Tag: daniel drezner

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.

Is Money Fungible?

Recently I spent some time redecorating my office to create room such that there was space for me to work that was physically apart from my computer, because I’ve come to view the internet as a huge time sink.

Apparently this endeavor of mine has failed miserably, however, because here I am blogging about something I saw on Bloggingheads TV:

In the clip above, Heather Hurlburt and Daniel Drezner discuss arguments that involve posing tradeoffs between domestic spending and foreign policy spending.  Drezner sketches out an argument he ties to Obama’s Afghanistan speech: we’re in a big hole at home and we just can’t afford running around throwing hundreds of billions of dollars into places like Afghanistan and Iraq, so part of what we’re trying to do is cash out of those endeavors and keep the money we could spend there at home instead.  Hurlburt describes this as part of the argument Cato’s foreign policy team–Chris Preble in particular–has been making, but that says that this approach is “not going to happen because it would seem like a public admission that there are constraints on what we can do, even though we would agree that there are massive constraints on what we can do.”

Hurlburt goes on to say that “our economy can’t recover unless the global economy recovers” and that “a big part of how quickly and in what directions our economy recovers” has to do with the U.S.-China relationship and the development of green jobs.  Therefore, the “classic isolationist trope” of what Drezner described–doing less abroad so we can do more at home–doesn’t work.

I’m completely lost here.  (If the kind people at BH.tv would invite me on, I could explain in vivid and expressive detail!)

First, let me register at least my dissent from the view that we can’t maintain an expansionist foreign policy.  I have been a convert for some time to the view of Stephen Brooks and William Wohlforth that there is nothing in the foreseeable future that will force the abandonment of a primacy grand strategy.  In fact, I would make this point forcefully, not just that we could maintain an expansionist foreign policy, but that we probably could do so even assuming a costly invasion of Iraq every so often and still manage to skirt any powerful constraint.  Despite the declinism that has come into fashion of late, my view is that we’re still in uncharted waters, still in an international system that is obviously unipolar, and consequently still capable of adopting all sorts of wild and crazy foreign policies.

But the bigger point that’s confusing me is Hurlburt’s argument that something about the economic ties between China and the United States or the alleged need to shift to green jobs necessitates an interventionist foreign policy.  Unless I’m misconstruing her remarks, which is possible, I’m not understanding this argument at all.  We spend lots of money–hundreds of billions per year–on things we call “defense” or “homeland security” that have little to do with defending the United States.  I think what we at Cato have argued is that we should stop spending so much money on these things, and that instead we should dramatically scale back our commitments, cut military spending dramatically, and willfully give up our aggressive grand strategy.  Money is fungible and this isn’t the best use for this money.

To draw what is maybe a poor analogy, Robin Hanson has argued not just that overall spending on health is a poor predictor of aggregate health, but that in fact you could probably cut overall spending on health in half without a significant negative effect on aggregate health.  I’m making a similar argument about defense, with the implicit claim that the excess funds we spend on defense could be better spent elsewhere.

It seems like Hurlburt is disagreeing with this view, but I’m not sure.  I’m emailing her to see whether she cares to expand on this, so perhaps there’ll be more to come.  Until then, it’s time for me to push back from the internet again.