Yesterday I was intermittently watching Janet Yellen's testimony before the Senate Banking Committee, and I was struck by how often she relied on the guidance of "studies" to explain her worldview on monetary policy. By "studies," Yellen was referring to the policy-relevant academic literature.
This, in and of itself, is not extraordinary -- you'd find the same trope when Ben Bernanke testified. But it got me to thinking,. and then to tweeting:
Fun exercise: imagine a SecState or NSC Advisor referring to "studies" -- i.e., the literature -- as much as Yellen has in Cong. testimony.— Daniel Drezner (@dandrezner) November 14, 2013
My point is that no foreign policy principal, in testifying before Congress, would ever think of saying that the academic literature guides their thinking on a particular policy issue.
In response to that tweet, Chris Blattman -- a strange economist in the stranger land of political science -- offered a response:
[An] immense amount of what the best political scientists are doing is irrelevant to what State or the NSC does, and what is relevant is often of mediocre quality. I think this is improving but I’m not very sure. (emphasis added)
Now it's possible that Blattman is correct -- but I don't think so. First, I'm unconvinced that political scientists are doing as much irrelevant scholarship as he suggests. More importantly, I'm extremely dubious of the implicit contention that a greater fraction of political scientists are doing policy irrelevant work than, say, economists.
I'd offer an alternative hypothesis -- prejudice. The issue isn't the poverty of political science research, but rather that foreign affairs policymakers view their relevant academic literature very differently from the way economic policymakers view their relevant academic literature. To repeat myself:
[T[he fundamental difference between economic policy and foreign policy is that the former community accepts the idea that economic methodologies and theory-building enterprises have value, and are worth using as a guide to policymaking. This doesn't mean economists agree on everything, but it does mean they are all speaking a common language and accept the notion of external validity checks on their arguments.
That consensus simply does not exist within the foreign policy community.... Many members of the foreign policy community explicitly reject the notion that social science methodologies and techniques can explain much in world politics. They therefore are predisposed to reject the kind of scholarship that political scientists of all stripes generate. This might be for well-founded reasons, it might be simple
innumeracyhostility to the academy, or it might be a combination of the two. I'd love to have a debate about whether that's a good or bad thing, but my point is that's the reality we face.
For evidence to back up my assertion, see this forthcoming International Studies Quarterly paper by Michael Desch and Paul Avey entitled "What Do Policymakers Want From Us?" They find that senior foreign affairs policymakers are extremely dubious about the utility of political science scholarship. The interesting finding is why:
[T]he more sophisticated social science methods such as formal models, operations research, theoretical analysis, and quantitative analysis tended to be categorized more often as “not very useful” or “not useful at all,” calling into question the direct influence of these approaches to international relations. Indeed, the only methodology that more than half the respondents characterized as “not very useful” or “not useful at all” was formal models. As Table 4 shows, the higher the rank of the government official, the less likely he or she was to think that formal models were useful for policymaking (p. 11).
Now here's the thing -- as Desch and Avey note, these very same policymakers have a very different attitude about economics: "Respondents were more tolerant of 'highly theoretical writings [and] complex statistical analysis of social science topics' in the realm of Economics (p. 9)." Indeed, they note at the end of their paper that an outstanding question remains: "why is it that policymakers are relatively tolerant of complex modeling and statistical work in Economics and survey research but not in other areas of political science and international relations? (p. 35)"
Maybe this is because economists are really just far more sophisticated in their research than political scientists -- but I don't think so. Maybe, as Desch and Avey postulate, it's because foreign affairs policymakers exaggerate how important these methodologies are to economic policymakers. Or maybe it's something different: it's that economic policymakers have imbibed the methodology and jargon of economists in a way that foreign policymakers have not with international relations. They don't reflexively pre-judge such scholarship in a negative light.
What do you think?
I was all set this morning to blog more about high-falutin' theoretical IR debates or what's happening in Libya or whether Hugo Chavez can really move all of his gold without these guys somehow stealing it, when, well.... this happened:
So instead, today your humble blogger was busy stockpiling supplies like
vodka fresh water, whiskey, batteries, bourbon, dry goods, etc.
This might seem like an overreaction, and hopefully, it will be. However, I learned a valuable lesson from the last time I labeled an event like this as "hurricane porn." Never again will I trivialize hurricane warnings. Even if, nine times out of ten, a hurricane/tropical storm/tropical depression turns out to be less than advertised, there is that one time that the worst case scenario nis actually realized. And in that event, better to be prepared than not.
Of course, the problem with this approach is that after each iteration in which a natural disaster warning does not come to fruition, one is tempted to be more blasé about the next one. It's the meteorilogical equivalent of festering foreign policy problems -- unless and until a slow-motion problem becomes an acute crisis, attention will not be paid.
Still, on a day when parts of New York are being evacuated, I am grateful that this is unlikely to happen:
In Theories of International Politics and Zombies, I noted that "one can only speculate" what great power governments were doing to prepare for the contingency of an attack of the undead. One could argue that the absence of any mention of zombies in the Wikileaks cables suggests that no planning has taken place -- but one would assume that scenarios involving the undead would be classified as Top Secret or higher.
Courtesy of the New York Times' William Glaberson, however, we now know that the State of New York is thinking seriously about this problem:
Major disasters like terrorist attacks and mass epidemics raise confounding issues for rescuers, doctors and government officials. They also pose bewildering legal questions, including some that may be painful to consider, like how the courts would decide who gets life-saving medicine if there are more victims than supplies.
But courts, like fire departments and homicide detectives, exist in part for gruesome what-ifs. So this month, an official state legal manual was published in New York to serve as a guide for judges and lawyers who could face grim questions in another terrorist attack, a major radiological or chemical contamination or a widespread epidemic.
Quarantines. The closing of businesses. Mass evacuations. Warrantless searches of homes. The slaughter of infected animals and the seizing of property. When laws can be suspended and whether infectious people can be isolated against their will or subjected to mandatory treatment. It is all there, in dry legalese, in the manual, published by the state court system and the state bar association.
Uh-huh... this is for "radiological" or "chemical" contaminations. Ok. Right. Wake up and smell the rotting corpses of the undead, people!!!!!
Seriously, fhe foreword of the New York State Public Health Legal Manual (.pdf) opens with the following explanation/justification:
In today's world, we face many natural and man-made catastrophic threats, including the very real possibility of a global influenza outbreak or other public health emergency that could infect millions of people. While it is impossible to predict the timing or severity of the next public health emergency, our government has a responsibility to anticipate and prepare for such events. An important element of this planning process is advance coordination between public health authorities and our judicial and legal systems. The major actors in any public health crisis must understand the governing laws ahead of time, and must know what their respective legal roles and responsibilities are. What is the scope of the government's emergency and police powers? When may these be invoked, and by which officials? What are the rights of people who may be quarantined or isolated by government and public health officials?
These questions must be researched and answered now-not in the midst of an emergency-so that the responsible authorities have a readymade resource to help them make quick, effective decisions that protect the public interest.
Are planning documents like this useful? Yes and no. On the one hand, this kind of thing is a classic example of what Lee Clarke would refer to as a "fantasy document." In Mission Improbable: Using Fantasy Documents to Tame Disaster, Clarke argued that plans like these have little chance of success, because an actual crisis contains too much randomness to plan out in advance. They serve primarily as a way for the state to soothe the the public that Someone Is In Charge and will provide control, order, and stability. Similarly, Anthony Cordesman argued in October 2001 that pre-crisis government efforts to handle this kind of emergency are likely to disintegrate once the actual crisis emerges.
On the other hand, as many contributors argued in Avoiding Trivia, even if the plans themselves never work out, the effort to plan can be useful both for crisis and non-crisis situations. This kind of exercise forces bureaucrats and officials to think about what standard operatijngf procedures won't be so standard in a post-disaster environment. It also serves as a form of mental aerobics to prepare to the truly unknown unknowns.
So, on the one hand, kudos to the New York State legal community for thinking about these questions. On the other hand, I doubt that things will go according to plan. Plus, I'm really curious to hear whether they think habeas corpus applies to the living dead.
Shorter Logan: it's a big deal, and the insularity of policymakers is to blame.
Shorter Pillar: it's not that big a deal, and the eggheadedness of academics is to blame.
I have some sympathy to both sides of the argument here. Pillar is correct to point out the ways in which this gap has been exaggerated, and Logan is correct to point out that there's still a gulf to traverse between the two communities. Both posts are worth reading in full.
Then we get to Jacob Heilbrunn's intervention:
Should policymakers pay attention to academics? Should policy makers actually be academics? No and no. For the most part, policymakers should avoid them like the plague....
I would say that SAIS, the Fletcher School, and other such finishing schools for foreign affairs mavens have supplanted traditional political science departments, which became enamored of game and rational-choice theory. The only truly serious discipline in political science is political theory--Aristotle to Weber to Rawls. Is there much in international relations, by the way, that has not already been discussed by Thucydides--a dip into the Sicilian Expedition might have served George W. Bush well before he headed into Iraq (emphasis added).
Hah!! Fletcher wins!! In your face, traditional political science departments!! Heilbrunn has authoritatively--- no... wait, I can't do it. I can't gloat over a horses**t argument like this one, even if it advances my home institution.
I have to assume that the Committee on Social Thought has some of Heilbrunn's family hostage to produce that blog post. It's so rife with blanket assertions that I'll be warm all winter reading it.
First, as Pillar noted in his post, and speaking from my own experience, the training involved in getting a political science Ph.D. or other social science doctorate is actually pretty useful when stepping into the policymaking world. Even if the theoretical models and empirical results of political science might be contested, the mode of analytical thinking usually leads to some useful insights.
Second, I love Thucydides more than most IR scholars, and I teach him on a regular basis. Having read History of the Peloponnesian War every other year, however, yeah, there's actually a fair amount that's not in Thucydides that is part and parcel of modern-day international relations. There's very little on international political economy and/or economic interdependence in the text. The material on the democratic peace is interesting but radically incomplete. Last I checked neither Athens nor Sparta possessed nuclear weapons, which even realist lovers of Thucydides concede is a game-changer. I came up with those in less than five minutes, so I'm thinking that there's more if I bothered to ponder about it some more.
As for what's in Thucydides, there's so much fascinating content that no consensus exists about the key takeaway points. Ask five people who've read History of the Peloponnesian War about its central theme and you'll get ten answers.
Thucydides is a great text, and I want everyone to read it, but there's a lot more out there in the world. As for political theory being the only "discipline" in political science, I'll leave it to other political science bloggers to
open up a can of whup-ass and address Heilbrunn's argument.
Heilbrunn might be correct that institutions like Fletcher have more of an impact on policymaking than standard political science departments. Whether's that's as good of a thing as Heilbrunn thinks, however, is a seriously dubious proposition.
I was remiss in not blogging about Tom Donilon replacing James Jones as National Security Advisor. Well, actually, I don't think I was remiss, because I didn't think it was all that big of a deal. Past reportage indicated that Donilon had been the de facto national security advisor for some time now.
The one difference is that Donilon has had the ear of Obama in a way that Jones never did. And sure, access to the president is an important lever of influence in Washington. It's no guarantee of success, however. Condoleezza Rice probably had a closer relationship to President Bush than Steve Hadley, but the latter did a better job as NSC advisor. Like Peter Feaver, I figured that this move simply matched titles to actual responsibilities.
The personnel change, however, is causing some people to say some silly things. Steve Clemons, for example, provides this assessment:
Obama's decision making system -- which is huge now and an obvious corrective to the cabal-like operation that Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Richard Cheney ran during the G.W. Bush years -- simply could not function without Donilon (and [Denis] McDonough).
But that does not mean that the role of being the premier adviser to the president on America's global threats and challenges can be properly filled by someone who is excellent at a speedy, inclusive, decision making process but too overwhelmed to get distance to think and advise strategically.
Some of the early reactions to the Donilon appointment have focused on his political connections and savvy over his intellectual merits and standing. These critics couldn't be more wrong.
While Donilon has not taken the path to power that many others in the national security establishment have of carefully pruned and crafted exposes on American foreign policy -- published in journals of record like Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, National Interest, and American Interest -- he has been actively engaged for years in national security strategy groups and working meetings.
His thinking about U.S. foreign policy is known to any who have worked with him in these groups. He's a systematic, creative, pragmatic thinker about America's foreign policy challenges -- and whether he has expressed himself in roundtable discussions rather than a large volume of opeds makes no difference.
Donilon is a pragmatic, non-ideological practitioner who knows that America's greatest challenge today is restoring its stock of power and its ability to positively shape the global system. He knows that American power is doubted today and needs to be reinvented -- and he thinks about this all of the time. It is what animates him and the furious pace he keeps.
This might be the ritual suck-up-to-the-next-NSC-advisor kind of blog post, but taken at face value, a few minor corrections are warranted.
First, by definition, a good foreign policy process should be able to function well regardless of personnel changes. If a process can't function without particular individuals in charge, then it's neither a good nor a robust decision-making process.
Second, "non-ideological" policymakers don't exist. Policymakers might be in denial about what ideologies they possess. Their ideologies might be so moderate and mainstream that they're not noticed as ideologies. But any policymaker has a set of ideas that guides them through the complex swamp that is world politics.
Finally, from what I can read, there was no policy distance between Jones and Donilon. The only difference seems to be that Donilon was more willing to push back against the military, and that the military dislikes Donilon more. Why this promotion should lead to fundamental policy changes is beyond me.
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There's been a lot of oh-my-God-China-is-eating-America's-lunch-have-you-seen-how-pretty-their-infrastructure-is?-kind of blather among the commentariat. And, to be sure, China has had a good Great Recession. But one of the points I've been making on this blog repeatedly is that, for all of China's supposed deftness, "China's continued rise seems to be occurring in spite of strategic miscalculations, not because of them."
Now, I had also assumed that China's leadership would quickly move down the learning curve and practice a more subtle form of statecraft. After reading Keith Bradsher in the New York Times today, however, I guess I was wrong:
Sharply raising the stakes in a dispute over Japan’s detention of a Chinese fishing trawler captain, the Chinese government has blocked exports to Japan of a crucial category of minerals used in products like hybrid cars, win turbines and guided missiles.
Chinese customs officials are halting shipments to Japan of so-called rare earth elements, preventing them from being loaded aboard ships this week at Chinese ports, three industry officials said Thursday.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao personally called for Japan’s release of the captain, who was detained after his vessel collided with two Japanese Coast Guard ships about 40 minutes apart as he tried to fish in waters controlled by Japan but long claimed by China. Mr. Wen threatened unspecified further actions if Japan did not comply.
Is this effort at economic statecraft going to accomplish Beijing's objectives? In a word, no. True, according to Bradsher, "China mines 93 percent of the world’s rare earth minerals, and more than 99 percent of the world’s supply of some of the most prized rare earths."
It's also true, however, that Japan has been stockpiling supplies of rare earths. Furthermore, this kind of action is just going to lead to massive subsidies to produce rare earths elsewherein the world (including the United States) and/or develop rare earth substitutes. Oh, and one other thing -- given the spate of flare-ups between Japan and China as of late, the last thing Tokyo will want to do is back down in the face of Chinese economic coercion.
Don't get me wrong -- if China persists in this ban, there will be come economic costs to the rest of the world. Those costs just won't translate into any political concessions. [UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal has an excellent follow-up story suggesting that China is not imposing a ban.]
It is hardly surprising that (reported) actions like these are leading the entire Pacific Rim right to Washington's door:
[R]ising frictions between China and its neighbors in recent weeks over security issues have handed the United States an opportunity to reassert itself — one the Obama administration has been keen to take advantage of.
Washington is leaping into the middle of heated territorial disputes between China and Southeast Asian nations despite stern Chinese warnings that it mind its own business. The United States is carrying out naval exercises with South Korea in order to help Seoul rebuff threats from North Korea even though China is denouncing those exercises, saying that they intrude on areas where the Chinese military operates.
Meanwhile, China’s increasingly tense standoff with Japan over a Chinese fishing trawler captured by Japanese ships in disputed waters is pushing Japan back under the American security umbrella....
“The U.S. has been smart,” said Carlyle A. Thayer, a professor at the Australian Defense Force Academy who studies security issues in Asia. “It has done well by coming to the assistance of countries in the region.”
“All across the board, China is seeing the atmospherics change tremendously,” he added. “The idea of the China threat, thanks to its own efforts, is being revived.”
Asserting Chinese sovereignty over borderlands in contention — everywhere from Tibet to Taiwan to the South China Sea — has long been the top priority for Chinese nationalists, an obsession that overrides all other concerns. But this complicates China’s attempts to present the country’s rise as a boon for the whole region and creates wedges between China and its neighbors.
This latest rare earth ban is just going to accelerate this trend. The ironic thing about this is that it's not like U.S. grand strategy has been especially brilliant. The U.S., however, has two big advantages at the moment. First, it's further away from these countries than China. Second, Washington's actions and rhetoric have been far more innocuous than Beijing's.
In yet another New York Times story, David Sanger provides a small clue as to whether Beijing either knows or cares about the blowback from its recent actions:
Early this month Mr. Obama quietly sent to Beijing Thomas E. Donilon, his deputy national security adviser and by many accounts the White House official with the greatest influence on the day-to-day workings of national security policy, and Lawrence H. Summers, who announced Tuesday that he would leave by the end of the year as the director of the National Economic Council....
[O]fficials familiar with the meetings said they were intended to try to get the two countries focused on some common long-term goals. The Chinese sounded more cooperative themes than in the spring, when two other administration officials were told, as one senior official put it, that “it was the Obama administration that caused this mess, and it’s the Obama administration that has to clean it up.”
Well, that is learning, but it's of a very modest kind.
Now, it is possible that Beijing has simply decided that its internal growth is so big that it can afford the friction that comes with a rising power. My assessment, however, is that they're vastly overestimating their current power vis-a-vis the United States, and they're significantly undererstimating the effect of pushing the rest of the Pacific Rim into closer ties with the United States (and India).
More significantly, and to repeat a theme, China is overestimating its ability to translate the economic interdependence of the Asia/Pacific economy into political leverage. With these misperceptions, however, China is risking some serious conflicts down the road.
Am I missing anything? I'm serious -- this problem ain't going away anytime soon.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a major foreign policy speech today at the Council on Foreign Relations office in DC. This is interesting, as the Obama administration released its National Security Strategy only a few months ago, so one would think that a major speech by the Secretary of State would be pretty superfluous.
The guts of Clinton's speech can be excerpted as follows:
[L]et me say it clearly: The United States can, must, and will lead in this new century....
Architecture is the art and science of designing structures that serve our common purposes, built to last and withstand stress. That's what we seek to build - a network of alliances and partnerships, regional organizations and global institutions, that is durable and dynamic enough to help us meet today's challenges and adapt to threats that we cannot even conceive of, just as our parents never dreamt of melting glaciers or dirty bombs....
After more than a year and a half, we have begun to see the dividends of our strategy. We are advancing America's interests and making progress on some of our most pressing challenges. Today we can say with confidence that this model of American leadership works, and that it offers our best hope in a dangerous world.
I'd like to outline several steps we are taking to implement this strategy....
First, we have turned to our closest allies, the nations that share our most fundamental values and interests -- and our commitment to solving common problems. From Europe and North America to East Asia and the Pacific, we are renewing and deepening the alliances that are the cornerstone of global security and prosperity....
[T]he second step in our strategy for global leadership is to help build the capacity of developing partners. To help countries obtain the tools and support they need to solve their own problems and help solve our common problems. To help people lift themselves, their families, and their societies out of poverty, away from extremism, and toward sustainable progress. The Obama Administration views development as a strategic, economic, and moral imperative - as central to advancing American interests as diplomacy and defense....
We must also take into account those countries that are growing rapidly and already playing more influential roles in their regions and in global affairs, such as China and India, Turkey, Mexico and Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa, as well as Russia, as it redefines its own role in the world.
Our third major step has been to deepen engagement with these emerging centers of influence....
[T]he fourth key step in our strategy has been to reinvigorate America's commitment to be an active transatlantic, Pacific and hemispheric leader....
[O]ur fifth step has been to reengage with global institutions and begin modernizing them to meet the evolving challenges of the 21st century. We need institutions that are flexible, inclusive, and complementary, instead of competing with one another for jurisdiction. Institutions that encourage nations to play productive roles, that marshal common efforts, and enforce the system of rights and responsibilities that binds us all....
As we strengthen and modernize regional and global institutions, the United States is also working to cement democracy, human rights, and the rule of law into their foundations. To construct an architecture of values that spans the globe and includes every man, woman and child. An architecture that can not only counter repression and resist pressure on human rights, but also extend those fundamental freedoms to places where they have been too long denied.
This is our sixth major step. We are upholding and defending the universal values that are enshrined in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (emphases added).
So, what do I think of all of this? Let's divide my reactions into what I think are the good, the bad, and the BS portions of Clinton's speech.
1) The Asia/Pacific. Clinton shoehorned this into her fourth tactic, but it was an effective articulation of the administration's calibrated approach towards China.
2) Russia. The Obama administration has certainly reversed what had been a badly deteriorating relationship with the Russian Federation. One quibble: Clinton said at one point that the relationship in January 2009, "invigorated spy novelists and arm chair strategists." Gimme a break: Anna Chapman did a much better job of invigorating spy novelists.
1) The overestimation of shared interests. Clinton talked about, "international diplomacy aimed at rallying nations to solve common problems and achieve shared aspirations" as a constant of American foreign policy. That's great -- but what about the areas where values and aspirations are not shared? There were far too many Pollyannish paragraphs in this speech.
2) The underemphasis on patience. Clinton used a good turn of phrase -- "strategic patience" -- to talk about the time required to see some of these foreign policy initiatives bear fruit. This should have been played up much more. Indeed, the exemplar Clinton gave of her foreign policy vision -- Iran -- does not really look all that successful right now. The speechwriter should have also tied in this notion of patience with American determination and resolve.
1) Europe. The whole section on strengthening bilateral and multilateral ties to Europe almost caused me to lose my cornflakes. I mean, c'mon. Is forcing the Europeans to cut down their number of seats in the IMF an example of strengthening alliances? I see the intrinsic merit in occasionally dissing the Europeans, but don't tell me that anything transatlantic has been "strengthened" over the past 18 months.
2) The entire "global architecture" theme: You know, it's a funny thing: the revamped G-20 is, in many ways, at the center of the whole "remaking the global architecture" idea. Guess how many times it was mentioned in this speech? Once. If the State Department thinks the Iran policy is a more successful case than the G-20, then how can I possible have any faith in any new global governance structure?
Am I missing anything?
Jesse Lichtenstein's New York Times Magazine profile of the State Department's Jared Cohen and Alec Ross does a fine job of discussing the pros and cons of government efforts to use Twitter, Facebook et al in order to promote U.S. interests. FP's Evgeny Morozov is quoted liberally as the voice of skepticism.
What I found particularly interesting was the way that this kind of advocacy has turned Cohen and Ross into Internet celebrities:
On Twitter, Cohen, who is 28, and Ross, who is 38, are among the most followed of anyone working for the U.S. government, coming in third and fourth after Barack Obama and John McCain. This didn’t happen by chance. Their Twitter posts have become an integral part of a new State Department effort to bring diplomacy into the digital age, by using widely available technologies to reach out to citizens, companies and other nonstate actors. Ross and Cohen’s style of engagement — perhaps best described as a cross between social-networking culture and foreign-policy arcana — reflects the hybrid nature of this approach. Two of Cohen’s recent posts were, in order: “Guinea holds first free election since 1958” and “Yes, the season premier [sic] of Entourage is tonight, soooo excited!” This offhand mix of pop and politics has on occasion raised eyebrows and a few hackles (writing about a frappucino during a rare diplomatic mission to Syria; a trip with Ashton Kutcher to Russia in February), yet, together, Ross and Cohen have formed an unlikely and unprecedented team in the State Department. They are the public face of a cause with an important-sounding name: 21st-century statecraft....
One apparent paradox of 21st-century statecraft is that while new technologies have theoretically given a voice to the anonymous and formerly powerless (all you need is a camera phone to start a movement), they have also fashioned erstwhile faceless bureaucrats into public figures. Ross and Cohen have a kind of celebrity in their world — and celebrity in the Twitter age requires a surfeit of disclosure. Several senior members of the State Department with whom I spoke could not understand why anyone would want to read microdispatches from a trip to Twitter or, worse, from a State Department staff member’s child’s basketball game. But Secretary Clinton seemed neither troubled nor bewildered. “I think it’s to some extent pervasive now,” she told me in March. “It would be odd if the entire world were moving in that direction and the State Department were not.” Half of humanity is under 30, she reminded me. “Much of that world doesn’t really know as much as you might think about American values. One of the ways of breaking through is by having people who are doing the work of our government be human beings, be personalized, be relatable.”
I'm really not sure if network diplomacy will work, but these grafs highlight a looming problem even if it does work. Web 2.0 users succeed when they generate idiosyncratic, personalized content. Governments, on the other hand, are team operations, designed to harness different organizations into a common message. Ross and Cohen are clearly smart, talented people, but at some point they or someone like them in the government will commit an Octavia Nasr -- and what then?
Question to readers: is it possible for foreign policymakers to be good at Web 2.0 and good at traditional bureaucratese?
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My assessment perfectly mirrors The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy's assessment of Earth: mostly harmless.
First of all, when reading these documents, you need to separate the parts that seem really important from the parts that seem.... boilerplate. For example, consider this laughably overtaken-by-events pledge:
Effectively Manage Emergencies: We are building our capability to prepare for disasters to reduce or eliminate long-term effects to people and their property from hazards and to respond to and recover from major incidents. To improve our preparedness, we are integrating domestic all hazards planning at all levels of government and building key capabilities to respond to emergencies. We continue to collaborate with communities to ensure preparedness efforts are integrated at all levels of government with the private and nonprofit sectors. We are investing in operational capabilities and equipment, and improving the reliability and interoperability of communications systems for first responders. We are encouraging domestic regional planning and integrated preparedness programs and will encourage government at all levels to engage in long-term recovery planning. It is critical that we continually test and improve plans using exercises that are realistic in scenario and consequences.
Planning integration!! Community collaboration!! More integration!! Hey, that's killer material in the NSS. It's a good thing this stuff is being done to prepare for a real emergency. Oh, wait....
As to the portions that matter: it's not that bad. In contrast to some previous strategy documents, this NSS is an actual strategy rather than a laundry list of regions and countries. The administration wisely notes the connections between domestic economic vitality and the ability to project and husband power in a complex world. In contrast to a lot of criticism I read, the administration makes a clear distinction between allies (NATO, Japan) and partners (Russia, China). The attitude towards multilateral institutions is appropriately clear-eyed. Al Qaeda is discussed but not to the point of obsession. The strategy could have just quoted John Quincy Adams rather than trying to perfect his prose about promoting democracy abroad by practicing it at home -- but that's picking at nits.
So, most of it is harmless. There are two things that nagged at me after I'd finished it, however.
First, there's a mismatch between the Obama administration's emphasis on retrenchment/"hard choices" and their sincere commitment to eliminating nuclear weapons. From his 2007 Foreign Affairs essay onwards, every major strategy document has emphasized that the administration will "Pursue the Goal of a World Without Nuclear Weapons." This is the part of the NSS with feeling, and the part where the administration has racked up some significant achievements.
The thing is, a retrenchment strategy requires relying on the tools of power that yield the greatest bang for the buck. Nuclear weapons accomplish little as a means of compellence, but they are the best and most cost-effective deterrent capability imaginable. Now, nothing the Obama administration has done to date compromises that deterrent capability. They seem to be moving in that direction, however. Pledging to eliminate nuclear weapons involves investing a lot of diplomatic capital towards a goal that fundamentally contradicts the national interest of the United States.
The second problem is the strictly horatory nature of some of the key NSS planks. There's a lot of "rising fiscal and trade deficits will... necessitate hard choices in the years ahead" kind of talk in the document. There are repeated emphases on getting America's fiscal house in order. Which is great, until we get to the paragraph on how this is going to happen:
Reduce the Deficit: We cannot grow our economy in the long term unless we put the United States back on a sustainable fiscal path. To begin this effort, the Administration has proposed a 3-year freeze in nonsecurity discretionary spending, a new fee on the largest financial services companies to recoup taxpayer losses for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), and the closing of tax loopholes and unnecessary subsidies. The Administration has created a bipartisan fiscal commission to suggest further steps for medium-term deficit reduction and will work for fiscally responsible health insurance reform that will bring down the rate of growth in health care costs, a key driver of the country’s fiscal future.
That's it? I was expecting a bit more. True, budget pledges in a National Security Strategy don't count for much, but would it have been so bad to articulate a more detailed vision of our fiscal future? If the administration can pledge to double exports in the next five years, can't it put in a goal for what the debt/GDP ratio will look like by 2015?
Still, on the whole, it's a decent strategy document as these things go.
Mostly harmless. Mostly.
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I'll have a longer reaction to the 2010 National Security Strategy once I've, you know, actually read it. Of course, me needing to read it will not stop commenters from commenting. So fire away.
Through the magic of the search function, here's a short list of what's hot and what's not in the NSS: Here are the number of mentions for the following words:
Al Qa'ida: 21
North Korea: 3
Doha round: 1
The aliens are out there and Earth had better watch out, at least according to Stephen Hawking. He has suggested that extraterrestrials are almost certain to exist — but that instead of seeking them out, humanity should be doing all it that can to avoid any contact....
He suggests that aliens might simply raid Earth for its resources and then move on: “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.”
He concludes that trying to make contact with alien races is “a little too risky”. He said: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”
Hmmm... this is undeniably true, but dare I say that Hawking is being a bit simplistic? Oh, hell, who am I kidding, I'm a blogger. Of course I'll say that Hawking is being simplistic.
Critics might accuse me of being soft in the Theoretical War Against Aliens, embracing the mushy-headed liberalism of Contact over the hard-headed realpolitik of, say, Independence Day. And the risk-averse approach suggested by Hawking is certainly a viable policy option. But let's dig a bit deeper and consider
four five thought-provoking questions from an interplanetary security perspective.
1) In space, does anybody understand the security dilemma? In international relations, there is at least full information about who the other actors are and where they are located. Clearly, we lack this kind of information about the known universe.
What Hawking is suggesting, however, is that efforts to collect such information would in and of themselves be dangerous, because they would announce our presence to others. He might be right. But shoiuldn't that risk be weighed against the cost of possessing a less robust early warning system? Isn't it in Earth's interests to enhance its intelligence-gathering activities?
2) Carried to its logical extreme, isn't Hawking making an argument for rapidly exhausting our natural resources? If Hawking is correct, then the sooner we run out of whatever might be valuable to aliens, the less interest we are to them. Of course, this does beg the question of which resources aliens would consider to be valuable. If aliens crave either sea water or bulls**t, then the human race as we know it is seriously screwed.
3) Why would aliens go after the inhabited planets? Ceteris paribus, I'm assuming that aliens would prefer to strip-mine an uninhabited planet abundant with natural resources than an inhabited one. Three hundred planets have already been discovered in the Milky Way, and there are "likely many billions." Even rapacious aliens might try some of them first before looking at Earth, since we are mostly harmless.
There is a counterargument, of course. Over at Hit & Run, Tim Cavanaugh tries to assuage fears of aliens by observing, "Why would a race of superintelligent jellyfish or blue whales even take notice of us, let alone want to conquer us?" This cuts both ways, however. If those jellyfish fail to notice us but notice our abundant amounts of salinated water, they could decide to come without a care in the world for the bipedal inhabitants of Earth.
4) How do we know that some human aren't already trying to contact aliens? Stephen Walt and others assume that the presence of aliens would cause humans to form a natural balancing coalition. I'm not so sure. My research into other apocalyptic scenarios suggests that some humans -- that's right, I'm looking at you, Switzerland! -- would bandwagon with the aliens. Indeed, for all we know, some humans are already trying to welcome their future alien overlords. Which begs the question -- wouldn't Hawking's isolationist policy allow the quislings to monopolize the galactic message emanating from Earth?
5) What about preventive action against the microbials? Hawking admits that most forms of extreterrestrial life will likely exist as micro-organisms. Which is swell, except that, if you believe those crazy scientist types, then humans also started off as little microbes. But if Hawking is correct about the motivations of any alien that would seek out strange new worlds, then we are missing a golden opportunity to wipe out any and (nearly) all extraterrestrial threats at the preventive stage. Perhapsw we should nuke all these emergent microbial life forms from orbit -- it's the only way to be sure.
I look forward to a healthy exchange of diverse viewpoints in the comments -- remember, the future of mankind may depend on it.
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The story of the day, from David Sanger and Thom Shanker:
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has warned in a secret three-page memorandum to top White House officials that the United States does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear capability, according to government officials familiar with the document.
Several officials said the highly classified analysis, written in January to President' Obama’s national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, came in the midst of an intensifying effort inside the Pentagon, the White House and the intelligence agencies to develop new options for Mr. Obama. They include a set of military alternatives, still under development, to be considered should diplomacy and sanctions fail to force Iran to change course....
One senior official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the memo, described the document as “a wake-up call.” But White House officials dispute that view, insisting that for 15 months they had been conducting detailed planning for many possible outcomes regarding Iran's nuclear program.
In an interview on Friday, General Jones declined to speak about the memorandum. But he said: “On Iran, we are doing what we said we were going to do. The fact that we don’t announce publicly our entire strategy for the world to see doesn’t mean we don’t have a strategy that anticipates the full range of contingencies — we do.”
But in his memo, Mr. Gates wrote of a variety of concerns, including the absence of an effective strategy should Iran choose the course that many government and outside analysts consider likely: Iran could assemble all the major parts it needs for a nuclear weapon — fuel, designs and detonators — but stop just short of assembling a fully operational weapon.
In that case, Iran could remain a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty while becoming what strategists call a “virtual” nuclear weapons state.
Now, if one doesn't read carefully, the obvious implication to infer from this lead is that the Obama administration has been lax on both policy planning and thinking about military contingencies.
If one reads the entire story carefully, however -- something I highly recommend -- two important facts stand out. First, Gates wrote this in January, but it's being leaked now, in mid-April. As Spencer Ackerman notes, the Obama administration has geared up on a variety of fronts on both Iran and nonproliferation. You can criticize the response as inadequate or misguided -- but it's safe to say that there was a policy response.
So why leak the memo now? The Power Line's Scott Johnson asks that very question:
As always with stories like this, one wonders about the motives of the Times's sources. Why would anonymous officials leak word of a highly classified memorandum suggesting that the administration has no policy beyond what has proved to be empty talk? These apparently well-informed officials must think that we have something to worry about.
That's one possibility. Another (not mutually exclusive) possibility is that whoever leaked was on the losing side of the policy debate. The White House has been centralizing the foreign policy process, which inevitably leads to some hurt feelings. Furthermore, the bureaucratic politics on Middle East policy have become both nasty and personal. It wouldn't surprise me if someone in the administration thinks that it's payback time. Which isn't to say that the leaker is necessarily wrong, but Marc Ambinder is right -- there are multiple possible motivations for the leak in the first place.
The second useful nugget of information comes from this paragraph:
Mr. Gates’s memo appears to reflect concerns in the Pentagon and the military that the White House did not have a well prepared series of alternatives in place in case all the diplomatic steps finally failed. Separately, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote a “chairman’s guidance” to his staff in December conveying a sense of urgency about contingency planning. He cautioned that a military attack would have “limited results,” but he did not convey any warnings about policy shortcomings (emphasis added).
If the senior uniformed officer is skeptical of the utility of a military attack, that strikes me as pretty important. Sure, one option could be to really ramp up the military option to include a ground assault, but even Iran hawks acknowledge that this is off the table.
So, what do I know now that I didn't know prior to reading Sanger and Shanker? I'd say the following:
1) All policy options on Iran stink.
2) The bureaucratic politics of U.S. Middle East policy are getting worse;
3) The administration has responded to the Gates memo, but not in a way that pleases all of the bureaucratic heavyweights inside the administraion.
4) January is apparently a month of foreign policy "wake-up calls" and "bombshells" in the White House.
What I don't know, after reading Sanger and Shanker, is whether someone like Gates would approve of the administration's current contingency planning on Iran.
Alex Wong/Getty Images)
[I]s the sacrifice of 58,000 Americans worth a bad Yankee team?
The answer is obviously yes.
This is a question that could tear apart the nation... Red Sox Nation, that is.
More here. I really don't think this is anything more than a coincidence, and I certainly don't agree with the blogger's estimation of Lyndon Johnson.
Still, if one wanted to develop a completely unsubstantiated hypothesis, however, one could posit that the explanation for this correlation is that under a GOP president, the mercurial owner of the Yankees faced fewer contraints to
royally f**k up interfere in the management of the team, resulting in some spectacular flame-outs on the diamond.
It's not true, of course, but it's a more entertaining urban myth than Obama's citizenship status or Bush's role in the 9/11 attacks.
Matt Yglesias linked to this months-old Emily Stokes profile of Rory Stewart in the Financial Times. Yglesias highlights one of the funnier metaphors I've seen about the trouble with advising policymakers:
“It’s like they’re coming in and saying to you, ‘I’m going to drive my car off a cliff. Should I or should I not wear a seatbelt?’ And you say, ‘I don’t think you should drive your car off the cliff.’ And they say, ‘No, no, that bit’s already been decided – the question is whether to wear a seatbelt.’ And you say, ‘Well, you might as well wear a seatbelt.’ And then they say, ‘We’ve consulted with policy expert Rory Stewart and he says ...’"
OK, that's really funny, and I think it's true a fair amount of the time.
On the other hand, I'm not sure that metaphor holds up all of the time. Consider another possibility. From the policymaker's perspective, getting outside advice is like trying to figure out which railroad track to take if you're driving a train. There are three options ahead, and for myriad reasons each of the possibilities carries some risk. So you go place an emergency phone call to the head of Harvard's Department of Railroad Studies to get a recommendation. His advice? "Why don't you go off-track?"
To revisit a recurring theme on this blog, sometimes the outside advisor is right to make policymakers question core assumptions. At the same time, however, sometimes a policymaker has neither the time nor the political capital to go back to first principles. Sometimes they just need to know what is the least bad policy option. And I guarantee you that having an academic tell them, "they're all bad policy options" is of no use whatsoever in that moment.
I suspect that knowing which metaphor applies is more art than science, but I'm curious to hear from commenters on both sides of the policymaking divide.
Just as TNR's
precise transcription of Denis McDonough's talking points long disquisition about the Obama administration's policy planning process comes out, Roger Cohen unfurls his long-form essay in the New York Times Magazine about the administration's thinking on Iran, the Middle East, and U.S. foreign policy.
Here's the bigthink of Cohen's essay:
Just how far Obama is ready to go in engagement’s name has become clearer in Iran. At the time of that Thursday demonstration, almost a week after the election, the toughest thing he had found to say about the turmoil was that the suppression of peaceful dissent “is of concern to me and it’s of concern to the American people.” He had also equated Ahmadinejad with Moussavi, from the U.S. national-security standpoint, because both support the nuclear program, even as people died for the greater openness that Moussavi espoused.
A sobered America is back in the realpolitik game. A favored phrase in the Iran team goes, “It is what it is.” Now the question is whether such an approach can yield results. Can Ross honor his own precept to match objectives with “available means”? To the nuclear clock has been added a democracy clock, complicating every diplomatic equation. An Iran of mullahs and nukes has morphed, for many Americans, into the Iran of beautiful, young Neda Agha-Soltan, cut down with a single shot while leaving a June 20 demonstration, a murder caught on video that went viral. Whatever Obama’s realism — and it’s as potent as his instinct for the middle ground — a president on whom so much youthful idealism has been projected can scarcely ignore the Neda effect.
All well and good, but there's a nugget buried in Cohen's tale that wories me juuust a bit. As fans of Laura Rozen are aware (and if you're not a fan, you should be), Barack Obama had a disappointing meeting with Saudi King Abdullah last month:
[T]wo sources, one a former U.S. official who recently traveled there and one a current official speaking anonymously, say the meeting did not go well from Obama's perspective. What's more, the former official says that Dennis Ross has told associates that part of what prompted Obama to bring him on as his special assistant and NSC senior director for the "Central Region" last month was the president's feeling that the preparation for the trip was insufficient.
Ok, except that after reading Cohen's story, I can't help but wonder whether Ross was part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Here is Cohen's description of Ross' meetng with the Saudi King -- which occured six weeks before Obama's:
On April 29, in Dammam, in Saudi Arabia’s eastern province, Ross sat down with King Abdullah. He talked to a skeptical monarch about the Obama administration’s engagement policy with Iran — and talked and talked and talked. When the king finally got to speak, according to one U.S. official fully briefed on the exchange, he began by telling Ross: “I am a man of action. Unlike you, I prefer not to talk a lot.” Then he posed several pointed questions about U.S. policy toward Iran: What is your goal? What will you do if this does not work? What will you do if the Chinese and the Russians are not with you? How will you deal with Iran's nuclear program if there is not a united response? Ross, a little flustered, tried to explain that policy was still being fleshed out.
When the Saudis are accusing you of being all hat and no cattle, you know you have a problem.
Seriously, let's think about this from Abdullah's perspective for a second. A new envoy comes to chat filled with new plans and ideas on Iran. Except it turns out that these new plans and ideas haven't been filled out exactly -- key contingecies haven't been thought through, etc. For a leader who had to deal with eight years of George W. Bush, this had to sound a lot like U.S. foreign policy déjà vu. Why should he have been more forthcoming with Obama.
So, just to be clear, Obama found that meeting unsatisfactory -- and as a result he brings in the guy who might have laid the groundwork for the unproductive meeting?
Look, Ross is a smart guy, and he might have ust had a bad day when he met with Abdullah. But there are times when the Obama administration, for all the talk about embtracing realpolitik,* doesn't sound terribly realist at all.
*Granted, there are other points in the essay where the administration sounds positively Waltzian.
Denis McDonough is the director of strategic communications for the National Security Council. I mention this because whatever McDonough has done in the first six months at the NSC, getting Michael Crowley to write this glowing essay about Obama and the NSC in The New Republic was the cherry on top.
Here are the key paragraphs:
Whether he is shaping the White House's message on Iran, or personally cajoling Asian leaders to crack down on North Korea, or brokering power deals among NATO allies, Obama has, in effect, been his own national security advisor and secretary of state. Unlike Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, who had world events thrust upon them, Obama seems to be more in the mold of Richard Nixon or George H.W. Bush--a president involved in foreign policy because of, not in spite of, his priorities and personal interest. "He's very engaged, very hands-on," says his longtime foreign policy adviser, Mark Lippert, now chief of staff at the National Security Council (NSC)....
To this administration, process is not simply the poor cousin of strategy. Process is what allows harmony and progress amid multiple challenges and viewpoints. Senior Obama aides call it "regular order"--a system that gives the president a diversity of views with minimal infighting and back-channel maneuvering, little leaking to the press, and no public airing of dirty laundry. "Regular order is your friend," says Denis McDonough, director of strategic communications for the NSC. "The system only works if you have adult behavior."
Thus far, the system has confounded skeptics who predicted melees among big-name advisers and conservatives who warned that Obama lacked the experience to govern in such dangerous times. "The level of harmony is just striking," says James Goldgeier, a national security aide in the Clinton White House and a political scientist at George Washington University. There are signs, however, that the administration's approach to foreign policy, however well-intentioned and well-executed, is vulnerable to unexpected challenges--the very kind that are likely to multiply the longer the president is in office.
Read the whole thing. My take is that, while based in reality, Crowley's essay has the whiff of someone who talked to a lot of White House officials (including the NSC staff) but not a lot of other foreign policy figures. Goldgeier's quote is the only outside evaluation.* No one outside the White House is quoted by name. The evidence for foreign policy harmony and NSC control over the policy process comes from... NSC officials.
Just to be clear, I don't think Crowley is telling tall tales. The occasional gaffe aside, Obama's first six months on the foreign policy job have been pretty decent --- especially compared to the first six months of George W. Bush or Bill Clinton. But it is odd that in an essay on Obama's foreign policy process, there's very little about Hillary Clinton, Bob Gates, or Timothy Geithner in this essay. There's no discussion of reports about Clinton chafing -- and trust me, there are reports about this stuff. There's very little about their reaction to Obama's decision-making process.
On the whole, I hope that Crowley is correct. The best way to ensure a high quality of American foreign policy is to have a president actively engaged in the process, and this piece suggests that to be the case. Still, the only thing I was sure about after reading this essay is that Denis McDonough is very, very, very good at his job.
Well, there's one other thing I'm sure about -- I would have loved to have listened in on this phone conversation:
[I]n at least one instance earlier this year, Holbrooke received an angry phone call from White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel after the diplomat was perceived to have stepped on Obama's public message about the war effort.
Sounds like a job for the Undersecretary of Go F**K Yourself.
*Oh, and given that Goldgeier was a foreign policy advisor to Obama during the 2008 campaign, I'm not sure I'd call him impartial, either.
The implicit message in Steve Walt's ten commandments for foreign policy wonks is that if you dare to violate any of these commandments,
the Council on Foreign Relations Henry Kissinger God will strike you down with a mark and brand you for life as unworthy of wonkdom.
Some of Walt's commandments hold, and some of them don't (who's getting pilloried on Cuba nowadays?), but there's an important corollary to these commandments that needs to be highlighted:
If thou hast deviated from the consensus of the foreign policy community, thou shalt go to the tallest mountain, and rend one's clothing, and scream from the top of thine lungs like Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes/Soylent Green, and declare that the mark of transgression itself is proof that thou must be right.
The maxim that the national security adviser should act as a traffic cop, not a participant in the policy process, is more theoretical than practical.Really, Henry? Whatever do you base this on? In all fairness, it's not a bad op-ed, and includes this insightful point: "Geopolitical and strategic considerations have no organic constituency. Though a Policy Planning Council exists, its activities are often shunted off into non-operational, semi-academic sideshows or, most frequently, into speechwriting." I'll have more to say about that in the coming year. UPDATE: Swampland's Karen Tumulty offers some further context with regard to Kissinger and Obama.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.