Yes, you can be a neoconservative, and still be wrong

One of the nice things about writing for Foreign Policy is the energy and creativity of its leadership, as exemplified by their relentless quest for new publishing innovations. Just yesterday, for example, FP launched a new fiction section, clearly intended to highlight writing on international affairs that doesn't have much basis in reality.

I refer, of course, to Elliott Abrams' brief essay entitled "A Forward Strategy of Freedom," where he argues that neoconservative ideas and policies are responsible for the "Arab Spring." It's been apparent for a long time that being a neoconservative means never having to say you're sorry (or even admit that you're wrong), but this essay displayed a degree of historical amnesia unusual even by neoconservative standards. It's not really worth a sustained critique, so I'll just make a few quick points.

First, there's no evidence that the Bush administration's "forward strategy for freedom" had anything to do with the Tunisian's fruit seller Mohammed Bouazizi's tragic decision to set himself afire, an act of protest that started the wave of upheavals that has convulsed much of the Arab world ever since. Or is Abrams' suggesting that Bush's 2nd inaugural inspired Bouazizi? More tellingly, neither the liberal forces that drove much of the uprisings against the Mubarak regime nor the Islamic forces that have profited most from Mubarak's departure give credit to Bush & co. for inspiring their efforts. And it's not hard to see why: both the Muslim Brotherhood and the more fundamentalist Egyptian Salafis have been anathema for the neocons from the get-go.

Second, the entire neoconservative strategy for spreading democracy depended heavily on U.S. military power, and it focused almost entirely on countries like Iraq, Syria, and Iran.  The Bush administration in which Abrams served continued to coddle Mubarak, the Saudis, and America's other authoritarian allies, for the same reasons that previous administrations did. The Arab spring emerged elsewhere, however, and had little to do with the deployment of American military power. Obama's Cairo speech is a far more plausible candidate in this regard (though I'd have my doubts about its impact too), but strangely, Abrams doesn't mention it.

Meanwhile, in the one place where the neocon strategy was fully implemented -- Iraq -- it was a colossal failure. The United States spent trillions of dollars and thousands of its soldiers' lives, and the end result is a deeply divided society and a dysfunctional political system that is drifting steadily back towards authoritarian rule and is at least partly aligned with Iran. So what were the neocons right about?

Third, the neoconservative hypocrisy about democracy was exposed in 2006, when the United States refused to accept Hamas' victory in the Palestinian legislative elections. You don't have to like Hamas or its charter to concede that they won the election fair and square, but that didn't stop the Bush administration from ignoring the outcome completely. In fact, Abrams subsequently tried to foment a Fatah coup against Hamas in Gaza, only to have his putative allies routed and discredited. Another neocon blunder, in short. And isn't it a bit odd that this deeply committed apostle of democracy has no problem with Israel continuing to violate the human rights of the millions of Palestinians it controls via its illegal occupation of the West Bank and its continued restrictions on movement in Gaza? Why isn't he pressing Israel to either give these people the right to vote, or to let them have a viable state of their own so that they can vote there? Some neoconservatives (e.g., Paul Wolfowitz) have been sympathetic to such aspirations, but as far as I know Abrams is not one of them.

Finally, let's not lose sight of all the other things that neoconservatives got wrong. They were wrong about Saddam's WMD. They were wrong about his alleged links to Al Qaeda. They were wrong that the occupation of Iraq would pay for itself. They were wrong that it would be easy to create democracy there once Saddam was gone. And given America's toxic image in much of the Arab world, they were wrong to believe that fostering democracy in the Arab world would create legitimate and pro-American regimes.

Weighed in the balance, therefore, the neocons got far more wrong than right, and it would be refreshing if they'd just man up and admit it.

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Stephen M. Walt

Where have all the public policy stars gone?

Imagine that you were the dean of a public policy school, and of course you wanted to boost your school's reputation and attract lots of outstanding applicants for admission. There are several ways to do this, but one familiar strategy would be to hire some really famous, world-class faculty: people with truly global reputations who would raise the visibility of your school and make more prospective students want to attend and rub shoulders with them.

I can think of lots of high-profile academics to go after in economics, political science, history, and a few other fields. For example, an ambitious dean could try to recruit global superstars like Paul Krugman, Robert Putnam, Amartya Sen, Joe Stiglitz, Theda Skocpol, Anthony Giddens, Martha Nussbaum, K. Anthony Appiah, Elinor Ostrom, John Lewis Gaddis, or Frank Fukuyama. Or you could go after a highly visible former politician or policy-maker (e.g., Kofi Annan, Condoleezza Rice, Javier Solana, etc.) and use their fame to generate buzz and attract more applicants.

So here's a puzzle: even though public policy schools are supposed to train people to work in and lead public sector organizations (to include government agencies, non-profits, I can't think of a scholar of public management or public administration with the same sort of marquee value as the people I just mentioned, and whose hiring would catapult a school up the rankings dramatically.

Please note: I am not saying that there are no excellent scholars in these domains -- among other things, I think I have some pretty terrific colleagues who work in this area -- and I'm not saying that an ambitious dean couldn't raise his or her school's profile somewhat by recruiting the best people in this area. And I'm certainly not suggesting that scholars who work in this area aren't doing useful work teaching students and advising government agencies and other organizations about how they could operate more effectively. But my sense is that the sub-fields of public management or public administration aren't producing highly visible "public intellectuals" or attracting a lot of attention outside of the sub-field itself.

But I'm not sure why this is the case. For starters, intellectuals studying the workings of public sector organizations used to be a prominent part of sociology and political science (going all the way back to Max Weber), and this body of work was a central part of the social sciences for much of the twentieth century. I am thinking here of scholars such as Dwight Waldo, Robert K. Merton, Aaron Wildavsky, Charles Perrow, James Q. Wilson, Charles Lindblom, James March, Herbert Simon, or Anthony Downs; all of whom cast long shadows over their respective fields and had an enormous impact on how we think about bureaucracies and public organizations. Moreover, management experts at business schools have and continue to enjoy a lot of global visibility -- think Peter Drucker, Jim Collins, Clayton Christenson, Michael Porter, etc. -- which suggests that it is not the topic of "management" or organizational behavior itself that is the problem.

Finally, it's hard to argue that there isn't a continued need for bold ideas that would help improve the quality of public management. The public sector consumes more than 40 percent of GDP in a lot of advanced industrial countries, and the lack of effective public institutions is a major obstacle to economic and social advancement in many developing countries. So the lack of superstar figures in this field isn't because the topic itself is unimportant.

So how might one explain this pattern? I'm not sure. One possibility, which I'm not sure is correct, is that the long effort to discredit public sector organizations and to encourage privatization has made studying such organizations less fashionable. A second possibility is that the field of organizational behavior has gradually become more "micro-oriented" -- drawing more on social psychology than on political science, sociology, or history -- and that this trend has made the field more rigorous in purely academic terms but also less interesting to anyone but specialists within the field. Or perhaps the lack of towering figures in the study of public administration at present is just a manifestation of the broader "cult of irrelevance" that I've discussed before: even though we need public institutions that work well, the scholars that inhabit elite departments of political science, economics, or sociology just aren't that interested in doing that anymore. Which is too bad.

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