Thursday, October 22, 2009

A tale of "powerful pacifists": empire and "political science" part 1

        As an offshoot of the “inter-democratic peace hypothesis,” David Lake, a well known political scientist at UCLA and UC San Diego, published “Powerful Pacifists” in the American Political Science Review in March, 1992 here. Lake offers  a “microeconomic” account of the wars waged between absolutist regimes and a putative contrast to the assertion that democracies must be mutually peace seeking.  Following neoclassical economics as a talisman for political “science,” states are re-conceived as “firms” in which absolutists can secure imperial rents to the state itself by attacking other states.  Democracies supposedly receive no such rents.  For this political science, the “military industrial” complex warned of by President Eisenhower coupled with Morgenthau’s  “academic-political complex” to which I have added media and reactionary think tank experts, however behemoth-like in American life,  or “militarism” as Martin King simply and rightly named it as an evil of “my government, the most violent in the world” in his speech breaking with the Vietnam war at the Riverside Church on April 4, 1967  - has magically disappeared.

         Democracies, Lake says,  at least do not go to war with one another.  But according to Lake, democracies are also suddenly like the 95 pound weakling who with lifting weights (producing most of the world’s weapons, marketing them to many governments to stir war or occupy others or oppress their own people) becomes muscular on the beach, beats up bullies and wins “the girl.”  Democracies take out absolutists in wars.   In an oxymoronic vein, they are “powerful pacifists.”*  All those weapons in World War II and Vietnam and now are really just directed against bad guys (our leaders could not sometimes be mere voices of the weapons, bad guys ourselves, looking for endless wars to engage in or escalate for the sake of producing – more weapons, more war; consider Condi Rice’s National Security Strategy of the United States in 2003 which asserts that the US will allow no power to gain weapons to rival us as the USSR did  – how exactly are we going to do that? – or the Bush-Cheney claim that outer space is for American to point weapons at others).  Though Lake’s  political science, as he conceives it, purports to be  value-free, he really means: democratic states do not commit aggression against other democracies.  They fight only aggressors.  Democracies are good.  And they don’t seek rents at the expense of their people to boot. 

         In contrast, absolutists – arch-criminal rent-seekers one might say (one has to master the pseudo-economic jargon here) do rob their own people.  Yet Lake thinks he  is being “scientific” and “value-free” even though he thus contradicts the government values enshrined on the surface of his article, the strident advocacy of our regime against theirs.  A neocon speechwriter for Bush like Michael Gerson might be thrilled at the pseudoscientific shine a Lake gives to his words.  Gerson wrote a speech for Bush in India about King and Gandhi, one sadly connected to facilitating India’s production of nuclear weapons vis-à-vis Pakistan (deeds that were the opposite of Bush’s words). Perhaps Obama, who knows about Gandhi and King, might actually like such words; he is thoughtful and moves in a different direction, but even a President who can recognize “dumb wars” like Iraq and worry about Afghanistan may need a rationale for the Imperial way of war  (Of course, no mainstream politician can use the word pacifist even with a muscular adjective without being crucified by the opposition and the media; the Democrats are sometimes critical of the war in Iraq – though prominent ones like Hillary Clinton urged that war when it counted – but they must be “real men,” prepared to escalate the war in Afghanistan.  At least and I must say uniquely,  Obama is worrying about it – see here). 

          Lake’s article provides new clothes to the empire via supposedly value-neutral political science.  But if this is neutrality, what is cheerleading?  If this is not political “science” as the advocacy of American wars, what would be?  This article has since been taken up in several other political science studies, for instance,  Dan Reiter and Alan Stam, “Understanding Victory: Why Political Institutions Matters,” International Security, summer, 2003.  Combined with the democratic peace hypothesis, there  is almost what Imre Lakatos calls a research program here (a follower of Karl Popper who argues, however,  that such programs are very hard to falsify).  Within the discipline, Lake’s thesis  has apparently received little criticism and that mainly on technical grounds.  But aside from political corruption, this is a research program whose implausibilities are on the surface.

        Lake takes political science seriously enough to provide a revealing table at the end of his article about the wars of democracies against absolutism.  The table revealingly puts the democracies in bold letters, the absolutists in lower case.  There are only 30 cases.  But an historian might have trouble with the list.

          The first entry is the “US v.  Mexico in 1846-1848.”  “Remember the Alamo,” burble the powerful pacifists.  But President Polk provoked the conflict and seized a very large part of Mexico.  I am in a part of Colorado that the US did not take, although it seized Southern Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California….It is good to know that this war of aggression and conquest is really somehow the triumph of democracy against absolutism.  Even for a theory of the absence of democratic “rents,” it does seem like quite a lot - the two largest states in the U.S. and several others.   (One might also think of the later interventions in Mexico of that other powerful ‘pacifist’ Woodrow Wilson though of course they did not produce quite as much “rents” for America and the US did not lose a thousand troops.  To be viewed as a war on this "operationalism," a thousand soldiers must die on each side;  the 12 to 15 Ameican overthrows of nonwhite elected governments during and after the Cold War vanish, by unseemly methodological sleight of hand. The US isn’t bellicose toward democracy except Arbenz, Mossadegh, Goulart, Allende, Jagan, Sukarno, Aristide twice, Ortega, Chavez, Lumumba - an assassination in the Congo, etc., etc.).

       As a Congressman, Abraham Lincoln of lllinois nobly opposed aggression against Mexico.  In opening his famous essay on “Civil Disobedience,” Henry David Thoreau speaks of how a standing government will war unjust wars like the seizure of a large part of Mexico. Thoreau was on to machine-like American expansion and war-making 150 years ago.  It is not a mystery.   A standing government he names it  – that sounds like a “rent-seeking” government.  But Lake’s political science knows nothing of American political discourse or the history of these events.  He relies on some graduate student to have given numbers to “democracies” and “absolutisms” engaged in wars in a study paid for by the Pentagon (more on this in the next post)…

       Defending spying on Americans and torture (worse than rent-seeking, though Cheney is also known for that), Harvey Mansfield, the  reactionary follower at Harvard of Leo Strauss, advocated tyranny or commander in chief power in emergencies on the Wall Street Journal Opinion page in 2006 here.  All manly (no 95 pound weakling), Harvey sniffed: to take the opponents of commander-in-chief power seriously – those who believe in the separation of powers and the separation of church and state (once again never mentioned by Strauss despite his preoccupation with “the theological-political predicament” see here), Mansfield would have to reconsider carefully and “prayerfully” about giving at least some of  that territory back to Mexico (perhaps Harvey forgets the historical details):  "As to the contention that a strong executive prompts a policy of imperialism, I would admit the possibility, and I promise to think carefully and prayerfully about returning Texas to Mexico."  And who could think something like that?  Well, Lincoln (the hero of some of Strauss’s followers but mainly for abolishing habeas corpus in wartime – advancing tyrannical “commander-in- chief power” as Bush and Chency would call it) or Thoreau.  Or someone who worries that the US may destroy itself and the planet through mad wars (we have poisoned Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia with depleted uranium in the two Gulf Wars;  many of our soldiers come back with illness from these wars or produce children with unique birth defects; others  go to live on our streets for the next say 50 years; the U.S. trashed international and domestic law (torturing and spying) as Mansfield commends; and we nearly just became - and still run the danger if Obama fails - of becoming a tyranny.  But Harvey says, there is no need  prayerfully to reconsider our imperialism… Manliness (the title of Harvey’s recent book) and thinking sometimes go separate ways. 

           It is startling that an ostensibly  value-free political “science” at least in Lake’s seemingly uncontroversial thesis actually aligns itself sharply with Mansfield and speaks stridently though without self-awareness against Lincoln and Thoreau.

           A second war: the US is a democracy fighting the Communists in Vietnam.  “22.  North Vietnam [the winner] v.  Thailand, South Vietnam, United States,  Kampuchea/Cambodia, Republic of Korea, Australia and Phillipines.”

Many of us in the United States, and the whole world, sympathized with the peasant Vietnamese movement fighting to drive out the enormously armed American aggressor which dropped napalm – the one side that did – on helpless villagers.  In addition, the United States was party to the 1954 Geneva Accords which then became the highest law of the land according to Article 6 section 2 of the American Constitution (“the Supremacy Clause”).  But Eisenhower said: we cannot allow the elections of 1956 to go forward – though they were mandated by those Accords and America is supposedly for democracy – because Ho Chi Minh, leader of the movement against brutal French colonialism (the George Washington of Vietnam) would win. 

           Eisenhower was busy setting up our puppet Ngo Dinh Diem, a  Catholic (the Catholics are a minority in Vietnam) and a tyrant  who had been living in the United States in “South Vietnam.”  But was South Vietnam a legitimate state, Lake might have asked?  Look at  Lake’s phrasing: South Vietnam is a regime made by American imperialism; the Geneva Accords and Eisenhower’s telling phrase vanish.  Is this perhaps a value-free judgment? In Lake’s version, political “science” is but an ornament of American government at its most aggressive, destructive (and increasingly self-destructive) moments. 

      Worse yet, this kind of quantitative political “science” – enchanted with graphs and numbers - also contributes to and provides a fig-leaf for policy advice.  If democracies are strong in conflicts with dictatorships, surely the Vietnam war was not a bad venture.  Surely, the war advice from advisors, Democrat and Republican, from reactionary think-tanks is “scientifically grounded” for Iraq –  though the emptiness and lying are now exposed – and right now in Afghanistan.   See here.  This sort of political “science” does not just follow American politics (though one whistles the themes of American Presidencies here); it reinforces aimless American belligerence.  In such wars, every day of American occupation breeds new enemies.   A large military footprint – “powerful pacifists” – has already led to American economic collapse and will lead, if Obama follows General McChrystal,  to defeat in Afghanistan, strengthening the Pakistani Taliban and Al-Qaida, and making ordinary Americans both less safe (or “secure” in the idiom of political science)  and destitute.  To their credit, most political scientists in international relations (sadly, Robert Keohane aside) rightly opposed the Iraq war.  But government funded political "science," entering the policy process through think tank experts, egged it on in the media, reiterating more war, more…This is the dead machine of reactionary policy advice.  This is policy-influential political “science.”

       Yesterday Glenn Greenwald cited a 2004 Rumsfeld report on terrorism done by non-neo-con, non- Straussian officials here.  It made the obvious  point that the American occupation of Afghanistan breeds resistance to us. Recall the American officer in Afghanistan who could speak the local language and asked a farmer if he had seen any foreign troops.  “Yes, you” the farmer replied.  Lake’s political science echoes the ideological confusion of the American soldier (whatever else the Taliban are in Afghanistan, they are the home team).  One doesn’t need rocket science to get this, but only a pseudo-science can perpetuate the soldier’s silly question and deep-six the answer.  In any case, Rumsfeld buried the study.  In reprinting it, Greenwald underlined the reactionary policy claque that Lake’s political “science” at a slightly higher level, reflects and “justifies”:

           “The debate over Afghanistan -- or, more accurately, the multi-pronged effort to pressure Obama into escalating -- is looking increasingly familiar, i.e., like the "debate" over Iraq.  The New York Times is publishing articles filled with quotes from anonymous war advocates.  Permanent war-justifier Michael O'Hanlon is regularly featured in ‘news accounts’ as he all but blames Obama for increasing combat deaths due to his failure to escalate the moment the military demanded it.  The New Republic is churning out pro-war screeds.  Every option is on the proverbial table except one:  not fighting the war.  And there's a widening gap between (a) public opinion (which sees Afghanistan as "turning into another Vietnam" and which opposes more troops, with 49% favoring a full or partial withdrawal) and (b) the virtual unanimity of establishment punditry which, as always, is cheerleading for the war.  The only difference is that, with a Democratic President, there seems to be more Democratic and progressive support for this war (though there was, of course, plenty of that for Iraq, too).”

       “The primary rationale for remaining -- and escalating -- in Afghanistan is the same all-purpose justification offered for virtually everything the U.S. has done since 2001:   Terrorism.  Apparently, the way to solve the Terrorist threat is by sending 60,000 more American troops into a Muslim country and committing to at least five more years of war there.  That, so the pro-escalation reasoning goes, will make us safer.”

      Note the role of O’Hanlon of Brookings, the New Republic and many Democrats (even Hillary Clinton) who are, once again and without self insight or self-criticism pro-war.  As Jack Balkin points out for crimes of war including torture, the Democrats confirm and make into a regime.  The bipartisanship of war crimes, one might say.  By extension,  an ever more crazy war making regime, where even borrowing more money from China as a way to make more war, feeding the banks and providing no relief on foreclosures for ordinary people is still the basic course even under Obama.  This  defines American policy as  a slightly more cautious version of the   neoconservatives (Obama does not speak of a “war on terror,” has treated Iran with respect and helped generate protest from below there, etc.; yet he has so far escalated in Afghanistan and stands on a precipice).  This is and has been the American way of war.  This is why all the rest of the world gapes at American militarism in horror, and treats Obama's return to respect for other nations and negotiations, especially his recongition of Palestine and Iran, as a sign of peace. Yet even Leslie Gelb, former head of the Council on Foreign Relations, whose self-criticism about Iraq I cited here, does not “understand” Obama’s thinking. 

          Obama, however, isn’t foolishly and reflexively pro-escalation given especially the fraud of the Karzai government.  Since  Bush created Karzai's presidency and our guns and Blackwater (now Xe) corporation sustain it, Obama is forcing Karzai into power-sharing with the opposition – a second election - and at least a fig-leaf of legitimacy.   Still Obama goes his own way.  What other President in American history has taken a time out from a self-destructive war – a neo-colonial occupation - for 5 or 6 weeks to consider whether there is a “partner for peace” and some other way to proceed?  He is thinking about whether escalation will doom him as Johnson also doomed himself in Vietnam, destroy his domestic program which is compared to others decent, and cripple his Presidency.  Some Democratic  politicians like Russ Feingold  and mainstream columnists like Bob Herbert are rightly  skeptical.  But the machine is there - the non-cooperating Republicans and the bellicose Lieberman – the neo-con authoritarians - step right up to support him.  This is the bipartisanship of belligerence which will sound the death-knell of his Presidency.  Obama is wary.  The pause in escalated occupation is unique in modern American history.  Not going along with the standard warmongering is even better. But in this context, Lake’s and the “democratic peace hypothesis’s political “science,”  it should be underlined, gives pseudoscientific legitimacy to  that warmongering.  It is a fig-leaf for aggression.

         Lake’s table cites five other wars in which  Israel, a democracy, defeats the ignoble Arab tyrannies. This is one side of the story (a distorted version in various ways), but there is another, motr glaring one which Lake simply avoids.   The first war is “15 Palestine 1948.   Israel v. Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, UAR and Lebanon [despite the name, note the lack of mention of Palestinians].”     “ 22.   The six day war of 1967     Israel v.  Egypt/UAR and Syria.”  25.  “Israeli-Egyptian 1968   Israel v. Egypt.”   “29.  The Yom Kippur War 1973.  Israel v. Egypt/UAR, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.” “30. Israel-Syria (Lebanon) 1982   Israel v. Syria.   

         If we look at the Palestianians dispossessed in the original setting up of Israel – once again, it was the one place where Europe and America would allow the victims of the holocaust to settle - and occupied once again, after the 1967 war, we will feel – I feel as a Jew – very queasy.  What about the recent War in Gaza?  Is that another democratic war on this accounting?  How may one consider the occupier democratic?  Certainly not in terms of its rule in the territories (Gaza has no airport and individuals cannot flee from being shot up without Israeli permission )?   There is now an elected Hamas regime in Gaza divided from the West Bank (expansionists in the government of Israel can play divide and rule between Gaza and the West Bank).  Would Lake call  this a war between democracies (or of a democracy with a transitional democracy as the political science idiom of Snyder and Mansfield, Electing to Fight now is)?   Didn’t Israel, alone among occupiers, prevent civilians from leaving?  The Goldstone Report, based on hearings led by Richard Goldstone, a South African judge who helped to end apartheid peacefully and is a Zionist (he is on the board of Hebrew University), names Israeli government and Hamas war crimes.  1300 dead, 300 children, the place ravaged, on one side; one seven year old Israeli child and 12 others murdered by Hamas rockets on the other. (See the fear and anger of Michael Oren  here)  The disproportional crimes of Gaza have forced a shift of perspective among many.  

         A largely helpless people has been occupied, driven out, then after 1967 re-colonized  and brutalized.  Thinking of Jews in Europe; I sometimes refer to the Palestinians as the Jews of the occupied territories (some 68 Israeli high school graduates have recently refused to serve in an occupying army and  face jail.).  Unwittingly, Lake sides easily – without noticing the Palestinians – with the reactionary and self-destructive (for ordinary Israelis) state of Israel. 

        Could not political science or at least sound political knowledge motivated by decency help produce some reasonable settlement between Palestine and Israel?  But facing down Israeli reaction – the de facto attempt to create a “greater Israel” and expel the Palestinians from the occupied territories – is a prerequisite of any decent settlement.  See A darkness unto the nations here.   But Obama is a long way ahead of political “science,” even if his efforts have been frustrated (it seems), on this. American Jews wisely overwhelmingly support Obama’s initiative; sadly, in Israel, racism toward Obama is now high among politicians and in the press and approval of Obama stood recently at 4%.   Lake’s political “science” in this respect does not  echo  Imperial politics; given the initiatives of new regime, it trails obsoletely and harmfully behind it.  Better to  read the mainstream newspapers…

       These are 7  doubtful cases out of 30, where the ethics alleged by Lake are the opposite of the truth.  But there are others.  “21.  Second Kashmir war  India  v. Pakistan.”  India occupies mainly Muslim Kashmir (it was supposed to have been the K in  Pakistan) and rules it with great brutality (see here).  Why the first Kashmir war or the three other wars between India and Pakistan are not on the list (it would at least make Lake’s number of cases 33 – and by now it should be clear that he needs every single one…).  There are three more (neo)colonial wars “4.  Anglo-Persian 1856-57  United Kingdom v. Persia” “5. Sino-French    France v. China” and “8. Boxer Rebellion     Japan, United Kingdom, USSR[sic]/Russia, France v. China.”  That the USSR appears on this list 19 years before the Russian Revolution that created it must rely on a method of reporting facts – an emphasis in “empirical” political science – known only to Professor Lake.  

         There are now 11 -  more than one third of his total number of cases.  We might also examine his “number 7,”  the war of 1898 between the United States and Spain. There, the United States aggressed – “Remember the Maine!” was another phony story about the alleged Spanish sinking of an American ship in Havana harbor – and then seized two colonies, Cuba and the Philippines, committing wanton and genocidal slaughter in the last case.  But as we will see in the next post, even World War I proves to be an elusive case on close examination (see also What’s wrong with the democratic-peace hypothesis here). The others are just less obvious.   That Lake has a group of cases that gives any support to a social science of his sort remains to be shown. 

       Now there is an important  truth in Kant’s basic distinction (and in Michael Doyle’s original version during the Cold War of this hypothesis).   Kant aptly contrasted monarchs who frivolously waste the lives of their subjects in “the pleasure party” of war (one might think of “chicken hawks” like Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld here) with republics in which citizens can limit such abuse.  Kant mistakenly imagined that commerce would provide a new and peaceful way of ordering the world (one might consider the slave trade, for example, or the American arms trade to wonder about this thesis).  But the core idea is that a republic or a democracy does not require protest from below as in the case of Vietnam or before the Iraq war to attenuate imperial elite purposes.  But without large changes to limit oligarchy  (for instance, those suggested in John Rawls, The Law of Peoples, pp. 46-50, or my Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, ch. 5), parliamentary forms do not equate to citizen influence on war.  It would take serious argument about the cases - a long, difficult and doubtful course - rather than the list that for Lake, without discussion, constitutes “empirical” substantiation, to show that American parliamentary regime is closer to a Kantian republic – deterring imperial wars by something other than mass protest from below – rather than a near cousin to the monarchs who engaged, just as frivolously but perhaps less addictively, in “the pleasure party of war."

*Gandhi speaks rightly of the nonviolence of the strong.  He means that one must be prepared to suffer for civil disobedience.  And though one could fight, one must be a soldier like Badshah Khan:  prepared to resist to the death by personal and collective noncooperation, but not to kill. See Badshah Khan: the Martin Luther King of the Pathans here.  Lake and the endorsers of “powerful pacificism” nostrum do not know of this.


Amentahru said...

Dear Alan,

you might like James Der Derian's book: "Virtuous War: Mappting the Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment-Network"

Also, Wolpert's "Gandhi's Passion" indicates that Nehru believed himself to be a Kashmeri and therefore refused to let Kashmeris become part of Pakistan. Gandhi was in favor of letting them vote but Nehru had already sidelined Gandhi by then

I really appreciate the criticism of political "science". This taps into the recent article in the new york times (by Bernstein) and the Coburn legislation.

Amentahru said...

Dear Alan,

When ever I see this COW definition of war, I see it defined as 1,000 battle-deaths per year (not on each side as you write here). Or am i just misreading?


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