Issue 68 (2013)

Communitarian Observations

I often write about rather different matters, but in my mind they all deal with one core question: the guidance our shared values, especially the common good, provide to our public policies.

From My Diary

NPR carried a report by a researcher who found that children have a “natural tendency” to recognize God. He showed 3 and 5 year olds a box of crackers and asked them, “What is in the box?” Kids in both age groups responded, “Crackers.” He then put rocks into it and closed the box, and asked, “Now what is in it?” Both responded, “Rocks.” He next asked, “If your mother comes into the room now, will she know there are rocks in the cracker box?” Three year olds answered “yes,” 5 year olds said “no.” But when he asked, “Will God know?”—the answer was obvious to both groups—“yes.”

A recent New Yorker cartoon depicts a Jewish man standing before God. “I love you early work.”

Those concerned about the declining standards of book reviews in the United States, which seem to have gone by the way of many other professional norms, may note that the New Republic and Washington Post blasted Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean Inbefore they even read the book.

If after the publication the Steven Brill’s article “The Bitter Pill” in the latest issue of Time magazineyou still believe that our health care costs are driven up by “entitlements” and that the way to fix them is to cut benefits—you should get your eyes checked or go back to first grade. For more analysis, see Rationing by Any Other Name.

In a recent TED talk, Helen Fisher makes the Golden Rule ‘Platinum:’ don’t treat others the way you want to be treated—but the way they want to be.

An ongoing worldwide Pew study “asks whether success is down to hard work or forces beyond citizens’ control. In Pew’s most recent global poll, in 2012, most Germans, Britons and Czechs agreed that most people can succeed if they work hard. French, Greek and Italian respondents mostly disagreed… The same Pew poll suggests that America is both exceptional and more united than some fear. In Britain, the European country showing the most faith in meritocracy, 57% linked hard work with success. Fully 77% of Americans made that same link, and theirs was a cross-party, classless faith, expressed by at least 70% of all surveyed, whether Democrats or Republicans, low-paid or wealthy.” Read the full article in The Economist.

China Might Negotiate Cybersecurity

Instead of responding to its offer to limit cyberattacks, the Obama Administration has chosen to berate China.

The BBC reports that in a recent television interview, President Obama “upbraids” China, telling George Stephanopoulos that the United States will have “some pretty tough talk” with the Chinese over their failure to abide by international norms in cyberspace. Washington has strong reasons to protest China’s widespread industrial espionage and penetration of our civilian and military networks, including even those that govern U.S. infrastructure.

But calling on China—in March 2013—to help formulate and enforce new rules of international conduct in cyberspace, without even acknowledging that China provided a detailed and surprisingly reasonable proposal for exactly that in 2011, is astonishing. It seems that the White House and the peripatetic new secretary of state—who seems out to collect even more frequent-flier miles than Secretary Clinton—are left without time to work out a China policy and did not even do their homework. Or the White House is playing to the home galleries rather than paying mind to China’s sensibilities and, in this case, ignoring the valid contributions China has made to the much-needed international dialogue on cybersecurity.

Read the rest on The National Interest.

We Need a Coffee Party

We need a Coffee Party to wake up the American people, and there are fewer better wake up calls than Steven Brill’s outstanding recent Time cover story, “Bitter Pill.” Indeed, if you have time to read only one essay this month, make it this one. It not only reveals how we can protect Medicare from the right-wing assaults (and a president who seems all too anxious to cut a deal) — but also what ails America’s health care system, indeed the whole political system, and what must be done to fix it.

If I had to put it all in a few lines, I would say that the Tea Party is half right; often our government is not working for the people and we ought to be pissed off. Unfortunately, the Tea Party channels this anger to the wrong address. The main issue is not that the government is too big, but that it is often captured by special interests, especially corporations. It often does their bidding rather than ours.

Read the rest on the Huffington Post.

Cyberwar and the Private Sector

During a recent off-the-record meeting, a senior government official warned that cyber attacks on United States in 2013 will be worse than they were in 2012, a year during which they reached a peak. (Participants were free to use what they were told, but not to disclose the names or venue).

Representatives of private corporations in the audience were told that there is not one whose computers have not been hacked. The official appealed to self interest (“you spend scores of millions on brand ‘D’ and someone else brings it to the market at a fraction of the cost, after stealing the fruits of your studies”), communitarian concerns (“don’t let your computers be used as a basis for attacking others”), and patriotism (“our systems are only one-third secure”). He pointed out that beyond stealing trade and defense secrets, computer hackers destroyed the data of the computers of Saudi Aramco, and warned that they could easily bring down our infrastructure, from the electrical grid to banking.

Read the rest in The National Interest.

Japan, the Poisoned Chalice

Making Japan a centerpiece of the U.S. drive to contain China is a seductive idea—but one to which Washington should not succumb. Containment may or may not be the right policy for dealing with China, but even hawks should realize that pushing the most emotive buttons of a potential adversary amounts to cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.

At first blush it may seem wise to draw upon Japan for support. As Fred Hiatt of The Washington Post put it, “Abe’s legacy is of little concern to most Americans. But as the United States seeks to contend—on a limited budget—with a rising China, the ability of its most important Asian ally to contribute…matters a great deal.” Getting Japan involved is a form of burden-sharing. Moreover, Japan hardly needs to be pushed; it is raring to go. It feels both threatened and aggrieved by China, and is shedding the pacifist plumes it acquired after World War II.

Read the rest in The National Interest.

Obama: Flailing

If you understand where President Obama is headed in his second term, pray send me an email. I like him, wish him Godspeed, and might well support where he is going — if I could just figure out where that is.

I thought I got it during the inaugural speech. The president ran up the flag pole one, and only one, policy: climate change. As the New York Times reported, Obama’s “Speech Gives Climate Goals Center Stage.” I did not think it was an ideal choice, as the GOP, in collaboration with conservative Democrats, is most unlikely to support much action on this front, and there are sharp limits on what the president can do via executive order. Further, there is little we can do without global cooperation, and moving aggressively on this front might weaken the anemic economic recovery. But it is a worthy purpose, so I was all ready to suit up and see how one could help. However, this is more or less the last I heard on the subject from the president.

 Read the rest at the Huffington Post.

U.S. Foreign Policy for the Next Four Years – White House Chronicle

A discussion with James Dobbins of the Rand Corporation on the foreign policy issues that President Obama will face in his second term.

‘Hot Spots’ Book Discussion

What are the places we are most likely to go to war next? And how can these wars be prevented? See Hot Spots: American Foreign Policy in a Post-Human Rights World.

You can see more videos on our work at the ICPS website.

Recent Publications

The Good Life: An International Perspective,” There’s a Future: Visions for a Better World, BBVA, January 2013, pp 379-393.

By the end of 2012 the economic growth rates of China and India were falling sharply; the growth of the United State and Japan were anemic; the EU was on the edge of a recession. While the Arab Awakening is considered mainly a call for democratization, most citizens of the nations involved are keen to command higher standards of living, which may not be forthcoming. The IMF warned that the global economy was headed toward its lowest growth rates since 2009. Governments seem unable to find the economic tools that would restore the economy of their nations, and indirectly that of the world, to the levels enjoyed in previous decades. Historically, domestic upheavals and conflicts among nations occur not when they are most poor and oppressed—but when growth is lost and and expectations are dashed. Indeed, one sees in many nations an increase in nationalism, xenophobia, racism, religious fanaticism, and extreme politics. The fact that inequality is rising very sharply in all the nations involved, adds further fuel to the sociologically combustible transnational condition.

If the people of the world cannot return to what is being called the old normal (paid for by strongly growing economies), what will the new normal look like? Will it simply be a frustrating and alienating scaled-back version of the old normal? Or will the people develop new concepts of what a good life made, as they did in earlier historical periods? If successful, a recharacterization of the good life will allow people to make—to use a rather archaic turn of phrase—a silk purse out of a sow’s ear; in plain English, to turn their misery into an opportunity.

Keep reading here.

Reviews of Hot Spots

G. John Ikenberry, Professor of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University: “Surveying the hardest cases in U.S. foreign policy, Etzioni presents himself as a sort of referee, clarifying the debates and identifying reasonable paths forward. In this collection, his essays on China are particularly penetrating. Etzioni sees China neither as a great threat to the Western-led global order nor as a reliable stakeholder in that order. China, he argues, is seeking to protect its national autonomy and pursue economic development, making it quite comfortable with Westphalian norms of sovereignty and suspicious of liberal interventionism. In the United States’ confrontations with radical Islamist regimes, Etzioni counsels restraint in the hope that moderation will prevail in the end.” Read the entire review in Foreign Affairs.

Dr. E. James Lieberman, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Emeritus, The George Washington University School of Medicine: “Foreign policy is psychology writ large. When 2,500 U.S. Marines were assigned to Australia in 2011 it was a signal to China, presumably to deter expansionist acts by that country. Of course the Chinese saw it as a provocation. You need not need be Chinese to understand that, or to predict it. The first chapter in sociologist Amitai Etzioni’s latest book addresses this, describing two types, “adversarians,” who view China as a present or future threat, and “engagers,” who take that nation to be peaceful, more to be encouraged than feared. He notes that China finances a substantial part of our debt and did not abuse the power it has over the U.S.”

Read the entire review here.

I Read

In “A Tale of Two Asias,” Evan Feigenbaum and Robert Manning write that “Economic Asia” and “Security Asia” are on a collision course. At the same time that economic integration has led to increased regional dependence on China, East Asian states are strengthening their security ties with the United States. Read the rest in Foreign Policy

“Japan incarcerates its citizens at a far lower rate than most developed countries: 55 per 100,000 people compared with 149 in Britain and 716 in America.” Read the full article in The Economist.

“There has always been, at the very least, a little bit of hate between blacks and whites in this country, with each side, in its turn, taking advantage of its political strength (as who does not?). But that relationship is also perhaps like a marriage. Both sides at different times are bitching, and both at different times are bailing, but we’re all in the same boat.

We are bound to each other, as are all Americans. Bound though subdivided, not only by race, but by religion, politics, age, region and culture. And we not only seem to be but are working it out.

When will it be over? It will be over, like any marital fight, at an unforeseeable time, when it has run its natural course. The length and tenor of that course are unknown to the participants, who, as in a marital fight, are each convinced, above all things, that the fight will be prolonged until his or her own side has triumphed. But as in a marriage the dialogue will take its own course until fatigue, remorse and finally forgiveness bring resolution.” – David Mamet, on his playRace in the New York Times.

W. Ralph Eubanks investigation into his own genetic make-up led him to the conviction that “race is more a social construct than a biological fact, and that our racial categories are hopelessly simplistic.” In his discussion of the subject, Eubanks notes my 2006 article “Leaving Race Behind,” in which I argue that as the demographic make-up of the U.S. becomes more Hispanic—a population which tends to defy neat ethnic classification—race in America might be pushed to the margins.

Upcoming Events

SASE 25th Annual Conference – States in Crisis

June 27-29, 2013 – University of Milan

SASE is organized into “networks,” one of which is dedicated to communitarianism and is run by José A. Ruiz San Román. Colleagues interested in presenting a paper or author, or organizing a session should promptly contact Professor Román at [email protected]


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