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 . . .
read more

Shameless Self-Promotion: Cato Edition

[Updated Below]

As I made note of previously, blogging will be somewhat more sporadic than usual (if that’s possible) as I slog through my final year of coursework and prepare for comps next fall. That said, I always manage to find a few minutes for my all-time favorite activity: shameless self-promotion!

Today marks the release of a paper I co-authored with Christopher Preble and Benjamin Friedman of the Cato Institute on American nuclear strategy. In the paper, we argue that a smaller nuclear arsenal will not hurt U.S. security and by shifting to a submarine-based monad, instead of the . . .
read more

Putin, Snowden, and How Credibility Works in International Politics

Our old friend Max Boot has a post at Commentary that demonstrates a common confusion about how credibility works in international politics. Boot argues that Russian President Vladimir Putin offered NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden asylum because he doesn’t fear Obama because Obama hasn’t yet gone to war in Syria… or something. I’ll let him explain:

Obama understandably doesn’t want to get stuck in the Syrian morass. But he should understand that when the president of the United States makes threats and then fails to make good on them, that has consequences for America’s dealings with the rest . . .
read more

The Ever-Shrinking Odds of Nuclear Terrorism

For over a decade now, one of the most oft-repeated threats raised by policymakers—the one that in many ways justified the invasion of Iraq—has been that of nuclear terrorism. Officials in both the Bush and Obama administrations, including the presidents themselves, have raised the specter of the atomic terrorist. But beyond mere rhetoric, how likely is a nuclear terrorist attack really?

While pessimistic estimates about America's ability to avoid a nuclear terrorist attack became something of a cottage industry following the September 11th attacks, a number of scholars in recent years have pushed back against this trend. Frank Gavin . . .
read more

George W. Bush and the Historian's Craft

[updated below]

Daniel Larison has a new post addressing a comment made by former President George W. Bush about how future historians will come to view his legacy. According to the former commander-in-chief, “I won’t be around, because it will take a while for the objective historians to show up.” Larison correctly notes that the historical profession has never been a fully objective enterprise. For instance, in That Noble Dream, his excellent study of the American historical profession and the role objectivity played in its development, Peter Novick traces the way “objective” history became a professional norm among historians . . .
read more

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.

. . .
read more

Iron Dome Does Not Vindicate SDI

Sure, Max Boot makes terrible historical analogies, but I’ve always just assumed that the disagreements I have with him are based on honest differences and not utter ignorance. After today, I’m no longer sure that’s the case. Writing at Commentary Magazine’s Contentions blog, Boot argues,

The latest Gaza war is only a few days old, but already one conclusion can be drawn: missile defense works. This is only the latest vindication for the vision of Ronald Reagan… who made missile defense a major priority for the U.S. and our allies.

Boot is referring to the Iron Dome system co-developed . . .
read more

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Fantasyland)

Updated below

buy an essay

Congressman Adam Smith of Washington is generally pretty sharp on a wide-range of defense and foreign policy issues. As the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, he has displayed an admirable for addressing policy, strategy, and legislation in a thoughtful manner. Many of the positions he holds are of debatable quality, but that’s largely the case for the overwhelming majority of congress. Still, he seems to approach policy with a wonkish dedication to understanding the issues his committee deals with each day.  That’s why a recent statement of his about the foreign . . .
read more

Will Turkey Invoke NATO’s Article 5 over Syria?

NATO members are meeting today to discuss Syria downing a Turkish fighter jet. Concern is rising that this incident could pull NATO into an armed conflict. Turkey has called the meeting under Article 4 of the Washington Treaty—just the second time this has been invoked in NATO history—which states:

The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.

The circumstances and facts of the incident are not clear. What is clear, however, is that Turkey is not taking this situation lightly . . .
read more

Arming the Syrian Rebels Is Not a Romantic Pursuit

Ben Hubbard of the Associated Press filed a fascinating yet sobering report last week after being embedded with Syrian opposition fighters for two weeks. The report provides great insight into the debate over arming the Syrian opposition. It paints a picture of groups that are disorganized and lacking in basic communication. As the fighting becomes bloodier and the chaos grows, it becomes more evident that a U.S. or NATO intervention would be subject to numerous unintended consequences. Specifically, arming the wrong opposition groups should be a main concern. But relying on the hope that the C.I.A. can acquire sufficient . . .
read more