Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Archive for January, 2007

Neo-Con Back and Forth on Iraq: The Ultimate in Meaningless Echo-Chambers

Posted by K.E. White on January 30, 2007

 

Victor Davis Hanson and Max Boot debate Iraq

contentions (yes, small “c”), Commentary’s new blog, yesterday started a neo-conservative dialogue on Iraq—proving that echo-chambers can, indeed, exist within themselves.

The speakers?

Max Boot and Victor Davis Hanson.

Read their back and forth here, but the site doesn’t make them easy to find.

(You can find the full text quicker by going here and here, and Proliferation Press offers this summary for interested readers.)

This “back and forth’ read more a like “pat on the back.” One pessimistic neo-con, Boot, commiserating with an optimistic neo-con, Hanson.

Both endorse Bush’s surge,seeing it as a last option, and find it the necessary and best course of action.

Hanson, at least, gets down to specifics: gauging the time-table General Petraeus (the new Iraq commander and prospective White Knight) has for success.

But what both miss, and I hope they discuss in latter “chapters,” are 1) how this “surge” will operate in particular and how attainable its goals are and 2) real and practical alternatives about what America does after the surge, whatever its outcome.

And—if time and attention permits—they should touch on the need for a revamped American security strategy.

One that takes into account 1) our currently stretched resources and 2) the growing isolation America’s strategic faces from traditional allies of the past.

We’ll see if they get there.

Posted in Bush administration, Commentary Magazine, contentions, Diplomacy, Iraq, Max Boot, Middle East, neoconservatism, Victor Davis Hanson, WMD | Leave a Comment »

So Over “Overblown”: J.P. Crowley Reponds to John Mueller’s Latest Book

Posted by K.E. White on January 26, 2007

I recently sat down with Philip J. Crowley, Director of National Defense and Homeland Security at the Center for American Progress, and chatted about John Mueller’s recent book Overblown.P.J. Crowley

Crowley, President Bill Clinton’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs, was not bowled over by Overblown, as his responses to my questions make clear.

While finding value in Mueller’s contention that America may have already overreacted to the threat of terrorism, Crowley finds Mueller’s policy prescriptions lacking substance, evidence questionable, worldview dangerously isolationist, and perception of American foreign policy after WWII “idealistic and naive.”

Among his many critiques, Crowley highlights the danger of using past state-on-state diplomacy to understand the threat posed today by international terrorism. This leads him to consider Mueller guilty of the same fallacy—albeit in the opposite direction—of the Bush administration: forcing a statist paradigm onto terrorism.

Question: What do you make of Mueller’s view of America caught in a terror iron-triangle: with an irrationally concerned public egging on elected representative to feed funds to an insatiable terrorism industry?

 

Philip J. Crowley: It’s a clever formulation, but it’s a secondary consideration. The fundamental consideration is, is there a residual threat of terrorism to the United States? There is.

Certainly Mr. Mueller is likely right in thinking that we have overestimated its severity and have portrayed terrorists as an omniscient threat. And certain actions that the United States has taken since 9-11, most specifically the diversion into Iraq, have actually been counterproductive.

Much of his analysis is fair, but the board theme in terms of what the country should do in response is to basically to ignore the threat.

In the construct in the current threat of terrorism, he may be partially right that to some extent our overreaction actually makes terrorists more emboldened than they may otherwise be.

But his historical analysis of the manner in which the United States has handled what it perceived to be major threats in the past, is deeply, deeply, deeply flawed.

To suggest that on Dec. 8, 1941, in the face of the most significant military attack [Pearl Harbor] against the United States in our history, the proper course of action for President Roosevelt was to ignore and contain it is naive.

Certainly his portray of the McCarthy psyche that gripped the country in the 1950s is fair. On the over hand, many of the steps that we did take militarily, economically and diplomatically throughout the Cold War were directly responsible for the eventual demise of the Soviet Union.

What I found disappointing in the book was Mueller’s attempt to use history to justify an under reaction to the current situation. The ultimate right answer is probably somewhere in the middle.

While we are at risk of overreacting to the threat of terrorism because of 9-11, we are at risk of under reacting by not taking the proper steps to mitigate the residual risk that does exist, and is going to exist for some time.

 

Is Mueller’s provocative example of Pearl Harbor useful in adding depth to how America responded to security threat in the past and how we should respond to the threat of international terrorism today?

 

[Mueller’s view of Pearl Harbor] is historically inaccurate.

Mueller bases his analysis on almost purely on mathematical formulas.

He sees our response to Japan as such: The United States lost 2,500 citizens at Pearl Harbor, and in response the United States lost 100,000 or more troops in the Pacific theater.

So, in his mind, [since America’s response lead to greater human losses] the cost of the war did not justify a declaration of the war.

He ignores the fact that through World War II the role of the United States changed. He ignores the positive impact that the United States gained in terms of its impact on the world as a consequence of the war.

There is a just war theory, and it’s very controversial. But I find very few people who believe, as Mr. Muller seems to believe, that World War II was not a just war.

 

What is the goal of Muller’s book? What is the book’s view of America’s role in the world?

Mueller espouses an isolationist view. In his mind, we should never react to a provocation. You know, I keep using the word naive, and I think it is.

While there is a gain of truth and a seductive logic behind that view, there are simply times you have to respond.

The intervention in Bosnia, for example, was expressly not because the United States was threatened. In fact while the intervention cost American treasure, it cost not a single American life. In that intervention the United States was making a broader statement to Europe and to the world that it would not tolerate ethnic cleansing that threatened our significant national interests.

Now one could argue not that America should not do less, but more. Most people who look at the places the United States has interceded and the places the United States has failed to intercede, say America has not done enough—Darfur being the latest example, and rightfully so.

Mueller is trying to shift history in the opposite direction. And to suggest that it is not worth the United States making, what in my mind, the very important moral and political statement that the United States would hold leaders like Milosevic to account for policies that kill or displace hundreds of thousands of people, is wrong.

And because of the Serbian intervention—it was not perfect, it was not pretty at times—we now have European continent that is more united and is highly unlikely to experience any kind of major conflict in the foreseeable future.

Given where the world was in 1914, where a world war started owing to a series of overlapping alliances, to be at the point today where you’d probably think major war in Europe is no longer possible is an enormous achievement. And that would arguably not happen in the logic that John Mueller applies to the world.

 

The book’s theoretical perspective relies on lumping together America’s foreign policies towards other nation-states in the past, such as Germany and Japan during World War II or the Soviet Union, with America’s policy towards international terrorism today. Is this a useful approach to understanding American security policy after 9-11?

Mueller ends up, to some extent, contradicting his own argument, conflating the threat [of international terrorism] in ways the Bush administration has.

The Bush administration came into office in 2001, and then came 9-11. The Bush administration could not envision that Al Qaeda could do what it did without formal state sponsorship. And it was that logic that ultimately moved us from Afghanistan to Iraq.

Notwithstanding the existence of a safe heaven in Afghanistan and the shelter the Taliban, as the ruling government in Afghanistan, provided to Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda primarily pulled off 9-11 without meaningful state support.

And the Bush administration could not bring itself to accept that fact. So it started to look around for rogue states that are involved in terrorism and had been in the past. The shift then happened from Afghanistan to Iraq.

Mr. Mueller seems to tread that same path in reverse. In order to try to buttress his argument that we have overreacted to the threat of Al Qaeda, which by itself may be true, he then goes back and to use as justification the United States and how it has dealt with various state-related challenges in the second half of the twentieth century. I think he ends up mixing up apples and oranges.

There is logic to what he says about the risk of overreacting to what is not an existential threat. But you cannot confuse how the United States deals with a transnational non-state actor with how the United States deals with state-to-state relations—whether it be Japan after Pearle Harbor, or the Soviet Union during the Cold War, or a European state like Serbia that was responsible for the worst ethnic cleansing of modern time.

Now if one accepts there is a danger of politically overreacting to the threat of terrorism, he does give some rhetorical support to things we have to do—but little substance. I think that is what is missing in the book.

 

What does Mueller accomplish in this book? And what substance is missing in particular?

He sets up a straw man effectively: There is a fundamental risk that America can and perhaps has overreacted to a threat. But, by the same token, he does not go into any depth of where the right balance is.

He mentions in many parts in the book that while it is hard to envision that Al Qaeda could successfully build or explode a nuclear weapon, he nonetheless accepts the idea that we should do everything possible to keep fissionable material off the market. Okay, how do you do that?

He believes that we should primarily attack terrorism through law enforcement means. Okay, how do you do that?

To the extent that we have a residual threat of terrorism, and there are systems that are valuable to us that could be attacked, whether transit systems or port system, to what extent do you protect them?

His solution is largely just to tell the American people, “Don’t worry be happy.”

He misses the opportunity to find the pragmatic middle ground that would help those who want to know how to effectively govern.

 

Let’s say someone plans to read this book, or already has. What book would you tell them to read next that would fill in the deficits you have pointed out in Mueller’s work?

 

It hasn’t been written yet—which is exactly a problem. We’ll get there eventually. I think that is a very good point at which to critique here.

Mueller offers a useful admonition that there is a serious risk that America will overreact if it hasn’t already. The next piece is—if we are able to maintain perspective that his is a serious issue but not an existential threat, and that the adversary is capable but not omniscient—what should we do? Where is the right balance?

That is missing from Mueller’s book and really is the logical next step in the development of our concept of homeland security. What are the enduring things we can do so that we can protect what is important to us, without stoking fears in the population?

Posted in Bush administration, Diplomacy, Foreign Policy, Homeland Security, Iraq, J.P. Crowley, John Mueller, Proliferation News, Terrorism | Leave a Comment »

India Goes Roos for Nukes: Has Bush’s U.S.-India Nuclear Gambit Failed?

Posted by K.E. White on January 24, 2007

President Bush, upon signing the India nuclear deal, told detractors that India becoming a stanch U.S. ally was well worth any unfounded proliferation concerns:American President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

“The United States and India are natural partners,” Bush said at a signing ceremony in the East Room attended

While that may be true, it seems that America’s decision to open up nuclear technology and material trade to India might be pushing India just as close to other countries: specifically, Russia.

Seems like those “rivalries” from the Cold War are back.

AKI news reports on Putin’s no-strings attached offer to India for nuclear materials and technology:

In an interview…on the eve of his departure for India, President Putin has said that this access should be available under the framework of international centres for nuclear fuel enrichment under the control of international organisations, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). He said that all countries had the right to access modern technologies “while simultaneously complying with the principles and requirements of non-proliferation.”

Putin said that he was referring not just to India but also to “threshold” countries like Iran, which should all be looked at as universal and not isolated cases. He made it clear that Russia did not want to be a superpower as it did not “wantRussian President Putin and the Indian Prime Minister to be the object of fear and be regarded as the enemy.” In the process, he has thrown open the doors for nuclear cooperation with India without attaching a single condition for a permanent and uninterrupted supply of nuclear fuel for the Kudankulam nuclear power plant, construction of additional nuclear reactors and transfer of reprocessing technology…

The US is now getting worried about the Russian strategy to not just open the doors for India, but to also set the pace for greater cooperation in the key nuclear and defence sectors. Unlike the other recent visits by President Putin to India, this one is very different, according to experts here, who see in it a top-level decision to give a new momentum to India-Russia relations for an era of accelerated cooperation.

The Times of India reports on what to expect from Putin’s New Delhi visit:

A statement of intent on nuclear cooperation, a joint venture between Rosneft and OVL and first steps together in space development will mark Russian president Vladimir Putin’s bi-annual visit to India. India and Russia are expected to sign around 10 agreements on Thursday…

The final clause is the key here: until the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) grants India an exemption, Russia will not move a muscle in that direction.

This has been made very clear to India, despite an eagerness on part of the UPA government to get Russia to commit itself, which could have been construed as a testimony to India’s ‘independence’.

The NYTimes fails to completely convey the irony of this development for the Bush administration:

As for weaponry, Russia is already India’s largest military partner. Paradoxically, when the India-United States nuclear deal opens the door for New Delhi to buy acquire technology for its civilian nuclear program, Russia may benefit the most. Kanwal Sibal,Is this in the balance? India’a ambassador to Russia, predicted that Russia would be “among the first, if not the first, to walk in” and sell technology to India.

The deal with the United States permits India to purchase nuclear fuel, reactors and other items around the world, provided that it obtains advance approval from the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a coalition of 45 countries that regulates international atomic trade. Russia is already building two nuclear reactors in India, and the Russian defense minister, Sergei Ivanov, was quoted earlier this week by Interfax saying that his government was prepared to build more.

But why, when India is so close to winning a hard-fought deal with the United States is India so quick to conclude a deal with Russia—particularly when they still need to overcome the hurdle for the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)?

Beyond the simple reason that the majority of the Indian public thinks nuclear technology is its right and not some U.S. gift to confer, there is another fact that the International Herald Tribune highlights:

A key element of their relationship was rooted in an unwritten code: that India would buy enormous amounts of Russian military hardware, and Moscow would not supply defense equipment to India’s neighboring archrival, Pakistan.

Russian politicians warned there will likely be consequences if India shops elsewhere.

“I believe this situation could stay, but only on condition that India, in its turn, will continue to view Russia as the main source of weapons,” Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee, told The Associated Press.

So while it would seem diplomatically “smart” to first get the U.S. deal finished up, India 1) must win the support of other NSG’s members, like Russia, and 2) feels an intense pressure to assuage any Russian fears that India is now firmly in the American bloc.

While understandable, this shift seems to highlight the faulty logic of the Bush administration. The Bush White House put nuclear issues–and not trade–at the heart of the Indian relationship.

In so doing, they have allowed other nuclear powers–be they China or Russia–to more evenly compete with them for influence in India, a nation whose public is very attune to their nuclear status–eschewing our natural advantages: India and the United States are liberal states, both are democratic and have strong economic ties.

In any case, arguments that this deal–in the short-term–would wedge India into the American camp when it came to international relations have been off the mark.

Whether in the long-term this changes is an open question: but it seems Bush’s emphasis on bestowing nuclear acceptance to India has proven a costly distraction.

In sum: America has been seen as the state that has relaxed prohibitions against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, without getting anything in return.

Posted in Bush administration, Diplomacy, Foreign Policy, India, Manmohan Singh, Nuclear Suppliers Group, Pakistan, Proliferation News, Putin, Russia, U.S. India Nuclear Deal | Leave a Comment »

The Hawks Mourn: AEI’s Annual “Pre-Briefing” on President Bush’s Sixth State of the Union

Posted by K.E. White on January 24, 2007

The mood was sullen today at the American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) annual State of the Union “pre-briefing.” 

Six foreign policy analysts at AEI spoke on what the President will—or should—discuss latter tonight, all reiterating a similar theme: never has the President been so weak, and never has he had so much to prove. 

Danielle Pletka, making clear that foreign policy would not be lost to domestic issues in Bush’s upcoming, ably moderated the discussion, guiding the five AEI analysts ably and pulling their wonkish talks into a coherent and compelling—if one-sided—narrative. 

Michael Rubin argued, “while some might criticize Bush’s remarks five years ago as being unhelpful in diplomacy, in reality they were prescient,” emphasizing the growing danger Iran and North Korea pose to international stability. 

While side-stepping the issue of what role those remarks had in creating these sources of international crisis, made the case for tough U.S. diplomacy on Iran and North Korea. 

Rubin recommended President Bush “recognize that there are commonalities among the reformers, the pragmatists, the reformers,” continuing by claiming that “[t]he difference between these factions is one of style, not one of substance.” 

But he conceded a more general failure of America’s approach to Iran: “What I am saying is that the United States isn’t good at playing this Iran game. Of trying to be puppeteer, of trying to engage one faction verses the other.” 

Leon Aron, AEI’s Russia expert, bemoaned “the shrinking of the common commitmentsLeon Aron of every one of the four mainstay areas of the U.S.-Russia strategic dialogue: the war on terror, non-proliferation, Russia’s reliability as a global energy supplier, and its move towards democracy.” 

These common interests will “shrink even further…in the next two years,” Aron stated. 

“[T]he State of the Union speech will matter very little,” Gary Schmitt posed, going against the conventional wisdom of the news media and anchoring the theme of the discussion. 

Gary Schmitt“[P]resident’s can make very fine speeches,” Schmitt told the audience, “but after a time it was a coin that got spent too readily. People began to hear great speeches, but if you don’t see the follow through—the actions—people begin to dismiss the speeches. 

He continued by pointing to the dual-pronged source of the public’s dissatisfaction with President Bush: the botched response to Hurricane Katrina at home and a war effort abroad perceived as failing. 

“The reality in Iraq is what determines public perception. The reality in Katrina, the results of the Hurricane there, are what determined perceptions. And those perceptions are that we have a President that may have very fine policy ideas but is very ineffective in carrying them out.” 

Dan Blumenthal, AEI’s Asia analyst, saw any improvement on the North Korean nuclear dilemma ““only happen[ing] if we start to see some success in Iraq.” 

But Blumenthal seemed pessimistic, finding the Bush administration’s bureaucracy favoring compromise with North Korea, similar to the position of China—not tightening the screws to China by letting Japan out of the nuclear box, or making the de-nuclearization of North Korea the “litmus test” for Sino-American relations. 

But he hoped for some action, lest we have President Bush hand to the next administration “a North Korea that is irreversibly nuclear at this point.” 

Thomas Donnelly, AEI’s Iraq speaker, saw the escalation as a workable strategy: but pointed to the many obstacles Bush must overcome for success in Iraq. 

Donnelly argued that the Bush administration must still show there is a unity of commandThomas Donnelly in Iraq—with Petraeus in the top role; clarify the troop numbers and stages of the proposed surge; and, finally, have ready a reconstruction that works in Iraq. 

Donnelly was well aware of the new political landscape, telling the audience that newly empowered Democrats will point “both barrels to the President on Iraq.” 

He also saw General David Petraeus’s testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee as more important to Congressional support for Iraq than the State of the Union, conceding the extreme weakness of President Bush to rally the nation behind his foreign policy in Iraq. 

The outlook looked gloomy for all the speakers. 

Success in Iraq, while still seen as achievable, was by no means guaranteed—these speakers blamed domestic politics rather than conditions in Iraq.

And the real threat for many in the room, a nuclear Iran and a further nuclearized North Korea, seemed ever more illusive to contain with Iraq’s attention-stealing and resource-draining present condition. 

Though what seemed most clear to all these speakers was the realization that the aggressive neo-conservative foreign policy was a mere step away from extinction. Unless the compromised Bush administration shows success in Iraq soon, not only will the Bush legacy be tarnished but so too neo-conservative approach to America’s foreign policy.

Posted in Afghanistan, American Enterprise Institute, Bush administration, China, Congress, Dan Blumenthal, Danielle Pletka, Diplomacy, Foreign Policy, Gary Schmitt, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Leon Aron, Michael Rubin, neoconservatism, North Korea, Terrorism, Think Tank, Thomas Donnelly | Leave a Comment »

America’s Responsibility? Egyptian Blogger Starts His Sedition Trial Today

Posted by K.E. White on January 19, 2007

Abdelkareem Nabil Soliman, the first blogger charged for dissent in Egypt, started hisAbdelkareem Nabil Soliman trial today.

insulting the president” owing from his Egyptian blog, in which he was critical of Soliman is facing charges of “inciting sedition, insulting Islam, harming national unity and government policies.

Look here for more information Soliman’s case, the Bush administration’s silence on the matter, a video describing his plight, and the efforts to free him.

The story, given the backdrop of a failed neo-conservative paradigm in Iraq, has opened questions about the usefulness of a “realist” approach in American diplomacy.

I. The Question that Plagues American Foreign Policy

Boiled down, the question comes to this:

Does American support for Egypt in this instance–a “stable” country with strong ties to America–show us violating fundamental American values in the name of stability.

Democracy Arsenal’s Shadi Hamid weighs in, opting to table the fundamental question for a (perhaps justified) jab at the Bush Administration and “realists” of any party:Shadi Hamid

 

As Zvika points out in his latest post, there’s been some renewed talk about (maybe) putting pressure on the Egyptian government. Unfortunately, such talk is not coming from the “end-tyranny-now” Bush administration, which continues to show that it isn’t – and never was – serious about democracy in the Middle East. For those such as Flynt Leverett, who think that “realism has become the truly progressive position on foreign policy,” this may be a welcome development. No more messianism, mission, and – for millions of Arabs – not so much to hope for.

I hope someone can tell me how “progressive” this video is. Be forewarned that this is a clip of Egyptian authorities sodomizing a man with some kind of rod. It’s one of the most disturbing things I’ve seen in awhile. Democracy Arsenal readers will, of course, know that the US gives the Egyptian government upwards of $2 billion of aid each year. But will Democrats have anything to say about our “friends” in Egypt using our American dollars to sodomize political opponents? Don’t hold your breath. It would also be nice if one of the prospective Democratic nominees for 2008 calls out Bush/Condi on their hypocrisy.

 

II. Answering the Question–Clearing Up Our Terms

Here Hamid confuses the realist approach with a realist world view–by which I guess he means favoring short-term stability over fundamental human rights or liberal values.

 

Michael Lind—author or The American Way of Strategy – reminds us that realism is an approach, one that can be led in many directions. When Hamid assails “realists,” he assails though that use certain methods that allow Egypt the right to detain Soliman:

Michael Lind

Properly understood, realism consists merely of a set of methods [hegemony, concert of power, balance of power] used in power politics. The tools of realism can be used to promote a world based on freedom or one based on tyranny. Realism is like a knife, which can be used by a criminal to torture or kill or by a surgeon to save a life. Statesmen with radically different goals and visions of world order may be realists, in the sense that they follow the logic of realism for tactical or strategic reasons…

Properly defined, realism should not be confused with nineteenth-century German school of Machtpolitik (power politics), which held that an untrammeled state should maximize its power at all costs….American realism is a strategic doctrine that has as its purpose the preservation of the republican liberal way of life of the American people, not the maximization of the relative power of the United States. (37-38)

But this semantic reification doesn’t really answer the question at hand: does this news event show American foreign policy failing and being immoral?

Lind reminds us to add two dimensions when answering the question: time and resources.

Most would agree that America should push for a liberal democratic world, but timing can be everything.

Does allowing or feeding pro-democracy protests in Egypt help Egypt? I don’t know–but clearly, as is the case in Pakistan, the results could power to Islamic radicals or start a civil war.

III. Finding America’s Role in the World:

Should America’s limited resources be spent in this case?

Again I go to Lind for guidance:

Liberal internationalism can protect American’s republican way of life even if all sovereign states are not liberal states, much less liberal states that, like the United States, are also democratic republics. Americans have always believed that liberal states are superior in the abstract to illiberal states, and that among liberal states those with democratic republican constitutions are the best. But wise American statesmen have recognized that a liberal society requires the achievement of certain social conditions, and that the preconditions for a democratic republican liberal state are even more difficult to achieve. In the meantime time, the priority of the United States is the preservation of the post-imperial society of sovereign states, not crusades for liberalism or democracy. (253)

Of all the problems in the Middle East–the Iraq War, the Israel-Palestinian crisis, and Lebanon–would intervening in this case be a purely cosmetic move?

Conclusions

Big Picture, Please: Looking at one event cannot tell us whether American foreign policy is moral or immoral, let alone effective or ineffective.

Nuanced Strategy: Put liberalism–respect for individual rights within the state–before democracy–a form of government that may or may not be liberal.

And as to the Soliman dilemma: America should exert all reasonable pressure to alleviate the wrongs committed to this individual. But we must recognize that this evident is the result of many processes–not all of which America can be expected to control (Egypt’s domestic political situation, the threat of Islamic radicalism, and a over-stretched and largely undesired–by those in the region and now at home–American presence in the Middle East).

But should anyone who cares about this case learn more, urge Congressmen to act, let alone write the White House?

Yes.

But let’s hope that these same people will also think about the complicated issues at hand, form their arguments soundly and rationally vote for our leaders in future elections.

Forging any foreign policy, let a lone a “progressive” one, is a tall order–requiring time, energy, and hard work on some of the world’s most troubling and thorny dilemmas.

Posted in Conservativism, Iran, Iraq, Republican Party, Soliman, Terrorism, Wartime Powers | Leave a Comment »

Blog-On-Blog: Foreign Policy’s “Why Hawks Win”

Posted by K.E. White on January 18, 2007

by Tim Gray What is on our brain?

Though, as will soon be apparent, I am hardly an impartial judge, I’ve long maintained that psychology is among the most–if not THE most–influential social science of the past twenty years. Indeed, contra the contentions of many Media Studies partisans, it’s emerging as the discipline poised to unite and synthesize the various tentative conclusions of its fellow fields, and propose new paths down which we might more profound, if still tentative, truths.

So it’s little wonder that Kahneman and Renshon’s article affords great insight into the processes driving foreign policy. Writing as a soon-to-be-recipient of B.A.s in Political Science and Psychology–and moreover, writing surrounded by silent, studious students of same–Kahneman and Renshon’s arguments here are nothing new, but, presented afresh, remain reliably depressing. This knowledge exists: why do we continue to behave
according to the dictates of our “natural” rationality when we can behave truly rationally?

However valuable their detailed explanations of these inbuilt cognitive biases, however, they do omit what I think might be an important consideration.

From Why Hawks Win:

The effect of [cognitive biases] in conflict situations can be pernicious. A policymaker or diplomat involved in a tense exchange with a foreign government is likely to observe a great deal of hostile behavior by that country’s representatives. Some of that behavior may indeed be the result of deep hostility. But some of it is simply a response to the current situation as it is perceived by the other side.

Kahneman and Renshon are quite correct that the situation is a crucial element in diplomatic decisions—after all, foreign policy plays out as a series of decisions and situations. But I would urge caution in excluding specific dispositional factors, as they (probably purposefully) do.

Now, most theorists of foreign policy, I understand, reject theories grounded in the “psychological.” This is a mistake, born of a misunderstanding—critiques usually train their guns on psychoanalytic interpretations of foreign policy decisions: Hitler had a bad childhood, ergo Hitler tried to conquer Europe and extinguish a “race.” But psychology–especially in the past twenty years–has become so radically different from Freud and Freud’s followers’ dark, gothic, rather literary techniques, and revealed statistic patterns in behavioral traits which might inform our understanding of specific leaders and specific decisions.
John T. Jost
NYU’s John Jost, et al, drew fire from the right several years ago for publishing a study which, it was alleged, “pathologized” political conservatism: their conclusions suggested that certain “motivated cognitions,” such as dogmatism, intolerance of ambiguity, fear of uncertainty etc. give rise to a conservative worldview. Certainly the existence of a “social conservative” voting bloc in the U.S. lends some support to this—faith in God and faith in Our Leader Bush seem strangely similar, do they not? This is why Bush’s approval ratings will never fall below 25-30%: on the bell curves of these motivated cognitions, there’ll always be those to the far right.

Thus, when looking for leadership and competent decision-making, perhaps we should be wary of those whose personalities exhibit troubling tendencies: we might err, and elect someone whose foreign policy decisions reflect perseveration, stubborness, easy certainty and blind faith—be it, for example, in a stable, democratic Middle East, or a benevolent ghost in the sky.

Posted in Bush administration, Conservativism, Daniel Kahnerman, Diplomacy, Foreign Policy, John Jost, Jonathon Renshon, system justification theory | Leave a Comment »

The Fight for the Conservative Soul: Are We on the Cusp of a Two Progressive-Party System?

Posted by K.E. White on January 17, 2007

In the wake of the 2006 election cycle, the Republican Party’s soul is up for grabs.

And the battle to define it may prove to be just as important to the progressive cause as the performance of the new Congress.Michael Gerson

Below you will find sections from deuling articles by Michael Gerson, former chief speech writer of President George W. Bush, and Jurgen Reinhoudt, a research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute.

The lines seem clear: old school conservatives of the Goldwater variety, verses a milder, and seemingly progressive Chafee-sque party cadre–or, far less charitably, of the Podhoretzian neo-conservative ilk.

While a relatively minor war of words, the deeper conversation these passages represent may prove politically–and progressively–profound in the 2008.

From Gerson’s Christmas-day feature in Newsweek:

Campaigning on the size of government in 2008, while opponents talk about health care, education and poverty, will seem, and be, procedural, small-minded, cold and uninspired. The moral stakes are even higher. What does antigovernment conservatism offer to inner-city neighborhoods where violence is common and families are rare? Nothing. What achievement would it contribute to racial healing and the unity of our country? No achievement at all. Anti-government conservatism turns out to be a strange kind of idealism–an idealism that strangles mercy.

But there is another Republican Party–what might be called the party of the governors. It is the party of Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, who has improved the educational performance of minority students and responded effectively to natural disasters. It is the party of Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who mandated basic health insurance while giving subsidies to low-income people. Neither of these men embrace big government; both show convincing outrage at wasteful spending. But they have also succeeded in making government work in essential government roles–not a small thing in a post-Katrina world.

The future of the Republican Party depends on which party it wants to be–the party of purity, or the party of the governors. In that decision, Republicans should consider: any political movement that elevates abstract antigovernment ideology above human needs is hardly conservative, and unlikely to win.

Reinhoudt’s retort–from his article, When Christian Socialists Attack:

Gerson claims he is concerned about compassion and charitable benevolence. If he is, let him look at the glowing dynamism and strength of the American civil society, which is so strong only because the U.S. government (unlike European governments) is still relatively small. The civil society is the social glue that holds a society with individualist economic policies together: it is the informal network of neighborhood associations, churches, charities, and philanthropic institutions that help good causes and those in need. The strength of American civil society, worth more than $260 billion in 2005 (about $500 billion if you include the estimated dollar value of volunteer time), shows us that compassion and human kindness do not vanish in a free-market system…

Gerson writes that small-government conservatism is “a political movement that elevates abstract antigovernment ideology above human needs.” In assuming that human needs will go unmet but for government intervention, Gerson falls victim to an old socialist fallacy. Frederic Bastiat, the great French free-market economist, wrote about this philosophical fallacy in 1850:

Socialism, like the old policy from which it emanates, confounds Government and society. And so, every time we object to a thing being done by Government, it concludes that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of education by the State–then we are against education altogether… We object to an equality which is brought about by the State then we are against equality, etc… They might as well accuse us of wishing men not to eat, because we object to the cultivation of corn by the State.”

Reinhoudt should have given greater focus to the substance of Gerson’s article (the status of American civil society)–he instead opts for stereotypical and superficial views of the American and European welfare states (for those interested, the scholarly work of Jacob Hacker proves quite helpful).

But ideological debates are often immune to such criticims: They view facts through a highly emotional lense, emphasizing the hope for a radical, untested future over today’s imperfect reality.

In either case, this war of words is significant: being long-lasting, and boasting loyal adherents on each side.

Is this a real and consequential Republican divide? Or merely clashing appearances of the same conservative ideology?

Republished from Campus Progress.

Posted in American Enterprise Institute, Michael Gerson, Republican Party | 1 Comment »

Did Israel Punt Peace With Syria Last Summer?

Posted by K.E. White on January 16, 2007

Last summer many of us watched the footage of the most recent military altercation between Lebanon and Israel.

Many have come to see Israel’s decision to escalate the conflict a strategic blunder. Some, considering the fight as a United States-Iran proxy, viewed the episode as another American failure in the Middle East.

Today’s Guardian offers another wrinkle to last summer’s dangerous diplomatic dance: reporting that Israel punted off unofficial peace talks with Syria:

Ha’aretz said the secret meetings were held in Europe and began in September 2004, initiated by the Syrians. The talks involved Alon Liel, a former director general of Israel’s foreign ministry, Geoffrey Aronson, from the Foundation for Middle East Peace, in Washington, and Ibrahim Suleiman, a Syrian businessman living in Washington who is from the same Alawite sect as the Syrian president, Bashar Assad. The group met at least seven times in a European capital, together with a European mediator and sometimes two other Israelis, the paper said…

Ha’aretz quoted the mediator as saying Syria was intent on reaching peace with Israel. “Farouk Shara told me radical Islam constitutes a threat to Syria and that peace is the only way to halt it,” the paper quoted him as saying.

A document was drawn up among the group, dated August 2005, and which covered security, water, borders and normalisation of ties. It said a demilitarised zone would be established on the Golan Heights, along with an early warning ground station on Mount Hermon to be operated by the US. Both sides would then have military zones on their side of the border. Syria would work towards a peaceful solution to problems with Palestinians and in Lebanon and Iran.

However the contacts ended last July, just after the start of the war between Israel and Hizbullah in Lebanon. Ha’aretz said the Syrians had asked for secret official meetings between the two sides and that Israel had refused. It appears the negotiations ended there.

Israel today denied knowledge of the meetings. “This is the first we have heard of the talks. We have never sanctioned anybody to speak to the Syrians and the prime minister first learned of these conversations through the newspaper report this morning,” said an Israeli spokeswoman, Miri Eisin. In Damascus a Syrian foreign ministry official described the newspaper report as “completely false.”

Posted in Diplomacy, Israel, Lebanon, Security Studies, Syria | Leave a Comment »

Blog-on-Blog: Response to the Reliant on Bush’s Troop “Surge”

Posted by K.E. White on January 13, 2007

The Reliant offers a good take on Bush’s plan to deploy more troops in Iraq.

Below are comments from K.E. White, who using the (unfair) advantage of endless comments to respond to the post. They also appear directly on the site.

“As Charles Krauthammer puts it…”

Charles Krauthammer? Okay, okay I might be a bit biased: but Krauthammer as a rational authority on this? He’s the extreme of the extreme, though he has been the most consistent (or irrational depending on your point of view) of the neo-cons.

This article of mine is a bit slanted
, but it does paint the problems of using this guy as a lone support.

“As for the increase in troops – the primary focus of Bush’s address – that recommendation may be a valuable one, but one can’t help but feel that the ideal moment for it has already passed. The increase, indeed, seems like a belated action…”

I completely agree, the “ideal moment” has passed. But I think its valuable to point out why: the American public has flipped flopped on its opinion of the war. Whereas earlier and throughout the 2004 election is supported remaining in Iraq and ignored troublesome signs there, it has now become extremely embittered: with 40% of voters strongly against the venture, an amount that upticks to 60-70% when relaxed to disagree.

“Thus far, policymakers on both sides of the aisle have supported the effort to keep force levels as low as possible in Iraq – which, thus far, has proved counterproductive in the bloody and complex milieu of Iraqi insurgency and counterinsurgency.”

When you evoke “policymakers on both sides” I become a bit suspicious. Weren’t these policy makers simply following the cue of President Bush? John McCain has consistently supported more troops, but was Congress really going to tell the President the proper level of troops, or pull for an increase? Doubtful: that is without the recent foreign policy maelstrom–increasing sectarian violence in Iraq brining about a highly critical Iraq Study Group Report and a sweeping ’06 election cycle.

When it came to troop levels it was Bush’s call: until the ’06 elections there was not the public pull for Congress to weigh in, as it now is (yes, albeit too late for rational policy making, a common weakness of Congressional warpowers).

But I would lay blame squarely on Bush, not “policymakers on both sides of the aisle.”

But if you are endorsing smarter and more active Congressional oversight (lacks for decades), we find ourselves in total agreement.

“If these additional troops are deployed – in the right places, for the right reasons, and with the right attention to reconciliation efforts within Iraq – there is reason to hope that they will prove a key part of securing democracy for the Iraqi people.”

Perhaps, perhaps not. General Petraeus (have you or could you do a bio on this guy?), from all reports, seems to be the right guy for the job. But does he have the proper tools? What I find interesting is that Bush did not take Frederick Kagan’s advice on troops numbers–same or virtually same brigade number, but far less troops.

Bush should have done this earlier: having lost public support, even if this policy is effective it will not survive any short term difficulties.

But on the main point, we both seem to share the same sentiment: solidifying the Iraqi government would be better than all-out civil war (or, depending on your point of view, terrorist feed sectarian violence) in Iraq.

I hope for success, but have little faith in the strategic judgement of this administration.

Posted in Bush administration, Congress, Diplomacy, Iran, Iraq, Iraq Study Group, John McCain, Reliant, Syria, Terrorism, Wartime Powers, WMD | 4 Comments »

The U.S.-India Nuclear Deal and Japan: A Frenzy of Misreporting and India’s Nuclear Achilles’ Heel

Posted by K.E. White on January 13, 2007

Indian officials led by Shyam Saran (pictured below) are meeting with their Japanese counterparts to resolve Japanese concerns over U.S. India Nuclear Deal.

Shyam Saran, India's Chief Nuclear Envoy

The deal was approved by the U.S. Congress during the last lame duck session, and signed by President Bush on December 18, 2006.

But it seems the media has had no idea where Japan actually stands.

Proliferation Press reviews the conflicting reports on Japan’s stance toward the U.S.-India deal and India’s nuclear status: finding that neither Japan nor India has shifted their nuclear benchmarks.

The real fight is not over recognizing India as a nuclear state or over the U.S.-India nuclear deal. Instead, it is the same question that has dogged the deal from the beginning: India’s refusal to submit to a prohibition on nuclear testing.

And it seems this refusal might derail the US-India nuclear deal: whether by the hand of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) which still has to approve the deal, or by India simply abandoning the deal.

From The Hindu:

With Japan’s reservations over India’s civil nuclear ambitions persisting, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy Shyam Saran will travel there on Saturday to make an effort to bring Tokyo around.

Saran will hold talks with Japanese leadership and lobby for support of the key member of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), sources told PTI here today.

The Hindu considers this a shift in Japanese policy:

Japan, the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack, had about a month back indicated softening of stand when it agreed to engage in discussions with India on the nuclear issue.

But other news reports suggest Japan ready to recognize India as a recognized nuclear state, joining the elite group of the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China.

From The Peninsula:

Japan will recognise India as a nuclear power even though the South Asian nation is not a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) , a report said yesterday. Japan would treat India as an exception to the steadfast nonproliferation principle as Tokyo wants to let Japanese firms participate in projects such as the construction of nuclear power stations in India, the Yomiuri Shimbun said.

This Japanese endorsement not only of the nuclear deal, but also India’s nuclear status was repeated in India Times:

Japan will recognise India as a nuclear power even though the South Asian nation is not a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, a report said Wednesday.

Japan would treat India as an exception to the steadfast nonproliferation principle as Tokyo wants to let Japanese firms participate in projects such as the construction of nuclear power stations in India, the Yomiuri Shimbun said. The Japanese government is trying to arrange a visit to India by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this year, the Yomiuri said.

But the Associated Press quashed this report yesterday:

Japan refused on Wednesday to acknowledge India as a legitimate nuclear weapons state and demanded that it join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.Yasuhisa Shiozaki

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki also urged India to drop its nuclear arms, denying a newspaper report Wednesday that Tokyo was thinking of accepting India’s possession of such weapons.

“Japan and the global community have valued the international system of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation based on the NPT,” he said. “We’ll continue to seek the admission of India into the NPT as a nonnuclear weapons state.” Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna declined comment.

But it seems Japan will not block the the actual nuclear deal between America and India, according to Pakistan’s Daily Times:

Japan has no plans to recognise India as a nuclear power but will refer to a US law allowing the sale of nuclear fuel and reactors to India to shape its strategy, the Japanese government’s top spokesman said on Wednesday.

Such recognition would enable Japanese companies to participate in construction of nuclear power stations in India, Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper said earlier in a report on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to visit India later this year.

Shyam Saran, India’s Special Nuclear Envoy, signaled India’s willingess to abandon the deal:

“Can we walk away from this deal if it does not correspond to our national interest? Obviously we have to walk away from this and we will walk away from it,” Saran was quoted by news agency Reuters as saying.

But what’s the real fight over?

The extent India is willing to agree to international prohibitions on its nuclear program, particularly over nuclear testing:

Outlining major elements of concern that require to be dealt with in ongoing negotiations for the 123 agreement, Saran said the most critical were the issue of reprocessing of spent fuel, and India’s insistence that the unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing not be converted into a binding, legal commitment.

Now the 123 agreement is part of the US legislation, but is emerging as a key part of the Nuclear Suppliers Group’s–an international body that must approve the deal–bright lines:Yasukuni Enoki

“This NPT+Regime is only for India, not for North Korea or Iran. Once this regime is agreed (upon) and the NSG approves this, India will be allowed full access to nuclear fuel and nuclear technology,” Japanese Ambassador to India Yasukuni Enoki said during a panel discussion ‘Towards India-Japan Strategic and Global Partnership’ here.

What will come out of the ongoing nuclear talks between Japan and India is not yet known. But if India continues its push for unbridled nuclear status, it will face serious challenges in getting international approval for the US-India nuclear deal.

And with any de jure recognition of its nuclear status.

Posted in Diplomacy, India, Proliferation News, Shyam Saran, WMD, Yasuhisa Shiozaki, Yasukuni Enoki | Leave a Comment »