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09 September 2012


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The beaver

One Sunni who is in trouble in Irak :


[Iraq's fugitive vice-president Tariq al-Hashemi has been sentenced to death in absentia after a court found him guilty of running death squads.

The ruling came as at least 92 people were killed and more than 350 injured in more than 20 attacks across Iraq.]


Reporting of the mayhem in Iraq habitually correlates it with the departure of the last American troops. In fact, there is no causal relationshio and only a slight correlation. Attacks of this kind were occuring on a regular basis even when the remnants of the US force were in the country. More important, those troops had not been engaged in anti-AQM missions for a few years.

The key relationship is between the Iraq government's security forces and al-Qaeda. There has been no change in that factor either. A third factor may have changed: the fraction of the Sunni population that now supports al-qaeda, tolerates it, sits on the sidelines, or actively opposes it. As the Colonel points out, it probably has changed.

As to ms Slaughter, she has reinvented herself as an authority on the dilemmas of parenting professional woman. (Cover story in mass circulation magazine). Her departure from State is explained in these terms rather than her unwillingness to abandon a tenured position at princeton. This nimbleness is a character trait of her 'cohort.' She will be just as nimble in a couple years penning critiques of what went wrong in Afghanistan and why - and why her presence is so badly needed when she gets her next sabbatical.


The key relationship is between the Iraq government's security forces and al-Qaeda. There has been no change in that factor either" Yes there is. Our betrayal killed any possibility of teconciliation with the
Shia Arabs. pl


The Beaver

He is actually in Turkey where he is safe. pl


Car bombs killed 12 people in Iraq’s northern oil hub of Kirkuk, including seven recruits slain in a blast while waiting outside the police headquarters of state-run North Oil Co., security officials said.

“The explosion didn’t affect the production and export operations because it happened outside the company’s headquarters,” Oil Police Colonel Ghanim al-Quraishi said today in a telephone interview from Kirkuk. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, according to North Oil’s police.

--- Are the people killed identified with Shias or Sunnis or Kurds?


Why can't we encourage the Saudis to cut a deal with the Iranians to prevent the coming madness?

Does anybody know if Slaughter went to the same Oxford College as Nagl?

Babak Makkinejad

Most Kurds are Sunni Muslims.



Yes. One tenth are not. pl

Ursa Maior

As far as I know among kurds tribes, and their ethnicity (being kurd that is) matter more than religion.

David Habakkuk


College would not be significant. Discipline might be. Both Slaughter and Nagl did MPhils in International Relations. As I do not know much about academic international relations theory, I do not know whether either the subject in general, or the way it is taught at Oxford, can be held responsible for the nonsense Slaughter and Nagl talk. Professor Brenner or Kieran Wanduragala might have an informed view.

The cultures of different subjects are quite different. Anthropologists in Oxford have had a feud with 'rational choice' theory, and its predecessor utilitarianism, going back many decades. Also some of them have worked in the Islamic world, and know a lot of history.

Ironically one such, Paul Dresch, whose original fieldwork was done in the Yemen, is at St. John's -- the same college Nagl attended as a Rhodes Scholar.



"...a feud with 'rational choice' theory, and its predecessor utilitarianism." After having been subjected to briefs on many grant applications that are "rational choice" theory based, I see the evils that lurk in that whole area of scholarship. Care to explain it for those present here? pl

David Habakkuk

Colonel Lang,

This is a large can of worms, isn’t it.
I think a fair brief summary would run as follows.

The origins of ‘rational choice’ theory lie in classical utilitarian thought, which was premised upon the belief that human beings are governed by the idea of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. In the modern forms in which it has largely conquered the study of economics and made imperialist encroachments into other 'social sciences', the underlying assumption is made somewhat more sophisticated. People, it is suggested, go through life examining alternative options available to them in terms of the degree of happiness, satisfaction, gratification, enjoyment or ‘utility’ they provide, and arrive at some ‘rational’ ordering of their preferences.

Applied to non-Western societies, this analytical framework is a recipe for total misunderstanding. An irony, however, is that even in relation to Western societies, it was never based on empirical analysis, and as in recent years economists have become more interested in empirical research into how people actually make decisions, the limitations have become increasingly apparent.

As to its catastrophic potentialities, even in regard to Western societies, a dismissive reference by Ben Benanke about the work of two very fine economists, Charles Kindleberger and Hyman Minsky, has been doing the rounds on the web:

‘“Hyman Minsky (1977) and Charles Kindleberger (1978) have … argued for the inherent instability of the financial system but in doing so have had to depart from the assumption of rational economic behaviour.” A footnote adds – “I do not deny the possible importance of irrationality in economic life; however it seems that the best research strategy is to push the rationality postulate as far as it will go.”’

(See http://www.debtdeflation.com/blogs/2009/01/11/bernanke-an-expert-on-the-great-depression/ )

If people like Bernanke had realised that the ‘best research strategy’ might be to do the kind of serious empirical research into how human beings actually behave that Kindleberger did, we would probably not be in the mess we are in.



Not entirely OT, what do you think of the following:

"The Taliban is prepared to completely disown al-Qaeda, allow the US to retain several military bases in Afghanistan and agree a ceasefire deal to end its 11 year conflict with Nato, a major report released on Monday discloses."


Col: How is it that Saudi Arabia and the Emirates avoid being labeled "state sponsors of terrorism"?

Because it's only the citizens, not the governments, who fund this slaughter?

If Iranian citizens were funding as much terrorism as the "good people" of the Gulf, UNSC would be issuing a resolution every week.



Humsn varieties in culture are now often dismissed airily by boards as "oh, the culture thing again." The belief that humans are driven by universal perceptions of essentially economic factors is so general that anything else is held up to ridicule. Such foolishness leads to an inability to understand the strength and viability of local ways. pl


For all its flaws Oxford is one of the few places where politics is still, to some extent, taught as an art closely connected to disciplines such as philosophy, history, and area studies rather than a 'social science' in slavish imitation of economics. Although the new Russian oligarch funded School of Government may put a stop to that. The decentralized collegiate system preserved many academic 'eccentricities' long after they had died out elsewhere.


Col. Lang recently wrote in another post:


Just watched Fariid Zakariya's segment on Syria. I am impressed once again with how much the US foreign policy establishment is a closed "Circuit" group. Washington, New york, the ancillary academic "cysts," Fariid Zakariay himself. This is truly a "self licking ice cream cone. pl

I was curious if this nonsense also applies to OxBridge.

Babak Makkinejad

Formerly Christian states, both Catholic and Orthodox, entered the so-called "Age of Reason" 300 years ago.

The men of "Age of Faith" protested but could not effectively rebut the successes of the "Age of Reason"; they became a minority while the Prophets of the Age of Reason had a field day with such conceptualization - really lies - as Dark Ages, Renaissance, and Enlightenment.

That which is unreasonable has no place in their World-Understanding.

In their encounter with the World of Islam, the Euro-American Age of Reason has clearly and demonstrably collided with people who live in "The Age of Faith"; still.

I guess the hope of Euro-American thinkers is that the (Muslim) "Age of Faith" will, in due course, crumble.

And if it does not (which seems evident) then all that is required is a nudge from the Euro-Americans' own "Age of Reason" to usher them into that Nirvana of Reason.

It is ironic personally to me since in US universities – the bastions of Rationalist Intellectualism – I saw more drug use to escape the “Age of Reason” that I saw anywhere else.

I speculate that perhaps the voracious appetite for mind-altering drugs among North American and European populations derives not so much from boredom as from the inability to deal with the oppressiveness of the “Age of Reason” – for men are ultimately un-reasonable/non-reasonable.



Rational choice theory is as distorting of human thinking and behavior in the West as it is when applied to other cultures. There are only two differences: in the West, we have adopted the position that pretends as if we are all utility seekers (utility being narrowly defined); and there are some people (e.g. economists) who try to formalize rational choice as a guide to/ and model for how to conduct ourselves so as to achieve laudable goals.

The former is manifestly untrue - look around you or even consider some of your own attitudes and behavior. As for the latter, Bernanke's position has become brittle dogma. It no longer is defensible to interpret market behavior in rational choice terms given the counter evidence. Bernanke's illogical attachment to the model nonetheless is the ultimate proof that economists like he are themselves not rational as they readily ignore inconvenient evidence. They are rational in the sense that they are following a calculated strategy to protect their position, reputation and worldview - all of which are bound together.

Connection to foreign policy thinking? I really don't see any correlation between an attachment to rational choice models and attitudes toward serial mad interventionism. I think that who have various types of intellects aligned on either side. The qualification is that true believing neo-conservatives superimpose on the natives a presumed, if hidden, economic utilitarianism which makes they grateful for the uplift we promise.



I could equally say the voracious appetite for blowing up other people in the name of one’s faith is driven as much from the inability to deal with the oppressiveness of conformity required to survive in the societies of the “Age of Faith” as it is an effort to express ones religious belief.

Babak Makkinejad

You could but it would not be true.


Neither is your statement above


Well, this is a little bit unfair characterization of the "rational choice" perspective in general.

In the past 20 years or so, with growing interest in limitations of the older perspectives in social sciences, there has been a great deal of academic interest in how "culture" and historical backgrounds of various societies can produce seemingly strange patterns of behavior that are nevertheless fully compatible with formal notions of "rationality," even if not the extra baggage that others have latched on to this oft-misunderstood and misrepresented term. The classic work on this was done by George Akerloff, among others, in 1970s and 1980s. Ironically, for all the flak that game theory gets from critics of rational choice, it was game theory, albeit applied with eyes wide open rather than fixated on justifying predetermined outcomes, that folks like Akerloff used as the method of analysis. By mid-1990s, much of this line of work became quite mainstream: no one in academia today who takes microeconomics (and approaches inspired therefrom) seriously would cavalierly dismiss cultural and historical context as irrelevant. (The Bernanke story seems a bit strange to me, since he himself has fairly serious history background in his own training.)

The real trouble, if you ask me, comes from people who are not sufficiently wonkish to be serious academics--Slaughter is actually a good example of this. They are interested predominantly in advocating their favored policy goals, not in better understanding of the world. Academe, to them, is the platform for policy advocacy, not for better understanding of the real world. That they have chosen to use the language of rational choice to justify their views is unfortunate, but I don't think it's the trouble with the methods as much as their agenda. As long as we have academics who are more interested in advocacy rather than understanding, the problem will continue.


As we continue to study and understand how the brain works, human behavior will become more understandable and predictable.

there are at least three significant confounding factors that make human behavior seem to be irrational (despite its ultimate rationality) and these factors are 1) the unconscious 2) cognitive bias (thinking errors) and 3) large amount of variables affecting behavior.

In my line of business, psychotherapy, behaviors that appear to be "irrational" are, upon scrutiny, quite rational. There are many unconscious factors (hidden from all) (memories, biological reactions, belief systems, etc) that profoundly affect our behavior, which, when they are made conscious and taken into account, explain "irrational" behaviors quite nicely.

Murder, drug-dealing, wife-beating, mad interventionism are ultimately rational behaviors given the above confounding variables.

But I doubt the neo-cons care about their foes in Iraq or Iran or Palestine ... they just want the outcome that they want

Are the academics in control of our foreign policy or politicians?

Neil Richardson

I agree with much of your assessments here. BTW, would you consider Slaughter to be a rational choice theorist? I've always viewed her as a neoliberal institutionalist in the legalist tradition. Unless I've missed something, I don't recall her ever working on anything resembling RC.

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