Friday, March 2, 2007

Defining public intellectuals down

The passing earlier this week of Arthur Schlesinger Jr. caused some gnashing of teeth at Tapped about where the next generation of public intellectuals will be found. Ezra Klein writes:

So who takes their place? Will Sean Wilentz or Michael Kazin be remembered as Arthur Schlesinger is, because I don't think Doris Kearns Goodwin or Stephen Ambrose possess the grand moral compass necessary to claim the mantle. The Clinton administration had a Kennedy-esque aura of intellectual ferment, but the public intellectuals it furnished are Paul Begala and James Carville. Ira Magaziner, it turned out, lacked star power. I guess the bright spot on the horizon is Barack Obama's campaign, which boasts a glittering orbit of policy advisors and public thinkers whom the Obama camp has taken a Kennedyesque approach to, encouraging them to retain their public profiles. Hence, the world has not lost Samantha Power or Karen Kornbluh, but they are in the inner circle of a presidential candidacy. Maybe that will elevate them. Or maybe we're just done with public intellectuals, and cable news has time for little but public personalities. (underline added)
Then there's Marc Schmitt:
Obviously, there's no factory for creating new Schlesingers or Galbraiths (although those two families do pretty well) but anything that can be done to change the system of incentives for young academics or would-be academics so that there are rewards to making relevant contributions to public life, rather than incrementally advancing some narrow question within their field, would be good.
I've occasionally been accused of falling into the "public intellectual" category, so a few thoughts on this matter:
1) I recognize that there's a Potter-Stewart-"I know it when I see it"-quality to defining a public intellectual, but applying that label to either Begala or Carville is just wrong. They are were sharp political operatives, and God knows they're public about it. That's different from advocating or promoting abstract policy or political ideas to a larger audience.

Ezra Klein is a smart blogger. The fact that he's even positing these guys tells me more about the declining state of the public intellectual than his original post. Also, a friendly warning to Klein -- Benjamin Barber might be coming after you with a large baseball bat.

2) Contrary to Schmitt's claim, there actually are factories for public intellectuals. In the past five years a few degree programs have sprouted up to offer training as a public commentator or public intellectual. It's just that no one seems to pay attention to these factories -- except in news articles commenting on their existence.

3) Schmitt and Klein seem particularly worried about the liberal side of the public intellectual ledger. To which I will reply: Cass Sunstein. Jacob Hacker. George Lakoff. Anne-Marie Slaughter. Thomas Franck. Those names took me less than a minute to recall. As I pointed out recently, the Republic will stand with the current crop of public intellectuals.

4) Here's a subversive thought -- given the performance of public intellectuals in the Kennedy/Johnson years -- not to mention the Bush administration -- maybe this category of thinker does better when not affiliated with the U.S. government.

posted by Dan at 05:10 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Why suicide terrorism is different in Afghanistan

Spencer Ackerman explains:

While Iraqi suicide bombers target civilians and soft targets in order to sow destabilization and provoke/respond to sectarian violence, nearly all Taliban suicide bombings -- and in Afghanistan, resistance to the presence of foreign forces and the Karzai government is overwhelmingly Taliban -- are focused on Afghan or U.S./NATO security forces. The two researchers assess that unlike the Iraqi insurgents, al-Qaeda or Shiite militias, the Taliban has to cleave the population away from the Karzai government, but in the process must "avoid losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people by needlessly killing civilians."

The trouble is that it works. Members of the International Security Assistance Force have in some cases balked at taking up operations in suicide-bomb-heavy territory. Worse still, Williams and Young find that freaked-out ISAF forces have responded by upping their tolerance for collateral damage. Little is more provocative in Afghanistan than civilian deaths at foreign hands; in that sense, the Taliban gambit does show some success.

posted by Dan at 11:15 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Talking with the divine Ms. Postrel

My latest bloggingheads exchange is with Virginia Postrel., who seems to have stolen the cerulean sweater first worn by Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada.

Topics range from Helen Mirren's dress to student confessions to privacy on the Internet to the new new world order. Just for kicks, Amitai Etzioni is mocked at several points.

Go check it out.

posted by Dan at 10:30 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Gone ISAing

Blogging will range from intermittent to light over the next few days, as I will be attending the International Studies Association annual meeting in Chicago. [Chicago in February?--ed. Well, not all of us get invited to Firenze, like some other bloggers I know. Besides, the previous two years, ISA was in San Diego and Honolulu, so I've decided not to complain.]

If you want to peruse some of the papers, click here. I'll be presenting a newly revised version of "The Realist Tradition in American Public Opinion."

Talk amongst yourselves. Here's a topic: Mark Harris complains in Entertainment Weekly that conservative characters on television are neither conservative nor nasty enough:

As a member of the self-deluding Eastern liberal politically correct media elite (so my reader mail tells me), I would like to learn more about the opposition. The problem is, they keep going soft on me. Last fall, TV promised us two conservatives: Kitty Walker on ABC's Brothers & Sisters, and Harriet Hayes on NBC's now-shelved Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Kitty was supposed to be a brash, Ann Coulter-like firebrand in a family of whole-grain blue-staters, and deeply religious Harriet was going to redress the injustices done to people of faith by godless showbiz types. As each series has unfolded, both women have been portrayed as multidimensional, sensitive human beings. Not incidentally, they seem to be turning into liberals....

Brothers & Sisters is, I think, pulling off an excellent liberal spin on conservatism, systematically demolishing Kitty's beliefs by depicting her as a right-winger who has never confronted the human side of her arguments. When she does — when the endangered soldier or the homosexual whose rights are denied is in her own family — politics becomes personal, and she becomes more ideologically flexible. Dick Cheney would call that fighting dirty; I would call Brothers & Sisters a really fun way to make Dick Cheney mad.

Question -- doesn't everyone become more ideologically flexible when politics becomes personal?

posted by Dan at 11:19 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

James Galbraith confuses me

Greg Mankiw alerts me to a James Galbraith essay in The Nation that claims to take on Hamilton Project Democrats. Galbraith focuses on trade policy first, and comes to the following conclusion:

The facts are clear: NAFTA is a done deal, and China is a success story we have to live with. Progressives need a trade narrative that moves past these two issues. Broadly, this means accepting manufactured imports and dropping the idea that we can control--or that it matters much--who assembles television sets or stitches shirts. Standards to guard against flagrant abuses such as child and prison labor are fine, but it's an illusion to think they will, or should, dent the flow of goods from China. A progressive trade agenda should focus, instead, on building stronger world markets for our exports, and in ways that do not trample on the needs and rights of poor people in poor countries. That should provide plenty of room for future fights with free-trade absolutists.
Um... actually, no, Galbraith's formulation doesn't leave a lot of room for future fights -- not that there's anything wrong with that!! I wish all progressives shared the Galbraith position.

The problem is that there is plenty of room for division within Galbraith's forumlation of the progressive trade agenda: "building stronger world markets for our exports, and in ways that do not trample on the needs and rights of poor people in poor countries." The former requires enforcing intellectual property rights, because they are at the root of much of what the United States currently exports. Progressives, however, would no doubt argue that the latter requires dropping IPR enforcement altogether.

Given the current standards of trade discourse, however, I should shut up and just encourage all progressives to read Galbraith.

posted by Dan at 10:57 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Your agricultural subsidies fact of the day

The WTO has just issued its latest Trade Policy Review for the European Union. This fun fact is found in the overview:

In value, export subsidies notified by the EC represent approximately 90% of all the WTO Members' notified export subsidies.
Hat tip: Daniel Altman on the International Herald-Tribune's globalization blog.

posted by Dan at 10:43 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Cheney hears boom

Apparently Vice President Richard Cheney's surprise visit to Afghanistan was not a surprise to the Taliban:

Vice President Dick Cheney was whisked into a bomb shelter immediately after a Taliban suicide bomber struck the main American military base he was visiting in Afghanistan on Tuesday.

Up to 14 people were killed, including one U.S. and one South Korean soldier, in the Bagram Airbase attack which rebels said was aimed at Cheney.

He had been in his room at the base where he had unexpectedly had to stay the night after bad weather forced postponement of his trip to the capital, Kabul, about 60 km (40 miles) away.

"At 10 a.m. I heard a loud boom," Cheney said.

Base authorities sounded a red alert and secret service officials told Cheney there had been a suspected suicide attack.

"They moved me for a relatively brief period of time to one of the bomb shelters nearby," he said. "As the situation settled down and they got a better sense in terms of what was going on, then I went back to my room until it was time to leave."

NATO's death toll in the attack was four, officials said. A Reuters photographer at the scene saw an additional 10 bodies, putting the total at 14....

"We wanted to target ... Cheney," Taliban spokesman Mullah Hayat Khan told Reuters by phone from an undisclosed location.

Given that Cheney wasn't supposed to be in Bagram at the time of the bombing, I find this statement pretty dubious.

However, for more details about Cheney's whirlwind worldwide tour, you would be hard-pressed to beat this diary by Newsweek's Holly Bailey. One fascinating vignette:

But shortly before his plane was to lift off, it began snowing. Reporters and aides who had been waiting on the tarmac for Cheney' arrival were escorted back to the base' firehouse, where they sat and waited. Within an hour came the word: the weather in Kabul made the trip too dangerous to carry on. Already considered the most risky portion of the trip— the road connecting the airport and Karzai's palace was covered in several inches of snow and would need to be cleared. The VP and his entourage would stay overnight at Bagram, in hopes of holding the meeting on Tuesday.

But where would people sleep? Cheney and his top aides quickly found accommodations on the base, but finding a place for the press and the dozens of Secret Service agents and lower level aides on the trip would prove far trickier. Just after 8:30 PM, a Cheney aide tried to escort the seven reporters on the trip to the mess hall for food. (It was taco night, the base reported.) But just a few minutes before arrival came word that the base didn't have enough food for its visitors.

Reporters were then taken to one of the few open barracks on the base and assigned bunk beds—girls in one room, guys in the other. The soldiers escorting the media were extremely apologetic and embarrassed: They had not been prepared for guests. There were no sheets, only a few blankets and even fewer pillows. They handed out Ziploc bags of socks, sweatshirts and other supplies. Eyeing the packages, reporters immediately felt guilty: these were intended care packages for the troops. One Ziploc full of socks had a label describing it as a donation from a Boy Scout troop in Michigan. ('Operation Quiet Comfort,' it said.) Another care package, full of toothpaste and other toiletries, was from the USO. "Can we really use these?" one reporter asked. In the end, the media agreed to use the care packages, but only sparingly.

Just after dawn on Tuesday morning, reporters were taken to the mess hall, where Cheney was dining with the troops. "How was breakfast?" a reporter yelled to the VP. "Breakfast was excellent," Cheney replied, in what were his first three words to the press pool traveling with him on the trip, now in its eighth day.

posted by Dan at 09:30 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, February 26, 2007

The new new world order

I have an essay in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs entitled "The New New World Order". The precis:

Controversies over the war in Iraq and U.S. unilateralism have overshadowed a more pragmatic and multilateral component of the Bush administration's grand strategy: its attempt to reconfigure U.S. foreign policy and international institutions in order to account for shifts in the global distribution of power and the emergence of states such as China and India. This unheralded move is well intentioned and well advised, and Washington should redouble its efforts.
The slightly longer precis that explains the title:
[The growth of India, China, and other rising powers] will pose a challenge to the U.S.-dominated global institutions that have been in place since the 1940s. At the behest of Washington, these multilateral regimes have promoted trade liberalization, open capital markets, and nuclear nonproliferation, ensuring relative peace and prosperity for six decades -- and untold benefits for the United States. But unless rising powers such as China and India are incorporated into this framework, the future of these international regimes will be uncomfortably uncertain.

Given its performance over the last six years, one would not expect the Bush administration to handle this challenge terribly well. After all, its unilateralist impulses, on vivid display in the Iraq war, have become a lightning rod for criticism of U.S. foreign policy. But the Iraq controversy has overshadowed a more pragmatic and multilateral component of the Bush administration's grand strategy: Washington's attempt to reconfigure U.S. foreign policy and international institutions in order to account for shifts in the global distribution of power. The Bush administration has been reallocating the resources of the executive branch to focus on emerging powers. In an attempt to ensure that these countries buy into the core tenets of the U.S.-created world order, Washington has tried to bolster their profiles in forums ranging from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to the World Health Organization, on issues as diverse as nuclear proliferation, monetary relations, and the environment. Because these efforts have focused more on so-called low politics than on the global war on terrorism, they have flown under the radar of many observers. But in fact, George W. Bush has revived George H. W. Bush's call for a "new world order" -- by creating, in effect, a new new world order.

Read the whole thing. I look forward to static from liberals because I have actually found an issue where the Bush administration has acquitted itself reasonably well. And I look forward to static from conservatives because the issue I've identified -- playing nice with China and India in multilateral settings -- is not something they would identify as a good thing.

Later today links on sources will be posted.

UPDATE -- SEVERAL DAYS LATER. OK, so I've been busy. Still, a few relevant links.

The genesis for this article was this blog post from August 2006 about the rejiggering of IMF quotas. The Treasury statement on this effort can be found here.

The September 2002 National Secuity Strategy can be found here; the March 2006 NSS is available here.

Condoleezza Rice's speech on transformational diplomacy can be found at the State Department web site; here's a link to Robert Zoellick's "responsible stakeholder" speech on China.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Thanks to Arts & Letters Daily for linking to the piece, and thanks to the Economist's Democracy in America blog for responding more substantively.

posted by Dan at 11:22 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

The vocabulary of international relations

Over at Duck of Minerva, Patrick Jackson asks a very good question:

I am considering for my introductory World Politics class in the Fall. I call it "IR Vocabulary," and the basic idea is to split students into pairs and have each pair go off and find consensus definitions of key IR terms, My intuition here is that in order to have a good discussion about world politics, there are some basic terms that we need to know; some of these terms are more or less empirical and refer to objects in the world, while others are more or less conceptual and refer to ways of making sense of those objects. [Yes, yes, this is an unstable distinction; yes, empirical terms are conceptual and vice versa . . . but there is still a difference, if only a difference of degree, between a term like 'the balance of power' and a term like 'the Security Council.']

So here's my question for all of you: if you were going to draw up a list of twenty key terms that people ought to have working definitions of in order to sensibly and meaningfully talk about world politics, what would they be? What is the basic vocabulary that people have to know before they can start in with the arguing and the debating and the pondering?

Click on over to give your answers. Of the top of my head, mine are below, split 50-50 between empirical and conceptual:
Treaty Peace of Westphalia
July 1914
Bretton Woods
Security Council
Cold War
European Union
globalization (admittedly, could go in either category)

balance of power
security dilemma
prisoner's dilemma
credible commitment
offense/defense balance

UPDATE: I've fixed the Westphalia term, because there actually is no Treaty of Westphalia. I knew this, but was sloppy about it in the post. Apologies.

posted by Dan at 09:25 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

"I wonder why this Council on Foreign Relations meeting is so well-attended?"

Jeremy Grant reports in the Financial Times that the Council on Foreign Relations has announced its latest batch of term members. One of them apparently has some prior experience as a U.N. ambassador:

The dead-pan world of the Washington policy wonk looks set for a dash of Hollywood glamour with the nomination of actress Angelina Jolie to join one of the most venerable think-tanks in the US.

The Council on Foreign Relations, whose members include former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger and Alan Greenspan, former Federal Reserve chairman, decided on Friday to accept the 32-year-old to be considered for a special five-year term designed to “nurture the next generation of foreign policy makers”.

Membership would allow Ms Jolie access to 40 academic “fellows” – such as Joschka Fischer, the former German foreign minister, and Max Boot, a neoconservative military historian – and to meet current world leaders.

The Council does not require members to hold any particular academic qualifications. Ms Jolie’s formal education ended at a high school in Beverly Hills . Applicants must be nominated by one existing member and seconded with at least three supporting letters from others.

It is not clear who nominated Ms Jolie, but fellow Hollywood actors Michael Douglas and Richard Dreyfuss are life members of the Council, founded in 1921 as a non-partisan membership organisation to “promote understanding of foreign policy and America’s role in the world”.

Note to self: check immediately to ascertain if Salma Hayek would be interested in CFR membership. [Um.... don't you have to be an American citizen to belong to the Council?--ed. Hayek is now a U.S. citizen, to vdare's everlasting chagrin.]

posted by Dan at 07:18 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)