Your humble blogger has spent the better part of his trip to Seoul at a conference co-sponsored by the Republic of Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the East Asia Institute. The topic was "New Strategic Thinking: Planning for Korean Foreign Policy," and I got invited because I edited this a few years ago. I hope that the Korean Foreign Ministry benefitted from it. I certainly learned a few things:
1) No one knows what the f**k the North Koreans are doing. There were representatives from the United States, United Kingdom, China, Japan and South Korea on the panels. I talked to a lot of them informally during breaks and meals as well. No one had any clue why Pyongyang had ratcheted up tensions to the extent that they did over the past two months. About the only thing approximating a consensus was the belief that the North Koreans were in fact bluffing about starting outright hostilities -- which makes their behavior all the more puzzling. In triggering the shutdown of the Kaesong Industrial Park, the North Koreans cost themselves about $90 million a year that they can't afford to lose.
2) Chinese academics are getting more interesting. As recently as five years ago, my eyes used to glaze over whenever a Chinese academic started speaking at a policy conference. The reason was that there was a 100 percent certainty that the academic would simply repeat standard PRC boilerplate that didn't deviate from official government positions. An academic agreeing with one's government is not a sin, but only parroting official discourse is pretty friggin' useless.
Something has changed in recent years, however. Maybe I'm being invited to a better class of conferences, but I don't think that's it. Chinese academics are more willing to openly discuss ongoing debates within the Chinese foreign policy community about the wisdom of a certain course of action. At this conference, Qingguo Jia asserted that the Chinese really were rethinking their relationship with North Korea. Now one can debate whether the Standing Politburo is really entertaining such thoughts, but the fact that there's a public conversation about it is pretty interesting.
3) The best-laid foreign policy plans get destroyed by real-world events. The conference was devoted to how the South Korean government could implement Park Geun-Hye's concept of Trustpolitik that she articulated during her campaign for the presidency. The general consensus was that, at this point, there are very limited ways of building trust with Pyongyang. Furthermore, the likelihood of any confidence-building measures getting scrubbed during the next crisis are very high.
It is to Park's credit that she seems to recognize this and has yanked ROK workers from Kaesong as a signal of South Korea's resolve. Trustpolitik is a great phrase, but I'm dubious of whether it will accomplish anything.
4) It's the little things that matter to build mutual goodwill. That's a fancy way of noting the following: if you are a Caucasian academic in South Korea, can use chopsticks proficiently, and actually like kimchee, your South Korean counterparts will treat you like a god.
The George W. Bush presidential library is having its coming-out party this week. Five years after the end of the Bush administration, it's about time for a push to recalibrate our historical understanding of George W. Bush's legacy. In the Washington Post, Stephen Knott argues that the professional historians have it in for W., and that time
will may vindicate his legacy:
In their hasty, partisan-tinged assessments of Bush, far too many scholars breached their professional obligations, engaging in a form of scholarly malpractice, by failing to do what historians are trained to do before pronouncing judgment on a presidency: conduct tedious archival research, undertake oral history interviews, plow through memoirs, interview foreign leaders and wait for the release of classified information.
There is a difference between punditry and scholarship. The latter requires biding one’s time and offering perspective as the evidence emerges and the passions of the day cool. An assessment of Harry Truman’s presidency looks quite different today than it did immediately after he left the White House in 1953. And no historian, especially Schlesinger, would have predicted in 1961 that 21st-century scholars would rank Dwight Eisenhower among the nation’s greatest presidents.
George W. Bush’s low standing among academics reflects, in part, the rise of partisan scholarship: the use of history as ideology and as a political weapon, which means the corruption of history as history. Bush may not have been a great president; he may even be considered an average or below-average president, but he and — more important — the nation deserve better than this partisan rush to judgment.
Meanwhile, over at the National Journal, Tom DeFrank details how the Bush library, and Bush himself, will push back against this historical bias:
This week’s two days of festivities on the campus of Southern Methodist University, Laura Bush’s alma mater, mark his somewhat reluctant re-emergence into the national spotlight since leaving Washington in 2009. President Obama and the three living Presidents will join 15,000 guests to celebrate the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.
The center comprises a Presidential library housing 43,000 artifacts and millions of documents from the eight years of 43’s tenure. The adjoining think tank, informally known as the “freedom institute,” will preach the gospel of Bush’s conservative vision to future generations.
The institute is also designed by Bush as the vehicle to rehab and burnish his legacy with future historians and posterity....
While time is known to heal some wounds and Presidential legacies, money doesn't hurt, either. The institute is bulging with cash, allowing its board to hire like-minded academics and pay some executives more than $650,000 a year....
“As time goes by Bush will benefit from the comparison with Obama,” Victor Davis Hanson of Stanford’s Hoover Institution predicted. “If Obama had been a Bill Clinton-like figure he would have made Bush look like the caricature his opponents have suggested. But Obama has been a great gift for Bush - he’s as polarizing a figure as Bush was.”
OK, so, a few things:
1) The moment you trot out someone as partisan as Victor Davis Hanson to claim that Bush's legacy will outshine Obama's, you've abandoned the argument that Bush is merely the victim of partisan historians.
2) It's good to know that those shameful historians who abandoned dispassionate analysis in favor of a partisan agenda will overwhelmed by the forces for good -- namely, a $500 million wad of cash. And I, for one, look forward to future Knott op-eds praising the nobility of historians who suckled on this teat as paragons of unbiased scholarship.
3) That Truman analogy that Knott uses? Yeah, as Amy Zegart discussed back in 2008, that dog won't hunt.
4) Five years later, is there any dimension of George W. Bush's legacy that will improve with time? Actually, I think the answer is yes on a few fronts.
First, he's been a great ex-president. For such a polarizing political figure, it's remarkable at how successfully Bush has receded into private life. Lest you think that this was his only option, let me introduce you to Dick Cheney's post-vice-presidential path.
Second, ironically, Bush's legacy will be a bit more buoyant because the quality of post-Bush GOP thinking on foreign policy has been so piss-poor that Bush really does look good by comparison. It is worth remembering that, for all of the criticisms of Bush's foreign policy rhetoric, he kept anti-Muslim hysteria somewhat in check. He boosted foreign aid through PEPFAR, which might be his most significant foreign policy legacy. And the Bush foreign policy of 2008 looked dramatically different from the Bush foreign policy of 2003, which suggests some degree of adaptation and learning.
Third, the performance of Bush's economic team in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis probably deserves more credit than it gets. Despite being a wildly unpopular lame-duck president, Bush still was able to implement a series of international moves (convening the G-20 rather than the G-8) and domestic moves (TARP, the auto bailout) that prevented the crisis from metastasizing into another Great Depression.
All that said, however, there are some cold hard facts that cannot be erased. George W. Bush helmed a war of choice that proved, in the end, to impose powerful constraints (though perhaps not system-changing) for American foreign policy. He pursued his foreign policy aims in such a way as to dramatically lower U.S. standing abroad. He was at the helm when all of the pressures that triggered the 2008 financial crisis were building up and did next to nothing to stop them. And five years later, the GOP is still wrestling with the negative aspects of his political legacy.
At best, George W. Bush was a well-meaning man who gave the occasional nice speech and was thoroughly overmatched by events. At worst, he was the most disastrous foreign policy president of the post-1945 era.
Am I missing anything?
Earlier in the week I blogged about Operation Iraqi Freedom's effect on the international system (not much) and its effect on American foreign policy (pretty significant). Moving from the systemic to the domestic to the individual level, this last Iraqi retrospective post asks a more solipsistic question. How has Operation Iraqi Freedom affected me as a foreign policy writer?
Ten years ago I supported the decision to invade Iraq. If you're looking for another of the many apologies that have been penned this week, don't bother. I offered my Iraq apology six years ago. Looking back, I'm just grateful that I wasn't all that influential a foreign policy pundit back in the day.
What gnaws at me is why my analytical assessment was so wrong. I can't really blame this on Beltway groupthink. Hell, at the University of Chicago, two of the leading anti-war proponents were just a floor below my office. As I was blogging during the debates in the run-up to the war, I'd like to thjink I engaged critics frequently and in depth.
After reading some of the self-reflections this week, however, I'm beginning to think that my flaw was generational in nature. John B. Judis wrote something interesting on this earlier in the week on why he was so dubious about Operation Iraq Freedom:
I opposed the war, and didn’t listen to those who claimed to have “inside information” probably because I had come of age politically during the Vietnam War and had learned then not to trust government justifications for war. I had backed the first Bush administration’s Gulf War, but precisely because of its limited aims. Ditto the Clinton administration intervention in Kosovo. George W. Bush’s aims in Iraq were similar to American aims in South Vietnam. During those months leading up to the war, I kept having déjà vu experiences, which failed to interest my colleagues. Still, I wavered after Colin Powell’s thoroughly deceptive speech at the United Nations in February 2003, where he unveiled what he claimed was evidence of Iraqi nuclear preparations. I had to have an old friend from the anti-war days remind me again of the arguments against an invasion.
Contrast this with Operation Iraqi Freedom supporter Jonathan Chait's recollections:
The Gulf War took place during my freshman year in college. It was the first major American war since Vietnam, and the legacy of Vietnam cast a heavy shadow — the news was filled with dire warnings of bloody warfare, tens of thousands of U.S. deaths, uprisings across the Middle East. None of it happened. And again, through the nineties, the United States intervened in the Balkans twice under Bill Clinton, saving countless lives and disproving the fears of the skeptics, which had grown weaker but remained.
These events had conditioned me to trust the hawks, or at least, the better informed hawks. They also conditioned me unconsciously to regard wars through this frame, as relatively fast attacks without a heavy occupation phase. People tend to think the next war will be somewhat like the last. That is a failing I will try to avoid again.
Age-wise, I'm a contemporary of Chait's and a generation younger than Judis. Ironically, for all the Gen-Xer tropes about irony and cynicism, the foreign policy arc of our generation looked pretty damn optimistic until March 2003. Indeed, reading the above paragraphs I can recall my attitudes about the use of force in 2002 and 2003. America's use of force during the 1990s -- and, at the time, Operation Enduring Freedom -- had been limited in scope and pretty efficient in its execution. Furthermore, the foreign policy principals who were planning the Second Gulf War had run the first one, which, again, had gone pretty well. So yes, I think I had a generational bias -- I badly overestimated the capacities of George W. Bush's national security and foreign policy hands.
How does this affect my thinking about the use of force now? I think so, but in a limited way. I'm more leery of arguments that the overwhelming use of force will change things for the better in places like Syria or Iran. I'm extremely leery about the creeping militarization of American foreign policy. I think to read people I disagree with on policy -- even, say, the Leveretts -- with a more generous eye than I did a decade ago, because I'm less sure I'm right.
That said, I was by and large supportive of U.S. actions in Libya, and I've been skeptical about the constant warnings from 2006 onwards that the United States is being pulled inexorably into a war with Iran. So I suppose that some of that nineties optimism still resides within me about the use of force as an adjunct to American foreign policy.
[Lest one think I'm doing this to maintain my "viability" for a foreign policy position in the federal government, let me assure you that for very good personal and professional reasons, there is no way I'll ever be serving the U.S. government in an foreign policy capacity in the future. Furthermore, I've got about as secure a sinecure as I can find in the academy. No, the views expressed here have nothing to do with any future career aspirations.]
In this, I'm more like Chait and less like the millenial generation that follows me. Indeed, as Chait observed:
I get the sense that their foreign policy worldview is dominated by the Iraq War in the same way the Boomer generation is dominated by Vietnam and the generation before them by World War II. The formative event of their adulthood is the reference point for all future conflict....
And I think if you look at the commentary leading up to the Obama administration’s intervention in Libya, you see the same pattern asserting itself. Anti-interventionists were treating it as Iraq redux, reprising every argument they wish they could have made in 2003. But Libya was not Iraq. I’d argue it was a success — not a perfect success, but a superior alternative to standing by as tens of thousands of people were massacred.
There's hard data that the millenial generation thinks about American foreign policy differently -- and given their formative experiences, I can't say that I blame them. Indeed, it's just punishment for the neoconservatives that they bungled Iraq so badly that their intellectual project might die out Children of Men-style because they're producing fewer and fewer young neoconservatives. Still, while this worldview might prevent another Iraq, I do wonder whether it also constrains more limited military actions that do yield foreign polivcy gains.
I'm definitely more risk-averse about the use of force than I used to be. And I hope I'm more generous with those who oppose the use of force as a foreign policy tool than I was a decade ago. Still, going forward, I'm still probably more hawkish than the median foreign policy wonk of the millenial generation. Which, I confess, is a very weird place to be ten years after Iraq.
On Monday I blogged that Operation Iraqi Freedom didn't affect the international system all that much. What about the second image, however? Ten years after Operation Iraqi Freedom, are there lasting effects on American foreign policy?
The answer here seems to be "yes." Intriguingly enough, the people making this argument the loudest are neoconservatives. William Kristol argued that "war weariness" was affecting American foreign policy decision-making:
Now we’re weary again. And there are many politicians all too willing to seek power and popularity by encouraging weariness rather than point out its perils. Foremost among those politicians is our current president. It’s hard to blame the American people for some degree of war weariness when their president downplays threats and is eager to shirk international responsibilities.
[Note to Kristol: When you or anyone else inside the Beltway says "war weariness," to the rest of the country it means either "prudence" or "a healthy distrust of the claims of Beltway advocates for the use of force."]
Here's the thing: Deep down, the American people are pretty realist. The legacy of Operation Iraqi Freedom is that this realist consensus has cemented itself further in the American psyche. The American public has an aversion to using force unless the national interest is at stake, and a deep aversion to using force to do things like promote democracy or human rights. The current GOP civil war on the use of force demonstrates the extent to which this sentiment has become a bipartisan phenomenon. Indeed, if the GOP doesn't alter its rhetoric on the use of force, it will continue to bleed support from young voters.
Public opinion does not always form a powerful constraint on American foreign policy, but one of the biggest legacies of Iraq is that public attitudes about the use of force have imposed serious constraints on the United States. Sure, an administration can use force as in Libya, but now it needs multilateral support and a light footprint in order to avoid a public backlash. The curel irony of this for neoconservatives is that as secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld wanted a light footprint in the Iraq invasion, reflecting his own faith in the revolution in military affairs. By going in too light, however, Rumsfeld tarnished the RMA and the notion of using ground troops in anything but an overwhelming capacity.
Last year I closed out an essay in Policy Review with the following:
[T]he long, draining conflicts of Afghanistan and Iraq have taken their toll on public attitudes about U.S. leadership in the world, as well as the use of force. In 2009 Pew found isolationist sentiments had reached an all-time high in the United States. A January 2012 pipa poll found that Americans strongly prefer cutting defense spending compared to either Medicare or Social Security. According to a January 2012 Pew survey, "Defending against terrorism and strengthening the military are given less priority today than over the course of the past decade." Seventy-eight percent of respondents to a December 2011 cnn poll approved of the Obama administration’s decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq. The growth of unrest in that country since the U.S. withdrawal has done nothing to alter public attitudes on the matter — which is why Republican challengers to Obama have been rather reticent to talk about it. By the beginning of 2012, majorities opposed the war in Afghanistan and favored a withdrawal of U.S. forces as soon as possible. On Iran, Americans strongly prefer economic and diplomatic action to military statecraft even as tensions escalate in the Persian Gulf.
As Libya demonstrated, presidents still have some latitude when choosing to use force. The political risks for presidents to invest political capital into foreign affairs have clearly increased, however. Unless foreign interventions yield immediate, tangible results, Americans will view them as distracting from problems at home. If far-flung military interventions bog down, public support will evaporate. This will make any president regardless of ideology more risk-averse about projecting military power and persisting with it should difficulties arise. For strategic culture, this means a reversion back to the days of the Powell Doctrine and a continued appreciation for economic coercion.
It took a generation and the end of the Cold War for the lessons of Vietnam to fade away. I'd wager that it will take at least a generation for the legacy effects of the Iraq War.
Indeed, in American history, the war that Operation Iraqi Freedom reminds me of isn't Vietnam -- it's the War of 1812. That was another war of choice that was launched in no small part because of War Hawks in the halls of Congress. It went disastrously for the United States save the Battle of New Orleans, which allowed politicians to put a gloss of victory on an otherwise calamitous conflict. The long-term political effects on some of the War Hawks were pretty severe however (see: John C. Calhoun).
Operation Iraqi Freedom's effects on the international system were minor at best. The effects on American foreign policy, however, are significant and will be with us for some time to come.
So it's the ten-year anniversary of the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, which means it's time for the obligatory commemorative blog posts and such. Go read Stephen Walt and Peter Feaver for some contrasting takes. Do wait five minutes in between clicking those two, however -- any quicker than that, and intellectual whiplash might result.
This was a Big Deal in American foreign policy, and a single blog post about it will not do it justice. So I think it's worth reflecting on the legacy of the Second Gulf War at three different levels -- the system, the country, and the individual levels. Today's installment: How did Operation Iraqi Freedom affect the international system?
The surprising answer is: not all that much.
I don't come to this conclusion lightly. You'd think that a conflict that cost more than $2.2 trillion and led to 190,000 deaths would have some systemic ramifications. Except that it didn't -- not really.
To understand why, consider what both standard realist, instiitutionalist, and neoconservative accounts predicted would happen.
Realists were convinced that the largely-but-not-completely unilateral act of preemption by the United States should have triggered significant amounts of blowback. The great powers that opposed the invasion should have formed a balancing coalition against a revisionist United States. That did not happen. Furthermore, all the realist yapping about "soft balancing" looks pretty absurd in retrospect. There is no doubt that the United States suffered a few years of some serious unpopularity -- but that temporary dent ended very quickly after the 2008 election.
Some realists fond of the "imperial overstretch" argument might try to posit that the costs of the Iraq war led to America's parlous fiscal state. Any serious look at the numbers, however, says this is not true -- the war didn't help, but the principal causes of U.S. budget deficits over the past decade were the Bush tax cuts, the rise in entitlement spending, and the decline in tax revenues caused by the Great Recession. The Iraq war played a supporting role -- not a leading one.
The institutionalists would focus on the U.S. defection from international regimes and international institutions. In the end, the U.S.-led coalition invaded without an imprimatur from the United Nations. In the run-up to the war, the IAEA was particularly scornful of U.S. claims. Institutionalists would also have predicted some kind of punishment of the United States for its defection from the rules of the game. Absent that punishment, institutionalists would predict a weakening of global governance more generally, given the toothless nature of enforcement.
Except that none of these things happened. Both the U.S. and the U.N. Security Council suffered minimal costs in the aftermath of the invasion. Within a few years, however, it was the United States leading the U.N.S.C. to successive rounds of sanctions against Iran and North Korea for doing things that had been used as a pretext for invading Iraq. A decade later, it turns out that global governance did a decent job in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
As for the neoconservatives, well, their predictions were straightforward. The invasion of Iraq was supposed to set of a tectonic shift in the politics of the Middle East. States contemplating the development of WMD should have been cowed by the might of American power. The creation of a stable democracy in Iraq was supposed to trigger a massive wave of democratic regime change across the Middle East.
Now, to be fair to the neocons, Libya did give up its WMD program, and there has been a wave of regime change across the Middle East. But let's be clear about a few things. The Iraq invasion played a supporting and not a primary role in Qaddafi's decision. And anyone who tries to connect the regime change in Iraq with the Arab Spring needs to read Harry Frankfurt again and again and again. The fact that no one judges Iraq to be a real democracy suggests the hollowness of the neoconservative argument.
At the systemic level, the Iraq invasion did not matter. Maybe one could argue that there was a mild acceleration of relative U.S. decline. The thing is, a lot of the metrics that people use to discuss relative power were shifting away from the United States regardless of Iraq. None of the major predictions of standard realist, institutionalist, or neoconservative models hold up terribly well a decade later.
So does this mean Operation Iraqi Freedom doesn't matter? Of course not. Affecting the international system is a really high bar. World wars, economic depressions, industrial revolutions -- these things matter at the systemic level. It's rare that a conflict smaller than that would have systemic implications (though the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan does come to mind). Rather, the conflict's primary effects were at the national level. Iraq did have a profound effect on American foreign policy thinking. Which is the subject I'll tackle in my next blog post.
Am I missing anything?
David Sanger and Eric Schmitt have a story in today's New York Times about... well, as near as I can figure, the purpose of the story is that the intelligence comnunity wants to communicate with the Assad regime in Syria. Here's the opening:
The Syrian military’s movement of chemical weapons in recent days has prompted the United States and several allies to repeat their warning to President Bashar Al-Assad that he would be “held accountable” if his forces used the weapons against the rebels fighting his government.
The warnings, which one European official said were “deliberately vague to keep Assad guessing,” were conveyed through Russia and other intermediaries.
So I guess the New York Times is now one of those "other intermediaries."
Given the expansion of the U.S. intelligence apparatus, this kind of "signaling through the press" function is not going away anytime soon. The problem, of course, is that very often these intelligence officials can't come right out and tell Sanger and Schmitt what they want Assad to know, cause, like, there are other people reading these stories.
So, as a public service, the hardworking staff here at this blog will try to parse out exactly what is being communicated. Let's excerpt every direct quote (bolded below) and run it through the Drezner Intelligence Explainer (D.I.E.: patent pending):
One American official provided the most specific description yet of what has been detected, saying that “the activity we are seeing suggests some potential chemical weapon preparation,”
TRANSLATION: "We're seeing deviations from the status quo ante. We 're not entirely sure what this means, and we don't like that, so we're going to talk about it in the press to see if we can get a rise out of Assad."
“These are desperate times for Assad, and this may simply be another sign of desperation,” one senior American diplomat, who has been deeply involved in the effort to try to dissuade Mr. Assad’s forces from using the chemical weapons, said Sunday.
TRANSLATION: "We're seeing deviations from the status quo ante. We 're not entirely sure what this means, and we don't like that, so we're going to talk about it in the press to see if we can get a rise out of Assad."
“It’s very hard to read Assad,” one senior Israeli official said. “But we are seeing a kind of action that we’ve never seen before,” he said, declining to elaborate.
TRANSLATION: "We're seeing deviations from the status quo ante. We 're not entirely sure what this means, and we don't like that, so we're going to talk about it in the press to see if we can get a rise out of Assad."
“The president has made it clear that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a red line for the United States,” the [senior administration] official said. “We consistently monitor developments related to Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons, and are in regular contact with international partners who share our concern.
“The Assad regime must know that the world is watching, and that they will be held accountable by the United States and the international community if they use chemical weapons or fail to meet their obligations to secure them.”
TRANSLATION: "We're seeing deviations from the status quo ante. We 're not entirely sure what this means, and we don't like that. So forget what Sanger and Schmitt said about 'being vague back in Paragraph 1; we're just gonna reiterate our policy on this so there's no misunderstanding in Damascus."
Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who heads the House Intelligence Committee, declined to comment on the new intelligence reports but said in a statement late Sunday: “We are not doing enough to prepare for the collapse of the Assad regime, and the dangerous vacuum it will create. Use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would be an extremely serious escalation that would demand decisive action from the rest of the world."
TRANSLATION: "This is all Obama's fault."
“We’re worried about what the military is doing,” one official said, “but we’re also worried about some of the opposition groups,” including some linked to Hezbollah, which has set up camps near some of the chemical weapons depots.
TRANSLATION: "Our actual Syria policy remains entirely unchanged."
Am I missing anything?
As near as I can figure, the David Petraeus/Paula Broadwell story is the ultimate pundit Rorschach Test. Whatever axe one had to grind against the foreign policy community prior to the story breaking, Petraeus and Broadwell merely sharpens it. It's evidence about the sexism and double-standards at play in Washington! It shows the insularity and kiss-assedness of the foreign policy community!! It shows that COIN doesn't work, or that Petraeus was a big phony!!
I'm not immune to this impulse, so I'd like to focus on a lesson that can be drawn from this for those young, impressionistic aspirants to positions of foreign policy influence. If there's anything you can learn from the rise and fall of Paula Broadwell, it's this: do not, under any circumstances, think of a Ph.D. as merely a box to be checked on the way to power and influence in Washington.
As Fred Kaplan notes, Petraeus both benefited from and propagated the desire to develop "officer-intellectuals" within the military:
The impulse was not unique to Petraeus. It grew out of the ethos of West Point’s social science department, where Petraeus had taught in the mid-1980s. The department, known as “Sosh,” was founded just after World War II by a visionary ex-cadet and Rhodes Scholar named George A. “Abe” Lincoln. Toward the end of the war, as the senior planning aide to Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Marshall, Lincoln realized that the Army needed to breed a new type of officer to help the nation meet its new global responsibilities in the postwar era. This new officer, he wrote to a colleague, should have “at least three heads—one political, one economic, and one military.” He took a demotion, from brigadier general to colonel, so he could return to West Point and create a curriculum “to improve the so-called Army mind” in just this way: a social science department, encouraging critical thinking, even occasionally dissent.
Lincoln also set up a program allowing cadets with high scores in Sosh classes to go study at a civilian graduate school, with West Point paying the tuition. In exchange, the cadets, after earning their doctorates, would come back and teach for at least three years. Once they fulfilled that obligation, Lincoln would use his still-considerable connections in Washington to get them choice assignments in the Pentagon, the State Department, the White House, a foreign embassy, or a prestigious command post.
Now, I've encountered a lot of these scholar-officers at my various academic postings. Many of them are among the best that the military has to offer, and offer a necessary bridge between the scholarly and martial worlds. On the other hand, some of them are there precisely because they see the Ph.D. as a ticket to be punched on the way to something greater. And these are the ones who will usually flail about miserably.
This appears to be what happened to Broadwell at the Kennedy School of Government. By all accounts, she had succeeded at pretty much everything she had tried to achieve prior to entering the Ph.D. program. At that point, however... well, let's go to the Boston Globe's story:
One of Broadwell’s former professors at Harvard described her as a self-promoter who would routinely show up at office hours.
“It was very much, ‘I’m here and you’re going to know I’m here,’?” said the professor, who did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of ongoing investigations. “She was not someone you would think of as a critical thinker. I don’t remember anything about her as a student. I remember her as a personality.”
The professor said when Petraeus chose Broadwell to write his biography, there was shock among the national security faculty at Harvard because “she just didn’t have the background — the academic background, the national security background, or the writing background.”
A second Harvard faculty member who knows Broadwell and Petraeus had similar misgivings.
Now, these comments from the Harvard faculty are self-serving and indecorous; as the Globe story goes on to note, these professorial misgivings did not stop the school from embracing Broadwell's apparent success.
That said, as a professor in a policy school, those comments caused me to shudder in recognition (and it jibes with Greg Jaffe and Anne Gearan's reportage that Broadwell's coursework was below par). Any professor in one of these institutions recognizes the student profile in the Globe story. Even standard political science departments are littered with students who have sterling resumes, glittering letters of recommendation from well-connected fixtures of the foreign policy community, and that disturbing tendency to look past the task at hand to plot out steps three, four and five of their Ascent to Greatness.
Here's the thing about these students: 95 percent of them will not earn a Ph.D. -- and most of the rest who do get it will only have done so by finding the most pliant dissertation committee alive. Ambition and intelligence can get someone through college and a professional degree. It can even get someone through Ph.D.-level coursework. What it can't do is produce an above-the-bar dissertation.
In my day, I've known too many students who were talented in many ways, and yet got stymied at the dissertation phase. For people who have succeeded at pretty much everything in life to that point, a Ph.D. seems like just another barrier to transcend. It's not. Unless you are able to simultaneously love and critically dissect your subject matter, unless you thrive in an environment where people are looking forward to picking apart your most cherished ideas, you won't finish. You can guess for yourself at which task Broadwell failed, condemning her to the Jane Babbington fate.
To be clear: I don't write this peroration to suggest that finishing a Ph.D. is a sign of superior intelligence: it isn't. I've met Ph.D.'s in my field who were actually quite stupid. Consider this a public service message. As someone who has advised readers on the relative merits of getting a Ph.D., it's worth pointing out -- repeatedly -- that getting a Ph.D. is not for everyone. If there isn't an idea or a question that truly animates you, if you think of a Ph.D. as merely a ticket to be punched, then know the following: you are looking at a half-decade of misery with nothing to show for it in the end except a terminal masters degree.
Am I missing anything?
Your humble blogger was all set to talk about the nail-biter of an election for China's Standing Politburo Committee, but gosh, it seems like there wasn't much surprise in how it played out (with the admitted exception of Xi Jinping managing to sweep Hu Jintao off the Central Military Commission). So instead I'd like to talk about the clusterf**k that is the current debate in the United States on the Benghazi attack.
Yesterday at his press conference, Barack Obama defended Ambassador/possible future Secretary of State Susan Rice from Republican critiques of her Sunday news show appearances on Benghazi:
President Obama strongly defended U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice against attacks Wednesday by a trio of Republican senators who said she is ill-qualified to serve as secretary of state because of how she explained the roots of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Bristling with evident indignation during a news conference, Obama said Rice has “done exemplary work” with “skill, professionalism and toughness and grace.”
He then made a pointedly and almost personal challenge to Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.),Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) who earlier Wednesday said Rice is unqualified to lead the State Department because she appeared either misinformed or ill-prepared to discuss the attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, on national political talk shows a few days after the attack.
“If Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham and others want to go after somebody they should go after me,” Obama said. “For them to go after the UN ambassador who had nothing to do with Benghazi…to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.”
Apparently the troika weren't pleased, taking to the Senate to blast Rice, Obama and everything else within range.
Slate's David Weigel has already blogged about the ways in which McCain has already distorted what Susan Rice actually said in those Sunday appearances. Rather than repeat his points, I'd note a few things:
1) It's fascinating to me how critics seem to think that Susan Rice flat-out lied in those Sunday shows. "Lied" is different from "saying things that are wrong." Lied implies that Rice knew exactly why that attack occurred but for political reasons said something else. Being wrong would have been a much simpler task -- simply echoing intelligence talking points that were given to her. It's to Marco Rubio's credit, for example, that he nails the distinction. As quoted by Weigel:
"We have a process for nominations, and we want to give her a full hearing," said Sen. Marco Rubio yesterday when asked about Rice. "I'm concerned with the fact she went on Sunday shows and said this was the product of a spontaneous uprising and not a terrorist attack. Obviously she based those comments on directives or information that she had, and it's important to know where those directives came from and what that information was." (emphasis added)
Everything that I have read about Benghazi suggests that this was a bureaucratic nigtmare -- but Rice didn't lie. And anyone who says differently better have something better than the assertion of "it's obvious!!"
2) Tying Rice to Benghazi seems.... odd, since her only role in what happened appears to be those Sunday morning talk shows. The better questions to ask would be about Rice's performance at the United Nations. Richard Grenell has a piece over at Fox News that gets at this issue. Grennell is the embodiment of a pure partisan -- but that doesn't mean he's wrong in this case. These are the questions that should form the basis of any confirmation hearing -- if it happens.
3) Do Republicans really want to make their new standard for bouncing cabinet nominations to be "says inaccurate things on television"? By that standard, an awful lot of the GOP's foreign affairs machine that served or defended the Bush administration would be blackballed from any foreign policy office for the future.
Your humble blogger has not been shy in stating that he now votes in presidential elections based largely on foreign policy considerations. Nor has he been shy in expressing his... er... exasperation with various foreign policy kerfuffles during the campaign. So as Election Day approaches, you might wonder -- what will Daniel Drezner do? [Oh, give me a f**ing break, just get on with it!!--ed.]
With Barack Obama, there's an actual record to judge.... and I think it would be best to call it mixed. The Economist, in its Obama endorsement, noted the following:
[On] foreign policy... he was also left with a daunting inheritance. Mr Obama has refocused George Bush’s “war on terror” more squarely on terrorists, killing Osama bin Laden, stepping up drone strikes (perhaps too liberally, see article) and retreating from Iraq and Afghanistan (in both cases too quickly for our taste). After a shaky start with China, American diplomacy has made a necessary “pivot” towards Asia. By contrast, with both the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and his “reset” with Russia, he overreached and underdelivered. Iran has continued its worrying crawl towards nuclear weapons.
All these problems could have been anticipated. The Arab spring could not. Here Mr Obama can point to the ousting of tyrants in Egypt and Libya, but he has followed events rather than shaping them, nowhere more so than with the current carnage in Syria. Compared with, say, George Bush senior, who handled the end of the cold war, this aloof, disengaged man is no master diplomat; set beside the younger Bush, however, Mr Obama has been a safe pair of hands.
I think that's a decent assessment, although it overlooks what is, to me, the most troubling element of Barack Obama's first-term foreign policy legacy -- his management of the foreign policy process. As my Foreign Policy colleague Rosa Brooks has written about in agonizing detail, the dysfunction that was talked about in Obama's first year in office hasn't disappeared along with Osama bin Laden.
Indeed, the aftermath of Benghazi puts this on full display. To be blunt, for all the GOP efforts to make the lack of pre-attack planning an indictment of the White House, consulate security in Benghazi is not the kind of decision that rises to the White House level. The aftermath of the attack is another story, however. In the past 24 hours alone, report after report after report after report shows Obama's foreign policy agencies defending their own turf, leaking to reporters in ways that heighten bureaucratic dysfunction, and revealing the White House's national security team to be vindictive and petty.
Benghazi also highlights a deeper problem with this administration -- the lack of policy follow-through. Whether one looks at the Iraq withdrawal or the rebalancing to Asia or the Afghanistan build-up or their embrace of the G-20, the story is the same. Even if the administration had demonstrated good first instincts, it has failed to follow up those instincts with either next steps or contingency planning.
So, the biggest indictment of the Obama administraion's foreign policy has been poor management. Which, as it turns out, is Mitt Romney's genuine strength, as Ezra Klein points out in his excellent Bloomberg column this AM:
Romney’s apparent disinterest in an animating ideology has made him hard to pin down -- for the Journal editorial board, for journalists, for Democrats and Republicans, for campaign consultants, even for Romney’s closest confidantes. It has led to the common knock on Romney that he lacks a core. He’s an opportunist. He picks whatever position is expedient. He is a guy with brains, but no guts.
But after spending the last year talking to Romney advisers and former colleagues, as well as listening to him on the campaign trail, I’ve come to see this description as insufficient. It’s not so much that Romney lacks a core as that his core can’t readily be mapped by traditional political instruments. As a result, he is free to be opportunistic about the kinds of commitments that people with strong political cores tend to value most.
What Romney values most is something most of us don’t think much about: management. A lifetime of data has proven to him that he’s extraordinarily, even uniquely, good at managing and leading organizations, projects and people. It’s those skills, rather than specific policy ideas, that he sees as his unique contribution. That has been the case everywhere else he has worked, and he assumes it will be the case in the White House, too.
This jibes with all the chatter I hear about Romney as well. Which should lead you to think that Romney might be exactly what ails American foreign policy.
The thing is, Romney's own foreign policy rhetoric makes it clear that managing foreign policy isn't enough. As he's said, the president has to be a foreign policy leader. A president has much greater leeway on these issues than on other policy dimensions. A good foreign policy president needs to be genunely interested in the subject, possess good foreign policy insincts, and rely on a core set of ideas that allows him or her to make tough decisions in a world of uncertainty. As I wrote last year:
[A] philosophy of "I won't say anything until I know all the facts" is bogus because, in foreign policy, the facts are never all in. Very often intelligence is partial, biased, or simply flat-out wrong. It's those moments, when a president has to be a foreign policy decider for a 51-49 decision, that a combination of background knowledge and genuine interest in the topic might be useful.
When I use these criteria to think about Mitt Romney, he doesn't do very well. Every conversation with every Romney advisor confirms the same thing: this is not a guy who has engaged deeply in international affairs. He was perfectly happy to go all neocon-y in the primary season to appeal to his base, and then tack back to the center in the general election to appeal to war-weary independents. He's not doing this because he's dishonest; he's doing this because he doesn't care. His choice of foreign policy neophyte Paul Ryan as his VP pick confirms this as well: Romney/Ryan has the least foreign policy experience of any GOP ticket in at least sixty years.
Furthermore, in the moments during this campaign when Romney has been required to display his foreign policy instincts, he's foundered badly. He stuck his beak into the Chen Guangcheng case when silence was the better option. He did the same thing in the aftermath of the attacks in Cairo and Benghazi, going so far as to accuse Obama of "sympathizing" with terrorists. As for his overseas trip, well, the less said, the better. All of these episodes show a guy who's out of his depth on matters of foreign affairs. And when he's been criticized in taking these stances, Romney has responded by doubling down on a bad position. His political instincts have led him to some bad foreign policy choices.
I'm not nearly as enthusiastic about as Obama as, say, Jonathan Chait, but his endorsement of the president makes an interesting point:
It is noteworthy that... the best decisions that Obama made during his presidency ran against the advice of much of his own administration.... Many of his own advisers, both economists steeped in free-market models and advisers anxious about a bailout-weary public, argued against his decision to extend credit to, and restructure, the auto industry. On Libya, Obama’s staff presented him with options either to posture ineffectually or do nothing; he alone forced them to draw up an option that would prevent a massacre. And Obama overruled some cautious advisers and decided to kill Osama bin Laden.
On foreign policy, Barack Obama might be an indifferent manager, but by making his first decision the right one, he has saved himself numerous embarrassments and reversals.
This was a closer call than I expected, and I honestly hope (and think there's a good chance) that if Mitt Romney is elected, he'd grow into his foreign policy role with time. For this analyst, however, Barack Obama is the imperfect, but superior, alternative.
And now the bitter political invective in the comments.... begin!!
Following last night's presidential debate on foreign policy, I'd like to offer three quick apologies:
1) To those readers playing my debate drinking game -- sorry, you got pretty hammered, didn't you? Sorry about that -- I forgot that the one thing conservatives love about the United Nations is the 2002 Arab Human Development Report. When Romney name-checked that, a lot of bottles had to be downed.
2) To those readers who read my quick take in the New York Times on Mitt Romney's pivot to moderation during last night's debate -- there's one crucial word missing. When I said, "Romney’s sotto voce message was that he would be a hot-headed, trigger-happy cowboy – like the Last Republican President Who Shall Not Be Named." I meant to say "Romney’s sotto voce message was that he would not be a hot-headed, trigger-happy cowboy – like the Last Republican President Who Shall Not Be Named."
3) Finally, to those readers who watched the whole debate -- I'm sorry, there wasn't much of a foreign policy debate, was there? Both candidates pivoted towards the economy frequently. When they stayed on foreign policy, Mitt Romney kept agreeing with Barack Obama. I nearly spit out my drink when Romney said the Afghanistan surge had "worked." Methinks he must have read this post from last month.
So -- to repeat -- I'm sorry.
Here endeth my apology tour.
Your humble blogg -- [Wait, screw that, you should be feeling pretty proud today!! -- ed.]
Your proud blogger will be watching tonight's foreign policy debate despite his near-certainty that it's not going to be all that illuminating or informative. He has no choice, as he has a prior commitment to watch the damn thing.
Now, in preparation for the debate, I could encourage you to read some excellent preparatory posts by Walter Russell Mead or Spencer Ackerman, or this essay on American incolvency in grand strategy by Michael Mazarr -- but that's no fun.
I could suggest following one of the foreign policy debate drinking games out there -- see the National Journal or Duck of Minerva, for example -- but these drinking games look exceptionally dangerous. Drink when Obama mentions bin Laden? Really? Or when Romney says "resolve"? No one would be upright after the first twenty minutes.
No, I think the only responsible thing to do is to suggest my own debate drinking game. The idea here is to sort the possible answer such that a true "black swan" event would have to occur for the participant to risk alcohol poisoning.
So, in that spirit:
THE OFFICIAL 2012 FOREIGN POLICY DEBATE DRINKING GAME
Take a sip of your drink if....
1. Either candidate makes a geographical mistake (like insisting that the West Bank borders Syria or something like that).
2. Obama says "I'm the commander in chief."
3. Romney says that the U.S. Navy is the smallest it's been since 1916 (a dubious claim).
4. Romney accuses Obama of turning the United States into Greece.
5. Anyone on the stage (including Bob Schieffer) mentions Australia, New Zealand or Canada.
Finish your drink if....
1. Either candidate mentions the benefits of trade with China.
2. Either candidate says that Latin America is a crucial strategic region for the United States.
3. Obama says that there's some wiggle room in the 2014 withdrawal date for U.S. combat forces for Afghanistan.
4. Romney says that that there's no wiggle room in the 2014 withdrawal date for U.S. combat forces for Afghanistan.
5. Anyone onstage acknowledges that China has pretty much stopped intervening to keep its currency undervalued.
Finish your bottle if....
1. Romney says anything positive about the United Nations.
2. Either candidate says that the United States needs to push hard for democratization in Saudi Arabia.
3. Either "Africa" or "Doha round" are mentioned.
4. Either candidate blasts Israel for keeping its currency severely undervalued.
5. Obama accuses Romney of a "speak loudly and carry a magic wand" doctrine.
DRINK YOURSELF TO OBLIVION IF AND ONLY IF....
1. Bob Schieffer asks the candidates what they would do in case of zombies.
Now I'm pretty sure that if you follow these rules, you'll enjoy tonight's debate without regretting that enjoyment tomorrow.
While I was getting drunk in Mexico, I see that the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs commissioned a poll of 600 "active voters" in Ohio and a similar amount in Florida to see what swing state voters think about foreign affairs. In Politico, Graham Allison and Mike Murphy co-author their take:
It has long been accepted wisdom that Americans “don’t know much about history, don’t know much geography”— to recall the words of a golden oldie. So most folks managing, covering, or watching current campaigns will be surprised to learn that the majority of likely voters in the critical swing states of Florida and Ohio not only know more about the world outside, but care more, and want to know more than most candidates imagine.
Well.... sort of. As Allison and Murphy acknowledge later on in the essay:
When asked what international issues they want to hear Romney and Obama speak to, the first responses are Iran’s nuclear weapons program and terrorism, far ahead of the global economy. Both in Ohio and Florida, by a margin of almost 2-1,voters believe the Arab Spring has affected American interests negatively, not positively. Voters have mixed views on U.S. global engagement and are split almost down the middle on isolationism. Given that Florida Republicans and independents overwhelmingly take the view the U.S. should pay less attention to problems overseas, two decidedly internationalist candidates will tread carefully.
But even those who oppose America taking a more active role in foreign affairs believe that understanding foreign affairs is essential because events abroad can increase the threat of terrorism or draw America into foreign wars. This is an especially relevant concern for these two states, where the majority have a relative who has served in the military.
Now on the one hand, this poll makes it clear that isolationists are not know-nothings -- even those individuals who don't want foreign entanglements want to know more about the world. Which is smart... because greater knowledge is a good way to avoid foreign entanglements.
On the other hand, a peek inside the poll numbers makes it clear that this desire to avoid foreign entanglements is pretty strong. When asked whether "it's best for the future of the country to be active in world affairs" or whether the U.S. "should pay less attention to problems overseas and concentrate on problems here at home," a plurality of Floridians (48% to 45%) prefer concentrating on the home front. Intriguingly, Ohioians are more cosmopolitan, with 51% preferring an active role and only 42% opposed. This is intriguing because the Midwest is often thought to be more isolationist than Florida -- and the poll shows that Floridians are much more well-travelled to Ohioians. Still, the important thing is that compared to past polling on this subject, these are very strong numbers for isolationism -- or, dare I say, a more realpolitik perspective.
The poll also shows that Americans are very wary about the Arab Spring:
Voters are pessimistic about the impact of Arab Spring on American interests. In Florida, 27% said it is good while 47% said it is not good and 25% are unsure. The numbers were similar in Ohio – 26% said good, 41% said not good, with 33% unsure.
Also, in terms of debate topics, the issues that piqued the interest of poll respondents were, in descending order, Iran, terrorism, Afghanistan, human rights, the global economy, China, Arab Spring, and Europe. This must make Bob Schieffer pretty happy. This is one of those cases when the wisdom of crowds doesn't hold however -- because these voters are pretty uninformed about foreign affairs (a strong majority of respondents believes that Japan possesses nuclear weapons).
To be honest, however, the single-scariest data point in this survey is that 70% of Floridian responses said that "cable television news stations like CNN, Fox News and MSNBC" was a main source for their opinions about foreign affairs.
The New York Times' Peter Baker wrote a pretty shrewd article pointing out that for all the differences in rhetoric, the actual foreign policy content of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney look pretty damn similar.
Of course, even if the policies would be similar, the execution and rhetoric matter. While I didn't think Romney's "disconcerting" line about the Olympics was all that bad in context, it wasn't a good day for his campaign. And while the Jerusalem leg of his trip seemed to please the Israelis, Romney still managed to stir up a hornets nest of trouble:
Mitt Romney told Jewish donors Monday that their culture is part of what has allowed them to be more economically successful than the Palestinians, outraging Palestinian leaders who suggested his comments were racist and out of touch with the realities of the Middle East. Romney's campaign later said his remarks were mischaracterized.
"As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality," the Republican presidential candidate told about 40 wealthy donors who ate breakfast at the luxurious King David Hotel.
Romney said some economic histories have theorized that "culture makes all the difference."
"And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things," Romney said, citing an innovative business climate, the Jewish history of thriving in difficult circumstances and the "hand of providence." He said similar disparity exists between neighboring countries, like Mexico and the United States.
The CIA World Factbook has a rather different assessment of what ails the Palestinian economy:
Despite the Palestinian Authority's (PA) largely successful implementation of economic and security reforms and the easing of some movement and access restrictions by the Israeli Government in 2010, Israeli closure policies continue to disrupt labor and trade flows, industrial capacity, and basic commerce, eroding the productive capacity of the West Bank economy.
So, Israel/Palestine is not a great example. And let's also stipulate that it's not... diplomatic to say that a foreign jurisdiction's development has been poor because of their culture. And let's skip over Romney's bad data and the public fallout and the White House glee and get to the really geeky question: is Romney right more generally? As Ashley Parker points out, Romney has made this "culture" argument before:
In the speech, Mr. Romney mentioned books that had influenced his thinking about nations — particularly “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” by David S. Landes, which, he said, argues that culture is the defining factor in determining the success of a society....
The argument comparing Israeli and Palestinian vitality is one Mr. Romney has made previously — in speeches and in his book “No Apology” — and one that he has used to explain economic disparities between other countries, as well.
Indeed, in No Apology, Romney uses the same David Landes quote from page 516 of Wealth and Poverty of Nations -- "culture makes all the difference" -- three separate times. I wish, however, that Romney had read onto page 517:
On the other hand, culture does not stand alone. Economic analysis cherishes the illusion that one good reason should be enough, but the determinants of complex processes are invariably plural and interrelated. Monocausal explanations will not work. The same values thwarted by "bad government" at home can find opportunity elsewhere.
It's that last sentence that suggests where Romney might be off base. As Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson have argued recently in Why Nations Fail, it's not culture that matters as much as political institutions. From p. 57:
Is the culture hypothesis useful for understanding world inequality? Yes and no. Yes in the sense that social norms, which are related to culture, matter and can be hard to change, and they also sometimes support institutional differences, this book's explanation for world inequality. But mostly no, because those aspectys of culture often emphasized -- religion, national ethics, African or Latin values -- are just not important for understanding how we got here and why the inequalities in the world persist.... they are mostly an outcome of institutions, not an independent cause (emphasis added).
The kind of gaps in economc output that Romney likes to stress are of so recent a vintage that institutions are the more likely driver of what's going on than culture. One can't assert, for example, that culture explains why South Korea is outperforming North Korea or why West Germany was more prosperous than East Germany. Acemoglu and Robinson don't get the final word on this -- this remains an unsettled question -- but their hypothesis is of a more recent vintage than Landes.
So no, I don't think Romney is right -- but it's still an open debate. That said, if this is what he actually believes, then there would be some profound implications for development policy if he was elected president. Chaging political and economic institutions is hard work -- but it is doable through policy. Changing culture is next to impossible -- they change, but at a glacial pace. So when Romney says he thinks culture is the key, it's another way of saying that he doesn't think the United States, World Bank or any policy tool out there is really going to promote economic growth in the least developed world.
That said, I will give Mitt Romney credit -- his political gaffes -- as opposed to those of his staff -- generate some damn fine debates.
What do you think?
Friend of Mitt Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin blogged yesterday about the ten things she thinks Romney needs to talk about with respect to American foreign policy. Now, some of them are pretty anodyne ("Explain why America has to be involved in the world on both practical and philosophic grounds"), and some of them are fair shots at the Obama administration ("Obama dragged his heels for years on three free-trade agreements"). One of them, however, epitomizes a certain kind of right-wing revisionism that needs to be quashed immediately:
Obama made an error of historic proportion in failing to back the Green Movement in 2009 and to adopt regime change as the policy of the U.S. thereafter. His determination to engage a regime that had no intention of being engaged led to muteness when support was most needed by the Greens. Ever since we have failed to hold the regime accountable (for the assassination attempt on a Saudi diplomat, for example) for its actions. Obama has dragged his feet and engaged in self-delusion with regard to his Iran sanctions policy. It hasn’t slowed Iran’s nuclear weapons program. In talking down the military option he’s made the threat of force less credible, and shifted the burden to Israel to take care of a threat to the West (emphasis in original).
Now, there are many, many things wrong with this paragraph: Iran is not really a strategic threat to the West outside of Israel, and the Obama administration clearly hopes that the current sanctions regime could destabilize the Iranian regime. But let's focus on the 2009 moment.
I expect this talking point to pop up again and again among Romney foreign policy flacks, and if I were advising the campaign I'd probably recommend it as a sound political tactic. The beauty of this criticism is that it rests on a magical counter-factual that will never be tested: according to this narrative, if only Barack Obama had been more forceful in June 2009, then the Iranian regime would have crumbled and sweetness and light would have prevailed in the Middle East. It's a great campaign argument, because we'll never know what would have happened if Obama had acted as Rubin, Romney et al would have liked him to act. Romney can pledge that he would have acted differently in the summer of 2009, and he'll never, ever have to flip-flop on it.
The thing is, this argument that Obama could have tipped the scales in 2009 is utter horses**t. Recall that, during the uprising, the leaders of the Green Movement wanted nothing to do with more sanctions against Iran or with military action -- it took them six months of brutal repression for them to even toy with embracing targeted sanctions. Indeed, the reason the administration tiptoed around the Green Movement was that they did not want the Khamenei regime to taint the resistance as a Western-inspired creation. If Obama had been more vocal during the initial stages of the movement, it likely would have accelerated the timetable of the crackdown. And no U.S. action short of a full-scale ground assault could have stopped that.
Let's get rid of the fantasy counter-factual in which U.S. measures short of a ground campaign would have ejected the current Iranian regime. Let's also dismiss the idea that the Green Movement would have welcomed greater U.S. support.
Rubin, Romney et al want the Obama administration to be blunt about its desire to depose the current Iranian regime. This kind of policy statement does have the virtue of simplicity: it ends the negotiation track and leaves only military force as a viable option. Of course, such an approach would also spur Tehran into accelerating its nuclear program as a means of guaranteeing its own survival (which is, by the way, the one constant of Iranian foreign policy). And, again -- short of a ground campaign -- Iran's regime ain't going anywhere.
GOP foreign policy advocates want to argue that Obama screwed up in 2009. Understand, however, that when they argue that the United States should have taken more forceful action three years ago, the only forceful action that would have mattered was another ground war.
Am I missing anything?
As events in Syria unravel, there is a growing concern that Syrian despot Bashar Assad will use his chemical weapons arsenal to punish those rising up against him in a desperate bid to stay in power. Eli Lake reports that the CIA is, as I type this, "scrambling to get a handle on the locations of the country’s chemical and biological weapons."
What can the U.S. do? Elsewhere on Foreignpolicy.com, Andrew Tabler argues that the U.S. needs to be firm:
Washington and its allies must lay down and enforce red lines prohibiting the use of Syria's chemical and biological weapons (CBW), one of the Middle East's largest stockpiles. To do so, Washington should push for a U.N. Security Council resolution under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, which sanctions the use of military action, on mass atrocities in Syria -- including a reference that those responsible for the use of CBW would be held accountable before the International Criminal Court. Washington should not water down the text to make the measure toothless, as it has done repeatedly on Syria over the last year in an attempt to avoid a Russia veto. In the event of further Russian obstructionism, the United States should lead its allies -- Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia -- in issuing a stark warning to Assad that mass atrocities in Syria will be met with an immediate military response. (emphasis added)
I'm neither a Middle East nor a nonproliferation expert, but I know a little bit about compellence, and Tabler's strategy sounds like an unsuccessful one in compelling the Syrian leader. Assad's behavior to date suggests that he really doesn't care about anything other than staying in power -- and he's perfectly willing to use whatever tactics are necessary to stay in power. He is now facing an adversary that, based on this week's bomb attack in Damascus, is perfectly content with using unconventional tactics. There is simply no way that Assad will constrain himself in response to a Western threat -- no matter how credible it is -- when his alternative is losing power.
Let's be blunt -- the only "immediate military response" that would matter would be a full-blown ground invasion (I don't think Seal Team Six could pull off an Assad decapitation at a tolerable amount of risk). It will take quite some time for that kind of operation to mobilize. And even if there is a ground assault, Assad would likely find his way across Iraq to Iran. Using ground force might be an advantage to using this kind of force as a signal to future leaders contemplating the use of WMD -- but I suspect it's a very weak effect.
One obvious way to strengthen the incentive structure would be to pose a cornered Assad with a different choice: If you don't use chemical weapons, and just give up power peacefully, you can have a long and happy life.
But it's hard to offer him that option, because the Syrian army has already committed enough atrocities to get Assad indicted and convicted by an international tribunal and locked up for the rest of his life. So, to him, surrender may seem to entail a fate not much more attractive than death....
Suppose that, 10,000 Syrian lives ago, we could have offered Assad the option of safe haven if he surrendered power peacefully. Or, maybe, we could have offered him the option of safe haven after serving a year of jail time. Or two years, or whatever.
Now, you might argue that to let him off that lightly would have been to dishonor the 8,000 or so Syrians who had already died. Point taken. But tell that to the other 10,000. And tell that to the many thousands who may die yet.
The problem with this is that one has to assume that both the United States and Russia likely did make this offer to Assad a year ago - and he likely rejected it.
Unfortunately, Syria is not a case that will end well. An external ground invasion would put Western troops in the middle of a sectarian conflict. No external intervention will allow the sectarian conflict to fester even more. As for the United Nations, well, fuhgeddaboutit.
This is one of those cases in which the limits of U.S. influence -- or any great power's influence -- over the situation can be exaggerated. This seems obvious to me -- but I thought it might be a useful point to make to the rest of the foreign policy community.
Am I missing anything?
So it turned out that this was the week that both the Romney campaign and the Obama campaign decided that foreign policy was an important thing to talk about during election season. Speaking personally, this is great!! I seem to have moved up in the Rolodex of those covering the campaign. Expect lots of juicy quotes in the months to come, and readers are warmly encouraged to proffer useful metaphors that I can provide in soundbite fashion over the next six months.
Unfortunately for the Romney campaign, this was not a great week to ramp up attacks along this line. The reasons is that, all told, the Obama administration had a pretty good foreign policy week. Not all, or even most of this, was of its own doing, but consider the following:
1) Iran has signaled a genuine willingness to talk compromise on its nuclear program in order to avoid the EU oil embargo kicking in. That might just be rhetoric, but it's interesting to note that even senior Israeli officials are starting to talk down the Iranian threat. The less Iran becomes a thing, the
lower gas prices can fall better for the administration.
2) The United States has maybe, just maybe, eliminated a major thorn in bilateral relations with Japan by finally reaching agreement on moving U.S. troops from Okinawa. We'll see if this holds -- everyone assumed that a 2006 agreement had put this problem to rest before successive Japanese governments
shot themselves in the foot raised it again, but this is the thing on this list for which the administration deserves the most credit. As an added bonus, the administration actually got some nice words from John McCain on comity with the Senate.
3) For some reason China seems to be in a more productive mood in their dealings with the United States, and Mark Landsler and Steven Lee Myers have taken notice in the New York Times:
For years, China stymied efforts to pressure Iran. Now, in addition to throwing its weight behind the sanctions effort, officials say, Beijing is also playing a more active role in the recently revived nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers — the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany. While in past negotiations, Beijing has followed in lockstep the positions taken by Russia, this time Chinese diplomats are offering their own proposals.
“One of the key elements of making this work is unity among the major powers,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic exchanges. “The Chinese have been very good partners in this regard.”
There are also signs of new cooperation on Syria. Only weeks after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called China’s veto of a United Nations Security Council resolution “despicable,” China is supporting Kofi Annan’s peace plan for the strife-torn country and is deploying monitors to help oversee it. Even on North Korea, which China has long sheltered from tougher international action, the Chinese government quickly signed on to a United Nations statement condemning the North’s recent attempt to launch a satellite.
And there is progress on the economic front: American officials said China recently loosened trading on its currency, the remninbi, which could help close a valuation gap with the dollar that has stoked trade tensions between China and the United States during an election year.
To some seasoned observers of China, these developments are less a harbinger of a new era of cooperation between Beijing and Washington than evidence that, at least for now, the interests of the two countries coincide in some important areas.
The administration will nevertheless be happy to pocket the policy dividends.
4) Staying in Northeast Asia, it turns out that the big bad North Korean ICBMs are little more than a pipe dream -- and western analysts are starting to say that Kim Jong Un is naked in the public square:
North Korea tried to flex its military might with an extravagant parade on April 15, just three days after it admitted that its missile test had been a failure, but analysts now say that the new intercontinental ballistic missiles on display in the meticulously choreographed parade were nothing more than props.
The analysts studied photos of the six missiles and came to their conclusion for three primary reasons: 1. The missiles did not fit the launchers that carried them. 2. The missiles appear to be made out of both liquid-fuel and solid-fuel components that are unable to fly together. 3. The casings on the missiles undulate which suggests the metal is not thick enough to hold up during flight.
"There is no doubt that these missiles were mock-ups," Markus Schiller and Robert Schmucker, of Germany's Schmucker Technologie , wrote in a paper recently posted on Armscontrolwonk.com. "It remains unknown if they were designed this way to confuse foreign analysts, or if the designers simply did some sloppy work."
If the U.S. government can claim progress on Iran, China, North Korea, and Japan in one week, that's a good foreign policy week. Of course, for a lot of these issues, the administration is the beneficieary of circumstances rather that pro-active policies. Still, the administration deserves some credit for some of these development.
It's just one week, though. And I fear the most memorable statement about American foreign policy is this rather unfortunate choice of words:
NOTE TO WHITE HOUSE/CAMPAIGN SPEECHWRITERS: In the future, avoid having Biden utter any of the following: "big stick", "hard power", "pounding the enemy", "won't take no for an answer", and "smooth-talking his adversaries".
Am I missing anything?
Andrew Sullivan has a Newsweek cover story designed to
best allocate Tina Brown's resources or to wave a big red flag at conservatives make the case that Obama's tortoise-like strategy of slow but steady, focusing on the long haul, has left his excitable hare-like critics on the left and the right launching fantasy-based and not reality-based critiques of his administration. Or, as he puts it: "The attacks from both the right and the left on the man and his policies aren’t out of bounds. They’re simply—empirically—wrong."
This has triggered the predictable reactions around the blogosphere, as well as Sullivan's responses. One of the biggest perks of blogging at FP is that I rarely wade into those shark-infested waters anymore. I have more than a passing interest in Obama's foreign policy, however, so I'm going to focus only on the foreign policy portions of Sullivan's take and see if they hold up to empirical scrutiny. Here are the key excerpts on his pushback against the right:
On foreign policy, the right-wing critiques have been the most unhinged. Romney accuses the president of apologizing for America, and others all but accuse him of treason and appeasement. Instead, Obama reversed Bush’s policy of ignoring Osama bin Laden, immediately setting a course that eventually led to his capture and death. And when the moment for decision came, the president overruled both his secretary of state and vice president in ordering the riskiest—but most ambitious—plan on the table. He even personally ordered the extra helicopters that saved the mission. It was a triumph, not only in killing America’s primary global enemy, but in getting a massive trove of intelligence to undermine al Qaeda even further. If George Bush had taken out bin Laden, wiped out al Qaeda’s leadership, and gathered a treasure trove of real intelligence by a daring raid, he’d be on Mount Rushmore by now. But where Bush talked tough and acted counterproductively, Obama has simply, quietly, relentlessly decimated our real enemies, while winning the broader propaganda war. Since he took office, al Qaeda’s popularity in the Muslim world has plummeted.
Obama’s foreign policy, like Dwight Eisenhower’s or George H.W. Bush’s, eschews short-term political hits for long-term strategic advantage. It is forged by someone interested in advancing American interests—not asserting an ideology and enforcing it regardless of the consequences by force of arms. By hanging back a little, by “leading from behind” in Libya and elsewhere, Obama has made other countries actively seek America’s help and reappreciate our role. As an antidote to the bad feelings of the Iraq War, it has worked close to perfectly.
OK, so how did Sullivan do?
He has the facts on his side with respect to the BS about Obama apologizing for America. This has been a standard line when the GOP candidates talk foreign policy and it's total horses**t. Sullivan's comparison of Obama to George H.W. Bush and Dwight Eisenhower on foreign policy also makes sense. The emerging strategic narrative of this administration is a shift in foreign policy resources from the Middle East to the Pacific Rim, and realist-friendly presidents like Bush 41 and Eisenhower would approve.
That said... arguing that George W. Bush "ignored" bin Laden seems like a gross exaggeration -- even if many of Bush's anti-terrorism policies were counterproductive. More importantly, the notion that Libya somehow "counteracted" Iraq is a problematic formulation. It's far from clear whether Obama has been "winning the broader propaganda war" in the Middle East. Don't take my word for it, however -- here's PIPA's Steven Kull:
The picture is mixed. With the death of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda is weaker. With revolutions in several Arab countries, frustrations with unpopular autocratic governments - a recruiting theme for terrorist groups - have been mitigated. But one important contributing factor has not improved - widespread anger at America in the Muslim world. While views have improved in Indonesia, throughout the Middle East and South Asia, hostility toward the United States persists unabated.
This does not read like a victory in the propaganda war.
OK, what about Sullivan's foreign policy rebuttal to the left? Here's the key excerpt
This is where the left is truly deluded. By misunderstanding Obama’s strategy and temperament and persistence, by grandstanding on one issue after another, by projecting unrealistic fantasies onto a candidate who never pledged a liberal revolution, they have failed to notice that from the very beginning, Obama was playing a long game.... He has done it with the Israeli government over stopping the settlements on the West Bank—and with the Iranian regime, by not playing into their hands during the Green Revolution, even as they gunned innocents down in the streets.
Hmmm.... I'll be honest, I have no idea what Sullivan is talking about with respect to Israel. Ironically, Israel is one of the areas where the left and right agree that Obama has made a hash of things (albeit for different reasons). First, it's not clear to me at all how Obama's policies have made it more likely that settlement construction will be halted on the West Bank. Second, stepping back further, one could argue that Obama's greatest strategic miscalculation was his belief that the Israel/Palestinian issue was the fulcrum through which one can understand the problems of the region. Third, Israel/Palestine is precisely the area where a long-term, slow-game approach carries the biggest risks. Long-term demographic and political pressures make a two-state deal less likely over time.
Iran is a counterfactual question. Indeed, it's the favorite counterfactual question of the GOP 2012 presidential candidates. It allows the candidates to portray Obama as weak, claim he botched things without any proof that the United States could have influenced the outcome, and promise that they would have handled it differently, which we'll never know in a non-multiverse world. Still, while Obama has succeeded in applying more economic pressure on Iran than is commonly appreciated, I don't see this regime going anywhere.
So, how does Sullivan do? He makes some valid points, but he proffers some serious whoppers as well. This is far from a slam-dunk empirical refutation of Obama's critics. As a George H.W. Bush kind of foreign policy guy, I wanted Sullivan to empirically and logically eviscerate the more hysterical foreign policy critics out there. He didn't.
Having watched the last national security debate ten days ago, tonight's CNN/Heritage/AEI debate felt at times like a stale rerun. Michelle Bachmann trotted out her same ACLU line, Mitt Romney made the same bleats about the American Century, Ron Paul was … Ron Paul.
Having now watched way too many of these suckers, I'm probably far too
inebriated jaded to evaluate these candidates in the same way that a newcomer to their positions would. They still have to appeal to those newcomers, however, so I can't fault them entirely for repeats.
This is a long-winded way of saying that this debate left me in a very sour mood, primarily because of the following:
1) CNN decided to -- yet again -- waste 15 minutes with various forms of opening introductions. That's 15 minutes that could have been devoted to actual questions.
2) Many of the AEI and Heritage think-tankers asked excellent questions, but why did David Addington and Marc Thiessen get to ask questions while Derek Scissors or Sadanand Dhume didn't? The effect was that, after two hours, not one question was asked about China, North Korea, the rest of the Pacific Rim, India, the eurozone, NATO, Egypt, or Russia. That's just horrible debate management on someone's part.
3) All of the leading candidates said something mind-numbingly stupid. Newt Gingrich claimed that if the United States just unleashed the domestic oil drills, the global price for oil would crash within a year. That's a crock. Mitt Romney suggested trying Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for genocide. I'm no fan of Ahmadinejad, but... huh? Ron Paul claimed that Israel had sacrificed its sovereignty to the United States, which is an... interesting interpretation of events. He also claimed that all American foreign aid was worthless, which would be news to the Africans not suffering from malaria or tuberculosis.
So, with those provisos, my quick letter grades:
Newt Gingrich: A- Beyond that energy answer, Gingrich was probably the best of the lot, but that was as much due to style as substance. He gave a lot of "we need to be more strategic than tactical" bromides to start, but to be fair, when pushed he gave cogent answers.
Jon Hunstman: A- Huntsman went hard after Romney on the commander-in-chief question, and for much of the night gave the best answers to myriad questions. That said, he also had some surprisingly weak answers at times, like on the use of drones in Pakistan.
Ron Paul: B+ Consistent as always in his approach, and in some ways he offers the most logically coherent foreign policy of the bunch. As a debater, however, he's second rate. Gingrich schooled him on a question regarding homeland security, for example, when I symathize much more with Paul's position.
Michelle Bachmann: B At this point, Michelle Bachmann is a one-trick pony. On Pakistan -- a particularly tough issue -- she gives thoughtful, nuanced, intelligent responses. Everything else is Crazytown. Pakistan took up a large part of the debate, however, so she did well, takin Perry in paticular to task.
Rick Santorum: B He gave a good answer on foreign aid, and cracked a funny joke about agreeing with Ron Paul. Unfortunately, he also said, "Africa was a country on the brink." Oops.
Mitt Romney: B- Any time you screw up your own introduction, it's going to be a bad night. Romney wasn't horrible by any stretch, but he got pushed by Huntsman on civil-military relations and by Gingrich on immigration. Those guys are no Rick Perry. He did rally with a very thoughtful and considered answer on Syria, however.... in which he schooled Rick Perry.
Rick Perry: D At this point, Perry serves mostly as a foil to make other candidates (Paul, Bachmann, Romney) look smarter. Hard to believe this man was the front-runner, ever.
Herman Cain: F The mercy rule is, thankfully, still in effect.
What did you think?
For the record, I don't think Herman Cain is stupid. I do think he's willfully ignorant about anything to do with foreign policy however. If that wasn't manifestly obvious prior to this weekend, please watch the following conversation between Cain and the Milwaukee Sentinel-Journal editorial board regarding Libya:
I have a personal preference that ignoramuses should be drummed out of presidential politics as quickly as possible, but that was just painful to watch. Needless to say, I don't think the boning up is helping all that much.
I don't care if this man is leading the polls in Iowa, or is still running a strong second (or a weak third) in the national polls. I suspect he's on the downside of his popularity bubble -- and for the sake of my own sanity, I just can't pay any more attention to Herman Cain's foreign policy views.
There's a mercy rule in Little League, and I'm applying it here -- unless and until Herman Cain surges back in the polls again, or manages to muster something approaching cogency in his foreign policy statements, there's no point in blogging about him anymore. I can only pick on an ignoramus so many times before it feels sadistic.
Tonight's CBS/National Journal debate was the first to be on broadcast television, and was devoted to national security and foreign policy. Out of a sense of duty to you, dear readers, your humble blogger
downed a lot of vodka watched the whole thing, and is ready to offer my grades.
Before talking about the individual candidates, I'll say this -- I've been rather harsh on the GOP 2012 field, and, to be honest, most of them did better than I expected in this debate. I didn't expect much, but still: kudos to the campaign staffers, because everyone seemed better briefed on foreign policy than in past debates (On the other hand, I note that none of the candidates said a single good thing about Barack Obama's foreign policy. I wasn't expecting hosannahs or anything, but the man is polling at 60% approval on this front).
A big fail to CBS and National Journal for having a 90-minute debate that was only aired for 60 minutes on television. The webcasts were bad, with lots of glitches on both sites. As for Major Garrett and Scott Pelley, they did OK, but John Harwood and Maria Bartiromo outclassed them this week.
In alphabetical order:
Michelle Bachmann: She kept her crazy pretty contained for much of the night, but it escaped for two big whoppers. The first was when she said, "The table is being set for a worldwide nuclear war with Israel." The second was when she expressed a desire for the United States to adopt China's welfare system (or lack thereof). Grade: D.
Herman Cain: The worst debate performance of the night. Slow, rambling, evasive, and contradictory. His answer on torture contradicted itself inside of 30 seconds; his Pakistan response was a total dodge. His solution on Iran -- energy independence! -- would be like suggesting that the appropriate response to a rising China would be to move all Americans to Mars. Both activities will take the same length of time. Grade: F.
Newt Gingrich: He had a pretty good answer on Pakistan, and was consistent -- albeit disturbing -- on the assassination of Americans working for Al Qaeda. That said, Gingrich's "I'm smarter than everyone else" schtick wears thin fast. I say this as someone who encounters academics on a daily basis. Gingrich gives off the same insufferable mien of academics who think they're much smarter and more knowledgable than they actually are. Grade: B.
Jon Hunstman: Not surprisingly, the former ambassador gave the clearest and most coherent answers of the evening. He pushed back the others on staying in Afghanistan, and correctly pushed back Romney on taking China to the WTO. If foreign policy was really important to the GOP, he'd be the frontrunner, and it wouldn't be close. Grade: A.
Ron Paul: The contrast between Paul and the rest of the field was magnified during this debate. As someone who thinks that Paul is too dovish at times, I thought he did a very good job, and got quite passionate on questions of torture. Also -- and I think this is a first -- he got through the entire debate without mentioning the Federal Reserve. Grade: A-.
Rick Perry: Compared to his other debate performances, it was OK. Compared to what I'm expecting a commander-in-chief to demonstrate, it was again way below the bar. Perry proposed zero-based budgeting for foreign aid and a lot of other areas of the government; I wonder if he knows that the first president to embrace that idea was Jimmy Carter. Then there were odd word choices. China has to "change their virtues"? He invented the word "forewithal." And he was lucky that the end of the telecast cut off his attempt at an answerr on the euro, because it was not going to go well. Grade: C.
Mitt Romney: Romney has perfected the art of sounding firm and resolute in his first sentence of any response on foreign policy, and then, with the next sentence, inserting enough hedges and qualifications to give himself tremendous wiggle room. He demonstrated decent knowledge for the most part, and had another strong debate. Grade: B+.
Rick Santorum: I can recall quite clearly that Santorum have a decent answer on Pakistan at some point. Beyond that, all I can remember was his whinging about not getting asked enough questions. Grade: C+
Offer your own grades/assessments in the comments.
Apparently the organizers of tomorrow's GOP foreign policy debate asked David Frum to submit ten questions to ask. For the record, no one asked me... sniff.... really I'll be fine... but that doesn't mean I can't offer some of my own. Here would be my top 10 questions:
1) In the last debate, all of you declared that the United States should not help out Italy or other eurozone countries plagued by sovereign debt crises. If these economies received rescue funds from China instead, would that undermine U.S. national security?
2) Many of you on the dias have declared that there should be no daylight between Israel and the United States. Israeli officials have repeatedly and formally requested that Jonathan Pollard's sentence be commuted for spying for Israel. As president, will you accede to this Israeli request?
3) In previous debates, many of you have warned about the dangers of a debased dollar. At the same time, many of you have also complained that China is undervaluing its currency vis-a-vis the dollar to augment its economic growth. Which issue do you believe is more important to America's economic strength?
4) Why should the United States pay any dues to the United Nations? Do you all agree with Governor Perry that the U.S. should reconsider those dues payments?
5) The Doha round of world trade talks has stalled out, and bilateral free-trade agreements have proliferated in recent years. As the president of the world's largest economy, what approach would you favor to promote greater trade liberalization?
6) The United States recently dispatched 100 military advisors to Uganda in an attempt to subdue the Lord's Resistance Army. What criteria would you use, as president, to decide when to use American force for the purpose of humanitarian intervention?
7) Many of you have complained about illegal immigration flows during the campaign, but the hard data suggests that these flows have slowed dramatically over the past few years. What is the appropriate amount of effort to devote to this issue?
8) What steps would you take, as president, to ensure that elements of the Pakistani government cease supporting violent non-state actors in Afghanistan and India?
9) Many of you have criticized the Obama administration for ignoring military advice on troop decisions in Afghanistan and Iraq. During the pre-war debate with respect to Iraq, however, the Bush administration rejected troop estimates from Army Chief of Staff (and now Secretary for Veterans Affairs) Eric Shinseki. When would you be prepared to overrule the advice you receive from the military?
10) Who, in your opinion, was the greatest foreign policy president in American history besides Ronald Reagan, and why?
Commenters are heartily encouraged to offer their foreign policy questions in the comments.
My FP colleague Steve Walt has responded to my Obama-praising blog post with a long litany of Obama foreign policy failures. He includes climate change, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, the global economy, North Korea,
failing to cure cancer.... you get the drift.
Walt closes with the following observation:
Where Dan and I agree, however, is the crucial role of domestic politics. For if you look at the failures listed above, what is striking is that most of them are heavily shaped by domestic constraints. Doing something serious about climate change would have real consequences for business and consumers, and that wasn't going to happen when we are teetering on the brink of another recession. Making progress on Israel-Palestine or on Iran would require bringing in a new Middle East team and taking on the Israel lobby (including the Christianist wing of the GOP), and Obama abandoned that course after the Cairo speech in June 2009. His decisions to escalate in Afghanistan and to try to stay in Iraq were clearly shaped by domestic political concerns, and especially the perennial Democratic fear of being perceived as "weak" on national security. Trade liberalization is always a contentious issue here at home, and especially tough to tackle with a weak economy.
In short, Dan's broader point about Obama's foreign policy successes is insightful: the president has done well in those relatively minor areas where domestic politics do not loom large and where he can exercise unilateral authority. But on the more important and more difficult issues where you would have to convince the American people to follow a new path, he's come up mostly empty.
First, in some cases, what Walt would consider a "success" might not be what others consider a success. On Iran, for example, Walt laments that "the administration [has not] managed to think outside the box and try a different approach." Beyond the Leveretts, however (and Ron Paul), I'm not sure anyone else would agree with Steve in that assessment. Furthermore, to be fair, I think there's some pretty strong evidence that the administration did think outside the box in handling the nuclear issue.
Second, part of the issue here is how one defines a "success" in foreign policy. For example, Walt says the following on Libya as to why it's a failure:
[D]idn't the "Mission Accomplished" moment in 2003 in Iraq teach us about the dangers of declaring victory prematurely? We can all hope that the Libyan revolution fulfills its idealistic hopes and avoids the various pitfalls that lie ahead, but it is way too early to start bragging about it, or declaring it the model for future interventions. And if Libya does go south, enthusiasm for the "Obama Doctrine" will fade faster than watercolors in the Libyan sun.
Walt's observation is eminently sensible -- there are many ways in which Libya could evolve in a direction unfriendly to American interests. This gets to a deeper issue, which is how one defines "success" in politics vs. political science. Afghanistan looked like a success in 2001; Iraq looked like a success in 2003. Obviously, over time, these situations changed. As political scientists, we need to keep tabs on these developments.
In politics, however, voters tend not to do all that much updating, particularly in terms of foreign policy. It takes high-profile events for new information to filter down to
candidates who read one whole page of foreign news almost every day the American public. It will be interesting to see how Libya (and Egypt, and Tunisia, and Syria, etc.) play out over the next few decades. My post was about the next year, however -- and Obama will be able to claim credit if it looks like things are going well, and fall back on "we didn't play that big of a role" if things fall apart. From a policy perspective, that's a very cynical way of looking at things -- but it makes sense from a political perspective.
Third, in many of the cases that Walt cites as failures, the problem isn't necessarily the domestic politics of the United States but the domestic politics of other countries. On climate change, Israel, Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq, it's impossible to discuss the outcomes without recognizing the domestic political constraints/chaos in these countries. While each of them possesses elements willing to cooperate with the United States, there are spoilers aplenty in all of these countries. This is a problem that Bush faced when he was in office, Obama has faced now, and will be a bigger problem over time. It's a sign that the degree of difficulty in conducting American foreign policy has gone up.
This brings me to my final cavil. I'd really like the Steve Walt of this blog post to reconcile his arguments with... the Steve Walt who just published "The End of the American Era" in The National Interest. See, that Steve Walt views American decline as both inevitable and structural, which implies that these outcomes aren't a function of Obama's leadership per se but impersonal forces of history. Many of the cases Walt cites as Obama "failures" in his blog post are treated as ineluctable outcomes of relative American decline in his TNI essay. Which is it?
I'd leave it at that, except that this story clearly represents the Cain campaign's efforts to push back on the notion that he doesn't know enough about foreign affairs. And so we get... the following:
Almost every day, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain is handed a one-page briefing from his chief foreign policy adviser on news from around the world.
It’s one of several things his campaign says the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO, who has never held elective office before, is now doing to bone up on foreign policy — especially as he faces a big test in November at a GOP debate on national security issues.
“He’s really getting up to speed a lot more so than people give him credit for,” J.D. Gordon, Cain’s foreign policy and national security adviser who prepares the briefings, said in an interview with The Daily Caller on Monday....
Gordon says Cain has been receiving counsel from people well known in the foreign policy community. While Gordon won’t say who Cain talks with, Cain has admitted he admires people like former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton.
Other steps Cain has taken to educate himself about foreign policy, Gordon said, include his visit to Israel in August “to learn the facts on the ground.”
“He met with the deputy prime minister and the mayor of Jerusalem,” Gordon said (emphasis added).
It's the "almost" that kills me.
Look, I get that Cain is going to put the United back in the United States of America, and the economy is really, really super-important. So are the decisions to expend blood and treasure around the world, however. This kind of spin on Cain's foreign policy interest -- and, bear in mind, spin is the comparative advantage of Cain's chief foreign policy advisor -- is just f***ing absurd.
Reports are flying around the interwebs that the last Gaddafy holdout of Sirte has fallen, and that Gaddafi has been killed -- Blake Hounshell has the grisly photo here. A few scattered thoughts on this:
1) This photo comes on top of numerous reports that Gaddafi was captured or wounded or whatnot. Given past NTC statements and reversals, I'd like to see further confirmaion. In the meantime, as I stated on Twitter this AM, I think we can clarify it this way: Gaddafi has been captured, Qaddafi has been killed, and Khadafy is still at large.*
Readers are invited to suggest the fates of other spellings of the Libyan dictator's name in the comments.
2) Assuming that Gaddafi really is dead, Adam Serwer tweets that how this came to pass "makes a huge difference." Well.... maybe. I suspect it won't matter all that much in Libya -- and to be cold-blooded about it, there are ways in which the spectacle of a capture and trial might have been more problematic. I'm not even sure that Gaddafi's fate affects the new Libyan regime's image and reputation overseas.
The more serious effect might be in how this kind of outcome affects the behavior of other autocrats. As Giacomo Chiozza and Hein Goemans observe in Leaders and International Conflict, the private incentives of leaders profoundly affect their use of force. Simply put, when leaders have expectations of a violent demise if they lose power, they have a more powerful incentive to use force to stay in power. So, congrats to Libya, but this is simply going to harden the hearts of Bashir Assad and others out there determined to stay in power through any means necessary -- including instigating cross-border conflicts.
3) At the risk of seeming like a grump, I'd prefer a situation in which the best news in world politics is something other than "[INSERT SCUMBAG'S NAME HERE] is dead!!" Because for the past six months, these kind of deaths have been the high points.
Don't get me wrong -- I'm not sorry bin Laden or Al-Awlaki or Gaddafi have departed the scene. This probably is addition by subtraction. I'd just like it if there were other sources of addition.
What do you think?
*I should probably stop tweeting right now and end on a high note.
So I see I'm not the only one perturbed by Herman Cain's decision not to take foreign policy seriously.
Politico's Ben Smith concurs, but closes out his blog post on Herman Cain's foreign policy gaps with a provocative point:
There's... something almost quaint, '50s-ish about his invocation of "experts," as though there were a professional expert class that wasn't deeply divided by party and ideology. Even in foreign policy, last redoubt of the wise men, that isn't really true any more.
Except, perhaps Cain isn't really wrong. For all the Washington bomb-throwing, President Obama's foreign policy has been characterized by continuity with President Bush's, from Iraq to Afghanistan to Africa, not with any sharp break. The foreign policy elites don't get along, but with the occasional dramatic exception -- the Iraq invasion was that -- they generally wind up giving similar advice. President Cain will probably be O.K.
This is fascinating question -- does it really matter if Cain continues to dodge any and all foreign policy questions? I've noted that specific foreign policy pledges don't matter all that much -- what about generic foreign policy knowledge?
I think it does matter, for a few reasons. First, the continuity between Bush and Obama overlooks the fact that Bush's foreign policy circa 2008 looked very different from his 2002 foreign policy. It was Bush's post-2001 first-term deviation that truly stands out. Eventually, these deviations from the norm return because they are unsustainable. During the interim, however, an awful lot of blood and treasure can be wasted. I'd like a chance to know Cain's general thinking on foreign policy topics if he seriously wants the commander-in-chief job. If he also deviates from the general contours of American foreign policy, it's the rest of America that will suffer.
Second, Cain's philosophy of "I won't say anything until I know all the facts" is bogus because, in foreign policy, the facts are never all in. Very often intelligence is partial, biased, or simply flat-out wrong. It's those moments, when a president has to be a foreign policy decider for a 51-49 decision, that a combination of background knowledge and genuine interest in the topic might be useful.
Side note: if Cain really believes that he can't talk about foreign policy without getting all the information, then why does he feel at liberty to declare the Obama administration's foreign policy to be "dumb"? Either he keeps his mouth shut about the topic or he starts articulating some positions -- he can't criticize Obama without saying what he'd do instead.
Third, without some knowledge about foreign policy, the best intelligence briefings and foreign policy advisors in the world won't be able to help Herman Cain. An awful lot of international relations knowledge is cumulative; without a decent base there's no point in trying to be briefed on the arcane stuff. That would be like trying to learn calculus without knowing any algebra. I really don't expect Herman Cain to know the names of foreign policy leaders -- but I do expect him to know which countries matter and why. In his answer to "Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan," Cain made it pretty clear that he doesn't understand why Uzbekistan matters for supplying Afghanistan. That's a problem.
Fourth, there are decisions when the particular president does matter. A President Gore doesn't invade Iraq. Apparently a President McCain would not have sent special forces into Africa. In this post-9/11 world, the president has greater authority to assassinate people than I'd like, but there it is -- so which people will be on Cain's target list? So I'd like to see the "Cain Doctrine" fleshed out just a wee bit.
Finally, and not to put too fine a point on it, America's reputation for competent leadership has taken a colossal beating over the past decade. With Iraq in 2003, Katrina in 2005, the 2008 financial crisis, and the 2011 debt ceiling fiasco, America doesn't look so hot in the eyes of the world. We have a smaller margin to screw up royally than we are used to. I suspect that even Herman Cain would learn about foreign policy after a few years on the job. It's those few years that scare the crap out of me.
The Cain campaign has said that they plan to "roll out a detailed foreign policy plan sometime within the next month," so they obviously recognize that there's a problem with their current lack of positions. I look forward to perusing their plans.
So I see Rick Perry gave a quasi-foreign policy speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars 112th National Convention. Here's the gist of the foreign policy section:
James Lindsay analyzes the content over at CFR, concluding that, "There is something in it for every significant foreign policy constituency in the GOP," although "any mainstream Republican or Democratic presidential candidate could have given Perry’s speech." This is likely because, "while Perry’s speech was heavy on foreign policy bromides it was short on specifics."
Lindsay is being kind -- this speech is ninety-eight percent concentrated pablum (contra Lindsay, the "multilateral debating society" crack does signal it being a GOP speech). Seriously, I hereby challenge my friends at Shadow Government who might be Perry-friendly to find something of interest in this speech. It's the foreign policy equivalent of this scene from The Distinguished Gentleman:
Now, to be fair to Perry, this San Antonio News-Express news story suggests that he had some constraints on what kind of speech he could deliver. So, really, I'm not sure that anything of consequence can be divined from this.... er.... assemblage of cliches that maybe, just maybe, passes the Turing Test.
Still, what Perry said is such pure, unadulterated boilerplate that, as a foreign policy commentator, one must step back and gape in wonder. Reading it, the absence of anything interesting kept nagging me as hauntingly familiar.
And then I realized -- Rick Perry had just delivered the Wolf Blitzer of foreign policy speeches!! It's familiar, yet utterly devoid of interesting content!!
And for that, Rick Perry is the distinguished inaugural nominee of the Wolf Blitzer Award for Foreign Policy Boilerplate.
Anne-Marie Slaughter has responded to my musings about her new foreign policy frontier with a potent combination of vigor and logic, topped off with just a dollop of guile. I am happy to see that we share some vital zones of agreement -- namely, continued hegemony for the Boston Red Sox.
About lesser issues like the contours of world politics, we have some respectful disagreements. This is a fun debate, to have, so let's dive right in!
To summarize the gist of Slaughter's latest post: she argues that realists think of the world through a states-only, security-first, billiard-ball approach:
[T]he whole point of realism, as every first year IR student knows, is that structural realism (the school that holds as its bible Kenneth Waltz's Man, the State, and War) says that international relations analysts can treat the world as if it were composed only of states pursuing their power-based interests.
In constrast, Slaughter advocates a "modern/liberal-social" because such an approach will:
[factor in] all the important social actors, from tribes to democracy activists, focus on the relationship between those social actors and their governments, then assess interests relative to other governments that are themselves enmeshed in domestic and transnational social networks.
Slaughter asserts that the second perspective is the superior approach despite its greater complexity, because it permits a greater focus on the "social and developmental issues" that Slaughter believes will the the primary drivers of world politics over the next decade. As evidence for her more enlightened perspective, Slaughter compares her Twitter stream with my Twitter stream and concludes:
Going through these tweets actually offered an even more succinct contrast between how Dan and I think about foreign policy. Dan asked last week, addressed to all "IR tweeps": "Is there a better international relations song than Tears for Fears 'Everybody Wants to Rule the World?'" He got some great responses, but for me, his choice says it all about how, his protests notwithstanding, he sees the world. (Many a truth is spoken in jest.) By contrast (and again, with much less humor!), I tweeted a link on Monday to a in the Financial Times by the Israeli novelist Etgar Keret on the J14 protests and quoted the following passage: "In our current reality, the political cannot be separated from the social." The new foreign policy frontier is deeply social, as messy and unsatisfactory as that may be.
Slaughter's historiography of realism is a touch problematic, but also a bit of a distraction, so I'll leave it to others to address that question. Instead, let's start with the Twitter evidence.
Slaughter is clearly a huge fan of microblogging (despite its negative externalities) and its social networking capabilities. As an earlier adopter of these technologies, I'm a fan too. I do think there's a danger of reading too much into this kind of data, however. If I really didn't care about the kind of social and economic issues that Slaughter embraces... well, I wouldn't be following her. Like any curious IR scholar, however, I do follow her. Just because I don't tweet/re-tweet about these things all that much doesn't mean I don't read/blog/write about them in other venues. Slaughter assumes that I manage my Twitter feed the same way she does, as a natural extension of her research interests. Trust me when I say that I value Twitter somewhat differently.
This might be a trivial issue, but it gets at a point I hinted at in my last post: there's a difference between what's visible and what's significant in world politics. Twitter is highly visible, for example, but I think it's significance might be exaggerated -- or, rather, online networks merely replicate offline power structures. The threat of coercion is often invisible -- but it's effects can be quite significant.
Slaughter's more substantive point is her contrast between old-school realpolitik and new-school modern social-liberal foreign policy approach. On this distincton, let me start by observing that another important modern strategy in world politics is the notion of issue-framing. If they're good, policy entrepreneurs will be able to take their issue and frame it in a manner most favorable to their preferred policy solution. When their policy problem is pushed to the front of the queue, they are therefore likely to win the argument.
I bring this up by noting that I don't accept Slaughter's framing of our dispute. She posits that only by adopting her international relations worldview is it possible to recognize the social and developmental issues that are bubbling under the surface in world politics. Because realists primarily care about guns, bomb, and interstate security, they ostensibly will miss these problems.
Now, I know a lot of realists, and I can kinda sorta understand how Slaughter arrived at this caricatured version of realism. Nevertheless, Slaughter conflates subject matter with how one models the dynamics of the subject matter. In his last memoir, even über-classical-realist Henry Kissinger acknowledged the importance of human rights issues in modern diplomacy and staecraft. I certainly agree that the economic, social and developmental issues that are near and dear to Slaughter's heart are matters of import for world politics -- indeed, this is a theme I've written and
rambled spoken about for quite some time. I suspect most realist IPE scholars believe these issues are important... or they wouldn't be studying IPE in the first place.
Just because I agree with the importance of these issue areas, however, does not mean that I agree with Slaughter's implicit model of how these issues get addressed. Anne-Marie places great faith in the ability of transnational, networked, non-state actors to bend the policy agenda to their preferred sets of solutions. I think that these groups can try to voice their demands for particular policy problems to be addressed. I think, at the national level, that social movements can force even recalcitrant politicians to alter their policy agenda (see: Party, Tea). Where Slaughter's optimism runs into my skepticism is the ability of these movements to a) go transnational; and b) supply rather than demand global solutions. I'm skeptical about the viability of transnational interests to effectively pressure multiple governments to adopt a common policy solution, and I'm super-skeptical that these groups can supply broad-based solutions independently of national governments.
There's a "two-step" approach to world politics with which Slaughter is intimately familiar: it posits that interest groups and social movements can influence national policy preferences, but that outcomes in world politics are driven by the distribution of power and preferences among national governments. In her embrace of a new foreign policy frontier, Slaughter embraces the first step and mostly rejects the second.
That second step is really important, however, as most social movements are keenly aware. Indeed, most of the protests that Slaughter keeps identifying on Twitter are not about solving problems on their own, but demanding that governments address or ameliorate their needs.
Slaughter can and will point to Very Important Initiatives like the Gates Foundation or the Summit Against Violent Extremism as examples of supplying such solutions. These can matter at particular points in particular places, but I'll need to see some powerful evidence before I think that these transnational groups are as potent as, say, nationalism as political force in the world. All of the social movements and all of the online networks can agitate for policy solutions, but they're not going to be able to alter fierce distributional conflicts that exist when trying to address many of the topline issues in world politics show no signs of abating. The kind of non-state actors that Slaughter embraces have not been shy in engaging issues like climate change, Israel/Palestine or macroeconomic imbalances -- but I haven't seen any appreciable change in global public policies as a result.
Now, it's possible that Slaughter will eventually be proven right. That's the cool thing about studying international relations, we keep adding new data with every passing day. So, here's my challenge to Anne-Marie -- name three significant issue areas in which these kinds of networked actors will significantly alter the status quo (and I look forward to Slaughter falsifying me to within an inch of my life.). Because I can think of far too many issues -- including those listed above -- on which their impact will be negligible.
One final point: I agree with Slaughter that the issues she cares about are important, and attention must be paid to them. That said, the realist in me is not quite ready to claim that the old security-focused approach to foreign policy is truly outdated. Yes, traditional wars are much rarer than they used to be. That said, we're just one unsteady power transition away in North Korea, China or Pakistan for traditional concerns about militarized great power combat to return to the main stage of foreign policy practitioners. I really hope Anne-Marie is correct about these new issues being the important ones -- because that means the horrors of great power war continue to stay a distant memory.
This past week Anne-Marie Slaughter launched a new foreign policy blog over at The Atlantic entitled "Notes from the Foreign Policy Frontier." This was greeted with general huzzahs across the foreign policy community, as Slaughter is a universally-acknowledged smart person. She is an exemplar of someone who can effortlessly transition from the scholarly to the policymaking world and back again. Her facility with new media is so good that her own bio undercounts her Twitter followers by 50%.
Slaughter's first post suggests the themes of her new blog -- let's take a look and see what she's up to, shall we? Here are the opening paragraphs:
The frontier of foreign policy in the 21st century is social, developmental, digital, and global. Along this frontier, different groups of actors in society -- corporations, foundations, NGOs, universities, think tanks, churches, civic groups, political activists, Facebook groups, and others -- are mobilizing to address issues that begin as domestic social problems but that have now gone global. It is the world of the Land Mines Treaty and the International Criminal Court; global criminal and terrorist networks; vast flows of remittances that dwarf development assistance; micro-finance and serial entrepreneurship; the Gates Foundation; the Arab spring; climate change; global pandemics; Twitter; mobile technology to monitor elections, fight corruption, and improve maternal health; a new global women's movement; and the demography of a vast youth bulge in the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Asia.
Traditional foreign policy continues to assume the world of World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the first and second Gulf Wars -- an international system in which a limited number of states pursue their largely power-based interests in bargaining situations that are often zero-sum and in which the line between international and domestic politics is still discernible and defensible. Diplomats and statesmen compete with each other in games of global chess, which, during crises, often shift into high-stakes poker. It is the world of high strategy, the world that Henry Kissinger writes about and longs for and that so-called "realist" commentators continually invoke.
Well, this is... this is... I'm sorry, I got lost among the ridiculously tall strawmen populating these paragraphs. I'll go out on a limb and posit that not even Henry Kissinger thinks of the world the way Slaughter describes it. Just a quick glance at, say, Hillary Clinton's recent speech in Hong Kong suggests that actual great power foreign policies bear no resemblance whatsoever to that description of "traditional foreign policy."
Slaughter knows this very well, given that she was Clinton's first director of policy planning. She also knows this because much of her writing in international relations is about the ways in which traditional governments are becoming more networked and adaptive to emergent foreign policy concerns. One could quibble about whether this is really a new trend, but Slaughter was correct to point out that states are doing this.
So, let's get to the main point of her blog post: what does Slaughter think about this new frontier?
21st century diplomacy must not only be government to government, but also government to society and society to society, in a process facilitated and legitimated by government. That much broader concept opens the door to a do-it-yourself foreign policy, in which individuals and groups can invent and execute an idea -- for good or ill -- that can affect their own and other countries in ways that once only governments could.
In late June, I spent two days at the Summit Against Violent Extremism (#AVE on Twitter), a conference sponsored by Google Ideas, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Tribeca Film Festival that brought together more than 80 former gang members, violent religious extremists, violent nationalist extremists, and violent white supremacists from 19 countries across six continents. They came together with 120 academics, NGOs, public sector and private sector partners. The conference grew out of a vision developed by Jared Cohen, the head of Google Ideas, when he served in the U.S. State Department's Office of Policy Planning together with Farah Pandit, who worked on countering violent extremism in the State Department's Bureau of Eurasian Affairs and is the Special Representative to Muslim Communities. But, despite their role, bringing together this range of "formers" is something that Google Ideas and the Council on Foreign Relations can do much more easily than any government could. The range of projects creating networks to help build on effective, early intervention programs already working around the world, such as Singapore's programs to deflect and deprogram Islamic radicals, will also be much easier to develop with a broader range of stakeholders, including some government participation, than they would be through government alone....
Skeptics argue that these kinds of initiatives are doomed to remain perennially peripheral and ineffectual. But, in case anyone hasn't noticed, the traditional tools of fighting, talking, pressuring, and persuading government-to-government really aren't working so well. Thirty years of urging reform produced next to nothing; 6 months of digitally and physically organized social protests and a political earthquake is shaking the broader Middle East. Twenty years of working toward a treaty to govern carbon emissions has barely yielded an informal "accord." Yet measures taken by 40 cities organized by the Bloomberg Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative will have far more impact.
Outing myself as a skeptic, I'd make two points. First, Slaughter's weakness as an international relations theorist is to uncritically observe phenomena like the Summit Against Violent Extremism and then inductively generalize from them to extrapolate the future of world politics. AVE is happening, but I'm gonna want to see a lot more evidence that it's making a difference before calling it a success. There are a lot of issue areas where this kind of initiative will not substantially alter policy outcomes. Indeed, one could flip this around, look at new trends like sovereign wealth funds, national oil companies and and state-owned enterprises, and reach the exact opposite conclusions from Slaughter. I don't, but you see my point -- world politics is about a lot more than a Muslim woman setting up a Twitter account thanks to her microfinance loan.
Second, Slaughter's climate change example is a great one. I don't doubt that the initiatives she's blogged about likely have accomplished more than the two decades of UN negotiations. I also don't doubt, however, that those accomplishments are a drop in the bucket compared to what has needs to be done. Furthermore, I suspect these groups would strongly prefer joint government action to their own initiatives, as the only viable means to mitigate the effects of increased greenhouse gas emissions. In which case, they will function like good old fashioned interest groups, which is not all that new.
Slaughter believes that these "bottom-up" movements represent the future of world politics -- and she may well be right. My own inclination is that DIY foreign policy represents a poor and underprovided substitute for effective state action global governance. We'll see what the future holds.
Concluding her post, Slaughter says that she'll be, "looking at the world through a very different lens -- highlighting features of the foreign policy landscape that simply disappear if we examine only a world of opaque unitary states negotiating, pressuring, fighting, and ignoring each other." This is good, and highlights the value-added that such an approach can bring to thinking about world politics. I'll be looking at Slaughter's musings as well through my own lens -- one that is very wary of overhyped initiatives that do not accomplish nearly as much as suggested by their media hype.
Am I missing anything?
As I noted last month, I gave a small talk to the International Policy Summer Institute's Bridging the Gap project. As a spur to the participants, I offered to publish the best blog post submitted to yours truly
And the winner is.... Nuno Monteiro, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Yale. Nuno's entry is a public service post, because it provides a rundown of the lessons he learned at IPSI about how political scientists can be relevant to policymakers:
Bridging the Gap between Academia and Policy
After a terrific week of briefings at IPSI on how political scientists can contribute to policy, here are twelve rules I distilled:
1. There are many ways of influencing policy, both direct and indirect. You can exert direct influence by working for the government or for a think-tank. You can also exert indirect influence by publishing blog posts (either as a guest or regular blogger), opeds, policy articles, and doing media. Create a strategy that includes both types of influence.
2. The dichotomy between scholarship and policy is largely false. Most political science topics have policy implications, so think through a topic in scholarly and policy terms. These often cross-pollinate. The key is to choose research topics that allow for double-dipping: topics that have both scholarly import and policy relevance. Then produce scholarly and also policy-oriented products.
3. There are four types of products academics can provide to policymakers. Framework: what's the appropriate theory or historical analogy to understand recent events? Data: what are the patterns and what should the ground truths be? Forecast: what are the possible scenarios? Advice: what should we do?
4. Be willing to be wrong. Even if it is a probabilistic judgment, accept the risk of taking a position.
5. Don't be shy, but don't be a pain. Put your stuff out, send feelers to think-tanks and journals, but make it short. Any pitch -- for a piece, an oped, a research project -- that takes more than two minutes to read is too long. Be persistent but not insistent (i.e., don't pitch the same idea twice to the same place).
6. Keep a twin-track curriculum. Think-tanks offer opportunities for non-resident fellows, in which you are asked to join a few events every year, write a report, or join a taskforce. This enables you to have a twin-track curriculum in which you always have an academic and a policy affiliation.
7. There are six qualities policymakers appreciate. Be engaging, constructive, future-oriented, discreet, concise, and have pity on those who have to make decisions. And remember, you're an expert, not a pundit.
8. Don't think of a policy piece as a lesser version of a research piece. Policy pieces are not dumbed-down research pieces. They must have specific policy recommendations. Seek to understand what policymakers need before you seek to be understood.
9. Maximize different networks. Don't just network in academia. Try to build networks in media, think-tanks, and government. Attend events and follow up.
10. Get institutional cover and buy in. Give your bosses a sense of why it is that you want to engage in policy debates, and of how this is a plus for your institution. If there's a chance that something you wrote or said is controversial and will make a splash, give your boss a heads-up in advance.
11. Look for moments in which your specialty is in high demand. There will come a moment when everyone will want to know about your specialty. You should be prepared for when that opportunity arrives. If possible, take the obituary-writer approach: write drafts of possible blog posts, opeds, or policy pieces addressing a problem you see brewing. Then send them out fast.
12. Pick your battles and mix vanilla with habanero topics. If you only do vanilla topics you'll get bored, but if you only do habanero topics you'll get tired and also potentially lose your credibility. Aim for the sweet spot between being an organic intellectual and becoming seen as a wacko.
What say ye, readers -- has Nuno missed anything?
Over the past week there's been a lot of foreign policy outputs coming from the gut, particularly with respect to the greater Middle East. Newly minted Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has been cursing like a PG-rated sailor as of late, saying about the Iraqis, "dammit, make a decision" with respect to a new defense minister. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has declared that Bashar Assad has "lost legitimacy," which is A) true; and B) not all that helpful a guide for future policy toward Syria. U.S. ambassador to that country Robert Ford took to Facebook to express his ire at the Syrian government. And now we're halting $800 million in military aid to Pakistan, which sounds great but is not necessarily going to make things better.
Do these gestures of frustration accomplish anything? That's hard to say. In terms of concrete outcomes, the likely answer is no -- part of the reason for the venting of frustrations on these issues is that the United States has so little leverage in most of these situations. On the other hand, just the acknowledgment of frustration can be politically useful, a venting of pressure that might otherwise lead to hopelessly misguided or absurdly risky policy options.
For exhibit A, see Reuel Marc Gerecht's latest on Syria in The Weekly Standard, which opens with, "The administration's policy toward Syria is shaping up to be the greatest missed opportunity of Barack Obama's presidency." The essay goes to great length to
bash realists detail the myriad policy benefits that would come with regime change in Damascus. This is all well and good (though a bit exaggerated), until we get to what the Obama administration should be doing to foment change:
There are many things that the Obama administration should be doing that it isn’t: using the presidential bully pulpit against the Assad regime, deploying the American ambassador in Damascus as a shield and voice for the opposition (if Ford gets expelled, he gets expelled), organizing the Western diplomatic community in Damascus to do whatever it can to aid the opposition, offering substantial technical support to the Turks to extend a Wi-Fi-ed broadband as far over the Syrian border as possible, and working with Paris to implement energy sanctions that might severely impair the Assad regime. But the most important thing it could do now is encourage Turkey to stand firm against Syria.
Ideally, we should want to see the Turks establish a buffer zone or safe haven on the Syrian side of the border (Ankara sometimes did this in Iraq to counter nefarious Kurdish activity).
Let's be clear: The Obama administration could be doing everything on that list, and it wouldn't make an iota of difference. The only policy that would matter is if the Turks actually wanted to establish a buffer zone -- except in a later paragraph even Gerecht acknowledges that, "neither Erdogan nor Davutoglu would want to do this."
So, to sum up, Gerecht is really enthusiastic about Syrian regime change, and wants the U.S. to beat its breast a little more and ask "pretty pretty please" for the Turks to do something they view as against their self-interest. This will accomplish … nothing.
If you start seeing gut-level foreign policy, it's usually a sign that every other rational option has failed. And although we hope otherwise, frustration alone rarely leads to policy breakthroughs.
PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.