Tuesday, August 29, 2006

On Notice

Has Stephen Colbert been reading Swords Into Plowshares? You decide.

[Thanks to AEA.]

Monday, August 28, 2006

These Colors

Driving on Pacific Coast Highway on a weekend during the summer invariably provides time for deep thought. It's something to be avoided whenever possible (driving on PCH, that is, not deep thought), but my son was returning home from a week in Texas and so I was fighting the traffic on the way down to LAX to pick him up.

On my way to the airport, I spotted a bumper sticker with an American flag and these words: "These colors don't run . . . the world." Michael Mandelbaum, I thought to myself, would disagree.

Mandelbaum's The Case for Goliath is an application of hegemonic stability theory. At its most basic level, hegemonic stability theory says simply that those who have the power make the rules (or, as the Athenians put it in their discussion with the Melians, "the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must"). The theory also contends that those rules, when enforced by the dominant power, promote order in the international system. Since World War II, the United States has been the world's leading power; since the end of the Cold War, it has had no rival.

Primacy of the sort enjoyed by the United States since 1945 has brought with it the opportunity to create a world order based on American values. In an earlier book, The Ideas That Conquered the World: Peace, Democracy, and Free Markets in the Twenty-first Century, Mandelbaum made the case that, by the end of the twentieth century, American values had been firmly entrenched as the principles of the new world order. (It's worth noting that the phrase "new world order"--in its Latin form, novus ordo seclorum--appears on the Great Seal of the United States.) The British legal scholar Philippe Sands has also argued recently (in Lawless World) that the modern international legal system bears the indelible stamp of American values put into place in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Unlike Mandelbaum, however, Sands goes on to argue that the United States now finds itself on the wrong side of many of the laws it established for the world.

Clearly there's a strong argument to be made that American power has helped to shape a world in which human rights, democracy, free trade, and the commitment to peaceful conflict resolution enjoy wider support than at any prior point in human history. So what about the argument that America runs the world? Or, to put the question more discreetly, what about the claims of hegemonic stability theory?

Mandelbaum, who argued in The Ideas That Conquered the World that peace (that is, the commitment to seek peaceful solutions to conflict) has become a global norm, is an apologist for the Iraq War in The Case for Goliath. Human rights, the torture debate, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo form no part of his argument. His argument, in other words, is essentially that the United States runs the world according to principles that it no longer honors. A hegemon may be able to get away with hypocrisy for a while, but few things are likely to arouse more resentment over the long term.

It's true that the world has largely bought into American values, if by "American values" we mean the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Conventions, and the Nuremberg Principles. If, however, by "American values" we mean preventive war, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees, defiance and open disparagement of the United Nations, and efforts to undermine the International Criminal Court, then few in the world want any part of those values.

Here, then, is the central problem for the hegemonic stability theorist today: The hegemon is not acting in a manner consistent with its own rules and therefore it is generating turbulence, not stability, in the world. What the bumper sticker should have said is this: "These colors don't run . . . the world according to the values they once represented." That, however, would have necessitated covering up the "Free Tibet" bumper sticker.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Text Messaging the Revolution

This piece, from Friday's WaPo, suggests that not only are cell phones making it easier for non-state actors to wage war (think IEDs in Iraq or the explosives triggered by cheap cell phones in Madrid on March 11, 2004), they're also making it easier to conduct effective protests.

Friday, August 25, 2006

A New Human Rights Treaty

At the United Nations, the Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities has successfully concluded its work on a new human rights treaty. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will be transmitted to the UN General Assembly for its approval and opened for signature this fall.

[Via Julian Ku at Opinio Juris.]

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A World Without the United States

Toward the end (p. 195) of The Case for Goliath: How America Acts as the World’s Government in the Twenty-First Century, Michael Mandelbaum sums up the case for American leadership by imagining its absence:

The abdication by the United States of some or all of the responsibilities for international security that it had come to bear in the first decade of the twenty-first century would deprive the international system of one of its principal safety features, which keeps countries from smashing into each other, as they are historically prone to do. In this sense, a world without America would be the equivalent of a freeway full of cars without brakes. Similarly, should the American government abandon some or all of the ways in which it had, at the dawn of the new century, come to support global economic activity, the world economy would function less effectively and might even suffer a severe and costly breakdown. A world without the United States would in this way resemble a fleet of cars without gasoline.

Their awareness, sometimes dim and almost never explicitly spelled out, of the political, military, and economic dangers that would come with the retreat of American power causes other countries to refrain from combining to try to displace the United States from its place at the center of the international system. Virtually all of them harbor some grievance or other against the twenty-first-century international order, but none would welcome the absence of any order at all, which is what the collapse of American power might well bring. Grudgingly, tacitly, silently, other countries support the American role as the world’s government out of the well-grounded fear that while the conduct of the United States may be clumsy, overbearing, and even occasionally insufferable, the alternative would be even worse, perhaps much worse.

This is clearly a view at odds with the perspective of America's enemies, but there are allies as well who not only disagree but would resent being told what they "grudgingly, tacitly, silently" support. Is Mandelbaum on to something or is the "case for Goliath" a stretch?

Why Not War?

George Soros presented some of the reasons for believing the "war on terrorism" is misconceived in a Wall Street Journal op-ed published last week. Anne-Marie Slaughter reprints and endorses his analysis here.

The Shoe Bomber Speaks

Richard Reid, the British national who attempted to detonate a bomb in his shoe on a transatlantic flight in December 2001, is currently serving a life sentence at a maximum security prison in Colorado. Peter Herbert, a British barrister who spoke to him in prison in February 2002, offers some insight into Reid's background and motives in an account of that conversation published in the Guardian today.

According to Herbert, Reid's motivation for trying to blow up the airliner "was the foreign policy of the US government, which, he said, had resulted in the murder of thousands of Muslims and oppressed people around the world from Vietnam to southern Africa to Afghanistan and Palestine." Reid stated, "I am not crazy as they suggest, but I knew exactly what I was doing. Of course I would have been sad to have those people die, but I knew that my cause was just and righteous. It was the will of Allah that I did not succeed."

Reid acknowledged to Herbert that he was being treated well in prison, but he contrasted his own treatment with what he had heard about the treatment of detainees in Cuba. "Guantánamo Bay will provide us with thousands of recruits the longer it is maintained," he said.

There are still some in the United States who seem to regard as subversive the obvious question of why acts of terrorism against Americans occur. Fortunately, more people are willing to ask it today than at any point since 9/11. For those who are willing to ask why, the "Shoe Bomber" provides a few clues via his British barrister's article here.

[Via FP Passport.]

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Dr. Iga's Great Hong Kong Adventure

Pepperdine math prof Kevin Iga is blogging about his experiences living in Hong Kong this fall. He's an adventurous traveler and--so far--a prolific writer, so the blog is already quite good, but I expect it to come alive visually when Kevin finds the new digital camera he's been looking for. (Don't overlook the comments. Another colleague, who apparently prefers to remain nameless, is adding some of his own recollections of HK.)

"There Must Be Consequences"

Responding to Iran's rejection of the conditions for talks established by the UN Security Council, President Bush said yesterday, "There must be consequences if people thumb their nose at the United Nations Security Council, and we will work with people in the Security Council to achieve that objective."

David Adesnik at OxBlog notes that "it really would be heard to come up with a statement more capable of inciting widespread laughter at Turtle Bay."

Unfortunately, there was much more in President Bush's press conference yesterday to leave listeners shaking their heads. Fred Kaplan at Slate notes many of Bush's failures to comprehend the world during the hour he spent with the press, but having read the entire transcript of the press conference, I can state unequivocally that Kaplan's piece merely scratches the surface.

[Via Kevin Drum.]

Monday, August 21, 2006

Naming Rights

P. W. Singer, author of Corporate Warriors and Children at War and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, had an interesting column in Saturday's Los Angeles Times on the uncertainty over what to call the current "war." If you missed it, here's the link.

Two Years

It was two years ago that Swords into Plowshares got its start with this post. It has been a good outlet for some of my not-quite-fully-formed ideas, some of my instantaneous reactions to events of the day, and some of my gleanings from books, newspapers, and the Internet. It's hard to know what might have taken the place of blogging if I had not been doing this for the past two years, but my sense is that this has complemented my teaching, research, and (more formal) writing rather than competing with it. And, of course, I've enjoyed it. Otherwise, I probably would have walked away from it a long time ago.

Thanks to those of you who check in from time to time. The best thing about doing this has been staying connected--or in some cases reconnecting--with the friends and former students (and those are overlapping categories) who read and make comments.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

George and Raúl

"While President Bush was on vacation, this country was in the capable hands of his brother, Raúl."

--David Letterman

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Kinky on Cubans

In a recent e-mail, someone asked why I haven't commented on Castro or Cuba. The simple answer is that, on some subjects, I find it hard to top Kinky Friedman, the former musician and novelist now running for governor of Texas as an independent. Kinky, pictured below standing on my desk, has said about the cigars he smokes, "Hell yes it's a Cuban cigar. But I'm not supporting their economy, I'm burning their fields."

That's the kind of creative approach to Cuban policy that the United States needs.

(Okay, it's not really Kinky standing on my desk. It's the Kinky Friedman doll my brother sent me recently.)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Why They Hate Us

Julia E. Sweig, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of Friendly Fire: Losing Friends and Making Enemies in the Anti-American Century, has an excellent essay in tomorrow's Los Angeles Times. You can read it here.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Guerrilla Warfare

One of my former professors, Richard K. Betts, writes in today's Los Angeles Times about the problems posed by asymmetric warfare. In "How Superpowers Become Impotent," Betts describes some of the ways that guerrillas have countered the enormous military might of the United States in Iraq and Israel in Lebanon.

The problem for military superpowers, Betts notes, is that their adversaries refuse to fight in ways that the superpowers prefer. As a result, there are few options left to the superpowers.

To win with our conventional military, we would have to fight like beasts, slaughtering noncombatants. Americans rightly shrink from this in Iraq, but we are stuck, with no victory in sight. Israelis, feeling their backs to the wall, used military power with less restraint in Lebanon, killing hundreds of civilians to maximize the odds of getting Hezbollah soldiers and supplies. But this approach is self-defeating, spreading bitterness among victims that mobilizes more support for Hezbollah.

Short of barbarism, there are only two ways to reduce guerrilla ranks faster than new recruits refill them. One is to rely on special forces such as Green Berets, but the few we have are spread thin in hot spots around the world. The other is to saturate a country with regular troops standing on every street corner. But our Army is too small to do this in more than one country at a time.

It is crucial, Betts suggests, for superpowers to win the support of the people from whom guerrillas draw their support. This requires fighting humanely and reconstructing war-torn societies quickly and efficiently.

Betts concludes with a comment on the Bush administration's effort to deal with terrorism:

The Bush line that aggressive action in Iraq was the way to counter terrorism got it backward; it has embittered more Muslims and energized more terrorists than it has eliminated. We need to focus on combating Al Qaeda, not multiplying new enemies. Where we do have to invade--as in Afghanistan after Sept. 11--we should do so with overwhelming force and overwhelming help, to tempt the locals to buy into our brand of peace so we can leave quickly.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Another Crisis in National Security?

"A national security crisis is brewing, and if our country doesn't take immediate action, it could be devastating for the future of the United States." So says William E. Kirwan in the opening line of an op-ed in tomorrow's Washington Post.

As the co-author of a book that takes a rather expansive view of security threats facing the United States, perhaps some would say I'm not well situated to criticize Mr. Kirwan for using the language of a "national security crisis" to attract attention to his plea for an improved educational system in the United States. But, in fact, Dan Caldwell and I argue in Seeking Security in an Insecure World (p. 14) that "broadening" our understanding of security threats can go too far.

So, let me officially register my disapproval of Mr. Kirwan's effort to link our shortcomings in the educational realm to national security. He can problematize and even politicize them, but it's going way too far to try to securitize them.

Granting Terrorists Legitimacy

Granting terrorists legitimacy in any way, shape, or form is a very bad idea, and yet the Bush administration regularly does so by invoking the language of a "war on terrorism." War is fought by belligerents and belligerents, whether fighting on behalf of states or non-state entities, have equal rights on the battlefield. Belligerents, in fact, have the right under international law to kill other belligerents. When they kill non-belligerents (civilians or those who are hors de combat), they have committed a war crime. But not all killing by belligerents is criminal in nature.

Conversely, those who kill intentionally without belligerent status are criminals (except in very limited circumstances of self-defense)--period. Societies based on law single them out and punish them as criminals. To call criminals "belligerents"--implicitly conceding that there are some circumstances in which they might kill without criminality--is a mistake. Yet that's exactly what we do every time we suggest that terrorists are our opposite numbers in the "war on terrorism."

In today's New York Times, David E. Sanger writes about the debate over the "war on terrorism" trope:

Soon after the British police announced last week that they had broken up a plot to blow up aircraft across the Atlantic, President Bush declared the affair "a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists."

British officials, on the other hand, referred to the men in custody as "main players," and declined to discuss either their motives or ideology so that they would not jeopardize "criminal proceedings."

The difference in these initial public characterizations was revealing: The American president summoned up language reaffirming that the United States is locked in a global war in which its enemies are bound together by a common ideology, and a common hatred of democracy. For the moment, the British carefully stuck to the toned-down language of law enforcement.

Sanger presents a much more balanced view of the issue than I do, so read what he says about it.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Great Trivializer

I've mentioned Karen Armstrong's book The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism several times recently, but I really haven't said enough about it. I won't remedy that in this post, but I nonetheless want to provide an example of the way that Armstrong's broad knowledge of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam illuminates modern history.

Toward the end of the book, Armstrong discusses the Islamic Revolution that ousted the shah and brought a theocratic regime to power in Iran. As those of us old enough to recall the Tehran hostage crisis that began in November 1979 well remember, Iranians in the streets of Tehran and elsewhere continually denounced America as "the Great Satan." Armstrong explains (pp. 301-302) that different understandings of Satan in Christianity and Islam may have caused Americans to misinterpret the message being conveyed:

Americans were shocked to hear their nation described as satanic during and after the Revolution. Even those who were aware of the resentment that so many of the Iranian people had felt for the United States since the 1953 CIA coup, were repelled by this demonic imagery. However mistaken American policy may have been, it did not deserve to be condemned in this way. It confirmed the prevailing belief that the Iranian revolutionaries were all fanatical, hysterical, and unbalanced. But most Western people misunderstood the image of the Great Satan. In Christianity, Satan is a figure of overpowering evil, but in Islam he is a much more manageable figure. The Koran even hints that Satan will be forgiven on the Last Day, such is its confidence in the all-conquering goodness of God. Those Iranians who called America "the Great Satan" were not saying that the United States was diabolically wicked but something more precise. In popular Shiism, the Shaitan, the Tempter, is a rather ludicrous creature, chronically incapable of appreciating the spiritual values of the unseen world. In one story, he is said to have complained to God about the privileges given to humans, but was easily fobbed off with inferior gifts. Instead of prophets, the Shaitan was quite happy with fortune-tellers, his mosque the bazaar, he was most at home in the public baths, and instead of seeking God, his quest was for wine and women. He was, in fact, incurably trivial, trapped forever in the realm of the exterior (zahir) world and unable to see that there was a deeper and more important dimension of existence. For many Iranians, America, the Great Shaitan, was "the Great Trivializer." The bars, casinos, and secularist ethos of West-toxicated North Tehran typified the American ethos, which seemed deliberately to ignore the hidden (batin) realities that alone gave life meaning. Furthermore, America, the Shaitan, had tempted the shah away from the true values of Islam to a life of superficial secularism.

This certainly doesn't transform a negative message into a positive one, but it should remind us of the obvious point that cultural differences can cause us to misinterpret what others are trying to tell us. This is as true of theological differences as it is of linguistic differences. Armstrong's work, which is directed toward the general public, is important in part because it helps those of us who are firmly planted in one religious tradition to begin to understand others. Many of us, myself included, would do well to know much more about Islam than we do. Armstrong's The Battle for God is not a bad place to start.

The Threat (1954)

"It is now clear that we are facing an implacable enemy whose avowed objective is world domination by whatever means and whatever cost. There are no rules in such a game. Hitherto acceptable norms of human conduct do not apply. If the United States is to survive, longstanding concepts of 'fair play' must be reconsidered. We must develop effective espionage and counter-espionage services, and must learn to subvert, sabotage, and destroy our enemies by more clever, more sophisticated, and more effective methods than those used against us. It may be necessary that the American people be made acquainted with, understand, and support this fundamentally repugnant philosophy."

If you had to guess, would you say these were most likely the words of George W. Bush? Dick Cheney? Donald Rumsfeld? Tony Blair? Do you think they were uttered in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks? After last summer's London transit bombings? This week after the plot to blow up airliners was revealed?

The title of this post has no doubt tipped you off to the fact that these words come from a different era. In fact, they were uttered in 1954 by General James Doolittle, the Army Air Forces pilot who led "Doolittle's Raid" on Tokyo in 1942. The context was, of course, the Cold War struggle against the Soviet Union.

There is much about the so-called "war on terrorism" that differs from the Cold War, but in many ways the early years of the Cold War seem instructive for the post-9/11 world. Much of what has been said about the world--and about our own security--since 9/11 seems to echo what was being said in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Debates over the freedom-security tradeoff today recall similar debates in the earlier period, which is no doubt what prompted George Clooney to make Good Night and Good Luck when he did.

There is never a perfect correspondence between different historical periods, but some challenges do recur in human history--and some mistakes are repeated over and over again. In spite of the generally favorable outcome of the Cold War (I should probably seek to explain in a future post why it wasn't a perfectly favorable outcome), there were many serious mistakes in United States foreign policy between the end of World War II and the collapse of the Soviet Union. I'm beginning to think that Cold War history needs to make an early comeback as an element in the teaching of international politics.

My future students have been warned.

(Incidentally, Doolittle's words are quoted in James Carroll's House of War, pp. 215-16.)

Friday, August 11, 2006

A Different Middle Eastern Oil Story

A long time ago, when I was living in a much smaller media market, I was occasionally tapped to be a talking head on the local news. I would comment on arms control negotiations, upcoming elections, or whichever war was attracting media attention at the time. (It will come as no surprise to learn that I was never asked to comment on wars in Africa.)

In all the years I've been in the Los Angeles area, I've never appeared on the local news. I've turned down a few opportunites, deferred to colleagues on others, and generally decided it wasn't worth the trouble, especially when a producer wanted me to drive to a studio in Burbank or Hollywood.

But, with nothing better to do late this afternoon, I answered the call from Pepperdine's PR people who had a request from the local NBC affiliate for someone able to comment on a massive oil spill in the Mediterranean. I devoted half an hour or so to getting myself up to speed on the story. Here's some of what I learned in the course of preparing for the interview.

On July 13, Israeli planes bombed the fuel storage tanks at a power plant on the Lebanese coast south of Beirut. The tanks were set ablaze in that strike and again in a second strike two days later. The oil that didn't burn--an estimated 30,000 tons of heavy fuel oil, according to Lebanon's environmental ministry--flowed from the ruptured tanks into the Mediterranean Sea. (For satellite photos of the spill, go here.)

Three days ago, the International Maritime Organization estimated the spill at 10,000 tons of oil, a figure that puts the spill at approximately the same size as the Erika disaster off the coast of France in 1999. The higher Lebanese government estimate, if accurate, would mean the spill is nearly as large as the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound in 1989. In the case of the Exxon Valdez spill, which is generally regarded as the worst maritime environmental disaster in history, oil containment measures were implemented within seventy-two hours of the wreck. Today--nearly one month after the bombing of the fuel tanks--no containment measures have been undertaken. In fact, remedial efforts are currently impossible due to Israel's blockade of the Lebanese coast.

At times, states have deliberately inflicted environmental damage as a means of waging war. The most famous instance of this, of course, occurred in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War when retreating Iraqi forces set 650 oil wells ablaze and damaged another 100. An estimated 6,000,000 barrels of oil per day either burned or gushed out onto the surface of the desert causing almost incalculable environmental damage.

Because of the difficulty of judging intent in cases such as the Israeli attacks, we cannot know this for certain at present, but it appears that the environmental damage caused in the eastern Mediterranean by the bombing of Lebanese oil tanks was incidental to the pursuit of other military objectives. In fact, most environmental damage that results from war is incidental, not deliberate. It is no less serious for all of that.

At last report, 93 miles of coastline, including virtually all of the Lebanese littoral and part of Syria's coast, has been blackened by oil spilled during the July 13-15 attacks. Because the prevailing southwesterly winds have pushed the oil slick northward, Israel itself has been spared the environmental damage. Cleanup costs (which are certain to climb if the cleanup cannot begin soon) are currently estimated at $150 million.

Add that dollar figure and the incalculable damage to the marine life of the eastern Mediterranean to the costs of the current war in Israel and Lebanon.

Incidentally, I didn't get to make any of these points on television. The NBC producer ultimately decided to present a different angle on the story. And, no, I didn't watch the news tonight to see just what that angle was.

[UPDATE: I need to clarify that I didn't get to make my points on television because NBC decided not to interview me. If they had, I would have gotten my talking points in there somehow. I've watched enough politicians for long enough to know that you always answer the question you want the reporter to ask, not the one he or she actually asks.]

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The London Terror Plot

Exactly how the plot to blow up ten airliners en route from the United Kingdom to the United States was foiled may not be known for some time. What we do know at this point is that it was not a success in the "war on terrorism." It was, instead, a success of the law enforcement approach to terrorism.

Scotland Yard, based on information provided by British, Pakistani, and (almost certainly) American intelligence agencies, conducted surveillance and local police made arrests at the point at which either the bombings were believed to be imminent or sufficient information had been gathered to be able to arrest and charge all of those involved. Police work and international cooperation were the keys to success, not a war against some suspected state sponsor of terrorism.

It's worth noting that the principals in the plot were apparently all British citizens. (So far, there's no word that the United States is planning to invade the United Kingdom.) Timothy Garton Ash considers Britain's failure to assimilate its Muslim population more effectively in an interesting commentary here. So perhaps, on the basis of what we know about the roots of Muslim rage in Western societies, we should be doing more with the social work approach to terrorism as well.

In time, the so-called "war on terrorism" will be recognized for what it is: a politically useful phrase akin to the "war on drugs."

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Middle East on Western Avenue

This probably has absolutely no political or sociological significance. Let's just call it a curiosity.

Yesterday on Western Avenue in Los Angeles, I passed a storefront with a hand-lettered sign that read:

The Koran
Tropical Fish Supplies
"Nosotros confiamos en Dios"

I still don't know what to make of the rather odd combination of elements on the sign, but it reminded me of a wonderful book by David Rieff entitled Los Angeles: Capital of the Third World, which notes the almost extreme cosmopolitan character of Los Angeles. Suffice it to say, LA is a fascinating place in part because of how much of the world is represented here.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

When All Else Fails . . .

Winston Churchill's bon mot about Americans doing the right thing as a last resort may require a bit of modification under current circumstances. When all else fails, the Bush administration will do what the law requires--provided it can change the law first.

According to tomorrow's Washington Post, there are signs that the Bush administration is concerned that a legal reckoning may be looming.

The Bush administration has drafted amendments to a war crimes law that would eliminate the risk of prosecution for political appointees, CIA officers and former military personnel for humiliating or degrading war prisoners, according to U.S. officials and a copy of the amendments.

Officials say the amendments would alter a U.S. law passed in the mid-1990s that criminalized violations of the Geneva Conventions, a set of international treaties governing military conduct in wartime. The conventions generally bar the cruel, humiliating and degrading treatment of wartime prisoners without spelling out what all those terms mean.

The draft U.S. amendments to the War Crimes Act would narrow the scope of potential criminal prosecutions to 10 specific categories of illegal acts against detainees during a war, including torture, murder, rape and hostage-taking.

Left off the list would be what the Geneva Conventions refer to as "outrages upon [the] personal dignity" of a prisoner and deliberately humiliating acts--such as the forced nakedness, use of dog leashes and wearing of women's underwear seen at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq--that fall short of torture.

Outrageous, but not at all surprising.

After Darfur's Ceasefire

The BBC reports that eight humanitarian aid workers were killed in Darfur in July, more than in the previous two years combined. It is becoming painfully obvious that the ceasefire agreement signed in May, flawed from the start, is almost completely undone. In fact, the Guardian notes that more than 50,000 people have been forced from their homes since the ceasefire took effect.

Nicholas Kristof, writing in today's New York Times (behind the Times Select wall), draws attention to some very obvious but commonly ignored double standards:

This is the tale of two military interventions, of which one happened and the other didn't.

Three weeks ago, with President Bush supplying the weaponry and moral support, Israel began bombarding Lebanon. The war has killed hundreds of people, galvanized international attention and may lead to an international force of perhaps 20,000 peacekeepers.

Three years ago, Sudan began a genocide against African tribes in its Darfur region. That war has killed hundreds of thousands of people, and it is now spreading. There is talk of U.N. peacekeepers someday, but none are anywhere in sight.

The moral of the story? Never, ever be born to a tribe that is victim to genocide in Africa.

Arabs have often argued that Americans have a double standard in the Middle East: We are more solicitous of casualties in Israel than in Gaza or Lebanon. I think they're right, for a variety of reasons. (One is that terror attacks are particularly newsworthy; another is that journalists are more likely to live in Jerusalem than Gaza.)

But if we have double standards, so do Arabs. I sympathize with their horror at what is happening in Lebanon, but I wish they were just as outraged when Muslims slaughter Muslims in Darfur.

Even the world as a whole has double standards. The U.S. and European countries are working frenetically on a U.N. solution in Lebanon, and there is talk of rapidly sending European peacekeepers to stop the bloodshed. In Darfur, there is nothing like as much interest in what is often considered the ultimate human crime: genocide.

Remember the green wristbands?

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Morality of Our Means

As I mentioned in another post, I've recently finished reading Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine, a fascinating account of the first three years of the "global war on terror" drawn primarily from CIA and FBI sources. There's a quotation from the diary of George F. Kennan, one of the principal architects of America's post-World War II foreign policy, that Suskind uses at the end of the book. It is, I think, worth posting.

In 1947, Kennan, contemplating the Allied firebombing of Hamburg, Germany two years earlier, wrote that

if the Western world really was going to make a valid pretense of a higher moral departure point--of greater sympathy and understanding for the human being as God made him, as expressed not only in himself but in the things he had wrought and cared about--then it had to learn to fight its wars morally as well as militarily, or not fight them at all; for moral principles were a part of its strength. Shorn of this strength, it was no longer itself; its victories were not real victories. . . . The military would view this as naive; they would say that war is war, that when you're in it, you fight with everything you have or go down to defeat. But if that is the case, then there rests upon Western civilization, bitter as this may be, the obligation to be militarily stronger than its adversaries by a margin sufficient to enable it to dispense with those means which can stave off defeat only at the cost of undermining victory.

Kennan's mention of "Western civilization" calls to mind Gandhi's famous riposte to a reporter who asked him what he thought of Western civilization: "I think it would be a good idea." Indeed.

But there's more to consider in Kennan's rumination. "Western civilization" today is "militarily stronger than its adversaries" by a very significant margin, and yet, in its American version at least, it still seems unable (or unwilling) "to dispense with those means which can stave off defeat only at the cost of undermining victory." American military superiority has not eliminated massacres committed by Americans in war. (There was a report last week that the Navy investigation of the killing of civilians in Haditha last November supports the allegations that have been made against a Marine unit operating there.) American intelligence-gathering ability has not eliminated torture. And so we are "undermining victory" in spite of the fact that we possess the military strength that Kennan thought necessary to be able to fight morally.

What, then, is the problem?

First, Kennan's insight regarding means and ends--that winning through immoral means is in reality a defeat--seems not to have been widely understood, at least not by those who are calling the shots in the "global war on terror." It must be understood. It is a key part of "winning hearts and minds," to return to the point made by an unnamed military officer quoted at the end of this post.

Second, there is an unfortunate American tendency (which even Kennan evinces in the diary entry above) to think that every problem has a military solution. Want to democratize the Middle East? Invade Iraq. Want to stem the flow of drugs from South America? Declare a "war on drugs." Want to ensure the flow of oil to the United States during the Iran-Iraq "tanker war"? Re-flag Kuwaiti tankers and have the U.S. Navy escort them through the Persian Gulf. The United States has invested a lot of money in the military and has created a war-making machine that has no precedent in history and no peer in the present. But the fact that it is a highly polished tool doesn't make it the right tool for every task.

Third, Kennan's belief in the utility of military strength was based on a state-centered conception of security in which such factors as population, territory, and industrial capacity were essential to the ability to fight and win wars. Non-state actors--with or without state sponsorship or a territorial "home"--have proven their ability to counter conventional state-based militaries with effects that Kennan failed to envision in 1947.

Moral principles are, in fact, a part of our strength, as Kennan suggested, but being vastly superior in military might is not the way to vindicate moral principles. Not unless one believes that might makes right.

August 7, 1945

James Carroll writes today about what didn't happen on August 7, 1945.

Hiroshima after the atomic bombing.
(Photo from U.S. National Archives via the
National Security Archive at GWU.)

Friday, August 04, 2006

Christmas Fears

I don't recall ever being afraid of Santa Claus, reindeer, elves, Christmas trees or anything else associated with Christmas. Nor have I ever lost any sleep worrying that my Christmas tree might burst into flames or that strings of lights with faulty wiring might cause an electrical fire. On the whole, Christmas has always been a relaxed and enjoyable time for me.

Okay, there was that time at my grandparents' house when, after the wood fire in the fireplace burned down several hours after we had gone to bed, it got so cold that I thought we all might freeze to death. And there was that time camping with my college roommate on New Year's Eve in the Davis Mountains of Texas when the sounds of some huge beasts outside the tent had me terrified. (It turned out that a local rancher had grazing rights in the state park and, for whatever reason, the herd was on the move in the middle of the night.)

I almost forgot. Those who think there's a "war on Christmas" unnerve me.

But I was a little more than unnerved, though, on Christmas Day in 2003. Until I read Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine, I didn't know precisely what was responsible for my insecurity.

During the 2003-2004 academic year, my sons and I were living in Florence, Italy. We spent the ten days before Christmas traveling in Spain. (In Toledo just outside the cathedral, a young man came up to me and said, "Weren't you my Little League baseball coach?" I was.) On Christmas Eve we flew to Paris and checked into a hotel to await our flight home to the United States the next day.

Meanwhile, trouble was brewing. On December 21, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security raised the terrorism alert level to Orange (High). According to CNN,

The move was based mostly on information gleaned from a high volume of "chatter" among suspected terrorists, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said.

Ridge warned of possible strikes more devastating than the al Qaeda airliner attacks of September 11, 2001, on New York and Washington, and told CNN on Monday that airplanes remain terrorists' weapon of choice.

By Christmas Eve, CNN International, which I was watching in the hotel, was full of vague warnings about threats to airliners flying into the United States from France. Then and there I began to rethink the decision to go home for the holidays. The boys and I had seriously considered staying in Europe to travel some more. I watched the news intently trying to pick up some bit of information that would help me make a decision about whether it would be safe to get on a flight bound for New York under the circumstances.

A story posted on the CNN web site on December 25, 2003, offers some sense of what was going on as we could assess it at the time:

A government source said passengers traveling on Air France flights into at least one airport in the United States will be subjected to greater pre-departure screening.

In addition, the source said those booked onto flights departing Mexico bound for several airports in the United States also will be subjected to more screening. The source refused to identify the U.S. airports involved.

The intelligence suggests major cities such as Las Vegas, Nevada; Los Angeles; New York; and Washington, are possible targets, although the names of small, rural communities have come up as well, the officials said.

The focus on Air France flights from Charles de Gaulle International Airport to LAX (combined with what appeared to be very tight security at CDG) ultimately convinced me that it was safe to fly. We were flying American from CDG to JFK in New York and then on to Dallas-Fort Worth.

There were, of course, no 9/11-type attacks on the United States around Christmas 2003. We now know that that fact was not owed to the cancellation of several Air France flights into the United States or to any other preventive measures taken in response to the warnings issued by the United States Government. On the contrary, the warnings themselves were faulty.

The warnings, Suskind reveals (pp. 284-90), were based on CIA analysis of suspected al Qaeda steganography. (My colleague, Dan Caldwell, introduced me to steganography in an early draft of the chapter on cyber-threats in Seeking Security in an Insecure World.) Suskind writes:

Steganography is the hiding of coded messages within transmitted formats--moving and still images, computer files containing photos, and even sound transmissions. Communicating this way is complex, and labor-intensive. Even with decoding equipment it is difficult to decipher a numerical billboard hidden behind photos or streamed images. Even for leading experts in the practice, a group called steganalysts, it is a realm of false positives--patterns that may mean something, or may not, and usually don't.

But CIA's Office of Science and Technology was convinced that it had discovered the darkest imputations tucked within the "crawl"--the summary of headlines that runs along a TV screen's bottom edge--of the Al Jazeera daily broadcast. In the numerology, [CIA deputy director for science and technology Don] Kerr and his team asserted, were plans for an attack that would exceed 9/11. . . .

What CIA, using the technical services of a private company, served up to the President was astonishing in its specificity and its sweep. Some numbers indicated more than two dozen flights and flight times. Other hidden compressed numbers showed the coordinates for targeting--the unfortunate places where international flights, loaded with passengers, fuel, and, possibly, chemical or biological agents, would be bound once they entered U.S. airspace from less carefully controlled foreign airports. The targets ran from ocean to ocean, Los Angeles to New York. There were coordinates for the White House, the Space Needle in Seattle, and the tiny, rural Virginia town of Tappahannock.

Suskind goes on to describe the decision President Bush made to take the steganalysts' warnings seriously and the precautions that were taken as a result, including Secretary Tom Ridge's announcement that "extremists abroad are anticipating near-term attacks that they believe will either rival or exceed" the 9/11 attacks. These precautions included putting pressure on the French to cancel certain Air France flights to the United States.

Suskind concludes his account of this episode this way:

By February 2004, the postmortems were already under way. There was nothing to it, to any of it.

The steganographic analysis carried little more soundness than medieval numerology.

A CIA manager involved in these deliberations struggled, a few years later, to place it all in context.

"One problem with technologists," he said, "is they always feel underappreciated. So when they're front and center, on stage, they put as much data on the table as possible."

But the problem was much broader. It had to do with the wages of fear; a situation in which right-minded people, en masse, all deviate downward toward a state of panic.

"No one says, 'There's no proof!'" the CIA manager exhorted, his voice rising. "We've reached the point where no one is willing to not report something because they feel it's nuts. There is no threshold. Everything is reported, everywhere. There is no judgment in the system. No one is saying, 'Based on my experience, this person is a lying dog.' No one is saying, 'These reports are completely without any foundation.'"

No one with access to the intelligence on which threat assessments are based is making judgments. Meanwhile, those of us without access to the intelligence--that is, all of us outside the highest levels of government--have no way to make judgments about terrorist threats for ourselves. We are forced to rely on the judgments of those with access.

The failure to make judgments about national security, with the political risk that judgments would entail, is a source of insecurity in itself--and it has been since long before 9/11.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Plastics in the Pacific

Did you know that there is a "garbage patch" twice the size of Texas floating off the western coast of the United States? Trash washed into the Pacific Ocean in Asia along with floating garbage dumped at sea accumulates in an area of swirling waters called a "gyre." A similar gyre with North American trash makes up the western garbage patch off the east coast of China.

Each year, the Los Angeles River, which is just a trickle of water except when there's rain in the L.A. Basin, washes enough trash into the Pacific Ocean to fill the Rose Bowl to a depth of two storeys.

Take a look at the five-part series on ocean pollution in the Los Angeles Times. (The web site provides video, still photos, and graphics.)

From the Oil Fields to the Pump

Chicago Tribune reporter Paul Salopek has written an outstanding story that sheds light on some previously undisclosed aspects of the global petroleum economy and its travails. The report also provides some insight into the true costs of America's oil addiction.

It's a long piece, but well worth reading. The Trib web site also includes a documentary based on Salopek's reporting, photos from Iraq, Nigeria, Venezuela, and the Gulf Coast (sources of the oil that Salopek traced back from the Marathon service station in South Elgin, Illinois where the story begins), and a counter that tracks the number of barrels (not gallons) of oil used in the United States while visiting the site.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Net War in Lebanon

This is coming a couple of days late (thanks to my "baseball break"), but Thom Shanker had an interesting piece in the New York Times on Sunday concerning Hezbollah's strategy in the current conflict in Lebanon. Shanker writes:

Certain that other terrorists are learning from Hezbollah's successes, the United States is studying the conflict closely for lessons to apply to its own wars. Military planners suggest that the Pentagon take a page out of Hezbollah's book about small-unit, agile operations as it battles insurgents and cells in Iraq and Afghanistan and plans for countering more cells and their state sponsors across the Middle East and in Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America.

He notes that Hezbollah's strategy of dispersing its forces (including some 12,000 rockets) and relying on small units is one that "pits finders against hiders and favors the hiders." It is also, according to Shanker's Pentagon sources, a strategy that Iran, which trained Hezbollah, might adopt if it were attacked.

How can the United States (or any traditional military power) deal with net war? Shanker offers no solutions, but he indicates that diplomacy must be part of the mix. He concludes, in fact, with this advice from an unnamed expert:

"Most critically, we have to get better at--it's such a cliché--winning hearts and minds," said a military officer working on counterinsurgency issues. "That is influencing neutral populations toward supporting us and not supporting our terrorist and insurgent enemies."

The Effects of Immunity

Limited grants of legal immunity are sometimes necessary to promote objectives deemed more important than the prosecution of a particular crime. For example, immunity may be granted in exchange for testimony necessary to prosecute more important criminals. In the case of diplomatic immunity, diplomats are exempted from the application of the host country's laws in order to ensure their ability to perform their representative function free of potential coercion. Such grants of immunity, which most people consider reasonable, sometimes arouse resentment. Resentment is almost guaranteed when grants of immunity serve no other purpose than to ensure (as the Athenians put it in their conference with the Melians) that "the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must."

Karen Armstrong, in The Battle for God (pp. 250-51), describes an instance in which a grant of immunity aroused resentments that continue to cause problems for American foreign policy:

On October 27, 1964, [Ayatollah Khomeini] delivered a strong attack against the recent granting of diplomatic immunity to American military personnel and other advisers, and to the shah's acceptance of 200 million dollars for arms. Iran, he claimed, was virtually an American colony. What other nation would submit to such indignity?

Following this speech, Khomeini was sent into exile by the Iranian government. In 1979 during the Islamic Revolution that deposed the shah, Khomeini returned to Iran to become the leader of the Islamic Republic. On November 4, 1979, followers of Khomeini turned the tables on the United States by violating the well-established principle of diplomatic immunity. Sixty-three Americans were taken hostage as students seized the American embassy in Tehran. The hostages were not released until January 20, 1981.

The theocratic state that Khomeini helped to establish in Iran has been generally hostile--at times deeply hostile--to the United States from the beginning. At present, Iran is defying U.S.-led efforts in the United Nations Security Council to curb its nuclear-weapons program.

It would, of course, be wrong to suggest that current tensions with Iran can be traced directly to an American request over forty years ago that U.S. soldiers be granted immunity from prosecution in Iran. It would not be wrong, however, to suggest that we should expect blowback from efforts to exempt the United States government from the rules that everyone else must follow.

Unfortunately, this is not a matter of historical interest only. The United States has negotiated 100 Article 98 agreements--so called because of the provision in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court that purportedly sanctions such evasions of ICC jurisdiction--with foreign governments in an effort to ensure that American military personnel will never be surrendered to the ICC. Most of these agreements, however, have not been ratified. Many involve states that are not yet party to the Rome Statute. Nonetheless, at least 18 states have been denied U.S. foreign aid as a consequence of their refusal to sign Article 98 agreements. (For more on the status of existing Article 98 agreements, see this fact sheet [.pdf file] prepared by the Coalition for the International Criminal Court.)

British attorney and legal scholar Philippe Sands writes in Lawless World: America and the Making and Breaking of Global Rules (p. 64) that states that have entered into Article 98 agreements with the United States "have undertaken not to surrender any American national to the ICC without the consent of the United States, under any circumstances. In return the United States gives no undertaking to investigate or prosecute any American who may have been involved in war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide." Sands concludes that "it is not surprising that these bilateral agreements have come to be seen as bilateral immunity agreements."

Nor should it be surprising if, forty years from now, some blowback from these Article 98 agreements occurs. The next Ayatollah Khomeini may well be somewhere seething over the immunity from international law that the United States is now claiming for Americans.