Voice

And you thought the ASEAN Regional Forum was going to be boring

Well, Glenn Kessler's rundown on what's happeing in Phuket is rich with blog-worthy goodness: 

The war of words between North Korea and the United States escalated Thursday, with North Korea's Foreign Ministry lashing out at Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in unusually personal terms for "vulgar remarks" that it said demonstrated "she is by no means intelligent."

Clinton, who earlier this week likened North Korea to an unruly child, has rallied international isolation of North Korea at a 27-member regional security forum here. She met with her Russian, Chinese, South Korean and Japanese counterparts -- the other key partners in suspended six-nation disarmament talks--and won strong statements of support from many delegations....

The Foreign Ministry statement attacking Clinton also amply demonstrated the North Korean mood. "We cannot but regard Mrs. Clinton as a funny lady as she likes to utter such rhetoric, unaware of the elementary etiquette in the international community," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said, according to North Korean media. "Sometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping."

The fit of pique was apparently inspired by an interview Clinton gave ABC News while visiting New Delhi.

"What we've seen is this constant demand for attention [from North Korea]," Clinton said. "And maybe it's the mother in me or the experience that I've had with small children and unruly teenagers and people who are demanding attention -- don't give it to them, they don't deserve it, they are acting out."  (emphases added)

Some random thoughts:

1.  If I'm Chelsea Clinton, I'd be pretty cheesed off right now.  I never thought of her as particularly "unruly," but what other teenagers has Hillary spent time with?  [Cough, cough!!--ed.  Oh... right.]

2.  You have to give the North Koreans major chutzpah points for accusing other countries of being "unaware of the elementary etiquette in the international community."  [UPDATE:  As Rob Farley puts it, "the Nork rhetoric vaguely reminds me of Daily Kos threads from the early days of the 2008 Democratic primary."] 

3.  It's worth pointing out that we're now in a place where the Bush administration look positively dovish on North Korea compared to the Obama administration.  Here's another way of looking at it:  Both Dick Cheney and John Bolton are more comfortable with the Obama administration's Nort Korea policy than Bush administration's.  Think about that for a second. 

4.  A related point -- remember how the Bush administration got pilloried for refusing to talk with Iran, arguing that doing so would confer a reward on the regime?  Kessler quotes Clinton as saying, with regard to the Six-Party Talks:  "We are open to talks with North Korea. But we are not interested in half measures.  We do not intend to reward the North just for returning to the table."   Now there is a difference between this position and that of the Bush administration vis-à-vis Iran -- but it's not nearly as big a difference as Obama defenders are likely to claim. 

5.  What's the end game in all of this?  I think maybe, just maybe, the international community has found a status quo that makes the North Koreans less comfortable than everyone else.  Assuming that the interdiction and sanctions regime works well -- which is a robust but not entirely unreasonable assumption -- then North Korea gets nothing for thumbing its nose at the world except some more weapons-grade fissile material. 

That's not nothing, but it's not all that much either.  Pyongyang already has a deterrent to prevent invasion.  It can't threaten nuclear blackmail all that persuasively, because it's a pretty hollow threat on their part.  And if they can't sell their technology to other countries, then there's no profit in it for them either.  Which means they're stuck, wallowing in their own barren dirt, feeling very, very lonely

Am I missing anything? 

Daniel W. Drezner

Trying for the full Huntington

As I've said before, I've greatly admired Samuel Huntington's career. Huntington's gift as an academic is that he has been unafraid to make the politically incorrect argument, regardless of the consequences. This doesn't always mean he is right -- but it does mean he's usually interesting. I suspect that John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt are trying to copy the Huntington template in their essay, "The Israel Lobby" for the London Review of Books: Here's how it starts:

For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centrepiece of U.S. Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread democracy throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardised not only U.S. security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the U.S. been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state? One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the U.S. provides.

Instead, the thrust of U.S. policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the Israel Lobby. Other special-interest groups have managed to skew foreign policy, but no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what the national interest would suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that U.S. interests and those of the other country  in this case, Israel are essentially identical.

Well, that argument certainly won't rub anyone the wrong way. Interested readers should be sure to check out the longer, footnoted paper which is archived at the Kennedy School of Government. So do Mearsheimer and Walt achieve the full Huntington? No, not really. "The Israel Lobby" is the academic equivalent of waving a big red cape at one's ideological opponents, hoping they'll foam at the mouth and act stark raving mad because the authors cited Chomsky or CommonDreams, or because, "the Fatah office in Washington distributed the article to an extensive mailing list." [Or maybe they're pissed that they didn't crack the 100 Most Dangerous Professors in America!!--ed.] So let's avoid that bait. Reading the essay, I can conclude the following:

1) Mearsheimer and Walt make a decent case of arguing that interest group lobbying is responsible for some aspects of U.S. policy towards the Greater Middle East. Now this asssertion alone is enough to make people very uncomfortable at cocktail parties and other venues. Whenever I bring up ethnic lobbying in my American foreign policy class and mention Israel, everyone in the room tenses up. So kudos to Mearsheimer and Walt for speaking the taboo thought.

2) Shot through these papers are an awful lot of casual assertions that don't hold up to close scrutiny [Which makes it eerily similar to some of your blog posts!!--ed. True that.]. The authors assert that, "If Washington could live with a nuclear Soviet Union, a nuclear China or even a nuclear North Korea, it can live with a nuclear Iran. And that is why the Lobby must keep up constant pressure on politicians to confront Tehran." I'm pretty sure that there's more to U.S. opposition to Iran possessing nuclear weapons than the protection of Israel.

From the longer Kennedy paper, Mearsheimer and Walt make a fascinating logical assertion: "[T]he mere existence of the Lobby suggests that unconditional support for Israel is not in the American national interest. If it was, one would not need an organized special interest group to bring it about. But because Israel is a strategic and moral liability, it takes relentless political pressure to keep U.S. support intact." What's fascinating about this quote are the implicit assumptions contained within it: i) the only interest group in existence is the Lobby, and; ii) in the absence of the Lobby, a well-defined sense of national interest will always guide American foreign policy. It would be very problematic for good realists like Mearsheimer and Walt to allow for other interest groups -- oil companies, for example -- to exist. This would allow for a much greater role for domestic politics than realists ever care to admit.

Finally, they argue that the U.S. invaded Iraq only primarily because Israel and the Lobby -- in the form of neoconservatives -- wanted it. I wrote my take on this argument three years ago:

The notion that such a conspiracy exists rests on the belief that the administration's foreign policy principals -- Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, and Bush himself -- have somehow been duped by the neoconservatives into acting in a manner contrary to their beliefs. But while critics have never lacked for accusations against these officials, being weak-willed is not among them. In the end, it's far more likely that Bush is exploiting the neoconservatives' ideological arsenal to advance his preferred set of policies than vice versa.

3) There are sins of omission as well as commission. Walt and Mearsheimer assert that Israel has been a "strategic burden." They do a good job of cataloging why that's the case -- but omit important examples of Israel being useful, such as the 1981 Osirik bombing. They also go into depth on the Bush administration's policy towards the Palestinian Authority, but never mention the arms shipment that Arafat lied to Bush about as a causal factor behind Bush's decision to freeze out Arafat.

4) The evidence is pretty thin in some sections. To demonstrate the current political power of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, they cite a 1984 election where AIPAC was allegedly curcial. They argue that the Israeli-Palestine problem is at the root of Al Qaeda's beef with the United States -- which is funny, because I was pretty sure it was the presence of U.S. forces near the holy shrines of Mecca and Medina. They claim the Lobby is responsible for U.S. policy towards Syria, but that policy amounts to little more than some empty sabre-rattling.

After finishing the article, I began to wonder whether the paper is simple a massive exercise in explaining away a data point that realism can't cover. Most realists opposed the Iraq War, and Mearsheimer and Walt were no exception. They can and should take some normative satisfaction in being proven right by what happened after the invasion. However, I suspect as positive social scientists they are bothered by the fact that the U.S. invaded Iraq anyway when realism would have predicted otherwise. When realists are confronted with contradictory data, they tend to fall back on auxiliary hypotheses -- the cult of the offensive, the myth of empire -- that have very little to do with realism. Explaining away Iraq on The Lobby might have a whiff of the Paranoid Style, but it's certainly consistent with the literature.

In the end, I think Mearsheimer and Walt get to the full Huntington -- but alas, it's the Huntington of Who We Are? rather than The Soldier and the State. There's more I could write about, but I'm eager to hear what others think.

UPDATE: OK, I should have said, "I'm eager to hear what others think... after they read the article." Two final thoughts. First, I'm surprised and disappointed that the article has gotten zero coverage from the mainstream media in the United States. I completely agree with Walt and Mearsheimer that this is a topic that needs more open debate. Second, there's one non-event that keeps gnawing at me after reading the piece. If "The Lobby" is as powerful as Walt and Mearsheimer claim, why hasn't there been a bigger push in the United States for more fuel-efficient cars, alternative energy sources, and the like? After all, the only strategic resource that Israel's enemies possess is large quantities of oil. If "The Lobby" is so powerful and goal-directed, wouldn't they have an incentive to reduce the strategic value of their advesaries?

ANOTHER UPDATE: See this follow-up post on the Walt/Mearsheimer paper as well.