Voice

Hi, my name's Dan, and I'm a RINO

I have a long essay in The Spectator (U.K.) on the state of foreign policy thinking among the GOP 2012 presidential candidates.  Here's me not pulling my punches:

During the 2008 US presidential election cycle, the respected journal Foreign Affairs invited the leading presidential candidates from both parties to outline their views of world politics. All of them responded with essays that, one presumes, they at least read if did not write. This year, ahead of next year’s elections, Foreign Affairs has proffered the same invitation to the leading Republican aspirants. To date, they have all refused or not responded. This parallels the trend of not talking about international affairs in their endless series of presidential debates: mentions of Afghanistan and Iraq are reported to be down 65 per cent from 2008.  

One could argue that these candidates are denying Americans an opportunity to understand their thinking about international relations. Having investigated the policy platforms of the Republican field, however, I have concluded that most of them have done Americans a huge favour. The Grand Old Party candidates’ current thinking on foreign affairs is a noxious mixture of cowardice, belligerence, ignorance — and, unfortunately, political savvy.  

Read the whole thing.  Two additional thoughts.

1) The Spectator left a few things on the cutting-room floow because of space constraints.  For example, the essay fails to mention Jon Hunstman.  In my original essay, he did get mentioned in a foootnote after I had slammed the field for the umpteenth time, explaining: 

To be fair, former U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman has demonstrated a superior command of foreign policy issues.  He's also polling so badly that he failed to qualify for CNN's October 18 debate.  Tim Pawlenty was another candidate who bothered to address the Council on Foreign Relations on global matters; he withdrew from the race in August of this year.

The other thing that got excised was my point that foreign policy and national security used to be a very important compnent of presidential elections: 

[A]s an international relations specialist, I find the state of the state of the GOP foreign policy debate to be utterly depressing, but as a political scientist, I'm unsurprised.  Still, as an American citizen, this state of affairs is disconcerting on multiple levels.  We are not that far removed from elections in which foreign affairs and national security were the crucial issues in a campaign.  Gerald Ford sabotaged his 1976 campaign when he insisted that there was no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.  Both Michael Dukakis and John Kerry doomed their campaigns by appearing weak and vacillating on national security. 

2)  I haven't overtly talked about my own personal political beliefs since the blog moved to FP, but this seems to be an appropriate time to bring it up and then never speak of it again.  When I've published essays like this before, I find liberals write "even conservative Dan Drezner..." while conservatives often deploy terms like "academic elitist" or "RINO." 

In my case, at this point in time,  I believe that last appellation to be entirely fair and accurate.  I'm not a Democrat, and I don't think I've become more liberal over time.  That said, three things have affected my political loyalties over the past few years.  First, I've become more uncertain about various dimensions of GOP ideology over time.  It's simply impossible for me to look at the aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the 2008 financial crisis and not ponder the myriad ways in which my party has made some categorical errors in judgment.   So I'm a bigger fan of the politics of doubt during an era when doubt has been banished in political discourse. 

Second, the GOP has undeniably shifted further to the right over the past few years, and while I'm sympathetic to some of these shifts, most of it looks like a mutated version of "cargo cult science" directed at either Ludwig Von Mises or the U.S. Constitution (which, of course, is sacred and inviolate, unless conservatives want to amend it).  Sorry, I'm not embracing outdated concepts like the gold standard or repealing the 16th Amendment.  Not happening. 

Third, David Frum wrote something in New York Magazine that touches on the issues I just discussed, but also articlates something that has been nagging at me for a few years now: 

The conservative shift to ever more extreme, ever more fantasy-based ideology has ominous real-world consequences for American society. The American system of government can’t work if the two sides wage all-out war upon each other: House, Senate, president, each has the power to thwart the others. In prior generations, the system evolved norms and habits to prevent this kind of stonewalling. For example: Theoretically, the party that holds the Senate could refuse to confirm any Cabinet nominees of a president of the other party. Yet until recently, this just “wasn’t done.” In fact, quite a lot of things that theoretically could be done just “weren’t done.” Now old inhibitions have given way. Things that weren’t done suddenly are done.

Also, things that weren't said are now being said.  Or, to be more precise, things that use to be said but ignored are now being taken seroiusly by the GOP's leading lights.  Newt Gingrich endorses the notion that Obama has a "Kenyan, anti-colonial" worldview.  Mitt Romney claims Obama has been apologizing around the world and no longer believes in American exceptionalism.  Herman Cain is [Remember your mercy rule!!--ed.].... Herman Cain.  There's good, solid partisanship -- a vital necessity in this country -- and then there's unadulterated horses**t.  Too much of the GOP's rhetoric on Obama reads like the latter to me. 

So for those reasons, I really am a Republican in Name Only at this point.  And I say this for the GOP's benefit.  The next time someone writes, "even the Republican Dan Drezner has said...." GOP partisans should feel perfectly entitled to link to this post and call me a RINO.  Because it's true. 

Daniel W. Drezner

My Very Important Post on... what statecraft can teach you about Thanksgiving travel

I could point to full-blown reports, news stories, or portentious weather forecasts, but American residents already know the truth -- Thanksgiving travel is an ordeal.  Traffic jams, crowded flights -- it seems everyone is trying to get somewhere in the days before Turkey Day. 

With the general mantra of "hurry up and place your hands in a surrender position wait" governing these next 36 hours, I thought it would be worth considering how a better appreciation of the tools of stateraft might help those of you on the road to avoid unnecessary frustrations. 

Let's say that another actor -- which we'll call the target -- is pursuing a course of action that conflicts with your interests in world politics.  This presumably means that all your attempts to avoid this clash of interests in the first place have failed.  What are your options in developing a policy response? 

Well, there's always the denial option -- physically preventing the target from doing the thing that is bothering you.  Of course, denial often requires the overpowering, sustained use of force, and therefore is massively expensive.  Very few actors have this option available to them. 

If denial is not possible, another possibility is compellence.  In this case, the goal is to punish the target such that it recalculates the costs and benefits of doing what it is doing and acquiesces to you.  While less costly than denial, punishing the target will often involve punishing yourself, albeit not as severely.  Some actors possess this option, but its success rate is far from guaranteed

Compellence and denial sound very coercive -- what about inducements?  Surely the most efficient way to alter the target's behavior is to buy them off!  Not so fast -- sometimes the price is extraordinarily steep.  Sometimes the target doesn't want to be thought of as for sale.  And sometimes the target might con you. 

There's always the possibility of persuasion -- using sweet reason to get the target to reconsider their motives and reverse their actions.  Of course, what seems eminently reasonable to you might not look so smart to the target, so this is hardly a surefire recipe for success. 

Finally, one should always consider acceptance -- allowing that the costs of trying to change the target's behavior far outweigh the costs of adjusting to the target's behavior.  Intuitively, this is a very frustrating outcome -- but if you lack the capability or the budget to pursue the other options, then it still might be the best course of action.

What, you might ask, does this have to do with Thanksgiving travel?  Quite a lot, actually.  Let's say you're stuck in a traffic jam on I-95, or you're on a plane with a crying toddler sitting next to you.  The natural instinct is to declare that the situation is "unacceptable" and that "failure is not an option."  All well and good, but let's run through our  list of generic policy options and see what's feasible if you're, say, stuck in a traffic jam: 

1)  Denial:  If you're on the road, sure, you could use RPGs to blast a hole through the traffic.  That would require an awful lot of them, however, and I hear they're expensive and illegal to use.  Good luck having enough of them to force your way through the tri-state area.     

2)  Compellence:  Lot of drivers seem to believe that there are forms of punishment that could be pursued:  constant horn-honking, hanging right on someone's bumper, and so forth.  This can work with a few drivers, but more often than not it simply creates reciprocal bellicose behavior/minor fender-benders/West Coast shootings by the targets. 

3)  Inducements:  The proffering of inducements on clogged interstates is exceptionally rare, for two reasons.  First, what can be offered?  Snacks?  Drinks?  A video player?  These are all exhaustible resources -- so in a traffic jam, this will only get you a few car lengths ahead. 

4)  Persuasion:  As Tom Vanderbilt so wonderfully explained in Traffic, communication across cars is difficult.  There's that horn, and of course gesticulations with one's fingers can also often be used.  Neither of these really persuades, however. 

Unfortunately, but logically, this leads us to acceptance as the best approach to handling Thanksgiving traffic jams.  It's the best of a bad set of policy options -- much like modern-day statecraft. 

[What about the crying toddler on the plane?--ed.  Oh, then this metaphor works even better -- crying toddlers are the uncontrollable rogue states of travel.  The parent could try denial, but suffocating children still carries serious legal penalties in most states.  Compellence is popular, except if the idea is to get a screaming child to stop screaming, punishment isn't really going to work well.  Inducements -- "here, have some chocolate!" -- can work, but the child quickly figures out the associated moral hazard and has an incentive to act out again to get more inducements later in the flight.  Using persuasion on crying children is something that non-parents are convinced will work -- until the moment they become parents themselves and realize their own utter stupidity.  No, if a child is bawling uncontrollably during a flight, it's not because the parent is derelict in their parenting -- it's because they've already exhausted the first four policy options and have no recourse but acceptance.]

Safe and sane travels to one and all!