In an offhand tweet today, I believe Matthew Yglesias might have stumbled onto a heretofore undetected threat to the American way of life. Here's the tweet:
Cab drivers thinks new construction is creating too many traffic jams. #friedmaning— Matt Yglesias (@mattyglesias) May 22, 2013
Now #friedmaning refers to the common foreign affairs columnist trope of quoting a cabbie to get a "man on the street" feel to any kind of reporting.
But this tweet reminded me that another Friedman obsession is America's crumbling infrastructure. Which got me to thinking: What if the United States government started listening to Friedman? What if the government actually started to invest in shoring up its crumbling infrastructure, particularly in metropolitan areas frequented by Friedman? I think you'd face the much-feared Friedman Feedback Loop:
1) Tom Friedman calls for new infrastructure investment.
2) New investments in infrastructure inevitably lead to traffic snarls.
3) Cabbies, bearing the brunt of said traffic jams, start grousing to passengers.
4) Whether firsthand or secondhand, Tom Friedman hears about the clogged roads.
5) Worked up into a lather, Friedman pens many, many more op-ed columns dedicated to boosting spending to improve American roads.
6) Even more spending on infrastructure leads to even greater traffic jams.
7) Go back to Step 2 and repeat.
Unless infrastructure repair could somehow outpace Friedman's output -- highly unlikely -- entire cities would soon be awash in renovation projects and traffic jams, leading to the overuse of Amtrak, thereby crippling America's rail system as we know it.
One can only hope this looming threat is discussed at next month's Friedman Forum.
As someone who is pretty friggin' wary about the use of American force in Syria, and as someone who does not shy away from snark in the blogosphere, I found Steve Walt's top ten warning signs of liberal imperialism to be more alienating than endearing.
Part of it is the "liberal imperialism" label -- as I noted when Mearsheimer first coined the term, it obfuscates far more than it reveals. Part of it is the absurdity of claiming that those advocating for intervention in Syria turn a blind eye to U.S. government abuses of civil liberties. Part of it is the post-Arab Spring pooh-poohing of non-Western desires for democracy. And part of it is the abject failure to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, there are conceptual flaws contained within the realist worldview. Walt's failure to acknowledge fallibility makes the entire post an exercise in elite condescension.
There's a lot of that going around these days -- see, for example, Roger Cohen's New York Review of Books evisceration of Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett's new book Going to Tehran. If you read the entire review, it's clear that Cohen sympathizes with large chunks of the Leveretts' argument -- that current U.S. policy toward Iran is blinkered, a ratcheting up of the conflict will accomplish little, so maybe some kind of rapprochement should be attempted. Despite Cohen's sympathies to their logic, however, we get these passages in his review:
The eerie effort to whitewash the Islamic Republic in Going to Tehran is so extreme that it would be comical if it did not stray close to obscenity.…
The overarching problem is that the Leveretts’ urge to defend the Islamic Republic’s every act destroys their credibility. It makes them implausible critics of US policy at a time when new thinking on Iran is urgently needed and a third US war in the Middle East looms. Going to Tehran could have been a useful book but it is buried in heavy doses of one-sided drivel.…
The Leveretts write:
For most Egyptians and other Middle Easterners, the “main division in the world” is not between democracies and dictatorships but between countries whose strategic autonomy is subordinated to the United States and countries who exercise genuine independence in policymaking.
On the contrary, everything I have seen and heard in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia over the past two years suggests it is precisely the quest for freedom from despotism that has driven brave people to revolution—the freedom at last to write and say what they like, act to change their lives, and join the modern world. This does not mean they want societies that are secular clones, or lackeys, of the West. But they are saying they do not want to live any longer in cowed societies riven by fear under the sway of an unaccountable authority. Khamenei’s Iran, and his position itself, is on the wrong side of this political tide.…
The Leveretts might have made a strong case for such creative diplomacy. A pity, then, that they see dark conspiracy in every US failing—and no failings on the other side. They blame America’s “imperial turn” and even suggest that President Obama’s “attempt to salvage Washington’s failed drive for regional hegemony could wind up doing more damage to American strategic prospects than George W. Bush’s debacles did.” They blame “liberal imperialists” (John Mearsheimer’s phrase), who, in the Leveretts’s telling, seem to include everyone from Secretary of State John Kerry to Leslie Gelb and Tom Friedman. They blame the neocons, of course, and they blame the Israel lobby, embodied by institutions like the Washington Institute for Near East Policy where, as a note acknowledges, Hillary Mann Leverett once worked (and, as is not mentioned, wrote a paper in 1998 denouncing “Iranian links to international terrorism”).
They also blame the Iranian diaspora. And, in customary egregious style, they write that all four of these groups “use human rights issues as a tool to support American dominance over the Islamic Republic.” In the land of the Kahrizak Detention Center, scene of the worst abuses in 2009, and Evin Prison, human rights are a grave issue involving brutal mistreatment, not a “tool.”
Iran has been widely portrayed in the United States as an incarnation of evil. The Leveretts might have offered a counterbalancing account. Instead they have fallen prey to their own dangerous mythology of a benign Iranian order loved by its citizens. Their book is a disservice to truth and a betrayal of all the brave Iranians who, for more than a century now, have been seeking a political order that provides a genuine reconciliation of freedom, representative government, and faith.
This is the kind of review that makes it very easy to dismiss the entire book -- regardless of the merit of the policy argument.
What is it that causes Walt or the Leveretts (or Paul Krugman, if we're going to go there) to cloak arguments in self-defeating exaggerations and overheated rhetoric? I don't have a definitive answer, but I do have a hypothesis: This one of the lasting legacies of Iraq. Operation Iraqi Freedom altered the landscape in United States foreign policy about the use of force -- but those in the foreign-policy community who argued against the war (and failed to dent either public or elite attitudes) have not caught up with that fact. It's as if, over the past decade, prominent realists have adopted the worst rhetorical tropes of their ideological adversaries.
People who already decry the use of American force in Syria or elsewhere will enjoy Walt's essay and the Leveretts' book -- they're playing to their ideological base. As exercises in persuasion, however, they don't just fail -- they actively harm their cause.
So last week there was some interesting data clean-up in the foreign policy blogosphere, and some less interesting commentary on it. Let's dive in!
Max Fisher posted an item at the Washington Post relying on World Values Survey (WVS) data to generate a global map of racism. He found a Foreign Policy write-up of a Kyklos paper that two Swedish economists published that relied on WVS data. Fisher's map was based on a response to one question:
The survey asked respondents in more than 80 different countries to identify kinds of people they would not want as neighbors. Some respondents, picking from a list, chose “people of a different race.” The more frequently that people in a given country say they don’t want neighbors from other races, the economists reasoned, the less racially tolerant you could call that society.
Fisher constructed a global map based on the responses to that query, a map that contained some striking findings. Western countries seemed to be far more tolerant (or far savvier at answering this survey question). Countries such as Pakistan seeming to be way more tolerant than India and Bangladesh, for example.
Fisher's post generated a lot of attention (full disclosure: I tweeted about it) -- so much so that some social scientists started to look at the WVS data and found some serious issues with it. The Fletcher School's Ashirul Amin, for example, dug into the data found that the reason for the seemingly low tolerance of Bangladeshis was a data entry error on the World Values Survey site -- the number of "tolerant" and "intolerant" respondents were reversed for one particular year.
Other social scientists, including Steve Saideman, also weighed in with methodological criticisms.
Going further, Siddhartha Mitter pointed out ways in which different nationalities view "race" as a different kind of social construct, thereby making inter-country comparisons a problematic exercise.
The biggest problem, of course, is that “race” is impossible to operationalize in a cross-national comparison. Whereas a homosexual, or an Evangelical Christian, or a heavy drinker, or a person with a criminal record, means more or less the same thing country to country, a person being of “another race” depends on constructs that vary widely, in both nature and level of perceived importance, country to country, and indeed, person to person. In other words, out of all of the many traits of difference for which the WVS surveyed respondents’ tolerance, the Swedish economists – and Fisher, in their wake – managed to select for comparison the single most useless one.
The reason I'm blogging about this, however, is where Mitter went after lodging these criticisms. According to him, the fault lies not with the data entry, but with the foreign policy blogger:
The problem here isn’t the “finding” that the Anglo-Saxon West is more tolerant. The problem is the pseudo-analysis. The specialty of foreign-affairs blogging is explaining to a supposedly uninformed public the complexities of the outside world. Because blogging isn’t reporting, nor is it subject to much editing (let alone peer review), posts like Fisher’s are particularly vulnerable to their author’s blind spots and risk endogenizing, instead of detecting and flushing out, the bullshit in their source material. What is presented as education is very likely to turn out, in reality, obfuscation.
This is an endemic problem across the massive middlebrow “Ideas” industry that has overwhelmed the Internet, taking over from more expensive activities like research and reporting. In that respect, Fisher’s work is a symptom, not a cause. But in his position as a much-read commentator at the Washington Post, claiming to decipher world events through authoritative-looking tools like maps and explainers (his vacuous Central African Republic explainer was a classic of non-information verging on false information, but that’s a discussion for another time), he contributes more than his weight to the making of the conventional wisdom. As such, it would be welcome and useful if he held himself to a high standard of analysis – or at least, social-science basics. Failing that, he’s just another charlatan peddling gee-whiz insights to a readership that’s not as dumb as he thinks.
Cards on the tale: earlier in the post, Mitter indicates he doesn't think much of Foreign Policy bloggers either, so I'm pretty sure he won't think much of my own musings here. And I understand Mitter's anger about a misleading map coming from an outlet that generates a lot of eyeballs. That said, his critique is off-base for two reasons.
First, in this instance, the primary fault lies not with foreign policy bloggers, but with academics. It's not like Fisher commissioned a bogus survey and then wrote up the findings in a misleading manner. Rather, he relied on a survey that goes back three decades and has been cited pretty widely in the academic literature. He got to that survey via an academic article that got through the peer-review process. Almost all journalists not in possession of a Ph.D., going through that route, would have taken the data as gospel. It's not clear to me why Mitter thinks a full-blown foreign correspondent would be better versed in the "social science basics." Would Mitter have expected, say, Ryan Avent or Matthew Yglesias to have ferreted out Reinhart and Rogoff's Excel error, for example? I'm all for better education in the ways of statistics and social science methodology in the foreign affairs community, but methinks Mitter is setting the bar extraordinarily high here.
Second, the blog ecosystem "worked" in this particular case. Fisher posted something, a bunch of social scientists looked at the post and found something problematic, and lo and behold, errors in the data were discovered and publicized. As I've opined before, one of the signal purposes of blogging is to critique those higher up in the intellectual food chain. I understand that Mitter would prefer that the original error never take place. By its very nature, however, the peer review process for blogging takes place after publication -- not before. That's a bit messier than the academic route to publication -- and, because Fisher has a larger megaphone, one could posit that with great traffic comes great responsibility. Still, I suspect that anyone who titles a post "The Cartography of Bullshit" probably wouldn't want too heavy of an editorial hand to be placed on their prose.
At the heart of Mitter's lament is his untested hypothesis that foreign affairs blogging has caused the decline in research and international reporting. This strikes me as more correlation than causation, however. Furthermore, it implies that they are substitutes when in fact they are complements. The source material for a lot of foreign affairs blogging is academic research and in-depth international reportage. If Mitter wants to see a better informed public, then there needs to be as much focus on the quality of the primary source material as in the quality of the transmission mechanism.
Am I missing anything?
UPDATE: Mitter has responded in part here, and at more length in a constructive comment to this post. Both are well worth reading, and put some more context into his original post. He's getting to some interesting tensions about the nature of expertise and "publicity" in a changing media landscape that are worth mulling over before responding.
So last week was a pretty interesting one in wonkworld. Whether it was a disturbing week is in the eye of the beholder.
To recap: Last Monday the Heritage Foundation released a report claiming that proposed immigration reforms would cost north of $6 trillion. This report received a lot of pushback from liberal, libertarian, and conservative policy analysts.
As the debate fragmented into myriad sub-debates, one eddy focused on one of the co-authors, Heritage senior policy analyst Jason Richwine. As the Washington Post's Dylan Matthews unearthed, Richwine's Harvard University dissertation was titled "IQ and Immigration Policy." In it, he made the arguments that 1) Hispanic immigrants have lower IQs than white Americans, 2) that difference is partly due to genetic differences between the races, and 3) these differences will not dissipate with successive generations. You can figure out Richwine's policy conclusions for yourself. Dave Weigel at Slate also discovered that Richwine had contributed to a "white nationalist magazine" on the side.
Needless to say, Heritage started backpedaling as furiously as possible from Richwine. They made it clear that Richwine's dissertation was not a Heritage work product and that they didn't endorse it. Then, last Friday, the final boom came: Richwine "resigned" from Heritage. I put that in quotes because, given the circumstances, there's no earthly reason he would have resigned without some serious pressure from those above him at the think tank.
So, what does this all mean? Three thoughts:
1) Hey, so it turns out that ideas do matter in public policy. Not just any ideas either, but the quality of the ideas. This isn't to say that politics aren't involved in what happened this past week -- this is totally about political self-interest as well -- but the incomplete and distorted analysis that Heritage provided left it very vulnerable to pushback.
2) A few immigration skeptics on the right, such as Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin, have decried what they see as intellectual PC-thoughtcrime run amok. Malkin in particular decries the "smug dismissal of Richwine's credentials and scholarship." Now, to be blunt, this is just a little rich coming from someone who has not been shy when it comes to smug dismissals of Ivy League credentials in the past. That said, whenever someone goes from anonymous to the focus of a white-hot media scrum to fired inside of a week, I get queasy. Was there a rush to judgment here?
I'd break this down into two steps: First, whether Heritage acted appropriately, and second, whether Richwine's work merits the mantle of brave truth-teller. On the former, well, this is a key difference between a think tank and a university. Think tanks are trying to influence public policy, and the taint of having someone dabbling with the racist fringe on the payroll is a difficult one to erase. So, yeah, it shouldn't be all that shocking that Richwine is no longer working at Heritage, whereas university professors who say or write controversial things stay on the payroll.
As for the quality of Richwine's dissertation, the primary defense that Malkin et al. offer appears to be the caliber of Richwine's dissertation committee. From Malkin's post:
No researcher or academic institution is safe if this smear campaign succeeds. Richwine’s dissertation committee at Harvard included George Borjas, Robert W. Scrivner Professor of Economics and Social Policy. The Cuban-born scholar received his PhD in economics from Columbia. He is an award-winning labor economist, National Bureau of Economic Research research associate, and author of countless books, including a widely used labor economics textbook now in its sixth edition.
Richard J. Zeckhauser, the Frank P. Ramsey Professor of Political Economy at JFK, also signed off on Richwine’s dissertation. Zeckhauser earned a PhD in economics from Harvard. He belongs to the Econometric Society, the American Academy of Sciences, and the Institute of Medicine (National Academy of Sciences).
The final member of the committee that approved Richwine’s "racist" thesis is Christopher Jencks, the Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy at Harvard's JFK School. He is a renowned left-wing academic who has taught at Harvard, Northwestern, the University of Chicago, and the University of California, Santa Barbara. He edited the liberal New Republic magazine in the 1960s and has written several scholarly books tackling poverty, economic inequality, affirmative action, welfare reform, and yes, racial differences (The Black White Test Score Gap).
The willingness of Republican Gang of 8'ers to allow a young conservative researcher and married father of two to be strung up by the p.c. lynch mob for the crime of unflinching social science research is chilling, sickening, and suicidal.
These are serious people doing serious work.
I must confess that Malkin's lament made me think of this:
This is not to denigrate Richwine's dissertation committee. Still, as someone all too familiar with the Ph.D. life, let's just say that an argument based solely on authority is not convincing. I've perused parts of Richwine's dissertation, and … well … hoo boy. Key terms are poorly defined, auxiliary assumptions abound, and the literature I'm familiar with that is cited as authoritative is, well, not good. It's therefore unsurprising that, until last week, Richwine's dissertation disappeared into the ether the moment after it was approved. According to Google Scholar, no one cited it in the four years since it appeared. Furthermore, Richwine apparently didn't convert any part of it into any kind of refereed or non-refereed publication. Based on the comments that Weigel and others have received from Richwine's dissertation committee, one wonders just how much supervising was going on.
3) This whole affair should be a cautionary tale to Ph.D. students and profs alike. For the grad students -- particularly those planning on going into the policy world -- your dissertation will follow you for the rest of your life. Don't think you can just grind one out barely above the bar and it won't matter. And if you're puzzled why your advisor or a member of your dissertation committee is acting all anal retentive about some aspect of your thesis, there's a good reason. Our dissertation students follow us for the rest of our careers. The last thing we want as advisors is to get a phone call from a reporter asking us why we let some dubious piece of work skate through. It's our asses on the line as well.
Am I missing anything?
Yesterday the New York Times announced a brand new conference called The Next New World. The URL gives the game away, however -- it's the Friedman Forum. The précis:
Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman hosts this timely forum, bringing together chief executive officers, tech pioneers, government officials, influential decision-makers and scholars to discuss the new world economy, opportunities and challenges. We will explore the complex dynamics of new-world infrastructure, especially the transformative electronic, digital and mobile environment. Attendees can expect invaluable insights into strategies for success in today’s new world order.
If you act before May 10, you can get the discounted rate of $995.00 to attend!
Why should you shell out that kind of cabbage to go to such a confab? Well, there's the speaker list of course, but even better, the Friedman Forum has a "Why Attend?" page that will answer this very question. The good parts version:
The New York Times Next New World Forum is an invitation-only, highly interactive forum that explains:
How this Next New World is changing your job, your workplace, and your competition...
How cyberattacks and monetary crises are the new national security threats—threats to global businesses as well as nations....
How brands are threatened as never before by new players, and why C-Suite executives are both more constrained and less likely to last....
How robotics and other cutting-edge technologies can increase productivity but also disrupt your office and workforce....
How everything from climate change to fallen infrastructure is threatening global supply chains and how the rise of a new global middle class is disrupting American global dominance—while creating new markets.
After reading this, as well as CUNY's announcement that former CENTCOM commander/CIA Director David Petraeus will lead a seminar on the United States and the global economic crisis, I had two reactions.
1) At what point does one decide, "Why, yes, I should lecture people on the New New Things in the Global Economy! And charge at least a thousand dollars for the privilege"?
This is a serious question. I get asked this a lot at various talks, and I'm always befuddled by the query. I mean, if I had the actual answer, I wouldn't be so low in the international relations speaker ecosystem.
2) Forget Davos, Aspen or TED -- the Friedman Forum suggests a whole new vista of conferences branded around the idiosyncracies of individual thought leaders. Friedman better nail this down fast, because the coming competition will be fierce. In the spirit of... er... alliteration and Robert Ludlum titles, let me predict some other possible confabs on the horizon:
A) The Gross Gaggle. Organized by PIMCO's Bill Gross, this would be a collection of the world's most florid investment letter-writers in the world, warning about risk and uncertainty.
The Big Finale: Gross doing a spoken-word version of his latest newsletter with Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" playing in the background.
B) The Slaughter Seminar. The new president of the New America Foundation will lead a highly interdisciplinary gathering to focus on the myriad ways that the 21st century is upending our static 20th century mindsets. Topics will include the role of social networks, social media networks, online networks, gendered networks, and networked networks.
The Big Finale: A three-hour break in the middle of the day for participants to bond with their families.
C) The Dowd Doohickey. Join the Red Priestess as she explains how leadership is supposed to be done in the 21st century. After the ritual flaying of a political scientist to appease the Social Science Gods, Dowd will explain exactly how politicians used to Get Things Gone back in the day.
The Big Finale: Dowd and Aaron Sorkin will re-enact some of the classic Josh Lyman-Donna Moss scenes from The West Wing.
D) The Taleb Teach-In. Just how fragile is your financial position in this time of massive geopolitical and geoeconomic uncertainty? The author of The Black Swan and Antifragile will unleash his crystal ball and stare deeply into your portfolio to see if you're really and truly prepared for a volatile century.
The Big Finale: Taleb unleashes an army of zombies into the auditorium to sort out the resilient from the posers.
E) The Morozov Mish-Mash. Everything is sh*t -- your beliefs, your ideas, your likes, your dislikes, and particularly your values. If you dare attend, Morozov will explain why Everything You Hope for is a Chimera.
The Big Finale. Morozov will glare out at the audience, grumble, "you all suck," drop the mic, and walk off stage.
[And what about your confab?!--ed. I'll let the commenters decide the contents of... the Drezner Deliberations!]
With each passing day, senior scholars that I did not expect to bump into on Twitter... are now on Twitter. Christian Davenport joined recently, as did Jessica Stern. And there are others out there, lurking, trying to make sense of all the craziness.
For those academics who are Twitter-curious, Jay Ulfelder has written a very useful primer on the do's and don'ts of microblogging [NOTE: "microblogging" is a fancy generic word to describe Twitter or Weibo]. All of his points are spot-on, but these three are particularly trenchant for academics:
Decide why you’re using Twitter. If your main goal is to use Twitter as a news feed or to follow other peoples’ work, then it’s a really easy tool to use. Just poke around until you find people and organizations that routinely cover the issues that interest you, and follow them. If, however, your goal is to develop a professional audience, then you need to put more thought into what you tweet and retweet, and the rest of my suggestions might be useful.
Pick your niche(s). There are a lot of social scientists on Twitter, and many of them are picky about whom they follow. To make it worth peoples’ while to add you to their feed, pick one or a few of your research interests and focus almost all of your tweets and retweets on them. For example, I’ve tried to limit my tweets to the topics I blog about: democratization, coups, state collapse, forecasting, and a bit of international relations. When I was new to Twitter, I focused especially on democratization and forecasting because those weren’t topics other people were tweeting much about at the time. I think that differentiation made it easier for people to attach an identity to my avatar, and to understand what they would get by following me that they weren’t already getting from the 500 other accounts in their feeds.
Keep the tweet volume low, at least at the start. For a long time, I tried to limit myself to two or three tweets per Twitter session, usually once or twice per day. That made me think carefully about what I tweeted, (hopefully) keeping the quality higher and preventing me from swamping peoples’ feeds, a big turnoff for many.
Read the whole thing -- and, while you're at it, I'd reference this International Studies Perspectives essay that Charli Carpenter and I co-authored, which seems to be holding up pretty well.
I'll close with three other pieces of advice. First, think of these rules are more like training wheels during your introductory phase on Twitter. You don't ever have to remove them, but over time, as you get used to the norms and folkways of the Twitterverse, you can indeed relax some of them.
Second, that said, if you're a senior scholar, keep those training wheels on for longer. If you have a "name" in the real world, there will be plenty of Twitter gnomes just dying to blog/tweet something to the effect of: "HA HA HA HA HA, look at the stupid old person trying to act all trendy. What a desperado."
Third -- to repeat a theme -- don't tweet at all if you don't want to. Just join and treat Twitter as an RSS reader. Contra Chris Albon and Patrick Meier, I find the notion that Twitter is the new business card to be faintly absurd. There are, no doubt, a small cluster of individuals that can parlay success at social media into something more significant. For that to happen, however, there has to be some serious substance behind the tweets. Simply excelling at social media does little except to route you toward jobs with a heavy social media component. If you're a budding policy wonk, think carefully about what you would like your career arc to look like before following Albon and Meier's advice.
Patriots' Day is a holiday in Massachusetts. In Boston it is known for two events -- the running of the Boston Marathon and the only Major League Baseball game of the year that starts at 11 a.m. Your humble blogger is in no danger of trying to run a marathon, so he and his family went to see the Red Sox beat the Tampa Bay Rays in a thrilling walk-off win. And as we boarded the Green Line to leave Fenway, me and mine were happy that the day had gone well for Boston sports.
Soon after we got off the train, we learned that it had not been such a great day.
This is the kind of event where our monkey brains try to search for a deeper meaning, some moral or narrative or response that can sustain us through such moments of nihilism. In many ways, that's a mistake. Sure, the "helpers" and the response to the tragedy should be highlighted. Obsessing about the tragedy itself, however, won't do any good and will do much harm. As Bruce Schneier points out, the whole point of such an attack is to maximize the attention paid to the seeming breakdown in order -- although what actually happened was that emergency providers and ordinary citizens did their utmost to bring order back to chaos. In point of fact, terrorist acts on American soil have been very, very rare since 9/11. Furthermore, as John Arquilla observes, stopping this sort of thing can be next to impossible.
As President Obama and others have pointed out, Boston is a tough, resilient town. This sort of thing will shock us in the moment. As shock fades away, what is left is something stronger and more substantive, something that a few homemade bombs cannot destroy. That's the narrative that will hopefully emerge, and it's the one that does the best job of defeating the psychology of terrorism.
The next thing that will happen is foolish, uninformed speculation about who or whom was responsible. The Boston Globe's Todd Wallack and Andrea Estes have a story quoting lots of terrorism and foreign affairs experts on the question of who was responsible. I'm quoted as well, and I'll let that be the last thing I say on this subject until we have more information:
Daniel Drezner, professor of international politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, cautioned that there is too little information to know who might be to blame. Some reports linked the Oklahoma City bombing to foreign terrorists, but it turned out to be the work of Timothy James McVeigh, an American seeking revenge against the government for its siege in Waco.
“Trying to speculate would be foolhardy,” Drezner said. “If anyone should learn anything from the past, it is that you shouldn’t speculate without more information.”
Your humble blogger has been knee-deep in chairing, discussing, and attending International Studies Association panels
all of which seem to have the word "diffusion" in the title and SOMEONE PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!!!
Now, naturally, with the global financial crisis and its aftermath there's been a lot of talk about debts and deficits. And with the defense sequester and what-not, there's been a lot of talk about rising levels of partisanship. And I've come to the reluctant conclusion that a lot of this talk need to stop, like, right now.
Here's the dirty truth about most international studies scholars: They know a fair amount about the high politics of international affairs and almost next to nothing about the rest of life. Of course, the rest of life does impinge on world politics, so there's some natural overlap. The problem starts when, in talking about non-IR stuff, we start to think that we have just as much expertise in these areas. Which we don't. At all.
Last night I tweeted a query about what areas IR scholars should be quiet about and got way too many answers to fit in a blog post. So, here are five things about which I'd really like 99 percent of international relations scholars to shut the hell up:
1) Macroeconomic policy. Should the United States cut its deficit further? Are budget cuts, tax cuts, or tax increases necessary? How can the eurozone escape its current macroeconomic malaise? Most of us have no friggin' clue what the correct answers are for the United States, and that goes double for the euro zone. So unless you're actually publishing scholarly work on global macroeconomic policy, shut up.
2) The role of money in American politics. Foreign policy scholars are far too often shocked -- shocked!! -- when they see interest group politics at work. The Citizens United decision has only amplified this lament. The reaction to this is to either bemoan the general health of the American polity or to start developing simple theories that argue that money or lobbies explain everything about politics. Now I might not be the biggest fan of the American politics subfield, but I'm pretty sure they know more about this topic than we do. So shut up and read what they have to say.
3) Partisanship in the United States. Did you know that it's getting worse? And that it's paralyzing the U.S. government? And that it's getting worse? One of the natural biases of foreign policy scholars is to think in terms of a national interest, and then act appalled when there are different partisan conceptions of that term. Basically, what applies to #2 applies to this point as well.
4) The Internet. As near as I can determine, when asked about this technology affects international politics, most scholars answer with some variation of "networks networks networks cyber cyber cyber." Some scholars do very good work on this subject. The rest of us should shut up for a spell and read them.
5) Diffusion. Never again. Ever.
What else, my dear readers, would you like to see less gabbing about from international affairs scholars?
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?
Let's face it, Americans do not understand the current state of either macroeconomic policy or foreign policy terribly well. According to Bloomberg, only six percent of Americans know that the federal budget deficit is actually shrinking. According to Gallup, just a bare majority of Americans believe that the United States military remains "number one in the world militarily." In a world of these kind of epic media fails, where significant numbers of GOP legislators seem "more concerned about 2% inflation than 8% employment," it's important to to have recognized experts try to clear the air.
Nobel Prize-winning economist and unusually-pithy-writer-for-an-economist Robert Solow has an op-ed in today's New York Times to offer a primer on the implications of U.S. debt. Here, in brief, are the "six facts about the debt that many Americans may not be aware of," in Solow's words. Let me number them here:
1) Roughly half of outstanding debt owed to the public, now $11.7 trillion, is owned by foreigners. This part of the debt is a direct burden on ourselves and future generations....
2) The Treasury owes dollars, America’s own currency (unlike Greece or Italy, whose debt is denominated in euros)...
3) One way to effectively repudiate our debt is to encourage inflation...
4) Treasury bonds owned by Americans are different from debt owed to foreigners. Debt owed to American households, businesses and banks is not a direct burden on the future....
5) The real burden of domestically owned Treasury debt is that it soaks up savings that might go into useful private investment.
6) But in bad times like now, Treasury bonds are not squeezing finance for investment out of the market. On the contrary, debt-financed government spending adds to the demand for privately produced goods and services, and the bonds provide a home for the excess savings. When employment returns to normal, we can return to debt reduction.
Some foreign pollicy experts think that Solow is being too sunny. Take Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass:
With respect, I think Solow is actually being too pesssimistic, and Haass is being way too pessimistic.
The problem is that, contra Solow, I suspect Americans are keenly aware of his points 1-5. The United States owes a lot of money to China, but I'd wager that any poll of U.S. citizens would reveal that the public thinks we owe even more to China than we actually do. Similarly, much of the policy rhetoric coming from Washington focuses on fears of incipient inflation that have yet to pan out.
It's Solow's last point that is the one Americans need to hear more: in an era of slack demand, bulging coporate cash coffers, and recovering personal savings rates, it's actually pretty stupid to have U.S. government spending and employment contract so quickly. I fear, however, that excessive concern about Solow's first, third, fourth and fifth points will swamp out the rest of his op-ed.
As for Haass, I'm not exactly sure what "rising rates" he's talking about, as just about any chart you can throw up shows historically low borrowing rates for the United States government. Indeed, the U.S. Treasury is exploiting this fact by locking in U.S. long-term debt at these rates. As for foreign governments pressuring the United States, the fear of foreign financial statecraft has been somewhat hyped by the foreign policy community. And by "somewhat hyped," I mean "wildly, massively overblown."
The bias in foreign policy circles and DC punditry is to bemoan staggering levels of U.S. debt. This bias does percolate down into the perceptions of ordinary Americans, which leads to wild misperceptions about the actual state of the U.S. economy and U.S. economic power. I'd like to see a lot more op-eds by Solow et al. that puncture these myths more effectively.
Am I missing anything?
Now Logan makes some compelling points to rebut me, such as:
It’s worth noting that a disproportionate number of academics writing about grand strategy are realists, so that’s coloring the ideological content of what the academics are producing. Drezner has complained about realist victimhood before, but grand strategy is an elite sport, and even headmits that “America’s foreign policy elites are more hostile to realpolitik – though even here, things can be exaggerated.” Drezner then points to Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft as bearers of the realist flag, but even if you would lump Kissinger and Scowcroft in with Posen and Walt (I wouldn’t), both men are in their late 80s. There is no realist faction in the FPC, if by “realist” we mean “person whose views on strategy comport with leading academic realists.”
Think about members of the FPC who work on strategy and scholars in the academy who do so. Is a potential strategy debate between, say, a Democrat like Anne-Marie Slaughter and a Republican like Robert Kagan very interesting? I don’t think so. It’s fought between the seven and nine-yard lines at the primacy end of the field. Then consider a debate between, say,Barry Posen or John Mearsheimer, on the one hand, and Kagan or Slaughter on the other. Pass the popcorn.
Now, ordinarily, this would get my intellectual juices flowing and I'd start trying arguing that Logan is conflating IR theorists with realists a bit or whatnot.
The thing is, this was my actual view (as opposed to my worldview) for much of today:
You know, with this kind of view, it doesn't take much to realize that the problems of a few international relations wonks doesn't amount to a hill of sand in this world.
So I'm conceding this round to Logan. Excellent points, and nicely done!! I'll read the paper when I'm back in a cold climate.
[So, basically, any author of an MS you refereed this week should be feeling pretty good right about now!!--ed. Pretty much, yeah.]
My Twitter feed has been abuzz with a 2009 Justin Logan blog post about the puzzling disconnect between the international relations academy and the foreign policy community in Washington:
[T]he two groups have been wildly at variance in terms of their views on important public policy issues. Take the Iraq war, for example. As anyone who was in Washington at the time knows, the FPC was extremely fond of the idea of invading Iraq. To oppose it was to marginalize oneself for years....
In the academy, meanwhile, there was hardly any debate over Iraq almost 80 percent of IR academics opposed the war. [.pdf] To the extent academics did enter the public debate on the issue, it was to pay for an advertisement in the New York Timeswarning against the war. [.pdf] The only academics who spoke out in favor of the war (to my knowledge, anyway) were IR liberals like Anne-Marie Slaughter, who sought policy positions in Washington....
My sense is that the giant national-security bureaucracy in Washington that has emerged over the last 65 years has shaped incentives in a manner such that it is next-to-impossible to “get ahead” by advocating for restraint. Put differently, restraint isn’t in anybody’s interest except the country’s, and there’s nobody in Washington representing broad national interests as opposed to their own parochial ones. Every neoconservative or liberal imperialist in DC has someone’s interests behind them.
Read the whole thing.
My take: I'm one of the 20% of academics who (regretfully) supported the Iraq War, so feel free to discount my take. First of all, I've always been dubious of that 80% figure -- it's based on a survey conducted in 2005 asking what their attitudes were in 2003. Maybe everyone was honest about this, but I recall a fair number of colleagues voicing some sympathy for Operation Iraqi Freedom in early 2003. Logan is right to point out the divergence -- I'm just not sure it was as stark as he makes it.
More generally, methinks Logan is trying to fit a structural explanation onto a more transient divergence. My explanations for the divergence are based on a more prosaic three-step explanation:
1) All politicians want to be president;
2) All members of the foreign policy community want to be a foreign policy principal;
3) In 2002, what haunted the memory of politicians were the presidential candidates who self-destructed in 1991 for voting against Gulf War I. Immediately after 9/11, no politician who had a future wanted to be seen as soft on war.
On the other hand, if Logan is right, then the foreign policy community should be united in dispatching military force at every opportunity since Iraq. That's not how it's played out, however. A lot of think-tankers opposed the surge in Iraq, as well as operations in Libya. I don't see overwhelming support for action in Syria either.
Logan says he has a longer paper, which I look forward to reading. But I hope he's able to demonstrate that the gap between the foreign policy community and international relations academy has been long-lasting, and is not merely an artifact of 2002.
Your humble blogger was not kidding when he said he was on vacation. Furthermore, this isn't one of those vacations where I can just hide away in my hotel room for hours on end, composing the kind of artisanal, hand-crafted blog posts that make feel Wittgensteinian and all. No, this is the kind of vacation where I can feel the disapproving eyes of my family on my hunched shoulders every time I look at my laptop.
So, in the interest of making everyone happy, this week's blog posts will be of the more old school, "Hey, read this!" kind of link-o-rama that Twitter has made quasi-obsiolete. For each day, I'll focus on topics that revisit an old blog post of mine, to see if there's anything new of interesting out there.
1) Greg Ferenstein, "Former Political Scientist to Congress: Please Defund Political Science." The Atlantic. My take: In all seriousness, about 85% of all political science research can pass the "mother in law test" -- the question is whether political scientists are articulate enough to do this with their own research.
3) Jay Ulfelder, "Why is Academic Writing so Bad? A Brief Response to Stephen Walt," Dart-Throwing Chimp. My take: um... yeah, Jay's right. One caveat: Writing for a general audience requires some genuine craft and care with one's prose style, so those political scientists who want to write for a wider audience do need to care about the writing. Which leads to whispers and murmurs that if they write well, they're not focusing enough on their research. Which leads to a vicious cycle of bad writing.
4) Adam Elkus, "Relevant to Policy?" CNAS. My take: definitely worth a read, and an interesting counter to Ferenstein in particular.
And now... time to unhunch my shoulders!!
In the run-up to his confirmation hearings, both BuzzFeed's Ruby Cramer and the Washington Free Beacon have stories about secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel's days as a professor at Georgetown. At first glance, the spin on these stories seems to be at odds with each other. Here's Cramer:
Those who knew him at Georgetown remember Professor Hagel, whose confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee begins early Thursday morning, as resolute in his own views on foreign policy, and dedicated to his classroom at a level unusual for most lawmakers who take on stints as visiting professors....
Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, retired from the Senate in 2008 after serving two consecutive terms. He landed the Georgetown gig in February of 2009, and started work on crafting one course for grad students in the fall, and another for undergrads in the spring. Hagel chose geopolitical relationships as his focus, and with the help of his teaching assistant, wrote a syllabus aimed at examining the 21st century as a period of transition that is "shifting geopolitical centers of gravity and is recasting geopolitical influences as the world experiences an unprecedented diffusion," as stated in the syllabus for Hagel's first-ever course in the fall of 2009.
Shockingly, the Free Beacon interprets matters a bit differently:
As a professor at Georgetown University, secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel taught a foreign policy course based primarily on anti-Israel materials and far left manifestos that castigate America’s role in the world, according to a copy of Hagel’s 2012 course syllabus....
Constructed on the premise that America’s global supremacy is waning, Hagel’s seminar featured writings that criticize America’s standing in the world, advocate in favor of shuttering American military bases, and refer to Israel as guilty of war crimes.
If the poor defenseless reader were to try to synthesize these two articles on their own, they might come away convinced that Hagel was like Robin Williams' character in Dead Poets Society, if Williams' character was also a secret, anti-Semitic communist spy.
Fortunately, as a trained professor, I'm capable of scanning Hagel's syllabi, and the description of the syllabi, and render my own judgment. And I confess that, after looking at them, I have a few more qualms about Hagel than I did before.
These qualms are not due to the Free Beacon's story, which doesn't have an author appellation, which is just as well, since whomever wrote it has no f**king clue who makes what arguments in international relations. Among the "anti-Israel and far left manifestos" that the Free Beacon identifies is the following:
Other books featured on Hagel’s reading list, such as G. John Ikenberry’s Liberal Leviathan, argue that America’s influence is waning.
“Even if a return to multipolarity is a distant and slowly emerging future possibility, calculations about the relative decline of American power reintroduce the importance of making investments today for later decades when the United States is less preeminent,” wrote Ikenberry, a Princeton professor, in his 2012 book.
Let's take a brief pause here to allow the folks with some actual international relations knowledge a hearty chuckle. Because anyone who's read anything by John Ikenberry quickly learns two things: 1) he's about as centrist as one can get; and 2) he's quite upbeat about America's future (as a close reading of that quote would suggest). So we can safely ignore the Free Beacon's efforts to spin people like Ikenberry and Zbigniew Brzezinski as anti-Israel or far left.
There's also the rather obvious point that, as a general rule, professors will assign readings they disagree with. It's that whole, "give students competing perspectives on thorny issues so they can have an informed debate" kind of deal. As mysterious as this might sound to the Free Beacon, let me assure them that assigning provocative readings is a pretty common pedagogical tool.
On the other hand, a quick perusal of Hagel's syllabi reveals a far deeper concern: Hagel is addicted to ... hackery. The Friedmans make too many appearances in these syllabi, for example. He assigned Tom Friedman's The World Is Flat, which is pretty bad. He also assigned George Friedman's The Next 100 Years, which is far, far worse (don't take my word for it, take Philip Tetlock's). He also assigned liberal portions of Parag Khanna's work, which is unfortunate.
Now I'm not above assigning the occasional hack piece in a class to let my students chew up and spit out. That's actually a useful pedagogical exercise. Hagel, however, seems to think that the hack stuff is actually quite good -- at least that's what he told C-SPAN. For a graduate seminar at Georgetown, the chaff-to-wheat ratio is disturbingly high.
Besides the hack addiction, is there anything else to be gleaned from Hagel's syllabi? If there is a theme that runs through Hagel's syllabus choices, it's a pretty realpolitik one. Writers like George Friedman and Robert D. Kaplan don't really care about human institutions as much as geopolitics. He also assigned some interesting work by Joseph Parent & Paul McDonald, as well as Micah Zenko & Michael Cohen, on strategic restraint and threat inflation, respectively. That's what should terrify neoconservatives -- not the bogus anti-Israel charges.
Still, after reading his syllabi, I must acknowledge that Hagel picked up one academic trait very quickly: just like us lifelong profs, Hagel learned to assign his own book. Well played, Professor Hagel. Well played.
Dear New York Times:
As the paper of record, your op-ed page is a natural target for snark, derision, and other forms of criticism. I'll certainly plead guilty to these venial sins. I've found flaws in more than a few of your columnist's writings on foreign affairs. Thomas Friedman, in particular, has invited a fair measure of scorn from your correspondent over the years -- though I'd note that I'm hardly the only one guilty of that sin. Let me stipulate that I have no doubt that Mr. Friedman can polish off an accessible 800 word column on foreign affairs better than 99.5% of the foreign policy community. And Friedman has locked down a certain Greatest Generation demographic, the one that emails their children with Ph.D.s in political science to say "Tom Friedman said something interesting in his column today. You should read it."
Friedman's prose style invites a certain kind of satire, which is occasionally unkind but pretty harmless. I write now, however, because in his latest column he has migrated from the merely foolish to the ill-considered and dangerous. This is his advice to incoming Secretary of State John Kerry:
[W]hat’s a secretary of state to do? I’d suggest trying something radically new: creating the conditions for diplomacy where they do not now exist by going around leaders and directly to the people. And I’d start with Iran, Israel and Palestine. We live in an age of social networks in which every leader outside of North Korea today is now forced to engage in a two-way conversation with their citizens. There’s no more just top-down. People everywhere are finding their voices and leaders are terrified. We need to turn this to our advantage to gain leverage in diplomacy.
Let’s break all the rules.
Rather than negotiating with Iran’s leaders in secret — which, so far, has produced nothing and allows the Iranian leaders to control the narrative and tell their people that they’re suffering sanctions because of U.S. intransigence — why not negotiate with the Iranian people? President Obama should put a simple offer on the table, in Farsi, for all Iranians to see: The U.S. and its allies will permit Iran to maintain a civil nuclear enrichment capability — which it claims is all it wants to meet power needs — provided it agrees to U.N. observers and restrictions that would prevent Tehran from ever assembling a nuclear bomb. We should not only make this offer public, but also say to the Iranian people over and over: “The only reason your currency is being crushed, your savings rapidly eroded by inflation, many of your college graduates unemployed and your global trade impeded and the risk of war hanging overhead, is because your leaders won’t accept a deal that would allow Iran to develop civil nuclear power but not a bomb.” Iran wants its people to think it has no partner for a civil nuclear deal. The U.S. can prove otherwise.
He goes on to talk about Israel/Palestine, but let's keep the focus on Iran. To put it kindly, there are some serious problems with Friedman's advice. In no particular order:
1) There are many possible Secretaries of State who possess the necessary charisma, drive, and rhetorical skills to resonate with the ordinary citizens of other countries. I think we can all safely agree that, capable as he might be, John Kerry is not one of those diplomats.
2) Why not "negotiate with the Iranian people?" Well, to get technical about it, they're not the ones controlling Iran's nuclear program. That's not a minor issue. For all this talk about how states are irrelevant in the 21st century, on matters of hard security not much has changed. Lest Friedman or anyone else doubt this, recall that the Iranian state has proven itself more than capable of suppressing the Iranian people over the past four years. Why Friedman thinks that the Ayatollah Khamenei would listen to ordinary Iranians on the nuclear question is beyond me.
3) Friedman seems to think that ordinary Iranians are implacably opposed to the nuclear program. I have yet to read any analysis or on-the-ground reporting (including the NYT) that suggests this to be true. Rather, the common theme is that Iranians take nationalist pride in the technological accomplishments of their national nuclear program. Furthermore, in a propaganda war between the U.S. government and their own government, the U.S. is probably gonna lose even if it possesses the better argument. For all of Friedman's loose talk about the power of social media in a digitized world, he elides the point that one of the sentiments that social media is best at magnifying is nationalism. In the case of Iran, this would mean a more recalcitrant negotiating partner.
4) In the 35 years since the Iranian Revolution, and the 10+ years since Iran's nuclear program became a point of contention, is there any evidence that U.S. public diplomacy has had any positive effect in the country of Iran? Any? So why will it work now?
5) One last point. Iran's regime has been obsessed with the belief that the United States is trying to foment a Velvet Revolution in the country. They've been willing to arrest, repress, or harrass anyone vaguely associated with such a campaign. Exactly how does Friedman think the government in Tehran would respond to the kind of public diplomacy initiative that he's suggesting?
I could go on, but you see what I'm trying to say. Friedman's "break all the rules" strategy is as transgressive as those dumb-ass Dr. Pepper commercials. Worse, he's recommending a policy that would actually be counter-productive to any hope of reaching a deal with Iran. This is the worst kind of "World is Flat" pablum, applied to nuclear diplomacy. God forbid John Kerry were to read it and follow Friedman's advice.
Sure, 99.5% of foreign policy wonks might write something less punchy, but I suspect most of them wouldn't write something so obviously wrong. Friedman clearly needs a sabbatical from the rigors of column-writing to get his head back in the game. In the interest of raising our country's foreign policy discourse, I beg you to put him on leave.
Daniel W. Drezner
Roger Cohen has a column modestly titled "Diplomacy Is Dead." Let's see what he's talking about:
Diplomacy is dead.
Effective diplomacy — the kind that produced Nixon’s breakthrough with China, an end to the Cold War on American terms, or the Dayton peace accord in Bosnia — requires patience, persistence, empathy, discretion, boldness and a willingness to talk to the enemy.
This is an age of impatience, changeableness, palaver, small-mindedness and an unwillingness to talk to bad guys. Human rights are in fashion, a good thing of course, but the space for realist statesmanship of the kind that produced the Bosnian peace in 1995 has diminished. The late Richard Holbrooke’s realpolitik was not for the squeamish.
There are other reasons for diplomacy’s demise. The United States has lost its dominant position without any other nation rising to take its place. The result is nobody’s world. It is a place where America acts as a cautious boss, alternately encouraging others to take the lead and worrying about loss of authority. Syria has been an unedifying lesson in the course of crisis when diplomacy is dead. Algeria shows how the dead pile up when talking is dismissed as a waste of time....
Indeed the very word “diplomacy” has become unfashionable on Capitol Hill, where its wimpy associations — trade-offs, compromise, pliancy, concessions and the like — are shunned by representatives who these days prefer beating the post-9/11 drums of confrontation, toughness and inflexibility: All of which may sound good but often get you nowhere (or into long, intractable wars) at great cost.
Stephen Heintz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, wrote in an e-mail that, “When domestic politics devolve into polarization and paralysis the impact on diplomatic possibility becomes inordinately constraining.” He cited Cuba and Iran as examples of this; I would add Israel-Palestine. These critical foreign policy issues are viewed less as diplomatic challenges than potential sources of domestic political capital....
Obama has not had a big breakthrough. America’s diplomatic doldrums are approaching their 20th year.
Narrow-minded domestic politics.... check... Web 2.0 short-termism... check... yes, this is indeed the exemplar of the Grumpy Old Diplomatic Hand column. So as a Grumpy Middle-Aged Academic, I'd like to grouse a bit on these alleged truisms.
Now on the one hand, Cohen has a point that the optics of patient diplomacy can be more politically challenging than military statecraft. The use of force tends to arouse domestic suipport; diplomacy can be painted as an act of weakness or appeasement. And one can certainly think of Cuba, Iran or even Israel/Palestine as places where diplomacy has not achieved liftoff capacity. And, yes, Web 2.0 technologies do make things like "backchannel diplomacy" that much more difficult to keep under wraps.
All that said.... give me a f**king break.
First of all, there's a logical tension hidden within Cohen's narrative. He laments the disappearance of patient diplomacy in one breath and then observes the relative decline in U.S. power in the next. Maybe it's not that U.S. patience has withered, but that a hegemon with less weight to throw around requires even greater levels of patience to achieve the same tasks. In the case of Syria, for example, it's kinda hard to see how more realpolitik would have gotten states with fundamentally divergent national interests to agree on a manageable solution. Indeed, one could argue that the tropuble with America's Syria diplomacy has been too much realpolitik, not too little.
Second of all, Cohen is glossing over some examples of patient diplomatic successes. Even in Syria, there have been examples of successful "concert" diplomacy. The U.S. opening to Myanmar would be another example [UPDATE: Cohen tweets in response that he did in fact mention Myanmar. He's right, and I apologize for not noting that fact.]. This is a case where the Burmese themselves have done a lot of the heavy lifting, but it's to the Obama administration's credit that it nimbly seized on the opportunity. Indeed, this has been part of an overall Asia/Pacific strategy that would appear to epitomize the kind of hard-headed diplomacy that Cohen does. Even the Sino-American handling of the Chen Guangcheng case represents an example of deft diplomacy in response to Web 2.0 technology.
Third -- and most important -- diplomacy is a two-player game. There have been cases where the Obama administration has reached out to leaders with a different worldview in an effort to normalize relations -- think about the "reset" with Russia. It would be safe to describe that effort as "fraught with complications." Most of the friction in the Russia reset has nothing to do with the domestic American causess Cohen highlights, however, and everything to do with Russian policymakers
feeling their relative power wane being extremely wary of the outreach effort. Similarly, Iran's domestic politics during the Obama years have been... complicated. It's not clear whether the most generous U.S. offer would actually be accepted by Iran's current political establishment.
One could argue that Cohen's logic, extended globally, does have some heft. It's not just the rise of domestic impediments in the United States -- it's the increased importance of domestic politics in diplomacy in other countries that makes realpolitik statecraft so hard to execute in the 21st century. But let's be clear -- this phenomenon has little to do with the Internet age, the decline in American power, or even the rise of single-issue interest groups. Ironically, it has more to do with the effect a successful American grand strategy -- the promotion of open polyarchic politics in the rest of the world. Even authoritarian countries like China, or quasi-authoritarian countries like Russia have domestic interests and bases to sate. The domestic politics in these countries is far more open than it was during the heyday of realpolitik diplomacy.
As International Relations 101 will say, adding domestic constraints narrows the possibility of any international agreement. I agree with Cohen that this is happening. I disagree with Cohen as to the reasons why. It has very little to do with the United States, and an awful lot to do with the rest of the world.
So, to sum up: diplomacy's death has been greatly exaggerated, and a lot of what ails it has very little to do with the United States.
Am I missing anything?
This past week your humble blogger added another affiliation to his bio, as he has now joined the Brookings Institution as a... wait for it... nonresident senior fellow with the Managing Global Order project.
Now, those who live and breathe the mores and rhythms of DC's think tank community are already aware of the awesome rights, responsibilities and entitlements that comes with this honorific. Those not in the wonk priesthood, however, might wonder. Clearly, "nonresident" implies I'm not moving to DC. But what are the other perks of being a nonresident senior fellow?
The better way to phrase this query is -- what aren't the perks of being a nonresident senior fellow? It's almost as cool as being a full professor, for Pete's sake!! To list all the perks would take too long. Here are, in order, the top ten benefits to being a nonresident senior fellow at a think tanks, however:
10) Now all of my talks can be shorter. Before any academic or policy talk, a speaker usually receives an introduction in which the convenor reads the person's bio. If the speaker has lots of awards, affiliations, and publications, then this process can take a while, cutting into the speaker's allotted time. Secretly, all speakers want this, cause it means they don't have to remble on as long. Adding the Brookings affiliation will cut my talks by at least thirty seconds.
9) I'm now one affiliation away from the PACT. A key plot device in 30 Rock was Tracy Morgan's quest for the EGOT -- Emmy, Grammy, Tony and Oscar awards. Foreign policy wonks have a similar quest, except it operates by affiliations: Press, Academia, Consulting, and Think Tankery. Adding my nonresident senior fellow appellation to being a Fletcher professor and a contributing editor here at FP, I now have a PAT. The only thing missing is the for-profit consulting gig. I'm looking in your direction, Stonebridge Group and/or McKinsey!!
8) 50,000 frequent flyer miles with an airline of my choice. This sounds like a great perk, but really, it's just so that I can be conversant in frequent flyer-speak when bumping into other nonresident senior fellows at conferences:
ME: So did you get upgraded on this flight?
OTHER WONK: Oh, yeah, but that's because I'm Super Premium status. You?
ME: No, and I was willing to use miles too!!
OTHER WONK: Oh, no, never use your own miles!! See, what you should do it... [long disquisition about the art of frequent flyer mile management.]
You get the idea.
7) Officially one of the old boys now. The "senior" is a tipoff -- I can no longer declare "Young Turk" status. Instead, I'm clearly part of an old boy network of some kind or another. Which will, inevitably, lead to attacks from Glenn Greenwald.
6) Attract a much better class of groupies. Oh, sure, as a full professor I get the entreaty from a student willing to do just about anything to get an RAship/grad school admission/job. DC, however, attacts a much more desperate and stylish set of aspirants. Indeed, within 24 hours of becoming a nonresident senior fellow, my LinkedIn profile was beseiged with requests ranging from "I'm just dying to polish your memos" to "I feel like I'm the only research assistant who gets you -- I mean, really gets you!!"
5) One free black helicopter ride. I have every confidence that the sovereigntists in the crowd are already freaked out by the "Managing Global Order" moniker. AS YOU SHOULD BE!!! Who do you think supplies the black helicopetrs to the United Nations? Before we do, however, a nonresident fellow can pick where in the country the brand-spanking new black helicopter can buzz, just to freak out some locals. I, for one, am looking forward to a quick, below-the-radar trip through the Texas panhandle.
4) Playing the Lincoln card. All nonresident senior fellows run into bureaucratic impediments at some point or another. Once a year, I can pull the Lincoln card out of my wallet, and utter the following: "I am a nonresident senior fellow, clothed in IMMENSE POWER! You will procure me these PowerPoint slides."
3) Preferential treatment at the Old Ebbitt Grill. For years, I used to make reservations at this venerable DC establishment and still find myself cooling my heels and not impressing my date as more distinguished Beltway denizens would just waltz on in. Not anymore!! Now I just flash your "Nonresident Senior Fellow" gold card to the maitre d'hotel and -- KABLAMM!! -- my date and I are enjoying the finest champagnes in the land. This is a much more civilized way of exerting power than the more old-fashioned method in which -- as I understand it -- the men simply unzipped their flies and compared penis sizes.
2) At least ten more seconds of air time on CNN. Cable news nets will let senior nonresident fellows blather on for at least two more sentences before interrupting duing an interview.
1) "Nonresident Casual Fridays." One Friday, every other month, the nonresident fellows show up at the Brookings Institution very early, camp ourselves in the offices of the resident fellows, and scare the bejeezus out of them when they walk in. Alternatively, we prank call the senior resident fellows, pretending to be a White House flack asking for permission to vet them for a prominent subcabinet position.
Apologies for the radio silence: your humble blogger has been silent as of late because of a nasty little cold that has taken far too long to run its course.
I should be back in fighting blog condition by Monday. In the meanwhle, as I prepare my Albies, I should note that I have an essay in the January/February 2013 issue of Foreign Affairs. It's entitled "Rebooting Republican Foreign Policy." A small taste:
So how did the party of Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan get itself into this mess? Simply put, GOP leaders stopped being smart foxes and devolved into stupid hedgehogs. During the Cold War, the party of Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Reagan was strongly anticommunist, but these presidents took foreign policy seriously and executed their grand strategies with a healthy degree of tactical flexibility. Since 9/11, however, Republicans have known only one big thing -- the "global war on terror" -- and have remained stubbornly committed to a narrow militarized approach. Since the fall of Baghdad, moreover, this approach has produced at least as much failure as success, leading the American public to be increasingly skeptical of the bellicosity that now defines the party's foreign policy.
Since 9/11, Republicans have known only one big thing -- the "global war on terror" -- and have remained stubbornly committed to a narrow militarized approach. Republicans need to start taking international relations more seriously, addressing the true complexities and requirements of the issues rather than allowing the subject to be a plaything for right-wing interest groups. And if they don't act quickly, they might cede this ground to the Democrats for the next generation.
Read the whole thing. A few additional notes:
1) I wrote this more than close to two months ago, and it was put to bed six weeks ago. That's an eternity in policymaker time, and I was worried that my primary thesis -- that the GOP's foreign policy thinking has devolved -- would be proven wrong as party elders recognized that the November election required a rethink. Thankfully for my essay -- and unfortunately for the country -- the GOP has continued to act in a blinkered manner when it comes to cabinet appointees and treaty ratifications. There's little you can count on in Washington anymore -- except the ideological rigidity of the GOP.
2) My preferred title would have been "How the GOP has Screwed Itself on Foreign Policy," but that was a nonstarter. I think my title is more accurate, however.
3) Lest one conclude from this snark -- not to mention my 2012 election snark -- that I'm happy about this state of affairs, I find the whole situation remarkably depressing. Democracies do not function terribly well when one of the two major parties either doesn't know or doesn't care what it says on matters of foreign policy. It basically gives a pass to the other guys because they sound... well.... less crazy. I've been thoroughly underwhelmed by the Obama administration's foreign policy machinations as of late -- but because I don't see a viable alternative being put forward by the GOP, it's tough to be too critical.
4) Will this essay make a difference? I have my doubts, but we'll see. Foreign affairs remains one of the few policy arenas where there is some degree of cross-party consensus. It was this consensus that killed Mitt Romney when he stumbled on foreign policy matters during the 2012 campaign. That hopeful note aside, I fear that this consensus is breaking down. I understand that Foreign Affairs is planning a response essay by someone more firmly ensconced within mainstream GOP foreign policy thinking. I look forward to starting a dialogue. Mostly I hope that the GOP's foreign policy wonks appreciate the hole that's been dug. As I note later in the essay:
Every additional year the party is locked out of the executive branch the experience and skills of GOP foreign policymakers will atrophy while those of their Democratic counterparts will grow. It took the Democratic Party a generation to heal politically from the foreign policy scars of Vietnam, and several years in office during the Clinton administration to develop new cadres of competent mid-career professionals. And public inattention to the subject doesn't help, offering few major opportunities for rebranding. So the GOP has its work cut out for it.
5) Footnoting is impossible in a Foreign Affairs essay. Still, I wanted to acknowledge Colin Dueck's Hard Line: The Republican Party and U.S. Foreign Policy Since World War II as a very useful resource as I was drafting this article.
December 25th is a time of love, gifts, prayers... and thinking long and hard about Santa Claus as an actor in world politics. Sure, one could just compose awesome poems in the holiday spirit -- or one could think seriously about the implications of the jolly fat man for the international system.
I emailed a few of our gravitas-oozing foreign affairs pundits about the true meaning of Santa in our hyperconnected, globalized world. Here's what I got in response:
Santa is the most damning piece of evidence yet that we live in a G-Zero world. This stateless actor commands a vast intelligence apparatus, an apparent slave army of little people, and is not above working animals long past their breaking point. By any stretch of the imagination, he's a rogue actor. And yet, despite these flagrant violations of international norms, there isn't even a nascent effort to combat, contain or regulate his activities. The G-20 continues to dither, revealing itself yet again as toothless and pointless. This would never have happened back when the U.S. was the hegemon!!
On this day of Christ's birth, I will tell you something that the New York Times, which is so in the bag for this administration that one of their columnists kept predicting an Obama victory despite overwhelming mispeception to the contrary, will not: Santa Claus is a force for good in the world. Developing countries will cling to their indigenous Christmas heroes, foolishly hoping that these local legends can guide their country towards peace and prosperity. Wake up, rest of the world!! Yes, Santa can seem a bit domineering with his black-and-white dichotomy of naughty and nice. Let's face it, however -- those countries that have embraced St. Nick are better off. If anything, Santa's problem is that he's not being mean enough to the naughtys of the world. Only when he is prepared to deploy the elves to places like Syria and the Congo will Santa be able to honestly wish all a good night. I hope ole Saint Nick acts in this expansionist manner -- but I worry that the Obama administration, to distract from the fiscal cliff, will declare some kind of "war" on Christmas. Food for thought....
Beltway pundits, serenely sipping their eggnog at those Georgetown Christmas cocktail parties, will offer soothing patter about the merits of a white Christmas and the inherent goodness of Santa Claus. And other powerful interest groups, like retailers and the Catholic Church, will argue in favor of celebrating the birth of Christ on December 25th. Some clever liberal pundits will go so far as to point out that it was an American corporation created the modern-day Santa. Don't let these lobbies fool you -- celebrating Christmas on December 25th and welcoming Santa Claus onto our soil is a breach of American sovereignty that can no longer be tolerated. Why should Americans celebrate this most American of holidays the same time as everyone else in the world? Is it American for our government offices to be closed on this day because of some unelected bureaucrat based in that oldest of old Europe cities, Rome??!! Is it American to have some foreign actor -- a.k.a. Kris Kringle -- make decisions about whether our children have been good or bad?! Americans don't need some foreign list to determine who's naught and nice. I believe that there's a document that already takes care of everything we need, and it's called the United States Constitution. Our elected oficials must take action to protect the Constitution of the United States from these global efforts to affect our daily lives. We're an exceptional country with exceptional children -- we don't need Santa to tell us what they deserve.
It is on Christmas more than any other day that we can appreciate how wrong Chuck Hagel would be for the Secretary of Defense position. The former Senator from Nebraska seems all too willing to compromise in the War on Christmas, suggesting that perhaps "some" public spaces should be free of mangers. This is fully consistent with Hagel's past waffling on various threats to the American way of life, as evidenced by [MINIONS-- PLEASE INSERT LAZY, INACCURATE HYPERLINK HERE--JR]. I've heard exclusively from a top GOP source whose last name rhymes with "Fristol" that Senate Republicans have a master file of statements Hagel made at a Senate Christmas party years ago where he raged against the "rank commercialism" of the holiday. It's this type of anti-free enterprise statements that clearly demonstrate that Hagel is out of the American mainstream in his views on Christmas -- and America's place in the world.
There are many things to admire about Christmas -- and yet I'm left wondering why, on this most nurturing, this most feminine of holidays, it's a fat, aging, affluent white man who traipses around the world offering gifts to children. It could be that Mrs. Claus simply doesn't want to leave the North Pole -- or it could be that she's trapped there by the hidebound traditions of this holiday. Clearly, the current model of delivering everyone's presents on one night makes it impossible for women to have it all. Perhaps we should rework how Christmas operates to make it a more family-friendly model for the Clauses. Instead of everyone getting their presents on one night, it should be staggered throughout the year. This would allow both Santa and Mrs. Claus to participate in the making of the list, the checking it twice, and the bestowing of presents to the world's children. Let's face it -- the more that women take an active part in the management of this holiday, the better for everyone involved.
Merry Christmas, foreign policy wonks!!
Late last night the Twitterverse was alive with the sound of clucking from foreign policy wonks outraged by Rajiv Chandrasekaran's fascinating, detail-rich Washington Post story on the very cozy relationship that think-tankers Fred and Kim Kagan had with multiple commanders in Afghanistan. The highlights:
The four-star general made the Kagans de facto senior advisers, a status that afforded them numerous private meetings in his office, priority travel across the war zone and the ability to read highly secretive transcripts of intercepted Taliban communications, according to current and former senior U.S. military and civilian officials who served in the headquarters at the time.
The Kagans used those privileges to advocate substantive changes in the U.S. war plan, including a harder-edged approach than some U.S. officers advocated in combating the Haqqani network, a Taliban faction in eastern Afghanistan, the officials said.
The pro-bono relationship, which is now being scrutinized by military lawyers, yielded valuable benefits for the general and the couple. The Kagans’ proximity to Petraeus, the country’s most-famous living general, provided an incentive for defense contractors to contribute to Kim Kagan’s think tank. For Petraeus, embracing two respected national security analysts in GOP circles helped to shore up support for the war among Republican leaders on Capitol Hill.
Fred Kagan, speaking in an interview with his wife, acknowledged the arrangement was “strange and uncomfortable” at times. “We were going around speaking our minds, trying to force people to think about things in different ways and not being accountable to the heads” of various departments in the headquarters, he said.
The extent of the couple’s involvement in Petraeus’s headquarters was not known to senior White House and Pentagon officials involved in war policy, two of those officials said....
As war-zone volunteers, the Kagans were not bound by stringent rules that apply to military personnel and private contractors. They could raise concerns directly with Petraeus, instead of going through subordinate officers, and were free to speak their minds without repercussion.
Some military officers and civilian U.S. government employees in Kabul praised the couple’s contributions — one general noted that “they did the work of 20 intelligence analysts.” Others expressed deep unease about their activities in the headquarters, particularly because of their affiliations and advocacy in Washington.
Now, the standard reaction has been to blast the Kagans and Petraeus for being exemplars of the you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-yours collusion between top military brass and think-tankers. It evokes the DC clubbiness that induces nausea in some quarters.
I can't quite get there, however. I can almost get there. The three most damning elements of the story are:
1) The Kagans emailing Stanley McChrystal (and ccing Petraeus) because their requests to visit Afghanistan were getting slow-rolled. In the email, they said that they were concluding that the strategy was not going well. Soon afterwards, they got access and then wrote a WSJ op-ed praising the strategy;
2) When Petraeus was the Afghanistan commander, the Kagans would occasionally "spar" with field commanders because they believed these officers weren't focusing on the Haqqani network more. This made the officers decidedly uncomfortable, since the Kagans obviously weren't in the chain of command.
3) Kim Kagan wrote fundraising letters for her think tank while in Afghanistan so the Kagans could stay in-country and volunteer for CENTCOM rather than take any money from them.
I think these are somewhat valid concerns, and yet....
a) One of Chandrasekaran's implications is that a critical op-ed by the Kagans would have undercut GOP support for the Afhanistan strategy. This strikes me as way, way, way, way exaggerating the influence of the Kagans. There was no groundswell in the GOP to get out of Afghanistan, so a critical op-ed would have simply led to demands for greater resources in that theater of operations.
b) The Kagans' place in Petraeus' HQ clearly upset some military subordinates -- and yet I can't get too upset that they were made uncomfortable. As the story notes, one of the reasons Petraeus wanted the Kagans there was to have an outside perspective on the operation. No one inside the uniformed services is gonna like that, because it dilutes their own authority. Indeed, the other way to spin this is that Petraeus was wary of getting too wrapped up in the military bubble and craved outside input. Isn't that what you want as a check against organizational groupthink?
c) I'm not gonna defend the fundraising letter -- that seems... unseemly. Castigating the Kagans for not being on Petraeus' payroll, however, also seems a bit strange. This might have been a pay-for-play move for influence, but I don't think it was about money.
From Petraeus' side, having the Kagans there clearly served a dual purpose. Sure, he got an outside voice, but he was also able to co-opt potential critics with this gambit. Whether this is a good thing or not for American foreign policy is an honest matter of debate. It seems like Petraeus only coddled more hawkish military advisors, and it's likely the case that they would have been the bigger media thorn.
As a general rule, however, I can't get too worked up about government officials seeking outside input. This becomes a problem only if the outreach/co-optation is so successful that it shields a policy from any criticism -- and not even Petraeus is that good at stroking think-tankers.
I understand the concerns that some Petraeus critics have with his relationship with the Kagans. I share some of them. But I would be equally wary of policy principals that refused to engage with outsiders or refused to consider information from outside their own bureaucracies.
What do you think?
So, after yesterday, there appears to be a little more clarity about who's gonna be doing what on Barack Obama's second term foreign policy team. If the latest reports can be trusted:
1) Susan Rice took herself out of the running for Secretary of State, but it looks like she'll be staying on as U.N. Ambassador, with a potential move to National Security Advisor at some point in the second term.
2) John Kerry is now the frontrunner to be Secretary of State
3) Chuck Hagel is now the frontrunner to be Secretary of Defense
4) Tom Donilon is staying on as National Security Advisor
5) CIA will go to either acting ditector Michael Morrell or deputy NSC advisor John Brennan.
My thoughts on these developments:
A) As someone with very little inside-the-Beltway knowledge, the Susan Rice denouement still raises more questions than it answers. In particular: i) Why was Benghazi such a big deal when she had zero operational authority and in no way lied when she appeared on the Sunday talk shows in September; ii) What the hell did she do to alienate Susan Collins (which appears to have been the pivotal moment)? iii) Why didn't the Obama White House offer up a full-throated defense of Rice or tell her to shut the hell up? Why the squishy, tepid support? iv) What was it about Rice that prompted so much bipartisan backbiting?
B) The changing norms of the Senate suggest the disturbing possibility that the only cabinet nominees who can sail through are.... former Senators. This is bad, bad, bad, bad, and bad for foreign policy. Cabinet officers are administrators and managers. Most senators haven't managed anything bigger than a legislative office. This isn't to say that all of them will do a bad job... but cofidence is not high. Narrowing the candidate pool like this harms the national interest.
C) If Chuck Hagel gets the nomination, it's gonna be one hell of a test of the Israel Lobby thesis. Eli Lake and Stephen Walt don't agree on much, but they do agree that Hagel is not really viewed as a friend of Israel... or at least Israeli uber-hawks. Hagel's overall foreign policy expertise/competence isn't a question, and as a former GOP senator it's going to be tough to make this a partisan issue. So... this is really an ideal test of the power of the so-called Israel Lobby. If AIPAC et al either don't oppose the nomination or oppose it and lose, that's a data point against Walt and Mearsheimer. If they oppose it and Hagel is withdrawn/goes down, it would be tough to deny that the power of AIPAC wasn't the crucial factor. As a social scientist, let me just say... pass the popcorn.
D) Actually, come to think of it, there is one other group that would likely oppose a Hagel nomination. Democratic policy defense wonks won't be thrilled with Hagel -- because it means one of their own won't get the job. If Hagel gets the nomination, then three of the last four Secretaries of Defense under a Democratic administration will have been Republicans. At a time when Democrats are acquiring a foreign policy/national security advantage over the GOP, this is not the best signal of party competency on defense matters. That said, a Hagel nomination would also be evidence that the GOP has pretty much shed all of the realists from its foreign policy team.
E) Hey, remember when the Secretary of the Treasury and the U.S. Trade Representative were significant foreign policy positions? Good times. Foreign economic policy got the short end of the foreign policy stick during Obama's first term -- it would be peachy if that changed. Wouldn't it be awesome if these positions got some nominees with political juice and the ability to move an ambitious foreign economic policy agenda through the system?
What do you think?
A year ago your humble blogger penned a post suggesting that the United States was really, really, really super-bad at being an empire. Those who claim that the United States conducts all aspects of its foreign policy purely for profit need to cope with the fact that America really stinks at making a buck from its military actions. A year later, with respect to Afghanistan and Iraq, that assessment really hasn't changed: the United States investment in both of those countries remains a massive net loss. Even Libya doesn't seem to have panned out all that well as a money-making opportunity for Americans.
As a social scientist, however, I need to seek out potentially contradictory data points, and Matthew Brumwasser has a story in the New York Times about how one U.S. military action does seem to be yielding economic gains.... for the individual policymakers responsible for it:
So many former American officials have returned to Kosovo for business — in coal and telecommunications, or for lobbying and other lucrative government contracts — that it is hard to keep them from colliding.
They also include Wesley K. Clark, a retired Army general and the former supreme allied commander of NATO forces in Europe who ran the bombing campaign against the Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic; and Mark Tavlarides, who was legislative director at the Clinton White House’s National Security Council.
The State Department has no policy that forbids former diplomats from lobbying on behalf of nations where they served or returning to them for profit, beyond the one applying to federal employees as a whole, which prohibits senior officials from contacting agencies where they once worked for one year and bans all federal employees for life from advising on the same matters.
Kosovo is not the only nation where former officials have returned to conduct business — Iraq is another example — but it presents an extreme case, and perhaps a special ethical quandary, given the outsize American influence here. Pristina, the capital, may be the only city in the world where Bob Dole Street intersects Bill Clinton Boulevard.
Foreign policy experts say the practice of former officials’ returning for business is more common than acknowledged publicly. Privately, former officials concede the possibility of conflicts of interest and even the potential to influence American foreign policy as diplomats who traditionally made careers in public service now rotate more frequently to lucrative jobs in the private sector.
If you read the whole story, however, you'll see that the correlation between ex-policymakers profiting and U.S. corporation profiting is not a perfect one. For example, the Slovenian firm IPKO hired Ms. Albright to be a "special advisor," no doubt to advance their burgeoning interests in Kosovo.
Still, this is a data point that suggests at least some Americans can make a profit off of successful military actions. Of course, contrary to the somewhat sinister tone of the story, I'm not sure that Americans are really screwing over the Kosovars in their hunt for government contracts and assets. Indeed, paradoxically, the very surfeit of ex-policymakers in Pristina means there's real competition among them for prime investments in Kosovo -- which means better terms for the Kosovars.
So yeah, I still think Americans are awful at empire-building.
What do you think?
Every five years or so the National Intelligence Council releases a Global Trends report about what the world will look like a generation from today. The Global Trends 2030 report is now out, and if my Twitter feed and Thom Shanker's New York Times story are any indication, well, there's gonna be some freaking out inside the Beltway:
A new intelligence assessment of global trends projects that China will outstrip the United States as the leading economic power before 2030, but that America will remain an indispensable world leader, bolstered in part by an era of energy independence....
“There will not be any hegemonic power,” the 166-page report states. “Power will shift to networks and coalitions in a multipolar world.”
It warns that at least 15 countries are “at high risk of state failure” by 2030, among them Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda, Yemen and Uganda.
The study acknowledges that the future “is malleable,” and lists important “game-changers” that will most influence the global scene to 2030: a crisis-prone world economy, shortcomings in governance, conflicts within states and between them, the impact of new technologies and whether the United States can “work with new partners to reinvent the international system.”
The best-case situation for global security to 2030, according to the study, would be a growing political partnership between the United States and China. But it could take a crisis to bring Washington and Beijing together — something like a nuclear standoff between India and Pakistan resolved only by bold cooperation between the United States and China.
The worst-case situation envisions a stalling of economic globalization that would preclude any advancement of financial well-being around the world. That would be a likely outcome following an outbreak of a health pandemic that, even if short-lived, would result in closed borders and economic isolationism.
The chief author and manager of the project, Mathew Burrows, who is counselor for the National Intelligence Council, said the findings had been presented in advance in more than 20 nations to groups of academic experts, business leaders and government officials, including local intelligence officers.
As one of those academic experts, let me say three things. First, the NIC puts a lot of effort into these reports, and they're important because they're consumed globally and not just nationally. Not a lot of other countries have either official or unofficial institutions trying to do this kind of long-range analysis, so they devour the NIC reports just as much as Americans.
Second, as Michael Horowitz and Philip Tetlock pointed out in Foreign Policy just a few short months ago, these NIC reports are hardly a perfect crystal ball:
The reports almost inevitably fall into the trap of treating the conventional wisdom of the present as the blueprint for the future 15 to 20 years down the road. Many things the early reports get right, such as the continued integration of Western Europe, were already unfolding in 1997. Similarly, predicting that "some states will fail to meet the basic requirements that bind citizens to their government" or that information technology will have a large impact on politics was hardly going out on a limb.
Looking carefully at the first two Global Trends reports reveals how the reports have struggled to make accurate non-obvious predictions of big-picture trends....
The reports also engage in extensive hedging. For every prediction, there is a caveat. The reports lean heavily on words such as "could," "possibly," and "maybe." The lead-in to Global Trends 2025 uses "could" nine times in two pages, and the report as a whole uses the word a whopping 220 times. The report also uses "maybe" 36 times. Global Trends 2020 uses "could" 110 times. Add all of the caveats and conditionals, and a harsh critic might conclude that these reports are saying no more than that there is a possibility that something could happen at some point -- and it might have a big effect.
Third, that prediction of the end to U.S. hegmony will be an interesting litmus test of the maturity of America's foreign policy community. Sure, other institutions have made this kind of prediction about rising Chinese power, but it's different when a U.S. government body does it. Despite the wide variance contained within these kind of predictions, it's gonna be easy for threat-mongers to screech at the headline statements.
Furthermore, whenever the topic of waning American hegemony comes up in public discourse... well, the conversation doesn't go well. Admitting a relative decline in American power is not something American's political and policy elites like to do -- see 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney.
So pay close attention to who freaks out and who doesn't from the NIC report, and feel free to discount the future statements of those who choose to freak out today.
As Blake Hounshell noted over at Passport, there was a story earlier this week in the Washington Post's Style section that's just the perfect mix of everything that foreign policy outsiders loathe about foreign policy insiders. The first reason for loathing it is that Bob Woodward wrote it. Here's the opener:
Roger Ailes, the longtime Republican media guru, founder of Fox News and its current chairman, had some advice last year for then-Gen. David H. Petraeus.
So in spring 2011, Ailes asked a Fox News analyst headed to Afghanistan to pass on his thoughts to Petraeus, who was then the commander of U.S. and coalition forces there. Petraeus, Ailes advised, should turn down an expected offer from President Obama to become CIA director and accept nothing less than the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military post. If Obama did not offer the Joint Chiefs post, Petraeus should resign from the military and run for president, Ailes suggested.
The Fox News chairman’s message was delivered to Petraeus by Kathleen T. McFarland, a Fox News national security analyst and former national security and Pentagon aide in three Republican administrations. She did so at the end of a 90-minute, unfiltered conversation with Petraeus that touched on the general’s future, his relationship with the media and his political aspirations — or lack thereof. The Washington Post has obtained a digital recording from the meeting, which took place in Petraeus’s office in Kabul.
McFarland also said that Ailes — who had a decades-long career as a Republican political consultant, advising Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush — might resign as head of Fox to run a Petraeus presidential campaign. At one point, McFarland and Petraeus spoke about the possibility that Rupert Murdoch, the head of News Corp., which owns Fox News, would “bankroll” the campaign.
Read the whole thing. Actually, listen to the whole thing -- I'd say that the audio recording of McFarland and Petraeus' conversation is more interesting than Woodward's story. The tape has everything:
1) A media mogul displaying overt partisan bias;
2) Petraeus "working the refs" as it were, as he's done with think-tankers in the past.
3) McFarland pretty much admitting that Fox's news coverage is guided by its target audience preferences rather than things like, you know, facts.
4) Petraeus' allusions to the backscratching relationship between him and "the Troika" of Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman;
5) A high overall level of off-the-record coziness between McFarland & Petraeus as emblematic of the "clubbiness" between government, the media, and think tanks more generally.
McFarland has responded to Woodward's story in her own Foxnews.com column:
Though Bob is in possession of a secretly recorded tape of my conversation with the general, he was way off base to characterize it as a serious attempt to get him to run, or to give him political advice.
Petraeus and I were having fun. Having just told me definitively that he wouldn’t run, he suggested that maybe Ailes could run this non-existent campaign. It was not a serious conversation plotting General Petraeus’ political future; it was the kind of idle speculation that happens in every campaign season. That’s why they call it the silly season. I knew he was serious about not wanting to run, and he knew I wasn’t serious in pressing it.
I realize conspiracy theorists have used this off-the-record interview to claim it was some plot to put Petraeus in the Oval Office. But it was little more than one defense analyst (me) trading some political gossip and laughs with one of the country’s most important military leaders (Petraeus).
Now as someone who has been underwhelmed with McFarland's foreign policy analysis in the past, I will say that the tone of the conversation seems consistent with her characterization of it. I'm not a Beltway insider, but I've been around enough DC bulls**tting and puffery in my day to know it when I hear it. Even if this took place in Kabul, the "Petraeus should run!" segment of the conversation has that BS feel to it.
Furthermore, I can't blame Petraeus for trying to work the refs -- that's part of a policy principal's job in the 21st century. I'd argue that McFarland's side of the convo makes Fox look pretty bad. If one wants to be charitable, however, asking Petraeus where a news outfit is getting the story wrong isn't intrinsically wrong, it's perspective-taking. It would only be wrong if, say, Fox News people failed to ask a similar question to other policy principals like Tom Donilon, Hillary Clinton or Leon Panetta. I'll let readers draw their own conclusions about whether Fox News does this due diligence.
So this story is a supremely annoying conversation, and something of a confirmation of how Fox News operates. But I'm not seeing Woodwardian-type scandal within the DC elite from this story. I'm seeing standard Washington schmooziness. This is not the most attractive thing to hear but also not nearly as important as the story suggests.
It's also worth putting things into perspective here. Take a gander at Jonathan Ansfield's story in the New York Times if you want to see a national political elite demonstrating truly world-class levels of corruption and exclusivity.
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?
So, my post about good and bad reasons to get a Ph.D. in political science has made a few waves. I'd like to clarify, endorse and respond to some of the feedback I've received.
Just to recap, here was the primary point of my post:
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.
Now, some of the comments and tweets about this post suggested that I was pooh-poohing the idea of getting a Ph.D. if you don't want to become a professor. To be clear: that is not what I was trying to say. Indeed, if anything, given the state of the academic job market I heartily endorse "non-traditional" career paths for Ph.D.s. Furthermore, as Joshua Foust notes in his response, "If you want to succeed in Washington, a PhD is the quickest path to it. Anything less is just an uphill battle." There is no shame in going from a doctoral program to a job in DC, and I was certainly not implying that there should be.
Foust offers a strong counter-explanation for why aspiring policy wonks should go for a Ph.D.:
[A] PhD offers a better way for many [than getting a professional M.A.]. PhDs are usually funded, which means they cost nothing to the student (stipends may not be much, but that’s a separate matter — the financial loads are drastically different). They also take a lot longer, say 5 years minimum but more likely 7 if you’re young and right out of undergrad.
Even so, that PhD is more or less free. Entering the DC workforce with a PhD, instead of a Masters, is an instant leg-up. For organizations like think tanks, it instantly signals research skills; for NGOs it signifies a strong work ethic. And for many government jobs, contractor jobs, or jobs at IGOs like the World Bank or IMF, it is a basic minimum requirement for most non-admin jobs. In almost any field, having a PhD is a shortcut to the initial round of CV scrutiny — an easy and quick way to sort candidates.
Now, let's assume Foust is correct about the money (doctoral students about to comment that a doctorate is not "more or less free" -- I know!! I'm not asserting this, Foust is!! Go bug him!!!). It seems like the Ph.D. is the smart play then, right?
Wrong. Foust is assuming that the choice is a binary one -- between climbing the policy ladder without a a doctorate or with a doctorate. The point of my initial post is that there's a third possibility, and it's the one that will fell people getting a Ph.D. for professional reasons only -- that one will start a Ph.D. program but never finish.
First of all, that is, by far, the worst outcome. Matt Groening can express this far better than I:
In all seriousness, life is not quite this bad for those who fail to finish. It's not great, however. For those who recognize early on that the Ph.D. is not for them, it's OK. Exiting a doctoral program after, say, three years with a terminal masters is about as graceful an exit as one can execute.
The more years one stays in, however, the greater the pain of exiting. There's a lot of psychological scarring, and the networks built up in a doctoral program are likely inferior to those that would be built up via a lower-level policy job. And I'd wager that it's precisely the ambitious, career-minded DC types who are less likely to cut and run -- because their entire life experience to date suggests that quitting is the wrong course of action.
Furthermore, not finishing a Ph.D. is not exactly uncommon. Click on this slide show about Ph.D. attrition rates from the Council of Graduate Schools, and note the following three facts:
1) Only 46% of all entrants finish their Ph.D. after seven years in a program.
2) For social science Ph.D.s, that figure is even lower -- 41%
3) If you extend it out to ten years, the lowest completion rate among the social sciences is political science -- only 44% complete a doctorate after a decade. In other words, entering a Ph.D. program and then not finishing is the modal outcome.
Foust is likely correct that getting a Ph.D. gives one a leg up in the DC policy wonk rat race. But I know I'm correct when I say that starting but not finishing a Ph.D. is the worst possible career trajectory. It is this outcome that I'm harping on when I'm warning ambitious go-getter policy wonks to think long and hard about why they want to get a doctorate. It can't just be to win "The Game."
Now, to be fair, Tara Maller makes a valid point when she notes that "personal challenges" can fell a Ph.D. candidate. However, I would argue that the biggest impediment to finishing is not having a clear idea of what's involved in getting a doctorate in the first place. In an email from Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel Jason Dempsey -- a Columbia Ph.D. and published scholar -- made this point:
Part of the dynamic I think is 'degree-inflation' where everyone has a master's, so it seems logical that to distinguish yourself from the pack that a PhD is the next logical step. While finishing my dissertation I had quite a few officers who had just finished MA or MPA programs asking how they could proceed to a PhD, with no idea that they were two entirely separate animals.
I've also had to break it to people that publishing an academic book is not the road the glory it might seem from afar, and that the most you can expect out of it beyond the intrinsic reward of contributing to an ongoing discussion is a box of very heavy 'business cards'....
Knowing what you are getting into and the need to fully embrace the topic are key to success. Sometimes that will align with a non-academic career-- probably more often not.... The difference between an MA and a PhD isn't incremental but fundamental, and that is a hard gap to bridge when coming from an institution that is decidedly pragmatic and application-oriented as a matter of survival.
Dempsey's point is the one I was trying to ham-handedly make in my last post. It is natural for people in DC to believe that the Ph.D. is the next logical step after a professional or masters degree. It. Is. Not.
When asked about whether getting a Ph.D. is a good idea, I usually tell men that writing a dissertation is the closest experience they will have to being pregnant -- except that instead of nine months they'll be carrying that sucker for 2-5 years. I then tell women that, of course, writing a dissertation is not remotely close to being pregnant -- but take the most volatile relationship from your past and then multiply that volatility by a factor of fifty. That's what it's like. And I haven't even gotten to the incredible socialization pressures within graduate school to feel like you should pursue an academic career instean of a non-academic one.
Despite these barriers, is it possible to simply "grind out" the Ph.D. without loving the subject matter and the process? Yeah, in theory. I've met one or two extraordinary people in my day who were able to pull that off. But -- and I cannot stress this enough -- I've met far more people who thought they could grind it out and then met their ruin on the shoals of some doctoral program. These are the people who stay in a doctoral program long after everyone else knows that the jig is up. That is the fate I am warning policy wonks away from.
There is no shame in thinking that a Ph.D. gives one a leg up in the Beltway job market. But that cannot and should not be the primary reason to get a doctorate. What separates a Ph.D. from other degrees is the scholarly act of writing a dissertation. If there is no genuine fascination with the subject matter, if there is no love of the topic, then there is a 99.5% probability of failure. That has to be the primary driver. If it's fame and fortune, then the professional degree route -- a J.D., an M.B.A. or a M.A.L.D. -- is the better route for you.
Steve Saideman sums up why I'm making this argument so vehemently:
An MA is a professional degree for the policy-maker but most PhDs are not that. They require patience, analytical rigor, the ability to think theoretically, to be open to criticism, and so on. So, [Dan] has seen those who are in it just for the stamp flounder and fail.
That's correct. Maybe I'm exaggerating the costs of failure here -- but I don't think so.
So, to conclude. There is no shame in getting a Ph.D. with the intention of pursuing a non-academic career. Foust is correct that there are certain material rewards that come with earning a Ph.D. But unlike other degrees, those rewards cannot be the principal reason you choose to pursue a doctorate. That is the recipe for misery and heartbreak.
I've received a lot of interesting feedback to my post earlier this week about Paula Broadwell as a cautionary tale of attempting to get a Ph.D. as a ticket-punching exercise. I promise to write a follow-up post on that particular bugaboo very soon.
However, as I said in that original post, I used Broadwell primarily as the hook to write about the more generic question of why one gets a Ph.D. in the first place. This raises the question of whether I was fair in my treatment of her case. The New America Foundation's Tara Maller argues that I was not. Below is her (unedited by me) defense of Broadwell and her critique of the Broadwell coverage. Read the whole thing:
Over the last couple of weeks, I've been hesitant to weigh in on the debates surrounding the multifaceted situation involving General Petraeus and Paula Broadwell. My reservations have mostly been in light of both my previous role as a former analyst at CIA and someone who has known Paula since 2007, due to her leadership role with Women in International Security in Cambridge, MA. I was deeply saddened by the serious personal mistakes of Broadwell and Petraeus and this piece is not intended to absolve either of blame or responsibility for their personal indiscretions. However, as an individual who studied international relations, worked in government and respected their service and accomplishments, I've been disheartened by the tone, double standards and arguments exhibited in some of the recent media coverage.
As The New York Times and other media outlets debate whether Petraeus' next move will be to a prestigious university or corporate board, discussions of Broadwell have been reduced to conversations about her outfits, criticism of her personal drive, complaints about her routine faculty office hour visits and a critique of her motivations' for pursuing an advanced degree. In Professor Daniel Drezner's recent blog post titled "The Broadwell Recognition," he drew on a recent Boston Globe article to critique Paula as someone destined to "flail miserably" and make some broader arguments about the types of people well-suited for Ph.D. programs. As an individual who completed a Ph.D. program, knows Paula (along with many other "scholar-officers" from my time in Cambridge), and is generally a fan of Drezner's writings, I respectfully disagree with Drezner on a number of his points.
First, there are many types of Ph.D. candidates from a variety of backgrounds and a multitude of goals. Drezner paints a portrait of just one acceptable type of candidate for a Ph.D. program and implies that Broadwell's career ambitions, background or personality was not the right fit. As someone who knows Paula and interacted with her during her time in Cambridge, I agree with Drezner that individuals like Paula are not the traditional Ph.D. candidate, or typical professionals in the field of international affairs. There aren't many women in this field, let alone women with two small children, who excelled at West Point, mentored young women over brunch at their home, served as an army intel officer, attended Harvard, completed marathons and served as an unofficial advisor to younger professionals in the field like myself. In fact, many of the "scholar-officers" I encountered in Cambridge were the most thoughtful, impressive, unique and service-oriented individuals I have ever met in my life. One of the most rewarding aspects of my program at MIT was the blend of academic, military and policy experience - and the knowledge that our shared educational experience would be used to impact the world in different ways. Shouldn't we be encouraging our future military and political leaders to pursue higher levels of education? The "soldier-officer" types or those on their way to "way to power and influence" in Washington tend to be individuals committed to public service and issues about which they are deeply passionate. Entering a Ph.D. program to gain skills or expertise to employ in the military or policy community does not make one less equipped for a Ph.D. program nor does it make Paula's motivations any less legitimate.
Second, many brilliant and successful individuals take breaks or do not finish their Ph.D. due to unanticipated personal or professional challenges or even opportunities. This does not mean that you aren't able to think critically about ideas or that you were only pursuing a Ph.D. purely for ambition's sake. Drezner himself even acknowledges many of these challenges, particularly for women, in a previous blog post. Unfortunately, his recent post fails to mention that during the time Paula was at Harvard (where she did receive a Master's) she had two children in under two years, serving as the Deputy Director of the Tufts University Fletcher School's Jebsen Center for Counter-Terrorism and founded the New England Women in International Security chapter (she has also started the Denver WIIS chapter and served on the executive board of international WIIS). Her husband was also putting in extremely long hours doing his residency, so she was working to make extra money for her family. Broadwell gave birth to her first son within a two months of starting the Harvard program and her second son less than two years later. When she left Harvard's program, she had two children still in diapers. If there was anything Paula failed at during this particular time period, it was being able to continue to function at a superwoman level as she tried to juggle "having it all" at one time. Many men and women of our generation need to balance all sorts of life decisions and career trajectories as they struggle with work-life family balance and competing priorities.
Lastly, one doesn't have to like Broadwell or even think she is a star academic to acknowledge some of the unfair characterizations by the media and higher levels of scrutiny and criticism that women seem to face in these situations. Over the last couple of weeks, the media has been criticizing Broadwell for many behaviors and personality attributesthat are not only typical of her peers in academically rigorous program, but ones that are encouraged and desirable. The Boston Globe piece Drezner cites includes criticism of Paula for both seeking out faculty during office hours and promoting her work. I can't tell you how many times I've heard faculty, career counselors, advisors and public officials in DC advise students to do just these things. Other articles in the media have lashed out at Paula for being driven and ambitious. I'm pretty sure many successful individuals and leaders have been praised for similar characteristics - including General Petraeus. It is worth noting that much of her drive was also directed at advocating on behalf of veterans and women in foreign policy. Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution recently chimed in on this in an op-ed writing, "She [Paula] never struck me as more ambitious than the average Washingtonian, and she never seemed cutthroat in how she pursued her ambitions." As a Ph.D. student who met Paula in the winter of 2007 through her work with WIIS, I've known Paula as someone who has exhibited leadership and mentorship to advance the careers of many younger women - including myself. If Broadwell was a "self-promoter" of her own work, then she was just as much a promoter of others' work and important causes as well.
We should be cognizant of the serious implications of some of the arguments made in Drezner's piece and the tone of many other recent articles in the media lest we discourage future generations of very bright and talented young women and men with a commitment to public service from entering the field.
Tara Maller is a Research Affiliate at the New America Foundation. She is a former military analyst at the CIA and holds a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
My only rebuttal to Maller's essay is that I had not seen the information regarding Broadwell's personal situation during her time at Harvard reported anywhere else, and Broadwell herself hasn't been commenting on anything -- so it would have been difficult to mention it.
Still, what do you think?
MacArthur Foundation president Robert Gallucci has an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education on a topic that feels juuuuuust a bit familiar. Here's how he opens it:
Something is seriously wrong in the relationship between universities and the policy community in the field of international relations. The worlds of policy making and academic research should be in constant, productive conversation, and scholars and researchers should be an invaluable resource for policy makers, but they are not.
One hears perennial laments from those in academe that their valuable work is being ignored by policy makers. And, on the other hand, policy makers complain they can get nothing useful from the academy. They may all be right.
Now your humble blogger has explored this topic again and again and again and again and again. I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that while a gap still exists between these two worlds, the bigger gap is between the perception of people like Gallucci and actual reality. Also, to be blunt about it, I also suspect that no one will actually say this to Gallucci's face, because, well, he's got the money. Why argue against a gravy train?
Consider the following:
1) There is pretty clear evidence that academics are becoming more copacetic with the media through which policy advice can be communicated. It's also worth noting that two of Time's top 25 blogs this year are run by political scientists *COUGH* self-promotion *COUGH*.
2) We are beginning to see routinized channels through which academics are learning how to affect the policy world.
3) On the policy side of the equation, Joshua Foust notes that the Ph.D. is both highly valued and increasingly de rigeur inside the Beltway. Whether that's a good thing or not is a topic for a later post, but Foust's observation cuts against Gallucci's assertions.
So I think Gallucci's claim is exaggerated. But what's interesting is why he believes that the theory/policy gap has gotten worse:
There has been a theoretical turn across the social sciences and humanities that has cut off academic discourse from the way ordinary people and working professionals speak and think. The validity and elegance of the models have become the focus, rather than whether those models can be used to understand real-world situations. Conferences and symposia are devoted to differences in theoretical constructs; topics are chosen for research based not on their importance but on their accessibility to a particular methodology. Articles and books are published to be read, if at all, only by colleagues who have the same high regard for methodology and theory and the same disregard for practice.
Look, I'm not going to deny that there's a lot of abstruse research in the academy filled with lots of seemingly impenetrable jargon. That said, I would humbly suggest that the pattern of recent published work does not match Gallucci's observation. I would also note that it is way too simplistic to divide political science research into "policy relevant" and "not policy relevant."
There is still a gap between scholars and policymakers. But Gallucci's essay suggests a bad situaion that's getting worse, whereas I see a mediocre situation that's trending in a positive situaton.
Still, let me also confess that I might be a victim of sample bias here. Over time I've found greater and not fewer pathways that connect scholarly international relations research and real-world policymaking. That might be because I've got a bit more
girth gravitas than I did a decade ago.
So I'll ask this question to the crowd: do Gallucci's assertions ring true? What do you think?
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.