Issue 69 (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

When drug companies argued before a court in India that patented drugs should be prevented from going generic – because otherwise the pharmaceutical industry would not make the kind of money needed to finance new research – India argued that if companies can make a ton of money by making extremely minor modifications to existing drugs, they have no motivation to invest in making new ones. Touché.

When I discussed my just-published article, “Accommodating China,” with a Chinese official, he allowed that when his government protests the United States’ almost daily surveillance of China’s coast lines from planes and trawlers, U.S. officials responded with “we have the right to be in international waters, and you are free to do the same to us.” Of course, China cannot do the same—it lacks both the naval capacity and necessary bases. And, if China were to send its navy to U.S. shores, the American media and Congress would go berserk. Such actions would be used by those in the U.S. who seek to paint the Asian power as a major threat—to justify more surveillance, the forward positioning of American troops, ships and planes, stronger military alliances with the likes of Japan, and joint military exercises with China’s neighbors. China instead relies on cyber tools. This suggests that a deal is needed in which both sides relent, each scaling back its favored mode of surveillance.

“The best way for Israel to deal with the chaos around it is not to put its head in the sand but to collaborate with Palestinians to build a West Bank state that is modern, secular and Westernizing,” according to Thomas Friedman. They can see how this can be done (albeit by a much more powerful and richer nation) in two places: the U.S. interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan…

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. One reason: strong informal social controls.

Several colleagues have long discovered that one of the ways to make it big is to coin a new name for a new (or not so new) idea. Joseph Nye, Jr. leads the parade with his concept of “soft power.” Among the contributions in this tradition that I find especially productive are those of Lt. Gen. David W. Barno (ret.), a senior advisor and fellow at the Center for New American Security. He distinguishes between ‘wars of iron’ (fought with tanks and ships, for which we are over prepared), ‘wars in the shadows’ (for which the U.S. is relatively well positioned), and ‘silicon wars’ (which need more resources and attention). See his article in Foreign Policy.

How conservatives still run America, despite losing elections

White House photo/Pete Souza

There is more than may appear in President Obama’s plan to cut the social safety net in his new budget proposal. The offer, on the face of it, reflects a significant violation of a major liberal creed, discarding the strongest liberal political card and Obama’s peculiar negotiation style of making major concessions at the opening of a give-and-take session. But it also reflects the sad but true fact that the dynamics of American politics cannot be understood in terms of Democrats vs. Republicans. Party labels aside, the nation is still being ruled by what I call a majority “conservative party.”

If Democrats and Republicans were the true divide, the meager gun control measures recently introduced in the Senate would have the majority needed to pass. After all, there are 53 Democratic Senators (and two Independents who generally side with them). Moreover, this time, the threat of a GOP filibuster is not to blame. Yet the Democratic majority leader, Senator Harry Reid, removed the assault weapons ban from the draft bill because some 15 Democratic senators, in effect, supported the conservative pro-gun position, making up — with the Republican senators — that majority “conservative party.” Thanks to this party, the same legislative defeat is about to befall liberal proposals to curtail high-capacity magazines. This leaves only better background checks on the table, but these, too, will inevitably be rendered ineffective by the conservatives via the underhanded gutting of enforcement (more about this shortly).

Read the rest on Salon and see one blogger’s response to the article here.

White House photo/Pete Souza

Individualism vs. Social Science

NPR’s social science maven reported that President Obama may have undermined the success of gun control legislation when he stated that “We don’t live in isolation, we live in a society. A government of, and for, and by the people. We are responsible for each other.” Americans, Shankar Vendantam stated, care about individual rights and liberty, not the common good. As evidence he cited a research paper by MarYam Hamedani and her associates called, “In the Land of the Free, Interdependent Action Undermines Motivation,” showing that when researchers evoke concepts of the common good — the subjects did less well on various tasks than when no such concepts were evoked.

Much of the paper relies on the notoriously unreliable concept of psychological priming, contrived situations, and extremely trivial stimuli and responses.

Read the rest in The Huffington Post.

MyJihad: Just a Spiritual Journey?

The ads that recently appeared to the sides of buses in several American major cities declare: “#MyJihad is to march on despite losing my son,” “#MyJihad: Modesty is not a weakness,” “#MyJihad is to build bridges through friendship,” and “#MyJihad is to not take the simple things in life for granted.” The ads are part of a public education campaign sponsored by the Chicago Council of American-Islamic Relations. They remind me of a noble moment during President George W. Bush’s presidency when, on Sept 17, 2001, while the ruins of the Twin Towers were still billowing smoke and many of the bodies had not yet been pulled out, he stated that, “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.” It was a magnanimous and even courageous statement to make — although not a particularly accurate one.

Read the rest in The Huffington Post.

A response from Yasmina Blackburn, #MyJihad Public Education Campaign activist:

Simply because extremists claim to interpret Islam as violent, does not mean their interpretation is valid. Certainly, we do not say the KKK’s understanding of Christianity is valid or in accordance with Jesus’ intention. The tag line on the website specifically states: “taking back Islam from Muslim and anti-Muslim extremists alike.” We consider both extremes as seeing eye-to-eye and insisting on creating a violent narrative that is simply not part of Qur’anic teachings and completely in contrast to the teachings of the Islamic faith.

It must be acknowledged that the #MyJihad campaign has always made clear that jihad can take the form of a physical struggle, as in cases of self-defense or oppression. There is a moral code of conduct that strictly governs the behavior in such cases. Once the struggle becomes transgressive or oppressive, it is no longer classified as jihad. Reaching beyond these boundaries is un-Islamic. The minority, extremist viewpoints are sung from the rooftops while admittedly, the majority, moderate voices have allowed it- until now. The #MyJihad campaign is highlighting the greater and lesser known / lesser talked about jihad of personal struggle.

I thank the author for his extensive work and for largely acknowledging that the majority of Muslims (and majority of all the aforementioned faiths) do not subscribe to violence generally speaking- however, I am disappointed that his overall conclusions and tone of his article insists that Islam has two interpretations of jihad- one being violent. This is simply wrong.

Ms. Blackburn’s entire critique of the article is attached.

Recent Publications

Accommodating China,” Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, April–May 2013, Vol. 55, Issue 2, pp. 45-60.

There are increasing signs that the United States and China are on a collision course. Some scholars see this course as following the historical pattern by which a declining power refuses to yield to a rising power, and war ensues. Yet the collision is by no means inevitable. The United States should be able to accommodate China’s rise without compromising its core interests or its values. Freed from his pre-election necessity to appear tough, President Barack Obama now has the opportunity to re-examine the pivot to Asia he announced in 2011 to choose between a quest for a regional accommodation and a military confrontation.

Accommodation should not be misconstrued as appeasement or unilateral concession. It should be conceived, rather, as action in the interests of both sides that contributes to global stability. It proceeds from the assumption that relations between international powers can benefit from significant complementary interests, even if other interests conflict. Washington and Beijing share interests in nuclear non-proliferation, securing global commerce, stabilising oil markets and preserving the environment, as well as preventing terrorism, piracy and the spread of pandemics.

Keep reading here.

In this article, I cite Robert Kaplan as one who suspects China of configuring its commercial ports in places like Gwadar, Pakistan for military use. In a response to the article, he wrote that after a number of reporting trips to Chinese financed ports, his “thinking on Gwadar has evolved.” “Commercial opportunities are leading China to become a maritime factor in an ocean that connects the hydrocarbon stores of the Middle East with customers in East Asia…its presence in these waters therefore is altogether natural.” Thanks. Keeping evolving.

No Pivot to Asia,” The Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Diplomatist, March 2013, Vol. 1, Issue 1, pp. 59-60.

If anyone had doubts that the much ballyhooed 2011 pivot to Asia was not much of a move, and that all the hot spots continue to be in the near, not far, east (east viewed from an American vantage point), the recent news should have removed these doubts. Reports suggest that the first international trip the President is planning to make at the start of his second term will include stops in Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. Secretary of State John Kerry was on the phone with Israeli and Palestinian leaders even before he reached his desk. Making peace here is said to be one of the only two international issues that President Obama is emotionally engaged in and sees as part of his legacy. (The other is equally quixotic: moving toward zero nukes – by further reducing the strategic arms the U.S. and Russia are holding, thus “inspiring” other nations to follow.)

Keep reading here.

“The Great Drone Debate,” Military Review. March-April 2013.

Unmanned aviation systems, popularly known as drones, are playing an increased role in armed conflicts. They are used both for collecting intelligence and for deploying lethal force. In 2007 there were 74 U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan. That year, there were five strikes in Pakistan. By 2012, the American military was executing an average of 33 drone strikes per month in Afghanistan, and the total number in Pakistan has now surpassed 330. Recently the United States has proposed further expanding its deployment of drones, developing plans to set up additional Predator drone bases in Africa that would allow these drones to cover much of the

Saharan region.

Drones have been employed in multiple theaters of the counterterrorism campaign, including Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and Libya. They are now included in the arsenal of many nations including Israel, China, and Iran. They have even been operated by a non-state actor, Hezbollah, which has flown at least two drones over Israel. Several nations are currently developing drones that will be able to carry out highly-specialized missions, for instance tiny drones able to enter constricted areas through narrow passages. If the American military continues to move away from deploying conventional forces on the ground (in Iraq and Afghanistan) to a “light footprint” strategy of “offshore balancing” (as employed in Libya), drones are likely to play an even more important role in future armed conflicts. Like other new armaments (e.g., long-range cruise missiles and high-altitude carpet bombing) the growing use of drones has triggered a considerable debate over the moral and legal grounds on which they are used. This debate is next reviewed.

Keep reading here.

Less is More: The moral virtue of policy minimalism,” Democracy versus Modernization, ed. Vladislav Inozemtsev and Piotr Dutkiewicz, (New York, NY: Rutledge 2013), pp. 201-213.

Communism and the liberal democratic ideologies—the domestic and foreign policies of nations as different as Russia and the US—have one major common failing: they vastly overestimate the capacity of governments to redesign and reengineer societal systems. This is especially true when the driving force of change is mainly a foreign power, when various powers engage in what should be called long-distance societal engineering. Thus, the capacity to build democracy (or socialism) in other nations, as well as to form new global regimes, turns out to be much more limited than the leading modern ideologies have assumed.

I cannot stress enough that I am not arguing that major societal changes do not occur, but merely that very often these changes are not those willed or directed by governments or any other elite or power. Thus, Russia today is a rather different society and power than it was 30 years ago, but hardly the one to which the Communist Party aspired to at the time. And while no one knows yet how the US attempts to change Iraqi and Afghan polities will end up, it is safe to assume they will not turn into the kinds of regimes President Bush envisioned when he ordered American forces into both countries.

Keep reading here.

Interview,” People’s Daily, April 1, 2013, 21st Edition.

Professor Etzioni is interviewed by the People’s Daily in China for the 21st edition. Read the original Chinese version here.

I Read

A Chinese billionaire is hoping to build a luxury hotel and golf course in an unlikely locale—Grimsstadir, Iceland, a desolate spot covered in snow most of the year. Under pressure from the United States Iceland’s interior minister “questioned what might lie behind China’s curious interest in Grimsstadir. ‘One has to look at this from a geopolitical perspective and ask about motivations,’ Mr. Jonasson said.” Many see in this deal a Chinese plot to gain access to natural resources and shipping lanes in the Artic, or even to set up a military base. The Chinese investor insists though that “the location fitted perfectly with our strategic plans for developing environmentally friendly eco resorts in remote locations.” Read the full article in The New York Times.

An ongoing worldwide Pew study asks whether success comes from ‘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. 77% of Americans made that same link, and this 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.

At a time when EU voters “are ever more disenchanted with European bodies,” those bodies have decided that the solution is “more Europe.” The president of the European Commission (previously chosen by national leaders) may in the future be selected from among candidates nominated by the major European political “families” in the EU parliament in order “to create a less opaque European system that mimics national politics” and “kindle the passion for pan-European politics.” It remains to be seen whether this attempt to close the ‘democratic deficit’ can succeed without the existence of a European identity or demos. Read the full article in The Economist. For our view on the future of the EU, see “Nationalism: The Communitarian Block,” in the Brown Journal of World Affairs.

Religion, Politics, and Polarization: How Religiopolitical Conflict Is Changing Congress and American Democracy, a forthcoming book by my colleague Professor Steven A. Tuch, with William V. D’Antonio and Josiah R. Baker, will be released in May and is available for preorder now.

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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