Saturday, March 22, 2008
Dumbest poll ever
I certainly think public opinion matters in the formulation of policy -- and that, over the long term, foreign policy leaders ignore the public at their peril.
That said, this Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) poll/press release might be the dumbest f@#$ing thing I've ever seen:
In sharp contrast to views recently expressed by Vice President Cheney, a new poll finds that an overwhelming majority of Americans believe government leaders should pay attention to public opinion polls and that the public should generally have more influence over government leaders than it does.Wow, so let me get this straight -- when asked by pollsters whether polls are important, the American people agreed?
Seriously, the question, as phrased, is only slightly less biased than the following possible substitutes:
A) "Do you think the people's voice should be heard by politicians -- or are all y'all really just a bunch of morons?"If you look at the actual results, it's clear that PIPA simply cherry-picked responses to an old (January) poll and released them to embarrass Cheney (and say that, "hey, polls matter!!").
I'd find the exercise much more persuasive if the questions weren't so loaded. For example, did PIPA ask whether either the Supreme Court or the Federal Reserve should respond to public sentiment when they make their decisions? When that 3 AM phone call comes in, should the president immediately put a poll out to calculate a response? I'd actually be interested in serious polling on the tradeoffs between expertise and democracy. This PIPA exercise is pretty much completely unserious.
In the 5 1/2 years of this blog, I don't think I've ever defended Dick Cheney, but in this case he's right and PIPA is, well, stupid. Of course leaders should not respond to every poll fluctuation on an issue. That's called leadership.
Now let me stress here that Cheney's response is still disingenuous, because polls on Iraq have not "fluctuated" so much as "sunk like a crater after recognizing that victory ain't gonna happen."
Still, PIPA's press release doesn't rebut Cheney -- it only shows how it's possible to frame poll questions to get any kind of response you want.
Friday, March 21, 2008
The decline and split of the west?
Another day, another online article.
The topic of my latest Newsweek column is whether the West -- i.e., American and Europe -- can still act as the global policy leader. I'm not optimistic:
America and Europe face political, economic and demographic challenges to their longstanding primacy. This is a delicate moment for a power transition, given the host of emerging global threats: global warming, nuclear proliferation, macroeconomic imbalances, terrorism, the need to reform global governance and so on. The question is, can the United States and the European Union continue to exercise leadership on these issues? The answer, at best, is, "not for long."Go check it out -- tt was partly, but not completely based on what I observed at the Brussels Forum.
One link that didn't get embedded in the Newsweek story but is worth checking out: Constanze Stelzenmüller's GMF briefing paper, "Transatlantic Power Failures."
Drezner predicts the political future!
I should add that, based on what I've heard while here [with Bill Richardson], it's pretty damn obvious that Richardson would like to endorse Obama.The New York Times, today:
Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, who sought to become the nation’s first Hispanic president this year, plans to endorse Senator Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination on Friday at a campaign event in Oregon, according to an Obama adviser.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Because the Nixon Center likes to make mischief
My light sparring with Danielle Pletka apparently intrigued a lot of people in Washington. As a result, I have a short piece at the National Interest online about the foreign policy divide withi the GOP between realists and neoconservatives:
This year's presidential campaign has highlighted the divide in Democratic foreign-policy circles between hawks and doves. My run-in with Pletka, however, reveals a split within the GOP as well, between realists and neoconservatives. It was not always so. When George W. Bush ran for president in 2000, he evinced a largely realist policy platform. His chief foreign-policy spokesperson, Condoleezza Rice, wrote a realpolitik essay in Foreign Affairs entitled “Promoting the National Interest.”Read the whole thing -- it's not long.
Walking the accessibility tightrope
The New York Times' Stephanie Rosenbloom writes about the trend of professors revealing more of their souls online:
It is not necessary for a student studying multivariable calculus, medieval literature or Roman archaeology to know that the professor behind the podium shoots pool, has donned a bunny costume or can’t get enough of Chaka Khan.Of course, those of us in the blog trenches have been aware of this problem for some time. I wrote the following in my guide to poli sci blogging for APSA:
Another potential problem is how students view a professor’s blog. If an academic blogger achieves any kind of public success, then that academic’s students are likely to peruse his or her blog. This is not automatically a bad thing, but academic bloggers often display more personal idiosyncrasies on their web page than they would ordinarily reveal in a classroom setting. This can be problematic because students often overinterpret their interactions with professors. They might believe they have a more informal relationship with the professor—or view a blog post as signaling a message when none is intended.This is a tricky tightrope to walk, and after five plus years of this blog, I'm still not entirely sure I have the hang of it.
For example, it's clear that some professors create MySpace or Facebook pages to make themselves more accessible to students. As I got sucked into the Facebook vortex, however, my instinct was to go in the opposite direction. I neither accept nor proffer friend requests from current students.
I do this because, well, I'm not their friend -- and letting them think otherwise is deeply problematic. I'm their teacher, their sometimes advisor, and their occasionally harsh taskmaster. Friendship comes only after the grading portion of the relationship is over -- and only then if I'm in a good mood.
I seem to be in the minority in adopting this position, however.
Call me old school, but being a real person is overrated....
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
The realist tradition in American public opinion -- published
A few years ago, I responded to a Patrick Belton post at OxBlog thusly:
[There is] a thesis that I've been cogitating on for the past few months: despite claims by international relations theorists -- including most realists -- that the overwhelming majority of Americans hold liberal policy preferences, it just ain't so. Even if those beliefs are extolled in the abstract, when asked to prioritize among different foreign policy tasks, the realist position wins.From this germ of an idea, a conference paper emerged.
And, a short three-and-a-half years after the original idea, "The Realist Tradition in American Public Opinion" is out at Perspectives on Politics. The abstract:
For more than half a century, realist scholars of international relations have maintained that their world view is inimical to the American public. For a variety of reasons—inchoate attitudes, national history, American exceptionalism—realists assert that the U.S. government pursues realist policies in spite and not because of public opinion. Indeed, most IR scholars share this “anti-realist assumption.” To determine the empirical validity of the anti-realist assumption, this paper re-examines survey and experimental data on the mass public's attitudes towards foreign policy priorities and world views, the use of force, and foreign economic policy over the past three decades. The results suggest that, far from disliking realism, Americans are at least as comfortable with the logic of realpolitik as they are with liberal internationalism. The persistence of the anti-realist assumption might be due to an ironic fact: American elites are more predisposed towards liberal internationalism than the rest of the American public.The article -- in fact, the entire issue -- is available for free online.
Go check it out. I doubt I will publish many other articles in which I say that George Kennan is 100% wrong.
The New York Times goes Vizzini on "deterrence"
Eric Schmitt, Thom Shanker, and the editors at the New York Times do not know what the word "deterrence" means:
In the days immediately after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, members of President Bush’s war cabinet declared that it would be impossible to deter the most fervent extremists from carrying out even more deadly terrorist missions with biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.Read the whole thing. The article chronicles a variety of tactics designed to impair Al Qaeda's strengths on the web and in the hearts and minds of Muslims.
It's good stuff. But it's not "deterrence" in the Cold War sense of the word.
Successful deterrence of Al Qaeda would be taking place if the organization decided not to take action because they feared retaliation by the United States against assets that they held dear. Deterrence works if an actor refrains from attack because they calculate that the cost of the adversary's response would outweigh any benefit from the initial strike.
But that's not in the U.S. strategy. Instead, what U.S. officials appears to be doing is decreasing the likelihood of a successful attack -- by sowing confuson, interdicting logistical support, and reducing sympathy for the organization. The closest one could come to deterrence is if one defined Al Qaeda's reputation as a tangible asset that would face devastating consequences after a successful attack. Even here, however, the U.S. strategy is primarily to weaken Al Qaeda by increasing the odds of an unsuccessful attack.
The more appropriate word to use here is "containment." The United States is trying to sow divisions within the jihadi movement -- much like Kennan urged the United States to do among communists of different nationalities. The United States is applying counter-pressure in areas where Al Qaeda is trying to gain supporters and symathizers -- much like Kennan urged the application of "counter-force" in areas where the Soviets tried to advance their interests.
This is all to the good. But it's not deterrence. Indeed, this is one of those rare moments when the headline -- "U.S. Adapts Cold-War Idea to Fight Terrorists" -- is more accurate than the lead of the story.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Good gossip from Brussels
The following ten tidbits have been picked up while attending the 2008 Brussels Forum:
1) At the opening session -- taped by the BBC -- the participants were asked to say something for a microphone check. Konstantin Kosachev, the chairman of the Duma's International Affairs Committee, said, "the Russians are coming."If you're dying for more info from this conference, Steve Clemons has further observations.