Tom Ricks, Political Science, and Policy Relevance

I actually should thank Tom Ricks. I’ve wanted to revive this long-dormant blog for some time now, but I’ve been caught up with moving and trying to wrap up a long-term project. Ricks, the former Washington Post military correspondent, inspired me to knock the dust off this site when he made one of the silliest arguments about the policy relevance of political science on record.

In a blog post at Foreign Policy, he mocks the latest issue of the academic journal International Security as boring and irrelevant to the myriad crises the world faces. Ricks complains that with trouble . . .
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Foreign Policy, Militarization, and the Flawed History of Draft Nostalgics

In a Memorial Day op-ed in the New York Times, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, a retired Army general, and historian David Kennedy, bemoaned the end of military conscription while warning of a growing civil-military crisis in American society. Steve Saideman and Jason Fritz have both done an effective job, respectively, demonstrating both the relatively small scale and general irrelevance of the supposed civil-military gap and why the draft offers few answers to it anyhow. However, Eikenberry and Kennedy are just the latest in a long line whose draft nostalgia misrepresents the effect of conscription on another area: American foreign policy.

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Prospects for Accidental Nuclear War in the Middle East

Many are obviously alarmed over the possibility of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon.  Some of these fears are cartoonish and should be ignored, but there are others that should be given due consideration.  One example of the latter is the question of whether or not an Iranian nuclear weapon would raise the likelihood of an accidental nuclear war between the Islamic Republic and Israel.  Atlantic correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg outlined a potential scenario last month in one of his regular columns for Bloomberg View.  But the type of “warp speed escalation” to nuclear war that Goldberg invokes is not nearly . . .
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Max Boot and the Abuse of Historical Analogy

Let it never be said that if there’s an opportunity to make a hackneyed historical analogy that Max Boot will not take it.  Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Boot, a senior fellow at the Council Foreign Relations, asserts:

Why did the West do so little while the Nazis gathered strength in the 1930s? While the Soviet Union enslaved half of Europe and fomented revolution in China in the late 1940s? And, again, while Al Qaeda gathered strength in the 1990s?… The answer to the riddle—why did the West slumber?—becomes easier to grasp if we think about present-day relations . . .
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Taiwan, Wounded Knee, and the Difficulty of Historical Analogies

American Taiwan boosters tend to avoid articulating the strategic value of Taiwan as a reason for continued U.S. security assistance.  Sure, shared democratic values are nice—even though they were absent in Taipei for most of the history of U.S.-Taiwanese relations—but they don’t necessarily mean anything as far as reciprocal security relations are concerned.  John Copper, writing at the National Interest, makes a solid effort to define the relationship in strategic terms, but unfortunately chooses a poor historical analogy to make his case.

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Drawing on the history of American expansion in the late 19th century, Coppers . . .
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Less Defense Spending, More Nuclear Weapons?

Adam Lowther’s recent piece over at The National Interest discussing how lower defense budgets brought on by America’s current fiscal crisis demand an increase in the number of strategic nuclear weapons is, unfortunately, something of a mess.  To make his case Lowther, a political scientist at Arkansas Tech, cites the “New Look” policy adopted by President Dwight Eisenhower’s administration at a time when budget constraints were being imposed on the Pentagon.  The New Look called for an emphasis on building strategic nuclear weapons and a doctrine of massive retaliation to deter potential Soviet aggression, therefore making conventional war less likely . . .
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Primacy, Decline, and Renewal: American Power in the 21st Century

There has been much discussion lately about the decline of American power.  For example, two nearly simultaneous talks this past October—by former ambassador Eric Edelman and Tufts University political scientist Daniel Drezner, respectively—sought to dissect America’s current bout of “declinism,” with subsequent articles by Paul Kennedy, Michael Auslin, Gideon Rachman, and others either supporting or disputing the idea of a world where American primacy is no longer secure.  Given America’s current fiscal troubles, its seemingly endless string of asymmetric wars, and coming on the heels of a global financial crisis, it’s understandable why interest in American decline is back . . .
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Book Review: Monsoon

When hearing the word “monsoon,” most people would be forgiven for immediately imagining torrential rains, floods, and disaster.  But this entirely misses the beneficial role the monsoon winds of the Indian Ocean have played throughout history—facilitating travel, trade, and cultural exchange across vast swaths of territory long before the invention of the steam engine.  Or, in other words, because of the monsoon winds, the Indian Ocean had globalization before globalization was cool.

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Coming off his fascinating Foreign Affairs article, “Center Stage for the 21st Century: Power Plays in the Indian Ocean,” Robert Kaplan brings us Monsoon: . . .
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What Then?

Not surprisingly, former ambassador to the United Nations—and potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate—John Bolton believes that the current unrest in Egypt means it’s just the right time for…wait for it…an Israeli attack on Iran (h/t Joshua Keating).  While he might be the most frequent, Bolton is far from the only person who has made calls for attacking Iran and its nuclear facilities by either Israel or the United States in recent years.  Concerns for Israeli security are understandable considering the geographic proximity of the two nations and the abhorrent rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but these calls rarely, if ever, attempt to explain what would come after a preemptive or preventive attack.

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