With the passing of APSA and the dawning of Labor Day, it's time for people to go back to school and Think Deep Thoughts. In the realm of international relations theory, Thanassis Cambanis' essay in the Sunday Boston Globe Ideas section is a great starter course for thinking about the way the world works. His basic thesis:
Instead of a flurry of new thinking at the highest echelons of the foreign policy establishment, the major decisions of the past two administrations have been generated from the same tool kit of foreign policy ideas that have dominated the world for decades. Washington’s strategic debates - between neoconservatives and liberals, between interventionists and realists - are essentially struggles among ideas and strategies held over from the era when nation-states were the only significant actors on the world stage. As ideas, none of them were designed to deal effectively with a world in which states are grappling with powerful entities that operate beyond their control....
As yet, no major new theory has taken root in the most influential policy circles to explain how America should act in this kind of world, in which Wikileaks has made a mockery of the diplomatic pouch and Silicon Valley rivals Washington for cultural influence. But there are at least some signs that people in power are starting to try in earnest. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has openly integrated the search for a new paradigm into her policy making. In universities, think tanks, and the government, thinkers trying to grapple with this fluid world structure are finally getting attention in the circles where their ideas could shape policy.
Read the whole, provocative thing -- if you agree with Cambanis' arguments, then it certainly represents a data point in favor of Anne-Marie Slauighter's vision of how world politics operates.
My onlytweak of Cambanis' essay is that he repeatedly stresses the need for a new generation of strategic concepts and international relations theories to guide U.S. grand strategy, and then lists as examples the following:
Joseph Nye, a Harvard political scientist who served in the Carter and Clinton administrations and has advised Secretary of State Clinton, was one of the pioneers. In the 1990s, he coined the term “soft power,” arguing that sometimes the most effective way for America to promote its interests would be through influencing global health and the environment, or culture and education. His latest book, “The Future of Power,” counsels that America can preserve its influence if it reconceives its institutions and priorities to deal with a world where the energy is shifting from the West to the East, as well as from states to non-state actors. Michael Doyle at Columbia University, a seminal theorist whose idea of a “democratic peace” in the 1990s crucially inflected policy with the belief that democracies don’t fight each other, now talks about the notion of an age of the “empowered individual,” where lone actors can alter the trajectory of states and of history as never before. Stephen Walt, also at Harvard, argues that in the new era America simply needs to start by acknowledging its limits: that with less muscle and less extra money, the first step will be to streamline its goals in a way that so far politicians have been loath to do.
No offense to Joseph Nye, Michael Doyle, and Steve Walt -- these are Great Men of interntional relaions thought. The notions that Cambanis lists here, however, are not "new" in any sense. Which leads me to wonder whether Cambanis has defined the problem correctly. Is it that international relations theory has gone stale... or is it simply that the wrong set of existing theories are in vogue today?
What do you think?
So I see Rick Perry gave a quasi-foreign policy speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars 112th National Convention. Here's the gist of the foreign policy section:
James Lindsay analyzes the content over at CFR, concluding that, "There is something in it for every significant foreign policy constituency in the GOP," although "any mainstream Republican or Democratic presidential candidate could have given Perry’s speech." This is likely because, "while Perry’s speech was heavy on foreign policy bromides it was short on specifics."
Lindsay is being kind -- this speech is ninety-eight percent concentrated pablum (contra Lindsay, the "multilateral debating society" crack does signal it being a GOP speech). Seriously, I hereby challenge my friends at Shadow Government who might be Perry-friendly to find something of interest in this speech. It's the foreign policy equivalent of this scene from The Distinguished Gentleman:
Now, to be fair to Perry, this San Antonio News-Express news story suggests that he had some constraints on what kind of speech he could deliver. So, really, I'm not sure that anything of consequence can be divined from this.... er.... assemblage of cliches that maybe, just maybe, passes the Turing Test.
Still, what Perry said is such pure, unadulterated boilerplate that, as a foreign policy commentator, one must step back and gape in wonder. Reading it, the absence of anything interesting kept nagging me as hauntingly familiar.
And then I realized -- Rick Perry had just delivered the Wolf Blitzer of foreign policy speeches!! It's familiar, yet utterly devoid of interesting content!!
And for that, Rick Perry is the distinguished inaugural nominee of the Wolf Blitzer Award for Foreign Policy Boilerplate.
Over at Abu Muqawana, Andrew Exum and Erin Simpson provide a useful breakdown of the choices available for those
misbegotten fools young people thinking about getting a graduate degree in international affairs of some kind. Not surprisingly, the choice is highly contingent on a) your level of patience; and b) what you want to do with the degree afte you graduate.
Besides the criminal omission of The Greatest International Affairs Program in the World, I have only one cavil to their analysis. When they discuss getting a Ph.D. in the first place, they note:
[H]ere’s the dirty secret about DC. Everybody wants to hire PhDs, but most people don’t know anything about them. They won’t read your dissertation, they aren’t going to call your advisor (thank goodness), and most won’t know until it’s too late whether you’ve actually been trained in anything useful. So if you just want the credential, stop reading now and just find the cheapest, quickest program and git ‘er done.
And here I must dissent on one minor point and one major point. First, a small correction: if you're trying to get a job in DC and you're a newly-minted Ph.D., damn straight your advisor will get a phone call. This doesn't always happen, but it's more likely than not. I've been on the receiving end of several of these since arriving at Fletcher. True, one could always try not to list your advisor as a reference. The thing is, that is a massive red flag signaling that your advisor doesn't think all that much of you.
Now, the major point: if your goal is to just get the Ph.D. credential, do not "find the cheapest, quickest program and git ‘er done." Instead, just run away -- run away as fast as you can.
I've said this before and I'll say it again -- there is no such thing as grinding out a Ph.D. People who think that can "gut out" a dissertation will never finish it. Unless you love whatever it is you're writing about, you'll never finish. You'll hate the topic at some point -- and without the love, you'll find other ways to occupy your time than dissertating. This is particularly true at lower-ranked Ph.D.-granting institutions, because all of them aspire to be higher-ranked Ph.D.-granting institutions and believe the only way to do that is to "tool up" their students to within an inch of their lives.
This is one way in which a Ph.D. is different from a JD, an MBA or an MA. Coursework can be gutted out, as can exams. Writing 75,000 words on a topic requires something else, and anyone who tells you differently is selling you something.
Because most traditional Ph.D. programs start out with coursework, I'll understand, dear readers, if you don't believe me. To take advantage of the pedagogical tools of the Internet, however, here's the best video I know that captures this decision:
And, just to be clear, aspiring Ph.D. students: I'm the guy with the weird Scottish accent, the bunny is the Ph.D. program, and all y'all are the ones suffering from the blood and gore.
Unless you really want to kill that bunny, just walk away.
Darren McCollester/Getty Images
Here's an open secret -- most American foreign policy observers loathe domestic politics. To those who seek to define and distill the national interest, the notion that factions or parties can get in the way of the common good is very, very frustrating. This is why, whenever gridlock breaks out in Washington, there is a spasm of caterwauling from prominent foreign policy thinkers that Something. Must. Be Done.
This leads to some silly memes, like claims that a third party will break the logjam. It won't -- a glance at Duverger's Law and you know that the first-past-the-post electoral system in this country means that a two-party system is the only stable long-term equilibrium. A third party in the United States could only achieve electoral viability in one of two ways: either supplanting one of the existing parties, or focusing on success in a particular region. Since neither of these outcomes has occurred since the Civil War, I'm not holding my breath.
Gridlock frustration also leads to proposals of Grand Diagnoses and Remedies for Fixing the System. Fareed Zakaria goes down this road, offering a diagnosis of why partisanship has been rising in the United States and then links to Mickey Edwards' essay in The Atlantic of how to fix things. Zakaria, riffing off of Edwards, lists four reasons why partisanship is so high:
1) Redistricting has created safe seats so that for most House members, their only concern is a challenge from the right for Republicans and the left for Democrats....
2) Party primaries have been taken over by small groups of activists who push even popular senators to extreme positions.
3) Changes in Congressional rules have also made it far more difficult to enact large, compromise legislation.
4) Political polarization has also been fueled by a new media, which is also narrowcast.
These sound compelling, except that A) none of them really explain increased polarization in the Senate; and B) only the fourth trend is in any way recent (the rest of these phenomenas can be traced back to the 1970's).
The real problem with Congress is that any proposed institutional reform to correct the problems would require either a dilution of legislative power or a dilution of the minority's power to obstruct. Neither minority nor majority parties in Congress will be interested in moves like that unless and until we're in a crisis that made 2008 look like a ripple in the pond.
If you are looking to this humble blogger for ways out of this current problem... um... look elsewhere. My training is in international relations, and I've found that people with that kind of training tend to prefer policy reforms that provide political leeway and insulation to the executive branch. These measures are appealing because they tend to minimize the number of stupid interactions with galactically stupid members of Congress. Over the long-term, however, even a stupid Congress still serves as a valuable check on executive branch authority.
I'm as frustrated as the next foreign policy observer when it comes to the current policy paralysis. I know my own kind, however, and we suffer from the flawed belief that there was a halcyon era of bipartisanship in the foreign policy days of yore. Be very, very wary when a foreign policy pundit gives advice about how to reform the American system of government. Most of the time they are relying on decades-old Introduction to American Government arguments that are either obsolecent or incentive incompatible.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
As I noted last month, I gave a small talk to the International Policy Summer Institute's Bridging the Gap project. As a spur to the participants, I offered to publish the best blog post submitted to yours truly
And the winner is.... Nuno Monteiro, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Yale. Nuno's entry is a public service post, because it provides a rundown of the lessons he learned at IPSI about how political scientists can be relevant to policymakers:
Bridging the Gap between Academia and Policy
After a terrific week of briefings at IPSI on how political scientists can contribute to policy, here are twelve rules I distilled:
1. There are many ways of influencing policy, both direct and indirect. You can exert direct influence by working for the government or for a think-tank. You can also exert indirect influence by publishing blog posts (either as a guest or regular blogger), opeds, policy articles, and doing media. Create a strategy that includes both types of influence.
2. The dichotomy between scholarship and policy is largely false. Most political science topics have policy implications, so think through a topic in scholarly and policy terms. These often cross-pollinate. The key is to choose research topics that allow for double-dipping: topics that have both scholarly import and policy relevance. Then produce scholarly and also policy-oriented products.
3. There are four types of products academics can provide to policymakers. Framework: what's the appropriate theory or historical analogy to understand recent events? Data: what are the patterns and what should the ground truths be? Forecast: what are the possible scenarios? Advice: what should we do?
4. Be willing to be wrong. Even if it is a probabilistic judgment, accept the risk of taking a position.
5. Don't be shy, but don't be a pain. Put your stuff out, send feelers to think-tanks and journals, but make it short. Any pitch -- for a piece, an oped, a research project -- that takes more than two minutes to read is too long. Be persistent but not insistent (i.e., don't pitch the same idea twice to the same place).
6. Keep a twin-track curriculum. Think-tanks offer opportunities for non-resident fellows, in which you are asked to join a few events every year, write a report, or join a taskforce. This enables you to have a twin-track curriculum in which you always have an academic and a policy affiliation.
7. There are six qualities policymakers appreciate. Be engaging, constructive, future-oriented, discreet, concise, and have pity on those who have to make decisions. And remember, you're an expert, not a pundit.
8. Don't think of a policy piece as a lesser version of a research piece. Policy pieces are not dumbed-down research pieces. They must have specific policy recommendations. Seek to understand what policymakers need before you seek to be understood.
9. Maximize different networks. Don't just network in academia. Try to build networks in media, think-tanks, and government. Attend events and follow up.
10. Get institutional cover and buy in. Give your bosses a sense of why it is that you want to engage in policy debates, and of how this is a plus for your institution. If there's a chance that something you wrote or said is controversial and will make a splash, give your boss a heads-up in advance.
11. Look for moments in which your specialty is in high demand. There will come a moment when everyone will want to know about your specialty. You should be prepared for when that opportunity arrives. If possible, take the obituary-writer approach: write drafts of possible blog posts, opeds, or policy pieces addressing a problem you see brewing. Then send them out fast.
12. Pick your battles and mix vanilla with habanero topics. If you only do vanilla topics you'll get bored, but if you only do habanero topics you'll get tired and also potentially lose your credibility. Aim for the sweet spot between being an organic intellectual and becoming seen as a wacko.
What say ye, readers -- has Nuno missed anything?
Your humble blogger has been rather persistent in pointing out the virtues of bridging the gap between international relations scholars and policymakers, and rather adamant in insisting why this hasn't happened:
Now I see in The Forum that James Lee Ray is also arguing that political science merits a greater role in foreign policymaking. The abstract for his article:
Foreign policy decision makers tend to rely on historical analogies. The “surge” in Afghanistan, for example, was inspired in part by the “surge” in Iraq. Processes for dealing with foreign policy issues involving the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were substantially different from those processes in the Bush and Obama administrations aimed at dealing with economic crises in 2008 and 2009. The latter processes were influenced extensively by economists, especially in the Obama administration. The decisions to send additional troops to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan involved relatively few political scientists. More substantial input from political scientists in the decision making process about the surge in Afghanistan might have produced more knowledgeable and informative analyses of relevant historical and political data in the form of structured focused comparisons of the wars and counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as analyses and interpretations of data on larger numbers of cases pertaining to broader phenomena of which the US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan are examples. Perhaps political scientists deserve a role within foreign policy making processes more similar to that reserved for economists in processes focusing on economic issues.
Within the article itself, Ray is quite explicit in comparing the influence of political scientists to economists:
[I]t is probably safe to say that no President would consider appointing anyone but economists to the Council of Economic Advisers. So perhaps there could be a space for political scientists in foreign policy-making processes analogous to that niche for economists on the Council of Economic Advisers in processes set in place by the U.S. government to deal with economic issues?...
It is true, perhaps, that economics is a more coherent academic field of inquiry than political science, or than the subfield that deals with international politics. Perhaps for that reason, economists are better placed to offer advice to governmental decision-makers than are political scientists. Nevertheless, the argument here is that the greater deference shown to economists by government officials when economic issues are dealt with than that accorded to political scientists when foreign policy issues arise is not entirely justified....
If the argument here is valid, then perhaps there should be more space set aside in foreign policy-making processes in the U.S. government for political scientists. For example, perhaps National Security Advisers should be political scientists, for reasons analogous to those that have up to this time led to the appointment of nothing but economists to the Council of Economic Advisers.
I pretty sympathetic with Ray's conclusions, and therefore I really, really want to agree with his causal logic. It's just that I don't.
The gist of Ray's evidence is that the Obama administration relied on analogical reasoning in deciding on the Afghan strategy in 2009, and therefore concluding that a "surge" there would work as it did in Iraq. If more political scientists had been in the room, Ray posits, perhaps this cognitive failure would have been avoided. In comparison, Ray observes that the Iraq surge decision was lousy with advanced poli sci degrees (including David Petraeus, William Luti, Eliot Cohen, J.D. Crouch, and FP's own Peter Feaver).
There are a few holes in this analysis. First, I'm not totally sold on the cases used by Ray. True, political scientists played a large role in the surge decision in Iraq, which is conventionally viewed as having worked. The thing is, political scientists (Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, William Kristol) played an even larger role in the decision to invade Iraq , which is conventionally viewed as having not worked. Ray's case slection is too circumscribed.
Second, had Obama consulted more international relations scholars, he would have received perfectly muddled advice. Ray himself acknowledges this:
The evidence just reviewed that is potentially relevant to the decision by the Obama Administration about the surge in Afghanistan tends to point in diverse directions. Some of it casts doubt on the prudence of the Obama Administration’s decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, while other findings could be used to support that decision.
Had Obama or his advisor consulted extensively with academic IR specialists, he still would have needed to exercise political judgment to determine which advice was worth following.
To be clear, I strongly favor having more Ph.D.s in political science in the loop on foreign policy decisionmaking. I'm just not sure Ray's case is all that persuasive.
What do you think?
Alex Wong/Getty Images
The Official Blog Son and I were lucky enough to catch Team USA's thrilling come-from-behind victory over Brazil in the FIFA Women's World Cup. It was a great and controversial game, sure to be replayed on ESPN Classic for years to come. It also got me to thinking about how prominent thinkers and writers about world politics would use the game as a hook for their foreign affairs columns and op-eds this week. Here are their opening paragraphs:
I was quaffing hearty German pilsners with FIFA President Sepp Blatter in a luxury box in Dresden's Glücksgas Stadium (try the bratwurst!!) when he said something that hit me like a thunderbolt: "I can't understand why there's so much demand for video replay in soccer. You know, there is no instant replay in the real world." And really, that's what the global economy is like -- a fast-speed, arcing bullet of a free kick with no time to press the pause button. You have to use every part of your being -- your legs, your head, though admittedly not your arms -- just to keep pace.
Watching the thrilling run of the Americans leading up to Abby Wambach's header, I was struck by the complex, free-flowing sequence of passes that got the ball from the American end to Megan Rapinoe's left foot. It was such a seamless, interlaced network of exchanges -- dare I call it a web of them? -- that moved the ball forward. As the passes moved from one player to another, I bet social networking technologies moved even faster, alerting Americans that a Big Moment was about to happen. In winning, the United States showed the power of webbed networks -- or is it networked webs? -- yet again.
All of the Western media will focus on the "theatrics" of the USA-Brazil game, but it doesn't matter. This was an intramural match between Western Hemisphere teams, which means it was irrelevant. Japan's stunning upset of host Germany in the quarterfinals is the real story of this World Cup, yet another signal of how the one remaining Asian team will leave the three "Western" teams still alive in the dust.
This was an example of American exceptionalism and American will to power at its finest. Battling a set of rules and referees that were clearly anti-American in their effect, the noble U.S. side displayed dogged determination and grit, vanquishing their Brazilian counterparts. The only black mark on the U.S. side was the timidity of the U.S. coach Pia Sundhage in obeying FIFA's absurd and corrupt rules. Sundhage, from that socialist bastion of meek multilateralism that is Sweden, adhered to the letter of FIFA law in pulling Rachel Buehler after she was "red-carded." A true American coach would have instead followed the spirit of the law and sent an 11th player onto the pitch in place of the unjustly accused Buehler.
Americans will thump their chests, display their brassy jingoism, and bray to the heavens about how the refereeing in this game was "unfair" or "ridiculous." They'll claim that the referee's red card of Buehler and mandated do-over of the penalty kick during regular time was "anti-American." They'll overlook the fact that the Australian ref could have midfielder Carli Lloyd off the field for a flagrant, deliberate handball but didn't. They'll overlook the granting of a re-kick for U.S. player Shannon Boxx during the penalty kick phase. They'll overlook the aesthetic beauty of Brazilian star Marta's soccer artistry. They'll overlook the arrogance of U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo -- a perfect American name if there ever was one -- as she had the audacity to question the ref (if the officials weren't so obviously in Corporate America's back pocket, Solo would have been red-carded). They'll overlook the fact that the extra half-hour of play insidiously stacked the deck for the Americans, rewarding their better conditioning against the poorer and put-upon Brazilians. They'll overlook the 158 other things that I will now lay out in excruciating detail. Only when WikiLeaks focuses its might on FIFA will the soccer world be more just.
The sweltering heat in Dresden clearly began to affect the crowd. They booed the Brazilian star Marta with all of her touches. You could sense a growing danger as the boos grew louder. The German fans, upset at seeing their own team get knocked out, had clearly decided to side with their tribal allies. It is likely that only Wambach's header prevented what would have been an unruly German/American riot, breaking down the tenuous social fabric. The riot would have started in the heart of Europe, but I have every confidence that, before long, the unrest would have spread to Halford MacKinder's heartland in the middle of Eurasia.
This match crystallized both the promise and the peril of the rising BRIC powers as they assume more responsibilities in global governance. The game put FIFA's many problems -- bad decision-making, a lack of transparency about the bad decision-making -- on full display. Even after the match, FIFA never explained why Brazil was awarded a re-kick following Solo's block of Christina's penalty kick. Instead of constructively seeking reform, however, the Brazilian side tried to free-ride off of FIFA's flaws. Marta constantly whined to the refs about the lack of Brazilian free kicks. Defender Erkia flopped onto the pitch in a transparent effort to stall play. Unless and until the BRIC countries learn to play cooperatively with the fading West, global governance will look as effective as FIFA's efforts to block corruption. Which is to say, not effective at all.
Readers are warmly encouraged to offer their own suggestions in the comments.
The combination of President Obama's Afghanistan speech, recent congressional votes on Libya, and the tenor of the GOP presidential debate have prompted gnashing of teeth from the usual suspects about the rise of isolationism and the decline of America. This is good -- a robust debate should be had about balancing America's role abroad with fiscal demands at home, what it means for the United States to have a robust overseas presence, and so forth.
Please, however, for the love of God, can this debate take place without Niall Ferguson?
I ask because his latest essay for Newsweek contains the laziest paragraph I will read today. In this column, Ferguson strains to displace Tom Friedman as The Creator of Inane Metaphors. He coins "IOU-solationism" to descibe the instinct to retrench because of domestic difficulties. There's a pedestrian description of rising sentiment for retrenchment. Then we get to the lazy paragraph, which happens to be the only one in his column that provides a justification for why defense cuts are a bad idea:
Salma Hayek is hot" without providing any supporting evidence -- these stylized facts represent common knowledge. The rising power of radical Islam does not fall into this category, however. Seriously, this might be the worst paragraph I've seen in a published column this year. It's all casual assertion and no evidence.I understand that not every assertion can be backed up in an 800 word column. Really, I get that. It's perfectly fine to assert "the U.S. economy is weak" or "China is rising" or "
So far, few politicians have embraced my plan for a Marshall Plan Tax. The idea is that every time a think-tanker, op-ed writer or retired senator calls for a new Marshall Plan or a moonshot-type initiative to solve a social problem, they would have to pay a tax of $50. Within a few months, we’d have enough money to pay for an actual new Marshall Plan.
The problem with my proposal is this: Do Marshall Plans work? If this country really did galvanize its best minds and billions of dollars to alleviate poverty somewhere or to solve some complicated problem, could we actually do it?
Well, the U.S. has been engaged in a new Marshall Plan for most of the past decade. Between 2002 and 2010, the U.S. spent roughly $19 billion to promote development in Afghanistan. Many other nations have also sent thousands of aid workers and billions of dollars....
This experience should have a chastening influence on the advocates of smart power. When she became secretary of state, Hillary Clinton sketched out a very attractive foreign policy vision that would use “the full range of tools at our disposal: diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal and cultural.” But it could be that cultural and economic development works on a different timetable than traditional foreign policy.
Perhaps we don’t know enough, can’t plan enough, can’t implement effectively enough to coordinate nation building with national security objectives.
Brooks looks at development in Afghanistan and safely concludes we haven't gotten much bang for the buck.
Brooks' points on Afghanistan seem on the mark, but my problem is with his framing. First of all, it's not like the foreign policy community is clamoring for more Marshall Plans. Given the current U.S. budgetary picture, I think it's safe to say that foreign aid will be the first thing that will be cut in any fiscal deal. Indeed, here's thje Google Trends analysis of the term:
Third, and most important, the Marshall Plan was implemented in an environment in which traditional security has already been secured. It's one thing to promost economic development in a place in which security is assumed. Trying to promote economic development, peace and statebuilding at the same time is a hell of a lot harder.
Brooks is right to highlight the massive problems with statebuilding in Afghanistan. His attempt to generalize from that woebegotten, landlocked Central Asian battle zone to the rest of U.S. foreign aid is a serious analogy foul, however.
My conference in Beijing closed with Le Yucheng -- the Chinese equivalent of the State Department's director of policy planning -- giving a talk and then taking questions from the academics and policy wonks around the table.
Based on what I heard and the consensus reaction of the old China hands around the table, Le's talk was pretty much boilerplate. That's a term of art for policy mandarins -- it translates into "nothing new was said, just a recycling of old talking points and approved language." However, for those of us who are not old China hands, even boilerplate can be somewhat revealing. Here were the talking points that stood out for me:
1) "To be frank, people don't understand China." Le provided a long litany of development problems and challenges facing China. He found it hypocritical that the rest of the world complained about China not buying enough cars or airplanes from the rest of the world, but also about buying too much oil. He provided a long spiel about how hard China is working to promote its economic development and overcome massive poverty. This is code for, "do not expect us to be chipping in all that much for global public goods anytime soon."
2) "China is always a humble, modest nation." This was, easily, the most jarring part of his talk. Le claimed that since the founding of the People's Republic, China had not attacked any of her foreign neighbors. I suspect that diplomats from India, Russia, South Korea, and Vietnam would have some strenuous disagreements with that assertion, but I was told that this is a standard talking point for Chinese diplomats (If you ask me, they'd be better off stating than China has had peaceful relations with the rest of the world in the post-Maoist era and -- unlike some other great powers that will go unmentioned -- has not averaged a military intervention every 18 months or so).
This section was also jarring because it primarily consisted of backdoor brags. Le claimed that China learned much from everyone else, and that he personally works so hard that he never goes on vacation and doesn't leave the office until 10 PM. He then talked about how China had solved the Hong Kong problem, the rural development problem, and so forth.
This sectiion ended with a small rant on how China was very, very different from, just to pick a country out of a hat, Norway. Because Norway has less than 1% of China's population while having 100 times China's resources, Norway should apparently not offer advice to China on, well, anything. Or, as Le put it, Norway is like a mini-car to China's bullet train. Note to Norway: I think China is still touchy about this.
3) "There is no Beijing Consensus." This was a point that Le hammered home repeatedly. He insisted that China had no original development model, and that Beijing certainly wasn't trying to recommend its model to nany other country. As Le put it, "There is no best model in the world." This part of Le's talk was also the most convincing, as the rest of the assembled Chinese academics made a similar point. As one academic pithily noted, "both the Washington Consensus and the Beijing Consensus were invented in Washington!"
4) China will not challenge the global order -- in other words, "we are not the USSR." In a mild contradiction of his first point, Le listed the myriad ways in which China contributed to global order -- promoting domestic economic growth to stabilize the regional economy, contributions to UN peacekeeping, anti-terrorism cooperation, anti-piracy, purchasing European and American debt instruments, and -- an oldie but a goodie -- not devaluing the yuan during the Asian financial crisis. Le stressed how much China benefitted from the existing order, and that while reforms might be needed, a wholesale change was not needed.
5) If you think the PRC government is bad, read our Internet chat boards. This was interesting, as Le tried to stress that China's population was far more nationalist and hawkish on the foreign policy front than the PRC government. He's not eactly wrong on this point, but it should be pointed out that given the various restrictions on what can be said on the Chinese internet, assertive nationalism is the only approved way of venting for the Chinese public.
My post earlier this week on the role of public opinion in the Big Policy Decisions of the past decade has triggered some interesting responses from the international political economy wing of the blogosphere. See, in order, Kindred Winecoff, Henry Farrell, Dan Nexon, Winecoff again, and then Phil Arena.
Farrell's post in particular connects this contretemps with larger scholarly questions in global political economy and foreign policy decisionmaking:
International political economy scholarship tends to have an extremely stripped down, and bluntly unrealistic account of how policy is made. Typically, modelers in this field either assume that the “median voter” plays an important role in determining national preferences, or that various stylized economic interests (which they try to capture using Stolper-Samuelson, Ricardo-Viner and other approaches borrowed from economic theory) determine policy, perhaps as filtered through a very simple representation of legislative-executive relations.
However, actual work on how policy gets made suggests that this doesn’t work. On many important policy issues, the public has no preferences whatsoever. On others, it has preferences that largely maps onto partisan identifications rather than actual interests, and that reflect claims made by political elites (e.g. global warming). On others yet, the public has a set of contradictory preferences that politicians can pick and choose from. In some broad sense, public opinion does provide a brake on elite policy making – but the boundaries are both relatively loose and weakly defined. Policy elites can get away with a hell of a lot if they want to.
The result is that the relevant literature on policy making (located largely within comparative political economy and a growing debate within American politics) argues that elites play a very strong role in creating policies.
These are fair points -- indeed, Benjamin Page wrote a whole book about the ways in which foreign policy elites in the United States have pursued policies at vatiance with American public opinion.
So, yes, policy elites matter. However, I would issue a few qualifiers and questions to Farrell's points.
1) Who are we talking about when we talk about "elites"? The word "elites" can cover an awful lot of individuals. Many conservatives, for example, snorted at the notion of Krugman scolding elites, since there's no way one can define Krugman as anything but a member of the policy elite. So... who is part of the elite? Does it include powerful interest group lobbies, or only policy mandarins?
In his blog post Farrell seems to imply the latter, which does makes the term more precise. That said, interest groups are a pretty powerful animal, and they will not get confused by elite policy rhetoric. Farrell lumps interest group and public opinion stories together in his blog post, and I'm not sure that's right. When are policy elites simply doing the work of interest groups, and when are they pushing back? I've seen examples of both, but I haven't seen a generalizable theory explaining when one dynamic trumps the other.
2) When does issue salience matter? Part of the reason I pushed back against Krugman was that two of the three policy choices he stressed (tax cuts, Iraq) were very high-profile, publicly debated issues. One would assume that public opinion would form a more powerful brake on high-profile issues than low-profile ones. This is why I didn't push back against Krugman's financial deregulation story.
Now, Farrell might argue that elites can still manipulate a heck of a lot even on high-profile policies. This is probably true on some issues, but on others the public can act as an ex ante or ex post brake on policies. TARP was a bipartisan vote, for example, and a successful policy to boot -- and yet the public backlash against it clearly constrained the Obama administration's policy options in 2009. Despite Obama's election mandate and majorities in both houses of Congress, the administration scaled back its fiscal policy stimulus below the $1 trillion mark, partly because of fears of how the public would respond.
3) When will policy elites split? The word "elite" tends to assume an undifferentiated group of privileged policymakers, and anyone who has spent time inside the Beltway knows that partisanship matters a wee bit. When will the foreign policy community (or economic policy community) reach consensus, and when will there be significant opposition?
Consider Operation Iraqi Freedom, for example. A commonly-made argument (at least in blog comments) is that the public went along with the war because the Bush administration cranked up its PR machine and shaped mass public attitudes. OK, but one of the things us political scientists know is that had the Democrats vociferously opposed the invasion of Iraq, public support for it might have dropped. OK, but now we get to the key questuion -- why didn't Democrats oppose the war with greater vigor? Part of it might be that a lot of Democratic liberal internationalists agreed with Republican neoconservatives taking out Saddam Hussein. Part of it, however, is that Democrats feared looking soft on security during the 2002 midterm elections. Because of that fear, Democratic policymaking elites were not unified -- thereby bolstering public support for the war.
Now, in this narrative, is public opinion a cause or an effect of the debate that played out among policy elites? A little of both, I suspect. I raise this, however, because one of the difficulties with talking about the role of public opinion as a policy constraint (or a policy enabler) is that its role is sometimes buried beneath the more proximate causes.
This is a good blog conversation to have, because it highlights how difficult it is to develop clear and generalizable models of national policy preferences, and the ways in which the fields of international political economy and foreign policy analysis struggle to cope with this complexity.
Your humble blogger has not been
contributing to the Osama-a-thon here at FP blogging all that much, because he was busy being a moosehead attending the 2011 Estoril Conference. Many Important topics were covered at this conference, including:
1) The eurozone crisis;
2) The global governance crisis;
3) The crisis in the Middle East;
4) Other global security challenges;
5) The life and times of Larry King.
It was that kind of conclave.
Actually, that really doesn't do it justice. Here's a link to the opening video. Even that doesn't do it justice -- the opening ceremonies featured a sporano suspended 50 feet in the air, a gospel choir, a drum corps, and what I can only assume are the backup dancers for Lady Gaga's music videos.
For a rundown of what the Big Cheeses said at the conference, check out my Twitter feed. The major substantive takeaway I got from the conference is that Portugal would like to do a serious hurt dance on Fitch, Moody's, and Standard & Poor. Half of the conference presenters were Portuguese, and most of the audience was as well. Here is a sampling of the questions the Portuguese asked anyone talking about anything remotely related to economics:
"Why do the bond rating agencies still influence markets after they failed so badly in 2008?"
"Shouldn't the bond-rating agencies be punished for their malfeasance last decade?"
"Aren't the bond-rating agencies to blame for everything bad that has happened since 2008?"
"What do you think of the idea of creating a European standard-ratings agency?"
"Say, has anyone thought about taking the heads of the bond-rating agencies and putting them in a duffel bag?"
OK, I made that last one up, but not the others.
Obviously, the Portuguese have very good reasons to be stressed out. And the bond-rating agencies deserrve an awful amount of flack. Still, the idea that they -- and they alone -- triggered both the 2008 financial crisis and Europe's sovereign debt crisis is absurd. They are far more the symptom than the cause of the crisis.
More blogging after
my eyes adjust to not seeing Lady Gaga's backup dancers everywhere I turn the weekend.
I know I said I would post by book choices for aspiring senators/presidential candidates yesterday, but current events forced a slight delay. So, you know the contest: "if you had to pick three books for an ambitious U.S. politician to read in order to bone up on foreign affairs, what would they be?" You now know (and are less than thrilled with) the readers' selections. Below are my choices.
My selections were based on three fundamental premises. The first is that politicians do not lack in self-confidence. This is an important leadership trait, but when it comes to foreign policy, some awareness of The Things That Can Go Wrong is really important. So my choices try to stress the pitfalls of bad decision-making.
The second assumption is that trying to force-feed social science principles onto a politico is a futile enterprise -- any decent advisor should provide that role. What's more important is exposing politicians to the different schools of thought that they will encounter in foreign policy debates. As with the zombie book, the idea is that by familiarizing individuals to the different theoretical approaches, they can recognize a realist or neoconservative argument when they hear it. They should then be able to recall how well or how badly these approaches have done in the past, and think about the logical conclusions to each approach.
Finally, these are American politicians, which means that they are genuinely interested in Americana and American history. Books that can connect current foreign policy debates to past ones will resonate better.
So, with that set-up, my three choices:
1) Walter Russell Mead, Special Providence. An excellent introduction to the myriad strains of thought that have permeated American foreign policy over the past two and a half centuries. International relations theorists might quibble with Mead's different intellectual traditions, but I suspect politicians will immediately "get" them.
2) David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest (for Democrats); James Mann, Rise of the Vulcans (for Republicans). Americans have a long and bipartisan history of Mongolian clusterf**ks in foreign policy. Each side should read about their greatest foreign policy mistake of the past century to appreciate that even the best and smartest advisors in the world will not necessarily translate into wise foreign policies.
3) Richard Neustadt and Earnest May, Thinking in Time. Politicians like to claim that they don't cotton to abstract academic theories of the world, that they rely on things like "common sense" and "folk wisdom." This is a horses**t answer that's code for, "if I encounter a new situation, I'll think about a historical parallel and use that to guide my thinking." Neustadt and May's book does an excellent job of delineating the various ways that the history can be abused in presidential decision-making.
Obviously, I'd want politicians to read more books after these three -- but as a first set of foreign policy primers, I'm comfortable with these choices.
If you want to hear more about this, go and listen to my bloggingheads exchange with NSN's Heather Hurlburt on this very question.
To recall the assignment:
[I]f a newly-minted U.S. Senator did want to seriously bone up on foreign affairs, what books should he or she read?....
[I]f you're educating a politician from scratch, you need something relatively pithy, accessible, relevant to current events, and America-centric....
I therefore call upon the readers of this blog to proffer up their suggestions -- if you had to pick three books for an ambitious U.S. politician to read in order to bone up on foreign affairs, what would they be?
Before I get to the reader suggestions, I heartily encourage the rich variety of responses in the foreign policy blogosphere: see Stephanie Carvin, Brian Rathbun, Andrew Exum, Rob Farley, Justin Logan, Will Winecoff, Phil Arena, and Steve Saideman, for starters.
A few of them challenge some of the underlying premises of my question. Arena asks, in essence, "does it really matter?" If IR scholars believe that structural, impersonal factors are what guide American foreign policy, then a reading list won't make a difference. Rathbun implicitly endorses this point in observing that us IR folk basically write books saying that the first image of leadership doesn't matter all that much.
There is an theoretical and empirical response to this. The theoretical response is that even the most ardent structuralist would acknowledge that there is a stochastic element to any political model -- indeed, in most tests, random chance explains more than the non-random model. What books leaders read falls into the stochastic category (we never know ex ante), so any attempt to influence on that factor is not trivial.
The empirical is that we have at least anecdotal evidence that books occasionally do affect the thinking of American foreign policy decisionmakers. Bill Clinton was famously reluctant to intervene in Bosnia after reading Robert Kaplan's Balkan Ghosts. I'd argue that Kenneth Pollack's The Threatening Storm was the most important book-length contribution to the 2003 debate about going to war in Iraq -- because it provided intellectual cover for Democrats supporting the Bush administration. Bush himself touted Natan Sharansky's The Case for Democracy as a book that influenced his thinking on the Middle East.
Exum also asks a fair quesion -- why books?
A lot of the reading material I digest comes from blogs as well as newspaper and magazine articles. A lot of it comes from scholarly and policy journals as well.... I generally find articles in International Security, Survival, Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy, though, to be both accessible and thought-provoking. And asking a senator to read a few articles in Foreign Affairs each month en route back to his or her constituency actually sounds like a reasonable request. So I am not sure I would actually recommend a junior senator read a book so much as I would ask him or her to read a few carefully selected articles or scan through ForeignPolicy.com every other day.
This is a fair point -- if we could get our junior Senator/aspiring presidential candidate to read up on foreign affairs every day. I'm pessimistic about that happening, however, for the reasons I gave in the prevous post.
Also, here's the thing -- oddly enough, politicians want to tell everyone how many Very Important Books they read. Consider Condoleezza Rice's New York Times Magazine interview, in which she stresses that, "[George W. Bush] read five books for every one I read. He read something like 12 biographies of Lincoln in office." Bush is not someone who seemed worried that he wasn't egghead-y enough, and yet even he and his acolytes feel compelled to point out what's on his bookshelf. We might living in a Twitter age, but books still possess some totemic value of intellectual gravitas.
Picayune disagreements aside, I do encourage readers to click through each of the above links to see their book recommendations.
Below, however, is the aggregate list produced by my readers. At least three different commenters recommended or endorsed all thrirteen books below. [And what do you think of the list?--ed. I'm a big fan of many of these books, I confess I haven't read several of them, and there are a few that I think are mind-boggingly stupid. I suspect that would be the same response of any other IR scholar to the list below -- though which ones are "mid-boggingly stupid" would be a furious subject for debate.]
In alphabetical order:
THE TOP THIRTEEN FOREIGN AFFAIRS BOOKS EVERY ASPIRING POLITICIAN SHOULD READ
(As selected by readers of Foreign Policy)
Andrew Bacevich, Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War
Steve Coll, Ghost Wars
Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order
Robert D. Kaplan, Monsoon
Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers
Parag Khanna, How to Run the World
Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy
Walter Russell Mead, Special Providence
John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics
Joseph Nye, The Future of Power
Ahmed Rashid, Descent Into Chaos
Stephen Walt, Taming American Power
Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World
Your humble blogger will be posting his book selections on Monday.
Let the fight/snark in the comment thread.... begin!!
[T]here was no mistaking the lightness of [Obama's foreign affairs] résumé. Just a year before coming to Washington, State Senator Obama was not immersed in the dangers of nuclear Pakistan or an ascendant China; as a provincial legislator, he was investigating the dangers of a toy known as the Yo-Yo Water Ball. (He tried, unsuccessfully, to have it banned.)
Obama had always read widely, and now he was determined to get a deeper education. He read popular books on foreign affairs by Fareed Zakaria and Thomas Friedman.
That last sentence provoked a lot of titters on Twitter among the foreign policy community. It's only a slight exaggeration to say that Tom Friedman's recent books have the same status among foreign policy wonks that John Grisham novels have in literary circles.
This raises an interesting question, however -- if a newly-minted U.S. Senator did want to seriously bone up on foreign affairs, what books should he or she read?
This is a harder question to answer that you might think. Here is a rank ordering of what a typical Senator cares about:
1) Getting re-elected;
2) Getting re-elected;
3) Establishing a domestic policy niche in order to claim credit... in order to get re-elected;
4) Starving the media of any opportunity to write a profile of their private lives... in order to get re-elected.
5) Foreign affairs
There's a reason foreign affairs is at the bottom -- in the post-Cold War world, the American public doesn't care and doesn't know much about international relations. Short of the presidential level, developing expertise or interest in that area does nothing for a politician's electoral chances -- and even at the presidential leve it's a mixed bag.
With this kind of mindset, giving a Senator a copy of Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War and assuming they'll get really hooked on the story is faintly absurd. Many of my academic brethren might proffer up one of the more recent classics in international relations theory. To which I say, "BWA HA HA HA HA!!!!" Neither Kenneth Waltz nor Bruce Bueno de Mesquita would last as long in a politicians' hands as Thucydides.
No, if you're educating a politician from scratch, you need something relatively pithy, accessible, relevant to current events, and America-centric. Given those criteria, Friedman's oeuvre makes some kind of inuitive sense, no matter how wrong or ripe for satire it is. I mean, what's the alternative -- Three Cups of Tea?
Aspiring leaders of America can and should do better than Friedman, however. I therefore call upon the readers of this blog to proffer up their suggestions -- if you had to pick three books for an ambitious U.S. politician to read in order to bone up on foreign affairs, what would they be?
I have my own thoughts on the matter, but I'll hold off until Friday to post my selections. My choices are hardy written in stone, so I'll be reading this comment thread with great interest.
Ryan Lizza has a 9,000+ word exegesis on the Obama administration's foreign policy decisionmaking in The New Yorker. For anyone who's paid attention to this debate over the past six weeks, there's nothing terribly new -- for those who haven't however, it's a decent summary. The key parts for me:
One of Donilon’s overriding beliefs, which Obama adopted as his own, was that America needed to rebuild its reputation, extricate itself from the Middle East and Afghanistan, and turn its attention toward Asia and China’s unchecked influence in the region. America was “overweighted” in the former and “underweighted” in the latter, Donilon told me. “We’ve been on a little bit of a Middle East detour over the course of the last ten years,” Kurt Campbell, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said. “And our future will be dominated utterly and fundamentally by developments in Asia and the Pacific region.”
In December, 2009, Obama announced that he would draw down U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan by the end of his first term. He also promised, in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly last year, that he was “moving toward a more targeted approach” that “dismantles terrorist networks without deploying large American armies.”
“The project of the first two years has been to effectively deal with the legacy issues that we inherited, particularly the Iraq war, the Afghan war, and the war against Al Qaeda, while rebalancing our resources and our posture in the world,” Benjamin Rhodes, one of Obama’s deputy national-security advisers, said. “If you were to boil it all down to a bumper sticker, it’s ‘Wind down these two wars, reëstablish American standing and leadership in the world, and focus on a broader set of priorities, from Asia and the global economy to a nuclear-nonproliferation regime.’ ”....
Obama may be moving toward something resembling a doctrine. One of his advisers described the President’s actions in Libya as “leading from behind.” That’s not a slogan designed for signs at the 2012 Democratic Convention, but it does accurately describe the balance that Obama now seems to be finding. It’s a different definition of leadership than America is known for, and it comes from two unspoken beliefs: that the relative power of the U.S. is declining, as rivals like China rise, and that the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world. Pursuing our interests and spreading our ideals thus requires stealth and modesty as well as military strength. “It’s so at odds with the John Wayne expectation for what America is in the world,” the adviser said. “But it’s necessary for shepherding us through this phase.” (emphasis added)
There's something that's really frustrating about the structure of the essay, and then something else that's frustrating about the content. Both of them involve China.
On the structure - despite Lizza's 9,000 words, and despite Obama's stated intention to reorient American foreign policy to be less Middle East-focused, the essay.... is totally focused on the Middle East. I'm not saying that the Middle East is unimportant, but I'd have liked to have read something about how the Obama administration is dealing with the rest of the world. Indeed, Lizzaa notes that Obama visited South America during the opening days of the Libya operation precisely "to show that America has interests in the rest of the world." Despite this effort, the thrust of the article demonstrates its futility during the start of a war. New military conflicts crowd out attention that should be paid to other arenas of foreign policy. It would have been nice to see how the administration's strategy is playing/affecting the rest of the world.
The problem with the content is that bolded section. To tweak Tom Donilon a little bit, I'd characterize it as a "static and one-dimensional assessment" of the U.S. strategic position. It doesn't allow for the possibility that rising states might experience their own dips in national power, or that attitudes towards the United States might improve as a consequence of shifts in U.S. strategy.
Countries make strategic missteps when they overestimate or underestimate their own capabilities. The Bush administration was clearly guilty of overestimation, but there are ways in which the Obama administration is equally guilty of underestimation.
What do you think?
I'm starting to read Dani Rodrik's provocative book The Globalization Paradox, which is well-written, accessible, and (so far, at least) quite fair-minded with respect to the various economic debates over the costs and benefits of globalization. It's also, really, a book of political economy, so it's nice to see that, based on his footnotes, Rodrik has more than a passing familiarity with political science in general and global political economy in particular.
I'll blog more about Rodrik's substantive arguments once I've finished the book, but I wanted to take this opportunity to offer a mild dissent from an early point he makes about the social sciences. In his introduction (p. xx), Rodrik argues that the ideas of economists are very powerful -- more powerrful than the other social sciences. Why?:
It is perhaps natural for an economist like me to think that ideas--and economists' ideas in particular--matter a whole lot. But I think it is hard to overestate the influence that these ideas have hadf in molding our understanding of the world around us, shaping the conversation among politicians and other decisionmakers, and constraining as well as expanding our choices. Political scientists, sociologists, historians, and others would no doubt claim equal credit for their professions. Policy choices are surely constrained by special interests and their political organization, by deeper societal trends, and by historical conditions. But by virtue of its technical wizardry and appearance of certitude, economic science has had the upper hand since at least the end of World War II. It has provided the language with which we discuss public policy and shaped the topology of our collective mental map (emphasis added).
Now, Rodrik is correct up to a point. Economists have been viewed as being at the head of the ssocial sciences for quite some time, and their unity of method probably has something to do with it. That said, this explanation only goes so far. As many have lamented, the field of international relations has increasingly embraced the tools of economics to develop and test theories, and yet the foreign policy community has not displayed an equal eagerness to have the topology of their mental maps shaped by this kind of analysis. Rodrik does not explain why economic policymakers decided to accept these methods as a valid basis to form policy.
To repeat a point I made a few months ago:
[T]he fundamental difference between economic policy and foreign policy is that the former community accepts the idea that economic methodologies and theory-building enterprises have value, and are worth using as a guide to policymaking. This doesn't mean economists agree on everything, but it does mean they are all speaking a common language and accept the notion of external validity checks on their arguments.
That consensus simply does not exist within the foreign policy community.... Many members of the foreign policy community explicitly reject the notion that social science methodologies and techniques can explain much in world politics. They therefore are predisposed to reject the kind of scholarship that political scientists of all stripes generate. This might be for well-founded reasons, it might be simple
innumeracyhostility to the academy, or it might be a combination of the two. I'd love to have a debate about whether that's a good or bad thing, but my point is that's the reality we face.
I had this observation confirmed in conversations I had with a political scientist working for the current administratioon who shall remain nameless. Whenever this person attempted to discuss generic political science observations in a staff meeting, the inevitable response by someone in the room was, "well, that sounds nice in theory, but it doesn't apply to this concrete situation." I guarantee you that no one has ever said anything like that to Ben Bernanke in a policy setting.
So, to sum up: when economists use formal models, it's technical wizardry. When political scientists do the same, it's hidebound scholasticism.
There's a supply side and a demand-side to the interactions between academics and policymakers. Both economists and political scientists have supplied copious amounts of high-quality research, much of it relying on formal models and statistical tests. On the demand side, however, only one group of policymakers has embraced this research with open arms.
Am I missing anything?
See, back in early 2009, I wrote one of the earlier posts about whether there was an Obama Doctrine or not. Glenn Thrush quoted that post in Politico last week, which led to a lot of media inquiries on the matter. Regardless of what I say on the subject, the topic du jour appears to be whether there is now an Obama Doctrine and how it holds up as a grand strategy.
I don't have the time today to write up my substantive thoughts on the matter, but I do think it would be useful to at least define the terms properly.
First, on the Obama Doctrine -- unfortunately, foreign policy discourse being what it is, that "XXX Doctrine" has devolved into a meaningless catchphrase coined by news outlets the first time that an administration initiates military or quasi-military force.* Whenever that happens, the news networks go into paroxysms of speculation about whether such action signals a new doctrine. Based on Obama's speech last night, it seems pretty clear that the answer to that question on Libya is a clear "no," so I don't think we need to go there.
Second, even if Libya did lead to an Obama Doctrine, that doesn't equate to a grand strategy. The Reagan Doctrine, for example, had actual policy content -- it meant the arming and aiding of anti-communist guerillas in peripheral communist countries like Nicaragua or Afghanistan. Not even the fiercest Reagan acolyte would agree that the Reagan Doctrine was America's grand strategy during the 1980's. It was rather a policy that was part of the larger strategy of containing Soviet communism.
Obama did not clearly articulate a grand strategy last night (and just as well, since his delivery was pretty weak). He has tried to do so in his previous speeches and strategy documents, with variable results. Far more important that what is said at the beginning of an administration is how Big Decisions are articulated ex post.
In that sense, Dan Nexon is right to say that Obama shouldn't have articulated a grand strategy out of what was clearly an exceptional decision due to exceptional circumstances. That said, if I were Obama's foreign policy team, I'd start thinking very hard about a speech
without the phrase "false choice" in it that clearly prioritizes American interests and values. Because unless the president defines his grand strategy, pundits will be more than happy to define it -- badly -- for him.
*Clear exceptions include those doctrines clearly articulated or embraced by Monroe, Teddy Roosevelt, Truman, Nixon, and Reagan.
Yesterday Director of National Intelligence James Clapper provided his sober assessment of the situation on the ground in Libya:
Responding to questions, Mr. Clapper told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that Colonel Qaddafi had a potentially decisive advantage in arms and equipment that would make itself felt as the conflict wore on.
“This is kind of a stalemate back and forth,” he said, “but I think over the longer term that the regime will prevail.”
Mr. Clapper also offered another scenario, one in which the country is split into two or three ministates, reverting to the way it was before Colonel Qaddafi’s rule. “You could end up with a situation where Qaddafi would have Tripoli and its environs, and then Benghazi and its environs could be under another ministate,” he said.
The White House was clearly taken aback by the assessment that Mr. Qaddafi could prevail.
The White House wasn't the only actor that didn't like what Clapper was saying:
Clapper's prediction of defeat for the Libyan opposition prompted a furious Sen.Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to demand that Clapper resign or be fired.
"The situation in Libya remains tenuous and the director's comments today on Gadhafi's 'staying power' are not helpful to our national security interests,'' Graham said in a statement, using a different spelling of the leader's name. "His comments will make the situation more difficult for those opposing Gadhafi ... and undercut our national efforts to bring about the desired result of Libya moving from dictator to democracy.
Yeah, how dare Clapper say things that jibe with open-source analysis of the situation!!
I kinda sorta understand the argument that Clapper shouldn't have said this in public, but not really. To have a quality debate about policy options on Libya, this kind of dispassionate analysis is crucial. Clapper's job description is to provide an assessment of what's actually occurring on the ground, regardless of what people want to happen on the ground. It's then up to policymakers to craft responses to try to alter or reinforce that situation as they see fit. Calling for Clapper's resignation because he provided what appears to be an accurate assessment of the current state of play seriously politicizes the job of intelligence analysis and assessment. Doesn't the past decade suggest that politicized intelligence leads to catastrophic foreign policymaking?
What worries me is not what Clapper said but how the White House responded:
The White House was clearly taken aback by the assessment that Mr. Qaddafi could prevail, and Mr. Donilon, talking to reporters a few hours later, suggested that Mr. Clapper was addressing the question too narrowly.
“If you did a static and one-dimensional assessment of just looking at order of battle and mercenaries,” Mr. Donilon said, one could conclude that the Libyan leader would hang on. But he said that he took a “dynamic” and “multidimensional” view, which he said would lead “to a different conclusion about how this is going to go forward.”
“The lost legitimacy matters,” he said. “Motivation matters. Incentives matter.” He said Colonel Qaddafi’s “resources are being cut off,” and ultimately that would undercut his hold on power.
A senior administration official, driving home the difference in an e-mail on Thursday evening, wrote, “The president does not think that Qaddafi will prevail.”
Hmmm. Over the past week, the Libyan opposition to Qaddafi has been winning on only one dimension -- garnering international support. On the ground in Libya, not so much. And the international support won't affect the situation on the ground anytime soon. Even the tightest financial sanctions don't matter at this point. Qaddafi possesses far more financial reserves than, say, the Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo -- and yet Gbagbo has managed to stay in power for five months. Sanctions should eventually work in the Ivory Coast, but they're not going to work anytime soon in Libya.
Contra Donilon, the only way in which the dynamic changes on the ground in Libya is if international support becomes far more concerted and proactive in support of the Libyan rebels. Based on Mark Landler and Helene Cooper's analysis in the New York Times, however, the Obama administration won't be spearheading that kind of policy shift. For Donilon to suggest that, absent U.S. action, the dynamic is working in favor of Libya's anti-Qaddafi movement smacks of utopian thinking.
Graham and others should criticize the Obama administration's handling of Libya if they want to see a more forceful policy response. Criticizing the DNI for providing an accurate intelligence assessment, on the other hand, is seriously counterproductive.
The latest issue of International Studies Review is a special symposium on theory and practice in international relations. Thomas Weiss and Anoulak Kittikhoun edited the special issue. The goal, according to them:
This special presidential issue addresses the theory–practice question across major institutions and global challenges. First, what is the influence of scholars on institutions? What accounts for influence or the lack thereof? What type of future engagement should exist for scholars on these institutions? Second, what are acceptable theoretical approaches to a given global challenge? What are the existing policies and practices, and do they coincide with dominant scholarly approaches? What relationship would be most useful between theory and practice on any issue?... [T]hese pages explore the impacts of scholars on policymaking and institutions as well as the limitations of theory in responding to global challenges. Stereotypes obfuscate the complex reality that scholarship matters.
The whole issue is a real treat, including great articles by Bruce Jentleson and Ely Ratner on how to bridge the scholar/policymaker gap, Ann Florini on international relations theory and the rise of Cina and India, Roland Paris on failed and failing states, Elizabeth DeSombre on global environmental politics, Andrew Hurrell on global governance, and
some zombie fanatic yours truly on targeted economic sanctions.
This looks like it should be a great way to get policymakers interested in the academic study of world politics, and vice versa. Of course, to be useful, it helps to be able to access the articles in the first place. And since all of these essays appear to be subscriber-only, it looks like
this is yet another brilliant self-inflicted wound demonstrating how academic journals guarantee their continued irrelevance in the policymaking world by hiding behind a friggin' paywall the bridging will be mostly on the academic side of the ledger.
As Laura Rozen, Michael Peel, Farah Stockman, Jon Wiener, John Sides, Siddhartha Mahanta & David Corn, and various reporters have observed, an awful lot of high-powered academics and academic institutions have some 'splainin to do about their relationship with Libya's Qaddafi family.
The Monitor Group ferried a number of high-profile international studies scholars, including Joseph Nye, Robert Putnam, Michael Porter, Francis Fukuyama, Nicholas Negroponte, and Benjamin Barber to the shores of Tripoli in an effort to burnish the regime's image. The London School of Economics and some of its faculty were deeply involved with Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi, as he earned his Ph.D. there in 2007 with a dissertation on -- wait for it -- liberal democracy and civil society. Even FP's own Steve Walt went for a brief visit in 2010.
As the Qaddafi family has morphed from pragmatic strongmen to bloodthirsty killers, the fallout in the academic world has been uneven. On the one hand, Howard Davies resigned as the head of LSE in the wake of the Libyan revelations. The Monitor Group acknowledged in a statement that, "We … believed that these visits could boost global receptivity for Mr. Gaddafi's stated intention to move the country more towards the West and open up to the rest of the world. Sadly, it is now clear that we, along with many others, misjudged that possibility."
On the other hand, Benjamin Barber sounds totally unapologetic in his interview with FP. His basic message is that "second-guessing the past, I mean, it's just 20/20 hindsight." Then there's this response:
I mean, did LSE take Saif's money -- the Gaddafi Foundation money -- improperly? No, they all took it properly. And promised a scholarly center to study the Middle East and North Africa. And offer scholarships to students from the region. Just the way Harvard and Georgetown and Cambridge and Edinburgh have done -- not with Libyan money, but with Saudi money (look at Prince Alwaleed bin Talal). By the way, not just Monitor, but McKinsey, Exxon, Blackstone, the Carlyle Group -- everybody was in it. The only difference for Monitor was that it actually had a project that was aimed at trying to effect some internal change. Everybody else who went in, which is every major consultancy, every major financial group, went in to do nothing more than make big bucks for themselves. But now people are attacking Monitor because they took consulting fees for actually trying to effect reform and change.
Finally, there is an important background controversy here: It is about whether academics should stay in the ivory tower and do research and write books? Or engage in the world on behalf of the principles and theories their research produces? Do you simply shut your mouth and write? Or do you try to engage? This is an old question that goes back to Machiavelli, back to Plato going to Syracuse: Do you engage with power? Sometimes power is devilish and brutal; sometimes it's simply constitutional and democratic; but in every case, it's power, and to touch it is to risk being tainted by it.
My answer is that each person has to make their own decision. I don't condemn those who prefer the solitude of the academy, though they lose the chance to effect change directly; and I don't condemn those who do try to influence power, risking being tainted by it, even when power doesn't really pay much attention to them, whether its legitimate power like in the United States or illegitimate, as in Libya. The notion that there is something wrong with people who choose to intervene and try to engage the practice of democracy -- that they are somehow more morally culpable than people who prefer not to intervene -- is to me untenable.
Rereading his 2007 Washington Post op-ed, I think it's safe to say that Barber embraced sucking up to power juuuuuuuuust a wee bit more fervently than everyone else.
That said, the man has half a point here. As Ben Wildavsky has chronicled in The Great Brain Race, Western universities have been racing across the globe to set up
additional revenue streams satellite campuses in authoritarian countries. Those schools that had no dealings with Libya likely do have dealings with the Gulf emirates, or China, or Russia, or … you get the point.
Furthermore, if you believe what Charles Kupchan writes in How Enemies Become Friends, it's precisely this category of interactions that potentially leads to reduced tensions between rival nations. Bear in mind that by 2006 Libya had renounced its WMD program and did seem somewhat interested in integrating itself into the West. Surely that's a moment when these kinds of interactions could havehad an appreciable effect on a country's trajectory.
Another ethical question comes down to exactly how a scholar is engaging with a country. Engagement at the elite level, for example, has a greater potential for change, but also a great potential for "capture" by the authoritarian elite. Engagement with the population might have fewer moral quandaries (if there's a choice between teaching Saudi women* and not teaching Saudi women, for example, is not teaching really the morally correct option? ) but fewer opportunities for change.
There's an interesting quote in Farah Stockman's write-up that does stand out, however:
“The really nefarious aspect of [Monitor's parade of academics] is that it reinforced in Khadafy’s mind that he truly was an international intellectual world figure, and that his ideas of democracy were to be taken seriously,’’ said Dirk Vandewalle, associate professor at Dartmouth College and author of “A History of Modern Libya.’’ “It reinforced his reluctance to come to terms with the reality around him, which was that Libya is in many ways an inconsequential country and his ideas are half-baked.’’
In the Libyan case, maybe that is the best criteria for assorting ethical responsibility. For a scholar, engagement with power should not be automatically rejected, particularly if it means altering policies in a fruitful manner. When the exercise morphs into intellectual kabuki theater, however, then disengagement seems like the best course of action.
Those scholars who stopped participating after it was obvious that Qaddafi wasn't really interested in genuine change don't deserve much opprobrium. By that count, Barber really has a lot to answer for, while some of the others seem to have emerged relatively unscathed.
I'm curious what commenters have to say about this because I guarantee you one thing -- the more that autocratic regimes either buckle or crack down, the more this issue is going to come up for both universities and individual scholars.
[Full disclosure: I taught a short course for Saudi women at Fletcher in the summer of 2009, and have absolutely no regrets about doing so.]
Since I moved to Foreign Policy, the blog post that generated the most feedback was my impressionistic take on the Millennial generation's foreign policy perspectives. I concluded that post on whether generaional cohorts would have distinct foreign policy attitudes with the following:
As I think about it, here are the Millennials' foundational foreign policy experiences:
1) An early childhood of peace and prosperity -- a.k.a., the Nineties;
2) The September 11th attacks;
3) Two Very Long Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq;
4) One Financial Panic/Great Recession;
5) The ascent of China under the shadow of U.S. hegemony.
From these experiences, I would have to conclude that this generation should be anti-interventionist to the point of isolationism.
There was a LOT of very thoughtful pushback in the comments and e-mails from Millennials themselves -- enough for me to wonder whether my jaded Gen-Xer eyes were growing too world-weary.
Now, however, we actually have some data. The Brookings Institution has released a new report, "D.C.'s New Guard: What Does the Next Generation of American Leaders Think?" The survey results came from 1,057 respondents (with a average age of 16.4) who attended the National Student Leadership Conference, Americans for Informed Democracy young leaders programs, and other DC internships -- i.e., those young people already predisposed towards a political career.
The results are veeeeery revealing. The headline figure is that 73% of respondents think that "The U.S. is no longer globally respected" -- which actually suggests that the respondents haven't been looking at the data, but that's a side note. No, the really interesting response is as follows:
[A]lmost 58% of the young leaders in this survey agreed with the statement that the U.S. is too involved in global affairs and should do more at home. Alternatively, 32.4% thought the U.S. had "struck the right balance" between issues at home and abroad," while only 10% thought that the United States should be more globally proactive.
This isolationist sentiment among the younger generation stands in stark comparison to the Chicago Council's recent 2010 polling of older Americans, which found that 67% wanted America to have an active role in the world and only 31% thought we should limit our involvement, a near exact reverse. The older generation survey concluded that there was "persisting support for an internationalist foreign policy at levels unchanged from the past," but this perceived persistence is certainly not there among the young leaders (emphasis added).
Now, to be fair, It is possible to reconcile beliefs that the United States is doing too much abroad now while still believing that the U.S. should exert global leadership, but on a more modest scale. Still, I'm counting this as a clear win over the young people insisting that my impressionistic take on their generation was wrong. Take that, Bieberheads!!!
[Hey, I just noticed this paragraph by P.W. Singer at the start of the report:
In 2011, a “silver tsunami” will hit the United States: the oldest Baby Boomers will reach the United States’ legal retirement age of 65. As the Boomers leave the scene, a new generation will begin to take over. But while the generation that directly follows the Boomers, Generation X, may be “of age”, there is a good chance that it will not actually shape public life and leadership as much the following generation, the Echo Boomers, also known as the “Millennials." (emphasis added)
Say, could that swipe at your generation explain your attitude in this post?--ed.]
No!! Really!! It has nothing to do with that! Now if you'll excuse me, I need to lock myself into a dark room and watch Reality Bites on an endless loop for the next 24 hours.
Erik Gartzke, an associate professor of political science at UCSD and a man who's Google Scholar citation count makes me feel very, very small, sent me the following thoughts on political science and policy relevance. I reprint them, below, without edits or comment:
by Erik Gartzke
Dan Drezner's penchant for zombies may have yet another application. In the policy relevance debate, political scientists are like Renfield, Dracula's sidekick (or possibly like Thomas the Tank engine if children are present). We really want to be "useful." I know of no other discipline that is so angst-ridden about mattering, even those that don't matter in any concrete, "real world" sense. Obviously, what makes us different from poets, particle physicists, or Professors of Pediatric Oncology is that we study politics and occasionally imagine that this gives us some special salience to that subject. Policy makers, too, want us to be "relevant," though I think what they have in mind differs in important respects.
There are three ways that political science can be relevant to politics. On both sides of the debate, attention seems focused on only one of these roles. Interestingly, each side has chosen a different role to emphasize. First, academics could have expertise that is valuable in connecting policies to outcomes. We have lots of examples of this. Economists invented theories like adverse taxation and tools like GDP to help policy makers more effectively manage the economy. Unfortunately, there are very few insights or tools from political science, and those we do have are either very narrowly relevant (i.e. techniques for gerrymandering congressional districts to achieve affirmative action objectives), or very imprecise (i.e. nuclear balancing). Academic political scientists consciously _want_ this role, but the complaint from policy makers is that they do it poorly, providing policy guidance that is not expert enough, or overly nuanced and complex. This would seem to imply that political science should remain in the ivory tower, developing better tools. Instead, however, the argument appears to be that political science should give up these tools and practice a form of political consultation more comprehensible by the policy community. One then has to ask why, and what this will achieve. Is it the case, as many argue, that non-expert political scientists will be more useful? Why?
Interestingly, one of the critical exceptions to the general trend, and examples where political scientists have prospered in Washington as experts, involves pollsters. Survey methodology got its start in political science and has penetrated deeply into the political process, precisely because pollsters can provide valuable information to politicians and policy makers about cause and effect. Pollsters are now even regulars as pundits, asked to shill for policies and politicians on the basis of their expertise.
The second thing that academics can provide is thus credibility. We can "speak truth to power" or perhaps just generally speak the truth, at least as we see it. This could be valuable if policy makers themselves have become zombies, enslaved to a process that prevents them from stating things, even when obvious, that are unpopular or controversial. We see this happening in processes such as the Base Closure Commission, where outsiders helped to smooth a transition that was politically difficult. This kind of relevance is difficult, however, as politics is not really about the truth. Paul Pillar, one of the protagonists the debate ("In your face, political science!") found this out, much to his regret. One of the least zombie-like people in the national security bureaucracy, Paul was the perfect foil as author of the national intelligence estimate that legitimated the Bush policy of invading Iraq. In his, and his boss's moment to speak truth, they propagated a politically-expiedent myth. This kind of policy relevance really _is_ valuable to policy makers, especially since credibility is such a scarce commodity inside the beltway, and so valued elsewhere. The problem, of course, from an academic perspective is that selling credibility has nothing directly to do with expertise and everything to do with what, for lack of a better phrase, was once called "moral turpitude." The value in academics in holding forth in Washington may have as much to do on occasion with their _lack_ of contact with policy making, as with their putative expertise, at least in terms of credibility.
A corollary to this is the role of academistic consultants, some with faculty positions, others with beltway connections, that provide "research" that feeds the beast of the Washington policy machine. This can be financially rewarding, but the desire for funding leads to varying degrees of compromise, a zombification by extension.
The third contribution that academics can make to the policy community is one that all seem to agree upon, but which makes the least direct demand on political science as a substantive discipline. The intellectual discipline of first getting a PhD and then practicing as an academic gives one an ordered, logical mind, which can then be applied to tasks in the policy community, as well as to more purely intellectual pursuits. There is nothing wrong with this, but then again, there is nothing particularly unique about how political science does this that prevents scholars in other disciplines from applying themselves to policy making as well. Indeed, this is what we observe. Sociologists, economists, engineers and physicists (even the occasional poet) enter public service.
What makes political science different from most other fields is that we have failed to resolve our conflict with our subject matter. Poets report the human condition. They do not expect to alter it, at least not permanently. Physicians can make you better, so they do intervene, but their detachment is credible in the sense that they do not want to become illnesses. No physicist I know of hankers to _be_ her subject matter, though of course we are all of us made of matter. Political science alone wants to be different but engaged.
Imagine suggesting to a congressional committee that Congress should abandon the forecasting models of the OMB as esoteric and speculative. Try to suggest to someone like Paul Pillar that he should hanker after the "good old days" of pre-GDP census taking and data collection. Economics became policy relevant in the first sense because it developed tools that could help policy makers better connect their actions with outcomes. These are not perfect, as recent events illustrate, but they work better than the old way of doing things (i.e. whatever we did last time, or holding one's thumb up to the wind). The problem is that political science does not yet have "killer apps" like GDP. Optimists would say we are still working on these things. Pessimists would say that they will never come. I will not weigh in on that debate because in some sense it does not matter.
The real point, however, is that the debate does not matter. Either way, the search for policy relevance, as it is pursued by many in the policy community, makes no sense.
If you believe the optimists, then the correct role of political science is to get back in the kitchen (metaphorically) and cook up some good insights and tools so that we can eventually fulfill role number one. If you are instead pessimistic and despair of political science ever achieving much headway in terms of expertise, then you should still prefer us in our academic enclaves, only occasionally venturing down from the mountain, since this is what gives us our credibility as unbiased agents. The largely pessimistic perception of policy practitioners implies that they should treat political scientists like poets, or perhaps adherents of atonal music. Someone gets it, but thank God it is hidden in academic cloisters! This is perhaps what policy makers often do, as suggested by Paul Pillar's example of the debate between academics over perestroika witnessed by James Baker.
Another possibility is that those in the policy community wish academic political scientists were more like them for reason number three. This, however, does not make much sense. There can be no harm in making some political scientists esoteric if after all not everyone can move in policy circles. The training of academic political scientists still provides disciplined minds. Nor does it appear to be the case that there is a shortage of policy-eager political scientists to staff government bureaus and policy-focused beltway agencies and advocacy groups. In this light, academic political science may be accused of leading the youth astray, but no more than poetry or physics departments.
So what is it that makes many in the policy community so uncomfortable with academic political science, and for that measure why are political scientists so anxious about being labeled as not policy relevant? The best I can come up with again involves those zombies. Zombies eat the living. They move slowly, clumsily, if inexorably. People who run away can escape the zombies. So, the problem for zombies is that they cannot really catch unwilling prey. Academic political scientists, for their part, are strangely attracted to these undead creatures. They run, but not vigorously. Having your brains eaten is bad, but still, it is nice to be valued for something in which you have considerable pride....
Academic political scientists keep looking back to see if they can make eye contact with one of those zombies, maybe share a good anecdote, provide some advice, secure funding for the next research project...
There is the hint of the symbiotic relationship between predator and prey, political scientist and policy community. Each needs something from the other, even as both communities see the other as distant, alien. Policy practitioner-political scientists who disdainfully remark that they cannot even read the American Political Science Review would never see the need to make such a comment about a journal like Solid State Physics, or the Journal of Philosophy. Academic political scientists, for their part, should stop pretending that their main value to the policy community at present is in their expertise and fess up, if appropriate, to providing credibility or intellectual discipline (directly or through our students).
Becoming comfortable with this duality as a community also means embracing the differences that follow from that duality. Some of us should be in the ivory tower, just like physicists, chemical engineers, and art historians. In order for political science to fulfill the objective of expertise, it must --- like other fields of expertise --- become "expert", and unfortunately that really means becoming largely incomprehensible to all but those deeply enmeshed in the field or a particular subfield, at least for the purposes of "inhouse" debates. Others will work best in applying, interpreting, or otherwise interacting with the "real world" -- though if this characterization of non-academia were true, we would not need anyone studying (i.e. how does one know the real world and still hanker after insights that would connect his-or-her actions with the (unknown) implications of policy?). In any case, those of us on the academic side should stop teasing the zombies, just as the zombies should stop pretending that every academic brain is a ready meal. "Policy relevance" is a complex set of social phenomena that both attract and repel political scientists on both sides of the policy divide. Let some of us be more like our poet, mathematician or linguist brethren and become one with our academic-nerd nature. Others can prefer to engage Washington more directly, but they will make themselves, and their sponsors happier if they are candid about the fact that those within the beltway want your brains (or your soul), not your incites.
My last post on the role of political science and political scientists in dealing with Egypt generated some interesting responses via the blogosphere, e-mail, comments, etc. Let's deal with all of 'em.
First, Apoorva Shah responds with the following:
I’m not blaming what happened in Egypt on political scientists, as the title of his blog post implies. Rather, I’m saying that the methods with which the political scientists in our academy study the world are so rigid that policy makers imbued in such scholasticism did not appropriately react and make immediate policy decisions when our foreign policy was on the line. Simply put, our administration equivocated. I think they were too confused by all the “variables” involved in Egypt: the protesters themselves, Israel, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hosni Mubarak, etc. In other words, their mental multiple variable regressions failed to produce statistical significance, so they sent mixed messages instead....
None of this is to say that we should shut ourselves off from structured thinking about politics and international affairs. In fact, it should be quite the opposite. Our political scientists shouldn’t be hiding themselves behind theoretical models. They should be studying more history, getting on the ground, doing qualitative research. But look at the syllabus of any graduate level “qualitative methods” class, and I guarantee you it will be just as mind-numbing as their quantitative methods courses.
Perhaps a few months or years from now political science will help us clarify what happened in Egypt over this past week, and it may even look back and dictate what should have been the correct U.S. response. But none of the academic work to date helped policy makers make the right decision when it mattered this week. And that’s the crux of this story. In crunch time, the political scientists failed to get the policy right.
On Shah's first point -- that "policy makers imbued in such scholasticism did not appropriately react" -- well, to get all political science-y, I don't know what the hell he's talking about. What evidence, if any, is there to suggest that Obama administration policymakers were paralyzed by rigid adherence to political science paradigms? Looking at the policy principals, what's striking about the Obama administration is that most of the key actors don't have much academic background per se. Tom Donilon is a politico, for example. Hillary Clinton is a politico's politico. I could go on, but you get the idea.
One thing all social scientists want to see is evidence to support an assertion. So, I'm calling out Shah to back up his point: what evidence is there that the U.S. government was slow to react because of adherence to "scholasticism"? Simply responding "but the response was slow!" doesn't cut it, either. There are lots of possible causal explanations for a slow policy response -- bureaucratic inertia, conflicting policy priorities, interest group capture, poor intelligence gathering, etc. Why is "scholasticism" to blame?
Shah's last two paragraphs are also confusing. Encouraging "structured thinking" requires an acceptance that theories are a key guide to understanding a ridiculously complex world. Area knowledge and deep historical backgrounds are useful too -- oh, and so are statistical techniques. The judgment to assess when to apply which area of knowledge, however, is extremely hard to teach and extremely hard to learn. And, just to repeat a point from that last post, some political scientists got Egypt right. Whether policymakers were listening is another question entirely.
A deeper question is why Shah's view of political science is so widespread. A fellow political scientist e-mailed the following on this point:
I think there is a deeper problem here. We political scientists/political economists may be aware of all of this, but I sense that it is too easy for outside observers to come to the conclusions Shah's post illustrates. Quick perusal of journal articles and conference papers, some textbooks, and a great deal of current graduate (and some undergraduate) education in the field can easily lead a rational and intelligent observer to conclude that political scientists are indeed only concerned with plugging cases into models, caring mostly about the model and little about actual political dynamics. (Have you seen conference presentations in which grad students lay out their dissertation models? Often sounds more like Shah's description than yours.) Practitioners may share your understanding of the role of theory, but they often don't do a good job of making this clear to non-specialist readers...and I think to themselves. I'm not sure what to do about this, but I suspect that Shah's kind of reading of the discipline is just too easy to come to and can seem quite reasonable.
Hmmm.... no, I'm not completely buying this explanation, for a few reasons. First, as I noted in the past, there are good and valid reasons why academic political science seems so inpenetrable to outsiders. Second, if this was really the reason that the foreign policy community disdains political scuence, then the economic policy community would have started ignoring economics beginning around, oh, 1932. Economic journals and presentations are far more impenetrable, and yet I rarely hear mainstream policymakers or think-tankers bash economists for this fact [Umm..... should they bash economists for this?--ed. I'll leave that to the economists to
construct clashing formal models debate].
Why is this? This gets to the third reason -- the fundamental difference between economic policy and foreign policy is that the former community accepts the idea that economic methodologies and theory-building enterprises have value, and are worth using as a guide to policymaking. This doesn't mean economists agree on everything, but it does mean they are all speaking a common language and accept the notion of external validity checks on their arguments.
That consensus simply does not exist within the foreign policy community, and Shah simply provides another data point to back up that assertion. Many members of the foreign policy community explicitly reject the notion that social science methodologies and techniques can explain much in world politics. They therefore are predisposed to reject the kind of scholarship that political scientists of all stripes generate. This might be for well-founded reasons, it might be simple
innumeracy hostility to the academy, or it might be a combination of the two. I'd love to have a debate about whether that's a good or bad thing, but my point is that's the reality we face.
Am I missing anything?
Pundits are clearly scrambling to figure out what the hell is happening in Egypt, and what Egypt means for the rest of the world. And I'm beginning to notice that some of them are blaming international relations theory for being asleep at the wheel.
First, over at AEI's Enterprise blog, Apoorva Shah argues that these events suggest the poverty of modern political science:
Did anything in academia foresee the unrest in Egypt, and more importantly, can something explain how Western foreign policy can appropriately react to the events? Of all the “schools” of IR thought—liberal internationalism, realism, isolationism, etc.—did any theory make sense of this and guide us on what to do next?
My amateur opinion is no. Because of an academic world obsessed with increasingly complex empirical analysis where every revolution is a mere data point and every country a pawn in the great game, our political science departments and the scholars they have trained (many of whom serve in and advise our current administration) were caught flat-footed, searching for some logical, rational approach to a particularly unique and country-specific event. While digging for the right IR theory, they instead produced a mishmash of mixed messages and equivocation.
If I’m wrong, please correct me.
OK... you're wrong. Let me correct you.
First of all, let's clarify the division of labor in political science a bit. Crudely put, international relations focuses on the interactions between governments and other transnational and subnational actors. Comparative politics focuses on the domestic politics within countries.
To put this in the context of Egypt, it's the job of comparative politics scholars to explain/predict when we should see mass protests and when those protests might cause authoritarian regimes to buckle. It's the job of international relations scholars to predict what effects the regime change/authoritarian crackdown would have on both Egypt's foreign policy and the situation in the Middle East.
Calling out IR scholars for not predicting the uprising in Egypt is like calling out a cardiologist for not detecting a cancerous growth.
But here's the thing -- as Laura Rozen has observed, political scientists and those they've trained did call this one!! From her September 2010 story:
A bipartisan group of senators and foreign policy analysts is pushing the Obama administration to prepare for the looming end of Hosni Mubarak’s rule in Egypt by putting a new emphasis on Egyptian political reform and human rights....
“The bottom line is that we are moving into a period of guaranteed instability in Egypt,” said Robert Kagan, a foreign policy scholar with the Brookings Institution who co-founded the Egypt Working Group with Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “So the idea [that] we can keep puttering on as if nothing is going to change is a mistake. ... What we need now is to move to deliverables.”
The pressure from the academic and political community comes amid widespread expectation that the 82-year-old Mubarak — who reportedly is seriously ill — may soon cede power to his son, Gamal.
If that's not enough, consider that Joshua Tucker blogged about the spread of revolutions last week, before Egypt blew up. Even before that, my fellow political scientist and FP blogger Marc Lynch's January 5th blog post:
For years, both Arab and Western analysts and many political activists have warned of the urgent need for reform as such problems built and spread. Most of the Arab governments have learned to talk a good game about the need for such reform, while ruthlessly stripping democratic forms of any actual ability to challenge their grip on power....
Meanwhile, the energy and desperation across disenfranchised but wired youth populations will likely become increasingly potent. It's likely to manifest not in organized politics and elections, but in the kind of outburst of social protest we're seeing now in Tunisia.... and, alarmingly, in the kinds of outburst of social violence which we can see in Jordan and Egypt. Whether that energy is channeled into productive political engagement or into anomic violence would seem to be one of the crucial variables shaping the coming period in Arab politics. Right now, the trends aren't in the right direction.
Not surprisingly, the Obama administration met with many of these people this week.
Finally, a small point I made earlier this week regarding Mubarak's options:
Everyone assumes that the Egyptian leader is a dead man walking, and given his speech on Friday, I can understand that sentiment. There are, however, remaining options for Mubarak to pursue, ranging from a full-blown 1989 Tiananmen square crackdown to a slow-motion 2009 Tehran-style crackdown.
Obviously, these aren't remotely good options for anyone involved. The first rule in political science, however, is that leaders want to stay in power, and Mubarak has given no indication that he wants to leave. (emphasis added)
Alas, based on this morning's events, it appears that Mubarak has selected the Tehran 2009 option.
So I think Shah is pretty much wrong. That said, I agree that there are profound limits on what IR theory can do in a situation like Egypt. Ross Douthat sorta made this point earlier this week:
[Americans] take refuge in foreign policy systems: liberal internationalism or realpolitik, neoconservatism or noninterventionism. We have theories, and expect the facts to fall into line behind them. Support democracy, and stability will take care of itself. Don’t meddle, and nobody will meddle with you. International institutions will keep the peace. No, balance-of-power politics will do it.
But history makes fools of us all. We make deals with dictators, and reap the whirlwind of terrorism. We promote democracy, and watch Islamists gain power from Iraq to Palestine. We leap into humanitarian interventions, and get bloodied in Somalia. We stay out, and watch genocide engulf Rwanda. We intervene in Afghanistan and then depart, and watch the Taliban take over. We intervene in Afghanistan and stay, and end up trapped there, with no end in sight.
Sooner or later, the theories always fail. The world is too complicated for them, and too tragic.
Douthat is sorta correct -- but it's precisely because the world is so complex that we rely on theories. While they're often wrong, they're vastly superior to the alternatives.
Consider that, instead of explicit theories, a lot of commentators are simply asking whether 2011 Egypt parallels 1978/79 Iran. This is a great question to ask, but the only way to answer it is to rely on explicit or implict theories of how revolutions play out and how the international system reacts to them.
Of course the theories will fail from time to time. Unfortunately, this is not rocket science, because rocket science is way easier than the social sciences. There are too many variables, too many idiosyncratic elements to each case, too much endogeneity, and so forth. But simply saying "the world is tragic" is a pretty lousy substitute to organizing foreign policy.
New Year's is a time for resolutions, a time for pledging to shed the bad habits of the previous year. Goodness knows, the foreign policy community and public commentators who occasionally foray into international relations have accumulated a lot of bad habits over the past year. Here's a list of nine memes, tropes, rhetorical tics, and baseless arguments that I'd like to see less of in 2011:
1) [Fill in the blank] is an "existential threat". This term of art has been on the rise for decades, but it seemed omnipresent this past year. To be sure, lots of actors face a lot of threats out there in world politics. The bar has to be pretty high, however, for something to be an "existential threat." For my money, it means that the country or its modus operandi could be completely extinguished.
Using this criteria, there are no existential threats to the United States in the international system. In 2010, this term was increasingly used by Israelis with respect to Iran. So, let's stipulate that if Iran were ever to acquire/develop, say, a dozen nuclear weapons, then the country would represent an existential threat to Israel. Commentators who do this, however, would also need to stipulate that Israel, in possessing 60-85 warheads, has represented an existential threat to Iran for decades.
2) Iran or North Korea are "irrational" actors in world politics. Look, it's a lot of blog fun to point out the absurdities of the Kims or Ahmadinejad -- I get that. Claiming a country's leaders are "irrational" simply because they don't want the same things that you want doesn't make them irrational, however -- it just means that they have a different set of preferences. The question to ask is whether these governments are pursuing their desired ends in a strategic, utility-maximizing manner. Based on their behavior in 2010, I'd say the answer for both governments is yes. So quit saying either Pyongyang or Tehran might be crazy enough to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike for no reason. Both regimes have really strong self-preservation instincts, however -- the "crazy man launching the bomb" contingency ain't gonna happen.
Note that this doesn't make it any easier to bargain with these countries -- these might be zero-sum bargaining situations. Eliminating the "irrationality" dimension, however, might make public debates about what to do a little more grounded.
3) Wikileaks is just like a newspaper: No it isn't. There's a lot of loose talk about how Wikileaks is really just like Bob Woodward or the New York Times in what it's doing. And sure, Wikileaks' Israel Shamir bears more than a passing resemblance to the Times' Walter Duranty. To my knowledge, neither Woodward nor the Times has threatened to publish documents in its possession as a blackmail device, or warn people to get their money out of a financial institution before something damaging is released.
Wikileaks is an NGO with a quixotic leader who really doesn't like the U.S. government... which makes Wikileaks like a lot of other NGOs. I think a lot of invective directed against the organization has been misplaced, and I agree with Gideon Rachman that Wikileaks has actually does the U.S. a favor. That said, tt's not an ethical journalistic entity.
4) Barack Obama does not really believe in American exceptionalism. I've heard this from a lot of Republican wonks that should know better. The meme emerged from an answer that Obama gave at a news conference in April 2009. John Dickerson at Slate addressed this a few weeks ago:
In the complete answer of nearly 300 words... it's clear that Obama is saying something more complex."We have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional," he says. What makes this moment notable is not that the president nails it but that, in real time, without a carefully crafted set of talking points to guide him, he is trying to find the balance between singing the song of America and demonstrating before a foreign audience that he understands that America is not the only country in the world.
6) Networks will end hierarchy as we know it. Arguments like this one tend to underestimate the ability of hierarchical organizations to evolve over time. More importantly, networks can have plenty of hierarchy embedded within them.
7) Sarah Palin's views correspond to either American public opinion or the official policy of the U.S. government. Um... no. Palin has perfected the art of using a tweet or Facebook post to capture attention. She's also perfected the art of declining poll numbers and increasing unfavorability ratings.
Some commentators have blurred the distinction between Palin and the United States as a whole. Let's be clear -- Sarah Palin is a private citizen with absolutely no official authority. Using her as an example of how "America" or the "United States government" feels about an issue is disingenuous in the extreme. When the Wall Street Journal editorial page sides with Michelle Obama over Sarah Palin, I think it's safe to say that the former Alaska governor has jumped the shark.
8) Because some international relations uses numbers, it's useless to foreign policymakers. Click here and here -- really, there was a surprising amount of crap written about this topic this year, and it would be just peachy if it could stop.
9) 2011 will be all about zombies. Oh, wait... that one is true.
OK, there's a lot of smack talk in this post. So, in the interest of karma, readers are warily encouraged to suggest what my 2011 reslutions should be for the blog.
[You meant warmly, right?--ed. Uh.. sure.]
Shorter Logan: it's a big deal, and the insularity of policymakers is to blame.
Shorter Pillar: it's not that big a deal, and the eggheadedness of academics is to blame.
I have some sympathy to both sides of the argument here. Pillar is correct to point out the ways in which this gap has been exaggerated, and Logan is correct to point out that there's still a gulf to traverse between the two communities. Both posts are worth reading in full.
Then we get to Jacob Heilbrunn's intervention:
Should policymakers pay attention to academics? Should policy makers actually be academics? No and no. For the most part, policymakers should avoid them like the plague....
I would say that SAIS, the Fletcher School, and other such finishing schools for foreign affairs mavens have supplanted traditional political science departments, which became enamored of game and rational-choice theory. The only truly serious discipline in political science is political theory--Aristotle to Weber to Rawls. Is there much in international relations, by the way, that has not already been discussed by Thucydides--a dip into the Sicilian Expedition might have served George W. Bush well before he headed into Iraq (emphasis added).
Hah!! Fletcher wins!! In your face, traditional political science departments!! Heilbrunn has authoritatively--- no... wait, I can't do it. I can't gloat over a horses**t argument like this one, even if it advances my home institution.
I have to assume that the Committee on Social Thought has some of Heilbrunn's family hostage to produce that blog post. It's so rife with blanket assertions that I'll be warm all winter reading it.
First, as Pillar noted in his post, and speaking from my own experience, the training involved in getting a political science Ph.D. or other social science doctorate is actually pretty useful when stepping into the policymaking world. Even if the theoretical models and empirical results of political science might be contested, the mode of analytical thinking usually leads to some useful insights.
Second, I love Thucydides more than most IR scholars, and I teach him on a regular basis. Having read History of the Peloponnesian War every other year, however, yeah, there's actually a fair amount that's not in Thucydides that is part and parcel of modern-day international relations. There's very little on international political economy and/or economic interdependence in the text. The material on the democratic peace is interesting but radically incomplete. Last I checked neither Athens nor Sparta possessed nuclear weapons, which even realist lovers of Thucydides concede is a game-changer. I came up with those in less than five minutes, so I'm thinking that there's more if I bothered to ponder about it some more.
As for what's in Thucydides, there's so much fascinating content that no consensus exists about the key takeaway points. Ask five people who've read History of the Peloponnesian War about its central theme and you'll get ten answers.
Thucydides is a great text, and I want everyone to read it, but there's a lot more out there in the world. As for political theory being the only "discipline" in political science, I'll leave it to other political science bloggers to
open up a can of whup-ass and address Heilbrunn's argument.
Heilbrunn might be correct that institutions like Fletcher have more of an impact on policymaking than standard political science departments. Whether's that's as good of a thing as Heilbrunn thinks, however, is a seriously dubious proposition.
As the rest of the Foreign Policy gang hobnobs with the foreign
policy glitterati tonight, I'm
stuck in Boston mulling over the fact
that Tom Friedman managed to earn a Bullock.
What is a Bullock? You might recall that earlier this year Sandra Bullock managed to win both an Academy Award for Best Actress (for The Blind Side) and a Golden Raspberry for Worst Actress (for All About Steve) -- the first time that has ever happened. So a Bullock is when one manages to earn both a "best of" and "worst of" in the span of a single year.
Lo and behold, this week Friedman's name appears on both Foreign Policy's Top 100 Global Thinkers as well as Salon's Hack Thirty -- which is definitely the first time that's ever happened. What can we infer from Friedman earning the Bullock? I suppose this depends on who you ask and which mention you think is the more unjustified. Friedman is the certainly the most prominent international relations columnist working today. Your humble blogger has had his occasional issues with Friedman's columns. That said, even Friedman's harsher critics tend to acknowledge that he makes an interesting point every once in a while. And I've had to write enough 700 word columns in my life to know that it's a much harder task than most people realize.
In a perfect world, foreign affairs columnists would rotate in and out of the op-ed pages after 18 months or so. In the branding world in which we live, I can think of better options than Friedman, but man, I can think of a lot more aspirants who would be worse.
This goes back to my point about the opportunity cost of stupid ideas. Friedman is frequently wrong (as are we all), but he's usually wrong in a way that tends to requires serious engagement rather than a backhanded wrist-slap or easy put-down.
For comparison in terms of stupidity, consider Dan Shaughnessy's latest Boston Globe column in which he suggests that the Boston Red Sox sign Derek Jeter:
Suppose the Red Sox step up and shock the world? There is simply no downside to making Jeter a massive offer. In the worst-case scenario he calls your bluff and you get the Yankees captain.
I don't care if Jeter is way past his prime or if the Sox would have to wildly overpay a player of his diminished skills.
I say offer him the world. Forget about Jayson Werth. Blow Jeter away with dollars and years. At worst this would just mean the Sox would jack up the final price the Yankees must pay. It could be sort of like Mark Teixeira-in-reverse…
What's the harm in offering Jeter $20 million a year over three years? If you can pay J.D. Drew $14 million per year… if you can pay a Japanese team $50 million just for the right to speak with Daisuke Matsuzaka… if you can buy a futbol club for $476 million, why not spend $60 million to bust pinstripe chops for all the ages?
Jeter is closing in on 3,000 hits. Imagine if he gets his 3,000th hit as a Red Sox… at Fenway… against Mariano Rivera?
Since we are pretty certain Adrian Beltre is gone, the Red Sox have a big hole at third base. Jeter could play third. Or you could trade Marco Scutaro and put Jeter at short.
This certainly would make the Sox less boring.
This is bad even when grading on a Shaughnessy curve, which already sets the bar ridiculously low.
First, it's horribly written: in the span of three paragraphs, Shaughnessy manages to give two very different worst-case scenarios. Which is it, exactly?
Second, it's horribly argued. If Jeter is not going to move off of shortstop for the Yankees, why would he do it for the Red Sox? Smart baseball people will tell you that Jeter's recent numbers don't justify anyone paying him $20 million a year -- and no one but the Yankees should even pay him $15 million. If I'm the Red Sox, I would make a play for closer Mariano Rivera -- but why sign an aging shortstop when the Red Sox already have one decent veteran (Marco Scutaro) and two pretty promising younger shortstops (Jed Lowrie and Jose Iglesias)?
Shaughnessy thinks the merit of this option is to force the Yankees payroll up. OK, except that a few paragraphs down, he implies that the Red Sox budget is essentially unlimited. There's no world in which a) the sky is blue; and b) the Yankees have a more constrained budget than the Red Sox. Either there are opportunity costs in paying Jeter a lot of money (in which case the cost for the Sox is greater) or both franchises are so rich that money doesn't matter (in which case there's no point to starting a bidding war in the first place).
I've just wasted untold minutes and several neurons of brainpower to explain why Shaughnessy's column might be the stupidest sports column I've read this year. It's not even stupid in an interesting way -- it's just a brainless rant. Arguing when and why Tom Friedman is wrong doesn't feel like the same waste of time to me.
In other words, he deserves his Bullock.
Question to readers: if not Tom Friedman, who would you want to read on world politics on the New York Times op-ed page?
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.