A few days ago Dan Nexon went on a pretty epic rant filled with mixed emotions about the increased professionalization of Ph.D. programs in political science. Well, not professionalization in general, but rather the tilt of current professionalization trends towards the mathematical. To be clear, Nexon doesn't think this is an unalloyed bad, and would probably make the same recommendation I have made about the need to get comfortable with math. I think Nexon's discomfort comes from the systemic implications for the discipline that comes from every graduate student responding to these incentives.
Dan's post has prompted multiple responses, including Steve Saideman and Erik Voeten, that are worth reading. I'll try to articulate some of my own thoughts on the matter over the weekend. For now, however, I want to respond to James Joyner's reply. As a Ph.D. in political science who then
left the church entered the policy world, James sympathizes with Nexon's rant and articulates what I fear is a common lament for foreign policy wonks:
The down side, though, is that the academic study of IR has divorced itself from the real world study of the actual conduct of international relations. Those who serve in government and work in the IR-focused think tanks tend to go to the public policy schools rather than mainline PhD programs. And the work being done by academics in IR is largely irrelevant and inaccessible to the policy community. Indeed, I can’t remember the last time I picked up a copy of International Studies Quarterly, much less the American Political Science Review. Frankly, I’m not sure I could read those journals at this point if I wanted to.
Joyner makes two claims here: a) the substance of academic political science has become too divorced from policy; and b) regardless of the substance, the methods and the modeling are no so arcane that these articles can't be processed.
You know what? Let's take a look at the latest issues of International Studies Quarterly and American Political Science Review to see if Joyner (and, tangentially, Nexon) is correct about his twin assertions: that academic political science is working on policy irrelevant issues, and has anyway become too hard for policy wonks to digest.
Joyner has half a point with respect to the APSR. Because that is one of the flagship journals, and because the lion's share of political scientists are not doing IR or comparative, the bulk of the articles published in that journal are targeted towards Americanists and political theorists. The February 2012 issue is no exception: six of the nine research essays would be uninteresting to Joyner (though, ironically, one of those is a critique of experimental methodology).
On the other hand, the three remaining essays are both pretty damn interesting and policy relevant. John Freeman and Dennis Quinn's article on the effect of financial liberalization in autocratic states puts forward an easy-to-comprehend causal logic. It's also hugely policy relevant if you're interested in authoritarian capitalism -- in fact, I cited it in a blog post last week. I should have also cited the other relevant APSR article in this issue -- by Victor Shih, Christopher Adolph and Mingxing Liu -- on the determinants of promotion to the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. Fortunately, Erik Voeten caught this for me.
That leaves Faisal Ahmed's essay on aid and remittances, which raises the problematic point that autocratic governments will exploit large remittance flows to substitute away from public goods to policies that favor narrow ruling coalitions, thereby extending their stay in power. All three articles use econometric methods to estimate large-N regressions -- but the causal stories are pretty easy to get. In my experience, this is a typical issue of the APSR: I probably only care about two or three articles per issue, but they tend to be pretty interesting.
As for ISQ, there are thirteen research articles, and I'm not gonna go through all of them in such detail. You should, however, because access to this issue is free for everyone! Going over the essays, I'd say that ten out of the thirteen have direct policy relevance -- i.e., they contain an explanation or hypothesis that would be extremely useful to either an operational policymaker or a strategic planner. As for the methodological barriers, of the thirteen articles in the issue, nine of them follow the same blueprint: a pretty simple and accessible theoretical section, followed by large-N testing on a data set. Three of the articles had both a readily accessible theory and used qualitative methods for their data testing. Only one article would fall under the "too inaccessible to read" category.
I think the academic/policy divide has been wildly overblown, but here's my modest suggestion on how to bridge it even further. First, wonks should flip through at recent issues of APSR and ISQ -- and hey, peruse International Organization, International Security, and World Politics while you're at it. You'd find a lot of good, trenchant, policy-adjacent stuff. Second, might I suggest that authors at these journals be allowed to write a second abstract -- and abstract for policymakers, if you will? Even the most jargonesed academic should be able to pull off one paragraph of clean prose. Finally, wonks should not be frightened by statistics. That is by far the dominant "technical" barrier separating these articles from general interest reader.
Am I missing anything?
OK, in Episode I, your humble blogger talked about what undergraduates should and should not do to get into a quality Ph.D. program in political science. In this exciting sequel, the natural question to ask is, "what if I'm not an undergraduate?"
To explain the advice I'm about to give, however, let me begin with a small parable. Consider two applicants, Johnny Undergrad and Jenny Postgrad. By a strange coincidence, Johnny and Jenny matriculated at the same undergraduate institution, received identical grades during their time as undergraduates, and both wrote fine theses. They both followed the guidance provided in my dos and don'ts post to the letter. The only difference is that Jenny is four years out of college, while Johnny is not. The latter, a senior, is now applying to grad programs. So is Jenny, but she's spent the past four years earning some coin and collecting some very relevant work experience for an important government/multinational corporation/NGO/think tank organization.
Now, you would think, ceteris paribus, that Jenny would have the stronger application for a Ph.D. admissions committee - she's more mature, more seasoned, and possesses an identical academic record. But you would likely be wrong.
See, Johnny has been in more recent contact with his undergrad professors. Since their memory of Johnny is likely stronger than Jenny, their letters of recommendation will be less bland and boilerplate. Johnny hasn't signaled that callings other than being a professor might tempt him, since he applied straight out of undergrad. Johnny's grades are an accurate reflection of his abilities, whereas Jenny's academic skills atrophy with every year out of the ivory tower (pro tip: if you don't know what ceteris paribus means, you're in trouble). Any thesis that Johnny has written is more up-to date.
This is the challenge you face if you are a post-baccalaureate applicant - and with each year further away from your graduation date, these problems get worse. So, if you want to be admitted, Jenny's goal should be to do everything possible to her file resemble something that blows Johnny out of the water. How does she do that? Here are five useful tips:
1. Reconnect with your professors. You need to have strong letters of recommendation, and almost all of those letters should come from people inside the academy. Fair or not, admissions committees will discount letters from people who themselves do not have a Ph.D.. If you're thinking of applying to a Ph.D. program, start by making sure the profs who you worked closely with as an undergraduate have a sharp memory of you. Remind them of what you were interested in as an undergrad and update them on what's your interests are now. If you've collaborated with academics during your post-bac jobs, make sure they write you a letter. You will need one recommendation from your supervisor/boss even if they don't have a Ph.D. - but make damn sure that, besides praising your overall competence and maturity, they talk about your burning desire to go back to the academy.
2. Ace your GREs. The GREs are a good first approximation of whether you have the intellectual chops to cut it in a doctoral program. If you've been out of school for a while, they might count a bit more, because there is that question of whether you're really ready to go back to school. An outstanding GRE score will not automatically get you admitted, but it can allay any fears about your abilities to earn a Ph.D.
3. Craft your personal statement with care. You have a more interesting tale to tell than undergraduate applicants, because you're like, older and stuff. That said, the statement also needs to signal an admissions committee that you know exactly what you are getting yourself into, and are eager for the challenge. Sure, you can talk about how your research interests are born out of your real-world experience, but make sure you also phrase your research interests in the context of the relevant literature. Again, this signals to an admissions committee that you know your interests from multiple perspectives. Furthermore, as a twentysomething, you have the luxury of reading up on the relevant academic literature and not being intimidated by big words like when you were 18 years old. Use that intellectual maturity to your advantage in your statement!!
4. Publish, publish, publish! You know that phrase "publish or perish?" It's not just for professors anymore. Demonstrating an ability to publish - even if the publication is not a peer-reviewed academic journal - is a signal to an admissions committee that you understand what you're getting yourself into. Publishing in a policy journal, or a think tank report, can count for something - particularly if it's a sustained piece of research. So, if your job requires you to write, try to get that writing into the public domain.
5. Get a master's degree. OK, let's say that your undergraduate performance was... less than stellar. Or, it's been a long time (more than five years) since you were in college. These are the situations when getting either a professional or terminal master's degree makes some sense -and a two-year program is a better option than a one-year program. If you know you want to get a Ph.D., then make sure you indicate that fact to the professors closest to your area of interest at the outset, take their courses, and have them supervise your thesis. Oh, and write a sharp M.A. thesis and think about getting it published. Strong letters from professors indicating that you did well in graduate school are the ultimate trump card, and are the one way that Jenny's application packet can blow Johnny's out of the water. With a good M.A. degree, Jenny can ensure that she is a better, stronger, faster version of Johnny.
Now, I'm still a bit reluctant to proffer this last recommendation, for a few reasons. First, a terminal master's ain't cheap. This means accruing a decent amount of debt and then going to graduate school for a few more years and then, if you're lucky, getting a job that won't help all that much in paying down your debt. Second, this approach takes at least two years to execute. You can't apply to a Ph.D. program in your first year of an M.A. program, because applications need to be in by January and your master's program profs won't know you well enough to draft good letters (that's why a two-year program is superior). Furthermore, as crazy as this sounds, for most Ph.D. programs, your M.A. coursework won't count - you'll often need to do a certain number of course requirements (it does help intellectually, however). And with all of this, there's still no guarantee you get accepted.
All that said, however, if you really want the Ph.D. and you're well out of college, this is the best gambit. A strong performance in an M.A. program - professional or not - is the best signal to a Ph.D. admissions committee that you can cut it in a doctoral program. Oh, and one last point: as a risk-averse strategy, choose an M.A. program at a Ph.D.-granting institution, so you can always try to complete your doctorate in your home institution.
In the world of international relations and foreign policy, if you can coin a new phrase or neologism, you've hit the big time. Think "containment," "clash of civilizations," "end of history," "Washington Consensus," and so forth. How this happens is some weird alchemy of the term itself, the idea it encapsulates, and the receptivity of the foreign affairs community. Once it happens, it can't be undone -- and this isn't always a good thing: Joseph Nye has spent decades trying to rebrand "soft power" as "smart power" to little avail (possibly because someone else popularized the latter term first). I'm sure whichever Obama administration official said "leading from behind" wishes that Ryan Lizza had never used the quote. Still, if you suggest a new term of art and it catches on, you've secured speaking engagements for the rest of your days.
This assumes, however, that your neologism will catch on -- and most of them don't. This is a good thing, I might add, because most of them are dreadful. For example, Zalmay Khalilzad has a new essay in The Washington Quarterly entitled, "A Strategy of 'Congagement' toward Pakistan." If you're wondering what "congagement" means, it's "applying a mixed arsenal of methods to contain Pakistan’s dangerous and destabilizing policies but also to engage Islamabad to sustain existing cooperation and incentivize it to move toward more." Now, this just sounds awful, which is why it hasn't caught on despite the attempts of Khalilzad and others to incept it into the foreign policy community's collective subconscious.
I don't mean to pick on Khalilzad -- he's hardly the only offender. James Rosenau tried to introduce "fragmegration" -- blech. The term "glocalization" has had a somewhat more successful run, but that's only by comparison to "fragmegration." For my money, "slacktivism" is the only example of this genre of fusing two words together that sounds even remotely good. Just as bad were the raft of grand strategy terms that came out in the middle of last decade that attempted to fuse realism and liberalism together: progressive realism, realistic Wilsonianism, ethical realism, liberal realism, etc. None of them really took off.*
In the interest of improving foreign policy writing and reducing the pain one encounters when reading these awful neologisms, there needs to be a flexible freeze on these efforts. Even if most phrases of this kind are accurate in what they are describing, the neologisms are so painful to the eyes and grating to the ears that they leech away any force that exists in the underlying argument.
Instead, I hereby offer a humble suggestion: embrace the metaphor. The problem with most efforts to brand a term is that they're too literal: a fusion of two nouns, or an adjective and a noun, to explain a concept. Metaphors, because they make the intangible more tangible, stick in the brain better. This is one reason why "leading from behind" worked, as has "the pivot."
The danger of course, is that metaphors don't always perfectly capture the foreign policy concepts one wants to describe (such as the pivot). It's a dangerous game -- but so is world politics. As someone who's had to wade through this crap for well over a decade now, failed metaphors will at least entertain the reader better than God-awful neologisms. So give the literary device a try, members of the foreign policy community -- and please, for the love of God, stop trying to fuse words together!!
Full disclosure: I've haven't really succeeded in this task either, although the only time I think I ever tried was "counterpunching."
After blogging last week about the gendered effects of a Ph.D. for foreign policy professionals, I got a reasonable query from Caitlin Fitzgerald: if getting a Ph.D. is so great, how does one get accepted into a doctoral program in political science?
This is a good question. Despite all of the warnings being proffered about the stultifying nature of graduate school and the horrible, very-bad, not-so-great quality of the academic job market, competition to get into top-tier grad schools is still quite high. So, how do you get in?
As someone who got accepted into a very competitive Ph.D. program in
Boston San Francisco - well, not in San Francisco, but nearby - no, not Santa Clara [OK, that's enough!!--ed.] and as someone who has sat in on more than his fair share of admissions committees, I can proffer some useful tips. I'm going to do this in two parts: first, what undergraduates should do, and then what post-baccalaureate types should do. I'm starting with the undergraduates because it's not too late for them it's at the college level when an individual applicant can lay the necessary groundwork for a strong application.
Before I jump into the five dos and don'ts, let me remind you of something: in good Ph.D. programs, admissions committees are looking for a reason to ding you. The problem is a surfeit, not a dearth, of qualified applicants. By the last stages of the process, admissions committees are often making accept-or-reject decisions on distinctions so minor that no one would admit them publicly (it's not that we want to do this - it's that admissions slots are scarce and looking at minutiae seems fairer than, say, a random draw). What this means is that any serious chink in your admissions armor - low GPA, low GREs, weak recommendations, etc. - gives an admissions committee a valid excuse to ding you. So if you're really interested, you have to make sure that every facet of your application is up to par.
With that out of the way, here are the Five Dos and Five Don'ts for undergraduates applying to Political Science Ph.D. programs in either international relations or comparative politics:
THE FIVE DOS:
1. Read some actual political science. This might sound obvious, but a lot of undergraduate programs in political science -- particularly in the first few years -- will have syllabi larded with weird textbooks and Foreign Affairs articles. And that's OK for undergrads -- but if you're thinking of getting a Ph.D. and you're not terribly familiar with either International Organization or the American Political Science Review, you're in for a world of hurt. Read the journals to get a sense of A) what it's like to write in political sciencese; B) not sound like an idiot when you write your application; and C) Make sure, one last time, that this is really what you want to do for the next six years.
2. Write a thesis. Ph.D. programs want to be sure that you will have the intellectual chops to do real research and real writing. The best opportunity you'll have to do that as an undergrad is your B.A. thesis. If you don't write one and apply to a Ph.D. program, that's a red flag. Why didn't you write one? If you can't handle that, how could you handle a dissertaton? So write a thesis whether it's required or not -- and make sure it's good.
3. Get comfortable with math. Even if you're aspiring to do pure political theory or qualitative work, you're going to have to take classes in methodology, game theory and econometrics in graduate school. Oh, and by the way, with the arrival of Big Data, even areas of research that used to be qualitative are becoming quantitative. The less innumerate you are, the less these courses will seem like a foreign language. At a minimum, make sure you have familiarity with intermediate-level statistics and multivariate calculus. Linear algebra is nice too.
4. Go abroad and learn a language. Experience is not weighted all that heavily in grad school applications. Overseas experience is an exception, particularly if you want to specialize in an area or region of the globe. Learning a language pertinent to that region or area will help as well. Exploit study abroad programs as a way to signal that you'll be up for the rigors of field work.
5. Get rich. Ready for some real-keeping? If you can fund your own ticket for graduate school, the admissions standards are not nearly so high. Whether you inherit family wealth, win an NSF fellowship, or finally make sure that Nigerian e-mailer comes through, having no need for fellowship support makes you a freebie to most programs. At that point, the equation changes from "is this candidate among the best?" to "is this candidate above the bar?" The latter is much easier to clear than the former.
And now.... THE FIVE DON'TS:
1. E-mail professors in Ph.D. programs at length. Your mileage may vary, but speaking personally, I'm at the point where I get so many of these emails that I ignore all of them. All. Of. Them. Why? Because professors are not stupid -- we know you're sending these out en masse, we don't know whether you really have the chops to get a degree, and because we don't make decisions like this because of e-mails. I won't deny that this tactic might work once in a blue moon, but it's been so played out that most profs' eyes glaze over a these missives.
2. Detail, at length, your plans to change the world in your personal statement. The personal statement in a doctoral admissions packet is the easiest way for a candidate to screw up -- it'll be almost as bad as your dissertation prospectus. What admissions committees are looking for are signs of emotional and intellectual maturity matched with an ambition to do first-rate research. They are not looking for "and then I realized" epiphanies about how getting a Ph.D. will allow you to change the world. Backstory matters in explaining why you're interested in doing what you're doing, but don't kid yourself -- unless you're a survivor of an ethnic cleansing, your personal narrative at 21 is just not that interesting. Side note: if you are the survivor of an ethnic cleansing, hey, go to town in your statement.
3. Put all your application eggs into one basket. Let's say you've done everything I've suggested. Let's say you've researched grad schools carefully, and have decided that, given you're research interests, the only person you can work with is Robert Bates at Harvard. Congratulations, you've gone overboard in specializing!! Apply to good programs, not just to work with one person. Individual professors move, retire, pass away, go on sabbatical, or drink too much and hit on students and make things veeeeery awkward in the aftermath. Diversify your portfolio and make sure you apply to programs with a deep bench in your area of interest.
4. Get celebrity professors to write you letters of recommendation. Letters of recommendation matter a lot to this process, and I've noticed a trend among those-savvy-beyond-their-years to make sure they ingratiate themselves with well-known professors as a way of calling attention to one's application. I get this instinct, and done well it can work -- a glowing letter from, say, Madeleine Albright or Zbigniew Brzezinski that indicates deep knowledge about you can be a game-changer. Here's the thing, though -- 99% of the recommendation letters I read from people at this level of fame are bland, impersonal boilerplate. That will hurt you. So don't bend your research interests to match a star professor -- make sure that the profs who know your area well also know you well enough to write good letters of recommendation.
5. Take on debt. Let's say you work really hard and get accepted to a top tier program, but without the fellowship support that you need because -- silly you! -- you're not rich. You night start thinking, "sure, I'll have to take on some debt, but it's a great program and therefore worth it." Wrong! First of all, it's not like you're going to be raking in the bucks as a post-grad -- even a small amount of debt can be financially debilitating. Second, not getting a fellowship is a powerful signal of lukewarm interest on the part of the school, so you'd already be starting with a strike against you. Unless you're rich, only attend traditional Ph.D. programs that offer you full tuition and a stipend.
Oh, and one bonus DON'T:
5*. Talk up your blog or Twitter feed as an example of research. It isn't research, and no one cares anyway.
Part II -- what to do if you've been out of college for a while and want to apply to get a Ph.D. -- will follow this week.
Professors -- am I missing anything? Any more advice to proffer?
So my post earlier this week on the comparative advantages and disadvantages for women getting Ph.D.s to advance a career in foreign policy generated a lot of traffic, and some few very useful addendums. It also generated some accusations that my discourse is sexist, heteronormative, etc. I'm going to
marginalize ignore the latter, because the people who took offense at, say, the title of my post are the people who will take offense at sneezing wrong.
Instead, here are three follow-on thoughts from Official Friend of the Blog Amy B. Zegart, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution:
I call the PhD for women "the don't mess with me degree." Particularly in national security, when you're dealing with military officers (most of them men) who literally wear their accomplishments on their clothing, walking in the room with "Dr." in your title goes a long way to confer immediate legitimacy. The PhD says, "this woman is smart AND masochistic enough to survive a grueling doctoral program."
This is an excellent observation, and one I heard from several other women who went the doctoral route. Zegart's second observation:
Because women in national security are relatively few and far between, we tend to get asked to do more things to show that women in national security can do more things. This is where good intentions can have perverse effects: "wouldn't it be great to have a woman to speak that conference/committee/donor event/parents' weekend panel?" can lead to overload, particularly for female junior faculty. The antidote (saying no) is not hard in theory but it is in practice.
I strongly suspect that this is a problem for both women and minorities. Being underrepresented means being asked to perform a greater number of "service" functions in the name of diversity. The result is a genuine tax on junior people in policy and scholarly career tracks. Learning to say "no" without fear is an incredibly valuable and hard-to-master skill.
Zegart's last point:
I don't think... the beginning and end of the PhD [are] the only two tough times. The middle may be worse in terms of women losing ground relative to male peers. One reason is parental leave policies. Here, too, the reasons are counter-intuitive. Many dads are very involved parents, but let's face it, they don't have the same body parts as women. Biology means that most women have a much greater physical toll associated with childbirth and the raising of small kids than men do. So treating dads and mom the same (tenure clock extensions, course reductions for all faculty, regardless of gender) really isn't treating them the same at all -- because there's a higher chance that dads can physically use the extra time for research while moms are still brain dead from round-the-clock nursing and infant childcare. By my third kid, I finally figured out that the best strategy was NOT to use maternity leave right after childbirth; instead, I taught, and negotiated to bank the maternity leave time for the following year, when I was rested enough to make the most of that time to write my next book.
So here you go.
Erik Voeten reminds us that now is the time "when undergraduates interested in a career in political science have to choose between PhD programs." Erik offers some very useful pointers on how to choose, but there is a deeper question to ask -- is it worth it to get a Ph.D. in political science? As one graduate student blogging at Duck of Minerva puts it:
I'm loving graduate school; it's been on balance the best time of my life; and nevertheless there have been times when (to quote a colleague) I've wished I'd taken the blue pill and kept my job.
Or, as Steve Saideman phrases it:
[A] PhD in Political Science should only be for those who are passionate and curious and do not care where they end up living. And that they need to be aware that the job market can be pretty challenging and stressful.
Checking my blog archives, I see that I've mused on this topic before -- so, rather than repeat myself, here are some links. If you're wondering about the virtues of getting a Ph.D. vs. a policy degree like SAIS or Fletcher, click here and here. If you're really interested in politics and are debating between a Ph.D., a law degree, or going the apprentice route, click here.
But I want to blog about a question related to something buzzing about the foreign policy blogosphere: what if you're female? Micah Zenko at CFR and Diana Wueger at Gunpowder & Lead have blogged about the underrepresentation of women in foreign policy positions in the government, think tanks or the academy. Wueger asks readers to "spend 10 minutes thinking about what you can do to help your female staff or friends or Twitterbuddies to advance in their careers."
After ten minutes, I have some positive words and some cautionary, bordeline controversial pieces of advice. Here goes.
My hunch is that, all else equal, the value-added of getting a Ph.D. might be greater for women than men. Wueger blogs about a big problem: the difficulty/trepidation that women have when seeking mentors, particularly if their field is dominated by men. The advantage of getting a Ph.D. is that it pretty much forces the person to work hard at collecting mentors and advisors. Furthermore, these relationships are forged through years of TAing, RAing, and pleading for dissertation advice. So, even if women are shyer about seeking mentors/male advisors are warier about advising female students, these barriers can be broken down with time.
That's the good news. The bad news is two-fold. First, Wueger argues that the assignments women get at the outset have a powerful effect on their later careers:
There’s a gap in the types of tasks women and men are assigned early in their careers. Intentionally or not, women tend to given more administrative or support work rather than policy or research work; path dependence takes over from there. I recall a prominent scholar regularly asking his female research assistant (RA) to pick up his dry cleaning and take his car to the shop—things he didn’t ask of male RAs.
OK, for the record,
my male RAs were too forgetful to request as little starch as possible this is a problem, but I suspect it's decreasing. The more serious problem operates through a subtler channel -- women might get shunted into research areas that are seen as more female-friendly. For example, I believe that more women study international political economy or international organizations than international security. Even within security studies, I suspect that there are more women studying "human security" than more standard guns & bombs kind of security. This might be due to interest, but there are path-dependent effects at work, and so successive waves of women go into those fields in greater numbers. So, that's a thing.
The second problem is, I suspect, even greater and trickier to discuss, but here goes. Unlike the apprentice or professional degree paths, the Ph.D. route to a foreign policy career has a few BIG decision-making nodes that have profound effects on a person's career choice. For the Ph.D., the first job after getting one's doctorate matters a lot, particularly if said Ph.D. is pursuing the academic career track. The first job can define whether you want to be thought of as a researcher first, a teacher first, a policy wonk first, and so forth. Also, it usually requires moving -- with the exception of Ph.D. granting institutions in-Boston-well-not-in-Boston-but-nearby-no-not-Tufts, universities do not hire their own.
The thing is, most people are between 27-32 years of age when they complete their Ph.D.. This also happens to be the peak demographic of the whole getting married/having children phase of life. And, women tend to marry men a few years older than them. The professional difference between 50 and 53 is negligible, but those few years can make a HUGE difference in one's late twenties/early thirties. It means that, on average and regardless of career choice, the man in the relationship is more firmly embedded down his career path.
For newly-minted women Ph.D.s, this can impose profound constraints on career choices. Their best job offer might be inconvenient for their spouse's career, and so they pass on it. I saw this very dynamic play out multiple times with female colleagues when I was in graduate school. There are a lot of good reasons to subordinate one's first job choice to family considerations, but it has a negative impact on one's long-term career trajectory.
[What about you?--ed. As a man, the age effect was reversed. My fiancee was younger and therefore at a more embryonic stage of her career, which meant she was more portable. For the record, I accepted a post-doc that I otherwise wouldn't have taken for her career, but this was a minimal sacrifice. It only delayed my first job by a year and I got a ton of writing done during those twelve months.]
This problem is not unique to those earning doctorates. Those with non-Ph.D. career tracks , however, have more career-decision nodes at later and earlier ages. I suspect this problem is magnified for Ph.D.s in a way that it isn't for those who pursue more apprentice-oriented or shorter-degree tracks. But I'd be interested in hearing differing opinions on this in the comments below.
So, to sum up: if you're a woman and you're trying to pursue a foreign policy career, there are some advantages by getting the Ph.D., but there are big pitfalls at the beginning and end of getting the doctorate. I urge you to have a good sense of what you want to study before someone shapes that decision for you. And have some good, long conversations with any potential spouse about what you want to do with your career.
Am I missing anything? Seriously, am I?
When James Q. Wilson passed away earlier this week from leukemia, political science lost a legend. Wilson was like his onetime colleague Samuel Huntington: he wrote far and wide and without fear. His most well-known argument was the "broken windows" theory of crime. He posited (along with George Kelling) that the best way to reduce serious crime was for a neighborhood to be vigilant about more minor (but publicly visible) signs of disorder, like grafitti and broken windows.
For me, however, it was his work on bureaucracy that stood out. His two books on political bureaucracy -- Political Organizations and Bureaucracy -- are landmarks in the field. Bureaucracy in particular is a fantastically rich work, akin to Tom Schelling's Strategy of Conflict, in that a generation of organizational politics scholars could take a half-page of Wilson's musings and spin them into entire books.
For some lovely obituaries, see Arthur Brooks in the Wall Street Journal, Harvey Mansfield in the Weekly Standard, and Mark Kleiman at SameFacts. Wilson was a conservative, and many of his arguments were consistent with conservative principles. He was first and foremost a social scientist, however, acutely conscious of his own biases and willing to reverse course when need be. Kleiman's post encapsulates this point nicely:
The things that made Jim special – beyond is massive intellect, wide reading, and graceful, accurate prose – were his generosity of spirit and his deep moral and intellectual seriousness. At a time when he was very much committed to the Red team, he helped spread my ideas despite what he knew were my strong Blue loyalties. (Unsolicited, he gave When Brute Force Fails, which is largely a rebuttal to Thinking About Crime, its best blurb.) Jim wanted to get things right, even when that meant acknowledging that he had earlier been wrong: a tendency not common among academics, or among participants in policy debates.
Recently I was asked to sign on to an amicus brief in a case involving the constitutionality of imposing life imprisonment without parole on those who were legally juveniles at the time of their offending behavior. The argument of the brief was straightforward: legislatures had passed juvenile LWOP under the influence of the idea that the 1980s had seen the rise of a new generation of “juvenile super-predators,” whose propensity to violence put the nation at risk of a bloodbath once they became adults unless they were kept behind bars. In fact, the upsurge in deadly violence by adolescents turned out to be merely a side-effect of the crack markets; instead of soaring, violent crime fell sharply. But the laws passed while the theory was in vogue remain in force.
Jim had been one of the promoters of the “super-predator” theory, though he was not its originator. When I glanced down the list of signatories for the amicus I found, at the bottom, “James Q. Wilson.”
Brooks has a nice quote from Wilson about how to be a conservative in the overwhelmingly liberal profession of academia: "Be twice as productive and four times as nice as your colleagues." That was James Q. Wilson.
The best way to honor his legacy is to buy and read Bureaucracy. You won't be sorry.
Following up on my rant against realist whinging and Rosato and Schuessler's non-whinging defense of realism, the following is a response by the managers of the Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) surveys. Their basic argument: no matter what realism says as a paradigm, individual realists do not exactly advocate what Rosato and Schuessler say they advocate.
Let the fight…continue!
Are There Neoconservative Wolves in the Realist Flock?
Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. —Matthew 7:15
Sebastian Rosato and John Schuessler recently argued that there is "a complete absence of bona fide realists inside the Beltway" and that if more policymakers employed realist thinking when making foreign policy, then we could expect the real "prospect of security without war." They bemoan the criticism that realist theory receives within both the academy and, especially, in foreign policymaking circles. "This is unfortunate, as realists seem to turn up on the right side of history as often as not -- the Vietnam and Iraq wars are prominent examples -- and may do so again if the Obama administration stumbles into a foolish war with Iran (a war that prominent realists have opposed)."
Leaving aside the notion that we ought to strive for a foreign policy that is only successful "as often as not," Rosato and Schuessler are correct that some prominent realists (e.g. Stephen Walt and Nuno Monteiro) oppose war with Iran. Several prominent realists also opposed the Vietnam War (e.g. Hans Morgenthau) and the war in Iraq (e.g. John Mearsheimer). But realists are not alone in their opposition. Many other non-randomly selected scholars representing other schools of thought also often oppose the use of force. For example, see liberals Joe Nye and Anne-Marie Slaughter or constructivists Marc Lynch and Colin Kahl who also oppose war with Iran.
Noting the policy preferences of a particular set of realists (or liberals/constructivists) does little to support the claim that having more realists inside the beltway would lead to fewer U.S. military interventions. An alternative way to assess the likely impact of inviting more realists into policymaking circles would be to survey all IR scholars and see whether self-identified realists are less likely, more likely, or no more or less likely on average than proponents of other IR paradigms to support the use of force abroad. As it happens, we've done that in a series of Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) surveys.
In 2004, we asked IR scholars in the U.S. a variety of questions about their support or opposition to the war in Iraq. Among dozens of other questions, we also asked scholars to report the primary IR paradigm that they employ in their research, their political ideology, and their substantive field of study. No matter how we asked the Iraq question (and we asked it four different ways), realists are no more likely than liberals or those who don't adhere to a particular paradigm to support or oppose the war in Iraq once we control for political ideology. If we leave ideology out of the model, realists are actually more likely to have supported the war in Iraq. Constructivism is the only paradigm that is statistically significantly correlated with opposition to the Iraq war after controlling for ideology. Here we plot the predicted probability of favoring the Iraq war by paradigm after controlling for ideology (error bars represent 90 percent confidence intervals):
The 2004 Iraq results are consistent with results from the 2011 survey regarding the potential use of force in Iran. We asked scholars "Would you approve of disapprove of the use of U.S. military forces ... if it were certain that Iran had produced a nuclear weapon." Again, realists were no more or less likely than adherents of other paradigms to support or oppose the use of force against Iran after controlling for ideology and field of study. Again, if we leave ideology out of the model, realists are more likely to support striking Iran (We discussed the results of the 2011 survey in more detail in a recent guest post on the Monkey Cage).
Our 2006 results differ. We asked scholars "If Iran continues to produce materials that can be used to develop nuclear weapons, would you support or oppose the U.S. taking military action against Iran?" In this case, realists are more likely to support intervention, even after controlling for ideology and a number of other factors.
So, our results from 2004 and 2011 fail to support the claim made by Rosato and Schuessler and our results from 2006 are the opposite of what their argument suggests.
Proponents of a realist foreign policy may rightly point out that our discussion above is about individuals who self-identify as realists, not realist theory. Perhaps there are just a bunch of respondents in our sample calling themselves "realists" who don't really understand the logic of their favored paradigm. And perhaps a more accurate reading of realist theory (as offered by Walt, Mearsheimer, Rosato and Schuessler) would lead to foreign policy prescriptions that are less bellicose and radically different from other IR paradigms. Perhaps. But it is individual realists — not some version of realist theory personified — who are appointed to policy posts in Washington to craft and implement policy, who write op-eds, blog posts, and journal articles to inform current policy makers, and who teach future policy makers at colleges and universities. And those realists (on average) were not less inclined to advocate the use of force in Iraq back in 2003 and they are not less inclined to advocate the use of force against Iran today.
In most of our tests above, it is only after controlling for political ideology that realists tend to fall in line with liberals and constructivists in opposing the use of force. The average ideology of self-identified realists in the sample helps to explain the gap between the realism that Rosato and Schusseler advocate and the "average" understanding of realism that is reflected in our surveys. As Brian Rathburn recently argued, there may be hawkish wolves within the realist flock — individuals who call themselves realists but who support policies that do not conform to the realism of Mearsheimer, Walt, Rosato, and Schuesster. As Rathbun explains, "The situation is...confused by the invocation of 'realism' as a guiding set of principles by both neoconservatives and conservatives."
To put our cards on the table, we find the Rosato and Schuessler version of realism both sensible and consistent with our own descriptions of realism to our students. We also agree that the Iraq and Vietnam wars did little to advance the interests of the United States, and that a war with Iran would also be a bad idea. We show that many IR scholars also agree for reasons related to their scholarly commitments and/or personal views. Currently, many scholars who self-identify as realists are also conservative and it may be their ideology, rather than the logic of realism that shapes their policy preferences. If that is the case, and they are dressing up their ideologically driven positions in realist trappings, Rosato and Schuessler are right to continue their efforts to better communicate the logic and implications of realist theory. But perhaps they also ought to warn their readers, "Beware those who come to you in realist clothing, for they may inwardly be ravenous neocons."
What do you think?
Last week I had a good rant about the persecution complex of realist international relations scholars.
This is a discussion that needs to continue, however -- see the responses by Justin Logan, Alan Alexandroff and Steve Saideman, for example. So, I invited two of the smartest and least-likely-to-whine realists I know to respond. John Schuessler (an assistant professor in the Department of Strategy at the Air War College) and Sebastian Rosato (an assistant professor of political science at Notre Dame) offer their take below. I will respond later in the week:
Realists are Right After All
Sebastian Rosato and John Schuessler
Dan Drezner claims that academic realists have a "strong, cultivated sense of victimhood." He is tired of what he sees as their unjustified griping that they are pariahs in the academy, among the general public, and in the foreign policy community. And he wants them to just come out and admit that they've failed to "popularize their own ideas."
As it happens, his post comes shortly after the publication of our article, "A Realist Foreign Policy for the United States" (Perspectives on Politics), in which we have a different take on these issues.
Let's start with whether or not people like realism. In our article, we ask what kind of policy the United States can pursue that will ensure its security while minimizing the likelihood of war. We then point out that IR scholars have tended to dismiss the possibility that realism has anything to contribute to the debate. The charge comes in a variety of forms, from ‘realism causes war' to ‘realism prevents progress.' This prompts critics to label realists as irresponsible or even immoral and to call for more ‘enlightened' or ‘morally acceptable' alternatives. It is for good reason that Robert Gilpin has said that "no one loves a political realist." This hostility extends to the policy community. As we discuss in our article, U.S. policymakers have taken and continue to take their cues not from realism but from its main theoretical antagonist, liberalism. There is no need to take our word for it, however. John Owen, Colin Dueck, and Michael Desch, among others, have pointed out that American foreign policy has been guided by liberal principles since the Founding.
Our article describes and defends a realist foreign policy to guide U.S. decision makers. Our recommendation, which is logically derived from realist principles, is that the United States should balance against other great powers as well as against hostile minor powers that inhabit strategically important regions of the world, while otherwise practicing restraint. We then show that had the United States and other great powers followed our realist prescriptions, some of the most important wars of the past century-including the world wars, the Vietnam War, and the Iraq War-might have been averted. Simply put, realism offers the prospect of security without war.
We wrote our article at least in part to popularize realist thinking. This would not count for much, and realists could still be accused of failing to spread their ideas, if we were the first realists to do so. But as we note, realists have been vocal contributors to the debate on U.S. foreign policy since World War II, even going so far as to oppose both the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Since the end of the Cold War, realists have been some of the loudest voices calling for restraint, with John Mearsheimer, Chris Layne and Steve Walt all urging the United States to adopt an "offshore balancing" posture, which overlaps considerably with our own preferred policy. On the merits, such an approach, and the realism that underpins it, should be popular. After all, if the United States had abided by its precepts, it likely would have been involved in fewer wars than it has been over the past few decades.
We did not write "A Realist Foreign Policy for the United States" with Dan's criticisms in mind, but if we had we would also have noted the following.
For one thing, we have cited only some of the evidence that Americans dislike realism. Dan argues elsewhere that the public is not unsympathetic to realism, but others have claimed that public opinion is essentially liberal. As for the foreign policy community, we share Justin Logan's sense that there's a dearth or even a complete absence of bona fide realists inside the Beltway. Realism's approval ratings in the academy are hardly better. Dan's concession that realism is not the most popular paradigm among IR scholars is an understatement-indeed, if you ignore Marxism, it's the least popular approach in the field. As a recent survey concludes, "realism does not have the hold on the field it is often thought to have" and, in fact, it never did. Realist research has never made up more than 15% of published articles, for example. And although we agree with Dan that realism commands a lot of attention in the classroom, it is typically presented as a crude, dated, unscientific, amoral approach that needs to be heavily amended or, preferably, jettisoned entirely. No other approach receives as much criticism.
This is unfortunate, as realists seem to turn up on the right side of history as often as not-the Vietnam and Iraq wars are prominent examples-and may do so again if the Obama administration stumbles into a foolish war with Iran (a war that prominent realists have opposed).
This is not to say that we feel victimized. But as card-carrying members of an academic approach that is excoriated and ignored despite being regularly vindicated by real world events and providing a better recipe for peace and stability than the alternatives, we admit to being confused.
Note: John Schuessler's views are his own and do not represent those of the Air War College, the Air Force, or the Department of Defense.
Over the break, I see that John Mearsheimer got the glowing Robert D. Kaplan treatment in The Atlantic. Kaplan is a master of this genre, writing my favorite profile of Samuel Huntington a little more than a decade ago. In his Atlantic essay, Kaplan smartly observes that John's real intellectual legacy should be his 2001 masterwork The Tragedy of Great Power Politics:
The best grand theories tend to be written no earlier than middle age, when the writer has life experience and mistakes behind him to draw upon. Morgenthau’s 1948 classic, Politics Among Nations, was published when he was 44, Fukuyama’s The End of History was published as a book when he was 40, and Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations as a book when he was 69. Mearsheimer began writing The Tragedy of Great Power Politics when he was in his mid-40s, after working on it for a decade. Published just before 9/11, the book intimates the need for America to avoid strategic distractions and concentrate on confronting China. A decade later, with the growth of China’s military might vastly more apparent than it was in 2001, and following the debacles of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, its clairvoyance is breathtaking.
Note to self: start outlining awesome, earth-moving grand theory now. [Note to Drezner: sorry, but you already dug your own grave when it comes to intellectual legacy--ed.]
It's not surprising that Kaplan, a geopolitics wonk, loves Tragedy, with its emphasis on the "stopping power of water" and all. The essay is worth reading in full -- but seeing as how
I'm quoted without attribution I've done a bit of research on realism, I can't let this casual assertion go by without some pushback:
[I]n a country that has always been hostile to what realism signifies, [Mearsheimer] wears his “realist” label as a badge of honor. “To realism!” he says as he raises his wineglass to me in a toast at a local restaurant. As Ashley J. Tellis, Mearsheimer’s former student and now, after a stint in the Bush administration, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment, later tells me: “Realism is alien to the American tradition. It is consciously amoral, focused as it is on interests rather than on values in a debased world. But realism never dies, because it accurately reflects how states actually behave, behind the façade of their values-based rhetoric.”...
For Mearsheimer, academia’s hostility to realism is evident in the fact that Harvard, which aims to recruit the top scholars in every field, never tried to hire the two most important realist thinkers of the 20th century, Morgenthau and Kenneth Waltz. But at Chicago, a realist like Mearsheimer, who loves teaching and never had ambitions for government service, can propound theories and unpopular ideas, and revel in the uproar they cause. Whatever the latest group-think happens to be, Mearsheimer almost always instinctively wants to oppose it—especially if it emanates from Washington.
This notion of realism being alien to the United States has been a recurring theme of realists, since, well, realism asserted itself in the American academy. It's impossible to have a conversation with John Mearsheimer longer than 15 minutes without him bringing up this point.
The thing is, it's a sloppy argument lacking in empirical foundation. Just for starters, even realists acknowledge that Ron Paul's campaign is doing well because it's sympatico with the realist critique of American foreign policy. More substantively, this canard is why I researched and wrote "The Realist Tradition in American Public Opinion" a few years ago. My principal conclusion from that essay:
Americans do hold some liberal aspirations for their conduct across the globe, and believe that morality should play a role in foreign affairs—in the abstract. However, surveys about foreign policy world views and priorities, the use of force, and foreign economic policies all reveal a strong realist bent among the mass American public. The overwhelming majority of Americans possess a Hobbesian world view of international relations. Americans consistently place realist foreign policy objectives— the securing of energy supplies, homeland security—as top foreign policy priorities. Objectives associated with liberal internationalism—strengthening the United Nations, promoting democracy and human rights—rank near the bottom of the list. On the uses of force, experimental surveys reveal that Americans think like intuitive neorealists; they prefer balancing against aggressive and rising powers while remaining leery about liberal-style interventions. On foreign economic policy, Americans think of trade through a relative gains prism, particularly if the trading partner is viewed as a rising economic power. Surveys and polling do suggest that Americans like multilateral institutions, but they appear to like them for realist reasons—they are viewed as mechanisms for burden-sharing.
It is somewhat more accurate to say that America's foreign policy elites are more hostile to realpolitik -- though even here, things can be exaggerated. The recent TRIP survey, for example, revealed that realism might not be the most popular paradigm among IR scholars, but it still commands a healthy fraction of academics, and commands an even greater fraction of attention in international relations courses.
This might seem like a small point, but it's an important one -- because to be honest I'm fed up with realists whining that everyone is against them. If there is one thing that academic realists have in common, it's a strong, cultivated sense of victimhood. "Our field despises us! Americans don't like us! The foreign policy community hates us!"
Cut it out already. There is a long intellectual lineage in the American academy -- starting with Hans Morgenthau and continuing with Mearsheimer and his students -- that evinces realist principles. There is an equally strong intellectual lineage of policy principals -- starting with George Kennan and continuing with Brent Scowcroft and his acolytes -- that walk the realist walk. Realists advocate a doctrine that genuinely resonates with a large swath of the American mass public. If realists fail to popularize their own ideas, then perhaps they should look in the mirror before invoking the "everyone hates us so we must be right" card.
Yesterday Foreign Policy published the graphics-friendly results of the Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP), as conducted by William and Mary’s Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations. Some of the results -- there's a plurality of constructivists in the field -- have already provoked some interesting blog discussion. There's also the more juicy debates over the best Ph.D. programs, best M.A. programs, and most influential people in our small, small universe.
Your humble blogger must confess to having a different interest in the results. The good folks running the survey were kind enough to add some questions about how scholars think Web 2.0 technologies -- blogs, wikis, tweets, podcasts, etc. -- fit into our discipline. This is a natural follow-on to some research that Charli Carpenter and I published recently. Since this is the first time these sorts of questions have been asked, this is strictly a "snapshot" of where the field was in 2011, not the trend over time. Still, given the anecdotal evidence of prior hostility to these technologies, it's an interesting snapshot.
Looking at the topline survey results, here are the most interesting tidbits I found:
1) More than 28% of respondents cited a blog post in their scholarship, and more than 56% used blogs as a teaching tool. The positive responses for newer Web 2.0 technologies -- Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube -- were much smaller on the research side. On the other hand, a stunning 90% of respondents said they used YouTube in their teaching.
2) 28% of respondents had, at a minimum, contributed to a blog. 7% of respondents "regularly contrribute" to a blog.
3) I tweeted some wrath last month about grading a paper that footnoted a Wikipedia page (for the record, I don't mind students using Wikipedia as a first-stop for research, but I do mind students who don't follow the hyperlinks). I see I would be joined in that assessment by about 85% of my IR colleagues.
4) No respondent thinks that contributing or maintaining a blog is important for advancing their academic career. Intriguingly, however, there is certainly more appreciation about the role of blogs in the discipline than is commonly understood. To be specific:
a) 25% of respondents do think blogs devoted to international relations should count in evaluating a professor's research output. I guarantee you that number would have been much lower even a few ywars ago;
b) More than 66% of respondents thought such an activity should count in evaluating a professor's service to the profession.
c) 90% of respondents believed that IR blogs had a beneficial impact on foreign policy formulation;
d) More than 51% of respondents thought that IR blogs had a beneficial impact on the discipline of international relations.
There's a lot more data to discuss, but I would say that this veeeeery interesting snapshot should be enough to generate some discussion for now. For example, do readers think that these numbers will plateau, grow or recede over time?
It's time to admit that I'm getting old. I feel the aches and pains from workouts a bit more keenly. I have to Google acronyms I see on Twitter all the time. No matter how hard I try, I just don't feel comfortable wearing an untucked shirt with a blazer. Only now am I discovering Alison Brie, which makes me way behind the curve. Most importantly, however, I find myself reading threat assessments made by junior international relations scholars and shaking my head at these young-security-kids-with-their-having-no-memory-of-the-Cold-War.
To explain where I'm coming from, here's what I wrote a little more than a year ago:
Terrorism and piracy are certainly security concerns -- but they don't compare to the Cold War. A nuclear Iran is a major regional headache, but it's not the Cold War. A generation from now, maybe China poses as serious a threat as the Cold War Soviet Union. Maybe. That's a generation away, however....
I'm about to say something that might be controversial for people under the age of 25, but here goes. You know the threats posed to the United States by a rising China, a nuclear Iran, terrorists and piracy? You could put all of them together and they don't equal the perceived threat posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
I'll stand by that statement, and I'm not the only one here at FP to believe it. Over the past week, however, I'm seeing some
young whippersnappers junior scholars evince a different estimate of threats to U.S. national security.
Over at Shadow Government, Paul Miller has a four-part series -- count 'em, one, two, three, four -- of blog posts arguing that the world is a more dangerous place now than before. He sums up his argument in this concluding section:
Essentially, the United States thus faces two great families of threats today: first, the nuclear-armed authoritarian powers, of which there are at least twice as many as there were during the Cold War; second, the aggregate consequences of state failure and the rise of non-state actors in much of the world, which is a wholly new development since the Cold War. On both counts, the world is more dangerous than it was before 1989. Essentially take the Cold War, add in several more players with nukes, and then throw in radicalized Islam, rampant state failure, and the global economic recession, and you have today.
I recognize that the world doesn't feel as dangerous as it did during the Cold War. During the Cold War we all knew about the threat and lived with a constant awareness-usually shoved to the back of ours minds to preserve our sanity-that we might die an instantaneous firey death at any moment. We no longer feel that way.
Our feelings are wrong. The Cold War engaged our emotions more because it was simple, easily understood, and, as an ideological contest, demanded we take sides and laid claim to our loyalties. Today's environment is more complex and many-sided and so it is harder to feel the threat the same way we used to. Nonetheless, the danger is real.
Meh. Actually, meh squared.
To be fair to Miller, I do think he is getting at something that has changed over time during the post-Cold War era. First, the threat envorinment does seem higher now than twenty years ago, as the Soviet Union was about to collapse. China is more economically powerful, Russia is more revanchist, North, Korea, Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons, the barriers to entry for non-state actors to wreak havoc has gone up. The likelihood of a conventional great power war is lower, but the likelihood of a serious attack on American soil seems higher than in late 1991. So in terms of trend, it does feel like the world is less safe.
What's also changed, however, is the tight coupling of the Cold War security environment (ironically, just as the security environment has become more loosely coupled, the global political economy has become more tightly coupled). Because the U.S. and U.S.S.R. were such implacable adversaries and because they knew it, the possibility of a small dispute -- Berlin, Cuba, a downed Korean airliner -- escalating very quickly was ever-present. The possibility of an accident triggering all-out nuclear war was also higher than was realized at the time. The current threat environment is more loosely interconnected, in that a small conflict seems less likely to immediately ramp up into another Cuban Missile Crisis. Indeed, the events of the past year support that point. Saudi Arabia essentially invaded Bahrain, and Iran did.... very little about it. The United States deployed special forces into the heart of Pakistan's military complex. The aftermath of that is undeniably uglier, but it's not we-are-at-DEFCON-ONE kind of ugly. Miller might be more accurate in saying that there is a greater chance of a security dust-up in today's complex threat environment, but there's a much lower likelihood of those dust-ups spiraling out of control.
In Miller's calculations, it seems that any country with a nuclear weapon constitutes an equal level of threat. But that's dubious on multiple grounds. First, none of the emerging nuclear states have anywhere close to a second-strike capability. If they were to use their nukes against the United States, I think they know that there's an excellent chance that they don't survive the counterstrike. Second, the counter Miller provides is that these authoritarian leaders are extra-super-crazy. I'm not going to defend either the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or Kim the Younger, but are these leaders more crazy than either Mao or Stalin or Kim Jong Il? Those are three of the worst leaders in history -- and none of them came close to using nuclear weapons. Finally, the Pakistan case is instructive -- even after getting nukes, and even after getting very cozy with radical terrorist groups, that country has refrained from escalating hostilities with India to the point of another general war.
As for the non-state threats, they are disturbing, but I'd posit that on this front the United States really is safer now than it was a decade ago. The only organization capable of launching a coordinated terrorist strike against the United States is now a husk of its former self. Indeed, I'd wager that Miller's emotions, or his memory of 9/11, are getting in the way of dispassionate analysis.
In essence, Miller conflates the number of possible threats with a greater magnitude of threats. I agree that there are more independent threats to the United States out there at present, but combined, they don't stack up to the Soviet threat. To put it another way, I prefer avoiding a swarm of mosquitoes to one really ravenous bear.
In related exaggerated threat analysis, Matthew Kroenig argues in Foreign Affairs that an airstrike on Iran might be the best of a bad set of options in dealing with Iran. This has set poor Stephen Walt around the bend in response, as op-eds advocating an attack on Iran are wont to do.
I've generally found both sides of the "attack Iran" debate to be equally dyspeptic, but in this case I do find Kroenig's logic to be a bit odd. Here's his arguments for why a nuclear Iran is bad and containment is more problematic than a military attack:
Some states in the region are doubting U.S. resolve to stop the program and are shifting their allegiances to Tehran. Others have begun to discuss launching their own nuclear initiatives to counter a possible Iranian bomb. For those nations and the United States itself, the threat will only continue to grow as Tehran moves closer to its goal. A nuclear-armed Iran would immediately limit U.S. freedom of action in the Middle East. With atomic power behind it, Iran could threaten any U.S. political or military initiative in the Middle East with nuclear war, forcing Washington to think twice before acting in the region. Iran’s regional rivals, such as Saudi Arabia, would likely decide to acquire their own nuclear arsenals, sparking an arms race. To constrain its geopolitical rivals, Iran could choose to spur proliferation by transferring nuclear technology to its allies -- other countries and terrorist groups alike. Having the bomb would give Iran greater cover for conventional aggression and coercive diplomacy, and the battles between its terrorist proxies and Israel, for example, could escalate. And Iran and Israel lack nearly all the safeguards that helped the United States and the Soviet Union avoid a nuclear exchange during the Cold War -- secure second-strike capabilities, clear lines of communication, long flight times for ballistic missiles from one country to the other, and experience managing nuclear arsenals. To be sure, a nuclear-armed Iran would not intentionally launch a suicidal nuclear war. But the volatile nuclear balance between Iran and Israel could easily spiral out of control as a crisis unfolds, resulting in a nuclear exchange between the two countries that could draw the United States in, as well.
These security threats would require Washington to contain Tehran. Yet deterrence would come at a heavy price. To keep the Iranian threat at bay, the United States would need to deploy naval and ground units and potentially nuclear weapons across the Middle East, keeping a large force in the area for decades to come. Alongside those troops, the United States would have to permanently deploy significant intelligence assets to monitor any attempts by Iran to transfer its nuclear technology. And it would also need to devote perhaps billions of dollars to improving its allies’ capability to defend themselves. This might include helping Israel construct submarine-launched ballistic missiles and hardened ballistic missile silos to ensure that it can maintain a secure second-strike capability. Most of all, to make containment credible, the United States would need to extend its nuclear umbrella to its partners in the region, pledging to defend them with military force should Iran launch an attack (emphasis added).
OK, first, exactly who is bandwagoning with Iran? Seriously, who? Kroenig provides no evidence, and I'm scratching my head to think of any data points. The SCAF regime in Egypt has been a bit more friendly, but Turkey's distancing is far more significant and debilitating for Tehran's grand strategy. Iran's sole Arab ally is in serious trouble, and its own economy is faltering badly. The notion that time is on Iran 's side seems badly off.
Second, Kroenig presume that a nuclear Iran would be more aggressive in the region and more likely to have a nuclear exchange with Iran. I will again point to India/Pakistan. Despite similar religious divides, and despite the presence of pliable non-state actors, those two countries have successfully kept a nuclear peace. Kroenig might have an argument that Israel/Iran is different, but it's not in this essay. Indeed, the bolded section contradicts Kroenig's own argument -- if Iran is not prepared to use its nuclear weapons, it seems unlikely that it will escalate crises to the point where its bluff is called. If Kroenig's own scholarship suggests that America's nuclear superiority would still be an effective deterrent, then I'm not sure why he portrays the Iran threat in such menacing terms.
There's more, but this post is long enough anyway. Both Kroenig and Miller are correct to highlight current threats. But, to put it gently, until all of these threats, combined, can cause this to happen in under an hour, I'm sleeping soundly.
Am I missing anything?
Assistant Professor of International Political Economy
Rank of assistant professor beginning September 2012. While we are open to specialty, consideration will be given to candidates with a substantive interest in emerging market economies or Europe and a methodological interest in quantitative approaches (emphasis added).
Review of applications will begin January 3, 2012. Questions relating to this search should be emailed to IPEsearch-at-Tufts.edu
Now I know there's just a booming market for junior IPE types, so I'm sure no one reading this will be interested in a tenure-track position in the Boston area. Still, I thought I'd put it out there.
And, now that my home institution is actually creating a job, I'd like all of the tax cuts and subsidies that politicians seem so eager to proffer nowadays. That, or a dedicated parking spot.
Mary Carmichael has a fascinating story in the Boston Globe on how many American universities, which were so keen to create ocerseas satellite campuses, are now retrenching. The disturbing part of the story is the "monkey see, monkey do" nature of the international expansions of the past decade:
Over the last decade, universities spurred by dreams of global cachet - and, sometimes, by foreign governments eager to underwrite them - built or rented whole campuses and offered Western-style education abroad. But now some schools are running out of cash as they struggle to attract enough students and develop a viable business model....
From 2006 to 2009, the roster of international branch campuses grew by 43 percent, according to the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, a British research firm. Qatar drew an all-star list, including Cornell, Georgetown, Northwestern, and Carnegie Mellon. By 2009, the United Arab Emirates had 40 international branches.
Middle-ranking colleges felt pressure to compete, even though some could not get foreign governments to pay their bills. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas, went to Singapore. City University of Seattle went to Switzerland. Troy, a public university in Alabama, founded 14 global branches.
“Some American campuses went into it wanting to make money,’’ said Phillip Altbach, director of the Boston College Center for International Higher Education. “But many of them got into it for prestige, planting the flag overseas, a presidential feeling that they needed to be doing adventurous things.’’
Not everyone shared that vision. Harvard, for instance, has not founded any international branch campuses recently. Neither did MIT nor Tufts University.
“Every time I looked at one of these deals I said, ‘No, I don’t think so,’ ’’ said Lawrence Bacow, who has been a high-ranking administrator at all three schools. “Philosophically, I think there’s an important role for higher ed to play in the developing world, but it’s not to create knockoffs of what we do here.’’
1) Go, Jumbos!! In your face, rest of higher education outside of the Boston area!!!
2) The logic of expanding overseas because of "prestige, planting the flag overseas, a presidential feeling that they needed to be doing adventurous things" is a depressing data point about the ways in which the academy can be slaves to
intellectual and business trends.
3) To be fair, I'm not sure this story tells the whole, er, story. There's no mention of the how the 2008 financial crisis and Great Recession might have affected the viability of these expansion plans. There's also nothing on the spread of distance learning. Fletcher's Global Masters of Arts Program, for example, combines a few intensive weeks of on-location education with a lot of online interaction. So although the tenor of this story is about the retrenchment of American universities, there are compensating trends that are still pushing American universities into the global marketplace.
4) Carmichael notes that one reason for retrenchment has been the difficulty of maintaining the quality of academic standards abroad. This is encouraging yet still modestly surprising. Why hasn't an American university gone the "f**k it, let's become a diploma mill" route as a way of making money? Why hasn't any university done this?
I suspect this might be one powerful virtue of the university degree functioning as a credential, but I'm curious to hear thoughts about this in the comments.
5) I'm thinking that Suffolk University's PR people can't be pleased with this kicker to the story:
At the end of last semester, Suffolk finally abandoned Dakar. It did not, however, abandon its students. Almost all have transferred to Boston under a special deal that charges them $10,000 in tuition, the same they paid when attending the Dakar branch and about one-third what their classmates pay. Suffolk foots the rest.
The students are adapting, though it is not easy. They dread winter and think the city’s buildings all look the same: impersonal. Some of their classmates have asked well-meaning but ignorant questions. Did they grow up living in trees? Isn’t Africa a great country? (emphasis added)
Are you an easily befuddled academic? Have you heard about Twitter but are afraid of new-fangled Web 2.0 technologies? Would you like to know more?
If so, the London School of Economics is ready to help you out! They have produced this useful Twitter guide for academics to help even the most technophobic of professors master this technnology, in just a few easy steps. Go check it out!
My only criticism of the guide is that LSE's three categories of tweets -- "substantive", "conversational" and "middle-ground" -- leaves out the bulk of academic tweets I tend to read and write, which would best be categorized as "snarky."
[This blog post feels... strange and old-fashioned--ed.] This is the biggest effect of Twitter on blogging -- this kind of post is now practically obsolete. An entire category of "linking" posts that I used to write with decent frequency have been supplanted by tweets containing a url and a one-sentence descriptor/critique. The only reason I'm blogging this one is that a tweet wouldn't reach the desired audience of Academics Who Are Scared of Twitter.
With the passing of APSA and the dawning of Labor Day, it's time for people to go back to school and Think Deep Thoughts. In the realm of international relations theory, Thanassis Cambanis' essay in the Sunday Boston Globe Ideas section is a great starter course for thinking about the way the world works. His basic thesis:
Instead of a flurry of new thinking at the highest echelons of the foreign policy establishment, the major decisions of the past two administrations have been generated from the same tool kit of foreign policy ideas that have dominated the world for decades. Washington’s strategic debates - between neoconservatives and liberals, between interventionists and realists - are essentially struggles among ideas and strategies held over from the era when nation-states were the only significant actors on the world stage. As ideas, none of them were designed to deal effectively with a world in which states are grappling with powerful entities that operate beyond their control....
As yet, no major new theory has taken root in the most influential policy circles to explain how America should act in this kind of world, in which Wikileaks has made a mockery of the diplomatic pouch and Silicon Valley rivals Washington for cultural influence. But there are at least some signs that people in power are starting to try in earnest. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has openly integrated the search for a new paradigm into her policy making. In universities, think tanks, and the government, thinkers trying to grapple with this fluid world structure are finally getting attention in the circles where their ideas could shape policy.
Read the whole, provocative thing -- if you agree with Cambanis' arguments, then it certainly represents a data point in favor of Anne-Marie Slauighter's vision of how world politics operates.
My onlytweak of Cambanis' essay is that he repeatedly stresses the need for a new generation of strategic concepts and international relations theories to guide U.S. grand strategy, and then lists as examples the following:
Joseph Nye, a Harvard political scientist who served in the Carter and Clinton administrations and has advised Secretary of State Clinton, was one of the pioneers. In the 1990s, he coined the term “soft power,” arguing that sometimes the most effective way for America to promote its interests would be through influencing global health and the environment, or culture and education. His latest book, “The Future of Power,” counsels that America can preserve its influence if it reconceives its institutions and priorities to deal with a world where the energy is shifting from the West to the East, as well as from states to non-state actors. Michael Doyle at Columbia University, a seminal theorist whose idea of a “democratic peace” in the 1990s crucially inflected policy with the belief that democracies don’t fight each other, now talks about the notion of an age of the “empowered individual,” where lone actors can alter the trajectory of states and of history as never before. Stephen Walt, also at Harvard, argues that in the new era America simply needs to start by acknowledging its limits: that with less muscle and less extra money, the first step will be to streamline its goals in a way that so far politicians have been loath to do.
No offense to Joseph Nye, Michael Doyle, and Steve Walt -- these are Great Men of interntional relaions thought. The notions that Cambanis lists here, however, are not "new" in any sense. Which leads me to wonder whether Cambanis has defined the problem correctly. Is it that international relations theory has gone stale... or is it simply that the wrong set of existing theories are in vogue today?
What do you think?
Over at Abu Muqawana, Andrew Exum and Erin Simpson provide a useful breakdown of the choices available for those
misbegotten fools young people thinking about getting a graduate degree in international affairs of some kind. Not surprisingly, the choice is highly contingent on a) your level of patience; and b) what you want to do with the degree afte you graduate.
Besides the criminal omission of The Greatest International Affairs Program in the World, I have only one cavil to their analysis. When they discuss getting a Ph.D. in the first place, they note:
[H]ere’s the dirty secret about DC. Everybody wants to hire PhDs, but most people don’t know anything about them. They won’t read your dissertation, they aren’t going to call your advisor (thank goodness), and most won’t know until it’s too late whether you’ve actually been trained in anything useful. So if you just want the credential, stop reading now and just find the cheapest, quickest program and git ‘er done.
And here I must dissent on one minor point and one major point. First, a small correction: if you're trying to get a job in DC and you're a newly-minted Ph.D., damn straight your advisor will get a phone call. This doesn't always happen, but it's more likely than not. I've been on the receiving end of several of these since arriving at Fletcher. True, one could always try not to list your advisor as a reference. The thing is, that is a massive red flag signaling that your advisor doesn't think all that much of you.
Now, the major point: if your goal is to just get the Ph.D. credential, do not "find the cheapest, quickest program and git ‘er done." Instead, just run away -- run away as fast as you can.
I've said this before and I'll say it again -- there is no such thing as grinding out a Ph.D. People who think that can "gut out" a dissertation will never finish it. Unless you love whatever it is you're writing about, you'll never finish. You'll hate the topic at some point -- and without the love, you'll find other ways to occupy your time than dissertating. This is particularly true at lower-ranked Ph.D.-granting institutions, because all of them aspire to be higher-ranked Ph.D.-granting institutions and believe the only way to do that is to "tool up" their students to within an inch of their lives.
This is one way in which a Ph.D. is different from a JD, an MBA or an MA. Coursework can be gutted out, as can exams. Writing 75,000 words on a topic requires something else, and anyone who tells you differently is selling you something.
Because most traditional Ph.D. programs start out with coursework, I'll understand, dear readers, if you don't believe me. To take advantage of the pedagogical tools of the Internet, however, here's the best video I know that captures this decision:
And, just to be clear, aspiring Ph.D. students: I'm the guy with the weird Scottish accent, the bunny is the Ph.D. program, and all y'all are the ones suffering from the blood and gore.
Unless you really want to kill that bunny, just walk away.
Darren McCollester/Getty Images
Earlier this week Walter Russell Mead blogged about the mortal danger facing a prominent international relations theory:
American fast food continues to worm its way ever deeper into Pakistani affections. Hardee’s recently joined McDonald’s in Islamabad and both are doing well, says the Washington Post.
Since McDonald’s is also thriving in India, an IR theory is about to be put to a test. The “McDonald’s theory” holds that no two countries with McDonald’s in them will ever go to war. Once you have a middle class big enough to support hamburger franchises, the theory runs, war is a thing of the past.
I wish. The 2008 war between Russia and Georgia dealt the theory a blow; an India-Pakistan war would be the end.
Whether or not that happens, the theory is a bust. Countries often become more militaristic as their middle classes rise.
A touch a touch, I do confess it!! It appears that the collective reputation of international relations theory has been tarnished, yet -- wait a second, who came up with that theory in the first place?
As it turns out, it was not some academic IR theorist like me, but rather a Prominent Foreign Affairs Columnist of Some Renown … kinda like Mead (but not really). Yes, it was indeed Tom Friedman who first suggested "The Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention."
Mead concludes that the theory is a bust, and Wikipedia appears to back him up:
(Actually, Wikipedia is underestimating how many times the Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention has been falsified … according to Wikipedia. The Kargil War was in 1999, not 1998, and according to casualty estimates, there were more than 1,000 battle deaths, which meets the standard definition of a war.)
Empirical quibbles aside, this certainly falsifies Friedman's original "strong" hypothesis of "no two countries that both have a McDonald's have ever fought a war against each other." The thing is, international relations theories are kinda like … er … zombies. Even if you think you've killed them off, they can be revived.
Let's water down Friedman's strong hypothesis a bit. Is it true that, "two countries that both have a McDonald's are significantly less likely to fight a war against each other?" Mead thinks the answer is no, but my hunch is that it would be yes. A cursory glance at the scholarly literature suggests that no one has actually tested it, so … get to it, aspiring MA thesis writers!!
That said, even if the weaker version was true, would it be useful from either a theoretical or policy perspective? I think the answer here is no, and this is one important way in which academic IR theorists do better than, say, Tom Friedman. The comparative advantage of the Golden Arches Theory is pedagogical -- it's easy to explain to anyone. The problem is that McDonald's is really an intervening variable and not the actual cause of any peace. And while IR scholars sometimes roll their eyes at democratic peace theory, the literature has produced significant progress about the ways in which that hypothesis is constrained (in a world of democratizing states, for example).
Mead is correct to observe that this particular IR theory is in trouble. I'm marginally more sanguine about the state of academic IR theory overall, however.
MIRA OBERMAN/AFP/Getty Images
As I noted last month, I gave a small talk to the International Policy Summer Institute's Bridging the Gap project. As a spur to the participants, I offered to publish the best blog post submitted to yours truly
And the winner is.... Nuno Monteiro, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Yale. Nuno's entry is a public service post, because it provides a rundown of the lessons he learned at IPSI about how political scientists can be relevant to policymakers:
Bridging the Gap between Academia and Policy
After a terrific week of briefings at IPSI on how political scientists can contribute to policy, here are twelve rules I distilled:
1. There are many ways of influencing policy, both direct and indirect. You can exert direct influence by working for the government or for a think-tank. You can also exert indirect influence by publishing blog posts (either as a guest or regular blogger), opeds, policy articles, and doing media. Create a strategy that includes both types of influence.
2. The dichotomy between scholarship and policy is largely false. Most political science topics have policy implications, so think through a topic in scholarly and policy terms. These often cross-pollinate. The key is to choose research topics that allow for double-dipping: topics that have both scholarly import and policy relevance. Then produce scholarly and also policy-oriented products.
3. There are four types of products academics can provide to policymakers. Framework: what's the appropriate theory or historical analogy to understand recent events? Data: what are the patterns and what should the ground truths be? Forecast: what are the possible scenarios? Advice: what should we do?
4. Be willing to be wrong. Even if it is a probabilistic judgment, accept the risk of taking a position.
5. Don't be shy, but don't be a pain. Put your stuff out, send feelers to think-tanks and journals, but make it short. Any pitch -- for a piece, an oped, a research project -- that takes more than two minutes to read is too long. Be persistent but not insistent (i.e., don't pitch the same idea twice to the same place).
6. Keep a twin-track curriculum. Think-tanks offer opportunities for non-resident fellows, in which you are asked to join a few events every year, write a report, or join a taskforce. This enables you to have a twin-track curriculum in which you always have an academic and a policy affiliation.
7. There are six qualities policymakers appreciate. Be engaging, constructive, future-oriented, discreet, concise, and have pity on those who have to make decisions. And remember, you're an expert, not a pundit.
8. Don't think of a policy piece as a lesser version of a research piece. Policy pieces are not dumbed-down research pieces. They must have specific policy recommendations. Seek to understand what policymakers need before you seek to be understood.
9. Maximize different networks. Don't just network in academia. Try to build networks in media, think-tanks, and government. Attend events and follow up.
10. Get institutional cover and buy in. Give your bosses a sense of why it is that you want to engage in policy debates, and of how this is a plus for your institution. If there's a chance that something you wrote or said is controversial and will make a splash, give your boss a heads-up in advance.
11. Look for moments in which your specialty is in high demand. There will come a moment when everyone will want to know about your specialty. You should be prepared for when that opportunity arrives. If possible, take the obituary-writer approach: write drafts of possible blog posts, opeds, or policy pieces addressing a problem you see brewing. Then send them out fast.
12. Pick your battles and mix vanilla with habanero topics. If you only do vanilla topics you'll get bored, but if you only do habanero topics you'll get tired and also potentially lose your credibility. Aim for the sweet spot between being an organic intellectual and becoming seen as a wacko.
What say ye, readers -- has Nuno missed anything?
Your humble blogger has been rather persistent in pointing out the virtues of bridging the gap between international relations scholars and policymakers, and rather adamant in insisting why this hasn't happened:
Now I see in The Forum that James Lee Ray is also arguing that political science merits a greater role in foreign policymaking. The abstract for his article:
Foreign policy decision makers tend to rely on historical analogies. The “surge” in Afghanistan, for example, was inspired in part by the “surge” in Iraq. Processes for dealing with foreign policy issues involving the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were substantially different from those processes in the Bush and Obama administrations aimed at dealing with economic crises in 2008 and 2009. The latter processes were influenced extensively by economists, especially in the Obama administration. The decisions to send additional troops to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan involved relatively few political scientists. More substantial input from political scientists in the decision making process about the surge in Afghanistan might have produced more knowledgeable and informative analyses of relevant historical and political data in the form of structured focused comparisons of the wars and counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as analyses and interpretations of data on larger numbers of cases pertaining to broader phenomena of which the US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan are examples. Perhaps political scientists deserve a role within foreign policy making processes more similar to that reserved for economists in processes focusing on economic issues.
Within the article itself, Ray is quite explicit in comparing the influence of political scientists to economists:
[I]t is probably safe to say that no President would consider appointing anyone but economists to the Council of Economic Advisers. So perhaps there could be a space for political scientists in foreign policy-making processes analogous to that niche for economists on the Council of Economic Advisers in processes set in place by the U.S. government to deal with economic issues?...
It is true, perhaps, that economics is a more coherent academic field of inquiry than political science, or than the subfield that deals with international politics. Perhaps for that reason, economists are better placed to offer advice to governmental decision-makers than are political scientists. Nevertheless, the argument here is that the greater deference shown to economists by government officials when economic issues are dealt with than that accorded to political scientists when foreign policy issues arise is not entirely justified....
If the argument here is valid, then perhaps there should be more space set aside in foreign policy-making processes in the U.S. government for political scientists. For example, perhaps National Security Advisers should be political scientists, for reasons analogous to those that have up to this time led to the appointment of nothing but economists to the Council of Economic Advisers.
I pretty sympathetic with Ray's conclusions, and therefore I really, really want to agree with his causal logic. It's just that I don't.
The gist of Ray's evidence is that the Obama administration relied on analogical reasoning in deciding on the Afghan strategy in 2009, and therefore concluding that a "surge" there would work as it did in Iraq. If more political scientists had been in the room, Ray posits, perhaps this cognitive failure would have been avoided. In comparison, Ray observes that the Iraq surge decision was lousy with advanced poli sci degrees (including David Petraeus, William Luti, Eliot Cohen, J.D. Crouch, and FP's own Peter Feaver).
There are a few holes in this analysis. First, I'm not totally sold on the cases used by Ray. True, political scientists played a large role in the surge decision in Iraq, which is conventionally viewed as having worked. The thing is, political scientists (Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, William Kristol) played an even larger role in the decision to invade Iraq , which is conventionally viewed as having not worked. Ray's case slection is too circumscribed.
Second, had Obama consulted more international relations scholars, he would have received perfectly muddled advice. Ray himself acknowledges this:
The evidence just reviewed that is potentially relevant to the decision by the Obama Administration about the surge in Afghanistan tends to point in diverse directions. Some of it casts doubt on the prudence of the Obama Administration’s decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, while other findings could be used to support that decision.
Had Obama or his advisor consulted extensively with academic IR specialists, he still would have needed to exercise political judgment to determine which advice was worth following.
To be clear, I strongly favor having more Ph.D.s in political science in the loop on foreign policy decisionmaking. I'm just not sure Ray's case is all that persuasive.
What do you think?
Alex Wong/Getty Images
To commemorate the fifth-year anniversary of being denied tenure, the Official Blog Wife and I have joint essays in the Chronicle of Higher Education today on the aftereffects of that decision. For most people who are denied tenure, the costs are financial, familial and emotional. In my own idiosyncratic case, I was fortunate enough to be spared the first two of the three, which allowed this to be a "controlled case" focusing solely on the emotional legacy.
My big takeaway:
To be blunt, my wife's essay is much better than mine, and is chock-full of embarrassing anecdotes like this one:
Erika Drezner is a social worker and coordinator of teen services at the Asperger’s Association of New England. She has learned over time that when arguing with Dan she is right all of the time."
Your humble blogger is currently knee-deep in dissertation prospectuses (prospecti?), a rather curious literary form. Here at the Fletcher School, a dissertation prospectus is a Ph.D. student's attempt to describe his or her dissertation topic, including the central puzzle, the deficiencies in the existing literature, the proposed hypotheses and the testing strategy.
A prospectus runs about 60-80 pages and, to be blunt, is extremely painful to both authors and readers. It's painful for the authors because, after having spent most of graduate school ripping what they read to intellectual shreds, they discover that coming up with their own original arguments is actually a pretty challenging experience. It's painful for the readers because it's the academic equivalent of teenage poetry -- there's a lot of strong feelings and beliefs surging through the text in a thoroughly out-of-control and ungainly manner (and that's the final version of the prospectus -- you can only imagine what the draft versions of these documents look like). Indeed, the adolescence metaphor works astonishingly well -- I have engaged or witnessed many a conversation like the following:
Ph.D. ADVISOR: I think you should stop reading Wendt [or insert other trendy academic name here]. I don't like the way his arguments are shaping your argument.
Ph.D. STUDENT: But you don't understand!! I love him -- as much as love can be socially constructed!! He's let me see the world in a whole new way. He's the key to everything!!!
Ph.D. ADVISOR: You're writing a dissertation on cooperation among transnational criminal groups -- I just don't think his argument works here.
PH.D. STUDENT: How would you know which arguments work and which ones don't?! When was the last time you read someone who moved you -- the Stone Age?! I bet you've never read a piece of constructivist scholarship in your life. You don't understand me at all!!!!!
Ph.D. ADVISOR: Calm down -- I just think you might be better off if you read other people is all. This is just an intellectual crush. It will pass.
Ph.D. STUDENT!!! No!! Never!! I've never read anyone else who can speak to my topic like him. Wendt and I will stay together forever!!
Usually, the final dissertations look significantly better -- and thank God for that.
As you might surmise, this is not an easy literary form to conquer, and in most cases is just a hoop that should be jumped through as quickly as possible. Reading a bunch of these back-to-back can cause one to start muttering about how grad students ain't what they used to be and what-not. I am usually able to resist such mutterings by forcefully reminding myself that my own dissertation prospectus was such a bland and vague piece of crap ("I want to write something about sanctions") that I purged it from my hard drive as soon as possible in order to
thwart all my future biographers achieve some peace of mind.
Every once in a while, however, a Ph.D. student hits upon the delicate alchemy of fear and arrogance necessary to write an engaging prospectus that suggests an excellent dissertation. Maybe not even an excellent prospectus, but just a scintillating paragraph or two that suggests the student's intellectual trajectory is really, really promising.
This morning I stumbled across one of those paragraphs in a fascinating prospectus on international water boundary disputes (really!), which I now share with you:
While other water law studies have attempted to analyze the origins of water law, the study of water law in ancient societies tends to be cursory and rife with misnomers and mistakes. For instance, most cite the Hammurabi Code as the oldest water law, when with little effort it is easily discoverable that both the codes of Lipit Ishtar and Ur Nammu both contain water provisions, pre-date Hammurabi by at least 250 years, and clearly provide the normative underpinnings on which the Hammurabi Code was constructed. This study will therefore seek to build a solid historical foundation on which to ground further analysis of modern transboundary water law.
It's the phrase "easily discoverable" that tickled my intellectual fancy -- and, fortunately, the rest of the prospectus appears to back up the promise of that paragraph.
It's moments like these that forcefully remind me that, for all of the problems and pathologies with the modern academy, I really, really, really, really love my job.
I'm starting to read Dani Rodrik's provocative book The Globalization Paradox, which is well-written, accessible, and (so far, at least) quite fair-minded with respect to the various economic debates over the costs and benefits of globalization. It's also, really, a book of political economy, so it's nice to see that, based on his footnotes, Rodrik has more than a passing familiarity with political science in general and global political economy in particular.
I'll blog more about Rodrik's substantive arguments once I've finished the book, but I wanted to take this opportunity to offer a mild dissent from an early point he makes about the social sciences. In his introduction (p. xx), Rodrik argues that the ideas of economists are very powerful -- more powerrful than the other social sciences. Why?:
It is perhaps natural for an economist like me to think that ideas--and economists' ideas in particular--matter a whole lot. But I think it is hard to overestate the influence that these ideas have hadf in molding our understanding of the world around us, shaping the conversation among politicians and other decisionmakers, and constraining as well as expanding our choices. Political scientists, sociologists, historians, and others would no doubt claim equal credit for their professions. Policy choices are surely constrained by special interests and their political organization, by deeper societal trends, and by historical conditions. But by virtue of its technical wizardry and appearance of certitude, economic science has had the upper hand since at least the end of World War II. It has provided the language with which we discuss public policy and shaped the topology of our collective mental map (emphasis added).
Now, Rodrik is correct up to a point. Economists have been viewed as being at the head of the ssocial sciences for quite some time, and their unity of method probably has something to do with it. That said, this explanation only goes so far. As many have lamented, the field of international relations has increasingly embraced the tools of economics to develop and test theories, and yet the foreign policy community has not displayed an equal eagerness to have the topology of their mental maps shaped by this kind of analysis. Rodrik does not explain why economic policymakers decided to accept these methods as a valid basis to form policy.
To repeat a point I made a few months ago:
[T]he fundamental difference between economic policy and foreign policy is that the former community accepts the idea that economic methodologies and theory-building enterprises have value, and are worth using as a guide to policymaking. This doesn't mean economists agree on everything, but it does mean they are all speaking a common language and accept the notion of external validity checks on their arguments.
That consensus simply does not exist within the foreign policy community.... Many members of the foreign policy community explicitly reject the notion that social science methodologies and techniques can explain much in world politics. They therefore are predisposed to reject the kind of scholarship that political scientists of all stripes generate. This might be for well-founded reasons, it might be simple
innumeracyhostility to the academy, or it might be a combination of the two. I'd love to have a debate about whether that's a good or bad thing, but my point is that's the reality we face.
I had this observation confirmed in conversations I had with a political scientist working for the current administratioon who shall remain nameless. Whenever this person attempted to discuss generic political science observations in a staff meeting, the inevitable response by someone in the room was, "well, that sounds nice in theory, but it doesn't apply to this concrete situation." I guarantee you that no one has ever said anything like that to Ben Bernanke in a policy setting.
So, to sum up: when economists use formal models, it's technical wizardry. When political scientists do the same, it's hidebound scholasticism.
There's a supply side and a demand-side to the interactions between academics and policymakers. Both economists and political scientists have supplied copious amounts of high-quality research, much of it relying on formal models and statistical tests. On the demand side, however, only one group of policymakers has embraced this research with open arms.
Am I missing anything?
Last week I received the following news release from the National Research Council:
A new report from the National Research Council recommends that the U.S. intelligence community adopt methods, theories, and findings from the behavioral and social sciences as a way to improve its analyses. To that end, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) should lead a new initiative to make these approaches part of the intelligence community’s analytical work, hiring and training, and collaborations.
The report, which was requested by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, urges the intelligence community to routinely evaluate the performance of its analytical methods. One important step in that direction is to attach whenever possible numeric probabilities with uncertainty estimates for the events that analysts assess and forecast. Without explicit quantifiers, analysts cannot communicate their conclusions clearly or evaluate the accuracy of their analyses over time. Policymakers need to know how confident analysts are and how well they understand the limits to their knowledge, the report emphasizes. It recommends many specific steps that DNI can implement as part of analysts’ everyday work.
"The social and behavioral sciences have long studied topics central to analysts’ work, such as how people evaluate evidence and collaborate on difficult tasks,” said Baruch Fischhoff, chair of the committee that wrote the report and professor of social and decision sciences and of engineering and public policy at
Carnegie Mellon University, . “That research has had some impact on that work. Our report shows how the community can take full advantage of that research – and of its dedicated analysts – by adopting an evidence-based approach to its own analytical methods. We envision a community engaged in continual learning, both absorbing scientific research into the analytical process and evaluating its own performance." Pittsburgh
Now, this all sounds good to this social scientist's ears, but there's one little thing nagging at me. A quick glance at the "Committee on Behavioral and Social Science Research to Improve Intelligence Analysis for National Security" reveals the following membership: four psychology professors, three political scientists, three business professors, and a public policy professor.
Now, no offense, but is it really shocking that a group of social and behavioral scientists conclude that their work should be embraced more by the intelligence community?
None of this is to say that I disagree with the report's findings. I concur that the intelligence community should “ensure that the intelligence community (IC) applies the principles, evidentiary standards, and findings of the behavioral and social sciences.” And I wholeheartedly agree that there should be more "exchange of expertise between the IC and academic research environments." (Based on this survey, by the way, a fair percentage of IR scholars already do paid or unpaid work for the government).
The tools of social sciences are not magic bullets, but they're actually quite useful, and I want analysts to rely on every tool in their cognitive arsenal. To use a baseball metaphor, think of this report as suggesting that sabermetrics would be a useful complement to traditional scouting as a way of analyzing talent..
The thing is, as much as I might want to be viewed as a thoroughly detached and dispassionate expert on these questions, I fear that the rest of the world will view this an exercise in interest group lobbying. The report would have been more persuasive if more "old-school" intelligence analysts had signed off on the report (though Thomas Fingar was one of the signatories).
The latest issue of International Studies Review is a special symposium on theory and practice in international relations. Thomas Weiss and Anoulak Kittikhoun edited the special issue. The goal, according to them:
This special presidential issue addresses the theory–practice question across major institutions and global challenges. First, what is the influence of scholars on institutions? What accounts for influence or the lack thereof? What type of future engagement should exist for scholars on these institutions? Second, what are acceptable theoretical approaches to a given global challenge? What are the existing policies and practices, and do they coincide with dominant scholarly approaches? What relationship would be most useful between theory and practice on any issue?... [T]hese pages explore the impacts of scholars on policymaking and institutions as well as the limitations of theory in responding to global challenges. Stereotypes obfuscate the complex reality that scholarship matters.
The whole issue is a real treat, including great articles by Bruce Jentleson and Ely Ratner on how to bridge the scholar/policymaker gap, Ann Florini on international relations theory and the rise of Cina and India, Roland Paris on failed and failing states, Elizabeth DeSombre on global environmental politics, Andrew Hurrell on global governance, and
some zombie fanatic yours truly on targeted economic sanctions.
This looks like it should be a great way to get policymakers interested in the academic study of world politics, and vice versa. Of course, to be useful, it helps to be able to access the articles in the first place. And since all of these essays appear to be subscriber-only, it looks like
this is yet another brilliant self-inflicted wound demonstrating how academic journals guarantee their continued irrelevance in the policymaking world by hiding behind a friggin' paywall the bridging will be mostly on the academic side of the ledger.
As Laura Rozen, Michael Peel, Farah Stockman, Jon Wiener, John Sides, Siddhartha Mahanta & David Corn, and various reporters have observed, an awful lot of high-powered academics and academic institutions have some 'splainin to do about their relationship with Libya's Qaddafi family.
The Monitor Group ferried a number of high-profile international studies scholars, including Joseph Nye, Robert Putnam, Michael Porter, Francis Fukuyama, Nicholas Negroponte, and Benjamin Barber to the shores of Tripoli in an effort to burnish the regime's image. The London School of Economics and some of its faculty were deeply involved with Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi, as he earned his Ph.D. there in 2007 with a dissertation on -- wait for it -- liberal democracy and civil society. Even FP's own Steve Walt went for a brief visit in 2010.
As the Qaddafi family has morphed from pragmatic strongmen to bloodthirsty killers, the fallout in the academic world has been uneven. On the one hand, Howard Davies resigned as the head of LSE in the wake of the Libyan revelations. The Monitor Group acknowledged in a statement that, "We … believed that these visits could boost global receptivity for Mr. Gaddafi's stated intention to move the country more towards the West and open up to the rest of the world. Sadly, it is now clear that we, along with many others, misjudged that possibility."
On the other hand, Benjamin Barber sounds totally unapologetic in his interview with FP. His basic message is that "second-guessing the past, I mean, it's just 20/20 hindsight." Then there's this response:
I mean, did LSE take Saif's money -- the Gaddafi Foundation money -- improperly? No, they all took it properly. And promised a scholarly center to study the Middle East and North Africa. And offer scholarships to students from the region. Just the way Harvard and Georgetown and Cambridge and Edinburgh have done -- not with Libyan money, but with Saudi money (look at Prince Alwaleed bin Talal). By the way, not just Monitor, but McKinsey, Exxon, Blackstone, the Carlyle Group -- everybody was in it. The only difference for Monitor was that it actually had a project that was aimed at trying to effect some internal change. Everybody else who went in, which is every major consultancy, every major financial group, went in to do nothing more than make big bucks for themselves. But now people are attacking Monitor because they took consulting fees for actually trying to effect reform and change.
Finally, there is an important background controversy here: It is about whether academics should stay in the ivory tower and do research and write books? Or engage in the world on behalf of the principles and theories their research produces? Do you simply shut your mouth and write? Or do you try to engage? This is an old question that goes back to Machiavelli, back to Plato going to Syracuse: Do you engage with power? Sometimes power is devilish and brutal; sometimes it's simply constitutional and democratic; but in every case, it's power, and to touch it is to risk being tainted by it.
My answer is that each person has to make their own decision. I don't condemn those who prefer the solitude of the academy, though they lose the chance to effect change directly; and I don't condemn those who do try to influence power, risking being tainted by it, even when power doesn't really pay much attention to them, whether its legitimate power like in the United States or illegitimate, as in Libya. The notion that there is something wrong with people who choose to intervene and try to engage the practice of democracy -- that they are somehow more morally culpable than people who prefer not to intervene -- is to me untenable.
Rereading his 2007 Washington Post op-ed, I think it's safe to say that Barber embraced sucking up to power juuuuuuuuust a wee bit more fervently than everyone else.
That said, the man has half a point here. As Ben Wildavsky has chronicled in The Great Brain Race, Western universities have been racing across the globe to set up
additional revenue streams satellite campuses in authoritarian countries. Those schools that had no dealings with Libya likely do have dealings with the Gulf emirates, or China, or Russia, or … you get the point.
Furthermore, if you believe what Charles Kupchan writes in How Enemies Become Friends, it's precisely this category of interactions that potentially leads to reduced tensions between rival nations. Bear in mind that by 2006 Libya had renounced its WMD program and did seem somewhat interested in integrating itself into the West. Surely that's a moment when these kinds of interactions could havehad an appreciable effect on a country's trajectory.
Another ethical question comes down to exactly how a scholar is engaging with a country. Engagement at the elite level, for example, has a greater potential for change, but also a great potential for "capture" by the authoritarian elite. Engagement with the population might have fewer moral quandaries (if there's a choice between teaching Saudi women* and not teaching Saudi women, for example, is not teaching really the morally correct option? ) but fewer opportunities for change.
There's an interesting quote in Farah Stockman's write-up that does stand out, however:
“The really nefarious aspect of [Monitor's parade of academics] is that it reinforced in Khadafy’s mind that he truly was an international intellectual world figure, and that his ideas of democracy were to be taken seriously,’’ said Dirk Vandewalle, associate professor at Dartmouth College and author of “A History of Modern Libya.’’ “It reinforced his reluctance to come to terms with the reality around him, which was that Libya is in many ways an inconsequential country and his ideas are half-baked.’’
In the Libyan case, maybe that is the best criteria for assorting ethical responsibility. For a scholar, engagement with power should not be automatically rejected, particularly if it means altering policies in a fruitful manner. When the exercise morphs into intellectual kabuki theater, however, then disengagement seems like the best course of action.
Those scholars who stopped participating after it was obvious that Qaddafi wasn't really interested in genuine change don't deserve much opprobrium. By that count, Barber really has a lot to answer for, while some of the others seem to have emerged relatively unscathed.
I'm curious what commenters have to say about this because I guarantee you one thing -- the more that autocratic regimes either buckle or crack down, the more this issue is going to come up for both universities and individual scholars.
[Full disclosure: I taught a short course for Saudi women at Fletcher in the summer of 2009, and have absolutely no regrets about doing so.]
Erik Gartzke, an associate professor of political science at UCSD and a man who's Google Scholar citation count makes me feel very, very small, sent me the following thoughts on political science and policy relevance. I reprint them, below, without edits or comment:
by Erik Gartzke
Dan Drezner's penchant for zombies may have yet another application. In the policy relevance debate, political scientists are like Renfield, Dracula's sidekick (or possibly like Thomas the Tank engine if children are present). We really want to be "useful." I know of no other discipline that is so angst-ridden about mattering, even those that don't matter in any concrete, "real world" sense. Obviously, what makes us different from poets, particle physicists, or Professors of Pediatric Oncology is that we study politics and occasionally imagine that this gives us some special salience to that subject. Policy makers, too, want us to be "relevant," though I think what they have in mind differs in important respects.
There are three ways that political science can be relevant to politics. On both sides of the debate, attention seems focused on only one of these roles. Interestingly, each side has chosen a different role to emphasize. First, academics could have expertise that is valuable in connecting policies to outcomes. We have lots of examples of this. Economists invented theories like adverse taxation and tools like GDP to help policy makers more effectively manage the economy. Unfortunately, there are very few insights or tools from political science, and those we do have are either very narrowly relevant (i.e. techniques for gerrymandering congressional districts to achieve affirmative action objectives), or very imprecise (i.e. nuclear balancing). Academic political scientists consciously _want_ this role, but the complaint from policy makers is that they do it poorly, providing policy guidance that is not expert enough, or overly nuanced and complex. This would seem to imply that political science should remain in the ivory tower, developing better tools. Instead, however, the argument appears to be that political science should give up these tools and practice a form of political consultation more comprehensible by the policy community. One then has to ask why, and what this will achieve. Is it the case, as many argue, that non-expert political scientists will be more useful? Why?
Interestingly, one of the critical exceptions to the general trend, and examples where political scientists have prospered in Washington as experts, involves pollsters. Survey methodology got its start in political science and has penetrated deeply into the political process, precisely because pollsters can provide valuable information to politicians and policy makers about cause and effect. Pollsters are now even regulars as pundits, asked to shill for policies and politicians on the basis of their expertise.
The second thing that academics can provide is thus credibility. We can "speak truth to power" or perhaps just generally speak the truth, at least as we see it. This could be valuable if policy makers themselves have become zombies, enslaved to a process that prevents them from stating things, even when obvious, that are unpopular or controversial. We see this happening in processes such as the Base Closure Commission, where outsiders helped to smooth a transition that was politically difficult. This kind of relevance is difficult, however, as politics is not really about the truth. Paul Pillar, one of the protagonists the debate ("In your face, political science!") found this out, much to his regret. One of the least zombie-like people in the national security bureaucracy, Paul was the perfect foil as author of the national intelligence estimate that legitimated the Bush policy of invading Iraq. In his, and his boss's moment to speak truth, they propagated a politically-expiedent myth. This kind of policy relevance really _is_ valuable to policy makers, especially since credibility is such a scarce commodity inside the beltway, and so valued elsewhere. The problem, of course, from an academic perspective is that selling credibility has nothing directly to do with expertise and everything to do with what, for lack of a better phrase, was once called "moral turpitude." The value in academics in holding forth in Washington may have as much to do on occasion with their _lack_ of contact with policy making, as with their putative expertise, at least in terms of credibility.
A corollary to this is the role of academistic consultants, some with faculty positions, others with beltway connections, that provide "research" that feeds the beast of the Washington policy machine. This can be financially rewarding, but the desire for funding leads to varying degrees of compromise, a zombification by extension.
The third contribution that academics can make to the policy community is one that all seem to agree upon, but which makes the least direct demand on political science as a substantive discipline. The intellectual discipline of first getting a PhD and then practicing as an academic gives one an ordered, logical mind, which can then be applied to tasks in the policy community, as well as to more purely intellectual pursuits. There is nothing wrong with this, but then again, there is nothing particularly unique about how political science does this that prevents scholars in other disciplines from applying themselves to policy making as well. Indeed, this is what we observe. Sociologists, economists, engineers and physicists (even the occasional poet) enter public service.
What makes political science different from most other fields is that we have failed to resolve our conflict with our subject matter. Poets report the human condition. They do not expect to alter it, at least not permanently. Physicians can make you better, so they do intervene, but their detachment is credible in the sense that they do not want to become illnesses. No physicist I know of hankers to _be_ her subject matter, though of course we are all of us made of matter. Political science alone wants to be different but engaged.
Imagine suggesting to a congressional committee that Congress should abandon the forecasting models of the OMB as esoteric and speculative. Try to suggest to someone like Paul Pillar that he should hanker after the "good old days" of pre-GDP census taking and data collection. Economics became policy relevant in the first sense because it developed tools that could help policy makers better connect their actions with outcomes. These are not perfect, as recent events illustrate, but they work better than the old way of doing things (i.e. whatever we did last time, or holding one's thumb up to the wind). The problem is that political science does not yet have "killer apps" like GDP. Optimists would say we are still working on these things. Pessimists would say that they will never come. I will not weigh in on that debate because in some sense it does not matter.
The real point, however, is that the debate does not matter. Either way, the search for policy relevance, as it is pursued by many in the policy community, makes no sense.
If you believe the optimists, then the correct role of political science is to get back in the kitchen (metaphorically) and cook up some good insights and tools so that we can eventually fulfill role number one. If you are instead pessimistic and despair of political science ever achieving much headway in terms of expertise, then you should still prefer us in our academic enclaves, only occasionally venturing down from the mountain, since this is what gives us our credibility as unbiased agents. The largely pessimistic perception of policy practitioners implies that they should treat political scientists like poets, or perhaps adherents of atonal music. Someone gets it, but thank God it is hidden in academic cloisters! This is perhaps what policy makers often do, as suggested by Paul Pillar's example of the debate between academics over perestroika witnessed by James Baker.
Another possibility is that those in the policy community wish academic political scientists were more like them for reason number three. This, however, does not make much sense. There can be no harm in making some political scientists esoteric if after all not everyone can move in policy circles. The training of academic political scientists still provides disciplined minds. Nor does it appear to be the case that there is a shortage of policy-eager political scientists to staff government bureaus and policy-focused beltway agencies and advocacy groups. In this light, academic political science may be accused of leading the youth astray, but no more than poetry or physics departments.
So what is it that makes many in the policy community so uncomfortable with academic political science, and for that measure why are political scientists so anxious about being labeled as not policy relevant? The best I can come up with again involves those zombies. Zombies eat the living. They move slowly, clumsily, if inexorably. People who run away can escape the zombies. So, the problem for zombies is that they cannot really catch unwilling prey. Academic political scientists, for their part, are strangely attracted to these undead creatures. They run, but not vigorously. Having your brains eaten is bad, but still, it is nice to be valued for something in which you have considerable pride....
Academic political scientists keep looking back to see if they can make eye contact with one of those zombies, maybe share a good anecdote, provide some advice, secure funding for the next research project...
There is the hint of the symbiotic relationship between predator and prey, political scientist and policy community. Each needs something from the other, even as both communities see the other as distant, alien. Policy practitioner-political scientists who disdainfully remark that they cannot even read the American Political Science Review would never see the need to make such a comment about a journal like Solid State Physics, or the Journal of Philosophy. Academic political scientists, for their part, should stop pretending that their main value to the policy community at present is in their expertise and fess up, if appropriate, to providing credibility or intellectual discipline (directly or through our students).
Becoming comfortable with this duality as a community also means embracing the differences that follow from that duality. Some of us should be in the ivory tower, just like physicists, chemical engineers, and art historians. In order for political science to fulfill the objective of expertise, it must --- like other fields of expertise --- become "expert", and unfortunately that really means becoming largely incomprehensible to all but those deeply enmeshed in the field or a particular subfield, at least for the purposes of "inhouse" debates. Others will work best in applying, interpreting, or otherwise interacting with the "real world" -- though if this characterization of non-academia were true, we would not need anyone studying (i.e. how does one know the real world and still hanker after insights that would connect his-or-her actions with the (unknown) implications of policy?). In any case, those of us on the academic side should stop teasing the zombies, just as the zombies should stop pretending that every academic brain is a ready meal. "Policy relevance" is a complex set of social phenomena that both attract and repel political scientists on both sides of the policy divide. Let some of us be more like our poet, mathematician or linguist brethren and become one with our academic-nerd nature. Others can prefer to engage Washington more directly, but they will make themselves, and their sponsors happier if they are candid about the fact that those within the beltway want your brains (or your soul), not your incites.
Your humble blogger is
media whored out taking a small vacation with the Official Blog Family at an undisclosed location somewhat removed fron the interwebs. Blogging will happen only if thew Official Blog Wife lets me near a computer be intermittent for the rest of this week.
In the meantime, for your consideration, I give you a link to an article from the February 2011 issue of International Studies Perspectives: Derek Hall, "Varieties of Zombieism: Approaching Comparative Political Economy through 28 Days Later and Wild Zero."
This paper argues that the frequent references to zombies in analyses of the recent global financial crisis can be harnessed as a “teachable moment” for students of Comparative Political Economy. I claim that two zombie movies in particular—Britain’s 28 Days Later and Japan’s Wild Zero—can be viewed as if they were allegories of two different national forms of capitalism that are integrated into, and affect, the global political economy in different ways. While 28 Days Later displays remarkable similarities to Marxist accounts of the origins and dynamics of capitalism in England, Wild Zero can be seen as an account of the post-1985 dynamics of the Japanese political economy and its engagement with Asia. This paper gives concrete suggestions for the use of zombie films in the classroom. It concludes with the argument that these two films help to explain why references to “zombie capitalism” cross ideological lines.
Enjoy devouring it!
My last post on the role of political science and political scientists in dealing with Egypt generated some interesting responses via the blogosphere, e-mail, comments, etc. Let's deal with all of 'em.
First, Apoorva Shah responds with the following:
I’m not blaming what happened in Egypt on political scientists, as the title of his blog post implies. Rather, I’m saying that the methods with which the political scientists in our academy study the world are so rigid that policy makers imbued in such scholasticism did not appropriately react and make immediate policy decisions when our foreign policy was on the line. Simply put, our administration equivocated. I think they were too confused by all the “variables” involved in Egypt: the protesters themselves, Israel, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hosni Mubarak, etc. In other words, their mental multiple variable regressions failed to produce statistical significance, so they sent mixed messages instead....
None of this is to say that we should shut ourselves off from structured thinking about politics and international affairs. In fact, it should be quite the opposite. Our political scientists shouldn’t be hiding themselves behind theoretical models. They should be studying more history, getting on the ground, doing qualitative research. But look at the syllabus of any graduate level “qualitative methods” class, and I guarantee you it will be just as mind-numbing as their quantitative methods courses.
Perhaps a few months or years from now political science will help us clarify what happened in Egypt over this past week, and it may even look back and dictate what should have been the correct U.S. response. But none of the academic work to date helped policy makers make the right decision when it mattered this week. And that’s the crux of this story. In crunch time, the political scientists failed to get the policy right.
On Shah's first point -- that "policy makers imbued in such scholasticism did not appropriately react" -- well, to get all political science-y, I don't know what the hell he's talking about. What evidence, if any, is there to suggest that Obama administration policymakers were paralyzed by rigid adherence to political science paradigms? Looking at the policy principals, what's striking about the Obama administration is that most of the key actors don't have much academic background per se. Tom Donilon is a politico, for example. Hillary Clinton is a politico's politico. I could go on, but you get the idea.
One thing all social scientists want to see is evidence to support an assertion. So, I'm calling out Shah to back up his point: what evidence is there that the U.S. government was slow to react because of adherence to "scholasticism"? Simply responding "but the response was slow!" doesn't cut it, either. There are lots of possible causal explanations for a slow policy response -- bureaucratic inertia, conflicting policy priorities, interest group capture, poor intelligence gathering, etc. Why is "scholasticism" to blame?
Shah's last two paragraphs are also confusing. Encouraging "structured thinking" requires an acceptance that theories are a key guide to understanding a ridiculously complex world. Area knowledge and deep historical backgrounds are useful too -- oh, and so are statistical techniques. The judgment to assess when to apply which area of knowledge, however, is extremely hard to teach and extremely hard to learn. And, just to repeat a point from that last post, some political scientists got Egypt right. Whether policymakers were listening is another question entirely.
A deeper question is why Shah's view of political science is so widespread. A fellow political scientist e-mailed the following on this point:
I think there is a deeper problem here. We political scientists/political economists may be aware of all of this, but I sense that it is too easy for outside observers to come to the conclusions Shah's post illustrates. Quick perusal of journal articles and conference papers, some textbooks, and a great deal of current graduate (and some undergraduate) education in the field can easily lead a rational and intelligent observer to conclude that political scientists are indeed only concerned with plugging cases into models, caring mostly about the model and little about actual political dynamics. (Have you seen conference presentations in which grad students lay out their dissertation models? Often sounds more like Shah's description than yours.) Practitioners may share your understanding of the role of theory, but they often don't do a good job of making this clear to non-specialist readers...and I think to themselves. I'm not sure what to do about this, but I suspect that Shah's kind of reading of the discipline is just too easy to come to and can seem quite reasonable.
Hmmm.... no, I'm not completely buying this explanation, for a few reasons. First, as I noted in the past, there are good and valid reasons why academic political science seems so inpenetrable to outsiders. Second, if this was really the reason that the foreign policy community disdains political scuence, then the economic policy community would have started ignoring economics beginning around, oh, 1932. Economic journals and presentations are far more impenetrable, and yet I rarely hear mainstream policymakers or think-tankers bash economists for this fact [Umm..... should they bash economists for this?--ed. I'll leave that to the economists to
construct clashing formal models debate].
Why is this? This gets to the third reason -- the fundamental difference between economic policy and foreign policy is that the former community accepts the idea that economic methodologies and theory-building enterprises have value, and are worth using as a guide to policymaking. This doesn't mean economists agree on everything, but it does mean they are all speaking a common language and accept the notion of external validity checks on their arguments.
That consensus simply does not exist within the foreign policy community, and Shah simply provides another data point to back up that assertion. Many members of the foreign policy community explicitly reject the notion that social science methodologies and techniques can explain much in world politics. They therefore are predisposed to reject the kind of scholarship that political scientists of all stripes generate. This might be for well-founded reasons, it might be simple
innumeracy hostility to the academy, or it might be a combination of the two. I'd love to have a debate about whether that's a good or bad thing, but my point is that's the reality we face.
Am I missing anything?
Pundits are clearly scrambling to figure out what the hell is happening in Egypt, and what Egypt means for the rest of the world. And I'm beginning to notice that some of them are blaming international relations theory for being asleep at the wheel.
First, over at AEI's Enterprise blog, Apoorva Shah argues that these events suggest the poverty of modern political science:
Did anything in academia foresee the unrest in Egypt, and more importantly, can something explain how Western foreign policy can appropriately react to the events? Of all the “schools” of IR thought—liberal internationalism, realism, isolationism, etc.—did any theory make sense of this and guide us on what to do next?
My amateur opinion is no. Because of an academic world obsessed with increasingly complex empirical analysis where every revolution is a mere data point and every country a pawn in the great game, our political science departments and the scholars they have trained (many of whom serve in and advise our current administration) were caught flat-footed, searching for some logical, rational approach to a particularly unique and country-specific event. While digging for the right IR theory, they instead produced a mishmash of mixed messages and equivocation.
If I’m wrong, please correct me.
OK... you're wrong. Let me correct you.
First of all, let's clarify the division of labor in political science a bit. Crudely put, international relations focuses on the interactions between governments and other transnational and subnational actors. Comparative politics focuses on the domestic politics within countries.
To put this in the context of Egypt, it's the job of comparative politics scholars to explain/predict when we should see mass protests and when those protests might cause authoritarian regimes to buckle. It's the job of international relations scholars to predict what effects the regime change/authoritarian crackdown would have on both Egypt's foreign policy and the situation in the Middle East.
Calling out IR scholars for not predicting the uprising in Egypt is like calling out a cardiologist for not detecting a cancerous growth.
But here's the thing -- as Laura Rozen has observed, political scientists and those they've trained did call this one!! From her September 2010 story:
A bipartisan group of senators and foreign policy analysts is pushing the Obama administration to prepare for the looming end of Hosni Mubarak’s rule in Egypt by putting a new emphasis on Egyptian political reform and human rights....
“The bottom line is that we are moving into a period of guaranteed instability in Egypt,” said Robert Kagan, a foreign policy scholar with the Brookings Institution who co-founded the Egypt Working Group with Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “So the idea [that] we can keep puttering on as if nothing is going to change is a mistake. ... What we need now is to move to deliverables.”
The pressure from the academic and political community comes amid widespread expectation that the 82-year-old Mubarak — who reportedly is seriously ill — may soon cede power to his son, Gamal.
If that's not enough, consider that Joshua Tucker blogged about the spread of revolutions last week, before Egypt blew up. Even before that, my fellow political scientist and FP blogger Marc Lynch's January 5th blog post:
For years, both Arab and Western analysts and many political activists have warned of the urgent need for reform as such problems built and spread. Most of the Arab governments have learned to talk a good game about the need for such reform, while ruthlessly stripping democratic forms of any actual ability to challenge their grip on power....
Meanwhile, the energy and desperation across disenfranchised but wired youth populations will likely become increasingly potent. It's likely to manifest not in organized politics and elections, but in the kind of outburst of social protest we're seeing now in Tunisia.... and, alarmingly, in the kinds of outburst of social violence which we can see in Jordan and Egypt. Whether that energy is channeled into productive political engagement or into anomic violence would seem to be one of the crucial variables shaping the coming period in Arab politics. Right now, the trends aren't in the right direction.
Not surprisingly, the Obama administration met with many of these people this week.
Finally, a small point I made earlier this week regarding Mubarak's options:
Everyone assumes that the Egyptian leader is a dead man walking, and given his speech on Friday, I can understand that sentiment. There are, however, remaining options for Mubarak to pursue, ranging from a full-blown 1989 Tiananmen square crackdown to a slow-motion 2009 Tehran-style crackdown.
Obviously, these aren't remotely good options for anyone involved. The first rule in political science, however, is that leaders want to stay in power, and Mubarak has given no indication that he wants to leave. (emphasis added)
Alas, based on this morning's events, it appears that Mubarak has selected the Tehran 2009 option.
So I think Shah is pretty much wrong. That said, I agree that there are profound limits on what IR theory can do in a situation like Egypt. Ross Douthat sorta made this point earlier this week:
[Americans] take refuge in foreign policy systems: liberal internationalism or realpolitik, neoconservatism or noninterventionism. We have theories, and expect the facts to fall into line behind them. Support democracy, and stability will take care of itself. Don’t meddle, and nobody will meddle with you. International institutions will keep the peace. No, balance-of-power politics will do it.
But history makes fools of us all. We make deals with dictators, and reap the whirlwind of terrorism. We promote democracy, and watch Islamists gain power from Iraq to Palestine. We leap into humanitarian interventions, and get bloodied in Somalia. We stay out, and watch genocide engulf Rwanda. We intervene in Afghanistan and then depart, and watch the Taliban take over. We intervene in Afghanistan and stay, and end up trapped there, with no end in sight.
Sooner or later, the theories always fail. The world is too complicated for them, and too tragic.
Douthat is sorta correct -- but it's precisely because the world is so complex that we rely on theories. While they're often wrong, they're vastly superior to the alternatives.
Consider that, instead of explicit theories, a lot of commentators are simply asking whether 2011 Egypt parallels 1978/79 Iran. This is a great question to ask, but the only way to answer it is to rely on explicit or implict theories of how revolutions play out and how the international system reacts to them.
Of course the theories will fail from time to time. Unfortunately, this is not rocket science, because rocket science is way easier than the social sciences. There are too many variables, too many idiosyncratic elements to each case, too much endogeneity, and so forth. But simply saying "the world is tragic" is a pretty lousy substitute to organizing foreign policy.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.