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.

Eighty-one percent say when making "an important decision" government leaders "should pay attention to public opinion polls because this will help them get a sense of the public's views." Only 18 percent said "they should not pay attention to public opinion polls because this will distract them from deciding what they think is right."

When ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz cited polling data showing majority opposition to the Iraq war, Cheney responded, "So?" Asked, "So--you don't care what the American people think?" he responded, "No," and explained, "I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls."....

When Americans are asked whether they think that "elections are the only time when the views of the people should have influence, or that also between elections leaders should consider the views of the people as they make decisions," an extraordinary 94 percent say that government leaders should pay attention to the views of the public between elections. (emphasis added)

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?"

B) "Dick Cheney is a complete f%$#ing &%$hole who once shot someone in the face and probably likes to eat newborns. Do you think that anything he says is true, like, ever?"

C) "Which society would you prefer: one in which leaders responded to the will of the people, or one in whch leaders ignore public sentiment and send in jack-booted thugs to break up any demonstration, thus evoking Nazi Germany?"

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.

posted by Dan at 09:04 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

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."

posted by Dan at 02:00 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Drezner predicts the political future!

Me, last Tuesday:

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.

posted by Dan at 08:20 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

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.”

Bush governed differently than he campaigned, however. The September 11 terrorist attacks led to a rethink of foreign-policy priorities. Neoconservative ideas—particularly democracy promotion—were placed at the heart of the Bush administration's grand strategy. By early 2008, Pletka's statement might very well be true. John McCain's foreign-policy team has not been terribly friendly towards GOP realists—which says something about the Republican Party's foreign-policy transformation.

Read the whole thing -- it's not long.

posted by Dan at 12:58 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

Yet professors of all ranks and disciplines are revealing such information on public, national platforms: blogs, Web pages, social networking sites, even campus television....

These days, the clues are usually digital and are broad invitations to get to know the person behind the Ph.D. It is not uncommon for professors’ Web pages to include lists of the books they would take to a deserted island, links to their favorite songs from bygone eras, blog posts about their children, entries “written” by their dogs and vacation photographs.

While many professors have rushed to meet the age of social networking, there are some who think it is symptomatic of an unfortunate trend, that a professor’s job today is not just to impart knowledge, but to be an entertainer.

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.

UPDATE: Well, I'm not a minority of one -- Amy Zegart adopts a similar position:

Call me old school, but being a real person is overrated....

I want to make students uncomfortable-- challenging them to question their own ideas, take opposing views seriously, and grapple with difficult assignments and questions. I want to get them out of the echo chambers so many of us inhabit and learn that smart, good people can disagree. I want them to know that in the real world, effort is not the same thing as achievement, and that striving for excellence means that even an A paper can get better. Learning is hard. It is also endlessly rewarding.

College students don’t need professors to be their friends. They need professors to be professors.

posted by Dan at 08:52 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

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.

posted by Dan at 07:54 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

The New York Times goes Vizzini on "deterrence"

This blog has an occasional series on "Vizzini" moments. Thanks to YouTube, we can now explain it through a brief video mash-up:

It now appears that 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.

Since then, however, administration, military and intelligence officials assigned to counterterrorism have begun to change their view. After piecing together a more nuanced portrait of terrorist organizations, they say there is reason to believe that a combination of efforts could in fact establish something akin to the posture of deterrence, the strategy that helped protect the United States from a Soviet nuclear attack during the cold war.

Interviews with more than two dozen senior officials involved in the effort provided the outlines of previously unreported missions to mute Al Qaeda’s message, turn the jihadi movement’s own weaknesses against it and illuminate Al Qaeda’s errors whenever possible.

A primary focus has become cyberspace, which is the global safe haven of terrorist networks. To counter efforts by terrorists to plot attacks, raise money and recruit new members on the Internet, the government has mounted a secret campaign to plant bogus e-mail messages and Web site postings, with the intent to sow confusion, dissent and distrust among militant organizations, officials confirm.

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.

posted by Dan at 07:42 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

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."

Richard Holbrooke was next -- and he said, "the Democrats are coming."

2) Holbrooke made waves because during the session when, about midway through, he told moderator/BBC presenter Nik Gowing, "this has been a really stupid conversation so far." In defense of Holbrooke, he had a point -- the panel was about challenges to the West, and yet most of the conversation was devoted to, at best, discussing the history of second-tier issues like Kosovo.

3) Speaking of Holbrooke, I have it on good authority that, not only does the former UN ambassador believe that he'll be Secretary of State if either Clinton or Obama wins, he genuinely thinks he'll have a comparable position if McCain wins.

4) Both Robert Zoellick and Richard Holbrooke are very, very smart, and are fully aware of how smart they are. There are two significant differences between them:

a) Zoellick displays flashes of arrogance, but usually keeps it in check; Holbrooke, on the other hand, cannot appear to function in any mode other than pure disdain -- unless there's someone more powerful than him in the room.

b) Zoellick can talk about economic issues with just as much fluency as security issues; Holbrooke knows squat about economics. To be fair, I fear that Zoellick is the last of a dying breed.

5) Right before one panel, a German Green Party member sitting behind me looked at the panel title -- "Toward a Low Carbon Society: Climate Change as a Transatlantic Challenge" -- and said, "God, how boring." He was on his Blackberry for the first ten minutes, and then left the room.

6) Here's a useful piece of advice to conference-goers -- never, ever, sit between someone seeking foundation suppprt and someone possessing grant money to give. It's like trying to breathe in a vacuum.

7) The most potent symbol of waning American power at this conference: the entire U.S. Congressional delegation didn't make it because their DC-9 had to make a fueling stop in Newfoundland, and failed to re-start.

Meanwhile, the dollar sunk to a new low against the euro, which means that the EU economy is now larger than the American economy.

8) The most energetic period of the conference occurred at the Hotel Conrad bar at around 1 AM. It was a mix of Clinton foreign policy advisors, McCain foreign policy advisors, Eurocrats, journalists, staffers from a half-dozen European governments, and German Marshall Fund staffers with indefatigable energy.

OK, actually, that makes it sound boring -- you have to remember that they were all drinking very heavily, and there was a surprising gender balance in the room.

9) Take this for what you will -- at all of the sessions I attended, Iraq was, at best, mentioned in passing once or twice.

10) I'm typing this post in the Brussels Forum press room, as Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff is talking.

So what do real reporters do in the press room? Some of them are typing up the speech -- but most of them are catching up on e-mail correspondence and surfing the web. They're almost like real bloggers.

If you're dying for more info from this conference, Steve Clemons has further observations.

posted by Dan at 07:55 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)