Thursday, January 15, 2009

“Own Knowledge”

When it comes to writing a thesis, to what extent can one attribute stuff to own knowledge? Case in point, the current Bush administration: I’ve read a considerable percentage of the journalism (and an increasing number of books) on the president and his administration, not to mention seen plenty of news stories and reports on the TV. At what point can I start including things in my PhD from my own knowledge and memory? Does absolutely everything need to be attributed to someone else (not necessarily a problem, as I am a bit excessive with attribution and referencing)?

Anyway, that’s what I’m struggling with at the moment. 6,500 words of notes for Bush I, 7,500 for Clinton, and 4,500 so far for Bush II. If only I could just sit down and write!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Chapter & Curse (PhD Update)

I’m currently in the process of pulling together all my notes for a chapter on post-Cold War US foreign policy. It is proving rather difficult. First off, there’s a wealth of data, quotations and information for both Bush I and Clinton – the difficulty here is shrinking my 17,000 words of quotations into a manageable amount to make 6,000 words on the two presidents’ foreign policies. There’s also a surprisingly lack of analysis on the Kosovo intervention. Plenty on Bosnia from 1995, but very little of any particular worth on Kosovo. I imagine I’ll be relying on just a couple of sources for those. In fact, one book that has been invaluable in giving me an overall picture of the era is Derek Chollet and James Goldgeier’s America Between the Wars (PublicAffairs, 2008), which I’d recommend to everyone – they present both a balanced, extensive analysis of what happened and why, but the explanations of the various ideological, theoretical, and political factions and their influences on policy are invaluable to anyone wanting to understand the period.

You would think there’d be plenty of stuff for Bush II. There is. In a way. There’s plenty of journalism, sure, and lots of first-term appraisals (though these mainly lack the depth I’m looking for), not to mention the wealth of conspiracy and partisan commentary (which is only of limited use to my thesis), but there’s not nearly enough analysis for my taste. Ok, my PhD will hopefully go some way to remedying that, but in just 3,000 words, how much can I really add to the discussion? I’ve found and read many articles on the root of the Bush Doctrine, which is helpful, but only up to a point, given the word-limit I’m working to. There’s also no shortage of text on what various academics and chattering heads think US foreign policy should be after Bush, but these (while interesting) really isn’t of much use to me at the moment.

Nothing I’ve read so far has really sparked my imagination or inspiration for the chapter. As a result, after reading a number of articles and books, I’ve not got more than about 6,000 words of notes. Mind you, having said that, the second half of Fred Kaplan’s Daydream Believers has proved very useful, not to mention very enjoyable to read.

“So, that’s more than the 3,000 words you’ll need for the chapter,” you might say. Sure, that’s true, but I still have a feeling that there’s not enough of the right information. Also, the chapter’s due for the end of January, so time is of the essence. I’ve ordered Bob Woodward’s Bush At War series (should arrive today, in fact), to see if they can help generate some useful direction, content and inspiration for the chapter, but I imagine not. There’s only so much that needs to be said about the Iraq invasion and resultant occupation: why it happened, and what its implications are for US relations and standing in the world. On top of that, though, there is a whole swathe of other issues to deal with: Iran, North Korea, Israel-Palestine, resurgent Russia, China, trade, and so on. The Iraq War, and the obsession with it, has led most academics and journalists to write rather too extensively about this one conflict. More focus on Afghanistan only really happened since Obama said that conflict should be receiving more attention, money and boots on the ground.

How to balance what needs to be in the chapter as narrative and/or empirical information, and how much needs to be about how this all fits in with the trends and traditions of US foreign policy as a whole? That, after all, is the main thrust of my PhD: what are the integral trends and traditions in US foreign policy that have been evident since the beginning of the Republic (national interest and balance of power Realism as a foundation for American Liberalism), and how do the various administrations adhere or deviate from them (they pretty much all adhere completely, though in the instances when they deviate – or try to deviate – they invariably come across problems).

This chapter will have more analysis on how Bush I, Clinton and Bush II’s foreign policies have fit into the tradition of US foreign policy (same as always, if you look properly, despite rhetorical differences and slight tilting one way or another, predominantly down to presidential and advisory characters).

Other than that, I had a meeting with my supervisor a couple of days ago (I can’t actually remember the specific day, which is odd given it was an interruption to my otherwise monotonous schedule), which really fired my inspiration for the next chapters, when I will start to focus exclusively on US-China relations. This, really, is the main point of the thesis – how have US-China relations adhered to USFP traditions/templates of the past. It’s going to be more difficult to acquire relevant materials, but I think it might actually prove easier to do than this chapter.

Anyway, back to the grindstone…