The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Fish out of water?

July 19, 2008

The figure at right is borrowed from a U.S. government website of Dennis A Wolf, a statistician with Oak Ridge National Lab. This particular image relates to a short article: “Assessing Fish Susceptibility to Predation.

As anyone can clearly see, fish exposed “to a startling stimulus” do not flop. Rather, they exhibit “the characteristic C-shape (see figure)… behavioral response.” They start swimming in a completely different direction.

Perhaps foreign policy observers should apply this knowledge when analyzing the Bush administration’s latest policies towards the axis of evil:

This morning, the Washington Post features this headline: “U.S., Iraq Agree To ‘Time Horizon’“:

President Bush and Iraq’s prime minister have agreed to set a “time horizon” for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq as part of a long-term security accord they are trying to negotiate by the end of the month, White House officials said yesterday.

The decision, reached during a videoconference Thursday between Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, marks the culmination of a gradual but significant shift for the president, who has adamantly fought — and even ridiculed — efforts by congressional Democrats to impose what he described as artificial timetables for withdrawing U.S. forces.

Today’s Los Angeles Times has an op-ed by Graham Allison about the latest U.S. policy towards Iran: “Bush’s U-turn toward common sense.” The subheading explains Allison’s argument: “Talks with Iran signify that the administration has finally abandoned a failed part of its foreign policy.” Professor Allison:

Anyone with doubts about the extent of the shift in the U.S. approach to Iran should look no further than the howls from the architect of the first-term non-engagement policy toward North Korea and Iran, John Bolton. The administration is guilty of yet another “U-turn,” he argues now, which is “further evidence of the administration’s complete intellectual collapse.” Most reasonable people, however, will applaud this flip-flop toward reality.

In his op-ed, Allison mentions the recent, um, shift, in U.S. policy toward North Korea. The June 27 AP headline in the International Herald Tribune was fairly subtle: “Bush administration lifts North Korea sanctions.” The article’s text identified the dramatic policy reversal, complete with obligatory quote from John Bolton:

President Bush stepped into the Rose Garden to announce plans to remove North Korea from the U.S. terrorism blacklist and ease sanctions against a country he once branded as part of his “axis of evil.”

…”It’s shameful,” said John Bolton, Bush’s former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “This represents the final collapse of Bush’s foreign policy.”

I guess Bolton doesn’t recognize the need for the “characteristic C-shape behavioral response” to a “startling stimulus.”

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Rodger A. Payne is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Louisville. He serves on the University’s Sustainability Council and was a co-founder of the Peace, Conflict, and Social Justice program. He is the author of dozens of journal articles and book chapters and coauthor, with Nayef Samhat, of Democratizing Global Politics: Discourse Norms, International Regimes, and Political Community (SUNY, 2004). He is currently working on two major projects, one exploring the role of narratives in international politics and the other examining the implications of America First foreign policy.