Friday, March 17, 2006
Trying for the full Huntington
As I've said before, I've greatly admired Samuel Huntington's career. Huntington's gift as an academic is that he has been unafraid to make the politically incorrect argument, regardless of the consequences. This doesn't always mean he is right -- but it does mean he's usually interesting.
I suspect that John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt are trying to copy the Huntington template in their essay, "The Israel Lobby" for the London Review of Books: Here's how it starts:
For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centrepiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread ‘democracy’ throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardised not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state? One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the US provides.Well, that argument certainly won't rub anyone the wrong way.
Interested readers should be sure to check out the longer, footnoted paper which is archived at the Kennedy School of Government.
So do Mearsheimer and Walt achieve the full Huntington? No, not really.
"The Israel Lobby" is the academic equivalent of waving a big red cape at one's ideological opponents, hoping they'll foam at the mouth and act stark raving mad because the authors cited Chomsky or CommonDreams, or because, "the Fatah office in Washington distributed the article to an extensive mailing list." [Or maybe they're pissed that they didn't crack the 100 Most Dangerous Professors in America!!--ed.]
So let's avoid that bait. Reading the essay, I can conclude the following:
1) Mearsheimer and Walt make a decent case of arguing that interest group lobbying is responsible for some aspects of U.S. policy towards the Greater Middle East.After finishing the article, I began to wonder whether the paper is simple a massive exercise in explaining away a data point that realism can't cover. Most realists opposed the Iraq War, and Mearsheimer and Walt were no exception. They can and should take some normative satisfaction in being proven right by what happened after the invasion. However, I suspect as positive social scientists they are bothered by the fact that the U.S. invaded Iraq anyway when realism would have predicted otherwise.
When realists are confronted with contradictory data, they tend to fall back on auxiliary hypotheses -- the cult of the offensive, the myth of empire -- that have very little to do with realism. Explaining away Iraq on The Lobby might have a whiff of the Paranoid Style, but it's certainly consistent with the literature.
In the end, I think Mearsheimer and Walt get to the full Huntington -- but alas, it's the Huntington of Who We Are? rather than The Soldier and the State.
There's more I could write about, but I'm eager to hear what others think.
UPDATE: OK, I should have said, "I'm eager to hear what others think... after they read the article."
Two final thoughts. First, I'm surprised and disappointed that the article has gotten zero coverage from the mainstream media in the United States. I completely agree with Walt and Mearsheimer that this is a topic that needs more open debate.
Second, there's one non-event that keeps gnawing at me after reading the piece. If "The Lobby" is as powerful as Walt and Mearsheimer claim, why hasn't there been a bigger push in the United States for more fuel-efficient cars, alternative energy sources, and the like? After all, the only strategic resource that Israel's enemies possess is large quantities of oil. If "The Lobby" is so powerful and goal-directed, wouldn't they have an incentive to reduce the strategic value of their advesaries?
ANOTHER UPDATE: See this follow-up post on the Walt/Mearsheimer paper as well.
Open National Security Strategy thread
Our national security strategy is founded upon two pillars:The general thread of media commentary is that this is a more realist strategy than the 2002 document. I'll leave it to my readers to judge the accuracy of that assessment.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
In honor of March Madness....
As the NCAA men's basketball tournament gets under way, I'm glad to see that the Chicago Tribune's Julia Keller brings up a fascinating phenomenon among both sports fans and many of my friends -- an irrational hatred of Duke:
As Duke University begins the 2006 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament as the overall No. 1 seed -- meaning those pesky Blue Devils stand a fair chance of hanging around as the bracket unravels to the fortunate quartet -- it is time, clearly, to answer the question looming over the college sports world like a freeze-frame of a jump hook:Lest one think this problem only occurs among laymen, sportswriter Bomani Jones confesses, while watching the ACC tourney, "I nearly got an ulcer sitting at that [press] table not rooting against Duke."
Anyone else out there feel this way? UPDATE: Yes, apparently Abu Aardvark does.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Now the circle is almost complete....
I'm just gonna reprint this UPI report in its entirety and not say anything:
"Sex and the City" star Sarah Jessica Parker and "Jack & Bobby" writer Vanessa Taylor are developing a new HBO comedy based on "Washingtonienne."[You're really not going to say anything?--ed. Nothing.... except to ponder when Ana Marie Cox's novel will get optioned into a TV movie starring Alicia Witt. Then thecircle will be truly complete.]
Has Ahmadinejad jumped the shark?
Michael Slackman writes in the New York Times that both Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are catching some flak for their handling of the nuclear negotiations:
Some people in powerful positions have begun to insist that the confrontational tactics of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have been backfiring, making it harder instead of easier for Iran to develop a nuclear program.Now, this might be a case of wishful thinking reporting. Much like the hope a few years ago that Iran's regime would be overthrown in a democratic revolution, reports of a regime crack-up are intoxicating because we so desperately want them to be true.
That said, Slackman has a source who explains why Iran has found itself in the pickle it's in -- like Saddam Hussein before them, the Iranians counted on the Russians way too much:
[O]ne political scientist who speaks regularly with members of the Foreign Ministry said that Iran had hinged much of its strategy on winning Russia's support. The political scientist asked not to be identified so as not to compromise his relationship with people in the government.And herein provides a lesson that I might add to my small compendium of Princess Bride-level maxims of international relations that I plann on publishing in my dotage:
1) Never get involved in a land war in Asia;
A follow-up on income inequality
A quick follow-up to a post on income inequality from earlier this month.
Part of the concern that some bloggers/economists have voiced about the rise in inequality is that it's a secular trend that shows no sign of stopping. Which brings us to an interesting fact -- in recent years, income inequality in the United States has been falling. Geoffrey Colvin explains in Fortune:
Rising income inequality has settled comfortably into America's big economic picture as a reliable--and much lamented--megatrend. Starting around the late 1960s, U.S. incomes started to become more disparate. The trend was remarkably steady. Recessions might slow it down or briefly reverse it, but mostly it just marched on....What explains this? Colvin proposes... wait for it... offshore outsourcing:
What could that trend reversal mean? The most obvious explanation seems highly counterintuitive: The skill premium, the extra value of higher education, must have declined after three decades of growing. The Fed researchers didn't pursue that line of thought, but economists Lawrence Mishel and Jared Bernstein at the Economic Policy Institute did, and they found supporting evidence in the new Economic Report of the President, issued within days of the new Fed survey. It cited Census Bureau data showing that the premium had indeed fallen sharply between 2000 and 2004. The real annual earnings of college graduates actually declined 5.2 percent, while those of high school graduates, strangely enough, rose 1.6 percent.Now, this would certainly be a reversal of course. Most economists allow that trade is responsible for a small increase in income inequality (though it's not all that important compared to other factors).
I'm pretty dubious of this assertion, since it's my understanding that IT salaries have been increasing again ever since demand for IT went up. So mu hunch is that Colvin is over-extrapolating from the reduction in income inequality that came with the brief 2001 recession.
Still, I eagerly await my reader's reaction to the offshoring hypothesis.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
When conservatives populate the earth....
What's the difference between Seattle and Salt Lake City? There are many differences, of course, but here's one you might not know. In Seattle, there are nearly 45% more dogs than children. In Salt Lake City, there are nearly 19% more kids than dogs.This is one of those arguments that sounds ineluctable when first proposed... but then I begin to wonder whether it will hold as strongly as Longman believes. Other factors beyond politics affect fertility rates. Labor market institutions still have a powerful effect as well.
Assuming Longman is correct, gowever, the interesting question is, why is this phenomenon taking place? Longman implicit assumption is that it's because of the waning of patriarchy among liberals:
Throughout the broad sweep of human history, there are many examples of people, or classes of people, who chose to avoid the costs of parenthood. Indeed, falling fertility is a recurring tendency of human civilization. Why then did humans not become extinct long ago? The short answer is patriarchy.Developing... over many generations.
UPDATE: Kieran Healy takes the time and effort I lacked to demonstrate why Longman's hypothesis is likely wrong.
Getting lectured to by the Chinese
John Thornhill reports in the Financial Times that China doesn't like the way people are bitching about globalization:
Long Yongtu, the diplomat who negotiated China’s entry into the World Trade Organisation, has urged western governments to stop politicising trade and start telling their voters the truth about globalisation.To which I say -- it would be a hell of a lot easier not to politicize trade with China if the government didn't a) intervene on a continuous basis to keep the yuan undervalued; and b) try to create companies that are global competitors but happened to be state-owned.
[You're saying that these things are a big deal?--ed. I'm much less troubled than most of my readers on China's state interventions -- it's their inefficient policies, not ours. However, to ask Western governments to keep politics and economics separate when the Chinese state can't seem to do the same thing is a bit rich.]
Monday, March 13, 2006
What is the state of the intellectual in politics?
Over at The American Interest's web site, Francis Fukuyama and Bernard-Henri Lévy have a fascinating exchange on the relative merits of Lévy's American Vertigo. The part I found particularly fascinating comes near the end:
FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: The idea that an intellectual must always speak truth to power and never compromise means for ends seems to me a rather naive view of how intellectuals actually behave, and reflects in many ways the powerlessness of European intellectuals and their distance from the real world of policy and politics. Of course, the academy must try to remain an institutional bastion of intellectual freedom that is not subject to vagaries of political opinion. But in the United States, to a much greater degree than in Europe, scholars, academics and intellectuals have moved much more easily between government and private life than in Europe, and are much more involved in formulating, promoting and implementing policies than their European counterparts. This necessarily limits certain kinds of intellectual freedom, but I'm not sure that, in the end, this is such a bad thing.I suspect that Fukuyama would not disagree with Lévy's express desire for both kinds of intellectuals. I do wonder, however, about the health of the institutions that support both sets of intellectuals in the United States. [What about Europe?--ed. Oh, Lord know, the situation is probably worse there -- but that's not my concern here.] The trouble with think tanks and the like is a seasonal topic of conversation in the blogosphere. As for the academy, well, let's just say that many of my colleagues make Hollywood seem politically grounded by comparison.
Is the system broken? If so, can it be fixed? If so, how?
So what was Saddam thinking?
In the New York Times, Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor get their hands on a classified United States military report on what Saddam was thinking before and during the Second Gulf War. And it turns out that Saddam was petrified of insurgencies more than the U.S. Army:
As American warplanes streaked overhead two weeks after the invasion began, Lt. Gen. Raad Majid al-Hamdani drove to Baghdad for a crucial meeting with Iraqi leaders. He pleaded for reinforcements to stiffen the capital's defenses and permission to blow up the Euphrates River bridge south of the city to block the American advance.Foreign Affairs has published an extract from the actual report by Kevin Woods, James Lacey, and Williamson Murray for U.S. Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM). From the report, it appears that Saddam Hussein's theory of international relations had a lot in common with Norman Angell and Woodrow Wilson:
Judging from his private statements, the single most important element in Saddam's strategic calculus was his faith that France and Russia would prevent an invasion by the United States. According to Aziz, Saddam's confidence was firmly rooted in his belief in the nexus between the economic interests of France and Russia and his own strategic goals: "France and Russia each secured millions of dollars worth of trade and service contracts in Iraq, with the implied understanding that their political posture with regard to sanctions on Iraq would be pro-Iraqi. In addition, the French wanted sanctions lifted to safeguard their trade and service contracts in Iraq. Moreover, they wanted to prove their importance in the world as members of the Security Council -- that they could use their veto to show they still had power."Go check it all out.
Sunday, March 12, 2006
The Los Angeles Times on the conservative crackup
The Sunday Current section of the Los Angeles Times has three articles on how George W. Bush has betrayed conservatism.
Jeffrey Hart writes how Bush is too much of an ideologue to be a conservative in the Burkean sense.
Bruce Bartlett writes how Bush is too much of a spendthrift to be a conservative in the fiscal sense
[D]octrinal disputes aside, Republicans like me are angry at Bush because he has frittered away one of the party's greatest assets — the belief that when it came to international relations, the GOP was the party of competence. Between 1965 and 2000, analysts gave Republican presidents better grades than Democrats in managing American foreign policy.Enjoy your conservative crackup!!