Why America Should Improve Its Own Democracy before Spreading Democracy Globally
Mark Twain once said that God created war so that Americans would learn geography. Twain died before World War I, but his sardonic remark still has meaning.
Mark Twain once said that God created war so that Americans would learn geography. Twain died before World War I, but his sardonic remark still has meaning for us. America continues to fight wars in unfamiliar places, and our unfamiliarity with those places does not—for better or worse—seem to deter the fighting.
Contemporary American history is marred by the scars of nation building. The attempt to directly establish American-style democratic institutions in Iraq and Afghanistan has failed, just as it did in Vietnam. In the final cable sent from the American embassy in Saigon, as the city was falling to Vietcong and North Vietnamese forces, a prophetic warning was sent to Washington DC by CIA station chief Thomas Polgar:
"It has been a long fight and we have lost. . . . Those who fail to learn from history are forced to repeat it. Let us hope that we will not have another Vietnam experience and that we have learned our lesson. Saigon signing off."
To be sure, Iraq and Afghanistan are not another Vietnam. Nonetheless, the costs of nation building remain high. Occupying foreign countries, appointing leaders to their governments, and deploying American ground troops to stamp out opposition all require that American blood and treasure be spent.
According to Stephen Walt, Harvard Professor of International Affairs, more than one trillion dollars has been spent in Afghanistan since the arrival of American forces. In Iraq, that number is between $3-5 trillion, depending on how you do the accounting.
Would any harm have come to the United States had we not intervened directly in Iraq and Afghanistan? It is surely possible, though we'll never know for certain. But spending $4-6 trillion abroad does come at a direct cost, said Walt in an interview with Big Think.
"Nation building around the world is expensive. And you can use that money for a variety of purposes here at home, or you can leave it in the taxpayer's pockets—either one would be an obvious benefit."
Second, it would save American lives because we've lost soldiers in those conflicts to no good purpose—some of them killed, many wounded, some of those wounded quite grievously—so reducing that would be good for the United States."
Corey Webb, of Springville, AL takes a break during his daily workout as members of the Disabled American Veterans visit wounded soldiers who have recently returned from Iraq and are now at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC on January 7, 2005. (David S. Holloway/Getty Images)
There is currently a lot of public interest in America's foreign policy. During the 2016 presidential election—six months before the North Korean nuclear crisis fully emerged—80% of registered voters said the topic of terrorism was "very important" to their vote for president, and 75% said foreign policy was "very important."
Contrast that to the 2012 presidential election when America's domestic agenda was led by healthcare reform. At that time, 59% of voters cared strongly about terrorism and 52% cared about foreign policy. Still recovering the Great Recession, the nation was turned inward, and ISIS had yet to gain much ground in the Middle East—or coverage in global media.
Daily News front page August 20, 2014, SAVAGES - ISIS monster behead U.S. journalist, taunt Obama over air strikes in Iraq - James Foley. (NY Daily News via Getty Images)
Violent, direct intervention does not create goodwill for America abroad. Toppling governments in Iraq and Libya, and intervening in Syria's civil war, created a space in which bad actors could organize.
"The problem of Islamic terrorism and other forms of violent extremism would be substantially reduced," said Walt, "if the United States were not intervening in as many places, especially in the Arab and Islamic world."
It wouldn't disappear. It wouldn't totally vanish. It wouldn't solve all the world's problems, but much of the energy that has fueled the ranks of Al Qaeda, or groups like ISIS, is hostility to what they regard as illegitimate foreign interference in their societies. And if we stop doing that, a lot of that energy will eventually dissipate."
Iraqi men carry a coffin in the holy Iraqi city of Najaf on July 3, 2016, during a funeral procession for the victims of a suicide bombing that ripped through Baghdad's busy shopping district of Karrada. The blast hit the Karrada district early in the day as the area was packed with shoppers ahead of this week's holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, killing at least 75 people in the deadliest single attack this year in Iraq's capital.(HAIDAR HAMDANI/AFP/Getty Images)
By now, much has been made of President Trump's Twitter habits. The disruptive, 140-character messages dispatched at odd hours have led some to question the President's attention span. Foreign Policy reported that even NATO leaders had a strategy to keep the attention of the American president. The would limit remarks made by foreign heads of state to between two and four minutes.
Presidential administrations can quickly be consumed by overseas interventions. Vietnam consumed the Johnson administration. Iraq may largely define George W. Bush's legacy. What about Trump?
"Just think of the number of hours that President Bush, President Obama, now President Trump have had to spend wondering about what to do about Yemen?" said Walt on the topic of attention span. "What do we do about Libya? What's going on in Afghanistan? Who should my commander be?"
Presidents spend endless hours trying to manipulate the politics of countries far away instead of doing what we really would like them to do, which is spending almost all of their time thinking of ways to improve the lives of Americans in the United States."
Would an end to interventions like those in Afghanistan and Iraq betray a lack of commitment to American values? Walt seems assured it is the opposite: "Trying to run the world is a distraction from things we need to be working on closer to home." A greater priority, he says, is making America more reflective of the rights we claim to revere—"freedom of speech, openness, freedom of association, and things like that."
In other words, lead by example. We don't need such costly geography lessons.
What would happen if you tripled the US population? Join Matthew Yglesias and Charles Duhigg at 1pm ET on Monday, September 28.
Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"
- A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
- Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
- Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
Beards and perceptions of masculinity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkxMjM3N30.cH-GqNwP5GVqvstgJWAhBPn1B_lYpVEAI0I7iax7EQw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1900%2C0%2C849&height=700" id="caae6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cb0a355a4e8e1899789bc45f3f7aef56" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Credit: Wikimedia<p>The study used 919 American (mostly white) women ages 18-70 who rated 30 pictures of men they were shown with various stages of facial hair growth. The photographs depicted men with faces that had been digitally altered to look more feminine or more masculine, with a beard and without a beard. The women rated the men according to perceived attractiveness for long-term and short-term relationships. The study found that the more facial hair the men had, the higher the men were rated on their attractiveness, particularly for their suitability for a long-term relationship.</p><p>Part of this might be attributed to facial masculinity — i.e. protruding brow ridge, wide cheekbones, thick jawline, and deeply set narrow eyes — which conveys information to a woman about a man's underlying health and formidability. Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength and social assertiveness. It can also indicate a man with a superior immune response. The researchers suggested that their findings favoring bearded men could be due to the fact that facial hair enhances the masculine facial features on a man's face, like creating the illusion of a thicker jaw line. This could communicate direct benefits to women like resources and protection that would enhance survival among mothers and their infants. In other words, while a beard doesn't mean superior genetics in and of itself, it might be a primitive, ornamental way of saying, "Hey girl, I'm a testosterone-fueled lean, mean, pathogen fighting machine." <br></p><p>It could also be that a beard becomes its own destiny. The researchers in this study cite prior research that found that by growing a beard, men felt more masculine and had higher levels of serum testosterone, which was linked to a higher level of social dominance. They also tended to subscribe to more old-school beliefs about gender roles in their relationships with women as compared to men with clean-shaven faces.<span></span><br></p>
What does disgust have to do with beard preference?<p>Obviously, not all women dig beards. The researchers were particularly interested in what traits make a women prefer bearded men over clean-shaven faces. They looked into several factors including a woman's disgust levels on various concepts, her desire to become pregnant, and her exposure to facial hair in her personal life. </p><p>According to the study, women who were not into facial hair were turned-off by potential parasites or other critters they imagined could be in the hair or skin. Women ranking high on this "ectoparasite disgust" scale might have viewed beards as a sign of poor grooming habits. However, women who ranked higher in levels of "pathogen" did find the bearded men to be desirable, possibly because they perceived beards as a signal of good health and immune function. An intriguing discovery in the study was links to morality. Women who displayed higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, were more likely to prefer hairy faces. The authors opined that this could reflect a link between beardedness, politically conservative outlooks, and traditional views regarding performances of masculinity in heterosexual relationships.</p>
Additional findings<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg1My9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDI1NjUyOX0.P9B8WbmJR0q4nfzYZKbuNSA-2SAigVWJgrQE-_Gxlds/img.gif?width=980" id="49143" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2ed3b1d6f20fc170bf2974646e565e8d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Giphy<p>The correlations that existed between married and single women's rating on the attractiveness of beards were not particularly clear, although the researchers noted that single and married women who wanted children tended to find beards more attractive than the women who didn't want children. They also found that women with bearded husbands found beards to be more attractive, which might indicate that social exposure to beards influences how desirable they are perceived of as being. Or it could be that men with wives who like beards grow beards.</p><p>It's important to note that culture plays a huge role in how attractive women perceive certain male characteristics as being. This study looked at a small, culturally specific group of American women, so no big, universal claims should be made about masculinity, facial hair, and male desirability to women. However, research like this is important in highlighting how human grooming decisions are driven by much more than fashion trends. Sociobiological, economic, and ecological factors all play a part in the way we choose to present ourselves.</p>
Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live.
Having been exposed to mavericks in the French culinary world at a young age, three-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn made it her mission to cook in a way that is not only delicious and elegant, but also expressive, memorable, and true to her experience.
New experiments find weird quantum activity in supercold gas.
Quantum Mechanics, Onions, and a Theory of Everything<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="036ae7b8dd661df2d125a3421a0299ba"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/bcVruA0AJ-o?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Researchers say that moral self-licensing occurs "because good deeds make people feel secure in their moral self-regard."
Books about race and anti-racism have dominated bestseller lists in the past few months, bringing to prominence authors including Ibram Kendi, Ijeoma Oluo, Reni Eddo-Lodge, and Robin DiAngelo.