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June 05, 2007

A "Pro-Chaos" Foreign Policy
Posted by Shadi Hamid

In light of recent revelations that Defense Department neo-cons were agitating for Taiwain to declare independence (a move that would likely lead to violence or war), there has been some renewed discussion about the "pro-chaos” approach of the Bush administration. None of this is particularly new (see Josh Marshall's very interesting article from 2003 about this).There’s a name for this foreign policy orientation – “constructive instability” – and I’ve written about it here and here. It is not just some ideological fantasy but is, at least in its more academic manifestations, actually a legitimate way of looking at certain aspects of political development and international relations.

I doubt that many of the Cheneyite neo-con offenders in question have read Stephen Krasner, formerly Condi’s director of policy planning at State. Krasner is not himself a neo-con, but he has offered, in past publications, an intellectual justification for a foreign policy approach which uses short-term instability as a means to promote more positive long-term change (see in particular "Approaches to the State: Alternative Conceptions and Historical Dynamics" in Comparative Politics, Jan. 1984). According to this view, you aim to break institutional-political stasis by introducing a series of carefully-applied external shocks that will overwhelm and overload the existing system, thereby forcing new outcomes. The idea is that when things get so rotten and beyond repair, you have to start breaking things down and rebuilding, because the foundation is structurally unviable yet strong enough that it will not fall apart on its own. So, some amount of external pressure is put on the decaying structure to essentially speed up the process of change.

The alternative is to leave the house as it is. The house is still standing and people still live in it, but because of the unsound structural foundation, there is a constant risk that a ceiling will cave; the roof can’t keep out the rain; the basement is always flooding; and during low-level earthquakes, the house seems like it is in danger of collapsing and killing the inhabitants. In short, the status quo is untenable. But "punctuating" the status quo is not by any means an ideal solution. However, a choice must be made between two rather unappealing courses of action.

What I mean to say here is that we need to distinguish between the crazed neo-con understanding of “constructive instability” – which is not, in any sense, constructive, but actually destructive – and the more sound, less ideological understanding of “constructive instability” which scholars and policymakers like Krasner (as well as Condi) have advocated. 

Now, there are obvious problems with even the moderate approach of Condi/Krasner. But there are some aspects of this orientation which actually do make sense, particularly in the case of the Middle East, where anyone could tell you that the status quo is, in fact, untenable, and that significant – even transformational – change is necessary, if not urgent. Otherwise the region will continue to be mired in autocracy, extremism, terrorism, economic-social-cultural-political stagnation. In short, something must be done. And, arguing that something should be done – even at the risk that this may, in the short-run, lead to some degree of instability – does not make one a neo-con. More importantly, it does not make one wrong.


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It's very simple: Ongoing world instability is conducive to high military expenditures, AKA corporate welfare, and domestic repression. Unfortunately your "instability" is another guy's war, and war is a crime against humanity, which makes anyone who promotes instability, meaning war, a criminal.

The average American doesn't give a whit, or should care at all, if some middle eastern country like Jordan or Iran or Saudi Arabia is characterized by autocracy, extremism, terrorism, and economic-social-cultural-political stagnation. So what.

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In many respects there isn't a "Bush" administration in regards to foreign affairs. There are several.While all Presidents have had contending groups with different views, I can't think of any other than Bush that not only has contending views, but actual competing policies and actions - all seemingly active at once.One wonders what the insiders in other governments think of the country that can't decide whether to talk about mutual interests, or escalate threats of violence.The ONLY hopeful sign I've seen is that over time the neo-con Cheney block is losing insiders in positions of power. It's hard to imagine being the Secretary of State and having imposed subordinates working against you within the department (Elliot Abrams, for example) that you can't just fire.There is no doubt in my mind that the PNAC neo-cons fully deserve being called a conspiracy, the only question is whether it is criminal. Counter-government talk is one thing, counter-government action is quite another.

Good article, Each and every point is good enough.Thanks for sharing with us your wisdom.

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