This topic is just a way to ask two big questions, I think. They are (1) What motivates America’s interaction with the rest of the world, and (2) how much “good” do we really accomplish and for whom (domestically and abroad)?
Conversations on topics like this often focus on the wars we have fought and their moral justification and successes or failures. CivCon’s discussions of war and peace issues tend to enter around the basic Left v. Right cleavage on the morality of those wars and who they are really fought for. To (some but not all) progressives, the U.S. government has been the bad guy in many times and places, mainly because “we the People” in our foreign policy is really “We, the Corporations” or “We, the neoconservative imperialists.” Many (but not all) conservatives seem to think our country’s moral virtue and exceptionalism are beyond questioning and that our national interests are broad, unchanging, and best advanced through violence and threats of violence. Both sides off and on return to an old American tradition: An almost messianic desire to spread our values, both democratic and capitalist.
Civilized Conversation has managed to broaden this stale debate in the past, IMO. Beyond wars and “other “hard power,” we also have dealt with “soft power” issues like trade policy, non-coercive diplomacy, and immigration.
Now, of course, we have to add two new wrinkles brought to us by the Trump Administration. One is a resurgent patriotism (or belligerent nationalism, depending on your POV) that Trump created and/or rode into the oval office. The other is his sharp retreat from global leadership under his campaign slogan “American First.” (We did meetings on both of these. See below.)
So, my idea was that we could go over different POVs on the (1) intentions and (2) results of the biggest chunks of our recent foreign policy, including but not limited to wars and military coercion. I don’t think people have to know much about foreign affairs for this to be a good meeting. To me our topic is really all about who you think the “We” is in “our” relations with the rest of the world.
NEWBIES: Please note that the readings are optional and some are tagged as being more useful than others. I may start reducing the number of readings since I think they scare away new members. What do the rest of you think?
OPTIONAL BACKGROUND READING –
Basic background and related CivCon mtgs –
- ABCs of how US foreign policy gets made. Short.
- 2017 CivCon – What does the USA stand for? Part 1 by DavidG + Part 2 by Ali. Some useful links.
- 2017 CivCon – Has Trump summoned a New American Nationalism?
- 2012 – What is patriotism?
Good guys, bad guys, or neither –
- USA is the good guy when we support a global rule of law.
- …and when we don’t let belief in our own superiority drive what we do. Recommended
- Trump has started a battle for the soul of U.S. foreign policy. Recommended.
- Neither: We should put protecting Americans over reassuring others. Conservative POV (but not neoconservative).
- Video of Obama speech on what USA stands for. (28m).
NEXT WEEK: Would gun control really reduce crime?
It’s kind of a holiday weekend. But, I really like this topic idea of Aaron’s asking whether universal democracy should still be considered a kind of “Manifest Destiny” for the 21st century. Yes, it has been conventional wisdom for more than a decade that democracy around the world is in retreat. Authoritarianism has descended on country after country. The Arab Spring was stillborn and Iraq and Syria flew apart. Eastern Europe’s promising “color revolutions” petered out with help from a newly-aggressive Russia. Chinese democracy is still a no-show and the country has entered a new period of repression. In the West, right-wing political parties are surging all over the EU and we elected Donald Trump. So much for the end of history and all of that post-Cold War democratic triumphalism, maybe.
Or, maybe not. History is rarely a painless and quickly-triumphant march of progress, is it? There was bound to be a backlash to the post-Cold War spasm of democratic reforms in fragile countries, wasn’t there? And the 2008 financial collapse and growing economic inequality had to at least postpone the party, didn’t it?
FWIW, I think the relationship between economic and social change and democracy is really complicated. For example, globalization can either spur democratic and liberal reforms or a backlash against them. Religion often gets in the way of democratization, but it also binds societies together. I also try to take a long view. I think developing countries are going through the same highly-disruptive, painful struggle the West endured in its century of rapid industrialization and cultural change during 1848-1945. Like we did, the non-West will evolve its own forms of popular governance and institutions to empower and contain government. Results are going to vary a lot country to country and region to region.
Anyway, here are a small number of readings on the topic of the “democratic recession” we are currently experiencing and some speculation as to why and what might happen next. They are all general (not country-specific), but a few are long and/or a bit complicated. We don’t need lectures on basic stuff in this group. So, I will give open us up by highlighting a few of the tensions inherent between rapid econ/social/cultural change and emergence of/persistence of democracy.
- West: What is the Western model of democracy and how does it vary?
- Rest: Have other democratic models emerged outside of the West? Why?
- Retreat: Why has democracy been in retreat lately? Which causes are specific to countries/regions and which any common causes?
- Complexity: What tensions exist between: Democracy and liberalism? Democratic rule and individual rights? Globalization and democracy? Transnational governance and national/local control? Religion and democracy?
- Future: How will we all deal with all these tensions in the future? What’s the future of democracy worldwide?
- Our Role: Is USA leadership necessary, or is our absence? Doing what, exactly?
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- Why is democracy in retreat? Easier read but 5 years old here. Recommended.
- Six preconditions for democracy.
- Democracy’s retreat is only temporary. Recommended, or this longer (pdf) Democracy is NOT in decline worldwide.
- Lefty: Neoliberal globalization threatens democracy.
- Conservative: USA should be cautious and realistic about democracy promotion. (Long historian Walter Russell Mead)
- Will Trump abandon U.S. leadership on democracy promotion? Recommended.
NEXT WEEK: What is progressive religion?
As the whole world knows, on Tuesday night 7/14/15 the United States and 6 of the world’s major powers (+ the EU) announced a major arms control agreement with Iran. Historic, is more like it, for good or ill. After nearly 40 years of cold war, proxy wars, and sometimes actual war with Iran, the West finally has a signed, detailed, multilateral agreement to limit the Islamic State’s nuclear program. However, the agreement does far less than we initially wanted in terms of dismantling and eliminating Iran’s existing nuke program. Its provisions are complex and the road ahead is long. Few observers doubt that Iran has given up its desire to get nuclear weapons capability, at least in the long term.
Still, if this agreement (formally the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) actually succeeds in achieving its stated objectives, Iran will be kept out of the nuclear weapons club for at least the next decade, and probably closer to two decades. If Iran can successfully cheat or if the treaty regime falls apart, Iran likely will get its bomb capability. The result of that likely (but not indisputably) would be war(s) and a regional nuclear arms race. The stakes are very high.
Congress has the next 60 days to approve or reject the agreement. Obama is aggressively stumping for approval while GOP politicians and conservative pundits have thunderously denounced it as another Obama appeasement of an implacable enemy. So, our little group is entering the maelstrom as it’s just getting started.
There’s a lot for us to talk about on Monday night. I will start us off with a short summary of the terms of the agreement. Then, I want to add what I think is some important context that I think will help us in evaluating the pros/cons of the nuclear agreement. Don’t be lulled by the over-the-top remarks the GOP presidential candidates are making. Legitimate questions really do exist about the merits of the agreement and I hope we can address each of the major ones.
### I found us a great NEW LOCALE. I’ll fill you in Monday and we can start meeting there on July 27. ###
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- What is in the new agreement with Iran?
- Basic structure and terms: Who has to do what by when and how, etc.?
- Enforcement: How will we monitor compliance and punish Iranian transgressions?
- Compromises: What have we conceded and what did we get in return, and the same for Iran?
- How far away from our negotiating objectives did we end up?
- Is this the best deal we could have obtained from Iran? How can we know that?
- Were there any realistic alternatives to this pact?
- Will the agreement work – Will it successfully freeze and partially roll back Iran’s nuke program?
- Is that enough? How specifically could we have achieved more?
- How likely is the West to stay vigilant so the agreement doesn’t fall apart?
- The Region: How will this agreement affect our other conflicts with Iran and the region’s other festering problems? How might it affect politics inside Iran?
- To watch for:
- Key events in implementation calendar.
- Signs that signal Iranian cheating or manipulation?
- USA: Would a GOP president really abrogate the agreement?
LINKS – Zillions – Focus on highlighted ones!
- Best link: It’s Sunday night – late to ask you to read more. But, the best, most comprehensive pro/con 3-way discussion is here. A must-read if u have time.
- The new agreement:
- A good agreement? Compared to what? Recommended.
- Why conservatives really are so furious. Recommended.
- Conservatives’ arguments are strange, and not actually arguments.
- But, don’t let conservative hyperbole stop us from asking hard questions about the agreement.
- In favor:
- An expert gives the agreement an A. Recommended.
- Monitoring: The monitoring mechanism is the most intrusive ever. It’s very likely to catch any significant Iranian cheating. Recommended
- Enforcement: The agreement makes it easy to reimpose sanctions on Iran if it cheats.
- 100+ former US diplomats signed a letter praising deal.
- Opposed, or at least highly skeptical:
- It’s better than nothing but not by much. Recommended.
- It falls way too short of Obama’s own stated goals.
- The 4 big problems with and 1 key question to ask about the agreement. Recommended.
- Dennis Ross gives a mixed assessment.
- We should have demanded progress on other issues, like Iran’s support for terrorism.
- Our Arab allies are very wary of the deal. So are many Israelis – NOT just Netanyahu.
- It’s the end of Israel.
- Related CivCon mtgs: On Iran 2012 and 2010. Appeasement/Munich analogy. Are U.S. and Israeli interests are diverging.
Next Week – Inequality: Its Causes and Consequences.
Our group has been debating the Middle East’s problems since we formed more than a decade ago (!). Most recently, we discussed the failures of the Arab Spring (2/14) and the rise of ISIS (9/14). (I thought these posts had some good links, BTW.) In those meetings, I steered us away from blaming individual actors (like Iraqi leadership, U.S. presidents, Iran and other regional meddlers) in favor of structural and historical factors. This made our discussions a bit incomplete, since there is plenty of blame to pass around, obviously. But, the blame game is not very conducive to civilized conversation.
Now, the luxury of avoiding assigning blame is ending. Who “lost” Iraq and Syria (not to mention Libya, Egypt, etc.) is going to move to front and center as the 2016 presidential election gets closer. With the economy recovering and Obamacare and marriage equality now settled law, the Republican Party is widely expected to try to make 2016 a foreign policy election. Why? Much of the Middle East – especially Iraq and Syria – is a genuine catastrophe. Plus national security is the one issue area where the public consistently trusts the GOP more than the Democrats. So, they are going to try to hang ISIS and the whole of the Middle East’s problems around Hillary Clinton’s, ex-Secretary of State neck.
There is a certain nationalistic narcissism to these arguments. The United States does not control the fate of the Middle East and it’s pretty arrogant to think we ever could unilaterally summon some pre-fabricated peaceful future for the region.
Still, it should go without saying that we are high up on the list of culprits, at least concerning Iraq. Bush’s invasion and our decade-long occupation unleased that nation’s Pandora’s Box of horrors and barred the country’s throat to outside subversion. Tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians died and millions fled. Al Qaeda infiltrated and is still there, as are Iranian- and Saudi-backed armed groups. Sunnis and Shiites fought one bloody civil war in 2004-06 and basically started fighting another one the moment we left. ISIS is the hideous result of that decade of war and infighting. Syria is different. No one can say the United States caused the civil war, and maybe no one could have stopped the 6-years of slaughter or prevented ISIS’s rise. But, if anyone could have, it was us and we did not really try.
So, I think a backwards-looking meeting assigning blame for Iraq and Syria is important and not just because of campaign politics. It’s the only way to hold our leaders accountable for their actions (or inactions) and learn from our mistakes.
On Monday, you don’t need me to rehash the last 15 years of U.S. Middle East policy. But, I will try to open with something useful to frame our discussion. Probably I’ll just bring us up to speed on recent events and then list the main candidates for culprit-hood in Iraq and Syria. You all can let me know if you want us to focus mainly on the U.S. role in Iraq and Syria’s problems or more on actors inside Iraq and Syria and regional meddlers like Iran and Saudi Arabia.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- Who do the American people blame for Iraq and Syria? Why do you think they assign blame in this way?
- Why couldn’t Iraqis reconcile in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq? Who besides Iraqis is to blame for that? What specifically did Bush do or not do to screw things up and what should he have done?
- Could action by Obama have prevented ISIS’ rise? How so?
- What caused the long, bloody stalemate?
- What specifically were U.S. options for intervening?
- Is it realistic to think we would have made a difference?
- To what extent are other outsiders (Iran, Arab governments) to blame for Iraq and Syria? Could the United States have kept them from meddling?
- What are the big lessons here for future U.S. foreign policy?
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READINGS – Lots of them! Pick and choose.
- Blame George W. Bush. Blame him entirely. Both Recommended.
- Blame Bush mostly.
- Why Bush invaded Iraq – A reminder that ends all doubt it was because Saddam had WMD..
- Blame neoconservatives a lot and Obama somewhat.
- [Update: A must-read, fair-minded account of Obama’s responsibility for Iraq’s deterioration.]
- Conservative POVs:
- Blame decades of U.S. policy towards Iraq. Recommended.
- Blame everybody: USA, our allies and our enemies. Recommended.
- Blame radical Islamist ideology
NEXT WEEK: Is there a looming Retirement Crisis?
Carl suggested we talk about Wahhabism. Wahhabism is a fundamentalist and highly puritanical strain of Islam that became anchored in Saudi Arabia two centuries ago. Throughout the 20th century, the Saudi royal family used its vast oil wealth and political influence derived from their control over the holy cities of Mecca and Medina to spread this once-obscure theology around the Middle East and beyond. Wahhabism’s theology and world-view are a potent influence behind a lot of the political extremism that plagues Islam today. Since 9/11, Saudi Arabia’s exporting of Wahhabism has been fingered as one of the Middle East’s biggest problems. To top it off, the sudden rise of ISIS last year and the death of Saudi Arabia’s king just last week makes Wahhabism an even timelier topic for us.
The different strains of Islamic radicalism and their many, varied causes is not a strong area of knowledge for me. So, I’ll open the meeting by just giving the briefest thumbnail of “what is Wahhabism,” and then we can right to the discussion. My main goal for the meeting is for us to develop a better understanding of the many different shades of radical Islamism. Americans tend to lump them all together into one giant, undifferentiated, monolithic menace. IMO, this type of thinking is not helpful in understanding how to distinguish and combat the true threats. I hope the background readings as well as our sharing of knowledge at the table will help us to do better. I hope we also will get into the geopolitical questions surrounding the future of Saudi Arabia and our support of it.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- What is Wahhabism? How in general does it differ from other Islamic theologies?
- Why and how (both!) did the Saudi monarchy export Wahhabism around the Middle East? Why was it so appealing to do many people?
- How responsible (as opposed to other factors) is the spread of Wahhabism for the region’s political extremism? If Wahhabism had never existed, how different might things be?
- So, now what? Can the Saudis reign in the monster they created? Do they want to? Can we influence them to do so?
- What is the future of Saudi Arabia – the main counterrevolutionary and counter-reformatory force in the Islamic world? Do we really still need the Saudi royal family so much?
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- Wahhabism: It’s history and links to ISIS: A must-read.
- Shorter: NYT on Wahhabism and the rise of ISIS: Recommended.
- Longer (and a bit more forgiving of Wahhabism), as explained by Karen Armstrong, the well-known historian of religion.
- A discussion among three experts: How big a threat is the continued spread of Wahhabi Islam?
- Saudi Arabia: Guardian of the status quo. Recommended.
- The future of Saudi Arabia:
Next Week: Who Runs the Republican Party? (Hint: If you find out let me know.)
As the world decides how to handle the latest disaster in Iraq, it’s our turn to discuss the future of that tortured nation. It’s hard to know how permanent a problem the Islamic State (IS) is. The group has been around in some form for a few years, and was formally allied with and subordinate to Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) until February of this year. It’s run by some guy who thinks he’s destined to be the Sultan of a new Islamic caliphate that will encompass the entire region. IS is crueler and crazier than many of its peers, but radical Islamist groups are common these days, especially in the wild west that is central Iraq.
Yet, as everybody knows, in the last couple of months (and to the shock of Western intelligence agencies) IS has become a significant threat to Iraq and, probably, to the West. IS has gone on a bloody conquest spree. The group now controls about 1/3 of Iraq and gleefully slaughters its enemies and innocent civilians. After IS overran Fallujah and Mosul the West woke up. The United States began airstrikes and emergency humanitarian aid, and may have succeeded in stopping the group’s advance. Obama and world leaders are trying furiously to come up with a plan to stop IS and eventually roll it back. NATO met this week to decide on a course of action.
Making the stopping of IS even harder is that IS has become a major force in Syria’s ghastly, never-ending civil war. As President Obama has admitted, no one really knows what to do to stop IS in Syria. We have very little influence inside Syria and can have little confidence we even know who’s who exactly, plus there is no friendly government to work with.
So, IS, IS, IS. Yet, the Islamic State is just one more manifestation of the same basic problem that we have been staring at since we toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003: Iraq has not achieved national reconciliation between its major factions: Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, and assorted other religious and ethnic minorities. That is our real subject for Monday, IMO, along with U.S. strategy. As Obama said, Iraq’s disunity fundamentally is a POLITICAL problem and can only be solved by Iraqis. Obama did just engineer the ousting of Iraq’s Shiite prime minister, who was part of the problem. But, the road will be long.
I’ll explain recent events in a little more detail to open Monday’s meeting. Then, I’ll open it up. I hope we can speak realistically about what we can and cannot accomplish in Iraq.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- IS: Who are these monsters? What caused IS rise? How does the IS situation both arise from Iraq’s longstanding problems and make them worse?
- Stopping IS: How can the group be stopped? Can it be rolled back or just contained? Who should do what specifically?
Syria: What are our options? Any good ones? Would attacking IS in Syria mean we’d be supporting Assad? Should we do it anyway?
- Iraq: What are its basic political divisions and problems? How – ideally only, let’s say – can the country find peace?
- U.S. culpability: Is all of this just the fallout from Bush’s war? Does Obama deserve any blame here?
- U.S. Limits: How much influence does the United States really have over Iraq’s long-term future? Over Syria’s?
- U.S. Policy: What should the United States do? What should be our (1) goal and (2) the means?
The Islamic State (IS) –
- What does it want and what is its main weakness? (New Republic) Recommended.
- 17 facts about IS you need to know and 9 myths same (Vox) Good primers.
- Is this awful group a threat to the United States? Yes. Or, No. Both.
- Why it ‘s our problem. (New Yorker)
- The almost comical emptiness of some of Obama’s critics on the Right. (Atlantic Monthly) Recommended.
- But, Obama needs to level with us about what it really will take to combat IS (as do his conservative critics). (War on the Rocks)
Healing Iraq, more broadly –
- Who’s who in the battle over Iraq’s future: IS, Shiites, Kurds, etc . (WashPost, a good primer.)
- Iraq’s divided future. (Financial Times) Same.
- Divisions within Iraq’s Shiites are a major source of the problem. (NYT)
Healing the Middle east, more broadly –
- Actually, Obama does have a Middle East foreign policy. This is my view.
- A Saudi Arabian-Iran compromise is what’s really needed to make peace in the region. (Carnegie)
Next Week: Does the Constitution Need Updating?
This has got to be our accidently best-timed meeting ever. As events spiral out of control in Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and elsewhere, the old guard neoconservatives (Cheney, Wolfowitz, Feith, McCain) seem to be making a push to reassert their relevance in our national conversation and their primacy in the Republican Party. Plus, a month ago Obama gave a major speech on foreign policy that many found bold (or frightening). So, I can’t think of a better time to talk about what both conservative and liberals really stand for in this area.
Another reason is I just don’t know what either left or right believes in foreign policy anymore. Conservatives are in chaos, still so haunted by the neocons’ failures they seem unable to do much beyond criticizing everything Obama does and hoping no one notices they have no replacement vision of how the United States should interact with a rapidly changing world. Progressives seem to me to be stuck in their usual spot, the let’s-rely-on-international-institutions spot. They don’t understand, In my view, that the world still leans heavily on the United States to provide the “public goods” of globalization and global security. The IO’s do not and cannot always protect American interests.
Worst of all, the punditry and news media have done a terrible job of explaining the principles behind President Obama’s foreign policy. If it can’t be labeled a doctrine and put on a bumper sticker, they ignore it until bad things happen and then they ridicule it. (Is Obama a failure or a weakling? Where’s the vision?) There is a strategy behind what Obama is doing on foreign policy. You may not like it, but it’s been there the whole time in plain sight.
Since Obama is the leader of the party in power for two more years and Hillary will have to pivot off of his policies when she runs, I’ll open our meeting on Monday by quickly explaining the principles behind Obama’s foreign policy. Then, rather than trying to answer our evening’s question, I’ll finish by reminding the group of the different major internal factions that both parties have to satisfy on foreign policy. These groups (neocons, Libertarians, religious right; white liberals, African-Americans, Latinos, Hillary’s people, etc.) have different and hard to reconcile ideas for which principles should guide our foreign policy.
- A huge link-fest this week because I track foreign policy a lot. The long articles are mainly for those who want to climb deep into the weeds of foreign policy. And, yeah, yeah, there are not many good links to the conservative POV. Sue me.
Discussion Questions –
- Consensus: Elites have always had their way within narrow limits on USFP. Free trade. Frequent use of force to enforce world order. Protect energy supplies. Etc. Will that ever change? Could a right-wing or left-wing foreign policy ever really happen??
- Obama: What are the principles behind his foreign policy? What view of the future does it emanate from? Critique/defense of it?
- Factions: What different factions do liberals and conservatives have to satisfy when establishing their foreign policy visions? Which ones are most influential?
- Conservative FP:
- Is Neoconservatism dead? What were the principles behind it?
- What do conservatives stand for on FP right now?
- Future: Who/what principles will win this fight? Rand Paul? Neos?
- Progressive FP:
- How do they view the world and America’s role in it?
- How do liberals feel about using American power? Are they fundamentally uncomfortable with it?
- What do progressives stand for on FP right now?
- Future: Hillary was a hawk and a (kind of) progressive as SecState. What would she do as president?
- Are the Democrats and Republicans about to reverse roles on foreign policy?
Understanding Obama’s foreign policy –
- He lacks a foreign policy doctrine, and that’s fantastic!
- No, it’s just the most dovish, anti-war doctrine in decades. Recommended.
- A strong defense of Obama’s foreign policies by Fareed Zakaria.
- A strong attack on it (Weekly Standard).
Conservative Principles –
- The real GOP civil war is over foreign policy.
- “Why I Am Still a Neoconservative”
- Conservatives should revive the ideas of …George W. Bush! Seriously, read.
- Rand Paul’s point of view.
- The fringe nuttiness going mainstream matters in any discussion of conservative foreign policy beliefs. Recommended.
Liberal Principles –
- A progressive grand strategy. Or, this one: We must adapt to a less U.S.-centered world. Either recommended.
- Is THIS angry denunciation the real progressive view?? How many people feel like this and how influential are they? Read.
Next Week: Racial Profiling and Stop and Frisk
There’s been a lot of talk about Vladimir Putin’s new territorial aggression in Ukraine and how permanent Russia’s icy rift with the West is. Some commenters have jumped on the “we’re in a new Cold War” bandwagon. Most of the experts I read find this term inappropriate, if for no other reason than Russia is a far, far weaker power than the Soviet union ever was. This weakness makes our relations with Russia a far lower priority than they used to be, anyway. Still, a new cold war (lower case version), even with a 3rd rate power version of Russia, is still worrisome. Putin could seek territory or hegemony in other parts of the former USSR, Our European allies depend on Russia for energy supplies. And, we all have to care about the fate of Russia’s Central Asian neighbors, with their large Muslim populations and – there we go again – huge energy supplies.
Mike suggested we talk about Russia for another reason. Some people view Putin’s actions as more defensive than offensive. Ukraine is three layers deep in the former USSR. We promised Russia in the early 1990s that NATO would never expand eastward into eastern Europe and beyond, and we broke our word and did that. Mike wants us to discuss this, and I think a good airing of why we always see other nations moves as aggression and our own as benign is in order. I do not want us to roll back NATO, but it’s worth discussing this broader point, at least.
I’m out of town now through Sunday night, so I won’t say much in my introduction. I’ll preface the topic for those who don’t read the background, and then let Mike do a short summary of his argument.
Discussion Questions –
- What are Putin’s motives here? Is he acting in a fundamentally aggressive way, or are his actions really defensive, as Mike has argued? How does the answer to this question relate to who is to blame for this situation?
- Regardless of one man’s motives, have Russia’s interests just diverged from ours and the West’s? If so, why?
- Is Russia crazy to do be doing this, anyway, because it’s too interconnected to the world economy to throw it all away for a little more territory and local influence? Or, is the opposite true: Does Western dependence on Russian energy render it helpless to stop Putin?
- Should we have done anything different to prevent or manage this crisis over Ukraine? Or, has Obama done a pretty good job (see link below)?
- In the 21st century, can regional powers still demand a buffer zone of weak states on their borders? (We will have an entire meeting related to this subject in July.)
- [UPDATE Sunday: Read this one.]
- RUSSIA’S ROLE:
- 25 years of Russian post-Soviet weakness is over. Recommended.
- We need a new containment strategy even though Putin’s actions are partly defensive.
- In fact, like the Cold War, the fault is partially ours and we need to give Russia hegemony in its immediate backyard. Recommended.
- U.S. ROLE:
- MIKE’S POINT: Russia is the aggrieved party here. Same thing by same author here. Recommended since it was Mike’s meeting idea.
NEXT WEEK: Is there Still a Sexual Double Standard In Our Society?
Our resident human rights expert (and Monday birthday boy!) Jim Z. will be handling Monday’s meeting. Some of his Amnesty International colleagues will be there, too. Actual experts!
My understanding, FWIW, is that arguably, more substantive attention has been paid to the problem of genocide in the 10 years since Rwanda than in the previous 90 years since the Armenian genocide. There has been an anti-genocide convention in international law for many decades, spurred by the Holocaust and WWII. But, since Rwanda in 1994, the international community has taken much more seriously its “responsibility to protect (R2P)” populations experiencing mass oppression. The International Criminal Court has been established and it and ad hoc courts have tried some perpetrators, including heads of state. Governments and non-governmental organizations monitor global hot spots that might turn into genocides. They make blockbuster movies about Rwanda and blood diamonds.
But, the practical and political limits to intervening to stop these crimes remain. What’s a genocide exactly and who decides? Who has a right and/or the responsibility to intervene? Where do human rights stand in relation to other powerful countries’ priorities? What if intervening to prevent genocide means backing one side over another in a civil war? How do we get out once we get it?
Jim will open us up by explaining a little bit about the U.N. genocide convention and related matters, focusing on Rwanda.
Discussion Questions –
- What are the basics of the Armenian and Rwandan genocides?
- What made them “genocides?” How is the term defined under international law? What does it include and exclude? How much ambiguity is there in the language of the covenant?
- What have we learned about preventing genocide in the last 10 or 100 years? What are the warning signs? Who’s monitoring?
- What can the international community actually do to prevent genocide? What have we learned from trying and not trying?
- When do and should other considerations keep us from acting?
- Wiki: What was the Armenian genocide? The Rwanda genocide? How is genocide defined?
- Per Jim: An interview with his colleague Alison des Forges on the Rwanda genocide.
- Who is at risk for genocide? People monitor this.
- [Late UPDATES:] South Sudan and the Central African Republic are careening towards potential genocides as we meet.]
- A critique of using genocide as the casus beli for intervening: It’s too vague a criteria and too high a threshold.
- Obama’s U.N. ambassador, a genocide expert, has tried to elevate the status of the responsibility to protect (R2P) in U.S. foreign policy.
- But, she may not be having much success.
NEXT WEEK: How to raise Americans’ wage levels? A pre- state of the Union meeting.
Jim Z. had this fantastic idea for a topic: Does the Munich appeasement metaphor still carry any relevance in 21st century America? It certainly has been the most frequently-used historical metaphor in our politics for decades. It’s amazing how often it’s been 1938 since 1938. During the entire Cold War. In the Balkans and the Persian Gulf. In North Korea and Iran. And now, apparently in Libya and Syria.
It’s easy to laugh at this overkill. But, historical analogies, while often problematic, can be useful. Years ago, in graduate school, I took a class on their uses and misuses. The upshot was that people often use them without defining what the analogy is supposed to mean, when the historical parallels are few or vague, and to stifle debate rather than inform it. Still, without using history to guide us we’re flying blind.
What does it mean, then, to invoke Munich and appeasement? Is it the idea that making concessions to an adversary always emboldens them and leads to more aggression? Is it to warn us against naiveté, to insist we face the malevolence and will to aggression of, say, Iran or North Korea? Or, is it a belief that negotiating with an enemy – making concessions in return for some – is tantamount to surrender?
I’m looking forward to hearing Jim’s opening take on this topic. Let’s at least try to understand Munich before we decide to bury it, and try to understand why this metaphor still resonates with so many people.
Discussion Questions –
- What does the “Munich analogy” mean? Can it have more than one meaning?
- When since 1938 has it been applicable? Which enemies have we appeased? How much historical parallelism is necessary to invoke Munich?
- What can constitute appeasement of an enemy today, when the United States is so powerful and our enemies so small? Are we appeasing Iran, or North Korea, or anyone else? Appeasement requires that there be realistic alternatives to war, BTW.
- Is it time to retire the Munich metaphor? What would we gain and lose?
- What about other historical analogies, like the Vietnam analogy? Are they useful or harmful?
Munich has been – and still is – invoked frequently –
- From 1938-80. A lot in the 1980s. During the Persian Gulf War. [Jim wanted us to know the history of Munich’s invocation. These are a very long and liberal version of the history.]
- Against Obama: To conservatives, the entire Obama foreign policy has been one, big appeasement exercise, of all of our adversaries. This is no exaggeration: Iran and Russia – Recommended. Syria. Libya. His/our appeasement is everywhere.
- By Obama: SecState John Kerry used Munich to justify the
Is it time to end the Munich analogy?–
- Yep. It’s high time. Recommended.
- Longer, more thorough critique of the analogy using the ways it has been misused in the last 50 years..
- But, the Munich/appeasement metaphor still has its uses!
Optional Long Reads –
- 20pp 1998 study by the Air War College of uses/misuses of the Munich analogy.
- U.S. Army study of whether the actual Munich agreement constituted appeasement of Hitler.
NEXT WEEK: The future of American gender roles!