Saturday, April 28, 2012

Mann & Ornstein: 'extremist' GOP to blame for polarization and gridlock

An important piece by two veteran Congress-watchers, not known usually for being excitable but clearly distressed right now, and with reason.

Friday, April 27, 2012

More on inequality

Nicholas Lemann reviews (h/t) a number of books on inequality and related issues, written from different points on the ideological spectrum. (Haven't read the whole piece, just the opening and the last part, but thought I'd pass it on.)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Just call it history?

Robert Kelly writes:
Is the ‘institutional turn’ in the social sciences just a fancy way of saying we look at patterns over time, and is that just a fancy way of saying ‘history’? I don’t mean to be trite; I know I’m not a good methodologist as my reviewers always tell me. But I don’t really see why we don’t just call ‘historical institutionalism’ ‘history.’ Path dependence, temporality, sequencing – that’s all stuff historians have been doing for awhile, no?
Well, I'd say yes, but many historians don't like to be very explicit about what they're doing, unlike IR types, who can't get an article accepted unless it has at least 5 pages of theoretical throat-clearing (10 pages would be better).

Also, a small comment on path dependence. I have a feeling some people think it means "things go along on a fairly steady course until some big event comes along and shakes things up, whereupon a new course emerges and things go along steadily in that vein until ... etc." That's not what path dependence means. Pierson in his 2000 APSR article and subsequent book (Politics in Time [here]) is very clear that small events can be as important as big ones; what matters is where an event comes in a sequence (the earlier the more influential), not how "big" the event is.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Zakaria on envy and aspiration

Fareed Zakaria says the Obama re-election campaign has the wrong message: instead of emphasizing 'the Buffett rule' and reducing inequality, the President, according to Zakaria, should stress his proposals to increase spending on infrastructure, R&D, and education, and Obama should contrast those proposals with the Republican focus on budget-cutting.

Zakaria believes, apparently, that the Obama campaign can't walk and chew gum at the same time: either it must focus on reducing inequality or focus on investment in infrastructure, etc. But why not emphasize both? Here's where, if I may switch from one bad metaphor to another, the rubber hits the road: Zakaria doesn't like all this talk about inequality. Why not? Because it runs counter to his shopworn view of Americans' moral psychology: Americans, he writes, are "aspirational" not "envious," therefore focusing on inequality is bad politics in the long run.

This is, to be blunt, a load of crap. The U.S. now has a more unequal distribution of income than Kenya (and several other developing countries). The notion that you must be "envious" if you want a multi-millionaire or billionaire to shoulder a slightly larger share of the tax burden is nonsense.

Americans aren't envious, they are "aspirational": how many thousands of times have you heard this bromide repeated by one pundit or another? Americans don't envy the rich, God forbid; they want to become rich themselves. What if the real situation is that Americans want a less unequal distribution of wealth and income because huge inequalities are offensive to a basic sense of justice?

Zakaria, who earned a Harvard Ph.D. with a political science dissertation on the U.S.'s growth and emergence as a world power at the turn of the twentieth century, is slated to be the main speaker at Harvard's commencement this spring. If he trundles out this platitudinous b.s. about envy and aspiration in his speech on that occasion, I hope he gets booed off the podium.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Book notes

In case you missed it, Gaddis's biography of Kennan, mentioned here previously, won the Pulitzer Prize for biography, while the late Manning Marable's book on Malcolm X won the history prize (via); I also happened to read another review of Gaddis, by Frank Costigliola in the New York Review of Books, that I found quite interesting. (He criticizes Gaddis for giving Kennan's later views -- on Vietnam, nuclear weapons, etc. -- too little emphasis.)

Recently published: Rachel Maddow's Drift (on U.S. foreign/military policy) and Timothy Noah's The Great Divergence (on income inequality in the U.S.) are aimed at a broad audience and I imagine will be getting a fair amount of discussion, especially Noah. (Drift is mentioned in this post.)

Lastly, some who are stopping by here may be interested in this (not yet published).

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Pentagon's response to China's 'threat'

I ran across this piece in Commentary (not on my usual circuit) by Bill Gertz last night. I haven't read it all and don't agree with the tone and general perspective, but it appears to be informative about internal U.S. policy debates on China and the Chinese military, so I'm passing it on here fwiw.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Footsteps on the Moon

Krathaummer is exercised today about China's overtaking the U.S. in space, what with the retirement of the last shuttle and the cancellation of the Constellation program. China's footsteps are going to overlay ours on the Moon. Horrors. Didn't Neal Armstrong refer to one giant step for mankind, not simply for the U.S.?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

CIA seeks expanded drone authority in Yemen

A detailed, well-reported WaPo piece on this here. Not a good idea, ISTM.
Update (4/26): The CIA's request has been approved.

Drezner's only three-quarters right about the UN

D. Drezner answers W.R. Mead's bizarre assertion that the UN is "less prestigious and influential than it was in the 1940s and 1950s," but in doing so Drezner, IMO, stumbles once or twice. First, he says, in effect, that the General Assembly was never important. I don't think that's quite right. The 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (referred to by me in this post) had a large symbolic importance and almost certainly some real-world effects, and the NIEO (New Intl. Ec. Order) declarations of the '70s also had some significance, contrary to Drezner's dismissal of them. I'm also not sure I would paint the UN's effectiveness as "entirely a function of the current state of great power politics" (emphasis added). That's a very major factor but probably not the only one. What are the other factors? Well, perceptions of the UN among electorates and in the world as a whole probably matter, too. And no doubt some other things, such as the quality of the organization's leadership and staff...

Monday, April 16, 2012

How to f*** up grad school (among other things), in a few easy lessons

Some encouragement from Kindred Winecoff over at IPE@UNC has persuaded me to take a shot at a post outlining the mistakes I made during my career (such as it was) as a graduate student. This will not be a now-I-reveal-everything sort of post -- I've chosen to blog under my initials, after all -- but I think I can manage to convey some points without going into too many specifics and details. (Well, having written it, it turns out I have gone into some details. I also realize that I probably don't come off as a paragon of wisdom and scholarly wonderful-ness in this post. So be it.)


My situation was unusual from the start, because I was considerably older than most Ph.D. students when I began grad school. I had gone to law school (also a mistake, btw, but never mind that now) almost right after college (I took one year in between them), and then after law school worked for a number of years -- not, for the most part, practicing law, though I did do that briefly, but rather working in fairly conventional go-to-an-office-sit-at-a-computer-edit-and-write-stuff type of employment (it wasn't journalism as usually understood but somewhat more specialized). I eventually got bored with that, decided I didn't want to spend the rest of my working life doing it, and decided to go back to school.

I applied to a couple of M.A. programs (not simultaneously but in succession). The first one was a rather prestigious one that I didn't get into. The second institution not only admitted me to its M.A. program but ended up -- for reasons that largely had to do with some idiosyncratic factors not worth going into -- offering me a place in its Ph.D. program.

Mistake #1: I should never have accepted that offer without (i) thinking longer and harder than I did about whether I really wanted to get a Ph.D. and (ii) if so, whether I wanted to get it at that institution.

The institution in question was not a traditional political science department (my Ph.D. says International Relations, not Political Science), but the majority of faculty members were political scientists. The program was closer to a "big thinking and deep theorizing" (Kindred's words) type of program than to what Dan N. calls an "overprofessionalized" program. I had to take exactly one quant methods course, which was fairly worthless, and that was it. (At the time that was fine with me: I stopped high school math after 11th-grade trigonometry and analytic geometry, or whatever the course was called, and never took calculus, anywhere, though I certainly could have.)

I actually enjoyed aspects of my first couple of years as a PhD student, despite the heavy reading/writing load. Perhaps partly because, as I've already said, this was not a traditional pol sci department, the required first-year seminars were along the lines of Big Books and Big Theory (not exclusively but to a fair extent). So in my first year (this was the mid-'90s, btw, just to give the time frame) I read, for instance, Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions, (much of) Polanyi's The Great Transformation, re-read some of the Marx and Weber that I'd read in college, plus a bit of Kant and Plato and Hobbes and Grotius, plus, of course, standard IR theory stuff: Waltz, Theory of International Politics; Carr, Twenty Years' Crisis; Oye et al., Cooperation Under Anarchy; Snyder, Myths of Empire, etc. (Wendt's Social Theory of International Politics hadn't been published yet. I read that later, on my own, when I was writing my diss.) Plus I took a course with a respected historian on U.S. diplomacy in WW2 and the Cold War and wrote a paper on Kennan. That was fun. Wrote another paper for which I read some of the lit. on civil society and social movements. Also did an independent reading course (this was the second year, I think) for which, among other things, I plowed through all of Kennedy's Rise and Fall of the Great Powers in the space of a few days -- don't recommend doing that unless you have to. One gap in the first year, though, even on its own Big Theory terms, was the modern literature on comparative politics. (Note: The program's curriculum has been modified in various ways in the intervening years.)

Now this was all fine but I really had no idea what I was going to write my dissertation about. At the time that seemed not to matter much, even though the then-Dean of the school had asked all of us entering PhD students for our tentative dissertation topics in the second week we were there. (I told him, in politer language, that I hadn't the slightest f***ing idea what my topic was going to be.) Anyway...

Mistake #2: I did not really think about my training in relation to the job market. I figured if I was finding grad school reasonably interesting and learning something, that was enough.

Mistake #3:
When it came time to choose a dissertation topic, I chose one that was not going to help me on the job market. If I had been attending a marquee institution -- a Columbia, Berkeley, Princeton, perhaps (even) Chapel Hill [still with me, Kindred? :-)] -- I could have gotten away with the topic I chose, but the combination of topic and institution was not good. (It was a historically-oriented topic, though of course I had to connect it to the present, since it was an IR diss.) Plus, frankly, my execution of it was ok but not stellar. It passed muster as a dissertation but that's about it. (I'm sure the administration's attitude was: Are you still here? Defend your ******* dissertation and leave, already.) Afterward I thought about trying to get some journal articles out of it, began to write one, but then decided I was really too sick of the whole subject to be able to do that.

Mistake #4
Sticking it out and finishing was probably, under the circumstances, Mistake #4. Obviously I did finish, even though, for reasons not entirely (though mostly) my fault, it took me a long time. I went on the academic job market after doing a bit of adjunct teaching (because I hadn't done a lot of teaching as a grad student; just one semester's worth), but I didn't have to send out a huge number of applications in order to discover that no university or college was much interested in hiring me -- and, all in all, I can't really blame them too much. I'm not sure I would have hired me, given the presumed competition.


I'm not wealthy, certainly not in the sense in which most Americans use that word, but, without going into detail, my circumstances are such that I don't need a job to survive, at least for the time being. Which is good, because no one is exactly beating down the doors to hire me. I don't have a narrow, focused policy specialty (e.g., environmental issues, nonproliferation, etc.), truly deep regional knowledge, or tech (statistics etc.) skills. In other words, I'm a generalist, and in a field where the demand for them is not very high. I could probably be a decent teacher but I'm not so desperate to teach that I'm enthusiastic about adjuncting; I don't need to do it to eat and I don't really like teaching the intro course, which is all I've ever taught. So if/when I do need a job I'm probably going to have to pound the proverbial pavement (even if I have to take some stuff off my résumé so I'm not rejected as overqualified for whatever I'm applying for).

I will conclude with an anecdote: last month I gave a guest talk in a friend's intro IR class. I enjoyed doing it, there was a lively discussion, the students asked good questions, etc. At one point I had occasion to remark: "Most of you are not going to become IR theorists," and then I added "I hope." My friend, the class's prof, looked surprised, but grinned. I pretty much meant it: Parents, don't let your children grow up to be IR theorists.

Well, this post has probably not contributed all that much to the sum total of wisdom in the blogosphere but writing it has been more enjoyable, believe it or not, than the post on growth, poverty, and inequality that I'm supposed to be writing. That will appear when I get around to finishing it.

Clarifying addendum (tacked on later): My point in this post is not to argue that all pol sci grad students should load up on quant methods, nor am I defending "over-professionalization" in graduate training. In my own case, going the quant route would have been rather absurd. I'm just saying as a practical matter that grad students have to be conscious of how their choices will affect their future chances of employment etc. In comments at DofM, PTJ has repeatedly made the point that one doesn't need a lot of quant/stats background to get an IR academic job in the U.S., provided one is willing to go outside the urban centers, major research institutions etc., and he cites some of his own students who have gotten jobs as examples. I think PTJ is right on this, but I would point out that many (or some) of his students may have written on interesting or 'hot'-ish topics, which helps; moreover, being acquainted with PTJ, as I am, I would imagine -- I don't know but I'm guessing -- that he really 'goes to bat' for his students (in a way that not all advisors necessarily do), and that's also got to help.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


This a.m. I received an e-mail signed "Happy Titanic Centenary." Whereupon I replied that 2012 is also the centenary of the 1912 Basle congress of the Second International that declared "war on war." Whereupon someone else chimed in "don't forget the birth of cubist collage." Then it also occurred to me that 2012 is the centenary of the Japanese gift of cherry trees to the U.S. government. (See here for an exhibit connected with that anniversary.) Plus the Balkan war of 1912.

The dubious pleasures of pedantry...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Rep. Allen who?

I'd not heard of Rep. Allen West but he is clearly off his rocker.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

H. Clinton's Forrestal Lecture

I caught the last 20 minutes or so [on second thought, maybe more like 15 minutes] of the C-span radio broadcast of Hillary Clinton's speech at the Naval Academy, which focused on the U.S. role in Asia. I was not impressed with the there-is-no-alternative-to-American-leadership-we-are-great emphasis. However, I've not had a chance to read the text.

(P.s. The post promised in the previous post (how's that for awkward?) will be coming eventually. I'm busy with some other things this week.)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Shouldn't they be, um, studying, or at least asleep?

From a long post by Timothy Burke, Swarthmore professor and eloquent blogger:
At Swarthmore this semester..., some students were deeply annoyed that the administration attempted to enforce a rule against parties between midnight and 2am on Thursday nights (or Friday mornings, to be more precise).
I'm feeling old, kill-joyish, and stick-in-the-mudish. Students should not be partying on Thursday nights, or on any weekday nights. More to say here, but it will conjure up the image of a middle-aged person harrumphing, so I'll refrain. What really makes me feel old is the fact that one of my contemporaries (actually one of my brother's contemporaries, but same diff) has a daughter now at Swarthmore. (I'd guess she's not partying on Thursday nights. But I don't know.)

P.s. If American English is your native language and you don't know the expression "same diff," you're too young to be reading this blog.

Quote of the weekend

From John Le Carré, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, ch. 16:
With a sigh, [Smiley] drew towards him the first of the Witchcraft files, and, having vouchsafed a gingerly lick to his right finger and thumb, set to work matching the official memory with his own.
I love "vouchsafed." Much better than "giving his right finger and thumb a gingerly lick," which is what a lot of writers would have said.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Heady days for the Front de Gauche

Here and here.

And (via A. Goldhammer) a video of Mélenchon speaking in Toulouse. Crikey, my French aural comprehension is not what it should be. I got some of it, understood he was attacking the EU, but if anyone would like to provide a proper translation in the comments that would be nice. Actually the Reuters piece linked above gives one line: "When there's no more liberty, civil insurrection becomes a sacred duty of the Republic." Ok, that's clear enough on the video; but then the last bit... ?

Then the young man being interviewed: "C'est le cri de guerre du peuple." Yup, got that. This is the level of my French these days: pathetic.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


From a story in Al Jazeera about a suicide bombing in Mogadishu:

Al-Shabab rebels have claimed responsibility for an explosion at Somalia's newly reopened national theatre in Mogadishu that killed at least four people, including two of the country's top sports officials.

Abdirahman Omar Osman, a senior adviser to the Somali prime minister, told Al Jazeera that at least four people were killed and dozens wounded in the blast on Wednesday.

"It was a surprise and shock to us that a suicide bomber could come near Abdiweli Mohamed Ali [the Somali prime minister] who was giving a speech for the relaunch of the national theatre," Osman said.

He added: "I am shocked and saddened by the attack, but luckily the prime minister was not harmed in the incident."
The piece goes on to note that the bomber was female. I don't mean in any way to make light of this horrible event, but "shocked" is not the first word that would occur to me in connection with this.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A puzzle (maybe)

This is a 'thinking aloud' type of post, but that's one of the things blogs are for, isn't it?

Here's the question: What explains the apparent disjunction disconnect between global downward trends in armed conflict, on the one hand, and U.S. military and foreign policy, on the other?

It's fairly clear that the amount of armed conflict in the world, while not negligible, has been declining for a few decades (though the decline may have leveled off in the last several years). Joshua Goldstein judges that "[d]espite...complexities and some ups and downs, the year 2010 was probably the most peaceful, in terms of battle deaths relative to population, in the history of the world." (Winning the War on War, p.247) John Mueller and Christopher Fettweis, among others, argue that great-power war is either obsolete or on the verge of becoming so, an argument that has to be taken quite seriously in my opinion.

Yet the U.S. continues to act, in many respects, as if the world has not really become much more peaceful than it was in, say, 1950. Yes, the numbers of U.S. soldiers in Europe and Asia have been reduced somewhat in recent years, but the U.S. continues to have alliances or other security agreements with numerous countries, military bases all over the world, thousands of troops still in Europe and Asia (primarily Japan and Korea), and aircraft carrier groups able to be dispatched to anywhere in the world. Plus the U.S. still has some tactical nuclear weapons in Europe (I actually wasn't aware of this until seeing a journal article about it the other day) and also has invested in regional missile defense systems (or, in the case of the Persian Gulf states, sold Patriot missiles to them) ostensibly as protection from an Iranian missile threat which seems to have been overestimated. Moreover, the U.S. is executing what appears to be either an encirclement or a balancing (depending on one's view) maneuver against China, via the creation of a new or refurbished 'strategic partnership' with Australia, the selling of jets to Indonesia, etc. It is true that the Pentagon, faced with budget constraints, is planning to shrink the size of the Army and Marines somewhat and also, for example, is having to reconsider its plans for a major build-up on Guam, but this does not basically change the U.S.'s global military position.

So, given -- at least for the sake of argument -- that the world is more peaceful and less dangerous than it has been in a long time, why don't U.S. actions in the military/security arena seem to reflect this reality?

Some possible answers:

(1) U.S. policy is simply irrational.

(2) U.S. policy-makers don't think great-power war is obsolete and are generally stuck in an outmoded mindset.

(3) The U.S. global military posture is driven by domestic institutional forces, i.e., the power of the Pentagon and large arms manufacturers to influence Congress and the importance (or at least perceived importance) of the 'military-industrial complex' to the health of the U.S. economy.

(4) U.S. policy is a holdover from the Cold War. Elaboration: With the dissolution of the USSR and the resulting absence of a true peer competitor, the U.S. should have substantially cut back on its global military presence and commitments,
according to both one strand of realist logic and 'ordinary' logic. This is what John Mearsheimer, to cite one prominent example, predicted. It didn't happen: there was some retrenchment but nothing like what might have been expected. (And NATO, far from declaring its mission accomplished and disbanding, expanded.) The reason was perhaps a combination of vested institutional interests, path dependence, and plain old inertia.

(5) Al-Qaeda done it. According to this view, had it not been for the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent decade-long reaction or overreaction (Afghanistan, Iraq, drones, etc.), the U.S. global military presence would be much smaller today than it is.

(6) U.S. global military dominance is supporting the U.S. global economic position (or what remains of it).

With the exception of #1 (which basically evades the question), I'm inclined to think there may be something to all of these answers, though I'm also a bit skeptical of #6. I would put the most weight on #3 and #4. But, as we say in the blogosphere, your mileage may vary.

Update: Another explanation for the puzzle might be that Americans are "an unusually warlike people," as Stephen Rosen argued in a 2009 article. I never got around to reading (as opposed to skimming) this, but the link will take you there if you're interested.