Rejection Is The Name of the Game

Much discussion lately about how much rejection is in this academic game.  I had a conversation yesterday with a pal who was finding it much harder, it seemed, to get work published after tenure than before. “I thought I knew how to do this.”

Folks have been calling for the true CVs of people–where rejections would be listed.  Not sure that is going to happen.  However, in this week where I received news of receiving a fellowship to supplement my sabbatical, I thought I would list many of the rejections of my work along the way (my spreadsheet for tracking my work is pretty good but incomplete, just like my training in the Force):*

*  I have already enumerated my many rejections in the academic job market.

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Playing Politics with Compassion after the Paris Attacks (and why humanitarianism is in trouble)

Photo Credit: ruimc77 on Flickr

In response to the November 13, 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 129 people President Obama stated:

Once again, we’ve seen an outrageous attempt to terrorize innocent civilians.  This is an attack not just on Paris, it’s an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.

President Obama’s statement was a resounding call for universal compassion; the emphasis on “all of humanity” and “universal values” recalls the language of humanitarianism, enshrined in the foundational documents of the United Nations (UN) including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its related covenants. In the aftermath of the attacks, humanitarian values have been threatened by political posturing by the extreme right Front National party in France and by Republican (and one Democrat) governors and presidential hopefuls in the United States who are calling for either a suspension of Syrian refugee resettlement programs in the United States or limiting resettlement to only Christian refugees. Yesterday, France’s president François Hollande defied extreme right opposition and announced a commitment to accepting 30,000 Syrian refugees over the next two years.

The xenophobic and racist policies being advocated by US Republican governors and presidential candidates are an alarming affront to humanitarianism, threaten core humanitarian principles of humanity and impartiality and presage a backsliding of humanitarian policy to an unenlightened era. Continue reading

ISIS and the Future of Counter-Terrorism

[I’ve been debating whether to post this…it’s a “transcript” of a talk I gave yesterday here at the University of Puget Sound. It’s a bit basic as it was intended for a general audience of, primarily, undergraduate students. I wrote this up for friends who wanted to hear the talk but were unable to attend. It’s a bit disorganized too. So be warned it’s kind of ramble-y and general. Also, I haven’t provided source information or links. If you want any, please ask!]

It’s been a few days since the Paris bombings, and we have some more information about what happened, which has prompted me to reflect on what the attacks—along with those in Ankara, Beirut, and the Sinai—tell us about what ISIS is doing and why, and what these attacks mean for counter-terrorism efforts.

First, it’s important to note that these attacks are occurring in the context of an increase in mass casualty attacks (defined as terrorist attacks causing more than 100 deaths). Between 1978 and 2013, there was an average of 4.6 mass casualty attacks per year. In 2014, there were 26 while to date in 2015 there have been 15. While this is indeed a small n in terms of both number of events and time, it’s interesting to note that there might be a trend among terrorists towards soft target mass casualty attacks.

While we still don’t know for sure the degree to which the ISIS leadership in Syria was involved in any of these attacks, it’s looking increasingly likely that they played a role in at least three of the attacks (the Sinai bombing is the most likely to have been done by some other organization, with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula being the leading candidate). But, if we assume that ISIS is responsible for these attacks, it would represent a shift in their tactics and overturn many of the analytic assumptions about the group’s strategy.

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Get a Grip America: Stop the Anti-Refugee Hysteria

So, I started yesterday with news that Republican governors, including my own here in Texas, were seeking to deny Syrian refugees in to the state. By the end of the day, more than 25 governors, including one Democrat, had joined in the hysteria. I think a lot of us see this as a betrayal of American values and completely idiotic from the perspective of grand strategy.

We are basically telling millions of refugees, most of them Muslim, that we don’t care about them. ISIS thanks us for that recruitment message. If only we were Scotland and showed the Syrian refugees that we could be magnanimous. I hope some more Republicans and Christians of conscious like Michael Gerson emerge to repudiate the shameful farce that transpired yesterday. Here is my Storify day of tweets and retweets on this topic in reverse, from the most recent to the first ones of the day.

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Terrorism and the 2016 Campaign

The Paris terror attacks have brought the issue to the fore in awful, dramatic fashion. It’s inevitable that the topic will feature in tonight’s Democratic debate and the wider campaign. With world leaders set to convene in Paris in a few weeks time for the global climate negotiations, French vulnerability to terrorism has taken on added significance.

While ISIS does not pose an existential threat to the United States, attacks on civilians are a more tangible security threat than potential peer competitors that politicians ignore at their peril. The attacks, which claimed the lives of more than 100 people, could have been much worse. One attacker purportedly tried to enter the soccer game and was turned back when security discovered his suicide bomb. He was only able to exact limited damage when he detonated outside the gates.

Over-reaction and retribution are distinct possibilities going forward. The scale of the French attacks will likely change the political calculus in France and here at home in ways that the Charlie Hebdo ones did not. Continue reading

Terror in Paris


The horrifying events in Paris tonight are almost beyond comprehension. While we don’t know much more than the specific facts on the ground–coordinated attacks, suicide bombers at Le Stade de France, drive-by shootings at a Cambodian restaurant, the massacre at Bataclan, at least 150 are dead–I’ve been thinking all day about this still unfolding tragedy.

It’s still early and we don’t know much about who is involved or why. As with the recent destruction of the Russian charter plane, I doubt that this would be the work of ISIS. I just don’t buy that they’d want countries like France or the US to step involvement in Syria. The coordination and methods seem most like the work of al Qaeda. Many observers have been waiting for al Qaeda to carry out a high profile attack, if only to steal some of the “spotlight” from ISIS who has been dominating the headlines and the recruiting channels of late.

It’s also possible–and I’ve seen some reports supporting this–that it’s the work of so-called “foreign fighters”, French citizens who traveled to Syria for training and combat, only to return under the guise of their passports. States have been worrying about “foreign fighters” for some time now, fearing an influx of dangerous radicals with combat and explosives training who would be able to travel more or less freely due to their status as citizens. The sophistication and synchronization of the attacks make me wary that it could be carried out by a few individuals on their own; if it turns out to be the case, it will likely result in states reevaluating their policies towards those returning from ISIS land. France generally arrests anyone who traveled to Syria, but other countries prefer to screen for risk or try to de-radicalize the returnees.

If it is indeed the work of the ISIS core, it’s going to force the US and the rest of the West to rethink policy in Syria. It seems unlikely that this attack or any others would lead the international community to back off of ISIS.

Again, it’s early. Presumably we’ll know more soon. For now, it’s enough to remember that the world can be a dangerous, terrible place. And that is why we study and teach about dangerous, terrible things. At times like this I think of my students who have gone on to work in government, the intelligence community, those studying security policy at Georgetown or George Washington, and I hope that I have adequately prepared them to face and analyze these threats.


UPDATE: I’m not a Twitter user, but I did find this from Richard Engel of NBC News quoting a US “counter-terrorism” official naming al Qaeda or an al Qaeda affiliate (like AQAP) as the most likely suspect given the level of coordination.

UPDATE 2: French President Francois Hollande is blaming ISIS for the attacks, and ISIS has claimed responsibility. If ISIS is indeed responsible, this attack represents major change in their strategy. The difference between ISIS and al Qaeda has been that al Qaeda focused on attacking the “far enemy” who propped up illegitimate governments ruling Muslims while ISIS focused on building a state right away. Given that focus ISIS had not carried out large scale attacks like this, presumably because they didn’t want states coming in to Syria and Iraq to destroy their territorial control. If it is indeed ISIS it signals a marked change in their strategy and a very scary one. It might be a response to a worsening situation on the ground (although not the recent seizure of Sinjar and Route 16 by the Kurds or the droning of “Jihadi John”. An operation this sophisticated would have been planned well before the events of the past few days, although it’s possible those events do explain the specific timing.). ISIS has depended on territorial expansion and control as a signal of their success; US and coalition air strikes seems to have blunted ISIS’s territorial expansion and even pushed it back in some places, even if they haven’t been able to dent the flow of recruits. If ISIS feels that it is losing on the ground or even not winning sufficiently, it could turn to a more provocative strategy in order to maintain its appeal in the jihadi world. While it’s too soon to say whether France, the US, and other western powers will step up their involvement in Syria, President Hollande has described the attacks as an “act of war” and promised a “pitiless” and “merciless” response.

Sadly, the big winner (if such a word can be used in this situation) might just be Syrian President Assad, who has long been castigating the western powers for ignoring the problem of ISIS and focusing instead on helping rebels unseat his regime. It seems likely that, at the very least, France and other countries currently carrying out airstrikes in Syria will indeed focus more on ISIS, even if it means buoying the Assad regime.

Foreign Policy in the 4th GOP Presidential Nominee Debate

While last night’s debate was focused on the domestic economy, there was a bit more discussion of foreign policy than in the previous debate (i.e. none). So let’s see what the candidates had to see! Once again, I’ll be working off of the Washington Post‘s transcript.

I’ll ignore the snarky back-and-forth about defense spending because there was no substantive content there, which means that the first real discussion of foreign policy concerned trade policy and the recently completed TPP:

BAKER: …Mr. Trump, can I ask you about…

TRUMP: …Yes…

BAKER: …the U.S. just concluded an international trade agreement with 11 countries in the Pacific. You’ve said that you’d rather have no deal…

TRUMP: …Yeah…

BAKER: …than sign the one that’s on the table…

TRUMP: …It’s a horrible deal…

BAKER: …Most economists — most economists say that trade is boosted growth, and every single post war president has supported the expansion of international trade, including the last three republican presidents. Why would you reverse more than 50 years of U.S. trade policy?

TRUMP: The TPP is horrible deal. It is a deal that is going to lead to nothing but trouble. It’s a deal that was designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone. It’s 5,600 pages long, so complex that nobody’s read it. It’s like Obamacare; nobody ever read it. They passed it; nobody read it. And look at mess we have right now. And it will be repealed.

But this is one of the worst trade deals. And I would, yes, rather not have it. With all of these countries, and all of the bad ones getting advantage and taking advantage of what the good ones would normally get, I’d rather make individual deals with individual countries. We will do much better.

We lose a fortune on trade. The United States loses with everybody. We’re losing now over $500 billion in terms of imbalance with China, $75 billion a year imbalance with Japan. By the way, Mexico, $50 billion a year imbalance.

So I must say, Gerard, I just think it’s a terrible deal. I love trade. I’m a free trader, 100 percent. But we need smart people making the deals, and we don’t have smart people making the deals.

BAKER: The — the deal, as you say, the terms of the deal were published — were published just last week, the details, 5,000 pages of it, and 80 percent of U.S. trade with countries in the Pacific, these countries, these 11 countries, is actually tariff-free, and these — the trade deal only affects the other 20 percent. Which — are there particular parts of the deal that you think were badly negotiated?

TRUMP: Yes. Well, the currency manipulation they don’t discuss in the agreement, which is a disaster. If you look at the way China and India and almost everybody takes advantage of the United States — China in particular, because they’re so good. It’s the number-one abuser of this country. And if you look at the way they take advantage, it’s through currency manipulation. It’s not even discussed in the almost 6,000-page agreement. It’s not even discussed.

BAKER: There was a separate — separate…


TRUMP: And as you understand, I mean, you understand very well from the Wall Street Journal, currency manipulation is the single great weapon people have. They don’t even discuss it in this agreement.

So I say, it’s a very bad deal, should not be approved. If it is approved, it will just be more bad trade deals, more loss of jobs for our country. We are losing jobs like nobody’s ever lost jobs before. I want to bring jobs back into this country.

PAUL: Hey, Gerard, you know, we might want to point out China is not part of this deal.

(UNKNOWN): True. It’s true.

BARTIROMO: That’s right. That’s right.

PAUL: Before we get a little bit off-kilter here…

BAKER: But isn’t that — isn’t that part of the problem? When I say, Senator, that if — if this deal is not ratified by — by the U.S. — by the Senate, then it would actually give China an opportunity to grow its economic leadership, which it’s been seeking to do? And if the U.S. is unable to take part in this trade deal with these countries in Asia, China will take the lead?

PAUL: There is an argument that China doesn’t like the deal, because in us doing the deal, we’ll be trading with their competitors. You’re exactly right. But I think we’ve sort of missed the point a little bit here.

There is an important point, though, about how we discuss these trade treaties that I do agree with Mr. Trump on. We should negotiate from a position of strength. And we also should negotiate using the full force and the constitutional power that was given to us. I think it’s a mistake that we give up power to the presidency on these trade deals. We give up the power to filibuster, and I’m kind of fond of that power.


We give up the power to amend. And I think, really, one of the big problems we have in our country is, over the last century, really, so much power has gravitated to the executive branch. Really, Congress is kind of a bystander. We don’t write the rules. We don’t make the laws. The executive branch does. So even in trade — and I am for trade — I think we should be careful about giving so much power to the presidency.


BAKER: Thank you. Thanks, Senator.

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What Happened at Subi Reef?

Following on my last point which tried to understand the logic of ISIS’s role (if indeed it is responsible) in the bombing of a Russian charter plane int he Sinai, let’s turn our attention to the confusion surrounding the recent activity in the South China Sea. In an (alleged…more on this later) effort to counter China’s claims of expanded territorial waters and recent island building in the South China Sea, the US Navy sent the destroyer USS Lassen within 12 miles of Subi Reef, a part of the Spratley archipelgo claimed by several regional actors. China responded by asserting its “indisputable sovereignty” over the reef and accused the US of violating Chinese territorial waters. At the time, that seemed to be the end of it: the US conducted a Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP), China responded with predictable rhetoric, and that’s the end of that.

Not so fast.

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The Importance of Evidence-Based Human Rights Advocacy

The following is a guest post by Michele Leiby & Matthew Krain of The College of Wooster.

We are at a moment where there’s more media attention, research and advocacy on behalf of global human rights than ever before. Given our common interests and goals as members of an international human rights community, it’s surprising how infrequently and ineffectually we communicate and contribute directly to one another’s work. Our recent research on the efficacy of human rights messaging is both informed by this gap and an effort to bridge it.

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The problem of authority

Josh’s excellent tripartite (1, 2, 3) discussion of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy record in conjunction with with the narratives of Putin’s strategic leadership accompanying Russian military involvement in Syria have me thinking about the concept of authority. Specifically, I do not think we as academics (and as a result, policymakers) have a very good set of tools for thinking about leadership and authority in the international system. In large part I suspect the materialist foundations of much of IR theory are central to this gap, and indeed are reflected in the narratives surrounding Putin’s action.

As the story goes, Putin is exhibiting global leadership and building international authority by dint of the fact that he is doing something in a very specific way—bringing to bear Russia’s military capabilities to bomb the enemies of the Assad regime. This produces very optical and material action and as such seems to satisfy an assumption that leadership and global authority are based on military, material impact (with healthy dose of masculinity). Remarkably absent, however, are feasible claims about how Putin’s actions will produce global authority and with whom. How does bombing Bashar al-Assad’s enemies produce a collective shift in how Russia is understood vis-à-vis the hierarchy of the international system? Continue reading

What’s Going On in the Sinai?

The mysterious crash of a Russian charter plane in Sinai over the past weekend is causing all kinds of turmoil in the international arena. As you probably know, there is lots of confusion about exactly what happened to bring the plane down. Shortly after the crash, the ISIS wilayat (province) in the Sinai claimed responsibility, releasing a video purporting to show them shooting the plane down with a surface-to-air missile, a claim that was quickly debunked as ISIS does not have the kind of missiles capable of reaching 31,000 feet, the cruising altitude of the plane. Furthermore, the plane shown in the video is the wrong type. Russian authorities have been arguing among themselves whether internal failure could or could not be involved. English Prime Minister David Cameron has claimed “it’s more likely than not” that a bomb caused the crash, but President Obama backed that claim down, only saying that “there’s a possibility” that a bomb was on board. Meanwhile, the Sinai affiliate of ISIS continues to claim responsibility, but now without any kind of supporting evidence. And, now Egyptian officials are admitting that not only is a bomb possible but that it is the most likely scenario and Russia has suspended all flights into the Sinai.

So what the hell is going on the Sinai?

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Defending Obama’s Foreign Policy Part 3

So, this is third installment of my series on defending Obama’s foreign policy, part of an extended set of remarks for a debate with Colin Dueck that one day, weather permitting, we shall have. In part 1, I laid out the legacy of the Bush years and in part 2, I identified the Obama administration’s strategic inclinations and achievements. Here, in part 3, I try to identify lines of critique from Dueck and other folks critical of the Obama administration’s policies.

On Russia, Defense Spending, and US Standing

Finally, let me say three things about Russia, US defense spending, and US standing in the world.


On Russia, critics of the Administration will fault it for acquiescence in the face of a resurgent revisionist Russia in Ukraine (and beyond in Syria). We shouldn’t blithely embrace the notion that we’re acquiescing too readily to Putin in Ukraine and Syria, that we’re somehow rewarding him by not arming the Ukranians or by not taking him on directly in Syria.

I see the situation rather differently that the US has led an effective countervailing coalition that has imposed through sanctions deep costs on a weak Russian regime that now finds itself saddled with Crimea and an economy in tatters. The United States has also sought to reassure NATO members and send appropriate signals to Russia that an expansionist policy outside of its area of its near abroad in to areas strategically important to the US would be unwise. Neither Ukraine nor Syria are central battlefields of strategic interest to the United States so the appropriate strategy is one of punishing Russia for adventurism in Ukraine and channeling Russia’s intervention in Syria to help bring about a political solution in Syria.

Russia may be revisionist but it isn’t a rising power (see Dan Nexon here on the Duck). It’s a nasty actor with nuclear weapons, so we have to treat them with some caution but I don’t think we should allow ourselves to be fooled by Putin’s adventurism (in either Ukraine or Syria) to embrace it as a sign of strength. China, by contrast, is a rising power, with a large population, a growing (albeit creaky) economy, and increased military capability that will only get stronger.

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Defending the Obama Administration’s Foreign Policy – Part 2

Yesterday, I posted about my canceled debate with Colin Dueck on the Obama Administration’s foreign policy. In part 1, I reflected on the Bush administration’s legacy. Here is part 2 of what would have been my defense of the administration’s achievements.  Again, it was a debate, where each of us were tasked to assume a side, and I wrote this to be delivered as oral remarks with attempts to dramatize things for a live audience. My thinking is in keeping with a number of recent evaluations of the administration’s foreign policy, notably essays that appeared in Foreign Affairs by Gideon Rose, Tom Christensen (on China) and Marc Lynch (on the Middle East).

Strategic Inclinations

The legacy of the Bush years informed the Obama administration’s strategic inclinations, including:

  • Rescue the global economy and shore up America’s position because America can’t lead if its domestic economic house is not in order.
  • End the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and restore America’s reputation in the world through multilateral engagement, closing Guantanamo, and stopping torture.
  • Kill Bin Laden and destroy Al Qaeda.
  • Find a diplomatic solution to the deadlock over Iran’s nuclear program.
  • Reorient U.S. foreign policy to address and hedge China’s rising power.
  • Begin to address the problem of climate change.

Now, on these terms, let’s ask how did the Obama Administration do? Are we better off today than we were before he took office? Continue reading

Put a DA-RT in it

If you have been living under a rock as I apparently have, then like me you may be unaware of the DA-RT controversy that is brewing in the American Political Science Association.* Turns out that some of our colleagues have been pushing for some time to write a new set of rules for qualitative scholarship that, among other things will require “cited data [be] available at the time of publication through a trusted digital repository” [This is from the Journal Editor’s Transparency Statement, which is what is being implemented Jan. 15]. The goal I gather is to enhance transparency and reproducibility. A number of journal editors have signed on, although Jeffrey Issac, editor at Perspectives on Politics, has refused to sign onto the DA-RT agenda.

There are a number of reasons to doubt that the DA-RT agenda will solve whatever problem it aims to address. Many of them are detailed in a petition to delay implementation (which I have signed) of the DA-RT protocol, currently set for January 15, 2016. To explore how posting data is more or less an optical solution that does little to enhance transparency or reproducibility, I want to run through a hypothetical scenario for interviews, arguably the most prone of qualitative methods to suspicion.

Regardless of the subject, IRBs nearly always insist on anonymity of the interviewees. Which means that in addition to scrubbing names and identifying markers, recordings of interviews cannot be made public (if they even exist, which many IRB decisions preclude). Therein lies the central problem—meaningful transparency is impossible, and as a result reproducibility as DA-RT envisions it is deeply impaired. Even if someone were interested in reproducing a study relying on interviews, doing so would be hindered by the fact that s/he would not be able to interview the same people as the person(s) who undertook the study (this neglects of course that the reproduction interviews could not be collected at the same time, introducing the possibility of contingency effects). In this very simple and nearly universal IRB requirement, there is fundamentally nothing to stop a nefarious, ne’er-do-well academic poser from completely fabricating the interview data that gets posted to the digital database DA-RT requires because there is no way to verify it (e.g. call up the person who gave the interview and ask if they really said that?!). Continue reading

Defending the Obama Administration’s Foreign Policy Pt. 1

Well, I was supposed to be debating Colin Dueck on the Obama administration’s foreign policy tomorrow, but the residue of last week’s weather took much of the Austin airport out of commission, leaving his flight to be canceled. So, I’m going to be posting my prepared remarks in a series of posts as well as my quick take on Dueck’s 2015 book The Obama Doctrine which sought to critique the administration’s grand strategy and offer up an alternative of “conservative American realism.”

The debate may get rescheduled for the spring, but in the meantime, I thought I’d get my thoughts out there. It’s deliberately somewhat polemical, but I hope in posting it, people are willing to weigh in on my more contentious assertions. I’ll be peppering in some of my sources and inspiration as I go.

Part I: Setting the Stage

I’m here to defend the Obama Administration’s foreign policy achievements in the main, though not every corner. What I thought I’d do is remind us of the terrain when the president took office in order to recognize what has changed during his tenure.

The Inheritance

First, President Obama inherited the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression that left millions out of work in the U.S., with major sectors and firms like the auto industry on life support, and a global economy teetering on the verge of collapse.

Second, President Obama took office after possibly the most significant strategic mistake in the nation’s history, a war of choice in Iraq that cost in excess of $2 trillion dollars, that led to squandered blood and treasure, a war that caused the international outpouring of goodwill that the U.S. enjoyed after 9/11 to evaporate, that tore a whole in the unity of the American people, and that left the perpetrator of the attacks of 9/11 on the loose still capable of inciting and possibly directing additional attacks on the US and its allies. Continue reading

The Destruction of Alderaan Was Not Justified

This is a guest post by Luke M. Perez, a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin where he studies religion, ethics, and foreign policy. Luke is also a graduate fellow at the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas. He can be reached at


The Empire apologists are making their case, and it is convincing. Perhaps we were wrong all along to support the Rebellion.  But that doesn’t mean we should let the Empire off the hook entirely.

This week for example, Sonny Bunch argues in the Washington Post that the destruction of Alderaan in Episode IV of Star Wars was completely justified. This article is interesting, thought provoking, and wrong – seeking to excuse what is, by any measure, a gross and tragic violation of just war principles. Whatever merits the Empire, whatever flaws the Rebellion, any truly reflective and honest empirical assessment of the Empire’s action at Alderaan will admit that its destruction was a tragic moral failing. Continue reading

Killing the Occupation Analogy

I have spent much time here at the Spew discussing various analogies and kinds of analogies, including how IR can be like tacos and how to make a good IR pop culture analogy.  I love using analogies, and have often used them in my teaching, even as I know that they have their limits (thanks, Robert Jervis).

But if I had to nominate one analogy to kill, to kill with fire, to destroy utterly, it would be the use of the occupations of Germany and Japan to discuss 21st century state-building/nation-building/post-war reconstruction.  I was inspired/depressed by this chain of tweets: Continue reading

Recap of the Foreign Policy Content in 3rd GOP Debate


Here is the transcript. You can scour it for an odd line from Christie about “isolationism” or “ISIS.” There was a question about climate change which lasted for all of a minute where Christie fumbled something about investing in clean energy but not through the government.

There was a bit more in undercard debate, mostly introduced by Lindsey Graham who wanted to talk about defense spending, terrorism, and tie Secretary Clinton to Obama’s foreign policy. As usual, Senator Graham was hyping threats “I’ve never seen so many threats to our homeland than I do today.” There was actually a more useful discussion on a pollution tax on Chinese imports and how to deal with cyber threats. The answers weren’t satisfactory (Santorum diverted to his stump speech on trade when asked about taxing the pollution content of Chinese imports). Still, it was a relative bonanza compared to the later debate where foreign policy by my read was absent, neither something that the moderators cared to ask about or that the candidates brought up. Given that previous debates had a lot of foreign policy content, I’m not sure if this debate is at all informative about what role foreign policy will play in the election. It’s not as if the financial network CNBC asked a ton of questions about the global economy.

Does Grand Strategy Matter?

I just read David Edelstein and Ron Krebs’ provocative piece ($) in Foreign Affairs on how the practice of grand strategy leads to threat inflation. One section struck me as somewhat problematic in that it seemed to derive little influence for ideational factors in the construction of the liberal order, as if the United States was materially driven to choose that path. They write:

Indeed, the United States has acted as a liberal hegemon, more or less coherently, ever since World War II. But this is less the product of a formal grand strategy than the result of enduring structural features of the international and domestic landscape: the United States’ material preponderance, the powerful corporate interests that profit from global integration, the dominance of core liberal tenets in American political culture.

Yes, liberal tenets are in their list, but everything we’ve read about U.S. decisions in the midst/wake of WWII (Ruggie, Ikenberry) suggest some leaders drew lessons of the Depression and the war to conclude that the U.S. needed to step up as architect of a new liberal order. Maybe that’s just self-serving justification for policies that the U.S. fell into after the war through pragmatic trial and error. Continue reading

Compensation for Kunduz and the Commodification of Civilian Casualties

The controversy surrounding the coalition airstrike in Kunduz continues to rumble on this week after military investigators drove an armoured personnel carrier into a hospital’s front gate. A spokesperson for the Pentagon was quick to apologise for any damage caused, telling reporters (without a hint of irony) that the team were simply trying to gain access to the facility so that they could assess the structural integrity of the buildings hit earlier in the month. This latest incident will do little to ease tensions between the United States and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which operates the hospital. Three separate investigations into the original attack are now underway but there is still a great deal of uncertainty about why the hospital was targeted. What we do know is that at least 22 people were killed when the AC-130 gunship opened fire on the building, including 12 medical staff and 10 patients.

The debate so far has largely focused on whether or not the attack was lawful, but what caught my attention was the response of the military officials and, in particular, their offer of compensation. After initially blaming ground troops for the mistake and then the Afghan Army, the Pentagon eventually admitted the decision was made further up the chain of command and President Obama has now offered a full-blown apology. What is more, it has since been confirmed that the United States will compensate the victims and help rebuild the hospital. As the Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook made clear, ‘the Department of Defense believes it is important to address the consequences of the tragic incident’. But the use of financial compensation to rectify these wrongs raises a number of important ethical questions: Do these payments actually make the perpetrator any more accountable for the harm they have caused? Is there a risk that they may end up normalising the horrors of war? And do they reflect a genuine concern for the pain and suffering experienced by those living on the frontline of today’s conflicts?

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