Late empires are known for several things: a self-obsessed, self-serving governing class, small over-reaching wars that bankrupt the Treasury, debt that balloons until retreat from global power becomes not a choice but a necessity, and a polity unable to address reasonably any of these questions -- or how the increasing corruption of the media enables them all.
Obama is, in some ways, a test-case.
He was elected on a clear platform of reform and change; and yet the only real achievement Washington has allowed him so far is a massive stimulus package to prevent a Second Great Depression (and even on that emergency measure, no Republicans would support him). On that he succeeded. But that wasn't reform; it was a crash landing after one of the worst administrations in America's history.
Real reform -- tackling health care costs and access, finding a way to head off massive changes in the world's climate, ending torture as the lynchpin of the war on terror, getting out of Iraq, preventing an Israeli-led Third World War in the Middle East, and reforming entitlements and defense spending to prevent 21st century America from becoming 17th Century Spain: these are being resisted by those who have power and do not want to relinquish it -- except to their own families and cronies.
Nepotism is part of the problem; media corruption is also part; the total uselessness of the Democratic party and the nihilism of the Republicans doesn't help. But something is rotten in America at this moment in time; and those of us who supported Obama to try and change this decay and decline should use this fall to get off our butts and fight for change."
Wish I'd said that. And it makes me wonder: would Obama agree with the above (meaning he is a reluctant prisoner of well-entrenched interests), or is he is part of the problem too?
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I don't know how many people subscribe to both Foreign Policy and Sports Illustrated, but I do know lots of people who take athletics seriously. Human beings seem to be hard-wired into making "in-group/out-group" distinctions, so it's not surprising that the loyalty that sports fans show for their favorite teams looks a lot like the broader phenomenon of nationalism. And I'm not saying that just because I'm a proud member of Red Sox Nation.
Success in sports can be the first step toward a successful political career (e.g., Bill Bradley, Sebastian Coe, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jack Kemp, etc.) and athletes like Pele, Michael Jordan, and Tiger Woods have become genuine global icons. Of course, using sports to demonstrate national prowess or as a source of national pride is a common practice. The revival of the Olympic games in the 1890s was at least partly intended to promote international cooperation and understanding, but as a good realist would expect, the Games eventually became yet another arena where states could try to demonstrate the superiority of their own system and enhance their global influence.
Anyway, as summer winds down and the fall term looms, I found myself wondering about various episodes where sporting events actually had an effect on world politics, or told us something about how the world was changing. Here's my list of ten key moments, in no particular order.
1. The Berlin Olympics, 1936.
Adolf Hitler uses the Olympic Games to highlight the superiority of the Nazi regime, but his efforts are at least partly undermined when a black American, Jesse Owens, wins four gold medals.
2. La Guerra de futbol (aka “Soccer War”): El Salvador vs. Honduras, 1969.
Here’s a case where sports may have helped cause a war: a hard-fought match between El Salvador and Honduras in a preliminary round for the 1970 FIFA World Cup exacerbated the existing tensions between the two states and helped spark a brief four-day war in which over 1000 people died. The war ended inconclusively and El Salvador eventually won the actual match, but was ousted in a subsequent round and did not make the finals.
3. "Ping Pong Diplomacy:" U.S. Table Tennis Team Visits China, 1971.
During the world championships in Japan, the U.S. table tennis team received an unexpected invitation to visit China, and shortly thereafter became the first group of Americans to visit China since the communist takeover in 1949. The "ping heard 'round the world" was the first tangible sign of normalization between the United States and China (even though the Chinese teams reportedly had to throw a few matches to the Americans). The visit was obviously not the cause of the subsequent rapprochement, but it shows how sporting events can be an effective diplomatic tool.
4. U.S. Women Win Soccer World Cup, 1999.
I see this as significant for two main reasons. First, it underscores the growing importance and legitimacy of women’s sports, which has been an important element in modern feminism. Second, it shows the United States finally demonstrating real prowess in the world's most popular sport. Plus, the final game was against China, which makes it a nice harbinger of 21st century geopolitics.
5. Black September at the Munich Olympics, 1972:
Palestinian terrorists seized and eventually killed eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games. The heinous act sets back Palestinian national aspirations and triggers a protracted Israeli reprisal campaign that assassinated a number of Palestinian leaders and at least one innocent victim.
6. South Africa Wins Rugby World Cup, 1995.
South African teams were barred from most international competitions during the apartheid era, a step that highlighted the regime’s pariah status and helped undermine popular support for the policy. The post-apartheid team’s victory in 1995 was a vivid symbol of South Africa’s new beginning, symbolized when President Nelson Mandela awarded the victor’s trophy to team captain Francois Pinear, a white Afrikaner.
7. Australia II Wins America’s Cup, 1983.
The Aussie victory broke what was probably the longest winning streak in the history of sports -- 132 years of dominance that began when the schooner America outpaced a British flotilla in a race around the Isle of Wight in 1851. (When she asked who had finished second, Queen Victoria was reportedly told "Your Majesty, there is no second.”). In retrospect, one could see the Australian victory as a symptom of globalization: cutting-edge yacht design wasn’t an American monopoly any longer. Since then, alas, the competition has been driven by another American export: gamesmanship and ceaseless litigation over the rules of the competition.
8. The "Miracle on Ice": the U.S. Olympic Ice Hockey Team Defeats the Soviet National Team, 1980.
Labeled the greatest sports moment of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated, the improbable defeat of a heavily-favored Soviet team by a group of U.S. college players arrived at a moment when many Americans mistakenly felt the Soviet Union was pulling ahead. In fact, the USSR was on its last legs, though its hockey establishment remained a powerhouse and eventually sent a lot of players to the NHL.
9. “Das Wunder von Berne:” Germany Wins World Cup, 1954.
An underdog German team defeated Hungary in the final in Berne, a win that set off a wave of euphoria in Germany and is seen by some historians as a key event that restored a sense of national pride after the shame of the Nazi era and helped signal Germany’s re-integration in the world community.
10. Pentathlete Boris Onischenko Disqualified at Montreal Olympics, 1976.
I was on the fencing team in college, so I can’t resist adding this to my list. Onischenko was a member of the Soviet modern pentathlon team who was disqualified after referees discovered that his sword had been modified to enable him to register “hits” on the electronic scoring machine by pressing a switch concealed in his grip. Together with the East German steroid scandal, such episodes helped undermine the image of the Soviet empire. Plenty of other athletes have cheated, of course -- think of sprinters Ben Johnson and Marion Jones, bicyclist Floyd Landis, and subway-riding “marathoner” Rosie Ruiz -- but their transgressions had less impact absent the Cold War atmosphere.
There are other examples one might add: Budge versus von Cramm at Wimbledon, the controversial Soviet "defeat" of the U.S. men's basketball team at Munich, or the notorious Soviet-Hungary water polo match at the 1956 Olympics (played in the shadow of the Hungarian Revolution, the game was so violent the water reportedly turned pink). So please feel free to contribute your own suggestions.
IOC Olympic Museum /Allsport
I've been studying politics a long time now, and there are still lots of things about it that at some level I just don't get. I'm not saying that I have no idea why these things occur or suggesting that they are totally inexplicable. I'm just saying that I still find them a bit baffling.
So I made a list, and thought I'd share a few of them. Maybe some of you will share my confusion.
1. I've never really understood why plenty of smart people think the United States still needs thousands of nuclear weapons (or ever did). I'm familiar with the abstract theology of nuclear weapons policy and I don't favor total nuclear disarmament, but the case for an arsenal of more than a few hundred weapons eludes me. See here or here for convincing arguments to this effect.
2. I'm still puzzled by why Americans are so willing to spend money on ambitious overseas adventures, and yet so reluctant to pay taxes for roads, bridges, better schools, and health care here in the United States. My fellow Americans, where's your sense of entitlement? And frankly, I’m also surprised that the U.S. armed forces haven't put up more resistance to the seemingly open-ended missions they keep getting handed by ambitious politicians. I can think of various reasons why they remain willing to make these sacrifices (it's a volunteer force, there’s a long tradition of civilian authority, our soldiers, sailors and airman are dedicated patriots, the top brass are often chosen for their political malleability, etc.), but it still surprises me.
3. I don't understand why many people think invoking God is a compelling justification for their particular policy preferences, and why they assume that this move is a trump card that ends all discussion. The idea that Jehovah, Jesus, Allah, Odin, or Whomever gave some people permanent title to some patch of land, dictated how men and women should relate to each other for all eternity, or provided the incontestable answer to ANY public policy question is simply beyond me. Yet it remains a common feature of political discourse at home and abroad. Weird.
4. I'm equally baffled by when someone invokes "history" to justify a territorial claim and assumes that this basis is unchallengeable. This view assumes that sovereignty over some area is infinitely inheritable (no matter what has happened in the interim), ignores the fact the borders have changed a lot over time, and further assumes that there's only one version of history that matters. I understand why Serbs invoke the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 to justify their current claims to control that region, why Israelis and Palestinians invoke different readings of history to justify their positions on Jerusalem, or why certain Asian states invoke different historical claims to assorted rocks in the South China Sea -- they are all looking for some way to persuade others to let them have what they want. What's odd is that people who make such claims tend to think their view is simply incontestable and other equally valid historical claims aren’t worth paying attention to. You're entitled to your version of history, I suppose, but why do you assume that anyone is going to be persuaded by it?
5. I do not understand why Americans are so susceptible to the self-interested testimony of foreigners who want to embroil us in conflicts with some foreign government that they happen to dislike. A case in point would be Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi, who sold a lot of fairy tales to the Bush administration prior to the 2003 invasion. As Machiavelli (himself an exile) warned in The Discourses: "How vain the faith and promises of men who are exiles from their own country. .. Such is their extreme desire to return to their homes that they naturally believe many things that are not true, and add many others on purpose; so that with what they really believe and what they say they believe, they will fill you with hopes to that degree that if you attempt to act on them, you will incur a fruitless expense, or engage in an undertaking that will involve you in ruin." This sort of thing goes back to the Peloponnesian Wars (at least), and you’d think we’d have learned to be more skeptical by now.
6. I certainly don't get the business model that informs the content of the Wall Street Journal's op-ed page. The rest of the newspaper is an excellent news source, with reportage that is often of very high quality. The editorial page, by contrast, is often a parody of right-wing lunacy: the last refuge of discredited neoconservatives, supply-siders, and other extremists. Do the Journal's editors really think democracy is best served by offering the public such a one-sided diet of opinion? Do they feel no responsibility to offer a wider range of views to their readers, as the rival Financial Times does? More importantly, wouldn't their market share (and profits) be increased if they offered a more diverse range of views? I'm equally puzzled by the op-ed page of the Washington Post: what's the business model that says cornering the market on tired neoconservative pundits is the best way to attract new readers? (FP is now owned by the Post corporation too, I might add, but anyone who follows this Web site knows that there isn't any discernible party line here.)
7. A related point: I can't figure out why newspapers aren't hiring more bloggers to write columns for them on a regular basis. I started reading blogs because the stuff I read on the web tends to be smarter, funnier, better researched, and more entertainingly written than the pablum that appears on the op-ed pages of most newspapers. A lot of bloggers seem to produce more material too; frankly, doing a column twice a week sounds almost leisurely compared to what some bloggers pound out. There are dull bloggers and some excellent mainstream print pundits, of course, but I'm amazed that more bloggers aren't breaking into the so-called big-time mainstream media. Probably another good reason why newspapers are dying.
8. In an era where the United States is facing BIG problems at home or abroad, it is both puzzling and disheartening to observe the amount of ink and airspace devoted to the Skip Gates arrest, Michael Jackson's demise, or the "birther" controversy. But then I didn't get the Princess Di phenomenon or the whole reality-TV thing either.
9. I don't understand why academics defend the institution of tenure so energetically, and then so rarely use it for its intended purpose (i.e., to permit them to tackle big and/or controversial subjects without worrying about losing their jobs) When it comes to politics at least, the Ivory Tower seems increasingly populated by methodologically sophisticated sheep.
10. I'm both amused and annoyed by the highly intrusive security procedures that now exist at airports, which are almost certainly not cost-effective. The key to preventing another 9/11 wasn’t to have us all removing our shoes or carrying shampoo in a plastic bag; the key to preventing another 9/11-style attack was to put locks on the cockpit doors, so terrorists couldn't gain control of the airplane and turn it into a weapon. (A smarter Middle East policy wouldn't hurt either). I'll concede that additional screening is probably preventing a few additional incidents, but I question whether the extra expense and inconvenience is ultimately worth it. Alas, nobody is going to relax those procedures now, because they’d worry about being blamed the next time someone managed to blow up an airliner. I understand the CYA impetus that will keep these procedures in place from now until doomsday, but the irrationality of it all annoys me every time I fly.
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It's summertime, and some of you will be headed for the beach, or the country, or wherever you go to relax and recharge. You want to take along something fun to read, and you're not quite ready to tackle that new translation of War and Peace. But you're afraid you’ll feel guilty if you don't read something that is at least tangentially related to international politics.
What’s the answer? Simple. Here’s a list of books for your summer vacation reading that are all entertaining and easy-to-devour, but will also keep at least a few of your foreign policy synapses alive while you're relaxing. These suggestions are from my own list of guilty pleasures, and I'm not claiming that these books are the "ten best" or anything like that. I'm sure I've missed a few obvious candidates, so feel free to offer up suggestions of your own.
1. Isaac Asimov, The Foundation Trilogy.
Yes, it's sci-fi, and the prose style isn't exactly Proust. But it's got lots of international (or more precisely, "interstellar") politics in it: balance of power, empire, deterrence theory, diplomacy, religion, economic interdependence, and you name it. The late Ernst Haas used to recommend it to grad students at Berkeley, and it's easy to see why. And the central premise of the book -- that mathematically inclined social scientists ("the psycho-historians") could forecast the future and guide it -- is certain to appeal to scholars who think that they could rule the world if they just got their models properly specified and had enough data. (Note: if Asimov's not-so-subtle leftwing politics bothers you, you can read Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers instead, which includes lots of chest-thumping patriotism as well as explicit denunciations of Marx.)
2. Graham Greene, The Quiet American.
World-weary and cautionary tale about the idealism of American intervention, well worth re-reading in light of our current overseas adventures. And Greene is always easy to devour, even when dozing at the beach.
3. Joseph Heller, Catch-22
I must have read this book twenty times when I was in high-school, even though I didn't really understand it. A dark and comic portrait of World War II, and Heller skewers many absurdities of military life. If you're worried that Heller will undermine your sense of patriotism, read Herman Wouk's The Winds of War as an antidote (another one of my faves -- see below).
4. John Le Carre, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley's People
Yes, I know the Cold War is over, which gives these books a rather dated quality. But the characters are beautifully crafted, the prose is elegant and seductive, and both books are real page-turners. The first time I read them, I stayed up to 3 AM to finish the damn thing and was next-to-useless the next day. (Cautionary note: the second volume of the trilogy, The Honourable Schoolboy, is a bit tedious. But you'll probably want to read it anyway.) Le Carre is still churning them out, of course, but these three books remain his high point.
5. Alan Furst, The Polish Officer
I'd recommend anything by Furst, who has written a whole series of dark and romantic noir-ish novels that offer detailed and remarkably vivid portraits of life in Europe before and during the Nazi period. There's not a lot of "high politics" in these books, but they depict spies, politicians, military officials, and ordinary people caught up in the dark dealings of a horrific period. There's betrayal around every corner, and you’ll find them impossible to put down.
6. Orhan Parmuk, Snow
This was my "beach book" last summer, and I concede it's not directly about "foreign policy" at all. But it is a brooding and moving portrait of life in contemporary Turkey, and especially the growing role of Islam. If you think that phenomenon is important, this book will open your eyes and touch your heart.
7. Joseph S. Nye, The Power Game
How many major IR scholars have written a novel and actually gotten it published? (Kindly hold the snarky comments about all the political science books that you think are also "fictional"). It's a fun read, and you get to see how a distinguished scholar, government official, and former Harvard dean writes a sex scene. (And for another example of a Harvard scholar venturing into fiction, see the late John K. Galbraith's The Triumph: A Novel of Modern Diplomacy, a wicked satire about an ill-starred U.S. intervention in Latin America. It must be fiction, because something like that could never happen in real life, could it?)
8. Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible
A missionary family's experiences in the Congo, where misguided idealism and stubbornness eventually lead to tragic consequences. A powerful indictment of patriarchy, religion, and overzealous American righteousness.
9. Pat Barker, The Regeneration Trilogy
An intense and inspired set of novels set in and around World War I, imagining the relations between soldiers -- including real-life figures such as the poet Siegfried Sassoon -- and the doctors charged with treating them in hospital. Not exactly a lighthearted read, but it will grip you.
10. Herman Wouk, The Winds of War
I think I read every one of Wouk’s books when I was a teen-ager, and The Caine Mutiny is still my favorite (and his best). But this book (and its sequel, War and Remembrance) is broader, and includes cameo appearances by Churchill, Stalin, and other real-life figures. Wouk marches his characters around the world, and manages to get most of the global conflict in somewhere. It's not great art, but it will more than pass the time.
Pack away a few of these, and you'll have plenty to read while you're relaxing. And you won't have to feel too guilty about it either.
I'm a bit puzzled by the flap over revelations that the Bush administration approved a secret CIA program to send assassination teams overseas to kill suspected al Qaeda leaders. I understand the concerns about the absence of Congressional oversight, but three aspects of the case strike me as odd.
First, although the Bush administration should be criticized for not informing Congress, this is one case where key officials seem to have realized that the proposed program wasn't really feasible and decided not to implement it. Because examples of competent national security decision-making by the Bush team were few and far-between, shouldn’t we give them a smidge of credit for NOT sending some unfortunate Jack Bauer on a foolish mission?
Second, for those who are outraged to learn that the United States was planning to assassinate suspected terrorists leader, please explain to me the difference between sending in an assassination team to kill a suspected al Qaeda member, and sending a Predator or Reaper drone into some remote area to do the same thing? The target is just as dead no matter what instrument is used, and as we have already seen on several occasions, the risk to innocent civilians and the danger of various forms of blowback is probably greater when the U.S. uses unmanned drones. Moreover, both responses are essentially extra-judicial executions: the potential targets are suspected of being "enemy combatants" but that hasn't been proven and U.S. intelligence has mis-identified a number of alleged "terrorists" in the past. And then ask yourself how Americans would react if some other country were doing the same thing on U.S. soil.
So if you're troubled by the idea that the United States was preparing to send hit squads into some foreign country, you ought to be equally troubled by our current policy of taking terrorist suspects out from the air. But I don’t get the impression that the latter program bothers very many people here in the United States, and certainly not the leadership in either party. As Senator Christopher Bond (R-MO) remarked following the recent revelations, "The Predator strikes have been successful, and I was pleased to see the Obama administration continue them ... This [covert assassination program] was another effort that was trying to accomplish the same objective."
Thucydides had it right: "the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must." The strong also try to convince everyone that they are also more virtuous, even when the evidence for the latter claim is dubious. And on that note, the Times today also has a piece on U.S. air tactics in Afghanistan that reads like a press release straight from CentCom HQ. It reports that the United States is now conducting a "kinder, gentler" air cover policy, in order to avoid civilian casualties. I hope that's true, but I also hope someone remembers this piece the next time we hit a village by mistake.
One last point: the fact that the CIA concluded that the assassination program was unworkable suggests that there is a very large gap between the image of covert action portrayed in American pop culture and the reality on the ground. If you watch 24, Mission Impossible, the various Bourne movies, or even lighter fare like Ocean's 11, they depict a world where smart and exceedingly well-trained experts, equipped with a lot of cool high-tech gadgetry, can perform extraordinary feats of derring-do in far-flung locations. They also portray a world where the U.S. government has enormous real-time surveillance capabilities, vast and swift analytical capacities, and a well-trained set of agents ready to send virtually anywhere to go after virtually anyone (even if someone like Jason Bourne keeps outwitting them).
If you watched enough of these movies, and didn’t have any other sources of information, it would be easy to believe all sorts of crazy ideas about black helicopters and other loony conspiracies. And it makes me wonder: do such productions lead viewers in the U.S. and abroad to exaggerate what the United States is actually capable of doing? If so, then Americans may expect too much from their national security apparatus, and foreign populations may be too inclined to blame events on nefarious American interference.
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As I mentioned awhile back, I devoted a good chunk of my vacation out west reading Piers Brendon's The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997. As you might imagine, I spent a lot of time thinking about possible parallels and lessons for America's current global position, just as English imperialists spent a lot of time pondering the Roman experience (ably documented by Edward Gibbon).
In a tapestry this rich and varied, it is easy to read into it just about any "lesson" one wants to draw. With that caveat in mind, here are the top ten lessons on empire that I drew from Brendon's book. Even if you don't agree with them, you should still read the book.
1. There is no such thing as a "benevolent" Empire.
In his classic history of ancient Rome, Gibbon had noted that "There is nothing more adverse to nature and reason than to hold in obedience remote countries and foreign nations, in opposition to their inclination and interest." Britons thought of the empire as a positive force for themselves and their subjects, even though they had to slaughter thousands of their imperial subjects in order to maintain their control. Americans should be under no illusions either: if you maintain garrisons all over the world and repeatedly interfere in the internal politics of other countries, you are inevitably going to end up breaking a lot of heads.
2. All Empires depend on self-justifying ideology and rhetoric that is often at odds with reality.
British imperialists repeatedly portrayed their role as the "white man's burden" and maintained that imperial control brought considerable benefits to their subjects. (This is an old story: France proclaimed its mission civilizatrice, and the Soviet empire claimed it was spreading the benefits of communism. Today, Americans say we are spreading freedom and liberty). Brendon's account describes the various benefits of imperial rule, but also emphasizes the profound social disruptions that imperial rule caused in India, Africa, and elsewhere. Moreover, because British control often depended on strategies of "divide-and-conquer," its rule often left its colonies deeply divided and ill-prepared for independence. But that's not what English citizens were told at the time.
3. Successful empires require ample "hard power."
Although the British did worry a lot about their reputation and prestige (what one might now term their "soft power") what really killed the Empire was its eroding economic position. Once Britain ceased to be the world’s major economic and industrial power, its days as an imperial power were numbered. It simply couldn't maintain the ships, the men, the aircraft, and the economic leverage needed to rule millions of foreigners, especially in a world where other rapacious great powers preyed. The moral for Americans? It is far more important to maintain a robust and productive economy here at home than it is to squander billions of dollars trying to determine the political fate of some remote country thousands of miles away. External conditions may impinge on U.S. power, but it is internal conditions that generate it.
4. As Empires decline, they become more opulent, and they obsess about their own glory.
Brendon's description of the British Empire Exposition at Wembley in 1924-1925 is both slightly comical and bittersweet; with cracks increasingly evident in the imperial façade, Britain put on a lavish show designed to bind the colonies together and highlight its continuing glory. Moral: when you hear U.S. politicians glorifying America's historical world role, get worried.
5. Great Empires are heterogeneous.
The British empire was not a uniform enterprise; the various bits and piece were acquired at different times and in different ways, and the relationship between London and the different components was far from uniform. One could say the same thing for America's less formal global "empire": its relationship with NATO is different than the alliance with Japan, or the client states in the Middle East, or the bases at Diego Garcia or Guantanamo. An empire is not one thing.
6. When building an empire, it's hard to know where to stop.
The expansion of the British empire after 1781 shows how difficult it is to engage in a rational assessment of strategic costs and benefits. Once committed to India, for example, it was easy for Britain to get drawn into additional commitments in Egypt, Yemen, Kenya, South Africa, Afghanistan, Burma, and Singapore. This was partly because ambitious empire builders like Cecil Rhodes were constantly promoting new imperial schemes, but also because each additional step could be justified by the need to protect the last. History has been described as "just one damn thing after another," and so is the process of imperial expansion.
7. It takes a lot of incompetent people to run an empire.
A recurring theme in Brendon’s account is the remarkable level of ignorance and incompetence with which the British empire was administered. Although there were obviously some very able individuals involved, Britain’s colonial endeavors seem to have attracted an equal or greater number of arrogant, corrupt, and racist buffoons. The bungling that accompanied the U.S. occupation of Iraq looks rather typical by comparison.
8. Great Powers defend perceived interests with any means at their disposal.
Great powers like to portray themselves as "civilized" societies with superior moral and ethical standards, but realists know better. Like other empires, Britain used its technological superiority without restraint, whether in the form of naval power, the Maxim gun, airplanes, high explosive, or poison gas., and the British showed scant regard for the effects of this superior technology on their "uncivilized" targets. Today, the United States uses Predators and Reapers and smart bombs. Plus ca change ...
9. Nationalism and other forms of local identity remain a potent obstacle to long-term imperial control.
Britain's supposedly "liberal" empire contained a deep contradiction: a society that emphasized individual liberties could not hold in bondage whole societies and deny the inhabitants independence. Once nationalism took root in the colonies (intermingled with other tribal and/or religious identities), resistance to imperial rule increased apace. As the United States is now discovering in Iraq and Central Asia, most peoples don’t like taking orders from well-armed foreigners, even when the foreigners keep telling them that their aims are benevolent.
10. "Imperial Prestige" is both an asset and a trap.
Britain's leaders fretted constantly about any erosion in their image of superiority, fearing that one or two setbacks might lead their subjects to rise up or encourage other great powers to poach on Britain’s holdings. As a result, Britons found themselves fighting to defend marginal possessions in order to preserve their position in the places they believed mattered. Ironically, the refusal to liquidate far-flung commitments early so as to focus resources on more vital interests may have hastened Britain's imperial decline.
There are undoubtedly other morals one can draw from Brendon's account, and other historical treatments would undoubtedly suggest a somewhat different set of lessons. I wouldn't want to overplay the parallels between Britain and the United States, if only because the U.S. empire is mostly ad hoc and informal rather than a network of formal colonies. But there is one final moral one could also draw from Brendan's fine work: there is life after Empire. Britain may be past the glory of its imperial heyday, but life expectancy, health care, educational levels, GDP/capita, etc. are all higher now than they were in Victoria's time. Defenders of the Empire foresaw doom-and-gloom if it ever dissolved -- and sent many men to their deaths to prevent that from happening -- but its eventual demise did not produce the disasters back home that many had feared. Great Britain remains in influential force in world affairs, if anything batting slightly above its weight, and is more secure now than at any time in its modern history. For those of us who think the United States should stay out of the empire business, that's a reassuring thought.
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President Obama announced today that the federal government would extend benefits (though not full health care coverage) to same-sex partners of all federal employees.
Except, of course, for the roughly 2.2 million Americans now serving in the regular military, National Guard, or reserves. If any of them have a same-sex partner, applying for benefits would violate "don't ask don't tell." Instead of benefits, they'd be discharged.
I've opined on this issue before, but I'd just add that excluding gays from the uniformed military constrains their political options in another way. Military service is still highly respected in the United States, and it can be a valuable asset for someone running for public office. As the 2008 presidential election showed, prior military service is no guarantee of electoral success. But there are plenty of American politicians (Eisenhower, Powell, Kerry, Inouye, McCain, Sestak, etc.) who owe their political careers to their prior military service, and that route is presently denied to gay Americans. And I'd say an openly gay former Navy SEAL running for public office would dispel a lot of stereotypes.
I watched the Men's final at the French Open tennis tournament yesterday, and I was struck by the dominance of: 1) Roger Federer, who won his 14th Grand Slam tournament handily, and 2) the English language. The announcer at *Roland Garros* Stadium reported the scores en francais and French TV apparently got the first courtside interview with Federer after the match (while NBC took a commercial break), but Federer and Swedish runner-up Robin Soderling gave their acceptance speeches in English (with a French translation for the crowd). One imagines the spirit of Charles de Gaulle whirring rapidly in his tomb, not to mention the "Immortals" in L'Academie francaise.
It’s possible that Robin Soderling (the Swedish runner-up) spoke to the crowd in English because he doesn't speak French. But Federer reportedly speaks fluent French, German, and Swiss-German, as well as English, so why wasn’t he addressing the local crowd in their native tongue?
My guess is that this was dictated by the global TV market, and by the growing position of English as the lingua franca of contemporary globalization. The tournament was being watched all over the world, and English is the language that would be understood by the greatest number of potential viewers world-wide.
Americans sometimes view the dominant position of English as another component of America's "soft power," but that view is simplistic chauvinism. With English becoming a "universal" language, no single country will own it or be able to regulate its content. Instead, it will continue to evolve as most languages do, incorporating new words, spellings, and grammatical practices from an wide variety of sources. If they haven't started already, American xenophobes are going to start complaining soon about the corruption of "standard English" by all these foreign influences. For an interesting collection of views on this topic, check out the "Freakonomics" discussion here.
Of course, this whole discussion may be moot, given the damage that email, text-messaging, and Twitter feeds are already doing to civilized discourse. Or does that comment make me sound like a technophobe?
*P.S.: Bonus points for anyone who knows who Roland Garros was without looking up the link. Answer: Garros was a French aeronautical pioneer, who developed an armored propeller that allowed the use of a forward-firing machine gun for aerial combat during World War I. His system predated the more effective synchronization device later perfected by the Dutch/German Anthony Fokker. Garros was captured by the Germans in 1915, later escaped, and eventually shot down and killed in 1918. The stadium for which he is named occupies the site of a tennis academy that he attended.
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"Empathy" has been in the news lately, mostly in the context of President Obama's Supreme Court nominee. It's a quality that's often in short supply in the conduct of foreign policy, where leaders (and sometimes whole nations) often have a fixed view of certain events and find it hard to believe that anyone might legitimately see things differently. As Condi Rice commented when some European governments didn't support the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, "I'll just put it very bluntly. We simply didn’t understand it."
One reason for this absence of empathy is the human tendency to filter current situations through the prism of the past. One of the more enduring findings in political psychology is that people place more weight on their own experiences than on the experiences of others, even when their own experiences are in fact atypical. According to Robert Jervis's classic Perception and Misperception in International Politics: "if people do not learn enough from what happens to others, they learn too much from what happens to themselves." The salience of first-hand experience in shaping subsequent beliefs is increased if the event happens early in one’s life or career, and if it has important consequences for the individual (or the nation). In other words, we overlearn from big and important events, especially when they happen to us early.
This tendency might explain why different generations tend to have very different views on how the world works. For Americans born and raised during the Cold War (i.e., like me) images of conflict are also accompanied by a certain sense of stability and order. The Cold War begins in the late 1940s, the United States forms a set of alliances to wage it, and then bipolar stability kicks in. There are crises and confrontations and even some peripheral wars in Korea, Indochina, the Middle East, and Afghanistan, but the central strategic balance doesn't change very much and the Soviet Union eventually expires rather quietly. The period 1950-1990 is a monument to the virtues of deterrence, containment, and multilateralism, and a timely warning about the dangers of getting involved in costly quagmires. It is perhaps no accident that people like me tend to see the world as a competitive but ultimately fairly stable and predictable place.
But what if you were born in the early 20th century, and came of age in the turbulent decades after World War I? You would have seen a world where a nation’s fortunes could shift in a matter of weeks or months, and sometimes with swift and terrible effect. You might have seen the Roaring Twenties, followed by the Crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression. You would have seen a prostrate and disarmed Germany rearm itself in less than a decade, defeat France in a few weeks in 1940, and then conquer almost all of Europe and drive deep inside Russia, only to witness this seemingly unstoppable juggernaut be occupied and divided in half a mere three years later. You would also have seen Imperial Japan sweep across the Pacific, only to be occupied and disarmed by 1945. And having watched the Iron Curtain descend and seen Mao's triumph in China, you'd have a healthy respect for how quickly fortunes could shift and you’d be less inclined to take a complacent view of anything. Had I lived through the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, I might have been much more hawkish than I turned out to be.
The problem with this sort of generational interpretation is that it can’t account for differences between people who lived through the same events, although it might lead us to ask whether their own personal experiences with key events were different. But even there I suspect there's more to it than just personal experience.
But the real lesson is that the same "events" look very different to different people and to different countries. The U.S-backed contra war in Nicaragua killed some 35,000 Nicaraguans (about 1 percent of the population) but hardly any Americans; is it any wonder Nicaraguans remember it differently than Americans do? Similarly, 9/11 means one thing to U.S. citizens, but something different to Europeans, Central Asians, or people in different parts of the Middle East. The current war in Afghanistan and Pakistan is experienced differently by an Al Qaeda leader facing a Predator attack, by the CIA "pilot" operating the drone from a remote location, by a Pakistani or Afghan civilian who is attacked by mistake, by refugees now fleeing the fighting in the Swat Valley, and by the politicians in the United States, Afghanistan, or Pakistan who have to deal with the consequences. And not only do different individuals and different societies experience the same events in radically different ways, they then conduct their own discourse about these events (occasionally fertilized by ideas and commentary from outside) and eventually generate unique narratives about them.
Understanding how things look to others doesn't necessarily eliminate conflict -- especially when basic interests are fundamentally at odds -- but it makes us much less likely to misinterpret another's position and makes spirals of exaggerated or mistaken hostility less likely.
To take an obvious example, many Americans think of Iran as an aggressive, unpredictable country led by a set of aggressive, fanatically religious clerics. That tendency probably increases if you watch a lot of FOX News or listen to talk radio. From this perspective, Iran's nuclear program and its support for extremist groups like Hamas or Hezbollah is evidence of aggressive ambitions, perhaps of the very worst sort.
But ask yourself how this situation might look to an ordinary Iranian, or even to a member of its ruling elite. To many Iranians, their interest in nuclear technology (and possibly nuclear weapons) is entirely rational and essentially defensive: they have two nuclear neighbors (India and Pakistan), a third nuclear weapons state nearby (Israel), and the world’s most powerful country (the United States) has troops on either side of Iran and has been seeking to overthrow the Iranian government for a number of years now. Plus, various American politicians keep saying that "all options ought to be on the table," and Obama's special envoy to Iran, Dennis Ross, participated in a study group last year that advocated a hardline approach. It doesn't take a lot of imagination or empathy to figure out why Iran might want a nuclear deterrent: wouldn’t we want the same thing if we were in their position? Similarly, supporting radicals elsewhere in the Middle East keeps the U.S. off-balance and complicates efforts to unite various Arab states against Iran itself. A bit of empathy won't resolve these issues, of course, but it might help us reject the fervent threat-mongering that drove us to launch a foolish war in Iraq and has led others to favor a similar approach to Iran.
So can we train ourselves to “see things as others do?” Here the internet and the blogosphere are potentially transformative tools: you don't have to rely on the New York Times or the Washington Post or your own local newspaper (even if your "local paper" is Le Monde, Die Zeit, or the Daily Star). I can sit here in my office and read the English edition of Ha’aretz, the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, and the online edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun. Or I can read the Guardian, Asia Times, or the Jerusalem Post, and then go to the online Reuters.com and BBC News websites too. (And don’t forget http://foreignpolicy.com, of course). Americans would be well served to spend part of each week perusing WatchingAmerica.com, a website that collects and translates media reports from around the world and a variety of political perspectives. When you travel, don’t just watch CNN -- check out the BBC or Al Jazeera, too. Spend some time reading knowledgeable non-Americans like Ahmed Rashid, C. Raja Mohan, Kishore Mahbbubani, or Therese Delpeche. Don't rely just on reports from inside-the-Beltway think tanks in the United States; take a look at the websites of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the International Crisis Group, or the growing number of think tanks in the developing world.
To repeat: developing a greater capacity for empathy won't eliminate conflicts of interest between states, and won't always make it possible to resolve the differences that will inevitably arise. But an inability to understand an adversary's perspective (or an ally's, for that matter) is a crippling liability, and there's less excuse for it in our increasingly interconnected age.
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Awhile back I offered a couple of “top ten” lists of classic books in the field of international relations, and I enjoyed the spirited commentary (and additional suggestions) that readers offered in response. Of course, in this internet-driven, Crackberry and Twitter-mad 24/7 world of ours, who has time to read books? So I promised to offer a parallel list of my favorite articles, so that those of you who are pressed for time can ingest some classic wisdom in more bite-sized chunks. So without further ado (and in chronological order), here are my "top ten classic IR articles."
1. Albert Wohlstetter, "The Delicate Balance of Terror." Foreign Affairs (1957) Even more than Bernard Brodie or Tom Schelling, Wohlstetter laid out the basic requirements for stable nuclear deterrence. For that I can forgive him a lot of his other "contributions."
2. Mancur Olson and Richard Zeckhauser, "An Economic Theory of Alliances." Review of Economics and Statistics, (1966). This article identified and solved an intriguing puzzle, spawned an enormous literature, and still shapes how we think about alliance dynamics.
3. Kenneth Waltz, "International Structure, National Force, and the Balance of World Power," Journal of International Affairs, (1967). Clear and brief statement of Waltz’s views on bipolarity, anticipating his landmark 1975 essay in the Handbook of Political Science and the subsequent Theory of International Politics. (And I always liked it more than the earlier 1964 essay on "The Stability of a Bipolar World.")
4. Robert Jervis, "Hypotheses on Misperception," World Politics (1968). Succinct summary of how psychological tendencies can lead to erroneous judgments and poor decisions. Still worth reading today, especially if you don’t have time for the 1976 book.
5. Michael Doyle, "Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs," Philosophy and Public Affairs, (1983) or "Liberalism and World Politics," American Political Science Review (1986). These articles launched the whole “democratic peace theory” debate. Others carried on this discussion, but Doyle deserves the credit for igniting the discussion.
6. John Ruggie, "International Regimes, Transactions, and Change: Embedded Liberalism in the Postwar Economic Order," International Organization (1983).
Robert Gilpin once told me he thought this was the single best article ever written in the field of modern political economy. 'Nuff said.
7. Alexander Wendt, "Anarchy is What States Make of It," International Organization (1992). The portrayal of the "Gorbachev revolution" now seems quaint, but this article did more to bring constructivist theory into the mainstream of IR than any other publication, and the theoretical arguments must be confronted.
8. Martha Finnemore and Kathryn Sikkink, "International Norm Dynamics and Political Change," International Organization (1998). The best article I've ever found for teaching students about how international norms emerge and spread, and why they are important.
9. William C. Wohlforth, "The Stability of a Unipolar World." International Security (1999). I've always wished I'd written this myself, but Wohlforth got there first and did it better than I would have.
10. Alexander George's "Case Studies and Theory Development: The Method of Structured, Focused Comparison," in P.G. Lauren, Diplomacy: New Approaches. A methodological article that guided countless Ph.D. dissertations and did more than any other single piece to trigger renewed interest in the development of rigorous qualitative methods.
Honorable Mentions: My list here could go on forever, but here are few articles that I've particularly enjoyed and/or learned from: George Kennan, "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," Foreign Affairs; Stephen Krasner, "State Power and the Structure of International Trade”, World Politics; Chaim Kauffman and Robert Pape, "Explaining Costly Moral Action: Britain and the Abolition of the Slave Trade," International Organization; Barry Posen, "Command of the Commons: The Military Foundation of U.S. Hegemony, International Security; James Fearon, "Rationalist Theories of War," International Organization; Andrew Mack, "Why Big Powers Lose Small Wars: The Politics of Asymmetric Conflict,” World Politics; Robert Jervis, "Cooperation under the Security Dilemma, World Politics; and "Why Nuclear Superiority Doesn't Matter," Political Science Quarterly; Robert Keohane, "The Demand for International Regimes, International Organization; John Gaddis, “The Long Peace: Elements of Stability in the Postwar International System,” International Security; Stanley Hoffmann, "Obstinate or Obsolete: The Fate of the Nation State in Western Europe," Daedalus; Timur Kuran, “Now out of Never: The Element of Surprise in the Revolutions of 1989," World Politics; and Graham Allison, "Conceptual Models and the Cuban Missile Crisis," American Political Science Review.
These are just some of my favorites, of course, and all such lists leave off more worthy candidates than they include. What are YOUR favorites?
In my last post, I argued that the U.S. policy of "don't ask don't tell" is contrary to a realist view of world politics, because it excludes qualified people from military service and thus makes it harder for the United States to field the most effective forces in a competitive international environment. I think there are other objections to the policy as well, but I was primarily concerned in that post with the strategic implications. The policy obviously doesn't prevent the United States from producing highly capable fighting forces, but restricting the talent pool in this way means our forces will cost more than they have to and/or be less effective than they could be.
This got me thinking: might a similar logic be at work at a more global level? Specifically, does the competitive nature of international politics give some states an advantage because their political systems and social values make it relatively easy to attract and assimilate talented citizens from other countries, thereby enabling them to draw more-or-less selectively on the entire global talent pool? If so, then these states will be able to improve their relative position over time, and to the extent that globalization now facilitates people moving from place to place, that tendency should be increasing. By contrast, states that make assimilation difficult or that discriminate on other areas will tend to be less attractive destinations for highly educated and/or entrepreneurial individuals, and these states will for the most part have to work with the citizenry they've got or pay a very high premium to attract talent from abroad.
One can see this dynamic by comparing Japan and the United States. Japan is an ethnically homogeneous society, with small minority populations who remain objects of discrimination. It is possible for foreigners to become naturalized citizens after five years of continuous residence, but this practice is not widespread. Japan also has a rapidly aging and declining population, which will have significant long-term effects on its power and influence. Yet given Japan's current policies discourage talented foreigners from immigrating and assimilating, thereby making it harder for Japan to attract the best and brightest from around the world and reverse its demographic slide.
The United States, by contrast, is the very model of a melting-pot society. People automatically qualify for citizenship if either parent is a citizen or if they are born on American soil, and naturalization is quite common (about one million people became naturalized citizens last year). Although support for immigration has waxed and waned throughout U.S. history and remains a contested issue today (mostly due to issues pertaining to illegal immigration), the United States has had remarkable success attracting and assimilating some of the best and brightest from all over the world. All I have to do is look at my colleagues, whose ranks include an impressive number of scholars born outside the United States. Each of them was hired as a result of a global talent search, and we'd have a less distinguished faculty if we had looked only at U.S. citizens. Some of my colleagues eventually returned to their countries of origin (such as Andres Velasco, currently Minister of Finance in Chile), but others are likely to spend most if not all of their careers here in the United States.
The success of the American melting pot, as many scholars have commented, is due partly to good fortune (North America was rich in natural resources, arable land, etc.) but also to the particular nature of American civic nationalism (or what Anatol Lieven calls the American Creed): faith in liberty, constitutionalism, democracy, the rule of law, individualism, and political and cultural (but not economic) egalitarianism. Although the United States has hardly been free of racial or ethnic conflicts during its history, these features have made it possible for every new group to integrate itself as full citizens. The United States is an attractive destination not just because it is a wealthy society, but also because many different groups and individuals can become integral parts of that society instead of facing permanent second-class status.
If I'm right, then the pressures of international competition give an advantage to any society that can "cream" some of the smartest and/or hardest working people from all over the world. How? By making that society an attractive place to live and work, mostly by creating an atmosphere of equality and toleration. By contrast, societies that limit their de facto talent pool by defining citizenship narrowly, by treating minorities badly, by discriminating on the basis of race, religion, or other characteristics are placing themselves at a competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis the rest of the world.
Over time, therefore, we should expect a growing gap between "cosmopolitan" societies that develop institutions and cultures in which diversity and tolerance are prized and where potential conflicts between them are managed well, and more restrictive societies that are either attractive only to a fixed population of particular ethnic identity, or who are face recurring internal conflicts between various contending groups. My bet would be that, other things being equal, the former do better over time.
And note that this argument isn't just about ethnic assimilation. In effect, what I'm suggesting is that from a realist perspective, there is a strong case for "small-l" liberal toleration. All else equal, societies that establish strong norms and institutions that protect individual rights and freedoms (including those governing sexual preference, I might add) will become attractive destinations for a wider array of potential citizens than societies that try to maintain a high degree of uniformity. And when you can choose from a bigger talent pool, over time you're going to do better.
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The Clinton administration's policy of "don't ask, don't tell" is back in the news, mostly because the Obama administration is dragging its feet about abandoning it. One indirect consequence of the decision not to reverse the policy immediately was the forced resignation of Daniel Choi, a West Point graduate, Iraq veteran, and Arabic translator who came out on national television. Having violated the "don't tell" part, Choi was informed that he would have to resign from his National Guard unit. Not surprisingly, Obama's vacillation and the Choi incident have a number of gay rights advocates up in arms.
I can understand the short-term politics (read: timidity) behind Obama's decision (i.e., he doesn't want to annoy the armed services when he's got two wars to wage, especially when both are going badly). But from a realist perspective, not allowing gay men and women to serve openly in the armed forces is a bad policy. Realism sees world politics as a competitive realm, where states face real enemies and where military power is an important element of state’s overall capabilities. In a competitive environment, you want the very best people working (and fighting) for you, and you wouldn’t want to do anything that limited your access to talented, patriotic, and highly motivated personnel. And it's not as though the U.S. army has got a surplus of trained Arabic speakers these days.
In the past, plenty of organizations (and some countries) hurt themselves by excluding talented people on the basis of this sort of prejudice. Ivy League schools used to have quotas on Jews and other minorities, which meant that both their faculties and their student bodies were weaker than they would have been otherwise. That was good news for universities that didn’t have these restrictions (like MIT, the University of Chicago, or CCNY), because they were able to recruit on the basis of merit and frequently outdid their hidebound rivals. Major league baseball teams excluded blacks until Branch Rickey was smart and courageous enough to hire Jackie Robinson, and team owners who didn't follow suit were soon stuck with less talented athletes. Would any serious NBA club try to mount an all-white squad today? But by the same logic, would any general manager exclude white players if it meant passing up on a Larry Bird, Steve Nash, or Manu Ginobili? Would Google or Apple be better off if they refused to hire a talented programmer because she happened to be black, or gay, or Catholic, or Mormon, or Republican? Not only would it be illegal, it would be stupid.
The point is that in any competitive endeavor, you want to be able to recruit and employ the most talented and highly motivated people you can find, and you don't want to limit the talent pool from which you can draw unless there is something about them (such as a physical disability) that makes them obviously unfit for military service. By not allowing gay Americans to serve openly, we are imposing an artificial limit on the number of loyal Americans that our military can draw upon to fill its ranks. Some gay Americans would undoubtedly not be very good soldiers or sailors, but the same is true of plenty of straight people too. Many others undoubtedly would serve with distinction, however, and we know that because many already have, like Dan Choi.
For realists who appreciate the international politics is a rough business, therefore, the only possible argument against allowing gays to serve openly in the armed services is to claim that this policy would have a detrimental effect on actual military performance. The problem with this line of argument is that there is no good evidence to support that claim, and considerable evidence against it. For an excellent examination of the issue, see Elizabeth Kier's "Homosexuals in the American Military: Open Integration and Combat Effectiveness," from the Fall 1998 issue of International Security. Or check out a series of recent reports from the Palm Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which offer survey evidence from the U.S. military and comparative studies of foreign armies (including Britain and Israel), where gay people serve openly, bravely, and effectively.
If international politics were easy and essentially harmonious, then one could in theory maintain prejudicial policies like "don't ask, don't tell" without worrying about the strategic consequences. It might be objectionable on grounds of fairness but it wouldn’t be undermining our security. But in a world that is as dangerous as we are often told, we want to make it easy and attractive for the ablest people to serve. Some of those men and women are going to be gay, and we are making ourselves weaker by excluding them.
The argument I'm sketching here has broader implications about the evolving nature of the nation-state, I think, and I'll elaborate on them in a subsequent post.
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Last summer, the Israeli government announced a new effort to "rebrand" the country in the eyes of the world, and it hired a prominent British public relations firm to help out. In addition to various forms of cultural outreach designed to highlight Israel's achievements, this effort included having a men’s magazine publish a photo spread of several women from the IDF (including the former Miss Israel) in various fetching poses, a decision that didn't go over all that well back in Israel itself. You can read all about it here, here, or here.
The Gaza operation, the sham peace process, and the recent election of the Netanyahu/Lieberman government aren’t making the "rebranding" effort any easier, of course. And if you want to know why this new hasbara campaign isn’t likely to work, start by reading English journalist and military historian Max Hastings's sobering account, published last week in the Guardian. Drawn from an appearance in Balliol College's Leonard Stein lecture series, Hastings recounts his own evolution from an enthusiastic cheerleader for Israel to a disillusioned critic who strongly supports Israel’s existence but openly opposes many of its present policies. Where once he "loved those people, and boundlessly admired their achievement," he now describes himself as "one of those foreigners who progressively fell out of love with Israel." I know the feeling.
The problem, as Hastings makes clear, is the reality of the occupation and the brutal treatment of the Palestinians that goes hand-in-hand with it. This situation can't be disguised by more energetic public relations efforts. There are too many video cameras and human rights groups documenting Israel's actions -- including Israeli groups like B’tselem. There are too many bloggers willing to write about the conflict from varying perspectives, and too many scholars and journalists like Hastings -- plus a growing number in the United States -- who no longer accept the outdated image of Israel as a plucky and virtuous David facing a looming and bloodthirsty Arab Goliath. That image was easy to sell in 1948, perhaps, and it remained fairly convincing after the Arab states offered the infamous "Three Nos" at the 1967 Khartoum summit. But it's a much tougher sell after Lebanon in 1982 and 2006, after Gaza in 2008-2009, and after the Saudi and Arab League peace proposals in 2002 and 2007 don't even elicit an official response from Jerusalem.
Israel's achievements over the past sixty-one years are undeniable, and the officials responsible for the rebranding campaign won't have any trouble finding artists, athletes, scientists and entrepreneurs to write feel-good stories about. But the dark side of the story won’t go away -- 40-plus years of an increasingly brutal occupation, the construction of the apartheid wall (or if you prefer,"separation fence"), much of outside the 1967 borders, thousands of dead Palestinian civilians, a series of failed wars since 1982, and the repeated squandering of genuine opportunities to make peace. And every year the number of settlers grows. I don't hold Israel solely responsible for this tragedy, but they are neither powerless nor blameless.
As Hastings observes, more in sadness than in anger, these policies have also had a deeply corrosive effect on Israeli society itself. In his words, "Morally, if not militarily, [the IDF] is a shadow of the force which fought in 1948, 1956, 1967, or 1973." Not to mention rising political corruption, the polarization of the body politic, once-impressive universities in decline, and a worrisome tendency for younger Israelis to seek careers abroad. In an era when information flows freely and where anyone with an internet link can read Ha'aretz, the Jerusalem Post, the Daily Star, the Guardian, etc., the Israeli Foreign Ministry is not going to control the story.
In fact, trying to "rebrand" Israel through a one-sided PR campaign could be counterproductive, because offering a uniformly sunny image that leaves out much of the story just undermines the credibility of the messenger. My sense is that few Israelis believe Shimon Peres anymore, and I doubt many of them think Benjamin Netanyahu means it when he says he’s interested in a genuine peace. It's like when Bush and Cheney declared that United States doesn't torture, Bill Clinton told us that he "didn’t have sex with that woman," or Richard Nixon said "I am not a crook." After awhile, smart listeners learn not to accept anything they're told without double-checking it themselves. Even worse, when they hear one thing, they start to assume that the opposite is probably true.
Some readers may think that Hastings is employing a double-standard, or that he is "singling Israel out" for criticism. They could point out that Israel's adversaries have often lied or prevaricated too, and that they have done plenty of brutal things themselves. They could also remind us that Israel's neighbors are hardly models of tolerance or open discourse and that there is a far more open debate about these issues within Israel than there is in Jordan or Saudi Arabia or Syria. I agree, and the willingness of some Israelis to confront the past honestly and to question its present policies remains an admirable feature of Israeli society.
But there is no double-standard at work here, and comparisons with states whose behavior may be worse miss the point. Israel's actions are not being judged against the conduct of a Sudan or Burma, but by the standards that people in the West apply to all democracies. It is the standard Americans expect of allies who want to have a "special relationship" with us. It is the standard Israel imposes on itself when it tells everyone it is "the only democracy in the Middle East." Israel is being expected to behave like Britain or Canada or France or Japan and not like some one-party military dictatorship, and it is certainly expected not to deny full political and civil rights to millions of Palestinians who now live under its constant control. These other democracies eventually gave up their colonial enterprises; Israel is still trying to consolidate its own.
As Americans have learned in recent years, whenever any country fails to live up to its own professed values, it is going to lose friends and admirers around the world. Barack Obama understood that he couldn’t restore America’s image in the wake of Abu Ghraib and the Bush torture regime by trying to change the subject or by talking about some cool or virtuous things Americans had done. ("OK, we tortured some people and invaded Iraq on false pretences, but weren’t the Founding Fathers great, aren't Tiger Woods and Kelly Clarkson amazing, and have you seen that new Star Trek movie?"). The way a country regains the world’s admiration in the aftermath of misconduct is to stop doing it, admit it was wrong, express regret, and make it clear that it won't happen again. Restoring Israel's image in the West isn't a matter of spin or PR or "rebranding;" it's a matter of abandoning the policies that have cost it the sympathy it once enjoyed. It's really just about that simple.
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Last week a friend of mine sent me a link to a website for a film festival featuring over thirty movies about wine. That got me thinking: if Foreign Policy had a film festival, what movies should we show? There are some obvious candidates (see below), but rather fewer than you might think. After all, many aspects of foreign policy don't lend themselves to cinematic treatment, which is why I don't expect to see a gripping drama about the Doha Round or a lighthearted farce about the Six Party Talks on North Korea (though Kim Jong Il clearly has untapped comic potential).
There are lots of terrific war movies, of course, but most of them tell you relatively little about why the war happened or what the conflict was actually about. And spy movies have long been a popular genre, ranging from Hitchcock’s Thirty-Nine Steps to the gadgetry and glitz of most Bond flicks to the film noir seediness of The Third Man to the paranoid high-tech travelogue that is the Jason Bourne franchise.
But let's raise the bar high, and exclude pure war movies, spy capers, documentaries, and overt propaganda films like Triumph of the Will or Frank Capra's Why We Fight, and focus on movies that tells us something about international relations more broadly. Here's my personal top ten list, with apologies for my ethnocentrism (I don’t see enough foreign-language films).
10. Meeting Venus
Ostensibly a film about opera and an unlikely romance between a diva and an obscure conductor -- set in a fictitious "all-European" orchestra -- this droll sleeper actually tells you a lot about environmentalism, European labor unions, the historical legacy of the Trotsky-Stalin split, and the tangled politics of the European Union. Plus it’s got Glenn Close.
9. Independence Day
Basically a sci-fi flick the depends on you suspending disbelief throughout (e.g., how did Bill Pullman stay cockpit ready for an F-15 while serving as President, and where did Wlll Smith learn to fly a flying saucer?) It's Hollywood, so of course the United States gets to save the world. But it makes my list because it is balance-of-power theory in action: an external threat (giant alien spaceships), gets the world to join forces against the common foe.
Yes, there are a lot of spies roaming around this movie, but its much broader than that; an exciting if somewhat incoherent portrait of the interplay of oil companies, great power politics, local militias, and the tension between modernity and tradition in the Middle East. Not to be taken too seriously, but not without insights either.
Not just a gripping movie, but also a film about a watershed historical event. One could argue that this is where the modern human rights movement begins.
6. Wag the Dog
Instead of invading Grenada or firing cruise missiles at Sudan, here the White House hires a Hollywood producer to invent a wholly fictitious war. Sounds absurd, but those WMD in Iraq turned out to be fictitious too. There's a whole IR literature on "scapegoat wars" (i.e., wars fought to distract the public from other issues), and this film just takes that impulse a step further. It's a cautionary tale in this era of digital special effects, a compliant news media, and the citizens who are all too inclined to believe whatever they are told. Could this be Roger Ailes's favorite movie?
5. Fail Safe
Everything you ever wanted to know about colonialism and the unavoidable clash of cultures that it produces.
3. The Great Dictator
Chaplin's lethal lampooning of Adolf Hitler and Nazism, released in 1940 and addressing anti-Semitism at a moment when plenty of other institutions were still ignoring it. Reminds us that making fun of despots is often an effective weapon.
2. Dr. Strangelove
Granted, it is a war movie (though the war depicted here won’t last long), but so much more. Kubrick punctured the absurdity of the conventional military thinking in a nuclear age as well as any scholar could, and managed to satirize the whole Cold War mentality to hilarious effect.
No, it’s not really a war movie (there are no battle scenes, and the emphasis is on politics, resistance, and of course romance). But it’s on my list, because, well, it's Casablanca. And where would modern discourse be without phrases like "Round up the usual suspects," "Here's looking at you, kid," "I was misinformed," "I'm shocked, shocked!…" and "this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”?
HONORABLE MENTIONS: The Interpreter (not that good a movie, but how many films take place at the UN?); Rollover (an old B movie about a global financial meltdown triggered by crooked corporations, venal foreign investors, and corrupt financiers. Right, as if something like that could ever happen); Local Hero (hot shot rep from a multinational oil corporation is no match for the charms of a quirky Scottish fishing village); Duck Soup (the Marx Brothers show you what could happen if Glenn Beck ran foreign policy); Missing (about the CIA's involvement in Chile); Grand Illusion (a classic antiwar movie, but didn't make my list because it is set in the middle of World War I); Hotel Rwanda (humanity in midst of the world's most recent genocide); Charlie Wilson's War (partly about the Afghan War, but mostly about how things get done -- or not -- in Washington. My CIA friends tell me a lot of it is a crock, but Philip Seymour Hoffman is brilliant and Tom Hanks ain't bad); and last but not least, Reds (the Bolshevik Revolution was a major world event, and it's an excellent movie, too).
And YOUR nominees are?
Here's an IR theory puzzle: Why do some seemingly powerful states exert relatively little influence on world politics, while other states with more modest capabilities cast a bigger shadow than one would expect? Although there is no consensus on how national power should be defined or measured, most IR scholars would probably agree that there is a substantial but not perfect correlation between national power and international influence. Indeed, one could imagine a simple regression, with "power" on the X-axis and "influence" on the Y-axis, and a diagonal line bisecting that space. I'd expect most states to array themselves pretty close to that line: as their power increased (measured in terms of GDP, population, military capability, resource endowments, etc.) one would expect to see a corresponding increase in their global influence.
But what about the outliers -- either the "overachievers" who swing a bigger bat than one would expect or the "underachievers" who wield less influence than their overall capabilities might provide? Here's my personal, decidedly un-scientific top five list in each category, followed by some thoughts on what might explain why some states punch above their weight and some potentially major powers cast a comparatively small shadow.
"OVER-ACHIEVERS" (in no particular order)
With a population of only 9 million, one wouldn’t expect Sweden to cast much of a shadow, despite its advanced industrial economy. Yet for its size and population, Sweden has been a significant international player. Its welfare state and other social policies have been widely-studied and a model for others, and diplomats such as Dag Hammarskjold, Folke Bernadotte, and Olof Palme were all important international voices. Sweden still devotes a higher percentage of its GDP to foreign aid than any other country, and institutions such as the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute have amplified Sweden's visibility on major issues of arms control and disarmament. Awarding the Nobel Prizes probably doesn't hurt either.
2. North Korea.
With a small population (22 million), an obsolete military machine, a bankrupt ideology, and an economy that exposes its citizens to periodic famine, one wouldn’t expect North Korea to get much attention at all. Indeed, on most measures North Korea is an under-achiever (especially when compared with its neighbor to the south). But Pyongyang's leaders are past masters at commanding international attention, usually by threatening to do something undesirable (and then sometimes going ahead and doing it). North Korea is hardly an inspiring model for anyone, but it shows how sheer cussedness can enable a country to punch well above their weight.
America’s northern neighbor has the world's second largest land mass but a relatively small population (only 32 million) and only modest military assets. Yet Canada has been a consistent proponent of multilateralism, ranks ninth in the world as a provider of foreign aid, and has been an enthusiastic participant in international peacekeeping missions. Indeed, Canada has lost 117 soldiers fighting in Afghanistan, the highest per capita figure of any ISAF participant.
For a country whose total population is less than that of New York City, Israel generates a lot more attention than one would expect. To be sure, some of this reflects Israel’s economic success (which includes advanced hi-tech sector and a significant arms industry) not to mention its nuclear arsenal and overall military power. And then there's the occupation and the violence that it has produced over the years. Regardless of one's views on that thorny subject, it's hard to argue that Israel doesn't exert a lot of influence on the global agenda, especially given its very modest size.
For a city-state with a population of only 4.4 million, which gained independence only in 1965, Singapore's international prominence marks it as an obvious outlier, even when one allows for its advanced economy and high per capita income. In addition to its economic achievements, Singapore has been a major force behind regional cooperation in Southeast Asia, an energetic promoter of institutions such as ASEAN, and its leaders have rarely been bashful about offering their views on major international issues.
"UNDERACHIEVERS" (also in no particular order)
Despite having the world's 2nd largest economy and the world's sixth largest defense budget, Japan performs a remarkably modest international role. As Richard Samuels of MIT recently pointed out in Newsweek, Japan sent warships to help defend against tSomali pirates only after China announced it was going to do so, and it has only 38 soldiers participating in UN peacekeeping missions. Increasingly, its leadership both at home and abroad seems paralyzed. Moreover, with a declining and rapidly aging population, Japan seems likely to become even less influential over time, despite its economic size and considerable national wealth.
It is the world's most populous democracy, the dominant state in south Asia, the home country of a sizeable and successful global diaspora, and a nuclear power. Past Indian leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Indira Gandhi were major international figures. While far from being inconsequential, India has yet to exercise a global leadership role, or even to exert far-sighted and constructive influence over its immediate neighborhood. Moreover, a recent article in The Hindu deplores the deteriorating state of international studies in India, at precisely the same period when a rising China is taking the study of international relations very seriously.
Now reunified, with the world's 14th largest population and either the 3rd or fifth largest economy (depending on whether one uses straight GDP figures or purchasing power parity estimates). Germany is also the world's third largest exporter. While not entirely absent on the world stage, it is hardly exercising an influence commensurate with its latent capabilities. Even when Germany does get more actively involved (as they have in Afghanistan), they operate under highly restrictive rules of engagement that substantially undercut their effectiveness. A far cry from the Germany of Otto von Bismarck, or even the creative leadership of Konrad Adenauer and Willy Brandt.
At first, I thought about putting Russia in the other category -- a large but relatively weak state that managed to exert more influence than its overall capabilities might suggest. But on reflection, I think Russia belongs here. Despite its geographic size, oil and gas resources, and relatively well-educated work force, as well as the inherited assets of permanent Security Council membership and a large nuclear arsenal, Russia today exerts less influence on the agenda of world politics than its overall capabilities might provide. Its political system is not a model for anyone; its culture is not a magnet, and its leaders are either unable or unwilling to play a constructive role in addressing the major problems that confront the world today. Instead, Moscow mostly plays a spoiler role, which is what former great power do when they cannot find a way to lead.
Yes, I've read about the BRICS, and how countries like Brazil are going to reshape the global balance of power in the 21st century. But the world's tenth largest economy (and fifth largest population) has yet to achieve an international role of similar stature. Brazil clearly wants a more prominent international position, as exemplified by its current efforts to win a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, its extensive diplomatic presence and active participation in existing international organizations. President Lula da Silva has very high approval ratings (including the highest ratings in all of Latin America). But so far, these ambitions and capabilities have not been translated into as much direct influence as I'd expect.
So what explains why some states punch above their weight and others punch below it? This would be a great topic for a dissertation, but here are a few tentative thoughts. First, individual leadership matters. A leader like Charles De Gaulle, Lester Pearson, or Lee Kwan Yew can elevate a country's profile above its "natural" place, and a series of weak leaders can keep a country from reaching its true potential. Second, history can have a long-term impact on a country's overall influence: Britain and France occupy somewhat enhanced roles today because they were once great powers with extensive global empires and Sweden's tradition of international activism may even be a legacy of its former role as a great power several centuries ago. Third, the examples of Germany and Japan suggest that extreme misconduct in the past can suppress a state's willingness or ability to play a large international role for a very long time. And in these two cases, the legacy of World War II has been reinforced by decades of Cold War free-riding. Fourth, small states can leverage a relationship with a major power like the United States (as both Israel and Singapore have done) in order to maintain positions that would be harder to sustain on their own. Lastly, relatively weak states may enhance their overall influence by occupying a specialized "niche" in the international environment, as neutral powers like Sweden or Switzerland have done.
I'm sure I missed some other good examples and possible explanations, so I hope readers will contribute suggestions or critiques of their own.
Ryan Pierse/Getty Images for DAGOC
A year or so ago, I read a news story where a well-known IR scholar explained the silence of many academics about the Iraq war by saying that "I don't think all the academics in the world could have had much impact on American public opinion...I don't think academics matter."
Even if true in this particular case, this is a self-fulfilling world-view. If you basically believe that what scholars write and say doesn't really matter for major national policy decisions, you're unlikely to write or say anything that might actually shape those decisions. And for many academics, that's ok with them.
As Laura Rozen noted earlier this week, my colleague Joseph Nye offered a candid and critical assessment of the growing gap between academia and the policy world in a Washington Post column on Monday. Joe's own career demonstrates that it is still possible combine serious scholarship, government service, academic leadership, and public commentary, but his warnings that this combination is becoming rarer is almost certainly correct. Michael Desch makes some related points in a recent article in Notre Dame Magazine, noting that the policy world is increasingly indifferent (or hostile) to academic advice. Together, the portrait they paint is more than a little disturbing.
My own views on this subject can be found in a longer essay in the Annual Review of Political Science. Here I'll just note two points. First, the prevailing "cult of irrelevance" in much of academia is both regrettable and irresponsible. Our society permits many academics to live pretty comfortable lives, particularly once they have tenure. And let's not forget that tenure isn't granted to allow a life-time of self-indulgent scholarship, but to allow scholars to take risks in their research and to confront controversial subjects without fear of coercion. In exchange for job security, a decent living and a high level of intellectual autonomy, our fellow citizens have a right to expect us to take our teaching responsibilities seriously and to use our knowledge to address serious issues. For political scientists, that ought to mean using our knowledge to address important matters of concern in the real world, and to contribute to the broader public discourse on these topics. That doesn't mean we should spend our days writing op-eds (or blogs!), but neither does it mean that we should studiously avoid any engagement with controversial real-world topics.
Yet a surprising number of my fellow scholars seem to hold the opposite view. Either they try to cut deals to keep their teaching to a minimum or they devote vast amounts of time to researching topics that are of interest only to a handful of their fellow scholars. Even worse, anyone who does engage the real world gets derided for doing "policy analysis" and younger scholars who show an interest in this sort of activity are less likely to be taken seriously and less like to rise within the profession. What sort of incentive structure is that?
Second, this "cult of irrelevance" is not a law of nature. As I wrote in the Annual Review essay:
Scholars naturally respond to incentives, and the incentive structure today discourages . . .a concern with policy relevance. But the norms that establish these professional incentives are not divinely ordained; they are collectively determined by the members of the discipline itself. The scholarly community gets to decide what it values, and there is no reason why policy relevance cannot be elevated in our collective estimation, along with the traditional criteria of creativity, rigor, and empirical validity."
What would this mean in practice? First, as Nye points out, academic departments could give greater weight to real-world relevance and impact in hiring and promotion decisions. When evaluating job candidates, or when considering someone for tenure, reviewers and evaluation committees could be asked to explicitly consider what contribution a scholar's work has made to the solving of a genuine real-world problems. Second, departments could also allow junior faculty to "stop the tenure clock" during a public service leave (as we do here at the Kennedy School), a policy might improve their subsequent research and make them better teachers to boot. Third, editors of academic journals could give greater weight to policy-relevance in evaluating submissions, and professional organizations should create outlets (akin to the Journal of Economic Perspectives), designed to make cutting-edge research accessible to policymakers (or at least their staffs).
After all, should scholars in the Ivory Tower really be proud that so few people care about what we have to say?
So when I offered my "top ten" list of favorite books in international relations last week, how many of you noticed that all of the authors were men? I did, and so did my wife. Not only that, but most of the suggestions sent in by commenters referred to books written by men as well. Of course, my interests tend to lie on the security side of the field, which has tended to attract more men than women until fairly recently. And my list leaned toward recognized classics, which biased it towards older works (and thus to eras when women scholars were fewer in number). But I've been in the business long enough to know that subtler forms of bias might be involved too, so I thought I'd put out a list of some of my favorite books by women scholars (plus a few journalists/public intellectuals). It's not hard to come up with ten (and a few more).
1. Roberta Wohlstetter, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision. To take nothing away from others, this is arguably the most influential book by a woman scholar in the field of security affairs, and it cast a long shadow over subsequent studies of intelligence failure and strategic surprise.
2. Susan Strange, States and Markets. Strange was a pioneering figure in the history of international studies in Britain, and a clear-eyed thinker and writer. Frankly, I enjoyed some of her articles (such as "Cave! Hic Dragone: A Critique of Regime Analysis," in the 1983 International Organization issue on regimes) more than her books, but the overall contribution earns a place on my list.
3. Martha Finnemore, The Purpose of Intervention: Changing Beliefs about the Use of Force. This book helped convince me that constructivist analysis could say something important and tangible about security affairs. It’s sharply written and persuasive, too. Need I say more?
4. Frances FitzGerald, Fire in the Lake: Vietnamese and Americans in Vietnam. A Pulitzer-prize winning investigation of Vietnamese society and a piercing critique of America's tragic intervention there. Students of missile defense should also read her Way out There in the Blue: Star Wars and the End of the Cold War, a fascinating account of Ronald Reagan's campaign to make nuclear weapons "impotent and obsolete."
5. Kathryn Sikkink and Margaret Keck, Activists beyond Border: Advocacy Networks in International Politics. Both Keck and Sikkink have written other important works, but this is my favorite, as it brought to light an under-studied (and one might argue increasingly important) phenomenon.
6. Samantha Power, "A Problem from Hell": American in the Age of Genocide. Another Pulitzer Prize-winner by (full disclosure) a friend and colleague. Power is no realist, but I think the book’s lessons point in that direction. If great powers like the United States are too self-interested to do very much to save the lives of others (a tendency she deplores), why expect that to change? A wonderful book, full of passion and insight and gripping prose.
7. Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. When one considers that issues of the "commons" are now central to much of world politics, and how institutions will be central to any effective solution, this was a remarkably far-sighted book.
8. Theda Skocpol, States and Social Revolutions. Although primarily a work of comparative historical sociology, Skocpol’s path breaking work also emphasizes the role of international pressures in driving great revolutions. Like its author, a work to be reckoned with.
9. Beth Simmons, Who Adjusts?: Domestic Sources of Foreign Economic Policy during the Interwar Years, 1923-1939. For those of you who thought Charles Kindleberger answered all your questions about the Great Depression. And worth re-reading in light of our current situation.
10. Valerie Hudson and Andrea Den Boer, Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population. I mentioned this in my earlier discussion, and can’t resist highlighting it here. The argument is simple but striking and could have far-reaching implications. Short version: if a cultural preference for male offspring leads to too many unattached men in your society, look out.
Like my earlier top ten, this list just scratches the surface of interesting works on different aspects of world politics. Other obvious contenders (i.e., books I've enjoyed and/or learned a lot from) would include Etel Solingen, Nuclear Logics; Jo-Ann Tickner, Gendering World Politics; Elizabeth Kier, Imagining War, Monica Toft, The Geography of Ethnic Violence; Mia Bloom, Dying to Kill; Iris Chang, The Rape of Nanking; Debora Spar, The Cooperative Edge, Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919, Lynn Eden, Whole World on Fire, and Nina Tannenwald, The Nuclear Taboo. And yes, I know I'm leaving plenty of deserving scholars out, but I'm confident readers will tell me who I missed.
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Last week Tom Ricks offered us his "Top Ten list" of books any student of military history should read. The FP staff asked me to follow suit with some of my favorites from the world of international politics and foreign policy. What follows aren't necessarily the books I'd put on a graduate syllabus; instead, here are ten books that either had a big influence on my thinking, were a pleasure to read, or are of enduring value for someone trying to make sense of contemporary world politics. But I've just scratched the surface here, so I invite readers to contribute their own suggestions.
1). Kenneth Waltz, Man, the State, and War.
An all-time classic, which I first read as a college sophomore. Not only did M, S & W provide an enduring typology of different theories of war (i.e., locating them either in the nature of man, the characteristics of states, or the anarchic international system), but Waltz offers incisive critiques of these three "images" (aka "levels of analysis.") Finding out that this book began life as Waltz's doctoral dissertation was a humbling moment in my own graduate career.
2). Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel.
Combines biology and macro-history in a compelling fashion, explaining why small differences in climate, population, agronomy, and the like turned out to have far-reaching effects on the evolution of human societies and the long-term balance of power. An exhilarating read.
3). Thomas Schelling, Arms and Influence.
He's a Nobel Prize winner now, so one expects a lot of smart ideas. Some of Schelling's ideas do not seem to have worked well in practice (cf. Robert Pape's Bombing to Win and Wallace Thies's When Governments Collide) but more than anyone else, Schelling taught us all to think about military affairs in a genuinely strategic fashion. (The essays found in Schelling's Strategy of Conflict are more technical but equally insightful). And if only more scholars wrote as well.
4). James Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed.
This isn't really a book about international relations, but it's a fascinating exploration of the origins of great human follies (like Prussian "scientific forestry" or Stalinist collectivized agriculture). Scott pins the blame for these grotesque man-made disasters on centralized political authority (i.e., the absence of dissent) and "totalistic" ideologies that sought to impose uniformity and order in the name of some dubious pseudo-scientific blueprint. And it's a book that aspiring "nation-builders" and liberal interventionists should read as an antidote to their own ambitions. Reading Scott's work (to include his Weapons of the Weak and Domination and the Arts of Resistance) provided the intellectual launching pad for my book Taming American Power).
5). David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest.
Stayed up all night reading this compelling account of a great national tragedy, and learned not to assume that the people in charge knew what they were doing. Still relevant today, no?
6). Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception in International Politics.
I read this while tending bar at the Stanford Faculty Club in 1977 (the Stanford faculty weren't big drinkers so I had a lot of free time). Arguably still the best single guide to the ways that psychology can inform our understanding of world politics. Among other things, it convinced that I would never know as much history as Jervis does. I was right.
7). John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics.
Why do bad things happen to good peoples? Why do "good states" do lots of bad things? Mearsheimer tells you. Clearly written, controversial, and depressingly persuasive.
8). Ernst Gellner, Nations and Nationalism.
The state is the dominant political form in the world today, and nationalism remains a powerful political force. This book will help you understand where it came from and why it endures.
9). Henry A. Kissinger, White House Years & Years of Upheaval.
Memoirs should always be read with a skeptical eye, and Kissinger's are no exception. But if you want some idea of what it is like to run a great power's foreign policy, this is a powerfully argued and often revealing account. And Kissinger's portraits of his colleagues and counterparts are often candid and full of insights. Just don't take it at face value.
10). Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation.
Where did the modern world come from, and what are the political, economic, and social changes that it wrought? Polanyi doesn't answer every question, but he's a good place to start.
So that's ten, but I can't resist tossing in a few others in passing: Geoffrey Blainey The Causes of War; Douglas North, Structure and Change in Economic History; Valerie Hudson and Andrea den Boer, Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia’s Surplus Male Population; Robert Gilpin, The Political Economy of International Relations; Steve Coll, Ghost Wars; T.C.W. Blanning, The Origins of the French Revolutionary Wars; R. R. Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution; Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World; Stephen Van Evera, Causes of War; Samuel Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies; Tony Smith, The Problem of Imperlalism; and Philip Knightley's The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist, and Myth-Maker. And as I said, this just scratches the surface.
So what did I miss? Keep the bar high.
(And for those of you who don't have time to read books, I'll start working on a "top ten" list of articles).
I’m spending some time this month rehearsing for an annual charity show (playing keyboards in the pit band), so my thoughts have turned back to music. Here’s my question: where have all the political songs gone, and especially songs about war and peace? I’m not saying there aren’t any (see below), but this genre doesn’t seem to cast the same shadow it once did.
Back in the folk era (for younger readers, that means the late 50s/early-to-mid 60s), songs about war and injustice were staples of popular culture here in the United States. Think of Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” or Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” or Phil Ochs’ “I Ain’t Marching Anymore.” At about the same time, the all-time genius of political musical satire, Tom Lehrer, was writing scathingly funny songs about a range of foreign policy topics, including nuclear proliferation (“Who’s Next?”), NATO’s multilateral force (“The MLF Lullaby”), liberal interventionism (“Send the Marines!”) and even nuclear Armageddon (“So Long, Mom!”). And don’t forget Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction” (written by P.F. Sloan), an apocalyptic jeremiad that hit #1 on the Billboard charts in 1965 and contains references to nuclear war, Red China, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and congressional fecklessness.
By the late 1960s, fueled by Vietnam, songs about war were legion. Off the top of my head, there’s Donovan’s “Universal Soldier,” the Animals' “Sky Pilot,” CSNY’s “Ohio,” and “Wooden Ships,” John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance,” and “Imagine,” Edwin Starr’s “War,” and Kenny Rogers’ “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town.” Even Glenn Campbell’s pop hit “Galveston” (written by Jimmy Webb) has a Vietnam theme. There were a few songs on the other side too, most famously Sgt. Barry Sadler’s “Ballad of the Green Berets.”
My main point is that some of these songs were big hits, selling lots of copies and getting lots of airplay. And satire wasn’t entirely gone either, with Country Joe and the Fish’s “Feelin’ Like I’m Fixin to Die Rag,” and Randy Newman’s brilliant “Political Science,” which dates from the early 1970s but could have been written for George W. Bush. Excerpt:
No one likes us, I don’t know why
We may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try
But all around the world, even our old friends put us down,
Let’s drop the big one, and see what happens…
We give them money, but are they grateful?
No, they’re spiteful, and they’re hateful,
They don’t respect us, so let’s surprise them,
We’ll drop the big one and pulverize them.
I’d be remiss not to mention one of my all-time favorites, Nick Lowe’s “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?” (first recorded in the early 1970s but made famous by Elvis Costello and the Attractions in 1979 and later voted 284th best rock song by Rolling Stone). Then in 1985, right on cue, came the pop anthem to globalization (and foreign aid): “We are the World” (written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie and recorded by an all-star group to raise money for famine relief in Africa).
Given the foreign policy problems we have faced in recent years, including 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s somewhat surprising that we haven’t seen a resurgence of popular music exploring these themes. There are some obvious exceptions, to be sure, such as Springsteen’s “Devils and Dust,” Pink’s “Dear Mr. President,” or Neil Young’s album “Living with War,” and alt-country singer/guitarist/songwriter Buddy Miller has a terrific anti-landmines tune on his album Poison Love entitled “100 Million Little Bombs.” (Salon.com has a list of other anti-war songs here, and I found this list of top 10 political rock songs here.) On the pro-war side, you’ve got Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue,” and “American Soldier,” among others. But unless I’ve missed something (and that’s perfectly possible, because I’m not nearly as plugged in as I once was), none of these songs is commanding the sort of mass audience that earlier songs about war (or foreign policy, broadly defined) did. Some of them are powerful and evocative and musically sophisticated, but I haven’t heard one that seems likely to become a standard anthem.
Why? My hypothesis: there’s no draft. So long as military service is voluntary, and thus something that young people can opt out of, the costs of war will seem far away to many of them and their attention will tend to focus elsewhere. And when that happens, there won’t be big money in political songs and they’ll stay on the fringes of popular culture. Seems to be true of antiwar movies too.
But as I said, I’m not as plugged in as I used to be, and maybe I've just missed the good stuff. So the floor is open for comments: are there terrific songs about war or foreign policy being recorded these days? If so, are any of them attracting mass interest? If not, why not? The floor is open.
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You know your opponents are worried when they start calling you names.
Jonathan Chait says I'm "paranoid," that I "went bonkers" in a recent blog post, and that my scholarship is "wildly hyperbolic." He says his real objection to Charles Freeman's appointment as chair of the National Intelligence Council is that Freeman is an "ideological fanatic" (isn't it odd that this quality went undetected during Freeman's lengthy career as a public servant?) and that Freeman's other critics were mostly worried about his relations with Saudi Arabia (as if this had nothing to do with their views on other aspects of our Middle East policy). Nice try, but it is abundantly clear to almost everyone that the assault on Freeman has been conducted by individuals -- Chait included -- who are motivated by their commitment to Israel and who are upset that Freeman has criticized some of its past behavior. Of course Chait doesn't broadcast this openly, as it would immediately undermine the case he's trying to make.
As for the others, Michael Goldfarb compares me to Father Coughlin and says I assembled a "blacklist," when in fact I did no such thing. I'm not suggesting that Freeman's critics should lose their jobs or face other forms of persecution; I just pointed out what they were doing and said it was wrong. Read what I actually wrote, and then ask yourself why Goldfarb would make this up. Perhaps he's confusing me with Ron Radosh, who did call for the New York Times to fire Roger Cohen for writing a column about Iran that didn't demonize it. Jeffrey Goldberg says that my co-author and I are "viciously anti-Israel," even though we have consistently declared our support for a Jewish state, said we "admired its many achievements," and wrote that the United States "should come to Israel's aid if its survival is ever in jeopardy." M.J. Rosenberg challenges Freeman's critics too, and Goldberg labels him a "professional slander expert."
What explains the false claims and overheated rhetoric these pundits employ? Why can't Chait and his allies represent their opponents' views accurately, and deploy facts and logic instead of invective and character assassination?
Answer: because the case they are defending is so weak. Not the case for Israel's existence, which virtually everyone engaged in these debates supports (including Freeman himself), but the case for continuing to give Israel nearly unconditional backing, even when it continues to build settlements in the Occupied Territories and when its newly-elected leaders openly declare their opposition to a two-state solution, which was the preferred outcome of the Clinton and Bush administrations and is now the stated goal of the Obama administration. Because the case for never criticizing Israel and backing it no matter what it does makes little strategic or moral sense, advocates of that approach have no choice but to misrepresent their opponent's arguments, and to try to portray them as wild-eyed extremists (i.e., "ideological fanatics" or "paranoid"), in an attempt to marginalize them. It never seems to occur to them that what we really have here is a straightforward policy disagreement, and that the policies they prefer might actually be harmful to Israel and the United States.
Their tactics used to work pretty well, but more and more people understand and resent the game that Israel's hardline supporters are playing. But Messrs. Chait, Goldfarb, and Goldberg don't get this. They don't understand that their mean-spirited fulminations are undermining their own case, much as a loudmouth hogging the mike at a public meeting turns off the rest of the audience. So it's hard to get too upset at all the name-calling. As Napoleon once said, "when your opponent is making a very serious mistake, don’t be impolite and disturb him."
P.S. The Washington Times reports today that Freeman's appointment is going to be vetted by the DNI's Inspector General, to make sure there are no disqualifying conflicts of interest. I see nothing wrong with that, provided he is judged by the same standards as other government officials in similar roles. The article also quotes several former NIC members who support the vetting process but believe "It has to be looked at, but I don't see anything to disqualify him," and that Freeman "should be a fine choice."
We're on the cusp of the biggest political experiment of our lifetimes. If Obama is mostly successful, then the epistemological skepticism natural to conservatives will have been discredited...If they mostly fail, then liberalism will suffer a grievous blow, and conservatives will be called upon to restore order and sanity."
Such shamelessly partisan pseudo-intellectualism is Brooks's stock-in-trade, but where he's been the past eight years? George W. Bush and the GOP conservatives inherited a strong economy and a budget surplus, and a country whose international image was mostly favorable. And then they squandered them all with a thoroughness that almost seems deliberate. There was no "epistemological modesty" involved when Bush placed loyalty above competence and let lobbyists and other special interests loose in Washington, or when he launched a foolish and ill-planned war in an attempt to transform the entire Middle East. And let us not forget that Brooks himself was an enthusiastic supporter of these policies; I guess he forgot his Burke back when his party was in power.
The result of these "conservative" policies, as we all know to our sorrow, is the most serious combination of domestic and foreign policy challenges to face America in decades. But if Obama fails to clean up the mess left by his predecessor, it is "liberalism" that will have failed. Huh?
Like every fan of good writing, I was delighted to see the New York Times end its experiment with Bill Kristol. Now the question is who the Times will pick to fill the second right-wing slot in its op-ed lineup. Here's a radical idea: instead of merely duplicating David Brooks, why not hire a realist? As I wrote in Salon back when Kristol was hired, there are plenty of neoconservatives and liberal internationalists writing for today's op-ed pages, but realists are surpisingly scarce. And I can think of several who would be pretty good at it (no, I don’t mean me).
If the Times doesn't like that idea, why not look for a conservative voice from overseas? It's a globalized world, after all, and I'll bet its readers might appreciate reading a view of the world from outside the parochial confines of the United States. For example, the Times could hire one of the people who write lead editorials for the Economist, or even "Lexington," the anonymous columnist who covers America for the British-based magazine. Economist columns and editorials are almost always well-informed, sometimes witty, and the prose is a model of laser-like clarity. Could this be one reason why The Economist is making money and the Times isn't?
Whatever the reason, here's hoping that the Times' management does better this time around.
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Warning: this is not a realist post. It's not even all that serious. But it's Friday, and some of you may appreciate a brief diversion from the more depressing events of the week.
Here's my question: has there ever been a great European rock-and-roll band?
You would think that there would be by now, given the cross-fertilization of musical cultures that has taken place over the past few decades. We've been allied with Europe for a long time, and true rock bands have been touring the place for decades. The Armed Forces radio network used to broadcast lots of rock music too, so it was available to anyone with a radio. If we believe Tom Stoppard, rock music was a powerful cultural force on the continent (including Eastern Europe), just as it was in the United States.
Yet I can't think of a single European band or artist that would be regarded as a major force in the history of rock-and-roll. Obviously I am drawing a sharp distinction here between the United Kingdom and continental Europe. The UK has produced any number of world-class rock bands and artists: the Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Who, U-2, Sex Pistols, Van Morrison, Cream, Elvis Costello, Eurythmics, David Bowie, etc., so my generalization obviously doesn't apply there. And this list appears to confirm that point.
But what about France, Germany, Spain, Holland, Denmark, Sweden? These cultures have produced a number of important jazz musicians (Django Reinhardt, Niels-Henning Orsted-Pedersen) and world-class popular music artists (Edith Piaf) plus a few one-hit wonders (e.g. Golden Earring's "Radar Love") but continental Europe has never produced a rock and roll band of any global significance. And I hope nobody counters by mentioning Abba -- whatever you might think of their music, it ain't rock.
I'm no musicologist, and I know there are other people out there who know more about the music scene than I do (paging Eric Alterman!). And I admit I haven't been keeping up with the scene as much in recent years. (My teenaged son was into some weird Japanese metal bands last year, but none of them seem to have broken out to a larger global following).
So I could be dead wrong about this, and I invite readers to chime in. Am I way off-base here? If there have been some major rock artists from continental Europe, who are they? (Note: I am not saying that there are no good rock bands in Europe; I'm just saying that they don't seem to be emerging as major artists in a global sense).
And if I'm right about the gap, what's the explanation? Is it network theory (i.e., lack of connections to key tastemakers, like the folks at Rolling Stone)? A function of trade patterns? The lingering influence of too much classical music training? American chauvinism?
My own theory, based on absolutely no research whatsoever, is that you can't have rock music without a blues and R & B foundation. Blues and R & B and early American rock and roll spread to England in the 1950s and helped ignite the British rock scene. Result: the British invasion of the 1960s. But blues and R and B were never a large influence on the continent, and it has therefore remained focused on (or to be unkind, mired in) an irretrievably "pop" sensibility.
On a more serious note: does this phenomenon tell us something about the limits of globalization? We can send digital music anywhere now, but that doesn't mean it sprouts and grows everywhere it lands, and national and regional cultures continue to retain a lot of individuality, even in the face of the Internet and the iPod.
Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.