Day: September 16, 2010

The Latest in Mole Whacking

Yesterday, the New York Times had a story about huge proposed increases in military assistance to Yemen, framed around the “war on terror.” Since the Christmas day 2009 attempted airliner bombing that was linked to Yemen, the U.S. was allocated about $155 million in military aid for FY 2010 — up from about $5 million in FY 2006.

The Pentagon’s latest plan calls for $1.2 billion in the next six years, about $200 million annually. That’s nearly a 25% increase from 2010 and an enormous change in commitment over a short period of time.

Apparently, by comparison, Aghanistan is so 2009:

“Yemen is the most dangerous place,” said Representative Jane Harman, a senior California Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee who visited Yemen in March. “We’re much more likely to be attacked in the U.S. by someone inspired by, or trained by, people in Yemen than anything that comes out of Afghanistan.”

Since the Pentagon claims that there are only about 100 al Qaeda personnel in Afghanistan, this quote may well be literally true.

Of course, Harman says nothing about Pakistan, which has for some time been the real ground zero in the war on terrorism. The unpopular drone strikes demonstrate how that part of the AfPak war is being fought.

Those of us who have some doubts about the ability of military force to fight terrrorism (and achieve other foreign policy objectives) will be relieved to read this paragraph:

Daniel Benjamin, the State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator, said in a policy talk last week that American-backed assaults by Yemeni forces on Al Qaeda may “deny it the time and space it needs to organize, plan and train for operations.” But in the long term, he added, countering extremism in Yemen “must involve the development of credible institutions that can deliver real economic and social progress.”

There is another big problem with the Pentagon’s plan — Yemen’s relative disinterest in the mission:

Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen scholar at Princeton…said the priorities of President Saleh, an autocrat whose family has ruled [Yemen] for three decades, do not coincide with those of the United States.

“If we’re just pouring money and equipment into the Yemeni military in the hopes that it will be used against Al Qaeda,” Mr. Johnsen said, “that hope doesn’t match either with history or current reality.”

The whack-a-mole metaphor has been widely used by critics of U.S. foreign policy — to describe outcomes in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

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The new Global Views survey is here! The new Global Views survey is here!

I admit it, I usually look forward to the release of US and international public opinion data. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs just released this year’s Global Views survey aptly titled Constrained Internationalism: Adapting to New Realities. Only a quick look so far, but a couple of things jump out on first glance:

First, these views strike me as far more rational (in the Page and Shapiro sense) than the general tenor of elite and media discourse. In the past decade, the US has spent roughly half of the world’s expenditures on defense (i.e., slightly more than every other country in the world combined). Despite that, most Americans appear to believe that US influence and power in the world has dropped precipitously in the same time period. Apparently, not enough bang for the buck. As a result, the public wants to be more “selective” in engaging the world. No surprise here.

But, consistent with data over the past twenty years, this isn’t a call for isolationism. The attitudes continue to show support for the US to “do its share” to solve the worlds’ problems and include a lot of support for maintaining American military bases abroad coupled with a desire to see more multilateral burden-sharing. Seems to be a call for smarter international engagement with more diplomacy and less reliance on US military as the cornerstone of US policy.

Second, the public has far less faith in the utility of military power than it did in the months after 9/11. Again, given the fiascos in Iraq and and Afghanistan, no real surprise here. But contrary to the increasing chorus of “bomb Iran” or “let Israel bomb Iran” voices, these attitudes also carry over to assessments of US obligations to Israel in its feud with Iran. According to the Executive Summary:

“A majority of Americans (56%) think that if Israel were to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, Iran were to retaliate against Israel, and the two were to go to war, the United States should not bring its military forces into the war on the side of Israel and against Iran.

Fewer than half of Americans show a readiness to defend Israel against an attack by its neighbors.”

The report does not reveal the saliency of these particular attitudes and the views could well change if we move from hypothetical survey questions to real world events. But, it is clear the American public is wary of yet another escalating conflict and war. And, while there is a long history of robust US public support for Israel, these views do strike me as carrying very real and additional risks for the Israelis.

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Relevant? Who Me?

OK, I’ll bite. Lots being written these days about the relevance of political science. The latest today from Stephen Hayward at American Enterprise Institute.

I’ll join with John Sides that this is an intellectually sloppy caricature of the discipline. But, I’m always struck by the question — often posed by political scientists themselves — are we relevant? Here’s a little thought experiment on the IR/Comparative side of the discipline: let’s say that all IR scholars (security and IPE) and comparativists simply stop their formal and informal advising to the US government, think tanks, NGOs, and the US media. No more participation on panels/reports at USIP, Brookings, the Atlantic Council, or the Wilson Center (whose executive summaries are on every LA’s desk on the Hill); no more briefings at INR, FSI, or out at Langley (that often are noted in memos up the chain). No briefings, lectures, or conferences at NDU, NATO, or anywhere in the Pentagon (that are frequently plagiarized in subsequent briefing slides); no more background conversations with the Times or NPR or local media outlets around the country.

The reality is that all of these institutions rely to some extent on the scholarship of political scientists who do field work (especially in countries and regions not always on top of the fold), who compile data and systematically compare historical and/or contemporary cases, who think about broader trends, and yes, who develop models and use various types of methodologies to do more rigorous testing of empirical evidence. Hundreds of political scientists descend on DC every month to present their work and share their insights at these institutions.

If relevance is defined by the frequency of citation by Washington-based journalists, then yeah, I’d agree political scientists seem to be living in backwater.

But, if relevance is defined in terms of transmission of knowledge and information, albeit incomplete and often probabilistic, to help inform internal policy debates, my experience tells me there’s plenty of relevance. In the past few years alone, we can see the influence on policy discussions and development from scholarship on the democratic peace, smart sanctions, the complexities and limitations of state building, as well as a lot of region/country specific scholarship on the challenges in the Balkans, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

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