What would Benedict Anderson say about Trump?

I’ve been watching the current debate over nationalism with some interest. Donald Trump identified himself as a nationalist in the run-up to the mid-term elections. He contrasted this with his foes, for whom he used the problematic term “globalist.” Many saw this as a concerning move, especially paired with Trump’s alarmist rhetoric over a caravan of Central American migrants. It also prompted a response from France’s President Macron, criticizing nationalism as a “betrayal of patriotism.” This got me thinking of my graduate studies, which involved a good amount of reading on nationalism (intended to help conceptualize religious contention). And it made me go back to one of my favorite books of all time, Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities

Imagined Communities is one of those books that is referenced more often than read. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen an article mention Anderson’s concept of imagined communities in passing without really engaging with it or even seeming to really understand. Anderson argued the nation is a modern concept, an “imagined political community..imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.” He argued it emerged from cultural and social developments that undermined the hold of the “religious community” and “dynastic realm” over individuals’ identities. So (a quick aside) no, it is not just an “imagined community,” it is a particular type of community with a particular conception of its place in time and space.

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Writing Wednesday: a tense dilemma

Yesterday I avoided Twitter almost entirely. I went to bed early last, and am only now looking at the key results in the pre-dawn hours. But since it may have been a late night for most readers of the Duck, we’ll keep things short today.

I am heading off to the ISSS-IS conference at Purdue this weekend. If any readers are attending, feel free to contact me and maybe we can grab a coffee. You can Tweet at me (@lukemperez) either publicly, or privately (I will open direct messages on Thursday evening.).

In the meantime, I wanted to talk about writing in tenses. It turns out, writing about writing sometimes poses interesting challenges. Solvable, to be sure, but ones that do not normally arise during gradaute school.

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Academic Smothering. Part II.

To illustrate this post, I would love to put that cute stock photo of a woman dressed in a taupe formal suit holding an adorable baby in a diaper, but it is just wildly unrealistic. For starters, the baby is horribly underdressed and the suit would have been covered in drool/spit-up/mysterious orange food rests in mere seconds. FYI, stock photo editors, working on a computer with a baby on your lap is also not an option, because in the end there will be one, and it will not be your computer.

Guilt ridden and severely sleep deprived (and by “severely” I mean no sleep stretches longer than 3 hours at a time for the past year) you are back at work. You have secured a coveted day care place for your adorable baby boy who now has to navigate about 3-4 languages in his head because as an academic you often do not live in your home country and you drag your better foreign half with you wherever the job market takes you. You are excited to be back… until you realize that daycare is great, but it also means germs and your baby getting sick and you taking sick leave to make sure the little one recovers. Hello, sleep stretches of one hour and carrying the baby upright for most of the day because the stuffed nose would not let him breathe properly. While we are on the subject of carrying, why does nobody tell you that the best preparation for having babies is heavy-weight lifting? German pre-war housing is sure lovely until you have to carry a 9-kg baby, a diaper bag, a laptop and a couple of books on everyday nationalism 4 flights of stairs.

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Inertia is the strongest force in international relations

Details continue to trickle out about the horrific assassination of Saudi dissident and writer Jamal Khashoggi. This has captured the attention of foreign policy experts, who have questioned the alliance’s importance and suggested ways to punish Saudi Arabia. Concern about this incidents has spread beyond experts, however. My students and I have frequently debated what will happen to the US-Saudi alliance. And I recently appeared on WCAX in Burlington to discuss what comes next. To both audiences–and in contrast to some commentators–I gave the unsatisfying answer of “not much.” Time after time on the  issues I follow dramatic transformations seem about to occur, only to fade as the world moves on. As a result, I’m increasingly convinced that inertia drives international relations.

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Blogger’s Block: The History of the End?

I have had trouble blogging this past year. It’s a challenge to think about academically informed observations on contemporary global politics when the world is in some places literally on fire and democracy appears to be in retreat. From a normative standpoint, it’s been a hard thing to step back from with some sense of analytical detachment that blogging on this platform typically requires.

In a special section of PS last year, I wrote about how to deal with these times on social media. In addition to blogging, I sought on social media to engage folks who thought differently from me about key issues I care about. In that piece, I talked about how a collegial and civil tone might be the key to a different kind of political discourse, one that I thought was sorely needed in the United States and elsewhere.

I think that approach to political discussion is correct both normatively and instrumentally if were living in a persuasive moment (and here, I suppose I’m something of a Habermasian or, in IR parlance, have affinity for the “Let’s Argue” approach by Thomas Risse).

But, I don’t think we are in a persuasive moment, but a mobilizational one.  Continue reading

Writing Wednesday: Roadblock

I am at roadbloack in my book proposal. This is normal, insofar as most writing projects will hit roadblocks from time to time. But I wanted to take a quick moment and unpack what it is, and note that a roadblock is different than writer’s block. Writer’s block is a condition of not being able to think of what to write. We are all familiar with writer’s block, even the kind that is really just procrastination masquerading as writer’s block. But the genuine species occurs when the mind—because of fatigue, lack of preparation, distraction from life or politics—cannot focus on the immediate task of generating new words to write down. A roadblock is kind of the mirror opposite of a writer’s block. I know what needs to be written, but I do not have the materials, citations, and resources to get there. As it happens, solving a roadblock is a lot like crafting national security strategy. It begins first and foremost with a definition of objectives, and then proceeds to devise the means-end logic chain of tasks and smaller objectives which will advance toward the final objective.

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What makes international order, liberal?

Over the weekend IR Twitter was abuzz with both the Red Sox winning the world series and a multi-threaded discussion on liberal international order. Regarding the former I have very little to say except that I think Boston baseball might be overrepresented in academe (not just in political science), and that this over representation likely tracks with the clustering of elite schools in New England. But on the latter, there is much more still to be said about international order. Paul Post (@profpaulpoast) has the master summary for the twitter scholars. While I enjoyed reading up on the debate this weekend, I couldn’t help but notice something unsatisfying about too.

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At what point do we call this a right-wing terrorist campaign?

America is reeling from the horrific attack on a synagogue in Pennsylvania, in which an anti-Semitic man killed 11 people. And we were already reeling from a series of attempted mail bomb attacks by a right-wing man targeting important liberal figures. Meanwhile, another right-wing attack this week in Kentucky was nearly overlooked. Those on the right tend to view these as horrible but isolated events. Those on the left point, rightly, to the vicious rhetoric coming from Donald Trump and some of his Republican allies, as well as the country’s lax gun laws. But I wonder if we should go further: is America facing a right-wing terrorist campaign?

What would this mean? Here is a passage from Bruce Hoffman’s influential Inside Terrorism on the definition of terrorism:  “We may therefore now attempt to define terrorism as the deliberate creation and exploitation of fear through violence or the threat of violence in the pursuit of political change.” Likewise, Audrey Cronin, in her important book How Terrorism Ends, defined terrorist campaigns as involving “three strategic actors—the group, the government and the audience—arrayed in a kind of terrorist ‘triad.’”

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Writing Wednesday: embracing criticism for book revisions

Many a postdoc are likely in my position this year, dissertation defense safely in the review mirror and settling into the groove of their research. Those who, like me, are fortunately enough to have the very civilized two-year appointment rather than the barbaric one-year, time and attention can be allocated more judiciously. Still, that does not mean the last few months has been easy. In many ways it is more difficult than before because the only guidance for my project comes from what I can discover and the only deadlines are those which I set. Writing a proposal is a protracted process, but worth doing sooner rather than later.

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Congress, Trump, and Internationalism in U.S. Foreign Policy

This post comes from Bridging the Gap co-director Jordan Tama, Associate Professor at the School of International Service at American University. 

American presidents have typically been more internationalist than the average member of Congress. For instance, many presidents have struggled to persuade Congress to approve important international agreements or increase spending on diplomacy and foreign assistance. Scholars of U.S. foreign policy have provided a compelling explanation for this pattern: since voters hold presidents more accountable than members of Congress for the country’s overall welfare and security, presidents have a stronger incentive than lawmakers to advance broad national interests through overseas engagement.

Under Donald Trump, however, this pattern has been stood on its head. As Trump has sought to advance his “America first” agenda by pulling back from international commitments, Congress has at times become the country’s strongest voice for maintaining and deepening overseas ties. This has been evident in the rejection by Congress of Trump’s proposals to cut the State Department’s budget by one-third, the reaffirmation by Congress of the U.S. commitment to NATO, and the restriction by Congress of the president’s ability to withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea.

Yet simply labeling elected officials as internationalist or the term’s opposite (nationalist or isolationist) fails to capture a lot of the nuance in their foreign policy positions. In a terrific new Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) report, Beyond the Water’s Edge: Measuring the Internationalism of Congress, a team led by Kathleen Hicks, Louis Lauter, and Colin McElhinny looks under the surface of recent foreign policy debates to explore congressional internationalism in depth. The report is based on an impressive set of original research, including case studies of recent congressional activity in several foreign policy issue areas and detailed profiles of a representative sample of 50 members of Congress.

Importantly, the study finds that internationalism is more widespread in Congress than one might think.  Continue reading

What the UAE’s detention of a UK graduate student means for Middle East studies

I feel like I should say something about the disappearance—and likely assassination—of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. This tragedy was enabled by America’s permissive stance towards Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US support for other horrific Saudi policies (like its bombing of Yemen). I’ve expressed concern on Twitter and in personal conversations, and have been writing about Yemen for years.

But to be honest, I don’t think I have anything new to say at this point. Most Duck readers will already know, and be upset, about this situation. Instead, I want to raise another concerning human rights abuse by one of our Persian Gulf allies: the detention of UK graduate student Matthew Hedges by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

A few months ago, reports spread of a UK man detained in the UAE on espionage charges; he was rumored to be an academic doing research in the country. These reports were later confirmed as the UAE announced it had charged Hedges with espionage for trying to obtain classified information and gain access to confidential archives. Hedges is a PhD student at the University of Durham, and was studying the UAE’s post-Arab Spring foreign policy. He has been held in rough conditions and there are concerns about his physical and mental health. Continue reading

Killings in Kandahar: Implications

The news out of Kandahar is pretty awful: the top leadership of the province was killed in an apparent attempt to kill General Austin Miller, the commander of US and NATO forces in the country.  There is not many details, but the WashPost account is suggestive of some key dynamics and challenges.

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Writing Wednesdays: write to a deadline by any means necessary

Scholarly work is often written to deadline—the contribution to an edited volume, the essay for a journal’s special issue, and the book review are all going to be fit into someone else’s bigger schedule. … Living with—thriving on—deadlines makes professionals professional.

—William Germano

During my early days in graduate school, I was often struck by the contrast in how academics thought about writing and how journalists do. Before starting my program, I worked at a non-profit and had spent 12 years in the Air National Guard, including stints on active duty. In both capacities, writing regular copy was a regular part of my duties. And yet, while in school, many of my classmates had or developed an aversion to writing. At least that is what we all told each other to avoid sharing our work.

It is true that writing scholarship is different. Working with data, archives, and formal models are time intensive processes, even for the best of us. Doing those well necessarily slows down the writing process.

Or does it? As Steven Pressfield as described it, writing is war against one’s self. According to him, writer’s block, even the most justified “I’m working on my data analysis” kind is nothing more than procrastination. Overcoming procrastination is as simple as building a habit to write regularly, perhaps even daily. Yes, simple does not mean easy.

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Peacekeeping’s Perverse Effects: Bolsonaro and Brazil’s Remilitarized Politics

In under two weeks, Brazil will have the second round of its presidential election. Former military officer and fan of fascists Jair Bolsonaro looks set after a strong first-round showing to defeat Workers’ Party (PT) candidate Fernando Haddad. If he wins, Bolsonaro will have strong party backing in Congress, though he does not care much for the legislature—in 1999, Bolsonaro said Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship “should have killed 30,000 people more, starting with Congress and [then-President] Fernando Henrique Cardoso.” Bolsonaro’s running mate is retired General Hamilton Mourão, his planning adviser and likely Minister of Transport is General Oswaldo Ferreira, an anti-environmentalist who looks for inspiration to infrastructure projects enacted by Brazil’s military government, and Bolsonaro has promised to stack his cabinet with generals. Current and retired military officers have been prominent backers of Bolsonaro, and Bolsonaro announced that he would not accept any result other than victory, menacingly saying “I cannot speak for military” but that there “could be a reaction by the Armed Forces” if he lost and deemed it due to PT fraud (never mind that the PT is not currently in power).

As Michael Albertus highlighted, the military is returning to Brazilian politics in a big way. While the military in Argentina was punished for its dictatorial Dirty War, elites with ties to dictatorship never faced sanctions or fully left the political scene in countries like Brazil and Chile. In Brazil, civilian leaders managed to weaken the military during the transition to democracy, but it retained a broad scope of activities, including internal security and development, especially in combating the drug trade, a mission with which current President Michel Temer tasked the military earlier this year in Rio de Janeiro. Bolsonaro spent his time as a representative in Congress “interested in helping the military above all else,” and his message that he will restore law and order both resonates with a Brazilian public fed up with high rates of violent crime and with a military keen to reassert itself. Continue reading

Do we need to teach the IR paradigms at all?

Over the weekend, fellow guest contributor Luke Perez had an interesting post on whether we need to include the grand paradigms of international relations  (realism, liberalism, and constructivism) in foreign policy classes. He makes some good points on how to customize courses for foreign policy students; be sure to read it if you haven’t. I’d like to go further and ask whether we need to teach these paradigms at all.

I’m coming at this from a different perspective than Perez. I teach at an undergraduate focused institution. So I’m preparing students for a broad array of potential political science careers. But the issue with the paradigms’ importance transcends any single realm of higher education.

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Syllabus Musing—can we teach foreign policy without paradigms?

As a new postdoc to the Kinder Insitute, I have the good fortune not to be teaching this semester. In addition to working on my book manuscript—more on that later—I have been spending a good deal of time thinking through my class on U.S. foreign policy. This has been a good experience even at this early stage because it has forced me to think about what students really need to know about foreign policy, and it has provided me the spurring I needed to begin distilling my graduate training into a systematic framework.

Writing a syllabus poses several challenges, not least of which are what the students should learn. Although it would be nice to have some aggregate data, at this time I am unaware of anything like the GRaduate Assignments Data Set (GRADS) on graduate readings in IR. And although it would be nice to have data on what approaches work best, I have a hunch that most of what we do does not actually train students to think about foreign policy in a serious way.

My own survey of syllabi, both from GRADS and my own smaller collection, suggest that the plurality of courses in foreign policy begin with a brief survey of the paradigms, maybe some introductory concepts like the agent-structure problem, research programs, some methods, and then finally about half way through a semester or later, finally get into the meat of specific issues and themes. And sure, maybe its an exaggeration to characterize foreign policy and IR courses this way. But my growing hunch is that a lot of the explanation for teaching foreign policy this way stems from the tension between foreign policy and IR. The former, I think, looks at international politics from the vantage point of the state or politician’s view of the international system; the later looking at states like the old familiar billiard ball. There are strengths to each, and there are great ways of teaching foreign policy without relying on IR approaches as the primary lens through we introduce students to foreign policy.

Can foreign policy be taught without reference to the paradigms of realism, liberalism, and constructivism? Can be taught without weeks of theoretical and conceptual throat clearing? If so, how so? Continue reading

With Arms Sales, “It’s Not Just the Economy, Stupid”

This post comes from Jennifer Spindel, Assistant Professor in the Department of International and Area Studies at the University of Oklahoma and a 2018 participant in Bridging the Gap’s New Era Workshop

The disappearance and suspected murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi this month has led to calls for the US to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia. President Trump has ignored these calls, saying “it would not be acceptable to me” to cease arms sales to Saudi Arabia because doing so would hurt the US economy. Arms sales have been a remarkably consistent news topic, from discussions about US arms sales to Saudi Arabia, to the recent grounding of the F-35 fleet, to disputes with Turkey about its arms purchases. This is, on the one hand, unsurprising: the United States sold $55.6 billion in weapons in the 2018 fiscal year, a 33 percent jump from the previous year. Yet the way the Trump administration talks about arms sales in terms of their sheer market and economic value reveals a fundamental misunderstanding about the political stakes of arms sales.

The issues surrounding the F-35 are instructive. From potentially decapitating pilots to recognized hardware issues, the F-35 has become a favorite (if too easy) punching bag in the defense community. Despite issues with the F-35’s capabilities, the plane is still a sought-after weapon – and not just because states have already poured hundreds of millions of dollars into developing and producing it.

The recent fighting between the US and Turkey over Turkey’s F-35 procurement illustrates the political stakes of such deals. Turkish companies produce components for the F-35, and Turkey is supposed to receive at least 20 of the planes. But in December 2017 Turkey purchased the Russian-produced S-400 missile defense system and, in response, the US Senate wanted to prohibit Turkey from acquiring the F-35. There is some concern that the S-400 will be able to collect intelligence about the F-35’s capabilities – and send this information back to Russia.

Yet much of the debate concerns the broader political problems of Turkey buying the S-400. States treat arms transfers as signals of foreign policy alignment: Turkey’s deal with Russia drove home its deteriorating relationship with the US and European States.

This political salience is reflected in statements by US and other policy-makers about the arms sale. US Assistant Secretary of State Weiss Mitchell said, “We can’t be any clearer in saying, both privately and publicly: a decision on S-400s will qualitatively change the US-Turkish relationship in a way that would be very difficult to repair.” Similarly, US Senator James Lankford said, “Turkey has gone a long way from being a NATO ally and an important partner in working against terrorism, to the situation today.” US allies are taking Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 as a symbol of rift between Turkey and the West, with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute calling it “meltdown in relations between Turkey and the US.” Israel has repeatedly expressed its concern about Turkey to the United States, arguing that allowing Turkey to get the F-35 would reward its bad behavior, and that Turkey should no longer be considered a “real” NATO member.

The political effects of the plane on the U.S.–Turkey relationship are independent of its military capabilities and will not change even though the entire F-35 fleet was grounded yesterday. The F-35 is, if nothing else, a status symbol that reflects the strength of political ties between states that have it.

As a signal of alignment, arms sales have wide-ranging consequences. Turkey’s simultaneous pursuit of the F-35 and the S-400 has emboldened other US friends to do the same. What was once unthinkable – US-friendly states actively courting Russian weapon systems – is becoming increasingly common. India, which was recently designated a Major Defense Partner by the United States, also signed a deal to get the S-400 and Saudi Arabia, a US ally, has hinted its interest in getting the S-400 as well.

Arms deals are much more than the transfer of military capability. Nor can they be thought of purely in economic terms. But – in responding to calls to suspend arms transfers to Saudi Arabia for its air campaigns in Yemen or, this week, for its supposed murder of Jamal Khashoggi – Trump has chosen to emphasize the economic consequences of halting arms transfers: “We have jobs, we have a lot of things happening in this country,” he said. “Part of that is what we’re doing with our defense systems and everybody’s wanting them. And frankly I think that that would be a very, very tough pill to swallow for our country.”

Even if Saudi Arabia proved the crucial market to keeping US production lines open, Trump is overlooking the foreign policy signal that the arms sales send. By continuing to supply Saudi Arabia with arms, the US is tacitly endorsing Saudi actions. Congress should, at the very least, suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The State Department approved $1 billion worth of sales to the kingdom in March – delaying the transfer of TOW anti-tank missiles would be one clear way to signal US displeasure with Saudi Arabia. Otherwise, why should Saudi Arabia cooperate with investigations into the disappearance of Khashoggi, or modify its policy in Yemen? In the realm of international politics, talk is cheap; actions matter. Cutting off arms sales or switching suppliers is one way states can signal their dissatisfaction with partners, as Turkey so clearly did by purchasing the S-400. The political stakes of arms sales are high – and it is crucial that policymakers consider that political significance in their arms sales decision calculus along with economic and military considerations.

 

This Blog Post is About Conference Program Selection

This is a guest post from Jonathan D. Caverley, Associate Professor at the Naval War College and Research Scientist at MIT, and Monica Duffy Toft, Professor at Tufts University, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

The program for the 2019 International Studies Association (ISA) meeting has been released, and International Relations Twitter has feelings about it. The stakes of inclusion on the program are not small. Presenting a paper at ISA is frequently an essential step towards publication in the field’s refereed journals, these meetings provide valuable networking space, travel funds are often predicated on a paper being accepted, and ISA often takes place in great cities…as well as Atlanta (we kid!). Because of the value of these slots and their growing scarcity, we believe a little more transparency about how decisions are made in accepting participants onto the program is helpful. We therefore write this post to share lessons we have learned as the co-chairs of the ISA’s International Security Studies Section (ISSS) program for the 2019 Annual Conference.

We do not think we have the last word on how to do this, which is one of the reasons we are writing this. Since both of us have, like most program chairs, vowed to never (ever!) do this again, this blog post seeks to lay out some ideas for future chairs. We write this with the understanding that so much of the knowledge of how the process works is unavailable to many scholars, particularly junior ones. We realize our fortune in having received great mentorship at a top American PhD program, and having had jobs at well-resourced and networked departments since. Collectively we have been in this business for several decades. And yet we still came to the process with little idea of the many elements of conference program selection and management we actually encountered.

What follows are ten facts and lessons that jumped out at us. We hope that this will trigger a discussion and the generation of other lessons. Continue reading

Reflections on a Hoax

Last week, an article published in the online outlet Areo revealed a hoax that involved ideologically motivated academics writing fake papers in the realms of what they characterized as “grievance studies,” and trying to place them in humanities journals—the idea being to demonstrate that such research is meaningless and not rigorous. Besides the fact that the hoaxsters were mostly unsuccessful in this endeavor—only four papers out of the twenty authored were published—the fact that this endeavor has been used as a tool to discredit a wide-range of scholarship in the realms of , inter alia, gender, race, and sexuality studies has caused a stir in academic circles.

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MbS made USCIRF smile: Gatekeepers and Norm Erosion

For many, Saudi Arabia finally went too far. Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi went missing after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul; reports suggest he may be dead. Pundits who gave Mohammed bin Salman—Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, also known as MbS—a chance to prove his reformist credentials have become critical. In the midst of all this, a commissioner of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom—(USCIRF) a government-affiliated human rights watchdog—announced…that Saudi Arabia is making great progress on protecting religious freedom? At first glance, this is confusing, but it may be an indication of the powerful role of strategic framing and policy gatekeepers in eroding international norms.

In “Bono made Jesse Helms cry,” international relations scholar (and permanent Duck of Minerva contributor) Joshua Busby discussed the dynamics through which activists can influence states’ foreign policy; his article also inspired the title for this post. Activists can intensify the appeal of their moral arguments by strategically framing their campaigns to match the cultural value of targets. And when they specifically target “policy gatekeepers,” who provide direct access to the relevant policymaking tools, their appeals can change states’ behavior.

Most assume this dynamic is a positive one, a way for activists to spread altruistic ideas and get states to adopt them. But what if it could be used by states themselves to undermine human rights norms?

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