Category: Featured (page 2 of 134)

Black History Month

Do you think this person is white?

If you are from Europe or North America, you might have said yes. If you are from Russia, you might have described this person as black. Most IR peeps are familiar with the fluid perceptions of whiteness and blackness that exist in the word: Sandor Gilman wrote, for instance, how Irish immigrants in the US in the beginning of the century were often considered black. The irony of blackness could not be more poignant in Russia: the famous Russian Armenian actor Frunzik Mkrtchan whose picture I put above is literally Caucasian, because he comes from the South Caucasus region in the European South of Russia. The ones who would describe him as black would also very likely to adhere to “Russia for [ethnic] Russians” slogan and in worst case scenarios would have tried to kill him because he “doesn’t look Slavic enough”.

Derogatory terms like ‘kavkazcy’ (Caucasians), and ‘chyornye’ (blacks) have become ubiquitous in everyday speech in Russia, while Russian mass media employs euphemisms such as ‘litsa neslavyanskoy vneshnoti’ (non-Slavic looking people) when it comes to the identification of crime suspects. A xenophobic discursive representation applies to non-Slavic looking individuals irrespective of their citizenship, even though former USSR citizens can seek Russian nationality under a simplified naturalisation procedure, according to the Federal Law on Citizenship. Apart from “Caucasians” who are often discursively connected to terrorism and ethnic criminality, there isn’t much love for former Soviet citizens from Central Asia. If you are not Ivan Drago or Natasha, you might have a lot of trouble even renting an apartment.

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Fighting, Dancing and Thumb-Biting: Developing a typology of citations

This is a guest post by Paul Beaumont, PhD Candidate at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU). Previously, he worked as an academic writing advisor at NMBU and as a Junior Research Fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI).

Some time ago, back when Duckpods still happened, Nicholas Onuf talked to Dan Nexon about the impact of World of Our Making (WOOM). Onuf’s masterpiece is rightly credited with founding Constructivism in International Relations. Yet as the two reflected upon the course 1990s constructivism embarked upon, Onuf acknowledged that his linguistic constructivism had not quite fostered the sort of research he had envisioned. While glad of the recognition he received for WOOM, Nick jokingly laments that his book had become “widely cited but never read”. Victim of “drive by citations”, Nexon remarked, “we could do a whole podcast on those alone.”

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Congress is Trying to Remove Bannon from the National Security Council. Here’s Why It Matters.

While national security lawyers argue over whether Steve Bannon’s appointment to the National Security Council is legal or not, members of Congress are pushing back to close whatever statutory loophole even might render legal what is clearly a violation of long-standing national security norms.

In one of last week’s most under-reported stories in the major press, bills were introduced into both the House of Representatives and the US Senate this past week, each designed to clarify the composition of the NSC and Principals Committee, ensure Senate oversight over appointments, and, in the case of HR 804, “To Protect the National Security Council from Political Interference.” As of today, the House bill has 85 co-sponsors.

So far co-sponsors are all Democrats, but Congressional opposition to Bannon’s appointment is bi-partisan, with concern about the dangers of politicizing the NSC expressed on both sides of the aisle.  As of today, a MoveOn petition is collecting signatures for the Senate Bill, and the Senate Committee on Homeland Security is taking calls from Americans about Steve Bannon’s role on the NSC. People are taking notice.

Neither of these bills is simply about removing Bannon, however. Each aims to close what some observers perceive as a loophole not just for Trump but for future Presidents. Both would codify the role of the Director of National Intelligence and Joint Chiefs of Staff on the NSC. In this Administration that move, coupled with Bannon’s departure, could moderate the behavior of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, whose hard-line views against Islam and unwillingness to rule out torture or the killing of terrorists’ families have been criticized by human rights groups.

Passing such a bill will be a tall order even with bipartisan support in a Republican-held Congress. Even it if passes Trump would likely veto. Still,  long-shot efforts to pass legislation can become important sites for political agenda-setting. As scholars of legislative agenda-setting have found, even a “dead on arrival” bill that garners sufficient media coverage can educate the public about issues and institutions, and galvanize interest group support for wider issues and future elections.

In short, even fighting for a lost cause can have an important norm-setting effect. It elevates the importance of an issue in the public discourse. In this case, that issue is the principle that national security decisions be subject to expert input and insulated from domestic political maneuvering. And turning up the volume on those messages is useful not only for potentially changing policy but for communicating to third parties, including outside US borders, that Trump is not acting on the will of the people.

What’s worse, looking jealous or crazy?

When President Trump and Press Secretary Spicer started to insist that the protest against Muslim ban [that is not a ban] was paid for, it rang a bell. This kind of rhetoric is a textbook reaction from an autocratic ruler who cannot believe that people would care enough about human rights to go out on the streets on their own. Unfortunately for all the autocrats in the world, people would. The success of the protest is hard to predict, especially in a democratic country, but if people are protesting against you, the first thing to do is to try and delegitimize it. Here is how.

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A Drinking Person’s Guide to the Resistance

A guest post by Layna Mosley,* Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

(*with contributions from Jeff Colgan, Beth Copelovitch, Mark Copelovitch, Artie G, Anna Grzymala-Busse, Roger Halchin, Andrew Herring , Steph Jeffries, Julia Lynch, Jon Pevehouse, Milada Vachudova, Erik Voeten and Christopher Zorn)

 

President Trump’s proposed economic policies may be bad news for some businesses, like US firms with international supply chains, but if my behavior is any indication of broader trends, Trump has generated a boom for the beverage industry. While I’ve so far stuck to whatever happens to be on hand at home – IPA, stout, rosé, lighter fluid – it promises to be a long four years (hopefully, the 21st Amendment will endure, even if the rest of the Constitution does not).  It’s time to diversify one’s drink choices.

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Talk Intel To Me

I remember laughing about an article in The Medium about a TV Sitcom that triggered the downfall of Western Civilization. In case you were wondering, it’s Friends with its “tragic hero” Ross Geller. The author lamented the awful mistreatment of the most cerebral character on the show that signified the harsh embrace of anti-intellectualism in America in the early 2000s. For instance, most of Ross’s academic stories were cut off by his bored friends and audience laughter. Why? Maybe some people would like to know more about sediment flow rate?!

In the age of an amazing accessibility of knowledge, America was conned by a man who disregards the value of science and whose surrogates do not see the difference between facts and feelings. Richard Hofstadter warned about the tendency for anti-intellectualism in the US back in the 60-s, but things seem to have gotten much worse. These days, there is a whole field and a term for deliberate politics of ignorance –  agnotology. It was already obvious on presidential campaign trail: Hillary Clinton was made fun of because she was preparing for debates instead of “winging” them. Academics and professional journalists were scolded (says who?) and college students were derided as snowflakes out of touch with real America. Gagging of scientists and professionals has followed: yes, lock them up in their ivory towers. Agnotology has even born its long-awaited fruit — the by now infamous “alternative facts” euphemism (or is it “euphenism”?).  As one of American bookstores has put it:

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Mind the Power Gap

I have new online piece, co-authored with Dani Nedal, at Foreign Affairs:

President Donald Trump believes that America makes terrible deals—from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Why, according to Trump, do other countries take such advantage of the United States? Because our leaders and officials are stupid and incompetent and are terrible negotiators.  “Free trade can be wonderful if you have smart people. But we have people that are stupid,” said Trump when he announced his decision to run for president. On immigration, he was similarly blunt: “the Mexican government is much smarter, much sharper, much more cunning.” And during the negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal, he claimed that “we are making a terrible deal” because “we have the wrong people negotiating for us.” He added that “the Persians are great negotiators” and that “they are laughing at the stupidity of the deal we’re making on nuclear.”

If the Trump Doctrine is to put “America First” by focusing on bilateral bargains—understood in terms of short-term winners and losers—then its corollary is the “Good Negotiator Policy.” In the president’s world, bad people make bad deals.  The best, smartest people—most notably, Trump himself—always get the best bargains. He is right that personal attributes and interpersonal dynamics can make an important difference in international negotiations. But Trump’s focus on individual skill overlooks the most important factor that shapes political agreements in general and international ones in particular: the relative leverage of the parties involved.

The problem is that when the Washington locked in most of its bargains and arrangements, America was much more powerful, in relative terms, than it is now.

It takes a rather naïve negotiator to attempt to overhaul relatively favorable deals from a position of comparative weakness. The United States will not get better bargains than it achieved when it controlled more than twice as much of global power as it currently holds. If Trump abandons long-standing practices of American-led liberal order for bilateral, transactional, and zero-sum relations, other states have little reason to prefer dealing with Washington to China, Russia, or any other country.

When it comes to stiffing contractors, he’s shown a very good understanding of how power asymmetries shape bargaining outcomes. But, overall, Trump’s rhetoric is in keeping with a man who was born on third base and thinks staying there is a testament to his mad business skillz.

Anyway, go read the whole thing, if you’re so inclined. You may need to register to get access.

(cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money)

Tempo, Protest, and Emergency Ethnography in the Trump Moment

This is a guest post by Dr. Sherrill Stroschein, Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in Politics, Department of Political Science, University College London

We have all been driven to understand what is going on over the past few days. Some of these discussions would be improved with lesser-used tools to think more systematically about events. There are three approaches that can help to do this that have had less exposure than they should.

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Party Trumped Policy in 2016

This is a guest post by Christopher Gelpi and Elias Assaf.  Christopher Gelpi is Chair of Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies and Professor of Political Science and Elias Assaf is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at The Ohio State University, both at The Ohio State University

President Donald Trump adopted a variety of controversial and unorthodox foreign policy stances during the 2016 presidential campaign.  Since taking office, Mr. Trump has moved quickly to begin implementing many of these policies – including a border wall with Mexico, a ban on immigration from certain majority-Muslim countries, and withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  While Mr. Trump was very clear about his intentions during the campaign, public reaction to his implementation of these policies has nonetheless been quite negative.  Protests among left-leaning progressives in response to the anti-Muslim travel restriction are not surprising, but even prominent Republican leaders have been critical of Trump’s foreign policy actions since taking office. Moreover, according to Gallup’s tracking poll, President Trump’s disapproval rating rose sharply during his first week in office.  Within eight days of taking office, a majority of the public already disapproved of the job he was doing as President.

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Trump to Omran: Die, Kid

Just facts, no opinions. Brutal facts.

Today, the President of the United States issued an order that stops our country from admitting this boy as a refugee. This is Omran Daqneesh, a five year old Syrian boy who was almost killed last summer when Syrian warplanes bombed his house in Aleppo. This picture was taken by medics who pulled Omran from the rubble after the attack. Omran’s brother was killed in the bombing. You probably saw this on the news last summer, when the attack on Omran and his family received a lot of coverage.

The reason the President issued an order that bars our country from providing sanctuary to Omran is that, according the order, Omran might be a terrorist. Among the risks the President is concerned about, according to the order–Omran, and others the order bans from America, might commit crimes against women. This President is concerned about that.

The President’s order does not allow our government to make an assessment of whether Omran is a terrorist or not, because all Syrians are banned from entering our country without any assessment of any kind. The President’s order does not allow our government to make an assessment of whether Omran is an innocent civilian whose life may be saved if he is granted sanctuary in the United States. In fact, there is nothing in the order that allows the American government to decide that Omran, Syrians, or those from other countries who are also banned, are perfectly innocent human beings who might well die if we do not grant them sanctuary.

It would not matter under the order if Omran or the others banned are as innocent as you and me. It would not matter if Omran is terrified that he might be killed. Under the order, Omran is not welcome in America. Period. And the naked reason for this is because Omran, and the other people banned from America, are Muslims against whom this administration intends to foster hate.

Of course I chose this picture because it is hard to look away. Of course I chose this picture because if you have a heart, you cannot bear the idea that our country has no place for this boy, who suffered so much at the hands of grown men with no souls.  And the truth is that there are tens of thousands of victims of violence who are just as innocent as Omran, and whose lives are just as sacred, who are in just as much danger, and who this order will ban from America and leave to suffer and die.

More facts. Each one of us who is an American can decide if this is OK. We can decide whether our country is a country that will tell Omran that he is not welcome in America. We can decide whether our country is a country that will tell thousands of innocent people seeking sanctuary from the exact same terrorists we are fighting—or from regimes led by monstrous men– that they are not welcome in America. We can tell others in government that this order is wrong because it bans our country from granting humanitarian sanctuary to innocent people whose lives are at risk.

And now an opinion. It is unforgivable for a nation with our power and our abundance to be so afraid that we would tell this wounded little boy, and other human beings who are just as vulnerable, that they cannot come to America.

 

Preliminary Notes on Progressive Foreign Policy in the Age of Trump

dr-seuss-foreign-children

I apologize for inflicting this on you all, but I’ve found that blogging helps me think through ideas and questions—especially given the Duck’s readership. So, without further introduction, here are some half-baked notes on Progressive foreign policy.

Preliminaries

The 2016 primary contest highlighted the general atrophy of progressive foreign-policy thought and infrastructure.

  • Virtually the entire left and liberal foreign-policy apparatus lined up behind Clinton, whether because of affinity, hope for employment and fear of retaliation, or out of the calculation that she was the only viable game in town.
  • Sanders never articulated a coherent foreign-policy paradigm, although you can find it in skeletal terms: multilateralism in most issue areas, a much higher threshold for military force, the rejection of ‘regime change’ as a legitimate basis for war, a rejection of the ‘neoliberal’ trading order, the pursuit of human rights and human security, lower defense spending, and a moderate position with respect to rival—and potentially rival—great powers.
  • After Sanders, the Greens attempted to claim the mantle of progressive foreign policy. Too often, this took the form of caricature: the old saw that American foreign policy is essentially imperialist and a tool of large corporations, and therefore anyone who opposes US foreign policy should either be embraced—or, at least, flirted with.

The Trump Administration, on the other hand, is a crucible for progressive foreign policy. It forces us to ask basic questions about what we stand for—independent of specific policies.

  • Some of the policies Trump espoused on security—criticism of the Iraq War and the Libyan intervention—and international political economy—opposition to the TPP and to ‘neoliberal’ trade deals—resonated with the progressive left. Both in terms of their own policy priorities—less war, more protectionism—and in terms of their overall distrust of neoliberal variants of internationalism.
  • What is neoliberal internationalism? It combines, in brief, a disposition to use force for liberal ends with the ‘Third Way’ consensus. The progressive left often sees it as indistinguishable for neoconservative foreign policy—a view reinforced in 2016 by Clinton’s votes for the Iraq War, history of support for trade agreements, and Bill Clinton’s role in passing NAFTA.
  • But this is not quite right. As I’ve argued elsewhere—in the context of liberal internationalism—both approaches embrace activist foreign policy and the promotion of liberal order, neoliberal internationalists see multilateralism and multilateral institutions as intrinsic goods. Neoconservatives do not. The neoliberal institutionalists are correct. One reason: a great many of the challenges we face—such as climate change, global disease, and transnational terrorism— require collective action. That depends on multilateral cooperation.
  • Trumpism highlights not only how neoconservatives and neoliberal internationalists are in the same family, but that progressive foreign policy also belongs to that family. This is not to downplay the significance of our differences. For instance, the Iraq War, targeted killings, and the like are matters of life and death. But we are arguing on similar terms. Trumpism, however, represents a stream of thought about the American role in the world that was, until now, marginal—and marginalized—in the post-war era.
  • Progressive foreign policy is a variant of liberal internationalism. In 2003, the Progressive Policy Institute released a report calling for “Progressive Internationalism.” I can’t find the full report, but it looks pretty much like centrist democratic foreign policy. But I think “Progressive Internationalism” is the right term for the variant of liberal internationalism that progressives ought to champion.

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Donald Trump is Nothing but a Bad Nixon Remake

Image result for trump nixon

The following is a guest post by Dani Nedal, PhD Candidate at Georgetown University and Predoctoral Fellow at Yale University. 

The surprising political ascent of Donald Trump has prompted two contradictory reactions. One is the impulse to declare Trump, and everything about him, “unprecedented” (nay, unpresidented!). The other is to search through history for the appropriate analogies that help explain his rise to power and prepare us for his presidency. Comparisons have been drawn with Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and distant figures like Caligula. Others reject the fascism angle and compare Trump with American populists Andrew Jackson and George McGovern. History can be useful, but can also be misused and misleading. Finding appropriate analogies and understanding their limitations is important. Trump may retweet Mussolini quotes, adopt Nazi slogans, and heap praise on foreign autocrats, but at the end of the day his closest parallel is Richard Nixon. The similarities are many and deep, from personality traits like illeism (referring to themselves in the third person) and vindictiveness, to racist and xenophobic views, campaign strategies, foreign policy doctrine, willingness to engage in borderline treason to win elections, and more. It’s not a coincidence that Trump has a framed letter from Nixon in the Oval Office.

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It Works on 24 but Not in Real Life: Peer-Reviewed Evidence That Torture Will Increase Terrorism

Dear My Not-So-Fictional Family Members of Facebook,

Greetings. We really haven’t hung out since that family reunion in 1996 but it’s been great to reconnect on Facebook.  I love the pictures of your dog and it’s cool to see how much you now look like our grandfather.  We have different political beliefs; I think we both know that now.  I’ve turned into one of those Birkenstock-wearing liberals who likes science and “wastes my time” marching for rights that you think women already have. Your political beliefs are the polar opposite of that and today you’ve expressed how happy you are that President Trump is going to “give those terrorists what they deserve.”

I take it that you’ve heard that President Trump is poised to reinstate waterboarding, saying that “experts” have told him that torture “absolutely” works.  I don’t know who President Trump talked to but I’ve studied this topic quite a bit from my ivory tower; I even worked on this topic for a DoD-funded project. Let me tell you: all the experts I know say torture does not work.  Lots of evidence – collected from lots of countries and lots of terrorist groups over a long period of time – says the exact opposite: using torture will actually make our country more vulnerable to terrorists and terrorist attacks.  In this era of “alternative” facts, I understand that you might dismiss my facts. However, I hope you’ll at least look at them:

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Trump’s Treatment of the Press: A Harbinger of Bad Things to Come

Over the weekend, the Trump Administration had some interesting discussions with and about the press.  First, talking at CIA headquarters on Saturday, President Trump remarked that he is in a “war” with reporters, who are the “most dishonest human beings on Earth.”  Later that same day, his Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, accused the media of “shameful and wrong” reporting on the unbigly audience sizes at the inauguration.  And, in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Trump Senior Advisor Kellyanne Conway not only spoke of “alternative facts” about the inauguration’s audience size but also included a pretty blatant threat to journalist Check Todd:

 

“KELLYANNE CONWAY: Chuck, I mean, if we’re going to keep referring to our press secretary in those types of terms I think that we’re going to have to rethink our relationship here.”

 

As an American, I want to give our President the benefit of the doubt.  However, this treatment of the press is deplorable and worrisome.  And, sadly, it doesn’t appear to be new to Trump and the Trump campaign.

Image result for rope tree journalist shirt

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The Emperor Has No Crowds

Trump is not a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or even a wolf in wolf’s clothing. Trump is a wolf in no clothing. His campaign, transition, and inaugural weekend lay naked the two driving forces of his presidency.

The first is an authoritarian disregard for the truth—what we used to call “lying” in the good old days when facts were facts. And though bold-faced lying makes for hilarious Saturday Night Live skits (which these days write themselves), it’s dangerous when it comes with attacks on the press and political opponents.   What the Trump administration is doing is the first step towards authoritarianism–an assault on the truth and those who tell it to establish the authoritarian as the only source of fact. Trump and his propaganda minions have lied about facts that are on film.  He and his team have denied Trump said things he said on film.

Trump’s thin-skinned whining about inauguration attendance is more than a case of crowd-size envy, though surely it was that. It shows that on matters related to his popularity, and implicitly his legitimacy, he and his administration will lie in the face of provable fact—pictures showing that hundreds of thousands more people went to the Obama inaugural. It also shows that the Trump administration will try to dictate on what is true and what is not regardless of the actual truth. This is the stuff of tin-horn dictatorships, lying reminiscent of the crap-tastic mendacity of  “Baghdad Bob” who insisted Saddam Hussein was winning the Iraq war as he ran away from advancing U.S. forces. Continue reading

The Russian Threat and the Poverty of “Post-Truth”

The following is a guest post by Sidra Hamidi, a PhD Candidate in Political Science at Northwestern University, specializing in global nuclear politics and state identity. She has published previously in the Washington Post  and E-International Relations

In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election to the highest office in the United States, many observers have heralded the beginning of an era of “post-truth” in which “facts” are under attack from “opinions” at best and “lies” at worst. Oxford Dictionary named “post-truth” its word of the year, and Ruth Marcus even referred to “post-truth” as a “practice,” citing Hannah Arendt’s 1967 essay, “Truth and Politics” to demonstrate the immediacy of the threat to facts.

The recent controversy over intelligence that Russia hacked the US election brings this notion of “post-truth” into further relief: the CIA, FBI, and NSA agree on the fact that Russia attempted to influence the US election while Trump continues to attack their authority and intelligence. Liberal commentators in particular imply that some facts are self-evident and that Trump and his supporters are simply wrong about how facts should inform the “truth,” often citing the Politifact statistic that more than 70 percent of Trump’s statements were “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire.” Trump’s approach towards the Russia controversy is yet another instance that confirms liberal predictions of a post-truth era.

The battle lines seem to be drawn into “truth” and “post-truth” camps. But the very term “post-truth” should lead us to question what the pre-“post-truth” era looked like: was it one in which objective facts ruled the day and politics consisted of a reasoned consensus towards the truth? It is unrealistic to refer to a post-truth era precisely because it assumes that we can point to another era where objective facts won out in our politics. This assumption itself undermines the many truths of the disempowered and underprivileged factions of American society for whom truth has always been manipulable by economic and political elites. Continue reading

Amazing Grace-An Unprecedented President

One of the most poignant moments of Barack Obama’s presidency was his eulogy for those murdered in the massacre at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. In the pulpit of that historic black church that served as a civil rights era sanctuary, and where a white racist extremist murdered nine African American parishioners who had just welcomed him, President Obama, America’s first black president, began to slowly sing Amazing Grace–a song often sung as an anthem of spiritual perseverance in the black church.  A church filled with mostly black mourners followed. No one else in American political life could have filled that moment with a more moving expression of what was being felt.  As I reflect on the Obama presidency, I am struck by how often, as I watched him, I had that thought—this man is special, and there is no one in our history who could have done what I was watching him do.

President Obama is gifted at discourse at many levels—speeches, press conferences, media cameos. He excels at what some call the poetry of politics. Despite this, in assessing the substance of his presidency, I’m struck that his significant achievements are very much grounded in the prose of policy. He warded off what was a near depression and steered the economy into a historically significant and long lasting recovery. His health care program extended health insurance to 30 million Americans without disrupting a health care system based largely on private insurance, and which constituted roughly 15 % of the economy. His security policies prevented 9/11 style terror attacks from foreign members of terrorist groups. Killing Bin Laden not only eliminated America’s most lethal enemy, but showed other foes that no one is beyond the reach of the U.S. military.  The existential threats of nuclear weapons and climate change were blunted by painstaking diplomacy that led to the Iran nuclear arms deal and the Paris climate agreement. Continue reading

Bang for the Buck? Larry Summers and Global Health Funding

Larry Summers, I’m going to have to disagree with you.

It may seem a bit of a mismatch. Summers is a provocative and influential guy: Chief Economist at the World Bank, Treasury Secretary under Bill Clinton, Director of the National Economic Council under Obama, former president of Harvard University. He helped craft US policy in response to the Global Financial Crisis and international responses to financial problems in Mexico, Asia, and Russia in the 1990s. I, on the other hand, am a random academic whose best-selling book has finally cracked the top 500,000 on Amazon and whose office is adorned with a plush Ebola virus. Since we’re both interested in the politics of global health, though, I think we’ve got something to discuss. I bet we both liked Rogue One, too, so now we’ve got two things to discuss (but we’ll leave the latter for another time). Continue reading

Trump’s Russian Cyber-Hack Controversy: New era of post-Civil-Military Relations?

The following is a guest post by Jahara W. Matisek.  Jahara “FRANKY” Matisek is a Major in the U.S. Air Force, with plenty of combat experience flying the C-17 and an instructor pilot tour in the T-6. He is an AFIT Ph.D. Student in Political Science at Northwestern University, a recent Summer Seminar participant in the Clements Center for National Security, and Coordinator for the War & Society Working Group at the Buffett Institute. Upon completion of his doctoral studies, Major Matisek will be Assistant Professor in the Military & Strategic Studies department at the U.S. Air Force Academy. The opinions espoused in the essay do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Air Force, Department of Defense, or U.S. government.

How bad would the Russian cyber-hack have to be in your mind to make you reconsider Trump being allowed to become President on the 20th of January?

I posed this provocative question to 28 individuals[1] that are currently serving in the U.S. military,[2] or had served at some point.[3]

Depending on where you fall along the political spectrum and level of engagement, this question came off as a genuine question to some, and to others, it was perceived as a loaded/slanted question. Thing is, I intentionally asked this, not because I wanted a direct answer to the question, but because I wanted to understand the current sociological state of civil-military relations (CMR) relative to this incredibly divisive political election season.  Understanding these answers can provide greater clarity to Peter Feaver’s civil-military problematique, where “the very institution created to protect the polity is given sufficient power to become a threat to the polity.”  Indeed, it is right to openly wonder military attitudes concerning civilian control of the military under the pretext of political leadership that might be perceived as illegitimate.

Nonetheless, I was greatly surprised with the incredibly high percentage of responses from such an opening question directed at military personnel – given the contentious election and continued controversy. Even as a mid-level military officer, I was able to start with this type of question, and many opened up immediately – regardless of rank and position – telling me much more than I anticipated, to include about half of the respondents – on their own accord – admitting who they voted for. Continue reading

The Many Faces of Trump Foreign Policy

From NBC. Admit it, you'd rather look at Nick Offerman than Donald Trump. Which is good. Because usage rights.

From NBC. Admit it, you’d rather look at Nick Offerman than Donald Trump. Which is good. Because usage rights.

It won’t be too long before we start to get a better understanding of what foreign policy in a Trump Administration will actually look like. It’s useful to keep in mind that current rhetoric is no guarantee of future grand strategy. Remember when we all worried that the Bush Administration was going to be too isolationist? Good times.

But let’s assume, for a moment, that the past is prologue. Or the prologue is the main part of the book. Or whatever.

This raises an interesting puzzle: what the $@!#* • #!*$$%*(!! is he doing? Seriously. What the !#(&–^&!# stupid #$#(*$!! is going on?

As I noted in another post, on what godforsaken inhospitable bright orange gas giant is it a good idea to attack your most successful alliance at the same exact time that you’re picking fights with your nearest peer-competitor—that is, China? And it isn’t like the incoming administration has been sending unambiguous signals to key Asian allies while it’s been prodding China. Oh yeah, and also North Korea’s in the mix.

As I was thinking about this—duly motivated by a discussion among fellow international-relations specialists on Facebook—I took to the Twitters to work out some alternative theories. Here they are:

The Chess Master.” Trump is a strategic genius. He recognizes that the US cannot afford to defend Europe while threatening war with China. He needs to take Russia out of the picture. So that means a “grand bargain” that will concede to Russia its privileged sphere of influence, as well as forward some of its other strategic priorities in western Eurasia. Not only does this free up the United States to take on Beijing, but it might even entice Russia to remain neutral—or support the US. It’s like the Austrian Diplomatic Revolution. Which turned out terrific for Vienna.

“The Transactionalist.” This is the conventional wisdom on Trump. He thinks in terms of short-term zero-sum bargains, mercantilist economics, and is deeply insecure about being taken advantage of. In his mind, NATO helps trade competitors. It’s basically a trade subsidy for Germany. But he can make big, splashy deals with countries like Russia. Maybe he can squeeze better deals from the NATO allies as well. There is a “T” in NATO, after all. It doesn’t have to stand for “Treaty.”

“Mirror Universe Teddy Roosevelt.” Trump speaks loudly and carries… a small stick… in his freakishly small hands. He’s all bluster. US foreign policy will largely carry on as normal, under the watchful eye of Defense, State, and second-tier national-security staff. In fact, Trump’s barking might just get a few NATO countries to make token increases in their defense spending, or offer more subsidies for American troops.

“The Buffoon.” This is kind of like Mirror Universe Teddy Roosevelt, but he actually means it; cooler heads aren’t going to prevail. It really is that bad. In other words, Trump is an impulsive narcissist and a walking example of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Don’t worry too much about strategic logic. There really isn’t any. But some nice commentators—at Fox News, NewsMax, whatever new #MAGA journals appear, or the National Enquirer—will be happy to tell us that it’s genius. In a hundred years, Chinese revisionist historians will argue that there actually was a calculated grand strategy. They will be wrong.

“The Leninist.” The Trump ‘brain trust’—some combination of Bannon and Flynn—just want to burn it all down. This is something Cheryl Rofer (blog, Twitter) emphasizes. As reported at The Daily Beast:

“Lenin,” he answered, “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” Bannon was employing Lenin’s strategy for Tea Party populist goals. He included in that group the Republican and Democratic Parties, as well as the traditional conservative press.

In this scenario, it’s all about shredding globalism and liberal order. And that means watching NATO and the EU burn. Or, at least, gumming them up. Here, the eerie overlap with Russian interests is all a matter of convenience. They hate the liberal order, because it benefits the US and its allies. The Trumpistas hate the liberal order too, because reasons.

“The Transnational Rightist.” The Leninist is to revolutionary Marxism as The Transnational Rightist is to parliamentary socialism. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with NATO and the EU that a Europe dominated by a mix of right-wing populist and post-fascist parties won’t cure. The enemy is the broad European center—the Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats, and so on. What Trump wants is the rise of political co-confessionals, such as the AfD in Germany, the Front National in France, and the Freedom Party in Austria. Hurting the establishment is good, but burning everything down would be a bit too much. Maybe just the EU. NATO can stay. Is Russia an ally of convenience or a fellow traveller? For now, it doesn’t really matter.

“The Useful Idiot.” Is Trump compromised by Kompromat? Is his overleveraged financial spider web dependent upon, intertwined with, or simply looking for the best deals in Russia? Does Trump just having a thing for strong, buff autocrats? Who knows? It’s all bad.

“Tales of the Incompetent Transition.” Transitions often make for policy instability and amateur-hour mistakes. I arrived at the Pentagon in 2009. The Obama Administration had just rolled out its new plans for European ballistic missile defenses. They were much better than the old plans. They also involved ending the “Third Site” in Poland. That the Bush Administration had so carefully negotiated. Apparently, no one gave  Warsaw a ‘heads up’. Things were bumpy for a bit.

Point is, even well-run transitions full of experienced people can go bad. And this is not one of those transitions. Eventually, there will be national-security principals, assistant secretaries, deputy assistant secretaries, and the rest of the crew. People will be briefed. Many will have a clue. Things will settle down.

…. Of course, it could be any combination of these. And perhaps I’ve missed some possibilities. Thoughts?

[cross-posted at the Lawyers, Guns and Money]

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