Yesterday the New York Times announced a brand new conference called The Next New World. The URL gives the game away, however -- it's the Friedman Forum. The précis:
Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman hosts this timely forum, bringing together chief executive officers, tech pioneers, government officials, influential decision-makers and scholars to discuss the new world economy, opportunities and challenges. We will explore the complex dynamics of new-world infrastructure, especially the transformative electronic, digital and mobile environment. Attendees can expect invaluable insights into strategies for success in today’s new world order.
If you act before May 10, you can get the discounted rate of $995.00 to attend!
Why should you shell out that kind of cabbage to go to such a confab? Well, there's the speaker list of course, but even better, the Friedman Forum has a "Why Attend?" page that will answer this very question. The good parts version:
The New York Times Next New World Forum is an invitation-only, highly interactive forum that explains:
How this Next New World is changing your job, your workplace, and your competition...
How cyberattacks and monetary crises are the new national security threats—threats to global businesses as well as nations....
How brands are threatened as never before by new players, and why C-Suite executives are both more constrained and less likely to last....
How robotics and other cutting-edge technologies can increase productivity but also disrupt your office and workforce....
How everything from climate change to fallen infrastructure is threatening global supply chains and how the rise of a new global middle class is disrupting American global dominance—while creating new markets.
After reading this, as well as CUNY's announcement that former CENTCOM commander/CIA Director David Petraeus will lead a seminar on the United States and the global economic crisis, I had two reactions.
1) At what point does one decide, "Why, yes, I should lecture people on the New New Things in the Global Economy! And charge at least a thousand dollars for the privilege"?
This is a serious question. I get asked this a lot at various talks, and I'm always befuddled by the query. I mean, if I had the actual answer, I wouldn't be so low in the international relations speaker ecosystem.
2) Forget Davos, Aspen or TED -- the Friedman Forum suggests a whole new vista of conferences branded around the idiosyncracies of individual thought leaders. Friedman better nail this down fast, because the coming competition will be fierce. In the spirit of... er... alliteration and Robert Ludlum titles, let me predict some other possible confabs on the horizon:
A) The Gross Gaggle. Organized by PIMCO's Bill Gross, this would be a collection of the world's most florid investment letter-writers in the world, warning about risk and uncertainty.
The Big Finale: Gross doing a spoken-word version of his latest newsletter with Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" playing in the background.
B) The Slaughter Seminar. The new president of the New America Foundation will lead a highly interdisciplinary gathering to focus on the myriad ways that the 21st century is upending our static 20th century mindsets. Topics will include the role of social networks, social media networks, online networks, gendered networks, and networked networks.
The Big Finale: A three-hour break in the middle of the day for participants to bond with their families.
C) The Dowd Doohickey. Join the Red Priestess as she explains how leadership is supposed to be done in the 21st century. After the ritual flaying of a political scientist to appease the Social Science Gods, Dowd will explain exactly how politicians used to Get Things Gone back in the day.
The Big Finale: Dowd and Aaron Sorkin will re-enact some of the classic Josh Lyman-Donna Moss scenes from The West Wing.
D) The Taleb Teach-In. Just how fragile is your financial position in this time of massive geopolitical and geoeconomic uncertainty? The author of The Black Swan and Antifragile will unleash his crystal ball and stare deeply into your portfolio to see if you're really and truly prepared for a volatile century.
The Big Finale: Taleb unleashes an army of zombies into the auditorium to sort out the resilient from the posers.
E) The Morozov Mish-Mash. Everything is sh*t -- your beliefs, your ideas, your likes, your dislikes, and particularly your values. If you dare attend, Morozov will explain why Everything You Hope for is a Chimera.
The Big Finale. Morozov will glare out at the audience, grumble, "you all suck," drop the mic, and walk off stage.
[And what about your confab?!--ed. I'll let the commenters decide the contents of... the Drezner Deliberations!]
Since this week is George W. Bush retrospective week, it's worth pondering some of the possible counterfactuals of that administration. For example, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld played a pretty important role in the foreign policy clusterf**ks that dominated the first six years of that administration. You'd think that an alternative SecDef would have mattered.
It's worth considering the plausible counterfactual, however. Remember that Rumsfeld wasn't Bush's first choice for the job. Initially, Bush interviewed Senator Dan Coats of Indiana. According to Karl Rove, however, "after a couple of face-to-face meetings, the president-elect was concerned whether Coats had the management skill and toughness to do the job." So maybe a counterfactual of Secretary of Defense Coats would have led to a worse outcome!
I bring this up because I watched Dan Coats on ABC's This Week, and it was ... quite a performance. If we go to the transcript, here's his first intervention, on whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be Mirandized:
COATS: I think we should stay with enemy combatant until we find out for sure whether or not there was a link to foreign terrorist organizations.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Even though he's a citizen?
COATS: Even though he's a citizen. There have been exceptions to this before with the public safety issue of course on Miranda rights. But also the fact that he's traveled back to his hometown which is a Muslim area, could have been radicalized back there.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That was his brother though.
Now you have to hand it to Senator Coats here -- inside of ten seconds, he makes a dubious statement about the law and a factually incorrect statement. It wasn't like these were obscure facts, either, like the capital of Chechnya or something. So, great prep work, Senator Coats' staff!
This is just a prelude, however, to Coats' most noteworthy intervention:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator, what do you do though if no connection to a specific group is found? Instead we just find that these young men were inspired by al Qaeda, but not directed. That's almost impossible to find.
COATS: Well it is. And that's the reality of the world we're now living in. Because we not only face terrorism from abroad, that is, planned and coordinated. We face these lone wolves or these others or whoever gathers together that has a vengeance or a demented mind or who has been kind of radicalized through over the internet or through a mosque or whatever. We're going to continue to have to understand that is a threat to America also.
That's why we all need to be engaged in not only looking out for this type of thing, but helping identify and see, whether these loners, is there a kid in the classroom that's just --
RADDATZ: He wasn't a loner. He wasn't a loner (emphasis added).
Now in fairness to Senator Coats, it does seem as though the Tsarnaevs were lone wolves without any direct connection to overseas terrorist networks. Still, he got his brothers mixed up again -- as Martha Raddatz points out, there's no evidence that the younger Tsarnaev was a loner.
But let's skip the preliminaries and get to the more basic point. Is Dan Coats suggesting that high schools profile which kids are loners and put them onto a "possible terrorist watch list"? I'm picturing this kind of exercise at a typical high school:
PRINCIPAL: So, what about Jeremy?
TEACHER #1: Well, his grades are pretty good, but he does seem to stare out of the window a lot. And I keep having to yell at him to remove his sunglasses and earbuds in math class.
PRINCIPAL: Hmmm ... does he socialize with the other students?
PRINCIPAL: We can't take any chances after Boston. Put him on the watchlist. Oh, and it's totally Marjorie.
TEACHER #2: SAY WHAT??!! It's obviously Cersei!!
As someone with first-hand experience of loneliness in high school, I'd wager that this kind of exercise would be the dumbest f**king idea in the history of counterterrorism. This sort of half-assed thinking would multiply the amount of alienation and disaffectedness among America's teens.
Now, this isn't the first time Dan Coats has sounded like a dumbass on a morning show. So perhaps, as a public service, someone should suggest that the next time a television show asks him to be on the air to talk homeland security, he go sit in the corner and read up on Type I and Type II errors -- here's a good Cliffs Notes version for the Senator.
Am I missing anything?
With each passing day, senior scholars that I did not expect to bump into on Twitter... are now on Twitter. Christian Davenport joined recently, as did Jessica Stern. And there are others out there, lurking, trying to make sense of all the craziness.
For those academics who are Twitter-curious, Jay Ulfelder has written a very useful primer on the do's and don'ts of microblogging [NOTE: "microblogging" is a fancy generic word to describe Twitter or Weibo]. All of his points are spot-on, but these three are particularly trenchant for academics:
Decide why you’re using Twitter. If your main goal is to use Twitter as a news feed or to follow other peoples’ work, then it’s a really easy tool to use. Just poke around until you find people and organizations that routinely cover the issues that interest you, and follow them. If, however, your goal is to develop a professional audience, then you need to put more thought into what you tweet and retweet, and the rest of my suggestions might be useful.
Pick your niche(s). There are a lot of social scientists on Twitter, and many of them are picky about whom they follow. To make it worth peoples’ while to add you to their feed, pick one or a few of your research interests and focus almost all of your tweets and retweets on them. For example, I’ve tried to limit my tweets to the topics I blog about: democratization, coups, state collapse, forecasting, and a bit of international relations. When I was new to Twitter, I focused especially on democratization and forecasting because those weren’t topics other people were tweeting much about at the time. I think that differentiation made it easier for people to attach an identity to my avatar, and to understand what they would get by following me that they weren’t already getting from the 500 other accounts in their feeds.
Keep the tweet volume low, at least at the start. For a long time, I tried to limit myself to two or three tweets per Twitter session, usually once or twice per day. That made me think carefully about what I tweeted, (hopefully) keeping the quality higher and preventing me from swamping peoples’ feeds, a big turnoff for many.
Read the whole thing -- and, while you're at it, I'd reference this International Studies Perspectives essay that Charli Carpenter and I co-authored, which seems to be holding up pretty well.
I'll close with three other pieces of advice. First, think of these rules are more like training wheels during your introductory phase on Twitter. You don't ever have to remove them, but over time, as you get used to the norms and folkways of the Twitterverse, you can indeed relax some of them.
Second, that said, if you're a senior scholar, keep those training wheels on for longer. If you have a "name" in the real world, there will be plenty of Twitter gnomes just dying to blog/tweet something to the effect of: "HA HA HA HA HA, look at the stupid old person trying to act all trendy. What a desperado."
Third -- to repeat a theme -- don't tweet at all if you don't want to. Just join and treat Twitter as an RSS reader. Contra Chris Albon and Patrick Meier, I find the notion that Twitter is the new business card to be faintly absurd. There are, no doubt, a small cluster of individuals that can parlay success at social media into something more significant. For that to happen, however, there has to be some serious substance behind the tweets. Simply excelling at social media does little except to route you toward jobs with a heavy social media component. If you're a budding policy wonk, think carefully about what you would like your career arc to look like before following Albon and Meier's advice.
The George W. Bush presidential library is having its coming-out party this week. Five years after the end of the Bush administration, it's about time for a push to recalibrate our historical understanding of George W. Bush's legacy. In the Washington Post, Stephen Knott argues that the professional historians have it in for W., and that time
will may vindicate his legacy:
In their hasty, partisan-tinged assessments of Bush, far too many scholars breached their professional obligations, engaging in a form of scholarly malpractice, by failing to do what historians are trained to do before pronouncing judgment on a presidency: conduct tedious archival research, undertake oral history interviews, plow through memoirs, interview foreign leaders and wait for the release of classified information.
There is a difference between punditry and scholarship. The latter requires biding one’s time and offering perspective as the evidence emerges and the passions of the day cool. An assessment of Harry Truman’s presidency looks quite different today than it did immediately after he left the White House in 1953. And no historian, especially Schlesinger, would have predicted in 1961 that 21st-century scholars would rank Dwight Eisenhower among the nation’s greatest presidents.
George W. Bush’s low standing among academics reflects, in part, the rise of partisan scholarship: the use of history as ideology and as a political weapon, which means the corruption of history as history. Bush may not have been a great president; he may even be considered an average or below-average president, but he and — more important — the nation deserve better than this partisan rush to judgment.
Meanwhile, over at the National Journal, Tom DeFrank details how the Bush library, and Bush himself, will push back against this historical bias:
This week’s two days of festivities on the campus of Southern Methodist University, Laura Bush’s alma mater, mark his somewhat reluctant re-emergence into the national spotlight since leaving Washington in 2009. President Obama and the three living Presidents will join 15,000 guests to celebrate the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.
The center comprises a Presidential library housing 43,000 artifacts and millions of documents from the eight years of 43’s tenure. The adjoining think tank, informally known as the “freedom institute,” will preach the gospel of Bush’s conservative vision to future generations.
The institute is also designed by Bush as the vehicle to rehab and burnish his legacy with future historians and posterity....
While time is known to heal some wounds and Presidential legacies, money doesn't hurt, either. The institute is bulging with cash, allowing its board to hire like-minded academics and pay some executives more than $650,000 a year....
“As time goes by Bush will benefit from the comparison with Obama,” Victor Davis Hanson of Stanford’s Hoover Institution predicted. “If Obama had been a Bill Clinton-like figure he would have made Bush look like the caricature his opponents have suggested. But Obama has been a great gift for Bush - he’s as polarizing a figure as Bush was.”
OK, so, a few things:
1) The moment you trot out someone as partisan as Victor Davis Hanson to claim that Bush's legacy will outshine Obama's, you've abandoned the argument that Bush is merely the victim of partisan historians.
2) It's good to know that those shameful historians who abandoned dispassionate analysis in favor of a partisan agenda will overwhelmed by the forces for good -- namely, a $500 million wad of cash. And I, for one, look forward to future Knott op-eds praising the nobility of historians who suckled on this teat as paragons of unbiased scholarship.
3) That Truman analogy that Knott uses? Yeah, as Amy Zegart discussed back in 2008, that dog won't hunt.
4) Five years later, is there any dimension of George W. Bush's legacy that will improve with time? Actually, I think the answer is yes on a few fronts.
First, he's been a great ex-president. For such a polarizing political figure, it's remarkable at how successfully Bush has receded into private life. Lest you think that this was his only option, let me introduce you to Dick Cheney's post-vice-presidential path.
Second, ironically, Bush's legacy will be a bit more buoyant because the quality of post-Bush GOP thinking on foreign policy has been so piss-poor that Bush really does look good by comparison. It is worth remembering that, for all of the criticisms of Bush's foreign policy rhetoric, he kept anti-Muslim hysteria somewhat in check. He boosted foreign aid through PEPFAR, which might be his most significant foreign policy legacy. And the Bush foreign policy of 2008 looked dramatically different from the Bush foreign policy of 2003, which suggests some degree of adaptation and learning.
Third, the performance of Bush's economic team in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis probably deserves more credit than it gets. Despite being a wildly unpopular lame-duck president, Bush still was able to implement a series of international moves (convening the G-20 rather than the G-8) and domestic moves (TARP, the auto bailout) that prevented the crisis from metastasizing into another Great Depression.
All that said, however, there are some cold hard facts that cannot be erased. George W. Bush helmed a war of choice that proved, in the end, to impose powerful constraints (though perhaps not system-changing) for American foreign policy. He pursued his foreign policy aims in such a way as to dramatically lower U.S. standing abroad. He was at the helm when all of the pressures that triggered the 2008 financial crisis were building up and did next to nothing to stop them. And five years later, the GOP is still wrestling with the negative aspects of his political legacy.
At best, George W. Bush was a well-meaning man who gave the occasional nice speech and was thoroughly overmatched by events. At worst, he was the most disastrous foreign policy president of the post-1945 era.
Am I missing anything?
The reaction in the Boston area was pretty upbeat, but a few national security writers (including FP's Stephen Walt) have been sounding some sour notes which are worth exploring a bit. Their basic objection is whether it was appropriate to shut down an entire metropolitan area just to hunt down one wounded terrorists.
In short, two miscreants have shut down an entire metropolitan region. And we're supposed to try to not give terrorists what they want.— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) April 19, 2013
Trying to imagine the reaction of NYers if they were told to stay inside because a crazy person was on the loose. Here we call that Monday.— Michael Cohen (@speechboy71) April 19, 2013
So, in doing this, did the authorities in Boston let the terrorists win?
I don't think so, but I get the argument. As I said on Twitter last night, Boston wasn't in lockdown after the Marathon bombings, but after the suspects had been identified, caught in a confusing crossfire, and seemingly at large but close to capture. Plus, it wasn't like, outside the Watertown search perimeter, people were getting arrested for leaving their homes (I was in the lockdown zone -- believe me, I know). For a short period of time -- less than a day -- requesting people to stay in their homes to capture an identified violent terrorist doesn't strike me as outrageous.
There is another reason I feel this way, however, and this might be a data point in Goldberg and Cohen's favor. The reason the capture of Tsarnaev felt so good is that it provided a sense of closure. In the span of four days, there was a bombing, an identification, a shootout that left one of the bombers dead and a capture of the other one. Game over. That's feels like victory.
Now, that's obviously a simplification and an exaggeration. There's still the fifty-eight victims in critical condition in Boston-area hospitals. There's still the question of how the judicial system will cope with Tsarnaev. There's still the unanswered question of why they wanted to do it. And there's still the public policy issues that will be touched by the past week's events.
But still, Tsarnaev's capture closed a chapter. That seems pretty rare to me in counter-terrorism. In countries like Israel, senses of closure don't happen all that often. In the United States, however, we've been lucky enough to get that sense after Osama bin Laden was killed. Tsarnaev's capture feels the same way.
Maybe the thing about Americans is that, with the blessings of our geography, we want and expect policy closure on issues that defy the very idea of tidy endings -- and we're willing to temporarily sacrifice some of what makes America great for those moments of closure -- or, to put it more plainly, victory.
The question going forward is whether Americans need to reject this desire for closure. We've done it before -- when it was implemented at the start of the Cold War, containment was an indefinite strategy. There are issues where victory is a chimera. But there are also issues where victory is conceivable, so I wouldn't want that notion to be rejected as a general rule. But when it comes to counterterrorism, this shifting of frames might be necessary.
What do you think? Seriously, what do you think?
Your humble blogger awoke this AM to an automated phone call informing me to lock all my doors and not to go outside because of, well, this.
As I'm typing this, one of the suspected bombers is dead, and the other one is on the run and somewhere kinda close to where I lie.
So, I've spent the AM watching cable news and checking my Twitter feed to find out everything about the suspected Boston Marathon bombers. So here are the most useful links I've seen today, beyond the excellent tick-tock on this past evening from the New York Times that was liked above):
1) The Wall Street Journal has a solid profile on the Tsarnaev brothers suspected of being the Boston Marathon bombers. And Adam Serwer at Mother Jones has some disturbing info about Tamerlan's beliefs.
2) Business Insider has some 28 Days Later-style photos of the unpopulated Boston streets right now.
3) How do you build brand loyalty? By staying open for cops during a lockdown. Dunkin Donuts for the win.
4) So, the suspected bombers are Chechen. For useful links to that conflict, check out the Council on Foreign Relations as well as The Monkey Cage and Foreign Policy. Oh, and Chechnya's leaders ain't pleased about this.
5) According to the New York Post, it sounds like these Chechens are in league with the Evil League of Evil to smite down Glenn Beck and Infowars because the latter has been hoarding Bitcoins and -- OK, I clearly need to get off the internet.
That is all. For now.
Gabby Giffords has an op-ed in the New York Times today, excoriating the Senate's failure to pass legislation expanding background checks on gun purchases. Once it went live, Ezra Klein tweeted something quite provocative:
Op-eds almost never change American politics. This one, from Gabby Giffords, might prove an exception: nytimes.com/2013/04/18/opi…— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) April 18, 2013
Now this led to a rollicking Twitter debate about whether any op-ed has ever changed American politics. The consensus among the Twitterati seemed to be "no" -- but that might be an unfair bar. Often, op-eds are condensed versions of longer essays that might have an effect on public policy. After all, earlier in the week there was a whole kerfuffle about some mistakes in a Carmen Reinhart-Kenneth Rogoff paper and whether the Reinhart-Rogoff argument contributed to the wave of austerity policies that swept the developed world starting around 2009.
Narrowing the focus to international relations and U.S. foreign policy, I started to think if one could point to essays that really did affect the contours of world politics. The effect couldn't just be because of who the author was -- say, for example, Hillary Clinton describing the rebalancing strategy, which mattered because she was the U.S. secretary of state -- but rather the content of the ideas. Here's my somewhat obvious short list:
1) George Kennan, "The Sources of Soviet Conduct,"Foreign Affairs, July 1947. Now let's be clear - the animating ideas behind Kennan's essay were already affecting U.S. foreign policy before the "X" article. That's because they originally appeared in Kennan's Long Telegram, and because Kennan, was in a government position to affect policy. That said, everyone in the foreign policy community read and imbibed Kennan's arguments. Even if they disagreed with how to execute the "containment" strategy, they had to use Kennan's language. So yeah, this essay mattered.
2) Jeane Kirkpatrick, "Dictatorship and Double Standards,"Commentary, November 1979. Kirkpatrick's basic argument was that, in trying to affect change on human rights, engagement with communist dictatorships was futile, while engagement with anti-communist dictatorships had at least some chance of succeeding. When Ronald Reagan was elected, he appointed Kirkpatrick to be his ambassador to the United Nations. As I've argued here, Kirkpatrick's ideas really did shape Reagan's human rights agenda during his administration.
3) Francis Fukuyama, "The End of History?"The National Interest, Summer 1989. Talk about timing. Fukuyama's essay was published just as the Soviet Union's Warsaw Pact allies saw their communist regimes disappear. How did this abstruse essay about Hegelian dialectics matter? Because it provided a narrative for what was happening during the end of the Cold War. Perhaps more importantly, it offered a narrative that suggested the United States did not need to act aggressively in response to the Soviet collapse.
4) Samuel Huntington, "The Clash of Civilizations?" Foreign Affairs,Summer 1993. The doppelgänger to Fukuyama. Huntington's essay had some influence in the 1990s when foreign policy analysts were trying to understand the Bosnia conflict. I'd argue that Huntington's argument, however, carried even greater weight in the post-9/11 world, when a clash of civilizations seemed, for a moment, to be a semi-plausible explanation for the terrorist attacks.
5) Zheng Bijian, "China's 'Peaceful Rise' to Great Power Status,"Foreign Affairs, September/October 2005. Ironically, China's government scuttled the "peaceful rise" rhetoric pretty damn quickly because the word "rise" seemed to freak out everyone. By then it was too late, however. I suspect this mattered less for the content of the ideas and more for the fact that it was the first time a lot of the U.S. foreign policy community read something about China's worldview written by a Chinese national. Still, much like Kennan's "containment" language, it was impossible to talk about China during the last decade without "peaceful rise" being part of the conversation.
OK, readers, which essays did I leave out? Make your case in the comments. And bonus points if you can come up with a peer-reviewed paper that did so (I can think of one or two that might have made the list, but I think the effect was indirect and not direct).
A. Iain Johnston has the lead article in the latest issue of International Security. It's available for free right now, and it's quite the doozy. Entitled "How New and Assertive is China's New Assertiveness?", Johnston picks apart the claim made by many (including your humble blogger) that China's post-2008 foreign policy represented anything all that much out of the ordinary. From the abstract:
There has been a rapidly spreading meme in U.S. pundit and academic circles since 2010 that describes China's recent diplomacy as “newly assertive.” This “new assertiveness” meme suffers from two problems. First, it underestimates the complexity of key episodes in Chinese diplomacy in 2010 and overestimates the amount of change. Second, the explanations for the new assertiveness claim suffer from unclear causal mechanisms and lack comparative rigor that would better contextualize China's diplomacy in 2010. An examination of seven cases in Chinese diplomacy at the heart of the new assertiveness meme finds that, in some instances, China's policy has not changed; in others, it is actually more moderate; and in still others, it is a predictable reaction to changed external conditions. In only one case—maritime disputes—does one see more assertive Chinese rhetoric and behavior.
Johnston has forgotten more about Chinese foreign policy than I will ever learn, so I'd encourage you to give the whole piece a read. My take is that I'm actually not that far apart from Johnston. As he notes, China's foreign policy had its share of belligerent episodes prior to 2008. He also acknowledges that there has been some movement by China on a couple of issues, including the maritime disputes. He also omits any discussion of some of the cases that I've highlighted on the blog, including the reaction to Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Peace Prize, as well as the kerfuffle with Google.
What's really interesting, however, is the second part of that abstract:
The speed and extent with which the newly assertive meme has emerged point to an understudied issue in international relations—namely, the role that online media and the blogosphere play in the creation of conventional wisdoms that might, in turn, constrain policy debates. The assertive China discourse may be a harbinger of this effect as a Sino-U.S. security dilemma emerges (emphasis added).
Whoa there!! Bloggers are constraining policy debates?
Here's the relevant passage from the article itself (p. 46-47):
The conventional description of Chinese diplomacy in 2010 seems to point to a new, but poorly understood, factor in international relations—namely, the speed with which new conventional wisdoms are created, at least within the public sphere, by the interaction of the internet-based traditional media and the blogosphere. One study has found, for instance, that on some U.S. public policy issues, the blogosphere and the traditional media interact in setting the agenda for coverage for each other. Moreover, on issues where this interaction occurs, much of the effect happens within four days. Other research suggests that political bloggers, for the most part, do not engage in original reporting and instead rely heavily on the mainstream media for the reproduction of alleged facts. The media, meanwhile, increasingly refers to blogs as source material. The result is, as one study put it, “a news source cycle, in which news content can be passed back and forth from media to media.” Additional research suggests that the thematic agendas for political campaigns and politicians themselves are increasingly influenced by blogosphere-media interaction.
Together, this research suggests that the prevailing framework for characterizing Chinese foreign policy in recent years may be relevant for the further development (and possible narrowing) of the policy discourse among media, think tank, and policy elites. As the agenda-setting literature suggests, this is not a new phenomenon. What is new, however, is the speed with which these narratives are created and spread—a discursive tidal wave, if you will. This gives first movers with strong policy preferences advantages in producing and circulating memes and narratives in the electronic media or in high-profile blogs, or both. This, in turn, further reduces the time and incentives for participants in policy debates to conduct rigorous comparative analysis prior to participation.
And here I'm going to have to disagree with Johnston a bit. On a day in which the mainstream media demonstrated a truly excellent ability to spread its own misinformation -- and, in response, said mainstream media blamed Twitter -- I'm highly dubious that the blogs play that much of a causal role. To be sure, I do think blogs can sometimes perpetuate falsehoods. That said, most of Johnston's evidence for blog effects comes from domestic policy, and methinks the foreign policy media ecosystem functions a wee bit differently.
If I had to wager why the misperceptions about China that Johnston enumerates have emerged, I'd hypothesize, in descending order of importance, the following reasons:
1) Foreign affairs columnists and international relations analysts who hadn't paid that much attention to China prior to 2008 had no choice but to pay a lot of attention to Beijing after the financial crisis;
2) Interest groups in the United States that were traditionally predisposed towards a more dovish view of China started feeling burned by Beijing on matters unrelated to security.
3) The media likes a trend, and a lot of the incidents that Johnston chronicles took place in rapid-fire fashion from the end of 2009 to the middle of 2010.
4) The Obama administration's rebalancing strategy validated the perception that China was doing something different.
5) Blogs acted as an amplifier for all of these other trends.
What's ironic about this is that in the article, Johnston properly takes a lot of the conventional wisdom to task for ahistoricism and problematic causal arguments in assessing Chinese behavior after 2008. I'd wager, however, that Johnston has done the exact same thing with respect to the foreign policy blogosphere.
What do you think?
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.