First off, apologies for the light posting. A confluence of events have prohibited more activity here. I hope to get going more regularly.
I want to call brief attention to this post from LFC at Howl of Pluto, an excellent and under-appreciated IR/FP blog. Here's the meat:
Maybe Phil [Arena] could consider taking an occasional break from criticizing Reiter and Stam's enthusiasm about democracy and focus on the particular forces that drive bad, suboptimal policy in the particular democracy known as the United States. There are, after all, varieties of democracy, just as there varieties of capitalism. The problem isn't so much democracy per se as the particular form it is taking in the U.S. today.You don't have to agree with the conclusion to see a problem with the logic. I've consistently followed Phil's postings, and a regular theme is that he is skeptical of claims in the academic literature that "democracy" does this or "democracy" does that. Part of Phil's whole point, as I read him (and I hope/expect that he'll comment on his own at some point) is precisely that "there are varieties of democracy". Moreover, that democracy does not always lead to peaceful, warm, open, transparent outcomes that track to some utilitarian ideal. So when he picks on Reiter and Stam he's doing it from that perspective: a general skepticism of the way that much IR literature talks about democracy, attributes unidirectional causal properties to it, and generally over-idealizes a regime category that -- as LFC notes -- retains plenty of space for all sorts of varying outcomes.
In other words, I imagine Phil would be fine with the bureaucratic-politics-plus-interest-groups story that LFC puts forward, and nothing he wrote contradicts it. (Unlike me, Phil's pretty good about remaining agnostic about things he doesn't possess extensive knowledge about.) The problem is that quite a lot of the IR conflict literature wouldn't be okay with a story where narrow interest groups within a democratic society skew policy in a suboptimal way. Including Reiter and Stam, at least if you give them a literal reading.
Of course, because I'm self-interested, it's easy for me to sum all this up and conclude that the problem is that conflict scholars don't understand political economy.