Tag: foreign policy (page 2 of 5)

The Difference Parties Don’t Make?

To the best of my knowledge, no prominent peer-reviewed article in political science has reported a difference in the frequency with which the United States enters into conflict under Democratic presidents relative to Republican presidents.  That’s not because no one has looked for such a difference (I know I have).  It’s because, to date, no one has found one.  This is the file drawer problem in action.

Now, we want to be careful not to over-interpret that.  Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.  There could be lots of reasons why we might fail to observe such a difference even if it was true that one party was significantly more hawkish than the other.  But when we look at other democracies, we DO find clear evidence that left-leaning governments involve their nations in conflict less often than do right-leaning governments.

As we head into the third presidential debate, it’s worth keeping this in mind.  I am reluctant to say that there’s  not much difference between what US foreign policy would look like under a second Obama administration and what it would look like under a Romney administration.  I can’t know that for a certainty.  But the past provides relatively little clear evidence that those who believe it will can point to.

But wait, you say.  What about Bush?  How can I believe that a Gore administration would have taken the US to war in Iraq?

Well, for starters, Clinton may have selected Gore to be his running mate in 1992 in part because he voted to authorize the Gulf War whereas most prominent Democrats had not.  In the closing days of the 1992 campaign, Gore essentially accused Bush of appeasing Saddam, suggesting that there’d have been no need for war if Bush hadn’t tried so hard to befriend him.  Soft on Iraq, Al Gore was not.  Or you might consider all the statements made by Democrats in the late nineties up through 2002 about Iraq and WMD (seriously, go click on that link), or the international town hall meeting the Clinton administration held in February of 1998 to communicate the administration’s dedication to destroying Iraq’s stockpile of WMD, or the bill passed with bipartisan support in the same year calling for regime change.  And, again, there’s the fact that the US has not involved itself in conflict more often under Republicans than Democrats since 1945.  But if you’re still convinced that the 2000 presidential election proved to be very consequential for foreign policy — and I’m willing to entertain such arguments, even if I’m less willing than most to accept them on face value — that doesn’t tell us whether the same will hold in 2012.

There are two important points here.  First, what candidates say they will do in terms of foreign policy is not exactly a perfect predictor of what they’ll actually do in office, any more than opposition to policies enacted by someone else after the fact proves that one would not have pursued the same policy.  Note that Obama’s primary victory over Clinton may well have been driven by the perception of him as an anti-war candidate.  Granted, those who were surprised when he escalated US involvement in Afghanistan clearly didn’t pay close enough attention to what he actually said on the campaign trail.  But neither did he position himself as the type of person who would conduct more drone strikes than Bush (by a considerable margin), nor was it clear that Obama would keep Gitmo open, declare it legal to kill US citizens without first trying and convicting them of crimes, and so forth.

Second, note that Romney’s foreign policy platform to date can be summarized as “I’ll do what Obama would do, but I’ll do it with more swagger.”  Even setting aside concerns about how well campaign rhetoric predicts policy choices made in office (has anyone looked at this systematically?), there’s relatively little difference between the policies these two candidates are currently telling us that they would pursue.

There may not even be much of a puzzle here.  Studies that have found systematic differences in the frequency with which democratic states enter into conflict under left-leaning governments relative to right-leaning governments, such as the one I linked to above, largely focus on minor powers who are allied with the US.  In such countries, foreign policy is largely a luxury good.  By that, I mean that these states look to the US to address their greatest security threats.  A left-leaning government in such a state can refrain from responding to minor incidents in a hostile manner without much affecting their security.  Similarly, a right-leaning government can behave a bit more aggressively when dealing with minor incidents, content in the knowledge that their actions will have little impact on the nation’s security.  Put differently, when you outsource large part of your security policy to a superpower, you can afford to treat the areas you retain control over as a venue for symbolic politics.  The smaller you are, the more you can afford to cater to your base without compromising your security.  Superpowers might be playing by different rules though.

Again, to be clear, I’m not saying that we know for a certainty that there’s no difference between US foreign policy under Democratic and Republican presidents.  What I’m saying is that we have some theoretical reason to expect that there might not be much difference, and an absence of persuasive evidence that there is much of a difference.  There’s always the possibility that existing attempts to establish a difference between the parties have overlooked something important, or that this time will be different.  And I haven’t said a word about the impact of the party of the president on domestic policy (nor shall I, since that’s a subject that’s well outside my area of expertise).  But it’s at least plausible that the difference between how Democratic and Republican presidents behave in office, with respect to foreign policy, is far smaller than many realize.

VP Debate once again tells the World that all We care about is the Middle East


Yes, it’s partisan, but it’s a somewhat useful deconstruction

First, I included the above video to reference a point I tried to make earlier – that Romney flip-flopped so much in the first debate that I no longer have any idea what he thinks about the big issues of campaign. I just wish I knew wth Romney wants to do with the presidency. There has to be some purpose, some reason to vote for him, and I can’t find it. Someone tell me in a few coherent, specifics-laden paragraphs why I should vote for him? Not why Obama is a bad president – I know that already – but why Romney should be president. Honestly, I don’t know, which makes his presidential run look like a vanity project or something.

Second, did anyone else think that the vice-presidential debate once again broadcast to the world that our foreign policy is dominated by the Middle East? It was all about Iran, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan. Obviously, these are all important places and issues. But it doesn’t take a lot of foreign policy training to know that Russia’s ever-more erratic course under Czar Putin, a possible euro-EU meltdown, or China are a lot more important to the US’ future than a bunch of small, poor fractured states in the Middle East. But no, let’s argue once again about Israel, Iran, terrorism, Iraq…  Good grief. There are other issues out there…

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How did he screw this up so badly?

I don’t really want to pile on, but the question for me is: how does a major presidential candidate in the 21st century (and a guy who has been running for office now for seven straight years) screw this up so badly?

As a resident of Massachusetts, I watched Romney as governor, he wasn’t a disaster and I don’t think he ever displayed the level of incompetence that we’ve seen recently. So what’s going on?

I’ve been pondering this with various Massachusetts political analysts/friends over the past day, here’s what I see:

As governor, Romney’s staff was small and most decisions were made within a tight-knit group of advisers. He governed a state in which the Democrats held both houses of the legislature with overwhelming, veto-proof, majorities. Given the constraints, he took risks, often made quick judgments, and went straight to the cameras in an effort to get out ahead of slower, entrenched Democratic Party leadership. He also vetoed more than 800 bills — almost all of which were overturned.

He’s now been running for office for nearly seven straight years and he’s developed a campaign organization, and strategy that is similar to his governor’s staff with its emphasis on “efficiency,” streamlined decisionmaking, and quick response. He relies heavily on a small group of core political (not policy) advisors and his world is about rapid reaction, getting out in the lead, and staying ahead in instantaneous news cycles. Nuance and complexity don’t fit. Wonky candidates are seen as indecisive — Al Gore, John Kerry, and Michael Dukakis — and they lose. Every talking point is carefully crafted to resonate in the politico echo-chamber. Romney disdains Obama and the complexity of Obama’s policy because he’s spent the past four years creating fictions and simple caricatures.

But there are risks to this style of campaign — the message lacks depth and the process lacks checks.

This hasn’t been a problem on most domestic issues where Romney has experience and a certain comfort zone — he can pivot and fill in substantive gaps on policy when confronted by journalists or potential voters on the campaign trail. But the risks are exposed on foreign policy where he has no real experience to ground or contextualize the talking points and the simple caricatures he’s constructed. He still doesn’t have a weighty foreign policy expert traveling with him on a daily bais who can provide a check on the substantive side. His initial statement on the Libya events and the doubling down on that statement appear to have come without consultation with a wider group of foreign policy thinkers within the party. He and his campaign didn’t appear to contemplate that there might be uncertainty about the fast moving events. They didn’t appear to comprehend the complexity of the situation. They didn’t appear to understand the potential reaction to their rapid political response to a tragedy.

I don’t think Romney’s glaring mistake here was that he shot from the hip. I think it goes deeper. Here’s a guy (and a campaign) who is clearly thin on national security and foreign policy; a guy who has made a number of mistakes in the past two months — the fiasco of his highly touted foreign tour, the bizarre neglect of any mention of veterans or the war in Afghanistan in his acceptance speech, and now this. Yet, neither Romney nor his inner circle seem to have acknowledged their weakness — even to themselves. This is what I find most troubling — the inability to self-reflect, to acknowledge a mistake (even if the acknowledgment is purely internal) and to fix a glaring weakness. It’s a failure of the candidate, it’s a failure of his inner circle, it’s a failure of the campaign’s organizational structure, and it’s all too close to George W. Bush for my taste.

Why Ferguson’s Newsweek Blather was Even Dumber than you Realized

Most of the attention paid to Ferguson’s anti-Obama Newsweek cover story has focused on his mendacious and unprofessional discussion of the administration’s domestic policies — notably its stimulus and health-care legislation.

Less attention has been paid to his foreign-policy criticisms. These are not so much mendacious as the kind of thing you’d expect from a third-rate op-ed hack. Obama didn’t use the Oval Office’s magical chalice to add +10 protest skills to the Iranian opposition. He didn’t order the NSA to activate its super-secret laser and assassinate the entire Iranian leadership. He had to be “cajoled” into bombing Libya (presumably by a bunch of women, the wuss!) rather than, I suppose, simply bypassing the United Nations and using tactical nuclear weapons at the first sign of trouble. And something about lacking the absolute clairvoyance in Egypt that would have enabled decisive, unerring action at the outset. That sort of stuff.


So it was interesting to read Sam Roggeveen defend Ferguson on the China component of the piece.

The reactions to this graph and Ferguson’s piece point out, firstly, that although China might become richer than the US overall it has four times as many people, and they remain much poorer. Second, China’s rise is a good thing; economics is not zero-sum and a big Chinese market is in our interests. Third, James Fallows points out that encouraging China’s growth has actually been settled US policy for some decades

What strikes me about the Ferguson piece and the reactions is that they largely talk past each other. Ferguson criticises Obama for failing to think through the implications of China’s rise as it relates to American power. Yet none of the critiques address that concern. Only David Frum’s piece engages with Ferguson on that level.

So what is the evidence that Obama has failed to “think through the implications of” the conjunction of US fiscal and economic weakness with the rise of Asian powers? One of them, apparently, is that Obama hasn’t followed Ferguson’s repeatedly discredited claims about the nature of those fiscal and economic challenges. Another, I suppose, is that the national-security bureaucracy is putting significant energy into assessing what kinds of capabilities are best suited to global threats and domestic fiscal constraints. “But wait,” a reader might ask, “isn’t that last part exactly what ‘thinking through’ entails?”
Well, yes. But “failing to think through” is weasel language. None of our likely readers, let alone Ferguson, has the slightest idea of whether Obama has thought through any of these things. It is possible that Ferguson, being a hedgehog-like scholar extraordinaire, simply has extremely high standards for thinking through global policy challenges. But it is far more likely that “failing to think through” means, as it usually does, “I don’t really have compelling criticisms here so I’ll level a vague accusation to buttress them.” And, indeed, Ferguson’s criticisms of Obama China policy come down to this: 

Far from developing a coherent strategy, he believed—perhaps encouraged by the premature award of the Nobel Peace Prize—that all he needed to do was to make touchy-feely speeches around the world explaining to foreigners that he was not George W. Bush.

In Tokyo in November 2009, the president gave his boilerplate hug-a-foreigner speech: “In an interconnected world, power does not need to be a zero-sum game, and nations need not fear the success of another … The United States does not seek to contain China … On the contrary, the rise of a strong, prosperous China can be a source of strength for the community of nations.” Yet by fall 2011, this approach had been jettisoned in favor of a “pivot” back to the Pacific, including risible deployments of troops to Australia and Singapore. From the vantage point of Beijing, neither approach had credibility.

Yes, you read that right: a chaired professor of international history either doesn’t understand the difference between Presidential speeches and policy actions or thinks cribbing from second-tier right-wing blogs makes for effective policy analysis.
In truth, the US pursues a rather difficult and careful policy toward China. Washington’s preferred outcome is for Beijing to be a “responsible stakeholder,” i.e., a status-quo oriented power integrated into the global order. At the same time, US policymakers recognize that there are real chances that China’s revisionist tendencies — on display in places like the South China Sea — will come to dominate its geo-strategic orientation. 
Thus, the US is building what might be called “containment capacity” while trying to reassure Beijing that confrontation is far from inevitable. It isn’t the prettiest or smoothest approach, but it has a lot of merit. At the very least, it takes advantage of offshore-balancing dynamics. And, like other aspects of Obama foreign policy, it involves a great deal more than “hug-a-foreigner” speeches. There exist plenty of grounds for criticizing the administration’s China policy; it may, in fact, be insufficiently hardline. But Ferguson isn’t even close. 
At the end of the day, there’s not much going for the foreign-policy components of Ferguson’s bid for access to a future Romney administration. I hope, at least, that he feels the number of hits he’s getting justifies burning through what little remains of his academic credibility.

Should Romney Talk More About Foreign Policy?

In these summer months while we wait for the Olympics to start and for Romney to pick his VP candidate, the foreign policy cognoscenti has started in on Mitt Romney’s campaign with conflicting advice about whether or not his announced foreign policy trip this later this summer is worthwhile and whether or not the Republican nominee should spend much time talking about the issue.

While as a citizen and foreign policy wonk, I want our prospective commander in chief to fill in the details of what he might do, as an observer of politics, I’m not sure it makes nearly as much sense for a number of reasons. So, should Mitt say more on foreign policy or stay focused on the economy?

Dan Drezner makes the argument that Romney has done himself some serious damage by allowing hawkish but lite press releases to create a bad impression thus far. He suggests that more talk of foreign policy would be good for the country from a democratic governance perspective but also good for the candidate:

In op-ed after op-ed, Romney has relied on blowhard rhetoric and a near-total absence of detail to make his case. In doing so, Romney is the one who has sowed the doubts about his foreign policy gravitas in the first place. If his campaign manages to produce a successful foreign policy speech/road trip, he can dial down one source of base criticism — and focus again on the economy in the fall. 

Dan concedes it may not be especially smart politics for Mitt given that (1) foreign policy is a low priority for the public and that (2) the people may not be buying what he’s selling. However, he still thinks it’s a good idea given the self-inflicted wounds that Romney has incurred by talking tough about Russia being our top geopolitical adversary, among other questionable statements:

Politically, a well-executed foreign policy trip won’t net him a lot of votes, but it would cauterize a festering political wound and allow him to pivot back to the economy.

I suppose it is true that presidential candidates have to meet some sort of basic threshold test on foreign policy. Certainly, Sarah Palin failed that test last time and that may have hurt the McCain ticket on the margins. While anecdotal, I know of some friends who were McCain supporters who just could not vote for that ticket based on their concerns about Palin. That said, I don’t think Romney’s missteps on foreign policy are anywhere near Palin territory for undermining his foreign policy credentials. Language like “festering political wound” strikes me as overwrought.

Commentators have raised a variety of arguments about why Romney should not talk about foreign policy, from the unpopularity of his support for the war in Afghanistan to the limited political rewards of talking about foreign policy before an electorate even less interested than normal in the subject area (see the Cato Institute’s Justin Logan for one perspective along these lines and Daniel Larison for another).

I have two conflicting thoughts about Romney and foreign policy talk that perhaps have not been put forward.

Intermestic Issues
First, the rise of “intermestic” issues, of issues with both a domestic and international content, makes it harder for Romney to avoid talking about them. Here, I’m thinking of both global economic policy and energy, issues with enormous significance for the domestic agenda at home. Remaining silent on the EU crisis and its significance for the United States, beyond dismissive anti-European posturing (while at the same time embracing European austerity policies), may ultimately have some electoral repercussions if Obama can exploit it.

The Challenge of Running to Obama’s Right
However, Romney may have trouble running to the President’s right on foreign policy. There simply is not much room there. The President killed Osama Bin Laden and has extended the drone wars on America’s enemies in ways that look like a continuation of the previous administration. Romney cannot go too far “right” on foreign policy without looking like he’s inviting war with Iran or encouraging a deep freeze in relations with Russia and China.

Romney has repudiated the compassionate conservatism of George W. Bush on foreign aid, the one area where the previous administration received almost universal plaudits with its support for global health and efforts to address HIV/AIDS.

Sure, Romney could embrace the Ron Paul anti-interventionist wing of the Republican Party and create clear blue water between himself and the President, but that would require a more herculean flip-flop on defense spending than even Romney is capable of.

So, Mitt is left in the unenviable position of trying to create policy distance with the President for political reasons (he can’t just endorse a “me too” foreign policy, Obama certainly didn’t do that as candidate) without, at the same time, looking unpresidential in a Palinite or Goldwateresque way. Given the President’s ability to play the Bin Laden card, I say to Romney, talk about foreign policy all you want, but lots of luck with that!

Let’s (Keep) Talking About Sex

Foreign Policy just published its latest issue online. The letters section includes a response that expands on my earlier blog post calling the recent “Sex” issue a Teen Magazine. For those interested in reading further, my letter points FP editors to a wider range of scholarship and contributors they might have considered and challenges them to reconsider gender as only a ‘special issue:’
“Women are half the population (are we still having this discussion?), and norms associated with gender and identity affect everyone. So forget the special issues. Instead, start publishing more articles that focus on gender and pay more attention to the excellent research on gender, feminism, and sex that is happening all around you. Your readers will thank you.”
This echos Charli Carpenter’s excellent post on the issue, which included a dos and don’t list for anyone considering a gender/sex/sexuality issue, and reminded the editors of FP that “you can’t just assert that “sex is the missing part of the equation” and that this works “to shore up the abusers and perpetuate the marginalization of half of humanity” and then tell us that besides “this one issue” (which by the way mostly focuses on sexuality, not on women’s issues or gender relations broadly) you’ve done your due diligence…”

America’s ‘Exorbitant Privilege’ means it can Borrow to Sustain Hegemony Longer than Anyone Ever Expected

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Two of my posts this week (one, two) on hypothetical retrenchment under Ron Paul got a lot of traffic and comments. (H/t to Stephen Walt and Andrew Sullivan.) So here is some follow-up.

The OP was intended as an emergency exercise if the US were to face a truly significant crisis that forced retrenchment. The purpose was to ask who are the most important US allies and commitments if we were forced to choose. Right now, the US is not choosing. We are all over the place; if anything, we are taking on more commitments (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, the Asian pivot). As I tried to say in the second post, I don’t think we are about to pull out of Japan or Egypt, but if we get to the point where we really can’t afford globe-spanning hegemony anymore, it would be help to try to prioritize what is genuinely strategically necessary, from what are ‘extras.’ One doesn’t hear this much, except for Ron Paul, whose debate performances motivated the post.

On this point, I should say that the bifurcation of the OP into two parts was not to indicate that those in part 2 should get the axe; it was just a matter of convenience. The point of the OP was to try to force a ranking – who is more important to the US than who? This is why I tried to limit the listees to a conventional ‘top 10.’ To go beyond that tight focus, would get us back into the global alliance sprawl the US is in now.

The above point raises the next, obvious question about whether we are therefore getting to a point of forced US retrenchment. There is a whole declinist literature that emphasizes long-term US problems, like atrocious public finances, too many wars, bad public schools, political gridlock, rising anti-Americanism in the world, etc. Zakaria’s ‘post-American world’ captures are lot of this, and apparently the Chinese believe the US is in decline too. A good quick version is Gideon Rachman’s take at FP.

I go back and forth on this myself. The economist in me finds it hard to imagine how the US can borrow $1-1.5T a year and stay on top. We’re borrowing around 9% (!) of GDP per annum, and the IMF calculates America’s debt-to-GDP ratio is 100% already (if you include state debts; it’s 75% now at just the federal level.) I wonder how we can fight so many wars without national exhaustion and diversion of investment from domestic priorities like infrastructure or health care. Signal markers in the decline and fall of empires are heavy borrowing and lots of wars, which sounds a lot like us, no?


That said, I am constantly amazed (and intellectually perplexed) that foreigners seem to have an unquenchable thirst for dollars. This is the big reason why all those claims that the US would collapse under its debt burden have never materialized. Longstanding lefty critics of US foreign policy, like Noam Chomsky, Johann Galtung, or Walter LaFeber, have been saying this stuff since Vietnam, and it doesn’t happen. (Continental Europeans particularly seem to relish predicting US decline.) I am genuinely amazed the catastrophic one-two punch of the Great Recession and the flown-badly-off-the-rails GWoT in less than a decade did not dramatically set-back US power. Remember when S&P downgraded the US last summer, and yet the very next day, US interest rates went down as everyone fled to the greenback safe-haven? America’sexorbitant privilege’ of printing the reserve currency is even more exorbitant than anyone ever expected.

I remember last decade, when people said the Bush administration’s $400B annual borrowing was unsustainable. Yet for the last 5 years, we borrowed triple that, with another decade projected at that level – but with the lowest interest rates in US history. If your head feels like it is about to explode for sheer perplexity, yes – me too.

America’s ability to borrow, and thereby forestall retrenchment, is simply astonishing. The rate on the US 10-year T-bill is at an all-time low of 1.44%. If you factor in inflation across the ten-year maturity life-span, the borrower actually loses money! So If you want to know one big reason why the US fights so many wars, here you go: because we can, because foreigners make it so easy by practically begging us to take their money. It’s surreal how cheap we can borrow.

Krugman makes this really good point in his latest op-ed: “none of the disasters Republicans predicted have come to pass. Remember all those assertions that budget deficits would lead to soaring interest rates? Well, U.S. borrowing costs have just hit a record low. And remember those dire warnings about inflation and the “debasement” of the dollar? Well, inflation remains low, and the dollar has been stronger than it was in the Bush years.” My own deficit-hawk instincts say conservatives are right about the debt build-up, but in fact, Krugman has been borne out. So why not fight more wars (at least by economic criteria) when they are so cheap? Foreigners seem endlessly willing to fund our wars, which I find so bizarre and inexplicable that I wouldn’t believe it unless it were the reality around us right now.

Worse, for the declinist, retrenchment-will-be-forced-on-the-US position is that, the euro-crisis continues to make the US dollar a preferred safe-haven (so lowering US borrowing costs), that China must continue to lend to the US in order to hold-up the value of its current $3T+ reserves (yet again pushing down US borrowing costs, no matter how many commitments we take on), and finally that a growing body of evidence suggests that China cannot continue its astonishing growth levels without serious reform. Wen Jiabao himself said that China risks turmoil on the scale of the Cultural Revolution (!) without major changes. I tried to argue this also in the second half of the OP. If China slows, that automatically buys US hegemony a breather, because position in international politics is relative: if China slows, then the US recovers in a way. And it is increasingly obvious that there are lots of ways China could derail in the next 2 decades: whether through tightening environmental and demographic caps on growth, from political or democratic transition turmoil, by scaring its neighbors so much that they line-up to contain it.

In short, US hegemony and alliance sprawl is turning out to be a lot more durable during this period when the US is seemingly on the ropes, than I thought. In fact, I think a lot of people are amazed at the staggering ability of the US to borrow and keep our global hegemony rolling along. The US is exploiting its ‘exorbitant privilege’ worse than at any other time in its history – and the inflation-adjusted cost to us is zero! I just can’t figure that out, or what that means…

Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog.

FP Issue is More Teenage Pop Mag than ‘Sex’ Issue

After reading the FP special ‘sex’ issue this week I had the strangest feeling. It was like I woke up and it was 1991 and I was 13 again reading teen magazines. After reading Charli’s excellent post on the issue I couldn’t help but chime in. You see, I know that one of the obvious retorts to some of the criticism that has been waged about the issue will be ‘Hey, it was meant to raise a few issues and have some fun while we’re at it. We’re riffing off the Cosmo style ‘sex’ issue and just mixing it up. Lighten up.” Ok, fair play FP. But keeping with that theme let me start by saying that most of the issue was more like a teeny bopper mag rather than a sex issue (with some excellent exceptions). You’ve missed the target audience FP, and you are behind about 20 years in research. Parts of the issue was sort of like having an article on “a girl’s first period’ in a magazine aimed at adult women and men (oh yeah, I went there). Here are a four pointers on how to write a real sex issue.

1. When you read a Teen Mag you expect banal questions like “who is the sexiest teacher/leader/football player,” but even a low grade pop magazine wouldn’t publish the idiotic list of answers you got re: world leaders (which included Vladmir Putin and “those in South Africa and Muslim countries”). You might as well have just published “brown men” as one of the answers. When adults respond to surveys in ‘sex’ issues you’d hope they can at least remember the names of the brown bodies they fetishize. Why not just have a bunch of photos of politicians and have us rate them ‘hot’ or ‘not’?

2. When you asked why there should be more women in politics you collected answers that covered almost every single cliche: they are more peaceful, they think more about children, they are multitaskers…I guess for the full effect you could have asked someone to mention puppies, gardening, and aprons too…but not exactly sexy right?

3. The article, ‘The Most Powerful Women you’ve never Heard‘ of, must have also been aimed at teens. If your readers have never heard of any of these women then they haven’t been reading the news, preparing for lectures, watching TV, or generally participating in public life. So, like, duh. We know they are powerful- now how about some analysis? This list was like a “60 Sex Tips” article that wouldn’t help the reader undo a bra. Talk about a “most embarrassing moment” FP!!

4. The cover images? That Miley Cyrus-esque Vogue-naked-hunched-pose combined with elements of Muslim/war porn-fetishism is interesting but really below you, don’t you think? Also, paint the woman blue and you’ve got the playbill for Blueman group too, so there may be copyright issues with that.
FP, maybe its time to take the survey: “Are you totally out of the loop?” when it comes to gender and sex. Next time you want to write a sex issue, call in (more) of the experts.

“Seriously, Guys!”: How (Not) to Write About Gender and Foreign Affairs

Photo courtesy of Conflict Cupcake

To be fair, despite all the criticism, Foreign Policy‘s “Sex Issue” got a few things right. For an all-too rare moment, it put gender – er, sex – er, sexuality* – on the foreign policy agenda. Somehow (could it be the nude photo on the cover?!) the editors managed to get people excited – gripped even  – by “women’s issues.” (What were the chances?)

But enough snark. FP did well by including commentators from the Arab world like Mona El-Tahawy (OK one such commentator who is now based in New York) and both practitioners and scholars with expertise on global women’s issues like Melanie Verveer and Valerie Hudson (OK, they included one expert in each category), in addition to some pieces by the staff, one of which wasn’t even that stereotypical or demeaning.  But perhaps more important than the analyses was the symbolism: here was a mainstream foreign affairs publication making the case that sex/gender/women/men/femininity/
masculinity/sexuality/ [presumably sexual orientation]/what-have-you is actually important to what happens in the world and how we understand it:

Sex — in all the various meanings of the word — matters in shaping the world’s politics. Why? In Foreign Policy, the magazine and the subject, sex is too often the missing part of the equation — the part that the policymakers and journalists talk about with each other, but not with their audiences. And what’s the result? Women missing from peace talks and parliaments, sexual abuse and exploitation institutionalized and legalized in too many places on the planet, and a U.S. policy that, whether intentionally or not, all too frequently works to shore up the abusers and perpetuate the marginalization of half of humanity.

Hey, sounds almost like boilerplate from a feminist IR syllabus, actually. So why has the issue has been criticized and called “simplistic,” “offensive and disrespectful” or “disgusting and disappointing?” Don’t women (and feminist men) know a good gender analysis of world politics when they see it? Well, “guys,” yes and no. Below are three big do’s and don’ts for foreign policy magazines aiming to “take women’s issues seriously.”

Let’s start with the DON’TS, shall we?

1) Don’t Use Women’s Naked Bodies To Sell Articles About How Godawful It Is To Use Women’s Naked Bodies. Seriously, guys? No wonder tweets reacting to the issue included the following:

To be fair, there was lots of praise for the issue as well, and to their credit, FP responded to the outrage by posting a round-table 24 hours later as a forum for critique, featuring female Muslim voices from around the world. I am with those who thought the article was important yet the picture was a mistake, among them Naheed Mustafa:

“The image works against [Mona Eltawahy’s] essay. It belies the nuance and breadth of the writing by reducing a subject to one easily consumable image… an image that doesn’t even speak to the kind of women Eltahawy is writing about. If anything, the imagine does exactly what Eltahawy accuses Islamists of doing: reducing women to one-dimesnional caricatures with little or no autonomy… and it’s not just about Muslim women. The illustration is insulting to women in general. It takes the profoudn probelm of gender-based violence and reduces it to sexual imagery: ‘Hey, we might be talking about the endemic hatred of one gender for another, but here’s a naked painted lady to keep you company!'”

Yep, that about says it.

2) Don’t Pit Women Against One Other. I don’t know what Mona El-Tahawny originally titled her piece, but the subtitle Foreign Policy‘s editors chose (“the real war on women is in the Middle East“) was a needless slap in the face to women fighting in the US for pay equity, reproductive health and to safety in our homes, streets and workplaces. The “real” war on women – and other gender minorities – is everywhere. It just takes different forms. What is a constant in world affairs is the use of finger-pointing about “other cultures’ women” to create a sense of our own cultural superiority. Make no mistake: elites in the Middle East are doing the exact same thing, pointing to Western rape prevalence rates, the objectification of women in the media, and our lack of socio-economic protections for women – to justify their own cultural superiority. Instead of buying into and replicating this dynamic by focusing only on women of the global south, serious journalism on gender and world politics would examine how this “gender-ideology stereotyping” works to structure foreign policy – drawing perhaps on years of feminist IR scholarship documenting precisely how this process works. And it would ask how human rights-minded actors in the West can support indigenous women’s movements in the Arab world without feeding this viscious cycle or denying the struggles of women everywhere.

3) Don’t Pretend To Take Gender Seriously While Proclaiming that Next Week, It Will All Be Business as Usual. And I quote:

Women’s bodies are the world’s battleground, the contested terrain on which politics is played out. We can keep ignoring it. For this one issue, we decided not to.

[Italics added by obviously hormonal author.] In the words of Melanie Verveer, SERIOUSLY GUYS! You can’t just tease us like that… you can’t just assert that “sex is the missing part of the equation” and that this works “to shore up the abusers and perpetuate the marginalization of half of humanity” and then tell us that besides “this one issue” (which by the way mostly focuses on sexuality, not on women’s issues or gender relations broadly) you’ve done your due diligence and let’s get back to writing about “real” issues: as if gender, sex and sexuality aren’t relevant to many of the stories you routinely cover: peace negotiations, missile defense, intelligence gathering, cyber-security, population shifts, pandemic disease, transnational crime, the financial crisis.

What to DO instead:

1) Acknowledge The Impact of The Foreign Policy Media’s Own Gendered* Biases And How You’re Planning to Fix Them. Hey Blake Hounshell, why exactly do you suppose it is that your readers have “never heard” of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala?? It’s as if you’re pointing out the problem you’ve been complicit in creating and then slapping yourself on the back for it, with no critical analysis whatsoever of the foreign policy media’s own role in marginalizing women and gender as a serious topic of inquiry about world affairs. The funny thing is, Foreign Policy actually does do gender: check out the front page of the site Tuesday at 1:19 a.m. and we’ve got stories about whether India is “compensating” for something with its nuclear program (answer: probably but it’s not that simple); Tom Ricks is writing about the draft, a gendered institution if we ever saw one; and President Obama’s new genocide prevention architecture is discussed, an issue affecting countless civilians but also devalued by a foreign policy elite that privileges “hard” over “soft” security. Each of these articles represents an opportunity to think about how assumptions of sex and gender suffuse world politics. The question is whether FP will step this up in a more serious way as its competitors already have. And whether for that matter, it will finally recruit and hire some smart female writers like Megan MacKenzie or Courtney Messerschmidt or Irshad Manji  who think about and deploy gender and sex in different intriguing ways as they comment broadly on global affairs; or hey, just some female writers period (no pun intended, hey it’s the sex issue right?) [“But there are so few qualified women!” Seriously guys?: Megan McArdleMichelle FlournoySusan SchwabHeather HurlburtLorelei Kelly. Sarah Holewinksi. Mary Ellen O’Connell. Sarah Kenyon Lischer. Kate McNamara. Debbi Avant. Martha Finnemore. Kathryn Sikkinkand/or male writers with genuine expertise in gender issues and a willingness to mainstream it into the writing they do. Which leads me to…

2) Remember That Gender – and Sex – is About Men Too. Yes, yes, I read Josh Keating’s piece on Ayatollah Gilani, which is beyond fabulous if you’re into soft porn… or if you’re logged in to cracked.com. But then, why offer serious articles on the political economy of prostitution around military bases or the politics of our own sex scandals or how the emerging international norms of gender and gay integration are impacting security architectures in militaries and peacekeeping missions or spend more than a couple of paragraphs on the life or death issue of sexual orientation rights or when instead you can write three whole frakking articles on the same tired, simplistic, offensively orientalist issue of how brown Muslim men lecherously view “their” women’s bodies?…  What if we really took masculinity seriously as a cultural norm that regulates not just men’s attitudes toward women but also their attitudes toward other men, that is embedded in the entire way we think about nations, states and markets, and that impacts foreign and economic policies around the globe, even those that have on the surface nothing to do with women’s rights? (Keating’s round-up of state policies on population control, pandemic disease and tourism comes the closest to this, but like the rest of the issue focuses only on sexuality not gender, and on the global south, not the “global”: this tells us much more about gender assumptions made by US foreign policy commentators than it does about the actual world.) To really take the power of those assumptions seriously in foreign policy analysis (and face it, “guys,” it’s all about power),  you’d probably need to…

3) Invite Participation From Analysts Who Study Sex, Gender and Foreign Policy. Great that FP included the excellent and provocative pieces on women’s rights by Melanie Verveer (an experienced practitioner) and Mona El-Tahawy (a brilliant and gutsy commentator/activist). But too bad that they included only one article (and that belatedly) by an analyst with expertise and data on the gender dimensions of foreign policy. In the first ever “sex and global politics” issue I’d have expected to see a range of different views by various experts on the general topic: people like Cynthia Enloe, who pioneered the field of global sexual politics; or like Laura Sjoberg, who has written extensively on female terrorism, gender and security; or like Dyan Mazurana, who straddles both the academy and the UN community and put girl soldiers on the international agenda when no one else knew they existed, or like Joshua Goldstein who wrote an exhaustive book on the topic of gender and war. Instead, the remainder of the commentary comes from folks at FP with opinions or anecdotes or, in Josh Keating’s case, the ability to pull together interesting news stories… but little analytical expertise in asking the right questions about gender and security policy. (No offense to  Christina Larson but her expertise is in Asia and the environment, not in gender issues – otherwise her analysis of marital trends in China might have been less about why it’s too bad women have such high expectations and more about why the Chinese state, faced with this obvious social problem threatening its interests and stability, is not throwing resources into training its surplus men to be the kind of husbands these women want. Similarly, Karim Sadjapour knows something about Iran but not much about gender analysis.) Tip for beltway editors: If you want to at least appear to be taking gender seriously, first reach out to the community of experts who have done so for the past two decades. Gain some insight, then try to apply it.

Readers: What else can we add to each of these lists?
_____________________________________________________
*Sex: biological maleness or femaleness. Sexuality: pertaining to sexual relations. Gender: socially constructed notions about masculinity and femininity. Gender Analysis: analyzing the relationship between gender (see above), power hierarchies and sociopolitical outcomes. “Gendered” Analysis: basing an analysis of sociopolitical outcomes on gender myths and stereotypes. EG: “We can’t hire women writers because there aren’t enough qualified women” or “If the issue has women in it, it must be all about SEX!!!” See also this.

The US will not ‘Pivot’ much to Asia (3): We can’t afford it

Pesident-Obama-China-001
Here are parts one and two, where I argued that there is no constituency in the US for the pivot, and that Asia is so culturally distant from the US, that Americans are unlikely to care enough to sustain the pivot. But we also don’t really need to pivot, nor do we have the money for it:

3. The ME is characterized by so many nondemocracies that the US must be heavily invested (at least to meet current US goals – oil, Israel, counterterrorism). Katzenstein noted this; America has no strong subordinate anchor-state in the region (like Germany in Europe and Japan in Asia). This is why the GOP particularly emphasizes an enduring, semi-imperial presence in the Gulf. Besides tiny Israel, we don’t have the friends necessary for things like the dual containment (Iran and Iraq) of the 90s, and or the Iraq war of the 2000s. So we have to do it all ourselves.

By contrast in Asia, we have lots of allies and semi-friends who are strong and functional – Japan, Australia, Korea, and Taiwan most obviously – with improving relations with India and Vietnam too. Now, if we are smart – or maybe just because we are broke – we can push a lot of the costs of our goals onto them. Specifically, much of the pivot has been assumed to be targeted at China. But why should we encircle, contain, or otherwise provoke China, when the frontline states should be it doing it first? In other words, we don’t have to pivot toward Asia unless China threatens to invade everybody, because places like India, Korea, and Japan will work hard to build and maintain a multipolar equilibrium. They don’t want to be dominated by China, and they will suffer a lot more than we will if China becomes the regional hegemon. So we can hover in the background, offshore, over the horizon, as we always have. Given the strength of liberal democracy in Asia (unlike the ME), there is no need for us to be there in strength.

This is why I don’t think the ‘pivot’ language is helpful, because it’s not necessary. We can do what we have always done – provide an offshore balance that keeps the peace and allows trade so we can all buy cheap crap at Walmart. So we don’t need to do anything new; let’s just keep doing the same. And let’s not get ‘neo-conned’ into believing that Asia can’t manage its own affairs unless ‘bound to lead’ America is front-and-center with its hands in everything managing everyone’s choices. That’s the kind of paranoid pseudo-omipotence that got us mired in the Middle East for the last 20 years. We can pivot if we must, but let’s not do it because of our impatient, ‘we-have-to-run-all-big-issues-in-the-world’ foreign policy establishment. We don’t need a ‘pivot,’ unless that is being used as rhetorical cover to justify escaping from the ME (which is not a bad idea actually, if there’s no other way).

My concern here is the globalist ambition of the US foreign policy establishment, especially the Beltway think-tank set which is so deeply vested in American semi-empire. The pivot smacks of one of those ‘big idea’ schemes from places like CFR or CSIS to push America into the frontline of every problem and hotspot on the planet. As US over-involvement in the ME winds down, let’s not get pushed into yet another round of overbasing, overspending, and overhyped threat assessments (this time focused on China or NK) to keep the post-9/11 military boom rolling along and keep think-tank pundits employed.

4. Finally, I think the Asia pivot will be less than we think, simply because the US can’t afford it anymore. It should be pretty obvious to everyone that the US needs to spend less, and that money which could fund domestic entitlements is going to defense instead. The obvious opportunity cost of buying aircraft carriers to semi-contain China is cutting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. (Defense, plus M/M/SS, comprise around 70% of the US budget now.) The pivot is a classic guns vs butter trade-off. In the 1990s, as we reached the zenith of US dominance over the ME after the Gulf War, we could afford it because the Cold War was over, the US economy boomed in the 90s, and the US budget gap was healing. But in the 2000s, W just borrowed to maintain and expand US dominance. And now, post-Great Recession, American debt is reaching crisis levels. So,  given the size of China, the expense of a pivot-cum-containment would be astronomical. I suppose we could try it; we’d have allied assistance that we didn’t have in the ME for dual containment. But still, China is so big, it is hard to imagine a major US build-up that wouldn’t cost huge sums that just aren’t there anymore. It will become more and more obvious to the median voter in the next 20 years that domestic entitlements are suffering to fund the continuing post-9/11 US military expansion. I don’t think Americans will choose guns over butter (aircraft carriers instead of checks for grandma) if forced, and Ron Paul’s candidacy is proving that even within the GOP, there is an growing constituency for less war, less basing, less military spending. This, plus the Democratic coalition’s general disinterest in the pivot, will handicap any effort to borrow yet further to fund an Asia shift.

Cross-post on Asian Security Blog.

The US will not ‘Pivot’ much to Asia (2): We don’t really care @ Asia

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This is my Asian pivot.

Here is part one, where I argued that there is no constituency in the US to support an Asian pivot besides the some businesspeople.

2. Connected to the first point is that Americans don’t know much about Asia. Of course, it’s true Americans don’t know a lot about the world generally. We are a superpower, so we don’t have to know about others; others have to know about us. That’s why ‘they’ learn English, and we think Urdu is a country in the Sahara. We are geographically far away, so touring Europe or Asia is very expensive. We don’t (need to) speak foreign languages. But beyond that general ‘ugly American’ stuff, I think Americans are particularly ignorant about Asia. Asia is the most culturally different social space in the world from the US I can think of, with the possible exception of central Africa. Latin America, Europe, Oceania, and Russia are all in, or close enough to, Western Civilization that what we learned in high school civics classes can apply. They look like us (kind of); they eat like us, their languages are fairly similar (Indo-European roots); they dress like us; they worship like us. The tribal cultural gap (how others eat, dress, talk, worship, look, write, etc.) is not that wide .

Even the Middle East is more like the US than China. Islam is an abrahamic monotheistic faith, Israel is pretty western, and decades of western intervention in the Middle East has made it a little easier. And since 9/11, most westerners have learned a lot more about Islam and the Arabs.

Now think about what you know about Asia before Western imperialists arrive in the 19th C. Who was the emperor of China when the Opium War occurred? Do you know even when the Opium War occurred? Do Obama, Romney or Clinton, although I bet they know when the (earlier) French Revolution happened? Do you know anything about India before Clive stole everything he could get his hands on? Did you know that Qianlong was fairly the Napoleon of east Asia? But you know who Napoleon was, right? And if you think that ‘modern’ Asia is what really matters, did you know that most Asian societies have a deeply historical sense of themselves going way back before white people showed up? If you think Tang is an orange drink before you think it’s a Chinese dynasty, then your Asian pivot is over before it started.

But you say, nobody but tiresome, preening academics like you, Kelly, learn historical names and dates any more, but you love Chinese take-out. Ok, so what do you know of Asian culture, in even the broadest terms? Have you seen an Asian movie besides Crouching Tiger? Do you know the difference between sushi and sashemi? Can you name one Asian author? Do you know who Ganesha is? Can you read any non-latinate Asian script? Did you know that the CIA rates Korean, Chinese, and Japanese at its hardest acquisition level (4)? How many Americans do you know who speak those languages? Do you in which millennium Angkor Wat was built? Can you even use chopsticks? Do you honestly think evangelical voters in the GOP primary even care about any of this? Even worse, do you think your average neo-con, ‘America has a duty to police the world’ think-tanker could answer these questions without Wikipedia?

Now if you, a reader of this specialty blog, couldn’t answer these questions without struggling, what does that say about the American electorate’s cultural-intellectual ability sustain this pivot? When we got involved in Western Europe in the 50s, the US public, mostly descended from European immigrants, had a pretty good idea of what Europe was, so a ‘North Atlantic community’ was a coherent concept. When we became the hegemon of the Middle East in the 1990s, the deeply religious attachment of many Americans provided a strong foundation for that commitment (however much it may have lead us astray). Now, what exactly is our cultural, intellectual, linguistic, religious, etc. connection to Asia that will sell this to a public wary of more wars and interterventions? So if you wonder why tiny Iran is so much more important to Americans than huge China or India, well here you go – the cultural distance distance between Asia and the US is massive. (Or, if this is boring you, just go watch Gran Turino and Borat again).

And I will admit to struggling with this too. I have been here too many years to speak Korean as badly as I do. I don’t know my Korean dynasts as I should. Asia is hard. Absolutely. But that is my whole point. For Americans, for whom travelling means the Eiffel Tower and a foreign language means ‘Spanglish,’ Asia is like another planet. The cultural differences – language, food, writing, religion, music – are wider than any other I can think of, with the possible exception of Bantu Africa. I highly doubt Americans will empathize with Asians the way we do with Europeans, Israelis, Australians, and to a lesser extent, Latin Americans.

More in a few days.

Cross-posted on Asian Security Blog.

The US will not ‘Pivot’ much to Asia (1): We don’t really Want to



I found this image here.

So the US pivot toward Asia is all the rage in foreign policy now. Obama and Secretary Clinton genuinely seem to believe in this, and there good reasons for it. Briefly put, Asia has the money, people, and guns to dramatically impact world politics in a way that no other region can now. But I think the US Asian pivot won’t happen much nonetheless, because: 1) Americans, especially Republicans, don’t care about Asia, but they really care about the Middle East (a point the GOP presidential debates made really obvious); 2) Americans know less about Asia than any part of the world, bar Africa perhaps; 3) intra-Asian soft balancing (i.e., almost everyone lining up informally against China) means we don’t really need to be that involved, because our local allies will do most of the work; 4) we’re too broke to replicate in Asia the sort of overwhelming presence we built in the Middle East in the last decades.

On the face of it, a US pivot seems like a good idea, and if the US followed secular, rationalist, (realist-defined) national interest criteria, we would indeed pivot. Looking at global regions, Asia pretty clearly outweighs the rest. Europe and Latin America are mostly democratic, fairly prosperous, and at peace. We don’t really need to be in these places, and we shouldn’t either abet Euro-free-riding or worsen our already bad history in Latin America. Getting out serves our (and their) interests. Africa, sadly, remains a backwater of US interest, with no clear (national security) reason for an already overstretched US to do much. The Middle East, to my mind, is wildly overrated for us. Like Walt, Sullivan, Friedman, and so many others now, I think it’s fairly obvious, ten years after 9/11, that: our relationship with Israel has become unhealthily close, almost obsessive; Islamic terrorism is a wildly overrated threat to the US which we risk worsening by the inevitable blowback to all our action in the Middle East; and we should be moving toward alternative energy so that we can get out of the Gulf. In short, Europe and the Western Hemisphere are basically democratic peace zones, Africa is (sorry) irrelevant, and the ME needs to be cut down to size in our foreign policy phobias.

That leaves Asia, and the reasons for attention should be blindingly obvious. Asia’s economies are growing fast, almost uniformly so. Even place like Cambodia and Vietnam are clocking 5+% growth now. Asian savers and banks fund the ridiculous US budget deficit and export lots of stuff we buy. The number of people Asia has added to the global labor pool (2 billion in the last 25 years) has kept global inflation down for a generation (the largest ever one-time shift in the ratio of capital to labor). Asian markets are now major export destinations for American industries (including academia).

Next, there are a lot of Asians. This seems trite, but if you consider that there are only around 500 million people stretching from Rabat to Islamabad, but 3 times that just in India (!), you quickly get a sense that sheer demographics plays a role. Half the world’s population lives in South, Southeast, and Northeast Asia. And unlike many people in the greater Middle East, Africa, or even Latin America, these people participate in the global economy a lot – as low-cost labor, big savers, importers, exporters, etc.

Third, lots of people means inevitable friction, and lots of money means lots of weapons. Especially NE Asia sometimes feels like Europe before WWI: big, tightly-packed, fast-growing economies; lots of money for bigger and bigger militaries; lots of nationalism and territorial grievances to create sparks. Regional conflict in Asia would dwarf anything since the Cold War. And specifically, China’s rise to regional hegemony would have very obvious security ramifications for the US.

So all this says Asia’s important, but the trends of US domestic politics run strongly against this. I think the Asian pivot for the US won’t take off, at least not for another decade:

1. Who is the constituency for a US shift to Asia? Who in America actually cares about this region enough to drive a major realignment away from long-standing US interests in Europe and the Middle East? I guess the business community cares; they pushed PMFN for China 15 years ago, but they’re souring on China today because of its relentless mercantilism. Perhaps Asian-Americans would like to see this, in the same way that Hispanic-Americans impact US south-of-the-border policy. But there aren’t that many Asian-Americans (4-5%), and they don’t strike me as an organized voice loudly demanding this pivot. Perhaps foreign policy elites want this, but to my mind the think-tank/op-ed pages set (AEI, WSJ, NYT, Fox, Heritage) still seem more interested in the Middle East – when is the last time you read an op-ed about US basing in Japan or Korea, or US CT cooperation with Indonesia? The relevant Asian security stuff regarding the pivot is still scarcely on the radar of the regular media (compared to the coverage of US domestic politics or the Middle East). Finally, does Obama’s electoral coalition care about or want this? As a rule of thumb, the less wealthy you are, the less you care about far-off issues like foreign policy, so it’s unlikely that the underprivileged and youth who helped Obama win want or even care about this. While college educated whites, who also broke for Obama, likely support this, the rest of the Democratic coalition traditionally focuses on domestic issues like education, social mobility, the courts, redistribution and safety nets, etc. Maybe labor unions care a bit, but their trade concerns are dated and generic, rather than Asia-specific, and they probably want less not more engagement with Asia.

But most importantly, the Republican Party, which I think worries about foreign policy a lot more than the Dems, really cares about the Middle East. Remember that something like 30-40% of Americans claim to have had a born-again experience. For them, Israel is, easily, America’s most important ally. Their post-9/11 Kulturkamp with Islam is a central value; they know that worshipping Allah is blasphemous. In that fetid Christianist mindset, what are Korea or China but factory floors far away who make stuff for Walmart? Asia doesn’t activate or mobilize these ‘Jacksonian-Christianist’ voters. When Santorum said in the New Hampshire debate that Iran’s nuclear program is the most important issue in US foreign policy, he was channeling probably one-third of the electorate. Romney and Gingrich too discuss Iran constantly and pledge ‘no daylight’ with Israel. By contrast, what does the Tea Party know or care about China or India? At least Islam looks like a ‘heathen’ analogue to Christianity (a book, similar godhead, prophets) to the US right, but what to make of Hinduism, Confucianism, Shintoism, Taoism? Does anyone really believe Joe Tea-partier cares a wit about that stuff? It’s all about culture and religion to the base of the American right these days, and Asia is like outer space to those voters. Where is the ideology, the excitement, the fervor that created the wild paranoias like ‘WWIV’ or the ‘long war’ regarding Islam, in regard to Asia? Zippo…

In short, the Democrats don’t really care about Asia one way or another, besides a vague sense that China is ‘cheating,’ and Republicans want to keep the focus on the Middle East.

More in a few days.

Cross-posted on Asian Security Blog.

Some IR Thoughts on the GOP Debate Marathon

Here were my first, domestic politics thoughts on the GOP debate-run, particularly the competitive, extreme position-taking forced onto the candidates by the audience reactions. But I thought the debates actually taught us very little directly on foreign policy (beyond bombast, or just watch the vid above you francophile, cheese-eating traitor to the heartland). Instead, most of my cues were indirect, such as audience reaction:

4. We (and the world) learned a lot from the audience behavior. I don’t think anyone anticipated this, but the GOP audience demographic (aging white evangelicals), plus its hoots and hollers (for torture, against the Palestinians, for executions, for war with Iran) communicated a lot of information in itself. It showed just how captured the GOP is now by a hard right Christianist ideology that comes off as more than just angry, but downright belligerent, if not scary. And for IR, this is important too. Foreigners will see this stuff and hardly believe that American hegemony is ‘benevolent’ or ‘benign.’ I’ve said this before, but this Tea Party radicalism is washing downstream to the rest of the world; a few years ago, my students here (Korea) were asking me in amazement why Americans were comparing Obamacare to the Nazis, and I just ran out of lame excuses. Foreigners do pick up on this stuff, Fox News execs. You can’t talk like this and be a superpower at the same time. Foreigners do think we are fairly bonkers, and don’t even start with that ‘bound to lead’ schtick (more like unfit), when so many Americans muse that Obama might be the Antichrist or a Muslim non-citizen.

5. The debates showed how little foreign policy counts, beyond self-congratulatory nationalist bluster about how exceptional we are, or lust for stomping on our enemies (Ron Paul excepted). I suppose in the first post-Great Recession election, this was inevitable, but the debates show just how dominant domestic policy really is. Foreign policy was a minor bit, and then overwhelmed by simplistic, manichean soundbites in which just how ‘exceptional’ the US is became a major issue. Bleh. There is a reason why US political science departments are staffed over 50% from just one subfield (American) –  because we couldn’t care less about foreigners. Call it the luxury of being a superpower. They need to worry about us, but we don’t about them. I see this in Korea all the time. IR is a much bigger chunk of political science here, the two Korean-published SSCI journals I know of are in IR, and foreign policy is much more in the news and politics. Whenever foreign students (especially Chinese) tell me that America should pay more attention to this or that part of the world, I always tell them, you are lucky we care at all – just look at our pathetic foreign language acquisition rates, the wildly inaccurate American belief that we spend huge amounts on foreign aid that should be cut to zero, that we routinely deny foreigners judicial rights in the US that we howl about when it happens to our nationals overseas (Amanda Knox), or that Romney refuses to admit (!) that he speaks French, because the Tea Party will call him a wimp or a traitor or something (watch that vid above). Wow. In most places in the world, foreign language is a highly prized skill, but I guess not in NASCAR-land. To my mind, that tells you an awful lot about the contemporary GOP’s foreign policy: if you are not an American, you are probably mentally ill or something.

6. There was almost nothing on the Asia pivot; it was all about the Middle East, because of its central religious importance to hardcore GOP voters. If you actually looked at what was covered, it was almost all the ME, basically Israel and Iran. It seems like the GOP has basically out-sourced US ME policy to Netanyahu. Issues like the BRICs and other second world risers, the terrible effects of the drug war in Latin America, NK and Burma’s transitions, the euro crisis, even China barely got any attention. If the euro meltdowns, it will impact Americans a lot more than an Iranian nuke, but that’s boring economics. The Tea Party doesn’t care; foreign policy is the war on terror and clash of civilizations in which Christianized American exceptionalism must endlessly re-affirmed. Instead of coping with rising states, we just chest-thump that America is not in decline and that Obama is an appeaser. Whatever. This is just fantasy, which in itself is rather important information for the rest of us, so again, the debates served a useful purpose in an oblique way.

Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog.

Strategic narratives: An uncertain science

Timing is everything; I’m not sure its good to be publishing a paper about strategic narratives just as the US cuts its Advisory Commission on Public Dipomacy, although RAND have begun exploring this field. National-level policymakers still try to tell stories about where their state and the international system are heading and should head. To the extent these narratives create expectations, shore up identities, create buy-in from partners, or have other discernible effects, we can say strategic narratives matter. The investment states have made in their international communications infrastructures in the past decade indicates the hope that aspiring or existing Great Powers can get their story out to overseas publics and elites. At the same time, sometimes just having an ambassador who carries his own bag can create a good impression. The ‘science’ of strategic narratives remains uncertain.

Hence, colleagues and I are trialing a working paper ‘Forging the World: Strategic Narratives and International Relations’, available to download here. It is authored by Alister Miskimmon (Royal Holloway), myself and Laura Roselle (Elon/Duke), and is based on the keynote Miskimmon and I delivered to International Studies Association (ISA) South at Elon University in October 2011. It comes from our long disatisfaction with how IR scholars treat media, communications and questions of influence, and how media and communications neglect many of the power dynamics of IR. It also comes from our experience working with foreign policymakers as they try to show measurable ‘impact’ of the narratives, and their attempts to harness new digital methods to monitor overseas public opinion. We plan to publish a book developing these ideas late in 2012, and we have panels on the subject at ISA San Diego in April and BISA/ISA Edinburgh in June with some great scholars (Neta Crawford, Karin Fierke, Antje Weiner, Robin Brown, Monroe Price, Amelia Arsenault), so if you’re interested in please come along or look for the papers. For now, we’d really appreciate it if the Duck commentariat have comments on the paper.

Zombie Theory of Foreign Policy

We have gone almost a month without talking about zombies, and you all must be in need of a fix. Instead of thinking how various theories of international relations might expect us to cope with a zombie epidemic, I thought it might be fun to think about how leading public figures – elected officials, pundits, etc. – might respond to a zombie attack. This is in keeping with my general belief that we would see many different responses by individuals in the same structural circumstances, that foreign policy is more important than international relations.

Incidentally, I just want you to know that you can Google anyone with ‘zombie’ in front of their name and find an image. What is wrong with you people?


Michelle Bachmann: This Martian invasion will not be tolerated.

Momar Qaddafi : Can you help a brother out?

John Boehner: My sundried skin will not be tasty to them, I am immune. Later, b*tches.

Nancy Pelosi : Be not afraid, I am one of you.

George W. Bush: Zombies hate America for our freedom, to use our brains.

Rick Perry: I urge everyone to spend the day fasting and praying to God to save us from this zombie scourge. This is exactly why I take my gun with me when I jog.

Al Gore: This is yet another sign of the terrible effects of global warming.

Mitt Romney: Do they take checks? I mean, have they heard the good news about Jesus Christ?

Ron Paul: I might make an exception on military spending for this.

Dick Cheney: You are not going to make a big deal about waterboarding these guys, right? Can we at least agree that zombies do not qualify under the Geneva Conventions or are you going to bust my balls on this one too, Amnesty?

Barack Obama: I reject the false choice between the security that comes with eradicating all zombies and our values.

Glenn Beck: Is Woodrow Wilson one of them, because I’d like a shot at that mother*cker.

Sarah Palin: I am uniquely positioned to deal with the zombie threat. In Alaska I can see the graveyard from my house.

Hillary Clinton: It is important for us to understand underlying structural causes of zombies, like poor access to water and development.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn : OK, I can’t get bitten by one, but can I still have sex with one?

Bill Clinton: I had the same question as DSK.

Bank of America: We know how you feel.

Anne Coulter: Zombies are Liberals.

John McCain: It is absolutely unacceptable that zombies are receiving healthcare when they are no longer legal citizens of this country. Or alive.

Hosni Mubarak: This would have been better for me a few months ago. I could have used a little rallying around the flag.

Benjamin Netanyahu: We have some lovely new accommodations we would like to show you just outside Jerusalem.

Dan Drezner: OK, now I’m going to buy a Benz.

Let’s make this interactive. Can you think of some others? Please reply below.

Semantic polling: the next foreign policy tool

George Gallup –
what have you started?

The traditional methods for a state to know what overseas publics are thinking are changing. Instead of relying on your embassy staff’s alertness, your spies’ intelligence and the word of dissidents, we’re reaching the point where foreign policymakers can constantly monitor public opinion in countries in real-time. The digitization of social life around the world  – uneven yes, but spreading – leaves ever-more traces of communications to be mined, analysed and acted upon.  In a paper that Nick Anstead and I presented in Iceland this week, we called this ‘semantic polling’, and we considered the ethical, political and practical questions it raises.

Semantic polling refers to the use of algorithms and natural language processing to “read” vast datasets of public commentary harvested from the Internet, which can be disaggregated, analysed in close-to-real-time, and which can then inform policy. It can give a general representation of public opinion, or very granular representations of the opinion and behaviour of specific groups and networks. Multi-lingual processing across different media platforms is now possible.  Companies already provide this service to pollsters and parties in domestic campaigns, and NGOs make use of it for disaster response monitoring. Given how public diplomacy has adopted many techniques of the permanent campaign, it will be no surprise to see semantic polling become part of the foreign policy toolkit.


The semantic web is the standardization of protocols so that everything on the web becomes machine-readable. This means semantic polling is about more than reading social media data. In principle, our shopping, driving, social media, geolocation and other data are all searchable and analyzable. It is only a matter of computing power and integration of data streams for this method to profile to the individual behavioural level. This also enables predictive engagement: if Amazon thinks it knows what you want, then a state, with access to more data streams, might be use semantic polling and think it knows who will support an uprising and who will not.
Ethically, do people around the world know their tweets, public facebook data and comments on news blogs are being used to build a picture of their opinion? How should journalists report on this when it happens? Politically, how will states and NGOs use semantic polling before, during and after crises and interventions? Is it predictive, valid and reliable? Will semantic polling’s real-time nature further intensify the pressures on policymakers, since the performance, credibility and legitimacy of their policies can be visualized as they are enacted? Will publics resist and find ways to circumvent it? And given that it is barely regulated at the domestic level, how could or should it be policed in international affairs?
When we thought of this paper it seemed a little bit like an exercise in science fiction, but interviews with the companies, pollsters and social scientists driving this has convinced us this is developing quickly. Our political science audience in Iceland seemed positive about this – semantic polling offers relatively cheap, unobstrusive and ‘natural’ data that might provide insights into human behaviour existing methods cannot give. Perhaps a good first step would be for people around the world to understand how semantic polling works, so they can decide what they think about it, since it is their lives that are being monitored. 

What Exactly is the Point of Foreign Policy Analysts?: Lessons from Libya (and any other crisis in history)

I don’t follow the news as closely as I should. I am not up on everyone’s blogs. I don’t check the Brookings Institution for every new report it issues. I am a lazy blogger. But I do seem to recall when this whole Libya thing started and didn’t end successfully immediately that all kinds of “foreign policy analysts” came out of the woodwork to say it wouldn’t work, that we were merely facilitating and prolonging a protracted civil war stalemate. We couldn’t will the means that would be necessary.

Dumbasses.

I say that not because they got the prediction wrong, but rather that they tried to make a prediction at all. I wish we could just admit that we generally have no earthly idea how a civil war, humanitarian intervention, tsunami response, military coup, financial crisis, etc. will work out. I


Eat humble pie, boys. I said, “Eat it!”

am an international relations academic not because I don’t want to be on TV, but because I have a sense of shame and dignity. I simply could not get up in front of millions, or even dozens, of people and claim that I had any notion of how any of those things was going to work out. We can only work out explanations well after the fact when we know what was going on on the ground, what people were thinking, etc. Every social phenomena of interest is simply too complicated. I appreciate it when folks like Steve Saideman tell us the mistakes of the past. But I wouldn’t like it if he predicted the future. And he doesn’t.

I am not going to name names, because I’d have to look them up. Like I said, I’m lazy. But the next time that one of these things happens again, like tomorrow, and someone offers you a prediction of how it will end, respond like this: “Ew, get that away from me. That’s been up your butt.”

White House: Osama Bin Laden Is Dead.

POTUS speaking to the nation this evening:

11:40: “They took care to avoid civilian casualties.” Hmm. No word as to whether they succeeded.

11:41: “Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader. He was a mass murderer of Muslims.” That was good.

11:43: “Today’s achievement is a testament to the greatness of the American people.” I see. Killing this individual is on par with walking on the moon. We can all be very proud. The “war” will continue.

My immediate take: they’ve done a masterful job at playing the media and making a huge story and enormous nationalistic success out of a single operation in a vast and endless war, that apparently will have no impact on our foreign policy.

A puzzle in promotion: Petraeus at the CIA

This is a guest blog by Jarrod Hayes, who is is an assistant professor of International Relations at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His research broadly focuses on the social construction of foreign and security policy.

The New York Times is reporting that President Obama plans on moving Leon Panetta to the position of Secretary of Defense and David Petraeus to the position of CIA director. While the Panetta move is interesting in its own right (i.e., will Panetta have the force of will necessary to manage the DoD?), what I find far more interesting is the move of General David Petraeus to the CIA, a man whose credentials for leading the CIA at best require some creative argumentation. I find the move puzzling (hence the title) and would like to forward a possible explanation for the move as well a negative repercussion that could result. First, the explanation. In June 2010, when Obama fired then U.S. commander in Afghanistan Stanley McChrystal after insubordinate remarks by officers under McChrystal’s command came to light, the President was left with a problem. Seven months earlier, Obama had announced a large troop increase to Afghanistan as part of an effort to prevail in a conflict claimed to be vital to US national interest. What appointment could Obama make in replacing McChrystal that would be in line with the President’s contention that success in Afghanistan was of critical importance? The obvious answer was hero-of-Iraq-and-counterinsurgency-demigod Petraeus, and so the President demoted (lateral move?) Petraeus from Central Command Commander to head up the Afghan mission. However, the appointment presented its own problems. At the same time Obama announced the Afghan ‘surge,’ he promised to begin bringing home US troops after 18 months (~midyear 2011). Would Petraeus, a man now vested with an immense amount of military and security legitimacy, resist when Obama decided to pull the plug? If he did, the President’s political capital could take serious damage at a time when the campaign for re-election would be at a critical stage.

Obama appears to have found a solution by promoting Petraeus to CIA director. Petraeus now has less reason to oppose a drawdown in a conflict that is going less than swimmingly (see Steve Saideman’s excellent post on the subject here) because his personal credibility and legacy are no longer on the line. Moving Petraeus to the CIA also shifts his institutional context, and if Graham Allison was right about where you stand depends on where you sit, being at the CIA ties Petraeus hands for two reasons: 1) CIA has global concerns (less dog in the Afghan fight) and 2) CIA has a firm institutional emphasis on not making policy. So the promotion is a win-win all around. Petraeus gets out of a fight that may be impossible to win and Obama removes (or at least lessens) a potential political landmine. The only downside is the poor guy who will get tagged with whatever comes in Afghanistan after the US leaves.

There is, however, a dark side to promoting Petraeus to the CIA. Since September 11, 2001, the CIA’s mission has increasingly focused on the US military mission. Military commanders have pressed progressively greater demands for timely battlefield intelligence and policy shifts that accompanied the Bush administration’s GWOT put the CIA on the front lines. These changes are not cost free. Rolf Mowatt-Larssen (and Andrew Bacevich regarding foreign policy broadly) among others has argued that the CIA since September 11 has become increasingly militarized at the expense of its traditional role as a collector and analyzer of political intelligence. It used to be the CIA’s primary job to know the kinds of things that might have led us to be less surprised by the uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. The shift to a more militarized CIA means that the Agency no longer focuses on that kind of information (perhaps encouraging technological workarounds?), hence the surprise at the ‘Arab Spring.’ Since September 11, I think there is a good case to be made that we ask the CIA to do too much, and the increasing focus on militarily useful intelligence comes at the expense of the political intelligence that forms the basis of sound foreign policy-making. The appointment of Petraeus creates the real possibility that this pattern will not only continue but also be cemented and accelerated. If that is the case, Americans and their policy-makers will be increasingly in the dark about the world and what happens in it.

India: Choosing between America and Iran

India appears to be continuing to shift its West Asia policy away from a once budding partnership with Iran, which aimed among other things to stabilize Afghanistan. It is rumored that in late March, the Indian National Security Adviser, Shiv Shanker Menon, delicately delivered a message to the Islamic Republic that India’s PM would not be making a state visit later this year (Telegraph [Kolkata] 3/10/11).

If the news reports are correct, the diplomatic maneuver comes only a few months after India abandoned the practice of paying for its crude oil imports from Iran through the Tehran based Asian Clearing Union, a central bank clearing mechanism, apparently under direct pressure from President Obama. India was so hasty in acceding to US demands that it failed to set an alternate mechanism in place or even to consult private petroleum importers. India asked Iran to find a set of banks that were not under US sanctions in order to reroute financial payments. For its part, Iran did not retaliate and continued to supply crude oil on credit to India until a new payment arrangement was agreed through branches of both countries’ state owned banks in Germany. Iran is the largest single supplier of crude oil to India (importing ~$12 billion / per year), and India still has plans to invest heavily in Iranian oil and gas fields.

India has also abstained from voting on Iran’s human rights situation in the UN Human Rights Council and it voted in 2010 in support of the IAEA censure of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. The latter vote elicited a “nasty” letter from the Iranian government even though India had tried to indicate that it did not support punitive sanctions and favored dialog (PTI, 5/17/2010). The censure vote reinforced a decision in 2005 by India to support taking the issue of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program to the UN Security Council. Although India might ideally prefer to retain its friendship with Iran, India appears to be signalling a shift toward further alignment within the American orbit at the expense of its ties to Iran.

A portion of the tension between India and Iran may also relate to technical details in the proposed IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India Pipeline) project. India wanted Iran should to guarantee delivery of gas across Pakistani territory and Iran has been unresponsive (Doordarshan, 5/15/2010). However, these disputes are likely to be a consequences of India’s position at the IAEA rather a completely separate point of contention.

In addition to the fact that India’s partnership with the US has already begun to provide dividends, India’s foreign policy establishment must also weigh the value of its growing security ties with Israel as well as robust economic relations with the Persian Gulf countries relative to the value of potential future energy imports from Iran. Indian non-oil trade with the GCC countries (~$24 billion) dwarfs its non-oil trade with Iran (~$5 billion). The GCC countries also supply approximately 2/3 of India’s oil imports and are a major source of remittance income (Indian Express 8/9/2007).  Finally, as a permanent member of the IAEA Board of Governors, India has a strong interest to defend its own reputation as a responsible nuclear power in order to legitimate its own questionable entry into the nuclear armed club.

If the shift in Indian foreign policy continues, it will be tantamount to a retreat from its considerable efforts to stabilize Afghanistan (India is the 5th largest donor to Afghanistan). It is already evident that the Delaram-Zaranj road built by Indian paramilitary forces at considerable risk and cost in Western Afghanistan to reduce Afghanistan’s dependence on Pakistan has been taken over by Taliban militants. Lowering India’s profile in Afghanistan marginally harms America’s objective of stabilizing Afghanistan, particularly as India remains one of the most favored donor countries among Afghans.

American policy toward Iran, which is almost exclusively a reflection of the interests of allies in West Asia, may come at the expense of stability in South Asia. Although Iran has no interest in destabilizing its eastern neighbor, American attempts to isolate Iran diplomatically mean that an opportunity to use the stabilizing influence of a Muslim majority state which has historically had tremendous influence among Dari speaking Afghans and a strong anti-Taliban disposition are being squandered.

The US and Iran were able to work together in 2001 to help overthrow the Taliban. And despite some reports of munitions from Iran being shipped to insurgents (none of which have been successfully traced back to the Iranian government), Iran has mostly acted as a stabilizing force in Afghanistan — even allegedly supplying direct cash support to the Karzai regime. In fact, as Ambassador James Dobbins has recounted, it was the Iranians who reminded the Americans at the Bonn conference that the new Afghan constitution really ought to mention the word “democracy” at least once. And for all of the moralizing American rhetoric about women’s rights, it is also worth recalling that in the early years of the Taliban, when the US sought to cozy up to the brutal movement to secure pipeline contracts, only the Iranians championed the rights of Afghan women which were being trampled. This is not to argue that the Iranian regime’s record on democratic governance, human rights, and civil rights is without very serious problems, but it is to show that Iran is not America’s “other.”

A more balanced US foreign policy toward Iran (which would also give India greater political and diplomatic room for maneuver), despite decades of animosity and the potential for further horizontal nuclear proliferation, is most likely in the best interest of the US and most of the regional players in South and Central Asia. Iran could also contribute by climbing down from its current position on nuclear enrichment.

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