Political Science and Policy: It Ain’t Just Academic

This news story first appeared on September 29, 2014. For more information click here.

Paul Avey is a postdoctoral fellow at the Tower Center for Political Studies.

Political Science and Policy: It Ain’t Just Academic

By Paul Avey, War on the Rocks; September 29, 2014

Earlier this month, well-known defense reporter Thomas Ricks wrote a scathing review of the current issue of International Security. Ricks writes that he was excited to see it in his mailbox, but was so turned off by the article titles that he couldn’t get past the table of contents. What he saw was a list of arcane topics that had nothing to do with real-world policy problems, and he lamented that the “extraordinary irrelevance of political science is creeping into the magazine’s approach to the world.” In a follow-up post, Ricks cites an article by Michael Desch and myself in which we report the results from a survey of 234 former U.S. national security officials to support his earlier claims, noting that “the more something looks like contemporary political science … the less useful it tends to be.”

There is no doubt cause for concern that political science is becoming less relevant to policymakers. I want to focus here on the more narrow issue that inspired Ricks’ initial review because it is particularly troubling. International Security is generally viewed as one of the more policy-relevant political science journals. Ricks is an influential and thoughtful commentator on national security issues, and he has an audience within military and policymaking circles. International relations scholars should be especially concerned when someone like Ricks seems so disenchanted with their work. It suggests that the many efforts to bridge the gap between scholarship and policy – such as the Tobin Project and American University’s aptly named Bridging the Gap initiative – are inadequate.

Is International Security really becoming irrelevant? Are policymakers likely to turn away from the kind of research it publishes?

Answering these questions first requires addressing what policymakers want from social scientists. In our article, we found that national security policymakers do follow academic research, but are skeptical of analyses that privilege technique over substantive importance. As Ricks notes, we argued that policymakers are not inclined to read articles with esoteric language and exotic methods, though we are careful to add that this finding is most applicable when there is no clear policy implication to the article. Method is not automatically an enemy of relevance. In addition, policymakers seek what Alexander George called “mid-range theories” that attempt to explain subclasses of more general phenomena. At their best, such theories can illuminate necessary elements for strategies to succeed in specific cases. Good scholarship, in short, helps policymakers make sense of the world in brief, jargon-free articles.

When judged by these criteria, the recent issue of International Security does quite well. Take the article by Ja Ian Chong and Todd H. Hall, which examines the relevance of pre-World War I Europe to contemporary East Asia. This analogy is commonplace in Washington. But Chong and Hall argue against the tendency to focus on the Anglo-German power transition before WWI and draw lessons for the rise of China today. The reason is simple: the power transition was not central to the outbreak of WWI. Other factors were far more important. This is significant because if rising power was the main culprit, then U.S. policy should focus on either doubling down on containment or moving aside to accommodate a rising China. Instead, their analysis points to different policy solutions, including efforts to effectively manage East Asian security commitments, work with regional actors to reign in nationalism, and prevent disagreements from festering into repeated crises.

Or consider Jerry Mark Long and Alex S. Winer’s article, “Delegitimizing al-Qaida.” Long and Winer argue that undermining the al-Qaida narrative may be more important to U.S. strategy than military strikes. Their mid-range theory about political persuasion speaks not just to the war on al-Qaida but also to ongoing efforts against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), clearly an issue front and center in the national security debate. If al-Qaida’s “message loses credibility,” they note, “al-Qaida loses adherents – a cost to the organization and its leadership.” And they do more than present a theory by providing recommendations to show susceptible audiences that al-Qaida’s presentation of itself and its portrayal of the West are wrong.

Finally, Liam Anderson wrestles with the problem of governing ethnically riven countries like Iraq. This obviously matters for the United States. After all, no less a policymaker than President Obama has acknowledged that military action alone will not be enough to stop ISIL if Iraq is unable to forge a durable political order. Anderson takes issue with critics of ethnofederalism – a constitutional arrangement wherein the territory of federal units matches ethnic group boundaries. He shows that it often succeeds, and in cases where it has failed it is unclear that there was any viable alternative. Though the term is cumbersome, this analysis is relevant to American policymakers confronting a fluid situation in the Middle East, especially because Iraq is at least a partial ethnofederation in which “one or more (but not all) of the subunits are ethnically defined.” The analysis does not necessarily provide reasons to be optimistic about Iraq’s future, and unfortunately Anderson does not directly address the Iraq case in the article (though he has elsewhere). At the least, though, he points out that policymakers will need to look beyond its particular institutional structure if Iraq is to remain a unified political entity.

These are not short articles, to be sure, and policymakers may not have the time or inclination to read them. Yet as Desch and I note, rigorous evidence for an argument remains necessary to reach sound conclusions. So scholars have a dual responsibility: they must continue to write long-form research articles while simultaneously distilling them into shorter and more accessible policy pieces. Outlets like War on the Rocks, The Duck of Minerva, and Monkey Cage are at the forefront of disseminating these types of scholarly arguments. Policymakers can read these and, if they wish to see more in-depth analyses, they can turn to the academic outlets—in this case, the articles in the most recent issue of International Security.

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Student Blog – Anika Reza | “After Al Qaeda” Event Report

afteralqaedaModern American grand strategy is frequently heavily disputed and criticized by academics, scholars, and the American public in general. Many argue that the Obama administration has lacked a sufficient grand strategy in recent times but others disagree. I regard the Obama administration’s grand strategy as logical and reasonable for the status quo of the U.S. and for what can be expected in the future, however, it does contain various gaping holes that create room for problems. The Tower Center event “After al Qaeda: The Future of American Grand Strategy” featured two highly distinguished academics and their slightly differing stances on the Obama administration’s grand strategy and what can be seen as the strengths and weaknesses of President Obama’s plan.

Dr. Hal Brands of Duke University argues that President Obama has the right idea in regards to a grand strategy for the United States, however, his grand strategy does consist of many issues. Brands states that Obama’s strategy encompasses three big ideas: wanting to “preserve the order” established for the U.S. in the post-Cold War era, striving to prevent from “overstretching” in regards to the difficulties the U.S. faces with Iraq, and wanting to “disentangle” the U.S. from the Middle East because of the rising concerns of East Asia as of recent times. Brands argues that these basic principles have essentially “anchored” how the president thinks and shapes his grand strategy. Brands claims that although none of these principles are necessarily wrong, there are many problems that Obama’s grand strategy encounters. First off, his grand strategy has very weak rhetoric in that he often pronounces many “inspirational goals” but no logical way of attaining them. Second, President Obama’s objectives are solid but they are “endangered” by current global trends. Third, with Europe becoming increasingly unstable, the U.S. finds itself facing more problems in regards to military presence and how to allocate resources for this. Fourth, although President Obama wants to pivot away from the Middle East in his grand strategy, he finds this increasingly difficult to do due to the decrease in U.S. security this would cause. Lastly, pulling back militarily may be just as destabilizing as overreaching poses to be. Brands addresses many prominent and relevant gaping holes within President Obama’s grand strategy that need to be filled in order to lead the United States in the right direction.

Dr. Barry Posen of MIT provides a slightly different view when it comes to the President’s grand strategy. He claims that the post-Cold War strategy has not worked very well for the U.S. and that broadening national security abroad is not necessary for national security at home. Posen argues that the U.S. is very safe due to its possession of nuclear weapons, having a strong military, and having oceans and stable nations as borders. Although these instances protect the U.S. in certain ways, the U.S. still needs strong national security abroad to ensure the protection of its national interests. Posen also discusses the problem of “cheap free riding” that the U.S. faces when it provides defenses for other nations. The U.S. essentially provides other nations with a blank check and those foreign countries take advantage of this luxury. Posen describes these countries as “reckless drivers” and how the U.S. pays the price for their reckless driving. This is a valid point and an instance the U.S. needs to be wary of when forming its grand strategy. Furthermore, Posen argues that for a strong grand strategy, the U.S. should focus on a small number of key problems instead of paying attention to what can be seen as irrelevant issues to the U.S. He states that just because “something is interesting doesn’t make it a national interest.” Posen also discusses the United States goal of spreading democracy and how this is flawed because other nations have strong nationalism and are not going to accept the United States and its democratic ways with open arms. He believes that the world resists the United States. However, this is not always true. Although there are certain parts of the world that do not accept the U.S. and its ways, other nations require the stability that democracy would provide and in these instances the U.S. should continue attempting to put democracy in place.

These two academics present contrasting opinions in regards to President Obama’s grand strategy but both bring up some valid concerns. President Obama’s grand strategy is strong in some aspects but needs tweaking in others to prevent placing the U.S. in a detrimental position.


Anika Reza is a junior at Southern Methodist University double majoring in Political Science and International Studies with a concentration in the Middle East, and minoring in Arabic. She is a Pre-Law Scholar and in the University Honors Program. Anika plans on attending law school after graduating from SMU and hopes to work in foreign service in the future.

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SMU’s Tower Scholars Program receives over $4 million in gifts

This news story first appeared on September 4, 2014. For more information click here.

SMU’s Tower Scholars Program receives over $4 million in gifts

By Robert Miller, The Dallas Morning News; September 4, 2014

Gifts totaling more than $4 million will endow and provide operational support for the new Tower Scholars Program at Southern Methodist University.

The program provides an immersion experience for undergraduates in public policymaking through SMU’s John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies.

A $2 million gift from Highland Capital Management LP will endow the Highland Capital Management Endowed Tower Scholars Program Fund. Participating students will be recognized as Highland Capital Management Tower Scholars.

A $1 million gift from the Hamon Charitable Foundation will endow the Jake L. Hamon Endowed Internship Program in the Tower Scholars Program Fund.

A $1 million gift from The Berry R. Cox Family Foundation will support the endowment and provide operational support.

SMU has received additional donations of more than $400,000 toward operation of the Tower Scholars Program fund that will allow it to start the program before the endowments mature.

Ten sophomore students will be selected as Highland Capital Management Tower Scholars every year. Students may apply to the program during the fall term of their sophomore year, and the first applications are being accepted this fall. The students will begin their studies in spring 2015 leading to a minor in public policy and international affairs.

They will study domestic and foreign affairs, national security and defense, and international political economy.

“Few American universities offer a program designed for undergraduates with as much real-world policy education and experience as does the Tower Scholars Program,” SMU President R. Gerald Turner said. “The gifts that make this program possible allow students to begin gaining professional perspectives while working toward their undergraduate degrees, bridging the usual gap between graduation and career development.”

The Tower Center is a signature program in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, dean Thomas DiPiero said.

“Transformative education initiatives are a key focus of our philanthropy,” said James Dondero, Highland Capital Management co-founder and president. “This program will offer students extraordinary opportunities to interact with global and national leaders, influential policy makers and top employers that call Dallas home.”

Highland Capital Management is a global alternative asset manager with headquarters in Dallas.

The invitation-only Tower Scholars Program and associated minor is open for application from all majors across SMU’s schools. The minor in public policy and international affairs requires 15 hours of political science courses.

“By focusing solely on undergraduate students, the Tower Scholars Program distinguishes SMU from peer institutions that offer this type of curricula only to graduate students,” Hamon Foundation president Kelly E. Roach said. “The opportunity to begin working with political, government and business leaders at this stage of their education is going to nurture leadership skills at a pivotal point in these students’ lives.”

Berry R. Cox is a private investor with interests in oil and gas, real estate and public and private securities worldwide. He and his wife, Jeanne Tower Cox, are stalwart SMU supporters.

“SMU strives to educate students who think globally. The idea behind the Tower Scholars program is to connect students with the public policy and international affairs aspects of whatever their chosen field may be — the engineering student, the business student, the journalism student — any student who wants to understand the relationships between politics, public policy, international affairs and international economies,” said Jeanne Cox, an SMU alumna who’s the daughter of the late Sen. John Tower.

The gifts to fund the Tower Scholars Program count toward the $1 billion goal of SMU Unbridled: The Second Century Campaign, which has raised $874 million.

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Texas Entrepreneurs Want More Work Visas

This news story first appeared on August 28, 2014. For more information click here.

Tower Center Fellow, Pia Orrenius is Senior Economist and Vice President at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

Texas Entrepreneurs Want More Work Visas

By Lauren Silverman, KERA; August 28, 2014

Nearly a quarter of Texas business owners are foreign born. These entrepreneurs brought in a total income of $10 billion dollars in 2010. Still, immigration is a sticking point, and some Texas entrepreneurs are pushing for more high-skilled visas.

Famed futurist and physicist Michio Kaku has said that America has a secret weapon.

“That secret weapon is the H-1B,” Kaku said, “Without the H-1B the scientific establishment of this country would collapse! Forget about Google. Forget about Silicon Valley, there would be no Silicon Valley without the H-1B.”

So what exactly are H-1B visas? They’re visas for highly-skilled, foreign born workers. And they’re hard to get. Companies looking for these employees snatch them up fast – in October, it took less than a week for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to hit the cap of 65,000 for 2015.

“It’s a talent war,” says Shams Juma. He’s CEO of a Dallas business consulting startup called Quantifye.

“It’s very difficult for us to find good talent, and in house.”

Juma shared his struggle with a group of startup enthusiasts a few weeks ago at an event put on by local startup group LaunchDFW and the national lobby group FWD.us. FWD.us has been called the Zuckerberg PAC, for its Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg.

Not everyone searching for an H-1B visa wants to work in IT for Google, Facebook, or a consulting firm. Adrian Avendano wants to work at his own company, but it’s not that easy.

Tricky Transition From School To Startup

Avendano moved here from Mexico six years ago to finish his Ph.D. While at the University of Texas at Dallas, he founded Ares Materials, a company to fabricate electronics on flexible materials. Since Avendano’s on an F-1 student visa, he’s not allowed to work.

“I think it’s kind of backwards,” he says, “Because there’s people who come here, six, ten years to pursue their grad school, that U.S. and taxpayer dollars funded to prepare, and then when they’re done, immigration law sends them back home.”

Avendano says he wants to contribute to the economy, and feels stuck because he can’t find an H1-B visa. In September, he’ll apply for an OPT (Optional Practical Training), which would give him 12 months to look for a job and work in the U.S.

Pia Orrenius says it’s the dream of many foreign students to stay here and find work in high tech.

“But since the private sector runs out,” she says, “these are very hard visas to get.”

Orrenius is Senior Economist and Vice President at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and a Fellow in the Tower Center for Political Studies at SMU. She says North Texas is in serious need of more H1-B visa workers.

“We’re growing at a blistering pace,” she says, “We are a poster child for an economy with labor shortages so we are bringing in lots of migrants not only from other states but also from out of the country.”

Opposition And Limited Options

Opposition to H1-B visas generally comes from workers in the U.S. who say the visas allow companies to import cheaper, younger competition. And the biggest employer of foreign tech workers aren’t startups, they’re consulting firms.

In an interview with NPR, Ron Hira called them “offshore-outsourcing firms.” Hira, author of Outsourcing America and associate professor at Howard University, says companies use H1-B visas to “bring in on-site workers who are cheaper on the H-1B and undercut American workers right here.”

And there’s another problem with the visas – H1-B visas don’t allow entrepreneurs to work for themselves, they have to be sponsored by an employer. Which is why some in the startup community are pushing for something called the Startup Visa.

“In principal the idea is a good one,” Hira says. “I mean we want to encourage innovation and startups and so on, I think the devil is in the details.”

Hira says a visa for people who have raised money from American investors is worth considering, but worries founders could become reliant on investors to stay in the country.

“I don’t think things have been vetted very well in the public discussion. There really haven’t been careful analyses of what the impacts of the startup visa would be either by think tanks or through congressional hearings.”

Conversations like the one at the Dallas Entrepreneur Center are a good start, even if they’re frustrating. Immigration reform is slow, and many entrepreneurs here are anxious to start working in the growing North Texas tech community.

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Tower Center Welcomes Nuclear Strategist Paul Avey


AveyPaul Avey joins the SMU John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies as a new postdoctoral fellow focusing on nuclear statecraft, foreign policy and international relations.

Avey joined the Tower Center on Aug. 1 from MIT where he served as a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow in the Security Studies Program. Prior to MIT, he was a pre-doctoral fellow with the Managing the Atom project and International Security Program at Harvard’s Belfer Center for International Studies.

“Paul Avey is one of the leaders of an extraordinary group of young nuclear strategists,” said Joshua Rovner, John Goodwin Tower Distinguished Chair in International Politics and National Security. “He has done pathbreaking work to bridge the gap between scholars and policymakers by conducting a broad survey of current leaders to discover what kind of research is useful and what influences policy decisions. His effort to encourage this kind of practical political science is the kind of scholarship we encourage at the Tower Center.”

Avey has written and presented on various topics including the relationship between scholarly theory and policy-making, nuclear war, military strategy and Cold War relations. He is currently writing a book titled Tempting Fate: Interests, Red-lines and Conflict in Nuclear Monopoly. The book will examine why nations without nuclear weapons challenge and resist nuclear-armed opponents.

“I am looking forward to engaging in dynamic political study and debate at SMU,” Avey said. “The commitment by Tower Center scholars to combine rigorous research with policy relevance makes it an exciting environment for the study of politics.”

Avey earned a Ph.D. and Master of Arts in political science from the University of Notre Dame, a Master of Arts in social sciences from the University of Chicago and a Bachelor of Arts in political science and history from the University of Iowa.

The John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies was created to commemorate the late U.S. senator whose life was dedicated to public service and education. In the spirit of Tower’s commitment to educate and inspire a new generation of thoughtful leaders, the Tower Center seeks to bridge the gap between the world of ideas, scholarship and teaching, and the practice of politics. The primary mission of the Tower Center is to promote the study of politics and international affairs and to stimulate an interest in ethical public service among undergraduates. The Tower Center is an academic center where all parties and views are heard in a marketplace of ideas, and the Center will pursue its mission in a nonpartisan manner.

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Tower Center Associate, Edward T. Rincón | “Texas: Quality of Life at the Crossroads.”

Tower Center Associate, Edward T. Rincón co-authored a public policy paper entitled “Texas:  Quality of Life at the Crossroads” with Marcos G. Ronquillo, Esq., a prominent trial attorney in Dallas.

The paper reviews the reasons that Texas is enjoying a high level of economic prosperity, why the state is experiencing considerable population growth, and the impact that this economic prosperity and growth has had on the quality of life experienced by its residents.

The paper concludes with a discussion regarding private-public partnerships (P3 programs) and the benefits that it provides state and local governments for meeting their rapidly deteriorating infrastructure needs.

To download a copy of the paper, please click here.

EdHeadShot300dpiEdward T. Rincón is president of Rincón & Associates LLC, a privately-owned research company that provides research and consultative support to organizations that seek to understand diverse communities in domestic and global markets. He received his master’s in School Psychology and doctorate in Educational Psychology from The University of Texas at Austin with a concentration in survey and experimental research methods, psychometrics, and statistical analysis.

He has taught various courses at area academic institutions, including Statistics and Hispanic Marketing at Southern Methodist University; Mass Communications Research at The University of North Texas; and Survey Research Methods at The University of Texas at Dallas.  In addition, he has provided workshops to the public and community organizations on selected topics such as retrieving and analyzing Census data, principles of Hispanic marketing, designing effective questionnaires for diverse audiences, data analysis with SPSS, and designing effective visual presentations of research data.

Dr. Rincón’s scholarly interests include survey and polling methodology, demographic analysis, measurement bias, and qualitative research with a focus on multicultural populations.  His perspectives have often challenged high-stakes measurement systems utilized by The Nielsen Company, aptitude testing in college admissions, competency testing in Texas schools, and affirmative action programs in public contracting. His research studies and perspectives have been cited in national and regional publications, including The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Advertising Age, Forbes.com, Ad Week, Broadcasting and Cable, The Dallas Morning News, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Miami Herald, Multi-Channel News, National Public Radio, Restaurants & Institutions, and others.

Over the past 35 years, Dr. Rincón has consulted with a broad variety of private and public organizations, and has testified before governmental bodies and court cases as an expert witness. In the political arena, his clients have included Pete Sessions for Congress Campaign, Consortium of Public Broadcasters 2000 Presidential campaign poll, Zan Holmes for Mayor Campaign poll, Eastfield College bond election campaign, UT-Arlington and SMU political poll of perceptions of immigrants, and a WFAA political opinion poll concerning race relations in Dallas.  In the non-political arena, some of his clients have included Proctor & Gamble, The Sherwin-Williams Company, Texas Rangers, Texas Instruments, DFW International Airport, Verizon Information Systems, Educational Testing Service, Coca Cola North America, Circle K/Tosco Marketing, Pepsi Cola, Dr Pepper/Cadbury North America, KERA, WFAA, The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, The Palm Beach Post, ABC and CBS Network Television, City of Dallas, Dallas Zoo, State of Texas, State of North Carolina Library Association, Comerica Bank, Catholic Diocese of Dallas, General Baptist Convention of Texas, Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Trial Psychology Institute, Parkland Health & Hospital System, Baylor Health Care System, and Children’s Medical Center Dallas.

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Joshua Rovner | What Ukraine means for how we study war

This news story first appeared on August 4, 2014, edition of The Washington Post. For more information click here.

Professor Joshua Rovner is John G. Tower Distinguished Chair of International Politics and National Security & Director of Studies at the Tower Center for Political Studies.

What Ukraine means for how we study war

By Joshua Rovner

Last week Marc Lynch wrote a thoughtful commentary on the future of political science after Gaza. He noted that while the ongoing violence seems very familiar, it actually suggests a number of new questions for political scientists who focus on the Arab-Israeli dispute. These include everything from the limits of transnational moral campaigns to the future of U.S alliance relations in the region. What looks like another dreary chapter in a stagnant conflict may ultimately inspire research that pushes our understanding of war and politics in the Middle East.

The crisis in Ukraine raises similar questions for the future of strategic studies, a related though somewhat different discipline. Research in strategic studies tends to focus on historical analyses, and it usually shies away from quantitative work or formal modeling. Students of strategy often emphasize the role of contingency and chance and are wary of making broad generalizations as a result. Despite these differences, the two subjects are inseparable. Strategy is about war, and war is simply the continuation of politics by other means. Decisions about how to use violence shape political outcomes, and political problems shape the purposes of organized force. So political scientists have a strong interest in understanding strategy, just as strategists must pay close attention to politics.

Ukraine raises at least two issues that may inspire new thinking on strategic theory. One is the problem of recognizing success when it involves something less than victory. Ukraine has been on the offensive against the separatist fighters, rapidly driving them back into a handful of strongholds. But it’s unlikely the government can destroy them, given pro-Russian sentiment in the east and the possible existence of a large sanctuary for committed separatists across the border. Moreover, any durable settlement will require making concessions to groups that are extremely hostile to Kiev, as well as tacit promises to the Russian regime.

This might be a reasonable outcome, especially if Russia is badly bruised and if Ukraine comes away with increased Western economic and political support. But some Ukrainian leaders will bridle at any settlement that leaves their perceived enemies in place, especially after having lost Crimea. Not everyone will learn to live with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his proxies, and their unease may cause them to underrate important strategic gains.

Such a scenario should resonate with American observers. As I write in the forthcoming issue of The Journal of Strategic Studies, U.S. officials were unable to recognize their own success against Iraq during the 1990s. The first Gulf War and the sanctions that came after demolished the Iraqi economy and military, along with its unconventional weapons programs. Perhaps most important, Saddam Hussein’s behavior had changed for the better. In the past he had been an aggressive ruler with a powerful military and dreams of regional hegemony. After the war, the sanctions and the inspections, he turned his focus inward, doing everything in his power just to stay in power. The United States had triumphed by any definition of victory.

As the decade went on, however, U.S. officials came to believe that while they had won the war, Iraq was winning the peace. They believed that Saddam was playing a cunning diplomatic game to undermine the multinational sanctions regime. If the coalition came apart, he would be able to rebuild his military strength, revive his chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs and go back to menacing the Persian Gulf. This nightmare scenario was never realistic, given the depth of Iraq’s economic pain and the fragility of its government, but these factors didn’t seem to matter. U.S. leaders simply couldn’t accept the status quo as long as Saddam remained in power. Whether Ukrainian leaders can accept limited success remains to be seen.

A second issue is the relationship between strategy and grand strategy, terms that are often used interchangeably even though they are analytically distinct. Strategy is a theory of victory in war, a logical guide for using use violence to achieve political goals. Grand strategy is a theory of security, a logical guide for coordinating all instruments of state power to keep it safe, and for determining whether force should be used at all. A strategy identifies the best way to compel a particular enemy to do your will. A grand strategy identifies which enemies are worth fighting.

While strategy and grand strategy are interrelated, they are not always mutually supporting. In some cases, strategic requirements for victory in war may undermine grand strategy after the shooting stops. A large investment may be needed to compel an enemy to surrender, for example, but this may leave the state bankrupt and vulnerable.

Some analysts believe that the Obama administration should provide military aid to Ukraine. They argue that economic sanctions are unlikely to compel Russia to stop aiding the separatists and start working for peace. Worse, they believe that the United States is demonstrating a lack of resolve that will embolden Russia. Rather than forcing Putin to back down, he might escalate by sending Russian forces across the border.

These criticisms, however, consider possible strategies for Ukraine outside the context of the U.S. grand strategy. The administration’s ongoing pivot to Asia, along with its decision to draw down forces from the Middle East and Afghanistan, suggests that its primary concern is with a rising China. So while it is possible that the United States could implement a much more aggressive strategy toward Russia, this might divert attention and resources from the place it cares about most. A costly approach that compels Russia to back down might count as a strategic success but a grand strategic failure.

The converse is also true. Russia has suffered extraordinary economic consequences over the last several months, and the pain is going to increase now that Europe has levied broad sanctions against the Russian banking and energy sectors. Meanwhile Russia already is on the hook for Crimea; if it decides to invade eastern Ukraine its fiscal burden will grow. All of this is making Russia’s plan for a massive military modernization program, which is supposed to cost over $750 billion over the next decade, look like a fantasy. Any hopes of restoring great power status are fading fast.

For Russia, the strategic benefits of escalation will come at an extraordinary cost to its grand strategy. The harder it fights, the more isolated and impoverished it will become. For the United States this will mean one less great power to worry about. Critics will castigate the Obama administration if its diplomatic approach fails to change Russian behavior, but Putin is in the process of slowly eroding Russian power. This means that the United States will be free to concentrate on East Asia – where the real action is happening – while a former superpower exhausts itself.


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Joshua Rovner on Iraq and the Politics of Intelligence

This news story first appeared on July 30, 2014, edition of Cicero. For more information click here.

Professor Joshua Rovner is John G. Tower Distinguished Chair of International Politics and National Security & Director of Studies at the Tower Center for Political Studies.

Joshua Rovner on Iraq and the Politics of Intelligence

By Joshua Rovner

Fixing the Facts, Joshua Rovner explores the complex interaction between intelligence and policy and shines a spotlight on the problem of politicization. He describes how the Johnson administration dealt with the intelligence community during the Vietnam War; how Presidents Nixon and  Ford politicized estimates on the Soviet Union; and how pressure from the George W. Bush administration contributed to flawed intelligence on Iraq. He also compares the U.S. case with the British experience between 1998 and 2003, and demonstrates that high-profile government inquiries in both countries were fundamentally wrong about what happened before the war.

So just what is “politicization” of intelligence? Some—often those accused of doing the politicizing—tend to wave away its existence or import or even argue “intelligence is politics.” What is it and why is it important to look at?

Politicization is a word we use all the time without defining it. Some observers use it whenever there is overlap between the worlds of intelligence and policy. Others shrug it off because they assume there’s no way to keep those worlds apart.  To some extent this is true: if intelligence agencies are to play any part in the policy process then they must work closely with their policy counterparts.  But calling the normal day-to-day interaction “politicization” isn’t very useful for our understanding of intelligence-policy relations.  One of the things I do in the book is describe routine relations and then explain why politicization is a sharp deviation from the norm.

I define politicization as the manipulation of intelligence to reflect policy preferences.  Sometimes policymakers pressure intelligence leaders to change their views so they line up with stated policy.  Sometimes intelligence analysts color their findings in ways consistent with their own views. In either case the result is that political bias creeps into estimates.

Politicization is important because it has terrible effects on the quality of intelligence.  In the short term, it causes intelligence analysts to present their findings with unrealistic confidence, even when the underlying information is patchy and unreliable.  Politicization occurs when issues are open to multiple and competing interpretations.  If the answers were obvious there would be no reason to turn to intelligence in the first place.  But those who are interested in using intelligence to win political arguments cannot abide estimates that are hedging or inconclusive.  So they manufacture exaggerated intelligence and pretend that it represents a firm consensus.

Read the full story.

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Joshua Rovner | Putin’s grand strategy is failing

This news story first appeared on July 20, 2014, edition of The Washington Post. For more information click here.

Professor Joshua Rovner is John G. Tower Distinguished Chair of International Politics and National Security & Director of Studies at the Tower Center for Political Studies.

Putin’s grand strategy is failing

By Joshua Rovner, The Washington Post; July 20, 2014

Over the past few months critics have warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a cunning strategist and the mastermind of a dangerous new foreign policy. He is playing the long game, they say, making moves in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine as part of a program to undermine the post-Cold War order while western leaders scramble without purpose. These fears are unwarranted. Putin may be a ruthless commander, but he is a second-rate strategist.

On Friday, President Obama told reporters that Ukrainian separatists were guilty of shooting down Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, and while he stopped short of blaming Russia for the tragedy, he suggested that Moscow was at least indirectly responsible for supporting the insurgency. Other experts have come to similar conclusions. The surface-to-air missile that probably brought down MH17 was too sophisticated for pro-Russian rebels to operate without at least some rudimentary instruction.

But perhaps not enough. There is good reason to believe this was a case of user error. Air defense personnel in several countries, including the United States, have mistaken commercial airliners for military aircraft, with tragic results. Even highly capable crews sometimes blunder under the stress of combat. It would be no surprise if amateurs did the same.

Despite this danger, Russia has become more enthusiastic about using proxy fighters, voicing rhetorical support for their politics while disclaiming responsibility for their actions. Russian leaders may believe that this allows them to destabilize unfriendly governments while maintaining enough plausible deniability to avoid the consequences. Some analysts believe this is part of a broader shift toward “non-linear war,” which involves indirect methods of expanding Russian influence. They worry this is a ruthless but effective way for Russia to paper over its conventional military weakness, especially since the United States is unable or unwilling to respond in kind. Putin is a former KGB officer, after all. President Obama is a former law professor.

In fact, non-linear war is not a brilliant reconceptualization of strategy. It’s an old-fashioned trick: the use of armed groups to stir unrest in neighboring countries as a way of gaining strategic depth.

The undisputed champion of this approach is Pakistan, which has used militants for most of its history. Pakistan has cultivated groups in India, Kashmir and Afghanistan in large part to overcome its military weaknesses. Supporting proxies might have seemed like a good idea, given Pakistan’s security problems, but the results have been disastrous. The belief that armed groups could solve its security problem may have encouraged military leaders to indulge in corruption rather than building a more professional force. The decision to nurture groups that engage in terrorism has led to international scorn and opprobrium. Worst of all, some of the same groups that Pakistan helped create are now waging an insurgency against it.

Russia is also suffering for its intervention-by-proxy in Ukraine. Its economy has been in deep distress since the annexation of Crimea this spring, with tens of billions of dollars exiting the country during a stock market and currency crisis. U.S.-led sanctions have worsened Russia’s economic outlook, as investors fear returning to a country that increasingly looks like an international pariah. Washington announced tougher sanctions the day before the MH17 went down, and it is now likely that these will remain in place indefinitely. The Obama administration may go further still by enacting industry-wide sanctions, a serious escalation that it has so far avoided.

Russia is increasingly isolated as well. According to one close observer of Ukrainian politics, the MH17 tragedy has unified almost all Ukrainians against Putin, even those who might sympathize with some elements of the pro-Russian opposition. And rather than undermining NATO, it has breathed new life into the alliance. The more that Moscow meddles in its neighbors’ politics, the more likely that other states will move toward the west. In other words, Russian actions will provoke exactly the same kind of behavior they were designed to prevent.

In response to this looming diplomatic disaster, Russia has spent lavishly to win new friends. For example, it made significant concessions to finalize a major gas and oil deal with China that may end up providing marginal returns at the cost of long-term dependency. If it becomes clear that Russia was culpable in the MH17 shoot-down, it will be hard for it to find other allies, however much it spends.

Nonetheless, policy analysts still worry that Putin is eroding the post-Cold War order, and military analysts still warn that the west is unprepared for Russia’s new way of war. Both concerns are mistaken. Putin’s grand strategy is proving to be a dismal failure, and his high-risk strategy in Ukraine is only making things worse. As the Obama administration considers its next steps, it should be careful not to overestimate its adversary.

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Violence Is Behind the Surge of Children Crossing the Border

This news story first appeared on July 8, 2014. For more information click here.

Dr. Tom K. Wong was a postdoctoral fellow at the Tower Center from 2011-2013.

Statistical Analysis Shows that Violence, Not Deferred Action, Is Behind the Surge of Unaccompanied Children Crossing the Border

By Tom K. Wong, Center for American Progress; July 8, 2014

A humanitarian refugee situation at the U.S. southern border has been unfolding over the past few years and dramatically intensifying over the past several months, as tens of thousands of unaccompanied children are fleeing their homes in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Even as the Obama administration struggles to deal with the situation, including finding adequate shelter and protection for the kids, some in Congress have attempted to score political points by arguing that the increased numbers are the result of the administration’s own immigration enforcement policies, such as the creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. However, a close statistical evaluation of the available data suggests a very different dynamic that is leading children to leave their Central American homes. It is not U.S. policy but rather violence and the desire to find safety that is the impetus for these children’s journeys. Read more.

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