Monday, May 21, 2007

Al Qaeda

What is so odd about the war in Iraq right now is that people are willing to give up and leave even though they admit that Al Qaeda is fighting us there. Lots of people say that Al Qaeda is only a small proportion of the people that we are fighting in Iraq. But even if that is true, what difference does that make? If it is Al Qaeda fighting us there why would we ever leave until we have defeated them? Moreover, whatever proportion of our enemies there are Al Qaeda no one thinks that it is Iraqis that are blowing themselves up to murder civilians. What could ever make us give up the fight against such an enemy?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Black Hawk Down

I was just watching the movie, "Black Hawk Down" again. It is a great example of what is wrong with the "due process" model of dealing with international problems. We got ourselves into this impossible and futile mission to capture Aideed for trial. And then what? After killing a thousand people in the process of bringing these clowns in for a "trial" what then changes? The problem is a lack of a monopoly on violence. Aideed stole the UN food because if he didn't another war lord would have. Would example of what happened to Aideed change the behavior of other warlords? Since we killed a thousand peasants to try to arrest Aideed, it would still appear that a rational actor would focus on being a sucessful warlord rather than being a peasant.

most of the other big mistakes are somehow traceable to the due process model. The decision not to have tanks and C-130 gunships available was driven by a desire to make this not look like a war, we wanted it to seem like a police action. The trouble is that their are two sides (at least) in a war and one side on its own can't decide that it will only be a policing problem. Aideed thought he was fighting a war and our wishing that we weren't was not going to change that.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

New York Times

I can't stand their editorial page but my gosh, they do some terrific writing. What other organization could do a story like this? Three continents and 6 countries? And for what? Tracking down why some peasants too poor to afford a coffin died.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Ptolemeic Left

Here is an interesting article about the turn against secularism in Turkey and the turn against Turkey in Europe. What is so odd about it is that the author sees these developments as more evidence of the failure of neocon foreign policy. It is really quite bizarre. All of this is very important, but to somehow make it all a function of American foreign policy, much less the foreign policy of the last 6 years, just seems to border on a mania. It is like ancient astronomers that were always ready to take any observation and pry more proof of the geocentric universe from it. For the contemporary left there is not a star in the heavens whose course cannot be explained by the machinations of the neocons.

It is eerily reminiscent of the American's before Pearl Harbor who, as Prangle argues, assumed that whatever Japan was going to do depended on the actions of the United States. No matter how far removed from our control a phenomena may be there is always an epicycle to bring it back to the orbit of America instigated evil.

collective action

I think there is something missing from the whole debate about our progress or lack of it in Afghanistan and Iraq. The possibility that our problem is the inability of these societies to solve their collective action problems.

A tacit assumption that lies behind a lot of the thinking about the war is an assumption along the lines that if a society fails to form an effective national army and police force it is because they don't want to. There is another possibility. they may be entirely on our side and may overwhelmingly want to form and effective national army and police force but may just be incapable of it for reasons that have nothing to do with their preferences or level of commitment.

The beautiful thing about a collective action problem is that you can have everyone wants to do one thing individually but as a group behave in a precisely opposite fashion. To the extent that the failures of the Iraqis and, to a lesser extent, the Afghans, to stand up effective national police forces and armies are due to collective action problems rather than a lack of commitment to the cause of liberal democracy at an individual level then calls to impose benchmarks or to "leave them to kill each other" are misplaced to say the least.

There is this odd similarity between the 19th Century Imperialists and contemporary liberals in the way they evaluate the attempts of Iraqis and Afghans to form national institutions. The fact that the democratically elected governments of these countries to form effective fighting forces is seen as proof of their unfitness to govern. In the case of the British Imperialists the conclusion was that they should be ruled by the British. In the case of contemporary liberals it is that we should abandon them to the terrorists.