A few months ago, I wrote a couple pieces arguing that if Ted Cruz has presidential ambitions, he was doing himself no favors by taking on fellow Republicans.  I got a little pushback too.  So I thought this story was worth noting:

The staffer, whom two GOP sources identified as working for Representative John Culberson of Texas, went on to decry Cruz for holding events in Culberson’s district and telling his constituents that defunding Obamacare would be “easy”…
…A significant number in the room of about one hundred people applauded the woman’s remarks, but several GOP aides said it was not a standing ovation or an overwhelmingly positive response…
…On the other hand, it’s fair to say the staffer’s anger at Cruz carries a fairly broad base among House Republicans, many of whom view his Obamacare push as self-destructive to the party.

Just another data point.  We’ll see how relevant this becomes if Cruz runs in 2016.

How to Manage Your Grad School Adviser

by John Sides on September 16, 2013 · 3 comments

in Academia


Most advisers are flawed people set in their peculiar ways, and so busy they feel like they are losing their minds. I am no exception. In light of this, I can’t underestimate the importance of “upward management” in your work–with me or any time in your career.

That’s Columbia political scientist Chris Blattman.  His post has further instructions and advice for the students would might want to work with him.  For example:

It’s always good to send concise written updates (a couple of paragraphs by email) in advance of a meeting and, for specific questions, to try to formulate them beforehand.

Inside Higher Ed picked on up this and tried to gin up some controversy.  But there didn’t seem like much to be found.  To me, Chris’s advice suggests how to make adviser-advisee relationships increasingly positive-sum: the more a student prepares in advance of the meeting, the more the adviser will learn and the better the feedback he or she can give.

Based on other workplaces I know something about either first- or second-hand—especially law firms—upward management seems useful as a general strategy.

[Note: That is not a photo of Chris Blattman. Also, those people are too good-looking to be Ph.D. students.]

Battle for the CFL Championship

by Andrew Rudalevige on September 16, 2013 · 2 comments

in Law,Legislative Politics,Presidency

While the impending move to the Post will certainly improve The Monkey Cage’s sports coverage (go Sox!), the headline here is, naturally, a bait and switch. It does not refer to our Canadian footballing friends but to the venerable Constitution Fantasy League – where contestants receive points for the boldness of their own Constitutional fantasy (with a substantial bonus if they put it into practice and achieve what scholar Richard Pious called a “frontlash.”)

Those of you with Barack Obama on your CFL roster have been nervous ever since he went to Congress regarding the use of force in Syria and even noted that “it’s important for us to get out of the habit of just saying, well, we’ll let the President kind of stretch the boundaries of his authority as far as he can.”  It appeared that Rep. (and Pres.-wanna-be) Peter King was going to stretch his lead in this fall’s standings.

But Obama made a bold bid for a comeback in Sunday’s matchups, claiming that the House failing to exercise its legislative powers “changes the constitutional structure of this government entirely.”

The context was an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos which pivoted from Syria to the upcoming budget battle(s) – remember that fiscal year 2014 begins on October 1, and Congress has once again failed miserably to pass anything like a budget for the new year, having failed miserably to pass one for the present fiscal year now almost complete or most recent fiscal years for that matter. Obama was asked about the statutory debt limit, and the House Republicans’ threat to link an increased debt limit to Democratic concessions over spending levels overall and the roll-out of Obamacare. Obama said “ I will not negotiate…on the debt ceiling,” and continued:

“If we continue to set a precedent in which a president, any president, a Republican president– a Democratic president– where the opposing party controls the House of Representatives– if– if that president is in a situation in which each time the United States is called upon to pay its bills– the other party can simply sit there and say, ‘Well, we’re not gonna put– pay the bills unless you give us what our– what we want,’ that changes the constitutional structure of this government entirely.”

The problem is that the “power of the purse” is one of Congress’s crucial and inalienable powers. James Madison noted in Federalist 58 that it represents “the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.”  Even scholars such as past CFL champion John Yoo hold that the spending power is wholly legislative.

Now, defaulting on the full faith and credit of the United States is an idiotic idea. I can’t promote it as a “just and salutary measure.” But there are many members of Congress who think that reducing overall federal spending, and/or repealing the Affordable Care Act, are exactly that. The legislative power generally, and the power of the purse specifically, provides Congress leverage to make those kinds of bargains, or try to.  And using constitutional leverage does not change the constitutional structure of this government, even in part.

 

PS - One could argue that the debt ceiling is a separate process from the appropriations process (which is, of course, part of the problem, since debt issuance is tied to spending already passed into law.)  But both provide statutory guidance over the level of government spending, so I find it hard to separate out the debt limit from the power of the purse. Either way, how is one chamber failing to legislate something that changes the system? Bad policy outcomes – even really bad policy outcomes - reflect the challenges of operating within a separated system of checks and balances, rather than changing that system.

PPS - A reminder of a different argument about presidential power vis-à-vis the debt limit, from 2011 – I suspect we’ll be seeing this debate resurrected soon.

Reading Sarah Binder’s post on the withdrawal of Lawrence Summers from consideration for a post on the Federal Reserve, I was reminded of our discussion from a few years ago about the similarities of Summers and Starbucks, both of which that are disliked by the left for being too corporate and disliked by the right for being too left-wing.

This made me wonder about the more general category, what other people and institutions have that public-opinion profile. I can’t think of a lot of examples. Bill Clinton, for instance, could have ended up this way, but my impression is that he is liked (even if not loved) on the left, that liberals excuse his centrism because he got a lot done. Similarly, sure, some conservatives were annoyed at the two George Bush for various reasons, but overall I think there’s a clear partisan divide. Nothing like Summers, who was actively opposed by liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans.

Summers’ Fall

by Sarah Binder on September 16, 2013 · 3 comments

in Legislative Politics

Larry Summers to President Obama (2013):

Screen Shot 2013-09-15 at 11.08.41 PMThomas Jones to President Wilson (1914):

Screen Shot 2013-09-15 at 11.18.18 PMWe have to reach back nearly a century to find a case roughly analogous to the failed candidacy of Larry Summer to lead the Federal Reserve.  Then, Progressives turned on several of Woodrow Wilson’s picks to serve on the newly created Federal Reserve Board, including Thomas Jones (who as president of International Harvester drew Progressive ire for his company’s allegedly corrupt practices).   After the requisite exchange of letters between Wilson and Jones, Wilson promptly nominated a more acceptable business executive (Frederic Delano), who the Senate easily confirmed.


There’s been ample written already on Summer’s withdrawal, including Binyamin Appelbaum’s NYT piece and Neil Irwin’s Wonkblog coverage.  Some additional thoughts to put the Summers pseudo-nomination in perspective:


First, nearly three months have elapsed since the president suggested to Charlie Rose that he would not reappoint Ben Bernanke.  The extended flight of the Summers trial balloon lasted too long.  Some argue that the intervening Syria debacle emboldened the left and helped to throw a roadblock in Summer’s path to confirmation.  My hunch is that the Syria diversion mattered because it sucked all the wind out of White House efforts to recruit Senate support for Summers. More importantly, by never actually nominating Summers, the White House left his opponents in control of the confirmation contest.  Opposition groups on the left (and supportive, list-prone economists) organized their troops for battle against Summers and in defense of Janet Yellen.  The White House couldn’t publicly counter-lobby because they had no nominee to defend.   A new Catch-22: The White House refused to nominate until confirmation seemed plausible, but failure to nominate helped to put confirmation out of reach.


Second, Summers’ withdrawal helps us arbitrate between competing accounts of advice and consent. High rates of presidential success in securing confirmation of their executive branch appointees might suggest that senators (and the president’s partisans in particular) defer to presidential choices.  Alternatively, presidents might see their preferred candidates confirmed so regularly because they factor in the likelihood of confirmation before making their choices known.  (By leaking his preference for Summers so early in the game, Obama has saved future scholars trips to his archives to ferret out the short list.)  The Summers’ case obviously marshals against any semblance of senatorial deference to the president.


Third, the last blow to Summers came from Senator Jon Tester, a centrist red state Democrat from Montana, who sits on the Senate Banking Committee.  Two elements of Tester’s Friday afternoon statement opposing Summers are worth noting.  First, the opposition to Summers went beyond coastal liberals who disagreed with his past stance on deregulation; Tester’s opposition reminds us of historical tension between the Main Street and Wall Street wings of the Democratic Party.  Second, the close party ratio on the Banking panel places enormous leverage in the hands of its far left Democrats, including Senators Jeff Merkley, Elizabeth Warren, and Sherrod Brown.  I suspect we’ll continue to hear from the liberal wing of the party, which remains committed to greater restraints on the financial sector.


Fourth, once the Fed has a newly confirmed chair, it’s an open question whether we’ll see such conflict every time a vacancy occurs.  Given Congress’s counter-cyclical attention to the Fed—rising as the economy sours, falling as it improves—the intensity over the fight about the Fed reflects in part a still recovering economy.  A robust economy in the future might return Congressional debate about the Fed to a much lower pitch.


What happens next?  Consider the aftermath of three failed (albeit each very different) confirmation battles: Reagan’s loss of Robert Bork for the Supreme Court in 1987, George W. Bush’s inability to get Harriet Miers confirmed in 2005, and Wilson’s failed Thomas Jones nomination in 1914.  In each case, the president turned next to a safe (i.e. easily confirmable) nominee, seemingly eager to cut his losses and regain lost ground.  For Obama, we might conclude that he will nominate Yellen (ending the yellin’ about the Fed and returning Washington’s focus to fiscal policy fights with the GOP).  Still, it’s possible that the calculations that led Obama to float Summers in the first place might still guide the president’s thinking.  Ultimately, whoever the president chooses will be compared not only to Summers but also to Yellen.  If he doesn’t break the glass ceiling by choosing Yellen, the president will still be asked the question: “Why not?”

The path to where the U.S., Russia, and Syria are now—with an initial US/Russia agreement on a plan for disarmament of Assad’s chemical arsenal, to be put before the UNSC — has been idiosyncratic to the point of good comedy.  But where they have ended up should be starting to look familiar, and arguably tells us something about the structure of post-Cold War international politics.

Way back in 2001 the Monkey Cage’s very own Erik Voeten published an article (gated) in the American Political Science Review called “Outside Options and the Logic of Security Council Action.”  He noted the large increase in multilateral cooperation through the UNSC after the end of the Cold War.  For example, between 1990 and 1998 the UNSC approved 31 peacekeeping operations (PKOs) and passed 145 resolutions under Chapter VII (which can authorize use of force).  By contrast, from 1945 to 1989 there had been only 15 PKOs and 22 resolutions under Chapter VII.  One major, relevant change was that the veto has been exercised much less often.

During the Cold War, veto threats by either side came along with the implicit understanding that acting unilaterally could lead to a dangerous escalation between the US and the USSR.  With the collapse of the USSR, all kinds of US threats to intervene—often against regimes it doesn’t like for one reason or another—have become more credible.  However, the US, the rest of the Permanent Five on the UNSC, and a lot of other countries all would, in general, prefer that US or US-led military interventions be approved and sanctioned by the UNSC.  The other veto players, and especially Russia, want to be able to constrain and influence US use of force.  US administrations, on the other side, want formal authorization because they correctly see this as reducing the costs of intervention and also as a way to increase domestic support from an intervention-averse US public.

Voeten’s article observes that this configuration of preferences, capabilities, and the institution of the UNSC sets up a typical bargaining situation:  The US and the rest of the P5 both have reasons to want an intervention, should it happen, to go through the Security Council, but they always have conflicting preferences over the terms.  In many cases, of course, Russia would strongly prefer no intervention at all, but at least a deal in the UNSC preserves the apparent authority of the institution, where Russia still has the symbolically important veto.  According to Dmitri Trenin, this is an important consideration for Putin in the current crisis.

Multilateral cooperation through the UNSC thus often take the form of the US, sometimes with allies, threatening to intervene without UNSC authorization.  This is the “outside option,” and it stands behind negotiations over whether there are terms for a UN resolution that both the US and the “constrainers” would both prefer to its exercise.  Usually this leads to intervention or multilateral action with UNSC authorization, as in Bosnia or Haiti.  But sometimes not, as in Kosovo or Iraq.  So the way this episode with Syria is playing out has basically happened before, and there are good reasons to expect that it will happen again, sooner or later.

Nate Jensen on publishing articles

by Henry Farrell on September 14, 2013

in Political science

This is a piece that all political scientists interested in publishing articles in peer reviewed journals should read.

So a quick addendum to some earlier discussions about the role The Monkey Cage can play in the future in terms of providing news about events and developments in the discipline. For now, we are being encouraged to continue doing this, which is kind of turn-about from what we originally reported. So for those of you who lamented the loss of this feature at The Monkey Cage, hopefully this will be a welcome development. We’ll have to feel our way through it, but for now you can still expect to be able to see some of these announcements and discussion at The Monkey Cage after our move to the Post.

Still, I wanted to issue one of my occasional calls for contributors to our Election Reports series before the move. The goal of this series is to give social scientists with an indepth knowledge of particular elections a chance to write something about those elections that is more than just a quote in a newspaper article but appears more quickly than the 1-3 years it often takes for an academic article to be published. The larger goal was to try to train journalists to know that they could come to The Monkey Cage in the immediate aftermath of elections for research-informed commentary on elections. My other hope was that these reports could serve as a good source of information for people trying to code recent elections as part of more broadly comparative work (or simply to quickly bring themselves up to date on the politics in a country about which they did not already know much).

By now we’ve had quite a lot of reports appear in the series, and I’ve been very pleased with the overall quality. However, this whole enterprise depends on people volunteering to write these reports (although we now also have a nice pipeline from people writing “Notes on Recent Elections” at Electoral Studies). So with that in mind, here’s a list of upcoming elections through the end of the year. If you are interested in writing a report on any of these, please drop me a line directly at joshua dot tucker at nyu dot edu:

  • Rwanda Parliamentary September 16, 2013

  • Germany Parliamentary September 22, 2013

  • Switzerland Referendum September 22, 2013

  • Guinea Legislative September 24, 2013

  • Austria Legislative September 29, 2013

  • Cameroon Legislative September 30, 2013

  • Ireland Referendum October 4, 2013

  • Ethiopia Presidential October 8, 2013

  • Azerbaijan Presidential October 9, 2013

  • Yemen Referendum October 15, 2013

  • Luxembourg Parliamentary (Moved up) October 20, 2013

  • Madagascar Presidential First Round (Tentative) October 25, 2013

  • Czech Republic Parliamentary October 25, 2013

  • Georgia Presidential October 27, 2013

  • Argentina Legislative October 27, 2013

  • Tajikistan Presidential November 6, 2013

  • Chile Presidential First Round November 17, 2013

  • Chile Legislative November 17, 2013

  • Nepal Legislative (Tentative) November 19, 2013

  • Mauritania Parliamentary First Round November 23, 2013

  • Honduras Presidential November 24, 2013

  • Honduras Legislative November 24, 2013

  • Switzerland Referendum November 24, 2013

  • Mauritania Parliamentary Second Round December 7, 2013

  • Chile Presidential Second Round December 15, 2013

  • Turkmenistan Parliamentary December 15, 2013

  • Madagascar Presidential Second Round (Tentative) December 20, 2013

  • Madagascar Parliamentary (Tentative) December 20, 2013

Why Are Business Gurus Overconfident Jerks?

by Henry Farrell on September 12, 2013 · 6 comments

in Frivolity

Andrew asks me to expand on this below – as it happens, I do have some thoughts that I couldn’t shoehorn into the essay. He’s also right that my ideas are influenced by the Niall Ferguson debate. While there are some good business writers – the best ones are practical sociologists, with a lot of interesting insights into how organizations and institutions work. Still, most business writing is bad, and some is quite extravagantly bad.

My half-developed theory of this borrows from David Kreps’ famous arguments about corporate culture (institutional access required). Kreps, a game theorist, is trying to figure out why and how business reputation can be an asset. A lot of his answer has to do with corporate culture. We live in an unpredictable world, which means that firms cannot write ‘complete contracts’ e.g. with their employees, which would cover every possible contingency and eventuality. This might worry employees or contractors, who fear that in the event of an unpredictable occurrence, the firm will not stand by them. Their fears may lead them not to want to commit to the firm. [click to continue…]

Here’s my quick and dirty run-down of Putin’s op-ed published in today’s New York Times. In some places, I assess whether his statements are accurate in terms of what political science research has said. In other places, I just look at it from a logic perspective. His statements are in quotes, and my responses are below.

*******

A Plea for Caution from Russia, by V. Putin (published in the print edition of the NYT on September 12, 2013, page A31).

“Recent events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies. Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation from ever happening again. The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The profound wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades.”


MEH. This is an oversimplification of the League’s collapse and the UN’s role in world politics. Arguably its collapse began when countries initiated wars of aggression—particularly the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935, during which the Italians used mustard gas on civilians. Haile Selassie, then Emperor of Abyssinia, came before the League to issue an emotional appeal for action to roll back Italian aggression, but none was forthcoming. This effectively killed the foundational doctrine of the League—collective security—where aggression was supposedly outlawed and theoretically deterred through universal military response to the aggressor. Ironically, then, the UN is in a bit of a paradox. The UN is concerned with two levels of peace—inter-state peace, which Putin references above, and intra-state peace, which he summarily ignores. Yes, it’s illegal for countries to go to war with one another when the UNSC flatly rejects it. On the other hand, it’s also illegal for leaders to commit indiscriminate murder against their own people (hence the R2P doctrine). This means that the UN is in a bind. Its presence as a force to check aggression against ones own people is thwarted by Russia’s insistence on placing the legality of UNSC’s veto player doctrine above the legality of punishing leaders who commit crimes against humanity.

 

“The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders.”

PROBABLY TRUE. Research is all over the map on the question of how limited military actions affect humanitarian conditions and escalation of conflicts. However, I am more persuaded by prior studies that show that on average, military interventions actually exacerbate killings (at least in the short term), lengthen “spells” of repression, and often lengthen civil wars themselves. Extremely robust multilateral interventions—involving boots on the ground and multidimensional efforts to reform political, economic, and social conditions—can halt these killings. But that’s not what the Obama administration is considering, nor is it plausible in this case given Russia and China’s objections.

 

“A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism.”

PROBABLY. Previous research shows that weaker states often use asymmetric capabilities to attack their more powerful rivals, and this often occurs in direct retaliation for military actions. Weaker powers know that they cannot confront stronger powers using conventional military force. However, weaker powers also know that sponsoring terror attacks is relatively cheap and low-risk (since they can always deny it), that stronger powers cannot prevent every terror attack, and that stronger powers tend to overreact to terror attacks, which can ultimately weaken them. Think about the series of events surrounding the Lockerbie bombing—Libya’s retaliation for Reagan’s strikes on Benghazi and Tripoli (which was, by the way, retaliation for a Libyan-sponsored terror attack on American officers in a German nightclub).

 

“It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa.”

QUITE LIKELY. My thought here isn’t based on research as much as my sense that a strike on Syria would preclude any chance for us to work with the Iranians or the Russians on anything in the near future. Part of the reason Putin has been so unrelenting on Syria is his displeasure with UNSC Resolution 1973. With its aftermath, the Russians felt they were felt tricked into withholding their veto and the result was a back-door regime change campaign in Libya. The Iranians have been launching one hell of a PR campaign lately, but a strike in Syria would probably heighten their security concerns rather than diminishing them. Moreover, Assad has repeatedly invoked threats to the Israeli-Palestinians peace process as something of a deterrent against a US strike, implying that if the US does strike, his regional allies will retaliate against Israel. If this happened, it could certainly be quite the distraction from the peace process.

 

“It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.”

GIVE ME A BREAK. First of all, it depends on which laws you’re talking about (see my discussion above). Assad has broken a considerable number of international laws—as has Russia—over the course of this crisis. And second, the international order is based on the balance of power in the system, which seems to be quite stable at the moment. Although the United States has not been taking a forward military posture in the Middle East lately, objectively its hard power assets remain considerable. If there is one stable rule in international politics, it’s the one Thucydides wrote about in 431 BC: Great powers do what they will while the weak suffer what they must. If anyone knows that, it’s Putin.

 

“Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria.

IT DEPENDS. There are plenty of people there still fighting for democracy—some still using nonviolent means, believe it or not!—while armed rebel groups there are doing what armed rebel groups do pretty much everywhere else. Most civil wars of this nature don’t wind up as democracies regardless of who wins, but that’s besides the point. The most pressing concern is to stop the killing. Actually no one has a very good sense of who the “good guys” are in Syria these days. Putin certainly doesn’t know who the good guys are, given that he has supported the first side to commit indiscriminate murder from the very beginning.

 

“But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations.”

YES, BUT SO WHAT? The Obama administration’s strike on the Syrian government’s assets would allegedly be so limited that it would not affect the balance of power on the ground. And even if the strike did give the Qaeda fighters better chance against the Assad government, it would give similar advantages to secular rebels groups.

 

“This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world.”

UM…How about all of those foreign weapons supplied to the regime? When states fund incumbent regimes, the likelihood that the rebels receive state support goes up dramatically. C’mon, Putin. Don’t you remember the Cold War? It’s true, though, that external support generally increases incentives for rebel groups to emerge, while increasing the likelihood that they abuse civilians.

 

“Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all.”

YEP. It’s a problem. There are no easy, short-term solutions, though, and Putin is being disingenuous here when he implies that a U.S. strike (or lack thereof) will alter this situation.

 

“From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law.”

BLAH BLAH BLAH. Russia’s attempt to push for “peaceful dialogue” occurred while Russia was sending arms to Assad and blocking the all of the UN’s attempts to resolve the conflict. Syria is on trial now for its own violation of international law. Again, see above.

 

“We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.” 

THAT IS TRUE. In the absence of a UNSC resolution, a U.S. military strike would be illegal.

 

“No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists.”

FEW ARE BUYING THIS. In fact, there is every indication that the UN—the law-enforcing body Putin so clearly respects—will point the finger at Assad’s government in the report it will release on Monday.

 

“Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored.”

I DOUBT IT, on two fronts. First, Putin seems to be conflating militants here. There are Al Qaeda types in Syria, who seem to be preoccupied with Assad at the moment. Then there are Al Qaeda types in Lebanon, who recently fired rockets into Israel. Second, if such an attack is in the works, I highly doubt that Israel is “ignoring” it.

 

“It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.”’

IT DEPENDS. Pew polls suggest that people still have fairly favorable views of the American government, although some see it as something of a bully (this is especially true in the Muslim world). On the other hand, Putin doesn’t really seem to care much about how “millions around the world” view it either. Global popularity may help a country get what it wants, but it is not a vital interest.

 

“But force has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day. In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes.”

KINDA. Although major military adventures weren’t too successful in the end, some have argued that special operations missions and targeted killings of Al Qaeda affiliates have been quite effective, actually.

 

“No matter how targeted the strikes or how sophisticated the weapons, civilian casualties are inevitable, including the elderly and children, whom the strikes are meant to protect.”

MUCH OF THIS IS TRUE. No military strikes, regardless of how “surgical”, can avoid collateral damage. It’s important to keep in mind that even when we’re talking about “humanitarian interventions,” we are talking about killing other people. Unfortunately systematic research on precisely how many people die in such strikes is hard to come by. Why? Because governments don’t keep track of how many civilians die in such strikes.

 

“The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen nonproliferation, when in reality this is being eroded.”

AND WE’RE BACK TO IRAN. It’s difficult to fully understand what’s going on in Iranian leaders’ minds at the moment. But working together on nonproliferation—including the Iranian issue—will be difficult if Putin withdraws his cooperation from U.S. efforts. I do think that the claim that inaction in Syria will embolden Iran is overstated, though. The U.S. has been much more considered and consistent as to its interests regarding the Iranian nuclear program than Obama has been vis-à-vis Syria.

 

“We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.”

A WELCOME IDEA INDEED…if Putin is sincere, that is.

 

“A new opportunity to avoid military action has emerged in the past few days. The United States, Russia and all members of the international community must take advantage of the Syrian government’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction. Judging by the statements of President Obama, the United States sees this as an alternative to military action. I welcome the president’s interest in continuing the dialogue with Russia on Syria. We must work together to keep this hope alive, as we agreed to at the Group of 8 meeting in Lough Erne in Northern Ireland in June, and steer the discussion back toward negotiations. If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust. It will be our shared success and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues.”

TOTALLY. To me this is the most promising aspect of the current negotiations. If the US and Russia can work together on this problem and find a way to get to common ground, it may build trust and provide opportunities to do more together—both on Syria and elsewhere.

 

“My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too.”

WHY EXTERMELY DANGEROUS? Studies show that nationalism (and other forms of identity) are only really dangerous when leaders take advantage of these symbols to pursue policies that are dispossessive and dehumanizing, and predatory. I don’t know of any studies that argue that self-congratulatory nationalism alone leads to violence.

 

“We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

NO OBJECTION HERE.