Debating IR

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


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.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

An Offer

Take this as you will, but I love blogging about this stuff. I love debating IR. I mean I think about becoming an academic and making this my career so I better love it. But seriously. If anyone is interested in continuing this blog or starting a new one where we would casually post about IR and hopefully have some debates let me know. I think it could be a lot of fun and a little more intellectually stimulating than fantasy bowling or god knows what. If not oh well no hard feelings and much luck to all of you in your future endeavors.


Moon Base

I think that one problem we tend to have (and by we I mean our class and probably US IR theory people in general) is that when we think of realism, we think of it in terms of US state interest. We don't think of state interests in broader terms. My realist argument for a moon base would be that the periphery countries (I must say I like some of the WST terminology and ideas, minus Marxism) should join together and push for this. The reasons are twofold. First off this is a humanity issue. The goods produced by a moonbase can be beneficial to all of humanity. This argument however is not realist. The following one is. Since a moonbase will lead to scientific advancements, periphery and semi-periphery countries should endorse a moon base in order to prevent the US, China, and other space powers, from garnering the relative gains in technological and scientific knowledge produced by the base. By doing this, the relative gains can be reduced to absolute gains which benefit everyone instead of simply benefiting the big powers. By doing this, the periphery and semi-periphery states can prevent themselves from falling even farther behind in the global powers struggle.


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Blowing up the moon

I had hoped to make a realist argument for blowing up the moon, but was (un)fortunately dissuaded by my teammate. I would like to present a brief argument here.

In 2001, the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization issued its report (avaliable here) which made it clear that the US dominance in space was threatened, and that the US should take steps to prevent this.

The threats are twofold: First, the growth of space industries allows other countries to have cheaper and easier access to space goods & services. Second, other countries have better knowledge of US capabilities and facilities in space. The development of a UN Spacebase would significantly exacerbate both of these problems in fairly obvious ways, and threaten US dominance.

It is my belief that a realist would therefore conclude that rather than let the UN go ahead and build facilities on the moon, the moon should be destroyed. On that note, I would like to say that I have serious concerns about the implications of realism.


Monday, May 01, 2006

Note to Contributors

Dear all,

When you click on the link to the left that has all of your blog posts only one post may show up. This is fine. Either click on the link that reads "More results from Debating IR" or click on the link that says Atom 100 results or RSS 100 results towards the bottom. All of your posts should be there.



If nothing else, I've learned that Machiavelli is still my favorite theorist.

As Jackson said, it really was appropriate that the class ended on a chaotic note. (The Marxists made my day with their hostile takeover.) Although I've evolved from a realist into a poststructuralist, I have to say... realism wins everything all the time.

Referring back to John's post after the second debate, I read: "You claim to have invited us into dialogue but this was simply not the case. What you call dialogue creation, I call a mob." And if I remember the second debate correctly, that's a pretty fair assessment. Everybody wants to say that they favor dialogue, but I think it's more likely that everyone wants to win - whether we're talking about having the last word in a discussion, getting your pet policy adopted, or persuading another nation to take your preferred particular course of action. Everybody remembers historical materialism, right? Countries might put on the cloak of respect for democracy and human rights, but Tears for Fears was right. Everybody wants to rule the world.

So what does this mean for IR? No matter how much we talk about cooperation and dialogue, it's in human nature to pursue one's own agenda, particularly if you answer to the person above you (let's say, the President) and that President wants to get reelected. Sure, you'll throw in some rhetoric promoting human rights and working together and equal partnerships, but if, at the end of the day, there's someone who doesn't agree with you, you're going to either (a) do all you can to secure their support by any means necessary, (b) judge that any further attempts could come back to hurt you later, and decide to put up a veneer of respecting their decision while renaming everything in your culture that bears their influence (freedom fries!). Either way, you're not going to pause, tap your chin contemplatively, and say, "You know, you're right... I'm going to listen to you because we're in a dialogue and I want to give you the opportunity to convince me" (unless you think that saying this has a chance of getting them to see how cooperative and rational you are and then agree with you).

In this class, we've been engaging in debates as realist constructivists, poststructuralists, feminists, etc., and adopting the language of the theory we're assigned. But our central goal is the same no matter what Professor Jackson tells us to support. We all want that point. We all want our language in the resolution. And we're definitely willing to cooperate (read: form an alliance) with other members, but not because we value cooperation -- because we think that's the best way to achieve our goals.

I'm not saying this is bad, because, on the contrary, I think it's fun; more to the point, I think it's realistic, and that it helps us to understand the dynamics behind international relations in a way that listening to podcasts or reading articles can't. All in all, it's been a good class.