USA-Pakistan Diplomacy Jaw Drop

This morning I read a Washington Post article, shared by a friend, entitled “Pakistan’s surprisingly candid readout of Trump’s phone call with prime minister“. The article features a  sort-of transcript of a call this week between President-elect Trump and Pakistan’s Prime Minister.

Based on the readout’s tone and style, I thought it might be a hoax because it’s almost hammy in reproducing Mr. Trump’s speech patterns:

“President Trump said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif you have a very good reputation. You are a terrific guy. You are doing amazing work which is visible in every way. I am looking forward to see you soon. As I am talking to you Prime Minister, I feel I am talking to a person I have known for long.”

Still, the New York Times is now reporting that the readout seems to be real.

President Trump said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif you have a very good reputation. You are a terrific guy.

The NYT article notes that the White House and State Department are concerned about Mr. Trump speaking off the cuff to foreign heads of state, etc.; not so surprising. Then, smack in the middle, the NYT reports the following, and my jaw drops again:

“Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, said his government’s decision to release a rough transcript of Mr. Trump’s remarks was a breach of protocol that demonstrated how easily Pakistani leaders misread signals from their American counterparts.”

It seems strange, doesn’t it, for a former ambassador to go on record saying his government breached protocol? In fact, it sounds like he’s siding with the US, warning us not to be dumb. I am intrigued. I shall poke around a little more.

Ideas from Poli Sci

As a political science graduate student, I studied how governments work and how citizens behave. I’ve been thinking a lot about some of the “big ideas” from my grad school years, with particular reference to last week’s election.

As a discipline, poli sci is pretty pessimistic. Its scholars think a lot about interests, power, and the often-unintended outcomes that emerge from the interplay of various interest groups and actors. Cooperative outcomes that increase human welfare aren’t impossible, but they aren’t terribly common, either.

Some of the thoughts on my mind, then, most of them worrisome:

  1. Political science has rarely predicted inflection points.
  2. Ethnic/identity salience is more easily triggered than un-triggered.
  3. Institutions rely at least as much on norms as they do on written/formalized rules.
  4. Social norms that restrain individual behavior take a long time to build and we know more about how they are broken than built.
  5. Virtuous and vicious cycles of behavior are an empirical reality.
  6. National/regional political movements provide cover for local score-settling.

And the abstracts of some articles that have stuck in my mind, some directly related to the thoughts above and some not.

(Photo: Gortyn Law Code, in public domain)

Why the US is the World’s Police Force

Boy, do I miss being immersed in international relations sometimes! These mind-blowing images were posted on earlier in the week. The first shows US defense spending in comparison to the next 10 highest-spending countries combined. The second shows the aircraft carriers of the world. The US has 19; the rest of the world has 12.

This is why we end up policing the world: both because we can, and because no one else has anywhere near the same capacity. It’s also how we project power to protect our interests.


Map of the Sahel

This map is very disorienting. I’ve been looking at it, on and off, for the last 9 months, and it’s all the more relevant since the French military intervened in Mali and terrorists attacked a gas plant in Algeria last week.

It takes a while to focus on the map without mentally zooming in on the political boundaries, but give it a shot.

Look at the arrows indicating resource routes. Look at where the oil and gas lie. Think about the unstable regions and see how they all hug or lie within the Sahara: Algerian gas fields, Northern Mali, Northern Nigeria (land of Boko Haram), Darfur, South Sudan…not to mention the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt.

Now think a little bigger: refugee boats trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa, xenophobic riots in Greece, Libyan weapons in Gaza and Mali, etc.

No one is yet equipped to respond to these challenges. Scholars like Jeffrey Herbst and Igor Kopytoff have identified the central challenge to political order in Africa as “the projection of power over distance.” Western countries are coming up squarely against this problem, too, and this time we feel our citizens’ lives – and our countries’ energy security—are at stake.


Political Science and Politics

Michael Ignatieff is a political science professor and a Canadian politician.

This editorial in the New York times is a meditation on the differences between theory and practice, on how to make political decision, and all-around thought-provoking. I highly recommend it.

I would also add how unusual it is for an academic to cross the divide to become an elected official.