Realists on Iraq Notes for September 18

Main points

We spent most of our time talking about the details of Robert Pape’s treatment of suicide terrorism.

Specifically, we spent a lot of time on the issue of whether suicide terrorism is political rather than religious. We had trouble distinguishing the two in many cases. And we wondered whether the distinction really matters much for Pape’s point. That is, if he’s right that withdrawing from occupied territory would cause suicide terrorism to stop, then it doesn’t really matter if the groups that sponsor suicide terrorism are religious rather than political.

We also spent a little time on Mearsheimer’s claim that nationalism is more powerful than democracy (p. 4). We found this a little confusing since, as Ben put it, nationalism and democracy are compatible.

I think that what Mearsheimer probably meant is that if a group of people had to choose between nationalism and democracy, they are likely to pick the former. For instance, if Iraqis had to choose between an American sponsored democracy and an Iraqi non-democracy, they would choose the latter.

Even that is probably stronger than he needs, though. All he needs to say is that there are enough people who would disrupt any non-nationalist democracy. And that may well be true.

If the situation in Iraq improves substantially, both realists will have to explain why. Their theoretical statements, after all, predict that it won’t. So if the surge stops suicide terrorism or if the US sponsored government turns out to be democratic and stable, their predictions will look wrong.

That isn’t to say that their predictions would be wrong. Calum offered a sophisticated defense of Pape concerning the surge, for example. I just mean that they would have some explaining to do.

Finally, as Ben pointed out, the realists focus pretty exclusively on US security. Most people think that there could be other relevant considerations to the question of what to do in Iraq.

This page was written by Michael Green for The Election, ID-1, Fall 2008. It was posted September 18, 2008.
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