Category: Featured (page 1 of 140)

Uncomfortable Conversations at a Distance: Lessons from Teaching the Israel-Palestine Conflict

Daniel J. Levine is Aaron Aronov Associate Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Alabama, where he divides his time between the Departments of Political Science and Religious Studies.  Information on his research can be found here

Last fall, I taught – as I have done every year since coming to the University of Alabama (UA) – an upper-division lecture-seminar on the Israel-Palestine Conflict.  The topic is never an easy one, with both the transition to remote teaching, and the acutely partisan political climate of the US elections, adding to the difficulty.  In this post, I describe these challenges, and a set of assignments which I developed in order to address some of them.  I then briefly assess their successes and limitations.  Comments and suggestions regarding the latter would be most appreciated!

Outlining the Challenges

The Israel-Palestine conflict poses particular teaching challenges even in the best of times.   First, the territories and peoples most directly implicated in it are mediated through tangled webs of overlappingutopianand mutually-exclusive mythic imaginaries.  So viewed, Palestinians and Israelis lose much of their humanity and autonomy; they become players in set-piece dramas of the students’ own, often unconscious, imaginings.   

A second challenge relates to student expectations.  UA undergraduates receive a version of political science that emphasizes practicaldispassionate problem-solving.  For many reasons – not least because that traditionis itself implicated in the conflict in a variety of ways – this course is ‘pitched’ somewhat differently.  

The subsequent discussion – following readings that connected the emergence of Zionism to that of 19thCentury anti-Semitism – may illustrate how these problems surface in class.  “If Zionism is a response to anti-Semitism,” one student asked, “then where is the boundary between legitimate criticisms of Israel, and those which are anti-Semitic?”  

A vigorous discussion ensued.  Several students held that the question of anti-Semitism was an invented controversy, a ‘false flag.’  To what end, I asked, and by whom?  

To distract Americans from more difficult historical reckonings of their own, said some.  To cultivate sympathy for Israel, said others.  A smaller number argued for the existence of a well-coordinated, highly influential group of ethnic-religious elites, with hidden ties to media and finance.  One student went so far as to state that I – the university’s only professor of Jewish studies – was myself part of that elite; further, that the design of the course reflected my support for its agenda.

However fraught, this discussion reveals a number of certain shared understandings. First, it acknowledges – if only in the breech – anti-Semitism’s historical-conceptual trajectory.  Second, that the memory of thattrajectory shapecontemporary political normsdiscoursesand policies.  Third, the linkages between critical reflection on that trajectory and claims of bad faith.

The Problem of Political Judgement

Consider the student who is deeply dissatisfied with the terms of contemporary political discourse.  Said student suspects that certain historical facts have been tendentiously assembled, but feels uncertainty – or fear – in raising the matter.  Their fear curdles into resentment.  

In what forums will they seek out to work out those intuitions?  Should one be surprised if some of them are drawn into conversations that are marginal, and anonymous – all the more so in a period of enforced isolation?  Should one then be surprised if some number of them show up for class with lightly-reworked conspiracy theories?  There are, after all, any number of well-conceived scholarly and journalistic discussionsalong the lines summarized above.  That said, the line separating ‘good’ arguments from ‘bad’ ones is no more self-evident here than in my student’s original question.    

This is because such lines cannot be drawn merely with reference to the facts upon which they are predicated.  Some critical or reflexive faculty must be brought to bear on them – political or ethical judgement.  But judgement is both contingent and fallible.  Its exercise has, moreover, become increasingly fraught. The student who asked me ‘where the line was’ intuitively understood this; they sought to substitute my judgement for their own.  

Hannah Arendt has noted that judgement relies on a shared consensus: first, as to what facts are, and second, to those public-discursive frameworks by which they acquire meaning: debates, elections, trials, literary-historical canons, etc.  Each of these has come under increasing pressure.  In the present context, consider recent attempts to formulate or institutionalize detailed definitions of anti-Semitism.  When married to enforcement of Title VI anti-discrimination legislation, these definitions seem intended to police the scope of  ‘acceptable’ scholarly and political discourse in the era of BDS, rather than to focus or direct intellectual argument.    

Fostering Student Solidarities

In the face of these challenges, I have historically relied on approaches that foster trust, openness, and mutual respect in the classroom.  Such trust emerges gradually, and by degree. To feel safe, students must be able to ‘take the measure’ of one another in ways that do not carry over Zoom.  What I needed was some alternative way to foster horizontal solidarities between and among a group of students could not meet in person.

To that end, I developed three inter-connected group assignments for the opening weeks of the course.  Students were placed randomly into groups.  Each was given two short preparatory assignments, and a longer project.  A brief summary of these follows (full details here):

First, each group received a list of web-based informational resources related to the conflict: websites, blogs, and reference materials maintained by leading think tanks, policy shops, NGOs, ministries, etc.  Students were asked to survey the range and depth of the information on offer, and to assess its credibility along different lines.  A second assignment asked them to track how these sites and resources were used, and by whom.    

The third assignment turned them from critics into curators. Each group was asked to arrive at a relevant topic of shared interest, and then to develop their own web-based finding aids.  These would be posted on a shared WordPress site.  Time was set aside in class for groups to meet in breakout rooms. Each group received its own ‘Blackboard’ workspace, with dedicated email, online storage, and a virtual meeting platform.   

Yes, But Did It Work?  

The best of these produced innovative takes on topics as diverse as arms sales, the UNRWA, satellite surveillance, and Israeli collective memory.  Less successful were those that reproduced the reified categories and ‘imagined dramas’ discussed above.  That said, pointing out that reproduction became a way to demonstrate and challenge the hold they exercise over students’ imaginations. My hope is to refine this challenge in future.

Hoping to foster the kind of small-group solidarity that would carry over into general discussion, groups were sized at 4-5.  As hoped, some bonded strongly, collaborating on subsequent projects together and participating interactively in open discussion.  Others suffered from ‘free ridership,’ or failed to arrive at consensus.  Thoughts on how to incentivize the former and address the latter would be welcome.       

It was also evident that this assignment only scratched the surface of the questions from which it arose.  How do we equip students to identify and critique the effects of knowledge networks – a space bounded by partisan politics, the sociology of knowledge, critical media studies, and ‘groupthink’?   Given the flood of information to which students are subjected, how useful is fine-grained analysis as a mode of cultivating judgement?  What becomes of a civic ideal predicated on unhurried, dispassionate reflection and unfettered argument, when the conditions of possibility for such practices, and public faith in them, were either never present or no longer exist?  

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Trump’s Budweiser Putsch

US President Donald Trump gestures as he arrives to a “Make America Great Again” campaign rally in Cincinnati, Ohio, on August 1, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Emily Holland, an Assistant Professor in the Russia Maritime Studies Institute at the US Naval War College & Hadas Aron, a Faculty Fellow at the Center for European and Mediterranean Studies at NYU.

This week’s violent takeover of the Capitol Building has fueled the ongoing debate on the future of American democracy. For several years analysts have argued that the United States is undergoing the same process of de-democratization as countries like Turkey, Hungary, and Poland. However, the comparison to European populist de-democratization is misleading. The difference between Trump and European counterparts is that the latter do not rely on post-election violence to hold onto power, instead they rig the system long before the election. This week’s events demonstrate what is at stake for American democracy. Unlike  in European countries, the elimination of checks and balances is not the main concern. The real danger for the United States is out of control anti-system political violence that brings to a boiling point polarization and racial tensions.

Democratic breakdown or decline in places like Russia, Turkey, Hungary, Israel, and Poland, has inspired theories on how democracies die, comparing the United States to failing democracies around the world. But in these countries, populist insurrection is far more subtle [and effective] than the attempted insurrection on Capitol Hill. Populist leaders have successfully transformed political institutions, concentrated political power, broke down opposition, and dismantled democracy, with little overt violence and often without large-scale election fraud. Trump also attempted these strategies, but mostly failed because of the dispersed power structure of the United States, and his own incompetence.

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Why We Should Stop Picking on 2020



The awfulness of 2020 has become one of the year’s most unforgettable cultural memes. But in the current cascade of 2020-bashing let’s not forget what went right this year – and what didn’t go wrong.

It yields perspective to recall that the year began with what appeared to be a national security crisis with Iran. The killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and accidental downing of a civilian airliner set off protests in Iran, sent oil markets plunging, and threatened to destabilize the Middle East. Analysts feared a major regional war among nuclear powers before the year was out. Based on this unpromising start, it is remarkable that in fact 2020 saw the US involved in none of the world’s major armed conflicts, that war did not break out or significantly worsen in the Middle East, and those conflicts underway – in Nagorno-Karabakh, Ethiopia and South Sudan – have thus far been kept largely to a dull roar. Moreover, despite increasing polarization, the US remained resilient against civil war.

Yes, the Trump administration badly mishandled a major health crisis, sunk the economy into a sub-oceanic trench, and rendered American passports largely useless. Even with a modest contagion index and hearteningly high recovery rate, the death toll from COVID-19 now outmatches that of all American wars, with more Americans dying per day of the disease than died on 9/11. And that’s just America: the cost in human life and medical resources worldwide is staggering, and the mental health cost incalculable.

But this moment of worldwide hibernation also gave the Earth a moment to breathe. American high-schoolers were finally able to get enough sleep, reducing rates of teen depression. The world’s peoples conducted a global social experiment in pandemic control that has better prepared it for the next onslaught. Developing nations became poster children for good governance. Faith in the miracle of science and the power of vaccination experienced a renaissance. Americans have rediscovered the outdoors, the power of unstructured learning, the mental health benefits of hobbies and value of simple connections and staycations. They have turned out in huge numbers to local food banks and blood donation centers, filling in where the state has failed and revitalizing neighborhoods and communities. The story of the year is as much one of resilience as of catastrophe.

And as misbegotten as the US government response has been, the passivity of Trump’s response to the pandemic meant America avoided a much worse outcome. For all its flaws, for all the signs it was leading the country toward dictatorship, note the Trump administration did not use that classic authoritarian tool, capitalizing on the pandemic to engage in a massive centralization of executive authority and political crackdown – as might have been predicted by an administration prone toward authoritarianism and political opportunism.

Perhaps this was due to the power of the political resistance: the turnout in the streets at the travel ban and the detention camps, the trolling of Trump’s re-election campaign by youth on Tik-tok, the persistent pushback by the courts. Perhaps it was because the boredom of the lockdowns suddenly allowed an overworked, politically distracted generation both time and inclination to take to the streets en masse, risking their lives to protest racial injustice. In so many ways, Americans demonstrated that Trump could steal democracy only at great cost, and forestalled some of the worst of which a man in his position could be capable. And ultimately, Americans removed Trump by a large margin – repudiating bigotry, corruption and creeping authoritarianism, affirming the constitution and principles on which the republic was founded, and modestly rehabilitating the country in the global gaze.

Perhaps most significantly of all, Americans learned they could quickly and willingly adapt their lifestyle to a national security crisis. For years climate activists have been begging nations to do just that, swimming against a social tide that made it seem inconceivable, even reckless, to quickly and completely stop flying, driving, polluting, consuming and straining economies to their limits. While it remains to be seen how to make this sustainable (and such strategies are contested and the impacts excruciating uneven) Americans like the rest of the world learned they were capable of sacrificing pleasantries in the service of a wider good. Nations have always been able to do this in time of war, but this was the first effort in history to adapt economic and social life so swiftly to a non-military existential crisis. While the extent to which the US has succeeded should not be exaggerated, the extent to which it has managed lends hope to its ability to do the same for other crises.

These aren’t small achievements. They are foundations on which to build. For all the 2020-bashing, it may be that we look back on this year not as a blemish, but as a historic turning point, the year when the human race began to take stock. If 2020 shocked us out of our complacency, gave us time to pause and notice what’s important, and expanded our sense of political possibility at a moment of global uncertainty, this is something to celebrate rather than scorn.   

(cross-posted at Medium)

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The True Meaning of a Hot Christmas Prince

In the spirit of holiday cheer and Paul Musgrave’s great Foreign Policy piece “The True Meaning of Christmas Movies Is a Cozy American Worldview” as well as our common poli sci curse of “being unable to enjoy anything without analysing it to death”, here is my take on that red and green scourge that clogs your Netflix queue as well as your cable. I have watched a fair amount of those in my day (for research purposes, obvs), but might be missing something, so correct me if I am wrong. I can’t refresh my memory right away, as those movies lack dinosaur subplots and that’s the only type of videos my toddler would let me watch. Jurassic Prince: the Royal Baby, anyone?

You might guess what kind of plots a lot of those holidays movies feature: a hard-working (white) American woman gets swept away by the lukewarm charms of a vaguely European royal from an invariably Romanian castle. He teaches her about cucumber sandwiches, she shows him how to bake Christmas cookies, sticks it to the local stuffy female suitors and they live happily ever after. In other words, as Paul observed, the true meaning of Christmas can be found with the help of “cute but not hot” foreign dude with a received pronunciation accent in a quaint Ruritanian setting. The cuteness but not hotness trope seems to be a deliberate choice, just look what Hallmark did to Sam Heughan, yes, this Sam Heughan:

If you squint your eye, you would probably be unable to distinguish between all those bland, combed over to the left dirty blonds with blue eyes and personalities that usually don’t go beyond the ability to procure a Christmas tree for the hallway. They are hardly prime examples of the real American heroes that protect the country at Christmas in the Nakatomi Plaza.

After all, it is still a cozy fantasy of an American dream, so one should be extra careful with the kind of baubles you decorate your imaginary Christmas tree. You should especially make sure that your foreign Nutcracker is not going to be too threatening to the homegrown ornaments, that you might still want to get back to if those pesky royals don’t let you blog. Yes, you read that right, I argue that those vanilla foreign princes should not be too imposing of a masculinity construct to diminish the appeal of the domestic commoner beaus.

As Paul rightly points out, the key demographic for those Christmas movies are women. Women who just need a reasonably forgettable dude with whom they can take care of the chores around the house. While there is a history of orientalizing, exoticising, and eroticising women for the male gaze, also in the spirit of the (not so cozy) American dream, the female gaze around Christmas seems to need a little fairy-tale respite that would not create unreasonable expectations and upset the balance in the household. That’s why those foreign princes are just cute, but not sizzling hot dishes that would tarnish the image of the cozy American worldview.

And if they do, John McClane will welcome them to the party. Pal.

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Voldemort, Trump, and the other usual suspects of Putin’s press conference

Klimentyev, RIA Novosti.

Sing it with me: It’s the most Putinist time of the year! For the 16th time the Dear Leader addressed the nation and the world from through their TV screens during a carefully choreographed almost 5-hour long annual press conference that could count as a State of the Union Q&A. there were some adjustments to the usual format: the lidded cup was still there, but almost no journalists in the actual room with Putin, his answers were televised from his residence in Novo-Ogaryovo. It’s almost impossible to go through all the press conference and not bore the readers to tears by the ritualised legitimation theatre, so I will concentrate on some of the IR-y stuff.

One of the most anticipated questions were about the bombshell investigation about Navalny’s poisoning that seems to point to a group of FSB operatives who had been tracking him for three years. Never fear: Putin successfully dodged every attempt to even get him to say Navalny’s name on TV and accused him of working for the CIA. Putin did, however, admit that He-who-must-not-be-named was under surveillance, but, apparently, if “we wanted to [poison him], we would have succeeded”, but instead he “let him be treated in a Berlin clinic on the wife request” instead. Interestingly enough, it didn’t even occur to Putin to deny the fact that Navalny was under surveillance or the fact that his security services are allowed to commit extrajudicial killings. 

What about Putin’s old friend Trump? I am not sure that any American Late Show missed the opportunity to report Putin’s telegram to President-Elect Biden where Putin is looking forward to “interactions and contacts”, but Trump, in fact, was barely mentioned during the press conference. Putin did assure that Trump has become an integral part of American political life and given that “50% of the population support him” there was no reason for him to seek asylum in Russia like Edward Snowden. The usual anti-Westernism, however, was on full display: Putin berated the NATO for expanding eastwards despite their promise not to, accused the UK for flying spy planes and, of course, accused the American State Department for vengefully leaking financial documents that alleged that his (ex?) son-in-law bought some company shares for a hundred bucks, instead of paying the market 380 million. Or, as Putin phrased it, “we are white and fluffy compared to you”, “prickly and aggressive types”. 

Putin also did not miss the chance to scold the “failure of the multiculturalism project” in Europe in relation to Samuel Paty’s murder in Paris. After implicitly praising the law that “protects religious feelings” in Russia (yes, the one that got Pussy Riot a 2-year sentence for asking the Mother of God to chase Putin away), he condemned murder as a response to those wounded feelings. He praised the multi confessional legacy that Russia inherited, because “there was no religious repression. In the Soviet Union, [all] priests were persecuted, but not selectively”. Yes, absolutely, all religious leaders were indiscriminately persecuted, especially the current Patriarch, who was posted to Geneva in 1971 as the representative of the Russian Orthodox Church to the World Council of Churches. smh.

In any case, to quote an Icelandic (!) journalist, it’s just some mass media that don’t like Russia and there is a war against Putin. Other countries are in a much worse shape because of the pandemic compared to Russia. An obligatory reminder from Putin about the real bad 90s so you would see how good you have it these days, here’s some extra cash ($60) for your children and happy holidays.

I sincerely hope that for some they will be.

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Writing about Violence During the Pandemic

This is guest post from Philipp Schulz, a Post-Doctoral Researcher at the Institute for Intercultural and International Studies (InIIS) at the University of Bremen. His work focuses on the gender dynamics of political violence, armed conflict and post-conflict transitions, with a focus on wartime sexual violence.

Writing, and researching, about violence is never easy, involving complex ethical, moral, methodological and epistemologieschallenges. This makes it difficult enough to write about violence under ‘ordinary’ circumstances and in ‘normal times’ – and most certainly so during this unusual moment in time of a global pandemic. To be fair, writing (and researching) about anything seems difficult in these times, but writing about violence perhaps particularly so. As an early career researcher who researches and writes about violence – specifically about sexual and gender-based violence in Uganda – I certainly feel this extra weight of trying to do my work in these current times. 

On the one hand, these difficulties certainly have to do with what is going on around us. As I try to write these reflections in mid-December, we are recording over 500,000 new Covid-19 infections as well as over 10,000 new Corona-related deaths per day around the world. As much as I try, it is almost impossible to get the pictures from April of military trucks transporting hundreds of dead bodies from the hospitals in Italy out of my head. Being constantly confronted with these realities – which are also becoming increasingly real and personal – and the violences, insecurities and vulnerabilities that accompany all of this makes it incredibly difficult to engage with stories of violence as part of the research I conduct. In many ways, our lives become consumed by pretty much anything else but violence, death, and insecurities. This, I think, will certainly have impacts on our mental well-being, much more than doing this type of work already does.

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Restraint requires more than “ending endless wars”

Voices calling for restraint in US foreign policy are getting louder. A bipartisan community has grown tired of the tired consensus on America’s role in the world and–thanks partly to the excesses of the Trump Administration–has had some success in shifting policy debates. I am generally sympathetic to this community, but worry that they are focusing too much on “ending endless wars.” We should also encourage a broader sense of humility in America’s foreign policy.

“Restraint” as a viable foreign policy orientation came together in the past few years, although it’s been building for some time. Libertarians like the Cato Institute and academic realists like John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have been calling on America to adopt more modest goals for the world; this has been directed at both Republicans (like George W. Bush’s Global War on Terrorism) and Democrats’ interventionist tendencies as part of hawkish liberal internationalism. Peter Beinart, initially a cheerleader for muscular liberalism, later expressed regret.

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Ignoble Lies? The Problem of Prosocial Lying in the Economics Profession

Photo credit: pixy.org under Creative Commons license.

This is a guest post by George DeMartino, professor of international economics at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. This post is the first in an occasional series discussing the ethical dilemmas engendered when academics engage with policymakers and the broader public. This series is part of the Rigor, Relevance, and Responsibility project of the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security & Diplomacy, which seeks to make ethical considerations an integral part of policy-relevant research and engagement. The program develops knowledge around, and informs the practice of, responsible engagement so that future generations of academics can engage in the policy world with confidence and clarity. This program is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Imagine it’s time for your yearly checkup at the family doctor. Sitting on the paper covered medical bench in a fluorescent room, you submit to the full array of tests. You say “ah,” you squint at letters from across the room, you feel the cold stethoscope against your back, maybe you even get some blood drawn. After answering all of your doctor’s questions, they look you in the eye, smile, and send you on your way with a clean bill of health! Feeling great, you go about your day. Perhaps you even take the stairs instead of the elevator because you’re feeling invigorated and full of life. There is an implicit trust between doctor and patient, so why should you feel otherwise? 

Let’s say however, that your doctor actually lied to you – everything is not okay. Perhaps they lied for your own good; because they don’t know what will happen to you or what to do about it; or perhaps they lied for monetary gain. But does the reason really matter? The inherent doctor-patient trust has been broken and we fervently and unequivocally condemn deceit of any kind in the medical field.

Why then, are we so cavalier about untruthfulness in economics? 

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The Right to Return…to What? Venezuelan Migrants Caught Between Conflicts

This is a guest post by Shauna N. Gillooly is a PhD Candidate at the University of California, Irvine and a visiting researcher at Pontifica Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, Colombia. Her research focuses on peacebuilding and transitional justice in contexts of continued political violence.

            In 2015, Venezuela’s already-in decline economy took yet another turn for the worse. Then-historically low oil prices, along with internal mismanagement of infrastructure by Maduro’s administration, led to millions of Venezuelans leaving the country in search of a more stable life. For many of them, the obvious first stop was neighboring country Colombia. The following year, after the signing of a historic peace agreement between the Colombian government and leftist guerrilla group The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), saw the lowest levels of violence in the country in a generation. Colombia’s peace economy was on an upswing, and as the situation got more complex in Venezuela, Colombia relaxed documentation requirements for Venezuelans entering the country—no passport required.  

Photo Credit: Fernando Vergara, AP
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Coffee and TV: Election Edition

“They haven’t counted the votes in Pennsylvania and Michigan yet”.

A couple of years ago, I conducted a Gary Steyngart-esque experiment and watched Russian TV for a day, to find out in what kind of information bubble a regular Russian person lives. This year, I can’t use the remote because I bit all my nails during the American election week, but also the borders are closed, so both Russia and a Russian TV are beyond my reach. Never fear, I fired up Ye olde Tube to see what’s happening with the American elections in the Russian media.

Let’s flip to one of the most odious guys on Channel Two – Dimitry Kiselyov, aka “let’s burn gays’ hearts”. His Sunday evening program’s segment on the American elections was called ominously “Pulp Fiction” (like the Tarantino movie). Kiselyov accused the American elections right off the bat to have a criminal feel to them, where “the majority of mail-in ballots are miraculously for Biden”. According to Kiselyov, Trump was winning in 48 states on election day, but then suddenly was missing just a couple of thousands of votes to win. Mail-in voting can “allow fraud”: “dead souls” registered to vote and over 100% voting registration. Kiselyov continued to lie that it’s possible to come and vote without an ID and vote twice, and some precincts use “voting machines where you just press a button and it’s impossible to tally the votes at all”. Kiselyov’s main evidence (apart from the right-wing “judicial watch”) is Trump’s own statements and the fact that social media started marking his tweets and posts as potential misinformation. Kiselyov was particularly incensed that major news networks “shut his mouth” when Trump tried to claim victory during his address in the briefing room. 

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Duck Podcast G&T series episode 1: Power, realism, and the politics of IR academia

I am really excited to drop the newest episode of the Duck of Minerva podcast, part of what will hopefully become a new series I/we are tentatively calling the G&T series. The idea is to bring scholars and practitioners together to discuss issues in the study and practice of IR. Our inaugural episode features Anne Harrington and Jacqueline (Jill) Hazelton discussing the role of realism in IR and the marginalization of critical approaches. If you haven’t already, check out Anne’s brilliant piece in the New York Times on Claude Eatherly, the pilot who came to regret his role in the bombing of Hiroshima. Jill’s book Bullets Not Ballots: Success in Counterinsurgency Warfare is out May 2021 with Cornell Press. Her argument that good governance is immaterial to counterinsurgency outcomes makes it a must read.

If you have ideas for a G&T series podcast, or have a couple people that might want to do an episode, DM me over Twitter @jarrodnhayes or shoot me an email at Jarrod.hayes@gmail.com.

As always, thanks to Steve Dancz for our music.

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The Leaky Pipeline

This piece is written by Bridging the Gap co-Director Naazneen H. Barma, Director of the Scrivner Institute of Public Policy, Scrivner Chair, and Associate Professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. It was commissioned as part of the “Represent” series on diversity, inclusion and representation in the national security sphere, an initiative of Defense 360 of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Defense 360 and the Duck of Minerva agreed to cross-post the piece in order to ensure wide reach to both academic and practitioner readership on this crucial topic.

The last decade has brought a series of welcome initiatives to amplify, bolster, and expand the diversity of voices in the national security sphere—including the Leadership Council for Women in National Security, the Diversity in National Security NetworkOut in National Security, and Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security. What each of these seeks to redress is the simple fact that a paucity of diverse voices in the national security spaces results in poorer national security dialogue and practice. There is a normative imperative: our national security professional cadre should represent us and the diversity of identities that comprise this country; it is the right thing to do. And the goal is also instrumental: bringing the wealth of a wider range of lived experiences into national security policy formulation does improve the process; it is the effective thing to do.

A crucial part of the challenge of achieving better representation in national security lies in the pipeline that runs through academia and into the policy-making sphere. Whether we are talking about those who undertake graduate education in order to pursue national security careers or about emerging scholars who want to make a career of studying and informing national security, the pipeline leaks diverse voices all along the way.

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Why are we so quick to dismiss the UAE-Israel peace treaty?

In September, the UAE and Israel signed “the Abraham Accords,” normalizing relations between the UAE and Israel. The Trump Administration presented this as if it was equivalent to the Camp David Accords, a ground-breaking peace agreement that would transform the world. Much of the Middle East policy community, however, met it with a shrug. I’m not sure I’m joining in on that shrug. While it’s true Trump exaggerated and misrepresented the deal, as he is wont to do, I worry a sneaky “common wisdom” has developed among observers that may obscure the significant impacts of this agreement.

The deal came together over the summer, although there have been signs of a potential shift among Gulf Arab states towards Israel. They share a common enemy in Iran. Additionally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Oman in 2018, while the UAE’s US Ambassador wrote an op-ed in an Israeli newspaper hinting at possible normalization. Billed as a peace deal (even though they weren’t really at war) the two states agreed to normalize diplomatic ties and expand economic cooperation. While some saw it as a betrayal, other seem to see it as a relatively inconsequential event.

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What game theory taught me about last night’s presidential debate

Last night’s debate might go down as one of the greatest in recent memory, and I am prepared to die on that hill. It was ugly. But it was also raw, unfiltered, and honest. It was thin on policy substance which is why I think the majority of my Twitter feed thought it was a shitshow.[1]

A few things stood out which I think are worth mentioning, even on an IR blog. The performances last night got me thinking a lot about game theory. I am not a game theorist, and if I were, I would not subject you to a model of this year’s electoral strategy by Teams Trump and Biden. (I doubt the game theorists could even pull it off.)

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Duck Podcast Episode 4: Julie Kaarbo

Professor Julie Kaarbo (U. of Edinburgh) discusses role theory and identity, the relationship between FPA and IR theory, and a new project she is calling Breaking Bad. As always thanks go to Steve Dancz (https://stevedancz.com) for our theme music.

Erratum: I refer to this as the third episode in the recording, but it is actually the fourth.

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Is there a middle ground in the study of ideas in international relations?

I’m working on a new project about the use of religion in power politics (part of which I’ll be presenting “at” APSA this week). I’m finding good evidence, but the framing is tricky. Religion as a power political tool happens, and matters, but it rarely works out the way the wielders intended. Is this an example of ideas mattering in international relations, or an example of their limits? The fact that I feel forced into such a binary reflects a broader issue in the sub-field.

As we all learn in Intro to IR, the study of ideas revolves around constructivism. With the emergence of neorealism and neoliberalism in the 1980s, IR became overly rationalist and materialist. Constructivism developed as a reaction to this, producing numerous studies on the way intersubjective beliefs guided and shaped state behavior. After the paradigm wars faded, “constructivist-y” studies continued, with important work focusing on the role of rhetoric and practices in international relations.

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A Tale of Two Protests

The artist Rufina Bazlova has used traditional embroidery to describe current events in Belarus

This past weekend, two European capitals witnessed large-scale protests. Both of them protested against the government, both carried the flags that once symbolized their state, in both cases the police was involved, and during one of them the crowd was chanting “Putin! Putin!”. If you think the latter happened in Minsk you are sadly mistaken: the crowd in Belarus is much more creative than the Neo-Nazi conspiracy theorists in Berlin. 

The 38,000-strong crowd in Berlin was doing yoga against German Covid containment policies and tried to storm the Reichstag, while the 100,000 Minsk crowd has been protesting for weeks now against mass-scale election fraud and brought a cardboard cockroach as a present to the still clinging to power Alexander Lukashenka. For the record, if you need to wear a bulletproof vest and give a rifle to your underage son, that does not sounds like you have 80% popular support.  

While Putin is not going to save the Berlin protesters from wearing a mask on the train, he can still play a role in the Belarus protests, at least Lukashenka thinks so: they already spoke 5 times on the phone and right now the de facto president of Belarus seems to be on the way to Moscow. Why does Putin care? For the same reason that he cared about the Orange Revolution and Maidan in Ukraine. For once, he is afraid that might happen to him. And secondly, as Alexander Baunov notes, Russian politics suffers from geopolitization of any domestic political action. That means that elections are not about an internal transfer of power, not about feedback between the population and the government, but an act of foreign policy defense, and their results should be treated accordingly. The same applies to freedom of assembly, press, doping investigations, Eurovision, movies, monuments, you name it.  

On top of it, 20 years of Putin have significantly eroded public faith in organic protest. For the past four Putins and 1 Medvedev all Russians heard on TV was the same conspiratorial regime change narrative. Orange Revolution – it’s the West! Georgian revolution – it’s the West! Arab spring – it’s the West! Maidan – it’s the West! According to Levada, 39% of Russians are sure that the mass protests were provoked by “foreign forces” and almost 50% believe the elections in Belarus were mostly fair. Yes, those elections where you had polling workers climbing out the windows with the protocols so the observers don’t catch them falsifying.

The protesters in Belarus, unlike those in Berlin, hope that Russia does not interfere, because by the looks of it, Putin can only be on the one side, and it is not the side that is being tortured in Okrestina police station. Really, the Berlin protestors could really learn a thing or two about governmental oppression from the brave people in Belarus. Russians have also been protesting electoral fraud for years now, but it seems that Putin and his cronies either sincerely believe that every single precinct in a city can have exactly the same numbers or they don’t care that the results are cooked. Luckily, citizens of Belarus care and hopefully, they manage to send their dictator into a long overdue retirement.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times indeed. 

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Do Policy Recommendations = Policy Relevance?

Whether scholars embed policy recommendations in their work is a flawed measure of whether work is policy-relevant.

Across a series of articles and book chaptersMichael Desch and Paul Avey have argued international relations scholarship is declining in policy relevance, with IR scholars falling into what Stephen Van Evera has called a “cult of the irrelevant”: a hermetically-sealed professional community that values technique and internal dialogue over broader societal and political relevance. As evidence, they cite data demonstrating a marked decline in the frequency with which articles in top IR journals provide policy prescriptions.

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The Book Nook: Diversity, Violence, and Recognition

This entry in the Bridging the Gap Book Nook series comes from Elisabeth King and Cyrus Samii of New York University. In their new book, Diversity, Violence, and Recognition (Oxford, 2020), they address key questions for peace-building in multi-ethnic societies: Under what conditions do governments manage internal violent conflicts by formally recognizing different ethnic identities? And what are the implications for peace?

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