Debating IR

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


Saturday, April 22, 2006

Can Fiction Tell Us Something About Reality?

I've started to read To Seek Out New Worlds: Exploring Links between Science Fiction and World Politics which is edited by Jutta Weldes. It's a fun book to read because each chapter talks about popular works of science fiction and how they relate to international relations. Thus, the writers got to watch hours upon hours of Star Trek and other assorted works of science fiction for "research purposes" (Isn't academia great?).

The question hangs in the air though whether this type of analysis can be useful. What can fiction tell us about the 'real world'? As Neumann writes in the chapter, To Know Him Was To Love Him, "Star Trek representations ...which are American representations, tell us something about American practices of representation" (47). I think this holds true because people cannot be seperated from their societies, especially fiction writers (at least the good ones). Probably the best works of fiction are the ones that say something about the world in which we live. That's why the best works of fiction like "To Kill a Mockingbird" or "Huckleberry Finn" all deal with subjects that readers know about and have to deal with on a daily basis.

I don't think science fiction is any different. Looking beyond the flashy, computer animated graphics, and weird creatures, science fiction is a representation about how we deal with the unknown and change. In the science fiction genre every movie or book has to introduce readers and viewers to something new and different. However, it can only do this by using shared meaning and common knowledge, otherwise no one could understand what the author was getting at. In this way, we learn about ourselves by engaging the unknown. Thus, every work of science fiction challenges readers to deal with change (e.g. new technology) or the unknown (e.g. aliens) at the same time it uses ideas already known by the viewer or reader.

What's interesting is that no author can reach a total seperation from society. Therefore, how authors deal with the new and unknown through the tools given to them by the society in which they are a part is often a reflection on how the society in which the author is a part deals with these concepts. Thus, science fiction in the 50's and 60's is quite different than the science fiction of today because the middle of the 20th century the US was dealing with the communist threat while today we are dealing with an open, globalized world.

In the future, I would like to read an article or book comparing the US's science fiction to other country's science fiction. I think this would say a lot about how different countries deal with the "new" and the "unknown" and highlight differences in how people see the world in which we live.


Friday, April 21, 2006

Well, now we know where it is, but unfortunately it's still a couple hundred miles behind us...

I'm speaking, of course, of the line of dehumanization that we discussed in class today. Somehow, we went from talking about Guantanamo Bay to whether or not Professor Jackson had dehumanized Christa by making a comment about her hair, and then to when exactly disrespect for someone turns into dehumanizing them. Although I can see the need to have a working definition of dehumanization to prevent abuses, in this particular case I don't see the point. It doesn't matter how you define dehumanization in relation to Guantanamo; we've definitely done it. We're quibbling over the details of exactly where we took a wrong turn, but the fact is still that we ended up in Arkansas when we needed to be closer to Virginia.

Throwing someone in prison without a trial, no matter how good or bad their conditions are in said prison, is fundamentally wrong, not just according to our Bill of Rights or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but to our Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (here's the 2005 report on France). For those who haven't had to write evaluations of the country reports for Quainton's class, the country reports are the State Department's analysis of the ways in which other countries don't observe international standards of human rights. In the report cited above, we criticize France for having lengthy pretrial detention. If you want to have a little more fun, go look at the one on Romania or Russia. Several reports cite indefinite detention as a human rights problem. Why aren't we willing to conform to the standards we're trying to enforce in other countries?

My point is that the U.S. doesn't expect our conception of human rights to apply only domestically, contrary to Nate's assertion: "These detainees are not US citizens as such they are not entitled to all the various Constitutional rights which I as a citizen enjoy." If not, then why have we made such a huge deal out of, say, the Iraqi abuses of human rights (which we used as part of the ideological justification for invading)? Why do we write the country reports at all? Nate is correct in saying that they're not protected by our constitution, but we lost the right to point that out when we started criticizing other countries for not adhering to similar standards. If we expect other countries to respect their citizens, we should start treating human rights like they're actually universal; if not, we should stop forcing some intern over at State to grind out fifty pages of "What's Wrong with Russia" every year.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

The forest and the trees

For the last few classes, I've left with the feeling that our debates have been missing something. That something is the big picture. We are very good at discussing meanings and definitions. We are good at discussing the merits of various arguments, but ever since our shift from the Big 3 into the feminism, Marxism, and post-structuralism, its seems that we are constantly missing the big picture. I know I'm partly at fault for not attempting to steer the conversation to this topic, but nonetheless we have all avoided it. Professor Jackson has said that he designed this course so that at first we woudl discuss scientific outlooks on IR and play them off against each other, apparently realism and constructivism won that round. Then he proposed a shift from science to criticism, where instead of playing the various critical theories off against one another, which we certainly haven't done, we would play science and criticism off against one another.

This I feel was the correct idea for how to arrange the course, and I would argue that we have not debated this topic as much as we should have. Everyday in class, I'm left with the question of so what? So what? We should be discussing the purpose of IR, not just the theories. Should IR be about explaining actions, their causes and consequences? Or should IR be about revealing the injustices of the international system and correcting those injustices? No matter how often I talk to Jesse, I'm amazed by the fact that he and I see things in such a similar light, but there seems to be one major difference between us. I am content to understand and continue to learn about why things occur and what they mean, but Jesse wants something bigger. Jesse wants to change the system so that things occur differently and for different reasons. We are a perfect example of this debate over the purpose of IR, and its a debate that needs to be had.


Indefinite detention

Butler's chapter on indefinite detention was fundamentally disturbing. When I recited the section on the incident between the Department of Defense Counsel and the reporter (described on p. 74-75) to my roommate, she ground her teeth a little and cheerily sang "I hate the U.S.!" a couple times. (She's a Justice major, so the absolute mockery Guantanamo has made of our legal system actually upsets her. Who'd have thought?)

I agree with John that Butler is wrong about the scope of international law. She talks about how what we're doing is unlawful, and (sadly) it's not. This hurt her credibility a lot with me, but then again, so did her writing style (which, as pointed out by the other two members of this blog, is a bit rambly and incoherent at times). Nonetheless, I'm glad to have read it, because I wasn't familiar with the topic, and although I can't call myself "familiar" with it now I want officially to learn more.

When I started reading, I wasn't sure if one couuld call indefinite detention "immoral" per se, since the American tradition of granting a trial is based on legal procedure, not the morality of the involved personnel. In fact, when stacked juries and deceptive attorneys are the norm rather than the exception, one could question whether trials serve any purpose. However, in comparison to what's going on at Guantanamo, trials are just fabulous. Butler indicates that at the time of her writing, it had just been announced that six out of the 650 detainees who've been in custody for over a year were on track to get a trial (51). In other words, they've spent a year being held for a crime that they might not have committed, and no one's bothered to make a decision because it's easier to just leave them there. A trial would give everyone involved the opportunity to make a case and use actual evidence to arrive at a plan for what to do with the individuals. But there's the problem - we don't really consider this people "human" or "individual" enough to need a trial.

However, that might just be a very American way of thinking about it (the assumption that no one's committed a crime unless a jury says so). After all, I'm not an expert on how one comes to be put in Guantanamo; it's possible that people are only imprisoned there if the people who captured them are really, really sure that they did something bad. But the excerpt that infuriated my Justice major roommate so very much casts doubt on that idea. In it, the Department of Defense Counsel said, and I quote, "The people that we now hold at Guantanamo are held for a specific reason that is not tied specifically to any particular crime. They're not held... on the basis that they are necessarily criminals" (75). WHAT? I'd love to see what they are held on the basis of, then. Wasn't there a futuristic movie about detaining people on the basis that they might do harm in the future?

I'm not naive enough to think, however, that there isn't good reason to hold many of these people. I'm not particularly sympathetic to the terrorist agenda. However, I think we should treat them like humans -- not because they deserve it, but because if we don't, we won't start approaching a slippery slope so much as we'll start freefalling, and also because we're going to further the resentment that bred terrorism in the first place.

Finally, I'd like to quote one of Erin's much earlier posts: "I think that government controls and manipulates the law, and even worse has the ability to work entirely outside of the law – extradicial renditions, wiretapping, holding prisoners at guantanamo government– those who look to the supreme court I say to you 'what has the Supreme Court ever done when these action where occurring?'" I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, the Supreme Court just declined to hear the case of two detainees. Of course, they don't want to touch Guantanamo with a ten foot pole, and while I don't blame them for being averse to getting involved in such a politically sensitive situation, they're the damn Supreme Court, it's their job.


Nathan rambles like Butler

I must admit that before reading Butler's chapter 3 and 5, I read some of the initial blog posts about it. This was probably a good thing in retrospect because (I thought) I was prepared to deal with the difficulty and confusion of her writing style. I was wrong

I honestly don't know what I just spent an hour reading. Chapter 3 is next to incomprehensible. Butler makes an argument fasts forward to a Rumsfeld statement, remakes the same iniital argument, before using another DOD statemetn and the repeats the process. If I have to read the word governmentality one more time and still be unsure of its meaning, I'm going to go crazy.

The weakness in Butler's argument is not in fact her viewpoint. Even if she supports Guantanamo, it is important to question how it exists adn for what purpose. Initially Butler does this well. However, she becomes mired in this rhetorical wilderness where she keeps making and remaking her point and beating it to death. What I gathered out of all of this is that the US superceded its sovereign power and used "governmentality", which I guess is a system of bureaucratic practices outside the generally accepted law of the land which create unwritten law. The US then enforced the pseudo-law on the poor pitiful terrorists and withheld their rights by not allowing them to have fair trials like American citizens.

I guess all that I hear her saying is that the United States constructed a new legal system for a situation where accepted international laws were unclear. Furthermoe, this construction was done so with the interest of the US and not the prisoners in mind. Take this as you will, but I know I will rest better at night knowing that the United States is looking out for my interest as a US citizen over that of a group of people fighting in the various militias and militarized tribes of a foreign country most are not even citizens of. (And no I am not saying that all actions of the US government in the war on terror are in my best interest, but for this I am speaking in relative terms. The government is watching out for me relative to the "detainees".) These detainees are not US citizens as such they are not entitled to all the various Constitutional rights which I as a citizen enjoy. This is just the way the law works. The Geneva convention has a lot of good ideas, but it is not binding, because lets face it no one enforces it, and because it does not address the situation at hand. A war against terrorism or drugs is not the same as the kind of war the Geneva conventions set out to regulate.

Wow, I just rambled for awhile and probably come off just as confusing as Butler. Well at least I know that we were both righting in the same nonsensical emotional style so it is perfectly ok because if I can get my rants published, I will have the same validity she does. Anyone know where I can find one of those do it yourself bookpublshing machines?


Butlerian Jihad

Judith Butler has a reputation as a poor writer, and having struggled through the third chapter of the text I can see why. I found it very difficult to understand what she was saying about sovereignty, governmentality and camp delta.

I tried to find out about governmentality elsewhere, because I am not at all familiar with this area of Foucault's work. I found (hooray) there are lots of competing explanations. I think that what Butler was trying to say was that the extra-legality manifested in camp delta was essentially training government officials to act in a lawless manner. (Governmentality being the way the government controls how people act).

I could be very wrong about this, maybe I will try to read it again and see if it makes more sense on the second time through. Then again, maybe I would prefer to read something more intelligible on governmentality instead.

For anyone else finding JB a bit frustrating, here is a criticism of her by Martha Nussbaum, it may make you feel better.



I enjoyed the map we had up last class where Africa was huge. Here is another paradigm-shifting map.
You can find more here.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Jonathan Berman Fought the Law and the Law Won

The more I read Butler the more confused I get by her arguments. I think her problem is that she just assumes readers agree with her claims. However, that's never a good way to argue because everyone has different ideas of it is true and what is fact. You need to take each claim and justify it with evidence. Butler doesn't do this and go on to link her arguments to a number of unsubstantiated assertions. Personally, I'm not happy with the situation in Guantanamo Bay because the Administration has turned Guantanamo Bay into a symbol of American hypocrisy and wrong doing, regardless of whether it is or not. In the end, its a reminder of how the Administration has failed and is failing to win the hearts and minds of the international community.

However, this doesn't mean I agree with Butler. I think to call Guantanamo Bay "unconstitutional" and above the law belies a failure to understand how the law in the United States work. If the courts say they don't have jurisdiction to hear a case or if a district court says the Geneva Conventions don't apply then the laws of the United States are in effect. This of course might change once the Supreme Court decides on Hamdan later this year. But until that time what the Administration is doing is legal.

The thing Butler forgets is that Congress is the ultimate legislative authority. By passing the Detainee Treatment Act they gave the President tacit approval to keep th e system in its current state. Thus, its not like President Bush is acting like a despot and hoarding all of this executive power. Congress could pull the rug out from under him at anytime. They have chosen not to and thus given the President legitimacy and legality.

Personally, I think our detainee policy needs to change but if we spend our time dickering over arguments that have no validity then we'll never get anywhere. Guantanamo Bay isn't a legal problem. The problem is whether the current policy is in the US's best interests and whether we are living up to our most sacred principles. I understand Butler wants justice but one shouldn't assume that the law always equals justice.


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Jonathan Berman Tackles the International Law

That's an interesting question you pose NW. Is international law 'law'? Personally, I agree with you that its not like our domestic law since there is really no central executive power to enforce it.

However, I think it does have importance. The US spends and has spent a lot of time developing international law (post-WW2). Also, the US always says it follows international law. Yet, what I don't understand is why. The UN isn't going to come and put the US in jail.

Obviously, the concept of international law is important to world leaders or else they wouldn't keep bringing it up. Personally, I have a number of theories although I am not partial to any in particular yet. One theorying that I am lean towards is that by following international law countries signal that they trustworthy and credible partners for other countries. Thus, countries want countries to follow international law because it gives them a way to predict other country's actions.


Monday, April 17, 2006

Jonathan Berman Takes a Road Trip to Geneva

Judith Butler, in Precarious Life, writes that the US,

"breaks its international contracts, and then asks whether other countries are with America or against it. It expresses its willingness to act consistently with the Geneva Conventions, but it refuses to be bound to that accord, as is stipulated by its signatory status (40).

This part stuck out to me because I had just listened to a guest speaker who had come into my international law class and discussed the legal aspects of the "War on Terrorism."

After reading Hamdan v. Rumsfeld I can tell you that Butler is wrong. First, in Hamdan, the D.C Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed Hamdan's claims saying that given the legal traditions of the US, "[i]nternational agreements, even those directly benefiting private persons, generally do not create private rights or provide for a private cause of action in domestic courts" (10).

However, even if the Geneva Conventions did apply to Hamdan (and others in Guantanamo Bay) they could not help him. Under Article 4 of the Geneva Conventions Hamdan is not a prisoner of war because he does not claim to be a member of a group that displayed "a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance" and "conducted [his]...operations in accordance with the laws of war" (14). Thus, Hamden like many terrorists does not wear a uniform, did not visibilly display his weapon

The circuit court goes onto say that the 1949 Geneva Conventions do not apply to Al Qaeda because Al Qaeda is not a "High Contracting Pary" (14). Of course, powers are bound to follow the convention when fighting an non-contracting party, however, this is only if the opposing party accepts and applies the convention. The court took notice that Al Qaeda has not accepted or applied the convention (14).

Thus, for Butler to say that the US is not following the Geneva Conventions is simply wrong. If she wants to pursue an argument on the way we're treating the detainees or that we're rounding up the wrong people I can accept that but to say the US has broken international law is simply wrong.

However, the case is heading to the Supreme Court later this year so this might change. But I doubt it.


Sunday, April 16, 2006

Death of Liberalism?

So I've been perusing the various blogs that our class has been keeping and it dawned on me; we don't have any liberals. Maybe we have liberal constructivists or even liberal realists (I know that I like to talk about cooperation a lot. Maybe that makes me a realist.) But it appears that there are few ardent supporters of liberalism. The realists like Matt, Kat, and I are fairly easy to spot, as are the constructivists, Adam, Johnny,etc. But I can't honestly name one person who I would peg as solely a liberal. Now maybe I'm just not astute enough at identifying these people or maybe they are the quieter ones, but I just can't find any.

Even examining the various ways our discussions go fails to identify the guiding hand of liberalism. Take our most recent discussion of empire. We talked about the definition of empire. (I actually think we did this, I know others don't agree. Adam's blog mentions that we failed to reach a consensus definition, saying instead that we all must have had an implicitly common definition in mind, which I definitley know is not true since my view of empire differed from others expressed in the discussion. However,this seems to be a completely critical/constructivist view. Since when is a common definition necessary to debate? Certainly most of our debates this year have centered around definitions.) We also talked about the implications of empire, whether it was good or bad, and how "empire" affected the world system. We even discussed corporations as empires? But did we ever discuss IOs as empires? Why were the UN, EU, and WTO ignored as possible empires? Certainly a case could be made for each of those. I must admit here that we did discuss the GICC or whatever it was, but only in the context that corporations were in control of it. We didn't truly discuss the organization itself.

It seems as if all of our conversations inevitably lead to two lines of thought, What is the definition (identity)? and How is power at play? Ignoring the peculiar coincidence that our discussions tend to be realist and constructivist, while our teacher is a realist constructivist, I'm beginning to wonder what this all means. Is this phenomenon strictly tied to our class? Were the only 18 people interested in IR Theory this semester simply realist adn constructivists? Possibly. Or maybe something bigger is at play here. Maybe liberalism is losing its luster. It certainly seems that many people like to move outside of the confines of the state, which liberalism doesn't really provide. Others are focused on power so much as to not accept the idea that states will just work for absolute instead of relative gains.

I don't really know how to say it, but I feel like liberalism could be dismantled and used by both realism and constructivism. That while liberalism is not a tool as a whole, parts of it could be used as tools to enhance other theories. Who knows. Its just intersting that liberalism is so influential and yet completely ignored by our class.