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One less department

In other depressing academic-job-market-related news, Wisconsin Lutheran College has apparently decided to eliminate its entire Political Science department. Indeed, they appear to be removing Political Science entirely from their list of offerings:

[A spokeswoman] noted that current majors will be able to take political science at other colleges in the area, at Wisconsin Lutheran’s expense. And she said that the college determined it wasn’t necessary to its liberal arts mission to offer political science. “We have interdisciplinary majors and other majors that can get you where you are going with your career and aspirations, whether it’s law school or whatever after your undergraduate degree,” she said.

Even though Wisconsin Lutheran College was probably not at the top of many people’s list of dream academic jobs (it may have been for some, but a college that — according to its mission statement — “integrates God’s truths into every discipline, helping students relate their faith to life in today’s world” is probably appealing to a very specialized segment of the professoriate), and even though it doesn’t grant tenure, the elimination of the two full-time jobs formerly in the Political Science department places some small increased pressure on other positions around the country.

But what’s really striking here is less the minor impact on the job market caused by the disappearance of these two positions, and more the general point made by the college’s determination that a Political Science department is not necessary to its “liberal arts mission.” Speaking as a card-carrying political scientist, I have to agree: a department of Political Science, which would have to be plugged into the contemporary discipline of Political Science, is not a particularly essential part of a liberal arts education. I maintain this despite basically agreeing with Michael Brintnall, the Executive Director of the American Political Science Association, who commented of the study of politics:

“It would be thought to be a central component of a liberal arts education. . . . The subject matter is too central to civic life and understanding where we are going in the world to not offer the content.”

The problem is that the contemporary discipline of Political Science doesn’t really do any of these things; it doesn’t promote civic awareness, doesn’t really offer undergraduates much in the way of helping them understand the world, and is a lot less concerned with any content at all than it is with increasingly narrow measurement criteria and abstruse quantitative techniques.

Put yourself in the position of the administrator of a small religiously-affiliated college for a moment. You’re facing a $3 million budget shortfall, and you have to cut an academic department. Now, if you try to get rid of one of the natural sciences, the public backlash is likely to be tremendous: whatever the economic situation, the press would not be able to get past the juicy headline “Christian College Opposed to Science.” Similarly, eliminating one of the humanities departments would likely provoke charges of cultural puritanism. So the safest bet is to eliminate one of the social sciences, since none of them have an overarching philosophy that might look like the real target of any such move.

Now, consider that in order to staff a department, one is in important ways beholden to the relevant academic discipline. This happens in at least two ways. First, the majority of easily reachable job candidates for a department are those that have been professionally trained — meaning: have earned a PhD in — the relevant academic discipline. (Full disclosure: one of the two full-time positions in the Political Science department at Wisconsin Lutheran College which was apparently occupied by someone without a PhD; the other held a PhD in Political Science.) That’s because of the tight coupling between disciplines and departments: people trained in and socialized into a discipline recognize other members of their tribe more easily, so political scientists hire other political scientists, while sociologists hire sociologists, etc. Job markets are also organized by discipline, by and large; when a Political Science department lists a job, it uses APSA’s e-jobs service, which is read by — no surprise here — political scientists.

But staffing a department is only half of the issue. Once people are hired, they also have to figure out what to assign to their students; for that purpose, they need books and articles. Naturally, people want to assign the current, contemporary research in their field if they can, but not only does that not say much about civic engagement or the future of the political landscape, but it doesn’t even say what it does say in a way that is particularly accessible to undergraduate students. “The Role of Parties’ Past Behavior in Coalition Formation,” to pick just one of the articles from the most recent issue of the American Political Science Review, doesn’t exactly sound like a page-turner. And yes, I know full well that other disciplines also have a dichotomy between their contemporary research and the kinds of things that one assigns to undergraduates, but the gulf is particularly pronounced in contemporary Political Science. (At least Anthropology and Sociology have classics that can be profitably read by undergraduates; once one gets outside of the social sciences, the humanities have works of art and literature, and the natural sciences have textbooks and laboratories.) I remember serving as a TA for an American politics class while in grad school; the professor told a lot of stories about how actual politics worked, but the reading material talked about such scintillating topics as fire-alarms versus trip-wires in governmental oversight regimes. So the students, not surprisingly, ignored the reading and listened to the stories.

I think the students were on the right track. If one wants to actually do much serious thinking about civic life and one’s individual responsibility within it, one would be well-advised to stay as far away from the last several decades of Political Science scholarship as possible. Undergraduate education in politics shouldn’t be about learning how to solve extensive-form games; it should be about learning how government works. But contemporary Political Science isn’t much help to that task. This implies that if we want students to come to articulate their own sense of civic engagement, we ought not send them to the Political Science department, but could achieve the same effect by sending them elsewhere. And to make matters worse, people trained in Political Science probably aren’t likely to know how to facilitate this for undergraduates, which further undermines the need for a Political Science department in a liberal arts college.

Now, I’m not saying that every liberal arts college ought to go around eliminating its Political Science department. (In fact, Political Science departments at most liberal arts colleges I know are actually quite far removed from the mainstream of the discipline; I don’t think this is an accident.) But I am saying that the decision makes a certain amount of sense, since the discipline of Political Science is so far away from the goals of a liberal arts undergraduate education. And that’s too bad — bad for Political Science, not bad for the liberal arts.


Random thought

When are we going to come to the collective decision that there’s almost no rationale that justifies keepinging chimps in zoos?

Perpetual Hiring Difficulties

For any students out there who aspire to graduate education to launch a career in this discipline, allow me to offer the one bit of advice that no one wants to tell you: Don’t. I really hate to be the one who rains on the parade, but the stark reality is that the Academy is a collapsing profession–while we seem to be producing more and more PhD’s, the academy has fewer and fewer jobs to ply the trade of “academic.” We don’t appreciate or really recognize the contributions of those operating outside the university / peer reviewed journal realm, and yet that’s where more and more of our students are going to end up.

The economy’s collapse hasn’t helped things at all. The NYT reports today that graduating PhD’s are facing incredibly tough times:

“This is a year of no jobs,” said Catherine Stimpson, the dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at New York University. Ph.D.s are stacked up, she said, “like planes hovering over La Guardia.”

They may find a post-doc here or a temporary / adjunct position there, but I can pretty much guarantee you that these disappearing jobs won’t come back as fast as we can flood the market with more graduates.

Andrew Delbanco, the chairman of the American studies program at Columbia University, said that the system producing graduate students was increasingly out of sync with the system hiring them.

“It’s been obvious for some time — witness the unionization movement — that graduate students are caught between the old model of apprentice scholars and the new reality of insecure laborers with uncertain employment prospects,” Mr. Delbanco said. “Among the effects of the financial crisis will clearly be shrinkage both in graduate fellowships and in entry-level academic positions, so the prospects for aspiring Ph.D.’s are getting even bleaker….”

Many students now finishing their doctorates began working on them when the economy was in much better shape. It often takes about nine years to complete a dissertation in English, said Louis Menand, an English professor at Harvard, explaining that students have to devote so many hours to teaching and making money that they don’t have time left over to write.

William Pannapacker, an associate professor of English at Hope College in Holland, Mich., who writes a column for The Chronicle of Higher Education under the name Thomas Benton, has frequently tried to dissuade undergraduates from pursuing a graduate degree in the humanities. He is convinced that the recession will push universities to trim the number of tenure-track jobs further.

“It’s hard to tell young people that universities recognize that their idealism and energy — and lack of information — are an exploitable resource,” he wrote in a recent column. “If you cannot find a tenure-track position, your university will no longer court you; it will pretend you do not exist and will act as if your unemployability is entirely your fault.”

Unless you are independently wealthy or really well connected, don’t apply, he advised.

At ISA this year, much of the conversation was about how the budge crunch was impacting everyone’s department. I heard about departments where they let go all the non-tenure line faculty, departments where people had to take pay-cuts, departments where classes were cut, job searches canceled, and candidates going on interviews only to have searches canceled before an offer could be made. In IR, we’re about to have a glut of 2 to 3 year’s worth of top graduates on the market unable to find jobs. They aren’t there.

As a profession, we need to really reflect on our place in the world and perhaps find a way to get these people the jobs they need to survive, while at the same time not alienating them from the profession.

So, if you’re thinking about getting a PhD– don’t. And after all that, if you still want to, be forewarned, this is what you’re up against.

Haven’t they filled the protocol positions yet?

Most of the time I look at the Obama Administration and think, with much relief, how nice it is to have grownups back in charge. When it comes to diplomatic protocol, however, the last few days have been pretty much amateur hour.

At least the Russians took State’s SNAFU with a bit more humor. Sue Plemming of Reuters:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a red “reset button” to symbolise improved ties, but the gift drew smiles as the word “reset” was mistranslated into the Russian for “overcharge”.

“I would like to present you with a little gift that represents what President Obama and Vice President Biden and I have been saying and that is: ‘We want to reset our relationship and so we will do it together,” said Clinton, presenting Lavrov with a palm-sized yellow box with a red button.

Clinton joked to Lavrov: “We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?”

“You got it wrong,” said Lavrov, smiling as the two pushed the reset button together before dinner at a Geneva hotel.

He told Clinton the word “Peregruzka” meant “overcharge”, to which Clinton replied: “We won’t let you do that to us.”

“We mean it and we look forward to it,” she said of “resetting” the relationship, a phrase that Joe Biden first used at a security conference in Munich.

Lavrov said he would put the gift on his desk.

I expect that Obama will find a way to make up for the DVDs and model helicopters. If his team starts sending key-shaped cakes (or any kind of cake, really) to Iran, though, then it will really be time to worry.

(H/t to Mark Safranski, who was right while I was wrong)

Middle Cyclone

Although we just got the CD yesterday, I’d been listening to Neko Case’s new album (currently #2 in music on Amazon) pretty much non-stop via NPR for a bit. Quick and dirty: not as consistently good as Blacklisted, but an excellent album nonetheless.

Noel Murray’s review pretty much nails it, but Jon Pareles’ review in the New York Times deserves a quotation:

On the surface Ms. Case’s songs qualify as alt-country or Americana. The production often harks back to 1960s and ’70s rock, backing her concise melody lines with finger-picked acoustic guitars or twang and reverb. But surreal, unexpected sounds — echoes, voices, noise — well up within those arrangements. Her version of Harry Nilsson’s whimsically fatalistic “Don’t Forget Me” becomes a lofty expanse of choral voices and multiple pianos.

Her own songs melt down structures. Instead of fixed verses or choruses there are two-chord patterns that run as long as Ms. Case wants, or as short; they might add or subtract a beat, suddenly switch chords or support an entirely new tune in mid-song. Subliminally that rhapsodic approach keeps the songs off balance and suspenseful, ready for every possibility of disaster or exaltation.

If you haven’t joined the Cult of Case, this album is a pretty damn decent introduction to its rewards.

And there’s also a promotional “making of” video to watch.

IPE in the USA

Get thee over to The Monkey Cage. Once there, read Henry’s summary of the debate in the current issue of the Review of International Political Economy concerning US IPE monoculture.

The thematic issue, which has been in the works for quite some time, could not have come at a better moment.

With the discipline of Economics shaken by the irrelevance of much of their work to recent events, I have to wonder if, and when, those who have designed IPE with the goal of emulating the dismal science will make more of an effort to open their subfield to the benefits of intellectual heterodoxy.

The end of the era of central bankers?

If I were to speculate on what circumstances might lead to a significant curtailment of central bank autonomy in the United States, I imagine I would come up with a scenario that looks something like this one. If Josh Marshall’s informant is right, it might be pitchfork time for the Federal Reserve:

Josh, your reporting on the AIG credit default swap/counterparties issue has been spot-on. But to understand what happened there, you have to understand the Fed’s “Maiden Lane” vehicles and how it’s used them to avoid what Congress intended with TARP, which was the real story that came out of Dodd’s hearing on the AIG mess today. And the roots of it go back to the Bear Stearns rescue last year.

Image source:

ICC Issues Arrest Warrant for Bashir, But Not For Genocide

When Foreign Policy’s Morning Brief hit my inbox today, the top story was the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for President Omar Bashir of the Sudan.

FP’s header gets the charges wrong, however – Bashir is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, but not with genocide. The distinction is legally and politically significant – crimes against humanity include a host of horrible acts, when widespread and/or carried out systematically against a civilian population.

Genocide, however, is a crime not against individual civilians but against certain groups and requires a finding that the perpetrator carried out a series of acts with the express intent to wipe out not particular people but the group itself. Note the exact language the prosecutor had to work with, borrowed from the 1948 Genocide Convention and spelled out in Article 6 of the Rome Statute:

“For the purpose of this Statute, ‘genocide’ means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

This is a tall order, not only because the definition of what exactly constitutes a “group” is often ambiguous, but because even if the above acts have occurred, and even if they can be linked to the political leadership, those leaders are seldom careless enough to leave paper trails demonstrating the acts were carried out with intent to destroy the group as such.

This explains why there have been only a handful of convictions for genocide in the history of international war crimes tribunals.

In political terms, this is likely to be an unpopular decision – the colloquial use of the term “genocide” as a referent to Darfur, by diplomats and activists, has overshadowed the legal meaning of the term for several years, and many people view crimes against humanity as a lesser charge (though in my mind, systematic rape and slaughter is plenty bad even when there’s no intent to wipe out a whole group). But in legal and institutional terms, the absence of genocide from the charges is a no-brainer: as a new institution, the ICC prosecutor has an interest in making a case he thinks he can win. Whether or not this is a good decision politically is about to be a huge subject of debate – see for example Kevin Jon Heller’s reactions – but let’s remember, the ICC is a legal, not a political institution. In theory.

UPDATE: Not long after I posted this (or perhaps even before I did), Foreign Policy had made a correction – the actual website now shows “crimes against humanity” as the charge.

Iran’s bomb

Yesterday, Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN interviewer John King that he thinks Iran has enough fissile material to make a nuclear bomb. He said:

“We think they do, quite frankly.”

Meanwhile, on NBC, Defense Secretary Robert Gates apparently said the opposite:

“They’re not close to a stockpile, they’re not close to a weapon at this point

Politico noted the discrepancy.

What’s going on here?

The LA Times story about the interviews mentions a recent IAEA report finding that Iran has a bit more than a ton of “enriched uranium.” Additionally, the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control estimates that Iran actually had enough of this particular “low enriched uranium” to make a bomb by December 2008 and will have enough for a second one in October 2009.

As Mark Kleiman clarifies on his blog, however, low enriched uranium is not the same substance as highly enriched uranium (HEU), which is the weapons-grade material needed to make a bomb (without plutonium anyway).

In his 2005 Nuclear Terrorism book Graham Allison explained (see pp. 99-100) that it would take a substantial effort using a cascade of 1500 centrifuges operating for about one year to yield the 35 to 100 pounds of HEU that a state would need to manufacture a single nuclear bomb. The state needs the smaller amount only if it has mastered the technology and developed a beryllium reflector. Otherwise, it needs the larger amount.

Iran currently has close to 4000 centrifuges operating at the Natanz facility (and is heading to 6000), which means they could theoretically create HEU in months. However, the IAEA and the world would notice that kind of enrichment — at least at Natanz.

Granted, the technical barriers to an Iranian bomb are falling, but some stories about Mullen’s remarks definitely make it sound as if Iran has made a political decision to construct a bomb. After all, this is the sentence following the one I quoted above:

And Iran having a nuclear weapon I’ve believed for a long time is a very, very bad outcome for the region and for the world.”

Yet, there’s no publicly available evidence that Iran has moved to make a bomb.

The late 2007 NIE said

We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.

My blog post from that time quoted additional skepticism from the NIE.

Arms Control Wonk has been complaining about the panicked reporting on Iran’s technical achievements for some time.

The different apparent messages from Gates and Mullen certainly suggest that the administration is not trying to sell an Iran war to the American public. Or, if they are, they’re not as good at it as the Bush people were.


Its winter wonderland blogging from DC! It looks like we’ve got about 6 inches of snow on the ground so far, and its still falling. The University is on a delayed opening, so my morning class is canceled, leaving some time for NSC blogging.

Late last week, the Obama NSC released NSPD-1, the traditional presidential order structuring the National Security Council membership, committees, and operating procedures. As was promised, Obama has significantly expanded the NSC membership, inviting the Attorney General, secretaries of Energy and Homeland Security, and Ambassador to the UN as standing members. The directive also reformulates the inter-agency committees / working groups that serve to formulate and coordinate policy at the working level, leaving the NSC in charge of these. The net effect is further centralization of the policy process through the White House, continuing a longstanding trend in the management of US foreign policy. Presidents since Kennedy have used the NSC to try to tame the bureaucracy, with varying results. The NSC, however, has always ended up accruing power at the expense of the agencies.

You can read the full NSPD-1 as a PDF here.

The big winners? Jim Jones is now in the catbird seat, poised to become one of the most consequential National Security Advisers in a generation. The White House policy coordinating apparatus is strengthened. The WH Counselor can attend any meeting. The US Ambassador to the UN gets a significantly increased profile—from sub-cabinet to full cabinet—and the Energy Department has a new-found seat at the table. The NEC, as if he didn’t have enough to deal with already, also gets a prominent seat at the table.

The losers? State, which had been the default chair department for working-level groups loses that privilege to the NSC. The Homeland Security apparatus also loses, as many of its responsibilities are folded into the NSC.

Again, as I argued earlier, this matters significantly in that all our decision-making theories of foreign policy clearly show that the decision-making process a president uses significantly shapes policy. As SecDef Gates said over the weekend, Obama already has a markedly different style from Bush, he’s much more “analytical,” and calls on people to make sure all views are heard in a meeting. Obama’s emerging style might prevent the breakdown of the inter-agency process under Bush, where one agency could end-run another, and dissenting views vanished into the ether. Obviously its unwise to make concrete predictions based on one document (as events have a way of overtaking the best-laid plans), but this key document does give a powerful glimpse into the inner-workings of the Obama Administration.

Laws of War and First Person Shooters

Cleitus the Black has an amusing post up at Elected Swineherd about parents who ask their children to honor the Geneva Conventions while playing violent video games such as Call of Duty. According to MSNBC:

“Evan Spencer wanted to play ‘Call of Duty: World at War.’ So he asked his dad. Hugh Spencer wasn’t initially thrilled about the idea of his son playing the World War II-based game. “I’ve never really enjoyed first-person shooter games,” he confesses. “They’re just not my favorite aesthetic.” But the elder Spencer agreed to his son’s request, on one condition: Evan would have to read all four treaties from the Geneva Conventions first. And then, agree to play by those rules.”

Says Cleitus:

“This kid’s parents think they’re being responsible; in fact, they’re merely showcasing their ignorance. Despite the minor fact that the majority of the Geneva Conventions did not exist in World War II… it’s quite impossible to break any Geneva Conventions in the game: characters have no chance to torture, execute prisoners, or launch attacks against civilian populations, although they get to witness those acts in graphic cinematic sequences.

The scoundrel’s only possible chance to tread a fine line is to fire a finishing shot into an already mortally wounded opponent; and this would probably be justified by the fact that many of those opponents will planning to make a “last stand” attack where they draw a pistol and blaze away until they run out of ammunition, or until they get shot again.

Gory and realistic though this game is, it’s hardly an educational training ground for learning the nuances of International Humanitarian Law. What it really represents is an opportunity for out-of-shape American youth to exercise their bloodlust without endangering themselves. If young Evan Spencer really wants to learn something about war, there’s plenty of hot-spots in the world where another teenage meat-puppet could make themselves useful as a bullet sponge.”

Spot on analysis of the gap between intention and reality with respect to this particular instance, but but I think the bigger question is: why don’t gaming companies build rulesets into first-person shooters that force players to acknowledge, consider and choose whether to break or follow basic just war rules?

Some quasi answers that lead to more questions:

1) The absence of a corporate social responsibility movement for the gaming industry. But how do we explain this? Beats me.

2) The fact that the International Committee of the Red Cross is not behind the idea – in fact it once sued a Canadian gaming company for incorporating the red cross symbol into the game. Again, why? Ostensibly concerns over the use of the emblem. But given that the ICRC’s mandate includes disseminating humanitarian law through everything from films to circus skits in the Sudan, this strikes me as another great mystery of our times – one might even say international law run amuck.

Still, one could build an ethics incentive structure into first person shooters without using the emblem, and one could even imagine pressing political reasons to do so. Enhancing US combat personnel’s law of war training while deployed in the field would seem like such a reason, since US national security presumably now depends on rebuilding failed states abroad. One marvels therefore that the US military, while aiming to succeed at “military operations other than war” still allows its off-duty combat personnel to rest and relax with games that simulate, at best, situations of high intensity conflict. We are not only missing a chance to use first person shooters to disseminate and train in the rules of war, but probably training soldiers in precisely the opposite skills.

Human Rights and Foreign Policy

At ISA, I had the pleasure to share a panel with Alison Brysk, whose new book Global Good Samaritans was hot off the presses. I just went through my copy and wanted to offer a few off the cuff reactions.

Brysk’s key contribution is to focus on positive cases – cases where human rights policies have been enacted by states (primarily middle or weak powers: her case studies include Canada, Sweden, Costa Rica, South Africa, the Netherlands and Japan) and have succeeded . Her key goal is to understand why states sacrifice their national interests (resources and citizens’ lives) to help others abroad and her argument is simple: “They don’t.” Instead, such states see “humanitarian internationalism” as constitutive of their national interests. The book is about how they make this calculation. As such it is a helpful (and hopeful) antidote to much of the cynical handwringing characterizing so much human rights scholarship, precisely because that literature has been dominated by analyses of the hypocrisy of US foreign policy.

I shall leave aside discussion of methodological issues; Brysk acknowledges that the empirics are preliminary and she has intentionally left targets for graduate students who will no doubt be avid consumers of her work. But I do have two other comments:

First, though the optimism of her book is refreshing, I’m reminded of McCain’s campaign slogan “hope is not a foreign policy agenda.” I think in building her comparison of the political cultures of these countries with the U.S., Brysk glosses over the ways in which these powers fail on human rights, and the social movements criticizing them. Sweden may “set the gold standard” for human rights prootion abroad, but has a less than glowing record with respect to its indigenous Sami population. Canada may have championed the Kimberly Process but their own “clean diamond” industry comes perilously close to violating aboriginal rights. (I am also reminded of 2000, when I attended the Winnipeg Conference on War-Affected Children, and had to push my way through a massive protest against the activities of Canada’s Talisman oil company in the Sudan in order to get inside where the foreign ministers were setting the human security agenda.)

Seemingly, human rights are what states make of them. Brysk’s case studies would be somewhat more nuanced if they took a more critical look at the paradoxes of domestic human rights political cultures.

As a scholar of advocacy networks however, the chapter I found most interesting was the chapter on “coalitions of the caring.” Brysk emphasizes not NGO networks, but interstate human rights networks – an extremely useful descriptive supplement to the literature on TANs. I wonder, however, if she is not also unduly reifying a distinction between the state and non-state layers of civil society, which are actually pretty blurry. If you map out the “human rights” or “human security” network using various indicators of network ties, you find both interstate organizaitons like the OSCE, or interstate networks like the Human Security Network, as nodes among others that include NGOs but also thinktanks, foundations, news hubs, and UN specialized agencies. I think what we need is an understanding of human rights networks that helps us look past the state/non-state distinction, actually, and look at structural relations between network nodes whatever they be. A paper I heard at ISA by David Davis his collaborators makes this point exactly, as does Wendy Wong’s work.

Iraq: the light at the end of the tunnel

We’re just a few weeks from the 6th anniversary of the Iraq war — but the end is now clearly in sight. President Obama, earlier today:

Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.

Even better, as Obama told U.S. troops: “mission [kinda] accomplished.”

We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime – and you got the job done. We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government – and you got the job done. And we will leave the Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to live a better life – that is your achievement; that is the prospect that you have made possible.

In other portions of the speech, Obama described the circumstances that would justify the use of American military power in the future.

He didn’t acknowledge being limited by an “Iraq syndrome,” but he did suggest relative restraint:

as long as I am your Commander-in-Chief, I promise you that I will only send you into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary, and provide you with the equipment and support you need to get the job done.

Right now, the White House reportedly says that the US will leave 35 to 50,000 troops in Iraq after combat troops are removed. I haven’t heard just how many private military forces will remain.

Another ambiguity: Obama has not fully renounced the Bush Doctrine.

If he had been elected president, Joe Biden apparently would have made his opposition quite clear. But Obama perhaps wishes to benefit from ambiguity (a threat that leaves something to chance?) — and that may well be the pragmatic route.

Political theory vs. political science

My Theories of International Relations course spent this week discussing Rousseau, a theorist whose relevance to international relations is a little unclear at first glance. Hobbes and Locke have been — if badly — imported into the canon of IR theory, largely through the use of their definitions of the state of nature as accounts of the international system. Individuals in Hobbes’ state of nature, famously, lead lives that are “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short,” as they are perpetually on guard against someone else’s killing them; IR realists often use this as a description of the relations between sovereign states, notwithstanding Hobbes’ own contrary thoughts on the matter of relations between states. Locke’s state of nature, by contrast, shows up in IR liberals’ account of the international system as primarily characterized by a global commitment problem; individuals for Locke, and states for IR liberals, are rational enough entities to adhere to their contractual agreements unprompted as long as they benefit from those agreements, and problems only arise when benefits are unclear or the terms of the contract itself has to be adjudicated.

I could go on elucidating the parallel, but the point is that Hobbes and Locke have some claim to being included on an IR theory syllabus because of this (mis)appropriation of their thought by contemporary IR scholars. Rousseau is another case, since as far as I know no one uses Rousseau’s account of the state of nature to describe the international system; even Alex Wendt’s tripartite updating of views of the international system uses Kant, not Rousseau, as the alternative to Hobbes and Locke. So what are we to make of poor Rousseau, with his concerns about popular sovereignty and the problem of how to preserve the natural liberty of individuals under conditions of modern social life?

Imagine my surprise, then, when this month’s chosen article for our faculty-and-PhD-student IR theory reading group here on campus — the lead article in the 2009 issue of International Organization, co-authored by none other than chart-topping influential scholar of IR Robert O. Keohane — turned out to contain precisely the kind of reflection that would have been strengthened by a dose of Rousseau. I say “would have been” because, sadly, Rousseau is nowhere in evidence in the piece. Instead, we are treated to a somewhat stilted conceptual discussion about aspects of democracy, a discussion which then abruptly turns into a set of testable hypotheses about the correlation between the public’s attentiveness to an issue and the extent to which the issue is governed by a multilateral international organization. The problem here is that these two tasks — philosophical reflection on the character of democracy and the testing of hypothetical claims about how an issue-area is governed globally — have basically nothing to do with one another. This makes it doubly odd that Rousseau doesn’t show up, since Rousseau is very clear on the difference between an exercise in philosophical legitimation and a concrete, empirical study of some specific issue or society. Keohane to the contrary, whether some institution is democratic or not is not an empirical question, and no amount of empirical research will even in principle put an end to the philosophical question of whether some institution is democratic or not. Rousseau knew this; it’s too bad that Keohane, and most of the rest of the IR field, has forgotten it.

The central puzzle in the IO article concerns what is sometimes called the “democratic deficit” displayed by international organizations. Unlike a state government, the traditional argument runs, which is directly accountable to their public and which can be directly influenced by the public’s actions, international organizations are distant from the public and for the most part insulated from popular agitation. The people can’t vote on what the IMF or the WTO or various organs of the UN do, which makes those institutions look “undemocratic” if by democratic we mean repsponsive to the people’s moment-to-moment express wishes. Keohane and his co-authors argue that participation is actually only one component of democracy, and that participation is not even the most important component; combating special interests, protection minority rights, and encouraging collective deliberation are, if anything, more important components of democratic practice. They call this “constitutional democracy,” and suggest that the basic idea is that popular rule can be enhanced by “complex procedural requirements” (p. 9). They are obviously not the first to suggest this, and James Madison shows up fairly often in the piece, along with more modern constitutional liberals like Robert Dahl or E. E. Schattschneider. The novelty here is extending the argument beyond the boundaries of the sovereign territorial state, and suggesting that multilateral international organizations, although relatively immunized from direct popular participation, can be likewise constitutionally democratic.

Here’s the first place where Rousseau might have been helpful. On p. 15, the authors make the following rather convoluted series of claims:

While constitutional democracy in our conception emphatically does not imply that the government should act as the majority prefers at any given time (that is, it is not government by poll or plebiscite) the essence of democracy is that in the long run, after due deliberation, the people rule. It would therefore be undemocratic for an elite multilateral institution, cosmopolitan and working in what its members considered the good of all, to override repeated demonstrations of informed, rights-regarding, fairly represented popular will. This would be benign technocracy, perhaps, but not democracy.

What is convoluted here is that the authors seem to lack a solid grounding for the argument that something insulated from direct public participation can nonetheless represent rule by the people; as a result, they have to blur the boundaries by suggesting that an institution can prove its democratic character by being responsive, at least in the long run, to what the people claim to want. But this, in turn, means that the only difference between a constitutional institution and a regular one is that the constitutional institution is somewhat slower to respond — and the qualitative distinction between constitutional democracy and participatory democracy collapses. One might easily imagine any given popular movement calling for greater “democracy” when facing a multilateral international organization, being told that the organization is looking after long-run interests, and replying by simply insisting that the timeline be accelerated and the institution conform to the public expression of its will in the moment, because there is no significant or fundamental difference between responding to the people’s declared wishes now or in a few months/years. And Keohane and his coauthors explicitly reject the argument that it is sufficient for an organization to be acting in the people’s actual interests even if the people don’t know what those interests are; democracy, it appears, can mean nothing but doing what the people say that they want.

Enter Rousseau, who famously distinguishes between the sovereign and the government: the sovereign is the people assembled as a whole, whereas the government is what the sovereign establishes in order to handle day-to-day business. The sovereign, so to speak, only acts constitutionally, establishing the rules of the game and the parameters for governing; actual ruling is carried out by the government, which has to remain within the parameters established by the sovereign (which speaks with the General Will as opposed to any particular interest — indeed, as opposed to the “will of all,” i.e. what everyone says that they want at any given moment). The government derives its mandate and its authority from the act of collective, or general, will, and what makes it “democratic” is not whether it is at all responsive to the people at any given moment, but whether it is adhering to the constitutional mandate that it was given at the outset. If the people want to re-do that mandate, Rousseau suggests, all they have to do is to assemble as the sovereign, and the government automatically disbands because its jurisdiction ceases; then the sovereign can establish a new constitution and government, complete with “censorial tribunals” and other mechanisms designed to prevent the government from getting too far away from the constitution.

My point here is not that Rousseau is necessarily correct about any of this. In particular, there is a key ambiguity involving how one ascertains whether an expression of will is truly general and hence constitutional, as well as a particularly thorny problem involving the relationship of a general will to standards established by other groups of people or to claims about universally valid norms. Instead, my point is that introducing Rousseau into the discussion would help to clarify the issues involved — if the authority of a multilateral international organization can be traced to a constitutional document or expression of a general will, that puts a different spin on the whole debate. But no Rousseau in the article means no considerations of this sort, so we are left with a bit of a conceptual muddle.

The other thing that Rousseau does for the discussion is that he makes it clear that discussions about democratic legitimacy are philosophical discussions, not empirical ones. It is clearly not a realistic expectation that a government would disband simply because the people showed up as a unit and told it to disband; that said, Rousseau’s point is not that this is a feasible empirical scenario, but that the jurisdiction of the government ceases when the people assemble as the sovereign — if it remains in power, it does so by sheer force of arms, deprived of the legitimacy it enjoyed when it was operating under a popular constitution. Rousseau is not operating in the sphere of empirical facts, but in the sphere of moral principles, which is where a discussion about democratic legitimacy ought to be carried out. This is because when one boils it down, principles like “rights” and “authority” are something other than merely empirical objects. The validity of a claim to authority depends not on the simple claim itself (or, parenthetically, even on whether the claim is accepted; we can easily imagine a claim being accepted even though it is not, strictly speaking, morally correct — and it doesn’t matter which system of morality one uses to evaluate that correctness), but on whether the claim is defensible within some moral frame of reference. Whether a government is legitimate and whether a government behaves in some particular way are different kinds of issues, and Rousseau — like most political philosophers — troubles himself with questions of legitimacy, leaving questions of behavior for others.

Not so Keohane and his coauthors. After their conceptual discussion, which takes up most of the length of the article, they proceed to elucidate an empirical research agenda characterized by observable implications and testable hypotheses:

In areas of the highest priority to the public, where relevant publics are very highly organized and attentive, multilateralism will tend to be subject to more directly participatory democracy, whereas where publics are less organized and attentive, nonparticipatory mechanisms will be used.

Ignore for a moment that this formulation is basically tautological, unless there were some way to determine the public’s priorities without observing how they act in various issue-areas. And ignore the fact that this formulation shifts the focus away from whether an organization immunized from public participation is democratic to how particular issue-areas are governed by the public, and in so doing basically presumes away the entire animating question of the first two-thirds of the article (since “the public” is governing the issue-area in either case, by this definition). The most profound problem here is that this hypothetical proposition has nothing, diddly-squat, nada to do with the conceptual discussion that preceded it. The empirical proposition that publics act on their interests, and that those interests can be correlated with particular kinds of organizational outcomes and arrangements, is completely separate from the conceptual question of whether a nonparticipatory organization can be a democratic organization. One simply doesn’t matter to the other, because they operate in different conceptual spheres: whether something is democratic is a moral or philosophical (or political) question, while the effect of a certain kind and degree of public attentiveness on how an issue-area is governed is an empirical or causal (or scientific) question. Neither has any implications whatsoever for the other.

Now, it is of course always possible to claim that because democracy means being attentive to the (to steal a phrase from Madison) “permanent and aggregate interests of the community,” we can ascertain whether an institution is democratic by determining whether it upholds those interests. (The authors reject that option.) Or we could claim that democracy means responsiveness to the people’s will in the long term, and see whether an institution was democratic by determining whether it was in the long term repsonsive to the will of the people over whom it governs. But neither of these operations would settle the question of what democracy means, or whether an institution is democratic in some global or universal sense. Regardless of the results of any given empirical assessment of an institution, someone else could come in with a different definition of “democracy” and demonstrate that according to that definition, the institution either was or was not democratic. Empirical measures can’t resolve the debate unless we have prior agreement on the relevant conceptual standards; hence, empirical tests of hypotheses, or empirical traces of process, can’t tell us whether constitutional democracy is “actually” democracy — which is what the article seems to suggest. Rather, political philosophy inhabits its own sphere, separate from empirical controversies about how things factually hang together.

Just to be clear: what bothers me in the article is the fact that the authors appear to be trying to assimilate philosophical investigation/discussion to empirical research. It does not, however, follow that I think that philosophical discussion can actually resolve the question of what “democracy” is; I actually don’t think that it can, and I would rather characterize any discussion of “democracy” as a political discussion, and any resolution to that discussion as a contingent political settlement. But that’s a separate issue. My point for the moment is that I don’t think that Keohane and his coauthors can actually do what they are setting out to do, which is to resolve a philosophical controversy with empirical data. And when the lead article in the most important journal in our field, co-authored by the most influential person in our field, promulgates this kind of methodological confusion, I feel that it merits an extended response. In the end, you just can’t get there from here; the best way to get where they want to go is not to start where they start, and not to imagine that empirical social science can do things that it simply cannot, constitutively, do.

More on cats

Just to follow up on Charli’s post: if for some reason, you’re not one of the millions who have already seen “An Engineer’s Guide to Cats,” please rectify that now.

And the sequel:

Following the theme of Animal Posting…

I swore I’d never catch the whole “Friday cat blogging” meme, and this won’t be a regular thing, but I just have to wish everyone a happy “Leave Your Cat at Home Day.” Founded in response to “Bring your Kid to Work Day” and “Bring your Dog to Work Day,” (“Kids and D*gs have their own day – they go
to work! Now cats have their own day – are they going to go to work?
Of course not!” ), this holiday celebrates the spirit of cats, and asks us to “admire the way cats have arranged the world”:

“Everyone has to go to work – grown-ups, kids and those other unspeakable creatures who sit on command and beg for treats – while cats get to relax in luxury at home. Celebrate this special day with your cats by lavishing them with gifts and lots of extra pampering. Be sure to honor your cats with the Chant of the Day©. Visit the rest of this website for celebration ideas and make up some of your own.”

OK, back to work now. Me, that is.

UPDATE: Cute photo of Mr. Precious Perfect below the fold.

Monkeys do not make good pets (or you’re no man in a yellow hat)

After the Animal Revolution, monkeys will take revenge on us for attempting to domesticate them. Monkeys do not make good pets. There are very sensible arguments for this–Hilzoy makes them most eloquently–and there are the times when it is self-evident that one must be a bit crazy to keep a monkey as a pet:

On one occasion, they got in a wrestling match, and Higgins [the baboon] put one of his “steel-like fingernails” through Bob’s scrotum….

Bob has been bitten several times by Higgins, who now weighs 50 pounds and has large incisors. Once, when Bob was leading him from an outdoor enclosure back to his cage in the house, Higgins exploded and the two got into a battle so ferocious that despite the steel mesh glove Bob was wearing, he screamed for Carlie to get his .22 rifle and put a bullet in Higgins’s head. She got Higgins a slice of raisin bread instead, quickly defusing the fight.

Personally, I blame the discursive representations of Monkeys and Chimps as appropriate in-house pets. The biggest culprit here is H. A. Rey and Curious George. Unfortunately, too many contemporary Monkey as Pet people misread Rey (1941). While current literature–particularly the “New Adventure” school–tends to portray George as a lovable, curious 4-year old (cf Vipa Interactive, 1999) they have overlooked the warnings of Monkey-As-Pet deep in the text of Rey’s original work.

The New Adventures approach silences the narrative of oppressive Man in Yellow Hat and George’s simian rebellion. Recall that Yellow Hat abducts George from Africa in a yellow sack, echoing the colonial practices of the times. On the ship back to the big city, George, after an attempted escape re-narrated as an attempt to fly like a seagull, is disciplined into a Stockholm-syndrome like relationship with the Man in the Yellow Hat, now his “friend.” This friendship includes taking George home, giving him a pipe to smoke after dinner, and then putting him to bed. George’s rebellion of calling the fire department, results in discipline and punishment by the state, as George is sent to prison. He escapes prison by walking on telephone wires, and holding onto balloons. The recidivist George is finally directed to the zoo, where he can become a spectacle for passers-by.

As generations have grown up with the innocuous images of George, they too think that monkeys might make good pets. This is not the case. Monkeys cause trouble. George is always in trouble, and clearly present in all of Rey’s work is the Man with the Yellow Hat paying for all of George’s destruction, mayhem, and misplaced curiosity. Perhaps if such an intervention was attempted earlier, we might not have these tragic incidents of people thinking it would be a good idea to take a monkey home as a pet.

*in the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that my 2-year old son is completely enamored with Curious George, and we probably read him 5-10 curious George stories a day. Right now, he’s in a “George Cow” phase.

Tortured Rhetoric

President Obama said a lot of important things tonight, but he also regurgitated a disturbing Bushism or two.*

One of these is the term “America does not torture.”

Stated in this particular way, an indisputible statement of principle is conflated with and therefore masquerades as an empirical “fact,” one which is blatantly untrue. This trope was one of the Bush Administration’s many brilliant inventions, and was designed as a public relations counter-response to growing acknowledgement that US military and intelligence personnel not only had tortured detainees, but had in fact been ordered to do so.

In the context of some other disturbing continuities between Bush Administration policies and Obama’s policy so far, this worries me. It should also worry Obama’s advisors: these kinds of rhetorical not to mention policy non-changes are precisely the type of behavior that will undermine Obama’s effort to reengage the international community in the wake of Bush-era unilateralism. Why? Because these particular issues are so closely emotionally associated with Bush-era unilateralism. If there is any sense in Obama’s decision to retain a policy of extraordinary rendition (and I can’t see any), there is certainly no sense in the decision to draw attention and umbrage to it by failing to at least change the rhetoric.

One of the most interesting conversations I had at ISA was about the Geneva Conventions. I had suggested in The National Interest last year that the Bush Administration and the human rights community work together toward an Additional Protocol to clarify the law, and my colleague asked whether I thought this advice still applied after the transition.

I would say it is even more relevant now. The Bush White House flaunted multilateral institutions like the torture regime because Bush’s policy was to flout multilateralism. Obama can’t continue that course – simply reinterpreting and then violating the law – while claiming to embrace multilateralism. But what he could do is lead a multilateral effort to clarify the law. An effort framed in good faith by a skillful and (as yet) largely untarnished leader like Obama could unite both the human rights community and those concerned about how to apply the laws in an era of asymmetric warfare. It could resolve some of the interpretive problems as a community. Obama should shift course and lead this movement before the opportunity is squandered as the US once again instead becomes its target.

*I mean, how it within his perogative or power to “not allow people to plot against America”? What does that mean as a basis for one’s foreign policy?

Zombie scale?

Abi Southerland on the current popularity of Zombies:

I mentioned this puzzle to my better half, who happens to be in the middle of a reread of World War Z. His answer? … You can have a fascinating story about a single zombie in a world of humans or the last human in a world of zombies. You can do one on one human-zombie interactions, or set entire armies against each other. They work differently as individuals (stupid and clumsy) and in crowds (lucky by means of what sheer numbers can do with probability theory). A group of them is as impersonal as a natural disaster; a single one is as intimate as death or betrayal.

Um. Maybe.

I suspect that, like most social phenomena, we’re in the realm of complex causation. There isn’t one reason for the popularity of the Zombie Apocalypse. Instead, we have a convergence of many reinforcing factors.

1. Over the last 10-15 years we’ve seen a number of different, but independently successful, Zombie-themed cultural artifacts. Just take two examples: we’ve had a generation (at least) of gamers cut their teeth on the Resident Evil franchise. 28 Days Later made a lot of money–and significant cultural impact–back in 2002. Both of these saw success for qualities not at all intrinsic to their Zombie elements, but related to their quality as games or as film.

2. Note I say “Zombie-esque.” Neither Resident Evil nor 28 Days Later dealt with “traditional” Zombies. The Zombies in both are the consequences of contagion unleashed by biomedical experiments. In fact, most contemporary Zombie fare–going back at least to George Romero’s genre-defining work–takes a similar line. While there have been attempts to update Vampire mythology the same way–with Vampyrism as a virus–I don’t think such attempts have really worked. The nature of the transformation seems less plausible; the contrast with fears of mass contagion and biotechnological catastrophe somewhat shallow.

3. Indeed, Zombies aren’t scalable so much in size but in terms of representation. Vampires are basically about sex, sex, and sex: “scary” female sexuality, “scary” eastern sexuality, coming of age, defilement and corruption, etc. Even the “good vampire” genre is basically about sex. You know: some powerful guy proving his love by restraining his natural urges and refusing to take the heroine’s virginity blood, even when the heroine has no such self control and would willingly surrender to him. I’m surprised Twilight didn’t get an grant from the Bush Administration.

Now, Barbara Hambly did once try to use vampirism to riff on nationalism and World War I, but Zombies will always beat Vampires as metaphors for nationalism. Indeed, as Romero himself proved, one can represent anything involving contagion (natural or mimetic), loss of individuality, or consumption with Zombies. And that covers a lot of ground.

4. Zombies are meta. Yes, of course, we all know about Shaun of the Dead, but Zombies have been ironic ever since they first appeared in US popular culture. Vampires just don’t work as objects of the funny-but-still-kinda-scary sort (except, perhaps, in Joss Weedon’s hands). Subject the Vampire mythology to too much scrutiny, however, and collapses under its own quasi-pornographic weight.

[update: I neglected vampirism as “drug abuse,” but I suspect that the The Lost Boys probably proves my point about the limited ways one can successfully use vampires as allegory]

Think of Bill in Left4Dead (“You call this a zombie apocalypse? This ain’t nothin’ compared to the zombie attacks of 1954!”) or Alyx Vance in Half-Life 2, Episode 1 (“A Combine zombie. Zombie Combine. That’s, that’s like a… ah… a Zombine! Right? Heh”).

Ultimately, though, the real issue isn’t “Vampires versus Zombies” (although I think I smell a… oh wait, google says it’s been done) but why we’re seeing a wave of interest in metaphorically-laden supernatural thingies.

I would have attributed to the economy–kinda like punk’s big breakout in the US during the early 1990s–but it started before then. 9/11? Harry Potter as gateway drug? What do you think?

Realism and the Great Balance of Power Debate

One of the panels I attended at ISA was a roundtable on Stephen Brooks‘ and William Wohlforth‘s excellent new book, World Out of Balance: International Relations and the Challenge of American Primacy. The participants did an outstanding job of discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the piece, but it was a point made both by Charles Glaser (soon to be of George Washington University) and Randall Schweller that got at the crux of a larger problem with the last six years of debate about balance-of-power theory.

In essence, the debate looks like this: “France and Germany opposed the invasion of Iraq, but they’re not preparing for a possible war with the United States. Oh noes! How can we salvage balance-of-power theory?”

Whether one opposed or supported the Bush Administration’s conduct of foreign policy, it can hardly be said that they sufficiently embraced unilateralism and diplomatic ineptitude to transform the United States into an existential threat to most of the second-tier powers of the world. On the other hand, both the Russians and Chinese have engaged in some degree of balancing. It just isn’t the case that most balancing looks like the Anglo-German naval arms race.

None of this should imply my endorsement of the current health of balance-of-power theory. I just think the problems largely lie elsewhere in time and space.

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