IR Theory After Trump: A First Image Renaissance? Part II

This is the second of two guest posts ]by Eric Parajon, Richard Jordan, and Marcus Holmes. The first can be found here.

In our last post, we explored recent TRIP survey data illustrating that International Relations scholars overwhelming President Donald J. Trump for a perceived decline in America’s international respect. We also detailed how this individual level explanation seemed at odds with a reluctance over the past three decades on the part of IR scholars to publish articles focusing on the role of the individual or the “first image”. We closed our piece with some possible explanations for the divergence between what scholars study and what they say is important. In this post, we further detail what we see as the most compelling explanation, that scholars have correctly assessed Trump’s importance, but how they study the world does not mirror how they see the world. 

It is absolutely true that IR scholars research the second and third images almost exclusively–but it is also likely true that very few think the first image unimportant. It may be that the discipline has simply not known how to study individuals systematically, and this confusion masquerades as disinterest.

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IR Theory After Trump: A First Image Renaissance? Part I

This is a guest post, the first of two, by Eric Parajon, Richard Jordan, and Marcus Holmes. Eric Parajon is a recent graduate of William & Mary and currently a Project Manager for the Teaching, Research, and International Policy Project. Richard Jordan is an assistant professor at Baylor University. He researches game theory, security, and leadership. Marcus Holmes is an associate professor of Government at William & Mary. He recently published Face-to-Face Diplomacy: Social Neuroscience and International Relations.

Among IR scholars, research on the role of individuals in world politics, or the “first image,” has languished for three decades. With the dominance of structural and rationalist approaches in the late 20th century, combined with skepticism individuals can be studied in a systematic, rather than idiosyncratic way, the first image has largely been neglected. Data out of the Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) project at William & Mary illustrate the point. Over the last thirty-five years or so, only 12.5% of the articles analyzed, in a wide-swath of IR journals, featured any engagement with the first image:

Figure 1: Proportion of scholarly journal articles utilizing each image approach (Grouped by year)

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The International Religious Freedom Campaign: A Cautionary Tale

There was some interesting/concerning information hidden at the end of the New York Times coverage of Secretary of State Pompeo’s Cairo speech. After criticizing Obama’s foreign policy and calling for action on Iran, Pompeo mentioned the progress Egyptian President al-Sisi had apparently made on religious freedom, specifically protecting Christians.

Some may dismiss this as cynicism or a sign of role Pompeo’s faith plays in his policies, but I think it’s more than that. It represents the worrying state of the international religious freedom (IRF) campaign, a robust, if low-key, international human rights campaign that used to pride itself on its nonpartisan nature. While progressives assume this campaign is a conservative cause and conservatives aren’t interested in hearing critiques, both should care deeply about what’s happened to it.

Here’s the text that caught my eye:

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Enes Kanter was right to be cautious

The NY Knicks will be travelling to London in a few weeks for a game against the Washington Wizards.  But center Enes Kanter has announced he won’t be joining them. Kanter, who is Turkish and a frequent critic of Turkey’s authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said he is worried about his safety if he leaves the United States. This may seem surprising, but it shouldn’t; Erdogan has launched a campaign of repression against his critics, both in Turkey and around the world. Kanter has every reason to be concerned.

At first, this decision may seem a bit dramatic, like something out of a spy novel. A basketball star travels to a foreign country and is kidnapped or killed by his repressive home government? Some may believe the Turkish government’s rebuttal that Kanter is really having visa issues (which Kanter denies).  Others, may see this as primarily a political statement, as the New York Times seemed to suggest:

It was a dramatic escalation of his longstanding criticism of Erdogan and a reflection of the way Kanter has been determined to use his fame as an athlete for political activism he considers crucial and dire.

But anyone who’s been following Turkish politics over the past few years  should believe a threat to Kanter’s safety is credible.

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2019 Duckies

This is a guest post from Brent Sasley, Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Arlington and chair of the ISA Online Media Caucus.

ISA 2019 is coming up fast, so it’s time to start thinking about the Duckies! A lot has happened in the last year, and scholars and researchers have been more active than ever in trying to help us figure it all out. Let’s recognize their efforts!

The Online Achievement in International Studies Reception and Awarding of the Duckies will take place on Wednesday, March 27 at 7:30pm, hosted by the ISA’s Online Media Caucus (OMC). We will first listen to our wonderful and popular Ignite speaker series, and then present the awards in our five categories. OMC would like to recognize the generous support of SAGE Publishing for the reception and for OMC’s work in general.

Please send in your nominations for the 2019 Duckies in the categories below. Be sure to include hyperlinks. Send nominations to onlinemediacaucus@gmail.com by February 1, 2019. Self-nominations are welcome.

Please consider submitting a nomination in the following categories:

Best Blog (Group) in International Studies

Best Blog (Individual) in International Studies

Best Blog Post in International Studies

Best Twitter Account

Special Achievement in International Studies Online Media

Please note that award nominees or their designated representatives MUST be present at the Duckies.

Once the due date for nominations has passed, the Online Media Caucus leadership board will assess the recommendations and determine the final recipients. If you have any questions, please contact 2018-19 OMC Chair Brent Sasley.

Where Is Intro to IR When You Need It?

One of the basic claims I make as a poli sci professor is that my goal is to help the next generation become more informed citizens, so that they understand their interests, and can vote accordingly.  So, when I see a a guy getting upset that his business is hurt by tariffs, I want to scream.

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New Year. New Intentions.

I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions, but I just listened to Pod Save America’s resolutions podcast. Ana Marie Cox was a guest and talked about her approach to New Year’s resolutions. She talked about “intentions” rather than resolutions since resolutions have the air of failure about them: you either completed the task or you didn’t. Intentions has a quality that is less judgmental and more aspirational.

Aside from some discussion of self-care (which I think is generally good), the podcast focused on time management and our interaction with technology, which resonated with me. Several of the Pod Save crew talked about how they hoped to approach Twitter and social media more generally differently, whether it be only re-tweeting articles they actually read, never scrolling on Twitter before reading a few articles, or just avoiding amplifying outrage on the platform.

More broadly, I have given a lot more thought about how I use social media, who and how I interact with people, and how I manage time more generally.

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I’m So Bored With the USA

The United States is the safest country in the world. It has vast ocean moats to the east and west and weak friendly neighbors to the north and south. It has sufficient resources to shun global trade should it so choose. It is also the wealthiest and strongest country the world has ever seen.

The heaviest foreign policy costs it has paid in the 20th and 21st centuries have come from self-inflicted wounds. The war in Vietnam. The war on Afghanistan. The war on Iraq. Those have had terribly high human, economic, resources, moral, and opportunity costs. Each of those wars was a choice made by U.S. presidents.

With the resignation of Secretary of Defense Mattis some have become more concerned about competitor states taking advantage of the chaos within the U.S. administration. Continue reading

Under Pressure

Somewhat cranky and slightly under the weather Putin graced the foreign journalists with his presence for almost 4 hours. Starting right off the bat with some optimistic economic indicators (that he used to be able to juggle without any papers), the conference progressed with its predictable pace and predictable plot points: a bunch of questions on economy, token booed Ukrainian question, some dad jokes and good tsar, bad boyars excuses. There was no panache, pizazz or punch. Putin is tired (at some point he was off by 20 million when talking about the Russian population) and his whataboutist rhetoric expected. His cough has got better since last year though.

At the beginning, Channel One gleefully pointed out that all accredited journalists are welcome at the press-conference (not really) and there are absolutely no restrictions. Press Secretary Peskov started with the Kremlin press pool soft ball questions (as though they don’t get enough access to the body of the sovereign on a regular basis). Crimea came up almost right away and kept coming up throughout the press conference. Putin got himself some rally-around-the flag theory ready and angrily pointed out that the only reason there was a “provocation” in the Kerch Strait is because presidential elections are coming up and President Poroshenko was looking to boost his failing rating. Moreover, Russia will increase its military presence in the Azov Sea the way it sees fit, especially given that some governmental officials in Ukraine are threatening to blow up the pained Crimea bridge. Putin forcefully denied that an “annexation” of the peninsula took place (despite having used that word himself several days prior). It was the citizens who came and voted to re-unite with Russia and now they are being punished for their vote by Western sanctions.

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Dear Political Science, it is time for a SELF-REFLEXIVE turn!

This is a guest post by Lahoma Thomas, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto. This piece on reflexivity and positionality emerged from a panel she organized at APSA 2016, titled: “Race in the Field: Understanding How Identity Frames Field Research”and has evolved as one of her primary research agendas. Follow her on Twitter at @LAHOMAthomas.

The issues of reflexivity and positionality have been prominent features of my academic career, especially throughout my doctoral studies in political science. Reflexivity entails a critical reflection on one’s own interpretations and their influences. It requires one to consider that one’s positionality—that is one’s location in the society’s system of social stratification— informs the way one sees and makes sense of the world, and shapes the way one engages and conducts oneself within it.

I came to the discipline as a social worker, where my professional praxis demands an awareness of my own positionality, along with ongoing self-reflexivity concerning the impact of my interventions on the lives of those I work with. The discussions and ethical considerations with which I was familiar, contrasted with those I experienced in the political science classroom and the broader political science literature on methodology. As a doctoral student, I experienced the absence of this awareness especially in the scholarship on fieldwork. Continue reading

So, it’s all just too late, right? Studying climate politics in a time of despair

This is a guest post from Kate Neville, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and School of the Environment at the University of Toronto, and Matthew Hoffmann, a Professor in the Department of Political Science and Co-Director of the Environmental Governance Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto.[1]

 

Things are not good. We have twelve years before catastrophic climate change is completely unavoidable. Greenhouse gas emissions are rising like a “freight train.” In the face of bleaching and ocean acidification, coral reef conservation is falling short, with global declines of reef cover of 30-50% since the 1980s. Greenland’s ice sheet melting is “off the charts.”

Accompanying the barrage of bad climate news are articles discussing the despair that climate scientists are feeling in the face of their growing knowledge of climate catastrophe combined with the lack of movement they see on climate action (see e.g. here and here). They feel like they are shouting into the ether and no one is listening.

Most of these articles focus on natural scientists on the front lines of studying the dynamics and impacts of climate change itself. However, despair is not a scarce commodity in communities that care about climate change—social scientists who study climate politics are also subject to the existential angst that comes with knowing a catastrophe is looming and feeling helpless to stop it.

By studying the social, economic, and political dynamics that make progress on climate action difficult, social scientists bear the dual burden of both understanding what environmental damage is happening/projected and why the world is not responding to these urgent warnings. Continue reading

Progressives: here’s what happens when you steal GOP talking points

Progressives and liberals were quick to praise President George H.W. Bush when he passed away. Some of this was basic human decency. Some of this was honest admiration for a masterful foreign policy practitioner and a decent man. But some of it felt strategic, a way to point out all of Trump’s failings. Highlighting Bush’s virtues emphasized the issues with Trump and his Presidency. The fact that Bush was a Republican seemed to make this more effective; “look,” Trump critics could say, “here are things Republicans used to value.” It seemed an effective tactic.

And then Trump nominated William Barr to be Attorney General. Barr has been skeptical about the probe into Trump’s Russia ties and thinks the “Uranium One” deal is a major scandal that implicates Hillary Clinton. He has also called on the government to promote socially conservative values. So we can expect some potent attacks on him by progressives…except that he was also Attorney General in the George H.W. Bush Administration. It’s going to be hard to accuse him of being unqualified and dangerous without questioning the wisdom of the man so many recently praised.

This highlights the danger of trying to steal Republican talking points. Progressives frequently do this: “Republicans claim to care about X, but they’re not actually doing much on it.” There are many examples:

  • When President Obama was calling for nuclear disarmament, he referenced a similar call by Ronald Reagan. He made similar appeals to Reagan when announcing the New START treaty with Russia. And I know, at the urging of a progressive foreign policy group I was then part, I made a similar argument but I haven’t found the article yet (I’ll update this if I do). This provided useful historical context to Obama’s policies, but it was also an attempt to undercut Republican objections.
  • When Democrats retook the House in 2006, part of their platform was controlling the deficit that had expanded under George W. Bush. This was also one of Obama’s attack lines in the run-up to his Presidential campaign. Again, this represents fiscal prudence, which is good. But it’s also an attempt to “steal” fiscal prudence from Republicans.
  • Another Bush-era attack line had to do with US Special Operations Forces (SOFs). Democrats didn’t just argue against the Iraq War, they argued that it–and the broader war on terrorism-were being mismanaged and that they could do better. One of their proposals was to “double the size of [US] Special Forces.” This was meant to  highlight the fact that Democrats could be tough on national security too, taking away an additional GOP talking point.

Most of these worked at the time. But they later backfired. Obama’s praise for Reagan makes it harder to criticize problematic aspects of his legacy, and was countered by conservatives, limiting its impact. Democratic criticism of Bush’s deficits opened Obama up to GOP attacks on his economic policies–some of which require expanding the deficit–and Democrats are running into this problem again. Democrats’ call for more Special Forces was criticized for definitional issues (Special Forces refers just to Army personnel) and infeasibility. It also makes it harder to criticize Trump’s use of SOFs in counterterrorism operations that haven’t been debated or approved by Congress.

And I’m not even going to go into poorly-thought-through but convenient attack lines. Remember when Obama mocked Romney for being stuck in the 80s after he expressed concern about Russia, with a lame “the 80’s called” joke.  Progressives at the time (including me) thought it was great, but it’s made current Russia concerns seem opportunistic.

As Democrats get ready for 2020, there are a lot of potential attacks on Trump. Candidates and their campaigns will be tempted to attack him as not being a good enough Republican. If those attacks come from a centrist trying to present a Bill Clinton-esque “third way” that may be ok. And if it is praise for an earlier, more cooperative era of politics, that’s fine too. But more often than not they’ll come from progressive candidates who are just trying to score an easy point. This very well may work, but it will continue to muddle Democratic messaging. Resist the temptation.

 

 

Radical IR: approaches or implications?

Dillon Tatum had an interesting post here last week, calling for a “radical” international relations. As Tatum notes, “radicalism intervenes in the political domain with the goal of fundamental transformation” and IR could function similarly.

What would that look like? I think many would imagine a radical IR as radical in its approaches and methods. That is, scholars would critically examine biases and assumptions, uncover power structures and erase them. In this envisioning of critical IR, conventional methods—quantitative analyses, positivist qualitative studies—are part of the problem. They limit the questions we ask and the type of answers we accept as valid.

But is this really the case? Must IR reshape itself to push back on the common wisdom and make the world a better place? I’m not sure. Looking at music, Frank Zappa was certainly radical, in both approach and implication. But Brian Wilson, while adhering to standard pop sensibilities, used the “rules” to produce music with far-reaching, shockingly radical implications. Maybe it could be the same with IR.

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Big Goals and Small Adversaries: Why Grand Strategy Matters

The United States is closing in on the 18th anniversary of its first wartime death in Afghanistan, that of CIA operative Mike Spann, providing a melancholy opportunity to emphasize the role of grand strategy as a policymaking tool. To this end, I ask why the United States has done relatively poorly in so many of its so-called small wars, wars against much weaker adversaries. Its poor record is surprising because the United States has done so well in its major wars, including the world wars, the Korean War, and the Cold War.

Some of the United States’ smaller wars have gone as planned. The invasion of Grenada and replacement of its leftist government in 1983 was quick. The attack on Panama to replace President Noriega in 1989-1990 was also relatively short and low cost for the United States. Some small wars (small from the great power perspective, of course) have not turned out quite as planned, but have also not escalated significantly either vertically or horizontally, or in costs. These include the humanitarian military interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Why should Iraq and Afghanistan still drag on, then, when the United States and its allies are fighting weak non-state actors whose ideologies hold little appeal? Why did the U.S. intervention against insurgents in Vietnam last 21 years? Why did its intervention against the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Movement, which started out stealing and buying its weapons from the Salvadoran military in the Salvadoran civil war, last 13 years?

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Toward a Radical IR

David Brook’s latest column in the New York Times, banging on the same themes about “the kids are just not right,” raises some questions about what it means to engage in radical politics in the Trump era. Brooks compares the younger generation’s belief “that the system itself is rotten and needs to be torn down” to accomodationist and gradualisms.  He continues on to speculate about how these new attitudes might affect older, more “pragmatic,” liberals who desire to work within the system. Brooks, as usual, uses a conservative argument to position himself in the “middle.”

I have been thinking a lot about this issue of “radicalism” contra arguments about working within systems that are unjust in thinking about liberal world order and its futures. It has led me to a question I am currently exploring in a work-in-progress about what the possibilities are of radicalism as a way of approaching international politics. Against arguments like Brooks’, and even more sophisticated arguments about agonistic democracy developed by thinkers like Chantal Mouffe, I think there is a place in IR for radical conceptions of transformation, order, and politics.

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Aid and Diplomacy, Not Tear Gas: How to Address the Central American Migrant Crisis

On Sunday, the US Border Patrol fired tear gas into Mexico at migrants, including children, attempting to enter the US near the San Ysidro border crossing between Tijuana and San Diego. The use of a chemical weapon banned in war against families rightly provoked widespread condemnation (Border Patrol agents also used pepper spray against migrants in 2013, fired tear gas and pepper spray into Mexico in 2007, and have killed rock throwers at the border in the past). Migrants attempting to enter the US are frustrated by the Trump administration’s restriction of the process of seeking asylum, a legal right under US and international law, a situation that won’t be solved by processing asylum seekers on Mexican soil.

Most of those who attempted to scale the border fence were reportedly from Honduras, the country with the world’s second-highest homicide rate. Young people there are caught between murderous gangs, violent and corrupt police, and paramilitary ‘social cleansing’ squads who target young men, while gender-based violence rates are also high. There are similar, if slightly less violent, dynamics in El Salvador and Guatemala, and increasing state repression in Nicaragua. Despite changes in US immigration policy and enforcement under the Trump administration, the US remains for many Central Americans a place of hope for a better, more secure life.

In this environment, deterrence efforts will have limited effectiveness. Continue reading

What was behind the UAE’s detention of a UK graduate student

Like everyone else, I’m still trying to catch up after the Thanksgiving holiday. So I have a quick, kind of speculative post this week.

It looks like the distressing saga of Matthew Hedges has finally been resolved. As I wrote about before, Hedges is a grad student in the UK who traveled to the UAE to conduct field work. After interviewing several subjects about UAE security policies, he was arrested and charged with espionage. He was recently been sentenced to life in prison, although the UAE just pardoned him.

There is a lot to figure out with this case–what it means for scholars working on the Persian Gulf, whether universities should still have relationships with the UAE, and (most crucially) how to secure Hedges’ release. But one angle I’ve been thinking about, and which I don’t think has been explained properly, is why did the UAE do this? Why did they detain a UK citizen, risking international criticism and condemnation?

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How praising Trump as a religious freedom champion will undermine Uighur advocacy

The US Congress recently introduced bills that would call on the Trump Administration to press China over its treatment of the Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group.  This would seem to be a good fit, as Trump has been critical of China throughout his time in office. And religious freedom–under which this would initiative would fall–seems to be the one area of human rights his Administration cares about. But any US pressure on China will be undermined by the similarity between some of China’s Uighur policies and the Trump Administration’s Muslim travel ban. This relates to a broader point I’ve been trying to raise (unsuccessfully) with international religious freedom advocates who praise Trump: he may implement a few policies in line with your initiatives, but the overall tenor of this Administration will undermine the cause.

The Uighurs are a predominantly Muslim ethnic group that has been horribly repressed by the Chinese government. China had initially placed strict controls on Xinjiang–the region in which most Uighurs live–for alleged counterterrorism reasons. This expanded into broader restrictions on Uighur’s way of life, targeting their faith. China has tried to force Uighurs to act contrary to their faith, even requiring Uighur shopowners to sell alcohol. This recently escalated into the detention of Uighurs in concentration camps in which they will be “re-educated.”

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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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