Trust Them, They Are Trained Professionals

Critics on my right and left have busted me for opining in complex areas like foreign policy where I have no formal training (I did take a class in international politics, and it’s the one class in college I didn’t pass because the professor wouldn’t accept my essay on the decline in relevance of the nation-state and I wouldn’t rewrite it to support the continued primacy of the nation-state). I worry about that sometimes, and then I read things like this account by Daniel Drezner of a conversation at an International relations conference:

IR THEORIST A: Here’s the thing… if the experimenter shoots the monkey when it throws the cucumber, the other monkeys will process that information as well. So it’s not only about a sense of fairness, it’s about survival.

POLICYMAKER B: Yes, the experimenter could shoot the monkey, and maybe that would cow the other monkeys into submision. If you keep shooting monkeys, however, it might encourage the remaining ones to rise up and overthrow the experimenters and establish their own cucumber plantation.

Yes, I’m warmly secure in the thought that our foreign policy may be being set by trained, highly-educated professionals.

13 thoughts on “Trust Them, They Are Trained Professionals”

  1. IT’s a weird time right now. The question “what next?” really hangs over everything, and I think the american public feels stuck. We really need to discuss the nuances of forien policy on a national level. But I get the feeling that the only place that’s happening is on blogs. The weekend roundup shows do it some too, but not nearly as much.

    Meanwhile, thinktanks are churning out large reports on this very question, but in ways that are completely unapproachable to the average reader (and many of them contradict each other), and nobody (ie media) is reporting on the strengths and flaws of each argument. At the same time, politicans are rushing to give their 2D analysis (ie soundbyte) of how to fix the whole world in 3 easy steps.

    It’s driving me nuts.

  2. He, he! At least the argument about monkeys and cucumbers is slightly more nuanced than singing Kumabaya in groups! Not much, but….

    Why don’t the wonks ask Joe Common in Podunk, Iowa what he thinks? You might find more sense there than in all the hallowed think tanks existing.

    Correction: Naw! Can’t have the commoners offering their betters advice!

  3. I did take a class in international politics, and it’s the one class in college I didn’t pass because the professor wouldn’t accept my essay on the decline in relevance of the nation-state and I wouldn’t rewrite it to support the continued primacy of the nation-state

    Whoa! From your lips to Philip Bobbitt’s ear! I assume you’ve read Shield of Achilles and enjoyed the vindicatory aspects of it.

    Italics tag fixed – David Blue.

  4. Oops, sorry about the missing /i tag! (It’s supposed to come right after the book title, don’t know if you guys can edit these things.)

  5. Robert D. Kaplan makes the point, in Eastward to Tartary and (I think) The Arabists, that most of the Muslim world, as well as a big chunk of Eastern and Central Europe, are functionally organized into city states. The imposition of a nation state system on top of that is, well, challenging. The nation-state is both too large, and too small, to effectively deal with the kinds of issues that we see emerging, but this was something J.P. Nettl pointed out in a classic paper in the 1960s: “The State As A Conceptual Variable,” that nearly all of those schooled in foreign policy have read and ignored. What we’re learning in Iraq is that a “balance of power” strategy to contain jihadism will work just fine, as long as it’s organized at the village/neighborhood level of authority.

    As for the border controversy, we should offer US citizenship to foreign nationals in situ, and any nation that has more than 50A% of these “new American nationals” should be declared a new US state under the jurisdiction of our Lockean Constitutition.


  6. I’ve been contemplating the decline of the nation state for the last few years. People assume attitudes go on from century to century without change, but those who study history come to expect change.

    Do you have anything I could read on this subject? This is the first time I have encountered another person with such ideas.

  7. How about Kenichi Ohmae’s “The End of the Nation State”, dating from 1995? His is largely a ‘globalization and economic power trump political power’ argument.

    I’ve been somewhat put off this line of late since a number of those purveying it, specifically in the Californian ‘futurist’ community, seem to have blending a good deal of projection and wishful thinking in their forecasts. Hint: What’s the most powerful nation-state just now?

    Nonetheless, the success of the Gulf emirates, Singapore and perhaps the Baltics shows what you can do with something at the city-state scale in the 21st century economy. So long as you are embedded in a security framework provided by… the UN, right??

  8. The third day, the first monkey took the cucumber and threw it at the experimenter … So the point is, all primates have an innate sense of fairness, and will react when they see it violated.

    This reminds me of a line from William S. Burroughs: “The purple-assed baboon will always attack the weakest party in an altercation.” That seems like a much better international relations paradigm.

  9. Ampipolis,

    See #4, though Tim Oren’s suggestion is also good.

    (BTW, which two cities are you touting with your handle?)

  10. Demosophist,
    A thought experiment of mine is similar to your suggestion. What would happen if the US Government proactively extended citizenship to everybody on Earth? The first obvious caveat would be that you would probably need to implement a residency permit program to keep the continental US from being immediately swamped.

    The basic idea is what sort of programs could you implement if you could not distinguish between ‘us’ and ‘them’.

    Its been a while, so I don’t remember most of what I came up with.

    nb – I think Ron Paul will be elected president and resign over an orgy involving all three branches of government before this has a chance of happening.
    nb2 – if he is elected president but isn’t caught on the sex thing, he will have to be elected again for this to happen. The constitution may need to be altered to allow him to be president long enough for this to be accomplished.

  11. #5 from Kirk Parker: “Oops, sorry about the missing /i tag! (It’s supposed to come right after the book title, don’t know if you guys can edit these things.)”

    Sure. All we need is your permission, for which thanks, and to know what you want fixed, to what, for which thanks again.

    By the way, Daniew W. Drezner now has an update to his post that’s worth checking out, if you’re willing to wait for Slate to load.

  12. Decline of the Nation State? More like it’s revival in Jacksonian terms.

    All over the world we see the same dynamic — Big Men and wannabe Big Men against the ordinary person. In Western societies this is pushed by the Globalization elites, who wish to import the world for cheap labor (prevent upward mobility that is threatening by middle class natives) and an internationalism ala the Catholic Church in 1200.

    And an angry ordinary citizen reaction wanting to defend it’s culture, folkways, and ethnic/racial makeup. If we wanted to live in Mexico for example, we’d move there.

    If anything a new mass-casualty terror attack is likely to provoke more Jacksonian Nationalism:

    Closed borders.
    Kicking out immigrants.
    End of Multiculturalism.
    End of PC.
    Nuke Em first.

    Look at Germany. They ran out of money to pay for unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed. The government is now handing out food instead. A recipe for disaster. Multiculturalism and PC only works when the good times roll. Which seems at an end in France, Germany, and the US.

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