A New Frame for American Power

 

Facing “a world in disarray”–the term used by Richard Haas of the Council on Foreign Relations, the U.S. President has some work to do. On his recent trip to Laos, however, President Obama draws from his rhetorical toolbox to reframing the discourse on U.S. power and foreign policy history. His critics see it as weakness, or worse. But speaking truthfully about American past misdeeds can be a powerful strategy for building influence.

Mr. Obama’s series of speeches reviewing historical trouble spots highlight several unusual facets of his worldview. They fit within his larger effort to reach out to former adversaries such as Cuba and Myanmar. They assert his belief in introspection and the need to overcome the past. And they highlight his perspective that American power has not always been a force for good.

According to Jennifer Lind of Dartmouth College, reported in the NYT:

none of Mr. Obama’s comments constitute apology. … Rather, these speeches touch on a longstanding domestic political divide over the nature of American power.

“It gets back to this issue of national identity,” she said. Some Americans, including Mr. Obama, emphasize democratic ideals of humility and self-critique. Others believe American power is rooted in unity, celebration of positive deeds and shows of strength.

“Democracies have to have the courage to acknowledge when we don’t live up to the ideals that we stand for,” Mr. Obama said in March in Argentina, referring to a 1976 military coup that had received tacit American approval. “The United States, when it reflects on what happened here, has to examine its own policies, as well, and its own past.”

Source: Obama, Acknowledging U.S. Misdeeds Abroad, Quietly Reframes American Power – The New York Times

This strategy strengthens soft power–even as the Obama Doctrine has relied on hard power significantly.

Howard Raiffa, a Father of Decision Science

Leadership and diplomacy involve making decisions at various levels.

Founder of the Kennedy School of Government. Negotiation expert. Decision science scholar.

You may not have heard about Howard Raiffa, but he is considered a foundational scholar, leader, and teacher who made decision theory and negotiation accessible and important to the organizational practitioner. He is also a key figure in the development of games and simulations to teach key concepts and to apply them in practice.

His first book, Games and Decisions (1957) introduced game theory. Other notable publications include The Art and Science of Negotiation (1982), Smart Choices (1998), and Negotiation Analysis (2003).

The best practical advice, Professor Raiffa wrote, is “to maximize your expected payoff, which is the sum of all payoffs multiplied by probabilities.” He explained that “the art of compromise centers on the willingness to give up something in order to get something else in return.”“Successful artists,” he added, “get more than they give up.”

Source: Howard Raiffa, Mathematician Who Studied Decision Making, Dies at 92 – The New York Times

 Requirements for Freedom and Civil Discourse: Courage and Tolerance

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02/11/1999 - NYK04: SPECIAL, NEW YORK, 11/FEB/99 - British journalist Christopher Hitchens in his publisher's office in Manhattan on February 11. Special number: 048188 pm/Photo by HELAYNE SEIDMAN FTWP. 02129Y02.IPT

“Toleration makes difference possible, difference make toleration necessary.”

— Michael Walzer, via Timothy Garton Ash, Free Speech, (FT review by John Lloyd)

Are guns or Islamic radicalism to blame? If you follow the dialogue on Facebook (and who doesn’t?) it is easy to see the passion, sadness, and righteous indignation over the largest mass shooting in the U.S.. But following your feed begs the question: can divergent world views, even conflicting philosophies, on politics and policy coexist? What does that look like?

Tensions between opposing views–mixed in the moment of high stakes disagreement–are the stuff of diplomacy. But they are also the stuff of philosophy, history, and the world of ideas: Erasmus and Martin Luther, Christopher Hitchens and Isaiah Berlin, Vaclav Havel.

A new book by Timothy Garton Ash, Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World, juxtaposes the dichotomy of “spirits of liberty…found unevenly distributed between individuals”, noting that “freedom needs both.”  As a historian, Ash has been a chronicler of repression, in East Germany, China, and the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. His book makes that case using maxims that encourage “robust civility” with a broad outlook: “More fee speech but also better speech.”

On Hitchens and Berlin:

Though they tend to distrust, even to despise each other, both these spirits are indispensable. Each has its characteristic fault. A world composed entirely of Hitchenses would tend to intolerance. It would be a permanent, if often amusing, shouting match, one in which there would be neither time nor space to understand — in the deepest sense of understanding, involving profound study, calm reflection, and imaginative sympathy — where the other person was coming from. A world composed entirely of Berlins would tend to relativism and excessive tolerance for the sworn enemies of tolerance.

Source: Two Spirits of Liberty – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Must See: OSLO on secret negotiations

This new play at Lincoln Center Theater by J.T. Rogers explores the nexus of back channel diplomacy with “impeccable sources for his imagined history

He explains how the play emerged through a meeting with the then UN special envoy for Lebanon and his wife, Terje Rod-Larsen and the deputy permanent representative and Ambassador for Norway to the UN, Mona Juul.

In that bar, Mr. Larsen explained that he and his wife were intimately involved with the making of the Oslo Accords. I knew of the first-ever peace deal between the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. I’ll never forget watching the signing ceremony in the White House Rose Garden on television, Sept. 13, 1993 — seeing President Clinton preside over that historic handshake between the bitterest of enemies, Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister of Israel, and Yasir Arafat, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization. I already knew the joy and the rage that handshake caused around the world.

Then he told me something I did not know: that there was a clandestine diplomatic back channel that had made the accords possible. That without a handful of men and women — Israeli, Palestinian and Norwegian — working in secret to try to alter the political reality of two peoples, those accords never would have happened.

Source: ‘Oslo’ and the Drama in Diplomacy – The New York Times

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.”

 

After 100 Years, the Meaning of Verdun

Some facts about Verdun may surprise you: Verdun was symbolically important for both sides, had been intended by Germany to be a battle of attrition and caught the French by surprise. It resulted in roughly equal and staggering casualties: 800k dead, wounded or missing with approximately 150 dead–and many unrecoverable remains.

Did the horror and utter failure for both sides create a new era of Franco-German cooperation?

What was the meaning of this now-defining battle of World War I? Paul Jankowski writes:

To a historian 100 years later, Verdun does yield a meaning, in a way a darkly ironic one. Neither Erich von Falkenhayn, the chief of the German General Staff, nor his French counterpart, Joseph Joffre, had ever envisaged a climactic, decisive battle at Verdun. They had attacked and defended with their eyes elsewhere on the front, and had thought of the fight initially as secondary, as ancillary to their wider strategic goals. And then it became a primary affair, self-sustaining and endless. They had aspired to control it. Instead it had controlled them. In that sense Verdun truly was iconic, the symbolic battle of the Great War of 1914-18.

Source: World War I’s Iconic, Ironic Battle – The New York Times

Also, don’t miss this incredible interactive then/new photography on the war and Verdun by Guardian UK to see the destructiuon from another perspective.