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Ole R. Holsty. Duke University Photography, Jim Wallace

Fund Slobodan Jovanovich interview

You are one of the founders of political psychology, one of the branches of political sciences. Please tell our readers, what is the field of interests of political psychology.

Political psychology is concerned with the beliefs, perceptions, and opinions of political actors.  These may be the beliefs, perceptions and opinions of specific leaders- for example, of an American or Russian president or a political activist such as Martin Luther King – or of entire populations.  For example, voting studies attempt to determine who participates in voting and how and why the express their preferences.    In short, this is a very broad field.

Are you interested in psychology of politicians and why?

I first became interested in this field in my doctoral dissertation on John Foster Dulles [U.S. Secretary of State, 1953-59] and his perceptions and interpretations of the USSR and its policies.  That study showed that his belief system had a very significant impact on how he viewed various Soviet actions, ranging from reducing its armed forces  in 1953-4 to its invasion of Hungary in 1956.  That encouraged me to undertake a variety of other studies of political leaders, including those in various European countries during the weeks prior to the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and others.

We cannot understand policy decisions by just saying that “all leaders pursue national interests” [as most “realist” theories assert].  Leaders may vary widely in how they define “national interests.”  Consider the cases of George W. Bush and his father’s top adviser – Brent Scowcroft.  They had completely different views of how to deal with Iraq during the year prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Are politicians capable to make rational decisions,  if we take into consideration the fact that they also  have fears and stereotypes like all of us?

All politicians have fears and stereotypes [and beliefs, perceptions, and opinions, etc.].  Some of them are grounded in strong evidence [Kennedy’s belief that Khrushchev must be handled with great care during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis to avoid World War III], and some are not [Bush’s belief that Saddam was a madman who possessed weapons and mass destruction and could not be deterred - this was how he differed from Scowcroft].

Are American politicians capable to realistically perceive the example of Russian-American relations, if we take into consideration that they are more or less the children of the Cold war.

Not all who lived through the Cold War drew the same conclusions about the USSR/Russia.  Most U.S. leaders have a realistic view of Russia – that it is a powerful country with vast stores of nuclear weapons, etc.; that it has vast natural resources, including oil, etc. in its vast territory; that its people are talented and highly educated; and that its political system has not kept up with development toward the rule or law, etc.  Mr. Putin’s decision to resume the presidency for  probably the next 12 years is not an especially good sign in this respect.

Can we consider that Obama’s foreign policy is successful, if we take into consideration that START-3 is adopted in American Congress in different form.  Facts like rejecting the anti-missile defense, the  weakened  relations with Russia  are  included. To be precise,  the Bush’s politics of ‘’anti-missile armor’’  is continued  but in another form.

Obama’s foreign policy record is very mixed.  He inherited two wars that are probably not “winnable,” a major economic/financial crisis, and an issue that he bedeviled all American presidents in recent years: Israel/Palestine.  He has attempted to “reset” relations with Russia in the hopes of improving them, but so far without a great deal of success, and in some cases they are on opposite sides; for example, on the issue of Syria in the Security Council.

Can we trust Americans, when they say that  anti-missile armor isn’t directed to Russia, if we take into consideration that they have claimed that Poland is ideal spot for missiles a Czech Republic for radars, and now, they claim that  Romania and Turkey are the new-revealed territories for that kind of actions?

As you know from previous e-mails, I am not a supporter of the anti-missile system as it will be very costly and probably not effective [tests so far are not very favorable].  It cannot in any circumstances seriously affect Russia’s vast missile arsenal.  It might work against Iran’s small missile force, but there are less costly ways of dealing with that.

What do you think about the facts that general Petraeus  is the chief  of CIA and Leon Panetta  is Secretary of Defense?

General Petraeus is probably the most talented American military man.  The CIA lost some of its reputation in its pronouncements about the Iraq’s weapons before the invasion.  I doubt that Petraeus would accept the kind of meddling that Bush and his colleagues were involved in 2001-2003.  Leon Panetta is a very able administrator.  It is clear that the U.S. military budget will decline in coming years as part of the effort to deal with budget deficits.  He will have the task of trying to do this in a sensible way.  But it’s a hard job.  Consider the case of the F-35 fighter aircraft; it is way behind schedule and way over budget.  But could he kill the program?  No, because sub-contractors for the aircraft exist in 47 of the 50 states.  Congress would never allow killing it because it provides high-paying jobs in their districts.

Is the comparison that made Michelle Bachman, when she accused Obama for supporting   the Arab spring and  that he got Israel in difficult situation with that action , appropriate?

Michelle Bachman is not to be taken seriously.  For example, she stated that the early American leaders worked as hard as possible to eliminate slavery.  In fact, 5 of the first American presidents owned slaves: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Jackson.  Example: she believes that evolution is an “unproved theory,” that the world was created about 6,000 years ago, and that early men lived at the same time as dinosaurs.    She can make up stories about Obama’s policies, but no one should take notice.

What really hides  behind  Arab spring? The expelling China from Africa? China has had powerful interests in Libya and Sudan . In Libya started Civil war. The South Sudan is formed.

The Arab spring has multiple causes that vary from country to country.  I doubt that expelling China from Africa has anything to do with -why would people in Cairo or Tunis, or Libya care about that?  Libya’s prime asset is oil and that can be sold to any country.  The formation of South Sudan was an effort to deal with the religious differences that led to horrible massacres.

Are China and America independent countries if we take into consideration  the great ecomomic  dependence between themselves. British economic historian Niall Ferguson made an expression Chinamerica.

No country is “independent” in the sense that it can chart its own course without any impact from abroad.  Example: economic events in Greece affect the EU, the US and many other countries.  The U.S. and China have a mutually beneficial economic relationship but it also makes them dependent on each other.   Good economic relations may not always lead to great friendship.  Example, in 1914 Britain and Germany had a very strong trade relationship, but that did not prevent them going to war against each other in August 1914. Chinamerica is, I suppose, a clever term but not especially relevant.

Are good relations between USA and India desirable, if we take into consideration the fact  that that is strengthening   the relations between China-Pakistan and without Pakistan is impossible to solve the problem with Afghanistan.

Of course good U.S.-India relations are very important.  India is an emerging major power that has combined democratic institutions with a important economic development.  The military who govern Pakistan have a paranoid view of India and the U.S. has no need to change its policy of warm friendship with India.  Yes, Pakistan makes difficulties for U.S./NATO in Afghanistan, but India is more important than either Pakistan or Afghanistan.  Perhaps Russia, China and others could learn from the example of India.

How will  Americans  decide between candidates on elections 2012, regarding foreign policy or internal politics?

I would guess that domestic politics–especially the state of the economy–will be most important in the 2012 election.  Obama’s foreign policy problems were mostly inherited from Bush, making it rather hard for the Republicans to attack him on that–although they will certainly attack him even without cause.

Which questions, in your opinion, will distinguish the winner on elections 2012?

As noted above, economic issues and the level of unemployment are likely to be most importan

What can we expect after that elections?

It depends on who wins.  If the Republicans win, we can expect little major change in such foreign policy issues as Iraq and Afghanistan.  They will not be able to solve the Israel/Palestine problem without cooperation from leaders there. There will probably be more tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans – for example, eliminating estate taxes and cutting taxes on corporations – major reductions in assistance for others–for example, cuts in Social Security and eliminating the medical reforms of 2009 [“Obamacare].

I hope that comments these are helpful.

Bosko Jovanovic, 19.10.2011.

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