Geotrickster is all in for Tulsi Gabbard

Geotrickster is all in for Tulsi Gabbard.

tulsi gabbard pic

First, a reminder that Geotrickster was ahead of the curve of Tulsi Gabbard, who announced her interest in seeking the presidency in 2020 today.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has been on my radar since 2013. She was the first non-Rand Paul voice criticizing the Obama Administration’s foreign policy towards the Middle East which was clearly starting to go off the rails around the time of the 2012 election. She has been a consistent advocate against the Bipartisan Perpetual War Party that has driven America and much of the world it claims to ‘police’ into the gutter so far in the 21rst Century. And she did this without being the opposite extreme of being an isolationist or far right crank.

Tulsi Gabbard has demonstrated, time and time again, that not only is American foreign policy off the rails and hijacked by special interests awash in their own self-congratulatory ideology, but that restraint is not only the less costly policy in terms of lives and money but also the superior way to combat extremism and avoid the alienation of allies. Having myself worked for the State Department in countering violent extremism in the past, I can assure you that this position of hers is correct. Regime change wars fuel Islamic extremism and sectarian division, diplomatic engagement can help diffuse them and build partnerships abroad. And with far less danger of direct blowback. While Trump alienates allies and the mainstream Democrats stoke hawkishness in a blind knee jerk reaction to his few better instincts, some few people, with Tulsi in the lead, represent a proper realist alternative that understands the need for cost/benefit analysis over ideological devotion. Besides, being Saudi Arabia’s bitch is no good for us.

But despite the foreign policy focus on this blog, this is not the only reason I want to express my happiness at the declaration of Tulsi Gabbard. Congresswoman Gabbard is among that rare clique of Democrats who are reform minded away from the destructive, self-consuming, and ultimately right wing-neoliberal policies of the Clinton Consensus that has dominated the party since 1992. She does this without being a starry-eyed idealist or beholden to some teleological world view about the end of history. And considering her strong endorsement of indigenous rights and environmental action, she can be taken seriously on the most pressing issue of our time: climate change. It is for many of these reasons that she has Democratic, Republican, and Independent admirers alike. If there is anything the 2016 election shows, it is that having appeal outside the closed world of partisan hacks is necessary for national elections. Both casual voters and nuanced non-partisan voters are desperately seeking a candidate that represents an alternative to the ossified nature of center-left and far-right.

It is important to acknowledge that Tulsi Gabbard, especially as a relatively anti-establishment candidate running within a party notorious for self-selecting right-to-centrist-wing candidates for the sake of the donor money and ‘expert’ strategist hires it is so fond of, is going to come into a large amount of criticism in the time ahead. The Democratic establishment as much if not more will attack her than the Republicans do. We will be subjected to the intense irony of people who support the mass bombing of the Middle East calling her Islamophobic for preferring diplomacy to endless war. We will see her former record on gay rights be called into question. She will be called an isolationist. Many of these critiques will not just be from rote liberals but also proper leftists.

My response to them is as follows. I know I am not alone in finding the level of leeway Islamic ideologies are given by people who are supposedly so secular at home. This represents the dangerous infiltration of postmodernism into the issue and ignores that many secularist individuals and movements also exist in Muslim majority societies. Weaponized Islamism is a danger in some parts of the world much like far-right evangelism is in North America. It is wise, not foolish, to remain devoted to security issues around this topic. It is, however, a problem for police and culture, not for militarized intervention. Gabbard recognizes that Islamist ideology is dangerous and requires a firm hand, but that war is usually not the answer. One can-and should-hold both of these positions.

Gabbard is also not an isolationist. She has endorsed a smart, rather than bullying, position for overall US policy. Such a powerful country cannot realistically retreat from the planet without leaving a dangerous vacuum-and few actual people endorse isolationism anymore. The problem is that the neoconservative-dominated foreign policy establishment will use the phrase ‘isolationism’ against anyone who is not ready to constantly and reflexively support their dangerous and wasteful militarism. But it is America behaving like a rogue state since 2003 that has left it more isolated than at any point after the 1930s. Just look at how America is viewed abroad.

As for gay rights, a lot of people, including the entire country itself, has changed its mind on these issues with relative rapidity in recent times. A change in position could be opportunistic, as it was with Obama and especially Hillary Clinton, whose virulent homophobia in the 90s seems to have been utterly excised by much of her more recent wokescold fan base. But Gabbard’s story on social issue evolution came before the country at large, which disavows it being beholden to polls. Furthermore, this evolution was the result of changing views based off life experience, i.e. seeing the disadvantages of social conservatism while being deployed in Iraq. This cannot imply an opportunistic John Kerry style flip-flopping at the drop of a hat or poll numbers, but the genuine changes of belief that happen. Her constant advocacy for minority rights since assuming national level office is proof of this. And in an era of rank racism and climate change denial from one party and complacency from most of the rest of the other she represents a true viable alternative who could connect with significant alienated parts of the present electorate.

After all, I used to be a libertarian and no one could accuse me of holding those views now. I learned through experience and am better for the process.

Her biggest negative is some casual sympathies to Modi’s government in India. While I myself am not a fan of this on the personal level, good relations with India are inevitable for a future America one way or the other. And while I have my strong reservations about the BJP, they are the government of India in the present time and diplomatic use could be made of such connections. India is not Nicaragua or El Salvador. The opinions of US politicians will matter little for its domestic policies. It is large, powerful, and established. Compare this dynamic to the bipartisan establishments many connections to Saudi Arabia and Israel which are not only beyond casual, but positively financial influence peddling many in DC as well.

First the Democratic Party and then hopefully the nation at large will have a choice in the near future: continue the failed Manicheism of two mutually hostile and increasingly aged political parties, or field a barrier breaking candidate running on actual issues rather than media signifiers, the status quo that has failed so many, and fear of criticism. Having learned the lesson of Obama, that charisma without a specifically attached set of policies will ultimately produce little, it is time to support the first candidate for high office who has an issue-driven career and platform and the sense and thoughtfulness to use it pragmatically.

I have seen myself how people across the board tire of endless deregulation and warfare. And I have seen that one of the few people elected in congress today that is well looked on by all of these people, who are largely unrepresented by officer holders,

It is time for Tulsi Gabbard. She is the best candidate I have ever seen to announce a run for the presidency in my entire life so far.

………………………………………………………………………….

 

P.S.

It is important to remember, in the media hysteria relating to the (correct) position to withdrawal from Syria and the resignation of General Mattis, largely due to his own disapproval of any policy that reigns in an over-extended American empire, that Tulsi Gabbard was one of the few public figures who had a record of grilling his pas ‘sage advice.’

And lets not forget the time she endorsed Bernie publicly at Hillary’s coronation:

‘The Hell of Good Intentions’, A Review

hell of good intentions

Stephen Walt was one of the most influential contemporary international relations theorists to me when I first entered the field of IR as a Master’s student over a decade ago. Of the currently active crop of IR thinkers he remains my favorite, so it should be no surprise that the coming of his newest book, ‘The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of U.S. Primacy’ was an instant acquisition for my massive nonfiction library. Though Walt and I have diverged on some issues in the past few years, our overall diagnoses of both what ails the US foreign policy mainstream as well as what to do about it remains extremely similar.

I am not going to go over the details of the book as many of its themes have been covered on this blog multiple times already. From the incestuous navel gazing of the Court Eunuchs of the Beltway ghoul class to the virtues of America’s fortuitous geography in its rise and options towards grand strategy, to the virtues of offshore balancing to those lucky enough to be able to practice it, all can be found here in various posts. If you know many of my bugbears you can guess what are Walt’s, and vice-versa.

What I will do, however, is review how good a case Walt makes for covering this topic as a single book meant for a large audience. Unsurprisingly, this book is meant for a similar audience as the very one it rightly criticizes. This means Walt takes a very different tactic than I do. Whereas I tend to go after people outside-of-the Beltway and show how the fables of liberal hegemony are directly counter to someone’s interests, Walt wants to convince those who are a bit more integrated into these elite circles. This is not a criticism of mine, as its important to be firing on all cylinders here. I am merely acknowledging that if he is the Martin Luther King Jr of foreign policy realism than I am more the Huey Newton-to use a somewhat tortured and tongue in cheek analogy. I try to convince people who are non-centrist independents, the few sane paleocons, and leftists and he goes more for the liberals and centrists.

Keeping this in mind, Walt does an excellent job. Not only does he wage a thorough and quite multi-topical demolition of both the record of our very own Late Ming court eunuch equivalents whose lanyards are the modern version of the old quill said eunuchs once used to hold in their piss (analogy once again mine), but also the long term effects of these luxury wars we have found ourselves in. For someone who is sometimes (unjustly) criticized in academic circles for ignoring domestic factors and how they shape foreign policy, it is worth pointing out that, so far, this book seems to have little in the way of big newspaper reviews. Quite possibly because it also criticizes the general neoconservative/liberal bias of major legacy papers such as the Washington Post and the New York Times’ op-ed section. Had this book come out in the twilight of the cursed Bush II presidency I have no doubt it would have been given more media attention, but in a world where both parties now identify openly with unthinking hawkishness-from Trump embracing Pompeo and Bolton to the Democrats rallying around the flag of the national security state and even bizarrely ex-Bush Junior officials-there is little mainstream attention paid to this work so far despite the fact that Walt is a distinguished and well known scholar in the field.

Fascinating that. I’m sure its just a coincidence.

Needless to say, this is *the* work to get your foreign policy orthodoxy questioning people to engage with series realist critiques of both the present system and what to do about it. The book even helpfully closes out a useful list of talking points and arguments that could be deployed to make the case for a more restrained offshore balancing strategy. Worth keeping around to push the needle especially as a reckoning with the establishment must be only one or two more of their failures away.

My only real critiques of the text as follows:

While Walt does mention how the Lanyard Ghoul (once again, my phraseology) class has an intrinsic reason to back mindlessly hawkish policies due to them making money and status off of such policies, he only barely mentions the privatization and for profit militarization of much of the DoD in the past few decades. This is not something that could be easily reversed without major structural reform not only of The Pentagon, but also our entire political-economic system as it presently stands. This, along with environmental issues, are some of the reasons being a realist actually made me evolve more structurally left wing positions over time. Also, when living in DC, as I currently do, one sees how this recession-proof city really functions as more and more ‘Beltway Bandits’ move in with the attached monstrous apartment complexes clearly designed for pod people in tow. In DC the policy is made, and DC itself is increasingly economically reliant on what Eisenhower once called ‘the military-industrial complex’….except that now said complex has a profit motive above all, and thus far less reasons to uphold the national interest first. This entails not only many jobs that rely directly on the perpetuation of bad policies to exist, but also an army of lobbyists to see that their voices are disproportionately heard in government.

My second criticism is just a minor oversight but one worth mentioning. Walt rightly bemoans the lack of foreign policy focused elected leadership in office currently. While I agree with the argument overall, and also with his complaint that the cause suffers when certain people from a family with the last name of ‘Paul’ do much of the public speaking on its behalf, he is missing one very persistent and vocal figure in congress: Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. The entire reason she has managed to restore realist and restraint positions to the discourse is because she is charismatic and is a rare figure focused on foreign affairs. Personally, I would love to see Walt support her mission in congress as congruent to his own.

 

Can a Realist be a Capitalist in the Anthropocene?

Rising_seas_Isaac_Cordel

Rising Seas by Isaac Cordell

Short Answer: No.

Long answer:

There is a common stereotype in American academia that foreign policy realists are conservatives. In a purely philosophical sense this is true. Conservatives are supposed to disavow schemes to artificially socially engineer society to create a utopia. Of course, it could also be said that by this philosophical definition American conservatism hardly applies, being a radical project tied up inextricably with religious and theoretical economic faith and little in the way of accepting reality as it truly is. That and clearly psychological projecting one’s desire for a stern father figure to lay down the rules.

One thing I found in my graduate studies abroad was that this stereotype of realist-as-conservative, which applied to me little in the past and even less now, basically did not exist. At least among other realists. If anything, a realist in the UK academia was far more likely to be significantly left of the mainstream. Conservatives, much as in the US, were the ones more likely to gravitate towards liberalism and even constructivism, as the first prioritizes the interests of the present ruling class’ mythology of individualism and the second centers culture above all else. I got along best with Marxists, who, if for different reasons, had a similar material understanding of power relationships and the brutal truths of reality. If one separates foreign and domestic policy into distinct spheres, one could certainly be both a Realist and a Marxist at once. Plenty of historical figures actually meet this criteria. If one does not, however, there are certainly issues that prevent a full convergence. Since I personally do share the historically verifiable view of human civilization as cyclic, non-universal, and non-teleological, with all gains being temporary and all ‘golden ages’ occurring at different times and places for different societies, I myself cannot be a Marxist. But I certainly can take a view critical of capitalism as well as the historical position that we should not judge Marxist governments on base with more or less of a critical eye than we judge our own…something most in the west are conditioned to do early on by a selective reading of history.

Personally, I don’t believe a universal economic system should ever exist, as different societies find themselves in different places at varying times, with attendant issues such as divergent population density, ecologies, and the like. What communism stated it could do-create a universal system-it never did nor really could ever have done. But this is what neoliberalism has done. While a few countries hold out, it is the neoliberal order which has come the closest to global domination.

While I heavily suspect that we would be living in the Anthropocene no matter what the present economic system was, the fact remains that the more powerful and entrenched the system, the harder it is to change. And it has to change. So long as it pays to pollute by cutting corners on the profit motive or to manufacture far out of proportion to what is needed, our home planet, the only one we have, will continue to become a worse place on which to live. Speaking a realist language specifically, this is both the power and the threat that we must balance against. With greens, with leftists, with the communities most effected, and with enemies of the present economic order that will not change itself so long as the chimera of eternal economic growth and profits remains its driving purpose. Fight for the Earth now no matter the odds or live under the occupation of an aristocracy out of touch with the consequences of their own actions.

A vibrant discourse of varying strategies could be proposed, some at odds with each other, and that is fine. But to begin the common threat needs to be addressed directly-there will be more mass extinctions, more loss of biodiversity, more unpredictable weather and natural calamity, more refugees, and a greater divergence between the rich and poor as a form of capitalist-neofeudalism begins to emerge under various (and often unhinged) billionaire personalities who are all that is left since they continued to defund the state and civil society. And then, when that created a less functional society, used this breakdown as an excuse to defund it even more. This is already a measurable problem as gigantic private companies as well as the upper classes disproportionately contribute to the problems of pollution and climate change. For the first time since World War II, a genuine global threat exists. And this one is not to be fought by fighting merely a few states, but rather as a fight both internal and external in almost all of them.

We, as realists of history, diplomacy, policy, and war, cannot promise a golden ideal of a bright new future. Its neither in our nature nor in the issues we deal with when we engage public policy to do so. We are not purists and can put our skills in the service of many different from ourselves for the love of strategy and the calculation of what hay can be made from a new or old balance of power. We cannot and do not pretend to predict specifics of the future outside of general trends. But this isn’t about any of that. This is about taking steps right here and right now to make the future less terrible. To understand that a systemic approach to reforming or replacing our present drive towards growth and production at all costs is necessary to prevent an enormous downgrade in the quality of life for most people and resulting conflicts and disease outbreaks that will ensue. It is therefore contingent upon political realists of all stripes to join with those who looking at systemic structural reform in economics and ecology and contribute what we can. Analyzing strategy is our forte, so why not apply it here and now on the very issues of combating a Sixth Mass Extinction and the rising seas?

There surely can be no strategic problem more worthy. And there won’t be enough court monkey positions in the scattered few palaces of Vampire Billionaire fiefdoms for the vast majority of us. And those will likely only take those whose main talent is flattery rather than critical thought.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is the Ultimate International Relations Saga

Previously, I weighed in on just how terrible I find most explicitly International Relations focused film media (P.S. as predicted ‘Good Kill’ seems to be making chump change and being seen by perhaps a few hundred people). This leads to being asked, ‘well what is a good IR movie?’ The obvious answers to this question is ‘Team America: World Police’ ‘Nixon’ and ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.’ But that is just film. In actuality I think the best visual medium treatment of IR comes from a television show-that of Star Trek: Deep Space 9.

Deep_space_9

Now before we get to into this subject I want to make a disclaimer. I am not a person who has encyclopedic knowledge of Trek canon, especially regarding the two series I gave up on early in their runs (Voyager and Enterprise) or any non-show or film lore. Before my 11th birthday I probably could have competed with the biggest of nerds on this topic but I fell out of caring about Trek for a decade and only came back to it in college-and even then only came back to the things I knew I liked (some TOS, TNG, and much more recently DS9 thanks to Netflix, plus the handful of good movies like II, VI, and maybe First Contact). When it comes to science fiction franchises, Star Wars and Battletech defeated Star Trek in my latter childhood and then Alien/Aliens and eventually the rebooted Battlestar Galactica defeated that in turn in my early teens and my late teens respectively. I am probably not the most qualified person to write this in the world-but thanks to a few months recently completed of gorging on DS9 I feel this is something I can indeed talk about.

Star Trek’s strength was always its diplomatic episodes, in my opinion anyway, but the utopian and Wilsonian nature of the setting never accounted for how something like the Federation could thrive in a somewhat hostile environment and a lot of brilliant ideas were half-formed. As we will see, the crisis of the events of DS9 cause the mask the slip-illustrating a valuable lesson in how nations see themselves, and what they really are.

God-tier IR scholar Barry Buzan has written more than one article on the IR of Star Trek, but like many pan-franchise overviews it shafts the grungy sedentary base by the wormhole for the flashy ships of the series, at least proportionally speaking. This is a major problem, because it is DS9 which deals explicitly with the IR-themed oversights of the other more euphoric series. In particular, I wish to make the argument that, probably unintentionally, DS9 is a gateway to view IR through the framework of this blog’s favorite theory: Neoclassical Realism. To put it succinctly, Neoclassical realism, like other forms of realism, recognizes the centrality of states and power politics, but adds to it the dynamic domestic factors and internal cohesion of varying states to explain why some countries follow the policies they do. But at its most blunt, its about regime survival, and how different concepts of regime survival come to arise based on diverged geographic and historical factors which together create the political culture.

The Messy Frontier:

The concept of the show is to move more in a direction of serialization in a sedentary location where the visitors move but the protagonists usually do not. There is no escaping the consequences of the crew’s actions. The storm will be weathered here rather than escaped. In this way, the station itself is a microcosm of the bigger forces which are usually more abstract in other series-the state actors. Having defined territorial boundaries and political cultures, the United Federation of Planets and the other Alpha Quadrant powers do not have quite the episodic flexibility that some of their individual ships might have-and DS9 is in a similar position.

To emphasize this point the static location on international trade and diplomacy which is the station in question is located on what at first seems to be the most peripheral of frontiers. A former slave mining station and HQ of the Cardassian occupation of Bajor, the station is a joint Federation-Bajoran operation in a place only recently vacated by a hostile power. As it is, it represents a guarantee of security by a major power to a tiny and only recently liberated nation and a long term investment in the hopes that the Bajorans will one day join the Federation.

Everything changes with the near immediate discovery of the nearby wormhole. Inhabitants of powerful non-corporeal aliens who communicate with Commander Sisko and who once apparently inspired the Bajoran religion allow transit into a whole new quadrant of the galaxy which would be beyond reach of the Alpha Quadrant powers otherwise. Now, a postwar backwater has become the single most strategic location in the galaxy. This, however, does not change the remoteness of the posting. In fact, the rapid influx of intrigue from other powers mean this is one Star Trek series where the crew seeks to navigate the muddy waters of compromise and balance rather than principle or self-discovery to a previously unheard of degree. Sisko must guide these waters with minimal oversight and little prospect of immediate backup due to his location. Furthermore the nearest ally in the still unstable and completely weak Bajor. Both sides running the joint administration of the station would be familiar to the description in the introduction to Lobell, Ripsman, and Taliaferro’s edited work ‘Neoclassical Realism and Foreign Policy’:

‘Limitations on executive autonomy in different national contexts, however, may undermine their ability to respond as necessary to shifts in the balance of power. Neoclassical realists consequently view policy responses as a product of state-society coordination and, at time, struggle. Less autonomous actors must frequently build coalitions and make compromises to mobilize social and political actors in order to enact policy […] Most states must also frequently bargain with societal actors in order to secure the provision of national security goods to implement policy. […] Finally, neoclassical realism recognizes that many states or regimes do not necessarily function as ‘unitary’  actors. Elite consensus  or disagreement about the nature and extent of international threats, persistent internal divisions within the leadership, social cohesion, and the regime’s vulnerability to violent overthrow all inhibit the state’s ability to respond to systemic pressures.’

It is this kind of diplomatic grunt work that Sisko and his crew must deal with. Everyone can only be placated so far before it rubs up against someone else. All decisions must ensure the survival of the station and of Bajor’s new independence. And the setting further marks a break with what is usually seen in Star Trek by further adding the variable that humans as a species are not the star of this story. Human characters predominate, sure, but humanity is a background species. The real species whose culture is shown in nuance, detail, and variance in this show are the Bajorans, the Cardassians and their difficult and historically tragic relationship with each other. This has been written about before, and quite excellently too, so we I won’t dwell on it here, but it is part of what makes the show so great and also in some sense, very real. This is not a show about one culture interacting with others, but of many cultures continually interacting over a sustained period, and in turn influencing each other’s decision making process.

But I want to fast forward to the story arc the dominates the latter sections of the show: the Dominion. The Dominion is the monster that lurks on the other side of the wormhole whose existence is only found out about once lots of exploration begins on the far side of that cosmic aperture. A type of almost anti-Federation, it is a state which exists as effectively a web of protection for a species of shapeshifters (the Founders) who uphold their hegemony of the quadrant with an intricate web of multiple genetically modified species to carry out their will. The details of how they govern are never fully explored, but one thing becomes immediately clear-because of their history as persecuted by ‘solids’ they will do whatever it takes to become hegemonic over other humanoid life.  Their brazen expansionism and plots to use their unique abilities to destabilize potential threats from the inside are actually for a psychologically defensive purpose, or so they claim. Most likely, they even believe their claim-as ridiculous as it clearly is to outsiders.

The Dominion is possibly a match for the entire Alpha Quadrant, but not being ones to take risks set on on an indirect campaign to destabilize that region before they launch their official invasion. Shapeshifters lure Romulan and Cardassian intelligence agencies and fleets into a devastating trap (and in so doing validating tragic literature as a concept in a sub-plot way far better than most story arcs I have seen), and then proceeding to use their shapeshifting abilities to infiltrate other powers from within, possibly causing a Klingon-Cardassian war and almost causing a major rift in even the utopian Federation where for the first time in centuries troops are deployed on the streets of the future crime and prejudice free Earth. All the while, the Alpha Quadrant remains as divided as ever. Alliances that should be formed are not, even in the face of knowing quite clearly what the intentions of this new and dangerous foe clearly are:

Cardassia, smarting from its instability and loss of standing decides to throw its weight in with the new power under Dukat’s new government-the kind of vindictive re-alignment in diplomacy which is guaranteed to upset the status quo. This is something on the scale of Sino-American rapprochement in the 70s or Japan joining the Axis Powers. It gives the enemy a foothold for free in the Alpha Quadrant and a large supply of allied ships. When the war finally does break out over Sisko’s mining of the wormhole to prevent further reinforcements to the Dominion, everything changes.

With even the ostensibly pacifist Starfleet forced to launch a pre-emptive strike you know things are going to a bit more hard core in this show. And to its credit, DS9 shows us the evolution of a country used to long periods of peace of security and how it changes over prolonged total warfare.

The loss of DS9 itself, and the awkward political situation which the Bajoran crewmen are put in (not to mention the planet itself) of knowing they will be destroyed if they resist, but also that they will be occupied if the war they are forced to declare neutrality in is lost speaks volumes to the struggles of small states in times of chaos. Major Kira struggles with her past as a freedom fighter and now worries about being a collaborator when a dramatic event makes her disavow her government’s stated neutrality-if not overtly.

The war has many back and forth shifts, as one would, and eventually with the re-taking of the station after some Not Your Father’s Star Trek battles settles into a kind of exhausting stalemate. It is here that the show really develops its spine of steel at looking at the anarchic world of foreign policy head on, and to an extend science fiction perhaps did not do before in this particular medium.

To understand the transformation that Starfleet is undergoing, I actually find the career trajectory of the character Nog the best way to see it in microcosm. He starts off exuberant to be the first Ferengi in Starfleet, becomes a prodigy in training, and then fights in the war with the crew and even falls in with some new cadets who the war has shaped into fanatics far removed from the ideals of the service they most likely joined for very different reasons.

Eventually, Nog is terribly wounded in a ground battle of dubious necessity and has a subsequent entire episode devoted to his recovery from PTSD by temporarily living in the fantasy world of a holodeck. He eventually overcomes the worst of it and when asked if he will is better responds with a frank, ‘No, but I will be.’ Here we see the terrible cost of the war, the tragedy that ensues when diplomacy breaks down or the paranoia of an enemy prevent negotiation. But yet in the end this tragedy must be burdened as the alternative is infinitely worse-enslavement for the entire Alpha Quandrant is something worth any sacrifice to stop. Through the microcosm of Nog’s experience we see what Starfleet itself goes through, a torturous realization that their civic mythology is not enough in a time of extreme danger. A crisis of conscious, self-doubt, but ultimately when faced with the reality, adaptation for survival. If some values must be sacrificed in the defense of others it still preferable to the sacrifice of all of them. The Federation must grapple with how to marshal its options and function in the trauma of wartime crisis situation. As M.R. Brawley states:

‘Neoclassical realists look to the state as the manager of the nation’s resources for competition in the anarchic international environment. The state’s position as mediator between the two realms of politics-domestic and international-gives it a unique role. It must coordinate diplomacy and domestic policies, harnessing economic capacity to generate military power in the defense of interests.’

First diplomacy failed, then military only options  could only go so far. Now we reach a point in the final two seasons where only special operations of the most delicate kind can turn the balance. This is, of course, the famous moment as well as the best episode of the series-when Sisko and Garak conspire to bring the so-far neutral Romulans into the war by an act so illegal, so dangerous, and so unethical it could cause war with the Romulans if ever found out. The sham is found out by its Romulan target (‘It’s a FAAAAAAAAKE!!!!’), but before he can relay this news Garak assassinates him in a way that covers up the false data and brings the Romulan Empire into the war against the Dominion. This is, to me, the star episode of the series and the peak of the show’s IR themes. Shadows of the Zimmerman Telegram coupled with who knows how many forged intelligence coups in history  tie this firmly into reality and strategy. In the ethics of Starfleet this is the most heinous thing imaginable, and so it took someone without a country and with a strong understanding of the inter-state system to do it for them. And of course, they can live with it:

Furthermore down the dark path of grand strategy, up until this point much has been made of the Cardassian and Romulan intelligence services, but what we find out, and which shatters the myth of Federation success  as values based as a sole explanation for their thriving for the past few centuries, is that Starfleet has an intelligence service so good no one even knows of it. Not only that, it has already used Odo as conduit for which to infect the entire Founder race with a deadly bioweapon before the war even began. This is Section 31, what I imagine to be the most controversial aspect of the show. An organization accountable to no one, filled with dangerous individuals whose very existence compromises the stated goals and intents of the Federation itself. It is precisely this which has enabled Starfleet to be so principled. Aside from that first point, this is Sun Tzu’s fantasy right here.

The main figures have after all never had to get their hands dirty, someone else did it for them-and possibly did so without anyone finding out. Who knows how many events Section 31 pulled off in the past which have never been exposed? A friend of mine postulated the theory that the relatively organized and potent Klingon of the original series seemed to give way to the brittle warrior feuding culture of later renditions precisely because of some kind of Section 31 operation that indirectly backed the most right wing and chauvinistic elements of a country in order to make it easy to manipulate and destabilize much like the United States with organizations like the Gray Wolves in Turkey or military regimes in Latin America in the Cold War. After all, near the end of the series the Federation basically has Worf kill Gowron to get a better strategist in the cockpit of the Klingon Empire-and that little change wasn’t even hidden from public view.

But here is the kicker, love it or hate it the most subversive part of DS9 is not just showing the Federation being a great power out of necessity when the chips are down-just like the others it does what is necessary and hence must forfeit the mantle of moral superiority-that is only part one of the real message. The real message is this: politics is lesser evils. the Federation was worth defending against the Dominion. All those events that showed it at its worse and most fanboy purist upsetting-these are the things that enabled its survival. Naturally with the war over, Section 31 becomes more a danger than a benefit, and the galaxy at the end of the war is left in an ambiguous position with quite possibly the Romulans in the driver’s seat of regional affairs. Political problems will never end, and allies and enemies always change, but in a crisis one doesn’t have the luxury of playing with all considerations in mind, only the most immediate ones. After all, who would have predicted Kira as the leader of the Cardassian resistance? That the ‘bad guy’ races advocating a pre-emptive attack on the Dominion who were portrayed as warmongers would be more than justified as events ensued? That the drive for regime legitimacy in the eyes of its own people would be enough to drive Cardassia entirely into ruin? Well, a world history major perhaps, but few others.

Given all the messy compromises of politics, something that only gets worse as the scales increase, one is never going to get a happy ending in IR, or even an ending barring sentient extinction. But ultimately the prevention of things getting worse must stand as the positive outcome. A rough lesson DS9 and human history alike tell in abundance. Whereas before DS9 Star Trek clearly dealt with power politics without *really* dealing with them, in DS9 we see the darker reality that makes even something like the Federation possible. Just as in real life Wilsonism or other ideals driven foreign policy views can be shown to be a superficial guise for what often really lurks beneath. DS9 brought the realism to Star Trek in more ways than one.

The only thing I felt the series was lacking, as a Jeffrey Combs fan, was a scene where Dr. Herbert West re-animates a Weyoun clone.

I would also like to nominate Garak to be one of the spirit animals of this blog.

Well the next few posts will probably be back to normal after that, but at some point in the future I would like to do something similar-ish for the Battletech Universe, we will see.

The book cited twice in this post can be found here.