Potentatus - Politics and Policy

Politics and Policy Blog

Wednesday, September 15, 2004


Theoreitcal Frameworks and Current Events: a theory for terrorism

plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

It is amusing (to me at least) to put a theoretical framework on the arguments concerning American policy dealing with terrorism.

We once again have the realist realpolitik debate against theconstructivist culture driven one that dominated the cold war publicintellectual discourse. (ahh, i love buzzwords).

In some ways, the sides will have difficulty ever agreeing because inthis argument people are working with different theroetical frames andare effectively talking past one another.

If you take the realist view that all that matters are balance ofpower and rationalist incentives, then the Bush approach may be thecorrect one. In Bush's favor, recent research in political science byBueno de Mesquita and others have shown that historically terroristsdo respond to incentives, and policies that raise the cost ofterrorist activities such as the Israeli punishment of the families ofsuicide bombers are an effective deterrent. Additionally, it was thehardline realist approach rather than the appeasement approach thatcan be credited for winning the cold war, and has arguably been thedominant paradigm of world order since Bismarck and beyond.

On the constructivist side, there are a large contingent of academicsthat argue that culture must matter. That in a unipolar world, theonly true power that remains is culturally based, and only throughreasoning and discourse, and "diplomacy, economic aid, education, andthe spread of hope" can the culture of terrorism be obviated.Additionally constructivists tend to reinterpret the end of the coldwar as the result of the cultural hegemony imposed by the Americancapitalist/hedonistic regime rather than a shift in power relations.

(If all those political science theory classes taught me anything, ittaught me how to bull shit with the best of them. Though this is anexample where bullshit theory [rather than the mathematical kind thateconomists prefer] seems strikingly appropriate.)

Being driven here by your comment in my own blog (which I replied to there).

It seems to me that the "diplomacy, economic aid, education, and the spread of hope" people have much the better of the argument because of the historical evidence.

Historically, U.S. and other Western interference in the middle east has done nothing but create resentment and armed opposition, with the backlash 20 to 30 years later.

The CIA toppled Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq after he nationalized the oil. Replaced him with the Shah. 20 or so years later, the backlash came in the form of the Ayatollah.

It doesn't matter whether the intervention is good or bad. Entanglements in the Middle East end in bloodshed. For example, the U.S. armed and trained the mujahadeen in Afghanistan to resist a Soviet invasion. Good policy, right? Yet, big surprise, 20-30 years, the backlash comes in the form of Osama.

Why can't we learn from history?
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