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The Academic-Policy Divide, by Russell Crandall

I'm slightly late to this (blame 48 hours of upset stomach, on the mend now though) but caught up with it via Greg Weeks' comment on the piece and that's a good thing.

Anyone interested in foreign policy in The Americas, particularly the North America/Latin America relationship, should read this article entitled "The Academic-Policy Divide" by Russell Crandall, professor of American foreign policy and international politics at Davidson College in North Carolina. Here is your extract:
But while academic Latin Americanists might suffer from over-moralizing, the other half of the problem stems from what I call the “Bacardi right”—a group of policy officials and think tankers that acts as though any manifestation of politics or any deviation from their perception of free market economics is by definition Marxist drivel or agitation. I call them the Bacardi right because while their rhetoric is ostensibly about free markets and individual liberties, their true comfort zone is the more traditional political, social and economic realm when they were the comfortable aristocracy or quasi aristocracy. In fact, often the market they seek to protect is the monopolistic one that has benefited them, not a truly free one.
I too would love “property rights” if I owned all the property. Their public theologian being the Wall Street Journal’s editorialist Mary O’Grady, the Bacardi right treats the sanctity of private property as the foundation of civilization, a convenient creed given that this entails their businesses and families owning all of this sacred property.
The Bacardi right was decidedly anti-communist during the Cold War, for obvious reasons. Part of this has been replaced by their skewed free market fundamentalism, although they often view Latin America as though the Cold War were still going on.
What is remarkable is that both the academic left and the Bacardi right often have a blind spot for autocrats if these rulers appear to be promoting their own ideologies. Thus, the left will overlook the Castro regime’s police state for the admired social gains. The right, by contrast, will applaud Peruvian autocrat, former President Alberto Fujimori’s free market opening despite his government’s egregious human rights record.

Overall he's hard on academia in his note, which is probably an overdue sentiment but doesn't catch it all. I read North American academics on Latin America because I like to get a feel of what Northern Gringo is thinking, rightly or wrongly, about LatAm. That's partly due to my own ignorance (I'm a bad scholar) because they can as a group have smart insights into the region, particularly when they get off their preferred political soapboxes (left or right) and bring an educated* outsider's eye on an issue or subject. But the other side is one of the things that Crandall highlights on several occasions and from several angles in his note; one dose of boots-on-ground street smarts can outweigh any amount of academic study from afar, replete as they are with data-collection and filtering techniques. It's impossible for me to remember how many times I've said "that's BS" out loud while reading an article by some lettered dude on a place I know well and wondering if they'd ever bothered to visit the place for longer than it took to get the photos. Crandall's call to get back to basics and spend time -spend extended time- in your region of interest shouldn't be as necessary as it is. But it is. Recommended article on LatAm affairs, go read it yourself.

*Always remember, educated and intelligent are two separate subjects