Category: Regional (page 2 of 3)

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

On Catalonia’s referendum: Groupthink and strategic essentialism as the enemies of democracy

Last Sunday, I was having a walk around the city centre of Cambridge when I saw a demonstration of around 50 people rallying for their right to vote in a referendum for independence from Spain. They were joining other demonstrations of Catalan separatists that took place all around Europe and in Spain on that same day. The Catalan government and a separatist majority in the regional parliament seek to organise a referendum on October 1st in order to decide whether Catalonia will become a republic independent from the rest of Spain. Non-separatists political parties oppose or criticize the referendum because they consider that it has been imposed unilaterally to half of the Catalan population that wishes to remain in Spain. Continue reading

Coffee and TV

I am (sort of) on vacation and visiting the Motherland. In the meantime, I allowed myself a couple of days of couch potato mode that included some Russian TV. A political scientist in me is never on holiday so while flipping through some mainstream channels I made a little Russian TV digest for the Duck. I am not repeating Gary Steyngart’s experiment of watching Russian TV for a week at the Four Seasons, mostly because early career researchers don’t have money for 5* hotels and my mum cooks better than Michelin restaurants. Let’s skip the morning shows that, fortunately, don’t include the benefits of urine therapy anymore and just try to persuade Russian women to wear high heels otherwise they won’t find a man and will never be happy.

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I can’t identify as a woman! Political discourse and Germany’s general elections campaign

The next US presidential elections are around the corner and the Democrat US President has already announced that he will not run for the Presidency again. He defines himself as pro-choice, and it is now up to the Vice President, a woman, to position herself – and fast – on the issue of women’s rights to abortion. She also needs to propose the maximum number of weeks up to which it is acceptable to have an abortion. Because she is the only woman candidate to the Presidency, her team believes her opinion will be taken seriously by the electorate. The team encourages Selina to start her sentences by “As a woman…” However, the Vice-President knows that focusing too much on gender issues could be a risky strategy:  “No, no, no, I can’t identify as a woman! People can’t know that. Men hate that. And women who hate women hate that, which, I believe, is most women.”

This sequence of the series Veep brilliantly illustrates the challenges of being a woman in politics. You have to do both, to defend your political ideas and to eliminate possible disadvantages you might have derived from the plain fact of being a woman. Selina is not the only example we have about the difficulties of being a woman in politics. In House of Cards, Claire has been labelled as warrior, feminist and anti-heroine for using a national TV interview in which she was questioned about her childless marriage to fight for the causes more dear to her: sexual assault and abortion. But these women have to be careful not only about the words they use. They also need to pay attention to the non-verbal elements of their performance, such as the way they dress or the make-up they wear. Take for example Birgitte Nyborg, from Borgen, who fears that her neckline can make her look frivolous and curvy. All these three scenes explore different angles of the same reality: women in politics are trapped in a sort of bipolarity that makes them resilient and versatile, although it sometimes forces them to operate out of a system of discursive and cognitive frames attached to political parties and ideas.

According to Klenke, the typical masculine leadership style is instrumental and autocratic, as well as task oriented, while the feminine is more interpersonal-oriented, charismatic and democratic. This resonates with Campbell’s research on political communication that identifies a feminine style of discourse characterized by a more personal tone of communication, reliance on personal experiences and anecdotes; inductive structure; prone to invite audiences to participate and to address the audience as peers. In contrast, the masculine style is deductive and uses examples that are not directly related to its listeners. As Dolan demonstrates, stereotypical masculine traits are however still regarded by the public as more important in politics that female traits. Female political leaders then tend to adapt in order to gain voters. For example, a study found that Clinton’s political power grew when she spoke in an increasingly masculine way. Nevertheless, the same study also found that the Democratic partisan stereotypes encouraged different and sometimes conflicting self-representation strategies and therefore, it is fair to wonder whether the discursive strategies for attaining and maintaining power are different for right-wing and left-wing female candidates. As one could conclude from this study and this one, the candidates from conservative parties have it easier to adopt a masculine style. Nevertheless, the majority of these studies have the USA as an example.

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Fall of Giants

Footage of toppled Confederate statues all over cities in the US reminded me of the events my homeland went through a couple of decades ago and might go through again in some years. Some experts already compared the toppling of Confederate statues with “Leninopad” – razing of Lenin statues in Ukraine, but renaming streets and bringing down monuments was a la mode in newly independent Russia as well. Most Westerners might be familiar with the iconic footage of Felix Dzerzhinsky’s downfall in 1991 among the jubilant crowds gathered in front of the KGB building. The infamous founder of NKVD lost his base and never came back to the square in front of the now FSB. For the record though, my music school still has the Dzerzhinsky street address and his monument nearby sports fresh flowers every now and then. But I am from the Deep South that consistently voted for the Communist Party after the collapse of the Soviet Union until Putin managed to sway the electorate his way. That Dzerzhinsky is not going anywhere.

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On Race, Nationalism and “White Pride” in America

This is a guest post (begun as a set of hasty scribbles on Facebook in the wake of Charlottesville) by Sean Parson, Assistant Professor in the  Departments of Politics and International Affairs and the MA program in Sustainable Communities at Northern Arizona University. He is the author of Cooking up a Revolution: Food Not Bombs, Anarchist Homeless Activism and the Politics of Space (forthcoming).

So the modern racial system is a result of early colonial American history. In the mid to late 1600s (see Abolition of White Democracy or The Invention of the White Race) early southern colonies, in the middle of riots and work slow downs and a growing coalition between indentured servants and slaves “freed” white people from bondage and defined that black=slave, white= free labor. This approach spread throughout all the slave colonies because, well it worked, at quelling revolt and led to an interesting fact: poor, newly defined, whites began policing the race line.

That equation of black=slave and white = free was the guiding logic of the US democracy (nation wide due to laws about slave catching even in the north, see 12 Years a Slave) and the American political conceptions of citizenship were defined in this equation.* Every new group that entered the US were put into this spectrum: were they white or non-white? And every new “ethnicity” was original positioned as “not white,” because whiteness meant benefits and you do not just give away benefits to new immigrants if you are in power.

So the Irish came and were originally “non-white” after a few decades of intentionally devised actions to make them more white via being the most racist immigrants around, they were given access to the space of whiteness (see How the Irish Became White). This became the model of expanding whiteness from then on and the German, the Italian, the Greek, the Northern Europeans, and lastly the Jews (in the 1960s) were granted legal and social status of whiteness (see both Working Towards Whiteness and Black Face, White Noise. With that they gain, what is called “the wages of whiteness” which are small (but meaningful) social, economic, and political benefits that subsidize the working class or middle class wages (see Wages of Whiteness).

From 1776 to 1964, these wages were directly paid for via the state. So the New Deal, for instance, exempted from Social Security jobs that were primarily non-white and funded jobs that were white. This meant that only white folks, for the most part, got the first generation (and second) of social security benefits. Similarly the US government would redline neighborhoods and that allowed them to not provide the support for home ownership to non-white people (until 1964) and even the first round of the GI bill there were ways to remove the benefits for black soldiers (See When Affirmative Action Was White). In effect this led to a cascading wave of problems. I can look at many but here is just one -“the racial wealth gap” – which is slowly decreasing but at this rate they expect it would take over 300 years for that to balance out.

So now back to contemporary race. What is race? Race is a political filtering of people within certain categories for social, political, and economic reasons. What does that mean for the “white race”? Continue reading

The Transgender Ban and Politics of Exclusion

The following is a guest post from Jennifer Spindel and Robert Ralston, Ph.D. Candidates in Political Science at the University of Minnesota.

On 26 July 2017, Donald Trump announced, via Twitter, that the US Government would “not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the US military.”[1] Notably, the tweets were sent exactly 69 years after President Harry Truman issued the order to integrate the US military. Even if Trump’s tweets do not lead to formal policies, they exemplify the narrative that “others” would disrupt cohesion, thus would negatively affect the military’s ability to win “decisive and overwhelming victory.”

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The Trump Administration at 6 months

The following is a guest post from Jeff Colgan, the Richard Holbrooke Associate Professor at Brown University. Colgan is  a Bridging the Gap Policy Engagement Fellow. Follow him on Twitter at  @JeffDColgan  This publication was made possible (in part) by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

July 20 marks six months into the Donald J. Trump administration. Now seems like a good time to step back from the daily headlines and take stock of the situation. To what extent is the United States experiencing democratic erosion?

Let me give credit where credit is due. I am a political scientist but democratic erosion is not my area of expertise. Since Trump was elected, I have been drawing on others’ expertise and published research. Steve Walt, Timothy Snyder, Sam Wang, and others have put together useful thoughts on creeping authoritarianism. I’ve learned a lot from Brendan Nyhan, Erica Chenoweth, Norm Ornstein, Shana Gadarian, the Bright Line Watch group, the Authoritarian Warning Survey, and others.

What follows is not fully systematic, which makes me uncomfortable as a social scientist. The United States is a fast-moving political environment and it is hard to know what impact various events and developments will have in the long run. So I will limit myself to putting events from the last six months into three basic categories: the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Continue reading

#MH17

Three years ago, on this day, the Malaysian Airliner MH17 flight from Amsterdam to Kuala-Lumpur was shot down over Ukraine. 298 people died. In October 2015, the Dutch Safety Board (DSB) concluded that the airliner was downed by a Buk surface-to-air missile launched from pro-Russian separatist-controlled territory in Ukraine. These findings were also confirmed in September 2016 by a Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT). The Russian government disputes these findings.

Let’s go back 3 years to the Russian mass media  and examine what passed as “truth” about the crash.

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Motherland Calls

Y’all are probably sick and tired of hearing about Russia: hacking, colluding, obstructing, peeing, meddling, trolling, spying… I’m waiting in terror to see what Stephen Colbert has filmed in the Motherland. So far, his mispronouncing of Sergey Kislyak’s name together with fur hat clad ‘Russian hackers’ with vodka and thick accents have not been particularly impressive. To quote Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler, ‘Really?’ Throw in a mail-order bride and we have a full house of Russian stereotypes. Has American TV not been able to come up with anything new since Boris and Natasha?

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Trolling Me Softly

While the Russia probe is expanding to include naïve 36-year old Harvard graduates, pundits all over the world have been worried about elections in other countries. The massive WikiLeaks dump (pun intended) on Emmanuel Macron’s campaign in France did not work, so the next troublesome case seems to be Germany (the UK is fine, they are already leaving the EU).

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It’s Not Easy Being Green

A dilute alcoholic solution of Brilliant Green (Viridis nitentis spirituosa) is a topical antiseptic, effective against gram-positive bacteria, also known under a Russian colloquial name zelyonka. If you grew up in the Soviet Union and ever had chicken pox, zelyonka turned you into a green-spotted leopard for at least a week: it’s hard to get it out of your skin. Brilliant green has, however, some serious safety issues: when ingested it can induce vomiting and contact with eyes can lead  to grave injuries, even blindness. This is what a prominent Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny learned the hard way this week: after unknown men splashed zelyonka into his face he had to be hospitalized.

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Building a Wall Against Populism’s Spread in Europe

With populism on the march across the West in the past 18 months, conventional wisdom suggests this lurch toward nativism will continue. With the Dutch Trump increasing his seats in parliament, Turkey’s President stuffing the ballot box to win a referendum taking him closer to full on authoritarianism, the National Front’s candidate looking set to get into the second round of Sunday’s French election by exploiting a terrorist attack, and Germany’s long-time leader seeming tired and mounting a lackluster campaign, by most accounts the liberal international order is in for some additional sharp thrusts to the midriff. And what is bad in western Europe, according to a vast army of pundits is appearing even more fragile and vulnerable in east central Europe.

But au contraire, while the LIEO is not exactly alive and well, it remains in place and its upholders stand more than a fighting chance to preserve it in the face of Trump, Brexit, and Russia’s taking the U.S. down a peg. Indeed, not only is western Europe holding the line, but east central Europe is lending a hand in erecting a wall against populism’s surge. Were we to have the opportunity to choose any three countries in the world to hold elections in the midst of all this seeming upheaval we would select the Netherlands, France, and Germany. In essence, we are damn lucky it is this threesome instead of Italy, Slovakia, and Hungary or really just about any other country spanning the globe.

Against all predictions, the Dutch put the first pieces of this wall in sturdy place. Geert Wilders was stymied big time. We knew in advance that the Dutch political system of multi parties and rampant coalition governance would keep him from becoming Prime Minister, but he was widely predicted to get the most votes and augment his party’s representation in parliament considerably. Wrong. The Dutch – like their French and German counterparts – are among the most informed, literate, and savvy in the world. They have watched the supposedly nonbinding Brexit referendum vote and Trump’s rise in horror, and we should actually have expected them to do precisely what they did.

The French are on the cusp of doing the same, again smack in the face of widespread conventional wisdom. Observers seem to forget that the French have a notorious tendency to flirt with “extremists” in the first round of their presidential elections, only to clamor to the center and vote in moderates in the second. Now granted, we are not living in normal times. But the French are not about to traipse down the merry road of nativism; no indeed, they will be the last to allow any Trump effect to take hold in their motherland. In fact, it will be interesting to see how many talking heads begin to grasp that a vibrant “reverse Trump effect” has already taken hold in the West. More than merely doing the right thing, the wondrous French will revel in effectively giving Trump and the little Englanders the finger. Continue reading

What the EPA budget cuts mean for North American environmental politics

The negative impact of President Trump’s recent actions to de-fund many Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) programs goes beyond withdrawing support from climate adaptation and mitigation initiatives, and rollbacks on environmental regulations. These budget cuts will potentially hinder the cumulative (and positive) work that the Commission for Environmental Cooperation of North America (CEC) has already done for the past 23 years to improve the North American environment.

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If You Post It, They Will Come

I know most of you are busy watching the all-too-real reality horror show of the 45th administration, but there has been some interesting news coming  out of Russia (sorry, no meteorites or Putin’s nipples). On Sunday, somehow almost 90  thousand people went out on the streets in 87 cities all over Russia to protest against corruption. The unsanctioned demonstrations were met with brutal police crackdown with around 1000 protesters arrested in Moscow alone. To make matters worse, none of the TV channels reported the disturbances (apart from Russia Today, to be fair). Channel One spent about an hour on “news of the week”, castigating Ukraine, ISIS, discussing the London terrorist attack, Alaska sale to America and Rockefeller’s life among other things. Nothing to see here, move on.

What happened?

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WPTPN: Defining the Trumpist Insurgency

This World Politics in a Time of Populist Nationalism (WPTPN) guest post is written by Simon Frankel Pratt, a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto. His research is on institutional politics, international norms, and the US’s security apparatus. For further information, see his website or find him on Twitter (@simon_the_pratt)

Unlike other contributions to this essay series, mine will be somewhat more informal in tone. I am going to share some concepts (and neologisms) that I find helpful for making sense of ‘Trumpism’—by which I mean Trump, his rogues’ gallery (or carnival), and the broader coalition of right-wing movements that support him. Specifically, I am going to try to sell you on the following points:

  • That Trumpism is best understood as an insurgency—as a sort of ‘cold civil war’;
  • That Trumpism is largely motivated by ‘way of life’ anxiety;
  • That Trump’s policies are often not attempts at institutional retooling but are ‘potency performances’—self-affirming displays of provocation, revenge, and dominance;
  • That the response of scholars should be to seek ‘polity relevance’.[1]

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Sending Iran Back Out into the Cold

Since the U.S. election Iranian-American relations have gone into a rapid tailspin, with Iran reacting to the triumphalist tenor of the Trump campaign and the improvised response of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn that sought to “put Iran on notice.” The arrival of his replacement in General H.R. McMaster offers the U.S. a fresh opportunity to tone down its approach to Iran, beginning with guarding against any dramatic escalation of the stakes.

For unless the Administration is actually willing to go to war with Iran, this confrontation actually won’t get the U.S. anywhere useful. What it will do, which is already under way, is strengthen the hardliners in Tehran and undermine moderates like President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif at a precipitous moment less than three months ahead of the Iranian election.

The Trump team does not have a strategic plan in place, regarding Iran or any other region/country of the world for that matter. But this matters most regarding countries currently in crisis accretion mode vis-à-vis the U.S., specifically Iran, Russia, North Korea, and China (in descending order). The danger of rapid escalation with Iran that could easily slip into spiraling conflict is acute. Therefore the first order of business for NSA McMaster is to get the U.S. on a more strategic track that militates against a burgeoning conflict with Iran. Continue reading

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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Questions for Senate Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings on Judge Gorsuch

(Cross-posted on Just Security)

Here’s a list of questions I hope will be asked of Judge Neil Gorsuch, the President’s nominee to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat, at his Senate confirmation hearing. Most of these questions are related to security, individual rights, executive authority and requirements that the President serve without conflicts of interest. That these are necessary questions raises a larger question about whether, to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, we will keep the Constitutional republic our Founders entrusted to us, as the President’s first weeks in power raise serious doubts about whether he intends to honor the law in all of these areas. The hearings come at a provident time and provide a much-needed opportunity to have a vigorous debate on Presidential power, made more meaningful by the fact that a Justice Gorsuch will likely join a Court that will make historic decisions on Executive authority.

1. Is it inappropriate for the President to demean and attempt to subvert the authority of judges who rule against him? (Credit for this question goes to Steve Vladeck who suggested this in the wake of the President’s reaction to Judge Robart’s stay of the Executive Order on travel). Are you troubled that the President has pre-emptively blamed federal judges for terrorist attacks because they have ruled against him?

2. There are reports that federal officials are refusing to comply with federal court orders staying the President’s executive order on immigration and travel. Is it permissible for the President or any Executive Branch employee to refuse to comply with an order from a federal court? If not, what should the Supreme Court do if called on to decide whether the President or the Executive Branch must comply with the Court order, assuming that the Supreme Court has upheld or declined to rule on the substance of the lower court ruling? If so, what is the legal basis for allowing the President or other executive branch officer to defy the courts? Would not this place the President above the law and destroy Article III Constitutional limits on Executive power?

3. Millions of Americans exercised their First Amendment freedom of speech and assembly by participating in protests on the day after President Trump was inaugurated. Tens of thousands have protested since. Under what circumstances, if any, may the President limit the exercise of these First Amendment rights? Under what circumstances, if any, may state or local governments limit the exercise of these First Amendment rights? Do you agree that neither the President nor state or local governments may impose such restrictions on First Amendment rights that would effectively eliminate those rights or restrict them so severely as to significantly diminish the sought impact of the speech—for example, by relegating the location of permissible protests to undesirable places with low public visibility or capacity for few participants, or by restricting the time within which those rights can be exercised? Continue reading

Too much empathy in Israel-Palestine?

So far, 2017 has been a tough year in Israel for its Palestinian citizen minority. From a xenophobic  billboard campaign across the country to a village demolition turned violent in the Negev, the past several weeks have highlighted issues around power and inequality in a country whose democratic aspirations are weighed down by its ethno-national identity.

As deep power differentials across society have come to the fore, what does the literature say about whether empathy might help to increase support for social justice? Yale psychologist Paul Bloom’s new book on empathy (called, fittingly, Against Empathy) suggests that putting oneself in another’s shoes may actually be less helpful for political change than empathy-boosters may think. More on that, below. First, some background on the events.

In January, a group calling itself Commanders for Israel’s Security launched a national billboard campaign featuring an image of Palestinian flag waving crowds flanked by the Arabic phrase “soon we will be a majority!” A small bubble appeared at the bottom: “For Hebrew, dial *2703.”

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