How The Middle East Got That Way: Fromkin Used History to Explain Politics

If you haven’t read A Peace to End All Peace, add it to your summer reading list immediately. David Fromkin, a professor of International Relations at Boston University is a prolific author and scholar whose book provides a historical look at the creation of the modern Middle East–with an eye toward geography, conflict, and the decisions taken post-WWI the shaped the regions storied history.

In a Foreign Affairs review of the book, John C. Campbell writes that “Fromkin’s history is made by men rather than impersonal forces.”

 

Fromkin wrote about other seminal issues in 20th century international relations, such as the origins of the Great War, post-war relations and reconstruction, and the fate of key theoretical constructs such as idealism and realism, as embodied in institutions and programs:

In 1995, he wrote “In the Time of the Americans: F.D.R., Truman, Eisenhower, Marshall, MacArthur — the Generation That Changed America’s Role in the World,” in which he argued that after World War II Americans were given a rare second chance to correct the shortcomings of Woodrow Wilson’s one-world idealism.

As Richard Reeves wrote in The New York Times Book Review, “The United Nations is Wilsonian; NATO represents the kind of big-power peace enforcement envisioned by T.R.”Among Professor Fromkin’s other books were “Europe’s Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914?” (2004), which the journalist Avedis Hadjian, writing for CNN.com, called “a fast-paced, gripping guide through the complex set of reasons and emotions that led to the 20th century’s seminal conflict”; and “The King and the Cowboy: Theodore Roosevelt and Edward the Seventh, Secret Partners” (2008).

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Country Research | Venezuela’s Shocking, Impending Collapse

 

A chronicle of the sad dissolution of a formerly democratic country: Venezuela. Previously, the stuff of former Soviet states, a Latin American economic powerhouse has been bankrupted in every sense of the word.

How does this cut against a common conclusion of political science research, namely that democracies rarely collapse into authoritarianism? Thank chavismo, mismanagement, institutional destruction, bad policy, and corruption, according to Moises Naim and Francisco Toro.

And in the NYT’s Interpreter, Max Fischer offers this:

Distrust of institutions often leads populists, who see themselves as the people’s true champion, to consolidate power. But institutions sometimes resist, leading to tit-for-tat conflicts that can weaken both sides.

“Even before the economic crisis, you have two things that political scientists all agree are the least sustainable bases for power, personalism and petroleum,” Mr. Levitsky said, referring to the style of government that consolidates power under a single leader. …

Because populism describes a world divided between the righteous people and the corrupt elite, each round of confrontation, by drawing hard lines between legitimate and illegitimate points of view, can polarize society.

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Inside the Mind of Sergei Lavrov

Russia’s top diplomat could take a number approaches in doing the job. In the case of Sergei Lavrov, despite his many successes, universal dislike and mistrust seems to be a constant companion, according to POLITICO’s Susan Glasser.

From two top Obama officials:

“He’s a nasty SOB. He would be relentlessly berating and browbeating and sarcastic and nasty. His job was to berate and beat and harass us and Secretary Kerry into conceding the Russian view. It wasn’t defeating America; it was that Russia can’t win if it has to compromise at all.”

“I don’t see him as zero-sum and suspicious of and averse to the West as Putin is,” said another former Obama official who sat in many meetings in recent years with Lavrov. “He believes more in at least tactical cooperation, at least in a broader context of strategic nonalignment. I think he did actually look for opportunities. I also think he plays to his bosses. So the extent to which he’s acerbic and nasty—that’s partly his personality and partly what he believes Putin and actual powers that be want to hear.”

Source: Russia’s Oval Office Victory Dance – POLITICO Magazine

Russia’s long game is becoming more readily apparent–and has been explored many times earlier–where it must turn weakness into strength.

“Free societies are often split because people have their own views, and that’s what former Soviet and current Russian intelligence tries to take advantage of,” Oleg Kalugin, a former K.G.B. general, who has lived in the United States since 1995, said. “The goal is to deepen the splits.” Such a strategy is especially valuable when a country like Russia, which is considerably weaker than it was at the height of the Soviet era, is waging a geopolitical struggle with a stronger entity.”

Source: Trump, Putin and the New Cold war – The New Yorker, Annals of Diplomacy, March 6, 2017 Issue

Lavrov is an essential diplomatic knight in this game.

In Glasser’s longer profile in FP,  she describes Russia’s “Minister No” as “no gray apparatchik” who dominated the Security Council, drank, “smoked like a chimney” and favorited Italian couture, even as he cites Prince Gorchakov as the Russian diplomatic model. Perhaps that is a key insight, where Russian nationalism drive the antagonism against the U.S., and is integrated into Lavrov’s diplomatic approach.

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Why the Russian Revolution in 1917 Matters

A new book by China Miéville stakes out “the key political event of the 20th century“…an “astonishing, inspiring story” of what the American diplomat George Kennan described the “bitter first fruit” of the Great War, “the seminal tragedy.” And yet, this year the Kremlin skipped the national commemoration this past March 12.

In one sense it’s uncontroversial that 1917 matters. After all, it is recent history, and there’s no arena of the modern world not touched by its shadow. Not only in the social democratic parties, shaped in opposition to revolutionary approaches, and their opponents of course, but at the grand scale of geopolitics, where the world’s patterns of allegiance and rivalry and the states that make up the system bear the clear traces of the revolution, its degeneration and decades of standoff. Equally, a long way from the austere realms of statecraft, the Russian avant-garde artists Malevich, Popova, Rodchenko and others remain inextricable from the revolution that so many of them embraced.Their influence is incalculable: the cultural critic Owen Hatherley calls constructivism “probably the most intensive and creative art and architectural movement of the 20th century”, which influenced or anticipated “abstraction, pop art, op art, minimalism, abstract expressionism, the graphic style of punk and post-punk … brutalism, postmodernism, hi-tech and deconstructivism”. We can trace the revolution in cinema and sociology, theatre and theology, realpolitik and fashion. So of course the revolution matters. As Lenin may or may not have said: “Everything is related to everything else.”

Source: Why does the Russian revolution matter? | Books | The Guardian

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Booklist | Scorecard Diplomacy

Can a top 20 list (or bottom 10?) be a tool to make countries behave? A new book by Judith G. Kelley of Duke University makes sense of the value that comes from doing rankings and grading in an effort to change state behavior.

Scorecard Diplomacy by Judith Kelley shows that public grades can evoke countries’ concerns about their reputations and motivate them to address thorny problems

If you aren’t familiar with Kelly’s work, take a look.

Kelley’s work focuses on how states, international organizations and NGOs can promote domestic political reforms in problem states, and how international norms, laws and other governance tools influence state behavior. Her work addresses human rights and democracy, international election observation, and human trafficking. Her Project on International Election Monitoring led to a book, Monitoring Democracy: When International Election Observation Works and Why It Often Fails (Princeton 2012), which was “One of Choice’s Outstanding Academic Titles for 2013” and also received the Chadwick F. Alger Prize, which recognizes the “best book published in the previous calendar year on the subject of international organization and multilateralism.” The work behind Scorecard Diplomacy: Grading States to Influence Their Reputation and Behavior was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation and another from the Smith Richardson Foundation.

 

Source: Scorecard Diplomacy

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Pascal on Persuasion

We learn from the 17th Century physics and philosopher, Blaise Pascal that when it comes to the art of persuasion, “slipping through backdoor of [someone’s] beliefs” is a surefire way to change minds. (Thanks, Brain Pickings).

In his book, Pensées , he writes:

People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.

In other words…use their words to your advantage. (If this sounds like one of the classic definitions of diplomacy, you may be right.)

Put simply, Pascal suggests that before disagreeing with someone, first point out the ways in which they’re right. And to effectively persuade someone to change their mind, lead them to discover a counter-point of their own accord. Arthur Markman, psychology professor at The University of Texas at Austin, says both these points hold true.

“One of the first things you have to do to give someone permission to change their mind is to lower their defenses and prevent them from digging their heels in to the position they already staked out,” he says. “If I immediately start to tell you all the ways in which you’re wrong, there’s no incentive for you to co-operate. But if I start by saying, ‘Ah yeah, you made a couple of really good points here, I think these are important issues,’ now you’re giving the other party a reason to want to co-operate as part of the exchange. And that gives you a chance to give voice your own concerns about their position in a way that allows co-operation.”

Source: To tell someone they’re wrong, first tell them how they’re right — Quartz

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Geek out with the Architecture of Legislative Bodies.

Of course the UN General Assembly Hall is recognizable, but what does its semi-circle shape mean? Apparently, its one of the oldest–and a neoclassical go to for fostering consensus and democratic engagement.

The architecture of a legislative body tells a lot about how governance works in each respective body. A new book by Max Cohen de Lara and David Mulder van der Vegt explains, including their methodology:

To answer that question, we spent six years collecting the architectural layout for each one of those buildings. We’ve published our findings in our book “Parliament.” By comparing these plans in detail, we wanted to understand how a political culture is both shaped by and expressed through architecture. Organized as a lexicon, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, the book for the first time allows a comparison of all national parliaments in the world.We found a clear pattern. Although each of the 193 United Nations member states has a parliament of some kind — albeit with varying degrees of democracy — their plenary chambers have a very limited number of shapes. Most surprisingly, these buildings have hardly changed since the 19th century.

Source: These 5 architectural designs influence every legislature in the world — and tell you how each governs – The Washington Post

The regional parliament of Nordrhein Westphalia, Germany

Also, don’t miss the website for the book, Parliament, to see schematics of a number of UN Member State’s legislative body, and even the UN in Geneva and interactive photos, facts, and more. Great stuff for policy geeks, parliamentarians, and designers interested in civic engagement and proxemics.

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When Local Politics Drive Global Policy

 

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AFP

If you want to understand what was happening beneath the headlines on Secretary Kerry’s Israel speech, you need to think domestic politics, namely, those in Israel. The meaning behind the words contained in the speech (and their veracity) are also important, but that’s another discussion.

In September, Netanyahu announced at the General Assembly that Israel had broadened its diplomatic relations, not just with traditional allies in the West, but with emerging powers and markets in Africa, Asia and Latin America. But many of these “new allies” were part of the 14 nations that voted unanimously for the resolution last week. Netanyahu speaks with Vladimir Putin more frequently than any Western leader, but Moscow voted in favor. He has spent years cultivating ties with tiny Senegal, which benefits from a major Israeli agricultural aid program. When it came time to vote at the Security Council, though, they supported the resolution.

And, at a news conference last year, Bennett said that Asian countries could become Israel’s closest friends, because they “lack a heritage of anti-Semitism” found in the West. But China and Japan backed the resolution, too. In fact, Asian diplomats in Tel Aviv tend to laugh when asked whether they would play a role as Israel’s protectors at the United Nations. “We’re not a very active player in this conflict, and I think that would continue to be the case,” one high-ranking Asian diplomat told me. “We want to maintain our distance and focus on other issues.”

Israel’s newest allies, in other words, are happy to increase trade, tourism and security cooperation—but when it comes to diplomacy, they won’t stick their necks out. And if the Netanyahu government provokes a stronger reaction from the U.N., they might even retreat.

via Greg Carlstrom in Politco, “Trump Could Be Israel’s Worst Nightmare

The NYT reported that across the Middle East the speech was received with some interest, but with shrugs, too. And Robert Danin, writing on CFR’s Middle East blog said that “what was striking about Kerry’s 75-minute long address was not what was new, but rather how little new there really was for him to say.”

You can read the full transcript on Vox.

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What Axelrod and the Prisoner’s Dilemma Teaches about Human Nature

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We ran the Harvard Program on Negotiation case whose dull title (“Oil Pricing Exercise”) belies the fireworks that tend to erupt in a Prisoner’s Dilemma simulation. It was the first time that I have used this version and it seems to be an extended version of my preferred one hour version–with the benefit of drawing out the negotiations for up to three hours, although the students didn’t seem to take it as seriously as we hoped.

The case is historically exemplified by the Cuban Missile Crisis (another case that I run midway during the semester). A few of the key issues that always emerge in discussions and case debriefs include:

  • trust, and the dissolution of it as the exercise progresses
  • conflict styles and strategies
  • dealing with escalation (e.g., self-fulfilling prophecy, entrapment)
  • “defecting” (e.g., backstabbing–with its ethical and tactical implications)

In the case debriefing I read about Robert Axelrod at the Ford School (University of Michigan) who ran a computer simulations, which was something new that I hadn’t heard about previously.

In 1980, Robert Axelrod, professor of political science at the University of Michigan, held a tournament of various strategies for the prisoner’s dilemma. He invited a number of well-known game theorists to submit strategies to be run by computers. In the tournament, programs played games against each other and themselves repeatedly. Each strategy specified whether to cooperate or defect based on the previous moves of both the strategy and its opponent.

via CS.Stanford.edu

The result was Axlerod’s “Tit for Tat” strategy, recommended in the Harvard Case debriefing notes, which recommends choosing to cooperate initially and then follow the opponent’s previous move for the remainder of the game. Much was made of Axelrod’s computer simulation–even though his conclusions the source of ongoing discussion.

You can find critics. Ken Binmore, author of Playing Fair: Game Theory and the Social Contract, takes issue with any strategy that removes human proclivity for evil:

In brief, the simulation data on which Axelrod supposedly bases his conclusions about the evolution of norms is woefully inadequate, even if one thought that his Norms Game were a good representation of the Game of Life in which real norms actually evolve. One simply cannot get by without learning the underlying theory. Without any knowledge of the theory, one has no way of assessing the reliability of a simulation and hence no idea of how much confidence to repose in the conclusions that it suggests. It does not follow that the conclusions on norms and other issues which Axelrod offers in his Complexity of Cooperation are without value. He is, after all a clever man who knows the literature of his own subject very well. But I do not think one can escape the conclusion that the evidence from computer simulations that he offers in support of his ideas has only rhetorical value. His methodology may table some new conjectures that are worth exploring. But such conjectures can only be evaluated in a scientific manner by running properly controlled robustness tests that have been designed using a knowledge of the underlying theory.

via JASSS (book review)

Even so, Axelrod’s strategy has been useful and has attracted attention from evolutionary biology (Joshua Plotkin) and the guys at RadioLab, who wondered about altruism and global strategy. (Listen to the entire story, below, for an amusing retelling). The takeaway? We can see how an Old Testament, “eye for an eye” mentality came from biology and has an evolutionary (and mathematical) basis for understanding human experience.

https://www.wnyc.org/widgets/ondemand_player/radiolab/#file=%2Faudio%2Fxspf%2F104010%2F

The Khan Academy has its own version of a Prisoner’s Dilemma lecture, if you prefer an old-school refresher on the the MOOC lecture.

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Repetition Works (Even When You Are Wrong)

On how to persuade someone and the Illusory Truth Effect:

If you have prior knowledge of a subject, say, you’ve been studying greenhouse gas emissions for 30 years, someone just repeating that climate change isn’t real won’t have an effect on you. When you’re armed with knowledge, you can fight against the illusory truth effect. Still, repetition might make a statement feel true, but it can’t override knowledge that we have to the contrary. This doesn’t mean that the illusory truth effect doesn’t effect everyone, because you’re probably not an expert in everything

Source: Lifehacker “Evil Week” via BBC Future –  Convince Someone That Your Dumb Idea Is True By Simply Repeating It Over and Over

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