Bridging the Gap

BridgingtheGap@american.edu

Bridging the Gap promotes scholarly contributions to public debate and decision making on global challenges and U.S. foreign policy. BtG equips professors and doctoral students with the skills they need to produce influential policy-relevant research and theoretically grounded policy work. They also spearhead cutting-edge research on problems of concrete importance to governments, think tanks, international institutions, non-governmental organizations, and global firms. Within the academy, BtG is driving changes in university culture and processes designed to incentivize public and policy engagement.

http://www.bridgingthegapproject.org

The Water’s Edge is Muddier Than You Think

Today’s post is from Bridging the Gap Co-Director Jordan Tama, Associate Professor at American University’s School of International Service. He is working on a book tentatively entitled Bipartisanship in a Polarized Age: When Democrats and Republicans Cooperate on U.S. Foreign Policy.

Partisan polarization represents one of the dominant frames through which scholars and journalists see American politics today. Indeed, such polarization has increased significantly in the United States since the 1970s. A number of studies have found that this trend spans domestic and foreign policy, though scholars have disagreed about the extent to which American divisions over foreign policy are growing. Congressional voting patterns also suggest that bipartisanship is more prevalent on international than on domestic issues.

Scholars and journalists have given much less attention, though, to variation in types of bipartisanship. Analysts of American politics typically conceive of bipartisanship as a situation in which the two parties cooperate with each other or adopt the same position on a policy issue. Analysts of U.S. foreign policy often further associate bipartisanship with both parties in Congress supporting a position of the president – as in the adage, frequently invoked during wartime or when the president travels overseas, that politics stops “at the water’s edge.” In either conception, bipartisanship is usually seen in binary terms: an issue is either characterized by bipartisanship or it is not. Conversely, writing about partisan polarization typically sees bipartisanship simply as the opposite of polarization.

These binary images overlook important distinctions in the alignments of elected officials across different issues, particularly on foreign policy. Continue reading

The Book Nook: The Authority Trap: Strategic Choices of International NGOs

Our second Bridging the Gap Book Nook entry comes from Sarah Stroup of Middlebury College and Wendy Wong of the University of Toronto, who discuss their new book The Authority Trap: Strategic Choices of International NGOs (Cornell, 2017).

Americans Don’t Think Much of Trump’s “America First.” That’s Good, But …

This post comes from Bridging the Gap co-director Bruce W. Jentleson[*], Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Duke University.

“Not much” and “less and less” is What Americans Think About America First, as documented in the latest Chicago Council on Global Affairs public opinion report.[†]  That’s somewhat reassuring. But only somewhat.

On one America First issue after another, the data show limited and declining support. On the general issue of maintaining alliances, 49% support compared to 38% who oppose. On NATO, 69% see it as essential to American security and 53% say it benefits the United States as well as the allies, while only 27% see it as mostly benefiting the allies. 59% agree there should be more burden sharing, but only 38% say the U.S. should make our security commitment contingent on that.

Some of these spreads are even greater than a year ago. The 69% support for NATO is up from 65% in 2016. On the general issue of maintaining alliances, the 47% support among Independents is higher than the 34% in 2016 and 26% in 2015, and the 43% among Republicans is up from 40% (2016) and 37% (2014).

Continue reading

Mr. Trump, Choose Your Own Adventure

This post comes to us from Rupal N. Mehta, Assistant Professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an alumna of Bridging the Gap’s New Era Workshop and International Policy Summer Institute (Twitter @Rupal_N_Mehta); and Rachel Elizabeth Whitlark, Assistant Professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology and a Bridging the Gap associate and alumna of the New Era Workshop (Twitter @RachelWhitlark).

In the coming days, President Trump is tasked with recertifying the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The Obama Administration brokered this landmark agreement between Iran and core members of the international community (the P-5 plus Germany) to limit Iran’s nuclear program. The 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act mandates the U.S. president with recertifying Iranian compliance with the JPCOA every 90 days.

This week marks the two-year anniversary of implementation day, and it is not at all clear what course of action Trump is going to take. In the past few weeks alone, we’ve heard rumors from in and around the administration about what action is forthcoming, including an eerie warning about “the calm before the storm.” Domestic and international sources have said that Iran is complying with the terms of the nuclear agreement and that the JCPOA should therefore be recertified. Conversely, foreign policy hawks and the President himself have argued for its unilateral rejection for reasons largely outside the scope of the JCPOA.

In what follows, we envision two possible worlds emerging from Trump’s decision point. In the first, Trump recertifies the JCPOA and the U.S. continues to uphold its end of the bargain. In the second, Trump decertifies and Congress re-imposes sanctions on Iran and effectively withdraws U.S. participation, thereby abrogating the deal. It’s worth thinking through the consequences of each of these worlds for international security, even as we will soon know which is most likely to transpire.

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Want to build support for ‘America First’? Try the UN.

Today’s Bridging the Gap contribution comes from Theo Milonopoulos, PhD Candidate at Columbia University and alumnus of our 2017 New Era Workshop

In an often combative speech before the United Nations General Assembly last month, President Trump at times praised, and other times disparaged, an institution he once dismissed via tweet as “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”

Although few doubt the need for reform of an increasingly sclerotic institution, President Trump’s evident disdain for the United Nations is misplaced, not least because of its ability to bolster perhaps his most coveted asset: his popularity.

An original survey experiment I conducted just after the 2016 election shows Trump might actually benefit from working through the very institution he so frequently ridicules, particularly in galvanizing support for his policies among members of his own Republican Party.

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Darkness Falls in Cambodia

This Bridging the Gap post is by BTG co-director Naazneen H. Barma, who also serves as Associate Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Hun Sen, the longtime leader of Cambodia, has used almost every tool in the authoritarian playbook to consolidate his grip on power over the past three decades. Things came to a head early this month when one of Cambodia’s two premier English-language newspapers, The Cambodia Daily, was forced closed after being blindsided by the government with a $6 billion tax bill that it couldn’t possibly pay. Rendering an extraordinary confluence of dictatorial strategies, the newspaper’s final issue on September 4, 2017, headlined with the news of the midnight arrest of the leader of the country’s only real opposition party.

The Cambodia Daily, although a relatively young newspaper—started in 1993 under the civil society opening facilitated by the United Nations—turns out to have been the training ground for a number of prominent commentators on the political scene in Southeast Asia and beyond. Moving tributes to the paper and its tenacious role in Cambodia’s nascent and now troubled democracy have poured in. Julia Wallace captured beautifully how the newspaper’s aspirations and fate have mirrored those of the country’s politics.

The Cambodia Daily’s final issue fronted, as pictured above, with Kem Sokha, head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, being led away from his home in handcuffs on charges of treason. This was only the latest move in the inexorable escalation of Hun Sen’s actions against his political foes. One major opponent after another has been swatted away with bribery, violent intimidation, and threats of exile. A once vibrant civil society scene, if still in its infancy, has been dulled to wary unease with similar tactics. Civilian protests about issues ranging from unfair working conditions in the country’s sweatshops to corrupt land grabs lining elite pockets and displacing the poor have been clamped down upon as Hun Sen inveighs against “color revolutions.” The Voice of America and Radio Free Asia have been silenced in the country; and the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute has been kicked out.

How did this happen in a nation that seemed one of the most promising harbingers of peace and liberal progress in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War? Sadly, the international community’s attempt at post-conflict peacebuilding in Cambodia is at least partly to blame. Continue reading

The Book Nook: The CIA and the Politics of US Intelligence Reform

Today we begin the Bridging the Gap “Book Nook,” a series of short videos describing new books by scholars in the BTG network. For the first entry, our very own Brent Durbin discusses his book, The CIA and the Politics of US Intelligence Reform (Cambridge, 2017).

(We hope to do a bunch of these, and we would welcome any thoughts on how to improve the format!)

Bridging the Gap at the Duck

This inaugural post from our partners at Bridging the Gap is written by Naazneen Barma and Brent Durbin, who will be coordinating contributions from BTG’s network of scholars.

Take a moment to think back to college – or whenever you decided to pursue the path that has brought you here, reading about world politics and sundry related topics on the Duck of Minerva. What set you on this path? What made you want to devote years of your life to studying politics, perhaps even through formal graduate training? If you’re like us, you looked out and saw a puzzling and imperfect world, and you wanted to develop the tools to understand it more clearly. Perhaps, in the heady confidence of your youth, you even wanted to make it a better place.

As graduate students in political science at UC Berkeley in the early 2000s, we found ourselves hungry for opportunities to tie our studies to policymaking and the “real world.” Both of us had come to Berkeley from Washington, DC, and we wanted to find ways to connect to our old networks, as well as to parlay our research into new policy opportunities. In the first few years of our PhD studies, it wasn’t obvious that this would be possible.

Then two things happened.First, we discovered a group of like-minded students at Berkeley who, under the guidance of Steve Weber, would begin the work that has evolved into the Bridging the Gap project. And second, we found that there were many in the discipline who felt the same way – even if they couldn’t always tell their colleagues or advisors about it. One important marker of this community was the emergence of the Duck of Minerva in 2005, which introduced a new channel for conversation among others like ourselves.

We’re thrilled to join the Duck this fall as editors of a new “Bridging the Gap” channel. (Special thanks to Josh Busby for proposing this idea, and to the other editors for welcoming us aboard.) As Josh mentioned in his introductory post, Bridging the Gap (BTG) is an effort to build stronger connections between scholars and the policy world, both by providing professional development and networking opportunities, and by generating policy-relevant research. Continue reading

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