As someone who had a little fun at President Obama's expense with a slight rewriting of his first inaugural address over the weekend, I will not be so indecorous as to skewer his second inaugural address in as rough a manner. A few thoughts on the speech and pomp and circumstance and commentary, however:
1) The build-up to the speech demonstrates the blind spots that occasionally hobble our political class. All long weekend I've heard that good second inaugurals are rare or inconsequential (save Lincoln's, of course). This demonstrates a remarkably short-term memory. I'm not George W. Bush's biggest fan, but his second inaugural address was both significant in policy implications and lyrical in its use of rhetoric. If political commentators can't parse the difference between a good speech and good policy, what chance do they have of providing any enlightenment about what's to come in politics?
2) As for Obama's rhetoric, on the whole, I'd say this was both a more confident and relaxed speech than his first inaugural -- and a measure of the ways in which the country has changed in the past four years. His use of "we the people" was an effective trope and highlighted some trends that sometimes get lost in DC obsessions about the right-wing backlash to Obama. The simple fact is that over the past four years Americans have become significantly more tolerant of each other, particlarly with respect to gays and lesbians. Obama was smart to place this in a broader inexorable march towards less discrimination and greater civil and political rights in the United States. At the same time, Obama also did not shy away from his progressive economic message. We'll see how well that goes moving fowards.
3) As for the foreign policy section of the speech... meh. Here's the biggest paragraph:
We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law. We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully – not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear. America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe; and we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation. We will support democracy from Asia to Africa; from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom. And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice – not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice.
This is pretty boilerplate, in my book. Nothing new, nothing particularly soaring. It almost read as if it was a placeholder for better text. In that, this speech was a marked contrast to Bush's second inaugural, which was principally about foreign affairs.
4) That said, the most significant foreign policy implications in this speech weren't in that paragraph, but earlier:
Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.
I don't know if this will translate into concrete policy achievements, but it's interesting that Obama put it front and center in this speech. It's also interesting that, like Bush, he used religious imagery and religious authority to make the case for addressing climate change as an urgent national imperative.
5) Finally -- and I know this is gonna be controversial -- but I'm gonna say it anyway: Kelly Clarkson outsang Beyonce today. I would not have expected that going in. I suspect Beyonce might have had some technical difficulties. While they are both excellent singers, on nine out of ten days I'd expect Beyonce to outclass Clarkson. But not today. Not today. "The Star-Spangled Banner" is a tougher song than "My Country Tis of Thee," but still.
That said, my favorite pop rendition of a patriotic song is embedded below:
What did you think?
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
Nader Mousavizadeh, a special assistant to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan from 1997 to 2003, writes in The New Republic that the United States should prioritize democratization over de-nuclearization in Iran:
The fracturing of the Islamic Republic’s traditional elite, and the persistence and power of Iran’s democratic awakening six months later, make clear that a regime change is under way in Iran--one that is indigenous, sustainable, democratic in spirit, and peaceful in its means. It is the most promising development in the broader Middle East in the past quarter-century. Rather than being viewed as a sideshow, the uprising should be at the core of every policy decision regarding Iran. Western leaders should ask themselves just one question whenever faced with a new set of measures toward Iran: Will they help or hurt the Green Movement?
For all the concern about a fitful and still highly vulnerable nuclear program, a far greater prize is now in sight: a freer society and an accountable government under the rule of law. An opportunity now exists to encourage the evolution of a democratic Iran--through careful, calibrated, and principled policies that refuse to be baited by the crude and bellicose behavior of a usurper president.
Now, I'm sure Flynt Leverett and other purebred realists would vehemently disagree with this assessment. And I'm sure that William Kristol and other neoconservatives would vehemently agree with this sentiment.
For the rest of you, does this preference ordering make sense? To me, it seems that you need to take the following variables into account:
None of this is to say that a carrt-and-stick appoach on the nuclear issue is going to work either. If you're comfotable with risk, an approach that marginally boosts the likelihood of a Green Revolution taking place might be the best play.
I bring up these questions, however, because it's possible that a carrot-and-stick approach that prioritizes the nuclear issue over the regime change issue is the best of a really lousy set of policy options.
The Financial Times' Edward Luce talks today about the ways in which U.S. perceptions of China have changed:
[N]o amount of dexterity can disguise the fact that Mr Obama’s visit to China crystallises a big shift in the global centre of gravity over the past few years. Just a decade ago Bill Clinton persuaded Capitol Hill that China’s membership of the World Trade Organisation would strengthen the forces of democracy within China.
Today, almost nobody in Washington even tries to make that case. Subsequent developments in China – and elsewhere – make it hard to sustain the argument that economic liberalisation leads necessarily to political liberty.
I'm not saying Luce doesn't have a point. China's been opening to the world for two decades now and Beijing's Freedom House score on accountability and public voice hasn't really budged (and stories like these don't help). So anyone who thinks that economic liberalization will lead to political liberalization in the short-term is fooling themselves.
That said, this isn't a short-term game that's being played. Freedom House also acknowledges that, "Even though political institutions in China have not undergone major change, the degree to which Chinese can manage their own lives has increased substantially in the reform era." Furthermore, as someone watching their foreign economic policy, I think it's safe to say that the current Chinese leadership is far more sensitive to domestic political pressures than was the case a decade ago (whether the Chinese public actually wants what Kantian liberals think they want is another matter entirely).
China might be one of the toughest tests imaginable on the relationship between economic and political liberalization. The country has a strong civilizational identity, but the leadership is acutely aware of the rebellious tendencies of some of its ethnic minorities. The population is so huge that even after decades of double-digit economic growth, a lot of Chinese citizens are dirt poor. It will likely take another decade for China's GDP per capita figure to rise to the level when most political science models would predict some push towards democratization.
I certainly don't think U.S. policymakers can sit around and wait for China to democratize as the answer to policy problems in the Pacific Rim. But neither am I convinced that China's domestic polity has reached its final steady state.
QUESTION: Do you regret your role in the Iraq war? SECRETARY RICE: I absolutely am so proud that we liberated Iraq. QUESTION: Really? SECRETARY RICE: Absolutely. And I’m especially, as a political scientist, not as Secretary of State, not as National Security Advisor, but as somebody who knows that structurally it matters that a geostrategically important country like Iraq is not Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, that this different Iraq under democratic leadership (emphasis added).Both Matt and Ryan make the argument that since most political scientists opposed the war in Iraq -- and they did -- Rice is out of bounds here. The CAP boys have half a point, but let's not go overboard. First, their half-a-point --I agree with Matt and Ryan that Iraq was not a geostrategic threat. It is worth remembering, however, that Iraq was causing some major strategic headaches at the time of the invasion. That said, I also think Matt and Ryan are misreading Rice a little here. In the follow-up to the excerpted portion above, Rice says, "we are at a place now where because of difficult decisions that the President took we have an Iraq that is well on its way to being a multiethnic, multiconfessional democracy." So what Rice is talking about is the potential benefits of having a democracy spanning the Tigris and Euphrates. And on this point, Rice is correct to assert that there were/are political science-y reasons for thinking that a stable, democratic Iraq was a Good Thing for the United States and the rest of the world. Don't just take my word on this -- let's go to Shadi Hamid:
Middle Eastern states, almost all of them dictatorships, constantly bicker amongst themselves and enter into relatively childish diplomatic rows over perceived and personal slights. There is no common Arab policy to any regional or international problem, because there seem to be little structural incentives to induce Arab leaders to make an effort to agree on big issues. Part of the problem is when foreign policy is largely determined by either one person, or a very small coterie of elites around the royal court, then foreign policy initiatives have less force of legitimacy and are less sustainable because they can always be reversed fairly easily. One could posit - as I will right now - that if Middle Eastern countries were relative democracies, they would be much more willing to cooperate with each other, and would be more willing to play strong, confident leadership roles in tacking difficult regional issues. Turkey, of course, is a good example of how this might look in practice.Now, let me stress that the political science consensus on this point is hardly uniform. Most realists would dismiss the notion that regime type matters all that much. And even some democratic peace proponents would point out that while consolidated democracies are just peachy, consolidating democracies are often more trouble than they are worth. That said, however, based on these comments Condi Rice does not need to turn in her APSA card anytime soon.
One minor casualty of the recent conflict in Georgia was the doctrine of peace through McGlobalization — a belief first elaborated by Thomas Friedman in 1999, and left in ruins on August 8, when Russian troops moved into South Ossetia. “No two countries that both had McDonald’s had fought a war against each other since each got its McDonald’s,” wrote Friedman in The Lexus and the Olive Tree (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux). Not that the fast-food chain itself had a soothing effect, of course. The argument was that international trade and modernization — and the processes of liberalization and democratization created in their wakes — would knit countries together in an international civil society that made war unnecessary. There would still be conflict. But it could be contained — made rational, and even profitable, like competition between Ronald and his competitors over at Burger King. (Thomas Friedman does not seem like a big reader of Kant, but his thinking here bears some passing resemblance to the philosopher’s “Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Perspective,” an essay from 1784.) McDonald’s opened in Russia in 1990 — a milestone of perestroika, if ever there were one. And Georgia will celebrate the tenth anniversary of its first Micky D’s early next year, assuming anybody feels up for it. So much for Friedman’s theory. Presumably it could be retooled ex post facto (“two countries with Pizza Huts have never had a thermonuclear conflict,” anyone?) but that really seems like cheating. Ever since a friend pointed out that the golden arches no longer serve as a peace sign, I have been wondering if some alternative idea would better fit the news from Georgia. Is there a grand narrative that subsumes recent events? What generalizations seem possible, even necessary and urgent, now? What, in short, is the Big Idea?Now I recommend giving the rest of the essay a read -- but the premise upon which McLemee bases the piece is a bit bogus. Social science theories tends towards the probabilistic. Just because one McGlobalized country has invaded another McGlobalized country does not mean that the "theory" has no explanatory power. There's no need to reject the general trend that globalized states tend to not attack each other. There's certainly no need to throw out Kant with Friedman. Furthermore, one could argue that the causal processes articulated in the theory are actually working pretty well. Russia's stock market fell by more than 4% after yesterday's recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. As Lex points out on the FT blog:
By any normal measures, the Russian market – down 36 per cent since May - is now as cheap as a bottle of bootleg vodka. Sadly, investors are concluding Russia is not a normal country. Its choice of confrontation with the west will do little immediate damage to its economy - $1bn a day is still flowing in from exports of oil, gas, and oil products. But the damage to growth and the development of its market could be long-lasting.... If reforms are slow or non-existent, long-term earnings growth will be slower too, and vulnerability to commodity shocks higher. Investors will demand a premium to reflect the political and event risk. Russia’s chances of closing the valuation gap with China and India – which it never quite managed – recede sharply. How much of that worst-case scenario comes to pass will depend, in part, on how the current crisis evolves. Meantime, investors will continue their retreat from Moscow in favour of places that act in their own long-term economic self-interest.So, in the end, the war has resulted in losers on all sides. Georgia has obviously lost through its aggressive behavior towards the breakaway provinces. The United States and Europe has lost because they clearly were not able to deter Russia in Georgia. Russia has gained the humiliation of Georgia, but is has lost in terms of its ability to raise capital and coordinate among its erstwhile allies, who seem to be juuuuust a bit nervous right now. Now the sixty-four thousand dollar euro dollar question is whether these costs will deter further military aggression by all the parties involved. My instinct says yes, despite all this "new Cold War" rhetoric -- but I want to hear from readers on this question.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.