How Racism Feeds Militarism

While most public opinion research on foreign policy asks the public to evaluate specific policies and interventions, a new working paper by Ohio State political science PhD student and Data for Progress co-founder Jon Green takes the novel approach of measuring support for hypothetical justifications for military intervention against racial attitudes. The research is still in progress, but early returns suggest that being racist — scoring high on a scale Jon calls “Acceptance of Racism” — is associated with increased support for war for oil and attacking terrorist camps. Racism also predicts much lower support for using the military to prevent genocides, support allies, or enforce international law. I spoke with Jon over e-mail to discuss these and other findings, and what they tell us about the future of progressive foreign policy in America.

SR: What do scholars know so far about how people come to their preferences about military intervention?

JG: In general, we know that the public is less supportive of war if they perceive high human costs, and we know that low income communities of color typically shoulder a disproportionate share of those human costs. So in general (though not always), when scholars have looked for a racial dimension to foreign policy attitudes, they’ve found one. Observationally, black citizens became less supportive of the Vietnam War more quickly than their white counterparts. Experimentally, framing opposition to the (then-potential) Iraq War in terms of disproportionate human costs significantly reduced support among black respondents who were high in in-group consciousness (the same experiment found that framing opposition in implicitly as opposed to explicitly racial terms — highlighting the likelihood that war funds would divert resources away from the social safety net — increased support among white respondents who were high in out-group resentment).

With respect to racial attitudes, as opposed to racial identity, most of the work that’s out there has focused on specific conflicts in the Middle East, and not without good reason. Scholars have found both that the targets of American foreign policy in the region are racially constructed, and that support for interventions in the region has consistently been associated with various attitudinal measures that implicate race: value of hierarchy, ethnocentrism, anti-Muslim stereotyping, e.g. However, there’s a growing body of work showing that racial attitudes are becoming increasingly associated with all manner of policy attitudes — from health care to environmental regulation — such that it seemed reasonable to at least check to see if the same sorts of relationships would carry over to uses of military force that less-obviously invoke the Middle East, such as helping the UN uphold international law.

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Disaster by Design

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) was the toast of boardrooms and newsrooms alike in his recent visit to the United States. Billionaires Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates were happy to stooge for the monarch in candid, jolly photo ops.

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Billionaire Jeff Bezos with MbS (Saudi Press Agency)

Those photos are a perfect representation of the US-Saudi relationship when it comes to Yemen – billionaires cheerfully posing for professional photos while thousands starve.

Senators Bernie Sanders and Mike Lee recently sponsored a bill that would have ended US involvement in the brutal, Saudi-led and US supported imperialist war in Yemen but the legislation didn’t even come up for a vote. Ten Democrats, including recently elected Alabama #resistance hero Doug Jones, flocked to the side of their Republican colleagues to table the bill.

While US lawmakers continue to “resist” the Trump administration through acquiescence, Yemenis – already some of the world’s most impoverished, food insecure people – face US bombs dropped by Saudi pilots, Houthi ordnance, cholera, famine and mass death.   

Who is responsible for what the UN now calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis?

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We Need a Smarter Conversation About Russiagate

Any honest observer of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign could see that it had suspicious ties to Russia, and anyone who followed U.S.-Russia relations prior to 2016 should have known that the allegations of Russian interference were plausible. A strain of denialism about this on the left has only gradually abated as more evidence has emerged, but a tendency to dismiss the story as overblown persists, motivated to a large extent by contempt for the Russiagate-obsessed liberal and centrist “Resistance.” And much of that contempt is deserved; the popular narrative that nefarious Russians subverted the otherwise pure American Republic is wishful thinking. Russian interference was real and significant, but it only worked because something had gone terribly wrong with U.S. political institutions.

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Make Aggression a Crime Again

Last week, Sinan Antoon published a reflection on the fifteenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq in The New York Times. An emergent antiwar left would do well to contemplate his essay in its entirety. One line, in particular, struck me:

“The invasion of Iraq is often spoken of in the United States as a ‘blunder,’ or even a ‘colossal mistake.’ It was a crime.”

Zahra Ali, Matt Taibbi, and even Jill Stein made similar statements on the solemn anniversary. Much of the American left seems to agree on this point.

But was the invasion of Iraq actually a crime? Kirk H. Sowell, a meticulous analyst of Iraq’s domestic politics, doesn’t think so. He argues that such accusations are little more than petty slogans:

“The use of the term “crime” is mindless. No evidence of a crime is put forward; Iraq in fact violated the armistice, which followed the 1991. And a “crime” requires a mental state. Bush’s ignorance was historic, but the evidence is clear he sincerely believed the WMD rhetoric.”

I disagree with Sowell. While I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with sloganeering for a good cause, doing so is not necessary here. The Iraq War was a crime. And the war was criminal whether or not President Bush was genuinely concerned about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It was criminal for the simple reason that the war’s architects violated the well-established international prohibition against waging a war of aggression.

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Fifteen Years of Blood

This week is the fifteenth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War, an illegal intervention that continues to immiserate millions. The war is a moral wrong and a criminal act, which condemned the war and its proponents long before the first munitions claimed their first victims. By the time the consequences of the war unfolded, they should have been damned irrevocably. The hideous fruits of the Iraq War – the human suffering, the interminable and metastasizing violence, the wanton squandering of wealth, corruption, outright looting, the hundreds of thousands or more Iraqi and over 4800 coalition dead before the initial 2011 withdrawal – are not the product of some unforeseen twist of fate. They fell well within the predictions and warnings of its opponents, offered openly at the time.

Yet within the conventional wisdom of the Washington national security establishment, to have aligned yourself with the most stridently anti-war voices in 2002 and 2003 remains a similar or greater discredit to your character and continued professional suitability than having planned or advocated the war itself. Too many of the policymakers who pushed for or voted for the Iraq War remain not only in office or positions of influence, but relied upon as key figures in national security legislation. Too many of the supposed experts who ginned up the Iraqi threat and bungled the war’s execution remain trusted fonts of strategic wisdom. Too many of the journalists and commentators who pushed dubious information and waged a propaganda campaign against the war’s opponents remain trusted voices in today’s debates. Until there is accountability suitable for the magnitude of the wrong, there is little chance of an authentically left policy, or any firm departure from the miserable Washington national security consensus, successfully breaking free of malign institutions and their tired dogmas.

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The Skripal Poisonings and the Chance To Build A Left Foreign Policy

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, has been one of the prime movers in exposing the corrupting influence of foreign money and Britain’s complicity in Russian crimes. His response to Tory PM Theresa May, (and even his more measured comments today) however, shows the limits of Corbyn’s foreign policy prowess as well as the general unease left politicians still have have in dealing with the confluence of international relations and finance. Indeed by using the tools of financial sanctions against the corrupt and the dangerous, we can create a more equitable society while punishing Putin and his allies where they will feel it the most.

Theresa May announced this week that the UK would expel 23 Russian diplomats, identified as “undeclared intelligence officers” after the attempted poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal in Salisbury. Provided after an ultimatum that drew only mocking and sarcasm from Russia’s foreign ministry, May went so far as to declare the use of the nerve agent Novichok (a weapon developed by the USSR in the 1970s and 80s) an “unlawful use of force.” Among other measures, May also announced that the UK would be increasing customs checks for private flights originating from Russia as well as a variety of other more pro forma measures. Continue reading “The Skripal Poisonings and the Chance To Build A Left Foreign Policy”

Reckoning with the Imperial We

Before I can talk about Doug Mack’s travelogue-cum-history of America’s colonies, “The Not-Quite States of America,” I’m going to take a quick detour to talk about the Red Sox. As a baseball-ambivalent westerner, growing up I knew vaguely that the Sox were good in like the 1910s, hadn’t won a World Series in a long time, and then were good again, winning a bunch of them. But I didn’t really understand what that meant as lifetimes of lived experience, generations of crushing disappointment between triumphs. To make sure I could grasp the significance, my Massachusetts born-and-raised spouse sat me down with “Still We Believe,” a 2004 movie documenting the Sox’s 2003 season. By sheer coincidence, 2003 was the 86th and final year of an 86-year-long World Series drought, and so by luck director Paul Doyle Jr. managed to capture the last moment of a certain mood, a certain era, a certain generations-long status quo that would, within a year, change radically.

It was this sense of accidental prescience that kept striking me as I read “Not-Quite States.” The book was first published in 2017 (through Twitter, Mack sent me an early copy of the paperback, which released last month), and the travels documented took place in the few years before publication. Mack is by trade a travel writer, and so his work reads as an over-the-shoulder look of who he met, what he saw, and the big questions he was thinking about during the travels. The impetus for the trip is charmingly mundane: Mack and his wife Maren mused over some minted quarters for the territories, like the earlier ones for the States, and from there Mack decided to go in search of the asterixed part of America. That he did so right before Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico is cosmic coincidence. Here we have tourist testament and travelogue, aimed to get the passively curious stateside reader interested in the fates of the territories, and suddenly too we have the territories thrust into the national conversation in a way the territories haven’t been for a generation, and possibly haven’t been since they were first acquired in a fit of imperial pique.

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