Of Obama's 'Retreat Dividend' and Condi Rice

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 10/22/2012 09:39:00 AM
Dear readers, something most commentators missed in observing that the United States has now had four consecutive years of trillion dollar-plus deficits is that something remarkable has transpired: For the first time since 1955, US government spending has gone down--from fiscal year 2011 to 2012. Sure, moving from nearly $3.6T to 'just' $3.54T is not really an amazing feat in absolute terms--especially after considering the aforementioned deficits--but it's an improvement nonetheless.

Back during the last heyday of America during the Clinton administration, a number of commentators spoke of a 'peace dividend' emanating from the end of the Cold War that helped improve the US budget situation. Sure, there were other reasons for that nation's improved fiscal health, but cutting back on military spending played its part. And so it is that Obama has ever-so-slightly reduced government spending. However, instead of a 'peace dividend', what we have here is a 'retreat dividend' with the United States leaving behind the massive trillion-dollar-plus fiascos of Afghanistan and Iraq. %^&*ing up other parts of the world and chickening out when the opposition is too tough--and public opposition too much and bills too high--is typical Americrusader behaviour in this day and age. (Is contemporary US defence policy inspired by N.W.A.? Remind me to invest in Dre Beats if that's the case.) What even Obama's critics miss though is that there cannot be a 'peace dividend' here since we are reminded by news stories on an almost daily basis about how violent Afghanistan and Iraq remain. What a success.

This intro brings me to one of the architects of the Bush-era manoeuvrings, National Security Adviser then later Secretary of Defence Condoleezza Rice. In 2008 when I was a doctoral student at the University of Birmingham, I had the opportunity to attend a talk given by IPE stalwart Benjamin 'Jerry' Cohen at the nearby University of Warwick. At the time, he was launching his much-lauded history of our field, International Political Economy: An Intellectual History (which was in turn based on an RIPE article he published the year before). There is not much more I can about this book which is essential reading for IPE scholars or those with a general interest in the subject matter. While I regret that IPE is very much an Amerocentric and Eurocentric field, his description of it as such is accurate. At any rate, I was doubly miffed when I found out that the publisher Princeton University Press gave away copies of the book at the Warwick event since many of my colleagues came back with them. Grr!

Anyway, in the years since, I have met Professor Cohen and he is a very classy guy (and not a riffraff blogger like yours truly). It is with some shame that I now sheepishly admit to checking out this book from the library only now, but an interesting tidbit in the book concerns the encounter of Robert Keohane with a certain someone at an academic conference. Since Keohane is one of IPE's founders, he gets ample space in the book. On pp. 25-26, Cohen writes:
Another time, I witnessed him serve as a discussant for a research paper presented by a young woman just out of graduate school. Not impressed by her scholarship, Keohane tore her work to shreds, questioning her understanding of basic IR theory. I left the room thinking the young woman's career was over before it had begun. She had the memorable name of Condoleezza Rice.
Yikes! We must give props to Rice for persistence even if she 'made it big' for all the wrong reasons. Except in certain neoconservative circles, the rest of us recognize the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts she helped oversee for what they are--unmitigated disasters. Still, it is heartening to know that an IPE guy foresaw the trouble with Ms. Rice from the get-go.