On American power and American foreign policy

Your humble blogger continues to enjoy his family vacation immensely -- especially since Phase One has ended and Phase Two does not require anything to do with the House of Mouse. 

Today's topic is U.S. foreign policy in the age of Obama. Here's what's worth reading:

1) Richard Neu, "U.S. 'Soft Power' Abroad is Losing Its Punch." RAND. My take: When he writes "The most potent instrument of U.S. soft power is probably the simple size of the U.S. economy," I get the sense that Neu doesn't entirely get what "soft power" means. And the whole "U.S. debt is sapping perceptions of U.S. power" shtick sounds very 2009. Still, as a read of the conventional wisdom of American thought on this issue, it's a good precis. 

2) Tom Wright, "Neocons vs. Realists is so 2008," Foreign PolicyMy take:  Wright accurately describes "restrainers" and "shapers" but misses the bureaucratic impuleses for different actors to adopt these positions. Secretaries of state tend to be "shapers" -- otherwise, why would they take the job? Meanwhile, Secretaries of defense tend to be "restrainers." They're leery of any non-essential engagement that would potentially require the use of force -- because that could put the military in harm's way. The principal exception to this rule during the post-Cold War era was Don Rumsfeld, and even he wanted U.S. troops to get the hell out of Iraq five minutes after Saddam's statue fell. 

3) Roger Cohen, "Beltway Foreign Policy," New York Times. My take:  On the one hand -- oh, does my former Fletcher colleague and now SAIS Dean Vali Nasr knows how to tease his forthcoming book. I can only hope that, should I be in a similar position, Roger Cohen should need some column filler. On the other hand, it's not a real shock to learn that the Obama White House made serious efforts to constrain Richard Holbrooke/run foreign policy. Going from there to asserting that "American foreign policy has become completely subservient to tactical domestic political considerations" seems a bit of a leap. Mind you, it's still a refreshing and bracing critique that's worth reading. 

Daniel W. Drezner

On political science, policy, and writing

Your humble blogger was not kidding when he said he was on vacation. Furthermore, this isn't one of those vacations where I can just hide away in my hotel room for hours on end, composing the kind of artisanal, hand-crafted blog posts that make feel Wittgensteinian and all. No, this is the kind of vacation where I can feel the disapproving eyes of my family on my hunched shoulders every time I look at my laptop. 

So, in the interest of making everyone happy, this week's blog posts will be of the more old school, "Hey, read this!" kind of link-o-rama that Twitter has made quasi-obsiolete. For each day, I'll focus on topics that revisit an old blog post of mine, to see if there's anything new of interesting out there. 

Today:  the state of political science research and writing.

1) Greg Ferenstein, "Former Political Scientist to Congress:  Please Defund Political Science." The Atlantic. My take:  In all seriousness, about 85% of all political science research can pass the "mother in law test" -- the question is whether political scientists are articulate enough to do this with their own research. 

2) Stephen Walt, "On writing well," Foreign Policy. My take: outsourced to Steve Saideman

3) Jay Ulfelder, "Why is Academic Writing so Bad? A Brief Response to Stephen Walt," Dart-Throwing Chimp. My take: um... yeah, Jay's right. One caveat:  Writing for a general audience requires some genuine craft and care with one's prose style, so those political scientists who want to write for a wider audience do need to care about the writing. Which leads to whispers and murmurs that if they write well, they're not focusing enough on their research. Which leads to a vicious cycle of bad writing. 

4) Adam Elkus, "Relevant to Policy?" CNAS.  My take:  definitely worth a read, and an interesting counter to Ferenstein in particular. 

And now... time to unhunch my shoulders!!