TO: My Foreign Policy bosses
FROM: Daniel W. Drezner
RE: How Foreign Policy Can Conquer the World
Comrades August Members of the Foreign Policy Community:
Since Foreign Policy revamped its web presence in early 2009, everything has gone according to the Master Plan. You have ensured that this site is one every foreign policy cognoscenti's "must click" list. You have won National Magazine Award after National Magazine Award. With the Sex Issue, you came out with an issue that generated enough buzz to light up Tina Brown's jealousy furnace for years to come.
But where can you go from here? After reading Edith Zimmerman's bemusing description of Cosmopolitan's global empire in the New York Times Magazine, I'm wondering if there's a way to leverage their model. From Zimmerman's story:
Cosmo has a cheerful, girlfriendy tone (“When Your Period Makes You Cra-a-zy”) and a much racier reputation than its newsstand competitors (“Eeek! You’ll Die When You Read What These ‘Normal’ Guys Wanted Once Their Pants Hit the Floor”). Its covers rarely fail to feature at least one bold, all-caps rendering of the word “sex.” The August issue, for instance, offered “52 Sex Tips” and “When Your Vagina Acts Weird After Sex.” A sampling of 2012 headlines includes “50 Sex Tips,” “50 Kinky Sex Moves,” “99 Sex Questions” and “His Best Sex Ever.”
The repetition can be a little numbing, but it may help explain how Cosmo, which is the best-selling monthly magazine in the United States, has morphed into such a global juggernaut. (“If all the Cosmo readers from around the world came together,” read a recent piece in Cosmo South Africa, “this group would form the 16th-largest country in the world.”) Through those 64 editions, the magazine now spreads wild sex stories to 100 million teens and young women (making it closer to the 12th-largest country, actually) in more than 100 nations — including quite a few where any discussion of sex is taboo. And plenty of others where reading a glossy magazine still carries cachet. (“Many girls consider a hard copy of Cosmo to be an important accessory,” says Maya Akisheva, the editor of Cosmo Kazakhstan.) As the brand proudly points out, in 2011 alone, these readers spent $1.4 billion on shoes, $400 million on cars, $2.5 billion on beauty products and $1.5 billion on fragrance and bought 24 million pairs of jeans.
Now, sure, this formula is ripe for satire... but the recipe for successful globalization is undeniable!! Sure, FP did its Sex Issue, but that also generated a fair amount of critical feedback. I think the better tactic is to copy Cosmo's style without its... er... substance. Let's face it, what grabs the attention of readers are Cosmo's headlines. And what grabs the attention of foteign policy cognoscenti is... war. Never mind that war and other forms of violence are on the wane -- war is happening, war is now, war is hot, war is what people want to talk about even if they're not doing much of it.
Scanning Cosmo's website, here are ten headlines that with juuuuuust a bit of tweaking clearly beg for Foreign Policy articles:
75 Ways to Fight an A-maz-ing War
Make it a War Your People Will Never Forget
David Petraeus is Our New Cover Boy!!
30 Things to Do to a Prostrate Adversary
"That's Our Land" and Other LOL Lines that can Start a Hot War
How to Make Your Citizens Beg for More War
When is it Time to Break
Upwith Your Current Military Strategy?
Diplomacy? Ewww!!! Would You Try this War Prevention Method?
How to Wow Your Enemy Every Single Time
Could Your Ally Be Cheating On You? Take the FP QUIZ!!
Now, like Cosmopolitan, Foreign Policy would likely have to tailor its content by country and/or region. I mean, "Nine MREs that Will Make Your Soldiers Go 'Mmmmm!'" would obviously need to be custom-edited to take into account dietary customs in other countries. And this strategy might be hard to market in places like Switzerland, Costa Rica, and so forth. Still, where Cosmopolitan has blazed the trail... Foreign Policy can and should napalm it all to hell... before The Atlantic gets to it first.
Call me, and I can get David Petraeus' makeup artist on speed-dial in no time.
Your humble blogger has returned from Shanghai, and would like to apologize profusely for the lack of blogging this past week. Conspiracy theorists might be wondering if it was because of The Great Firewall or rising anti-foreigner sentiment in China (which, based on personal experience and media reportage, appears to be vastly exaggerated) or whether I was some top-secret emissary of the U.S. governmment. The truth is much more banal: my laptop's power cord died during this trip, so my computer had no juice for blogging.
I will post something about Sino-American relations in due course, but in the meanwhile I see that over the past week, my departing zombie joke became... a big enough zombie story to require a CDC public response. The Huffington Post's Andy Campbell reports:
[NOTE: the following reads much better if you read it using the voice of Rod Serling!--ed.]
There's a subtle art to reading broadsheet American journalism. Reporters strain for objectivity, and in the process, strain to avoid anything that smacks of the prejorative. If you squint real hard at the text, however, you can occasionally detect moments when the reporter is dying, just dying, to state their blunt opinion on the matter at hand.
I bring this up because Liz Alderman of the New York Times, in her story on the possibility of a big deal in Europe to enlarge the European Financial Stability Facility, appears to be ever-so-subtly banging her head against her keyboard:
The rally in American stock markets was set off by a report late Tuesday on the Web site of The Guardian, a British newspaper, that France and Germany had agreed to increase the size of the rescue fund — the European Financial Stability Facility — to as much as 2 trillion euros to contain the crisis and backstop Europe’s banks. But almost as soon as those hopes soared, European officials quickly brought them back to earth, with denials flooding forth from Brussels, Paris and Berlin.
This latest round of rumors and rebuttals about a European solution was a repeat of earlier situations. Such episodes have played out several times since the debt crisis intensified this year. Most recently, investors have been pegging hopes on a meeting of Europe’s leaders set for this coming Sunday in Brussels, anticipating that a comprehensive solution to the debt crisis might be unveiled (emphasis added).
It would appear that Ms. Alderman has discovered that there is a fifth dimension of reporting, beyond that which is known to ordinary economic journalism. It is a dimension as vast as developed country sovereign debt and as timeless as currency itself. It is the middle ground between austerity and stimulus, between national sovereignty and supranational authority, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of European political economy. It is an area which we call... the eurozone.
I suspect public and/or media relations is one of those jobs that's way more glamorous in fiction than in fact. In film, being a master of public relations seems like one of those cool jobs a young hotshot possesses right before meeting Mila Kunis and having the epiphany that Love and Truth and Beauty are the only things worth a damn. In reality, however, there's the drudgery of sending endless e-mails, faxes, and voicemail messages to market one's clients. Rarely do the twain meet.
I bring this up because every once in a while, even a PR flack can scale the heights of greatness. Today's New York Times story by Julie Creswell, Louise Story and Edward Wyatt -- ostensibly an attempt to find out about the inner workings of Standard & Poor's sovereign debt committee contains one such moment:
When asked whether the company’s raters were hiding behind the secretive committee, Catherine Mathis, a spokeswoman for S.& P., said, “We do this to maintain our analytical independence in much the same way that the editorial board of The New York Times does not discuss its deliberations.” Ms. Mathis was a spokeswoman for The Times until two years ago.
To which I must say:
I mean this seriously and not facetiously. By implicitly linking S&P's practices to those of the New York Times, Mathis sells the elite credentials of her institution. It's a brilliant gambit because it leaves the Times' reporters with unpalatable options. Either they try to detail the precise differences between the Gray Lady and S&P, which would have seemed like total hair-splitting -- or they just move on to the rest of the story.
If Mathis was the S&P person handling the Times reporters, she earned her money's worth with this article. Despite myriad qualms with S&P's methodology, and despite that whole $2 trillion math error, the story has nary a critical or investigative word to say of Standard & Poor's.
Instead, first half of the story story consists of anodyne biographic material of the ratings committee leadership. The second half of the story focuses solely on an IMF report that provides a partial endorsement of S&P's sovereign debt ratings -- including this nugget:
One chapter of the report said that all nations that had defaulted on their sovereign debt since 1975 had been placed in a noninvestment-grade category at least one year before the default.
So, in other words, S&P hasn't missed a single basket case in the past 35 years. Is it just me, or is that setting the bar pretty low?
Regardless of how one feels about Standard & Poor's
contribution to the decline and fall of western civilization decisions, however, one must step back and respect the yoeman efforts of an outstanding public relations team. The hard-working staff here at ForeignPolicy.com therefore toasts Catherine Mathis and her team for some quality PR work. One can only hope that, in the near future, Ms. Mathis stumbles across Justin Timberlake at a New York bar and finds the True Meaning of Life.
With the latest WikiLeaks dump, Julian Assange clearly thinks he's blown the doors off of American hypocrisy:
The cables show the extent of US spying on its allies and the UN; turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuse in "client states"; backroom deals with supposedly neutral countries; lobbying for US corporations; and the measures US diplomats take to advance those who have access to them.
This document release reveals the contradictions between the US's public persona and what it says behind closed doors -- and shows that if citizens in a democracy want their governments to reflect their wishes, they should ask to see what's going on behind the scenes.
Every American schoolchild is taught that George Washington "the country's first President" could not tell a lie. If the administrations of his successors lived up to the same principle, today's document flood would be a mere embarrassment. Instead, the US Government has been warning governments -- even the most corrupt -- around the world about the coming leaks and is bracing itself for the exposures.
Um... a few things:
1) I don't know about other Americans, but I was taught that the "not telling a lie" story was apocryphal.
2) You know, polite people tell their friends and neighbors about embarrassments that could affect them as well as Big Lies.
3) There are no Big Lies. Indeed, Blake Hounshell's original tweet holds: "the U.S. is remarkably consistent in what it says publicly and privately." Assange -- and his source for all of this, Bradley Manning -- seem to think that these documents will expose American perfidy. Based on the initial round of reactions, they're in for a world of disappointment. Oh, sure, there are small lies and lies of omission -- Bob Gates probably didn't mention to Dmitri Medvedev or Vladimir Putin that "Russian democracy has disappeared." Still, I'm not entirely sure how either world politics or American interests would be improved if Gates had been that blunt in Moscow.
If this kind of official hypocrisy is really the good stuff, then there is no really good stuff. U.S. officials don't always perfectly advocate for human rights? Not even the most naive human rights activist would believe otherwise. American diplomats are advancing U.S. commercial interests? American officials have been doing that since the beginning of the Republic. American diplomats help out their friends? Yeah, that's called being human. I'm willing to be convinced otherwise, but it strikes me that these leaks show other governments engaged in far more hypocritical behavior.
In the first season of Mad Men, there's a great scene when ad
man Don Draper encounters some beatniks. After one of them rips into Don
for The Man and his square ways, he responds as follows:
I hate to break it to you, but there is no Big Lie.
There is no System.
The universe is indifferent.
That's pretty much my reaction to the utopian absurdities of the WikiLeaks manifesto.
It is worth thinking through the long-term implications of this data dump, however. Rob Farley observes:
I'm also pretty skeptical that this release will incline the United States government to make more information publicly available in the future. Bureaucracies don't seem to react to attacks in that manner; I suspect that the State Department will rather act to radically reduce access to such material in order to prevent future leaks.
Asked why such sensitive material was posted on a network accessible to thousands of government employees, the state department spokesman told the Guardian: "The 9/11 attacks and their aftermath revealed gaps in intra-governmental information sharing. Since the attacks of 9/11, the US government has taken significant steps to facilitate information sharing. These efforts were focused on giving diplomatic, military, law enforcement and intelligence specialists quicker and easier access to more data to more effectively do their jobs."
Well, I think it's safe to say that compartmentalization will be back in vogue real soon -- which means, in the long run, both less transparency and less effective policy coordination. It's not the job of WikiLeaks to care about the second problem, but they should care about the first.
Am I missing anything?
The post-mortems on the political journalism and political science APSA panel have been pouring forth like the body count in The Expendables. There's one thread in particulat that has piqued my interest, however. It starts with this Rob Farley observation:
By and large, IR and comparative haven’t had the same impact on the journalist community in either their quantitative or qualitative forms. I think that several major concepts/grand theories from both comparative and IR have found their way into the general policy conversation (deterrence theory, for example) but it’s more difficult to find uses of clear, sound political science research. IPE might be an exception to this. The immense political science literature on ethnic conflict seems utterly detached from the way that ethnic conflict is treated in the popular media.
To which, Matthew Yglesias responds:
I think you find almost no journalistic interest in comparative politics scholarship as just part and parcel of the overall solipsism of American popular political debates which take place in a kind of comparison-free void. The IR scholarship issue is quite different, since there’s tons and tons of journalistic work on subject matter to which scholarly IR research is plainly present. And the issue here, I think, is really primarily one of politics. The kinds of policy approaches that find support in the IR literature or can be usefully illuminated through it are just too far off the center of the American political consensus.
There are all kinds of problems with this. To begin with, [Yglesias] basically starts by admitting that journalists really couldn't care less about educating their readers, at least if the prerequisite of that is having a basic familiarity with the subject they are covering. Instead, all journalists care about are the "bounds of the DC debate", not stupid boring messy things like facts or scientific inquiry. No, those get in the way of "catastrophically misguided" right-wing policies that Democrats supported, dammit! Better to have a purely insult-based foreign policy discussion, completely void of theory or substance....
I would be surprised if Yglesias could outline more than one or two "scholarly controversies" in IR in any detail, much less describe how foreign policy has no interaction with those arguments. Bush 43's entire foreign policy was based on a mutation of democratic peace theory, which is hotly contested in the academy and elsewhere. Clinton's foreign policy was the largest experiment in neoliberal institutionalism that the world has ever seen, and it too was vehemently debated in the scholarly circles, and still is. The whole Cold War was practically a petri dish for IR theory. In all cases American foreign policy was engineered in part or full by IR scholars. What on earth is Yglesias waiting for?
In other words, it's just not true that scholarly debates have nothing to say about political controversies, or that they are "too far off the center of American political consensus". Every foreign policy decision that governments make has been discussed and analyzed, however imperfectly, by IR scholars and has been adopted or denied by politicians and ideologues. Yglesias just hasn't done his homework. Which is sad, because "homework" in this case basically entails e-mailing Drezner. Or even me.
Boys, boys!! Everyone in a neutral corner please!!
There are a few things to unpack here. In essence, I have to take issue with all of these excerpts. Part of the problem is that the panel that inspired this whole discussion in the first place was dominated by people who blog/write/care a hell of a lot more about American politics than world politics. Not that there's anything wrong with that -- but it's dangerous to tease out implications from such a group.
As someone who has consumed and interacted with foreign affairs journalists from time to time, here are my observations:
1) The big mismatch between American journalists and IR academics is that when journalists are writing about international relations, they're likely focusing on a single event or episode -- a crisis with China, a disaster in Pakistan, sanctions against Iran, etc. International relations scholars, on the other hand, tend to think in more abstract terms that involve multiple observations: great power relations, humanitarian disasters, or sanctions episodes. Because journalists are far more interested in the particulars of individual narratives, however, the skill set does not always match up. Journalists writing about a particular case are understandably not fond of stating the average probability of policy success in a generic class of events. Doing so eliminates the particularities and idiosyncracies of the individual event -- i.e., the very value-added provided by the journalist.
This doesn't mean that IR scholars are completely ignored -- I find I get calls/queries when journalists are writing their "news analysis" pieces that take stock of a particular policy. It does mean that our research is not likely to appear in the first wave of stories about an event, however -- and that wave has a way of framing the subsequent narrative.
2) To be honest, I suspect that this state of affairs bothers IR scholars all that much, for two reasons. First, as I suggested at the panel (and Yglesias blogged), there are a lot of professional reasons why political scientists don't want their work to break through to the public sphere. Second, good IR scholars care less about access to journalists because they have better access to the actors they really care about -- the policymakers themselves. There is a decent amount of interaction between mid-ranking officials and IR academics, and those channels can influence policy a lot more than talking to journalists. Of course, this contributes to gaps between public opinion and foreign policy elites, but that's been going on for many a decade already.
3) To be honest, I'm not sure what Yglesias is talking about with respect to IR scholarship and political partisanship. It might be that the IR paradigms don't map neatly onto political cleavages. Realist and liberal approaches can be found in the mainstream of both party's foreign policy communities. More broadly, rational choice thinking is shot through the foreign policy mainstream. There are some schools of thought -- constructivism, feminism, etc. -- that might be thought of as outside the mainstream. On the other hand, these approaches aren't exactly mainstreamed within the scholarly community either.
Scholars who advocate policy positions out of favor with the current administratio n have opportunities to exercise their voice, through op-eds, congressional testimony, etc. Once they've done that, political journalists can find them to get critical quotes, etc.
4) Drezner to Yglesias: please call Winecoff before calling me. My cup, it runneth over right now.
Am I missing anything?
Today's example is the New York Times story, "Attacks on Detainee Lawyers Split Conservatives." The lead:
A conservative advocacy organization in Washington, Keep America Safe, kicked up a storm last week when it released a video that questioned the loyalty of Justice Department lawyers who worked in the past on behalf of detained terrorism suspects.
But beyond the expected liberal outrage, the tactics of the group, which is run by Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president, have also split the tightly knit world of conservative legal scholars. (emphasis added)
The story repeatedly argues that the conservative legal community is deeply divided on the issue. Now, I understand split as implying that members of this community are lining up on one side or the other. The thing is, I'm not seeing a lot of evidence that anyone in the conservative legal community is really lining up behind Keep America Safe. The Times story by John Schwartz has a quote by John Yoo that kinda sorta supports the ad, but it's really weak tea -- Yoo "said he had not seen the material from Ms. Cheney’s group," according to the story.
Then we get to this section:
A Keep America Safe spokesman responded to a request for comment by passing along links to essays by supporters like Marc A. Thiessen, a columnist for The Washington Post, who wrote on Monday that the detainees did not deserve the same level of representation as criminal defendants.
The lawyers, Mr. Thiessen wrote, “were not doing their constitutional duty to defend unpopular criminal defendants.” He said, “They were using the federal courts as a tool to undermine our military’s ability to keep dangerous enemy combatants off the battlefield in a time of war.”
Even if we expand our orbit to include other prominent conservatives, it seems pretty clear that beyond Thiessen, Bill Kristol, Michelle Malkin, and the Cheneys, there ain't a lotta conservative love for the attack ad. Over at The Cable, Josh Rogin tried to get a GOP Senator to endorse the ad and failed. I wouldn't characterize Glenn Greenwald as a defender of the right, but even he notes that, "only the hardest-core ideological dead-enders are defending them."
The more interesting way to frame this story would have been to show that professional norms do act as a serious constraint on political behavior. Schwartz quotes David B. Rivkin Jr., co-chairman of the Center for Law and Counterterrorism in exactly this fashion:
“I appreciate the partisan advantage to be gained here,” Mr. Rivkin said, but “it’s not the right way to proceed.” He said he preferred “principled ways for debating where this administration is wrong — there’s no reason to resort to ad hominem attacks.”
So, just to sum up -- the Times got to this story at least a day later than everyone else, and then used an inappropriate frame to describe the situation. There's no conservative legal split -- there's a pretty strong consensus that the Keep America Safe ad crossed the line.
Steve Walt effectively vivisects Adam Lawther's op-ed yesterday on the alleged positive externalities that an Iranian nuclear bomb would have on the Middle East and American foreign policy. Rather than dogpile on, I'm going to go meta again.
I'm intrigued by what op-ed editor David Shipley is trying to do on the Iran debate. Lawther's op-ed is hardly the first strange op-ed on Iran to appear in the past few months. We've also had Alan Kuperman's analysis for why bombing Iran is such a good idea, and the Leverett's pay-no-attention-to-the-protestors-behind-the-curtain argument for enhanced engagement with the current Iranian leadership.
As the links above suggest, I'm not a fan of any of these arguments. That said, I am a fan of having these arguments inserted into the public discussion over Iran. Ever since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, a common lament has been that was no public debate about the wisdom of different policy options. Both foreign policy mooseheads and scholars have highlighted this pre-invasion consensus. These analyses might be somewhat exaggerated, but I think it would be difficult to deny that in the opinion pages of the major newspapers, the deck was somewhat stacked in favor of military action.
My hunch is that Shipley is thinking: "Won't Get Fooled Again" He wants as heterogeneous an array of views as possible as the Iran situation develops.
There is something laudable about this if it's true -- it's exactly what the Times op-ed page should be doing as a foreign policy crisis unfolds. My only concern is the caliber of reasoning in these op-eds. They are, as Walt put it, "silly arguments." On the other hand, if these ideas are vetted and then shot down, maybe the foreign policy community actually knows what it's talking about this time around.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Your humble blogger's all-time favorite historian, Mary Elise Sarotte, has just published her magnum opus, 1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe, about the fall of the Brelin Wall and the year of diplomacy that led to a renunified Germany ensconced within NATO and the European Union.
In the Washington Post yesterday, Sarotte recounts the precise manner in which the Berlin Wall fell. Turns out that a botched press conference played a rather significant role:
That night at 6, Guenter Schabowski, a member of the East German Politburo who served as its spokesman, was scheduled to hold a news conference. Shortly before it began, he received a piece of paper with an update on the regulations and a suggestion that he mention them publicly. He had not been involved in discussions about the rules and did not have time to read the document carefully before starting.
His hour-long news conference was so tedious that Tom Brokaw, who was there, remembered being "bored." But in the final minutes, an Italian journalist's question about travel spurred Schabowski's memory. He tried to summarize the new regulations but became confused, and his sentences trailed off. "Anyway, today, as far as I know, a decision has been made," he said. "It is a recommendation of the Politburo that has been taken up, that one should from the draft of a travel law, take out a passage. . ."
Among the long-winded clauses, some snippets leapt out: "exit via border crossings" and "possible for every citizen."
Suddenly, every journalist in the room had questions. "When does that go into force?" shouted one. "Immediately?" shouted another. Rattled and mumbling to himself, Schabowski flipped through his papers until he uttered the phrase: "Immediately, right away."
It felt as if "a signal had come from outer space and electrified the room," Brokaw recalled. Some wire journalists rushed out to file reports, but the questions kept coming, among them: "What will happen to the Berlin Wall now?"
Alarmed about what was unfolding, Schabowski concluded with more muddled responses: "The question of travel, of the permeability therefore of the wall from our side, does not yet answer, exclusively, the question of the meaning, of this, let me say it this way, fortified border." Furthermore, "the debate over these questions could be positively influenced if the Federal Republic [of West Germany] and if NATO would commit themselves to and carry out disarmament."
As NATO was unlikely to disarm itself by breakfast, Schabowski clearly did not expect much to happen that night. But it was too late -- by 7:03 p.m., the wires were reporting that the Berlin Wall was open.
Read the rest of the article to find out what happened at Checkpoint Charlie and other guardposts across the Wall that evening. And buy Sarotte's book to discover the rest of the story of German reunification.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in an interview Wednesday that he was uncertain how many houses he and his wife, Cindy, own. "I think - I'll have my staff get to you," McCain told us in Las Cruces, N.M. "It's condominiums where - I'll have them get to you." The correct answer is at least four, located in Arizona, California and Virginia, according to his staff. Newsweek estimated this summer that the couple owns at least seven properties.... McCain’s comments came four days after he initially told Pastor Rick Warren during a faith forum on Sunday his threshold for considering someone rich is $5 million — a careless comment he quickly corrected.This really has nothing to do with McCain's fitness for the presidency. But it is the perfect, bite-size story that allows the media to frame a candidate as out of touch. And, because it follows closely on the comment to Warren, it can be a meme. I call upon my readers to pay close attention and see whether this story gets legs beyond the lefty blogosphere.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.