Sean Wilentz on Why Compromise is Essential to Politics

A historian-critic of President Obama sees Lincoln as succeeding through “patience and respect for the Constitution” but doesn’t seem to make his latest overall book work. At least that is the conclusion according to Alan Wolfe, whose NYT review is both blistering and helpful. Wilentz has a succinct idea:

Politicians serve the country best when they learn the art of compromise through party-building and not when they stand, prophet-like, outside the fray delivering secular, and sometimes overtly religious, sermons. Be prepared, as you read this book, to hear this thesis propounded relentlessly. 


Ranking Diplomatic Networks 

Brazil ranks no. 7. China some in third, France second, and the U.S. is number one in a ranking all other G20/OECD nations. Kudos to the Lowy Institute, Australia’s leading think tank for creating this interactive visualization of diplomatic connections. Have fun exploring connections.

The Global Diplomacy Index visualises the diplomatic networks of all G20 and OECD nations, allowing users to view and compare some of the most significant diplomatic networks in the world. The interactive map highlights gaps and concentrations in diplomatic networks, and indicates strengths and weaknesses in geographic coverage and geopolitical reach. The Index ranks each nation in terms of its diplomatic network against other G20 and OECD member nations, and allows users to select and compare countries’ diplomatic networks, as well as diplomatic representations by city.



Debating Killer Robots at the UN

Let’s debate killer robots. (Or should we? Who is for them anyway?) Not the ICRC or Amnesty International. See the Red Cross statement from the Meeting of Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems, held a few weeks ago at the UN in Geneva:

The ICRC has called on States to set limits on autonomy in weapon systems to ensure they are used in accordance with international humanitarian law (IHL) and within the bounds of what is acceptable under the principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience.

Apparently, more than 80 national representatives agreed, echoing groups such as the International Committee for Robot Arms Control and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots:

In the end, they emerged with a recommendation: The key U.N. body that sets norms for weapons of war should put killer robots on its agenda.

Source: Weighing The Good And The Bad Of Autonomous Killer Robots In Battle : All Tech Considered : NPR

Not the strongest stuff you could hope for (e.g., treaty law or even a declaration or draft programme of action) but it is a step in the direction toward action. But in reality, it is harder to draw the line than some think, especially where the bottom line is that humans have to decide how to use the technology.

Although some argue that “autonomous weapons are coming and can save lives” as long as they are used ethically and within legal norms, Denise Garcia disagrees, writing in Foreign Affairs that

“Washington should…work to prohibit machines capable of killing on their own. Killer robots might seem like an unreasonable idea, but they could become an unacceptable reality.”


Tagged , ,

Neil Irwin on Campaigns as Simulations

Hiring used to be done by interviews, but technology firms and economic research have shown this to be an ineffective means for selecting people. So could the presidential political campaign–ups, downs, good and ugly–be the perfect sim for selecting a president?

Perhaps the ideal scenario would be to put Ted Cruz and Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders through a simulation in which they must jump between persuading a member of Congress to vote for a highway bill and conducting an arms control negotiation.

That won’t happen anytime soon. But in a weird way, we might be seeing a version of exactly that simulation.

What are the qualities it takes to be a successful president? He or she needs to be good at hiring and trusting the right people; making constant big decisions with limited information and often while exhausted; setting the right big picture strategy; and knowing when to stick with it as circumstances change and when to make tactical adjustments.

If you look at it that way, running a presidential campaign starts to look like exactly the kind of simulation of being president that our search committee needs to pick a president!

Source: Campaigns Are Long, Expensive and Chaotic. Maybe That’s a Good Thing. – The New York Times

Tagged ,

Arthur Brooks on Bipartisanship 

Consensus building in American politics is tough, if not impossible. We recently hosted retired U.S. Senator Larry Pressler who, among a career of good work and solid policymaking in the House and Senate is known as the only Member of Congress approached in the ABSCAM sting operation (Remember American Hustle?) to have refused the bribe–and then contacted the FBI to report it. As a political moderate and centrist in many of his views, his report on the state of finding middle ground was not encouraging.

How can citizens in the U.S. political culture overcome bigotry and contempt of the others side, weakening what Arthur C. Brooks calls “The Polarization Industrial Complex”?

The current polarization in America obstructs this kind of collaboration. So what’s the antidote? I asked the Dalai Lama, one of the world’s experts on bringing people together. He made two points. First, the solution starts not with institutions, but with individuals. We look too much to political parties or Congress to make progress, but not nearly enough at our own behavior.You can’t single-handedly change the country, but you can change yourself. By declaring your independence from the bitterness washing over our nation, you can strike a small blow for greater national unity.Second, each of us must aspire to what the Dalai Lama calls “warmheartedness” toward those with whom we disagree. This might sound squishy, but it is actually tough and practical advice. As he has stated, “I defeat my enemies when I make them my friends.” He is not advocating surrender to the views of those with whom we disagree. Liberals should be liberals and conservatives should be conservatives. But our duty is to be respectful, fair and friendly to all, even those with whom we have great differences.

Source: Bipartisanship Isn’t for Wimps, After All – The New York Times

Tagged , ,

How the Rules of Party Conventions Matter

The 1948 Republican Convention in Philadelphia

When it comes down to the Republican Presidential nominee for 2016 it may come down to the rules of procedure. Parliamentary savvy can reveal modern U.S. politics to be a lot like its historical precedents (think: 1924 Democratic convention). But the existing (or even yet-to-be-enacted rules) reveal something about their party–as they shape the outcome in potentially surprising ways.

We don’t yet know how we’ll remember 2016, as a statistical outlier, a sideshow, or perhaps the year of the rise of the non-state (Establishment) actor.

Republican leadership is unhappy, and used to be able to call the shots. Here is how Trump could be removed (and mayhem orchestrated), assuming he enters the convention as the frontrunner but without the requisite threshold of votes:

  • Delegates become “unbound” and vote as they wish
  • Rules can change, aka, the “nuclear option” (see below)

“When you’re trying to bust up a convention, you can’t just take the risk on the nomination vote,” says Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of the book Primary Politics. “Because if you lose, then he’s the nominee. There’s always a test vote beforehand. And it would probably be about the rules.”Now, fights over rules may seem arcane, but they actually present great opportunities for mischief. That’s because the delegates get to make their own rules and can change them however they like.

So supporters of one candidate are perfectly free to propose a last-minute rules change meant to hurt another candidate — and if a majority of delegates approves it, there’s no higher body that can overrule the decision

Source: Contested conventions, explained – Vox

As Chris Baylor writes, Trump may be a one-trick pony; future Republican contenders may not be able to replicate his success, and he may fail to even have the so-called “transformative” impact that some are suggesting. In that case, it will be all left up to the rules.

Tagged , ,


During the height of the Cold War the United Nations lacked formal power to mediate disputes. And that led to its weakness and inability to resolve stsndoffs between world powers. Today, global challenges have changed. 

Charges of bureaucracy and inefficiency are not new. But attempts to decrease overlapping responsibilities are difficult with 197 member states sharing institutional ownership. Anthony Banbury, United Nations assistant secretary general for field support until March 2016, explains why today’s UN falls short:

In the run-up to the election of a new secretary general this year, it is essential that governments, and especially the permanent members of the Security Council, think carefully about what they want out of the United Nations. The organization is a Remington typewriter in a smartphone world. If it is going to advance the causes of peace, human rights, development and the climate, it needs a leader genuinely committed to reform. 
Via I Love the U.N., but It Is Failing

Argument Mapping with Debategraph

A great little tool to map out views on the Global Goals, Peace in the Middle East, Nuclear Politics, or more, run by a non-profit founded by Peter Baldwin and David Price. It has been used by CNN, the White House, and the Independent as a unique pedagogical tool to explain complex ideas.

Tutorial Prezi


Tagged ,

Another Take on Obama’s Worldview

We are still talking about what past U.S. Presidents meant to national interests and strategy and how their decisions shaped the world (or failed to do so). Consider this new take on Eisenhower or Nixon or Wilson. And so, we will still be talking about the Obama Presidency for a long time. He told Doris Kearns Godwin that he “didn’t want to be Millard Fillmore or Franklin Pierce”. He seems to be reshuffling the deck, rethinking the game–even dissing the Special Relationship. So what will be Obama’s legacy?

If you want to read the latest  round of journalism-to-maybe-become-history longform, head over to Jeffery Goldberg’s lengthy piece in The Atlantic.

But if you want a shorter take, Max Fischer does a nice job on Vox. He breaks down the notion of Obama as a “Hobbesian optimist” and someone who sees long-term historical thinking as a key part of U.S. strategic interests–contrary to a foreign policy establishment that is focused on quick wins, especially by use of military power:

This spoke to how Obama sees challenges as well as opportunities: as a matter of encouraging that global progress toward peace and prosperity, while also acknowledging how dangerous it can be when that progress stalls or reverses. But it sees the latter as the exception rather than the norm.

Source: The best articulation yet of how President Obama sees the world – Vox

His critics may be status quo. His critics are certainly inflamed. They may even be right.

Tagged , ,

After 100 Years, the Meaning of Verdun

Some facts about Verdun may surprise you: Verdun was symbolically important for both sides, had been intended by Germany to be a battle of attrition and caught the French by surprise. It resulted in roughly equal and staggering casualties: 800k dead, wounded or missing with approximately 150 dead–and many unrecoverable remains.

Did the horror and utter failure for both sides create a new era of Franco-German cooperation?

What was the meaning of this now-defining battle of World War I? Paul Jankowski writes:

To a historian 100 years later, Verdun does yield a meaning, in a way a darkly ironic one. Neither Erich von Falkenhayn, the chief of the German General Staff, nor his French counterpart, Joseph Joffre, had ever envisaged a climactic, decisive battle at Verdun. They had attacked and defended with their eyes elsewhere on the front, and had thought of the fight initially as secondary, as ancillary to their wider strategic goals. And then it became a primary affair, self-sustaining and endless. They had aspired to control it. Instead it had controlled them. In that sense Verdun truly was iconic, the symbolic battle of the Great War of 1914-18.

Source: World War I’s Iconic, Ironic Battle – The New York Times

Also, don’t miss this incredible interactive then/new photography on the war and Verdun by Guardian UK to see the destructiuon from another perspective.


Tagged , ,

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 550 other followers