Thursday, July 30, 2009

Stephen Walt Has Questions

In a article called "Musings," Stephen Walt poses 10 questions/observations of things related to politics that he finds "baffling." I thought I'd see if I could assist him with some answers.

1. I've never really understood why plenty of smart people think the United States still needs thousands of nuclear weapons (or ever did). I'm familiar with the abstract theology of nuclear weapons policy and I don't favor total nuclear disarmament, but the case for an arsenal of more than a few hundred weapons eludes me.  The most obvious answer is redundancy and survivability against a first strike. But his question brings up another. Why do people like Stephen Walt think it matters much whether the U.S. has thousands of nuclear weapons or a few hundred? 

2. I'm still puzzled by why Americans are so willing to spend money on ambitious overseas adventures, and yet so reluctant to pay taxes for roads, bridges, better schools, and health care here in the United States.  This is a pretty obvious one. Many people consider foreign policy and the use of the military to be legitimate/necessary uses of government power. Secondly, most people who pay attention understand that taxes that supposedly go for roads and bridges actually often get wasted on other far less important pork projects. And throwing government money at schools and health care doesn't make them better, and can make them worse.

3. I don't understand why many people think invoking God is a compelling justification for their particular policy preferences, and why they assume that this move is a trump card that ends all discussion.  I understand why they think that -- because of their religious beliefs -- but I'm with Walt in disagreeing with them.

4. I'm equally baffled by when someone invokes "history" to justify a territorial claim and assumes that this basis is unchallengeable.  How many people actually make that assumption? If someone makes an argument based on history they are probably doing it A) because they believe it, or B) in a cynical attempt to justify their position.

5. I do not understand why Americans are so susceptible to the self-interested testimony of foreigners who want to embroil us in conflicts with some foreign government that they happen to dislike.  This should be blatantly obvious, especially to a political scientist like Walt. If the testimony of foreigners seems to coincide with U.S. interests and reinforces ideas that we already have, why wouldn't we be susceptible to it?

6. I certainly don't get the business model that informs the content of the Wall Street Journal's op-ed page. The rest of the newspaper is an excellent news source, with reportage that is often of very high quality. The editorial page, by contrast, is often a parody of right-wing lunacy  The editorial page, like most editorial pages of major newspapers, sometimes has good op-eds and sometimes bad. Calling it a "parody of right-wing lunacy" is just ridiculous, about as accurate as calling the New York Times editorial page a parody of left-wing lunacy. Walt attacks the Washington Post too, basically demonstrating that he's biased against any major newspaper that might occasionally publish a right-wing editorial. We can't have that. Plus he spouts his usual nonsense about "neoconservatives," revealing that point six shouldn't be taken seriously.

7. A related point: I can't figure out why newspapers aren't hiring more bloggers to write columns for them on a regular basis.  That's actually an interesting question. I'm not sure of the answer.

8. In an era where the United States is facing BIG problems at home or abroad, it is both puzzling and disheartening to observe the amount of ink and airspace devoted to the Skip Gates arrest, Michael Jackson's demise, or the "birther" controversy. People always complain about sensationalized reporting of celebrities and other unimportant issues. But they get reported because unfortunately the majority of people want them reported on.

9. I don't understand why academics defend the institution of tenure so energetically, and then so rarely use it for its intended purpose (i.e., to permit them to tackle big and/or controversial subjects without worrying about losing their jobs) Because most academics don't welcome the controversy, attention, and outright hostility from those who oppose their views that would come if they did what Walt suggests? There are some who do, but most people probably don't think it's worth it.

10. I'm both amused and annoyed by the highly intrusive security procedures that now exist at airports, which are almost certainly not cost-effective...I'll concede that additional screening is probably preventing a few additional incidents, but I question whether the extra expense and inconvenience is ultimately worth it. Does anyone like our current system of airport security? But that's what happens when the heavy hand of government bureaucracy takes defensive measures against terrorism -- one of the many reasons that we should remain on the offense against terrorism, something that Walt typically opposes.

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