Morality and Iraq–Consequentialism and Deontology

The press seems to have a fascination with nice, round numbers.  Whereas the 3,976th, 2,349th, 342nd,  etc., deaths of US soldiers in Iraq did not merit much media coverage, last week’s 4000th death certainly did make its way onto newspapers and on television news shows.  Many critics of the war have used the milestone to ramp up their criticism of the war arguing that the price, in terms of American lives and treasure, is simply too high.  The President argues otherwise.  From the Washington Post:

As the American military death toll in Iraq reached 4,000, President Bush conferred yesterday with top U.S. officials in Washington and in Baghdad and vowed in a public statement that the outcome of the war “will merit the sacrifice.”

As we noted in class today, President Bush is arguing from a consequentialist perspective, insisting the the cost to the United States of military engagement in Iraq–in terms of deaths, injuries, and other costs–while high, will be outweighed by the benefits that continued military engagement there will produce.

Consequentialism is one of the two main moral philosophical traditions we will address this semester.  The other is deontological ethics, which is based on the Greek word deon, meaning “duty”, or “obligation.”  From this perspective, there are certain acts that are morally impermissible because they are inherently wrong and no consequential calculus can justify them from a moral perspective.  An example of such deontological reasoning is the following quote from Samuel Huntington, who claimed (about 15 or so years ago) that “it is morally unjustifiable and politically indefensible that members of the [U.S.] armed forces should be killed to prevent Somalis from killing one another.”

John McCain Argues for Continued US Military Presence in Iraq on Moral Grounds

Ross Douthat, from the, has a comment on the first major policy speech by presumptive Republican Presidential candidate John McCain since he mathematically wrapped up the nomination.  The speech is appropriate for our purposes, given that McCain makes a fundamentally moral case for continued US military involvement in Iraq and we have just begin to address the role of morality and ethics in foreign policy in Intro to IR.

“To walk away from the Iraqi people and consign them to … horrendous violence, ethnic cleansing and possibly genocide,” he argued, would represent “an unconscionable act of betrayal, a stain on our character as a great nation.” 

Douthat then compres McCain’s speech on Iraq to that of Barack Obama’s major foreign policy address last week:

If Obama wants to claim the moral as well as the political high ground, he can’t just make the case that Americans will be better off if the United States withdraws from Iraq; he needs to mount a persuasive argument that Iraqis will be better off as well.

Here is an excerpt of McCain’s speech:

Unrest in Egypt due to Inflation

The Financial Times reports a rise in social unrest in Egypt, which has been attributed to inflation, rising food costs in particular. Inflation is soaring in most parts of the Middle East, from the affluent enclaves of the United Arab Emirates to the more distressed countries, such as Egypt. The main culprit is the record-level price of oil.

A wave of discontent has been sweeping through Egypt in response to mounting food prices and the return of long queues in front of bakeries selling subsidised bread – the only food item that has not recently risen in price.

Civil servants, industrial workers and even groups considered privileged such as doctors and university lecturers have been staging strikes and demanding higher pay to meet price increases of up to 50 per cent for some basic foods.

State university lecturers have gone on strike this week, bringing many classes to a halt for a day. “Faculty members in Egypt are normally a very conservative group who do not want to expose themselves to trouble,” said Hany Al Husseini, one of the strike organisers. “But now the economic situation has become so bad that people are prepared to do anything.”

Barack Obama on the Financial System, Uncertainty and Risk

In my post below, I linked to an article by Thomas Homer-Dixon in which, among other things, he argued that the problem with the contemporary financial system is that the arcane machinations and lack of transparency (Level-III assets, anyone?)  have transformed the market from one of risk–which can form the basis for a stable financial system–to uncertainty–which cannot.  So the question then, is how to create the conditions under which banks and other financial institutions, and investors can adequately assess risk.  The lack of transparency is the reason that the credit markets have currently seized up and the Federal Reserve has had to come to the rescue of Bear Stearns. (Ben Bernanke–the Chairman of the Federal Reserve–himself has argued that “banks will fail” over the next couple of years.  Indeed, a couple of small regional American banks have already failed.)

By coincidence, Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama gave a speech at Cooper Union in New York setting out his vision of how his policies would help the engine  of the American (and international) financial system become more transparent and a solid foundation for the US and world economy.  I encourage you to watch the speech, wherein Obama presents his view of the nature of the relationship between the market and state (government).

“It’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the role that the market has played in the development of the American story.  The great task before our founders was putting into practice the ideal that government could simultaneously serve liberty and advance the common good.  For Alexander Hamilton, the young Secretary of the Treasury, that task was bound to the vigor of the American economy.  Hamilton had a strong belief in the power of the market, but he balanced that belief with the conviction that human enterprise, ‘may be beneficially stimulated by prudent aids and encouragements on the part of the government [state]'”

Risk, Uncertainty–From Governor Weld to the Modern Financial System

Canadian academic Thomas Homer-Dixon (we will read one of his papers this semester in Intro to IR) has written a piece for Canada’s “paper of record”–the Globe and Mail, which is titled “From Risk to Uncertainty.”  Those of you in my intro to comparative politics class will surely recognize immediately the difference between the tho concepts.

Remember when we read the first two chapter of Shepsle and Bonchek on instrumental rationality, the authors used the example of then-Massachusetts Governor Weld.  Weld had to decide whether to run for Governor again, or to commit to challenging Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat.  A win there would have given him a nice platform for an eventual presidential run.  Weld, as we know, was operating in a world or risk rather than uncertainty when making his decision, given that there were public opinion polls published that estimated his chances of winning in either election.

What is the difference between risk and uncertainty and how does it apply to the contemporary global financial system (which, by the way, for those of you not paying attention is precariously teetering on the edge of meltdown–you heard it here first!)?

So the rules of the game have now fundamentally changed. Our global financial system has become so staggeringly complex and opaque that we’ve moved from a world of risk to a world of uncertainty. In a world of risk, we can judge dangers and opportunities by using the best evidence at hand [what Shepsle and Bonchek call beliefs] to estimate the probability of a particular outcome. But in a world of uncertainty, we can’t estimate probabilities, because we don’t have any clear basis for making such a judgment. In fact, we might not even know what the possible outcomes are. Surprises keep coming out of the blue, because we’re fundamentally ignorant of our own ignorance. We’re surrounded by unknown unknowns.

Introduction to Comparative Politics–Second Paper

Here is the second paper, whose theme is “culture” (or not) and democracy.*”

Introduction to Comparative Politics Paper–Culture and Democracy

“In Islam, God is Caesar,in [Confucianism], Caesar is God; In [Eastern Christian] Orthodoxy, God is Caesar’s junior partner.”

“The underlying problem for the West in not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam.”

“Contemporary China’s Confucian heritage, with its emphasis on authority, order, hierarchy, and supremacy of the collectivity over the individual, creates obstacles to democratization.”

The quotes above will serve as the inspiration for your second paper this semester. I would like you to argue in favor or against the claims made by Huntington quoted above. You can argue that they are basically true, essentially false, or some combination thereof2. Regardless, your task is to provide a reasoned, well researched response to the declarative statements above, using Chapters 5 and 6 in O’Neil, and the articles by Fish, Stepan, Perry, Zakaria, and any others we have read, as your starting points.

Assess the arguments in light of what you know about the requirements (institutional, cultural, structural) of democracy and the nature of authoritarianism. Your outside research will most likely focus on understanding more about Islam, “Asian values,” and/or Christian Orthodoxy (as it is practiced in Eastern Europe).

While the main focus of your paper will be in setting up an argument for or against the claims above, I would like you to then use two states–one “predominantly Muslim”, and one Asian (or Eastern Orthodox)–to illustrate your main arguments and to act as supporting evidence for your claims. Please use chapters 5 and 6 of the Essentials and of Readings as the main source for the paper. For information related to your specific states, you will have to consult at least 4 other academically reputable sources. Note that this means Google is not your friend here!! This will entail a trip down to the library by foot, or a virtual trip to the library’s electronic resources.

Your paper should be 4-5 pages long, double-spaced on 8:5X11-inch paper, with 1-inch margins on the top, bottom, and the sides. The paper must be written in Times Roman 12pt. font. In addition, please cut and paste the “Paper Evaluation Sheet” from Blackboard to the end of your paper (after the works cited page). The paper is due electronically via Digital Dropbox in Blackboard by the beginning of class on Tuesday, April 15th.

Good luck, you kings and queens of comparative!!

*Note: See the version of this assignment posted to Blackboard as it has informative (and helpful) footnotes.

SKY News Report on Situation in Tibet

Here is an interesting video, which captures the events surrounding an organized (by the Chinese authorities) visit of non-Chinese journalists to the capital city of Tibet, Lhasa.  It seems as though events conspired against the Chinese authorities just a little bit: