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About the relevancy of political science

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Best Defense

BEST DEFENSE, Tom Ricks’s daily take on national securityWhy Tom is so damn wrong about the relevancy of political science

By Stephen Saideman

Best Defense guest respondent  (September 16, 2014 – 11:35 AM)

Last night, my chain got pulled by Tom Ricks, who has written some fine books on the U.S. military including the well-named Fiasco about the Iraq war.

He was frustrated with the content of International Security and then went on a tear about how irrelevant and «made up» political science is. Given my respect for his work and the importance of his blog within the policy community, I found this view profoundly frustrating. I promised to come up with a list of relevant poli-sci stuff, and here I shall do so.

But I would like to start with a few comments. First, this entire effort may be wasted since Ricks believes that politics is an art and not a science. He, like others, may think that we cannot generalize about political behavior, that there are not recurrent patterns of which we cannot make sense.

This post might be akin to a climate scientist explaining climate change to someone who does not believe in science. He asked whether political science will be around in 200 years. Well, since it has been around in one form or another since either Thucydides or Aristotle, and that politics is not going away anytime too soon, I doubt that people will stop trying to figure it out.

Second, Ricks in his books admires Gen. David Petraeus. While his record may not be spiffy in retrospect, there is no doubt that Petraeus was influenced by people who study political science. Even if we forget about Petraeus having a Ph.D. from Princeton in international affairs (which is just chock full of poli sci), Petraeus included all kinds of social scientists in the making of counter-insurgency doctrine. So, there is some inconsistency there.

Third, Ricks needs to look around his office. Nora Bensahel should kick his butt, given that she is a top analyst on alliances and other security stuff, and she happens to have a Ph.D. from Stanford in political science. My guess is that she ain’t the only one at CNAS. .. MORE

Full article in PDF: Why Tom is so damn wrong about the relevancy of political science


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