Category: Featured (page 3 of 139)

On Responsible Scholarly Engagement

Rob Farley has posted a Lawyers, Guns and Money podcast discussing my new research with Alex Montgomery on why reports of Americans’ willingness to target civilians have been greatly exaggerated.

One theme we discussed that bears emphasizing are questions of why we do the survey research we do, and how we decide what findings to publicize, where, how and for whom. Do we truly need poll data on the precise conditions under which Americans would tolerate war crimes? Is this truly a public good? Who does this serve? Who does it enable? When the results come out (if they include clues as to what policymakers must do to drum up support for war crimes), who is served or enabled by allowing journalists to run with findings, legitimized by major univeristies, that Americans would support terror bombing of foreign innocents? Who bears the risk of harm if such findings are misinterpreted – those in power or without it? Would it not be better to study the conditions under which Americans can be best inoculated from willingness to go along with terrible war crimes than to provide a recipe book for the powerful on how to chip that resistance away?

These kinds of questions form the motivation for a terrific new program at Sie Center at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies. According to their announcement at Political Violence at a Glance:

We plan to move beyond the mechanics of engagement to address the following types of questions: How and when should knowledge be shared with policy actors of different types, if at all? What are the promises and pitfalls of such policy engagement—for the academic, but also the policy community and other affected populations? What are the different ethical dilemmas that arise from engaging with government, versus civil society, versus private sector actors? How can scholars communicate findings most effectively (and what does that mean)? How might these findings be used by policy makers? Who has ownership over final research products? How do differing institutional pressures shape the types of engagement and the challenges that might arise? And many more.

We plan to start tackling these types of questions through activities that build both a knowledge base and network that can assist policy-interested academics when engaging with both governmental and nongovernmental policy actors. A key component of the program will be an “Issues in Responsible Engagement Institute” to help early career scholars navigate the challenges of engaging with different sets of policy actors at all stages of the research and dissemination process. Recognizing that PhD students and early career academics receive little formal mentorship on professional ethics and have few places to turn for advice, this multi-day institute will serve as a complement to existing Bridging the Gap training programs and provide a forum to discuss issues around responsible policy engagement as well as a support network for participants. Just last week the Sié Center faculty were fortunate enough to work alongside a group of invited scholars and practitioners with experience in this field to start planning the curriculum for the workshop. Stay tuned for more on the application process next year.

This looks like just the type of initiative our discipline needs, particularly with so many scholars conducting research that not only measures but interfaces with citizen attitudes just as our democracy is most fragile. I wish this had been around early in my career, and I commend the organizers.

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So Call Me Maybe

A recent IR Twitter flare-up occurred on a seemingly innocuous topic illustrated by the flow-chart above: what should I call my professor? A PSA from Prof. Megan L. Cook recommended students to address their professors as Professors or Dr., avoiding references to their marital status or first names. Prof. Raul Pacheco-Vega tweeted the following:

I also delete every email that first-persons me on a first email. Them’s the rules. You can decide how you want to be addressed, but I’m the one who decides how *I* want to be addressed.

Dr. Jenny Thatcher and several others disagreed, pointing out that taking offence at an “improper” address is elitist, disrupts collegiality and can potentially push out first-gen scholars or people from backgrounds that do not share the same culture of academic etiquette. For that intervention, Dr. Thatcher endured insults, digs at dyslexia, and threats of getting reported to the police by random Tweeps.

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The ULTIMATE Academic Job Market Guide

The following is a guest post by K. Anne Watson, a PhD candidate in Political Science and International Affairs at the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs.

The academic job market is incredibly stressful. This is at least partly because so much of the process tends to be opaque. (The rest, of course, is because you will be asked to handle all of it while juggling your day-to-day life and feeling a vague—or not-so-vague—sense of existential dread settling in around you.)

Leading up to my first applications, I asked question after question of my committee members, other graduate students, and Google. I really struggled to get a complete picture of the market. With that year behind me, I decided to gather together the resources and advice that most helped me prepare for the market and some of the experiences my peers and I had on the market, in the hope that graduate students coming after me will be able to find the answers to their most pressing questions in one place.

The guide is posted on my website. It’s broken into five sections: general information and advice, application materials, phone and video interviews, flyout interviews, and practice interview questions. I hope that you’ll check it out and that you find something inside that eases your job market concerns.

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A Case for Nationalism

Sorry, clickbait! But admit, it, after an apology of race science in Quillette or “The Case for Colonialism” in TWQ you probably rage-clicked on the thumbnail to let me have it. Periodic IR Twitter flares over teaching “Stoddard light” (i.e., Huntington) also show that not all scholars are aware of racialized origins of world order, existing color lines in global capitalism, or even “race relations” pedigree of IR as a discipline. This post is about a case for teaching about nationalism because it seems like different versions of racist primordial rhetoric just won’t die.


As a blog post by John Jackson made it clear, race science is a vampire science that comes back every so often [Twilight joke edited]. I see from time to time some type of “IQ difference” and “levels of criminality” arguments coming up among students because these arguments are essentially polished up turds from the 19th century anthroposociology and Social Darwinism that keep stinking up even supposedly an academic debate through mainstreaming of far-right rhetoric around the world. If a “Leader of the Free World” can say that “Mexicans are rapists” and “they bring drugs and crime” on prime-time television while the news dutifully resort to both-sidism and place chyrons with direct quotes, is our last hope education?

I have taught a course on theories of nationalism for several years now and we always start with the primordial stuff: blood, speech, custom, region, and religion. At this point, I invite students to create a ‘fake nation” in groups. This usually yields a very fun and diverse set of nations from island matriarchate with coconut cult to unicorn-blooded mermaid atheists. This exercise, of course, does not reverse or heal all the prejudice that might have collected in the backs of the minds of students (I have another 13 sessions for that) but at least it gives them an opportunity to reflect on the artificial nature of nation-building projects.


Another important session is on the role of collective memory and politics of commemoration. Especially on the undergraduate level where high school memories are not that far off, it’s important to reflect what was chosen to remember and what was chosen to forget in history books, why certain public holidays make the cut, and how national projects begin in the everyday, often unnoticed practices of creating a “culture”. But, as Huntington’s resilience on the syllabi shows, “culture” still serves as an ontological category that elevates constructed differences to political ones. So, after 14 sessions of talking imagined communities, “scientific” racism, and ontological security among others, I rarely get the boiler plate “Western civilization” in the exam answers, but how do I know the vaccination against racism has been successful?

As Paul Musgrave noted, right-wing media tells me that I can turn my students into socialists, but my experience tells me that I can’t even make them do the reading. So, what can we as political scientists do to inoculate against racism and xenophobia? What should we encourage the students to read? Because I don’t want to see the vampire science rise again.


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What Daenerys’ Error Teaches Us About American Tolerance for War Crimes

Alex Montgomery I have a new post up at Foreign Policy arguing that “The Bells” – and audience reactions to it – tell us something about American attitudes toward just war theory. A relevant topic with rising tensions w/ Iran, a debate over whether to pardon war criminals, and the stated willingness of our own rulers to violate war law.

The underlying reason for the outcry went unspoken: The deliberate targeting of civilians from the air, using incendiary weapons that are impossible to escape, is rightly recognized by Americans as a terrible crime—something good actors just don’t do. Our research confirms the evidence from reactions to the show’s finale. Americans would have wanted Daenerys to use air power but only against military targets such as the Iron Fleet. They would have wanted her to limit its use inside the city walls to avoid collateral damage. They would have wanted her to target the Red Keep, if needed, but not the streets of Flea Bottom. They would have chosen to let boots on the ground do the work of breaching the Red Keep and capturing Cersei Lannister and expected the Unsullied, Dothraki, and Northmen to fight soldiers rather than massacre civilians. All of these arguments show a clear and consistent understanding of, and sensitivity to, the international laws of war.

If public opinion can indeed constrain the executive – and there is evidence it can – this matters for foreign policy.

The article, I hope, does three other unstated things:

  1. Demonstrates the kind of analysis Paul Musgrave mentions IR scholars could and should be engaging in vis-a-vis pop-culture artifacts.
  2. Develops a testable hypothesis: that audience reception of pop culture artifacts could be as reliable a source of information on public opinion as fictionalized survey experiments, if only we start paying closer attention.
  3. Reminds us that American concern for the protection of civilians is a fragile thing, and not a historical inevitability.

Read the whole thing here.

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What Game of Thrones Got Wrong About Firebombing

Much ink has been spilled since last Sunday about the massacre at King’s Landing. Why did Dany carpet-bomb a civilian population after a city had surrendered? Was this a sign of her growing madness? Or a rational strategy to cement the legitimacy of her claim? Why didn’t the showrunners build it up better? Did they compromise Dany’s story arc as a civilian-protection advocate or were her actions always foreshadowed by her worst “fire and blood” tantrums?

In the handwringing over what Daenerys did, scant analysis has focused on how she did it. This is important since audiences draw inferences from popular culture about causal effects in real world foreign policy scenarios – such as a looming conflict with Iran. Since dragons represent air power, we should understand the historical analogy for the firebombing of King’s Landing not as the sack of medieval cities in a feudal era, but rather the saturation bombings of World War II, where undefended cities were systematically incinerated from the air.

Viewed this way, “The Bells” badly missed the mark in accurately portraying the humanitarian, operational and strategic costs of such campaigns, which the US has used before and Republican politicians have threatened to use again. In so doing, the showrunners missed an opportunity to educate its audience on the true horror of firebombing, and the way in which political actors use it at their own peril.

Fire Is Not a Precision Weapon. When Drogon begins his assault on King’s Landing, he begins with military targets – the Greyjoy naval fleet. Conceivably, fire on the ocean could be contained from spread to the civilian population on land. But once the burning of the city perimeter from the interior begins, it already beggars belief that the city’s inhabitants could be protected from the fire’s spread. This is because fire is notoriously uncontrollable – one in a category of weapons banned under international law in the real world, when civilian populations are nearby, due to its ability to spread once deployed. In short, contrary to its portrayal in the episode, Dany’s use of dragonfire already threatened the civilian population even before she targeted them directly.

When Drogon began targeting the city inhabitants directly, the showrunners portrayed the fires burning where they were ignited: in city streets, largely contained by the surrounding structures. But in reality, fire engulfs structures. Cities burn in sheets, not rivers. Fire eats air, creating windstorms, which feed and speed the fire. The Tokyo firebombing created walls of fire, ripping through closely packed, mostly wooden homes. In Dresden, a city where many of the buildings were reinforced with concrete, the Allied firestorm still destroyed over half the structures in the city with hurricane-speed winds.

Rather than seeing civilians running away down streets and hiding around protected corners, audiences should have seen them facing ever-growing, shifting, enveloping tsunamis of fire once the first few streets were lit. Rather than Cersei watching ribbons of flame from the distance, she should have seen whole neighborhoods swallowed up progressively. The ignition of wildfire would have only exacerbated this trend.

For this reason alone, it seems incomprehensible that Dany would unleash this holocaust in an area where her own troops were present – or that her soldiers would have any chance at a protected route of retreat. Historically, the strategic bombing of civilians from the air is not a method used in areas where ground troops are already engaging the enemy on foot – for good reason. Dany’s willingness to sacrifice her own remaining men to an indiscriminate firestorm – not her willingness to punish civilians, an act often undertaken during the siege of medieval cities – is actually the best indicator that she was acting irrationally. That the showrunners allowed us to believe that a large portion of her military survived the siege only underscores the cinematic sleight of hand at play.

Fire Kills Loudly and Slowly. Through a number of cinematic choices, the creators of “The Bells” also led audiences to think that death by firebombing is quicker, less painful, less terrifying and less certain than it actually would be.

In real life, a city under incendiary siege is a noisy place. Survivors of the firebombings of Dresden and Tokyo refer back above all to the screaming. Of course, there were panicked shouts and screams of fear in King’s Landing last week, but we did not hear the shrieks of the dying, as the showrunners chose to include in previous episodes.

Think of the screams of Mirri Maz Dur in Season One, or the cries of Shireen Barratheon in Season Five: the sounds of only one person at a time dying slowly by fire. When the Sept fell in Season Six, only a handful of political elites and surrounding civilians died in the resulting blaze, but their shrieks could be heard by King Tommen from his window at the Red Keep. Multiply that by tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians burning slowly to death in ongoing waves – what Cersei should have been listening to from the same window – and suddenly the episode we saw becomes eerily, unjustifiably quiet.

Visually, instead of choosing to portray fire’s lethal heat effects, and the full fury of their humanitarian consequences, the showrunners instead gave us primarily fast-killing blast effects. We see civilians overrun by bursts of flame and incinerated quickly and soundlessly – disappearing from sight into the flame, instead of convulsing before our eyes. We see civilians panicking and running from the fire, but we do not see mothers running away while listening as the babies on their backs actually catch fire and begin burning alive. We do not see people pile up in desperation at the end of city blocks as the flames overtake them.

To be fair, audiences were permitted to see the aftermath of death by fire: charred bodies appropriately reminiscent of images from the aftermath of Dresden, Tokyo and the countless other Asian and European cities targeted from the air in that period. But we are allow to imagine the inhabitants of King’s Landing died quickly, their corpses blackening in the aftermath. Just as we do not hear them, we do not see civilians slowly burning.

We also do not see civilians suffocate. In real firebombing campaigns of the 1940s, many civilians took shelter in cellars or other structures. But the heat of an inferno sucks away oxygen, dooming even those who escape the flames. In World War II, families were found huddled in blast shelters after suffocating together – a lingering death which can take up to three minutes.

Instead of capturing this reality, “The Bells” portrays interiors as vulnerable primarily to demolition and explosive violence. Civilians are seen sheltering inside buildings from the flames and melee. Cersei and Jaime find temporary respite in the catacombs. When Arya encourages a group to flee instead of sheltering in place, they are quickly killed, suggesting they would have been safer inside. In reality, they would likely have traded one death for another. The Lannister twins would likely have asphyxiated long before being buried alive. 

As Tyrion says, “I do not want to hear the sound of children screaming as they burn alive.” Perhaps, the showrunners decided, audiences would also not wish to hear that sound. It is, as Qyburn reminds us, “not pleasant.” Yet by sanitizing the sound of the siege, by sanitizing the sight of it, by limiting its complexity, the showrunners dulled audiences’ senses to the reality of firebombing. By making the intolerable slightly more tolerable, they deadened our understanding of what massacre by air truly entails.

Firebombing Civilians is Strategically Ineffective. Though Dany may yet atone for her sins, by all appearances thus far the following episode depicts a successful claim to the throne, her army victorious, the remaining inhabitants (and her own people) cowed. Yet in the real world, there is no instance where a firebombing campaign yielded the result sought by its perpetrator – and often, it has yielded retaliation in kind. 

Strategic bombing proponents in World War II believed terrorizing civilians from the air would induce surrender. But even the most oft-cited argument – that the atomic bomb forced a Japanese surrender – is historically disputed. The Hiroshima bombing took place on August 6th, 1945, but for three days the Japanese continued to refuse surrender and did not even meet to discuss the bombing. What convinced Japan to surrender was a different event occurring days later: Stalin entered the war, invading Japan from the north. Burning civilians with nuclear fire was little more effective than using regular incendiary bombs.

Which is to say, ineffective: there is no case in history where conventional firebombing produced the desired effect. When Nazi Germany tried it against Britain between 1941-1940, hoping to shock British civilians into demanding surrender, the Blitz only galvanized Brits and made them blood-hungry. Yet the British firebombing of German cities was equally counter-productive: German industrial production went up the more ordnance Britain dropped, and the age range for men and boys enlisting in the Wehrmacht expanded. Firebombing civilians has domestic blowback effects as well. In Vietnam, the use of napalm and carpet-bombing galvanized the peace movement at home and delegitimized the war. Recent use in Syria has led to renewed international efforts to more comprehensively outlaw incendiary weapons.

If the Game of Thrones finale is at all true to life, history will punish Dany for her crimes. Yet just as the show produced a devastatingly sanitized depiction of incendiary warfare, it is equally plausible that tonight’s finale will portray saturation bombing as an effective way to bolster a ruler’s legitimate claim to the throne. This would be a dangerously unrealistic portrayal of the political consequences of indiscriminate air power.

Why It Matters. It is now well known by social scientists that pop culture influences attitudes about real-world events. Audiences easily learn false lessons about history and causation through narrative storytelling loosely based on historical analogy. Depictions of political violence can sensitize or desensitize. They can influence political beliefs and public opinion. The messages audiences take from a show like Game of Thrones have political consequences.

While fans were obsessing over whether Dany had gone mad or whether Arya’s horse symbolized death or peace, the Trump Administration quietly began inching closer toward war with Iran. US public opinion polls have already been fielded testing American support for a saturation bombing strike on an Iranian civilian city in the event that the US finds itself in an intractable ground war unable to induce a surrender.

Pop culture can convey cautionary tales, and Game of Thrones has often done so. But the most popular show in history, known for its soberingly grisly portrayals of political violence, just whitewashed the implications of firebombing a civilian population. In so doing, it missed its chance to show American how terrible such an act would be for civilians on the other side and – if the enemy retaliated in kind – here at home.

[cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money]

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Plato and teaching Foreign Policy

I assigned Plato’s Theaetetus this semester in my foreign policy class. It was the very first thing we read in a course that included more standard text’s like Walter Russel Mead’s Special Providence, Tom Schelling’s Arms and Influence, and selections from Andrew Bacevich’s edited volume of primary sources, Ideas and American Foreign Policy. On first glance, reading a work of political philosophy—and one which is widely considered one of the more difficult texts in the Western canon—might seem like a poor fit. But, my experiment paid off and I may continue assigning the Theaetetus or similar texts in my courses on foreign policy in the future. Its theme is epistemology, knowledge, and specifically it challenges the idea that humans can actually know anything. I have plans to write something up for a journal, but in this piece, I want to explore how it might be used in the classroom should anyone feel ambitious enough to replicate.

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A Holiday “With Tears in Your Eyes”

One thing that Trump hasn’t done today yet (which he should have if he wants to stay in Putin’s good graces) was to congratulate Russians with Victory day. It’s an incredibly important holiday in contemporary Russia and its commemoration dynamic can help understand a large chunk of Russian foreign policy.

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Ukraine’s New PreZE!dent

“Servant of the People” The history of the Next President

Cue in the Twitter hot-takes in which Ukrainians elected themselves “a TV show star” with “no political experience”. Relax, not all TV stars are racist ignoramuses who want wall and try to spoon state flags. Despite winning the elections with a whopping 73% (and beating his own onscreen presidential score in his hit TV show), this one is different.

If you grew up in post-Soviet Russia you already know Ukraine’s incoming president – Volodymir Zelensky. He was a regular on the Soviet Union’s stand-up comedy show KVN (Club of Funny and Quick-witted), which propelled him to Russian-speaking international fame back in the 90s. His skit of a “person born in dance” made him one of the most recognizable KVN members, most of whom still represent the backbone of the Russian-speaking comedy industry in Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. New generations might be more familiar with his later work in “Servant of the People” (also the name of his newly formed party) – a TV show about a history teacher who accidentally won the presidential elections in Ukraine, – as well as a host of other comedy shows and movies. The incumbent Poroshenko called Zelensky “a bright candy wrapper” (and that’s something coming from a chocolate candy king of the Post-Soviet space) that conceals a bunch of external interests and “fifth column”, even going as far as plastering Ukraine with election posters that showed Poroshenko against Putin, alluding to the fact that Zelensky is supposedly the latter one’s puppet.
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Game of Thrones and Alliance Politics

I saw this tweet and could not help but respond:

Given that I have written about both Game of Thrones and alliance politics, I have to enter this discussion.  Spoilers dwell below as we get into this:

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Failed National Military Strategy Analogies

by Anonymous US National Security expert, as part of a new series of posts providing insights into the policy-making process

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Citation Conversation Continued

My post on citation got far more engagement than nearly all of the things I have posted over the years, so I thought I would return to the scene of the crime/post.  While many academics agreed whole heartily with my take, more than a few did not including folks I respect a great deal.  What were their perspectives?

  1. Citations are a lousy measure, one with much bias, of academic relevance/achievement, etc.
  2. People would rather be contacted so that they can provide the latest version of the paper, rather than something that might be half-baked, wrong, or incomplete.
  3. People worry about being scooped or plagiarized.
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How Not to Get Cited

by Steve Saideman

Put “do not cite, do not circulate” on your paper.  I received a paper for the upcoming ISA which had that instruction on it.  I yelled at (ok, I mocked) my students last week for doing the same thing.  In the olden days, folks would put “do not cite” on their papers because they wanted to polish them before submitting, that they didn’t want to have errant results widely circulated.  Perhaps there is a fear that if a paper is circulated, it might get scooped.

But  NO!!!!

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It’s not anti-vax, it’s pro death

Being at home sick is a perfect moment to reflect on another area of obvious Russian-American collusion – the anti-vaccine movement. Yep, United States, slide over and make some room for your emerging anti-immunization post-Soviet friends. While Russian women might be coming from a different anti-vax background – just like in America it’s mostly women in Russia who make health care decisions for the offspring – they employ the same reasoning and sometimes even American anti-vax videos to justify their positions. Just like the organic kale chewing Karens of Washington, post-Soviet anti-vaxxers are often middle class and have a university degree. My own millennial classmate, a woman with an advanced law degree and several years of law practice foretold the gay (!) downfall of the vaccinated meat-eating Europe. 


I am lumping Post-Soviet Russian-speakers together because most of them have been exposed to some degree to the Soviet practices and attitudes towards the shots. In the Soviet Union, immunization had really high rates and many childhood diseases were almost eradicated. In Russia, you also get an additional vaccine against tuberculosis – you can check whether your spouse is a Russian spy by looking at their left upper arm: a small scar from that vaccine is ubiquitous among the children of Soviet healthcare. Even though you could get a deferment for your child’s shots schedule, Soviet herd, in general, had a pretty good immunity. Enter the 90s: the era of post-glasnost and relative democracy allowed quack doctors to thrive on the minds of people suddenly exposed to a wide array of opinions apart from the party line. Some people might still remember Mr Kashpirovsky who “charged” water and healed through the TV screen. That’s when things like Herbalife made a killing in the Russian market – the American one had already been saturated with that baloney. Vaccines held firm, but these days you no longer need to go from door to door to sell stuff, you have social media to spread pro-death attitudes.


Here is a quick example of the post-Soviet anti-vax rhetoric. When the measles outbreak began in Ukraine, a woman from Kyiv posted a selfie on Facebook with a typical measles rash warning her friends of the dangers of the disease: her own daughter who was not old enough to get the vaccine contracted measles and spent weeks in the ICU. The mother turned out to be one of the 7% of the vaccinated folk that didn’t develop immunity despite having been immunized as a kid. Her post went viral among the Russian and Ukrainian speaking crowd and what kind of reaction did she get? Yes, the American kind. How much did big pharma pay you for that post? How stupid are you to recommend vaccines, they ruin the immune system! Is your daughter really in the ICU? Why didn’t you try homeopathic remedies? And, of course, the fan favourite: vaccines cause autism and cancer! Well, of course, the WHO and the health ministries of virtually every country in the world are wrong and a random FB user with no medical degree is right. 


Now instead of Kashpirovsky on TV, you have anti-vaccine groups on Facebook and Vkonakte. A self-proclaimed “chief homeopath of the Kazakh ministry of health” (that the ministry itself vehemently denies) and peddler of “spirituality” Marina Targaeva (I told you, Post-Soviet) has over 10k followers in FB and over 10k subscribers on YouTube. I reported her page for misinformation as FB promised to crack down on it, but here she is, happily promoting the fact that vaccines ruin your immune system, and if a child is supposed to die, they will die, because God. To be honest, I am pretty sure God didn’t create underpants, but I have a feeling that unscientific crackpot still wears them…


Some paediatricians in Russia see the measles outbreak as an opportunity to raise public awareness about vaccines and increase falling immunization rates. But so far, kids are getting sick and dying because some parents are worried about “dangerous levels of mercury and lead” – something you might have heard at the Washington anti-vax march. I realize that being a parent is hard and anxiety ridden. Hell, I barely slept in my son’s first year because I was up at night listening to him breathe and worried about SIDS. Anti-vax is, in essence, a projection of anxiety that creates an illusion of control. And while I do have sympathy and understanding for parental concerns, it does not give you an excuse to deny centuries of scientific knowledge and instead put other children and grownups at risk. That’s the thing, vaccinating is not an individual choice, and if not your kids then others are going to pay the price for your anxiety. 

I guess anti-vax is one of the few areas where I would like to see much less Russian-American cooperation. 

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Asshole Theory of US Foreign Policy: A Primer

This is a guest post from Paul Poast, an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago.

Americans can always be trusted to do the right thing, once all other possibilities have been exhausted.That was Churchill’s summary of US foreign policy. After US President Trump’s call for “huge” monetary payments by allies hosting US troops, it seems the US is again pursuing “other possibilities.” Just as complaints about  “free-riding” allies are a regular occurrence, the US poorly treating its allies is not new.

Many have lamented “American hubris”, but US foreign policy too often goes a step further. The US can be “annoying and detestable”; a.k.a. an asshole. Indeed, one could say “being an asshole” is a core tenet of US foreign policy.

Like Trump’s proposed policy, the US “being an asshole” usually involves exploiting an ally’s security concerns in order to gain economically. Its leveraged “issue-linkage.” Consider just a few examples from the past 100 years:

In what way do these actions and actions like them mean the US is pursuing “an asshole foreign policy”? Philosopher Aaron James literally wrote the book on assholes.  For James, an asshole “in interpersonal or cooperative relations” has three traits:

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Social Media/Engagement: Why Do It?

by Stephen M. Saideman

I teach a 3rd year PhD workshop that is mostly focused on getting students through their dissertation proposals (a roadmap for their dissertation research).  Along the way, we cover other topics, like how to get on conference programs, what kind of non-academic employment there is, and, yes, social media.  Last night, we covered the latter category, and I was surprised at the response: why don’t I make money off of it?

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The Politics of Reform in the Middle East: A Conversation with Erin Snider

Each Spring, Bridging the Gap (BTG) announces the recipients of our annual Policy Engagement Fellowships (PEF), the purpose of which is to support efforts by scholars to connect their research on international issues to the policy community. One of our 2018–19 PEFs is Dr. Erin Snider, Assistant Professor of International Affairs at Texas A&M University’s George H.W. Bush School of Government and Public Service and a Fellow with the New America Foundation in Washington, DC.

[Learn more about Bridging the Gap, including the Policy Engagement Fellowship program, at our ISA reception on Friday March 29, in Toronto.]

Erin’s research focuses broadly on Middle Eastern political economy. She has conducted extensive research in Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, and beyond on the politics of foreign economic and democracy assistance programs and the question of how international actors might promote reform in authoritarian states. Erin is using her PEF to help disseminate her research through policy-oriented writing and is planning to organize an event with policy-makers and other practitioners to reflect on the economic dimensions and consequences of the 2011 Arab Spring.

BTG recently asked Erin some questions about how she came to her current research agenda and how it has evolved, what her research has to say about the contemporary US democracy promotion approach in the Middle East, and how her extensive policy experience has informed her scholarly work.

BTG: What initially motivated your decision to study Arabic and conduct research on the Middle East?  

ES: I’ve been interested in the Middle East since I was a kid—I became fascinated with Turkish history and politics after my father spent several years working in Izmir. My interest shifted from Turkey to the Arab world when I was in college. Arabic wasn’t offered at my university when I was an undergrad and there was little interest in it then—that would all change, of course, a few years later post-9/11. I jumped at the chance to study the language through night programs while working in DC and New York and continued throughout graduate school in different immersion programs in the Middle East.

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What Shapes Public Attitudes Toward Hosting Syrian Refugees – And How They Can Change

Guest post by Tiffany S. Chu, Alex Braithwaite, Faten Ghosn, and Justin Curtis

Plans to fund a border wall at the U.S.-Mexico border are troubling D.C. politics. During his campaign for the presidency, candidate Trump promised a wall would be built to reduce security issues he associated with existing border policy. In the longest government shutdown in history, Democrats in Congress refused President Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion in funding for such a wall. While the government eventually reopened, ongoing negotiations in Congress to reach a border security deal ahead of another shutdown seem unlikely to reach an agreement that will please the President. In the meantime, troops have been deployed to stop a so-called migrant caravan from crossing the border while anti-wall rallies are held only a mile away.

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What’s a War Crime Gotta Do To Get Some Attention?

This is a guest post by Betcy Jose and Alessa Sänger. Jose is currently a Fellow in the Cluster of Excellence: Formation of Normative Orders at Goethe University. Sänger is pursuing a Master Degree in Curatorial Studies at Goethe Universität and Städelschule and is a collection assistant in the Weltkulturen Museum, Frankfurt am Main.

In a speech at UNESCO just days after a horrific terrorist attack in Paris for which DAESH claimed responsibility, French President Hollande declared, “the right to asylum applies to people… but asylum also applies to works, world heritage.”  In that same speech, Hollande vowed to advance a legal framework in the Parliament that would aid in the safekeeping of threatened cultural heritage.  DAESH has notoriously destroyed priceless cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq or sold it on the black market to fund its activities, much to the horror and despair of the global community. 

Article 53 of the 1977 Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions (API) states that it is a crime to “to commit any acts of hostility directed against the historic monuments, works of art or places of worship which constitute the cultural or spiritual heritage of peoples.”  Various segments of the global community have condemned DAESH’s actions and called for efforts to stop it or temporarily safeguard these objects until they can be safely returned.  France’s pledge to offer safe haven to these valuable treasures was in response to these efforts and warmly welcomed by many activists who had long pressed for more attention to this vital issue with limited success.

What’s interesting about this speech is why France chose to make such a strong and public statement on this war crime and not another one that’s also been long neglected: the destruction of the environment during the Syrian war. 

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The Implications of 5,000 troops to Colombia

The following is a guest post by Carla Martinez Machain, Michael Allen, Michael E. Flynn, and Andrew Stravers.

One week ago, National Security Adviser John Bolton appeared at a White House briefing holding a note pad with the phrase “5,000 troops to Colombia” written on it. This occurred in the context of rising tensions between the U.S. and the Maduro government in Venezuela after the U.S. recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela. Since then, there has been much speculation about how likely a deployment is to happen and what it means for the possibility of a US intervention in Venezuela. Of note, Congress currently limits the U.S. presence in Colombia to 800 military personnel (and 600 contractors).

A potential deployment of this size has serious implications for US relations with Colombia, Venezuela, and the Latin American region as a whole. In particular, it can affect how populations perceive the U.S. government and its military. What does current research on the effects of U.S. deployments tell us about how such a move would affect public opinion of the U.S. in Latin America?

U.S. Military Deployments in Latin America

This past summer, our research team traveled to Central and South America to interview local government officials, U.S. embassy officials, and local members of civil society on how a U.S. military presence affects views of the U.S. in host countries. During these interviews, locals repeatedly reported a perception that the U.S. had plans to deploy troops to friendly countries in the region in order to launch an intervention in Venezuela. For example, interview subjects at the U.S. embassy in Panama told us that whenever U.S. troops deploy to Panama for training exercises, there are reports in the local press about Americans going to Panama to establish a base to spy on Venezuela and to prepare for an invasion. Another subject, a Panamanian journalist, confirmed this view.

Some embassy personnel noted that this was not necessarily a bad thing, as it could potentially place pressure on Venezuela to democratize. Given that this view was already prevalent in diplomatic circles last year, it is even harder to believe that Bolton’s “mistake” was an accident. Such a moment could serve as another (less subtle) form of pressure on the Maduro regime.

As shown by the figure above, since the 1990s Colombia has had a history of hosting US troop deployments, many of them as part of Plan Colombia. At the same time, these numbers never approximated the size of the deployment that Bolton may have been considering. At the peak of the U.S. military presence, in the year 2000, there were 225 active duty US troops deployed to Colombia (this number does not include military contractors or other DOD personnel who have been present in support of the troops). As of the most recent reports from the U.S. Department of Defense (September 2018), there are currently 64 active duty US military personnel deployed to Colombia. A 5,000 deployment of military personnel would be a substantial increase over historical numbers.

Implications for Perceptions of the US in the Region

Latin America is a region that traditionally has had positive perceptions of the U.S. At the same time, the United States’ previous military interventions in the region as part of its drug wars and counterinsurgency operations have also bred suspicion about U.S. interventionism. As part of our research project, we conducted a 14,000 person survey across 14 countries that have had large peacetime U.S. troop deployments. Our results show that all else being equal, having direct contact with a member of the U.S. military actually leads to more positive perceptions of the U.S. military and of the American people as a whole. This implies that a military presence in and of itself will not necessarily lead to negative views on the U.S. Of course, the context of the deployment would matter as well.

A large U.S. deployment to Colombia could easily play into the hands of many leftist groups throughout the region and perpetuate ideas that U.S. humanitarian assistance and military exercises (such as medical care provided in November 2018 by the US navy hospital ship USNS Comfort to Venezuelan refugees in Colombia) have ulterior motives. Additionally, criminal behavior by military personnel can become national news stories and feed anti-US sentiment.  Our past research shows that humanitarian assistance provided by the U.S. military is correlated with greater trust in the U.S. government and military . If leftist groups are indeed able to link these deployments with interventionism, that trust could be eroded.

Some may argue that a greater U.S. military presence in the region could prevent future human rights violations by Latin American government.  After all, even Colombia, often held up by the U.S. as a counterinsurgency success story, has experienced human rights violations in heavy-handed counterinsurgency operations by the military. Existing work has shown that in some cases, U.S. troop deployments are correlated with greater respect for human rights. Yet, this is true only in areas that are of low security salience for the United States. Given the high security interest that the U.S. has in Colombia, both because of counterdrug operations and because of its proximity to Venezuela’s leftist government, a large deployment would be unlikely to lead to improved respect for human rights in the region.

Recent talk from Bolton about the benefits of opening Venezuelan oil to U.S. companies did little to contradict narratives of renewed U.S. interventionism in Latin America, and signaling U.S. intentions to send more military forces to the region also makes the suspicion seem more plausible. While pressuring the Maduro regime through these signals may have the intended effect in Venezuela, it would be wise for the Trump administration to take these more region-wide political dynamics into account, if its goal is to diminish Maduro-style forces throughout the whole of Central and South America.

This material is based upon work supported by, or in part by, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the U.S. Army Research Office under grant number W911NF-18-1-0087.

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