Saturday, August 25, 2007

Some very quick August book recommendations

So, um, I'm a little late on the August book recommentations.

Look, I've been busy. It's not easy defending a nation with ever-expanding borders. Plus, the rash of celebrity scandals have been keeping me occupied. And, of course, guilting Laura McKenna is a time consuming task.

So, this month's book recommendations are designed to be short -- i.e., you can finish them before September 1st. In the interest of wasting no more time, the recommendations will be short as well.

The international relations book is Gregory Clark's A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World. An enlightening and provocative guide to the growth of global economic inequality over the past two centuries. I'm not completely persuaded by it -- the data in the first part of the book seems a bit dodgy at times. But it's arguments cannot be easily dismissed, either.

[How brief is it?--ed.] The first fifteen pages provide the most concise summary of global economic history you will ever read.

The general interest book is Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach. I can't really describe this novel, except to say that it describes the wedding night of a very repressed English couple circa 1962. And the ending surprised me -- and, I suspect, will surprise readers familiar with McEwan's past work.

[How brief is it?--ed. This book can be read, languidly, in an afternoon.]

Go check them out! Quickly!

posted by Dan at 09:57 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, August 24, 2007

In honor of Hugo Chavez and Woody Allen....

Starting in September, Hugo Chavez is going to be shifting Venezuela's clocks forward by a half-hour (to ensure "a more fair distribution of the sunrise" according to Reuters).

An hour I can understand -- but a half-hour?

How long is it going to be before Chavez delivers this kind of speech?

If you liked that clip, then I must encourage you to click here as well.

posted by Dan at 09:48 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

What's so funny about international law?

Every time I think I'm done with the foreign policy community debate, the netroots pull me back in!

John Quiggin responds to my latest post with one of his own. He asks a few questions:

First, is Drezner’s claim that the international law prohibiting aggressive war is a dead letter factually correct? Second, would the US (more precisely, the people of the US) be better off if the option of unilateral resort to (non-defensive) war was taken off the table or at least put further out of reach?
Fortunately, Quiggin also provides his own answers. On the first point:
In particular, outright invasions of one country by another, with the objective of either annexing the target country or installing a puppet government, have been quite rare in the period since 1945. So the claim that international law is a dead letter is far from obvious.
On the second point:
Considered as a state, the US, is the state most likely to have both a “vital national interest” and a physical capacity to enforce international law against aggressive war. Hence the US has an obvious interest in voluntary compliance with that law, and in the willingness of other states to help in its enforcement even in the absence of any direct national interest. So that unless Drezner means to be taken literally in saying that ” every state in the international system” regards international law as an irrelevancy, US actions that undermine international law have adverse consequences for the US as a state. Conversely, a clear commitment from the US to uphold international law has obvious benefits.
Oy. This is going to be a long post.....

On the first, empirical point: Quiggin is factually correct that interstate war has been on the wane since 1945 (though whether a lot of interstate wars were simply replaced by civil wars between state proxies is another question entirely). Asserting that this is due to the ever-growing power of international law would be a reeeeaaaaallly big stretch. There is likely no one satisfactory answer to the question. Liberal internationalists would argue that as the world has become more liberal, it has become more peaceful. The spread of democracy, the rise of economic globalization, and the empowerment of international institutions have all made war a more costly and less desirable option. Realists would provide a different explanation. They would argue that the spread of nuclear weapons among the great powers in the system has provided a powerful dampening effect on systemic international violence. Furthermore, the unparalleled military hegemony of the United States has deterred challengers from using force as a way to affect global order.

For those who believe that the cause of this decline in conflict is the growing power of international law, ask yourself the following question: if U.S. military hegemony disappeared, would you expect the outbreak of war -- and the stability of global governance -- to be the same as today?

On the second point, Quiggin is trying to frame the debate by using the Very Scary Terms "aggressive war" or "non-defensive" war. Aggressive to whom? One state's "aggressive" or "non-defensive" war is another state's "defensive" or "prudential" action.

Even under the aegis of current international law, it is pretty easy to devise justifications for a wide range of military actions. In part this is because -- with profound apologies to Alex Wendt -- international law is what states make of it. If the U.S. can't go to the United Nations to justify action in Grenada, there's always the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States. If the Security Council won't support action against Kosovo, NATO will (it's not just the U.S. -- the Warsaw Pact was useful for the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, and it will be interesting from here on out to see how China uses the Shanghai Cooperation Organization). Beyond the EU, there is little to no hierarchy in international law, and there are a sufficient number of international bodies such that a state can find casus belli somewhere (again, I'm not saying whether this is a good thing or not. I'm saying that an ex ante pledge to adhere to international law doesn't work the way Quiggin thinks it does, because there's always a way to forum-shop). The days when a foreign policy leader says, "F&$k it all, I'm invading Poland!" are long gone (actually, they never existed. Even Hitler had Operation Himmler to justify the 1939 invasion of Poland under international law).

The consensus I ascribed to the "foreign policy community" is that the U.S. would not categorically rule out the use of force if its vital interests are threatened. As previously noted, there's a lot of wiggle room on "vital interests." More importantly, however, no state that sees a vital interest threatened believes that it would be waging an aggressive war if it opted for force as a policy option. And no country is going to be comfortable having, say, the United Nations as being the actor that grants them the permission slip to do something (particularly since, as Quiggin himself acknowledges, the UN's power structure is both anti-democratic and woefully anachronistic).

Does this mean international law is so protean as to be completely worthless? No. Henry Farrell has a great post that discusses different IR approaches to international law, which is well worth reading. There are instances where law can constrain state action. My position, however -- and I'd say this is likely the consensus (but not unanimous) view of IR scholars -- is that those constraints are far more powerful in the economic realm than they are in the security realm. And the reason is that the stakes are perceived to be much, much higher in the security realm, and governments are going to be risk averse on these issues (click here for the classic formulation of this point).

UPDATE: Because all current debates of this type go back to Iraq, Robert Farley makes some interesting points related to questions of defining "national interest" as well as adherence to international law with regard to Iraq:

I'm actually not sure how far the interrogation of the "national interest" concept gets us in terms of Iraq. While O'Hanlon and Pollack may have made mention of the national interest in some media fora, for the most part both of them made concrete (and wrong) arguments about how the invasion would forward some particular interest, thus avoiding the nebulous national interest justification. Indeed, I'm pretty sure that Pollack even included the furtherance of multilateral institutions as part of the reason for invading Iraq, thus suggesting that international law has a value that should be included in the US interest calculus. Some arguments for invading Iraq were quite explicit on this point, suggesting that the invasion was the only way to "save" international law and the United Nations, which was on the verge of failure because of the spiteful French.

On the whole, in fact, liberal hawks (and even some conservatives) made much more rhetorical use of international law and a sophisticated understanding of the national interest than did some opponents of the invasion. In the international relations community, "national interest" is a concept most often used by realists, who while recognizing the problems with the term still find it analytically useful. Realists, however, were among the firmest opponents of the Iraq War, which was especially notable given the fact that realists tend not to care a whit for international law or humanitarian issues.

What this all amounts to, I think, is that while the use of "national interest" as political rhetoric is full of problems, challenging the concept doesn't do much for us in the context of the Iraq War. Proponents of the war tended to make wrong, but sophisticated, arguments that invoked particular values rather than nebulous "interest", while at least some opponents (realists in the academic community, especially) held to the least sophisticated conception of national interest, but still opposed the war.

ANOTHER UPDATE: On a related point, Matthew Yglesias protests that without ex ante definitions of "vital interest," the term is useless: "The question isn't would you use force when you thought it was vital to do so, the question is when is it vital to use force?.... Without answering it, these formulae take on a pretty tautological quality."

I'm sympathetic to this point, certainly, but my guess is that no laundry list provided by the candidates will ever satisfactorily answer his question. In 1949, South Korea was not thought to be in our area of "vital interests" -- until it was invaded.

Defining vital interests to U.S. foreign policy is like Potter Stewart's definition of pornography -- you know it when you see it.

posted by Dan at 08:19 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Children under 17 must read this blog accompanied by an adult

So much for this being a family blog:


This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words: drugs (6 times) hell (3 times) and porn (1 time).

Hat tip: that unspeakably dirty Opinio Juris blog.

posted by Dan at 11:33 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I, for one, would watch this show

Alex Tabarrok proposes So You Think You Can Be President? One proposed segment:

Game Theory: Candidates compete in a game of Diplomacy. I would also include several ringers - say Robin Hanson, Bryan Caplan and Salma Hayek. Why these three? Robin is cold, calculating and merciless - make a logical mistake and he will make you pay. Bryan is crafty and experienced. And Salma? I couldn't refuse her anything but presidents should be made of stronger stuff so we need a test.
Diplomacy and Salma. Oh, that's hot.

posted by Dan at 09:42 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Exploring the wiggle room

John Quiggin asks some valid questions about my rephrasing of Glenn Greenwald's take of how foreign policy analysts think about the use of force ("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.")

Unless “vital national interest” is construed so narrowly as to be equivalent to “self-defence”, this is a direct repudiation of the central founding principle of international law, prohibiting aggressive war as a crime against peace, indeed, the supreme international crime. It’s more extreme than the avowed position of any recent US Administration – even the invasion of Iraq was purportedly justified on the basis of UN resolutions, rather than US self-interest. Yet, reading this and other debates, it seems pretty clear that Drezner’s position is not only generally held in the Foreign Policy Community but is regarded, as he says, as a precondition for serious participation in foreign policy debates in the US.

A couple of questions arise. First, is this rule supposed to apply only to the US? Second, can the elastic phrase “vital national interest” be spelt out? To take an obvious example, does unfettered access to natural resources like oil count as a “vital national interest”? If so, it seems pretty clear that vital national interests of different countries will regularly come into conflict, and (unless this is a US-only rule) that both parties in such a situation are justified in going to war.

Quiggin is overinterpreting what I wrote, but that's partly my fault -- remember, this was my attempt to rephrase Greenwald's definition with less incendiary language. It's not how I would have phrased it starting from scratch.

To repeat, there's significant wiggle room in the definition. As Quiggin notes, what constitutes a "vital national interest" is far from a settled debate. More importantly, however, is the word "can" as opposed to "should" in my definition. As I said before, there is a big difference between not taking force off the table as a policy option and advocating its use in a particular situation. As Quiggin observes, force is a really messy option and carries horrendous costs. And there's clearly been a shift among foreign policy analysts in recent years about the costs of military statecraft. Still, for any state, the greatest utility of military force comes not from its use but from the possibility of its use. For that reason, it would be unwise for any foreign policy leader to categorically reject the use of force or other forms of coercion for a class of crises. [UPDATE: here's an interesting counterfactual question: would the 1999 Kosovo war have ended more quickly, with less loss of life, if Bill Clinton had not initially ruled out the use of ground troops?]

This relates to one of Quiggin's other questions -- yes, I would say that foreign policy experts in the United States expect that foreign policy experts in other countries make this exact calculation about the use of military force. China will not take force off the table in thinking about Taiwan. Russia is clearly not taking force off the table in thinking about the Arctic region. Again, this is different from saying that experts and advisors in either country wants to use force or think that it's the best policy option. It's just not ruled out.

Quiggin is clearly bothered by the idea that this conception of the use of force is a violation of international law -- nay, "the supreme international crime." Without making a normative comment one way or the other, most positive analyses of world politics would conclude that there hasn't been a whole lot of adherence to that tenet of international law. As James Joyner observes:

The UN Charter’s outlawing of war has, from its outset, been observed only in the breach. It has stopped the United States from declaring war but not from going to war.
This applies to every other state in the international system as well. Quiggin wants international law to be a powerfully binding constraint on state action. That's nice, but what Quiggin wants and what actually happens are two very different animals. [The netroots will label this as "cynical"!!--ed. I'd label it as an accurate reading of recent and long-standing international history.]

Furthermore, there is nothing in what I wrote that says the United States should not seek approval from the UN Security Council or other international bodies when it uses force. The overwhelming majority of U.S. deployments of force in the post-Cold War era received the blessing of the United Nations. Indeed, even the Bush administration, for all its unilateral proclivities, actively sought Security Council approval of its actions against Iraq both before and after the 2003 invasion. So another element of the U.S. foreign policy community's consensus would be to seek as much international support as possible if force is being considered.

It's just that gaining that support is not viewed as a necessary condition for the use of force. It never has been in the United States -- or for any great power.

posted by Dan at 09:10 AM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

Iran's regime adds bribery and extortion to its bag of tricks

Yesterday the Iranian regime released Haleh Esfandiari, an Iranian-American academic (one of four U.S. academics the regime has arrested and imprisoned in the past year). She did not get away scot-free, however. In the New York Times, Nazila Fathi and Neil MacFarquhar explain Tehran's latest innovation:

Ms. Esfandiari’s mother had to post bail worth around $324,000, according to Iranian news reports. Ms. Esfandiari’s husband, Shaul Bakhash, said her mother had put up her apartment as collateral. She lives on the pension of her late husband, a retired civil servant, Mr. Bakhash said, and her apartment is all she owns. The Web site Baztab, run by the former head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, called the sum the average price of an apartment in Tehran.

Reached by telephone, Ms. Esfandiari’s mother said only that her daughter was resting and would not elaborate.

Bail in prominent cases — though often quite high in Iranian terms — has become more common, said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iranian analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. An Iranian-Canadian academic released on significant bail last year was allowed to leave the country, for example, but has been closemouthed about his imprisonment because the deeds to his home and the home of his mother are being held as collateral.

“Sometimes it is simply because keeping them in prison has become too politically expensive,” said Abbas Milani, the director of the Iranian studies program at Stanford University. “Sometimes they are finished with a person but don’t want to leave them completely out of their control.”

Mr. Milani said that in jailing Ms. Esfandiari and the others, the Iranian regime had succeeded in intimidating the intellectual class, with many of them reluctant to attend any kind of conference abroad, while those living around the world with family members in Iran have become more circumspect. The overall affect has been to make American support and any interior soft revolution even more remote, he said. Iranian experts interviewed in the United States said the detention and intimidation of prominent intellectuals, artists and filmmakers, along with prohibiting them from traveling abroad even if they are dual nationals, has been far more extensive than has been reported.

Ms. Esfandiari went to Iran last year to visit her mother, who has been ill. She was barred from leaving the country in December, and underwent months of interrogation before being jailed in May.

posted by Dan at 08:09 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

"Political scientists are anti-dowdy"

That's just one of the many brilliant insights I come up with in my latest bloggingheads diavlog with Megan McArdle -- who is "the world's tallest female econoblogger" according to her new Atlantic site.

Among the topics discussed -- the foreign policy community, the netroots, imperialism, New York under Giuliani, Wall Street jitters, and why everyone hates Megan (something to do with white jeans).

Go check it out!

UPDATE: Laura McKenna weighs in on several topics covered in the diavlog. "Pointy sling backs" are involved.

posted by Dan at 11:48 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Your Giuliani quote of the day
Rudy was perfectly capable of getting crazy, stupid ideas, and then forcing them on everyone else, when there was absolutely no sex involved.
Megan McArdle, over at her shiny new Atlantic digs.
posted by Dan at 02:13 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

NESN's greatest moment.... ever

It might be impossible for me to ever watch this video clip from last year without laughing. In honor of its one-year anniversary, here it is:

"Braveheart my ass!"

Hat tip:'s Jonah Keri.

[You're just trying to distract attention from the fact that since you incurred the wrath of the baseball gods, the Yankees have lopped seven and a half games off of Boston's lead!!--ed. Feh. As Bryan Tsao points out, the Red Sox are sitting a lot prettier than Red Sox Nation realizes.

posted by Dan at 01:53 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

What did the foreign policy community think about Iraq?

James Joyner has an interesting essay in TCS Daily that takes a closer look at what the "foreign policy community" said about Iraq prior to and immediately after the conflict:

While there are several substantive issues within the debate that interest me, what is most striking is that the basic premise - that most foreign policy public intellectuals supported the Iraq War - didn't comport at all with my recollection of the contemporaneous debate. During that period, I was working as the foreign affairs acquisitions editor for a D.C. area publishing house and reading the literature and attending conferences and think tank presentations on a constant basis.

I recalled a security policy community dominated by Realists were almost universally opposed to the war. Perhaps, though, my perceptions were colored by my own biases and the passage of time? I decided that it was worth a long journey through the Foreign Affairs archives to test my memory [Joyner also looks at the Foreign Policy and International Security archives--DD.]. The results are very much a mixed bag....

What's striking [about the archives] is not so much the unanimity of opinion but rather the dearth of articles on the most important foreign policy debate of the day. This trend was to continue for quite some time, despite a bi-monthly publication schedule. Indeed, several issues had no articles at all whose titles or precis suggested more than a tangential mention of Iraq....

In 2004 and afterwards, as one might expect, there were plenty of articles in the magazine critical of the war....

What's striking, though, is how "business as usual" the article selection remained throughout the entire period. Entire issues went by without an article on Iraq or even the Middle East and most issues continued to have the standard mix of articles on Africa, the global economy, environmental issues, human rights, and so forth. Indeed, it might have escaped the attention of a casual observer glancing at the covers (which list the prominent articles in each issue) that the country was at war....

Nonetheless, it appears that the leftist critique, especially Benen's, is right: Despite the overwhelming view of security scholars I encountered in academic conferences and at think tank presentations, the foreign policy Establishment treated the war with dispassion, seemingly afraid to take a strong stand. More importantly, it treated the march to war as a mere curiosity no more worthy of attention than presidential elections in Brazil, whether World Trade Organization judges had too much power, or economic reform in Japan.

That, more than being wrong in their predictions about the future, is the real failure of the foreign policy community. None of us has a crystal ball and our analyses of prospective events are frequently going to fall short. Public policy experts merely owe the public their best reasoning and to engage in a vigorous debate when no consensus exists.

I have a slightly different take than Joyner. First off, a journal like Foreign Affairs is an imperfect subject for this kind of analysis. The lag time between submission and publication can be several months, and I suspect that the speed with which Iraq got to the frontburner overtook publicaton schedules. (Parenthetically, if you check other archives, like The Washington Quarterly's, you'll find some prescient pieces).

[UPDATE: For comparison, I checked the Foreign Affairs archives for 1990-91 to see what happened prior to the first Gulf War. The only pre-war discussion appeared in the Winter1990/91 issue, with articles by Fouad Ajami and Stanley Reed. Neither of those addressed the validity of going to war or not.]

As Joyner acknowledges, "there are forums other than elite foreign affairs journals for experts to influence the public debate." A great B.A. or M.A. thesis, by the way, would be to comb through the op-ed archives of the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today to see what was said there (if someone's done this already, please send it along). [UPDATE: In The American Prospect, Todd Gitlin did a partial analysis of the Washington Post op-ed page.]

Second, there are several reasons why foreign policy public intellectuals would not have written about Iraq in 2002-3. Kevin Drum lists some of the careerist reasons here, and that likely played a part. But another explanation is that it's possible to possess genuine expertise on a foreign policy issue and not have anything close to expertise about invading Iraq (I certainly fall into this category, which is why I only discussed the question on the blog). You can't expect someone writing about presidential elections in Brazil, World Trade Organization judges, or economic reform in Japan to suddenly shift gears and focus on Iraq in thei publications. It might be more accurate for Joyner to criticize the editors of foreign policy elite journals for running too many non-Iraq pieces in 2002-3.

I understand the anger directed at the "foreign policy community" -- I just think the indictment is way too broad.

posted by Dan at 08:57 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, August 20, 2007

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 majority—83 percent—do 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 Iran’s 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. It’s 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 at 05:26 PM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (0)

Darn that ideological rigidity!!

Wow, Glenn Greenwald is right, there is a remarkable consensus among America's "foreign policy community" about the use of force:

No effort of the U.S. government was more harshly criticized, however, than the war in Iraq. In fact, that conflict appears to be the root cause of the experts’ pessimism about the state of national security. Nearly all—92 percent—of the index’s experts said the war in Iraq negatively affects U.S. national security, an increase of 5 percentage points from a year ago. Negative perceptions of the war in Iraq are shared across the political spectrum, with 84 percent of those who describe themselves as conservative taking a dim view of the war’s impact. More than half of the experts now oppose the White House’s decision to “surge” additional troops into Baghdad, a remarkable 22 percentage-point increase from just six months ago. Almost 7 in 10 now support a drawdown and redeployment of U.S. forces out of Iraq.

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 majority—83 percent—do 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 Iran’s 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. It’s one indication that, after six years, we may be entering a new chapter in the war on terror.

Here's the list of experts who participated in the survey (which includes your humble blogger).

Click here to read the full report.

If only the netroots could save us from these imperialist pig-dogs. Or, as one conservative blogger characterized the list of experts, "a Kos Convention for George Soros."

UPDATE: More on this point in this post.

posted by Dan at 02:50 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Taking Glenn Greenwald seriously

Glenn Greenwald has a post up in response to yesterday's flurry of blog exchanges between the "netroots" and "foreign policy community."

In his post, he critiques my critique of his critique of the "foreign policy community" as follows:

[T]he notion that the U.S. should not attack another country unless that country has attacked or directly threatens our national security is not really extraordinary. Quite the contrary, that is how virtually every country in the world conducts itself, and it is a founding principle of our country. Starting wars against countries that have not attacked you, and especially against those who cannot attack you, is abnormal. Drezner refers to my "very strange definition of imperialism," but the belief that military force can be used whenever we decide that our vaguely defined "national interests" would be served by such a war is the hallmark of an imperial power.

It may very well serve our "national interests" to start a war because we want to control someone else's resources, or because we think it would be good if they had a different government, or because we want the world to fear us, or because we want to change the type of political system they have, or because they aren't complying with our dictates, or because we want to use their land as military bases, or because they are going to acquire weapons we tell them they are not allowed to have. But those who believe that war is justifiable and desirable under those circumstances are, by definition, espousing an imperial ideology.

Ruling the world that way through superior military force -- starting wars even when our national security is not directly at risk -- is the definitional behavior of an empire. And, without even realizing that he is doing so, Drezner defends the Foreign Policy Community by describing, accurately, its central, unquestioned orthodoxy as embracing precisely this view of America's role in the world. That is the whole point here.

In the Foreign Policy Community, these propositions are virtually never debated and anyone who contests them is almost certain to have their Seriousness credentials questioned, if not revoked. The only real "debate" that takes place within the Community are tactical and implementation questions, all within the assumed belief that the U.S. should act as a hegemonic power and can and should use military force at will.

That is why war opponents on the "left" -- including bloggers -- were and still are deemed Unserious even though they proved to be correct. Their opposition was not based (at least principally) on the belief that we were using the wrong "force deployment packages," that the timing was wrong, that we should have waited a little longer (that type of "opposition" was the only permitted type). Rather, it was largely based on the notion that the war itself was illegitimate because Iraq had not attacked us and could not threaten our national security, and that going around bombing, invading and occupying other countries which haven't attacked us is both immoral and/or self-destructive.

Yet these days, expressing that rather ordinary belief -- that it is wrong to start a war against a country except where they attack you, are about to, or directly threaten your national security (such as by harboring terrorist groups waging attacks on your country) -- will subject you to the accusation that you are a "pacifist," a term Daniel Drezer (sic) incoherently (though revealingly) applies to me.

That is how far we have come, how low we have fallen, how recklessly and extraordinarily pro-war we are as a country as a result of our Foreign Policy Community. Now, if you believe that we should wage war only when a country actually attacks us or threatens our national security, then you are a "pacifist," an unserious leftist who is removed from mainstream discourse....

There is nothing wrong per se with our foreign policy establishment embracing rigid ideological views. But it ought not pretend to be something other than that. And the ideology it has embraced, and the ideologues who exert the greatest influence and command the most respect within it, have engendered disasters of unparalleled magnitude. At the very least, that ought to lead to exactly what the Foreign Policy Community hates most -- namely, an examination of whether our "experts" really still deserve to have their opinions treated with respect and their judgments assumed to be reliable, apolitical and, most of all, serious.

Contra his implication, I think Greenwald's points should be taken seriously, so let me respond in kind:

1) As I explained in my updated post, I was wrong to label Greenwald a "pacifist", and I apologize to Greenwald for the incorrect labeling. "Non-interventionism" or perhaps "Jeffersonian" would have been better terms. That was a poor word choice by me on an important point, and unfortunately it seems to have distracted many from the primary points of disagreement. Sorry.

It is ironic, however, that Greenwald is complaining about being crudely lumped together with others who would agree with him about Iraq, since his original post did an awful lot of lumping together of disparate views by members of the "foreign policy community." So let's move on.

2) Greenwald is using an overly expansive definition of imperialism. "[T]he belief that military force can be used whenever we decide that our vaguely defined 'national interests' would be served by such a war" is a necessary but not sufficient condition for an imperial power. Indeed, by that definition, China, India, Russia, the European Union (the UK and France in particular), Australia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Nigeria are also imperial powers. Greenwald's definition is way too permissive, in that it includes all states that have used force in the past few decades. Using the word "imperial" to describe what great powers have been doing for decades pretty much strips the term of any concrete meaning.

For useful (and academic) debates on whether the United States is an empire, click here and here. It's worth observing that the article more sympathetic to Greenwald's position on imperialism nevertheless concludes that: "Decades-long geopolitical developments have, in fact, tended to render American relations less, rather than more, imperial in character.... the salience of even informal imperial relations in American foreign policy, as we noted earlier, may be in decline." So much for the powerful influence of the imperialist foreign policy community.

3) Greenwald is conflating an awful lot of disparate but "mainstream" views within his definition of the "foreign policy community." There is a big difference between not taking force off the table as a policy option and vigorously advocating its use. As I said in my previous post, there are vigorous debates about what constitutes a "vital national interest" Greenwald himself acknowledges that force should be an option when other countries "directly threaten your national security" or harbor terrorist groups that will do the same. How does one define direct threats to national security? For the United States, would civil war in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan qualify? Should the use of force be categorically rejected in both cases? Does Iran's links to the Khobar Towers bombing justify the use of force against Teheran, as per Greenwald's criteria?

These are important questions, and they're being debated amongst members of the foreign policy community. Greenwald seems to think that "rigid ideological views" have stifled such a debate. But consider that you can't get more "foreign policy community" than Brent Scowcroft, and he vigorously opposed attacking Iraq. Does Greenwald believe Scowcroft was "shunned" by the rest of the foreign policy community?

This brings up another point. Greenwald feels that he is not taken seriously by the FPC because he did not support the war in Iraq. But respecting others' opinions has a reciprocal quality to it, and it doesn't seem to me that Greenwald is taking those who disagree with him seriously at all. Is labeling everyone within the so-called foreign policy community as "imperialist" useful to promoting an exchange of ideas?

4) Greenwald did not address some of the points I made in my last post, so I'll rephrase them here:

a) Do you believe that analysts like O'Hanlon and Pollack have the same credibility now that they did in 2002?

What about the neocons? Over at Democracy Arsenal, Shadi Hamid points out:

Maybe a handful of neocons are still around and kicking, in places like AEI perhaps. But PNAC, the former standard-bearer of the movement, appears to have fallen off the face of the earth, while analysts like Steve Clemons has documented extensively how the neocons are an embattled and dwindling minority in the Bush administration. In short, as a movement, they are significantly weaker and less respected now than they were, say, 4 years ago, which makes me wonder if Greenwald is using a different definition than I am.
Even within the Bush administration itself, U.S. foreign policy in 2007 looks very different from U.S. foreign policy in 2002.

b) Do you believe that the "foreign policy community" enabled the Iraq War? Given the political facts of life in the fall of 2002, do you really think that think tank protests would have derailed the war? Is a failure to oppose Iraq the same thing as cheerleading the invasion?

In response to InstaPutz, this difference matters. It is one thing to chastise an analyst for getting his or her analysis of invading Iraq wrong. It is an entirely different (and, yes, more egregious) thing to accuse them of "taking us to war" or "has nontrivial responsibility for the hundreds of thousands dead."

c) Do you believe that the political and policy conditions that made the Iraq war possible in 2002 are still present today? You point to Pollack and (Fred) Kagan getting together, but what about the universe of wonks and analysts beyond Pollack, Kagan, and O'Hanlon? Do you really believe that the rest of the "foreign policy community" has the same view of the costs and benefits of military action that they held five years ago. I certainly don't -- and neither does the Center for American Progress. For example, the ridicule that Rudy Giuliani's essay received in "mainstream" quarters suggests that the ground has shifted.

This doesn't mean I categorically reject the use of force either -- but, as I said above, there's a difference between considering force as a viable policy option and then deciding to use it.

d) You accuse the foreign policy community of holding "rigid ideological views." After hearing reports about, say, YearlyKos, in what way are the outsiders you want included in the conversation more ideologically diverse? Indeed, would a netroots-driven foreign policy community be any more tolerant of ideas than the group you've been lambasting?

There's a lot more, but that can be dealt with in future posts. If Greenwald wants a serious dialogue, I'm happy to engage him.

UPDATE: Greenwald responds to my post here. He's clearly far quicker in being able to compose large blocks of prose than I, so I might be a bit slower in responding. It's a useful, nay, "serious" response, however, and well worth reading.

ANOTHER UPDATE: My reply is here.

posted by Dan at 09:32 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The cultural question of the summer

Which version of "Umbrella" is better?

Here's Rihanna:

Here's Mandy Moore:
Finally, there's YouTube phenomenom Marie Digby's version:

I think it's Rihanna, hands down. [Oh, you, always siding with "professionals"!!--ed.]

posted by Dan at 07:07 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Where's the netroots when you need them?

Despite my latest jabs at the netroots, I don't think their argument is completely without merit. There are issues where the foreign policy community, like any community, begins to placidly accept consensus without going back and questioning first principles. Like, say, the War on Drugs.

In the Washington Post, Misha Glenny discusses the costs of this disastrous 35-year policy quagmire:

Thirty-six years and hundreds of billions of dollars after President Richard M. Nixon launched the war on drugs, consumers worldwide are taking more narcotics and criminals are making fatter profits than ever before. The syndicates that control narcotics production and distribution reap the profits from an annual turnover of $400 billion to $500 billion. And terrorist organizations such as the Taliban are using this money to expand their operations and buy ever more sophisticated weapons, threatening Western security.

In the past two years, the drug war has become the Taliban's most effective recruiter in Afghanistan. Afghanistan's Muslim extremists have reinvigorated themselves by supporting and taxing the countless peasants who are dependent one way or another on the opium trade, their only reliable source of income. The Taliban is becoming richer and stronger by the day, especially in the east and south of the country. The "War on Drugs" is defeating the "war on terror."....

In Washington, the war on drugs has been a third-rail issue since its inauguration. It's obvious why -- telling people that their kids can do drugs is the kiss of death at the ballot box. But that was before 9/11. Now the drug war is undermining Western security throughout the world. In one particularly revealing conversation, a senior official at the British Foreign Office told me, "I often think we will look back at the War on Drugs in a hundred years' time and tell the tale of 'The Emperor's New Clothes.' This is so stupid."

How right he is.

If the netroots really want to expose third rails in the foreign policy community, take this issue and run with it.

posted by Dan at 06:57 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

The netroots' foreign policy calculus

Matthew Yglesias responds to Gideon Rose's critique of the netroots critique on the foreign policy community (discussed here). The highlights:

Rose would, I think, like to make this a conversation about expertise and professionalism. But I'm not, and I don't think anyone in the blogosphere is, against expertise and professionalism. The question is whether some of our country's self-proclaimed experts -- and media proclaimed experts -- really deserve to be considered experts. What, for example, is the nature of Michael O'Hanlon's expertise on the broad range of subjects (his official bio lists him as an expert on "Arms treaties; Asian security issues; Homeland security; Iraq policy; Military technology; Missile defense; North Korea policy; Peacekeeping operations; Taiwan policy, military analysis; U.S. defense strategy and budget") upon which he comments? Obviously, it would be foolish to just let me speak ex cathedra as an "expert" on the dizzying array of subjects on which I comment, but it seems equally foolish to let O'Hanlon do so, especially since his judgment seems so poor. I made a stab at a systemic difference between think tank people and professionals in the public sector, but Rose raises some convincing points to the effect that this dichotomy isn't as sharp as I wanted it to be. Still, we can certainly talk about specific individuals -- particularly individuals who seem to be unusually prominent or influential -- and whether or not they really deserve to be held in high esteem.

What's needed isn't less expertise, but better expertise and above all more honest expertise.

After wading through all this, I'm somewhat sympathetic to Yglesias' point. If one believes in the utility of markets to correctly align incentives, then a price should be paid when foreign policy community experts screw up.

Nevertheless, I have three cavils:

1) While O'Hanlon and Pollack haven't lost their jobs, is it correct to say that they've paid no price for their past errors? Beyond blogospheric ridicule, I'm willing to bet that far fewer people paid attention to Pollack's Iran book than his Iraq book, for example. Bloggers would counter that they are still appearing in the NYT op-ed page and Meet the Press; I would counter that if those interventions are accorded less weight by the audience, then a price has been paid. The netroots might want to exact their pound of flesh, but these guys' reputation has suffered (especially after today's New York Times op-ed). Inside the beltway, this loss of reputation is significant.

2) Is it correct to extrapolate from Pollack and O'Hanlon's errors on Iraq to an indictment of the entire "foreign plicy community" on all foreign policy questions? That seems to be what Atrios, Greenwald, and Yglesias in his earlier posts were attempting, and that's an awfully big leap.

Greenwald, in particular, is making critiques that go way beyond individual analysts. During the latest contretemps, Greenwald wrote:

The Number One Rule of the bi-partisan Foreign Policy Community is that America has the right to invade and attack other countries at will because American power is inherently good and our role in the world is to rule it though the use of superior military force. Paying homage to that imperialistic orthodoxy is a non-negotiable pre-requisite to maintaining Good Standing and Seriousness Credentials within the Foreign Policy Community.
Let's excise some of the adjectives and rephrase the wording a bit:
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.
I suspect that anyone who accepts the concept of a "national interest" in the first place would accept that phrasing. As a paid-up member of the Foreign Policy Community (FPC), I certainly would. And I also suspect that Greenwald would not accept this formulation -- it would contradict both his pacifism strict non-interventionism and his very strange definition of imperialism. Indeed, I'm not ntirely sure that Greenwald would accept the concept of "national interest," period.

Does this mean, as Greenwald implies, that there is no debate within the FPC? Hell no. There can and should be vigorous debates over what constitutes a "vital national interest," whether force should be used multilaterally or unilaterally, what other policy tools should be used, etc. That's not a small zone of disagreement. Indeed, as Chris Sullentrop pointed out in March 2003, Pollack's Threatening Storm rebuked an awful lot of the Bush administration's approach to Iraq.

3) A plain truth needs to be said: if, in the fall of 2002, O'Hanlon, Pollack, and the entire Brookings staff had marched on the White House and then immolated themselves in protest over the possibility of going to war in Iraq, it would not have made the slightest bit of difference in halting the war. This goes double if the AEI or Heritage staffers had done it.

In the fall of 2002, you had the following political situation:

a) A president with a 70% approval rating;

b) A Republican-controlled House and a Senate that was barely controlled by the Dems;

c) A Democraic Party that was haunted by what had happened to Senators who voted against the 1991 Gulf War (two words: Sam Nunn);

d) A military that had made its recent wars (Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, Gulf War I) seem quick and merciful;

e) A sanctions coalition in Iraq that seemed to be fraying;

f) Fresh scars from the 9/11 attacks;

g) An adversary that elicited little sympathy from anyone -- especially the American people.

The moment George W. Bush decided he wanted to oust Saddam Hussein, the debate was effectively over. Nothing the foreign policy community did or could have done affected the outcome (Pollack is a possible exception -- The Threatening Storm did play the role of "useful cover" for many Democrats, but if it wasn't Pollack's book it would have been something else). The members of the "foreign policy community" were not the enablers of Iraq, because no enabling was necessary.

The good news is that conditions (a) through (f) no longer apply. So, contra the netroots, I don't think what happened in the fall of 2002 will happen again with, say, Iran.

UPDATE: Ilan Goldenberg has an interesting post at Democracy Arsenal about distinguishing experts from "experts" when it comes to the Middle East. Atrios is thoroughly unimpressed.

Kevin Drum makes some interesting points in this post. This point augments what I wrote above:

Sure, the war skeptics might have been afraid to go against the herd, but I think that was just an outgrowth of something more concrete: a fear of being provably wrong. After all, everyone agreed that Saddam Hussein was a brutal and unpredictable thug and almost everyone agreed that he had an active WMD program. (Note: Please do some research first if you want to disagree with this. The plain fact is that nearly everyone — liberal and conservative, American and European, George Bush and Al Gore — believed Saddam was developing WMDs. This unanimity started to break down when the UN inspections failed to turn up anything, but before that you could count the number of genuine WMD doubters on one hand.) This meant that war skeptics had to go way out on a limb: if they opposed the war, and it subsequently turned out that Saddam had an advanced WMD program, their credibility would have been completely shot. Their only recourse would have been to argue that Saddam never would have used his WMD, an argument that, given Saddam's temperament, would have sounded like special pleading even to most liberals. In the end, then, they chickened out, but it had more to do with fear of being wrong than with fear of being shunned by the foreign policy community.
It's also worth pointing out that some foreign policy community-types did argue that a WMD-enabled Saddam would be deterrable. It's just their their writings were pretty much ignored in the debate about Iraq.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Robert Farley responds to all of this here.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Oh, dear, I appear to have upset the mighty Atrios: "Dan Drezner is very serious and we should be listening to him. He's been right about so many things, and he's got the number of that patchouli stinking Greenwald."

Aside from impugning my track record, I'm not entirely sure what Duncan's trying to say. If, as Robert Farley suggests, I might have mislabeled Greenwald as a pacifist (not that there's nothing wrong with that), then I apologize. The thing is, I'm not entirely sure how else to categorize the views he expresses in his post. [Perhaps "non-interventionist" is a more accurate term--ed. See my change above.]

Regardless, this poem is awesome.

EVEN ANOTHER UPDATE... YES, I"M REALLY INTERESTED IN THIS TOPIC: More on this debate from Rick Moran, Michael van der Galiën, and Brian Ulrich.

FINAL UPDATE... OR IS IT?: Gideon Rose follows up on his original post here. You should read the whole thing, but this part does stand out:

[Netroots critiques display] a mindset inimical to foreign policy professionalism. If you don’t see the world in its full context, if you know the answers before you ask the questions, if you consider anybody who disagrees to be a contemptible idiot or traitor, then whatever you’re doing, it isn’t serious policy analysis. Large sectors of the right have gone down this route in the last generation, and now many on the left are joining them.
FINAL UPDATE: Greenwald responds here -- I'll have my response up shortly. My response is here.

posted by Dan at 10:18 AM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

The operators' view of Iraq

In a stark rebuttal to the O'Hanlon and Pollack op-ed from a few weeks ago, the New York Times runs another op-ed -- this one co-authored by seven enlisted soldiers based in Iraq.

I think it would be safe to say that Army specialist Buddhika Jayamaha, sergeants Wesley D. Smith, Jeremy Roebuck, Omar Mora, and Edward Sandmeier, and staff sergeants Yance T. Gray and Jeremy A. Murphy have a view of Iraq that differs from O'Hanlon and Pollack:

In short, we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear. (In the course of writing this article, this fact became all too clear: one of us, Staff Sergeant Murphy, an Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head during a “time-sensitive target acquisition mission” on Aug. 12; he is expected to survive and is being flown to a military hospital in the United States.) While we have the will and the resources to fight in this context, we are effectively hamstrung because realities on the ground require measures we will always refuse — namely, the widespread use of lethal and brutal force.

Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side....

Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict — as we do now — will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.

At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. “Lucky” Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.

In a lawless environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act. Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, “We need security, not free food.”

In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.

Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities.

Read the whole thing.

This op-ed will raise a hornets nest of questions. Once the September report on the surge is issued, there will be a "compare and contrast" exercise between this downbeat assessment of the "operators" of our Iraq policy, as opposed to the "managers" of David Petraeus, Ryan Crocker, and the White House. As John Cole puts it: "While these guys are in the 82nd Airborne, you can see that what they write is sure to infuriate the patriots in the 101st Chairborne."

posted by Dan at 09:06 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)