Seth Weinberger

Seth Weinberger is Associate Professor of Politics and Government at the University of Puget Sound. He received his B.A. (1993) in political philosophy from the University of Chicago, an M.A. (1995) in Security Studies from Georgetown University, and an M.A. (2000) and Ph.D. (2005) in political science from Duke University. He teaches courses on international relations, U.S. foreign policy, international security, terrorism, constitutional law, and political philosophy. His book, Restoring the Balance: War Powers in an Age of Terror was published by Praeger Press in 2009. His recently published articles include “Enemies Among Us: The Targeted Killing of American Members of al Qaeda and the Need for Congressional Leadership” in the Georgetown Global Security Studies Review (Spring 2013) and “Institutional Signals: The Political Dimension of International Competition Law Harmonization” (with Geoffrey A. Manne) in The Anti-Trust Bulletin (57, no. 3). His current research focuses on congressional-executive war powers in the on-going armed conflict against al Qaeda. In 2011, Professor Weinberger received the Thomas A. Davis Teaching Excellence Award.

http://www.pugetsound.edu/faculty-pages/sweinberger

An Anti-Trump Call to Arms

Building on Josh’s excellent post calling out Donald Trump as a vile racist, the popularity of Trump has been troubling me for some time. As a professor who takes seriously the job of educating students how to think as opposed to what to think, I strive in class not to be partisan or allow my students to know my personal political opinions, lest it affect what they believe or argue in an attempt to curry favor. I have been struggling for sometime to find ways to analyze the Trumpian rhetoric (and to  a lesser degree that of Ben Carson) to help students arrive at their own conclusions about the content of his speech.

But no more.

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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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Terror in Paris

Obama

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.

Capitol

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…

(CROSSTALK)

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.

(LAUGHTER)

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.

(APPLAUSE)

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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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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Foreign Policy in the First Democratic Presidential Nominee Debate

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So, after breaking out and analyzing the foreign policy aspects of the two Republican presidential nominee debates, it’s finally time for the Democrats to take center stage. I’ll be working off the transcript posted at the Washington Post.

The foreign policy starts early, with candidates touting their cred: Chafee notes that he voted against the Iraq war and served on the Foreign Relations Committee; Webb offers up his service in Vietnam and as Assistant Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the the Navy, as well as his early support of the “pivot” to Asia.

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Putin Falls Into Obama’s Syria Trap. (Or Is It The Other Way Around?)

Russia has begun conducting air strikes in Syria, much to consternation of many. But there seems to be some in the Obama Administration who can barely contain their glee at the thought of Putin and Russia getting bogged down in the Syria quagmire:

“If he wants to jump into that mess, good luck,” one official said, noting that Russia had become bogged down in Afghanistan a generation ago in a fight against Islamic radicals.

Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken told reporters that the Russians may be “making a terrible strategic mistake” by deepening their military involvement in Syria. He also warned of the “risk of running into a quagmire.”

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Foreign Policy in the Second GOP Presidential Candidate Debate

Last night was the second debate between the GOP presidential candidates. So, as I did with the first one, let’s take a look back at the foreign policy aspects, shall we? I’ll be working off of the debate transcript published by the Washington Post. And, like last time, I won’t be considering immigration as a foreign policy issue because a) the candidates are dealing with it as a domestic policy issue and b) I don’t know much about the politics of immigration. I also won’t engage the question of whether Donald Trump can be trusted with access to the US nuclear arsenal.

(I apologize for the lateness of the post…teaching tends to get in the way of blogging)

The first serious foreign policy question was to Trump concerning Russia:

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The Future of Deterrence?

A long, long time ago, before I became a professor and even before I went to graduate school for my doctorate, I worked for a few years in the defense community. I was a Defense Analyst for the Strategic Assessment Center of Science Applications International Corporation (unfortunately, the SAC no longer exists), which was a small organization that dealt with issues of future war. We did much of our work for the Office of Net Assessment of the Defense Department under recently-retired Andrew Marshall. Our job, simply said, was to help DoD think about what war would look like 25 years or so down the line: What technologies might be around? How might those technologies change the way the US fights? How might potential adversaries respond? One of the weapon systems with which the office was particularly interested in was hypersonic projectiles. But, as this was in the mid- to late-1990s, most of what we were doing was mere speculation.

The future has arrived. Or is at least getting closer.

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Foreign Policy and the First GOP Debate

Republican presidential candidates arrive on stage for the Republican presidential debate on August 6, 2015 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. From left are:  New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie;  Florida Sen. Marco Rubio;  retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; real estate magnate Donald Trump; former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; Texas Sen. Ted Cruz; Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul; and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.  AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN        (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

So, with the conclusion of last  night’s first GOP debate, it’s worth a look back at the foreign policy claims made by the candidates for the Republican nomination for president. The focus was, as much of the election race will be, focused on domestic policy, but there’s still some stuff worth analyzing. I’ll be working off of the debate transcript posted by Time.

The first foreign policy question was directed at Senator Rand Paul:

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Institutional Aspects of the Iran Deal

I woke up this morning to read (a few hours behind most of you…one of the few downsides to living in the Pacific Northwest is living behind the news cycle!) about the finalizing of a nuclear deal between the E3/EU+3 and Iran. I’ll leave it to others to analyze whether the deal is a good one and whether it will indeed limit the ability of Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. Charles Krauthammer hates it. Joe Cirincione loves it. Jeffery Goldberg isn’t quite sure what he thinks of it.  My own thinking tends towards agreeing that the agreement isn’t spectacular, but that it might be the least worst option of military strikes (unlikely to have a meaningful, lasting impact and almost certain to increase Iran’s resolve to develop an extant weapon) and indefinite sanctions (a degrading commodity that have limited impact).

Still, rather than focus on the efficacy of the agreement and its details, I’d like to talk about a different aspect: what we can learn about Iran’s intentions to comply with the agreement or build a nuclear weapon. My first published work, “Institutional Signaling and the Origins of the Cold War,” addressed the ability of states to use international agreements and organizations to force other states to reveal privately held information about their preferences and intentions (as my institution has a subscription to Taylor and Francis, I’m not sure if the article is behind a paywall. If it is, you can also find it here or e-mail me and I’ll send it to you). To make a long article short, I argue that:

the process of negotiating and creating international institutions plays a critical role in enabling states to send and evoke credible statements of preference. Institutions, by virtue of their ability to impose costs on states as a result of compliance with the rules and obligations,provide a means of generating signals that will be accepted as credible by the policymakers of a given state. Those signals will be interpreted as revealing vital information about the true nature and interests of other states.

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Why It Matters Whether the Charleston Attack Was Terrorism

As a professor of international relations, I often have to radically adjust my syllabi from semester to semester. International politics changes so frequently that last year’s hot button issue is often no longer relevant the next time I teach a class. I offer my course on Terrorism every other year and it’s on the agenda for this coming fall. The last time I taught this class was Spring 2014. ISIS had just emerged on to the scene (the closest thing to a formal announcement of ISIS’s existence was April 2013, and only announced the establishment of the caliphate in July 2014, after the class had concluded) and the split between al Qaeda and ISIS occurred during the semester. So, one of the things I’m doing this summer is preparing my syllabus and refocusing it to deal more with ISIS. However, last week’s tragic and disgusting massacre in Charleston has given me something else to incorporate into the class. I already spend a day on domestic terrorism, but given all the reporting on whether Dylann Roof’s heinous act should be considered terrorism, I’m probably going to work that question directly into the class.

There’s been enough written about whether the attack should be classified as terrorism. I tend to think it should–it’s clear that Roof was not simply trying to kill a select group of people but rather send a message (he left one person alive to ensure his “message” would get out) in an attempt to create political change. To me and many others, that’s terrorism. But I’m more interested in why it matters what we call it. Nine people’s lives have been horrifically cut short, so why should  we dicker over terminology?

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The Threat of the BDS Movement

Hello there! I’m very excited to be blogging here at Duck of Minerva for the next several months, and I’d like to thank all the full-time Ducks for the opportunity! For my first post, I thought I’d address something I’ve been thinking about ever since a student asked about it in my US Foreign Policy class this past semester. She asked about the BDS movement and whether I thought it had any chance of influencing Israel’s behavior towards the Occupied Territories and the Palestinians. Not having thought much about the issue before, I gave a typically hemming-and-hawing answer, but the more I think about it the more I think that the Boycott, Sanctions, and Divest Movement is, perhaps, the most significant threat faced by Israel today. (As an aside, this is not at all an area of expertise of mine, so what follows is more musing than academic treatise. I’ll post more serious  stuff in my area of academic expertise soon.)

Seriously, you ask? Yes, seriously. Seriously, you ask again? More significant than the rockets of Hamas and Hezbollah? More significant than Iranian nuclear proliferation? More significant than the civil war in Syria and the potential collapse of the Assad regime? Yes. Let me explain.

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