The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Rice Gives Political Scientists a Bad Name


December 18, 2008

Yglesias points out an interview Condi Rice gave where she claimed:

And I’m especially, as a political scientist, not as Secretary of State, not as National Security Advisor, but as somebody who knows that structurally it matters that a geostrategically important country like Iraq is not Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

Matt astutely points out that:

My colleague Ryan Powers reminds us that, in fact, many of the leading lights of the international relations subfield of political science tried to warn the country against the invasion of Iraq.

The warning he links to is a full-page NYT advertisement opposing the war, signed by the leading scholars in our field.

Many points on this deserve comment, but as I’m behind in grading final exams, 3 will have to suffice.

First, I would highly recommend that you revisit the work on this subject done by members of this blog. Patrick’s piece on Weberian Activism is worth re-reading as you recall this debate. Dan re-posted the letter on this blog here and you can see a reporting of the signatures here. While not as high-profile as the NYT add, this effort of hundreds of scholars in the field, showed remarkable consensus of judgment that as a political scientist, Rice is running quite counter to the analysis of nearly everyone else in her field.

Second, as a bit of political science, her analysis is quite shallow. As I’m in final exam grading mode, as a final exam for her tenure with the Bush Administration, this effort does not merit a passing grade. First off, many political scientists flat out disagree. The billiard ball model of the international system, espoused by realists, suggests that all states react to systemic, that is to say, structural, pressures in similar ways. Thus, it makes no difference structurally if its Saddam Hussien’s Iraq or anyone else’s Iraq, as the balance of power works the same for all. I believe, as a Political Scientist, Rice styled herself a “realist.” That’s an F for IR theory for the semester.

And finally, I agree with Matt on this vital point, and think it deserves more emphasis:

One of the most annoying habits of the press and the DC conventional wisdom more generally has been a persistent habit of ignoring these facts in favor of the rhetoric of “seriousness” that casts war opponents as a much of ignorant hippies and foul-mouthed bloggers who, at best, were right about Iraq by accident or something. But the vast majority of credentialed experts in Middle East regional studies, and the vast majority of credentialed experts in international relations have always been extremely skeptical of the adventure in Iraq. The main supporters of the war have been politicians, magazine and newspaper pundits, and a smallish group of heavily politicized think tank-based experts and “experts” who, for whatever reason, are granted privileged access to the media over people in a better position to offer genuinely independent analysis. I think many political observers watching the debate unfold in 2002-2003 would have gotten the impression that most experts were more-or-less backing the president on Iraq. But while it’s certainly true that most op-ed columnist and most Brookings fellows were behind Bush, the broader group of political scientists who specialize in these issues has always taken the opposite view.

So many of the arguments for the war were so shallow and so dismissive of an entire corpus of knowledge that understood the foolishness of this enterprise.

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Dr. Peter Howard focuses on US foreign policy and international security. He studies how the implementation of foreign policy programs produces rule-based regional security regimes, conducting research in Estonia on NATO Expansion and US Military Exchange programs and South Korea on nuclear negotiations with North Korea.