Monday, December 16, 2002
# Posted 9:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
America remains the universal nation, the country people across the world believe should speak for universal values. Its image may not be as benign as Americans think, but it is, in the end, better than the alternatives. That is what has made America's awesome power tolerable to the world for so long. The belief that America is different is its ultimate source of strength. If we mobilize all our awesome powers and lose this one, we will have hegemony—but will it be worth having?I have to admit, that’s damn good evidence. I owe Dr. Zakaria an apology. The charge of moral relativism is a serious one and should not be made without careful consideration of one’s subject. As such, I would like to extend my apology to the three other authors whom I labelled as relativists along with Dr. Zakaria.
That said, I do believe that there are significant flaws in the four essays I cited. Without question, each one deserved more than the cursory treatment I gave it. Since the issues that each of the authors raised are still relevant, I will take time now to comment on their work in depth. I will begin with Zakaria's essay, covering it over the next four days.
Rather than moral relativists, it might be better to describe these authors as 'analytical relativists', since they come close to seeing international politics as an arena in which nations are judged according to their power, not their ideals. While some would no doubt resist that characterization, I believe that I can show it to be a meaningful one, even for Zakaria.
Before responding to Zakaria's essay directly, I think it is important to place these four authors in their proper intellectual context, as scholars rooted in the political science tradition known 'realism'. Historically speaking, realists have often been explicit advocates of moral relativism, both as an analytical as well as a prescriptive paradigm for the conduct of international relations. Prominent realists such as Henry Kissinger have often dismissed ethical restrictions on the conduct of foreign affairs, e.g. the consideration of human rights, as nothing more than impediments to the pursuit of a favorable balance of power.
In contrast, other realists have argued that the United States must respect human rights even though doing so might complicate efforts to safeguard our national security. Some realists take this position because they believe that the ethical significance of human rights demands that sacrifices be made in order to respect them. Others argue that since no foreign policy can succeed in the absence of domestic support, statesmen must take into consideration the ethical norms of their constituents.
What unites these kinder, gentler realists with the old guard is that none of them believe that strict adherence to ethical norms benefits the United States by convincing others of its good intentions. Believing international politics to be a domain in which power alone determines the welfare of nations, these realists see good intentions as nothing more than paving stones on the road to hell.
Against this background, it becomes apparent that Zakaria has departed significantly from mainline realism with his assertion that American idealism “has made America's awesome power tolerable to the world for so long…[thus] the belief that America is different is its ultimate source of strength.” Still I believe that there are significant elements of the old way of thinking still present in Zakaria’s work, especially his definition of what it means for America to be “different.” Through a detailed analysis of Zakaria’s essay in The New Yorker, I think I can show that his definition of difference has firm roots in the realist tradition.
Our Way: The Trouble With Being the World’s Only Superpower
By Fareed Zakaria
…a world with just one major power is unprecedented. For several centuries before 1945, European states of roughly equivalent standing dominated global affairs in a multipolar system. Many powers jockeying for advantage meant shifting alliances and almost constant war. It fixed in people's minds the image of international politics as Realpolitik, a ruthless, ever-changing game of might…
Most nations—including the United States—are still unsure of the character and the consequences of the unipolar world. The confusion has increased dramatically since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which for many Americans revealed the country's vulnerability: America's overwhelming military power cannot keep it safe. The attacks underscored the point that Harvard's Joseph S. Nye, Jr., made in his recent book, The Paradox of American Power, which argues that while American power is unmatched, it has its limits in a modern, globalized age.
I had the pleasure of meeting Joe Nye when he visited Oxford in the spring of 2001. Nye is an all-around nice guy and still thoroghly modest despite his towering achievements as both a scholar and a policymaker. Within the academy, Nye is best known for his introduction (along with Robert Keohane) of the phrase “complex interdependence”. In doing so, Nye became a co-founder of the school of thought known as neo-liberalism, which distinguished itself from realism by virtue of its insistence that nations’ growing interdependence could provide them with a purely rational, self-interested motive for avoiding conflict. This was a striking departure from the realists’ insistence that self-interested behavior makes conflict inevitable in international relations.
Outside of the academy, Nye is best known for coining the phrase “soft power” to describe the attractive force that the United States’ economic and cultural success has on other nations. In pre-publication lectures on “The Paradox of American Power”, Nye restated his earlier insistence that soft power is a fragile resource, since even limited unilateralist behavior can erase the goodwill that cultural and economic attraction creates. During the Q&A after the lecture, I unsuccessfully tried to persuade Prof. Nye that soft power is actually rather durable, since it rests not on goodwill, but rather on other democratic nations’ recognition that the United States shares their fundamental ideals, regardless of whether it occasionally misbehaves.
As becomes apparent later in Zakaria’s essay, he agrees with Nye that soft power is a fragile resource. As I see it, this view has reflects the strong influence of realism on neo-liberals such as Nye, despite their conscious rejection of it. In arguing that nations’ interdependence provides them with a rational, self-interested motive for cooperation, neo-liberals effectively adopt realism’s belief that the primary determinants of a state’s behavior are its interests, rather than its ideals. An implicit corollary to this assertion is the idea that nations judge their rivals primarily according to their interests rather than their ideals. If one adopts such a position, a logical extension of it is the belief that soft power is fragile, since its rests on goodwill rather than self-interest. While I was wrong to describe such beliefs as an example of moral relativism, I think it is clear to what degree such beliefs approach analytical relativism.
Much of the Western world has lived for some decades with the knowledge that terrorism can plague an open society. But the September attacks were more nihilistic, more deadly than any that had come before. And they were, in a sense, a consequence of the new unipolar world. Americans like to think that this country was attacked because it is free. But so are Italy and Denmark, whose cities stand undisturbed. America was attacked because it is the master of the modern world, deploying its economic, political, and military powers across the globe. Because America is "No. 1," it is also target No. 1.
In this provocative passage, Zakaria makes it clear that September 11th was a response to America’s power, not to its ideals. Absent in this passage is any hint of the leftist relativism that declares America’s ideals to be no more legitimate than those of Osama bin Laden. Nonetheless, Zakaria rules out the possibility that America was attacked because it has used its power in order to advance its ideals. Yes, Italy and Denmark are free. But it was the United States who defended the freedom of Kuwait and in doing so introduced degenerate infidel practices into the holy land of Islam.
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# Posted 8:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
UPDATE: Japan is behind us. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 7:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Every day, student leaders would call by cell phone from the roiling campuses to the radio's headquarters in Prague and narrate the latest developments live. Each night the radio would broadcast a roundtable discussion, patching together students and journalists in Tehran with exiled opposition leaders to discuss where the reform movement was going. So instrumental to the rebellion-in-the-making did the radio become that pro-regime counter-demonstrators recently held up a placard reading "Who does Radio Azadi talk to?" -- a taunt taken by the station's staff as a badge of honor.Two weeks ago, Radio Azadi went off the air. The mullahs had nothing to do with it. The man responsible for Azadi's disappearance was Norman Pattiz, a major Democratic donor rewarded by President Clinton with a position on the VOA's Board of Governors. A devout advocate of Clinton-style engagement, Pattiz insisted that Azadi's "old-style propaganda" was alienating the Persian masses. The protesters have learned to survive without Azadi. The cost to the United States is unknowable.
One question Diehl does not address is how the hell the Bush administration let a Clinton holdover make such a stupid, stupid decision. I see three causes. First, the administration has never gone beyond lip service in its efforts to promote democracy in the Middle East. W. and Condi say the right things when asked, but they just aren't making sure that officals at State, Defense or elsewhere in the administration incorporate democracy promotion into their frame of mind. If the VOA had cut off a good service in Qatar or Sudan, I wouldn't be so incensed. But Iran is a pillar in the axis of evil. A spontaneous, democratic and pro-American revolution in Teheran would demonstrate to the world just how powerful our ideals are.
The Azadi affair also implicates the Bush administration's inability to think in grand strategic terms. This isn't just about promoting democracy, but about the war on terror. There is no better way to end Iranian support for Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations than by supporting a democratic revolution. But the administration is so focused on the military aspects of the war on terror that it has forgotten the importance of public diplomacy. This, in essence, is my third point. The Bush administration does not know how to reach out to anyone except during campaign season. Karl Rove deserves credit for his success, but the war and terror would be going a lot more smoothly if the administration had avoided antagonizing the UN before demanding a new resolution on Iraq. Would Hans Blix really hesitate to interview Iraqi scientists if he thought the Security Council was really behind US demands that he do so? By the same token, the administration just didn't think about the impact of appointing Henry Kissinger to head the 9/11 investigative commission. (As Glenn Reynolds points out from personal experience, the administration's insistence that it wasn't aware of Kissinger's conflicts of interests is patently absurd.) Or to pull an example from today's headlines, take a look at the Pentagon's absurd plans to covertly spread pro-American propaganda in countries friendly to the US. Perhaps DoD should worry about Iran before it worries about France.
One final reason that Jackson Diehl deserves credit for his column is that just two weeks ago the NY Times ran a puff piece praising the VOA's work in the Middle East, including its decision to send Britney off to do battle with the ayatollahs. In it, the ever-brilliant Norman Pattiz declares that "We can reap terrific dividends by talking to these young people directly in a way they understand." May I pause to savor the irony? To be fair, I have to admit that OxBlog was taken in by the Times. We praised the Times for praising Pattiz. I guess the moral of the story is that even the most dedicated critics of NYT bias aren't immune to its charm.
UPDATE: Fareed Zakaria provides the context in which to assess the prospects of the student protesters.
UPDATE: Ari Fleischer is already spin controlling the Pentagon's propaganda plans. According to Fleischer, ""The president has the expectation that any program that is created in his administration will be based on facts." I guess Fleischer forgot about the budget. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
Sunday, December 15, 2002
# Posted 10:04 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
But as I drew closer to the end of Dowd's column, I realize that just might have achieved something she never has before: breaking out of the constraints of the Immutable Laws. According to the First Law, "all political phenomena can be reduced to caricatures of the personalities involved." But in contrast to Dowd's casting of W. as the Boy Emperor, all we get about Lott are facts. Facts!
The Second Law commands that "It's easier to whine than to take a stand or offer solutions." Admittedly, Dowd never explicitly calls for Lott to forgo election as Majority Leader. In fact, she even observes that "Democrats were publicly screaming for less of Lott, while privately wanting more, gleefully exulting that he could be a potent symbol." If we just replace the words "Democrats were" with "Maureen Dowd is", we realize that Dowd herself may be ambivalent about Lott's resignation since it would complicate her search for pre-fab column topics. Still, I'm going to go ahead and say that since everyone knows Lott should resign, Dowd can't be criticized for not saying it again.
Law the Third: "It is better to be cute than coherent." This one's easy. Dowd makes a simple case that Lott's apology was not sincere. Yes, we knew that. But it is a coherent point, supported by actual evidence.
Law the Fourth: "The particulars of my consumer-driven, self-involved life are of universal interest and reveal universal truths." True, Dowd does begin the column with a story about how she was at a Broadway show. But there's a real point to the anecdote. In the show, which takes place in the late 40s, the characters argue about Communism. Then, Dowd heads back to work to find that other 1940's issues are still on the table: segregation, cross-burnings and all-male golf clubs. Hard as it is, I think I have to admit she has a point.
Law the Fifth: "Europeans are always right." The only Europeans mentioned in Dowd's column are Trotsky, Stalin and Kissinger. They most certainly are not right.
So what are we left with? Clear exceptions to Laws One, Three and Five along with possible exceptions to Laws Two and Four. In order to resolve this apparent contradiction, I proudly announce Adesnik's Corollary to the Immutable Laws of Dowd. It states that: "When the correct stance on a social or political issue is so painfully obvious that Josh Chafetz finds himself in agreement with Al Sharpton, then the Immutable Laws of Dowd may be temporarily suspended." Wonder if it'll ever happen again. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 9:20 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
Saturday, December 14, 2002
# Posted 11:43 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 11:26 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 11:21 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
If you want details, see The Power of News, an impressive collection of essays by Michael Schudson, a sociologist/historian of the American news media and winner of the MacArthur Foundation "genius" award. (Not that every word he says is the gospel truth. In fact, the introductory chapter to his book is all over the place. But keep reading. It's worth it.)
Anyway, there was one passage from today's review which stuck out in my mind. It read:
Over the last several months, as the administration talked first of attacking Iraq without further delay, but then with much foot-dragging agreed to consult with the United Nations and finally to give Saddam Hussein a chance to submit to the Security Council's tough new resolution, I sometimes imagined that it was all an elaborate charade following a well-constructed script. Woodward's account of the internal argument over attacking Iraq, a kind of coda to his book, persuades me it wasn't so. Far from being deeply hidden, what these men believed and wanted was so close to the surface that even the newspaper-reading public knew roughly how the argument was unfolding. Rumsfeld wanted somebody to hold his coat so he could start throwing punches, Cheney growled that inspections were a waste of time, Powell was distressed by his colleagues' apparent willingness to toss 50 years of American commitment to collective security out the window, while Bush, listening to the inner voice he has grown increasingly to trust, gradually tipped in the direction of regime change, and once he got there, said so loud and clear.While I don't know if this is a good reading of the book, since I still haven't found time to read it myself, it does suggest that I may have an edge on Josh in our long-running debate about whether or not the unpredictable behavior of the administration reflects a lack of firm leadership or coordinated strategy to throw America's opponents off-balance. Well, maybe since Josh is on vacation now, he can find some time to read the book and tell us. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 8:25 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
In my second post on the subject, I wrote that David Gilbert and Kathy Boudin "took up arms against their own government and murdered three men in cold blood." Yet as Chesa points out, "Neither of my parents was armed or even at the scene of the robbery. Their role was peripheral." While my research into these matters is not yet complete, I would like to present my provisional conclusions. The are based on information found in the Crime Library, a website maintained by Court TV.
Chesa is correct that neither of his parents was armed or even at the scene of the robbery. However, the reason they were not at the scene of the robbery was that they were supposed to drive getaway cars which could not later be traced to the crime scene. After attacking the Brinks truck, Gilbert and Boudin's associates drove to a prearranged rendezvous point where they abandoned their vehicle and entered the back of U-Haul truck driven by Boudin. Thus, the absence of Gilbert and Boudin from the scene of the robbery indicates not they were somehow less responsible for what happened, but rather that they were part of a careful planning process desgined to maximize the chances of their committing a successful crime. If anything, this adds to their responsibility rather than taking away from it.
While driving the U-Haul, Kathy Boudin was not armed. Yet interestingly enough, when she was pulled over by the police, she maintained her innocence and asked them to put away their guns. As a result, when the police opened the back doors of the U-Haul, they had little chance of defending themselves from the heavily armed men inside. During the shootout, Gilbert arrived in a second vehicle, a Honda, and drove away with a number of the gunmen. When the police gave chase, Gilbert crashed. When Gilbert emerged from the wreck, he asked the police officer present to help his injured associate. It later emerged that this was part of an effort to distract the officer so that Gilbert's associate could retrieve a gun from the wreck and kill the officer. In light of these facts, I understand why someone might characterize my assertion that Gilbert and Boudin "murdered three men in cold blood" as inaccurate. Nonetheless, in legal terms both were fully responsible what happened. Gilbert was convicted of murder. Boudin pleaded guilty to it. Thus, while I regret that my words might have indicated that Boudin and Gilbert were armed and/or the individuals who fired the guns that killed the victims of their crime, I have no regrets about the general characterization of them as outright murderers. Nor can I understand how one can assert that "their role was peripheral".
As for the assertion that Boudin and Gilbert "took up arms against their own government", I see no need to revise it. My post did not indicate that they took up arms on the same day as they committed the bank robbery that resulted in three murders. Rather, it was an indication that both belonged to terrorist organizations which sought, through the force of arms, to destroy the American government.
Should I find any new information that contradicts what I have written above, I will revise it. As for the suggestion made by Chesa and others that I should "do [my] research better next time", I disagree. The inclarities in my second post reflected unclear writing, not a lack of sufficient factual knowledge.
With luck, this will be my last post on this subject. Chesa, I look forward to meeting you. I do not and never have doubted that you are an exceptional individual who fully deserves the scholarship you have been given. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 11:25 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
1) Josh on Trent Lott:
-- A fisking of William Saletan's Slate column. Picked up by Instapundit and Andrew Sullivan!
-- The announcement of Lott's press conference. Josh cites an inside GOP sources predicting Lott will resign. Plus, Instapundit links to Josh.
-- Josh posts what he claims are his final remarks on the Lott fiasco.
-- Josh picks up where he left off on OxBlog.
-- Plus David's brief comments on Strom.
-- And your bonus for reading it all: Josh on Trent Lott and the LSAT.
2) David on democracy and Islam:
-- Relauncing the classic debate.
-- Comparing the Algerian civil war and the Iranian Revolution.
-- A link to Stephen Schwartz's thoughts in the Weekly Standard.
3) David on Henry Kissinger's resignation. (Plus Josh's initial link.)
4) David on the Iraqi opposition conferencein London.
5) David on Turkey's rejection by the EU.
6) David on chopped liver. Really!
7) David on political science and the coming war in Iraq.
8) Josh on anti-Semitism and the nature of objective reality
9) David on media bias toward Israel. Big surprise there.
10) David and Josh on reports that Al Qaeda has taken possession of Iraqi chemical weapons.
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Wednesday, December 11, 2002
# Posted 7:33 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
For those of you who want the details (with some humor thrown in) see Richard Cohen's column in today's Post. I wonder what Mr. Cohen would have to say about liberal media bias...
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# Posted 7:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
For those of you interested in academic perspectives on the media's influence on politics, I recommend Timothy Cook's Governing with the News, which is a comprehensive, brief and fair-minded survey of the most recent research. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 7:02 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 6:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Without taking anything away from the investigative skills of the Post's reporters, I think it is clear that the "classified version" of the administration's strategy was never meant to be classified. It is really just a veiled threat to the four states listed in a "top-secret appendix" to the "classified version": Iran, Syria, Iraq and North Korea. The Post suggests that this warning is directed principally at Iraq. I find that hard to believe. Saddam knows that the US will oust his government in the event of war. He probably assumes that he will die in the process. Why, then, should he care if the US launches a nuclear strike? If anything, such an attack would establish him as a martyr, which is what he no doubt wants to be.
Possibly, the warning was directed more at North Korea. Caught shipping missiles to the Gulf, it clearly needs to be warned about the consequences of its behavior. Yet a threat directed at Pyongyang is not 100% credible either. For as long as North Korean conventional weapons -- primarily artillery -- have the capacity to devastate Seoul, the US will be hesitant to strike the North. On the other hand, even Clinton approached the brink of ordering attacks on the North Korean nuclear plant at Yongbyon back in 1994. There may simply be no choice.
Regardless of what the White House intended to accomplish with its leak, we can be sure that it will make Jimmy Carter very unhappy. In the speech he delivered after accepting the Nobel Prize, he denounced the doctrine of preemptive warfare. In light of how hawkish Carter became when limited Soviet aggression embarrassed his administration, I think it is rather unfair of him to criticize Bush for responding strongly to a clear and present danger. Moreover, the Nobel committee is doubly hypocritical for describing Carter as an advocate of peace in era "marked by threats of the use of power", since Carter had no qualms about resorting to threats when his own credibility was on the line. Don't get me wrong -- I think Carter was right to take a hard line after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Now he has to take responsibility for that decision.
On the bright side, Carter endorsed the current effort to disarm Iraq. Still, his endorsement of 1441 seems less than wholehearted in light of his description of Resolution 242 -- calling on Israel to trade land for peace -- as "the mandate whose implementation could...improve international relations" more than any other. Jimmy, you're making it hard for me to keep defending your record. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
Tuesday, December 10, 2002
# Posted 7:47 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 6:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
The title of Kristof's column is "The Next Africa?" While columnist have the right to be provocative, nowhere in the column does Kristof acknowledge that there is not a single military government in all of Central America. Poverty there is. But the people's commitment to democracy has saved them from the brutal fate of the Congo or Sierra Leone or even the lesser brutality of Zimbabwe.
"South America and Central America now risk becoming another Africa, in the sense of institutionalized Western neglect and indigenous despair, of tumbling living standards, of coups and civil war and failed states. If we allow this to happen, we Yanquis will pay the price — in terms of economics, drugs and immigration — for years to come."
Institutionalized neglect? Has Kristof heard of the OAS or the Interamerican Development Bank? And what about regional programs funded by the IMF and World Bank? And, of course, the National Endowment for Democracy. While there are ample grounds for criticizing these institutions' work, neglect is not one of their vices. In fact, the instiution that most neglects Latin America is Mr. Kristof's own: the media. Headlines are reserved for conflict and violence. Even before September 11th shifted the media's focus to the Middle East, Latin America did not get much coverage. Let's see how often Mr. Kristof writes about Latin America after returning from his current foray south of the border.
As for "coups and civil war and failed states", this is an irresponsible generalization based on the current situation in Colombia, Venezuela and (to a lesser degree) Ecuador. Still, there have been no successful coups in Central or South America for more than twenty years now. Apart from Colombia's civil war, the entire region is at peace. Again apart from Colombia, nothing in Latin America resembles a failed state. And even in Colombia, there have been free elections since the late 1950s. This is not failure in the African sense of the word.
"Almost everywhere, the 'Washington Consensus' free-market policies of the 1990's are regarded as failed and discredited, partly because we did not fight corruption as aggressively as we should have, and in countries as diverse as Brazil, Venezuela, Peru and Ecuador, recent elections have gone to leftists or populists who tend to make Americans deeply nervous."
For more than two years now, Times correspondents and columnists have talked about the discrediting of the Washington Consensus. Apart from the fact that their accounts of the consensus are wildly inaccurate, they always seem to ignore the fact that no Latin American nations has initiated a return to the statist, closed market policies of the 1990s. Next, when Kristof says that "we did not fight corruption", who is we? While America should provide advice and funding to help fight corruption, the failure of Latin America's governments to fight corruption is their own. It is a matter of lacking political, not outside help. Finally, Kristof seems to buy into the myth of Latin America's populist backlash. But Brazil's "populist" president cuts deals with the IMF and talks about balancing the budget. Venezuela's populist president is on the brink of impeachment because of his policies' failure. Peru has a president with a degree in economics from Stanford, so Kristof is way off base there. Ecuador? Well, one out of four ain't bad.
Nick, go back to writing about China. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 5:25 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
As a columnist for Slate has pointed out, the NY Times did not have the common decency to mention these men's sacrifice -- or even their names -- in its profile of Chesa Boudin, the son of the murderers. In my response to the Times' profile, I did not mention their names either, even though I expressed regret for their death. That is why I have dedicated this post to them.
For more information about the heroism of Mr. O'Grady, Mr. Brown and Mr. Paige, please visit the website dedicated to their memory. On it, you can find information about donating to the scholarship fund established in their names.
As for Mr. Boudin and his scholarship, the list of unanswered questions continues to grow. In January 2001, Chesa published a column in Salon lamenting the humiliation of his parents and their visitors. Yes, I sympathize with the fact that Mr. Boudin's elderly grandmother had to undergo an intimate search before being permitted to visit her son. Yes, it is unfortunate that Mr. Boudin's father must be subjected to similar searches after each visit he receives. However, Mr. Boudin does not mention in his article that his family is subject to such treatment because his parents took up arms against their own government and murdered three men in cold blood. While I want to believe that Mr. Boudin has only the best intentions, the disingenousness of his Salon column suggests that his disturbing statements in the NY Times were not taken out of context.
Chesa, if I am wrong, please let me know. I have not done exhaustive research on this matter. I am simply reporting and commenting on what I have read in national news sources. I want to believe that I am wrong.
Special thanks to Linda Cooke for brining multiple articles on the Boudin case to my attention. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
Monday, December 09, 2002
# Posted 4:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Chesa, if you are reading this, I want you to know that I have nothing against you. We went to the same college. We ate in the same dining hall. This fisking isn’t about you. It’s about the NY Times. It needs to be taught a lesson.
From Radical Background, a Rhodes Scholar Emerges
By Jodi Wilgoren
CHICAGO, Dec. 8 — As with the other triumphs of his young life, Chesa Boudin was unable to celebrate with his parents on Saturday afternoon when he was named a Rhodes scholar. He could not even share the good news.
As maximum-security inmates in the New York State prison system, Katherine Boudin and David Gilbert are barred from receiving telephone calls or e-mail messages. Though Mr. Boudin has rigged his dorm room at Yale University to override the block on collect calls, neither parent was able to connect with him today. They will read of their son's accomplishment in the newspaper, instead, and it may be days before they can congratulate him.
Mr. Boudin, 22, is used to it. His parents, members of the 1970's radical group the Weathermen, have been in prison since he was 14 months old, for roles in a 1981 Brink's robbery in Rockland County in which two police officers and a guard were killed. They missed his Phi Beta Kappa award, high school graduation, Little League games.
"Roles?" This description of Boudin and Gilbert's crimes is pretty much a whitewash. (Thanks to YalePundits for the link.)
"When I was younger, I was angry," Mr. Boudin, a tall, clean-cut young man said in an interview here Saturday evening, looking comfortable in the navy pinstriped suit he had worn for the Rhodes interview, though the tie was long gone.
"Now I'm not angry," he said, "I'm sad that my parents have to suffer what they have to suffer on a daily basis, that millions of other people have to suffer as well."
Yes, that’s very sad. But isn’t the death of three innocent men – because of your parents criminal brutality – a lot more sad? Yes, every child deserves parents. But what about the children of the police offers and bank guard your parents murdered? And what exactly do your parents have in common with the “millions of other people” who suffer every day? Are you implying that your parents are innocent victims of a repressive government?
Chesa, I believe that your words were taken out of context. I cannot believe that you are as heartless and self-centered as this quotation suggests you are. Perhaps your wiser words were cut by an editor interested in saving space. Perhaps the Times reporter took for granted that you sympathize with the victims of your parents’ crimes. But as things stand, there is no way of knowing that.
Raised by two other Weathermen leaders, Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, in Chicago's Hyde Park, he is one of 32 American winners of this year's Rhodes scholarships. It is a remarkable achievement for a boy with epilepsy and dyslexia who did not learn to read until third grade and spent much of his childhood in temper tantrums. His selection also reflects the changes in the nation's premier academic award in its 100th year: once an exclusive club of Ivy League athletes, the Rhodes in recent years has rewarded an array of students who have overcome striking challenges.
This is just bad reporting. The Rhodes was never an “exclusive club of Ivy League athletes.” First of all, the myth that Rhodes Scholars are all athletically gifted and physically fit is just that, a myth. I am living proof of that. Perhaps more significantly, the scholarship stopped demanding evidence of athletic prowess more than three decades ago. But it’s hard to dispel illusions perpetuated by the paper of record. As for being an Ivy League club, how exactly does the selection of a Yale graduate such as Mr. Boudin discount that notion? Anyway, the Rhodes Trust has sought throughout its existence to search for talented individuals outside the Ivy League who “have overcome striking challenges”. For details, see Cowboys Into Gentleman, a history of America’s Rhodes Scholarships.
Among the other winners announced today are Kamyar Cyrus Habib, a Columbia University student from Kirkland, Wash., who is a black belt in karate, a downhill skier and a published photographer — as well as blind; Marianna Ofusu, who attends Howard University in Washington and is a Latin American dance champion; and Devi Shridhar of the University of Miami, who at 18 has mastered five languages, published a book on Indian myths and been admitted to medical school.
Thirteen of the winners are from Ivy League schools, four from Harvard, but the class also includes the first Rhodes scholar from the University of Central Florida, and students at state universities in Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota and Utah.
Established by the will of the British colonialist Cecil Rhodes in 1902, the scholarship offers a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree at Oxford University, a value estimated at about $30,000 a year. Bill Clinton, Bill Bradley, Byron White and Dean Rusk are among the 2,982 Americans from 305 colleges and universities who have won the award.
Mr. Boudin is not the first child of convicts to be chosen; Adam Ake, the son of a gynecologist convicted of raping patients, was in the Rhodes class of 1997. But the political pedigrees of Mr. Boudin's parents, biological and adoptive, present a contrast with that of the British imperialist who established the prestigious scholarship in his will.
I think Mr. Ake deserves an apology from the Times. What purpose does it serve to embarrass him publically?
"Cecil Rhodes, I don't know what would he think if he were alive today; he'd probably be horrified," Ms. Dohrn, a professor at Northwestern law school, said, laughing, in her office, where snapshots of her children at play are interspersed with the memorabilia of a radical life.
First of all, Rhodes made a point of judging individuals on their own merit, not that of their parents. What would truly horrify him is the idea that the scholarship had been awarded to a pair of inferior Jews such as Mr. Chafetz and myself.
Dennis Hutchinson, a law professor at the University of Chicago who headed the Midwest selection committee, said Mr. Boudin's family did not come up at the Friday night cocktail party or the 20-minute interview Saturday morning, as the winners were whittled from 98 finalists. Those finalists had been selected from 981 university nominees.
"That's one of the wonderful things about institutions, they adapt to the times," Professor Hutchinson, a Rhodes scholar in 1970, said. "This is a guy who talks not only with passion but with mature, thoughtful information about the things he cares about. Those are the sorts of qualities that separate good résumés from the people who are willing to fight the world's fight, as the will says."
Mr. Boudin, who has spoken widely about being the child of inmates and has led antiwar efforts at Yale, plans to study international development at Oxford, expanding on his experiences in Guatemala and Chile. Last week he won the Marshall scholarship, a similar award financing study in Britain, but he plans to accept the Rhodes instead. "As a child, I relished my personal freedom and tried to compensate for my parents' imprisonment," he wrote in his application. "Now, I see prisons around the world: urban misery in Bolivia, homelessness in Santiago and illiteracy in Guatemala."
While the metaphor is charming, I am somewhat disturbed by Mr. Boudin’s failure to mention any of the actual prisons that exist in the world. Naturally, the dungeons of Baghdad are the ones that first come mind. I suspect that illiteracy is much less painful that what inmates in Baghdad must endure. Yet even if Mr. Boudin wanted to avoid tarnishing his antiwar credentials, the least he could’ve done is described the brutality of prison life in China. Hell, even prisons in the US and UK can be brutal. And come to think of it, a savvy antiwar activist should’ve at least come up with something to say about the mistreatment of Palestinians in Israeli jails.
Chesa, once again I have to believe that the Times is presenting you as someone you are not. Was the quotation from your application essay taken out of context? Something has gone wrong.
Mr. Boudin's mother was denied parole in 2001. His father is serving 75 years. Each writes to him nearly every day. His adoptive parents were engulfed by controversy when Sept. 11 coincided with the publication of Mr. Ayers's memoir, "Fugitive Days," which celebrated attempted bombings on the Pentagon.
"We have a different name for the war we're fighting now — now we call it the war on terrorism, then they called it the war on communism," Mr. Boudin said. "My parents were all dedicated to fighting U.S. imperialism around the world. I'm dedicated to the same thing."
I’m confused. Wasn’t the Soviet Union the aggressive imperialist of the Cold War? Mr. Boudin’s comments are especially strange coming from an indvidual who majored in history at Yale. Back when I majored in history at Yale, I had the privilege of being taught by John Lewis Gaddis, the foremost historian of the Cold War. Without evading American failures -- both moral and strategic -- Prof. Gaddis made it very clear that there is no place for Mr. Boudin’s moral relativism in assessments of the era.
As for the so-called war on terror, I have to wonder whether it is Osama Bin Laden’s vision of a totalitarian Islamic world-state rather than the American vision of a democratic Middle East that counts as imperialism.
Oh, and as for Mr. Boudin’s parents dedication to fighting imperialism, would someone care to explain how robbing banks in New York is relevant to that objective?
"I don't know that much about my parents' tactics; I'll talk about my tactics," he added. "The historical moment we find ourselves in determines what is most appropriate for social change."
Chesa, I’m losing faith in you. Are you trying to excuse what your parents did? Are you suggesting that the ethical imperatives which guide your activism today were not relevant in your parents’ time? While I can understand that you might not want to investigate painful episodes from the past, if you are going to make such statements you should know a lot more about your parents’ tactics. In case you do want to know what your parents and step-parents were involved in, click here for a summary. For a longer account, read the book your step-father wrote.
Mr. Boudin said that with four loving parents, he was always surrounded by high expectations, unlike many other children of convicts. He sees his name — Swahili for "dancing feet," chosen because he was born breech — as a metaphor for his approach to life (though actual dancing is among his few weaknesses).
For a career, Mr. Boudin plans to focus on international problems because criminal justice is "too close to home." He plans to finish his own memoir this summer. "It's about growing up with parents in prison; it's about growing up in America," he said. "It's about two very different worlds, one of extreme privilege and opportunity, and the other of degradation and humiliation."
Mr. Boudin shunned questions about his parents' prospects for parole, and Mr. Ayers and Ms. Dohrn repeatedly tried to steer the conversation onto the next generation. A red-star revolutionary pin on his jacket, his Weatherman tattoo (and 17 others) hidden from sight, Mr. Ayers smiled as he watched his adopted son, fresh from his Rhodes interview, in the suit that Ms. Dohrn had helped pick.
"You know what I love about listening to Chesa?" Mr. Ayers said. "He confirms the natural cycle that your kids are always so much smarter and better than you."
When your parents are terrorists, being better and smarter isn’t all that much of an achievment…
Chesa, I’m sorry. (1) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 3:59 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Well, that's not the real story. Two days ago, Hans Blix asked the US government to provide him with intelligence about Iraqi weapons programs in order to facilitate UN inspections. It's no secret that the Bush administration has done virtually nothing to ensure the inspections' success. As I see it, Blix threatened to withhold his own inside information in order to let the US know that it should treat him fairly. When Blix "backed down" today it wasn't because of American demands. It's because all he ever intended to do was send a message.
Now consider this: Blix let the US have the only existing copy of Iraq's declaration. While the permanent members of the Security Council will get to see full copies, the rest of the Security Council won't. Expect to see the usual complaints in the European media about American domination of the UN. Of course, such accusations are no more valid than trite American dismissals of the UN's merit as an institution. But such constant accusations from both sides do considerable damage to the UN and its ability to be a functional mediator in international disputes. Remember, this is not the perspective of the left. Rather, it is America's president who declared himself committed to working with the United Nations despite his full awareness of all its drawbacks. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 3:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Sunday, December 08, 2002
# Posted 10:11 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
For a brief moment, Lamb sounds like a correspondent for the Guardian (for those unfamiliar with the British press, imagine a daily edition of the Nation) when she declares that "after the overthrow of the Taliban and imposition of a Western-backed government, there has been little improvement in the lives of most Afghans...[who] spend their days struggling to feed their children on an average annual income of $75." But she also recognizes how desperate most Afghans are to strenghten the Western presence in their nation. As one man said to her, "Throughout history we Afghans have always fought outsiders. Now we are frightened they will leave us."
If there is one point Lamb drives home, it's that warlord domination of Afghanistan is the single greatest barrier to its recovery, both politically and economically. What the Karzai government needs isn't more butter, but more guns. Now did somebody say that NATO was looking for a job?
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Saturday, December 07, 2002
# Posted 9:57 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
But what I really want to talk about is Josh's take on Iran. I generally agree with his support for a "hearts and minds" approach to Iranian reform. But the NYT article Josh quoted also made a subtle but dangerous point: that America must choose between including Iran in the Axis of Evil and winning the support of Iranian dissidents. According to one expert the Times cited, "The people of Iran have seen that fundamentalism doesn't work. Appealing to them with cooperation and reasoning, rather than `axis of evil' talk, is a virtually risk-free proposition for the U.S." No alternative point of view is given.
Now consider this: What if Iran's dissident students have drawn strength from Bush's attack on the Iranian government as a repressive terrorist regime? While I am not a fan of the phrase "Axis of Evil", I do believe that there are few benefits to engagement with Iran. We need to win hearts and minds in Iran not just by showcasing the American lifestyle, but by showing that America stands up to dictators and terrorists. Period. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 9:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Three weeks ago, OxBlog took Nicholas Kristof to task for his naive views of Chinese education. He said Chinese students' work ethic will result in China overtaking the US someday as a superpower. OxBlog said that China's authoritarian educational system prevents students from developing the independent thinking skills that have made American students great. Today, the Timespublished an op-ed by a Chinese professor (now in the US) who recounted just how the Chinese system crushes independent thought. OxBlog 2, NYT 0. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 9:11 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
While the shock value of the story alone was worth it, you really have to ask who the hell came up with the idea of using poisonous spiders -- and why. The answer: "The spiders, which have red markings on their backs, were introduced to Tesco vineyards in California as an alternative to pesticide, following customer demand for 'natural' food." While one might be satisfied that organic food enthusiasts are getting what they deserve for their naive and dangerous attitudes, there is a point of global significance here: one aspect of the European crusade for natural foods is a continent wide protest against any products that have genetically modified (GM) compoenents.
While the lack of scientific knowledge responsible for such views is a problem in and of itself, there are serious policy implications. For example, the Zambian government has rejected American aid despite a devastating famine because the aid consisted of GM food. Are the Zambians insane? Not by a longshot. They know that if GM seeds and grains get into the country, farmers will start using them. This will destory Zambian exports to the EU, because Europe won't buy Zambian products.
As is so often the case with the anti-globalization crusade, its successes have only hurt the selfsame impoverished Third World nations it claims to want to protect. (Oh, and in case you were curious, the anti-GM crusaders argue that GM food aid is nothing more than an American corporate conspiracy. Oh those corporations. Nefariously advancing their purposes by saving starving Africans.
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Friday, December 06, 2002
# Posted 8:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 7:40 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 7:14 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 7:06 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 6:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
By the way, note the Times and Post headlines: "Israeli Forces Kill 10 Palestinians in Gaza" and "Israeli Army Kills 10 in Gaza Refugee Camp". It makes it sound as if the IDF went looking for people to kill, not that it was in the process of hunting down suspected terrorists when its troops came under fire and sought to defend themselves.
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# Posted 6:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 6:14 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
On a side note, Isaacson describes the intense conflict between Kissinger and the Cheney-Rumsfeld axis during the Ford administration. This lends quite a bit of credibility to OxBlog's early speculation that Condi was behind Kissinger's appointment. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
Thursday, December 05, 2002
# Posted 9:28 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 8:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 8:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Wednesday, December 04, 2002
# Posted 9:42 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 9:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
(Apologies for not providing a link to the full text of the article. I myself had to submit to the shameful practice of reading a paper-and-ink version of it.) (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 9:15 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 9:02 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
PS I must admit that I cannibalized the Clinton quote from Maureen Dowd. Strangely, she ignores its implications. Is it because she takes it for granted that Clinton is cynical, or because she shares his cynicism as well? (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 8:53 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
As usual, real evidence of media bias comes from NYT coverage of the Middle East. Today's headline reads: "Israeli Troops Shoot at Taxi, Killing Arab Woman, 95." At the beginning of the article we find out that an innocent woman died. Ten paragraphs later we find out that another woman injured in the attack has provided contradictory statements about what exactly happened while Israeli sources insist that the taxi's driver sped toward IDF soldiers even after instructed to stop. Maybe the Times' reporter should have actually tried to verify some of the facts reported. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 12:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 12:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Disclaimer: I think that this argument is a lot of hooey, poppycock, balderdash and, to get to the point, bullshit. It present no actual evidence that Rove is behind US foreign policy decisions. It's author is credible however -- a fellow at a British insitute for defence studies. And, of course, the column was published in The Guardian. Still, thinking outside the box isn't such a bad thing. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
Tuesday, December 03, 2002
# Posted 8:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 8:12 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 8:05 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 7:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
While you're waiting, take a look at this article on Saudi charities by Stephen Schwartz. Even though it's a litlle short on evidence, the article makes the critical point that focusing on a single possible indiscretion made by one Saudi princess is irrelevant. The real issue is the existence of an entire system of indirect financing which actively encourages princesses to distribute tens of thousands of dollars to individuals who may well have connections to terrorists.
This is also an opportune moment to thank Adam Bellow at Doubleday for sending me a complimentary copy of Schwartz's new book, "The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa'ud from Tradition to Terror." I will report back ASAP. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 7:26 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
The fundamental problem with this argument is that it equates a desire to improve one's reputation with a repentant drive to do right instead of wrong. But that is not how Kissinger has gone about working for his reputation. As Robert Kagan's careful reading of Years of Renewal -- the third volume of Kissinger's memoirs -- shows that Kissinger has resorted to active distortions of his own record as a diplomat in order to mitigate his reputation as an amoral realist while also creating the illusion that he was somehow responsible for the end of the Cold War. (Kagan's review was published in TNR in June 1999, but is not available on their website.) But if you're interested in a review of Kagan's review, click here.)
So if we know that Kissinger is willing to lie in public in order to polish his reputation, why should we trust him to head an investigative commission charged with finding out the truth the intelligence failures that faciliated 9/11? (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 6:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 6:45 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
One should note, however, that Abrams is a divisive partisan figure who played a significant role in the Reagan administration's efforts to cover up the Iran-Contra scandal. Off hand, I can't remember if he was convicted or just indicted for lying to Congress. I guess you might say Abrams needs to work on promoting democracy at home as well as abroad.
UPDATE: Israpundit provides a slightly different perspective, focused on -- you guessed it -- Israel. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 6:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
PS Looks like the Turks will participate in a war against Iraq. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 6:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 6:05 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 7:06 AM by Dan
Monday, December 02, 2002
# Posted 2:13 PM by Dan
Sunday, December 01, 2002
# Posted 8:46 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 8:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 8:37 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
The NYT and WashPost have offered subtle but still unequivocal criticism of the President's choice. One might even say that such criticism is more effective, since Dr. K has already taken the Times'advice and promised to sever ties with any clients whose interests might be affected by the outcome of the investigation. Still, such a promise is irrelevant. There is no reason to thnk that financial interests will affect Kissinger's judgments. The real problem is his total lack of respect for the public's right to know what their government does, a right he disrespected time again while serving as Secretary of State and National Security Adviser. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
# Posted 8:28 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
# Posted 8:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
"More than a year into the war against terrorism, Saudi officials continue to actively support organizations that finance international terrorism," -- Matthew Levitt, fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and former terrorism analyst for the Federal Bureau of InvestigationHmmmm... (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
Saturday, November 30, 2002
# Posted 6:31 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
FUTURE historians will record--perhaps in astonishment--that the demise of the Soviet Union ushered in an era of American worldwide engagement and armed intervention unprecedented in scope and frequency. Despite a widespread conviction that, in a post-cold-war world, the American role would diminish, in a brief four years the United States has: launched a massive counteroffensive against the world's fourth largest army in the Middle East; invaded, occupied, and supervised elections in a Latin American country; intervened with force to provide food to starving peoples in Africa; and conducted punitive bombing raids in the Balkans.
Perhaps even more surprising than the fact of American intervention in the post-Cold War era was the purpose of it: defending international law while promoting democracy and human rights. Lord Acton once observed that whereas power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. If so, how can one explain the fact that once the United States triumphed over the Soviet Union and became the dominant force in world affairs it increased its commitment to ethical action abroad?
Nor is this all. The United States has sent troops on another humanitarian mission in Africa, and volunteered troops to serve as peacekeeping forces in the Middle East and in the former Yugoslavia. It has worked in the UN Security Council to enact punitive sanctions against at least a half-dozen international scofflaws. It has seriously considered extending military protection to several important nations of Eastern Europe that have never before been part of an alliance with the United States. And it has interceded in disputes among the former republics of the Soviet Union.
How is this increased activity to be explained? The answer is rather easily found in the new relations of power in the post-cold-war world. The fall of the Soviet Union removed restraints on foreign leaders unhappy with the order imposed by the cold war and unleashed new struggles for power in areas hitherto under the former superpower's thumb. Some would-be challengers of the old order were encouraged by the belief that the United States would not step in. The United States, however, itself freed from the restraints of the cold war, began to fill the gap left by the absence of Soviet global power and continued a historical tradition of using its influence to promote a world order consistent with its material needs and philosophical predilections.
Kagan is being somewhat evasive here. The real question is to what degree one can expect America to prioritize its material needs over its philosophical predilections as it often did during the Cold War. This evasiveness, however, points to an important development in Kagan’s thought that would become apparent over time: his belief that nations will always seek to maximize their own influence while reducing that of others. Whether the expansion of such influences is a force for good or evil depends on the character of any given nation.
But if the course America has followed has been natural enough, to many American strategists, policy-makers, and politicians it seems also to have been unexpected--and unwelcome. Today, a scant two years after the intervention in Somalia, three years after the Gulf war, and four years since the invasion of Panama, foreign-policy theorists continue to write of the need for a 'global retrenchment" of American power. Before and after each venture abroad, they have argued that such high levels of American engagement cannot be sustained, politically or economically, and that a failure to be more selective in the application of American power will either bankrupt the country or drive the American public further toward the isolationism into which, they warn, it is already beginning to slip.
Looking back from the present, Kagan’s assertion that most experts opposed an activist American foreign policy strikes one as the hysterical warning of a superhawk. Even before September 11th galvanized popular support for an activist foreign policy, there was a definite consensus among the experts that America had consolidated its position as the “lone superpower” in a “unipolar” world. Yet in fact, Kagan’s characterization of expert opinion circa 1994 is fully accurate. Despite the almost self-evident dominance of the United States in material and ideological terms, scholars insisted that this was nothing more than a “unipolar moment”. Kagan’s recognition of American strength at such an early date has become the foundation on which reputation as an leading thinker rests.
This political judgment has found intellectual buttressing in the so-called "realist" approach to foreign policy, which asserts that the United States should limit itself to defending its "core" national interests and abandon costly and unpopular efforts to solve the many problems on the "periphery." During the cold war, realists fought against efforts by Presidents from Truman to Kennedy to Reagan to equate American interests with the advancement of a democratic world order. In the post-cold-war era, they have gained new prominence by again recommending a retreat from such ambitions and the definition of a far more limited set of foreign-policy goals.
Kagan’s characterization of realist prescriptions for American foreign policy is essentially fair. Nonetheless, one should note that his efforts to establish Truman, Kennedy and Reagan as representatives of a common idealist approach to foreign affairs is both a conscious choice as well as a misleading one. Its conscious purpose is to link the controversial Reagan to two other presidents whose legacies have been embraced by both Democrats and Republicans. In short, it is an effort to erase the memory of the Iran-Contra scandal and Reagan’s terrible record on human rights. From the perspective of the historian, the selection of Truman, Kennedy and Reagan as paradigmatic idealists is misleading because it neglects the intense idealism of Lyndon Johnson. The motive behind this selection is clear: Kagan wants to dissociate idealism from Johnson’s failure in Vietnam as well as avoiding the unpleasant fact that within the community of experts, only self-professed “realists” opposed American policy in Vietnam before 1967-68.
Yet the realist view remains inadequate, both as a description, precisely, of reality--of the way the world really works--and as a recommendation for defending America's interests, either on the "periphery" or at the "core." When Americans have exercised their power in pursuit of a broad definition of interests--in pursuit, that is, of a more decent world order--they have succeeded in defending their "vital" interests as well. When they have sought to evade the dangers of global involvement, they have found themselves unexpectedly in a fight for national survival.
Again, this borders on the polemical. Kagan’s words were prescient in that they anticipated the resurrection of Truman’s reputation as the architect of American victory in the Cold War thanks mostly to John Gaddis’ 1997 work, We Now Know. Nonetheless, realists such as Eisenhower and Nixon promoted the national interest more effectively than idealists such as Johnson or Carter.
THROUGHOUT this century, the United States has faced the problem of its expanding power--and has responded with ambivalence. Americans are perhaps more suspicious of power than most people on earth, but just like others they have nonetheless sought it, guarded it, and enjoyed its benefits. As products of a modern, nonmartial republic, Americans have always tended to cherish the lives of their young more than the glories to be won on the battlefield; yet they have sacrificed their young for the sake of honor, interest, and principle as frequently as any nation in the world over the past 200 years. Again, as the products of a revolution against an imperial master, Americans have always abhorred imperialism; yet where their power was preponderant, they have assumed hegemony and have been unwilling to relinquish it.
Kagan accurately describes America’s strange habit of first approaching power with suspicion, then embracing it unself-consciously. For Kagan, this habit constitutes evidence on behalf of his more general assertion that no nation can resist the temptation of exercising power. Also note the use of the word ‘hegemony’ with no apparent negative connotations.
The common view of American foreign policy as endlessly vacillating between isolationism and interventionism is wrong: Americans in this century have never ceased expanding their sphere of interests across the globe, but they have tried to evade the responsibility of defending those interests, until they had no choice but to fight a war for which they were unprepared. The American conception of interest, moreover, has always gone beyond narrow security concerns to include the promotion of a world order consistent with American economic, political, and ideological aspirations.
Although Kagan doesn’t mention it, the “common view of American foreign policy as endlessly vacillating” is a product of realist principles applied to American diplomatic history. Whereas such interpretations were dominant in the first decades after the Cold War, they have begun to suffer a serious loss of legitimacy. This changing interpretation has not had much impact yet on either political scientists or Washington analysts with an interest in US foreign policy. At the moment, Kagan is working on a book that exposes the dominant role of ideology in American diplomatic history.
It was Theodore Roosevelt, paradoxically a President admired by realists for his shrewd understanding of power politics, who first grafted principled ends to the exercise of power. Roosevelt insisted that it was America's duty to "assume an attitude of protection and regulation in regard to all these little states" in the Western hemisphere, to help them acquire the "capacity for self-government," to assist their progress "up out of the discord and turmoil of continual revolution into a general public sense of justice and determination to maintain order." For Roosevelt, American stewardship in the Western hemisphere was more than a defensive response to European meddling there; it was proof that the United States had arrived as a world power, with responsibilities to shape a decent order in its own region. When Woodrow Wilson, the quintessential "utopian" President, took office later, his policies in the hemisphere were little more than a variation on Roosevelt's theme.
Kagan attaches special importance to Roosevelt’s foreign policy because it demonstrates that America exercised its power in service of ideological ends long before the Cold War began. Realists have traditionally asserted that America did not commit itself to internationalism until the Soviet threat became too great to ignore. Roosevelt is also significant for Kagan because of the similarities between his ruthless use of force and that of Reagan.
The same mix of motives followed the United States as it reached out into the wider world, especially Europe and Asia. Growing power expanded American interests, but also expanded the risks of protecting them against the ambitions of others. After the 1880's, America's navy grew from a size comparable to Chile's to become one of the three great navies of the world. That increase in power alone made America a potential arbiter of overseas conflicts in a way it had never been in the 18th and 19th centuries. Greater power meant that if a general European war broke out, the United States would no longer have to sit back and accept dictation of its trade routes. It also meant, however, that the United States could not sit back without accepting a diminished role in world affairs.
Nor could Americans escape choosing sides. Although German- and Irish-Americans disagreed, most Americans in the 1910's preferred the British-run world order with which they were familiar to a prospective German one. Wilson's pro-British neutrality made conflict with Germany almost inevitable, and America's new great-power status made it equally inevitable that when the German challenge came, the United States would not back down.
It was the growth of American power, not Wilsonian idealism and not national interest narrowly conceived, that led the United States into its first European war. A weak 19th-century America could not have conceived of intervening in Europe; a strong 20th-century America, because it could intervene, found that it had an interest in doing so.
Again, Kagan seeks to emphasize that growth in American power led inevitably to greater involvement on the world stage. Regardless of the historical merit of the idea, it is especially noteworthy because it brings Kagan very close to realist interpretations of international politics which insist that the changing balance of power determines each nation’s role on the international stage. Because Kagan’s support of an aggressive and ideological foreign policy has earned him a solid reputation as an idealist and hawk, no one has yet to notice this important realist strain in his thinking.
After World War I, Americans recoiled from the new responsibilities and dangers which their power had brought. But they did not really abandon their new, broader conception of the national interest. Throughout the "isolationist" years, the United States still sought, however half-heartedly and ineffectually, to preserve its expanded influence and the world order it had fought for.
Although they refused to assume military obligations, Presidents from Harding to Franklin Roosevelt tried to maintain balance and order in Europe and in Asia through economic and political agreements. In Central America and the Caribbean, the Republican Presidents found themselves endlessly intervening, occupying, and supervising elections only so that they might eventually withdraw. (Only FDR decided that the best way to be a "good neighbor" in the hemisphere was to allow dictatorship to flourish.)
Kagan is on very strong ground here, opposing standard interpretations of American foreign policy in the interwar era as isolationist. While realist political scientists still take for granted that isolationism was dominant in interwar America, historians have shown that America embraced activist and even expansionist policies on almost every international front with the exception of great power relations in Europe.
To be continued...
(1) opinions -- Add your opinion