The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

My challenge to the Drezner challenge: who would bother with us?

April 27, 2011

Stephanie has seconded below Drezner’s challenge to name three books most useful for a President-in-waiting. Please obey her.

These should not be academic in nature because, Dan implies, politicians are not up to it intellectually. It is true. Politicians are not a smart lot. Often when I hear a “strategic logic of…” talk, I use the same tried-and-true joke: have you ever met a Congressman? It always gets a laugh because it 1) is probably true: so many political scientists spend their careers avoiding the people they are writing about and vastly overestimate the latter’s cleverness, and 2) plays to the lowest-common-denominator: everyone hates politicians. In other words, it says something satirically while being coarse, kind of like South Park.

Nevertheless, we have a President in office who is not an idiot. Assuming that he had the mental agility and inclination, what would we have him read OF THE STUFF THAT ACADEMICS HAVE WRITTEN? This is my challenge to you. The problem is not only the sophistication of the audience; it is that practically every approach and research tradition I think of goes out of its way to minimize any role for agency in foreign affairs. We are telling them: you’re not important. My biggest complaint with the field is that there is so little politics in international relations.

Let’s go down the list.

Structural realism: There’s nothing you can do. Ride the structural wave. Let it buffet you. You have no free will. No one will remember you anyhow.

Classical realism: Be prudent, whatever that means.

Cognitive psychology: You cannot be prudent. You are not up to this job. No one is. It is too complicated for our brains. You will inevitably fail.

Rationalism: Follow your inner strategic logic. It will come to you when the time is right, like the force. Even if it doesn’t, you will act “as if” you were rational, and that will be fine.

Liberalism: Don’t badmouth multilateral institutions and the Council on Foreign Relations will write nice things about you.

Constructivism: Iran will stop being a threat if we stop treating them like a threat. Seriously, they say that.

The democratic peace literature: There are two types of states. Good ones and bad ones. Check the Polity score and go pick some fights. For help, consult Bruce Russett. Ideally, you’d like to expand democracy across the world. Good luck. We’re not sure how to do that. You could talk to Bush. He might have some suggestions.

The civil war literature: Partition leads to peace. No it doesn’t! Counterinsurgency can be defeated. No it, can’t! Move away, Mr. President, there is nothing to see here….

The humanitarian intervention literature: Don’t even think about it. I know you are well meaning, but you WILL f*@k this up.

Off the top of my head, I can think of a few things that I would recommend, and I’d like to hear yours, if for no other reason to highlight good relevant research. You will recognize some names.

1) Charli Carpenter’s “Women and Children First.” I just used this in my undergraduate course today. Boy, is it good. it alerts us to our implicit gender biases and gives us something to look out for, with which we might make better policy.

2) Patrick Jackson and Ron Krebs’ “Twisting Tongues and Twisting Arms.” Some people can argue better than others. Let’s help them figure it out.

3) Jacques Hymans’ Psychology of Nuclear Proliferation. We think that everyone wants the bomb, but that isn’t really true. Let’s figure out who does and who doesn’t.

This is just a start. I’d like to hear yours.

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Rathbun is a professor of International Relations at USC. Brian Rathbun received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley in 2002 and has taught at USC since 2008. He has written four solo-authored books, on humanitarian intervention, multilateral institution building, diplomacy and rationality. His articles have appeared or are forthcoming in International Organization, International Security, World Politics, International Studies Quartlery, the Journal of Politics, Security Studies, the European Journal of International Relations, International Theory, and the Journal of Conflict Resolution among others. He is the recipient of the 2009 USC Parents Association Teaching and Mentoring Award. In 2019 he will be recognized as a Distinguished Scholar by the Diplomatic Studies Section of the International Studies Association.