Thursday, October 06, 2005

SAIS Observer Article

The following article appeared in this month's SAIS Observer, which I am writing for. My first byline ever.

SAIS Professors Start New Magazine

War-hungry neoconservatives write for The American Interest. So do peacenik liberals.

Or do they?

The magazine’s founder, Francis Fukuyama, wants to change your mind about what those labels mean. If they mean anything at all.

“A lot of the important issues and debates are not ones that can easily be categorized as right, left, realist, or neoconservative,” said Fukuyama, who took over as director of the International Development program at SAIS this fall.

Frustrated with the rigidity of existing political magazines, which Fukuyama says foster the development of party talking points rather than honest, constructive ideas, he founded the magazine with SAIS professors Eliot Cohen and Zbigniew Brzezinski and former SAIS professorial lecturer Josef Joffe.

“Too much of the debate in foreign policy is partisan,” said Fukuyama in an interview. “You almost don’t need to read the articles because you can look at the cover of the journal and figure out what they’re going to say.”

Professor Cohen, head of the Strategic Studies department at SAIS, lamented the limiting effect of political labels. “Labels like conservative or liberal, realist, neocon, hawk or dove are profoundly misleading and they really don’t capture what are frequently complex views of the world. Since the world is a greatly complicated place it seems you should have complicated views.”

The American Interest, Cohen added, would differ from other publications like The National Interest and Foreign Policy by focusing on both domestic and international policy, noting that “In a way, the premise of a lot of writing on foreign policy in the past is that it’s somehow distinct from domestic policy. And that’s clearly untrue.”

Even though the magazine will feature a variety of opinions, Fukuyama emphasized that the articles will “be based on serious empirical arguments”

In a representative article, Glenn Loury, an economics professor at Brown University, asks, “How many Iraqis equal one Marine?” He maintains that, in the eyes of Americans, Iraqi lives may be “cheap.”

Fifty pages later, Robert Kaplan, a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, extols the virtues of the warrior, and notes that “wanting to fight is an ordinary emotion for those who choose combat arms as profession.” He concludes by admonishing Democrats, saying they should “act more like men.”

When two educated people disagree so fundamentally in their approach to foreign policy, can they have a constructive dialogue? Fukuyama says that it might be hard, but it can be done. “The whole point of a symposium is to have interaction and to develop ideas.”

If two people don’t find common ground, Cohen says, there is still an opportunity for others to learn. “Even if [Kaplan and Loury] don’t speak to each other directly, the rest of us can look and wag our heads and try to figure out where we stand.”

One particular focus for The American Interest, according to Cohen, will be to advance the debate over the war in Iraq. “My view of the Iraq War – which I favored – was that it was one that reasonable people could disagree on,” said Cohen. “One thing that troubled me was how quickly highly intelligent friends of mine began talking past each other. Hopefully, The American Interest will be a place where civilized discourse can take place and people can courteously disagree with each other.”

Though the foreign policy debate in America has traditionally been dominated by the so-called “wise men” – the old, white, male, Washington, DC, establishment - Fukuyama would like to give other voices an opportunity to be heard.

Many non-Americans are affected by the actions of the United States, Fukuyama said, and are frustrated that they can’t vote in American elections. “The idea is that they can at least write in The American Interest. “I think it’s not just up to Americans to determine how America shapes its interests and its objectives.

Non-Americans aren’t the only establishment outsiders Fukuyama has invited to join the discussion. The American Interest website (http://the-american-interest.com) features a blog that Fukuyama hopes will appeal to a younger audience who “may be turned off by the existing debate over foreign policy.”

It’s an ambitious plan: access new readerships, publish thoughtful and sober analysis, plunge headfirst into the turbulent blogosphere, and maintain credibility. Fukuyama did not have to search far for those who would take on the challenge.

“We’ve hired a couple of SAIS graduates, so SAIS has its fingerprints all over it. But I think that’s a reflection of the overlap between what we want to do and the kind of training that SAIS provides.”

Cohen added “it says something good about the school that this is the kind of place that can give birth to that kind of magazine.”

The autumn issue, the first of five to be published each calendar year, can be found at Books-a-Million bookstore on Dupont Circle.
-- Eric