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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A REPLY TO TALHA

Talha asks: “Well if you do continue to engage on this, Prof. Wolff, would be interesting to see your reaction to the following from Chomsky - will it also meet the incomprehending straw man treatment you've given to Chris et al. here?”

I followed the link and found this text of a radio interview.  It is long, but I give it in full so that there can be no question of selective quotation:

“AMY GOODMAN: Our guest for the hour, Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author, institute professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His latest book is Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power. Juan?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Noam Chomsky, I’d like to ask you about something that’s been in the news a lot lately. Obviously, all the cable channels, that’s all they talk about these days, is the whole situation of Russia’s supposed intervention in American elections. For a country that’s intervened in so many governments and so many elections around the world, that’s kind of a strange topic. But I know you’ve referred to this as a joke. Could you give us your view on what’s happening and why there’s so much emphasis on this particular issue?
NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s a pretty remarkable fact that—first of all, it is a joke. Half the world is cracking up in laughter. The United States doesn’t just interfere in elections. It overthrows governments it doesn’t like, institutes military dictatorships. Simply in the case of Russia alone—it’s the least of it—the U.S. government, under Clinton, intervened quite blatantly and openly, then tried to conceal it, to get their man Yeltsin in, in all sorts of ways. So, this, as I say, it’s considered—it’s turning the United States, again, into a laughingstock in the world.
So why are the Democrats focusing on this? In fact, why are they focusing so much attention on the one element of Trump’s programs which is fairly reasonable, the one ray of light in this gloom: trying to reduce tensions with Russia? That’s—the tensions on the Russian border are extremely serious. They could escalate to a major terminal war. Efforts to try to reduce them should be welcomed. Just a couple of days ago, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Jack Matlock, came out and said he just can’t believe that so much attention is being paid to apparent efforts by the incoming administration to establish connections with Russia. He said, "Sure, that’s just what they ought to be doing."
So, meanwhile, this one topic is the primary locus of concern and critique, while, meanwhile, the policies are proceeding step by step, which are extremely destructive and harmful. So, you know, yeah, maybe the Russians tried to interfere in the election. That’s not a major issue. Maybe the people in the Trump campaign were talking to the Russians. Well, OK, not a major point, certainly less than is being done constantly. And it is a kind of a paradox, I think, that the one issue that seems to inflame the Democratic opposition is the one thing that has some justification and reasonable aspects to it.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, of course, because the Democrats feel that that’s the reason, somehow, that they lost the election. Interesting that James Comey this week said he is investigating Trump campaign collusion with Russia, when it was Comey himself who could have—might well have been partly responsible for Hillary Clinton’s defeat, when he said that he was investigating her, while, we now have learned, at the same time he was investigating Donald Trump, but never actually said that.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, you can understand why the Democratic Party managers want to try to find some blame for the fact—for the way they utterly mishandled the election and blew a perfect opportunity to win, handed it over to the opposition. But that’s hardly a justification for allowing the Trump policies to slide by quietly, many of them not only harmful to the population, but extremely destructive, like the climate change policies, and meanwhile focus on one thing that could become a step forward, if it was adjusted to move towards serious efforts to reduce growing and dangerous tensions right on the Russian border, where they could blow up. NATO maneuvers are taking place hundreds of yards from the Russian border. The Russian jet planes are buzzing American planes. This—something could get out of hand very easily. Both sides, meanwhile, are building up their military forces, adding—the U.S. is—one thing that the Russians are very much concerned about is the so-called anti-ballistic missile installation that the U.S. is establishing near the Russian border, allegedly to protect Europe from nonexistent Iranian missiles. Nobody seriously believes that. This is understood to be a first strike threat. These are serious issues. People like William Perry, who has a distinguished career and is a nuclear strategist and is no alarmist at all, is saying that we’re back to the—this is one of the worst moments of the Cold War, if not worse. That’s really serious. And efforts to try to calm that down would be very welcome. And we should bear in mind it’s the Russian border. It’s not the Mexican border. There’s no Warsaw Pact maneuvers going on in Mexico. And that’s a border that the Russians are quite reasonably sensitive about. They’ve practically been destroyed several times the last century right through that region.”

Not surprisingly, I agree with a good deal that Noam has to say here, although in a bit I shall register an important disagreement.  But I do not understand the thrust of Talha’s comment.  My first thought is an old joke from my childhood, about The Lone Ranger and Tonto:  “The Lone Ranger and Tonto are watching a horde of Indian braves bear down on them in full battle fury. “Looks like we’re in trouble, Tonto,” says the Lone Ranger to his pal. “What you mean ‘we,’ white man?” Tonto responds...”

The world may be laughing at the leaders of the Democratic Party or at TV pundits or at Republicans or at American foreign policy experts, but they are not laughing at me.  I have been speaking publicly against America’s interference in and overthrowing of foreign governments since 1960, which is seven years before Noam spoke publicly about the subject.  I humbly acknowledge that I made no public statements in 1953 about the CIA’s overthrow of Mosaddegh in Iran and America’s installation of the Puppet Shah Pahlevi, but I was only nineteen at the time and worried about finishing my undergraduate honors thesis.  Have my protests had any measurable effect on American policy?  Of course not, but then neither have Noam’s, and he is world-famous, perhaps the best know public intellectual in the world today.  We do what we can do.

Is Russian interference in our election a really big deal?  Nope, considering the fact that they probably had relatively little effect.  Why then do I have so much to say about it, and about the possible collusion of the Trump campaign in that effort?  For two reasons:  First, because Trump is vulnerable on that point, and I am delighted to exploit any vulnerability he may exhibit, even including his penny-ante self-enrichment, which probably amounts to less than the cost of one stealth bomber; and Second, because I really believe that our only hope of making this a marginally less terrible country is through the ballot box, and anything that interferes with that process is anathema to me.  Is Russian meddling then more serious than voter suppression?  Good God, no.  The former possibly had some hard to measure effect on the recent election.  The latter has transformed parts of this country, and we can count in the hundreds of thousands and perhaps the millions the number of votes it has cost progressives. 

Is Noam correct about the reasons why the Democratic Party has focused so heavily on this story line?  Probably so, but again I would ask Talha:  “What do you mean ‘we’, White Man?”

Noam is just wrong, by the way, about one thing that is actually important.  He says, “So, meanwhile, this one topic is the primary locus of concern and critique, while, meanwhile, the policies are proceeding step by step, which are extremely destructive and harmful.”  The implication is that Democrats have been focusing on the Russia thing while ignoring really harmful policies being put in place by the Trump Administration.  But that just isn’t so.  Trump has thus far done so many bad things that it is difficult to keep up with them, but the two most immediately terrible, the immigration ban and the health care bill, have triggered an astonishing level of public protest on the left, protest fully covered in the media and supported by many, many elected Democrats.  I say “most immediately” because Trump’s attack on the environment is in the long run arguably even worse, and though it has had a fair amount of negative coverage, it has not as yet provoked the same level of public outcry.

I come finally to the point on which I disagree with Noam most strongly, a point that he himself seems to emphasize more than any other in the interview quoted above – Trump’s efforts to seek a rapprochement with Putin.  Very early in the interview, Noam says this:  “So why are the Democrats focusing on this? In fact, why are they focusing so much attention on the one element of Trump’s programs which is fairly reasonable, the one ray of light in this gloom: trying to reduce tensions with Russia?”   He goes on to detail some of the serious dangers posed by Russian/American conflict, dangers that have in part been exacerbated by American/NATO actions.

I agree completely on the dangers, and on America’s role in the exacerbation of the tensions between Russia and America, but I think Noam allows himself to be misled into characterizing what Trump appears to be doing as “trying to reduce tensions with Russia.”  That description presupposes that Trump is operating, indeed is mentally capable of operating, with some familiar version of the world view that has characterized America’s global military and foreign policy since the end of World War Two.  Over that seventy year period, Democratic and Republican Presidents alike [as well as the extended community of military and foreign policy “experts”] have operated on the assumption that America and Russia are engaged in a full-scale competition for imperial hegemony on the world stage.  Confronting one another with world-destroying arsenals of nuclear weapons, the two imperial powers have jockeyed for competitive advantage, now one, now the other approaching closer to the edge of mutual disaster with provocative actions and reactions.  Noam seems to have construed Trump’s connections with Russia, his statements about Putin, and the connections of members of his inner circle with Russia as evidence that he has made a considered decision to de-escalate the conflict, and since that is clearly desirable, he characterizes it as “the one ray of light in this gloom.”  But I am more and more convinced that Trump is cozying up to Russia [I do not know how else to describe it] for financial and other reasons that have no grounding at all either in a conventional conception of world affairs or in any alternative conception.  I leave to one side Steve Bannon’s conception of world affairs, which really does seem to be a coherent alternative view, and one that is, if anything, more malign than the one that has shaped American policy for three quarters of a century.


Because I view the situation in this fashion, I am fearful of miscalculations on the part of both Trump and Putin that could lead to an increase, not a decrease, in the risk of nuclear war, which would be a world-ending catastrophe.

24 comments:

Tom Cathcart said...

I really don't get the point that it's laughable for us to protest interference in our election when we've done the same to others so many times. We've also overthrown governments. Would it be laughable for us to protest if, hypothetically, some other nation were to try to overthrow ours? We've dropped nuclear bombs on another country. Would it be laughable for us to protest if, hypothetically, some other country were determined to drop them on us? Hypocritical, yes, of course, but laughable? Are we really only supposed to protest threats that we've never been guilty of posing to other countries? And, if our hypocrisy brings down Trump, then I say 3 cheers for hypocrisy.

s. wallerstein said...

For the record, according to Wikipedia, Chomsky began to criticize U.S. involvement in Viet Nam in 1962, speaking to small groups in homes and churches, not in 1967.

TheDudeDiogenes said...

Well said, Prof. And also Tom.

Charles Perkins said...

I second Tom Cathcart.

David Palmeter said...

I agree

David Auerbach said...

I think that underlying Chomsky's point is the dismal fact that the current powers that be in the Democratic party (=Clinton coterie with Rachel Maddow as their media whip) obsess about Russia and see that as a) the key to disempowering Trump (which I think it isn't) and b) as their key to remaining in power (in the Democratic party) despite their abysmal failures at every political level and c) (a sort of corollary of b)) remaining an anti-working class party. Most of the action against Trump, given his deep political weakness and lack of skill, has not come from the Clintonista wing but from groups on the left. The Russia obsession is a distraction from the housecleaning that would normally come after screwing up an election.

Gary Young said...

Since the Democrats are in the minority in both houses of Congress, doesn't it make sense to pursue a strategy that might have a chance of eroding Republican support for Trump?

Edmund Wilson said...

Professor Wolff, I would be inclined to agree with you. The problem of 'cozying up' to Russia has some historical parallels. On this, I would agree that Chomsky probably has the wrong end of the stick when he implies that the cozying up of Trump's advisers to Sergey Kislyak is a good thing. I can think of three examples where cozying up to potential aggressors such as Putin's Russia is a bad thing. (Cozying up, by the way, really should become an official term in international relations literature...)

Although it may seem like a long-shot, the First Italian War of 1494 - 1498 may have been the result of such 'cozying up'. The equivalent of modern America (Milan) tried to bandwagon with the equivalent of modern Russia (France). The policy was a failure. The Duke of Milan invited French King Charles VIII to invade the Italian peninsula, signifying the duke's intention to bandwagon, or cozy up to to France. Just as Trump may be cozying up to Putin, so was the Milanese duke Ludovico Sforza cozying up to Charles VIII. Milan underestimated France, just as America might be underestimating Russia today. But by February 1495, the French had reached Naples, going far further than the Milanese envisaged. This forced the duke to backtrack and join an alliance against Charles VIII, signifying the end (and failure) of his prior policy of bandwagoning with France. This is an example of 'cozying up' to potential aggressors such as France or modern-day Russia failing, thus undermining Noam Chomsky's case. Bandwagoning with aggressors is proven to be a fateful policy.

This was even more so the case in the Hapsburg-Valois War of 1521 - 1526. In this example, another Charles took on the role of Putin. English King Henry VIII, who I am equating to modern-day Trump, decided that he fancied a share of France. So he allied with Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Charles was the really dangerous power here, controlling Austria, Burgundy, Spain and (of course) the Holy Roman Empire. The English tried to march on Paris in 1523, but were betrayed by Charles V, who was more interested in conquering the French Netherlands than keeping his word. Henry VIII quickly had to pivot and ally with France in August 1525, since his aggressive ally in Charles V was (surprise, surprise!) untrustworthy. Henry's attempt to bandwagon with an aggressive foreign power was disastrous. This further undermines Chomsky's case that cozying up to potential aggressors is mutually beneficial. The aggressor always takes advantage of the bandwagoner, be it Medieval England or modern America.

To take a more modern example, the Munich Agreement of September 1938 demonstrates the inadequacy of cozying up to aggressors. Rather than bandwagoning with the aggressor, this was an example of outright appeasement of the aggressor. It was just as (if not more) disastrous when compared with the previous two examples. Despite Hitler's remilitarisation of the Rhine on 7 March 1936 and the bombing of Guernica on 26 April 1937, Prime Minister Chamberlain of England decided to appease Hitler by handing him the Sudetenland, free of charge. This appeasement was unjustified and, as J.J. Mearsheimer pointed out, made the 'dangerous rival' of Nazi Germany 'more, not less, dangerous' ('The Tragedy of Great Power Politics', p. 164). After all, this is why Hitler felt he could invade Poland in 1939, since he thought that England and France would continue the appeasement. Cozying up to aggressors, be it through bandwagoning or appeasement, is a policy prone to failure.

Perhaps, therefore, if Trump were to learn from the past, he wouldn't be so keen on cozying up to Putin.

David Palmeter said...

I don’t agree with the view that the Democrats are going after Trump on the Russia connection so that they can somehow return to power without having to move left on economic policy.

The Democrats in the 2016 presidential election were like a football team that had lost a close game. If any one of half a dozen plays had gone the other way--the fumble, the interception, the receiver slipping, the bad call by the officials--the team would have one. The answer to the question, why was the game (or election) lost, is not all of the above, but any one of the above. The list for Hillary is long--the emails, the foundation, the Russia hackings of the DNC, Comey’s interference, wasting time in Arizona and Georgia instead of spending it in Michigan,, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania. I’m sure there are more that could be put on the list.

The Russia connection is being used by the Democrats today because it is a great opportunity to beat up on Trump and possibly get him removed. At the very least, if there’s even a small fire under all of the smoke, it will help the Democrats in 2018.

I don’t believe the Democrats will move far enough to the left to satisfy most readers of this blog--and wouldn’t have even if Keith Ellis had been elected to head the DNC. That’s because the people who make up the Committee--both elected officials and others--as well as members of Congress in both the House and Senate, are closer to the center. I suspect most of them don’t believe they can be elected if they move any further to the left.

It’s up to the left show they are wrong--and this can be accomplished only by progressives volunteering to run for office (at every level) and getting themselves elected. This is how the right took over the Republican party.

s. wallerstein said...

Edmund Wilson,

Your historical knowledge is admirable.

However, Chomsky probably does not see Putin as an agressor, certainly not in the same class as Hitler in any case. From reading Chomsky, I get the impression that he sees Putin as himself feeling aggressed by the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe. The Ukraine has a common border with Russia: if the Ukraine joins NATO or becomes pro-NATO, for Russia it would be analagous to having Mexico ally itself with Russia for the U.S. You can imagine how the U.S. would act if Mexico were to become a Russian (or Chinese) ally and open its territory to Russian (or Chinese) military bases or air bases.

You're too young to remember Reagan screaming about Nicaragua being a threat to U.S. security because they had Soviet weapons and maybe a few Soviet troops: after that, Reagan financed a secret mercenary army (the contras) to destroy the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Then there was JFK who trained and financed another mercenary army of rightwing Cubans who tried unsuccessfully to invade Cuba in 1961 at the Bay of Pigs, once again because tiny Cuba was becoming a Soviet ally.

Matt said...

You're too young to remember Reagan screaming about Nicaragua being a threat to U.S. security because they had Soviet weapons and maybe a few Soviet troops: after that, Reagan financed a secret mercenary army (the contras) to destroy the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

I am (somewhat barely) not too young to remember this. (I don't know if Edmund's avatar photos is his own, but if so, he surely is.) But, should we not care about the fact that, when Reagan did this, it was both wrong and, frankly, transparently stupid? Lots of people knew that at the time. If more did, perhaps things would have been better. The same claims apply to Putin and Russia. Russians are not children who cannot learn or understand. They are capable of doing things other than throwing temper tantrums. (I know - I lived there for quite a while, own, with my wife, property there, have many friends, there, etc. My wife is Russian as well.) This sort of attitude, that certain countries cannot but be expected to act badly, is very odd. When it it our own country, we rightly feel shame and disgust when our leaders and fellow citizens act this way. But it is also shameful to act as if other countries can't act in either ways, too. They can, and should, as should we. We should have higher standards for all of us. This is especially so when we realize that, following the ideas set out above, we are denying the humanity and personality of Georgians, Ukrainines, Latvians, Estonians, etc. in treating them as the rightful playthings of Russia, just as much as the US was denying the humanity and worth of central Americans and Cubans during the cold war. Surely we don't want to be a party to that.

Of course, I recognize that there is a danger in applying higher standards to others than one's self. We should apply higher standards to ourselves. But, what I see here is a failure to apply even minimal standards to others. That is surely wrong.

s. wallerstein said...

Matt,

I in no way want to apologize for Putin. In a comment above he was described as an "aggressor" and compared to Hitler. I was merely pointing out that his behavior is on no level comparable to that of Hitler but rather comparable to that of past U.S. presidents, often considered to be exemplary democrats, such as Reagan and JFK. Now it may be that Putin is cunningly awaiting his opportunity to set out on world conquest as Hitler did, but there is no evidence of that until now. The fact that Putin loves macho poses says something about the vulgarity of his tastes, but does not indicate that he intends to conquer all Europe.

I'd prefer a world in which no one, neither Putin nor Reagan nor Trump, threatens other nations and in which national borders mean no more than the county line does within the U.S.

TheDudeDiogenes said...

I found Masha Gessen on the Global Politico (but not just there) to be quite enlightening regarding Russia.

Charles Perkins said...

Anyone who compares Russia and the United States needs to recognize that Russia is a country where hardly anyone votes because there really is no point. http://occupywallst.org/article/we-are-the-146-russians-refuse-to-be-rooked/

Edmund Wilson said...

S. Wallerstein, thank you for the reply and brilliant riposte. You're completely right - I am indeed too young to remember American Cold War interventions! Indeed, examples abound which suggest a hawkish foreign policy is not called for, from the Bay of Pigs to Nicaragua, and from American overthrowing of Indonesian 'guided democracy' to the toppling of Allende's government in Chile in 1973. Making an enemy of Russia is therefore probably not the best idea. Perhaps a strategic alliance with Russia would work.

But there's a difference between a strategic alliance and a 'cozying up' alliance. In a strategic alliance, America allies with Russia in order to achieve certain goals, such as counterbalancing the rise of China. In a 'cozying up' alliance, America risks being exploited by an ever-more assertive Russia. If Trump does ally with Putin, it must be part of a consciously thought-out foreign policy, rather than for the Trump Organisation's business interests.

So alliance with Russia per se isn't a bad thing, but the language Trump uses suggests that he's appeasing Russia rather than seeking a strategic alliance of equals. After all, this is why Nikki Haley on Thursday 30 March this year said that removing Russian-backed Assad was no longer a priority. Because the Trump administration's vision of an alliance with Russia involves giving unlimited concessions to Putin, rather than lobbying him to change his policy, be it on Ukraine or Syria.

Nevertheless, perhaps Trump has started thinking about strategy (and, possibly, morality) today with his sharp criticism of Assad, together with Nikki Haley's more recent criticisms of Russia. Chomsky might turn out to be right, but only if America favours a strategic alliance over an appeasement alliance.

Matt said...

The fact that Putin loves macho poses says something about the vulgarity of his tastes, but does not indicate that he intends to conquer all Europe.

This is a bit of a straw-man, as has been pointed out before. It's obvious that Putin can be "an aggressor" without wanting to "conquer all of Europe". Actual implies possible, after all, and Putin has already incorporated part of Ukraine, would like to take more, and has de facto taking in parts of Georgia. It's common in Russia to think it should take in much of the former Russian empire, and this seems to be supported by Putin. But, the people in many of those states don't agree. That's what you need to grapple with a bit more.

I don't speak for Edmund Wilson, nor he for me, but you're not keeping the arguments straight here, and are shifting the goal-posts. I know very well that you can do better.

s. wallerstein said...

Matt,

Thank you for your heart-warming faith that I can do better. When all else fails, your faith in me keeps me going.

You point out an essential detail: whether the people in those states or agree or not. As far as I know, most of the people in the eastern parts of the Ukraine are Russian-speakers and want to rejoin Russia. If people do not want to rejoin Russia, they should be resettled with due compensation for their property. If the people in other states from the ex-Soviet Union do not want to rejoin Russia, their rights should be protected, hopefully, by an international agreement or international military force, not by the U.S. alone. I don't trust the U.S. at all (that's my deep-seated prejudice): the mixture of high ideals and geopolitical aggressivity which characterizes U.S. policy always fucks things up. So I'd like to see Germany, Holland, France, etc., in on that deal.

s. wallerstein said...

Edmund Wilson,

Thank you for your kind words of praise.

I agree with you that a rational, strategic alliance of the U.S. with Russia to deal with world problems would be ideal, but given Trump, I doubt that that will occur.

You talk of the need to remove Assad. The U.S. record on removing dictators in the Arab world makes me skeptical. They got rid of Saddam Hussein and of Gaddafi, only to make things worse, to push Iraq and Libya, both of which under authoritarian rule were at least functioning societies, towards civil war and being failed states. The priority in Syria at present seems to be not to get rid of Assad (who is a nasty and corrupt dictator of course), but to fight ISIS and Assad could be an ally in that struggle. If after ISIS is defeated, Russia and the United States could agree on removing Assad and holding elections, great.

I want to applaud you on your knowledge of history and world affairs as well as your good sense. When I was your age, I walked around with my eyes closed screaming in protest against a universe which given that my eyes were closed, I couldn't see. Keep your eyes open and you'll do well in life.

Edmund Wilson said...

S. Wallerstein, Thank you for the comment. I'll do well to follow your advice! I would agree that forcefully removing dictators such as Assad is not a particularly successful way of doing things. Perhaps a strategic middle ground between that and actively appeasing such aggressors should be sought.

LFC said...

Re Edmund Wilson's comment above re appeasement and bandwagoning:

I'm leery of general rules for foreign-policy behavior (e.g. "never do X or Y") b/c so much depends on the particular circumstances of each case. Mearsheimer issues a blanket condemnation of appeasement and bandwagoning b/c, among other things, these approaches violate or run afoul of his theory that "great powers are programmed for offense" (Tragedy of Great Power Politics, p.164). Sometimes great powers are "programmed for offense" and sometimes they may not be, but Mearsheimer's 'offensive realism' cannot take account of such variation w/o losing its pretensions to being some kind of generally applicable theory. And even Mearsheimer is obliged to note that there are "special circumstances in which a great power might concede some power to another state yet not act contrary to balance-of-power logic" (p.164).

The word 'appeasement' in popular as opposed to scholarly discourse is associated almost exclusively with the Munich agreement, which has a deservedly bad reputation (the only good thing one can say about it is that it gave Britain another year to re-arm, but that didn't outweigh the agreement's bad effects). However, while the Munich agreement was a mistake, the so-called "lessons" of Munich have been repeatedly misapplied, probably most clearly in the case of U.S. policy in Vietnam (see e.g. Y.F. Khong, Analogies at War).

All of which is not to say that the U.S. or anyone else should 'cozy up' to Putin, but rather to suggest that historical analogies have to be handled and deployed with a considerable amount of caution, and that ostensibly general theories about great-power behavior have to be scrutinized critically, to say the least. What matters most here is what we can infer and know about Putin's motives and intentions and capacities, not what a general theory of great-power behavior says is the best policy course. History and theory are relevant and always in the background of such discussions, but there is no substitute for knowledge of a particular case and region. Sometimes I agree with Mearsheimer's policy views and sometimes I don't[*], but in any discussion of U.S. policy toward Russia I'd want to have a Russia specialist in the room and not only an IR theorist like Mearsheimer.

-----

[*] Mearsheimer's policy prescriptions don't always follow from his theory, but that's a separate point.

Edmund Wilson said...

(Although, as of a few minutes ago, it looks like Trump is relying on his Defence Secretary's judgement as to whether to militarily confront Assad. So it may all be up to James Mattis now...)

Edmund Wilson said...

LFC - I posted my (bracketed) commented before I could read your very interesting post. I completely agree that we can never apply general theories of international relations with total certainty. Even Mearsheimer caveats most of his statements with the word 'likely', since all social and political sciences are probabilistic.

I'd like to emphasise that, although I used Mearsheimer's theoretical tools, Mearsheimer himself, as far as I'm aware, thinks that allying with Russia in general is actually a good thing (agreeing with your footnote that his policy prescriptions are his theory can be different things!). For Mearsheimer, as I'm sure you'll know, China is a bigger threat than Russia, so counterbalancing Chinese rise with a strategic Russo-American alliance would be a good idea (in Mearsheimer's view). On that point, Mearsheimer has praised Trump's pro-Russia policy, although he said before the election that he would never envisage voting for Trump!

I also agree that having a Russian specialist would help. But, in the absence of one, general IR theories can be useful!

Daniel Langlois said...

'I really don't get the point that it's laughable for us to protest interference in our election when we've done the same to others so many times.'

Leaving aside whether the question is a red herring -- Do we agree on the basic framework of U.S. coups? Noam Chomsky is an articulate, well-informed, sources-citing kind of guy, right?

Though there is perhaps a roughly equal number of failed coups, and let's just ignore coups in Africa and eleshere in which a U.S. role is suspected but unproven, then what do we tarry to say about Iran 1953, and Guatemala 1054, and Thailand 1057, and Laos? The Congo? Turkey? I mean, Turkey 1960, of course, but also 1971 &1980? And so forth.

Daniel Langlois said...

'Hypocritical, yes, of course, but laughable?'

Yes, of course. There is such a thing as 'laughable hypocrisy'. I actually find the category very interesting. Consider how we should all stop our whining and fall in line behind Donald Trump, while Republicans and tea partiers refuse to give up on fighting for what we believe is right. I might respond that laughing my shiny 'etc.' off, because the hypocrisy is so evident. I recall how it is, that critics dismiss as laughable hypocrisy any claims by fundamentalists that they believe in the power of Christian love and are concerned abou the social needs of their neighbors.

The whole idea of assailing somebody for their laughable hypocrisy is very common. It seems like a go-to response, when you can't really disagree with somebody's point but wish to distract from their point, to change the subject, to query their right to make their point that you can't really disagree with.

Maybe we want to respond to 'Occupy Wall Street' protests. Well, just start like this: 'I think the hypocrisy of this movement is somewhat laughable..' and continue somehow. By contrast, of course when you talk to somebody with the tea party, they can tell you what they want and it's wonderfully logically cohesive because that's very very important in this life, to be wonderfully logically cohesive. What can we hope to accomplish otherwise? But again when you talk to these Occupy Wall Street gangs, they’re all over the place. It’s like a shotgun as opposed to a precision-guided munition..

Or maybe it's environmentalists. Well, glad you brought it up, I'll tell ya', they are among the biggest hypocrites one will find in America today. They strike this oh-so-righteous pose from behind the wheel of their Subaru, sipping on a Starbucks coffee, ..