Debating IR

Probing the philosophical underpinnings of the international system and anything else of interest.


Monday, September 11, 2006


I wrote this during the summer, but i forgot to post it so here goes. I think recent developments have given my ideas some credibility.

This is an interesting article. A militia group has taken control of Mogadishu. The author implies that this somehow means that the fighting for Somalia is over, that the end to the war has come. In my mind however, this is simply another misguided conclusion reached by a media personality with only a weak grasp of international relations and history.

Somalia is widely known to be an anarchic case. After the fall of the legitimate government in the 90s, it was plunged into chaos with various armed groups taking control of "fiefdoms" within the territory widely considered to constitute Somalia. Due to the great powers insistence on territorial integrity, none of these groups were officially recognized and a new fiefdom was created for the interim government to rule, while perpetuating the myth that they were the spokesman for the whole country.

The way the article is written, it implies that by taking control of Mogadishu the Islamic militia will be able to form a fundamentalist Islamic state. I just don't see this as true. Yes, the capital of the "state" has been captured, but to assume that capturing a capital in the modern era of warfare equates to the end of violence is ludicrous. Obviously Iraq has shown us differently, but there is a far better example, Spain. During the Spanish Civil War, the Nationalist governement moved its capital numerous times in order to avoid Franco's forces. The government was not based in territory, but in the group of individuals who were seen to constitute the legitimate government of the state. As long as that group had the will and the power to fight against Franco, the war was not over.

The situation in Somalia could turn out to be similar. As long as the various feudal warlords and the interim government have the will and the power to fight against the Islamic milita, then the prospects for peace and the subsequent establishment of a "state" in place of local anarchy seem dim.


Monday, July 31, 2006

Net Neutrality Article Is Ready for Reading

My article on net neutrality has finally been published on the website. It discusses the current political controversy surrounding net neutrality, the policy that all traffic on the Internet should be treated equally.

I hope you all enjoy it.


Sunday, July 16, 2006

First Article Ready to Go

I finally got my first article out for the Project with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. This article is on the 2006 World Cup and how it relates to globalization. Enjoy it here on the website.

(Comments Warmly Appreciated)


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Shameless Plug

I've gotten an internship at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace where I am writing articles for their website on globalization.

I have few articles in the works and the first one should be on the website soon. It is on the World Cup. My next one should be on net neutrality.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

An interesting article about Amnesty International's human rights efforts, simply because it basically identifies structural realism as a main cause of human rights abuses.


Sunday, May 21, 2006


Well I needed a little break but I'm back and ready for more IR. I read a book review of Madeleine Albright's The Mighty and the Almighty by Noah Feldman. In it, he takes aim at the inadequacies of realism in addressing the modern world system. While Alrbright writes in her book that realism caused US foreign policy-makers to ignore religion, Feldman argues that the true problem of realism is more profound. He argues that the real problem with realism is it's emphasis on states. With this argument he is in essence attacking the very basis of realism itself. Feldman argues that the most important actors in the Clinton years and even today are non-state actors; Arafat, Osama, and other terrorists/freedom fighters to name a few. Now as scary as this is for me to admit, Feldman is on to something.

States are not the only actors who can influence IR. But in attacking the state-centric basis of realism, Feldman goes too far. In introducing realism, he says it is based on the idea that nations rationally pursue their interests. In attacking states and emphasizing the role of non-state actors, he ignores this question of rationality. He says we should pay more attention to groups, but he does not address whether non-state actors will be held to the same standards of rational pursuit of self-interest. I believe they should. Rationality is multi-faceted. Too often when we think of rationality we think of it in military terms. How did said action make a state more or less secure militarily? But rationality is more than that. Security in the modern world is more than military strength. It is economic and political, sometimes even cultural. Think of OPEC. Many of the states in OPEC would not seem to be natural allies. There are religious rivals, Iran vs. the rest of the Arab States; military rivals, Iraq vs. Iran and Kuwait and..., and countries with no regional connections, Venezuela?. But these states are held together through economic considerations. Their rationale is not military and may even contradict military rationality.

Rationality needs to be expanded. Realists do themselves a disservice by making rationality a solely military-security consideration. If an action does not appear rational by one standard, it should be re-evaluated using another. Most actions are rational, but oftentimes a person analzying the rationality of another actor uses his own reference point instead of that of the actor being analyzed. Realism has stood the test of time and can adjust to the world of today. But it will require open-mindedness and a willingness to address the deficiencies that become evident as the world changes.


Saturday, May 06, 2006

The Iraqi and Me

On Friday, May 5th the most amazing thing happened to me. I got off the metro in Dupont Circle to wait for Jackie to meet me. While waiting, a man in a brown shirt came up to me asking where Pentagon City was. I told him it was on the yellow line. It was clear the man, who looked to be in his early 30's, was a foreigner, I just couldn't say from where.

He sheepishly told me that he didn't understand the metro system. Having lived abroad I sympathized with him. It's tough not knowing the language or what connects to where.

As it turned out though he was from Iraq! I was shocked. Even more suprising is the fact that this guy is on the city council in Baghdad. Apparently, the Department of State is bringing Iraqis to the US in order to learn about democracy.

He told me he had only been in the US for a month and that this was his first time on a subway. I couldn't get over it. I've heard and read about this stuff in the news but never in my life did I ever imagine I would meet someone who dealt with the situation in Iraq on a daily basis. Everyday Bush is talking about the war, bombs are going off, soldiers are dying, Iraqis are dying, and it seems like everything is a mess. Yet, here this guy was in the flesh who had to deal with this stuff everyday. It was strange being so close to a conflict that at times seems so detached and far away. Maybe McInnes is right about war turning into a Spectator Sport

I asked him how life was and he said it was hard. He had been elected twice now to the city council. He joked (I think) that he wanted someone to beat him the third time around. He said the security situation is very bad and that he worries about the the safety of his family and himself. He personally has hired several bodyguards but it looked like he didn't think it was enough. He told me he had trouble sleeping at night he was so worried.

According to him, the electricity doesn't work and the economy sucks but even with the hardship he said things were better than before. I didn't ask him whether he thought the US should stay or go but if I had to infer I would say that he thinks the US should stay.

The man then asked my girlfriend and I thought whether Americans knew that Iraqis lived normal lives. Whether they knew they went to school, had fun, got married, go to work etc...and aren't just people who are caught up in violence and war. I didn't know how to answer that one but Jackie, always the pessimist, said probably not. Although she did stress that we at American are an enlightened bunch who realize that they are regular people. Of course, WE understand.

I think the most worrisome thing to me was the way he talked about our troops. He said he liked them a lot but it was clear that the soldiers there were scared of the Iraqis. I don't know if scared is the right word but, according to the man, the American soldiers in Iraq seem distrustful of all Iraqis. They don't know who to trust and its hard for them to see who is bad and who is good. How could they tell the difference between those who would harm them and those who won't? I could only imagine how difficult it must be for them.

Finally, the man said he was suprised how Americans in the US were so very different from Americans in Iraq. I felt kind of the same, only about Iraqis.

In the end, I left the guy at L'Enfant Plaza and sent him in the right direction. My only regret is that I didn't get any of the guy's contact info or give him mine. It would have been interesting to keep in touch with him. I realize of course that this is only one person's view and obviously he wouldn't be in the government if he didn't support what the US was doing there to some degree. However, what made this so interesting was that it was so genuine. After talking with him I felt like I understood what was going on in Iraq a lot moew.

One last thing, in my Negotiation class we talked about cross-cultural communication. One thing that came up was touching. Until I talked to this guy I didn't realize how much we don't touch in the US. This guy was all over me (not in a bad way) and while I talked with him I realized that North Americans must really seem frigid to the rest of the world. I don't think a minute went by when he didn't have an arm on me or something. It was quite an experience.

Wherever that guy is I wish him well.