Charles A. Kupchan has written an important book that poses fundamental questions for international relations scholars and policy makers: First, how do enemies in world politics become friends? Specifically, through what pathways can pairs or groups of states succeed in setting aside their geopolitical competition and construct enduring relationships that preclude the possibility of armed conflict? Second, when and why do enemies become friends (and vice versa)? In other words, under what circumstances are such zones of peace more likely to form and under what circumstances are they likely to dissolve?
Leadership targeting has become the cornerstone of American counterterrorism policy. Since 2004, the number of strikes carried out by unmanned aerial vehicles has increased dramatically. In 2010 alone the United States carried out 118 drones strikes, 70 in 2011, and 24 in the first six months of 2012. In the past two months, the U.S. has intensified its use of drone strikes against militant targets in both Yemen and Pakistan. In May of this year, drones strikes killed 11 suspected al Qaeda militants in Yemen. Over the course of three days in June, 27 suspected militants were killed in drone strikes in North Waziristan, Pakistan. Al Qaeda’s deputy leader Abu Yahya al-Libi, reportedly was killed in one of those attacks. I mention these examples to highlight the continued relevance of the debate over the effectiveness of targeting terrorist leaders. Patrick Johnston and Bryan Price have contributed to the debate through two rigorous and insightful pieces on the effectiveness of killing and capturing terrorist and insurgent leaders. These two pieces examine, in different ways, the effectiveness of leadership decapitation on the lifespan and organizational activity of terrorist groups and insurgent organizations. Price looks at whether decapitation affects terrorist groups’ duration. He finds that decapitation increases the mortality rate of terrorist organizations. Johnston focuses on the outcomes and dynamics of counterinsurgency campaigns and shows that decapitating insurgent organizations increases the chance of war termination and government victory and lessens the intensity and frequency of insurgent violence. There are significant differences between the two studies in terms of data, analysis, and theory, yet both authors conclude that decapitation can be an effective tool in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency policies. In the remainder of this review, I will summarize their respective arguments and then discuss some of the strengths and weaknesses of each article.
Yuan-kang Wang’s Harmony and War challenges claims of Chinese exceptionalism and Confucian pacifism. Kirk Larsen, Peter Perdue, Morris Rossabi, and John Wills – all of whom are prominent historians of China – agree with Wang’s refutation of Chinese pacifism, though they dispute his championing of structural realism.
Daniel Byman’s A High Price straddles two literatures: that on Israeli military and security history, and that on the burgeoning field of counterterrorism studies. On the whole, one should say, it draws on the former to inform the latter, which explains some of the reviewers’ reaction to it. It is of interest that counterinsurgency, as Americans understand it, is not part of Israeli strategic discourse: that reflects both the real Israeli predicament and how Israelis have understood it. Byman’s own judgment about Israeli successes and failures tacitly acknowledges that the Israelis have never really believed that they can solve their security problem, only manage it.
Let me start by reiterating my enthusiasm from Prof. Harvey’s book and the skillful way in which he uses counterfactuals to expose and challenge the political assumptions that guide most liberal studies of the Iraq War. He does an effective job of demolishing the “neocon” thesis by demonstrating that there was wider opposition to Saddam Hussein and concern about his efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction. His responses to my concerns are well put. In this rejoinder I do not want to critique his critique of my critique, but rather to step back from the exchange and say a few words about different counterfactual research strategies.
Richard Ned Lebow admits, in his very insightful review of my book on the Iraq war, that his initial reaction was to scoff at my counterfactual about an Al Gore presidency taking the same path to war, “until (he) read the book.” I suspect anyone who takes the time to read the book will recognize the effort I invested in getting the ‘facts’ and the history right. The application of comparative counterfactual methodology was the ideal tool to construct, in my view, a more compelling, complete, historically accurate, logically informed, and theoretically grounded account of the path-dependent momentum that guided the coalition to war in 2003. I suspect the book will have a very hard time getting any real traction in academic or policy communities, for reasons noted in Lebow’s review and covered at length in my conclusion: the arguments contradict very entrenched (and politically motivated) ‘memories’ of what transpired. Democrats are unlikely to accept ‘any’ responsibility for the decisions, intelligence assessments or general threat narrative that led to war, and Republicans are very happy to distance themselves from the ‘neocons’ whom, they claim, hijacked U.S. foreign policy. Similarly, many scholars will reject my version of history because it directly challenges their widely accepted, and very popular first-image (leadership) theories of the war. Most people are comforted by the thought that a relatively simple change in leadership would have changed (or will change) foreign policies. With these systemic biases in mind, I am very grateful to Lebow for his careful and balanced comments on the book and the methodology.
Fanar Haddad has written a valuable book on the controversial issue of sectarianism in Iraq. Haddad’s main concern is to combat two opposing oversimplifications that too often dominate discussions of the subject. On the one hand, those promoting Iraqi nationalism promote the myth that ‘we are all brothers’—in other words, that sectarianism is not really an Iraqi problem at all, and that apparent evidence of it is merely the result of foreign plots. Haddad quickly shows the inaccuracy of this myth, pointing out that it is merely an example of the conspiracy theorizing so popular in the Middle East. This myth is also the result of a sort of Iraqi political correctness: in Iraq, ‘sectarianism’ is a pejorative word, so to accuse someone of it is an insult or an attack.
Frank Harvey is to be congratulated for producing an exemplary book. It makes sophisticated use of counterfactual argumentation to challenge the conventional wisdom about the causes of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq.
For methodological and substantive reasons it should be read by everyone with an interest in foreign policy. Any assertion of cause implies that, ceteris paribus, the outcome in question would not have occurred in its absence. In circumstances where context or the “lessons” of the past are important or determining – which describes most historical events of interest – statistical tests are meaningless as the “cases” that constitute any data set would be neither comparable nor independent. We can only evaluate causal claims through intra-case comparison, of which counterfactual argumentation is a variant. Historical intra-case comparison is possible when we have closely grouped events or decisions in which key features of context are constant. Austro-Hungarian policy in the July 1914 crisis is a case in point. The government had considered war with Serbia on four occasions between 1911 and 1914, but only drew its sword on the last occasion. We can plausibly argue that novel features of context – the nature of the provocation and the absence of Franz Ferdinand from the decisionmaking process — were determining. In most decisions or events of interest we must introduce intra-case comparison through counterfactual experimentation, as Harvey does.
The relations between the disciplines of history and political science have always been both close and, partly for that reason, contested. Political science grew in part out of history, which led its practitioners to be both deeply imbued with historical knowledge and to need to differentiate themselves from the study of history. Until about fifty years ago, the overlap between the disciplines was especially great in the international area, and the first issues of World Politics, the founding journal of international relations, had numerous articles by historians. For a variety of reasons, the gap widened, but in the sub-field of security studies contact never disappeared, in part because, as Stephen Schuker notes, scholars interested in this subject were marginalized in both disciplines. From my vantage point as a political scientist, it has seemed that the relationship has been less than fully balanced, with our interest in history not being fully reciprocated by our historian colleagues. I remember going to see Raymond Sontag (with whom, Schuker notes, Marc Trachtenberg studied) when I was a graduate student at Berkley to talk to him about my attempt to use history. He was too gracious to visibly wince at the idea of history being used in this way and did make clear that he was glad to see political scientists being interested in history, but it was also clear that he didn’t think we had much to contribute.
Historians and political scientists alike should appreciate Dan Reiter’s How Wars End. It eschews statistical analysis for comparative case-studies because the answers are “complex and nuanced” (6) and defers formal proofs for plain-language explanations. The six empirical chapters are based on case-specific puzzles rather than theory-driven questions. The three reviewers—Dale Copeland, Hein Goemans, and Zachary Shirkey—find few major flaws with How Wars End, although each has some reservations over aspects of the argument. Because some readers might not be versed in rationalist theories on war that Reiter engages, this introduction will first provide an overview of them and then discuss the reviews in the next section.