Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 19, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

UNDERSTANDING THE MEDIA, PART 438....According to an anonymous but well-connected source here at Netroots Nation, the First Law of Foreign Policy Punditry states that the less you know about a region, the more dangerous it must be. Thus, when a foreign policy expert knows nothing about a region, it automatically becomes elevated to the gravest national security threat we face as a nation. Unfortunately, this sounds oddly plausible.

UPDATE: In comments, Howard suggests that the inverse of this statement is also true: "When a pundit says that a region represents the gravest national security threat we face as a nation, we are safe to assume it's because that pundit is likely ignorant of that region." As a matter of pure Boolean logic that doesn't necessarily follow, but it sounds oddly plausible too, doesn't it?

Kevin Drum 10:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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Comments

This axiom doesn't fully explain why no one understands Pakistan and everyone acknowledges its dangerousness.

Posted by: Steve W. on July 19, 2008 at 11:04 PM | PERMALINK

Bush, Cheney, Bolton, and Feith must have slept through quite a few classes on geography and world history.

Posted by: B on July 19, 2008 at 11:20 PM | PERMALINK

the First Law of Foreign Policy Punditry states that the less you know about a region, the more dangerous it must be.

I guess this could also be used to explain why the world as a whole appears so scary to Americans and why you feel the need spend more on defense than the other 95% of the world combined.

A whole, whole lot of scariness out here.

Posted by: snicker-snack on July 19, 2008 at 11:32 PM | PERMALINK

That would make Paraguay the most dangerous nation on the planet. Or perhaps Malawi.

I think the inverse is true, though: the more dangerous the region, the less pundits actually know about it. Of course, that's never stopped them from blathering on.

Posted by: PeakVT on July 19, 2008 at 11:34 PM | PERMALINK

According to an anonymous but well-connected source here at Netroots Nation, the First Law of Foreign Policy Punditry states that the less you know about a region, the more dangerous it must be. Thus, when a foreign policy expert knows nothing about a region, it automatically becomes elevated to the gravest national security threat we face as a nation. Unfortunately, this sounds oddly plausible.

Disagree. That assertion presumes the audience is as stupid and ignorant as the "expert".

Posted by: has407 on July 19, 2008 at 11:34 PM | PERMALINK

No, the true inverse would be:
When a pundit says that a region represents the gravest national security threat we face as a nation, we are safe to assume it's BECAUSE that pundit is likely* ignorant of that region.


*Of course, someone's gotta be right once or twice.

Posted by: Howard on July 19, 2008 at 11:44 PM | PERMALINK

This axiom doesn't fully explain why no one understands Pakistan and everyone acknowledges its dangerousness.

And then there's Chechnya.

Posted by: junebug on July 20, 2008 at 12:48 AM | PERMALINK

Considering what most Americans know about Canada, you all had better be watching your backs for an invasion from up north.

D

Posted by: Murph on July 20, 2008 at 1:12 AM | PERMALINK

The less a pundit understands logic, the more likely the pundit is to invoke Boolean logic.

Posted by: George Boole on July 20, 2008 at 2:08 AM | PERMALINK

Pundits' ignorance is irrrelevant as long as they are smart enough to read Administration briefing material.

Posted by: No Pundit Left Behind on July 20, 2008 at 2:47 AM | PERMALINK

Boolean? As in AND, OR and NOT? (LOL).

Posted by: Measure for Measure on July 20, 2008 at 2:52 AM | PERMALINK

from a logical standpoint, the inverse MAY be true, but only the contrapositive is guaranteed to be true. in this case that would be the statement that the safer a pundit claims a region must be the more that pundit must know about that region.

Posted by: navarro on July 20, 2008 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

Shouldn't it be that the more a pundit doesn't know about a region, the more that region becoming important is a threat to the pundits credibility. But, that would be far far too logical, that could never apply in the land of the foolish.

Posted by: bigTom on July 20, 2008 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

Condi Rice's tenure also refutes this theory. She knew NOTHING about Afghanistan, and in fact didn't know what al Qaida was, and therefore, in her egotism, assumed it couldn't be much of a threat.

Posted by: sullijan on July 20, 2008 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

I think it's true that people are more likely to come to incorrect conclusions about things they don't know about, that Americans don't know a lot about Second and Third World countries, and that Americans often believe (rightly so, at least relatively speaking) that many Third and Second World countries are dangerous.

But while I realize the post is at least halfway to being less than serious, I think the propositions it states are phrased a little too absolutely for my liking.

Posted by: Swan on July 20, 2008 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

And I think, contra to the second proposition in the post, that if a person is going do something like characterize someone/something as a grave national security threat, it's a lot more likely that it's intentional and that they were told to do so. Maybe sometimes people are space cadets and just think "That sounds like the name of a country that I've heard is dangerous, so I'll just say I think it's dangerous" but I think once you're dealing with adults, that type of reasoning crops up a lot more in conversations in places like divy, hole-in-the-wall bars than it does when journalists or experts talk in front of, or write for, thousands or millions of people.

Posted by: Swan on July 20, 2008 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

When a liberal undertakes to pontificate about matters like history and economics, ie matters that do not engage feelings, the more unlikely it is that he has any idea what he is talking about.

Posted by: mhr on July 20, 2008 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

Depends on your meaning of dangerous.

Parts of many cities (Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Mumbai or LA for that matter) may be "dangerous" for casual walking. Does that make Mexico, Brazil, India or California "dangerous".

In terms of the propensity to start shooting wars that actually kill people, I think we know who the dangerous ones are

The one and only rule of punditry that is worth writing down.

"Political punditry is as informative as astrology"

Posted by: CSTAR on July 20, 2008 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

the First Law of Foreign Policy Punditry states that the less you know about a region, the more dangerous it must be.

We'd better be prepared for nuclear war with the Andromeda galaxy, then.

Posted by: rea on July 20, 2008 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

The Micronesian Menace will be the top issue in the 2010 midterms!

Posted by: ColoZ on July 20, 2008 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

Uh oh. By his own admission John McCain doesn't know much about economics.

Elect McCain and it's "Hello, Herbert Hoover."

Posted by: pj in jesusland on July 20, 2008 at 9:30 PM | PERMALINK

I always wonder who the pundit really works for and who's agenda s(he)is pushing.

Posted by: Marc on July 21, 2008 at 6:35 AM | PERMALINK

This isn't necessarily true. Tom Friedman has spent a lot of time in the ME, yet he still doesn't seem to know the first fucking thing about what's going on there.

The other corollary to this is reviewing what foreign correspondents say about a region or country that you may know intimately. If they are wrong about this place, you can only assume that they are probably wrong about other places as well.

Two examples in particular come to mind. Both David Sanger and Nicholas Kristof were NYT Tokyo Bureau chiefs. They were fucking horrible. They spent the first couple of years repeating every cliche one can about Japan. After that, they wrote the most pedestrian columns. Neither one spoke a word of Japanese, so whatever they wrote was most likely reported through translation, actually reported by someone else, or their sources were limited to bi-lingual contacts.

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Posted by: Upshaw on August 18, 2009 at 2:33 AM | PERMALINK
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