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Monday, February 14, 2005

Lying in International Politics

At the 2004 American Political Science Assocation Annual Meeting, University of Chicago Professor John J. Mearsheimer delivered a paper on "Lying in International Politics."

It's a short but interesting read, and I'd also recommend checking out this interview with the scholar at American Amnesia (note: it's a two part post).

Mearsheimer was an outspoken critic of the plan to attack Iraq -- in fall 2002, right up to the attack in March 2003. He is matter-of-fact about his losing effort:
...any President who really wants to go to war can use the bully pulpit to arouse the American people and strike fear in their hearts. And the Bush Administration, which is very good at manipulating public opinion, did a brilliant job in the case of Iraq.

For those reasons, the Bush Administration had little difficulty steamrolling the opposition. I was one of the people who spoke out most vociferously against an attack on Iraq, and I felt at the time like I was a mere speed bump on the road to war. The Bush Administration just rolled over people like me without much effort.
The interview features Mearsheimer explaining in some detail how he thinks the administration deceived Americans.

As for the future of Iraq, Mearsheimer isn't particularly optimistic about the prospects for democracy. This remark reminded me of my viewing "The Battle of Algiers" Friday night:
Wolfowitz failed to understand that nationalism, not democracy, is the most powerful political ideology in the world. Nationalism means that when the United States invades a country in the Middle East like Iraq and stays there for any appreciable period of time, it quickly goes from being a liberator to being an occupier. Once you become seen as an occupier by the local population, you invariably generate an insurgency, because that is how the occupied rebel against the occupier. We have seen this situation countless times in the 20th century. The insurgents invariably turn to terrorism because it is the weapon of the weak. Of course, that is exactly what has happened in Iraq. But Wolfowitz did not see this problem coming because of his emphasis on the power of democratic ideals and his failure to appreciate the strength of nationalism.
Want something optimistic to take from the exchange? Mearsheimer thinks public opinion can force the US out of Iraq in the foreseeable future:
I think that the public is likely to say at some point in the next few years that enough is enough and force the Administration to exit Iraq.
Generally, however, Mearsheimer is quite the pessimist:
aA: I have to admit, your book depressed me a little bit.

jM: Yes, it's a depressing book, as the title makes clear.

aA: I see where you are coming from, that people have this impression that you are condoning the sort of bad alternative when really you are suggesting that the bad alternative is better than the worse. Right?

jM: I often say to students that international politics is all about choosing among lousy alternatives. The key question is: which is the least bad alternative?
The Chicago professor concludes that the attack on Iraq has probably motivated some states to hurry their nuclear programs along. So, it has worsened proliferation.

Don't forget to read the paper too. Maybe I'll blog about it soon too.

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