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Friday Puzzler: Fear Not Cuba, Unless You’re Republican

By Barbara F. Walter

Senator Marco Rubio speaking at an event in Maryland in 2013. By Gage Skidmore.

Senator Marco Rubio speaking at an event in Maryland in 2013. By Gage Skidmore.

Republican rancor began as soon as the U.S.’s new policy toward Cuba was announced on Wednesday. “All this is going to do,” said an angry Marc Rubio, Cuban-American Senator from Florida, “is give the Castro regime, which controls every aspect of Cuban life, the opportunity to …perpetuate itself in power.” Jeb Bush, the former Republican governor of Florida, seconded the sentiment by writing that “[t]he beneficiaries of President Obama’s ill-advised move will be the heinous Castro brothers who have oppressed the Cuban people for decades.” And Ted Cruz, Republican from Texas, said it was a lifeline to the Castro brothers and would only make the situation “worse.” Clearly, Republicans hated the decision, especially those who appeared to have Presidential ambitions.

Hardline Americans might agree with angry Republicans and argue that continued sanctions are necessary for democracy to occur. But evidence points in the opposite direction. Our 50+ year embargo of Cuba has had absolutely no effect on political reform or democratization in Cuba. In fact, most experts agree that isolation has only served to bolster the regime, not lead to its demise.

Politically astute Americans are likely to argue that Republican presidential candidates are critical of the new openness because that’s what politically powerful Cuban-Americans living in Florida want. But this argument is also not correct. First, a poll of Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County conducted this year found that 68 percent are open to the possibility of restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba. That number rises to 88 percent if the person is under 30. Cuban-Americans, therefore, are much more supportive of normalizing relations to Cuba than are Republican politicians. Second, the number of Cubans in Florida is now greatly outnumbered by Puerto Ricans, and other Latin and South Americans. Republican rejection of Cuba, therefore, is no longer in line with either the preferences or the demographics of the Hispanic population in Florida.

So today’s puzzler is this: If restoring full diplomatic relations with Cuba is good for the United States, good for ordinary Cubans, and if it is supported by a majority of Cuban-Americans and Hispanics why do Republicans so loudly reject it?

Do Revelations of Injustice Increase Violence?

By Erica Chenoweth

Activists protest the US' use of torture in front of the Supreme Court. By Justin Norman.

Activists protest the US’ use of torture in front of the Supreme Court. By Justin Norman.

Critics of the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s use of torture suggest that the report will heighten anti-American sentiment, give fuel to jihadist groups who wish to target the United States, and ultimately make Americans less safe.

This rhetoric is baseless if unsurprising. In reality, there is no real systematic evidence to suggest that revelations of brutality lead to more violence.

There is considerable evidence, however, that actual brutality (i.e. human rights violations, military invasions, and other forms of state violence during occupations) is associated with subsequent increases in terrorist attacks. Many people have referred to this effect in Iraq and Afghanistan—cases where foreign invasions and human rights violations clearly exacerbated rather than reduced violence. But plenty more scholarly studies  indicate that states that rely on violence (especially indiscriminate and/or extrajudicial violence) to combat terrorism almost always end up prolonging terrorist campaigns rather than rooting them out.

Research by James Piazza and James Igoe Walsh show that states that violate physical integrity rights experience higher levels of subsequent terror attacks. Seung-Whan Choi finds a similar effect with regard to civil rights practices in general. Laura Dugan and I find that in the Israeli case, from 1987-2004 indiscriminate repression generally increased Palestinian violence, whereas more conciliatory counterterrorism measures (such as offers of negotiation or even public admissions of government abuses of Palestinians) tended to reduce subsequent violent incidents. And several others have shown that while British military strategies in Northern Ireland generally increased dissident violence, negotiations effectively ended it. Still other studies convincingly argue that criminal justice measures against those who have actually committed criminal acts are perfectly adequate in combating and deterring terror attacks.

In other words, brutal state strategies to counter “terrorism” are usually unnecessary – and they are more likely to backfire than to succeed.

There is also convincing evidence that even though such measures are visibly ineffective in defeating violent dissent, states rarely stop torturing until the domestic political costs of continued abuses become intolerably high. And those costs don’t begin to stack up without public revelations such as these. Popular pressure is apparently necessary for states to put an end to these practices, and truth-telling about brutality is probably necessary for popular pressure to develop.

In short, revelations of human rights violations don’t increase violence. Actual human rights violations do. If critics of the report are truly concerned about making Americans safer, they should pay attention to this vast body of empirical evidence and swiftly promote and adopt laws that permanently end these and other ongoing practices that violate basic human rights. Word of warning: they might need a little popular pressure to do so.

States of Fear and Killing AFROzilla

By Christian Davenport

Over the last few incidents involving the police and African Americans, we have repeatedly been exposed to different indications of fear.

There is the fear of Michael Brown.

One article notes that, “The white police officer who shot dead Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in August… reportedly told investigators he feared for his life in an altercation with the teenager just before the shooting.”

There is the fear of Eric Garner:

One article quoted someone saying that, “Reflecting on the experience of a close friend who is a police officer, she said, ‘They don’t want to pull out their gun, but no matter what their training says, at some point they have to defend themselves.’ Some people recalled nights spent waiting for sons or brothers who are police officers to return from patrol. They said they felt the same sense of unease bubble up as they watched the video, in which Mr. Garner, weighing over 300 pounds, became agitated as Officer Pantaleo tried to restrain him. ‘When you’re an officer, your own life is in danger,’ said Angela, 60, whose brother is a police officer and who, like several of those interviewed, declined to provide her surname. Officer Pantaleo, she said, was in danger that day. ‘He could’ve died himself.'”

This fear reminded me of what we were told officers felt about Rodney King years before and the “Big Black Man Syndrome”.

The basic story: well, police are out there doing what they do and then they come across these beings who frankly scare them a little bit.  They are big, they are strong, they don’t feel pain like regular folk and they don’t really respond to logical reasoning or verbal instruction. Toss in a reference to “Mandingo” and yes we have officially jumped back to some of the oldest stereotypes concerning African Americans (the list on the link is worth looking at).

The current discussion of black males described by some police officers and their supporters reminds me of something like a character “AFROzilla” (not the wrestler), but some HUGE black guy, 20 stories tall who moves through the urban ghettos, crushing all that it is in its path (like how Mos Def described people’s image of Hip Hop in “Fear Not of Man”). In the AFROzilla story, the police stand effortless as the creature moves through the city. The weapons they fire are ineffectual – they bounce off. Nothing can stop AFROzilla – well, almost nothing. But the point remains: AFROzilla is out there and the only thing that stands between them and you are the “boys in blue”, so if anything happens out there (like one of the zillas gets hurt), give the police a break because they are doing this to protect you.

Given this, I was not surprised by discussion of the officer’s fear because this form of self-defense argument seems to be the only legitimate way that governments can use force against their citizens. Think back to the discussions of the political theorist Thomas Hobbes. States are founded on fear and thus it makes sense that fear would be connected with one of the most heinous acts that governments engage in: taking the life of a citizen that they are charged with protecting. This is especially the case in the US.

Consider it: governments are on the look out for terrorists/terrorism, insurgents/insurgency, violent protesters/protest, revolutionaries/revolution and rebels/rebellion as well as violent criminals/crime. This is a large part of what they do. Why are they looking out for these people/things?  Well, because the citizens fear injury and death that might be associated with these people/things.  So, to overcome this fear we, as citizens, allow (I repeat allow) those in government to wield coercive power (i.e., make it, distribute it, stockpile it, train people in using it and employ it) because it is said that they are going to protect us from the things that we most fear: injury and death.  This objective, the right to do it and to use force while engaged in such behavior is often discussed in national constitutions and international treaties.

We allow governments to have this power because we fear what would happen if they did not have it.  The problem here is that governments are the ones who collect (or do not collect) information on what we fear. They are the experts on what we fear. They are the ones who are or are not compiling information on threats (both real and imagined). They are, in a sense, the suppliers of the problem. They are fear mongers, as it were, creating and sustaining the myth of AFROzilla. They get plenty of help from the media and Hollywood – although this has changed somewhat over time.

Interestingly, governments are also the providers of the solution: “legitimate” violence. This is a bit tricky but this seems to refer to violence that is allocated fairly and proportionately to the situation that exists. One version of this is the “use of force continuum”. The idea is reasonable but its assessment/evaluation is not. The legitimate component/the proportionality idea presumes that threat assessment is some straightforward enterprise.  But, this is anything but straightforward and people interpret the same video feed very differently in accordance to their varying sensibilities.  But part of this problem is the persistence of the AFROzilla myth itself.

To get to a closer read of what is taking place in American streets and begin to change things, we need to kill AFROzilla. Now, I am not talking about the end of the Godzilla movie or King Kong where we throw every weapon we have at the creature and watch it fall off some tall building to the ground below. This is essentially where we have been – note the casualty rate of African American males to police harassment, arrest, violence, incarceration, sentencing and lack of parole. No, I am suggesting a different approach, starting from the bottom-up not the top-down (as it were). Remember the failed national conversation on race that President Clinton tried to have. Well, we need to try again and focus the effort a bit more. AFROzilla must be deconstructed and actual black lives need to be replaced in its stead. Perhaps in line with the Washington Posts “Being a Black Man” series, but bigger and more widely distributed across the nation across different venues because we know that everyone does not read or view movies or listen to music or attend teach-ins but they might do one of these. We need to go here because in 2014 we should not have to have anyone say that “Black Lives Matter”. We should just know it.

The Case for Coalitions of the Unwilling

By Lionel Beehner

American and Iraqi officials meet in Baghdad to discuss the fight against ISIS. Via the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

American and Iraqi officials meet in Baghdad to discuss the fight against ISIS. Via the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

For months, it was believed that the patchwork of 40-plus countries recruited in the fight against ISIS looked weak and wobbly. Who can forget that Vice President Joe Biden had to recently apologize to not one but three Middle East allies — Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia — for accusing them in public of secretly abetting the Islamist rebels. Worse, the vice president was not factually incorrect in his assertion.

But then something remarkable happened. After much contentious back-and-forth, Turkey and the United States appear to have reached a tentative agreement on two fronts: The use of Incirlik and other bases, and the formation of a de facto no-fly zone in northern Syria. Iranian fighter jets, too, have joined in the fight against ISIS. No, the process has not been pretty. But in the long term, an alliance of strange bedfellows may actually be more helpful to prevent countries from shirking or contributing only token support.

This viewpoint is backed up by Stephen Gent, a scholar at the University of North Carolina, who found that when there is complete consensus on an issue, we get a “free rider” problem. That is, smaller countries assume others will do their bidding. The inability to prevent genocides in Darfur and Rwanda provides a case in point.

But when there are major disagreements over interests, countries are more willing to intervene jointly — since it gives them greater say in shaping the policy outcomes. Thus, the diversity of the coalition assembled against ISIS should be its strength, not weakness.

This is also akin to what international relations scholars call “buck passing,” which can be thought of as a game of musical chairs. Other countries will make concessions to a rising threat — say, Nazi Germany — so long as they are not the last ones standing in their way when the music stops. (Hence, Joseph Stalin signs a secret deal with Adolf Hitler to pass the buck, as it were, to France.)

To be sure, there are many members of our coalition who do not want to get rid of ISIS if it means empowering Shiites in Baghdad and Tehran. It looks as if Turkey is working at cross-purposes with its coalition partners by sitting by idly while anti-ISIS Kurds are slaughtered in Kobani and insisting on the removal of al-Assad as a precondition of military support.

This is a problem.

Now ISIS appears to be more on the run and Ankara has finally gotten off the fence. Indeed, an anti-ISIS coalition of more diverse interests is stronger down the road than a united one that just rubber-stamps whatever we want. Such diversity also imposes more constraints, prevents mission creep, and lends greater legitimacy to our missions, as Cornell University’s Sarah Kreps points out in her book, Coalitions of Convenience.

Turkey is perversely a case in point: Among its main interests all along was to impose a formalized buffer zone across much of northern Syria, which now exists, albeit de facto and across a narrower swath of territory, thanks to NATO bombing. Coalitions also make it easier to extricate oneself once the fighting stops and prevent occupations.

Consider that a big reason we got bogged down in Iraq after our intervention in 2003 was the fig leaf “coalition of the willing” — there was nobody left to hand it off to when the music stopped playing. The burden-sharing of a broader coalition, despite all its headaches, is preferable to the costlier strategy of going-it-alone. History shows it is better to have our shaky allies inside the tent doing their business than outside of it.

That is not to say that we will prevent duty-shirking by partners this time around or that our actions will always be legitimized. But the coalition against ISIS is reimagining a new Middle East framework that may have legs to it long after the Islamist threat has receded, as well as open the door for new alliances to emerge to combat regional problems beyond ISIS, including Shiite extremism, economic stagnation, among others.

Maybe the threat posed by ISIS will serve as a wake-up call, one that serves to unite the Middle East. That is, after all, how NATO formed in the first place.

A version of this post originally appeared in Cicero magazine.

Who is Doing What in Counter-ISIS Campaign?

By Steve Saideman

The Atlantic Council has an interesting graphic about the missions in/over Syria/Iraq.  It is a bit hard to read.  The parts most interesting to me include:

With the footnote for Qatar indicating that it is patrolling but not striking.   This would suggest that the rest of the countries are striking…. And I would not be so sure about that: have Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and UAE done more than a token strike?

So, the division of labor remains as we understood it: US and Arab allies engaged against Syrian targets; US and NATO allies/partner (Australia is a frequent partner) plus Iraq engaging targets in Iraq.  Note that while the big picture I link to has all 28 NATO members participating, only seven NATO countries are engaged in airstrikes–one less than Libya.  The differences?  No Norway or Italy this time but the Dutch are now dropping bombs, which they didn’t do the last time.


The US, unlike Libya, is doing the overwhelming majority of the strikes.  Is 63 non-US strikes divvied up by five Arab countries token or more than token? Hmm.  Eight non-US countries have 126 strikes among them–15 or so per.

It is certainly an allied effort as the Atlantic Council graphics depict, with other countries contributing money and training for the Kurds, Iraq, and even for some Syrian forces.  But some notable omissions even in those less “kinetic”/risky efforts: that Turkey has only given humanitarian aid, for instance.

Some of this will change as the mission goes on and on.  Will Canada stop after six months?  I don’t think so.  And no, that would not count as mission creep to keep on doing what it is doing now.

This post originally appeared on Steve Saideman’s personal blog.

Friday Puzzler

By Barbara F. Walter

Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel meets with Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman. Via Chuck Hagel.

Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel meets with Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman. Via Chuck Hagel.

A fascinating study was just published in International Organization by four researchers at UCSD. The study presents the results of a set of experiments, one of which included 92 high-level policy elites in the United States. The goal was to see whether different personality traits in these elites – especially patience and strategic skills – affected the types of trade agreements they were willing to support. (These policy elites included former member of Congress, Cabinet members, senior officials at key government departments, and heads of strategy of major corporations.)

The most interesting and puzzling finding had to do with the ability of these policy elites to think strategically.  The researchers found that leaders who were more patient and more strategic tended to do better in negotiations, but they also found that a “sizable number” had no ability to think strategically; they were unable to visualize even two steps down the game.  If these elites were playing chess, they would be trounced by their opponent.

So today’s puzzler is this:  Why would any President or corporation appoint a leader whose strategic skills were so poor?  And how is it possible for such individuals to rise to the highest ranks of corporate and government decision-making?

What If There Was a War, but Nobody Came?

By Will H. Moore

Back in 2012 I contributed a post here that was a list of anti-war fiction and invited readers to contribute to the list.  I recently finished reading a novel that contains a passage that stands out to me as nicely capturing a universal microcosm of political violence that is best captured in fiction.

Speaking to a youth, who was a fighter for a militia, the protagonist, a civilian, says:

“But why are you hell-bent on dying?  If you went home and they did the same, there wouldn’t be any war.  Why don’t you just let it be brother?” …

Whenever [he] talks about the war now, he recalls the image of the… youth darting across the street: how his body came airborne, with blood spurting everywhere, his limbs jerking and twitching, like a rooster in a cockfight; how the blood streamed down his face and dripped onto the pavement; how his head dangled and his right shoulder slumped; how his rifle tumbled from his hand to the ground; how he continued to twitch, and his head hung lower and lower, as if he were looking for a coin that had rolled away; and then, the final spasm.[2]

Where did the youth lose his life?  Medellin, Colombia? Derry, Northern Ireland? Ayacucho, Peru? Isabella, Philippines? Groznyy, Russia? Bilbao, Spain? Mogadishu, Somalia? Johannesburg, South Africa? Da Nang, South Vietnam? Jaffna, Sri Lanka? Van, Turkey?  It doesn’t matter, does it?


[1] The anti-war slogan “Suppose they gave a War and Nobody Came” was the title of a 1966 essay by Charlotte Keys, the mother of an activist son was imprisoned for refusing to serve after being drafted, that was published in McCall’s magazine.   The 1970 comedy “Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came” was a cinematic depiction of the tension between the World War II generation and the anti-war movement of the 1960s in the US.

[2] The passage is from Elias Khoury’s 1981 book Al-Wujub al-bayda (Beirut: dar al-Adab), White Masks, translated by Maia Tabet (Brooklyn: Archipelago Books, 2010), p. 102.  The scene is set in Beiruit, Lebanon during the mid to late 1970s.  You can find reviews in English here, here, here, and here.

The North Korean Paper Trail

By Leslie Vinjamuri

A portrait of Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang. By Gabriel Britto.

A portrait of Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang. By Gabriel Britto.

Last Tuesday, a United Nations General Assembly committee condemned North Korea for its appalling human rights record and urged the Security Council to refer the situation in the country to the International Criminal Court.  The resolution, which passed 111 to 19 (with 55 abstentions), marks a high point in a campaign to name and shame North Korea.  This campaign took on new life last February when a UN Commission chaired by Michael Kirby released a scathing report.

But what exactly will this push achieve? Human rights experts say it already has made an impact in Pyongyang. Shortly after the UN released its findings, North Korea countered with its own report, which denied the existence of prison camps.  Economic hardships, it said, were not the product of government abuse, but a consequence of North Korea’s status as a “transition society”.  North Korea described its human rights system as “advantageous”. “That they have taken this step suggests to me that bad publicity is taking its toll on the regime and the international pressure is working,” argued Ken Kato, director of Human Rights in Asia.

North Korea has taken other steps as well.  It initiated a dialogue with the UN human rights expert on North Korea.  It invited the UN Special Rapporteur for North Korea to visit. The highlight came just before the recent APEC summit and in the run-up to last Tuesday’s vote in the General Assembly, when North Korea released American detainees Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller. On the bilateral level–and likely as a defensive move–North Korea accelerated efforts to court Russia, announcing it would send a high level envoy to Russia.

The UN vote has altered the relatively conciliatory mood. North Korea immediately threatened additional nuclear tests. “Our war deterrent will be strengthened infinitely in the face of the United States’ plot for armed interference and invasion,” an official statement promised.

A key question now is whether the United Nations can gain any additional leverage over North Korea by continuing to play the human rights card. The most recent outbursts suggest that despite its merits, this week’s General Assembly Resolution will not be cost free. The threat to push forward with a Security Council resolution may still be useful, but an actual vote could backfire. China and Russia would almost certainly veto any referral. That outcome would shame China and Russia for yet again opposing international accountability. The marginal utility of shaming China would be undermined if it discouraged further cooperation on nuclear talks. A Security Council vote is also unlikely to induce Pyongyang to reform its human rights practices in the short term. Even if a referral somehow emerged from the Council, it would likely push North Korea into an even more adversarial posture, with little benefit on the ground and some potentially important negative consequences for regional security.

The UN Commission’s report documented horrendous abuses and registered strong moral condemnation of the North Korean regime. The General Assembly resolution adds legitimacy and breadth to this condemnation, and it does this without locking anyone into a fixed position. Even if the campaign goes no further, it has done the valuable work of creating a paper trail to return to when the timing for dealing with human rights in North Korea is more propitious.

This post was originally posted at Points of Order.

Local Ceasefires in Syria: What Are the Prospects?

By Oliver Kaplan

Rebels in northern Syria. Via Syria Freedom.

Rebels in northern Syria. Via Syria Freedom.

What are the prospects for local efforts to reduce the killing in Syria? So far, the conflict has taken a terrible human toll. With the rise of ISIS and now additional U.S. intervention and military support to the “moderate” rebels, the fighting remains intense. The situation could get worse before it gets better.

A new UN Special Envoy has taken to the idea of brokering local truces to protect civilians, especially in Aleppo. Some previous attempts in Syria appear to have helped, at least for short periods of time. But there has still been little analysis of this approach. Based on my research on this issue and thinking about other cases, I offer several insights:

  1. Local peace actions are found around the world. Local peace actions and ceasefires are found in conflicts around the world, and not just the “easy” conflicts: from Tenancingo in El Salvador (as well as later gang truces), to Colombia, to the Philippines, to Afghanistan. Although these cases have had variable results, these cases suggest that the concept of local détente in Syria is not totally infeasible.
  1. Go for local-based and legitimate truces. Involving local civil society actors when calling for local truces can be helpful. Even though civil society actors can at times be challenged in dialoguing with armed belligerents, there have been successes. As I have found, local institutions have been helpful for providing transparency and credibility to help monitor and enforce local agreements. Nonviolent civil society movements still exist in Syria (e.g., the Local Coordination Committees), but they have also been greatly weakened as the conflict has endured.
  1. Dialogue beyond the central warring leaders. Do not just negotiate with the elite or central leaders of the different belligerent camps. Also dialogue with local commanders, and if possible, seek out any less hardline individuals that might exist among the various factions (a recently discussed example among the Nazis helps illustrate that such actors almost always exist). By nudging these individuals, a cascade of support for a more cooperative truce could emerge.
  1. Local truces may not be stable. Local truces are tricky because they require continued work and monitoring to be maintained. Given the current incentives and aggressive ideologies of the state and non-state armed actors now fighting in Syria, the conditions could be a difficult fit for these kinds of truces. Although the Assad regime is studying the newest proposed truce, it has been accused of double-dealing and reneging on previous truces. And, previous UN Envoys Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi failed to make ceasefires for the central conflict stick even temporarily (e.g., around events such as Ramadan). For this reason, a U.S. State Department spokesperson is rightly skeptical—that local truces would just be a stalling tactic on the part of the regime. Despite their “extremism,” some of the rebel groups may have more support among the population on the ground and therefore may be more amenable to these truce options compared to the regime.

In sum, the odds are tough for local truces in Syria, but there are few alternatives to address the humanitarian crisis. Local peace efforts may not yield a larger solution to the conflict, but there is still the possibility that they could improve the livelihoods of embattled communities as they try to endure the worst of the fighting. One approach to make such peace actions more likely and more stable is to provide support for local civil society, in contrast to primarily aiding the armed rebels.

Stay tuned for further analysis on this pressing topic…

Distributing Our Research: The Youtube Option

By Will H. Moore

Paper is dead. By which I mean that for centuries the most efficient way to broadcast (share) ideas was to reproduce them on paper and physically distribute the bundled paper. Then came the telegraph, then the wireless (radio). And the telephone. And the television, satellites, the facsimile, cellular networks, the Internet, the World Wide Web…

The cost of producing and distributing ideas via any medium has collapsed during the past three decades, such that those of us working in universities in the West have effectively free access to technology that gives us remarkable choice when it comes to distributing our ideas. Writing article and book length manuscripts will stay with us for a long time, but those formats are not the only option for sharing ideas. Daniel Blocq (ABD in Sociology at Wisconsin) posted a video last week that executes an option I have been wanting to try, but since I have limited creative ability, I have not yet executed. Check it out:

You can view the video here.

I hope to get off my duffer and create a video or two before year’s end. I’ll post here if I get it done.



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