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So You Want to Continue a Stealth Argument and Be a Neoconservative Apologist?

30 Oct

The great thing about Robert Kagan is that not only can he hold fast to his own dwindling island of foreign policy respectability (Q: How long can the Kristol/Kagan doctrine last? A: Islamofacism¹!), but can also continue a sloppily argued secret war² with Fareed Zakaria at the same time. (Points to Matt Zeitlin for catching this first and nailing Kagan, but minus a few for accepting Kagan’s reductive summary of Zakaria’s position)

A quick recap: Kagan’s review of The Future of Freedom for The New Republic was an intellectual hit piece which tried to reduce the book’s thesis to “Hooray for liberal autocrats/I ♥ aristocracy” (NB: I’d link to the articles, but TNR’s online archives are inaccessible while the magazine is revamping it’s website. You’ll have to read it through LexisNexis).

Kagan’s central error is the same one made by Thomas Carothers (in a piece Kagan cites in his WaPo article to bolster his argument), reading Zakaria’s argument (and related critiques of representative government) as a case for “democratic sequentialism” (i.e. rule of law and free markets are the necessary conditions for a sustainable democracy). Zakaria’s book (which does lean heavily, perhaps too much at times, on the role of markets and wealth in creation of lasting democratic reform) is more cautionary tale than a form of Rostow’s stages of development for democratic theorists; there is no ideal democratic citizen who will resist corruption and inherently lead toward more liberal policies.  Liberalism is made up of freedoms encouraged and held fast by constitutional protections, civic institutions, free-markets, and cultural norms.  What combination of factors are needed to foster and maintain a democratic regime, political scientists can’t say.  But policy makers would do well to realize that instant democracy can often run counter to the development goals they’d like to see achieved.

¹ When you think about it, this makes as much sense as other contexts in which you see this term used.

² Stealthy and infringing Marvel Comics copyright. Booyah!

The Confidence Problem

10 Sep

From the National Security Network (via Ezra Klein) a video about the progress of the “surge” and the crisis of confidence surrounding the administration:

Democracy Arsenal (whose authors are part of the National Security Network), also has a fact check of some of the claims made in General Petraeus’s speech.

The bottom line is that with credibility surrounding Iraq War management hovering around nonexistent, no one should be surprised that “give us another few months to assess progress” is rejected almost out-of-hand. To begin with, it isn’t clear what long-term goal the surge will accomplish, even it does prove effective at quelling violence. Yes, lives will be saved in the near term, which is always good, but if everyone is admitting that the real success comes from gains on the political front, then what good are military victories if there isn’t cooperation within the Iraqi government? Who are we making the country safe for if there’s no state to run it?

Furthermore, Bush’s past foreign policy decisions (like four years of a mismanaged war run by Don Rumsfeld) suggests that the President is content to stick with his own Iraq policy until the end of his term. The reports on progress with a “wait and see” approach are procedural niceties to keep public minimally informed and kick the can down the road so that attempts can be made to salvage something from Iraq.

Which is also why I dissent from Matt Yglesias’s assessment of the new Pollack/Pascual paper,“Salvaging the Possible”. Yglesias sees it this way: Continue reading

Against Torture?

22 Aug

I think Megan McArdle needs to define some of her terms in this post questioning the dismissal of torture:

One of the most facile dismissals of torture is that it doesn’t work, so why bother? That’s tempting, but it’s too easy. Torture seems to me very likely to work provided that you can verify the information, which I assume interrogators can in at least some circumstances.

As some of her commenters noted, if you can verify the information, why are you torturing in the first place? The much hypothesized “ticking time-bomb” scenario works on the premise that you won’t be able to verify the information (until, likely, it’s too late) so the “lie-detecting brain scans” McArdle posits are the most probable candidate. Again, though, Asymmetrical Information readers respond:

As for lie detecting brain scans…really, let’s cross that bridge when we come to it. I find it hard to believe that “lying” is actually a category of activity that matches up to a discrete brain pattern; it’s too similar to “telling a story”. My 3-year-old’s lies and fantasies are mixed up with his accurate reporting in a totally indistinguishable fashion, and I’m not sure he even knows which is which.

The greatest problem with going Torquemada on terrorists is that 1) they may totally believe what they say (because of fanatical dogma or operational ignorance) and 2) given a time-sensitive scenario (like an A-bomb in New York set to go off in 24 hours), the same dogmatic extremist wins merely by holding out, not by never giving up information. At this point, verification, or even the effectiveness of torture, becomes a moot point.

The larger moral question (which may be of greater import) isn’t really clarified by the back-and-forth of utilitarian moral calculus. Once again (I’m still in English dept. meetings, so I’m leaning heavily on other people’s work) commenter and Unfogged contributor LizardBreath points us to the crux of the moral quandry:

The real problem with attempting to separate out the moral issues from any practical issues is laid out in Belle Waring’s classic post “By the power of stipulation”. You can get people to agree that they’d do any bad thing at all, say, torturing a three year old child to death, if you can stipulate that something much much worse will happen if they don’t do it. To talk about the question morally, you really do have to talk about the practical issues first.

Gentlemen: Let the Torturing Begin!

28 Sep

Remember habeus corpus?  Well, your kids won’t.  That’s because the detainee bill passed in the Senate 65-34.  And as David Greenberg notes over at The New Republic’s academic blog Open University, Senator Arlen Spector railed against this bill yesterday–and in numerous interviews–only to vote for it today.  I don’t think I need to tell you how Santorum voted.  Thanks Pennsylvania.

Yale Law professor Jack Balkin and Georgetown Law professor Marty Lederman (including notable others) having been vocal critics of the legistlation, blogging and breaking down the legal folly of it all for some time over at Balkinization. Read their posts for an in depth analysis of how the Republic fell into the Consitutional well.

For a good summary of the substantive provisions of the bill, read this Washinton Post article, which also contains a very pithy summary by Georgetown University law Professor Neal Katyal:

“If you’re an American citizen, you get the Cadillac system of justice. If you’re a foreigner or a green-card holder, you get this beat-up-Chevy version.”

Dick Cheney is a One Percenter

29 Jun

laws-of-fear.jpgNo, not that type of one percenter. (I do accept that all three of you neither understood the reference, nor found it funny).

What is the One Percent Doctrine? Dick Cheney described it thusly (quoted from Ron Sunkind’s book by the same name, via Cass Sunstein):

“We have to deal with this new type of threat in a way we haven’t yet defined. . . . With a low-probability, high-impact event like this . . . If there’s a one percent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response.”

Continue reading

War, Liberalism, and the Future of American Foreign Policy

16 Jun

the-good-fight.jpgWhat should a liberal foreign policy look like?  Humanitarianism or security?  Intervention or realism?  Of course, these concerns aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, but they do represent some of the tensions between competing foreign policy visions.  The New Republic's Editor-at-Large Peter Beinart has written a new book called The Good Fight that outlines his vision of a liberal foreign policy, one which he ties to the history of Cold War liberalism and its challenge to the threat of Communism.  Beinart, and his magazine, supported the war in Iraq but have since argued that supporting the war was a mistake, though America needs to finish what it started in Iraq, lest the country fall into civil war.    Continue reading

NSA Wiretapping: The Debate

1 Feb

At the State of the Union, Bush put the NSA program squarely in the context of protecting Americans from terrorist threats.  Democrats have framed the issue as “domestic spying.”  Which is it?  Is this “circumevention” of the FISA court legal? (Fourteen legal scholars argue it is not.)

Seventh circuit judge Richard Posner asks “What if Wiretapping Works?” over at The New Republic, and has argued that we have a domestic intelligence crisis.

Is the President advocating an imperial presidency at the cost of American civil liberties and the consent of Congress?  Or is he doing what any American would demand: everything in his power to keep us safe from terrorism?