So Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro -- professors of international law at Yale University -- have an op-ed in today's New York Times in which they say... pretty much what you'd expect professors of international law to say about the prospect of an attack on Syria outside of U.N. auspices:
If the United States begins an attack without Security Council authorization, it will flout the most fundamental international rule of all — the prohibition on the use of military force, for anything but self-defense, in the absence of Security Council approval. This rule may be even more important to the world’s security — and America’s — than the ban on the use of chemical weapons....
Some argue that international law provides for a “responsibility to protect” that allows states to intervene during humanitarian disasters, without Security Council authorization. They point to NATO's 1999 intervention in Kosovo. But in 2009 the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, rejected this view, finding that “the responsibility to protect does not alter, indeed it reinforces, the legal obligations of Member States to refrain from the use of force except in conformity with the Charter,” a position he affirmed on Tuesday. (The Independent International Commission on Kosovo found that the intervention was “illegal but legitimate.”)
Well... yes, but the New York Times write-up of Ban Ki-moon's statement contained a bit more ambiguity:
Asked if Mr. Obama’s proposal would be illegal under the United Nations Charter, Mr. Ban answered, “I have taken note of President Obama’s statement, and I appreciate efforts to have his future course of action based on the broad opinions of the American people, particularly Congress, and I hope this process will have good results.”
He did not specify what he meant by “good results.”
Mr. Ban also reiterated, “We should avoid further militarization of the conflict, revitalize the search for a political settlement.”
This is likely part and parcel of Ban being diplomatic towards a P-5 member who is contemplating action outside U.N. auspices, but it's not exactly a stern warning either.
Back to Hathaway and Shapiro. It's the part after this that I think suffers from a bit of, shall we say, monocausality:
Consider the world that preceded the United Nations. The basic rule of that system, one that lasted for centuries, was that states had just cause to go to war when legal rights had been violated. Spain tried to justify its conquest of the Americas by saying it was protecting indigenous civilians from atrocities committed by other indigenous peoples. The War of the Austrian Succession was fought over whether a woman had a right to inherit the throne. The United States largely justified the Mexican-American War, including the conquest of California and much of what is now the Southwest, by pointing to Mexico’s failure to pay old tort claims and outstanding debts.
The problem with the old system was not that no one could enforce the law, but that too many who wished to do so could. The result was almost constant war.
In the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 and in the United Nations Charter of 1945, the world rejected this system. States were forbidden to enforce the law on their own and had to work through a system of collective security.
For all its obvious failings, the United Nations system has made for a more peaceful world than the one that preceded it. No leader may claim the right to collect debts or gain thrones by going to war. States may fracture into smaller pieces, but they don’t get conquered. Gunboat diplomacy is also out of the question.
OK, first of all, points to Hathaway and Shapiro: this might be the first positive mention of the Kellogg-Briand pact in an op-ed that I've ever read. I don't mean that in a snarky way, either -- I've honestly never seen that treaty talked about favorably.
More importantly, however, methinks Hathaway and Shapiro might be confusing correlation with causation here. It is certainly true that the United Nations has played an important role in making for a more peaceful world. So, however, has nuclear weapons and U.S. military hegemony -- and I say this as a skeptic of the latter's virtues. More provocatively, I'm not sure I buy Hathaway and Shapiro's assertion that the norms they praise are a function of international law or the United Nations Charter. Neither of these elements blocked the U.S. or U.S.S.R. from intervening willy-nilly during the Cold War.
I get what Hathaway and Shapiro are trying to do here, but if this intervention were to work, the outcome would likely be the same as Kosovo -- an "illegal but legitimate" verdict from history that would have minimal long-term implications. If the intervention is fated to fail, however... then it's a lose-lose proposition: international law has been weakened with no positive result.
What do you think?
UPDATE: Erik Voeten blogs along the same lines, but much more thoroughly and persuasively than I did here.
As the United States starts signaling that hostile action will likely be taken towards the Syrian government, I've seen a few laments today that not enough attention is being paid to that fact. Indeed, some commentators have lamented that more people are paying attention to twerking than Syria. There's Meghan McCain*, for one:
Anyone "shocked" by Miley Cyrus at the VMA's might want a little perspective and read about what's happening to child refugees in Syria...— Meghan McCain (@MeghanMcCain) August 26, 2013
Then there's Politico's Dylan Byers, who created this chart:
Now, as a longtime foreign policy watcher, I have to say that Byers' figures actually cheered me up. For at least a 48-hour window, more people were tweeting about Syria than tweeting about twerking. Given the genuine lack of interest most Americans have in the outside world, that's pretty encouraging!!
Throw in an Onion story that, alas, is too close to the truth to be good satire, and you have a trend.
I'm intrigued by this notion that attention to popular culture somehow "crowds out" attention that the public would devote to the minutiae of international relations. Or, to be more accurate, I'm bemused by this notion because it's utter horses**t. Unless tastemakers want to put a total clampdown on popular culture, ordinary Americans will simply reallocate their attention towards other pop culture ephemera. If Miley Cyrus hadn't done... er... what she did last night at the MTV Video Music Awards, that effort would be devoted to critiquing Ben Affleck's casting as the new Batman or some other story.
Now, that said, perhaps a better way to think about it is in terms of front-page space. It's a scarce resource on a screen or a paper, and any story on it pushes another story somewhere else. So perhaps one way that to rank the significance of an international crisis is to consider what kind of popular culture story would be sufficient to bounce that story from the front page. Because not all international stories are alike.
Let's start with anything about global economic governance. Already, front-page editors are getting glassy-eyed. They're desperate for any kind of pop culture effluvia to knock that story onto the business page/part of the website. So it wouldn't take much to knock this off the front page: hell, a negative recap of Low Winter Sun would probably do it.
The next level up on the interest scale would be a small-scale war between two non-great powers. While significant, such a conflict wouldn't involve the United States, thereby relegating it to second-tier status in U.S. news coverage. SyFy announcing a Sharknado sequel would displace that story.
A mass revolution can be pretty big news, so it would take some pop culture mojo to knock it off the top of the website. A provocative Jennifer Aniston cover shoot would do the trick.
Action from the U.N. Security Council would be pretty big news, as they tend to stalemate a lot. For that to miss the front page, we'd need to see something on the scale of a more-dramatic-than-usual Taylor Swift breakup to bounce it off the front page.
A high-profile non-state action -- a terrorist attack or multinational bank in trouble or a WikiLeaks revelation that roils the surveillance state -- is certainly big news. For Americans, however, something like the season finale of Mad Men or something like would bump it off the front page.
A non-U.S. great power military attack would be big news -- but in the United States, non-U.S. actions always rate a bit lower. Still, it is war. It would take the series finale of The Sopranos or Breaking Bad to attract more attention.
Clear and convincing threats of U.S. military action are a big deal... but they're only threats, after all. A successful summer blockbuster that was also a good movie -- like The Empire Strikes Back or The Dark Knight -- would probably garner more interest.
Finally, U.S. military action is de facto Big News in this country. For that to get knocked off the front page, it would take a monumental popular culture story. The only thing I can come up with is if... Kate Middleton announced that from now on she wanted to be known as Karl Middleton.
Readers are encouraged to fill in the missing gaps in this Pop Culture Richter Scale.
*Yes, I'm stretching the definition juuuuust a wee bit.
Your humble blogger is vacationing the hell out of this week, so as a result his gimlet eye for international relations is likely a bit dulled. That's a fancy way of saying that this post might be more wrong than my typical post, so I'm looking forward to pushback more than usual.
Still, reviewing the latest Edward Snowden news, what's striking is the manner in which states that have recently exulted in jabbing the United States have changed their tune when it comes to granting Snowden asylum. When Vladimir Putin asks Snowden to cut-it-out-with-the-damaging-anti-American-leaks-already, you know something's askew. This Reuters story sums up the situation nicely:
Snowden has prepared asylum requests in countries including India, China, Brazil, Ireland, Austria, Bolivia, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Spain, Switzerland and Venezuela, WikiLeaks has said.
But several countries, including Snowden's favored Ecuador, said on Tuesday they could not consider an asylum request from Snowden unless he was on their territory.
Norway said he was unlikely to get asylum there, and Poland said it would not give a "positive recommendation" to any request. Finland, Spain, Ireland and Austria said he had to be in their countries to make a request, while India said "we see no reason" to accept his petition.
France said it had not received a request.
Officials in Russia, which has made clear it wants Snowden to leave, say an embassy car would be considered foreign territory if a country picked him up - possibly a message to leaders of oil-producing countries in Moscow for talks this week.
Snowden's options have narrowed sharply.
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa was quoted in Britain's Guardian newspaper on Monday as saying he could not consider the asylum request and that giving Snowden a temporary travel pass to fly to Moscow was "a mistake on our part".
So, what's going on? Could it be that countries as variegated as Russia, China, and Ecuador are suddenly fearful of the coercive power of U.S. hegemony in a way that they weren't last week?
I'd suggest an alternative hypothesis. The one thing that all of these actors have in common with the USA is that they are... states. And if there's one thing that states of all regime types and ideologies have in common, it's that they don't like it when new types of entities try to f**k with their franchise.
States will war with one another, spy on one another, foment revolution across borders, and what-not. They are pretty reluctant, however to empower actors that can then use that power to try and erode the principal of the state as the ne plus ultra of governing authority. This is why countries like Iran and Russia cooperated with the United States during crucial periods of the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and the ensuing war on terror. When states see a threat to the Westphalian order that's been around for a few centuries, they will act in concert to repel it.
So long as Snowden was embarrassing the United States and the United States alone, U.S. rivals saw no problem with egging him on. As Snowden aligns himself more closely to Wikileaks, however, more and more countries will look askance at what he represents. Of course, this creates a vicious feedback loop. As Snowden finds his allies shrinking in number, he will naturally cling to his remaining supporters even more closely (and spurn his former friends). And the more that Snowden seems like an extension of the Wikileaks brand, the more states that will refuse to aid him.
Am I missing anything?
So last week there was some interesting data clean-up in the foreign policy blogosphere, and some less interesting commentary on it. Let's dive in!
Max Fisher posted an item at the Washington Post relying on World Values Survey (WVS) data to generate a global map of racism. He found a Foreign Policy write-up of a Kyklos paper that two Swedish economists published that relied on WVS data. Fisher's map was based on a response to one question:
The survey asked respondents in more than 80 different countries to identify kinds of people they would not want as neighbors. Some respondents, picking from a list, chose “people of a different race.” The more frequently that people in a given country say they don’t want neighbors from other races, the economists reasoned, the less racially tolerant you could call that society.
Fisher constructed a global map based on the responses to that query, a map that contained some striking findings. Western countries seemed to be far more tolerant (or far savvier at answering this survey question). Countries such as Pakistan seeming to be way more tolerant than India and Bangladesh, for example.
Fisher's post generated a lot of attention (full disclosure: I tweeted about it) -- so much so that some social scientists started to look at the WVS data and found some serious issues with it. The Fletcher School's Ashirul Amin, for example, dug into the data found that the reason for the seemingly low tolerance of Bangladeshis was a data entry error on the World Values Survey site -- the number of "tolerant" and "intolerant" respondents were reversed for one particular year.
Other social scientists, including Steve Saideman, also weighed in with methodological criticisms.
Going further, Siddhartha Mitter pointed out ways in which different nationalities view "race" as a different kind of social construct, thereby making inter-country comparisons a problematic exercise.
The biggest problem, of course, is that “race” is impossible to operationalize in a cross-national comparison. Whereas a homosexual, or an Evangelical Christian, or a heavy drinker, or a person with a criminal record, means more or less the same thing country to country, a person being of “another race” depends on constructs that vary widely, in both nature and level of perceived importance, country to country, and indeed, person to person. In other words, out of all of the many traits of difference for which the WVS surveyed respondents’ tolerance, the Swedish economists – and Fisher, in their wake – managed to select for comparison the single most useless one.
The reason I'm blogging about this, however, is where Mitter went after lodging these criticisms. According to him, the fault lies not with the data entry, but with the foreign policy blogger:
The problem here isn’t the “finding” that the Anglo-Saxon West is more tolerant. The problem is the pseudo-analysis. The specialty of foreign-affairs blogging is explaining to a supposedly uninformed public the complexities of the outside world. Because blogging isn’t reporting, nor is it subject to much editing (let alone peer review), posts like Fisher’s are particularly vulnerable to their author’s blind spots and risk endogenizing, instead of detecting and flushing out, the bullshit in their source material. What is presented as education is very likely to turn out, in reality, obfuscation.
This is an endemic problem across the massive middlebrow “Ideas” industry that has overwhelmed the Internet, taking over from more expensive activities like research and reporting. In that respect, Fisher’s work is a symptom, not a cause. But in his position as a much-read commentator at the Washington Post, claiming to decipher world events through authoritative-looking tools like maps and explainers (his vacuous Central African Republic explainer was a classic of non-information verging on false information, but that’s a discussion for another time), he contributes more than his weight to the making of the conventional wisdom. As such, it would be welcome and useful if he held himself to a high standard of analysis – or at least, social-science basics. Failing that, he’s just another charlatan peddling gee-whiz insights to a readership that’s not as dumb as he thinks.
Cards on the tale: earlier in the post, Mitter indicates he doesn't think much of Foreign Policy bloggers either, so I'm pretty sure he won't think much of my own musings here. And I understand Mitter's anger about a misleading map coming from an outlet that generates a lot of eyeballs. That said, his critique is off-base for two reasons.
First, in this instance, the primary fault lies not with foreign policy bloggers, but with academics. It's not like Fisher commissioned a bogus survey and then wrote up the findings in a misleading manner. Rather, he relied on a survey that goes back three decades and has been cited pretty widely in the academic literature. He got to that survey via an academic article that got through the peer-review process. Almost all journalists not in possession of a Ph.D., going through that route, would have taken the data as gospel. It's not clear to me why Mitter thinks a full-blown foreign correspondent would be better versed in the "social science basics." Would Mitter have expected, say, Ryan Avent or Matthew Yglesias to have ferreted out Reinhart and Rogoff's Excel error, for example? I'm all for better education in the ways of statistics and social science methodology in the foreign affairs community, but methinks Mitter is setting the bar extraordinarily high here.
Second, the blog ecosystem "worked" in this particular case. Fisher posted something, a bunch of social scientists looked at the post and found something problematic, and lo and behold, errors in the data were discovered and publicized. As I've opined before, one of the signal purposes of blogging is to critique those higher up in the intellectual food chain. I understand that Mitter would prefer that the original error never take place. By its very nature, however, the peer review process for blogging takes place after publication -- not before. That's a bit messier than the academic route to publication -- and, because Fisher has a larger megaphone, one could posit that with great traffic comes great responsibility. Still, I suspect that anyone who titles a post "The Cartography of Bullshit" probably wouldn't want too heavy of an editorial hand to be placed on their prose.
At the heart of Mitter's lament is his untested hypothesis that foreign affairs blogging has caused the decline in research and international reporting. This strikes me as more correlation than causation, however. Furthermore, it implies that they are substitutes when in fact they are complements. The source material for a lot of foreign affairs blogging is academic research and in-depth international reportage. If Mitter wants to see a better informed public, then there needs to be as much focus on the quality of the primary source material as in the quality of the transmission mechanism.
Am I missing anything?
UPDATE: Mitter has responded in part here, and at more length in a constructive comment to this post. Both are well worth reading, and put some more context into his original post. He's getting to some interesting tensions about the nature of expertise and "publicity" in a changing media landscape that are worth mulling over before responding.
A little more than two years ago I wrote a blog post entitled "The End of Power?" After riffing on the subject for a spell, I closed with:
So... we live in a world in which more actors have vetoes over systemic change but no actor has the ability to truly compel change. This leads to lots of talk about "G-zero worlds" and so forth.
Just to be provocative, however, I wonder if what's truly changed is the extinction of compellence power as we know it. The primary, ne plus ultra tools of compellence require a willingness to kill, jail, or starve a lot of people. Recent flare-ups like Iran in 2009 and Egypt right now suggest that such actions are possible at the domestic level but pretty damn costly; even authoritarian countries flinch at using brute force on a domestic population. Cross-border efforts are even more expensive in terms of both material and reputational costs.
This isn't the end of power, but it might be the end of one particular dimension of power. I'm not entirely convinced that this supposition is true and am willing/eager to hear counterarguments. That said, I still hereby claim The End of Power as my title, so everyone else just back off, OK?
Well, so much for my claim. Former FP head honcho Moisés Naim has a new book out called... The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being In Charge Isn't What It Used to Be. His argument:
Power is shifting -- from large, stable armies to loose bands of insurgents, from corporate leviathans to nimble start-ups, and from presidential palaces to public squares. But power is also changing, becoming harder to use and easier to lose. As a result, argues award-winning columnist and former Foreign Policy editor Moisés Naím, all leaders have less power than their predecessors, and the potential for upheaval is unprecedented. In The End of Power, Naím illuminates the struggle between once-dominant megaplayers and the new micropowers challenging them in every field of human endeavor. The antiestablishment drive of micropowers can topple tyrants, dislodge monopolies, and open remarkable new opportunities, but it can also lead to chaos and paralysis. Drawing on provocative, original research and a lifetime of experience in global affairs, Naím explains how the end of power is reconfiguring our world.
The originality of the argument -- along with the subtitle -- saves Moisés from some serious legal retribution!! Well, that and he asked me to moderate a panel on the topic with him and Fareed Zakaria at the Council on Foreign Relations. Here's the video. Enjoy!
In last week's debate over whether policy wonks should get Ph.D.s, there was a hidden assumption baked into the discussion -- that all doctorates are created equal. But anyone who spends any time around the academy knows this isn't so. A Ph.D. from, say, Harvard, is going to find a lot more open doors than a Ph.D. from, say, the University of Massachusetts. Why that's the case is the subject of some debate (and research in sociology). One argument is merit-based: the Harvard Ph.D.s are simply better than the UMass ones. Another argument is that it's prestige-based: all else equal, the Harvard student gets a leg up in the job market because of the Harvard credential and the Harvard network.
How powerful, and how pernicious, is this prestige effect? This week, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, and The Monkey Cage all ran stories about an essay by Robert Oprisko in the Georgetown Public Policy Review entitled "Superpowers: The New Academic Elite." Drawing from his book, Oprisko posits "a system whereby individuals navigate society based upon processes of honor that determine their value." To my theory-addled ears this sound a bit like Pierre Bourdieu, but that's neither here nor there. Then Oprisko drops the empirics:
We compiled a database of the tenure-track and tenured faculty in all ranked research universities to determine which of those universities successfully placed candidates at peer institutions. We found strongly suggestive evidence that hiring based upon institutional excellence is ubiquitous.
We used the 2009 U.S. News and World Report rankings for political science graduate programs as a proxy variable to determine an applicant’s academic class, or affiliated honor, in order to determine if it significantly influenced hiring processes officially predicated upon individual talent (referred to as prestige). The aggregation of this data includes 116 institutions and 3,135 faculty members who are either tenure-track or tenured. We hypothesized that affiliated honor would directly correlate to employment success. We also hypothesized that a cascade effect would emerge where institutions would place within and immediately below their prestige level such that a prestige-based hierarchy would present itself. The results dramatically show that we were both very right on the first hypothesis and very wrong on the second. There is a group of highly prestigious universities that dominate the political science academic market, effectively shutting out all competition at multiple levels. The fact that these academic superpowers are so dominant and place candidates ubiquitously indicates that institutional prestige drives hiring practices in academia and, perhaps, other highly selective professions....
[Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Michigan] contribute 616 political scientists; roughly twenty percent of the total tenure-track lines in the discipline at research-intensive programs. The median institutional ranking for the 116 institutions covered is eleven, which implies that eleven schools contribute 50 percent of the political science academics to research-intensive universities in the United States. Over 100 political science PhD programs are graduating students that will contest the remaining 50 percent of openings.
These numbers likely understate the impact of prestigious universities; the present study does not include the many liberal arts colleges and regional universities that also hire graduates of these programs and increase the network of advocates for graduates from highly ranked universities (emphasis added).
Please do read the whole thing, as well as the Chronicle story by Audrey Williams June, which has numerous additional quotes from Oprisko, including: "The bottom of the barrel at Princeton is still the bottom of the barrel."
Now, this is clearly the precis of a larger paper that will have all the numbers. And, clearly, there is some motivated self-interest going on in the analysis: Oprisko has a 2011 Ph.D. from Purdue University, which U.S. News and World Report ranked as the 62nd best Ph.D. program (though they do better in the NRC rankings). In the spirit of full disclosure, I got my Ph.D. from Stanford, so I'm naturally going to be resistant to the idea that it's only honor and not merit that's determining these hiring patterns.
That said, as they continue to crunch the numbers on the larger paper, I hope Oprisko et al address the following arguments that might cut against the prestige argument:
1) Cohort effects. This study takes a static snapshot of all current hires. The problem is that this likely exaggerates the power of the top-tier institutions due to lagged effects. Elite Ph.D. programs have likely been around for a longer time -- and, in the past, a lot of these programs also had much larger incoming classes of Ph.D. students. This would suggest that these institutions should capture a disproportionate number of positions at the senior level. So Oprisko et al need to show whether this problem is more or less acute among junior hires.
2) Parse out the merit vs. honor arguments. Remember, there are two different arguments at work here, but they both make the same prediction: Ph.D.s from higher-ranked institutions should do better on the job market. There needs to be clear evidence that the "honor" argument is the primary driver.
I'll confess to being somewhat skeptical. As Gabriel Rossman points out, there are pretty solid reasons to think that Oprisko's finding are consistent with a meritocratic sort. Furthermore, based on my own experiences, I'd push back strongly on the "bottom of the barrel" observation. I've taught at a top ten political science department and a not-that-close-to-top ten political science department in my career. I will gladly concede that the bottom of the barrel at the top tier institution were much bigger pains in the neck. They were, nevertheless, also much better trained and more analytically sharp than the bottom of the barrel at the other institution.
3) The selection bias likely works in reverse. Oprisky speculates that the elite effect is likely understated, because they don't examine "liberal arts colleges and regional universities." The selective liberal arts schools aside, I'd wager that the reverse is true. Indeed, it's the very "elite" thing that would drive this effect. People who get their Ph.D.s from Harvard do not want to go teach at Eastern Washington University -- and even if they wanted to at first, they were socialized at Harvard to think of it as a bad outcome. This is particularly true if the geographical location of the hiring instiution is... let's say "not near a large body of water." Furthermore, a lot of these places won't take applicants from elite institutions seriously, because they assume that these are "safety school" applications, and that these Ph.D.s really want jobs at R1 research institutions. I would posit that Ph.D.s from lower-tier institutions are more likely to secure teaching positions at liberal arts schools and regional universities. One manageable way to test this would be to look at these school categories in two small, matched states -- say, Connecticut and Oklahoma -- and see what the numbers show.
4) This ain't that big a concentration ratio. I emailed Oprisko to ask which institutions were responsible for the largest share of the market, and he was generous enough to let me know. The top four were: Harvard with 239 placements; UC-Berkeley with 156 placements; Yale with 149 placements; and Michigan with 141 placements. Now, if the total size of this market is 3,135 positions, we get the following market share figures:
Let's acknowledge that these are all elite institutions. Still, this doesn't look like an oligopoly to me. Using standard oligopoly measures yields a four-firm concentration ratio of 21.9% -- which isn't indicative of an oligopoly. The Herfindahl-Hirschman Index is 126, which is not remotely close to an oligopoly in industrial organization. Similarly, in international relations, these kind of market power numbers suggest a world of extreme multipolarity rather than any kind of significant concentration. Maybe using economic or IR comparisons are inappropriate -- but I'd need to be persuaded why that's the case.
I think it's extremely useful for Oprisko to bring up these kinds of questions about the political science job market, but I'm going to need to see more to be convinced that this is a concentrated prestige market run amok.
What do you think?
Because Georgetown possesses so much less prestige than Fletcher, I somehow missed Dan Nexon's excellent take on this issue.
I've blogged on occasion about the development of a sovereigntist lobby that reflexively opposes all treaties because they erode U.S. sovereignty. For these people, any infringement on American sovereignty is a death blow to freedom, regardless of the benefits from joining. This kind of reflexive opposition has caused even stalwart groups on the right to cringe in embarrassment.
This hasn't slowed down the sovereigntists a bit, which led to a somewhat awkward day in the U.S. Senate:
Former Senator Bob Dole of Kansas sat slightly slumped in his wheelchair on the Senate floor on Tuesday, staring intently as Senator John Kerry gave his most impassioned speech all year, in defense of a United Nations treaty that would ban discrimination against people with disabilities.
Senators from both parties went to greet Mr. Dole, leaning in to hear his wispy reply, as he sat in support of the treaty, which would require that people with disabilities have the same general rights as those without disabilities. Several members took the unusual step of voting aye while seated at their desks, out of respect for Mr. Dole, 89, a Republican who was the majority leader.
Then, after Mr. Dole’s wife, Elizabeth, rolled him off the floor, Republicans quietly voted down the treaty that the ailing Mr. Dole, recently released from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, so longed to see passed.
A majority of Republicans who voted against the treaty, which was modeled on the Americans With Disabilities Act, said they feared that it would infringe on American sovereignty.
The Cable's Josh Rogin has more on today's vote.
Now to be fair to the Republicans who voted "nay," you don't approve a treaty just because Bob Dole favors it. And to be more than fair, it's true that the United States has comparatively robust legislation in the form of the ADA and IDEA.
On the other hand, the point of this convention is to ensure that other countries start embracing the rules and standards codified by the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act -- you'd think most Republicans would be super-keen on other countries embracing principles of U.S. law. Furthermore, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also supports the treaty, and I hear that Republicans are pro-business, so that is a bit confusing. I also read that "the treaty was negotiated by the George W. Bush administration," so, again, you can understand my confusion.
If you want to see the arguments against the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, click here, here, here, here, and here. As near as I can determine, critics don't like the treaty because... it's a treaty. Most of the objections are either bogus or unsubstantiated by practice. As Joshua Keating notes, "a perfectly reasonable treaty was just rejected based on a complete misreading of it."
The treaty’s critics, like the conservative Heritage Foundation, were left arguing that the treaty shouldn’t be ratified if the US already complied with its intent, since endorsing the treaty could lead to problems down the road by unspecified means. That dismayed the treaty’s advocates, who see the treaty’s value in the message it sends to other countries about the importance of protecting disabled people. “It’s a treaty to change the world to be more like America,” protested John Kerry, the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, before the failed vote.
Dana Milbank notes that sometimes the treaty's opponents contradicted their own arguments:
[O]pponents couldn’t agree on how this box would be opened. “Do I believe that states will pass laws or have to pass laws in conformity with the U.N. edict?” [Rick] Santorum asked himself. “Do we have to amend IDEA?” the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. “I don’t have any fear anytime soon that IDEA will be amended. But I do have concerns that people will go to courts and they will use this standard in this convention.”
This was contradicted by the next man at the microphone, home-schooling advocate Mike Farris, who pointed out that the document has a provision stating that “you can’t go to court automatically. You must have implementing legislation first” — the very thing Santorum says he does not expect to happen.
Still, their spurious theory of a U.N. takeover of parenting was enough to lead Lee and Santorum to oppose a treaty that would extend American values worldwide and guarantee disabled people equal treatment, and freedom from torture and exploitation.
Now I'm honestly pretty dubious about whether U.S. ratification of the treaty would accomplish all that. Unlike Law of the Sea, not ratifying this treaty doesn't appreciably harm U.S. interests. It does, however, make the United States look pretty dysfunctional. In essence, the U.S. Senate just rejected a treaty on protecting the disabled that would have globalized the status quo in U.S. law on this issue. To use the parlance of international relations scholars, this is dumber than a bag of hammers.
We might live in an era of globalization, but its is nevertheless true that travel abroad leads to some odd news gaps when one returns. Last year I took a transatlantic flight and while I was incommunicado, Hosni Mubarak stepped down as the President of Egypt. During yesterday's trip, David Petraeus resigned after... after.... well, insert your own pun involving Petraeus and Paula Broadwell here, but only if you think you can top the New York Post.
Still, I think the biggest shock I encountered upon my return was the new trailer for World War Z, starring Brad Pitt and based on the best zombie novel ever written (by Max Brooks).
I once asked Max -- yeah, I know him, I get to call him Max, just f***ing deal with it -- how he was handling the movie version of his book, and he told me that his strategy was to simply sign over the rights and then not pay an iota of attention to what happened. Once it became clear that the producers weren't interested in his input, he figured that it was the only way to stay sane.
After watching the trailer, I think his strategy is sound, because it looks like what they're doing to World War Z is a travesty:
Now, let me preface my reaction to this trailer with the following caveats:
1) All movies that are inspired by books will deviate from their source material. That doesn't make the films bad (see my review of Argo, for example).
2) This is a trailer, and very often trailers are designed to misdirect your perceptions of how the film will play out. So maybe the movie will play out differently.
3) Even this trailer has hints of the book I love -- there are suggestions of the sweeping global canvas that made the book so great.
All that said, this looks pretty bad.
First off, there's the fast CGI zombies. One of the great pleasures of World War Z the novel was the way in which the degree of threat slowly creeped up, just like the walkers that Brooks used for his zombies. Switching to the 28 Days Later style of ghouls changes the nature of the threat in ways that undercut one of the central pleasures of Brooks' novel. The trailer looks like a globalized version of 28 Days Later. Which would be OK if the zombies in the movie version of World War Z were as scary as that movie's Infected. Which they ain't. You know a movie's Big Bad is in trouble when the Dark Seekers from I Am Legend look positively life-like.
Second, the trailer and the casting make it seem pretty clear that the movie is about how former government badass Brad Pitt reluctantly decides to leave his family for a spell to save the world. Which is pretty much the total friggin' opposite of what happens in the book.
Again, one of the pleasures of World War Z was the almost-pointillist way that Brooks told dozens of small stories about what happened across the world -- and how the sum of myriad small actions paved the way to victory. Indeed, the closest thing to a strategic savior in the book is a despised Afrikaaner who modified a decades-old plan to preserve the apartheid government into a ruthless strategy to retrench and then defeat the undead hordes. Brad Pitt ain't that guy. So instead this looks like your standard reluctant-hero-saves-the-day narrative.
Finally, over 90% of the trailer looks at the U.S. Again, the best thing about the book was how it started with a global perspective and how it managed to keep a global perspective (as opposed to, say, Contagion).
In the course of writing Theories of International Politics and Zombies, my admiration for what Brooks pulled off in his book only grew with time. I hope I'm wrong about how the movie version of World War Z turns out. At this point, however, I have more optimism about Star Wars Episode VII than this bastardization of Max Brooks' magnum opus.
Am I missing anything?
Last night your humble blogger went to see Argo, which Ben Affleck directs and stars in. Here's a trailer:
Now, those readers who care about things like "cinematography" or "editing" will love this film, but let's face it, if you're reading this blog, it means you're really interested in foreign policy and international relations. And let's face it again -- with a few noteworthy exceptions, the film industry has not done world politics proud. So, from that perspective, how does Argo hold up?
With some mild spoilers below, I'm happy to report that the film is pleasantly savvy in the ways of the wonk, and even the ways in which it's not savvy can be productive.
First, the film nails both the stakes and the awful policy choices faced by Americans during the hostage crisis. The prologue -- a clever and brief history of U.S. involvement in Iran prior to the 1979 Iranian revolution -- concisely explains exactly why that country might have been juuuuuust a wee bit angry at the U.S. government in 1979. The film starts on Nov. 4, the day the embassy was seized. The entire opening sequence is well done, but the thing it captures perfectly is the stone-cold realization by the embassy staff that once the compound is breached, there's no escape and no cavalry riding to the rescue. At one point, the head of the security staff explains patiently that their job is simply to buy time for the rest of the embassy personnel to burn/shred all the classified documents. The character also states -- correctly -- that if anyone kills any Iranian, there will be a bloodbath.
Once the hostages are seized -- and six manage to surreptitiously flee to the Canadian ambassador's compound -- Argo is straightforward on both the bureaucratic politics of trying to spirit them out and the bad odds that any exfiltration plan will have in getting them out of Tehran. At one point CIA exfiltration expert Tony Mendez (played by Afflek) and his superior pitch their plan to the Secretary of State. In that scene, they state the obvious, which is rarely stated in films of this kind: there are no good options, and their plan of having the six be part of a film crew scouting a sci-fi movie location in Tehran is simply the "best bad idea" that they have. Welcome to foreign policymaking -- trying to figure out the best bad idea around. Argo doubles down on this sentiment in a quiet but effective scene at Dulles airport, when Mendez and his superior discuss who in his family should be notified if things go south.
Now, as it turns out, in real life, Mendez was driven to Dulles by his wife. This is just one of many Hollywoodizations that occur, particularly in the second half of the film. Affleck and screenwriter Chris Terrio take some liberties with what went down in Tehran and Washington as Mendez tries to spirit out the six Americans.
Oddly enough, this is unintentionally constructive for anyone interested in becoming a true foreign policy wonk. Here's a fun test:
1) Go see Argo;
2) Try to figure out which parts of the narrative's second half are fiction and which are fact;
3) Go read the Wired story by Joshuah Bearman that partially inspired the movie and the Slate explainer by David Haglund. If you didn't detect at least one of the Really Big Whoppers in the second half of the film, well, then you should probably find a career other than becoming a foreign policy wonk. Because there is some serious fictionalizing going on. If you're buying it as fact, then you either lack the instincts or the strategic chops necessary to operate in the world of statecraft.
Tonight is the first presidential debate in the United States, which means I could blog about how I killed a man once just to steal his Klout score and no one would care. The fact that debates don't seem to matter all that much in the grand scheme of things makes this fact pretty odd, but there it is.
So, while America's foreign policy community operates in a state of suspended animation for the next twelve hours, here are some stories that might help you while away the time:
1) Hey, it turns out that the sanctions against Iran really are crippling -- so much so that even Mahmoud Admadinejad is admitting it and Benjamin Netanyahu now has sanctions fever. Based on my own sanctions model, I'd predict that the sanctions are now becoming so costly that Iran will in fact be willing to compromise on its nuclear program -- but any concessions will seem tiny compared to how devastating the sanctions have been.
2) It's interesting that even IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde has felt it necessary to weigh in on the Japan-China row.
3) This story about Paul Romer's efforts to develop
his very own Millennium Village a charter city in Honduras without all the ickiness of current Honduran modes of governance is just... bizarre. Until I read this blog post -- which makes it even more bizarre.
4) I get to explain the "bad boyfriend" theory of foreign policy in this BBC documentary on Obama's foreign policy record, which you should really listen to because they were smart enough to interview Jack Goldsmith, Anne-Marie Slaughter, and a bunch of other smart policymakers.
5) You could spend the next twelve hourse doing a lot worse things than reading Nate Silver's The Signal and The Noise. I've only started it, but my own signal for whether it's a quality book -- how many times Philip Tetlock gets mentioned in the index -- suggests that this will be a very worthwhile read.
Your humble blogger is now safe and secure in his vacation redoubt, furtiously at work on the definitive textbook of Tourism Studies. When not at work on that vital subject, however, I brought along some other books to peruse while family chaos unfolds around me. In case you're looking for some eclectic reading recommendations, they are:
1) Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo, Poor Economics. Anyone who is weary of the Sachs/Easterly debate on economic development should grab this book and devour it now. I don't think it has all the answers, but it's a very engaging and informative distillation of their randomized control trials and interview work in some of the most impoverished places on the earth. Even if you don't agree with their findings, it's provocative stuff.
2) John Scalzi, Redshirts. Click here and here if you don't know what the term "redshirt" means in science fiction. Scalzi, who has been blogging since the time of mezines, has put together a very intriguing spin on this idea in his latest novel. I'd offer more insight, but I want to enjoy the book as I read it.
3) Gautam Mukunda, Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter. We're gonna be talking a lot about leadership over the next few months. With a few important exceptions, individual leadership has not produced a lot of interesting scholarship in my field. Mukunda, a political scientist at Harvard Business School, will hopefully buck the trend with this book, thereby earning massive royalties in addition to his business school salary. What a bastard.
4) Colson Whitehead, Zone One. A distinguished novelist has written a zombie book. I'm so there.
Blog denizens are strongly encouraged to proffer their own suggested must-reads in the comments section.
Your humble blogger has a confession: he's not a huge fan of the Olympics. Actually, let me refine that statement a bit: I'm not a huge fan of how NBC covers the Olympics. To put even a finer point on it, NBC's Olympics coverage drives me around the f***ing bend.
Let's take yesterday's Opening Ceremonies as our example. First of all, NBC didn't broadcast the event live on any of the 564 channels they've commandeered for the event. It was possible to watch the live feed online, but NBC's definition of a "simple, one-time" step to do that seemed rather complex to me. In an age when social media is gonna be all over global spectacles like this as they're happening, this desire to constrain coverage to U.S. prime time seems laughable. Especially since it took all of 2 minutes to find an web end-around NBC's monopoly.
When America finally got to see the opening ceremonies, they were... um.... well, they very much like a British fairy tale as told by Danny Boyle: quite riveting, delightful at times, and a small dollop of gruesome. These kind of events, when sports, entertainment and politics collide, can be fraught with danger for commentary. So props to SI's Alex Wolff for some trenchant analysis:
[A]rtistic director Danny Boyle smuggled into the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics a worthy and important thing.
He gave us a chance to celebrate protest and dissent.
Four years ago, after a comparable night on the other side of the globe, the rest of the world had a moment of collective sadness for the London organizers. No way could the stagers of the next Olympics possibly equal Beijing's lid-lifting spectacle. But tonight we learned that if the guy in front of you zigs, it's best to zag. Boyle, the Oscar-winning director of Slumdog Millionaire, spent almost four times less money and deployed roughly one-tenth as many people. But he outstripped the previous Olympic host city by flaunting what the Chinese actively suppressed....
With The Queen in the house, we heard music from the Sex Pistols, the same band whose God Save the Queenwas banned by the BBC. Boyle meant for us to take to heart that line from The Tempest, read early in the evening by Kenneth Branagh: "Be not afeard: the isle is full of noises."
On these isles of wonder, tumult is a good thing.
Now, others might disagree that the execution was as sharp as Wolff's interpretation, but that's OK, that's a good conversation. It would certainly be a better conversation than what took place on NBC during the ceremonies themselves. Indeed, NBC was so keen to avoid any discussion of political symbolism that they edited out the moving dedication to the victims of the 7/7/2005 terrorist attacks (which took place shortly after it was announced that London would host the Olympics). Bob Costas threatened to go rogue and offer a moment of silence to honor the Israeli athletes killed at the 1972 Munich Olympics, which the IOC rejected doing during the opening ceremonies. Instead, he talked about the controversy during the parade of nations.
Ah, the parade of nations. To be fair, commenting on this kind of event has to be a pretty thankless task. Still, there has got to be a better way of doing it than having Matt Lauer read from his thinly-researched and geographically spotty crib sheet. Might I suggest that, next time around, NBC have one of its foreign correspondents on hand to handle some of the more geopolitically sensitive countries? Or to let them know who Tim Berners-Lee is?
Look, I get that the IOC and NBC want to keep politics out of the Olympics -- but that's pure fantasy. As long as Olympic teams are organized by country, politics will be omnipresent. There are two ways to deal with that fact: willful ignorance (which is the IOC position) or acknowledgement and discussion (which is what Wolff did in his column). Given that this is one of the few events in which the mass public might actually care about the rest of the world, I'm gonna vote for the latter.
[So you're saying you want the coverage to be wall-to-wall politics? Booooooring!!!-ed. No, I'm saying that politics plays a supporting role that cannot be suppressed, so why bother trying?]
Let the controversy about the Olympic Games begin!!!
So in yesterday's New York Times, Northwestern University political science professor Jacqueline Stevens wrote something really stupid about whether the NSF should fund political science.
I don't use the term "stupid" lightly. Based on her blog, she has a philosophy of science that's about, oh, sixty years out of date. She was (as she now acknowledges) sloppy with some of her facts. One paragraph proudly trumps a John Lewis Gaddis essay that actually critiques the very kind of work Stevens claims to like. And, after spending much of the essay indicting political scientists for getting in bed with an imperial state ("research money that comes with ideological strings attached"), she closes with:
Government can — and should — assist political scientists, especially those who use history and theory to explain shifting political contexts, challenge our intuitions and help us see beyond daily newspaper headlines. Research aimed at political prediction is doomed to fail. At least if the idea is to predict more accurately than a dart-throwing chimp.
To shield research from disciplinary biases of the moment, the government should finance scholars through a lottery: anyone with a political science Ph.D. and a defensible budget could apply for grants at different financing levels.
So, in other words, state funding is pernicious and corrupting -- unless you and yours get the money.
So yeah, there's a lot of stupidity contained in this essay. But that's OK!! I have been to many a seminar (and maybe, just maybe, presented at some) in which the paper du jour was horrible, but the discussion that the paper triggered was quite interesting. And I think that happened in this case. For robust deconstructions of Stevens' arguments, see Henry Farrell, Steve Saideman, Jim Johnson, and Jay Ulfelder.
Two other responses are worthy of note, however. At his blog, Phil Arena makes an interesting semi-serious suggestion:
Here's a thought experiment -- if [the American Political Science Association] were to increase membership dues by $500 a year or so, and if most current members remained members, we'd have a pool of money a bit smaller than the current NSF budget for political science, but still one that could fund a good number of projects with the greatest potential for generating positive externalities. The big data sets that lots of people use, like the NES, could continue. And let's face it, many of the individual projects that are funded by the NSF do not generate significant positive externalities -- and even if they did, a great many of them would be carried out even if without external funding. So the net loss wouldn't be that big.
Now, there are some obvious problems and not-so-obvious problems with this proposal. Obvbiously, APSA membership wouldn't stay the same size. Not-so-obviously, the demographics of APSA membership would likely skewresearch dollars in ways that people like Stevens would find even more abhorrent.
Still, I think a more modest version of this idea makes a great deal of sense. It's entirely reasonable to, say, ask that tenured professors at R1 research universities to chip in $500 to a research fund. It's also reasonable to ask other APSA members to chip in... something. I'd want to see the International Studies Association do the same. The result would not be a perfect substitute for NSF funding, but it would certainly be a good way of building up an appropriate research infrastructure free of Congressional interference.
Second, Penn political science professor Michael Horowitz posts about an ongoing research project with Official Blog Intellectual Crush Philip Tetlock. This section contains some beguiling findings... and an invitation:
One of the main things we are interested in determining is the situations in which experts provide knowledge-added value when it comes to making predictions about the world. Evidence from the first year of the project (year 2 started on Monday, June 18) suggests that, contrary to Stevens’ argument, experts might actually have something useful to say after all. For example, we have some initial evidence on a small number of questions from year 1 suggesting that experts are better at updating faster than educated members of the general public – they are better at determining the full implications of changes in events on the ground and updating their beliefs in response to those events.
Over the course of the year, we will be exploring several topics of interest to the readers – and hopefully authors – of this blog. First, do experts potentially have advantages when it comes to making predictions that are based on process? In other words, does knowing when the next NATO Summit is occurring help you make a more accurate prediction about whether Macedonia will gain entry by 1 April 2013 (one of our open questions at the moment)? Alternatively, could it be that the advantage of experts is that they have a better understanding of world events when a question is asked, but then that advantage fades over time as the educated reader of the New York Times updates in response to world events?
Second, when you inform experts of the predictions derived from prediction markets, the wisdom of groups, or teams of forecasters working together, are they able to use this information to yield more accurate predictions than the markets, the crowd, or teams, or do they make it worse? In theory, we would expect experts to be able to assimilate that information and use it to more accurately determine what will happen in the world. Or, maybe we would expect an expert to be able to recognize when the non-experts are wrong and outperform them. In reality, will this just demonstrate the experts are stubborn – but not in a good way?
Finally, are there types of questions where experts are more or less able to make accurate predictions? Might experts outperform other methods when it comes to election forecasting in Venezuela or the fate of the Eurozone, but prove less capable when it comes to issues involving the use of military force? We hope to explore these and other issues over the course of the year and think this will raise many questions relevant for this blog. We will report back on how it is going. In the meantime, we need experts who are willing to participate. The workload will be light – promise. If you are interested in participating, expert or not, please contact me at horom (at) sas (dot) upenn (dot) edu and let’s see what you can do.
So, to sum up: a stupid op-ed. But lots of interesting things to read as a result of it. Well done, other political scientists!!
Your humble blogger is
procrastinating his packing preparing for a family vacation. So, according to Jonathan Bernstein, Kevin Drum and Brendan Nyhan, is the political press corps. Bernstein explains:
[The summer] creates a whole lot of reporters with little to report on – and a whole lot of empty time on the cable news networks, the newspapers, the blogs, the new talk radio shows and the rest of it.
And what academic research tells us is that slow news days create scandals. That’s what Brendan Nyhan and other media researchers have found; indeed, Nyhan believes that the lack of scandal during Barack Obama’s first two years in the White House was caused, at least in part, by a series of very eventful news cycles. The mechanism, obviously, is that if there’s no major news, then minor news fills the hole, and if there’s no minor news, then we’ll hear plenty about stuff that if you squint just the right way might sort of pass for news....
It’s no surprise that mid-summer, when lots of newsmakers are on vacation (and when little is happening even in the sports world), is when stories such as the “ground zero mosque” or Shirley Sherrod’s supposed racism took off. Not just those; any kind of meaningless hype, whether it’s a supposed gaffe or some meaningless polling random variation, is going to get far more attention than it deserves.
Bernstein offers some suggestions for what political reporters could do with their surfeit of time besides explore stupid scandals. Let me proffer a suggestion of my own: cover the rest of the world.
Seriously. World politics doesn't stop for the summer, and as I'm sure I heard someone smart once say, the world is not a boring place. Sure, it used to stop in Europe, but I'm betting a lot will happen on that continent as well. Why shouldn't political reporters use the summer to earn their foreign correspondent bona fides?
Now, I'm sure newspaper and television editors reading these scribblings will immediately protest that even though they think the world is interesting, their audience won't. Hogwash. If there is anything the media excels at, it should be how to tart up stories that might otherwise pass under the radar. Here are a few suggestions:
1) The "where are they now?" gambit. Remember how, in 2011, the world seemed liked it was kinda ending? Earthquakes, revolutions, that kind of thing? Wouldn't it be wacky to send reporters to these places to see how things are going now? Think Fukushima, or Tunisia, or even states that didn't have full frontal revolutions, like Oman. Do some follow-up journalism.
2) The "Olympic Hangover" stories. The one big sporting event this summer will be the London Olympics. How about sending some reporters to previous Olympic host countries and see what happened to those facilities? I bet the Athens and Beijing reports would be interesting.
3) Foreign superheroes. This summer has seen a bumper crop of Hollywood blockbusters about men in tights and women in catsuits with extraordinary powers. While superheroes had their origins in American comic books, wouldn't it be cool to see if and how this genre has been adopted elsewhere in the globe? Is there are Russian Superman? A Chinese Iron Man? An Indian Wonder Woman? Go find out!
Readers are welcomed to come up with their own foreign policy hooks in the comments below.
I would add that you should be careful what you wish for. Kohl and Mitterand were heralded as strong leaders when they created the Eurozone and opened membership to Europe’s weaker economies. Strong leadership may not always work out so well.
The point is not that leaders who make good decisions and have persuasive power cannot make a difference. I won’t underestimate the power of good (and bad) ideas to shape outcomes. But lamenting “poor leadership” provides little guidance on understanding what is going wrong or how things could go better. It is with good reason that good leadership is usually only recognized after the fact and even then perceptions often adjust as facts change (see Kohl and Mitterand). Believing that things will go better if only there were better leadership is like wishing for politicians to “do the right thing:” it is a perfectly reasonable desire but not much of a prescription or explanation.
I bring this up again because I see that I managed to criticize Tom Friedman's latest op-ed -- two days before it was published!! Here's his opening paragraph:
One of the most troubling features of today’s global economic crisis is the lack of political leadership anywhere. No one has the courage to tell their people the truth. And the truth, alas, is that four of the pillars of today’s global economy — Europe, America, China and the Arab world — have, each in their own way, squandered huge dividends they enjoyed in recent decades, and now they have to dig out of their respective holes with fewer resources, less time and, almost certainly, more pain. There is no easy way out. But, as confronting these hard truths becomes unavoidable, I think we’re likely to see some wild, angry and destabilizing politics that could make the economic recovery even more difficult. Deep holes and weak leaders are a bad combination.
Excuse me, I have to go do this again.
What's interesting, if you read the next few paragraphs, is that Friedman thinks the leadership failure in Europe is on the periphery -- that these governments failed to exploit the windfall of euro-driven lower interest rates to make themselves more competitive. Friedman is not necessarily completely wrong here, but this overlooks a few things. The design of the euro -- which French and German leaders created -- contributed to the underlying curency area problem. The "Austerity!! Austerity!! AUSTERITY!!" response to the eurocrisis by Germany and the European Central Bank has also been... let's say problematic and incomplete (and, unfortunately, continues to be the status quo policy).
Indeed, this past week Germany's Angela Merkel has proven Voeten's point and undercut Frideman's argument. She has demonstrated leadership -- she's repeatedly offered up a Grand Bargain with the rest of Europe in which Germany agrees to a closer fiscal union and Eurobonds -- in return for a more centralized European political authority that would implement German policy preferences. This sounds an awful lot like leadership to me. Whether it's the right policy or not is juuuuuust a wee bit more contentious.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: "Yes, leadership matters on the margins -- but power and purpose matter one whole hell of a lot more."
Seriously, I'm beginning to suspect that those calling for greater "leadership" are the victims of a Jedi mind trick or something.
Earlier in the week the Washington Post's Chuck Lane wrote an op-ed arguing in favor of Jeff Flake's amendment to cut National Science Foundation funding for political science. In fact, Lane raised the ante, arguing that NSF should stop funding all of the social sciences, full stop.
Now, I can respect someone who tries to make the argument that the opportunity costs of funding the social sciences are big enough that this is where a budget cut should take place. It's harder, however, to respect someone who:
2) Is unaware that the social sciences are -- increasingly -- running experiments as well;
3) Believes that because individual social scientists have normative preferences, the whole enterprise cannnot be objective (or, in other words, doesn't undersand the scientific enterprise at all);
4) Fails to comprehend the economics of public goods;
5) Hasn't really thought through what would happen if all social science was privately funded.
Now, all columnists can have a bad day, so that's fine. What I find intriguing, however, is that Lane's response to criticism from political scientists to his essay can be summarized in one tweet: "shorter my critics re poli sci funding: we want our money." This is cute, but overlooks the fact that a lot of Lane's poli sci critics -- myself included -- haven't received a dime in NSF funding.
More disconcertingly, it's intellectually lazy. Sources of funding do matter in public discourse, but they do not vitiate the logic contained in the arguments linked to above. This is simply Lane's cheap and easy excuse for not engaging the substance of his critics' arguments.
The hard-working folks here at the blog believe strongly in reciprocity, so Lane has done us a small favor -- we no longer need to read Chuck Lane's arguments all that carefully, or take him all that seriously, ever again.
Very attentive readers -- hi, Mom!! -- are likely aware that your humble blogger has been doing a hell of a lot of conferencing recently. Now, each of these conferences, on their own, has been invaluable . They are a way to gain exposure to new people, ideas and perspectives, get feedback on one's own ideas and perspectives, and pick up useful bits of information.
Combined, however, these conferences have taken their toll. As a public service message and a cautionary warning to other aspiring wonks, I'd like to offer the following top ten list:
TOP TEN SIGNS YOU ARE CONFERENCED OUT
10) The very first thing you do when you enter a conference venue is to scope out the seat that a) is closest to an electrical outlet; b) has a decent view of the podium; and c) is closest to the exit for discrete bathroom breaks. You will switch placards in order to get that seat.
9) The second thing you do when you enter a conferene venue is ask someone about the available wifi.
8) You find yourself bringing your own laminated name tag, placard, and extra-large coffee mug wherever you go.
7) You have filled out your reimbursement forms before the first coffee break.
6) It takes forever to get into your hotel room because you have at least five different key cards in your pocket.
5) You cannot go 24 hours without getting into an extended conversation with a colleague about your grand strategy for deploying frequent flier miles. BONUS SIGN: you secretly think the George Clooney character from Up In The Air was kind of a wuss.
4) The phrase "capacity building" triggers an instant desire to take a baseball bat to whomever just uttered the phrase.
3) You develop the capacity to lightly doze through a presentation but still ask a pertinent question during the Q&A. Then you black out.
2) At the bar after a long dar of conferencing, it only takes one drink for a colleague to say, "you know, you're allowed to bring more than one suit to these shindigs."
1) The hotel staff has to break down your door at 3 AM because you were shouting the word "modalities" during your fitful, jet-lagged sleep.
If you find yourself nodding along to at least seven of the following ten signs, please consult your doctor/department head as soon as possible.
Readers are strongly encouraged to proffer their own warning signs/symptoms in the comments.
I like to think of myself as a pretty good teacher. I've been doing this for more than 15 years, and while I've dabbled in the fancier technologies, I've concluded that the meat and potatoes of podium, lectern, chalk, and blackboard have worked the best.
At last week's International Studies Association meetings, however, I participated in a panel on "Transnational Politics and Information Technology," in which Charli Carpenter delivered the following presentation:
Now, I'm clearly pretty comfortable with Web 2.0 technologies, and some of the themes Carpenter touches on in this presentation echoes points I've made on this blog and... co-authoring with Carpenter. To be blunt, however, if this is the standard to which future international relations teaching pedagogy will be held... then the future is going to kick my ass.
Seriously, watch the whole thing.
UPDATE: Over at Duck of Minerva, Carpenter discusses her video at greater length. One key point:
It's true that short video mash-ups can make good teaching tools (especially if you can't be present but you want students to absorb the material anyway). But the amount of prep-time to do presentations like this well on a day by day basis would be prohibitive and unnecessary, even counter-productive. Classrooms work best when profs throw out provocative material and allow students to react, then facilitate discussion.
A few days ago Dan Nexon went on a pretty epic rant filled with mixed emotions about the increased professionalization of Ph.D. programs in political science. Well, not professionalization in general, but rather the tilt of current professionalization trends towards the mathematical. To be clear, Nexon doesn't think this is an unalloyed bad, and would probably make the same recommendation I have made about the need to get comfortable with math. I think Nexon's discomfort comes from the systemic implications for the discipline that comes from every graduate student responding to these incentives.
Dan's post has prompted multiple responses, including Steve Saideman and Erik Voeten, that are worth reading. I'll try to articulate some of my own thoughts on the matter over the weekend. For now, however, I want to respond to James Joyner's reply. As a Ph.D. in political science who then
left the church entered the policy world, James sympathizes with Nexon's rant and articulates what I fear is a common lament for foreign policy wonks:
The down side, though, is that the academic study of IR has divorced itself from the real world study of the actual conduct of international relations. Those who serve in government and work in the IR-focused think tanks tend to go to the public policy schools rather than mainline PhD programs. And the work being done by academics in IR is largely irrelevant and inaccessible to the policy community. Indeed, I can’t remember the last time I picked up a copy of International Studies Quarterly, much less the American Political Science Review. Frankly, I’m not sure I could read those journals at this point if I wanted to.
Joyner makes two claims here: a) the substance of academic political science has become too divorced from policy; and b) regardless of the substance, the methods and the modeling are no so arcane that these articles can't be processed.
You know what? Let's take a look at the latest issues of International Studies Quarterly and American Political Science Review to see if Joyner (and, tangentially, Nexon) is correct about his twin assertions: that academic political science is working on policy irrelevant issues, and has anyway become too hard for policy wonks to digest.
Joyner has half a point with respect to the APSR. Because that is one of the flagship journals, and because the lion's share of political scientists are not doing IR or comparative, the bulk of the articles published in that journal are targeted towards Americanists and political theorists. The February 2012 issue is no exception: six of the nine research essays would be uninteresting to Joyner (though, ironically, one of those is a critique of experimental methodology).
On the other hand, the three remaining essays are both pretty damn interesting and policy relevant. John Freeman and Dennis Quinn's article on the effect of financial liberalization in autocratic states puts forward an easy-to-comprehend causal logic. It's also hugely policy relevant if you're interested in authoritarian capitalism -- in fact, I cited it in a blog post last week. I should have also cited the other relevant APSR article in this issue -- by Victor Shih, Christopher Adolph and Mingxing Liu -- on the determinants of promotion to the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. Fortunately, Erik Voeten caught this for me.
That leaves Faisal Ahmed's essay on aid and remittances, which raises the problematic point that autocratic governments will exploit large remittance flows to substitute away from public goods to policies that favor narrow ruling coalitions, thereby extending their stay in power. All three articles use econometric methods to estimate large-N regressions -- but the causal stories are pretty easy to get. In my experience, this is a typical issue of the APSR: I probably only care about two or three articles per issue, but they tend to be pretty interesting.
As for ISQ, there are thirteen research articles, and I'm not gonna go through all of them in such detail. You should, however, because access to this issue is free for everyone! Going over the essays, I'd say that ten out of the thirteen have direct policy relevance -- i.e., they contain an explanation or hypothesis that would be extremely useful to either an operational policymaker or a strategic planner. As for the methodological barriers, of the thirteen articles in the issue, nine of them follow the same blueprint: a pretty simple and accessible theoretical section, followed by large-N testing on a data set. Three of the articles had both a readily accessible theory and used qualitative methods for their data testing. Only one article would fall under the "too inaccessible to read" category.
I think the academic/policy divide has been wildly overblown, but here's my modest suggestion on how to bridge it even further. First, wonks should flip through at recent issues of APSR and ISQ -- and hey, peruse International Organization, International Security, and World Politics while you're at it. You'd find a lot of good, trenchant, policy-adjacent stuff. Second, might I suggest that authors at these journals be allowed to write a second abstract -- and abstract for policymakers, if you will? Even the most jargonesed academic should be able to pull off one paragraph of clean prose. Finally, wonks should not be frightened by statistics. That is by far the dominant "technical" barrier separating these articles from general interest reader.
Am I missing anything?
OK, in Episode I, your humble blogger talked about what undergraduates should and should not do to get into a quality Ph.D. program in political science. In this exciting sequel, the natural question to ask is, "what if I'm not an undergraduate?"
To explain the advice I'm about to give, however, let me begin with a small parable. Consider two applicants, Johnny Undergrad and Jenny Postgrad. By a strange coincidence, Johnny and Jenny matriculated at the same undergraduate institution, received identical grades during their time as undergraduates, and both wrote fine theses. They both followed the guidance provided in my dos and don'ts post to the letter. The only difference is that Jenny is four years out of college, while Johnny is not. The latter, a senior, is now applying to grad programs. So is Jenny, but she's spent the past four years earning some coin and collecting some very relevant work experience for an important government/multinational corporation/NGO/think tank organization.
Now, you would think, ceteris paribus, that Jenny would have the stronger application for a Ph.D. admissions committee - she's more mature, more seasoned, and possesses an identical academic record. But you would likely be wrong.
See, Johnny has been in more recent contact with his undergrad professors. Since their memory of Johnny is likely stronger than Jenny, their letters of recommendation will be less bland and boilerplate. Johnny hasn't signaled that callings other than being a professor might tempt him, since he applied straight out of undergrad. Johnny's grades are an accurate reflection of his abilities, whereas Jenny's academic skills atrophy with every year out of the ivory tower (pro tip: if you don't know what ceteris paribus means, you're in trouble). Any thesis that Johnny has written is more up-to date.
This is the challenge you face if you are a post-baccalaureate applicant - and with each year further away from your graduation date, these problems get worse. So, if you want to be admitted, Jenny's goal should be to do everything possible to her file resemble something that blows Johnny out of the water. How does she do that? Here are five useful tips:
1. Reconnect with your professors. You need to have strong letters of recommendation, and almost all of those letters should come from people inside the academy. Fair or not, admissions committees will discount letters from people who themselves do not have a Ph.D.. If you're thinking of applying to a Ph.D. program, start by making sure the profs who you worked closely with as an undergraduate have a sharp memory of you. Remind them of what you were interested in as an undergrad and update them on what's your interests are now. If you've collaborated with academics during your post-bac jobs, make sure they write you a letter. You will need one recommendation from your supervisor/boss even if they don't have a Ph.D. - but make damn sure that, besides praising your overall competence and maturity, they talk about your burning desire to go back to the academy.
2. Ace your GREs. The GREs are a good first approximation of whether you have the intellectual chops to cut it in a doctoral program. If you've been out of school for a while, they might count a bit more, because there is that question of whether you're really ready to go back to school. An outstanding GRE score will not automatically get you admitted, but it can allay any fears about your abilities to earn a Ph.D.
3. Craft your personal statement with care. You have a more interesting tale to tell than undergraduate applicants, because you're like, older and stuff. That said, the statement also needs to signal an admissions committee that you know exactly what you are getting yourself into, and are eager for the challenge. Sure, you can talk about how your research interests are born out of your real-world experience, but make sure you also phrase your research interests in the context of the relevant literature. Again, this signals to an admissions committee that you know your interests from multiple perspectives. Furthermore, as a twentysomething, you have the luxury of reading up on the relevant academic literature and not being intimidated by big words like when you were 18 years old. Use that intellectual maturity to your advantage in your statement!!
4. Publish, publish, publish! You know that phrase "publish or perish?" It's not just for professors anymore. Demonstrating an ability to publish - even if the publication is not a peer-reviewed academic journal - is a signal to an admissions committee that you understand what you're getting yourself into. Publishing in a policy journal, or a think tank report, can count for something - particularly if it's a sustained piece of research. So, if your job requires you to write, try to get that writing into the public domain.
5. Get a master's degree. OK, let's say that your undergraduate performance was... less than stellar. Or, it's been a long time (more than five years) since you were in college. These are the situations when getting either a professional or terminal master's degree makes some sense -and a two-year program is a better option than a one-year program. If you know you want to get a Ph.D., then make sure you indicate that fact to the professors closest to your area of interest at the outset, take their courses, and have them supervise your thesis. Oh, and write a sharp M.A. thesis and think about getting it published. Strong letters from professors indicating that you did well in graduate school are the ultimate trump card, and are the one way that Jenny's application packet can blow Johnny's out of the water. With a good M.A. degree, Jenny can ensure that she is a better, stronger, faster version of Johnny.
Now, I'm still a bit reluctant to proffer this last recommendation, for a few reasons. First, a terminal master's ain't cheap. This means accruing a decent amount of debt and then going to graduate school for a few more years and then, if you're lucky, getting a job that won't help all that much in paying down your debt. Second, this approach takes at least two years to execute. You can't apply to a Ph.D. program in your first year of an M.A. program, because applications need to be in by January and your master's program profs won't know you well enough to draft good letters (that's why a two-year program is superior). Furthermore, as crazy as this sounds, for most Ph.D. programs, your M.A. coursework won't count - you'll often need to do a certain number of course requirements (it does help intellectually, however). And with all of this, there's still no guarantee you get accepted.
All that said, however, if you really want the Ph.D. and you're well out of college, this is the best gambit. A strong performance in an M.A. program - professional or not - is the best signal to a Ph.D. admissions committee that you can cut it in a doctoral program. Oh, and one last point: as a risk-averse strategy, choose an M.A. program at a Ph.D.-granting institution, so you can always try to complete your doctorate in your home institution.
Your humble blogger is waist-deep in professional obligations, which is why blogging has been light this week. So.... here's what you should be reading instead:
1) Damien Ma on what it means to be a rising public intellectual in China -- an excellent riff off of Eric X. Li's NYT op-ed praising the virtues of the China model.
2) While we're talking China, the China 2030 report released by the World Bank is worth perusing, as it's a partial refutation of Li's argument. The fact that the State Council's Development Research Center co-authored the report seems.... meaningful, but damned if I know whether the new crop of Chinese leaders will use it to implement the suggested reforms.
3) Any time I get even a little bit sanguine on the Eurocrisis, I read something like this. and the now-familiar sense of IMPENDING DOOM returns. Ahhh....
4) In an age in which it's ostensibly all about the social media, I find Emily Parker's essay from a few weeks ago about the importance of actual, entire books to DC policymakers somewhat comforting -- even if Parker's implicit point is that these policymakers are only reading the article-lengths version of these books.
5) Finally, the good people of Wyoming should feel secure that their state government is engaging in the necessary contingency planning in case of
the zombie apocalypse a total collapse of the American way of life.
I see the Eurasia Group has published their top ten risks for 2012. Given arguments by some about proliferating security risks and the necessity for bombing Iran, I'm assuming that it's going to be a pretty threatening year security-wise, right?
The most important macro theme for 2012: The world’s key political decision-makers will be focused heavily on questions of domestic economic stability at the expense of international security concerns at a moment when politics is having unprecedented impact on the global economy. This conflation of global politics and markets defines the formal end of the 9/11 era, a moment when decision-makers sought to isolate globalization from international security concerns....
The war on terror is being subsumed by fears for the global economic balance. This is not a conventional or unconventional weapons threat. It’s not a balance of terror or an individual terrorist. The new nightmares are of spiraling deficits, the eurozone crisis, and economic relations with China. These have become the primary risks to national security, though there are clearly other ongoing security concerns for the US.
But... but... Al Qaeda and Iran! Iran and Al Qaeda!! Surely these are important multidimensional threats, yes?
Say, what's in this Newsweek story by Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau?
Is it still too soon to write al Qaeda’s obituary? Over the past two years, the group’s ranks have been ravaged by America’s unmanned-aerial-vehicle attacks and by a steady exodus of demoralized jihadis fleeing Pakistan’s tribal areas. When Newsweek interviewed Hanif (his nom de guerre) for our Sept. 13, 2010, cover story, “Inside Al Qaeda,” he estimated that the group had roughly 130 Arabs in Waziristan, along with dozens more Chechens, Turks, Tajiks, even recruits from Western Europe. But little more than a year later, he estimates there are no more than 40 to 60 al Qaeda operatives of any nationality on either side of the border. “Al Qaeda was once full of great jihadis, but no one is active and planning opera-tions anymore,” he complains. “Those who remain are just trying to survive.”....
[B]y all accounts, al Qaeda has been practically wiped out in its former Afghan and Pakistani strongholds. Although America has suspended its drone attacks inside Pakistan since mid-November—the program’s longest hiatus in three years—the respite seems to have come too late for bin Laden’s old associates. “The drone attacks may have ended, but only after the near ending of al Qaeda in the tribal areas,” says a senior Taliban intelligence officer who has been in contact with surviving members of the group. “As far as I can tell, the operational command of al Qaeda has almost been eliminated.” Hanif’s uncle, a Taliban operative, tells Newsweek he’s been in contact with a few al Qaeda members who have taken refuge outside the tribal areas. “All of al Qaeda’s assets who had a strategic vision have been eliminated,” they’ve told him.
Well, surely Iran is on the rise, right? Right?
Iran’s ailing currency took a steep slide Monday, losing 12 percent against foreign currencies after President Obama on Saturday signed a bill that places the Islamic republic’s central bank under unilateral sanctions.
The currency, which economists say was held artificially high for years against the dollar and the euro, has lost about 35 percent of its value since September. Its exchange rate hovered at 16,800 rials to the dollar, marking a record low. The currency was trading at about 10,500 rials to the U.S. dollar in late December 2010.
The slide Monday came as Iran tested a domestically produced cruise missile during continuing naval drills near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, sending a message to the West that the country would not tolerate increased sanctions against its profitable oil industry.
But in Tehran, people said they were bleeding money....
"It is clear that there is lack of cohesion within the government on how to fix this,” said a prominent Iranian economist, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue. “The market has lost all confidence in a solution.”
Look, I'm not saying that these actors are not threats. Test-firing cruise missiles sounds a wee bit disconcerting. But let's get real here -- these are supposed to be the actors that, combined, create a more threatening environment than the Cold War? That dog won't hunt.
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
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 is taking a short vacation, because so much friggin' stuff has happened in the past half-year. Indeed, in 2011 to date, the planet has lived up to FP's motto: the world is not a boring place. Wars, revolutions, natural disasters, non-natural disasters, the possibility of sovereign defaults -- for a world politics junkie, it's been very exciting
Does exciting mean the coming of end-times, however? I ask because the New York Times' Azam Ahmed observes the latest trendy investment -- Armageddon funds:
On a related note, Jay Ulfelder looks at the release of the 2011 Failed States Index and Admiral Mike Mullen's worries about a possible increase in the number of failed states. Ulfelder is more sanguine than Mullen:
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!!
Last night a fellow International Studies Association 9isa0 attendee sent me the following request:
Hey, aren't you supposed to be providing pithy commentary on events of the last week for the rest of us ISA survivors? Get on that!
Sigh... it's back to the blogging salt mines. [Welcome back.... now get to work!!!--ed.]
Let's start off with an easy meta-point. So far, 2011 has been one of those years when it seems like a lot has been going on in international affairs -- but is that reality or just perception?
Hey, turns out it's reality:
Propelled by revolution in the Middle East and radiation in Japan, television news coverage of foreign events this year is at the highest level since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks 10 years ago, news executives in the United States say....
The busy season for foreign news started in January in Tunisia and quickly spread to Egypt, where networks and newspapers deployed hundreds of journalists. According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, which conducts a weekly accounting of news coverage by national outlets, foreign news added up to 45 percent of all coverage from mid-January through mid-March. In the four years that the accounting has been done, foreign news has averaged about 20 percent of coverage....
But despite extensive coverage of Libya and Japan, the television networks have had major blind spots. Last week, none of the broadcast networks had correspondents in Bahrain, where the United States Navy's Fifth Fleet is based, when security forces crushed the protest movement there, nor in Yemen when forces there killed dozens of protesters. The dearth of coverage of Yemen is largely because of its government’s refusal to grant visas to journalists....
So, cui bono? Here we get to a veeeerry interesting detail:
If there is any media beneficiary, it is CNN, a unit of Time Warner, which has the most robust international staff levels of any network based in the United States. CNN has paired its domestic and international channels for hours on end, and last week it scored several rare — though probably fleeting — ratings victories against Fox News.
“This is the time when the judicious investments we’ve made in a proper international infrastructure are paying off,” Mr. Maddox said.
Say, isn't it convenient that CNN had all these assets in place and now gets to use them? Can anyone out there prove that network hasn't played an instigating role in some of these crises?
I didn't think so. I'm gonna start paying very close attention to Anderson Cooper for the rest of 2011. [Yeah, that doesn't sound weird at all!--ed.]
So this morning I checked the news and saw the following of interest:
2) The joint Saudi/UAE intervention into Bahrain threatening to become a regional flashpoint;
4) A poll suggesting that Ameticans' confidence in the American system of government had plunged to a 35-year low;
In other words, it looked like a full day of blog-worthy events, So you can imagine my utter delight at the fact that I spent most of today in an uber-academic conference, confined to a windowless, wireless room, not being able to blog about any of this.
Unfortunately, blogging time will not be ample for the rest of the week, as I'll be attending the International Studies Association annual meeting. So, let me step back and ask readers the following question: Five years from now, which of the five developments listed above will we look back and believe to be the most significant for world politics? Why?
I think the answer will still be the Japan earthquake, but I don't have any confidence at all in that prediction.
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?
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.