Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

Is Academia Killing Political Science?

Posted in United States by Dan on August 3, 2010

I’ve been a member of the college community for over four years now, and I will continue to be a member over the next year as I enter graduate school at Syracuse University later this fall.  When taking that into consideration, perhaps it’s not a shocker that I sometimes ask myself why so many professors and researchers are devoted to specialties that are both boring and trivial to a majority of the American population. Molecular biology and clinical psychology is one thing…how can you spice up a discipline as confusing and methodological as that?! You can’t, unless you have a really great mentor who is willing to show you the hidden gems of the field and steer you in the right direction.

But political science is something entirely different.  Political science is not molecular biology or clinical psychology, or mathematics (although math is prevalent in the field).  Politics is an exciting and lively study of social interaction at the highest levels of society; a place where a quest for power, fame, money, ethics, and revenge intersect and often get mended together in due course.  Politics express America’s best and worst qualities, as both a beacon of democracy and debate as well as a hub for corruption and short cuts.

So given the nature of political interaction and the scandal that is often produces in the end, why the heck are some scholars in the field so afraid of pursuing a project that is exciting and useful to the outside world?  Have you taken a glance at some of the academic journals in the American Political Science Association?  Most of the stuff out there is drivel and has absolutely no use for the likes of ordinary people like you and me.

Take this list from the January/February/March editions of the American Political Science Review as an example:

1) Cross-cutting Cleavages and Ethnic Voting: An Experimental Study of Cousinage in Mali

2) Broad Bills or Particularistic Policy? Historical Patterns in American State Legislatures

3) Without Foundations: Plato’s Lysis and Postmodern Friendship

4) Building Strategic Capacity: The Political Underpinnings of Coordinated Wage Bargaining

Oh goody, where do I sign up (sarcasm anyone)?  I’m sure each article is well-researched, documented, and respected in academia, but what average person is going to sit down and read this stuff without getting heavy in the eyes (by the way, if you have read any of these pieces, send me a quick email and I will personally send you a congratulatory letter)?

It’s the 21st century.  So many developments are going on, from the war on terrorism to the current global economic crisis to the spreading popularity of counterinsurgency doctrine.  Why, even during one of the most turbulent periods in world history, are scholars at all levels and of all magnitudes sticking with projects that stray away from the types of issues that are affecting the United States today?

Here are some quick comments as to why this might be, although my observations are anything but universal.  If you have your own, by all means contribute.

In today’s environment, it’s very difficult for an academic to research anything controversial, regardless of what issue in political science we are talking about. Society over the last few decades has gotten so politicized and politically correct that any outspoken piece of writing or any interview out of the mainstream is viewed as either inflammatory or insensitive. Just a few weeks ago, the longtime Washington reporter Helen Thomas was pressured to resign over her comments towards Israel (which, I have to say, were quite hurtful to the ears), ending a 50-year career in journalism on a negative note.

Professors in universities and research institutions may not want to follow in her shoes.  In fact, doing so would pose a great risk to an individual’s career, even if his/her work is a few inches away from the conventional.  People who step outside the box usually get challenged or thrown out my management if their work- however innovative and groundbreaking- draws money away from their organization. Say what you want, but most Professors simply don’t want to put their reputation as a scholar in jeopardy. They want to remain in the field, make more money, produce more work, and rise to the highest position possible on the totem poll.

But it’s this overly sensitive P.C. culture that the United States now finds itself in that could gradually destroy the field of political science. Like all subjects out there, the strength and quality of political science as a discipline depends on the willingness of younger generations to join the cause. Attracting up-and-coming scholars is the only way political science departments across the country will sustain itself. But the field is not likely to attract these students if mundane topics are continually addressed and controversial ideas are not expanded upon. No one wants to spend the rest of his or her life in a boring occupation. But the study of politics may be getting to that point if today’s academics are not brave willing to go outside the box and bypass the traditional rules of academia.

Obviously not all professors embark on boring research projects with no outside application. Most of my mentors at SUNY Plattsburgh (and I’m hoping at my graduate school as well) are in fact satisfied with their current careers and excited about issues that have been under-researched in the past. It also helps that these very same people were practitioners and had “real world” experience before they settled on academia. It would just be nice to have more of these people out there, since these are the people who will ultimately draw students in and contribute to the discipline’s future success.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Stephen Walt at FP.com**


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My Second Unpublished Letter to the Washington Post

Posted in United States by Dan on July 31, 2010

After a second straight rejection from the Washington Post’s editorial board, I’m starting to get the feeling that the paper’s editors either don’t like what I’m writing, or are completely swamped with thousands of letter requests each and every day.  For good measure, I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Here is my second (but certainly not final) unpublished letter to the editor.  Brief and straight to the point…just like letters to major newspapers should be:

____________________________

As always, David Ignatius provides a refreshing evaluation, this time on Barack Obama’s demeanor (A President Tripped Up By the Spontaneous, July 25).  As Mr. Ignatius makes clear, Obama has been largely impersonal during his first 18 months in the Oval Office.  Few news conferences are called, and unpredictable events often baffle the President in the opening moments.

There is always a possibility that Mr. Obama’s “dry intellect” is to blame.  But his “scripted” personality may also reflect a desire to avoid the same mistakes that other president’s have made in the past.

American history is rife with presidents discrediting themselves by overextending in front of the cameras.  Lyndon Johnson did so during the Vietnam War by passionately defending America’s involvement in a seemingly endless conflict.  Ronald Reagan did so during the Iran-contra scandal, when many Americans began to question not only his administrative style but his sincerity as well.  George W. Bush did so by constantly affirming that the U.S. was making progress in Iraq, despite the deaths of thousands of American troops and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians.

Obama may be afraid of spontaneity.  But a desire to avoid shooting himself in the foot may also have something to do with it.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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Top Secret America: First Reactions

Posted in U.S. Foreign and Defense Policy, United States by Dan on July 25, 2010

I haven’t yet had a chance to read Dana Priest and William Arkin’s investigative bombshell in the Washington Post (called “Top Secret America”), but from the endless amount of responses on the blogosphere, I felt like I’ve memorized the whole thing (for a nice replay of what people have said so far, click here, here, or here).

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I highly suggest you jump online, because it only takes a few clicks (if that) to get a glimpse of the story.

But in any case, the entire Washington Post series is a two-year project in the making that takes a rare in-depth look into how large and secretive the U.S. intelligence community has become.  Through Priest and Arkin’s remarkable work- with personalized interviews, declassified records, and a frank tone to back that work up- the reader gets the sense that the United States is hostage to a besieged mentality.  Private contractors with top-secret security clearance are lurking in your neighborhoods, the National Security Agency is wiretapping your phones, and every move that you make (from swiping your credit card to calling a distant relative) is tracked by the government and packed away in a database for future use.  You are, in effect, a citizen with a million eyes on you at all times; a citizen who’s heard earned money is sent to fund this “Top Secret America” behemoth.  The trouble is that you don’t know who is really spying on you, or which agency your money is going to.

Here’s the summary in a nutshell: beware, because 854,000 people on the government’s payroll are watching you.

I don’t want to say that the article exaggerates the situation, because in many ways, Priest and Arkin are accurate in their reporting.  U.S. intelligence has grown dramatically since the September 11 attacks, with more workers in the industry than ever before.  There are 16 separate intelligence agencies across the U.S. Government, most of whom track the same information and come to the same conclusions.

But I can’t help but wonder if this whole story has another motive buried deep between the lines.  Could one of the Post’s messages be “look how much of your money is being wasted on keeping this country safe?”  From all of the comments surfacing up on blogs and editorials across the country, it appears that this could be a motive.  I doubt the Washington Post (or anyone in journalism) would be talking about the bloated national security bureaucracy if the U.S. economy were still in relatively healthy shape.

Arkin and Priest are not only making the point that U.S. Intel has gotten redundant and overweight (which is not necessarily a bad thing, as Dan Drezner pointed out earlier this week), but that this redundancy is costing American taxpayers billions upon billions of dollars every year.  It’s a quick and classic way to discredit a particular policy, and it’s also an easy way to criticize how things are being done inside the government.  Reporters have done this many times in the past, for good or for ill.

I don’t know if Arkin and Priest have a partisan agenda here, but by drilling the money aspect into this investigation, it gives you a reason to believe that they both may be trying to expose their own true feelings.

This isn’t an exercise in poor judgment, because democracy is all about conflicting views and outspoken mantra.  It’s just another factor to consider as you read the article.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Dan Drezner, Thomas G. Mahnken, and Peter Feaver**


CNN’s Shameless Move

Posted in United States by Dan on July 9, 2010

CNN refers to itself as “the most trusted name in news,” and if you ask Americans on the street, there’s a good chance that they prefer CNN to the list of other news networks.  I myself have a tendency to pick CNN every single time.  Based on my own amateur opinion, their reporting usually follows a pretty moderate pattern…neither too liberal nor too conservative.  The anchors are well versed most of the time, the beat reporters are some of the most highly respected in the press, and it seems like CNN covers international stories in a much more personalized and in-depth style.  Compare this to Fox News, whose management is quick to invite Republicans on as guests on virtually every show.

Covering news is a hard business, but it’s even harder when so many things are going on at such a fast pace, like today.  CNN has, by and large, done a decent job at keeping pace, and I give most of the credit to the actual journalists who do the reporting and risk their lives on the front lines when the assignment calls for it.

But a small part of me just lost a little bit of respect for CNN as an institution.

A woman named Octavia Nasr- a veteran in the news biz and a senior editor at CNN- lost her job yesterday after she wrote a tweet that many deemed offensive.  The tweet went something like this: “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah … One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”

The Sayyed Fadlallah that she was referring too is widely labeled by the United States as a leading spiritual advisor of the anti-Israel Hezbollah militia in southern Lebanon, as well as a man who used to endorse terrorist attacks on western targets when U.S. troops were stationed in Lebanon in the early 1980’s.  But he is also labeled by many in the Middle East as a powerful Shia cleric who was actually much more moderate than his enemies made him out to be.  He was particularly pragmatic when it came to gender relations and the rights of women in Islam, which separated him from more rejectionist players like Iran.  In fact, Fadlallah seemed to get wiser with age; in 2005, he criticized Hezbollah for being too aggressive politically and baiting Lebanese civilians for votes.

When following a purely simplistic form of conventional wisdom, Ms. Nasr’s firing would be understandable to the average viewer.  But when taking the broader picture into account and getting at the root of Fadlallah’s unique history as a cleric, CNN’s decision to give Nasr the boot gets more and more shallow and problematic.

The bottom line is that the United States is caught up in a very sensitive and politicized culture. Every statement in front of a video camera or every comment in the newspaper that stretches beyond the mainstream gets bashed by people who are afraid to lose their jobs or afraid that money is going to be cut off from their network if they stay silent. And sadly, the journalists and politicians that makes these remarks are castrated in the press and lose a bulk of their credibility.

The sad part of the Nasr affair is that CNN fired one of their best analysts in the Middle East. Ms. Nasr has been covering stories in the region for twenty years, and she knows the in’s and out’s of Islamic culture and politics pretty well. In the end, CNN may only end up hurting themselves by kicking her out of the door.

It baffles the mind how a 140-character tweet or a 20 second comment on Israel (Helen Thomas) can ruin a person’s career and destroy a person’s reputation. What CNN and Hearst Newspapers (Helen Thomas’ former employer) are basically saying is that an isolated incident of controversy- even if it’s just for a few seconds- can outweigh a person’s entire portfolio.

I’m glad I’m not a communications major.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Stephen Walt at FP.com**

American Journalism May Be In Trouble

Posted in United States by Dan on June 19, 2010

After a lengthy 50-year career that was composed of grilling presidents about war, the economy, and U.S. foreign policy, Washington press-corps member Helen Thomas has decided to call it quits and vacate her first-row seat in the White House briefing room.  But her retirement was not propelled by her old age (she is turning 90 years old this August) or sloppy reporting, as most journalists today use as reasons for resignations.  Nor was her retirement a product of her employer- Hearst Newspapers- whose management probably still viewed the veteran Thomas as a valuable asset in all things political.

Rather, her decision was rooted in some questionable comments that she made about Jews to a reporter during, ironically, a White House sponsored Jewish Heritage event.  When asked by a reporter what she thought about the state of Israel in today’s global environment, she responded by saying “tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.  Remember, these people are occupied, and it’s their land.  Go home…Poland, Germany, America, and everywhere else.” The comments were not only caught by the reporter’s camera, which was rolling during the entire interview, but were subsequently released to the world through YouTube, with tens of thousands of people responding to the video with a combination of anger and displeasure.

Unfortunately, her “go home” attitude towards the Jews is not exactly accurate, and it lacks a certain context that, if enacted, would quickly lay her argument to rest.  As Richard Cohen of the Washington Post cited in his editorial this past Tuesday, Jews could not necessarily go home after World War II without being the victims of widespread discrimination in European communities.  Even after the horror that was the Holocaust, Jews were still being killed when they attempted to venture home to reclaim their houses and small businesses.  The result most of the time was more violence towards the Jewish community by those in Poland who were accustomed to taking advantage of their absence.  According to Cohen, a total of 1,500 Jews were murdered in this fashion during 1945-1946.

So the Jews did try to “go home,” but were subsequently punished for doing so.  Therein lies the foundation of Israel, an entity that many Jews believed could serve as their own fresh start with the world and a place where Jews could live together in peace and prosperity.  One wonders if Helen Thomas was aware of this, in which case her comments would be even more detested than they already are.

But the real issue at hand here is how a quick 20 second interview could collapse a 50 year old career in political journalism, or how a few tasteless remarks can poison someone’s reputation as a tough and independent-minded interviewer of every president since John F. Kennedy.  Since when did Washington become so uptight and hypersensitive about views that contradicted official U.S. policy in the Middle East, which has largely been built upon America’s “special relationship” with the state of Israel?  The United States is supposed to be a country that cherishes ideas that seep outside the public mainstream, because these are the same ideas that produce more intense debate about topics that have been lingering in conventionality for far too long.

The real question here- and thus the real story- is who squeezed Thomas out of her job.  Was it the work of Israel’s right-wing lobbies, who are consistently adamant about unconditional U.S. support for Israel and who are all too quick to categorize opposing viewpoints as anti-Semitic?  Or was it the White House, who perhaps equated Thomas’ continuation as a press corps journalist with trouble from lobbies like AIPAC?  Or maybe it was a combination of the two, or an entirely different organization.  Or perhaps Helen Thomas truly felt bad about her remarks, and thought that maybe she needed to retire in her old age anyway.

We don’t know, and I’m not sure we ever will.  The answer is negligent to the broader picture; that of the state of journalism.  Because if this is how journalism in the United States is going to be conducted in the future, with pressure from outside sources on what can be said, then I’m afraid that innovation and independent analysis (however distasteful this analysis may be to some) is being destroyed and replaced with ad-hoc reporting.  This is not something we need at a time when age-old conflicts are still unresolved (like the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab peace process) and new ones continue to surface (Iran’s nuclear program, international and domestic terrorism, the war in Afghanistan, the war on drugs, etc).

One of the key aspects of problem-solving is public debate on controversial issues, even more so when issues are related to a nation’s public policy.  Helen Thomas’ remarks may have been offensive and disparaging, but an overreaction to these remarks may be just as bad in the long-run.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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Why Blogging and Tweeting Matters

Posted in Uncategorized, United States by Dan on June 13, 2010

I came across a pretty interesting article by Drew Conway, a PhD student at New York University, about the importance of blogs in today’s environment and how graduate students (or those in undergrad for that matter) can take advantage of the many tools that blogging has to offer.

The reason I’m commenting on this post is because blogs have taken on an inherent value in American society.  You can’t go far on the internet without stumbling upon a wide variety of blogs, most of which redirect you to other blogs that you had no idea existed.  Everything from sports to politics, security to celebratory gossip is discussed, and virtually no issue is left untouched by today’s blogosphere.

But besides the exponential rise of blogs on the internet today, online forums provide a much needed service in the field of amateur (and professional) journalism.  Online forums, whether it be a blog, a message board, a facebook account, or a twitter feed, are extremely beneficial to the average Joe (like myself) who has something worthwhile to say to the public.  In fact, before the adoption and growth of blogs on the internet, the ordinary citizen really didn’t have a proper venue to get certain things off his or her chest, besides the brief “letter to the editor” section in local newspapers.  But even the “letter to the editor” section had its limits; most concerned citizens get rejected due to space and content constraints, particularly in nationwide publications like the New York Times, the Washington Post, or the Wall Street Journal.

So it came as burst of fresh air that some aspiring students in academia are becoming accustomed to forming their own blogs.

Here’s the brief conversation I had with Drew yesterday:

Me: Drew, spot on.  This post had to be said, because from my own personal viewpoint, I see very few of my peers experimenting with the thousands of forums and message boards that contribute to the online discourse. Granted, I am still relatively young in my college career; I just recently graduated at the undergrad level and am heading to grad school in the fall. But even with this limited journey in academia so far, I’m consistently baffled by the fact that students in the human sciences neglect to take advantage of the internet.

There is a whole world out there besides the dusty coated books in the library and the up-to-the-date textbooks we are forced to buy on an annual basis. The world of print media is quickly being succumbed by websites and tweets, if it hasn’t been already. Academics like Steve Walt, Marc Lynch, Peter Bergen and the like have all expanded their knowledge base and following through the establishment of their blogs. And for the most part, all three of these individuals have increased their stature in the IR community like never before. In fact, I didn’t hear much about Walt before I ventured onto his blog at ForeignPolicy.com.

Naturally, you would think that M.A. and PhD students today would follow their example. I started blogging relatively early (my own blog is approaching its one-year anniversary this month), and some of my friends have indeed follow suit. It would just be refreshing to see more ideas out there (especially in the field of political science and IR), thus generating more debate and more networking.

Drew: I am very pleased to see that you have taken up blogging—particularly in your undergrad. Best of luck, and keep up the great work (just checked out The Docket)!

And of course, other people contributed to the conversation as well.

To make the story short: MAKE YOUR OWN BLOG!! IT GETS YOUR NAME OUT THERE!

-Daniel R. DePetris

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Sometimes It’s Best Too Stay Silent

Posted in U.S. Foreign and Defense Policy, United States by Dan on May 25, 2010

In a normal and rational world, people who perform their jobs poorly or stake their personal integrity on false information usually stay out of the limelight when exposed.  You never see a former CEO make a press conference and recommend sound business practices after he (or she) is indicted and eventually convicted of bribery or extortion.  The same can be said in the world of technology as well; for instance, I bet that Bill Gates wouldn’t stick by Windows Vista if thousands of computers crashed as a result of the same faulty program.

So why on earth do disgraced politicians and government officials insist on digging themselves into a deeper grave?  Remember former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer, the man who was caught in a covert prostitution ring run by the FBI?  Yea…well…now he’s back on the radar, appearing on television and giving interviews about the country’s financial crisis.

Presidents try to bolster their image as well.  Typically, presidents who were deeply unpopular during their tenure, or those who leave the post with a low approval rating (due to either personal glitches or tumultuous policies) attempt to improve their standing through a highly coordinated P.R. campaign (see Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush).  After his cataclysmic fall from grace, President Richard Nixon spent the last twenty years of his life trying to rebuild his tarnished image.

So I guess it should come as no surprise that Douglas Feith, one of the men responsible for leading President George W. Bush into a full-scale invasion of Iraq, is doing the same thing.  But here’s the kicker….he’s using the same tools and credentials that originally tarnished his credibility five years earlier.

You would think that after a terrible foreign-policy record- both with respect to post war planning in Iraq, dismal resources in Afghanistan and a poor policy with respect to Iran- former Bush officials like Doug Feith and Paul Wolfowitz would shut their mouths when a contentious issue comes up.

It’s not inaccurate or unfair to recognize that both Feith and Wolfowitz have lost considerable standing in Washington, not to mention in the entire IR community generally.  Feith in particular has come under a tremendous amount of political heat, so much so that he was forced to resign his post at the Office of Special Plans after allegations surfaced that he fudged the facts about Saddam Hussein’s WMD program.

So after all that, why on earth is he speaking to the press about the supposed weaknesses of U.S. foreign policy?

Yes, he does possess the right to speak up and make his voice heard, regardless of how skewed his views are or how questionable his assertions can be (Lord knows that Karl Rove has done so over the past few months). After all, one of the most important (if not the most important) value in American society is the First Amendment freedom of speech clause.  So perhaps I shouldn’t be blatantly attacking Feith’s credentials.  Maybe I shouldn’t even care what Feith has to say.

But c’mon, are we really supposed to take what he says seriously? This man was one of the architects of a war that went so badly during his time as a top Pentagon employee; U.S. credibility in the Arab world went on a downward spiral as a result, and Al’Qaeda was able to expand its influence into the very heart of the Middle East.  And of course, thousands of American lives were lost and tens of thousands of Iraqis were killed in the process as well.

In many respects, we are still trying to get out of this hole.  And now, this same official is trying to discredit the Obama administration’s policy towards the elimination of nuclear weapons…as if the dream of a “global zero” was a bad thing for international peace and stability!

But don’t take my word for it. Check out this quick profile of Doug Feith’s time as a government servant and see for yourself.  Nothing to really boast about, unless you consider sabotaging the Oslo Peace Accords and solidifying the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land as great policy.

Feith should take the advice of President George W. Bush and his former boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: disappear for a while until people forget why they’re mad at you.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Tom Ricks at FP.com**


Graduation Hype

Posted in United States by Dan on May 15, 2010

Hello everyone!!  As I’m sure you have figured out by now, blogging has been pretty low this week.  Normally I would say that this is due to a slacking-off period, but that would be a complete mischaracterization.  These past few days have been drenched with end-of-the-year academic ceremonies and yes…graduation from college.

Obviously I picked a pretty bad week to limit my posts; Afghan President Hamid Karzai just finished his good-will tour of Washington yesterday, the NPT conference continues in New York City until the end of the month, the U.S. is eying a new U.N. sanctions package on Iran, and there are now rumors that the U.S Military might delay its troop withdrawal schedule in Iraq by a few months (although this is not confirmed as of yet).

So keep up with the news (as I will try to do over the next couple of days) and I hope to meet everyone back here next week for another round.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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Times Square Drama: Is the Pakistani Taliban Involved?

Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Central Asia, United States by Dan on May 5, 2010

**This is an update to the original post below**:   I read something today by Evan Hill– who is a Middle East expert and blogger over at The Majlis- that Faisal Shahzad may have had some sort of indirect connection to Jaish-e-Muhammad, which is another Pakistani based militant group in the tribal areas.  I don’t know how accurate this report is, because the investigation is still ongoing.  But if the report is somehow true, the arrest and detention of Shahzad may provide U.S. intel agents with some good information on this terrorist group.  It’s interesting that JeM may have been involved, because this organization directs most of its attention on India rather than the west.  I’m sure more info will come up in the next few hours.

________________________________________

As I’m sure you have heard, New York City residents quickly discovered a suspicious vehicle Saturday night that was parked and running beside’s one of the city’s busiest streets; a suspicious vehicle that was apparently a car-bomb laced with a combination of gasoline tanks, fertilizer, canisters, and fireworks.  Obviously it was intended to cause a mass explosion, and obviously it was designed to kill or injure tourists strolling down Times Square.  Thankfully, the fuse failed to ignite properly, and the New York City Police Department arrived on the scene within minutes and responded efficiently (they are called “New York’s Finest” for a reason).

The attack could have been the deadliest incident of terrorism in the United States since September 11, 2001, but thankfully the stupidity of the perpetuators (one of whom was spotted by a security camera leaving the scene) saved the lives of dozens of people.  But it was another breach in security nonetheless, and one that surely resonate across the American political scene.  Expect Congress to pursue hearings and investigations on this plot in the weeks ahead, and don’t be surprised if you hear the White House coming out with a new counterterrorism initiative to safe their reputation.

But none of that is here nor there.  What is disturbing to me- besides the fact that a car bomb could have killed innocent bystanders- is the extreme reaction by some bloggers and academics on the web.  Mary Habeck, who recently just joined FP’s “Shadow Government” crew, is a case in point of how quickly influential people will resort to scare tactics in order to explain a potential catastrophe.  Such is her claim that this incident was planned and carried out by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, Islamabad’s #1 internal security threat.

Granted, the Pakistani Taliban did claim responsibility for the failed attack on jihadi forums in a one-minute video.  And newly reincarnated leader Hakimullah Mehsud followed this video up with one of his own, promising more attacks against American cities in the months ahead.  Yet something tells me that these videos are largely bogus attempts to take credit for something the organization had nothing to do with.  Given current circumstances, including constant espionage from U.S. drones, it would be exceedingly difficult for the TTP to order a terrorist strike of this magnitude.

Unfortunately, some analysts would like to bypass common sense for the sake of…that’s right…more fearmongering.

There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that the Pakistani Taliban was responsible for this type of attack. Their operations thus far have been contained within the South Asian region, mostly against Pakistani soldiers and civilians in the Northwest Frontier Province and in the occasional Pakistani city (like Quetta and Karachi).

If this really is a supposed attempt by the TTP to attack the United States directly, then relying on a single man of Pakistani descent is an interesting choice.  Why sacrifice the success and symbolic impact of your operation on a single individual?

Personally, I cannot take claims by the TTP seriously. The last time they “celebrated” an attack on American soil was in April 2009, when a mass shooting killed civilians in Binghamton, NY. But upon investigation into the case, it turned out that there was no connection between militant groups based in Pakistan and the incident in the remote New York state town. So how is this any different? With the Pakistani Taliban battered by U.S. drone-strikes from the air and military offensives from Pakistani soldiers on the ground, can we honestly believe that they have the capability to strike at the heart of America’s biggest city?

But don’t take my word for it. NYC Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg have both said publicly that there are no ties between the failed car bombing in Times Square and the TTP in western Pakistan.

Of course, the investigation is still ongoing.  Right now, police have acquired evidence that this could have been a plot with international dimensions. But even with this new information, it’s still unlikely that the TTP can muster a direct attack against an American city.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of FP’s Shadow Government and Newsweek’s Declassified**

Conspiracy Talk

Posted in United States by Dan on April 5, 2010

JFK was shot and killed by the CIA.  The Bush administration orchestrated the September 11 attacks.  George Bush stole the 2000 presidential election.  Dick Cheney wanted to invade Iraq for its oil reserves.  The Jews control American politics.  What do all of these ridiculous statements have in common?  They are all conspiracy theories that resonate with some sectors of the American public.

I have to admit, I’m a bit ashamed that I have devoted some space on this blog to conspiracy theories.  Personally, I cannot stand running into someone on the street (or in the classroom) who takes conspiracies to heart. It’s even harder for me not to laugh at these people when they spout off at the mouth about the 9/11 attacks being orchestrated by President Bush or the neoconservatives deliberately lying in order to launch a preemptive war in Iraq. And I’m assuming that most Americans out there would have a similar attitude (at least I would hope).

But on the other hand, conspiracy theories are a widespread phenomenon in the United States.  Just last week, I was talking to a professor at my university about some of the new conspiracies that have surfaced and gained traction over the last few years.  And to my surprise, instead of sharing a laugh, I discovered that this professor was forming a class next year dealing exclusively with the politics of conspiracy (a pretty cool topic if you ask me).

When a top academic wants to teach a class about conspiracy theories, you know that this school of thought is common in a society or culture.

I guarantee that if you took a sample on the street and asked them if JFK was shot by a lone-gunman, you would get a few who would vehemently disagree.  Some may claim that the CIA covered up the entire affair, whereas others might argue that Vice President Lyndon Johnson ordered the assassination in order to assume the presidency himself.

I have some conflicting views towards conspiracy theories, because while most of them are absurd, they are still widely entertaining. Everyone loves a good conspiracy, no matter how illogical or irrational it is. Take a look at American pop culture today and you will see movies, books, and television programs using conspiracy in their formula. Just a few weeks ago, Matt Damon came out with a new film called “Green Zone” that basically lays out a distorted view of why the United States decided to invade Iraq (oil, business interests, dominance in the Persian Gulf, etc).

Everyone loves controversy, no matter how perverse it may be. So in the end, perhaps we should just look at the conspiracy camp as another form of entertainment, and leave it at that.  This is what keeps me from arguing with some of these people.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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