February 18, 2010 5:44PM

More on the Disconnect between IR Academics and Beltway People

Back in September I puzzled over the disconnect between international relations academics and the Washington foreign‐​policy establishment. Back then, I wrote that

the two groups have been wildly at variance in terms of their views on important public policy issues. Take the Iraq war, for example. As anyone who was in Washington at the time knows, the [Foreign Policy Community] was extremely fond of the idea of invading Iraq. To oppose it was to marginalize oneself for years. Indeed, those who promoted the disastrous adventure have prospered, while those who (bravely or stupidly, depending on your point of view) opposed it remain huddled in the chilly, dusty alcoves of popular debate.

In the academy, meanwhile, there was hardly any debate over Iraq–almost 80 percent of IR academics opposed the war. [.pdf] To the extent academics did enter the public debate on the issue, it was to pay for an advertisement in the New York Times warning against the war. [.pdf] The only academics who spoke out in favor of the war (to my knowledge, anyway) were IR liberals like Anne‐​Marie Slaughter, who sought policy positions in Washington. (Slaughter, of course, was rewarded with a spot as Director of Policy Planning at the State Department, while to my knowledge none of the academic opponents of the war have gained Washington policy jobs.)

Today, Daniel Drezner describes his experience at

a small conference devoted to the idea of getting scholars and policymakers in the same room to talk about U.S. policy towards a Great Power That Shall Remain Nameless. The idea was that policymakers could highlight issues that professors might have overlooked and vice versa.

Everything was going along swimmingly until one of the policymakers in the room complained that some of the academic memos that had been prepared for the conference were too long to be read by policymakers — which was true, except that wasn’t the purpose of these memos. In response, a Smart and Well Respected Political Scientist went off on a serious and righteous rant. Why didn’t policymakers or staffers in DC actually read what experts thought about a particular issue? It wasn’t just that political scientists were being put on the sidelines — we were being completely ignored.

While Drezner’s post centers on the blame senior academics deserve for stigmatizing policy pronouncement from untenured political scientists, I think it’s worth revisiting the fact that policymakers and IR academics just don’t agree about much, as I highlighted above. And, as if on cue, Steven K. Metz of the Army War College crops up in comments (you have to scroll down), writing in part that:

I really believe the key is for academics to learn how to express themselves in a policy relevant way rather than expecting policymakers to work through academic style analysis and writing. Heck, I remember participating in a workshop early in the Bush administration that brought together the elite of security studies professors. The stated purpose was to develop policy relevant analysis. But all I heard over two days was that the Bush administration needed to jettison its worldview and adopt the one advocated by the speaker. (emphasis mine)

That is, when you got “the elite of security studies professors” in a room with senior policy people in DC, they wanted to use the opportunity to warn the DC people that their expertise led them to the conclusion that the policies we were following were, in fact, dumb. I think everybody complaining about the gulf between the fields needs to come to some sort of grips with the fact that there are just big disagreements between the Beltway consensus and the IR academic views on many, many issues. And unless and until either a) policymakers feel inclined to listen to scholars on those subjects or b) academics lose their interest in warning the policy community about their policies, just pushing them together in various arenas is not going to do much good.