Realism in the Middle East

by Henry Farrell on August 19, 2006

Flynt Leverett has an “article”: in _The American Prospect_ this month arguing that Democrats should embrace Kissinger-style realism if they want to redirect US foreign policy.

bq. Henry Kissinger established a paradigm for U.S. grand strategy in the Middle East. In this paradigm, American policy should seek always to empower moderates and marginalize radicals. The best way to do this was through careful management of the region’s balance of power, primarily through diplomatic means. The essence of such diplomacy is “carrots-and-sticks” engagement — credibly threatening negative consequences for regional actors who work against U.S. goals, but also promising strategically significant benefits in exchange for cooperation. … Regarding democratization, the administration’s three examples of U.S.-engineered democratic empowerment in the region — Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon — are all basket cases. …There is no evidence that democracy reduces the incidence of terrorism, and ample evidence from places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia that holding more open elections in most Arab societies would produce governments that are more anti-American and less reformist than incumbent “authoritarians.” … Democrats have fallen into a “soft neconservatism” that has dulled the party’s voice on foreign policy. Henry Kissinger once observed that the United States is the only country in which the term “realist” is used as a pejorative. The more progressive elements of the Democratic coalition have been especially strident in voicing their antipathy to Kissingerian realism. … It is time for Democrats to understand that, when it comes to curbing the threats posed by problematic states like Iran, encouraging reform in strategically important states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, or ensuring Israel’s long-term future, realism has become the truly progressive position on foreign policy.

While I agree with some of Leverett’s specific recommendations about engagement with Iran etc, his underlying argument is profoundly misguided. Kissinger-style realism was and is a long term disaster – a willingness (sometimes, as with Kissinger himself, a quite grotesque eagerness), to kow-tow to brutal dictatorships when it was perceived as being in America’s short term interests. Leverett claims that realism “ laid the foundations for eventual peaceful victory in the Cold War.” This is a highly dubious claim – if, for example, Kissinger had gotten his way in sidelining the human rights part of the Helsinki process (see further John Maresca’s _To Helsinki_ on this), things would have gone very differently (and in all probability, much worse) in Central and Eastern Europe when Soviet hegemony began to crumble.

The one thing that the neo-cons were right about was that America’s foreign policy in the Middle East (seeking to shore up crumbling and corrupt autocracies) was unsustainable in the long term. Their proposed solution to this problem – the imposition of democracy through force – has turned out, predictably, to be a complete disaster. But Leverett’s preferred alternative of maintaining the status quo would have only been very slightly better; a slow motion train wreck rather than a quick one.


by John Holbo on August 19, 2006

Tonight I got good results reading Tony Cliff’s fairy tale, “Old Oak Trees”, to the 5-year old. It’s from the new Flight 3 [amazon]. You can see a preview page here. And from there you can get to the flight blog, an excellent source for boingboing-ish things. In this case, it led me to Tony Cliff’s demo reel for season 1 of Pucca. Most peculiar. It’s Korean. More I really cannot say.

Can you spot the spam source?

by Eszter Hargittai on August 19, 2006

McAffee SiteAdvisor offers quizzes to test users’ skills about sites that might lead to spam and spyware. I found them interesting. It’s not always possible to tell what site may lead to spam simply based on the site’s looks. And in some cases you have to do a reasonably careful reading of the site’s privacy policy to figure out whether use of the service may result in hundreds of spam messages within a few days of signing up.

This is an interesting idea, a potentially neat way to educate users about spam and spyware problems. The tool is lacking significanty in one domain though. I think it would be MUCH more useful if the results page included an analysis of the privacy policies to point out to users what it is exactly that should serve as a red flag in the various policy statements.

The survey I administered last Winter to a sample of 1,300+ college students about their Internet uses included a question about how often, if ever, students read a site’s privacy policy. It turns out that 37% of respondents never do so and an additional 41% only do so rarely. No wonder people are still struggling with spam problems.

Unfortunately, at some level it doesn’t matter what you do if your friends are not careful with your address. I have a very private address I had only given out to a few dozen people emphasizing several times that they should never enter it on any Web sites (e.g. ecards or whatnot) and should only use it for one-on-one communication (so also requesting that they avoid its inclusion on cc lines). Some of my friends couldn’t follow these requests and now the address receives about 40 spam messages/day. I realize that’s not a lot in the grand scheme of things, but the point is that none of that was due to anything I had done with the address given that I had never entered it on any Web sites and had only ever used it to send one-on-one emails to a few dozen people.