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Web Architecture Strikes Back

Twitter was down for two hours yesterday, assumed to have been the target of a cyberattack. BBC now reports that the target of the attack, which also affected Facebook and Google, was a single individual, Georgian blogger Cyxymu.

“”[The] attack appears to be directed at an individual who has a presence on a number of sites, rather than the sites themselves,” a Facebook spokesman told BBC News. “Specifically, the person is an activist blogger and a botnet was directed to request his pages at such a rate that it impacted service for other users.”

It is still not known who perpetrated the attack or why they may have targeted Cyxymu and his accounts. However, in an interview with the UK’s Guardian newspaper, the blogger blamed Russia. “Maybe it was carried out by ordinary hackers but I’m certain the order came from the Russian government,” he said.

The blogger has previously criticised Russia over its conduct in the war over the disputed South Ossetia region, which began one year ago. A previous statement by Facebook said that the attack on the websites where he held accounts was “to keep his voice from being heard”.
Other sites such as Live Journal, where Cyxymu has his blog, were also targeted in the attack on Thursday.

I don’t know much about the nuts and bolts of orchestrating such an attack. But assume for a moment that speculation is correct – that the act was perpetrated by a government to silence its opposition. The event would have seemed to have precisely the opposite effect, as Cyxymu’s dissident blogging has now made world headlines and increased, rather than decreased, his exposure.

Actually, one can hardly imagine that any government’s tactical thinking could be so flawed, as any reasonably informed follower of the relationship between Web 2.0 and transnational politics could surely have predicted this outcome. On the contrary, if we adopt the police investigator’s modus operandi of asking who stands to benefit from the act, one might actually suspect the dissident blogger himself, or one of his sympathists, or even a random hacker aimed at sending a strong message to governments that it’s ineffective to attempt to shut down online political discourse. What better way to pre-empt and turn the tables on government efforts at repression than to stage a repressive act impacting a wide community of users, whose source cannot easily be tracked, and then go finger-pointing?

If it was a government, hopefully all governments will have learned a lesson: web 2.0 is much more useful as a tool of global civil society than as a tool to silence it.

Other theories on whodunnit? Comment away.

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“The Week in Facebook”

More bric-a-brac in lieu of genuine posts of a quasi-analytical nature. This shall continue until the NSF Political Science Division’s target date for research proposals passes. At least now I’m posting bric-a-brac. (Don’t worry, before long I’ll be back with an onslaught of political insights from my wild roadtrip west, and by the start of the semester, back to blogging as usual.)

Today’s throwaway post is inspired by my current immersion in questions about how Web 2.0 is affecting the study, teaching and production of international affairs. Radio Free Europe obliges me (left) with a handy visual to either prove or poke fun at my point. For their full and very funny Facebook-ization of last week’s current events, click here.

Better When French

The Bush era is officially ancient history. I saw this commercial today:

Shipwrecked

Ah, August 15 NSF target dates! This time of year makes the image above ring truer than ever. Hat Tip to Stu Shulman.

Ipod Touch Bleg

I just purchased a 16gig I-Pod touch. Its a fun new toy, and a more than ample replacement for my overflowing 2gig nano. I also added the new operating system. The benefits of a blog being the ability to crowd-source stuff like this, I ask loyal duck readers with a touch or iphone if they have any suggestions on how to get the most out of my new device. Any favorite uses, applications that are must-gets, or other cool things that can be done besides the standard music, photos, and the like?

The International Studies Compendium Project

The International Studies Compendium is a field-defining project of somewhat epic proportions. According to its architects, it “will be the most comprehensive reference work of its kind for the field of international studies” – a group of literally hundreds of 10,000 word, article-length, peer-reviewed literature reviews – published in hard copy in its entirety, online with updates, and in subject-specific edited volumes. In the two years this project has been going on, it has inspired massive amounts of frustration, even more hard work, and the occasional Compendium voodoo doll. I am blogging about the Compendium tonight both because I think it is worthy of a post on a blog at least partially about the structure of the field of International Relations, and because my brain cannot think of anything else!

The Compendium is organized largely by section of the International Studies Association. The International Studies Association has 23 sections, which focus on different substantive areas in IR (for the most part). They include: Active Learning in International Affairs; Comparative Interdisciplinary Studies; Diplomatic Studies; the English School; Environmental Studies; Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Migration; Feminist Theory and Gender Studies; Foreign Policy Analysis; Global Development; Human Rights; Intelligence Studies; International Communication; International Education; International Ethics; International Law; International Organization; International Political Economy; International Political Sociology; International Security Studies; Peace Studies; Post Communist States in International Relations; Scientific Study of International Processes; and Women’s Caucus. That’s 23, right?

The essays are supposed to be comprehensive literature reviews, subject to the process of peer review. The authors are not paid for their contributions.

Bob Denemark (University of Delaware) is the General Editor; Andrea Gerlak (who works for ISA) is the managing editor, and each section has a Section Editor that works on a group of essays about topic of the section’s specialization. There is also an Editorial Advisory Board with 27 past or present ISA President members. I come at this from the perspective of an “insider” to the Compendium – I helped write my section’s list of topics, followed it through the peer review process, helped identify authors, served as an “Associate Section Editor” for ten essays in my subfield, and, about two months ago, took over the Section Editor duties for my section. So I write this as the Section Editor for the Feminist Theory and Gender Studies Section (FTGS).

The Feminist Theory and Gender Studies Section has 54 commissioned essays in the Compendium; 28 of them made the late June deadline to be a part of the “International Studies Encyclopedia,” (ISE) while the rest of them will now strive to be a part of the “International Studies On-Line” (ISO) internet version of the Compendium along with the original 28. The 28 essays that made the deadline went through a first draft, peer review, Associate Section Editor critiques, second drafts, and, in many cases, re-review and third and fourth drafts. The remaining essays remain somewhere in that process.

What I have been doing for the last few days is drafting the introduction to the FTGS essays in the print version (and I thought edited volume introductions were complicated!). This has brought up a number of thoughts that I’ve had about the Compendium in the almost three years I’ve been working with it in some capacity, and I’ve decided to share some of them.

The first thought I had about the ISA Compendium was a post-positivist rejection of classifying knowledge in the ways encyclopedias do. That’s why its called the “Compendium” even though its major printed project is called the “Encyclopedia” – because (I’m hoping) its architects knew the problems associated with constructing encyclopedias that straight-jacket disciplines, but (I’m guessing) met with the publisher’s desire to call it an encyclopedia so they could sell more of them. The process of playing a fairly serious role in the editing for a portion of the project has shored up that conviction: who decides what gets “in” to defining the discipline, and what doesn’t? What if someone writes an essay defining a part of the discipline in a way that excludes others that think they are a part of it, but the author disagrees? If the question “what is IR?” is fundamentally contested, how can it be contested in an encyclopedia setting? How do we at once tell “the story” of IR and IR’s many stories?

This is complicated further by the structure of the Compendium around sections. Let me explain a bit of my problem with this, and then try to circle around to how it impacts the above point. The second thought that I had about the Compendium was that organizing it around sections might be fundamentally problematic generally (since the sections arose organically, overlap, and aren’t subject to regular review for continued relevance) and specifically for the FTGS section. I don’t want to speak for my whole section – but one of my goals for my section is its obsolescence. It won’t happen anytime soon if it ever happens, but I would like to see Feminist Theory and Gender Studies be a transformative force and an integral part in Active Learning in International Affairs; Comparative Interdisciplinary Studies; Diplomatic Studies; the English School; Environmental Studies; Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Migration; Foreign Policy Analysis; Global Development; Human Rights; Intelligence Studies; International Communication; International Education; International Ethics; International Law; International Organization; International Political Economy; International Political Sociology; International Security Studies; Peace Studies; Post Communist States in International Relations; Scientific Study of International Processes; and Women’s Caucus. Its not like “Intelligence Studies” is a different substantive area than “Environmental Studies” (while they do have some overlap), it is that “Feminist Theory and Gender Studies argues that its work should change the other “parts” of IR such that they take account of gender issues as fundamental to international politics. My first reaction, then, was that it was my goal to have as many essays in other sections’ parts of the Compendium mention or focus on gender as I could. I actually still have no idea how successfully or unsuccessfully that quest went (I guess I’ll see when it is published). My second reaction was to think about the implications of both the organization and potential overlap. For example, I wrote an essay on Feminist Security Studies for the FTGS section. Someone else wrote an essay on the same topic for the International Security Section. The essays will follow each other in the alphabetically-organized print version of the ISE. I’ve read both essays, and they go well together – but I’m sure this isn’t the only situation in which that happened. But fundamentally – which section gets to define their overlap? And what message do potentially conflicting interpretations send? This is the point linked to the discussion above – what are the narrative and counter-narrative functions of section organization?

This concern has been foremost on my mind as I have been trying to write the introduction for the FTGS section. It is an interesting task. First, one has to summarize and relate 28 essays (and can’t know about/talk about related ones outside the section). Second, one has to talk about those essays as if they are the complete offering of the section (because they are for the purposes of the ISE), while still not marginalizing the 26 topics that will be included in the later ISO. But the most interesting challenge is writing the statements that define and describe your subfield – delineating what it is and (perhaps more importantly) what it isn’t.

Is International Studies the sum of the 23-section-parts of ISA? If not, what’s missing? If so, how do we get a clear sense of the identity of those 23-section parts? Somehow I doubt the published ISE will tell us …. but maybe it will start the debate.

Branching Out

Faithful Duck readers:

So, I’ve launched a new blog. While I will still be writing on global politics here at The Duck of Minerva from time to time, I wanted another place to comment and brainstorm on business issues, technology, innovation, and other related topics. (Sometimes the 140 characters of Twitter just doesn’t cut it).

As I’ve moved outside of academia my interests have shifted–or more accurately, broadened–to include topics such as business, innovation, technology, and social media. The Duck is really a vehicle for commenting on global politics from an analytical and academic perspective. As such, it really isn’t the venue to talk about new technologies, abstract thoughts on innovation and creativity, or to offer musings on business and the economy on a regular basis.

Please do stop by and add it to your RSS reader of choice.

Hope to see you there.

There’s Treasure Everywhere

Teaser from DMW on Vimeo.

Desertification between the rivers

The Iraqi people have suffered tremendously this decade — and are apparently suffering even more this summer. The LA Times is reporting today that Iraq’s latest calamity is an “environmental catastrophe.”

Decades of war and mismanagement, compounded by two years of drought, are wreaking havoc on Iraq’s ecosystem, drying up riverbeds and marshes, turning arable land into desert, killing trees and plants, and generally transforming what was once the region’s most fertile area into a wasteland.

Falling agricultural production means that Iraq, once a food exporter, will this year have to import nearly 80% of its food, spending money that is urgently needed for reconstruction projects.

“We’re talking about something that’s making the breadbasket of Iraq look like the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma in the early part of the 20th century,” said Adam L. Silverman, a social scientist with the U.S. military who served south of Baghdad in 2008.

While most Americans probably think of Iraq as a desert, much of Iraq was previously known as Mesopotamia, which literally means “land between the rivers.”

Indeed, the Iraqi area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers used to feed much of the Middle East. No more.

[Iraq’s] Agriculture Ministry estimates that 90% of the land is either desert or suffering from severe desertification, and that the remaining arable land is being eroded at the rate of 5% a year, said Fadhil Faraji, director-general of the ministry’s Department for Combating Desertification.

Some of the environmental damage to Iraq was the fault of Saddam Hussein, and much of the damage has accrued over a 10 to 20 year period. That doesn’t make the damage to Iraq’s marshes, for example, any less devastating:

“We’re talking about an area about the size of Lake Ontario that has been reduced to about a tenth of its original size,” says Dr. [Barry] Warner [of University of Waterloo]. “So, if you can imagine Lake Ontario disappearing, that’s essentially what has happened to the marshes in southern Iraq.”

Nor does this history of mismanagement relieve the U.S. of its responsibilities here.

In IR, much of the research on ecology and security has focused on the possibility that “environmental scarcities” contribute to the outbreak of violent conflict. It would appear as if additional research should focus on the environmental harm of war itself — and the difficulty of making critical green choices in a war context.

Interpreting Terrorists’ Strategies

I have mentioned the outstanding blog Cheap Talk several times in my Twitter feed, but have yet to promote it in a blog post. If you are not familiar with the blog, the authors present excellent daily commentary on current events from a formal and strategic perspective—I highly reccommend it.

Today, author Sandeep Baliga, Associate Professor of Managerial Economics at the Kellogg School of Management, offers examples of strategies to incite government repression from three terrorist organization: ETA (Spanish Basque separatist), ALN (leftist Brazilian rebels) and al-Qaeda. For example, here is Baliga’s entry for al-Qaeda:

Al Qaeda strategy:

Force America to abandon its war against Islam by proxy and force it to attack directly so that the noble ones among the masses….will see that their fear of deposing the regimes because America is their protector is misplaced and that when they depose the regimes, they are capable of opposing America if it interferes. Abu Bakr Naji, The Management of Savagery (p. 24)

There are two problems with presenting terrorist strategy in this way. First, in each of the three examples the stated strategy is an interpretation of the group’s strategy by a third party observer rather than a statement of purpose from the group itself. As such, these interpretation are prone to inherent the strategic assumption of that observer. In the case of al-Qaeda, their formation and strategic roots reach back to the jihad against the Soviet Union, while their focus on the U.S. did not start in earnest until the first Gulf War. The assertion that al-Qaeda’s strategy is to “Force America to abandon its war against Islam,” is clearly an interpretation of more recent signals from the group, and does account for the compounding of historic strategy into contemporary motives.

Next, grouping terrorist organizations like ETA and ALN with al-Qaeda is problematic given the formers’ micro-strategic focus and al-Qaeda’s macro-motives. Both ETA and ALN have local motives, and thus their tactics for political coercion reflect these goals. Al-Qaeda, on the other hand, is an amorphous international umbrella that acts more as an inspiration to local groups than as strategic hub. Recognizing the scope of a group’s area of interest and influence is a critical first step when attempting to examine a terrorist organization’s broader strategic focus.

The assumption that terrorists’ strategy is to incite government repression, however, is an interesting starting point for a model of coordination between a terrorist group selecting targets and government counter-terror efforts. Assume that the terrorists’ strategy is to successfully attack a target that will provide the maximum repressive response, while the state’s strategy is to minimize the number of civilian casualties. Given some matrix of targets and simultaneous allocation of resources, what are the equilibrium coordination strategies for each player?

Thinking abstractly, it seems that both players would allocate all, or most, of their resources to those targets likely to result in a mass causality event. The empirical evidence supports the framework given that mass causality events have prompted extreme restrictions on civil liberties all over the world. This, however, would result in an stalemate equilibrium, where no successful attacks take place because presumably terrorist targeting resources are met with equal counter-terrorism efforts. Could this be why we see so few successful terrorist attacks relative to failed ones? Would such a model show that that when attacks are successful it is because one side has obtained an informational advantage that causes the other to maintain an off-equilibrium allocation? I am interested in other’s thoughts on the value of such a model, and its potential consequences.

Photo: dailylife

The Problem of State Capacity

The question of state capacity might be one of, if not the, most important question that academics and policy makers can tackle. When we talk about local, regional, and international stability, failed states, etc, often times the major problem is a lack of capacity by a state to control what goes on within its borders. State capacity is the product of numerous variables, including legitimacy, material resources, government coherence, coercive capacity, and autonomy vis-a-vis international actors. And while state capacity is seemingly a critical issue in global politics, policy makers and academics alike have found it one of the most intractable problems to solve. How do you build capacity? What are the proven techniques? Are techniques portable or replicable in other states and regions?

I think the short answer is: we don’t really know

The Financial Times ran a story this morning chronicling the continuing degeneration of the Nigerian state’s ability to maintain control over the oil rich Niger Delta. While conflict with rebels in the region is nothing new, militants have expanded and refined (no pun intended) their activities over the past decade to include the tapping of oil pipelines for sale on the black market. However, the militants have recently began refining the crude being siphoned for local sale.

The article goes on to discuss how the state is struggling to determine a course of action that will reestablish it’s authority and control in the region. (John Robb over at Global Guerrillas has commented for some time on the role of super-empowered individuals and their ability to disrupt states, in particular rebels in Nigeria). For the state, control over crude is key for capacity, as it provides economic resources with which to exert control and influence. By slowly losing control over that key resource (along with refinement and its distribution) the state suffers in at least two ways:

1) It further depletes its fiscal resources through which it maintains stability within society and has less funds to distribute to key players in exchange for political support;

2) It reveals that the state doesn’t have the capacity to control key parts of its territory. As some have argued, this kind of signaling can potentially lead other separatists/militants/rebels in other parts of the country to determine that they too can encroach on the state.

There are many ideas about how to build state capacity–charismatic leadership, leveraging large fiscal reserves and/or natural resources, increase public goods and social welfare programs, etc.

The question I have is whether we truly know how to build state capacity (i.e. have we fully developed a science of state capacity) or whether the problem is simply one of implementation (i.e. conditions on the ground rarely allow for known, effective policies to be implemented).

Interested to hear readers thoughts.

Is America cool again?


According to the latest data from the Pew Global Attitudes Project, “the image of the United States has improved markedly in most parts of the world reflecting global confidence in Barack Obama.”

Follow the Pew survey link to find data charting some dramatic American improvements throughout the world. The biggest upswings seem to have occurred in Western Europe, parts of Latin America, India, and in Indonesia and Nigeria. Note that in some of these states the U.S. image was already on the upswing the past year or so following lows achieved earlier this decade.

Data from Eastern Europe, Russia, and the Muslim Middle East do not reflect major changes. Indeed, the US image has actually declined in Israel post-Bush and is flat (with low marks) in Pakistan, Palestine, and Turkey.

What does it mean that major U.S. foreign policy initiatives of the past half year are most popular in other advanced states?

I think the results reflect rational thinking around the globe. After all, the Obama administration announced some important changes in the war on terror, escalated the war in Afghanistan, followed the path towards withdrawal from Iraq (starting with the cities), and started talking differently about global climate change.

Those are all relatively popular moves in Europe. Thousands of NATO troops are in Afghanistan, so even though Europeans are not especially hawkish on the war, many have reason to seek victory.

President Obama has personal connections to Indonesia and Nigeria, so the improvements in U.S. image in those states may only reflect favorable views towards a “favorite son.” Do the Pew survey results from the rest of Muslim world mean the famed “Cairo speech” didn’t hit its intended target audience?

I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

Apparently, much of the Muslim world is going to wait awhile for policy results before changing their impression of the USA.

Use it or lose it

A recent paper from Brookings, Georgetown and Hoover discusses the international legal aspects of targeted killing. As you would expect, American policy isn’t in sync with the emerging global norm. An idealist might argue that the US is in the wrong (and they have a very strong case under the International Convention on Human Rights); a Realist might argue that the US needs the latitude to kill because it (or somebody–and nobody else is available) has the responsibility to combat enemies of the legal regime that everyone else assumes. The point that I hadn’t thought of before is the conclusion that the US might want to be open about what it is doing and assert–as a legal principle–that this is as it should be.


The ultimate lesson for Congress and the Obama Administration about targeted killings is “Use it or lose it.” This is as true of its legal rationale as it is of the tool itself. Targeted killings conducted from standoff platforms, with improving technologies in surveillance and targeting, are a vital strategic, but also humanitarian, tool in long-term counterterrorism. War will always be important as an option; so will the tools of law enforcement, as well as all the other non-force aspects of intelligence work: diplomacy and coordination with friends and allies. But the long-standing legal authority to use force covertly, as part of the writ of the intelligence community, remains a crucial tool—one the new administration will need and evidently knows it will need. So will administrations beyond it.

****

The death of Osama bin Laden and his top aides by Predator strike tomorrow would alter national security counterterrorism calculations rather less than we might all hope. As new terrorist enemies emerge, so long as they are “jihadist” in character, we might continue referring to them as “affiliated” with al Qaeda and therefore co-belligerent. But the label will eventually become a mere legalism in order to bring them under the umbrella of an AUMF passed after September 11. Looking even further into the future, terrorism will not always be about something plausibly tied to September 11 or al Qaeda at all. Circumstances alone, in other words, will put enormous pressure on—and ultimately render obsolete—the legal framework we currently employ to justify these operations.

What we can do is to insist on defining armed conflict self-defense broadly enough, and human rights law narrowly enough—as the United States has traditionally done—to avoid exacerbating the problem and making it acute sooner, or even immediately.

****

We stand at a curious moment in which the strategic trend is toward reliance upon targeted killing; and within broad U.S. political circles even across party lines, a political trend toward legitimization; and yet the international legal trend is also severely and sharply to contain it within a narrow conception of either the law of armed conflict under IHL or human rights and law enforcement, rather than its traditional conception as self-defense in international law and regulation as covert action under domestic intelligence law. Many in the world of ideas and policy have already concluded that targeted killing as a category, even if proffered as self-defense, is unacceptable and indeed all but per se illegal. If the United States wishes to preserve its traditional powers and practices in this area, it had better assert them. Else it will find that as a practical matter they have dissipated through desuetude.

Does the US (or someone) have the right to target individuals? In States where the US is not formally at war? Inside the US?

I suspect that someone has to have the job of playing cop in the international system. I don’t see anyone but the US who is able and willing to do it. A UN force is a possibility, but it still comes down to great power politics and capabilities. On the other hand, I don’t want to give the cops–any cops–the right to target whoever they choose. Even if they start with the best of intentions, that’s a structure that corrupts the cop, alientates the community, and kills the innocent.

What I’ve Been Reading This Month

During my self-inflicted hiatus, I’ve been traveling a lot by road with two children, so I’ve had less reading time. But I’ve also been staying in a lot of people’s houses along the way, and that has allowed me to accumulate vast (and vastly more diverse than usual) amount of reading material.

We turned around and headed east yesterday, and I should be back to blogging regularly in a couple of weeks. Until then, I thought I’d post tell of a few literary nuggets worth the late-summer beach-goer’s attention, especially if you’re looking to get out of your foreign policy head-space.

Each one has been loaned to me by a friend or relative I have visited on this journey, and each one has my highest recommendation. See below the fold.

Why Buildings Stand Up. I’d always wondered about that! Mario Salvadori puts architectural history and the basics of structural engineering into language anyone can understand and get excited about. Loaned to me by my good friend Joel Oestreich.

Mop Men: Inside the World of Crime Scene Cleaners. A fascinating, humorous and informative ethnography of disaster restoration specialists who clean up after suicides and murders. (I flipped open a page randomly and learned a great deal about the life cycle of maggots.) This is in the genre of Mary Roach, but with more social science as it’s as much about the industry of death as it is about the forensic science of human decay. This one came courtesy of my brother Richard, who owns two cleaning businesses in Durango CO and also has a quirky interest in disaster science.

Best Military Science Fiction of the 20th Century
. It was especially nice to read the original short story version of Ender’s Game, something I’d never managed to do despite my devotion to the Ender book series. Thank you Alex.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Seth Grahame-Smith has taken Jane Austen’s original novel and embellished it with a sub-text of an England afflicted by a “strange plague” that causes the dead to rise and intermittently feast upon the minor characters. Needless to say conversations from the original about ladylike decorum, otherwise intact, now include references not just to accomplishment in music and manners, but also in the deadly arts; and squabbles between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy are now interrupted by battles with the unmentionables. A bloody good read, thanks to my brother USMC Major Edward Carpenter; and one that makes me look forward to reading more in the genre Grahame-Smith has no doubt just popularized, the humorous retelling of classics. Let us hope the original authors don’t return from the dead to challenge their new compatriots on grounds of copyright.

Why I don’t expect I’ll ever be Secretary of State

..or much of any other government-related position. Stephen Walt gives a list of the 10 Commandments–the 10 “thou shalt not hold or even consider” positions that are considered outside of “acceptable” foreign policy discourse. I’ve given serious consideration to ALL of them at one time or another. Probably about half of them are things I believe today.

This reminds me of when I was a very young research analyst, and after handing in a report I had out a lot of work into, my boss (for whom I had and still have the greatest respect) returned it with the comment

“Well thought out. Almost certainly true. Don’t ever say it again.”

I think that was the point I decided I’d get out of professional consulting and focus on the university. University political science departments have their own taboos, but once you get tenure you are less vulnerable to sanction. And officially, at least, every idea is supposed to be considered on its merits–even the “unacceptable” ones.

Taboo Topics on Contemporary Foreign Policy Discourse | Stephen M. Walt

SIgning off


For reasons I noted when I introduced our new bloggers, I will be suspending blogging activities for about a year. I just signed the forms that indicate my agreement to take a one-year position with the powers-that-be, so it seems like the right time to cease blogging.

Before I go, I’d like to thank our readers and my co-bloggers for making writing here so much fun. I don’t have anything profound or insightful to impart, but I feel like I should write a few more words before I go on (hopefully) long-term hiatus.

I started the Duck of Minerva in May of 2005. I’d been blogging anonymously, largely out of fear motivated by all the discussion of blogging as a net negative on one’s academic career. But I ultimately decided that if Georgetown would deny me tenure for blogging, then I didn’t want to be at Georgetown. Besides, if anyone wanted to paint me as an unserious academic, I already had a big fat targetfor them under production.

I consider the Duck of Minerva a success. It has never joined the “big leagues” of academic blogging, but we’ve developed what I hope others view as a quality niche blog. We even occasionally get called up from the minors.

But regardless of its reputation, the Duck has provided me with a community of virtual friends and sparring partners, most of whom I never would have connected with otherwise. I consider this the most rewarding aspect of blogging. That community expands and contracts over time; some ties fray while others go stronger. But those ties exist at all only by virtue of the activity.

Before I sign off for what may prove a very long time, I’d like to extend special appreciation to those who supported the Duck in its early days, including Henry Farrell (who seems to take all new academic bloggers under his wing), Daniel Drezner, Marc Lynch, Rob Farley of LGM, Mark of Zenpundit, the guys at Coming Anarchy (who re-designed our banner), and any number of people I’ve left out due to an inconsistent memory and a desire to just get this over with.

Bye all. Even if things work out and I don’t post again until next September, I’ll be hanging around hoping to get a contact buzz.

Losing my religion (or Jimmy Carter follows me)

In an article in The Age, Jimmy Carter recently renounced his membership in the Southern Baptist Church, arguing that “women and girls have been discriminated against for too long using a twisted interpretation of the word of God.” Particularly, Carter objected to statements by the Southern Baptist Convention “claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.” Carter links this sort of belief to justificatory logic for slavery, violence, forced prostitution, and the failure to make and enforce rape laws.

In a 1995 op-ed in the Pensacola News Journal too old and obscure to be located online, I renounced my membership in the Southern Baptist Church, arguing that the misogyny and heterosexism of Southern Baptist doctrine was something no God could want.

Carter’s article fluctuates between brilliant feminism and over-rhetorical politicking, but includes some important food for thought. The “lowlights” include his declaration of his membership in a group called the Elders and an unsophisticated understanding of gender hierarchy which seems to blame it almost entirely on men’s manipulation. While criticizing the Southern Baptist Church, Carter generalizes about the world’s religions – and, while his recognition of the link between patriarchy and religion is important, it would be nice if Carter recognized that all religions were not “created equal,” and have different (and different level) gender hierarchy problems. The highlights of Carter’s announcement/article, however, are surprisingly insightful.

For example, Carter argues that these religious beliefs “help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.” Inherent in this and other statements in Carter’s argument is clear understanding that gender hierarchy is structural, and that structural gender hierarchy negatively impacts women’s lives on a daily basis all around the world. The second important recognition that Carter makes is nearer to the end of the article, where he points out that “it is not just women and girls who suffer [from gender hierarchy]. It damages all of us.” This is a realization that gets way too little play in the policy world – that gender hierarchy hurts the people “on top” as well as the people “on bottom” of that hierarchy. I applaud Carter for being able to see this, and concluding that “it is time we had the courage to challenge these views.”

Still, the egocentric part of me was tempted to reread Carter’s statement next to mine, and recall what I was thinking when I renounced my membership in the Southern Baptist Church. My column talked about many of the issues that Carter’s does, but also talked about the “Disney boycott” (where the Southern Baptist Convention objected to Disney’s decision to recognize and insure employees’ domestic partners) and other heterosexist policies. It also, while renouncing my membership in the Southern Baptist Church, urged the Convention to rethink its position and volunteered to enter into a dialogue to think about these problems more seriously. Reading both my column from years ago and Carter’s now, though, my major complaint is this: really? you think you can just quit patriarchal institutions? I think that Carter’s heart is in the right place, but I also think that we can’t disassociate ourselves with patriarchal society – we have to work with, and within, it. And maybe, for someone who otherwise agrees with the Southern Baptist Church like Carter claims to, that means dealing with it within that patriarchal society.

This vote really matters!

Today the Senate voted to cap the Air Force’s purchases of the F-22 at 187 planes by stripping the funding for further purchases of the plane from the Defense budget. This is a very significant vote for several reasons:

1. Its a big political win for the President. Obama threatened to veto a defense bill. That just Does Not Happen–no one vetoes money for DoD.

2. This is the first major cut to a major weapons system in recent memory. The military industrial complex is mighty powerful, and a vast range of interests lined up to defend the F-22, led by its manufacturer and the congressional delegations of many of the states where significant parts of the plane are made. Leading supporter of the F-22 in the Senate? Saxbe Chambliss, R-GA. The F-22 is assembled in Georgia. The final vote tally shows bi-partisan support for killing the plane. It also shows bi-partisan support for keeping the plane. This spending is all about pork, and little about ideology.

3. It is a major victory for the prospect of restoring some sanity to the defense budget. As Spencer Ackerman points out, lose here and Gates and Obama have no chance to reign in the defense budget. The win here brings the Defense budget back to reality (if only a little bit, but its a start). Gates powerfully made the point that DoD needs that money more urgently elsewhere. Lest we forget, there are still 2 wars going on, with troops who need stuff to fight those wars. The F-22 has yet to see any role in either Afghanistan or Iraq.

4. It offers some hope to procurement reform at DoD. Much of the modern military–both operationally and administratively–is organized around the purchase of major weapons systems. This works if you have a great weapons system, but is incredibly inefficient, wasteful, and leaves you with the Army you’ve got– pace Rumsfeld, not the one you wish you had. One of the reasons we don’t have the military we wish we had is all of the support, doctrinally, institutionally, culturally, and financially for these weapons systems. The fighter jocks of the Air Force really want the F-22. They have resisted UAVs like Predator and Reaper and ugly Close Air Support planes like the A-10. And yet, these have been among the most useful and most in demand throughout the wars we’re actually fighting. The F-22? Not so much.

5. Gates went to the mattress on this one, with the full support of the President, and he won. He’s going to be in a commanding position to institute further reforms at the Pentagon. Its rather ironic, don’t ya think, just a little ironic, I really do think, that Rumsfeld came in determined to reform the Pentagon, and, arguably, left much of it in worse shape than when he arrived while Gates, called in to clean up the mess, so to speak, and then retained by an administration of a different political party which ran in opposition to the war Gates, as SecDef, was overseeing, manages to gain the bureaucratic and political strength to make reforms where it matters. The money. All about the Benjamins, that.

So, yeah, a big deal today in the Senate.

Modern conservativism and all that…

Andrew Sullivan Conor Friedersdorf thinks that Mark Levin “offers a serious response” to Peter Berkowitz’s criticisms of his recent book. I disagree.
Here’s Berkowitz:

Indeed, one could scarcely devise a better example of the imprudence that Burke dedicated his Reflections on the Revolution in France to exposing and combating than Levin’s direct appeal to abstract notions of natural right to justify a radical reversal of today’s commonly held convictions about the federal government’s basic responsibilities.

Levin’s response?

Edmund Burke, who Berkowitz misunderstands and, therefore, wrongly cites for his proposition, supported the American Revolution (while rejecting the French Revolution). The American Revolution can hardly be described as a moderate reaction to England’s usurpations.

I should hardly need to elaborate the problem here. But I’m taking a break from academic writing, so I will.

Burke supported the aspirations of colonial Americans because he understood them to be claiming the rights they were owed as English subjects. The question of moderation concerns not whether the colonists resorted to arms, but their aims. The French Revolution, on the other hand, comprised a “whole cloth” revolution that sought radical changes in the character of government and society. The result, he predicted, would be quite bloody.

I understand that the struggle over how to understand Burke matters to conservatives. Burke is a crucial thinker for modern American conservativism, a “conservativism” quite different from its common European variants, insofar as it seeks to conserve a particular historical moment in the evolution of liberal thought and liberal order.

Thus, Berkowtiz and Levin–whether for genuine or rhetorical reasons–accept Burke’s rectitude ad arguendo. In matter of fact, I think Burke greatly underestimated the radical character of the American Revolution, and I am not convinced that, absent the French Revolution, the ideals of the American Revolution would have achieved their current global success.

Regardless, Berkowtiz clearly gets the better of Levin. Indeed, I don’t see Levin’s response as a serious rebuttal to Berkowitz’s concern: that the political program embraced by Levin-style conservatives is antithetical to Burkean conservative principles. That program calls for a massive transformation in the character of contemporary American political and economic life. This is precisely the kind of transformation that would raise the alarm for a contemporary Burkean conservative.

I emphasize the word “contemporary” for a reason. One can, of course, go back and read Burke’s description of all that is grand about contemporary English values (yes, I’m aware that Burke was Irish), measure the twenty-first century United States against it, and, as a result of the rather glaring differences, call for a return to “Burkean principles.” Perhaps Burke might do the same if transported to the year 2009 and set down in Washington, DC.

But in doing so, he would abandon a Burkean political philosophy. The ‘timeless’ and ‘universal’ principles advocated by Burke include a respect for the wisdom sedimented in existing traditions, a skepticism of the capacity of human reason to design superior alternatives, a fear of the consequences for civil and moral life of radical political programs, and a resulting embrace of reformist measures that often amount to slow, deliberate, and gradual tinkering with existing institutions.

Levin also completely drops the ball with respect to Berkowitz’s warnings about the tensions between the self-regulating market and civil society, let alone conservative social order. Levin simply natters on about what conservatives believe:

But the Conservative believes that the individual is more than a producer and consumer of material goods. He exists within the larger context of the civil society — which provides for an ordered liberty….

The Conservative believes that while the symmetry between the free market and the civil society is imperfect — that is, not all developments resulting from individual interactions contribute to the overall well-being of the civil society — one simply cannot exist without the other

Yet no amount of nattering can disguise the overwhelming empirical evidence of the last 150 years: that unbridled capitalism profoundly corrodes conservative social mores, and that the “creative destruction of the market” often devastates civil society.

The problem isn’t so much that conservatives need to figure out what their principles mean in a “postmodern” order, but that the present-day conservative movements lacks a viable program for applying their principles to the post-1945 order.

We had the Reagan Revolution, which, as Sullivan Friedersdorf points out, left the welfare state intact and fiscal conservatism on life support.

We had the 1994-2006 period, which ultimately amounted to a giant exercise in crony capitalism, gave us the single largest expansion to date of the welfare state since Johnson’s Great Society, and enacted a decidedly anti-Burkean foreign policy.

Now we have the alternative embraced by Levin and his ilk, which offers a picture of the world as a struggle between two great abstract principles and advocates, in consequence of this Manichean vision, a revolutionary program guided by, as far as I can tell, a utopian vision of life in the early Nineteenth Century.

With the Democratic tide at its likely high-water mark, I think all of us–liberals, conservatives, progressives, moderates–have an enormous stake in the emergence of a conservatism worthy of the adjective “contemporary.” Let’s hope that behind the noise of conservative radio, the intellectual unseriousness of The Corner, and the neo-conservativism[*] of the Weekly Standard, such a program incubates in the fertile minds of thoughtful conservatives.

*Neo-conservatism once held the promise of being such a movement, but it traded in Theodore Roosevelt for George W. Bush and Richard Cheney.

Bernanke op-ed in the Wall Street Journal

Ben Bernanke wants to assure people that the Fed isn’t just throwing money at the current problems, unaware of the long-term impact on inflation.

My colleagues and I believe that accomodative policies will likely be warranted for an extended period. At some point, however, as economic recovery takes hold, we will need to tighten monetary policy to prevent the emergence of an inflation problem down the road. The Federal Open Market Committee, which is responsible for setting U.S. monetary policy, has devoted considerable time to issues relating to an exit strategy. We are confident we have the necessary tools to withdraw policy accommodation, when that becomes appropriate, in a smooth and timely manner.

Gee–is everybody confident now? He goes on to tell how it will be done. A few observations:

1) The chairman of the Federal Reserve Board is worried enough about confidence that he chooses to make this statement.

2) He does so in a form that allows no questioning or rebuttal.

3) To the extent that he discusses the tools to contract the money supply, it’s all pretty much the same as before. They aren’t nearly as all-powerful as he wants us to believe.

4) Bernanke says almost nothing about the international dimension–including foreign exchange and the impact on what has been the world’s reserve currency.

5) All his promises miss the political dimension altogether. Are we really to believe that those who have been personally helped by recent policies–bailed out banks, investment houses, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, etc.–are going to sit by and watch the Fed crank up the pain? The relation of Congress and State governments to the stimulus package is similar to that of an addict to cocaine. The American people will want their freebies, and they won’t want to pay for them.

I’m supposed to feel more confident after reading this?

Bernanke Op-ed in WSJ: The Fed’s Exit Strategy – WSJ.com

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