A Decade of Drezner

My 10 favorite posts. Ever.

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast.

In a decade of blogging, I’ve written hundreds of posts and tens of thousands of words. Here are my 10 absolute favorites.

1. My original blog post.  The first sentence is prophetic, but so was the rest of the post. It captured — in both style and substance — what I was intending to do with the blog.

Here Goes Nothing

I shouldn’t be doing this. I’ll be going up for tenure soon; I occasionally daydream of occupying a high position in government; and I like semicolons way too much to be pithy. Plus, my sixth-grade English teacher scarred me for life about having too many “I”s in my writing, which may render me incompatible with blogging. Read on >>


2. I’ve maintained from the outset that one of the useful features of blogs is to discpline more powerful pundits.  Here’s an early example of me critiquing an over-the-top Paul Krugman column.

Falsifying Paul Krugman

Here’s how Paul Krugman explains — not excuses, but explains — Mahathir Mohammad’s OIC speech:

Not long ago Washington was talking about Malaysia as an important partner in the war on terror. Now Mr. Mahathir thinks that to cover his domestic flank, he must insert hateful words into a speech mainly about Muslim reform. That tells you, more accurately than any poll, just how strong the rising tide of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism among Muslims in Southeast Asia has become. Thanks to its war in Iraq and its unconditional support for Ariel Sharon, Washington has squandered post-9/11 sympathy and brought relations with the Muslim world to a new low.

Here’s why Krugman’s hypothesis is wrong:

1) There is no domestic flank to protect. Mahathir’s speech was to the Organization of the Islamic Conference — an international body — on the current state of the Muslim world. There was no domestic component to his intended audience. Read on >>

Brad Barket/Getty Images


3. I believe that this post generated the most comments of any I’ve ever written. Also, in case anyone thinks my profanity-laced tirades are an affectation … well, they’re a really longstanding affectation.

Why James Lileks Is Flat-Out Wrong

Hey, James? Fuck you. I know you’re the talented writer-blogger whose dyspeptic rants make Dennis Miller look like a washed-up sports broadcaster. In this case, however, you’re absolutely correct on one thing — you know a hell of a lot less about this subject than Salam Pax. You’re absolutely right — Salam and his buddies would never have taken up arms to overthrow Saddam. Of course, that may have something to do with the fact that back in 1991, when President Bush encouraged ordinary Iraqis to overthrow Saddam, the results weren’t so good. Bush’s call worked perfectly. Seventeen out of eighteen provinces were in open revolt. Hussein was at his weakest. And what did the United States do after our call was answered by the Iraqi common man? Did we help in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 1991? Nope. We looked the other way while Hussein violated the no-fly zones to put down the Shi’ites, Marsh Arabs, Kurds, etc. We did it for realpolitik reasons, many of which the current Bush administration, to its credit, seems ready to reject. But we, the United States, did it. Why, on God’s green earth, would anyone ever choose to rise up after that Mongolian cluster-fuck of U.S. foreign policy? Let me explain this in simple terms, habibi. This was a debt that had to be repaid. Yeah, they owe us for getting rid of Saddam. But we owed them for going back on our word in 1991. As a result, Iraqis languished under Hussein’s rule an extra twelve years. That don’t buy a whole lot of sympathy. Three Minnestoans dead? I’m sorry. It’s a tragedy. I’m betting, however, that to the ordinary Iraqi, the death of three Americans doesn’t even compare to the loss of life that’s taken place over the past twelve years in Iraq, be it through war, repression, or sanctions. So get a grip, suck it up, and allow an eloquent, reasonably brave Iraqi the opportunity to vent some snark from time to time. He’s earned it. Read on >>

Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

4. This post — really the footnotes and addendum to a
TNR online essay I wrote — is noteworthy because it one of the few times I felt like a journalist. I had a source that gave me an incredibly juicy detail on how Coalition Provisional Authority officials were being recruited.  The Washington Post‘s Rajiv Chandrasekaran contacted me soon afterward to ask if he could talk to my source. I gave my source the option of contacting him.  The detail (cited properly) eventually found its way into Imperial Life in the Emerald City.

More on CPA Recruitment

In my TNR Online piece yesterday, I briefly referenced the fact that ideological litmus tests were used to screen out otherwise first-rate applicants to the Coalition Provisional Authority. I’ve heard this from multiple sources, including those who were eventually hired, but many were reluctant say anything for the record. The Washington Post story confirmed some of this. For a first-hand account, the following is reprinted from an e-mail I received from a former CPA employee who wishes to remain anonymous:

The staffing plan worked out by Reuben [Jeffery III, “a conservative but pragmatic former Goldman Sachs partner who had was a prominent contributor to the Republican party] and Jerry Bremer was to have these two [high level employees of Korn/Ferry International, an executive search firm] head up an HR staff seconded from the Army personnel office that would seek out high level civilians, without ideological bias, to assist in the rebuilding of Iraq. They were brought on with the knowledge of DoD/OSD but not the White House. The first week they arrived, Office of the White House Liaison (OWHL), headed by a man named Jim O’Beirne, found out about CPA’s staffing plans. A turf war ensued. At one point, OWHL personnel told the two Korn/Ferry employees that they had to clear their desks and be escorted out of the building. Of course, Reuben intervened and nothing that dramatic happened. What did happen is that recruitment was reassigned from CPA to OWHL by OSD. The Korn/Ferry people were only to help interview and process candidates already screened by OWHL. I sat in the same room of cubes for several weeks watching this unfold, talking daily with the Korn/Ferry people, and observing the first interviews run by OWHL. OWHL hired retired military personnel, most of whom had run for public office as Republicans and been defeated in the 2002 electoral cycle, to staff its CPA recruiting arm. I observed one such individual, a retired Navy CMDR who lost a Virginia legislature race in 2002, question one applicant as to their stance on Roe v. Wade. I watched resumes of immensely talented individuals who had sought out CPA to help the country thrown in the trash because their adherence to “the president’s vision for Iraq” (a frequently heard phrase at CPA) was “uncertain.” I saw senior civil servants from agencies like Treasury, Energy, FERC, and Commerce denied advisory positions in Baghdad that were instead handed to prominent RNC contributors.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images


5. This was my first response to “The Israel Lobby” essay. I think, all told, it stands up pretty well in both the evaluation of Mearsheimer and Walt’s argument and the prediction of the furious reaction it would trigger in some quarters.

Trying for the Full Huntington

As I’ve said before, I’ve greatly admired Samuel Huntington’s career. Huntington’s gift as an academic is that he has been unafraid to make the politically incorrect argument, regardless of the consequences. This doesn’t always mean he is right — but it does mean he’s usually interesting. I suspect that John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt are trying to copy the Huntington template in their essay, “The Israel Lobby” for the London Review of Books. Read on >>


6. The zombie post. I mean, c’mon, this led to 20,000 in book sales and climbing — and there is no way — no way — I could have come up with this idea were it not for the blog. Also, I think it generated the highest quality of comments I’ve ever received.

Theory of International Politics and Zombies

Alex Massie alerts us to this BBC story about modeling who would win if the dead actually did rise from the grave:

If zombies actually existed, an attack by them would lead to the collapse of civilisation unless dealt with quickly and aggressively.

That is the conclusion of a mathematical exercise carried out by researchers in Canada.

They say only frequent counter-attacks with increasing force would eradicate the fictional creatures….

To give the living a fighting chance, the researchers chose “classic” slow-moving zombies as our opponents rather than the nimble, intelligent creatures portrayed in some recent films….

[T]heir analysis revealed that a strategy of capturing or curing the zombies would only put off the inevitable.

In their scientific paper, the authors conclude that humanity’s only hope is to “hit them [the undead] hard and hit them often”.

They added: “It’s imperative that zombies are dealt with quickly or else… we are all in a great deal of trouble.”

Now, one could argue that this finding represents a Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious. On the other hand, the report has clear freaked out Alex Massie:

[The researchers] are cheating. It’s like something out of Dad’s Army: You can’t fight like that, it’s not in the rules… Then again, if we can be destroyed by Zombie 1.0, just think how powerless we’d be when confronted by Next Generation Zombies…

To try to make Massie feel better let’s have some fun with this and ask a different question — what would different systemic international relations theories* predict regarding the effects of a zombie outbreak? Would the result be inconsequential — or World War Z? Read on >>

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

7. This response to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s first blog post at the Atlantic set off a stimulating exchange between the two of us that was both civil and fruitful. I attribute almost all of this to Anne-Marie, since I’ve had all too many nasty blog exchanges.

Meet the New Foreign Policy Frontier…Same as the Old Foreign Policy Frontier

This past week Anne-Marie Slaughter launched a new foreign policy blog over at The Atlantic entitled “Notes from the Foreign Policy Frontier.” This was greeted with general huzzahs across the foreign policy community, as Slaughter is a universally-acknowledged smart person. She is an exemplar of someone who can effortlessly transition from the scholarly to the policymaking world and back again. Her facility with new media is so good that her own bio undercounts her Twitter followers by 50 percent. Read on >>

Alex Wong/Getty Images

8. One of my favorite themes has been about the nuts and bolts of academia.  This post is the best mixture of entertaining and informative of the lot.

The Best Sentence I Have Ever Read in a Dissertation Prospectus

Ph.D. ADVISOR:  I think you should stop reading Wendt [or insert other trendy academic name here].  I don’t like the way his arguments are shaping your argument.

Ph.D. STUDENT:  But you don’t understand!!  I love him — as much as love can be socially constructed!!  He’s let me see the world in a whole new way.  He’s the key to everything!!!

Ph.D. ADVISOR:  You’re writing a dissertation on cooperation among transnational criminal groups — I just don’t think his argument works here.

PH.D. STUDENT:  How would you know which arguments work and which ones don’t?!  When was the last time you read someone who moved you — the Stone Age?!  I bet you’ve never read a piece of constructivist scholarship in your life.  You don’t understand me at all!!!!!

Ph.D. ADVISOR: Calm down — I just think you might be better off if you read other people is all.  This is just an intellectual crush.  It will pass.

Ph.D. STUDENT!!!  No!! Never!!  I’ve never read anyone else who can speak to my topic like him. Wendt and I will stay together forever!!

Read on >>

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

9. I’d like to thank the 2012 GOP presidential candidates — they’ve been very, very good for the blog. I could have picked one of a dozen posts that they inspired — Herman Cain really deserves the most amount of credit. This post distilled Cain’s foreign policy knowledge to its true essence.  

This Is Herman Cain’s Foreign Policy

It took me a couple of hours of reading, cogitation, and regurgitation to critique Mitt Romney’s foreign policy positions. Clearly, I didn’t think it was perfect, or even all that good in many places. But, I had to assess it, mull over the content… you know, think.

Now, I desperately want to be an equal opportunity blogger, and at this point Herman Cain appears to be the co-frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination. Sure, I’ve had my fun with him in the past, and he has no shortage of foreign policy gaffes, but I figured that impromptu utterances during debates are only one part of a candidate’s overall policy vision. The thoughts that are written down, they imply some forethought. So I thought I’d go over to Cain’s campaign website and spend an equal amount of time to analyze his foreign policy thinking.

I found…. a total of five paragraphs on “national security.”  That’s it.  No white papers, fact sheets, bullet points, or list of advisors.  So you gotta think that these are going to be the most awesome and mind-blowing foreign policy paragraphs ever!! Read on >>

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

10. I really like this post for two reasons: a) it’s funny; and b) it demonstrates how Web 2.0 technologies have changed things since I started blogging. I couldn’t have written this without YouTube and Twitter. 

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About American Grand Strategy But Were Afraid to Find Out…on YouTube

The genesis of this blog post is a bit arcane. In response to news reports about proposed changes in U.S. defense doctrine, Andrew Exum jokingly suggested “replacing the ‘Two Wars’ strategy with a ‘Who Wants Some? You? How About You, Tough Guy?’ strategy” on Twitter. This led to other suggested mottos, expressed in YouTube videos, which eventually led to me issuing a grandiose call:  suggest the YouTube clip that “best encapsulates American grand strategy.”

Yeah, that should bring you up to speed. Read on >>


Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner

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