Author Archives: Patrick Foran

The Age of Webcraft is Upon Us

In her new book, The Chessboard & The Web: Strategies of Connection in a Networked World, Anne-Marie Slaughter, the president and CEO of New America, argues that foreign policy makers still overwhelmingly rely on an outdated paradigm; one that views nation-states as sovereign actors engaged in a security dilemma that ends in zero-sum moves. Slaughter advocates for flipping over the proverbial chessboard and replacing it with something more modern, precise, and fluid: the so-called “networked web.” Slaughter posits that academics and practitioners need to understand the links between nation-states and non-governmental organizations (NGOS) to realize that complex interdependence demands a nuanced understanding of the various players, institutions, processes, and norms developed in the last half century.

We are no longer in a zero-sum world of top-down ”direct[ion] and control” but rather a world of networks that “are managed and orchestrated,” writes Slaughter. Think of it, Slaughter continues, as “the power to evoke rather than to impose.” The actors, state or non-state, that can act as the choirmaster on the world stage, dictate the direction of the international order.

As an undergraduate at Princeton, Slaughter read and was fascinated by the seminal work Power and Interdependence, written by the scholars Joseph S. Nye Jr. and Robert Keohane, former Dean of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Professor of International Affairs at Princeton, respectively. Their idea of “complex interdependence” illuminated the world for her. However, that book simply described the web; Slaughter’s goal is to begin crafting strategies beginning with understanding the links between the myriad actors on the global stage.

This work is a summary and synthesis of extant studies of networked solutions. In Slaughter’s ideal world, we would see “network experts work[ing] with foreign policy practitioners and other problem solvers to design and create networks that they will then learn from, modifying both theory and practice.” Slaughter shows an adept understanding of network theory from various disciplines, distilling the important theoretical and empirical findings from seemingly disparate fields, including biology, physics, and industrial organization, among others. Her preferred operative definition of networks that she derives from organization scholars, is that networks “are emergent properties of persistent patterns of relations among agents that can define, enable, and constrain those agents.”

The classic academic paradigm of analyzing international affairs posits that the world is a chessboard, in which each state finds itself in a perpetual game of strategic advantage, engaging in a game of statecraft. Nye Jr., and Keohane updated that image and view in their book Power and Interdependence, released in 1977, by arguing that it is more helpful to think that nation-states are playing a game of three-dimensional chess, in which states have multiple goals instead of only security. Further, they argue that interstate cooperation is possible, with multiple parties winding up better off as opposed to a situation that requires one party to lose for other parties to gain.  By contrast, Slaughter maintains Nye Jr. and Keohane  did not go far enough to explain the world’s relationships accurately. The world we are living in is more like the Internet, the web, argues Slaughter.

To visualize the difference, Slaughter suggests envisioning a standard classroom world map showing borders and capitals as a “chessboard view” of the world. This is a map of “separation,” she muses. Think of a map at night that highlights “the lit-up bursts of cities and highly concentrated regions and the dark swaths of rural areas and wilderness.” This is “the web view,” and a map of “connection, of the density and intensity of ties across boundaries.”

The two dominant international relations theories, realism and liberalism, assume that the main unit of analysis is the “state” and that the state of nature is “separation” and the focus should be on “static equilibria,” for example. The “state of nature” in international relations theory is simply referring to the fact the world is made up of individual sovereign states acting in self-interest. “Static equilibria” is the goal of organizing the world into a relative balance of power that allows for increased trade, commerce, and diplomatic relations. Slaughter argues that global actors must transcend older notions of statecraft.

Statecraft should be complimented by webcraft, argues Slaughter. A state with careful understanding of the various nodes and links between state and non-state actors, will be able to adeptly situate themselves to “maxim[ize] [its] number of valuable connections.” The strategic necessity of maximizing valuable connections, for one, enables countries to take more risks and to diversify their economies, and diplomatic partnerships. Webcraft acknowledges the precariousness of isolationism and having few allies around the world.

Slaughter argues that global problems can fit into three broad categories: resilience problems, execution problems, and scale problems. First, resilience problems require resilience networks to solve them. These networks should aim to “strengthen, deepen, react, respond, bounce back, stabilize, and assist” in solving problems. An example of a resilience problem is climate change; an example of a resilient solution would be the 2015 Paris climate accord, where nearly 200 countries agreed on states-specific targeted reductions of carbon emissions.

Second, execution problems require task networks to solve them. Slaughter describes task networks as “designed to perform more precise and time-bound tasks carried out by small, diverse, but cohesive groups.” This type of network was applied in Iraq under General Stanley McChrystal, who directed the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) activities in Iraq. Al-Qaeda is a networked organization. McChrystal knew that in order to defeat al-Qaeda, the U.S. military had to transform from a highly hierarchical and bureaucratic institution into a more flexible “team of teams.” This networked-strategy helped weaken  Al-Qaeda and was utilized to take out its its leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Finally, scale problems abound when considering topics like alleviating poverty, improving health, and increasing literacy worldwide. “Many hands make light work, but how to create the global equivalent of a barn raising or a quilting bee?” is the poetic way Slaughter illuminates this challenge. Scale problems, she continues, should be thought about in three basic ways: replication, gathering in, and parceling out. A successful scale network would be the Bolsa Família Program (BF), an anti-poverty program of remarkable success implemented by Brazil in January 2005.

President Lula was able to replicate the problem; coordinate; streamline; and parcel out the program to the rural and urban poor of Brazil. Jonathan Tepperman, managing editor of Foreign Affairs describes the program as immensely popular. Brazilian voters on both sides of the political spectrum support the program since it has work requirements which satisfy conservatives, and programs that directly target extreme poverty with explicit poverty reduction goals, which satisfy liberals. The BF program cost less than half a percent of the country’s total gross domestic product; this amounts to costing “30 percent less per person than more traditional aid programs.” Moreover, the program has cut extreme poverty by 15 percent and has “helped lift a total of 36 million people of our general poverty,” summarizes Tepperman in Foreign Affairs.

Slaughter promises  in the beginning of her book that in the final three chapters she would lay out exactly how network strategies could be implemented globally. She fails to do this with any depth, however. But she does propose that the new international order must be built on three pillars: open governments, open society, and an open international system. This “open global order” must be one in which “states must be waves and particles at the same time.” Slaughter uses the physics metaphor to capture the fact that states have to be more flexible in terms of their capacity; states that can maximize their hard and soft power simultaneously will control the web, for example.

This book is a deceptively challenging read. It covers a vast number of fields in an attempt to explain the world as it is, alongside attempting to establish a new paradigm of thinking, with the goal of becoming this generation’s The Strategy of Conflict. The reader is treated to fascinating overviews of chaos theory, network analysis, and social physics. However, there could have been more specific examples of how to tackle the world’s biggest problems. With that being said, I highly recommend this book for it is a work of great ambition, importance, and scholarship.

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Apologize For Being Verbose: A Review of Friedman

iI just read Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, by Thomas L. Friedman and man…that was a drag race and I don’t like cars.

Did that turn of phrase make sense? It wouldn’t matter if you were The New York Times Pulitizer Prize-winning columnist, Mr. Friedman.  It would matter if you were a high schooler attempting to turn in a research paper; you would be asked to refine, edit, and rethink your choice of words. You would be asked–politely– to be more clear. If you were Friedman, you would be paraded around institutions such as Politics & Prose, the Brookings Institution, and Talks @ Google, for example. Do I sound bitter? I’m not. OK…maybe a little; only because I really should have been reading Religion in Human Evolution by Robert N. Bellah but for some inexplicable reading I sat down with Friedman instead. I guess I needed some light reading after semester.

Thank You for Being Late is an uneven book that should have been edited down to size. Not including acknowledgements, this book runs 453 pages and could have been quite the read if it was a crisp 225 or so. Hell….if it would have been 300 or less pages I might have even recommended reading it. Now: I wouldn’t bother reading this book if I were you. I would pick it up, jot down some of what he references, and then go and read what Friedman read to compile this book. For instance, he references a fascinating paper by Will Steffen et al from the Anthropocene Review from 2015, about myriad ecological stresses that we ignore at our peril.

What is this book about? This book is about the fact that everything is speeding up and because of this, job competition is increasing and “average is over.” Everyone has to keep learning, and improving if they want a shot at the good life. Moreover, in order to tackle the challenges of the 21st century, we have to rekindle and build-up our local communities in a bi-partisan way. We have to be open and not closed.

The best chapter in this book is chapter 3, “Moore’s Law,” and it really is quite a fascinating history regarding the exponential growth of various technologies, such as microchips/integrated circuits/microprocessors, sensors, storage/memory chips, software, and even fiber-optic cables and wireless systems. It never gets old to hear about Gordon Moore’s “law”, the “expectation that the power of microchips would double roughly every two years.” The heroes of this chapter are bigwigs at Intel, Qualcomm, and At&T; Gordon Moore, too, of course. We really are living in an unfathomable time. I’m excited and terrified about the future.

The first 187 pages or so are quite good, albeit with the unfortunate decision to summarize someone else’s work; which is then followed-up with that person’s actual words. This book really should have been edited, and condensed; if only because there are powerful stuff here drowning in wordy superlatives best left on the cutting room floor. Chapter 2, “What the Hell Happened in 2007?” is illuminating on how important that year was. For example, what follows the colon either were created, emerged, or really started to take off and scale in 2007: IBM started to build “Watson; Apple introduced the iPhone; Google had just bought YouTube and launched Android; Facebook was taking off; Amazon released the Kindle; Airbnb was drawn-up; Intel introduced non-silicon materials into microchips; Hadoop began to make ‘big data’ possible; and so on. 2007 was quite remarkable and this was actually a poignant profound chapter, in my opinion.

There are good sections on climate change and biodiversity loss, too. But, Friedman does as Friedman does and uses the term Mother Nature to describe various separate though connected phenomenon; I think for the sake of making many of these ideas stick but that comes across…flat. As flat as the world is now, as Friedman, himself, might say. (Matt Taibbi calls Friedman’s particularities, lets say, as Friedmanese.) Friedman does a good job highlighting what is important but doesn’t really add anything of value himself. Oh, and he builds a platform for a political party that he says is precisely and exactly what Mother Nature would want in a party. I would have appreciated it more if he would have just wrote: these are political ideas that I support. Nope: he speaks for Mother Nature instead. Weird.

Overall, I don’t recommend reading this book. I would recommend renting it from the library (which I did) and reading the first few chapters because the first few chapters are really fascinating. However, I wouldn’t finish this book especially when there are 130 million books in existence. I finished it because I’m stubborn. Oh, one more thing. Friedman calls the “cloud” the “supernova” for no good reason other than he thinks he is cute and clever, I suppose. Don’t we all? That, in fact, might be the lesson to learn from this book: we should all ask ourselves: do I sound like Thomas Friedman right now? And if so, time to do some yoga and contemplate a better path for yourself. And: edit!

White Fear; Black Bodies

s Book review:
Hayes, Chris. 2017. A Colony in A Nation (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.).

The excellent and fastidious Chris Hayes is back with his second book; it’s a doozy full of righteous (patriotic) indignation; telling data and statistics; and is bathed in humane empathy in a surprisingly nuanced way. He tries to emphasize with quite literally everyone – that alone should be commended.

The book, A Colony In A Nation, comes off the heels of a highly divisive presidential election, seen by many as largely about identity issues, immigration, and race. The winning candidate, Donald J. Trump, pounced on and utilized white fear in a way that only dog whistles could previously capture.

Long live the dog whistle;
blue lives matter!;
all lives matter!

Hayes’ thesis is, as he himself puts it, “simple.” We have a divided justice system producing a divided country. One part of the U.S., which Chris dubs the “Nation” has a policing regime fit for the rules based democracy that we purport to be. Another part of our country, dubbed “the Colony,” has a policing regime with remarkable similarities to militarily-occupied colonies. These “two distinct regimes,” have disproportionate results.

Black Americans largely live in the Colony and thus live by the dictates of order over law. This order is administered by low-level bureaucrats and “petty officers.” When order prevails, you get results such as: “black men aged 20 to 34 without a high school degree have an institutionalization rate of about 37 percent.” Homicide rates in the Colony? 20 per 100,000. In the Nation? 2.5 per 100,000. There are even predominantly black neighborhoods, adjacent to white neighborhoods that “have a homicide rate that is 9,000 percent higher.”

Hayes illuminates the difference not only with hard numbers, but also with his on-the-ground experiences, some from his college years and some from his reporting from the past few years in Ferguson, Baltimore, and other cities.

In one particularly unique passage, Hayes, the host of the award-winning All In w/ Chris Hayes (MSNBC) visited police training headquarters in New Jersey where he participated in a virtual reality simulator. This simulates 85 different scenarios and recruits are assessed based on their actions. One must be quick. Chris draws his weapon in the first scenario; the officer reminds him that that was the incorrect move. “We’re only one scene in, and already the self-righteous liberal pundit has draw his weapon on an unarmed man holding a cinder block,” Hayes rights – channeling that his training officer was “delighted” to instill some humility into the pundit.

Hayes spoke with many everyday folks, black and white, and referenced many scholarly works on criminal justice, policing, and American history; making this book’s potential audience quite wide and it’s content myriad. (Down below, I’ll finish up my thoughts regarding this strategy).

As Hayes unpacks the causes of this Nation/Colony bifurcation, he starts from the top-down and makes his way downward, to me. You. Voters. Citizens. All of us.

How did this happen?

The War on Drugs, beginning with the election of Richard Nixon in 1968 and continuing through to this very day, is a good answer; a good place to start. (It’s not the earliest place to start, of course but it’s definitely relevant.) It was top-down; Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and Congress passed laws such as the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in 1970, for example. But, Hayes, surmises that the War on Drugs is not the only answer. Hayes claims that “20 percent of the increase in incarceration,” can be legitimately considered occurring due to the precepts of this so-called War on Drugs.

In Ch. V, Hayes details a nice summary of what is known as “broken windows policing.” Beginning in New York City, under multiple mayors, and continued nationally by President Bill Clinton. It’s the idea that a vacant building with a broken window will facilitate and bring forth other crimes.  The idea was that “one could reduce crime by stamping out disorder.” “Stop and frisk,” was implemented; black and brown people were disproportionately stopped, humiliated, and has their constitutional rights violated. (Hayes notes that federal district judge Shira Scheindlin, in 2000, did find the policy constitutional.)

Hayes leaves no stone unturned; it’s quite an impressive feat, he weaves in history and then personal story and then reporting from Baltimore back to law, scholarship, and pointed philosophical musings.

Hayes is his most passionate when he writes about white fear being a “force” that is a “social fact” and “something burned into our individual neural pathways.” But far from coming across as morally superior, Hayes is up-front about his own biases and fear, growing up in the Bronx, a “white straight male.” He talks about getting a pass from police officers, who found weed on him as a twenty-one-year old; at the Republican National Committee conference in 2000 no less. He opens up about his fears; he agrees that that order is nice. Yet he is aware that order usually comes at the cost of violating Constitutional rights of fellow Americans, who belong in the Nation, but who live in and are policed by The Colony. In fact, in the last few pages of the final chapter, he waxes philosophically, shades of Peter Singer regarding the moral sandpit that comes with valuing order over law.

Hayes isn’t careless or ideological when he tackles the War on Drugs. (He does get a bit ideological at other times.) The Crack Years were horrifying and nearly every single crime, violent and non-violent, skyrocketed from the 1970s, into the early 1990s. In fact in 1992, the U.S. “set an all-time violent crime record with 1,932,274 incidents.”  People are driven by fear and fear is hard to assuage. Fear resides in our brain stem, an ancient part of our brain, Hayes reminds the reader.

Above when I mentioned the top-down side of the creation and propagation of the Colony, I referred to the bottom-up side, too. In the last chapter, Hayes references work from law professor James Whitman who concludes: “it is the strong anti-aristocratic strain in the American legal tradition that has made our punishment system so remorseless and harsh.” I agree with this analysis; I also agree that it’s madness that we elect prosecutors.  Perhaps the most democratic part of our system is our criminal justice system. This doesn’t shine a positive light on the American psyche or on direct democracy frankly.

Here is where I began to add up the cons of the book. Educated readers know most, if not all, of what he chose to write about. I must say that I find this book wanting. There are many paths that Hayes could have explored more, but he leaves them after promising introductions. He mentions Racecraft….doesn’t explore it. He begins to paint a picture relating what he calls the Colony to how the British treated the colonists here during the revolutionary days…then he never brings it up again. He begins to explore police training….and leaves it after a page or two. (I wouldn’t begin to write a book on criminal justice; this is extremely hard to do and the book is quite good and ranging.)

Chirs makes the reader fill in a bunch of details themselves. I simultaneously like this and dislike it.

Solutions? He doesn’t investigate any concrete solutions…at all.  I know Hayes has ideas; I’m a big admirer of his previous work. In interviews, for example, he talks about needing radical desegregation as a political and societal project that, if continued to be unmet, should be openly considered a moral failure. Now THAT is what I hoped he was going to explore.

I would be remiss to say that Hayes didn’t fill out his thesis – he did; I suppose I’m just expressing that I wanted the book to be different than what it was.

This book turns out to be about two-thirds journalistic reporting and one-third memoir. I’m not sure if Hayes would classify it as such, but it is how it reads nevertheless. Overall, I enjoyed reading it. The book is well-written – if sporadic- and needing a bit more of a focus.

I do recommend it if only for the last chapter alone.

 

No One Has Read Huntington

The more I read people reference The Clash of Civilizations, the more I continue to believe that no one has read the actual book. In a recent New York Times article, journalists Scott Shane, Matthew Rosenberg, and Eric Lipton write that:

Mr. Trump was echoing a strain of anti-Islamic theorizing familiar to anyone who has been immersed in security and counterterrorism debates over the last 20 years. He has embraced a deeply suspicious view of Islam that several of his aides have promoted, notably retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, now his national security adviser, and Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s top strategist.

This worldview borrows from the “clash of civilizations” thesis of the political scientist Samuel P. Huntington, and combines straightforward warnings about extremist violence with broad-brush critiques of Islam.” [ NYT: “A Sinister Perception of Islam Steers the White House.”]

The article was about how President Trump and his team of Culture Warriors at the helm of his administration believe in a far-right notion of radical Islam and have an outsized fear of it. Yeah. Ok. I know.

To say that this worldview borrows from Huntington is akin to saying that because my co-worker said the words “I am Genghis Khan,” means he is Genghis Khan. I’m bad at comparisons, I know.

My point is that just because there is a cultural element to Trump’ grand strategy and that his chief strategist Steve Bannon believes in a clash of civilizations means that it is borrowing anything from a thesis that was trying to predict how conflicts in the future might look like. Huntington wasn’t endorsing clashes of civilization, he was simply arguing that culture – shared values, customs, language, and belief-systems – are likely to spark conflict in the future as opposed to any other possible reason for war, such as trade or land.

All three reporters are fantastic. Scott Shane’s book from two years ago about Anwar al-Awlaki was probably my favorite of 2015. This to me is sloppy, lazy and I don’t know what purpose it serves, to be honest.

Books: 2016

I present my favorite reads of 2016. Since I only read 4 books released last year, I will simply include in my list books that I read. In total, I finished 34 books and started many more.

6: The Way of the Knife:: the CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth (2013) Mark Mazzetti, reporter for The New York Times

This book, by Pulitzer-prize winning Mark Mazzetti, has astonishing anecdotes, literally, on every page. I had my nephew pick a number from page one through 327 and voila – “two hundred” he says. “OSS founder William Donovan was so despondent that President Truman had not named him the first director of central intelligence he decided to set up an intelligence operation of his own. During business trips to Europe he collected information about Soviet activities from American ambassadors and journalists and scouted for possible undercover agents.” When President Truman was made aware of such private shenanigans, he was mad, “calling him a prying S.O.B.” One example from one random page, and it is a good one. I read this book along the way of researching for my final analysis of President Obama’s counterterrorism (CT) policy and the most pertinent quote from the president himself was: “The C.I.A. gets what it wants.” My question is: what president has skirted the power of CIA the most? A muckraking funny-if-it-wasn’t- true expose on the CIA. One con would be that it’s anecdote heavy and hard to pull together a comprehensive understanding of the complex-nature of Intelligence work, the CIA, and the various actors, individuals and states.

5:  Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization (2016)
Branko Milanovic, Senior Scholar at the Luxembourg Income Study Center

A fresh, updated accounting on what we know about macroeconomics and what this portends for the future. Milanovic, reforms a classic theoretical understanding of inequality – the Kuznets curve – and coins the Kuznets wave. Succinctly put, inequality rises as economies develop yet the curve flattens out as education, for example spreads. Milanovic adds more lines to the curve and argues that inequality starts to increase once again in developed countries for various reasons, such as high-skilled and information-based job growth. This book is about (1) the rise of the global middle class; (2) the stagnation of the developed world’s middle class; (3) the rise of the global 1%. His prediction is gloomy: we will most likely see increased inequality because the current global climate to tackle this problem is wanting and the task arduous and global governance is limited. “Social separatism” is increasing and this portends a precarious future in our ever-globalizing world.

4: The 1970s: A New Global History from Civil Rights to Economic Inequality (2012)
Thomas Borstelmann, a Distinguished Professor of Modern World History at the University of Lincoln-Nebraska

I keep trying to formulate exactly when much of the world took a right-wing authoritarianism and extreme form; look at photos of Afghanistan in the 1950s-1960s for an example of what I’m conjuring up. I keep getting to 1979. Well, before said year the 1970s was a fascinating decade that so many positive strides regarding civil rights for black Americans and also women. Income inequality started rising precipitously for the developed world in the middle of the decade and the first Islamic revolution of the modern era happened, when the Shah in Iran was overthrown by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. This global history, which really is American-centric, is a fantastic read. I think about this book all of the time. For readers of contemporary history, this is a good one that I stumbled upon while perusing the “sale” section at my local library.

3: The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy (2011)
Dani Rodrik, the Rafiq Hariri Professor of International Political Economy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University

We read this book in my proseminar in globalization and out of the ten books we read, this book warranted the most discussion and “thumps up” bar none. Rodrik brilliantly excoriates, at times but with minimal vitriol – his fellow economists and their religious adherence to the Washington Consensus. He provides data to support his argument that some sort of embedded liberalism or a updated version of Bretton Woods is the most secure, fair, popular, and effective way for states to enter the developed strata of states. It’s in this book that he presents the trillemma: you can pick two, but only two. We can either live in a world of deep globalization and democracy; deep globalization and global governance; or global governance and democracy. Rodrik inclines

2: Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis: Second Edition (1999)
Graham Allison, Philip Zelikow, John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and Department of History at University of Virginia, respectively

This essential read for IR students is one I am grateful was assigned; I used the Rational Actor Model and the Governmental Politics model to compare the president’s counterterrorism policy for my capstone research paper. Along with Organizational Structure Model, these 3 frameworks are theoretical kingpins. The case study analyzed was the Cuban Missile Crisis and it was brilliantly done. Essence became the bedrock textbook and the impetus for opening the JFK School of Government at Harvard. If you want to know exactly how the insider process happens, and the complexity and complications of hundreds (now thousands) of actors involved in decisions, this is a great start. A foundational IR text from a heavyweight scholar, Allison, who has since penned many more books that are worth reading.

1: The Clash of Civilization and the Remaking of Global Order (1996)
Samuel P. Huntington, co-founder of Foreign Policy; Professor at Harvard; president of the American Political Science Association (APSA)

I’m linking to my blog post where I opined my feelings of this work. Seminal work here.

Best book released in 2016

Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror
Michael Hayden, former head of the CIA, NSA, and intelligence of the Air Force

Hayden has worked in the U.S. Intelligence community for decades and his part-memoir and part-current affairs review of the world we live in was my favorite memoir I read this year. For an intelligence official, the work was deeply honest, fair, and wide-ranging. The impression you get is of a big mind with big ideas and even bigger secrets; at once, a patriot who wishes he could tell Americans more but he can’t, for their security. I have been going through government official memoirs – I’ve only read a few so far – and this might be my favorite, though Chollet’s and Brooks’ are close. (I haven’t finished Brooks’ yet therefore it can’t be on this list but it’s damn good.)

I’m looking forward to reading so many more works next year – I hope to even finish listening to Moby-Dick!

The Brilliant Foresight of Huntington

Samuel P. Huntington’s seminal book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, is a foundational text for any student of international relations, globalization, and contemporary history. I have the fortune of hindsight and I have to say – this book might in fact be my favorite book I’ve ever read. It’s certainly one of the most important I’ve ever read re: my field of study, political science. It’s not that often that a book stands up like this one does. It’s not only useful as a period piece or a “hot take” but rather as a paradigm piece. My opinion is certainly twenty years late and most students do consider this a paradigm book; I’m simply expressing my gratitude that I experienced this read for myself. I can concur what others have said before.

Honestly, I can’t think of a more magisterial IR text that explains the current zeitgeist than this one. Jihad vs McWorld does a good job; not an IR text but Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature is great too; Joseph S. Nye’s work is, of course, canonical as well. For what it’s worth, however, this text is paradigm-capturing and worthy of Kissinger calling it “one of the most important books to have emerged since the end of the Cold War.” This is my favorite.

I will try and capture just why I think it predicted so much of what we are living through right now. Counting the essay, Huntington conceived of this understanding more than 23 years ago. It was the end of the Cold War, Fukuyama thought it was “The End of History”, and 9/11 and the Arab Spring were a decade, and two decades away, respectively. Yet, if I would have read this book before the turn of the century, I would have had a framework to understand it quicker than it has taken me.

Huntington Predicted the Russian annexation of Crimea
Just shortly into the first chapter and I was already enraptured by his definition of civilizations, for example, and then s.m.a.c.k – I thought, “what?! He basically just predicted Putin’s capture of Crimea. Damn.” In a paragraph where Huntington is testing the validity of statism, or neorealism, such as that exposed by John Mearsheimer, who foresaw a Russia-Ukraine “security competition,” he lays out precisely what happened 18 years later. “A civilizational approach emphasizes the close cultural, personal, and historical links between Russia and Ukraine and the intermingling of Russians and Ukrainians in both countries, and focuses instead of the civilizational fault line that divides Orthodox eastern Ukraine from Uniate western Ukraine, a central historical fact of long standing which, in keeping with the “realist” concept of states as unified and self-identified entities, Meirsheimer totally ignores.” He continues: “While a statist approach minimizes that and instead highlights the possibility of Ukraine splitting in half, a separation which cultural factors would lead one to predict might be more violent than that of Czechoslovakia but far less bloody than that of Yugoslavia.”

Huntington was sage-like here. Not only did he foreshadow the Russian annexation of Crimea, but he was correct regarding the comparisons as well. Casualties from the Ukrainian crisis are more than 9,000. The “Velvet Divorce” in 1993 of Czechoslovakia was bloodless; Slovakia has since become a quiet success of Europe. The breakup up of Yugoslavia was protracted, genocidal, and devastating.  Huntington was right: what was to transpire in Ukraine was somewhere in the middle, and it was about identity and culture, or to use his parlance, “civilizations.”

His framework based on understanding that culture is Real and that culture is tremendously powerful and binding, especially in a modernizing world that is cold, fast, and spiraling out of control, has predictive power. No good theory leaves home without predictive power. Ukraine effectively split, with 65% of Crimean’s being ethnically Russian. Under the civilizational paradigm, this break up makes since and those who studied this work, should have anticipated this. Huntington even argued that “contingency planning for the possible breakup of Ukraine,” should have been in the works.

“In the long run, Muhammed wins out”: Religious revivalism and Islamic Renewal
For those like myself who read science websites, and who know the ins-and-outs of and have read all of the New Atheist tracts published early in this new century, it’s easy to think that, or hope for depending on your worldview, religion is on the ropes. That, in fact, would be horribly wrong. Religion, a steady and reliable form of culture/identity like no other, is on the rise. Huntington really hammers the point home that the future of conflict will be about culture. And when wars are fought over cultures, culture loses. Huntington, again, was correct. “The Cold war division of humanity is over. The more fundamental divisions of humanity in terms of ethnicity, religions, and civilizations remain and spawn new conflicts. There is a subsection titled La Revanche De Dieu, or “The revenge of God” that I am jealous of. Great analysis with zero fluff or wasted words. If you have the book, this section starts at the middle of p.95 and ends at the end of p.97.

The Rise of the East, Latin America and Africa(?)
“The West is overwhelmingly dominant now and will remain number one in terms of power and influence well into the twenty-first century,” asserts the author. Although one can (and often does) split hairs regarding this statement, as of Dec. 2016 this is still true. In the context of this book, where Huntington paints the rise of the East, it’s particularly still relevant because he did predict what was on the horizon. This entire section is less spectacular than, in my opinion, his analysis about culture being central to our identities and the Islamic Resurgence, for example, this still is worth mentioning.

Latin America and Africa – sub-Saharan Africa – lack a “core” state that would allow them to rise to the level of say, the West (America is the core state), or the Sinic world (China, core), or the Orthodox world (Russia). The consequence isn’t necessarily given much thought but the analysis and prediction is true. Huntington puts a question mark after Africa (like he did at the end of the title when this was first published as an essay, which most people seemed to forget; “The Clash of Civilizations?,” is was the title of the essay iteration.) in this book since it was hard to envision a core emerging African power. The contenders were South Africa and Nigeria. Interesting. Latin America, Brazil and Argentina, and Mexico, also don’t seem to be likely leaders of a civilizational world. Mexico, has one foot in the West and one foot in Latin America. The future is up in the air and going to be determined by much contingency in the future. The reason: “Throughout history the expansion of the power of a civilization has usually occurred simultaneously with the flowering of its culture and has almost always involved its using that power to extend its values, practices, and institutions to other societies.” Pan-Africanism is a fiction that never materialized. Latin America is very diverse and just in the split of languages alone, makes it hard to foresee any one country becoming the “core” state of Latin America.

The rise of Asia, including India as the “core” state of the Hindu world, Japan (Japanese is  a civilization on it’s own according to Huntington’s paradigm), and China (the Sinic core) is an unstoppable historical force. The “blip” of Western dominance of 200 years will come to an end, and China, once again will be the leading power of the world by the middle of the next century. I can’t recall where I learned or who I learned this from, but a scholar has mapped the trend line of power and it is now sitting in Persia, working it’s way towards the East. 3 billion people all industrializing and modernizing is unstoppable. Well, at least by other people. Mother nature is a force to be reckoned with.

Conclusion
All-but-predicting the Crimea annexation by Russia; the rise of cultural and identity politics and the antidote of religion and community; and the likely power-shift from the West to Asia has come to pass, make The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of Global Order a must read. Impossibly relevant. Satisfying. Groundbreaking. The book, itself, is a paradigm. Huntington, in the last sentence, argues that a global order must be based on civilizations – regionalism (though he wouldn’t use that word), and bi- and tri-lateral regimes; globalization is only for the Davos World and global government seems like a 22-century utopian idea that we have yet to figure out. Until then: we must understand that culture and meaning and metaphysics matter tremendously.

Everyone should go out and pick up, and highlight, and annotate and devour this book. Certainly one of the best books I’ve ever read regarding international relations and the future of the global order.

*Bonus: Here’s a link to me reading this essay, basically, on my Foran Policy: Book Reviews & Miscellany podcast.*

Tim Kaine Will be Clinton’s VP

Making predictions helps one become better at making predictions if you meet four conditions: 1) Go public; 2) Delineate why you are predicting what you are predicting; 3) Understand why your prediction was right or wrong. 4) Reflect and repeat.

The last big prediction I made was regarding the presidential election. I thought that Secretary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee – that was easy and I was simply going with the grain. I thought Florida Senator Marco Rubio would be the Republican nominee – I was going with the grain here, too. I was 1/2. (I never wrote anything about “Brexit” but I definitely thought that Remain would win, so I would have been wrong here.)

I’m trying again.

I am 75% certain that Secretary of State, and presumptive Democratic nominee for president, Hillary Clinton (HRC), will chose Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, from Virginia, as her vice president (VP) for a couple of simple reasons.

First, Tim Kaine is boring and right about now this is exactly what HRC is looking for. Kaine even admitted that he was boring in on one of the Sunday punditfests last week. “I am boring,” said the former Governor of Virginia. Translation: I am politically not a liability. My past is nearly without blemish and I won’t scare away any center-right people who might cross the aisle to vote for me since Trump is a disaster. Interesting strategy here; I’m not sure it is a smart one but it definitely is strategic at least. Boring doesn’t appeal to me but safe does, in some ways.

Second, and finally, this is all about demographics or identity politics. White working-class males are who the Democratic party has been reaching out to win for the past 25 years with little success. Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, according to election results and polls galore, will certainly vote for Hillary Clinton.

I know it’s only anecdotal but my brother who is a lifelong Midwestern Republican admitted that he won’t vote for a Republican ever again as he feels they have abandoned working people. As a union member, you can see why he now has come to this conclusion. He also dislikes Clinton. If Clinton’s VP pick is someone who looks like my brother (WASPY with no emphasis on the P), my brother will be more likely to hold his nose and vote for the Democratic ticket. A Clinton/Kaine pick is a safe pick. Is this the year for safe bets? Not exactly but I continue.

If Clinton chooses Elizabeth Warren – forget about it. Two female Northeastern elites on one ticket is too much for folks like my brother. I’m not saying this is morally right I’m saying it’s literally true. Thomas Perez? There is no need here to pick Perez, again due to demographics. Does all of this come down to cold political calculus? Yeah, I think so. (Go read or watch Game Change.) Corey Booker? Way too risky and this pick would certainly not gain any border-line votes like my brother.

“Insiders” (whatever that means) are now saying that Clinton has winnowed her list to 3 possible VPs (Kaine, Perez, Warren). I am fairly confident Kaine will be the choice.

So, I have went public  and I explained why.

Time will tell if I was correct or if I was wrong.