Anne-Marie Slaughter has responded to my musings about her new foreign policy frontier with a potent combination of vigor and logic, topped off with just a dollop of guile. I am happy to see that we share some vital zones of agreement -- namely, continued hegemony for the Boston Red Sox.
About lesser issues like the contours of world politics, we have some respectful disagreements. This is a fun debate, to have, so let's dive right in!
To summarize the gist of Slaughter's latest post: she argues that realists think of the world through a states-only, security-first, billiard-ball approach:
[T]he whole point of realism, as every first year IR student knows, is that structural realism (the school that holds as its bible Kenneth Waltz's Man, the State, and War) says that international relations analysts can treat the world as if it were composed only of states pursuing their power-based interests.
In constrast, Slaughter advocates a "modern/liberal-social" because such an approach will:
[factor in] all the important social actors, from tribes to democracy activists, focus on the relationship between those social actors and their governments, then assess interests relative to other governments that are themselves enmeshed in domestic and transnational social networks.
Slaughter asserts that the second perspective is the superior approach despite its greater complexity, because it permits a greater focus on the "social and developmental issues" that Slaughter believes will the the primary drivers of world politics over the next decade. As evidence for her more enlightened perspective, Slaughter compares her Twitter stream with my Twitter stream and concludes:
Going through these tweets actually offered an even more succinct contrast between how Dan and I think about foreign policy. Dan asked last week, addressed to all "IR tweeps": "Is there a better international relations song than Tears for Fears 'Everybody Wants to Rule the World?'" He got some great responses, but for me, his choice says it all about how, his protests notwithstanding, he sees the world. (Many a truth is spoken in jest.) By contrast (and again, with much less humor!), I tweeted a link on Monday to a in the Financial Times by the Israeli novelist Etgar Keret on the J14 protests and quoted the following passage: "In our current reality, the political cannot be separated from the social." The new foreign policy frontier is deeply social, as messy and unsatisfactory as that may be.
Slaughter's historiography of realism is a touch problematic, but also a bit of a distraction, so I'll leave it to others to address that question. Instead, let's start with the Twitter evidence.
Slaughter is clearly a huge fan of microblogging (despite its negative externalities) and its social networking capabilities. As an earlier adopter of these technologies, I'm a fan too. I do think there's a danger of reading too much into this kind of data, however. If I really didn't care about the kind of social and economic issues that Slaughter embraces... well, I wouldn't be following her. Like any curious IR scholar, however, I do follow her. Just because I don't tweet/re-tweet about these things all that much doesn't mean I don't read/blog/write about them in other venues. Slaughter assumes that I manage my Twitter feed the same way she does, as a natural extension of her research interests. Trust me when I say that I value Twitter somewhat differently.
This might be a trivial issue, but it gets at a point I hinted at in my last post: there's a difference between what's visible and what's significant in world politics. Twitter is highly visible, for example, but I think it's significance might be exaggerated -- or, rather, online networks merely replicate offline power structures. The threat of coercion is often invisible -- but it's effects can be quite significant.
Slaughter's more substantive point is her contrast between old-school realpolitik and new-school modern social-liberal foreign policy approach. On this distincton, let me start by observing that another important modern strategy in world politics is the notion of issue-framing. If they're good, policy entrepreneurs will be able to take their issue and frame it in a manner most favorable to their preferred policy solution. When their policy problem is pushed to the front of the queue, they are therefore likely to win the argument.
I bring this up by noting that I don't accept Slaughter's framing of our dispute. She posits that only by adopting her international relations worldview is it possible to recognize the social and developmental issues that are bubbling under the surface in world politics. Because realists primarily care about guns, bomb, and interstate security, they ostensibly will miss these problems.
Now, I know a lot of realists, and I can kinda sorta understand how Slaughter arrived at this caricatured version of realism. Nevertheless, Slaughter conflates subject matter with how one models the dynamics of the subject matter. In his last memoir, even über-classical-realist Henry Kissinger acknowledged the importance of human rights issues in modern diplomacy and staecraft. I certainly agree that the economic, social and developmental issues that are near and dear to Slaughter's heart are matters of import for world politics -- indeed, this is a theme I've written and
rambled spoken about for quite some time. I suspect most realist IPE scholars believe these issues are important... or they wouldn't be studying IPE in the first place.
Just because I agree with the importance of these issue areas, however, does not mean that I agree with Slaughter's implicit model of how these issues get addressed. Anne-Marie places great faith in the ability of transnational, networked, non-state actors to bend the policy agenda to their preferred sets of solutions. I think that these groups can try to voice their demands for particular policy problems to be addressed. I think, at the national level, that social movements can force even recalcitrant politicians to alter their policy agenda (see: Party, Tea). Where Slaughter's optimism runs into my skepticism is the ability of these movements to a) go transnational; and b) supply rather than demand global solutions. I'm skeptical about the viability of transnational interests to effectively pressure multiple governments to adopt a common policy solution, and I'm super-skeptical that these groups can supply broad-based solutions independently of national governments.
There's a "two-step" approach to world politics with which Slaughter is intimately familiar: it posits that interest groups and social movements can influence national policy preferences, but that outcomes in world politics are driven by the distribution of power and preferences among national governments. In her embrace of a new foreign policy frontier, Slaughter embraces the first step and mostly rejects the second.
That second step is really important, however, as most social movements are keenly aware. Indeed, most of the protests that Slaughter keeps identifying on Twitter are not about solving problems on their own, but demanding that governments address or ameliorate their needs.
Slaughter can and will point to Very Important Initiatives like the Gates Foundation or the Summit Against Violent Extremism as examples of supplying such solutions. These can matter at particular points in particular places, but I'll need to see some powerful evidence before I think that these transnational groups are as potent as, say, nationalism as political force in the world. All of the social movements and all of the online networks can agitate for policy solutions, but they're not going to be able to alter fierce distributional conflicts that exist when trying to address many of the topline issues in world politics show no signs of abating. The kind of non-state actors that Slaughter embraces have not been shy in engaging issues like climate change, Israel/Palestine or macroeconomic imbalances -- but I haven't seen any appreciable change in global public policies as a result.
Now, it's possible that Slaughter will eventually be proven right. That's the cool thing about studying international relations, we keep adding new data with every passing day. So, here's my challenge to Anne-Marie -- name three significant issue areas in which these kinds of networked actors will significantly alter the status quo (and I look forward to Slaughter falsifying me to within an inch of my life.). Because I can think of far too many issues -- including those listed above -- on which their impact will be negligible.
One final point: I agree with Slaughter that the issues she cares about are important, and attention must be paid to them. That said, the realist in me is not quite ready to claim that the old security-focused approach to foreign policy is truly outdated. Yes, traditional wars are much rarer than they used to be. That said, we're just one unsteady power transition away in North Korea, China or Pakistan for traditional concerns about militarized great power combat to return to the main stage of foreign policy practitioners. I really hope Anne-Marie is correct about these new issues being the important ones -- because that means the horrors of great power war continue to stay a distant memory.
This past week Anne-Marie Slaughter launched a new foreign policy blog over at The Atlantic entitled "Notes from the Foreign Policy Frontier." This was greeted with general huzzahs across the foreign policy community, as Slaughter is a universally-acknowledged smart person. She is an exemplar of someone who can effortlessly transition from the scholarly to the policymaking world and back again. Her facility with new media is so good that her own bio undercounts her Twitter followers by 50%.
Slaughter's first post suggests the themes of her new blog -- let's take a look and see what she's up to, shall we? Here are the opening paragraphs:
The frontier of foreign policy in the 21st century is social, developmental, digital, and global. Along this frontier, different groups of actors in society -- corporations, foundations, NGOs, universities, think tanks, churches, civic groups, political activists, Facebook groups, and others -- are mobilizing to address issues that begin as domestic social problems but that have now gone global. It is the world of the Land Mines Treaty and the International Criminal Court; global criminal and terrorist networks; vast flows of remittances that dwarf development assistance; micro-finance and serial entrepreneurship; the Gates Foundation; the Arab spring; climate change; global pandemics; Twitter; mobile technology to monitor elections, fight corruption, and improve maternal health; a new global women's movement; and the demography of a vast youth bulge in the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Asia.
Traditional foreign policy continues to assume the world of World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the first and second Gulf Wars -- an international system in which a limited number of states pursue their largely power-based interests in bargaining situations that are often zero-sum and in which the line between international and domestic politics is still discernible and defensible. Diplomats and statesmen compete with each other in games of global chess, which, during crises, often shift into high-stakes poker. It is the world of high strategy, the world that Henry Kissinger writes about and longs for and that so-called "realist" commentators continually invoke.
Well, this is... this is... I'm sorry, I got lost among the ridiculously tall strawmen populating these paragraphs. I'll go out on a limb and posit that not even Henry Kissinger thinks of the world the way Slaughter describes it. Just a quick glance at, say, Hillary Clinton's recent speech in Hong Kong suggests that actual great power foreign policies bear no resemblance whatsoever to that description of "traditional foreign policy."
Slaughter knows this very well, given that she was Clinton's first director of policy planning. She also knows this because much of her writing in international relations is about the ways in which traditional governments are becoming more networked and adaptive to emergent foreign policy concerns. One could quibble about whether this is really a new trend, but Slaughter was correct to point out that states are doing this.
So, let's get to the main point of her blog post: what does Slaughter think about this new frontier?
21st century diplomacy must not only be government to government, but also government to society and society to society, in a process facilitated and legitimated by government. That much broader concept opens the door to a do-it-yourself foreign policy, in which individuals and groups can invent and execute an idea -- for good or ill -- that can affect their own and other countries in ways that once only governments could.
In late June, I spent two days at the Summit Against Violent Extremism (#AVE on Twitter), a conference sponsored by Google Ideas, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Tribeca Film Festival that brought together more than 80 former gang members, violent religious extremists, violent nationalist extremists, and violent white supremacists from 19 countries across six continents. They came together with 120 academics, NGOs, public sector and private sector partners. The conference grew out of a vision developed by Jared Cohen, the head of Google Ideas, when he served in the U.S. State Department's Office of Policy Planning together with Farah Pandit, who worked on countering violent extremism in the State Department's Bureau of Eurasian Affairs and is the Special Representative to Muslim Communities. But, despite their role, bringing together this range of "formers" is something that Google Ideas and the Council on Foreign Relations can do much more easily than any government could. The range of projects creating networks to help build on effective, early intervention programs already working around the world, such as Singapore's programs to deflect and deprogram Islamic radicals, will also be much easier to develop with a broader range of stakeholders, including some government participation, than they would be through government alone....
Skeptics argue that these kinds of initiatives are doomed to remain perennially peripheral and ineffectual. But, in case anyone hasn't noticed, the traditional tools of fighting, talking, pressuring, and persuading government-to-government really aren't working so well. Thirty years of urging reform produced next to nothing; 6 months of digitally and physically organized social protests and a political earthquake is shaking the broader Middle East. Twenty years of working toward a treaty to govern carbon emissions has barely yielded an informal "accord." Yet measures taken by 40 cities organized by the Bloomberg Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative will have far more impact.
Outing myself as a skeptic, I'd make two points. First, Slaughter's weakness as an international relations theorist is to uncritically observe phenomena like the Summit Against Violent Extremism and then inductively generalize from them to extrapolate the future of world politics. AVE is happening, but I'm gonna want to see a lot more evidence that it's making a difference before calling it a success. There are a lot of issue areas where this kind of initiative will not substantially alter policy outcomes. Indeed, one could flip this around, look at new trends like sovereign wealth funds, national oil companies and and state-owned enterprises, and reach the exact opposite conclusions from Slaughter. I don't, but you see my point -- world politics is about a lot more than a Muslim woman setting up a Twitter account thanks to her microfinance loan.
Second, Slaughter's climate change example is a great one. I don't doubt that the initiatives she's blogged about likely have accomplished more than the two decades of UN negotiations. I also don't doubt, however, that those accomplishments are a drop in the bucket compared to what has needs to be done. Furthermore, I suspect these groups would strongly prefer joint government action to their own initiatives, as the only viable means to mitigate the effects of increased greenhouse gas emissions. In which case, they will function like good old fashioned interest groups, which is not all that new.
Slaughter believes that these "bottom-up" movements represent the future of world politics -- and she may well be right. My own inclination is that DIY foreign policy represents a poor and underprovided substitute for effective state action global governance. We'll see what the future holds.
Concluding her post, Slaughter says that she'll be, "looking at the world through a very different lens -- highlighting features of the foreign policy landscape that simply disappear if we examine only a world of opaque unitary states negotiating, pressuring, fighting, and ignoring each other." This is good, and highlights the value-added that such an approach can bring to thinking about world politics. I'll be looking at Slaughter's musings as well through my own lens -- one that is very wary of overhyped initiatives that do not accomplish nearly as much as suggested by their media hype.
Am I missing anything?
As someone who wrote about celebrity activism a few years ago, I'm always intrigued to see new takes on the issue. In the Washington Post, a curmudgeonly William Easterly argues that today's celebrity activists -- like Bono -- ain't like the celebrity dissidents of a prior generation -- like John Lennon:
Is there a celebrity activist today who matches Lennon's impact and appeal? The closest counterpart to Lennon now is U2's Bono, another transcendent musical talent championing another cause: the battle against global poverty. But there is a fundamental difference between Lennon's activism and Bono's, and it underscores the sad evolution of celebrity activism in recent years.
Lennon was a rebel. Bono is not.
Lennon's protests against the war in Vietnam so threatened the U.S. government that he was hounded by the FBI, police and immigration authorities. He was a moral crusader who challenged leaders whom he thought were doing wrong. Bono, by contrast, has become a sort of celebrity policy expert, supporting specific technical solutions to global poverty. He does not challenge power but rather embraces it; he is more likely to appear in photo ops with international political leaders - or to travel through Africa with a Treasury secretary - than he is to call them out in a meaningful way.
There is something inherently noble about the celebrity dissident, but there is something slightly ridiculous about the celebrity wonk.
Where the essay gets a little strange is where Easterly defines what he means in his dissident vs. wonk divide:
Bono is not the only well-intentioned celebrity wonk of our age - the impulse is ubiquitous. Angelina Jolie, for instance, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (seriously) in addition to serving as a U.N. goodwill ambassador. Ben Affleck has become an expert on the war in Congo. George Clooney has Sudan covered, while Leonardo DiCaprio hobnobs with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders at a summit to protect tigers; both actors have written opinion essays on those subjects in these pages, further solidifying their expert bona fides.
But why should we pay attention to Bono's or Jolie's expertise on Africa, any more than we would ask them for guidance on the proper monetary policy for the Federal Reserve?
True dissidents - celebrity or not - play a vital role in democracy. But the celebrity desire to gain political power and social approval breeds intellectual conformity, precisely the opposite of what we need to achieve real changes. Politicians, intellectuals and the public can fall prey to groupthink (We must invade Vietnam to keep the dominoes from falling!) and need dissidents to shake them out of it.
True dissidents claim no expertise; they offer no 10-point plans to fix a problem. They are most effective when they simply assert that the status quo is morally wrong. Of course, they need to be noticed to have an impact, hence the historical role of dissidents such as Lennon who can use their celebrity to be heard.
Now, on the one hand, I can kinda sorta see what Easterly is saying. Sometimes it takes the innocent to say that the emperor has no clothes, and goodness knows celebrities can play that role if they so choose.
That said, Easterly is also being a bit innocent himself. As I argued a few years ago, celebrities have strong personal incentives to embrace causes that are seen as having broad appeal. It's worth remembering that Lennon only starting acting dissident-y after he was more popular than Jesus. The celebrities that have made their anti-war views loudly known -- like, say, Sean Penn -- haven't exactly shifted the debate all that much.
This could be because today's celebrities simply can't project the same kind of star power that the Beatles could. Today's global popular culture is more fragmented, and so individual celebrities might have smaller
groupies fan bases than in the past.
More generally, however, Easterly seems to be arguing that the more celebrities know about the cause that they are embracing, the less effective they will be. Again, in today's information ecosystem, I'm not sure that's right. As I wrote before:
In the current media environment, a symbiotic relationship between celebrities and cause célèbres has developed. Celebrities have a comparative advantage over policy wonks because they have access to a wider array of media outlets, which translates into a wider audience of citizens. Superstars can go on The Today Show or The Late Show to plug their latest movie and their latest global cause. Because of their celebrity cachet, even hard-news programs will cover them-stories about celebrities can goose Nielsen ratings. With a few exceptions, like Barack Obama or John McCain, most politicians cannot make the reverse leap to soft-news outlets. Non-celebrity policy activists are virtually guaranteed to be shut out of these programs.
The growth of soft news gives celebrity activists enormous leverage. The famous and the fabulous are the bread and butter of entertainment programs. Covering celebrity do-gooders provides content that balances out, say, tabloid coverage of Nicole Richie's personal and legal troubles. ESPN can cover both Michael Vick's travails and Dikembe Mutombo's efforts to improve health care in sub-Saharan Africa. MTV will cover Amy Winehouse's on-stage meltdowns, but they will also follow Angelina Jolie in her trips to Africa. They covered Live Earth for both the music and the message....
Indeed, celebrities actually have an advantage over other policy activists and experts because hard-news outlets have an incentive to cover them too. Celebrities mean greater attention, and hard-news outlets are not above stunts designed to attract readers or ratings. Consider this question: If The Washington Post is deciding between running an op-ed by Angelina Jolie and an op-ed by a lesser-known expert on Sudan, which author do you think they are most likely to choose?
On the other hand, it is very easy, in today's world, to mock the uninformed dissident who simply says "war is bad." Indeed, given the causes that celebrities have latched onto -- like Darfur -- the dissident response might well be to call for greater American intervention as the means to end the status quo in the region. Ironically, only as celebrities have acquired more information about Sudan have they realized the huge risks of that policy.
Having read and reviewed Easterly, I suspect he's making these arguments because he knows a great deal about aid (which makes him a wonk in that area) and not so much about war (which makes him more of a dissident) and he'd like celebrities to be following his lead. More generally, and revealing my own biases, I'm skeptical that the dissident will be more effective than the insider. Or, to posit the counterfactual, even if Bono, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and George Clooney had railed against the Iraq war from day one, I don't think it would have made a damn bit of difference.
Of course, if Salma Hayek had gotten involved, then all bets are off.
I'm willing for the commenters to persuade me otherwise. Particularly Salma Hayek.
With the latest WikiLeaks dump, Julian Assange clearly thinks he's blown the doors off of American hypocrisy:
The cables show the extent of US spying on its allies and the UN; turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuse in "client states"; backroom deals with supposedly neutral countries; lobbying for US corporations; and the measures US diplomats take to advance those who have access to them.
This document release reveals the contradictions between the US's public persona and what it says behind closed doors -- and shows that if citizens in a democracy want their governments to reflect their wishes, they should ask to see what's going on behind the scenes.
Every American schoolchild is taught that George Washington "the country's first President" could not tell a lie. If the administrations of his successors lived up to the same principle, today's document flood would be a mere embarrassment. Instead, the US Government has been warning governments -- even the most corrupt -- around the world about the coming leaks and is bracing itself for the exposures.
Um... a few things:
1) I don't know about other Americans, but I was taught that the "not telling a lie" story was apocryphal.
2) You know, polite people tell their friends and neighbors about embarrassments that could affect them as well as Big Lies.
3) There are no Big Lies. Indeed, Blake Hounshell's original tweet holds: "the U.S. is remarkably consistent in what it says publicly and privately." Assange -- and his source for all of this, Bradley Manning -- seem to think that these documents will expose American perfidy. Based on the initial round of reactions, they're in for a world of disappointment. Oh, sure, there are small lies and lies of omission -- Bob Gates probably didn't mention to Dmitri Medvedev or Vladimir Putin that "Russian democracy has disappeared." Still, I'm not entirely sure how either world politics or American interests would be improved if Gates had been that blunt in Moscow.
If this kind of official hypocrisy is really the good stuff, then there is no really good stuff. U.S. officials don't always perfectly advocate for human rights? Not even the most naive human rights activist would believe otherwise. American diplomats are advancing U.S. commercial interests? American officials have been doing that since the beginning of the Republic. American diplomats help out their friends? Yeah, that's called being human. I'm willing to be convinced otherwise, but it strikes me that these leaks show other governments engaged in far more hypocritical behavior.
In the first season of Mad Men, there's a great scene when ad
man Don Draper encounters some beatniks. After one of them rips into Don
for The Man and his square ways, he responds as follows:
I hate to break it to you, but there is no Big Lie.
There is no System.
The universe is indifferent.
That's pretty much my reaction to the utopian absurdities of the WikiLeaks manifesto.
It is worth thinking through the long-term implications of this data dump, however. Rob Farley observes:
I'm also pretty skeptical that this release will incline the United States government to make more information publicly available in the future. Bureaucracies don't seem to react to attacks in that manner; I suspect that the State Department will rather act to radically reduce access to such material in order to prevent future leaks.
Asked why such sensitive material was posted on a network accessible to thousands of government employees, the state department spokesman told the Guardian: "The 9/11 attacks and their aftermath revealed gaps in intra-governmental information sharing. Since the attacks of 9/11, the US government has taken significant steps to facilitate information sharing. These efforts were focused on giving diplomatic, military, law enforcement and intelligence specialists quicker and easier access to more data to more effectively do their jobs."
Well, I think it's safe to say that compartmentalization will be back in vogue real soon -- which means, in the long run, both less transparency and less effective policy coordination. It's not the job of WikiLeaks to care about the second problem, but they should care about the first.
Am I missing anything?
young blogging whippersnapper rising young blogger Kindred Winecoff beat me to a blog post I intended to write last night. Winecoff takes note of the dwindling number of protestors showing up for the IMF spring meetings. This has been a trend for a couple of years now -- far fewer protestors at IMF/World Bank meetings, G8/G20 summits, and WTO Ministerials.
Why are protests dwindling? This is particularly puzzling because the protestors might have an intellectual leg to stand on; the 2008 global financial crisis suggested at least a prima facie case against financial globalization. Winecoff posits some possible explanations:
I can think of a few possibilities. First, the protests were loudest in the 1990s because of NAFTA (1994), the establishment of the WTO to supplant the GATT (1995), the fairly brutal "Big Bang" liberalization of the post-Soviet economies throughout the 1990s, the harsh austerity measures that came with IMF aid following the East Asian financial crises (1997-8), and the accession of China to the WTO (2001). It was a pretty active decade for neoliberals, which means it was a fairly active decade for anti-capitalists and anti-globalizationists despite the collapse of the Soviet system a few years prior.
Since 2001? Not much has happened on the globalization front. Doha is stuck in limbo, even modest FTAs with small countries have been slow in progressing through Congress, and the IMF had basically nothing to do for nearly a decade. Now that the IMF has been pressed into action again it's largely taken a more accommodating line toward recipient states, and it's pretty difficult to argue that Greece, e.g., is a victim of Western economic imperialists. The globalization of the Naughties was a kindler, gentler, calmer globalization compared to the Brave New World Is Flat globalization of the 1990s.
But I think that's only part of it. I think a better explanation is that people in general, and college students in particular, only have attention for one cause at a time, and environmentalism has definitely become the sexy issue over the past 8-10 years. When I hear people complain about China's trade practices these days, the arguments are less about the use of sweatshop labor and more about environmental degradation. To me it seems that the one has simply supplanted the other as the most pressing issue for the socially conscious.
Hmmm.... no, I don't think Winecoff is correct. Even if it's true that the kids today care more about environmental degradation than labor abuses, this shouldn't stop them from protesting at economic summits. Indeed, from the mid-nineties onwards, protests against labor and emvironmental abuses have gone together like racism/sexism/homophobia accusations.
Also, I would dispute the empirics of Winecoff's assertion. The protests didn't die out with the change in the decade -- they were pretty robust at G-8 summits in the first part of the naughties, as well as the 2003 Cancun WTO Ministerial and the 2005 Hong Kong Ministerial. This is a more recent phenomenon.
I'd proffer three possible explanations. The first, which I don't really buy, is that the protestors have wised up and realized that these meetings are not the cause of the ills that they bemoan and bewail.
The second possibility, which I'm very unsure about, is that public opinion has shifted. Anti-globalization activists usually demand greater state intervention in the economy, and that's an increasingly unappetizing idea for people living in the advanced industrialized economies.
The final possibility is an idea I floated in a book review many moons ago:
During boom times, antiglobalizers score political points by stoking fears of cultural debasement and environmental degradation. During leaner years, naked self-interest becomes the salient concern: in the current economic climate, American opponents of globalization talk less about its effect on the developing world and more about the offshore outsourcing of jobs.
Let's call this the Business Cycle Theory of Economic Protestors. I don't know if it's true either.
Readers are encouraged to offer their own hypotheses in the comments -- or, better yet, point to some sloid research on the question.
Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images
[T]he "global community" didn't honor the American President; five Norwegians did.
Glenn Greenwald, "Accusing Obama critics of 'standing with the terrorists,'" October 10, 2009
It's not clear to me (the committee) speaks for the world. It speaks for five Norwegians.
William Kristol, Fox News Sunday, October 11, 2009.
I'm not sure what scares me more: Kristol and Greenwald agreeing with each other... or me agreeing with both of them at the same time.
If you're wondering why it took me a few hours before choosing to blog about Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Price award.... well, it took me that long to stop laughing.
Honestly, I'm not laughing at Obama. I'm laughing at the morons on the Norwegian Nobel Committee who made this decision to cheapen an already devalued prize.
Seriously, let's imagine the deliberations that led to this decision:
CHAIR: Guys? Guys!! It's 2 AM and we've got an award to give later today! What are we gonna do? We can't use Jimmy Carter again -- he was our emergency winner the last time we were stumped! If we don't do this right, we'll have less credibility than the Grammys!!
MEMBER A (clearly drunk): Hey, why not Neil Patrick Harris? For bringing peace to.... umm..... Hollywood awards shows?!MEMBER B: Remember when Time's Man of the Year was... you? Why can't we do something like that? You know, say that the Peace Prize goes to all peace-loving people.
CHAIR: No f%$&ing way. What do you want me to do, hold up a mirror to the cameras when I say who won? And you know how many idiots would ask for their take of the prize money?
MEMBER A: Seriously, Neil Patrick Harris is awesome. Any of you checked out Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog?
MEMBER B: Hey, how about that Iranian guy who won the election but got screwed by the mullahs? He seemed pretty peaceful.
CHAIR: Sorry, no dice. We used up our Iranian quota this decade with Shirin Ebadi.
MEMBER B: That Zimbabwean guy?
CHAIR: If you can't remember his name, then he's not getting the award.
MEMBER C: Did you read how the Oscars will have, like, 10 nominees for Best Picture this year? Why not give this to all 20 members of the G-20?
CHAIR: Doesn't the G-20 actually have more than 20 members? Can anyone name them all?
MEMBER A: And How I Met Your Mother is definitely underrated as a sitcom. NPH owns that show.
MEMBER C: Hugh Jackman was People's Sexiest Man Alive this year. Why not double up on him, like we did with Al Gore?
MEMBER A: Get serious, man. Wolverine sucked!!
MEMBER B: Hey, here's a crazy thought... why not Barack Obama?
General laughter and merriment.
CHAIR: How exactly are we going to justify the award? Jesus, even Jimmy Carter had done some actual peacemaking when we gave it to him. What are we going to say? "Barack Obama has succeeded brilliantly in not acting like George W. Bush in His First Term?"
MEMBER B: C'mon... the guy just lost the Olympics bid even after flying all the way to Copenhagen.
MEMBER A: Hey, how about Taylor Swift? We could guarantee Kanye wasn't in the audience.
MEMBER B: Look, maybe it will give Obama a boost. With the massive prestige that the Nobel Peace Prize now carries in the United States because of our brilliant recent selections, maybe this will help get health care reform passed. This award would so put conservatives on the defensive!
[General nodding around the table.]
MEMBER A: Fine, no one else likes Neil Patrick Harris at this table, I get that. What about Roman Polanski? That would make a statement.
CHAIR (looks at watch): Fine, whatever, we're way past deadline. (Points at MEMBER B). Write up the explanation. (Points at MEMBER A). Contact Neil Patrick Harris and put him on "standby" in case Obama can't make it for the acceptance speech.
MEMBER B (scribbling furiously): Hmmm....how's this? "Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama's initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened."
CHAIR: Hmmm.... no actual achievements other than Not Being George W. Bush in His First Term, but it sure sounds good! OK, we're adjourned
MEMBER C (looking through nomination letters): I can't believe that professor from Tufts nominated Salma Hayek again. Doesn't he know that this is a serious award?!
In semi-seriousness -- Bono got robbed, man.
UPDATE: I do think Obama's response was to the hubbub was pretty good. Again, I'm really not laughing at him -- I'm laughing at the Nobel Committee's decision-making. At this point in time, there were a lot of other, more deserving candidates.
Giving the award to Obama is kind of like giving that junior professor the Teacher of the Year award -- it dooms their chances for tenure.
Earlier this week Facebook VP of Global Communications, Marketing, and Public Policy Elliott Schrage gave an interview to cfr.org that's worth reading. As you would expect, Schrage was pretty upbeat about the use of social networking technologies as a means for political action:
So, do I see Facebook as being an incredibly valuable tool for public diplomacy? Absolutely.
Some of the most interesting uses of Facebook have been for the purpose of social action, which is essentially political action, whether it's an extraordinary rallying of support by the Colombian community around the world to protest the terrorist activities of FARC-the Colombian militants-or whether it's students protesting bank fees and bank charges in Great Britain, or whether it's the Obama presidential campaign generating almost six million supporters on Facebook as a means of communicating his policies, his positions, and his campaign activities....
Frankly speaking, some of our greater successes are in countries where the means of distributing information have not been easy or without friction. So, for example, in Colombia we have remarkable market penetration. In Indonesia we have among our fastest-growing market share. Chile, I believe we have close to 50 percent of the online population now on Facebook. In Europe we're doing extremely well. And in the Middle East we've achieved very interesting degrees of penetration, and in fact just recently announced that we are launching right-to-left languages in addition to left-to-right languages.
There's an obvious PR element to Schrage's spiel, but then again, let's wander over to the Financial Times' Najmeh Bozorgmehr on how Facebook is being used in Iran's presidential elections:
As they struggle to compete against an Iranian president who enjoys the support of a powerful state apparatus, leading candidates in June’s election are resorting to Facebook to spread their messages....
“We are using new technologies because they have the capacity to be multiplied by people themselves who can forward Bluetooth, e-mails and text messages and invite more supporters on Facebook,” said Behzad Mortazavi, who is in charge of Mr Moussavi’s campaign committee.
He said the wireless technology of Bluetooth would be used “extensively” to send out speeches and photo slideshows. The supporters of Mr Moussavi have opened about 20 Facebook pages calling on others to vote for him and have attracted about 7,500 members so far.
Although Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s opponents on Facebook are not yet campaigning against his re-election, their posts may help strengthen the anti-incumbent mood among the elite.
A page called “I bet I can find 1,000,000 people who dislike Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad” has so far attracted more than 35,000 members, the highest number in all pages related to the president.
Yeah, the thing about that Facebook page is:
Question to readers: is the power of social networking real or exaggerated in "countries where the means of distributing information have not been easy or without friction"?
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.