Tag: ISA 2010

Wilson’s legacy

Duck readers may recall that just over two years ago Charli posted about an interesting and provocative Deborah Boucoyannis article arguing that realist notions of the balance-of-power are actually liberal ideas about checks-and-balances.

The post generated a lot of comments (which apparently cannot be linked under the new software), including a fairly long and somewhat critical one from Duck founder Dan Nexon. Despite the flaws he noted, Dan nonetheless wrote that “the argument…is persuasive; she’s made a very important contribution, at a minimum, in arguing that the ‘balance of power’ is too big to restrict to realism, and ought to be treated as an object of analysis in its own right.” Later, the author responded to the critics.

As Charli said in her post, if an idea long associated with realism can be explained from a liberal viewpoint, then many of us must rethink how we teach IR theory. In my case, I’d long compared the balance of power to domestic checks and balances so that students familiar with the latter could better understand the IR concept. However, I’d never made the argument Boucoyannis presented.

This exchange came to mind recently when I read Stanford historian David Kennedy’s brief essay in the January/February Atlantic Monthly. Kennedy makes a novel-to-me argument about Woodrow Wilson’s famous call that “The world must be made safe for democracy.” This time, however, the scholar asserts that an idea long associated with liberalism (nee Wilsonianism!) in IR was actually tied to a practical realism:

Wilson tempered his diplomatic ideals with a pragmatic comprehension of the modern world, of its possibilities and its dangers. He respected the pride and the prerogatives of other peoples. He shrewdly calculated the reach as well as the limits of American power. Perhaps most important, he was attentive to what kind of foreign policy, resting on principles of moral legitimacy, the American public would embrace.

Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman took the lessons. They asked only that the world be made safe for democracy, not that the world be made democratic. They understood the complexities of human cussedness and the constraints on even America’s formidable power. They would surely have hesitated to wage a preemptive war against Iraq that grossly overestimated America’s capacity to achieve its goals.

In the end, Kennedy praises a set of four “principles [that] constitute a blend of realism and idealism, not a stark choice between them, and their careful application over several decades represents a singular achievement for American diplomacy.”

At ISA, I served as a discussant on a panel about continuity or change in U.S. foreign policy from Bush to Obama. Two of the three papers quoted the familiar Wilson line in a way that reflected the taken-for-granted meaning — and widely shared view of its crusading implications. I pointed the authors to Kennedy’s piece because it was fresh in mind, but it is certainly possible that this is an established argument that I’ve somehow missed or forgotten. Does a longer version appear elsewhere?

Kennedy’s argument about Wilson serves also as a fairly clear warning that neoconservative calls for a “democratic realism” are dangerous and not Wilsonian. Neocons want to employ American (military) power to advance democracy. Wilson and his successors wanted to secure democracy in a dangerous world.

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ISA — Katrina’s Legacy


I’ll have more to say about the ISA conference in a few upcoming posts, but let me begin with some comments on the host city. ISA was held in New Orleans, in part, to provide a lift for the city after Hurricane Katrina five years ago. Somewhere around 5,000 folks descended on the city with cash in hand to help the local economy. The conference started the day after Mardi Gras and came less than two weeks after the Saints’ Super Bowl victory. A lot of locals commented that the previous two weeks really were the best two weeks for the city in years. Indeed, walking around the French Quarter, it was easy to forget about Katrina.

But, I joined Leslie Vinjamuri, Stephen Hopgood,and Lise Howard for the Grey Line bus company’s Katrina tour (check out the video in the link). It’s a bit uncomfortable being a “disaster tourist,” but all four of us have done work on humanitarian relief and recovery, post-conflict transitions, and state building in other countries. It was eye-opening to see similarities here in a US city to many of the things we study abroad.

The city still bears serious scars of the disaster. Five years after the hurricane, there remains extensive devastation (abandoned and heavily damaged houses and businesses) and limited rebuilding in parts of New Orleans (notably the lower 9th Ward). I have traveled and worked extensively in the Balkans over the past fifteen years. There was less lasting devastation and more rebuilding in Sarajevo and even in Mostar by 2000 (five years after the war) than there is in the poorer districts of New Orleans five years after Katrina — though neither Sarajevo nor Mostar were picnics.

Whether its disaster recovery or post-conflict reconstruction, the story is really how to go about building institutional capacity to create appropriate incentives for populations to return, to alleviate poverty and develop mechanisms to ensure a base-level distribution of wealth, to facilitate functioning (and functional) markets, and to establish conditions for local communities to govern and adjudicate competing claims on authority. In New Orleans, there is a still a significant lag in all of these. About one-third of the city’s pre-Katrina population left and likely will not return, poverty is rampant, property rights remain in flux, institutional mechanisms to encourage and protect investments are absent (i.e., available credit and sufficient insurance pools against catastrophic loss), and economic development and employment opportunities are largely stalled.

I don’t want to overstate the parallels between post-Katrina New Orleans and cases of post-conflict transition (there are significant differences) but I think New Orleans is worth a closer look for anyone working on international cases of reconstruction, development, and state-building.

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More ISA highlights

I spent a fair amount of time at ISA attending panels and very little sitting in the NOLA bars. Perhaps I wasn’t fully engaged in the “business of conferencing,” though we’d all probably agree that “ISA is what we make of it.”

So, what did I make of ISA 2010 (beyond what I wrote Saturday)?

Over several delicious dinners through the week, I learned that Abita Amber is over-carbonated. This Duck recommends ordering the Turbodog.

The next time ISA selects a hotel within a short walk of a casino, I propose that a group of IR theorists nab a table and play Texas Hold ‘Em. Will the rational choice theorists prevail? Is it likely that a critical theorist will count outs and carefully calculate pot odds before gambling? Will the group be able to come to shared understandings about playable hands — and identify the sucker(s) at the table?

Alternatively, next time ISA is deep into March, perhaps a bunch of fantasy baseball fans should draft a league. So far, I have one taker.

Here are some academic highlights from conference panels I attended:

1.) Kathyrn Sikkink scolded realists for (a) telling her over the years that all sorts of (progressive) changes “can’t happen” in world politics, and then (b) for explaining after they happen that these changes were completely foreseeable and within the realm of normal politics.

I kept this in mind when informed by Robert Art that nuclear abolition is “as likely as hell freezing over.”

2.) Charles Glaser also deflated talk of Obama-inspired momentum toward nuclear disarmament by arguing that if it was going to happen any time soon, then the U.S. and Russia should be able to negotiate a new START deal in about 5 minutes. But they can’t.

Credit for the short version goes to Anne Harrington de Santana: it’s really difficult to kick a “nuclear fetish.”

3.) Jerel Rosati and Patrick Haney think it’s good that we don’t know much about National Security Advisor James Jones, even after a full year on the job. His relative invisibility likely makes him an honest broker for advise within the White House. I’m not sure that this visit to CNN affirms their point.

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Let the Post-ISA Blogging Begin…

More thoughtful posts to come. But for starters, here are some tidbits from conference papers I read or heard presented while AWOL at the International Studies Association conference last week:

1) Isaac Kamola: The recent securitization of Somali piracy is a pretty big mystery given how few vital interests are at stake. Peter Andreas points out that it’s therefore also a mystery that no major IR journal has published a serious IR paper on this topic yet.

2) Sebastian Kaempf quoting Charles Law of UC Berkely: “Going to war actually saves US troops’ lives.” (Relative to gun violence, car wrecks etc associated with life on the civilian front.) Still trying to track down the original study that shows this is true to see how the risk assessment is computed.

3) Shorter Iver Neumann: “Battlestar Galactica is all about Mormonism.” (Really. Check out the full paper in the ISA Archive.)

Some more pedestrian insights here.

Can’t wait to hear from Patrick, Dan, Laura, Stephanie, Vikash, Jon, Peter, Rodger and Craig on their conference adventures.

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