Following the Trump administration is really tiring. And I’m not talking about the last two years — it’s a challenge to survive single weeks of their news cycle. Hell, a Friday afternoon is already taxing. That is why over here in Europe we’re very careful about checking headlines and Twitter Friday night. The outrage at the next fecal storm would keep you up better than a crying baby/ thoughts on the upcoming semester/deadline [insert your trigger]. The White House scandal diapering, however, is extremely predictable. No collusion, Hillary, fake news, Fox and friends, random capitalization and an abundance of grammatical mistakes, which are the typical ingredients making up the diarrhea stream, which flows unabated from the presidential Twitter account. Back in April, Morning Joe even came up with the presidential Twitter bingo but they didn’t do so well. So here is the ultimate Trump tweet bingo card that is based on his last 3000 tweets, which – from his regal, gold-plated porcelain throne – he unceremoniously defecated onto the global public space.
This is a guest post from Eric Van Rythoven. Eric Van Rythoven recently finished his PhD at Carleton University studying emotion, world politics, and security. His work is published in Security Dialogue and European Journal of International Relations.
There is a recurring frustration among observers of the Trump administration that commentary easily becomes distracted. Stories about the Trump family’s everyday nepotism and corruption may be important in the context of a so-called ‘normal’ presidency, but these are small marbles when compared to the administration’s catastrophic performance at Helsinki or the odious policy of child separation. For many IR scholars the message is clear: don’t focus on Ivanka’s clothing line, focus on what matters.
But what if stories like the decline of Ivanka’s clothing brand matter more than we think? In isolation, these kinds of stories appear as inconsequential distractions. Taken together, they form a broader genre of reporting focused on the rising personal costs of serving under Trump. This genre of reporting is important because it points to two crucial political processes occurring around the Trump administration right at this moment: backlash and stigmatization. I want to suggest that scholars should not only think about how these processes are significant features of contemporary politics, but how they can inform how we think about restraint in the age of Trump. Continue reading
This post comes from Steve Weber, Professor at the I-School and Department of Political Science and Director of the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity at the University of California, Berkeley, and a co-director of the Bridging the Gap project.
It has become common in 2018 to hear that the United States and China are locking themselves into an Artificial Intelligence ‘arms race’. While global politics will certainly change in the machine learning era, the supposed ‘arms race’ between the US and China may turn out to be less interesting and relevant in this world than the relationships between the two machine learning superpowers and everyone else.
Which race will prove more relevant depends upon the long-term economic and security consequences of general purpose technologies, as well as the distinctive characteristics of the technologies that fall under the AI umbrella. (I prefer the term ‘machine learning’ because it carries fewer science-fiction connotations.) General purpose technologies are technologies that sweep across the economy and impact what is possible in many sectors, shaking up how companies and governments do what they do in the broadest sense. Steam locomotion is the obvious 19th century example. Machine learning is a 21st century general purpose technology because it can (and will) be applied in just about every economic production process you can imagine, from retail management to autonomous driving to drug discovery and beyond.
An even more important characteristic of machine learning as a technology is that it has strong first mover advantages and positive feedback loops. In simple terms, the better you are at machine learning at any given moment, the faster you are likely to improve relative to those ‘behind’ you. A firm that has excellent machine learning products (say, a great map application) will find that its products have greater success in the market. The more people who use the product, the more data are created for the firm to work with, which should lead to faster improvement in the underlying algorithms. In turn, that means the next iteration of the product will be even better. This positive feedback cycle can run on a very fast cadence, since data products can be updated far more frequently than any physical product (some are updated daily or even more frequently than that). All of this implies that the leader should speed away from competitors at an ever-accelerating pace. Michael Horowitz recently examined in the Texas National Security Review the potential military implications of such first-mover advantages in AI.
This simple model has a few limitations and caveats. Continue reading
For the first year of the Trump Administration, the Washington D.C.- based denizens of the U.S. foreign policy establishment assured themselves that although Donald Trump had tipped over the geopolitical apple cart, everything broken could be put back into place without undue difficulty. They were wrong.
Taking their cue from the caustic reactions of American allies to Trump’s twin summit debacles, foreign policy elites on both sides of the aisle are now a chastened bunch–only too aware of the immense damage Trump is doing to the fabric holding together America’s alliances, the de jure and de facto clusters of its closest allies.
The allies have become increasingly disabused of this Administration’s year-long recitation of how much it values them, in both trade and security terms. For they now stand on the precipice of deeming the U.S. a pariah nation state, not to be trusted and sufficiently harmful to their interests that they appear on the verge of sidelining the U.S. in their renewed approach to preventing the world from succumbing to the throes of nationalism. It would appear the world is at an unprecedented inflection point, at least in the postwar era.
Donald Trump’s penchant for lauding dictators and potentates, while denigrating allies and friends–in remarkably personal and pugilistic terms–has caused our NATO, G-7, and WTO allies to begin laying the groundwork for isolating the U.S. when it comes to tending to their core national security interests. Already in the early days of the new Administration, public reports surfaced that the UK and Israel had discussed at the highest levels of their governments whether it might be necessary to begin withholding certain tranches of their most sensitive intelligence.
In recent weeks the President of the European Council Donald Tusk remarked “with friends like this, who needs enemies,” while the new German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas gave a speech in which he equated recent U.S. foreign policy forays with those of Russia’s actions that have directly harmed Europe. Already his predecessor Sigmar Gabriel had declared on his way out that “the U.S. is permanently changed.” And Emmanuel Macron declared this week that France does not share the same values with the U.S. Only our Asian allies have been more cautious in their recent appraisals of American missteps, for traditionally Japan and South Korea are less public about their discontent.
The cost of the unprecedented calumny on the part of the Trump Administration in their eyes is significant, and growing closer to severe with each passing week. For it is increasingly clear that America’s allies are becoming less secure and less well-off due to direct assaults on them from this President, both verbal and consequential. Ipso facto, the U.S. is becoming less secure and less well off as a result. Continue reading
This post comes from James Goldgeier, professor of international relations at American University, Visiting Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and a co-director of the Bridging the Gap project. You can follow him on Twitter @JimGoldgeier.
Earlier this month, we held our annual Bridging the Gap (BtG) International Policy Summer Institute (IPSI) for faculty and postdocs who want to be more publicly engaged and policy relevant. Scholars who want to pursue this type of work need to keep in mind a point Duke professor and BtG co-director Bruce Jentleson always makes: Faculty members, particularly those on the tenure-track, should view these efforts as “in addition to” not “instead of” their core academic research. Any professor who wants to bridge the gap successfully needs to develop the scholarly expertise that provides credibility among policy and public audiences.
One issue that we discuss at length in our programs is how to build networks among the Washington, D.C., policy community. Your job doesn’t have to be located in DC to do this, but you have to learn how to navigate the different think tank and policy communities if you want to extend your reach. (Parallel principles apply for scholars interested in building networks in their state and local communities.) Networking is a long-term endeavor that never ends if you want to remain actively engaged in the debates. Here are three of the key takeaways from nearly fifteen years of conversations with policy insiders and influencers during our BtG training programs. Continue reading
This post in the Bridging the Gap series come from Sara Plana and Rachel Tecott, doctoral candidates in the Department of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (Sara is also an alumna of BtG’s New Era Workshop.) They are the founders of the Future Strategy Forum and co-organized the Future of Force conference held in May 2018. Follow them on Twitter @saracplana and @racheltecott.
Last month, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Kissinger Center at John Hopkins SAIS hosted a conference on the “Future of Force,” inaugurating a new series called the Future Strategy Forum. Like many DC conferences, the line-up featured a mix of preeminent academics, practitioners, and pracademics on discussion panels – but in this case, all of them were women. These experts discussed the implications of rising great and regional powers, non-state actors, and emerging technologies, and the approaches and challenges to crafting an integrated approach to US foreign policy. The final, keynote panel brought together women scholars (including us!) who have worked in both policymaking and academia, to investigate the academic-policy divide.
We left the day with much to think about, but four main themes struck us especially. Continue reading
This is a guest post by Sarah Detzner, a Ph.D Candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Her research is focused on international security, particularly post-conflict stabilization/reconstruction and security sector reform. In addition, she serves as Director of the Fletcher Graduate Writing Program, as a Fellow at the Center for Strategic Studies and the Institute for Human Security, and as a consultant for the World Peace Foundation. Previously, she served in the Obama Administration as a speechwriter for former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, campaigned as an Obama 2008 staffer, and worked with the National Democratic Institute in Washington, Lebanon, and Jordan. She is a graduate of Macalester College and originally from the Chicago area.
In his indictment of the training that schools of international affairs offer their graduates, Stephen Walt has an advantage. He’s able to observe from a great height, over a long period, the migration patterns of herds of hopeful students trekking up and wintering a season or two in Boston before starting the return journey southward to the shores of the Potomac in search of warm weather and think tank gigs.
However, from that peak, it’s easy to miss the confusion, the mud, and the constant search for enough forage that day-by-day nudges along those who eventually make it to shore. From a different perspective, as third wildebeest from the back and slightly to the left, I say that the United States’ international affairs programs are churning out graduates with exactly the skills that the United States’ foreign policy establishment rewards, though certainly not those it actually needs. Continue reading
Earlier this week, a particularly volatile fissure within the Trump Administration opened up. Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, announced on Sunday that the Administration would be imposing fresh sanctions on Russia. However, the Administration quickly denied that this was true, stating—in fact—that her statement was based on “momentary confusion.” Haley struck back saying that she does not “get confused.” This is not the first issue of unclear signals (see my previous post about this here), but it holds significance for how we approach signaling in foreign policy.
This post marks the return of the Bridging the Gap channel at the Duck after a short hiatus. It comes from Gregory White, Professor of Government at Smith College, who will be attending our International Policy Summer Institute this June.
How can we understand the Trump administration’s ongoing reshuffles of top tier staff and cabinet officials? Recent changes at the State Department, the National Security Council, the White House Communications Office, Veterans Affairs, and the National Economic Council – and that’s just the last several weeks – are unprecedented in US politics. Some people have been brought down by scandal or near scandal, with others dismissed for no clear reason.
Scholars have sought to understand this turnover as the result of a preference of loyalty over experience, the insurgent nature of the campaign (with inexperienced or no staff), or the chaos of Trump’s policy whims. I propose a different lens for thinking creatively and comparatively about Trump’s behavior as a way of understanding its potential implications.
Throughout all of the cabinet and staff reshuffling I have often thought of Tunisia – in particular its post-independence presidents Habib Bourguiba and Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. One might think that comparing the United States to Tunisia is like comparing an apple to a steak – or even an apple to a stop sign. It is hard to think of two countries with more dissimilar political histories and systems. But constant cabinet and staff turnover and (re-)cycling characterized Bourguiba and his successor Ben Ali’s governments, and it had and continues to have profound implications for the North African country. Continue reading
I had the good fortune during my brief appearance at ISA to take part in a roundtable on “Jacksonianism” in U.S. foreign policy. Organized by Jon Caverley, the roundtable sought to assess whether the Trump presidency represents a new equilibrium in which a Jacksonian foreign policy orientation has if not pride of place a more vaunted position than it once had.
“Jacksonian” is the term Walter Russell Mead coined in his 2002 book Special Providence to reflect a foreign policy tradition that was inward looking, shunned international engagement, but prepared to aggressively defend US national security if the country was threatened. Jacksonians had largely been a rump faction in American political life, periodically emerging as a more potent force during occasional bouts of populist sentiment.
My remarks reflect my sense of the significance of the Trump phenomenon for foreign policy. I’m currently reading How Democracies Die, and I am not sure what worries me more, President Trump’s aggressive gamble to coerce Kim Jong Un to denuclearize or Trump’s steady effort to weaken the rule of law and democratic institutions here at home. Continue reading
A Presidential summit in May is not a high risk / high reward scenario. It is Russian roulette.
Last November the media poked fun when inclement weather kept Trump from getting his opportunity to stare down the enemy at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea. While Trump was reportedly frustrated with being denied this photo-op, it is regrettable for us all that he never made it. Despite the pageantry that comes with these visits, I know from experience that there is something visceral about standing at the world’s most heavily militarized border. There is a certain tension that cannot be faked. And for a moment, you cannot help but think of the consequences if this precarious peace was broken. While no one can claim to know what Trump is thinking at any given moment, I would like to believe that such an experience would inform his decision to either stare down or embrace North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un in a possible meeting between the two leaders.
This is a guest post from Clifford Bob, Professor and Chair of Political Science at Duquesne University.
A free press is a major check on shoddy government policies and bad ideas, but if journalists refuse to think critically about government pronouncements, that civic function fails. Worse yet, if the media magnifies and exaggerates official errors, a veneer of objectivity is cast onto poor quality or biased government information.
We have learned this lesson many times in U.S. history, notably in the lead-up to the Iraq War. Robert Wright’s excellent Intercept article of last week makes this point regarding current New York Times’ reporting about Iran. Similar “media-abetted perceptual distortion” has been occurring with respect to Russia and especially “Russiagate,” as Wright suggests. A case in point is an article in Friday’s Times which included this scary headline near the top of its website: “Russia Could Have Switched Off U.S. Power, Officials Say.” The article itself is titled, “Cyberattacks Put Russian Fingers on the Switch at Power Plants, U.S. Says,” and in the print edition, the title of the frontpage article was “U.S. Says Hacks Left Russia Able to Shut Utilities.” Continue reading
“There is not one civilized nation in the world that ought to rejoice in seeing India escape from the hands of Europe in order to fall back into a state of anarchy and barbarism worse than before the conquest.” ~Alexis de Tocqueville, in correspondence with William Nassau Senior in 1857, regarding the Sepoy Rebellion in India.
Psychologist Steven Pinker’s new book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, has caused quite a stir. The book itself provides the reader with an optimistic narrative about how the contemporary period is the best time to be a human; we have never lived in a safer, more joyful, period of human history. As in his monstrous prequel, The Better Angels of Our Nature, Pinker provides statistics and data as a way of demonstrating this fact, and draws a causal historical connection about the rise of Enlightenment-era ideas–especially ideas regarding science and the decline of religious beliefs–and our moment of “bliss.”
This is a guest post from Tana Johnson, an Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Duke University. She is the author of Organizational Progeny: Why Governments Are Losing Control over the Proliferating Structures of Global Governance (now available in paperback, Oxford University Press). Van Nguyen is an undergraduate at Duke University, majoring in Public Policy and Political Science. She is completing a senior honors thesis on inter-governmental institutions and immigrant integration.
Within its first year in power, the Trump administration has transformed the U.S.’s position toward several international agreements: it has exited negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), signaled its intent to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, and promised to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Full-fledged international organizations, like the United Nations or NATO, are numerous and costly – so, will they be next? If budgets are reflections of values, then the Trump administration’s new budget proposal provides clues. Here’s what you need to know. Continue reading
As Josh has already noted, grandee of IR Stephen Walt published a condemnation of US professional schools of IR, calling them broken and claiming that while there is superficial innovation the ‘rot runs deep’. After noting that we should expect US foreign policy (fopo) to be better than it is in the hands of foreign policy professionals—many of whom receive graduate education in institutions like Walt’s Kennedy School of Government at Harvard—Walt concludes that the schools of IR must share some of the blame . After this fairly breezy assessment, Walt goes on to outline five ways the ‘experience’ of graduate education in IR can be improved: Continue reading
IR program rankings are out in Foreign Policy. Discuss.
Steve Walt has a provocative column in the same issue that I’m sure he didn’t title that suggests “America’s IR Schools Are Broken.” The argument isn’t strictly the familiar one from him about methods but that scholars seeking influence in policy circles have rallied around conformist consensus positions:
But perhaps the biggest limitation in today’s schools of international affairs — at least here in the United States — is their tendency to reinforce the stale bipartisan consensus behind “liberal hegemony” and the necessity for “U.S. leadership…”
Instead of doing what academic institutions are ideally suited for — that is, taking an independent, critical look at contemporary issues and trying to figure out what is working, what is failing, and how we could do better — the desire to be closely tied to the policy world inevitably tempts most schools of international affairs to gravitate toward a familiar mainstream consensus.
I have a series of tweets that I’ve embedded below that are in the same vein of Frank Gavin and Jim Steinberg’s podcast with War on the Rocks in defense of the Blob (Gavin is also in this issue of Foreign Policy with a piece that bemoans past ways of teaching international relations but with more optimism about the future).
In my thread below, I make the argument that conformity in US foreign policy is hardly the fault of IR programs where there is considerable disquiet about US foreign policy adventurism of late but also a recognition that the liberal order is worth defending. Continue reading
Katie Couric, in a tweet last month about the Olympics , wrote: “I do think the Olympics is unique in that it transcends politics.” This view is pervasive in Couric’s formulation, but takes on a subtler tone in the argument that the Olympics is political only in circumstances of the “exceptional.” For example, writing for the Atlantic in 2012, Armin Rosen constructs a narrative of Olympic politics within the context of Cold War rivalries. For Rosen, the Olympics was not always apolitical: “the Olympics were once a particularly bright flashpoint in one of the Cold War era’s tensest geopolitical dramas.” This drama was the boycott of the games by twenty-eight African countries in protest of the New Zealand rugby team’s violation of the international athletic embargo on apartheid South Africa.
These takes on the Olympics are misguided on two fronts. First, it obscures the long political history of the Olympics. The idea of the “sacred truce”—a putting aside of politics during Olympic games for the purposes of friendly and fair athletic competition—is a myth. Second, this misunderstanding of the Olympic games is hazardous. It is more proof of what Carl Schmitt criticized as the death of the political: the increasing depoliticization of inherently political processes.
I suggest that a consideration of the Olympics as a political event, with political aims, cannot only help us understand the way that the Olympics functions as a site of international relations, but should also—from a normative angle—allow us to more broadly rethink exercise, fitness, and sport as a public activity. Following Arendt, this lack of understanding of things like sport-as-politics is indicative of a world where society has failed people; it “has lost its power to gather them together.”
Umberto Eco, writing about an “Ur-Fascism” in the New York Review of Books in 1995, quoted Eugène Ionesco, who said “only words count; the rest is mere chattering.” Donald Trump was certainly not at a loss for words in Tuesday night’s State of the Union speech. He gave us plenty of words. Beautiful words. The best words. Words that would have likely worried Eco.
This is not a post about Trump-as-fascist. We have read plenty of those takes, many of which tend to fear-monger as much as the administration does. However, Eco’s understanding of the idea of an “Ur-Fascism” gives us a means of understanding the way the Trump administration talks about security politics—it can contextualize the contours of the discourse. While Trump is not a Mussolini or a Hitler, there is a commonality in the functions of language in how Trump talks about security.
Because of space, I cannot offer a full discourse analysis of the speech, but I will highlight the connection between the rhetoric and Eco’s understanding of an “Eternal Fascism” using text from the speech, in order to point to commonalities—especially in the way Trump constructs security issues in the speech. I will focus on six of Eco’s 14 defining features for the sake of space.
Geopolitics has returned with a vengeance. The end of the Cold War wrought a moment in which there was no credible alternative to liberal democratic capitalism. Russia was seemingly fatally weakened, and China was not yet the economic powerhouse it would become.
By the late 2000’s, Russia, with power and resources concentrated in the hands of Vladimir Putin, was newly assertive in its near abroad and attempted to restore its authority over Georgia and Ukraine. It would seek influence over events further afield by supporting the Assad regime in Syria and through vigorous efforts to destabilize elections in the United States and elsewhere.
For its part, China finally asserted suspected regional ambitions and began robust efforts to build physical infrastructure on contested islands in the South China Sea. Together,these moves suggested a return of great power politics and that the play for global convergence to liberal democratic capitalism had not succeeded. With China, there was now a plausible competitor in authoritarian capitalism.
This is the scene captured in Tom Wright’s important 2017 book, All Measures Short of War. Wright, now of the Brookings Institution, attempts to explain why American policymakers embraced and failed with convergence and what to do about it.
In a reviews exchange in the journal International Politics Reviews, Kori Schake, Chris Preble, and Nuno Monteiro weigh in on Wright’s book. Wright responds in turn. It’s a terrific exchange. Here are the key take-aways, but give them a read yourself. (BTW, I’m an associate editor at IPR so if you have a book and would like to be part of an exchange, let me know). Continue reading