Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Memory, Memorial, and Myth

When those who can remember have all died, we must move from memory to memorial. Memorial is the institutionalization of memory. It succeeds to the extent that it provides symbols that can call to mind what cannot possibly be remembered (because it was never experienced by those left to "remember"). But, whether deliberately or not, the symbols that are designed to create memories of things we have not experienced often engage myths. That is, memorials often mythologize their subjects.

This is an issue for theologians, certainly, but it is also an issue for political scientists--and their assistants, the historians. It is not enough to know--to call to mind--what happened on the Field of Blackbirds in 1389; one also needs to know what has been made of the battle in modern Serbian consciousness. It is not enough to know something of what transpired aboard United Flight 93 on September 11, 2001; one must also know how that event is being mythologized in the United States.

I'm late with this commentary on Memorial Day, but James Carroll was not, and he touched on some of these things I've been thinking about.

Friday, May 26, 2006

What Is History?

"History is the sum total of things that could have been avoided."

--Konrad Adenauer (Chancellor of West Germany, 1949-1963)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Sgt. Cardona's Trial

U.S. Army Sgt. Santos Cardona is currently on trial at Fort Meade, Maryland for violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice committed in his role as a dog handler during interrogations at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Hina Shamsi, an attorney for Human Rights First, is blogging the court martial here.

AI's Annual Report

Amnesty International Report 2006: The State of the World's Human Rights has been released. Among other findings, the document states that concerns about terrorism are being used by governments worldwide to justify human rights abuses. The organization noted in particular that the United States' outsourcing of military and intelligence functions to private companies "has helped create virtually rules-free zones sanctioned with the American flag and firepower," in the words of Larry Cox, AIUSA's new executive director.

The full report is available using the link above.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Frontline: Sex Slaves

The PBS program Frontline tonight aired a documentary on sex trafficking in Ukraine, Moldova, and Turkey. The personal stories of women who have been trafficked combined with footage from hidden cameras make this a very powerful report.

Unlike some Frontline stories, "Sex Slaves" is not available for viewing online. There is, however, a very good web site associated with the report located here.

The Year's Best (So Far)

Since I seem to be doing more reading than blogging lately, I thought I would post a list of books. Here--one per month--are the best books related to international politics that I've read this year.

May 2006
The Mighty & the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs
Madeleine Albright

April 2006
The Shield & the Cloak: The Security of the Commons
Gary Hart

March 2006
Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats are Hijacking the Global Economy
Moisés Naím

February 2006
The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq
George Packer

January 2006
Lawless World
Philippe Sands

Without a Trace of Irony

The president, responding to a question from an audience member, made an interesting statement in Chicago on Monday:

Bush said he would remind Western Hemisphere nations such as [Venezuela and Bolivia] that "respect for property rights and human rights is essential," that "meddling in other elections ... to achieve a short-term objective is not in the interests of the neighborhood," and that the United States expects other nations to stand against corruption and for transparent governance. "Let me just put it bluntly: I'm concerned about the erosion of democracy in" Venezuela and Bolivia, he said.

Bush did not address the recent recommendation of the UN Committee Against Torture that the United States close down its detention facilities in Guantanamo. Nor did he address the legality of the U.S. invasion of Iraq or its effects on "the interests of the neighborhood." He also failed to discuss the indictment and continuing investigation of members of his own administration as well as the corruption charges against Republican members of Congress.

But he did put it bluntly to the Venezuelans and the Bolivians.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Good News from Iraq

Democracies require more than individual freedom in order to thrive. They require social capital as well. Social capital--the complex network of interactions (particularly those that build trust) existing within a society--is the subject of Robert Putnam's well-known book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.

Social capital, Putnam suggests, is closely connected to expectations of reciprocity. A society thrives, and trust is built, if people come to expect that their contributions to the general welfare will be matched by those contributions made by others. I'll volunteer to coach a Little League team and feel good about doing it in part because I know that there are others who are volunteering to coach youth soccer teams and still others who are heading up the PTA or volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club and so on. There is, as an aspect of social capital, a norm of generalized reciprocity, not the form of reciprocity that requires a specific response to the initial contribution.

Churches, non-profit organizations, volunteer associations, and other manifestations of what we sometimes call "civil society" are important contributors to the social capital that is so important in a democracy. For this reason, the report that "now, more than three years after the American invasion, the outlines of a nascent civil society are taking shape" in Iraq comes as very welcome news.

According to the New York Times,

Since 2003 the [Iraqi] government has registered 5,000 private organizations, including charities, human rights groups, medical assistance agencies and literacy projects. Officials estimate that an additional 7,000 groups are working unofficially. The efforts show that even as violence and sectarian hatred tear Iraq's mixed cities apart, a growing number of Iraqis are trying to bring them together.

These private organizations are creating what Putnam calls "bridging social capital." While this is by no means the only thing necessary to create a democracy, it is significant. Perhaps even more encouraging is the fact that a robust civil society is something that the United States cannot impose on Iraq. It has to come from within, and apparently it is.

Of course, now we need to get those who are not interested in building Iraq's social capital to stop killing those who are.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Death of Yugoslavia

The title of this post is borrowed from an outstanding documentary produced by the BBC in 1995. The documentary was, however, released much too early to chronicle the final death of Yugoslavia.

States sometimes die a very slow death. In the case of Yugoslavia, the process of dissolution has taken fourteen years. However, the final step in the process may have occurred today as the people of Montenegro voted on a referendum to dissolve the federal union with Serbia.

Yugoslavia was created in the aftermath of World War I as the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. In 1929, in the midst of separatist violence, the state was renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (that is, the Kingdom of the South Slavs). Military defeat led to the dissolution of the Kingdom during World War II, but a socialist Yugoslavia was established after the triumph over fascism in Eastern Europe.

The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, ruled by Marshal Tito until his death in 1980, brought together six ethnically-based republics: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. Within Serbia, there were two autonomous regions--Kosovo and Vojvodina. Tito is generally credited with keeping separatist tendencies in check, in large measure because he was an effective dictator. In 1990-91, a combination of economic problems, resurgent nationalism, political manuevering, and many other factors led to a series of secessions by the constituent republics. Following the Balkan wars of the early 1990s, all that was left of Yugoslavia was a federation combining Serbia and Montenegro. The name "Yugoslavia" was dropped in 2001 as Serbia and Montenegro loosened their political ties.

Today, if at least 55 percent of Montenegrins voted for independence (as projections suggest they did), the last of Yugoslavia's constituent republics will have opted for secession from the old Serbian-dominated state.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Teaching Iraqis How to Use Guns

"More than three years after the invasion, Iraq's future remains murky. Both in that country and in America, there is a sense that the coalition military--by its very presence--may be doing as much to unite and sustain the insurgency as to defeat it. Even training the Iraqi military and police could backfire if those forces do not give their loyalty to leaders who represent the whole country. There is a fine line, but a significant one, between creating a true national army and just teaching a lot of people who don't like each other how to use guns."

--Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs, p. 182

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A "National Surveillance State"

Jack Balkin explains how the Bush administration's approach to the "war on terror" (including the use of torture, the suspension of habeas rights, and NSA surveillance) is creating a parallel legal universe outside the limits of our traditional civil liberties. It's something that all Americans should care about--not just the 71 percent who no longer support Bush.

But What About the Congressional Elections?

The last time we heard from the Secretary of Defense (and the time before that and the time before that . . .), he was telling us that we're just not hearing all of the good things that are happening in Iraq. Today he said, in effect, that things are going so well that American troops are going to stay indefinitely.

According to the Washington Post,

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he cannot guarantee that there will be substantial withdrawals of U.S. troops from Iraq this year, and warned instead that leaving that country precipitously could create a sanctuary for al-Qaeda and other terrorists.

Rumsfeld told a Senate panel yesterday that he still hopes a big troop cut will occur this year but added, "I can't promise it."

Is it possible that Iraq might not be in danger of becoming a sanctuary for al-Qaeda if, instead of invading Iraq, the United States had focused for the past three years on destroying al-Qaeda?

"Control" of the Border?

Ivo Daalder has a brief but very useful comment regarding borders here.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

London's Most Famous Taxi Driver

Guy Goma, a cab driver from the Congo, was mistakenly interviewed by a BBC reporter in place of IT expert Guy Kewney for a story on the court case involving an attempt by the Beatles' Apple Corp. to prevent Apple Computer from using their trademark apple symbol. The story, along with a link to the video, is available here.

[Via Matthew Gross.]

Monday, May 15, 2006

Flying Leap

The Guardian recently reported that the People's Republic of China is planning to build 48 new airports between now and 2010. Also underway are major expansions of passenger facilities at existing airports. A new terminal being constructed at Beijing's main airport will be the largest airport building in the world when completed.

To put matters in perspective, China has 489 airports compared to 14,893 in the United States, according to the CIA World Factbook. (Using different standards, the Guardian article reports that the new airport construction will bring the number of airports in China to 190.) Notwithstanding the gap, the resources being poured into civil aviation in China is indicative of an economic system that is (pardon the pun) taking off.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Religion Meets Rights

In The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs, a just-published book on the role of religion in American foreign policy, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright writes (p. 289):

Respect for the rights and well-being of each individual is the place where religious faith and a commitment to political liberty have their closest connection. A philosophy based on this principle has the most potential to bring people from opposing viewpoints together because it excludes no one and yet demands from everyone full consideration of the ideas and needs of others.

Well stated.

Plot Summary

In order to escape crushing poverty caused by unjust economic structures and environmental degradation, ten people decide to leave their homes together in the hope of finding seasonal employment in California picking fruit and vegetables. Their journey takes them across a thousand miles of desert. Along the way, two members of the group die.

On arriving in California, the eight survivors encounter hostility from the locals. The Californians, some of whom are recent arrivals themselves, worry about being overrun by hordes of immigrants whose willingness to live and work in dehumanizing conditions calls into question their humanity. The immigrants are subjected to economic exploitation by their employers, harassment by the authorities, and violence at the hands of vigilantes. In the end, one of them decides to become a labor organizer in an effort to improve the lives of the many people who, like his own family, have come to California in the hope of finding a better life.

Is this the life story of Cesar Chavez? It could be, I suppose, but it also happens to be the plot line of The Grapes of Wrath an Academy Award-winning film I watched on DVD last night. John Ford’s film adaptation of the novel by John Steinbeck (starring Henry Fonda) depicts the Joad family’s migration from Oklahoma to California during the Great Depression. Today, in contrast, we would expect to see, perhaps, the Ruiz or Camacho family’s migration from Oaxaca to California.

There are some obvious differences between the Joad family's story and the stories of the many Mexican and Central American families that have come to the United States as economic refugees. The most important of the differences is the existence of an international border that is part of the journey in the latter case. But the difference between the state borders that Okies crossed while fleeing the Dust Bowl and the international borders that Latinos cross today to reach California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas may not be as significant as most people think. The Joads were stopped at state borders, primarily for agricultural inspections. (I remember as a boy being stopped at an agricultural inspection station on the border separating Texas and Arkansas and being asked--or hearing my father being asked--whether we were bringing any cotton into Arkansas.) By and large, states aren't doing much to protect their borders any more.

Internationally, borders are also becoming less significant. The United States has done a great deal to promote the free flow of capital, goods, and services across international borders. The free flow of labor has been important to globalization as well, but when it comes to the movement of people across borders, our government's free-market principles go out the window. It's hard, though, to tell those who want to see more consumer goods flowing across borders that those borders don't matter while simultaneously telling those who merely want an opportunity to cross a border in order to feed their children that those borders do matter.

With President Bush set to make a major address to the nation on the subject of immigration on Monday night, it’s not a bad time to see (or, better yet, read) The Grapes of Wrath.

(Incidentally, if you want to see a film about immigration that is currently in release, Stephen Colbert claims that Over the Hedge fills the bill. I haven't seen it, so I can't comment on Colbert's assertion that it is a thinly disguised allegory of the current immigration debate.)

Friday, May 12, 2006

Where the Users Are

Ten years ago, two-thirds of the world's Internet users were Americans. Today less than a fourth are Americans.

According to a story in Wednesday's International Herald Tribune, data from market research firm ComScore show the United States still has a substantial lead in the total number of Internet users even as its share of the world total is declining. The following list ranks countries by the total number of Internet users in March 2006.

  1. United States (152.1 million)
  2. China (74.7 million)
  3. Japan (52.1 million)
  4. Germany (31.8 million)
  5. United Kingdom (30.2 million)
  6. South Korea (24.7 million)
  7. France (23.9)

Tom Friedman would no doubt argue that this bit of information shows the world is becoming ever flatter.

[Via FP Passport.]

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Using Intelligence

“While normally foreign and military policy is based upon intelligence--that is, the objective assessment of the facts--the process is here [in Vietnam] reversed: a new policy has been decided upon, and intelligence must provide the facts to justify it.”

--Hans J. Morgenthau, 1965

(Quoted in Madeleine Albright, The Might and the Almighty, p. 34)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


From the Guardian:

Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, last night called for the immediate closure of Guantánamo Bay in the most full-blown attack on the US detention centre by a member of the government.

Going far further than cabinet ministers, notably Tony Blair, have done in their criticism, he described the existence of the camp on Cuba as "unacceptable".

Lord Goldsmith made his remarks at a conference on international terrorism in London.

Après Pierre?

Almost seven months after U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues Pierre-Richard Prosper resigned his post, no replacement has been nominated by the Bush administration. The Office of War Crimes Issues is currently headed by an interim director, Deputy Legal Adviser Samuel M. Witten.

Prosper, a Pepperdine School of Law graduate, resigned last October in order to return to California to make a run for the Republican party's nomination for state attorney general. Two days before the March 10 filing deadline, Prosper pulled out of the race citing his failure to raise sufficient funds for the primary campaign.

Why hasn't the Bush administration moved to replace Prosper? The initial decision to appoint an ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues was made at the insistence of Secretary of State Colin Powell. When Powell left State, the Office of War Crimes Issues lost its only supporter within the Bush administration. With Powell and Prosper gone, President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be quite content to let the Office of War Crimes Issues drop completely out of sight.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Election Results

The results are in for the first election to the new 47-member United Nations Human Rights Council. Cuba, the People's Republic of China, and Saudi Arabia each won a seat; Iran did not.

I'll be offering some analysis of the results later this week. Meanwhile, some discussion of the election is available in this wire service story.

Monday, May 08, 2006

World War III?

In a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece, David Beamer, the father of United Flight 93 passenger Todd Beamer, called the storming of the cockpit of that flight "our first successful counterattack in our homeland in this new global war--World War III." President Bush told a CNBC interviewer this past Friday that he agrees. "I believe that," he said. "I believe that it was the first counter-attack to World War III."

It wasn't the President's first time to allude to the "global war on terror" in these grandiose terms. Last June, in a speech at Fort Bragg, North Carolina defending his administration's handling of the war in Iraq, President Bush said,

Some wonder whether Iraq is a central front in the war on terror. Among the terrorists, there is no debate. Hear the words of Osama Bin Laden: "This Third World War is raging" in Iraq. "The whole world is watching this war." He says it will end in "victory and glory, or misery and humiliation."

One has to wonder about the wisdom of agreeing with Osama bin Laden on this (or any other) point. Bin Laden calls the conflict in Iraq the "Third World War" and President Bush says, in effect, "See? The terrorists are calling this World War III." His endorsement of bin Laden's label comes in the context of a speech designed to bolster support for a war that is not going well. Then, almost eleven months later and still with no end to the war in Iraq in sight, he adopts the "World War III" label as his own. The terrorists' war is our war.

Except it's not.

No state should ever concede to terrorists the right to call their methods warfare. Some who employ terror may, on occasion, have objectives worthy of war, but their methods are crimes, not acts of war. It would have been far better if the "war on terrorism" language had been shelved in favor of a consistent policy of calling terrorists "criminals."

On top of this, there's the additional (and very consequential) fact that rhetorically increasing the stakes by using a label like "World War III" is probably not wise when terrorists can plausibly claim to be holding their own against the world's only remaining superpower.

Summer Reading

When the semester ends and the summer stretches out before me, I tend to plunge into several books at once. That way different authors can vie for my attention. The best book is generally the one I finish first, although staggered starts often affect the order of the finish.

Here are the books I'm reading now (in the order in which I expect to finish them):

  1. Myths America Lives By by Richard T. Hughes
  2. The Illustrated Jesus Through the Centuries by Jaroslav Pelikan
  3. The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs by Madeleine Albright
  4. American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century by Kevin Phillips

The books I look forward to reading at some point this summer include:

  • The Case for Goliath: How America Acts as the World's Government in the 21st Century by Michael Mandelbaum
  • Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers by Kwame Anthony Appiah
  • American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin
  • House of War by James Carroll
  • Mao Zedong by Jonathan Spence
  • Conscience and Power: An Examination of Dirty Hands and Political Leadership by Stephen Garrett
  • Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebles in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves by Adam Hochschild

Stayed tuned for excerpts and reviews throughout the summer.

Sunday, May 07, 2006


Two years ago this weekend, President Bush apologized for the humiliation suffered by prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Speaking to reporters in the Rose Garden with King Abdullah of Jordan, President Bush said, "I told him [King Abdullah] I was sorry for the humiliation suffered by the Iraqi prisoners, and the humiliation suffered by their families. I told him I was equally sorry that people who have been seeing those pictures didn't understand the true nature and heart of America."

It is a rare thing, but not unprecedented, for the president of the United States to apologize for the nation's lapses in the realm of human rights. In March of 1998, during a visit to Africa, President Clinton issued two apologies for America's failings. In Uganda, he apologized for American involvement in the slave trade: "Going back to the time before we were even a nation, European Americans received the fruits of the slave trade. And we were wrong in that." During a brief stop in Kigali, Rwanda, he apologized for the international community's failure to respond to the 1994 genocide in that country:

The international community, together with nations in Africa, must bear its share of responsibility for this tragedy, as well. We did not act quickly enough after the killing began. We should not have allowed the refugee camps to become safe haven for the killers. We did not immediately call these crimes by their rightful name: genocide.

He said, "It may seem strange to you here, but all over the world there were people like me sitting in offices, day after day after day, who did not fully appreciate the depth and the speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror." The apology was widely criticized for the false impression it conveyed concerning the limits of the outside world's knowledge of what was happening in Rwanda.

(Last year, during a visit to Rwanda as a private citizen, Clinton visited a memorial to the victims of the genocide where he was somewhat more direct in his apology, saying, "I express regret for my personal failure.")

In March of 1999, during a trip to Central America, President Clinton apologized for the United States' support for Guatemala's brutal military regime, which killed approximately 200,000 people during a civil war that lasted 36 years. "It is important that I state clearly that support for military forces or intelligence units which engaged in violent and widespread repression of the kind described in the report [of the UN's Historical Clarification Commission] was wrong," he said. "And the United States must not repeat that mistake. We must, and we will, instead continue to support the peace and reconciliation process in Guatemala."

Apologies for human rights abuses are always controversial, first because they require acknowledging wrongdoing. Furthermore, some will regard an apology as a poor substitute for justice while others will consider an apology to be beneath the dignity of a world power. Those who believe that moral norms for states differ from those for individuals will generally think that apologies are uniquely suited to interpersonal relations.

Notwithstanding the problems they may pose, apologies can help states, as well as individuals, escape a painful past. When a nation fails to acknowledge its mistakes, it may be because it has "illusions of righteousness," a condition that often prompts additional mistakes.


For more on the subject of apologies and foreign policy, see Mark Gibney and Erik Roxstrom, "The Status of State Apologies," Human Rights Quarterly 23 (November 2001): 911-39. [Available via the Project Muse database from subscribing libraries.] Also, former ambassador Robert A. Seiple has an essay on "Confessional Foreign Policy" here.

[Thanks to David Higa for research related to this post.]

Saturday, May 06, 2006

MFS2: The Zone of Democracy

Musings on Failed States, Part 2

I suggested in my first set of musings on failed states that our collective failure to render adequate assistance to New Orleans might be linked to an ideology that tends to be skeptical of government's ability to do good things and do them effectively and that all of this might somehow be related to the problem of failed states. At this point, I consider this formulation of the New Orleans issue a "provocation," that is, an idea that might or might not be worth holding onto but that is at least plausible enough (and controversial enough) to force me (and maybe others) to think it through. So I want to begin thinking through it, but first I want to situate it. And here it might help to think horizontally.

Get up off the floor. That's not what I meant.

The more my graduate school experiences recede into the past, the more I seem to become aware of my debts to certain mentors. My chief debts, intellectual and otherwise, are owed to Inis Claude at the University of Virginia.

Professor Claude occasionally spoke of the benefits of horizontal thinking. Our tendency, he said, is to categorize most things. Doing so requires drawing vertical lines between categories, or "thinking vertically." Here's a simple example:


Horizontal thinking, in contrast, recognizes the many gradations between the absolutes of the categories we tend to create with vertical thinking. A more nuanced understanding of the difference between peace and war, therefore, might yield something like this:


It's a simple idea, but then the most useful ideas usually are.

So, if we're to think horizontally about the problem of failed states, what should our horizontal line--our spectrum of possibilities--help us to map? I want to suggest "control."

Hobbes argued that the basic purpose of government--of his Leviathan--is to rescue humankind from the insecurity associated with the state of nature, the condition in which "the life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." Government does this by imposing order, that is, by exercising control over all who might threaten the lives and well-being of those living under its authority. This is a necessary condition for human flourishing. It is, of course, a condition absent in failed states.

Government control to provide safety from rapacious neighbors and foreign enemies is not a sufficient condition for human flourishing, however. Governments can, and often do, exercise too much control. So the challenge is how to have enough government (control) without having too much government (control). One of the manifestations of this challenge is the tradeoff–all too familiar to Americans since 9/11–between freedom and security.

Thinking horizontally about control gives us something like this:

No Control------------------------------------------------------Total Control

On the left side is anarchy; on the right, totalitarianism. Sierra Leone in the 1990s and Somalia for most of the last two decades would fall close to the left end of the spectrum; North Korea would fall closer to the right end than any country in the world today (although certain kleptocracies of Central Asia or Islamic theocracies of the Middle East might also fall toward the totalitarian end of the spectrum).

Most people would rather not live in Somalia or in North Korea. Instead, we prefer control within limits, or controlled control. We like "law and order," but we want law to apply to those who govern as well as to those over whom they govern. The "rights revolution" is, in large measure, what we have come to rely on for limits on the measures governments may take to impose order. Jefferson, in fact, put the limitations imposed by rights first when he declared that "governments are instituted among men" in order "to secure these rights." Governments that both "insure domestic tranquility" and "secure these rights" (if I may combine phrases from the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence) fall somewhere in the middle of our spectrum of control. They fall, in fact, in what I would like to call the "zone of democracy."

/--- The Zone of Democracy ---/
Failed States----------------------------------------Totalitarian Regimes

It's important to note that human rights (at least the full range of human rights) cannot exist at either end of the spectrum. Excessive control by the state tramples human rights while the absence of order makes it impossible for individuals to exercise most rights. The "zone of democracy," in other words, is equally the "zone of human rights."

Within the zone of democracy, there is a wide range of possible answers to the question of how we manage the tradeoff between order and liberty. Libertarians prefer to eliminate government control over as much as possible; social democrats prefer to eliminate as much social and economic insecurity as possible. Libertarians are more willing than social democrats to see some people fall through the cracks; social democrats are more willing to tolerate the fact that some people fail to exercise individual responsibility.

Much of democratic politics is about the debate over where, within the zone of democracy, the line dividing government responsibility and individual responsibility should be drawn. But, because political debates generally revolve around specific policies rather than general principles, the line may be drawn in different places on different issues. For example, the government may take great responsibility for protecting its citizens against terrorist threats while accepting little responsibility for protecting its citizens against a variety of threats posed by nature. Sometimes the location of the line separating government responsibility from individual responsibility may have far more to do with political considerations than with philosophical considerations. Presidents, ever conscious of the Electoral College, are far more likely to tell South Dakotans than Floridians that they must not look to the federal government for assistance.

The impact of these (and many other) calculations may result in "pockets of failure" (to use a term employed by Foreign Policy magazine, or localized state failure, within what, on the whole, appears to be a well-functioning state. So, although the United States isn't a failed state by any stretch of the imagination, you might have reason to wonder if you had spent the last seven months in New Orleans' Ninth Ward with no contact with the outside world. You might also have reason to wonder if, like some of my students, you had spent your spring break working with those who are homeless in downtown Detroit.

State failure is generally a consequence of a government's lack of capacity to exercise control (over violence, poverty, disease, etc.), but a government's lack of will to exercise control can lead to the same end. The failure of the Sudanese government to control the Janjaweed militias that have been driving the people of Darfur from their homes is a lack of will, not a lack of capacity. The failure of neighboring Uganda's government to protect the Acholi people of northern Uganda from the violence of the Lord's Resistance Army appears to result from a lack of will rather than a lack of capacity. Perhaps failed states and collapsed states are generally the consequences of the inability of a government to exercise control, but weak states--those just a step away from failure--and localized state failure are often the result of deliberate policies.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

AIDS and the Pope

Former Catholic priest and current Boston Globe columnist James Carroll argues for a change in Catholic teaching on the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS from one spouse to another. Carroll sums up the problem with the Catholic position in these terms:

The consequences of this Catholic mistake have been catastrophic. Cultural prejudice against condoms, often widespread, has been reinforced. Women for whom condoms can be a crucial protection and a method of self-assertion have been kept at risk and disempowered. Priests, nuns, and the few bishops who denounced the condom ban have been disciplined. Catholic lay people who have been savvy enough to ignore it have been put in bad conscience. HIV/AIDS education has been equated with the promotion of promiscuity. Catholic leaders have falsely defined condoms as ineffective. Prevention of illness has been put in opposition to compassion for the sick. Homophobia has been sacralized. The Vatican's rigid adherence to this teaching in the face of monumental human suffering has been central to the broader collapse of Catholic moral authority.

But even these disasters pale beside the dominant fact of this tragedy: For more than 20 years, the hierarchy's rejection of condom use has been killing people. Even were the Vatican to change its position now--and pray it does--Catholics must still reckon with that betrayal.

See the full column here.

Double or Nothing

For those of you--I mean "us"--who didn't get to attend the White House Correspondents' Association dinner last weekend, here's a link to the video of the President's (maybe that should be Presidents') remarks.

[Thanks, Brad.]

MFS1: Introduction

Musings on Failed States, Part 1

Because there are no more exams to grade and because I’m not quite ready to jump into the summer’s big project, I want to begin a series of posts on the issue of failed states. Why? Perhaps it’s a way of making the psychological transition from failed exams (the teaching function) to nation-states (the research function). It’s a transition that can be conceptualized something like this:

FAILED exam - i - nation STATE

(Okay, I admit I got way too much sun sitting through the commencement ceremonies last Saturday.)

The real answer to the question of why I want to write about failed states is this: A couple of posts on other blogs along with a couple of comments from a reader of Swords Into Plowshares have prompted me to begin thinking about failed states in somewhat different terms than I have in the past. So, I want to do the blogging equivalent of thinking out loud with some posts I’ll label “Musings on Failed States,” or MFS for short.

By way of introduction, let me share the posts and comments I’ve been trying to tie together.

First of all, in an exchange in the comments here, a reader mentioned a preference for limited government. (Something similar appeared in another comment recently. Apparently the blog has been infiltrated by libertarians.) That would have been unremarkable (after all, some of my best really self-interested friends are libertarians) and insufficient to prompt me to think about failed states except that, at about the same time I was responding to one of the comments, I read Matthew Gross’s post (here) pointing me toward an anguished commentary on post-Katrina New Orleans by Sports Illustrated’s Peter King.

Clearly, the United States has failed New Orleans thus far. Why? One possibility--just a possibility--is that those who are most committed to the proposition that government shouldn’t do much are not likely to be very good at doing what government must do. To put it differently, you might like going to a doctor who doesn’t believe in surgery, but when you conclude that you really do need surgery, she's not likely to be the one you want to have operating on you.

But what does any of this have to do with failed states? Perhaps nothing, but our failure to render adequate assistance to New Orleans makes me wonder just how different a typical failed state would be from a libertarian’s ideal state. (Of course, there is no "typical" failed state. Perhaps there's also no "ideal" state for libertarians.) The practical differences between, say, Somalia and some imaginary laissez-faire paradise would no doubt be enormous, but I suspect (1) the theories of "governance" would not be that different and (2) the practical differences could perhaps best be explained by reference to a tipping point that separates freedom from anarchy. (This needs more elaboration, I know, but I'll come back to it in part 2 on the "Zone of Democracy.")

A more systematic (although still highly problematic) way of thinking about this issue was presented, fortuitously, by a post I read at Coming Anarchy that pointed me in the direction of the Failed States Index recently published by Foreign Policy. The Index is based on an evaluation of the instability of states in twelve areas. Here are the top--or rather, the bottom--ten states in the ranking:

  1. Sudan
  2. Democratic Republic of the Congo
  3. Ivory Coast
  4. Iraq
  5. Zimbabwe
  6. Chad
  7. Somalia
  8. Haiti
  9. Pakistan
  10. Afghanistan

(Four more Stans appear among the bottom 45 on the list. Oddly, Berserkistan is nowhere to be found.)

There's much more to explore. In addition to the "Zone of Democracy," I want to consider the role of war in prompting (or preventing) state failure. There are also human rights issues to consider. But all of that must wait for MFS2 and beyond.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A Petro-Political Cycle?

Ernest Wilson has an interesting piece here on what he calls the "petro-political cycle." He writes, "At the top of the petro-political cycle"--precisely where we seem to be at present--"third world suppliers can both raise the prices they charge for their petroleum, and also try to alter some of the basic rules of the game." Furthermore, "we should expect to see more political assertiveness from exporting countries." As the comments on his post indicate, his timing was impeccable given Bolivia's nationalization of its oil and gas industry on Monday, one day after Wilson's post.

IR Blogs?

It's not as if I've got a lot of spare time in which to read more blogs, but I'm interested to know what I might be missing in terms of international relations-related blogs (especially ones focused on human rights and international security broadly defined). Any suggestions?

And while we're at it, perhaps I should solicit some feedback about this blog. What should be different here--other than the opinions expressed and the photo that probably makes me look a little younger than I am? Is it time to move on from Blogger? Should I at least include a blogroll? What do you think, Ben? Dale? Mom? (I have no illusions about my readership.)

I'm not sure I'll be making changes soon, if ever, but if I do, the summer would be the time to make them.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Fillmore on Foreign Policy

Millard Fillmore is hardly remembered, much less quoted, these days. However, the following lines from a message to Congress on December 2, 1850, are worth noting. They concern the rights and duties of states, applying the "Golden Rule" as the pertinent standard of behavior.

The great law of morality ought to have a national as well as a personal and individual application. We should act toward other nations as we wish them to act toward us, and justice and conscience should form the rule of conduct between governments, instead of mere power, self-interest, or the desire of aggrandizement. To maintain a strict neutrality in foreign wars, to cultivate friendly relations, to reciprocate every noble and generous act, and to perform punctually and scrupulously every treaty obligation--these are the duties which we owe to other states, and by the performance of which we best entitle ourselves to like treatment from them; or, if that, in any case, be refused, we can enforce our own rights with justice and a clear conscience.

Monday, May 01, 2006


On this date--May Day--in 1937, over a million marchers took to the streets in Paris to protest the aerial bombardment of the Basque community of Guernica four days earlier. It was this march and the attendant newspaper coverage that inspired Pablo Picasso to paint his haunting anti-war masterpiece.

(For more on the painting and its history, go here.)