Tag: foreign policy discourse

Discourse Analysis of Internet Trolls?: the whys and hows of analyzing online content*

Online mediums can be perceived as attracting wacky ranters unrepresentative contributors and exchanges and, therefore, forums or chats are often treated as if they do not provide an effective picture/sample of political discourse. But since over 80% of Americans are online, 66% of American adults have engaged in civil or political activities with social media, and about half of those who visit discussion groups post/contribute, isn’t this an interesting- and increasingly relevant- medium for a discourse analysis? Why cut out such a vast political resource? What is different about ‘doing’ a discourse analysis of online content? How would you even start such an analysis? And, why aren’t those like myself- who blog and engage in political discussions as part of my daily/weekly activity- doing more to treat online content as part of what we consider to be ‘legitimate’ political discourse? Well, I think it comes down to methodology. Here is a very brief intro to some of the opportunities and challenges to conducing a discourse analysis of online content (PS getting students to do such an analysis is a great assignment).

1. What makes a discourse analysis of online content different from an analysis of printed text?
First, (and probably somewhat obvious) online material uses multiple modes of expression, including emoticons, hyperlinks, images, video, moving images (gifs), graphic design, and color. This multimodality adds complexity (and, I argue, richness) to a discourse analysis- but the researcher must be aware of how particular signals are used, (for example, ‘iconic’ or popular memes or gifs (like feminist Ryan Gosling or the Hilary Clinton texting image begin to take on particular meanings themselves). Second, online content is unstable, instant, and edited in ways unavailable to print (even the use of striking through signals ‘editing’/alternative meaning/irony etc- but this requires interpretation). Also, articles, conversations, and posts, can be published, responded to, retweeted, then retracted or edited all within a few hours. Continue reading

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No More Neocon Faux-Cassandra Posturing: American Defense is not “in Decline”

Two pieces got emailed to me in the last few days that nicely illustrate just how entrenched semi-imperial thinking has become in Washington, how wildly disconnected from the reality of US security our foreign policy community’s threat assessments have become, and the hysteria that greets serious debate on DoD’s size in this post-Great Recession era of high unemployment and large deficits. This, by good-journalist-turned-disturbing-militarist Robert Kaplan, and this, by the ‘Iraq was a victory’ crowd at AEI. Here’s Kaplan:

“The bottom may be starting to fall out of the U.S. defense budget. I do not refer to numbers when I say this. I am not interested in numbers. I am only interested in public support for those numbers…. Actually, we might need a big army for an occupation of part of North Korea… The public, in short, wants protection on the cheap. It may not necessarily be willing to police the world with a big navy and a big air force at least to the degree that it has in the past — that is, unless a clear and demonstrable conventional threat can be identified.”

The rest basically follows the depressing, well-established neocon pattern: the (invariably hawkish and hegemony-loving) Washington foreign policy community knows America’s interests, while the public is annoyingly ‘isolationist.’ If only they believed in the US globocop, (cue grave headshaking at our ignorance), then we wouldn’t have to write these sanctimonious, tsk-tsk op-eds. The AEI brief is even more predictable: throwaway boilerplate about the need for a strong defense in a world of unpredictable and diverse threats and all that. Got it already. Neocons and DC hawks have been saying that sorta stuff now for so long, that I really don’t even need to read this stuff anymore. And of course, any cuts automatically ‘reduce our readiness,’ the all-time favorite cliché of hawks everywhere as if somehow ‘only’ $680+ billion would leave us unable to defend ourselves. Come on, neocons! I thought you were supposed to be intellectuals. Stop recycling 1990s ‘indispensible nation’ bromides, and try a little harder. Zack Beauchamp and Daniel Drezner’s correctives are very useful here. But here’s mine:

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Words of Mass Destruction in the Syria Debate

Note: This is a guest post by Ty Solomon, Lecturer at the University of Glasgow

Even though the war in Syria has been raging for the past two years, much of the global outrage that we now see has only erupted with the recent reports about Bashar al Assad’s government attacking civilians with chemical weapons.   Arguably, the past two long years of war has not provoked the same level of indignation as we are now seeing from world leaders and publics.  Why is it only now, with the use of chemical weapons – and not the use of “conventional” bombs and guns – have the US and UK governments seriously debated intervening?  The conflict has not necessarily taken a turn for the worse with the recent poison gas revelations.  By some accounts 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict before the chemical weapons attack, which itself is reported to have killed about 1,400 people  While indeed horrific, chemical weapons are not necessarily more deadly than “regular” bombs and guns.

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Thinking the Unthinkable?

Yesterday, climate activist and environmental writer Bill McKibben tweeted a link to this eye-opening graphic:

In many ways, this chart is merely another disturbing bit of information about weather in a year of shocking weather news. Continue reading

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All Mitt Romney Really Needed To Know He Never Learned In Kindergarten

This is actually a pretty good checklist.

I’m busy with other projects–dissertating, researching, and watching Breaking Bad, in ascending order–but I wanted to point out that the problem with Mitt Romney’s statement about the attacks on Americans in Libya and Egypt is not what it tells us about foreign policy. We know very little about Romney’s foreign policy views, and it is possible that Romney himself hasn’t thought deeply about the it. (Indeed, my gut feeling informed intuition  has long been that most American presidents simply don’t have well-informed views on things like military intervention before they take office.)

The problem with Romney’s statement is that it was a poorly-chosen, poorly-timed message.

For all his presentation as a cautious businessman, Romney has consistently shown that he has little idea how to sell himself in person. True, he has good instincts about how to market himself–stay away from the media, keep the campaign largely on message, don’t worry about temporary roadblocks like Herman Cain–but that is entirely different from being a good spokesman on his own behalf.

Yet unlike a native politician, such as Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy, or whoever is running for sheriff in your county this year, Romney lacks the finely honed filter that prevents him from unintentionally saying really dumb stuff.


The “two Cadillacs” gaffe, the “I like firing people” quote, that some-of-my-best-friends-are-NASCAR-owners slip–they are all qualitatively different from Obama’s worst verbal errors (“you didn’t build that” and, I guess, the “57 states” things), which are the products of fatigue and temporarily verbal confusion. By contrast, Romney’s slips have  comported with what many people (including, lest we forget, a substantial majority of Republican primary voters) thought he is: a distant plutocrat who’s only honest when he isn’t paying attention.

The most recent statement, which pretty blatantly politicized a moment of national grief, added a newer, sinister dimension to this image. Instead of Romney-as-clueless-Richie-Rich, we now have Mitt-the-Machiavelli, whose only thought is how the deaths of dedicated public servants affect his campaign. That this was not a slip of the tongue but the product of the campaign’s top strategists and, allegedly, the candidate himself speaks volumes about how the candidate sees himself. But it says nothing about how he sees the United States and its role abroad.

Late Update: I wanted to clarify the post’s relationship to its title. Why is Romney’s statement such a problem? It’s not that it’s part of a well-thought-out philosophy of “not apologizing” (both because the timing was wrong to release that critique, and because the philosophy is not well-thought out), as David Weigel at Slate implies. Rather, it’s that it shows that Romney may actually lack the kind of empathy that we normally presume that presidential candidates have. To be blunt, Romney may in fact be less empathetic than Nixon, whose career (as Rick Perlstein and others have argued) was in part driven by resentment at the slights, real and perceived, that the Establishment committed against the ordinary striver. This may not, in some grand philosophical sense, disqualify one from the presidency, but it normally disqualifies you from being a presidential candidate.

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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.

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Palestinian Unilateralism

I just got this note in my Inbox from the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston:

In a little more than a month, the Palestinian delegation to the United Nations will seek a unilateral declaration of statehood in the General Assembly. Israel and its friends around the world, including the United States, are urging the Palestinians to reject unilateralism. Only face-to-face negotiations will bring true peace.

In the letter, CJP uses “unilateralism” eleven more times to describe the Palestinian actions.

This has been the major talking point from pro-Israel groups for well over a year. Nothing should be decided “unilaterally”, i.e., outside the context of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. As a rhetorical strategy, the term is clearly coded pejoratively.

But, even so, it is very awkward term for this campaign, especially since the Palestinians have extensive global support for this move coming from multilateral organizations such as the Arab League and almost certainly from a majority of the United Nations General Assembly which is likely to support a move for expanded observer status should the vote come to it.

Furthermore, the concept of “Palestinian unilateralism” is probably a hard sell when well over three-fourths of the security fence/wall built (unilaterally) by the Israelis is located on the Palestinian side of the Green line.

Still, all of this makes me wonder about a much deeper and more perplexing question: would John Bolton support Palestinian unilateralism if the UN objected to it?

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A Truth Commission for Iraq

Back in 2003, the name Ricardo Sanchez appeared in several posts on my personal blog. At the time, the now-retired General was “the top U.S. military official in Iraq.”

Over the years, Sanchez provided honest and forthright assessments of the Iraq war. Even though I didn’t always agree with his analysis of what should be done, I respected his contributions to the political debate. Lately, he’s been pushing a “truth commission” for Iraq and I think that the U.S. should pursue something like that to document the course of the Iraq war.

Sanchez’s evolving views of the Iraq war are worth outlining.

In October 2003, Sanchez pointed out that violence in Iraq was increasing, despite political figures at home bragging about improved life without Saddam Hussein. In November of that year, Sanchez used the word “war” to describe the post-“mission accomplished” environment in Iraq.

In October 2007, Sanchez gave a fairly prominent speech that was very critical of the Bush administration’s prosecution of the Iraq war.

From a catastrophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic war plan to the Administration’s latest surge strategy, this Administration has failed to employ and — and synchronize its political, economic, and military power. The latest revised strategy is a desperate attempt by the Administration that has not accepted the political and economic realities of this war and they have definitely not been able to communicate effectively that reality to the American people.

He continued by adding, “There has been a glaring, unfortunate, display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders.” In his view, too many decisions about the war reflected partisanship rather than the needed cooperation and bipartisanship needed to achieve success.

He criticized, for instance, “inept coalition management” and all-around “failure” by the National Security Council. The speech was a little short on detail, but Sanchez clearly thought that there was plenty of blame to go around. The “greatest failures in this war can be linked to America’s lack of commitment, priority, and moral courage in this war effort.” Specifically, “America must hold all national agencies accountable for developing and executing the political and economic initiatives that will bring about stability, security, political, and economic hope for all Iraqis.”

In his memoir, published a few years ago, Sanchez said that the Bush administration “led America into a strategic blunder of historic proportions.”

Most recently, Sanchez has been calling for a “truth commission” to investigate the torture and other abuses that occurred in Iraq. “If we do not find out what happened,” he says “then we are doomed to repeat it.”

I’ve been thinking about Sanchez’s “truth commission” a great deal lately because of the fact that the Obama administration, pro-war Republicans (not the Ron Paul wing, small as it is) and the Army have together embraced a narrative crediting “the surge” with making Iraq a success story after all. Obama’s own “surge” in Afghanistan commits his administration to the Iraq example. Republicans get to pretend that the Iraq war wasn’t a horrible mistake from the planning stages and the Army saves face and avoids a Vietnam-like diminution of its relevance and credibility.

I’ve blogged about the flaws in this logic previously. Additionally, Andrew Bacevich’s latest book deftly explains why this narrative is inaccurate — though he acknowledges its prominence.

What could correct the narrative? Maybe only Sanchez’s imagined truth commission. Unfortunately, while the UK conducted a war inquiry, I do not expect to see anything like it in the USA.

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Open Thinking-Outside-The-Box-on-How-To-Out-Crazy-North-Korea Thread

Daniel Drezner asks whether there are any options for dealing with evidence of North Korea’s involvement on the sinking of the Cheonan besides diddling around in the UN Security Council with a resolution that China may well veto. He rightly suggests that this is essentially a game of chicken that the North always wins because it seems crazier and less predictable than most civilized states (true). He points out the conventional wisdom that war must be avoided at all costs because Pyongyang is poised to deal a devastating blow to Seoul (and Pyongyang, for its part, knows it would probably be defeated). He proposes that the international community not allow North Korea to participate in the World Cup.

That latter is not a bad suggestion. As Alegi and Bolsmann have documented, sports sanctions made a difference in ending apartheid, and a rash of new studies including this one make similar arguments. And as a human security analyst, I’m glad to see that the protection of civilians in Seoul is a top priority for those ruminating over how this crisis might develop.

However, as a human security analyst, I’m equally concerned with two things:

a) the protection of civilians in North Korea, where 30% of the population is starving, where 400,000 people languish in Soviet-style gulags, and there is a near-complete absence of civil and political rights) – something that can probably only be accomplished by significant changes in the political culture of the DPRK and

b) the long-term stability of the region, where the status quo seems to be based on “containing” a (crazy and unpredictable) North Korea – a move that may ultimately fail, with catastrophic later consequences for civilians in Seoul and elsewhere.

So I’m wondering if the real answer to Dan’s question about chicken requires rethinking the structure of the game. I don’t have enough expertise on the region to translate this into concrete recommendations but the way I would re-frame the question is like this:

What are the range of options (if any) for sending costly signals to DPRK that imply that South Korea might be readier to absorb the consequences of a land war than DPRK would be to absorb the likelihood of losing one? For example, since one of the key concerns is the vulnerability of Seoul to artillery fire, what measures if any could be taken by South Korea and the international humanitarian community to reduce the likely civilian casualties of a strike from the north on Seoul, thereby making the threat of massive casualties less crippling in such an event? Or, what measures could be taken by South Korea’s allies to preempt such a strike rather than waiting for it (which would probably be within the limits of the UN Charter regime as well as responsibility to protect doctrine given recent DPRK actions)? And are there any options that put improving the lot of North Korea’s own civilian population on the same footing as concerns about Seoul’s civilians or regional stability?

I ask these questions of Dan in my latest bloggingheads diavlog. In asking these questions, I’m not suggesting (or at least not meaning to suggest with any certainty) that all-out war on the peninsula is desirable (though limited strikes may be – I’d have to understand the force structure in the region better than I do). But my key argument is that behaving in any situation as if we think war is unthinkable gives the opponent all the leverage. If this is actually a game of chicken as Dan argues, how might the policy dilemma be framed in such a way that North Korea, who actually wants to avoid war, might start to believe that it’s not the craziest party in the equation anymore or the one with the least to lose?

Readers, I pass the buck to you.

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Geopolitics and Empire


Gerard Toal and Gerry Kearns (both of Virginia Tech) threw a great little academic bash today: GEOPOL 2010, keynoted by a lunchtime presentation by Derek Gregory on “War Cultures” that was, among, other things, a marvelous demolition of the idea that “our” techno-strategic wars are clean and precise while “their” new wars are messy and imhumane. I had to leave before the day was over, but this morning I was on a panel entitled “Geopolitics and Empire” for which I had the standard “academic 10 minutes” (which means: about 15 minutes) to say something hopefully interesting. So, naturally, I talked about ‘civilization’, ‘civilizations’, and the legitimation of US foreign policy, since I know more about those things than I know about either empire or geopolitics narrowly defined. I suppose that I was commenting on what critical geographers call “the geopolitical imaginary,” though, so I was certainly in the general conceptual region that the organizers were aiming to cover.

I will spare you the details of a back-and forth between myself and Gerry on one hand, and Charles Kupchan and Chris Preble on the other, about whether there were “brute facts” of geography that necessarily influenced foreign policy; you can probably work that sequence out for yourself. But in case anyone is interested I am going to post the notes from which I spoke below the fold; an audio recording of my presentation can be found here on my general podcasting site.

my own work on global geopolitical imaginaries — or what I prefer to think of as conceptual infrastructures of social action in world politics — deals with what Max Weber would call “legitimate domination,” and for me the important part of that is the “legitimate” part. Let me throw out some conceptual vocabulary that I find helpful in interrogating these issues.

of course, by “legitimate” I don’t mean “ethically acceptable in some transcendental sense.” I mean rendered legitimate, in the eyes of some politically relevant audience, by the strategic use of rhetorical commonplaces and other cultural resources tossed up by productive discourses. This is another way of saying that boundaries have to be drawn around the set of possible courses of action.

it makes a difference who the actor is taken to be for a given course of action: who is “we.” Defining and solidifying the acceptable/unacceptable boundary is wrapped up with issues of who acts and in whose name action is performed, and different actors come with different social capacities. So we have “boundary commonplaces” — cultural and rhetorical resources that sustain, in principle, particular actors and their boundaries.

in this light, if we examine pronouncements about patterns of global action, we find that the socially relevant actor in question is often (contrary to the solemn pronouncements of orthodox International Relations theory) not a sovereign state, but a variety of other entities: individuals, ethnicities, nations, civilizations, and sometimes “humanity” itself. These actors may not be as well organized or institutionalized as sovereign states, but if we just follow the legitimation strategies they emerge quite clearly as empirical phenomena.

in the remainder of my time I want to talk about a particular social site — the articulation of US foreign policy — that I have investigated in some detail in tracing these boundary commonplaces. Note that “the US” here means not an a priori actor, but a set of social institutions and capacities occupying certain positions within global socio-politico-economic networks; it’s an analytical place to look, not an exogenous “artificial person” whose desires and interests we have to delineate. And “foreign policy” simply means political techniques for handling cross-border transactions with various others.

and if you look back at the history of US foreign policy, you quickly discover a traditional boundary commonplace — ‘American exceptionalism’ — that was used up until the late 19th century to legitimate a policy of keeping the US pure of outside influences (a “city on a hill”) and divorced from any “entangling alliances.” ‘American exceptionalism’ afforded the kind of policy of continental expansion we know as “manifest destiny,” largely through its incapacity to acknowledge the existence of constitutively equal rivals; in the language of the most ardent manifest destinarians, other races would simply “melt away” before the advance of the American empire. Here I use the term “empire” advisedly and deliberately, both because a) in terms of legitimation strategies, the non-recognition of diverse others is perhaps the most important aspect of imperialism; and b) from this perspective ‘American exceptionalism’ is an imperial boundary commonplace, leading to what Anders Stephanson has called “the empire of right.”

the history of US foreign policy in the 20th century is the history of various efforts to deal with ‘American exceptionalism,’ either by dissolving the exceptional specialness of the United States in some broader community, or by reworking ‘American exceptionalism’ so as to afford trans-continental or global expansion. Schematically, three alternatives: “the West”; civilization-in-the-singular; and humanity.

there are subtle but very important distinctions between these three commonplaces and the actions to which each is connected:

1) civilization-in-the-singular encompasses multiple states/nations/regions and is opposed only to the uncivilized, who are either savages (can be educated/reformed) or barbarians (have to be eliminated, or at least barred from entry). There are no comparable others for civilization-in-the-singular, and thus nothing that has to be taken into account as being in some measure an equal. So this is a relatively imperial boundary commonplace with respect to the uncivilized, even though it may promote or afford a relatively multilateral dialogue among the “civilized powers” of the world. This is Teddy Roosevelt’s alliance of the civilized great powers, Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations, and FDR’s grand alliance against “uncivilized” Nazi Germany.

2) a particular civilization, like “the West,” exists in a world of civilizational diversity, and its domain only stretches as far as its cultural area. “The West” has no business interfering in the internal affairs of other civilizations, and is instead reduced to “balancing” for and against them. Such a legitimation strategy stands on a recognition of differences between civilizations (even if that recognition is grudging, and accompanied by a wish that God/history/fate would eliminate the other). This is post-WWII containment, famously retrofitted for the multipolar post-Cold War world by Samuel P. Huntington as “the clash of civilizations.”

[Note that US Cold War policy is not purely “containment,” but also features a civilization-in-the-singular notion of “development” when we’re dealing with the so-called “Third World” — this is, so to speak, imperial tutelage, helping the savages learn to wear clothes, eat with silverware, and manage their balances of payments properly. Continuities with the “civilizing mission” of earlier colonialisms.]

3) humanity functions as the highest court of appeal; this is the realm where in our day biological imperatives (including the future survival of the species) get invoked, alongside concerns about the global environment and notions of transcendental individual dignity (human rights). As Carl Schmitt infamously pointed out, humanity as such has no enemy, not on this planet anyway (and parenthetically we could now veer off and talk about science fiction as a cultural arena for exploring the limits of the human, and I’m happy to talk about Battlestar Galactica as a seminal articulation of critical humanism at some later point). [sadly, no one asked about BSG in the q&a]

humanity, I want to suggest, is still up for grabs, and this is an important arena where active political struggles are going on in the US. It’s unclear whether it is going to be an imperial boundary commonplace wielded against “inhuman” and “evil” practices, as we see in neoconservative respecifications of ‘American exceptionalism’ to aggressive unilateralism; neocons, who had been dissatisfied throughout the Cold War with containment as “soft on Communism” because it let the communists survive, seized humanity as a warrant for imposing a US vision on the rest of the planet (GWB: liberty is God’s gift to humanity), even while refusing to bind the US to any global agreements (e.g. Kyoto Protocol, ABM treaty, Geneva conventions…). Neocons loathed “particular civilization” rhetoric, since that was the conceptual core of “containment,” so they swept “the West” etc. out of the public discussion.

but there is also a “humanity” notion with the US first among equals — “indispensable nation” — so something like global pluralism within an overarching framework (albeit imperfectly articulated and implemented). This is how I read the Obama gamble: reclaim humanity without being imperial about it (but even Obama sounds pretty imperialist sometimes, as in his Oslo speech and the reference to “evil”). If one doesn’t want to be a neocon, the alternative is to embrace traditional ‘American exceptionalism’ (not its neocon variant) and withdraw to the borders of the US sovereign state (and hole up to wait for the Second Coming; this is the populist side of what we might call with apologies to Jimmy Hendrix “the Sarah Palin Experience”). But as pragmatists might put it, holing up behind our borders is no longer a “live possibility,” given political-economic networks and our ever-growing sense of a climate emergency; “the West” seems to have outlived its usefulness as a term of political discourse, and the ship of a global “dialogue among civilizations” seems to have sailed as far as the US polity is concerned. But can there actually be a universal human community without imperialism? That may be the most important political question of the 21st century.

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Foreign Policy Charade

A few weeks ago, Steve Walt relied upon his own recent experiences writing about the Israeli Lobby to generate “a list of the lessons” he learned from “grabbing the third rail” of foreign policy discourse.

Interestingly, Walt’s somewhat older list of foreign policy taboo positions did not include challenging U.S. foreign policy towards Israel (or Israeli security policy). Had Walt declined to grab the rail this time?

I was reminded of the continued primary importance of these issues recently when reading a short book review in The Nation. Charles Glass, author of the review, used a sizable portion of his piece to quote the author (Emma Williams) quoting an unnamed aid worker in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. This is a potent and succinct critique of US policy:

“One day, we will look back on this charade with shame and ask ‘how in hell was this allowed to happen?’ We dress it up in shades of ‘security’–what are we talking about? That’s crap and we all know it. This is not about security. None of this is making anyone secure–the opposite is true, but we’re not going to say so, are we? This is about annexation of territory and slow ethnic cleansing. It’s making Israel less secure and a pariah nation on top of that. And we’re playing along with it, pouring billions of Euros and dollars into keeping the occupied going, keeping their heads above water while they’re boxed in like animals…. Oh, but don’t let anyone hear you say it. My God, we’re in trouble if we say it like it is. No no, we must toe the line, but why?”

I think most of us know why, though some evidence suggests that the discourse may be more open now.

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2010 Grawemeyer winner

Trita Parsi, who heads the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), has won the 2010 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. The prize is worth $200,000.

The press release describes the award-winning ideas from Parsi’s Yale University Press book:

Improving relations between Iran and Israel is the key to achieving lasting peace in the Middle East, says the winner of the 2010 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order.

Trita Parsi, co-founder and president of the National Iranian American Council, earned the prize for ideas set forth in his 2007 book, “Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the U.S.” He received the award from among 54 nominations worldwide.

The rivalry between Iran and Israel is driven more by a quest for regional power rather than by conflicting beliefs, Parsi says. Instead of trying to isolate Iran from the rest of the world, the United States should rehabilitate Iran into the Middle East’s economic and political order in return for Iran making significant changes in its behavior, including ending its hostilities against Israel.

Parsi interviewed more than 130 senior Israeli, Iranian and U.S. decision-makers before writing “Treacherous Alliance,” which also won a Council on Foreign Relations award last year for most significant foreign policy book.

The Chronicle of Higher Education covered the story, as did the local Louisville Courier Journal. This is from the latter:

Parsi said “the thesis of the book is that what you are seeing in the Middle East right now is not an ideological battle between democracy and theocracy. You’re seeing a classic power struggle between some of the most powerful states in the region.”

Iran and Israel are using the rest of the Middle East as a stage for that competition, he said.

“When you do have a strategic competition, and a strategic rivalry, there actually is room for compromises, there is room for accommodation and there is a possibility of a win-win situation,” Parsi said. “But if you have an ideological battle, then you are left with a position in which there is only the victory of one side over the other and conflict essentially becomes inevitable.”

Paradoxically, both Israel and Iran want their competition viewed as an ideological struggle because that is each nation’s best hope for winning support from friends in the region, he said. Few of those friends would be particularly interested only in helping Israel or Iran become predominant powers in the region, Parsi said.

The antipathy between the two nations goes back only about two decades, he said.

For most of their history, Parsi said, “the relations between the Jewish people and the Iranian people tended to be very positive.”

The Louisville newspaper story points out some of the recent controversy surrounding NIAC’s alleged lobbying — and many of the smears against Parsi are reminiscent of the attacks on John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt for their book on the Israeli lobby.

I’m quoted in the press release:

“Most efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East focus on the clash between Israel and the Palestinians,” said Rodger Payne, a UofL political science professor who directs the award. “Parsi says the best way to stabilize the region is for the U.S. to act in a more balanced way toward Iran and Israel, which would de-escalate the geopolitical and nuclear rivalry between the two.”

The book is an interesting work of IR scholarship, with a fundamentally realist take on the relations between Israel and Iran. Interestingly, Parsi argues that Iran long acted upon realist thinking towards Iran even as its talk reflected ideology.

Disclosure: I chair the Department Committee that overseas the administration of this prize. This entails soliciting external book reviews, chairing a first-round screening committee, bringing together a panel of experts to evaluate and rank a set of semi-finalists, and making sure that the information gleaned from these processes is advanced to a Final Selection Committee.

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Academia and “JournoList”

Yesterday, Michael Calderone ignited a media brouhaha with his Politico piece, “JournoList: Inside the echo chamber.”

For the past two years, several hundred left-leaning bloggers, political reporters, magazine writers, policy wonks and academics have talked stories and compared notes in an off-the-record online meeting space called JournoList.

Lou Dobbs and Keith Olbermann talked about the email listserv on their TV programs yesterday.

On the right, bloggers had a field day talking about conspiracy theories and speculating about high profile members of JournoList. Red State’s Erick Erickson:

I’m told such luminaries as David Shuster at MSNBC, Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, a host of New York Times magazine writers, Frank Rich, and others all collaborate on this list….

And it’s not just them. There are writers from the Nation, Newsweek, Huffington Post, New Republic, and a host of other left wing media sites on the list. They would have us believe that it is innocent — a gathering of intellectuals for stimulating debate.

i’m told otherwise. I am told, quite reliably I might add, that left wing bloggers and policy guys use this site as an express train to get their ideas into the mainstream media. And with sympathetic reporters who take the presuppositions made as truth, then add to those some original reporting, you have not an objective media, but a left wing echo chamber dominating print journalism and mainstream television journalism.

List founder Ezra Klien, of “juice box mafia” fame says that none of the named journalists are on JournoList. Olbermann said on his program that neither he nor Rachel Maddow are listmembers.

Later in the day, on his blog, Calderone explained the motivation for his story:

JList seemed to be a more comprehensive gathering of left-of-center opinion writers, mainstream reporters, bloggers, policy people, and academics than other private lists. As someone writing on the intersection of media and politics, I hoped to provide a window into how ideas—-large and small—-can be discussed daily in an informal, OTR way before making their way into the public conversation through blogs and print publications.

Now that’s a topic that might spark interest here at the Duck.

Should academics mingle privately “with several hundred left-leaning bloggers, political reporters, magazine writers, [and] policy wonks” to sound out ideas and potentially insert their scholarship into media reporting and/or policy?

Hamilton Nolan of Gawker buys the intellectual argument for the list — though he focuses on the benefit to the media:

“JournoList is the adult diaper of the liberal media world, soaking up the bullshit before it reaches the outside world. Carry on!”

David Sirota likewise says the story is about “Elite Media On Elite Media Talking to Elite Media About Elite Media.”

JournoList critics — speculating wildly, I should note — make it sound as if the listserv is an “echo chamber,” where “left-leaning bloggers, political reporters, magazine writers, policy wonks and academics” get together to craft a singular message to serve to the unwitting masses. They see JournoList as simply a conduit for progressive “groupthink.”

Member Brad DeLong, however, disagrees vehemently:

It’s not an echo chamber. I have never seen a less echo chamber-like space in my life. The headline is simply wrong….Basically, Ezra Klein’s Journolist is the Juice-Box Mafia: it is the people whom Ezra thinks are smart enough, committed enough to discussion and learning and education, and good-hearted enough to be worth emailing regularly–and the rest of us free-ride on the virtual space that is Ezra’s network.

Klein also makes the list sound far more interesting:

As for sinister implications, is it “secret?” No. Is it off-the-record? Yes. The point is to create a space where experts feel comfortable offering informal analysis and testing out ideas. Is it an ornate temple where liberals get together to work out “talking points?” Of course not. Half the membership would instantly quit if anything like that emerged. There are no government or campaign employees on the list.

I don’t have a lot of first-hand “on the record” experience interacting with the “elite media,” but my limited direct encounters with particular journalists aren’t great. I was on MSNBC with anchor Chris Jansing off-and-on for a couple of hours in fall 2001 when Colin Powell visited Louisville to give a speech on the Middle East. Though we sat next to each other for several hours in a makeshift studio, we rarely spoke to one another when we weren’t on camera. We certainly did not have the kind of exchange that apparently occurs on JournoList.

On my blog, I have explained my somewhat frustrating experiences interacting with journalists who have sought out my take on U.S. foreign policy or international politics. Though I offered fairly nuanced explanations of some complex issues to a reporter who used to write for Cox News Service, she typically used brief pithy quotes and little else. I’m certain that others in academe have had this experience with reporters.

These exchanges do not seem to serve the function of making our democracy more deliberative. It usually seems better just to write something and seek publication.

Does the blogosphere fare better? Over the years, a few prominent bloggers have occasionally picked up tidbits I’ve posted — usually the spicier political ones that I do not post to the Duck. Of course, I’ve written hundreds of more substantive posts read by a much smaller audience. This blog, like my own, isn’t necessarily meant to influence policy, but I’ll acknowledge that it would be nice to think that Duck members are making valuable contributions to dialogue in the public sphere.

In my scholarship, I’m typically critical of institutions that make decisions secretly and without the input of broader audiences. If I thought JournoList was doing that, I’d be more critical of it. However, it seems to be a place for genuine discussion so that ideas can be tested and improved before they are fully formed and embraced. Individual reporters, bloggers, magazine writers, policy wonks, and yes, academics can then take the benefits of those discussions and present them publicly to be tested in a wider public sphere — even a classroom. The “off the record” policy serves to open discussion in a particular forum and would not seem to limit discussion in a broader forum.

Conceivably, JournoList might serve as a valuable “counterpublic sphere.”

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Volleys in the war on terror

Barack Obama may not have formally ended the war on terrorism, but he’s certainly making dramatic changes in the way it is prosecuted. From Spencer Ackerman this morning:

take a look at his first not-even-48 hours in office. He’s suspended the Guantanamo Bay military commissions, a first step toward shuttering the entire detention complex. He’s assembled his military commanders to discuss troop withdrawals from Iraq. He’s issued a far-reaching order on transparency in his administration that mandates, among other things, a two-year ban on any ex-lobbyists working on issues they lobbied for. And now he’s shutting down the CIA’s off-the-books detention complexes in the war on terrorism.

That’s a remarkable start. A bit later in that post, Ackerman mentions that the CIA will also have to start complying with the Army’s revised Field Manual (which is compliant with the Geneva Conventions) when interrogating terror suspects.

To the likely approval of UK Foreign Minister David Miliband, these moves “uphold our commitments to human rights and civil liberties both at home and abroad.” They also de-emphasize the military dimension of the conflict and begin to disentangle disparate foes previously lumped together as terrorists.

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Foreign Policy and the Blogosphere

Many Duck readers probably already noticed the announcement, but perhaps not everyone given the holiday period: two prominent international relations scholar-bloggers are teaming with various scholars, journalists, and former policymakers at Foreign Policy magazine to create a new venture in journalism, blogging and policy analysis.

Effective Monday, neither Marc Lynch, aka Abu Aardvark, nor Dan Drezner will be blogging at their former websites. They will be part of the new Foreign Policy team.

Congratulations — and best wishes — to both of them!

Here’s how journalist Laura Rozen explains the website and her role in it:

an exciting new daily, online site starting Monday featuring a bunch of high-powered foreign policy and national security thinkers, writers, reporters and practitioners. Among them, long time Washington Post defense correspondent Tom Ricks, author of “Fiasco,” who will be writing a daily blog, “The Best Defense,” on all aspects of hard power; Arab world expert Marc Lynch of the excellent Abu Aardvark blog and George Washington University, and Daniel Drezner of the Fletcher School, are both moving their blogs to the site. Foreign Policy editor Carolyn O’Hara will closely observe all things Hillary (including the array of pants suits) in a new blog, Madam Secretary. Former Bush I NSC official, Rice counselor and 9/11 commission executive director Philip Zelikow, former Pentagon comptroller Dov Zakheim, former NSC official (and Palin foreign policy advisor) Steve Biegun, Bush-era NSC advisor Peter Feaver, and former Condi Rice speechwriter and current Foreign Policy editor Christian Brose will be blogging “the Shadow Government,” unclassified for all of us civilians. Former Clinton administration official and NSC chronicler David Rothkopf will interpret the mysteries of Washington powerbrokers; and Harvard’s Stephen Walt, author of “The Israel Lobby,” will offer his Realist take on global affairs. Veteran Washington Post foreign correspondent and national editor Susan Glasser is executive-editing the whole thing, with help from Foreign Policy online editor Blake Hounshell, and deputy online editor Rebecca Frankel.

As for me [Laura Rozen], I will be reporting and writing a reported, scoopy online daily column, The Cable, on all things foreign policy.

I’ll be reading.

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Nuk-ya-lar Two-Step

As I always tell my World Politics 101 students, the word is “nuclear,” folks. Noo-clee-ahr. No such word as “nuk-ya-lar”!

Yet here we go, Sarah Palin on the stage pontificating about nukes (HT to Moira Whelan at Democracy Arsenal):

Seems like a silly thing to bitch about, eh? But goddammit, the thought of listening to my President or Vice-President further embarrass our country and belittle the incredible threat posed by these weapons by mangling that word for the next four to eight years, well, let’s just say my botherment is probably at least as disproportionate as the utility of nukes to any conceivable military objective.

Why is that, I’m asking myself? Why do I work so hard to make sure my students don’t reiterate this simple error in job interviews, an error for which they might, after all, be forgiven after listening to Washington for the last four years? Why do I fixate on word pronunciation when the substance of Palin’s remarks was about nine zillion times as scary? (In case you didn’t notice, her answer to the question about nuclear use was an answer about non-proliferation – she clearly has no basic literacy in the nuances of nuclear policy discourse.)

So why sweat the details? Because it reflects on me when my students or my President sound uneducated in foreign affairs. Because of what it says about me as an American when I allow myself to be represented on the world stage by someone who, whether smart or not, simply doesn’t care enough about basic diplomatic protocols to do simple things like learn the vernacular. I’ve been embarrassed for four years by my President’s inability to form a sentence. Whether this is simply a strategy to make Palin look “folksy” doesn’t matter. Whether it actually reflects on her intelligence, irrelevant.

It is the image this communicates about Americans abroad that matters. The perception that we care so little about the rest of the world that we are willing to put the power to affect the entire globe into the hands of someone who seems not to care would be as damaging to our soft power abroad and our national security as any US policy. It is part of what makes [some] people abroad despise us, not just our leaders. I would be just as hesitant to vote for a Democrat who was so brazenly and callously indifferent to the basic rules and syntax of foreign affairs.

OK. Rant over for now.

Update: OK, OK, Mike Innes has definitively proven that my statement that “people abroad despise us” for electing idiots, not just the idiots we elect, was an exaggeration… only some people abroad do.

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