Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Tarkin Explains It All

As in Grand Moff Tarkin. When I first started reading blogs, I noticed a lot of them read like great op-ed pages. Some of the greatest ones almost touched academic journal heights in their sophistication. But there was something better. There was the ability of links to site sources, unclogging all the infinite foot- or end- notes that mess up reading a piece of scholarship, and their was the ability to exercise more levitas by drawing crazy analogies and then getting absolutely serious about them. A great example would be this perfectly reasonable explanation of Hegemonic Stability Theory just thrown together by the typically inventive Matt Yglesias. How does he do it? WITH STAR WARS DIALOGUE, OF COURSE! Yglesias starts his piece out with this classic exchange:

Tarkin: The Imperial Senate will no longer be of any concern to us. I have just received word that the Emperor has dissolved the council permanently. The last remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away.

Tagge: But that's impossible. How will the Emperor maintain control without the bureaucracy?

Tarkin: The regional governors now have direct control over their territories. Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station.

Yglesias then explicates:

What Tarkin's talking about here is a leading power -- the Empire -- trying to do away with the former constitutional order ("the last remnants of the Old Republic") in order to create a hegemonic one (Palpatine Unbound, as it were). Tagge is skeptical that this will work -- the political processes may be cumbersome, but they're actually necessary to maintain the system's stability. It would actually be even more cumbersome for the center to be constantly trying to impose its will on everyone without the assistance of the bureacracy. Tarkin's counterproposal is that the development of the Death Star has changed the situation -- use it once on Alderaan to make an example of them, and in the future fear will keep the local systems in line.

And I think it's fairly clear that something of this sort was motivating the Bush administration in 2002-2003. The key decisionmakers took the view that technological developments (the "revolution in military affairs") had radically enhanced America's ability to overthrow foreign governments. Rather than simply keep this power in our back pocket for use when circumstances clearly warranted it (as in Afghanistan) there was a palpable desire to make an example out of Iraq to send a message.

The one thing Yglesias doesn't do, after he labels the Bush Administration as the Death Star, is to accurately explain how his own analogy both describes Hegemonic Stability Theory and its weakness. Namely that if the Hegemon is too powerful it starts to be perceived as a threat and those below it begin to unite against it and antagonism builds up. A "rebel alliance" forms and the unipolar monopoly of power the Hegemon possesses slowly (or quickly) deteriorates. Is that what is happening in the Middle East? I think sometimes it's hard to argue otherwise. But Yglesias is right. Star Wars may be a better explainer of IR theory than anyone could've imagined.