Tag: steven metz

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.

When Do We Go to War in Yemen?

That is the question posed at the National Journal’s National Security experts blog.

My response:

We shouldn’t even be contemplating war in Yemen, but we should also understand that the proposed expansion of security assistance to the government there is likely to pay only meager dividends.

Steven Metz gets at the nub of this problem in his two thoughtful posts (here and here). We have an unreliable ally. We have minimal capacity for making them more reliable. Neither of these observations are unique to Yemen. The same could be said of many other countries. Accordingly, we should concentrate our limited resources in a proactive and strategic – as opposed to a reactive and haphazard – way. 

Contrast that with Jim Carafano’s invocation of a new “axis of evil” and the implication that we have no choice but to deepen our involvement in Yemen (and Saudi Arabia and Somalia) while continuing to fight in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Oh, and let’s not forget that there are still about 110,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

To wit: “Sorry we have to fight on so many fronts….but it beats battling them on the Tarmac in Detroit.”

Sorry, but that just doesn’t fly. 

While impeding al Qaeda’s ability to carry out major terrorist attacks has and will entail multiple fronts in many countries, it is not obvious how this fight should be conducted, nor is it obvious that the fronts in Yemen and Somalia and Saudi Arabia (or Afghanistan and Pakistan, even) are instrumental to success or failure. Safe havens exist in many places, including stable democratic countries. Are we really committed to preventing any country from providing a safe haven? Does the concept of a physical safe haven even make sense in the virtual world of globalized communications and the Internet?

Leaving aside the dubious safe haven argument, Carfano’s either/or proposition (fight them there or fight them here) is equally flawed. We should think of security in layers. A man from Nigeria who trained in Yemen and attempted to detonate his underwear bomb in Detroit was thwarted by his own incompetence and the alertness of the airliner’s passengers. Too close for comfort, to be sure, and we have since learned of numerous points along the way where his travels could have been interdicted. But what we’ve learned about this failed attack doesn’t confirm that our only option is to focus on the one layer (Yemen = terrorist training ground) at the expense of the other layers. An equally compelling case could be made for ignoring Yemen, per se, and focusing on other means of interdicting terrorists that are not so heavily dependent upon unwilling and duplicitous allies, or that burden our overtaxed military with an open-ended mission in yet another failed state.