first time in my 51 years, I am a leftist. Who knew? For I certainly did not, after all my pitched battles with *actual* "leftists."

posted by: Mona on 08.20.07 at 05:26 PM [permalink]

Imperialism: 2 : the policy, practice, or advocacy of extending the power and dominion of a nation especially by direct territorial acquisitions or by gaining indirect control over the political or economic life of other areas; broadly : the extension or imposition of power, authority, or influence

It's always sad to have to pull out the dictionary, but here we are. Either what the U.S. has done in Iraq, and is making a lot of noise about doing in Iran, is imperialism, or somebody needs to get on the case of those folks at M-W and make them change their entry. In fact, the entire foreign policy underpinnings of the Bush Administration have quite overt imperialistic underpinnings, as has been pointed out everywhere except, it would seem, in those exalted journals where people like Drezner expand their brows (which brow definitely needs the help, judging by this absurdly overwritten exercise in academic chest beating. It looks something like what a college student would write if he were trying to get an A from some pedantic professor).

So, given what the word actually means, Drezner's argument is reduced to this: we shouldn't use the term "imperialist" because it has negative connotations. What, then, shall we use in its place? How about a nice, long, Orwellian phrase: "Implementation of the maintenance and expansion of hierarchical dominance via the non-discriminatory application of the state military apparatus." Does that make Danny feel better? Is that revolting stew of words somehow less prejudicial and feelings-hurtful to people who have spent the last 10 years calling anyone who disagrees with them traitors and weak-kneed and commies and terrorist sympathizers and so on and so on and so on? Where were Drezner's oh-so-acute sensibilities about the use of language then?

posted by: Martin Gale on 08.20.07 at 05:26 PM [permalink]


I hope you can take this without offense, but it seems that you are completely missing the point of Glen Greenwald's argument.

You are using the poll from the Center for American Progress to argue that most foreign policy experts are now against war with Iran. According to you, this would prove that most foreign policy experts now reject the idea that the United States has the right to militarily intervene in foreign countries in order to advance its own interests regardless of the threat posed by the foreign country.

That simply does not follow from the poll data. What the poll shows is that most foreign policy experts now believe that invading Iran would be a bad idea. It does not prove these people think that such an invasion would be illegitimate.

There are a ton of good reasons to think that invading Iran would be terrible idea that are independent of whether such an invasion would be moral or legal. Our military is already overstretched and we probably don't have the capacity to make a good showing in Iran.

Greenwald is arguing the first point--that we don't have a right to send our divisions around the world forcing states to bend to our will. He even states that foreign policy experts often argue for or against specific wars for a variety of reasons--like we might lose the war--but they never argue that we don't have a right to invade.

I think you'll have to find some different evidence if you intend to maintain your point.

posted by: Reece on 08.20.07 at 05:26 PM [permalink]

Well, "imperialist" was the favored epithet of Communists for about three quarters of a century. That doesn't make it a "left-wing epithet" now. We may just be looking at a coincidence.

It's interesting that Greenwald includes in his catalog of modern day American imperialism the charge that "we single-handedly prop up tyrannical governments in scores of nations using financial and military aid." An enumeration would be helpful here; taking him at his word, Greenwald is talking about at least 40 countries the governments of which would collapse without American support.

And give way to...what? The glories of self-determination and worldwide mutual respect for the dignity of all men (well, all people. But mostly men)? Surely not to catastrophic civil wars, or governments much worse than those "propped up" by the mighty American empire -- let alone first one, and then the other. From China in the late 1940s through Iran in the late 1970s to the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, though, the collapse of governments that the United States would have preferred maintain their authority has produced some of the worst disasters in modern history, disasters that in words Greenwald should understand have resulted in the slaughter of thousands of innocents and sometimes many more than that.

There is also the question as to how many of these 40 (at least) "propped up" governments are really dependent on American support to stay in power. Of course their own domestic critics (or, as in the case of Taiwan, external enemies) have an interest in saying so, and as long as the United States "props them up" -- or maintains with them normal diplomatic and economic relations, which is the same thing -- who is to say? Now, among these 40 (at least) governments there must be some who merely want to be normal countries but are located in a bad neighborhood. Some of the others are themselves pretty bad. Because of American support? In spite of American support? The list of really bad governments that have had difficult relations with the United States is just a bit longer than the ones we have gotten along with. But I'd agree it would be a real bummer if a government "propped up" by the United States had the "props" removed and stayed in power anyway.

Where does Greenwald, I wonder, come down on the Rwanda question? I mean, his assumption -- and I don't feel this is unfair at all -- is that the pejorative "imperialist" deserves to be applied to American foreign policy because all or at least most of the places the United States has used or flexed its military muscle would be a lot better off if we hadn't. I can point to some instances where this point is arguable; generally it is absurd. Not absurd from the standpoint of people who have endured the indignity of not being able to exterminate their enemies because some American soldiers stood in the way, but with respect to the how people in today's world live. On the whole they live pretty well, especially in the majority of the world where serious military competition is off the table. Is it off the table entirely because of American dominance of the military field? I wouldn't say so.

But take away the American presence and watch what happens: Rwanda, Darfur, West Africa, Congo. My own view for some time has been that the limitations on American power ought to preclude our applying it in too many places -- but that's an argument from our interests, not the interests of people elsewhere. I'd just like to know where Greenwald comes out on the Rwanda question. We all remember what happened during the actual Rwandan genocide in 1994; the Clinton administration did nothing, acting very non-imperially, a few hundred thousand people were murdered, and everyone walked about for a couple of years feeling very unworthy. Is this what Greenwald recommends as part of America's admission price to the club of non-imperial countries? And if not, what does he suggest in a situation like that? Indifference? Unarmed volunteers trained in conflict resolution? A structured, coherent program of candlelight vigils? What?

posted by: Zathras on 08.20.07 at 05:26 PM [permalink]

I ditto Reece's argument above...Mr. Drezner elementary logic states that if A leads to B which leads to C, it does not mean that the presence of C pre-supposes the existence of A. Invasion of Iran is not a good idea right now within the FPC because the US would not be able to win, fund and/or wage this with what's happened, and is happening, in Iraq. We have yet to see an intelligent response from the majority of the FPC of why talk of a war with Iran is strategically, morally and intellectually a bad idea PER SE. It is indeed staggering to see someone of your caliber not able to grasp what the basic argument of the likes of Greenwald is, and how either intellectually challenged or dishonest you seem to be in not being able to concede this basic thesis against the very well liked and respected principle of pro-active military adventurism of the mainstream right wing movement in the US.

posted by: JS on 08.20.07 at 05:26 PM [permalink]

I'm a real idiot compared to those who go back and forth on all this stuff, but I'm a bit confused.

Any American who supported the war has some responsibility for it regardless of what Bush would have done anyway. Bush's lawlessness somehow justifies poor pre-war analysis? Pro-war hawkishness does not exacerbate Bush's lawlessness? Pro-war hawkishness does not indirectly support bashing of anti-war citizens as traitors? If pundits were anti-war, we would still somehow see pro-war pundits highlighted in today's op-ed columns? I'm not getting something here.

posted by: karrsic on 08.20.07 at 05:26 PM [permalink]

I'm glad to see commenters here getting it. Firewall issues at work prevented me from posting yesterday but even now Dan _still_ doesn't quite get it.

What Glen is saying is the alleged Foreign Policy Community rejects someone whose stance is that attacking countries like Iraq is _wrong_. Not just "ill-advised", "counterproductive", or "would have a negative cost/benefit ratio", but simply WRONG. Wrong in a moral/legal/normative sense such that even if an attack would bring net benefits, absent self-defense or something extremely close to it it
would simply be illigitimate. Wrong in the same way that killing someone to steal a million bucks would be wrong even if there was a 100% chance I'd get away with it.

On Iraq, for example, wearing my Foreign Policy Community hat I thought in 2003 that attacking was an unwise course of action, based on my expectation of costs and benefits. But beyond that, as an American I found it deeply, painfully, and shamefully WRONG to see my country commit such a flagrant and unnecessary act of aggression. Even if the attack had turned out well I would STILL feel that way. The invasion of Iraq being highly successful would not and could not justify such an illigitimate action.

It's unfortunate that Glen is using the word "imperialist" to communicate this -- the term does have a specific connotation in the IR literature and Dan's right that the US doesn't meet that. But Glen is right that most of the FPC insists the US has rather sweeping rights to intervene violently in other nations when it finds it useful to do so, justified either by American exceptionalism for the more liberal ones, or old-fashioned might-makes-right for some realist hawks, or both for the neocons. Arguing for restraint not only on the grounds of it being wise, but "who are we to run the world?", can be lonely.

posted by: anIRprof on 08.20.07 at 05:26 PM [permalink]

I think that the primary point that Drezner is missing is the simple fact that advocating an attack on Iran right now is simply insane --- yet it is a position taken by "respected", "serious" members of the Foreign Policy Community. The fact that 80% of the FPC oppose a military strike on Iran isn't important -- its the fact that the 20% of the FPC that is advocating an insane policy are given access to scholarly journals, op-ed pages, and news networks with startling regularity that is relevant.

posted by: paul lukasiak on 08.20.07 at 05:26 PM [permalink]

I don't want this to simply be about whether or not it is immoral to use our military to invade other countries. That seems susceptible to arguments of ideology which tend not to be productive. While I find the Iraq war to be immoral and in conflict with principles of international law, I also think that a more restrained use of our military is part of a broader pragmatism about how to successfully achieve our foreign policy.

The military does not appear to be the instrument that has the ability to convince Sunnis and Shias to live together peacefully in Iraq. Or the ability to create a democracy in Iraq. Or to convince Muslims around the world that the U.S. is good.

posted by: Reece on 08.20.07 at 05:26 PM [permalink]

I'm afraid I'm going to have to add to the pile-on here. I'm a faithful and longtime reader but your obtuseness here just won't stop. Dan, you said earlier that:

"The number one rule of the bi-partisan foreign policy community is that America can invade and attack other countries when vital American interests are threatened. Paying homage to that orthodoxy is a non-negotiable pre-requisite to maintaining good standing within the foreign policy community."

Yet, as many others have said, it's pretty obvious that the critical factor is the definition of "national interest". I'm pretty sure that the AFL-CIO, Exxon, Planned Parenthood, Greenpeace and the Minutemen all have a pretty different definitions. By supporting war when such a vaguely defined concept is threatened, you're actually supporting war in whatever circumstances any particular administration feels like starting a war. They will ALWAYS define it as defending vital national interest. The only definition that transcends spin and political jockeying is one that defines the national interest narrowly as self defense.

posted by: ramster on 08.20.07 at 05:26 PM [permalink]

"While I find the Iraq war to be immoral and in conflict with principles of international law, I also think that a more restrained use of our military is part of a broader pragmatism about how to successfully achieve our foreign policy."

Unfortunately the arguement IS about ideology. The phrase "restrained use of our military" is telling. The military by definition is unrestrained. Its job is to blow things up and kill people. There may be instances where blowing things up and killing people is an appropriate thing to do but to pretend the military can be described in any other way or that there is a "restrained" way to utilize it is to live in a dream world.

posted by: Paul Dirks on 08.20.07 at 05:26 PM [permalink]

I agree that the Drezner/Greenwald debate has now narrowed to the point that more heat than light is being generated. Still, the one issue where I think Greenwald is definitively in the right is the idea that Iraq hawks have been inadequately penalized for advocating the Iraq war.

It is probably true, as Drezner comments, that "neither Pollack nor O'Hanlon will be given a Senate-confirmable position in any Democratic administration." But being deprived of the most comfortable chair in the room seems like a very small price to pay for being manifestly, catastrophically wrong on the biggest foreign policy issue of their lifetimes.

I am reminded of, and will steal by paraphrase, one of Jon Stewart's lines from the Oscars: "For those of you keeping score at home, O'Hanlon and Pollack, zero; the Beastie Boys, one." That's right: the Iraq hawks were wrong on an issue that the Beastie Boys -- of "Paul Revere" and "Hey Ladies" fame -- got right on the merits. Maybe there is a reason why Ken Pollack's judgment on foreign affairs is entitled to more respect than Mike D's at this point, but if so I can't think of it.

posted by: alkali on 08.20.07 at 05:26 PM [permalink]

I think that what it comes down to is that Greenwald sees the world through absolute, idealistic, eyes, while Dan, and most of the FPC, are realists that see few, if any, absolutes. I myself fall more in Dans camp, but that doesn't mean both aren't valid view points. The reason bloggers like Greenwald aren't "allowed" into the FPC is largely because of two things, lack of specific higher education in a specialized field and their contempt for realist philosophy. As with any highly educated community, the FPC expects its members to be well educated from a good college and graduate school. Is this a barrier to enter? Of course it is, but you would have to rail equally against lawyers, doctors, and historians. Furthermore, the FPC has always had realist underpinnings from its inception, no matter if that was post-cold war or previously. The FPC has built on these realists underpinnings continuously and for this foundation to be challenged by nonspecialists, who's audience isn't other highly educated individuals, of course will raise some concerns. What I don't understand is why Greenwald wants to be accepted into the FPC. With the war in Iraq the FPC's stock has fallen fast, why not built a rival FPC that takes the absolutest side of the debate? If its all about being taken seriously then why not make a magazine so you have a more serious medium to convey your ideas? I think people view the FPC as some ad-hoc knitting circle, when in fact it is a highly educated group of competing individuals.

posted by: AK87 on 08.20.07 at 05:26 PM [permalink]

Just to put things into perspective, when asking whether the Very Serious people have been weakened by their own stupidity, i would point out the example of Judith Miller. She actually got what she deserved and is no longer listened to by anyone. she lost her job at the New York Times, she has been shamed for being a political hack, she is pretty much gone now and it is hard to imagine that she will ever return... But she did nothing substantially different then the vast majority of the Very Serious people. Yet none of them have been shamed, none had been excluded from positions of respect or the circles of power, none have been run out of Washington by people with pitch forks.

And why? well, i am not sure, but it may just be that the MSM is more honest of an institution then the foreign policy community. Just saying that makes my skin crawl, but it seems to be true....

posted by: Joe M. on 08.20.07 at 05:26 PM [permalink]

To Paul Dirks,

Yes, generally, the purpose of a military is to kill people and blow things up. I am not suggesting that the military should be more restrained when it operates, but we should be more restrained in making the decision to use the military. I think I constructed my sentence properly when I said that above, but maybe I put the adjective in the wrong place. I'm sorry for the ambiguity.

In any case, the military does have the ability to do certain things other than simply killing people and blowing things up. We dispatched some units just this week to Peru to assist with the recovery from the earthquake. We sent units to Pakistan in 2005 after the earthquake there. And we sent units to Indonesia after the tsunami in 2004.

posted by: Reece on 08.20.07 at 05:26 PM [permalink]

If getting things right is so important, then why is that no one has suffered any penalty whatsoever for failing to predict that in the first weeks after we entered Baghdad, we were welcomed as liberators. Instead, everybody seems to think that because the Iraqis retracted that welcome over those initial weeks, that any flaw in their analysis has been vindicated, if they recognize that there was a flaw at all (that is, if they recognize the initial welcome as liberators).

A correct formulation would have been: if we fail to deliver on their expectations, the Iraqis will not welcome us as liberators, where delivering on expectations means providing security and essential public services. This is correct in the sense that the Iraqis withdrew their welcome as it became clear that the coalition was not delivering on their expectations, and only after then. Yet everyone who made categorical assertions that the Iraqis would not welcome us as liberators, which presumably would have included even if we did deliver, is hailed as having gotten it right.

The thing is, there were people who did get it right. Not the people who receive prominent attention on either the right predicting unconditional welcome or on the left predicting unconditional nonwelcome, but people like Conrad Crane of the US Army War College who listed the Iraqi people's expectations in Reconstructing Iraq and warned of the consequences of failing to deliver. Yet the major media outlets don't even tell you that anyone ever held such a position, let alone what the people who had such a position are saying now.

posted by: Scott Smith on 08.20.07 at 05:26 PM [permalink]

The phrase "restrained use of our military" is telling. The military by definition is unrestrained. Its job is to blow things up and kill people.

Your limited definition of the role of the military is telling. While kinetic action is a significat component of what the military does, it is not the only one. The military is also involved in providing population security for those within its sector, building water systems and putting Iraqis to work. For more information, do a search on "full spectrum operations" (include quotes).

Unfortunately, almost everybody getting airtime today either sees advocates of full spectrum operations as goody-goodies who are out of touch with what our treasury can afford or warmongers who try to maintain a military effort we shouldn't maintain at all.

posted by: Scott Smith on 08.20.07 at 05:26 PM [permalink]

It is not true that US forces entering Baghdad were welcomed as liberators, at least not in anything like the way they were welcomed to Paris or even Rome in 1944. Even now it appears, supporters of the war and the FPC are fooled by staged photo-ops like the demolition of Saddam's statue.

posted by: John Quiggin on 08.20.07 at 05:26 PM [permalink]

Greenwald's argument that it was morally illegitimate to overthrow Saddam Hussein REGARDLESS OF THE PRUDENTIAL CONSEQUENCES is itself morally illegitimate. Genocidal dictators don't have rights to stay in power, period. We may choose to leave them in power for prudential reasons, but please--let's not claim a moral mandate for idly watching people tortured, killied, gassed, etc. Greenwald's inability to understand this simple point is enough to disqualify him as even slightly serious.

posted by: srp on 08.20.07 at 05:26 PM [permalink]

So, SRP, when do you think the 82nd Airborne is going to land in Sudan? In North Korea? In Pakistan? In Zimbabwe?

Oh, what? We "choose" whom we can depose, is it? Yeah, that's an intelletually rigorous position, and also, "morally legitimate", in somebody's (not-so)-famous words...lets supply tonnes of biological agents to the dictators in the above countries, lets arm them for decades, shower financial largesse on them, look the other way while they gas a few people with our money and weaponry, lets do all that and then bomb them when we find ouselves nothing to do on a lazy August afternoon, sometime in the future...

posted by: JS on 08.20.07 at 05:26 PM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?