Sunday, January 18, 2009

Six-week hiatus

Starting tomorrow (Monday, Jan.19), I will be taking a break from posting for six weeks.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Dissecting preemption (again)

The Bush administration is almost over, but debate, scholarly and otherwise, about the Bush foreign policy will continue for a long time to come. Take the so-called preemption doctrine -- really a doctrine of preventive war -- codified and publicized in the famous 2002 National Security Strategy (NSS), and reiterated, though with less enthusiasm, in the 2006 NSS. The 2002 document announced that the administration would not wait until perceived threats from so-called rogue states possessing (or trying to possess) weapons of mass destruction became imminent; rather, it would deal with those threats while there was still time to neutralize them. In words for which Condoleezza Rice may be better remembered than almost any others she uttered during the past eight years, the administration would not wait for "a smoking gun to become a mushroom cloud."

What was the point of articulating a somewhat ambiguous, broadly worded doctrine of preventive war and then applying it to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein? Was it just to deal with the perceived threat from Saddam? In a recent article ("Preemption in the Bush Doctrine: A Reappraisal," Foreign Policy Analysis 5:1, 2009, pp.1-16), Hakan Tunç argues that in the minds of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and certain other key policy-makers, the point of toppling Saddam was, in large part, to send a signal to Iran and secondarily North Korea. "Watch out, or you might be next." This insistence on signaling the other members of the so-called "Axis of Evil" that the U.S. was not to be trifled with may help explain the Bush administration's apparent rush to war in the early spring of 2003. If they had let Hans Blix back in to finish the inspections and waited for his report, who knows what the outcome might have been? For those members of the Bush administration who were determined to show that the U.S. could exercise its military power effectively, Iraq presented the apparently ideal target; they were not going to risk its becoming more benign in the public's eye by waiting for further inspections.

Tunç does not say that exactly, but he does say this:
"It is clear that beyond labeling Iran and North Korea as members of the 'Axis of Evil,' the Bush administration did not develop a separate policy for them. Invading Iraq was the policy for Iran and North Korea as reflected in the formulation of preemption. Making an example of Saddam through a flamboyant display of American military power was presumably a better approach to maximize the credibility of [U.S.] threats with respect to [rogue states' behavior on] proliferation and terrorism." (p.9)
With a nod to Thomas Schelling, Tunç labels this strategy "demonstrative compellence":
"In strategic studies, the concept of compellence has been applied exclusively to...circumstances in which two actors...are involved.... As the elaboration of preemption/prevention in the Bush Doctrine indicates, however, employing military force with demonstrative purposes for third parties can become the heart of compellence strategy. In other words, 'demonstrative compellence' as an offensive strategy entails the use of force in an exemplary manner to induce adversaries to revise their calculations and agree to change their behavior." (pp.9-10)
The essence of this argument, minus the political-science language, was made by Charles Krauthammer in a December 2002 Weekly Standard piece quoted by Tunç: " 'Overthrowing Saddam because of his refusal to relinquish these weapons [which at the time he was mistakenly assumed to have] would be a clear demonstration to other tyrants that attempting to acquire WMD is a losing proposition. Not only do they not purchase you immunity (as in classical deterrence), they purchase you extinction. You will be not only disarmed but dethroned.' " (p.10)

Did the strategy of "demonstrative compellence" work? While the toppling of Saddam might have had some impact on Libya's decision to abandon any WMD ambitions, the strategy did not work with respect to its intended targets, Iran and North Korea. Tunç argues that one major reason it failed is that the administration didn't realize that the demonstration effects of its initial military success in Iraq were not going to last long. Thus the administration missed an opportunity to negotiate with Iran "from a position of strength" in spring 2003 when Iran proposed a deal involving possible denuclearization in return for normalization of relations. (p.13)

Tunç seems to be largely right about the motives and thinking of the hardliners in the Bush administration, but was "demonstrative compellence" ever sensible, even in theory? Here he could have probed a bit deeper, it seems to me. If, as Tunç says, the U.S. never intended to use force against Iran and North Korea, didn't that in itself tend to undermine the desired demonstration effect? North Korea already had a probable nuclear weapons capacity in the period in question, making it much less susceptible from the outset to a demonstrative compellence strategy. In any case, Tunç's article will not be the last word on all this -- that much is certain.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Get ready for a multipolar world

Last November's report by the U.S. National Intelligence Council, "Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World," got some press attention, but it would have gotten more had it been released in a non-election year and month. In the current Atlantic, Benjamin Schwarz, an articulate proponent of a substantially smaller American global military-political footprint (a/k/a offshore balancing), reminds people of the report's forecast of a large shift in relative power from West to East, as China and India come to take more prominent positions on the world stage. Schwarz also points out that Pres.-elect Obama's foreign-policy statements to date are in many respects consistent with the established approach of trying to maintain U.S. leadership/hegemony and resist the onset of genuine multipolarity. Such resistance, Schwarz suggests, will prove both futile and counterproductive.

Here are his concluding paragraphs:
"'Global Trends 2025' should shake Obama's confidence in the wisdom of embracing a hegemonic foreign policy.... [T]he report concludes, in the words of the NIC chairman, Thomas Fingar, that over the next 16 years 'American dominance will be much diminished... The overwhelming dominance that the United States has enjoyed in the international system...is eroding and will erode at an accelerating pace....' A multipolar world -- a world of autonomous great powers that American global strategy has sought to avert for 60 years -- will inevitably emerge.

"If the NIC is correct, this president, elected on a promise of change, will be presiding over the country as it begins to come to terms with the most significant transformation in international politics since the Second World War (and that includes the Cold War). Among the other momentous tasks that confront him, he must help create a new American stance toward the world. Maybe now isn't the time to go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. And why insist that the United States cling to a prerogative that history is about to snatch away?"

More peace

Is it embarrassing for an IR type to get figures from the SIPRI (Stockholm Int'l Peace Research Institute) filtered through The Atlantic? If so, count me as embarrassed. The magazine's current issue has a "change map" showing how various kinds of things have changed since 2000. One category: number of major armed conflicts worldwide. In 2000: 25. In 2007: 14.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Quote of the day

From Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars (1977), p.174:
"A soldier must take careful aim at his military target and away from nonmilitary targets. He can only shoot if he has a reasonably clear shot; he can only attack if a direct attack is possible. He can risk incidental deaths, but he cannot kill civilians simply because he finds them between himself and his enemies. [Footnote]

[Walzer's footnote]: It remains true, however, that the issue of 'interposition' or coercion has to be resolved first. Consider an example from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870: during the siege of Paris, the French used irregular forces behind enemy lines to attack trains carrying military supplies to the German army. The Germans responded by placing civilian hostages on the trains. Now it was no longer possible to get a 'clear shot' at what was still a legitimate military target. But the civilians on the trains were not in their normal place; they had been radically coerced; and responsibility for their deaths, even if these deaths were actually inflicted by the French, lay with the German commanders. On this point, see Robert Nozick's discussion of 'innocent shields of threats' in Anarchy, State and Utopia, p.35."

Monday, January 12, 2009

"A waffly piece of blah"?

Michael Walzer wrote a short piece for The New Republic's website several days ago about "proportionality" and the Israel-Gaza war. The piece was characterized by a writer at Crooked Timber as a "waffly piece of blah." It is true that Walzer raises questions without explicitly answering them. However, I do not find the tone of Walzer's column to be as objectionable as the CT commentator does.
P.s. Those interested in just war theory will find the comments thread attached to the linked CT post worth perusing.

The debate on Bush's policies now becomes the debate on his legacy

With President Bush's final news conference behind him and the inauguration of President-elect Obama impending, the debate on Bush's legacy will go into high gear. I've already made clear that I think Bush's foreign policy record is largely a very bad one. I say "largely" because I have acknowledged a few bright spots. Rather than repeat myself, I refer readers to the second paragraph of this post.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Combustible Hardy on 'Masterpiece'

For years -- make that decades -- Sunday at 9 p.m. generally has meant one thing to me: Masterpiece Theater. [1] Now split into three -- Classic, Contemporary, and Mystery -- it is still what it has always been: very good, and occasionally even superb, entertainment. I know it's not some people's cup of tea, and I know that others have derided it as middlebrow since the days when the late Alistair Cooke was the host. [2] If middlebrow denotes unchallenging and readily accessible, then ninety percent of television is middlebrow, so leveling this criticism is like firing a blunderbuss at a sparrow.

Middlebrow, shmiddlebrow. Take Masterpiece Classic's version of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, the second and last installment of which I saw this evening. The score was a bit overbearing, but the acting was excellent. Indeed, the chemistry between Gemma Arterton (as Tess) and Eddie Redmayne (as Angel Clare), particularly in the last half-hour or so, was such that if they had generated any more heat, the screen might have caught on fire. A friend recently said to me, apropos of sex in the movies or on television: "Less is more." I'm inclined to think this is true. Which is more erotic: on one hand, a movie like Body Heat or -- to take the closest thing to an X movie ever given an R rating -- Boogie Nights, or on the other hand something like this adaptation of Tess? There's no comparison. Hardy wins.
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1. Except for those (not insubstantial) periods of time when I didn't have a TV.
2. Cooke was irreplaceable, which is why, after one or two false starts, they decided not to replace him. The host/ess (typically a youngish, attractive, often well-known actress or actor), now stands, rather than sits, and says much less than Cooke or his immediate successor, Russell Baker, did.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Quote of the day

"The notion that every sentence we use bears, indeed consists of, the invisible traces of other meanings created by a vast non-human system, carries serious implications.... The consumption of literature involves continual (usually instinctive) evaluation, of characters in stories, content and quality of poems, skill and intentions of authors, etc. etc. etc. Value, morality, is removed by the structuralist picture if taken seriously.... Heidegger's book What is Metaphysics? is partly concerned with showing how the general idea of value (morals) is a superficial phenomenon. Behind this new 'revaluation of all values' by Heidegger and by Derrida lies the (metaphysical) concept of a vast superhuman area of control: Heidegger's later concept of Being, and Derrida's theory of Language. These systems represent new forms of determinism. Determinism is always reappearing in new forms since it satisfies a deep human wish: to give up, to get rid of freedom, responsibility, remorse, all sorts of personal individual unease, and surrender to fate and the relief of 'it could not be otherwise.'"
-- Iris Murdoch, Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (1992), p.190.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Cease-fire resolution

The U.S. should not have abstained on the Security Council's cease-fire resolution for Gaza, which one hopes will be implemented soon. The suspension of UN aid operations can only have made a bad situation worse.

Missile strike kills al-Qaeda top operative in Pakistan

The Kenyan-born chief of al-Qaeda in Pakistan and his second-in-command were killed by a missile fired by a CIA drone in South Waziristan some days ago, according to reports. The chief operative, Usama al-Kini, was thought to be involved in the attack on the Islamabad Marriott last September.

Fight fiercely

Basketball? Je m'en fiche. But HC drew my attention to an AP item in the Wash. Post about the Harvard basketball team's upset over Boston College, which was fresh from its own upset over North Carolina. The AP item suggests that Boston College did not come with its game face on, or something like that. Whatever. A win is a win is a win, as Gertrude Stein (Radcliffe, 1893-97) might have said.

(H/t and/or apologies to Tom Lehrer for this post's title.)

Buzzwords (1): "Reification"

reify [from the Latin res (thing) + -fy]: to treat (an abstraction) as substantially existing, or as a concrete material object.
As the dictionary suggests, to reify is to thing-ify: to treat what is not a thing as a thing. (This is the sense the word carries in Marx's definition of commodity fetishism: reification of persons, anthropomorphizing of things.) In academic writing, however, "reify" and "reification" have become vague, almost catch-all terms of disapproval, used to indicate disagreement with whatever the author doesn't like.

So many examples of this usage are available that to single out one is unfair, but there is one example that's fresh in my mind. Recently I was glancing through an article that draws on Marxian work in international relations "to recast the socio-historical conditions of emergence and diffusion of the modern national form" (F.G. Dufour, "Social-property Regimes and the Uneven and Combined Development of Nationalist Practices," European Journal of International Relations 13:4 [2007], pp.583-604).
This article says there's a need to "move beyond the reification of a collective domestic identity" (p.588). I'm pulling this phrase out of context, because to supply the context would be rather tedious. But it is illustrative, I think, of the basic procedure: take an abstraction, assert that it's being reified, and you have a criticism that's often difficult if not impossible to refute, because it usually boils down to "I don't like the way scholar X is using this concept."

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Panetta to Langley

Peter at DofM makes the case that Panetta could be a good Director of Central Intelligence.

Forum on Huntington

The new website of Foreign Policy magazine, which is making its debut this week, is conducting a forum on Huntington's legacy. You can find the link at the home page.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Note on Gaza

Anything I might say about this now you could probably find stated with more authority elsewhere. I do have an opinion about Obama's silence, for which he has been criticized in some quarters: the silence is correct. Any statements by him now would be counterproductive, regardless of what he said. If he said something even slightly different from the Bush administration line, he would be criticized for undercutting official U.S. policy. And if he parroted the line, that would be pointless, especially since he may not agree with its every nuance. So silence for him is the best option. But Obama is on record on Hamas in his speech last June to AIPAC, which anyone I'm sure can find online.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Quote of the weekend

"With its deeply sensationalist strain, this era [the Jacksonian] also bore more than a faint resemblance to our own time. Much like today’s tabloids, penny papers peddled articles about whoredom, divorce, even infanticide, and when stories ran dry, the newsmen simply made them up, once writing about talking man-bats on the moon."

-- from Jay Winik's review of David S. Reynolds' Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson, New York Times Book Review, Oct. 24, 2008

You can say that again

"I'm not one to 'turn the other cheek,' to let ideological bygones be bygones."
-- Donald Douglas, at his right-wing blog American Power

Friday, January 2, 2009

"Bangladesh is on the move"

Tahmima Anam in The Guardian of Dec. 31 celebrates the victory of the "secular, progressive" Awami League in the recent Bangladesh elections. I hope she's right.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Lift the Cuban embargo

Fifty years to the day since the Cuban revolution and only slightly less long since the imposition of the U.S. trade embargo, it is past time to get rid of it. If ever there was a definition of "failed policy," this is it.

Life 1, Art 0

The actor who played Tony Blair in the movie The Queen appears in the New Year Honours list.