Compare the following two approaches. Traditional/ realist: Think about the Middle East in terms of the state actors and their fears of Iran and each other and their corresponding incentives to act in accordance with our interests. Modern/liberal-social: Factor in all the important social actors, from tribes to democracy activists, focus on the relationship between those social actors and their governments, then assess interests relative to other governments that are themselves enmeshed in domestic and transnational social networks.
The second approach tends to make our heads hurt; it often seems like a hopelessly complex system that is impossible to influence or shape. Waltz, rather than pushing us to develop workable models and policy prescriptions based on that complexity, says it's okay just to white it all out. (For IR students and scholars reading this, I know of course that I am vastly over-simplifying the IR theoretical landscape.)
But perhaps the best refutation of the straw man charge is empirical. Let's do a small experiment. Compare Dan's tweets for a week with my tweets, as both of us think of ourselves as sending out foreign policy links that are useful/important/interesting. Since Twitter is stream-of-consciousness, what a curator chooses to pull out and send on is an excellent indicator of a reflexive way of seeing the world.
Tweets from Aug 3-Aug 10
Excluding the many very funny tweets (which is one great reason to follow Dan), the news about baseball (Go Sox!!), domestic economic news (which we have all been passing along), and commentary on Republican political candidates, Dan tweeted: two links to articles about terrorism; several links and comments about Syria (including US sanctions on Syria, Kuwaiti criticism of Syria, UNSC vote on Syria); one link on defense spending; several links on Israeli domestic politics (but nothing on J14 housing/social protests); several links on Chinese criticism of the U.S. over our debt; one comment about attacks on humanitarians and medical personnel in the Arab spring; one on how China will react to a British police request to Blackberry to suspend its messaging service; and one to his own blog post on whether the U.S. "has lost its AAA superpower rating" (his answer: no).
Dan is much funnier than I am! And I'm more likely to stray into high tech or food than baseball. But on foreign policy, I tweeted: many links on Syria, not just reactions of US and UNSC but also reports about the position of the business community as well as reports of active Turkish and Saudi diplomacy vis-à-vis Damascus; links on ongoing human rights violations in Bahrain; links on Libya, Yemen, and ongoing protest in Egypt; many links on the J14 protests in Israel and their larger significance; links on the Somali famine but also to a much more positive account of growth and stability in Africa; a link on the danger of ignoring the Pakistani public; links on China and U.S. debt, but also unrest in Xinjiang; links on the helicopter tragedy in Afghanistan and what it says about trying to fight an enemy so deeply embedded in Afghan society; links on food security and do-it-yourself development; links on women left behind in Armenia (and disproportionately affected by budget cuts in the U.S.), links on the Indian economy; lots of links on the London riots, including the role of technology; and a link to my latest blog post reporting on socio-economic trends in China and how they should give the "China as next superpower" folks pause.
Going through these tweets actually offered an even more succinct contrast between how Dan and I think about foreign policy. Dan asked last week, addressed to all "IR tweeps": "Is there a better international relations song than Tears for Fears 'Everybody Wants to Rule the World?'" He got some great responses, but for me, his choice says it all about how, his protests notwithstanding, he sees the world. (Many a truth is spoken in jest.) By contrast (and again, with much less humor!), I tweeted a link on Monday to a terrific article
in the Financial Times
by the Israeli novelist Etgar Keret on the J14 protests and quoted the following passage: "In our current reality, the political cannot be separated from the social." The new foreign policy frontier is deeply social, as messy and unsatisfactory as that may be.
One final note. As another piece of evidence that my view of traditional foreign policy is a straw man, Dan writes, "Just a quick glance at, say, Hillary Clinton's recent speech in Hong Kong
suggests that actual great power foreign policies bear no resemblance whatsoever to that description of 'traditional foreign policy.'" Uh...really? That's a rebuttal? Who do you think taught me to focus much more on social and developmental issues? A large part of Hillary Clinton's legacy will be precisely that she redefined what it means not only to think about but actually to do foreign policy.
Next up: many more concrete examples in the coming months, beginning with my next post, in which I will also answer Dan's charge (echoed by many others, including my own mother); that the rapidly increasing examples of social actors coming together, often with governments, to address foreign policy issues are bound to remain peripheral and ineffective.