The flap over Chuck Hagel's nomination to be the next secretary of defense -- brought to you, like so many other foolish things, by hardliners in the Israel lobby -- has been a distraction from the real questions that the next secretary of defense ought to be ready to address. I happen to think Hagel is a good choice for the position, but he shouldn't get a free ride when he testifies tomorrow. In that spirit, here are the Ten Questions I'd Ask Chuck Hagel on Thursday.
1. On China: "Do you think China's rising power poses a serious threat to U.S. interests? If its power continues to rise, should the United States continue to strengthen its Asian alliances and move more military forces to Asia? What other steps should the United States take now to protect its geopolitical interests in Asia, and how can we avoid a new Cold War there?"
2. On Taiwan: "As China's naval, air, and missile capabilities increase, defending Taiwan will become increasingly difficult. If at some point defending Taiwan is no longer militarily feasible, what should the United States do?"
3. On cyberwar: "Are you worried that America's use of cyberwarfare capabilities -- such as the famous STUXNET attack on Iran -- is setting a dangerous precedent for others? Given our growing dependence on computer networks, shouldn't we be actively pursuing some sort of a global regime to limit this danger, instead of assuming we will always be better at it than others?
Bonus follow-up on drones: "Same question: are we setting an equally dangerous precedent here? And do you agree with critics who say that current drone strikes are often counterproductive because they create as many extremists as they take out?"
#4. On nuclear weapons: "If it were solely up to you, sir, how many nuclear weapons would you maintain in the U.S. stockpile, even if other states did not reduce their arsenals at all?"
#5: On U.S.-Japanese relations: "The U.S.-Japanese security treaty is decidedly one-sided. As MIT professor Barry Posen points out, the treaty commits us to defending Japan while Japan promises to help. Shouldn't this arrangement be reversed? Why should America be more committed to defending Japan than the Japanese are? As secretary of defense, what will you do to produce a more equitable sharing of burdens between the U.S. and its wealthiest allies?"
#6: On torture: "Are you comfortable with how the Obama administration dealt with the previous use of torture by U.S. personnel? Do you think the officials who authorized torture and other war crimes should have been prosecuted?"
#7: On Iraq and Afghanistan: "In the past decade, the United States has failed to achieve its strategic objectives in two major conflicts: Iraq and Afghanistan. Apart from the obvious lesson that we should not start foolish wars, what other lessons should the U.S. military be learning from these twin failures?"
#8: On the global military footprint: "The United States has hundreds of bases and other military facilities in every continent of the world; no other country comes even close. In the absence of a serious peer competitor, does our security really depend on this enormous global footprint? Which facilities could we do without?"
Bonus follow-up: "Defense experts also agree that America's basing structure at home is inefficient. As Secretary, are there any bases you would close or consolidate?
#9: On rape in the U.S. armed forces: "President Obama has recently authorized the deployment of women in combat roles. Yet sexual harassment and rape have reached epidemic proportions within the U.S. military, with over 3000 incidents per year being reported. What do you intend to do about this?"
#10: On veterans' benefits: "The United States should pay its soldiers a fair wage and stand by its veterans. Yet a number of budget experts now believe that ever-escalating benefit packages threaten our ability to maintain an effective defense. Do you think our current approach to military compensation is about right, or does it need to be fundamentally rethought? If the latter, how?"
If anybody asks him a few questions like that, they might even forget about some of those other issues, and the Senators might learn something useful about his qualifications and judgment.
JUNKO KIMURA/AFP/Getty Images
Is Hillary Clinton a great secretary of state? A puff-piece in the New York Times Magazine a couple of weeks ago referred to her as a "rock star diplomat," and quotes Google chairman Eric Schmidt calling her "the most significant Secretary of State since Dean Acheson." (Hmm. . . has Mr. Schmidt ever heard of some guys named Dulles, Kissinger, and Baker?). I'm neither a fan nor a foe of Ms. Clinton, but one can't really call her a great secretary at this point, through no fault of her own.
First the positives. There's no question that Clinton has been terrifically energetic, as well as a loyal team player. In this sense, Obama's decision to appoint her has worked out brilliantly, due in no small part to her willingness to serve the man who defeated her for the 2008 nomination, and in a broader sense, to serve her country. She's also proved to be relatively gaffe-free (there have been a few slips, but that's inevitable for anyone who's in the limelight 24/7 and who has to respond and react to rapidly evolving events). Insiders with whom I've spoken say she is an excellent boss who elicits considerable loyalty from those around her. And as the Times piece notes, she's helped restore the somewhat battered morale of the foreign service, and used her celebrity to raise public awareness on a number of signature issues. Nothing to be ashamed of there, and I'd argue her record puts her well ahead of predecessors such as Warren Christopher, William Rogers, Christian Herter, Madeleine Albright, Dean Rusk, Condoleezza Rice, or Colin Powell. (For a balanced but positive appraisal of Clinton's record, see FP editor Susan Glasser's profile here).
The problem, however, is that she's hardly racked up any major achievements. The Chen Guangcheng affair was a nice bit of on-the-fly crisis management, but the fate of a single Chinese dissident is not exactly the stuff of high politics and in the end won't have much impact on Sino-American relations either way. She played little role in extricating us from Iraq, and it is hard to see her fingerprints on the U.S. approach to Afghanistan. She has done her best to smooth the troubled relationship with Pakistan, but anti-Americanism remains endemic in that country and it hardly looks like a success story at this point. Yes, her belated quasi-apology eventually got the NATO supply trucks rolling again, but it took months to get this matter resolved and the relationship itself remains deeply fractured. She certainly helped get tougher sanctions on Iran, but the danger of war still looms and there's been no breakthrough there either.
Needless to say, she has done nothing to advance the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace or even to halt Israel's increasingly naked land grab there (for which she can share blame with the rest of the administration, AIPAC, the U.S. Congress, and the Netanyahu government). Finally, although she's helped articulate the need for the "pivot" to Asia and has done some effective salesmanship on that topic both at home and in the region, this move was both a geopolitical no-brainer and still faces significant obstacles. Among other things, the recent debacle over the aborted strategic cooperation agreement between South Korea and Japan (which led to the resignation of one of Korean President Lee Myung-Bak's top aides) is a setback for both Lee and for Clinton's efforts to build a stronger coalition in Asia.
The lack of major accomplishments isn't really her fault, however, for several reasons. First, as I noted way back when Obama became president, there just weren't a lot of low-hanging fruit available when the new team took office in 2009. On the contrary, they faced a series of difficult-to-intractable problems, several of which (Iraq, Afghanistan) were likely to end up looking like failures no matter what they did. Even if Clinton had been a magical combination of Bismarck, Machiavelli, Gandhi, and Zhou en Lai, she'd have had trouble devising a strategy that could have solved all these problems quickly and without costs.
Second, Clinton isn't a great secretary of state because that is not the role that she's been asked to play in this administration. Dean Acheson, Henry Kissinger, and James Baker had extremely close working relationship with the presidents that they served, and each enjoyed far more authority over foreign policy than Clinton has been given by the Obama White House. Obama's initial reliance on a set of "special envoys" diluted Clinton's clout even more, even when some of them (such as the late Richard Holbrooke) were personally close to the secretary.
Add to this the fact that the Pentagon and intelligence community now controls vastly greater resources than the State Department does, and has for more impact on our relations with trouble spots like Central Asia, Yemen, the Persian Gulf, etc.. Given that raw bureaucratic reality, it's not surprising that Clinton cannot point to any major achievements on her watch. Indeed, a good case can be made that American foreign policy is still operating ass-backwards: Instead of seeing military power as one of the tools we use to advance a broad political agenda, today military imperatives tend to dominate and the diplomats just get sent out to line up some compliant partners and to clean things up afterward (see under: Drone wars).
Which is not to say that Clinton has performed badly. On the contrary, I'd give her high marks for executing the job she was asked to perform, especially given the constraints (both organizational and geopolitical) in which she had to operate. So maybe the "rock star" label is right after all. Rock stars get a lot of attention and sometimes adulation, and sometimes they even deserve it. But not even Elvis had much lasting impact on international politics.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
I have no idea if Dartmouth president (and public health expert) Jim Yong Kim is a good choice to head the World Bank or not. I'm not an expert on economic development, and I've heard both good and bad things about him from a number of friends and colleagues since his nomination was announced. But I am pretty sure that the Obama administration blew an opportunity to score some diplomatic points when they decided to push him for the job.
Here's the key issue: Because voting shares in the World Bank are determined by each member nation's contributions, the United States has a de facto veto over who gets to be Bank president. It's the old Golden Rule of International Organization: Those with the gold make the rules. By long-standing custom, the president of the World Bank has always been an American, while a European gets to lead the International Monetary Fund.
Surprise, surprise: Other countries find this situation objectionable. And especially when the U.S. uses its prerogative to foist candidates with dubious qualifications on the institution, such as former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (who helped lead the U.S. to disaster in Vietnam) or former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (who did the same for us in Iraq).
Of course, realists expect powerful states to use international institutions to advance their own interests, which is why they want to make sure that the people in charge are reliable. If I were president, I would want the World Bank to be led by a highly competent individual who wasn't about to harm U.S. interests. But a smart realist would also recognize that imposing the U.S. choice on others every single time is bound to trigger resentment, and encourage rising powers like China, Brazil, India, and others to redouble efforts to break Washington's stranglehold. And every time the United States has to twist arms or use its privileged position to get its way, other states quietly seethe and anti-American forces are handed another nice talking point to use to undermine the U.S. image around the world.
Which is why I think the Obama administration missed a golden opportunity when it failed to embrace the nomination of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerian Minister of Finance minister and former World Bank Managing Director. I can't speak with authority about her qualifications, although she does have a B.A. from Harvard (magna cum laude) and a Ph.D. in regional economic development from MIT. I'm also struck by the endorsement she received from renowned trade economist Jagdish Bhagwati in a letter to the Financial Times, where he said that his own personal experience had convinced him that "she can outwit and outsmart almost any policy economist I know."
To be clear, I'm not arguing that Okonjo-Iweala is axiomatically a better choice than Kim, although she certainly appears to be equally (and maybe better) qualified. My point is about the diplomatic repercussions of this decision and the broader approach that the United States ought to be taking in world affairs. Given how powerful the United States still is, a primary goal of U.S. foreign policy should be to make America's privileged position as palatable to others as possible. One way to do that is to make symbolic concessions on minor issues on occasion, in order to build good will and to convey a certain regard for others's sensitivities. You know: a "decent respect for the opinions of mankind." So when Washington gets lucky and the African Union endorses a Nigerian economist with a B.A. from Harvard and a Ph.D. from MIT, who also has ample experience at the World Bank, and who is a woman of color to boot, the smart thing to do is get behind it immediately. This course is such an obvious no-brainer that I'm amazed the Obama administration didn't leap at the opportunity.
And by the way, having a non-American as president of the World Bank wouldn't set an unfortunate precedent. The United States would still have the voting rules in its favor, and it could still veto future candidates that it deemed unacceptable. But in this case the United States missed an opportunity to build some good will at little or no cost, and it's going to come back to haunt us down the road. And woe unto us if Kim gets the job and turns out to be a dud.
JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images
In Going Rogue Ms. Palin talks perfunctorily about fiscal responsibility and a muscular foreign policy, and more passionately about the importance of energy independence, but she is quite up front about the fact that much of her appeal lies in her just-folks "hockey mom" ordinariness. She pretends no particular familiarity with the Middle East, the Iraq war or Islamic politics -- "I knew the history of the conflict," she writes, "to the extent that most Americans did." And she argues that "there's no better training ground for politics than motherhood."
Yet Mr. McCain's astonishing decision to pick someone with so little experience (less than two years as the governor of Alaska, and before that, two terms as mayor of Wasilla, an Alaskan town with fewer than 7,000 residents) as his running mate underscores just how alarmingly expertise is discounted -- or equated with elitism -- in our increasingly democratized era, and just how thoroughly colorful personal narratives overshadow policy arguments and actual knowledge.
I think Kakutani is right, but I wonder why so many people -- including Senator McCain, Ms. Palin herself, and the other folks who supported her -- seem to think you don't need to know anything to be good at running foreign policy. I doubt if Ms. Palin would let someone perform surgery on one of her children (or even repair her car) simply because they had parenting experience or an entertaining life story. No, she'd want to make sure that the person in question actually knew what they were doing. Virtually all of us normally insist on genuine expertise when we hire anyone to do an important job -- whether it's carpentry or a cardiac bypass -- yet millions of people in this country seem to think that the most momentous decisions about our collective future can be entrusted to people who are sublimely comfortable in their own ignorance.
George Frey/Getty Images
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.
TORSTEN SILZ/AFP/Getty Images
Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.