So last week there was some interesting data clean-up in the foreign policy blogosphere, and some less interesting commentary on it. Let's dive in!
Max Fisher posted an item at the Washington Post relying on World Values Survey (WVS) data to generate a global map of racism. He found a Foreign Policy write-up of a Kyklos paper that two Swedish economists published that relied on WVS data. Fisher's map was based on a response to one question:
The survey asked respondents in more than 80 different countries to identify kinds of people they would not want as neighbors. Some respondents, picking from a list, chose “people of a different race.” The more frequently that people in a given country say they don’t want neighbors from other races, the economists reasoned, the less racially tolerant you could call that society.
Fisher constructed a global map based on the responses to that query, a map that contained some striking findings. Western countries seemed to be far more tolerant (or far savvier at answering this survey question). Countries such as Pakistan seeming to be way more tolerant than India and Bangladesh, for example.
Fisher's post generated a lot of attention (full disclosure: I tweeted about it) -- so much so that some social scientists started to look at the WVS data and found some serious issues with it. The Fletcher School's Ashirul Amin, for example, dug into the data found that the reason for the seemingly low tolerance of Bangladeshis was a data entry error on the World Values Survey site -- the number of "tolerant" and "intolerant" respondents were reversed for one particular year.
Other social scientists, including Steve Saideman, also weighed in with methodological criticisms.
Going further, Siddhartha Mitter pointed out ways in which different nationalities view "race" as a different kind of social construct, thereby making inter-country comparisons a problematic exercise.
The biggest problem, of course, is that “race” is impossible to operationalize in a cross-national comparison. Whereas a homosexual, or an Evangelical Christian, or a heavy drinker, or a person with a criminal record, means more or less the same thing country to country, a person being of “another race” depends on constructs that vary widely, in both nature and level of perceived importance, country to country, and indeed, person to person. In other words, out of all of the many traits of difference for which the WVS surveyed respondents’ tolerance, the Swedish economists – and Fisher, in their wake – managed to select for comparison the single most useless one.
The reason I'm blogging about this, however, is where Mitter went after lodging these criticisms. According to him, the fault lies not with the data entry, but with the foreign policy blogger:
The problem here isn’t the “finding” that the Anglo-Saxon West is more tolerant. The problem is the pseudo-analysis. The specialty of foreign-affairs blogging is explaining to a supposedly uninformed public the complexities of the outside world. Because blogging isn’t reporting, nor is it subject to much editing (let alone peer review), posts like Fisher’s are particularly vulnerable to their author’s blind spots and risk endogenizing, instead of detecting and flushing out, the bullshit in their source material. What is presented as education is very likely to turn out, in reality, obfuscation.
This is an endemic problem across the massive middlebrow “Ideas” industry that has overwhelmed the Internet, taking over from more expensive activities like research and reporting. In that respect, Fisher’s work is a symptom, not a cause. But in his position as a much-read commentator at the Washington Post, claiming to decipher world events through authoritative-looking tools like maps and explainers (his vacuous Central African Republic explainer was a classic of non-information verging on false information, but that’s a discussion for another time), he contributes more than his weight to the making of the conventional wisdom. As such, it would be welcome and useful if he held himself to a high standard of analysis – or at least, social-science basics. Failing that, he’s just another charlatan peddling gee-whiz insights to a readership that’s not as dumb as he thinks.
Cards on the tale: earlier in the post, Mitter indicates he doesn't think much of Foreign Policy bloggers either, so I'm pretty sure he won't think much of my own musings here. And I understand Mitter's anger about a misleading map coming from an outlet that generates a lot of eyeballs. That said, his critique is off-base for two reasons.
First, in this instance, the primary fault lies not with foreign policy bloggers, but with academics. It's not like Fisher commissioned a bogus survey and then wrote up the findings in a misleading manner. Rather, he relied on a survey that goes back three decades and has been cited pretty widely in the academic literature. He got to that survey via an academic article that got through the peer-review process. Almost all journalists not in possession of a Ph.D., going through that route, would have taken the data as gospel. It's not clear to me why Mitter thinks a full-blown foreign correspondent would be better versed in the "social science basics." Would Mitter have expected, say, Ryan Avent or Matthew Yglesias to have ferreted out Reinhart and Rogoff's Excel error, for example? I'm all for better education in the ways of statistics and social science methodology in the foreign affairs community, but methinks Mitter is setting the bar extraordinarily high here.
Second, the blog ecosystem "worked" in this particular case. Fisher posted something, a bunch of social scientists looked at the post and found something problematic, and lo and behold, errors in the data were discovered and publicized. As I've opined before, one of the signal purposes of blogging is to critique those higher up in the intellectual food chain. I understand that Mitter would prefer that the original error never take place. By its very nature, however, the peer review process for blogging takes place after publication -- not before. That's a bit messier than the academic route to publication -- and, because Fisher has a larger megaphone, one could posit that with great traffic comes great responsibility. Still, I suspect that anyone who titles a post "The Cartography of Bullshit" probably wouldn't want too heavy of an editorial hand to be placed on their prose.
At the heart of Mitter's lament is his untested hypothesis that foreign affairs blogging has caused the decline in research and international reporting. This strikes me as more correlation than causation, however. Furthermore, it implies that they are substitutes when in fact they are complements. The source material for a lot of foreign affairs blogging is academic research and in-depth international reportage. If Mitter wants to see a better informed public, then there needs to be as much focus on the quality of the primary source material as in the quality of the transmission mechanism.
Am I missing anything?
UPDATE: Mitter has responded in part here, and at more length in a constructive comment to this post. Both are well worth reading, and put some more context into his original post. He's getting to some interesting tensions about the nature of expertise and "publicity" in a changing media landscape that are worth mulling over before responding.
In the run-up to his confirmation hearings, both BuzzFeed's Ruby Cramer and the Washington Free Beacon have stories about secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel's days as a professor at Georgetown. At first glance, the spin on these stories seems to be at odds with each other. Here's Cramer:
Those who knew him at Georgetown remember Professor Hagel, whose confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee begins early Thursday morning, as resolute in his own views on foreign policy, and dedicated to his classroom at a level unusual for most lawmakers who take on stints as visiting professors....
Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, retired from the Senate in 2008 after serving two consecutive terms. He landed the Georgetown gig in February of 2009, and started work on crafting one course for grad students in the fall, and another for undergrads in the spring. Hagel chose geopolitical relationships as his focus, and with the help of his teaching assistant, wrote a syllabus aimed at examining the 21st century as a period of transition that is "shifting geopolitical centers of gravity and is recasting geopolitical influences as the world experiences an unprecedented diffusion," as stated in the syllabus for Hagel's first-ever course in the fall of 2009.
Shockingly, the Free Beacon interprets matters a bit differently:
As a professor at Georgetown University, secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel taught a foreign policy course based primarily on anti-Israel materials and far left manifestos that castigate America’s role in the world, according to a copy of Hagel’s 2012 course syllabus....
Constructed on the premise that America’s global supremacy is waning, Hagel’s seminar featured writings that criticize America’s standing in the world, advocate in favor of shuttering American military bases, and refer to Israel as guilty of war crimes.
If the poor defenseless reader were to try to synthesize these two articles on their own, they might come away convinced that Hagel was like Robin Williams' character in Dead Poets Society, if Williams' character was also a secret, anti-Semitic communist spy.
Fortunately, as a trained professor, I'm capable of scanning Hagel's syllabi, and the description of the syllabi, and render my own judgment. And I confess that, after looking at them, I have a few more qualms about Hagel than I did before.
These qualms are not due to the Free Beacon's story, which doesn't have an author appellation, which is just as well, since whomever wrote it has no f**king clue who makes what arguments in international relations. Among the "anti-Israel and far left manifestos" that the Free Beacon identifies is the following:
Other books featured on Hagel’s reading list, such as G. John Ikenberry’s Liberal Leviathan, argue that America’s influence is waning.
“Even if a return to multipolarity is a distant and slowly emerging future possibility, calculations about the relative decline of American power reintroduce the importance of making investments today for later decades when the United States is less preeminent,” wrote Ikenberry, a Princeton professor, in his 2012 book.
Let's take a brief pause here to allow the folks with some actual international relations knowledge a hearty chuckle. Because anyone who's read anything by John Ikenberry quickly learns two things: 1) he's about as centrist as one can get; and 2) he's quite upbeat about America's future (as a close reading of that quote would suggest). So we can safely ignore the Free Beacon's efforts to spin people like Ikenberry and Zbigniew Brzezinski as anti-Israel or far left.
There's also the rather obvious point that, as a general rule, professors will assign readings they disagree with. It's that whole, "give students competing perspectives on thorny issues so they can have an informed debate" kind of deal. As mysterious as this might sound to the Free Beacon, let me assure them that assigning provocative readings is a pretty common pedagogical tool.
On the other hand, a quick perusal of Hagel's syllabi reveals a far deeper concern: Hagel is addicted to ... hackery. The Friedmans make too many appearances in these syllabi, for example. He assigned Tom Friedman's The World Is Flat, which is pretty bad. He also assigned George Friedman's The Next 100 Years, which is far, far worse (don't take my word for it, take Philip Tetlock's). He also assigned liberal portions of Parag Khanna's work, which is unfortunate.
Now I'm not above assigning the occasional hack piece in a class to let my students chew up and spit out. That's actually a useful pedagogical exercise. Hagel, however, seems to think that the hack stuff is actually quite good -- at least that's what he told C-SPAN. For a graduate seminar at Georgetown, the chaff-to-wheat ratio is disturbingly high.
Besides the hack addiction, is there anything else to be gleaned from Hagel's syllabi? If there is a theme that runs through Hagel's syllabus choices, it's a pretty realpolitik one. Writers like George Friedman and Robert D. Kaplan don't really care about human institutions as much as geopolitics. He also assigned some interesting work by Joseph Parent & Paul McDonald, as well as Micah Zenko & Michael Cohen, on strategic restraint and threat inflation, respectively. That's what should terrify neoconservatives -- not the bogus anti-Israel charges.
Still, after reading his syllabi, I must acknowledge that Hagel picked up one academic trait very quickly: just like us lifelong profs, Hagel learned to assign his own book. Well played, Professor Hagel. Well played.
This past week your humble blogger added another affiliation to his bio, as he has now joined the Brookings Institution as a... wait for it... nonresident senior fellow with the Managing Global Order project.
Now, those who live and breathe the mores and rhythms of DC's think tank community are already aware of the awesome rights, responsibilities and entitlements that comes with this honorific. Those not in the wonk priesthood, however, might wonder. Clearly, "nonresident" implies I'm not moving to DC. But what are the other perks of being a nonresident senior fellow?
The better way to phrase this query is -- what aren't the perks of being a nonresident senior fellow? It's almost as cool as being a full professor, for Pete's sake!! To list all the perks would take too long. Here are, in order, the top ten benefits to being a nonresident senior fellow at a think tanks, however:
10) Now all of my talks can be shorter. Before any academic or policy talk, a speaker usually receives an introduction in which the convenor reads the person's bio. If the speaker has lots of awards, affiliations, and publications, then this process can take a while, cutting into the speaker's allotted time. Secretly, all speakers want this, cause it means they don't have to remble on as long. Adding the Brookings affiliation will cut my talks by at least thirty seconds.
9) I'm now one affiliation away from the PACT. A key plot device in 30 Rock was Tracy Morgan's quest for the EGOT -- Emmy, Grammy, Tony and Oscar awards. Foreign policy wonks have a similar quest, except it operates by affiliations: Press, Academia, Consulting, and Think Tankery. Adding my nonresident senior fellow appellation to being a Fletcher professor and a contributing editor here at FP, I now have a PAT. The only thing missing is the for-profit consulting gig. I'm looking in your direction, Stonebridge Group and/or McKinsey!!
8) 50,000 frequent flyer miles with an airline of my choice. This sounds like a great perk, but really, it's just so that I can be conversant in frequent flyer-speak when bumping into other nonresident senior fellows at conferences:
ME: So did you get upgraded on this flight?
OTHER WONK: Oh, yeah, but that's because I'm Super Premium status. You?
ME: No, and I was willing to use miles too!!
OTHER WONK: Oh, no, never use your own miles!! See, what you should do it... [long disquisition about the art of frequent flyer mile management.]
You get the idea.
7) Officially one of the old boys now. The "senior" is a tipoff -- I can no longer declare "Young Turk" status. Instead, I'm clearly part of an old boy network of some kind or another. Which will, inevitably, lead to attacks from Glenn Greenwald.
6) Attract a much better class of groupies. Oh, sure, as a full professor I get the entreaty from a student willing to do just about anything to get an RAship/grad school admission/job. DC, however, attacts a much more desperate and stylish set of aspirants. Indeed, within 24 hours of becoming a nonresident senior fellow, my LinkedIn profile was beseiged with requests ranging from "I'm just dying to polish your memos" to "I feel like I'm the only research assistant who gets you -- I mean, really gets you!!"
5) One free black helicopter ride. I have every confidence that the sovereigntists in the crowd are already freaked out by the "Managing Global Order" moniker. AS YOU SHOULD BE!!! Who do you think supplies the black helicopetrs to the United Nations? Before we do, however, a nonresident fellow can pick where in the country the brand-spanking new black helicopter can buzz, just to freak out some locals. I, for one, am looking forward to a quick, below-the-radar trip through the Texas panhandle.
4) Playing the Lincoln card. All nonresident senior fellows run into bureaucratic impediments at some point or another. Once a year, I can pull the Lincoln card out of my wallet, and utter the following: "I am a nonresident senior fellow, clothed in IMMENSE POWER! You will procure me these PowerPoint slides."
3) Preferential treatment at the Old Ebbitt Grill. For years, I used to make reservations at this venerable DC establishment and still find myself cooling my heels and not impressing my date as more distinguished Beltway denizens would just waltz on in. Not anymore!! Now I just flash your "Nonresident Senior Fellow" gold card to the maitre d'hotel and -- KABLAMM!! -- my date and I are enjoying the finest champagnes in the land. This is a much more civilized way of exerting power than the more old-fashioned method in which -- as I understand it -- the men simply unzipped their flies and compared penis sizes.
2) At least ten more seconds of air time on CNN. Cable news nets will let senior nonresident fellows blather on for at least two more sentences before interrupting duing an interview.
1) "Nonresident Casual Fridays." One Friday, every other month, the nonresident fellows show up at the Brookings Institution very early, camp ourselves in the offices of the resident fellows, and scare the bejeezus out of them when they walk in. Alternatively, we prank call the senior resident fellows, pretending to be a White House flack asking for permission to vet them for a prominent subcabinet position.
Last night your humble blogger went to see Argo, which Ben Affleck directs and stars in. Here's a trailer:
Now, those readers who care about things like "cinematography" or "editing" will love this film, but let's face it, if you're reading this blog, it means you're really interested in foreign policy and international relations. And let's face it again -- with a few noteworthy exceptions, the film industry has not done world politics proud. So, from that perspective, how does Argo hold up?
With some mild spoilers below, I'm happy to report that the film is pleasantly savvy in the ways of the wonk, and even the ways in which it's not savvy can be productive.
First, the film nails both the stakes and the awful policy choices faced by Americans during the hostage crisis. The prologue -- a clever and brief history of U.S. involvement in Iran prior to the 1979 Iranian revolution -- concisely explains exactly why that country might have been juuuuuust a wee bit angry at the U.S. government in 1979. The film starts on Nov. 4, the day the embassy was seized. The entire opening sequence is well done, but the thing it captures perfectly is the stone-cold realization by the embassy staff that once the compound is breached, there's no escape and no cavalry riding to the rescue. At one point, the head of the security staff explains patiently that their job is simply to buy time for the rest of the embassy personnel to burn/shred all the classified documents. The character also states -- correctly -- that if anyone kills any Iranian, there will be a bloodbath.
Once the hostages are seized -- and six manage to surreptitiously flee to the Canadian ambassador's compound -- Argo is straightforward on both the bureaucratic politics of trying to spirit them out and the bad odds that any exfiltration plan will have in getting them out of Tehran. At one point CIA exfiltration expert Tony Mendez (played by Afflek) and his superior pitch their plan to the Secretary of State. In that scene, they state the obvious, which is rarely stated in films of this kind: there are no good options, and their plan of having the six be part of a film crew scouting a sci-fi movie location in Tehran is simply the "best bad idea" that they have. Welcome to foreign policymaking -- trying to figure out the best bad idea around. Argo doubles down on this sentiment in a quiet but effective scene at Dulles airport, when Mendez and his superior discuss who in his family should be notified if things go south.
Now, as it turns out, in real life, Mendez was driven to Dulles by his wife. This is just one of many Hollywoodizations that occur, particularly in the second half of the film. Affleck and screenwriter Chris Terrio take some liberties with what went down in Tehran and Washington as Mendez tries to spirit out the six Americans.
Oddly enough, this is unintentionally constructive for anyone interested in becoming a true foreign policy wonk. Here's a fun test:
1) Go see Argo;
2) Try to figure out which parts of the narrative's second half are fiction and which are fact;
3) Go read the Wired story by Joshuah Bearman that partially inspired the movie and the Slate explainer by David Haglund. If you didn't detect at least one of the Really Big Whoppers in the second half of the film, well, then you should probably find a career other than becoming a foreign policy wonk. Because there is some serious fictionalizing going on. If you're buying it as fact, then you either lack the instincts or the strategic chops necessary to operate in the world of statecraft.
Now is the time of year when students go to citadels of higher learning and hopefully learn some stuff instead of getting bogged down in weird cheating scandals. Coincidentally enough, this past month there's also been a lot of talk about how impressionable young people often get enamored with Ayn Rand and isn't that awful or something.
These laments this misses the point of how 18-year olds encountered the world of ideas in college. That is the age when they are expected to seriously think about ideas for the first time. They will crave ideas that will bake their noodle -- or at a minimum, that's the time when they should have their worldviews rocked ever few weeks or so. If not Rand, then whom?
In your blogger's humble opinion, there's another book that is celebrating it's 50th anniversary and remains far more earth-shattering in its intellectual effects. A few weeks ago the Guardian's John Naughton celebrated Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions with an astute essay on its significance. The highlights:
Kuhn's version of how science develops differed dramatically from the Whig version. Where the standard account saw steady, cumulative "progress", he saw discontinuities – a set of alternating "normal" and "revolutionary" phases in which communities of specialists in particular fields are plunged into periods of turmoil, uncertainty and angst. These revolutionary phases – for example the transition from Newtonian mechanics to quantum physics – correspond to great conceptual breakthroughs and lay the basis for a succeeding phase of business as usual. The fact that his version seems unremarkable now is, in a way, the greatest measure of his success. But in 1962 almost everything about it was controversial because of the challenge it posed to powerful, entrenched philosophical assumptions about how science did – and should – work....
Kuhn's central claim is that a careful study of the history of science reveals that development in any scientific field happens via a series of phases. The first he christened "normal science" – business as usual, if you like. In this phase, a community of researchers who share a common intellectual framework – called a paradigm or a "disciplinary matrix" – engage in solving puzzles thrown up by discrepancies (anomalies) between what the paradigm predicts and what is revealed by observation or experiment. Most of the time, the anomalies are resolved either by incremental changes to the paradigm or by uncovering observational or experimental error. As philosopher Ian Hacking puts it in his terrific preface to the new edition: "Normal science does not aim at novelty but at clearing up the status quo. It tends to discover what it expects to discover."
The trouble is that over longer periods unresolved anomalies accumulate and eventually get to the point where some scientists begin to question the paradigm itself. At this point, the discipline enters a period of crisis characterised by, in Kuhn's words, "a proliferation of compelling articulations, the willingness to try anything, the expression of explicit discontent, the recourse to philosophy and to debate over fundamentals". In the end, the crisis is resolved by a revolutionary change in world-view in which the now-deficient paradigm is replaced by a newer one. This is the paradigm shift of modern parlance and after it has happened the scientific field returns to normal science, based on the new framework. And so it goes on.
This brutal summary of the revolutionary process does not do justice to the complexity and subtlety of Kuhn's thinking.
He's right -- read the whole thing. I've blogged before about why Kuhn is equally important to social science here and here. To put this into words that today's millenial generation can comprehend: the effect of reading Thomas Kuhn to 18 year old is like the moment when Neo realizes there is no spoon.
One's education about how science works shouldn't stop with Kuhn -- there have been some worthy responses to him -- but it's a great place to start.
Rick Santorum made some headlines over the weekend about calling President Obama a "snob" because POTUS ostensibly wants all Americans to get a four-year college degree. Here's the clip:
Now, most commentators are focusing on the "snob" comment or the broader thrust of Santorum's jeremiad against higher education or whether this will play in Michigan. I want to focus on the idiocy contained in the first part of Santorum's comment. This is important, because ostensibly one of Santorum's policy strengths is that he knows and likes manufacturing.
In the opening parts of the clip, Santorum says as follows:
I know what it means to have those manufacturing jobs at that entry level to get you in there, and it gives you the opportunity to accumulate more skills over time and rise, so you can provide a better standard of living for your family. And those opportunities are for working men and women -- not all folks are gifted in the same way. Some people have incredible gifts with their hands.
What's disturbing about this bit is that Santorum's ideas about manufacturing employment are so outdated. For an example, take a good, long look at Adam Davisdon's excellent essay in The Atlantic about how American manufacturing looks today. He zeroes in on two workers -- Maddie and Luke. Maddie is exactly the kind of worker Santorum wants to talk about -- a low-level worker with aspirations to move up. But read this part:
The last time I visited the factory, Maddie was training a new worker. Teaching her to operate the machine took just under two minutes. Maddie then spent about 25 minutes showing her the various instructions Standard engineers have prepared to make certain that the machine operator doesn’t need to use her own judgment. “Always check your sheets,” Maddie says.
By the end of the day, the trainee will be as proficient at the laser welder as Maddie. This is why all assembly workers have roughly the same pay grade—known as Level 1—and are seen by management as largely interchangeable and fairly easy to replace. A Level 1 worker makes about $13 an hour, which is a little more than the average wage in this part of the country. The next category, Level 2, is defined by Standard as a worker who knows the machines well enough to set up the equipment and adjust it when things go wrong. The skilled machinists like Luke are Level 2s, and make about 50 percent more than Maddie does.
For Maddie to achieve her dreams—to own her own home, to take her family on vacation to the coast, to have enough saved up so her children can go to college—she’d need to become one of the advanced Level 2s. A decade ago, a smart, hard-working Level 1 might have persuaded management to provide on-the-job training in Level-2 skills. But these days, the gap between a Level 1 and a 2 is so wide that it doesn’t make financial sense for Standard to spend years training someone who might not be able to pick up the skills or might take that training to a competing factory.
It feels cruel to point out all the Level-2 concepts Maddie doesn’t know, although Maddie is quite open about these shortcomings. She doesn’t know the computer-programming language that runs the machines she operates; in fact, she was surprised to learn they are run by a specialized computer language. She doesn’t know trigonometry or calculus, and she’s never studied the properties of cutting tools or metals. She doesn’t know how to maintain a tolerance of 0.25 microns, or what tolerance means in this context, or what a micron is (emphasis added).
It should be noted that Luke didn't get a four-year college degree either -- he went to community college. But that's actually consistent with what Obama has been saying on this issue. I'm not sure it's consistent with Santorum's worldview. Indeed, his notion that career advancement in manufacturing is possible simply through the sweat and skill of a person's brow is badly, badly antiquated. Which is something he would know if he, um... studied the issue a bit more.
UPDATE: I see Santorum's run of not-understanding-a-lot-of-economics continues.
One could argue that the job of ambassador has been made obsolete by macrotrends in technology and politics. Oh, sure, maybe traditional envoys from great powers still play an important role in smaller countries that don't normally capture much attention in major capitals. Among the great powers, however, one could posit that ambassadors are superfluous. In a world in which heads of government and foreign ministers have multiple direct means of communication, in which you can't go a week without some big global summit, and in which leaders are wary of confiding with ambassadors because
they'll quit and then run for head of government that's just another press leak waiting to happen, what can ambassadors really do? Will we see the likes of Benjamin Franklin, John Quincy Adams, or even Anatoly Dobrynin ever again?
Probably not, but even in the 21st century, great power ambassadors to other great powers still serve a purpose. In the case of American ambassadors to Russia and China, they can excel at getting under the skin of their host country governments. Gary Locke seems to be doing that pretty well in China, in no small part by being an ethnic Chinese politician that doesn't seem to be behaving like Chinese politicians.
In the case of Russia, there's the new ambassador Michael McFaul, who before this was in Obama's National Security Council and one of the architects o the "reset" policy, and before that was a professor of political science at Stanford (full disclosure: Mike's first year at Stanford as a professor was my last there as a grad student, and he's been a friend to me ever since).
In the annals of American diplomacy, few honeymoons have been shorter than the one granted to Michael A. McFaul, who arrived in Russia on Jan. 14 as the new American ambassador.
Toward the end of the ambassador’s second full day at work, a commentator on state-controlled Channel 1 suggested during a prime-time newscast that Mr. McFaul was sent to Moscow to foment revolution. A columnist for the newspaper Izvestia chimed in the next day, saying his appointment signaled a return to the 18th century, when “an ambassador’s participation in intrigues and court conspiracies was ordinary business.”....
Mr. McFaul, 48, has arrived in a city churning with conjecture and paranoia. The public attack illustrates how edgy the Kremlin is about the protest movement that has taken shape, turning Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin’s re-election campaign into a nerve-racking test for the government. It also reveals how fragile relations are between Washington and Mr. Putin’s government, which has repeatedly accused the State Department of orchestrating the demonstrations.
If the blast of venom that greeted Mr. McFaul was intended as a warning to maintain a low profile in his new role, he seems unlikely to comply. At the end of his first week, he was exuberant, saying his goal was to “destroy cold war stereotypes,” especially misstatements about the United States’ intentions in Russia.
“I know I’m just going to go in full force, I’ve got nothing to hide, and we feel very confident in our policy and in selling our policy,” said Mr. McFaul, a native of Bozeman, Mont., who spent much of his career in academia. He does not need to fret over his next diplomatic posting, he added, because there will not be one.
“I ain’t going nowhere else,” he said, with a big smile. “This is it. I am not a career diplomat. And so I am here to do that in a very, very aggressive way.”
As someone who spent a short stint in DC, I recognize the sentiment McFaul expressed in that last paragraph. The exit option is one of the greatest assets an academic has if they enter the foreign policymaking world. Of course, that option can also encourage policymakers to stray way outside the reservation, so it kind of depends upon which academic has been appointed. In the case of McFaul, I'm very confident he will use this power for the forces of good.
I know I declared a mercy rule on Herman Cain, but two developments have created a one-time exception. First, Cain sent up the first signal that he might drop out of the race. Second, he delivered a foreign policy speech while adding a "paper" and a "brochure" to his campaign website. And I just can't quit Herman Cain -- the man has provided way too much fodder for this blog to simply let him fade away. So, for old time's sake -- one last post!!
There's little in the way of an overarching strategic vision or discussion of cross-cutting issues (
though, to be fair, that could have been in the speech itself which, according to NRO's John J. Miller, "was curiously light on substance."). The paper is really just a list of twenty countries, the labels Herman Cain applies to them, and then a paragraph or two of whatever his interns could find on Wikipedia description. Some examples of the labels:
Mexico: "Friend and Partner"
Canada: "Friend and Ally"
Iran: "Adversary Regime"
Afghanistan: "Strategic Partner"
Pakistan: "Danger and Opportunity"
India: "Strategic Partner"
I'm only disappointed that the Cain campaign wasn't more thorough and imaginative with its countries. Some suggestions:
Chile: "Strategic, mountainous ally"
Turkey: "Sultry Minx"
Saudi Arabia: "Ask John Bolton"
Lebanon: "Good kebabs"
Hawaii: "This one's ours, right?"
Uzbekistan: "Wait, that's a real country?"
As for the countries Cain does talk about, well, some highlights suggest that
outdated Wikipedia entries Cain's staff might have needed another draft:
Germany is a key figure in Europe’s economy. It has risen to the daunting challenge of keeping the euro afloat in troubled financial times – no small feat....
Russia’s insistence on the New START Treaty has put the U.S.A. at a distinct disadvantage, not only relative to Russia, but also to the world’s other nuclear powers.
Mr. Cain sheds no tears for Colonel Gaddafi, who personally ordered the killing of Americans. However, the White House launched the war in Libya under the Obama Doctrine of the “responsibility to protect.” The question now is: “protect whom?” The Libyan rebellion-turned-government has been aided by al Qaeda, and it is dominated by Islamists that have not been friendly to U.S. interests. Also, despite the fact that Libya is more of a vital interest to Europe than it is to America, (Europe buys 90% of Libya’s oil and it would be Europe that would be overwhelmed in any refugee crisis), President Obama spent more than a billion dollars on this adventure and led the initial military action. As president, Mr. Cain will work to bring clarity to the Libyan situation....
Under President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt was a friend. With Mubarak shoved out by Arab Spring protests -- with help from President Obama -- Egypt could be a nightmare unfolding.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which was determined to be a terrorist organization under Mubarak, is poised to pick up a sizable number of seats in Parliamentary elections. Though in office too long, at least Mubarak maintained peace with Israel, which polls show 90% of Egyptians oppose. Now we’re seeing the results, with cross-border attacks on Israeli civilians, the ransacking of Israel’s embassy in Cairo, opening up the border to a terrorist organization in Gaza, and open season on Coptic Christians, with churches being burned and mobs on killing sprees.
Egypt is an example of the pressing need for the clarity that Mr. Cain will bring to U.S. foreign policy....
Mr. Cain’s overall strategy for our chief economic competitor is this: Outgrow China. His economic policies will unleash the growth potential of the U.S. economy and transcend the threat from China. (emphasis added)
There's more, but you get the drift. As you can see, for a number of countries, Cain's paper lists concerns and then says Cain will bring "clarity" to the issue -- without saying exactly what that means in terms of policy. In other words, Cain keeps calling for carity in an unclear manner.
In other places, the paper simply gets its facts wrong (cough, Germany, cough) or proposes fantastical solutions (cough, China, cough). There are plenty of other mistakes (check out the Yemen section), but I'll let the readers find them in the comments.
To conclude, Herman Cain managed to hire some of the worst campaign interns ever to produce this dud of a document.
Herman, I swear....
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
Late last month, Princeton University Press informed me that Theories of International Politics and Zombies had crossed the 10,000 sales mark just six months after its release. By commercial publishing standards, this represents a modest successs. By academic publishing standards, well, it's the kind of thing that makes this sort of behavior very tempting.
Why has it dome so well? Well,
I was extraordinarily lucky it has been marketed in many unusual venues. Still, I suspect the biggest reason for these numbers is that TIPZ is now being assigned in college courses (and in some rather disturbing instances, in lieu of college class sessions). Indeed, its popularity has led to juuuuust a wee bit of blowback from a few students and faculty.
Which leads me to the purpose of this blog post. Consider this an open request to both students and faculty who are using the book ij their classes. Is it useful? Not so much? Too many puns? Not enough? Are there ways to make it more useful for students? I've already received some very positive pedagogical feedback, but negative feedback -- i.e., anything that needs to be changed -- is welcomed as well.
I ask because, more likely than not, I'll be working on a
revised revived edition of TIPZ in about a year or so. Such a revision will, of course, add in more topical zombie references (Both comic book and TV versions of The Walking Dead, or MTV's Death Valley), recent policy developments (the CDC weighing in on the zombie menace), follow-on research, and a fleshing out of additional theoretical paradigms as well. Plus more drawings, because they're awesome.
So, let me know what you'd like to see in the new edition to make it even more useful in a classroom setting. And if you insist on telling me that the text is completely perfect as is, well, I can bear hearing that too.
My post earlier this week on the role of public opinion in the Big Policy Decisions of the past decade has triggered some interesting responses from the international political economy wing of the blogosphere. See, in order, Kindred Winecoff, Henry Farrell, Dan Nexon, Winecoff again, and then Phil Arena.
Farrell's post in particular connects this contretemps with larger scholarly questions in global political economy and foreign policy decisionmaking:
International political economy scholarship tends to have an extremely stripped down, and bluntly unrealistic account of how policy is made. Typically, modelers in this field either assume that the “median voter” plays an important role in determining national preferences, or that various stylized economic interests (which they try to capture using Stolper-Samuelson, Ricardo-Viner and other approaches borrowed from economic theory) determine policy, perhaps as filtered through a very simple representation of legislative-executive relations.
However, actual work on how policy gets made suggests that this doesn’t work. On many important policy issues, the public has no preferences whatsoever. On others, it has preferences that largely maps onto partisan identifications rather than actual interests, and that reflect claims made by political elites (e.g. global warming). On others yet, the public has a set of contradictory preferences that politicians can pick and choose from. In some broad sense, public opinion does provide a brake on elite policy making – but the boundaries are both relatively loose and weakly defined. Policy elites can get away with a hell of a lot if they want to.
The result is that the relevant literature on policy making (located largely within comparative political economy and a growing debate within American politics) argues that elites play a very strong role in creating policies.
These are fair points -- indeed, Benjamin Page wrote a whole book about the ways in which foreign policy elites in the United States have pursued policies at vatiance with American public opinion.
So, yes, policy elites matter. However, I would issue a few qualifiers and questions to Farrell's points.
1) Who are we talking about when we talk about "elites"? The word "elites" can cover an awful lot of individuals. Many conservatives, for example, snorted at the notion of Krugman scolding elites, since there's no way one can define Krugman as anything but a member of the policy elite. So... who is part of the elite? Does it include powerful interest group lobbies, or only policy mandarins?
In his blog post Farrell seems to imply the latter, which does makes the term more precise. That said, interest groups are a pretty powerful animal, and they will not get confused by elite policy rhetoric. Farrell lumps interest group and public opinion stories together in his blog post, and I'm not sure that's right. When are policy elites simply doing the work of interest groups, and when are they pushing back? I've seen examples of both, but I haven't seen a generalizable theory explaining when one dynamic trumps the other.
2) When does issue salience matter? Part of the reason I pushed back against Krugman was that two of the three policy choices he stressed (tax cuts, Iraq) were very high-profile, publicly debated issues. One would assume that public opinion would form a more powerful brake on high-profile issues than low-profile ones. This is why I didn't push back against Krugman's financial deregulation story.
Now, Farrell might argue that elites can still manipulate a heck of a lot even on high-profile policies. This is probably true on some issues, but on others the public can act as an ex ante or ex post brake on policies. TARP was a bipartisan vote, for example, and a successful policy to boot -- and yet the public backlash against it clearly constrained the Obama administration's policy options in 2009. Despite Obama's election mandate and majorities in both houses of Congress, the administration scaled back its fiscal policy stimulus below the $1 trillion mark, partly because of fears of how the public would respond.
3) When will policy elites split? The word "elite" tends to assume an undifferentiated group of privileged policymakers, and anyone who has spent time inside the Beltway knows that partisanship matters a wee bit. When will the foreign policy community (or economic policy community) reach consensus, and when will there be significant opposition?
Consider Operation Iraqi Freedom, for example. A commonly-made argument (at least in blog comments) is that the public went along with the war because the Bush administration cranked up its PR machine and shaped mass public attitudes. OK, but one of the things us political scientists know is that had the Democrats vociferously opposed the invasion of Iraq, public support for it might have dropped. OK, but now we get to the key questuion -- why didn't Democrats oppose the war with greater vigor? Part of it might be that a lot of Democratic liberal internationalists agreed with Republican neoconservatives taking out Saddam Hussein. Part of it, however, is that Democrats feared looking soft on security during the 2002 midterm elections. Because of that fear, Democratic policymaking elites were not unified -- thereby bolstering public support for the war.
Now, in this narrative, is public opinion a cause or an effect of the debate that played out among policy elites? A little of both, I suspect. I raise this, however, because one of the difficulties with talking about the role of public opinion as a policy constraint (or a policy enabler) is that its role is sometimes buried beneath the more proximate causes.
This is a good blog conversation to have, because it highlights how difficult it is to develop clear and generalizable models of national policy preferences, and the ways in which the fields of international political economy and foreign policy analysis struggle to cope with this complexity.
I know I said I would post by book choices for aspiring senators/presidential candidates yesterday, but current events forced a slight delay. So, you know the contest: "if you had to pick three books for an ambitious U.S. politician to read in order to bone up on foreign affairs, what would they be?" You now know (and are less than thrilled with) the readers' selections. Below are my choices.
My selections were based on three fundamental premises. The first is that politicians do not lack in self-confidence. This is an important leadership trait, but when it comes to foreign policy, some awareness of The Things That Can Go Wrong is really important. So my choices try to stress the pitfalls of bad decision-making.
The second assumption is that trying to force-feed social science principles onto a politico is a futile enterprise -- any decent advisor should provide that role. What's more important is exposing politicians to the different schools of thought that they will encounter in foreign policy debates. As with the zombie book, the idea is that by familiarizing individuals to the different theoretical approaches, they can recognize a realist or neoconservative argument when they hear it. They should then be able to recall how well or how badly these approaches have done in the past, and think about the logical conclusions to each approach.
Finally, these are American politicians, which means that they are genuinely interested in Americana and American history. Books that can connect current foreign policy debates to past ones will resonate better.
So, with that set-up, my three choices:
1) Walter Russell Mead, Special Providence. An excellent introduction to the myriad strains of thought that have permeated American foreign policy over the past two and a half centuries. International relations theorists might quibble with Mead's different intellectual traditions, but I suspect politicians will immediately "get" them.
2) David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest (for Democrats); James Mann, Rise of the Vulcans (for Republicans). Americans have a long and bipartisan history of Mongolian clusterf**ks in foreign policy. Each side should read about their greatest foreign policy mistake of the past century to appreciate that even the best and smartest advisors in the world will not necessarily translate into wise foreign policies.
3) Richard Neustadt and Earnest May, Thinking in Time. Politicians like to claim that they don't cotton to abstract academic theories of the world, that they rely on things like "common sense" and "folk wisdom." This is a horses**t answer that's code for, "if I encounter a new situation, I'll think about a historical parallel and use that to guide my thinking." Neustadt and May's book does an excellent job of delineating the various ways that the history can be abused in presidential decision-making.
Obviously, I'd want politicians to read more books after these three -- but as a first set of foreign policy primers, I'm comfortable with these choices.
If you want to hear more about this, go and listen to my bloggingheads exchange with NSN's Heather Hurlburt on this very question.
To recall the assignment:
[I]f a newly-minted U.S. Senator did want to seriously bone up on foreign affairs, what books should he or she read?....
[I]f you're educating a politician from scratch, you need something relatively pithy, accessible, relevant to current events, and America-centric....
I therefore call upon the readers of this blog to proffer up their suggestions -- if you had to pick three books for an ambitious U.S. politician to read in order to bone up on foreign affairs, what would they be?
Before I get to the reader suggestions, I heartily encourage the rich variety of responses in the foreign policy blogosphere: see Stephanie Carvin, Brian Rathbun, Andrew Exum, Rob Farley, Justin Logan, Will Winecoff, Phil Arena, and Steve Saideman, for starters.
A few of them challenge some of the underlying premises of my question. Arena asks, in essence, "does it really matter?" If IR scholars believe that structural, impersonal factors are what guide American foreign policy, then a reading list won't make a difference. Rathbun implicitly endorses this point in observing that us IR folk basically write books saying that the first image of leadership doesn't matter all that much.
There is an theoretical and empirical response to this. The theoretical response is that even the most ardent structuralist would acknowledge that there is a stochastic element to any political model -- indeed, in most tests, random chance explains more than the non-random model. What books leaders read falls into the stochastic category (we never know ex ante), so any attempt to influence on that factor is not trivial.
The empirical is that we have at least anecdotal evidence that books occasionally do affect the thinking of American foreign policy decisionmakers. Bill Clinton was famously reluctant to intervene in Bosnia after reading Robert Kaplan's Balkan Ghosts. I'd argue that Kenneth Pollack's The Threatening Storm was the most important book-length contribution to the 2003 debate about going to war in Iraq -- because it provided intellectual cover for Democrats supporting the Bush administration. Bush himself touted Natan Sharansky's The Case for Democracy as a book that influenced his thinking on the Middle East.
Exum also asks a fair quesion -- why books?
A lot of the reading material I digest comes from blogs as well as newspaper and magazine articles. A lot of it comes from scholarly and policy journals as well.... I generally find articles in International Security, Survival, Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy, though, to be both accessible and thought-provoking. And asking a senator to read a few articles in Foreign Affairs each month en route back to his or her constituency actually sounds like a reasonable request. So I am not sure I would actually recommend a junior senator read a book so much as I would ask him or her to read a few carefully selected articles or scan through ForeignPolicy.com every other day.
This is a fair point -- if we could get our junior Senator/aspiring presidential candidate to read up on foreign affairs every day. I'm pessimistic about that happening, however, for the reasons I gave in the prevous post.
Also, here's the thing -- oddly enough, politicians want to tell everyone how many Very Important Books they read. Consider Condoleezza Rice's New York Times Magazine interview, in which she stresses that, "[George W. Bush] read five books for every one I read. He read something like 12 biographies of Lincoln in office." Bush is not someone who seemed worried that he wasn't egghead-y enough, and yet even he and his acolytes feel compelled to point out what's on his bookshelf. We might living in a Twitter age, but books still possess some totemic value of intellectual gravitas.
Picayune disagreements aside, I do encourage readers to click through each of the above links to see their book recommendations.
Below, however, is the aggregate list produced by my readers. At least three different commenters recommended or endorsed all thrirteen books below. [And what do you think of the list?--ed. I'm a big fan of many of these books, I confess I haven't read several of them, and there are a few that I think are mind-boggingly stupid. I suspect that would be the same response of any other IR scholar to the list below -- though which ones are "mid-boggingly stupid" would be a furious subject for debate.]
In alphabetical order:
THE TOP THIRTEEN FOREIGN AFFAIRS BOOKS EVERY ASPIRING POLITICIAN SHOULD READ
(As selected by readers of Foreign Policy)
Andrew Bacevich, Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War
Steve Coll, Ghost Wars
Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order
Robert D. Kaplan, Monsoon
Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers
Parag Khanna, How to Run the World
Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy
Walter Russell Mead, Special Providence
John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics
Joseph Nye, The Future of Power
Ahmed Rashid, Descent Into Chaos
Stephen Walt, Taming American Power
Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World
Your humble blogger will be posting his book selections on Monday.
Let the fight/snark in the comment thread.... begin!!
[T]here was no mistaking the lightness of [Obama's foreign affairs] résumé. Just a year before coming to Washington, State Senator Obama was not immersed in the dangers of nuclear Pakistan or an ascendant China; as a provincial legislator, he was investigating the dangers of a toy known as the Yo-Yo Water Ball. (He tried, unsuccessfully, to have it banned.)
Obama had always read widely, and now he was determined to get a deeper education. He read popular books on foreign affairs by Fareed Zakaria and Thomas Friedman.
That last sentence provoked a lot of titters on Twitter among the foreign policy community. It's only a slight exaggeration to say that Tom Friedman's recent books have the same status among foreign policy wonks that John Grisham novels have in literary circles.
This raises an interesting question, however -- if a newly-minted U.S. Senator did want to seriously bone up on foreign affairs, what books should he or she read?
This is a harder question to answer that you might think. Here is a rank ordering of what a typical Senator cares about:
1) Getting re-elected;
2) Getting re-elected;
3) Establishing a domestic policy niche in order to claim credit... in order to get re-elected;
4) Starving the media of any opportunity to write a profile of their private lives... in order to get re-elected.
5) Foreign affairs
There's a reason foreign affairs is at the bottom -- in the post-Cold War world, the American public doesn't care and doesn't know much about international relations. Short of the presidential level, developing expertise or interest in that area does nothing for a politician's electoral chances -- and even at the presidential leve it's a mixed bag.
With this kind of mindset, giving a Senator a copy of Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War and assuming they'll get really hooked on the story is faintly absurd. Many of my academic brethren might proffer up one of the more recent classics in international relations theory. To which I say, "BWA HA HA HA HA!!!!" Neither Kenneth Waltz nor Bruce Bueno de Mesquita would last as long in a politicians' hands as Thucydides.
No, if you're educating a politician from scratch, you need something relatively pithy, accessible, relevant to current events, and America-centric. Given those criteria, Friedman's oeuvre makes some kind of inuitive sense, no matter how wrong or ripe for satire it is. I mean, what's the alternative -- Three Cups of Tea?
Aspiring leaders of America can and should do better than Friedman, however. I therefore call upon the readers of this blog to proffer up their suggestions -- if you had to pick three books for an ambitious U.S. politician to read in order to bone up on foreign affairs, what would they be?
I have my own thoughts on the matter, but I'll hold off until Friday to post my selections. My choices are hardy written in stone, so I'll be reading this comment thread with great interest.
Now is the winter of your humble blogger's discontent, only to be made glorious once writing letters of recommendation/grading papers has ceased. After that, I'm looking forward to reading or re-reading the following six books and articles:
1) Charles Kupchan, How Enemies Become Friends. A lot of international relations theory starts off with the basic question of "what causes war?" Kupchan flips this question on its head, asking how enduring rivals decide not go to to war.
2) Ben Wildavsky, The Great Brain Race. The first discussion I've seen of how universities are competing in an era of globalization for the
deepest pockets best minds to educate. Plus, I was a big fan of this series as a kid.
3) McKinsey Global Institute, Farewell to Cheap Capital?. Think of it as a sequel to the global savings glut hypothesis.
4) Tyler Cowen, "The Inequality that Matters," The American Interest, January/February 2011. I think Cowen is overemphasizing the role of finance in explaining rising inequality in the United States (my hunch is that the economics of superstars plays a big role as well), but he raises a very interesting question about whether the financial sector is the Achilles' heel of free-market democracies.
5) The Economist's year-end issue. This is always a treat -- a double issue filled with articles about the interesting and the arcane. This essay on the inefficiency of getting a Ph.D. ("America produced more than 100,000 doctoral degrees between 2005 and 2009. In the same period there were just 16,000 new professorships.") is a must-read for anyone contemplating getting a doctorate.
6) Linda Schlossberg, Life in Miniature. All non-fiction and no fiction makes Dan a dull boy. This delicate first novel, a child's narrative of her mother's descent into paranoia, will be of interest for those policy wonks currently working on the war on drugs: it's a theme that runs through the book. Full disclosure: Linda is a friend and gives a great reading.
So I see the blog meme of the month is Tyler Cowen's "the top 10 books which have influenced your view of the world." All the
old cool bloggers are doing it.
The hard-working staff here at the blog likes to keep up with all the latest internet traditions. Having read and watched High Fidelity, I'm keenly aware of all the ways I'd be tempted to go all obscure-y in my references. So, here are my "gut response" books, in roughly the chronological order I encountered them:
1) Richard Hofstadter, The American Political Tradition. My 11th grade U.S. history teacher assigned this book in addition to the standard textbook. It certainly provided a more nuanced view of certain historical figures than you got in the textbook. More importantly, Hofstadter knew how to write well. This was the first book I ever read where it occurred to me that nonfiction could be as interesting to read as fiction.
2) Robert Axelrod, The Evolution of Cooperation. I didn't know anything about game theory before reading this book for a summer school course. After reading this book I was fascinated by it.
3) Douglas Adams, The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy. A sense of whimsy, of intellectual play, is a necessary condition for staying sane in the universe. Douglas Adams is Whimsy 101 through Advanced Theory of Whimsy. Plus, when I grow up I want to be Oolon Colluphid.
4) Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. A lot of people have put Genealogy of Morals on their lists because Nietzsche was the first person they read who pointed out that morals might have an instrumental and particularistic motivation. I'm not sure Kuhn is completely correct in his vivisection of how science works, but it was only after reading this book that I began to recognize the instrumental, cognitive, and sociological dimensions of scientists.
6) Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. Everyone focuses on the end of this book, with the exaggerated statements about U.S. "imperial overstretch." What hooked me was the first 95% of the book, in which Kennedy went through 500 years of history to demonstrate the essential link between economic power and military power, and the ways in which hegemonic actors ineluctably overreach and overextend themselves. The first chapter, which discusses why Europe and not China rose to global dominance from 1500 on, was what turned me onto economic history. From here I went to David Landes' The Unbound Prometheus, Rosenberg & Birdzell's How the West Grew Rich, Joelk Mokyr's Lever of Riches, etc...
7) Michael Lewis, Liar's Poker. Lewis has expressed befuddlement that people still wanted to go into finance after reading his book -- which makes me wonder if he read what he wrote. True, Liar's Poker is not exactly a paean to finance, but the book does capture the raw energy that comes with the good and the bad of financial innovation. For my own intellectual development, the book was also surprisingly useful: I'll now always be able to say that I got an A+ from Joe Stiglitz for a game-theoretic explanation of some of the phenomena Lewis talked about in the book. The lesson I drew from that; inspiration can come from even the most popular of books.
8) Mancur Olson, The Rise and Decline of Nations. This was Olson's sequel to The Logic of Collective Action, and basically argued that over time, political stability breeds interest group capture, which breeds economic sclerosis. I don't quite buy the argument in the same way that I did when I first read it. What was appealing about the book, however, was the elegance of the argument and evidence. It's just a great, simple argument
9) Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War. In the early nineties I spent a year in eastern Ukraine, where sources of entertainment that did not involve vodka were extremely scarce . So I brought two books that I knew I had to read at some point but had yet to finish: the Old Testament and Thucydides. The first one had a great beginning, but I confess that I got bogged down in Leviticus. The second book has held my attention ever since. It's analytical history rather than political science, but the entire tapestry of human behavior is on display in that book. Far, far too many people who consider themselves experts in international relations have read nothing from Thucydides except the Melian Dialogue -- and they are poorer for it.
10) Albert Hirschman, Exit, Voice and Loyalty. I've mined Hirschman throughout my own professional career, and I could have put at least four of his books on this list. This one makes the list for three reasons. First, it's Hirschman's most wide-ranging in terms of its applicability -- it can apply to any organization at any level of society. Second, I relied on it heavily when developing the domestic politics portion of All Politics Is Global. Third, it's a great example of an idea that was simultaneously original but, once you thought about it, became completely intuitive.
Looking at the list, I notice three trends: 1) a lot more nonfiction than fiction; 2) all of these books have clear prose styles -- they are accessible to both scholars and non-scholars; and 3) the books that captured my attention were interesting for their intellectual style as much as their content.
My latest bloggingheads diavlog, with NSN's Heather Hulburt, is now online. We discuss the Academy and the academy -- that is to say, the Oscars and the policy relevance of that "other" academy.
Thomas Sowell has a new book out called Intellectuals and Society (here's a precis from his National Review essay on the topic from January). It sounds like a remix of Mark Lilla's The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics, mixed with Hayek's "The Intellectuals and Socialism." Those are pretty good source materials. And as someone who occasionally writes about this topic, I'm always intrigued by new arguments on this topic.
Sowell recently gave an interview to Investor's Business Daily that's worth excerpting, however:
IBD: How do you define intellectuals?
Sowell: I define intellectuals as persons whose occupations begin and end with ideas. I distinguish between intellectuals and other people who may have ideas but whose ideas end up producing some good or service, something that whether it's working or not working can be determined by third parties.
With intellectuals, one of the crucial factors is their work is largely judged by peer consensus, so it doesn't matter if their ideas work in the real world.
IBD: What incentives and constraints do intellectuals face?
Sowell: One of the incentives is that, to the extent that intellectuals stay in their specialty, they have little to gain in terms of either prestige or influence on events. Say, an authority in ancient Mayan civilization just writes about ancient Mayan civilization, then only other specialists in ancient Mayan civilization will know what he is talking about or even be aware of him.
So intellectuals have every incentive to go beyond their area of expertise and competence. But stepping beyond your area of competence is like stepping off a cliff — you may be a genius within that area, but an idiot outside it.
As far as the constraints, since their main constraint is peer consensus — that's a very weak constraint on the profession as a whole. Because what the peers believe as a group becomes the test of any new idea that comes along as to whether it's plausible or not.
I'm pretty sure that Sowell's answers contradict each other. If the primary means through which intellectuals assess their value is through peer assessment, then why is peer assessment such a weak constraint on intellectual activity?
Methinks Sowell is underestimating both the power of academic culture and the ways in which the marketplace of ideas has become more competitive. But this is certainly good fodder for debate.
What really caught my eye, however, was this section:
IBD: You say that intellectuals during Hitler's rise subordinated the mundane specifics of the nature of the German government to abstract principles about abstract nations, by which you meant the idea espoused at the time that "nations should be equal" and thus Germany had a right to rearm. Does that description apply to the Obama administration's approach to
Sowell: I hadn't thought of it, but it certainly does. In fact, there are other people who have said, "Some countries have nuclear weapons, why shouldn't other countries have nuclear weapons?" And they say it with an utter disregard for the nature of the countries and what those countries have been demonstrably doing for years and show every intention of doing in the future.
IBD: Do you think also that the Obama administration has abstract notions that you can negotiate with
Iranthe same way you can negotiate with, say, Australia?
Sowell: Oh, yes. And the question is not whether you should negotiate. We negotiate with all kinds of countries. The question is whether we think negotiations will be at all effective in carrying out what we want to do.
Give Sowell credit -- it's clear that he really hasn't thought about the question. Anyone who has paid any attention to the Obama administraion's Iran policy would be hard-pressed to characterize it as tolerant of Iran's right to arm itself with nuclear weapons. As Robert Kagan recently pointed out in FP:
Republicans may complain, along with many Democrats, that the administration has been too slow to support the Iranian opposition and took too long to pivot to sanctions. Yet some also realize that Obama's prolonged effort at engagement accomplished what George W. Bush never could: convincing most of the world, and most Democrats, that Iran is uninterested in any deal that threatens its nuclear weapons program. As a result, France, Britain, and even Germany appear more determined than at any time in the past decade to impose meaningful sanctions. A majority of Republicans, along with most Democrats, will support the administration as it toughens its approach to what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton now calls the "military dictatorship" in Tehran.
In other words, the Obama administration's actual policy towards Iran bears no resemblance whatsoever to Sowell's characterization of it.
One should not be completely surprised by this; Sowell is an economist by training and should not be expected to know much about American foreign policy, as it's beyond his area of expertise. I do find it a little rich, however, that Sowell has written a book complaining about what happens when intellectuals leave their knowledge reservation to opine about events of the day -- and then proceeds to commit that precise sin during his book promotion.
There are two possibilities here. Either Sowell has no capacity for irony, or he's cleverly trying to add data points to support his argument.
This glut of cruddy romantic movies has prompted Jessica Grose to ask a puzzler over at Slate: what is the worst date movie of all time? Her vote is for the Julia Roberts/Clive Owen/Natalie Portman/Jude Law film Closer.
Back in the early days of courting the Official Blog Wife, we were spending a lovely, romantic vacation weekend together. This was the kind of trip when I was able to forget about the rest of the world and focus on the inherent awesomeess of my bride-to-be. Everything about those three days was perfect -- until the very end of the third day. We were walking along a boardwalk and came upon a movie theater, which was playing a matinee of a film that I had really been wanting to see in the theater.
"Let's go see it!" I said. My future wife, still in the throes of vacation bliss, agreed.
The movie was.... Crimson Tide:
I know, I know. Unless you're into sub movies like Run Silent, Run Deep, Das Boot, or The Hunt For Red October -- and, as an IR film geek, I am so into these movies -- this genre is likely the absolute worst date movie you can take a date. A lesson I learned the hard way fifteen years ago. To this day, when I see Crimson Tide on cable, I feel a little shiver run down my spine. I'll still watch it, of course -- but shivering. When the wife and I are flipping channels and we see it on cable together, she emits a noise that no English word can precisely capture. I'm sure there's a long German word that fits the bill -- something that combines derision and dread, but still leavened with a bit of tenderness.
My dear readers, if you are so lucky as to find a soulmate that shares an enthusiasm for a particular movie genre -- zombies, for example -- then enjoy that shared interest to the hilt on a date movie. Otherwise, do the right thing and go rent The Philadelphia Story.
The following question was on the final exam for my Global Political Economy class this fall. If you're interested, provide a one paragraph answer in the comments. I'll report back later in the week if these answers are better than the ones I'm about to grade:
"When China becomes the world's largest economy, the current era of globalization will come to an end. The simple fact is that while Great Britain and the United States had open liberal polities, China does not. This will foster mutual suspicion between China and the west, as well as discourage China from fully opening up its domestic market. That, plus the geopolitical tensions that come from a hegemonic power transition, means we can expect a new era of mercantilism."
Do you agree or disagree with the above statement? Why or why not?
Hint: you get absolutely no extra credit for agreeing or disagreeing with anything previously said on the subject on this blog.
When someone publishes an op-ed, longer essay, or book, they have to write a tagline. It's usually two sentences describing their title and affiliation, and whatever big projects are associated with them.
After watching the preview for The Invention of Lying, however, I began to wonder what these tag lines would look like if they were brutally honest. With a nod to Megan Mcardle's "Full Disclosure" post from a few years ago, here's fifteen examples I came up with:
And, of course.....
Readers are warmly welcomed to come up with their own brutally honest tag lines in the comments.
One of the biggest mistakes traditional academics make is to take all words equally seriously. That is to say, academics who do not write for a non-scholarly audience tend to assume that it takes an equal length of time and effort to compose a journal article, an op-ed, or even a blog post. In reality, it's kind of like circuit training -- each activity exercises a different set of writing muscles (that said, journal articles require way more reps than other forms of writing).
I bring this up because I have now joined Twitter, in a desperate, far-too-late-effort to catch up to my FP colleague Mark Lynch -- who is securely ensconced in the FP Twitterati Top 100. Right now he's crushing me in terms of followers, so I warmly encourage all my readers to start following me on Twitter -- and then feel free to ignore my tweets.
Somewhat more seriously, my Twitter postings will mostly be on matters that are other off-topic for Foreign Policy or things I don't have time to develop into the long, nuanced sentences required for blogging. So, just to clarify for those academics in the audience, here is the official Hierarchy of Drezner Publications -- from highest degree of effort to lowest degree of effort:
Also, just an FYI -- usually you can write off a technology the moment I embrace it. So if tech stocks go down today, that's on me.
The International Studies Best Book of the Decade Award honors the best book published in international studies over the last decade. In order to be selected, the winning book must be a single book (edited volumes will not be considered) that has already had or shows the greatest promise of having a broad impact on the field of international studies over many years. Only books of this broad scope, originality, and interdisciplinary significance should be nominated.
Hmmm.... which books published between 2000 and 2009 should be on the short list? This merits some thought, but the again, this is a blog post, so the following choices are the first five books that came to mind:
I don't agree with everything in these books -- but they linger the most in the cerebral cortex.
So, dear readers, which books do you think are worthy of consideration for this award?
There's a lovely passage in John Le Carré's The Secret Pilgrim in which George Smiley explains why governments don't simply rely on open source information instead of spending gazillions on their own intelligence operations: "governments, like anyone else, trust what they pay for, and are suspicious of what they don't."
Oddly enough, in studying the global political economy, the sentiment often works in reverse in the academy. Scholars, understandably, tend to prefer open source research while looking askance at private sector work that requires $$$ to unlock.
I'm genuinely on the fence about this kind of question. In writing about sovereign wealth funds, for example, I found the private sector stuff far superior on the empirics to the open source research. The private sector stuff is also usually published before academics enter the breach (a good rule of thumb for aspiring IPE types -- if your literature review consists mostly of corporate research, then you are ahead of the academic curve on a new issue area). On the other hand, the private sector work often lacked the analytical bite of scholarly work. For some of it, I could not escape the sense that someone was trying to sell me something.
I raise this conundrum because Martin Wolf's latest column is essentially a precis of a Goldman Sachs report that requires cashy money to read. Wolf's summary:
The paper points to four salient features of the world economy during this decade: a huge increase in global current account imbalances (with, in particular, the emergence of huge surpluses in emerging economies); a global decline in nominal and real yields on all forms of debt; an increase in global returns on physical capital; and an increase in the “equity risk premium” – the gap between the earnings yield on equities and the real yield on bonds. I would add to this list the strong downward pressure on the dollar prices of many manufactured goods.
The paper argues that the standard “global savings glut” hypothesis helps explain the first two facts. Indeed, it notes that a popular alternative – a too loose monetary policy – fails to explain persistently low long-term real rates. But, it adds, this fails to explain the third and fourth (or my fifth) features.
The paper argues that a massive increase in the effective global labour supply and the extreme risk aversion of the emerging world’s new creditors explains the third and fourth feature. As the paper notes, “the accumulation of net overseas assets has been entirely accounted for by public sector acquisitions ... and has been principally channelled into reserves”. Asian emerging economies – China, above all – have dominated such flows....
The authors conclude that the low bond yields caused by newly emerging savings gluts drove the crazy lending whose results we now see. With better regulation, the mess would have been smaller, as the International Monetary Fund rightly argues in its recent World Economic Outlook. But someone had to borrow this money. If it had not been households, who would have done so – governments, so running larger fiscal deficits, or corporations already flush with profits? This is as much a macroeconomic story as one of folly, greed and mis-regulation.
I'm pretty sympathetic to this argument, but I can't fully embrace it unless I can read the friggin' paper.
Question to readers: compared to academic work, how reliable is private sector research?
Earlier this week, I pointed out that American higher education was not like the American auto sector, because it's actually quite competitive in the global marketplace.
I see that the Washington Post's Susan Kinzie has a story that nicely illustrates this point:
Until fall 2007, the number of Chinese undergraduates in the United States had held steady for years, at about 9,000, according to the Institute of International Education, which promotes study abroad. But that year, it jumped to more than 16,000.
Experts say China's increasing wealth, fewer delays in obtaining visas and technology that makes it easier for Chinese students to learn about U.S. schools have helped fuel the boom. It shows no sign of letting up.
"People just think the education offered in the U.S. is undoubtedly the best in the world," said Betty Xiong, 20, a U-Va. junior from Shanghai....
Historically, students have been more likely to come to the United States for advanced degrees and research opportunities. The dramatic shift is in the rising number of undergraduates.
"In China, because so much of the growth is tied to international trade and multinational corporations with investment in China, the value of U.S. higher education is clearly understood and worth the investment of cash on the other side," said Peggy Blumenthal, chief operating officer of the Institute of International Education. Students started arriving about 1980, after the normalization of relations. There was a dip in applications after the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, Blumenthal said, because the Chinese government made it more difficult for students to leave.
It's not easy being an international relations scholar [Cue world's smallest violin!--ed.] When we're not being compared to AIG executives, we're being told that we are irrelevant to policymakers
swamped with work yesterday, a typically out-of-touch academic, it took me 24 hours to notice Joseph Nye's Washington Post op-ed about out-of-touch international relations scholars (thanks to Laura for flagging it):
While important American scholars such as Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski took high-level foreign policy positions in the past, that path has tended to be a one-way street. Not many top-ranked scholars of international relations are going into government, and even fewer return to contribute to academic theory. The 2008 Teaching, Research and International Policy (TRIP) poll, by the Institute for Theory and Practice in International Relations, showed that of the 25 scholars rated as producing the most interesting scholarship during the past five years, only three had ever held policy positions (two in the U.S. government and one in the United Nations). The fault for this growing gap lies not with the government but with the academics.
But... but... but what about hip IR scholar-bloggers?!
Even when academics supplement their usual trickle-down approach to policy by writing in journals, newspapers or blogs, or by consulting for candidates or public officials, they face many competitors for attention. More than 1,200 think tanks in the United States provide not only ideas but also experts ready to comment or consult at a moment's notice. Some of these new transmission belts serve as translators and additional outlets for academic ideas, but many add a bias provided by their founders and funders. As a group, think tanks are heterogeneous in scope, funding, ideology and location, but universities generally offer a more neutral viewpoint. While pluralism of institutional pathways is good for democracy, the policy process is diminished by the withdrawal of the academic community.
The solutions must come via a reappraisal within the academy itself. Departments should give greater weight to real-world relevance and impact in hiring and promoting young scholars. Journals could place greater weight on relevance in evaluating submissions. Studies of specific regions deserve more attention. Universities could facilitate interest in the world by giving junior faculty members greater incentives to participate in it. That should include greater toleration of unpopular policy positions. One could multiply such useful suggestions, but young people should not hold their breath waiting for them to be implemented. If anything, the trends in academic life seem to be headed in the opposite direction.
Nye is -- mostly -- preaching to the converted here. Right now, the strictures against junior faculty taking an interest in the policymaking world are very, very strong. A decade ago, for example, I received a fellowship that allowed me to spend a year in the government. At the time, a senior member of my old department flat-out advised me against taking it because it would taint my career with the whiff of policy. I showed him. Oh, wait...
That said, just to throw some sand in Nye's gears, I don't accept that this is only the academy's fault. Even when IR scholars try to speak with one loud voice, the result is often a deafening silence in the policy world.
As for individual scholars, the political barriers to government service by aspiring academics are pretty high at this point. Academics have long paper trails that are easy to manipulate, and politicians are well aware of this Achilles Heel. Exhibit A: the Obama administration's vetting process. Exhibit B: Harold H. Koh.
Note what I've just done here. Rather than offer my full-throated support for Joe's eminently sensible advice, I thought about this critically and then offered some... criticisms. This skill lets academics excel at cutting down other ideas to size. It makes it far harder, however, for IR scholars to offer constructive, useful policy advice.
Which is why Joe is so unique.
The Obama administration has wreaked havoc across the landscape of America's public policy school deandom, wantonly plucking top administrators to staff their foreign policy machine. [Is "deandom" even a word?--ed. Roll with it.]
First James Steinberg, Dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, leaves to be Deputy Secretary of State.
Then Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, leaves to become the Director of Policy Planning at the State Department.
Over at Harvard, Joseph Nye, the former
dead dean [Whoops! I swear, this was a typo, not a Freudian error!!--DWD] of the John F. Kennedy School of Government, has been rumored to be the next Ambassador to Japan.
I stayed silent when all these deans were poached -- and now they've gotten my guy:
Having recently returned from a fact-finding trip to North Korea, Stephen W. Bosworth, dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, will have little time to unpack his bags in Medford before heading back to the region - this time as President Obama's special envoy to North Korea, according to administration officials.
Bosworth, 69, is expected to be named today the top US diplomat to the six-nation talks that have sought for more than five years to persuade the reclusive North Korean regime to give up its nuclear weapons program in return for an end to nearly 60 years of economic isolation.
I received direct confirmation of this appointment from Bosworth himself -- an nice perk that comes from attending faculty meetings. It's my understanding, however, that Bosworth's appointment will not be full-time. Instead, he will serve in an advisory capacity to Christopher Hill, who will continue to run the North Korea portfolio at Foggy Bottom.
I wish my Dean the best of luck, assured in the knowledge that trying to manage faculty meetings at the Fletcher school is excellent prep work for negotiating with the obsteperous officials of the DPRK.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.