In an attempt to distract myself from the thought that today my small university town will be overrun by 900 frat boys who went to Northern Italy on a skiing vacation despite the Dutch government’s warning, let’s discuss something that might have gone under the radar – future changes to the Russian Constitution.
Amid a global pandemic what could be better than voting in a Referendum? Only voting for a President, amirite? But let’s start from the beginning. Mid-January Russian President Vladimir Putin suddenly announced that the Russian Constitution might need some freshening up. Needless to say, the announcement came as unexpected as Putin’s previous hints that he will leave his post after his current term.
The following is a guest post by Andrew Leber,
a PhD candidate in Government at Harvard University.
The death of Sultan Qaboos bin Said, and
the succession of Haitham bin Tariq as the country’s new ruler, was yet one
more high-profile news item this year amid the back-and-forth attacks and
tragic consequences of events further up the Gulf.
Yet for the world of political science, this transition calls to mind important questions for comparativists about authoritarian successions in particular and authoritarian institutions more general.
Depending on your Twitter addiction, you either went to sleep or woke up with the news that America had assassinated Qassim Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds force. Suleimani was one of the most powerful men in Iran, and the driver of its activities in the Middle East, so this is a big deal. People are debating whether this was just and necessary, and what happens next. But I wanted to raise a different point: what this means for America’s Persian Gulf allies.
Many would suspect these states–particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)–to be the biggest winners in this strike. Both states have a history of antagonism with Iran. Both were also the victim of strikes against their oil industry likely orchestrated by Iran (likely by Suleimani himself). And both have been fighting a proxy war in Yemen against Iran. So removing him from the region would be a good thing for them.
On an ice-cold winter evening I arrived in Moscow to untangle the riddle that is Russia. After reading two op-eds by Anne Applebaum and Bill Browder I knew what this country was about but I just wanted to see it for myself. The eyes of the border control guards reflected the thousand years of Russia’s repressive regime. I was half-expecting the KGB to arrest me there and then because four years ago I posted on Facebook that I didn’t like Vlad, but they let me through. My Moscow adventure had begun.
The shadow of Stalin still looms large over this sprawling city. As soon as you approach the Kremlin you can see his doppelgängers entertaining tourists that shows the profound admiration Russians have for this tyrant. The beautiful Christmas lights mask the darkness that lurks in the hearts of the people that have no hope for the future or French cheese. While checking into my Ritz-Carlton room I couldn’t help but wonder, is the master of the Kremlin checking in on me too?
I didn’t find a Pizza Hut on the Red Square and realized that capitalism has failed here. Russian economy has not really become free after all. Gorbachev brought opportunity to this country, but instead they settled for Lenin’s mausoleum where you can still smell the rotting corpse of Bolshevism. After a decadent dinner in Doktor Zhivago restaurant, I could see that Russians are still trapped in the past, longing to resurrect their Soviet legacy, unable to open themselves up to new experiences (they do accept Apple Pay though).
On my way to the Bolshoi theatre I got lost and a young lady directed me in English. Her surprisingly not blue eyes and not blond hair, as well as passable language skills will stay in my memory forever as a glimmer of hope that still flickers in this country of slaves. Pogrom, kompromat, troika, kalinka, babushka, gulag, vodka. If you know these words, you will see right through the mysterious Russian soul as did I, after a day and a half stay in a five star hotel in Moscow city center.
On my ride back to the airport, I realized that the East will never understand the West. Our values of the Enlightenment, human rights, liberty and democracy are lost on these people who don’t speak much English. They will never comprehend what it’s like to live in a free country and speak a language that doesn’t have 6 cases and 7 declensions.
Russia is no longer an enigma for me. I riddled me this.
Fieldwork – “leaving one’s home institution in order to acquire data, information, or insights that significantly inform one’s research”
(Kapiszewski, MacLean, and Read 2015: 1)
– has long been a cornerstone of social science research. It is a remarkably diverse enterprise: ‘doing fieldwork’ can mean carrying out archival research, interviews, surveys, focus groups, participant observation, ethnography, or experiments. Fieldwork is also quite valuable: it helps orient scholars toward under-addressed ontological questions, including whether many of the concepts that we routinely study actually exist ‘out there’ in the world, or at least exist in the form that our theories postulate. Fieldwork also enables scholars to take measurement seriously, as sometimes our indicators and scales do not accurately describe or quantify our concepts. Fieldwork, in short, is vital in aligning social science concepts and measurement with the real world that we seek to study.
So by this point we all know the big news on Syria. Overnight, Trump announced that–after consulting with Turkish President Erdogan–the US would be pulling troops out of north Syria, giving Turkey freedom to operate. This would likely involve military actions against Kurdish forces there, which Turkey fears are coordinating with Kurdish insurgents in Turkey. This is concerning for two reasons. First, the United States had worked with these Kurdish forces to fight ISIS, so we’re basically abandoning them. Second, this will basically leave ISIS detention camps unguarded, possibly letting this terrorist organization regroup.
A lot has been said on Twitter and elsewhere. This will hurt US credibility. We shouldn’t have open-ended commitments in the Middle East, but this isn’t the way to stop them. This is no way to treat our allies. I encourage you to read others’ takes, and I’m not going to pretend these insights are original to me (but you could read my thread if you want).
But I did start thinking about what Turkey is hoping to accomplish. They’re framing this as a security issue; they want to uproot forces supporting insurgents in their territory. That is understandable, even if we don’t like abandoning Syria’s Kurds. But there are indications this is part of a broader push to increase Turkey’s regional influence.
The other day, Emily McFarlan Miller–a journalist with Religion News Service–noted a sense of deja vu. The AP had an article on a delegation of US evangelicals who travelled to Saudi Arabia to meet with Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s Crown Prince (and effective ruler). The deja vu was because there was a similar delegation–with some of the same individuals–last year, which she wrote about at the time. These repeated visits, and the visitors’ response to the conservative Islamic Kingdom, are surprising, and may represent a shift in how evangelical elites view Saudi Arabia.
The 2018 visit took place shortly after the (technically) alleged (but, come on) assassination of Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents, and was led by a US man who’d previously praised MbS as a sincere reformer. Noteworthy individuals on the trip included former Congresswomen Michele Bachmann and Johnnie Moore, one of Trump’s top evangelical advisers and a recent appointee to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. After returning, he praised MbS’ reforms and “support for moderate Muslim rule.”
This is a guest post from Ben-zion Telefus. He holds a Ph.D. from Bar-Ilan University (2015), where he researched the war on drugs in the US and the EU foreign and security policies. Follow him on Twitter @BenzionTelefus
When Israelis vote in the coming September 17th re-run elections
the issue on the ballot will remain the same: Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu’s political and legal future. Netanyahu’s control over Israel for the
past decade led many to
describe him as a sophisticated “Machiavellian”
politician who mastered every available means to ensure his political power. Yet
using the term “Machiavellian” to describe Netanyahu is an injustice
to Machiavelli’s political thought and creates a misleading portrait of
Netanyahu, who is anything but the prince Machiavelli envisioned.
This is a guest post from Erika Weinthal, a Professor at Duke University and Jeannie Sowers, an Associate Professor at the University of New Hampshire
What is often referred to as environmental peacebuilding – the process of governing and leveraging the use of the environment and natural resources for building a sustainable peace through improving livelihoods, strengthening the economy, rebuilding trust, and fostering cooperation – has been a core component of US-supported projects in Israel and Palestine.
part of the US government strategy to promote a two-state solution in the
aftermath of the 1993 Oslo Peace Process, all US administrations until the most
recent have provided economic and security assistance to the Palestinian
National Authority (PNA) and Palestinian civil society. This assistance was always dwarfed by the
military and economic assistance provided by the US to Israel, but nevertheless
was an important component in supporting Palestinian civil society and human
projects included scientific exchanges through USAID’s Middle
East Regional Cooperation program and support
for regional NGOs like EcoPeace
Middle East, which sought to build a peace park in the
Jordan River basin and create dialogue among local mayors on both sides of the
Jordan River. Most importantly, the US was the single largest donor to the UN Relief and Works Agency for
Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which runs
schools, health clinics, social services, and infrastructure projects for 5
million Palestinian refugees and their descendants in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria,
Gaza, and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
last two years of the Trump administration have, however, cemented the loss of
US credibility in mediating the conflict between Israel and Palestine. There
are no shortages of key moments, but the most notable include the
administration’s decision to move the embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in
December 2017, the elimination of all funding to UNRWA in late 2018, the
cessation of development assistance to the Palestinian people in early 2019,
and the US Ambassador to Israel taking a hammer to break ground in a tunnel in
occupied East Jerusalem in June 2019.
This is a guest post from Brent Sasley, Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. He tweets at @besasley.
Israel holds a prominent place in the
American popular imagination. It’s a major source of news
reports, as well as an increasingly partisan issue in American electoral
politics. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that American journalists and
western journalists more generally seek out American and western analysts and
academics for commentary on Israeli politics, such as the recent
On Twitter I suggested that
western journalists look beyond western academics and analysts for insight into
the Israeli election results, and in particular toward women, Arab, Mizrachi,
and Ethiopian specialists. Someone then suggested that I compile a list for
journalists to access, since most of these scholars and analysts are not likely
to be known to western reporters. Below is a list I’ve put together that I hope
can be useful. It is surely not a complete list, and the boundaries between the
categories are not hard and fast; an analyst of Palestinian-Israeli politics
can of course provide effective commentary on Israeli politics more broadly.
airstrikes near Balakot inside the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
on the 26th of February, and Pakistani
airstrikes in response, have created anxiety because nuclear conflict lies
at the end of a steep escalation ladder. India was retaliating against a Valentine’s
Day suicide attack
on a convoy of paramilitary forces in Pulwama, in Indian-administered Kashmir,
in which 42 were killed.
Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM), one of several Pakistan-based militant
groups operating against the Indian state in Kashmir, claimed
responsibility. Indian retaliation targeted
a madrassa thought to affiliated to JeM in Pakistan. India’s position is that because
groups like JeM are proxies of the Pakistani state, crossborder strikes are
justified as a means of preemptive
self-defense combatting terrorism.
This dynamic highlights both the uses and hazards of proxies
as a tool of crossborder coercive statecraft. It follows a long and ignominious
tradition of the use of proxies to weaken strategic competitors that has recent
roots in Cold War competition, and has been used by both India and Pakistan. I
argue that Pakistan’s use of proxies is becoming increasingly counterproductive
as a tool for enhancing its own security by diminishing its neighbor’s, even as
recent Indian policies toward Kashmir have created an environment hospitable for
The Trudeau government is in crisis. Yesterday morning Jody Wilson-Raybould, Canada’s former Attorney General recently demoted to Minister of Veterans Affairs, resigned from cabinet. The resignation comes on the heels of a Globe and Mail report that someone in the Prime Minister’s Office allegedly attempted to influence Wilson-Raybould in her decision to prosecute SNC Lavalin.
A politically connected and influential engineering firm based in Quebec, SNC Lavalin is currently mired in charges of fraud and bribery in relation to its work in Libya. As recently as Monday night Trudeau expressed “full confidence” in Wilson-Raybould, saying that her continuing presence in cabinet “should speak for itself”.
itself the allegation of political interference in a criminal prosecution has
the potential to be a major domestic scandal.
But this scandal could come with serious international repercussions,
especially given Canada’s increasingly troubled relationship with China. To understand why, we need to step back and
think about the role of brand failure in the politics of embarrassment.
I know, democracy dies in darkness (sorry, WashPo put it better) and we need good journalism, but what you publish in the Opinion Section often does not qualify as journalism, like, at all. I am not even talking about “Intellectual Dark Web” (which is neither intellectual, nor dark, but maybe web) or blatant climate denialism; you seriously need a Russia bullshit detector. Because so far, Russia articles are mostly botched Cyrillic wrapped in a cliché inside an Orientalist talking point.
The latest “scary Putin/racist nonsense/KGB/italicized Russian words” piece grazed your pages yesterday and it already caused the Russia Twitter to eye roll off our couches. For starters, who knew that there is a Russian word for “lies”. Like, really. If you actually spent time in St. Petersburg or Moscow (because those authors never go further out in fear of bears and balalaikas) you would know that “vranyo” is hardly a word that would ever be used in the context of whatever “active measures” you are talking about. Which are, by the way, not a thing, as well as the “Gerasimov doctrine”.
So, what’s with the “corruption DNA”, people? Last time I checked, 23andMe doesn’t offer a breakdown on social vices. When the author talked to Volodya back in the 90s, did he also take some of his genetic material? Or tested every single Russian out there? Who counts as a Russian? Just the Russian-speakers or the ones who live in Russia proper? Do you get the corruption DNA if you have a baby with a Western person? So many questions, and, sadly, no bigotry-free responses.
And what’s with the menacing pictures of Putin? At least when I write my posts I preface them with some presidential wardrobe malfunction action, aka the executive nipples. Yes, Putin is watching you, but so is PRISM and that one has way more capabilities and potential for abuse than its Russian analogue. So, Volodya (at least, it’s not Vlad) was fine when he helped you get rich and had beer with you in the 90s but not anymore? As Maxim Edwards remarked, it’s unclear why the contingent of “I made a killing in the nineties and then it went to shit” still needs to be heard. Even though there are a couple of valid points in the piece, they are overshadowed by racism and conceit of a “civilized” Western man braving the borderless wasteland that is Russia and trying to advertise his company that “recovers assets”.
I have to wrap this up before my head explodes from the uncontrollable rage at the stupidity and arrogance of some of your contributors. Do better next time.
This is a guest post from Elsy Gonzalez, a PhD candidate from the University of Chicago in the Department of Political Science.
Wednesday, January 23, President Trump recognized
Venezuelan opposition leader, Juan Guaidó’s claim to the presidency. Through
this statement, Trump ultimately rejected Nicolas Maduro’s government and
hedged his bet on regime change in this South American country. While this
behavior is hardly surprising given the recent animosity between Washington and
Caracas, many other countries in the region and around the world flocked to
support Guaidó as president shortly thereafter. Those that recognized are as
interesting as those that have not, and their timing speaks volumes.
the background? On May 20, 2018, Venezuela held presidential elections in which
Maduro declared himself victorious for a new six-year term amidst a flurry of
international condemnation, for what has been deemed a fraudulent election. The
following day, the countries that make up the Lima Group declared they did
not recognize the legitimacy of the electoral process for not abiding by the
international standards of a democratic, free, fair, and transparent election.
Following months of uncertainty and domestic turmoil, incumbent Nicolas Maduro
assumed power for his new term on January 10. Meanwhile, Juan Guiadó also
assumed power as head of the National Assembly, and the group later declared him
interim president in lieu of Maduro.
Somewhat cranky and slightly under the weather Putin graced the foreign journalists with his presence for almost 4 hours. Starting right off the bat with some optimistic economic indicators (that he used to be able to juggle without any papers), the conference progressed with its predictable pace and predictable plot points: a bunch of questions on economy, token booed Ukrainian question, some dad jokes and good tsar, bad boyars excuses. There was no panache, pizazz or punch. Putin is tired (at some point he was off by 20 million when talking about the Russian population) and his whataboutist rhetoric expected. His cough has got better since last year though.
At the beginning, Channel One gleefully pointed out that all accredited journalists are welcome at the press-conference (not really) and there are absolutely no restrictions. Press Secretary Peskov started with the Kremlin press pool soft ball questions (as though they don’t get enough access to the body of the sovereign on a regular basis). Crimea came up almost right away and kept coming up throughout the press conference. Putin got himself some rally-around-the flag theory ready and angrily pointed out that the only reason there was a “provocation” in the Kerch Strait is because presidential elections are coming up and President Poroshenko was looking to boost his failing rating. Moreover, Russia will increase its military presence in the Azov Sea the way it sees fit, especially given that some governmental officials in Ukraine are threatening to blow up the pained Crimea bridge. Putin forcefully denied that an “annexation” of the peninsula took place (despite having used that word himself several days prior). It was the citizens who came and voted to re-unite with Russia and now they are being punished for their vote by Western sanctions.
On Sunday, the US Border Patrol fired tear gas into Mexico at migrants, including children, attempting to enter the US near the San Ysidro border crossing between Tijuana and San Diego. The use of a chemical weaponbanned in war against families rightly provoked widespread condemnation (Border Patrol agents also used pepper spray against migrants in 2013, fired tear gas and pepper spray into Mexico in 2007, and have killed rock throwers at the border in the past). Migrants attempting to enter the US are frustrated by the Trump administration’s restriction of the process of seeking asylum, a legal right under US and international law, a situation that won’t be solved by processing asylum seekers on Mexican soil.
Most of those who attempted to scale the border fence were reportedly from Honduras, the country with the world’s second-highest homicide rate. Young people there are caught between murderous gangs, violent and corrupt police, and paramilitary ‘social cleansing’ squads who target young men, while gender-based violence rates are also high. There are similar, if slightly less violent, dynamics in El Salvador and Guatemala, and increasing state repression in Nicaragua. Despite changes in US immigration policy and enforcement under the Trump administration, the US remains for many Central Americans a place of hope for a better, more secure life.
In this environment, deterrence efforts will have limited effectiveness. Continue reading
I feel like I should say something about the disappearance—and likely assassination—of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. This tragedy was enabled by America’s permissive stance towards Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US support for other horrific Saudi policies (like its bombing of Yemen). I’ve expressed concern on Twitter and in personal conversations, and have been writing about Yemen for years.
But to be honest, I don’t think I have anything new to say at this point. Most Duck readers will already know, and be upset, about this situation. Instead, I want to raise another concerning human rights abuse by one of our Persian Gulf allies: the detention of UK graduate student Matthew Hedges by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
A few months ago, reports spread of a UK man detained in the UAE on espionage charges; he was rumored to be an academic doing research in the country. These reports were later confirmed as the UAE announced it had charged Hedges with espionage for trying to obtain classified information and gain access to confidential archives. Hedges is a PhD student at the University of Durham, and was studying the UAE’s post-Arab Spring foreign policy. He has been held in rough conditions and there are concerns about his physical and mental health. Continue reading
In under two weeks, Brazil will have the second round of its presidential election. Former military officer and fan of fascists Jair Bolsonaro looks set after a strong first-round showing to defeat Workers’ Party (PT) candidate Fernando Haddad. If he wins, Bolsonaro will have strong party backing in Congress, though he does not care much for the legislature—in 1999, Bolsonaro said Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship “should have killed 30,000 people more, starting with Congress and [then-President] Fernando Henrique Cardoso.” Bolsonaro’s running mate is retired General Hamilton Mourão, his planning adviser and likely Minister of Transport is General Oswaldo Ferreira, an anti-environmentalist who looks for inspiration to infrastructure projects enacted by Brazil’s military government, and Bolsonaro has promised to stack his cabinet with generals. Current and retired military officers have been prominent backers of Bolsonaro, and Bolsonaro announced that he would not accept any result other than victory, menacingly saying “I cannot speak for military” but that there “could be a reaction by the Armed Forces” if he lost and deemed it due to PT fraud (never mind that the PT is not currently in power).
As Michael Albertus highlighted, the military is returning to Brazilian politics in a big way. While the military in Argentina was punished for its dictatorial Dirty War, elites with ties to dictatorship never faced sanctions or fully left the political scene in countries like Brazil and Chile. In Brazil, civilian leaders managed to weaken the military during the transition to democracy, but it retained a broad scope of activities, including internal security and development, especially in combating the drug trade, a mission with which current President Michel Temer tasked the military earlier this year in Rio de Janeiro. Bolsonaro spent his time as a representative in Congress “interested in helping the military above all else,” and his message that he will restore law and order both resonates with a Brazilian public fed up with high rates of violent crime and with a military keen to reassert itself. Continue reading
Defense Secretaries from the countries of the western hemisphere will convene in Cancun, Mexico next month to talk about the most pressing issues facing defense and security institutions in the Americas. The biannual meeting presents an important opportunity for the US to engage with Latin America as the hemisphere continues to try to work together to address the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and other challenges. After the underwhelming Summit of the Americas, defense seems like a promising avenue for cooperation. Secretary Mattis already met with a number of his counterparts during his first trip to the region in August promising a closer relationship between the US and Latin America.
Security cooperation between the US and Latin America, however, faces one important obstacle: the definition of developing country. Though scholars think of the region as part of the developing world (studies of Latin American countries are routinely featured in journals and conferences focusing on development), most countries in the hemisphere are middle income. Trinidad and Tobago, and Estonia, for example, have about the same GDP per capita; Uruguay is nearly on par with Croatia; Costa Rica and China are within a few dollars of each other. This is where the US runs into difficulties for carrying out cooperation activities.
US Code, Title 10, Section 312 provides that security cooperation money “may be used only for the payment of expenses of, and special compensation for, personnel from developing countries.” US Code further stipulates that the term “developing country” “has the meaning prescribed by the Secretary of Defense [in] the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017.” The current iteration of that meaning is that countries are considered “developing” if they are not “high income” on the World Bank classification of countries. Argentina, Barbados, Chile, and Trinidad and Tobago are all “high income” this year.
The World Bank’s definition is not the only option, and may not be the best one for US purposes. Continue reading
There is a spat of ecumenical proportions brewing in the Eastern hemisphere: Patriarch Krill of Russia stopped praying for the Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. The reason for that is simple: the patriarch of Constantinople is rumored to consider granting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church an autocephalous status that would potentially carve out a third of Russian Orthodox Church curacies severely damaging Moscow’s status as the third Rome* not to mention financial repercussions.