September 24th, 2009
Andrew Sullivan attempts to ding Daniel Larison for an overly dogmatic realist critique of democratization.
Egypt and Jordan can remain at peace with Israel despite the profound unpopularity of this arrangement because the governments are unaccountable and authoritarian. Surely the elections in Gaza should tell us that democratization allows people with deep grievances to vent them by empowering the most extreme and radical elements. This has proved to be ruinous for people in Gaza and far from what Israel wants. Democratization and regional stability are incompatible. If you desire one, you cannot have the other.
Sullivan writes, “I don’t buy the argument that in the long run, autocracies are more stable than democracies, even in the Middle East,” and goes on to cite Iran as proof of the instability of the autocratic model when it comes to succession.
He’s missing the point, though. I’m not sure even steely Larison would go so far as to argue that autocratic succession is any kind of ideal. Autocracies by their very nature change leaders amidst a tension that can at any time spill over into war. Indeed, the greatest achievement of democracy has been that power transfers have been institutionalized to the point of violence being a nearly unthinkable outcome.
What Daniel is correctly railing against, however, is the by far most questionable aspect of Democratic Peace theory: namely that democracies do not go to war against each other. Democratic Peace theorists like the claim, with some sleights of hand, that history bears out this claim. But Daniel’s counter-example is a powerful one. Is there much doubt that the Arab Street, if given access to the reins of power, would demand anything but the annihilation of Israel?
December 18th, 2007
A quibble with Yglesias on strategy:
Where have we sent our best-regarded commanders? All to Iraq rather than to a theater of more strategic importance to the United States [Afghanistan], where our operation has more legitimacy, and where there’s a real chance we could secure more international assistance with our efforts if we were willing to make them a bigger priority.
Afghanistan was more legitimate, to be sure, and as such would probably get more nation-building support from the rest of the world if America was more engaged. But I’m not sure what Matt’s getting at with regards to strategy. Afghanistan is more strategically significant because… what? We can menace Pakistan’s unruly provinces from across the border?
I’m not arguing by any stretch of the imagination that Iraq was a good idea. But now that it’s been done, I’d say that focusing our attention on it is at least as much of a priority as Afghanistan. An ungovernable, fractured Afghanistan is what we’ve been living with for centuries. An ungovernable, fractured Iraq, with its vast oil wealth, is more unpleasant to contemplate.
December 18th, 2007
A post-euphoric New York Times tells it like it is:
While administration officials maintain that the intelligence estimate does not mean that the United States and its allies should ease the pressure, the practical consequence of the report has been to embolden Iran. It has also made it more likely that China and Russia, two of the countries with perhaps the smallest appetite for sanctions against Iran, will not agree to a new round of tough sanctions by the United Nations Security Council.
A de-fanged Cheney means the world goes about its business. The world’s business is not to lie down prostrate, but rather to counterbalance U.S. global dominance.
December 5th, 2007
Since Brad DeLong1 took the time to visit my humble little corner of the internet, I figured I’d take the time to write on negotiations a little further (and pull this out of the comments into its own post).
Only the truly shortsighted think that negotiations are “the art of extracting maximum advantage from your adversary.” Negotiations are the art of getting to the best situation possible—which may or may not involve “extracting” anything.
True enough, that was some sloppy phrasing on my part. Negotiations, especially in international relations, are not a zero sum game. There may or may not be any “extraction” involved because it’s not as if my adversary gaining something results in me losing the exact same amount. With that said, if there exists a situation where two sides are irrationally committed to irreconcilable goals, negotiations do start tending towards a zero sum arrangement.
I, for one, don’t have much faith in the rationality of Ahmadinejad.2 He may not be the madman caricature that the right has made of him, but he’s a nasty populist demagogue, and demagogues will behave in the interest of keeping themselves in power, not necessarily in the interests of their country.
Since I’m not a proponent of regime change as policy, I recognize that we will have to negotiate with this unsavory man. Best, then, to do it from a position of relative strength. Sanctions and pressure have led to increasingly dire conditions in Iran, which have in turn caused Ahmadinejad’s party to lose ground in the most recent Iranian elections. Why stop now?
“The best situation possible” is economics talk, pareto optimality if memory serves. It’s a crucial concept to keep in mind while thinking about likely and desirable outcomes of any negotiation. But it’s what you keep in the back of your mind as you tussle for maximum advantage. It’s not something you bust out when faced with a tough, adversarial negotiating partner across the table.
December 4th, 2007
Podhoretz over at Commentary’s blog on the new NIE assessments:
In other words, a full two years after Iran supposedly called a halt to its nuclear program, the intelligence community was still as sure as it ever is about anything that Iran was determined to build a nuclear arsenal. Why then should we believe it when it now tells us, and with the same “high confidence,” that Iran had already called a halt to its nuclear-weapons program in 2003?
Or why should we believe anyone? Pynchon’s proverbs for paranoids, #3:
If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.
(I know I’m abusing Pynchon here.)
December 4th, 2007
Kevin Drum, as usual, has the pithiest take on today’s bombshell NIE release:
I guess Cheney finally lost his turf battle on this one. … I wonder who pushed back? Who’s got the juice?
Indeed, this is the most important part of today’s revelations: not that the intelligence community has undercut the Bush Administration’s rationale for war with Iran, but rather that Cheney’s lost a doozie of an administrative battle in having these documents released to the public. I don’t place hope in war being averted due to a lack of a proper slam dunk casus beli. It’s certainly not stopped this administration before. Only a properly de-fanged Cheney will keep us out of trouble for the next year.
November 30th, 2007
The New Republic really screwed up by losing Spencer Ackerman, one of the best reporters on national security matters of our generation. It’s not just that Ackerman gets good stories and does good analysis, it’s that he can write.
Here he is at The American Prospect, on the new hare-brained scheme to export the Anbar Awakening to Pakistan:
Imagine the Bush administration’s war cabinet as a drunken gambler during a moment of sobriety-inducing panic. The fortune he thought he accumulated has proven illusory, and most of the money he brought to the casino is gone. His throat is dry and his head is pounding. The display of his cell phone shows numerous missed calls—all from his wife, who begged him not to indulge his worst habits, and now pleads with him to come home. Three facts concentrate his addled mind: he is coated in shame, he is still in the casino, and he has a few dollars more.
My only quibble with the article, substance-wise, is regarding the success or failure of the Anbar Awakening in Iraq: while it’s likely doomed to failure if we envision Iraq ending up as some sort of modern parliamentary democracy, it may set up a balance of terror between the Shiites and Sunnis where they may agree to some sort of confederal soft partition solution to the country.
I’d wager the Cheney faction in the White House is structuring just that kind of outcome. And why not? It prevents all of Iraq falling under Iran’s sway, thereby slightly ameliorating the major strategic blunder of this entire war. And given that Iraq’s federal structures are bound to be fragile, it guarantees a need for a sizable American military presence in the country well into the future, which helps balance against Iran’s newfound regional hegemony. What’s not to like?
November 11th, 2007
The Guardian does some reporting in Iraq, profiles one of the Sunni “Concerned Citizens”, a certain Hajji Abu Abed. The Guardian has agendas, but this article rings oh so true, given America’s remarkable track record of recklessly funding strongmen and having it all blow up in their face some time later.
“The Americans lost hope with an Iraqi government that is both sectarian and dominated by militias, so they are paying for locals to fight al-Qaida. It will create a series of warlords.
“It’s like someone who brought cats to fight rats, found himself with too many cats and brought dogs to fight the cats. Now they need elephants.”
Lovely Iraqi imagery. The article is chock-full of other tragi-comic descriptions and vignettes which, again, would be hilarious if they weren’t actually happening.
I’m reasonably sure that our terrorist headaches 5-10 years down the line will be primarily coming out of Iraq. Once someone finally establishes themselves as a dominant player in the region (doubtlessly by overwhelming use of force), it’s doubtful that he’ll be a friend to the United States.
November 1st, 2007
This Washington Post article on Rumsfeld’s “snowflake” memos has finger-wagging quality about it. The lede:
In a series of internal musings and memos to his staff, then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld argued that Muslims avoid “physical labor” and wrote of the need to “keep elevating the threat,” “link Iraq to Iran” and develop “bumper sticker statements” to rally public support for an increasingly unpopular war.
My, what a racist! I knew there was something wrong with that guy. He hates Muslims!
Much further down in the article:
He also lamented that oil wealth has at times detached Muslims “from the reality of the work, effort and investment that leads to wealth for the rest of the world. Too often Muslims are against physical labor, so they bring in Koreans and Pakistanis while their young people remain unemployed,” he wrote. “An unemployed population is easy to recruit to radicalism.”
Does the Post really believe that Rumsfeld’s analysis is incorrect and/or beyond the pale? I’m certainly not reading this as some sort of categorical statement about Muslims qua Muslims. What he’s saying is a fact about the Middle East. It’s the oil curse, stupid!
I’m no Rumsfeld groupie, but let’s try to be fair, shall we?
October 26th, 2007
From the Post’s headline piece this morning on the possible repercussions of an American strike on Iran:
Asked whether the companies he worked with had contingency plans, he said, “The oil industry does not have contingency plans. We are not military people.”
Fair enough in this scenario, I suppose. Screwed up oil markets due to an attack on Iran is not something one should have had to plan for until earlier this year, when it became distinctly possible that the U.S. was keen on escalation.
But one gets the sense that this kind of mentality runs rampant at oil companies and governments alike. It makes articles such as this one in the Guardian (via Sullivan) far more unsettling.
Jeremy Leggett, one of Britain’s leading environmentalists and the author of *Half Gone*, a book about “peak oil” - defined as the moment when maximum production is reached, said that both the UK government and the energy industry were in “institutionalised denial” and that action should have been taken sooner.
Peak oil is a notoriously controversial subject mostly because it’s so opaque. Are the oil companies withholding information to soothe markets? Are they spreading panic to drive up prices? Or are they just asleep at the wheel?