Month: June 2011 (Page 1 of 3)

Stuff Political Scientists Like to Obsess About

 Not to step on Brian‘s territory, but I just wanted to cross-post here something that I wanted to propose.
One of the recurring themes on my blog and at the Poli Sci Job Rumor site is that of rankings.  See here, here, and here for a taste of my fixation.

Anyhow, I am always reminded of a simple fact when I see any political science ranking of journals, presses, departments whatever: that whenever a ranking is suggested or revised, it is always suggested by someone who benefits from the new ranking.  Nobody ever proposes a ranking that puts their department lower.  So, Godwin’s Law–that the longer any internet discussion, the probability of Hitler/Nazis/Holocaust being mentioned approaches one–has inspired me to propose a new law.

What would we name the following law: Any ranking of any aspect of the academic enterprise will produce revised rankings that improve the standing of the folks who produce the revised rankings?  In honor of a semi-anonymous person who published amusing pieces at PS (see here for an example if you can–gated),* so how about Wuffle’s Law?
* A search of Wuffle will produce many more contributions than I had remembered.

Who Will Arrest Gaddafi? Not It!

On June 27th the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, his son Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, and chief of military intelligence Abdualla Al-Senussi for:

crimes against humanity (murder and persecution) allegedly committed across Libya from 15 February 2011 until at least 28 February 2011, through the State apparatus and Security Forces.

The judges believe there is “reasonable grounds” to attribute criminal responsibility to these three individuals for the deaths of (at least) hundreds of civilians during the protests. There are no allegations of the mass rapes Ocampo publicly suspected were being fueled by the distribution of Viagra, and human rights groups claim there is no evidence to support such claims yet. Ocampo indicated it’s possible that, upon further investigation, allegations of widespread sexual violence could be added to the charges.

So far there are a few issues related to the arrests warrants that are generating debate.

Skeptics of international justice claim that the ICC has complicated peace negotiations, that Gaddafi cannot be deterred, and therefore that the arrest warrants will leave him no option but to dig in his heels. For a typical articulation of this argument see Marc Thiessen’s post here – where he argues that the arrest warrants foreclose the possibility of Gaddafi’s vertical (voluntary) departure. Another variant of the skeptic position questions the timing of this judicial intervention, as Richard Falk criticizes here. He argues there is a political calculus behind the timing of the arrest warrant and essentially suggests that NATO and the ICC are colluding to wage lawfare (i’m not going to stoke the lawfare fire in this post).

Others, like Stewart M. Patrick at the Council on Foreign Relations, contend that these types of arguments present a false tradeoff of peace and justice. Human Rights Watch made a similar statement, which is consistent with their advocacy on international justice. David Scheffer makes the case at Foreign Policy to call of the missiles and send in special ops – to delink military and judicial intervention. Certainly there was never any indication that Gaddafi would negotiate and in that sense the ICC has a null effect. Realistic idealists (yeah – i just made that label up) would argue that no one expects Gaddafi to turn himself in or be deterred. But it is hoped that the ICC’s intervention will delegitimize his leadership and encourage and/or obligate other parties to arrest him. This is the real practical challenge….
States Parties to the Rome Statute are, of course, obligated to arrest Gaddafi if he enters their territory. President Bashir’s worldly travels tell that this option is unlikely. Ocampo’s statement made the most likely options for arrest very clear:

Libya has the primary responsibility to implement the arrest warrants. Libya is not a State Party of the Rome Statute, but it is a member of the United Nations since 1955. Libya has to comply with UN Security Resolution 1970…Gaddafi’s inner circle is the first option: they can be part of the problem and be prosecuted, or they can be part of the solution, work together and with other Libyans and stop the crimes.

Second option, the Interim National Council has expressed its will to implement the arrest warrants…International forces operating under UN Security Council Resolution 1973 have no specific mandate to implement arrest warrants and the Court is not asking for that…”

So there we have it. Except the rebel forces do not have the capacity and Gaddafi’s “inner circle” does not have any incentive (short of assured amnesties) to carry out these arrests. And while NATO diplomatically supports the arrest warrants, its mandate remains only to protect civilians and not to be contracted out as the ICC’s global police force. Maybe this will go the way it did for Gbagbo in Cote d’Ivoire, whereby the opposing rebel forces can grab Gaddafi with the logistical support of foreign forces and avoid a taboo form of regime change.

(Cross-posted at Global Transitional Justice)


Partisanship vs. Policy: the Housing Bubble Debate

Morgensen’s and Rosner’s new book appears to have breathed new life into claims that responsibility for the housing bubble can be laid at the feet of Democrats, ACORN, and Fannie and Freddie. Given that buyers of the book at Amazon are also snatching up works by Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, and Andrew Breitbart, I’m pretty sure that it is on its way to becoming the housing-bubble bible for all those who also are learning how Constantine’s conversion to Christianity and the Battle of Poitiers were key “tipping points” in the history of human freedom.

It strikes me as unlikely that a closer chronicle of the shady political dealings surrounding housing policy in the 1990s tells us very much new about the causes of the bubble. But I find it interesting that conservatives are so gleeful about their account because it implicates a lot of Democrats. As a partisan matter, that’s obviously of interest. But as a policy matter? It seems odd that conservatives would be so eager to swallow a story ultimately more consonant with progressive goals than their own.

The underlying problems here center around deregulation (including the loosening of lending standards), a federal reserve that refused to exercise oversight or take steps to deal with a growing bubble, and the influence of moneyed interests on policy. The drive to extend homeownership to poor minorities who had, because of discriminatory practices, been excluded from access to housing equity, certainly played a role here, e.g., it led to some well-intentioned policies that soon became co-opted by housing lenders.

But without those other mechanisms we can’t really get from the “progressive” policy (more homeownership for poor minorities) to the current economic crisis, and those mechanisms are overwhelmingly ones that progressives, rather than conservatives, want to address. Indeed, can overwhelming proportion of the failures attributed to the Clinton administration stem from its tack rightward on financial and regulatory policy. The bad behavior of Democrats largely centers around their pursuit of corporate cash.

However desperately folks like Mead may try to link this to a general criticism of third way politics, the core “problems” have little to do with the progressive elements of that fusion.* Conservative policies aren’t designed to rectify these failures, but to entrench them in American politics and policy.

*The giveaway? One of Mead’s examples of a “third way scheme” discredited by Morgensen’s and Rosner’s account of the housing bubble is the “cap-and-trade” approach to reducing carbon emissions. But the cap-and-trade approach was embraced by progressives in an attempt to find common ground with conservatives, who generally supported the approach until Obama proposed it.**

**While I’m on the subject of Mead, I remember how every “economic collapse” scenario from when I debated in high school (c. 1991) culminated with a quotation from him about how a major economic slump would lead to outbreaks of interstate conflict around the globe. As it obviously did. Just look at all those interstate wars in, er, well, uh….


The Balkans after Mladic

With Mladic’s arrest last month, Bosnia and the rest of the Balkans are getting some much needed international attention. The New York Times has a nice run-down of some of the debates about the situation in Bosnia — especially the debate between Kurt Bassuener from the Democratization Policy Council and Gerald Knaus from the European Stabilization Initiative. The piece is a spin-off from a conference that Daniel Serwer from SAIS helped put together in Sarajevo earlier this month. Dan also has some excellent posts about the situation in both Bosnia and Kosovo on his great new blog

Patrice McMahon and I also have a short piece on the Balkans after Mladic that is now on Foreign Affairs website. We argue that the arrest of Mladic is a notable bright spot in the region and for all the faults of the ICTY, it is striking that Mladic, Karadzic, and Milosevic all ended up in the Hague. But, more than that, the arrest demonstrates the continued ability and importance of international pressure and influence to alter the incentive structures of local elites — especially with the leverage of EU conditionality. I’m sympathetic to the calls of Gerald Knaus and others who argue that the international community has to turn governing to the Bosnians. Yet, as Patrice and I argued two years ago, the institutions created at Dayton continue to privilege ethnically-based politics and nationalist demagogues and it has been international indifference and fatigue over the past five years that has allowed, and in fact, exacerbated the resurgence of nationalist discourse and politics in the country. Mladic’s arrest demonstrates that the international community still has a role to play in the region — it just needs to play it.


Stuff political scientists like #5 — a Large N

I have been doing a lot of work with survey data lately, as well as some reading in critical theory. Maybe that inspired my deconstruction of the gendered language of stats. Or maybe I just like to work blue.

Your girlfriend has told you, “Honey, your data set is big enough for me. It’s OK if it doesn’t get you into the APSR.” She might tell you, “It is not the size of p-value that matters, it is what you do with it.” A good theory can make up for a large-N, she reassures you. But political scientists know the truth. Size matters. Political scientists like a large-N.

A large-N enables you to find a statistically significant relationship between any two variables, and to find evidence for any number of crazy arguments that are so surprising, they will get you published. Political scientists like to be surprised. Your theory might be dapper and well dressed, but without the large-N, political scientists will not swoon. They go crazy for those little asterisks.

Some qualitative researcher might come in and show that your variables are not actually causally related, but it will be too late. You will have 200 citations on Google Scholar, and their article will be in the Social Science Research Network archive forever. Your secret is safe. Go back to Europe, qually!

Political scientists also like a large-N because it gives you degrees of freedom. You can experiment with other variables in your model without worrying about multicollinearity. You aren’t tied down to one boring variable. Political scientists like to swing.

Political scientists prefer it if the standard error in your data is smooth and consistent and does not increase as the X value rises. Consider waxing or shaving your data with simple robust standard errors if you have problems with heteroskedasticity. They also like a big coefficient that slopes upward. Doesn’t everyone? And fit, don’t forget about fit. Fit makes things more enjoyable.

It is best if your large-N data does not have a lot of measurement error. You might say, a little is natural, like when I jump in the pool, but this is not acceptable in political science. You should, however, have variation in your dependent variable. Variety is good. It keeps things spicy. When a political scientists wants to get really kinky, he or she will bootstrap his data.

It is best if your data is normally distributed, but political scientists generally forgive that. They like data of all shapes and sizes. They just close their eyes and pretend that it is symmetrical. Binomial. Fat tails. Oooh. That just sounds dirty.

Political scientists will tell you that if your dataset is not big enough, your confidence intervals will be too wide. Paradoxically, this will drain your confidence and make it harder for you to perform in the future. But don’t worry, they have drugs for that.

Don’t leave anything to chance. Get yourself a large-N. But don’t listen to those ads on TV late at night. Those quick data fixes don’t work.


En Garde, Lagarde

I happened to be walking up 19th Street in downtown DC today in the early afternoon. Numerous media vans were parked along the road, and the sidewalks between F and H Streets were filled with eager reporters and bemused staff, obviously enjoying a long lunch break. A stranger, clearly new to the area, came up to me and asked, “Do you know where 700 19th Street is?”

Me: “Are you looking for the IMF?”

Lost stranger (from the UN in New York, as it turned out): “Yes, I am,”

Me: “You just missed it. It’s the big gray building with the excited crowd and throng of cameras in front of it.”

Lost Stranger: “Oh, what’s going on?”

Me: “They’re getting ready to announce the new Managing Director.”

Lost Stranger: “Really? You mean that lady? Is that a big deal?”

Me: “Yes, that lady – Christine Lagarde. And it is a big deal.”

My answer actually surprised me. I had taken it as a foregone conclusion during the last several weeks that Christine Lagarde would be the next IMF Managing Director. Over the past two days, this became even more evident as Lagarde won endorsements first from China and then the US. It thus wasn’t a shock when the Executive Board chose Lagarde today over her competitor, Mexican economist Agustin Carstens. So what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that, despite her French roots, Christine Lagarde does represent a real change at the IMF. Putting a women at the helm of any international organization today is a noteworthy achievement. Quick – how many female IO leaders can you name off the top of your head?

Putting a women in charge of the IMF is even more remarkable. The IMF, as many have noted, is a very masculine, hierarchical organization with a marine-like culture. Yet there are women who work for the IMF (I have met many of them, and they are amazing). There are even women who have reached the near-top of the managerial ranks, such as former Deputy Managing Director Anne Krueger and current Deputy Managing Director Nemat Shafik (who, after only a few weeks on the job, was sent to represent the IMF in an important European trip shortly after Strauss-Kahn’s arrest in New York in May). Certainly, being a women in charge of such a male-dominated organization will be difficult, but it is not an insurmountable obstacle.

So gender will not be Lagarde’s biggest challenge in leading the Fund. Instead, here are a few thoughts on the bigger hurdles that Madame MD will face in the coming months:

First, Lagarde is going to have to prove that she can be unbiased in leading the IMF in the ongoing bailout of Europe. Many have questioned the appropriateness (perhaps even an explicit conflict of interest) of putting a French finance minister in charge of the IMF at this time. Lagarde will assume the post of Managing Director next Tuesday, and her first task will be to drive home the joint rescue package for Greece, which is bound to attract criticism no matter how austere or lax the bailout turns out to be. Will she be able to deliver the tough love and stand her ground against her former European colleagues?

Second, Lagarde will need to demonstrate that merit – not nationality – should indeed be the basis of leadership selection at the IMF. In her own speech before the Board last week, she reminded the Executive Directors that when she was on the Board of Governors at the IMF, she went on the record in support of an open leadership selection process. There will be pressure for her to put some muscle behind this statement, perhaps by appointing a non-American to replace John Lipsky as First Deputy Managing Director. [On this, see Mohamed El-Erian’s op-ed in today’s Financial Times. See also Stephen Richter’s suggestion that Carstens receive a consolation prize in the form of Lipsky’s number two spot, although it is not at all clear that Carstens would want this].

Third, Lagarde will have to win over the IMF staff. This is especially important when major change within the Fund is needed to address serious weaknesses in the organization’s relevance and effectiveness in critical areas such as its surveillance functions and financial sector expertise. There is no doubt that Lagarde has superb managerial skills and is by all accounts extremely charming. This will be an asset in her role as political figure in high level negotiations and in representing the IMF in the public arena. But inside the IMF, it may be a different story. One of Lagarde’s biggest deficits, as Martin Wolf recently argued, is that she is not actually an economist. She is a lawyer. And in an organization dominated by highly trained economists, her inability to debate the finer details of academic theories and models may make it very difficult for her to earn street cred and push for change within the walls of 700 19th Street.

(KW note: thanks to CP for today’s blog title)


New Deal for BBC World Service Weakens Britain’s Soft Power?

Una Marson, George Orwell, T.S. Eliot and others at the World Service during WW2
The reputation of the BBC World Service around the world reflects that of Britain generally. It’s an institution tied to colonial history. It aspires to global reach. Through its journalism it tries to uphold values of impartiality and objectivity, and therein lies the attractive, soft power dimension. As an institution, however, it cannot escape appearing partial – it is funded by the British state, and that state wouldn’t continue to fund it unless it was serving Britain’s interests. Therein lies the appearance of hypocrisy that taints Britain’s soft power. But this week the British government announced a new funding mechanism, and yesterday Peter Horrocks, Director of BBC World Service, spoke about the changes to an audience in London.

The BBC World Service is currently funded by a direct grant from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), Britain’s State Department. While a Royal Charter prevents the FCO interfering in the editorial content of World Service programming, the FCO can decide which foreign language services are strengthened or cut. In the last decade, Arabic and other strategically important language services have tended to do quite well, others less so.  Last year the government announced the World Service would be funded through the annual licence fee people in Britain must pay in order to receive BBC content legally. The World Service will be just another part of the BBC per se, its tie to the FCO less obvious. This week the World Service was granted extra funding not least because of its performance through the Arab Spring and supportive comments from Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition leader.
The problem for the World Service now is that it is just another BBC service, funded by taxpayers. In the current economic malaise, taxpayers might feel extra hospitals are more important than Hindi radio. Horrocks suggested that the World Service is highly regarded by British citizens. But historically, the value of World Service programming is to those in conflict zones and diasporic publics who consumed its cultural output. People in Britain gets a more parochial, national BBC news and are probably unaware of the range and impact of World Service programming.
As the World Service becomes increasingly integrated into the general BBC – sharing technology, content, staff, and buildings – and as it has to justify itself to a home audience, so its distinctiveness would seem under threat. Horrocks seemed optimistic. For example, the fragmentation of media across devices, formats and languages and creation of innumerable niche micro-audiences is not a problem because the World Service has the tools and expertise to repackage the same news for all possible outlets.  While China, Russia and others may be investing huge resources on rival global broadcasting organisations, the World Service retains the credibility borne of its professional, impartial journalistic ethos (note that Al-Jazeera has been criticised for treating different Arab Spring uprisings in very different ways, prompting aprickly reaction). 
Horrocks finally turned to the question of soft power. He argued that the World Service does not aim to project soft power, but that paradoxically it does create soft power for Britain because the objectivity of World Service journalism becomes associated with Britain. A moment later, however, he said the World Service aims to project and change people’s perspectives, to “impart impartiality”. Imparting sounds very much like changing minds. Changing minds is an instrumental goal for the FCO, who want the world to “do business with Britain”. Does this make the World Service an unwitting instrument of the FCO? This ambivalence is exactly why the World Service is open to charges of hypocrisy.

Horrocks must be thanked for speaking openly and taking questions, and it is important that the World Service continues to engage in critical discussion about its role and purpose. I would be interested to know whether the chiefs of CCTV or Russia Today hold free flowing public debates.


Realist Dreams

 The Realist tradition in International Relations long ago won the big battle by getting the best name.  By calling itself Realism, the realist tradition makes all other approaches to IR seem idealistic, based in dreams but not realities.  Anything but grounded in hard, cold calculations of how things really are.  But the joy of realism is how often its acolytes indulge in fantasy.  Ah, but only if we could have the good old days of the cold war, for instance.* 

*  Insert gratuitous cite of Mearsheimer’s piece in International Security.

Who do realists look to as their latter-day Bismarck?  Henry Kissinger, of course, who was a Realist thinker at Harvard before serving as National Security Adviser and then Secretary of State.  So, it is far from an accident that Gideon Rose cites the Kissinger/Nixon exemplar when suggesting to Obama a way out of Afghanistan.  Leave by lying.  The best way to preserve national power and enhance national security would be to get out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible, as frittering away more resources on an unwinnable war is anathema to a realist, just as it was when the drain was South Vietnam.  But just picking up and leaving quickly hurts the reputation, so try to leave in a way that provides a decent interval between exist and the collapse of one’s ally.  And lie about it.

Rose acknowledges that this is hard, due to domestic politics, but more or less wishes away such constraints.  More problematically, he does not recall the consequences of the Kissinger/Nixon strategy, especially when you”lay down suppressive fire so the enemy cannot rush into the gap you leave behind.”  That would be bombing Cambodia and Laos and invading the former (not to mention the War Powers Act).  Rose cites drones as being better than the “ham-fisted” approach.  Sure.  But what happened to Cambodia after the US left?  Just a smidge of genocide.  Ok, perhaps the most catastrophic episode of genocide in per capita terms–one quarter of Cambodia’s population if I remember correctly.

So, the big question is really not so much what happens to Afghanistan after we leave if we do not leave well, but what happens to Pakistan?  A nuclear-armed Pakistan, with a most broken set of civil-military dynamics, on-going insurgencies, deep poverty, extreme corruption, an irredentist campaign targeting its larger and nuclear-armed neighbor.  Hmmm.  I guess it is better to be a Realist** and ignore this ugly bit of reality. 

**  Some of my friends and students confuse me for a Realist since I do tend to think that power has a great deal with shaping outcomes. I just don’t think power or security influence the choices leaders and states make as much as Realists aver.


Does Menstruation Explain the Gender Wage Gap?: A Kiwi theory

The CEO of the Employers & Manufacturers Association, an association that promotes New Zealand businesses, Alasdair Thompson sparked a heated debate last week when, during a discussion on equal pay, he publicly claimed that women’s productivity was impacted by their periods. He claimed that women “take the most sick leave” and explained “ you know, once a month they have sick problems. Not all women, but some do.” He later went on to say “Men and women are fortunately different. Women have babies. Women take leave when they have their babies.” In a subsequent interview he claimed: “Some women have immense problems with their menstruation – immense problems. You know they can pop a lot of paracetemol and drag themselves into work, but it’s hard for them.” Thompson seemed to only make matters worse when he later rationalized his comments by referencing one of his receptionists who he says told him that when some women call in sick they cite their periods as the reason.

Is it possible in 2011 that a top CEO could honestly believe that the main reason for pay disparity between men and women is menstruation? Really? This story is so frustrating that it is difficult to know where to start. Logically there are three main assumptions that Thompson is making that warrant examination: first, that women take more sick days than men; second, that menstruation is a major factor in women’s sick days; third, that these period-induced sick days help explain the gender pay gap.

The first assumption- that women do indeed take more sick days– is true, but not significant. In New Zealand men typically take 6.8 sick days a year, with women taking 8.4. While there are no clear statistics available for the US, studies in the UK also show, on average, men take 140 days off sick during their career, with women taking 189 sick days. A Finnish study also found that while women were 46 percent more likely than men to call in sick from work for a few days, there was no statistically significant difference between men and women in terms of their long-term leave from work.

The second assumption- that menstruation is a major factor in women’s sick days- is much more difficult to substantiate. The New Zealand study indicated that menstruation was not a significant factor in women’s sick days. The Finnish study noted that working conditions for women were consistently poorer for women and could be a primary factor in fatigue, and sickness rates. The UK study indicated that single mothers had the highest rate of sickness absence, indicating that family pressures could be a factor in sick days. The UK study also found that women were more apt to “try their hardest to make it to their desk” and “feel guilty” if they fell sick.

The third assumption- that period-induced sick days help explain the gender pay gap- is the weakest link in Thompson’s unfortunate logic. Decades of activism and research surrounding equal pay legislation and policies have shown that the biggest factor in the wage gap is attitudes.

Thompson’s comments reveal embedded misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding women’s ability to contribute to the global workforce. Thompson is right on one account- women are different from men. Women are (at least for now) the only sex that can carry children and give birth. Further, most women are the primary caregivers to children- regardless of their work duties. Recognizing these two differences in more rational and supportive ways should result in changes to workforce policies rather than accusations of female liability.




Cross-posted from my personal blog, by suggestion of a Vikash Yadav tweet.

I’ve now watched the first two parts of “Carlos,” a three-part French-produced television miniseries that was broadcast on Sundance this past month. Édgar Ramírez is terrific in the title (star-making) role, though his character is hardly sympathetic. The notorious terrorist is portrayed as an unusual killer — part playboy, part-diplomat, and part-frustrated middle-manager. Carlos is shown meeting with prominent international leaders and is called a celebrity by his fellow terrorists after the 1975 kidnappings at the Vienna OPEC convention. That event takes up a good portion of part 2.

Part 1 of the film opens with a statement warning that it is a fictionalized account and that only certain specific crimes were factually confirmed at trial. Thus, I was not sure of what to make of an alleged meeting in Baghdad involving Yuri Andropov (then-head of the KGB), Carlos and other desperadoes (one actor looked like Tariq Aziz). Allegedly, Andropov put a price on Anwar Sadat’s head at this meeting.

Indeed, one important element of “Carlos” is the relatively clear state sponsorship the terrorist and his various organizations enjoy throughout most of his career. Support from Libya, Syria, Iraq, Algeria, East Germany and the Soviet Union all figure into the terror incidents portrayed on screen. It is no wonder that the Bush administration, circa 2001, believed that state sponsorship was the key element of its anti-terror campaign (despite facts suggesting a completely different kind of threat). This was not a matter of IR theory privileging states.

As a movie, the Golden-Globe winning production is quite unusual:

The film’s scope, range and ambition are incredible; it’s set in at least 16 countries over a 21-year period, and at all times features the characters speaking the languages they would have spoken in the relevant situations—Carlos himself shifts effortlessly among Spanish, English, French, German, Russian and Arabic. An untold number of supporting and bit players pop vividly to life for however many moments they’re onscreen, and the film maintains an exceptional balance between a relentless forward movement and a certain artistic stability…

…the film is so convincing that it persuades you this is essentially the way it was. There are few so completely transporting historical movies, in that it drops the viewer down in another world and time without evident artifice, doctoring, nostalgia, revisionist thinking or overt political agenda. Those with a continuing stake in the causes involved or their own memories of the times can be counted upon to dispute this or that, but as a time machine “Carlos” functions brilliantly.

I can’t wait to watch part 3 — the decline and fall of Carlos, apparently.


Friday Nerd Blogging: GoT IR?

I was recently asked whether Game of Thrones was going to become “the cult IR series of 2011.” My initial response, spouted on a FB update was, “it remains to be seen,” not least since by next Spring GoT will of course be competing with Blood and Chrome.)

As of today, however, “seen” it has clearly been, with multiple IR bloggers posting on various “IRGoT” themes. So I guess that answers that. We can look forward to a veritable bevy of GoT-blogging among IR types for the foreseeable future.

OK, let’s see, Steve suspects the show can best be viewed through the lens of cognitive psychology, and Dan thinks it demonstrates the timeless wisdom of realism. Pablo K, however, in a remarkable, wide-ranging piece at The Disorder of Things takes a more critical view, interrogating gender and racial imagery in Season One with all the tenderness of Gregor Clegane:

The most common female figure is that of the whore; the most common male one a loyal killer. Physically weak, generically meek, hopelessly devoted to their menfolk, the women of Westeros cower and sob at violence and prove useless at the calculations of politics. Catelyn Stark provokes outright war by bowing to her maternal urges and kidnapping Tyrion Lannister on slim evidence that he tried to kill her son, a decision unlikely to have been endorsed had she consulted with her husband, notorious as he is for bad decisions. Cersei Lannister, as Queen of the realm, fares better, managing to manoeuvre her son onto the throne, at which point he becomes a power-mad sociopath, forcing Tywin Lannister to send his own imp son to the capital to pick up the pieces and rule from behind the scenes. Which leaves Arya Stark, everyone’s favourite tomboy, protected from the solid binaries of Man and Woman by the relatively ungendered space of girlness. Thin and still flat-chested, she is able to pass, Shakespeare-like, as a boy. For now.

Married off to Drogo as the bargaining chip for his army, Daenerys Targaryen becomes the sock-poppet for a Game Of Thrones version of feminism… In a parody of anti-rape politics, it requires the authority of this high-born Queen to prevent the conquering Dothraki army from sexually violating the wives, mothers and daughters of the conquered… Wilful in spite of her relative fragility, Daenerys derives her determination from the male heir inside her… empowered by protective feminine impulses over her precious boy cargo, she transcends the pliant object we first encounter to become a commander of men, but only so long as she can claim to speak for their true Lord (wait until I tell Drogo about this!)

Burn! [Sorry…] Seriously, read the whole thing. The discussion of the heavily racialized Dothraki is pretty spot-on – “like Klingons without technology. Oh, and they’re quite swarthy.” The comments thread is also to be studied closely.

I do however see a few things differently from Pablo in terms of gender. I may develop a longer and more coherent essay on feminisms in GoT in due course (this one was drafted at 2am), but here are four initial thoughts:
1) Any discussion of gender in GoT needs to closely examine men as well as women. (To give only the most obvious example, the institution of bastardism is as fundamental to social relations in the show as are male/female hierarchies.) And let’s not exaggerate: the most common male character is not a “loyal killer,” it is (probably) a conflicted witness to killing. Of course there are loyal killers aplenty, but even more disloyal killers plus all manner of men and boys trying to avoid the profession: spies, cravens, eunuchs, squires, metal-smiths, clerks, and capitalists. And the male characters with whom we are most allowed to identify are those who embody an ambivalence toward violence and aim to wield it, if at all, justly. (That Martin means it this way is evident from the way he organizes his book chapters.) There is more complexity here than meets the eye.
2) The most common female character is certainly not the whore (Ros, Shae). It is the political figure – queens (Cersei, Daenerys), ladies of the realm (Catelyn, Lysa), or princesses (Sansa, Arya). But more importantly, it is simplistic to suggest that the female characters all follow any single gender archetype – different “ladies” do different things with their status and power, and even the “whores” are multi-dimensional. I see tremendous and fascinating variation in the way women are portrayed and their connections to gender and politics generally in their societies.
3) Pedagogically, one can usefully distinguish strong women from feminist characters in the show, and also different models of feminism with which Martin toys: i.e., there is not “a Game of Thrones version of feminism” but rather different representations of different feminisms that have analogues in global politics. First, there are many strong, smart women here – I certainly count Cersei and Catelyn among them, if not Sansa and Lysa – but this doesn’t necessarily make them feminist characters (in my view) since their frame of reference has nothing to do with overturning gender hierarchies. Arya, however, does embody a liberal feminist discourse: she insists on the right to take on ‘male’ roles but resists denying her own sex in order to do so. “Passing as a boy” is not her modus operandi but rather a strategy imposed on her, an eventual, temporary nod to traditional norms in a desperate bid for survival.
4) Consider Daenerys by comparison. I continue to disagree that Dany’s character simply reflects and reifies patriarchal norms. She does not, first of all, derive her determination from her male fetus, but rather from the friendship and mentorship of women who surround her (especially her handmaiden and later, at least for a time, a female priestess/healer), as well as the respect of powerful men (she has no time for those who disrespect her – her brother, Drogo’s men, duplicitous merchants).
True, it’s vital to interrogate what peculiar kind of gender ideology she represents. I would argue that Dany, in contrast both with Arya’s rejection of conventional gender norms and Cersei/Catelyn’s indifference to them, represents, for want of a more appropriate term, “state feminism” – her strategy is to accept and embody patriarchal gender archetypes long enough to achieve insider credibility. She then uses the formal power this gives her to engage tribal governors in the service of feminist ends, seeking common cause with other women across clan boundaries and attempting to alter the violent gender norms of her new society marginally in their favor, without questioning its foundations. But her embedded position within a violent, gendered governance structure means she can take this agenda only so far. Ultimately, Dany fails to question, empathize and comprehend the perspective of women with a different standpoint, so her best intentions turn on her and on the objects of her pity. Hers turns out to be the neo-colonial feminism of the white northerner bent on rescuing the oppressed (and in so doing obfuscating her society’s brutality to its ‘own women) rather than seeking to understand them. Failing in this effort this she turns oppressor to reconsolidate her own power base against the “other.”
Is this a patriarchy-affirming narrative? Certainly it is a narrative of patriarchy, illustrating its capacity to divide women against themselves despite their best intentions. But it is also a story of female agency and of identities that cut across and transcend sex and gender. The Maegi’s death represents the post-colonial feminist lesson about the limits of state/colonial feminism. We are meant to be sickened and shamed by it, and to be reminded that neither women nor feminism should be equated with nonviolence. The denouement of this chapter in Dothraki history should not be interpreted itself as being blindly orientalist or patriarchal but as tragically illustrative of the promise and pitfall of different feminist strategies.
Now, Pablo K would (I think) respond as follows:…

fiction is an important stage for tropes of war, diplomacy, sex and race, not least because we’re freed to engage in a more fulsome emotional investment precisely because it’s not real. Excepting professional researchers, activists and inveterate news addicts, the time spent with such representations outstrips that devoted to engaging them in the realm of contemporary politics.

Maybe. However since I’m thinking about this series primarily as a pedagogical tool, I hope I can be forgiven for thinking the series is – or can be understood as – more subversive than it means to appear. Thoughts?

*Though in fairness, the HBO version of Dany and Drogo’s first ride is very different than the book version.


Sleepwalking Towards Strategy

Must strategy be named to be practiced? Nowadays we tend to look for strategy as something that folk write down and codify. We live in logocentric times, where strategy is linked to formal declaratory documents, advisory councils and institutions dedicated to thinking about how to relate our power and our commitments, our resources and our goals.
Of course, that dubious definition would disqualify all sorts of states from having a grand strategy, when the historical record suggests that in fact, their leaders were attempting to prioritise and rank effort, allocate resources to deal with competing demands, and orchestrate ends ways and means to keep the show on the road.

Even those who don’t think they ‘do’ strategy may still be doing it. This question arises as competing interpretations of the Clinton Presidency emerge, in particular its first term. One major judgment against the Clinton years was that on his watch, the US lacked a grand strategy of any kind. It was an ‘Eagle Adrift’ (though compared to the dogmatic certitudes and ideological fundamentalism of the Bush years after 9/11, some might be nostalgic for a time when we didn’t know exactly where we were headed). This was a President who came to Washingtonmainly interested in domestic affairs, who won his mandate by persuading others that it was about the economy, stupid, not George Bush Senior’s statecraft in the Gulf.  Historian John Lewis Gaddis summarises this moment of drift and empty slogans:
The Clinton administration spoke of “enlargement” and “engagement,” without specifying what was to be “enlarged” or who was to be “engaged.” It was a bad sign when President Clinton assured an aide in 1994 that Roosevelt and Truman had gotten along fine without grand strategies. They’d just made it up as they went along, and he didn’t see why he couldn’t do the same.
But grand strategies need not be the brainchild of one ruler’s mind. They can often be the cumulative creation of a wider political culture, a body of assumptions and shared myths – not to mention a convenient stock of ideas to use and abuse. Even ifClintonthought he was just making it up rather than following an overarching vision, there is arguably a different pattern to be found.
 Clintonenlarged NATO. He eventually had US forces intervene in the Balkans. Though he introduced cuts, he also sought to sustain an overwhelming military edge against potential competitors. He saw China-Taiwan relations, and the political order in East Asia, asAmerica’s business. He didn’t extract theUSfrom the Gulf. And despite his private dismissals of grand strategy, he still articulated a national security strategy in which theUSsecures itself by remaking the world in its own image, an idea that underlay all the policy moves above.
In other words, a ruler or regime that subjectively believes it has no grand strategy may well be objectively following the logic of one that it inherits. The grand strategic assumptions may be so familiar and powerful that it is mistaken for mere ‘common sense’, when it is a strong ideology that intervenes to define how the new masters define the nation’s interests. If we think of grand strategy not as a rigid plan but as a general (even loose) conception of how to relate the state’s interests with its power, the Clinton years should be seen not as a strategic vacuum of random drift, but as the consolidation of assumptions about America’s role in the post Cold War era, as the unchallengeable guardian of world order. Clinton’s diplomacy wasn’t so chaotic after all.

(Cross-posted at The Offshore Balancer). 


Friday Nerdism, A Day Early

Charli Carpenter has thrown down the gauntlet.  She has pondered (on facebook) whether/why IR folks have not been blogging about Game of Thrones.  Why?  Because we are tired.  Every episode is such great TV that we are left in awe.  Our brains are so focused on getting the names straight, understanding the dynamics within each family and between them, that we no brainpower left to use.

Spoilers lurk below:

Ok, that was an excuse.  The real reason is that I have not read the books yet, so my spelling of all of the names would suck.  But, let me use some simple IR theory to predict the next season’s key patterns (note that I am completely ignorant of what will happen since, again, I have not read the books).

First, we ought to see some balance of power dynamics with the various contenders shifting alliances.  We now have multiple contenders for throne: the Winterfell folks led by Robb, whatever forces Dany can bring together with her cute dragons, the two different brothers of the dead king, the Lannisters (easy to spot with their blond hair–and Charli is, suspiciously blond), and who else?  So, we might see King Robb ultimately bargain with Dany to join forces against the Lannisters, with Robb seeking a promise of allowing the north to secede.  If Dany is a rational actor, seeking to maximize her chances of successfully taking the throne, then she might go for this.  Of course, each side will face the problem of credible commitment as alliance partners often betray each other.  Once Dany wins (if she does), she could easily renege and refuse to recognize Winterfell’s independence.  It would not be the first time that a secessionist movement is betrayed.  (More on the IR of ethnic conflict applied down the road).

Second, there are other actors out there that might become greater threats.  Dany soon, yes, but then the walkers.  The Wall and the Rangers may not be enough to contain them.  Could perhaps an alliance be formed among the various forces when the Zombie threat becomes too great?  Drezner raises this possibility but presents too many theories for us to be certain.

Third, does democratic peace apply at all?  None of the actors has anything close to democracy (unless the Walkers have a representative political system, which I doubt).  But clearly Robb’s forces have willingly given consent to his leadership.  He originally compelled them via obligation, but now they have chosen (too much mead?) to give support to his secessionist effort.  So, if we focus on normative democratic peace arguments (as opposed to those focusing on structures or transparency), we might see what?  Well, given the absence of pseudo-democratic partners, um, never mind?

Fourth, first level analyses that focus on cognition and decision-making may be most appropriate because we have several actors that seem to be relatively unconstrained by institutions and norms.  Dany has only her dragons and a small coterie of ex-slaves and fallen horse folks, and she is in an alien world.  She does not know enough about the dragon past to have any clear set of normative restrictions and the identity is still pretty weak (what is implied by been a Dragon Queen in terms of adversaries, appropriate behavior and such?), so it is likely that her emotions (revenge for the assassination attempt) will drive her on.   Ned, late Ned, was imprisoned by his worldview.  The boy king is too young and too spoiled to buy into what is appropriate (no intersubjective identities and norms constraining him), demonstrated by rubbing his future consort’s face in the death of her father.  I am not sure that the Hand (Tyrian) will be able to restrain him, but, then again, the boy can be easily manipulated, right?

I will, for the moment, not apply constructivism since my previous musings at the Duck have proven that I am lousy constructivist.  I will say that identities matter. much in all of this  “A Lannister pays his debts.”  Ned and his honor.  That the ties of kinship bind the alliances thus far.  As I would expect.  But identities can be complex, containing multiple threads.  Will conflicting imperatives arise from a complex set of identities? Thus far, the only characters I can think of who fit this are Jon Snow (a semi-Stark and a Ranger) and Sansa (a Stark and soon to be married into the Lannisters).  Who else?  Oh, the bastard of the old King?  Hmmm.

As I have to catch upon on Obama’s Decision (almost as significant as Lebron’s), that is all for now, but please suggest to me alternative ways to apply IR theory.


Visualizing the “Misery” of Failed States

Foreign Policy magazine has just released their yearly Failed States Index (“A Year in Misery: The 2011 Failed States Index”), which also includes their photo essay called “Postcards from Hell.”

This photo essay raises the ire of those who criticize it as “poverty porn.” This criticism is usually directed at aid organizations (see here and here) that exploit and misrepresent people’s poverty and insecurity through shocking images to generate support and fundraising. As the infamous article “How to Write About Africa” satirically prescribed:

Among your characters you must always include The Starving African, who wander the refugee camp nearly naked, and wait for the benevolence of the West. Her children have flies on their eyelids and pot bellies, and her breasts are flat and empty. She must look utterly helpless. She can have no past, no history; such diversions ruin the dramatic moment. Moans are good. She must never say anything herself in the dialogue except to speak of her (unspeakable) suffering.”

The FP photo essay plays into this too. Many of the photos portray those living in so-called failed states as helpless victims or maniacal militants. This is not to say that extreme conditions of repression, poverty, and violence are not prevalent in these states and it’s also important not to sanitize images just to protect our sensitivities. But the photos provide no context on the individual circumstances and strip those in them of their dignity. (See the photos of Haiti, Iraq, Kenya, Burma, CAR, especially). Nor do these pictures help us understand the causes and conditions of state failure and nor do they prescribe solutions. They simply invite shock and awe.

I teach a course on weak and failed states, and while I have the utmost respect for Foreign Policy magazine and assign their articles regularly, I don’t find much analytical value in this index. If anything, we spent most of the semester picking apart the index and pointing out the inconsistencies with scholarly analysis of failed states. And after delving more into individual case studies, my students were more critical of the generalizations and misrepresentations in the photo essay and articles. I’ll give you that teaching about failed states is tough – not least because there is no consensus definition – but the key challenge is to avoid attributing all the world’s ills (terrorism, civil war, poverty, transnational crime) to the amorphously defined “failed states.”

I intend to plow through the index and articles and will post more thoughts in upcoming posts.


Groupthink at the IMF?

This week, the Independent Evaluation Office at the International Monetary Fund released its report on the relevance and utility of research at the Fund (see also today’s Financial Times article on the report). The report itself echoes an earlier IEO report on the Fund’s performance running up to the 2008 financial crisis, which found that the Fund’s failure to foresee the crisis was in part due to pervasive groupthink within the organization.

The IEO report reveals much about the ideological culture of the Fund. Importantly, it draws from interviews and surveys with academics, national authorities, and staff with the Fund. According to the report, academics and national authorities think that the Fund’s research reached “predetermined conclusions”, driven presumably by biases inherent to the neoliberal orthodox training of most of its economist. That is not the surprising bit. The more shocking tidbit in the report is the finding from the internal survey, which revealed that more than half of the IMF staff interviewed for the report agreed that research findings at the Fund were altered to fit in-house views. Continue reading


Niall Fergurson, International Many of History

Michael Lind treats Niall Ferguson to the contempt he so richly deserves (via). A sample:

The right-wing British historian Niall Ferguson seems to have conquered America: pushing his latest perishable book, “Civilization,” this one based on the trendy and quickly dated conceit of the six (or is it seven?) “killer apps” of Western civilization; writing cover stories for Newsweek; debating foreign policy on TV with Zbigniew Brzezinski; and pouting and snarling his way through a debate about economics with Paul Krugman, Jeff Madrick and Bill Bradley. If you missed his Chicago lecture on the imminent decline of America, then at least on YouTube you can still catch him warning before the 2008 presidential election that “Islamic jihadists” and “Europeans” were hoping that John McCain would lose. Recently, it was announced that Henry Kissinger has made him his official biographer, perhaps in the hope that Ferguson, who thinks that the Kaiser should have been allowed to crush Europe, will be equally kind to Kissinger’s reputation. Time magazine in 2004 named Ferguson one of the 100 most influential people in the world, which might help to explain the condition of the world.

Lind doesn’t mention that Ferguson also has a total of three sinecures at Harvard and the London School of Economics, nor that he has achieved a feat I would have thought impossible: making other celebrity professors look good.


Book Review: “The Possibilities of Transnational Activism”

Among the books I’m digesting this month as I work on my manuscript is this gem from Thomas Richard Davies – a case study of the transnational disarmament movement in the interwar period. I especially like two things about this book. First, it deals with a case of campaign failure, as the movement clearly did not meet its goals of general disarmament. This sets Davies’ book apart from most of the transnational advocacy literature that focuses on successful campaign. But secondly, he uses his case very self-consciously as a lever to explore the merit of extant hypotheses about campaign success and failure.

Davies begins by culling a set of hypotheses from the earlier case literature on TANs, detailing factors said to facilitate and impede campaign success, and dividing these analytically between characteristics of the international environment, the national environment, the activists and the issues (not so different from the typology I’m developing in my book, except that he doesn’t examine the impact of network structure on campaigns). He then asks whether any of these both help to explain the outcome in the disarmament case and are not refuted by the wider case literature.

Simply making the effort to test these hypotheses is a contribution – as he rightly points out, the correlates of campaigns success are often asserted but rarely demonstrated by comparison to unsuccessful campaigns. He concludes that of all the variables suggested by scholars, only one that is both constant across the case literature and sensible in the context of his case study: the promotion of a consistent/coherent framework for action:

Essentially, the interwar disarmament campaigners faced a dielmma to which all activists have to respond if achievement of their goals requires a change in public attitudes to an issue: without international public support activists cannot persuade governments to adopt their goals; but if these goals require a change in public attitudes the support will not be forthcoming.

When faced with this problem, activists have a choice between two options: i) conducting a programme of education until public support for their goals reaches critical mass; or ii) fudging their propaganda in order to give the impression of mass public support for their objectives which in fact does not exist. The interwar disarmament campaigners made the fundamental mistake of choosing the second option.

Exactly how this panned out in the disarmament case I’ll let you read the book to find out, but I find the narrative quite compelling and can see analogues in contemporary efforts like the small arms campaign, in which advocates have disagreed over the nature of the problem and the nature of the solution and are thus particularly vulnerable to being undermined by counter-campaigns, as Cliff’s new book will show.

I do have to say I think Davies may overstate his case a bit: while it is extremely useful to apply extant theory to a specific case as rigorously as he’s done, I don’t think you can confirm or refute a general argument on the basis of one data point. It’s true that he also draws on a wider array of cases, but he doesn’t study or code them systematically in the way that he studied his single case. I also wonder whether interwar campaigns are really comparable with the type of transnational organizing that has gone on since 1990, with the benefit of the Internet and a significantly altered normative environment.

But the book is an excellent read on a case that’s been neglected by TAN scholars, many of whom have focused on post-Cold War campaigns. And the practical implications of Davies’ findings bear overstating, as they imply the single most important indicators of campaign success is completely within the norm entrepreneurs’ control.
This is in stark contrast to the perceptions of practitioners with whom I have spoken for my book project, many of whom tend to see themselves as highly constrained by their political opportunity structure. Davies book by contrast provides a simple and powerful recipe for “getting it right,” and shows that whether or not campaigners do this can make all the difference.


Friday Nerd Blogging

1: A mysterious little Father’s Day gift for certain Dads among us. Speculation here.

2: Your GoT satirical post of the week. (H/T Steve.)

3: No, I haven’t read it yet, though this is definitely on my summer beach-book-list. Judging by the critical reviews (Robopocalypse is being compared to World War Z) my immediate sense is that the zombie craze of which Drezner speaks may be coming to its end, and that Glen Weldon’s new novel may be the start of the latest greatest trend in ” post-apocalyptic chronicle of decimated humanity” fiction.

It may be the presence of this beating human heart beneath Robopocalpyse’s cold, genocidal surface that helps explain why Steven Spielberg has optioned, and plans to direct, the film version, due in 2013. The fact that Spielberg did so before Wilson had even finished his first draft, however, suggests that Hollywood sees something it likes in the way the book exploits our anxieties about artificial intelligence — something it finds very, very marketable.

(And not a moment too soon, if you ask me.) Now, back to work on my case study about autonomous warbots…


What We Talk About When We Talk About Neoconservatism

A Guest Post by Jonathan Caverley in reply to Dan Nexon

The irony of being accused of taking texts in directions their original authors might not have intended by the scholar behind Harry Potter and International Relations is too delicious to pass up. Plus I am sensitive to accusations like Nexon’s (might as well confront that elephant head on).

I am not slighting Professor Nexon’s excellent TNR piece and book. In fact our approaches are quite similar; we both drag a body of writing into a discipline to which the original authors evinced little desire to enter. There are always problems inherent to this, but it can be productive. Nexon used Harry Potter to make cogent observations on globalization, and this justifies a somewhat (ahem) esoteric reading of JK Rowling. Whereas Harry Potter-related injuries are limited to scrapes on the pale, tender skin of the privileged, neoconservative-informed policies have killed a lot of people and cost a lot of money. So considering neoconservatism systematically and from a variety of perspectives seems a useful exercise.

I wrote the article because I did not buy realists’ self-serving lumping together of neoconservatism and liberalism. I argue that neoconservatism’s policy recommendations are largely motivated by the belief that democracies play with a severe handicap in the game of power politics. If that’s true, then neoconservatism cannot be considered antithetical to the self-styled foreign policy wing of realism, which claims “Power can be used only if it can be mobilized. Two variables are particularly important for this: the state’s extractive ability and inspirational capacity” (holla Brian Rathbun). I conclude that “Lack of enthusiasm for democratization is not really a logical proposition for neoclassical realists so much as a taboo left over from their ancestors.”

Nexon does not challenge me on neoclassical realism. He does not challenge my claim that neoconservatism and realism share similar starting assumptions. He does not challenge my interpretation of neoconservatism as a theory of a democratic handicap. He does not challenge my claim that democratic weakness explains neocon enthusiasm for primacy, the revolution in military affairs, bandwagonning logic, and preventive war.

Nexon briefly makes the case for neoconservatism as liberalism, but what truly motivates his 4,000 word post is a disagreement with my claim that neoconservatism suggests spreading democracy as a means of balancing, a small but important component of the article.

I’ll address both criticisms, but we should first acknowledge our debate’s slightly absurd nature. Neither Nexon nor I are considered neocons (as far as I know); any claim by us to a singular, true understanding should strain belief. Never mind that neocons (like realists and liberals) disagree among themselves, and that they (and JK Rowling) couldn’t care less about what Nexon and I think of them. Not surprisingly then, non-neocons disagree on neoconservatism.

Nexon cites two (excellent) pieces written/co-written by one person to describe a nonexistent scholarly consensus. Nexon might agree with Michael Desch’s (deliberate) nonsense phrase, but Gerard Alexander defines neoconservatism as balance of threat realism, and Aaron Rapport equates it with systemic constructivism. And those are just North American scholars.

Neoconservatism is not some mutant form of foreign policy liberalism. Consider my admiration for Derek Jeter, but my contempt for every other aspect of his team. I cannot (will not!) be considered a Yankees fan. One might therefore conclude that other reasons explain my respect for Jeter. Excepting democratization and human rights, neocons dismiss every mechanism associated with IR liberalism: transnational norms, trade, and institutions. Perhaps they are not motivated by liberal logic.

A really, really strong desire to spread democracy does not make them any more liberal. I’m sure Minka Kelly loves Jeter with all her soul, but if she could not even bring herself to say something nice about Mo Rivera, it’s doubtful we’d consider her a Yankee fan either.

On to the bulk of Nexon’s post. To support my assessment of neoconservatism as a theory of democratic weakness, I surveyed a lot of literature to find some common themes. Trying to synthesize so many writers in order to critique a grand theory necessarily leads to simplification. But consider the essential assumptions of realism. Now find me five realists that agree with all of them.

To use Nexon’s terms, I cheerfully plead guilty to extrapolation, but that would seem to be a good alibi against the crime of esotericism. Esoteric thinking assumes a code unlocking truths within a canonical document for the initiated. I go to the opposite extreme, trying to find something uniting the diverse group calling themselves neocons. Given his treatment of Harry Potter, and given that block quotes from a single article are 30% of his post, Nexon appears a very black pot.
Interestingly, with the possible exception of Muravchik, Nexon pulls quotations from the more realpolitik-oriented of the neocons to challenge my argument that neoconservatism is not motivated by core realist principles. I’ll deal with them quickly.

Kirkpatrick’s magisterial article argues for the strategic and moral foolishness of simultaneously promoting liberalism within traditional authoritarian states while refusing to do likewise in totalitarian Soviet satellites, i.e. “participat[ing] actively in the toppling of non-Communist autocracies while remaining passive in the face of Communist expansion.” Among other things, the article nicely captures the neoconservative spectrum of power-mobilizing regimes: liberal America weak and vacillating, autocracies perhaps less weak and certainly less threatening, totalitarian states expansionist and strong. Schweller would approve.

The Krauthammer quotations lamenting the American penchant for cutting deals that shift unfavorably American relative power support my case.

As for Kagan, John Mearsheimer called and wants his American pacifier piece back.
Regarding the Muravchik article, rather than wade through the single article that literally makes up 30% of Nexon’s post, can I just give Dan that one and ask people to look at the dozens of other pieces I cite?

Let me emphasize that I agree that there is often a very strong moral impetus to the neoconservative desire to spread democracy, but this cannot be separated from neoconservatives’ equal obsession with power in a dangerous world. To paraphrase Nexon on Harry Potter, for IR scholars neoconservatism is something of a Rorschach Blot, capturing various anxieties about international affairs. I look at the blot though the prism of its realist antagonist. Wading into the “neo-neo” debate I decided that there was little fundamental to their principles to explain their very different policy preferences.

Now Nexon does not think that neoconservatism is a grand theory, and that neo-classical realism is “an amorphous container for some pretty heterogeneous scholarly theories.” One could make the same claim about liberalism. All grand IR theories with multiple advocates get pretty fuzzy when you try to pin them down, but that does not make thinking about theory, and especially comparing theories, unproductive. To paraphrase Eisenhower, grand theories may be useless, but grand theorizing is indispensible.

As the old insult goes, Nexon has failed me on a Rorschach test, which brings me to his thoughts on peer review. Nexon plucked my article from obscurity because he was “pissed off” by my use of texts about which he had a pretty strong opinion. He would have rejected my article based on this. He then extrapolates (!) that because he would have rejected it, then peer review failed. Nexon is not alone; most academics assume the N of our “peers” to be 1, as the expressions of wounded amour propre in the original post’s comments amply demonstrate. We all know that the review process is pretty arbitrary; in terms of publishing I was lucky to not get Nexon as my referee (although I suspect he would have given great feedback, as I did get from Millennium, which by the way is one of the few IR journals that does desk rejects).

But before we moan about how much of what we consider drivel gets published, spare a thought for the Type II errors. Perhaps we should let more stuff see the light of publication and then let the discipline as a whole (which largely ignored my article) or Duck of Minerva (which trashed it) sort it out.


Papa Don’t Preach: Rationalism is an Ism

Just yesterday I cautioned a graduate student not to get on the wrong side of some powerful people for the sake of principle if he could not truly effect change. And yet here I sit typing this right now, about to begin a rant on David Lake’s new ISQ article: “Why ”isms’ are evil: Theory, Epistemology, and Academic Sects as Impediments to Understanding and Progress.” Nexon started it. It is his fault.

The piece is taken from David Lake’s keynote address as ISA president and identifies five pathologies with dividing our field up the way we do, along ‘ism’ lines. We reify research traditions, reward extremism, mistake research traditions for actual theories, focus on the things that our approach is best at explaining so as to confirm our biases, and insist that our approach is the genuinely scientific one. I am going to assign this to my graduate seminar. I agree with every word. That is why it drives me so crazy.

It is not the message. It is the messenger. More than most other scholars, Lake has been part of the rationalist turn in international relations theorizing. His approach is wonderful, but not eclectic. It is simple applied microeconomics to problems of international relations and cooperation. I know Entangling Relations like the back of my hand, as it is the primary target of my forthcoming book on Trust in International Cooperation and my recent piece in IO. In his, there are no counterarguments, nothing to test his argument against. There is only rationalism.

Yet I don’t think Lake ever uses the word rationalism in that book, and probably only sporadically elsewhere. This is because, like others, he insists that rationalism is not an ‘ism.’ Realism, liberalism, constructivism, even feminism — these are part of the problem. But rationalism might as well be the Loch Ness monster. It is myth, a legend, something that you scare your kids with as you read them to sleep but not something that actually exists in daylight. And yet your dogs keep going missing…..

Stop right there. You are going to tell me that rationalism is a methodology, or an approach, not a substantive theory of international relations, that all rationalists assume is transitivity in preferences. You are wrong. In fact, Lake along with Robert Powell, lay out its fundamentals in an edited book called Strategic Choice and International Relations. This is a marvelous book, one of my all time favorites, precisely because it lays out the ontology of rationalism so well. But just because you change the name and call it an approach does not mean it is not rationalism and a proper ‘ism,’ just like the rest.

Like other isms, rationalism has a particular vision of the world, of individualist utilitarian maximizers engaged in a constant strategic interaction with others individualist utilitarian maximizers. Individual units are only held together by common interest, and those common interests could diverge at any time. There is no deep and abiding trust, no common identity, only these rapacious little units. This is why the rationalist revolution has been so revolutionary. It points out how states might make disastrous decisions about whether to go to war or how long to fight that are perfectly rational for the leaders who make them because those leaders are interested primarily in saving their own hide. This might just be cynical folk wisdom dressed up in academic garb, but I cannot think of a more compelling criticism of and comparison to realism. It was a useful corrective. We should be forever grateful. But let’s not pretend it is not an ism.

Stop right there. You are saying that the utility function is left open by rationalists, that it is capable of accounting for say, altruism. True, in theory. But in practice, name more than five articles or books that actually assume anything other than naked self-interest on the part of international actors, at whatever level of analysis. There is a reason for this. The strategic view of the world is a cynical view of the world, and a cynical view is a selfish view. That is fine, but I’m calling a spade a spade. Have you ever given a talk and had a formal theorist, for instance, ask if you aren’t being too cynical, if the political actors you are discussing aren’t more concerned with the public good than you give them credit for? I didn’t think so.

Lake no longer teaches ‘isms’ in his course, he tells us. Instead he relies on his strategic choice approach, which, as we have established, is not an ism. He advises us to focus our intellectual efforts on pragmatic problem-solving, of which three elements are of prime importance — interests, institutions and interactions. These are, of course, the basic building blocks identified in his book with Powell. Surely we can all agree on that.

For his part, Lake acknowledges his own part in these pathologies, in a footnote. And maybe he is having some mid-career Road to Damascus moment. His recent article in International Security advised us to develop behavioral theories of bargaining informed by psychological factors. Those psychologically minded who saw that might have rejoiced, had we not been doing that for several decades already with barely a nod from the other side of the aisle.

So, the more that I think of it, I don’t agree with Lake at all. Yes, paradigms have these pathologies. But the paradigm problem was one of the 1980s and 1990s more than it is today. Today we have hegemony, and worse, a hegemony that claims not to be coherent or even to exist. I think the complaint that many have is not that they can’t get into some of the bigger IR journals because they are constructivists or liberals or whatever, it is because they are not rationalists.

I want people to put their money, literally, where their mouth is. If diversity of viewpoints is important, then I’ll be happy to announce, on this very blog, UCSD’s search for a new junior line in critical security studies. You heard it here first! Of course California needs a budget first…..

If Lake is serious about such a project, I’d be the first to get behind him. When someone tells me, “I am a realist” or “I am a constructivist,” they immediately lose all credibility to me as a social scientist. Saying that means you know the answer before you start looking, which is the very opposite of science. You might as well say, I am a liberal. Or I am a conservative. I think paradigms can be destructive, too. But first we have to be honest about the current state of the field and the real substantive cleavages in it. We are not there yet.

« Older posts

© 2021 Duck of Minerva

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑