A DISASTROUS WAR
The war in Iraq has been controversial from the start, and the debate has naturally rippled through the classroom. When asked to identify events that have most influenced the way they teach international relations, 40 percent of scholars cite the current Iraq war. And they are far from hopeful about the likelihood of success there. The chances of establishing a stable democracy in Iraq in the next 10-15 years, according to respondents, are extremely remote. After thousands of lives lost and hundreds of billions of dollars spent, they believe the odds of success have increased very little.
A slightly different picture emerges when political ideology is factored in. Conservatives are generally more positive than liberals about the effect of the invasion on Iraq’s democratic future. Liberals, on the other hand, are much more likely to believe that the war has been counterproductive. But large majorities in both camps -- 91 percent of liberals and 66 percent of conservatives -- remain pessimistic about the odds of a democratic Iraq emerging in the years to come.
A BAD INFLUENCE
Last year, political scientists John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt ignited a fiery debate when they questioned the influence of the Israel lobby over U.S. foreign policy in the London Review of Books. The lobby's excessive power, they argued, has benefited neither the United States nor its ally, Israel.
The article provoked a fiery response. In the pages of Foreign Policy, Mearsheimer and Walt took on their critics in a special debate, "The War Over Israel's Influence." One of the critiques of their thesis targeted their academic arrogance. "From their Olympian perch," wrote Aaron Friedberg, a political scientist at Princeton University, "the authors, apparently alone, see what is truly in America's national interest."
But to many of their fellow academics, Mearsheimer and Walt's conclusions look to be dead on. According to our survey, the overwhelming majority of international relations scholars (66 percent) agree that the Israel lobby has too much influence over U.S. foreign policy. Just 20 percent of respondents disagree. But their beliefs about the Israel lobby do not appear to trickle down to their students. Our concurrent survey of nearly 700 students in introductory international relations courses at a dozen universities reveals that students were less likely to believe that the Israel lobby exerts too much influence over U.S. foreign policy after taking the course than before.
When asked to name the top three American presidents with the best records of advancing U.S. foreign policy, international relations scholars overwhelmingly agree: A resounding 72 percent of respondents place Franklin D. Roosevelt among the top foreign-policy presidents of the past century. Notably, FDR received high marks from liberals (77 percent), moderates (66 percent), and conservatives (55 percent) alike. Two other Democrats and two Republicans round out the top five. Apparently the disgrace of the Watergate scandal does not diminish Richard Nixon's foreign-policy achievements, including establishing relations with China and negotiating major arms control treaties with the Soviet Union.
If academics are in agreement about the most capable diplomats to occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, they also concur on those who have been the most deficient. Seven U.S. presidents received less than 1 percent of all responses, although George W. Bush is the only member of this group to serve in the past 30 years. Disdain for the current president’s foreign-policy record transcends ideological divisions: More conservative scholars rate Bill Clinton among the best foreign-policy presidents than George W. Bush.
SAFETY IN NUMBERS
Contrary to popular belief, international relations scholars are not doves. Most believe that military force is warranted under the right conditions. Unsurprisingly, given the daily reminder of the challenges of going it alone in Iraq, academics favor using force only when backed by the full weight of the international community. If a military confrontation with North Korea or Iran emerges over nuclear weapons, scholars demonstrate an extreme aversion to unilateral American action. If the U.N. Security Council authorizes force, however, approval for action skyrockets.
This support for multilateralism is remarkably stable across ideology. In the cases of both Iran and North Korea, liberals and conservatives agree that U.N.-sanctioned action is preferable. More striking are the attitudes of self-identified realists. Scholars of realism traditionally argue that international institutions such as the United Nations do not (and should not) influence the choices of states on issues of war and peace. But we found realists to be much more supportive of military intervention with a U.N. imprimatur than they are of action without such backing. Among realists, in fact, the gap between support for multilateral and unilateral intervention in North Korea is identical to the gap among scholars of the liberal tradition, whose theories explicitly favor cooperation.