Monday, June 08, 2009

Should I really be doing this?

I’ve started to pull together the latest chapter for my PhD, covering non-governmental actors in US foreign policy. I must say that I’m seriously questioning whether or not I should be doing this. Not because I’m not interested in the subject, but because I’m having quite a hard time actually writing this damn chapter.

I’ve read hundreds of articles and book chapters on the subject, and I am completely lost. There seems to be no consensus for who is or isn’t influential in the foreign policy-making process. Media, one would think, should have an influence on foreign policy. But, with conflicting statements by government officials, who is to be believed? Those who state how a policy would play in the media as a genuine concern (e.g. James Baker III, Colin Powell) would ‘prove’ that the media was an influential actor. But, equally, there are many in the media as well as researchers and officials who state all the media does is facilitate the government (see, for example, Noam Chomsky and the New York Times-Iraq scandal). The literature on the influence of special interests and business on US foreign policy isn’t great. There’s plenty of innuendo about business buying foreign policy and officials, or special interests taking over the Clinton administration, etc., but it still doesn’t really come together to make a good chapter or even a particularly good chapter.

The aim of the chapter is to make the reader aware of the forces that exert even a modicum of influence over the foreign policy-making process, if not to be the definitive last word on the matter. These forces are clearly business, media, special interests/lobbies, and ‘the academy’ (think tanks, scholars, former officials, etc.). Stretching it all to 10,000~ is probably not going to be too much of a problem, but the stuff I’ve got is just so… blah. (One can only hope this mastery of the English language is not quite reproduced in the final draft…) I can’t bring myself to care about the subject at the moment – I’ve been reading the material for four months, frequently experiencing eureka moments only to discover that they last for no more than a paragraph (if I’m lucky) or actually prove useless to the chapter.

Beyond my concerns about content, I have concerns about the way I’m writing and approaching the chapter. I seem to be writing in a manner that would barely pass muster for an undergrad, let alone a PhD student. It seems simplistic, trite and a has a considerable air of “who cares?” about it. My comments and “analysis” are hardly earth-shattering or particularly intelligent, and I can’t imagine the examiner at the end of this thinking I’m worthy of having “Dr.” at the start of my name.

I’ve got a week to finish the chapter, and one can only hope that what I finally produce is vaguely reminiscent of a PhD chapter. Otherwise, I just might pack it all in.

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