Slate editor discusses love of foreign affairs

Dobson talks to students about his experience in the journalism world. (Photo by Warren Fields)

William J. Dobson didn’t go to school to become a journalist. In fact, he never took a single journalism class in college, and had no intentions of becoming a journalist at all.

But now, as the Politics and Foreign Affairs Editor for Slate, Dobson puts his political and foreign knowledge to use in the media-driven world.

Dobson’s first job out of college was as a fact checker for Foreign Policy, and when he was given pieces to read through and edit, he was appalled at the quality of the writing. He then began writing his own pieces, and was published for the first time at age 23 in the op-ed section of the New York Times.

He described being published as “sheer joy,”and that it was hard to give it up once he had gotten the first taste of the journalism world. He said that he loved “being able to add (my) voice to a conversation already being had by other people.”

Dobson’s true love is for politics and foreign affairs. He holds a law degree from Harvard Law School, and a master’s degree in East Asian Studies form Harvard University. Dobson has been published widely on international politics, appearing in the New York Times, Washington Post, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, Newsweek and many other publications. But writing for the news media isn’t his only outlet for his love of international affairs.

Dobson’s new book “The Dictator’s Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy” explains the somewhat relentless struggle between democracy and dictatorships. He explained that dictators and other leaders learn things about their opponents by playing it from their point of view.

“To play chess, you have to see it from both sides,” he said. He went on to say that in today’s society that is seeing more and more democracies, it has “never been so hard to be a dictator.”

According to Dobson, the collapse of the Soviet Union hurt many dictators. Many countries and their dictators had relied on the USSR for support, and were in part lost by their collapse. As time has gone on, into the 21st century, dictators have been faced with more pressure as citizens strive for democracies.

“If 2011 taught us anything,” he said, “it’s that we’ll do anything for democracy.”

But he also said that some dictators are savvy, and adapt to the changes happening around them. They know how to preserve power and “refashion the dictatorship for the modern age.”

Dobson has met with political advisors and militaries in many countries, including China, Malaysia, Egypt, Venezuela and Russia. He met with “unexpected networks of people,” learning of stories and struggles within the countries and their leaders.

According to Dobson, the struggle between dictatorships and democracies can be seen as a constant learning process. It is a central element of our time, and we have to remember that it is almost never a struggle between nations, but between the people. He also explained that some dictators use nationalism as an excuse for their regime, and this furthers the struggle between dictators and citizens.
Alex Monday, a freshman at the College, thought that Dobson was “well-spoken, appealing and interesting,” and he said that he was definitely “one of the best speakers we’ve had recently.”