Tag Archives: policy

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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Advising Someone You Hate


What do you do when you disagree with your boss? What about when your supervisor plays an important policy role? OK, keep going here…what if your boss is POTUS….President Trump? (And you despise him?)

This intellectual exercise-cum-mindgame played out here, outlining two paths that can be followed by smart people who disagree with their superiors–the inside or the outside path:

Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote an interesting essay in Middle East Law and Governance about what Syria experts should do when it’s obvious that the current administration does not share their assumptions that indirectly touches on this quandry. In essence, he notes that there are inside and outside paths. The inside path is all about having a direct “policy impact” on the policymaker. But if the people in power do not share one’s basic assumptions, then the outside path — op-eds, essays, media appearances — might be the proper course of action:

Because there are so many different paths to influencing policy and so much uncertainty over the exact nature of that influence (to say nothing of lag time effects), policy researchers shouldn’t necessarily make policy impact into an all-consuming objective. In this respect, influencing policy is a bit like love: you hope it happens, but you also don’t want to try too hard. We should write with a mind to helping shape, broaden, and enrich a public conversation (in the implicit hope that, over time, innovative outside-the-box ideas – assuming they’re good – will be recognized by someone, somewhere in government and at the right time).


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State Dept. Calls Group in Nigeria Terrorists – NYTimes.com

What can a label do?  In the case of an African group the answer is, “a lot.”  The back and forth internal government discussions result in Boko Haram being labeled a “terrorist group” with numerous implications.  From the dissenting view:

But other officials cautioned that Boko Haram did not pose an immediate threat to the United States, and that Americans and American interests could be targeted by the group as a result of the designation.The designation “would internationalize Boko Haram, legitimize abuses by Nigeria’s security services, limit the State Department’s latitude in shaping a long-term strategy and undermine the U.S. government’s ability to receive effective independent analysis from the region,” a group of 25 scholars wrote in a letter sent last year to Hillary Rodham Clinton, then secretary of state.

via State Dept. Calls Group in Nigeria Terrorists – NYTimes.com.

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Political Science Fail

Quoting the research from a new ISQ article on what academic training best informs global policymaking, Henry Farrell quotes the work of Paul Avey and Michael Desch:

Aside from Economics, the scholarly disciplines that policymakers found of greatest use were Area Studies and History. … compared to the other disciplines, Political Science did rather poorly (see figure 10. This lower ranking may reflect the fact that in recent years the discipline has become dominated by more complex methodologies such as formal modeling and statistics. Policymakers tend to eschew, in the words of one respondent, “all formulaic academic, as opposed to historically based temperamental, realist projects,” preferring, in the words of another, “historical analysis, case studies, theoretical writings that illustrate theory with case studies and concrete examples.” … the higher the rank of the government official, the less likely he or she was to think that formal models were useful for policymaking.

Farrell observes: “There are a number of possible responses that international relations scholars could make to this e.g. to argue that political science is in the business of finding out about the world, not helping policy makers, or to argue that it’s not US policy makers who international relations scholars should be trying to help. Or scholars could argue as many have that we should reform political science to move away from quantitative techniques and formal modeling towards more policy relevant work.”

via The Monkey Cage.


Is ‘Triplomacy’ the New Diplomacy?

Do we need to think about a new mode of global dealmaking? Roger Cohen wrote in the NYT last January that global changes in the nature and structure of conflict–for example, non-state actors as terrorists, internal civil strive in Syria and Egypt–as well as a myopic American electorate where foreign policy issues are viewed as political footballs rather than ends in themselves–have created a new dynamic.

Is diplomacy outdated? The Fletcher School’s Deborah Winslow Nutter explains:

But a number of factors these days make it difficult to undertake old-fashioned diplomacy. My colleague, Daniel Drezner, says the opening up of internal politics throughout the world has made doing diplomacy today more complex. You can add to this the rise of non-state actors in international security issues, the effect current American domestic politics has on the ability of the United States to punch its weight internationally, and the multiplication and amplification of voices outside governments. All this means that it is becoming increasingly difficult to solve global issues state-to-state.

After all, it is not just diplomats that now engage in diplomacy; business and non-profit leaders are getting in on the act as well. And the diplomacy required of these sectors influences the diplomacy that can be done by governments. Even within governments, there are an increasing number of actors whose interests come to bear upon the choices diplomats face and the outcomes they can achieve. Traditional diplomats are joined by, among others, representatives of security, intelligence, development, human rights, environmental, and regulatory agencies.

So, is diplomacy dead? No, but perhaps it could do with a name change – think triplomacy. Governments today can no longer rely solely on “diplomats” in the traditional sense. They need to harness the participation of multiple government agencies, private industries, NGOs and international institutions – specialists from various fields of expertise who as a group view issues through a triplomatic lens and who can collaborate in cross-cutting alliances.

via Why ‘triplomacy’ is the new diplomacy – Global Public Square – CNN.com Blogs.

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Booklist | ‘The Dispensable Nation,’ by Vali Nasr – NYTimes.com

In the NYT review of Vali Nasr, dean of Johns Hopkins SAIS, Michiko Kakutani gives a longer treatment of this foreign policy insider critique of the Obama foreign policy process.

In this book Mr. Nasr contends that “the White House campaign against the State Department, and especially Holbrooke, was at times a theater of the absurd. Holbrooke was not included in Obama’s video conferences” with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, “and was cut out of the presidential retinue when Obama went to Afghanistan.”“The White House,” Mr. Nasr says, “resented losing AfPak to the State Department,” and “that was one big reason” it was “on a warpath with Holbrooke — he was in their way and kept the State Department in the mix on an important foreign policy area.”

Mr. Holbrooke, he goes on, “would not cede ground to the White House, not when he thought those who wanted to wrest control of Afghanistan were out of their depth and not up to the job.”Mr. Nasr describes Mr. Holbrooke who oversaw the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the war in Bosnia as “a brilliant strategic thinker in the same league as such giants of American diplomacy as Averell Harriman and Henry Kissinger.”

And he uses his own in-depth knowledge of the geopolitics of the Middle East to make an impassioned case for many of Mr. Holbrooke’s diplomatic initiatives and ideas, which often failed to find traction within the White House.

via ‘The Dispensable Nation,’ by Vali Nasr – NYTimes.com.

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The Irony of Global Economic Governance: The System Worked – Council on Foreign Relations

A little positive news from the global economy?  We’ll take it:

The 2008 financial crisis posed the biggest challenge to the global economy since the Great Depression and provided a severe “stress test” for global economic governance. States rely on a bevy of institutions—the International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization, and the Group of Twenty—to coordinate action on the global scale. Since the Great Recession began, there has been no shortage of scorn for the state of global economic governance among pundits and scholars. However, in this International Institutions and Global Governance program Working Paper, Daniel Drezner concludes that, despite initial shocks that were more severe than the 1929 financial crisis, the evidence suggests that these structures responded to the financial crisis robustly.

via The Irony of Global Economic Governance: The System Worked – Council on Foreign Relations.


Booklist | What to Read on Global Policy Analysis” in IR via Stephen M. Walt

Walt’s crowdsourcing a reading list–but also identifying the gap in goodreads for global policy analysis.  He also explains why process matters so much for international policymaking, and the importance of implementation via diplomacy and military power:

In global affairs, by contrast, the rule of law is far weaker and there are often competing power centers with very different interests. Strategic interactions loom much larger, and the success of a given policy choice often depends not just on the intrinsic merits of the specific initiative but on how other key actors will respond to it. (Among other things, this is why simple game theoretic models are often useful for analyzing certain international policy problems). To the extent that the issues are truly global, the correct policy choice depends far more on bargaining, persuasion, in some cases coercion, and on developing solutions that either elicit others’ voluntary compliance or achieve the objective in the face of opposition. Such features are not entirely absent in domestic policy discussions, but they play a larger role in interactions between states, corporations, and non-state actors operating in the anarchic world of international politics.

via Is There a Good Book or Article on “Policy Analysis” in IR? | Stephen M. Walt.

Some of the commenter suggestions are worth considering:

  • Maarten Hajer’s article, “Policy without Polity: policy analysis and the institutional void”
  • John Mearsheimer, Why Leaders Lie
  • Dan Drezner, All Politics is Global; Avoiding Trivia
  • Being useful: policy relevance and international relations
  • Managing Strategic Surprise, Ian Bremmer and Paul Bracken, eds.
  • Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, The Practioneer’s Game
  • Bob Jervis, Why Intelligence Fails
  • Policy analysis papers from Bernard Brodie, Tom Schelling and Raymond Garthoff
  • Graham Allison and Zelikow, Essence of Decision
  • Jeffrey Pfeffer, Managing with Power: Politics and Influence in Organizations
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Guidance on Non-Binding Documents

Words mater.   For example, avoid the terms “shall,” “agree” or “undertake” in lieu of “should,” “intend to” and “expect to” when writing a non-binding document, according the the US Department of State guidance.  Why?

Governments frequently wish to record in writing the terms of an understanding or arrangement between them without, by so doing, creating obligations that would be binding under international law. The language, titles, and techniques used for this purpose vary considerably. While not binding under international law, a non-binding instrument may carry significant moral or political weight. Such instruments are often used in our international relations to establish political commitments. Ambiguity as to whether or not a document is legally binding should be avoided. When negotiating a nonbinding instrument, both/all sides should confirm their understanding that the instrument does not give rise to binding obligations under international law.

via Guidance on Non-Binding Documents.


Remembering Ambassador Richard Holbrooke

Larger than life?  A peacemaker with an abrasive personality?  A man of letters?  A wise man?  How should we remember Richard Holbrooke, who passed away on Sunday, 13 December 2010?  Even the Taliban issued a statement which Alissa J. Rubin notes, borders on true regard.

I had initially planned a briefing with him when he served as the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. with my students at the urging of my wife–and having been wishing I pushed harder to make it happen in the style of this already legendary U.S. diplomat.  Since his passing I have been thinking about what made him so substantial, interesting, and important.  I like the emphasis Eliza Griswold in Slate puts on him:  someone who knew that ‘relationships are the building block of diplomacy”–and wish I could have known him, too.

A lot of different pieces of the mosaic are readily available.  The book blog Paper Cuts hones in on Holbrook as author and intellectual:

Richard Holbrooke was, like Daniel Patrick Moynihan, one of those rare public intellectuals who managed to combine a life in world affairs with the life of the mind. In his role as a diplomat, he seemed to maintain ironic distance on himself, watching as he conducted negotiations at the highest level and reflecting on his own activities and decisions.

via Barry Gewen, Paper Cuts, NYT.com

At FP.com, David Rothkopf seconds this motion, calling him a “wise man,” not only for his briliant organiational strategy in creating a team that worked across and largely through bureaucratic silos, but also for his thoughtful engagement:

In fact, perhaps that term “wise man” is one that we should not pass over too quickly. Holbrooke was a direct descendent of that line of U.S. foreign policy thinkers who earned that title, one made famous by Walter Issacson and Evan Thomas in their great book on the seminal foreign policy thinkers of the post World War II era.

via On the death of a wise man – the passing of Richard Holbrooke | David Rothkopf.

He was never sentimental about U.S. foreign policy, a ‘machine that doesn’t work’–and even had strong words for how the State Department must needs be reorganized to be the essential player that he believe it should be.

From a personal standpoint, Nick Kristof hits on Holbrooke’s abrasiveness, a force that was useful for good ends:

It’s well-known that he could be abrasive, and he rubbed some people the wrong way. But what’s sometimes missed is that abrasiveness was usually serving some cause; it wasn’t just him trying to get his way. Quite regularly when I would write about AIDS, I would get a reproachful call from Richard. “So, why didn’t you mention testing?” he would ask. As chairman of the Global Business Coalition against AIDS, he was among the first to appreciate the importance of widespread testing for HIV, on the theory that you couldn’t constrain the epidemic until you knew who had it. And so once he understood that, he pushed and persuaded and bullied to get more testing. For my part, persuaded and bullied by Richard, I began to mention testing more often – and my readers and the public were better off for it.

via Richard Holbrooke, RIP – NYTimes.com.

These skills were useful in his diplomatic profession:

A brilliant, sometimes abrasive infighter, he used a formidable arsenal of facts, bluffs, whispers, implied threats and, when necessary, pyrotechnic fits of anger to press his positions. Mr. Obama, who praised Mr. Holbrooke on Monday afternoon at the State Department as “simply one of the giants of American foreign policy,” was sometimes driven to distraction by his lectures.

But Mr. Holbrooke dazzled and often intimidated opponents and colleagues around a negotiating table. Some called him a bully, and he looked the part: the big chin thrust out, the broad shoulders, the tight smile that might mean anything. To admirers, however, including generations of State Department protégés and the presidents he served, his peacemaking efforts were extraordinary.

via Strong American Voice in Diplomacy and Crisis, NYT.com

There’s more, and you should spend the time–the Packer New Yorker piece, a list of Holbrooke’s Foreign Policy articles–at the Atlantic Wire--as well as the WaPo update on his final words to “end the war” which appear to be more of humorous banter than famous last words.  But even so, if the U.S. was to have found a diplomatic way out of Afghanistan, it was well served having this diplomat extraordinaire on its side.

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