Monday, January 29, 2018

IRL Examples for Noir this Week

These articles talk about two sides of the same noir coin. One discusses why the U.S. hasn't been able to move from military engagement to diplomacy in Afghanistan.  The other argues that, back home, political rivalry is turning into war with an enemy.

We'll be using "noir" in a way that is expansive, in order to describe a set of cultural forces. We'll also try to be concrete and precise.

One interesting passage from the Afghanistan piece:
Mr. Trump is not the first president to struggle over how to align goals with reality. In 2009, as President Obama escalated combat troop levels in Afghanistan, his advisers identified only two vital American interests in the war, according to participants, the kinds of interests that might justify sending soldiers into battle. 
One was the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. The second was the terrorist threat posed by Al Qaeda “and its affiliates.” Neither problem really existed in Afghanistan; they resided over the border, in Pakistan. After 2002, Al Qaeda’s most lethal operators largely fled to Pakistan. Mr. Obama’s strategists nonetheless rationalized their escalation on the grounds that if Afghanistan fell into chaos, Al Qaeda would return — a plausible fear but an indirect and even speculative reason to send American men and women to war.
Our course's first of six causes of noir culture is "the generalization of war."  Was the Obama Administration's strategy an example of this?

From the same article:
In effect, Pakistan’s strategy of nuclear deterrence, conceived to keep India’s military at bay, has also deterred the United States. The United States has so feared the risks of violent disarray in Pakistan that it has tolerated interference by Inter-Services Intelligence in Afghanistan since 2001 that it otherwise would most likely not have accepted.
Does this suggest that the credible threat of force works to protect a weaker power where negotiations would not?  Could Pakistan have done something less noir in dealing with the U.S?  Does U.S. foreign policy only (or mostly) respect threats of force? Lots of questions!

The other piece is called "Is Our Democracy Wobbly?" (the online title is different).  It claims that democracy depends on "two basic norms," "mutual toleration and "forbearance."  It says that "democratic norms are vulnerable to polarization," and when that happens,
Parties come to view each other not as legitimate rivals but as dangerous enemies. Losing ceases to be an accepted part of the political process and instead becomes a catastrophe. When that happens, politicians are tempted to abandon forbearance and win at any cost. If we believe our opponents are dangerous, should we not use any means necessary to stop them?
This is how democracy died in Chile. Before the 1973 coup, Chile was Latin America’s oldest democracy, buttressed by vibrant democratic norms, including a well-established “culture of compromise.” Chileans liked to say that there was no political disagreement that could not be settled over a bottle of Chilean cabernet. But beginning in the 1960s, Chile’s culture of compromise was shattered by Cold War polarization. 
We'll talk about Afghanistan later in the course (as a thought experiment on whether detection can replace invasion), so think a bit about what is going on there (two major mass slaughters of civilians in the past week) and why.  And bear in mind the question of US democracy as we get into Chandler's The Long Goodbye, which doesn't think too much of it.