James Joyner writes that there are three factions of elites who drive foreign policy — neocons, “liberal interventionists” and “traditional realists.” The first two factions are pretty much peas from the same pod, Joyner says, in that they both favor military intervention to cure a variety of foreign policy ills. The “traditional realists” are less likely to be interventionists, but they tend to work in academia or intelligence and don’t get much popular political support for their views.
I think this is true on a gross level. Certainly there were liberal interventionists joining with the neocons to push for war in Iraq awhile back. But what annoys me about Joyner’s essay is that the way he arrives at conclusions tends to obscure reality as much as explain it.
Here is how Joyner defines these three groups:
Neoconservatives of both parties urge war to spread American ideals, seeing it as the duty of a great nation. Liberal interventionists see individuals, not states, as the key global actor and have deemed a Responsibility to Protect those in danger from their own governments, particularly when an international consensus to intervene can be forged. Traditional Realists, meanwhile, initially reject most interventions but are frequently drawn in by arguments that the national interest will be put at risk if the situation spirals out of control.
I’m OK with Joyner’s definition of neoconservatives, but his definition of liberal interventionists is confusing — “Liberal interventionists see individuals, not states, as the key global actor and have deemed a Responsibility to Protect those in danger from their own governments.” Seems to me national governments are the key players, or actors, in that definition.
And I think Joyner is confused if he thinks the primary motivation for most of the “liberal” interventions he sites — e.g., Kosovo, Somalia, Haiti — was to protect people from their own governments. It’s more often the case that the international community and U.S. liberal interventionists will stand aside and allow all kinds of awful things to happen (think Rwanda) as long as it is contained within national borders. (Other mitigating circumstances include whether the nation is capable of nuclear retaliation or is of some interest to China, in which case the international community tends to look the other way, also.)
The international “liberal interventionists” are far more likely to intervene if the awfulness threatens the political stability of an entire region, which some believed was the case with Kosovo; or if the government perpetrating the awfulness has a history of pushing awfulness on a global scale; think Muammar Gaddafi. People can disagree whether a particular situation is likely to keep itself contained or not, of course. But the reasons given for such interventions usually are only partly humanitarian.
And when Joyner talks about “traditional realists,” he seems to be talking about moderate isolationism. But the word “realist” for me brings to mind Realpolitik, which put into practice by people like Henry Kissinger is not isolationist at all.
This is all by way of arguing “how perpetual war become U.S. ideology.” It seems obvious to me that U.S. politics is still struggling to function within Cold War ideological frameworks, at least as far as foreign policy is concerned. And once generations of Americans were conditioned to accept perpetual global war against communism, it wasn’t that much of a leap to get them to accept perpetual global war against Islamic extremism. In fact, some people seem to think they are the same bogyman.
This is all so obvious I can’t imagine why anyone feels a need to write analysis about it. Basically, over the past sixty years, we went from Republicans blaming Democrats for losing China and letting Russia get the bomb, to Republicans blaming Democrats for Islamic terrorism and letting Iran get the bomb. As far as U.S. political rhetoric is concerned, all we’ve done is change the labels.
Basically, what Joyner does here is sort all foreign policy players into his three clumsily defined cubbyholes. Then he focuses on what the cubbyholes have in common to forge his conclusion. You could have taken the same raw facts and come up with entirely different cubbyholes, or taken the same cubbyholes and focused on how they differ instead of how they are alike, and come to entirely different conclusions, and the various conclusions would be no more or less defensible.
All of the above approaches amount to just rearranging the furniture in your head, so to speak. Such exercises tend to provide answers that are devoid of actual understanding.
By the time we reach adulthood we’ve all got a filing system in our heads by which we know everything we know. When confronted with something new, the first thing we do is classify it so we know where to file it. And then we learn about the new thing in the context of how we classify it. That’s useful up to a point, but if we’re not careful it can get in the way of seeing things as they are. It tends to make us focus on how things are alike, and miss how they are different. Or vice versa. And it also tends to keep us locked into rigid, and limited, ways of thinking about things.
Along these lines — I was very much taken with something Paul Krugman wrote in his blog the other day. Speaking of David Hume, Krugman wrote,
I read Humeâ€™s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding in college, probably in my sophomore year, and it changed my life. I was at the age when impressionable young people can all too easily get pulled into a rigid belief system â€” say, by getting hooked on Ayn Rand. Hume, by contrast, was wonderfully liberating: his amiable skepticism, his insistence that what we think we know comes from experience, and that knowledge is always provisional, opened up my whole outlook.
In other words, don’t get stuck in cubbyholes.
I’ve long felt that after the Cold War, when Russia collapsed and China went into what I’d call ‘Authoritarian Corporatism/Capitalism mode (which may be the model we follow soon, if not already), we’ve been searching around for boogymen bad enough to warrant perpetual war.
Bush Sr. tried it with Panama and Iraq, but they were too easy.
The ’90’s were a time when we ignored Rwanda, but jumped into Kosovo.
It was 9/11 that gave Little Boots something to hang his fake 10 gallon cowboy hat on – Islamofascism. Booga-booga!!!
So, basically we had a 10 year gap where our military industrial complex was floundering, and maybe seeing a future of diminishing profits, maybe even eventual obsolescence, and 9/11 was like Christmas, the 4th of July, and their birthdays all together. The Neocons went nuts, the military industrial complex was ecstatic, and Bush & Cheney were as happy as anyone.
And sadly, what happened from the first Red Menace scare, through our bomb, their bomb, McCarthy, Korea, Vietnam, etc., right up until the Soviet Union collapsed, was that we became more and more like them – the enemy we feared. And who turned us into the USSR-Lite? The very same people who were so very, very afraid of the Soviets – the Red Menace crowd.
Right now, we’re in Afghanistan, we’re a government that has used torture, that listens into citizens communications, that is on the verge of economic collapse because of military entanglements mostly in Muslim lands.
We are now very similar to the old USSR. We became that which we hated and feared.
In the words of that great comic ‘Pogo,’ “We have met the enemy and it it us.’
I know that this was slightly OT – sorry…
I have the same take on Joyner’s categories as you do – his understanding of neoliberalism makes sense, but the other two categories seem quite off. And so his whole argument seems weak, because the foundation is shoddy.
Your article makes me think of the book “Why People believe Weird Things.” The author suggests that smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons. We carry around a shit-lot of data, a body we collect from selecting what we already believe, discarding and rationalizing away those that we don’t.
The key point of his book, I think, is that we all know smart people and a lot of smart people believe weird, even dumb, things and because they’re smart they’re very good at defending their beliefs – to themselves.
Joyner just might be one of the “smart” people.
Maha said: “In other words, don’t get stuck in cubbyholes.”
Good advice, but I think you need to do some soul searching yourself to make sure you aren’t getting stuck too. Perhaps we all need to do that, everyday. It’s easy to fall into the trap of group-think, or “tribalism” for lack of a better word. America is dividing into two great tribes, liberal and conservatives, who are at each other’s throats. And the Internet makes that especially easy, since it’s a simple matter to google and find a tribal blog that will do your thinking for you. Hate mongers like Rush Limbaugh and Fox News earn a living by encouraging the cubbyholes/tribalism that is tearing the nation apart.
In your case, Maha, I think you’re running the risk of getting stuck in Krugman’s cubbyhole. Back in 2005, I read his book The Great Unraveling, and mostly agreed with it. He was emphatic that deficit spending and creative accounting (central features of the Bush administration) would be financially ruinous.
Fast forward, Obama is president, and Krugman is singing a different tune. Yes, he does say that we eventually have to control spending, but right now it’s OK to crank up the printing press (and give most of the money to Wall Street banksters apparently). I guess it’s OK now because Obama is president, and we all want to like Obama since he’s a Democrat and supposedly liberal.
And then there is the the Obama cubbyhole itself. You seem pretty convinced that we need to re-elect Obama, whatever his short-comings. After all, he’s liberal and a Democrat, and Sarah Palin or Donald Trump as president would be so much worse. So Obama gets to renew the Patriot Act, continue the brutal war on pot smokers, increases military spending, extends the Bush tax cuts, bails out Wall Street, but we shouldn’t hold his feet to the fire because he’s a liberal and thus a member of our tribe.
I’ve fallen into cubbyholes myself, and occasionally been wrong, and I expect to be proven at least partially wrong again about some things in the future. I’ve changed my views on a number of issues over the years. My adopted name on this blog, Candide, reflects the fact that I was once an optimist, but have grown quite pessimistic over the years as reality has hit me over the head. In my current pessimism, I happen to think I’m right that the USA is headed for a spectacular bankruptcy, Obama is oblivious and Krugman is in denial, and sadly many liberals who should know better are also in denial. Obama seems to think he’s fixed the economy by showering the banks with taxpayer dollars. I get the impression that you think Obama is really fixing things, albeit gradually. You need to allow for the fact that Obama may be out of his league, and that economic bubbles can collapse very suddenly when creative accounting becomes the basis of a nation’s prosperity. We have plenty of historical examples of dramatic economic reversals (USA in 1929, East Asia in 1997, Argentina in 2000, Greece, Ireland and Spain right now).
Just because the Tea Partiers frequently predict collapse (and thus stock up on guns, ammo and gold/silver) doesn’t mean it won’t happen. They understand almost nothing about the economy, and bizarrely think the solution is simply more tax cuts (for the rich) and kicking out the illegal aliens who don’t pay their medical bills at the emergency room. Their reason for believing in collapse has more to do with their Biblical prophesies about The End Times, the Rapture, and the “fact” that HUSSEIN Obama is the Anti-Christ. Plus Glenn Beck is making a fortune peddling vastly overpriced gold coins to his gullible audience. The organized crime syndicate known as the Republican Party – which has done more than anyone to bring about America’s collapse – is glad to play the Tea Partiers like a yo-yo, meanwhile using this opportunity to hang the blame on Obama and the Democrats, while they continue to steal everything that is not tied down.
Some of your cherished views at some point may turn out to be at least partially in error. You hold very strong beliefs, and anyone who doesn’t agree with your opinions on Krugman and Obama sometimes gets a pretty harsh tongue-lashing from you. But some of these people may turn out to be more right than you think. You need to re-evaluable everyday. I should too. We all should.
My own political views have evolved over the years, and will probably continue to evolve. I’ve been to nearly 40 countries, and have seen that there is more than one system that can work. In some of the countries I’ve lived in, the State is very interventionist in the economy and it works (ie Sweden), while in others the State destroys the economy (ie former Soviet Union). Ditto for countries where the State is mostly invisible (ie Hong Kong). Small details matter – corruption and incompetency are twin plagues that can bring a country down. And the USA, in its present condition, is among the most corrupt in the world, and now led by a bunch of incompetents who couldn’t run a lemonade stand.
I respect you for at least allowing us to voice our opinions, even if they aren’t the same as yours. Yes, I know you kick the Tea Party trolls off your forum, but I’m OK with that – if they want to scream “Where is the birth certificate!” they can do it on WorldNetDaily or Michelle Malkin’s blog. I appreciate that you only want people on your forum who have an IQ over 40, or who aren’t paid shills working for the Koch brothers.
So watch out for the cubbyholes. And the potholes in the road.
You are grossly — grossly — mis-characterizing Krugman’s position. He has been highly critical of Obama and his policies toward Wall Street. And Unraveling was published in 2003. The nation’s economic situation, notably the financial crash and the Great Recession, have changed circumstances. The economy needs stimulus, and government spending is about the only instrument that can do that.
I’m not sure what pissed you off, and I didn’t read past the paragraph quoted above, but I don’t care for intellectual dishonesty, and you’re reeking of it. You’re on notice.
Slight clarification of my above comment, because I didn’t word it quite right: Hong Kong, with very little government, mostly works well. Somalia, with very little government, is a disaster.
I’m not sure what pissed you off, and I didn’t read past the paragraph quoted above, but I don’t care for intellectual dishonesty, and you’re reeking of it. You’re on notice.
Too bad you didn’t read past that paragraph. If you had, you might have understood my position.
And I wasn’t pissed off. I was trying to make the point about “cubbyholes” which I take to mean the same thing as “group-think.” And I feel that group-think is all too easy to fall into, no matter who you are. It’s a natural tendency of people.
If you think I’m misinterpreting Krugman, feel free to tell me what his position is. When I read him now, he doesn’t sound like the same Krugman I read in 2005. Just like I don’t think Obama is the same liberal I voted for in 2008.
As for kicking me off this forum, you can always do that. Maybe I was wrong in thinking that this was a place where we could express our heartfelt liberal opinions, as long as they’re reasonable. But if you’re going to send me to digital oblivion, you ought to first read what I said.
No, not the same thing. You missed the point.
I don’t have time to give tutorials. You were off by several miles, which means that you either aren’t reading him or don’t understand what he’s writing.
I don’t appreciate being insulted, however. I have enough nonsense going on in my life without being personally trashed by blog readers.
Wow, I read the whole thing and there’s a certainly a lot of stuff there. Too much for me to take on everthing – and a lot of it good, too, epecially about other countries, the Republicans, Teabaggers, and the future (if you can call it that).
But I agree with maha on one point, and that is that you’re misreading Krugman and deficit spending. There’s productive deficit spending, and then there are tax give-aways, and throwing good money after bad in useless wars, and unpaid pharmaceutical plans for seniors.
I’ll just handle one other aspect that struck me in what you wrote. I don’t think that we who comment here are Obamabots – who think Obama is the greatest thing ever. It’s just that we understand the limitations that a President has given the make-up of the House and Senate, and the temperment of the population, too.
I’ll only speak for myself, but when I go to other sites that I once loved, like FDL, or still love, like Digby, or BJ, there are people commenting there who seemed to have expected Obama and the Democrats when they were in power to create a reign of unicorns and gumdrops, and nothing else but 100% pure Liberalism was/is acceptable. And some of the wanted them using the Bush tactics of lies, MSM manipulation, and political intimidation. And many of them now vow to do whatever they can to prevent an Obama reelection, some of them even saying they will vote for the Republican candidate. And these are people who say they are Liberals. They prefer the entire country blow up, hoping for some hoped-for Liberal lesson to be learned by the people. That’s as dangerous a cubby-hole from the left, in my opinion, as the Teabaggers who don’t want a debt ceiling raise – only less likely.
Right now, I don’t see anything in the immediate future that will right this country. I’m just looking for some stalling actions that may put off disaster, which is certainly possibe if not probably (you know I’ve commented about that several times). That’s why I’ll continue to support Obama and the Democrats until we can get enough progressives into the Democratic ranks to make a real difference – the right has been doing this to Republicans with economic and religious conservatives for decades. I don’t like the result, to me they’re disasterous for the country, but there’s a roadmap to follow there.
Well, them’s my $0.02 on what you wrote.
Maybe some others can give you their feedback.
@Candide – I enjoyed your comment, I read every word.
Krugman is a Keynesian. Keynes held that when a business cycle peeks and starts its downward slide, one must increase federal spending, cut taxes and lower short-term interest rates to increase the money supply and expand credit. The demand stimulated by deficit spending and cheap money will thus prevent a recession. Krugman was and still is a Keynesian.
Some prominent economists disagree with Keynes, and thus Krugman. The rest of us are certainly free to choose our favorite economist of the day and dissing the individual for his choice rather than mounting a cogent argument pointing out the flaws in his argument is a waste of time.
(I might add that the recession occurred because the “peek and downward slide” that prefaced Keynes’s argument was completely ignored by just about everybody who should have known better.)
I’ve fallen into cubbyholes myself, and occasionally been wrong, and I expect to be proven at least partially wrong again about some things in the future.
And that is my favorite part. Still chuckling.
Just to join in the fun, you seem to be stuck in a couple of cubby holes yourself.
For one thing, economically speaking, you are completely wrong. Krugman is following a fairly standard, accepted economic model, and he’s been pretty consistent about his viewpoints. Obama seems to be following that same model, but he’s limited by the actual practicalities of politics as to what he can do.
In other words, neither of them are being hypocritical, neither of them are in denial, neither of them are just oblivious.
Now, you may disagree with the economic model they’re following, of course, as many economists do, but as you’re speaking about a nobel prize winning economist and an extraordinarily intelligent and educated president who has access to some of the finest economics minds in the country, and as you seem to have demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of what they actually believe and understand, I’d advise doing a bit more self-education on that point before you go around lecturing others about being in denial.
Secondly, while this blog has been generally approving of Obama and Krugman both, the author is by no means blindly following either one. She has had a number of issues and criticisms of both men over the years. And, just to add to the complexity, since Krugman himself has huge issues with Obama, it would be difficult to be blind followers of both simultaneously without exploding into a shower of internal contradictions.
On the other hand, your overall point about needing to continually reevaluate viewpoints is a good one, I think, and it seems your heart is generally in the right place ideologically speaking.
>> If you think I’m misinterpreting Krugman, feel free to tell me what his position is.
>> When I read him now, he doesn’t sound like the same Krugman I read in 2005.
He’s exactly the same guy. It’s just that the economic landscape has changed, which means that the appropriate economic response has changed. In fact, one of the ways you can tell a real, intellectually honest economist (or, you know, any body really…) is whether or not their recommended plan of action changes when conditions change. In 2000, when we had a surplus, republicans decided we needed tax cuts. Later on, when the economy was not doing great, republicans decided that now instead of tax cust, we should have MORE tax cuts. In 2008, when the economy collapsed, republicans decided that in response to this radically different economic landscape, the approrpiate action would be, you guessed it, tax cuts. And, now that the economy is starting to do better but our deficit is looking scary, republicans are convinced the only possible solution is, of course, tax cuts.
See what I mean?
>> Just like I don’t think Obama is the same liberal I voted for in 2008.
In 2008, Obama was not the liberal you voted for in 2008. Obama is not now, nor has he ever been, nor has he ever portrayed himself as a liberal. At least not a liberal in the way you and I would say liberal. He is, was, always has been a moderate at best. It’s just that under current political conditions, he’s the best we can do.
Our solution must bed to play the long game. We will never get Obama to act like a ‘real’ liberal, because he isn’t one. So, we don’t “let him” “renew the Patriot Act, continue the brutal war on pot smokers, increases military spending, extends the Bush tax cuts, bails out Wall Street” … we accept that as a moderate, he’s going to do all of those things, and we work on creating a society where someday, God willing, we might eventually get conditions that would allow us to elect a real liberal.
Which is not to say we don’t try to push him into being as liberal as we can make him be, but it is important to understand that the long game demands he be reelected in 2012, so whatever feet-to-firing we are able to do, it needs to be carefully done in a way that doesn’t damage his electoral chances.
OK, I’m done now, anybody that is still reading this, I congratulate you on your persistance, but I must say I question your judgement….
Everybody wants to sound authoritative. I’ve grown inured to the amazement of others as they become giddy over making some sort of connection between things then run with it way further than the evidence warrants. People find it rewarding to share their wisdom and “finds”. The basic one that so much else is modeled after is the feeling one gets upon finding some little hole-in-the-wall restaurant unknown to all one’s friends and being the first to share it and consequently appearing “in the know”.
…and yes, I have fallen into this trap myself. Less often today than in the past but I expect it might happen again. However I do catch myself more and more…at least I think I do.
This reminds me of Maha’s wisdom of doubt series in that there is wisdom in doubting all of one’s own cubbyholes lest they become impervious to new evidence to the contrary.
True Krugman is an advocate of Keynesian economic theory but as for the stimulus there were very few economists who disputed that course of action on the right or the left, unless you find a few at the Mises Institute. I keep trying to come up with a better analogy to counter equating it to what most know on the personal level…that checkbook balancing analogy. To most Tea Partiers it’s really that simple but its not really.
Suppose you’re mortgaged to the max and out of work but there is a job you can interview for. Sadly, regrettably the gas tank is empty. Do you fill it up using the charge card knowing that there will be hell to pay or do you tighten the belt in order not to accrue more debt, knowing that there is 100% chance that you won’t be able to pay the credit card balance anyway?
Not a perfect analogy but maybe it’s not that far off. We’re definitely in need of a good analogy though because most voters cannot grasp the idea that hair of the dog is the only viable choice when the economy is sinking. It’s counter-intuitive to those who cannot or do not grasp (apparently Candide) the economic principles and relationships advocated, not just by Krugman, but by so many others across the right-left divide.
The time to have tightened the belt was before two off-the-books wars were pursued. Once a downward spiral begins it can only be arrested by spending which results in the need for prolonged belt tightening down the line as we recover and afterwards.
The approach to climbing out of a debilitating deficit is markedly different than the approach to preventing one. To Candide I’d say that they overly-simplistic notion of one approach fitting all circumstances is a cubbyhole and I can see how being limited to that cubbyhole might lead one to perceive Krugman as “singing a different tune” when he’s not.
In any event, that’s the view from my “cubbyhole”. LOL!