Sunday, October 30, 2011

New Podcast on Media Coverage of Contentious Politics

Chris and Will Call'em Out, featuring Christian Davenport and Will Moore.  Highly recommended.

This is What Bargaining Looks Like

Haaretz reports that Saudi prince Khaled bin Talal is offering a $900,000 reward for the capture of Israeli soldiers.  That's in addition to the $100,000 offered by Saudi cleric Awad al-Qarni.  So there is now bounty of a cool million on the head of every Israeli soldier.*

Seif Gadhafi and the ICC

I feel a little silly reposting something from the Monkey Cage, since most of you probably read that blog.  But Scott Wolford and Emily Ritter have a guest post there, and, well, it's a post by Wolford and Ritter, and that's pretty much all the reason I need to repost it.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Miscellaneous Links

1a. What bargaining looks like: the Two State Solution that Almost Was edition.  (H/T Kindred Winecoff.)  We've known for some time that Olmert believed he was a hair's breadth away from a deal when he was on his way out.  His claims sounded a bit like he was trying to tell that we'd all be sorry when he was gone, but Condaleeza Rice is now telling pretty much the same story.  This story is also interesting for its implications about the impact of domestic politics, both in Israel and the US, on the bargaining process.  1b See also this story.  Rice apparently thinks Livni sabotaged the deal by telling the Palestinians that Olmert had no standing in Israel.  Was that a carefully guarded secret at the time?

2. The deaths of dictators are inherently political events.  (H/T Jeff Carter.)  Interesting read.

3. Marc Lynch doesn't like the "here comes the hard part" talk about Libya.  I actually agree with a lot of this, though I've been saying "here comes the hard part" myself.  I can't help but notice though that Lynch talks quite a bit about all the wonderful qualities of what has happened so far before admitting that there are concerns about what comes next.  The tag-line, "Actually, the war was the hard part," seems more than a little misleading.

4. Libya's sexual revolution.  I don't doubt that it's true, but this reads like a parody of Slate.  Come on FP.  Isn't there a bland slideshow you could have published instead?  You've got to think about brand management here.

5. Speaking of slideshows...FP brings you the seven fastest growing cities in the world.  Interesting.  I would not have thought Kabul and Sanaa would be on there.  And I never would have realized I was wrong if they'd simply posted a list.

6. The future of US military technology.  (H/T Brandon Valeriano.)  What I want to know is when the first flying Humvee is going to be commercially available.

7. Turkey tells Israel not to expect earthquake aid to change anything.  Between the implication that Israel was hoping to use disaster relief assistance for something other than humanitarian purposes and the fact that a democratic state just saw an earthquake claim 500+ lives, I have no doubt that the Monkey Cage will soon be featuring a guest post from BdM and Smith about this earthquake.  I'm actually surprised we haven't seen one already.

8. Jon Stewart on the Republicans on the end of the Iraq War.  Self-recommending.

Military Preparations and the Likelihood of War

I'm in the middle of a series of lectures on deterrence in my War & International Security class.  Some of the same arguments came up that I touched on last week in response to John Quiggin's claim that the US Defense Department is responsible for the deaths of one million US citizens since 2001.  As happens on the best days in the classroom, the process of trying to figure out the best way to explain abstract and technical material to undergrads has helped to sharpen my own intuition about the results.

So here's a little hypothetical scenario designed to help illustrate some important points that often go unrecognized when people discuss defense policy.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mearsheimer on the Role of Theory

On page 11 of The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, Mearsheimer argues, "[O]ffensive realism is mainly a descriptive theory. It explains how great powers have behaved in the past and how they are likely to behave in the future. But it is also a prescriptive theory. States should behave according to the dictates of offensive realism (emphasis added)."

Note that Mearsheimer has famously criticized the US for not behaving in a manner consistent with his theory because the Israel Lobby causes the US to adopt policies that are not in the US' own interest.  So we can only assume he really means it when he says his theory is prescriptive and not just descriptive.

In light of this, Mearsheimer's comments on Charles Glaser's new book are quite interesting, if you ask me.

I'm more than a little sympathetic to Mearsheimer's argument that a "rational" (*shudder, twitch, spasm*) theory that does not even purport to explain international politics but instead seeks to prescribe what states ought to do is a theory of international politics that is of limited value.  But, um...well...you see...yeah.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Miscellaneous Links (updated)

1. Defense Secretary Panetta discusses the importance of maintaining a presence in the Pacific.  His remarks highlight not only the value of preserving Taiwan's de facto independence, but protecting international rights to move across the oceans freely.  Military spending isn't about stimulating the economy or saving lives -- it's about being able to get or preserve more of what you want.

2. Karzai says Afghanistan would support Pakistan if it ever went to war with the United States.  The same goes if Pakistan were ever to go to war with India. “But,” he added, “we know that we all share common goals and need to work together to resolve common problems. This is not about war with each other, this is about a joint approach to a threat to all three of our countries: insurgents and terrorists who attack Afghans, Pakistanis and Americans.” Right. Of course. Good to know we're all on the same page.

3. Secretary of State Clinton warns Iran about Iraq.  Response from Tehran: much quaking within boots.  Though maybe that's just the aftershocks from the quake in Turkey.

4a. The leader of Libya's transitional government delivers rousing speech emphasizing the importance of freedom, democracy, civil rights and...oh, wait, no he mostly just talked about religion.  But I'm sure we'll see democracy flower as well.  4b Wait, what's that, the probability of a democratic transition in Libya in the next five years are is about 0.1?  Hmm.  4c But, even so, at least this is big blow to al Qaida, right?  4d They and their affiliates are really upset about Qaddafi's death, aren't they?  No?  Okay.  But at least there's one less regime developing WMD.  Oh, right, Libya halted its program years ago.  Well, still, I'm sure something very important and beneficial is going to come from this.  Any day now.  4e Like, you know, giving new life to necons.  That's good news, right?

5. Why didn't Qadaffi just retire?  Excellent post.

6. The answer?

7. Tunisia's first free election.  Perhaps Egypt and Libya will follow suit and I'll have to eat my words.  If anyone would like to take bets about whether the Arab Spring's first free election will be its last, though, feel free to shoot me an email.

8. Changes to EU's treaty may be forthcoming.  But only "small changes".  Whatever that means.

9. India's silent war.  Any thoughts on why this conflict gets so little media attention?

10. Prisoner swap deal strengthens Hamas, weakens Fatah.  The Arab Spring may explain why Netanyahu was willing to accept the agreement, according to AJE.

11. How academics call something boring, by discipline.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Rat Choice Apologetics VII

What's Missing that Matters and What's Missing that Doesn't:
Two-Player Games


At this point, I've addressed some common criticisms of "rational choice theory" and laid out some general thoughts on what models are useful for and what they're not so useful for.  I'm focusing now on addressing more specific questions of what we should and should not assume when we model international relations.  Last time, I focused on the fact that much of the literature assumes bargaining is characterized by the very simple ultimatum protocol.  Now I'd like to talk about the implications of the nearly universal reliance upon two-player games by those of us who seek to generate insights about an international system with nearly 200 states.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Lives Not Saved Because of Defense Spending

John Quiggin offers an interesting and provocative post in which he claims that the US Defense Department is directly responsible for something on the order of 1 million lives lost since 9/11 that would not otherwise have been lost.  The argument is not that the DoD has killed a million Americans, but if the money that has been spent on the DoD was instead spent on other programs, a lot of deaths could have been delayed.

I think Quiggin raises an important point that is too rarely made in policy debates.  Now, were I him, I'd use more circumscribed language, and I'm not sure we should be quite so confident about the precise numbers, but, that said, even if we placed rough confidence intervals on his estimates, I'm pretty sure the substantive conclusion would be about the same.  A great many more lives could be saved if the US had different spending priorities.

If you're interested, look below the fold for some additional thoughts.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Miscellaneous Links

1. Spencer Ackerman on Qaddafi's death.  Beautiful.  My own reaction, for what it's worth, continues to be what I said here: getting rid of dictators is the easy part.  What comes next is what matters most.

2. Dan Drezner on how Qaddafi's fate only encourages Syria's Assad to cling to power.  I sort of agree, though I'm not sure Assad needed events in Libya to come to the conclusion that there is a high probability of him facing punishment when he leaves office.

3. US-Pakistani relations getting even worse?  Or are Clinton's remarks simply cheap talk?  Has anyone yet proposed a good answer to the question Fearon raised in 1997 of why "blunt talk" from leaders takes the form of threatening "serious consequences" instead of more explicit threats?

4. India implores US and Pakistan to mend ties.  Last I checked, India was complaining about the US being too soft on Pakistan, wondering how a prominent sponsor of terrorist groups could be such a close ally of a state that has declared a War on Terror.  Very interesting.

5. Turkey sends 10,000 troops into Iraq.  Not the first time Turkey gone into Iraq in pursuit of the PKK, but this could be the start of something big.  That's not a tiny little incursion.

6. ETA announces ceasefire.  It's being reported as the end of the conflict.  But no agreement been reached (at least, not that's being reported).  I wouldn't be surprised if we hear from them again.

7. Why you shouldn't believe the good news about Afghanistan.  I continue to believe that the US and UK governments don't believe it either.  All that's important is that the public does.

8. Just added to my reading list.  I'm going to read the Dictator's Handbook and Honors, Symbols and War first, but sometime in the next couple of months, expect me to blog more about this book.

9. Sign me up for this.

Audience Costs and Gambling for Resurrection

Some people have asked me why I'm so critical of audience costs given the fact that I like gambling for resurrection arguments (variants of which can be found in a few of my opposition papers, and are implicit in the story I've been telling about Afghanistan for some time now on this blog).

Broadly construed, both concepts suggest that leaders are punished domestically for outcomes in which they fail to acquire the good in dispute, and will tend to avoid these punishments.  How can you find one persuasive and not the other?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

More on Classroom Simulations

Jeremy Wells describes a very interesting classroom simulation that would not take much time and could be used to reinforce several concepts.

So far, I have only tried two simulations: one on the inefficiency of war and one on the collective action problem.  Neither of them worked well initially.  I think both could work with some tweaking, but the collective action problem one is the only one I still use with any regularity.  I may consider trying the other again in the future, but as I'll discuss, this particular simulation faces a serious problem that is difficult to overcome.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Miscellaneous Links (updated)

I apologize for how quiet things have been around here lately.  I was out of town for Peace Science (which was awesome, as always).  More substantive posts will resume soon.

1. US will leave smaller force behind in Iraq.  You could almost say the US is actually leaving Iraq.  And only three years after the candidate who promised to pull out immediately took office.

2. The Saudi plot may not be an American fantasy.  First I thought it was legit.  Then I didn't.  Now I have no idea.  But it's really interesting to read about either way.

3. Somali militants threaten to invade Kenya.  At American behest, according to "some analysts."  Though, frankly, I'm not sure I find it hard to believe.

4. Did international pressure to free Tymoshenko backfire?   So says a deputy from the governing Party of Regions.  But then, that's not exactly what you'd call an unbiased source.

5. US taking fire from Pakistani side of the border.  Involvement of Pakistani government suspected but not confirmed.

6. Quartet seeking to restart peace talks.  If they wanted an agreement, they'd spend less time putting on a show of having the two sides talk and focus on manipulating material incentives.  Where are the proposals for funding more desalination plants?  Where are the sanctions to punish intransigence or promises of subsidies that would be delivered if and only if an agreement was reached?  This is political theater and nothing more.

7. Growing concern in Egypt that the military will not submit to civilian rule.  This is so unforeseeable.  No one, not no one, could have predicted this.  

8. We are the 1%.  If you really cared about income inequality, you would be a whole lot less worried about the plight of the American middle class.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What Do We Actually Know About Democracy and War?

I've offered a few critiques of theoretical arguments related to democracy and war lately (see here, here, and here).  But, let's face it, only game theorists (and only a subset thereof!) really find these arguments interesting.*

So, even if you can't be persuaded (or don't much care) that every theoretical explanation of the democratic peace that we have to date is fundamentally inconsistent with some prominent empirical claims related to democracy and war, hopefully you are at least open to taking a more careful look at what the historical record allows us to infer about the relationship between democracy and war.**

Classroom Simulations

Jeremy Wells had a thoughtful post critiquing the standard lecture slide + MC exam approach to pedagogy yesterday.  I mentioned it in a Miscellaneous Links post, along with some commentary expressing skepticism about classroom simulations.  Wells offers some additional thoughts about the topic today.  So I'll offer a few more of my own, below the fold.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Miscellaneous Links (updated)

1. Would Herman Cain be better able to reduce unemployment upon election if he knew, today, the name of the president of Uzbekistan?  No.  It's fun to mock presidential hopefuls for not caring enough about world affairs, but come on now.

2. What selectorate theory can't tell us about American politics.  I think Kindred is exactly right that BdM and Smith are trying to tell us that their theory (which is absolutely a very valuable and powerful theory) has more to say about current American politics than it does.  I will have more to say about this soon.

3. US disrupts Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US.  In case you somehow forgot about the Iranian-Saudi rivalry, which, incidentally, you can rest assured you'll be hearing plenty about as the US presence in Iraq continues to shrink.

4. This is what bargaining looks like: Israel and Hamas edition.  Or: 1000 prisoners for 1 hostage edition.  Which surprises you more -- that Netanyahu's government has reached an agreement with Hamas on an issue that has lain unresolved for 5 years, or the actual terms of the agreement?

5. Overtested and underassessed.  I confess that I'm a bit skeptical of classroom simulations.  My limited experience is that students love them, but I'm not sure they necessarily learn all that much from them.  That said, I think it's clear that powerpoint+MC (a format I admittedly rely upon) is, um, somewhat less than effective.

6. UN finds systematic torture in Afghanistan.  Afghan government insists that official state policy prohibits torture.  Of course, if that wasn't true, I'm sure they'd admit it.

7. Sometimes I find myself in violent agreement with Steve Walt.  Not that he's the first IR scholar to push back against the absurdity that is "American exceptionalism", but he does so well, and will reach a larger audience than most of the rest of us ever would.

8. That said, the alleged US decline is easily oversold.  The US is not morally superior to other states (which is what "American exceptionalism' is all about).  But it's cultural and economic influence remains a lot greater than some would have you believe.

9a. Tymoshenko sentenced to jail for seven years.  Perhaps likely to be overturned, but put that aside for the moment.  Here's my question for everyone who buys into the standard narrative.  If Tymoshenko represents the pro-Western/pro-Democratic forces that are losing out to the pro-Russian/pro-Authoritarian forces, and the demise of Tymoshenko is evidence that the democratic project has failed in Ukraine...why is that Tymoshenko has essentially been punished for negotiated an agreement with Russia that was too favorable to Russia?  And 9b. why is Russia denouncing her conviction? (H/T Anna Pechenkina.)

10. The Onion's take on Saudi women gaining the right to vote.

Rat Choice Apologetics VI

What's Missing that Matters and What's Missing that Doesn't: Ultimatum Crisis Bargaining

When last I posted in this series, back in June, I was starting to transition away from discussions of "rationality" and "rational choice" and more towards questions related to formal modeling.

In that post, I argued that unless we want to use our theoretical models to make point predictions (or postdictions, as some people refer to attempts to "predict" what has already occurred), we shouldn't worry about whether our models rest upon assumptions that are less than perfectly descriptively accurate so long as the simplification has not biased us in favor of the substantive conclusion being drawn.

All well and good, you might say, but how exactly do we know if a particular simplification does or does not have that effect?  After all, people like me keep saying that the reason we need formal models is that the average person is pretty ill-equipped to tease out the logical implications of even seemingly straightforward assumptions.  So how can I expect people to intuitively know which simplifications matter and which don't?

Simply put, I can't.  At least not as a general rule.  So I'm going to offer a series of posts discussing specific assumptions that are commonly made in the areas with which I'm particularly familiar.*  I'll start with criticisms of the admittedly simplistic ultimatum bargaining protocol.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Game Theoretic Approaches to Honor

Embarrassingly enough, I still haven't read Barry O'Neill's Honor, Symbols and War.  Scott Wolford recommended it to me, and recommendations from Scott carry more than a little weight with me.

In the meantime, I found a link to this talk on O'Neill's website.  I recommend you go watch it.

I'll have more to say about O'Neill's argument after I've finished the book.  But for now, let me just go back to a point that has been made many times before, but can't really be made often enough.  If you are critical of game theoretic models because you believe they leave no room for intangibles such as honor, you have no ground to stand on.  

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Miscellaneous Links

1. Timeline: A decade of war in Afghanistan. Nice summary of major events.  Interesting that only one of Obama's two big troop surges in Afghanistan seems likely to be remembered as a troop surge.

2. McChrystal thinks US is only halfway there in Afghanistan.  In fact, if you read between the lines, it sounds even worse than that.

3. Medvedev tells Assad to reform or step down.  Listen.  This guy knows reform.

4. Burma and liberalization from above.  Jay Ulfelder offers thoughts based on an alternative model of democratization.

5. Who knows more about the causes of war than a science reporter and a psychologist?  DO YOURSELF A FAVOR AND DO NOT CLICK ON THIS LINK.  Or better yet, go and listen, then come back and tell me which parts angered you most.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Political Survival and Crisis Bargainng

As I recently argued, if we seek to explain the democratic peace by invoking the greater transparency of democratic regimes, we run into the slight problem that the additional observable implications are wildly at odds with the historical record.

Arguments based on audience costs, which are related, have some serious problems of their own.

So if we're to explain the democratic peace based on institutional factors (I'll set aside norms-based arguments for now), we're left with two options.  One is that democracies make better decisions.  The other is that the marginal change in the probability of remaining office following good outcomes relative to bad is smaller for democratic leaders (who are more likely to lose office after losing a war, yes, but are also much more likely to lose office after winning a war and, all things considered, have less reason to believe that the outcome of a war will play a major role in determining their fate).  The first has been argued in some form or another by various scholars (see here and here), but is most prominently associated with selectorate theory.  The latter is the argument of Debs and Goemans.

I'm going to try to persuade you that you should not find either of these approaches persuasive.

My War & International Security Class, Part II

Available here.*  This section expands upon the basic model from the previous section, draws out new observable implications from the extensions, and presents empirical tests of the primary observable implications of the models.

*I'm relatively confident that there are minimal typos...but I can't promise the slides are entirely free of errors.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Miscellaneous Links (updated again)

1. Josh Goldstein on the insanity of cutting foreign aid to fix the budget.  One of the most remarkable things about this is that the average voter would like to see foreign aid comprise at least 10% of the federal budget.  If only they knew that it was currently around 1%.

2. Steve Saideman on same, with a more humorous take.  Dan Nexon's suggestion is, IMHO, especially good.

3. Alexander Downes and several others, including Fearon, on regime change.  (H/T Kindred Winecoff.)  I may blog more about this when I have more time.

4. Brian Rathbun's Pulp Fiction homage.  Perhaps this is evidence that I simply don't have any sense of humor, but I can't imagine claiming to be a defender of pluralism while simultaneously suggesting, even as a joke, that those whose views on methodology and epistemology differ from my own are lucky to still be alive (as Rathbun the fictional version of Patrick Jackson says here of Lake, who we know Rathbun holds in very high regard). It would appear that Rathbun, much like Walt, is working with a definition of "pluralism" that has little in common with my understanding of the term.

5. Fascinating talk on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Highly recommended.

6. Syrian President Assad promises to "set fire" to the Middle East if foreign forces intervene.  Speaking largely about Israel, of course, but the remarks were made to Turkey's FM in response to Turkish calls for sanctions.  Also note that Assad promises that, within 6 hours, Iran would attack US naval interests in the region, and attacks on European interests would follow soon thereafter.

7. This is why the US is bound to fail in its mission in Afghanistan.  The US is unlikely to achieve its goals because Pakistan is unwilling to crack down on (and the ISI is widely believed to directly support) the Taliban and the Haqqani network, and Pakistan is very unlikely to change its policies in light of this "strategic partnership" between India and Afghanistan.

8. "Fool, induction is impossible."  Best learn that lesson now, so you never get caught with your pants down.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Signaling and the Democratic Peace

One explanation for the democratic peace is that democratic states are better able to signal their resolve.  In support of this claim, many people cite Ken Schultz's fascinating book.  (See also this article by Kris Ramsay.)

Schultz was appropriately careful to argue that his model is not well-suited for evaluating claims about the democratic peace, because it only analyzes domestic politics within one state.  In fact, he acknowledges that his argument anticipates a monadic democratic peace, which he finds some support for, though most studies do not.

What if we tried to apply this logic dyadically?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Walt On Audience Costs (UPDATE)

Walt discusses the new APSR piece by Snyder and Borghard.  Shockingly enough, Walt uses this opportunity to call for pluralism (read: to imply once again that "rational choice" is some sort of cult).

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Miscellaneous Links

1. Rick Perry would send US troops to Mexico to combat drug cartels.  Not that the Mexican government would welcome such a move.  [insert joke about Texans and war with Mexico here, with bonus points for any reference to the Alamo.  "I'm Rick Perry, bitch" is also acceptable.]

2. Did the Rabbani assassination really kill peace talks?  I was skeptical of that claim to begin with.

3. Israeli F-15s reportedly approached Turkish vessel near contested drilling area, then departed when Turkish F-16s showed up.  Again I say, fear not.  Both states are democratic.  So there's no way that what seems to be a rapidly escalating crisis is going anywhere.

4. More on China, India and Myanmar.  Really curious to see how all this plays out.

5a. NPR story on the Haqqani network.  5b. See also this story at the Economist.  Did you know that one of their primary sources of funding is the US taxpayer?  Indirectly, yes, but no less true for that.

6. This is what bargaining looks like: US-China-Taiwan edition.  The level of US assistance to Taiwan: about as continuously divisible as continuously divisible gets.  Send more aid, generate larger risk of war with China.  Send less aid, risk leaving an important ally at greater risk than would be ideal.  Hello, risk-return tradeoff.

7. Police investigate the Onion's series of fake stories about a fake hostage crisis at the US capitol.