Dan Nexon has sparked some online debate among political scientists about whether our hiring process makes any kind of rational sense. Dan expresses particular disdain towards the centerpiece of any campus interview, the job talk -- a format in which a job candidate speaks for 30-45 minutes and then fields questions from faculty and grad students in the audience for 30-60 minutes.
Dan thinks the whole exercise is stupid:
In fact, the job talk is most useful for… assessing the ability of a candidate to give a job talk. The reason we place so much weight on it is that most academics (and I include myself in this category) are too
damn lazypressed for time to skimcarefully read candidates’ portfolios. And why should we? It isn’t like there’s a good chance that the person we hire will become lifetime colleagues… Doh!
I’ve heard rumors of other, more rationale systems. Some say that the University of Chicago conducts an intensive proseminar in which the candidate provides introductory remarks and then everyone discusses an article-length piece of research. This strikes me as a plausible alternative to the modal job talk. But I ask our readers: are there others? And does anyone want to defend the status quo?
OK, first off, for the record, in my experience that's not how the University of Chicago did job talks. Their process involved some criticism of rational choice theory, a lot more hot wax and-- but I can't say anything more because of that darn oath of secrecy.
Seriously, though, Dan's post triggered a whole passel of responses. Tom Pepinsky defended the institution, as did Jeremy Wallace. Nate Jensen wants to know what's the replacement system. Nexon responded by sticking to his guns, and Tom Oatley went so far as to declare that technological change had rendered the original motivation for the job talk obsolete.
I think I have to side with the defenders of the job talk -- or, rather the job talk and Q&A, because the latter part is way more important in my own evaluation of a candidate.
Dan's claim that it serves no purpose other than giving a job talk seems short-sighted to me. In part, a job talk is an act of editing. No one -- well, no one but political theorists -- simply reads their paper verbatim. They have to organize and select what they believe are the most compelling and crucial parts of their argument. They also have to pitch it to a level that's wider than their subfield. An Americanist will know little about Adorno or Agamben; a comparativist is likely to be unfamiliar with work on state legislatures, and a political theorist would have no reason to know much about the Basel Core Principles. This holds with even more force at an interdisciplinary public policy school like Fletcher or SAIS. A job talk lets me see whether this candidate will be able to talk to anyone outside of the five other people on the planet who know this specific topic cold.
If I've read the paper, I'm always curious to see how a candidate crafts his or her presentation. And if the presenter can't hold my attention, that's a bad sign, because if they can't make their own work compelling, good luck keeping the attention of less interested students with work that's not their own.
Truthfully, however, the most important part of a job talk to me is not the talk, it's the question and answer session aferwards. How well can a candidate respond to tough questions? Stupid questions? What are the reservoirs of expertise that lie below the surface? In my professional experience, I can only think of a handful of candidates that blew their chances with the actual job talk. I can think of a LOT of them, however, that deep-sixed their chances because they couldn't handle good questions. I'd also add that while I often have questions after reading the paper, I wind up with different questions when I hear the talk -- in no small part because the presentation reveals what the candidate thinks is mportant.
Good political scientists have to give a LOT of talks in their career -- large lectures to undergraduates, draft paper presentations to graduate students, invited talks at other universities, APSA panels, smaller field conferences, symposium conferences, workshop talks, think tank presentations, and even the occasional public lecture. In my experience, the job talk is the format that best covers all of these other types of presentations.
Am I missing anything, fellow political scientists?
William Wan has a story in the Washington Post that made me burst out laughing just one paragraph in. Wan is tackling an important story -- how much we can trust China's economic statistics. But here's the lede:
When China announced better-than-expected trade numbers last month, the statistics were met with outright suspicion from international powerhouses such as Goldman Sachs, Swiss financial firm UBS and Australian bank ANZ. The disbelieving scoffing only mounted days later, when the government unveiled numbers showing yet another positive trend — a narrowing income gap between China’s rich and poor.
Numbers in China have long faced suspicion, from optimistic recordings of visibly hazy air to the age of its Olympic gymnasts. But the credibility of its economic data is now coming under particular scrutiny, at a time when China’s growing global role weighs on investors, analysts and governments worldwide, even as the country’s economy is slowing after years of unbridled growth.
Now, on the one hand, there is no doubting the suspect nature of Chinese data (see the IMF staff discussion here). As Wan demonstrates well in the story, this is partly due to political machinations. There is scholarly evidence that political incentives shape the data reporting at times. To be fair, it might be due to the difficulty of data-gathering in a still-developing country, a fact that Chinese officials are willing to acknowledge.
No, what made me start laughing is that it was Goldman Sachs and UBS that are accusing China of data manipulation. This is like Lance Armstrong blasting the NFL for not having a more rigorous drug-testing regime. Goldman Sachs played a supporting but crucial role in cooking Greece's books well enough to get it into the eurozone. Meanwhile, UBS traders had great fun manipulating the key LIBOR interest rate -- when they weren't busy laundering money for corrupt politicians.
So, really, props to Goldman and UBS for expressing justified skepticism about the veracity of Chinese economic statistics. I'd just feel better if they couched it as follows:
As organizations that have developed expertise in cooking the books to evade national regulators as well as our investors, we know when numbers look fishy -- and China's numbers look fishy.
One of the tests of any theoretical paradigm is whether it works on a new explanatory domain. The introduction of "cyber" as a new possible zone of conflict would seem to be an ideal testing ground for international relations theory, for example. Will cybersecurity emerge within a strong body of law-governed international regimes, a norm-infused sphere of do's and don'ts, a game-theoretic equilibrium in which no actor has an incentive to deviate frrom status-quo policies, an arena where nuclear analogies are applied to a new and not-so-similar security theater, or a realpolitik zone of anarchy in which there are no rules or norms, just exercises of power and capabilities?
Based on recent reporting, the answer appears to be a realpolitik one. After bolstering the Department of Defense's Cyber Command even during a time of austerity, the New York Times' David Sanger and Thom Shanker report on a new legal review of presidential authority in this area:
A secret legal review on the use of America’s growing arsenal of cyberweapons has concluded that President Obama has the broad power to order a pre-emptive strike if the United States detects credible evidence of a major digital attack looming from abroad, according to officials involved in the review.
That decision is among several reached in recent months as the administration moves, in the next few weeks, to approve the nation’s first rules for how the military can defend, or retaliate, against a major cyberattack. New policies will also govern how the intelligence agencies can carry out searches of faraway computer networks for signs of potential attacks on the United States and, if the president approves, attack adversaries by injecting them with destructive code — even if there is no declared war.
The rules will be highly classified, just as those governing drone strikes have been closely held....
Cyberweaponry is the newest and perhaps most complex arms race under way. The Pentagon has created a new Cyber Command, and computer network warfare is one of the few parts of the military budget that is expected to grow. Officials said that the new cyberpolicies had been guided by a decade of evolution in counterterrorism policy, particularly on the division of authority between the military and the intelligence agencies in deploying cyberweapons. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk on the record....
As the process of defining the rules of engagement began more than a year ago, one senior administration official emphasized that the United States had restrained its use of cyberweapons. “There are levels of cyberwarfare that are far more aggressive than anything that has been used or recommended to be done,” the official said....
While many potential targets are military, a country’s power grids, financial systems and communications networks can also be crippled. Even more complex, nonstate actors, like terrorists or criminal groups, can mount attacks, and it is often difficult to tell who is responsible. Some critics have said the cyberthreat is being exaggerated by contractors and consultants who see billions in potential earnings.
One senior American official said that officials quickly determined that the cyberweapons were so powerful that — like nuclear weapons — they should be unleashed only on the direct orders of the commander in chief.
A possible exception would be in cases of narrowly targeted tactical strikes by the military, like turning off an air defense system during a conventional strike against an adversary.
“There are very, very few instances in cyberoperations in which the decision will be made at a level below the president,” the official said. That means the administration has ruled out the use of “automatic” retaliation if a cyberattack on America’s infrastructure is detected, even if the virus is traveling at network speeds....
Under the new guidelines, the Pentagon would not be involved in defending against ordinary cyberattacks on American companies or individuals, even though it has the largest array of cybertools. Domestically, that responsibility falls to the Department of Homeland Security, and investigations of cyberattacks or theft are carried out by the F.B.I.
There's a lot going on in this story, but distilled to its elements, it does seem as though the U.S. is ramping up its offensive capabilities a hell of a lot more than preparing for defensive resiliency. So, offensive realism for the win, right?
Well, maybe, or maybe this is just some odd organizational politics going on. I confess to finding this utterly puzzling, because the latter is clearly kinda important. In an arena populated by non-state actors and quasi-non-state actors, defense would seem to me to be a far more important concern.
The language and analogies being used by officials in the story are also a confusing mix. On the one hand, a lot of the quotes in the story suggest that they think of cyber as like nuclear deterrence, in that escalation could be a very, very, very bad thing. On the other hand, keeping the decision rules classified seems to cut against any kind of deterrence logic.
The New Republic's Thomas Rid is equally bumfuzzled:
Barack Obama is probably America’s most web-savvy president ever. But when it comes to actually crafting policy for the nation's cyber security, his administration has been consistent in only one aspect: bluster. Obama's major legacy on cyber security, it increasingly seems, will be an infrastructure for waging a non-existent “cyber war” that's incapable of defending the country from the types of cyber attacks that are actually coming....
[T]he rhetoric of war doesn't accurately describe much of what happened [in recent cyberattacks]. There was no attack that damaged anything beyond data, and even that was the exception; the Obama administration's rhetoric notwithstanding, there was nothing that bore any resemblance to World War II in the Pacific. Indeed, the Obama administration has been so intent on responding to the cyber threat with martial aggression that it hasn't paused to consider the true nature of the threat. And that has lead to two crucial mistakes: first, failing to realize (or choosing to ignore) that offensive capabilities in cyber security don’t translate easily into defensive capabilities. And second, failing to realize (or choosing to ignore) that it is far more urgent for the United States to concentrate on developing the latter, rather than the former.
In many ways, what's happening with cyber appears to mirror a more general conceptual uncertainty about whether resources and doctrine that apply to other states in the international system can be applied to non-state actors as well. In cyber, it seems that the latter is the more immediate and constant threat, while the former is the more serious but latent threat. On the other hand, when pondering an actor like China, perhaps that dichotomy breaks down.
I'm far from a cyber expert, but I do know a litle bit about international relations theory. What's disturbing about these stories about cyber is not that they reflect aspects of offensive realism -- it's that they reflect a more inchoate cluster of contradictory impulses.
What do you think?
For the past few years, a low level theme that occasionally pops into my news feed is the idea of greater Sino-Pakistani cooperation. Now this has a certain amount of realpolitik sense to it. The United States and Pakistan are not exactly on the best of terms, China is a rising power, they share a comon interest in containing India, yadda, yadda yadda. As a result, there has been the occasional press story about closer ties, which begets the inevitable U.S.-based blog posts about China expanding its "string of pearls" strategy of more deepwater ports in the Asia/Pacific region.
There's just one thing. The more closely one reads these stories, the less clear it is that China wants a string of pearls. Most of these stories talk about great Pakistani enthusiasm for more Chinese involvement. That enthusiasm is not really reciprocated by China, however. Consider Jane Perlez's New York Times story from October 2011:
A rising China with global ambitions is unlikely to supplant the United States in Pakistan, according to Chinese experts on Pakistan, as well as Pakistani and American officials. And while Pakistan’s latest flirtations with Beijing have been received cordially, Pakistani officials have walked away from their junkets with far less in hand than they might have hoped....
China’s core interests lie elsewhere — in its competition with the United States and in East Asia, experts say. China has shown little interest in propping up the troubled Pakistani economy, consistently passing up opportunities to do so.
Despite China playing it cool, Pakistan has continued to fall all over itself to attract greater Chinese engagement in their country. Which leads us to today's headline in the New York Times: "Chinese Firm will Run Strategic Pakistani Port." Sounds ominous for U.S. interests... until one reads Declan Walsh's actual story:
Pakistan is handing management control of a strategic but commercially troubled deep-sea port to a Chinese company, the information minister confirmed Thursday....
The fate of Gwadar, once billed as Pakistan’s answer to the bustling port city of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, has been a focus of speculation about China’s military and economic ambitions in South Asia for the past decade. Some American strategists have described it as the westernmost link in the “string of pearls,” a line of China-friendly ports stretching from mainland China to the Persian Gulf, that could ultimately ease expansion by the Chinese Navy in the region. Gwadar is close to the Strait of Hormuz, an important oil-shipping lane.
But other analysts note that Gwadar is many years from reaching its potential, and they suggest that fears of creeping Chinese influence might be overblown. “There may be a strategic dimension to this, where the Chinese want to mark their presence in an important part of the world,” said Hasan Karrar, an assistant professor of Asian history at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, referring to the management transfer at Gwadar. “But I wouldn’t go so far as saying this implies a military projection in the region.”....
Pakistan has failed to build the port or transportation infrastructure needed to develop the port, the property bubble has burst and, according to the port management Web site, the last ship to dock there arrived in November. “The government never built the infrastructure that the port needed — roads, rail or storage depots,” said Khurram Husain, a freelance business journalist. “Why would any shipping company come to the port if it has no service to offer?”
According to reports in the Pakistani news media, the Port of Singapore Authority sought to withdraw from the management contract after the Pakistani government failed to hand over land needed to develop the facility. (emphasis added)
This greater Chinese involvement, it should be noted, also comes after Beijing rebuffed Pakistani requests to turn Gwadar into a naval base.
So, to sum up: despite Pakistan prostrating itself before China, Beijing has been extremely leery of getting too enmeshed in that country. It has rejected repeated requests for military basing, and only now has a commercial Chinese company agreed to manage a port that appears to be the Pakistani exemplar of "white elephant."
So please, no "strong of pearls" posts from the national security blogosphere today. These pearls are about as fake as you can get.
Am I missing anything?
In the run-up to his confirmation hearings, both BuzzFeed's Ruby Cramer and the Washington Free Beacon have stories about secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel's days as a professor at Georgetown. At first glance, the spin on these stories seems to be at odds with each other. Here's Cramer:
Those who knew him at Georgetown remember Professor Hagel, whose confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee begins early Thursday morning, as resolute in his own views on foreign policy, and dedicated to his classroom at a level unusual for most lawmakers who take on stints as visiting professors....
Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, retired from the Senate in 2008 after serving two consecutive terms. He landed the Georgetown gig in February of 2009, and started work on crafting one course for grad students in the fall, and another for undergrads in the spring. Hagel chose geopolitical relationships as his focus, and with the help of his teaching assistant, wrote a syllabus aimed at examining the 21st century as a period of transition that is "shifting geopolitical centers of gravity and is recasting geopolitical influences as the world experiences an unprecedented diffusion," as stated in the syllabus for Hagel's first-ever course in the fall of 2009.
Shockingly, the Free Beacon interprets matters a bit differently:
As a professor at Georgetown University, secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel taught a foreign policy course based primarily on anti-Israel materials and far left manifestos that castigate America’s role in the world, according to a copy of Hagel’s 2012 course syllabus....
Constructed on the premise that America’s global supremacy is waning, Hagel’s seminar featured writings that criticize America’s standing in the world, advocate in favor of shuttering American military bases, and refer to Israel as guilty of war crimes.
If the poor defenseless reader were to try to synthesize these two articles on their own, they might come away convinced that Hagel was like Robin Williams' character in Dead Poets Society, if Williams' character was also a secret, anti-Semitic communist spy.
Fortunately, as a trained professor, I'm capable of scanning Hagel's syllabi, and the description of the syllabi, and render my own judgment. And I confess that, after looking at them, I have a few more qualms about Hagel than I did before.
These qualms are not due to the Free Beacon's story, which doesn't have an author appellation, which is just as well, since whomever wrote it has no f**king clue who makes what arguments in international relations. Among the "anti-Israel and far left manifestos" that the Free Beacon identifies is the following:
Other books featured on Hagel’s reading list, such as G. John Ikenberry’s Liberal Leviathan, argue that America’s influence is waning.
“Even if a return to multipolarity is a distant and slowly emerging future possibility, calculations about the relative decline of American power reintroduce the importance of making investments today for later decades when the United States is less preeminent,” wrote Ikenberry, a Princeton professor, in his 2012 book.
Let's take a brief pause here to allow the folks with some actual international relations knowledge a hearty chuckle. Because anyone who's read anything by John Ikenberry quickly learns two things: 1) he's about as centrist as one can get; and 2) he's quite upbeat about America's future (as a close reading of that quote would suggest). So we can safely ignore the Free Beacon's efforts to spin people like Ikenberry and Zbigniew Brzezinski as anti-Israel or far left.
There's also the rather obvious point that, as a general rule, professors will assign readings they disagree with. It's that whole, "give students competing perspectives on thorny issues so they can have an informed debate" kind of deal. As mysterious as this might sound to the Free Beacon, let me assure them that assigning provocative readings is a pretty common pedagogical tool.
On the other hand, a quick perusal of Hagel's syllabi reveals a far deeper concern: Hagel is addicted to ... hackery. The Friedmans make too many appearances in these syllabi, for example. He assigned Tom Friedman's The World Is Flat, which is pretty bad. He also assigned George Friedman's The Next 100 Years, which is far, far worse (don't take my word for it, take Philip Tetlock's). He also assigned liberal portions of Parag Khanna's work, which is unfortunate.
Now I'm not above assigning the occasional hack piece in a class to let my students chew up and spit out. That's actually a useful pedagogical exercise. Hagel, however, seems to think that the hack stuff is actually quite good -- at least that's what he told C-SPAN. For a graduate seminar at Georgetown, the chaff-to-wheat ratio is disturbingly high.
Besides the hack addiction, is there anything else to be gleaned from Hagel's syllabi? If there is a theme that runs through Hagel's syllabus choices, it's a pretty realpolitik one. Writers like George Friedman and Robert D. Kaplan don't really care about human institutions as much as geopolitics. He also assigned some interesting work by Joseph Parent & Paul McDonald, as well as Micah Zenko & Michael Cohen, on strategic restraint and threat inflation, respectively. That's what should terrify neoconservatives -- not the bogus anti-Israel charges.
Still, after reading his syllabi, I must acknowledge that Hagel picked up one academic trait very quickly: just like us lifelong profs, Hagel learned to assign his own book. Well played, Professor Hagel. Well played.
The Washington Post's Howard Schneider and Danielle Douglas have a story detailing the ways in which post-crisis global financial reform has allegedly ground to a halt:
Five years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, a global push to tighten financial regulation around the world has slowed in the face of a tepid recovery and a tough industry lobbying effort....
the post-Lehman goal — of a global scheme that would immunize the financial system from another large-scale shock — remains incomplete. Big banks, insurers and other financial giants remain intact and arguably “too big too fail.” Tools to guard against dangerous bubbles in the value of property or other assets are not yet in place. There is no agreement on how countries should coordinate the failure of a globally important financial company. Implementation of basic banking rules in major nations has fallen behind schedule.
Finishing the job “is going to take many years,” International Monetary Fund chief economist Olivier Blanchard said last week. “It is conceptually very difficult, politically very difficult.”
In their effort to overhaul the global system, regulators have been confronted by a number of head winds. The world’s economy has been unexpectedly slow to recover, making governments leery of doing anything that might make banks cautious to loan and invest. The financial industry has pushed back hard, warning that aggressive regulation might undermine growth. And regulators are simply limited in their understanding of how modern finance can be made safe while still supporting economic activity.
The result: Some of the proposals once considered core to a safe, post-Lehman system have been delayed and weakened, and others have been played down, at least for now, as too politically complex.
Well, this sounds like a blow against my theory of "pretty good" or "good enough" global governance that I've been yammering about on the blog.... that is, until one starts reading the rest of the Post's story.
First of all, with the exception of one Jamie Dimon quote, there's not any real evidence in the story that industry lobbying is to blame. I'm not saying that this means that there was no industry lobbying, or that it was inconsequential -- merely that there's no evidence in the story to support the lede.
What there is evidence of, however, are two things that seem pretty consistent with "good enough" global governance. The first is that even in areas where there's been minimal global agreement, there have beern "patchwork" arrangements that look like they will work. For example:
There also is no comprehensive global approach for addressing bank failures. Individual members of the Basel committee, including the United States, have established resolution plans in case their own lenders become insolvent. And the United States and Britain in December released a set of guidelines to handle a major insolvency — a potentially important agreement between two world financial centers.
But determining how to coordinate the collapse of a major multinational bank is an area where the IMF and others have had limited success in pushing for a broader global agreement. The issue is important because a method to share the fallout of a bank failure across national borders would probably make countries more willing to let institutions go out of business, rather than propping them up with taxpayers’ money.
Again, in a perfect world one would like to see a comprehensive agreement. Given the center of gravity for the financial sector, however, an Anglo-American arrangement is actually pretty powerful and covers the biggest concerns.
Then we get to the implementation of the Basel III accords, designed to insure that banks have sufficient reserves of safe and liquid assets on hand to prevent a panic. As Schneider and Douglas note, the Financial Stability Board reports that only 8 of 27 nations are on track to implement these reforms on schedule.
Why is that the case? Here we find that interest group lobbying seems to matter less than... a recognition by regulators that life is not so simple:
[O]ther Basel proposals have been revised as regulators, bankers and officials have better understood how some of their major assumptions about finance and risk had been upended by events.
In Basel this month, regulators scaled back one key set of provisions that would force banks to keep the equivalent of larger levels of cash on hand to guard against a run on deposits or another fast-moving crisis.
Such highly liquid assets had been defined to include government bonds — which traditionally can be sold quickly and at close to their face value — and to exclude securities backed by residential mortgages, the bundled, complex assets that had triggered the financial crisis in 2007 when they proved difficult to sell other than at a steep loss.
The financial crisis in the euro zone showed a flaw in the approach when Greek, Portuguese and other government bonds plummeted in value. Smaller U.S. banks, meanwhile, argued that to completely exclude mortgages from the new “liquidity coverage ratio” would reduce their ability to make home loans.
When the final Basel rules on the issue were released this month, the required liquidity levels were reduced, mortgages were included in the tally and banks were given extra time to comply.
“Nobody set out to make it stronger or weaker as a standard but to make it more realistic... to make sure there was no impediment to financing recovery,” said Bank of England Governor Mervyn King, who chairs a Basel committee of central bankers and regulatory chiefs.
So, to sum up: after an initial burst of regulatory arrangements, progress has slowed down in some areas, and in other areas relies on a more patchwork arrangement. That said, there appear to be intrisically good reasons for the slowdown, and the patchwork covers the major financial centers.
Yeah, this is "good enough" global governance.
Despite the fact that the administration appears to have the votes to confirm Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense, activist groups like the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) continue to pound away
at a brick wall at Hagel's dovishness towards Iran. In essence, ECI's ads and rhetoric argue forcefully that both Hagel and Obama are not fully committed to defending Israel by revving up for an attack on Iran now.
Don't take my word for it, though -- here's one of ECI's ads:
Now, as I've blogged before, this kind of interest group campaign is a waste of money if the goal is a partisan effort to weaken Obama and bolster the GOP. What if the effort is sincere, however? In other words, if groups like ECI care only about eliminating the Iranian threat as soon as possible, is this their best expenditure of resources?
Based on Sheera Frakel's McClatchy story from yesterday, I'd say the answer is no. Clearly, the greatest threat to a softening Western posture towards Iran comes from... dare I say it... Israel itself!!!
Israeli intelligence officials now estimate that Iran won’t be able to build a nuclear weapon before 2015 or 2016, pushing back by several years previous assessments of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Intelligence briefings given to McClatchy over the last two months have confirmed that various officials across Israel’s military and political echelons now think it’s unrealistic that Iran could develop a nuclear weapons arsenal before 2015. Others pushed the date back even further, to the winter of 2016.
"Previous assessments were built on a set of data that has since shifted," said one Israeli intelligence officer, who spoke to McClatchy only on the condition that he not be identified. He said that in addition to a series of "mishaps" that interrupted work at Iran’s nuclear facilities, Iranian officials appeared to have slowed the program on their own.
Oh. My. God. We already knew that there was a fifth column of Israelis who were pooh-poohing the notion of a pre-emptive strike on Iran. Now, with this intelligence walkback, the credibility of the Israeli national security establishment has taken a pretty serious hit.
If ECI and like-minded groups really think that Iran poses an existential threat and that the time to act is now, then I think they're targeting their resources at the wrong country. Trying to convert Rand Paul to their point of view isn't enough, and opposing Hagel is fruitless at this point. No, only a full-throated ECI campaign in Israel itself will be sufficient to prevent Jerusalem from falling into the appeasement camp. And if they fail to redirect their activities, then I have no choice but to conclude that ECI has gone soft on Iran as well.
Am I missing anything?
The New Republic has relaunched in style, featuring a spiffy new website and a sitdown interview with President Barack Obama. Alas, much of the interview was about internal GOP politics. Only the last question was about foreign policy, but Obama provided an interesting answer. In TNR owner Chris Hughes queried about how he morally copes with the ongoing violence in Syria without substantive U.S. intervention. Here's his response in full:
Every morning, I have what's called the PDB—presidential daily briefing—and our intelligence and national security teams come in here and they essentially brief me on the events of the previous day. And very rarely is there good news. And a big chunk of my day is occupied by news of war, terrorism, ethnic clashes, violence done to innocents. And what I have to constantly wrestle with is where and when can the United States intervene or act in ways that advance our national interest, advance our security, and speak to our highest ideals and sense of common humanity.
And as I wrestle with those decisions, I am more mindful probably than most of not only our incredible strengths and capabilities, but also our limitations. In a situation like Syria, I have to ask, can we make a difference in that situation? Would a military intervention have an impact? How would it affect our ability to support troops who are still in Afghanistan? What would be the aftermath of our involvement on the ground? Could it trigger even worse violence or the use of chemical weapons? What offers the best prospect of a stable post-Assad regime? And how do I weigh tens of thousands who've been killed in Syria versus the tens of thousands who are currently being killed in the Congo?
Those are not simple questions. And you process them as best you can. You make the decisions you think balance all these equities, and you hope that, at the end of your presidency, you can look back and say, I made more right calls than not and that I saved lives where I could, and that America, as best it could in a difficult, dangerous world, was, net, a force for good. (emphasis added)
I hear a lot of loose talk about what Barack Obama's foreign policy is really like, but I'd argue that the bolded sections pretty much encapsulate his foreign policy preferences. For him, national interest and security trumps liberal values every day of the week and twice on Sundays.
[But that's a false dichotomy!!--ed. You've been listening to too many Jon Favreau speeches. The easy foreign policy calls are when values and interests line up. It's when they conflict that we get a better sense of what's vital and what's... less important.] Obama looks at Syria and sees a grisly situation where the status quo doesn't hurt American interests -- in fact, it's a mild net positive. Given that situation, Obama's incentive to intervene is pretty low.
Does this mean Obama is amoral or un-American? Hardly. That answer suggests two things. First. liberal values do matter to Obama -- they just don't matter as much as other things. Second, to be fair, contra academic realism, there is a set of ethical values that are attached to realpolitik, and I think they inform Obama's decision-making as well. It seems pretty clear that Obama's first foreign policy instinct after advancing the national interest is the foreign policy equivalent of the Hippocratic oath: first, do no harm. If you think about it, the one liberal deviation from Obama's foreign policy is the Libya intervention, where he explicitly authorized the use of force for a mission that he acknowledged was not in the core national interest. It worked, but we've seen/seeing the second-order effects in Benghazi and across Northern Africa.
I'm bemused by neoconservatives who simutaneously pillory the Obama administration for the Benghazi screw-up, yet call for greater efforts to "do something" in Syria. What happened in Benghazi, and Algeria, and Mali are the direct follow-ons from the last time the U.S. ramped up its efforts in a non-strategic situation. If anything, it seems clear that Obama has learned from that lesson -- as well as the Afghanistan "surge" -- and determined that the utility of military intervention is more limited and the costs are even greater than he imagined in 2008. Furthermore, as the Congo comment suggests, he's also conscious that if one really wants to apply liberal ethical criteria to the use of Amertican force, then Syria is not at the top of the queue.
Barack Obama neither an appeaser nor a liberal internationalist. He's someone who has a clear set of foreign policy preferences and an increasing risk aversion to the use of force as a tool of regime change. That's not unethical -- it's just based on a set of ethical principles that might be somewhat alien to America's very, very liberal foreign policy community.
Am I missing anything?
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.