So last week there was some interesting data clean-up in the foreign policy blogosphere, and some less interesting commentary on it. Let's dive in!
Max Fisher posted an item at the Washington Post relying on World Values Survey (WVS) data to generate a global map of racism. He found a Foreign Policy write-up of a Kyklos paper that two Swedish economists published that relied on WVS data. Fisher's map was based on a response to one question:
The survey asked respondents in more than 80 different countries to identify kinds of people they would not want as neighbors. Some respondents, picking from a list, chose “people of a different race.” The more frequently that people in a given country say they don’t want neighbors from other races, the economists reasoned, the less racially tolerant you could call that society.
Fisher constructed a global map based on the responses to that query, a map that contained some striking findings. Western countries seemed to be far more tolerant (or far savvier at answering this survey question). Countries such as Pakistan seeming to be way more tolerant than India and Bangladesh, for example.
Fisher's post generated a lot of attention (full disclosure: I tweeted about it) -- so much so that some social scientists started to look at the WVS data and found some serious issues with it. The Fletcher School's Ashirul Amin, for example, dug into the data found that the reason for the seemingly low tolerance of Bangladeshis was a data entry error on the World Values Survey site -- the number of "tolerant" and "intolerant" respondents were reversed for one particular year.
Other social scientists, including Steve Saideman, also weighed in with methodological criticisms.
Going further, Siddhartha Mitter pointed out ways in which different nationalities view "race" as a different kind of social construct, thereby making inter-country comparisons a problematic exercise.
The biggest problem, of course, is that “race” is impossible to operationalize in a cross-national comparison. Whereas a homosexual, or an Evangelical Christian, or a heavy drinker, or a person with a criminal record, means more or less the same thing country to country, a person being of “another race” depends on constructs that vary widely, in both nature and level of perceived importance, country to country, and indeed, person to person. In other words, out of all of the many traits of difference for which the WVS surveyed respondents’ tolerance, the Swedish economists – and Fisher, in their wake – managed to select for comparison the single most useless one.
The reason I'm blogging about this, however, is where Mitter went after lodging these criticisms. According to him, the fault lies not with the data entry, but with the foreign policy blogger:
The problem here isn’t the “finding” that the Anglo-Saxon West is more tolerant. The problem is the pseudo-analysis. The specialty of foreign-affairs blogging is explaining to a supposedly uninformed public the complexities of the outside world. Because blogging isn’t reporting, nor is it subject to much editing (let alone peer review), posts like Fisher’s are particularly vulnerable to their author’s blind spots and risk endogenizing, instead of detecting and flushing out, the bullshit in their source material. What is presented as education is very likely to turn out, in reality, obfuscation.
This is an endemic problem across the massive middlebrow “Ideas” industry that has overwhelmed the Internet, taking over from more expensive activities like research and reporting. In that respect, Fisher’s work is a symptom, not a cause. But in his position as a much-read commentator at the Washington Post, claiming to decipher world events through authoritative-looking tools like maps and explainers (his vacuous Central African Republic explainer was a classic of non-information verging on false information, but that’s a discussion for another time), he contributes more than his weight to the making of the conventional wisdom. As such, it would be welcome and useful if he held himself to a high standard of analysis – or at least, social-science basics. Failing that, he’s just another charlatan peddling gee-whiz insights to a readership that’s not as dumb as he thinks.
Cards on the tale: earlier in the post, Mitter indicates he doesn't think much of Foreign Policy bloggers either, so I'm pretty sure he won't think much of my own musings here. And I understand Mitter's anger about a misleading map coming from an outlet that generates a lot of eyeballs. That said, his critique is off-base for two reasons.
First, in this instance, the primary fault lies not with foreign policy bloggers, but with academics. It's not like Fisher commissioned a bogus survey and then wrote up the findings in a misleading manner. Rather, he relied on a survey that goes back three decades and has been cited pretty widely in the academic literature. He got to that survey via an academic article that got through the peer-review process. Almost all journalists not in possession of a Ph.D., going through that route, would have taken the data as gospel. It's not clear to me why Mitter thinks a full-blown foreign correspondent would be better versed in the "social science basics." Would Mitter have expected, say, Ryan Avent or Matthew Yglesias to have ferreted out Reinhart and Rogoff's Excel error, for example? I'm all for better education in the ways of statistics and social science methodology in the foreign affairs community, but methinks Mitter is setting the bar extraordinarily high here.
Second, the blog ecosystem "worked" in this particular case. Fisher posted something, a bunch of social scientists looked at the post and found something problematic, and lo and behold, errors in the data were discovered and publicized. As I've opined before, one of the signal purposes of blogging is to critique those higher up in the intellectual food chain. I understand that Mitter would prefer that the original error never take place. By its very nature, however, the peer review process for blogging takes place after publication -- not before. That's a bit messier than the academic route to publication -- and, because Fisher has a larger megaphone, one could posit that with great traffic comes great responsibility. Still, I suspect that anyone who titles a post "The Cartography of Bullshit" probably wouldn't want too heavy of an editorial hand to be placed on their prose.
At the heart of Mitter's lament is his untested hypothesis that foreign affairs blogging has caused the decline in research and international reporting. This strikes me as more correlation than causation, however. Furthermore, it implies that they are substitutes when in fact they are complements. The source material for a lot of foreign affairs blogging is academic research and in-depth international reportage. If Mitter wants to see a better informed public, then there needs to be as much focus on the quality of the primary source material as in the quality of the transmission mechanism.
Am I missing anything?
UPDATE: Mitter has responded in part here, and at more length in a constructive comment to this post. Both are well worth reading, and put some more context into his original post. He's getting to some interesting tensions about the nature of expertise and "publicity" in a changing media landscape that are worth mulling over before responding.
So last week was a pretty interesting one in wonkworld. Whether it was a disturbing week is in the eye of the beholder.
To recap: Last Monday the Heritage Foundation released a report claiming that proposed immigration reforms would cost north of $6 trillion. This report received a lot of pushback from liberal, libertarian, and conservative policy analysts.
As the debate fragmented into myriad sub-debates, one eddy focused on one of the co-authors, Heritage senior policy analyst Jason Richwine. As the Washington Post's Dylan Matthews unearthed, Richwine's Harvard University dissertation was titled "IQ and Immigration Policy." In it, he made the arguments that 1) Hispanic immigrants have lower IQs than white Americans, 2) that difference is partly due to genetic differences between the races, and 3) these differences will not dissipate with successive generations. You can figure out Richwine's policy conclusions for yourself. Dave Weigel at Slate also discovered that Richwine had contributed to a "white nationalist magazine" on the side.
Needless to say, Heritage started backpedaling as furiously as possible from Richwine. They made it clear that Richwine's dissertation was not a Heritage work product and that they didn't endorse it. Then, last Friday, the final boom came: Richwine "resigned" from Heritage. I put that in quotes because, given the circumstances, there's no earthly reason he would have resigned without some serious pressure from those above him at the think tank.
So, what does this all mean? Three thoughts:
1) Hey, so it turns out that ideas do matter in public policy. Not just any ideas either, but the quality of the ideas. This isn't to say that politics aren't involved in what happened this past week -- this is totally about political self-interest as well -- but the incomplete and distorted analysis that Heritage provided left it very vulnerable to pushback.
2) A few immigration skeptics on the right, such as Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin, have decried what they see as intellectual PC-thoughtcrime run amok. Malkin in particular decries the "smug dismissal of Richwine's credentials and scholarship." Now, to be blunt, this is just a little rich coming from someone who has not been shy when it comes to smug dismissals of Ivy League credentials in the past. That said, whenever someone goes from anonymous to the focus of a white-hot media scrum to fired inside of a week, I get queasy. Was there a rush to judgment here?
I'd break this down into two steps: First, whether Heritage acted appropriately, and second, whether Richwine's work merits the mantle of brave truth-teller. On the former, well, this is a key difference between a think tank and a university. Think tanks are trying to influence public policy, and the taint of having someone dabbling with the racist fringe on the payroll is a difficult one to erase. So, yeah, it shouldn't be all that shocking that Richwine is no longer working at Heritage, whereas university professors who say or write controversial things stay on the payroll.
As for the quality of Richwine's dissertation, the primary defense that Malkin et al. offer appears to be the caliber of Richwine's dissertation committee. From Malkin's post:
No researcher or academic institution is safe if this smear campaign succeeds. Richwine’s dissertation committee at Harvard included George Borjas, Robert W. Scrivner Professor of Economics and Social Policy. The Cuban-born scholar received his PhD in economics from Columbia. He is an award-winning labor economist, National Bureau of Economic Research research associate, and author of countless books, including a widely used labor economics textbook now in its sixth edition.
Richard J. Zeckhauser, the Frank P. Ramsey Professor of Political Economy at JFK, also signed off on Richwine’s dissertation. Zeckhauser earned a PhD in economics from Harvard. He belongs to the Econometric Society, the American Academy of Sciences, and the Institute of Medicine (National Academy of Sciences).
The final member of the committee that approved Richwine’s "racist" thesis is Christopher Jencks, the Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy at Harvard's JFK School. He is a renowned left-wing academic who has taught at Harvard, Northwestern, the University of Chicago, and the University of California, Santa Barbara. He edited the liberal New Republic magazine in the 1960s and has written several scholarly books tackling poverty, economic inequality, affirmative action, welfare reform, and yes, racial differences (The Black White Test Score Gap).
The willingness of Republican Gang of 8'ers to allow a young conservative researcher and married father of two to be strung up by the p.c. lynch mob for the crime of unflinching social science research is chilling, sickening, and suicidal.
These are serious people doing serious work.
I must confess that Malkin's lament made me think of this:
This is not to denigrate Richwine's dissertation committee. Still, as someone all too familiar with the Ph.D. life, let's just say that an argument based solely on authority is not convincing. I've perused parts of Richwine's dissertation, and … well … hoo boy. Key terms are poorly defined, auxiliary assumptions abound, and the literature I'm familiar with that is cited as authoritative is, well, not good. It's therefore unsurprising that, until last week, Richwine's dissertation disappeared into the ether the moment after it was approved. According to Google Scholar, no one cited it in the four years since it appeared. Furthermore, Richwine apparently didn't convert any part of it into any kind of refereed or non-refereed publication. Based on the comments that Weigel and others have received from Richwine's dissertation committee, one wonders just how much supervising was going on.
3) This whole affair should be a cautionary tale to Ph.D. students and profs alike. For the grad students -- particularly those planning on going into the policy world -- your dissertation will follow you for the rest of your life. Don't think you can just grind one out barely above the bar and it won't matter. And if you're puzzled why your advisor or a member of your dissertation committee is acting all anal retentive about some aspect of your thesis, there's a good reason. Our dissertation students follow us for the rest of our careers. The last thing we want as advisors is to get a phone call from a reporter asking us why we let some dubious piece of work skate through. It's our asses on the line as well.
Am I missing anything?
Your humble blogger awoke this AM to an automated phone call informing me to lock all my doors and not to go outside because of, well, this.
As I'm typing this, one of the suspected bombers is dead, and the other one is on the run and somewhere kinda close to where I lie.
So, I've spent the AM watching cable news and checking my Twitter feed to find out everything about the suspected Boston Marathon bombers. So here are the most useful links I've seen today, beyond the excellent tick-tock on this past evening from the New York Times that was liked above):
1) The Wall Street Journal has a solid profile on the Tsarnaev brothers suspected of being the Boston Marathon bombers. And Adam Serwer at Mother Jones has some disturbing info about Tamerlan's beliefs.
2) Business Insider has some 28 Days Later-style photos of the unpopulated Boston streets right now.
3) How do you build brand loyalty? By staying open for cops during a lockdown. Dunkin Donuts for the win.
4) So, the suspected bombers are Chechen. For useful links to that conflict, check out the Council on Foreign Relations as well as The Monkey Cage and Foreign Policy. Oh, and Chechnya's leaders ain't pleased about this.
5) According to the New York Post, it sounds like these Chechens are in league with the Evil League of Evil to smite down Glenn Beck and Infowars because the latter has been hoarding Bitcoins and -- OK, I clearly need to get off the internet.
That is all. For now.
A. Iain Johnston has the lead article in the latest issue of International Security. It's available for free right now, and it's quite the doozy. Entitled "How New and Assertive is China's New Assertiveness?", Johnston picks apart the claim made by many (including your humble blogger) that China's post-2008 foreign policy represented anything all that much out of the ordinary. From the abstract:
There has been a rapidly spreading meme in U.S. pundit and academic circles since 2010 that describes China's recent diplomacy as “newly assertive.” This “new assertiveness” meme suffers from two problems. First, it underestimates the complexity of key episodes in Chinese diplomacy in 2010 and overestimates the amount of change. Second, the explanations for the new assertiveness claim suffer from unclear causal mechanisms and lack comparative rigor that would better contextualize China's diplomacy in 2010. An examination of seven cases in Chinese diplomacy at the heart of the new assertiveness meme finds that, in some instances, China's policy has not changed; in others, it is actually more moderate; and in still others, it is a predictable reaction to changed external conditions. In only one case—maritime disputes—does one see more assertive Chinese rhetoric and behavior.
Johnston has forgotten more about Chinese foreign policy than I will ever learn, so I'd encourage you to give the whole piece a read. My take is that I'm actually not that far apart from Johnston. As he notes, China's foreign policy had its share of belligerent episodes prior to 2008. He also acknowledges that there has been some movement by China on a couple of issues, including the maritime disputes. He also omits any discussion of some of the cases that I've highlighted on the blog, including the reaction to Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Peace Prize, as well as the kerfuffle with Google.
What's really interesting, however, is the second part of that abstract:
The speed and extent with which the newly assertive meme has emerged point to an understudied issue in international relations—namely, the role that online media and the blogosphere play in the creation of conventional wisdoms that might, in turn, constrain policy debates. The assertive China discourse may be a harbinger of this effect as a Sino-U.S. security dilemma emerges (emphasis added).
Whoa there!! Bloggers are constraining policy debates?
Here's the relevant passage from the article itself (p. 46-47):
The conventional description of Chinese diplomacy in 2010 seems to point to a new, but poorly understood, factor in international relations—namely, the speed with which new conventional wisdoms are created, at least within the public sphere, by the interaction of the internet-based traditional media and the blogosphere. One study has found, for instance, that on some U.S. public policy issues, the blogosphere and the traditional media interact in setting the agenda for coverage for each other. Moreover, on issues where this interaction occurs, much of the effect happens within four days. Other research suggests that political bloggers, for the most part, do not engage in original reporting and instead rely heavily on the mainstream media for the reproduction of alleged facts. The media, meanwhile, increasingly refers to blogs as source material. The result is, as one study put it, “a news source cycle, in which news content can be passed back and forth from media to media.” Additional research suggests that the thematic agendas for political campaigns and politicians themselves are increasingly influenced by blogosphere-media interaction.
Together, this research suggests that the prevailing framework for characterizing Chinese foreign policy in recent years may be relevant for the further development (and possible narrowing) of the policy discourse among media, think tank, and policy elites. As the agenda-setting literature suggests, this is not a new phenomenon. What is new, however, is the speed with which these narratives are created and spread—a discursive tidal wave, if you will. This gives first movers with strong policy preferences advantages in producing and circulating memes and narratives in the electronic media or in high-profile blogs, or both. This, in turn, further reduces the time and incentives for participants in policy debates to conduct rigorous comparative analysis prior to participation.
And here I'm going to have to disagree with Johnston a bit. On a day in which the mainstream media demonstrated a truly excellent ability to spread its own misinformation -- and, in response, said mainstream media blamed Twitter -- I'm highly dubious that the blogs play that much of a causal role. To be sure, I do think blogs can sometimes perpetuate falsehoods. That said, most of Johnston's evidence for blog effects comes from domestic policy, and methinks the foreign policy media ecosystem functions a wee bit differently.
If I had to wager why the misperceptions about China that Johnston enumerates have emerged, I'd hypothesize, in descending order of importance, the following reasons:
1) Foreign affairs columnists and international relations analysts who hadn't paid that much attention to China prior to 2008 had no choice but to pay a lot of attention to Beijing after the financial crisis;
2) Interest groups in the United States that were traditionally predisposed towards a more dovish view of China started feeling burned by Beijing on matters unrelated to security.
3) The media likes a trend, and a lot of the incidents that Johnston chronicles took place in rapid-fire fashion from the end of 2009 to the middle of 2010.
4) The Obama administration's rebalancing strategy validated the perception that China was doing something different.
5) Blogs acted as an amplifier for all of these other trends.
What's ironic about this is that in the article, Johnston properly takes a lot of the conventional wisdom to task for ahistoricism and problematic causal arguments in assessing Chinese behavior after 2008. I'd wager, however, that Johnston has done the exact same thing with respect to the foreign policy blogosphere.
What do you think?
Your humble blogger was not kidding when he said he was on vacation. Furthermore, this isn't one of those vacations where I can just hide away in my hotel room for hours on end, composing the kind of artisanal, hand-crafted blog posts that make feel Wittgensteinian and all. No, this is the kind of vacation where I can feel the disapproving eyes of my family on my hunched shoulders every time I look at my laptop.
So, in the interest of making everyone happy, this week's blog posts will be of the more old school, "Hey, read this!" kind of link-o-rama that Twitter has made quasi-obsiolete. For each day, I'll focus on topics that revisit an old blog post of mine, to see if there's anything new of interesting out there.
1) Greg Ferenstein, "Former Political Scientist to Congress: Please Defund Political Science." The Atlantic. My take: In all seriousness, about 85% of all political science research can pass the "mother in law test" -- the question is whether political scientists are articulate enough to do this with their own research.
3) Jay Ulfelder, "Why is Academic Writing so Bad? A Brief Response to Stephen Walt," Dart-Throwing Chimp. My take: um... yeah, Jay's right. One caveat: Writing for a general audience requires some genuine craft and care with one's prose style, so those political scientists who want to write for a wider audience do need to care about the writing. Which leads to whispers and murmurs that if they write well, they're not focusing enough on their research. Which leads to a vicious cycle of bad writing.
4) Adam Elkus, "Relevant to Policy?" CNAS. My take: definitely worth a read, and an interesting counter to Ferenstein in particular.
And now... time to unhunch my shoulders!!
The New Republic has relaunched in style, featuring a spiffy new website and a sitdown interview with President Barack Obama. Alas, much of the interview was about internal GOP politics. Only the last question was about foreign policy, but Obama provided an interesting answer. In TNR owner Chris Hughes queried about how he morally copes with the ongoing violence in Syria without substantive U.S. intervention. Here's his response in full:
Every morning, I have what's called the PDB—presidential daily briefing—and our intelligence and national security teams come in here and they essentially brief me on the events of the previous day. And very rarely is there good news. And a big chunk of my day is occupied by news of war, terrorism, ethnic clashes, violence done to innocents. And what I have to constantly wrestle with is where and when can the United States intervene or act in ways that advance our national interest, advance our security, and speak to our highest ideals and sense of common humanity.
And as I wrestle with those decisions, I am more mindful probably than most of not only our incredible strengths and capabilities, but also our limitations. In a situation like Syria, I have to ask, can we make a difference in that situation? Would a military intervention have an impact? How would it affect our ability to support troops who are still in Afghanistan? What would be the aftermath of our involvement on the ground? Could it trigger even worse violence or the use of chemical weapons? What offers the best prospect of a stable post-Assad regime? And how do I weigh tens of thousands who've been killed in Syria versus the tens of thousands who are currently being killed in the Congo?
Those are not simple questions. And you process them as best you can. You make the decisions you think balance all these equities, and you hope that, at the end of your presidency, you can look back and say, I made more right calls than not and that I saved lives where I could, and that America, as best it could in a difficult, dangerous world, was, net, a force for good. (emphasis added)
I hear a lot of loose talk about what Barack Obama's foreign policy is really like, but I'd argue that the bolded sections pretty much encapsulate his foreign policy preferences. For him, national interest and security trumps liberal values every day of the week and twice on Sundays.
[But that's a false dichotomy!!--ed. You've been listening to too many Jon Favreau speeches. The easy foreign policy calls are when values and interests line up. It's when they conflict that we get a better sense of what's vital and what's... less important.] Obama looks at Syria and sees a grisly situation where the status quo doesn't hurt American interests -- in fact, it's a mild net positive. Given that situation, Obama's incentive to intervene is pretty low.
Does this mean Obama is amoral or un-American? Hardly. That answer suggests two things. First. liberal values do matter to Obama -- they just don't matter as much as other things. Second, to be fair, contra academic realism, there is a set of ethical values that are attached to realpolitik, and I think they inform Obama's decision-making as well. It seems pretty clear that Obama's first foreign policy instinct after advancing the national interest is the foreign policy equivalent of the Hippocratic oath: first, do no harm. If you think about it, the one liberal deviation from Obama's foreign policy is the Libya intervention, where he explicitly authorized the use of force for a mission that he acknowledged was not in the core national interest. It worked, but we've seen/seeing the second-order effects in Benghazi and across Northern Africa.
I'm bemused by neoconservatives who simutaneously pillory the Obama administration for the Benghazi screw-up, yet call for greater efforts to "do something" in Syria. What happened in Benghazi, and Algeria, and Mali are the direct follow-ons from the last time the U.S. ramped up its efforts in a non-strategic situation. If anything, it seems clear that Obama has learned from that lesson -- as well as the Afghanistan "surge" -- and determined that the utility of military intervention is more limited and the costs are even greater than he imagined in 2008. Furthermore, as the Congo comment suggests, he's also conscious that if one really wants to apply liberal ethical criteria to the use of Amertican force, then Syria is not at the top of the queue.
Barack Obama neither an appeaser nor a liberal internationalist. He's someone who has a clear set of foreign policy preferences and an increasing risk aversion to the use of force as a tool of regime change. That's not unethical -- it's just based on a set of ethical principles that might be somewhat alien to America's very, very liberal foreign policy community.
Am I missing anything?
Dear New York Times:
As the paper of record, your op-ed page is a natural target for snark, derision, and other forms of criticism. I'll certainly plead guilty to these venial sins. I've found flaws in more than a few of your columnist's writings on foreign affairs. Thomas Friedman, in particular, has invited a fair measure of scorn from your correspondent over the years -- though I'd note that I'm hardly the only one guilty of that sin. Let me stipulate that I have no doubt that Mr. Friedman can polish off an accessible 800 word column on foreign affairs better than 99.5% of the foreign policy community. And Friedman has locked down a certain Greatest Generation demographic, the one that emails their children with Ph.D.s in political science to say "Tom Friedman said something interesting in his column today. You should read it."
Friedman's prose style invites a certain kind of satire, which is occasionally unkind but pretty harmless. I write now, however, because in his latest column he has migrated from the merely foolish to the ill-considered and dangerous. This is his advice to incoming Secretary of State John Kerry:
[W]hat’s a secretary of state to do? I’d suggest trying something radically new: creating the conditions for diplomacy where they do not now exist by going around leaders and directly to the people. And I’d start with Iran, Israel and Palestine. We live in an age of social networks in which every leader outside of North Korea today is now forced to engage in a two-way conversation with their citizens. There’s no more just top-down. People everywhere are finding their voices and leaders are terrified. We need to turn this to our advantage to gain leverage in diplomacy.
Let’s break all the rules.
Rather than negotiating with Iran’s leaders in secret — which, so far, has produced nothing and allows the Iranian leaders to control the narrative and tell their people that they’re suffering sanctions because of U.S. intransigence — why not negotiate with the Iranian people? President Obama should put a simple offer on the table, in Farsi, for all Iranians to see: The U.S. and its allies will permit Iran to maintain a civil nuclear enrichment capability — which it claims is all it wants to meet power needs — provided it agrees to U.N. observers and restrictions that would prevent Tehran from ever assembling a nuclear bomb. We should not only make this offer public, but also say to the Iranian people over and over: “The only reason your currency is being crushed, your savings rapidly eroded by inflation, many of your college graduates unemployed and your global trade impeded and the risk of war hanging overhead, is because your leaders won’t accept a deal that would allow Iran to develop civil nuclear power but not a bomb.” Iran wants its people to think it has no partner for a civil nuclear deal. The U.S. can prove otherwise.
He goes on to talk about Israel/Palestine, but let's keep the focus on Iran. To put it kindly, there are some serious problems with Friedman's advice. In no particular order:
1) There are many possible Secretaries of State who possess the necessary charisma, drive, and rhetorical skills to resonate with the ordinary citizens of other countries. I think we can all safely agree that, capable as he might be, John Kerry is not one of those diplomats.
2) Why not "negotiate with the Iranian people?" Well, to get technical about it, they're not the ones controlling Iran's nuclear program. That's not a minor issue. For all this talk about how states are irrelevant in the 21st century, on matters of hard security not much has changed. Lest Friedman or anyone else doubt this, recall that the Iranian state has proven itself more than capable of suppressing the Iranian people over the past four years. Why Friedman thinks that the Ayatollah Khamenei would listen to ordinary Iranians on the nuclear question is beyond me.
3) Friedman seems to think that ordinary Iranians are implacably opposed to the nuclear program. I have yet to read any analysis or on-the-ground reporting (including the NYT) that suggests this to be true. Rather, the common theme is that Iranians take nationalist pride in the technological accomplishments of their national nuclear program. Furthermore, in a propaganda war between the U.S. government and their own government, the U.S. is probably gonna lose even if it possesses the better argument. For all of Friedman's loose talk about the power of social media in a digitized world, he elides the point that one of the sentiments that social media is best at magnifying is nationalism. In the case of Iran, this would mean a more recalcitrant negotiating partner.
4) In the 35 years since the Iranian Revolution, and the 10+ years since Iran's nuclear program became a point of contention, is there any evidence that U.S. public diplomacy has had any positive effect in the country of Iran? Any? So why will it work now?
5) One last point. Iran's regime has been obsessed with the belief that the United States is trying to foment a Velvet Revolution in the country. They've been willing to arrest, repress, or harrass anyone vaguely associated with such a campaign. Exactly how does Friedman think the government in Tehran would respond to the kind of public diplomacy initiative that he's suggesting?
I could go on, but you see what I'm trying to say. Friedman's "break all the rules" strategy is as transgressive as those dumb-ass Dr. Pepper commercials. Worse, he's recommending a policy that would actually be counter-productive to any hope of reaching a deal with Iran. This is the worst kind of "World is Flat" pablum, applied to nuclear diplomacy. God forbid John Kerry were to read it and follow Friedman's advice.
Sure, 99.5% of foreign policy wonks might write something less punchy, but I suspect most of them wouldn't write something so obviously wrong. Friedman clearly needs a sabbatical from the rigors of column-writing to get his head back in the game. In the interest of raising our country's foreign policy discourse, I beg you to put him on leave.
Daniel W. Drezner
Late last night the Twitterverse was alive with the sound of clucking from foreign policy wonks outraged by Rajiv Chandrasekaran's fascinating, detail-rich Washington Post story on the very cozy relationship that think-tankers Fred and Kim Kagan had with multiple commanders in Afghanistan. The highlights:
The four-star general made the Kagans de facto senior advisers, a status that afforded them numerous private meetings in his office, priority travel across the war zone and the ability to read highly secretive transcripts of intercepted Taliban communications, according to current and former senior U.S. military and civilian officials who served in the headquarters at the time.
The Kagans used those privileges to advocate substantive changes in the U.S. war plan, including a harder-edged approach than some U.S. officers advocated in combating the Haqqani network, a Taliban faction in eastern Afghanistan, the officials said.
The pro-bono relationship, which is now being scrutinized by military lawyers, yielded valuable benefits for the general and the couple. The Kagans’ proximity to Petraeus, the country’s most-famous living general, provided an incentive for defense contractors to contribute to Kim Kagan’s think tank. For Petraeus, embracing two respected national security analysts in GOP circles helped to shore up support for the war among Republican leaders on Capitol Hill.
Fred Kagan, speaking in an interview with his wife, acknowledged the arrangement was “strange and uncomfortable” at times. “We were going around speaking our minds, trying to force people to think about things in different ways and not being accountable to the heads” of various departments in the headquarters, he said.
The extent of the couple’s involvement in Petraeus’s headquarters was not known to senior White House and Pentagon officials involved in war policy, two of those officials said....
As war-zone volunteers, the Kagans were not bound by stringent rules that apply to military personnel and private contractors. They could raise concerns directly with Petraeus, instead of going through subordinate officers, and were free to speak their minds without repercussion.
Some military officers and civilian U.S. government employees in Kabul praised the couple’s contributions — one general noted that “they did the work of 20 intelligence analysts.” Others expressed deep unease about their activities in the headquarters, particularly because of their affiliations and advocacy in Washington.
Now, the standard reaction has been to blast the Kagans and Petraeus for being exemplars of the you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-yours collusion between top military brass and think-tankers. It evokes the DC clubbiness that induces nausea in some quarters.
I can't quite get there, however. I can almost get there. The three most damning elements of the story are:
1) The Kagans emailing Stanley McChrystal (and ccing Petraeus) because their requests to visit Afghanistan were getting slow-rolled. In the email, they said that they were concluding that the strategy was not going well. Soon afterwards, they got access and then wrote a WSJ op-ed praising the strategy;
2) When Petraeus was the Afghanistan commander, the Kagans would occasionally "spar" with field commanders because they believed these officers weren't focusing on the Haqqani network more. This made the officers decidedly uncomfortable, since the Kagans obviously weren't in the chain of command.
3) Kim Kagan wrote fundraising letters for her think tank while in Afghanistan so the Kagans could stay in-country and volunteer for CENTCOM rather than take any money from them.
I think these are somewhat valid concerns, and yet....
a) One of Chandrasekaran's implications is that a critical op-ed by the Kagans would have undercut GOP support for the Afhanistan strategy. This strikes me as way, way, way, way exaggerating the influence of the Kagans. There was no groundswell in the GOP to get out of Afghanistan, so a critical op-ed would have simply led to demands for greater resources in that theater of operations.
b) The Kagans' place in Petraeus' HQ clearly upset some military subordinates -- and yet I can't get too upset that they were made uncomfortable. As the story notes, one of the reasons Petraeus wanted the Kagans there was to have an outside perspective on the operation. No one inside the uniformed services is gonna like that, because it dilutes their own authority. Indeed, the other way to spin this is that Petraeus was wary of getting too wrapped up in the military bubble and craved outside input. Isn't that what you want as a check against organizational groupthink?
c) I'm not gonna defend the fundraising letter -- that seems... unseemly. Castigating the Kagans for not being on Petraeus' payroll, however, also seems a bit strange. This might have been a pay-for-play move for influence, but I don't think it was about money.
From Petraeus' side, having the Kagans there clearly served a dual purpose. Sure, he got an outside voice, but he was also able to co-opt potential critics with this gambit. Whether this is a good thing or not for American foreign policy is an honest matter of debate. It seems like Petraeus only coddled more hawkish military advisors, and it's likely the case that they would have been the bigger media thorn.
As a general rule, however, I can't get too worked up about government officials seeking outside input. This becomes a problem only if the outreach/co-optation is so successful that it shields a policy from any criticism -- and not even Petraeus is that good at stroking think-tankers.
I understand the concerns that some Petraeus critics have with his relationship with the Kagans. I share some of them. But I would be equally wary of policy principals that refused to engage with outsiders or refused to consider information from outside their own bureaucracies.
What do you think?
This month Merriam-Webster highlighted their most looked-up words of 2012, with the rather boring conclusion that "capitalism" and "socialism" were the words of the year. To spice things up a bit for those philologists in the crowd, I would like to suggest that every years, some words get temporarily "retired." Not permanently, just for a yar or so. Think of it as a word vacation.
I don't make this suggestion lightly -- no writer wants to constrain their options as they craft their arguments. Some words, however, find themselves abused to the point where, no matter how scintillating they might have been in the past, they need some time in rehab. Think Ryan Lochte after the post-Olympics publicity tour or Lindsay Lohan after making a Lifetime movie.
So the worst word of 2012, the word that desperately needs a break is... bubble.
Since 2008, analysts, commentators, pundits et al have been on the lookout for the next bubble. To provide one example of how this search for the next bubble abuses the term, let's look at the brouhaha surrouding the "higher ed bubble." It was brewing in 2011, but this year, with the rise of online education, it's been just lousy in the blogosphere: Megan McArdle, Glenn Reynolds, and Walter Russell Mead have been hammering away at this concept.
It is Mead's latest post on the subject that has me thoroughly annoyed. He links to the lead essay in The American Interest by Nathan Harden that opens as follows:
In fifty years, if not much sooner, half of the roughly 4,500 colleges and universities now operating in the United States will have ceased to exist. The technology driving this change is already at work, and nothing can stop it. The future looks like this: Access to college-level education will be free for everyone; the residential college campus will become largely obsolete; tens of thousands of professors will lose their jobs; the bachelor’s degree will become increasingly irrelevant; and ten years from now Harvard will enroll ten million students.
We’ve all heard plenty about the “college bubble” in recent years. Student loan debt is at an all-time high—an average of more than $23,000 per graduate by some counts—and tuition costs continue to rise at a rate far outpacing inflation, as they have for decades. Credential inflation is devaluing the college degree, making graduate degrees, and the greater debt required to pay for them, increasingly necessary for many people to maintain the standard of living they experienced growing up in their parents’ homes. Students are defaulting on their loans at an unprecedented rate, too, partly a function of an economy short on entry-level professional positions. Yet, as with all bubbles, there’s a persistent public belief in the value of something, and that faith in the college degree has kept demand high.
The figures are alarming, the anecdotes downright depressing. But the real story of the American higher-education bubble has little to do with individual students and their debts or employment problems. The most important part of the college bubble story—the one we will soon be hearing much more about—concerns the impending financial collapse of numerous private colleges and universities and the likely shrinkage of many public ones. And when that bubble bursts, it will end a system of higher education that, for all of its history, has been steeped in a culture of exclusivity. Then we’ll see the birth of something entirely new as we accept one central and unavoidable fact: The college classroom is about to go virtual.
Now, let's stipulate that higher education may well be on the cusp of some interesting changes. Let's also stipulate that some colleges appear to have gone on a borrowing binge (though the linked story fails to note that these debt loads have been declining for the past few years). Let's further stipulate that Harden's prediction might well be correct -- though even he acknowledges later in the essay that traditional classroom instruction is a necessary component to a good higher education.
Here's the thing, and it's worth repeating: This. Is. Not. A. Bubble.
When the prices of securities or other assets rise so sharply and at such a sustained rate that they exceed valuations justified by fundamentals, making a sudden collapse likely - at which point the bubble "bursts".
I think it's possible that the first part of this definition might be happening in higher education -- though I'd wager that what's actually happening is that universities are engaging in greater price discrimination and trying to capture some of the wage premium effects from higher education that have built up over the past three decades.
It's the second part of that definition where things don't match up. Unless and until there is a sudden and dramatic shift in the valuation of a college degree, this is simply not like a bubble. From a knowledge perspective, there are far too many professions in the economy where degrees are still considered a necessary condition. From a sociological perspective, there are also far too many people who got to where they are in their careers because of the social capital built up at universities.
I think it's possible that the American system of higher education might be facing what happened to American manufacturing over the past fifty years, in which structural and technological forces caused a slow, steady reduction in the workforce and dramatic improvements in productivity and output. That's something important -- but it's not a bubble.
[Don't you have some skin in this game? Aren't you just defending your interest group?--ed. I teach at a graduate school in which demand for my courses has spiked rather than slowed over the past decade. I'm also a full professor at an elite school. I would personally benefit from the changes that Mead et al are describing. So if I was arguing my own self-interest, I'd be nodding vigorously at what the higher ed bubble gurus are selling.]
Please, let's give "bubble" a break before the term loses all meaning.
As Blake Hounshell noted over at Passport, there was a story earlier this week in the Washington Post's Style section that's just the perfect mix of everything that foreign policy outsiders loathe about foreign policy insiders. The first reason for loathing it is that Bob Woodward wrote it. Here's the opener:
Roger Ailes, the longtime Republican media guru, founder of Fox News and its current chairman, had some advice last year for then-Gen. David H. Petraeus.
So in spring 2011, Ailes asked a Fox News analyst headed to Afghanistan to pass on his thoughts to Petraeus, who was then the commander of U.S. and coalition forces there. Petraeus, Ailes advised, should turn down an expected offer from President Obama to become CIA director and accept nothing less than the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military post. If Obama did not offer the Joint Chiefs post, Petraeus should resign from the military and run for president, Ailes suggested.
The Fox News chairman’s message was delivered to Petraeus by Kathleen T. McFarland, a Fox News national security analyst and former national security and Pentagon aide in three Republican administrations. She did so at the end of a 90-minute, unfiltered conversation with Petraeus that touched on the general’s future, his relationship with the media and his political aspirations — or lack thereof. The Washington Post has obtained a digital recording from the meeting, which took place in Petraeus’s office in Kabul.
McFarland also said that Ailes — who had a decades-long career as a Republican political consultant, advising Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush — might resign as head of Fox to run a Petraeus presidential campaign. At one point, McFarland and Petraeus spoke about the possibility that Rupert Murdoch, the head of News Corp., which owns Fox News, would “bankroll” the campaign.
Read the whole thing. Actually, listen to the whole thing -- I'd say that the audio recording of McFarland and Petraeus' conversation is more interesting than Woodward's story. The tape has everything:
1) A media mogul displaying overt partisan bias;
2) Petraeus "working the refs" as it were, as he's done with think-tankers in the past.
3) McFarland pretty much admitting that Fox's news coverage is guided by its target audience preferences rather than things like, you know, facts.
4) Petraeus' allusions to the backscratching relationship between him and "the Troika" of Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman;
5) A high overall level of off-the-record coziness between McFarland & Petraeus as emblematic of the "clubbiness" between government, the media, and think tanks more generally.
McFarland has responded to Woodward's story in her own Foxnews.com column:
Though Bob is in possession of a secretly recorded tape of my conversation with the general, he was way off base to characterize it as a serious attempt to get him to run, or to give him political advice.
Petraeus and I were having fun. Having just told me definitively that he wouldn’t run, he suggested that maybe Ailes could run this non-existent campaign. It was not a serious conversation plotting General Petraeus’ political future; it was the kind of idle speculation that happens in every campaign season. That’s why they call it the silly season. I knew he was serious about not wanting to run, and he knew I wasn’t serious in pressing it.
I realize conspiracy theorists have used this off-the-record interview to claim it was some plot to put Petraeus in the Oval Office. But it was little more than one defense analyst (me) trading some political gossip and laughs with one of the country’s most important military leaders (Petraeus).
Now as someone who has been underwhelmed with McFarland's foreign policy analysis in the past, I will say that the tone of the conversation seems consistent with her characterization of it. I'm not a Beltway insider, but I've been around enough DC bulls**tting and puffery in my day to know it when I hear it. Even if this took place in Kabul, the "Petraeus should run!" segment of the conversation has that BS feel to it.
Furthermore, I can't blame Petraeus for trying to work the refs -- that's part of a policy principal's job in the 21st century. I'd argue that McFarland's side of the convo makes Fox look pretty bad. If one wants to be charitable, however, asking Petraeus where a news outfit is getting the story wrong isn't intrinsically wrong, it's perspective-taking. It would only be wrong if, say, Fox News people failed to ask a similar question to other policy principals like Tom Donilon, Hillary Clinton or Leon Panetta. I'll let readers draw their own conclusions about whether Fox News does this due diligence.
So this story is a supremely annoying conversation, and something of a confirmation of how Fox News operates. But I'm not seeing Woodwardian-type scandal within the DC elite from this story. I'm seeing standard Washington schmooziness. This is not the most attractive thing to hear but also not nearly as important as the story suggests.
It's also worth putting things into perspective here. Take a gander at Jonathan Ansfield's story in the New York Times if you want to see a national political elite demonstrating truly world-class levels of corruption and exclusivity.
Am I missing anything?
David Sanger and Eric Schmitt have a story in today's New York Times about... well, as near as I can figure, the purpose of the story is that the intelligence comnunity wants to communicate with the Assad regime in Syria. Here's the opening:
The Syrian military’s movement of chemical weapons in recent days has prompted the United States and several allies to repeat their warning to President Bashar Al-Assad that he would be “held accountable” if his forces used the weapons against the rebels fighting his government.
The warnings, which one European official said were “deliberately vague to keep Assad guessing,” were conveyed through Russia and other intermediaries.
So I guess the New York Times is now one of those "other intermediaries."
Given the expansion of the U.S. intelligence apparatus, this kind of "signaling through the press" function is not going away anytime soon. The problem, of course, is that very often these intelligence officials can't come right out and tell Sanger and Schmitt what they want Assad to know, cause, like, there are other people reading these stories.
So, as a public service, the hardworking staff here at this blog will try to parse out exactly what is being communicated. Let's excerpt every direct quote (bolded below) and run it through the Drezner Intelligence Explainer (D.I.E.: patent pending):
One American official provided the most specific description yet of what has been detected, saying that “the activity we are seeing suggests some potential chemical weapon preparation,”
TRANSLATION: "We're seeing deviations from the status quo ante. We 're not entirely sure what this means, and we don't like that, so we're going to talk about it in the press to see if we can get a rise out of Assad."
“These are desperate times for Assad, and this may simply be another sign of desperation,” one senior American diplomat, who has been deeply involved in the effort to try to dissuade Mr. Assad’s forces from using the chemical weapons, said Sunday.
TRANSLATION: "We're seeing deviations from the status quo ante. We 're not entirely sure what this means, and we don't like that, so we're going to talk about it in the press to see if we can get a rise out of Assad."
“It’s very hard to read Assad,” one senior Israeli official said. “But we are seeing a kind of action that we’ve never seen before,” he said, declining to elaborate.
TRANSLATION: "We're seeing deviations from the status quo ante. We 're not entirely sure what this means, and we don't like that, so we're going to talk about it in the press to see if we can get a rise out of Assad."
“The president has made it clear that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a red line for the United States,” the [senior administration] official said. “We consistently monitor developments related to Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons, and are in regular contact with international partners who share our concern.
“The Assad regime must know that the world is watching, and that they will be held accountable by the United States and the international community if they use chemical weapons or fail to meet their obligations to secure them.”
TRANSLATION: "We're seeing deviations from the status quo ante. We 're not entirely sure what this means, and we don't like that. So forget what Sanger and Schmitt said about 'being vague back in Paragraph 1; we're just gonna reiterate our policy on this so there's no misunderstanding in Damascus."
Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who heads the House Intelligence Committee, declined to comment on the new intelligence reports but said in a statement late Sunday: “We are not doing enough to prepare for the collapse of the Assad regime, and the dangerous vacuum it will create. Use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would be an extremely serious escalation that would demand decisive action from the rest of the world."
TRANSLATION: "This is all Obama's fault."
“We’re worried about what the military is doing,” one official said, “but we’re also worried about some of the opposition groups,” including some linked to Hezbollah, which has set up camps near some of the chemical weapons depots.
TRANSLATION: "Our actual Syria policy remains entirely unchanged."
Am I missing anything?
Your humble blogger is headed to the United Kingdom this week to give a few talks and generally escape the election and post-election frenzy. Blogging will be light. However, before departing for the land of scones and Devonshire cream, there's one last election-related issue that's worth some words.
As I briefly discussed a few weeks ago, there's a brewing conflict about how to read the polls for the U.S. presidential election. This has crystallized into some latent, not-so-latent, and pretty damn blatant hostility towards' FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver. Now, some interpret this as simply a part of a larger War on Numbers. As Brendan Nyhan notes, Silver's analysis lines up with all of the other analytic forecasters.
But let's try to be fair here. I think there are a couple of different criticisms going on here from different quarters of the public sphere, and it's worth evaluating them on their own terms.
The first and simplest one is Matt K. Lewis, who points out why conservatives aren't keen on Silver's analysis:
Silver comes out of the baseball statistics world, and his defenders like cite sports and gambling analogies when defending him. But there is a key difference. If Silver says the Giants have only a 5 percent chance of winning the World Series again next year, it is highly unlikely that would impact the outcome of games. Umpires won’t begin making bad calls, the fans won’t stop attending games, etc.
But when the public sees that a prominent New York Times writer gives Barack Obama a 70 percent chance of winning, that can become a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy. It has consequences. It drives media coverage. It dries up donations. Whether Silver likes it, or not, people do interpret his numbers as a “prediction.” They see this as election forecasting.
This sounds about right, in two ways. First, it does highlight the ways in which forecasters can actually affect the outcome. Second, it's actually a compliment to Silver and his peers, because it reflects the belief that their assessments carry weight with the money. One does wonder whether it would have been liberal operatives pushing back if the forecasters were unanimous that Romney was the favorite at this point.
The point is, however, that part of the criticism is simply raw politics. That's fine, and can therefore be dismissed pretty quickly.
The second critique is more substantive, and rests on the notion that the assumptions that pollsters and forecasters are using when they crunch their numbers are flawed. Dan McLaughlin at Red State offers up a decent version of this critique:
Nate Silver’s much-celebrated model is, like other poll averages, based simply on analyzing the toplines of public polls. This, more than any other factor, is where he and I part company....
My thesis, and that of a good many conservative skeptics of the 538 model, is that these internals are telling an entirely different story than some of the toplines: that Obama is getting clobbered with independent voters, traditionally the largest variable in any election and especially in a presidential election, where both sides will usually have sophisticated, well-funded turnout operations in the field. He’s on track to lose independents by double digits nationally, and the last three candidates to do that were Dukakis, Mondale and Carter in 1980. And he’s not balancing that with any particular crossover advantage (i.e., drawing more crossover Republican voters than Romney is drawing crossover Democratic voters). Similar trends are apparent throughout the state-by-state polls, not in every single poll but in enough of them to show a clear trend all over the battleground states.
If you averaged Obama’s standing in all the internals, you’d capture a profile of a candidate that looks an awful lot like a whole lot of people who have gone down to defeat in the past, and nearly nobody who has won. Under such circumstances, Obama can only win if the electorate features a historically decisive turnout advantage for Democrats – an advantage that none of the historically predictive turnout metrics are seeing, with the sole exception of the poll samples used by some (but not all) pollsters. Thus, Obama’s position in the toplines depends entirely on whether those pollsters are correctly sampling the partisan turnout....
Let me use an analogy from baseball statistics, which I think is appropriate here because it’s where both I and Nate Silver first learned to read statistics critically and first got an audience on the internet; in terms of their predictive power, poll toplines are like pitcher win-loss records or batter RBI.
Oh, snap. I've read enough sabermetrics to know a diss when I see it.
Now I don't think Silver and his ilk would agree with McLaughlin's reasoning -- see Nick Gourevitch for a useful counter. But I do I think Silver agrees with McLaughlin's on the source of their disagreement. As Silver's latest post title suggests: "For Romney to Win, State Polls Must Be Statistically Biased":
The pollsters are making a leap of faith that the 10 percent of voters they can get on the phone and get to agree to participate are representative of the entire population. The polling was largely quite accurate in 2004, 2008 and 2010, but there is no guarantee that this streak will continue. Most of the "house effects" that you see introduced in the polls — the tendency of certain polling firms to show results that are consistently more favorable for either the Democrat or the Republican — reflect the different assumptions that pollsters make about how to get a truly representative sample and how to separate out the people who will really vote from ones who say they will, but won’t.
But many of the pollsters are likely to make similar assumptions about how to measure the voter universe accurately. This introduces the possibility that most of the pollsters could err on one or another side — whether in Mr. Obama’s direction, or Mr. Romney’s. In a statistical sense, we would call this bias: that the polls are not taking an accurate sample of the voter population. If there is such a bias, furthermore, it is likely to be correlated across different states, especially if they are demographically similar. If either of the candidates beats his polls in Wisconsin, he is also likely to do so in Minnesota....
My argument... is this: we’ve about reached the point where if Mr. Romney wins, it can only be because the polls have been biased against him. Almost all of the chance that Mr. Romney has in the FiveThirtyEight forecast, about 16 percent to win the Electoral College, reflects this possibility.
Here we have a pretty simple and honest disagreement. Silver thinks the pollster's models for what the electorate and turnout will look like are pretty accurate; McLaughlin doesn't. They agree that if Romney wins it will be because practically all of the state polls are biased against him.
The final critique is the one that fascinates me -- the notion that traditional pundits can look beyond the polls at more ineffable factors like "momentum" and "crowd sizes" and "closing arguments" and "energy" and "early voting" other kinds of secret sauces to deternmine who will win. These guys rely on numbers but also the political instincts they've hones for decades as pundits. This is basically what Michael Barone has done, for example, in his prediction of a Romney blowout.
In some ways this mirrors the "scouts vs. stats" divide that ostensibly existed in baseball as Silver was developing PECOTA and Michael Lewis was writing Moneyball. And a lot of commentators are setting it up that way.
I'd tend to agree that this is the most bogus line of criticism... but a few things prevent me from rejecting this analysis entirely. First, there is the crazy possibility that pundits really do possess "local knowledge," as Hayek would put it, that forecasters lack. I'm not sure I really buy this hypothesis, but it's possible.
Second, as Silver himself observed in The Signal and the Noise, scouts get a bum rap. Over time, the evidence suggests that the scouts who worked at Baseball America actually outperformed the sabermetricians at Baseball Prospectus. As Silver acknowledges, just because something can't be quantified doesn't mean it's unimportant. Maybe pundits like Barone have picked up on these "intangibles." Or maybe they have an implicit theory of the election that turns out to be superior to what is, at this point, a strictly poll-driven model. To put it another way: polls at this point are merely the intervening variable between the causal factors that the pundits like to talk about (the economy, the candidate's narrative) and the outcome (the election).
To be honest, I doubt that any of this is true. But the great thing is that come Wednesday, we'll know which group is more right. And then let the taunting commence!!
Your humble blogger is writing from Mexico City, where tomorrow he'll be part of a one-day conference at the Center for International Studies at El Colegio de Mexico on U.S. foreign policy in 2013.
The conference is tomorrow, but the journey was today, and it was a pretty interesting journey given that it started with my alarm going off at 4:30 AM. Some highlights:
1) In an effort to travel light, I normally wear at least one of the suit jackets I have to bring to a trip for the plane. I got up so early today, however, that I figured I was just dress very casual for the flight. Naturally, this would be the day I bump into a very well respected senior scholar in my field at the Newark airport.
2) Right before taking off from Newark to Mexico City, a flight attendant asked the man sitting next to me for his autograph. I later discover that I was sitting next to Iron Chef Morimoto. Cool!
3) Less cool: watching CNN on the flight. I made the mistake of watching Ashleigh Banfield's lead segment, on the New York Fed bombing attempt. Banfield was obsessed that the suspected terrorist got into the states on a student visa. Her first three questions to the homeland security expert boiled down to the following:
A) Shouldn't the U.S. radically reduce the number of student visas it issues?
B) Why can't the U.S. government monitor every person coming into the United States on a student visa?
C) Could the U.S. government use these student visas as a way of draining foreign swamps and bringing terrorists to the United States.
Kudos to the security expert who basically said that none of these ideas were workable. My head would have hurt banging it into the camera.
4) Some very nice students picked me up from the airport and took me to the college, which is right by Mexico's 1968 Olympic Stadium. They also revealed the ways in which political scientists are viewed in different countries. Apparently, this college was relocated from the downtown to a more isolated part of Mexico City. Furthermore, within this "University City," the political scientists are housed in a structure separate from the rest of the social scientists. Why? Because the old PRI governments feared student protests led by political scientists! Which is not really a fear in the United States.
5) The only thing better than watching the Yankees getting swept in the ALCS? Watching it en espagnol, and hearing the announcer boom "PROFUNDO!!" when the Tigers hit a home run.
Dear Neoconservative Foreign Policy Flacks Who Work for Mitt Romney:
Hey there -- how's the campaign going? Oh, sorry, touchy topic.
So listen... I can see why you're all pissed off and everything that Robert Zoellick has agreed to act as the foreign policy "transition chief" for the Romney campaign. Zoellick has never really been "one of you," and he's more commonly associated with James Baker than with any neoconservative guru.
So yeah, I can see why you'd leak your complaints about this to Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post. Rubin might have her flaws, but if she's proven anything this election cycle, it's that she's a reliable stenographer for the Mitt Romney campaign.
Here's the thing, though -- if you're gonna leak to Rubin, I think you're also gonna have to do her homework for her. Rubin has been a bit sloppy as of late in her "Right Turn" posts, trivial stuff like confusing "Third Way" with "Third Wave."
With the Zoellick post she just
cut and pasted wrote up, however, I think she's gone from trivial mistakes to out-and-out incompetency and/or lying. Here's one paragraph:
For foreign policy hawks, Zoellick is an anathema. As the right hand man in the State Department and Treasury Department of James A, Baker, who was infamous for his anti-Israel stance, Zoellick acquired a reputation as ”soft” on China, weak on pressuring the Soviet Union at the close of the Cold War, opposed to the first Gulf War and unsupportive of the Jewish state. His stint as U.S. Trade Representative, and Deputy Secretary of State, in the George W. Bush administration did nothing too alter his image with foreign policy hardliners. That tenure will no doubt complicate Romney’s efforts to distance himself from his predecessor. And in 2011, Zoellick shocked foreign policy gurus by delivering a speech praising China, suggesting that it was a “responsible stakeholder” in Asia, at a time human rights abuses and aggressive conduct in Asia were bedeviling the Obama administration.
Now there's a lot of tendentious crap in that paragraph, but the doozy is the embedded link. Cause if you click on it, you get to a story with the headline: "Robert Zoellick: China 'Reluctant Stakeholder' in World Economic Woes". Here's the opening few paragraphs:
China is a vital but "reluctant stakeholder" in the current wave of Western financial woes, said Robert B. Zoellick, President of the World Bank.
Zoellick told listeners that China benefits from the international system and needs to "share the responsibilities" of that engagement, for the sake of both sides of the Pacific.
Hey, did you notice a key word difference between what Rubin claims Zoellick said and what Zoellick actually said? And that the word "responsible" appears nowhere in that story? And that Zoellick's statement here is fully consistent with what he told a Chinese audience the next month? So either Rubin didn't bother reading the embedded link you provided her, or she didn't read the embedded link at Zoellick's Wikipedia entry... or she didn't care. Whichever way it went down, it doesn't look good for either you or Rubin.
[An aside: Now I know what you're going to say -- Zoellick coined the "responsible stakeholder" language. That's partially true -- he introduced the idea in this 2005 speech. However, if you, like, actually read the speech, you'll see that he was arguing that, "We need to urge China to become a responsible stakeholder in that system." Zoellick wasn't saying that China was already responsible, as Rubin suggests in her
Wikipedia dump column. He was offering an aspirational goal for the Chinese government.]
You want to hit Zoellick? I think you're wrong, but fine, I get that. You want to use Rubin to do it? Then I suggest you write out exactly what she should print, and then double-check your f**king footnotes. Cause otherwise, the errors and distortions she prints will rebound back onto you.
All the best!
Daniel W. Drezner
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!!!
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.
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.
Here's a fun little exercise. Let's say that the vice-president of a political consulting firm went on MSNBC or Fox News with the argument that no matter what the U.S. government said, Osama bin Laden wasn't actually buried at sea. No, this wouldn't be a claim that Osama had returned as a zombie. The VP would simply argue that based on past standard operating procedures and the desire of some agencies in the USG to gather forensic evidence, it would seem likely that they would want the body. In all likelihood the cable anchor would then ask if there was any direct evidence to back up this assertion. The VP would either say no, dodge the question, or imply some third-hand knowledge, and that would be that.
Here's my question: would this cable news hit generate anything in the way of news headlines?
I ask this because the Drudge Report has headlined: "WIKILEAKED: BIN LADEN BODY NOT BURIED AT SEA" This sounds pretty definitive. But if you look at the actual Stratfor emails that Wikileaks provides on the matter, you get little but speculations and assertions from Stratfor CEO George Friedman and VP Fred Burton. From Friedman:
Eichmann was seen alive for many months on trial before being sentenced to death and executed. No one wanted a monument to him so they cremated him. But i dont know anyone who claimed he wasnt eicjhman (sic). No comparison with suddenly burying him at sea without any chance to view him which i doubt happened.
And from Burton:
We would want to photograph, DNA, fingerprint, etc.
His body is a crime scene and I don't see the FBI nor DOJ letting that happen....
Body is Dover bound, should be here by now.
That's it. No sourcing, nothing else. Friedman is speculating, while Burton makes a somewhat stronger assertion without much empirical foundation. The only reason this is on the front page of Drudge -- and the only reason reporters are running with it -- is that the Stratfor e-mails were private and not intended for public consumption. And if it's private, then it must be pretty good!
Or not. Look, reporters and analysts should pore over these email contents and see if there is anything of value. But they also need to follow up with outside experts in their reporting to distinguish between what's said in the emails and what's actually true. Because, to repeat a point I made a few years ago: "just because someone says something in a Wikileaks memo doesn't make it so." Indeed, it is precisely this sort of BS pseudo-analysis that makes me distrust the quality of Stratfor's analysis in the first place.
[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.
Your humble blogger went to see Contagion over the weekend for two reasons. First, Slate movie critic Forrest Wickman concluded his review by calling it, "the most believable zombie movie ever made." He's not the only one to make the zombie connection, and well, now I've got some skin in that game. Second, the FP editors have asked me to review other disaster scenarios, so I figured I'd just pre-empt their request and join the legions of moviegoers who
get their ya-yas seeing Gwyneth Paltrow die on film be entertained.
So, let me provide the MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT klaxon here and get to the assessment. How well did Steven Soderbergh and company portray what would happen if a lethal pandemic were to break out?
OK, good news first: in terms of both accuracy and suspense, Contagion is a far, far better film than, say, either Outbreak or The Andromeda Strain. The first reason is that Soderbergh does not bother with the anti-government paranoia that those earlier films possessed in their DNA. Instead, the treatment of the Centers for Disease Control, Department of Homeland Security, and World Health Organization officials is fair. They are depicted as flawed but well-meaning bureaucrats, getting some decisions right and some wrong. They also speak in jargon, a surprising amount of which makes its way into the film. I fully expect to see the term "R-0" bandied about by news anchors the next time a flu bug breaks out. A CDC official utters the two most chilling words in the entire movie -- "social distancing" -- to describe the necessary freak-out by citizens to avoid human contact with other humans as a way of slowing the spread of the virus. That's the perfect dash of bureaucratese.
The second reason is that Soderbergh almost perfectly nails the first stage of the pandemic. Unlike, say, most zombie or other apocalyptic films, Soderbergh doesn't get to the breakdown of social order in the first reel. He takes his time, which helps to amp up the pressure and make it seem all the scarier when things do seem to break down (Matt Damon's character is the perfect vessel here; Damon's best work is in his reaction shots to other people behaving badly). He also deftly demonstrates in the first ten minutes how globalization would abet the spread of any kind of superbug.
Despite this slow ratcheting up, I haven't seen a director kill off so many Hollywood starlets since Joss Whedon.
The third reason is that the movie, intriguingly enough, does not end in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Consistent with the arguments I made in Theories of International Politics and Zombies, humans prove to be just as adaptable as the biological threats to humans.
That said, here are my beefs:
1) Really, the blogger is the Big Bad in the movie? Really? The villian of the piece is Jude Law's crudely-named Alan Krumwiede, who detects the spread of the virus early but hawks a homeopathic remedy to enrich himself. Exactly how he gets rich doing this is not entirely clear -- he has some shady meetings with a hedge fund manager, but it's not entirely clear why, after gaining fame and fortune, he doesn't start acting differently as more attention gets paid to him. It's also presumed that Krumwiede has the monopoly of blogging on the issue -- I'm pretty sure that as he gained popularity, a few other health bloggers would try to cut him down to size.
Neither Soderbergh nor his screenwriter Scott Z. Burns like bloggers, like, at all. At one point the virologist played by Elliott Gould tells Krumwiede, "Blogging is not writing. It's graffiti with punctuation." Hah! That shows what Soderbregh knows -- us bloggers are lucky if we remember to use commas, much less semicolons.
Look, as a founding member of the International Brotherhood of Policy Bloggers, I can't claim that actors like Krumwiede don't exist. My skepticism is over whether they'd really wreak as much havoc as Soderbergh thinks. Myths and rumors can spread on the Internet, but so can the corrections of those myths. In the end, someone like Krumwiede would affect a very narrow, already paranoid subculture -- the larger effect would be minimal.
Even if Krumwiede is an absurd villain, I also didn't buy it when the DHS official let him go free once he made bail. At a minimum, they'd hold this guy for 48 hours without charging. I'd also wager that they'd try to deport him too.
One final note: I'd love to see Lee Siegel hire Sodebergh to direct and Aaron Sorkin to write a movie about the Internet, just to see the final dystopic product.
2) Where the hell is the Chinese central government? The most absurd subplot is when a WHO official gets abducted by her translator as collateral to protect his infected village. She's held hostage for at least six months -- during which time she goes native -- until the WHO barters some (fake) vaccine for her life.
Apparently during this entire time, the Chinese central government does not bother to intervene to try to rescue her. This seems juuuuuuust a bit implausible. It also leads to the next problem....
3) Where the hell is the rest of the WHO? Beyond Marion Cotillard's character, the WHO does not really appear in the film. It's the CDC's show, and only their show . They act in Contagion pretty much how they promised they would act if the zombies arrive. Maybe that's how things would play out, but I suspect other governments and IGOs would still matter more than this film suggests. Given that the movie virus started in China, and that the head of the WHO is also from China, they might be useful in this kind of situation.
4) Few second-order effects. The virus leads to looting, crime, and other social ills, but I wish they had said something about the total economic devastation that would have occurred. At one point after a vaccine has been developed, Matt Damon's character walks through a mall to buy his daughter a prom dress -- and 80% of the mall looks to be closed. Soderbergh suggests a bunch of unions going on strike because they don't want to ge sick. I'm curious what happens once they find themselves unemployed as well.
Forget the domestic discord however, there's also...
5) No international conflict whatsoever. After the first 15 minutes, almost all of the action takes place in the USA. Once a vaccine is discovered, there is no discussion of the international wrangling that would take place over scarce supplies. No diversionary wars happen. And so forth. Soderbergh doesn't really address possible problems in world politics. Because of this, the film implicitly assumes a liberal institutionalis kind of a world. I hope he's right, but I'm not so sure myself.
To be fair to Soderbergh and his collaborators, I'm not sure it's possible to get everything right in such a film. Unless it's a television series I'm not sure it's possible to get all the nuances and complexities right. Given these limitations, Contagion is a movie worth seeing. Just bring your own Purell.
In first days after Dominique Strauss-Kahn's arrest, there was a big spasm of media output about how the arrest revealed the massive cultural divide between France and the United States, yada, yada, yada. Led by
blowhard French intellectuals France's cultural elite, anti-Americanism seemed ready to spike back to 2003 levels.
A funny thing happened in the ensuing days, however, a curious countertrend has emerged -- the wave of anti-American sentiment hasn't spiked at all.
Sophie Meunier, your humble blogger's go-to expert on all things French, explains in the Huffington Post that what's happened instead has been far more interesting. DSK's arrest, along with the waves of information about his behavior, have caused French commentators to go through the five stages of grief in coping with the news. Denial and anger did dominate the first few days, but now France is going through the bargaining phase:
With a few days hindsight, however, what is most surprising about the fallout of the DSK scandal in France is not how much, but rather how little displays of anti-Americanism it has provoked. To the contrary, the scandal is now turning into a teachable moment and a frank analysis of the comparative merits of French and American society. Perhaps this is the bargaining stage: if we understand the American system, perhaps we can expect it to treat one of our own fairly?
The flamboyant declarations by Bernard-Henri Lévy who was trying to help his friend by complaining that the American judge had treated DSK "like any other" subject of justice backfired. The next news cycle in France was about introspection. What if the American justice system actually had some features that could be replicated, such as the equality of treatment? A flurry of accusatory articles popped up in the French press denouncing how a defendant of DSK's stature would never have gone through the same legal troubles in France -unlike a random "Benoit" or "Karim." As socialist and DSK friend Manuel Valls publicly confessed, criticizing the American justice system also puts the spotlight on the weaknesses of French justice. This realization that perhaps the Americans might have components in their justice system that should be replicated in France might have left many with the depressing thought - "maybe we are not as wonderful and superior as we thought: so what is now our place in the world?"
The New York Times' Sarah Maslin Nir reaches a similar conclusion in her story on the French media's reaction to the American media:
It was easy to spot the French men and women among the media hordes. Despite their fatigued condition, they were, well, better looking than many of their American counterparts, and many of them smoked cigarettes as they stood, corralled together, waiting for something to happen. They greeted one another with double kisses, one on each cheek.
There were some local customs that puzzled the French. Franck Georgel, a television reporter for the station M6, was mystified by how respectful American journalists were of police barricades set up around a Lower Manhattan building where Mr. Strauss-Kahn was staying. “In France maybe the barrier would have been dropped on the ground,” he said. “Here, you’re more, how do you say it? Civilisé.”
As he spoke, a non-French journalist outside the building, at 71 Broadway, helped a woman with a baby carriage make her way down the steps. “That’s American,” he declared. “That’s not really French.”
The Atlantic also has a good round-up on French media introspection.
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.]
In Sayf-Al-Islam's rambling speech last night on Libyan State television, he blamed the current unpleasantness in his country on, as near as I can determine, crazed African LSD addicts.
This isn't going down as well as Sayf had intended, and Libya seems less stable than 24 hours earlier. Indeed, Sayf's off-the-cuff remarks managed to make Hosni Mubarak's three speeches seem like a model of professionalism, which I would not have thought was possible a week ago.
Indeed, it is striking how utterly incompetent leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya have been at managing their media message. Speeches are announced, then never delivered on time, and then delivered with production values that woulds embarrass a public access channel in the U.S. It's like political leaders in the region have discovered blogs just as the young people has moved on to Twitter or something. [Er, no, that's the United States--ed.] Oh, right.
Having just finished a week of intense media whoring, methinks that one problem is that most of these leaders have simply fallen out of practice (if they were ever in practice) at personally using the media to assuage discontent. I've been on enough shows on enough different media platforms to appreciate that there is an art, or at least a tradecraft, to presenting a convincing message in the mediasphere. Authoritarian leaders in the Middle East are quite adept at playing internal factions off one another. That's a different skill set than trying to craft a coherent and compelling media message to calm street protestors no longer intimidated by internal security forces.
Indeed, as I argued in Theories of International Politics and Zombies, bureaucratic first responses to novel situations are almost uniformly bad. Sayf pretty much admitted this last night, as he acknowledged that the Libyan armed forces were not trained to deal with street protestors. I suspect the same is true with the state media outlets -- they excel at producing tame, regime-friendly pablum during quiescent periods, but now they're operating in unknown territory.
I also argued that bureaucracies should be able to adapt their organizational routines over time, if a regime's domestic support does not evaporate. Readers are encouraged to predict which regimes under threat in the Middle East are the most likely to be able to adapt. My money is on Iran -- not because that regime is more popular, but simply because Iran's leaders have had eighteen months to adapt and they are therefore further down the learning curve.
Over at The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about why he largely abstains from cable news appearances and why this is in and of itself a problem:
The outlines of the problem are becoming clear--I'm a snob. More seriously, it's my impression that much of cable news is rigged. Complicated questions are forced into small spaces of time, and guests frequently dissemble in order to score debate points and avoid being intellectually honest. Finally, many of the guests don't seem to be actual experts in the field of which they're addressing, so much as they're "strategists" or "analysts." I strongly suspect that part of the reason this is the case is talking on TV is, itself, a craft and one that requires a skill-set very different than what is required of academics. I'm sure many academics themselves share the disdain for the format that I've outlined. Finally, the handful of scholars who regularly appear on the talk shows, generally aren't of the sort that hold my interests.
With that said, it's very difficult to inveigh against these shows when you refuse to participate. The discomfiting fact is that cable news reaches a ton of people, many of whom--presuming they're interested--could use the information (emphasis added).
As an academic who is occasionally asked to be on TV/radio
after the producer has gone through their top ten options, I have similarly mixed feelings about the skill mismatch. Speaking from my own experience, I find that my biggest weakness in these venues is that I genuinely want to answer the question asked of me.
You'd think this would be a good thing, but it's not, because it means that you're a hostage to the interviewer's ability to ask good questions. Usually if you're asked to be on a program, you know what the news hook is, and you should (obviously) know your overarching take on the issue. The problem, for me at least, is that no interviewer asks, "So what do you think?" Instead, they'll ask a more specific question -- which I then try to answer specifically. I've rarely been able to integrate a specific answer with the larger theme I want to stress in the appearance.
I suppose I could just admit my failings and abstain from these kinds of media appearances. One of my 2011 resolutions, however, is to try and get better at doing this sort of thing.
I'll have my list of proposed resolutions for the rest of the foreign-policy community tomorrow.
As the rest of the Foreign Policy gang hobnobs with the foreign
policy glitterati tonight, I'm
stuck in Boston mulling over the fact
that Tom Friedman managed to earn a Bullock.
What is a Bullock? You might recall that earlier this year Sandra Bullock managed to win both an Academy Award for Best Actress (for The Blind Side) and a Golden Raspberry for Worst Actress (for All About Steve) -- the first time that has ever happened. So a Bullock is when one manages to earn both a "best of" and "worst of" in the span of a single year.
Lo and behold, this week Friedman's name appears on both Foreign Policy's Top 100 Global Thinkers as well as Salon's Hack Thirty -- which is definitely the first time that's ever happened. What can we infer from Friedman earning the Bullock? I suppose this depends on who you ask and which mention you think is the more unjustified. Friedman is the certainly the most prominent international relations columnist working today. Your humble blogger has had his occasional issues with Friedman's columns. That said, even Friedman's harsher critics tend to acknowledge that he makes an interesting point every once in a while. And I've had to write enough 700 word columns in my life to know that it's a much harder task than most people realize.
In a perfect world, foreign affairs columnists would rotate in and out of the op-ed pages after 18 months or so. In the branding world in which we live, I can think of better options than Friedman, but man, I can think of a lot more aspirants who would be worse.
This goes back to my point about the opportunity cost of stupid ideas. Friedman is frequently wrong (as are we all), but he's usually wrong in a way that tends to requires serious engagement rather than a backhanded wrist-slap or easy put-down.
For comparison in terms of stupidity, consider Dan Shaughnessy's latest Boston Globe column in which he suggests that the Boston Red Sox sign Derek Jeter:
Suppose the Red Sox step up and shock the world? There is simply no downside to making Jeter a massive offer. In the worst-case scenario he calls your bluff and you get the Yankees captain.
I don't care if Jeter is way past his prime or if the Sox would have to wildly overpay a player of his diminished skills.
I say offer him the world. Forget about Jayson Werth. Blow Jeter away with dollars and years. At worst this would just mean the Sox would jack up the final price the Yankees must pay. It could be sort of like Mark Teixeira-in-reverse…
What's the harm in offering Jeter $20 million a year over three years? If you can pay J.D. Drew $14 million per year… if you can pay a Japanese team $50 million just for the right to speak with Daisuke Matsuzaka… if you can buy a futbol club for $476 million, why not spend $60 million to bust pinstripe chops for all the ages?
Jeter is closing in on 3,000 hits. Imagine if he gets his 3,000th hit as a Red Sox… at Fenway… against Mariano Rivera?
Since we are pretty certain Adrian Beltre is gone, the Red Sox have a big hole at third base. Jeter could play third. Or you could trade Marco Scutaro and put Jeter at short.
This certainly would make the Sox less boring.
This is bad even when grading on a Shaughnessy curve, which already sets the bar ridiculously low.
First, it's horribly written: in the span of three paragraphs, Shaughnessy manages to give two very different worst-case scenarios. Which is it, exactly?
Second, it's horribly argued. If Jeter is not going to move off of shortstop for the Yankees, why would he do it for the Red Sox? Smart baseball people will tell you that Jeter's recent numbers don't justify anyone paying him $20 million a year -- and no one but the Yankees should even pay him $15 million. If I'm the Red Sox, I would make a play for closer Mariano Rivera -- but why sign an aging shortstop when the Red Sox already have one decent veteran (Marco Scutaro) and two pretty promising younger shortstops (Jed Lowrie and Jose Iglesias)?
Shaughnessy thinks the merit of this option is to force the Yankees payroll up. OK, except that a few paragraphs down, he implies that the Red Sox budget is essentially unlimited. There's no world in which a) the sky is blue; and b) the Yankees have a more constrained budget than the Red Sox. Either there are opportunity costs in paying Jeter a lot of money (in which case the cost for the Sox is greater) or both franchises are so rich that money doesn't matter (in which case there's no point to starting a bidding war in the first place).
I've just wasted untold minutes and several neurons of brainpower to explain why Shaughnessy's column might be the stupidest sports column I've read this year. It's not even stupid in an interesting way -- it's just a brainless rant. Arguing when and why Tom Friedman is wrong doesn't feel like the same waste of time to me.
In other words, he deserves his Bullock.
Question to readers: if not Tom Friedman, who would you want to read on world politics on the New York Times op-ed page?
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?
Earlier this week Politico's Ben Smith posted about the ways in which speaking fees had altered incentives for politicians and pundits:
Most of the people you see talking on television or quoted in stories -- who aren't in elected office -- make substantial parts of their livings giving speeches to private groups. Paid speaking, cleaner than lobbying, easier than the practice of law, cleaner than hitting up pension funds, well, safer than graft, has become the primary source of income for a broad range of political figures, beginning with Bill Clinton, who reported $7.5 million from paid speech in 2009.
The high fees for speakers like Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Stanley McChrystal occasionally draw attention, but beneath them are tiers and tiers more, with Harold Ford and Michael Steele, for instance, charging $40,000 for a package deal.
In that middle tier are commentators like Coulter and high-profile television personalities. Well down the ladder are journalists, lower-profile politicians, and consultants.
I've been wondering -- and am interested in readers' takes, particularly those in the industry -- how this private economy affects the public politics. For one thing, it provides an incentive for consultants and out-of-work politicians to volunteer themselves to cable television and to make themselves interested and controversial enough to stay on it. (It's a kind of subsidy to cable.) Cable hits are a kind of loss leader on the speaking circuit -- they don't themselves play, but they make a paid speaker more saleable.
In a follow-up post, Smith relayed a media exec's thoughts on the matter:
[I]t's never discussed with any real scrutiny by the mainstream media or Fox because it's bi-partisan. Everyone does it! James Carville. Bill Maher. Hannity. Oliver North. Eugene Robinson. Al Sharpton. Jack Welch. Trent Lott.
Note that academics are so far down the ladder that Smith doesn't even bother to mention them. This does not mean, however, that academics and other members of the foreign-policy community don't get speaking fees. I've seen Fareed Zakaria's quote, and, well, let's just say I've been coping with my own inadequacies at the lectern ever since.
What does the foreign policy equivalent of Smith's speaker ecosystem -- and how does it affect our analysis?
Well, the foreign policy speaker ecosystem is pretty straightforward and pretty hierarchical:
1) Top tier: former policy principals and mainstream elite pundits. Examples: Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Tom Friedman, Fareed Zakaria, Robert Kagan, etc. These are the people that large associations, private colleges, and consultants with deep pockets will invite to give talks. Payment ranges from high-five figures to low-six figures.
2) Second tier: Senior think-tankers, former policymakers with views "outside the mainstream", and experts in the topic du jour: Examples: Richard Haass, Carlos Pascual, James Woolsey, and, say, Barnett Rubin if Afghanistan was on everyone's mind. College groups, professional associations, lobbies, and single-issue groups will have these people talk. Payment ranges from high-four figures to middle-five figures.
3) Third tier: Top tier IR academics, former deputy policymakers, consultants who fancy themselves as deep global strategists, one-shot book-publishing wonders, etc. Examples: Charles Kupchan, Strobe Talbott, Parag Khanna. Foundations, think tanks, some campus groups, and university institutes will invite these speakers. Fees are generally low four figures.
4) Fourth tier: Assorted crackpots, garden-variety think-tankers, A-list bloggers, and me. Travel, hotel, and something less than $1,000.
Does this hierarchy affect how foreign-policy analysts write and think? I'm honestly not sure. Cracking the top tier is very difficult, and someone gearing their entire intellectual output towards that goal is more likely to be disappointed than not. Forthermore, the best way to crack that tier is to achieve a related goal, which is a top-tier appointment in an administration. One could argue that this puts constraints on how far outside "mainstream" analysis one can go.
On the other hand… once one realizes that those A-list appontments ain't going to happen, the incentve structure shifts. After a certain point, becoming an intellectual bomb-thrower can be the quickest route to achieving pecuniary rewards. That said, even in this case one has to have done good work in the past in order to be taken seriously. So, in the foreign-policy ecosystem at least, I'm not sure speaking fees distort policy analysis all that much.
I'm eager to hear from commenters on this question, however: do you think the growth of outside speaking fees distort incentives within the foreign-policy community?
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
Over the weekend I finally saw The Social Network and read Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker essay about social networks. Both Gladwell and Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter for The Social Network, have their issues with futurists who embrace these technologies as the beginning of a social revolution.
Now I'm pretty sympathetic to these arguments. In the past, I've expressed a fair amount of ambivalence about the power of Internet technologies to transform the world. After reading the essay and watching the movie, however, I can't say I'm all that convinced by their theses.
Let's start with Gladwell, because it's the lesser of the two arguments. Gladwell contrasts the relationships and connections forged on Twitter/Facebook with real-world movements. He argues that the latter work when based on a hierarchical structure with strong ties among the participants. The former is based on a networked structure with weak ties. Therefore:
This sounds good, except this doesn't describe networks all that well. Networks eliminate neither hierarchical power nor strong ties -- they're simply expressed in different ways. Actors in central nodes, with lots of dynamic density among other actors, can command both power and discipline. Not all networks will look like this, but the ones successful at fomenting change will likely resemble it. To put it more precisely: social networks lower the transactions costs for creating both weak ties and strong ties, loose collaborations and more tightly integrated social movements.
It's not either/or, a point Oliver Willis raises:
Things bubble over to real world via social networking when influencers push the influenced to do something. Social networks tend to magnify this, and the web does give some of us who would never be real-life leaders a way of having some sway. I find it odd that Gladwell misses this, because this is the whole point of his bestseller The Tipping Point.
I’ve no doubt that getting your followers to do something in the real world is more complicated than getting them to retweet or “Like” something, but I don’t think the barrier to doing that is social networking’s distributed nature but rather the intensity of the network following you. But this is the same as in the real world. Network leaders need to have leadership skills no matter the medium.
The movie The Social Network was far more interesting. There is some controversy over what's been fictionalized, what's been mysoginized, and what's been left out of the film, and I'm sympathetic to some of these arguments. Taking what was intended to be on the screen, however, The Social Network also suggests the ways in which offline and online structures intersect. There were many reasons for Facebook's rise, but I have to think that the site's initial exculsivity helped to give it something that MySpace and Friendster lacked.
The film has many great moments (if Aaron Sorkin was meant to translate any real-life figure onto film, it was Larry Summers). Both the ending and Sorkin's interviews about the film, however, suggests that there's an emptiness at the core of Facebook that hollows out 21st-century friendships.
I don't buy this. Social networking sites giveth as much as they taketh away. Speaking from my own experience, I've found myself becoming closer with some friends and less close with others based on Facebook.
More generally, there seems to be a generational effect whenever a new social technology emerges. Different generations react in radically different ways:
1) The Mature Generation tends to disdain the technology as yet another example of the world going to hell in a handbasket.
2) For the Maturing Generation, the new technology is both a blessing and a curse. The adroit learn how to use the new technology to vault to social, political or economic heights that they would not have otherwise achieved. At the same time, a new technology without new social norms inevitably creates confusion about what is acceptable and what is taboo. Some people lose status as a result.
3) For the Youngest Generation, the technology isn't new by the time they come to use it. They're savvy in the ways that the technology is both an opportunity and a risk, and can navigate those waters without thinking too hard. For this generatioon, the social technology is part of the new normal.
Sorkin has demonstrated his Oldest Generation credentials since the "Lemon-Lyman" episode of The West Wing. Which is fine. But there are other generations out there, and they're not relating to these technologies the way that Sorkin thinks.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Over at Shadow Government, Mary Habeck argues that al Qaeda's capabilities are on the rise, as evidenced by the recent effort to launch a trans-European Mumbai-style bombing. This is akin to a CNN headline I just saw: "Europe plot reveals al Qaeda adapting."
I would have assumed that these analyses argue that recent events demonstrate al Qaeda's abilities to find ways to overcome current counter-terrorism tactics.
But then I read the actual CNN story:
With al Qaeda struggling to replicate attacks on the scale of the devastation witnessed on September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington, security experts believe the Mumbai attack, which gained worldwide publicity, may provide the template for its future operations.
"This new plot is perhaps an indication that al Qaeda is trying to change its strategy," said CNN's Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson. "The high-profile attacks that it has always liked using explosives are clearly getting harder and harder to perpetrate.
"The cells are being spotted and it's harder to keep undercover when you're making bombs. Even buying the material to make bombs is getting harder, so many analysts believe al Qaeda would be unable to mount a 9/11-style attack in the current climate.
"Therefore Mumbai would have been viewed as successful by the al Qaeda leadership as it killed a large number of people. This type of attack is just as deadly but harder to stop."
In the last year, a number of plots targeting the West have been foiled, including the failed Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. airliner; the failed car bomb attempt in New York City's Times Square and an alleged plan to attack shopping malls in Manchester, England over one holiday weekend in 2009.
This strikes me as defining adaptation down. Technically, events suggest that al Qaeda is adapting, which is a bad thing from the perspective of everyone preferring, you know, civilization. But the nut of this analysis is that al Qaeda's preferred tactics are being thwarted, and that they therefore have no choice but to switch tactics. This switch might lead to a greater likelihood of actual attacks, but their lethality seems lower. [But the CNN story suggests that this kind of attack is "just as deadly" as a 9/11-type attack?!- -ed. Yeah, that's wrong. The Mumbai attacks led to 173 deaths and 308 wounded. These are appalling numbers, but they are not as appalling as the loss of life on 9/11].
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?
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.