IR scholars unite

by Henry on October 12, 2004

Two months ago, I noted the paucity of international relations scholars who were prepared to defend the Bush administration’s policy in Iraq. Now comes a group letter organized by Scholars for a Sensible Foreign Policy, which has gotten over 650 foreign policy specialists to sign up to the proposition that “current American policy centered around the war in Iraq is the most misguided one since the Vietnam period.” Nor can this be dismissed as an emanation of the anti-Bush left – some of the most senior and important IR scholars on the right have signed up to the letter – including Kenneth Waltz, the father of neo-realist theory (and perhaps the most influential IR scholar writing today), John Mearsheimer (who has already written an academic paper aimed foursquare at the lies of the Bush administration) and Christopher Layne. Stephen Walt (no wishy washy liberal he) includes a personal statement saying that:

The United States stands on the threshold of a major foreign policy disaster. The Bush administration’s incompetence led us into an unnecessary war, and we are now losing that war as a result of their blindness and blunders. We can—and must—do better. Foreign policy experts from across the political spectrum must come together to chart a new course, and our letter is a call to action for anyone who is concerned about the U.S. national interest.

It’s worth noting that some of those on the right who have signed onto this letter might well pay a cost – they could reasonably have hoped for positions in a future Republican administration if they’d kept their mouths shut. Brad De Long has been calling for a long while for the grown-ups in the Republican party to speak up – now, a few of them of them are doing just that. In Jack Snyder’s words,

The vast majority of American experts on foreign policy have been saying all along that the Bush policy in Iraq is based on myths cut from whole cloth. It’s time for the media to let the American public in on this news.

Well how about it?

{ 28 comments }

1

Henry 10.12.04 at 4:15 pm

Comment removed which was on the borderline.

2

Donna 10.12.04 at 4:39 pm

I am proposing that academics do more to get their voices heard on issues like these. I would like to see a consortium of public and international affairs schools videotape their public discussions and put them on the air. I realize that many of these schools don’t have the technical capacity to produce broadcasts of commercial quality, and so I think we can create a pool of community-access quality programming, that could be made available on the web, or through local university channels. I’d be interested in feedback from IR professors. I’m new to blogging, but please feel free to comment on my first entry on this subject, at http://raas07.princeton.edu/blogs/liu/

3

jet 10.12.04 at 9:49 pm

Hmm, it is kind of hard to take seriously a paper titled “LYING IN INTERNATIONAL POLITICS”. I would have to say he made a poor choice of rhetoric if he was trying to change minds. Now if he was just adding echos to his chamber, then bravo, spot on old man.

4

Vincent 10.12.04 at 10:56 pm

What is the value and point of this joint statement? What did these “experts” achieve for Iraqis for the last 10 years? What did they achieve for Afghanis the last 20? What is the point of making the statement at all? Hasn’t the word expert become something of a public joke for some time? What did they do to prevent 9/11? Why do you take time to mention them at all?

5

Vincent 10.12.04 at 10:57 pm

What is the value and point of this joint statement? What did these “experts” achieve for Iraqis for the last 10 years? What did they achieve for Afghanis the last 20? What is the point of making the statement at all? Hasn’t the word expert become something of a public joke for some time? What did they do to prevent 9/11? Why do you take time to mention them at all?

6

kevin donoghue 10.12.04 at 11:33 pm

“Nor can this be dismissed as an emanation of the anti-Bush left….”

Bush’s policy has some very leftist strands in it – promoting revolution in foreign lands etc. Whether this is idealism or hypocrisy, it is not at all surprising that conservative IR specialists hate the sound of it.

7

Rodger 10.13.04 at 1:38 am

Like Henry, I’m one of the 650 signers. In response to Vincent, I’d say many of us worked hard in 2002-2003 to stop the war/catastrophe of Iraq…but failed. We were ignored. Experts can offer expertise, but it helps if people are listening. This is an attempt to amplify our voices, perhaps to avoid another Iraq and certainly to help figure a way out of the current fix.

8

dnexon 10.13.04 at 4:28 am

Vincent should be careful about tossing around accusations. Many of the signatories of this letter are terrorism experts who warned repeatedly of the risks of an attack on American soil.

Of course, it isn’t surprising that a defender of the current policy should decry “experts.” If the administration had listened to the “experts” they might have used enough troops and adequately planned for the occupation. Heck, they would’ve been well off if they’d simply bothered to read Machiavelli :-).

9

jet 10.13.04 at 12:49 pm

That “not enough troops” argument is pretty weak. Right now, at our lowest level of troops yet, there is 1 soldier for every 181 Iraqis. Add in the coalition and that ratio drops a bit. Add in the Iraqi army and police force and you get roughly 1 security personel for every 100 Iraqis. Then, and stay with me here, you realize that the conflict is reduced to a relatively small portion of the country with some 80% of it peaceful (for the most part). And what you get is a birds eye view of the situation in Iraq. And this high level view might be your first clue that the Pentagon wasn’t blowing hot air when they said that more troops would just complicate the security issue.

If you are going to say, de facto, that Bush didn’t force enough troops down the Pentagon’s throat, then at least provide more proof than the ONE dissenting voice on the joint chief of staff and a misquote from Paul Bremer ;)

10

raj 10.13.04 at 2:02 pm

>Experts can offer expertise, but it helps if people are listening.

They weren’t interested in listening. It strikes me that insufficient attention has been given to the fact that Bush’s interest in whacking Saddam was because Saddam tried to kill his daddy. He said it in public at least twice, and in private, as has been reported, too many times for it to be ignored.

11

kevin donoghue 10.13.04 at 2:13 pm

Jet, if “the conflict is reduced to a relatively small portion of the country with some 80% of it peaceful (for the most part)” then things must have got a lot quieter since the Washington Post told us at the end of September:

“Attacks over the past two weeks have killed more than 250 Iraqis and 29 U.S. military personnel, according to figures released by Iraq’s Health Ministry and the Pentagon. A sampling of daily reports…shows that such attacks typically number about 70 each day.”

Alternatively your idea of a peaceful existence is a lot more exciting than mine. Juan Cole, who monitors reports daily, reckons that only a few provinces (mostly Kurdish) are peaceful.

12

jet 10.13.04 at 2:26 pm

John Mearsheimer’s paper, after I finally decided to give it a shot despite it’s odious title, turned out to be quite interesting. I found its cheap and unsupported claim that Bush lied [To present false information with the intention of deceiving.] a bit off putting, but it didn’t harm the paper much. The third from last paragraph before the conclusion should probably have been the conclusion: that foreign policy drives the creation of nationalist myths. But I think, like most in academia, he’s seeing the world through a prism. For instance, citing 1914 Germany as an example of fear-mongering was an extremely poor example. The Franco-German arms race of the time might have been the first clue that actual danger of one or the other invading was a reality. While the very act of responding to an escalation in arms is actually driving another round of escalation, it is probably not the result of fear-mongering as an actual danger does exist. It more likely should just be called a failure to mutually agree to a lack of real danger, but since we are discussing the complete lack of credibility state’s have, we see their dilemma. So the term fear-mongering might not be as applicable as the author makes it seem.

I declare a new rule in political science. You can’t judge an event in history with out at least looking backwards 20 years and forwards (where possible) 20 years.

But anyways, it was a good read and only had one unsupported attack on Bush :)

13

jet 10.13.04 at 2:43 pm

kevin donoghue, I don’t believe I was argueing that 80% of the country was at peace. Just “for the most part” 80% of the country is at peace. I think the point would be better made if you plotted those 70 attacks a day on a map of Iraq. If you can group “most” of the attacks to a small portion of the country (which you can) then my point is made.

I just think saying “ says Bush didn’t send enough troops to Iraq because “, is a bit of a weak way for changing minds. Given that it is the Pentagon, arguably the formost expert on military occupation, making this point it is probably impossible to change most people’s minds without some equally prestigious source.

14

Uncle Kvetch 10.13.04 at 3:46 pm

Given that it is the Pentagon, arguably the formost expert on military occupation, making this point it is probably impossible to change most people’s minds without some equally prestigious source.

“The Pentagon” is not a unitary entity with a single brain.

Given that there’s ample evidence that the advice of military personnel from the Pentagon, including that of generals with decades of actual battlefield experience, was routinely dismissed by civilian higher-ups like Rumsfeld in the run-up to the war, you might want to rethink your argument. Or do people like Generals Shinseki & Zinni not count as part of “the Pentagon” if they happen to disagree with you?

15

kevin donoghue 10.13.04 at 5:08 pm

Jet, Juan Cole presented a map on his blog on 24th September illustrating the severity of the problem:

http://www.juancole.com/2004_09_01_juancole_archive.html#109600879850724698

He later remarked that some of the provinces he thought were peaceful turned out not to be, so the map should actually be redder than it is. Baghdad, with about 5m inhabitants, is one of the troubled areas.

I don’t imagine that Mearsheimer would be any more impressed if he were persuaded that the Administration, although presenting false information, had no intention of deceiving.

16

jet 10.13.04 at 7:25 pm

I’m not sure I understand this statement, “I don’t imagine that Mearsheimer would be any more impressed if he were persuaded that the Administration, although presenting false information, had no intention of deceiving.” Are you saying that if he was persuaded that Bush hadn’t lied about WMD’s, he still would have included Bush in his list of liars? Since the US is in a war, and people are dieing, and a lot of the outcome of the hinges upon politics in Iraq and the world, that Mearsheimer going out of his way to harm the credibility of the US by perpetuating a falsehood, is helping the enemy, which is….well….helping the enemy and prolonging the war? Maybe you should read his article as it is dealing with purposeful deception. And if you have any credible evidence that Bush knew there weren’t any WMD’s, please share, I’m open to honest debate.

And as for Generals Shinseki & Zinni, I was under the impression that the “consensus” was that more troops would hurt the effort rather than help. And, even if they are wrong and do need more troops, the people who were clammering for a lighter more mobile army were certainly proven, beyound a doubt, correct during the actual war. Adding more troops during the first days of the war would only have slowed the advance and given the Iraqis more time to regroup. So, if the army made the mistake (and they’re on record for making tons), you can hardly blame them as the same philosophy had just proven a beyound their wildest dreams success.

And even with no military experience I find the arguement that it isn’t more troops that are needed, but more intelligence personnel, much more persuasive. But I guess that is harder to make into a compelling sound bite suitable for tv viewership, and touching on why are intelligence services were so small in 2003 is a bit of a touchy subject for Democrats (unless you believe Bush could wave his magic wand and create thousands of CIA officers in 2 years).

17

jet 10.13.04 at 7:32 pm

But this is all moot in the face of my higher calling. If I could just convert everyone to the Church of Jet, no more American lives would be shed. For instance, on 9/12 I would have announced a 100 billion dollar grant for nuclear development and a 100 billion dollar grant for solar research, per year. Then we could have sat back and watched the Syrian/Saudi/Iraq/Iranian coalition invade Afghanistan and stamp out terrorism accross the globe in an effort to prove to the US that oil is a stable resource and doesn’t fund terrorism.

If only I were king for a day.

18

Mark 10.13.04 at 8:26 pm

I guess it’s asking too much for academics to justify their positions with valid arguments. I struggled through the statement, and I don’t think they put forward a single substantive argument for any of their assertions.

I’d like to know why these scholars consider the moral case for war “dubious” or obviously illegal (citing statutes, precedents, IR and moral theories, etc). I’d like them to outline their understanding of the underlying conditions that give rise to Islamic terrorism, and why the attempt to democratize the Middle East is apparently neither a valid strategic and moral goal.

Until they decide to share their expert understanding of these small matters, the letter remains little more than self-promotion.

Adducing this letter as evidence of the alleged moral or strategic failure of Iraq is simply a argument from authority and can be safely ignored.

19

Mark 10.13.04 at 8:32 pm

I guess it’s asking too much for academics to justify their positions with valid arguments. I struggled through the statement, and I don’t think they put forward a single substantive argument for any of their assertions.

I’d like to know why these scholars consider the moral case for war “dubious” or obviously illegal (citing statutes, precedents, IR and moral theories, etc). I’d like them to outline their understanding of the underlying conditions that give rise to Islamic terrorism, and why the attempt to democratize the Middle East is apparently neither a valid strategic and moral goal.

Perhaps these academics don’t believe we’re intelligent enough to understand their arguments, or perhaps us plebs are unworthy of a their expert knowledge. In any case, until they decide to share their expert understanding of these small matters, the letter remains little more than self-promotion.

Adducing this letter as evidence of the alleged moral or strategic failure of Iraq is simply a argument from authority and can be safely ignored.

20

Uncle Kvetch 10.13.04 at 9:22 pm

And, even if they are wrong and do need more troops, the people who were clammering for a lighter more mobile army were certainly proven, beyound a doubt, correct during the actual war.

Jet, exactly when did “the actual war” end, in your view? And what term would you use for the present situation, given that, in your view, the “actual war” is over?

21

kevin donoghue 10.13.04 at 10:13 pm

Jet, you might like to look (just for openers) at “misleading statements about the threat posed by Iraq made by the five Administration officials most responsible for providing public information and shaping public opinion on Iraq: President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Powell, and National Security Advisor Rice.”

http://democrats.reform.house.gov/IraqOnTheRecord/

Whether you classify these statements as barefaced lies or terminological inexactitudes is entirely up to you. To me, many of them are lies. Please note that whether someone “knew there weren’t any WMD’s” or merely lacked evidence of their existence, any claim to have reliable evidence of their existence is a lie if that claim is false.

Do you seriously believe the Administration has been honest about this?

22

kevin donoghue 10.13.04 at 10:24 pm

Mark,

Mearsheimer and Walt wrote an article arguing the Realist case against war several months before the invasion was launched. An opinion that the war was illegal was published by a couple of UK lawyers early in 2003. Both these documents are easily found on the internet. Scholars don’t generally believe that “plebs are unworthy of a their expert knowledge.” They just expect students to do their homework.

23

jet 10.14.04 at 1:53 pm

Kevin, I think you might be mistaken on a bit of logic. When you said “To me, many of them are lies. Please note that whether someone “knew there weren’t any WMD’s” or merely lacked evidence of their existence, any claim to have reliable evidence of their existence is a lie if that claim is false.” I don’t think you meant what you said. If the person saying they had “credible evidence” thought they did indeed have credible evidence, then they are simply wrong, not lieing. And wishing otherwise doesn’t make it so.

When most of the US allies in the world agreed with the CIA, then Bush claiming his evidence was “credible” is hardly surprising.

I’m going through your tedious link, so put up with my tedios double post.

24

jet 10.14.04 at 2:01 pm

Kevin,

Here is a sample from that pdf: “Some of the misleading statements by Secretary Rumsfeld include his statement
on November 14, 2002, that within “a week, or a month” Saddam Hussein could
give his weapons of mass destruction to al Qaeda, which could use them to attack
the United States and kill “30,000, or 100,000 . . . human beings”; his statement
on January 29, 2003, that Saddam Hussein’s regime “recently was discovered
seeking significant quantities of uranium from Africa”; and his statement on July
13, 2003, that there “was never any debate” about whether Iraq had a nuclear
program.”

This says Rumsfeld was wrong twice, but in actuality he was correct twice, as per the new ISG report. The ISG report CONFIRMS that Saddam could have produced mustard gas in days, if he was willing to sacrifice the manufactoring equipment, months otherwise. The ISG report COMFIRMS that Saddams nuclear program, while inactive, was not even slightly dismatled. And while the 9/11 report says the Niger uranium claim was woefully under-investigated by the CIA, the 9/11 report makes it quite clear that further investigation should have been done because it was just too fishy. But Niger is really a side issue as France has unargueable confirmed one of its mining companies was approached by Saddam for uranium.

Wishing doesn’t make things so.

25

kevin donoghue 10.14.04 at 7:51 pm

Jet,

If a man says he has evidence that the earth is flat and he truly believes that evidence is compelling then of course he isn’t lying, he is deluded. You can always acquit someone of lying using that sort of insanity plea. For obvious reasons that is not very reassuring where powerful people are concerned.

Many Administration statements regarding Iraq are now known to be false. In some cases the speakers were certainly in a position to know that their claims were more dubious than they let on, for example the claims that Iraq had stockpiles of WMD; was developing UAVs suitable for dispensing chemical and biological weapons; trailers (with canvas sides!) designed as biological weapons laboratories; bunkers had been photographed in which chemical weapons were stored; Saddam had clear ties to al-Qaida; the aluminium tubes were suitable only for nuclear weapons programs; Saddam had reconstituted nuclear weapons etc. etc.

You say (twice) that wishing something to be true does not make it so. That is exactly my point. Much as we might wish to believe that these were sensible and honest statements, it is too much of a stretch to reconcile that belief with the facts now in the public domain. In common parlance these were lies; Mearsheimer was quite justified in using that term. Administration officials should be presumed to know when the statements they are making do not correspond to the facts at their disposal. I do wonder whether that presumption is safe in Bush’s case; he really does appear to live in a world of his own. I have no reason to doubt that Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld and Rice were simply lying.

Do you think there is something remarkable about the fact that Saddam could make mustard gas if he chose to? Of course he could. Short of locking up every chemist in the country you cannot deny a regime that capability. The technology dates back to WW1 if not earlier. Talk of terrorists killing tens of thousands of people in a developed country using stuff like that is simply scare-mongering. It would be a lot easier to do the job using explosives to demolish buildings. I am amazed that you are still trying to make something of the Niger story – the Administration backed off from that one long ago.

26

jet 10.15.04 at 4:39 pm

Kevin,

I don’t think we’ll ever agree on this, but I certainly understand that faith plays a big part in this argument as there are so many things left unknown.

The 9/11 commision certainly didn’t find that the government had purposely mis-interpreted evidence, although it did show they might have let their biases cloud their judgement (i.e. Occum’s Razor told them something different than it would have told you).

And if you don’t think three large helium tanks wheeled to the top of a NYC subway with party balloon tied to them, then the valve opened and the bottles thrown down the stairs, and mustard gas, not helium comes out wouldn’t kill thousands, I don’t think you understand how deadly mustard gas is. Look at the casulty figures for WWI and that was mostly open fields.

And as for the Niger story, perhaps it might serve to re-visit what the 9/11 commission had to say about it. I mean come on, a high ranking official visits a country whose only real export is uranium on a trade mission and you think he was there for something legitimate?

And before you start making wild assumptions about the innate ability of your average BS in Chemistry to mass produce mustard gas, it might be worth taking a further look at the ISG report and why they thought Saddam’s ability to produce mustard gas was notable.

27

jet 10.15.04 at 4:49 pm

And Kevin I noticed you took a swing at the Niger story but for some reason didn’t even mention the French uranium connection. Now some people see that as proof sanctions were working because that French company informed the authorities and refused to make the sell. And while antedotally it is evidence on the sanctions were working side, it is also certainly evidence that Saddam was looking for more nuclear toys.

And on an aside, what must Saddam have thought of the French if he was willing to ask a French mining company for uranium?

You can poke all the holes you want at the weak points of the case, but when you ignore the strong points you don’t change many minds.

28

kevin donoghue 10.15.04 at 8:10 pm

Jet,

I was so surprised by your suggestion that gas was a major killer in WW1 that I went to check the numbers – only to find that they were lower by far than even I had realised:

Austria-Hungary: 100,000 casualties in toal; 3,000 deaths.
British Empire: 188,706 casualties in total; 8,109 deaths.
France: 190,000 casualties in total; 8,000 deaths.
Germany: 200,000 casualties in total; 9,000 deaths.
Italy: 60,000 casualties in total; 4,627 deaths.
Russia: 419,340 casualties in total; 56,000 deaths.
USA: 72,807 casualties in total; 1,462 deaths.

http://www.firstworldwar.com/weaponry/gas.htm

Notice the low proportion of fatalities, except in the case of Russia. Armies with good medical services, even back then, coped pretty well. The emergency services in a modern city would surely do better still. As for terrorists smuggling large gas cylinders into the NYC subway, it would be a hell of a lot worse if they were packed with high explosive.

In any case, this discussion is drifting a long way from the IR scholars. I don’t intend to get into a discussion of Niger – Josh Marshall is paid to unravel that web of deceit, I’m not. Recall that the issue you raised was whether Mearsheimer is justified in using the term “lies” to describe statements made by Bush & Co. To my mind it is beyond dispute that many of their statements were misleading. That is not enough, by itself, to justify calling them lies. The question of intent is crucial. Bush may simply be unable to distinguish a hunch from an established fact. Let’s grant him a fool’s pardon. It is too much of a stretch to suppose that the others did not know that some of their statements were not really supported by the evidence they actually had. To say that they “let their biases cloud their judgement” is too indulgent when it comes to statements like: we know he has chemical weapons; we know where they are (Rumsfeld); we know that he has reconstituted his nuclear program (Cheney); or Rice’s “mushroom cloud” comment.

Let’s be clear about what is involved here: if I say, for example, that I have credible evidence that Scott Ritter was bribed by Saddam Hussein then I am telling a lie – even if it subsequently turns out that he actually was. I have no such evidence, I know that I haven’t and everything else is irrelevant.

Enough already. When two people have a thread to themselves it is time to quit.

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