Category Archives: Uncategorized

Thinking Carefully about U.S. Power

Another reason to read the NYT: where else will you get a full half-page, above-the-fold analysis citing top scholars on the underlying reasons why Syria is a such a strategic, military and diplomatic conundrum:

It is an urgent problem that has consumed foreign policy discussions for the last few years. But much more is involved than the fate of a single country in the Middle East. Underlying the Syria issue is a set of questions that have animated every major debate over foreign policy for a century: What is America’s role in the world, what are its obligations, and what happens if it falls short of meeting them?
One strain of thought holds that America has a mission to champion democracy and human rights, granting it a unique role in the world, along with special powers and obligations. But that idea has always been controversial, with skeptics arguing it is an alluring myth — and a potentially dangerous notion.
via NYT

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Rhetorical Tactics of White House Women

But at the White House, one former staffer explained to the Washington Post, women started using a simple rhetorical technique to stop interruptions and reinforce points made by other women. When a woman made a good point, another woman would repeat it, and give credit to the originator. This made the idea harder to ignore, or to steal. The women called the technique “amplification.”

“We just started doing it, and made a purpose of doing it,” one of president Barack Obama’s former aides told the Post. “It was an everyday thing.” She said that Obama noticed and began calling on women more often.
The women, perhaps unconsciously, had noticed two things. First, that repetition is one of the simplest ways of reinforcing any point—which can be seen through history across oratory and poetry. But secondly, that simply hammering a point home by repeating it oneself has limitations, especially in a competitive environment where everyone is clamoring to be heard. Some researchers have hypothesized that women are interrupted more because their conversational style tends to be collaborative, where men tend to be more competitive.

QZ.com

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Breaking Down the Syrian Ceasefire 


An excellent discussion parsing prospects, dimensions, and implications relating to the Syrian Ceasefire on today’s Diane Rehm Show.

The U.S. – Russian brokered ceasefire in Syria which went into effect at sundown on Monday is said to be, so far, mostly holding. Despite long odds for success Washington and Moscow hope their joint efforts can target the Islamic State and an Al Qaeda terrorist group while allowing for the delivery of humanitarian aid to thousands of increasingly desperate Syrian civilians: Join us for an update on the ongoing brutal conflict in Syria and prospects for this latest ceasefire agreement to hold.

Guests

  • Liz Sly bureau chief, Beirut, Washington Post
  • Jason Cone executive director, Doctors Without Borders
  • Philip Gordon senior fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, former special assistant to the president and White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf Region from 2013–15
  • Faysal Itani resident fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council.
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All Impeachments Are Political. But Was Brazil’s Something More Sinister? – The New York Times

Olympics are over. So what’s happening in Brazil politically-speaking? And what can we make of the impeachment of the country’s first female president?

Amy Erica Smith, an assistant political science professor at Iowa State University who studies Brazil, said these charges “don’t rise to the level of the kind of accusations that would merit impeachment,” adding: “It’s not a legitimate use of the impeachment proceedings.”

This is why Ms. Rousseff and her allies argued that the politicians pushing impeachment were not trying to protect the integrity of Brazilian democracy, but, rather, to manipulate it to serve their own ends. Calling the impeachment a coup became a way to question the motives of opposition leaders and to argue that impeaching Ms. Rousseff would be contrary to democracy.

Normally, following the law — which the impeachers were indeed doing — by design serves democracy. But, in Brazil, there is currently just enough corruption and just enough rule of law for political elites to play the two against each other.Corruption, Professor Smith explained, is so endemic in Brazilian politics that it most likely implicates the entire governing class. The country also has a powerful judiciary that is actively working to investigate and prosecute corruption — an unstable combination.

Source: All Impeachments Are Political. But Was Brazil’s Something More Sinister? – The New York Times

More recently, the issue appears to be a pivot toward economic issues. Should Michel Temer maintain control as the new president, “the hard part is just the beginning” according to Simon Romero’s latest article with the economy, questions about his legitimacy, corruption investigations, and uncertainty all key questions.

Gray Diplomacy: Side Deals

Much was made of the U.S. payment to Iran as a “ransom for hostages.” As President Obama said, “The only bit of news is that we paid cash…because we don’t have a banking relationship with Iran.”

 The truth is, what President Barack Obama did was more like standard operating procedure for presidents, who must often enter into notoriously “gray areas” of diplomacy with hostile powers.

Think of it as the art of the side deal. From the earliest times, presidents have quietly cut private pacts to push big big diplomatic goals through—often with a lot of secrecy, and sometimes in violation of the country’s own stated diplomatic rules.

via Politico

Still not sure? Read through Jack Beauchamp’s piece in Vox where he breaks it down step-by-step.

 

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Booklist | East West Street: On the Origins of “Genocide” and “Crimes Against Humanity” by Philippe Sands

The Nuremberg Trials afforded the victorious Western powers the chance to prosecute a new type of crime. How did this happen? A new book by Philippe Sands of University College London how Hersch Lauterpacht and Raphael Lemkin contributed to this legal innovation.

“A nation was killed,” Lemkin wrote, “and the guilty persons set free.” Later, after reading Mein Kampf, he presciently declared it a “blue-print for destruction.” He went on to practice law in Poland before being forced to flee Europe, and ended up in North Carolina and the sanctuary of Duke University. In 1944 he published a book, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. The title may have been lackluster but he made up for it with the word he coined for the title of chapter nine, a word that would henceforth enter the legal lexicon as a means of classifying and judging the worst possible crime, the “crime of crimes”—“Genocide.”

Source: How to Prosecute a War Criminal | New Republic

Game Theory Parenting

According to Kevin Zollman of Carnegie Mellon and Paul Raeburn, game theory isn’t just for diplomats–although it has been applied to solving the conflict in Syria or smart decision-making. It can help parents overcome the cleverness of their own little evil genius negotiating opponents.

Here’s where a little knowledge of human behavior and game theory comes in handy. Psychologists have found that how children approach negotiations—and whether they share or turn spiteful—depends in large part on notions of fair play. And game theorists have devised various ways to approach any negotiation—some of which are more likely to result in fair outcomes than others. Some schemes require an authority figure—like a parent—to enforce them, but others are designed to structure the bargaining so that no enforcer is needed. What that means is, with the right incentives, kids can be taught to reach fair agreements all on their own.

Source: Scientific American, Game Theory for Parents

In The Game Theorist’s Guide to Parenting, they recommend the following:

  • Force Cooperation
  • Make them Bid on Chores
  • Carry out your threats
  • Change incentives: Reward Honesty  or Make them Lie
  • Create Envy-free Situation

Putting game theory to work in the minivan is another way of saying that Nobel-winning ideas are upping your game:

Screaming “Don’t make me turn this car around!” never works. That’s what Zollman calls a noncredible threat—kids see through it, because they know it means you’ll suffer too. So pick punishments that benefit you. Like: “Stop punching your sister or we’re going to Grandma’s instead of the movies.”

Source: Kids Are Master Manipulators. So Use Game Theory Against Them | WIRED

Booklist | This Brave New World by Anja Manuel

If you want a glimpse into the future of the world economy, look no further than the corridors of power and boardrooms of China and India. They are the worlds’ most populous countries; and in a decade or so, they will be the world’s largest and third largest economies, have more than 1 billion internet users, be consuming the most energy and resources, and creating the most pollution. Like it or not, they will have veto power over many international decisions.

Yet, we appear terrified of China and often seem to ignore India. The United States must to get our relations with both exactly right or risk a world of low economic growth for all of us, military skirmishes that we can ill-afford, and run-away pollution that will harm our health.

http://thediplomat.com/2016/05/interview-anja-manuel/

Sean Wilentz on Why Compromise is Essential to Politics

A historian-critic of President Obama sees Lincoln as succeeding through “patience and respect for the Constitution” but doesn’t seem to make his latest overall book work. At least that is the conclusion according to Alan Wolfe, whose NYT review is both blistering and helpful. Wilentz has a succinct idea:

Politicians serve the country best when they learn the art of compromise through party-building and not when they stand, prophet-like, outside the fray delivering secular, and sometimes overtly religious, sermons. Be prepared, as you read this book, to hear this thesis propounded relentlessly. 

Via NYTBR

Debating Killer Robots at the UN

Let’s debate killer robots. (Or should we? Who is for them anyway?) Not the ICRC or Amnesty International. See the Red Cross statement from the Meeting of Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems, held a few weeks ago at the UN in Geneva:

The ICRC has called on States to set limits on autonomy in weapon systems to ensure they are used in accordance with international humanitarian law (IHL) and within the bounds of what is acceptable under the principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience.

Apparently, more than 80 national representatives agreed, echoing groups such as the International Committee for Robot Arms Control and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots:

In the end, they emerged with a recommendation: The key U.N. body that sets norms for weapons of war should put killer robots on its agenda.

Source: Weighing The Good And The Bad Of Autonomous Killer Robots In Battle : All Tech Considered : NPR

Not the strongest stuff you could hope for (e.g., treaty law or even a declaration or draft programme of action) but it is a step in the direction toward action. But in reality, it is harder to draw the line than some think, especially where the bottom line is that humans have to decide how to use the technology.

Although some argue that “autonomous weapons are coming and can save lives” as long as they are used ethically and within legal norms, Denise Garcia disagrees, writing in Foreign Affairs that

“Washington should…work to prohibit machines capable of killing on their own. Killer robots might seem like an unreasonable idea, but they could become an unacceptable reality.”

 

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