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Drones, Mansour and Policy Problems

This is a guest post by Tobias T. Gibson,  Associate Professor of Political Science and Security Studies at Westminster College, in Fulton, MO.

Late last month, a U.S. military “drone” killed Mullah Mansour, the leader of the Taliban. Because the drone was operated by the Department of Defense, the Obama administration was quick to claim the death of such an internationally contentious figure. Publicly, the administration commented that Mansour offered a “continuing, imminent threat” to United States soldiers in the region, and specifically targeted U.S. and allied soldiers. Killing Mansour, then, was about as non-controversial targeted killing as one can expect.

And yet, there is controversy. To see why, it might help to note that to date, the Obama Administration has yet to fully disclose the legal reasoning behind the decision to place an individual on the so-called “kill list,” nor fully explained the process by which a specific individual is targeted in a drone strike. Moreover, the legal justifications the US has given for the broader drone program have been rejected by many international experts. That said, it is not clear whether this strike met even the Obama Administration’s own stated standards.  Continue reading

Brexit Epiphany

As I was chatting with my dissertation adviser yesterday while in DC (yes, my dissertation was completed in 1993 but the relationship goes on), I had an epiphany that had been on the edges of my thinking but finally popped: the Brexit folks are secessionists.

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Friday Nerd Blogging: Attack of the Ads

For this week’s FNB, something that is well timed:

Jolie-Pitt, Trump and Bono Walk Into a LSE Classroom: why dedication and commitment isn’t expertise


Oh man, I really didn’t want to write about Angelina Jolie Pitt  (AJP) and her damn LSE appointment. When I heard the news it just made me feel tired. But there has been an interesting/frustrating  debate emerging and I just can’t keep my yap shut- even on maternity leave. In his post on the topic, Dan Drezner asks us to all calm the F down; he assures us that policy schools have always been opportunistic and brought in pretty unqualified but interesting folks to teach (well, he sort of says that). The Aidnography post, Why you should be critical of Professor Angelina Jolie Pitt’s LSE gig does a great job of putting the appointment into the broader context of hollywood obsession with poverty/global race relations/the corporate university. Just today, Laura Shepherd brings much more nuance to the debate in her Disorder of Things post. She acknowledges a loooong list of reasons we might hate the idea of Jolie Pitt as Professor, but argues that ultimately its not fair to focus on her beauty/celebrity and bypass her experience and cred.

I haven’t actually read many critiques that focus on AJP’s beauty or celebrity- or at least not exclusively. For me, the frustrating thing has been the undue focus on whether AJP is sincere/dedicated enough. Those that support AJP argue that her long-standing dedication and commitment is currency for expertise, while those who oppose AJP try to undercut her ‘true’ dedication, arguing that her likely narcissistic motivations make her unqualified to teach gender and war. The arguments boil down to: ‘she’s sooo amazing and how could anyone do such difficult and important work and not have some expertise to offer’ VERSUS ‘these roles satisfy her own ego/image and she probably doesn’t even recycle.’  To be honest, I could give a flying F about AJP’s dedication. Donald Trump believes he is dedicated to securing America; clearly, dedication does not equal expertise. So let’s move on to experience.

Shepherd reminds readers that AJP has been special envoy and ambassador and been on 50+ field trips. I’m sure there is a whole host of other honors, roles, trips, and experiences AJP has had; however, offering these details as evidence that she deserves more credit and that she is, indeed, some form of expert is an epic stretch.  Here are 3 reasons why we cannot read AJP’s cv as relevant Professorial experience and 1 argument about why, ultimately, the ‘real’ argument is about whether enlightenment, neocolonial, patronising awareness raising looks better when done by AJP, Bono, or Trump.  Continue reading

The Most Important Corpses: Eastern Front Edition

I was on twitter NATO symbol movingtalking with some folks about what Canada might promise at the Warsaw Summit, with the focus on who is going to provide the troops for the four battalions that will be based in the Baltics and Poland.  The conversation went into a bunch of directions, so I had an epiphany while shopping–it is not about proximity or folks who have ties to the Baltics–it is about whose corpses would have the greatest international political relevance.

 

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Foreign Policy Salience and the 2016 Election: Evidence from the ANES Survey

With each passing week, Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, makes statements that challenge the basic operating assumptions of U.S. foreign policy, whether it be through his nonchalance about a trade war with China, repudiation of alliance commitments to NATO and Japan, or honoring the countries’ debts. The question that emerges from this: does the American electorate care?

While presidential candidates have to pass some semblance of a commander in chief test of credibility with the electorate, the conventional wisdom is that foreign policy rarely matters much in U.S. presidential elections, outside of moments of crisis. See my blog post here, as well as posts by Dan Drezner and Elizabeth Saunders.

A recent example comes from the recent kerfuffle over Ben Rhodes’ New York Times interview. Drezner argues efforts on both sides of the Iran Deal debate last year failed to move the public,  mostly because the issue did not resonate with the American people.

This, however, is an unusual year, where we have a Republican candidate in Donald Trump with no government experience who will likely face a Democratic nominee in Hillary Clinton, a former first lady, Senator, and Secretary of State.  One or more San Bernadino, Brussels, or Paris-type attacks might make foreign policy more important. Do we have any evidence though to assess this claim or concern?

Recently, Bethany Albertson, Shana Gadarian, and I explored some of these issues on The Monkey Cage using pilot data from the 2016 American National Election Studies (ANES) survey nationally representative sample of 1200 Americans. The pilot was internet-based and fielded in January of this year with data collected by YouGov.

Our piece, written in the wake of the Brussels attacks, examined whether and how anxiety about terrorism might affect political attitudes and vote choices this fall. We found that those who were more anxious about terrorism evaluated Trump more favorably, though other polls suggest that people might rally around the candidate with more experience.

That said, we didn’t analyze the question of the relative salience of foreign policy compared to domestic issues. ANES data also allows us to explore issue salience and whether people care about foreign policy in the first place. Here is what I found.

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Selling Out to the Enemy of Open Access

Yesterday, news quickly spread that the Social Science Research Network was bought by Elsevier.  This quickly caused an uproar on twitter.  Why?  The SSRN was established to provide a place for social scientists to share their work in progress.  Elsevier is one of the most rapacious rent-seeking profitable publishers of academic journals.

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Whose Academy Is It Anyway?

Recently there has been a lot of talk about one of those issues academics (at least in the U.S.) obsess about: how to get tenure and the job security as well as license to (supposedly) speak truth to power that comes with it.

This round of conversations started when Stephen Walt gave some, rather generic, advice in his Foreign Policy piece “How to Get Tenure“. As a long-time professor at Harvard, Walt certainly has experience – but with a very particular kind of (highly privileged) institution and hence, while not wrong per se, his advice certainly is limited in a number of ways. One such limitation, that Walt’s  imaginary assistant professor on the tenure-track is supposedly gender-less (aka male), was subsequently picked up by Erica Chenoweth, Page Fortina, Sara Mitchell, Burcu Savun, Jessica Weeks and Kathleen Cunningham. Their piece “How to Get Tenure (If You’re a Woman)” has been widely discussed among women in Political Science/ IR (and beyond) in the past weeks. In the piece, Chenoweth et al. offer “seven peer reviewed strategies female faculty can use” – and there is some good  advice for those who want “to climb the academic ladder” (as is) here. What is more, they also note that other intersecting oppressions mean that “these issues also (and often more so) affect faculty of color and other underrepresented groups and are doubly difficult for women of color” (unfortunately they fall short of specifically addressing these issues).

There were many discussions on the facebook feed of the Women’s Caucus in International Studies (WCIS) and that of the Feminist Theory and Gender Studies (FTGS) section of ISA. Laura Sjoberg provides a useful summary of the gist of these conversations – that “Women Shouldn’t Need Different Guidelines for Achieving Tenure” – and you should really read them, as they also include a number of “Other Observations on Gendered Academe” and concrete suggestions as to what each of us might do, individually, to help out.  She ends her piece with the lament voiced by many – that the system, with its deep gender, race, class, heterosexist, and ableist bias (to name just a few axes of oppression), is essentially broken. Much of the advice given is only a way to get by; it rarely allows us to thrive if we cannot figure out a way to become “the ideal worker… someone who is always able to work” (Williams, 2001).

One question remains, however: Is the system really broken?

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Friday Nerd Blogging: Superhero Oversight

Every time I think I am out, they pull me back in.  No, not leading the mafia.  Principal-agent theory.  Yep, and I blame Stan Lee.  How so?  I saw the new Captain America: Civil Wars movie… explanation below the break:

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Friday Nerd Blogging: Return of An Old Theme

It has been awhile, but with the end of the term, we are due for some Friday Nerd Blogging.

How some definitive proof that adding a little bit of Empire makes ordinary dancing much better?

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Kristof and Political Scientists Agree!!!: Congress is playing with fire by avoiding Zika

Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed in the New York Times today, Congress to America: Drop Dead, laments Congress’ inaction on appropriating funding requested by the White House for proactive public health measures intended to stem the expected spread of the Zika virus in the United States. In April, I raised similar concerns here on the Duck, Chasing our Tails, where I asked:

It is puzzling why Zika has not garnered the same policy attention from Congress as the Ebola outbreak. Viewed through a security lens, the Zika outbreak more readily meets the attributes of a “threat” in its proximity to the U.S., in its pervasiveness, and in the fact that it poses a high risk for global transmission. Moreover, mobilization in response to humanitarian crises is generally more likely to occur when it strikes communities in close proximity to us (i.e. South America) or with whom we can identify (i.e. Americans).

[The fact that my blog post preceded Kristof’s by almost three weeks is particularly satisfying given Kristof’s frequent critiques that political scientists do not anticipate or contribute to real-world policy problems. Checkmate!] Continue reading

Clash of the Doctrines

Trump

Now that the U.S. presidential race has been whittled down effectively to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and after Trump’s much anticipated foreign policy speech last week, we now have a Trump Doctrine, a new Clinton Doctrine—different from Bill Clinton’s pro humanitarian intervention doctrine—to contrast with the often misunderstood Obama Doctrine.

As foreign policy has begun to feature more prominently in the race for the White House, we can no longer beg the question as to which of these would better serve core U.S. national security interests, not to mention the interests of our closest allies—and especially not with the emergence of a new global security crisis seemingly every three months or so, and new ISIS affiliates popping up even more frequently.

Analyzing this trio of foreign policy doctrines, essentially the grand strategy adopted by each of America’s three most prominent political leaders, has been akin to peering through a glass darkly. Analysis has been all over the map, which is at least partially explained by the degree to which this triumvirate has not been particularly clear in laying out their core foreign policy principles. Misperception aside, however, the new Clinton Doctrine appears to stand above the President’s and far above the presumptive Republican nominee’s.

President Obama and his closest aides have long bristled about the phrase “the Obama Doctrine,” and only in his final year in office has he tacitly accepted the use of the term in the landmark Atlantic article by Jeffrey Goldberg with this very title (one of the rare occasions when the President has opined at length about his principles and actions abroad). In-between, analysis of the Obama Doctrine has varied widely.

Early on the Administration cast its over-arching strategic chessboard move as a “pivot to Asia”, meaning the U.S. intended to focus less on the transatlantic region and more intently on the Pacific Rim. European and Middle Eastern allies reacted negatively upon its declaration, and the phrase was rapidly recast as the “rebalance to Asia.” But it was a mistake, as the Chinese soon branded it “containment of China” due to the pivot’s military moves embedded in a wider set of diplomatic and economic moves. Continue reading

Five “Don’ts” for Introducing a Female Speaker (And Why This Matters)

speaker2
This is a guest post by Janina Dill, Assistant Professor at the Department of International Relations at the London School of Economics and a Research Fellow at the Center for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict at the University of Oxford. Her research focuses on international law and ethics in international relations, specifically in war. She is the author of “Legitimate Targets? Social Construction, International Law and US Bombing.”

 
“She may be a small person, but she has big ideas,” states the panel chair by way of introducing one of the most impressive senior scholars in security studies. At a recent conference a more junior panelist’s contribution is prefaced with the chair’s observation: “It is hard to believe that such a fragile woman should be an expert in this topic!”

It is barely worth mentioning that achieving gender (or any sort of) equality in academia is anything but straightforward. The notion that every committee needs to have a woman increases the administrative burden on female faculty. The worthy quest that panels should not be all male risks casting suspicion over the scholarly contribution of the female speaker that did make it onto the stage. Of course, we should not therefore give up on promoting equality, but one may be forgiven for lending qualified support to measures that may or may not have perverse consequences.

By contrast, avoiding gender discrimination when introducing speakers/lecturers/panelists should be as easy as a wink.  Why then is the unequal treatment of women in just that situation about as likely as a flood of anxious student emails the week before an exam? Panel chairs often fail to paint the picture of a competent professional, instead lingering much longer than in the case of male speakers on the women’s physical attributes, age, country of upbringing, family situation etc. Even well-meaning, jovial endorsements of a women’s non-professional attributes – “how nice to see x, y, z in a discussion of such a serious topic” – can be distracting at best. At worst, such comments outright undermine the speaker.

speaker1So here are five don’ts when introducing a female speaker:

  1. Don’t mention her looks. That includes her stature. It doesn’t matter whether it is a compliment or not. Just don’t do it! Really, please don’t!
  2. Don’t mention her age or gender. It is quite possibly obvious and definitely irrelevant.
  3. Don’t mention other pieces of information that would be useless in determining whether listening to her will be more or less intellectually rewarding than scanning twitter for the latest celebrity feud. Those irrelevant pieces of information include, but are not limited to: where she grew up and how much you like that country, what profession her father had and how that may have sparked her interest in the topic, or that you think her alma mater has a great sports team. It distracts from her professional standing and you will almost certainly mention those things at the expense of passing on more relevant information to the audience, the kind that you will likely convey about the male speakers on the panel.
  4. Don’t use double standards. If you call every other speaker by their academic title it is probably a bad idea to leave out hers. If you call every other speaker by their first and last name (or just last name), you can safely assume that reducing her to her first name will sound odd.
  5. Don’t call her “Miss.” If she does not have an academic title the go-to alternative is obviously “Ms”. For “pertinence of information given the context” her marital status is in a category with her shoe size and her favorite Muppet.

So why is this important? Continue reading

Ben Rhodes, Part the Second: Or, Journalistic Interpolations are Not Evidence

For those of you not on Twitter.

(yes, I know the post is displaying parent tweets; WordPress is stripping the code to remove them)

The White House Pushes for its Policies, and Other Surprises from Ben Rhodes

It seems that everyone (at least on the political right) is in a tizzy about the “revelations” in David Samuels’ New York Times Magazine story on Ben Rhodes. For example, Lee Smith, at the Weekly Standard, headlines “Obama’s Foreign Policy Guru Boasts of How the Administration Lied to Sell the Iran Deal.” As I’ll explain below, that’s, at best, massive hyperbole.  But what we really learned is that Ben Rhodes has a massive ego—Thomas Ricks is less kind in his assessment. We also learned that Samuels—like any reporter—wants to break big stories. Put the two together, and you come away less, not better, informed.

Let’s start with one of the passages from the story that’s receiving a lot of attention—and that Smith partially blockquotes:

As Malley and representatives of the State Department, including Wendy Sherman and Secretary of State John Kerry, engaged in formal negotiations with the Iranians, to ratify details of a framework that had already been agreed upon, Rhodes’s war room did its work on Capitol Hill and with reporters. In the spring of last year, legions of arms-control experts began popping up at think tanks and on social media, and then became key sources for hundreds of often-clueless reporters. “We created an echo chamber,” he admitted, when I asked him to explain the onslaught of freshly minted experts cheerleading for the deal. “They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.”

When I suggested that all this dark metafictional play seemed a bit removed from rational debate over America’s future role in the world, Rhodes nodded. “In the absence of rational discourse, we are going to discourse the [expletive] out of this,” he said. “We had test drives to know who was going to be able to carry our message effectively, and how to use outside groups like Ploughshares, the Iran Project and whomever else. So we knew the tactics that worked.” He is proud of the way he sold the Iran deal. “We drove them crazy,” he said of the deal’s opponents.

This is, more or less, a description of what every single White House does when seeking to pass a major, and controversial, initiative. They connect with allies, they disseminate talking points, they coordinate with like-minded policy and industry groups, and they feed those groups information. Administrations create multiple information channels to the press, the public, and elected officials.The Obama Administration did this for the Affordable Care Act. The Bush Administration did this for its massive tax cuts, for the Iraq War, and, unsuccessfully, in its efforts to privatize Social Security. Continue reading

So, You Want to be a Liberal Arts College Professor: Life inside the Liberal Arts edition, Part II

MIDDLEBURY, VT (August 31, 2010) - Students and Faculty meet to discuss the book "Tortilla Curtain" during the 2010 Orientation week, Middlebury College, Vermont. (Photo © 2010 Brett Simison)

MIDDLEBURY, VT (August 31, 2010) – Students and Faculty meet to discuss the book “Tortilla Curtain” during the 2010 Orientation week, Middlebury College, Vermont. (Photo © 2010 Brett Simison)

[Note: This is the second of two guest posts on life in the Liberal Arts Colleges from Sarah Stroup and Amy Yuen, both Associate Professors of Political Science, Middlebury College]

According to the 2014 TRIP survey, at least one in six IR faculty in the United States teach at a liberal arts college.[1] If you want one of those jobs, how do you get it? In this second post (part I here), we identify a few steps, gathered based on our own experiences and those of colleagues at other colleges, that are likely to help you in the liberal arts pool.

There are at least three things to know about how you are being evaluated on the liberal arts job market. We will focus on teaching, because candidates get extensive guidance on how to sell their research to a search committee.

Demonstrate your potential to build meaningful relationships – with students, colleagues, and the community.

At all institutions, political scientists may be more successful if they can turn arcane social science jargon into ordinary language. But the ability to make information accessible is only half of the recipe for success at institutions like ours, where professors also need to be able to listen. Professors engage in conversations with students, not just presentations to them.

Aspiring liberal arts faculty should consider the following: Continue reading

Drones Kill More Civilians than Manned Aircraft Do. That’s Because of How We Use Them.


At Foreign Policy, CFR’s Micah Zenko has examined the best civilian casualty data available for both manned airstrikes and drone strikes between 2009-2015 and concluded, pretty damningly, that “Drones Kill More Civilians Than Pilots Do.”

According to the best publicly available evidence, drone strikes in non-battlefield settings — Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia — result in 35 times more civilian fatalities than airstrikes by manned weapons systems in conventional battlefields, such as Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. There are sound arguments that can be made in favor of U.S. drone strikes, but their supposed precision should not be one of them.

As Zenko notes, this is an important corrective to the Obama Administration’s frequent claim that “drones are precise weapons.” But the article begs the question of how to explain this finding. And Zenko (or more likely the FP editors) make a few important mistakes here that, if attended, to, might lead to some potential answers to that “why” question. Continue reading

So, You Want to Be a Liberal Arts College Professor: Life in the Liberal Arts edition (Part I)

MIDDLEBURY, VT (August 31, 2010) - Students and Faculty meet to discuss the book "Tortilla Curtain" during the 2010 Orientation week, Middlebury College, Vermont. (Photo © 2010 Brett Simison)

MIDDLEBURY, VT (August 31, 2010) – Students and Faculty meet to discuss the book “Tortilla Curtain” during the 2010 Orientation week, Middlebury College, Vermont. (Photo © 2010 Brett Simison)

[Note: This is the first of two guest posts on life in the Liberal Arts Colleges from Sarah Stroup and Amy Yuen, both Associate Professors of Political Science, Middlebury College]

Job market season is fast approaching, but information about those jobs can be scarce. For those on the market, just starting a liberal arts job, or just curious, we offer a little insight from two women recently tenured at a liberal arts institution. Elaborating on prior Duck posts here and here, we first offer a snapshot of research in the liberal arts and later offer a few tips for job applicants. These reflections draw on own experiences as well as from email conversations with early- and mid-career faculty at eight other liberal arts colleges (thanks everybody!).

The stereotype of the liberal arts is one that is all teaching, no research. A number of us have had a very different experience.
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Adaptability or Compliance? Modular Weapons and the Rules of International Law

 

As many who read this blog will note, I am often concerned with the impact of weapons development on international security, human rights and international law.   I’ve spent much time considering whether autonomous weapons violate international law, or will run us head long into arms races, or will give some incentives to oppress their peoples.   Recently, however, I’ve started to think a bit less about future (autonomous) weapons and a bit more about new configurations of existing (semi-autonomous) weapons, and what those new configurations may portend.   One article that came out this week in Defense One really piqued my interest in this regard: “Why the US Needs More Weapons that can be Quickly and Easily Modified.”

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Bernie Sanders’ Foreign Policy is Neither Realist, Pacifist, nor Liberal. He’s a Foreign Policy Progressive.


I have a new article up this morning at Washington Post’s Monkey Cage,  responding to those who have previously tried to classify Bernie Sanders as a “pacifist” (Krauthammer who calls his view “part swords-into-plowshares utopianism, part get-thee-gone isolationism”) or alternatively as a “realist” (Katrina vanden Heuvel , likening Sanders’ to Obama vis a vis Clinton’s more hawkish liberal internationalism).  Many have argued he actually doesn’t have a foreign policy position.

I argue Sanders’ vision has been hard to understand and articulate because it defies conventional labels. And it’s hard to categorize because it combines elements of several foreign policy perspectives: a realist aversion to unnecessary wars, a liberal concern with human rights and diplomacy, and a constructivist emphasis on the pragmatic value of international morality and soft power, and a critical theorist’s rejection of arbitrary distinctions such as the domestic v. the international.

Yet far from being a purely academic exercise, this is a distinctive policy perspective best understood as “progressive”:

Sanders did not invent this vision. He is channeling an alternative viewpoint on foreign affairs articulated by many on the progressive left for decades and outlined in Foreign Affairs magazine last summer by members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. In the article, U.S. Democratic Sens. Chris Murphy (Conn.), Brian Schatz (Hawaii) and Martin Heinrich (N.M.) lay out concrete and specific policy proposals. These include increased funding for foreign aid; efforts to protect human rights and gender equality at home and abroad; renewed support for multilateral institutions; restrictions on the executive branch’s expanded power to wage war; and a strengthened socioeconomic base at home to more effectively project U.S. power.

I argue that by triangulating these positions, we can infer three distinct thematic pillars of “progressive foreign policy” thought that are particularly reflected in the Sanders campaign: evidence-based threat assessment, the dependence of American national security on human security for those beyond our borders (achieved by addressing root causes through non-kinetic means); and the impact of dynamics – militarism, corruption, environmental issues, economic inequality – that cut across borders and bridge the domestic with the global.  Read the whole thing here.

The math obviously favors Clinton for the  nomination, especially after her big win in yesterday’s primary. But if Sanders has done nothing else, its greatest legacy may ultimately be  the reshaping of Washington foreign policy discourse, and the opening of space  across the political spectrum to rethink the foundations of American and global security.

 

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