Monday, February 28, 2011
Sunday, February 27, 2011
Not directly related but of possible interest: Gates's speech to West Point cadets; link here.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary, ed. Steven R. Weisman (PublicAffairs, $35). Brief description here.
(Note: The GDP chart is in the hard-copy version but apparently not in the online version of the article.)
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
...I think that there was a distinct wave of apocalyptic thinking in the 1970s. I'm researching North-South relations during this period, and it is clear that many in the North including policy-makers such as Moynihan and Kissinger saw the era in apocalyptic terms: the oil crisis, the defeat of South Vietnam, the 'Zionism is racism' resolution at the UN, the fear that the then 3rd World had been 'lost' all played into this. There seems to have been a real sense that Western civilisation was under peril: neo-Malthusian concerns and old civilisational/race war ideas intersecting with the emergence of the fears of imminent loss of US hegemony that would last until the end of the Cold War. Around this point the idea of the global South as a cauldron of chaos seems to take shape, reappearing in the 1990s in the work of people like Robert Kaplan's 'The Coming Anarchy'.I was interested in this comment because I did some work on North-South relations of the 1970s ... while an undergrad in the '70s. (
Kissinger on North-South relations was a bit of a different story, though, since he eventually came around to offering a package of concessions in response to the Third World's economic demands (for more stable commodity prices, more loans and development aid, and a lot of other things) which didn't satisfy the demands but was an attempt at accommodation; so at least in terms of appearances he was different on these issues from Moynihan. Stanley Hoffmann wrote that Moynihan laid down the tough talk while Kissinger took softer action.
Moynihan's vision of the U.S. and 'the West' standing up against an allegedly ungrateful, somewhat thuggish Third World does fit into a good-vs-evil, quasi apocalyptic, I guess, frame. But I'm not sure whether the "idea of the global South as a cauldron of chaos" goes back to this period. I suppose the neo-Malthusian concerns about resource shortages, population growth, and so on, could be linked to the chaos theme, but my recollection, perhaps wrong, is that Moynihan himself did not emphasize this aspect. (And note too that not all the concerns about resources, population, etc. could be dismissed as neo-Malthusian.) Anyway, Nick L's comment brought a lot of things back...
Coda: The 'North-South dialogue', the main vehicle through which the Third World pressed its demands, sputtered on until around 1981, when it was finished off by the triple whammy of global recession, looming debt crisis and, above all, the advent of the Reagan administration.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Monday, February 21, 2011
Sunday, February 20, 2011
This is dramatically put, but it's not wrong. Reagan did support the apartheid regime in South Africa. See here.
I won’t even talk about his international behavior. I mean, it was just abominable. I mean, if we gained our optimism by killing hundreds of thousands of people in Central America and destroying any hope for democracy and freedom and supporting South Africa while it killed about a million-and-a-half people in neighboring countries, and on and on, if that’s the way we get back our optimism, we’re in bad trouble.
Of course, before some readers take severe umbrage let me acknowledge that there were other aspects to the Reagan foreign policy that Chomsky does not mention here. Reagan did reach agreement with Gorbachev in 1987 to remove intermediate-range nuclear missiles from Europe. Reagan did give his so-called "Ivan and Anya speech" (Google it) in 1984 in which he talked about the danger of nuclear war, and he did take certain steps on arms control. (Don't forget the Stars Wars boondoggle, however.) But on balance, Reagan's foreign policy was not something to cheer about, and that's putting it mildly. (His other policies were bad, too.)
Friday, February 18, 2011
Wolin wrote before the protests and subsequent brutal crackdown in Bahrain. I knew nothing about Bahrain until a few days ago, and now I know a few facts thanks to the news coverage, including that Bahrain is host to the h.q. of the U.S. 5th Fleet. This prompts one to consider (again) why the U.S. has naval and military bases all over the world, not just in 'crucial' regions like the Mideast but in a great many other places as well. A book I was looking at yesterday, John Kane's Between Virtue and Power: The Persistent Moral Dilemma in U.S. Foreign Policy, contains a sentence to the effect that the decision to establish a global network of U.S. bases stems from the human and other costs of fighting the Japanese in the 'island-hopping' campaign of WW2. This may well be standard wisdom among historians. And yet -- why should the war in the Pacific have convinced policy-makers that they needed a global network of bases to prevent another such war? Why wasn't it enough to occupy Japan and reconstruct it under a new, non-militarist constitution? Perhaps it made sense to add a few permanent bases in the Pacific for insurance, so to speak, but the global U.S. base network as stemming from a purely preventive, defensive motive doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
The global base network and the network of security treaties and status-of-forces agreements that accompany it have never made much sense from the standpoint of a reasonable grand strategy, and they have made less and less sense as the years have gone by. Whether one favors 'offshore balancing' or some other approach, the presence of U.S. military forces all over the world, 65 years after the end of WW2 and 20 years after the end of the Cold War, is wasteful and counterproductive. There may be a case to be made for some overseas bases, but not for the hundreds that presently exist.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Schwartz's explanation of why the protests succeeded may be correct, but the criticism of Obama I think is unfair. It is very hard to predict the course of popular uprisings, even in a country whose economy is heavily dependent on one vulnerable industry. I think Marc Lynch's evaluation of the Obama administration's performance, which I quoted several days ago, is more accurate than Schwartz's. Among other things, Schwartz doesn't seem to realize that U.S. foreign policy is the product of a large bureaucratic apparatus and that it cannot be shifted easily; you can't easily change thirty years of foreign policy in 24 hours. Given that reality, the administration did just about as well as one might have expected (there were a couple of missteps and false notes, such as Biden's statement on the NewsHour that Mubarak isn't a dictator, but a few missteps in a situation of this complexity are to be expected). Schwartz's view that the Obama administration's performance in this period was abysmally bad is really rather bizarre.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
"I celebrate myself and sing myself,In the Feb. 14 issue of Time, Fareed Zakaria is careful to avoid predictions about the future of Egypt, but he suggests that one worrisome possibility is "illiberal democracy," i.e., a freely elected regime that restricts individual rights. The author of a book called The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad (2003; rev. pbk. ed., 2007) happens to be none other than ... Fareed Zakaria.
And what I assume you shall assume."
-- Walt Whitman
Monday, February 14, 2011
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Barder disagrees. He says this, among other things:
It is not by chance that Chua’s article comes on the heels of proliferating news stories about China’s greater than expected military capabilities. A few months ago, for example, James Krask published an essay entitled “How the United States Lost the Naval War in 2015” in which he posits a scenario where the US navy no longer has supremacy of the East China Sea. Recent information on a new Chinese stealth fighter highlights China’s technological military prowess that potentially rivals the US air supremacy.Plus, he adds, a focus on parenting and culture diverts attention from the bad effects of neoliberalism.
"It is not by chance that Chua’s article comes on the heels of proliferating news stories about China’s greater than expected military capabilities." On the contrary, I think it's entirely by chance. Indeed, if I went looking for an example of chance, I'm not sure I could find a better one than this.
Saturday, February 12, 2011
Fair enough, I suppose; but Machiavelli did write The Art of War (which I haven't read), and in chapter 14 of The Prince he says that a prince "should always be out hunting," toughening up his body and learning "how mountains rise, how valleys open up, how plains lie," and so forth (The Prince, H. Mansfield trans., 2nd ed., U. of Chicago Pr., p.59). In her novel Wolf Hall, which I've been slowly working my way through and haven't quite finished, Hilary Mantel puts similar words into the mouth of Henry VIII, who tells Thomas Cromwell "we usually say, we gentlemen, that the chase prepares us for war" (pbk. ed., p.167).
It would have been something of a drag to have been born in the sixteenth century. None of the available life courses, with the possible exception of humanist scholar (open only to men of a certain class and temperament, of course), would have been particularly appealing.
Afterthought: It would have been a drag to have been born in many parts of the world in any century, including the twenty-first. People born in relatively prosperous, relatively peaceful societies benefit from an accident of fate, and those born in poorer, more troubled societies suffer from an equally accidental occurrence. See here.
Friday, February 11, 2011
The Obama administration also deserves a great deal of credit, which it probably won't receive. It understood immediately and intuitively that it should not attempt to lead a protest movement which had mobilized itself without American guidance, and consistently deferred to the Egyptian people. Despite the avalanche of criticism from protestors and pundits, in fact Obama and his key aides -- including Ben Rhodes and Samantha Power and many others -- backed the Egyptian protest movement far more quickly than anyone should have expected. Their steadily mounting pressure on the Mubarak regime took time to succeed, causing enormous heartburn along the way, but now can claim vindication. By working carefully and closely with the Egyptian military, it helped restrain the worst violence and prevent Tiananmen on the Tahrir -- which, it is easy to forget today, could very easily have happened. No bombs, no shock and awe, no soaring declarations of American exceptionalism, and no taking credit for a tidal wave which was entirely of the making of the Egyptian people -- just the steadily mounting public and private pressure on the top of the regime which was necessary for the protestors to succeed.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
But to the point: Why did Mitterand choose to deliver his "message of hope" to the inhabitants of Sarajevo on June 28? Because the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. However, as Hobsbawm points out, virtually no one caught the reference, apart from professional historians and some elderly people (probably mostly Europeans) with long memories. So here's a proposal for the nonce: no student should leave an introductory International Relations course without knowing a little about WWI, including the date on which Franz Ferdinand was assassinated. Ideally, they should learn a few other dates too, such as, for example, the date WW2 in Europe started (Sept. 1, 1939), the date it ended (May 8, 1945), and the date on which the Cold War officially ended with the Charter of Paris (gulp, without looking it up I don't know that precise date myself). And I'm sure one could suggest a number of other dates, but I won't drag this out. Isn't this hopelessly old-fashioned, having students learn dates? Of course, but old-fashioned isn't always bad. I'd much rather that a 19-year-old be able to tell me when Franz Ferdinand was killed and why it mattered than that he or she be able to give a little disquisition on the different versions of realism, liberalism, and constructivism. There's nothing wrong with the "isms" but you have to be able to connect them to something (how else can I say this?) real.
Saturday, February 5, 2011
Yet what did the Bush 43 policy of democracy promotion in the region actually amount to? It invaded Iraq, ostensibly to establish democracy there (once the other justifications for the invasion evaporated), only to end up creating a chaotic, violent mess that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, exiled and internally displaced millions more, killed upwards of four thousand U.S. soldiers, several thousand coalition soldiers, ignited a civil war, and produced a situation where car bombers and other suicide bombers still target and kill with some regularity Iraqi soldiers, policeman, and civilians. Fifty thousand U.S. troops remain in Iraq, though the number is slated to go down. The forms of democracy are present in Iraq but whether the government, which took months to form after the last parliamentary elections, is able to meet the aspirations and needs of the population is still an open question, or that at least is my impression.
So that was the G.W. Bush democracy agenda as it played out in Iraq. What about the rest of the region? The G.W. Bush administration pressed for elections to be held in the West Bank and Gaza, and then pronounced itself horrified and astonished when Hamas won in Gaza in January 2006. What about Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt, all U.S. allies? Did the G.W. Bush administration do anything besides an occasional rhetorical gesture to promote democracy in those countries? Did it ever suggest that it might cut aid to Egypt unless Mubarak took steps toward democratic reforms? Or did it content itself with saying "you really should do this" and then doing nothing when Mubarak showed no inclination to change? If the G.W. Bush administration's democracy agenda in the region had been as sincere and effective as some retrospective accounts now suggest, would the U.S. have had to face the situation in Egypt that has erupted in the last few weeks, one in which an at least apparent conflict between short-term U.S. interests, on the one hand, and U.S. values, on the other, has put policy makers in a somewhat awkward (to put it mildly) position? I think the question answers itself.
Friday, February 4, 2011
We have a profound interest in the stability of the Israeli-Egyptian peace relationship. We've got an enormously strong relationship with the Egyptian military. Mubarak, while no Jeffersonian democrat to be sure, has been an American ally for 30 years. These are not things you toss away lightly against the promise, the hope, the aspiration for sweetness and light and democratic government.Note the word choice here: on one side, "interest," "stability," "American ally"; on the other side, "promise," "hope," "aspiration," "democratic government." The latter are nice in theory, Bolton implies, but decidedly secondary. This from a prospective presidential candidate in 2012. And also, be it remembered, from a man who was a member of an administration that talked a lot about "hope" and "democracy" when it suited its purposes, i.e., in justifying the invasion of Iraq.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Today I happened to catch on the radio a bit of Fed Chairman Bernanke's speech at the National Press Club (full text here); the part of the speech I heard addressed fiscal policy, deficits, and debt. Bernanke did a somewhat better job than Brooks of explaining why high debt and deficits are unsustainable, but even Bernanke's explanation I found too cryptic and thus less than satisfying. After citing Congressional Budget Office estimates of what will happen to debt and deficits in the absence of major legislative policy changes, and after pointing out that the aging U.S. population and rising health-care costs are the underlying main drivers of projected rising deficits, Bernanke said this:
The CBO's long-term budget projections, by design, do not account for the likely adverse economic effects of such high debt and deficits. But if government debt and deficits were actually to grow at the pace envisioned, the economic and financial effects would be severe. Sustained high rates of government borrowing would both drain funds away from private investment and increase our debt to foreigners, with adverse long-run effects on U.S. output, incomes, and standards of living. Moreover, diminishing investor confidence that deficits will be brought under control would ultimately lead to sharply rising interest rates on government debt and, potentially, to broader financial turmoil. In a vicious circle, high and rising interest rates would cause debt-service payments on the federal debt to grow even faster, causing further increases in the debt-to-GDP ratio and making fiscal adjustment all the more difficult. (emphasis added)
Take the sentence I've highlighted. High rates of government borrowing, the first part of the sentence asserts, would drain funds from private investment (presumably what is meant is productive private investment, e.g. in business expansion), but the mechanism involved is not spelled out. Turning to the second part of the sentence, it is not very clear to me how "increasing our debt to foreigners" will adversely affect "U.S. output, incomes, and standards of living." I'm not saying this is wrong; rather, I'm saying that in a public speech by the Fed Chairman at the National Press Club it would have been nice to have more of a real, step-by-step explanation instead of simply an assertion, which is pretty much what the quoted passage amounts to. The stuff about the vicious circle of lender unease leading to rising interest rates (to attract continued purchase of debt instruments) leading to still higher debt ratios does not really count as an explanation, either. Maybe the recent reports of the several deficit commissions contain explanations, but chances are I won't have time to read them.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
...starting with Walter Lippmann, it moves through Hans Morgenthau, Bernard Brodie, Edward Luttwak and finishing with Andrew Bacevich.A great deal has already been written about Morgenthau and Lippmann, and the latter has been the subject of a superb biography, Ronald Steel's Walter Lippmann and the American Century. Still, grouping these two with Brodie, Luttwak, and Bacevich is interesting, partly because Brodie and Luttwak are much more easily classifiable as 'defense intellectuals' than Morgenthau, Lippmann or Bacevich. I bet the result will be worth reading (which is not an ironclad promise on my part to read it -- always useful to have an escape clause).
These figures are rich subjects in themselves, and they are powerful points of entry into a deeper study of the history of US self-criticism and pessimism...
The main argument is that these were Jeremiah figures – not cold technicians or detached ‘realists’, but prophets moved by a passionate ideology of their own that reworked European genealogies of skepticism about the American project. These are the figures we turn to repeatedly in crisis, so I thought a study of how their dissent and criticism ‘works’ and how they believed the republic could be re-educated in statecraft would be a nice little contribution to the growing literature on American strategic minds.
P.S. For another book that views some well-known Realists as Jeremiah figures, see here.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
...the startling events in North Africa have undercut the recently popular criticism of the Fukuyama thesis, based on the temporary successes of Putin and the Chinese oligarchs. There is no reason to think that the rule of Putin, or of the Communist Party of China, will outlast the next economic downturn, or even slowdown, any more than Ben Ali or Mubarak.Predictions are hazardous, and this one seems especially so. I think a slow evolutionary change in China's political system is more likely than that the Communist Party will fall in some kind of cataclysm. I could be wrong, of course.
Note to readers: I wrote a lot here in January but I will not be keeping up that pace in the next few months, so readers should expect more downtime between posts.