Drawing on the research and experience of fifteen internationally recognized Latin America scholars, this insightful text presents an overview of inter-American relations during the first decade of the twenty-first century. This unique collection identifies broad changes in the international system that have had significant affects in the Western Hemisphere, including issues of politics and economics, the securitization of U.S. foreign policy, balancing U.S. primacy, the wider impact of the world beyond the Americas, especially the rise of China, and the complexities of relationships between neighbors.Contemporary U.S.-Latin American Relations focuses on the near-neighbors of the United States—Mexico, Cuba, the Caribbean and Central America—as well as the larger countries of South America - including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela. Each chapter addresses a country’s relations with the United States, and each considers themes that are unique to that country’s bilateral relations as well as those themes that are more general to the relations of Latin America as a whole. This cohesive and accessible volume is required reading for Latin American politics students and scholars alike.
Los temas centrales que aborda este libro son la infraestructura de transportes en una dimensión sudamericana; el desarrollo descentralizado y la relación con Brasil; y la puesta en valor de la ubicación estratégica del Perú en Sudamérica, de cara a la Cuenca del Pacífico, y su inserción internacional.
La integración física se basa en un enfoque que parte del territorio para abordar los temas del desarrollo. Centrarse en este aspecto medular es la contribución más significativa que ha tenido la Iniciativa para la Integración de la Infraestructura Regional Suramericana (IIRSA). La noción clave es la de los Ejes de Integración y Desarrollo, que es analizada en profundidad en este volumen.
In societies divided on ethnic and religious lines, problems of democracy are magnified—particularly where groups are mobilized into parties. With the principle of majority rule, minorities should be less willing to endorse democratic institutions where their parties persistently lose elections. While such problems should also hamper transitions to democracy, several diverse Eastern European states have formed democracies even under these conditions. In this book, Sherrill Stroschein argues that sustained protest and contention by ethnic Hungarians in Romania and Slovakia brought concessions on policies that they could not achieve through the ballot box, in contrast to Transcarpathia, Ukraine. In Romania and Slovakia, contention during the 1990s made each group accustomed to each other's claims, and aware of the degree to which each could push its own. Ethnic contention became a de facto deliberative process that fostered a moderation of group stances, allowing democratic consolidation to slowly and organically take root.
The monarchical presidential regimes that prevailed in the Arab world for so long looked as though they would last indefinitely—until events in Tunisia and Egypt made clear their time was up. The Rise and Fall of Arab Presidents for Life exposes for the first time the origins and dynamics of a governmental system that largely defined the Arab Middle East in the twentieth century.Presidents who rule for life have been a feature of the Arab world since independence. In the 1980s their regimes increasingly resembled monarchies as presidents took up residence in palaces and made every effort to ensure their sons would succeed them. Roger Owen explores the main features of the prototypical Arab monarchical regime: its household; its inner circle of corrupt cronies; and its attempts to create a popular legitimacy based on economic success, a manipulated constitution, managed elections, and information suppression.Why has the Arab world suffered such a concentration of permanent presidential government? Though post-Soviet Central Asia has also known monarchical presidencies, Owen argues that a significant reason is the “Arab demonstration effect,” whereby close ties across the Arab world have enabled ruling families to share management strategies and assistance. But this effect also explains why these presidencies all came under the same pressure to reform or go. Owen discusses the huge popular opposition the presidential systems engendered during the Arab Spring, and the political change that ensued, while also delineating the challenges the Arab revolutions face across the Middle East and North Africa.
How is democracy made real? How does an undemocratic country create new institutions and transform its polity such that democratic values and practices become integral parts of its political culture? These are some of the most pressing questions of our times, and they are the central inquiry of Building Democracy in Japan. Using the Japanese experience as starting point, this book develops a new approach to the study of democratization that examines state-society interactions as a country adjusts its existing political culture to accommodate new democratic values, institutions and practices. With reference to the country's history, the book focuses on how democracy is experienced in contemporary Japan, highlighting the important role of generational change in facilitating both gradual adjustments as well as dramatic transformation in Japanese politics.
The field of political demography—the politics of population change—is dramatically underrepresented in political science. At a time when demographic changes—aging in the rich world, youth bulges in the developing world, ethnic and religious shifts, migration, and urbanization—are waxing as never before, this neglect is especially glaring and starkly contrasts with the enormous interest coming from policymakers and the media.
“Ten years ago, [demography] was hardly on the radar screen,” remarks Richard Jackson and Neil Howe of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, two contributors to this volume. “Today,” they continue, “it dominates almost any discussion of America’s long-term fiscal, economic, or foreign-policy direction.”
Demography is the most predictable of the social sciences: children born in the last five years will be the new workers, voters, soldiers, and potential insurgents of 2025 and the political elites of the 2050s. Whether in the West or the developing world, political scientists urgently need to understand the tectonics of demography in order to grasp the full context of today’s political developments. This book begins to fill the gap from a global and historical perspective and with the hope that scholars and policymakers will take its insights on board to develop enlightened policies for our collective future.
The 2008/09 World Financial Crisis underlined the importance of social responsibility for the sustainable functioning of economic markets. Heralding an age of novel heterodox economic thinking, the call for integrating social facets into mainstream economic models has reached unprecedented momentum. Financial Social Responsibility bridges the finance world with society in socially conscientious investments. Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) integrates corporate social responsibility in investment choices. In the aftermath of the 2008/09 World Financial Crisis, SRI is an idea whose time has come. Socially conscientious asset allocation styles add to expected yield and volatility of securities social, environmental and institutional considerations. In screenings, shareholder advocacy, community investing, social venture capital funding and political divestiture, socially conscientious investors hone their interest to align financial profit maximization strategies with social concerns. In a long history of classic finance theory having blacked out moral and ethical considerations of investment decision making, our knowledge of socio-economic motives for SRI is limited. Apart from economic profitability calculus and strategic leadership advantages, this article sheds light on socio-psychological motives underlying SRI. Altruism, need for innovation and entrepreneurial zest alongside utility derived from social status enhancement prospects and transparency may steer investors’ social conscientiousness. Self-enhancement and social expression of future-oriented SRI options may supplement profit maximization goals. Theoretically introducing potential SRI motives serves as a first step towards an empirical validation of Financial Social Responsibility to improve the interplay of financial markets and the real economy. The pursuit of crisis-robust and sustainable financial markets through strengthened Financial Social Responsibility targets at creating lasting societal value for this generation and the following.
Latin America has been one of the critical areas in the study of comparative politics. The region’s experiments with installing and deepening democracy and promoting alternative modes of economic development have generated intriguing and enduring empirical puzzles. In turn, Latin America’s challenges continue to spawn original and vital work on central questions in comparative politics: about the origins of democracy; about the relationship between state and society; about the nature of citizenship; about the balance between state and market.
The richness and diversity of the study of Latin American politics makes it hard to stay abreast of the developments in the many sub-literatures of the field. The Routledge Handbook of Latin American Politics offers an intellectually rigorous overview of the state of the field and a thoughtful guide to the direction of future scholarship. Kingstone and Yashar bring together the leading figures in the study of Latin America to present extensive empirical coverage, new original research, and a cutting-edge examination of the central areas of inquiry in the region.
What kind of deal do you make with a 20-something who just inherited not only a country, but also the mantle of one of the world’s most sophisticated crime families? When Kim Jong-un, who is thought to be 28 or 29, became North Korea’s leader in December after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, he became the de facto head of a mafia state.
How the new leader combines the roles of head of state and mafia don will influence the regime’s future behavior. Crime bosses have different incentives, and dealing with them requires different policies. And any deal—including last week’s agreement by North Korea to suspend its nuclear program in exchange for American food aid - will eventually falter if that reality is ignored.
Kim Jong-un confronts the same problem faced by every dictator: how to generate enough money to pay off the small group of elite supporters—army generals, party and family—who keep him in power. Other autocrats use oil wealth or parcel out whole industries to cronies.
But whoever rules North Korea has less to work with than most. The country defaulted in the 1970s, losing access to international credit, and Soviet subsidies ended with the cold war. In the 1990s, the founder and “eternal president,” Kim Il-sung, died just as a series of natural disasters devastated food production. The country has been an economic and humanitarian basket case ever since.
Kim Jong-il, who began training to run the country in the 1970s and inherited it after his father’s death, came up with an unconventional solution: state-sponsored organized crime. Counterfeit cigarettes and medicine, drugs, insurance fraud, fake money, trafficking people and endangered species - for decades, the Kim regime has done it all. Its operations became so extensive and well coordinated that American officials nicknamed it the “Soprano state,” after the hit HBO television series.
In the 1970s, after the default, North Korea used diplomats as drug mules to keep embassies running. When that got them kicked out of multiple countries and the economy tanked in the 1990s, Kim Jong-il began producing drugs at home, thereby avoiding a major cost plaguing drug lords elsewhere: law enforcement.He managed these operations through Bureau 39, a mysterious office under the Central Committee of the Korean Workers’ Party. But to create plausible deniability, he outsourced distribution to Russian mafia, Japanese yakuza and Chinese triad gangs, who met North Korean military forces for drug drops at sea. The regime also manufactured the world’s best counterfeit dollars - so good that they reportedly forced the Treasury to redesign the $100 bill - and used a crime ring connected to the Official Irish Republican Army, a Marxist offshoot of the I.R.A., to launder them in Europe. They even made fake Viagra.
The Agreed Framework that froze North Korea’s nuclear program in October 1994 didn’t stop these activities; they actually increased. Despite its other benefits, the framework didn’t address the fundamental hard currency needs of the North Korean leadership.
This criminal legacy means that Kim Jong-un has even more on his plate than one might think. In addition to running a country that is an economic and humanitarian disaster and a geopolitical hot spot, he also has to manage a global criminal racket. That’s a lot for any 20-something to handle. (As “Sopranos” fans know, A. J.’s taking over for Tony might not have been good for business.)
Despite the seemingly stable transition so far, Kim Jong-un is under pressure. Elite party members who supported his father will be skeptical of his untested ability to fulfill his side of their cash-for-support bargain. And North Korea needs more money than usual this year to celebrate the anniversaries of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. (In the '70s, one of the first things Kim Jong-il used foreign currency for was a campaign to glorify his father.) Any sign that Kim Jong-un can’t satisfy supporters could crack the facade of elite solidarity.
What’s an aspiring kingpin to do?
First, find the money. Kim Jong-un seems to have done that. One of the last photos released of Kim Jong-il shows him riding a supermarket escalator. Behind him are Kim Jong-un and Jon Il-chun, manager of the infamous Bureau 39.Second, control the people who earn the money. Illicit activity brings the risk of freelancing, especially when you’re forced to let others do the distribution. As North Korea outsourced the drug trade, its profit margins dropped—and more and more insiders skimmed off the system to line their pockets. Today, reports indicate that methamphetamine is widely used in North Korea (partly because it dulls hunger pains), and the state is cracking down on the trade it once monopolized. Even Kim Jong-il couldn’t maintain perfect control and had to send operatives abroad to retrieve misbehaving agents. These are delicate tasks easily botched by a novice.Finally, keep the money coming. Criminal activity was never North Korea’s ultimate objective; the aim was always hard currency. Kim Jong-un needs cash without political conditions to stay in power. But there aren’t many good options for getting it these days, which is why North Korea is likely to pursue new and expanded forms of illicit activity.
Criminal activities are attractive because other sources of money have strings attached. Remittances from defectors, which have risen recently, don’t go to leaders, and they let in information. North Korea could bank on economic reform or Chinese aid, but reform won’t necessarily provide money for the elite, and aid makes Pyongyang uneasily dependent on Chinese patronage.
The cardinal fear of national security experts—which partly motivated last week’s agreement - is that Pyongyang will make money through nuclear proliferation. After all, North Korea is alleged to have helped build the Syrian nuclear reactor that Israel destroyed in 2007. But it may be hard for North Korea to find a buyer; tests of its plutonium warheads have been a questionable technical success, and their uranium-enrichment program may not be advanced enough to make them an attractive seller.
That leaves crime. Last week’s deal does not change the probability that North Korea will engage in it. And new lines of business probably won’t look like the old ones; North Korea’s schemes are creative and highly adaptable.
When drugs and counterfeit dollars got too much exposure, the regime shifted toward cigarettes and insurance fraud. Last summer, South Korean authorities discovered North Korea’s involvement in a hacking ring that exploited online gaming sites to win points and exchange them for cash, making $6 million in two years. Given that cybercriminals across the world gross over $100 billion annually, a country with decent cyberwarfare capabilities could probably do well for itself.Or could North Korea go legit? Publicly at least, there haven’t been major seizures of its drugs or counterfeit currency in several years, leading analysts to speculate that targeting the country’s illicit finances successfully crippled those particular earning schemes. And Kim Jong-il’s death does give North Korea an opportunity to get out of the game.BUT legitimacy won’t solve Kim Jong-un’s problem. Right now his survival is guaranteed by hard currency, and the best source of it is illicit activity. That’s why previous American efforts sought to shut off these activities: to convince the regime it had to reform itself to survive.
That didn’t go quite far enough. Shutting down those activities works only so long as North Korea can’t find new ones. The key to survival was not any one illicit activity but the ability to adapt from one to another—an ability that, with Kim Jong-il gone, likely rests with just a few trusted people. Those people, their loyalties and their relationships are now Kim Jong-un’s biggest vulnerability. If North Korea loses its capacity to adapt, it will lose the ability to make money illicitly—and will have to choose reform.
For America to make successful deals with North Korea, we must first grasp that its leader faces not just a dictator’s problems, but those of a mafia boss. And if you make a deal with the Godfather, you must not overlook the interests of the consigliere standing behind him.
Evolutionary psychologists have suggested that confidence and conservatism promoted aggression in our ancestral past, and that this may have been an adaptive strategy given the prevailing costs and benefits of conflict. However, in modern environments, where the costs and benefits of conflict can be very different owing to the involvement of mass armies, sophisticated technology, and remote leadership, evolved tendencies toward high levels of confidence and conservatism may continue to be a contributory cause of aggression despite leading to greater costs and fewer benefits. The purpose of this paper is to test whether confidence and conservatism are indeed associated with greater levels of aggression—in an explicitly political domain. We present the results of an experiment examining people’s levels of aggression in response to hypothetical international crises (a hostage crisis, a counter-insurgency campaign, and a coup). Levels of aggression (which range from concession to negotiation to military attack) were significantly predicted by subjects’ (1) confidence that their chosen policy would succeed, (2) score on a liberal-conservative scale, (3) political party affiliation, and (4) preference for the use of military force in real-world US policy toward Iraq and Iran. We discuss the possible adaptive and maladaptive implications of confidence.
Is it culture, the weather, geography? Perhaps ignorance of what the right policies are?Simply, no. None of these factors is either definitive or destiny. Otherwise, how to explain why Botswana has become one of the fastest growing countries in the world, while other African nations, such as Zimbabwe, the Congo, and Sierra Leone, are mired in poverty and violence? Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson conclusively show that it is man-made political and economic institutions that underlie economic success (or lack of it). Korea, to take just one of their fascinating examples, is a remarkably homogeneous nation, yet the people of North Korea are among the poorest on earth while their brothers and sisters in South Korea are among the richest. The south forged a society that created incentives, rewarded innovation, and allowed everyone to participate in economic opportunities. The economic success thus spurred was sustained because the government became accountable and responsive to citizens and the great mass of people. Sadly, the people of the north have endured decades of famine, political repression, and very different economic institutions—with no end in sight. The differences between the Koreas is due to the politics that created these completely different institutional trajectories.
Based on fifteen years of original research Acemoglu and Robinson marshall extraordinary historical evidence from the Roman Empire, the Mayan city-states, medieval Venice, the Soviet Union, Latin America, England, Europe, the United States, and Africa to build a new theory of political economy with great relevance for the big questions of today, including:
China has built an authoritarian growth machine. Will it continue to grow at such high speed and overwhelm the West?
Are America’s best days behind it? Are we moving from a virtuous circle in which efforts by elites to aggrandize power are resisted to a vicious one that enriches and empowers a small minority?
What is the most effective way to help move billions of people from the rut of poverty to prosperity? More philanthropy from the wealthy nations of the West? Or learning the hard-won lessons of Acemoglu and Robinson’s breakthrough ideas on the interplay between inclusive political and economic institutions?
Why Nations Fail will change the way you look at—and understand—the world.
Several centuries ago, there was a nation that rose to become a world power on the strength of its innovation and its dedication to capitalist enterprise. It became a major center of trade, a financial powerhouse whose name was well known across the planet. It was blessed with an unusual society that rewarded talent and hard work, not social position—one of the few places where a person who had nothing could realistically dream of a far better life. And then this vibrant place, the envy of the world, suddenly collapsed. Its economy shrank; its people left.The place was Venice, and if it is hard to imagine the charming tourist destination was once one of the richest places on the Earth, then that is precisely what MIT economist Daron Acemoglu wants me to understand. I had come to the Sloan School of Management cafeteria, its tall windows framing the Charles River, for coffee and a discussion of his favorite topic—why nations fail.
It is a question that has intrigued people for thousands of years, but now Acemoglu and Harvard’s James Robinson offer an answer in an ambitious new book. Their theory, the fruit of a long intellectual partnership and research that digs back to the origins of agriculture, explains why some countries succeed and others do not, why some are awash in prosperity, while others are consumed by poverty and suffering. It explains how a city-state like Venice can rise to prominence, then quickly fail. And it offers a chastening message about the prospects for our own country.
So why do nations fail? Acemoglu has a one-word answer: “Politics.’’
What this means, he explains, is that nations succeed in the long term when they are able to share power broadly. They either develop inclusive institutions or “extractive institutions,’’ designed to plunder wealth for the few.
Throughout history, says Acemoglu, “the great struggle is between the masses and elites who seek to capture the government and put it to their own uses.’’
It is a less obvious answer, with more surprising implications, than is immediately apparent.To begin with, consider the factors that the two reject. Geography, for example, has long been a favorite explanation for the success of nations. Some places are blessed with natural advantages, while others are not. Certainly, sitting on coveted goods brings great wealth: witness Saudi Arabia or, for that matter, Russia. But over the long reach of history, geography fails to explain which nations have staying power. One can make a convincing list of all the geographical benefits that have accrued to the United States, but when Europeans first arrived in the 15th century, it was South America, not North, that was rich and (relatively) thickly settled.
The killing of 16 Afghan civilians - nine of them children—by a rogue U.S. soldier is a tragedy in several senses. First, because of the loss of innocent life. Second, because the alleged perpetrator is likely someone whose psyche and spirit broke under the pressure of a prolonged counterinsurgency campaign. And third, because it was all so unnecessary.
Because Barack Obama has run a generally hawkish foreign policy, his Republican opponents don't have a lot of daylight to exploit on that issue. But if they weren't so preoccupied with sounding tough, they could go after Obama's foolish decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan back in 2009, which remains his biggest foreign policy blunder to date.A brutal reality is that counterinsurgency campaigns almost always produce atrocities. Think My Lai, Abu Ghraib, the Haditha massacre, and now this. You simply can't place soldiers in the ambiguous environment of an indigenous insurgency, where the boundary between friend and foe is exceedingly hard to discern, and not expect some of them to crack and go rogue. Even if discipline holds and mental health is preserved, a few commanders will get overzealous and order troops to cross the line between legitimate warfare and barbarism. There isn't a “nice” way to wage a counterinsurgency—no matter how often we talk about “hearts and minds”—which is why leaders ought to think long and hard before they order the military to occupy another country and try to remake its society. Or before they decide to escalate a war that is already underway.
And the sad truth is that this shameful episode would not have happened had Obama rejected the advice of his military advisors and stopped trying to remake Afghanistan from the start of his first term. Yes, I know he promised to get out of Iraq and focus on Central Asia, but no president fulfills all his campaign promises (remember how he was going to close Gitmo?) and Obama could have pulled the plug on this failed enterprise at the start. Maybe he didn't for political reasons, or because commanders like David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal convinced him they could turn things around. Or maybe he genuinely believed that U.S. national security required an open-ended effort to remake Afghanistan.Whatever the reason, he was wrong. The sad truth is that the extra effort isn't going to produce a significantly better outcome, and the lives and money that we've spent there since 2009 are mostly wasted. That was apparent before this weekend's events, which can only make our futile task even more impossible. Here's what I wrote about this situation back in November 2009:“America's odds of winning this war are slim. The Karzai government is corrupt, incompetent and resistant to reform. The Taliban have sanctuaries in Pakistan and can hide among the local populace, making it possible for them simply to outlast us. Pakistan has backed the Afghan Taliban in the past and is not a reliable partner now. Our European allies are war-weary and looking for the exits. The more troops we send and the more we interfere in Afghan affairs, the more we look like foreign occupiers and the more resistance we will face. There is therefore little reason to expect a U.S. victory.”
It didn't take a genius to see this, and I had lots of company in voicing my doubts. It gives me no pleasure to recall it now. Indeed, I wish the critics had been proven wrong and Obama, Petraeus, McChrystal, et al. had been proven right. I concede that the situation in Afghanistan may get worse after we depart, and the more civilians will die at the hands of the Taliban, or as a consequence of renewed civil war. But the brutal fact remains: the United States can't fix that country, it is not a vital U.S. interest that we try, and we should have been gone a long time ago.
I did a brief interview for All Things Considered last Friday, on the topic of media handling of the current war scare over Iran. Here's a link to the story, which ran over the weekend.The interview got me thinking about the issue of media coverage of this whole business, and I'm sorry to say that most mainstream news organizations have let us down again. Although failures haven't been as egregious as the New York Times and Washington Post's wholesale swallowing of the Bush administration's sales pitch for war in 2002, on the whole the high-end media coverage has been disappointing. Here are my Top Ten Media Failures in the 2012 Iran War Scare.#1: Mainstreaming the war. As I've written before, when prominent media organizations keep publishing alarmist pieces about how war is imminent, likely, inevitable, etc., this may convince the public that it is going to happen sooner or later and it discourages people from looking for better alternatives. Exhibits A and B for this problem are Jeffrey Goldberg's September 2010 article in The Atlantic Monthly and Ronan Bergman's February 2012 article in the New York Times Magazine. Both articles reported that top Israeli leaders believed time was running out and suggested that an attack might come soon.#2: Loose talk about Iran's “nuclear [weapons] program.” A recurring feature of Iran war coverage has been tendency to refer to Iran's “nuclear weapons program” as if its existence were an established fact. U.S. intelligence services still believe that Iran does not have an active program, and the IAEA has also declined to render that judgment either. Interestingly, both the Times' public editor Arthur Brisbane and Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton have recently chided their own organizations for muddying this issue.
#3: Obsessing about Ahmadinejad. A typical insertion into discussions of Iran is to make various references to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, usually including an obligatory reference to his penchant for Holocaust denial and his famously mis-translated statement about Israel “vanishing from the page of time.” This feature is often linked to the issue of whether Iran's leaders are rational or not. But the obsession with Ahmadinejad is misleading in several ways: he has little or no influence over Iran's national security policy, his power has been declining sharply in recent months, and Supreme Leader Ali Khameini - who does make the key decisions - has repeatedly said that nuclear weapons are contrary to Islam. And while we're on the subject of Iranian “rationality,” it is perhaps worth noting that its leaders weren't goofy enough to invade Iraq on a pretext and then spend trillions of dollars fighting an unnecessary war there.
#4: Ignoring Iranian weakness. As I've noted before, Iran is not a very powerful country at present, though it does have considerable potential and could exert far more international influence if its leaders were more competent. But its defense budget is perhaps 1/50th the size of U.S. defense spending, and it has no meaningful power-projection capabilities. It could not mount a serious invasion of any of its neighbors, and could not block the Strait of Hormuz for long, if at all. Among other things, that is why it has to rely on marriages of convenience with groups like Hezbollah or Hamas (who aren't that powerful either). Yet as Glenn Greenwald argues here, U.S. media coverage often portrays Iran as a looming threat, without offering any serious military analysis of its very limited capabilities.#5: Failing to ask why Iran might want a bomb. Discussions of a possible war also tend to assume that if Iran does in fact intend to get a nuclear weapon, it is for some nefarious purpose. But the world's nine nuclear powers all obtained these weapons first and foremost for deterrent purposes (i.e., because they faced significant external threats and wanted a way to guarantee their own survival). Iran has good reason to worry: It has nuclear-armed states on two sides, a very bad relationship with the world's only superpower, and more than three dozen U.S. military facilities in its neighborhood. Prominent U.S. politicians repeatedly call for “regime change” there, and a covert action campaign against Iran has been underway for some time, including the assassination of Iranian civilian scientists.
#6: Failing to consider why Iran might NOT want a bomb. At the same time, discussions of Iran's nuclear ambitions often fail to consider the possibility that Iran might be better off without a nuclear weapons capability. As noted above, Supreme Leader Khameini has repeatedly said that nuclear weapons are contrary to Islam, and he may very well mean it. He could be lying, but that sort of lie would be risky for a regime whose primary basis for legitimacy is its devotion to Islam. For another, Iran has the greatest power potential of any state in the Gulf, and if it had better leadership it would probably be the strongest power in the region. If it gets nuclear weapons some of its neighbors may follow suit, which would partly negate Iran's conventional advantages down the road. Furthermore, staying on this side of the nuclear weapons threshold keeps Iran from being suspected of complicity should a nuclear terrorist attack occur somewhere. For all these reasons, I'd bet Iran wants a latent nuclear option, but not an actual nuclear weapon. But there's been relatively little discussion of that possibility in recent media coverage.#7: Exaggerating Israel's capabilities. In a very real sense, this whole war scare has been driven by the possibility that Israel might feel so endangered that they would launch a preventive war on their own, even if U.S. leaders warned them not to. But the IDF doesn't have the capacity to take out Iran's new facility at Fordow, because they don't have any aircraft that can carry a bomb big enough to penetrate the layers of rock that protect the facilities. And if they can't take out Fordow, then they can't do much to delay Iran's program at all and the only reason they might strike is to try to get the United States dragged in. In short, the recent war scare-whose taproot is the belief that Israel might strike on its own-may be based on a mirage.#8: Letting spinmeisters play fast and loose with facts. Journalists have to let officials and experts express their views, but they shouldn't let them spout falsehoods without pushing back. Unfortunately, there have been some egregious cases where prominent journalists allowed politicians or government officials to utter howlers without being called on it. When Rick Santorum announced on Meet the Press that “there were no inspectors” in Iran, for example, host David Gregory didn't challenge this obvious error. (In fact, Iran may be the most heavily inspected country in the history of the IAEA).
Even worse, when Israeli ambassador Michael Oren appeared on MSNBC last week, he offered the following set of dubious claims, without challenge:“[Iran] has built an underground nuclear facility trying to hide its activities from the world. It has been enriching uranium to a high rate [sic.] that has no explanation other than a military nuclear program - that has been confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency now several times. It is advancing very quickly on an intercontinental ballistic missile system that's capable of carrying nuclear warheads.”
Unfortunately, MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell apparently didn't know that Oren's claims were either false or misleading. 1) Iran's underground facility was built to make it hard to destroy, not to “hide its activities,” and IAEA inspectors have already been inside it. 2) Iran is not enriching at a "high rate" (i.e., to weapons-grade); it is currently enriching to only 20% (which is not high enough to build a bomb). 3) Lastly, Western intelligence experts do not think Iran is anywhere near to having an ICBM capability.In another interview on NPR, Oren falsely accused Iran of “killing hundreds, if not thousands of American troops,” a claim that NPR host Robert Siegel did not challenge. Then we got the following exchange:
Oren: “Imagine Iran which today has a bunch of speedboats trying to close the Strait of Hormuz. Imagine if Iran has a nuclear weapon. Imagine if they could hold the entire world oil market blackmailed. Imagine if Iran is conducting terrorist organizations through its terrorist proxies - Hamas, Hezbollah. Now we know there's a connection with al-Qaida. You can't respond to them because they have an atomic weapon.”
Siegel: “Yes. You're saying the consequences of Iran going nuclear are potentially global, and the consequences of a U.S. strike on Iran might also be further such attacks against the United States...”
Never mind the fact that we have been living in the nuclear age for some 60 years now, and no nuclear state has even been able to conduct the sort of aggressive blackmail that Oren suggests Iran would be able to do. Nuclear weapons are good for deterrence, and not much else, but the news media keep repeating alarmist fantasies without asking if they make sense or not.Politicians and government officials are bound to use media moments to sell whatever story they are trying to spin; that's their job. But It is up to journalists to make this hard, and both Mitchell and Siegel didn't. (For another example of sloppy fact-checking, go here).#9. What about the human beings? One of the more bizarre failures of reporting on the war debate has been the dearth of discussion of what an attack might mean for Iranian civilians. If you take out some of Iran's nuclear facilities from the air, for example, there's a very real risk of spreading radioactive material or other poisonous chemicals in populated areas, thereby threatening the lives of lots of civilians. Yet when discussing the potentially dangerous consequences of a war, most discussions emphasize the dangers of Iranian retaliation, or the impact on oil prices, instead of asking how many innocent Iranian civilians might die in the attack. You know: the same civilians we supposedly want to liberate from a despotic clerical regime.#10. Could diplomacy work? Lastly, an underlying theme in a lot of the coverage is the suggestion that diplomacy is unlikely to work, because it's been tried before and failed. But the United States has had very little contact with Iranian officials over the past thirty years, and only one brief set of direct talks in the past three years. Moreover, we've insisted all along that Iran has to give up all nuclear enrichment, which is almost certainly a deal-breaker from Tehran's perspective. The bottom line is that diplomacy has yet to succeed - and it might not in any case - but it's also never been seriously tried.I'm sure you can find exceptions to the various points I've made here, especially if you move outside major media outlets and focus on online publications and the blogosphere. Which may be why more people are inclined to get their news and analysis there, instead of from the usual outlets. But on the whole, Americans haven't been well-served by media coverage of the Iran debate. As the president said last week, “loose talk” about an issue like this isn't helpful.