Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Case For "Raw Deal"

It has the greatest line Arnold ever delivered. After his drunk wife throws her birthday cake at him, narrowly missing his head and instead hitting the wall, Arnold says: (wait for it) "You should not drink and bake."

Friday, October 26, 2007

Are democracy and human rights universal concepts?

Human rights and democracy are distinct concepts. In the Western mind, they are intertwined. A convenient shorthand for many Americans is that “human rights” include the ones mentioned prominently in the Declaration of Independence (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness) and those enumerated in the Bill of Rights. The Declaration of Independence does not mention democracy and mentions elections only once. The writers of the declaration were much more concerned about the King’s affronts to their personal liberties and for ruling like a tyrant without concern for the effect of his rulings on those in the colonies. Likewise, the Constitution and Bill of Rights say very little about democracy or elections but quite a lot about the rights of individuals and states. It is not until the amendments that were passed in the 20th century to we have universal suffrage for all adults. The constitution only allows for men to vote for representatives to the House of Representatives. Senators were to be selected by the State Legislatures, which could themselves be constituted any way the states wanted. The President was to be selected by electors appointed to the task in the way that the state legislatures chose. The Constitution of the United States was written as if to exclude individuals from having a voice in government. On the other hand, the Bill of Rights was written to ensure that the individual was protected from the government.

As a practical matter, generations of Americans grew up confident in the protection of their rights, and confident in their ability to govern themselves. Though the framers of the constitution may have envisioned that the most educated and wise among us would somehow rise into positions of power, subsequent generations decided to write laws ensuring that the people themselves would vote for all legislative positions and many judicial positions. The American perception of human rights resulted in the people demanding more direct votes to express their democracy.

However, voting does not necessarily equate to democracy. The word democracy itself is from the Greek meaning “rule of the people.” The Athenian conception of democracy was that a select group, the “citizens,” free-born men, would rule the rest. This was essentially representative democracy in which all heads of families would represent everyone else in their households. Would this first version of democracy have met the UN standard? Well, no: Article 21, para (3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says: “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”

Given that the Athenians would not have met the UN definition of democracy, was Athens ruled by the people? The Athenians themselves thought so, as did their fellow Greeks. But given that their “democracy” did not meet the standards of Article 21, does that mean Athens was not a democracy? Rather than drilling down to paragraph (3) of Article 21, we should instead look at paragraph (1): “Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. This paragraph seems closer to describing what most people would recognize as democracy.”

When democracy is defined as “rule of the people,” it is much easier to see democracy as a universal concept. The Papua New Guinea tribesman of last week’s readings whose tribal head serves in the legislature is “ruling”, even if he has never actually voted for that chief with a secret ballot. Clans in Iraq lead by sheiks representing their clan-members who have agreed to the succession of power, either overtly or tacitly. In both cases, what protects the “rule of the people” is the fate that would await a tribal leader who did not represent the rule of the people he represents. A canton President in Switzerland might face recall by the voters or indictment in court for malfeasance but a tribal chieftain risks death at the hands of his constituents should he fail them.

As Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, the “rule by the people” is protected by the right to change the government. “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” In other writings, he stated that “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” So long as the people retain their rights and abilities to change their government, they are a democracy. Therefore, even though the American Colonists had immediately before been subjects of the British crown, when they declared independence, they immediately became a democracy.

Safeguarding human rights preserves a democracy and a democracy is needed to safeguard human rights. When a government must respect a people’s right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness as the Declaration of Independence lists them, or life, liberty and security of person as the Universal Declaration puts it, then, those people have autonomy. Kathy Ward, in “Advancing Human Rights and Peace in a Complex World” puts it this way: “Democracy, a pillar of respect for the rights and value of each individual, remains key to obtaining lasting peace and a resolution to a number of scourges that face the world today, including terrorism, famine, corruption, and refugee flows.”

Even though the UN Universal Declaration recognizes democracy and human rights as the natural order of human relations, there are still agglomerations of countries that put out statements that contradict this position. 40 Asia governments states that they have something called "Asia's Different Standard," that recognizes "the principles of respect for national sovereignty...and noninterference in the internal affairs of States" and "discourages" "any attempt to use human rights as a conditionality for extending development assistance," and it gives special weight to collective (as opposed to individual) rights, such as the "right to development." (David Little, Human Rights East and West) Supposedly, Asian countries value to worth of the group more than the worth of the individuals.

In a similar vein, Arab countries are concerned that the Western and UN vision of human rights conflicts with Islam’s cultural and religious view of women. The UN’s Arab Human Development report of 2002, referenced in the USIP’s Special Report on Promotion Middle East Democracy, summed up the plight of women in the Islamic world: “As a result, the process of political liberalization has by-passed too many people. For example, in one country that has an elected national assembly, women are denied the right to hold office. In other countries, despite the legal equality of women and men in terms of political rights, women are greatly underrepresented in all political organizations. The proportion of women in Arab parliaments is low. ” (pg 106) The reason is that for cultural and religious reasons, women are not seen as the equal of men. The current Western concept of human rights for all including women means little to most on the Muslim side of the secular-Islamist divide.

Yet, the fact that there is little manifestation of recognized human rights in many countries in Asia and the Muslim world does not mean those rights are illusory. On the contrary, Asian and Muslim groups go to strained lengths to show how they agree with the concept of human rights, even if they do not put honor these rights in practice. Leszek Kolkowski quoted in the “Nature and Basis of Human Rights” sums the attitude in these non-Western cultures this way: “When we extend our generous acceptance of cultural diversity...and aver, e.g., that the human rights idea is a European concept, unfit for, and [not] understandable in, societies which share other traditions, is what we mean that Americans rather dislike being tortured and packed into concentration camps but Vietnamese, Iranians and Albanians do not mind or enjoy it?" Of course, representatives of governments in these non-Western Countries know the answer. Even the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in 2004 called for unfettered transfer of power and rights of both men and women to serve in parliament, things that they clearly do not believe. If, as Rochefoucauld states: "Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue,” then so too is the Muslim conference statement that says Islamic countries must respect voting rights of their populations and the rights of women.

There is little real debate about the meaning of human rights and democracy. Though some cultures may not provide every person in that country a vote, countries can be “ruled by the people” if there is opportunity for the people to replace their local representative. With regard to human rights, even despots know that humans yearn for their rights to life liberty, happiness, and to rule themselves. This explains why despots must forcibly put down democracy demonstrations and mouth the language of human rights even though they have no intention of actually recognizing those rights.

I would argue that just because some people perpetrate despicable acts in a cultural context does not mean that those acts are right. Although this is a trite observation, the framers of the Declaration of Independence held slaves. Some cultures to this day still enslave members of other ethnic groups. Do these facts somehow argue against the idea that freedom from slavery is a basic human right? One can find many statements from religious and political leaders in the Islamic countries that condemn “honor” killing. Turkey, Jordan and Pakistan routinely prosecute “honor” killers. Just because criminals do things that the rest of the world considers violations of human rights does not mean these acts are alternatives to the Western vision of human rights, it just means those acts are crimes that must be prosecuted.

Regarding the universality of democracy, it depends on the definition of democracy. If you mean a Western style of government with universal adult suffrage and secret ballots, think you are right that some people who have never been exposed to those concepts would have a hard time imagining them. But if you define democracy as rule of the people, you would find that people relish the opportunity to rule themselves, in whatever form that rule takes. Do a thought experiment. If the Burmese were suddenly free of the ruling junta, would they yearn for its return? The answer is of course no. Chile and Argentina were rid of their juntas and established democracies. It is the natural order of things.

And I think you are exactly right about the despots wanting legitimacy by sitting on the UNHRC. These despots are applauded for their commitment to human rights. Meanwhile, sitting on the Council allows them to obfuscate their crimes and direct scrutiny away from themselves because these criminal despots know they are violating human rights.

LTC Bateman vs Victor Davis Hanson

Sir, I think I may have insight into LTC Bateman's animus. In a an article in the Nov 2002 issue of the Marine Corps Gazette, "History and the Professional," he rails against popular military historians. He complains about a lack of footnotes in popular histories; he complains about amateurs like Tom Brokaw writing history; he complains about "historians-for-profit" selling out to write popular history. You are in his sights now, Sir (only figuratively, I hope)

Here is a taste of that article: "Our job is not about feeling good. Our job is about violence and directing violence or channeling that violence as precisely as the circumstances require, whether that means using BRAS (breathe, relax, aim, squeeze) in the aiming of our individual weapons or in guiding global positioning system-directed joint direct attack munitions, or choosing the right target (and target release point) for a Daisy Cutter bomb. It is about commanding soldiers and Marines in units large and small, but it is not about feeling good. Leave that to the amateurs.

What we as professionals need, then, is good critical history. It should be history written and researched without the intent of making a profit or making anyone feel good about themselves or their nation. It should be the historical equivalent of the AAR process, not the "hey ain't we good guys" stuff pawned off by journalists like Tom Brokaw and historians-for-profit like those cited here. Give professional warriors the material that will make them better, not material that will make them feel better. In a word, read the tough stuff; read civil utilitarian history. That's right, read the academic stuff."

Given the tone of the Gazette article and the post in Altercations, it sounds like LTC Bateman has it in for "Carnage and Culture" since you write, without a lot of footnotes, that Western armies of free men are generally victorious against others. LTC Bateman called this "vacuous cheerleading 'ain't-we-heroic' pap."

Sounds like he has been grinding this axe for at least 5 years.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Root causes

Your point about the Israel-Palestine conflict having moved beyond its roots of resource competition into being about ethnic rivalry can be seen in many current conflicts. Current conflicts (Iran-US, the Koreas, China-Taiwan, Israel vs its neighbors, post-colonial Africa, al Qeada vs the West) all began prior to or during the Cold War as conflicts over resources. The conflicts changed over time into ethnic, cultural or ideological wars. The horrors of war and the dread about the fate that would await the vanquished side become motivations in themselves to continue the war, even as the origins of the conflicts recede into obscurity. As Susan Woodward wrote in her essay “Do the ‘Root Causes’ of Civil War Matter?” from April of this year, it is necessary to address “two other aspects that are more important than ‘root causes’ in achieving a definitive end to the war: (1) the changes wrought by the war itself (the transformation of society, economy, and interests, and the effect of violence itself regardless of initial motivation on lines of political cleavage and patterns of behavior), and thus the conditions that exist at the time of a ceasefire or peace agreement, and (2) the political arrangements that can reduce the extreme uncertainty over power.” Pg 36 Ironically, post cold war conflicts continue because of the nature of the conflicts themselves.

Skip this one

Steven Leblanc, in his book Constant Battles, argues that all human conflict can be traced back to a contest for scarce resources. “There is plenty of resource-competition warfare today, especially in Africa, but other areas of the world have wars that we presume to be driven by ideology rather than a lack of resources. Yet many of these places have very long histories of degraded or depleted natural resources. Ideologies that promote a ‘them versus us’ attitude are much more likely to take hold in regions where there has been a long history of ecological stress and degradation.” (Leblanc, p212) Leblanc goes on to cite the Middle East, the Balkans, southern Mexico and highland Peru as places that have been degraded by centuries of over-farming. Not coincidentally, these places have also bred extremists and extremist ideologies.

Professor Ram provided an overview of the causes of conflict that included historic, psychological, anthropological, economic, Marxist and sociological reasons. All these causes can be reduced, as Leblanc notes, to resource competition. Even the “cause” that seems to be outside of resource competition, “information” really is about miscalculation about the risks of war for additional resources. Saddam attacked Kuwait in 1990 and Kim attacked South Korean in 1950 because they mistakenly believed that the US would not contest their expansions. Leblanc amplifies his point: “In today’s societies, competition over lack of resources translates into despair and a ‘nothing to lose’ mentality. It should be no surprise that guerrilla warfare and terrorism find support in regions where poverty is prevalent and warfare and conflict common.” (Leblanc, p212)

A primary example of resource scarcity driving conflict can be found in the Darfur region. That conflict began when cattle herders disregarded long-standing transhumance lanes toward water sources, and began trampling the crops of sedentary farmers to get their livestock to what remained of the water. Farmers began to resist this invasion, and Darfur became a modern day replay of the Range Wars from the American West. The two sides are engaged in a struggle for dominance in the region that is likely to end with one side being run off. The fact that the farmers and the herders are of different ethnicities makes it easy to see the conflict in ethnic terms, but the underlying cause is economic. That being said, the actually combatants are starting to display a murderous nihilism that may represent a new cause of conflict in the world. There will be more on that observation below.

Samuel Huntington argues that “world politics is entering a new phase” and that “the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations.” (Huntington handout pg 1) While Huntington wrote his essay prior to Darfur emerging as a problem area, his observations would still pertain to that conflict. Huntington sees ethnic conflicts in a particular location as the conflict between different civilizations on a smaller scale. “On the Eurasian continent, however, the proliferation of ethnic conflict, epitomized at the extreme in "ethnic cleansing," has not been totally random. It has been most frequent and most violent between groups belonging to different civilizations.” (Huntington handout pg8) So even though Leblanc argues that all conflict is rooted in the competition for resources, Huntington sees that the world has moved beyond so simple an explanation as resource competition to the theory that conflicts are based on differences in ideology. Huntington’s point is bolstered by the relative affluence of the 19 hijackers on 9/11. They all had middle class backgrounds, and had the opportunity to live in the West for years. The hijackers and their families personally did not want for anything. Yet, they still felt strongly enough in their beliefs to attack the West. Leblanc would say they held on to their “them vs us” mentality based on their culture facing centuries of subsistence existence, but this seems like a tenuous link to resource deprivation as the root cause for conflict. It seems more likely that the root cause of their grievance was less important that the proximate “clash of civilizations” and fealty to their particular ethnic or religious demagogue.

Benjamin Reilly, in his article Ethnic Fragmentation and Internal Conflict argues that these ethnic differences need not necessarily result in conflict. Reilly sees the benefits of democracy as ameliorating the conflicts that would otherwise occur between ethnic groups. Further, he argues that societies that seem like they are fractured by ethnic differences that result in war are actually more homogenous than is apparent. Any assumptions that we make about ethnic divisions are based on old, unreliable data. Reilly also makes the argument that when conflicts do arise based on ethnic division, the conflict was actually stoked by political opportunists looking for a way to grab power. Reilly cites Alvin Rabushka and Kenneth Shepsle from their book Politics in Plural Societies: A Theory of Democratic Instability who argue that “would-be political leaders typically find the rewards of ‘outbidding’ on ethnic issues--moving toward increasingly extremist rhetoric and policy positions--greater than those of moderation.” (Reilly handout pg 2)

John Mueller calls these “outbidders” who stir up ethnic resentments “demagogic politicians.” Classic examples of these outbidders include Milosevic in Serbia, Chavez in Venezuela and Osama bin Laden. These leaders talk much about ethnic or religious grievances, but build personal militias who will enforce their bids for power. However, Mueller argues that appeals to ethnicity and religion are camouflage for the leader’s actual goal of gaining political power. Mueller flatly states that supposedly “ethnic” conflicts in Bosnia and Rwanda were not spawned by demagogues whipping up passions, but instead were essentially brought about by these politicians cloaked in ethnicity who control brutal gangs. These criminals force “ordinary people [to] unwillingly and in considerable bewilderment come under the vicious and arbitrary control of small groups of armed thugs.” (Mueller handout, pg 1) Mueller goes on in his essay to make the case that “ethnic conflicts” are more about unscrupulous criminals grabbing power in a region and oppressing the local population than an actual expression of grievance and revenge. Mueller seems to be saying that absent these provocateurs, most people, even of different religions and ethnicities would be happy to get along as do the various tribes in Papua New Guinea. There is no clash of civilizations, merely a banal and opportunistic grab for cash and power.

The Mueller and Reilly thesis would seem to be supported by recent events in Anbar Province in Iraq. Conventional wisdom in April of 2007 was that Anbar was lost to al Qaeda. Marine Intelligence Analyst Colonel Pete Devlin said explicitly that “Anbar is lost politically.” Now, only a few months later, Marines changed tactics by deploying additional forces, and holding areas cleared of al Qaeda rabble. This improved security for the locals made them more likely to provide Marines with additional intelligence, leading to yet more victories over the terrorists. President Bush said during a visit to Anbar: “The military successes are paving the way for the political reconciliation and economic progress the Iraqis need to transform their country.” ( 3 Sep 07) The US military’s efforts in Anbar seem to be taken right from Mueller’s prescription for dealing with ethnic conflict. Mueller argues that the actual core of criminals needs to be dealt with, and the rest of the people will quickly revert to their desire for peaceful coexistence. “Further, the all-against-all image can discourage policing because it implies that the entire ethnic group--rather than just a small, opportunistic, and often cowardly subgroup--must be brought under control.” (Mueller handout pg 14) Marines have done much to bring the local al Qaeda criminals under control, and there seems to be less ethnic rivalry among the local Iraqis as a result.

There does seem to be a cause of conflict in the world that is divorced from the competition for resources. There is evidence that bands of young men on many continents are addicted to violence and oppression for its own sake. Their goals seemingly have less to do with acquiring territory or power and more to do with sadistic brutality for its own sake. Some of the gangs that arose out of the El Salvadoran civil war, offshoots of the Hamas in the Gaza Strip and various players in central Africa’s wars have grouped together to become scourges on their civilian populations. In the Congo for example, roving bands of men, reportedly Hutus from Rwanda, are raping and mutilating women without regard for ethnicity or age. According to the UN, these men are interested in little more than “freelance cruelty.” (New York Times, “Rape Epidemic Raises Trauma of Congo War” 7 Oct 07) There have always been sadists in any militia or army throughout history. What has changed is the size of the populations now. Prior to this century, the size of populations meant that individual aberrant personalities occurred infrequently. However, in today’s world, persons with social pathologies occur in the same proportion, but their numbers in absolute terms are much larger. Since there are more of these aberrant murderous personalities, and there are many opportunities to act without impediment in the world, these personalities are more likely to find each other in numbers large enough to have an impact on their surrounding civilian population. As Mueller points out, it does not take a lot of thugs to cow a much larger populace.

I would argue that most conflicts can be traced back to resource competition, in sort of a sequential Leblanc and Huntington analysis. Unfortunately, these conflicts over time can assume the characteristics of ethnic warfare. Once a conflict becomes a “clash of civilizations” it becomes virtually impossible to resolve just by increasing the standards of living of the sides. When resource competitions become ideological competitions, the fact that the conflict arose for economic reasons becomes an irrelevant historical note. Mueller and Reilly suggest strategies to deal with ethnic rivalries short of all-out wars of annihilation. Finally, in this post-modern, high-population world, there is evidence that some conflicts can arise or be sustained by the murderous psychopathy of some of the participants.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


I don’t think you should dismiss resource
scarcity as motivation for the Polynesian people for
pushing off into the Pacific in search of living
space. Some recent archaeology throughout the Pacific
suggests that the struck out from Taiwan, down to
Mindanao and then out into the Pacific. If you go
down to Ken Ding, in the southernmost tip of Taiwan
and look south, you can just “feel” that there is
something just over the horizon. Climb to the top of
Mount Tagpochau on Saipan, and you can see Tinian and
Rota and Farallon de Medinilla. Even in the middle
of the ocean, you can look to the horizon and see
clouds and birds even if you can't see land. The
explorers who set off from Taiwan would have had the
benefit of more than the feelings of some modern guy
who has seen a map and actually knows there IS
something there. Those explorers would have been
attuned to the shape of clouds that would suggest they
were over land beyond the horizon. They would have
known that birds that flew in over the ocean from the
south had stomach contents different from local birds.
The explorers would have known there was something
over the horizon along a particular vector, they just
could not have known exactly how far.

But even knowing that there is something there, why
would anyone risk it? I think the simple answer is
that ambitious young men who did not have prospects
locally went out to better their lives.
Alternatively, overfarming or drought probably
compelled people to look for fertile lands. The Asian
continent was not hospitable since it was already
settled, and population pressure was pushing
mainlanders toward Taiwan. So, the only alternative
was to push east.

The Pacific is vast, but people who have lived their
entire lives on an island in the ocean would have been
more comfortable and less intimidated by a long ocean
voyage in a wood or reed boat than you or I would be.
Then again, I think it is reasonable to assume that
many attempted the ocean crossings but only a small
percentage made it successfully. But that small
cohort’s success, repeated many times over thousands
of years eventually populated Oceania. The fact that
they did it seems to me evidence that they needed to
do it, and that they were successful.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Tell that loudmouth to shut up

Just when I thought that the the most boring writing in the world was an airport horror story.... "They lost my luggage!" "I had to wait for hours!" "TSA was stupid and theywere mean to me!" *YAWN* ...I discovered something even more boring: airport horror stories masquerading as news analysis. As a close corrollary, I ask this question: who is the most tiresome person to be around while waiting for a flight? Answer: The 13 year British Airways Gold Card holder loudly kvetching about how miserable he is in the airport. The only appropriate response is the one I provide now: "put a cork in it Gramps, and ride a donkey is air travel is so miserable. No one cares about your whining."

Monday, October 01, 2007

Corrupt Murtha to be Deposed for Slanderous Comments About Haditha Marines

It is about time.  Since passing bills of attainder are prohibited to Congress in Article 1 Section 9 of the Constitution, individual congressmen should be forbidden to declare citizens guilty of alleged crimes.